Chapter 18 – Admissions and Lies
Hermione Granger ran in the direction of the mercantile, far away from the church as she could, and down a side alley. She did not care where it took her, as long as it took her far, far, away from him.
How could she have been so deceived by the man? How could she have misjudged his character? How could she have trusted him? How, indeed. The only explanation was love. She loved him.
The question that begged to be answered, or asked for that matter, was did he love her?
Was he correct in his assumptions that someone like her, she could only assume he meant Muggle-born, could never understand his plight? She understood. She understood more than the man gave her credit for, because the one thing she understood, more than anything, was that she freely gave her heart to him, and she felt as if he had just as freely given it back.
It was over. It was done. Whatever was between them, and whatever might have been, was no more.
In the beginning, last night, and again this morning by letter, he asked her to wait for him. He begged her to understand. He told her to be patient, but in the course of all things, in the end, none of that mattered. He dictated that it was over the moment he told Penelope Clearwater that he would not give up his title or home for a Muggle-born.
So be it.
The joys and sorrows each person feels in their lifetime are short and bittersweet, but they make each person who they are. She just did not know why she had to feel such love, only to have it taken away and replaced with pain.
Therefore, she ran away in order to distance herself from the man in question and his warped rules of engagement. Miss Clearwater and Mr. Zabini were duplicitous; she was sure of that. She was also sure that her own guile could rival theirs any day. They thought they were so cunning, crafty, and smart. They were deceiving Lord Malfoy and even he thought so! Why did he not call them out, demand the truth? It was a load of balderdash! If Lord Malfoy would not take care of himself, she might have to do it for him!
She came upon an undesirable little neighbourhood, more like a hamlet, down a long winding trail, away from the village. She was so deep in thoughts of revenge that she had not noticed how far her feet had taken her. Someone else, however, was aware. They had followed her just off the road, deep in the woods. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she was unaware of her location.
The little houses here were run down and dilapidated. Apparently, not everyone in this magical community was as well off as Lord Potter or Lord Malfoy. Furthermore, upon closer inspection, she would hazard to guess that most of these people were not even as comfortable as the Weasleys.
She turned to walk back, not noticing a man coming up behind her.
Draco Malfoy felt like tearing his hair out by the ends! He said all the wrong things, he DID all the wrong things, and now he would pay, and pay severely. He knew Snape and his father’s former barrister had lied about the entailment of his estate. There were no other male heirs, for one thing, so to whom would the estate be entailed? For another, his father would never expect Draco to marry any other than a full pureblood, so why would he make a provision on the assumption that he might not?
Yes, a marriage contract was foolishly made, but that was the way with purebloods. It meant nothing. Thus far, Draco’s solicitor was unable to prove the documents were forged, but he knew they would be victorious in the end. So why were his actions toward Miss Granger so shoddy? He asked, no, begged, the woman to have faith in him, and then he let his insecurities come to the surface and betray him. He was pained to admit the truth; he loved her. He loved her so, and he would not let her go, even if the codicil in the will was authentic. He would give up his life for the woman, as well as mind, body and soul. What was birthright and money, in the grand scheme of things?
He had to find her, in haste. He had to ask her forgiveness. They still must show caution, for he did not trust Blaise Zabini. Her cousin told him just this morning that he had reliable information that Blaise was behind the possible robbery of his carriage that morning. Draco could not reason that thought! Did the ‘would be robbers’ think they were robbing Lord Malfoy, or did the bastards know that she was in the carriage? Either way, both Harry and Draco decided it was best to forge ahead with the false relationship with Miss Clearwater, and to tone down his relationship that was blossoming with Miss Granger. It was easier to keep her safe that way. It would be easier to see who the intended target was that day if they were not together.
It was just hard for him to admit as much. He did not want to be apart from her. He must find her, if only to make sure she was safe. He ran the direction that he thought she had gone. He felt as if he had spent the last week literally chasing her, and he also felt as if he had not yet caught her, and perhaps never would. Damn it all!
“Miss Granger!” a man yelled, walking out of a thatched roof cottage. “Whatever are you doing in this little part of the world?”
“Mr. Flint?” she asked. The man that was following her quickly turned back toward the woods when he saw Mr. Flint. “Imagine my surprise as well, you do not live here, do you?” she asked, pointing to the cottage.
He laughed and said, “Goodness no! Now, tell me, why is a proper young lady, such as yourself, out alone, without chaperone, and in this seedy section of town?”
“I am with a selection of friends, some which claim your acquaintance. We are exploring the town, and having a picnic,” she said.
“And still, you evade my question. Unless you are exploring alone, or planning on dining here, I beseech you to tell me your business here,” he demanded.
“Sir, I wandered here, unnoticed by my friends, and totally unaware. That is the truth of it,” she said.
“Tsk, tsk, you are foolish, are you not? So far from a friendly face, well except for me, and far, far, from your friends,” he said. He offered his arm. She inspected him for a moment, and accepted. He turned them back toward the road to the village.
“And what is a gentleman such as yourself doing here? Charitable work?” she asked, bemused.
“Ha! The lady is so forward, and yet, so amusing. If you knew of my character, you would never have asked such a thing,” he remarked. He gestured back toward the cottage he had come and said, “I was visiting a friend.”
“A friend? Perhaps a lady?” she asked.
Again he laughed. “Are we to be truthful to each other?” he asked.
“I know no other way to be,” she admitted. “I am so tired of lies.”
“Fine. Then yes, a lady friend. My lover, to be exact,” he answered plainly.
“Oh,” she said slowly. “Your lady friend lives here, does she?”
“Yes, my lover does,” he corrected her. “She is a Muggle-born, just like you.”
Hermione was beginning to understand. “So she is a Muggle-born, hence the reason she is your lover, and not your wife?”
“Miss Granger, you do have a knack for being honest, do you not? I find that annoying,” he lied. “You know, not all Muggle-borns are as lucky as you, to have a rich viscount as a cousin, a pureblood lord as a patron, or so many friends at their disposal. Not all of them had understanding parents, who treated them kindly, and were not afraid of them, or considered their magic a gift and not a curse.”
“Sir, if you think highly of the woman, why do you not marry her, raise her from her station, and treat her with respect? Do not seek to put me in my place, when you are in the same place,” she mused.
“No pretense about you at all,” he said in a booming voice.
“So I’ve been told before, a few times just today,” she said.
“My lover is a married woman. Scandalous, is it not?” he inquired, seeking no real response. “Otherwise, I would indeed marry her, but as it is, she will not have me. Odd, aye?”
“Very,” she laughed.
“Are you thoroughly shocked by my admissions today, Miss Granger?” he asked.
“I don’t believe anything more about this village or its inhabitants could shock me, Mr. Flint,” she stated.
They had just reached the village when he removed her hand from his arm. “Well, I think this is where I will beg my leave. It seems I am no longer welcomed.”
“Sir, you did me a service, and though I know we did not have a happy introduction the first time we met, I have appreciated your honesty,” she said.
He smiled and said, “While I value that, Miss, I only say these words out of respect. Respect for you, and for myself, since Lord Malfoy is standing across the street with the most foul expression upon his face. Is he waiting for you, do you suppose?”
Malfoy started across the street, already within earshot of their conversation.
“I would think not, Sir. He and I are not even friends any longer,” she said. She looked over at Malfoy, knowing he heard her declaration, and she thought he seemed depressed. ‘Good’, she thought quickly, and just as quickly felt remorse at her own attitude, and at his depression.
“Why are you no longer friends?” he asked. Malfoy was now upon them. “I say, Malfoy, why are you and the lady no longer friends?”
“My engagement to Miss Clearwater, I would assume,” he answered curtly.
“Your engagement? So, Zabini was right. Do I offer congratulations or condolences?” he asked.
“Neither would be welcomed or expected, Flint,” Malfoy huffed. He turned to Hermione and said, “Your cousin must be sick with worry. You should get back to the party.”
“Your intended must be worried as well. You, too, should return,” she said back, with a bite.
Draco turned to Flint and said, “Sir, my engagement, as it is called, is not yet made public, and I would appreciate your discretion.”
“Oh, I am all discretion, am I not, Miss Granger?” he asked, smiling at Hermione. “I admit, I thought Zabini was lying when he gloated that you were to marry the little annoying chit.” He turned back to Hermione and said, “I know I misrepresented myself when we last met, and I apologize. I find you delightful, and while my manners are not as genteel as Lord Malfoy’s or Mr. Nott’s, I am still a gentleman, especially when compared to Mr. Zabini.”
He tipped his hat to Draco, kissed Hermione’s hand, and ended with, “Another day perhaps, Lord Malfoy, you will make time to see me, so that I might explain to you my reasoning behind that statement. It is a good story, I promise.” He turned for the last time to Hermione and, with an air of indifference, said, “I hope to see you again, Miss, if only to look upon your pretty face.” He kissed her hand again, and held it entirely too long, in Draco’s opinion. “Since you find yourself unattached, may I be your escort to the fair that will be in town next weekend?”
Draco’s jaw clenched. Hermione said, “I do not think so, Sir.”
Draco took her hand from Flint’s, dropping it quickly to her side. “Meet me tonight, at the Manor, and come alone and tell me what you know,” Draco demanded.
“Fine, fine, Malfoy,” Flint acknowledged, with a laugh.
“Are you laughing at me, Sir, or Lord Malfoy?” Hermione asked.
He did not answer. Draco said, “I would think both of us, Miss.”
Instead of confirming or denying the accusations leveled against him, he said, “Have fun on your outing. Good day to you both.” He disapparated on the spot.
Hermione turned to Lord Malfoy, who looked cross and angry. “Why were you with that insufferable man?” he shouted. He took her arm.
“Why do you care?” she asked sharply. “You cannot have it both ways. You cannot claim you want me and ask me to give you my heart, when you cannot reciprocate. You cannot want me one minute, and demand my leave the next. You cannot expect me to give you my heart, when I already have, and return it broken and bruised. You cannot beg indifference, and then act like you care.”
Draco knew she was right. He wanted to believe that things were not so broken that they could not be mended.
When he released his hold, she tried to run back toward the others, but only proceeded to make it as far as the mouth of the alleyway. He caught her again by her arm. Before they went back to the others, he had to say what was in his heart. “I have changed my mind, Miss Granger.”
“Surprise! He has changed his mind again,” she said. He turned to glare at her, but saw a smile on her pretty, sweet face, so he knew she said it in jest.
“I will break my engagement, no matter what might occur,” he said humbly.
“No, Lord Malfoy, I do not want you to do that,” she said honestly.
That sentence surprised him. He stopped walking and turned to her. She continued, “You would come to resent me, and the reasons behind it.”
“Truly, I say, I cannot live without you.” He took her sleeve, and took her back to the alley, behind the mercantile, from prying eyes that might look upon them. “This is my decision to make, right or wrong, good outcome or not, and you have no say in the matter.”
Hermione huffed, “I do. I do have a say. I say I no longer desire your company.” She would do the right thing. If he could not be strong, than she would have to oblige.
“You lie, and I am ashamed. I know you profess feelings you do not feel,” he said. For some reason he smiled at her, and that caused her anger. Perhaps she was angry because HE professed to know her heart better than she did, and he would be correct.
“Perhaps I do, but allow me my prerogative of doing so. Now, let go of my arm before someone sees. We should get back to our company,” she begged.
Again, he said, “You have no say in this.” He put his hand on the back of her neck, which shook her to her core. His hand touched her bare skin, his fingers skimming the small curls that fell there. He drew her into his chest. She felt lightheaded and had an odd tickling sensation in her lower abdomen. Her body dared to touch his, with his hand strong and unyielding on her neck, and his other hand on her upper arm, his head descended to hers.
He was going to kiss her!
Her, a single woman that was not his intended!
Her, a Muggle-born!
She wanted him to kiss her, but it would be wrong. He would come to regard her in the same manner that Mr. Flint regarded his lover, which was that Mudbloods make acceptable lovers, but not wives. Even Mr. Zabini and Miss Clearwater stated that he could have her for his mistress, as long as he took Miss Clearwater for a wife.
Was that what he was proposing with this possible kiss? Was that what he expected from her? Did he hold no respect or love for her? Did he think she had none for him? It would not do. Her defenses would be down, and she would do whatever he asked, if his lips touched hers. All would be lost!
He wanted to kiss her!
He was always a selfish man, who placed his wants and needs above those of others. He was willing to live without his title and fortune, but he was not willing to hurt her in any way, or ruin her reputation. Subsequently, he could not kiss her, for now, not until, or unless, they came to an understanding. Instead, he embraced her. He brought her to his chest, her soft, but obdurate body, molding perfectly to his. His mouth next to her ear, his breath on her neck, he said, “I love you. I cannot live without you.”
She let him hug her. She felt defeated. She also felt at peace. She placed her hands on his chest, embraced him at first, and then pushed him slightly away. His hold remained slackened, but constant.
The same person who watched Hermione from the woods witnessed this entire exchange, and he was not amused! Not at all. He would not let the Mudblood win!
She wished she had learned to apparate! If she had, she would take herself away! Far, far, away, to places unknown. “Please, let me go!” she finally pleaded.
“I cannot leave you in such a state,” he explained. “Or before I hear the same words from you,”
“Teach me to apparate,” she suddenly said. “You owe me a lesson. I remember the three words. Teach me, now!” She began to cry.
His hand left her upper arm to stroke her face gently. He had to smile at the strange creature, which he adored. “Where would you go?” He held her hand.
“Away from you,” she admitted.
“Would you really leave me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she lied.
“If that is the case, than I shall never teach you,” he said. “I do not want you to ever leave me.”
“HERMIONE!” Harry called.
“Please, Sir, my cousin is calling!” she said urgently.
“I no longer have you in my hold. Go to him, if you must, as long as you return someday to me,” he said.
She hung her head.
“MISS GRANGER! WHERE ARE YOU?” Charlie Weasley yelled.
She looked up at him and said, “I need…”
“You need?” he asked.
“MISS GRANGER!” another shouted.
“I need you…” she broke off, wanting to end the sentence with, ‘to let me go’, but unable to finish the words.
“You need me to what?” he asked back. This was almost identical to his conversation with her in the church.
Once again, she said, “I need you,” but that was all she managed. That was what she needed.
She ran from him, toward the sounds of her name. She reached the front of the mercantile, glanced back, and ran toward him once more.
She said, “Do nothing rash as of yet. Wait and see if you can prove the codicil is real. I know all will be right. Mr. Flint knows something about Mr. Zabini and Miss Clearwater. I am sure of that. Stall the wedding, even the formal engagement, as long as you can, but do nothing to cause any ire or ill feelings about the two of them, for now. I love you, too, and I will wait for you. I shall suffer until the day I can truly be yours. I need you, Sir.”
Her admission filled him with hope. It replaced his despair with anticipation. He nodded and she ran toward the square. He waited a few minutes and followed. Another waited a little longer, and followed them as well.