Hermione could not have imagined how Malfoy Manor would buzz with joy and excitement. It wasn’t that the family hadn’t been warm and welcoming to her. They had been so, and more. But the house’s severe architecture screamed of old money and tradition. Every stone constructed with the intent to intimidate and insight fear from those with any inkling that they might be inferior. The morning of the annual family shopping trip for Christmas presents, all five inhabitants of the house were up early. Before the older witch slipped out of bed to get ready for the day and while Hermione was still curled comfortably into her side, she whispered,
“Are you awake, love?”
“We should get up soon. My sister likes an early start. And as this is the first year in 15 I’ve been here, I fully expect her to be insufferable. If she finds me coming out of your room, we will be teased mercilessly.”
Hermione’s eyes snapped open and she half sat up to make eye contact. Seeing the young girl’s face etched in confusion and fear, she quickly spoke to clarify.
“Narcissa has never seen me so… enamored. She desperately wants us to be bonded. Partially, I think she just wants an excuse to throw a ball in the middle of a war. But she does wish us to be happy.”
Hermione couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t leave her feeling painfully vulnerable. Impulsively, she rolled on top of Bella, straddling her waist. She paused for a moment, taking in the beautiful face that captivated her so. Leaning down, she allowed the length of her torso to melt into the witch below her and delivered a slow intense kiss that ended with her gently biting Bella’s lower lip as she pulled away. Drawing a steadying breath, she buried her face in the creamy white neck kissing the tattoo of the number 93. There was no denying the intense attachment Hermione felt towards Bellatrix. Not a single thing about it was normal. She could barely contain her magic as it tried to reach out and wrap around the dark witch’s. With every passing day, she trusted the death eater more which was beginning to make the physical desire to be with her impossible to ignore. Sleeping in the same bed was comfortable and safe, but most mornings Hermione woke intertwined in soft limbs barely able to control her overwhelming lust. She knew she wasn’t the only one affected. On several occasions when Bellatrix climbed into bed, Hermione saw the dilated pupils as she fought to respect the young witch’s boundaries. Hermione wanted so many things in those moments. She never thought she would crave the sight and feel of skin the way she did for the older witch. The glimpses she’d stolen wouldn’t be enough to last her the week, she needed Bella. Pressing her lips to the earlobe closest to her she whispered,
“It seems your sister and I have yet another thing in common. I want that too. But there are some things I need more urgently.”
Bellatrix groaned, knowing exactly what Hermione was implying. The words caused her self-control to falter. The dark witch never attempted to wait to grow true affection before seducing whatever lovely creature caught her attention. She’d certainly never waited nearly two months after identifying what she wanted. Without warning she flipped them both over, capturing Hermione’s wrists and pinning her securely to the bed. The girl whimpered and squirmed slightly in response.
“You know, Hermione, that will make you mine. Not just today, but forever. I will never let you go.”
Nodding her understanding, the young witch attempted sit up to capture the tempting red lips, but was thwarted by the firm hold on her wrists. She watched with rapt attention as Bella lowered her mouth, kissing along her jaw and down her neck, nipping softly at the delicate skin.
“We don’t have time now, my dear. I won’t allow your first time to be rushed. But the message has been received and I will have you, my sweet,” she whispered against the girl’s lips before kissing her lightly. “Now we really must get up. Make sure to wear something nice. Narcissa and Lucius have the habit of dressing formally on such outings.”
The dark haired witch climbed off her companion and out of bed, throwing a final seductive look over her shoulder as she left to prepare herself for the day. Hermione laid frozen in the bed, attempting to catch her breath. She was at once nervous about going further and thoroughly frustrated by being forced to stop. She shook her head as she attempted to clear her thoughts. Bellatrix was simply intoxicating.
Alone in her room, putting on such a formal dress seemed silly, but she was grateful as she reached the bottom of the stairs and saw the very well dressed family gathering for breakfast. On normal days they were an astoundingly attractive group of people. But dressed in expensive fabrics the lot of them looked nothing less than royal. At her arrival, Draco beckoned her to the table. Narcissa immediately fawned over her, beaming proudly at the choice of clothing. Any doubts she initially had about Hermione being able to assimilate to being a wealthy pureblood heiress evaporated with each passing day. The girl would obviously be fine. Her natural tendencies to keep others at arm’s length worked in her favor and in combination with her impending association with the lieutenant of the Dark Lord ensured her acceptance.
Throughout the bountiful seasonal breakfast, happy teasing chatter about gift choices flowed between the family members. They attempted to outdo each other with terrible gift ideas for one another. After Draco listed most of the items found in Zonko’s Joke Shop, threatening to use them on his mother, Lucius playfully scolded his son and ushered the group towards the fireplace to floo to the Leaky Cauldron.
They stepped out one at a time to begin their day of shopping. The Malfoy matriarch was clearly in her element as she informed them of the day’s plans.
“We will meet back here at noon to have lunch as a family,” she said, looking meaningfully at Draco until he ducked his head in agreement. “Draco and Hermione, you two will go together. And then after lunch, Hermione will come with me.” The authority of the blonde’s words were simply not questioned. Lucius smirked in response to his wife’s orders and offered his arm to her. Before turning to follow her sister, Bellatrix took Hermione and leaned in to say quietly,
“If there is any trouble, do not be afraid to use your wand and use what I taught you. Based on the past few days, I think I will be able to feel if you are in danger, but I will worry less if I know you will defend yourself.”
“I’ll be alright, Bella,” she replied gently, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
Draco pulled her away from his aunt, chuckling under his breath. The two witches were lovely together, but they would spend all day absorbed in the sweetness between them if permitted to do so. And there was simply too much to do. Such a shopping expedition would be hurried on the best day, but so close to Christmas all of the stores were sure to be crowded.
“Draco, I have a favor to ask,” she began cautiously.
“Ok, what is it then, ‘Mione? Why do you sound so nervous?”
“I need to do something for my parents… the Granger’s for Christmas. I know I haven’t spoken much about them. I don’t even know how Bella would feel about them, but I love them. They raised me, you know? I can’t just walk away without saying anything.”
“Woah. Slow down, Hermione. This has been bothering you lately, then?”
Hermione’s eyes widened in recognition as she silently nodded.
“First of all, I don’t think any of us expect you to forget your past nor do we expect you to forget ours. While I don’t understand Muggle culture, I respect you enough to understand your affection for those that raised you. And of course I will help you with that today. But I must urge you to talk to my aunt. I can’t speak for how she feels about non-magical muggles. Until we understand their full involvement in your early years, I hope you will be cautious.”
Hermione breathed deeply, taking in the information.
“From what my father has said, the Dark Lord is committing significant resources aside from my family to discover what happened. His resources are… considerable. And I don’t believe there have been many instances in which he has not gotten the information he wanted. It’s only a matter of time. But until then, don’t make any huge decisions. Our Lord treats his people well, and while you’ve made no oath, your association with my aunt stands in proxy.”
“Then I take it you believe I am silly for not just talking to you about it?”
“Well, now that you bring it up. No, Ms. MacCarthy, I simply don’t believe you have to do everything alone any more. We might just surprise you.”
“You all do every day.”
“No need to go for my ego. I am well aware of how amazing I am. What is it that we need to do?”
“I want to go to Gringotts to the MacCarthy vaults. I want to pay for Hogwarts from my account instead of the Grangers and get out enough for Christmas and the spring semester.”
Draco turned dramatically in his best impression of his father’s haughty posture and offered his arm to lead her towards the bank.
The trip to the bank was uneventful, except for Hermione’s reaction to seeing her vault in person. While she believed the extent of her inherited wealth, seeing it was quite different. She understood now why Narcissa insisted she could have absolutely anything she wanted. After ensuring her tuition would no longer come from the Granger’s account, they went to Eeylop’s Owl Emporium so that she could send a letter wishing them a Happy Christmas and send them a basket of Christmas oranges. While she could afford elaborate presents, she wanted to speak to them in person to explain everything that had gone on. Explaining via owl just wouldn’t do. She hoped there might be enough answers and time to visit them before she returned to school in January. She desperately hoped to find a balance between her past and future, however tenuous the situation seemed to be. These polar opposite parts of her threatened to pull her apart without the stability supplied by Draco and his family. She resolved she would not forget the Grangers this Christmas and she would miss them, but she had missed out on 18 years of knowing what her life could have been. And she had the golden opportunity to get a crash course, which she could not afford to pass up. She knew the wizarding world was on the brink of war, and she would have to choose a side. The Malfoy’s took her into their lives with an openness no one else had offered. Siding against them seemed inconceivable without the existence of her bond with Bellatrix. She was quite certain opposing Bellatrix would break her heart.