(1938-10-18) Master of His Domain
Details for Master of His Domain
Summary: Cassius has his Great-aunt Ismene over for dinner, and ambushes her with a power play to establish his position.
Date: 18 October, 1938
Location: Berylwood Estate
Related: Suspicions and Omissions

When family comes for dinner at Berylwood, all of the trimmings are brought out. The dining table is adorned with a beautifully embroidered tablecloth. Silver candlesticks shed light upon their meal, which was far more gourmet food than Cassius and his Great-aunt Ismene could possibly consume. The servants will be eating well tonight.

Cassius takes up his napkin, dabbing his mouth after sipping the last drops of wine from his glass. When the bottle hovers near to refill it, he lifts a hand to shoo it away. "So then I told the man quite plainly that I'd never even heard of any sort of preliminary contractual arrangement, and he should take it up with the Central Department. The last I heard, he'd been shuffled off to Magical Maintenance for Merlin-knows-what." He chuckles as his story draws to a close. "In any event, that's what I get for my generosity. Half a day wasted."

The leftovers may still amount to a generous spread for those below-stairs, but it won't include any foie gras; within family circles, Ismene Malfoy is known for her belief that every goose in the world ought to be eating steadily round the clock, that she might in due course sate herself upon their livers. She's never left a morsel of the stuff behind on a plate, even if it means, as tonight, neglecting certain of the other delicate dishes set before her.

She lifts the snowy napkin which has been lying across the lap of her late Victorian evening gown (embroidered, black upon black, with all manner of flowering plants, which a keen student of Herbology could identify as being universally poisonous), and touches it unnecessarily to her lips: with her other hand, she points to her glass. A little more of Cassius's excellent wine for her, thank you, to wash down her brief taste of the dessert souffle.

"Yes," she remarks, in a tone bordering upon the sympathetic, "it's as well not to exert oneself unduly on behalf of those sorts of persons; the scant recompense they can offer is hardly worth a Malfoy's time. I don't know how you stand dealing with them day after day, in a position like yours. You were born and bred to much higher purposes, on that we can surely agree."

Cassius waves to send his plate away, and indeed, his dishes seems to lift up of their own accord and float to a nearby tray. "I was born and bred for greatness, Auntie, and that is what I mean to achieve. But reaching my goals requires a certain finesse with the common people. I must be seen as a friend to men from all walks of life. Of course, this particular instance turned out to be unhelpful to my cause. But I can't win them all," he chuckles.

One more sip, and Ismene sets down glass and napkin both, a silent signal that her dishes may likewise go about their own devices. "Not all paths to greatness require such preliminary martyrdom; but, I suppose, politics…" A sardonic rise and fall of a black silk shoulder. "I've never involved myself in politics, you know that. Not to my taste at all — unlike your rather fine dinner."

Cassius smiles warmly, dipping his head in thanks. "I shall be certain that your appreciation is passed on to my chef. The man is a marvel, I tell you." He lets a beat of silence pass as he leans back in chair, elbows on the arm rests and fingers lacing together before him. "I must inquire. How long did you imagine I would remain ignorant of your so-called 'treatments' of Rhyeline Diderot?" Though he still wears his smile, the warmth has drained from his pale jade-green eyes.

His aunt sits motionless, her suddenly-widened black gaze intent upon his face. Struck, certainly, by this abrupt change to a subject she'd never have suspected; but even in this extremity considering, analysing, before she reacts.

"That's an odd word," she says at last, in a colourless tone. "Not one I'd have chosen. An experiment, I'd call it; an exploration of a theory you and I have both been considering. I know now rather more than before of what sustains the curse — certainly more than that oily half-blooded Irishman seems to have discovered of late. You disapprove, I take it? Can it be that you have some interest in your assistant beyond what she has led me to understand?"

"Don't play at ignorance. It doesn't suit you." Cassius's smile fades to a neutral, thin line across his face. His voice comes evenly, but with a biting clip to his words. "I made it very clear to you that Rhyeline is mine. I had hoped that would have given you ample reason to tread carefully with her. But it seems you believe yourself immune to such considerations. You were brought in to assist Rhyeline in a potioneering capacity. What you are doing with her has far, far exceeded the parameters of your commission. That you pursued this course without first consulting me has placed you in a very precarious position, indeed."

"Cassius." Ismene's voice is calm, almost conversational. "I shall attribute the manner in which you appear to be *threatening* me, to a number of misapprehensions under which you appear to labour. First. It was Madame Diderot who approached me, indeed who implored me, to lend any aid I could in alleviating her daughter's life-threatening illness. I was not 'brought in', like a hired hand who can be summoned and dismissed at will, by you or by anyone else. Second. I could not possibly have given Miss Diderot any new potions of my own brewing until I had received a thorough account of what she had already been given, and how she had been affected — to risk her life in a possible magical interaction would have been unconscionably careless — yet that account was so long in coming that, in consideration of how little time she might have to waste, I followed another line of inquiry in the meantime. One which has yielded considerable fruit, in the form of not only fresh information but an improvement in her health. Third. I began to follow this line of inquiry at a time when I had had no communication with *you*, upon any subject, in nigh on three years. However, knowing Miss Diderot to be a sometimes confidante of yours, and that she intended to be in your employ if her health returned I asked her, very frankly, very soon after we met, whether her relationship with you was more than professional — she denied it. I was pursuing *my* business, Cassius, when you appeared and declared Miss Diderot to be something you had 'acquired'. It was news to me; but you are my nephew. I don't make a habit of quarreling with family. Any possession of yours, I assure you, I treat with the same care as though it, or she, were my own. And, in consideration of the tie between us, I have even gone so far as to explain to you my business, which I believe you must know I seldom do."

"It is precisely that fact that you have treated her as your own that has placed you in this position," Cassius returns calmly. "And do forgive me if I appeared to be threatening you. I did not mean for there to be any question that I am threatening you." If it is possible for a man's eyes to darken within seconds, it has just been observed. "The moment that you realized that there was any kind of relationship between Miss Diderot and myself, your first priority should have been to come to me. Failing that means you have failed me. Make no mistake, you were brought on to this case. Don't assume for a moment that I had no hand in acquiring your services in this. Therefore, family or no, you are accountable to me." He takes a long, slow breath, staring intently at her. "How we proceed from this point will depend entirely upon your understanding of the situation. For the time being your treatments will end, pending my review. Whether they resume, and whether they are administered by you, will remain to be seen. Have I left anything unclear?"

Cassius Malfoy's great-aunt is one of the few people in the world with enough cast-iron in the backbone not to flinch under his stare. "Just one thing. Was I not invited to the funeral?" she asks quietly.

Cassius sighs, offering an amused smirk. "Very well. I shall humour you. But do keep in mind the balancing act you are performing. Tell me about the funeral."

"The funeral — when Enceladus, Abraxas, Balaurius, and Cyril all died and left *you* the head of this family," Ismene utters crisply; and then sighs, lifting her hand to wave away any answer, and continues in her previous mild tone.

"If you wanted something from me, Cassius, you had only to ask and it would have been given. But if you pursue obtuse and underhanded methods purely for the sake of it, if you treat your relations as pawns instead of the few people who don't *need* to be manipulated into assisting you, you've only yourself to blame if the results of your machinations aren't exactly what you hoped. Very well, you 'brought me in'; I'll see myself out." She rises from her chair and straightens her robes, folding her arms and tucking her hands into her capacious sleeves. "Take full charge of Miss Diderot's case — in fact I recommend you take full charge of her life. I believe she would prefer it. Perhaps if you had done so sooner, in less equivocal terms, if you had let *her* know how truly you considered her to be yours, instead of leaving her wandering about London like a lost lamb, we wouldn't now be involved in this undignified and unnecessary scene." Her dignified little black figure isn't much taller than Cassius's in his chair; she lingers by the table, her head inclined toward him.

For the first time, true icy menace seeps into Cassius's voice. "Sit. Down. I will inform you when I am through with you." He waits, his eyes challenging her, daring her to defy him in this. This certainly isn't the palm-greasing, silver-tongued politician. Here stands a man who believes himself master of his domain.

His aunt regards him for a long moment. "Another instance," she points out blandly, as she settles again upon the edge of her chair (she's never much of a one for leaning back), "in which you might merely have *asked*, and I'd have obliged. I'd understood the matter to be settled, but please. Say whatever you wish to say to me."

Seemingly satisfied, Cassius's tone softens, though it remains cool and distant. "You chose to enter into my sphere of influence. You knew that as soon as you learned of Miss Diderot's connection to me. This is not a family matter. This is a matter of my household. My domain. You have always been apt to presume a greater degree of importance within the family than has ever been granted you. This is tolerated in the name of peace. But you will find that I am not as inclined as my father or uncle to suffer your barbs and presumptions merely to maintain the facade of civility. Learn you position, and you and I might accomplish great things together. I welcome your insight and experience. But never mistake that for an equal standing. Not here. Not in my world. Surely you view me as an upstart. But this upstart has built an empire worthy of any Malfoy's envy. You can be a part of that, if you wish it."

"My importance within the family," Ismene states flatly, her black eyes looking straight into Cassius's across the corner of the dining-table, "and any ambition I may have had, died with my husband. I have *always* known that. Without him I'm not a true Malfoy, am I?" She shrugs. "And yet I am no more a Lestrange, and don't think for a moment *they* don't know *that*. Consider it. Agrius and I were married for nineteen years and eight months and three days. Including the time of our engagement, twenty years. You may think you know what that means, but you're too young, Cassius, to know what twenty years feels like in the bone… To know what twenty years looks like when you see it lowered into the ground," and her tone is touched by bitterness. Still, she doesn't look away. "You're mistaken if you think I look on you as an upstart, Cassius. Misguided in some matters, downright absurd in others, but not unlike my husband in his prime. You have farther to go — but the man you are now, may yet become the man *he* was."

Cassius rises slowly to his feet, tugging at his jacket to straighten it out. He makes his way down the long table to her side, offering his hand to her in gentlemanly fashion. "We Malfoys have always had to fight to keep what is ours," he says calmly. "Ever has the wizarding world, and the Muggle world before that, looked upon our domain with jealousy, coveting what we have. It in in our nature to firmly establish our dominance. I must fight harder than most, because most of the family — yourself included, I should say — do not understand my mission, and therefore do not approve of it."

Ismene remains seated; her eyes follow her nephew's approach. "I fight harder than most," she tells him quietly, "because, as I don't need to tell you, I have little left without Agrius, and it is precious. I may give it — but I'll be damned if I'll see it taken." She looks down at his hand, and then up at his face again, as her own pale, bony hand emerges from her sleeve and approaches his.

Cassius takes the hand in a firm, but gentle grasp to help her to her feet. "So you see that we have some things in common. I do not wish to be at odds with you. But I hope that you understand my position. I know that I am a possessive man. Even jealous, in some ways. You may find that I am surprisingly aware of my own shortcomings. But I accept them as a part of what makes me the man I am. The greater the man, the greater his faults. What say you, then? Can you come to terms with my character flaws and be a part of what I am building?"

At the word 'possessive', Ismene raises her eyebrows at him; no, really? But, as they stand together, she leaves her hand in his for as long as he is inclined to retain it. "I have not, nor have I ever had, any wish to be at odds with you," she answers. "You know, of course, that I don't agree with your political activities. Imagine, though, where we shall stand in ten years' time. Either you shall have had your way in this matter of Unity; or you shan't have; or the world shall have altered so much that other questions will seem much more vital. But one thing will not have changed: you will still be my nephew."

Cassius's smile is subtle, not the broad grin he so freely offers other times. But perhaps this one is more genuine. "The matter of Unity is not quite so black and white. But that is a conversation for another time. For now, let us end on this note — our own unity, as family. There are still matters to discuss in terms of Rhyeline's treatment. But let us get some rest before revisiting those. Will you stay here tonight? In the morning we can break our fast and speak of those things."

His aunt's head (upon which hair, very definitely black and white, is piled high) is shaking slightly before he has finished speaking; "Impossible tonight," she explains, mildly but with finality, "though I appreciate your courtesy in inviting me. I have a potion in progress which will require my attention in two hours' time, and again just before dawn. I'd lose weeks of work already put into it if I weren't at home. Besides, I'm far too old to sleep well in an unfamiliar bed." This is rather more the Aunt Ismene he knows.

Cassius sighs, nodding. "Very well. But I shall expect to see you tomorrow. We must resolve this matter. Rhyeline is quite aware of how upset I am over the issue, and I'd rather not keeping her teetering any longer than necessary."

"I imagine I know now," Ismene murmurs in an arid tone, "why she didn't answer the owl I sent her this morning." She retrieves her hand, and takes a single step backward. "Until tomorrow?"

Cassius dips his head. "Tomorrow morning. I'll call upon you." He gestures to the dining room door, moving to walk her out. "The carriage is at your disposal, if you wish it."

"That would be most kind."

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