She’s eight the first time she hears the name Voldemort.
She hears it late at night, when she shouldn’t be up, when the moon is hanging low in the sky outside her window and she’s been restlessly tossing and turning for hours, a strange knot in her stomach that she’s never experienced before in her whole short life. She first hears it at a time when things don’t make sense in her life, just a week after the one strange night that her parents had handed her a bag when she should have been headed to bed, and she had looked inside and found clothes and her teddy bear and a few other treasured possessions, and they had told her that they were moving - leaving everything behind. And before they left, they had trashed their own house, and her parents had pretended like it was a game but there was a worry in their eyes that didn’t pass her by, and before they left, before they climbed into Daddy’s car and sped off into the night, he had cast a spell that made a strange, illuminated green skull hang over their house, a warning, a sign of some kind, only she didn’t know why.
She first hears the name Voldemort a week after all of that, when they have driven to a strange field and grabbed hold of an old umbrella and been sent hurtling through the air and landed in another field, but a different one, and her mother has said we’re in France! like it’s a holiday.
A week after all of that, when they’re in a new house with their few possessions and her parents seem to be resting a little easier, she’s still confused as to what’s going on. So her stomach is churning, and the heavy moon is making her uncomfortable because it seems to swing too close to the window, and she can’t sleep. She can’t sleep at all, so she gets out of bed, and begins to creep down the stairs of this new, small, unfamiliar cottage.
That’s when she hears it.
“-Voldemort,” her mother’s voice says, it’s the tail end of a sentence that clearly holds some kind of importance and she stops in her tracks, crouches down on the stairs and presses her ear close to the bannisters, can feel the weight of this already.
“Don’t say his name,” her father hisses, straight away, so much fear in his voice. All her life, her father has been invincible, her comfort and saviour from monsters under the bed and too-confident gnomes alike. She has never once heard him be afraid. It cracks her, just a little. “They can find you like that, for Merlin’s sake, Marie.”
“Sorry,” her mother’s voice replies, and mostly she just sounds tired. “Sorry, honey, it’s just - you-know-who, there, you-know-who, it’s just that he -”
“Shhhh,” her dad says, because Mum was starting to sound panicked, and then there’s silence for a moment but for the rustling of clothes, and she pictures them hugging, clutching each other so tight they can each barely breathe. After a few more seconds, there’s still no speech, so she dares to shuffle one stair further down and peer through the gaps in the bannisters, gripping her small fingers around them to steady herself and leaning as far forward as she can to catch a glimpse around the corner. Sure enough, they’re stood in the middle of their new, furnitureless living room, staring at each each other in silence, and Dad iss clutching Mum’s hands close to his heart.
“I’m just scared,” her mum says, in that same small tired voice.
“I know,” says Dad. “Come to bed. We’re away, now, we’re safer, and soon we’ll be even further than here. We’ll be somewhere you-know-who can never find us.”
She wants to know more, Merlin does she want to know more, she’s only young but she has a fiery kind of curiosity even now that nothing has yet been able to quell. She doesn’t know what her parents are talking about, why they hadn’t been able to say that name again since the first time her mother did and it upset her father so, she doesn’t understand why they’ve had to move across the ocean in the middle of the night and why it sounds like even this might be a temporary stop. She wants to understand it all, and she understands nothing.
And then her parents are suddenly moving towards the stairs, so she slips back up them as silently as she can, grateful as ever that she is small with gentle footsteps, and she’s back in her bed before they ever know she’s left it. Through the paper thin walls of the new house she hears them enter their room, close the door, shuffle around getting changed and getting under the covers, finally settle and still. And she’s left breathless in her bed, with even more questions than she’d had before.
She doesn’t know who Voldemort is, back then, or why they’re not allowed to say his name. But she does know that her father is afraid of him - is afraid of a single name, and how could one word, three syllables, nine letters be enough to terrify the man she has always thought invincible?
If the man who fights her monsters is afraid of someone’s mere name - well.
That surely has to mean that she should be terrified.
Two months after she turns nine, Voldemort is defeated for good.
She and her parents return to their real home, and she still doesn’t know what was going on when they moved, but she tries to write it off inside her head and forget about the whole thing. Because her parents are happy again, the worry drained a little from their eyes, and they’re seeing their family again, too, their neighbours, her parents’ friends, even people she thinks must be relative strangers - they’re now always walking through the house, hugging her parents in the street, everyone weeping and looking relieved and looking sad and looking happy, looking extreme, looking an amalgamation of all the most intense emotions all at once. And all this, it goes on for weeks, and she doesn’t understand why, only that they’re now home so she thinks whatever it was must be over.
She doesn’t know what it was that everyone had been so afraid of, but she does know something. She knows a name, a name that had struck terror into her parents, a name that they could apparently be found just by saying. She doesn’t know found by who, or why her family was being looked for in the first place, but she knows that this name is dangerous.
The name is Voldemort, and it’s only really after the whole thing is already over that it becomes her enemy.
In her nightmares, there are strange, twisting monsters, she’s in a room lit by a thousand lights from a thousand different angles and some of the shadows curl into shapes other than her own. And she’s had nightmares before, and they’ve always been scary, but these - in these nightmares, the name is whispered to her, by all the wrong shadows, and sometimes by her own shadows too, and it’s more than scary, it’s something other, it’s something she has never experienced before and she thinks it might be close to terror. The name is just whispered to her and nothing more, but somehow, it strikes such fear into her heart, the fear of an unknown thing that is such a bigger threat than any known.
She doesn’t tell her parents like she would with other nightmares, doesn’t crawl into their bed each time she wakes with a scream and try to comfort herself with their presence, because she’s getting too old for that, and because she doesn’t want them to know she was spying on them the night she heard the name.
She also doesn’t want them to worry, which, as she knows these days, they are only too good at doing.
She’s eleven when she finally learns who Voldemort is. It’s the week before she goes to Hogwarts, and her parents sit her down, and say she’ll find out all about it when she goes to school anyway so they’d rather it came from them. It reminds her of when they gave her the sex talk, just a few months ago, and she’d cringed the whole way through and it had been the worst thing ever.
She has a feeling, just from looking at their faces, that this is about to be worse.
After they have given her the barest, most sugar coated version of the truth that they can manage, washed her in reassurances that it’s over for good, not like the last time, preached their condemnations of his every action - after all that, she goes to her room, and she thinks.
She thinks that now that she knows, maybe, the name is something different. Now that this name is attached to a thing, she thinks, or rather a someone, a someone she knows for sure is gone and buried - she thinks that maybe her fear will be quenched a little, that she can get over this at last. She’s sick and tired of the nightmares, of waking every night sweat-drenched and stomach-clenched, of hiding this part of herself so deep away and never letting anyone know. She’s only young, but the fear makes her feel old and tired, and she’s sick of it. She’s ready for it to stop.
And now, she knows who Voldemort is, was. With the mystery removed and the firm belief that all will be solved by that, she goes to sleep that night without the ounce of dread that usually weighs her to the mattress. She shuts her eyes lightly, falls asleep within minutes. Everything, after all, is going to be okay.
Later, when she wakes with a muffled exclamation into the pillow, and she always does, is when she realises it. She isn’t afraid of the name - she’s afraid of the inhumanity of it. There’s something scary about the way words can strip someone down to their most base of functions, any words, and there’s something most terrifying about the way this name stands for things, too many things to be contained in such a single bracket. She’s afraid of the fear, she knows that now.
Of course, knowing that - it doesn’t really change a thing. At night, the shadows still whisper to her, and still, she wakes crippled, a sense that something is still, to her, entirely unknown.
When she’s a teenager, for a while, it calms down. She doesn’t live nightmare free and she’s not okay, really, but the dreams, they come maybe once a month, and when they do they’re not so bad. They don’t feel quite so scary - it’s more like they’re telling her something, maybe something about herself, something about the world, she doesn't know.
She gets through school okay. She’s a Ravenclaw, but she manages to be completely and utterly mediocre in every lesson, and never develop a passion for any of them - she quite likes astronomy but by no means is it her calling. She’s not an outcast and nobody thinks she’s weird and she maintains a few casual friends, but never connects, never touches someone deeply enough to look into their pool-like soul and see herself reflected.
When she’s fifteen, she starts dating. A few years later she plays in an eighteen month long relationship and never once brings up the name. Never brings up the dreams, the fear, though those are both honestly lacking by that point. So, then, it was a childhood fear, and she concludes that she must be getting over it, like everyone does with the things that haunt their youth but are ultimately nonsense. Truly, in that time, the name is the last thing on her mind.
Then, when she’s twenty three, her father dies.
And it all comes screaming back.
She stands at his funeral in coal black high heels and her life lays broken around her them on the floor. She reads a eulogy that someone else wrote without even knowing what she’s saying. He died of a heart attack, and it was nobody’s fault. It certainly had nothing to do with Voldemort, who is more than a decade dead, who she’s still never figured out even had an issue with her family bar her mother’s blood status.
Still, the only thing she can hear, the whole time, is the name, screeching around her head.
She’s not okay again, after that.
When she’s twenty eight, she has honestly, quite honestly, quite honestly and candidly and genuinely and frankly, she has quite frankly descended just a little into madness.
Of course, it’s the name. When isn’t it the name, in relation to her life and madness. The name that stands for so much and so little, the name that has driven her crazier than she knows it has driven any other person on the virtue of its letters alone. The name, it’s become such a part of her, it’s almost eclipsing her life, taking her over, eating her alive. She thinks it all the time, and it haunts her every night, just like when she was a child. And the thing is, sometimes, she’s not really sure that it’s bad. Sometimes, the name stands for things other than fear - it stands for her own bravery, all these years and never telling anyone about this terror, or it simply stands for secrets, for things she has kept to herself, for things that in the dead of night belong to her alone and give her a gentle kind of thrill.
The name sometimes means fear of the worst kind, but sometimes - it just doesn’t.
And she’s at a point in her life where she needs things of significance, needs roots, needs grounding. She still hasn’t found what she wants to do with her life, and she isn’t in a relationship, and she doesn’t have strong ties to her family or to any particular place. But the name, the name has always been there, for worse maybe but still it’s been there, for twenty years without stopping.
So she does the only thing that seems to make sense, at the time.
She gets it tattooed.
Those nine letters, just along her ribcage, under her chest, in the simplest, smallest font she can choose. She goes to a muggle tattoo parlour - has to, because it’s the only place the name won’t be known, the only place that her asking for this tattoo won’t strike fear into the hearts of everyone around, the only place she can have this done and still be looked at the same after.
She has a tattoo already, nothing exciting, a small star on her wrist that she got done at eighteen in Hogsmeade with her two then-best-friends, and that hurt a little but not a lot, not nearly enough as she knows the Muggle way will. Still, she goes, because she has to, she feels that she has to and she has long since learned to trust her gut. She goes to this muggle tattoo parlour and spells them out the name, that one word, those three syllables, those nine letters. She sits on the padded chair they provide her with, lifts up her shirt.
Then, there’s pain, a whole lot of pain, pain that she’d been expecting but still not utterly prepared for. It’s a thousand pinpricks and the searing of flesh, and it hurts, like pain tends to do. She bites her lip through it and hums in her head, and thinks, when this is over, she’ll finally have the connection she’s been craving. She’ll have something to call her own, even if it’s a whisper of a nightmare, a childhood terror, a bully wearing a friend’s face these days.
When it’s over, she looks at it, in the mirror. Just looks. It’s flipped, of course. Mirrors tend to do that. And somehow it doesn’t matter because she knows what it means and the word itself has never really, truly, been important anyway.
So for a while, she just looks at it. And the tattoo artist watches her, probably thinking her strange, thinking her crazy. But she doesn’t care. She looks, watches, forces it in, for so long that she loses track of the minutes. It never seems to be enough, until it is.
“Okay,” she says then, having drunk her fill, having felt the strange connection enough to cement it into her memory for good. “Cover it up.”
This was always part of the plan, of course. She was never stupid enough to think she would go around with the name of the greatest dark wizard in history tattooed onto her body. The name doesn’t mean to other people what it means to her - one look at it for most would paint her as a lunatic, a fanatic fan, a death eater groupie, dangerous, unstable. So instead, the tattoo artist does just like she’d asked all along, looking a little baffled but remaining silent on the topic. They fill in the gaps of the letters with searing shots of pain and ink and sensation, they twirl around the small letters, blocking outwards and outwards, until the finished product arrives. A small black rectangle, just under her ribs. Simple. Meaningless.
Except to her. She, she knows what’s there underneath. It’s a name removed from its meaning, a name with its meaning amplified, a name given a thousand new interchangeable definitions in the mind of one small girl. It can’t control her anymore, because she possesses it on her skin. She chose it there and she made it there and has power over it, not it over her, not anymore.
It’s a little segment of chilling inhumanity, and now, it’s finally hers to own.