Part the Sixth
Haesel stood before the mirror in her nightgown, its white lace and close cut flattering her figure. Her small, slender hands were pressed against her waist, twisted around at an awkward angle. “Like this,” she whispered, remembering how Marvolo’s hands had been positioned on her body when he lifted her onto the back of the Abraxan at Malfoy Manor. For an irrational moment, she had hoped he wouldn’t release her.
After her bottom had met the saddle, she had insanely wished that he would swing himself up behind her and pull her back against his chest. She could imagine how daring, yet safe, she would feel plastered against him, his muscled forearm beneath her breasts and across her stomach. They would fly off into the sky alone and revel in each other’s presence.
“So warm,” she murmured, hands pressing more firmly against her ribs. It felt different, because his magic wasn’t present, and his hands were at least twice as large as her own, but it still felt intrinsically right.
That first night after her discovery of their past connection had been awful. She had barely slept, and what little sleep she had gained was riddled with nightmares of Mr. Cedric Diggory. She had refused to leave her room, regardless of her family’s demands and requests.
Her nerves were jittery all the next day, growing worse as evening approached. The fragile skin under her eyes had grown dark and bruised. The food her house-elf Manah brought lay untouched on the floor and various tables. She lay in her bed the second night, blankly staring at the ceiling, scared senseless of what she would see when her eyelids fell like the curtain before the final act of an opera.
Against her will, though she had not sought to restrain it, her magic had stretched out, begging for solace, an alleviation of her agony.
Then, just when she thought she couldn’t handle another second of the tortured memories, Marvolo’s magic had come to her—just as it had that desperate night when she was fifteen. It had come for her in the twilight hours, whispering promises that she couldn’t quite hear. The words didn’t matter, though, because the intent in his magic was blatant; it engulfed her in a protective cloud that she would wager was strong enough to block the Unforgivable Curses.
The endless, graphic series of ‘What Might Have Been’ died that night.
Marvolo had willingly returned the shield to her: the magic shield that meant true safety from all threats. He had first offered it to her without her requesting it, proving that he was a caring and honorable wizard. She didn’t know how or why he had chosen to offer her his protection that first time, but she was immensely grateful for his kindness.
It was gone when she awoke, and she spent another fraught day in her chambers. What if he never offered it again? What if he disappeared, as he had seemed to do when she was fifteen? What if she never, ever, ever felt secure and cared for again? How could she bear to live with stomach-wrenching dread and trepidation every second for the rest of her life?
She had been huddled in her bathtub the third evening, wishing the bubbles could block emotions as well as the sight of her body. Then miraculously, without any prodding, begging, or groveling on her part, Marvolo’s magic had embraced her in a cloak of invulnerability. She had been granted asylum inside his magic, and she felt assured that he would not suddenly withhold it from her ever again.
That was something her father would do—offer safety and kindness to someone in need. Few men measured up to the example her father and grandfather set, but Marvolo had already proven himself their equal in several ways. Perhaps she was more like her mother than she thought, because Marvolo was incontestably attractive on more than a physical level, exposing himself as a generous, trustworthy man, which were qualities her mother lauded.
When Haesel had awoken that morning, she had felt refreshed, alive, and adventurous. Everyone at the breakfast table had fallen silent when she strolled into the room as if nothing had happened, as if she hadn’t spent the past few days hiding behind the most complex wards in the manor. She pretended the hysterical flight from her brother and father’s presence was imagined (wanting to keep Marvolo to herself for a little longer), and calmly informed Henry that they would be utilizing Heir Draco’s offer to ride the Abraxans in a few hours’ time.
That was where it happened—his hands touching her for the first time.
Haesel’s fingers folded inward, wrinkling the nightgown. “It was real,” she whispered dazedly. She could still feel the heat of his palms, the firm yet gentle grip of his hands, as if he had imprinted their texture into her skin in the exact spot he had placed them. He had been very careful to not set his hands too low on her hips, or too high on her waist, and she appreciated the courtesy. Most men would have accidentally attempted to touch what was not theirs. Marvolo was different. Honorable. Something she greatly valued, being a Potter maiden.
“Some wizard’s finally got your fancy, has he?” her mirror clucked. “About time some bloke caught your eye.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being discerning,” Haesel huffed. Her mirror was often much too opinionated on the topic of relationships.
“So you’ve told me before.” If the mirror were a person, it would be peering down its nose at her. “Well, what’s he like then? Don’t keep the good news all to yourself.”
Haesel searched her mind for appropriate adjectives, but they didn’t come as easily as one might expect. Marvolo was so . . . well, he was hard to describe. “He’s honorable. Intelligent. Powerful.”
“Boring,” the mirror yawned. “That bit is obvious, isn’t it? If he weren’t he wouldn’t be worthy of a Potter maiden. Tell me how he looks! I bet he’s fit, isn’t he? Strong? Handsome? Someone who will have no trouble getting your blood pumping, right? You, dear girl, need some of that in your life. I expect he’ll get lovely babies off you, too.”
Haesel spluttered and pressed her hands to her flaming cheeks. Was her mirror suggesting that—that—that?
“Of course, the nightgown you’re wearing might tempt him more than a negligee on your bonding night. You look very, very pure, my dear. And powerful wizards seem to enjoy that thing quite a lot.”
Haesel crossed her arms over her chest, as if Marvolo were in her wardrobe and staring at her. They fell back to her sides moments later. “This nightgown is perfectly modest,” she snapped, temper riled. “And, and—” She inhaled deeply and pointed one finger at the mirror in a threatening gesture. “He doesn’t think of me like that. He’s a gentleman!”
The mirror chortled. “My dear, you say that as if you believe it.”
She stamped her foot. “I do!”
“Well, your father’s a gentleman, too. Are you saying he never had designs on your mother?” the mirror teased. “Just where do you think you came from, my dear.”
Haesel’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly. She refused to let her mind go there, but she couldn’t discount the mirror’s point. Her father was a gentleman, and she and Henry did exist. She flushed scarlet.
“Your naivety is adorable, my dear, but you need to be realistic, too. Bonding means babies, and babies don’t grow in cauldrons.”
“I’m not an idiot! I know bonding leads to babies. And of course babies don’t grow in cauldrons!” She contemplated blasting the mirror to pieces, but knew it wouldn’t work. All sentient magical items were protected by the family magic. “And who said anything about bonding?” she snapped defensively.
The mirror’s voice was surprisingly solemn as it said, “My dear, in all the years that I’ve known you, you’ve never once showed real interest in a wizard. Tonight you’re standing before me in your nightgown and touching your waist, babbling about how warm and safe you feel. Can you honestly tell me that you haven’t already chosen your future lord and husband?”
Was that what she had done? Had she already, consciously or not, made her final decision. Haesel leaned back against a rack of day dresses and tried to picture her future. Where would she be a year from now? Two? Five? Ten? One hundred? Each image that came to her mind revolved around her and Marvolo. And in each one—every single vision—he was touching her in some way, just as he had today.
Haesel’s hands returned to her waist, and then slid downward to cover her womb. She could not picture children growing in her womb and leaving her body that he hadn’t put there. The briefest thought of any other wizard claiming her body sent her magic into a vicious spike, worse than the time Mr. Diggory had grabbed her from Diagon Alley.
It seemed she had chosen, after all.
“Well, my dear. Which is it?”
For the first time, Haesel allowed the words to spill from her lips. “I’ve chosen. You’re right. I’ve already chosen.”
“That’s what I thought.” The mirror chuckled naughtily, ruining the somber mood. “And if you know that, consciously or not, then your magic does. And if your magic does, then his magic does. And if his magic does, then he does, my dear.”
That made all too much sense for her frail sense of realization.
“And when a wizard knows a maiden has chosen him as her lord—gentleman or not—every fiber of his being will be desperate to claim her as his own.”
Haesel had a vague idea of what being truly intimate involved. Her mother had spoken to her when she was fourteen years old, and phrased it delicately. She knew that she and her future husband would share the same bed and that he would ‘worship her’, her mother said. She knew that the first time would hurt unavoidably, because it was proof she was a worthy and virtuous witch. But her mother had promised it wasn’t very painful, and that her husband would be gentle and loving with her.
She had overheard a few Muggle-borns speaking once, and figured out—despite their vulgar euphemisms—that making love involved a full physical joining. (Of course, they were talking about pre-marital copulation, which, in her opinion, was the worst decision a witch could ever make; her mother had told her so. Isadore Potter had said, “Only your husband, your lord, may worship you. Don’t even let other wizards close to you.” Her father had walked in at this part and said, “Cruciate anyone who tries. I’ll make sure you don’t go to Azkaban.”)
A tendril of foreign magic kissed her magic, which was still spiking erratically. Hers calmed the moment she realized it was Marvolo’s. He must have felt her distress again. The feeling of overwhelming safety returned. Even from a distance, late at night, he was still there for her. It was never intrusive, never forced upon her. Instead, it was comfort and love personified.
He was not going to abandon her again; she trusted in that, in him.
Haesel licked her dry lips, hands clasped over her womb. “If—” She swallowed and took a deep breath. “If it’s Marvolo, I could trust him not to hurt me—like Mother said. If it’s Marvolo . . .” She blushed again and ducked her head, a portion of ebony hair falling forward to shield her face. “Bearing his children would be . . . creating children would be all right.” She pictured a little boy with curly black hair, an auburn shine to it, and a little girl with his dark, enchanting eyes. “But only—only if it’s Marvolo.”
Before the mirror could reply, Haesel snatched a hooded red-velvet cloak off a nearby rack and spun it about her shoulders. She strode out of her wardrobe, bedchamber, and into the hallway. She owed her brother an explanation now, while the truth of such an important realization was still fresh in her mind.
She only knocked once on his door before pushing it open and striding inside, the cloak clasped shut by her trembling hands.
Henry looked up from where he sat on a sofa before the roaring fireplace. The summer nights had been unseasonably chilly this past week. “Are you ready to talk about it?” The question sounded unnaturally loud in the silence of the room.
“Yes,” Haesel whispered, before closing the distance between them. She dropped onto the sofa beside him and snuggled against his side, relishing the weight of his arm as it surrounded her.
A hand hooked under her chin and tilted her head back until their gazes met. A lock of hair obscured her vision, and Henry tenderly tucked it behind her ear. “You said ‘His magic’, Sis. Whose magic were you talking about? And what did it do to you? Why did it bother you so much? I’ve never seen you panic like that in public before.” He leaned down and placed a reassuring kiss on her brow.
If Haesel hadn’t already given her word to her brother, she wouldn’t have mentioned Marvolo at all. He felt like a secret, the kind that could change lives.
“His name is Marvolo,” she confessed, as if offering up the given name of a Djinn and three wishes to her brother.
“Marvolo?” His voice squeaked the barest bit, as he stared at her in shock. “You call him ‘Marvolo’?”
Haesel felt her earlier blush return with a vengeance. “He bid me to call him that.” She briefly considered mentioning no one else had been around to offer a formal introduction, but she knew how well her brother would take that. Not at all.
“He’s a diplomat!” she blurted out, when the silence lengthened.
Henry stilled; not even his chest moved, as if his very real need to breathe had mysteriously vanished. “A diplomat?”
“Yes, a diplomat.”
“An ambassador is a diplomat.” Henry’s jaw clenched dangerously. “Haesel, are you suggesting that Lord Slytherin gave you a false first name, hid his identity, and convinced you to address him familiarly?”
“What?” That couldn’t be right. Yes, an ambassador was a diplomat, but why in the world would Lord Slytherin not want to be properly introduced? Surely such an important man would demand propriety be followed to the letter. If the rumors were true, as Zach and Henry teased, and he had returned for her, he would have plotted to meet her at the coming of age gala and awed her with his titles, right? She snorted. “Marvolo can’t possibly be Lord Slytherin, Henry.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because Marvolo banters with me. Can you imagine Lord Slytherin tolerating such a thing from his wife?” She cocked an eyebrow in challenge.
Henry rubbed the back of his head. “No. Those oligarchy types are all uppity,” he whispered, eyes darting around as if he expected their mother to tap the back of his head and tell him not to be disrespectful.
Haesel lifted a hand and pretended to hold a monocle to her left eye. “Lord Potter, are you quite sure your granddaughter’s fully grown? She looks a mite small. Did you feed her the proper amount of vegetables when she was a child.”
“A member of the oligarchy at my granddaughter’s coming of age gala? Why, I shall just faint into the punch, shall I? Would that please, your lordship?” Henry said in a brilliant imitation of Grandfather Charlus’s voice.
They erupted into laughter, shoulders and arms bumping together as they shook with mirth. “Marvolo’s not like that,” she gasped. “He c-couldn’t possibly be Lord Slytherin.” Haesel snickered a few more times before saying, “Besides, Lord Slytherin’s what, eighty, ninety? He must certainly look older! Marvolo can’t be more than a quarter of a century old, I’d wager.”
Henry glanced down at her. “Rumor has it that Lord Slytherin doesn’t look a day over twenty-five.”
Snorting, Haesel shook her head. “And we both know that every rumor in the pureblood drawing rooms is true. Why, people would never lie to Lord Slytherin’s face about how dashingly handsome and young he looks. It’s a coincidence, nothing more.” She waved her hand dismissively. She had lost count of how many times she had heard someone tell an elderly witch or wizard that his or her face and figure were decades younger, when it was not the case at all.
“Right, well, I’m sure you’ll get to meet his supreme lordship soon enough,” Henry teased.
Haesel grimaced. She could already hear the clamor she would cause by refusing Lord Slytherin’s suit—if that was, indeed, why he had returned to England. If Salazar himself showed up at her gala, she would turn him down too. She had already made her choice, and nothing was going to change her mind.
“Don’t remind me,” she mumbled tiredly. That was a media nightmare that she wasn’t anticipating in the least.
“His magic,” Henry said leadingly as he nudged her in the ribs with his elbow.
“Morgana, Henry, it’s intoxicating,” she breathed reverently. She closed her eyes and shuddered, only aware her brother could feel it when he tightened his grip on her. “It calls to me,” she confessed. “It begs for my attention all the time. He’s so powerful and honorable. I’ve never felt anything like it before.” And it was true, too. None of the other wizards she had met had been this appealing on more than a superficial level. None had commanded, demanded her whole being, and offered the same in return.
Her magic had finally stopped searching. It had no need to now. The goal of the quest had been achieved; what was lost had been found: Marvolo.
They sat in silence for several minutes before Henry shattered it. “So it’s finally happened. You found someone worthy.”
“Yes. I did.” She laid her head on his chest. “And it was terrifying, Henry. I think I could drown myself in his magic and never even think to try and breathe. I would placidly let it lull me into submission.”
Henry swallowed loudly. “That’s . . .”
“But—” She tucked her head under her brother’s chin and allowed herself to ponder something she hadn’t understood until this afternoon, when Marvolo had cast her own words back at her. “I think it’s the same for him. I think he is just as drawn to me, that he would let my magic consume him like Fiendfyre. It’s dangerous, oh so very dangerous, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to protect as well.”
“How can I keep you safe from something like that?” he breathed, hands shaking.
Haesel kissed his chest, right over his heart, and then pulled back so she could look him dead in the eyes. “You can’t.”
“You’ve chosen him, haven’t you?” asked Henry, a knowing look on his face. “This Marvolo the Diplomat, Marvolo of no last name, Marvolo of powerful and honorable magic, he’s going to be my brother-in-law.”
She thought of Marvolo’s words that afternoon, and the knowledge he had shared: she had somehow been sending him visions of her life since she was a mere child. It seemed destiny had foreordained the wizard that would stand at her side and be her lord. She could not begrudge its choice. Marvolo was a great man: protective, caring, trustworthy, and attractive.
Haesel opened her mouth and spoke a Potter vow in five simple words. “I will have no other.”
* * *
It was not a private room. There was, once again, no door. Just a wide-open archway in the chess room, a table set back a little from the rest, room for just the table and two comfortable armchairs. Somehow, the space had been expanded as soon as Master Henry entered it behind his sister; a house-elf immediately appeared with a chair.
“Don’t mind if I join you, do you, sir?” Master Henry asked, grinning up at Marvolo.
He could hardly say ‘no’ to his future wife’s brother, especially as Master Henry was acting as a guard dog. It was not unusual for witches to engage in private games in clubs, but it was always in the presence of others, and, well, Marvolo could see every eye on the three of them as Lady Haesel settled across from him.
“Chess?” she asked, sweeping her hand across the board to reset it. Marvolo had been playing against himself, not that he minded the company of the enchanting witch across from him.
A slight smirk graced his face when he acknowledged that she had, once again, sought him out. “I didn’t know you played,” he said, politely gesturing for her to make the first move.
“And yet I knew you did. How odd.” Her voice was light again, and her eyes flashed with a hidden knowledge as her magic reached out to caress him.
Everyone was listening. The frown on Heir Malfoy’s face was pronounced as he sat with the eldest of his sisters, clearly having been waiting for Lady Haesel’s appearance. He could also spot a few other suitors with just a quick glance to the main chess room beyond.
“Are you looking forward to your coming of age gala, Lady Haesel? I heard tell that you dance with your uncle—Valerius Vaisey. How utterly proper of you.” The last bit was said teasingly, as she was rarely proper when he saw her.
Master Henry had been reading a book that he had brought along, as if he knew his sister’s plan to seek out Marvolo and was acting the part of a dutiful—though curious—brother. His head snapped up at the mention of their uncle, though.
“By Merlin, how did you know that? No one knows that except the family and Lord Slytherin.” His words were just a whisper, but an anxious one at that, and he shot a look at his sister.
“Why would Lord Slytherin know about my first dance?” she asked. “And how would you know about Lord Slytherin being in possession of such knowledge, Henry?”
Master Henry huffed, his hazel eyes sparkling with amusement. “I overheard Granddad and Dad speaking.”
“Pranking someone then.” There were no accusations in Lady Haesel’s tone, only a reiteration of fact. The slight glare she aimed at her brother betrayed her seeming nonchalance, though. It seemed she didn’t appreciate secrets being kept from her. That was something Marvolo would have to keep in mind.
“If you say so. It appears that the rumors are true. He actually paid Granddad a visit, according to what I heard. Mum and Dad were going to give him your maiden dance, but—”
“I requested Uncle Valerius.” She looked at Marvolo and he held her gaze, then she turned back to her brother. “Isn’t Lord Slytherin a little old to dance?”
Marvolo hadn’t quite realized he’d been holding his breath during this conversation. Lady Haesel had not guessed yet. The game was still on . . . and yet part of him yearned for her to know the truth. To hear her whisper “my lord” in his ear when he held her close. To lo— He interrupted that train of thought immediately; it could go nowhere constructive.
“Probably. Perhaps he’s too dignified,” Master Henry answered, breaking Marvolo from his thoughts.
“No one, even Lord Slytherin,” Marvolo purred, “would be too dignified to dance at my lady’s gala.” Lady Haesel blushed and bowed her head in acknowledgment. “Whether my lady chooses to accept his offer of a dance, though, is an entirely different matter.” Marvolo deftly moved his queen to take her bishop, and rejoiced in Lady Haesel’s gasp of surprise.
“Have you had occasion to meet his lordship, sir?” Master Henry asked. “My sister informs me you’re a diplomat. Perhaps you have seen him since his much spoken of return?” There was a challenge in his eyes, as if Master Henry suspected the truth despite most of the evidence to the contrary.
Marvolo paused, considering his options, and a smile then graced his lips. He was happy when Lady Haesel returned it openly; he could imagine their audience’s envy. “I believe his lordship has frequented this very club of late. Perhaps he’s trying to catch a glimpse of my lady?”
“You believe the rumors, then.” Master Henry’s voice was hard, and Lady Haesel instantly looked at him in question.
“I believe,” Marvolo began carefully, settling against the back of his chair, “that if any woman were to cause Lord Slytherin to forsake his bachelor ways and the rumored exotic landscape of his diplomatic post, then my lady would certainly be the ideal candidate. It is, of course, all speculation, however widespread.”
“Are you saying that I’m beautiful despite my height then, Diplomat?” Lady Haesel teased as she analyzed the board.
Master Henry frowned slightly, as if he disapproved of his sister’s taunt.
“I believe you know my opinion on that particular subject already,” Marvolo teased back. He was surprised a moment later to see that Lady Haesel had captured one of his rooks. “Touché, my lady.”
“Thank you, Diplomat.” Her lips caressed the word, and he smiled at her, his eyes betraying emotions that he had not yet confronted within himself.
She was too wonderful—too perfect—too precious. The Islanders had nothing to her, even the Queens Lucy and Susan, once human and yet now so utterly other. She was intoxicating, and Marvolo blamed his own blindness for not realizing it before he sailed. He’d forsaken a lover he had chased for two tides after just one night together, all because the hint of jasmine came on the waves.
And all might have been lost. The thought made Marvolo’s heart twinge.
Since he had last seen Lady Haesel (and failed to receive adequate information on the event in question), he had looked into the matter of her being Mr. Cedric Diggory’s hostage. What he had found was, well, shocking and infuriating: a restraining order that had been filed the morning after the Second Task. There was a closed file of a trial that even he couldn’t open (which had taken place some months later)—meaning that the crime was dire enough to never be spoken of except by the victim, if he or she may so choose. Given that Lady Haesel’s magic was pure, she had, thank Merlin and Morgana, not been violated. But it was something serious—most likely a kidnapping, if his intuition was correct.
“Now,” he began, “I need you to clarify something for me, my lady.” Before he lost another night’s sleep by creating one horrific scenario after another. “Mr. Diggory attempted to kidnap you?” Marvolo implored her to answer, despite the hitch in her breath. She shuddered and closed her eyes, and he regretted causing that reaction, but he needed to know. To understand what had happened to her. To give her everything she deserved. To lay the world at her feet if she asked him for it.
He turned to Master Henry for an answer when he was met with silence. “Dad was there, though he was hardly needed,” Master Henry answered. “Mr. Diggory was a bit—infatuated.”
“Unsurprising, given my lady,” Marvolo responded, wishing to reach out and touch Lady Haesel’s fingers to offer her some comfort. Instead, he wrapped his magic around her to make her feel as if she were held in a warm embrace that he, as yet, could not physically offer her. No matter how much he desired to do just that. “So, he was infatuated?”
“I turned him down when he asked me to be his companion for the Yule Ball,” Lady Haesel answered after taking a deep breath. “Instead, I went with Uncle Valerius to enjoy the dancing. Still, I was his hostage during the Second Task, while his girlfriend was not.”
“She was in Ravenclaw, if I remember,” Master Henry added in. “Neither Uncle Valerius, Heir Smith, nor myself allowed her to be alone after she was pulled out of the lake, but that summer—”
Marvolo’s eyes narrowed dangerously. A wave of possessiveness and something more tender—something he could not quite identify except as ‘sentiment’, although the term was severely lacking—overtook him. He ground his teeth to stop himself from reaching forward and embracing Lady Haesel for all to see, so that everyone would know what they both knew: that she was his, that she was his future bride, and the lady of his heart. And yet, he forced himself to remain seated, to appear calm, and sent another protective wave of magic toward Lady Haesel.
“It was in Diagon Alley,” Lady Haesel revealed, before taking one of his pawns. “He made to grab me, succeeded for a few moments, but my magic threw him off.”
“He’s rotting in a cell in Azkaban for ten years,” Master Henry said gleefully. “They broke his wand.”
“And so the tale ends,” Lady Haesel said. “A minor annoyance.”
Hardly that, Marvolo reasoned. No wonder her magic had called to him so drastically that year. Any pureblood witch would have been traumatized. Yet the strength she clearly comported herself with said she was unafraid, that she could protect herself. Yet her magic called for his as if he were her lord already, needing and desiring his protection and care.
Bond with me, it whispered.
The undoubted answer was a resounding Yes, and yet propriety would not allow him to properly court her for another week. And then there would be other first marriage dates that she would be obliged to attend. Even then . . . It did not bear thinking about.
Marvolo had known the instant she had decided that he was to be her lord. Her magic had arrived at the manor and roused him from his rest, circling about him happily, playfully, teasingly, whispering to him how much she loved him, even though she knew so little about him. It had taken every fiber of Marvolo’s being not to storm Potter Manor in that instant and bring her back to his manor—their home—the place where she belonged, by his side, wherever he traveled . . . perhaps even as far as the Lone Islands.
“Enough about my sister,” Master Henry suddenly put in. “I know you’re a diplomat, that your mother named you Marvolo, and that you’re a pureblood. That’s not nearly enough.” Wary skepticism on Master Henry’s face proved that he wasn’t as naïve as Marvolo had first assumed.
“She did not.” Marvolo’s voice was low and full of repressed emotion. Thinking about his mother hurt, but at least he knew she had loved him. He could still feel that from the broken bond, even after all these decades. He had never been given a godfather or godmother, so his maternal bond had been especially strong. He could still feel echoes of her magic, and he would swear that she had sung him lullabies when she was still with child.
The bond with his Muggle father—if you could even call that pathetic sliver of frayed thread a bond—had been incinerated by his own doing. He didn’t regret it in the least.
Lady Haesel gasped and looked up at him. “She didn’t?”
“No, my lady. I own that she named me for my father. I have never cared for the name and so my close acquaintances call me by my second name, which was incidentally my maternal grandfather’s.”
Lady Haesel stared at him openly, questioningly, and he could not help but elaborate, as she wished he would.
“My father, while undoubtedly wealthy, abandoned my mother when she was with child. He claimed, quite falsely, that he had been bewitched. I do not care to bear his name.” Even if such a thing was true, his father was a spineless, dishonorable coward for abandoning his mother. He had been right to kill the man.
“No, of course not,” Lady Haesel said gently and then, after a moment’s pause, he felt her small hand slide over his. He hadn’t even realized he had clenched it into a fist until he relaxed beneath her touch, allowing their fingers to intertwine, hidden from the view of the rest of the room but decidedly in front of her brother’s astute gaze.
Master Henry cleared his throat.
Neither Marvolo nor Lady Haesel moved away from each other or showed any inclination to do so.
Huffing, Master Henry asked, “So, then, are you a lord? An heir? An heir’s heir?”
“A lord,” he answered succinctly. “My lady rightly deduced, however, that for many years I was addressed only in a professional capacity. ‘Diplomat’ is much more fitting than everyone calling me ‘my lord’. I find it quite tedious.”
“It can be,” Lady Haesel agreed. “And trying to keep everyone straight—”
“—and the half-bloods and Muggle-borns getting up in arms—” her brother added.
“—insisting they be called ‘Miss’ and ‘Mister’ as if they had any right to such titles.” Lady Haesel shook her head, the few loose curls of her ebony hair swishing against her shoulders, which were covered with only the thinnest layer of fabric. It was elegant and tantalizing, as if it had been specially chosen for him to see her in it. “I must confess that the entire thing just gives me a headache.” She smiled at him before turning to her brother.
“Be thankful you weren’t at Hogwarts my first year when Granger first arrived. She was a menace. She didn’t understand why she kept on getting detention for calling purebloods by their given names without their consent.”
“How scandalous,” Marvolo joked, placing his lady in check, his other hand still intertwined with hers. “I take it I shall not make her acquaintance at either the Smiths’ Masquerade Ball tomorrow night or your own gala?”
“Certainly not at the latter,” Lady Haesel answered. “Most likely not at the former.” She smiled to herself, as if she had some secret piece of knowledge that she would not openly admit. The look suited her, Marvolo decided. How delightful it would be in the future, trying to pry her secrets from her, only to be greeted by that look before he could kiss it away.
“Shall you be in attendance at the Masquerade, my lord?” Master Henry asked. When Marvolo glanced at him in annoyance, he quickly added, “You can hardly expect me to address you as ‘diplomat’!”
“No, I suppose not,” Marvolo conceded. That form of address was for his lady alone. “And, yes, I thought I might. Sadly, I imagine my lady shall not be in attendance.” And what a pity that would be. Marvolo was curious as to what Lady Haesel would dare to wear at such a ball. She would never be so pedestrian as to dress as a Founder, after all.
“At least not dancing,” Master Henry muttered under his breath, which caused Lady Haesel to smile secretly again. Ah, so she would be there, hidden under a disguise, though her magic could never lie to him.
“You are acquainted with Lord and Lady Smith, then?” asked Lady Haesel. Her sudden interest made sense, seeing as she had told him that Heir Smith was her closest friend.
“No,” he answered truthfully. “My title guarantees me an invitation, however, now that I am within the country.”
“You are just full of mysteries, one right after another!” Lady Haesel exclaimed quietly, catching his eye before expertly moving out of check.
“I hope not too many, and certainly not from you.”
He made his move. She made another in complete silence, checking him. Marvolo would have startled if he hadn’t found her presence so soothing. No one but King Edmund had checked him since he was a student at Hogwarts!
“Tell me a bit about your title then, if you refuse to give it.”
He removed his surprised eyes from the chessboard. “It’s from my mother’s side of the family. It was discovered while I was at Hogwarts that I was the sole male heir to a line and because of the nature of the magic of that line, I was laureled a lord.” Marvolo always hated that phrase; it sounded too much like a rhyme. But one crowned a king and laureled a lord, for whatever reason. One of his tutors might have lectured him on it decades ago, but he hadn’t found the information useful.
“How intriguing,” Lady Haesel supplied, her face showing genuine interest. It was the genuine part that he adored. People too often feigned interest while in his company due to one, or all, of his titles. She was truly unlike most people he knew. “Your mother, she didn’t know?”
“No, she knew,” Marvolo answered. “Her family, though, didn’t appear to seek recognition among their fellow purebloods.” Inbred, illiterate lot that they were. All the Gaunts cared about was their supposed greatness as they sunk further and further into squalor. They were descended from not only Salazar Slytherin, but also one of the Peverell brothers, for Merlin’s sake!
“How unlike the majority of society,” Lady Haesel mused as she placed him back in check. Marvolo found himself on the defensive, his king running away from several of her pieces at once.
“Ah,” she cried after only two more moves. “Checkmate!”
Marvolo, despite having lost, couldn’t help but smile at the unabashed joy shining through her face as she looked at him. Spending time with her had put it there.