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Chapter 1 : Protector
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"Cissy," Bella calls, hating how whiny her voice sounds. She wants the pain to go away but she won't cry. A Black doesn't cry over a scrapped knee, her parents told her hundreds of times, so often, that Bella can't even remember the last time she cried.
"Cissy," Bella calls again, her voice firmer this time and she's proud of how she can control it. "I've had enough of the attic. Let's go back downstairs."
Narcissa doesn't come. Bella likes the attic, she has spent many hours playing on it even if she knows that it's dangerous. There are so many magical objects hidden her, only three days ago, she was stunned by a crystal ball she had tried to pick up and had woken up two hours later. She had been coverd in shards, she must have dropped the crystal ball when falling. What a shame, it had looked so lovely!
There are more crystal balls hidden here and Bella passes one when she goes to look for Cissy. She doesn't pick this one up, she doesn't want to get stunned again. Plus, it looks evil. The glass has lost all shine and darkness swirls inside, eating the already dim light of the attic.
When Bella finally finds Cissy, she's sitting on the floor and playing with a statue. Bella eyes the mask behind her sister carefully while she approaches. It's made of dark wood, almost black and as high as Bella. The eyes have been carved into the mask, mere holes, but when she comes closer, she feels as if they're watching her. Is it just a reflection or is there a glint in those eyes?
"Cissy, come here," Bella calls. Her sister looks up and holds out the object she has found.
"Yes, nice. Now let's go back downstairs." Bella is getting impatient now, the mask makes her nervous. Why can't Cissy hurry? “If Father catches us, he’ll be angry.”
Cissy’s only three, almost four. None of them has permission to be in the attic but Bella feels old enough to roam freely through the house. She can recognise danger – and that large mask smells of it.
Its eyes, the black holes, suddenly light up.
“Cissy!” Bella cries out. “Come over here.”
Smoke comes out of the mask’s mouth, dark grey smoke, a cloud that comes closer and closer. Dangerous! Bella can’t tell what it is but she can feel the evil.
Cissy lets out a scream and tears come to her eyes. She’s still sitting on the ground, petrified, looking like she’s unable to move. Bella runs forward to protect her sister, not thinking, just running, protecting – and bounces off an invisible wall in between Cissy and the smoke. The impact is so strong that she falls on her back and now she has a scrapped knee and a bruised botty.
Cissy is crying now, her sobs echo through the room. A Black doesn’t cry, a small voice says in the back of Bella’s mind and she hates herself for the thought. Bella doesn’t cry, but this is Cissy, little Cissy.
The smoke doesn’t come any closer, it seems to be locked behind the invisible wall. Bella knows better than to stretch out her hand and touch the barrier. Who knows what it is? Who tells her that it isn’t as evil as the smoke?
“Cissy, let’s go now.” Bella scrambles to her feet and pulls up her sister. She turns around, ready to flee the attic.
A lion man is blocking the way.
He’s tiny, not taller than Bella and only his body is human.
“Cat,” Cissy says and points at him with the statue she’s still holding.
“That’s a lion head,” Bella corrects her. Cissy cannot know, lions are not highly regarded in this family even though Bella is not sure why. Something with the school, but she has never really understood it. She’s seen the image of a lion in a book, though, and knows that he’s wearing a lion’s head and tail.
“Have you been transfir… transfor… changed by a bad spell?” she asks, unable to pronounce the large word. She’s still wary of the lion man but curious at the same time. “Great-Aunt Augusta has once. She had frog legs for a whole week, until Father found out how to make them go away. Do you want me to ask Father to make your lion head go away?”
Bella bites her lip, waiting for the dwarf to answer. She hopes he says no and just lets her pass because she doesn’t want to explain to Father where she found the man.
He doesn’t say anything, he breaks into laughter.
“He’s good,” Bella protests. Nobody laughs about Father! “It was very hard. Impossible, they said, and he still did it. He can help you, but if you don’t want to we’ll just go and you can stay here and look like a lion forever.”
She glances over her shoulder, the smoke is still caught behind the invisible barrier. Cissy has stopped crying now, she’s absolutely still and squeezes Bella’s hand.
“He’s nice,” she whispers to Bella. “Not evil.”
“Evil? Oh no,” the lion man says. “I’m Bes, the god-demon of protection. I watch over women and children, especially the curious ones like you who wander through dangerous places. What were you doing so close to that Nigerian mask?”
Bella doesn’t know what Nigerian is, probably some evil magic. She’s about to ask but another question springs to her mind. “What’s a god-demon?”
Bes reaches up to run a hand through his mane. “Ah, you see. Now that’s a little detail… Actually, I’m just a god but some people once mistook me for a demon, so I like to keep it in my name. God-demon. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?”
He’s strange and Bella’s not sure if she should trust him but the Nigan mask is behind her and she needs to leave the attic. She doesn’t know how long the wall will hold.
“Was it you?” she asks. “That barrier.”
The god nods but before he can say anything, Bella adds, “We need to go. Mother is waiting with dinner and Father will be angry if we’re late. Very angry. He will shout at us.”
The last words were barely a whisper and she hopes that he didn’t hear them but of course, he did. He’s a god, he can hear everything like gods do.
“I can shut him up,” he offers, completely serious now. “Make him quiet, stop the shouting.”
“NO!” Bella cries. Father shouts and he’s strict and has so many rules that the girls mustn’t forget, but he’s Father and she loves him. He doesn’t hurt, he’s not evil like the Ninenigan mask, he just shouts. He must not be harmed.
“Alright, alright, it was just a suggestion.” Bes holds out his hands in front of him and Bella sees that his palms are covered by fine hairs, almost like fur. Funny. She’s never met anybody with hair on their palms. “I wouldn’t have hurt him, just shut down his voice a bit. Ra’s disc, I can even hear him up here when he gets angry. Talking about angry, you girls should go downstairs. Your parents have guests.”
Cissy squeezes Bella’s hand. Even with her three years, she knows what guests mean. The girls will have dinner in a small dining room on the second floor. Then they will go into their rooms and pretend they don’t exist.
Bella shivers as she descends the stairs. It’s draughty and cold and she’s scared of who’s come, cloaked visitors she doesn’t want to see.
The house elves have already prepared their dinner, duck or chicken or maybe beef, Bella isn’t good with meat. It’s good, she guesses, but she’s not hungry and Cissy only eats two spoonful before she declares she’s had enough. Bella now gets to look at the statue that her sister found on the attic and that is standing on the table next to her. It’s a miniature version of Bes.
The god-demon sits in a corner. Bella has tried to offer him food but he didn’t want it. Maybe he doesn’t eat or he only eats special food or he’s just not hungry. Bella doesn’t know much about gods.
“We should go.” She places her fork on her plate, she hasn’t even used her knife, if Mother could see her, she would be angry. But Mother is downstairs with Father and as the girls sneak through the corridor, Bes close behind them, Bella can hear the murmurs from below. Sometimes there are moans. They scare her.
Cissy trips. Bella reaches out for her, wants to catch her, but it’s too late. Before she can hold her up, her sister has fallen into a vase.
It falls over and crashes with a loud smash.
“Run,” Bella whispers into Cissy’s ear. “Run and stay in my room. Under the covers.”
The murmurs from downstairs have stopped. The eerie silence is only interrupted by Cissy’s light steps and the creaking of a door opening downstairs.
Father comes out, Bella can see him at the bottom of the stairs. He’s wearing a hood but his eyes still stand out from the shadow that has fallen over his face. They’re cold and scary, almost as scary as the glowing eyes of the Ginanian mask. The eyes scare her most. They change when the guests come and Bella hates it. Hates the way he’s even more strict when visitors are around.
“You,” he hisses and Bella freezes. She can’t hear Cissy’s steps anymore, she hopes her sister has made it into the room. “Interrupting me when there are guests. You know how to behave when my friends come to visit, don’t you?”
It’s not a question, more a statement but Bella answers anyway. “Yes, Father. Be quiet. Do not disturb. They are important people.”
“Then where did that noise come from?” He has raised his voice now and Bella shivers.
“You’re grounded. Four wee-“ He brakes off and from the corner of her eyes, Bella can see that Bes has sneaked behind her back and is now standing on the first step. The god points his fingers at Father and Father’s eyes glaze over. They almost come back to normal.
“Come to think of it, you’ve been a good girl all day,” Father finally says. “No grounding, just don’t let it happen again.” He pulls his hood deeper into his face and a split second later, he’s gone.
Bella doesn’t move. She stares at the spot where Father stood, stares and stares and only comes to realise what happened when Bes touches her elbow.
“We should catch up with your sister,” the god-demon whispers.
“I hate them,” Bella exclaims. “They’re evil. They make awful sounds. Moans and cries sometimes.”
“I know,” Bes says and leads her into her room. “It’ll be alright. I’ll be with you.”
That night, when the guests are long gone and Bella and Cissy have come out from blankets they’ve been hiding under, when the reassuring words of Bes that seem to muffle all noises are no longer necessary, Cissy forgets the statue of the god-demon on Bella’s nightstand.
Bella never gives it back.
She is eight and it hurts but doesn’t care. The statue poking into her side feels almost natural now. Bes is a constant part of Bella’s live, he shows up at least once a week and she always carries him with her.
She has sneaked outside to the playground. If Father could see her, he would get angry. But Father is working and Mother is visiting a friend so Bella has used the opportunity to get away from home and join her friend Ben.
Ben is a muggle, or rather, a muggle-born wizard. He just doesn’t know yet and Bella isn’t sure if she should tell him. She doesn’t know how he will react and she likes being his friend.
Ben is her first friend outside her family.
If Father knew, he’d lock Bella into her room.
Actually, Father knows but Bes has helped her out. That’s why she always carries the statue with him – she’s afraid of the consequences should she get caught.
“Let’s play football,” Ben suggests. He’s carrying his ball, it’s worn out from the many times they’ve kicked it across the grounds. Ben is the one who has taught her how to play.
They use stones to mark their goal posts. Bella is good at football. Ben tries to get past her but she stretches out her leg and kicks the ball away from him, in the direction of his goal. She’s faster than him, even though she has to take care of the ball and when she scores, she pushes her fists into the air.
“Goal!” she screams.
She has never felt more alive.
“Give the boy a chance,” a voice calls. Bes is sitting on one of the swings. Bella ignores him. Not everybody can see the god-demon, sometimes, not even Cissy. Is it him who decides who he shows up to? Maybe. Bella doesn’t know, she has never asked but she’s sure that Ben hasn’t spotted him yet. He would have told her.
At the moment, he’s too busy fetching the ball. “Not fair,” he pouts. “You cheated. You kicked me in the shine. That’s a foul.”
“What?” Bella cries. “I didn’t. You know I didn’t.”
“I won’t play with you anymore if you cheat. Let’s go over to the swings.”
Bella knows he isn’t serious. The first time Ben threatened to stop playing with her, she had been worried. Then she had realised he was only annoyed at having lost against a girl and that his mood brightened quickly when they did something else.
Bella chooses the swing where Bes is sitting. The god-demon rolls his eyes and, just before her bottom touches the wooden board, disappears. He reappears a couple of metres away but he looks different, less relaxed. Bella knows what it means, Mother will be coming home soon or the house elves have started missing her. She needs to go home.
“See you tomorrow?” she asks.
“But you’ve only just come out. I thought we wanted to play on the swings together.” Ben folds his arms in front of his chest, around the ropes that hold the swing.
“Tomorrow,” Bella promises and hastens away. Tomorrow is good, tomorrow is soon.
She likes having a friend.
She’s nine and it hurts and for the first time in ages, she’s close to tears. Ben is not her friend anymore, he has betrayed her. Bella blinks away the tears as she hurries to keep up with her father’s long legs. He’s taking her for a walk, something he’s been doing often lately, probably to have time to talk. Father talks a lot on those walks, about magic and blood and family honour. What it means to be a Black.
Today, Bella cares even less than usual.
Ben has called her crazy, a crazy witch. It was him who had turned the sand blue when they had played being caught in a boat in a storm. She hadn’t used any magic, she would have felt it, it must have been Ben. He sometimes does small bits of magic, he just doesn’t realise.
So she told him everything. About her being a witch, him being a wizard, Hogwarts, the school they’d go to together.
He’d laughed at her and called her crazy.
Father crosses the street and they walk past the playground. Ben is there, leaning against the climbing frame, turning the old football in his hands. Strands of his black hair fall into his face but he hasn’t brushed them away. Ben hates having hair in his eyes.
When he looks up and spots her, his face brightens. He runs towards her.
Bella clenches her teeth. Who does he think he is? He betrayed her, refused to play with her. And now he’s going to betray her in front of Father, even though he knows that her family must not know about their friendship.
He comes to a halt in front of Bella and forces her to halt.
She stares directly at him. In the background, she hears Father drowning on about how inferior muggles are.
At this moment, she agrees with him.
“Out of the way,” she barks.
Ben doesn’t move. “Bella, please…”
This catches her father’s attention. “Who is…”
“Go away,” Bella cries. “Go away, you stupid muggle. Just get out of my way.”
Father takes a few deep breaths and Bella knows that Bes has helped her, that he’s the one who has modified his memory so Bella won’t be punished for her friendship with Ben.
Sometimes, Bella wonders if it hurts Father, all the meddling that Bes does.
“Bella,” Ben tries again, but Bella interrupts him.
“I told you, go away. Filthy muggle. You’re not worth anything. I never want to see you again.”
Even through Father’s glazed over eyes comes a shine of pride. Bella feels even more like crying. Stupid Ben, stupid muggleborn, why has she even believed that they could be friends? They had played football together and now he has broken everything. No matter what happens, it’ll never be the same again.
Maybe Father is right, maybe purebloods aren’t meant to be friends with people related to the muggle world. Maybe they’re just too different.
Ben looks hurt. He opens his mouth as if to say something but decides otherwise and walks away. Father continues on his way and Bella has no choice but to follow.
“Bella,” a voice whispers into her ear and when Bella turns to look, she sees a tiny Bes perched on her shoulder. “I can protect you from the evil but I cannot protect you from yourself.”
She is ten and it hurts every time she walks past Ben, even after all this time. She has apologised to him, the day after she had walked past him with her father, but he has refused to accept her apology. Her friend has betrayed her, stupid muggle.
But right now, she has more important things to think about. Father has received his friends again and Bella has decided to find out what they do on those evenings where she used to hide under the covers to block out the moans and cries.
Cissy is upstairs in her room. Bella wanted to leave Bes with her, but the god-demon had other plans.
"If you betray me and I get caught, I'm going to burn your statue," Bella threatens. Her voice is barely a whisper as she creeps down the stairs to the dungeon, almost not audible over the moan whose echoes multiply in between the narrow stone walls. It sounds as if a whole
town is moaning.
Of course, Bes understands her anyway.
"Maybe it would do you good to get caught," Bes says and appears directly in front of Bella. "What happens down there is pure evil."
Bella pushes him out of the way. She hates it when he suddenly appears somewhere else. "Father is not an evil man."
She is not fully convinced by her words but she feels that they're right. Father is still strict but always fair and after what happened with Ben, she has come to understand many of his rules.
Bes snorts and Bella is glad that only she can hear him. She's standing in front of the dungeon door now and at a loss of what to do. When she had seen herself sneaking down here, the door had always been ajar. What can she do now? Open it and walk inside as if it was the most normal thing in the world? She almost laughs at the idea.
Ignoring Bes who is rambling on about the evil in this place, she presses her ear against the door. The wood is rough under her skin.
"... just go back upstairs and for-"
"Would you please shut up?" Bella hisses and to her surprise, Bes actually obeys. Maybe it's because she never uses bad words like shut up.
"... doesn't work on Muggles," a voice says. "At least not like we expected."
"That's highly unlikely," a deep voice answers. It's Bella's father. "We are different species, but our potions have always worked on them. No, if you ask me, we've created something completely new by giving crocodile blood to Dolurias Maximas."
Bella pulls away from the door to look at Bes. "What is Dolurias Maximas?"
"A potion. Quick, they're coming!"
At first, Bella thinks that Bes is kidding because he wants her to go back upstairs. But then she hears the muffled steps and with a jolt she realises that the moans have stopped. She races up the stairs as quickly as her felt slippers allow and only stops when she is standing in front of Cissy's door. She puts her hand on the handle and hesitates. Cissy is so young, she has not even turned seven yet.
Bella releases the handle.
"What, afraid of telling your sister what you overheard?" Bes asks, his voice cold.
"Be quiet, I'm going to the library."
Bes shrugs and stays behind, but when Bella gets there, he is, of course, already sitting on one of the heavy oak chairs. She rolls her eyes and decides to ignore him. Lately, he's been more of a bother than a help.
"Where is it, where is it?" Bella mumbles to herself as she walks along the book shelf, trying to find a potion book. There is one on the upper shelf that she has once asked Father about and he had only shaken his head and told her that it wasn't written for young ladies
like her. Bella has a feeling that if she finds this potion anywhere, it's there.
It is, of course, so high up that Bella can't reach it. To her surprise, Bes gets up and retrieves it for her.
"Thank you," she says. "How do I deserve this sudden kindness?"
Bes has already retired to his chair and Bella joins him at the table where she opens the book.
A musty smell hits her.
Slowly, she browses through the pages, fascinated and horrified at the same time by what she has found.
"Renders a person uncapable of all speech. Effect lasts at least a week." Her father has taken a note next to the instructions. "Add double of peppermint and frog blood to make it last forever.. That's horrible!"
The bitter taste of bile rises into her mouth as she continues looking for the recipe. Dread fills her and when she finally finds the page, she is not surprised by what is written there. Dolurias Maximas. Causes maximum pain. Careful, can cause severe brain damage."
Father and his friends have obviously modified the potion and the result has not been what they expected. And they knew this because they have tested it...
Bella feels sick. She grabs the table and sinks to a chair next to the god-demon. "All those notes," she whispers as she continues browsing through the book, unable to look away.
"Are you happy now?" Bes looks smug.
Bella closes the book with a loud bang. Dust flies into the air.
"You're supposed to be a protector," she cries out. "A protector from all evil. How can you let this happen?"
"I cannot protect everybody." Bes looks sad now, his mane is hanging into his face. "I cannot even protect you from yourself. How can I protect the whole world?"
"Father always protects me and Cissy," Bella whispers. "He'd never let anything harm me."
She hates her father right now but at the same time, she knows her words are true. Father protects her. Bes has just admitted that he cannot do it. The god-demon she has believed in for the past three years has failed her.
She rubs a hand over her face to stop the tears from coming when a thought pops into her head. One that she never wanted to have but that has jumped onto her like a leech ad that doesn't want to release her. A nasty thought that she can't help but have.
Besides, it was only a muggle they were testing the potion on anyway.
She is eleven and calls herself Bellatrix now. Her friendship with Ben is long forgotten, what remained is anger and hate. When she got her Hogwarts letter, all she could think of was how shocked Ben must have been and how she had been right all along. She knows she’s going to meet him at Hogwarts but no matter how much he apologises, she’ll always be looking down on him.
Stupid, inferior muggleborns.
Why does Hogwarts allow them anyway?
“What are you going to do if you don’t get into Slytherin?” Bes asks.
He’s sitting on a chair because the bed is occupied with everything that Bellatrix wants to take to Hogwarts. She’s packing, only two more days and she’ll be leaving.
“It won’t happen,” she answers, trying to keep cool. Lately, Bes has been asking her that question over and over again, provoking her whenever he gets the chance.
Bellatrix picks up his statue from her nightstand. It feels cold and heavy in her hand. She only hesitates a moment before putting it back.
She’s not going to take him to Hogwarts. They’ve only been arguing anyway. Plus, she’s old enough to get along on her own.
No, Bes is going to stay at home.
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