Author's Notes: Written for my Livejournal dark_bingo card with the prompt "Asphyxiation".

)O(

"You sent for me, Master?"

The Dark Lord did not turn around, and Bellatrix hovered hesitantly in the doorway of his chamber. It was far from unusual for him to summon her to his chambers in the evening, as he had done that night, but he rarely wasted time as he was tonight.

"My Lord?" she asked tentatively.

He was facing away from the door, his hands folded behind his back, and Bellatrix considered moving closer to her, but did not dare.

"Close the door, Bellatrix," he said at last, his voice cold.

She did so, stepping inside hesitantly and letting the bolt click shut.

"Is something wrong, my Lord?"

He was still for a long moment, then turned around and walked swiftly towards her. Bellatrix shrank back, for there was a dark and determined seriousness in his expression that she did not like.

"Master–"

She was cut off when he reached her, stopped, and slapped her hard across her face.

Bellatrix reeled. She had not been expecting a slap – she knew not what she could have done to warrant punishment, but it must have been something, and when she displeased the Dark Lord, she received the Cruciatus curse, not so physical a type of reprimand as this.

"My Lord!" she cried, clutching her stinging cheek. "What–"

"Silence!" He grasped her by the front of her dress, pulling her close against him, and then Bellatrix jolted when she felt his hand wrap around her neck. She tried to pull away automatically – it was nothing more than a reflex, but his grip was stronger than she was, and he was pressing tightly upon her throat, and she could not breathe.

Bellatrix struggled for air, and she could not draw it into her lungs. Her eyes filled with tears as she struggled against her Master's grip, unable to control her urge to fight to breathe.

"Ma- ster–" she managed, wheezing for air, clawing at his hand. He did not even wince, apparently not caring as her nails cut his skin. Even such disjointed words took all of Bellatrix's strength to say. Tears streamed down her face as he pressed against her windpipe. The edges of her vision had begun to go black.

He loosened his grip very slightly. "Speak clearly to me, Bellatrix."

"I am sorry, Master," she panted, her whole body jolting and twitching as her lungs tried to fill with air once more. "I do not know what I have done to displease you, but I am sorry! Please forgive me."

The Dark Lord's hand fell away from her throat, and though Bellatrix was relieved to be able to draw breath again, she felt an odd aching in her belly when he was no longer touching her. Tears stung in her eyes and she brushed them away hurriedly with the back of her hands, praying that her Lord had not seen.

"What have I done, Master?" she asked in a tremulous, almost hysterical voice. "What have I done to deserve punishment? Tell me so that I may correct my behaviour, please, My Lord!"

"You have done nothing," he said calmly, and when Bellatrix looked outraged, he continued, speaking in a soft and almost cajoling voice.

"It pleases me to see you so vulnerable," he told her quietly, and Bellatrix looked at him desperately. She did not care for being hurt without cause – but this was cause. If it pleased him, then she would willingly let him hurt her. She would.

"Does it please you, Master?" she asked, her voice cracked and rough from the strangulation.

"Yes," he said, nodding slowly. "Deeply. You are more beautiful with tears in your eyes, I think."

Fresh tears – tears of happiness instead of pain this time – did spring to her eyes at that, so flattered was she that he had called her beautiful under any circumstance. Bellatrix knew that she had the good looks of the Black family, and she did not doubt that the Dark Lord noticed them, but still…

"But," he continued, turning away to gaze out the window once more, "beauty is little more than fragility, wouldn't you agree, Bellatrix?"

"What do you mean, Master?" she asked.

He stepped towards her, tracing the curve of her neck and the angle of her jaw with his fingers and looking almost transfixed, "think of what qualities are called beautiful. Fine features… child-like wide eyes… delicate frames, slenderness…"

"I… I am not delicate, my Lord."

"No," he said. "No, you are not. And that, Bellatrix, is why you please me." He stepped back again, nodding slowly. "You please me when you play the part of a Death Eater because you are not delicate, and you please me when you play the part of a woman because I can make you delicate."

)O(

Fin