Femmeslash, light R. Politislash. Dolores Umbridge knows the truth of honey and vinegar.

Honey and Vinegar

She once liked pink and frills, and nursed babydoll dreams. In pictures a young Dolores Umbridge offers a thin-lipped smile to her father behind the camera, a smile that grows increasingly forced over the teenage years. Her peers grow lanky, long-legged, and shapely, but she simply literally grows up, like a sapling into a thick bulk of a tree.

It doesn't much bother Dolores anymore that no one considers her to be a woman. She rationalizes it; it makes things easier to not be beautiful and have to deal with men viewing one as little more than meat, to be unmarried and childless and to only have to care about oneself. She almost believes it.

Dolores proves she is a Slytherin with her ambition to find a way to be better than them all. She can't compare to the soft curves, gentle temptations and effortless life-giving of womanhood, so what must be done? (Her hatred is raw and dwells in her like a beast, panting as it waits to be pacified, and she knows that someone must pay.)

So… a return to childhood, to pink and frills and ribbon bows, and simpering, honeyed innocence masking years of vitriol. Dolores knows the truth of honey and vinegar. Motherly, she decides. I will be motherly.

Unfortunately, she has never had a mother, but that's just a detail.

It is 1979. Barty and Marie Crouch are throwing a birthday party for their son, who is if nothing a wonderful gentleman with great potential. Dolores attends, naturally; she attend every party, not because she wants to, but because she must. Parties are the easiest way to keep track of everyone properly, after all. She can't spy for her information, she must understand its root.

She smiles at the politicians and their wives, her thin lips baring the slightest glimpse of teeth. She knows them all, knows their dirty little secrets, draws the best and the worst news from the wives at afternoon teas that their husbands are not exactly aware of. The men tolerate her, respect her as a peer and a very able one at that, not knowing that she plays confessor to their wives, mothers and comforts them about the sins of their spouses; women's business is women's business, after all.

A new face in the room takes everyone back, though they're hardly about to admit it. It is Araminta Meliflua, a public speaker and one of the more respected non-Ministry political figures on the scene. She, too, is a mistress of words, and so Dolores considers her thoughtfully and waits her turn as the smalltalk begins.

Dolores watches her distastefully as she glides across the floor, greeting each pair with enthusiasm and a wide smile. She is a study in contrast; dons a pale complexion but wears a red as subtle as her speeches and lipstick to match, and her eyes are dark and wide, as though she's just been surprised. Dolores has never liked red. It's too bold, too Gryffindor.

Araminta approaches her, of all times, when Dolores is greeting young Barty Crouch Junior, who is strangely sedate. "Oh, there's the man of the hour!" Araminta's voice is sweet, low, pleasant. "It's a pleasure to meet you face to face again, Bartemius."

"It's Barty," he insists, looking to Dolores with a look that indicates her opinion of the woman is shared. "My father is Bartemius."

"Of course," Araminta agrees. She speaks with a sugared tone, and Dolores is suddenly irritated. Her own art, her skill, is being massacred before her. "And Dolores Umbridge! What an honor."

Araminta's smile is bold, wide, assuming. Dolores frowns for a split second, then immediately reverses the expression. "Likewise, Mrs. Meliflua, a pleasure to meet such a gifted speaker."

Barty Crouch Jr picks up his drink, effectively ignoring the two now. Araminta smiles at him, pats him on the cheek (he jerks away in disgust) before taking Dolores by the sleeve of her frumpy dress robes. "Let's not bother the poor boy, shall we?"

Dolores just nods, wanting out of the presence of this ghastly fake woman, but there is a contact so brief that she could almost be convinced it didn't happen at all, Araminta's palm to her arm. There is something different in it, from all the handshakes and rare physical contact she has had before, and she tenses, tightening around the edges, trying to shake off the thrill.

She has to speak. This woman cannot cripple her greatest ability. "A lovely party, don't you think? Far too much drinking, but I can't blame people for making merry."

Araminta moves closer to Dolores, into her personal space, but she is not shaken even as Araminta's gaze more meets the top of her head than her face. No matter from what height you view her, literally or figuratively, it is hard to shake Dolores Umbridge's resolve. "Even with the world as it is?" Araminta questions. "Is there much to celebrate?"

Despite that she is a political figure, Dolores can't be bothered to care about the Death Eaters, whether they win or lose, or who dies. Why should she? "We must celebrate the good fortune that we are here today, don't you agree?"

"You, perhaps," Araminta positively gushes. "You're bound for great success, I'm sure of it."

It's not genuine and Dolores knows that, but she wonders about the effort. Mrs. Meliflua wants something from her, and Dolores will find out what, if only to deprive the wretched woman of it in the end. "Do you think? One can only hope," she returns pleasantly.

Araminta purses her lips, then offers a conciliatory smile, beginning to walk. Dolores follows her grudgingly, too polite to merely abandon a conversation, and curious either way. "I think that we are both bound for greatness," Araminta says. She pushes through the doors, into the corridor. "You have a way with people, and I envy you that, but what is it you're fighting for?"

Dolores enjoys Barty Crouch's home, always has, and observing the fine decoration is the perfect distraction from this sort of ridiculous question. "For the good of the magical citizen of England, of course, Mrs. Meliflua." A simple deflection.

"Nothing personal?" Araminta persists. "And you can call me Araminta, Dolores, this isn't that sort of get-together, you know." She clicks her tongue, smoothes her dress robes over her thighs before opening a door.

Dolores is loath to speak up for fear of looking ignorant, but she also can't appear to be easily led. "Araminta," she affirms, the name awkward on her lips and tongue. "Nothing terribly personal, no."

Araminta opens the door. It's the veranda, the same place dear Marie Crouch cried into her tea to Dolores about her husband's affair with his work, little ladylike sniffling sobs and it's gone too far and he can't stop himself, Dolores, please help him... Dolores restrains a smile at the sight of it, stepping past the taller woman, allowing herself such lacking courtesy.

"Everyone needs a passion." The door shuts with a click. Araminta turns to face her, and for the first time, Dolores wonders why she's just been led astray from the crowd, but she's speaking again. "You work that hard for a reason, don't you?"

"Yes, because it is my work and my calling." A snap has crept into the honeyed tones of Dolores Umbridge. She smiles, baring teeth, clasping her hands to her chest. "We can't all be impassioned speakers, after all." Only then Dolores realizes that she hasn't a clue at all what Araminta Meliflua fights for. Perhaps the woman is more skilled than Dolores gave her credit for.

"Don't tell me you're one of the bleeding-hearts who believes in equality." Araminta strolls past her casually, takes a seat at the table, her hands resting in her lap. There is a flash of a bared knee that Araminta does not correct; Dolores sits across from her, waits for her to at least attempt modesty, but her hopes are in vain.

"Equality," Dolores repeats, and thinks quickly, "equality? Oh, no, nothing like that, safety, yes, the public good? Of course. I don't believe the Death Eaters have it right -- "

" -- what do you believe?" Araminta interrupts.

Dolores recalls that Araminta is a Black, and attributes her lack of decorum to the mental decay that those who publicly bore the name always suffer. "I believe in justice," she says carefully.

Araminta pulls her chair forward, places an elbow on the table to rest her chin in her hand. "Justice. In what world is the decay of moral and cultural standards just?" She's lost all semblance of attempting to play Dolores's game of sweetness and innocence. This is a different game, Dolores recognizes. "Don't you have some issue to take up with the world, Dolores?"

"Mrs. Meliflua, this is an altogether strange turn of conversation, do you often discuss philosophy at your parties?" Dolores tuts, straightening the folds of her dress robes so as not to regard the younger woman.

When Dolores looks up, Araminta's tongue darts out to lick her lips. Dolores swallows. "It's Araminta," she says, and that is the last word she speaks.

Araminta flicks the fabric of Dolores's dress robes aside to grab her muscled thigh, kneading it and staring into Dolores's wild, astounded gaze before sinking to her knees beneath the table.

The chair is comfortable and she loses control as Araminta takes her with vigor, tensing so tightly at every moment to hold onto the scene in case it is a dream, and tears are streaming down her face when Araminta's head of dark curls rises from beneath her dress robes.

Her hands rest on Dolores's knees, and she strokes them, comforting, and says: "Never?"

Dolores shakes her head.

"Because you aren't beautiful," Araminta murmurs, in almost a singsong. "Because you're ugly and squat, and remind men of their mothers."

Her hand disappears under Dolores's robes again; she whimpers. Araminta looks as though she fights off a smile. "You hate them."

"Yes," Dolores half-moans, gripping the arms of the chair.

"You hate me, you hate us, because you want to look like us, to do it effortlessly."

A jerk of her hips. "Yes," she admits.

"Don't hold back," Araminta urges in a groan of her own. "Hate. Hate them all. Hate the Mudbloods, the halfbreeds, they're stealing from you too, Dolores. Just more competition. You have a weapon, and it is hate."

Dolores sobs as she comes, leans her head back against the chair, and shudders. It's only when she reaches for a handful of dark curls in her lap that she realizes that Araminta is gone.

There are two more trysts, once in a washroom and another in Dolores's bed, but they are never the same. Dolores has grown into her hatred, casting herself wholly into an affair with her work to make those others pay. There are enough people who consider themselves better than Dolores Umbridge; she needn't compete with halfbreeds.

And oh, what successes. Mother knows all, Mother knows best. Draw them close with honeyed words and sympathy; it's only then, at their weakest, that you can eliminate them completely.