Chapters 7 – Compliments to Some are Insults to Others:
Draco and Hermione approached the others, his hand resting lightly on her lower back as she walked somewhat ahead of him. Neither thought the gesture was odd, although it stirred emotions in both of them. Both were extremely aware of the gesture, but for vastly diverse reasons. For Hermione, his hand on her back meant security and reassurance. For Draco, it meant entitlement and possessiveness.
“Harry, old man, I thought we might play a game, what say you?” Theo said as Harry walked by.
Draco still walked several steps behind Hermione, but removed his hand from her back as they approached the crowd. He did it for her benefit, not his own, at least that was the sentiment he hoped he conveyed. She made to sit on an abandoned blanket, when Marcus Flint hopped up, and said, “Join us over here, Miss, on our blanket.”
“That blanket seems full, Sir,” she said. Harry walked toward his cousin and gave her a hand, as she sat on the blanket she intended. He sat beside her, and Draco sat on the other side.
“What game do you wish to play, Nott? Most of our party is out picking berries,” Harry suggested, “so it would just be us few.”
“That’s fine, this is a thinking man’s game,” Theo said. “There are enough of us here without the others. I will say a verse, a rhyming verse, and someone must come up with a new verse, that rhymes. I shall start, and Lady Pansy will follow, and on around. My word will in fact be the word ‘verse’. Here I go: I will try to start this game, with a happy verse.”
Pansy followed, saying, “And when it comes to my turn, I shall be very well conversed.”
Blaise, sounding haughty, said, “For happiness can always be found, in a heavy purse.”
Flint said, “And if we continue playing, we shall sound quite rehearsed.” He turned and said, “Malfoy.”
Draco sighed. He found the game boring. He said, “Playing with such a crowd, must surely be a curse.” He turned and looked at Hermione.
“Then we shall trespass on your company no longer, and I for one will disperse.” She stood up and walked off.
Harry laughed and said, “Such a silly game as this shall see me in a hearse.”
Everyone, save for Malfoy, laughed. He watched Hermione walk away. She seemed in a disagreeable mood. He looked toward Flint, and noticed that he too watched as she walked off, and he felt jealous, but he knew not why.
Hermione picked up a pail and went to pick some berries. The others had already gone toward one direction, so she decided to go another. She turned a corner, after having picked for only a few moments, and ran directly into Mr. Flint.
“Mr. Flint, you startled me,” she said, one hand on her chest.
“That was not my intention. Tell me, Miss Granger, you seem in a foul mood. Was it the company, or was it still the words earlier from Miss Parkinson, which has thrown you off kilter?”
“Both and neither,” she said, wearily. “I must confess that I don’t know what to make of all of you. You socialize with people like me and Harry, but you imagine yourself a cut above.”
“I hope this observation is not aimed toward me. I don’t know what I did to cause such disfavor,” he said.
“Please, do not take exception. I am used to more quiet time. I am not used to constant games and such,” she replied.
Draco had walked around the other side of the berry bush, and he waited when he heard their voices.
“I understand my friend Draco is to tutor you?” he said.
“I am not sure that is still the case,” she revealed. “I think I offended him last night.”
“Surely not, he is thick skinned and not easily offended,” Marcus said, laughing. “But do tell me what it is you think you did.”
“That is the thing, Sir,” Hermione began, “I know not. We were all enjoying a country-dance, after dinner, he and I were partners, and without warning when the song ended, he left in haste. I must have done something, although I know not what.” She bent down to pick some more berries.
Marcus stood behind her and said, “Malfoy is a proud sort. He probably does think he is a cut above you, but I assure you, Miss, not all purebloods think alike.” She stood up suddenly, as he was so close. “You are a beautiful woman; it is a shame if Malfoy does not notice that, but only a shame for him, not for me.” He reached out and touched her hair. This startled her and she jumped away. The exchange was witness by Draco, who was more than startled. He was incensed.
“Sir, you are being forward,” she warned.
“So you are all propriety? You, a common country girl? You mean to teach me, do you?” He smiled. He stepped closer. She dropped her berry pail. Malfoy decided to show himself. He walked around the side of the bush.
“Flint, as the lady said, you are being forward, and I don’t believe her cousin would appreciate your rakish actions toward Miss Granger,” Draco said.
Flint gave a half smile, bowed slightly and regaled, “My apologies, Miss. Lord Malfoy, goodbye.” He walked away.
Hermione threw up her hands in frustration and said, “The whole lot of you confounds me!”
Draco had to smile. “Am I included in that statement?”
“You are especially included in that statement,” she relayed. He bent down and picked up her pail. He handed it to her and motioned toward the berry bushes.
“What have I done to earn such harsh criticism? Why am I to be included with the other? Are we not friends now?” he asked.
“Friends?” she asked, mid pick. She turned with a berry in her hand. “You mean to be my friend?”
“I thought we were already friends, but I must have been mistaken,” he said, contemplating her statement. “That is, unless you wish to amend your statement.”
She looked at him closely, and popped the berry in her mouth. “No amendment from me.” She gave him a ‘so there’ stare and turned back around to her task.
He had to laugh at her audacity. “I overheard your statement to Flint about leaving the other night. I am sorry if my leaving was misinterpreted. I merely left. There was nothing more to it. I meant no insult.” He knew that statement was not true, but he could hardly tell her he left because he was confused by his budding feelings for her. She handed him her pail, and continued to pick berries. He held the pail out and said, “Since I am now your pack mule, holding your pail, does that mean you forgive me?”
“As you said, no insult was intended, so no forgiving needed.” She deposited three more berries in the pail. He looked down in the pail.
“You are a pitiful berry picker. This will take all day to fill up the pail,” he joked.
She threw two more berries in the pail and said, “Insult my blood, my heritage, and even my hair, Sir, but never my berry picking ability.” She smiled and then threw a berry right at him and it bounced off his chest and landed in the pail. He raised his eyebrows, astonished, and she smiled a bright, happy smile. She truly entranced him. He took his wand and filled up her pail. Now he gave her a ‘so there’ stare. “That is cheating, Lord Malfoy.”
“I am not above cheating,” he said sincerely.
“Cheaters never prosper,” she quoted.
“Perhaps not, but they have the most berries in their pail,” he said with a smile. She laughed. He reached in the pail and popped a berry in his mouth. “Shall we go back to the others?” He wanted her to say no.
She did not say anything. She turned away from him and continued to pick more fruit, although their pail was overflowing. He placed the pail on the ground and he picked some beside her. They both reached for the same stem at the same time. His hand reached it first, and hers went on top of his. She slowly turned to look at him. She withdrew her hand, and stood upright, as did he. He plucked the berry from the vine first and handed it to her.
“I believe this one is yours,” he offered, holding the berry out to her slowly.
They stood close. Her mouth was slightly opened, almost forming a perfect ‘o’. She had to crane her head upwards to look in his eyes. He looked down at her, and he realized one thing that was certain. This was no ordinary witch. He held the berry up and she opened her hand. He dropped it in her hand, but then reached for her hand with both of his. He gently closed her fingers around the berry. He held her one hand in both of his. He looked at her small, white hand as it rested in both of his and he got a vision of the future. His future. Their future. And it alarmed him. He stepped backwards, bowed and said, “I believe you can carry on from here.” He walked back toward the crowd, leaving her alone and confused.
Hermione stood on the path, and looked down at the berry in her hand. She threw it on the ground. Why was the man so perplexing? He claimed to seek her friendship, but then he continued to act so incommodious. She sat down by the berry bushes, and ate some more, deciding that she did not think she was up to facing any of them. They tired her so.
She lay back on the ground, and covered her face with her arm, to block the sun. She knew it was improper to lie around on the ground, but she no longer cared what any of them thought. She heard Harry calling her name, telling her it was time to eat. She did not care for food, either. She stood up, left her berry pail behind, and walked away from his calls.
She was not hungry. She had butterflies in her stomach. Perhaps it was due to her nerves at being near the crowd, but she knew it was probably due to Lord Malfoy. He was a confusing man. She walked farther away from the sound of Harry’s voice, and rehearsed in her head what she would say to Lord Malfoy the next time she saw him. She would play as if he did not mean a thing to her. As if she did not give two cares for him. She would be calm and collected. Perhaps she would comment on the weather. Yes, best to leave the conversation to the weather. She walked through some low-lying branches and brambles. Her hair became stuck in the twigs. She moved farther along, away from the path. She could no longer hear Harry’s voice.
She slid on some fallen leaves that littered the ground, and as she reached out for a shrub to catch her fall, she slid on her backside, down a small ravine. She landed at the bottom with a thud. The only thing that was injured was her pride. She looked back up the bank, then down at her muddy skirts, and she had one thought…she would stay here and let the undergrowth grow over her, and that way she would not have to face any of those odious people again!
She heard someone on top of the ravine say, “Do you mean to sit there all day, or are you injured?”
She feared looking up at the voice, but she did. No, no, no! Lord Malfoy. Why oh why would it have to be he that finds her like this? He started to slide down the embankment, to come to her rescue. She started to stand, when she discovered that perhaps she was injured. She had twisted her ankle in the fall. She tried to stand again and winced in pain.
“Goodness, woman, just stay down,” Malfoy lectured. He reached her shortly and said, “So I take it you fell?”
“So I take it you’re dense?” she said back.
He could either laugh at her or not. He laughed. She assumed he laughed because she fell, but he laughed at her temperament, and her harsh words to him.
“Shall I carry you?” he asked.
“NO!” She was appalled at his request.
“Shall I get your cousin?”
“No, leave me be. I have decided to stay here and let the undergrowth cover me. I shall forever be part of the countryside.”
“And what shall you do when the rains comes and floods this little ravine? Shall you stay here and drown?” he asked, amused.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” she said earnestly from her place below him. He knelt beside her.
“I was a rogue again, to leave you like that. My inner conflict is not of your making, so I apologize, once again. It seems I am forever apologizing to you.” That was a lie. His inner conflict was entirely of her making. He loosened his neckcloth and unbuttoned his coat. He scooped her up, without her consent. She folded her arms in front of her, and pouted. He said, “You are heavier than you appear.”
“You are more loathsome than you appear,” she harked back. Her heart was racing, and she was certain he would be able to hear it. She felt safe in the confines of his arms. Safe and right. Why was that? He walked the long creek bed, until the embankment was less steep, and he climbed up, with her still safely in his arms.
“Can you stand?” he asked.
“Yes,” she lied. She knew it would be painful. He placed her on the ground, and she cried out again.
He shook his head and said, “You are truly more trouble than you are worth.” He placed his hand on her arm to steady her.
She looked up toward him with a pained expression. She was causing trouble. That was the one thing she did not want to do. She was more trouble than she was worth. It was a fact she had always known. Harry ran toward them, she turned to him when he reached her side, and she threw herself in his arms. “I didn’t mean to ruin your picnic, Cousin,” she cried out. He patted her back and gave Draco a baffled look. “I am more trouble than I am worth.”
Draco rolled his eyes. What a bothersome girl! He did not mean that literally! Was she always so sensitive? “Harry,” she said, “I would like to go back to Potter’s Hall, please, where I will cause no trouble to anyone. Would you take me back?”
Without warning, Draco came up behind her and picked her up again. He said, “Potter, go back and entertain your guests. I shall Apparate her back to your home and have a healer come look at her ankle.”
Now Harry had mixed feelings. He should see to his cousin, because he feared more than her ankle was injured, but he needed to see to his guests. His future in-laws were there, and he meant to make a good impression. Still, he did not fully trust, or like, Malfoy. He knew he would not do anything to hurt his cousin on purpose, but still he may hurt her without meaning to do so. He could tell that she was beginning to have feelings for the man, and an entanglement between the two would have disastrous results.
He finally said, “I would be in your debt, Lord Malfoy. I shall offer our guests your apologies, Cousin.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek.
Draco walked further up the path, Hermione tight in his arms. He looked down at her with heavy eyes. She looked pretty in her ivory gown of light muslin, her hair long and flowing. She still had on the necklace and crown of flowers. She had pluck and tenacity, he would give her that much. Why did the very thought of her and he together fill him with doom?
“Do you mean to walk me back, or are we Apparating?” she asked in a calm, lilting voice.
“I wish to speak with you before I take you back,” he said. She was forced to listen as she was held tightly in his arms. “I am a man of means, and I have a reputation to protect, do you understand?”
She felt a sharp pain in her heart. He hated her. She looked out toward the path. He continued, “There are certain conventions to be followed.”
Before he could continue she said, “I beg your pardon, Sir, but please set me down if you mean to tell me that we cannot be friends.”
He did as she requested. He placed her on the ground in front of him, but kept his hands on her shoulders. He said, “You silly girl. What I am trying to say, as any gentleman in my position would say, is that although we are not equals, at least by means and fortunes, nor do we make a good blood match, I am going to ask your cousin if I might see you formally. I know it will cause scandal among my peers. I know they will question my sanity, as I myself question it, but I no longer care. I want to become better acquainted with you, no matter how disreputable the pairing might be.”
She was truly without words. What did he say? What did he mean? “What?” she asked.
He laughed again, and picked up her. “Oh, Miss Granger, you are a strange, strange creature.” He Disapparated with her on the spot. He arrived right outside the main doors of Potter’s Hall. He put her down and smiled at her.
She swung her hand back and slapped him soundly on the cheek.
He did not expect that.