Disclaimer: JKR owns them.
Notes: Written last year at Christmas.
1. Burned and Died
There had never been a Christmas Eve like this before. The war was a cascade of blood and death and broken things, but that didn't seem to be stopping Bellatrix Black Lestrange from loving this time of year. In fact, this was the best Christmas Eve she'd ever had. The blood and death really only enhanced the experience. Bellatrix had an interesting mind. It was all curved and black and polished, and involved not so much a lack of motivation for being a murderess as a complete failure to care.
She was fighting her way through a snow storm in order to sit in an empty house at the Dark Lord's feet and listen to his latest plan. "Worth it" didn't even begin to cover it. Bellatrix followed the Dark Lord with a mad, passionate sense of obsession and loyalty.
Bellatrix was mad, yes, but that was only the beginning of her.
She opened the door, not even wincing at the splinter which embedded itself in her hand. "My Lord."
Bellatrix was almost blinded when she looked at Voldemort. He sat on a throne of gold and gushing blood and vines, clouds of smoke pouring from green eyes which glittered unnaturally through the smoke. He had dark hair and a mouth like a fresh wound. He was beautiful. He was utterly terrifying.
Bellatrix wanted to lay her life at his feet, but she settled for laying the wand of a vanquished auror there instead. She did not love him, she respected him far too much for that. The things that Bellatrix loved burned and died.
There was a cloud of serpents ringing his head like a crown. Bellatrix bowed to him, and her eyes caught fire in his deadly glow.
"When the others arrive, I shall tell you of our plans," Voldemort said. His voice was like silver teeth in Bellatrix's ears.
She nodded. She hated the others. Stupid, useless, little men, playing at war. Voldemort was no general. He was a god. Bellatrix was not above worshiping him.
The creak of the door made her turn away from the Dark Lord's tapestry of a body, and made her thoughts draw away from his twisted trap of a mind.
She almost swore at Lucius for interrupting them. It was hard to carry out her worship with the others there. They did not understand. They didn't see what she saw when she looked at Voldemort. They didn't see the young man brimming with powerful waves of death.
Bellatrix cursed foully in her head and withdrew to stand by her deity.
2. More Important Goals
Lucius Malfoy was slightly breathless from the wind and snow outside. The head of his cane was shaped like a snake, and it seemed to hiss in his hand, to tell him to go back. Damned cane. He was a Death Eater, and he needed to be here, no matter how unattractive the operation was. He looked up and saw his sister-in-law standing behind the Dark Lord's chair.
Lucius had never gotten along with her. Where Bellatrix dealt in power, Lucius dealt in politics. He was concerned with reputation, and names, and Image. That was why he'd had to be careful coming here, to a Muggle town.
Narcissa slipped in the door after him, and Lucius almost cursed himself for involving her. Still, the future Minister of Magic needed a wife, and Narcissa Black had been a good choice. Now that she was pregnant, however, he wasn't certain he wanted her in the line of fire.
An heir. That was important to Lucius, as it was important to all pureblood families. He had grand plans for the child. He only hoped it was male. The thought had crossed his mind that there was a slim chance that it might be, perish the thought, a squib. But not his son. Not a Malfoy. He dismissed the thought.
He wondered briefly how many of the Death Eaters actually cared about ridding the world of mudbloods and Muggles. Lucius hated them, to be sure, but he had more important goals. If they won the war, which he was sure they would, Lucius and his family would be given an extremely high political position. They would probably control a large portion of the Wizarding World. In retrospect, he was even more pleased that he'd chosen Narcissa, as her sister seemed to be the Dark Lord's right hand woman.
He took Narcissa's pale, cold hand in his and advanced to the Dark Lord's chair.
It had been said by many that Lucius Malfoy had no heart. He certainly believed it himself.
3. Cold to Her
Narcissa Black Malfoy was cold, but she had been carefully groomed, and she did not tremble. Lucius' glove was cold against her hand. Lucius always felt cold to her.
She feared for their child. She did not wish him to be given to the Dark Lord, and she knew that was what Lucius would want. Narcissa almost wished that she had remained a Black, but no, there was no future in that decaying family. Their parents were dead, their aunt was dying, one of their cousins was that damned auror Sirius Black, Sirius' little brother had been killed for betraying the Death Eaters, and Narcissa's other sister was living with a Muggle man. Bellatrix was their last great grasp for fame, not that she cared. Her obsessive devotion to the Dark Lord frightened Narcissa.
This whole situation frightened Narcissa. She wondered, sometimes, if she would have even joined the Death Eaters if it had not been for Lucius. She didn't care for power or politics, and this insane blood war meant nothing to her. She sometimes thought that there was nothing she was meant for. Being a trophy wife for a cold husband was better than an utterly pointless existence.
She was almost glad to be here in this little Muggle town on Christmas Eve rather than at home in the cold embrace of Malfoy Manor.
4. A Brilliant Mind
Severus Snape slipped in through a side door. He nodded shortly to Lucius and Narcissa, and saved away a small pocket of anger at Lucius for making Narcissa come in this weather and in her condition. He could not afford to argue with Lucius. He owed Lucius a lot. Not least of all my unfortunate connection to the Death Eaters, Severus thought bitterly. He was grateful to Lucius for some things, to be sure, but that didn't mean he respected him. Lucius wasn't the only reason that Severus had joined, of course. I'll have time to analyze myself when I'm dead, Severus thought. I know I have an unhealthy obsession with the Dark Arts.
He nodded to the Dark Lord, who sat on a rickety wooden chair against one wall with Bellatrix hovering over him like she expected him to break open and scatter candy everywhere.
Others were arriving as well, and Severus glared at them. None wore masks because this meeting was only for the Dark Lord's closest circle. If he didn't trust them, they wouldn't be here. Most all of them were purebloods, Severus noted. "Inbred bastards," he muttered.
Severus had never been much of a joiner. He hadn't made many friends at school, and he certainly didn't intended to start making them now, certainly not here, not among these haughty bastards, these blinded idiots, these fools.
He listened as Voldemort began to describe his latest plan and allowed a sneer to slide onto his face. These plans were just bedtime stories to lull the Death Eaters into a sense of purpose.
He looked at Voldemort and let himself wonder, a bit, why he had joined, really. Maybe it had something to do with Voldemort himself. They all saw something different in the man. Some didn't see a man at all. Severus didn't want to think about what Bellatrix saw.
Voldemort's eyes were red and his features were smooth. He couldn't have passed for normal, but he had charisma, which was the only reason he could manage to control so many people. Severus wasn't about to pretend that their master could get by on intimidation alone. He had style. Not that any of that mattered to Severus.
Severus looked at Voldemort and saw an intellectual. He felt slightly aggravated that Voldemort had wasted a brilliant mind on something as inane as this vengeful war. Still, Voldemort's mind might at least be the answer to Severus' inclusion in this. . . cult. He had always been drawn to thinkers.
And maybe Bellatrix wasn't the only crazy one, because Severus had fists in his past, and he must be pretty maladjusted if he needed to seek intellectual companionship in a mass murderer. The difference was, he was well aware of this fact, and he was quickly becoming tired of the Death Eaters.
Fenrir Grayback showed up to the meeting late, as always. Today he'd chased a cat with red eyes on the way here, and it had taken him some time to find the trail again. He was quite probably the least human werewolf in the entire Wizarding World. He was almost to the point where he didn't need the full moon to transform. Voldemort had promised to give him the help he needed, to say nothing of offering him as many victims as he wanted.
Something had gone wrong when Fenrir had been turned. He barely remembered, it had been so long ago, but the images were always hovering somewhere in his head. The moon, burning red like something darker than blood. . . golden teeth breaking the skin over his ribs. . . And then the transformation. It hadn't just been his body that had transformed, it had been something deep inside his head. He wasn't a man who turned into a wolf once a month. He was wolf who had once been human. Somehow, the human form had hung on, though, and Fenrir was the most powerful werewolf alive.
There was a reason he attacked children. It was nothing more complicated or more horrifying than the fact that they tasted better. Fenrir was a ball of tastes and smells and instincts.
One instinct, stronger than any other, pulled him down the snowy street and into the Muggle house. The man on the chair smelled like presence and command and do-as-he-says. Fenrir wondered, in some of his quieter moments, if Voldemort had done something to him to set off all these alarms in his head which made him follow the Death Eaters.
Fenrir bent his head slightly. "Master," he growled.
6. A Boy Named Tom Riddle
Rodolphus Lestrange looked at his wife as she stood staring at the Dark Lord with something strongly resembling fanaticism. He couldn't very well be jealous, because he knew she didn't love their master. She certainly cared more about him than she did about her husband, though.
Rodolphus had trouble seeing all those things that Bella saw in Voldemort. He had gone to school with a boy named Tom Riddle, and as far as he was concerned, that boy hadn't changed. He sat on the carved chair like it was a throne, but Rodolphus knew it was made of plaster and cement. He had known Riddle since the boy was eleven, and he knew that this "Lord" of theirs was just a terrified child with bright green eyes and an eagerness to never be wrong.
Rodolphus was here, though, at the heart of the Death Eaters, so he must believe in something that was here. He did. He believed in Bellatrix. His Bella, who was so desperately interwoven with that stupid little Riddle.
7. The Winning Side
Igor Karkaroff hadn't been expecting this when he'd moved to England. He would have preferred to keep the cold cliffs of Bulgaria. He had fallen headlong into a war, and now his only option was to attempt to stay on the winning side.
The only benefit to this place was Severus Snape. He liked Snape, he admitted a little grudgingly. Snape was powerful, and that was at the top of Igor's list of criteria for a friend. The person had to be able to protect him. Snape was intelligent, too, and that was more than Igor could say for most of the people here. A goddamn blood war! Whose idea had that been?
In Igor's eyes, Voldemort was just another English lunatic. A very powerful lunatic, granted, but still crazy as hell. Even so, Igor intended to follow him until it became prudent to change sides.
There was, however, a problem with that. It turned out that it was very difficult to quit the Death Eaters and live. Igor hadn't really counted on that. As long as they kept winning. . .
He let his eyes wander around the room, taking in names and faces, just in case he needed them later. Igor always had a backup plan. That was the difference between Bulgarians and the English. Igor was sure Voldemort had no contingency plans.
8. Running Scared
Peter Pettigrew wasn't at the meeting that night. His existence as a spy was too precarious for him to come to every Death Eater gathering. Instead, he was sitting at James Potter's table and trying to eat when all he could taste was his own hypocrisy.
They should have known, he reasoned nervously. I've always been a rat. He was glad that James was such a larger-than-life figure. It made it easier for Peter to work up a burning hate for him.
It was harder with Sirius, infinitely harder. Sirius could be hard, angry, a bastard, and Peter had seen that side of him a million times, but for all his dark temper, Sirius was still incredibly loyal. It got harder and harder for Peter to look him in the eye.
Remus was another matter entirely. Peter didn't hate him, never could. Remus was all reason and tea and chocolate, and Peter just shied away from the idea of hurting him.
Peter hated Voldemort more than any of them, though. He was the one who was bringing the world down around Peter's ears, he was the reason that Peter had gone running scared to the Death Eaters. Peter knew that Voldemort could see the hate in his head. He just wondered when the Dark Lord would be smart enough to worry about it.
The snow fell down in clouds and gusts, and Voldemort spoke long into the night. When Christmas morning dawned, the house was empty again, except for the handsome young god with the throne of gold, or the powerful political leader, or the reason that Narcissa Malfoy gave birth two weeks too soon, or the genius on the rickety wooden chair, or the dog's master, or the frightened young boy on a plaster throne, or the leader of the winning side, or the bastard who was destroying Peter's world.