Chapter 20 – A Rose amongst Thorns:
Hermione Granger told Draco Malfoy that she would offer him more than friendship, if he only asked. What did she mean? He told her that he could not marry, not yet, maybe ever. Therefore, what did she mean by her declaration? It mattered not, because he would never ask more of her. Never. She was too precious, too dear to him. She was the proverbial rose amongst the thorns.
The rain continued to fall, and what was at first a simple summer shower, was now a torrential rain, with all the tale-tell signs of an impending storm. Humidity surrounded the pair in their enclosed glass structure. Hermione and Draco went around the octagonal room, he to the right, she to the left, to close all the windows. They met on the other side. The panes of glass developed a thick condensation and fog. Neither spoke as they set about their task, nor when they met on the other side. Neither required conversation. He did not respond to her statement, and she did not elaborate. He walked over to the chair to pick up his jacket and gloves. If he did not leave immediately, he would take her in his arms and make love to her. He would ask her, no, command her, to stay with him forever, marriage or not… but he could not do that to her.
He threw his jacket over his arm and he looked over at the lithesome, ethereal beauty that stood before him. She had her back to him, and was drawing circles in the condensation that had developed on one of the panes of glass. Was she ignorant to his stares, wants, and desires, or was she playing coy? It was rude for him to continue to stare, but such amenities as politeness and demeanor no longer had a place between the two. It was an unspoken alliance. Besides, he could not look away.
He wanted her. Just the thought of her sent a fire to his soul. He wanted her with a passion and a desire that few men ever felt, and only a handful would admit to feeling. He dare not admit it himself. He wanted her with a desire that was bound to be his doom. She filled his mind, body, and soul with a blinding, unabashed love.
She bowed her head, almost as if in silent prayer. Whatever deity she was calling on, let her say a prayer for him as well. He wanted to walk away, but instead, he drew nearer. She reached back with her left arm, in an understanding. Reaching, reaching, and reaching, for him. Somehow, she knew he would come.
One-step closer was all it took. His left hand took her outstretched left hand. She leaned her forehead against the cold, wet glass. Did she feel the anguish and the loss he felt? The frustration that came just from the thought that they would soon have to part?
He stretched out her left arm, and while her back was still to him, her left hand in his left hand, he placed his right hand on her waist, as if she was a fine instrument, a harp, or a cello, and he was about to bring forth beautiful music. He raised her left arm straight out from her side. The fingers of his right hand grasped the material of her dress at her waist. He placed a small kiss on the inside crook of her arm, by her elbow. Still holding her arm straight out, he kissed down her arm. Her head bent to the side, he looked back at her face, and the long column that was her neck, and he was in turmoil. He wanted to kiss her neck as well, but her arm begged for his attention. He placed his last kiss to her pulse at the wrist, which he swore he could feel transferring each beat from her body to his.
This was improper. By all that was holy, this was not right! This would not do! However, appropriateness be damned! Where was the harm, when two loved as greatly as these two?
He let her arm drop to her side. He pulled her back toward him, his right hand still on her waist. His left hand skimmed back up her left arm, to her neck. His hand came around to the front of her neck, his fingers splayed out, and her head fell back on his shoulder. He finally kissed the skin on her neck, which he had so desired. The only distinct sound that could be heard was the sound of the rain pinging on the copper roof, mixed with their joint breaths inhaled and exhaled in a quiet unity.
Still he pressed on; still aware it was wrong, still not caring. He placed another kiss on the sensitive junction of skin between her neck and her shoulder. His right hand left her waist, and snaked around her middle. His left hand cupped her face. She was his captive, and he would never let her go. He took one more deep breath, and moved away from her. She remained where she was, in the same position, almost as if she was carved from stone or carefully captured on an artist’s canvas. She held such an elegant pose that he did not know what to do or think.
He turned her around, and put his hands on both sides of her face. He ventured even farther, and kissed her forehead. She turned her face slightly, to mold her cheek into his cupped hand. She placed a kiss on his palm, and that was his undoing. He dropped his hands and shut his eyes, and willed it to be a dream, for if it were a dream, he could do what he really wanted to do. He could bring her arms over his neck, and kiss her round, sweet, red, ripe lips. He could carry her far away, where no one would ever find her or hurt her. He finally opened his eyes, which seemed glassed over, and he willed himself to stay still and not impede upon her more. The humidity of the room mingled with the coolness of the rain, and a slight fog filled his mind just as surely as condensation formed on the windowpanes.
Her hands, small and pliant, went down his shirtsleeves, to grasp both of his hands. She held his arms out, and surveyed the man in front of her. They stood, facing each other, hands holding hands, stares holding stares, hearts holding hearts. She dare not speak, although words were swirling around her brain, fighting to be let out. Hermione brought one of his hands up to her mouth again, and this time, she kissed the top of it, before releasing them both quickly. His breathing quickened, not from exertion or vigorous exercise, but from want.
He had to close his eyes again. He had to. He wanted those lips next to his. He opened his eyes, and decided he would have to be contented with her temple, which would be just as sweet. He drew her to him, she clutched the opening of his green waistcoat, and he place a well-sought kiss on her left temple, touching a wisp of hair with his lips. He was dying inside.
Her nimble fingers raced up and down his cloth covered chest, to find their way in his hair, and then she traced the outline of his cheeks, and eyebrows. Her fingers went over his jaw line, and one finger touched his bottom lip. He willed his eyes closed again. He could not look at her a moment longer! Sweet, sweet, agony! He would surely die soon if he did not touch his lips to hers.
And the rain continued.
Her hands went back to his chest, clutching tightly to the green material, and her forehead fell against the smooth silk of his vest. He placed one hand gingerly around her back, touching the bare skin between her dress and the falling tendrils of hair. His other hand was useless, for it could not do what it wanted, because it would surely betray him if he did not keep it in check. Her sweet, soft body seemed to form into his. Finally, his other hand found a home in her hair. She looked up at him.
He made a decision. He was going to kiss her. If Lord Potter demanded his head on a platter when he was through, it would be worth the sacrifice. Denying his need served no purpose. It was what he wanted, and what she wanted, and that was all that mattered in the world. Nothing else existed. No reason, only insanity.
With his decision made, and her defenses lowered, he was resolute. His head descended toward hers, when they heard the sound of the door to their little haven open, tearing them forever apart. They parted so quickly, that no one would have ever have suspected what almost occurred. As it was, what did occur was a godsend. If he had kissed her, he would never be able to stop. Whether it was fate or a higher being which intervened, Draco no longer cared. He was just thankful. He wanted her, but not like this. Not at this cost. When he took her, and claimed her for his own, it would be as his wife!
He walked to the other side of the room, and stayed put, as a servant informed Miss Granger that she had a guest in the library. The maid left, and Draco went back to the chaise, picked up his jacket, placed it on his body, and rushed to the door.
She remained where she stood.
He turned to face her, so small and alone. So willing, so wanting. Still waiting. He said, “By tonight, Hermione, I will be free. My father’s will be damned. I will have you. I will be appeased! I will!” He seemed almost angry. She had no misunderstanding. His was a righteous indignation. She felt it was well. He disapparated on the spot, leaving her alone in the little structure. She walked to the door, and looked out at the grey sky, even as the sun tried to come back out to play. He was gone, but she knew in her heart he would return, and he would return a free man.
Hermione walked in the large mansion, and into the library, to greet her visitor. When she entered, it was not at all whom she assumed. “Mr. Snape,” she said, curtseying low.
“Miss Granger,” he returned. “I have several roots and mosses I need to collect for potions and as the rain is abating, I wondered if you would like to accompany me. You seemed eager enough to help me the last time I collected specimens, and it seems I owe you a lesson, as the last one went awry.”
“Would you join me for lunch first, Sir?” she asked.
He bowed and said, “It would be a pleasure.”
Lunch was a quiet affair. Mr. Lupin kept to his rooms, since it was the day after the full moon. Harry was still in London on business. Hermione found it difficult to speak with the man. Between courses he said, “My cupboards are bare, Miss, and there are several main ingredients for several important potions which I am completely out, for example, the root which is necessary for the Wolfsbane potion, which Remus Lupin depends on so heavily, is complete dissipated.”
That concerned Hermione. If Remus had such a difficult time with the potion, what must occur if he did not have the potion readily available? Mr. Snape must have known he struck a nerve with the girl, for she said, “I would like to learn to brew that potion, so I might be able to help Mr. Lupin. He has been such a dear friend of mine.”
“I will teach you, but of course, as soon as we collect the proper ingredients. We will set to work straight away.”
The rain finally stopped. This small window of clear weather afforded both Snape and Hermione with the time they deemed necessary for very different tasks. She wanted to find the ingredients to help a very dear friend. He wanted the opportunity to talk to the young woman, to try to convince her to stay away from his godson. Neither would get what they wanted.
He pointed out several species and types of flowers and plants to her, telling her of their potion making properties. She placed them in her basket, and continued with her work. He said, “I look forward to our continual tutoring sessions, Miss Granger. I know you are an fervent learner. I spoke to the headmaster at Hogwarts about you, and he agrees with my assessment. I told him of your thirst for learning and of your intelligence. You would be a bright addition to our staff. He thinks with a year of constant tutoring, and another year of apprenticeship, you should be ready to teach.”
Hermione stood up from the bush she was examining, and tried to think of a response. Was he still under the impression that she wanted to teach? She did not fully trust this man. She was eager to continue her education, but now, that was all to which she could commit. She responded, “Sir, I appreciate your patronage, but I am no longer convinced that teaching is the path that I must take. I need time to weigh all my options. I also must consider my cousin’s views on the matter, and take his wants and wished into consideration.”
She bent down and picked up a small white flower, and put it in the basket.
He scoffed at her words and said, “We both know it is not your cousin to whom you speak. You want to wait and see what Lord Malfoy thinks of the plan, is that not true?”
She straightened up slowly, and looked across the path at him. She knew not what to say to that statement. “Sir, I only speak of my own wants and desires. I do not know if I want to pursue the path in which you speak. That is all.”
She tried to turn back around, but he was suddenly in front of her on the mud-riddled path. He took both her arms in his hands, and shook her so hard that she dropped her basket. He said, “I was under the assumption that you wanted to secure your future before your cousin married and left you homeless and penniless once more! Perhaps I was wrong. I shall not seek any more opportunities for you in the future!”
“Please, Sir,” she said, “I did not mean to insult or imply that I was not grateful. As for my cousin, his marriage is not yet set in stone.”
“Neither is Lord Malfoy’s!” Snape snapped. He let go of her arms. “Which I am sure plays an important role in your indecisiveness!”
She would not discuss such matters with such a horrid man. She picked up her basket, and started up the path. When she was almost out of his view he shouted, “I know of his plans to break his engagement with my ward!” She turned to face him. “I will never allow that, Miss Granger. I will never allow a common Mudblood to come between the love of two people whom I love, is that clear?”
She marched over to him, threw down the basket, and said, “The only thing that is clear is that I will not be threatened by you, Sir. As for the love you speak, between Miss Clearwater and Lord Malfoy, I can guarantee, it is non existent, at least on his part!”
“Because of you!” he shouted.
“No, because of him!” she spat back. “This has nothing to do with me!”
“You would like me to believe that, wouldn’t you, girl? However, I have eyes! I can see! He is infatuated with you and of course, a woman of your intellect sees what he can give to you in return. A stable, comfortable life, free from hard work and strive! A title, wealth, but one thing he will never be able to give you, Miss Granger, is pure blood! Believe me, it is more important to him than even he realizes at this juncture!”
She tried to storm past him, but he caught her arm. He shouted, “One thing is certain! He will never marry you and give you the respectability that you crave, unless your muddy blood suddenly turns pure, which will never, ever, happen!”
“Hold your tongue, Sir, before I curse you into the ground!” she threatened as she drew her wand in anger. “I did not seek your opinion, so trust me when I say that you should keep it to yourself! Good day, Sir!” She stormed off, down the rain soaked path, anger seeping from every pore and fiber of her body.
She thought she was rid of him when he Apparated right in front of her. She screamed in frustration. Why would he not leave her be!
He said, “You will never be more than a mistress or a lover to him. Perhaps someday you will be a simple regret! He will never lower himself to marry you, for he knows what a unholy union it would be. Ask Lupin what such a marriage did to your cousin’s parents, your aunt and uncle! Lord Potter’s father gave up a great deal for his mudblood, and what did it get him? A death sentence for them both! He should have let her go, and perhaps they would both still be alive today, married to others, and happy!”
Hermione had no idea of what he was referring, nor did she frankly care at this point. She thought he was a horrible man, spouting unsolicited thoughts and judgments. She sprinted away, as she heard his booming voice say, “Do not be a fool! Give up on Lord Malfoy, before it is too late!”
She continued to run through the dense woods, and once again, as Lord Mafloy suggested earlier, she was hopelessly lost. She did not know if she was proficient enough to Apparate from places unknown, and from distances unknown, but she would have to try.
She concentrated very hard on the gazebo. Their gazebo. She knew it had no wards, and she would almost be home. She imagined it in her mind. She grasped her wand, and though Lord Malfoy told her it was not necessary for her to shut her eyes, shut her eyes she did. She was knocked over with a spell as soon as her eyes closed.
Pain coursed through her, the likes of which she had never experienced before. Her body was on fire! Someone put out the flames! Each nerve ending felt severed! A blazing, prickling heat, akin to an actual fire befell her and she heard a scream that she did not even recognize as her own.
The last thing she remembered was blackness, which overwhelmed her, sending her into a pit of utter despair.