As Hermione reached the bottom of the stairs, the crowd began to murmur excitedly. Clearly the gossip about the MacCarthy heir was as prevalent as Narcissa claimed. Hermione’s stomach leaped into her throat and she attempted to fight away her growing anxiety. Sensing her lover’s desire to flee, Bellatrix took quick steps towards her with one hand outstretched. Grasping the girl’s shaking fingers, she noted the grateful look on her face. Bella could only imagine how overwhelming such an event must be to her introverted witch. She had survived by hiding in the shadows and learning more than everyone else, as though she were preparing her entire life for the upcoming battle. It wasn’t uncommon for women to claim not to want to be the center of attention, but everything about Hermione’s body language suggested that she was one of the few that truly meant it. Fortunately, Narcissa had imparted enough knowledge about how to appear aloof that it was unlikely that anyone but their family would recognize her nervousness for what it was. In an effort to help calm the girl’s nerves, she pulled her reassuringly into a dance. It was just an added bonus that the rest of the room would clearly understand their underlying association.
Bellatrix had always been jealous by nature. During school she’d nearly blown up a bathroom the first time a boy tried to lay claim to her Cissy. Her anger scared away that particular boy permanently. For reasons beyond her own comprehension, she couldn’t explain why Lucius never elicited such emotions from her. Rationally she believed that it had to be because he always understood the nature of the Black sisters’ relationship. He never attempted to meddle in it or change it. He had fit into their family the moment they met. Even now she caught sight of the blonde man flirting with a young brunette who was most certainly not her baby sister. She was grateful to see him distracted as it increased the likelihood of her being able to garner Narcissa’s attention for the evening. During her years in prison, she was aware that Narcissa took other lovers both male and female to try to fill the void her incarceration left. However, her sister had seen none of them since Bella’s escape from Azkaban. She hoped that the absence of others wasn’t out of fear of the reaction such an event might cause. There had been a time when Narcissa regarded Bella and Lucius as enough, but it remained to be seen how the inclusion of the girl would affect their arrangement. Though it was unplanned, the first sexual encounter between the sisters and Hermione went off without a hitch. The girl melted into the attentions of the two witches and afterwards there were no traces of awkwardness over the situation. In fact she seemed to be provoking Cissa at every turn, as though she hoped to goad her into action. She seemed to fit into their little family as well as Lucius had many years before.
Hermione and Bellatrix danced around the room with the others on the crowded ballroom floor. They flowed effortlessly together and Hermione found her breath stolen by something entirely different than the fear that grasped her earlier. The beauty of her lover was overwhelming. The dark curls she so loved burying her hands in were stacked glamorously on her head, though some still spilled over her shoulders. Warm charcoal eyes read her face and penetrated her soul, spreading warmth throughout her chest. The dark red lips taunted her, hovering just out of reach and at Hermione's realization that the teasing was intentional, they curled into a secret smile.
At the end of the song, Bellatrix led her back to where Narcissa and Lucius were now greeting their guests. She knew there would be a great many people wanting to aquire even a few moments of her beloved's time. Every part of her wanted to protect the girl from the scrutiny and mark her publicaly as her own. But it wasn't yet the time. There was no question in her mind that the moment would come when she would publicaly declare Hermione was hers, but for now they would rely on subtleties like the intimate first dance and the Black family crest that hung around her neck. She genuinely hoped it would be enough to keep others from attempting to court her, because Bella wasn't certain that she would be able to control her anger or her magic if others were to make an attempt on her witch. She watched gratefully as Narcissa introduced Hermione to the other influential pureblood families. Her younger sister was always much better at playing family politics than she was.
For her part, Hermione was perfectly well prepared. The hours of rehearsal with Narcissa were evident. The girls posture and manners were impeccable. The line of prestigious families were whispering in confusion at the ease with which the witch fit in. She dealt with each of them in turn. The air of arrogance in her bearing kept the gossip run of the mill. Bella heard far more speculating about who Hermione might be betrothed to than she would have preferred, but happily she heard her name more than once. She couldn’t wait to be able to announce publicly, but it would have to wait until at least the summer. And she so hated being patient. She relaxed at the sight of her Lord gliding his way towards them. She found tremendous comfort in his leadership. Until the war was won, things would be tenuous, but the plan was well laid. She believed that her lover would be protected.
Hermione bowed appropriately to the Dark Lord. He in turn greeted her warmly, commenting on his happiness of meeting under better circumstances. She smiled and took the offered arm as he led her into the dining room. Again she felt the eyes of the entire room on her, but she kept her eyes forward not risking looking weak. He ushered her to a chair only one away from him. Before she could question who she would be sitting next to. She was flanked by the Black sisters. She smiled at him gratefully, noting that he had a particular brand of kindness to those in his circle. He was an enigma. She could see the power and darkness hovering under the surface, but it was in tight control at all times.
Once the large crowd was seated, he began the meal with the obligatory toast. As the food appeared the volume of the crowd raised with exciting chatter. Hermione sat silently watching the interactions. Draco chatted animatedly with a few of his housemates. Lucius and Bellatrix spoke quietly with the Dark Lord as he surveyed the crowd. And Narcissa listened to proud stories from other mothers, while Hermione looked on at the multiple conversations. She felt more secure as a viewer than participant, which both of the sisters seemed to understand without having to be told. It didn’t really shock her when a heeled foot ran seductively up her leg during the meal. However she wasn’t entirely sure which sister was intent on being playful during the meal. Neither of their beautiful faces gave away who was the perpetrator, but Hermione enjoyed the game of it all.
The formal dinner went smoothly. As the party split up to resume dancing and drinking, the Death Eaters subtly moved to enmass to a private room. It may have been a night of celebration, but their work was unfinished until the war was won. And all being under a single roof was too convenient to avoid. The party would be fine without them, while they were ensconced upstairs in a short meeting. Draco, noticing the key members of the Dark Lord’s organization slipping from the room, reached out to Hermione to pull her with the group of young people.
“Come on, ‘Mione. Come dance with people who aren’t nearly on pension,” he said teasingly. She smacked his arm hard enough that it had a bit of bite to it, but smiled warmly and followed him to the dance floor. She recognized most of the faces in the crowd of Hogwarts students. For the most part they all belonged to the Slytherin house. She knew them by name and reputation, but not much more. From the looks, it was clear that they knew who she was. The circle of young people closed around them as they danced. Draco stood on one side of her with Crabbe and Goyle on the other. They danced together as a group, as teenagers are wont to do, for the better part of an hour. Throughout the time, Hermione got increasingly more comfortable with the group. She thought nothing of it when Draco and Astoria drifted away seeking out privacy, followed not long after Crabbe and Goyle with the Carrow sisters. She looked forward to when she would be snuck away for privacy. Her body hummed with the possibilities. She danced with the crowd, lost in her fantasies of her dark lover. Blaise and Theodore, two Slytherin teenagers, moved stealthily to either side of her, preventing her retreat. They moved their dancing bodies imposingly towards her, trapping her between them. She went to draw her wand, but one of the boys caught her wrist and moved it painfully behind her back as the other menacingly barked that she should comply. She froze in surprise and fear at being caught unaware.
From across the room, Narcissa saw the young men approaching. At first she expected the Ravenclaw to fight back, after all the girl had made quite the habit of thrashing her son and on occasion herself in their practices. Instead the girl froze, and in that moment the blonde witch moved instinctually towards her, moving the crowd out of her way. She could hear the boys nastily taunt the girl about her former blood status and speculate about what sordid activities she had engaged in, and they even went so far as to suggest which ones she would be obliging them with. Aside from stopping the boys, she needed to diffuse the situation before her sister could become involved. Bella had been so well behaved in the girl’s presence, but even Narcissa couldn’t predict what the reaction might be to the two boys putting their hands, literally, on her beloved.
Little did she know that the dark witch saw the scene beginning to unfold as she exited the upstairs meeting room. Her wand was in hand as her feet hit the bottom step. She watched as her younger sister roughly pulled one of the boys away from the girl. Narcissa certainly had her wand pointed into the other boy’s chest by now. As she reached the group, she grabbed both of the boys by the wrists. She would deal with them, but it wouldn’t be in the middle of the dance floor. Assured that Hermione was securely in the arms of her sister, she drug the boys outside.
Narcissa felt the girl relax in her arms at the sight of Bellatrix leading the boys away. Slight tremors of fear still shook her body, periodically. In order not to draw further attention, the blonde witch moved them into a dance matching the rest of the celebratory crowd.
“Hermione, what were you thinking? Why didn’t you defend yourself?”
“Please don’t make me answer that,” she whispered in an unsteady voice.
“Better to answer me now than to face my sister. You know she will be far more upset than I am.”
“My guard was down. I wasn’t paying attention. I was lost in... daydreams.”
“You know better,” Narcissa chastised.
“Yes, I do.”
“My sister won’t be pleased.”
“I am well aware. Is this your attempt at comfort?”
“As always my role is to prepare you. I suggest you let me take the lead when Bella returns. And do as she says without question. She will still punish you, but I would not recommend pushing her further.”
“What do you think she is doing to those boys?”
“She will be making sure that they nor their friends ever make another attempt. Aside from that I have learned not to ask specifics. Some things are better not to know.”
Hermione nodded her agreement and sunk into the comfort of the embrace, however temporarily it might be offered. She wasn’t sure what to make of Narcissa’s vague panic. She knew the situation with the boys hadn’t been good, but in a room full of people surely she hadn’t been in tremendous danger. She should have been able to protect herself, but she’d only been prepared for aggressive affronts and certainly nothing sexually driven. Narcissa’s statement about punishment caused her mind to reel. She’d never been on the receiving end of much punishment, and only the foolish didn’t fear an angry Bellatrix Black. Moments later, she felt rather than saw the approach of her lover behind her. She didn’t experience the usual warmth she came to associate with the witch, but instead an intensity that took her breath away. Without a word, Narcissa took her hand and led her away from the crowd and back into the private parts of the manor.