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Chapter 16 - A Lie and Two Portraits

Dimly lit hallways, and narrow passages, these are the only things Hermione Granger recalled on her way to the room she had just escaped. Theo was speaking so enthusiastically with her on their trek there that she barely recalled the way back. They turned left, right, went up a flight of stairs, through a door, up another flight of stairs and then down a long corridor. She was trying to backtrack, recalling the way they had come, but she was hopelessly lost. She was as lost as she was the other day in the woods, but the woods were less ominous than Malfoy Manor.

She continued to sprint down hallway after hallway, not caring if she went the right way, only caring that she put distance between her and Lord Malfoy, or should she say, between her heart and Lord Malfoy. She finally leaned up against a large tapestry, near an alcove. She heard approaching footsteps, so her instincts told her to hide.

Her hiding proved to be quite revealing.

From behind the tapestry, she heard two voices. One was the annoying voice of Penelope Clearwater, high pitched, haughty, common. The other voice was upper class and impressive, and at first, Hermione had trouble placing its owner. When she finally realized who it was, she was shocked.

“Lord Malfoy does seem taken with her, doesn’t he?’ Penelope said in a whiney, nasal, voice. “We must do something about this Mudblood, and soon. He must forget about her!”

“I told you not to worry about a thing. He knows a marriage between he and she would be frowned upon by all polite society. He will not go against his godfather, besides, there is the contract,” Blaise said.

“But you said the contract was no longer binding!” she whined.

“Malfoy may not know that, and even if he does, Snape holds a lot of influence over him. It will work out, you will marry Malfoy, and his fortune will be yours, and your title will be his, and that is all that matters,” the man said.

“I wish I was so convinced,” Penelope said. “I tell you, he looks at her as if he loves her.”

“He desires her, nothing more. She is good enough for bedding, but not for marriage, of that he will discover. He can keep her for a mistress, if he’d like,” Blaise countered. “The man knows his own heart, but he was raised a pureblood, and one does not just throw such things away for a pretty face. Believe me; she is not good enough to be the future Lady Malfoy. That will be you, even if his heart belongs to her.”

“I don’t care if he loves her, as long as he marries me,” she said.

Suddenly, Blaise thought he saw the tapestry move. He said, “Let’s take our conversation to a more private area.” Hermione heard retreating footsteps, and after many long moments, she left her hiding place. Why was Blaise Zabini conspiring with Penelope for Draco’s hand? What would he have to gain from the union?

How dare he say she was only good enough to be a mistress! The man was a bore and a leech, according to Harry, he had no money of his own, since his mother disowned him, and he lived off the kindness of others. Perhaps Blaise and Penelope had a relationship, and he wanted the security of Malfoy’s money. She could no longer think, for her head ached tremendously, she was still lost, and now, she was curious as to why Blaise and Penelope were conspiring against Lord Malfoy.

She found a door that led to a staircase, and started down the narrow steps. She heard the door behind her open. She looked back and saw the very man with whom everyone was considering…Lord Malfoy.

“You left so long ago, why are you not back with the others?” he asked. He stepped down until he was one-step lower than she was.

“I became lost,” she said truthfully. He smiled.

“First the woods, now here? Do you make a habit of becoming lost? No matter, this house is very large; it is easy to lose one’s bearings. May I escort you back?” he asked.

“May I inquire something from you first?” she asked.

“Anything. Ask me for the moon, and if I can, I will get it for you,” he waxed poetically.

“The stars might be lonely without their guide,” she said back. She smiled for perhaps the first time all evening. He could get lost as well, in her smile. “No, I need to ask you if there is a prior relationship between Blaise Zabini and Penelope Clearwater.”

“As far as I know, they met for the first time tonight,” he said. She put her hand to her head. He leaned toward her. “Miss Granger, are you well? You look undone,” he said.

“I am just disoriented, and tired,” she said. “Although I admit to an impending headache.”

“I am sorry you feel out of sorts. Why did you ask about Zabini and Miss Clearwater?” he asked.

“I overheard them speaking, and believe me, they have a prior acquaintance, of that I am certain,” she said.

“Why do you think that?” he asked.

She knew she should be cautious. She was not sure she should tell him her suspicions. She said, “He told her that you would marry her, no matter what, for you would not go against your godfather.” She backed against the wall and said in a whisper, “And he said that I was not good enough for a wife, only for a mistress, and you would discover that. He said that you would not give up your pureblood values for the likes of me.” She felt tears brim her eyes, but she refused to show them.

He wanted to hold her, comfort her, and tell her all would be well. Instead, he said, “Do not listen to the nonsense of others. Listen to your heart, what does it tell you?” He placed his hand on his own chest, and said, “Listen to my heart and what it answers. Know this, Miss Granger, Hermione, my Hermione, I have never, nor will I ever, feel for another the way I feel for you. These are the basic truths.” He took her hand. He examined it in the dim candlelight of the narrow staircase. He rubbed the top of her hand with his thumb. His other hand came up to hold the same hand. He encased it in both of his. He shut his eyes, and placed her hand over his chest, on top of his waistcoat.

“Do you feel my heart? Each beat of my heart beats only for you.” He shut his eyes once more. She shut hers. They stayed there, standing close, her hand on his chest, until the moment was broken by the sound of someone ascending the stairs. He quickly kissed the top of her hand, and released it.

“There you two are,” Theo said. “Hiding in the servant’s stairwell? No matter, your godfather is looking for you, Malfoy, and the viscount is searching for his cousin.” He held out his hand, and took Hermione’s hand, which felt abandoned since Lord Malfoy released it a moment ago. She started down the stairs, but looked back once at Draco.

“I will be down shortly,” he assured her. She started down with Theo, when Draco called to her once more. “Miss Granger, there is one more matter that must be settled. Please, no matter what happens this week, remember the call of my heart.”

“Sir, until this matter is put to rest, we can not heed our heart’s song. We must be only friends,” she warned.

She started back down and Theo stopped, causing her to stop, when Draco called out, “Is that what we are, friends?”

“For now,” she said. “That is all either of us can offer. I hardly know my own mind anymore, let alone my heart.”

He thought she looked sad, broken. “I will agree to your terms, friend, because I have to, not because I want to do so.”

She nodded in return. She started back down the stairs. He could not help himself, he reached out for her, but it was too late. She was beyond his reach.

Hermione and Theo entered the lounge well before Malfoy entered. Charlie Weasley and Daphne Greengrass were conversing quietly in a corner of the room. They looked intimate indeed. Hermione was pleased. She found nothing about the other woman’s personality, which would not recommend her to a man such as Mr. Weasley.

Hermione sat down on the loveseat, next to Theo, when Blaise Zabini walked up to her and said, “Lord Malfoy has some beautiful artwork, and tapestries, throughout the home, Miss Granger. Perhaps you would allow me the pleasure of your company later, and I will show them to you. There is a particularly interesting tapestry on the third floor, in front of an alcove.”

Hermione almost gasped aloud. He knew! He was referring to the one she hid behind when she eavesdropped on their conversation, and that meant he knew!

She said, “I have already seen that one, thank you.” She would play along with the insufferable man. He smiled at her and bowed.

Harry, who was in deep conversation with Ginny, turned to the room and said, “This is a boring little group. Shall we play a game, or perhaps we could play some cards, if Lord Malfoy has a table we can use.”

“I know some parlor games, which are great fun,” Lady Pansy said.

“Yes, let us play a parlor game,” Theo agreed. He turned to Hermione, as Draco walked back in the room. “Would you like to play a game, Miss?” Before she answered him, he turned to Malfoy and said, “I say, Malfoy, we are all bored to tears. It is your job to keep us entertained, as the host. We demand a parlor game!”

“Fine, do what you will,” Malfoy said contemptuously. He sat down on another couch, crossed his legs, and stared stonily out toward the crowd.

“I know one,” Penelope said, excitedly. “There is one where we all act out important events in magical history, oh, but sorrow, such a game would be unfair to our Muggle-born friend, Miss Granger. I am afraid there is another where we reveal a person’s initials, and three facts, and you must guess their identity, but again, without a magical education, or a magical background, poor Miss Granger would be reduced to a spectator.”

“I am sure she does not mind sitting out,” Pansy said. “Let us stop talking, and play.”

“I will not play a game we all cannot play,” Theo concluded. “Let us play charades. Miss Granger will be my partner.”

“I am sorry, Sir, but I am poor company. I will sit the game out, for now, so you shall all play whatever game you would like.” She walked over to the end of the room and sat in the corner. The others started their game. Miss Weasley walked up to Hermione.

“May I join you?” she asked.

“Do you not care for games?” Hermione asked.

“Not these types of games.” Ginny sat beside Hermione, the others began their game. “Miss Granger, I fear I caused you suffering the night of the ball. If I caused you any discomfort from the things you overhead, I apologize.”

Hermione found it curious that she apologized for causing her discomfort, but not for the words themselves. She was only sorry Hermione heard them, not for saying them. She looked over at Harry, who gave her a smile. He looked happy and reposed. She looked back at Ginny and said, “I accept your apologize, Miss Weasley.”

“I am so glad. I hope we may one day call each other cousin,” she said with a forced smile. She stood up, kissed Hermione’s cheek, and walked back over to the game. Harry beamed widely. Hermione would sacrifice a false forgiveness, for the happiness of her only kin.

The night wore on agonizingly slowly. The other participants seemed to enjoy the evening, but for Hermione, each second of each minute, seemed longer than an hour. It did not help her headache or her fortitude that Lord Malfoy continued to stare at her all evening. The constant appearance of Miss Clearwater by Lord Malfoy’s side also did not help matters. She was on edge as well, by Blaise Zabini’s constant scrutiny.

She was at the point of actual distress, when Theo came up to her and said, “Truly, you are quite done in, my dear. Truly unwell. Your cousin should take you home.”

“My cousin is enjoying the evening and the company,” she said.

“Then your escort, Mr. Weasley, should see your safe return,” he suggested.

Hermione looked over at Charlie, who was laughing at the game, and said, “He too is immersed in the jocularity of the events of the game. I shall not ask him to sacrifice his happiness for my comfort.”

Theo smiled and said, “What an odd, unselfish, person you are. Do you ever think of yourself? Do your feelings have consideration?” He turned to the room and said, “I say, Miss Granger is unwell, and someone should see her home. If I would be permitted by her cousin, I would be more than happy to volunteer.”

Draco walked away from the annoying Miss Clearwater and said, “You are unwell?”

“It is just a headache,” she dismissed. “Go about your game, Sir. Do not concern yourself with me.”

Malfoy looked to Snape and said, “Severus, do you have a potion or an elixir you may give the lady for her pain?”

“Yes, I shall disapparate to my home, and return shortly,” the older man said.

Hermione stood and said, “I would rather go back to Potter’s Hall. Harry, would you allow Mr. Nott to escort me home?”

Harry did not want to leave the game or the company, but his cousin’s welfare came first. “I shall take you.”

Charlie stood and said, “And Ginny and I shall leave as well.”

“No, no, no!” Penelope said. “This cannot be borne! This is my party, and I cannot have all the gay company leave because of one little Mudblood’s headache! I will not hear of it!”

The entire room looked at her in shock. Snape said, “Penelope, that word is one that is best not used in polite society. My apologies, Miss Granger, Lord Potter.”

Harry was indignant. He said, “As it is, I too am seeking the shelter of my home. Thank you, Lord Malfoy, for your hospitality.” He took Hermione’s hand, and he, Charlie, Ginny and Hermione all went to the front door.

Malfoy showed them the way. He said, “Did you get your tour of the village on Monday, Miss Granger?”

“No, it was cancelled by my cousin, due to the rain,” she said.

Malfoy looked at Harry and said, “Let us all tour the village tomorrow, Lord Potter. Theo and I will meet you, Miss Granger and any of your friends, tomorrow at noon, in the town’s square.”

Penelope walked to the door and said, “I must have my share of your conversation! If plans are to be made, they must include me and Daphne!”

Draco took a slow breath in, shut his eyes, and grimaced. He turned to the awful woman and said, “We all shall go then.”

“I will Owl you in the morning with our response, Lord Malfoy,” Harry promised.

He took Hermione’s hand to apparate, but she said, “Wait cousin, I left my gloves and reticule in the house.” She ran back in the door, and down the hall, toward the drawing room.

Draco looked at the company in the lounge, Penelope by the door, and Potter and the rest outside, and said, “I will make sure she finds her things. Excuse me for a moment.”

He joined her in the drawing room. He shut the pocket doors and said, “Did you find your things?”

She held up her gloves and purse. He walked over to her and said, “May I take this opportunity to present you with something?”

“If it is quickly done, we do not want to raise suspicion.”

He gave her a sly smile and reached in his coat pocket. He had forgotten to give her these earlier. He handed her two small frames. They were portraits, intricately painted, of her parents. They matched the portraits in her locket, except they were slightly larger. She took one small frame in each hand, and looked down at her chest. Her locket was still in place.

“How did you manage such a thing, Sir?” she asked, bewildered.

“Magic,” he laughed. “Now, if you lose your locket again, which I have no doubt you will, you will still have your parent’s portraits. You should put them in a place of honour.”

She drew them to her chest and smiled. “This is most kind, Lord Malfoy…Draco. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel. My heart is so full right now.”

Those were the sweetest words he could ever hear.

“Until tomorrow, Hermione. When we are alone, such as now, I plan to take liberties and call you by your given name,” he informed her.

“Thank you, Draco,” she said as her response, saying his given name for the second time.

She said more with that sentence than just a meager ‘thank you’. She put the frames in her small silk purse, and held out her hand. How odd, this time, she offered her hand, willingly. He did nothing to encourage it. That made it all the sweeter. He took her hand in his, and brought it up once more, as always, to his lips. This time, his mouth lingered on her warm hand. He turned her hand over, and kissed her palm, and his breath, warm and sweet on her skin, sent shivers down her spine. He kept her hand, for one last kiss, which he placed on the inside of her wrist. Pleasure enveloped his very being, as her cheeks flushed and her pulse raced. He had to swallow hard to keep his desire in check. She tormented him more than a woman had a right. He felt more than just love for her; he felt possessiveness, but moreover, protectiveness. He would find a way to right the great wrong that was bestowed on them. He would tell Miss Clearwater tonight! A week be damned!

“Malfoy!” Theo said from the door. Hermione and Draco turned to regard him. They had not even heard him enter. “Her cousin is waiting, as are your guests.”

He nodded to her, and she gave her consent back that same way. Theo offered his arm to her and she accepted, turning to look at the face of her beloved, once more.

After they left, Blaise and Pansy left as well. Snape, Theo, Daphne, and Penelope were left in the lounge, without their host. When he did come to rejoin his company, he had but one mindset. He would not wait a week. A week be damned! He demanded, “Godfather, I know I made you a promise, but I shall not be able to keep it.”

Snape stood up and said, “Hold your tongue, Draco! Do nothing rash or impulsive. I told you we would take care of this problem.”

“Yes, we shall, right now,” Draco, said. “Theo, Miss Greengrass, could you leave us, please.”

Penelope smiled. She thought she was to get a proposal. She sat up straight in her chair, her eyes twinkled, and she winked at her friend when she left the room.

Malfoy stormed over to the woman and said, “I don’t know what impression you have been given, Miss Clearwater, but it will not do. We are not betrothed, nor are we to be married. I know not why you believe in such a fallacy, but believe me now, when I say this will never happen. I promised my godfather I would leave you to propriety, and let you have the pretense of releasing me from the contract. If you would like, we can still wait said week before we make it common knowledge, but I want it made clear tonight that this marriage not happen.”

She laughed. The stupid little chit laughed! At Lord Draco Malfoy! Even Snape was surprised at her demeanor. She said, “Where is Mr. Zabini when I need him? You are so silly, Lord Malfoy. Of course you will marry me.”

“I say I shall not!” he spat.

“I say you shall,” she said. She looked at Snape and said, “Tell him, Mr. Snape. Tell him why he will marry me.”

“Draco,” Snape began. “You must marry her, or you will lose everything, Malfoy Manor, your inheritance, even your title.”

“WHAT?” he screamed. “Explain yourself, Sir!”

“You are correct; the contract your parents signed with Penelope’s parents is void now that both parties are dead. However, your father’s will dictates that if the contract is not enforced, you will lose your inheritance. Your estate and fortunate is entailed away, if you refuse. Know this, my boy; I had no say in this. It was your father’s last plan to get his way, I am afraid,” Snape explained.

“See,” Penelope said with a laugh, “you will marry me! You would never give up this lifestyle, your heritage, your name and title, for a common Mudblood. Keep her on the side if you wish, but tell her tomorrow! Tell the world tomorrow that you and I are to be wed. What joy, I shall be a bride. Let us go back to Spinner’s End, Severus. I have much to plan.” She flitted out of the room.

Draco said, “Why did you never tell me this!”

“I was not aware! Your father made these arrangements long before he died. They were just brought to light by your solicitor, who just obtained the documents last week from your father’s former solicitor, Jordan Zabini, Blaise Zabini’s uncle.”

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