Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter series.
"I swear it was You-Know-Who, he grabbed a woman and Disapparated!"
With a crack, they Apparated into a darkened room. From miles away in a fog of emotion, Bellatrix realized that she was in a place foreign to her. She saw also that she clung to the arm that had grabbed her moments ago; but couldn't bring herself to let go.
"Silence," the Dark Lord hissed. The usual, albeit well hidden, trace of amusement could not be found in his command.
Bellatrix had not realized she was whimpering, but now that it was made known, she couldn't stop. She would be the first to receive the brunt of his anger.
"Master, please. You must forgive me. I tried, Master. The Order of-"
Bellatrix fell as the Dark Lord struck her face.
Her body jolted as the Cruciatus Curse electrocuted her senses. She bit back a yelp, tasted blood on her lips. When the pain stopped, Bellatrix did not dare meet the Dark Lord's gaze. She understood, revered, her master's crucio so it did not terrify her. The knowledge of her failure was worse by far.
"I trained you myself, did I not?"
His voice, barely above a whisper, danced through Bellatrix's veins much like his curse just had.
"Yes, my Lord," Bella replied, cowering as he loomed over her. She couldn't help it. But she did not shrink for fear, but respect.
Bellatrix struggled to smother a misplaced twinge of self-importance. She would be honored to aid her master in relieving his anger, she told herself. After all, didn't she appreciate beyond the others what the Dark Lord tried to teach them.
"Such loyalty, Bella," he murmured, sending shivers down Bellatrix's spine as his long fingers traced her gaunt face dangerously. "Fourteen years of waiting to serve me once more."
Bella felt her heart race against all sensible thoughts. She pressed her lips against his robes, whispering urgently between kisses the endlessness of her devotion.
"But I gave you a chance at what you've sought for so long now. And you proved yourself incapable."
Bella's lips hovered but her impassioned display of adulation ended as her master's words stung her heart.
"My Lord," she began hesitantly, trying to disguise the desperation in her voice, "I am not incapable."
"A simple mission, Bellatrix," he snarled. "Far simpler than the assignments your proved yourself worthy of before Azkaban. Has your resolve crumbled? Could it be you truly are impaired by madness?"
"My desire to serve you has only increased with the time spent away from your power!" she protested.
The curse hit with such fervor that Bellatrix's scream ripped her throat before she could stop herself. If she did not give in to the pain, the punishment would only last longer. Somewhere outside of herself, she howled as her body twisted with spasms. But it was her master's doubt in her current state that threatened her the most. Suddenly she was sobbing, clawing at her skin, trying to escape. A failed mission could cost her more than grueling punishment. Her rank amongst the other Death Eaters. Her life. Her master's approval.
Hair damp with sweat, face clammy with escaped tears, Bellatrix gazed imploringly at the Dark Lord. Her voice constricted as she tried to speak in spite of the fire still coursing through her veins. Swallowing more painful sobs, Bellatrix croaked, "My Lord knows I want nothing but to please him."
The curse was lifted. Bellatrix panted with agony, grimacing whichever way she moved. She felt the Dark Lord's eyes watching her intently.
"Then why have you displeased me, Bella?"
Bella's lip trembled so that she could not speak. Such blatant words of disappointment immobilized her. She was able only to continue staring into her master's red eyes. If her senses hadn't been so shattered she might have restrained her thoughts better. As she knelt frozen before him, Bellatrix felt the Dark Lord's mind exploiting her own unblocked thoughts.
"Pathetic," he finally spat, though there was less conviction in his voice than the word warranted.
Bellatrix winced, but did not cry out, as his boot hit her side, sending her to the ground again.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Her unspoken cry resounded through the room, but for only a moment.
The punishment came because her master had expected better. But her master had chosen to save her. Pain ripped through her limbs. He had rescued her. Knives drove themselves into her heart. He had almost cared about her. Invisible fire burned her alive. She would tell herself that, in that moment when he thought he would lose her, he had cared. The need for her punishment only confirmed this belief.
With a crack, he began to realize the gravity of his actions. Bellatrix's slap left Draco's face stinging with pain. But he knew better than to retaliate.
"So many months, Draco," Bellatrix hissed. Her fists clenched and unclenched.
Draco stared at the floor in front of him.
"So many months I spent teaching you; so that you might redeem your father's blunder in the Dark Lord's eyes… and you fail me?"
No adequate reply came to mind, so Draco pushed away the memory of Dumbledore's body falling from the tower, the moment of hesitation that had allowed for such embarrassment. Upon his immediate return to the Manor, Bellatrix had not been pleased.
She grabbed his left arm. Bellatrix's claws dug into the skin around Draco's Dark Mark. Little spots of blood formed around the brand. Inexplicably, Draco thought of how dirty his aunt's fingernails probably were. But she clutched his arm tighter and Draco gasped in pain.
His aunt looked pleased with such a reaction; as though it proved just how weak Draco could be.
"Do you realize you don't deserve this?"
Draco tried to look away from his aunt, but the hand that did not tear into his arm grabbed his jaw.
"Do you think you deserve this mark, Draco?" Bellatrix snarled. She wanted an answer.
"N-no." He wasn't even sure if he wanted it anymore, if he had ever wanted it in the first place.
Bellatrix cheeks flushed with disgust as she read the uncertainty in her nephew's mind. "Do you have any idea how you get rid of a Dark Mark?"
"You… you can't," Draco replied, swallowing the quiver in his voice.
"You don't." Bellatrix released Draco's arm from her death grip, planting a hand on either of Draco's shoulders. He could see himself reflected scared-looking in her dark eyes. "Listen to me, Draco. You know well as I that our master does not forgive. You failed to carry out your mission. If he does not see fit to take your father's life, he will take yours."
Cold blood pumped through Bella's cold heart. Draco could feel his own heart's rhythm beat loudly, contrasting his aunt's. The offbeat thumping gave Draco the only ounce of courage he needed to make another plea.
"But Snape did it. If he hadn't come I would've-"
"Been in an even sorrier position."
Draco felt his heart forget a beat. Back in rhythm with his aunt's. "Why would he have to kill me when Dumbledore's already dead?" His nerve continued to crumble even as he asked.
Bellatrix's expression did not flicker. But something in her words, when she spoke, was pitying; as if she knew how merciless their master's punishments were. "The Dark Lord's intentions for you are not my concern," she said finally, clipped and detached.
"But you trained me! And the Dark Lord tolerates your requests," Draco begged. "You were my teacher, surely-"
"I will try to talk to him. But he will not be pleased, Draco. You did not do as you were told."
Draco could not manage a thank you, his throat dry so suddenly. But something warned him that such actions would only lead his aunt into more disfavor with the Dark Lord. Since Bellatrix had taken charge of Draco's preparation and training, his failure would reflect most strongly upon her. And such a move of protection towards Draco would only irritate their master. But Bellatrix had spoken firmly. Draco thought she must be thirsting for punishment.
And that was her unspoken intention. To alleviate some of the anger from Draco onto herself. But such unexpected sympathies from his aunt did not protect him from her dose of punishment. She too was upset with Draco.
Draco did as he was told. It hurt less to fall from a kneeling position than standing when hit with the Cruciatus Curse. It also left less bruises.
He swallowed as his aunt drew her wand. One word and Draco fell into the unbearable, but not unfamiliar, pain of Bellatrix's wrath. There was no manner of keeping track of how long the successive rounds lasted. She allowed for intervals of a few seconds in between casting her crucio so that Draco had chance to hang in petrified fear. When the curse had been lifted a final time, Draco opened his eyes slowly. The room around him dizzied.
Draco winced, pressed himself up from the cold marble floor, and caught his aunt staring at him. Her gaze reverberated with frustration, hardened by a warning. He was not to tell his mother any of this. With a final scowl of anger, Bellatrix twirled her wand between two fingers. A part of Draco braced himself for more punishment. Another part new he deserved it. He couldn't blame his aunt either. She had at least tried to teach him.
Author's Note: The quote at the top is taken from page 720 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Also note that I was following book canon where Bellatrix was not present at Dumbledore's death (though the scene was totally worth it in the movie). Reviews are appreciated!