She has the sensation that she is falling, plunging rapidly into darkness. She falls so fast she can barely feel herself moving. She begins to think that perhaps she is not really falling, perhaps she is actually stationary and isn't moving at all. This would explain why, even as she keeps 'falling', she continues to not be able to see a thing, just the endless black pressing in on her eyelids.
She does not know how long she falls, or doesn't fall, but suddenly she feels a rush of wind around her, and knows that she has stopped. Tenderly she rises to her feet – her motions are fluid, almost effortless, she seems to more glide to her feet than clamor or tumble. Slowly her eyes adjust to the darkness, but even as they do there is not much to see of her surroundings. She is in a circular stone room, bare except for a few hard-backed chairs and flickering torches lining the walls. To her left the room narrows and leads off to a thin hallway, as dark as the darkness she found herself in before she landed here.
She turns around once as she takes in her situation, analyzing what has happened as she attempts to place the vague puzzle pieces together. How has she ended up here? She searches her mind for her last recollections. The Mudblood Granger . . . the little girl Weasley . . . and another silly teenager . . . she had been fighting them, back at Hogwarts. And then the Weasley girl's mother . . . she'd appeared, and they had dueled . . . and now . . .
"No," Bellatrix Lestrange hisses, as reality dawns on her.
She lifts her hands in front of her face, twisting them around wildly. They look solid enough. She whips them around, entwines her fingers, runs her hands across her face. She feels solid too. So she must be . . . that must mean she's not . . . she can't even think the word of what she might be.
You're not, she tells herself. You're not, you're still alive, stop this nonsense. As if someone as weak as Molly Weasley could have ended your life.
But even with this reasoning on her side, there is still much logic against her. Where is she, for starters, and how has she gotten here? She glances around again, but her surroundings of the stone room look just the same as before. She decides to travel down the hallway and see what is there. With this plan of action, she reaches into her robe pocket for her wand – but it isn't there.
Panic takes its steely grip over her body. Her wand. Where is her wand? She is never without her wand, it is always beside her, for she has always known it is of utmost foolishness to wander around without it. So, then, where has her prized possession gone? Could she have perhaps left it somewhere, something she had not ever done in such dire times as these?
After taking a moment to recover from this wracking shock, she reasons with herself that she will be safe venturing down the hallway without her wand. She is, after all, Bellatrix Lestrange, and no sane being would dare try and attack someone as notorious as she. Even aside from that, there appear to be no other beings in this place – but then, Bellatrix has learned long ago not to be deceived by appearances.
She pushes all doubt to the back of her mind, and draws herself up straight and proud just as she has been taught all her life, just as she has done all her life, and begins taking steps towards the dark hallway. She wishes again, as she draws nearer, that she has her wand, for it is very dark down here, and a lit wand would help tremendously.
She has barely passed under the corridor's low ceiling when she hears a voice from behind her call, "I wouldn't go in there, Auntie dearest."
Bellatrix whirls around, facing the circular enclosure again, and suddenly the room is lined with people: shadowed, indistinct shapes that were not there seconds ago, when she had been looking this way – or perhaps they had been there all along, and her eyes had been too blind to see them? In any case, she notices them now, positioned all along the perimeter of the room, but her eyes instantly fly to one, one who – unlike the rest who are shaded and vague – is distinct, very distinct, perhaps even more distinct than she was in life.
Bellatrix's eyes narrow, and she speaks coolly as she says, "What are you doing here, girl?"
"Same thing you are," says the other, and for some stupid reason she smiles.
"So why can't I go that way?"
"It's not your time," she replies calmly. "You can't go down that hallway, not yet."
"You cannot give me orders," Bellatrix snaps.
"Oh? Why's that?"
"You're dead," Bellatrix says with a slight snarl.
"Considering my death was by your hands, it's not much of an accomplishment for you to figure that out," says the other female casually, and now she straightens and strolls towards Bellatrix leisurely. Bellatrix cringes slightly as the other woman's features come into sharper focus; her face is so similar to Andromeda's.
Nymphadora Tonks merely continues to smile humorlessly, her eyes cold, as she says, "But, yes, I am dead, you are correct."
"Then why are you here?"
Nymphadora raises her eyebrows. "Well, if I am dead and here, and you are also here . . ." She lets the words linger in the air, as Bellatrix is forced to once again contemplate her original ideas of why she has ended up in this strange place.
"No," the devoted Death Eater says again, harshly, "no. I am not . . . I am still . . ." Her body quivers with rage; how dare this half-blood stand there and tell her such things, how dare she – she is not dead, she isn't, she is merely unconscious or hallucinating or –
"Yes, it is a bit upsetting, isn't it?" says Nymphadora idly, as though merely remarking about the weather, as she watches with icy detachment how her aunt shakes before her. "But at least you died supporting a cause you believed in – that is, I think, the only way I would have ever been content passing away myself, so I am glad to have gotten that much."
Bellatrix ignores these words; yes, it is true she has always been prepared to lay down her life for her lord, but not like this, not in this way – and this sudden thought makes her pause and fixate on another thought, her lord . . . she prays he is still well, for he has lost so many of his supporters now, his numbers are weakening . . . but no, he is strong, he will triumph yet again . . . won't he, even with so many of his loyal supporters gone? . . .
And overwhelmed with a tumult of feelings, Bellatrix turns her back on her filthy-blooded niece, as she clutches herself in a hug and inhales ruggedly. She can somewhat accept the fact that she herself is dead, but the concept is much more dreadful to connect with her lord. If he too is dead, then it is partly her fault, for letting Molly Weasley get the better of her – if she had not been so silly, had dodged the stupid woman's curses better, then she still would have been there for her master, he would have had her protection. She feels bitter tears stinging her eyelids – oh, Master, if I have really failed you please forgive me – please, my lord –
"Touching," says Nymphadora. Bellatrix, in her woes, had not noticed, but the other female has moved around her, so they were yet again facing each other. "Very touching indeed. And who, may I ask, are you crying for? I doubt these are tears for yourself, you are far above that, and they certainly wouldn't be for – "
"Get out of my sight," Bellatrix hisses venomously, blinking furiously at the gathering water droplets, "disgusting half-blood, you disgrace our kind, with your Mudblood father – "
"Yes, yes," says Nymphadora in a bored voice, "I know, Bellatrix, I know – this is why you killed me in the first place, of course, so I know all this very well. However, at the moment I can't go anywhere, and neither can you."
"Why?" Bellatrix snaps.
"Isn't it obvious? We're dead. This is the afterlife, and right now we're both in some sort of limbo as we await our final destination, come heaven or hell."
"Heaven, hell," Bellatrix scoffs. "There is no heaven and hell, you silly girl – didn't you learn years ago that there is no good and evil, no light and dark, no innocent and sinful? Didn't your inane mother – who knew these things as well as the rest of us, even though she tried to pretend that she saw only light – didn't she teach you anything? You cannot split humans into the pure and wicked, for they do not exist – "
"That is where you are wrong," says Nymphadora quietly. "And perhaps you are partially right, perhaps heaven and hell are not out there – but there is another place for the sinners of our world, I can tell you that much, and we are each about to go to our respective place as soon as the decision is made."
"Fine," says Bellatrix, "fine, just suppose you are right, just suppose what you speak is true! What, then, is the wait for?" Her voice grows shriller as she continues speaking. "There is no debate over whether I am a 'sinner' or not! So let me go to hell, let the demon or devil come for me! Why not get it over with?"
Bellatrix laughs now, high-pitched and insane, the laugh she has become well-known for. "I am ready to go! And I will go willingly! What is the wait for?" she asks again. "Surely there is no dispute over whether Bellatrix Lestrange should to go to her own personal paradise? Surely no one could possibly think she deserves it?" She laughs again, even shriller than last time. "Surely she deserves to rot and burn and decay and whatever the hell all you 'saints' think happen to people like me when we die?"
She ends her monologue, and merely breaks into a fit of mad cackles, twinged with a bitterness that she doubts any can hear. She lifts her eyes to the ceiling as they roll back slightly in her head, her body that was previously shaking of anger now shaking with her laughter, laughter as maniacal as it ever was.
At last she stops and catches her breath. She looks back down, and is slightly surprised to see the other woman still standing in front of her, watching her apathetically.
"Well?" Bellatrix asks, panting a little, her chest still heaving. "Do you not agree with what I've just said? Do you not think that I should be left to burn in my afterlife, whatever it might be?"
Nymphadora doesn't answer, but she doesn't break their gaze on each other either.
Bellatrix inclines her head towards her niece, mockingly. "I shall take that as a yes."
"I have only ever really known you through fighting against you, Bellatrix," says Nymphadora slowly, pondering over the words as she says them. "The only part of you I have ever met personally is the mad sadist that the papers display, the reputation you've made yourself as a Death Eater – and so the piece of me that knows that side of you wishes nothing more than for you to rot in your grave, yes.
"But there is another part of me that knows my mother, and knows that she would not want that for you."
Bellatrix snorts. "You obviously did not know Andromeda all that well, then, for she is one of the people who would like to see me rot the most, I'm sure."
"I have watched my mum for years, Bellatrix," says Nymphadora steadily, "and whenever she spoke of you – or anyone from her family – her tone was heavy with intense dislike and disgust, and she would say nothing but horrid things about you.
"But I would see the way she still poured over the old photo albums from when she was a girl, when she didn't think I was looking. I would still see the way her eyes softened when she spoke of you and Narcissa. And I would still see how she stared at the wanted posters with your picture pasted on them, how sometimes she would turn angry from looking, and how other times she would nearly break down in tears."
Nymphadora falls silent, and cocks her head slightly to one side as she looks her aunt over. "So, in answer to your question," she says, softer this time, "no, I don't want you to rot anywhere. But not for me, for my mum."
"There you go again," Bellatrix snaps, and Nymphadora seems a little taken aback at how harshly her aunt speaks to her, when she herself had just been speaking in such tender tones. "There you go again. You think you are so truly noble by saying such a thing, that you are such a completely good person for wanting your vicious aunt to have her happy ending."
"I don't think I'm a completely 'good' person, Bellatrix," says Nymphadora softly. "I don't think any of us are. I'm just a normal person trying to do the right thing, that's all. That's all I've ever done."
"Yes, you and Andy – Andromeda," says Bellatrix contemptuously.
"Me, Mum, and a lot of people," says Nymphadora. "We just do the best we can. I don't think any of us ever expected to be perfectly good, and I don't think any of us are. We just made better choices than you," she adds in a quieter tone.
Bellatrix sneers. "Yes, of course you did. Marrying a werewolf was definitely an esteemed choice of yours – "
"I love Remus," says Nymphadora, firing up at once as she draws herself to her full height, though this doesn't make much of an impression, "and that's all that matters."
"Touching," says Bellatrix jeeringly. "And where is your dear werewolf now? Last I saw him, he was lying dead on the grounds of Hogwarts – why is he not here with you?"
"I – glimpsed him just as I came up here," Nymphadora responds, faltering only slightly. "We barely had time to exchange a few words before he was being pulled away by some invisible force – right through that hallway." She nods at the pitch-black corridor. "But – I will be with him soon," she adds, lifting her chin, her eyes blazing fiercely as she glares into her aunt's sunken eyes. "Just as you will most likely soon be reunited with your precious master."
"The Dark Lord will triumph," Bellatrix exclaims, even as her former fears flicker within her. "He will succeed, he will win, he will win the battle at Hogwarts and he will win all the others following – "
"He will not," says Nymphadora, with a calm but definite resolute, "for Harry Potter is going to finish him for good."
"Potter!" says Bellatrix, and now she is cackling again. "Potter! Potter is dead, you ignorant girl! The Dark Lord killed him!"
Nymphadora's eyes widen. "I don't believe you."
"Oh, believe it, Nymphadora! Harry Potter will not ever perform another of his lucky escapes again. The Dark Lord has made sure of it, he has done the deed! Potter is as alive as you and I."
"I didn't see him come here," says Nymphadora calmly, though her eyes are glancing around wildly, as though afraid there might be someone in the room who could disprove these words. "He can't be dead, I passed away before he did, I would have known if he died, I would have seen him come here – "
"Perhaps Potter's soul is too pure to stop in limbo?" Bellatrix suggests, still crowing with laughter at the expression of absolute horror on the other woman's face. "Perhaps he is so good his eternal resting place does not need to be debated, perhaps his soul is so innocent there is no question where he should go?"
Bellatrix is mocking Nymphadora, but it is hard to tell if the latter realizes this, or even hears her aunt's words, for she continues to fly her eyes frantically around the room.
"He's not dead," says Nymphadora, her eyes resting on the woman in front of her again. "He's not. You are mistaken. Harry is still alive, he would have come here if he was not. He is still alive, and he is going to kill the man you call 'lord' once and for all."
Bellatrix only laughs again, louder this time, to make sure her point is emphasized.
"And if it is not Harry who does the deed," says Nymphadora, her anger seeming to grow as she watches her aunt cackle, "it will be someone else. You-Know-Who will be dead soon, perhaps even tonight, and you know it, Bellatrix, I know you do – for his forces are weakening, he can't go on in his present state."
"He will live!" Bellatrix shrieks. "You know nothing, girl, he will triumph over all your kind, you know naught of what you speak – "
"Perhaps I don't know much, but I do know that I'm right about this," Nymphadora replies simply. "And so do you."
"He will live!" Bellatrix screams, though she is becoming less and less convinced of this fact as the seconds tick by. "He will! He will be victorious! He will win! The Dark Lord will win, he must win – he – will – win! " she shrieks incoherently.
And, enraged, she lunges the short space separating she and Nymphadora, her fingers clawing wildly at her niece's clothes, her body, her face – but it is as though her hands are merely passing through air; her fingers scratch at nothing, they glide right through Nymphadora's skin, who merely looks on apathetically at the scene her aunt is making.
When it finally dawns on Bellatrix that she cannot harm the pink-haired woman, she lowers her hands and puts her arms down stiffly at her sides.
"I suppose that is one down-side of having killed me, isn't it?" Nymphadora says sarcastically. "You can't hurt me anymore."
"If you are trying to make me feel guilty about my actions, it won't work," Bellatrix pants, still breathing hard from the fury pounding in her head. "I have no regrets with what I have done to any of my victims, and you are no different."
"I know, Bellatrix," says Nymphadora, and there is no sadness or hurt in her voice, merely a flat understanding. "I know."
She seems on the verge of saying something else but instead becomes distracted, lifting her hands up to her face and observing them closely. At first Bellatrix wonders what has brought about this behavior, but then she sees how the other woman's fingertips are emitting a pearly white glow – the shimmer is faint, but still noticeable. Even as they both stare, the light spreads slowly downward from her fingers to her hands, then towards her wrists and upper arms.
"What are you doing," Bellatrix says. Her tone is so flat that it does not even indicate a question.
"I'm not doing anything," Nymphadora replies, and slowly she lowers her hands to her sides, meeting the other female's eyes again. "The decision of my final place is being made. This is what happened to Remus too – once the light spreads completely across my body I will be taken away."
Bellatrix smiles mirthlessly. "Pure white for the angels?" she mocks. "How lovely. Well, I hope you enjoy your time in your faultless, innocent eternity."
Nymphadora's mouth twitches, one corner up and the other down, a strange cross between a smile and a frown – but then her lips are in a straight, expressionless line again; and she gives her aunt a single, curt nod before closing her eyes, turning around half-way, and dropping to her knees.
This strange procedure causes Bellatrix to raise an eyebrow, and she walks around the girl until she is facing her again. Nymphadora's eyes are still closed, her hands are folded over her knees, her lips moving slightly in silent words.
"Are you praying?" Bellatrix asks, without bothering to conceal her scorn.
"Yes," says Nymphadora simply, not opening her eyes.
"I had no idea Andromeda was bringing up such a religious daughter."
"She didn't, religion was never really a huge part of my growing up. But I'm not praying to a god."
"Oh, really? Then who are you sending these prayers to?"
"I'm sending them to those who are still alive."
"They won't be able to hear you," Bellatrix jeers.
"Maybe not, but they have a better chance of hearing me now in limbo, than when I'm completely gone for eternity."
Bellatrix chuckles cruelly. "Oh, Nymphadora, you are so delightfully naïve."
"I would really appreciate silence right now, Bellatrix," says Nymphadora calmly, "it is rather hard to complete this with your yammering."
"Very well," says Bellatrix with mock formality, humoring her. She gives her niece several minutes to continue her praying routine, then, when the girl's lips have stopped moving, she asks, "And who did you need to so urgently send those messages to?"
"My son," says Nymphadora, still not opening her eyes. "Mum. Fellow Order members, and close friends. Just the people I still needed to say good-bye to." Her eyes flutter open now, fixing on the woman in front of her. "And what of you?"
"What of me?" Bellatrix returns.
"Is there anyone you need to say good-bye to?"
"They wouldn't be able to hear them."
The white glow has spread all the way to the girl's shoulders. "If you would will them to hear your words, they would," says Nymphadora, quiet but confident.
"I gave up long ago in believing such things, girl."
"Time is running out, Bellatrix," says Nymphadora. "You don't have much longer."
Nymphadora gestures to her aunt, and Bellatrix looks down at her hands. From the very tips of her fingers a faint glow has started – though, unlike the lucid white of her niece's shine, her own is a deep pitiless black.
Bellatrix stares, motionless, for some time, watching with a strange intrigue as the unyielding black, the black that has surrounded her all her life, trickles slower than a snail from the tips of her fingers to her knuckles, to her palms, to her wrists. Time is nonexistent in those moments; all that remains to her is the black traveling slowly, ever slowly but still steadily, along her body.
She does not become aware of where she is again until the blackness is up to her elbows; it is only then that she carefully tears her eyes away from the glow. Her eyes pause on Nymphadora yet again, who is still kneeling on the ground, merely watching her: her own shimmer now occupies her upper body and arms, and is starting to creep towards her stomach, down through her legs.
Bellatrix curves her lips into her usual sneer, and lifts one of her radiant black arms in a mock farewell gesture. "Well, I won't be seeing you."
Nymphadora's eyes fall to her lap as she nods once. There is a lull of silence, in which time Nymphadora's glow spreads to her knees and Bellatrix's crawls across her chest, then the pink-haired female rises fluidly to her feet, looking down into the dark hallway.
"It is a bit frightening, being dead, isn't it?" says Nymphadora suddenly, her tone casual.
"No," says Bellatrix promptly. She is never afraid; her stupid niece should know that.
"Dumbledore always said we shouldn't fear death," Nymphadora muses, and Bellatrix cannot tell if she is speaking to herself or to them both. "He said it was just another adventure, only an unknown one, and that there was nothing to fear from the unknown."
"He was always a fool," Bellatrix chuckles darkly.
"No, he was very wise," says Nymphadora, still speaking in a calm and detached tone. "I mean, there isn't much to fear of death, is there? – it is just another step of our own personal journey." She breathes out slowly, glancing down briefly at her legs as the glow passes her knees, then looks back up at the hall again as she says softly, as though trying to reassure herself, "Just another step."
Her face is hard, determined, prepared for whatever is coming for her, yet behind the strong-willed mask Bellatrix can see a flicker of something else, a slight fear of what is to come, or not to come. But despite this, the girl looks ready and fixed on what she is to do: she will go down this hall when it is her time, a time that is drawing nearer all the time, and she will do it not just acceptingly but strongly.
Nymphadora smiles now, surprisingly, actually smiles down at the dark hallway, the expression looking natural and easy on her face, unlike the nasty smile Bellatrix is usually forcing herself to bear. She looks over at Bellatrix, but does not seem to really see her, seems to see right through her, and she says in a whisper, "I was always disappointed that I wasn't named after a star or constellation like most Blacks. Mum said it was because I wasn't a Black, that I was as separate and different from them as possible, but I still always wished I could have a name of a piece of the sky. That I could be a part of something so amazing and beautiful, and yet so simple and ordinary, that I could have such a place in the world."
She continues to beam, genuinely radiating from both the pure white glow surrounding nearly her whole body, and an internal glow from within. The expression on the young woman's face is strikingly familiar to Bellatrix somehow, and it does not take long for her to realize the uncanny resemblance she bears to Andromeda just now; the way her mouth is relaxed but happy, and her eyes alight, and her soul sparkling with some simple joy or pleasure. It is just how she saw Andromeda look, so many times before when they were young, when she had found pure happiness in the most mundane of things. Bellatrix had never understood how her sister had always been able to find such simple joys, but her heart had always soared when she saw her like that; it was impossible not to feel light and happy in her cheerful presence at such ordinary yet simple times.
And finally it settles in that she has killed her sister's daughter. She has known this, of course, she has been fully aware that she murdered Andromeda's Tonk's child, but suddenly it sinks in that she has murdered Andromeda Black's, Andromeda's, Andy's daughter. Andy, whom she used to play with in the daylight and whisper with in the nighttime; Andy, whom she used to tease about boys and laugh about her blunders; Andy, whom she had defended and protected from others without thought; Andy, whom she had grown up with, beside with, together with; Andy, whom had been her sister . . . and this is what Bellatrix has done in return.
She has killed Andy's daughter.
It starts off as a tiny pinprick of light hurt against her chest; then as she watches the young woman before her the hurt intensifies until she is bearing a full, thudding pain against her heart. She turns away from her niece, placing one hand over her chest and gasping outloud from the force of the sudden onslaught of emotions.
Can this be? she thinks wryly to herself. Can the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange actually be feeling remorse?
She shakes her head at herself; no, she does not feel anything towards the female behind her, it is good the stupid girl is dead, that is one less human of filthy blood roaming the land – and that is what Bellatrix had wanted, that is what she has always wanted. Still, Andy's face swirls in her mind, smiling up at her as she learns to tie her own shoe; grinning as she twirls around in the falling snow; laughing as she plays with toddler Narcissa; beaming as she scampers up a tree; looking happy just because her older sister was beside her . . .
Bellatrix whirls back around now to look at her niece: the white shimmer has taken nearly all of her now, only the top of her head remains untouched by the shine. Her head is lifted upwards towards the sky, or whatever is above them both now; her face is serene and peaceful; her robes are billowing gently forward, as though an invisible wind is pushing on her back. Bellatrix looks down at her own body: the blackness seeps down her legs even as she stares.
Fitting, isn't it, she thinks to herself bitterly. You are a Black, after all, and she – she has proven that she is not.
Yet at one time, she wanted to be. She said so herself, just minutes previous.
Why? the same bitter voice thinks. Why in the world would someone such as she have ever wanted anything to do with us, with me?
Because she was always a Black. You just never recognized it. You never wanted to recognize it, so you didn't.
She glances back up again. Nymphadora seems to be gliding forward now, is being tugged towards the corridor.
"Nymphadora," Bellatrix calls out, desperately.
Nymphadora turns her head and meets her aunt's wild eyes, and Bellatrix realizes she does not know what she wants to say, doesn't know if she even should say anything, for what do words do at this point? She has already said Avada Kedavra to her, and those words are more damaging and final than any other she could have spoken.
But perhaps she does not need to speak anyway, for Nymphadora is looking at her in such a way that makes her somehow know that their shared look is enough, that they are somehow able to understand a small part of each other through their blood connection, however unwanted or wanted a connection it might be. And then Nymphadora nods – Bellatrix can tell it is not a nod of acceptance, for how can you ever accept your murderer – but it is a nod nonetheless. Now the girl turns her head forward again, and she is pulled the final distance into the tunnel, vanishing from view.
Bellatrix feels a light tug against her own abdomen, and glancing herself over she realizes the black has absorbed her: it is time for her to be deposited in her own personal eternity. She obeys the gentle pressure and glides forward. Hell or not, she knows where she is headed is going to be far from pleasant, yet at the moment this does not bother her: she still cannot shake Nymphadora's or Andromeda's faces from her mind.
As she draws nearer to the tunnel, she lifts her hands absently to smooth down her robes, as though she needs to look presentable for wherever she is going. But as she raises her hands, she notices something, and brings them closer to her face. Her entire body is still glinting pitch black, yet at her hands there is a slightly different color, a slightly lighter color. It is far from the pure white that radiated from Nymphadora, but it is also vastly different from the velvety black coating the rest of her. The color seems to be in-between the clean white and deep black, it is a smooth marble gray, similar to stone. Gray – not white, the shade for the sinless, and not black, the shade for the sinful – but gray, the shade for those who are, perhaps, both. Only her hands are occupied with this color, the rest is still absorbed by black, but Bellatrix finds herself giving a slight smile at the grayness: for maybe, she thinks as she is sucked into the tunnel, maybe there is a small shard of hope even for those as black as her.