Author's Notes: Written for the "Artistic Gymnastics" (Participants are to write a one shot of any length with an Original Character being the focus of the story) event on the 2012 Hogwarts Olympics on the HPFC forum.
The original characters in question here are Maria and Joseph Lestrange, Rodolphus and Rabastan's parents, as seen in Les Étrangers, which this is compliant with. Reading Les Étrangers is by no means necessary to understand this story.
Warnings: implied incest and homophobia.
Preparing for parties – especially those hosted by the Blacks, those self important fools who didn't go back nearly as far as some families – was not among Maria's favourite ways to spend a winter evening. She would far rather have spent the time curled in her husband's arms, watching a fire crackle in the grate and thinking as little as she could of the Blacks; perhaps with her sons close at hand, feeling familial and at ease instead of draping herself in heavy finery and pretending to be an English lady of delicate sensibilities as all Pureblood wives were meant to be.
But no matter how many times she had begged her husband to contact the Blacks and say that they would not be attending their ball, he maintained that they had to go for the sake of their sons. Rodolphus and Rabastan were reaching marriageable ages now – especially Rodolphus, now two years out of Hogwarts – and Joseph had on many occasions voiced a desire to become as good as a part of the Black family, if only by virtue of having both his children marry into it.
His ambitions, however, did not stop Maria from complaining.
"Why must we go to this party, Joseph?" she asked almost despairingly before the event while she and her husband stood in their bedchamber, preparing themselves. Maria was laced into her corset so tightly that her spine hurt and that on top of everything else made her irritable. "The Blacks sicken me. This, you know. I do not want to see them. Especially not Druella," she added bitterly.
If she was honest – and she was rarely otherwise – Maria had many personal grievances against Druella Black, and not all of them were ones that she could fully explain. True, Druella was shallow and dull, but those were qualities that many women – Elisabeth Malfoy for one, and Maria's silly little brat of a younger sister, who had run away with a Russian man during the war for another – possessed and with none of them did the qualities disgust Maria as they did in Druella. Her best explanation was that, to her, Druella Black represented a sort of English ideal of propriety that offended Maria's continental sensibilities.
"That the Blacks sicken you is no reason to cut valuable ties with them," Joseph said calmly. He did not even look at his wife, focussing instead on the mirror as he combed his hair slowly into place. "You know that they have lovely young daughters who will make fine matches for Rodolphus and Rabastan when the time comes…"
"I do not care for my sons being married to those girls," Maria said darkly. "Have you not heard the gossip about them, Joseph? About their- their behaviour?"
"I do not listen to gossip, nor do I care for the fact that you do." He sounded as patient and emotionless as ever, and Maria wished that she had the nerve to slap him. Joseph foiled her, earth to her fire and stoicism to her passion, and she would be the first to admit that more often than not, this was a good thing, but there were times when his lack of feeling angered her.
"How can you expect me to avoid listening?" she hissed. A flush was rising in her cheeks, she could see it in his mirror. "You cannot understand. Men do not gossip like this – Cygnus Black would never tell you about his daughters – but women do! I could not help but listen to what they say!"
She broke off, her breast heaving against the confines of her dress, and she pressed her palm against her belly, trying to steady her breathing again. Her head spun. It was unwise, she knew, to become angry when corseted so tightly that she could not draw breath.
"And what do they say of the Black girls, Maria?" Joseph asked, setting down his comb and turning to look at her at last. "What is this gossip that bothers you so greatly that it destroys your wish to have your sons marry well?"
"I- I do wish that they will marry well!" Maria protested. "I simply don't wish for them to marry into the Black family."
"Why, then?" He put his arms gently around her waist, staring intently into her eyes. "What do people say of the Black girls? Enlighten me."
Maria took a shuddering breath and let it out slowly. She liked to think that she did not care for spreading gossip – not directly, at any rate; not like this – but she could hardly avoid it now.
"People say- Elisabeth Malfoy says," she corrected herself, "that Bellatrix and Andromeda are… that they… that there is something…" She sputtered a bit, her cheeks flushing.
"Something what, Maria?"
"Something…" She lowered her voice to a whisper and prayed that her sons were nowhere close so that they would not hear. "Something Sapphic between them."
Joseph's face did darken for a moment and Maria held her breath. She prayed that this – the very idea that the daughters of the Black family might be unnatural in their desires and thus unsuitable matches for their sons – might be enough to convince Joseph that there was no use in going to another party to garner their favour.
But no, of course not. His eyes cleared in a moment and he shook his head.
"Sapphic behaviour or none," he said in a voice that clearly indicated that there would be no more argument, "we shall be attending the party, and until the rumours are proven, we shall act as though they have never been heard. Do you understand me, Maria?"
Maria dropped her head and stepped back from her husband. She should have known. If only he – like her – could have let emotions take him over, she might have escaped spending another endless night in Druella's company.
But that would never happen.
"Of course, darling," she said in the softest, sweetest voice she could muster. "You know best, of course."