Chapter 19 – A Test of More than Friendship:
The next morning the sun was much too bright through the lace curtains, so Hermione could tell the hour was early. She stretched her arms above her head and sat up. She still felt tired, that was, until she remembered that she had a lesson today! That being a lesson with Lord Malfoy!
She scrambled from bed and quickly washed and dressed. After their ‘alleyway confessions’ yesterday, Lord Malfoy went to Harry and asked his permission to continue to teach his cousin. Miss Clearwater was not pleased, nor was Mr. Zabini, but Hermione did not expect them to be. Harry gave his consent, on one condition, that it took place at Potter’s Hall. Lupin would be indisposed, Harry had business to attend, and he could not send her to Malfoy Manor without a chaperone.
What joy! She was to have a lesson! What it was she had to learn, she cared not! She was going to see HIM, and that was all that mattered.
She was reading a book, in the entry hall, waiting for his arrival, when at last the door chime rang. Hermione flitted to the door and threw it open. “Lord Malfoy,” she said with a nod of her head.
“I say, Miss Granger, do you make a habit out of answering the door? That is what servants are for, you know,” he said with feigned disdain. “Propriety states that a young woman, such as yourself, should never answer the door on her own.”
She stared at him for a moment and said, “Is this my lesson for the day?”
“I didn’t know you needed decorum lessons, but if so, then yes, it is,” he said back. She shut the door in his face. He frowned. She had a bad habit of doing that, too. It almost made him laugh. He was pleased with her amiable nature today.
He stood there, wondering what to do, when she opened the door again. She had a content smile on her face and she said, “Ring the chime again, Sir, so I can show you that I learn from my mistakes.” She shut the door.
He laughed and rang the chimes again. He waited and waited and waited. Finally, Harry’s butler opened the door.
“Lord Malfoy to see Miss Granger,” Draco said.
The man turned to Hermione, who stood behind him and said, “Lord Malfoy for you, Miss Granger. Are you receiving visitors?”
“Let him be received,” she said. He opened the door all the way and Malfoy stepped over the threshold.
“You are not supposed to stand there and wait for a gentleman, either, Miss,” Draco responded.
“When I see a gentleman, I will be sure to remember that piece of astute wisdom. Now, would you like to have a real lesson, or not?” she asked. “I thought we could have our lesson outside. There is a gazebo out in the rose garden. It is fully encased in glass, with windows all around. It would afford us protection from the impending rain, but right now, it is such a beautiful day and there is hardly any wind. The gazebo is already one of my favourite places to hide from everyone.”
“And you are willing to share it with me?” he asked, smiling.
“If you promise you will not tell anyone,” she said with a grin.
“Lead the way,” he said his hand out in front of him.
He followed her through the massive home, to the conservatory, and beyond. They walked beyond the rose garden, to a large, enclosed gazebo, when he noticed something. She had a bounce to her step, which was sorely missing on last inspection. She looked relaxed and happy. Should he even dare to deny that she looked pretty? She wore her hair up, with wisps of hair hanging in curls down her back and on her shoulders, which bounced right along with her step.
She looked back at him as they entered the edifice and said, “What shall we learn today, Lord Malfoy.”
“Please, when we are in each others company, permit me to call you Hermione, and you shall call me Draco,” he said.
“Draco.” She wanted to try that out, and see how it sounded. The name rolled off her tongue.
“Hermione,” he returned. The name accompanied the face of the girl that haunted his dreams at night. Hermione. “I thought we could learn Apparition. I do not have my Ancient Rune books with me, nor do I care to teach you Arithmancy today, and I thought you needed to learn to apparate more than you need to learn anything else. You do want to learn to apparate, do you not?”
“Very much so,” she said.
“I think it would be prudent, since you find yourself so frequently lost, at least once a day now, that you should be able to get yourself home, if the need arises,” he mocked. He removed his gloves, and his brown cut-a-way jacket, and draped them over a chaise lounge. She looked at him with a smug look.
“I did not become lost yesterday,” she reminded. She wondered why he removed his jacket. It was quite warm in the little room, all enclosed with glass, and even with all the windows opened it was humid. It was warm and bright, and suddenly, Hermione felt claustrophobic. It had nothing to do with Lord Malfoy, of that she was sure. She asked, “Do I need my ribbons?”
“Do you have them handy?” he asked.
She removed them from her pocket. “Yes, and to clarify, since you had no remark to my previous statement, I was not lost yesterday at any point. Just to clarify.”
“No, yesterday you were just a run-a-way.” He reached over to her and held open his hand. “Ribbons, please,” he ordered.
She, too, held out her hand. He reached for her hand with his, his fingertips brushing the palm of her hand in an intimate gesture. She blushed and looked down, and he seemed pleased. He did not know where their relationship stood, but at least she still honoured him with a blush.
He placed the three ribbons on the floor, at even intervals. He walked past each one and read the words aloud. “Determination, Destination and Deliberation. Commit these to memory. These are the only three things you should have in your mind when Apparating. You should clear your mind of everything but these words. Now, have you your wand?”
“In my pocket, Draco.” She almost said, ‘Sir’ but remembered to say his name at the last moment. He smiled. She was bewildered by his recent activities, but she was happy she could still make him smile.
“You must have contact with your wand to Apparate. Sometimes, people have wards and anti-Apparition charms in place, so that a person cannot Apparate in or out of a home, or so that only certain people may do so. I am sure this little gazebo has no such wards. We will be safe, I am sure.”
“I am sure, as well,” she said. She took her wand from her pocket.
“Lord Potter has such wards in his house, though, I assume.” Draco was curious.
“I really do not know,” she admitted.
He would find out, somehow. He needed to know that she was safe from harm. He walked up to her and said, “Good, you have your wand, now stand on the first ribbon.” She walked over to the first ribbon and stood on top of it. He walked behind her and said, “Now, clear your mind of all thoughts. With deliberation, think only of your destination, this will be the next ribbon. With determination, think only of our destination. Think only of this. Leave your mind free from all other distractions.” He walked back around in front of her.
She shut her eyes.
“You do not need to shut your eyes,” he said.
“But I find you distracting, milord, and I am sure that is not one of the three D’s,” she said truthfully. He smiled. He even expelled a small laugh. She opened one eye and said, “Your laughter is distracting as well.”
“Close your ears as well as your eyes, then,” he said.
She frowned and opened her eyes. “How does one close their ears?”
“Should we stop?” he asked. He folded his arms in front of him.
“No, but stop distracting me,” she said. “I cannot help it if I find you distracting.”
“Likewise, Miss, and I cannot help it if I am distracting,” he answered honestly. With her eyes still shut, he walked closer to her, his body still facing hers.
“Do I have to say anything?” she asked, barely above a whisper.
He heard her, but leaned in anyway, so he would have an excuse to be even closer. He asked, “Pardon?”
She opened her eyes, and his face was right in front of hers. She gasped, and put her hand to her chest. She started to take a step backwards, but he reached out for both her arms. “The ribbon, Hermione. Remain on the ribbon.” After he steadied her, he let go of her arms.
She started to repeat her question, with once again closed eyes. “Do I have to…” was as far as she got.
“Shhh,” he urged.
“But,” she began.
“Shhh,” he hushed her again, more urgently this time. He put his index finger up to her mouth, and in one of the most cherished, endearing gestures he had ever shown her, he placed his finger on her lips. The touch was so brief she could have imagined it. She did not try to repeat her question.
He said, “Miss, just keep your tongue and try to concentrate.” When no other words came from her mouth after many long seconds, he said, “Are you concentrating?”
She was. However, she was concentrating on the wrong things. She was concentrating on the sounds of his deep baritone voice, and the way it caressed her skin, the tones resonating against her body like kisses. His voice washed over her like pure velvet.
She was concentrating on his fine clothing, part of which he removed, and how handsome he looked. Even with her eyes closed, she could see him in her mind’s eye. He looked dashing in his beige breeches, his long brown boots, his green baroque waistcoat, and his fine silk shirt, with the white neckclothe.
She was concentrating on his grey eyes, so soft and warm despite their cold colour, and how they could look deep into the windows of her soul.
She was concentrating on his almost silent breathing, which was becoming louder, which meant he was even closer than before, if that was possible. Hermione could tell that he had moved from in front of her, and was now standing behind her, from the sound of his breathing, and from the fact that she felt his warm breath on the back of her neck.
She opened her eyes. She slowly turned her head, over her shoulder, very slowly, to peer up into his face.
“Are you still concentrating?” he asked.
She admitted, “I still find too many things distracting.”
He wondered what could be distracting her. The small room was quiet and there were no others around. He was her only company. Could he possibly be distracting her? He found she distracted him. The curve of her neck, her creamy white skin, her hair, which smelled like strawberries, the rise and fall of her chest as her breathing increased... all of these things were distracting to him. Hence, the reason he moved behind her, but she was just as distracting from behind.
Her shoulders, her arms, the way her hair was tied up with the same piece of lace from yesterday, all distracted him. Yes, he was distracted. He said, “Close your eyes again and try to relax. It will do you no good if you cannot relax.” With her back to him, he placed his hands on her arms, the bare skin under his touch warm and inviting. He moved his hands down to her hands. He held her wand hand, her right, in his right. He said in her ear, “Picture nothing but the red ribbon in front of you. Not the green one in which you stand, not the blue one in front of its brother. The red one, Hermione.” Her breathing increased as the soft-spoken words echoed in her ear. Each word tickled her neck.
And he continued. “Relax your body; your hand is holding your wand so tightly it might snap in two.” His fingers laced through hers, on the end of her wand.
He removed his hands and put them back over her eyes, which was not necessary, for she still had them closed. He said, “The red ribbon, Hermione. Picture it and nothing else. Let it draw you to it.”
She finally relaxed and saw nothing but the red ribbon. He removed his hands. She felt a pull, deep from within, starting in her stomach. Her arms and legs felt tightly bound, and her chest constricted. She tried not to let her mind wander to what was happening to her body. She tried to think only of the red ribbon. Her body felt squeezed, and then as if it was going through a tunnel. She tried very hard to remain calm, and after only a few seconds, all feelings ceased.
She opened her eyes, and sighed. She said, “I am sorry, Lord Malfoy, it did not work. Perhaps Apparition is too difficult for me at this time. I will try again.”
He laughed. She turned to face him, and he was smirking at her. From across the room. She looked down. She was on the red ribbon, and he remained behind the green one.
She was shocked beyond words! She did it, and on her first try! She felt she was meritorious, and should be praised for her feat! She put her wand back in her pocket and ran to him, in exulted jubilation! She threw her arms around his neck, and jumped into his arms, stunning them both.
She exclaimed, “I did it! Did you see? I did it!” She removed her arms from his neck; he lowered her feet back to the ground, and she grasped her hands tightly in front of her. She stepped back across the room. “Oh, I am so sorry. I need another etiquette lesson now, I am afraid.”
“I’m not so sure, Miss. I think that response might have been appropriate. I have never seen anyone complete Apparition on the first try.” Her happiness was contagious. His skin burned from where she had just thrown her arms around him.
Now they were both suddenly distracted, and once again, with each other. Each was painfully aware of the other. He took two meaningful strides toward her. Her feet remained planted in the same spot, as if she were rooted to the ground. He wanted to embrace her again. That was the single most exciting thing that happened to him today, or perhaps, ever. He was certain his happiness had more to do with her happiness, than with the successful Apparition. She smiled. She looked lovely.
He said, “You did so well, Hermione. I have never seen anyone do so well. Please, let us try it again.”
Therefore, they did. They tried several more times, from the red ribbon to the blue, from the blue to the green. He continued to place the ribbons farther apart. The last time he put one outside the enclosed glass structure. Each application was perfection. After the last one, she ran in the gazebo, with the blue ribbon in her hand.
“Did you see, Draco? I did it again! From the inside to the outside!”
He laughed. “Yes, from the inside to the outside, Hermione. You should come and sit down now. It is unwise to Apparate and Disapparate too frequently in one day. You must rest and regain your energy. Apparition takes much magic from you, and it is best not to do it too many times in succession.” He pointed to a small scrolled, wrought iron, loveseat. She followed his lead, and sat down. He sat beside her.
“I am surprised I was able to do it once, let alone several time,” she admitted. “Perhaps we could learn something else now.”
“Perhaps you could let me rest as well,” he said with a smile. “Besides, I told you earlier, I do not have any of my books, and I wager you have already read all of Lord Potter’s books on Ancient Runes.”
He was correct, of course, but she did not want to learn more Ancient Runes. She said, “It is not Runes or things I wish to learn. I would like to learn more on the Dark Arts. Mr. Lupin gave me a book to read on the subject, and I think it is important for everyone to know everything there is about all branches of magic, light and dark. When I spoke with my cousin, he seemed upset, and I would assume that had to do with his fight against the Dark Lord.”
Draco stood up suddenly, his back to her, his brows furrowed. “You would be correct, I am sure.” He turned to her and said, “While I agree that you should have a well rounded education, I am not the one to teach you these things.”
She stood as well, “Then who should, Sir? Mr. Lupin will not, because he does not want to go against my cousin’s wishes. He told me to hide the book from Harry. I need to learn these things. I know the basics, and I know most of the dark spells, and about the three unforgivable curses, but I need to learn to combat them! Reading is not the same as learning and doing.”
Her urgency caused him to feel anxious. “Do you assume there is danger around the corner, ready to strike you at a moment’s notice?” Was she afraid? Did she sense danger? Did she know something that even he and Lord Potter did not know? He frowned again and took her hand. He sat her back down on the bench. He said, “I cannot teach you the Dark Arts, I am sorry. My father was a Death Eater. Are you familiar with that term?”
“Yes, Sir, I know they were the followers of Voldemort’s. I did not know your father was one. Forgive me, Sir, I meant no disrespect. I did not mean to bring up bad memories for you. I would never want to cause you distress or pain.”
She looked at him so compassionately that he felt bad for rebuffing her so quickly. She should learn the Dark Arts. “You should learn from a qualified wizard, I agree. I would not wish to practice these spells with you, however. Your abilities might cause me harm, and I am already slightly afraid of you.”
She laughed a true and heartfelt laugh. “You fear me?” She laughed again. “Then you do not wish for me to practice on you?”
“You already have me at your mercy, so perhaps you already have me under the Imperius. You cause me great anguish at times, so I am sure you have already performed the Crucio curse on me. I hope you never use the last curse on me. That would be unpleasant.”
She smiled and said, “Quite.” Her bare arm was against his clothed arm. She was suddenly very aware of his closeness. More so than before, so she decided to remedy that. She stood up and said, “Have you heard from your solicitor yet? Is there cause to rejoice, good news, perhaps?”
“Not as of yet,” he replied. His solicitor had found out nothing about his father’s will, or anymore about Hermione’s past. If only she were a pureblood, his problems would be solved. He said, “Theo pointed out something interesting, which no one had yet considered. Even if the codicil in my father’s will is genuine, and I do have to marry a pureblood to retain my home and title, nowhere does it state that the pureblood in question must be Miss Clearwater. My solicitor agrees with this assumption. I have yet to inform my godfather or the young lady.”
“Do you have another pureblood in mind?” she asked softly. She went to look out the window of the gazebo. A gentle rain began to fall. The smell of the rain soaked her senses, and swirled in her mind. Was she still going to lose him to another? She placed her hand on the windowsill of the opened window, and let the cool rain drench her hand.
“I have no one in mind, Hermione.” He came and stood beside her. He placed his left hand next to her right hand. Their little fingers touched. “Since the marriage contract with Miss Clearwater is not the deciding factor, and is no longer binding, I find no reason to continue my dalliances with the insipid woman. If I must remain single until we discover a way out of this, so be it.”
So be it. He said, so be it. Yes, Hermione thought, so be it. She took a deep breath. He looked over at her face, and she looked anguished. He was not so vague that he did not know the reason for her state of mind. It pained him as well, but it was the best solution, thus far.
“I am going to tell Miss Clearwater and Snape both, tonight at dinner.”
“I am happy you found a solution to your problem, with Mr. Nott’s help,” she said. She tried to walk away from the open window, as the rain was now spraying in on them both. He placed his hand on top of hers, so she was captive. She looked upon his face.
“It is not the best solution, but it is the only hope I have at the moment,” he said gently. “I beg you to still offer me time.”
She expelled the breath she did not even know she was holding. She said, “I would offer you more, if you would only ask me.”
Would he ask her?