Continuing with the topic of my previous post, and because I have been preparing a talk about her, I’d like to focus here on a truly bad witch: Bellatrix Black Lestrange. Bellatrix has been the object of a few scholarly publications, none devoted to her alone (all to be found on Google Scholar; the MLA database carries nothing on her). She appears discussed together with other bad witches (journalist Rita Skeeter, teacher and bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge) or with her nemesis, good witch Molly Weasley. Paradoxically, Gráinne O’Brien’s “Witches or Bitches? An Examination of Two ‘Bitch’ Female Characters in the Harry Potter Series” (The Evil Body, April Anson (ed.), 2011, 121–131) analyses both Bellatrix and Molly as bitches, on the grounds that motherly Molly also has a mean streak, which is ultimately why she kills Bellatrix. Possibly.

            I have enjoyed reading in particular S. Everton et al.’s “Strong Ties and Where to Find Them: or, Why Neville and Bellatrix Might Be More Important than Harry and Tom” (Social Network Analysis and Mining 12, 112 (2022), This rather fun article considers Dumbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters as social organizations to argue that whereas the former is built on the basis of strong mutual trust “to withstand stress and uncertainty”, the Death Eaters are not a resilient network because the members are linked through their common fear of Voldemort. In this context, Bellatrix’s role is central. The data Everton et al. assemble “presents the top-ranked Death Eaters in terms of degree, closeness, betweenness, and eigenvector centrality. [Bellatrix] ranks first on all four measures, and only Lucius Malfoy comes close to rivalling her. Thus, it is no accident that she is one of the few who does not abandon Voldemort in the final battle, and it is fitting that she is the last to die before Voldemort meets his end”. However, they note, unfortunately “readers may see Bellatrix’s prominence as more a function of her psychopathology than [of] her centrality” as a characters with a key narrative function.

            Bellatrix’s narrative arc led originally to her death as the villain Voldemort’s most devoted servant, but, regrettably, Rowling gave her a sort of afterlife in that unmitigated disaster which is the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016). Written by Jack Thorne, based on an original story written by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Thorne himself, the play supposes that in the course of the last novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), Bellatrix manages to carry out an adulterous affair with Voldemort (she is married to fellow Death Eater Rodolphus Lestrange), without anyone noticing her pregnancy or the birth of their daughter Delphini. As 18-year-old  Delphini reports in the play, the baby was born in Malfoy Mannor before the battle of Hogwarts. There are precedents of main female character’s silenced pregnancies. Cathy, for instance, is pregnant throughout the segment of Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff returns, but Brontë does not mention her condition. Rowling concealed that Dumbledore is gay, but that seems rather easy in comparison to having a heavily pregnant woman hovering around Voldemort during the main crisis. Hermione, usually so observing, fails to make any comment; Narcissa, Bellatrix’s sister and presumed midwife, also keeps silent. Beyond the cringey melodramatic plot twist, what is lamentable in the Bellamort ship is how it distorts Bellatrix’s motivations to support Voldemort, degrading her from his most trusted lieutenant to just his besotted lover.

            A matter that puzzles me about Rowling’s wizarding world is that it is hard to see the good applications of magic but very easy to see the bad ones. At the same time, Voldemort’s narrative arc, with his fascistic attempts at capturing power in 1970 and again in 1997, has nothing in itself which is intrinsically magic. Voldemort himself and the Death Eaters are highly skilled at the dark arts, but the violence they use to fight their way into power is part of the same methods that all real-life dictators have used. If we consider Bellatrix, whom Harry calls a witch “with prodigious skill and no conscience” (Deathly Hallows, ch. 23), she is a sadistic torturer and murderer of the kind many dictatorships have employed.

            Bellatrix’s lack of conscience, that is to say, of empathy, is the basis of the psychopathology which Everton et al. mention. Since Harry, in contrast, does possess a conscience, he cannot use the Crucio curse to torture Bellatrix right after she kills Sirius, her own cousin and Harry’s godfather. She mocks the boy’s love for Sirius and taunts him: “‘Never used an Unforgivable Curse before, have you, boy?’ she yelled. She had abandoned her baby voice now. ‘You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain–to enjoy it–righteous anger won’t hurt me for long–I’ll show you how it is done, shall I? I’ll give you a lesson–’” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, ch. 36). Bellatrix reveals thus that her own curses work because she is a sadist. As a witch, then, Bellatrix may oppose the stereotypical old, ugly hag, but she is clearly descended from the classic henchman that fawns upon a master always impossible to please. The type has been often seen, with perhaps the only novelty in this case that Bellatrix is a woman.

            Born in 1950 to the illustrious Black family, Bellatrix is the eldest of three sisters. Narcissa eventually marries Lucius Malfoy, but Andromeda marries Muggle-born Ted Tonks being immediately disowned by her family. Bellatrix is educated at Hogwarts between 1962 and 1967, more or less, and there she meets among other Slytherin students, her future husband, Rodolphus Lestrange. She marries him, possibly aged around 20, Sirius tells Harry sneeringly, because this is the type of “lovely, respectable pure-blood marriages” that the Blacks respect.

            By 1970, when Tom Riddle gives his first coup as Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix, her husband, his brother Rastaban and other keen, young Death Eaters aid him. In 1981, after Voldemort fails to kill Harry and is left disembodied, his regime falls and Bellatrix and her closest circle are sent to Azkaban, specifically for the crime of torturing into a permanent coma Neville’s parents. Harry recalls having seen Bellatrix in Dumbledore’s Pensieve, “a tall dark woman with heavy-lidded eyes, who had stood at her trial and proclaimed her continuing allegiance to Lord Voldemort, her pride that she had tried to find him after his downfall and her conviction that she would one day be rewarded for her loyalty”. With her habitual cruelty against the boy’s godfather, Rowling has Harry reflect that “Like Sirius, [Bellatrix] retained vestiges of great good looks, but something–perhaps Azkaban–had taken most of her beauty”. In the 15 years Bellatrix spends in the horrendous prison, between the ages of 30 and 45, before her escape in 1996, her supremacism and psychopathology are intensified. Her mad cackling is indeed a sign of an unbalanced mind on the brink of collapse.

            Rowling does not describe the Lestrange marriage, but Bellatrix’s husband never seems to be jealous of Voldemort. He survives the battle of Hogwarts to be sent to Azkaban for another long sentence. As Delphini claims in the play, Rodolphus is the person who discloses to her who her parents are. This should be a source of bitterness for him since he and Bellatrix have no children and Delphini’s birth indicates that Rodolphus must be sterile. Yet, the issue is never raised. On the basis of pure speculation, then, either Rodolphus sees his wife’s worship of Voldemort as a political stance which he also shares, or he simply does not care whether Bellatrix has sex with Voldemort or not.

            Rowling always presents the relationship between Bellatrix and Voldemort who, let’s recall, is 25 years older, as a matter of loyalty on her side and trust on his. However, although Voldemort rescues Bellatrix from the Ministry of Magic after Harry’s failed attempt to torture her, this appears to be his only kindness towards her. Voldemort later mocks Bellatrix with the news that her half-blood niece Nymphadora Tonks has married werewolf Remus Lupin. Nonetheless, there is a strange moment in Deathly Hallows which suggests there might be indeed a sexual liaison between master and lieutenant. In chapter 36, Harry allows himself to be apparently killed and as he plays dead he hears Bellatrix frantically trying to attract Voldemort’s attention to pay homage to him. “It was Bellatrix’s voice”, Rowling reports through Harry, “and she spoke as if to a lover”. Tired, Voldemort stops her with a curt “That will do”. It is quite possible to read his reaction as that of a lover beginning to tire of his mistress. Later, when she is killed by Molly in the duel that Voldemort watches, he screams and unleashes a fury so deep that Harry, still in hiding, reveals his presence to stop him. The scream of rage could be likewise read as a sign of despair from a lover, though I would still maintain that Voldemort registers with it his pain at the loss of her most faithful lieutenant, the only one who truly loves him as a powerful master.

            Delphini’s birth also contradicts one of the fundamental traits that characterize Bellatrix: that she is not a mother. In Rowling’s universe, mothers occupy a central position: Harry’s mother Lilly is constantly honoured for her sacrifice to save her baby; Molly Weasley is idealized as a bossy but devoted mother. Apart from torturing Neville’s parents, Hermione, and the goblin Griphook, Bellatrix kills Sirius, the house-elf Dobby, and attempts to kill Ginny Weasley at the battle of Hogwarts. Molly, who has already lost one of her twins sons, Fred, will not sacrifice her daughter, hence her screaming at Bellatrix “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Their duel appears to be heavily lopsided in Bellatrix’s favour, but just as Sirius underestimates Bellatrix’s skills, she underestimates Molly’s, who hits her with an Avada Kedrava curse as she hit her cousin: with all her might, born of all her hatred. The bad witch dies, then, when the good witch decides to cease being good in order to protect her children; hers is a kind of justified violence which Rowling endorses. If Bellatrix were a mother, she would have understood Molly’s rage and even perhaps her sister Narcissa’s decision to betray Voldemort for the sake of her son Draco. This is why the play’s plot twist is so absurd.

            Calling Bellatrix mad or evil is just lazy. She is a bad witch because she has been raised in a supremacist family, as part of a supremacist culture. Her natural sadism and lack of empathy make her an ideal Death Eater, to which her sincere worship of Voldemort also contributes. Bellatrix does not seek her own empowerment, as the wives of other dictators have done (think of Imelda Marcos), but she is not a passive admirer as Eva Braun was of Hitler. Bellatrix is, perhaps, closer to Magda Goebbels, the loyal wife and mother who killed her own children and herself right before Hitler’s fall. Bellatrix’s main reward is being seen as Voldemort’s most trusted servant, which is why only Snape, who knows this is her main weakness, has the ability to undermine her self-esteem. In this sense her lowest point happens when the Death Eaters fail to retrieve the prophecy from the Ministry, a failure for which Voldemort blames her and which makes her beg for forgiveness at his feet, thoroughly humiliated.

            In short, without Voldemort, Bellatrix would have been just a bad person; with him, she unleashes all her potential to be the worst witch ever, subordinating in any case her astonishing powers to his lust for power.