He was losing.

His Death Eaters were being picked off, one by one, overcome by sheer numbers. It was infuriating, and was trying his patience with this. All he needed was Potter: all he needed was Potter, and it would all be worth it. He didn't have to do any of this now: he had dealt everyone else in Hogwarts a stunning blow, and he didn't have to fight. Still, something kept him here, hammering away at the three wizards he was dueling. Something made him want to keep fighting, to bring every single one of them to their knees if he had to do it himself. But Voldemort knew, deep down, that it would be more prudent to withdraw for now, and attack again another day. He had done enough damage, hadn't he? The great wizard dueled with himself mentally as he cast aside spell after spell, fighting to make a decision.

Bellatrix, though, was still kicking, and doing so rather spectacularly. She seemed to have no issue with fighting until she went down. Voldemort was impressed by her vicious cackling and brutal slaughter of witch after witch, wizard after wizard: she was certainly insane, he decided. She had taken on Molly Weasley now, and the woman was determined not to have any help from others in dueling Bellatrix. It was a huge mistake on Molly's part, but Voldemort would give her credit for holding her own this long. The two women were both fighting to kill, judging from the plumes of smoke and flashes of light. It barely had any time between the flashes; no words were heard, but Bellatrix was swiftly growing tired of the game. Voldemort watched out of the corner of his eyes, laughing inwardly at Molly's foolishness as Bellatrix cast circles around the blood traitor. Bellatrix was playing-oh, not wise, Bella-finish her now! And, with one wicked cackle, Bellatrix did.

A flash of green light, carefully timed and placed, and Molly Weasley was dead. Horrified screams ensued as Bellatrix squealed with glee, jumped up and down, and taunted the children about her kill. Even those dueling Voldemort stopped and stared, watching as Molly fell lifelessly to the ground, eyes wide open with a dead, cold stare. Bellatrix continued to sing and dance around, mocking the entire of Hogwarts. But now, every single person in that room was rather unhappy with Bellatrix, and Bellatrix alone: every eye in that room was trained on her, and Bellatrix was suddenly a squealing target.

Thank heavens she noticed, though: a quick "Protego!" took care of it. Still, Voldemort knew when he had gone far enough. It was better to simply leave when he had everything to lose and little gain, rather than the other way around. Bellatrix seemed to have triggered something, and it would be wise to move back now and allow Hogwarts-and himself-a bit of time to regroup. Voldemort couldn't see many of his own still standing, worringly. He would need to take a head-count, then. With a flick of his wand, Voldemort blasted aside Kingsley, McGonagall, and Slughorn, and made a swift escape upwards. He flew without a broom, without wings, without a Thestral or other beast: and he was raining down curses from above, flashes of green light that no one could stop. All he had to do was clear a spot for himself to get to Bellatrix, and possibly those closest to her. All he needed to do was communicate with the Death Eaters, and order a retreat. As he watched, Rowle fell, and then Dolohov-.

Bellatrix was dancing around again, firing hexes left and right. She had become enraged, it seemed, by the sudden demise of her comrades, no matter how much she despised them. Now, was she upset because she was losing, or because Hogwarts was winning? Voldemort briefly mused. Other Death Eaters were feeling her fury as well, and their attacks became more aggressive and almost random. No one knew who to focus on, and Voldemort took advantage of the opportunity. He fired down at McGonagall, and a jet of green flashed from his wand-


No…no, that couldn't be him! That couldn't be him that had just thrown off an invisibility cloak. That couldn't be Potter! He had killed Potter, he knew he had! And Narcissa had told him he was dead! Was the woman so stupid that she couldn't tell if a man was dead or not? Or had Potter done something? Voldemort felt fury rising up in his chest like a tidal wave, washing over his every other thought and nullifying it. All he felt was the bitter anger and humiliation at failing yet again.

People were suddenly screaming, cheering, shouting-and Voldemort felt, for the first time, powerless to stop any of it. It wasn't supposed to be like this! He was supposed to be the one to emerge triumphant, not lose and fall to a mere boy! Voldemort came down from the skies, staring incredulously at the Potter brat who had caused him so much hell, unsure of what to do at this point. For a moment, he just stood there, shocked, as all battles ceased-

"Avada Kedavra!!"

An unintelligible scream from Bellatrix, and then everything went black.


Number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

As soon as Voldemort's red eyes opened, he found himself in a familiar place. He and the Death Eaters had gone in and out several times since it was discovered by Yaxley one day by accidently side-along Apparating with that filthy Mudblood Hermione Granger. All around, Voldemort could make out what was the living room, with the tapestry on the far wall and several glass cabinets lining the rest of the walls-

"I'm so sorry, my lord! I couldn't think of anything else on such a short notice, and I could barely get you out of the way in time and I shouldn't have stepped in I know but I couldn't just let you-"


Bellatrix stopped cold at the snake-like hiss, her mouth snapping shut like a bear trap and her eyes lowering to her hands, twisting anxiously in her lap. She looked ashamed, kneeling on the floor next to Voldemort, as if she had done something wrong and she knew it. Still, Voldemort could hardly remember what had happened…all he remembered was random flashing of red and green, and then just a wall of black had hit him in the face like a ton of bricks.

"Bellatrix…" Voldemort said slowly, pushing himself up. With a shock, he realized that he had been laid out on a couch in the living room of Twelve Grimmauld Place. "I have scant memories of what had happened…but, gathering what I have and what you have told me," or randomly babbled like a madwoman, "I perceive that my attention was so diverted to Potter-" the name was spat like poison-"that I missed several killing curses sent at me, no?"

"Th-that is correct, m-my lord…"

The poor woman had to be completely deranged already, and this wasn't helping. Voldemort just sighed, and rose from the couch, past Bellatrix, who scrambled to get out of his way. "Come," he said tonelessly, raising a hand and beckoning Bellatrix closer. He heard the soft footsteps on the carpet, following him into the kitchen, and knew that Bellatrix was staying exactly three steps behind him. "And you took me away from that?"

Bellatrix nodded wordlessly as Voldemort fixed her in his red gaze, unable to meet his eyes but unable to look away. Voldemort felt a sense of helplessness, dependence: he owed this woman his life, then. But then, he had saved hers before…so, they were even?

"A life for a life," Voldemort finally said, turning away. "My debt is repaid."

Bellatrix audibly exhaled, relief in her every feature. Voldemort had dodged that bullet for a moment: now, he had to make sure she still understood their relationship. She obeyed him: he was under no obligation whatsoever to her. "Clean this place up a bit, and get some tea out," Voldemort ordered. "I need to step out for a moment, but I will be back in a few minutes."

"Of course, my lord," Bellatrix said instantly. Voldemort didn't have to tell her what tea he liked; she didn't have to ask. She just went for the cabinets, the kettle, and the tea bags. But, she did ask one thing: "If I may, my lord, I would like to have some music on while you're occupied elsewhere-I'm not very fond of silence-"

"Fine, Bellatrix," Voldemort said, waving a hand at her and already heading for the back door. "I do not care. Just have that ready when I come back!"

"Of course, my lord," Bellatrix said again, and immediately rushed off to make it happen. Voldemort had made it to the back door and had his hand on the knob when Bellatrix's music became audible: death metal was suddenly flooding the house, with screaming vocals, squealing electric guitars, pounding drums, and a bass so heavy it could be felt in his chest. There were keyboards, brought so forward and made so fast that Voldemort couldn't even begin to fathom how any Muggle could be playing that fast. Bellatrix seemed to instantly relax, despite him jumping ten feet into the air. This woman was…something else.

Voldemort stepped outside then, shutting the door rather firmly on Bellatrix's choice of music. He watched for a moment as the latched door shuddered several times under the pulsating bass guitar, and then sighed with resignation and turned away. He could cut her some slack for a few days. In the meantime, though, anyone who didn't show up right then and there that very second was not going to get any slack at all, and were, in fact, going to be very dead.


At the snake-like hiss, there was at once two clouds of darkness appearing: one turned into Draco Malfoy, and the other became Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy. Narcissa clung to her husband, looking terrified: Lucius looked falsely brave, trying to hold his head up, square his shoulders and take a deep breath. Draco looked rather pleased with him, but also like he was trying not to show it. Voldemort couldn't fathom what for, especially when his father looked so anxious, but he wasn't about to find out. He didn't have the time, and didn't care.

"Are you only ones still loyal, Malfoy?" Voldemort sneered, breaking into a swift walk to get in Lucius's face. "Or are you the only ones still alive?"

Lucius tried to hold his ground, but his voice shook as he answered. "I believe it is the latter, my lord."

Voldemort felt a snake-roar break from his throat, and turned away from Lucius as to avoid killing the man. Even if Malfoy deserved death, Voldemort simply couldn't afford it at this point. But…was Malfoy telling the truth? Were they truly the only ones left?

As a matter of fact, and much to Voldemort's relief, they were not. Rabastan Lestrange appeared shortly after him, bloody and not very happy. Shortly after him, Macnair, Rookwood, and Thicknesse all appeared, none particularly looking any better. Voldemort hissed softly, circling the inside ring of the group, staring at each of his followers. Several fearfully made eye contact; others stood stock still, and simple closed their eyes in resignation. In Narcissa's case, she ducked behind her husband, cowering. Voldemort hissed again, spun around, and addressed Macnair.

"Crabbe? Goyle?"

"Goyle is dead, my lord," Macnair replied tonelessly. "Crabbe's son, as well. Goyle's son is still alive."



Voldemort snarled, and turned away. "Anyone else?" he snarled, pacing around the circle again. Several people shook their heads; others gave hopeless shrugs. Voldemort wasn't pleased, but he figured he couldn't kill any of them just yet. Only if they sorely deserved it. He had already done away with Karkaroff, for good reasons. And so many lost at Hogwarts…


"My brother fell in the battle," Rabastan replied, his voice just as deadpan as before. Voldemort felt a deep weight settle on his shoulders: Bellatrix…

A great squeal suddenly erupted from inside the house, and only then did Voldemort realize that the music had stopped. Had Bellatrix been listening?! Little minx!! She wouldn't take this well, Voldemort mentally bemoaned. Bella would probably have some nervous breakdown, or deny it, or-


Well, that was…exuberant. Voldemort wasn't sure how to take Bellatrix's display, seemingly one of joy. But the next words out of her mouth confirmed it as she twirled around like a lunatic, dancing out of the house and still squealing and jumping up and down. "The bastard's dead, the bastard's dead!!" she cheered, cheering happily and dancing around. "Ah-hahaha, he's dead, he's dead, he's dead! Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!!"

"Bellatrix!" someone scolded. "Behave yourself!"

"You're not the boss of me!" Bellatrix crowed childishly, sticking her tongue out at Lucius. "No one is! Ah-hahahahahahahaaaaaaa!!"


It was strange how Bellatrix claimed she had no master, yet at a single word from Voldemort, she suddenly ceased her appalling display, shut up, and shrank back. "That's quite enough," Voldemort snarled, leering at Bellatrix. The woman lowered her head, stuck out her lower lip, and stared up at Voldemort like a child begging for a cookie. The sound of someone slapping their own forehead made several of the Death Eaters snicker; Lucius turned away, moaning.

"Go inside," Voldemort said softly. "We'll be along in a minute."

Bellatrix seemed not to care anymore; seeing that her efforts had failed, she bounced off, still singing, with all eyes on her until the French doors slammed shut again. There was a collective sigh as Bellatrix departed, Voldemort included.

"You know it's because of you."

Voldemort turned around, rather taken aback at Narcissa's sudden bravery. "Pardon?" he mockingly sneered, taking a step closer to the Malfoy woman. Lucius held out an arm and shifted himself in front of her; whether to block Voldemort's passage or silence Narcissa, the dark lord didn't know or care. "What did you mean by that, girl?"

"You-you know Bellatrix is happy because…she really loved you," Narcissa said slowly, still hiding behind Lucius. "Now she feels free of a binding society and her family placed upon her…she feels like she's now free to pursue her own love interests."

Voldemort's only response was a condescending sneer. "Women," he chuckled. "Such temperamental creatures. And your sister is no different."

Narcissa didn't seem to disagree. Voldemort knew that temperamental was a mild word when discussing Bellatrix, but for sake of putting the issue to rest quickly, he would maintain some semblance of base respect. It did amuse him, however, that Bellatrix kept trying even though they all knew she hadn't a shot in hell.

Voldemort wrenched open the doors to the house, hearing Bellatrix's music pour out again as he and the remaining Death Eaters filed into the house. Some flinched with the loudness of the sound; others slowly took a look around, nodding appreciatively; others glanced at each other and smiled. Voldemort swept right into the kitchen, seeing Bellatrix actually working on getting tea ready, singing along to the music.

Tie my rope one more time…