Disclaimer: Harry Potter and everything related belongs to J. K. Rowling. And the places I mention, in the story do not belong to me.
Author's note: My deep curtsy to La baguette for showing incredible patience both while waiting and then, beta-ing this chapter.
Thank you so much for your awesome reviews, guys.
I am back with the second part! *sheepish smile*
My reason for the lateness this time is serious lack of free time, guys. I wrote it whenever I could. But I apologise for keeping you waiting like this. If I were in your place, I would definitely be cursing the author!
I hope the length of this chapter as well as the last scene at least partly makes up for it.
Don't go directly to it!
I am so evil, but you will spoil your fun. I won't mention the names, but some of you already suggested it. I was smiling to myself when I read those reviews. Our minds match so much.
I think I have kept you long enough, Enjoy!
Warnings: Alternate Universe, NON-MAGIC. Harry is a female. You will find swear words but quite seldom. I will add further warnings as story progresses.
Chapter 24: Code of Conduct
It was five days before Christmas, and Draco was returning from the factories. Having taken up his bachelorhood habit of spending as much time with Alexandra as he could afford when he was at the Manor, Draco made his way to the drawing room where his grandmother was often found at this time of afternoon. The familiar sight of domestic tranquillity that greeted him, however, froze Draco at the doorway. There she was, his wife, occupying the chair by the writing table, scribbling on a parchment whilst his grandmother was perched on the settee, preoccupied with her book. After blinking several times, when Harriet did not disappear like he feared she would, Draco was forced to admit that the young woman in front of him was no figment of his imagination. An inexplicable yet intense feeling flooded through his body as Draco came to terms with the fact that his wife had, indeed, returned to Malfoy Manor.
Draco opened his mouth to announce himself but found his throat unusually dry.
"Draco!" Alexandra exclaimed with exceptional gaiety, having glanced up upon hearing the footsteps.
Meanwhile, Harriet, who had her back turned to the door, felt her heart skip a beat when she heard her. Harriet had been anticipating the moment of coming face to face with Draco with a mixture of trepidation and pique since her arrival. Harriet remembered the events of previous evening that had resulted in her return to the Manor.
Harriet had been thoroughly surprised to receive a correspondence at dusk given that all the letters were usually delivered in the morning unless it was some emergency. Noticing the address of the sender, Harriet, for a brief second, had panicked that something might have happened to Alexandra or even to her husband. Dreading the confirmation of her worries, Harriet had torn open the letter. The words in it had in fact floored Harriet, but not for the reasons she has been fretting about. There, written in Alexandra's smooth, curvy handwriting, had been two simple sentences that left Harriet struggling to control the emotions of love and gratitude surging through her.
Come home, Sweetheart. We miss you.
When the days had progressed with no word from her husband, Harriet had, deep within her heart, hoped that, if not voluntarily, Draco might at least be compelled by Alexandra to take upon the action of bringing her back. When no such thing had happened, Harriet's mind had taken to a cynical view about her life. Harriet had wondered if they no longer felt need for her, whether they were quite content without her in their lives. Those speculations had been slowly but surely killing her commitment to return to the Manor. But then, upon reading these words, she trusted the older woman enough to know that they were nothing but heartfelt. Harriet had decided that, if not for Draco, she would go back for Alexandra Malfoy.
Composing herself and brushing off the tears that had unknowingly leaked from her eyes, Harriet had glanced up at her worried looking parents and announced her wish with a reassuring smile.
"Look who has returned!" Harriet was tugged out her thoughts when she heard Alexandra's next enthusiastic statement.
Knowing she could not stall this encounter any longer, Harriet took a deep breath and rose on her feet and turned to face her husband. "Mr. Malfoy," she curtsied politely, sparing a fleeting glance at him before turning her face sideways to Alexandra, hoping that the older woman would take the reins of this uncomfortable reunion.
Upon descrying the beaming look on Alexandra's face, Harriet dropped her gaze as a grim smile twisted across her lips. In contrast to Alexandra's opinion, Harriet knew not to expect the heartening welcome from her husband as well. Earlier that morning, when Harriet had entered the older woman's personal chambers, upon first disembarking at the Manor, Alexandra had received her like she hadn't been gone for 18 days but 18 years! What little doubt Harriet had in mind about having no place in Alexandra's life had been wiped clean when the older woman smiled with agog and swiftly rose to enfold her in a warm embrace and then, lovingly kissed her cheeks. Harriet had returned her gestures with equal affection and misty eyes.
Since her arrival, Alexandra had refused to have Harriet out of her sight; eschewing her afternoon nap to make up for all the time she had missed the younger woman's company since their separation. And Harriet had been more than happy to acquiesce. They had spent the entire day conversing, ensconced on a fluffy sofa situated in front of the fireplace, basking in its glorious heat.
"Grandmother," Draco greeted first with a bow but his mercurial gaze quickly rebounded to Harriet. "Mrs. Malfoy," he returned her salutation.
Alexandra stifled a chuckle as she watched her grandson greedily devour the sight of the younger woman.
"How are you?" Draco enquired with a soft tenure to his voice, staring at her intently.
"Quiet well. Thank you," Harriet said, her eyes fixed on her feet and then, after an awkward pause, reluctantly reciprocated, "Yourself?"
"I am doing well myself."
Harriet nodded once, her head still bowed.
Shaking her head at their formal pleasantries, Alexandra decided to let the couple have a private moment. "Excuse me, dears," she said, making to rise from her seat.
With his grey eyes affixed on his wife, Draco nodded absentmindedly at Alexandra.
Snapping her head up, "Where are you going, Grandma?" Harriet demanded a tad bit hysterically, surprising the other two occupants of the room as Alexandra stood on her feet.
Alexandra arched a brow as she regarded Harriet for a brief moment before replying. "I need to use the bathroom, dear," she lied smoothly.
"Oh," Harriet said with a mixture of worry and disappointment as she unwillingly nodded at her. She did not feel confident enough to be alone with her husband yet.
A silence lapsed between the man and his wife for a few minutes after Alexandra's departure.
"When did you arrive?" Draco asked in a desperate bid to make Harriet raise her eyes to him. It really bothered him that she refused to meet his gaze. Draco wondered whether his wife was still as upset with him as she had been when she left. Since Harriet deliberately kept her face blank, Draco needed to take a peek into her expressive eyes to gauge her state of mind, he justified his profound urge to himself.
"Around half past ten this morning," Harriet replied laconically. "My father escorted me to the estate on his way to work." Whilst the Weasley men had been disappointment at the announcement of her intention to depart, having been expecting her to spend Christmas with them, Molly had eyed her daughter searchingly and then finally nodded in understanding with a slightly rueful smile.
Though unintentional, Harriet's answer managed to draw a wince from Draco. He knew that the office where Arthur Weasley worked was nowhere near Tisbury.
Another awkward silence followed as they stood facing each other in trepidation. Draco struggled to bring the conversation alive whilst Harriet fought against fidgeting at the acute knowledge of his unwavering gaze upon her person.
When more than ten minutes passed with no sign of Alexandra, Harriet started suspecting that the older woman had purposefully retracted from the room. Barely restraining herself from huffing in exasperation, Harriet glanced back at the inked parchments spread across the surface of the table beside her.
During their conversation, Alexandra had mentioned the Christmas ball at the Manor. This news allayed Harriet for two reasons: One was that the preparations would keep her occupied, sparing her the inconvenient task of consorting with her husband, and the other was she could save face with the Grangers. Harriet had been relieved to find that the older woman had taken the initiative to send out the invitations and also instructed the servants to prepare the rooms for the guests on her stride; tasks that couldn't afford to have been procrastinated upon.
Alexandra had also apprised her that out of all family members, only Elizabeth, her husband, Walter Parkin, and their son, Edgar would be joining them in the Christmas celebrations. At that instant, Harriet had thought she had caught a hint of bitterness in Alexandra's tone when the older woman revealed that part of the reason for their visitation to Wiltshire was that the Parkin family could call upon their daughter, Natalie, to inquire after her health and the progress of her pregnancy.
Getting tired of the discomfiture caused by seemingly interminable tension between her husband and herself, Harriet leaned on the table and gathered the parchments that contained the lists of things that needed to be done, purchased and cooked for the upcoming festivities, in her arms. She walked towards the door with a quiet excuse to Draco, ignoring the incredulous look he gave her as she marched past him without waiting for a reply.
Aghast, Draco followed her to the foyer and saw her striding in the direction of the kitchen.
Electing to forgoing his habit of retiring to the quiescence of his study immediately after returning home from the cacophonous environment of the factories, as was usual when Harriet was there to keep his grandmother company, Draco spent the rest of the afternoon with the older woman in the parlour. Despite this, however, Draco didn't encounter Harriet once. She managed to evade him till dinner that evening.
Even during the meals, Harriet spent the time apprising Alexandra of tasks she had accomplished in her absence shortly before and discussing things that still needed to be organized for the ball, whole while ignoring Draco's presence. Her way was subtle, so Alexandra did not notice it. Draco, on the other hand, was well aware, for he was on the receiving end of it, and that unsettled him greatly.
"What are you doing?" Draco hissed, upon seeing what his wife was doing when he emerged out of his dressing room later the same evening.
"I will be sleeping on the floor from hereon," Harriet informed him impassively, throwing a brief glance at him over her shoulder.
"Why?" Draco inquired, staring at her, taken aback. "I told you the floor gets cold, especially in winter."
Harriet shrugged at his reasoning, not pausing in her task of spreading blankets (she had earlier asked Maria to bring them to their suite, citing the reason of the freezing cold in their bedroom) layer by layer on the floor by her side of the bed.
This was not her first time sleeping on the floor; Harriet had done it for ten years at the Dursleys and, the few occasions at The Burrow when Ginny had refused to share the bed because she had been miffed at the black-haired girl or when they had had fights (if one would call Ginny's temper tantrum as a fight) in their early adolescence. Harriet had never told the Weasleys about it, not wanting to be the bane of discord in their family any further. To Harriet's relief, Ginny stopped resorting to such petty behaviour once she started working at the Pomfreys' and letting the redheaded girl borrow money from her. Harriet did not think it would be as bad this time because, unlike her previous rooms, the floor in the suite was covered with a thick, soft carpet.
Noticing Draco still standing at the same place and frowning deeply at her back, Harriet decided to clarify her action. "You are right, Mr. Malfoy," Harriet started softly, glancing at him again and dropping her eyes to her hands that which were now intertwined in front of her midriff. "Since our wedding, I have been forgetting my place and taking liberties for which I never had any rights. Hopefully, my new bedding will serve as a reminder of my position and prevent me from repeating those past mistakes."
"What position would that be?" Draco demanded, agitated as he took a step closer to her.
"That, in the scheme of things, I am just a person who has been handsomely compensated for pretending to be your wife for the duration of three years," Harriet paused as her throat constricted. A brief moment later, Harriet swallowed heavily and added in a hush, "and nothing more."
Harriet waited for some response from Draco. But when silence continued to stretch between them, she bid him at last, "Good night."
Understanding the conversation over and taking note of her defiant stance, Draco realised that there would be no use arguing with her. Still, daunting by her muttered words, Draco listlessly trudged towards the bed and disappeared behind the drapes. He failed to notice her form visibly wilting immediately thereafter.
Hurt and despondency ripped through Harriet upon noting that Draco did not demur either of her statements. Harriet stood, lost in despair for some time. Then, heaving a pain-filled sigh, Harriet blew out the last of the candles, and lowered herself onto her new bedding, and reclined with her back purposefully kept to the bed.
Next morning, Draco entered the dining room and found himself the first one to arrive at the breakfast table. No later than a minute, Harriet followed and looked surprised, not only to see him there before anyone else, but also to receive his amicable greeting. A minute later, she composed herself and joined him at the table with a mild acknowledgement.
No more words were exchanged as they waited for Alexandra's arrival. Whilst Harriet anxiously stared at the entrance, her husband subjected her to a scouring look from the corner of his eye, trying to comprehend how her night had passed. The moment he had oriented himself to his surroundings when he had woken up that morning, Draco had promptly rolled onto her side of the bed and pushed the drapes aside and looked down to find Harriet gone and the blankets neatly folded and arranged at the foot of the bed. Draco had lain on the bed for a long time, thinking about his wife. The relief and contention Draco had felt upon espying her in the Manor had deteriorated steadily as hours passed with no change in her taciturn demeanour towards him. In the end, Draco had concluded he did not like his wife's estrangement, not when she had left and even less so now she was back, living with him again. Draco hadn't been able to explain why her frigidness troubled him so, but he knew he wanted it to stop.
Draco thought she looked a little worn out but he could not discern whether it was because of her uncomfortable sleeping arrangements or something else. Draco himself hadn't been able to sleep for a long time. With an unconscious worry, Draco checked her for the signs of fever or at least cold, but found none to his relief.
"I have taken the day off, so we can do the Christmas shopping," Draco informed her quietly. He rationalized his willingness to put an effort to end her displeasure as a necessity to maintain harmony with the person who shared his living quarters. Draco staunchly ignored the voice in his head that whispered mockingly that it had been him who created hostility in his marital life not a year ago and that, he carried no little blame this time round as well. "We will leave after breakfast."
Harriet pursed his lips in irritation at his presumption that she would fall over in gratitude whenever he threw scrapes of pity her way and that she would be always ready to cater to his every whim. Well, he was about to find out how very mistaken he was. "I have already finished my shopping."
Draco's brows lifted in nonplus.
Before he could open his mouth, Harriet interrupted him, tersely saying, "Before you accuse me of going gallivanting around the streets with some man while away from the Manor, let me assure you that I went with Ron and Hermione."
His aristocratic face quickly acquiring an affronted expression, Draco made to retort but caught himself at the sight of Alexandra at the doorway.
Upon noticing her as well, Harriet pushed away her anger and, stood. "Good morning, Grandma," she greeted, managing a small smile for her.
"Good morning, Darlings," Alexandra replied brightly as Draco, who had followed suit, nodded at her.
As if working under the same mind as her grandson, Alexandra produced a parchment and extended it to Harriet. "Here Harriet. My Christmas list."
"Is something wrong, dear?" Alexandra enquired concernedly as the smile instantly slid off Harriet's face.
"No, no Grandma," Harriet muttered, swallowing back her objections and hastily accepting the list.
Meanwhile, Draco's sour mood swiftly vanished, and a cocky smirk assumed his handsome face as he gazed at his wife. Descrying his expression, Harriet threw a hard glare in his direction while Alexandra was preoccupied with easing herself into her chair.
"When do you plan to make the trip to the market?" Alexandra questioned, glancing between the couple.
"This very day, Grandmother," Draco answered, far too smugly for Harriet's liking.
"Excellent!" Alexandra remarked, gaily and, glancing at Draco, she advised, "Well, you ought to travel when the sun is up and shining. It would at least ease your excursion in this bitter frost." And then turning to Harriet, she added, "I believe you need to make purchases for the decorations for the other tree as well."
"Yes, Grandma." Harriet said with a resigned duty. Earlier, Alexandra had announced that they would be having two trees at the Manor for this Christmas. One for the family that would be placed in the drawing room like last year and the other in the ballroom for the guests to view at the party. "About that tree, Grandma, what kind of adornments do you want me to purchase?"
Alexandra looked bewildered for a second at Harriet's query. "Sweetheart, you did a marvellous job in selecting the tree's decorations last year. I am sure you will do a wonderful job with this one as well."
Harriet shook her head vehemently at her and insisted, "I could really use your suggestions for it."
"Very well," Alexandra conceded and then, thought for a moment. "You made last year's tree a familial one by adding our personal items depicting the members. In contrast to that, I would say the ballroom one should be impersonal and expensive to the point of being flaunty," she ended her open musing with a cheeky wink at Harriet who nodded in understanding.
Draco shook his head in fond exasperation.
In contrast to the previous year, this Christmas shopping excursion left Draco utterly perplexed. Harriet adamantly refused all his offers to buy her gifts for her, including the expensive ones like clothes and books, stating that she has all her Christmas presents prepared. Draco briefly wondered where she got the money to buy these gifts, considering her other expenses.
In addition, Harriet obstinately deferred from making decisions while buying the decorations for the tree, transferring the reins to her husband. If Draco had been bored last time when Harriet took her time in selecting the smallest of articles, he could not express the level of frustration he felt at being made to do the choosing this time round. While he did not mind occasional shopping for jewellery and fine garments, having acquired a tasteful eye for such valuable commodities after accompanying his grandmother to numerous shopping trips since his childhood, Draco had no clue or patience whatsoever in selecting razzle-dazzle decorations for a Christmas tree.
Harriet would simply point out assortment of items that needed to be purchased and then, silently yet patiently stand there, waiting for Draco to decide. This peculiar behaviour of hers often left the shopkeepers blinking at the couple in flabbergast.
Having caught on to her intention soon into their trip, Draco's irritation grew as Harriet refused to budge. But unwilling to draw public attention to their conflict, Draco kept his mouth closed, and the entire trip passed in a similar fashion. But soon Draco's shrewdness came to his rescue and saved him from making a fool of himself in that situation. With an open face or more precisely, clear eyes that revealed every emotion that she wished to hide underneath, Draco would cast a furtive glance at Harriet just before voicing his decision. If Harriet's eyes acquired an anxious glean and she bit her lips to stop herself from saying something as he considered an article, Draco would refrain from buying it and then note her relieved expression with satisfaction. It was a tiresome process, but Draco was thankful even for smallest of her help, even though it was unknowingly given.
Harriet's aloofness sustained even during their respite at the confectioners. Instead of making an attempt to learn more about him or try for small talk like last year, Harriet spent the entire break going through her lists while deliberately ignoring him. It dismayed Draco to recognise that it felt like he had come to shop, not with his wife, but rather with a maid, who kept directing him to the shops where the things they needed were sold, and then, stood obediently behind him.
With only three days left before the Christmas and so many tasks to accomplish, Harriet worked assiduously, along with the servants, making arrangements for the guests, both familial and the invitees to the ball. Her new stance of being a nondescript person in the house, however, had persevered. With Draco, Harriet simply demanded his opinion even on the tiniest of financial matters, disregarding his scowl of annoyance, but with Alexandra, she showed a lot more tact. With gentle subtlety, Harriet managed to gather input from the older woman on all of the household issues and then followed them to a T, quashing her own methods in the process.
On the evening before Christmas Eve, the Parkins arrived at the Manor. After a small conferment and supper, the Parkins retired to their respective guestrooms to recuperate from their exhausting journey. Even Harriet excused herself to bed early, since she had the arduous task of decorating two gigantic trees the next morning, and with no Kiera to assist her this time.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Draco felt intensely disappointed at having been awoken to the square-jawed, long face of his valet, Henry rather than the lovely one of his wife.
"Why didn't YOU wake me up this morning?" Draco demanded angrily, stomping up to his wife who was sauntering into the foyer from the direction of the ballroom after the servants.
Harriet was startled by his sudden appearance, but composed herself in a minute. "I charged Henry with that task. He came to the suite, did he not?" she countered, having just espied Henry jog out of the foyer to help others in bringing the second tree into the house.
"That's beside the point. I am enquiring as to why you didn't do it yourself!" Draco growled harshly, his ire rising when Harriet wouldn't meet his gaze.
"You never asked me to," Harriet replied blankly, keeping her eyes trained on the entrance door.
"Yes, but that didn't stop you from waking me up last year, did it?" Draco ground out waspishly, disgruntled by her nonchalance.
In the following second, Draco felt his frustration waver uncertainly when Harriet cast a hurtful glance at him in response.
At that instant, the men arrived with the tree, disturbing their melee. Draco watched uneasily as Harriet wordlessly moved away from his side to direct the servants inside the drawing room.
"Do you want me to bring in the holly?" Draco inquired in a tone that indicated a turnabout from his earlier countenance, stopping Harriet as she made to follow the men out to the foyer once the tree was adequately positioned.
"Do whatever you want!" Harriet muttered stiffly and strode away towards the grand stairs as the servants dispersed to their usual jobs.
Ten minutes or so later, when Draco entered the foyer, carrying holly, the first thing that greeted him was Edgar's zealous voice. "Francis, do you know where Harriet is?"
"I believe Mrs. Malfoy went to the storage room to bring out the decorations, Sir," Francis replied stoically, and watched the young man bound back up the stairs he had come from. But, before Edgar could finish the first set of stairs, Harriet reappeared along with her personal maid, Nola, both carrying satchels filled with adornments in their arms.
"Merry Christmas Eve, Harriet," Edgar greeted enthusiastically, beaming at the young woman, unconscious of the furious glare her husband was directed at him.
"Merry Christmas Eve, Edgar," Harriet acknowledged with a smile at him as she descended the staircase. With anger repossessed, Draco watched them with internal resentment from the bottom of the stairs, having hurtled there immediately upon hearing Edgar's interrogation after his wife's whereabouts.
"You seem occupied," Edgar observed unnecessarily, jolting Harriet out of her wide-eyed expression at Draco, upon seeing him casually handing the basket of holly to Marie. "Maybe I could be of some help to you."
With a reluctant smile tugging at the corners of her lips, Harriet stared at her oblivious husband who was intensely eying her cousin, and did not register Edgar's words.
Before Draco could deliver a scathing remark to Edgar's aspiring offer, a bell chimed inside the Manor, indicating to its inhabitants that breakfast was served.
Not wanting to lose face by insulting the guest in front of his wife, Draco interrupted Edgar with his own Christmas greeting while Harriet rushed Nola to the drawing room to deposit the decorations.
Deliberately engaging his cousin in a conversation, Draco never gave Edgar a chance to voice his offer again, much to the younger man's annoyance, as they finally made their way towards the dining room, once Harriet rejoined the two men at the foyer.
Unfortunately for Draco, he couldn't prevent Edgar from occupying the seat on Harriet's other side.
Once the rest of the family joined them and exchanged greetings, everyone sat to indulge in the special meal prepared for the occasion along with steaming cups of tea. Edgar started jocundly in a whisper, "I may not be as talented as Kiera with these sorts of things, but I am sure I can provide some kind of help, Harriet. So, what say…"
Walter Parkin interrupted Edgar with the announcement that after breakfast, they would be making a jaunt to Corwin Mansion in Calne where the Notts dwelled.
Edgar spluttered in shock but then recollected himself quickly at the reprimanding look his father gave him. "But I thought we would be celebrating Christmas here!" he exclaimed petulantly.
"We are, dear," Elizabeth confirmed gently. "Your father and I are just anxious to see your sister and also thought we could gave our presents to the Notts at the same time."
"But, I …," Edgar tried to protest again, grumbling.
Draco, who had been keenly yet stealthily observing Harriet and Edgar's interaction, while fuming inside, felt victorious joy replace it and course through his body at his uncle's words. "I think it's an excellent idea!" Draco remarked, over-speaking Edgar's objections.
Ignoring Edgar's reproachful glare as well as the frowns that his grandmother and his wife were directing at him, Draco continued glancing between the Parkins, "Natalie was most disappointment to inform me that she could not attend the ball because her doctor has advised her against travelling in her condition, when I went to invite them all. I am certain that she would be happy to see her family on Christmas Eve." And then turning and affixing his silver gaze on his cousin with a barely concealed smug smirk, he added, "Besides Edgar, you will be utterly bored during this morning since Grandmother, Mrs. Malfoy and I will all be busy in making last minute preparations. You should utilise this time to visit Natalie, Nicholas and her in-laws so that you can relax for the rest of the holiday."
"Yes, dear," Elizabeth cajoled her son, nodding at Draco in approbation. "We will be back a little after lunch, anyhow."
Though she knew she had no authority in demanding her son-in-law off his designs, Alexandra was intent on making her daughter aware of her displeasure at their decision to travel on the Eve. Alexandra, however, was caught off guard by Draco's behaviour and forgot about vocalizing her disapproval in lieu of studying her older grandson.
At this new development, Harriet shrugged and offered a small, comforting smile to a miffed-looking Edgar.
Draco was more than pleased to personally encourage his cousin to follow his parents' lead to the carriage that took them to Calne.
Immediately after their departure, Harriet scrambled to prepare the trees, starting with the one in the drawing room. Unlike last year, Harriet did not forbid anyone from entering the room until after she was finished and to proclaim this, she left the doors wide open. Draco would have most probably offered his assistance, if he didn't think his wife would not appreciate it, especially with the strain that currently existed between them. Moreover, Draco did not want to draw his grandmother's attention to it, now when she was keeping Harriet company. So instead, Draco situated himself in the foyer with a book.
No matter how much he tried, Draco could not retain his concentration on the words printed in the book; his thoughts kept drifting towards the young woman in the adjoining room. As a result, Draco found himself frequently wandering towards, but never entering, the drawing room and, watching his wife painstakingly working in adorning the Christmas tree from the outside. Notwithstanding the entertainment and personal interest in such a task, decorating the Christmas tree took effort and patience, Draco could not help but recognise during his observation.
Unlike Harriet, Alexandra was not unaware of her grandson's constant spying. She felt a combination of amusement and exasperation at his behaviour; amused at his restlessness and exasperated by his stubbornness to not act on relieving himself of the torment. Alexandra shook her head and decided to give him a nudge herself. Feigning tiredness to Harriet, Alexandra emerged from the room and caught Draco lurking about in the foyer with ill-disguised nonchalance.
"Darling, I am retiring to my bedchambers for a nap, but I don't want to leave Harriet by herself. Will you take my place in accompanying her?" Alexandra asked, struggling to hide a knowing smile.
Draco scrutinized Alexandra for any underplay. "Very well, Grandmother," he drawled at last.
His resigned tone was overpowered by the sudden alertness in his grey eyes, Alexandra noted, letting out a quiet chuckle as she watched him stroll towards the drawing room.
"Do you need help putting up the star?" Draco enquired upon noticing that Harriet was almost finished with the decorations.
Startled by his abrupt voice, Harriet braced herself by placing a hand on the wall to prevent herself from falling off the chair she was presently standing on. Once she steadied herself, Harriet side-glanced angrily at him and answered briskly, "No, I have adjured Landen to bring me the ladder." She stepped down from the chair a minute later.
Before Draco could say anything, Landen arrived carrying a ladder and placed it beside the tree, as close as possible.
Disinclined to have a male servant hold the ladder still for her while she climbed on it, Harriet glanced at Landen. "Will bring Nola…"
Draco interrupted her by loudly clearly his throat. "Nola is not strong enough to hold it in place. I don't mind helping you," Draco offered smoothly and, not waiting for her acceptance, he ordered Landen to leave with a gesture and moved forward towards the tree.
Tightening her lips in incense, Harriet watched the footman dutifully withdraw from the room. Stifling the urge to huff in indignation, Harriet reluctantly tramped towards the ladder where her husband was waiting for her with his brow lifted in invitation.
Blatantly ignoring Draco's hand, which was extended towards her to assist her up, Harriet gripped the ladder with one hand and carried the star with the other. Taking a deep breath, Harriet slowly albeit shakily climbed on it, oblivious to the droll stare of her husband.
Persistent in her desire to cause the littlest effort on Draco's part for her, Harriet quickly climbed down the ladder immediately upon securing the star, but in her haste, she slipped on the last but one step. But before Harriet could fall over and bring the ladder down upon herself, Draco swiftly caught her around the waist and steadfastly held on to the ladder with his other hand.
With Draco in no hurry to relinquish his grasp on her, Harriet stared at his sternum in dumbfound as her heart pounded against her bosom. After a long moment, Harriet released her slightly trembling hands, which were clenching at his upper arms.
"Are you all right?" Draco inquired gently, staring at her head, which she had bowed in order to hide her consternation. Draco reluctantly obliged as she made to disengage herself from their partial embrace.
Harriet slowly nodded in response and then, quickly turning away, she gathered the leftover ornaments and scurried towards the door.
Harriet paused at the doorway as if remembering something. "Thank you," she muttered without looking at him, and exited.
At mid afternoon, when Harriet did not appearing at the dining room where Alexandra and Draco had assembled for luncheon, he took the task of retrieving her upon himself, instead of putting a servant to it, much to Alexandra's approval.
Draco strolled to the ballroom where he knew Harriet was working on decorating the second tree. The sight Draco came upon caused his eyes to soften on their own accord. There his wife was, slumbering on the lone wing chair in the large room. Taking in the weariness on her pretty face, Draco could not bring himself to wake her for the meal. Glancing at the halfway-decorated tree, Draco rightly presumed that Harriet must have fallen asleep while taking a respite.
Making a decision, Draco slipped out of the room and called a maid to bring him a quilt. A couple of minutes later found Draco arranging the quilt comfortably on Harriet and then, returning to the dining hall.
It was almost three in the afternoon when the Parkins returned to the Manor. Immediately upon dismounting the carriage, Edgar made his way directly to the drawing room. Finding it vacant but with an exquisitely beautified Christmas tree at the corner, Edgar next bustled towards the ballroom. 'If I am lucky, Harriet will still be working on that tree, and I could offer my help and get to spend some time with her in the process,' Edgar thought hopefully.
"Harriet!" Edgar called energetically, seeing the rustle of the branches upon bursting through the carved Mahogany double-doors of the ballroom.
Edgar, however, staggered back when he saw the platinum blond head of his cousin sticking out from the other side of the tree and his steely eyes glaring at him. For a brief minute, Edgar wondered whether he has stumbled upon an intimate moment between the couple and, that imagination ignited a flair of jealously within him until he caught a lazy movement on the chair that had its back turned to the door.
Draco's glare intensified upon realising that Edgar's loud voice, which had echoed around the walls of the cavernous but almost empty room, had disturbed his wife out of her rest.
Having awakened, Harriet blinked few times to banish the haze from her eyes and, unaware of her audience, she yawned adorably and then lazily stretched one arm upwards while rubbing her other hand against the creak in her neck caused by the uncomfortable sleeping posture.
Suddenly, Harriet snapped her head up at hearing a faint clearing of throat and found her husband and Edgar gazing down at her in amusement. Blushing profusely, Harriet quickly dropped her arms and ducked her head in embarrassment.
It was at that instant Harriet noticed the quilt thrown across her lap. It had been a gift from Molly; she had made a quilt for each of her children, to be bequeathed at their wedding so that they could share it with their respective spouses, Harriet remembered, gently running her hand on its pattern. The children, who had received it till now, really appreciated their mother's perseverance and love that had obviously gone into its making. Like many things, Harriet, however, could never come to share it with her husband, having come to learn that Draco preferred single or, on occasion, double colours for all his garments as well as for bedding, whereas this quilt was made with a swirl of rainbow-coloured threads and sewed in multiple patterns.
Coming out of her musings, Harriet lifted her head again to face Draco. Wondering about how the quilt had come here, Harriet stared at her husband in puzzlement.
"Father Christmas came by while you were sleeping and thought you could use a quilt to protect yourself from the cold," Draco explained, deadpan.
Harriet's lips twitched at his response, and she bit her lower lip to stifle the laughter that bubbled at her throat. "I am sure," she murmured at last, her voice slightly quivering with hidden mirth.
Draco let his playful smirk show at her reaction.
Aggravated at being witness to their gentle teasing, Edgar loudly cleared his throat to draw her attention to him and interjected, "So Harriet, I am finally at your service."
Before she could reply, Harriet finally noticed the object that her husband was currently holding. It was tinsel. With eyes goggling, Harriet snapped her gaze to the Christmas tree that stood beside him. "Looks like it won't be necessary, Edgar. Your cousin seems to have completed the job," Harriet murmured, her widened eyes flickering between the tree and Draco in astonishment.
Would wonders never cease; Draco's cheeks burned a light shade of pink at her comment. Draco had no explanation for this aberrant behaviour of his; he had never once involved himself in mundane household tasks- yes, he considered decorating a Christmas tree among them. He was unsurprised to have shocked the hell out of his wife and cousin; he had bewildered himself as well. "Uh…so... what do you think?" he could not help ask, irrespective of his confusion.
Noting it as a genuine query rather than gloating, Harriet obliged by scrutinizing the tree, this time for a long moment. "I couldn't have done better myself," she answered sincerely and then hesitated, "Although.."
"Yes," Draco encouraged gently, extremely interested to acquire her true opinion.
Glancing at the intent expression on Draco's face, Harriet continued, "Although, if I were you, I would reposition a couple of ornaments."
Draco inclined his head, gesturing Harriet towards the tree and stepped aside.
Accepting his invitation, Harriet quietly picked a large, glittering golden ball tied at almost the tip of a branch. "You should always place larger or heavier objects at the centre where the branches are thicker, so that they can carry its weight for the duration of 10 days without snapping," she explained softly, replacing them.
Draco gave a nod in understanding. "Now the star," he said, extending a large crystal star to his wife.
Harriet shook her head vehemently. "You should do it," she told him firmly. "You did most of the work, I believe you should have the honour," she added reasonably, cutting off his protests. "Your cousin will hold the ladder for you, won't you Edgar?" she asked glancing at the younger man.
With a smile that came out as a grimace, Edgar grudgingly moved to assist his cousin.
"It's perfect now," Harriet remarked lightly yet honestly at the tree, once they were done. A moment later, dropping a curtsy to the two in silent gratitude, Harriet picked up her quilt and retired from the ballroom, leaving them both disappointed in the process.
On the evening of Christmas Eve, all members of the family congregated in the drawing room after dinner. Harriet accepted everyone's compliments on the decorations with quiet modesty and a small smile. Following the light conversation, they progressed to card games. Unlike last year, the company was subdued, most probably because of the absence of younger members of the family and their spiritedness. A lone Edgar wasn't able to raise the liveliness of the party. To add to his disgruntlement, Harriet offered no assist to his efforts.
Having no wish of being a banal audience to the game that dodged her mind, Harriet excused herself shortly thereafter, with Alexandra looking after her in concern.
"Oh thank goodness, she is finally learning the ways of our lives," Walter commented sardonically, referring to Harriet's action of not insisting on participating in what he considered to be an adult's leisurely pursuit.
His words immediately engendered offended frowns on Alexandra and Edgar's faces whereas Elizabeth nodded in agreement at her husband. "Yes, it is promising to note that Harriet is finally behaving like a proper lady rather than like a brash country…," she trailed off upon espying the acute look that her mother was casting at her.
Alexandra's disconcert upon hearing her daughter and son-in-law's severe opinions on Harriet, however, was overshadowed by her vexation at Draco for not reacting, let alone speaking up on behalf of his wife's honour. Alexandra kept her silence for the single reason of avoiding arguments during the festivities.
Alexandra was soon forced to re-evaluate her perception of her grandson's apparent apathy, when Draco, despite maintaining a supposed intense concentration on the game, kept losing his hand, and most badly at that. An uncommon sight.
Feigning bereavement because of his consistent failure, for which he didn't, in truth, care at that moment, Draco quit the card table and padded out of the room. Whilst his aunt and uncle may find it relieving, Draco wasn't pleased with these abrupt changes in Harriet's demeanour. In a way, he missed joie-de-vivre attitude of his wife. But Draco had not responded to their remarks for the same reason Alexandra hadn't.
Feeling slightly guilty about leaving Harriet on her own in the huge Manor during the celebrations, Draco set out in search of her. Discovering Harriet's whereabouts from Francis, Draco turned towards his destination, only to come face to face with his cousin.
Draco simply raised a questioning brow at him at his sudden appearance.
"The company was pretty dull," Edgar muttered with a shrug.
Nodding in acceptance, "So, you have decided to retire to bed," Draco prompted, wanting to dislodge his cousin before he could tag along.
"Oh no, I am not feeling sleepy yet," Edgar replied actively.
Draco did not need him to vocalise his solution for passing some time. "A bit of reading will help you," he suggested through gritted teeth.
"Nay, you know I do not have much love for books," Edgar shrugged again, turning to make his way to the kitchen where Harriet currently was.
Halting Edgar on his track by grabbing his arm firmly, Draco hissed, his eyes narrowed smoulderingly, "I am quite sure you will find a book that will interest you in the library, Dear Cousin." His tone carried a note of authority and a promise of consequence if Edgar didn't follow through with it. Since Newbiggin, Draco's suspicions that Edgar might be holding more than familial affections for his wife were growing substantial every time he saw his cousin around her.
"Very well, Draco," Edgar griped after a long staring contest, and then, pulling himself out of Draco's grasp, he grumpily stomped up the stairs.
Letting out a frustrated growl at Edgar's retreating form, Draco recommenced his journey.
To his surprise, Draco came upon an empty servants' hall, but upon descrying the reflection of flames at the doorway that led to the kitchen and the sweet smells wafting out, he curiously meandered towards it. Inside, he found the lone figure of his wife, standing at the preparation area with her back turned to the door. Quietly walking inside and taking a closer inspection, he saw Harriet diligently mixing batter in a large pot. "What are you doing?" he inquired with his brows furrowed.
Startled out of her wits, Harriet almost dropped the container but steadied herself in the last moment. Swivelling around and throwing a withering glare at her husband, Harriet turned back to her task, furiously grumbling under her breath.
Draco was amused to catch the snippets of her mutterings, "always", "how many times" and "will not be satisfied until I have bloody heart attack". Walking close to stand beside her, Draco cleared his throat pointedly, indicating that he had yet to receive an answer.
"Baking cakes," Harriet replied grudgingly a minute later with a sideway glance. Seeing the puzzled look on the face of Draco, who was casually leaning on the working bench, Harriet clarified, "For tomorrow."
"Oh," Draco said in recognition and, staring at her, questioned, "Why didn't you instruct Tom to prepare these as well?"
"I wanted to make them myself," Harriet admitted with a shrug. "And I don't care if anyone thinks it's plebeian of me," she added defiantly, referring to Umbridge's acid remarks.
Draco hid his wince, knowing that his aunt and uncle would definitely be forced to swallow their words if they were to see Harriet now.
"These seem relatively more than that of last year," Draco observed, glancing between the tens of mid-sized, bowl-shaped cakes that were cooling on the table as well as a few currently cooking in the furnace.
Stilling her movements, "Some of them are for the children," Harriet responded quietly, and then, lifting her gaze to meet his silver orbs, she added defensively, "I haven't included the expenses for these sweets in the daily accounts. I had Madelaine bring the ingredients with my personal money."
"Did I ask you about the expenses?" Draco huffed, frowning at her in deep exasperation.
"No," Harriet noted softly, lowering her thick sooty eyelashes diffidently. "No, you didn't, but I wanted to assure you, nonetheless."
Not knowing how to respond, Draco watched quietly as Harriet returned to her work. Except the clinking of the utensils and fire crackling, silence reigned in the kitchen for a few minutes. Draco spent the quiescence admiring the flushed sheen on Harriet's flawless skin brought out by the scintillations of the ferociously burning wood of the furnace.
"What?" Harriet snapped angrily, glancing up at last and irritably pushing a midnight black strand off her cheek, misunderstanding his unblinking stare for disgust rather than enticement.
Wanting to divert her mind off his earlier rapture, Draco gestured to the cakes and asked, "Shall I?"
"But you don't care much for cake if it has no chocolate," Harriet pointed out, her eyebrows knitted in confusion. These cakes were made of basic ingredients along with a handful of raisins. With a limited budget, Harriet could not afford to garnish the cakes with cream or nuts instead she had to settle for a dusting of powdered sugar.
"True," Draco agreed softly, and then he added with a little quirk of his lips, "A glass of hot chocolate with it would do."
Harriet made to decline his poorly-spoken request but a sudden recognition caused her to pause. This would be the first time her husband would taste her cooking, even though it would be a simple snack. After spending a long moment biting her lips in thought, "Very well," Harriet conceded with an overly heavy sigh.
'An exaggerating display of the effort,' Draco thought with a small smile.
Abandoning the batter for the time being, Harriet walked towards the pantry, remaining oblivious to the fond smile, Draco was giving her. Within a matter of ten minutes, Harriet had a scalding, aromatic glass of hot chocolate and plate of cake slices placed on the tabletop in front of Draco who had brought out a chair for himself and settled himself on it.
Whilst Harriet had been putting his snack together, Draco observed the familiarity with which she manoeuvred herself around the kitchen and discerned that she must have spent some amount of time in this part of the Manor. Of course, the expertise with which Harriet handled its equipments proved years of her servitude in the kitchen, Draco realized uncomfortably. "Won't you join me?" he tempted her, gesturing to the second chair he had brought for her and placed beside his.
"I have work," Harriet answered curtly, disappointing him again. But she could not repress the anticipation she was feeling at learning how he would take to her food. From the corner of her eye, Harriet apprehensively watched her husband as he took a bite of the cake, followed by a sip of hot chocolate.
No matter how much Harriet denied that she didn't care for his assessment, she could not help but feel relieved and a bit contented to see his eyes close in appreciation. Cheered a little by his reaction, Harriet sped up the task of finishing the cakes while Draco was occupied with his snack. "I didn't realize I was feeling hungry," he commented, gobbling, though with proper manners, the entirety of the light meal.
It was, however, late night when they retired to the master suite. Draco felt that Harriet was in a good enough mood to be inclined to revert to her previous sleeping arrangements upon his subtle suggestion, but was downhearted when it didn't happen.
Reclining on her new bedding, Harriet thought over the events of the day, and it left her perplexed, to say the least. 'Draco Malfoy is an enigma,' she concluded, struggling to understand his equivocal behaviour towards her. Harriet could not comprehend how a person could go from acutely insulting someone one day and then, being nice and going out of his way to help the said person on the other. With these confusing thoughts, Harriet drifted off to sleep.
The clock stroked twelve times in the silence of the night, indicating to a still wide-awake Draco that it was now Christmas. Not in a mood to justify his actions, Draco quietly leaned out of the other side of the bed and, gazing at the shadowed, sleeping form of his wife, he whispered tenderly, "I hope you have a happy Christmas, Mrs. Malfoy."
Pushing away her resolve to stay detached on this particular morning, Harriet took it upon herself to wake her husband and then, unknowingly became the first person to reciprocate his Christmas wishes, much to Draco's internal bliss.
Later that morning, with everyone assembled at the drawing room to exchange Christmas gifts, Draco's speculation about Harriet's personal, financial management was partially answered, upon marking that all her gifts to the family were hand-made. Draco himself had received an assortment of winter garments made out of the softest wool and with a beautiful grey scarf added to the collection this time. Considering her continued displeasure with him, Draco marvelled at how Harriet brought herself to make these gifts for him. He could only imagine the hours of labour it must have taken for her to make a gift for everyone.
Harriet opened the present from her husband. It was a sparkling diamond necklace, obviously lot pricier than that of his last year's gift. Staring at its glittering brilliance, Harriet thought ruefully, 'How can one appreciate something, knowing that it would be reclaimed in a short period of time? How can one celebrate it when it comes with an incorporeal tag that clearly declares that you are never worthy of it?' Harriet finally glanced up and, managing a small smile, she thanked him for it, nonetheless.
At the church, when the congregation dispersed back to their houses, Draco encouraged his family to leave before him and Harriet. Alexandra nodded with an understanding smile and took the Parkins back to the Manor in her carriage. Edgar, of course, proved harder to convince, with his insistence to accompany the young couple or more precisely, Harriet, but Alexandra managed with her autocracy.
Just like last year, the poor blessed the couple that were bestowing them with food, clothes and money with a long, happy and prosperous marriage. Whilst Harriet felt like letting out cynical laughter in response, Draco glanced at the woman beside him, and mused for the very first time, 'would it be really so bad to keep her for life?' Not a second later, Draco's eyes grew significantly, and then he firmly squashed that dangerous thought, before it could start manifesting itself in his mind.
Still feeling rattled by the abruptness of it as they travelled back to the Manor, Draco blurted out the question that had been plaguing him, "Considering your other expenses, how could you afford the blankets you just gave away?"
Harriet's jaw dropped a little at such a brazen inquiry as she stared at him.
Though slightly abashed by her reaction, Draco did not relent his questioning look.
Closing her mouth and thinning her lips at his audacity, "My father gave me some money during my visitation," Harriet confessed unwillingly. "He isn't pleased that I have no marriage settlement drawn for myself."
Draco's aristocratic face, which had cleared at her first statement, suddenly acquired an incredulous expression at the second. Staring at her and questioning her intelligence, Draco remarked, "And, you shelved it away in alms!"
Harriet's face scrunched up in offence at his pique. "The Weasleys couldn't afford another child when they met me, but that did not prevent them from adopting me," she sniffed, answering him in a roundabout way while feeling annoyed at having to repeat herself.
Making a dissenting noise at the back of his throat, Draco went on in his scathing tone, "Like you said, your father gave you that money for your personal use, and YOU gave it away, instead of buying gifts for the family and sparing yourself of actually making them." Draco's grouchiness was further fuelled by the pointed distance Harriet maintained with his person inside the carriage.
Beryl eyes dampening at his harsh criticism, Harriet averted her face and expressed weakly, "I had many of those gifts in the making long before my father gave me the allowance. I was told that it is the sentiment rather than the expense, which belies the gift that matters. Clearly, I have been misinformed."
Glancing back at a stumped Draco, Harriet added, "But, Mr. Malfoy, even if I sold everything I own, I could never match it up to the costliest gift you all usually receive on the festivities or one that meets your approval!" And she scrambled out of the carriage the moment it stopped, without waiting for him to assist her down.
Draco cursed himself, comprehending that Harriet has misinterpreted his berating as disparagement of her gifts. "Mrs. Malfoy, wait!" Draco cried, jumping out of the coach and rushing after his speedily retreating wife. Then, upon reaching hearing distance of her, he clarified anxiously, "I wasn't condescending your gifts, really. I just felt that you should have utilized that money to spare yourself the time and effort, that's all!"
Harriet, who had come to an abrupt halt at his words, caused a hastily following Draco to bump into her. In the next second, both of them jumped out of their skins when Alexandra's sudden, joyous cry of, "Mistletoe!" rang through the foyer.
True enough, there was mistletoe, with its cluster of white berries, hovering innocently above the platinum blond and the black heads of the couple. In the next instant, Harriet shocked Alexandra and Edgar ensconced in the seating area as well as her stunned husband, by completely ignoring the plant and storming up the grand stairs and disappearing into the upper level of the Manor.
"Is she all right?" Edgar asked worriedly, staring at the stairs, having caught the sight of Harriet's distraught face before she fled.
"Draco, what happened?" Alexandra demanded, turning to face her agape grandson.
"Er…" Draco flustered under the piercing gaze of his grandmother. "We just had a minor misunderstanding."
"Well, whatever it is, Draco, you better resolve it now. I will not have Harriet disconsolate during the celebrations," Alexandra ordered sternly.
Knowing that there was no point in expressing his indignation at Alexandra's immediate presumption that he was the one to blame, Draco moved to retrace his wife's path.
"What the bloody hell was that?" Draco snarled upon locating Harriet in the master suite, listlessly undoing the ribbon of her bonnet. "Grandmother was most displeased and no less suspicious!"
Unsurprised at his appearance, Harriet took a deep breath before turning to meet his outraged gaze. "Why, Mr. Malfoy, I relieved you from doing something you inwardly abhor. You should be thankful," she sniped but in a quiet tone. Seeing his bafflement, Harriet clarified resentfully, "Touching someone like me; or should I be precise and candid and say, ME!"
Sharply pivoting away from her husband, who seemed to have been struck dumb again by her response, Harriet walked away in the direction of her dressing room, enshrouding the twinge of misery at the lack of his refute to her statement, with the words, "I will tell Grandma that I am uncomfortable with such displays. She will have to understand."
Harriet reappeared downstairs after some time, joining the family in the celebrations, but there was no denying the sombreness and reserve, though nearly imperceptible, in her countenance. It was only for Alexandra that Harriet strived to dredge up a smile or two. Harriet spent the rest of the day keeping her distance from Draco, afraid that she would either burst out in tears or worst yet lose her temper with him. And she remained impervious to Edgar's attempts to engender cheer from her.
As for Draco, he was absolutely clueless on how to conduct himself around his wife. It was now obvious to him that Harriet hadn't lost any of her grievances with him concerning the event of that afternoon of early December, despite her recess at Biddestone. Therefore, Draco simply chose to acknowledge her quiescence, not wanting to aggravate her further by saying something that she would perceive as derogatory.
On the evening of the Christmas ball, a large crowd of regally dressed gentlemen and ladies flocked into the momentously emblazed ballroom of Malfoy Manor. The hall's decorations were nothing compared to the extravagantly adorned Christmas tree. Whilst the dazzlingly illuminated, gargantuan tree consistently attracted the attention of the guests and family alike, Draco's mercurial eyes frequently strayed towards his radiant looking wife.
It was just unfortunate for Draco that he remained unaware of the interrogative glances Harriet kept casting in his direction. While she would deny with a scandalised expression if apprehended, Harriet was making sure that no woman, whether young or old, was behaving in some sort of coquettish manner with him. Harriet perceived this as inevitable the moment her eyes took in his beholding handsomeness in their suite previously.
Dismissing the waltz was the first ever decision Harriet had taken concerning Malfoy matters since her return. Harriet had firmly instructed the orchestra of this, upon hiring them to play at the ball. Since Draco and she would be expected to open the dance as hosts, Harriet had convinced herself that it was a reasonable thing to do, especially after her husband hadn't denied that he did not appreciate such close encounters with her, much less for a long duration.
Soon into the party, the assembly came to learn of this particular abstinence, which resulted in the young being disgruntled (women inwardly so), but the adults seemed greatly approving. Draco, who, along with the rest of family, had at first been surprised at the news, felt a combination of relief and frustration: Draco was relieved that he would not be forced to watch, without complaint, as perverse men veiled in gentleman's attire whisked his wife away for that eyebrow-raising dance, taking advantage of the excuse to touch her in intimate places and hold her close; he was unconsciously frustrated because he too had been exempt from drawing his own wife into that dance as well.
In the end, Draco need not have worried about the not so innocent intentions of men towards his wife. After wordlessly finishing a quadrille with him, Harriet seemed to have been dedicating every spare moment when she wasn't meeting and greeting the guests, to playing guard to her best friend.
"You must excuse my friend, Sir. Hermione suffered a sprain to the ankle this morning. She is just too modest to express the pain, which temporarily disables her from keeping up with the steps. She loves dancing and is most regretful that she has to renounce it this evening," Draco heard his wife repeating it to every gentleman who approached Hermione for the honour of dancing, stopping their advances in their tracks whilst the brown-haired woman in question demurely nodded in agreement with Harriet. It befuddled Draco, considering that he was pretty sure that his wife's friend indicated no such injury when they had received the Grangers earlier that evening.
When Draco could no longer contain his curiosity with regards to his wife's peculiar behaviour, he decided to seek his grandmother for answers, instead of going to the person in question herself for the fear of making committing another error with her.
"I am not surprised," Alexandra stated blithely. "From the looks of it, Bernard Granger hasn't seemed to have entirely discarded his desire to snag a wealthy son-in-law."
"Why does that concern Mrs. Malfoy?" Draco enquired, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared across the hall at his wife, who was directing a scathing look at head of the Granger family while keeping a possessive hold on her friend.
Alexandra grew surprised at Draco's query. "Why, Draco, you seem to have no knowledge of the onerous part your wife played in creating an opportunity for her brother, Ronald to marry Miss Granger," she relayed, causing his eyebrows to raise in surprise. Draco's eyes then sought Ron, who was standing sullenly with his family at a distance from the Grangers, staring at Hermione with a pathetic longing.
"It is a love match, Draco, just like yours, and only Miss Granger's father is proving to be not so accommodating," Alexandra explained in hushed tones and briefly recounted the events and problems concerning their union. Deliberately ignoring her comment about love, Draco felt like he was foreseeing the circumstances before Alexandra could divulge them, and her words were only serving as a confirmation. By the time Alexandra was finished, Draco was restraining himself from rolling his eyes in exasperation. It became clear to him now that it wasn't just his business that Harriet liked to meddle in. Draco wondered whether his wife sought some kind of pleasure in making her life burdensome by taking additional responsibilities and troubles on her head. Was it really so hard, Draco mused, for her to lead a peaceful life with no complications?
"I am sorry, Hermione. Were you wishing to spend some time with Ron?" Harriet asked compassionately, as the Grangers were taking their leave later that night.
"Yes, I did hope to dance with him," Hermione agreed ruefully.
"I am sorry, but I had no other choice," Harriet admitted, heaving a sigh.
"It's all right, Harry. If the expense of sharing a single dance with Ronald is to accept other gentlemen's dance proposals and spending uncomfortable moments with them, then it was better for me to abandon the idea altogether," Hermione advocated with a shrug. "And don't apologise, Harry. You are not to blame for my father's stubbornness to accept, let alone announce our engagement."
Harriet embraced her with an understanding nod. "You and Ron will be together soon, I promise."
A couple of weeks after the Christmas ball, the Parkins departed, Walter and Elizabeth to Newbiggin whilst Edgar to his university. To Edgar, the trip to Tisbury turned out to be a great disappointment, for all his aspirations of fraternizing with Harriet were utterly ruined. His fervid designs to be once again with the same vivacious woman, whom he had come to cherish immensely over past few months, were destroyed. He found a sedate and prosaic woman replacing the Harriet he had come to know and admire during the months of summer and autumn. Her behaviour was now nearing that stolid and vain disposition of the majority of the upper class women, Edgar commonly associated with but internally despised. He entirely blamed his cousin, Draco, for these woeful changes in Harriet. And to make matters worse, Draco kept tabs on him throughout his stay, never allowing him a private moment with her and demand her the reasons for these changes in her.
Alexandra had been keenly observing Harriet since her return to the Manor. With no emergency to speak of, Alexandra did not believe the young woman had needed to make such a hasty departure to her family in Biddestone. Alexandra hadn't been entirely convinced with Harriet and her grandson's explanations, no matter how perfectly they matched. Her vague contemplations fluctuated between concerns and alleviations throughout the duration of Harriet's absence. Her troubled suspicions were put to rest upon bearing witness to the regular exchange of correspondence between the couple, but returned every time she caught glimpses of guilty and desperate frowns, which he believed others unaware of, on Draco's face whenever Harriet was mentioned. Alexandra decided to study the couple the moment she noticed how diffident the both of them had been at their first meeting upon Harriet's arrival.
It hadn't been hard to miss Harriet's withdrawing demeanour; where the young woman never hesitated in voicing her opinions during the grandmother-grandson's conversations, she now either remained a silent audience or left them to their privacy. It was bothering to note how Harriet would completely retreat during the familial moments. Not to mention the apparent decline in her self-confidence and her utter reluctance to reassume the authority with which Harriet used to run the household and manage the servants.
Alexandra hadn't been sure whether the bane of Harriet's current melancholy, which she was obviously trying to repress, was someone from Biddestone or her grandson himself.
The young woman's blatant rejection of Draco's kiss under the mistletoe and the underlying tension between the couple, as well as Harriet's complete lack of enthusiasm and felicity during her self-professed favourite celebration, however, had been a little too revealing.
Alexandra refused to allow the couple to be in discord for another five months. Unlike last year, she refused to resignedly watch as Harriet and Draco dragged whatever conflict they were currently engaged in for months together. But Alexandra had been waiting until the time their houseguests left the Manor, before dealing with the issue.
"What's wrong, Dear?" Alexandra inquired, catching Harriet in a moment of her lonely wretchedness. An hour ago, Harriet had impassively excused herself from the drawing room where the family of three had been lounging after dinner.
Startled by her sudden appearance, Harriet hurriedly brushed the back of her hand against her cheeks. Then, braving a feigned smile, she turned to face the older woman, "Everything is fine, Grandma," Harriet replied, trying but failing to look reassuring.
"Do you think me a fool, Harriet?" Alexandra asked rhetorically, shaking her head in disappointment at her. "I know that there is something troubling you, and for some time now." Before Harriet could continue to protest, Alexandra silenced her by listing all her observations over the past few weeks and the subsequent conclusions she had approached.
Harriet grew more flustered at hearing each of her statements.
"Harriet," Alexandra said soothingly, sitting beside the young woman and relying through expression that her intent hadn't been to heighten her despondency. "I can't promise I will be able to resolve whatever issue that is currently ailing you, but experience has taught me that talking about your problems with someone will at least lighten your heart, Dearest," She explained softly.
"I hope you trust me enough to share it with me." Alexandra knew how manipulative she was being with that last statement; she had no choice but to resort to such tactics because she had become quite familiar with Harriet's reticence when it came to her own suffering.
"I do trust you, Grandma but…" Harriet halted and started gnawing at her lower lip in extreme ambiguity while Alexandra waited patiently. After a long time, Harriet reluctantly glanced at the expectant look on Alexandra's face. "He said…. something about my deportment …. with men," she murmured brokenly at last, averting her emerald gaze again.
Alexandra drew a sharp breath in response. She did not need to ask the young woman who 'he' was. Looking at the pained expression on Harriet's face, the older woman could deduce precisely the context and the crudity with which 'he' would have delivered that statement.
'Seems like my grandson hadn't been spared the woeful trait that has plagued Malfoy men: Over-possessiveness,' Alexandra mused with dismay. 'Abraxas had been like that!' she reminisced with a harrumph; Alexandra could remember the number of times her husband and she had argued over this kind of behaviour. All Malfoy men Alexandra had known had the annoying habit of perpetuating the sense of possessiveness over what they considered theirs to an extent where it ceased to be adorable.
'I can't believe after all my lessons, Draco would still behave in that manner,' Alexandra thought, growing livid with him. She decided to seek Draco out and give him a piece of her mind. Before she could rise, Alexandra forced her will to examine the situation on all angles, an important lesson that life had taught her.
And the truth was Alexandra had been dreading this moment every time she caught Draco grumbling over Harriet's affable relations with his male counterparts, and she had fervently hoped that it was never come to pass. Alexandra had designed to have a serious dialogue with Harriet about it, but it seems that she was a little too late in action. Alexandra's deep pondering about what could have caused Draco to finally burst out his internal chafe sparked a recent memory in her mind.
Alexandra vividly remembered the morning of Christmas when Harriet flabbergasted everyone with her staunch refusal to kiss Draco. Though Alexandra hadn't contemplated on it previously because of her preoccupation with the worry for the young couple, she hadn't mistaken the faint sigh of relief she had heard emitted from her youngest grandson at Harriet's rejection. Alexandra frowned, shuffling through her memories for the times when Draco and Edgar had been together during the festivities. Now that she thought about it, Alexandra had felt some kind of anger and resentment brewing between the cousins, something that hadn't happened before.
After that it didn't take long for Alexandra to connect the dots. When she did, Alexandra came to a most alarming conclusion which resulted in her eyes enlarging and her hand going to cover her mouth to stop a startled, 'Oh my!'
A long moment later, when Alexandra overcame some of her shock, her disturbed gaze which had refocused on Harriet, soon turned pitying as she realised how poorly blind the young woman was to the tug-of-war that the two cousins seemed to be unwittingly engaged in for her affections.
Alexandra did her best not to display her grimace at Edgar for hankering for a married woman, his cousin's wife no less. But knowing how passionate all three in question were in their feelings, Alexandra could not help but perceive with a wince, how severely one of them was going to get hurt. And Alexandra's disgust was then overshadowed by the compassion she started feeling for her youngest, as the older woman watched Harriet badly hurting over Draco's ill-spoken remark.
After this enlightenment, Alexandra concluded that Draco had at least been partly justified in his behaviour. "But don't you see, Darling? Draco is jealous," she remarked finally.
"Jealous?" Harriet frowned, snapping her head sideways to face the older woman.
"Of your amicability with them," Alexandra explained quietly. "Draco envies these male counterparts because of the easy rapport they share with you, when he himself struggles to bid for a conversation with you where there is no business or false veneer involved."
"It doesn't make sense, Grandma. Mr. Malfoy has no particular interest in inane or what he considers to be insignificant interactions with me. Why would he be envious of that?" Harriet protested, the crease on her forehead deepening.
"Think about it, Darling. Think about all your relationships. In your maiden family, among your siblings, you seem closer to your brothers rather than to your sister," Alexandra paused and after a second's thought, she muttered, "Although coming to know Ginevra like I did last spring, I do not blame you."
Shaking her head, Alexandra continued, her blue eyes intently gazing at Harriet, "Take your acquaintances, for instance. On one hand you have Miss Granger, while on the other, you have Blaise as well as your past Cricket team mates. And after marriage, of all Draco's aunts and cousins, you seem to have befriended Edgar. You chose to acquaint yourself with Neville Longbottom among all the socialites we associate with. So you see, your choices greatly upset Draco. He grew up along with Natalie and Laura: though both different in their own right, they had hardly consorted with gentlemen outside of the family. And it baffles Draco to witness your inclinations, so unlike theirs."
"Furthermore, it wasn't very wise of you to praise Neville in front of Draco," Alexandra added as an afterthought.
"I accept that I admire Mr. Longbottom for not giving up his desire to become a botanist, irrespective of others' opinions, but I esteem Mr. Malfoy more for accepting the responsibilities of his family and then, diligently working towards fulfilling them at such a young age, putting his own desires aside," Harriet answered sincerely.
"But my 'inclinations'!" Harriet repeated in a shocked whisper, looking utterly insulted by the use of that word. "Is that what you think of me?" she demanded in a voice a few octaves higher, jumping to her feet.
Alexandra was stunned at Harriet's reaction.
At the older woman's silence, Harriet's stomach constricted painfully. After a few tense moments, Harriet spoke in a strangled sort of voice, "You are arraigning me for choosing Mr. Longbottom over the others to associate with, but have you ever considered why I did so?"
Alexandra's forehead wrinkled a little in a frown.
"My acceptance into the gentry has been tentative at its best. Mr. Malfoy and I have been married for more than a year now, yet I feel like I am being judged at every movement. It feels like these patricians are waiting for me to commit a faux pas, so they can shun me from their society. I am still struggling to find my place here. The idea of forming deep bonds with its members is simply laughable, considering that they barely tolerate my presence and that too, only for your and Mr. Malfoy's sake!" Harriet explained in a fit of self-righteous anger.
"On the first couple of visits after our marriage, our neighbours, Mrs. Parkinson and Mrs. Greengrass had kept casting frequent glances at my midriff; it was like they had been intent on discovering something I might be hiding there. Do you know how unnerving it was?" Harriet exclaimed, shuddering at the memory of those afternoon calls.
Alexandra bit her lower lip, to stifle a sudden, ironic smile at that revelation and also, upon noting the young woman's expression of complete lack of understanding of the meaning behind their inquisitive stares.
"For ones who had been trained to mask their emotions, they never bothered to hide their disdain from me, either," Harriet retorted sarcastically, and then, gesticulated with her arms, "Mrs. Parkinson and Mrs. Greengrass claim to be the greatest of friends and yet neither of them can help but criticise the other and expose their private matters in the other's absence. I can only wonder what they say about me outside the Manor!"
"And the likelihood I might befriend their daughters who are of my age is absolutely naught, especially after I had been made aware that Mr. Malfoy had been expected to elect either of them as his bride," she added darkly.
"Draco never showed any interest in wedding Pansy or Daphne," Alexandra quickly interjected in the self-defence of her grandson.
"I know," Harriet replied quietly. Noticing the sharp look that immediately assumed Alexandra's face when she noticed the young woman's wince caused by the reminder of the true reason behind Mr. Malfoy's selection of her, Harriet carried forward in the slightly different direction.
"Since your broached the Weasleys, let me tell you something. I am often chaffed about being oblivious to people's dispositions but I have to be completely blind to remain unaware that Ginny never accepted me as her sister!"
"You think I am closer to my brothers? I love them all, yes, but I am only closer to Fred and George because they hadn't needed to hear my sob story to accept me a part of their family unlike the rest of them," Harriet confessed, her tone betraying her soreness about it.
"As for Hermione, our friendship was born out of need, more than anything. When I was brought to The Burrow, I was illiterate and my parents put me under Mrs. McGonagall's tutelage. She had the challenge of teaching an eleven-year-old five years worth of education in a short period of time, so I could reach the same level as the other girls of my age studying under her. I needed all the instruction I could get, and Mrs. McGonagall taught me in every moment she could spare. But Mrs. McGonagall had other obligations, so she requested Hermione, who had been her brightest student, to help me with my education."
"I believe she thought this companionship would benefit us both. Hermione and I were both friendless at that time. Hermione had become a troglodyte because the other girls could not understand her preference for books over vanity. Hermione's parents had been quite worried about her lone."
"As for myself," Harriet halted to snort lightly, "people in Biddestone had been very sceptical about associating with me because of my mysterious past," she said, spitting the last words in mockery.
"Mrs. McGonagall's hope prevailed; Hermione and I became best friends over the years; I have come to accept her love for books and thirst for knowledge and Hermione learnt to tolerate my fervour for Cricket. We were so satisfied in each other's company that were no longer cared that other girls didn't include us in their circles."
Harriet paused to take a breath while staring at Alexandra who wore a small frown of intense concentration. Harriet hated to display her internal feelings in this manner, but she refused to take these accusations in silence once again.
"Speaking of Cricket, my mother had been emphatically against the idea of my playing Cricket, she had agreed nonetheless, but not without laying bunch of conditions for me to follow, the major one being no fraternizing with the players outside of the field. I scorned these restrictions but my sole desire had been to play Cricket, so I adhered them without complaint."
"As I have informed you before, Blaise and I became friends under duress. My mother told me on the day I started my apprenticeship with Madam Pomfrey that I would have to relinquish Cricket and most probably nursing as well once I was married. I had been resentful about this forewarning at that time, but eventually I came to accept it. During the entirety of my apprenticeship, Madam Pomfrey kept my training strictly restricted to the treatment of children. I do not know whether it was a conscious decision on Madam Pomfrey's part or an explicit request from my mother."
Harriet added vehemently, "Either way, I had no knowledge or practical experience of treating adults. Blaise was the only man I ever helped in treating. If the Pomfrey couple hadn't been swamped by a gaggle of patients at that time, Madam Pomfrey would have surely refused my assistance in the case of Blaise."
"The reason I befriended Mr. Longbottom is because he didn't bat an eyelash when I apprised him of my designs to grow a vegetable garden myself. I enjoy our acquaintance because, unlike with other aristocrats, I do not have to worry about him speculating or disparaging my disposition when I discuss my interests with him."
"And the reason I chose to befriend Edgar was the same. Other than you and Mr. Malfoy, he was the only one in the whole family to easily accept my previous social status as well as my odd quirks."
"I gave up Nursing and Cricket on the day I accepted Mr. Malfoy's marriage proposal. I wouldn't have played that afternoon had Mr. Malfoy not agreed to it beforehand,"
Harriet's voice, which had toned down during her justifications, now raised a pitch here.
"All this time, I believed you and Mr. Malfoy accepted me the way I am. How utterly naïve I have been! All this time, Mr. Malfoy and you have been seeing my friendships as some secret liaisons!" she exclaimed bitterly, her bosom heaving.
"You have no idea how immensely pleased I am, to learn of your and your grandson's carry such a profound assessment of my character," Harriet remarked resentfully, but her eyes betrayed how deeply she was injured by it. "Oh, thank you so much, Lady Malfoy!" With those last words, Harriet swept out of the room, furiously wiping the tears that had swiftly flown out of her eyes.
Harriet spent a restless night following that altercation. The next morning, when she rose from a troubled sleep and oriented herself to her surroundings, the memory of last evening and the words that were uttered came flooding to the forefront of her mind. Over the months of her marriage, Harriet had come to expect Alexandra to stand by her side and support her, even if her own husband didn't; but now learning that the older woman carried similar feelings about her left Harriet in utter dismay. It had been heart wrenching for Harriet to witness Alexandra, who she had always considered to be an impartial person, promptly taking her grandson's side. Hearing those apprehensions spilling out of Alexandra's mouth, Harriet was at once reminded that blood always won.
If this was the conclusion that Alexandra drew for simply consorting with gentlemen, Harriet could only imagine in horror what the older women's reaction would be, should the truth that Harriet had bargained herself for a monetary price ever come to light.
It hadn't been the first time someone had said those vile things about her character; some uppity inhabitants of Biddestone as well as her parents-in-law and on some occasions, Draco's relatives had passed similar remarks whenever they had seen her in gentlemen's company. But from her husband and Alexandra, they felt like two sharp stabs across her bosom which kept piercing at her heart. Harriet wondered morosely how she could continue to live in a house where the people had such a lowly opinion of her.
Harriet who now sat up on her bedding, turned to face the bed. Slightly pushing the blue drapes aside, Harriet gazed across the mattress at the peacefully snoring form of her husband. Harriet found Alexandra's reasoning that Draco's commit had been engendered by a fit of jealously hard to disgust. Harriet had witnessed such behaviour before. Ron openly loathed every man who approached Hermione during festivities or gatherings. On rare occasions, Harriet had caught her father and Bill peeving over gentlemen who tried to be overly friendly with their respective wives, though their reproach had been subtle. Harriet could understand this kind of possessiveness over their sweethearts as a part of their love.
'Such isn't case with Mr. Malfoy and me, is it? Mr. Malfoy does not love me like my father loves my mother, Bill loves Fleur or Ron loves Hermione, does he?' Harriet thought dolefully, slowing resting her folded arms on the fluffy mattress and then setting her head on them. Tilting her head and staring at Draco's completely relaxed face, Harriet internally said, 'I don't mean as much as wife is supposed to mean to a husband, do I Mr. Malfoy?'
Harriet could overlook Alexandra's false notion, because that was the picture they had strived to paint to the older woman, didn't they? Alexandra thought theirs was a love match and hence, perceived Draco's bitter words as an outburst of jealously. But what about her husband? He knew the truth. What had been his true motivations behind it?
That single question had been plaguing her almost two months now. With an aching expression, Harriet closed her eyes.
"Harry, do you remember what I told about propriety?" Molly had ventured slowly one evening a couple of days before Harriet's wedding. Molly had come up to the girls' room to help Harriet pack her luggage.
Harriet had paused at the abruptness of the question and then, resuming her job, responded blithely, "Yes, Mother."
Descrying her daughter roll her eyes, Molly had seized Harriet by her arm, stilling her in her movements. "This is serious, Harry. Do you remember what I taught you?" she had demanded incessantly.
Heaving a sigh, Harriet recited with a bored expression, "That I am never to meet a gentleman in seclusion; that I should always maintain an arm's length with them when talking to them; that I should control my effusions in their presence ….."
"And yet to hardly follow them," Molly harrumphed, interrupting her daughter. Then, shaking her head, Molly continued, "If maintaining propriety at all times is necessary for a young woman, its importance only increases ten-fold when she is married. And the family you are marrying into places extreme importance in it. Unlike us Weasleys and our acquaintances, the society in which the Malfoys dwell would never tolerate any compromise when it comes to a woman's conduct."
Harriet's forehead had creased into a deep frown as she had stared at her mother.
"Do you understand what I am saying, Harry? Promise me that you will always remember and follow this one advice of mine? Promise me that you will do everything in your power to avoid a situation where they could question your integrity?" Molly had appealed.
"I promise, Mother." Harriet had no other answer to the beseeching, brown eyes of her mother.
This memory was soon followed by the words of avowal exchanged between Draco and herself at their first proper meeting.
"You will not meet men that are not your family, my family or Blaise without an escort," Draco had said seriously.
"I accept," Harriet had replied.
Harriet's eyes flew open with a startled gasp at the sudden enlightenment. She had broken the promise she made to both her mother and her husband by consorting with Neville Longbottom in privacy. Staring at her undisturbed husband with wide eyes, Harriet realised that she had failed in keeping her end of the contract. From what Harriet understood from all the arguments she and her husband had engaged in, she had been continuously breaking the conditions to which she had been solemnised to adhere, at least according to Draco. Maybe it had been one too many times for Draco. Her husband's frustration at her for not following the terms of their contract rather than the jealously that Alexandra had pointed at seemed like a more plausible explanation to Harriet for his acidic conduct.
'But still, that did not give Mr. Malfoy the right to utter such an atrocious comment about my character!' Harriet concluded, pursing her lips in indignant reprove. 'And neither for Lady Malfoy.' Though Harriet had no courage to demand her husband the reason why he would say that to her, Harriet thought the relationship she had shared with Alexandra Malfoy had always been more candid and intimate. Then, Harriet thought with a firm nod, she would make the older woman answer for hurting her so. With that decision made, Harriet climbed to her feet.
An hour later found Harriet standing outside the door that led to Alexandra's chambers. Taking a deep breath, Harriet knocked twice on the door and a minute later heard a faint, "Enter."
After another deep breath, Harriet pushed the door open and entered the sitting room. The turbulent determination with which Harriet had approached Alexandra's chambers faltered when her eyes fell on the hoary form of the woman who was sitting by the hearth and staring pensively at the flames.
"Er…Grandma," Harriet called tentatively and saw the older woman's eyes close in response.
After a huge swallow, the words spilled out of Harriet's mouth, unbidden, "Grandma, I am extremely sorry about last night. I shouldn't have spoken to you in such a disrespectful manner. Please forgive me."
For a silent moment, Harriet stood waiting for a response, staring at the older woman and controlling herself against nervous fidgeting.
"Me as well, Harriet," Alexandra replied, finally opening her eyes to look at the young woman. "For discounting your explanations after you trusted me with your innermost feelings."
Harriet frowned, but did not argue, Alexandra noted and sighed. Alexandra found it as difficult to admit and then apologise for her mistakes as her grandson did. But upon seeing the answering tears in Harriet's eyes, Alexandra realised that her effort had been reasonably due.
"But do you really think of me in that way?" Harriet persisted in a soft, wavering voice.
"Come here, Darling," Alexandra invited, extending her arm towards the young woman with a tender look. Once Harriet sat beside her, Alexandra continued with a look of open honesty, "Sweetheart, after living with you for more than fifteen months, I would have to be incredibly blind to question your integrity. My observations last night weren't a slight against your character." Here Alexandra interrupted Harriet who opened her mouth to protest, "But I have realised that any listener would perceive my words exactly the way you had. I do not fault you for it."
When Harriet looked confused, Alexandra explained, "In my desperate bid to avoid discussing some unpleasant matters, I failed to recognise how much I would be hurting you. But I have now realised what a mistake it was. You need to understand the situation fully no matter how unsavoury it is."
"What do you mean, Grandma?" Harriet asked, giving the older woman a cautious look.
Alexandra thought, moving her gaze back to the fire. After a moment, she took a deep breath and started refocusing her eyes on the young woman, "Let us take Cedric Diggory, for instance, Harriet. You had remained ignorant that the young man carried affections for you, until Ginevra revealed his reaction to the news of your marriage. Unconscious of his ardour, you had continued to consort with him. You don't know whether or not he took your friendly interactions as your reciprocation of his feelings. You could not successfully refute Ginevra's blame that you broke his heart knowingly. In the similar fashion, we cannot predict or comprehend how the gentlemen, you interact with, will perceive your affability. No matter how innocent your intentions are, people will only finger at you if and when the secret feelings that any of these gentlemen carry for you, be revealed. People will always singularly hold the woman responsible by citing her as the one encouraging such feelings in the man."
"Are you saying that Blaise, Mr. Longbottom, Edgar, they all harbour secret feelings for me?" Harriet questioned, staring at her with an incredulous expression.
Though Alexandra knew that both Blaise and Neville esteemed Harriet, she wasn't sure whether they held deeper feelings for the young woman. But Edgar was different matter, and she wasn't sure whether she should unveil her observations to Harriet with regard to him, Alexandra mused biting the inside of her mouth. Though Alexandra had no ambiguity in the conclusions she had drawn about her youngest grandson, she had no solid proof. Furthermore, Alexandra felt reluctant to voice Edgar's internal feelings to Harriet because she knew for certainty that their amiable relationship would be destroyed irrevocably afterwards. Edgar was family and Alexandra did not think it prudent to bring that kind of awkwardness between them. So, Alexandra fervidly hoped that Edgar's feelings were just a passing infatuation, rather than something substantial because the latter would not only spell trouble for Edgar, but also for Harriet, considering the extent of Draco's jealous streak.
"I do not know," Alexandra answered cautiously. "And that is exactly the concern here; it is mighty difficult to figure what feelings one is hiding behind their social mask."
"I understand what you are trying to say, Grandma, but if Mr. Diggory had, indeed, misconceived my friendship as affection, that could be because I was unattached at that time. I am married now, aren't I? The gentlemen would know they couldn't attain me, wouldn't they?" Harriet argued, looking scandalised at the mere thought. Firstly, Harriet found it hard that anyone would love her (she still had trouble digesting that Cedric had loved her), and secondly, to an extent that it didn't matter that she was already someone's spouse.
Stifling a heavy sigh, Alexandra said, "Not all men are morally-inclined, Dearest. And for some, these feelings are so strong that they become oblivious to these social barriers."
"You said the upper class society is still judging you, but the matter of fact is every member is forever under its scrutiny. I am not discarding that your surveillance is much more severe because you haven't always been a part of the gentry. Almost every member here is a worst kind of a gossipmonger; they are always hungry to discover the slightest blunder on someone's part and overly enthusiastic about spreading the speculations, no matter how wild they are. You have experienced yourself how your own sister condemned you for Cedric's fate, though you were ignorant of it all. Therefore, if one wants to survive in this world, one needs to stay cautious and never give people an opportunity to ruin one's reputation," she informed seriously.
"So Mr. Malfoy and you want me to behave like Natalie? To stop interacting with gentlemen?" Harriet queried, looking fazed by Alexandra's implications.
"I don't want you to behave like my granddaughters, Harriet. I have learnt at the start of our relationship that you are quite different from all the young women of this age that I have met and I admire you for that quality. I don't want you to change your disposition, Darling, and neither, do I believe, Draco does," Alexandra confessed and then after a pause she added, "But my grandson is a man of his own opinions and I wouldn't think it is my place to make his choices for him. So, you should ask him yourself whether he wants his wife to deport herself just the way his female cousins do."
"And I don't expect you stop interacting with men either. For women like us who do not want to live like a frog in a well, these gentlemen are our primary source of information about the developments and the changes that the world is undergoing. I just want you to be careful with the way you carry yourself around them," Alexandra expressed reasonably.
Seeing Harriet's inquisitive expression, the older woman continued in an instructional voice, "Firstly, since Draco does not seem to appreciate you moving in gentlemen's circles by yourself, demand he accompany you at all those moments. Insist he keep his personal views on their characters aside and staying by you if he does not like you conversing with them alone. Also, you should try to be less candour with them because you could never infer a person's true views or intentions by their outward visage."
"Secondly, never ever praise a gentleman's qualities or actions in front of your husband. All married women should follow this piece of advice if they want to maintain peace in their marital life because no man likes to know that his woman is paying more attention to other man's achievements. In truth, it applies to husbands as well, because even we do not like our men admiring another woman, do we?" Alexandra said, giving a knowing smile to a lightly blushing Harriet.
Immediately turning sombre, Alexandra continued, "Thirdly, at times when Draco isn't available to escort you, don't permit any meetings with gentlemen unless you have someone else to accompany you for that duration. I will accompany you whenever I can, but if I am unavailable as well, you could instruct Nola to stay with you. A personal maid is hired not just to assist you with your dressing but also to act as your companion. I have chosen Nola to be your personal maid with great care; you can trust her not to repeat your conversations."
"Finally," here Alexandra hesitated for a minute before pushing forward, "When I said other gentlemen, Harriet, I meant every man who isn't Arthur Weasley, your brothers and of course, Draco."
At that Harriet opened her mouth to question about other male members of the Malfoy family, but closed it upon seeing Alexandra firmly shaking her head. She insisted, "Remember Sweetheart, all my advice to you is solely because I don't want to see you being held responsible for other people's misconceptions or becoming a victim to someone's ill designs to harm you."
Seeing the overwhelmed look Harriet wore, Alexandra bestowed a gentle smile on her. "There is another reason why you are being judged so harshly: Harriet, you now command the position of a future Lady of the most prosperous family in the county, the position for which many unmarried women as well as their families had ardently desired. All the remarks that are hurtled at you are nothing but their spite, darling."
Harriet nodded with a feeble, understanding smile.
One night of late January, Draco regarded his wife with no little annoyance as she continuously sniffed while preparing her bed. It seems her supposedly resilient health finally succumbed to the persistent cold of winter, Draco mused with his eyes narrowing as her frame racked with sporadic coughs.
Draco wondered what Harriet gained with this standoff disposition, by torturing herself thus. If Draco speculated whether his wife enjoyed winning these altercations between them, they were swiftly put to rest, for he never once caught her being smug afterwards. He did not believe Harriet to be that good of an actress to hide her victories. Draco was, however, drawn out of his contemplations, by a fresh bout of muffled coughs. Staring at the now reclined form of his wife, Draco's face acquired a determined expression.
Striding with a purpose and coming to a halt by her bedding on the floor, Draco stared down at her silently until Harriet felt his presence. Turning towards him, Harriet gazed up at her tall husband with her brows furrowed in question.
Before Harriet could open her mouth to inquire, Draco briefly swatted beside her and then, thrusting his arms under her shoulders and knees each, he promptly scooped her up.
"Wha….what are you doing?" Harriet spluttered, staring at him in a wide-eyed shock. "PUT ME DOWN!"
Ignoring her hysterical shrieks and flailing limbs, Draco turned to the bed and took quick steps towards it. Aggressively elbowing the drapes aside, Draco unceremoniously dumped her on the bed. In the next second, Harriet made to scramble away from him and out of the bed, but Draco caught her by socked ankle and dragged her back on place, ignoring her indignant squeak.
When Harriet did not seize her attempts to escape, Draco, with his face set in a resolute tightness, strongly caught the wrists of her hands that were pushing against his chest with his hands and threw each of his long legs on either side of her own, and rendered her in place by bearing his weight atop her. "STOP IT!" Draco scowled impatiently, trapping his striving wife underneath him and breathing heavily down on her face.
"NO, LET ME GO!" Harriet screeched, twisting her face side to side, away from his unyielding face.
When Draco did not relent, Harriet bit the closest part of his body, which was his arm as a last resort.
"What are you? A dog!" Draco snapped, hissing in pain. "Stop moving!"
At his comment, Harriet whipped her head to glare furiously at him. "No, you seem to think I am a sack of potatoes that you can haul anywhere you want!"
When Harriet recommenced her struggling under him, "You will end this impertinence right now and listen!" Draco growled, a tone that condemned her to pause as her bosom heaved against his equally puffing torso due to the tussle.
Once Draco was sure he had her attention, though her reddened face was stubbornly averted from him, he continued in a much softer yet equally firm voice, "If, as my wife, I expect you to be caring and dedicated towards my family, then I also expect you to indulge yourself in all the comforts and privileges that the position has to offer."
Harriet finally turned to face him, meeting his intense silver orbs with her own sparkling with frustrated tears, "That is not true," she murmured faintly, shaking her head. "I do not believe you would have objected in the same acrid manner had it been Grandma, your aunts or cousins who proposed those ideas concerning children's food supply and Vincent's marriage," she added, her voice taking a mild accusatory tone.
"You caught me off-guard with your bizarre suggestions," Draco huffed in exasperation. He knew he wasn't a philanthropic person, and was never bothered by that fact. His family was no different with the exception of his grandmother; even she never forced the family into charity, which brought them no gains in return. And to imagine any of them suggesting such designs, which involved effort, physical or otherwise, on their part to help others was absurd, laughable, Draco reflected, his gaze going beyond Harriet's ear. Draco's attention, however, returned to her eyes by her faint sniffling noise. 'Because they do not care like you do,' he conceived, enlightened and his facial muscles relaxed as he stared at her.
Gazing at her darkened, wet lips on her flushed face, Draco longed to capture them with his own, and take what she had denied him on Christmas while enjoying the pleasant feeling of having her soft body underneath his.
A single glance at the apprehension in her viridian eyes, however, brought Draco back to his senses. A flash of past memory caused Draco's eyes to widen in horror. With a jerk, Draco removed his person away from her. "Stay!" Draco issued a single command and hurriedly rolled to his side and then out of the bed while deliberately keeping his self-repulsed face averted from her.
Disturbed by his abrupt distancing, Harriet's face contorted in anguish and, she swiftly turned to face the opposite side.
Draco took his time banishing the candlelights so that he could gather some courage to be in such a close proximity with his wife again. But when he returned to abed, Draco noticed his wife lying in a foetal position with her back facing him and convulsing, with sobs if he hadn't mistaken the strangled noises. Swamped by severe guilt of intimidating Harriet so, Draco slowly sat beside her form and hesitantly extended his hand towards her. He held it at the touching distance from her shaking shoulder for a long moment. When he could not bring himself to offer the apologetic gesture by closing that small distance, Draco, with a face contorted in a disappointed frown, closed his nimble fingers into a tight fist and retreated it back.
"Do you really see me as a harlot, Mr. Malfoy?" Harriet whispered in a voice quivering with a deeply ingrained pain.
And that was enough to make Draco suck his breath sharply through his teeth. He was swept by nostalgia of memories of Harriet's behaviour and her appalling statements to him over the past few weeks. What Draco had been desperately trying to comprehend since her departure to The Burrow, dawned on him with absolute clarity with her single question. At that moment, Draco realized the extent of harassment his mindlessly uttered remark was causing her. He had been furious with her at that time, yes, but he never once stopped to consider how barbarous such a comment would be for a woman, especially for one in a delicate position as Harriet was. Draco's face twisted in shame and contrite when he imagined how Harriet's despair could have deepened upon hearing it spewed by someone who was fully knowledgeable about the truth. This sense engendered a quiet strength within him to overcome all his reluctance and inhabitations in offering needed comfort to Harriet. Without sparing a single more second, Draco reached out and gathered his weeping wife in his arms.
But Harriet wasn't to accept his consolations so easily; she fiercely struggled away from his embrace. "No, no, no, let me go. I don't want your pity. I hate it. LET GO!" she cried, beating at his chest and frantically trying to remove his hands wrapped around her as tears steadily ran down her cheeks.
"I don't pity you!" Draco retorted, not relenting his strong hold on her. The bed kept loudly squeaking and the mattress bouncing as Harriet vehemently attempted to wrestle out of his embrace, which Draco staunchly ignored. But already weakened from her little illness, Harriet's strength soon dwindled and, the second Draco noticed this, he firmly pulled a still rebelling-at-mind Harriet against his sternum.
Draco held her as Harriet broke down again, finally releasing almost two months of internal torture. Whilst softly stroking his tremendously upset wife's head and back, Draco conceived that he could only truly end her agony by fully explaining his conduct that afternoon. But, Draco mused with a grimace, how could he reveal that the major reason for his anger at her, had been because of his frustration at the ease with which his married best friend, the blundering Longbottom or his hap hazardous cousin, Edgar garnered his wife's attention.
"Then why… why would you accuse me of that?" Harriet enquired, her voice choking with a sob.
Draco knew he had to offer some kind of justification before she was relieved. So, after much deliberating Draco settled for the reason that would draw less attention to his uncertainties. 'Don't you mean your insecurities, Draco?' his evil conscious supplied with a dry snort.
Shutting the said voice with an inward curse, Draco ventured slowly, "I never thought of you in that way, Mrs. Malfoy, even after we finalised this arrangement between us." It was the truth. Since his adolescence, which had gradually brought him a keen understanding of physical intimacy between a male and a female, Draco had met a variety of women, and had even interacted with some of them in close counters. Draco had been confident in this experience to provide him with the ability to distinguish between a loose woman and a green girl. It was most probably why he had offered no further objections to this convoluted marriage with Harriet, thereupon meeting her. Deep within his heart, Draco had not, somehow, felt that Harriet would betray or manipulate him with such an atrocious behaviour. By the end of their secret meeting at Blaise's house, Draco had realised that Harriet's acceptance to the marriage contract had been nothing but her innocent desperation to protect her surrogate family. No matter how much the idea that her effusive attitude might encourage perversions in men bothered him, Draco never believed her to be a conscious seductress.
But his perception of Harriet offered no comfort for him. Draco could no longer deny the allure Harriet has on him. With each day passing, Draco's attraction for her was growing, and it was becoming increasingly difficult keeping himself from having her. And Harriet had been making matters harder for him with her constant embraces and kisses. 'Oh, when will you accept them as displays of affections, stupid!' his inner voice interjected with bemoaning scorn. Proving himself as stupid as it suggested, Draco chose to not listen to it.
"I was enraged with you that afternoon, but I didn't mean what I said to you," Draco admitted quietly.
"Why, simply…..hic… because I requested you to….hic.. get Vincent and Millicent married?" Harriet questioned incredulously between hiccupping sobs.
"Well, yes!" Draco exclaimed with a growl emitting from within his chest. His aggression, however, deflated the moment he felt Harriet tensing in his arms. With a much quieter tone, he continued, "It was quite easily for you to propose their marriage, Mrs. Malfoy. But you don't actually realise the troubles it could cause me in the future. For one thing, the meeting with Bulstrode didn't pass as smoothly as you would have imagined. He tried to blackmail me, to coarse money of course, by threatening to ruin my reputation by spreading the word of my vassal's unseemly conduct with his daughter!"
"Why does Vincent's love life…hic… affect your reputation?" Harriet queried, her eyebrows furrowing in befuddlement, her weeping slowly subsiding now that her attention was entirely focussed on his words.
"Figured from where Miss Bulstrode inherited her brains, have you?" Draco drawled with a snort. "I told him as much. And then turning the tables on him, I warned him with the same. I told him how his daughter would never acquire a husband if the word about her premarital affair with a carriage driver leaked out; that the rest of the Bulstrode family along with her would be vilified by the polite society to an extent that they would most probably have no choice but to leave the county."
"Of course, after he understood my none-too-subtle implications, Bulstrode acted meek and, quietly yet grudgingly accepted my terms and the provisions I promised to make for the couple once Crabbe and Miss Bulstrode are married."
Hearing his smug words, Harriet thought Draco had been quite callous in his dealings, to make Millicent's father agree to their marriage, but she could not deny that they had been pretty effective. Harriet could not help but note with little resentment, where she had not fully succeeding in making Mr. Granger consent to Ron and Hermione's marriage through her determination and reasoning, her husband had been victorious in achieving Mr. Bulstode's assent with his ruthlessness.
"But Mrs. Malfoy," Draco went on, his voice picking up his agitation again. "You may find the idea of them getting married amazing; Miss Bulstrode may be willing to sacrifice her comforts to come and live with Crabbe in the stables, but should we expect the same from the children they would have? How would you feel knowing that their child has to grow up in such conditions?"
Harriet's miff flattered, transforming into self-chagrin as Draco last words gave her a perception of his foresight concerning Vincent's off springs.
"How casually you advised me to provide Crabbe with opportunities when you don't discern the reality of the situation!" Draco grumbled irritably. "And the reality is, other than taking care of horses and driving the carriage, Crabbe has no other skills. It would take months, if not years to teach him something that would enable him to make a decent living. Until such a time, I would have to take care of his family. Crabbe would be getting married, but the responsibilities that come with it would befall me and, if he fails in his endeavours, I would have no choice but continue doing so."
"Moreover, Crabbe isn't my only vassal. What should I do tomorrow when Goyle comes to the Manor with a woman on his arm? He would expect me to provide him same privileges, which I have bestowed upon Crabbe. The matter could get worse; I would have one hell of a situation if all the other servants take it on themselves to demand similar amends from me."
"I was incensed by your sole focus on Crabbe and Miss Bulstrode's suffering, Mrs. Malfoy. You never took a moment to consider how effectuating your requisitions with regard to them, could affect me personally!" Draco confessed at last. With her ear close to his chest, Harriet could hear his heartbeat going wild.
A grim silence blanketed over them again as Harriet thought over his words and Draco strived to gain composure.
"I am sorry I gave the impression that I don't care about you, Mr. Malfoy," Harriet responded softly with a regretful sigh after a long time. "I did not want you to lose the loyalty of a long time servant, because you did not fulfil his single heart's desire. I did not want Vincent to resent you for not contriving to help him in a time of need."
Draco stilled at her words for a moment, before his hold voluntarily tightened around his wife as he released a bashful sigh of his own.
Clutching his nightshirt at his shoulders, Harriet sagged in his arms; her sobs now receded to occasional sniffles. Though she now understood and acquiesced with his anger at her, Harriet could not fathom how Draco's explanations would be related to his remark that day. When her attempts at understanding her husband started to develop stabs of pain in her head, Harriet decided to drop the issue for the time being for the sake of her poor health. But one thing was cleared: that she had been right in her assumptions and Alexandra had mistaken Draco's anger for jealously, Harriet mused.
His cool body felt wondrous to her tepid skin, Harriet thought, letting her eyes fall shut and pressing her cheek more firmly against his lean-muscled chest as his hand softly grazed over her silky, midnight strands. They stayed in that embrace for a long time. Harriet could feel the gentleness of his caressing fingers against her waist through her fine nightdress. His persistent touch starting to stimulate pleasurable pulses that rushed to the ends of her veins, promptly turning her body supremely acute to his ministrations.
Even her cold could not prevent her from inhaling the unique smell of Draco. Intoxicated by that light whiff that left her senses tingling, Harriet slightly turned her face front, desiring for more. Harriet slowly nudged at the V-cut folds of his nightshirt with her nose, trying to get as close to the source of that enticing scent as possible. As Harriet made to nuzzle her face in the light dusting of blond hair on his chest, fire crackled loudly in the hearth, effectively breaking her out of her trance. Eyes now opened, Harriet blinked in confusion, trying to comprehend what she had been doing in the last second. When it dawned on her, Harriet gasped and then, jolted out of his arms with her eyes wide in panic.
"What-" Draco started to say, staring in bewilderment at his wife. His puzzlement heightened when Harriet hurriedly scrambled out of the bed.
Before Draco could protest against her sleeping on the floor, one more time, he saw Harriet's shadow on the drapes, disappearing in the direction of the bathroom with a lightning speed.
Shutting the door close behind her, Harriet turned and hastily clasped the lock. Then closing her eyes, Harriet rested her forehead on the door with a low thud, and felt her heart pounding against her bosom. She did not know why or from where this sudden urge to feel Draco had aroused. Harriet could not explain the sudden thrill she had experienced within her body at his touch, nor could she understand the strange tugging, though abetting, she was feeling between her legs.
For several minutes, Harriet silently stood there, trying to make sense of these alien desires awakening within her, but to no avail. Extremely frazzled both by her sickness as well as unsuccessful contemplations of her bizarre reactions to his mere considerate gesture, Harriet moved back from the door with a long-suffering sigh, and turned to face the mirror. Grimacing at her tear-streaked, puffed up face, Harriet gathering a handful of water in her palms and splashed across it.
After a long moment, Harriet emerged from the bathroom, biting her lips with a great trepidation, hoping that her husband had fallen asleep. It went down the drain when Harriet caught Draco's still seated silhouette on the bed.
Draco hadn't moved from the position where she had left him. Abruptness with which Harriet had scurried to the bathroom had him worried about her health. During the embrace, Draco could not help but notice how warmer than usually her skin had felt. He wondered with worry whether she was coming down with a fever. 'And all that crying could not have done her head any good either,' Draco mused in concern. So, he anxiously waited for her reappearance, intent on discovering the extent of her illness. If Harriet would be all right, then that would be good. Otherwise he would, Draco decided, send for their family physician, Dr. Derwent immediately.
Nervously pushing the drapes aside, Harriet tentatively climbed back onto the bed beside him. Feeling shy to behold his inquisitive gaze, Harriet averted her eyes to his chest. The confirmation she saw there, made her cheeks burn with embarrassment. "Here," she said, extending his off-white, cotton shirt towards him. She didn't have to take a glance at his face to know that he was frowning at her, "I….er.. spoiled yours," she added in a mutter, gesturing to the wet spots of tears and snot on the front of the nightshirt that he was currently wearing.
Once Draco took the garment from her hand, Harriet pointedly turned her face away. With a smile ghosting across his lips, Draco pulled the shirt over his head and then, changed into the fresh one.
His amusement, however, turned into his early concern. "Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?" Draco inquired, staring intently at her fatigued countenance. He hesitated in a placing a palm against her forehead to make sure, wondering if she would accept him checking her temperature.
Harriet shook her head, "I will be all right after some sleep," she answered, understanding the reason behind his question.
"Have you taken any cure?" Draco persisted, unsatisfied with her alleviation.
"Yes, I will be fine," Harriet assured, giving him a demur look.
"If you are sure," Draco whispered still uncertain, noticing her sudden inhibition. When she nodded, he sighed. "Very well. Good night then."
"Good night," she murmured quietly before she reclining on the bed.
Long after Harriet had gone to sleep, Draco stared at her, wishing against his will that he could hold her in his arms again.
Author's note: So, what did you think about their tentative but definitely naughty makeup? Lol.
Harriet's first ever conscious arousal eh? * waggling my eyebrows *
A few explanations are in order because I felt that my implications were a tad subtle.
Firstly, Harriet doesn't actually know the details of sexual intercourse. Yes, I did write the birds and bees conversation between Harriet and Molly at the start. But you should notice that Molly kept her implications pretty vague and did not mention actual details and neither had she first time when Harriet reached her adolescence. In those days, people's mindset was to keep the women purposefully ignorant of sexual matters, because they wanted them to be a virgin not only by body but also by mind. A woman received her first sexual education from her husband.
Both Molly and Pomfrey had made sure Harriet remained ignorant of such intimate matters between a man and his wife as well as about pregnancy that resulted from it as much as they could. Because prejudice was that woman who knew these things was condemned as shameless chit. Books were primary source of information and, in houses, books that contained such adult matters were deliberately kept out of sight of young ones.
And secondly, Draco is not a virgin, Sorry Mexlexi. He is a healthy 29 year old, wealthy, young man, it would be too disbelieving if I say that Draco never had any kind of sexual experience. Draco is against marriage, not sex * smirks wickedly *. If only he wasn't afraid of getting attached, Draco would jump Harry at this very moment! Lol.
A loose woman is someone who offers sexual favour for a payment whereas a green girl is young, inexperienced.
In upper class, women kept themselves either by making or receiving social calls from their neighbours or acquaintances during the afternoons.
Deamen9: age nine and twenty means 29 years. It used to be written in reverse.
Sorry again for my long absence, guys, RL has gotten pretty hectic. And at this moment, I can't say that I will update soon, but I can promise I won't abandon this story. It has become too dear to me to abandon now.
Were Harriet's attitude at the start and Alexandra and Draco's behaviour justified? Please let me know in your reviews.