Seven days. She would live seven days, they said; it was impossible to ban the curse any longer, impossible to take it away from her fully. Seven days. She would live seven days, yet none of them knew what the magic would do to her body.
Curse… The Healers spoke of a curse but Druella had no memory of what could possibly have cursed her, merely remembered falling and waking from what had felt like eternal unconsciousness, remembered lying within her husband’s arms, her husband who looked at her with an expression upon his face she had never seen before. It frightened her.
Was it a dream? Was all this a dream, a nightmare? Would she open her eyes and find herself peaceful in her own bed, laughing at her foolishness and gently drifting back to sleep to the soothing regularity of Cygnus’ quiet snore beside her? She wanted to speak yet no sound would come from her lips, wanted to sit up yet could scarcely lift her head off the pillows, saw her husband’s hands tenderly caressing her yet could scarcely feel his touch.
Seven days. Druella would live seven days, just seven days, no more than a week! Seven days… And she would spend them in hospital instead of… No. Seven days. Seven more days, and then… She dared not finish her thought. Seven days.
He had carried her home; had lifted her body into his arms with what seemed like the greatest care in the world and carried her home that same night, despite the Healers’ warnings, placing a soft kiss on her fevered brow as he laid her down on their bed and sat on the chair beside her, holding her hand in his.
“Sleep now, Ella,” he said quietly, his voice so hushed that it barely sounded like his own, strange to Druella and perhaps even to himself. But she would not sleep, would not close her eyes until she knew, finally knew, the truth.
Seven days… Seven days! She would live no more than seven days, for a reason that seemed so obvious to the Healers, so obvious to her husband yet far beyond her own comprehension. Hadn’t everything been all right, merely hours before? Hadn’t she finally been happy, so happy for the first time in what felt like an eternity, so full of hope, embracing her life in the full belief that with Cygnus by her side she would conquer the whole world? And now? Now, was this to be the end? Was all this supposed to end, was she to leave this world, never to understand the reason why? Seven days.
It was a nightmare, and yet Druella found herself wide awake, bereft of all her strength, weak, desperate, confused yet awake. She would not sleep until she knew the truth… Until she remembered, remembered what seemed to be erased from her mind.
And so he told her. Told her about the emerald necklace she had found in the attic, a rare jewel that had once belonged to his great-grandmother and long been forgotten, told her about her terrifying scream, her collapse into his arms, told her about everything. A curse. The necklace had been cursed with the darkest of magic and none of them had known, had been cursed to slowly drain any life from those who dared to touch it, in the cruellest of ways. A curse…
So it was the truth. Seven days. She would live no longer than seven days, she realised that now…
She realised everything.
Druella would have screamed had she had the strength. Instead she looked at him, merely looked at her husband, her Cygnus, without even blinking. Finally… Finally she was capable of reading his expression, and it took her breath away. There was fear within his eyes, fear and grief. They were losing one another and there was nothing that they could do, nothing at all.
Seven days. Seven days were not enough to say good-bye.
“Cygnus…” she whispered, and there was no more to be spoken. Had she so desperately demanded the truth earlier, now the realisation seemed to drown her; had she so fiercely fought against fatigue only a minute before, now it had come to overwhelm her, causing an invisible force to push her deep into her pillows. And yet. Yet Druella sat up in her bed for a brief moment, defying her condition with all her remaining strength, sat up, flung her arms about Cygnus’ neck and pressed her body close against his, feeling his heart palpitate within his chest, clinging to him, never willing to let go. She would not let go…
When sleep took her at last, when she drifted away within his arms into fitful nightmares, tears moistened her cheeks.
For a brief moment, she had forgotten. For a brief moment, she had allowed herself to believe that she had dreamed it all, had thus risen from her bed despite her husband’s startled protests. Druella had risen and for a brief moment it felt as though she were free.
She would have fallen had Cygnus not so quickly caught her, yet she refused to return to bed despite the dizziness, despite the uncontrollable trembling of her body, choosing the chair instead.
The Healers had confined her to her bed and ordered her to sleep — to sleep as much as she could as merely sleep was capable of easing her pain — had prohibited her to strain her body in any way, but why would she care? Why would she care what these fools had instructed her to do, why would she care about anything, if this truly were the end, if none of it were to save her? Druella refused to spend the last days of her life in a bedridden state, would not allow herself to wither away and fade from this life before she had the chance to bid her farewells.
Her husband had never been a man of words, but it was not necessary to speak; their gazes crossed and Druella knew that he understood.
They would lose each other. So soon… They would lose each other so soon… The bare thought almost brought her to her knees, caused her pain greater than anything else in this world could ever be capable of, seemed to choke her from inside. All they had left was one another… And now?
She loved him. Loved him so beyond words, so beyond anything, had made vows and promises never to leave him, and now she was to break them all. She loved him… Cygnus, her Cygnus… He was her rock, her everything, so strong and yet so tender.
Again Druella sought his touch, would have gladly buried her face against his chest and cried, but no more tears would fall from her eyes. Why should she surrender and waste those precious moments she had left with grief, why should she cry instead of savouring each second in his presence? And so she held him, merely held him and closed her eyes, taking in the soothing warmth of his body.
How much she wished for time to stand still, how much she wished that this moment would never end… But it did. Night fell too fast.
Bellatrix had scarcely spoken. Had merely sat there and looked at her mother with a hint of confusion in her eyes, as though she were asking herself what kind of catastrophe were to descend upon them that Druella had chosen to visit her.
She had scarcely spoken, but nor had Druella; it was painful to speak, more painful than she liked to admit. She would not strain herself to talk about everything and nothing when inside she knew that her daughter merely forced herself to listen out of respect and politeness.
It worried her to see how much Bella had drifted away in these past years, to watch her make such dangerous decisions, but what could she do? Bellatrix was no longer a child, she lived according to her own rules, sometimes seeming to have forgotten about her family, so much unlike her youngest sister. She had always been a fighter. But she was still her daughter, she loved her, more than anything else, and she wanted to see her. How could she leave without at least seeing her, only once more?
But she had scarcely spoken, even after hours had passed. And so Druella had risen with a quiet sigh, had briefly touched her daughter’s hand as a silent farewell and turned away from her, scarcely able to hide her sadness, but Bellatrix would not have noticed anyway. She was too deep in thought as to look after her, most likely in the firm assumption that soon they would see one another again.
Cygnus was awaiting her on the street; she had left the house without his knowing, merely left him a brief note, too afraid that he could hold her back in his concern. It had stung her heart, had felt almost like a betrayal after they had fallen asleep so closely intertwined, their eyes flashing with love, yet she knew that she had no choice. But he was here, he was waiting for her, smiling at her as she sighed deeply with relief and wrapped her arms about his waist, leaning slightly on him as they walked, glad that he was there to give her hold.
As they went, Druella once more sighed, turning her head for a moment to look back. She had done everything she could for Bella. It was too late to save her now.
Narcissa, however, was so different. Her beautiful little Cissy who looked so much like her father, whose eyes widened with such surprise as she found her mother standing in the entrance hall.
“What a lovely surprise,” Cissy said with a brief smile as they headed towards the drawing room, gestured her to take a seat. “It is good to see you, Mother.”
“It is good to see you, too, Narcissa,” Druella responded and forced herself to return her daughter’s smile. It warmed her heart to see how happy she looked, to see her eyes glisten with joy and love, to see the burning enthusiasm of a girl whose entire life lay still ahead of her. If only she would never lose it, this beautiful, radiant expression, if only she would never lose her hopefulness. Little Cissy… She was still a girl to her and yet a grown woman already, wed to a man she was so lucky to love beyond anything else in this world, soon to be mother of her own children. “Tell me now. How have you been faring?”
What a relief it was to listen to her words, to just sit there and listen to Narcissa speak of everything and nothing, to watch her as she spoke, unaware of the terrors that agonised her mother’s soul and body. She would not know. Now... Cissy would not know. She, too, had her concerns, worried deeply for her family, Druella knew; she, too, had seen too much already, would sometimes find herself encircled by shadows. But her daughter was still young enough to swallow down all these emotions so easily, to believe that everything would take a turn for the better and she dared not tell her otherwise. Too soon Narcissa would realise, too soon she would find even her last hopes shattered; too soon she would find no other chance than to succumb to the darkness and to accept.
Had Druella once so fiercely attempted to protect her from any harm, she had failed, had not been capable of protecting her from what time had brought upon them. But Narcissa was strong; she was strong, so much stronger than she seemed. And together with her husband she would weather any storm. She was strong…
What a relief it was to listen to her words… But it was over too soon. Narcissa hesitated for a split second as she found her father so suddenly standing in the doorframe as he joined them briefly after darkness had descended upon the world, and when after hours they rose at last, hours of such bliss and love, hours of such soothing oblivion, Druella’s heart weighed heavier than ever before.
Never would she look into those beautiful, wide blue eyes again. Never would she see her daughter again, her beautiful little daughter… Never would she hear her voice again, never her laughter... But when had she last heard her laugh, when had she last heard either of them? Druella knew that she had lost Bella long ago, but Cissy… When had she last seen her lips form into a true, genuine smile?
What a rush of love and affection she felt for her in this moment, more than ever before. It was her right to know why she had come to visit her, her right to know about everything. And yet. Yet, Druella remained silent. Merely pulled her into a brief but gentle embrace, tenderly kissing her cheek and then… Then she turned away.
Sometimes the nightmares would overwhelm her. Sometimes she would wake screaming, gasping for air, her body shaken by the pain, the fever and the sobs. Sometimes she would damn the night she had once loved more than anything else. But at night she was no longer capable of denying her condition; at night she was no longer capable of forcing herself into strength, into refusal. At night, she was helpless.
But he was always there for her; Cygnus was always there, so close to her, holding her, no matter how despairingly she struggled against him in her delirium. He held her, kept her still and whispered to her quiet words of love until she collapsed against his body at last, weak and exhausted. Only he knew how to calm her, under any circumstances.
“Shhhh…” he muttered, over and over again, burying his face in her hair, gently rocking her in his arms. “Shhhh… Ella… Shhhh… Quiet now…”
How much she needed him… How much she had always needed him. How many times before had he caught her when she had been in such danger of falling? He was her rock; without him, she would be lost. But he needed her, too. Cygnus needed her, too, so desperately. She, too, gave him hold in times of despair, she, too, was there for him. They were one, their souls connected by a sacred bond that grew stronger and stronger with every day passing, a bond that would last even in death. Even in death… Even in death… And yet she would leave him. She would leave him so soon, and it seemed to tear her apart, seemed to shatter her heart into a thousand pieces. She would leave him, would be separated from him in such a cruel way, never to return, never to see him again, never to hold him again. How would he ever be able to forgive her? Cygnus, her Cygnus, her heart, her soul, her everything…
The thought alone nearly choked her, caused her body to tremble even more, to cling to him, to cling to him so despairingly as though she were a child. She was so frightened…
Druella had never been afraid of Death; not if it meant to die for those she loved. She would gladly live her life for her husband and her daughters; would gladly have given her life if only she had been capable of saving her parents from their horrifying deaths. She had never been afraid of Death and yet now she was, now she was afraid, frightened so beyond belief.
At night she was helpless. Cygnus had always been capable of taking away any of her fears, but how could he now when she could so clearly see his own struggle against his emotions? How could he still…
Shouldn't she be there for him, too? Shouldn’t she force herself to remain strong even at night, tell him that it would be all right and smile at him, smile at him no matter how much it hurt, no matter how despairingly she desired to cry? But how… How could she, if they both knew that nothing would be all right ever again? If they both knew that…
It would not be all right. She would leave him. She would leave her daughters. It would not be all right… The pain, too, had long gone beyond her endurance with nothing being capable of bringing her relief, no potions, no matter how many of them Cygnus made her swallow with a tender force, no spells no matter how many he cast upon her. Nothing. Nothing at all.
At night she was helpless. At night, all her strength seemed lost.
And so she cried; cried and screamed, succumbed to her weakness instead of giving him comfort, her cheeks burning with tears and shame. Druella had once loved the night, had once loved it so much, but now she feared it, now she feared the time, time that would never stand still.
And so she cried. Cried, night by night, waking from nightmares that showed her the cruellest phantasms, cried, no longer able to breathe, no longer able to think, far beyond the edge of hysteria. Cygnus…
And so she cried, but he was always there, close to her, waking by her side, watching over her as she drifted away, never taking his eyes off her. And when dawn broke each day at last, when Druella woke to the first rays of sunlight flooding the room, she found him fast asleep, their hands still connected.
It had been so easy to speak to Narcissa, to see Bellatrix even… It had been so easy to visit them, and to look into their eyes…
This, however, was different. This wasn’t easy, and how long had she hesitated… How many times had she promised herself that she would forget, how many times had she attempted to ban any thoughts, any memories from her mind, how many times had she…
It was impossible to forget, Druella knew. No matter how desperately she had tried, it had always been impossible. And now? Now, there she was, standing there on the street, breathing in the cold winter’s air as snow came falling from the sky, getting caught within her hair, covering the world around her in a silent, white veil. There she was, heavily supported by Cygnus as she could scarcely walk without his assistance any longer. She knew that he wanted to refuse to join her, and how could she blame him? How could she blame him when she, too, had hesitated for too long? This was for her to do, for her alone… And yet he had brought her here at her request, and he would wait for her, would never stay far from her.
And there the girl stood, more beautiful than ever with her long, dark hair falling down her shoulders in thick locks, with her soft features and her wide brown eyes resting on Druella, widened with surprise. There the girl stood in the doorframe, right before her, her stomach visibly swollen…
Druella nearly stumbled when she saw her.
“Mother…” Andromeda breathed, startled, reflexively reaching out her arm to steady her. “Mother, are you all right?”
How worried she looked. Neither Bellatrix nor Narcissa seemed to have noticed Druella’s physical condition, neither of them had noticed her weakness, the shaking of her body… And now? Now, should Andromeda, after all these years…? Impossible. It was impossible, how could she possibly…
And yet, she asked.
It all went too fast. Andromeda led her to the drawing room, helped her sit down in a large armchair and brought her a cup of tea before Druella had the chance to speak, before she had the chance to realise what was happening.
Her senses told her to leave, told her to accept that it had been a mistake to reach out to her middle daughter, her lost daughter who had so foolishly, so selfishly, betrayed them, who had chosen her own happiness over her duty, over her family, and hurt them all so beyond belief, her daughter who was supposed to be her daughter no more… Her senses told her to leave, to leave and to forget at last, but her heart…
“You look ill, Mother,” Andromeda said quietly, and Druella nearly winced; for a moment, a brief moment, she had been too lost within her thoughts to realise that she was still there in the room.
Druella did not respond. She merely sighed and bit her lip in an attempt to swallow down the questions she was so desperate to ask. No. No, she would not respond, would not speak… And so they sat there in silence, sat there opposite of one another, all in silence as though they were strangers, as though they were not mother and daughter. And yet, this kind of silence was so different to anything she knew; she remembered how uncomfortable she had felt within her other daughter’s home merely two days before, remembered how Bellatrix had scarcely looked at her, almost as though she had not fully realised that she was not alone. This, however… This was different, so different. It was almost a soothing silence, far from uncomfortable; it was almost familiar.
The question burnt on Andromeda’s lips and within her eyes. Druella could clearly see how much she struggled in order to compose herself, to not allow the words to come bursting from her lips. Sometimes it felt as though she were looking into the mirror, as though her reflection were staring back at her, full of love, full of hope and youthful naivety. They had always looked so alike…
Why have you come here? Why after all these years?
But she wouldn’t say them. Andromeda held back, just sat there, merely sat there, her hands resting gently on her belly, and then… Then, finally, after minutes had passed, minutes that felt like hours, she smiled.
She had run away. Andromeda had run away for what she believed to be love, had committed such an unspeakable betrayal, abandoned those she had once been closest to, putting such shame on her family… How many nights had Druella cast a silencing spell upon her bedroom and screamed, screamed out her despair, crying herself to sleep mere moments later? How many nights had she spent restlessly pacing about the house, thinking of her, wondering where she might be, despising herself for still worrying about her lost daughter who had perhaps long forgotten them all? And there she was now, her Andromeda, smiling at her mother with such joy over their unexpected reunion, oblivious to the true reason behind her visit; there she was, smiling, looking happier than she had ever before in her life.
It was a smile that took Druella’s breath away; she could barely suppress a gasp and she closed her eyes. How much she had missed her, how much she missed her still… Even if she wanted, she was no longer able to deny it, was no longer able to deny that her only true mistake had been to not visit her daughter…
But it was too late now. Too late for everything… She could not tell her the truth, could not speak out the words that seemed impossible to speak, seemed impossible to even think, words that were so unreal to her and yet the truth. She couldn’t…
Instead Druella merely reached out her arm to briefly touch her daughter’s knee, looked at her, all in silence. Andromeda hesitated at first, but then she took her mother’s hand into both of hers, squeezing it gently, and in that moment they both knew that she had forgiven her.
She could not tell her…
Even if she wanted, Druella would not have had the strength to leave the house once more. The curse took its toll on her, took its toll on them both. Cygnus, too, seemed weak; he was pale, with dark shadows circling his eyes, barely slept as though he were afraid that he could lose her in the moment he allowed himself to drift away.
Had she before forced herself into consciousness, into living as though nothing had ever happened and swallowing the pain and the worries, now it seemed impossible to go on. She could scarcely walk as her legs would no longer carry her, could scarcely deny the passing of time.
And yet she still refused to lie down, refused to be locked into their bedroom and confined to their bed, no matter how desperately Cygnus implored her to rest, found herself in the drawing room instead, seated on the piano stool with her husband close behind her to steady her when necessary, her shaking hands resting on the instrument’s ivory keys.
How much had she once loved to play, how many hours had she spent lost in music, her fingers swiftly flying over the keys as though only then her body were complete? How much had she once loved to play… But those times were long past; she had not touched the piano for years, had so suddenly abandoned her beloved instrument and never returned.
“Ella,” Cygnus whispered, placing a hand carefully upon her shoulder. He had not startled her and yet she winced at his sudden touch. “Play for me.”
She couldn’t. Truly couldn’t, not any more… Had ceased to practise too long ago, had lost control over her movements… She couldn’t, no matter how desperately she wanted to. She couldn’t. And yet…
“Please. Just once more.”
The longing in his voice took her breath away; briefly Druella turned her head to look at him, looked deeply into his eyes and only then realised how much it meant to him. He had listened to her for hours and never gotten tired, had closed his eyes in such bliss and listened… Never would he hear her play again, never would he find her seated at the piano again, never would music fill the house’s halls… Never again.
“Play for me…” he repeated, gently caressing her cheek as he spoke. And so for him she played.
It was over. No matter how desperately she struggled to rise, she always fell; no matter how desperately she fought against her weakness, it was a battle she was destined to lose. It was over. Cygnus would always carry her back to bed, would never leave her side, would gently kiss her brow and hold her hand, whisper to her, caress her…
It was over.
Druella slept and woke merely to fade into sleep once more moments later, incapable of keeping her eyes open longer than a minute. She reached out her arm to look for him, to make sure that he was still there, and he was. He would always be there, so close and yet so far away. But then… Then finally he crawled into bed, too, as he noticed how despairingly she sought his touch, pulled her shivering body close into his arms and held her tight, so tight…
Her Cygnus… he had remained silent for so long, had talked even less during the past days, merely listening to her and responding when she had demanded it, hesitantly as though he were afraid of interrupting her, seeming to savour each of her words as long as she…
But now he spoke. Now, now that she was too weak, he spoke. Spoke to her with a voice no louder than a whisper, spoke so soothingly, as though he were free of any care, but Druella noticed that he worried; she noticed that the sadness he had been known to hide so well now returned to him, hit him with full force, not allowing him to escape. She noticed how scared he was, truly, just as she had always noticed, just as she had always seen his true state of mind as long as they had been together. And yet. Yet for her he smiled, as though to take away her own fear.
He spoke, bringing the most beautiful memories back to her mind, spoke of their wedding day, the day their souls had truly become one in a small, private ceremony so unlike the large feasts that were deemed appropriate by society, spoke of their picnics in his favourite spots of nature near their home and the first time they had kissed beneath the willow tree during a nightly walk through the school’s estates at the age of sixteen. He spoke of them. And Druella’s lips, too, formed into the slightest of smiles as she listened.
“My Ella…” he breathed, placing a soft kiss on her hairline. He would not let her go, she knew, not until she had fallen asleep so close to him, not until she had found her peace, not until for the last time he had kissed her goodnight. He would not let her go.
“It will be all right. Everything will be all right.”
It almost sounded like the truth, coming from Cygnus’ mouth, said with his voice. It felt so much like the truth… Again he kissed her, but his lips scarcely touched her skin, again he spoke her name, so quietly as though it were a prayer. And he held her, held her tight within his arms for hours and hours, even when his own body began to tremble with the realisation that before dawn broke it would be over. Everything would be over.
She was so tired. So exhausted. But she was not afraid, not anymore. She felt so safe within his arms. It was as though nothing would ever be able to harm her. Nothing at all. Even when sleep had taken her, Druella heard him speak to her, listened to his words and remembered. How happy they had been once, how young and how foolish. They had long grown up, together, but their love, so strong, so powerful that they had once believed it would overcome anything in this world, had never ceased and would not. Their love would never cease.
When finally Druella opened her eyes, the room lay in total darkness, but still she could see him, could see her Cygnus so clearly before her. He had fallen silent, and for a brief moment she believed that he was asleep, but no. No, he looked at her, looked at her with such love within his eyes, and yet such incredible sadness. He looked at her for what seemed like an eternity, and she held his gaze, then slowly, slowly, he lifted his hand to her cheek to touch it, to caress her skin and her hair, lifted his head to kiss her like he had kissed her so many nights before. But this was different. This was so different. She was so tired…
It was over.
“Sleep now, Ella,” he whispered, the words scarcely passing his lips. Had she been struggling so desperately to keep her eyes open, had she wanted to look at him forever mere seconds before, now Druella wanted to give in, wanted to succumb to her exhaustion, to her weariness. Once more their gazes crossed and then… Then she saw them. Saw the tears moistening his cheeks.
“I love you…” she muttered, as slowly her mind began to drift away. “I love you, mon coeur…”
From far, far away, Druella could hear him inhale sharply, as though he were attempting to suppress a sob, felt his grip about her body tighten. For a moment, silence. Nothing but silence, but when Cygnus spoke at last, her own tears began to spill from her eyes. When he spoke, she, too, sobbed, a quiet, powerless sob. And only then did she allow herself to fade. Only then did she let go.
“I love you too, cara mia.”