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Chapter 31 – A Night of Discoveries and Imagination:

Harry was hosting an engagement dinner for Charlie Weasley, whom he had always admired, and Miss Daphne Greengrass, who was a sweet natured girl. It was to be a small party attended by few. He was happy to oblige them and just because his engagement to Charlie's sister was over, did not mean that a celebration should not happen for an engagement that had just started. He had heard from Ron Weasley that his sister had returned home after several hours away. She would not tell anyone where she had gone, or whom she had seen. Harry could feign indifference and pretend he cared not just because his engagement was over, but he could not. Those feelings would be lies. He still loved her. He hated that he loved her, but he did.

Hermione arrived to the dinner on the arm of Lord Malfoy. She looked lovely in an ivory satin gown with gold trim. Harry smiled as she entered. He felt his world was turning upside down. He lost his intended and his cousin, all due to happenstance. Even if Hermione was no longer his kin, he still loved her as a friend, and he would take care of her always.

He could tell Lord Malfoy loved her also. The way he took her shawl off her shoulders, and the way he brought his hand up to touch a stray curl that had fallen from its place on her head, were unspoken gestures of his love for her. Harry could also tell he loved her by the way that he gently took her elbow to lead her to a seat. Harry felt a tinge of jealousy. He wanted that kind of love. He felt he would never have it again.

He walked up to the sofa and bowed to Hermione. She stood, curtseyed, and said, “Shall I still call you cousin?” Draco told her that he had explained to Harry that he revealed the secret of her father to her.

Harry kissed her hand and said, “I had hoped you might call me brother, but alas, that was not to be. You may call me friend, ally, confidant. You shall call me one of your closest acquaintances and ardent admirers.”

She smiled, placed her hand on his arm, and leaned forward and kissed his cheek. It was such a sweet gesture. He placed his hand on his cheek and said, “Thank you.”

“I love you, and if you would permit me, I would like to continue to call you cousin,” she decided.

“Cousin it is,” he said with a smile. She sat back down on the sofa.

Draco sat beside her and said, “Who else will be in attendance tonight?”

“It will be a small party with only Charlie and Ron Weasley, Miss Greengrass, Miss Lovegood, Mr. Lupin and us.” Harry looked uncomfortable.

“Miss Weasley is still missing?” Draco asked.

Hermione looked shocked. “Miss Weasley is missing?”

“No, not any longer, but she will not be attending. She will never attend another function in this house, I fear,” Harry said. “She confessed to me her part in your kidnapping, Hermione. While not directly responsible, she still was the reason many things happened. I cannot forgive her. I do not wish to. I regret that I felt the need to inform Theo Nott and the Militia of her part in the scheme. Her fate is now in their hands. She did shed some light on some things, which we will discuss after dinner.” He gave them a false smile and said, “I have some things to which I must attend. I shall return shortly.”

Draco took their time alone as a cue to kiss her, so he leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek. She smiled, bowed her head, and placed her hand on her face to trap the whispered remains of his kiss on the blush of her cheek. She was growing accustomed to his gentle caresses, his loving embraces, and his chaste kisses. It was a relief to be open with their affections. It was also good to know that he wanted her as much as she wanted him.

She said, “If you continue to kiss me, I may have to kiss you back.”

Draco took a steady breath and leaned over once again. He placed his hand on her face and stroked her chin gently with his thumb. “One kiss from you and I shall fall at your feet. Would you have me collapse on the floor before Lord Potter’s guests?”

“That would be unfortunate,” she countered. He put her chin in between his thumb and forefinger, countered her head slightly toward his, then brought his lips to hers once more. The sweetness of her mouth, and their innocent - yet meaningful - kisses, intoxicated him. She let out a little ‘mew’ and he moaned deep in his throat. He turned slightly on the sofa, and moved his hand down her arm. How he longed to deepen the kiss! However, he could not do that yet.

He placed his forehead on hers and said, “Death, take me now.”

“You are so dramatic,” she said with a smile.

“No, I am a cad to steal kisses from you when you do not yet wear my ring,” he argued.

He had a ring for her in his pocket. It was an old family heirloom. He presented it to her earlier and longed for her to wear it on her finger so everyone knew that she belonged to him. He longed for her to wear it as a symbol of their relationship because he already felt linked to her thoughts and emotions.

He had never felt so closely connected to another person before. Though the ring was just a symbol of their bond, their true bond was heartfelt. Their true bond existed in their souls. They needed no earthly symbols to join them, but he still wanted others to know they were linked. He would give it to her before the evening was through. With Penelope gone, Blaise dead, and the matter of his father’s will a moot point, he saw no impediments to their happiness. He would have his way.

The butler came in and announced the rest of the guests.

During dinner, Harry stood and offered his congratulations to Charlie and Daphne. They were set to marry in a week at the chapel on Potter’s estate. Everything was working out well for them. Hermione felt their happiness was contagious as she found herself stealing glances and smiles toward Lord Malfoy.

He smiled as well and stood up, raised his glass, and said, “If you all would allow me another toast, this time, to the lovely young woman sitting across from me. I have asked her to marry me, and she has accepted.”

Instead of the usual congratulations, which followed Lord Potter’s announcement of Mr. Weasley’s wedding, a hush came over the guests at the table. Draco was confused. Where were his congratulations? Where were his best wishes? Someone congratulate him, dammit!

Even the woman in question sat with her head bowed and her hands on her lap. Lord Potter stormed out of the room, and Remus Lupin, who had so far not said a word the entire night asked, “Why?”

“Why?” Draco repeated, still standing, wine glass still in hand. “We love each other.”

“What of your father’s will?” Daphne asked.

Draco could not tell them of his new plan, the one where Hermione would inherit his estate, so he merely said, “Love conquers all.” He took a swig of wine and sat down. With a hooded expression he said sternly, “My apologies, Mr. Weasley, Miss Daphne, I did not mean to steal your thunder.”

“No harm done,” Charlie said. “This is a happy time for us all.”

Lupin stood up, threw his napkin on the table and said to Draco, “You have no idea what you have just done, Sir. You have set wheels in motion, which I have worked a lifetime to keep asunder. It will be on your head now, not mine, if trouble befalls her.” He looked at Hermione and said, “I hope it is worth it. I hope this insane romantic gesture is worth your life.” He stormed from the room after Harry.

The remaining guests felt awkward, since their host left, and after Mr. Lupin’s outburst. Daphne said, “Perhaps we should all go to the lounge. Harry has a card table set up. I feel up to some cards. Luna, Ronald, would you join Charlie and me in a game?”

As the others filed from the room one by one, Draco remained seated, staring at Hermione. She had yet to lift her gaze to him, not even once. When he was assured they were alone, he said, “You are upset with me?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I thought we came to an understanding today,” he clarified. “If I was mistaken, I will remedy the situation by informing the others I spoke in haste.” Draco frowned.

Hermione shook her head. “It was unexpected, that is all.” She stood to leave, but he stood quicker and caught her arm.

“What is wrong?” he asked.

He came to stand in front of her. She said, “We discussed that we were free to marry, and you said we would rejoice in our own engagement tonight, even if we were the only two to know, yet you announce it to the world, and you have not even formally asked me, not in a true sense, nor have you asked permission of my nearest relative. Harry must feel betrayed.”

“The last time I checked, I am your nearest relative, not Potter,” Draco huffed in anger. “And I assumed when I asked you to marry me earlier that was my way of asking you to marry me! And need I remind you, madam, you gave your consent to that formal invitation! Forgive me if my happiness overruled my brain for once and I told others of my intentions. I also was not aware you were a silly female who wanted a proposal on bended knee. Let me take care of that now.”

He bent at the knee and grabbed her hand. She pulled it from him and urged him to stand. “Stand up, Lord Malfoy. You know such trite is not of importance. I am just confused.”

“Why are you confused? Are your feelings not real?” he asked, coming to his full height. “Are my feelings not real? Have you changed your mind about being my wife?”

“I have not even had time to consider it,” she said.

“And yet, I have done nothing but. Perhaps I was wrong. You are just a child. You think on different lines than I do. You are naïve, Miss. I said it before, and the description still holds! Naïve and ignorant! Ignorant to the ways of your own heart!”

“And you are still arrogant! You make proclamations without consulting others!” she argued. “I do love you! You know it is true! But there are so many factors to consider.”

“You yourself said the danger was past us since Zabini was dead,” he reminded her.

“But others are not so sure,” she said.

“Who, the old werewolf?” Draco shouted. “He is a crazy old fool, who has shown his true colours time and time again! How do we know he does not lie still? How do we know his true motives? I will not be kept apart from you! I will not let others drive me away from you, nor will I let you drive me away!”

Hermione did not know what to say or do. He took the ring out of his pocket. It was the large, square cut emerald, surrounded by diamonds, which he had shown her earlier. He threw it across the room in anger. “If you change your mind to accept that was your ring. If you change your mind to forfeit, destroy the damn thing. I care not either way.” He rushed out of the room and went to the front door. He left them all behind. He was disappointed and confused. She loved him! He knew she did! Why did she hesitate?

After he left the room, Hermione walked over to the fireplace, where the ring had landed, and picked it up. It was a beautiful ring. She loved him so, but this was not the right time. She should come back to Potter’s Hall and stay. He surely would not want her to stay at his home now, and besides, if what he said was true, she was no longer in danger.

She walked outside to the back garden, where she found Lupin. “Did Lord Malfoy leave?” he asked, not even looking up to see if it was she.

“Yes, he is hurt and angry,” she said.

“Did you turn him down?” he asked, sounding more hopeful than she thought he had a right to sound.

“No, he did not give me a chance, although he did give me a ring,” she said. She sat down next to him. “It is chilly tonight.”

“Do you need my jacket?” he asked.

“No, I need some answers,” she begged.

“Please, don’t ask such things from me. I cannot tell you anything,” he said.

“Why do you not want Lord Malfoy and me to marry? Blaise Zabini is dead, but you knew that, did you not?” she asked.

“I see you have regained your full memory,” he said.

“Yes, I have. I have not told anyone yet, but I have,” she said. She was not aware if Draco had already told Theo and the militia about Blaise. “We will soon have to tell the Militia he is dead, so they can call off their search. Why did you keep that information to yourself?” she asked.

Remus Lupin stood up and walked over to the fountain, tilting his head to gaze up at the quarter moon. “If only I could turn back time. I would do so many things different. I would have convinced your real mother to tell the father of her child the truth. I would have had her tell her husband, also.”

He turned around when he heard her gasp. “Oh, yes,” he said, “she was married to another. However, he was gone on a mission for the light side, during the war when she became pregnant with you. Simple math would have proved to him that you were not his.”

“Please tell me her name,” she pleaded.

“It matters not,” he said.

“It matters to me!” she begged.

“You are still in danger. You should go back in the house. Have Harry make the others leave. We will add extra protection spells. You will be safer here than at Malfoy Manor. Harry told Ginny Weasley who your father was tonight. He acted without forethought. By now, she has told a certain someone, who will be shocked beyond words. That person will be able to get to you at the Manor. Have Harry take you back in the house,” Lupin demanded.

“I am not sure I am welcome at Malfoy Manor anymore, anyway. Lord Malfoy is angry. He too told me who my father was,” she said.

“I know. In a way, I knew they both would tell if I told them. I did not want that to happen. I was a fool,” he said. “I found out something of consequence the night you were kidnapped. I found out that you are in more danger now than before. I found out that another person exists who can lay claim to Lord Malfoy’s inheritance, and if it is discovered that you are Sirius Black’s child, and therefore the person next in line to inherit the Malfoy estate, this person will not hesitate to harm you, or kill you.”

She felt afraid. “Why keep this information to yourself. Tell Harry and Draco. Tell Theo. You have it in your power to keep me safe,” she begged.

“It is too late,” he said softly.

She stood up. “Do you want me to come to harm?”

“If I wanted you to come to harm, I would not have helped you all these years!” he said, walking in front of her like a caged animal. “I gave up so much for you that you will never know.”

“Let it not be in vain! Help me now!” she said, moving so that she was standing directly in front of him.

“The best thing for you to do is to leave Mr. Malfoy’s company. Do not return his affection. Give him back his ring! Never see him again. Do not tell a soul who your father is!" He stopped and hung his head. "Never mind, it is too late,” he said resigned. He turned to leave, but turned back. “I wash my hands of the whole thing. It is up to others to keep you safe now. I wish you luck. I loved your parents very much. I love you, too.”

He left Hermione alone in the dark of the night, in the garden, with more questions than answers. She sat down on the empty bench and pulled the ring out of her pocket. She placed it on her finger. She immediately thought of Draco.

Back at Malfoy Manor, Draco paced his study back and forth, like another caged animal. He was a fool! He had a treasure at his fingertips and he let it go. He loved her more than life itself, and he let her go. He swore to protect her, and he let her go. Still, even if she had not accepted his ring, she had accepted his proposal. That thought gave him some peace.

At Potter's Hall, Hermione stayed outside for hours, until the guests had left. Finally, she went to find Harry, to ask him if she could stay with him again. She could not find him, so she opted to go back up to her former room. She asked one of the upstairs maids to have a groomsman go to Malfoy Manor for her things, then she asked another maid to draw her bath.

She took another bath, her second of the day, by firelight. The water smelled of roses. Her hair hung in wet tendrils around her face. The long windows of her room were opened, and the cool breeze that blew the lace curtained cooled her bath quickly. She stepped out of the tub, and placed a robe over her body. She lay on top of the covers, still wet from her bath, in only her robe, and she went to sleep, dreaming of Draco.

Draco lay in bed unable to sleep, so he threw back the covers and stared at the ceiling. It was almost as if he could feel her lying beside him. He wondered if she had put on his ring. He turned to his side, and placed his hand upon the empty space next to him. It was where he imagined her lying almost every night since he knew he loved her. He longed to kiss her cheek goodnight. He longed to stroke her hair, kiss her neck, and splay his large hands across the bare skin of her back. He loved her. He would make whatever sacrifices she wanted him to make. If she wanted to wait, he would. He wrote a letter to Theo before the dinner party, telling him that he suspected Marcus Flint knew more than they thought, and that Blaise Zabini was undoubtedly dead. He hoped that Theo would straighten everything out in the morning.

She was sleeping when the clock on her mantel chimed three o’clock. She woke up, in a start, and looked around. She had changed beds so frequently as of late, that at first she did not know where she was. She slipped out of bed, took off her robe, and threw a cotton nightgown over her head. She went to the window and gazed up at the completely black sky. She admired the ring by moonlight. For some reason, she felt compelled to kiss the ring, so she put her ring up to her mouth, and did so. It was as if she were kissing him.

He dreamt he was kissing her. Not the simple little kisses they had thus far shared. Real kisses. A kiss from a man to the woman he loved. He woke up and immediately went to his window. It was as if he could see her clearly, though she was at a different house. He saw her by a window. He saw the white cotton gown she had over her beautiful body. He closed his eyes, and he could see her standing in a dark room, a washed only by candlelight, the faint echo of skin from her legs and her arms present, glowing wraithlike in the dark night.

She closed her eyes and she could almost feel him standing behind her. She imagined his hands stroking her bare arms up and down, causing goose pimples to form on her skin. She pressed her back against his firm body. She trembled in his arms.

MY GOD! He honestly could feel her skin beneath his hands! In his mind’s eyes, he turned her around, and pushed back her silken gown so that it fell over her shoulders and landed on the floor. He left a trail of kisses from her neck to her ample bosom. He was in heaven.

Her breathing was coming quicker and quicker. In her imagination, he dropped to his knees in front of her naked body, and he kissed her leg, starting at her toes, to her thighs. She held on to the windowpane for support. If this was dark magic, or if this was just the result of an active imagination, she cared not. It felt real. She wanted it to be real.

His hands stroked higher and higher. She was a goddess, his muse, his love, his joy. Let him never recover from the spell he was under, for it was the sweetest thing he had ever felt. He yearned to make love to her like this, and even if this was just a dream, it was more than he could ask for, and more than he could handle. He imagined that he stood back up and kissed her in a way he had never kissed her before.

Each kiss was a new sensation for her, imagined or not. His kisses awakened a fire in her soul that she never wanted to be put out, as she felt his hands roaming her body, and his lips and tongue played against hers. She was certain the moaning sound she made was real. She felt hot and anxious. She imagined he carried her to her bed, and placed her on top of the sheets, and he covered her body with his.

He imagined he was lying side by side with her on his bed, touching and kissing places that were only for him. Their bodies came together in an ancient magic known as making love, and he was at the height of his euphoria. Hermione! He called out her name. That part was not imaginary.

Hermione could not think! She actually thought she heard him call her name. She could only feel and act on instinct. She felt an ultimate rapture, entrapped in his arms. He touched her, stroked her, caressed her, and whispered endearments in her ear. He told her he loved her and would never let her go. This was real! This was happening! She started to cry.

He imagined that she started to cry as her hands clutched his shoulders. He thrashed around on his bed, with the thought that if this was not real, than this was the blackest of magic. His kisses followed the path of his hands. The world exploded around them. The sun caught fire, the earth stood still, and the night came crashing upon them.

Suddenly, it ended. Hermione opened her eyes, expecting to be on her bed, expecting to see Draco beside her, but it was all a lie.

She opened her eyes to see Miss Weasley standing before her. Ginny said one thing, “I am so sorry.” Then she drew her wand and Hermione fell on the floor.

A man walked up behind Ginny, said, “Set the house on fire, now!” He knew he could not Disapparate with Hermione from the house, due to the wards imposed by Lord Potter. Miss Weasley would have to get herself out of the house. He ran down the stairs with Hermione in his arms and left by the front door.

Ginny Weasley took the candle that was burning on Hermione’s mantle and set the lace curtains at her window on fire.

Draco woke up, sweat on his brow, and his arms empty. Help him it was a dream and it was over abruptly! No, it felt real. It had to be real. He heard one of his servants banging on his bedchamber door. He ran to the bedroom door, threw it open, and the man said, “Hurry, Lord Malfoy, Potter’s Hall is on fire!”


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