Chapter Three: Trophies
Chapter Three: Trophies
Neville Longbottom, 1990
The trophy room was quiet and empty. They wordlessly crept through rows and rows of cups, shields and medals, illuminated by the moonlight. Next to him, Hermione Granger was breathing furiously, while Ron and Harry Potter were looking excited, rather than scared. Neville tried very hard not to think of what Gran would say if he was expelled from Hogwarts after his first week. She’d probably throw me out of the house, he thought miserably. I’d have to go live at St. Bartholomew’s Squib Academy , which is probably where I belong anyway. Ron whispered something inaudible to Harry Potter, who made a shrugging sort of movement. And then Neville saw it. A large, golden goblet, handsomely decorated with a coat of arms Neville didn’t recognize, standing on a mahogany pedestal proclaiming that it had been awarded to Bellatrix Black.
He remembered the first time he had heard that name. He had been a little boy, five or six years old, clutching his grandmother’s dress with one hand, and a crumpled up candy wrapper in the other. As they walked along the corridor, away from the ward where his parents lived, he asked her: "Gran, who did it?" The question had been puzzling him for awhile, ever since he had come to realize that people like his parents didn’t just become like this, that there was a wand involved, and spells and someone holding the wand as they jeered into his mother’s beautiful face.
"Oh, Neville." Gran had crouched down next to him. "It was a woman named Bellatrix Lestrange. I knew her when she was a little girl, just as old as you are now, but then she grew up to become an evil and bad woman. She did it because she hated…she was a bad person. She hated everything. It was her fault. And Mum and Dad tried to fight against her, but…it wasn’t their fault, Neville, do you understand that. Bellatrix Black was a bad person and she did it to them." She had given him a kiss on the cheek. This sudden, strange outburst of affection had stunned him more than her answer, then, but now, seeing her name here, on a handsome goblet like that…Neville gasped loudly, which made Ron poke him in the side. At this moment, they heard Filch’s wheezing voice very close by. Neville’s mind was reeling. He scurried after the others, questions exploding in his head like Shock Spells. Who had awarded that…that woman…anything? Why her?! What had this evil, twisted…person… ever done to earn her a place next to honorable Quidditch players and special-service awards? It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, it was…he clenched his fists angrily, making a frustrated little noise. A horrorstruck second later, he realized what he had done, broke into a panicked run, tripped over Ron’s robes…and both of them fell headfirst into a suit of armor.
Bellatrix Black, 1973
"And so, I am more than proud to bestow this award upon a young lady without whom we would all not be standing here. Through her passion and commitment, she revived the Hogwarts Association for the Appreciation of Pureblood Ancestry, and gave us all a safe haven where we may stand proud of our fine families. For nowadays, we must…" Bella’s smile was still fixed upon her face, for she knew everyone was watching her, but for a minute or two she let her mind wander. She did not have to hear Professor Yaxley’s speech again, seeing as the professor had been kind enough to show it to her beforehand, making sure there were no passages that displeased her star student.
Bellatrix let her dark, alert eyes fly through the assembled crowed. Every member of the AAPA had turned up for the Association’s end-of-year award ceremony and party, many bringing dates. This meant that most of Slytherin House was assembled. There was Cissy, flirting haplessly with Hector Carrow and his brother Paris, who were both older and of lesser birth than her. She would have to have words with her later. That girl had less sense or propriety than a house-elf, but at least she did what she was told. Bella shuddered to think what spectacle she would make of herself next year, without a sister to guide her. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The handsome velvet dress-robes –black, of course, heavily embroidered in emerald and silver- were itching, and she felt chilly, despite the ermine stole around her shoulders. The family crests and floating candles club members had used to decorate the dungeon for the party did nothing against its’ draftiness.
There was Andromeda. Anger flared up inside Bella so powerfully, she had to take a deep breath to stop herself from shaking. She had not wanted to come, of course not. She had dragged the girl here herself, and now, she was humiliating her in public, studying, the book hidden on her knees under the table. It was despicable, atrocious, unbearable. Bella could not believe that she was related to someone who played as easily with the Black family honor as Andromeda did, who did not seem to care one bit about the generations of forefathers she was shaming. Bella lightly touched the choker around her neck, a platinum letter B, heavy and cold against her skin. The sensation of sharp, glacial metal against her fingers was reassuring. I shall not fail you, she thought.
At this moment, applause rang through the dungeon, echoing on the walls. Professor Yaxley had finished her speech, and was waiting for Bella accept her trophy. She rose. Cool and calm, a model of poise, pride and pureblood dignity in a world where all of this counted less and less, Bella rose from her seat and walked to the podium, where her teacher was waiting with the award. She accepted it with a nod and without a smile, and turned to the room at large, almost savoring the applause. This was hers. She had built this. In her first year, she had first found out there had once been the Hogwarts Pureblood Association, and since then, she had worked for its revival. She had recruited students and Professor Yaxley, she had set up meetings and activities. By now, an open meeting where students could meet others from Pureblood ancestry, could speak to the right people, and could find a sheltered place away from Mudblood upstarts who had no manners, no taste and no respect for their superiors took place once a week. It was their safe haven, and everyone in Slytherin had used it at least once- with the exception of Andromeda Black, the founder’s own sister, who rather went to the Charms Club or Home Spells Education Courses. Fool. Bella clasped the trophy in her hands, looking at the applauding students. There was Rudolphus, and young Rabastan, staring at her as though she were his heavenly savior. The Carrow brothers, who had taken their eyes off Cissy for now. Bestian Gibbon, a sixth year, Clytemnestra Rosier, a promising fourth year who was Bella’s cousin. The second-years: not just Cissy, also Snape and Wilkes. All of them would rise knowing their worth in this world, knowing that their pureblood ancestry was their greatest weapon. They would be proud of their names and their families, proud to fight their way past upstarts and usurpers from the Muggle world. They would fight all that, because they had the knowledge that their greatest asset flowed in their veins. Bella cleared her throat, and with one last, satisfied look that swept the crowd, began her speech.
"Five years ago, I first spoke to some older students about this organization. I remember them looking at me with doubt, saying it could not be done, it would not be done. I believe tonight, we prove them wrong! I believe tonight, we show them what purebloods can do if they set their will to it- and that is everything! This world may not realize who we are, and may fail to appreciate us, but as long as we know our own strength and draw that strength from our blood lines, we can still have our say. Let me speak to you today about the challenges facing us, the young and pure elite of the wizarding world, in the days to come…" She spoke for fifteen minutes, praising the society and its members –for careful flattery would get you everywhere with this mob of pubescent nobility-, spoke of how much there was to do, how much to govern and preserve in the magical community, and how they would be the ones doing it. She spoke with passion in her voice and a fire burning in those icy blue eyes, as she assured the crowd that was hanging by her every word that the world was waiting to be governed by them.
"…And thus, I invited you all to rise up with me, and each in your noble and individual way, step up and demand the privileges our ancestry demands back, and put the world back into the hands of the people it belongs to! Thank you!" As the applause reached a new high, not a single person in the cheering crowd doubted that the purebloods had any right to take back what had been taken from them, and that Bellatrix Black would be among those leading them in their efforts.
Much later, after having her hand shaken by a couple of dozens of people, after small talk and congratulations, Bella was exhausted. She was sitting in the Slytherin common room, watching the fire die away, her feet tucked under her lap, allowing the tension to spill out of her body. Next to her, Rudolphus was playing with her hair, running his fingers down her neck slowly. She felt the hairs standing up, felt the touch, but it was oddly blurred, as though she were experiencing it through a heavy blanket of mist, or snow.
"You did brilliantly," he was telling her, clearly hoping for a little celebration himself. She’d be damned if she’d give it to him. He had not yet learned to respect her, and till then he would have to wait. "And incidentally , there’s someone I should like you to meet. Father thinks you’ve earned it."
Suddenly, she was wide awake. Her whole body tensed up again as she stared at Rudolphus. He had of course mentioned him before, this friend of his father’s who was, unlike everyone else, prepared to go a long way to get rid of the Muggle upstarts, the parvenus without shame and proper breeding. He had mentioned before now that there was someone out there who knew power and could use it for a cause, the one, true Cause. It was this moment, Bella realized, which she had worked for ever since learning his name, a name she tasted power and passion, force and possibilities. Lord Voldemort.
"This package," Rudolphus continued, and this time Bella was actually listening, "contains a Portkey that’ll take you straight to him. Father sent it this morning. He is waiting for you, Bella. Father has told him all about the society, and about you, and the Dark Lord is very anxious to meet you. Do you hear, Bella? Very anxious. So don’t disappoint him. Be polite and be humble, not your proudish Black self, he won’t have any use for that. Do whatever he tells you to, and don’t expect anything in return."
The discord was palpable, two voices screaming inside her in clashing pitches: A daughter of the House of Black doe whatever she pleases, not whatever she is told, one screamed, but the other was calling back, This is your chance, one chance to actually do something against the Mudbloods, not just moan like Father and Aunt Hesteria. In one movement, she snatched the package out of his hands. She was ready.
"Be quick. He’s expecting you. And not a word to anyone, do you hear me. And don’t-"
"Oh for Slytherin’s sake, you’re being ridiculous, Rudolphus. I know all that. I know what to do." She was impatient. She had been waiting for this moment for so long. With shaking fingers, she untied the package. Inside was an opal necklace, looking ancient and slightly sinister. She regarded it shrewdly, then looked at Rudolphus. She was letting him touch her, was letting him kiss her and whisper things into her ear, but that didn’t mean she trusted him. He wanted… things from her, and she knew he would go a long way to get them. "This is a Portkey? You’re not playing with me, are you?"
"I swear I’m not. I’d never dare use his name in vain, no matter…go. He’s waiting."
She touched the necklace A lurch behind her navel, a burst of colors- and she landed, staggering slightly, on her knees in a curtained room. The room was dark;
only a blue candle burning at the far end penetrated the shadows. Bella glanced around uncertainly, the excitement rising inside her. But the room was empty. No one was here, no one was awaiting her. Her, eldest daughter of the Blacks, who had been actively fighting for the rights of Purebloods- they were not waiting for her. Fury rose inside her, and already she was regretting trusting Rudolphus, who had probably gotten the dates mixed up…but then, something stirred in the shadows. A man was standing in the far corner, she could barely make out his form in the gloom. But then he spoke, and his voice filled her up, as though her ears had been created for the sole purpose of hearing him.
"Ah, Miss Black. What a pleasure it is." The sneer was audible, the arrogance quite obvious, but Bella felt no contempt, indeed, her head was wiped clear of all thoughts. Out of impulse, she bowed her head.
"Please, please, Miss Black, do get up. Come here. I should like to look at you." So cold, this voice, so dangerous, but Bella did not for an instant consider disobeying. She rose, and in measured steps, trying to control her shaking muscles, crossed the room. By the dim, blue light of the candle, she saw that his face- was it a face? It was difficult to tell, the features were stretched and blurred in places, the eyes seemed to gleam red, but she was sure this was no mask, no spell. No disguise could have made her feel this, no mask or spell could make her insides feel like they were burning, blazing with blue flames that were slowly eating her up. His gaze ran over her appraisingly, lingering on the platinum B-formed choker on her neck, and then traveling down a little. She felt vaguely as though she should be insulted by the way his eyes were measuring her, like she was a horse at a race. She knew this was not the way to treat her, not the way to treat a Black lady, but she also knew that it did not matter. For the first time in her life, her family did not matter. All that mattered was him. This voice, this face, a body exuding power and will, ambition and force and everything she had ever wanted for herself, was suddenly all that mattered.
"Miss Black," the voice was measured, civil, inclined. Bella felt her heart beat faster and faster. "Why, precisely, are you here?"
She swallowed, and looked up into those cold eyes. "I’m here to serve you, my Lord. I want to help you and do whatever you command me to. That is why I’m here."