He was gone. Cygnus was gone. They had taken him from her in a cold winter’s night, had torn them apart, pulled her from his arms and not granted them the chance to say good-bye. Druella had not cried; she had not screamed but struggled, before being pushed to the ground, inquisitively requesting to be told the reason for her husband’s sudden imprisonment, yet to no avail. They had taken him from her so cruelly and it had happened in silence.
Druella had been pushed so carelessly to the ground by those oblivious to her early stage of pregnancy, been pushed as though she were nothing, as though she were an animal, could hear her husband cry out in terror from far away as she fell. And only in that moment did she realise that she was alone, truly alone; only in that moment did the sudden silence seem to crush her, did she allow her tears to flow; only in that moment did the blood begin to soak her robes and she screamed, screamed out her despair and her agony. He was gone. Within minutes her whole life had come crumbling down on her, within minutes she had lost everything, her husband, her child… Everything. He was gone. He was gone, gone, leaving her behind with only uncertainty as to whether he would ever return. And she had done nothing to save him.
It was an eerie place, terrifying; those who dared to approach the island without permission were punished in the cruellest of ways. But who would be foolish enough to draw closer, unless they had no other choice, unless they were forced? Azkaban… Should he be there, her Cygnus, trapped in the darkest of dungeons, never to see the daylight again? Should he be there, forced to endure the most horrible of torments until Death came to release him, out of mercy and to spare him the worst?
Was he still alive? Would they notify her if he…
Druella wouldn’t finish her thought; it took her breath away to imagine that he might have long ago lost his life, that they might have left her oblivious to the truth she had a right to know about. Still she allowed herself to hope that one day she would hold him in her arms again.
Why they had arrested him she did not know; had inquired as to the reason over and over again to no avail, would have reported to the Minister for Magic herself, had she been granted the chance. But no.
He was innocent. No matter what they blamed him for, she knew that he was innocent; what could he possibly have done, what unspeakable crime could her Cygnus possibly have committed that he were to be punished in such a way? She knew him, Druella knew him, knew him better than she knew herself; it took only a look into his eyes to see the truth.
At first, Druella had believed for it to be a misunderstanding, had written letter after letter as soon as she had regained her strength after her recovery, and had attempted to speak to those she had once considered her closest acquaintances, those she had once considered her friends. But they all had turned away from her, had burnt and torn apart the envelopes unopened, sealing their lips and turning away as though it were a crime even to look at a prisoner’s wife.
They knew. All too soon she had realised that they knew the true reason behind this cruel farce, that they withheld the knowledge from her on purpose. They knew. But they merely laughed so tauntingly, shook their heads at her and whispered about mad Druella Black who had lost her mind at the age of twenty, only a month after they had taken him from her, incapable of coping with her tragic losses.
Treason, she heard them speak of in moments they believed her to be far from them, not listening, and Druella nearly started to laugh, a cold, bitter laugh. Treason… Whom could he have betrayed? Cygnus Black was a man of honour, one day to become the patriarch of an ancient, most noble family, knew his duties and never failed to fulfil them, just yet stern and unrelenting, gentle only to his wife. He was a man to be respected, to be looked up to and to be feared when angered.
Treason… Ridiculous. It was ridiculous to accuse him of treason, foolish and atrocious. He was imprisoned for nothing, nothing at all, made a puppet in a horrifying game played by a powerful enemy that was yet no more than a shadow. Druella had sworn herself in the night she had so helplessly been forced to watch as they took him away that she would find whoever pulled their strings, that she would find him, defeat him, that she would save her husband and fight against the injustice done to them both. She would fight, until the end. Even if it meant her death.
Azkaban. It was an eerie place, no place for women. How many times had they rejected her pleading requests at least to visit him, to see him, to at least speak to him for one last time upon the absurd ground that it would be too dangerous for a woman to enter the property, to approach the Dementor’s realm too closely, that it was merely for her own protection?
Protection… How dare they use such a word, how dare they feign concern when in truth nothing but cruelty came from their mouths and quills, when in truth they did everything to keep her distant, pulling her away from him further and further?
What could she do to save him? How could she possibly…? She was a child, some said, only twenty-one years of age, a foolish girl who in her lovelorn despair believed that she could salvage her husband from his fate, who had blindly chosen to fight for him until she, too, would perish.
But she was no child. She would not give in. Her love for him was greater than anything else in this world, and she would save him, no matter the cost. When Druella closed her eyes, she could see him as though he were right before her, in chains, weak and scarcely clinging to life, a victim of betrayal and abuse. Even if it was merely an illusion, an image shown to her by her weary mind, it seemed to tear her apart, took her breath away and caused tears to moisten her face, even if she wondered how there still were any left inside of her. Cygnus… He was not lost, not yet.
She would not give in. She would save him. She would save him.
Azkaban was no place for women.
And so Druella Black shed her name and her identity to become Alain Dufort, a boy of seventeen who had left his home country in the foolish ambition to find happiness and fallen, too ashamed now to return to France and seeking employment.
She had cut her hair with Cygnus’ dagger, thick, black locks that had once fallen down her shoulders and back nearly to her waist like a veil of silk, had changed her robes, her movements and the way she spoke, looked into the mirror and scarcely recognised herself, the reflection looking back at her a stranger to her. Azkaban was no place for women, and she was no longer a woman. She fell to her knees night by night to pray that she would not be discovered. Magic would have been useless, she knew. It was the only way, and if she were to be discovered, if she were to be recognised... She dared not finish her thought.
Each day was the same. The jailer to instruct her was an old man with sparse hair and a scarred face, a man whose name she never learned. A name was of no importance, they all said, it would be said once and soon again forgotten, there were other things that mattered, and perhaps they were right.
He scarcely spoke, had merely urged her to beware of the Dementors, those blind, merciless creatures incapable of differing between good and evil, urged her to be vigilant and to keep her Patronus constantly by her side.
“You will need it, boy,” he mumbled and turned away, leaving her behind on her own. “Now it is too late for you to change your mind.”
One year. One year had passed since Cygnus’ imprisonment, one year since she had last looked into his eyes, one year since she had last heard the sound of his voice, or felt his touch upon her. Time had taken the nightmares of his tormented body from her, had sometimes even caused his face to fade into darkness.
But she would not forget. Would not allow herself to forget, never. Druella kept his image hidden beneath her pillow, would look at it night by night and place a gentle kiss on the parchment as though his photograph alone were capable of giving her the strength to go on.
She would save him.
Each day was the same since she had come to the island longer than six months ago, never to leave. Each day was the same, full of exhaustion and suffering, full of fear and yet also full of hope and prayers that her desperate efforts were not in vain. Each day was the same. She would rise long before dawn broke, would wrap firm bandages about her chest, dress in her ragged clothes and commence work, never to hesitate, never to sit down until the evening when her fingers were aching, stiff and bleeding from the constant strain.
Her hands were no longer white and tender as they had once been, no longer graceful but worn and chapped, as though they no longer belonged to her body, and her beauty had long faded, too, faded into the weary expression of a toiling boy who had nothing left except his work, day by day, month by month and year by year until the end of his life.
Names did not matter; spoken once and soon again forgotten… Did they say the same about lives in Azkaban? If it were the truth, why would it be of importance then if she were Alain Dufort or Druella Black, why would anything be of importance?
Who had she become?
Druella had long ceased to conjure a Patronus, had long lost the strength to remember the days she had been happy. But the Dementors were not the worst. They could no longer harm her – how was it possible, if it felt as though there were no joy left inside of her, if all she lived for was to save her husband, if only when holding him in her arms she would feel whole again? How would they be able to harm her, if she was merely a shell? The Dementors were not the worst; it was the fear, the uncertainty, the slow loss of hope.
She no longer recognised herself… And yet the determination was still there, glistening in her eyes. The determination that meant everything.
They all looked at her, thieves, assassins and worse, trapped in cages, looking at her with such empty expressions. She would hold their gazes, yet never recognise Cygnus. Cygnus… He was not amongst them.
“Are those all the prisoners?” she had asked her foreman once, two months after she had first entered the prison, when finally she had gained his trust. “Or are there more cells?”
How much her voice had trembled as she had dared to speak out the question at last. And yet she had held his gaze, had looked so deeply into his eyes that after a moment he turned away.
“One,” he said, quietly, hoarsely, as though he, too, were afraid even to think of it. “And he who is trapped in such a dungeon, far below the others, is scarcely alive. A nobleman, they say, but what good is his nobility if he is sentenced never to see the sunlight? Never ask about this again, boy. You would not be able to handle such a sight.”
It was him. Druella knew; it had to be him, who else... But she nodded, and it was a promise, a silent promise that she would keep, the words echoing in her ears over and over again.
A nobleman, they say. But what good is his nobility if he is sentenced never to see the sunlight?
It was him…
He who is trapped in such a dungeon, far below the others, is scarcely alive…
It was him. He was here. And so she went on, went on as though the words had meant nothing to her, as though she had long forgotten, each day a torment. Would she ever find him? Would she ever find a way to find him, to free him? Or was she, too, sentenced to a life in prison, sentenced to a life in the constant awareness that he was here, dying or perhaps dead already, so close to her and yet so far?
“The hope has left your eyes,” her master said one day at last, long after she had made her unspoken vow, his words breaking the suppressing silence of work so suddenly that she gasped for breath. Briefly their gazes crossed and he looked upon her as though he were seeing right through her, as though he knew so very well about her intentions, as though he had always known. Had he…
Druella shivered at the thought. It was a miracle that she had not yet been discovered, that she was still believed to…
“The hope has left your eyes,” he spoke again, opening a large trap door that seemed to lead right into the burning abysses of hell. “You are ready now.”
And so they climbed down the steps, one by one, careful not to fall, until they reached another cell, so different from the others. There were no Dementors, no guards… Nothing. Just silence, horrifying silence that screamed Death.
There he was.
There he was, cowering in a corner on the ground, face hidden, yet she recognised him in an instant. Cygnus… She had never seen him so weak, her husband, her Cygnus, who had always been her rock, so strong and calm, appearing nearly indestructible to her, as though he were capable of weathering any storm. But there he was now, dirty, pale as a ghost and gaunt, scarcely breathing, yet moaning in his fitful sleep. His body was trembling so beyond his control, it seemed as though the slightest touch were to break him… Cygnus…
How much she wanted to run. How much she wanted to run, to cry for help, for somebody to save him from Death, Death that was lingering so close, only waiting to take hold of him. How much she wanted to grip his heavy body and run, escape with him from this terrible place, never to return. How much…
If only he would survive.
“Stay here,” she was ordered so harshly by her foreman who had begun to turn away from her already, as though he were truly intending to leave her behind. “And guard him. It shall be your duty, until the end. A couple more days, I suppose, perhaps a week. He has lived too long already.”
Each word was a dagger in Druella’s heart, a torment, but she listened and nodded, followed his instructions.
And so days passed… Days she spent in Cygnus’ presence when in truth he was so distant still; days she spent watching over him, silently praying that he would not leave her. He slept more than he woke, yet when his eyes were open, his lids fluttered as he looked at his guard with such a strange expression, not recognising her.
Would he ever be the same again? Even if she saved his body, even if she were capable of bringing him home, would she also be capable of saving his soul? Would he ever be the same again? She did not know and did not care, would love him always, care for him as long as she were able to; she would love him, even if he were to never recognise her as his wife again.
She would save him.
Had anyone ever told her that it would be possible for her to feel so lonely when in her husband’s presence, she would have laughed, but now? Now, loneliness was her constant companion and yet it could be soothing from time to time.
The foreman did not bother to look after her, perhaps out of trust, perhaps for other reasons, reasons Druella could not care less about. She allowed her thoughts to drift when looking at Cygnus, never taking her eyes off him, allowed herself to sink to the ground for a moment and to cry, feeling tears moisten her cheeks for the first time since the night they had taken her husband and her unborn child from her.
She was alone, always alone… Until one day so suddenly the trap door opened, until so suddenly she heard voices. Her master’s voice and another, so familiar to her and yet so strange…
For a while they spoke, nearly whispered, still far away, words she could not understand, until, finally…
“Boy!” her master barked from above, and Druella could scarcely suppress a wince, could scarcely keep her body from trembling. “Monsieur Malfoy is coming down to examine his prisoner; make sure that he doesn’t fall!”
His prisoner. His prisoner. His prisoner.
Malfoy. Abraxas Malfoy. Druella felt nauseous. Abraxas Malfoy, no older, no less wealthy or powerful than Cygnus himself, from a family so… His prisoner. It had been him. It all had been him! But how could it be possible…? She remembered nearly falling to her knees in his office, pleading for him to help, and he so much like the others had scarcely bothered to feign sympathy, had shaken his head and… It had been him… How much he disgusted her. How much she despised him, despised him more than she had ever despised any person in this world. Abraxas Malfoy. How much he disgusted her!
Swiftly he climbed down the stairs as though he had done so many times before, brushed the dust off his robes in the moment his feet hit solid ground, carelessly pushing her aside as he headed towards Cygnus’ cell, examining him as though he were an exotic animal.
“What is your name, boy?” asked Malfoy after a while, interrupting her thoughts and once more nearly causing her to wince. How dare he speak to her…? How dare he… She wanted to spit on him, wanted to scream, to cry, to… But she was forced to respond. If she were to give in now… No. She couldn’t.
“Alain, Monsieur. Alain Dufort.”
“Alain…” he repeated, speaking out her father’s name with such disdain, as though it were a curse, and yet as though it were familiar to him. “Alain Dufort…”
“Yes, Monsieur…”, she muttered, not daring to cross his gaze, despite the awareness that a man like Abraxas Malfoy would never deign to look at a poor jailer’s apprentice. Her disgust, her anger, had so soon given way to nothing but fear, fear that he might recognise her if only he would glance at her. Hadn’t he always devoured her with his gaze, hadn’t he made countless remarks about her eyes? Such piercing green eyes, he had told her so many times before in his low, menacing voice that so instinctively Druella had sought her husband’s touch as though he were able to protect her. Beautiful like no others.
“French, I assume?”
Silence. For a moment, silence. But then he laughed, shook his head, spoke to her in French as though to convince himself that the boy had told the truth. And she responded, her own mother tongue strange to her, terrifying. If only he wouldn’t realise… If only he wouldn’t sense…
“You are a brave boy to stay in such a place on your own, Alain Dufort,” Malfoy said after a while, slowly reaching into his belt for his wand, raising it against... “Didn’t you ever ask yourself what crime the prisoner you are guarding so fiercely has committed in order to be brought to such a dungeon? Many a man would rather choose death than spend a life in such misery. In case you could even consider it a life… Not him, though. Not him… So, tell me, boy, did you ever wonder?”
His words… How dare he…? How…? Druella bit her lip in order to suppress a scream, forced herself into calmness, to breathe, to contain herself, and to be strong. Strong like her husband… Strong like Cygnus…
“No, Monsieur. I am merely fulfilling my duty.”
“You are brave,” he spoke again, nearly absently, nearly to himself. “Foolish, too, perhaps. But are you also brave enough to look into such a pathetic creature’s eyes in the moment of its death?”
His wand, raised still, raised against Cygnus…
Are you also brave enough to look into such a pathetic creature’s eyes in the moment of its death?
Druella cried out in despair, rushing forward and clinging to the iron bars to protectively cover, to hide, her husband’s emaciated body behind her own. She raised her head, allowing her gaze to cross Malfoy’s, allowing him to fully see her, to look at her, truly, and to realise. If she were to die now, through Abraxas Malfoy’s hand, she would. But she would not surrender without a fight.
“Druella Black,” he gasped, eyes widening with surprise. A split second of inattention was enough; she reached out her arm so quickly that she scarcely noticed her own movement, reached out her arm and took his wand, leaving him behind defenceless. Cygnus stirred behind her, moaned in quiet agony yet did not wake, did not realise anything around him.
“Do not move,” Druella breathed, pointing Malfoy’s own wand at him with her now trembling hands. “Don’t you dare take a step forward…”
He obeyed. Abraxas Malfoy obeyed and remained still, but he laughed, laughed his quiet, taunting laugh, looking upon her as though he were waiting for her further actions, as though all this were a game to him, played merely for his own amusement.
“What a shame,” he said, speaking so quietly that she could barely understand. “I had always thought of you as an intelligent woman, Ella.”
Ella. The sound of her nickname drove a shiver down her spine, caused the rage to return to her, to assume control. How dare he…? But she breathed; Druella breathed and shook her head, calming herself. She would not give him what he wanted.
“I will not take back what I said,” continued Malfoy, and it felt as though he were merely attempting to distract her, never taking his eyes off her hands and movements, preying her, waiting for the right moment to regain his wand and end it all. “Your courage is astonishing, but so is your folly. You’re a fool as great as your husband if for one minute alone you truly believed that you could be capable of saving him. I have told you once before, when you came into my office that day to bid for him: your husband is a criminal. Let go of him, forget about sentimentalities and be grateful that you have not yet given him a child.”
Lies. Nothing but lies. A criminal… Her husband, a criminal… Let go of him… No! Never would she let go of him, never… She would save him, save him from this terrible injustice done to him... She would save him… She would save him!
“It’s a real shame, Ella. It would not have been too late for you to find another husband, a true powerful man, but now? Look at you… You disappeared, sacrificed your beauty for a lost soul, proven guilty by trial… Did you ever think about your future when coming to such a place? No one will want you now, not like this. Your face, your hands, your entire sordid appearance! If your Cygnus could see you now… He would turn away in shame, never to look at you again. Do you truly think he could love you, like this? Alain… Alain Rosier… Your father would rise from his grave to execute the punishment himself if he knew that you defamed his name in such an unspeakable way… And Dufort… Your mother’s maiden name, wasn’t it?”
Silence. She would not give him the pleasure and respond to him as he mocked her, not with her lips and not with her eyes. Still, Malfoy did not move, still his gaze rested on his wand in her hands, and still he spoke, spoke words she no longer listened to, no longer understood. Trial… Proven guilty by trial… There had never been a trial. How fiercely had she fought for Cygnus to at least be heard, to at least be granted a chance to speak and to defend himself, to make use of his right… But there had never been a trial.
“Was it worth it, Ella?” asked Malfoy now, his voice full of scorn. “Was it truly worth it? To spend each day of your life amongst the scum of this society, working like an animal in the naïve hope of a woman that you had even the chance to save him? He deserves to be here, he is nothing!”
Enough. This was enough. Druella’s grip tightened about the wand, and for a moment, she felt it might break beneath her fingers’ pressure. She slipped her other hand into the pocket of her worn out clothes, feeling for Cygnus’ dagger, his dagger she always carried so close to her body.
“My husband is an honourable man…” she breathed, no longer capable of holding back, the words bursting out of her before she realised what she was doing. This was enough! “How dare you…”
She could not finish her sentence, was interrupted by his laugh, again this terrible laugh, so cold and so full of triumph.
“Never ceasing to speak of honour, just like your husband. But what worth is honour when only the powerful win? Turn around and take a look at what has become of the honourable Cygnus Black; he may still be breathing but he is long dead inside, not even capable of recognising his beloved wife who so faithfully waits by his side day by day. Who needs Dementors when solitude can be the greatest punishment of all? I would have been so merciful as to kill him, but your foolish selfishness merely prolongs his suffering.”
Selfishness. For a moment, she hesitated. Selfishness… Was it the truth? Was she truly selfish, to fight for his freedom? Would it truly be merciful if…? No. No! He was not yet dead inside, not wholly, there was still a chance… How empty his eyes were, how weary his gaze, and yet Druella still recognised him, still recognised her husband, still she could see her Cygnus… He was not yet gone, not yet lost… There was still a chance.
Druella spoke nearly involuntarily, as though she had lost any control over her speech, would have laughed at herself for her folly as she asked. Why?… So long the question had tormented her heart, had deprived her of sleep and nearly her sanity as well, so many times had she spoken out the word, a single word that meant nothing and yet everything, and never received a response. So why should she now?
His lips curled into the faintest of smiles, a smile crueler than she had ever seen before, a smile that told everything, everything and nothing. He took a breath, opened his mouth, whether to speak or to laugh she did not know, or maybe to taunt her once more for her assumption that he could tell her the truth at last. But he didn’t. Instead, silence.
“Still no response, Abraxas?” whispered Druella, even as she would rather have bitten off her tongue than continue, and yet… Yet it had been his silence that had caused her to lose control. His silence that had broken her. “Do you even remember the reason why you did such a thing to an innocent man, a good man so much unlike you, do you even remember why you caused everyone to believe in a crime that was never named because it was never committed, unless by you yourself? Was it this? Were you in need of someone to pay for your sins?”
Silence. Nothing but silence.
“Don’t you dare deny the truth any longer!” she cried now, her voice nearly breaking with rage, echoing within the dungeon’s eerie, cold, stone walls. “Don’t you dare look into my eyes and deny the truth any longer, Abraxas Malfoy, don’t you dare taunt me any more! Even if you were to spare my life, the Dementors would take my soul from me within less than thirty minutes despite love being my only blame and I would gladly give it to them if only I could take vengeance for the injustice committed to my husband. So don’t you dare deny the truth, or your own wand shall become your downfall.”
The smile faded from Malfoy’s lips as he realised that she spoke no empty words. For a moment Druella believed she saw fear glisten within his eyes, but he composed himself scarcely a second later and finally took a step forward, slowly, but still hesitantly.
You will never know the truth if you kill me, his gaze told her in silence, yet once more he opened his mouth, once more he took a breath…
“Your husband was a fool,” he said, speaking as though he were dead already, as though her Cygnus had already left this world, never to return. “A damned fool, doomed not through my hand but his delirious talk of honour. The assassination on the Minister for Magic, that foolish woman, had been planned for years, and would have succeeded, had he not discovered it by accident. He stormed into my office, blind with rage – not much unlike you – imploring me to act, to put an end to this, but why should I, when I was to become her successor?”
He laughed… took a step forward, slowly, carefully reaching out his hand for his wand… Druella could barely breathe, could barely refuse.
“It was all too easy to lead the trace to Cygnus Black, and to dispose of him before he had the possibility to do us any harm with his knowledge. The Dementors came for him the same night, to arrest him for treason, and by the time of his trial, a mock trial that we ensured to leave you oblivious to, he was scarcely capable of defending himself any longer… A real pity, actually, he was a skilled man after all. But as I told you, Ella… Only the powerful win.”
A farce. It had been nothing but a farce. The wand fell from her hands. For a moment she was paralysed, completely and utterly at his mercy. He would kill her… Abraxas Malfoy would kill her, would kill them both… How much he disgusted her!
It all went too fast. Druella was pushed away like she had been once before, cried out in pain as her hands hit the ground with a nauseating cracking sound. This was the end… She had fought for his life until the last moment, had struggled to save him and failed… She had failed, had broken her vow. But perhaps in death they would be united again.
It all went too fast. From far away she could hear her master’s voice, could hear him yell, louder than ever before, yet did not understand his words. Was he calling for her? Had he, too, discovered her identity, was he to punish her now, would…? Slowly she raised her head, blinked away the tears as she lifted her body off the ground, stumbled at first but then steadied herself, regaining her composure at last.
It all went too fast. Druella took a deep breath, forced herself to ignore the throbbing pain in her hands and breathed, eyes widening with surprise as she saw him, saw her foreman, wand clenched between his teeth, pushing Abraxas Malfoy against the wall with all his strength, as she felt the Dementors’ cold breath approaching closer and closer… Impossible. It was…
Had he…? Could he possibly have heard them, heard Malfoy’s confession, could he…?
She had never been alone. Only now she realised, realised that he had watched her, always, that he had never truly left her behind in this dungeon full of terrors. She had never been alone, never! Had it been a trial? A trial to see whether she could fully be trusted, whether she were capable of carrying the burdens that were laid upon her, or to…?
She had never been alone.
“Go now, boy,” he hissed, briefly turning his head to look at her, and in his eyes, Druella could see that he knew. Everything. Her entire body began to tremble with such relief, she could have broken down once more… Instead she ran, climbed up the stairs as quickly as she never had before and ran, far away from this place, hoping never to return, locking herself into her sparse little bedchamber the second she closed the door behind her back.
Would he be free? Would he be free, would they both be free at last? If her master had truly heard them, had truly heard Malfoy’s confession, if he were proven innocent…? Cygnus, her Cygnus… Was he saved, truly?
Druella felt a rush of euphoria, would have laughed had she had the strength, would have laughed with endless relief… But all too soon her elation faded; all too soon she reminded herself that what she had seen in those last moments in the dungeon could mean nothing, nothing at all. That there was not yet a reason to hope. If she were to allow herself to hope now, and if she were to learn it was for nothing, would she survive the disillusion? If they were to lock her into a cell, too, to punish her for her deception, if she were to never see him again, if he were to…
His death would mean her own, too.
Her husband was not yet saved, not yet had she gained victory, not yet was she holding him in her arms. The battle was not yet over. But what could she do now, but wait? Wait for her master to call her, wait for the Dementors to come for her, too. Wait for her punishment, her walk to the scaffold, or her liberation.
Cygnus… How desperately she wanted to cry out his name, for the entire world to hear, how desperately she needed him… She would save him, had sworn to save him, and now? Now, should everything be over? Or had she succeeded, had she cleansed his name from the stains Abraxas Malfoy had sullied it with, had she finally proven him innocent? If he were to die now, would he die a free man?
He was strong. Cygnus was strong, so strong, he would survive what they had done to him, he would recover… But who would care for him, if they were to release him yet not her, if he were to leave this prison without his wife, if… ?
It would be all right. Everything would be all right. She would not cease to believe, not until the end, and yet her fear in this moment took hold of her.
With a brief flick of her wand, Druella healed her fractured hands, not really caring if they remained broken forever, buried her face in them and collapsed to her bed, still shaking beyond her control.
“Come with me, boy,” he barked, pulling on her arm as though otherwise she would not follow him. Boy. Still he called her boy, despite his obvious awareness of the truth, still he scarcely looked at her… Boy.
In front of a door that led to what seemed like a small office they stood, and he took her shoulders, so firmly that she could barely move beneath his touch. For the first time since her employment, he met her gaze for longer than only a second.
“Are you aware of your crimes?” he asked her, quietly, only for her to hear. The shame and the fear burnt on her cheeks and yet she did not turn her head, intended to look at him until he grew tired of her and let go. If only he would ever let go…
“Yes, Master,” she whispered, incapable of raising her voice any louder, even if she wanted.
“How would you designate them?”
She spoke firmly now, without hesitation. Love. She loved him, loved her husband so beyond words that for him she would sacrifice anything, anything at all. Azkaban was no place for women, but why would she care, why would she care about whom she had deceived? If it meant to deceive the whole world only to save him she would, would do so gladly and never regret, awaiting her punishment with her head raised high.
Silence. Again, silence. The foreman tightened his grip about her shoulders, caused her such pain that for a moment Druella believed she would fall, looked at her as though he were to burn her with his gaze alone, but then… Then his features softened and he released her at last, smiling.
“Go then, child,” he spoke as he opened the door, slowly turning away from her. “He is waiting for you.”
And there he stood. Cygnus. There he stood, half conscious, heavily leaning on two men scarcely taller than him, stood looking at her as though she were an illusion. Druella hesitated at first, hesitated for only a split second as though she, too, were dreaming, as though she lay fast asleep in her bed with his picture still in her hands, dreaming of his release. But it was real. He was real; there he stood, right before her, moaning quietly at her touch.
They spoke to her but she could not hear, could not see, had eyes only for her husband. How weak he looked, barely able to stand on his own, how exhausted… But none of it mattered, not as long as he was here.
He was free. He was free at last. It was over.
It seemed impossible to Druella to suppress her tears any longer, tears of nothing but pure joy, pure relief and exhaustion, and yet she did, forced herself to remain strong only for another moment and swallowed down her emotions, quickly rushing to his side to wrap his arm about her shoulders and hold him, to support him, to feel him… He was free. They both were free. It wasn’t a dream… She had saved him.
Never would they be apart again, never again, never would she release him, never take her eyes off him again. Cygnus… Cygnus, her Cygnus! Free at last…
Away. They needed to get away from this place, now, this terrible place, should not linger here for another minute, another second… Away! When for a brief moment Druella lifted her head to seek for her master, he was nowhere to be found; they were alone in the room. Quickly, Druella reached for her wand, taking a deep breath… Away. Away from Azkaban, never to look back and never to return, never to the dungeons and never to her bedchamber that had never stored any of her properties except those she carried close to her body. Away…
Her own home was strange to her when a few moments later Druella found herself in the large entrance hall, dark and abandoned so suddenly. Home. They were home at last. She stumbled, broke down beneath the weight of his ravaged body and together they fell to the ground as finally… Finally he seemed to wake from his trance.
Briefly he lifted his head and looked at her, looked so deeply into her eyes, lids fluttering as though he were about to lose consciousness at any moment. But he looked at her, looked at her so wearily, so broken… But it was him, still. It was still her husband, still Cygnus, her Cygnus, the man she knew better than she knew herself, the man she loved so beyond belief. He was not yet lost… It was him. Yet the way he looked at her… Did he realise where he was, that he was free at last? Did he recognise her? Would he ever…? It was him…
“Ella…” he breathed now, his voice breaking with exhaustion. But he spoke; Cygnus spoke her name, and it was everything. Druella smiled, smiled at him so faintly and yet with such love, kissed his brow so tenderly, afraid that she might hurt him. He spoke her name…
It was over. He was free. They were home at last. Free…
And so together they collapsed into one another’s arms, held each other in their weary relief as though they had in this second woken from a nightmare too unspeakable to be put in words, their bodies so closely intertwined in a sheer endless embrace.
They were free.