Stone Cold Sober
They think I'm mad. I can see it in their faces when they press their noses against the blackened metal bars that separate us. I used to find it amusing. I'd sit in the darkest corner of the cell, my hair melting seamlessly into the shadows. They'd peer, and I could imagine them wondering if somehow, somehow I'd managed to do the impossible. Had I escaped?
I was a chameleon, in disguise against the darkness. They'd peer deeper, leaning towards the bars. Perhaps they'd turn to each other, mutter, "Where is she? Where is Madam Lestrange?" My name would drop, already cloying and rotten from their lips and ooze between the bars of the cell. To me. My eyes would open then, and I laughed in delight as they retreated.
"Stay away," I'd hiss. "Stay away."
And they would. They'd stumble back as I stood, as I strode, bare feet padding on the damp floor, to clutch at the bars. I laughed at that.
That's what they used to do. They'd stare, words drying on their tongues. They'd plaster their backs against the wall opposite me, staring in horror as I smiled. And why would I not? Time is temporary. I was locked up then… now… but it would not… will not… last forever. Their future was their past. He would come and He would reign once more. Should I tell them? Or no… words are cheaper. Let them shuffle closer, emboldened by the magic that renders me powerless. Let them read their fate in my eyes.
They didn't come again.
Time is temporary but in here, there is no time. We are encapsulated, and days are measured in howls, hours by the rattling breaths of the guards as they glass-glide through the labyrinth of cells. But it is not time when nothing else exists. When there is nothing to come.
But now - when I wake, they're here. Am I awake? Who knows.
"Lestrange." It's not treacle, but shards of glass that splinter at my feet. I open my eyes and focus.
Nobody comes here. Not now. But they are here.
"Stand up, Lestrange."
The sound of human voices is jarring. I can feel the rough stone on the back of my neck as I flinch.
I turn my face to them. They don't look afraid. Their lips curl in derision as I reach for the wall behind me, to steady myself, to pull myself up. It has been… but what is the point? What has the point in moving been? What is the point in keeping count of how long I have sat, a living effigy in a unchanging tomb?
I can almost hear hobnailed boots clack against the stone floor as I move towards them, but a glance down shatters the illusion. Silver chains, like serpents, wrap my arms in their icy embrace. They slither after me. Loyal pets. They haven't left me since I was imprisoned.
I look back at the men. The one on the left, the pink skin of his face, flushed unnaturally with the smutty flicker of the sconces, stretches tight over too much flab. He eats well, steaks and venison. Veal. Foie gras. I have not tasted…
But the other man is impatient. He glowers in the light, filled with self importance as his eyes roam over my body. His gaze, like mine, rest on my broken, yellowed nails, on dirt encrusted fingers.
"Times have changed, Lestrange." His voice is clipped, low, deep. "Times have changed and powerful forces are at work."
He leans in. Times have changed. He is not afraid. Time is unmoving. The other man will not come close.
"Where is he? Where is the one you seek?"
The one I seek? My Lord, my master?
"You…" My voice is as cracked as my lips, paper thin. It brushes his long hair and he flinches back, uncomfortable. That's better. My lips stretch. It hurts, and I fancy the skin in the corners of my mouth cracks and flakes. Blood, pure, crimson, blood, trickles to my chin. It is a flash of colour in our drab surroundings. They will remember the blood after the meeting. Pure blood spilt at last. The traitors will be demanding more.
"I told you her mind would be hazy." The fat man had crept forward, was whispering in his partner's ear. He tapped the tall man on his shoulder, reached up to whisper. I can see his buttons straining now, the pattern of the seam of his shoes. My toes curl in the cold.
They stare at me, at the Mark's faint outline. The tall man's silvery hair gleams and he bends to me once more.
"Give us the answers, Lestrange. Where is he? Is he back? Is it true? Have you felt…"
His long, thin finger traces over his forearm.
"Back? My Lord?"
My hair is filthy. I can feel it itching, almost moving, and my hands go to it, to my face, and I spit, rubbing it to my cheek. He is back? He is back and he shan't forget me.
"I told you, she's crazy. Anyone spending any time in here will be, and she's been rotting for fourteen years now."
"Fourteen?" I freeze. "Fourteen years, here?"
"And you look like hell for it, Bella."
Bella. Bella… and his face comes back. "Malfoy." I whisper, and the candle behind him flickers. "Malfoy, you're here?" And I cackle.
"You didn't recognise me?" His manicured eyebrow raised and scorn stole over his face.
"You ask me, when I am here? You are free." He pales. I have lived with the dementors so long that I can feed on hope as well as them. "He will not show mercy to you. He shan't show mercy to those who snuck and pretended and hid in the world. He will reward me. Me. Rodolphus. Rabasten. All of us here. He will reward us for we are loyal. I am loyal to Him."
I clutch at the bars again, and this time, my fingers twist and cling to the cold metal. In fourteen years, I can feel again.
He begins to lecture, to spout his virtues, but words are cheap. Words mean nothing, and my Lord, my Master, knows this. In the madness of the storm, I was the one to carry on. I served him. I serve him. I am here. I am loyal. I am not mad, not crazy or hazy. For the first time in fourteen years, I am stone cold sober, and I laugh until fat little Crabbe manages to drag Malfoy away from my cell.
How long will I laugh? Time is temporary but in here, there is no time. I laugh and blood drips from my lips, soaking into the robes of the dementors as they bend me to the floor, and press their lips to mine.
He is coming. He is coming. That hope burns bright long after the demons are gone and I am stone cold sober.