“Longbottom?” repeated Bellatrix, and a truly evil smile lit her gaunt face. “Why, I have had the pleasure of meeting your parents, boy.” 1
Most readers think of Bellatrix Lestrange as evil incarnate – the Myra Hindley of the Potterverse2 – ever faithful to the Dark Lord and delighting in maiming and killing in his name. She was responsible for the horrific torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom and the death of her cousin, Sirius Black. On the surface, she has no redeeming qualities whatsoever; Azkaban is far too good for her. More empathy has been shown for Tom Riddle and Peter Pettigrew than for Bellatrix, even though they have been responsible for the murders of far more people than she has.
I intend to show that by the time we see Bellatrix in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she is beginning to change: she is no longer Voldemort’s most loyal Death Eater. So can she, will she, be redeemed in the seventh book? I think the evidence indicates that she will be!
Voldemort’s Most Loyal Death-Eater
We are first introduced to Bellatrix in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
The woman with heavily-lidded eyes looked up at Crouch and called, “The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch! Throw us into Azkaban, we will wait! He will rise again and will come for us, he will reward us beyond any of his other supporters! We alone were faithful! We alone tried to find him!” 3
A true Death Eater – proud, cruel, sadistic and heartless – she shows no remorse for the despicable crime of torturing Neville’s parents into insanity. She would happily do it all again, fanatically devoted to Lord Voldemort to the bitter end. Voldemort acknowledges her as his most loyal follower:
“The Lestranges should stand here,” said Voldemort quietly. “But they are entombed in Azkaban. They were faithful […]when Azkaban is broken open, the Lestranges will be honoured beyond their dreams.”4
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is when we finally encounter Bellatrix in person, and the Byronic description of mad, bad and dangerous to know certainly applies.5 Newly-freed from Azkaban, she is totally manic, shrieking and screaming: “ ‘Oh, he knows how to play, little bitty baby Potter,’ she said, her mad eyes staring through the slits in her hood.” 6
She is then described as emitting “a cackle of mad laughter” 7 as she tortures and threatens to kill Neville. It is difficult to know at this stage how much of this is Bellatrix’s normal behaviour whilst working for Voldemort, and how much is due to the effects of being imprisoned in Azkaban for years, surrounded by Dementors. What is undeniable is that she is completely insane at this point.
By the time we see her again at Spinner’s End, the effect of the Dementors has worn off and she is almost back to normal. It seems that her cackling, frenzied insanity was only temporary: “ ‘Gesture!’ she shrieked; in her fury she looked slightly (emphasis mine) mad.” 8
From Bellatrix to Bella
When we meet Mrs. Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we first see her as Bella; a much more subdued creature compared with the manic Bellatrix of the previous book. What’s in a name? Bellatrix is Latin for Amazon,9 and she is very much an Amazon when we first meet her; Voldemort’s warrior queen, a woman in a predominantly male army. Of course, she is also a very “tricky” character. The change to Bella, which is Italian for beautiful, puts a more feminine, softer, much more human emphasis on her, and no tricks; this is the real woman. Snape, however, continues to call her Bellatrix; he neither likes nor trusts her.
Why the change? Several things have happened which have turned her world upside down:
- Voldemort has tortured her for her failure at the Ministry of Magic.
- Harry has told her that her beloved master is actually a half-blood!
- Voldemort is now threatening a close member of her family.
- She is no longer Voldemort’s favourite Death Eater.
In Half-Blood Prince, we see what appears to be a desperately unhappy Bellatrix who has been ultra-loyal to her Lord and master, who went in search of him after he was vanquished following his attack on the Potters. She has been imprisoned in Azkaban for fourteen years for her loyalty to him, yet how does he repay her? “ ‘…MASTER I TRIED, I TRIED-DO NOT PUNISH ME-’ […] ‘Be quiet, Bella,’ said Voldemort dangerously. ‘I shall deal with you in a moment…’ ” 10
We have had previous demonstrations of how Voldemort treats Death Eaters who fail him: “ ‘Now, Wormtail,’ said the cold voice, ‘perhaps one more little reminder why I will not tolerate another blunder from you […] ‘Crucio,’ said the cold voice.” 11
We can surmise that the Dark Lord tortures Bellatrix for failing to obtain the Prophecy, especially since all of the others who were involved have been captured, and Voldemort needs to punish someone.
The Half-Blood Lord
“Did you know he’s a half-blood too?” said Harry recklessly […] “or has he been telling you lot he’s pure-blood? 12
Ever since Harry uttered these words, Bellatrix has most likely been filled with doubt. After all, it is unlikely that Voldemort ever actually claimed to be a pure-blood, he simply emphasized his hatred of Muggle-borns and his indisputable claim to being Slytherin’s heir and his acolytes all just assumed that he is a pure-blood. It is not something she can go and ask the Dark Lord about, and asking the other Death Eaters for their knowledge or opinion would be rapidly fatal if word got back to him, so she cannot easily disprove Harry’s assertion. However, the uncertainty of Voldemort’s bloodline must gnaw away at everything she believes in. She is a member of the Black family, completely indoctrinated in the superiority of pure-bloods, as was her cousin Regulus. That is one of the main reasons why she became a Death Eater.
She must feel betrayed by Voldemort’s treatment of her and by his deception. Her loyalty to him may be wavering because of this; she has been uncharacteristically expressing doubts in his judgement, as when she dares to tell Narcissa “The Dark Lord is … I believe … mistaken.” 13
It is a lifetime of service or death as a follower of the Dark Lord and neither choice appeals to Bellatrix now. It seems she is no longer deluding herself about him, but she is trapped in a prison of her own making. She reminds me very much of Eowyn in this passage from Lord of the Rings:
“But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her…” 14
The Bond of Blood
“Cissy, you must not do this, you can’t trust him –”
[…] “Let go Bella!” snarled Narcissa and she drew a wand from beneath her cloak, holding it threateningly in the other’s face […] as she brought down the wand like a knife, there was another flash of light. Bella let go of her sister’s arm as though burned.15
Bella is surprisingly loyal to her sister Narcissa, following her to Snape’s house to keep an eye on her even though Cissy clearly does not want her there. She continues chaperoning her even after her sister attacks her. Her main motive for going to Spinner’s End is to take care of her little sister, though her sister does not seem to care for her. She risks the wrath of Voldemort to do so, because he has apparently forbidden the pair of them to say anything to anyone.
Bellatrix clings to her sister as though to a life raft. She seems to be very lonely: no children, a husband in Azkaban and her sister is the only person she has left. Could it be that Bella has lost her faith in Voldemort the half-blood, whom she no longer thinks of as the all powerful, all-invincible demigod she worshipped and wasted fourteen years of her life for? Could she instead be placing her faith in the only certainty in her life: her family? Now Voldemort has threatened that family.
She has no family of her own, though she is married, so we could assume that she was hoping to start a family at some point. True, Bella did very ruthlessly say that if she had sons, she would be glad to give them up in the service of the Dark Lord,16 but the important word is “if.” She is well aware that she has no children. It could even be said that she did give up her potential sons in the service of the Dark Lord. The years in Azkaban virtually ruined her chance of having children and at the age of forty-five17 her biological clock isn’t so much ticking as the alarm is ringing loudly in her ears.
So who is she trying to convince of her loyalty by being so very ruthless? Snape? Or herself? Or both? I think that she is desperately trying to crush her own doubts about her Lord and master as well as proving herself to be an ultra-loyal Death Eater to Snape. Bellatrix has just proven herself disloyal to Voldemort simply by turning up on Snape’s doorstep with Narcissa. After all, she is the Death Eater, not her sister. She is the one who swore allegiance to the Dark Lord and promised to obey him. She would not have continued to follow Narcissa unless she cared more about her sister and nephew than she cared about obeying Lord Voldemort.
She cares enough about Draco that she spends time teaching him Occlumency.18 She knows that Draco will only survive if he can hide his thoughts from Voldemort and his loyal followers, so this is yet another disloyal act on Bella’s part. She is conspicuous by her absence from the group of Death Eaters present at Hogwarts on the night of Dumbledore’s death.19 I think the most likely reason for this is that Voldemort forbade her to help Draco, knowing that she would do anything to save her nephew’s life and therefore could ruin his plan.
Down But Not Out
“He calls me his most loyal, his most faithful –”
“Does he?” said Snape […] “does he still, after the fiasco at the Ministry?” 20
Bella’s position in the Death Eater hierarchy has slipped; no longer Voldemort’s Queen, nor even his princess, but a mere handmaiden at best. Her best chance of regaining her previous superiority is to prove Snape is disloyal. She desperately needs to be back in favour with Voldemort; being out in the cold, ignored – or worse, tortured – must be intolerable for her. She seems to be caught in a vicious circle: the more she is mistreated by him, the more she dwells on what she is doing with her life, her loyalty diminishes, Voldemort notices this and so she is further mistreated.
Bella is provided with just such an opportunity to test Snape’s loyalty by this unexpected visit to his house, where she immediately fires up and provokes a major argument with him – demanding answers to all of those burning questions. But it is not to be. Snape plausibly answers all of them, at one point completely disconcerting her: “ ‘You think he is mistaken? Or that I have somehow hoodwinked him? Fooled the Dark Lord […]?’ Bellatrix said nothing, but looked, for the first time, a little discomfited.” 21
Why is Bellatrix uncomfortable? Snape’s answer makes sense, how could he fool Voldemort? He must be a loyal Death Eater, how could she ever have doubted him? But there is another reason. Guilt. Could it be that fooling the Dark Lord is precisely what Bellatrix is trying to do, that she is desperate to fool him into thinking that her feelings have not changed, that she is still enthusiastically committed to him? If she is practicing Occlumency (and how else would Snape know that it was she who taught Draco,22 not Narcissa, unless he was trying to read both their minds?), then she will certainly be trying to disguise her body language. After all, there is little point in hiding your thoughts if your every gesture can be easily read. If Bella is looking slightly discomfited, then she is feeling very uncomfortable, and the most likely cause of such feelings is a guilty conscience. Now it is Bellatrix who has to prove what a loyal follower she is to Snape! The tables have been turned!
She runs out of arguments at one stage, but Snape’s initial reaction to the suggestion of the Unbreakable Vow throws her a lifeline and she makes a last-ditch effort to prove that she was right originally:
Bellatrix, however, let out a cackle of triumphant laughter.
“Aren’t you listening Narcissa? Oh, he’ll try, I’m sure … the usual empty words, the usual slithering out of action … oh, on the Dark Lord’s orders, of course!” 23
However, Snape wrong-foots her again by agreeing to the Unbreakable Vow and Bellatrix has lost the argument. Bellatrix must be in turmoil at this point. She just does not know what to believe about Snape: one minute thinking he is a traitor, the next believing his explanations. She is uncharacteristically subdued throughout this chapter, totally dominated by both her little sister and by Snape.
Throughout this encounter, what strikes me about Bella is her honesty and the passion with which she argues with Snape. He really, really bugs her. She has hundreds of questions for him; this argument has been building up for weeks if not months and she is very angry with him, glowering at him, slamming her glass down on the table, unable to take her eyes off him.
…she did not take her gaze from Snape…24
…whilst Bellatrix said nothing, but continued to glower at Snape.25
It is obvious from her attack on him that she has been keeping tabs on him, noticing his absences as well as remembering his every utterance. She appears to be completely obsessed with him!
She paused, her chest rising and falling rapidly, the colour high in her cheeks…26
That is one passionate argument! Clearly, Severus arouses strong feelings in Bellatrix. Then again, he has a similar effect on a large percentage of readers!
Shock and Awe
Her still-hooded sister followed without invitation. “Snape” she said curtly as she passed. 27
Bellatrix flounces into Snape’s house without so much as a “by your leave” and greets him disrespectfully, arrogantly. By the end of that chapter, her attitude towards him has changed significantly:
“You will need your wand, Bellatrix,” said Snape coldly […] “And you will need to move a little closer,” he said.28
Snape is coldly issuing orders and Bella is meekly obeying them. The words “meek” and “Bellatrix” are not normally associated with each other in the same sentence, to put it mildly. Mad, shrieking Bellatrix would have told him precisely what he could do with the wand! Who does he think he is, the Dark Lord?
Why is she standing too far away from Snape? She obviously knows how to do the Unbreakable Vow, so she must know precisely what is required. She is submissively keeping her distance and obeying Snape without a murmur of dissent. She now seems totally in awe of him, just like the Death Eaters in the tower at the end of this book.29 If we compare Bella’s reaction to Snape with her reaction to Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix, she is showing Snape more respect than her Master! Voldemort ordered her to be quiet but still she continues her protestations.30 Could it be that a vulnerable Bella has actually switched her adoration from Lord Voldemort to Severus Snape? By the end of that chapter, she has undergone a one hundred and eighty degree turn.
When she first walked in to Spinner’s End, she was almost convinced that Snape was on Dumbledore’s side, but she had no proof. Since then, she has had a huge, impassioned argument with him, and lost. Bellatrix was hoping to prove him disloyal. Instead, all she thinks she has succeeded in doing is proving that he is a genuine Death Eater, Voldemort’s new favourite, and in the process she has also realized how very, very powerful he is.
She is shocked when he agrees to the Unbreakable Vow. She seems to be a little afraid of him and she is also fearful for Draco’s chances of success with such an ally. When Aunt Bellatrix told Draco that Professor Snape only wanted the glory for himself and that he should therefore prevent Snape from reading his mind,31 I think that is what she genuinely believed. After all, there is no honour amongst Death Eaters, they would all stab each other in the back if they thought it would help them to become Voldemort’s favourite. Bella thinks that Snape is just like all of the other back-stabbing Death Eaters at this stage. She still does not trust him.
So how will she feel about Snape when she realises that he is as concerned about saving her only nephew as she is? He made sure Draco escaped Hogwarts safely and he will almost certainly be downplaying his failure to kill Dumbledore; chalking up his blunder to immaturity and inexperience, emphasizing how Draco’s plan ultimately succeeded and saving him from Voldemort’s wrath. She knows that Snape agreed to the Unbreakable Vow and therefore risked death for the sake of her nephew but she suspected he wanted the glory for himself; she suspected some kind of trick. She now knows that it was no trick. By the seventh book she will think that Snape did kill Dumbledore, but it was only because Draco could not. He certainly will not be claiming the glory for Dumbledore’s death. I doubt that she will be calling him “Snape” disrespectfully in the next book; it will be goodbye Snape, hello Severus! He has apparently killed the only wizard Lord Voldemort ever feared and he seems to be on exactly the same side as she, more loyal to her family than he is to the Dark Lord. He is extremely enigmatic, intelligent and so very powerful. Bellatrix needs someone to believe in. If she no longer believes in Voldemort, who better than Severus Snape?
Bellatrix has changed from the confident, zealous Death Eater we first met to the subdued, submissive, doubting Bella we see at the end of the Spinner’s End chapter. She has changed, but change is not redemption, defined as: “to make amends for; save oneself from blame; save or rescue or reclaim; deliver from sin and damnation.” 32 She will have to do something spectacularly unselfish to earn redemption and atone for the sins of the past.
J.K. Rowling has not ruled out the possibility of redemption for Bellatrix: “So I would say my characters, in the main, there is the possibility of redemption for all of them.” 33Redemption and forgiveness seem to be favourite themes of Rowling’s, so there is no reason Bellatrix Lestrange – fallen from her previous loyal Death Eater glory – could not somehow repent and seek forgiveness for the evil deeds she has committed in Voldemort’s name.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
“Does it matter if she’s my cousin?” snapped Sirius “As far as I’m concerned, they’re not my family. She’s certainly not my family.” 34
Unfortunately for Sirius, that is precisely what Bella is, a member of the Black Family; one of several mentioned in the books who is named after an astronomical body: Alphard, Andromeda, Regulus, Sirius and Bellatrix.35
What do the other four have in common? They all changed sides. The Black family traditionally supports Voldemort, but these four all switched allegiance. Alphard bequeathed Sirius some gold, enabling him to leave home, Andromeda married a Muggle and is the mother of Tonks. Sirius disowned his family, befriending James and joining the Order. Regulus realized his mistake right at the end and was murdered.36
So, what are the implications for Bellatrix? If she takes after the rest of her stellar family, then she is going to change her allegiance too!
The Alchemical Unbreakable Vow
Bellatrix’s astounded face glowed red in the blaze of the third tongue of flame, which shot from the wand, twisted with the others and bound itself thickly around their clasped hands, like a rope, like a fiery snake.37
Alchemy, anyone? We have the Ouroboros (the snake holding its tail, which symbolizes the Great Circle; the cycle of destruction and regeneration; events that come full circle), Fire (the beginning of transformation; the first stage), the Naga (the symbol of two entwined serpents, representing the link between heaven and earth, and the transition between above and below) and the Red Stage (coagulation, the last stage of alchemical transformation, when all of the elements coalesce into the final stage of perfection) all represented in this one image of the Unbreakable Vow.38
The main person affected by this is, of course, Severus Snape, and I believe he will certainly continue his own transformation in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, the focus of that final sentence is on Bellatrix. She is very much affected by this spell; her face is glowing red in the blaze from this fiery Ouroboros and it was her wand that conjured it. This is no accident or coincidence. Bellatrix will undergo the final transformation stage, however unlikely that seems when we see her in the fifth book. Events will come full circle, and she will make the transition between below and above. I think that she will almost certainly die doing it, but I believe she will be redeemed in the final book. I think there is only one force that can possibly cause such a startling metamorphosis in Bella, and that is love. After all, love is the ultimate key to alchemical transmutation.
I will further speculate that this redemption is linked to Severus Snape, as the spell which generated this alchemical symbolism connects the two of them. Why are they linked at the end of this chapter? Could Bella be falling in love with him, even though the impression she gives at the very beginning of the chapter is that she hates him?
Taking into consideration the above-mentioned factors: Bella’s uncharacteristic vulnerability at Spinner’s End, the demonstrable change in her attitude to Snape and the strong feelings he provokes in her and finally the alchemical evidence, the most likely contender for Bella’s love is Severus Snape. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin!
Bella in love! Have I gone totally mad? Surely she is incapable of loving anyone, except maybe Voldemort? Ruthless, Amazonian Bellatrix does not love, that is true. But emotionally vulnerable Bella appears capable of love. I think her actions show that she does love Narcissa and Draco. She is married, why is this? So far her husband Rodolphus has barely put in an appearance; he may as well not exist from the impact he has had so far and Bella can be thought of as a prison-widow, very much alone. Maybe her marriage serves to illustrate that she did love in the past, therefore there is no reason why she cannot feel love for someone in the future. Whether she will love Severus Snape remains to be seen, but I believe she will demonstrate her ability to love in the final book – love that will ultimately lead to her redemption.
Bellatrix Lestrange is a typical Death Eater when we are first introduced to her: proud, cruel, sadistic and heartless. By the time we observe her at Spinner’s End she is a different creature; expressing doubt in the Dark Lord’s judgement, placing loyalty to the only family she has above loyalty to Voldemort, clinging to them like a rock in an unforgiving sea, and her self-confidence appears to be at a very low ebb. She has changed significantly. What is going to happen to her in the seventh book? I think the evidence is that this change will continue and she will be redeemed in the end. The key to that redemption is love.
Keep an eye on Bellatrix! I think she is going to surprise everyone.
1. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 706.
2. Myra Hindley was notorious for the Moors Murders, torturing and killing five children and teenagers in the 1960’s. Wikipedia, s.v. “Myra Hindley.”
3. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 517.
4. Ibid., 564.
5. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” was Lady Caroline Lamb’s comment on Lord Byron. Wikipedia, s.v. “Lady Caroline Lamb.”
6. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 690.
7. Ibid., 693.
8. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 32.
9. Wikipedia, s.v. “Bellatrix.”
10. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 716–17.
11. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 500–501.
12. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 692.
13. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 27.
14. Tolkien, Return of the King, 163.
15. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 26–27.
16. Ibid., 39.
17. Lexicon, “Wizards: Bellatrix Black Lestrange.”
18. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 302.
19. Ibid., 553-54.
20. Ibid., 34.
21. Ibid., 31.
22. Ibid., 302.
23. Ibid., 40.
24. Ibid., 28.
25. Ibid., 30.
26. Ibid., 31.
27. Ibid., 28.
28. Ibid., 40.
29. Ibid., 556.
30. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 717.
31. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 303.
32. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “redemption.”
33. Rowling, Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp.
34. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 106.
35. Dunlop, Collins Wild Guide Night Sky.
36. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 104–5.
37. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 41.
38. Arianhrod, “Alchemy and Harry Potter (Parts I & II).”
Arianhrod. “Alchemy in Harry Potter. Part I.” Scribbulus Essay 2006. /#scribbulus:essay:115 (accessed 28 January 2007).
———. “Alchemy in Harry Potter. Part II.” Scribbulus Essay 2006. /#scribbulus:essay:116 (accessed 28 January 2007).
Dunlop, Storm. Collins Wild Guide Night Sky. London: Harper Collins, 1999.
The Harry Potter Lexicon. “Wizards: Bellatrix Black Lestrange.” Member of the Floo Network. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/wizards/bellatrix.html (accessed 28 January 2007).
Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp: Readings and questions #1. 1 August 2006. Transcript, AccioQuote!, http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0801-radiocityreading1.html (accessed 28 January 2007).
Tolkien, J.R.R. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. London: Harper Collins, 1999.
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, “Bellatrix.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bellatrix (accessed 28 January 2007).
———, s.v. “Lady Caroline Lamb.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Caroline_Lamb (accessed 28 January 2007).
———, s.v. “Myra Hindley.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myra_Hindley(accessed 28 January 2007).