Author's Notes: Written for… *deep breath*…
Prompt #2 on my OTP Boot Camp on the HPFC forum – "agitated",
Lady Phoenix Fire Rose's Boot Camp One Hour Challenge/Hardest Challenge Ever on the HPFC forum with the prompt "livened",
Round Four of the Scenery Competition on the HPFC forum,
Round Two of the "Women's Tennis" event in the 2012 Hogwarts Games – write about the Black family…
And the prompt "Ghosts" for dark_bingo on LiveJournal.

Enjoy!

)O(

The cell that Bellatrix had been confined to was a cold and empty prison, abandoned for many years. All that had remained were the bones of old prisoners wasted away. It had scratches on the wall, one for each day its occupant had remained within. New scratches lay upon the old, and if they were all counted it would have been well over five hundred years' worth, with a new one appearing every day.

When Bellatrix had first been taken to the cell, so soon after the Dark Lord's fall that she was still confident that his return would be swift, she had distracted herself from her lot by wondering who had made the scratches. She had entertained herself with thoughts of former prisoners, making up stories in her mind about what they had done, who they had been, why they had been there.

But as time had passed, year after year, and the Dark Lord did not rise again – and worse, when he did, and days flitted by with Bellatrix still imprisoned – that manner of occupying herself became painful, for she realized that perhaps she would be in the cell for as long as any of the previous occupants who had died there.

Perhaps, by the time she was dead – no, she would tell herself whenever the thought entered her mind, not dead, free. The Dark Lord is coming for me and I will not die here! – there would be another five hundred marks upon her walls.

And so day after day passed, and she knelt on the cold, rough stone floor, slowly dragging her nails over and over the old scratches and waiting for the sun to set so that she could carve another mark.

Waiting for the day to arrive when the Dark Lord will come for me.

It had been so long now since she had been brought into the cell.

When she had first arrived, led in with the Dementors flanking her as servants flanked a queen, she had been sure that she would be freed before she even grew tired of the prison. The Dark Lord will rise again, she had said at her trial, and she believed it wholeheartedly. She had sneered and turned up her nose at the people who stared at her through the bars of their cells, at their rotted smiles and wasted bodies and the bones in empty cells, for she had known that she would never be there long enough for such a fate to befall her.

Oh, how terribly wrong she had been.

She lay now upon stones thick with dust and caked with her own blood, and stared out through the bars while the Dementors fluttered back and forth past her. Her hand moved absently over the Dark Mark on her arm, caressing her own flesh as tenderly and with as much care as the Dark Lord had once done when he first burned it upon her.

"You are mine forever now, Bellatrix," he had breathed in her ear when the deed was done and her arm branded with his sign.

Bellatrix had often, after that, sat for hours upon hours and admired it, pitch black on her pale flesh, marring her beautiful, beautiful skin and showing that yes, she was his, yes, she would always be.

Now in Azkaban, the Dark Mark was torn and the flesh around it tattered from how many times she had attacked it with her nails in an attempt to ease the searing pain that shot through her when he summoned his Death Eaters.

It tore her apart that she could not go to him when her mark burned, when he touched it and called her to him. And so she clawed at her skin until the agony from his touch went away and she was left only with the dull, superficial pain that she had inflicted upon herself, and then she would be furious with herself for desecrating his mark because she could not stand the pain, and she would resolve that next time it burned, she would enjoy the torture it inflicted upon her.

But every time it did burn, she forgot her resolutions and sent herself into a fit of screaming from the pain again.

Bellatrix sat up, getting to her knees upon the stones, then lifted herself enough to peer out of the small, barred window that overlooked the sea. A cold wind blew in, making her lips and cheeks sting and knocking the breath from her, and she fell to the ground once again.

It seemed at times as though the cold from the sea and the pain from the Dark Mark were the only thing left to remind Bellatrix that she was still alive – she moved like a ghost about her cell, barely able to walk and so emaciated that she could scarcely even feel her own weight on her feet.

She sank back to her knees again, but barely had she reached the ground when her whole body buckled and she screamed out as the Mark burned her arm. Her eyes filled with tears, and she braced herself, for the worst was yet to come – the pain intensifying every moment that she did not disapparate to her Lord. Her nails dug automatically into her skin, almost a reflexive reaction, and dark blood spilled down her fingers.

"Master," she whimpered as if he could hear her, her voice breaking, the world swimming in front of her eyes, fading in and out of focus as the pain spread along her limps, settling in every part of her body but still searing the worst in her arm, where his mark was dripping with her blood now. "Master, please…"

It was but a prayer – not more effective, she would have thought, than one directed at any higher power – but the pain did subside at last, leaving Bellatrix trembling upon the floor, her body shaking in agony and her mind in turmoil because she could not leave, she could not serve her Lord when he wanted her…

Her eyelids slid shut, tears streaming down her cheeks, and from what seemed a great distance away, she thought that she heard a crash.

Then all was silent.

There came comfort after such pain. When her body had stopped trembling from the feeling of being burned and torn apart all at once from the Dark Lord's call, she felt something quite akin to contentment. The end of the pain gave relief, a release that her body interpreted as pleasure, and it was enough to bring a smile to her bloodied lips.

But the quiet, the comfort after her pain, was interrupted.

Another crash sounded, closer at hand, and she thought that she heard someone speak in a rasping, broken voice, and then there was a creak that she thought must have been very nearly directly above her.

Bellatrix's eyes sprung open and she sat up, raising her hands to shield herself, for she could only imagine that her cell was being invaded by a Dementor (or worse), but she felt none of the cold, creeping sensation that had become so familiar to her, and she heard no footsteps lumbering towards her…

She lowered her arms slowly.

It could only have been a dream.

No, no dream – a hallucination concocted by her mind to please her…

A man stood over her, familiar and yet terribly alien, and he looked down upon her with eyes that shone red in the pale moonlight from out of her cell window, and the breath left Bellatrix's lungs as she looked up at him.

"You- you are–" she stammered, but no more words could come.

"Stand."

His voice – oh, the voice she had prayed to hear for so long, the voice that had echoed in her dreams and tormented her in her fantasies – was higher-pitched than she recalled, but as cold and smooth as ever it had been, and he extended one pale, long-fingered hand for her.

"My Lord?" Bellatrix whispered. She dared not believe it. The Dark Lord had risen months ago and had not come for her yet – she had, in the darkest corners of her heart, already abandoned hope that he would ever rescue her. The thought had agonized her, but she had been so sure…

"Bellatrix…" he said quietly. The corners of his lips twitched, and he stepped forward, into the cell, the hem of his robe brushing at the fresh blood that stained the stones. "Rise – you are free."

She hesitated, then, slowly, reached up and touched his extended hand. She knew not whether he had meant for her to take it as a means to help herself back to her feet or whether it was simply a motion of invitation, but the moment her skin touched his, a thrill of ecstasy unlike any that she could remember washed through her.

"My Lord," she repeated, and this time her voice was thickened with emotion. Her hand ran slowly over his skin and he allowed her a moment's contact before lifting it out of her reach.

It was like coming to life again. It was as if, by mere virtue of his touch, the Dark Lord was breathing life back into the ghost that Bellatrix had become, and her heart beat wildly in her chest. Every muscle in her body trembled, and she rose to her feet with what she hoped was grace.

"My Lord," she cried out once more before her throat became so choked with gratitude that she could no longer speak. "I knew that you would come for me…"

)O(

Fin