Isla carefully sat down on the edge of one of the chairs, her back straight. There was no way she would not sit up straight, simply because she wasn't able to due to the tight-pulled corset that barely allowed her to breath. She did not look at her father. He would not have her allowed her to look up before he had told her so.
"You know why you are here." It wasn't a question, but she knew an answer was required nonetheless.
"Yes Father," she replied and folded her hands neatly in her lap. She was seventeen; of course she knew what he had called her in for. She'd had her debutante ball only months ago and she had barely left Hogwarts, so it would mean that father had found her a suitor. Or rather, a husband. She didn't want to get married. No, that was not entirely true. She did want to get married. Though not to the person her father had picked out for her.
"In three months, you'll be Mrs. Herbert Burke," her father announced. Her heart hammered in her chest. Three months? But that was really quick! That would barely give her time to make other arrangements.
"I'm warning you: don't you dare try anything on me. I've already got a son who died and a daughter that hasn't really got her marbles together, I don't want another scandal." His voice was threatening.
Isla swallowed. "Of course Father," she said in an even tone. But as she walked out of that door, her back still straight and her head held high, she knew already that she was going to cause a scandal nonetheless.
Belvina had imagined the scene a thousand times already. There would be some differences, but the bottom line would always be the same: at some point, Isla had been told of her marriage and had decided to run off. With a Muggle, for the love of Merlin. Belvina shuddered. Muggles were filthy and they didn't deserve to walk the planet. She could not understand how Isla could stand it. No one spoke of Isla, lest it was in a malicious way, yet Belvina's own faith was tied closely to that of her aunt.
After Isla had taken off with her Muggle, Herbert had been furious. He had called upon the principles of blood debt, which stated that any man who got stood up by a woman, had the right to either kill the refusing woman or marry their closest female relative instead. In some cases, the family of the woman that had refused would pay large sums of money to evade the blood debt. Because a blood debt was for live until it had been paid off.
Which was why, from the day she was born, Belvina had been betrothed to Herbert Burke, who had aged some thirty years since Isla's refusal. The idea of marrying that old man repulsed her and made her sick to the stomach. Yet she knew there was no way she could escape it. Her father had made it quite clear that any 'acting up' on her part would cause all of the Black family heirloom and real estate to come into the Burke family. Because that was the price her grandfather and Herbert had agreed on: Herbert would marry the next female in line or they would have to provide him with all of their possessions, making them nothing more than beggars. Her father had made very clear that she knew the consequences if she were to 'behave funny'.
"I would not mind strangling you with my own bare hands if you were to disobey. Even if that meant I would have to hunt you down," he had said menacingly and Belvina had flinched. She knew that he meant every word of it.
So she did not really have a choice. To restore the honour and the name of the Blacks and to secure the family fortune, she only had one option and that was to marry Herbert Burke.
Belvina sighed and looked out of the window. Sometimes she wondered about how it would be to just run off, like her aunt. Today was one of these days. Tomorrow she would turn seventeen and her father had decided that the wedding would take place at nine in the morning. So that I have no time whatsoever to run off, she thought bitterly. But even if she did have the chance, she had no one to run off with or to. It was widely known in the Pureblood society that she was to marry Herbert Burke. And with her father being the current Headmaster of Hogwarts, her every move was being monitored. She had never been to Hogsmeade because her father had flat out refused to sign her Hogsmeade forms, year after year. In the end, she just stopped trying.
Tomorrow was the wedding. Tomorrow, she would cease to be Belvina Black and would forevermore be known as Belvina Burke. Tomorrow, oh so conveniently, would be a Saturday, meaning that she would not even get a day off of school. Herbert had said that she needn't finish Hogwarts, because a housewife had no need for a diploma.
That was the only time her father had put his foot down. Being Head Master, he could not permit his own daughter to drop out of school early. Belvina would be able to graduate from Hogwarts even though she knew that she would never get a chance to do anything with it. Herbert was clever enough not to push the subject. This was a great relief for Belvina. It meant that, at least for the next couple of months, she would not have to go and live with Herbert. At least for the next couple of months, she could pretend everything was normal.
She glanced around. For this weekend, she had been given a room in Hogsmeade, so that the other girls in her year were not disturbed by the wedding preparations. There was a chaperone outside her room, to prevent her from running away last minute. Her eyes rested on the dress. Even though she didn't want to get married, she had to admit it was a lovely dress.
She didn't get much sleep that night and when the chaperone came in the next morning, she was already up. Mathilde, her chaperone, was an aunt of her mother. She was tawny and looked like nothing escaped her piercing eyes.
"Time to get dressed!' she said sharply. Belvina obediently stood still, so that Mathilde could drape the dress around her.
"You're fat," the older woman commented and tears sprang into Belvina's eyes as she pulled the strings of the corset tighter. "We can't have you looking fat." She pulled the corset even tighter and Belvina gasped for breath. When at last Mathilde was finished, Belvina could barely move. She knew she would not be able to sit down and felt herself already getting lightheaded from the lack of air.
"We're ready to go," Mathilde said and pushed Belvina forward.
Belvina could only shuffle. However, she didn't complain. Thousands of women before her had gone through this process, so surely she could manage as well? She was a Black, and Blacks didn't show weakness. So she bit her lip and lifted her head.
Upon arrival, she noticed that all of Pureblood society was present. Of course they are, silly girl, she scorned herself. Pureblood weddings always gathered a lot of attention. She had already attended quite a few herself, but so far, the idea that she would one day be the one in the dress had not really sunk in. It did now, as she saw all eyes on her while she shuffled towards the altar.
Herbert was already waiting and she had to struggle to keep her face from showing disgust. He was old! She didn't want to marry someone as old as her father! Mathilde, sensing her hesitation, nudged her forward and she nearly tripped.
The ceremony and the reception afterwards went past Belvina without her really noticing it. She had blocked out all thoughts, to be able to keep a straight face and not start crying.
She was relieved when the reception was over and she was escorted back to her room in Hogsmeade, but that relief only lasted until Herbert came into her room, smirking.
"Get out!" she screeched, panicking. "What are you doing in my room?"
"I'm your husband now. I have every right to be in the same room as you are. I've waited long enough," he said harshly.
Her eyes grew big as she suddenly understood the implications of his words. She staggered backwards while he ordered Mathilde to go out. When the door clicked, she knew she was trapped. There was no way out. You should have known this would happen, she scorned herself. How could you ever have imagined that he would wait with the consummation of the marriage until you two were living together? How could you ever think that after the marriage, you would just go back to school like nothing happened?
Herbert pulled her corset off and she greedily took in large gulps of fresh air. She didn't notice Herbert unbuckling his clothes before it was too late. He pushed her towards the bed – a double bed, why hadn't she realised before that there must have been a reason why there was a double bed in the room?! – and she struggled to keep him off her.
"Oh no, you won't," he gnarled. "You're mine now."
Silent tears lashed her face when Herbert consummated their marriage. It hurt. It was the worst weekend she even had. When she returned to school on Monday, she felt sore and used and dirty and numb. Even a hundred showers didn't take those feelings away. As she sat in her classes, she tried to pretend everything was normal. But she knew that nothing would ever be normal again. She was married now. She was now the wife of a man old enough to be her father. She now had a role to play: that of a perfect Pureblood wife, obeying her husband. She hated her aunt Isla with all heart for running away and leaving her to take her place. At the same time, she wished she had had the courage to run as well. Anything would have been better than this.
She would no longer spend her holidays at home with her parents, but in the house that Herbert designated as 'theirs'. It didn't feel like 'hers' at all, she felt trapped in all the luxury surrounding her, trapped in a life she had not wanted and dreaded the holidays.
During the Easter break, she noticed she was late. Herbert had been asking her if she was almost from the start of their marriage, so when he asked again, she said that yes, she was late.
"Good," he said and walked away, leaving Belvina surprised yet grateful that he didn't force her down like he used to.
She failed her NEWTs, because she spent most her time in the bathrooms, feeling sick. Her belly was protruding now and people would point at her and whisper. She pretended she didn't care. After all, after all that she had been through, the gossip of schoolgirls didn't harm her anymore. And besides, it was only two more weeks and then she would not see them again.
She gave birth to a boy in early autumn. They named him Gerard. It seemed as though Herbert was content now that she had given him an heir, because he left her alone for quite some time after that. In later years, she gave him two daughters too, Margareth and Victoria. And Belvina swore to herself that she would not let happen to her daughters what had happened to her. She would not let her daughters be sold off like some cow at an auction. She would protect them.