Chapter 1 : <b>Death Is Kissing Her Children to Sleep</b>
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When the woman first slipped upward out of unconsciousness, it wasn’t the pain that she first noticed, nor the shackles that bit into the flesh on her wrists, nor even the dank, rancid smell of the chamber she hung in. No. . . it was the sound. A slow drip that echoed off the stone walls.
DRIP . . . *silence* . . . DRIP . . . *silence* . . .
Her eyes fluttered open, and her head hung low over her chest. She had a fine view of the grey, shale floor beneath her, and it was there that she saw the blood-- a lot of blood, her blood-- pooling on the floor and dribbling slowly down the drain inset there. It was that which made the sound.
She could then taste the bitter, coppery flavour in her mouth, and she didn’t have the strength to spit. She tried to regain her footing, to take some weight off of her wrists, but the lower part of her body didn’t seem to want to work very well. Her bare feet skidded on the surface beneath her, and then she was standing. She wavered about a bit, searching in vain for balance, and the chains supporting her creaked above.
In a flood, Bellatrix remembered. She remembered everything. The hopelessness closed in and she felt as if it would suffocate her. She was terrified and delirious, and she gazed down again, down at the drops on the floor . . .
She supposed she had been about three or four years old at the time. She had wandered into the kitchens, sliding by the notice of the house elves busy about their duties and had found the large bucket of meat offal in a back pantry, set there for disposal. She remembered thinking what a prize she’d discovered, running her hands through the pulpy, bloody mess, thrilling in its rich texture and smell. Nanny Premble had come looking for her wayward charge minutes later, and stood, screaming and screaming at the sight of the child covered in red goo, positive the toddler had gotten into the butcher knives. The mistress of the house, Lady Druella Black had swept into the room then, turned up her nose at the creature that was her daughter, and back-handed the hysterical nanny. “How DARE you let Bellatrix out of your sight, you incompetent fool!” The house elves were ordered to clean the child and the nanny was sent packing.
It turned out to be a boon, because the new nanny was such a marvellous find that she stayed with young Bellatrix for the remainder of her early childhood. Nanny Lilien was beautiful and soft-spoken, and the child that was Bellatrix adored her. When the little girl brought fistfuls of bugs from the garden, Nanny Lilien cooed over the find, and they sat all afternoon together on the floor of the nursery, dissecting each of the tiny creatures and laying out the gnarled, spindly legs, all in a row. When a slightly older Bellatrix found a wild rabbit entrapped in the wire fence surrounding the kitchen garden, and yanked on it’s back leg just to hear the scream, Nanny Lilien clapped her hands at the child’s cleverness.
The older woman spent hours brushing Bellatrix’s long glossy hair until it shone, and told her tales of the old days, days when witches and wizards ruled the land. And that day was coming again, she whispered lovingly into the child’s ear, if only those strong enough . . . pure enough . . . would seize the power.
And so Nanny Lilien sent Bellatrix off to school when she turned eleven, the seeds of power-lust and cruelty already well-planted in the fertile garden of her young mind.
She coughed, once, and the parched muscles in her throat screamed. As she leaned on one arm and pivoted slowly about the taut chain that held her, she glanced blearily down at herself. She was clad in the same clothes she had worn yesterday, and the material had begun to stiffen. The colour was no longer discernable.
She jumped when the door she had not noticed slammed open, strained backwards against the chains, and cried out as they bit into the open wounds at her wrists. Wormtail shuffled in, back bent, head low. He carried a bucket.
He approached her cautiously, gazing sideways at her with a mixture of revulsion and fear. She’d never given him much thought in the past; he was such a maggoty little thing, beneath her notice. But now she lurched toward him.
“Wormtail! . . . Wormtail, help me . . . please . . .” she croaked, her head lolling against one shoulder, barely able to keep herself vertical. Her breath came out in short pants and she shuffled her bare feet on the bloody floor.
“No. The Master does not wish it,” the little man spoke harshly, dipping his head once. Then he stepped forward and, in a rush, dumped the bucket over her head.
The ice-cold water hit her like fist, and even in her weakened condition, she had awareness enough to tilt her head back to capture some of liquid as it washed over her body. She did not care that it was mixed with blood and sweat and dirt . . . it was water! Glorious water! It spilled down her throat, and she cried for more when it was gone.
She blinked at Wormtail again, and saw him staring at her, his eyes squinted and his lip curled. A rage filled her then, and she lunged against the manacles with a howl. He leapt away in fear, but then sneered back. “He wants you cleaned up, ‘e does. There will be guests . . .soon.” And he quickly scurried out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him with a thud.
Bellatrix hung, breathing heavily, water dripping from her to the floor. She could see the pink mixture running down the drain in tiny rivulets, but in a moment it slowed once more to a crawl, then down to the familiar sound.
DRIP . . . *silence* . . . DRIP . . . *silence* . . .
Her years at school were a triumph, even by illustrious Black family’s standards. From the moment she stepped onto the school grounds, she had manipulated, deceived, and dominated all around her. She ruled Slytherin house with an iron fist. She was a queen who held court in the dungeon dormitory, and she revelled in the power.
It was in her fifth year that she took notice of Rodolphus Lestrange. He was a quiet boy, tall, pleasant to look at without being particularly handsome, hovering in the shadows of Slytherin house. He seemed always about but never involved. But she could feel his eyes following her everywhere, as if he were one of the figures in a portrait.
No one seemed to know much about him; he belonged to a very old prestigious, pure-blood family from overseas, and he kept to himself. She didn’t know why, but she always felt a bit flushed when she knew his gaze was on her, and one rainy afternoon on a deserted stairway she vowed to have it out with him.
She stood above, looking imperiously down on him. He had looked startled when he climbed the stairs to find her waiting for him. But Rodolphus smiled that strange little smile of his, bowed slightly and stood to the side, as if to let her pass. She remained where she was, still as night, and gave him one of her coldest stares.
“You!” she said, pitching her voice low in what she knew was her most intimidating tone. “I don’t like the fact that you’ve been staring at me. It . . . will . . . stop!”
His smile did not change, his black piercing eyes shining like agates. “I meant no offence, Miss Black. I was merely admiring your . . . beauty.” That last word seemed to be added as an afterthought, as if it wasn’t his original intent. His voice was silky smooth and pitched as hers, low and sultry.
This wasn’t going the way she wanted. Bellatrix was accustomed to cowing anyone she met one-on-one, and this boy seemed more amused by her than frightened.
“You’d better watch yourself, Mister STRANGE,” she emphasised the mis-pronunciation of his name. “I can make your life a living hell . . .”
She was unable to finish, for with a lurch he was beside her, twisting her arm behind her back and pulling her forcibly to him. She gave a startled cry, and his other arm snaked behind her neck, his fist in her hair, yanking her head back painfully. The strength of him was incredible, and she stood panting, unable to move, gazing up at him with wide shocked eyes.
He wasn’t even breathing hard, and he bent his face to hers, the half-smile that held no warmth still across his mouth. “Oh, my dear . . .” he said softly, “. . . the hell we could make for each other . . . together . . .” He paused and let his eyes wander over her, slowly, covetously.
Just as suddenly, he let her go. She was caught unaware, and fell slightly back, sitting hard on the step behind her with a bump. He stood above her, and smiled down again, running a finger along the side of her face. He then stepped around her and was gone.
“Rodolphus,” she whispered, her voice paper-thin in the empty chamber. It had been so long since she last laid eyes on her husband. What they had formed together couldn’t be called love; rather a meeting of minds, perhaps, or a joining of purpose. For it was that great mistress, Power, that claimed both of their black hearts, and hand-in-hand, they followed her siren call.
The small bit of water she had taken earlier seemed to revive her senses, and pain began to pull every muscle in her body apart. Her tongue darted out and ran over a lip split nearly to her teeth and her vision began blurring.
Her first kill was on her eighteenth birthday.
She and Rodolphus together were a maelstrom, an assault on the peace of the school. Even the professors were on notice. She was at the head, of course; she would have it no other way. Her domination over those around her was complete and total. But Rodolphus was always with her, sitting to the side and slightly behind. Others may have wondered at this, and perhaps the disingenuous saw him as her inferior. But he paid the whispers no mind. In such company, he merely ran a soft finger down her shoulder, smiled at the offending party and was heard to murmur, “My Treasure.” And Bellatrix returned his proprietary look with a heavy-lidded gaze of her own. That’s what they were together . . . cold steel and white-hot ice.
Their coupling was wild, bestial and torrid. She revelled in his strength, how he could withstand whatever chimera she chose to bring forth. And the things he did to her made her eyes roll back in her head. Their sensuality and depravity knew no bonds.
After leaving school, he took her shopping for a gift on her birthday (she loathed surprises) and they came upon a bedraggled, filthy Squib sleeping off an evenings bender behind some dustbins. The man’s screams were exquisite. The noise brought out crowds from the nearby shops and they barely escaped unnoticed.
They became betrothed the next week, and the following summer were married.
She wasn’t sure if she dozed or fell unconscious, but the chamber door slamming open once again jerked her awake. A group of men and women shuffled in, clumping together by the doorway. They seemed reluctant to look at her, keeping their eyes cast downward, glancing up now and again through frightened and revolted eyes.
They were what remained of the Death-Eaters, after the disastrous raid on the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries yesterday, in which not only the Prophecy was lost, but the best and most ruthless of the Death-Eaters were captured and sent to Azkaban. Now this lot remained, and a pathetic group they were. Cowards, sycophants and bottom-feeders, all.
Bellatrix pushed herself erect and glared at them. She stood, half-naked, bloodied, tortured, ravaged . . . she, Bellatrix Black Lestrange . . . and she was still a thousand times their superior! A snarl reached her lip, and she threw her head forward and spat at them.
“Get out! GET OUT!!” she screamed hoarsely, her throat burning. “None of you . . . NONE!! . . . are worthy of the Dark Lord, if you cannot bear to look at me, his handiwork!! LOOK! . . . and see my devotion, my sacrifice!!” She fell into a fit of coughing and a froth of blood trickled down her chin.
The room was silent except for her tortured wheezing, then the sound of dry, raspy clapping cut the air.
CLAP . . . CLAP . . . CLAP . . . CLAP.
And the Dark Lord himself, Voldemort, stepped from the shadows.
It was at the reception that she first met Lord Voldemort.
The wedding of Bellatrix Black and Rodolphus Lestrange was the wizarding world’s social event of the season, a triumph of the pure-blood order. All of the old families were represented, plus a cadre of hangers-on and aspirants. The table was sumptuous, the music ethereal and toast after toast was lofted to the happy couple. The Black and Lestrange families were congratulated on the brilliant match and those in attendance marvelled at the luxury that only old money and centuries-old connections could provide.
Rodolphus led his radiant new wife in the first dance, and they proved an elegant couple on the floor. After the set, he bowed genteelly to her, put out an elegant fist, and she place her hand over his as he guided their way through the throng. He bent his mouth to her ear and whispered, “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Near the rear of the cavernous hall, another court was being held. An odd assortment of people, young and old, were gathered about and around a cloaked figure. He was not young, but from that point his age was hard to determine. His countenance was both dark and pale, an eerie combination, and the power emanating from him took her breath away.
Those gathered about parted like a wave, and Rodolphus and Bellatrix approached. The groom bowed low, and his wife executed an elegant curtsy, then she raised her eyes to the stranger. “My dear, this is Lord Voldemort,” murmured Rodolphus, his head still bowed, then he, likewise, raised his head. It was the first signs of deference his bride had ever witnessed from him.
“Lord Voldemort, may I present my wife, Bellatrix . . . my treasure.” Without asking, Rodolphus placed his wife’s hand into that of Lord Voldemort. An electric current passed between them, the bride and the stranger, and she knew with cataclysmic foresight that her life would never be the same. All her past dreams, passions, and perversions, coalesced into this one man who was more than a man, into this being standing before her. He smiled down at her, and his visage caused the tiny hairs at the back of her neck to rise.
“Treasure indeed,” murmured Voldemort, as he bent his head and brushed thin lips against the back of her hand. He straightened and cast his baleful stare upon her, and though her will felt iron stiff as ever, she trembled before his gaze. She couldn’t decide if his eyes were red or yellow -- a startling combination either way -- and his waxy complexion spoke of his use of copious amounts of magic. He fairly reeked of it.
“And how thinks your new bride of the order of the day?” asked Voldemort, his words for Rodolphus but his eyes never leaving hers. “Does she enjoy rubbing elbows with the half-blood rabble, or does she share our . . . concerns. . . about preserving the old blood-lines? Is she ready to play her part in the grand show?”
Bellatrix shook herself slightly and spoke, her voice sharp. “The ‘new bride’ can speak for herself!” At the slight gasp from the crowd in observation, she moderated her tone. “I am my own woman, sir, not a broodmare, bought and sold for purposes of enriching the herd. I shall leave that . . . honour. . . to my younger sisters. No, my talents lie in taking a more . . . active part.” She never let her eyes leave his.
Lord Voldemort bowed his head slightly, his sickly grin spreading. “Brava, my dear. . . Bra-va!”
CLAP . . . CLAP . . . CLAP . . . CLAP.
She hadn’t even heard the Dark Lord Apparate. He floated across the floor to stand next to her, his depthless eyes flickering between her and the cowering crowd.
“Brava, my dear Bella!” he said pleasantly. “You’ve gotten it right . . . all of it. That is why I hold you above all others. . . and that it why it pains me to see you in such pitiable condition.” He waved a hand idly and the manacles restraining her snapped open. She spilled to the floor and lay, choked and gasping.
“Come, come . . . my friends, let us retire to the library for refreshment. Bellatrix is, at the moment, indisposed but as soon as she sets herself to rights, she will join us.” The Death Eaters hastily evacuated the dim chamber, and Lord Voldemort glided after them. He paused at the doorway, turning a half-shoulder back. “Take your time, Bella, you should require no more than . . . say, an hour?”
She struggled on the sticky floor, and raised her body with a grunt, holding herself up with one hand, tears dripping from her face. “Of course, My Lord” she whispered.
Once the Dark Lord was gone, a trio of healers descended on her, clucking over her condition, and she gave herself up to their ministrations. As she lay before them, her thoughts could not help but return to the horrors of the night before.
The Dark Lord Disapparated away from the Ministry of Magic at the conclusion of his confrontation with Dumbledore, his hand like a vice on Bellatrix’s arm. When they Apparated into this dark, clammy chamber, she was confused. She had never been here before. All other thoughts were swept away as Lord Voldemort gave a bellow of rage and flung her from him. She slammed hard into the stone wall, her head impacting the surface with a crack, and she slid to the floor and lay, momentarily stunned.
“DUMBLEDORE!!” he screeched. “Will I never be free of that meddling old cretin?!” He stalked across the chamber, eyes unseeing, fists clenched in rage. Then he whirled on her, and with long strides reached her side, clutched her neck in his fist, and raised her bodily from the floor by her head. “And you, my dear . . . you have failed me. . . oh yes, FAILED!! How . . . how could YOU of all people, of all my Death Eaters, you whom I’ve placed above all others . . .?” He bent his head close to her ear as she choked against his squeezing hand. “Oh, my sweet, you will pay . . . and pay dearly.”
He flung her again from him, to the centre of the chamber. She managed to keep her feet somehow. She was both terrified and outraged . . . she must make him understand!!
“My lord, Master . . . I tried, I tried so hard . . . I even killed that disgrace of a blood-traitor cousin, Sirius, but the fighting, it was intense . . . who would have guessed that a bunch of brats could . . .”
“SILENCE!!” the Dark Lord thundered. With a gesture of his wand, her arms were wrenched from her sides, and pulled upward and apart, cold iron closing around her wrists. She looked up and saw chains had descended from the darkness above and she was strung up and held immobile by her arms. She yanked futilely, and looked beseechingly at her Master.
“My lord, no! . . . what are you doing . . .?” But he ignored her and stalked from the room.
All was silent. She hung, trying to control her terror, as sweat ran off her face. How could everything have gone so wrong? That cursed man-child, Potter, he had held the Prophecy in his hand, just paces from her. She could taste it. . . feel it. . . their goal was nearly complete, when the world had gone suddenly mad. The smashing of the orbs, the curses and spells flying through the air, it had all gone horribly awry.
And now here she stood in this place . . . this. . . yes, she could smell it . . . this death chamber. The stench of death and decay permeated the cracks between the stones, and she knew despair for perhaps the first time in her life.
Even the years at Azkaban had not terrified her like this.
There was a rustle of air, and the Dark Lord swept back into the room. His face looked calmer then, almost serene, and he approached her with a small smile across his thin lips. She dared to hope.
He slipped something out from within his robes and held it aloft. “See how my admiration for you has no limits, Bella? I chose to show this to you before all others, this . . . my newest creation.”
It was a wand, but a wand the likes of which she had never seen before. It was reed-thin, faintly translucent and blood-red in colour. It was sharper at one end than the other, and he balanced it between long-taloned fingers. He smiled when he saw her wide eyes upon it.
“It’s a special Wand, you see? A Wand of my own fancy, my own imagination. For it performs no magic, no spells, no curses. Its sole function is the deliverance of pain. Ahhhh, now I see I have piqued your interest!”
For indeed, she had raised her eyebrows unknowingly at his words. It was an idea they had shared many years ago. The Cruciatus Curse had seemed so crude, so unrefined. It was either ‘on’ or ‘off’, with no finesse or nuance. There was a subtlety to the giving of pain perhaps only she and the Dark Lord understood. They had discussed their desire for something more, something that had better control. This was apparently the culmination of that desire.
He handled the Wand lovingly, rolling it between his fingers. “I have yet to test its full range, its capacity. And I’m sure you, my dearest Bellatrix, would love to help me in that endeavour.” He moved in closer.
She was frozen in place, trembling. “Please . . . my lord . . . don’t do this . . . not to ME . . .” she said, her voice breaking.
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” he purred.
With force, he brought the Wand against her neck, and pain such as she had never known coursed through her. Her scream was long and agonising, and light, sound, and vision swam away down a long dark tunnel to blackness.
She awoke later, she knew not how long, to the purling sound of the Dark Lord’s laughter. Coughing, she gasped for air.
“That scream was simply delicious, Bella,” Voldemort cooed, walking around her, his strides slow and graceful. “Let’s see what else the Wand can do, shall we?”
The night knew no end. It was agony, upon agony. Bellatrix wasn’t even sure how awake she was during it, but she was denied the luxury of losing consciousness completely.
Voldemort did not tire or become bored. He seemed endlessly fascinated with his new invention, finding different ways the Wand could be used. The pain buckled her legs and she hung from her wrists, whimpering in agony. She tried to scream, to breathe, but couldn’t.
“. . . Why? . . . why me? . . .” she managed at one point. “ . . . the others . . .”
“Yes, the others have failed me, and they shall receive their due,” Voldemort chided. “You are special, my dear . . . don’t you know that by now? I take special care of you, for your own sake, because you are my favourite.”
He leaned in close, whispering into her ear like a lover. “You need instruction, don't you see? I need to show you that your life as you knew it is over; it is no longer your own. It is mine. You have given it to me and I can do anything I want with it . . . anything. I can hurt you in any way I wish, for as long as I wish. The only one here to help you is me. Your Lord. Every moment you now have, every breath that you take without pain is one that only I can give you. You must know this to the ends of your soul.”
She thought she must be losing her mind and hung in burning misery. She no longer knew where she was or even her own name. She maintained that vision of him, of him standing before her with his smile and the Wand in his fist, until she was unconscious.
She woke with a start. She must have dozed off momentarily in the warmth of the bath. The feeling of being clean and blessedly pain-free was a sensual thing that rolled over her, and she basked in the soothing moist vapours that rose from the scented water.
The healers had performed their office and departed, and now a cadre of house elves attended her toilette. She rose from the bath, and allowed them to dress her in a long flowing black gown, beautifully cut and studded with precious gems. Her hair was brushed until it gleamed like satin. The make-up applied did much to cover her gaunt, sallow features, though she glanced in the mirror in contempt. Azkaban had left its mark.
When she walked into the gallery moments later, every head in the room turned toward her. Lord Voldemort sailed across the room, and took her hand, holding it aloft and spinning her about slowly. “See, my faithful followers, I told you. Nothing can keep our dear Bellatrix down, can it? Her strength is as legend as her beauty!”
Her chin was high and back straight, and she lowered her eyes momentarily at the comment, but then raised them again quickly, searching the room for signs of mockery or amusement. There was none. She smiled quietly to herself. Just so.
She swept along where the Dark Lord guided her, into a comfortably large chair set up almost like a throne by the immense fireplace. A fire crackled merrily and she was glad of its warmth. He turned after seating her and clapped his hands for attention. This was unnecessary, of course. Every eye in the room was already on him. He began his speech.
“My dear friends, it is so good to see us all together again. Though recent events may be seen as otherwise . . .” here a shadow crossed his snake-like features, but was quickly gone, “. . . our victory is well at hand. Soon, our brothers and sisters at Azkaban will be released. And of course, we rejoice to see the return to health of one such as our beloved, loyal and truest servant, Bellatrix Lestrange!” He applauded, followed vigorously by the others in the room. She lowered her eyes demurely.
He held up his hands, the long bony appendages stretched wide. The applause ceased. “And as a token of my esteem, I would like to present her with a little gift. Wormtail, if you will?”
The grubby little man scurried from out of the shadows, a long box in his grasp. Reflections from the flames in the fireplace danced across his shiny metallic hand as he handed the box to her.
It was beautifully wrapped with silk and ribbon, and when she opened it, she gasped, bringing both hands to her mouth. It lay nestled in black lace at the bottom.
It was the Wand.
With trembling hands, she ran a loving finger down its length, then picked it up and held it first in front, then above her, admiring how it looked in the light. It was magnificent, glorious, more than she dared hope for, and she turned shining eyes to Voldemort.
“My Lord is too generous,” she murmured, her eyes never leaving his.
“I know,” he said, then whirled and raised a glass in the air that had suddenly appeared in his hand. “To Bella!!” he cried.
“Bellatrix!” was the hearty return and the toast was completed.
She smiled to herself again, rolling the Wand between her fingers.
She was back.
-- Vishnu, from The Bhagavad-Gita
* * *
The title of this story (“Death is Kissing Her Children to Sleep”) is a line taken from the song, Thousand Year Dream, by Jocelyn Pook from her CD, Flood (Virgin Records, 1999).
The artwork used in the banner is from the talented Columbian artist Marcela Boliver from her piece “Miss Nicotine”. Her work is beautiful, haunting and disturbing. See her on the website, Neosynthesis.
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