The Black house was in feverish state of anticipation in the week preceding the Dark Lord's visit.
Cygnus Black counted himself among the Dark Lord's most devoted followers. He considered it a great honor having him in his home. The house elve's had been working day and night for the last few days … cleaning every inch of the house.
His wife… the normally indomitable Druella… seemed to have given herself over to a staet of advanced nervousness. She had been driving everyone crazy making sure everything was perfect for the visit. His 2nd eldest daughter… 18 year old Andromeda… had shut herself in her room… her barely disguised contempt for the whole visit attracting the wrath of both her parents. The youngest…16 year old Narcissa… had thrown herself into helping her mother… annoying Andie with repeated attempts to get her to help.
Only when Andie had pointed out that she was started to sound like their mother did she cease and desist.
The only one who seemed completely unaffected by the whole thing was the eldest – 20 year old Bellatrix. She greeted her mother's frenzy, Andie's disdain and Cissy's attempts to get her to help with her usual air of detached amusement.
Bella had almost cracked a rib laughing the afternoon Druella had decided to cook dinner in order for the house elves to be able to continue their cleaning. Druella and Cissy had spent a good half hour racing around the yard trying to catch a chicken. Only when they had given up and come indoors… dusty and mud-splattered… had Bella pointed out that they could have used magic. The glares they had given her had made it very hard not to laugh again.
Finally the evening had arrived. Every candle was lit… every surface scrubbed… every piece of silver polished to mirror brightness.
Cissy was bouncing around… getting in everyone's way as she raced giddily about the place… forget-me-not blue skirts flying… only stopping long enough to ask if there was anything she could do to help. Her mother had to snap at her sharply about ladylike behavior before she would calm down and sit sedately in the parlor with her sister.
Andie had been coerced and threatened into a dark-red dress that complemented her skin tone and hair color. Her light brown hair had been tamed (with liberal quantities of hair potion) and was hanging in sleek curls around her face. Cissy couldn't help smiling at the mutinous expression on her sister's face and the stubborn tilt of her crossed arms. She really looked so much like Bella when she was being obstinate.
Who… she couldn't help noticing… had seemed to have disappeared. Her mother had noticed too… judging by the frantic yelling of Bella's name coming from down the hallway. Druella ducked into the parlor just long enough to confirm that neither of them had seen Bella.
30 minutes later Cissy and Andie had been roped into the search but Bella was still nowhere to be seen. And the Dark Lord was due to arrive at any minute.
Finally Druella gave up, shooed her daughters into the parlor, smoothed her violet-silk dress, discreetly checked that not one dark hair had escaped the tight knot at the base of her neck and prepared to receive her guest.
A wisp of black smoke rolled up the driveway… billowing up to form a column. The smoke slowly condensed to form a tall, pale figure in black robes. His hair was midnight black, hanging to his shoulders… his skin waxy and deathly pale… the whites of his eyes red… and there was something snakelike… something not quite human about his face. A sense of dark, deadly power radiated of him in waves. And yet … he was still handsome.
Cygnus and Druella dipped their heads in a respectful bow as he approached. "My Lord…" Cygnus said. "It is a pleasure having you at our home" he continued. "This lovely creature must be your wife" said Voldemort silkily, his voice ever-so-slightly raspy. He took her hand and kissed it. Druella smiled and Cygnus grinned at her proudly. 'Shall we go in?" she said, gesturing to the door.
Soon the three of them… along with Andie and Cissy were seated in the large, opulent dining room. The table was almost groaning under the weight of a delcious feast prepared by the house elves.
About 15 minutes into the meal they heard footsteps on the level above. Through the large open double doorway they saw Bella appear at the top of the curved staircase leading to the foyer. Druella's eyes narrowed at her eldest daughter. Not only was she late but instead of the dark green dress Druella had approved she was wearing a rather tight, rather low cut, black, sleeveless dress.
Her feet were bare and her dark, unruly curls were pinned up, spilling down around her neck and shoulders.
Voldemort's eyes were fixed on Bella as she walked down the stairs. "That is your oldest daughter?" he asked. "Yes. That's Bellatrix" said Druella, wondering if she had imagined the note of interest she has heard in his voice. If she hadn't imagined it… well… she couldn't think of a more advantageous match for her beautiful eldest daughter. Yes he was 25 years older than Bella… but he was a great wizard… a powerful wizard. It was only a matter of time before the wizarding world was his to command.
Bella looked up as she reached the doorway. She didn't seem surprised everyone was staring at her. Her dark eyes flicked to Voldemort's when she saw how intently he was looking at her. Whatever she saw in them made her look away again, smiling to herself.
As Druella watched the exchange she prayed Bella would behave herself.
The meal resumed as Bella took her seat. Druella was pleased to see that Voldemort's eyes never strayed from Bella for very long. She was even more pleased to see that Bella remained quiet for once… eating her meal and listening to the polite small talk.
But of course it could not last. Eventually the conversation came around to Voldemort's plans. "I always wondered… why you… who has the power to have the world at your feet… stay hidden in the Shadows…" Bella said challengingly, expression slightly mocking.
"All good things come to those who wait " said Voldemort in an amused hiss. "It is prudence that has stayed my hand…" he began. "Prudence… or timidity" she said defiantly, dark eyes glittering wickedly.
Her mother was open mouthed at her daughter's audacity. You could have heard a pin drop as all faces turned to Voldemort.
Then Voldemort let out a laugh… an amused… yet strangely chilling sound that seemed to echo through the large room. "You think I am foolish? You think there isn't good reason for everything I have done? You think that I… the most powerful wizard in the world… would stay hidden in the shadows unless there was good reasons?"
Her cheeks went ever so slightly pink but her gaze was steady... dark eyes boring into him. "To publicly announce war would be to invite open opposition. This way… slowly taking over… creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear… will mean no one will even know for sure what is happening… until it is too late" he said satisfiedly.
"I see" she said quietly but decidedly, the two words seeming to hold a deeper meaning. Understanding seemed to pass between them as the two pairs of eyes… dark and red… stayed locked on each other.
Then Andromeda coughed… and the spell was broken.
Druella let out a breath she hadn't even realized she had been holding. Voldemort started chatting amiably to Cygnus and Bella looked at her food… a smile still on her face.
The rest of the meal passed quickly… and to Druella's relief… with no more outbursts from her headstrong eldest daughter.
When the meal was over Andie excused herself hurriedly before leaving a room. Cissy waited for her mothers nod of ascent before following her sister. Bella got to her feet, giving Voldemort a regal, yet ever-so-slightly mocking curtsey before sweeping from the room.
Voldemort's gaze followed her as she left, something predatory in his gaze, that Druella did not quite like.
"Your daughters are as lovely as their mother" Voldemort said airly. "Thank you my lord" replied Cygnus with a smile. "The youngest is fair enough and amicable enough to make someone a fine wife one day… the middle one is beautiful enough to make up for her sulleness… and the eldest… the eldest is a dark rose… ripe for the plucking"
"Yes. As long as you take care not to prick yourself on the thorns" said Cygnus jokingly. Voldmort snorted and Druella shot her husband a dirty look.
"I think it would take a firm hand… to tame her… but it would be well worth… the effort…" Voldemort said archly, something like a grin curving his lips.