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Chapter 26 – Freedom from Want

Lord Malfoy turned to Mr. Lupin and said, “You do know why she is so distressed, do you not?”

“Yes,” was his humble reply.

“Please tell me that the girl’s memory is false,” he pleaded.

“I wish I could,” Lupin remarked.

Draco drew his wand. Lupin sat down on the chaise and said, “Do put your wand away, my boy. She was never in any harm from me. All I have ever done her entire life is protect her. Your godfather has also tried to protect her. We both acted in her best interests. Your friend Marcus Flint knows more of this latest plot, but there are even greater dangers to her out there than what happened when she was kidnapped.”

Draco regarded the older man for a moment and lowered his wand. He said, “I am sure I will need to hear this story later, but as for now, we have more pressing matters, since the young lady in question has become lost, once again.” He put his wand away. “I already sent for the Viscount. You will need to explain to him whatever you feel necessary. As for me, I am going after our young friend.”

“You know where she went?” Remus asked.

“I believe I do. She only just regained her memory, hence her ability to Disapparate. She has only Apparated and Disapparated from one place, and that was the place where I taught her. It has no wards, and I believe it would be the first place she would have thought to go. Stay here and meet with Lord Potter. I will return with Miss Granger.”

Lupin stood and said, “She truly is in danger, more than from just the man who kidnapped her, but from herself. Please bring her back.”

Draco arrived outside the gazebo on the grounds of Potter’s Hall. The sky was turning dark as evening overtook the late afternoon. The little enclosed room was also dark inside, but he was certain he would find her within. He opened the door to the glass structure and saw her immediately, sitting on a wrought iron bench, her back to him, and her hand upon one of the glass walls. He lit his wand and approached her.

She was staring at the burning embers of the setting sun. She did not turn around at his approach, because she knew it was he. Without acknowledging him, she said, “I am a burden to you, am I not?”

“Why would you say that?”

“Is that not how you feel? Have I not complicated your life, and the lives of everyone here?” she asked.

Draco said from behind her, “Do not presume to speak for me, dear lady. Nothing could be further from the truth, or further from the feelings in my heart. We will unravel this great tapestry of deceit, and come up with an answer, I promise you this.”

“I remembered something important. I remembered that you are not free to give me your heart,” she said sadly.

He took another step closer and she finally turned to face him. She looked up at him from the chair. He inquired, “Is that what worries you?”

She turned around again to gaze back toward the setting sun and said, “I long for the simpler days.”

It was apparent to Lord Malfoy that she was not going to reveal her worries. She bowed her head and placed both hands in her lap. He came to sit on the bench beside her, his legs facing the opposite direction. Should to shoulder, they sat, as intimate as lovers, but as distant as mere acquaintances.

She continued, “When I was younger, this was my favourite time of day. Twilight, dusk, nightfall. It was when my father, mother and I would all be together. We were not well off, at least not in the sense of you and my cousin. My father was a teacher at a private school, so I grew up with only two servants, a husband and wife who worked our garden and served our house. My parents were often busy with our home, but they always made time for me in the evening.”

“We would sit around the fire, often with only one or two candles burning, and we would read or play the pianoforte. Usually my father would read to me, but when I became older, I would read to them. I was lost when he died. I was so young. I longed for him to return. I felt a fatherly connection such as that with Mr. Lupin.”

“What was your father like?” he asked kindly.

She finally lifted her face to look upon him; a small smile graced her lips, which warmed his insides. She said, “He was tall, almost as tall as you. He had a wicked laugh, and he was a gentleman. He helped others whenever he could. He was kind and generous. He loved my mother very much.”

“Tell me about her,” he urged.

At this, she was again bowed her head. The pain and memories were too raw, too fresh, for her. She said, “I look nothing like her, you know. She was tall for a woman, with light hair and blue eyes. I have been told all my life that I look more like my aunt Lily, as they were complete opposites. Lily was dark and my mother Rose, was light. Since coming here and seeing her portrait, I see that I do indeed look like her. My mother loved music, animals, and literature. Most of all, she loved me very much and I love her."

Draco smiled and put his hand on her face to force her to look at him again, and said, “It is nice to be loved.”

“I agree,” she said.

“I love you, you know,” he admitted.

Her heart felt like it skipped a beat. She almost wished he did not love her. That way, she could pretend her feelings were one sided, and all of this could be nothing more than a schoolgirl crush. To have him declare his feeling so blatantly made the situation much more complicated for her.

She finally spoke. “I know you do, and I love you as well.”

He knew she loved him, and he knew that her love caused conflicted feelings in him. Their love could not be openly shared. It was more than a conundrum; it was a massive problem to be solved, with no obvious solution. He smiled at her and dropped his hand from her cheek. Her skin on her face was so warm and soft. He had a flash of curiosity as he wondered if the rest of her skin was as soft.

“What do you think of that? Our shared love and admiration?” he asked with a forced smile. He stood back up and placed both hands on her shoulders. He leaned down, her hair tickling his cheek and said in her ear. “It does not have to be a bad thing.”

“It is not up to you to decide whether it is good or bad,” she stated.

“I would be good to you, you would never want for a thing, you could read all day, give to charities, and tend to your studies. You would be safe from harm. You must come back to the Manor with me. You are my other half, Hermione,” he said.

“Your lesser half,” she said sadly.

“No, my better half,” he amended. “You are more than a beautiful woman. You also have a beautiful soul. I love you, dash it all. It does not have to be so hard.”

“No, but it does have to cease,” she insisted, “for you are not free to marry me, and we cannot show our love openly without marriage, or at least a betrothal.” She leaned back against his strong body. Her head fell to one side. He felt as if he were a man possessed as he leaned down and kissed her exposed neck; three small kisses, near her ear, at her pulse point, and one on her shoulder.

He leaned over to her mouth, and placed a small kiss on her placid lips, soft, warm and sweet. She completed him. She responded hopefully. She pressed her lips to his and it was love divine. His mouth drew away, but his face remained close and he said, “I want you, so.”

“So you said.” She put her hand to her mouth. Her lips tingled and she felt slightly in a haze. She would let him throw her to the floor and make love to her right there and then, but then where would she be?

He stood her up, with the bench separating them. He said, “We will find a solution so we can be together.” He just did not know what that would be at this point.

She asked, “As husband and wife? You cannot give up your title and fortune for me, and I would never ask that of you, so we are lost.”

“I will find a solution,” he reiterated, more for himself. “I don’t know if it will be as husband and wife,” he added quietly.

“And I don’t know any other way, Lord Malfoy,” she affirmed. She stood and backed away from him, and turned back toward the outside, touching both hands to the cool glass of the window. The sky was almost completely dark now.

He would say something more to comfort her, but he had no words. She was right. They were lost. He could not give up all her had. He wanted to offer it all to her instead. Did that make him a bad person? He would argue with her, encourage her, but with what? Words? Words seemed false and empty. He would not give false predictions of future happiness that may never come, not to her.

He felt frustrated by the entire situation. He was frustrated with her, himself, and the state of his own heart. He wanted her, and he wanted to be free to want her. He said, “I do not have much to offer you at this time. I apologize that I cannot give you what you want. What you want and what I want is not so very different, is it?”

She turned to face him and said, “I want to marry you. You want to keep your home and title. You would not give it all up for me, would you?”

She walked back up against one of the glass wall, her back pressed against the windowpane. The outline of her silhouette against the darkening sky filled him longing and despair. He said, “I wish I could say I would, but I cannot. I wish I was free from this want!” He went to the other side of the small building to put distanced between them.

“If it is freedom from this want that you crave, then I should leave. If I leave, you will soon forget me, and you may yet fall in love with another.” She walked around to the door, but stopped before leaving. When he did not try to stop her, she walked through. He finally ran to her as she stood outside. He touched her arm, burning her skin with his ache.

With a calm look on her face and a steady voice, she turned and said, “When you kissed me, under the tree, and again just now, you were offering nothing, correct?”

“I was offering my sincerest love,” he told her.

“And nothing more?” she asked.

He became angry. More at himself than her, but she would never know. He turned to the glass structure door and slammed his fist through the pane of glass, shattering the glass, which fell in shards like icicles falling on a winter day. He held his hand.

She approached him, but this time, he backed away. He stood from her and said, “I offer you everything and nothing! Damnation! I do not know what I offer. I only acted on instinct. I cannot live without you, I know that.” He hung his head.

Her heart went out to him. Before she had come to Godrics Hollow, when she lived in her family home with her mother, she wondered if someone had asked her to give up her home, family, and friends what she would choose. Of course, the choice was taken from her. She did have to give it all up. It was taken from her. She approached him slowly and took his hand. It was obviously broken and blood was running down it freely. She gingerly examined it and asked him to sit down on a bench outside the gazebo.

“I have read several books on healing spells, may I?” she asked.

“Are you sure you will not hex me for my indecisiveness?” he asked with a small smile.

“Not today,” she answered.

She took her wand and with his hand still in her left hand, she said a healing spell. She placed her wand back in its concealed pocket of her dress, but continued to hold his hand. She rubbed the top of his large, strong, sinewy hand in both of hers, her thumbs rubbing back and forth against the veins. He clenched his hand tightly in hers. She dropped his hand and stood before him. She brought her hand to his face, hesitated, drew back, and then reached out again. She touched his cheek.

He closed his eyes. She was so gentle, so loving. It was moments like this that he thought he could give it all up; his wealth, title, and home. She continued to touch his face with her right hand, and her left hand traveled to his shoulder. He leaned his face into her caress. With one finger, she traced a line from temple to chin, from chin back up to brow. She touched his eyebrows with her fingertips, and as she did, her thumb touched his lips. With his eyes still closed, she felt braver, so she touched his lips with just one finger.

She traced the outline of his lips, one direction and then the other. She finally touched the middle of the bottom lip. Then, to his utter amazement, he felt her lips feathery soft upon his. He opened his eyes as she was standing back up.

“Do you know what I offer with my kiss?” she asked.

Dare he ask? “What, Miss?”

“I offer myself, but as I am.” He placed his hands intimately on her waist. Her hands still on his shoulders, his head tilted slightly up to look at her, she continued, “I will not allow you to set me up in housekeeping while you marry your pureblood wife and have your heir. I will not allow you to visit me at night, as if you are ashamed of me, to steal moments such as this. I have nothing to offer you in exchange, but I have my respectability and my honour, and you want to take that away from me.”

“NO!” he shouted. Yet, as he grabbed her around the waist, and pulled her tightly into his embrace, he knew that was indeed what he had thought, just in passing. He would not have really considered it, because he would rather stay single all his life, and have nothing more than a glance and a touch from her, than to take away her innocence.

“I will ask once more, Sir, to satisfy my curiosity, is this what you offer?” she asked softly.

He dare not look at her. He let go of her waist and stood with his back to her. He turned back to face her and said, “I can offer you nothing at this time except my friendship and my protection, which you are powerless to refuse.” He took her wrist and Disapparated them back to the front of Malfoy Manor, instead of inside, so he might have one more moment with her. Once they set foot on solid ground, she pulled her wrist from his grasp.

Pulling on her wrist, although it remained in his tight grasp, she argued, “I do not require your friendship or your protection! I will take your godfather up on his offer, to attend Hogwarts, and accept the position of professor. I think I could find peace there, and a modicum of happiness. My cousin would be better off without me, as would you. Marry your pureblood, and if not Miss Clearwater, then another. Forget I existed. Obliviated me from your memory. I only regret that Mr. Lupin did not Obliviate you completely from mine.”

He released her wrist and she started to walk away from the house, but he actually reached out for her again and this time, he grabbed a handful of the muslin material of her dress.

“No, you do not get to decide and you do not get to leave me again!” he shouted. As improper as it was, he reached in the small sleeve in the side of her skirts where he saw her pocket her wand earlier, and he placed the wand in his own pocket. She reached up and slapped his face hard. He grabbed her around the middle and pulled her toward him. Her face was red with anger, but his countenance was so much more intense than hers was.

“I regret meeting you!” she spat. “I regret loving you.”

“You are a terrible liar, Miss Granger!” he said. “Would you have me give up this home?” He turned her to look at the massive home and estate. He held onto her upper arm with a hard grasp. “Will you not give me the time I need to try to solve this puzzle? I want you and this! My truthfulness does not mean I am unworthy of your love!”

She looked up at him shouted, “I would never ask you to give up anything!”

“But you do!” he said with bile. “You want us to live in a hovel, and both take up trade and work hard as our penance, as your parents did. You want me to give up my home, my life, my title, and my fortune!”

She removed her arm, with defeat, from his grasp by pealing his fingers from her arm with her other hand. “I only want you to love me.”

“You speak of want?” he said desperately. “I KNOW WANT!”

“And what of you?” she said quietly. She looked at the ground. “Do you want me to give up my honour and respectability? My reputation? My heart and soul? It is all I have.” She sunk to the ground, totally overwhelmed. Without looking back up at him, she gazed at his long shadow as it lay on the ground in front of her and said, “Do you not concur, that for both of our hearts, we should forget what we want, and act accordingly?”

She was right, heaven help them all, she was right.

“Damn you,” he said, not meaning a word. He lifted her by her shoulders, as if she weighed not a thing. “It is too late for that.” He pulled her flush to his body, her body melding into his. His left hand held her waist, and his right hand rested on her upper back, on her warm skin. With his mouth close to her ear, he said, “I am totally, and utterly lost. I am lost with you and without you. How can my heart choose?”

His heart flooded with blood, 'pure' blood, that threatened to spill out of his chest. He had never felt such pain and longing before. He closed his eyes to ease his yearning. He would keep her in his embrace, figuratively or literally, to keep her from harm, his own heart be damned. He would place his heart on a shelf, and forget that it ever existed. His breathing became harder as he held her tightly in his arms.

Suddenly, without resistance, he pushed her away from him. The taint of her blood mattered to him. Lord help him, it did. Nevertheless, the thought of her going away, and toiling in a profession that was beneath her was unacceptable. He reached for her again, and placed his face next to her hair. He wanted more for her. He did not want her to turn into a hollow shadow. He wanted more for her. He wanted more for him. He would find an acceptable solution. If he did not, they both would end up lost and forlorn.

“We both deserve a chance at happiness, Hermione,” he said softly to her, as if he were cooing to a small babe. “I will not give you up, as I stated before. I promise you, if I cannot find an expectable solution to purchase our happiness, then I will give it all up.”

She took a step back and observed him. She believed him.

“I will go back with you to the Manor, but only if Mr. Lupin leaves. Nonetheless, I have to warn you, we must be friends only, you and I, until such a time that you are free from either your convictions, or free from your wants. It will be one or the other, but not both, understood?”

He did. He knew what she was saying. Give it all up for her, or lose her forever, and in the end, he could not find fault in her statement. The part of his mind which held reason, argued with the part of his heart, which held his longing.

He started down to the house, with her closely beside him. He slowed his pace so she could keep up. He ached with actual pain for her. It would be a test of his composure to see if he could stay in the same house with her, and not touch her, kiss her, want her. Before they reached the house, he offered his arm. This would be his first test. She looked into his grey eyes, which she thought held a question. Finally, she placed her hand gently upon his sleeve. His arm did not fall off and his skin did not melt. His heart was another story, but he would take it slowly.

They went inside and Lord Malfoy asked his butler, “Are Mr. Lupin and Lord Potter still here?”

He nodded in the affirmative. Draco smiled down at her and said, “I will escort you to your room, and have dinner sent up to you.” Together, her hand still on his arm, they walked the long distance to her room. Outside the door he said, “If you should need me, no matter the hour, or the need, do not feel you are an imposition. Seek me out, please.

Everything about the woman before him, her entrancing face, her small but well formed body, promised to make him betray his word. To take her in his arms and to touch her sweet face, and to place his lips softly on hers, just as she did earlier, would be wrong, but it would feel right. His desire threatened to replace his resolve. His brain finally came into place, seeking a rational end to this later encounter. He took a step backwards and bowed. He took her hand and could not resist placing a gentle kiss her top. Friends kissed friend’s hands, did they not? He released it and stormed down the hall, barking at one of the servants to take food up to her room. He had to see Lupin. He needed answers.

As he stormed through his house, he knew he could not play the friendship role with her. He was becoming increasingly desperate just to steal touches with her. His want was too much to ignore, as was the sudden realization that she was more important than all other considerations. That realization did not lessen his ardor or his indignation. His love could not be terminated. No, what he sought was not an end to his want and love, but answers to help him win her hand in marriage.

He stopped to lean against the wall. No other man could have her. The thought of another’s hands on her body, her soft white skin, in her silky hair, made his heart lurch. He inhaled and exhaled slowly, and went back into the second floor lounge, where he found the other two men.

Both rose when he entered and Lord Potter asked, “Did you find her?”

He took her wand out of his pocket and placed it on a desk. He poured himself a glass of firewhiskey and said, “She is once again safe in her room, so do not fear gentlemen. She is safe in the confines of these walls. However, Lord Potter, either you must stay as her chaperon, or send another, because Mr. Lupin must leave.”

“Why?” Harry asked.

Draco drank the entire contents in one drink and said, “I think Lupin will be more inclined to answer your questions than I, although I know one thing: he is the man who Obliviated her memories.”

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