Chapter 2 : This Is Now
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Thirty Seven Years Later
“My Lord,” continued Barius, walking along the small courtroom, “how can the defendant be accountable of her actions when placed under the Imperius curse at the time?”
It definitely was a smaller courtroom than what Louise was used to. Then again, for a woman in her early fifties who had been detained in Azkaban over the past couple of months, who was she to complain? She should just be grateful that the air wasn't tainted with that taste of rusted metal.
Barius glanced at her as he returned by her side. If he managed to free her, he would be one of the best barristers in Wizarding History. His career would be pretty much set in stone. There was absolutely no hope for those such as Bellatrix Lestrange, but this seemed winnable. A lot of lawyers had been trying to get in on this one, knowing that they would not be out of work for quite a while if this went well. However, this also meant that there was a lot of pressure, not to mention the intense skill required.
“But Mrs Dringham has been sound of mind for these what... how many years?”
Louise's lids lifted themselves to be in eye line with Barty Crouch, her judge. “Just over twenty years.”
”Louise,” called a hoarse voice.
Her entire body became rigid at the sound. Louise could go weeks without having to speak to him. Without having to look at him. But when she heard his voice, she wasn't just expected to be there. She was expected to run.
Darting into the room, Louise looked around the bleak living quarters. Lowering her head slightly, she muttered, “My Dark Lord.” Her head then turned to the others in turn and continued her greeting. “Antonin, Ricktor – how's Rasbastan?”
Ricktor Lestrange smiled. “Now an elder brother.”
Louise's smiled equaled his. “Marvelous.” She envied Ricktor enough for having the one child. Lord Voldemort saw the expression of Louise's face, and wondered at the dumbness of it. He was creating one of the greatest empires, and she had nothing better to do than go asking after children?
“I suppose I am about to hear all good news?” Voldemort's face slowly swept across the room. It wasn't a question – it was an order.
Antonin Dolohov coughed as he began. “There's unrest at the Ministry. Inclusion policies -”
Voldemort laughed. “Inclusion policies? Leach is becoming a more astounding Minister for Magic by the second.”
“He doesn't believe that your blood status should be filled in on application forms,” interrupted Louise.
“Did I tell you to speak?”
“I'm sorry, my Lord, you didn't tell me to be silent,” answered Louise. She couldn't help but notice something flicker across Ricktor Lestrange's face. If it were not for the blatant fear, she almost thought he looked impressed.
“Just over twenty years,” repeated Barty Crouch in just as much of a severe tone. “Why did she not come forward?”
Barius pursed his lips. This is where it naturally became trickier. “The defendant was scared for her life, My Lord. This is not just any man whom we speak of.”
“Mrs Dringham's knowledge could've been invaluable.” There was a flare in Barty Crouch's expression that was undeniable. So much so that it made Louise flinch at the very notion of it. “Mrs Dringham.” It took several moments before Louise realised that he was speaking directly to her. “Why did you not come forward with any information concerning the Dark Lord?”
Back straightening, Louise paused to look at Barty Crouch, Barius, the jury, and then a flash of her own reflection from the armrests. Finally, she said, “I was married, had children, and moved on in life. It would be risking them more than anything.”
“Yes, you married a Muggle.”
“I married my husband,” corrected Louise, not bothering to point out the irony on how important a courtroom of anti-prejudice members found his magical abilities so important. “His distance from everything around me was fortunate.”
The summer wind brushed against Louise as she walked along the pathway. It was a refreshing opportunity to walk outside. Sometimes she wondered if she could just drop everything she held and run anywhere. Even if she didn't speak the language too well, she could learn. But Voldemort could find her. When Tom was no more, her affection may have lessened, his power became stronger.
“I'm fine. Really -”
Louise felt her head lift as she heard the strange voice. The language was English, she couldn't mistake that, there, but it sounded so foreign at the same time. It was more nasal than anything she had been used to. Walking over towards it, she saw a young man trying to remove himself from one of the Albanian children.
Handing over notes of Albanian Lek, Louise said, “Jo,” and continued to shoo the child away.
Turning her attention back to the man, Louise explained, “It's the only way they get any money.”
“Well thank you.” The man had one of the broadest smiles that Louise had seen in a long time. It was so sincerely happy that Louise almost felt an urge to walk away. “Never thought a Brit would help one of us out.”
“Oh, I didn't mean to...” Shrugging his shoulders, the man stated, “I keep forgetting that some of you British find that offensive.”
“No, I don't...you're not British?”
This caused quite some laughter to ensue. “God, no! Again, I didn't mean... I'm American. I know it's not that strong an accent in comparison to the other States, but I thought you would've heard...”
“I've never heard an American accent before.”
His eyebrows buried downwards, and Louise dismissed this as arrogance being the cause of it, rather than her own ignorance. “How long have you been here for?”
“Well,” He tried to put aside his slight astonishment, “it's still a pleasure to meet you, Ma'am. I'm Alex Dringham.”
“Louise Ri - Tonnewroth,” replied Louise in equal measure, though she merely stared at his outstretched hand.
“And you eventually escaped with him?” pressed Crouch, oblivious or indifferent to her tone.
“I left with him, yes.”
“How did He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named react?”
“I don't know,” answered Louise. Her mouth then twisted in a way that she had seen the Dark Lord do so many times. It was an excellent method of undermining, and Louise made sure that she had learned something from the experience. “I didn't think to ask.”
“You must forgive Miss Dringham,” said Barius hastily. “The conditions in Azkaban have weighed on her.” Barius attempted to then somehow signal to Louise that being rude or sarcastic wasn't going to spare her life.
“I didn't tell him that I was leaving,” she said, correcting her manner. “You don't just leave him.”
“But you somehow managed to?”
“I found the incentive.”
“Her current husband was placed under threat,” explained Barius.
”You really don't have to...”
Louise had now been trying to shake Alex off for weeks now, but he just wouldn't disappear. He was always so helpful and happy, it was disturbing to her. Unfortunately, given how introverted she had become, her signals weren't strong enough for him to gather. Therefore, the habit continued, and Louise was becoming less helpless, though she had to admit that it was nice to have some extra muscle around the place. Despite all the strength the Dark Lord claimed he had, he wasn't one to help collect the basics.
“It's no problem, Miss Tonnewroth.”
“Mr. Dringham,” Louise turned on her heel just before the country road, “thank you for everything, but I can take it from here.”
“You say that every day,” retorted Alex in a jovial, almost teasing tone, “but I'm not having it.”
“Just give me my bags.”
“Louise!' Antonin strolled along the street, the same hauty expression, a frustrating and overbearing characteristic of his. “Didn't expect to see you here.”
“On my street?” joked Louise meekly. “I was just getting some food stuffs in...”
“Quite a lot there... by the looks of the Dark Lord, I thought he wasn't eating.” Antonin's eyes widened. “If I may be as bold as to say -”
Louise scowled. “He has a lot to do in so little time. He needs reminding now and again.” Antonin glanced at Alex, expecting an introduction that he most certainly wasn't going to get from Louise. “Anyway,” she pressed, “must be getting on.”
“Can't keep the husband waiting. Good day, Louise.” And on that shattering piece of news, Antonin walked away.
Louise was almost afraid to look back at Alex. However, much to her surprise, he had a calm composure, simply stating, “You're married?”
“And all this time I've been calling you Miss Tonnewroth, when you're Mrs -”
“Riddle, yes. You can see why it's best that you don't come down the street.”
"Then why tell me you're single?"
"Because you wouldn't want to meet the man I married."
“- but he had already been discovered,” finished Louise. “Letting him stay in Albania would've have been signing his death warrant.”
Barty Crouch paused, glaring at Louise as if right through her. Then, with an almost casual demeanor, he asked, “Mrs Dragham, may I ask you a question?”
“I'm here to answer anything you ask.” Louise felt that pointing out that she had no choice would be utterly futile.
“Are you aware of how many people have died in the last decade, year, dare I even say month, because of what has occurred?”
Louise's lips tightened. “I'm loyal to those I love.”
“And that's He Who Must Not Be Named!” declared Crouch with a look of triumph.
“Once. Now it's to my family. You could read off every damn person who's passed on. Tell me the ordinary men, mothers and children who have died. But I know who's not on there. If I had come forward, if I had so much as stepped out of line, that would have been it. And I think that you'd have to be fairly -” Louise stopped herself. “I think a lot of people would share my view.”
But, of course, Barty Crouch didn't. Louise had almost made the mistake of forgetting that this was a man who had thrown his own child into Azkaban. It was a shame, Barty Crouch Jnr; she had been fortunate enough to have never met the boy, but nobody should have their life so utterly ruined by nineteen. She should know.
Eventually, the jury were left to chatter, and Louise sat in the centre, glancing around the room. Barius watched her more intensely, wondering what the jury would think of that face.
“She's surprisingly strong,” muttered a woman into his ear. Barius span around to find Matilda Warren, who continued to explain, “I went to school with her. She was completely broken by the end. Well, I told you -”
“And we thank you for that.”
“I just can't believe a Muggle could change a woman so much,” mused Matilda. “I'm not surprised at all by the Dark Lord, we know what he could do, but the Muggle. She used to look like she could break at any second.”
“Still does,” replied Barius. “But it's different. The thing I've found, Mrs. Warren, over the years is that everyone changes slightly with each new relationship, unfortunately often most strongly seen in the romantic. Some make them stronger, and some are crippled, they become a sacrifice to the relationship.”
“It's not quite to that extent usually, it's only used with some Muggle religion, but pretty much. I actually feel bad for her.”
“That's rare in your profession,” stated Matilda with a small smile. “But you don't have to be. Not such an unhappy ending, if she makes it through. Not many of us find something to fight for.”
Louise placed various items into the small bag, though it gained hardly any weight. Perhaps if she had bothered learning in school, rather than pining over Tom, she would have been able to do this a long time ago.
Throwing the bag out of the window, Louise gave a deep sigh as it crashed into the earth, ready for collection when she left the house. If she could. Louise half suspected that he would just know as soon as he laid eyes on her. Look past her demeanor and look into the panic stricken creature that was ready to flee.
The Dark Lord sat in the living room, gazing lazily at the fire place. Louise stepped down, but a merciless crack that resounded from the floor boards drew attention to her. The Dark Lord turned his head, so slowly that Louise half wondered if it was stop at the side and not just make a complete circle around.
“I wanted a walk. I haven't left the house.”
“You didn't think to ask?”
Louise was still. The moment she had let love stop blinding her, the humiliation began to seep through. She half wished that she was still numbed by the obsession, just so she could forget the burning and mortifying pain that she was forced to endure. Quietly, she replied, “I didn't think to bother you.”
“You've been making more and more of an effort not to... bother me, as of late. Many have commented that it has been since that Muggle began bothering you.”
More rigid, Louise laughed lightly. “Do you think I'm going off to play with Muggles.”
“Not at all. It's just that, I know what Muggle men can do to Witches...” The Dark Lord's eyes lit up with passion, though Louise couldn't quite read it. “The last thing I'd want is to think that you were being bothered.”
“You sound like you care,” blurted out Louise.One last spot of desperation. Louise wondered if there was any reply that he could say to make her stay. For her to once again see the man she had conned herself into falling in love with.
“Why wouldn't I? If you were to be a Blood Traitor, it wouldn't just reflect poorly on me.” At any rate, that wasn't it.
“Goodbye,” choked Louise as she slammed the front door shut. Rushing to the side she grabbed the bag and began to walk down the street. If Alex had been smart enough to read her letter, he'd already be on a boat to France by now. All she'd need to do is get ready to fly and make it all the way back. For a moment, Louise felt brightened, beginning to run. All that time, Tom, Voldemort - whoever he was had pretended to see her potential, but just let it waste away; but now, she was proving herself.
But like all happy moments over the past few years, this was fleeting. A jet of light went straight by her, and Louise immediately set to mounting her broom. It couldn't have been the Dark Lord; as painful as it was to admit, he would have just killed her.
Now zooming to her side as she progressed into the air, Ricktor called out, “I never thought you were this stupid, Louise.”
“He knew it. He said you would go. But I had always thought... you were the most loyal of us all.”
“I was the best bred for the job,” snapped Louise.
“Ricktor, you have children, you have a wife. You may hate Mudbloods, and you may hate every Muggle you have ever seen, but if the Dark Lord kept you in a room and told you that -”
“Don't emotionally blackmail me, Louise. You've done enough. It's the reason I haven't shot you down already.”
“Let me go.”
“If you leave, I don't know what he'll do.”
“Make his own tea,” shouted Louise hysterically, “pay his own compliments. Don't worry about him, Ricktor, he can go it alone.”
“He thinks he can.”
“Are you doubting him? Doubting the Dark Lord?”
“I'm not doubting you.”
“Ricktor, if you set me free, I will always remember it.” But it was unnecessary to say, as Louise could already tell that she was winning the fight.
Nonetheless, it was not a forgotten promise, and Barius was only too grateful that nobody else seemed to let slip that Louise had harboured Rabastan for a number of years when he had grown old enough. Ricktor had made good his promise, and the only reason that Louise was now being brought to the attention of the Courts was because of the letter he left with his will wishing her the best in life.
The jury became silent, and Louise grabbed onto her knees. It had been the only moment in the court case that she had shown true fear. Barty Crouch looked to the stocky witch at the far left and asked, “Have the jury come to their decision?” She nodded, and Barius was sure his knees had slightly buckled. “Do you, the jury, find the defendant guilty, or not guilty of the war crimes which she has been committed?”
Clamouring off her broom, tired and restless, Louise wasn't entirely sure she had made the right port at all. It was only the various signs that had made her certain she was in the right country. With the high altitude, Louise was impressed with the distance she had travelled.
As she trudged along the street, she searched for that one familiar face. The one that would make everything OK. So far, there was nothing with the odd glare towards her dishevelled appearance. One person even offered her help, but she replied in her most basic French that she was fine.
“So you've heard a French accent before, but I'm the first American?”
Louise turned on the spot so quickly that she had done two full rounds. Alex stood with his hands in his pockets, beaming and holding a ridiculous amount of luggage. He then compared his to her small satchel. “That's all?”
“Magic,” she explained simply.
Alex shrugged his shoulders. “Oh gosh, that's right. I almost forgot you did that.”
“No.” Alex had now dropped his bags, picking her up by the waist and spun her around, while she laughed gleefully, surprised that she knew how. “I just love to hear it. Magic... you're magic, your bag's magic, it's all magic.”
“I think it is now.” Sliding down to an equal level, Louise hesitated for a moment. “Can I kiss you?”
“Louise, I told you I loved you a week ago. I really think you don't need permission.”
That was the memory that Louise thought of when she walked into the sunlight, a free woman once more. At least, as any woman could be. The best option, Louise had decided, was to choose her own imprisonment and attachment, and that was the family that were waiting for her at Trafalgar Square. She had no choice, really. They loved one another too much to ever dream of leaving. It was a sacrifice that Louise could finally count on.
As Alex saw her walked towards him, he saw a youthfulness in her eyes that only shone on the rarest occasions. But when they did, he almost thought that they were gold.
A/N: Well, I hope you enjoyed this! Just to clarify, this is the final chapter of this version of the story. I am deliberating another, but I don't think I'll begin putting it on the website until I've actually finished it, so it may be a while. But thank you for all for supportive and beautiful reviews - though few, the ones that I have had for this story have been consistantly the most heartwarming.
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