Chapter 17 – Musings and Mud
She wore an off-white muslin dress, adorned with small flowers. With no anticipation, and no excitement, she was getting ready for their trip to the village. There was a knock at the door, and Hermione hurried to answer. It was Remus. He looked tired and haggard.
“Sir, are you quite alright?” she asked, concern lacing each syllable.
“Full moon, tonight, my dear. No worries, I will take my Wolfsbane potion, and you will have nothing to fear,” he said with a sad smile. “But my true reason for calling is to deliver this letter to you. It is from Lord Malfoy.”
“And how did it become in your possession?” she asked.
“I am your advocate, remember?”
“Did the person in question hand deliver this message?” she asked, fingering the fine heavyweight parchment, tied with a beautiful piece of lace.
In fact he did, because he wanted personally to speak with Lupin and Lord Potter. He had explained the entire debacle to them both, and sought their council as to his next course of action. Remus would not tell her that. “Goodness, no, his servant brought it, but I would rather think he would have brought it if he could. He sent a message to me as well. He appreciates that I am a champion to your cause. He explained everything to me. Everything.”
“Such as?” she asked.
“There is an unfortunate situation which has cropped up, and until such time that his barrister can decipher the true nature of this situation, he cannot break his engagement to Miss Clearwater, and for all intents and purposes, he must muddle through, as much as he detests it,” Remus explained.
Hermione felt like someone had stabbed her in the heart. She sat on her bed, and dropped the letter from the man in question straight to the floor. Remus bent down, picked up the parchment, and placed it on her bed. “Read it my dear,” he pressed.
“Why? It will not change things,” she said.
“True,” he agreed. “And I am sure he really did not explain the reasons to you in that letter. However, he made me privy to the information, and I can assure you, Miss, he hides certain things to you, not because of mistrust, but because he does not wish to cause you harm. He does not wish to cause you undue distress, should he decide to carry on with his engagement, or to break his engagement.”
“You mean there is a possibility he will not break it?” she asked.
“I have no inkling, Miss,” he said, “Though he may not be able to break it. Read your letter, and tarry not, for it is almost time for your outing.” Remus handed the letter to her once more. She took it from his outstretched hand, and read.
5, July, 1818
My Dearest Miss Granger,
Please know that my feelings for you are as true as they were last night, and as true as they will be for all time. However, an unfortunate hitch has caused me to halt my plans to break my engagement, but just for the time being. I will say this: your hunch that something was improper between Blaise Zabini and Miss Clearwater was insightful, to say the least. Trust neither of them. Trust only your cousin, Mr. Lupin, Mr. Nott, and the general company your cousin keeps. No other. I am not even sure I can trust my godfather, and that is a sad thing, indeed.
Remember, you have my heart, but you must keep it to yourself for the time being.
I do not wish to cause you suffering, just know that no matter what you see or hear, it is all an act. My feelings for you are true. My feelings for you are also not to be written in a mere letter. Please, wear the piece of silk ribbon that sheathed this letter in your hair, or on your person and I will know that your feelings for me have not changed.
Yours forever, please, believe this if you believe nothing else,
Lord Draco Malfoy, your beloved
Hermione wondered what he thought would cause her distress. What was the hitch he described, and why could he not reveal it to her? This letter explained nothing to her! Was he afraid of the consequences that might befall him if he broke the engagement to that horrible woman? What would those consequences be? He told her not to lose hope, but her fear was that hope was already lost.
With the piece of silk holding her hair up, she went outside to wait for Harry’s carriage, under the mindset to end her relationship with the man. If he could not be honest with her, she saw no reason to continue to have feelings for him. Now, if only her heart would comply. Lupin walked outside with her, as well. The sun was too bright for him, and he held his hand up to shield his eyes. Hermione rushed to his side and said, “Lord Malfoy said he cannot yet break his engagement. How can I abide it, Sir?”
“The best way you can, I would think,” he said. “You will seek joy in the thought that your respite from your suffering will be of a short duration.” Remus saw that she wore the silk lace that adorned the letter, in her hair. He said, “Lord Malfoy will gain strength in his quest, knowing that you are well and happy, Hermione. The ribbon in your hair is an intimate gesture, but appropriate, I should think. Know that I am here for you, if you should need me.”
She touched the silk in her hair. She leaned over and kissed the older man’s cheek. He put his hand on his cheek, and with a look of shock, said with amusement, “My oh my, Hermione, you do the most inappropriate things sometimes.”
“I apologize, Remus, it is only that you remind me so much of my father. I miss him so. He died when I was nine years of age. I was overwhelmed. Excuse my scandalous behaviour, please. You make my unhappy feelings of missing my parents lessen, just with your presence.”
Remus smiled. “That was without a doubt the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, Hermione. You make me wish I had children. In many ways, I think of you and Harry as my children.”
“I would be proud to have you as a father, Remus.” She felt familiar with the man, and saw nothing wrong with using his common name.
Harry rode up in a fancy two-seated curricle, drawn by two white mares. “Is this fancy enough for you, Cousin?”
“Harry, where did you get this carriage?” she asked, in apparent awe.
“I had it for a while. It belonged to my godfather. I want to give it to you, Cousin,” he said. He hopped down, and took her hand.
“You cannot give me this curricle!” she gasped.
“Really? I think that I just did,” he said with a laugh. “Shall we leave now? We are meeting Charlie, Ginny, Ron and Miss Lovegood in the village.” He helped her into the ornate carriage.
As they began their ride, Hermione asked, “Is all as it should be with you and Miss Weasley?”
“I believe it is correcting itself. I have not decided if we should marry so soon, though. I still have much to consider,” he said. “Do you know who will be in our company today?”
“No, Harry, I have not a clue,” she admitted.
“The Owl from Lord Malfoy said that Mr. Nott, Miss Clearwater, Miss Greengrass, and Mr. Zabini would all be in attendance,” Harry told her.
“You do not like Mr. Zabini, do you, Cousin?” she asked.
“No, I do not,” he admitted. “He is a lay-about, and a hanger-on. I cannot tolerate men such as him, but he is Lord Malfoy’s friend, so I shall commit to his company for today at least.”
She was quiet. He put his gloved hand on hers and said, “Remus told me about Lord Malfoy’s plight. He wants to protect you, so trust that all will be well. I do believe his intentions are honourable, if not completely tolerable at the moment.”
“Does this mean you have changed your attitude toward Lord Malfoy?” she asked, with hope.
He took a deep breath. “I may have been wrong, and I hope I may keep a good opinion of him. If he makes the right choice, we shall see.”
“It would be a perfect day if only we could dispose of Mr. Zabini and Miss Clearwater,” Hermione said.
Harry looked at her from the corner of his eyes, and then laughed loud and heartily. “Oh, my dear Hermione, the things that you say! Yes, splendid day it would be, if only those two would find other entertainment. I hope that is what you meant. You surely did not mean that you wished something more permanent to happen to them. Should I confiscate your wand?”
“Well…” she said with a smile and a pause. “If evil befalls them, you might suspect me, so I shall say nothing to incriminate myself. I will remain above reproach.”
He laughed again. It was good to see her merry and making fun. He knew the day would be hard for her. Malfoy had explained everything to Remus and him this morning. He made a rather bold suggestion to Malfoy, and he knew that his plan would hurt Hermione in the short run, but he hoped it would keep her from danger. If Lord Malfoy’s suggestion that Mr. Zabini and Miss Clearwater were conspiring together and the codicil in his father’s will were forged, then Hermione would be safer in the meantime, away from Malfoy. Harry had a hard time believing that Lucius Malfoy would entail his estate to anyone but his only son, no matter whom he married.
Yes, Harry was convinced the documents were forged, but to prove such a thing was another matter. It would all pan out in the end, but it was sad that his cousin had to suffer in the meantime.
Once in the village, Hermione found the company of her cousin’s friends and Lord Malfoy’s friends a true study of contrast. One set was drenched in formality, and tradition. The other group offered a softer ambience, still genteel, but more gracious and affable.
The village, while quaint, was also a beacon of hope to Hermione. She longed for a difference in scenery, and for interaction with strangers. She longed for conversations that would be frivolous, and not fraught with contempt. Oh, let her pretend for a day that all was right with the world, and she had never been introduced to trouble or despair.
Harry helped her out of the carriage, and she looked over at the small crowd gathering outside of a store. Lord Malfoy had Miss Clearwater’s hand in the crook of his arm. He looked over at Hermione, and nodded his head in acknowledgement, but that was all. There was no smile, no warmth.
Theo rushed to her side and said, “Shall I be your escort today, Miss Granger?”
“If you would be content with my company, I should be content as well,” she said with a smile. They fell in line with the others. She tried not to look at Lord Malfoy, but Miss Clearwater’s loud voice was heard above all others, and quickly caused Hermione to pay them attention.
“Oh, Lord Malfoy! You simply must escort me to this quaint little mercantile. I would love to see what the women of this village call fashionable.”
They all entered the store and Lord Malfoy noticed the piece of lace in Miss Granger hair. She gave him hope! She walked over to a shelf, which contained several books. She picked up the one she read her first day.
“Books, Miss Granger?” Zabini said. “You mean to buy a book?”
“I do read, Sir,” she countered.
“Would you not rather have a new bonnet or perhaps a ribbon for your hair, to replace that tired, old piece of lace?” he asked.
She looked at him with questioning eyes. Did he only pretend to suspect everything, or did he really know these things? Malfoy overheard the exchange. He made a motion to Theo, who was privy to the events of Malfoy’s engagement. He walked up to Zabini and Hermione and said, “I like the piece of lace in your hair. It pales in comparison to your beauty, however.” He took the book from her and said, “I shall like to buy this for you.”
“No, Mr. Nott, I have my own pocket money. I shall buy my book,” she said.
“Books, books, books,” Penelope said, trying on a new bonnet. “You will never get a man with books, Miss Granger.”
“I don’t believe a new bonnet is the way to a man’s heart either,” she leveled. She took the book to the clerk, and proceeded to buy it.
They walked around the little village, visiting shops, having tea in a teashop, even visiting George and Fred Weasley’s store. Their last stop was a stationery store, where Hermione purchased a new quill.
Walking along the square, on the old cobblestone streets, Hermione felt at home. She felt at peace. Here in this magical community, she need not hide who or what she was, for everyone else was the same. She could talk magic, and spells, and laugh about anecdotes concerning other witches and wizards. Yes, she was in her element.
The little group decided to take a picnic lunch, which Harry had already arranged, on a hillside near the village square. They sat on blankets, in groups of three and four. Hermione shared a blanket with Charlie Weasley, Daphne Greengrass and Theodore Nott. Penelope was heard from her blanket complaining about the day’s outing.
“Oh, I long for true entertainment, the opera, a play, a large boutique, with all the latest fashions from Paris. Once we are married, Lord Malfoy, I must insist we split our time between London and this little village.”
Draco would not acknowledge his engagement, not yet. Hermione however, felt pain at the mention of his marriage. Penelope continued, “We shall like to have all of you to our home in London. Even your little Muggle-born cousin, Lord Potter, is welcome, although she might find herself out of her element.”
“Indeed madam, do you find the need to raise yourself above the crowd, by purposely lowering others?” Hermione asked. “I am a lady, such as yourself, and I do not deserve, nor warrant, your indignation. I find your company insipid.” Harry and Theo both smiled. Draco openly laughed.
Penelope said, “Lord Malfoy, you shall defend my honour, on your good name, the woman did insult me.”
“And you insulted her earlier, so we shall call it a draw,” Draco said. Hermione stood up and started down the hill.
“Do you require an escort, Miss?” Theo asked, standing.
“No, I require solitude, Sir, that is all,” she said back. She walked onward toward the village, thoughts of unpleasant things happening to Lady Clearwater dancing in her head.
She entered a small church, one not much bigger than the one on Lord Malfoy’s estate. She walked inside, attached herself to a window seat, and closed her eyes. She was not praying as much as she was willing herself to be amiable company toward Mr. Zabini and Miss Clearwater.
She heard footsteps outside her private haven. She stayed by the broken stain glass window, and listened to a private conversation outside the window. “Lord Malfoy, when shall you announce our engagement? I am tired of the wait.”
“Miss, I shall not rush into anything, nor will I allow you to goad me into action. I will have my solicitor look over my father’s will, and if it is as you say it is, then we shall announce our engagement, but not before,” he said.
Hermione could only speculate what he meant by that, but he seemed resigned to marry her. Those words from one single person to another, with no witnesses, could not be mistaken. He was soon to be out of her life.
“Then you have no intention of giving up your title or your home?” she asked, “Not even for the love of a Mudblood?”
Draco said, “Not even that could persuade me to give up all I have known all my life. My home is my lifeblood and my blood purity is my honour. If I must marry you to keep it so, then I shall marry you, but as of now, dally here no longer. Give me peace from the subject.”
Hermione looked out the small patch of broken windowpane, at the frightful woman walking away. She saw hurt and confusion on Lord Malfoy’s face.
Draco walked in the church. Hermione straightened up as soon as he entered, and turned toward the front. He did not seemed surprised to find her there. “I do not wish to interfere with your solitude, Miss Granger.”
She neither acknowledged him nor paid him leave. She moved to sit on the front pew.
“Miss?” he said.
“You must marry her or lose your title, fortune, and home, is that it?” she asked. He walked up to the pew where she sat, and sat behind her.
“Things are not simple, are they?” he answered.
“Just answer me this, Sir, do you mean to marry her, instead of giving up your rank, name and home?” She finally turned to look at him.
“Miss Hermione, it is not as simple as you think. My name is everything. What am I without my name? My home, is more than my fortress, it is my sanctuary. You saw that,” he said. “Truly, I am torn, between my honour and my past, and my feelings and my future.”
“You are a grave disappointment to me, Sir, for your arrogance is greater and runs deeper than I first suspected,” she condemned. She stood to leave. He reached for her arm, to force her to stay. He stood as well.
“I am doing my level best here, Miss! Give me that at least! I have obligations!” He was so torn. “If only it was so simple to pick love over duty! That is where your true ignorance to our world shines through. You think it is simple, but it is not!”
“Sir, I need you to listen to me!” she yelled. “I will grant you one last kindness, and listen to you when I am through. There is something wanting in you. You are not the man I thought you were. You shall never find true happiness in money or titles!”
“Easily said for someone without anything to give up, Miss!” he yelled back. “As I said, I have obligations and duties, of which you know nothing. I do not have the luxury of resting on my feelings. Nothing has been set as of yet, but if things are as they seem, then you must see my dilemma!”
“What do you want from me? My blessing? Did you care for me at all?” she asked.
“Upon my word, Miss, I care for you deeply, and I always will, I shall not waste your time, however, if you do not feel the same,” he pledged.
She rushed up to him and pointed her finger at his chest. “Do not assume to know my heart, Sir, when your own is a fickle beast! I am only glad I found out your true character now!”
He remained constant, not wavering once, and said, “How easy for people like you to think it’s all about love and roses and happiness!”
“Say nothing else, Lord Malfoy, for which we might both regret. And to think, I thought we shared a mindset. I thought we shared a passion.” She reached in her hair and removed the bit of lace. She let it fall to the ground, where it fell gracefully before it landed at his feet.
Hermione added, “I do not favour your presence or pretense any longer, Sir. It must pain you to even be in the same room as I, a lowly Mudblood.”
Hermione started out the door, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her around. She tripped on her skirts, but no matter, as he had both hands on both arms, and was holding her upright. “You are a hypocrite, Miss! You promised me complacency, and compassion! You promised me time. You promised me time to consider all things, and the moment I am even a smidgen truthful with you, about the possible outcome, you renege on your word!”
“Words mean nothing to you, so why should they mean anything to me? Unhand me, Sir!” she said. She placed her hands on his upper arms, as his was on hers.
He felt full of despair and agony. If only he did not have to choose, but he did! She was a lady, he could never ask her to be more than his wife, and now, he could not even ask her that, so she would have to be his nothing.
He hissed, “You are so ignorant to the happenings around you. You are so protected in your own little cocoon!”
“Sir, I am not ignorant,” she said, with a new tear running down her cheek. He loosened his grip on her arms, but did not let go. She said, “All I wanted was someone to listen to me, to utter some words of kindness, someone to be my true friend and companion! You ask more of me than I can ever give, and you offer less than I need. I am a woman with a heart, which beats for you, you told me the same thing once, and now, I find you want your money and prestige more than you want me. How would you feel, Sir?” She took two steady, but still ragged, breaths in and out.
He no longer cared about right or wrong! He knew if she found out the truth, she would suffer. Well, he suffered, too.
“You have a kind heart, Miss Granger. Fine, we will cease our friendship from this moment on, since I cannot give you what you desire, and my options are so few,” he said, resigned. He finally let go of her arms. He was not even aware he was still holding them. He slipped his hand up and touched her face. “There is just one more thing I want you to know,” he said.
She cried freely, wayward tears, which destroyed and humiliated her! His touch lingered on her face and he drew a teardrop on his finger. “I want…” he stopped.
“You want?” she asked.
“I want you…” again, he stopped.
“What, Sir? Say it! You want me what?” she asked through her tears.
“I want you,” he said simply. He put both hands on her face, and studied it intently. It could very well be the last time he looked upon her lovely face.
He let go of her face, and picked up the piece of lace ribbon from the floor. “Keep it, it is yours,” he urged.
He wanted to say so much more. He wanted to kiss her tear-stained cheeks, and tell her it would all be well, but Harry Potter told him today to make a clean break with her now, thinking that would be easier in the long run, if things did not turn in his favour. He agreed and that is why he made sure she overheard his discussion with Miss Clearwater.
The knowledge of all of this did nothing to lessen the pain.
His hand went once more to her cheek, this time, just his fingertips daring to touch her skin, less the encounter burn his flesh. His hand felt empty, without the comfort of hers. He withdrew his hand quickly and looked to the floor.
She dropped the lace on the floor once again and turned to leave the room. She thought to herself, ‘This may very well be the last time I see his face’. With that thought in mind, she turned back around, and simply said, “I hope your money and pure blood makes for a long and happy marriage.”
She left the little wooden building, and ran back toward the mercantile. He said aloud, “Dismissing her was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and winning her back someday will be the sweetest.”