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With a heart beating faster than usual, he made a dead stop in front of the Great Hall. His eyes darted around the Gryffindor table, although it was hard finding that one person he was looking for, when everyone wore the same black robes. Eventually, he spotted the curly chestnut hair, and of course a book in front of the girl. The boy smiled, when she finished her meal, packed her textbook and got up from the dining table.  

“Hey! Hermione!” Ron waved at her. “I was looking for you!”  

Ron noted with satisfaction that the corners of Hermione’s lips curled upwards when she noticed him.  

“What is it, Ron?” she asked.  

“So uh,” suddenly, all the speech he planned to say before, evaporated. Now, his heart wasn’t only sped up from the sprinting. He nervously scratched his nape, not knowing where to start. “ Y’know , Yule Ball is coming up and all... And Parvati said that she already has a partner, and uh, Lavander said the same and... Since neither of us has anyone to go with... Will you come with me?”   

That wasn’t bad,  he internally gave a pat on the shoulder to himself.   

But Hermione’s expression said otherwise.  Uh oh.  

Why wouldn’t I have anyone to go with?” her smile was nowhere to be seen, and her voice was cold as ice.  

“What? Come on now, I’m not laughing at you.” he didn’t understand. Why did she have to be so reluctant? Why was it such a big deal for Hermione? He’s doing her a favor couldn’t she see? For a boy, it’s even considered cool, but for girls it was a shame not taking any partners to the Yule Ball. “We would even have a chance to be Ball King and Queen.”  

“Ron, aside from being an enormous idiot, you’re even missing the point” she hissed, her eyes shooting daggers.   

Hot anger filled his lungs, and he was about to shot back something, when a third voice joined their conversation. A voice that he couldn’t stand, a voice that only meant trouble for their trio.  

“Well, well, what’s the meaning of this, Weasley?” Two hands curled up around Hermione’s stomach, a chin rested on her shoulder, and ruby red lips split into a sinister grin. “Trying to steal my date?”  

“Get lost, Black, it’s none of your  busi - wait,  what?! ” He couldn’t believe it. No, no, something is wrong here. It couldn’t be. It just simply couldn’t. “She’s not your date!”  

“Oh, but she is.” it was clear to the boy that the Slytherin prefect faked surprise. But there were other things that  weren’t  so clear. “I thought you had already told them, pet.” she turned to Hermione now, who closed her eyes in irritation.  

“Hermione, what’s going on?”   

“Haven’t you been paying attention, Weasley? We’re going together to the Yule Ball” Ron’s stomach sank, when he saw Black giving a feather light peck on the witch’s cheek.   

And what was worse?  

Hermione let it happen.  

Absent-mindedly, he noticed the small circle that crowded up around them, murmuring into each- other's  ears.   

What?!”  

__________  

The fact that Hermione Granger and Bellatrix Black will attend the Yule Ball as a couple travelled fast in the castle, and soon, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t know about the news. Even the students of  Beauxbatons  and  Durmstrang  knew the witches, their academic records and grades were famous abroad, as they’ve been known for winning numerous worldwide and national competitions.   

Although now was a different, not study related competition was going on between the three schools.  

The sound of Hermione’s steps echoed through the empty corridor, as her shoes collided with the stone floor. The girl was supposed to patrol and catch kids who are foolish enough to try sneaking out after curfew, but there was too much going on in her mind. All the planning and plotting about the Ball was giving her a headache, but she didn’t care. Now, she couldn’t afford concentrating on anything else, but to win the two Yule Crowns.  

She casted a charm, trying to detect anyone nearby before she entered the Transfiguration Classroom, but it wasn’t necessary. The only one waiting on the other side of the door was Bellatrix Black, who occasionally flicked her wand, making the pens on McGonagall’s desk fight in the air like swords.  

“Quit playing around, we have things to discuss.” Hermione said as greeting.  

“Then be faster next time” Black barked without looking at her, but she levitated the quills back to their place.   

“Ron didn’t take the news easily, Hermione started, while she ignited a few torches in the classroom, then sat down in her usual seat, in the front.  

“Do I look like I care?” the Slytherin drawled, but her eyes narrowed in interest. “What’s the word around the schools?”  

“Everyone is talking about us” Hermione smirked in victory. It was still strange to say “us” when she was talking about her and the witch. Even though they handled their truce completely professional, it was still weird. “They already spread it that we will participate in the competition.”  

“Good” she grinned. ”Now, we need the information about the others”  

“Well, we can count on Diggory going with Cho Chang, I overheard Lavander talking about going with McLaggen, but we can easily beat that” she started counting on her fingers. “From the French, Fleur Delacour will surely go, but I don’t know with whom. The biggest competition will be her and Viktor Krum”  

“Krum?” Black’s eyebrows shot up. “As in the seeker Krum? I thought he stayed in Bulgaria to practice for the European Cup.”  

“Apparently, he will arrive tonight” she grimaced, for some reason he was really popular amongst boys and girls as well. “I don’t know what people see in him. He’s not even handsome.”  

“What about Potter?”   

“Harry goes with Ginny, but they don’t want to run for the Crowns. He said they only want to have fun.”  

“Small people dream small” Black shrugged, ignoring the scowling face she received from the other girl.   

“Angelina Johnson will attend too.” Hermione blurted out, a faint blush appearing on her cheeks. “With Lee Jordan, I think” she bitterly added the last part.  

“When people see us, they won’t even have a chance.” the black-haired witch stated with confidence.  

“But those muscles...”  

“Okay yes, those muscles...” They both went quiet for a moment to think, and go through all the little details they still had to work out.   

“So, what dresses your sister thought of?” the Gryffindor asked, remembering that Narcissa promised them to think about dress ideas.  

“Why don’t you ask her herself? She will be here in a minute”  

Hermione swallowed back the urge to threaten both Bellatrix and Narcissa with bringing them to a teacher to receive detention. She wouldn’t even be able to get Bellatrix in trouble, since the girl was a prefect too.   

But she owed many thanks to the Headmaster giving them the trust and the privileges coming with the title.   

It was why they could plot long past curfew,  after all .  

“Did you practice dancing?” Black broke the silence. Hermione reddened again, but for a different reason.  

“I’m... working on it” she muttered back while biting her lips.  

“Then work harder” the Slytherin hissed in annoyance. “I won’t make a joke out of myself if you trip on the dance floor!  

“Oh, I am so sorry that my childhood wasn’t spent with practicing a dozen of dances, and learning how to swing my fan!” she shot back, and saw that Black parted her lips and was about to give a retort, when both girls heard steps approaching the room.  

Their eyes met, as Hermione extinguished the flames with a non-verbal spell. In long steps, they both hid in the darkest corner of the room, with wand drawn, waiting for the intruder.  

For their luck it wasn’t a professor, nor Peeves looking for trouble, only Narcissa, her blonde hair shined as the light of the torches from the corridor touched her silver locks.  

“Bella?” she whispered. “Are you here?”  

“Yes, yes, come in already!” hearing the whispered answer, Narcissa’s face brightened, and the 4 th  year student quickly shut the door close behind her back, while Hermione lighted the classroom again.  

The blonde witch held a sketching book, which she proudly gave to her sister, a smile plastering her face. It was strange to witness it. The Gryffindor only saw the youngest Black sister carrying herself like an aristocratic pureblood she was taught to be. But now, in Bellatrix’s presence, she was eased up and looked almost...loveable.  

 “These pages are for Granger’s dress.” Narcissa pointed while Bellatrix turned the pages. “And these are yours, Bella”  

“I told you I wanted to be in a suit” Black grumbled.   

“But those are so boring!” her sister argued.  

“No, they are classy!”  

Hermione stepped closer and looked at the drawings. They were beautiful. Not only was the anatomy in place, the dresses themselves looked astounding.  All the types of sewing, detailed design and even the textile kinds were scribbled down.  Sensing that a bickering would soon break out between the two Blacks, the girl raised her voice and quieted them.  

“These are all amazing, Black” she had never before, or rarely spoke to the blonde Slytherin, but addressing her with her family named felt weird. She always associated the name ‘Black’ with Bellatrix, but she won’t be the one to drop the formalities.   

“I was thinking of Bella wearing a red dress, and you a green one” she explained, turning to Hermione, acknowledging her praise with a nod. “To  represent  each other’s houses.”  

“I want to have a suit” the black-haired witch insisted.  

“Okay, but then I want a red dress” Hermione replied.  

“But that’s not what we planned!” Narcissa stomped. “The initial plan was to represent Hogwarts  Houses!  But now that I think about it... Granger you can wear a light blue... no, dark blue dress, and Bella a yellow suit, so the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs won’t feel left out.”  

Hearing the ‘yellow suit’ part, the Slytherin’s face darkened. “Over my dead body”  

“You can wear it on your funeral then” Narcissa smirked.  

“Then I will haunt you until you die!” she growled.  

“I think you would look outstanding in yellow” seeing the anger rising in Black, both girls let out a laugh.  

“Anyways” the youngest of the three continued. “These are the red dresses I designed”  

Saying that there were a few pages of dresses was an understatement. After a while, Hermione couldn’t even see the differences between all the red.  

“Wow, you...really acquitted yourself well.” Even though she was concentrating on the drawings, she saw in the corner of her eyes the witch blushing.  

“Cissy, give me the copies later, and I will order them from  Twilfitt  and Tatting’s”  

“Wait, you mean you’re going to order them? All of them?” Hermione looked at her in disbelief. “This will cost a fortune!”  

“We will have to get the perfect one. And trying them on is the best way to found it. Besides” the Slytherin continued with an eyeroll. “We’re from the wealthiest wizarding family, Granger.  Of course,  someone like  you,  wouldn’t understand it” her lips were pulled into a sneer of disgust.  

“You will have to act all lovey-dovey with me for a while, so I advise you to drop that sour face.” the girl smirked. “Wouldn’t want anyone to question our act, would we?”  

“So, I think that’s all for today.” Narcissa interrupted them. Turning to her sister, she continued “Bella, will you, you know... Ask Lucius if he wants to...” she couldn’t finish her sentence without stuttering with bright red cheeks.  

“For Merlin’s sake, yes” Black closed her eyes in irritation. “I will ask that prick.”  

The blonde witch angrily pouted, then after saying ‘Goodnight’ quickly left the Transfiguration Classroom, leaving the two witches alone.  

“Your sister,” Hermione carefully worded. “has a crush on Malfoy?”  

“Yes” the black-haired witch hissed, clearly not wanting to talk about it.  

“She has a terrible taste”  

“Tell me”  

__________  

When Hermione finally climbed through the portrait, she let out a yawn, before walking towards the staircases, when she heard a forced coughing coming from the easy-chairs in front of the fireplace. Turning towards where the sound came from, she noticed her two best friends. Harry, with a confused but questioning expression, and Ron, who was scowling, and looked like he tried very hard to look angry for hours.  

“So, is it true?” Harry broke the silence. “You will go with Bellatrix Black?”  

It still sounded ridiculous to hear and say it out loud.  

“Yes”   

“Why?!” a sudden cry broke out of Ron.  

Hermione walked to the teacher’s common room with a sour feeling in her stomach.  She knew why all the prefects were called there. It was nearly the end of October, soon all the Christmas decorations will be put up, Hogsmeade will be filled with shopkeepers selling festive junks for  rmaddeningly high prices.   

And, the annual Yule Ball will be announced.  

It was held between the three European wizarding schools every year. Several centuries ago, the tradition was introduced to strengthen the friendship between the schools, but ever since a new kind of custom appeared, the purpose was somehow... forgotten.  

Now the students were in a fever every winter for the Crowns.  

Only a few other prefects were in the room, she noticed Susan Bones chatting with Professor Flitwick, she received a nod from Ernie MacMillan, and a smile from McGonagall when Hermione entered. She also noticed the always grumpy, always an ass, always a typical pureblood supremacist Black in the corner.  Great, just what I needed.  

Not ten minutes later, Dumbledore spoke up.  

“I warmly welcome all the prefects who are present, and those who will hopefully arrive in the following minutes.”   

They all could hear footsteps in the distance, as a few seconds later Ronald Weasley burst through the door with a flushed face. The Transfiguration Professor tutted in disapproval, while the Headmaster nodded and sent a smile in the direction of Ron, who turned even brighter, if it was possible.  

“So-sorry for being la- te " he panted, then slumped down into the sofa. The brunette only shook her head. Of course, her friend would be late.  

So  as I was saying,” Dumbledore continued. “You all certainly know why I asked for all of you. The Yule Ball is nearing, and our school is honored to hold the festivity here, in Hogwarts.”  

Hermione internally groaned, although some weren’t so quick to hide their dissatisfaction. If the Yule Ball would be held here, then it meant that not only they would have to control the younger wizards and witches, but to look after the foreign delegation  of students  from the other two schools.  

“I'm sorry to break the news for you, but this means that the patrolling hour after curfew would be extended with another thirty minutes, and every night, two prefects will be asked to take a circle around the  Beauxbatons  and the  Durmstrang  tents.”   

“And if we speak about the Yule Ball, we must mention the Yule Crowns as well.” McGonagall took the word from the old wizard.  ”As  we all know...”  

Hermione couldn’t help but to roll her eyes. Yes, the Yule Crowns. Because for some reason, someone was dumb enough to come up with this idea, so all the fun, all the cheer is morphed into a serious, - and bloody- competition between couples, who are determined to win the Yule Crowns, to be crowned as King and Queen.   

If Hermione had to compare the event to something, she would say the whole ordeal was like in the sappy American high school teen movies, where students are chosen for Prom Queen and King. It was all about who was the more popular one, and the girl couldn’t stand the whole system.  

But what was worse?  

It wasn’t just between the Hogwarts Houses. The winner didn’t even win anything other than an ugly crown. It was pride, plain and simply. What mattered was the School the couple came from, and their House, if the winners were from Hogwarts.  

But It had been a while, since someone from Hogwarts won.  

Hermione despised the competition, but every time they announced that the Crowns were won by French, or the Northern students, she felt anger and shame burning in her stomach.   

Hogwarts not winning the Crowns for a decade now was another reason she hated it.  

“...the volunteers for the Yule Crown Event must be at least in their 5 th  year. I will give you these parchments,” with a swish of her wand, rolls of paper were levitated towards the prefects. “I expect each of you to hang it out on your common room’s wall, and provide useful information for those who turn to you with questions. Good night.” and with that, she dismissed the group.  

Quickly, all students left the teacher’s room, and headed to their common rooms. Hermione turned her head to speak with Ron, but when she didn’t find him walking next to her, she looked around. Then the Gryffindor heard their Head Teacher’s scolding tone, warning ‘someone’ that if they don’t take their responsibilities seriously, they can bid goodbye to their prefect title.  

Hermione pulled her lips, but had to agree with McGonagall. Ron had to get himself together.  

Now alone, she continued her way towards the portrait, when suddenly, she was stopped by a female voice, calling her name from behind her back.  

“Granger, a word” Black sneered.  

“What?” the girl was tired for  this;  she was not in the mood to put up with any mocking and degrading the witch has planned for today.  

Instead of an answer, Black opened the nearest classroom’s door, and stepped in. Did she really expect Hermione to follow her? The Slytherin really thought she was that dumb?  

“Come already!” Black hissed when she noticed that she wasn’t followed.  

“I’m not going to enter an empty classroom in the middle of the night just because you say so.” Hermione deadpanned.  

The black-haired girl rolled her eyes, but was willing to give her more  information.  ”Fine . It’s about the Crowns. Now, if you will?! I still have  stuff  to do”    

The Gryffindor couldn’t explain herself why, but for some reason she went after the witch, who closed the door behind her.  

“So?” the brunette turned to her with crossed arms.  

“I want to win the Crowns.” Black simply said it, her aristocratic face held high.  

“Good luck with that” Hermione snorted, and she received another sneer in return. But surprisingly, she schooled her expression, so now only determination was visible on her admittedly beautiful face.  

“However, I can’t do it alone.” she continued. “I need you as well.”  

Her eyes hurt from how widened they became in her surprise.  

It took her a second to  realize .  

“Oh” was all she could say, as her brain saw the logic in Black’s plan. She was damn sure she already had a plan.  

Because what would cause a bigger explosion of news than the two witches, who were both considered the brightest in their ages, coming from rival houses, and being all in all polar opposites attended the Ball as a couple?  

Even Hermione had to admit that she had a reputation for clashing with Black. They were sent to detention for countless times because of the other. The whole school knew about their grudges.  

“But why would I want to even attend the Ball?” she asked, but deep down she knew the answer Black would give her. And knew the answer she would give Black.  

“Because you’re sick of Hogwarts sauntering in shame behind the other schools as well.” she answered immediately. Then, she held out her hand. “Deal?”  

Hermione smiled and took the offered hand.  

“Deal”  

“We had some conversations while we both were in the library” she lied. “Then it sorts of...happened.” she shrugged simply.  

She decided not to tell the boys about the arrangement between her and Black. If she told Harry, Harry would eventually tell Ron, and if Ron knew it, then the whole school would hear about how they fooled everyone, acting like a couple and winning everyone's heart at the Ball.  

She saw Ron opening his mouth again, but Hermione didn’t want to bother with lies for now.  

“I’m tired, see you all in the morning” she excused herself, and hurried up to her bed.  

____________  

Hermione should’ve been prepared for the  noise.   

It was everywhere she went, it surrounded and suffocated her to a point that she fled to the library. Bad idea.   

Not even five minutes have passed since she sat down in her favorite arm-chair with an old and heavy book, namely the  ‘Origins of Magic; facts and theories’  when she heard the whispering.  

“Granger and Black...”  

“...Bellatrix must be joking”  

“Krum is here!”  

“...He’s so hot!”  

“They hate each-other...”  

“Are they really dating?”  

“I give them two weeks...”  

“No way, this is a prank or somethin’”  

The whispers were merciless, the students didn’t even care that Hermione was sitting there, hearing everything.  

This is a bloody library!  She internally fumed.  Can’t one have just one hour of peace?!  

She tried to clear her mind, but she had to admit; concentrating on reading in a library –for all places- was impossible in her current situation. So, to use her time wisely, she tried to caught up with the gossip she was so adamant avoiding.  

People were busy with Viktor Krum coming to the school. He might not be handsome, but being a talented seeker and doing stupid tricks on his stupid broom had some impact on the teenagers. But they had a bigger problem aside for not being the main topic. People questioned the two’s ‘relationship’.  

 Of course, they had counted on that.  

Hermione fished out a folded paper from her pocket. It was Black’s time-table, they gave each other their own right after they made the deal.  With her finger, she travelled through the lines, until she arrived to the lane containing the classes the Slytherin had for Tuesday.  

Now, she was out in the greenhouse on Herbology, but the class would end in ten minutes. She wouldn't have anything in her next period, luckily, so they can have some romantic life in the spotlight.  

She hated it.  

Not just the fact that she was forced to spend time with the vilest creature that ever walked on two legs, but that they had to do it in front of everyone. No couple should stand on a stage, kissing and hugging each other all the time, shouting  ‘See?! We are together! We are in love!’  just to prove themselves.  

Still, the students needed physical evidence.  

Snapping out of her cloudy thoughts, Hermione searched for a galleon in her pocket. When she found the one, she was looking for, the Gryffindor casted a non-verbal spell, changing the date of issue on the golden coin, so instead of numbers, it said  ‘Library’.  The charmed galleon would heat up in the girl’s pocket now, signing to her.  

And not much later, she heard the cocky steps she learned to distinguish from the others. Black threw down her heavy bag to the ground, and with a sigh slumped down next to the girl.  

“What was so important?” she asked quietly.  

“Apparently, Krum is overwhelmingly hot, and we’re only faking our relationship.” she answered just as low.  

“Oh,” Hermione noticed the sly smile on the other’s lips. It usually meant trouble for her and her friends, and still she couldn’t shake off the feeling. “Let’s move to the couch then, darling”  

Hermione stood up, and moved her bag and the book to the nearby couch. Black slid past her, and got comfortable in one end. She patted the seat next her, and Hermione primly sat down. She had no idea what the girl was planning, and six years of bickering and rivaling with her taught Hermione not to trust her. Even though she had to.  

“Granger, you’re sitting there like a piece of wood.” Black murmured into her ear, and Hermione felt her face turning pink from the proximity. “Get  comfortable.”  

With one move, the Slytherin lifted her whole body, and suddenly she found herself sitting between Black’s thighs, the girl’s hand circled her, and Hermione could feel the hot breath against her ear.  

If she wasn’t bright red before, she certainly was, now.  

“Are they watching us?” she tried her best not to stutter, but couldn’t help her voice being higher than usual. She felt a huff of air coming from the witch behind her.  

“Yes, so try to look natural, pet”  

Goddammit, when she had thought before that she was ready to execute the plan, she wasn’t ready for the intimacy.  

But Black looked like she was more than ready. She must’ve noticed her blush, or how faster her heart started to beat, because Hermione heard the snickering coming from her.  

“Never been in this situation, Granger?” she asked, with too much glee in her voice. “Don’t worry, you’re in good hands.”  

To prove her point, she lightly stroked her thighs with the tip of her fingers, and Hermione squeaked at the nails caressing her jeans.  

Merlin bless her for wearing pants.  

_________  

After their performance in the library and more scenes following the week, she could hear less and less people talking about them pretending to be together. At least it had its benefits, other than making their act believable. Hermione felt less embarrassed as well. The heat still rose in her cheeks just from thinking about it, though.   

What if she will have to eventually kiss the Slytherin girl? Will it come to that?  

She hoped not. After their third year, the school’s staff made a really strict rule, after a bunch of first years were traumatized when they walked into a girl pleasuring her boyfriend. In the middle of the corridor.  

Hermione thought that banning kissing was a bit too much, but now, she was thankful, so they had a logical explanation for not kissing each other in public. Her train of thought was interrupted, when she felt a shoulder painfully hitting hers.    

“It must be nice, huh,  mudblood ? Don’t think for a second that just because you’re whoring yourself out to Black, you’re anything but a filthy-”  

She turned around to shoot back a nasty remark, when a bright red spell went past her with unimaginable speed, hitting a Slytherin boy in the face. His nose started to bleed, and his skin turned to an angry shade of red, painful abscesses appeared on his cheeks.   

The boy  panicked;  he didn’t even know which part of his face hurt the most.  

“What did you just say to her?” the cold and menacing voice of Black asked. She stepped next to Hermione; her wand was pointed at her housemate, who – Hermione realized- was Marcus Flint.  

“Bellatrix, ple-please stop.” he whimpered. “It was a  joke,  it was a fucking joke!”  

“Oh, Merlin,” Black screwed up her face, when the  smell  coming from the boy’s open wounds hit her nose. “Get out of here, you reek”  

Not waiting for any more commands, he fled. Or tried to, since his cheeks were so swollen that he couldn’t see a single thing. Marcus Flint ended up tripping over his robes on his way up the stairs, making him falling right back to the first stepping stone. He clutched his side, as he was rolling on the ground, all the while letting out painful moans.  

“Dear Lord, it’s bad to even watch this.” Hermione commented. “Thank you, by the way”  

Black just shrugged. “It wouldn’t have been believable if I had let him insult you.”  

Right, of course  the Gryffindor bitterly thought.  

“Come, I wanted to speak with you.” Black said, and she turned around, not even waiting for Hermione to catch on with her tempo.  

They didn’t speak a word, until they got to the seventh floor.   

“Why are we here?” the girl asked.  

“You will see.” came the short reply. Hermione rolled her eyes.  

Black started walking up and down in front of Barnabas the  Balmy’s  painting. With eyes closed, she was really concentrating on how she liked the Room of  Requirement  to appear. Her lips were pursed unintentionally, and Hermione had to hold back a laugh at the adorable expression the other wore.  

Finally, a door emerged from the wall, and Black confidently stepped in. The Gryffindor followed her, and when she entered, her eyes widened.  

In front of her was a ballroom. Tall black marble columns rose high, clasper-like gold embroidered each one. Three beautifully curled chandelier hung from the ceiling, enlightening the gigantic room. The floor was white and so clean that the girl could see her reflection in it. In a corner she noticed an old gramophone. The place looked like it was a scene taken out by a book.  

“Wow, this is gorgeous.” she couldn’t help but to sound her admiration.  

“Thanks, it looks like the one in Black Manor”   

“So, why are we here?” Hermione asked again.  

“To teach you how to dance, of course.”   

“And  you  will teach me?” This must be a joke. But then again, Black was quite determined winning the Crowns.  

“Do you see anyone else here, Granger?” she asked back. The Slytherin walked to the gramophone, and chose a disk from the collection lying next to it, then placed it on the plateau. Soon, a music perfect for waltzing filled the whole room.  

“You know, I can do it” Hermione started to explain, but Black was already holding out her hand, and slipped the other to the small of the Gryffindor’s back. “Really”  

“Then prove it” the girl smirked.  

On rhythm, Black started to lead her, and Hermione quickly had to adjust her feet. The other was holding her surely and making the steps confidently like it was the most natural thing to do. That didn’t mean Hermione would surrender.  

“Wrong foot” Black smiled, before spinning her. The Gryffindor huffed, making the girl’s smile deepening.  

She felt the rush of blood heating up her cheeks in embarrassment. There were few things she wasn’t the best at, and sadly, flying on a broom and dancing were one of those mentioned weak points.   

“No, you’re turning to the other direction” the Slytherin corrected her  again,  and Hermione hated it. She hated being bad in waltzing and she hated how  patient  her partner was.  

More than an hour of  practicing and getting familiar with other dancing moves, Hermione hopped down on a couch that appeared on her wish. She sprawled out, but made space for Black when she sat down in exhaustion as well.  

“You’re nearing it, Granger” she panted. Two faint red blushes dotted her cheeks, and Hermione couldn’t help but admire her tired expression. She could imagine Black making the same expression after...  

She chased away her thoughts, and prayed that the other girl didn’t watch her face turning even redder after dancing for an hour.  

“Hey,” she nudged her instead. “I was good”  

“Sure,” she snorted. “Fuck this room, I’m so hungry.”  

“We still have more than an hour till dinner. Want some  fondant ?”  

“You what?” Black eyed her like she was mad, but Hermione just fished out a couple of sweets rolled in colorful papers, and gave one to the Slytherin.  

“It’s a muggle sweet” she explained. “They are covered in chocolate, and there’s a filling inside. Muggles eat it in Christmas time.”  

“Take this away from me” she sneered, and turned away from the smirking Gryffindor.  

Not ten seconds later her eyes travelled back on the fondant. Quickly she grabbed and rolled it out from the decorating paper. Black took a small bite from it, and Hermione saw her black eyes glowing up, as the girl looked down on the  half eaten  sweet.  

“It has jelly inside” she whispered in awe, and quickly ate the rest. When she was finished, she looked longingly at  Hermione’s  pocket.  

“Uhm... Do you have some more?” she asked, and the girl was biting off her cheeks to keep herself from laughing.  

“Of course,” she answered with a shaky voice and gave Black the rest of the sweets resting in her pocket. “Serve yourself”  

“Did you do the Arythmancy homework?” she asked her eventually, when all the fondants disappeared into her mouth. “Vector said there will be a test tomorrow”  

“Hmph, sure” she answered with full of pride.  

“What did you get for the second task? Because the formula of  Eiztwerg  didn’t work, and I had to use the  Scharvic  one, I got the result but I don’t know if it’s really good...”  

“Well uh...” if Hermione wasn’t sitting so close to her, she would’ve missed the embarrassment crossing the aristocratic cheeks of Black.  

“Are you sure you did it?” Hermione asked, the feeling of victory rising in her lungs, now that she finally found  something,  she was better at than the Slytherin.  

“Arythmancy is crap anyways” she just shrugged and suddenly became very busy with gazing at the column next to her.  

“I can help, you know” she offered. To her biggest surprise, Black took the offer.  

She took out a parchment and a pen – it was much suitable for practicing than a quill – and scribbled down some equations for the girl to solve.  

It took Black half an hour; but she finally understood the different methods.  

“How are you so good at this?” The Slytherin asked her in wonder.  

“In muggle schools it’s mandatory to learn math.” she said. “But students usually struggle with it”  

“No wonder you don’t” Black smirked. Hermione averted her eyes.  

“Well uh... I just know it” she shrugged in indifference, but on the inside she was beaming with pride.  “One more?”  

She nodded, and Hermione wrote down a longer one than the others before. As she watched the girl concentrating and counting, she felt herself getting more tired by every second.  Just for a moment...  

Without thinking, she rested her head on the other’s shoulder, inhaling the sweet scent of the curly mane, that covered her face from the intruding light like a dark veil. She sighed into her neck. Her hot breath made the girl shiver under Hermione’s head, who immediately snapped her head up in panic. She got so used to leaning on Bellatrix, that by now she became  accustomed  with it.  

“Merlin, sorry” she mumbled, trying to fight the tiredness creeping up her whole body. She made an attempt to stand up to clean her head, but was stopped by a hand on her back.  

“It’s okay, I’m finished anyways” Black answered in a low voice. Somehow it felt wrong to speak louder. The Slytherin inched backwards and lied down, bringing Hermione above her with herself.  

The Gryffindor went with it. Honestly, it was easier than resisting Bellatrix’s touch. Through half closed eyelids, she noticed the couch they were laying on morphing into a comfortable bed.   

________  

Her mind felt fuzzy, as she awoke. Hermione could feel a warm body wrapped around her, and the comfortable darkness embracing them. It took her a moment to realize who she was sleeping with and where. The curls of the Slytherin next to her tickled her face, and she felt a puff of air against her ear every time Black exhaled. Hermione closed her eyes and tried to fall back to sleep, but for her irritation, she felt rested now. The brunette didn’t want to leave. She blushed; the intention of couples using the Room of Requirement was no secret, and if people saw her and Black exiting it, they would think they slept together.  

And still, it didn’t bother her.  

Why?  The question was practically spinning around her head, and yet she couldn’t answer it.  

Would she sleep with Black?  

Would Black sleep with her?  

Of course not,  she grimaced,  she would never ‘lower’ herself to that point.  

But then again, they were here, wrapped up in each-other's arms on a bed.  

It’s not true,  she thought,  It’s just for the Crowns. It will never be true.   

Why was that so hard for her to accept?  

The figure lying next to her slowly started to wake up as well.   

“What’s the time?” Black asked hoarsely. Something made a clocking sound and when The Slytherin turned to her side, she read the time from the clock that just appeared out of nowhere. Although she needed to cast a  Lumos,  since the room was in dark.  

“Shit,” she cursed. “We missed dinner”  

“We can still get food from the kitchen” Hermione suggested. She usually visited the house elves, who – after clarifying that they were satisfied with their chores being cleaning and cooking- were friendly towards her and didn’t mind her company. Although the Gryffindor didn’t want to put more work on their tiny shoulders, she was hungry as hell too.  

“Lead the  way” Black  stood up from the bed to stretch herself, and Hermione instantly missed her warmth.   

_________  

“...aaand, done” Andromeda said an hour after making Hermione stand so she could adjust her dress and making her hair. “Wanna see it?”  

“Of course!” the Gryffindor said. From all the dress trying and hearing the gushing of other girls about  dresses, and make-up and hairstyles,  she didn’t want to do anything with it for the rest of her life. She never cared about any of those things, it wasn’t her world. But one learned from experiences. For tonight, she would try this side of life too.  

Narcissa, who was assisting her older sister excitedly hopped around on her feet, as Andromeda conjured a full body mirror in front of Hermione, who gasped when she saw her reflection.  

If it was even  her  reflection.  

The girl gazing back to her was... otherworldly.   

Her hair was tied up in a braided bun, with a few curls framing her face. A hint of black eye-shadow and red lipstick was the only make-up she had on her face.   

And the dress...  

It reached the ground, but the red textile was charmed so it wouldn’t pick up any dirt. The small detailed embroidery was decorated with rubies which twinkled in the color of blood in the light. The dress was had off-shoulder straps, a black transparent shawl around her back, so she wouldn’t be so cold.  

“Andy, Cissy” Hermione whispered, not even realizing that she called them by the nicknames she heard from their sister. “This is amazing”  

“You look gorgeous.” Narcissa smiled as she gripped her beaded purse. Hermione couldn’t help but to hold the two  closer  for a moment.  

“Thank you” she whispered.   

“Geez, what is this?” Narcissa yelped, breaking out of the hug. She looked at Hermione’s bag dumbfounded, when the Gryffindor finally caught up.  

“Oh, it’s the coin,” she took the bag from the youngest Black sister, and after searching for a moment, she found the tiny burning galleon in it.  

Ready?  

Hermione gulped. Everything had come down to this night. Instead of dwelling on it more, she bid goodbye to the two sisters, and left the Room of Requirement. She walked down the staircases in silence, only listening to her high heels clicking on the stones. They had agreed on meeting on the first floor, and when Hermione turned on the last corner, she saw Bellatrix waiting for her in a black suit, and her mouth hung agape.  

She was in a simple, black suit, a white shirt under it.   It wouldn’t even be outstanding if it wasn’t  wore  by the girl. Her hair was in a loose ponytail, the black curls gave the impression of flowing onyx.  

But what was even better?  

Bellatrix Black looked at Hermione like she was the most beautiful thing she ever saw on the world.  

 It lasted for a second, before the Slytherin schooled her expression, but it was there, the girl saw it. Black stepped closer to her and held out one hand in invitation. Hermione placed hers in it without hesitation.  

“Shall we?” Black smiled, and Hermione liked to believe that it was genuine.  

“Yes” she answered.   

And together they entered the Great Hall.  

Like every time the Yule Ball was held in Hogwarts, the tables of the four Houses were moved to the side, and served as a place for those who wanted to catch a break, or to drink punch before they returned to the dancing floor. The usual chandeliers were changed down to ones that were made out of enchanted ice, flames burning in the place of candles without melting it. Beautifully sculptured ice statues decorated each corner of the Hall, and there was even a frozen water-fountain in front of the Professor’s table.  

There were several people even though the Ball was just getting started, some arrived in groups, and other couples were already snogging. The Gryffindor couldn’t repress an eyeroll at the sight.  Of course  they would take the opportunity, there were so many teenagers in the hall that the professors wouldn’t be able to catch them and punish the couples with detention and point deduction. Not like they had the heart to, on the Yule Ball.  

Hermione usually hated attention when it was directed at her. But when she stepped in, hand in hand with Bellatrix, she loved every minute of it. She felt every pair of eyes that were looking at them. She noticed Harry sending her a faint smile, and Ron sulking behind him, sending dark glances to the pair. But not even Ron’s bitterness could ruin this for her.  

As it was tradition, the couples running for the Crowns danced first. At least twenty participators stepped up to the dance floor. Hermione eyed Fleur Delacour, who’s partner was a tall French boy. She looked stunning; her white dress perfectly matched the Great Hall’s colors. She sent a bright smile to everyone, and a wink in the two girls’ direction.  

Viktor Krum, on the other hand wore a hard face. Even with his bushy eyebrows, crooked nose, and somehow knock-kneed steps, she could win over the students. He had a thick red fur coat that matched with what his partner, a slim blonde boy was wearing.  

Hermione glanced up to Bellatrix, who’s eyes were roaming through the couples. When she turned her head back to Hermione, the Gryffindor wanted to say something reassuring, but then the music began, and the couples formed a circle.  

The girl’s grip became a bit tighter as she took the lead. Hermione felt safe. They practiced the waltz, and she got used to the pace her partner dictated.   

When the choreography was nearing the part where one member of the couples was passed down to the next one, Bellatrix suddenly pulled Hermione out of the circle, giving the others moments of confusion, before they continued the steps. The ballroom erupted in screams of approval at her action.  

“I was supposed to dance with the next one” Hermione noted in confusion, invisible to the crowd watching them.  

“I’m not giving you to anyone tonight” the answer was murmured hotly into her ear, and the Gryffindor couldn’t help the gasp leaving her lips. She pressed herself closer to the warm body, even though the air wasn’t chilling at all. She didn’t care about the formation, or the people watching them anymore. All that existed in that minute was her and Bellatrix. She felt like the two of them were in a completely other world.  

The Gryffindor was snapped out of the magical trance she fell under, when the first dance ended, and the second one began. So many people flooded the dance floor, that the Slytherin had to embrace her  so  she wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. The music was still slow, and as Hermione glanced up to the ceiling, she saw enchanted Northern lights playing in a myriad of colors up there. It was breathtaking.  

The brunette sighed and placed her head against her partner’s chest, who in return rested her chin on the braided bun.  

“Don’t ruin my hair” Hermione warned her jokingly. Black let out a small laugh.  

“I wouldn’t dare.” she smiled in response.  

So beautiful  Hermione wanted to say, as she looked into her pitch-black eyes, that gleamed with joy. Her eyes flickered down to her ruby red lips, and she saw,  saw  Bellatrix doing the same.  

“They will soon announce the winner” the Slytherin pulled back and turned her head in the direction of Dumbledore. Hermione felt her heart ache.  

But she was right. When the Headmaster of Hogwarts stepped up to his usual podium, the music was quieted, and all heads turned to him in anticipation.  

“It is always a joy for us, grizzled Professors to see the happiness on the youngsters face during every Yule Ball one of the schools hold.” he started and Hermione  grit  her teeth.  Just say it already...  

“For that exact reason, I won’t take your time for long” he continued. “Let’s announce the winners of this year’s Yule Crowns!”  

The Hall screamed up as one person, deafening everyone. Some students were continuously stomping their feet, the majority of the teenagers clapped.  

Come on, come on, come on....  

This year, the two person who wins the Crowns” the old wizard held up a dramatic silence.  

 

 “Are Bellatrix Black and Hermione Granger from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”  

If it was possible, the screams and shouting got even more louder, and Hermione couldn’t even realize what was going on from the shock, until a hand pulled her towards the podium, the people around her making space for the two winners, and all the Gryffindor could see was the victorious grin of her partner.  

When they got up at last, two Crowns appeared above their heads, made from white gold, with tiny diamonds and pearls making the jewelry shining. Slowly and gracefully, it sank down to their heads.  

“Congratulations” Dumbledore said, then added with a low voice, so the students, not even the other two headmasters could hear him.  ”It’s good to finally see these old things on Hogwarts students”  

________  

She was gasping for air when the two finally got out from the Great Hall. Bella was gripping Hermione’s hand so hard that it turned white. The Gryffindor in front of her was breathless too, but had a grin like none before plastering her face. The cold breeze of the corridor hit them suddenly after they left the ballroom.  

“We did it” the girl breathed out between pantings.  

“Yeah” Bella smiled back at her. Hermione pulled up one strap on her arm that was falling a little low, all the while making curls from her now a bit messy bun escaping.  

Her heart was beating heavily, and Bellatrix didn’t know if it was because they just pounded themselves through a jumping and raging crowd, or because the proximity of the brunette.  

She stepped closer and gently placed the mop of hairs behind the Gryffindor’s ears. Her eyes had a golden glow, and she wondered if it had been there all the time, she was just too blind, or too scared to really look into her honey eyes.  

Hermione started speaking, but for the first time in weeks, Bella couldn’t concentrate on the words that left her mouth.  

A temptation, bigger than ever took place all over of her body. All she wanted to do was kiss the girl in front of her. She had to, otherwise she would die, the Slytherin was sure.   

I might never have a chance like this,  was her last thought, before she placed one hand on Hermione’s neck, and the other on the small of her back. And at last, she placed her  lips  on hers.  

The kiss was immediately reciprocated, her partner was more than eager to meet her. She felt passion like none before clouding her mind, as she pushed the brunette to the wall. Bella was completely lost. An entirely different dance began, the Slytherin’s head started spinning from the euphoria.  

Hermione’s hands were tightly locked on Bella’s body, whereas Bella couldn’t even think about not to explore everything she could reach. The brunette moaned into her mouth, giving her a perfect opportunity to mark and make Hermione hers.  

She felt like she was falling into an abyss; their kiss got deeper and deeper, and not only on a physical level. Her mind, heart and magic, everything just felt  complete.  She was falling into an abyss, and she didn’t want to crawl out ever again.  

Toujours   Pur  

Two words. Two cursed words, and Bellatrix stepped back from the girl like she was touching fire. Hermione was shaking and had to place her hands on the walls so her buckling knees wouldn’t give out.  

Bella panicked.  What the hell did I do?  

She was a Black. The girl, however pretty or smart or adorable was when she smiled, was a mug-  mudblood  nonetheless. The words his father so many times said to her and her sisters echoed through her head. She couldn’t do this. Couldn’t do this to herself, to her family.   

All power left her, and she felt herself trembling. Hermione stepped closer her, worry lacing her gorgeous, warm eyes.  She was so goddamn beautiful.  When the Gryffindor placed her hands on either side of her arms, Bella looked deep in her eyes.  

“I don’t want to end this” she was scared. Scared of what was going on inside her mind, of what will father do when he finds out. Scared of showing fear in front of the girl.  

“We could make it work” Hermione said, and her voice was calm and reassuring, her fingers moved up and down on Bella’s arms soothingly.   

It took all her willpower to step back and to shake her head. She felt physically ill, when she saw a world collapsing in Hermione’s eyes, a gut-wrenching feeling pooled in her stomach when those eyes were filled up with tears.   

“Let me go” she rasped out, tears blurring her vision. She stepped back from Hermione.  

“Bella,” it was the first time the girl called her by her first name, and Bellatrix’s heart shattered at the amount of pain and exasperation it was filled with.  

Without glancing back, she hurried past the  muggleborn , down the stairs to the Slytherin common room.  

She didn’t know what was worse.  

The fact that she could hear Hermione breaking out in crying.  

Or the fact that her own tears wouldn’t stop falling.