Bellatrix could have cried with joy when her mark burned after weeks of silence. Hurriedly placing her mask over her face and drawing her hood over the thick waves of her hair, she had disapparated within seconds and was not surprised to see that she was the first to arrive.
Her master stood, facing away from her, gazing out over a steely, grey river, his black robes rippling around his tall, thin frame in the breezes that were building themselves up to an approaching storm.
Her heart thudded in her chest and she approached as if pulled magnetically towards him, but before she reached him, other masked, hooded figures appeared, and by the time her master turned, she was just one more mask among a crowd. He did not so much as glance at her as, in one motion, the crown dropped to its knees on the patchy river bank.
At a gesture from the Dark Lord, they rose and formed a circle and he strode purposefully to the centre of it running his cold eyes across the masked faces of his servants. He paid no attention to her, his gaze skimming past, and yet Bellatrix shivered, merely from being in his presence.
"My friends," he began, softly enough that they could only just hear him above the winds and rushing water, but with palpable hints of danger, "you may be wondering why I have summoned you here, to the centre of this filthy city, in which arrogant Muggles roam free; free from the control which we deserve to impose upon them. If we had our way, such places would be purged and the filth inhabiting them made to serve us. And yet the Ministry of Magic sees fit to allow such blemishes to remain in this country because they care about those who should rightfully be placed well below us, they think they have the same rights, they want to protect them."
He stopped and smirked as jeers ran around the ring of his followers, before lazily raising a hand to stop them.
"I have recently been... in contact with the Ministry of Magic." A couple of the masked figures chuckled. "They were warned that should they not desist in their attempts to fight us and should they not stand aside and allow our new regime to begin, there would be cause for us to further demonstrate our power."
Bellatrix felt a shiver of anticipation and the same sense of rightness that she always did when the Dark Lord spoke of their aims in this way. Yet it was tinged with a slight feeling of disappointment. She had not known that such threats were being made, or the way in which they had been made which others seemed to find so funny. For the first time since she had been brought in to her master's inner circle well over twenty years ago, she felt completely out of the loop. Even in Azkaban she had known more than the others because it seemed like she had been the only person to truly know he would return.
Perhaps she was no longer in his inner circle. Perhaps he no longer thought she could be trusted. Her stomach twisted uncomfortably and she tried to put such painful thoughts from her mind as the Dark Lord began to speak again.
"I have called you here, my friends, to reaffirm to all of you, and to the rest of the Wizarding world, that we are far superior to this vermin we have for so long been forced to hide away from. To remind you that we can crush them in a second, if we so choose.
"Plenty of warning was given, and we must not allow the Ministry to think that Lord Voldemort makes empty threats."
He strode calmly towards the river bank and the ring of black cloaks broke without a word to allow him through. As they all formed a crowd behind their master, Bellatrix pushed her way to the front. The Dark Lord was still facing away from them, but had turned slightly and was gazing downstream towards where a busy bridge crossed the water, twirling his wand between his fingers and suddenly she knew what he planned to do.
Nothing, however, could have prepared her for his strike when it came. The steady raising of his wand and the inaudible mutter of a spell could easily have characterised the casting of the simplest of charms. Yet the pulse of magic that his curse emitted was like nothing she had ever experienced. It resonated through the air and even by the time it reached Bellatrix, standing several meters away and well out of the line of fire, its shockwave was powerful enough to send her stumbling backwards.
It tore through the bridge instantly, with a satisfying clang that must have echoed for miles around. The two halves crashed into the water as if the whole enormous metal structure was made of nothing more than twigs.
They were too far away to hear the screams, but from the sight of cars packed with Muggles plunging helpless into the foam, Bellatrix could tell that there were screams, and just the thought of them made her cackle with glee as the men around her cheered.
The Dark Lord turned back to them and Bellatrix felt her heartbeat flutter and her breath catch in her throat. Although she had known him, had served him, for more than half her life, she still found she could hardly believe his power. She bit her lower lip and gazed at him, her eyes wide with adoration. Still he did not spare her even a glance but at that moment it did not matter. She was captivated by his mere presence and at the thought that she was fighting under a leader so powerful and how unquestionably right that was.
She thought back to everything they had shared; how he had moulded her into his perfect warrior, how he had entrusted her with closely guarded secrets. How she would melt into him when they were alone together.
"You are dismissed."
Lost in her thoughts, the Dark Lord's sharp order made her jump a little, with a flicker of embarrassment at the course her thoughts had taken. That tiny flicker was quickly replaced, however, by a sudden, desperate hope that, after everything, surely her master would forgive her.
She thought of how, after he had released her from Azkaban, he had clasped her jaw with those long, pale fingers and looked down at her with something almost resembling pride and called her his most faithful servant.
The giddy joy that she had felt in that moment, feeling a happiness that for so very long she had been without, began to consume her now. Foolishly, she began to think that her master would surely forgive her. Surely her failings were nothing when compared to all she had sacrificed for him.
So instead of disapparating away, as all those around her were now doing, she boldly approached the Dark Lord.
His expression switched instantly to anger as his crimson eyes darted to Bellatrix, with enough venom to make her tremble. "I have already dismissed you. I recommend you do not try my patience," he snapped, and in a second he had disapparated, leaving her to stand alone on the river bank.
She stood there for well over an hour, as dusk fell, and the blue lights of sirens danced on the steely waters, reflecting on how foolish her hope had been.
A/N- It has been a really long time since I updated this fic, for which I apologise profusely.
Also, if anyone is wondering just how Voldemort did get that message to the Ministry, I had an interesting conversation about this on the Bellatrix forum and I think my favourite of the ideas that came up (suggested by the amazing Mrs Bella Riddle) was threats carved on corpses. I'm morbid like that. :)