AN: NOT a new chapter – merely edited to correct an issue with tenses near the end, with thanks to bambu for pointing it out.
December tenth had been the night of the Ministry's Christmas Ball for countless generations. It was generally considered the Society event of the Season, and had by tradition become an occasion for the elite to present their children with an eye to marrying them off.
The Christmas Ball of Narcissa Black's seventh year at Hogwarts was no different. As a girl of marriageable age, she attended with her parents; her elder sister Bellatrix would be there with her husband of two years, Rodolphus Lestrange. Rules dictated that Narcissa not take the floor til her parents had, and only then after she had danced with her father. Druella had pinned all her hopes on her youngest daughter, and would not allow her to set a foot wrong.
Druella waited patiently for Cygnus to return her youngest to their table; Cissy's dance card was filling up rather quickly, and Druella was anxious to see her daughter interact with the young men. She herself had been lucky enough to form a friendship with the husband chosen for her; she had been pleased when Bella appeared to have fallen in love, and hoped that Cissy have the same good fortune.
Two hours later, Druella was despairing of finding someone suitable – Narcissa simply did not show any emotion towards any of the young men guiding her around the floor. Her dancing was flawless, of course. She was always precisely the correct distance from her partner, no matter how many of them tried to pull her closer. Her footwork was neat and sure, and she had mastered the art of swirling her skirts to her gown's best advantage. She was a vision in ice blue silk – lovely to watch, and many did so, but Druella could tell within ten seconds of a dance's beginning whether or not her youngest held any interest in any of her partners.
Of the twenty-three gentlemen who had requested dances from her so far, none had received anything but polite indifference from Narcissa. Her gaze as she danced was directed past her partners' shoulder, or else at a point on his jaw. Her smile as they returned her to her mother was gracious but fixed, and never reached her eyes, with the exception of two young men Druella knew had been in her house at school. Those two she thanked by name – surname, of course, Pucey and Avery respectively – but she at least spoke. Druella had begun watching Narcissa's dance partners in desperation for any sort of reaction, and those two seemed to know her reasonably well, at least.
Giving a tiny sigh of resignation, she mentally added their names to the list she was preparing to approach Cygnus with later when she noticed Cissy's attention was not wholly focussed on the chatter at the table. Oh, she was nodding and smiling in the appropriate places, of course, but her body was angled ever so slightly towards the dance floor – and the young man crossing it purposefully. Narcissa had not danced with him yet, Druella noted – nor was his name on her card.
Ordinarily she would have frowned on that, but although Cissy's expression was neutral, Druella could see the slight lean forwards she'd made. People moved out of the way of this young man, Druella noted with interest, and her appraising eye took in his impeccably tailored robes and handsome features. She nearly frowned when he asked Narcissa to dance by the simple expedient of bowing over her hand. A slight flush coloured the girl's décolletage, and Druella glanced hopefully at her face, only to see it was still in the carefully neutral expression she'd maintained all evening.
Several highly regarded gazes were on the young couple as he led her to the centre of the floor, and although Druella's own eyes narrowed with suspicion when the musicians struck up the piece – he'd asked her to waltz, of all things – she was somewhat disappointed when Narcissa stepped into the same hold as her other partners as they began to glide across the floor.
Sighing, she was about to turn away when she noticed an almost imperceptible difference in her daughter's stance. Cautiously, Druella began cataloguing the changes, hoping she wasn't mistaken. Narcissa had held her previous partners at the circumspect distance of two inches. This young man had been allowed to close that gap to one inch, and his hand at her back, while at the proper height, was splayed almost possessively – and she couldn't be sure, because they'd turned too quickly, but she thought his thumb might have stroked the creamy skin above the edge of Narcissa's gown. Druella turned her attention to the hand Narcissa was resting in his. Instead of the carefully correct placement she'd adhered to all evening, Narcissa's hand was almost nestled in his, her fingers curled over the edge of his palm, and he held it with a gentleness that bordered on reverence.
Her hopes rising, she turned her attention to their faces. Narcissa was not looking at the young man's shoulder, nor at his jaw. Instead, their gazes were locked as they whirled across the floor as one, never taking a wrong step, his lead almost invisible.
A satisfied smile curled the corner of Druella's mouth as the dance ended, and her daughter was escorted to her seat. This widened into a smirk as Narcissa's hand was kissed, his lips lingering a fraction too long on her skin. Though their faces were composed, they couldn't keep the interest from their eyes, and Narcissa's slightly dazed expression as he bowed and took his leave was not hidden quickly enough, and he could not keep the slight bounce from his step.
Bellatrix arrived at the table in a flurry of dark silk, ostensibly to make small talk, but Druella didn't miss the single quirked eyebrow in Narcissa's direction, nor the faint smile given in response.
That settled it.
In his study later that evening, Cygnus took out parchment and a quill and asked for Druella's suggestions as to possible suitors for their youngest daughter. There were letters to be written to fathers of the young men in question, and Cygnus was not looking forward to the inevitable squabbling and prideful boasting over who got to court the last Black daughter.
He was surprised and pleased to be given but one name.
YOUR COMMENTS AND CRITICISM ARE BOTH WELCOMED AND ENCOURAGED.