Chapter 13 – A Hike in the Woods and Holding Hands
Hermione, Harry and Lupin were to meet Draco Malfoy for a hike. In the woods. A hike in the woods. What foolishness. Hermione agreed, in a moment of madness, to said hike, and now that the time, day, and place, was upon her, she was sure of one thing. She was mad.
It was a beautiful day. The sky was cerulean blue. The white clouds hung in the sky like wisps of white lace. There was even a nice breeze. The day was not what concerned Hermione. It was the exercise. Hermione considered herself a healthy sort of woman. She was not afraid of physical assertion. She just preferred inside activities. She liked to read, and draw, and read. She liked to play piano, read, and read. However, she agreed to this farce for one reason and one reason only. Lord Draco Malfoy asked her to go, and she could not refuse.
They met Mr. Malfoy at the line where Potter’s estate met Malfoy’s estate. Draco waved as they approached. He saw that Hermione was without a hat on her head, and her body was absent of either a spencer or a pelisses. He frowned as they approached and he said, “Potter, how could you let your cousin come for a hike in such attire?” He turned to Hermione and said, “I thought you were a country girl. Where is your hat? Where is your jacket?”
“I am a country girl, Sir,” she said.
“Then you should have a hat, so your face does not get too much sun, and a jacket of some sort, in case the wind picks up.”
“Lord Malfoy, I do not mind brown skin, and it is a warm day. I will be better equipped for the weather in my outfit than you in your fine cutaway coat, and your high boots. Come let us dally on longer. Take me to the woods. I long for a hike.” Pretending bravado that she did not feel made her at least pretend she was prepared for what was ahead.
How wrong she would be.
Harry walked ahead of them, with Lupin ahead of him. Harry looked back once and said, “I have but one request, Lord Malfoy. Please, do not lose my only living relative.”
“How could I lose her, Sir?” Draco asked. He was not amused by Harry’s asinine request, although Lupin and Hermione both laughed.
“She is rather small, Lord Malfoy,” Lupin said. “She might escape your notice, and become lost in the woods.”
“I do not appreciate being spoken about as if I were not present, or as if I were a child. I will not become lost, and I am not that small, Mr. Lupin.” Hermione was no longer laughing.
Draco said, “You are rather small, but still, I promise you. Potter,” he turned to Harry, “on my word as a gentleman, I shall not lose your only living relative. I swear on the house of Malfoy.”
“I am not sure that is good enough,” Harry joked.
Draco would normally accept those as dueling words, but he knew Harry made light. He turned to Hermione and said, “You are safe in my capable hands, Miss.”
“And you are safe in mine, Sir,” she mocked. He had to smile at her audacity.
They had just started their walk as Draco leaned down and picked up a large stick. He handed it to her and said, “A walking stick, to aid you during our hike, Madam.”
“Madam?” She laughed. “When did I turn from a ‘Miss’ to a “Madam’?”
He laughed too, and said, “It has dawned on me that I do not know your age. How old are you, MISS?”
“I am two and twenty, sir, with my date of birth approaching this coming September, I will be three and twenty,” she said.
“Did you know you are older than I? I just turned two and twenty last month,” he remarked. “Thus, I always call my elders ‘Madam’ as a sign of respect,” he jested.
She glared at him. While she was glaring, she was not paying attention to the path, and she stumbled on the trail. He reached for her elbow, to steady her. “Use your walking stick more, and keep your eyes on the path, Miss.”
Harry and Lupin were already too far ahead of them to notice. “The path is well marked,” she said.
“This is a riding trail,” he countered, “and as such, it does become steep in places. I hope you will not regret your decision to come today.”
“I only regret the company,” she laughed.
“You have a sharp tongue today, Miss Granger,” he said with a smile. He was purposely slowing his strides to match hers. She was having some difficulty, but not complaining once. She would stumble over a fallen branch, a root of a tree, and his hand was always quick to steady her pace.
The path was becoming winding and the trees thinner and taller. Soon, the high branches and leaves blocked most of the blue sky and the sun. The path was muddier, because of the absence of sun. Still, she did not complain, neither about her shoes nor her dress hem, both which were caked in mud. The path meandered along by a bubbling creek, and large rocks littered the way. There was a slight drop off to one side.
She looked back at him and said, “The way is getting treacherous, is it not?”
“Would you rather I go first, and lead the way?” he asked. She looked ahead, and saw Harry was nowhere to be seen. Some chaperone he was.
She said, “Perhaps that would be best.” He moved to walk ahead of her. She kept the walking stick in her right hand, the side of the drop off, and she reached for his jacket sleeve with her left, as she once again stumbled.
He said, “Hold onto my jacket, if you must, to steady yourself, or place your hand on my back.”
“No, I faltered only for a moment, I am fine,” she said, removing her hand from his person.
They continued, with him turning often to check on her. Twice he reached for her, to make sure she would not fall. They came upon the creek, and they had to cross. There was a fallen log in which for them to cross.
He said, “We can cross here, at the log, or travel down further, where the water is mostly mud.”
“A log or mud are my choices?” she asked.
He laughed and said, “They are indeed.”
“I shall take the log.”
He started across first, and as she put her foot on the log, he reached for her hand, without permission or pretense. Once on the other side, he let it go.
“Sir, do you think I will be ready for actual Apparition at my next lesson?” she asked as they continued their hike. He was now behind her.
“I don’t think yet, no. We do not want you leaving behind an important body part, do we? You might need your nose or your arm,” he said. She stopped walking and turned to him.
“That doesn’t happen!”
“Yes, it does,” he said seriously.
Maybe she did not want to learn to Apparate after all. “Did you learn to Apparate in school?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What house did you belong? I’ve learned about the different houses from the book Mr. Snape gave me,” she said.
He walked up to her and said, “Which house do you think I belonged?”
She laughed and said, “It is plain. Slytherin. Was Harry in Slytherin?”
Draco laughed loudly and said, “Heavens, no! Saint Potter in Slytherin? He is much too self-righteous for that. He was in Gryffindor.”
“I wonder which house I would have belonged,” she said, mostly to herself. She stopped for him to walk beside her.
He looked at her and said, “Let us examine the information we have, and make an educated guess.” He walked in front of her, because they were starting an incline.
She used her stick for leverage, and accepted his hand. His hand felt warm covering hers, and it offered her more than assistance in the climb, it also offered her comfort.
“You are Muggle-born, so that rules out Slytherin,” he concluded. (He had yet to release her hand.)
“Who wants to be with a bunch of snakes?” she retorted. He looked back at her and gave her a crooked smile. (He tightened his hold on her hand.)
“Shall I continue, or do you wish to make fun?” he asked. (He laced his fingers through hers.)
“No continue, you are fascinating,” she replied. (Her pulse quickened as his hold became more cherished.)
“Well, I have a hard time believing you would be in Hufflepuff, and you are very intelligent, so Ravenclaw might have been a possibility, but still, you are headstrong, but brave and loyal. Damn it all to hell, you would have been in Gryffindor!” (He brought her hand up to his chest.)
She laughed and said, “That is what I thought. Maybe that’s why my favourite colour is red.” (She put her free hand on his arm.)
“And mine green,” he agreed. “By the way, you look lovely in that green dress today,” he said brazenly. (He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the top quite intimately.)
“Sir, I wore this because it was the only thing that I could find to wear today. It has nothing to do with you,” she said. (Her heartbeat loudly as she became aware that he still possessed her hand.)
He laughed. “You wound me, Miss.” He stepped over a fallen log. He let go of her hand, for only a moment, while he stepped across. He turned back around to help her, but she stumbled and fell before she reached the log. He rushed to her side, and helped her up from her knees. “Miss Granger, I am so very sorry!”
“Look at my dress, now, Sir,” she said, with a smile. It was covered in mud. He took his wand and cleaned it. “I know that spell,” she said. She felt the need to explain. She didn’t want him to think her magical education completely lacking. He looked at her hands, and cleaned them as well. She had a slight scrape on the left palm. He touched his wand to it and said a healing spell. He continued to hold her left hand in both of his. He should never have let it go.
“I do not know that one,” she said breathlessly. She felt him draw her closer.
“Healing spells are more advance magic,” he explained, drawling her so close they were almost touching.
“I have so much to learn,” she rebounded, looking at their hands, then to his face.
“And so many willing teachers, I hear,” he said. He smiled and let go of her hand. He had mixed feelings. He was afraid to let go of her hand, for fear she might fall again, but he was more afraid to keep a hold, for he knew he might never let her go. They started down a decline, and he tried to stay by her side, his hand on her arm. “I heard from Lupin the other day that another Weasley offered to teach you as well. Soon, half the village will be able to call you student.”
“Oh, yes, Ron’s brother Charlie. I declined his offer,” she explained.
“Really, why?” He stopped walking. She did as well.
“I have all the teachers I need, Sir,” she said. She turned from him, started walking again, and said, “Besides, I am fairly certain he had more than learning on his mind.” She meant his melancholy, but he misunderstood.
Draco stopped short and said, “Pardon?” What did she mean by that? “Was he forward with you?”
“Not truly, perhaps slightly,” she said confusingly, as she continued walking.
What did she mean by that? It made no sense! He said, “Stop, Miss Granger!” She stopped and turned around. “What did the blasted man do?”
“It was nothing, I am sure, and I really don’t want to cause anymore trouble with my cousin and his friends,” she said.
“You are addressing me, not your cousin, and I assure you, whatever you say to me will be kept in the strictest confidence. What did the man do?”
Draco walked up to her, face red, anger emitting from every pore. Whatever she said, he had already decided to curse the man! She looked down at the ground. He softened his countenance and approached her. “Miss, I am sorry for my anger.” He had to consider that she was not aware he was jealous. She was not even aware that it was because he considered her his intended. She did not even know they were courting, as odd as that sounded. Of course, the man in question did not know that either. “What did he do, Miss?”
“He took my hand, and without pretense, he kissed it,” she said.
Draco frowned. “That wasn’t proper!”
“I know that!” she said, as exasperated as he. She threw her hands up in the air. “But what could I do? I really don’t think he meant anything by it, nor when he said he understood why his brother found me bewitching!” Hermione felt she had said too much, especially when she saw how angry Lord Malfoy looked.
“I hope you slapped him!” Draco said, as he started back on the path, ahead of her.
“Well, no I did not,” she explained, following him. “That would not have been very nice.”
He turned and said, “You slapped me!”
“But you deserved it,” she reminded with a laugh.
He huffed in anger. Stupid Weasleys! “Kissing a woman’s hand who has not been in your acquaintance for a very long time, or is not your beloved, is wrong, and the man has no manners, of course, look at his upbringing! What does he think... you are a woman of loose morals?” Draco continued to walk ahead of her, still rambling on about the Weasleys and their lack of manners. He finally turned, and saw she had stopped moving, quite a while back.
He walked back to her and said, “Do you need a rest?”
“You have kissed my hand, Sir, several times now, since we were first introduced. You have not been in my acquaintance for a very long time, and you are not my beloved. We are not betrothed. We are not even courting. Was that wrong? Do you think I am a woman of loose morals?” She looked hurt and confused. She even dropped her walking stick.
He did not know what to say to that. “You already slapped me once, that covers all sins,” he said lightly. He saw that she would not be appeased. He said, “Would it make a difference if we were courting? Would it be alright?”
“Would it?” she asked back.
“I think it would,” he said.
“But we are not, Sir,” she said, with a small voice. She found a large rock and sat down upon it. “Do you think lowly of me, because I did not reproach you when you took liberties, such as kissing my hand just now?”
He came and knelt beside her. He took both her hands in his, brought them to his mouth, and kissed her fingers lightly. “This action is from my heart, to yours. It is respectable, and a sign of my respect and admiration to you. It is always proper because I asked your cousin the night of the ball if he would give his blessing for us, and he did.”
She stood up suddenly and said, “Was anyone going to tell me!”
“I just did.” He knew that was not what she meant.
She looked angry. She said, “Sir, I cannot believe I am courting someone, without my knowledge! How preposterous!”
“I just had not found the right moment to ask you yet. I already knew your feelings,” he said.
“Did you now?” she asked.
“Well, yes, I did.”
“Then why didn’t you ask me?” she asked. She raised her hand and said, “No matter, for my cousin apparently said yes, and as my only male relative, I am at his mercy. I shall do what he sees fit!” She walked ahead of him on the path, which had started to incline again.
“Excuse me, Miss!” Draco shouted.
She stopped. She did not turn around.
He walked toward her and explained, “That is why I have not asked you yet. I wanted to be sure that it was something you really wanted, and if it is not, I certainly will not impose my company on you.”
He stood in front of her. “Your cousin did not want you to feel pressured to comply to my request, and neither did I! All that has occurred thus far is that I asked the man for his permission, he granted it, and hitherto, the fate of our relationship rest with you. You shall take your time, and liberties, to decide what is in your heart. If you decide that the answer is yea, than that would make me a happy man. If you decide the answer is nay, than I would abide your decision. I shall not be happy, but I shall abide it all the same.”
She saw that he was sincere. She was not a fool. She cared deeply for the man. She just did not like others deciding her destiny. She continued walking and so did he. He was slightly behind her, once again, walking her pace, and she said, “Do I have an allowance, a time frame, in which to make my decision?”
He knew what she meant. Did she have to decide before Harry’s wedding? Little did she know, Lord Potter had cancelled those plans. That was something else he and Lupin had discussed yesterday. He said, “You are committed to no set time. Just answer me before I am old and grey. Of course, you will become old and grey before me.”
“You have the makings of a comedian, Sir. You should write plays, full of laughs! You have a droll wit.” She looked back at him again and smiled.
“Most women find me alluring,” he said.
“I am sure that is not true,” she waned.
They walked on and on, now in silence, and she was beginning to take ragged breaths. It was apparent to Lord Malfoy that the walk was becoming difficult for her especially this recent slant upward. Whether she would admit as much was another thing.
“I would like to rest, Miss Granger,” he lied.
“Truly, we should keep going. Harry and Lupin are so far ahead,” she relayed.
“They will not become lost. Please, take pity on my soul and sore feet, and let us rest for a moment,” he begged.
She was embarrassed, but she needed to take care of some things of a sensitive nature, and she felt she could no longer put them off, and she did not know how to mention it to him. If Harry was there, she would still be embarrassed, but she could delicately tell him that she needed some time to herself. How could she say this to Lord Malfoy? She could not. She said, “Do you pretend to need rest, because you think I do?”
“Miss, I would never lie,” he said.
“Pish posh, we have already established that you do in fact lie. You think that I am not capable of the walk, because I am female. You think that I am not your equal. Well, I tell you this, I am your equal, Sir!” She was goading him; in hope that they would quicken their pace, and end the walk soon or at least catch up with Harry.
“Nonsense, I know you are not my equal,” he said. She stopped again. He turned to look at her. He pointed his finger at her, approached her, and said, “I do not think you are my equal, because you are my superior in everyway. Moreover, I know you like to spout absolutes that are not true, because you do not think you are my equal either! You think you are my better, as well!”
He was so close to her, she could see the light refracting from the trees shining in his eyes. She could not help but smile. He truly was handsome, especially when she vexed him.
“Put your finger away, Sir, it is impolite to point!” She continued her hike.
Draco thought, ‘fine, let her keep walking until she falls over’. He walked ahead of her on the path. Twice he looked back and said, “Come, equal, do not lose your way,” and “You should not tarry, or we will not reach our destination until night.”
He would show her that he did think she was his equal, just not on the physical front. He would walk far enough ahead, that she would either have to run to catch up, or wait for him to come back for her. He continued walking, until finally, when he looked back for the third time, he no longer saw her. He sat on a log to wait for her.
He walked so far ahead, that she could no longer see him. She knew that he knew that she did not think she was his physical match! For heavens sakes, the man was as tall as these trees, and his legs twice the length of hers. She would take this opportunity away from him to answer nature’s call. She was afraid he might stumble back upon her, so she walked off the path, deep into the woods. Transfiguring a shrub so that it was larger than before, she went behind it to go on with her task.
Draco looked at his watch. It had been ten minutes, at least. He pulled on the fob, and dangled it back and forth. Finally, he stuffed it back in his pocket. Infernal woman! She must be purposely holding back, because even she could not be this slow. He knew she was diminutive, and petite, and normally, he liked that about a woman, but even her short legs could take her from hill to dale in less than ten minutes! He decided to fold his hand, so to speak, and concede. He would go back for her.
Hermione finished what she started and walked back to find the path. The problem was, there was so much undergrowth, and though Lord Malfoy alleged the path was plain and marked, heaven help her, she could not find it again. She felt she was walking in circles. She knew she was once told if a person was lost in the woods, he or she should stay put until someone finds them. So of course, she kept walking.
Damnation! Where was she? He walked back to where he left her, and she was nowhere! He knew better than to think that she would Apparate away, for she was not yet proficient. Why had he not taught her yet? He wasn't certain someone could Apparate in these woods anyway.
She could not Apparate, for he did not teach her yet, even though she felt she was ready. She called out his name. She did it twice more. She was not yet afraid, but she would be soon.
Draco called out her name. She either did not hear, or was playing games. However, Harry Potter heard Draco Malfoy call for his cousin. He had taken a break by a small clearing, on the top of the hill. He knew Lupin, who traveled these woods often, was too far ahead, so he would not waste time finding him. He would go back by himself, and find out why Lord Malfoy could not seem to keep track of one small witch!
Draco pointed his wand in the air, and sent off red sparks. He hoped Harry would see them, and come investigate, or perhaps she would see them, and reciprocate. He called her name again. He was becoming frantic. How could he lose one small witch! Potter would never let him live this down. His only instruction was, ‘do not lose her!’
Hermione began to run through the woods. A low branch scratched her cheek, and she cried out in pain. Every sound become magnified. Every pinecone dropping from a tree became the footsteps of a bad man. Every bird that cast its shadow on the ground became a bird of prey. Her active imagination took a hold of her senses, and she soon imagined all sorts of dark things occurring.
She had to keep her head. She could not become panicked. She took out her wand and said, “Point north.” The wand did, but Hermione did not really see how that helped her, so that was a waste of her time. She pocketed her wand and continued on her way. Nothing seemed familiar; this could not have been the way they came. Her cousin would blame Lord Malfoy, and frankly, at this moment, she blamed him, too.