Bellatrix was still getting used to his eyes.
Bright red and shining with Dark magic of some curious unknown sort, they attracted her the way little else ever had. Her knowledge of his power alone was enough to make her insides freeze up every time he looked at her, and his eyes exemplified that power. Beautiful…. Ghastly…. Inhuman. She sighed. Ever since joining him eight months ago she had trailed along on missions, most of which were commanded by the astoundingly arrogant Rodolphus Lestrange. She could admit (never aloud, of course) that the man was plenty good-looking, although that irrelevant fact could never hope to make up for his sickening swagger, patronizing way of talking to her, or the ill-disguised attempts he made to flirt with her. She never acknowledged them. The missions of a Death Eater were a not a circumstance suited to such nonsense, if one desired to do them well, and she was ready to prove herself. She wanted – needed – to get out from underneath Lestrange. At the moment, however, she resigned herself to yet another tiring night of his bullshit. Snatching her cloak from its hook on the wall, she stepped into the night, making no attempt to stop the door from slamming heartily behind her.
It was a noble cause, she thought to herself as she Disapparated, which had provided the excuse she had needed to join. Pureblood advancement and everything else. But as she reappeared in a moonlit graveyard that was tonight’s meeting place, that first breath of night air, laced as it was with a faint scent of crumbling stone and decay, brought a surge of euphoria from deep within her. Power. The world sprawled at her feet. She opened her eyes.
Most unusually, no hooded figures stood sentinel, waiting for her to join their ranks. The faint cracks and pops of Apparition did not disturb the night. Her gaze swept the graveyard, searching for any sign of life, but none greeted her. Perhaps she had made a mistake with her Apparition?
No, there had been no mistake. She had not made an Apparition mistake since she was sixteen, and she had followed the Dark Lord’s directions for finding him just as she had done to get to every other meeting she had been summoned to. Close her eyes, see herself at his side, and vanish. She drew her wand from the sleeve of her robes and began to walk.
Her current situation was unprecedented. Certainly it was not a Death Eater meeting, although the Dark Lord had held her back after last night’s gathering and specifically told her to seek him at this exact time, tonight. Had she misheard him? Gotten the time wrong, forgotten a portion of it, or more? She almost laughed to herself. Impossible. She listened to him when he spoke, listened perfectly, regarded every word as a precious thing that she endeavored to capture, she could not have misheard him. Equally ridiculous was the notion that she could have forgotten the nature of those captured treasures, his words. Had she not repeated them to herself all that night, impatiently awaiting the next time she would stand in his presence? This was something else entirely, and it thrilled her. The first time she had done anything related to her Lord without Rodolphus present. Whatever this was, she would make the best of it. She continued to follow her instincts, which were telling her very clearly that she ought to explore. She threw the light of her wand upon various gravestones, reading the names, some of which she knew from old tomes of Wizarding genealogy. All were very old. She turned this into a sort of game in her head, searching every headstone for a date longer past than any she had yet encountered. She was in front of the oldest grave she had ever seen, from 1552, when she began to feel slightly uneasy. Alert as she was, she suspected that she was being watched.
She straightened up, wand aloft, searching. Her surroundings remained still and quiet. It was possible, she reasoned, that she was simply being paranoid, although she knew somehow that she was not. She was on the verge of using a spell to reveal human presence when she saw something that rendered such action quite unnecessary. A tall shadow was visible beside the most ornate headstone in the place, not so much leaning against it as caressing, a negligent hand atop the stone, fingers, she saw as she approached, fanned out directly above the top of the illegible name.
“A great and distant ancestor of mine.” Came Lord Voldemort’s cold voice. “Dead since 1028. The others were buried around him, and his serpent’s head emblem graces the gates of this place.”
“Slytherin.” Bella said hoarsely. Her Lord inclined his head.
“Yes. He was buried where we stand, as you see. The others were interred here as well so as to be close, if only in death, to him. When it was on the verge of growing overcrowded, no one else was permitted to lay a loved one to rest here. The walls and serpent gate are the most recent additions to the place.”
They stood in a surprisingly comfortable silence for a while. Bellatrix gazed in awe at Slytherin’s tomb, unable to wrap her mind around the fact that she was standing over the bones of the revered Hogwarts founder, the original champion of purebloods. Expanding the scope and rapture of the situation further was the presence of Slytherin’s Heir, a man who so befitted the title that he had even inherited the ancient one’s ability to converse with serpents. She dared not break the silence that stretched between herself and her Lord, instead simply appreciating it for its lack of tension, waiting for him to speak first.
“I am most favorably impressed that you kept your head upon finding yourself alone here. I suppose you are wondering why my other followers do not join us tonight?”
“I had wondered, my Lord.” She replied simply. He was looking at her intently now, watching her as she responded to him. She wanted nothing more than to lift her gaze to his, and she did so a moment later, her breath catching in her throat as those crimson eyes captured hers.
“I have watched you work your way through all of your missions with Rodolphus. I have watched your skills improve faster than those of any of my other followers.”
She didn’t know what he was getting at, but she bowed her head at the compliment and waited demurely for him to go on.
“I feel that it is time for the most talented of my followers to have a…. proper initiation into my ranks.”
It was more than Bellatrix had dared to hope for. The only initiation to which he could be referring was the gift of the Dark Mark, pledging her to him for life and making her a true Death Eater, answerable only to him. Her days of putting up with Lestrange’s innuendo and petty assertions of power would be ended by it, but she found that to be the least important thing on her mind. She gazed up at the man before her, whose preternatural eyes now locked with her own. She was not threatened by his gaze. Enraptured by what he had said and anxious to verify that he was indeed speaking of the Mark, she opened her mouth, but hesitated as a thought struck her. She had watched, mere weeks past, as Rodolphus’s brother Rabastan had received his own true initiation. The Dark Lord had made a point of granting Rabastan the Mark at a large meeting, with all of his fellows present, and she had never heard of it happening any other way.
“You are very different from Rabastan, my dear.”
Her eyes widened in shock. A smirk played across the Dark Lord’s features as he confirmed her suspicions.
“Legilimency is a curious thing. You know of it?”
She nodded silently, wondering which difference between her and Rabastan he referred to. The Dark Lord laughed softly.
“Rabastan does not have your intelligence, your skill in battle… Or your beauty.” He sighed lightly, and Bellatrix felt her chest freeze up and her insides fill with butterflies. He elaborated after a pause, adopting a thoughtful tone that sounded as though he spoke to himself as much as to her. “I certainly do intend to make you one of my Death Eaters. You have outshone the majority already, despite the fact that you do not bear my Mark.”
His gaze shifted to her now, allowing her too once again wonder at the magic that had created those red eyes. She couldn’t fathom it intuitively, and nothing she had ever read spoke of it. A familiar smirk played across his lips as he answered her thought once more.
“You shall know, perhaps, in good time. If you have a burning desire for the right things, seek them in the proper way, and are willing to take the risks necessary to gain what you seek.” With that utterly perplexing answer, he closed his eyes for the briefest moment; as though visited by a heavy thought or memory, before changing the subject in a way which made clear that there would be no further discussion of the matter. “You have spent the better part of a year among my Death Eaters. I am sure that by this time you know of, and have performed, almost every duty I ask of them. You know as well, I trust, of the intense commitment I require of them. You have seen men punished and killed for violating it in various ways.”
Bellatrix nodded, and had only time to begin thinking of how he would have her respond to this before he continued. He walked a slow half circle around the headstone of Slytherin; his bare feet causing only the slightest disturbance to the dry leaves that lay scattered on the ground, and came to a halt at the side of the ancient landmark that was nearer to her.
“Still, if I am to accept you into my ranks, however I may favor you, I must extract from you a vow. I will need to hear, in your own words, that you will stake your life on your commitment to me. That it will remain true as long as you live, even if you are imprisoned for your loyalties and your deeds in my name, and regardless of any dangers you may face in my service. Will you give me this vow?”
Although Bellatrix was wary of answering too quickly, she had no doubt to slow her. She gazed past Slytherin’s tomb to the night beyond, to the graceful gates and the grave-studded ground, and there was not a shred of apprehension or any potential for regret in her soul. Eight months with the Death Eaters had given her an excellent idea of what to expect from her new life, and apart from her dislike of Rodolphus, they had been the best months she had ever had. She loved to be able to gaze at the man whose name none dared to speak and feel only awe and affection, to stand on what to all others would be foreboding ground and see it as the platform upon which she might be elevated to a place where her deepest desires lay. Nothing had ever mattered to her as much as the man before her. And she knew that he knew it.
“I give you my word, my Lord. I am yours, in every way, regardless of what troubles might come to me from my loyalty to you. There is no danger that could dissuade me from it.”
He gave her a small smile, inclining his head to her almost imperceptibly.
“I expected nothing less from you, Bella,” he assured her. “It seems almost unnecessary to ask for your word…. Least of all because it is most doubtful that you could meet an opponent capable of presenting you with a real danger.”
She smiled unrestrainedly at this, fiercely delighted, finding his eyes with hers before speaking and peering at him through her lashes.
“You flatter me, my Lord.”
“Not at all,” was his smooth reply. “There is a difference between flattery and simple truth.”
But his eyes shone with something more than simple truth, and she glimpsed it just before he turned his attention to Slytherin’s headstone. He lowered his voice, and the words he spoke as he caressed the headstone now were more laden with emotion than any she had ever heard him speak before; though despite the utter silence of the graveyard, they did not carry at all.
“It is an incredible thing, to stand here. I find myself surprisingly close to being overwhelmed by the significance of it.”
It took Bellatrix several tries to find her voice. “I feel the same, my Lord,” she said quietly. She was awed by his sudden familiarity, wondering vaguely at the reason for it, quite unsure how to respond. The Dark Lord, however, seemed at ease with her reply. He withdrew his hand from the headstone and held it out to Bellatrix.
“If that is so, and you are sure of the convictions you have expressed tonight, then place your left wrist in my hand.”
She did so, determinedly keeping her face calm, her stomach tightening pleasantly at his touch. His grip was firm, and his fingers unnaturally cool, though in comparison with his eyes, the abnormality was easily dismissed. Not as plainly tied to mysterious Dark magic, she thought to herself, glancing up briefly to see if he reacted to the thought. But his face was impassive, and only a tiny ambiguous hint of a smile touched it for an instant as he lifted her wrist and brought it towards him, positioning her arm so that it rested comfortably upon Slytherin’s headstone. She felt her eyes widen, she had never expected that she would be permitted to touch the stone, let alone be so unequivocally invited to do so. She remained there, her heart racing, as her Lord pushed back her sleeve, trapping it between her arm and the stone; drew his wand and placed it against her forearm.
Bellatrix was able to watch in amazement as what was at first an indistinct point of blackness slowly spread itself out, writhing and twisting in on itself in places to form the intricate details that she knew the Dark Mark to have. This creation, however, was far more detailed than any she had ever seen in the sky. She was even able, suddenly, to see the very eyes of the snake! She stared, breathless and completely overwhelmed as the last details became apparent, closing her eyes only as an intense, thrilling pain shot through the new symbol. She did not need to look to know that this meant the brand was now permanent, and so she kept her eyes shut and savored the rapturous sensation for everything it represented. She belonged to the Dark Lord now, simply his and her own, not her father’s or Rodolphus’s. She was free to seek whatever she would of the Dark Arts, all in the name of the greatest sorcerer in the world; who happened to be holding her wrist at that moment as he bound her to him over the grave of Salazar Slytherin. The scope of it so overwhelmed her that there was a moment, of brief existence and swiftly eclipsed by raw wild elation, in which she did not know whether to cry or throw back her head and let her jubilation escape unrestrained in laughter. The true meaning of the moment stood suddenly at the forefront of her mind, and she surrendered to it.
Power. The world bowed to her in that moment and sprawled itself at her feet. She opened her eyes.
When her vision focused again, she found that the Dark Lord was appraising her. The euphoria spilled from within her, and she allowed her face to split into a satisfied grin. As he saw clearly that she had not been put off by the pain of it, his expression softened.
“Strength, my Beauty. It always has a price, and a willingness to pay will serve you well. The price need not be painful. There are costs of pain, of time, of feeling. There are also, quite rarely, physical costs that you will forever carry with you. My eyes are such a price. You have supposed correctly that they are the product of a powerful piece of Dark Magic.”
“What strength is there that would be bought at such a price, my Lord?” Bellatrix whispered.
“One that is capable of stretching the boundaries of magic, and is considered by many to be most unnatural,” the Dark Lord replied quietly.
He was silent for several minutes, and those minutes stretched as though they endeavored to reach eternity. To Bellatrix they could have been hours, and she spent them gazing at their surroundings, which had taken on a subtly perceptible beauty that they had not done before. She wondered at the motive that had induced the Dark Lord to pay the price he spoke of, and determined to herself that she loved him even more now than she had before. Just as she was beginning to worry that his silence was a sign that she had overstepped one boundary too many in her questioning, he asked her a question, his voice coming as a low whisper in the darkness.
“Do you know, Bellatrix, what a Horcrux is?”
Bellatrix barely made it home from the graveyard.
She had stood in amazed silence for a quarter of an hour after the Dark Lord Disapparated before collapsing at the foot of Slytherin’s headstone and sitting there for an equal interval, not so much as taking notice when the rain began to fall. She was not sure what force had compelled her to rise from that place, and indeed could not truly remember doing so, but now she shut her front door noiselessly behind her and collapsed into her velvet crimson armchair. Her head spun with awe, shock, and burning desire.
The rain pounded against the windows, slashing almost horizontally in the fierce wind in order to better strike them.
Bellatrix closed her eyes for a brief moment, entirely still, such that had a bystander walked into the room just then, they might have checked to make sure she was breathing. The only thing about her that moved, and very quickly indeed, was the pace of her thoughts. She opened her eyes again in infinitesimal increments, feeling all the while as though each eyelash was carved of lead. A sudden impulse struck her, and she yielded to it, coaxing her sleeve up to the bend of her arm and lowering her eyes to the Mark, really staring at it for the first time and loving what she saw. Strength. Power. The company at last of the man who had fascinated her for so long.
One hell of a price.
She rose from the armchair, seized her cloak and wound it as tightly about herself as she could manage, tucking a small leather bound book beneath it just before securing it. She took the doorknob in her hand and flung the pane of wood and glass attatched to it outward, allowing the slashing rain to drench the oriental rug just inside.
She hesitated for only a moment on the edge of the chaos before plunging herself into it with a determined and irreversible step, closing the door behind her.