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Chapter 1: Darkness
Bellatrix Lestrange had always loved magic.
Though it had made her parents proud, she had experienced a bit of trouble in making friends at Hogwarts during those initial years, what with the limitation that she ignore Mudbloods and speak to known half-bloods only if she had some requirement of their assistance for one matter or another. Her wand and her schoolbooks were often her only company on evenings when Andromeda made one of her famous disappearances and their youngest sister was too busy re-applying her make-up or canoodling with Lucius Malfoy on one of the common room couches to be much for conversation. But slowly, over time, the loneliness ebbed away, and Bellatrix began to delight in the little isolation she could steal when she was left alone inside her dormitory.
At first, she used the time to practice the spells and potions she was taught, perfecting her abilities in an effort to make every part of herself pure and superior to the other half-breeds and imposters that attended the school. But over time, she began to realize the very tangible edges of her education, and in an attempt to properly get revenge on the thieves of her pureblood inheritance, she began to spend the hours creating new and ever more dangerous weapons.
She met him around this time in her life, during the course of an evening where her roommates had taken to gossiping loudly and she had carried her books and notes down to the library instead. Despite his looks, which were nothing to write to her mother about, he had impressed her when he offered to use his Prefect’s badge to get materials from the Restricted Section for her. She suspected that Narcissa had put him up to being there at the right time, but no matter.
Still, after a while, an intelligent witch grows weary of discovering that older men and women have already claimed responsibility for some of the curses and poisons she invents in her spare time. She knew he would turn out to be boring even before they were engaged, but she went through with it anyway, knowing that being married would mean leaving the busy household of her parents and retiring to a quieter existence where she could toy with Dark magic as she liked.
But now, she was in hiding with the others in a busy house again, the massive estate gifted to her sister, the princess, upon Narcissa’s marriage to Malfoy. Even considering its size, the house had never been meant to hold this many people for such an extended period, and the Death Eaters did not make for very good houseguests. Narcissa’s hair had begun to fall out little by little, a combination of worrying over her son, who seemed to be in the throes of a depressive episode, and the continual expectation that another fine piece of china might be shattered just to spite her. The resident Potions Master was enjoying his comfortable position as Headmaster at Hogwarts, returning only occasionally for special missions from the top, and thus Narcissa had asked her elder sister to brew some sort of elixir that might restore her appearance to its normal glory.
As usual, Bellatrix had become distracted by the darkness.
She stood enraptured by it, allowing its brood of shadows to sink steadily into her dark, curly hair from her place just inside the window. It was her favorite time of day, the few sparse moments in which the sun succumbed to the horizon and night took over like a predator. The black patches played about her legs like the children she would never have, lashing out at one another in jealously each time she twitched or took too deep of a breath, but she paid them no mind, staring instead at the drizzle that fell outdoors. The shadows swept over her cool, pale skin daringly, coming closer to her than her husband ever would in their marriage of convenience, their relation little more than a shared name. The invading darkness hemorrhaging into the sky before her knew her better than almost anyone.
An opening door ruffled her skirt, and she gripped the sill before her gently.
She didn’t mind being an enigma. She’d never needed children or a man waiting in her bed to think of herself as a real woman. She preferred her freedom, which came with unlimited chances to slink about like a cat in her expensive form-fitting dresses and behave according to her ever-fluctuating moods. She wore one such gown tonight, the shade as dark as the night that threatened to sink down and smother her, the same variety of black as the shadowy offspring she shared with the evening.
Then, the door to the room closed, and she let out a gasp of surprise. A few quiet footsteps, paced with careful precision and composure, and she no longer remembered whether her sudden intake of breath had occurred before the chandelier’s light revealed his handsome features or because of them. His dark hair was cut short and it was made of shining curls that framed the pits containing his cold, dark eyes. A slight smile played on his thin lips, concealing any expression.
“My—my Lord,” she breathed, rooted to the spot. Something in her chest began fluttering like a crazed moth, beating its wings against her ribs and causing her to feel intoxicated. The sensation itself was not unfamiliar; she’d often closed her eyes and indulged her rare girlish tendencies when seated before him, listening to him speak of a world where he alone would reign. But the blood that rushed along in her veins and fell like an avalanche into her heart was too much for her to bear this time, and she had to close her eyes again, seeking the precious darkness as she bore her weight against the windowsill. She froze like a gazelle as she heard him approach her.
“I thought you’d like it, Bella.” His voice came from behind her, its tone deceitfully soothing.
She swallowed, turning around slowly and feeling him up close to her even without seeing him. When her eyes met his, their obsidian hue further obscured by the night as it poured in through the window, she felt her knees weaken helplessly beneath her. “I do,” she finally uttered softly.
If the others could see her now, they’d have to take a second look to believe it. She had built up a solid reputation of indifference and apathy, her occasional bursts of mania serving as mere punctuation for her usual attitude of omnipotence. But now she melted under his gaze like a young schoolgirl, and he hadn’t even touched her! It was shameful, and she wished to savor it.
“Polyjuice?” she asked finally, when she caught her breath anew.
He smiled, leaning against the sill, close enough now to exchange his carbon dioxide for hers. She absently wondered how long he’d had to keep stores of his own hair to accomplish this feat.
“Snape?” she added, adopting a suspicious look more appropriate for her usual demeanor.
“I don’t require my Death Eaters to do everything for me,” he responded, stepping away from the window and clasping his hands behind his back. Bellatrix took the opportunity to move as well.
“My Lord, I—I meant no offense…” Inside, she damned her nervous stuttering to Hell.
He paused, extending a hand to her. “Dance with me.” It was not a request, and it implied that he had completely ignored her apology, considering that he was seemingly able to hear all things.
The moment the pads of her delicate fingers touched his, he swept her into his trap, gently but surely ensnaring her with each of his first confident steps across the floor. She had not danced since her wedding, when she had resentfully smiled as her new husband stepped on her toes, but her current partner was much more practiced, easily robbing the experience from Rodolphus and the immature pre-teen boys she’d been forced to mingle with at society parties in her youth and replacing all of those regrettable moments with a new, more pleasurable memory. She dared to glance up at him and made the mistake of meeting those bottomless irises once again, but this time when her knees gave way, he simply took on her weight, gliding her about like a rag doll. The darkness prowled about their feet, dimming the pale splinters of light that bled from the crescent moon shining starkly out of the night sky and leaking into every corner of the room.
They danced to a silent tune, and when she found her strength again, Bellatrix chose to become a more active participant in the ritual. She allowed him to spin her around elegantly, her curtain of black hair sweeping across her face and blocking out both the dark and light for a split second, and then she pressed her body up closer to him, realizing with a start that his skin now had a scent, a nameless perfume of pheromones that drew her in like a fly to a spider’s web. His hand traced innocently along her back, but the sensation infected her nerves like a cancer nonetheless.
Just then, he spoke. “Bellatrix, my darling, we need to talk about something.”
She forced her eyes open and realized that they had stopped moving, though the room still spun.
“The mission I have undertaken is noble, there’s no doubt, but a heavy price must accompany such lofty aims,” he began, still cradling her gingerly as if he knew that she would simply dissolve into the darkness if he let her go. “There are many in this world who wish me dead.”
Bellatrix looked up at him, slowly finding her strength. “I would never let that happen.”
“I know,” he remarked, “which is why I’ve come to you now, in my time of need.”
She turned back to the window, allowing her fingers to play absently along the chilly glass. “Whatever you require, my Lord, I’ll do the best I can to oblige you. Anything.”
“I know, Bella,” he repeated, and she suddenly felt quite dizzy, like she’d had too much to drink.
He began to pace about the room behind her. “You’re an intelligent witch, and so you must understand that the world is a study in opposites. There are obvious distinctions, like the beauty of magic, of our truth, and the ugliness of the Muggles that invade our world.” She nodded just slightly, and he took it as a cue to continue. “In the same way, death and life are also opposed to one another, and when they meet, a curious sort of phenomenon is born. It is called a Horcrux.”
She turned and looked at him. “When they meet? You mean…” It came to her. “A murder.”
“I said you were intelligent.” He smiled again, and a girlish grin emerged without effort on her face as well. “You see, by taking the life of someone less worthy than yourself, you may steal back the energy that you should have been granted in the first place. In this way, the universe remains balanced, with those who should emerge as victors working to keep their rightful place.”
Again, she worked it out in her mind. “We can take magic back from the dirty Mudbloods, then.”
“Precisely,” he replied. “The real beauty of it, my dear, is that I’ve already done it. I’ve already accomplished this feat several times, and this is how I’ve come to gather much of my power.” She waited for him to tell her how many times, but the number never came. “Unfortunately, again, a study in opposites occurred. I have abundant life, even what you might refer to as immortality, but I must invest it in very corporeal bodies, objects that are still quite mortal.”
Here it was, her mission was coming. She leaned back against the window, watching him.
“Perhaps you have a secret place, a safe location where I might protect these parts of myself.”
She did have one, several, in fact, but one safer than the rest. She knew that the threatening reminders about security that she passed on to the goblins each time she ventured into Gringotts would be worth it in one way or another. They were useful creatures, particularly when it came to metallurgy, but they could not be trusted, much like any of the species in the wizarding world. Still, Gringotts was the safest place she could think of, considering that it was too dangerous to attempt to return to her own home and a man she despised was now in charge of Hogwarts.
“Yes, my vault at Gringotts… no one would dare…” she suggested.
“Excellent,” he said, offering her another of those smiles that only she would appreciate, as if he had somehow laid the tracks of her train of thought before it had even formed in her mind. “Once again, Bellatrix, you are making a sacrifice to assist me in furthering our perfect cause. These little donations of yours will one day make it possible for our world to be devoid of Mudbloods.”
She nodded, turning back to the window and feeling him approach behind her. Through the pale glass, she could see that the darkness had completely overtaken the sun, bleeding into the horizon and deepening with her every breath. For a moment, she felt a shred of fear, her mind having made the connection between the infestation of Muggles into her world and the way the shadows had now filled up everything in her line of vision. She glanced down at her side, seeing that his hand was precariously close to her hip, and without thinking she touched it with her own. “Do you think you could show me this magic, my Lord, so my dueling does not go wasted?”
He did not jerk back or make a noise of disgust, but the subtle few inches he now put between them revealed his feelings quite neatly. “It’s quite complicated,” he said, “even for you.”
She tried her luck once more. “We could live together in our perfect world,” she whispered.
“I thought you better than a mere girl, Bellatrix,” he said, still standing there, watching the night. “Don’t you see? You and I will not matter in the grander scheme of things. In this future world, our descendants will have the chance to treasure their gift without fear of intrusion by outsiders. Their children will not have to share classrooms and dormitories at Hogwarts with the undeserving Muggle brats. The Ministry can be pared down, made to run more efficiently. All of these benefits will be made possible because you and I made a sacrifice. Do you understand?”
She said nothing. She was an intelligent witch, after all, and so he knew that she understood.
He touched her bare hand again now, the chilly tone of his skin causing her to shudder in a way that could have been voluntary or completely against her will. She had no time to think on it, because then the lips that he usually did not wear brushed against her temple and her dark curls. “We’ll be together, Bella. You’ll see.” She had never heard him speak so softly, not even to her.
Then, without excuse or explanation, he was gone, leaving her to be swallowed by the night.