Author: Ennee Gray PM
A love story. Not so pure nor simple. Bellatrix Black is a witch and not a very light one. Bruce Wayne is a muggle and he is anything but simple.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Bellatrix L. & Bruce W./Batman - Chapters: 7 - Words: 98,319 - Reviews: 69 - Favs: 102 - Follows: 112 - Updated: 02-11-13 - Published: 01-04-09 - id: 4768863
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I don't own anything of the Potterverse and also nothing of the Batman-verse.
A/N: All the previous chapters have had some additional work done this month to clarify a few points and foreshadow some others, because contrary to what I've been blabbing about to everyone - this is not the last chapter. Every time I get down to write they just have more to say and do, and they insist on it. And so the story goes on and gets bigger and bigger. I feel terrorized by my own fanfic. Anyway - thank you all for being patient and living to see this next installment :) Hopefully the next chapter will be the last one. I don't hold much hope for that, though.
"Why can he... How can he...," Bruce couldn't find the right way to put to words the storm of feelings rising in his chest. "I don't understand," he confessed reluctantly suddenly feeling like he'd been played for a fool for years.
"I'm real, Bruce," this was honestly not the way she had planned (eventually) to tell him. Bellatrix grit her teeth and pressed her lips together in a thin line in an effort to keep an altogether straight face. She hadn't expected him to be unquestionably overjoyed, but the grim expression on his face unsettled her still.
She knew there were dozens of things she owed to tell him in the wake of her revelation, but he didn't ask anything. She could guess a half of things that he might wrongly assume from their shared history based on her confession. Inexplicably she wanted to soothe all those worries, because if there was one thing in the world Bruce should never doubt it was that she did consider him her dearest friend.
However she didn't know a thing to say if he didn't ask her directly and he... Well, he didn't. He turned his gaze from her and stared in the distance. She glanced at Alfred, but he also was silent, his gaze moving from her to Bruce and back before settling on her.
"Maybe a doctor, nonetheless?"
Bella managed a tight smile and shook her hurting head lightly. "I'll be fine." Her ribs were already fixed in place with slowly eroding healing charm that would disappear altogether once her bones healed and her veins were full of potions slowly working on repairing the damage in her body – the healers of St. Mango's had done their job very well, before releasing her from their care. All she needed was to stop running into fights for a while to let the healing magic do it's work.
"Alright, then," Alfred wasn't going to push more. He settled back into his seat properly.
As the silence stretched and minutes trickled by Bellatrix found herself wishing that she were more prone to the role of damsel in distress, because then she would be able to conveniently pass out instead of being forced to endure this suspense. But, having been born more for the role of villainess than the heroine - all Bella had was an annoying headache, not even a blinding one, and she was all too well to deal with all the unpleasantness that came when instead of lying once more she had to face up and offer some truth instead.
"Are you going to stay?" Bruce asked out of the blue glancing at her.
"Yes. For a while," she said and she didn't ask if he minded, because this time it was her who didn't want to hear the answer. It's not like she couldn't turn on the spot and choose any other random spot on the world to hide out on, but she didn't want to.
"Alright," Bruce said. "Alfred, back to the hotel, please."
Alfred nodded immediately, he glanced in the rear-view mirror at his passengers, before checking the side-mirror and restarting the car. "Very well, Master Bruce," he said softly.
Bellatrix got Bruce's unspoken message rather well, she had been remarkably astute during the past week - usually she didn't bother picking up all the nuances of people's moods, but apparently pretending to be dead set even her touchy-feely senses on the edge. "You're staying at a hotel?" she tried for small talk to distract herself from the annoying pounding in her left temple.
"I bought it. A couple of weeks back. I was bored," he explained shortly.
"Nice," she didn't judge. She'd brought a whole apartment building to have her very own quiet apartment. Bruce however didn't pick up his thread of the conversation. The rest of the drive was quiet.
They had just walked into the penthouse and Alfred had just left the two of them alone when Bruce suddenly whirled around to face her and demanded, "So you're a flesh and blood person? Always had been?" The expression on his face was cold and closed-off. He addressed her with a tone in which Batman addresses thugs.
Bellatrix had been waiting for him to erupt for a while now, so while she reeled a bit from the sudden verbal attack, she wasn't surprised. "Well, I always told you I wasn't your imaginary friend," she replied as calmly as she could.
"You are right on one account - friends just don't do things like this," his mask slipped for a moment as anger took the upper hand. He breathed deeply and brushed his hand through his hair in an attempt to gain control over his emotions again.
"Oh, come on. Things like what?" she demanded right back, annoyed. Her renewed headache made her weary and somewhat less patient than usual. Since she believed she had always done the best thing possible for the both of them, she found it hard to have to justify herself, especially since she didn't think her actions needed any justification.
"You lied to me, Bellatrix!" he growled at her.
"I never told you that I wasn't real," she countered easily, much calmer than he, but slowly getting fired up as well.
"Some would argue that lies by omission are still lies," he retorted, unyielding.
"Don't twist it all around," she hissed. His anger ignited hers. "If you want to look at the base facts - you never asked me if I was real and I told you the truth, I am a witch. That's what I am and that's who I am and that's what I always will be first and foremost - a witch. And a bloody good one too."
"So what we had - the whole screwing with my mind thing... Is that some kind of rite of passage among your people?" Bruce let his disgust show in his tone. He had trusted her. He had held her above all others. He had cherished her memory when he had thought her gone forever. He felt betrayed.
"Don't be an idiot. As far as I know our experience is unique," Bellatrix replied sharply glaring at Bruce. How dare he insinuate that she'd spend so much time and effort, that she'd invest so much of herself in him just to play tricks?
"Experience, huh?" he asked, saying the word as if it was a particularly foul expletive. He glared right back at her, not yielding an inch.
"Damn it, we grew up together, Bruce. It means something to me," she managed to throw the admission in his face like an insult, stripping the phrases from all sentiment.
"Yeah, I can feel that. I especially felt that eleven years ago when you told me I would never see you again," he didn't try to contain the sarcasm that dripped from his words. "I thought so many things - I feared... And I never knew that you were right there like any other person," he spoke the same way she spoke to him – twisting the meaning of the words with his tone – making the confession of his pain and fears sound like an accusation. "So our growing up together - it meant exactly that to you.. You couldn't be bothered to give me a phone call."
"Don't be so melodramatic," Bellatrix spat angrily. "My world was at war. For me - it's not over even now. There were those among my people who downright enjoyed killing people like you - those without magic. I couldn't in good conscience expose you to that, and being the idiot you are, can you honestly tell me you wouldn't have charged in head first?" her tirade was sharp and furious like the merciless edge of a combat knife.
"Oh, so all these years you were protecting me?" he didn't even try to conceal how ridiculous he found the notion.
"It was a part of my reasons, yes," she admitted freely.
"And I'm the idiot here?" he demanded, his rage rising once again. "Friends are supposed to tell each other the truth!"
"Same thing again. I didn't lie to you!" she took a step closer to him, her voice rising in frustrated anger.
"You also never told me what was really going on with you!" he stood his ground.
"It was for the best," she said before turning away and walking further in the room, their standstill broken and her wish to fight gone. "I had to sort myself out," she hated saying this. Bellatrix didn't enjoy admitting the power that Voldemort had had over her. "I didn't even know what I wanted then and if I'd chosen a different path - I didn't want you to be my first victim."
"Victim," Bruce drawled no longer mocking. He knew she could take him in a fight if she so chose, because she wouldn't hesitate to use magic or whatever other tricks she had. "Well I wouldn't want to be that," he said slowly, letting his anger go. "What kind of scourge of the criminal underworld would I be then?"
She smiled lightly. "Have you calmed down then?" she asked in truth meaning if he was done with the argument as a whole.
"You still owe me a lot of explanations," he replied softly, no longer furious and feeling a little less betrayed, but still confused. Bruce wasn't going to let this one go as easily as he had done with everything else in the past.
"If I have to explain everything to you it'll take forever," Bellatrix said honestly and not feeling that it was an exaggeration in the least.
"Good," Bruce stated, his expression finally turning softer and friendlier.
Bellatrix laughed shortly. "Indeed." Maybe they were going to be just fine. After all, why shouldn't they be? Bruce was a logical, clever man; he surely saw that she was completely in the right. She smiled at him before moving further into the penthouse, heading for the corner with the best view adorned with low, minimalist armchairs in somewhat tacky black colour complimented by a sturdy glass table.
She made a move to sit down and was surprised when her midriff felt somewhat like her ribs were scraping against her insides. It was a challenge to keep the smile still easy and light on her face, but she managed it gracefully. Once down she laid a hand unobtrusively over her stomach and resolved not to get up in a while, even if the armchair had looked more comfortable than it actually was.
Bruce's eyes narrowed as he watched her. "Are you sure you're alright?" because as angry as he was with her, he in no way wanted her to be in pain, and she had arrived with a bang to say the least.
She waved him off with the hand that wasn't holding on to her ribs. "Fine."
He gritted his teeth and walked over to her; he glared down at her. "You're obviously in pain."
She sighed. "If you are so perceptive, why did you ask how I was in the first place?" she stared right back, not bothered in the least by the fact that he had the higher ground.
"Of course, I'm the idiot for hoping you'd be candid with me," his tone was short and clipping.
Bellatrix had just had enough. What was it with everyone these days? Emotions right, left and centre and no one could contain themselves, quite uncontrollably she cried out, exasperated, "What's with the melodrama?"
Bruce just shook his head. He worshipped her, but he just couldn't deal with her selfishness, not now. Apparently, she didn't understand, perhaps, had never understood, and might never get to the point where she might understand. How could she not see what was wrong?
"Very well," he managed to growl through clenched teeth before taking a wilful breath and relaxing enough to say, "You're welcome to stay as long as you want," before turning on his heel and heading out. Just out. He couldn't bear to be in her presence any longer.
Bellatrix closed her eyes for a moment to resist the urge to roll them which would just be utterly unbecoming of her upbringing and status. As it happened, she almost missed the sight as he stormed out of the penthouse. She wasn't worried in the least, she knew that he would come back; he always came back, usually within the first fifteen minutes. So she shifted lightly to be able to rest better against the back of the chair and resigned herself to waiting a little.
When she glanced at the clock and saw that it had already been twenty minutes she began to worry slightly, not that she would admit to it. She reasoned to herself that he might just need a little more time before coming back, after all, he knew that she preferred it if he came back already calm and reasonable.
When it was half-hour since he'd left her mild worry escalated to a greater one and she worried he might have gotten himself into some kind of trouble, because surely, how angry he must be to still be out? She found that she couldn't stop staring at the clock, willing it to go backwards so that less time would have passed, so that he'd be already here, but the clock slowly ticked away unconcerned.
When Alfred came with tea, Bruce had been out for almost an hour and Bellatrix had been just about ready to go get him herself and kill whoever had delayed his return.
"Don't get up, Madam," Alfred said setting the tea down on the table. He poured a cup for her. "Milk or sugar?"
"Neither," Bellatrix replied watching the old man carefully. It was obvious he planned something with this, and considering he had seen her Apparate she was certain she knew the general direction their conversation was about to take. She debated between Obliviating him or letting him keep her secret.
He prepared the tea so slowly, it grated on her nerves. She knew she had to deal with him sooner or later, and honestly she respected the man who had raised Bruce, but right now she was coiled in her seat and getting more anxious by the minute. She wanted to get up and go get her foolish friend, who no doubt was in trouble.
Finally, Alfred handed her the tea and settled back into his chair with his own. "Drink your tea, Madam, and relax," he advised.
Bella pursed her lips for a moment in a fleeting expression of annoyance, before she managed a light smile, "Thank you, Alfred, but I think I should go look for Bruce, he might be in trouble."
"Young Master is often in trouble, nothing he can't handle as of yet," he replied calmly, sipping his own tea.
She was neither placated nor convinced by his words. "Alfred..."
"Forgive me for interrupting," he smiled serenely. "But you speak to me as if you've known me for years so I don't think you'll mind if I return the familiarity, even though I don't think we've ever met before."
"I've been careful," she replied neutrally.
"Except today," he supplied helpfully.
"Extraneous circumstances," she said curtly.
"I'd imagine so," he agreed. "To Apparate so carelessly, it would have to have been a special occasion, indeed."
Bellatrix was nonplussed, but struggled not to show it. In all the years she had known Alfred she had never ever suspected him of being magical.
"I can imagine what you're thinking, my dear, but don't worry, you haven't missed anything, because there is nothing to miss. I am not a Wizard."
Understanding dawned on her. "Squib?"
"Rather unpleasant term is it not? But accurate nonetheless."
"You are full of surprises, Alfred," she said softly.
"As are you Madam," he remarked. "Now," his countenance became grave and serious. "What is your business with Bruce Wayne? From what happened today, I'm guessing you've known him for quite a while."
She could Obliviate him and this conversation will never have happened. She didn't have to answer. In fact, she could Apparate to Rio de Janeiro and forget all about this herself, even if she would have to Obliviate herself, but... She frowned as she thought, not that she was seriously considering fleeing to Rio; she just liked to know that she had options, but come to think of it – she didn't, not really. Bruce was a huge part of her life and in a way so was Alfred, and even if she could ignore that principle on her own account – Alfred was an enormous part of Bruce's life.
This was a mess. She was stuck in the middle of it, and the whole situation made her feel worse in a way Voldemort had never managed. There was no acceptable way out of this.
Decision made, she relaxed in the armchair for the first time since Alfred had entered the room. "I've known Bruce since I was seven years old...," and she saw how tension also left Alfred as she began her tale. She hid her smile behind the rim of the tea cup as she took a sip before continuing.
She didn't tell Alfred everything, of course, but she told him enough. She told him about growing up with Bruce, she told him about how she had managed to stay unnoticed for so long, and she told him about the reasons behind her fight with Bruce today.
"So you see why I think that something may have happened," she said straining to sit up straighter.
Alfred set his cup on the table, grimacing. "You're quite right on one account, and utterly wrong on another, Madam," he said.
Bellatrix frowned. "I don't understand."
"No, you don't," he agreed. "Master Bruce can handle himself against anything the streets of Gotham can throw at him, I'm certain he is in no physical danger."
"I sense a 'but'," she remarked.
"However," he continued pointedly. "I've only seen him in such a state of mind once before." Alfred paused.
Bellatrix motioned impatiently for him to explain further.
The set of Alfred's mouth was hard. "It was seven years ago. Just before he went missing."
Bellatrix set her cup on the armrest and clenched her fingers to prevent her hands from shaking. "You mean to tell me he has an hour head start on going AWOL?" she demanded leaning forward a little before stopping abruptly, gritting her teeth. Her insides hurt.
Alfred was startled a little by her actions, "You need rest, Madam."
Bella looked at him as if he was crazy. He must be, in any case. As if she had the inclination to wait seven more years for Bruce to get his head straight. She might live to see her two hundredth birthday, but Bruce is a Muggle, and he didn't have such luxury of time.
"If it is any consolation, I don't believe that he will disappear for any such length of time, however time is what he needs. As do you," Alfred said placatingly.
"He's never needed so much time before," she barely refrained from sneering.
"Well, his life has been upturned only once before."
Bellatrix settled carefully back into her chair. It just felt so wrong - that Bruce was so angry with her he had intentionally left for such an increasingly long time. Seven years ago as she had long ago found out, he had left because the courts of Gotham had decided to release Joe Chill from prison – she was sure he had felt betrayed by authorities on every possible level for releasing his parents' murderer. It couldn't be that in his eyes she was as bad as that... That petty criminal.
"He will be back," she said with conviction that she didn't feel.
"Quite so, Madam," Alfred agreed before gathering the tea set and leaving her to her thoughts. They both knew that their conversation was not over, not by a long shot, but at least they had started it. Alfred didn't trust Bellatrix after the stunt she'd pulled and Bella just generally didn't let people get close for all that she had known Alfred for years, and their only common interest wasn't here.
Bellatrix woke frowning. She had sat in that awful armchair waiting for Bruce for hours. He hadn't shown up for lunch, and he hadn't showed up for dinner either. Alfred had brought her both, but she had eaten only dinner when the old man had sat down with her. She hadn't been making a scene, honestly, she just hadn't been hungry - and let's be fair since everything soft she had on the inside felt like it had been scrubbed with an abrasive – it was a perfectly understandable position.
It had been nearly midnight when upon Alfred's suggestion she let herself be lead away to a spare bedroom to rest. She had thought about making a point, like the one Bruce was making, and staying put until he showed up, but common sense had won over.
So it was that she woke with a frown, but feeling infinitely better than yesterday.
Utterly gracelessly she rolled out of the bed, and stood a little unsteadily, mainly because she was still drowsy and half-asleep. She rubbed her face heading for the adjoined bathroom, noticing on the way that the closet doors were open and not without reason since there appeared to be a whole wardrobe in there. It made her feel welcome despite her unresolved argument with Bruce yesterday, though she was under no illusion – she knew this was actually Alfred's handiwork.
An hour later when she had finally made it from bath back to the closet she inspected the assortment of clothing before her and concluded that she and Alfred really had gotten off on the right foot. After all, he could have gotten her a random 2008 fall collection from any designer and considered his duty done, but before her were tasteful, wearable excerpts from various collections from various seasons.
Glancing outside the window that made up the entirety of the eastern wall of her room, she decided that while overcast – the autumn day would most likely be somewhat warm. She decided on dark grey cotton tights and a (bit flimsy for October) beige dress with dark grey geometrical patterns and tasteful ruffles along the breast line. She pulled her thick hair up, leaving just a few strands out to frame her face. And so, she was done, she decided as she stared at herself in the mirror-door of the closet. She was perfectly presentable, she looked great – she could just walk out the door and out of the penthouse and do whatever the bloody hell she wanted for the day, it's not like she cared whether Bruce was back or not.
Bellatrix scowled at herself utterly disgusted. She slipped her feet into a fitting set of high-heels and went to see about breakfast. And Bruce.
She hated feeling as if she had done something wrong, when intellectually she couldn't help but think that she hadn't.
"Bruce, you have to explain," she demanded as soon as she saw him. He was sitting in the kitchen on a bar stool, somewhat slumped over the table and nursing coffee.
He looked at her. Hard. As if he was looking at a stranger. "What do you want me to explain?"
"What is it that you're so upset about? What is it that you just can't deal with on your own? Because I don't understand and until I do – there's nothing I can do about it," she said completely serious. "And frankly, it's quite obvious that you do want me to do something."
"What makes you think I want you to do anything about it?"
"Don't be an idiot," she snapped, sliding into the seat opposite to him without waiting for an invitation, hooking the heels of her shoes against the bar stool. "You know me. If you want something you have to ask for it – I'm not a mind reader."
"Maybe it's something you have to figure out for yourself," he said. "Maybe it's worthless any other way."
"Bellatrix, that is what bothers me – you just don't see what is wrong."
"Well, that's why I'm asking, Bruce," she said. "If I didn't know you better I'd say you're just playing coy."
He took a deep breath. Could he really let his resentment rule over everything else? Could he just give up and try to forget her, because he didn't think he could deal with this? Should he be selfish and think of himself this time rather than her? After all, she was selfish. She just didn't see so many things, and he always, always had to explain to get her to understand. If he gave in now he knew that the next time would be no different – that it would always be like this. Did he really have the capacity to give that much to another person? Could he stand to be the one that gives, unfailingly?
He looked in her sweet, frustrated face and knew that if he refused to answer, if he pushed to make a point – he would succeed, she'd leave him be eventually. Somehow he didn't think it would ever be worth it. He sighed, capitulating.
"Do you know that I've been questioning my sanity since I was eight years old? Since I first saw you? It's never been at the forefront of my mind, because, honestly – who would want to deal with that? But it always was there – at the back of my head. And in the end – I've been ready to accept that I'm insane rather than to admit that you're not real," he closed his eyes for a moment to compose himself. "It's been plaguing me for years. You have been plaguing me for years."
Bellatrix grit her teeth hard enough to hurt her molars. She wanted to reach for him, maybe comfort him that way, but how could she if she was the problem that was the matter with him. She had asked him to explain everything to her, so the least she could do was not distract him, and listen. Her fingers curled into fists, clenching hard, but her face was expressionless as she stared at him listening.
"And then you left... You just left. Do you have any id... You don't, obviously," he sighed, rethinking how to phrase what he wanted to say. "When you left that night, saying that it was over, that we would never see each other again, and, yes, those might not have been your exact words, I won't argue, but don't you dare tell me you didn't know that that was the general meaning," he stopped, waiting as if to see if she would protest, but she didn't. "So you left – and to the best of my knowledge we would never see each other again. It was like you died. You were just gone – unreachable in any way."
"And now – you just showed up, and you still didn't tell me the truth. I found out because of an accident, not because you chose to trust me, and that hurts, Bellatrix. You say you don' t understand what I'm mad about – I'm angry, because I feel betrayed, and used, and like a complete fool for thinking that you might have cared enough for me to tell me, where instead you just left me without a second thought," he leaned back a bit to increase the distance between them. "As for what I want you to do... I just don't know. I don't think there's anything you can do."
Bellatrix took a deep, troubled breath, her ribs making a slight protest at the motion. "I see," she said. "How about I tell you my side of the story? Everything," she promised. "I won't leave out a thing."
He looked at her, tired, "Will it change anything?"
She frowned, cocking her head to the side. "How should I know?" she demanded. "Just," she changed her tone to a softer one. "There's just one thing I want you to know, and never doubt, and that's why I'll tell you everything. Let me try," she asked. "Please."
"Okay," he agreed, nodding. After all, he'd already caved when he started talking. To protest now would be 'playing coy' as she had called it, and he had more self-respect than to do that.
Sirius had been nervous about his first press conference as the Minister for Magic, after all his relationship with the authorities had never been a brilliant one, and now he was the authority. It was a bit strange, but as he stepped on the platform he felt the responsibility of his position settling on his shoulders more profoundly than when he had signed the documents that decreed him as the Interim Minister.
With his back straight, and his bearing proud he went to the podium and told the press, his people, of the recent developments, and he didn't glance once in his notes. He was a Marauder after all. There was nothing he couldn't pull off. It went more smoothly than a detention with Filch up until the Q&A session started.
"What about the Order of the Phoenix, Minister Black? You are a member, are you not?"
"The Order is a group of like-minded, courageous individuals who were pro-active in the defence of their homes, friends and communities against the threat of Voldemort. However," Sirius took a deep breath. "However the Order is not an institutional body, it has no governmental recognition nor institutional power."
"So the Order of the Phoenix did not take part in the final battle?" the journalist was insistent.
"My predecessor, my dear cousin, would say that calling the events of that night a 'final battle' is far too dramatic for we took down one criminal, there are many others to apprehend, and undoubtedly many more will rise in time, that we will fight and defeat again."
"Did Albus Dumbledore take part in the battle?" chirped a young witch from the middle of the crowd.
Sirius sighed, quietly. He had found it strange when Bellatrix hadn't wanted to rely on the Headmaster in any matter, but he had respected her wishes and even felt a certain admiration for her ability to stand alone, and make the Ministry an independent domain beholden to no one, but now that he had to inherit her legacy, he found it hard to not have anyone to whom to turn to.
He was the Minister. He stood alone. It was his duty to be strong.
"Albus Dumbledore is a Headmaster of Hogwarts as such he had no place on the battlefield," he replied shortly. The logic of his own answer surprised even him.
"But he's also the Great Warlock of the Wizengamot, yes?"
"The Wizengamot is a legislative body not a law enforcement one," he replied calmly. He knew that what he said made sense. It had made sense when Bellatrix had explained it to him and Lily, and James. It had made sense when Lily had helped him draft answers to the questions most likely to be asked at this meeting. "So on this account also, Mr. Dumbledore had no business in participating in the attack." It still made sense. It was just hard to comprehend.
And he just didn't know how much sense it would make to the Wizarding population at large. Bellatrix had been a Minister for just over three years, less than a halfway in her ten year term, and it had been far too little time to change the mindset of the people.
The Ministry had been created to unite, protect and control the Wizarding population, but even at the height of its power in the 18th century the people as a whole looked only to certain individuals - icons, pioneers of the time, and heroes or villains. So Sirius understood how the notion that Bellatrix had introduced was so hard to comprehend.
He understood why the reporters were frowning or chewing the tips of their quills, he got why they couldn't see that the Order of Phoenix and Dumbledore had had no business being involved in that fight on that night.
After all, it fit so nicely, didn't it? The Dark Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore - the great wizard of the Light. Death Eaters and their polar opposites, the vigilantes of the Light - the Order of the Phoenix. It all had a poetic sense to it - light against dark, good against wrong, and in within this epic notion of world order, what did the Ministry have to do with it all?
Sirius cleared his throat. "Voldemort," he paused as people shuddered, and winced, "was a criminal. His actions were unlawful, and his followers are felons as much as he. The Ministry had proof of his guilt due to his attack on the main Ministry building in Whitehall henceforth," and he felt how his audience strained to pay more attention the more complicated and elaborate his speech became, "my predecessor issued an immediate action against them. The Ministry's duty is to protect the citizens of the British Wizarding community and as such the combined forces of the Auror division and Unspeakable department launched a pre-emptive attack on a known hideout of Lord Voldemort and eliminated the threat on..." he paused thinking back to that night. "On all of us, really," he finished with less grace than he would have liked, but he finished, at least.
"Just the Ministry then?" the reporter sounded somewhat dumbstruck by the idea.
"The Ministry for Magic has the highest authority in the British Wizarding society, its duty is to protect life, livelihood and the integrity of life of its subjects," he spoke with the passion of a convert.
Like most Sirius had idolised icons, and placed his hopes on Dumbledore, when in time as a member of the Order of the Phoenix in battles he had come to realize by himself that if you wanted something done - do it yourself; and then as the Head of Department of International Magical Cooperation by the example of other nations he had come to the understanding that both of his adopted concepts were wrong. Celebrities are just that - celebrities, they are not champions for law and justice, and neither is it that every man is for himself. It's the concept of community, a system - for without it they really are just a bunch of random, unrelated people, a crowd grasping at straws desperate to find something to believe in, without ideals or fealty to anyone or organization of any kind. Just a bunch of sheep.
And how easy they had been pushed around. A new Dark Lord at least twice a century.
"So to answer your question, yes," he sneered, "it was just the Ministry."
"It's over then? You-Know-Who is dead?" a wizard from the back of the crowd called out.
Sirius nodded, swallowed and then spoke, "Yes. Minister Black killed Voldemort herself."
He looked straight into a camera as it took a picture. He wasn't sure if that would be the image that would end up in the newspapers, but he felt like emphasizing his point. He would not take credit for what she had done. He would not let her go quietly. If she wished to pretend to be dead, he would at the very least make sure that everyone knows that she is a hero. He would not ask for forgiveness for this.
"What about Minister Black? Is she really dead?"
Sirius was confused for a moment, until he pieced the question together. With him and Bellatrix sharing the same surname – it would get confusing real fast. "No," he replied strongly. "As far as I know Lady Bellatrix Black is alive and whole," Sirius had never promised to lie on her behalf in this matter.
"Then why is she no longer a Minister?"
Now that was a complicated question, was it not? He could not very well tell the whole truth, and what kind of lie would make the most sense? Lily had helped him come up with this one, specifically.
"Lady Black took upon herself the position as the Minister for Magic with the intention to optimize the efficiency of the Ministry as well as to use her considerable power and resources to ensure the capture or elimination of the criminal known as Lord Voldemort. Since the terrorist group of Death Eaters has been disbanded and their leader killed – the terms of contract Lady Black signed upon taking the position as a Minister were fulfilled, and the resignation from her official position became valid and binding. Being the Head of a Family and a Minister for Magic are two independent and taxing positions, Lady Black felt that with the passing of Voldemort, it would be better to redirect her attention completely to her affairs as the Lady Black."
"Where is she then?"
And that was a question he could not answer, because he honestly had no idea. Sirius flashed the crowd a winning smile before saying, "And with this I'm afraid the conference is over," and ducking out quickly.
He treated her differently. Well, something was different at any rate, she was sure of that. And it wasn't anything she could write everything off on the fact that they hadn't spent so much time together in years. He was being, well, mysterious, and if there was one word she'd never thought she'd describe Bruce Wayne with – that was that.
He had always been so transparent to her, it annoyed her that even now that they had talked, and, Merlin that had been a very long, and very exhausting conversation – there still was something that he wasn't telling and she wasn't guessing.
On the other hand – she had just been at the penthouse for three days, and maybe she was pushing things, but she found herself to be recklessly impatient for the first time in her life. She knew that Bruce was living some kind of double life – the black armour she had seen him in at the Wayne manor, the fact that he left in the evening and she rarely saw him before the next afternoon, but she hadn't asked him about it, and he hadn't volunteered any information by himself either.
Well, Bellatrix was the last person who would let Bruce get away with being a hypocrite, so in the evening, after dinner when he was about to leave as he did every night, she rose from the table with him, grabbed her purse and followed him out not bothering to go get a coat.
He looked at her oddly as they stood together waiting for the personal elevator to rise from the basement where it'd been left when Alfred went out. "You're going somewhere?" he asked, confused.
"Oh, yes," she nodded her head, and put her purse on her shoulder, across her chest. It was a small bag on a delicate chain, but then again she didn't have much to put in it – just her wallet and wand, and she could even do without the money as long as she had her wand.
"Where?" he glanced at his wristwatch – it was getting late, and it was already dark, since it was autumn. He didn't doubt she could take care of herself, but at the same time, he didn't like the idea of her wandering around Gotham at night. Batman was working hard, but crime was still on the high rise.
"I've no idea," she smiled brilliantly before stepping into the elevator.
He frowned as he followed her. "What do you mean – you don't know?"
"Well," she smiled at herself in the mirror. "Where are you going?"
"There's some business I have to attend to," he replied vaguely.
"In the docks," he replied without thinking. "Wait..."
"There you have it," she beamed at him.
"No," he said instantly.
"Yes," she argued.
"No," he said strongly.
She didn't deign to reply to that again.
"Bella, no," he repeated empathetically. "It's not... It's not a place for you."
She bit her tongue to refrain from snorting. She had fought Voldemort. What the hell had he gotten himself into that he thought she couldn't handle? Granted, he had no tangible idea who Voldemort was despite (or perhaps exactly because of ) the way she explained him, but still the thought that there was anything she should be legitimately scared of was plain ridiculous.
The lift opened in the basement, on the private floor where Bruce's parking space was. He moved to exit first, but whirled around on the threshold, blocking the way and slammed his hands sideways to prevent the doors from closing. "Bellatrix," he sounded perfectly calm and reasonable. "If you want to go out, and have some fun, you're more than welcome. Take any car. I'm surprised that you've stayed up there for as long as you have, but you're not coming with me."
"Why ever not?" she asked, curious.
"Because it's dangerous. There are some things I must to do exactly tonight and you just can't come with me."
She narrowed her eyes. She could press and he'd take her with him, but most likely not to where he had intended to go in the first place. Or she could just follow him. Then again, they'd agreed to no more deception and the trust between them was still fragile. Bellatrix didn't think that this was a good time to play games.
"Let's be honest – there's no way you can really stop me from coming, but let's make a deal. I'll let you go now and do whatever important thing it is you have to do – and I swear I won't follow, if you promise that tomorrow when you come back you'll give me the royal tour about this whole thing you've got going on, deal?" she asked. "We agreed on the full disclosure policy, did we not?" she reminded him.
He grit his teeth. He would take her offer, he already knew that, but that didn't mean he liked it. It's not that he didn't trust her with his secret, there was just about no one except Alfred that he trusted more even despite the recent discoveries, but he just didn't think she was as invincible as she believed she was. He had seen her hurt over the last few days and granted she had healed astonishingly fast, but she had been hurt which meant that she could be hurt and God forbid – killed.
"Fine," he agreed through clenched teeth.
"Wonderful," she grinned. "Now, I hope you weren't going to take the Lamborghini. I refuse to be cooped up at the penthouse for one more evening."
He moved away from the threshold allowing her to exit the elevator with a grand gesture. "Go ahead."
She smiled, took the keys from the key set on the wall by the elevator and left without looking back at him. True to her word, she wasn't going to follow him tonight. She could wait a few hours before grilling him about his secret, there were more important things. This was an exercise in trust. It was painfully apparent that both of them needed it.
The next morning she was up long before Bruce. She had a cup of tea with Alfred, watched the news channel - smirked when she saw the BBC footage of her apartment building, well the ruins of it, anyway. It had burned down to the ground, all atempts to stop the fire before it had consumed the skyscraper had completely failed. The reporter said that the fire had finally died down only late in the previous night after three days. They called it a miracle that no surrounding building had been damaged. The sweeping, helicopter shot of London skyline looked dreary with the smoke clouds above the city.
She even made a belated call to Adrian to assure him that she was unharmed, though she didn't doubt that her father had already informed him that the fire was most likely only her latest attempt at setting up the pretence of her death.
She was leafing through the printed catalogue of all the services the hotel offered (which was rather pathetic), considering visiting the SPA (there was hardly anything worse) while Bruce was still lounging in his bed when he finally showed up and saved her from a day of useless beauty excercises.
"You did that on purpose," she glared at him, but her tone was playful.
His eyes were still bleary with sleep, he yawned. "Definitely," he agreed, smiling lightly.
"Alfred made you breakfast," she pointed to the plate near her.
Bruce made a grab for the cup of coffee and released it immediately as it scalded his fingers. He hissed in pain.
"Sorry!" Bellatrix pointed with her wand, and lifted the warming charm she had set on the meal. "I kept it warm."
"Thanks," Bruce managed as he showed his hand in the sink under a spray of cold water.
"You always start with a cocktail anyway, how was I supposed to know you'd make a grab for the hottest thing on the plate?" she grumbled under her nose, but moved off her stool to go to him.
"Show me the hand," she asked extending her own. When he placed his hand, palm up, in hers she winced a little. "That looks like it hurts."
"Kinda does," he agreed dryly, wincing.
"Don't be such a baby," she retorted before casting a mild healing charm that immediately soothed the burn and healed the skin.
He looked at his hand in wonder before flexing his fingers, clenching them into a fist and back open again. The redness was gone as if it had never been there. "You've healed me before," he said, more intending to ask.
"That time was different," she explained. "I wasn't sure what was wrong with you so I cast then a general field charm - you most likely noticed that in the end it didn't heal you much. This is something else - your hand will be fine," she assured him. "It's a small thing, I'm actually not much of a healer."
"Thank you," he said sincerely.
"You're welcome," she grinned. "As if I was going to let you fake an injury so you wouldn't have to give me a tour today."
"Your motives never cease to amaze me," he bantered back. "You might want to change, though," he said as he took the cocktail, and downed it in few, large gulps.
"Because we're taking the motorcycle."
"No," she looked aghast.
"It's more inconspicious," he shrugged.
"I could swear you're doing this to me on purpose," she scowled as she walked past him.
"You bet I am," he replied lightly as she left.
The thing is - she had never been on a motorcycle. They reminded her too much of brooms and while she could fly one perfectly fine, she just didn't see what all the rage about them was. They were uncomfortable, inconvenient, slow compared to both Apparating and Floo travel, and even Portkeys, and one always arrived at the destination looking like a mess.
Well, the only point of consolation was that she was certain that at least this motorcycle was unlikely to fly.
"Well..." he drawled finishing his speech on the whole issue. "What do you think?" it came out less self-assured than he would have liked.
Bellatrix let her gaze sweep once more over the whole underground garage that had been retro-fitted into a base of sorts. Her gaze lingered on the Batman suits before returning to Bruce himself.
She was, frankly, astounded. He had accomplished so much in so short a time. He had taken what he'd learned and applied it in life with phenomenal results. The way he used his own company and it's resources, the way he managed to establish a dual identity – it was ... Amazing. And it reminded her of her own tactics in her war with Voldemort which made it the whole thing all the more admirable.
When she'd left him – he had been a boy, but before her now stood a man. A self-made man.
"Brilliant," she said earnestly. "You are absolutely brilliant."
He let out a breath he hadn't noticed he'd been holding. "Well, that's a relief."
She frowned questioningly at him.
"You did make your opinion on vigilantes quite clear when you spoke of that Headmaster of yours," he reminded her.
"Oh," she waved her hand dissmisively. "You're taking it out of the context," she assured him. "They were Dumbledore's vigilantes under my watch as the Minister, I disliked them on a principle, not to mention that they were fairly useless anyway."
"So..." he didn't want to ask if she minded, because at this point he could not stop being Batman any more than he could conciously deny her anything. But he had to know. Being Batman was as much part of him now as being a witch was part of her.
Bellatrix cocked her head to a side and frowned at him when he fell silent suddenly. "What are you thinking?" she asked.
Bruce didn't like how nervous he felt. He had thought that that was a part of himself he had conquered and stored away. The last person to whom he had revealed who he was – was Rachel. And her rejection had hurt more than he wanted to admit, because next to Bellatrix she was his oldest friend, and what's more – he had never had to doubt the reality of her existence, there was certain stability that Rachel embodied that drew him to her. And while he hadn't been as romantically interested in her as she had thought him to be – it still hurt that she turned him down not because of who he was as a man, but because of the image he chose to show others. In a way it seemed surprisingly shallow from a girl of her morals.
"Rachel knows that I'm Batman. She found out during that night the Manor burned down," he said. "She... She said she can't be with me, because of the mask I show others, and she didn't mean the Batman."
Well, here was a surprise she hadn't been expecting. Bruce wanted to be with Rachel? That dumb, plain girl who had the sophistication of a wild child raised by chimpanzes? Bellatrix had, of course, known that he was fond of the wench, but... "And?"
"I have to know – can you deal with this? With who I am?"
Bellatrix blinked, feeling a bit taken aback. "I think I already told you that I think it's amazing," she said slowly, uncomprehending what was it that he wanted to hear. "Are you fishing for complements?" her gaze narrowed.
"No," he denied a bit exasperated. "It's a different face I show in public. I act differently. Since you're quite real and seem to be fond of my penthouse I assume you're going to be around. I just want to know what to expect."
She knew his feelings would be hurt if she laughed. She knew it, so she bit down on her bottom lip. It was amusing that he thought she would ever care what the public opinion of him was. On other hand it made her terribly angry at Rachel. What kind of friend ditches their friend just because their public image isn't quite what they'd like it to be?
"Bruce," she started seriously, walking over to him and holding him by his shoulders to emphasize her point. "I know you so I couldn't care less what others think," she said. "You do remember that I consider most of the people to be irreversably moronic? I practically expect them to get everything wrong."
He moved so fast, she didn't notice it until he was already hugging her. And it wasn't a light, friendly hug – it was a big, bear hug that she almost felt lost with him seemingly all around her. She hugged him back strongly, silently vowing to herself to make Rachel suffer the next time she saw her.
She wasn't sure what the time was, but she was certain that it must be evening already. She could go over to the computers and verify her suspicion, but it wasn't all that important to her, besides her attention was captured by the suits. He had several, but all were similar in design and function. She dragged her finger along the outline of chest on the breast plate of the armour wondering how strong the material was, really.
"Bruce," she spoke up not turning her attention away from the suit.
"Mhm," he replied looking up from where he'd been studying building and street plans.
"I want to test something. Can I have one of these?"
"Sure," he agreed easily. "What do you want to do?"
"Everything," she replied off-handedly. "By the way, who makes these for you?"
"Wayne Enterprises," he replied frowning.
"I mean the brains behind the design not the mechanism," she specified, still pre-occupied with the armour. Her nimble fingers explored how all the plates fitted together, looked for weak spots. From the side, it might look like she was caressing the suit.
"Hmm," Bella hummed to herself. She remembered meeting the man at Bruce's birthday party. "I might have to talk to him."
Now she definitely had all of Bruce's attention. "You're planning something."
She finally turned around to grin at him. "We'll see. I won't promise anything just yet."
Bruce looked at her with suspicion, still frowning, but eventually decided to let it go. "It's late. I have it on good authority that the Scarecrow is having a meeting with one of the mob bosses tonight. I hope to get at least one of them."
"Oh, no," he protested immediately. "I know that look."
"I gave you the tour. I told you everything. You're not coming with me."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said stricking a pose with her hands on her hips.
"You promised you wouldn't follow me!"
"Yesterday," she added.
"It's prepostoreous. You're not coming."
She huffed, annoyed, throwing her hands in the air. "It's not like I want to be your sidekick. I'm not going to interfere – I just want to see you in action, that's all. I promise to stand by at a side and be quiet and invisible. Nobody will even know I'm there."
"A stray bullet won't give a damn whether you're visible or not."
"I'll conjure a shield!" she replied exasperated.
"And how many bullets can that shield of yours stop?" he asked scowling.
"Well, more than that suit of yours, I'm sure," she hissed right back.
"Don't take that tone with me," he nearly growled.
"Now you don't like my tone?" she demanded.
"It's the I-defeated-a-Dark-Lord tone, you've been using it quite often these past few days," he replied staring right back at her and not backing down an inch. "And like I already told you – there will be automatic weapons, drug dealers and a mob boss none of which you've been up against before."
"But I'm not going to go up against anyone – I'll just watch," Bellatrix insisted.
"If you want to watch something so badly – why don't you just rent a movie?" he asked putting up the last effort at a protest.
Bellatrix grinned, knowing that he had caved. "Because I want to watch you."
He glared at her. "You'll stay in the car," he said. "I mean it. Not a step outside." Why did he feel that this was a classicaly bad idea on every possible level?
She nodded happily. "I swear."
He parked on the roof on a building just a floor shorter than the parking lot. As she watched him she concluded that the armour wasn't very flexible, he had trouble moving his head, and twisting. The stiff way he held himself however had a certain intimidating charm. He set the settings on the computer before repeating for what felt like the hundredth time, "The car knows what it has to do. Stay in here and don't touch anything."
"I'm not a moron," she replied. "I won't bring a stick to a gunfight," she didn't doubt that her magic could protect her, but she knew all too well that a battlefield (and this was going to be a battle, in a manner of speaking) was not the best place for unexpected surprises so she fully intended to do as she had promised – to stay in the car. The last thing she wanted to do was to endanger Bruce.
"Okay then," his voice came out in a growl as he activated the voice scrambler near his throat.
"One question though," she began before he opened the hood to exit. "The computer – is it protected against EMP?"
Bruce watched her for a moment and she couldn't tell whether he was frowning or not with his mask on. "Yes," he answered finally.
"Great," she chirped.
He left the car to go position himself at the parking lot. She got comfortable in her seat and cast a one-way see-through spell on the front shields. The thermal and infra-red cameras that the machine had wouldn't get her the viewing quality she desired.
This wasn't a whim or a fancy, entertainment or a joke. This was completely serious and she was here, because she wanted to see what Bruce was up against. More than anyone she knew that there were a thousand ways to tell a story, but the only way to truly know was to witness it.
The first impression she got when the fighting broke out was that it was loud. Incredibly, unbearably loud. The gunshots rang in her ears. The explosions nearly blinded and deafened her. She was glad to be behind the thick titanium reinforced shields even is she could see through them as if they were glass.
Wizarding battles could be brutal, but the one in front of her was so very different on just about every level. Enemies didn't have to get in close. Most of the shots fired went wild, but nobody seemed to care for accuracy as they substituted it with quantity. It was hard to tell who was fighting whom, as people were running, hiding, ducking under fire and still fighting each other. It was a mess.
There was no predictable sequence to the events. Everybody was fighting everybody all at once and every bullet fired had the potential to be lethal. In a Wizarding battle you could choose to take a curse to be able to curse back – there was no such option here. Besides curses were all much more easier to notice – one could even avoid them given enough room and agility, but bullets... She didn't see them fly, she just saw people dropping like flies.
And through the fire and confusion, Bruce found his way easily. She saw how he picked them off one by one, unhindered by the commotion about him. Bellatrix had found it strange to think of the awkward boy she'd known as teenager as a hero, much less to think of the friend who denied her nothing as a warrior both powerful and lethal. That's why she had wanted to be here tonight, because she wasn't the only one who had grown up in the past eleven years, and it was a truth that she needed to be brought home fast.
All in all, the fight was over surprisingly soon. When she saw Bruce heading back to the car, she cast a chameleon spell on herself so that her presence wouldn't be noticed, and cancelled the see-through spell on the shields.
As soon as the top was closed again, Bruce spoke gruffly, "I sincerely hope you're still here."
"Turn that thing off, you sound like a wounded bear," she replied shaking the charm off of herself. "You're not injured, are you?" she asked turning to watch him intensely. She couldn't discern anything on his black outfit.
He sighed, though it came out sounding like a growl, before turning off the voice simulator. "Nothing serious," he replied, turning off the auto-pilot and taking control of the car.
"I'll just agree to disagree for the moment," Bellatrix wasn't convinced, but knew that this wasn't the time and place to continue that line of conversation. She was certain she could at least half-way fix him once they'd be back at his temporary underground base. She was quiet for the rest of the way.
She had finally wrestled the helmet off his head while the man in question browsed through his virtual intelligence network, seemingly and was about to berate him for being an ingrate when he suddenly spoke, "There's one more thing I have to do before getting out of this."
Bellatrix looked at him incredulously. "You're bleeding from some place I can't really tell while you're in this... Contraption. And it took me a quarter of an hour just to get the helmet off, and now you want to pop out for a tea for a moment?"
"There's been a break-in at a bank. A suspected mob bank. I have to meet Lieutenant Gordon and see what he knows," he explained taking the helmet from her hands.
"And this can't wait?"
"No," he replied. "It's late so it'll be easier for me to slip in and out unnoticed – technically the cops should be trying to arrest me, not work with me."
She pursed her lips, certain that he would go no matter what she said, not that she had any real argument besides that he was hurt. "Fine," she agreed. "Do you have any footage of the bank?"
"Yes," he said not really understanding where the conversation was heading. "I have access to the security cameras."
"Good," she stated. "I'll take us there and back. That way we'll be back sooner."
"Just show me the footage and I'll take us there. Preferably choose a secluded place..."
"Well, the least crowded place will probably be the vault. There's no cameras there, though. I have pictures, if that helps," he said pulling the helmet back on.
Bellatrix nodded. "That'll do. I've worked with less."
Bruce brought the pictures up on screen from a secure folder, and Bella studied them for a moment before deciding that she had the layout pieced together in her mind as good as it was going to get. "I'll disillusion myself, meaning, I'll be invisible, but hold on to my hand, and you won't lose me," she said pulling him from the chair to stand up. She pressed against the side of him that wasn't bleeding and concentrated on the destination.
Bruce blinked and found himself in the vault. The journey had been short if not entirely pleasant. He was half-way convinced that he had lost at least a part of his insides on the trip. The feeling of being squeezed through the pinhead of a needle made him want to shudder, but theatrics were a powerful weapon and seeing how Gordon and his detective jumped, made Bruce realize that this method of travel certainly had it's advantages.
It was afternoon and Bruce had already left with Alfred for a meeting at the Wayne Tower. Bella was alone in the basement structure at the docks. She had popped for a moment into the penthouse for a shower and a change of clothes, but hadn't stayed to rest longer, because as she had heard the previous night at the bank – Bruce was planning on going after the entirety of Gotham's mob which meant that there was little time, and in her opinion – his armour was woefully inadequate for the risks he was taking.
She was even more spurred on by the fact that she hadn't managed to heal him properly when she had finally gotten him out of the suit. Oh, she had charmed away most of the bruises, but the bigger ones stayed, and as for the dog bite – she had managed to make it a lighter injury than it had been, but that was not nearly good enough. She did not relish the need to brush up on her meagre skills as a healer, because of his tendency to get hurt,all the time. It was, simply speaking, absolutely unacceptable. Watching him sew himself up had been especially hard.
So Bellatrix abandoned the idea of sleep and stood in the bunker poking at the clever invention. The suit was definitely impressive, but Bruce was putting himself in situations for which the armour most likely hadn't been designed. She knew that he intended to speak to Mr. Fox today about making the suit lighter and more flexible – he'd sketched her the idea of the design to explain, but she also suspected that such a request would take from the endurance of the material in trade-off. That is if he were to use any other material but dragon-hide.
She whipped out her wand and rapidly cast a series of hexes at the suit. Fire brushed off of it, a bludgeoning hex left no mark at all, though whether that was because the suit was empty, she could only guess at the moment, slashing hex cut half-way through the breastplate and bone-breaking curse also had no effect. It appeared that only a spell that imitated a weapon had an effect as the rest bounced off the same as fire had. The question of course remained whether the same principles would also apply to the body within the suit, but she could find that out later. Bruce after all wasn't going up against wizards, but against men with guns and explosives.
She Apparated back to the penthouse and started looking for Alfred. She called for the elder man, wondering around the suite until she found him on the balcony. "Alfred!"
"Madam," he greeted her with smile.
"Bellatrix," she said remembering that through all the time she had already been here she hadn't bothered to tell him her name, and though she didn't doubt that he knew it – Alfred was apparently too polite to call her by that until she introduced herself properly. "Bellatrix Black," she said telling him her Family name rather than her mother's which she used as an alias.
"Indeed? Am I correct in assuming however that you would prefer 'Rosier' were we in polite company?"
She grinned. "You miss nothing, Alfred."
"Thank you, Miss Black," he didn't deny the accusation. "Will you join me for tea?"
Bellatrix nodded, sitting down opposite to him. She waited until he had poured her a cup before speaking. "I'd like to know what you think about Lucius Fox," she said.
"In what manner?" he replied with a question.
"I know that Bruce trusts him," she said after she'd taken a sip. "He makes Bruce's suits. But I'd like to know your personal opinion on him," she explained.
"Such a strange predicament we are in, Miss Black. You seem to trust me implicitly while I barely know you at all," Alfred commented seriously. "I would hate to disappoint."
"Implicitly would be pushing it a bit far, but I do have a great degree of trust in your abilities. See, you may have known me for barely a week, but I've known you for most of my life hence I trust your judgement."
Alfred nodded. "Lucius is a very old, dear friend of mine. I hold him in the highest esteem."
Bellatrix set her cup down, reaching for a biscuit. "Does he know about magic?"
"I have on occasion confided in him regarding my heritage," Alfred admitted uneasily. "Why do you ask?"
She munched on the cookie. "Dragon hide," she replied when her mouth was empty. "Among other things."
"For the armour?" Alfred questioned, frowning.
"Yes," she answered gravely, thinking back on the previous night. She leaned forward in her seat so that the shadow that the parasol cast would fall on her face as well. "Last night he took me with him on one of his... Raids," she confessed, troubled. "The sheer destructive power...," it wasn't often that she found herself without words, but the memory of the noise and heat, and flashes of light – it affected her more than she wanted to let on.
Magic could be lethal, but in all her experience it did not have the potential for sheer annihilation as Muggle weapons. Living mainly in the Muggle world since she'd been seventeen – Bellatrix of course knew of Muggle weapons, but being a witch she had never had more than a cursory interest in them, and before previous night she had never witnessed any of them in live action. There just were no shootings or explosions at board meetings or social gatherings for the rich and powerful.
"He needs more protection," she said empathetically.
Alfred leaned forward, reaching for her hand, and squeezing it comfortingly. Bellatrix took a deep breath, surprised that the gesture indeed calmed her a little, reminding her of how her father comforted her as a child, taking away all the troubles. She smiled tentatively.
Bellatrix walked through the entrance hall of Wayne Enterprises as if she owned the building, which for a change – she did not. She had decided that a public appearance, might be in order at this point, after all, who in America outside of Washington would recognize her as the former British Minister for Magic? Besides Alfred had absolutely refused to Apparate and her meeting with Lucius Fox was bound to be smoother if he was there.
The administrators on duty and security guards recognized Alfred so they didn't ask any questions as they issued her a guest security pass, and let them proceed to the elevators.
"Do you know where he might be? He said he had a meeting this afternoon, but I didn't ask for specifics," she asked frowning at the elevator buttons designating different floors.
"I believe the 30th floor is the one where the conference is being held, but alternatively we will no doubt sooner or later find Mr. Fox at his office," Alfred supplied.
"Let's try the conference room first, maybe we'll catch Bruce," she decided, pressing the button for one of top floors.
On the 30th floor as they exited, they were nearly run over by a flustered accountant. Bella side stepped him avoiding collision, and the man floundered for a moment before regaining his footing.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," he apologized. "The meeting is over, by the way," he added since the conference room was the only thing on this floor, aside from bathrooms.
"Excellent," Bellatrix replied rather snobbishly not bothering to give the man a second look.
"You must be Alfred Pennyworth," the accountant threw her a side-ways glance before stretching his hand to Alfred. "I'm Coleman Reese."
"Pleasure," Alfred smiled politely, shaking the other man's hand. "If you'll excuse us," he said noticing Bellatrix's impatient glare.
"Of course," Reese replied, his expression tight with righteous indignation. He had joined the Wayne Enterprises because the company was a giant in the world economics, but the higher he climbed in the corporate ladder, the more he realized that the man at the very top was nothing more than a spoiled brat sitting prettily on the inheritance left to him by visionaries before him.
And now it seemed that Bruce Wayne had his butler bring his whores to the company to keep him entertained after meetings. It was beyond insulting. He stabbed angrily with his finger at the lift call button furious at the order of the world where men like Bruce Wayne had everything and he had to work for all the little that he did have.
They were immediately noticed by the only other two people in the room as soon as they entered. Bellatrix grinned wolfishly. "I do apologize for dropping in so unannounced, but there is something I absolutely must discuss with you," she said addressing Lucius Fox.
Surprised to say the least, Lucius Fox was still the ultimate businessman and gentleman. "A pleasure to see you again, Miss Rosier," he replied, remembering her from when they had met at Bruce's birthday party.
"I seem to be missing something," Bruce said, his gaze darting between all of them.
"Miss Black has some suggestions to improve your wardrobe, sir," Alfred moved to explain.
"Miss Black?" Lucius asked, frowning.
"Bella?" Bruce questioned.
"My Family name," she answered first to Lucius before turning to Bruce. "You let me play with one of your suits and I had some ideas. No, don't ask me what kind – it'll be a surprise, if it'll work at all, which is why I wanted to have a chat with Mr. Fox."
"Lady Bellatrix Black is a Witch," Alfred answered to the unspoken question of his old friend. "But it is quite alright."
"Ahh," Lucius drawled as understanding dawned.
"Wait! You know who she is?" Bruce asked directly Alfred. "You never said anything!"
"To be fair I did meet the Lady for the first time five days ago, Master Bruce."
"Alfred recognized who I was straight away, he comes from a magical family though he is not magical himself," Bellatrix supplied when Alfred didn't seem to be inclined to continue.
"Why didn't you tell me that you also knew?" Bruce asked, astonished that Alfred had kept such a thing from him.
"It never seemed to be the right time, sir," Alfred replied completely composed, though his clasped hands betrayed his emotions.
"You and me," Bruce said, shaking his head. "We need to talk."
"Perfect," Bellatrix exclaimed before anyone else could speak. "You two – go talk, while Mr. Fox and I have a little conference of our own."
Bella and Bruce met halfway round the enormous table and as they exchanged she grasped him by the elbow stopping him for a second. She wanted to say something along the lines of 'go easy on him' meaning Alfred. In hindsight it was rather unfortunate that the whole situation had happened they way it had happened and in no small way it was because of her.
"I'm not angry," he said, answering her before she could figure out how to poise the question. "Curious and a bit disappointed, maybe."
She nodded before releasing him.
"So, Miss Black, what exactly are your suggestions?" Lucius addressed her once they were alone.
Bellatrix sat down in the nearest chair. "Did Bruce already tell you what he'd like done to the suits?"
Lucius nodded affirmatively.
"Am I correct in assuming that increased flexibility will reduce the durability of the armour?"
"Yes," Lucius replied, sitting down beside her and showing her Bruce's sketches. "To make the armour lighter and more flexible the material will have to be thinner and more divided into plates. All the seams will be places of vulnerability."
"What do you know about dragon hide?" she asked. "Alfred admitted that he's told you about the Wizarding world."
"I know it's durability is legendary," he replied. "I've tried to acquire it, but I've learned that it's extremely rare item even among your kind, Miss Black."
"It is," Bellatrix agreed. "But that's not a problem," she continued. "The question is whether you could integrate the dragon hide with the original material of the suits, because dragons are magical and such things tend to interfere a bit with technology."
"The interference is not unlike that of an EMP am I correct?" he asked leaning back in his chair.
"I can find a way around it," he said. "Though I wonder why would you want to integrate it, surely a full armour from dragon-hide would be better?"
Bellatrix shook her head. "No, you see dragon-hide is a material that can withstand just about any magical means of attack, and it might hold against an explosion because that is by nature mostly fire, or knives since the hide is thick, but it is not made to hold against bullets. I don't think even the hide off a dragon's back could withstand concentrated automatic fire – titanium reinforced plates that you're using now are far more effective."
"So, you're thinking about integrating the dragon-hide for the seams to remove the vulnerability, but retain flexibility," he specified massaging his temple as he thought.
"Yes, the hide off a dragon's wings would be the best, I believe. The skin there is made to be flexible yet strong to withstand high winds and pressures."
"Very well, if you can get the material, then I will make sure to make it fit with Mr. Wayne's armour," Lucius said.
"I will have it by tonight," Bellatrix replied rising from the chair.
Lucius rose with her extending his hand to shake hers. "A pleasure meeting you, Miss Black," he said watching her through narrowed eyes, wondering about her motivations and interest in Bruce Wayne.
She grinned, shaking his hand. "Likewise, Mr. Fox."
As it turned out Bruce was waiting for her downstairs in the lobby. "Where's Alfred?" she asked as soon as she was close enough.
"He had a call from the contractors that are rebuilding the manor – they seem to have misplaced a column. He went to take a look."
She nodded. "So you're my designated chauffeur then?" she asked, grinning.
"It appears to be so," he said offering her his elbow, and she happily hooked her arm with his. "Did you find out what you wanted to know with Lucius?" he asked as he lead them to the door.
"Yes," she answered shortly. "It does mean that I will have to leave this evening," she said tentatively as they exited the building into the chilly autumn afternoon.
"For how long?" he asked, his good mood evaporating. He should have known that he arrangement they had established over the past week wouldn't last.
"A few hours, give or take, depending on the time difference," she replied. "I'll be back by tomorrow morning definitely," Bellatrix assured him just as a young man arrived with Bruce's car.
"Well then," he said rising his voice as he headed for the driver's side while the concierge rushed to hold the door open for her. "If I can't have you for dinner might I have you for lunch?"
Bellatrix laughed. "You may take me for lunch," she replied in the same playful manner.
Bruce took her to Criterion for lunch after which they decided to take stroll around the more cultural and sophisticated district of Gotham. Bruce was surprised when Bellatrix admitted that she had not actually seen much of Gotham, and that the only places she really knew where the Wayne tower and the Opera house. She had done some cruising around few nights ago, but ultimately had relied on the navigational system.
"Well, we must rectify that immediately," he told her energetically, leading her towards the Gotham theatre on the opposite side of the street. They perused the painted posters of the offered performances, until Bellatrix spotted a familiar face in one of the advertisements. She pulled Bruce with her to take a closer look.
"Can't believe it!" she muttered.
"What is it?" he asked, curious.
"Bellatrix! What an unexpected surprise!" cried a voice near the side-entrance to the theatre.
Bella recognized the person belonging to the voice immediately even before she saw her, even though they hadn't seen each other for quite a while. She unhooked her arm from Bruce and met the other woman half-way returning her hug. "Natasha!" she greeted earnestly.
Bruce joined them a moment later, letting the two exchange friendly greetings before interrupting.
Natasha released Bellatrix and stared a moment between the witch and the man. "Is..."
"Natasha," she gestured towards Bruce. "Bruce Wayne, I see that you already recognized him. Bruce," she gestured towards Natasha, "Natasha Darya Orlova a rather dear friend of mine, and the prima ballerina for Moscow ballet, it seems. Congratulations," she said.
"Thank you," Natasha smiled lovely. "May I say I'm very glad to see that the rumours about you are just that – rumours," she said a moment later. "I was a bit worried, I must admit."
"I would prefer if a certain uncertainty about the whole matter remained."
"Of course," Natasha agreed.
"I'm a bit lost," Bruce spoke up. "What are you two talking about?"
Bellatrix considered the best way to answer. She couldn't claim to be a close friend of Natasha's since she had met the younger witch for the first time only a few years ago when she had made her re-appearance in the Wizarding world. The young woman had performed in the British Wizarding Opera – Natasha had sung wonderfully though her singing was far surpassed by her dancing skills, unfortunately Wizarding world had never taken to ballet and Natasha was also a pure-blood from an ancient Russian family. Ballet just happened to be her greatest desire. Bellatrix had helped the woman integrate into the Muggle society and hide from relatives that might mean her harm.
To be fair, Bellatrix hadn't helped the other witch just out of the goodness of her heart (the existence of which is debatable); she had done so mainly because Natasha was the heiress of her Family and such an ally was not something to look down upon.
Deciding that by general virtue and her own situation Natasha was unlikely to betray this exchange to someone, besides most of what was going on was probably already clear to her since the young witch was rather bright; Bella decided to be candid.
"I'm pretending to be dead," she answered. "Back in England, I mean."
"Because of the War?" Bruce asked frowning.
"Mister Wayne knows about...," Natasha gestured vaguely.
Bellatrix and Bruce spoke nearly simultaneously. "Call me Bruce." "Yes." They looked at each other, Bruce – amused, Bellatrix – slightly annoyed. He gestured for her to speak with a grin.
"Yes," Bellatrix affirmed turning to Natasha. "He knows about magic."
Natasha beamed. "Amazing! I haven't had anyone to share some Wizarding gossip with since we began the tour! And now I have both of you!"
"Actually," Bellatrix spoke thoughtfully glancing at the clock above the main entrance door to the theatre. "You have Bruce, because I have to get going if I'm to return by the morning."
"Surely you can postpone?"
"I apologize, Natasha, but no," Bellatrix wasn't going to be talked out of her plans. She may have a soft spot for the younger witch due to her plight which was similar to Bella's own, but Bruce's life depended on the dragon-hide – it just was no contest. "You two however – feel free to have dinner and gossip to your hearts desires."
"You see what I have to live with?" Bruce turned to Natasha in good humour. "You must promise to rescue my evening now that I'm to be abandoned!"
Natasha grinned, latching onto Bruce's elbow presenting to Bellatrix a united front. "Oh, we shall have such a dinner to make her jealous that she chose business over our company, shall we not?"
"I'm sure I'll regret leaving you for forever," Bellatrix replied dryly.
"That you will," Bruce assured her. "Natasha, have you been to the Criterion yet?"
"It is very hard to get a reservation there, is it not?"
"I own it," Bruce said proudly.
Natasha and Bruce both stared at Bellatrix in last attempt to convince her to abandon her plans for the joy of their company. Natasha even pouted.
Bellatrix laughed, shaking her head. "You two have taken to each other far too quickly," she said. "I think I better leave while the town is still standing." The street was empty enough, she Apparated silently without another comment. She had a dragon to skin, after all.
Natasha sighed. "And it is always like this."
"I know exactly what you mean," Bruce said, nodding.
"Come," Natasha said trying to sound uplifting. "Let's gossip so badly she will never dare leave us alone. I want to know everything about you and how you know Lady Black."
"You have a yourself a deal, Natasha," he grinned.