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Conclusion - Part IV

Christmas Eve -

The last two weeks leading up to Christmas Eve had been full of waiting and anticipating, and now that Christmas Eve had finally come to Westfield Hall, Hermione Granger and Terry Boot were each filled with equal, but opposite emotions.

Mr. Boot was filled with a want, a need, and a desire; in fact, one might say he was eagerly waiting for something…but what? Something elusive. Something that until tonight was always out of his grasp and unobtainable.

Hermione Granger was slowly being driven to the point of distraction, constantly on the cusp, driven to the brink of something, something that left her feeling worried, wanting, and pending anticipation of an emotion that she had long since denied she would ever feel again.

Was it love? Perhaps.

That word was a bit premature, to be certain, but after almost two weeks with Mr. Boot and his machinations, she felt something akin to happiness again. At least that was something. Now she only had to find out if he felt the same and if he would keep his pledge to meet her under the mistletoe tonight.

Let's go back to Day 1 -

Truly, at the start, she thought she was too smart for his schemes and plots. He might have been in Ravenclaw, but she was Hermione Granger, the smartest witch of them all, and Lucinda, The Duke, or Mr. Terry Boot would not play her. However, she had no weapon against her own traitorous heart. If it wanted to play willy-nilly with her mind, intellect and emotions, she could do little to stop it.

That first evening, when she avoided dinner and took a winter stroll instead, she truly gave the matter deep thought and careful consideration. Mr. Boot was attractive, smart, intellectual, witty, a bit caustic, and she feared, too readily available. If she had not been thrown together with him on this Christmas holiday, would she have even given him a second thought? The answer, unfortunately, was 'no'.

Nevertheless, they were together, thanks to her cousins' matchmaking, and though Terry Boot pretended, (nay, schemed) that he was as outraged as she, and that he thought they should get back at their cousins by playing their game, Hermione was too smart for that subterfuge. She knew the man's intentions were otherwise engaged, but was he truly and genuinely interested in her? Unfortunately, on that first night, she felt that her heart was not open to love and that she was not up to pretending otherwise and she fully prepared to tell him so.

She walked along the icy path of the winter gardens that first evening pondering her situation. Decked with winter garb wrapped securely around her - gloves, scarf, cape with hood on her head, eyes on the path, toe of boot kicking an icy pebble before her - she knew one thing: no matter how angry she was with her cousin's manipulation, she was angrier still that Mr. Boot thought he could maneuver her even more.

For that reason, she was going to act as cold and icy toward him as the winter weather was before her. She would pointedly avoid him; perhaps she would avoid all pleasant company. She would not participate in any of the Christmas activities. She would tell Lucinda, never leaving her with any doubt that she was wise to her matchmaking and consequently, it was to stop immediately, or she would go home and spend Christmas alone.

Still determined in her cause, justified with her outraged, feeling morally warranted, she kicked the pebbled across the icy path, pretending it was Ronald's head, as she practiced what she would say to Mr. Boot. Just as she did, her foot slipped out from under her and she fell upon the glassy surface of the stones beneath her feet, her skirts and cloak a mass of material underneath her, her pride not far behind.

On her way to the ground, she saw a silent figure rushing toward her from the corner of her eye. Mr. Boot was upon her in two seconds, scooping her up from the ground, one warm hand coming around to her back, another under her legs, as he swept her up against a warm, hard chest.

"What happened?" he asked, concerned, carrying her over to a small fountain. He sat her on the side.

"I was kicking a pebble, pretending it was Mr. Weasley's head, and I slipped on the ice. Truly, I could have walked, I am not injured. My pride is a bit bruised, but nothing else." She sighed slowly, her hands in her lap.

Still, he removed his greatcoat and wrapped it around her shoulders. She trembled under the feel of it, heavy and warm from his body. He rested his hands upon her shoulder and smiled, even as he said, "Do you often imagine inanimate objects as people's heads?"

"Not often," she answered. "Mr. Boot, I have come to a decision." She changed the course of the conversation, so he sat down next to her, in rapt attention, to listen.

"Do tell, sweetheart," he coaxed.

"We cannot pretend blindly to go along with our cousins' plotting. It would have disastrous results. I am afraid that I will not stand for it," she answered truthfully. She stood to leave, but wobbled on an apparent uneasy ankle. She reached out for his shoulder to steady herself. "Also, I have come to the conclusion that this is nothing but a game to you. That you see me as a conquest, or something to be won. You think you are smarter than I am, and that I cannot see through your ploy, but I do. You do not have any genuine feelings for me, nor are your intentions honourable, as I have never heard you voice them in the past."

She removed her hand and continued, "Your heart might be able to withstand a fortnight of fun and games at my expense, but after my disastrous failed elopement with Mr. Weasley, I am afraid that my heart would not be able to stand the blow or pain of it in the least."

He stood as well, pushed her back to the edge of the stone fountain, not easily, with a frown upon his face. He knelt before her, said, "I shall remain chivalrous for a few moments so I may heal your ankle, and then I shall speak my mind, if I may, just as you spoke yours."

He raised her skirts, without consent, and pulled on the laces of her half boot, even as she swatted at his hands.

"How is manhandling me, and placing your hands under the hem of my skirt, being a gentleman?" she scolded.

He batted her hands away, just as she did his, and continued with the laces. He saw the swelling even before he slipped her shoe off her foot. Reaching up further, to her mortification, he rolled her stocking down to the end of her toes. She flinched, and stared at his head as he stared at her ankle. Then he stood, took his wand from his pocket and said a healing spell.

He moved away from her before he announced, "There, your sprained ankle is healed. Now, I shall be the scoundrel that you obviously think that I am and point out to you that you know nothing of me and my intentions, nor of my heart or feelings, so do not presume to ever speak for me madam."

"But it must be a game to you," she decided, pulling up her stocking, but standing without her boot. "You are a smart man, and you thought to trick me, just as much as our cousins thought to trick us both. I say that does not speak well of your intentions, sir."

"That is what you know," he said sternly. "I shall prove my intentions to you, madam, though I should not have to do so. Every day, I shall do one thing to prove to you that my intentions are true and honourable, and perhaps you will soon see them for what they really are. Then, on Christmas Eve, I shall wait for you under the mistletoe, after everyone else has gone to bed. If you feel that my actions in those two weeks have been nothing but games and lies, then leave me waiting. If you feel I have proved my intentions are honourable, you will anticipate meeting me there. Do we have a deal?"

Frowning up at him, she said, "Just what are you intentions? Is it merely to obtain a kiss?"

He threw back his head and laughed before he sent her a gaze of disdain and mockery. "Sweetheart, you are Hermione Granger, remember? You are smarter than I am. Do you think I would put myself through such trials and tribulations for a mere kiss under the mistletoe?" He bent low, picked up her boot, and handed it to her. Their fingers brushed. Then, he stroked back a tendril of hair from her forehead, sweeping it under the hood of her cloak, his touch light, tender, and sweet.

Leaning closer, his eyes narrowed, and with his hand still on her face, he said, "If you stopped imagining stones as people's heads, and gave it a thought, you would come to a solid conclusion. Until tomorrow, sweetheart." His hand fell to his side, slowly, and he walked away.

She watched him go, her foot frozen on the rocks below, her brain mulling over thoughts of his possible intentions, and her heart tilting toward the only possible conclusion: he liked her, perhaps even more than liked!

Day 4 –

Hermione found it impossible to read outside as snowballs whizzed past her head. That was rather the point, she supposed, of a snowball fight. She thought it was rather immature of adults to play in the snow, and to have a snowball fight, but it was suggested, and somehow teams were picked, and even the women decided to play, so here she was.

She huffed in anger when another snowball hit her book out of her hands. She looked up and saw the smiling face of Terry Boot, who was on the opposite team.

The Duke of Westfield stepped up to her and said, "Hermione, I must insist, if you are to be on my team, that you at least put your book down, and try to plant a snowball in the middle of my cousin's smug face, in that special way of yours, if you get my drift."

Hermione looked around, outraged, and then leaned closer and asked, "You want me to use," and in a whisper, she added, "magic?"

Bradley placed a large, round, wet snowball in the middle of her gloved hand and said, "Yes, cousin dear, and make sure it hits him in the middle of his handsome face, please. It would please me to no end."

Terry called from the other side of the front garden, "Do you admit defeat yet?" He threw back his arm, let another snowball go, but somehow it went up, then down, and it landed right on the back of Bradley's head as he faced Hermione. She knew he was cheating. He was using magic as well.

Bradley wiped the back of his neck and pleaded, "Now, please, Hermione."

She said a silent spell on the ball in her hand, looked across the way, and let it go. The wet monster hit him somewhere between the chin and the neck with such force that it knocked him backwards. Everyone on her side laughed loudly and long. His hat was even knocked clear off his head.

Hoisting himself up on his elbows as he lay on his back, he looked across the lawn at her, the icy snow trickling down his face, and then before she knew it, he was standing and rushing over toward her.

She screamed and ran toward the side of the large manor house, around the corner, out of sight of the two teams. She stopped at the corner of the house, near a yew hedge, breathing hard. He was no longer chasing her. Good. She began to relax. She straightened fully, and then felt a pat on her shoulder.

She turned around and screamed, just as a snowball was shoved into her mouth. He then tackled her and they both fell into a snow bank that was up against the side of the house. He made sure he twisted and turned before they landed so he was underneath her, so she would not get hurt. She sputtered, choking on snow, her hands on his chest.

Laughing, he boasted, "If you are going to use magic, do not expect me not to Apparate behind you!"

Looking down into his face, she did not know whether to hex him or laugh along with him. Her eyes went from his eyes, which were gleaming and bright, to his chest and shoulders. Then she realized that he had his arms around her, and she was on him fully, and it was inappropriate, but it felt right.

That was when she began to feel anxious, anticipating…something.

In addition, that was when he began to wait to see what she would do next.

The sound of people approaching gave them both pause, and he pushed her away, she scrambled to stand, and without a word to each other, they joined back in the fight, this time on the same side.

That night, when she was lying alone in bed, she recalled the way it felt to be supported by his body, his arms low on her back, her arms on his chest, his face so close to hers. She liked it. She liked it a lot.

She dreamt of him that night.

Day 6 -

Having a hard time sleeping, Hermione crept alone at night to the library in the east wing. She had read her book of love poems so many times she had it memorized, and though she had brought other books with her, she thought that surely the Westfield's must have something in their library that would take her mind off her insomnia.

Mr. Boot caused her restlessness. Sitting along in the library, some novel in her hand, she stared at the dying embers of the fire and realized that she was beginning to feel something deeply for the man, and she knew that he felt something for her as well.

She often caught him staring at her. In the evenings after they ate, the Westfield's would entertain their guests with dancing or games. He often partnered with her. If it were a game, he would smile at her, or find chances to sneak small touches or fleeting glances her way. Winking at her, he would often share a small inside joke with her, or a secret, or some other way to act in a conspiratorial way.

If they would dance, he would always ask her first. Just tonight, they waltzed for the first time, and it was pure magic. It was as if they were meant for each other. No one else existed as they danced, gloved hand-in-hand, bodies almost touching, and his breath upon her cheek. No conversation was necessary, as they spun around the room, listening to a melody that played in their hearts as well as all around them.

After the dance he held her hand longer than he should have when he took her back to her chair. Leaning over her hand still as she sat, he kissed the top of her knuckles before he released them. Standing upright, he said in a sotto voce, for only her ears, "Am I making my intentions clear?" Then he walked away.

Yes, she finally knew what his intentions were – they were to make her fall in love. The problem was, she did not want to fall in love ever again.

She stood to leave the library, but as she started to leave, he entered. Without a word exchanged between them, he bowed to her, she nodded her head. He took her hand. She closed her eyes. He brought her hand to his mouth, turned her wrist to his lips, and placed a kiss upon her pulse, then released it quickly.

She left her hand in the air, brought it up to his face, and in a movement that shocked her as much as it did him, she caressed his cheek, before turning swiftly and running from the room.

He smiled to himself, daring to hope that she could fall in love with him, if only just a little. He took her chair in front of the fire. It was still warm from her body. Her scent lingered in the room. He too stared deeply into the depths of the dying embers, and began to think of the exact same things she had thought of only moments before.

It seemed she was causing him as much wakefulness as he was causing her.

Day 9 –

The night sky was so dark, it was more blue than black. It was almost a deep navy. The colour of ink, it felt oppressive, and it overwhelmed Hermione as much as the letter in her hand. She stood outside the low garden wall, in only her evening dress and a light shawl, as a heavy snow began to fall. She should feel the cold…she should fear the dark…but numbness surrounded her and she felt nothing at all.

She had received an Owl earlier in the evening, brought to her by her cousin before dinner, but because of so many Muggles around, she had not had a moment to read it until now. All during dinner, she sat across from Terry, and although the letter was in her pocket, and she curious as to its contents, she was occupied with thoughts of the man sitting opposite her.

For all during dinner they flirted as well as bickered, talking about their school, their schoolhouses, and other such mundane things. From his end of the long table, Bradley, the Duke of Westfield, smiled at his wife Lucinda and she smiled back.

They made their way from the dining room to the parlor, where the Duke was about to announce that the next morning the entire crowd would enjoy sleigh rides to the village, and then ice-skating, when Hermione remembered the letter and she decided to read it immediately. She held back, smiling at Terry and nodding that he should go into the room without her.

She stayed in the entrance hall to read the missive. She read the outside of it for the first time, saw that it was from Ronald, and almost choked on a sob as she tore it open quickly to read it once, then twice, then three times, before she slipped outside in the cold and snow to read it the fourth time.

Ronald Weasley had just married a Muggle-born witch named Sophie Martin, and for some reason he felt the need to write and tell Hermione all about it. After she read it the fourth time, and her numbness began to wear away, she was so overwhelmed with emotion that the letter slipped from her hand and she started to cry.

Terry slipped from the crowded and lively parlor, where the guests were singing and playing games, to find Hermione. He wondered whom the Owl was from, and his wonder turned to worry when he walked down hallway after hallway, and finally walked through the conservatory to find her outside on the terrace, in nothing but her eveningwear, sitting on a bench, crying, in the cold snow.

He rushed to her in a moment's notice. Without consideration, he gathered her in his arms and murmured from beside her, "What is it, sweetheart?"

She could only continue to sob. He saw the piece of parchment at their feet, so he bent down to retrieve it. Reading it swiftly, he tore the letter in two and threw the pieces on the cold, hard ground, and then gathered her into his arms again. Blotting her tears with the ends of her shawl, he rubbed his hands up and down her back.

"Is it truly the end of the world?" he asked. "He was not going to marry you, so does it matter?"

"I do not know," she revealed. "Although, I do not think I am crying for the reason you suspect."

"You do not wish it were you that he had married, do you?" He held her tighter. He knew exactly how to hold her. He knew where to touch her, where to stroke her back, what words she needed to hear. Under his ministrations, she felt safe and warm.

His lips were right by her ear, and delicately, each word like a solemn vow, he said, "I have a confession. When I had heard, from a fellow we went to school with, that you were to elope with the man, I was shocked and outraged. Hate me if you must, because at the time, we were barely more than acquaintances on your part, but I could not justify the two of you together, so I am the one that informed my cousin of your impending elopement. He told your father. If you are truly unhappy, then your unhappiness rests with me, but I shall not apologize for it."

His confession did surprise her, but not as much as she thought. She responded, "No, I am not unhappy that things did not turn out as I once thought they might. I think I am merely surprised, and chagrined, and angry above all else. He claimed that he could not marry me because my father was to cut me off if he did, yet he married someone who had less money, name and circumstance than I had."

"And what does that tell you?" He placed his hand upon her head, positioning it upon his chest. She could hear the beating of his heart. He held her tighter, almost bringing her shivering body upon his lap. She held tightly to his lapels, feeling that if she let go, she might sink, or slip away to nothing.

His body was a safe haven for her, so warm, strong, but more so, it was where she wanted to be, and it felt right. She looked up at him, and in the darkness, his features seemed as if they were painted in black velvet, and she was not sure if she had ever found a man as intriguing and handsome and appealing as she found this man, at this moment.

She wanted to kiss him. She wanted him to kiss her. She clenched the material of his shoulders and finally answered his question by admitting, "It tells me that he was not the man I was meant to marry. It tells me his intentions were not want I wanted them to be."

"Do you know yet of my intentions?" he whispered against her lips, his breath coming in puffs, like little kisses against her mouth.

She closed her mouth, and in her mind, she thought…kiss me…kiss me…kiss me. She replied, "You intentions are very clear."

Yes, his intentions were clear, but they were not to kiss her…yet. He would wait. He drew her back inside the mansion, fumbling to maintain his self-control, intent to show her that what he felt was different, and it would last a lifetime.

They walked to the edge of the parlor, her cold hand in the crook of his arm, and he turned to wipe away one last tear. "You should retire early tonight. I will make your apologies. We shall meet tomorrow, for sleigh riding and ice-skating. Tomorrow is a new day, Hermione, and everything will look better in the light of day."

She thought everything looked good right now, but she did not say a thing. Instead, she nodded slightly and walked up the stairs, thinking once again of his warmth, his smiles, and his GOOD intentions.

Christmas Eve, Once Again –

All evening long the music was glorious, as was the food and the spirits. There was greenery gracing every inch of the Westfield manor house, with the largest piece being an enormous kissing bough, made of mistletoe, over the parlor doors. The evening brought the largest repast Hermione had ever seen, and all evening she was filled with anticipation and expectation. She knew that this very evening she was going to proclaim her feelings for Terry Boot, under the mistletoe.

For she was in love.

No matter that she had declared only two weeks ago that she was never going to fall in love again. She felt she had kept that pledge, for she had come to the conclusion that she had never truly been in love with Ronald Weasley, therefore, this was the first time she had ever been in love.

She was in love with Terry Boot.

It was difficult to get through the festivities of the day without Terry declaring his feeling for Hermione. Every time he saw her on Christmas Eve, he wanted to pull her to his chest and kiss her senseless, and he could only hope that she felt the same. Worried, anxious, anticipating tonight…he knew that she had not loved Ron the way she loved him, yet he also knew she felt heartbroken when the other man had kept her waiting at the posting Inn, anticipating their elopement.

Therefore, Terry decided he would wait under the mistletoe forever if it meant finally obtaining that long awaited kiss from the witch who plagued his every thought. He had craved, desired, longed for her, and soon, very soon, she would be his.

Terry paced his room for hours after dinner and dancing. Everyone said goodnight, and he even saw Hermione to her bedroom door. No words about their assignation were exchanged, for he knew she would not disappoint him. Leaving her at her door was the hardest thing he had ever done, but it was a matter of honour and trust.

He had to prove to her that his intentions were honourable: that he loved her more than life itself. He had to prove to her that she could trust him, rely on him, and that when he said he would be there for her, that he would.

At the assigned time, twelve minutes after midnight, he said to himself, "I'm just going keep on waiting underneath the mistletoe." Even if she were late, he would wait for her. Hell, looking up at the mistletoe, he thought of every reason why he could not have her, and every reason why he could. The possibility that she might want him as much as he wanted her was an impossible dream, yet even as he stared up at the kissing bough, the little white berries almost dancing before his eyes, he heard her footsteps in the hallway behind him.

Closing his eyes in anticipation, he waited for her to approach.

Running down the hallway, her heart leapt when she saw that he had not disappointed her, and that he was truly waiting for her! He was there! He loved her! She loved him!

Her hand reached out for his arm.

He turned around.

A haze, a midst, a luring silence, hung heavy around them, as she gazed up at him and he down at her. Her hand was still on his arm, so he reached for her as well, to anchor himself to her, yet it was not enough. Pulling closer, his hands on the bare skin of her arms, he brought her chest up to his.

His breath smelled like chocolate and mint. Her hair like honeysuckle. She shook, from nerves, and he shook from something baser, rawer, less refine. He wanted to smile at her, tell her not to worry, that it was all right, yet speech evaded him for a few moments.

Drawing her into the warmth of his body, crushing her breasts to his chest, his hands moved…one from her arm to the back of her head, cradling it lightly, his fingers touching the soft mass of curls, the other pressing against the rows of buttons against her back.

Her hands went around his waist, under his coat, to the silky softness of his waistcoat.

"I must know, sweetheart," he said, before he began, "Do you finally know what my intentions are?"

"You intend to kiss me under the mistletoe, to show me that you love me, and I intend to let you, to show you that I love you, too," she replied.

That was the correct answer.

Their lips met, and nothing was ever as good, or perfect, or more right in the world.

- The End -