Druella slept poorly, fitfully. That was hardly unusual – she couldn't remember sleeping well for a long time. She dreamed about Charis and Cygnus dancing and woke up sweaty and cold, feeling sick to her stomach and was barely able to drag herself out of bed to the lavatory. Her face was pale and shone with perspiration in the light and she wanted to be sick.
"You're being stupid, Dru," she said out loud, glaring at herself in the mirror. "They're related."
As though that made any difference.
Everyone knew that the Blacks didn't shy away from incest – it was one of the many jokes that circulated around the lower Pureblood families when they grew tired of the Blacks' superior attitude. Druella had heard enough quiet, snide comments about their inbreeding to last her a lifetime.
People seemed to think it was funny. Or, rather – perhaps they didn't think it was funny at all. Perhaps it was just the only thing they could think to insult about a family so much better than theirs. The Blacks didn't breed with each other half as much as the Lestranges did, after all, and no one commented on the Lestranges.
But just the fact that they did breed with each other –that they did so more than the Rosiers – was enough that Druella couldn't help but worry that Cygnus wanted Charis.
Married to Caspar Crouch, a boring little stick of a man, nowhere near enough to keep a girl like Charis interested.
As if she'd ever be interested in Cygnus. He's even duller than Caspar.
Druella drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, through gritted teeth, then splashed water onto her face and lifted the shade over the window. There was only the faintest line of light on the horizon to indicate that dawn was approaching and she couldn't guess that it was any later than four in the morning.
She stepped back into her bedroom and glanced at the bed with distaste, for the very idea of going back to sleep made her shudder – she didn't want any more bad dreams. It was better to stay awake.
After all, though she couldn't speak for men's opinions, she privately thought that the effect of a sleep-deprived girl was rather pretty. Thin girls with shadows beneath their eyes and sunken cheeks were much lovelier than girls who were all plump cheeks and wide, false smiles.
Girls like Charis are prettier than girls like me.
Charis could look beautiful when she didn't smile – she could look tragic and thoughtful instead of merely sullen, which was how Druella looked when she didn't smile. She had been told so very many times that she ought to smile and she never wanted to.
Druella picked up her embroidery hoop and sat down on her window seat, drawing her knees up to her chest and stabbing the needle in and out of the fabric quickly, trying to keep her hands steady enough to form stitches so tiny that they could not be seen and would build up like a line of individual grains of sugar…
But her eyes drooped with tiredness and her fingers would not move correctly.
Charis would have no difficulty with this.
She could think of nothing but Charis, damn Charis, and the embroidery only reminded her how very much better at it Charis was. So she threw down the hoop and rested her forehead against the glass, letting her eyes slide out of focus until the sun had risen properly and her bedroom was filled with pale sunlight and Gabriele came in to dress her daughter.
Druella wished that she still had a nurse to do it. Her last nurse had been dismissed all too recently and Gabriele had said that she would no longer pay a woman to take care of Druella, when Druella would soon have her own host of children to take care of.
"Did you sleep well, my darling?" Gabriele asked, but she didn't wait for an answer, which suited Druella perfectly well, because she did not care to give one. "Stand up."
She obliged and gripped the bedpost, letting her mother lace up her corset quickly and skilfully. Druella tried to keep tears out of her eyes as Gabriele tugged the strings of her corset and Druella stared at herself in her mirror, watching her waist become smaller and smaller until it looked quite unhealthy to her, and only then did her mother move back and was Druella allowed to straighten up, gasping for air.
"It's too tight, Mother–"
"Nonsense. You've always worn it that tight before – if it feels too tight now, it means that you've put on weight."
It always hurts, and you do not lace it this tightly usually! Druella wanted to scream, but she resisted, rubbing her eyes under the guise of brushing away sleep when she was really trying to wipe her tears.
"Cygnus is going to be coming by for tea," Gabriele told Druella. "And I expect you to be civil to him for once."
"For once!" Druella was aware of a tearful note in her voice and didn't care. "I am always civil to him, Mother. I've never done anything worse than leave him alone for a few minutes…"
"I saw the way you were eyeing him when he was dancing with Charis last night."
"Should he not be the one chastised for dancing with another woman?" Druella challenged. "I was at least faithful–"
"It is not infidelity to dance with a cousin," Gabriele said sharply. "You will not accuse him of–"
"I'm sorry!" Druella interrupted. She could not stand to be told by another person not to be suspicious of Cygnus – he had already told her that. She drew in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. "I'm very sorry, Mother. I do not mean to be suspicious of him – I know that he is a good man."
"He certainly is. You should count yourself lucky to be betrothed to a man like him." For just a second, Gabriele's eyes flickered and the smallest shade of a frown appeared on her lips. "Not all girls are so lucky."
"Did you count yourself lucky to be betrothed to Father?" Druella asked.
Gabriele glared sharply at her daughter. "What sort of question is that, Druella?" she demanded, and Druella didn't respond. She knew better than to bait her mother unnecessarily – it was so much better to make it seem like her question had been asked in innocence. At last, Gabriele let out a shuddering, tense breath.
"Of course I did. Your father is a very good man," she said, then she turned and hurried out before Druella could ask any further questions.
Part of Druella wanted to gloat, but she couldn't quite bring a smile to her face. And her corset was still too tight.
She slipped into the lavatory and bent over the toilet, pushing her fingers down to the back of her throat until she gagged and spat up a mouthful of acid and what was left of the contents of her stomach. Her corset was still too tight, but she felt better.