Stepping back out into the snowy lane after having sent a simple note and present to the Grangers, Hermione felt lighter. She knew finding a middle ground would at times be difficult, but being true to herself would always be worth it. Draco noted her improved mood and knew that they could now participate in his family’s tradition.
“Draco, I feel like there are rules about Christmas at your house that I know nothing about.”
“You mean aside from all coming shopping together?”
“Yes, Draco. I believe that much is obvious,” Hermione said rolling her eyes. It seemed her friend was ready for a bit of fun after the serious start to their day.
“Well it’s pretty simple, really. We each buy each other one present. It can be more than one object, but the goal isn’t to spend the most amount of money. We can have anything we want at anytime. For us it is about caring enough to pick out something we know will be special. It can get rather silly at times.”
“Ok, then where do we begin?”
“I think with my father. Do you have any ideas where you might want to shop for him?”
By the end of the morning, Draco and Hermione had scoured the stores searching for presents for everyone but each other. They’d run into a number of schoolmates and professors. Each time Draco intercepted anyone who tried to get too close to Hermione. She noted that his aunt had clearly charged him with her protection. The only one who seemed confused at the two walking and chatting together as friends was Professor McGonagall.
Hermione felt the stare of the professor as she and Draco browsed through Quality Quidditch Supplies. Even though the professor stood in the alleyway, her presence drew Hermione’s attention. As she caught her professor’s eye, she saw a myriad of emotions flit across her face. Fear, confusion, betrayal and anger. The strength of the emotions she saw confused Hermione. They hadn’t ever had a close relationship, not that she had with anyone but the Malfoy and Black families. McGonagall was usually too focused on the female member of the Golden Trio, Lavender Brown, to notice Hermione. She neither sought nor desired the attention, so why the professor would be staring at her in such a way was baffling.
Before Hermione could decide if she should confront the woman, Draco pulled at her sleeve to get her attention. They were nearly late to lunch. It seemed that the entire family feared Narcissa’s wrath over tardiness. Hermione found herself being vaguely interested in what kind of severe reaction the blonde matriarch had that caused two Death Eaters and her own son to worry so much. This, however, would not be the day that Hermione discovered why the family feared Narcissa’s reactions.
Hermione and Draco stepped inside the Leaky Cauldron, just as a large clock chimed twelve. They quickly found Narcissa, Lucius, and Bellatrix and settled in for a pleasant lunch.
In the afternoon, true to her word, Narcissa monopolized Hermione’s time. They went first to Twilfitt and Tatting’s. The blonde witch immediately set about picking out formal gowns and holding them up to Hermione. She tilted her head to ascertain if they were worth trying on.
“We must find you something nice for Christmas dear and for the New Year’s ball.”
“I’m sorry, but what ball?”
“The annual Malfoy New Year’s ball. It’s the social event of the season, of course. And you, my dear, will be the talk of the party. The discovery of your heritage has been all the society women have been able to talk about for months. And as your mentor and friend, it is my job to make sure that you look absolutely stunning. There will be other benefits as well, I believe my sister will be quite pleased.”
Hermione blushed at the comment about Bellatrix, but there was no point in denying it. Narcissa had seen them in too many private moments.
“Then I am at your mercy. Make me presentable,” Hermione said. She wondered exactly how far she would go for Bella. She felt as though she was constantly stepping outside her comfort zone, but any time she became overwhelmed Bellatrix was there to put her back together.
Narcissa seemed pleased by the compliance of the young witch and began handing dresses to the shopkeeper. After selecting no less than fifteen, she escorted the young witch to the dressing rooms, insisting that she try each one on. After nearly two hours of scrutiny two gowns were selected. The silver gown for Christmas would glitter in the candlelight, according to the older witch, making her glow. Bellatrix would no doubt find her rather distracting in such a dress. The black dress for the ball was far more revealing. Though the dress reached the ground, a slit up the font approached the top of her thigh, showing a significant amount of skin when she walked. The top of the dress clung tightly to Hermione’s form. Black strips of fabric crossed her body diagonally from right to left baring one shoulder and a large portion of her stomach. Hermione had been most hesitant about this dress. For all of her hesitance, Narcissa was completely certain. While slowly raking her eyes over the girl’s form, she circled much in the way Bellatrix did. Every predatory movement caused shivers down Hermione’s body. The blonde witch ran a single finger down the outline of her spine, commenting that the color was Bellatrix’s favorite and that the dress would make a clear statement about her status and chosen associations. The comments and manner of the older witch suggested that there was no room for argument.
Throughout the entire exchange, Hermione concluded that seduction must be written on the DNA of the Black sisters. They shared so many characteristics and mannerisms that from time to time she felt herself being drawn into the youngest of the three just as she was the oldest. Without the depth of the connection she felt for Bella, she was able to shake the thoughts more easily. But she found herself wondering if in another lifetime it would have been Narcissa’s bed she sought to find herself in.
With only a few days before Christmas, Hermione still lacked two gifts for the family. She knew that the tradition to buy gifts was important to the Malfoy family, she just couldn’t find anything suitable for Narcissa and Bellatrix. She wanted her gift to the blonde sister to express her deep gratitude for the kindness and acceptance she offered over the last few months. She felt privileged to be introduced to pureblood society with the socialite’s guidance. It made the intimidating mass introduction for New Years seem much less risky.
And Bellatrix was not the sort of witch one could just buy a trinket for. Hermione wanted the first present she ever gave to be something special, something no one else could give the dark witch. Going back to a conventional shopping area was out of the question. It was obvious that Bella didn’t think it was safe for her to go alone. And she didn’t want to ask anyone to go with her. They were all busy and she found the pressure of searching for something deeply personal to give to the beautiful witch suffocating in the presence of another.
During her days at Timoleague, she had begun searching through the rooms of the castle. The more time she spent there, the less she felt like an outsider rifling through others’ things. She started to think of it as a museum of her history. She still had much to learn about who she was, but she wanted to give something to Bella that was imbued with her history. And she was certain that there would be something in the house that would suffice.
Her first stop was in the library. She knew what she should give Narcissa. A few days earlier she had seen a beautiful old book that she suspected her friend would very much enjoy. She knew of Narcissa’s love of magical medicine and ancient magics. This volume seemed very old and Hermione hadn’t ever seen anything like it. She hoped it was as rare as it looked. Though she’d started feeling a level of attachment towards Narcissa, she wasn’t comfortable putting words to her emotions. She hoped that the carefully chosen book would express her gratitude in language that the blonde would know and understand.
Finding something for Bellatrix was far more of a challenge. She wandered from room to room racking her brain for something that would be appropriate for the lovely witch. What kind of gift said “I want you to seduce me. Oh and by the way, we are fated for one another, so I really hope we get along?” After close to 3 hours of going through rooms, she found herself sitting in front of a dressing mirror. On an impulse, she began opening the drawers. To her great surprise they were filled with jewelry. She decided it would always strike her as odd to have such beautiful things so carelessly stored as though they were of little value. As with all things, monetary value was relative. She’d never seen these kinds of jewels in person. It dawned on her that they likely belonged to her mother. She took each one out and looked at it carefully. Something expensive wouldn’t do. Bellatrix would wear large jewels if she wanted, but she never did.
At nearly the bottom of the drawer, she drew out a heavy silver necklace. The long silver chain terminated in an elaborate silver locket. There was no picture inside, as though it was just waiting for one to be placed there. The opposite side was polished to reflect the face of the person looking at the picture so that the two would be seen together. She turned it over in her hand to look at the back. Engraved in delicate script was the phrase “Is tú mo sonuachar.” The chaos of the approaching holiday had prevented her from studying the ancient language.
“Ailbe,” Hermione called.
At once the elf appeared with an eager look. It was rare that her young mistress asked for anything, and she longed for the opportunity to impress her.
“I was hoping you could help me with something. Can you read ancient Gaeltacht? I’ve started learning, but I don’t recognize this.”
“Ailbe can read it, Miss,” she said reaching towards the outstretched locket. She let out a small gasp. “It says ‘You are my soulmate’ at least that is the closest term I know. But it is both a romantic and a magical bond. It runs in your blood, Miss. Your parents were sonuachar.”
“Is it a charmed object?”
“Yes, Miss. When given as a gift within a sonuachar, the image of the giver appears in the locket. It’s one of the ways to test the validity of the bond.”
“Thank you, Ailbe. You’ve been most helpful.”
Hermione stowed the necklace safely in the pockets in her robes. She surprisingly felt no anxiety at giving the jewelry to Bellatrix. Everything she read pointed to their bond, nothing indicated that there might be something amiss. And it was simply beautiful. She found herself at peace knowing that she’d found something worthy of her witch.