Hermione woke a little late the next morning and went into a panic. She then remembered that she wasn't teaching any lessons today and that the mentors were arriving tonight. She wondered who was organizing the party and then sat up in bed with a jolt. What was she going to wear? She jumped out of bed and began to rummage through her wardrobe. She had a couple of nice dresses but she'd worn them numerous times. She laid anything suitable out on the bed and surveyed her choices, biting her lip. Nothing jumped out at her and she sighed. She needed to buy something which meant a trip to Hogsmeade.
After breakfast, she head off towards the village, enjoying the walk on the cold but bright day and letting her thoughts wonder to yesterday and what had happened with Ella and Draco. It had been touching to see Draco so willing to let himself go in front of her and his appreciation for her help was flattering. She felt a little thrill as she thought of him. Their friendship was accelerating rapidly and she liked it. She was glad to reach the shops and stepped into the first one grateful for the warmth. It was a shop she'd been in several times which had racks of clothes on show. Hermione liked it because she could browse in her own time without being bothered by the assistants.
Forty minutes later, she emerged empty handed. What they had was nice enough, but very similar to what she had already. There were two other dress shops in Hogsmeade, both of which scared Hermione to death. They both sold some lovely clothes but they were at the top end of Hermione's budget and she had very few occasions that they would suit. She sighed - she had no choice but to go there today.
She decided she'd have a coffee first and build herself up to it. She walked over to the coffee shop and entered, taking a table by the window. It was almost empty so she didn't feel awkward sitting by herself. She sipped her coffee slowly, enjoying the unusual feeling of not having to rush. She was half way down her coffee when she saw a familiar head of hair over the other side of the square outside. Erik was standing outside a shop, talking to a tall, not unattractive woman with dark blonde hair. Hermione watched with interest, wondering who she was. She looked slightly familiar but that often was the case in this small village. You tended to see the same people.
Unreasonably, Hermione felt a little upset if this woman was someone Erik was interested in. He'd wasted no time moving on! She gave a sigh - that was totally unfair. The door to the shop opened and Hermione sat up in her seat because out stepped Draco. He smiled at Erik and the woman and the three of them chatted for a few moments. Several times, Draco touched the woman's arm and then she reached out and put her hand on his chest.
Hermione felt that creeping feeling you get when something doesn't sit right. Her coffee was totally forgotten, going cold in her cup. She leaned closer to the glass, watching intently. After a few more minutes Erik nodded several times and then waved at Draco and the woman, before walking away. Draco and the woman started walking across the square, still engrossed with one another. Hermione couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something about how they were together that seemed intimate and exclusive.
She swallowed, her throat feeling dry. She wanted to turn away and pretend she hadn't seen anything. She could go back to the Castle and tell herself that it was just an innocent meeting with an old friend and it could be. She sighed. It just didn't look like that. As if to confirm Hermione's doubts whether this was an innocent meeting or not, Draco stopped walking and turned to the woman. He took a square, flat box from his coat pocket. It was a deep navy colour and Hermione could tell it must contain jewellery. She now felt slightly sick as she watched the woman's face and saw Draco open the lid, holding the box flat to display the item. He held it at an angle so Hermione couldn't see what was inside. The woman reached out and touched the item gently and then Draco reached into the box and withdrew what Hermione could now see was a necklace. She couldn't see any detail but even from here it looked shimmering and beautiful.
He snapped the box shut, putting it back in his pocket before indicating that the woman should turn around. While Hermione's stomach sank to her feet, he placed the necklace around the woman's neck, moving her hair and leaning around her in an intimate gesture. To be fair, it was difficult to put a necklace on someone without being close and touching them, but Hermione's horror filled brain wasn't trying to find excuses for this any longer. The woman turned back to face Draco and threw her arms around his neck. He laughed and hugged her back. Then, to Hermione's utter horror, they began to head directly towards her, obviously aiming for the coffee shop.
Hermione looked around desperately, wondering what to do. There was no reason for her to avoid Draco, in fact, she should have been running up to greet him but somehow she just couldn't do that now. The scene she had just witnessed was disconcerting at best and horrifying at worst. She frantically tried to think what to do and wondered if she should simply move tables so that they wouldn't know she'd been watching them and feign surprise at seeing them. As the door opened, she realised she was too late and she grabbed the menu, burying her head in it. She got ready to act shocked to see Draco, feeling ridiculous.
She then heard a noise behind her and realised that Draco and the woman had taken a seat at the table directly behind her own, which she was separated from by a small screen. She put the menu down a little, as they wouldn't be able to see her, but she now had the problem that she wouldn't be able to leave, without them seeing her.
"I've been wanting to do this for ages - it just seemed right to do it now."
Hermione sat upright in her seat, her eyes wide. That was Draco's voice. He was in the seat directly behind her and despite the screen, she could hear him clearly. She rubbed her forehead and shuffled in her seat. This wasn't good - her curiosity was jumping for joy at being able to listen in, quite by accident but she was also cringing. She wasn't sure that she wanted to hear this. The woman responded but Hermione couldn't hear what she was saying, only the inflections and tones of her voice. She heard Draco speak again.
"I know and I do wish I'd done it before. Do you like it?"
Again a mumble, then Draco's voice again.
"You don't have to say that - I want you to have it. I've not felt this way before..."
The woman spoke, interrupting Draco. There was a pause where Hermione couldn't hear what was being said. Draco must have lowered his voice as well. Hermione then heard him laugh.
"It is important we stay together. I'm so glad I told you how I was feeling."
Hermione put her head into her hands. This was terrible! She wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. This had to be over soon. She felt like a huge, heavy brick was sitting in her stomach and she wasn't convinced that she wouldn't be sick.
"Oh - it's complicated. This whole competition has meant us spending lots of time together but it's all for the children, really."
Hermione listened again, analysing every word. Was he talking about her?
"Friday? It's all over then - we can really celebrate..."
Hermione actually put her hands over her ears now, unable to stand anymore. She may only be able to hear half the conversation but it was enough. With difficulty, she may have been able to convince herself that what had unfolded outside was innocent. She really wanted to believe it was innocent, Draco had been so lovely lately. They had seemed to connect - really connect. She couldn't believe that Draco had been pretending to like her - what would be the point in him doing that anyway? He was being genuine, she was sure of it.
So, what was this that she was witnessing? At any slant it was difficult to say it seemed like a meeting with a friend. The conversation and their actions, were intimate, flirty even. He'd said that he'd been wanting to do it for ages - Hermione presumed that he meant give her the extravagant necklace. He said he hadn't felt this way before! However genuine Draco may have seemed when he'd been with Hermione lately, showing her affection, maybe she was just been taken for a ride. This was Draco Malfoy, after all - he could probably pull off a pretence like this in his sleep! She could only presume that he was pretending to like her because it would benefit his children... Hermione felt tears behind her eyes and gulped. What about last night? His breakdown in her office had to be real, didn't it? She felt dizzy with all the speculation. She had to get out of here - even if they saw her!
She flung some coins on the table and stood up, almost knocking her chair over. As she turned she saw that the table behind her was empty. They must have left as she had her ears blocked. She rushed out of the cafe and into the square, breathing heavily. She turned quickly and walked away from the shops, heading towards the path that lead back to Hogwarts.
She heard someone calling her and almost burst into tears. Why couldn't she have walked quicker - why had he seen her?
She stopped, ready to turn around and let rip at him when she stopped. It was the last day of the competition tomorrow. If she challenged Draco now about what she had just seen then most likely all hell would let loose. She couldn't let this affect the children. She took another deep breath, hearing him come up behind her and made a decision. She wouldn't say anything - not yet. She'd wait until after the result was announced. She pinned a smile on her face and turned around.
Draco was beside her, his face flushed. "What are you doing here?" He sounded pleased to see her. She struggled with her smile.
"Errr...I needed something to wear for tonight."
"I didn't know you were coming."
"I only decided this morning."
Draco looked down at her empty hands. "So, what did you buy?"
"Oh...errrr...I didn't manage to get anything," Hermione mumbled. She'd forgotten completely about a dress and frankly, she actually didn't care what she looked like. He seemed so pleased to see her - acting just as usual and yet he'd only been with that other woman a few minutes ago. Had she been imagining things? Presuming things?
"Well, we can't have that," Draco grabbed her arm and she wanted to slap his hand away. "Did you try all the shops?"
"No - just the one..."
"Well, I don't know anything about women's clothes but you should try all the shops here..."
"The other's are a bit too expensive, to be honest."
"It's worth a look."
"No - it doesn't matter, I'll find something out of my wardrobe," Hermione protested. Draco shook his head and started to pull her back towards the shops. "No, Draco. There isn't anything in the other shops that I can afford." Her voice was unnecessarily harsh.
"Then I'll pay..."
"Think of it as a thank you for all your help." Draco was frog marching her towards Warp and Weft - the most expensive shop and one that Hermione had never even stepped into.
"No, Draco - I mean it!" Hermione insisted and Draco stopped to look at her.
"What's the matter?" he asked, his eyes showing what appeared to be genuine concern. Hermione had to turn away.
"Nothing - I'm just tired and I hate clothes buying." She tried to speak calmly. "And I don't want to be in your debt."
"It won't be a debt - it's a gift."
The necklace she'd just seen him give to someone else leapt into Hermione's head. That had been a gift, hadn't it?
"Hermione?" Draco asked. "Are you sure you're okay?"
She nodded and let him pull her into the shop. It was small but beautifully laid out with uncrowned rails and accessories displayed alongside the items. It was plush, with chairs and deep carpet and it smelled delicious.
Hermione, trying to act normally, focused on the rail directly in front of her. The garments were beautiful but far too extravagant for her taste. It was only a party after all. She stepped to the next rail but these still didn't suit either. Too fancy and lacy.
"I don't think these are right," Hermione said quietly to Draco.
"Keep looking - I'll ask the assistant to help."
"No..." Hermione was too late to stop him and a moment later a middle aged women appeared, smiling.
"Can I help you Madam?"
"Well - I'm not really sure what I'm looking for..."
"What event is it?"
"A party - but a formal sort of party..."
The assistant nodded. "The rails on the back wall may be more suitable."
Hermione followed her across the small room and the assistant flicked through the rails. She held up a pale pink dress. It was delicate with a flowing skirt. Very pretty and not too fancy but Hermione didn't like the shade - it was too pink.
"It's very nice but a bit too pink," she said. She heard Draco cough behind her but ignored him. He'd dragged her in here!
The assistant pulled another dress from the rail in a shimmering silver. It was straight, narrowing in at the ankles with a flare over the feet. The top had a square neckline and the little square beads of silver sparkled and moved like molten metal.
"This would suit you very well," the assistant said. "It would move as you did."
Hermione nodded. "I'll try it on."
The assistant reached again and this time withdrew a navy coloured dress. She held it up and instantly Hermione knew it was the one she wanted. It was a very simple design with a v shaped neckline and thin straps that had just a little voile on the shoulders. The dress was straight down to the waist with a long skirt that was made of the navy material covered by the same shade of voile. The waist was pulled in by a thin and very simple, silver belt.
"Oh - that's lovely," Hermione said, despite herself.
The assistant smiled. "You should try this one on then."
Hermione nodded and went to the changing rooms, feeling self conscious. She knew as soon as the dress fell to her feet that it was the one she wanted. It looked beautiful and accentuated her waist and shoulders.
When she stepped out of the changing room, back in her normal clothes and holding the dress, Draco was waiting outside.
"Don't I get to see it?" he asked.
"Sorry - I didn't know you were there."
"Do you like it?"
"We'll take it then," Draco said. He stretched out his hand for her to pass it to him but Hermione hesitated. She fumbled around, looking for the label. What was she thinking? She couldn't let him buy her a dress! Even without the events she'd just witnessed, she couldn't let him buy her a dress. She found the label and gasped. This was why she didn't shop here.
"It's too expensive," she protested but Draco just shook his head.
"I'm sure it's not."
"I can't let you buy me a dress!"
"Why not? I'll loan you the money if it makes you feel better."
Hermione's mind was clear again and she shook her head defiantly. "No, I'm sorry I wasted your time but I don't want it."
"No - I don't want it. I have to go."
She brushed past a bewildered looking Draco, who was still holding the dress and practically raced across the square and up the path to Hogwarts.
Next chapter up soon...x