Author's Notes: Written for MissDominiqueLysander Royal Competition on the HPFC forum with Slytherin characters and the prompt "pain" and Weekly Quick Fic #6 on writerverse on LiveJournal, also with the prompt "pain" (pain was popular this week, it would seem).
Bellatrix was wary when the Dark Lord called her into his study just days after the escape from Azkaban. He had had little to do with her or any of the other Death Eaters who had been released, save for telling them that they would be rewarded, and while Bellatrix deeply wished to believe that he was inviting her to his private room so that she could serve her purpose as his lover, she did not dare hope that was the case. If it was not, however, she could see no reason that she was the only Death Eater who was being called to see him.
She knocked tentatively on the door, gripping the frame to keep herself upright, for her legs were weak and trembling, and when he called, "Enter," she could barely turn the knob for the way her hands were shaking.
"Close the door behind you, Bellatrix," he told her, not even looking up when she did get it open and stepped inside.
Bellatrix swallowed and stars burst around the edges of her vision, but she did manage to get the door shut once more, and then she turned to her Master nervously.
"What- what do you desire of me, Master?" she asked quietly.
He looked up slowly, staring at her with his beautiful, piercing crimson eyes, and Bellatrix looked down. She stared at the floor, unable to look at her Lord, but her attempts at dignity were entirely destroyed when she heard him hiss, "Crucio."
Bellatrix had barely had time to register that her Master had spoken the incantation before she was wracked with pain. Her body arched and gave out, and she fell to the floor, writhing in her attempts to shake off the unbearable agony that she was feeling. The force of the spell weakened for a moment, and Bellatrix dared to believe that her Lord had seen fit to stop, but he repeated the spell and Bellatrix sobbed as the curse struck her with incredible force. Her body arched as the pain washed over her and she let out a desperate cry.
"Please don't, my Lord…" she begged, voice cracking. "Oh, don't- don't do this to me!"
"I will do as I need to!" the Dark Lord hissed. He must have lifted his wand – Bellatrix could not see anymore, for her eyes were blurred with tears – because the agony of the curse disappeared, and she lay trembling upon the ground for a moment before she managed to lift a hand and wipe her eyes enough to be able to see him once more.
"What has become of the woman who was once my most faithful Death Eater?" he asked, looking down on her with an almost disappointed expression. "What has become of the woman who swore that she would never fail me?"
"I am still that woman," Bellatrix insisted tearfully. "I- I am still your most faithful- always your most faithful–"
"Untrue, Bellatrix, untrue…" He shook his head slowly, beginning to pace back and forth. "Were you truly my most faithful, you would not have allowed yourself to become so weak in Azkaban – would not have screamed when I cursed you, because you would have known that it was for the greater good…"
"But Master–" Bellatrix wanted desperately to protest that she was faithful still, she was only weak from Azkaban and she would be well soon, but he held up one hand and she dared not speak anymore.
"You will need to prove yourself to me, Bellatrix," he told her in a soft, almost lazy voice. "Do you think that you can do that? Do you think that you can make me quite sure that you are still my most faithful Death Eater?"
Bellatrix heaved herself up off her back, then scrambled to her knees. She clasped her hands together at her breast, staring up imploringly at the Dark Lord.
"Master," she whispered. "Master, you know that I can…" Her voice trembled and rose into a hysterical cry. "Master, you know that I want nothing more than to please you–"
"Then prove it!" he hissed at her. "I look at you and I see nothing but weakness – prove to me that you are better than what I can see! Prove to me that you are stronger than Azkaban!"
But I cannot.
If Bellatrix had dared to speak her mind to the Dark Lord – which she didn't; which she never had, not since she had joined the Death Eaters and learned what punishments could be given for speaking out of turn against him – she would have told him as much. She would have said that she could not prove that she was stronger than Azkaban, because she was so much weaker.
Perhaps, when she had first been sent to that Hellish place – still safe in the belief that her Master would come for her – she could have called herself stronger. Perhaps, at that time, she might have been able to say that she could withstand the pain that the Dementors inflicted upon her because she knew that when her Master rescued her, he would reward her richly enough to compensate…
Reward you with the kisses and touches that you so craved; that you thought about so often when you were there…
But as time had passed – first weeks, then months, then stretching into long and bleak and endless years – that strength had waned. Her belief that she would be saved never disappeared, but she was barely able to cling to it, and Azkaban had claimed all other thought from her mind.
And now, after so long, she knelt before the Dark Lord and she could not say that she was stronger than Azkaban.
"I- I will do better, my Lord," was all that she could whisper, and she could barely manage that. She twisted her hands together at her breast, digging her fingernails into her palms until she cut the skin. The pain stabbed at her and she could smell her own blood on the air.
"Promises of success in the future are of no use to anyone, Bellatrix."
"But I will, Master!" she cried, aware now that she sounded terribly hysterical but unable to prevent it. "I swear to you- I am still weak from Azkaban, but I will be strong again, and I will do better… my Lord, believe me…"
He said nothing, and there was a brief silence in which Bellatrix trembled upon the ground and he stared down at her thoughtfully, then, at last, he extended one hand, holding it out to her.
"Stand up, Bellatrix," he said.
Bellatrix reached out tentatively and grasped his hand. It was cool against her hot skin and she could feel bones beneath the flesh, and she held it almost reverently as she rose to her feet.
"If you can do better," he said, and her breath caught, but he silenced her with a small motion. "If you truly can, then I will forgive your weakness."
"Oh- Master…" Bellatrix whispered, overcome.
"Hush," he told her. "I will not be lenient… you truly must improve yourself."
"I will, my Lord," Bellatrix promised. "I will do better… for you… I swear it."