• • •

Hermione wished that she could pause time. Yet however much she wished it, the sun refused to stop crawling through her room. Fingers of light slithered through the cracks between the curtains, stretching up the sides of the walls. The sun seemed to pull the very fabric of the room apart, tearing at the blanket of night that Hermione clung to. The air began to fill with the hazy light of morning. In her bed, Hermione was studying the currents of dust drifting in front of her window. On any normal day she would be up and rushing about the room, pulling on her robes and stuffing books and parchment into her bag. However, on this particular morning, Hermione was motionless. Her eyes were fixed on a crack on the opposite wall, a crack that she had always been too busy to notice.

By the angle of light against her wall, Hermione deduced that breakfast had certainly started. If she didn't get out of bed now she was in danger of missing the meal altogether. The light from the window shifted another five inches in the time it took her to decide that the promise of food was not tempting enough to make her face Draco Malfoy.

She had replayed the kiss in her mind a million times that night. It filled her dreams when she drifted off to sleep and became hazy when she woke in the dark, until her dreams and reality seemed to twist and meld and suddenly she wasn't convinced it had happened at all. But then as the cold light of day found her and Hermione's head cleared, she knew that it had happened and her stomach twisted unpleasantly at the realization. She had kissed Draco Malfoy.

Her lips still burned from the intensity of the kiss and although the raw, hot feeling would soon fade, Hermione was not sure that she could ever erase the look that she had seen in Draco's eyes. His eyes, always so cold and guarded had been shockingly beautiful in that moment just before their lips met, beautiful and hungry. Yes, Draco Malfoy had been hungry for her, a mudblood. The thought was inconceivable to Hermione. As she lay there staring at the light against her wall, Hermione silently berated herself. She was being ridiculous. Whatever she thought she saw in Malfoy's eyes had been a lie. It was surely the same look that he gave every other girl in school that he had attempted to seduce. Shame filled Hermione and her cheeks flushed in anger. The arrogant Slytherin prince was probably down in the Great Hall now, boasting to his friends of how it had only taken a bottle of firewhisky to seduce the biggest prude in Hogwarts. She hated him, but she hated herself more for how easily he had made a fool of her. She felt weak and manipulated, but more so, she felt guilty, as if she had betrayed her friends and everything she stood for with that one kiss.

Her friends… Hermione was sure that Malfoy had spread the story of their kiss up and down the Slytherin table, she wondered if it had reached Harry and Ron yet. The thought made her sink deeper into her mattress. Flashbacks of all the horrible things Malfoy had ever done to them filled her mind. Surely they would think the story an outright lie, but when they saw her, when they looked in her eyes and asked her if it were true, would her own face betray her? The thought of facing them kept her firmly beneath her blankets even though she knew that the first class of the day was starting.

Her stomach made a queasy lurch as her mind drifted to Paul. Although they had not officially put a label to their relationship, Hermione was quite certain that her kissing another boy was not acceptable. There was a tight feeling in her heart. She had wanted to end things with Paul to save them both the inevitable pain that the plague would bring, but not like this. How could she be so foolish and so cruel? With the guilty feeling of betrayal growing in Hermione's chest she realized that her careless actions had ended the relationship for her.

Hermione might never have left the safety of her bed that morning had it not been for the sharp tap of a beak on the windowpane. The sound drew Hermione out of her revere and reminded her that the world beyond her bedchamber had continued to turn without her.

She pulled herself from the warmth of her bed and crossed the room to the window. Light flooded the room as she drew the curtains aside. Her hand jerked up to block her eyes and her head screamed in protest. The persistent knock of the bird's beak on her window further aggravated her dehydrated brain. She let in the impatient creature and he flew with a cold gust of wind to settle on the back of her chair, leg outstretched. Hermione hesitated before untying the letter with shaky hands. Was this the letter she had been dreading? Swallowing her fear, she took the scroll of parchment from the owl's leg and he flew back out the window as abruptly as he had arrived.

As she unfurled the letter, a newspaper clipping fell out and drifted slowly to the floor. As she bent to pick it up she noticed that the pictures did not move. The muggle paper was accompanied by a letter from her parents. Hermione held her breath as she turned her attention first to the letter:

Dearest Hermione,

I know that receiving this letter will worry you, as these days most news is bad news. Therefore I will go ahead and put your mind at ease. Your father and I are alive and well, although I can't say the same for many of our friends and neighbors. Our lives have become a nightmare; we are all convinced that the world is ending. I admit that I am scared. I know that your father and I have asked you to come home, but now I'm sure that you made the wise decision in staying away. Your safety is our greatest concern. I do miss you terribly, Dear, and hope desperately that we'll all make it through everything safely. Attached is a clipping from our local paper that I thought may be of some interest. Please write back to us and let us know that you are safe.

We love you,

Mom and Dad

By the time Hermione finished the letter the ink was running down the page with her tears. She angrily pulled her sleeve across her eyes. How had she spent all night worrying about stupid Draco Malfoy when the world was crumbling around her? She needed to put things in perspective!

After she had carefully folded up her mother's letter and placed it in her bedside drawer, Hermione turned her attention to the article. The page assaulted her with disturbing images: the sickroom of a hospital where the beds were pushed so close together that they were practically on top of one another, a dilapidated street in London patrolled by soldiers with a large police barrier that read "QUARANTINE", and a classroom where only three children remained at their desks, wearing face masks. Hermione could see just from the images that the muggle world was having a much more difficult time facing the plague then her own world. She was already aware that the muggle mortality rate was three times higher then that at St. Mungo's but she had not taken into account the absolute collapse of society. The article, entitled "THE APOCAYPSE IS HERE", described a world that had lost all sense of order. In infected areas there was rioting, looting and murders. Where at the beginning of the plague there had been a great pulling together of resources and a general benevolence in the air, fear had led to panic and panic to mistrust. Everyone was out to save their own skin now and neighbors had begun to turn on each other. The government was doing their best to contain the masses, but the flame of fear is not easily smothered. It seemed to Hermione that things truly took a turn for the worse a week earlier when the Queen had been removed from the public eye. The people were told she was put into quarantine for her own protection but rumors spread that she had already succumbed to the infection. The subsequent loss of morale was only softened by the continued appearance of the Prime Minister, although most considered it only a matter of time before he too was whisked away.

Hermione placed the article carefully in her research folio, and feeling a renewed sense of purpose, wiped away her tears. She pulled on her robes and the bravest face she could muster, before heading for her door and all that lay beyond it.

• • •

Draco could not stop his eyes from wandering toward the Gryffindor table at breakfast that morning. It was almost time for classes to start and there was still no sign of Hermione. A feeling of unease overwhelmed the relief he felt by her absence. What had he been thinking, kissing Granger? The goody-two-shoes. The know-it-all. Harry Potter's right hand witch. The Mudblood. She was supposed to be foul and loathsome. He was supposed to kill her not kiss her. It had been a stupid impulse, reckless and completely unforgiveable. Draco had been awake all night, drinking heavily and berating himself for his moment of insanity. He told himself that she was nothing, that it meant nothing. Why then could he not help thinking about her?

Draco chanced as many glances in the direction of the Gryffindor table as he dared throughout the morning and yet she never showed up. He noticed that Potter and Weasley didn't appear worried at all. Perhaps it was common for Hermione to skip meals. Perhaps she was in the library. Draco couldn't be sure; he had never cared enough to notice before.

"Draky," Pansy's irritating coo snapped his eyes back down to his plate where they were more safely engaged. "Draky, are you alright? You're hardly eating your breakfast." She placed her hand on his knee and leaned her body against his.

"I'm fine," he mumbled, forcing a forkful of eggs into his mouth.

"You smell like liquor," she breathed in his ear, "where you drinking that firewhiskey without me?" Pansy pouted. She didn't wait for an answer and instead purred, "You should've sent for me, I know how horny you get when you're drinking." Her hand slid up his thigh and Draco couldn't help but swallow nervously at the suggestion that felt more like an accusation.

He coughed and shoved his plate away. Without a word, he grabbed his bag and stood up briskly, leaving a perplexed Pansy in his wake.

His legs led his aimlessly about the castle until classes began. He took his seat in the Transfiguration classroom and his eyes drifted to the empty seat next to Potter and Weasley. At this point they too seemed to notice her absence. While he tried to focus on McGonagall, Draco couldn't help but hear their nervous whispers. Hermione did not miss classes. For the first time that morning Draco considered that she was not missing out of embarrassment but that something much more serious had kept her in bed. A lead weight dropped to the bottom of Draco's stomach. What if he had infected her? Draco knew that he was safe from the plague, but what if he was a carrier? Had he given Hermione the kiss of death?

The rest of the lesson was a torture to Draco. It was impossible to concentrate on anything but that empty seat where Hermione should be. He was on his feet before McGonagall had even finished assigning the homework, but not faster then Potter and Weasley who were already out the door. The odd looks he got from Crabbe and Goyle kept him from following on their heels and he took his time collecting his things. He muttered something about leaving an essay in his room and then tired to saunter off with his usual cool confidence.

What is wrong with me? Draco thought to himself. He could feel his body pulling him toward the Head's tower. He knew he wouldn't survive the day if he didn't check on her. Draco pushed rudely past a group of first years and cursed his weak resolve. A simple kiss should not have unraveled him so completely. Why was he suddenly worried about what happened to Hermione Granger? He had known this would happen all year, had looked forward to it even. A month ago the idea of the Mudblood falling ill had tickled him with pleasure, but suddenly it seemed to be happening all too fast. Draco wasn't ready for her to die and he was beginning to feel that he never would be.

As he rounded the last corner leading to the Head Tower, he stopped short at the sight of Potter and Weasley. Of course they would be here, trying to check on her. Draco cursed under his breath.

He spun back around the corner and listened with bated breath as Potter and Weasley argued with the portrait of Sir Lyon the Coward.

"Please you've got to let us in," he could hear Weasley plead, "she could be dying in there!"

"I sincerely apologize, young sir," Sir Lyon replied, "but I cannot permit you to enter without the password."

"But it's an emergency!" Potter argued. "We just want to make sure she's alright and then we'll come straight out."

"I have my instructions from Headmaster Dumbledore," Sir Lyon said, with an air of importance. "I am trusted with the safety of this dormitory and I shall not allow any witch or wizard to pass through these walls without the password."

"And do you really think that Dumbledore would congratulate you if the Head girl were to die because you were too stupid to let us in!" Weasley shouted.

"My- my instructions were very clear," he replied. Draco could hear the doubt in his voice. The loyalty of the knight's heart was fighting with the ineptitude of his brain. Draco felt that it was time to step in.

Composing his face as coldly as he could, he rounded the corner smoothly.

"Potter, Weasley!" Draco smirked as they jumped at his interjection. "What are you doing loitering around my portrait hole? Don't you have a class to be in?"

Potter's eyes narrowed in irritation as Draco strode near, "I could say the same to you, Malfoy."

Weasley advanced on him with his fists clenched at his side, "Let us in, Malfoy!"

Draco smirked, "Now why would I do that?"

As always Potter attempted to be the voice of reason. "Listen, Hermione wasn't in class and no one's seen her all morning. It's not like her." The worry was evident in his face. "Just let us in for one moment to check on her and then we'll be gone."

Draco pretended to consider the request. "No, I don't think I will." The look of indignation on their faces was priceless. "It wouldn't do well for the likes of you to have the password to my private rooms."

"Fuck you, Malfoy." Weasley bit out through clenched teeth. "Do you always have to be such a lousy git."

"Come now, Weasley," Draco replied, "I'm sure your Mudblood girlfriend is just fine. She's probably just avoiding the disappointment of your sorry face first thing in the morning."

Weasley lunged at him, and as ever, Potter held him back. The two were truly predictable. Draco laughed, cruelly.

"Come on, Ron, " Potter said, struggling to hold his arms in check. "Lets go up to Dumbledore's office, I'm sure he'll let us in." Potter started to pull him away.

Sir Lyon called out to them, "Until next we meet, brave sirs!" Draco noticed that he had drawn his sword during the conflict between Weasley and himself. The husky knight was now shaking considerably.

"Malfoy," Draco heard Potter call out to him and turned. "Just…" his eyes were pouring forth with all the worry that Draco felt. How transparent some people were. "Just, could you knock on her door while you're in there?" In that moment Draco saw just how defeated Potter looked. The Boy Who Lived suddenly looked like one more terrified little boy. Had it finally dawned on Potter just how hopeless they all were? "Please," he pleaded.

Malfoy couldn't think of anything witty or scathing to say. Potter held his eyes with his own like a vice and it was all Draco could do to keep his emotionless mask in place.

"Come on, Harry," Ron said, with a hand on his friend's shoulder, "He's a useless sod. Let's get Dumbledore."

Potter held his gaze for a moment longer and, taking Draco's silence for refusal, turned away with Weasley and retreated down the corridor.

When Draco was sure that they were out of earshot, he turned to Sir Lyon.

"Thank goodness you came along, sir, " the knight exclaimed, "I was afraid I would have to fend off those two ruffians all on my own. Not that I couldn't do it, mind you," Sir Lyon added hastily. "But they did seem determined to get in. I told them, though, I told them not without the password. Certainly not! I said, Dumbledore put me in charge of this portal and I shall not be moved by man nor beast." Draco rolled his eyes and muttered the password, wishing to leave the rambling knight behind him.


"Yes sir, Dumbledore came to me personally with the task of guarding these dormitories. He said, Sir Lyon I am in need of your courage to protect our Head Girl and Boy…"

"Gobstopper," Draco repeated, firmly.

"That's right I did stop them, sir. No one will get through these walls without the password."

"Gobstopper!" Draco yelled. "The damn password is Gobstopper! Now let me through!"

Sir Lyon started, "Oh. Yes. Quite right, sir. My apologies." He made a sweeping bow and the portrait swung open to reveal the common room within.

Draco took a moment to rest his eyes on the common room where so much had occurred the night before. The bottle of firewhiskey sill lay open on the coffee table next to Draco's unfinished glass. Hermione's glass lay on the floor. She had knocked it off in her hurry to flee the room.

With a hesitant stride, Draco crossed the room to Hermione's door. Now that he was here and Hermione was so close, he felt embarrassed by his concern. Even so, he raised his hand to knock on the wood when he heard the sound of a sob on the other side. Draco listened closely. She was crying. He held his hand in place and released his fist. His long fingers spread out across the cool surface of the door and he let his palm rest there, listening to her cry. Was she crying in pain? With the realization that she was sick?

Draco's heart raced as he listened carefully to the noises issuing from behind the door. No, her sobs didn't seem to be those of panic or pain. They were full of sorrow. And why shouldn't they be? Draco had not allowed himself to think of all the people in Hermione's life who were dying because of the plague. He thought back to the night before, to the hopeless look in her eyes when she had entered the common room. He could tell that she had lost someone important. He had offered her a drink before he realized that he had even spoken. She had accepted and that had confirmed his suspicion. It must have been someone important for Hermione Granger to give in to an alcoholic escape.

A rustling could be heard on the other side of the door. Her tears had stopped and he could hear the opening and closing of drawers. She was getting herself dressed. Draco breathed a sigh of relief; she was fine, sad but healthy. For now at least.

His hand was still resting against her door and he pulled it away, suddenly feeling very foolish. He couldn't allow this to happen. Emotions were dangerous. He had always known this, had been raised to understand the weakness they presented. These recent developments were clearly evidence that he had been taught correctly. Feeling anything kinder than indifference towards Hermione Granger was idiotic. She would be dead soon and he would be a fool to try to stop it. Forget about her, Draco, he told himself.

He removed himself from her door quickly with a new resolution: to stay as far away from Hermione Granger as possible.

• • •

Hermione could've sworn she heard Malfoy's door slam shut just as she was leaving her own. But no, he would be in class wouldn't he? She paused for just a moment and then threw her hair back in defiance. I will not think about it, she told herself. She walked toward the portrait hole, doing her very best to ignore the indentions in the sofa where their bodies had been last night. Hermione took in a deep breath as she stood in the hallway and prepared herself for her classmates taunting, for Harry and Ron's disapproval and Paul's anger. In trepidation she walked forward. Put it in perspective, she whispered to herself. Harry and Ron will forgive you. Be strong.

Then suddenly Harry and Ron were right in front of her, and much sooner then she had expected. Her stomach sank to her knees as she saw Dumbledore with them.

Oh, surely this isn't a situation to involve Dumbledore in! Hermione thought in panic.

As they approached her she recognized a look of worry on Harry's face and downright anger on Ron's.

"What the hell, Hermione?" Ron shouted, still fifteen feet away and walking briskly.

Panic filled Hermione's chest, "I know! I'm sorry, it was really stupid-" she was about to add that she only did it because she was drunk but then remembered Dumbledore and thought better of it.

"We've been searching all over for you!" Harry voiced, his expression now matching Ron's angry one.

"Please don't hate me! It was a moment of weakness. It's not like I enjoyed it!" She fixed her eyes on the Headmaster who was looking gleeful as ever. "Professor, I'm sorry they disturbed you for this. I mean I know it's not what you meant by inter-house bonding, but I never would have thought it would be this big of a deal!" she blurted out, stupidly.

By the end of her unfortunate ramble Harry and Ron looked utterly perplexed.

"What are you talking about?" Sputtered Ron.

Hermione stopped the word vomit that was about to leave her mouth and narrowed her eyes at her two friends. "What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Well obviously the fact that you've been missing all morning!" Ron cried, red in the face.

She looked over at Harry and although he looked utterly confused, he no longer seemed angry at all and Hermione wondered if she had in fact imagined it.

"We thought you might be in the library at breakfast," Harry offered, "but when you didn't show up for class we knew something was wrong. We thought…"

But as Harry trailed off Ron interjected, "Yeah, and we ran up to the Head's Tower as soon as we could but that stupid knight wouldn't let us by and of course Malfoy was no help."

At the sound of Malfoy's name the panic jumped back up into Hermione's throat. "You saw Malfoy?" she asked. "And… and did he say anything."

Now they definitely looked confused. "Well he was unpleasant and horrible as usual but nothing out of the ordinary," Ron said, "So when he wouldn't let us in we went up to Dumbledore to get the password!"

Hermione still didn't understand, "But why would you…"

Harry sighed, "To check on you, Hermione! You can't just disappear for an entire morning like that. We thought that you had… after Mr. Weasley…that you were, you know, sick." He bit out the word as if it were painful to even say.

Realization dawned on Hermione. Of course her friends would worry. How could she have been so thick! After the news about Ron's dad they were bound to be on edge. "Oh, Harry! Ron! I'm so sorry. I didn't… I wasn't thinking."

She pulled them into a hug as Ron muttered, "Guess there's a first time for everything."

Professor Dumbledore suddenly spoke up, "Well Miss Granger, I am very glad to see that you are in good health," he said, eyes twinkling behind his half-moon spectacles as ever, "and may I advise that in the future you send an owl when you feel the need to sleep in. Otherwise I'm afraid our brave Sir Lyon may have to fight these two trespassers."

Hermione looked behind her at the knight who had drawn his sword and was now shaking in the corner of his portrait. They all laughed and the tension instantly cleared.

"Well I see I am no longer needed," the Headmaster said, "Good day!" and with that Dumbledore turned on his heel and left them.

Hermione began to walk down the corridor, anxious not to be late for her next class, and Harry and Ron followed suit. "I really am sorry, I wasn't thinking," she said again.

"Well what were you doing, Hermione?" Harry asked.

Hermione searched her brain for a decent excuse. Why hadn't she thought about this before leaving her room? "Oh, I uh, forgot to finish my Ancient Runes essay last night."

Harry raised his eyebrow, obviously thinking it was an unlikely story. However, Ron seemed to take away something else from this explanation. "Too busy snogging Paul last night, eh?" he suggested. The red was working its way back into his ears.

Hermione was about to contradict this accusation but stopped herself when she realized that saying she was snogging Paul last night was better then admitting to whom she had actually been kissing. "Uh, yeah- I mean, that's none of your business Ronald Weasley!" she corrected, taking on her usual bossy tone.

"Hmph, thought he looked happier then usual at breakfast this morning," Ron muttered. "I thought you were going to break it off with him?"

Hermione's heart fell as she bit out another lie, "With everything that's happened… your dad… it just didn't seem like the right time." Her head hung low as she added, "but I will tonight. I have to."

Then a thought occurred to Hermione: if Harry and Ron didn't know…and Paul looked happy at breakfast… was it even possible that Malfoy hadn't told anyone about last night? That he hadn't bragged to the whole school already? Hermione didn't want to jump to any conclusions but as they entered the main flow of foot traffic she was keenly aware that no one was looking at her. There was no pointing or staring. No one seemed to notice her at all! She couldn't believe her luck. How had Malfoy passed up the opportunity to destroy her so utterly? She wondered whether he was waiting for later in the day, so that he could expose her in person. Then the thought hit her that maybe he didn't want to tell anyone. Maybe he was just as disgusted and horrified as she. Was he utterly repulsed that he had kissed a Mudblood? For some reason the thought made Hermione feel worse then she had initially felt.

"Hermione?" She heard Harry ask.

She pulled herself out of her disturbing thoughts and asked, "Huh?"

"I asked what you meant when you mentioned inter-house bonding to Dumbledore?" Harry inquired, suspiciously.

Hermione swallowed hard. Perhaps she wasn't out of the woods yet. "Oh, that? You know, just me and Paul," she said lamely.

Ron laughed hollowly, "I hardly think fraternizing with another house is against school rules, Hermione." Then on second thought he added, "Well, unless its with a Slytherin."

Hermione could feel Harry's eyes on her again. "On that note, why did you ask us if Malfoy had said anything to us?" Hermione bit her lip. Could Harry not give her a break?

She was trying very hard to think up a logical answer to this question when Ron saved her with a gasp.

"Did Malfoy walk in on you and Paul doing something?" Ron demanded. "Wait no. Don't tell me. I don't want to know!" He covered his face with his hand, "ughhhhh."

Hermione shrugged sheepishly at Harry. He didn't look wholly convinced but thankfully did not push the subject further. She parted with them quickly, sputtering out additional apologies and goodbyes and then headed up the stairs for her Arithmancy lesson. It was not until she just outside the door that she remembered Malfoy was in Arithmancy too.

• • •

Paul was having a good day. That morning he had receive a communication from the Dark Lord, praising him for the progress he had achieved at Hogwarts. The students were now dropping like flies, his growing intimacy with Harry Potter was right on track, and he had finally figured out what was making the Golden Boy flinch in his presence. Admittedly the realization presented a minor hurdle that he would need to overcome in order to achieve his mission, but he was quite certain that he could work around it.

In fact, Paul was so happy that morning that he caught himself smiling wildly in the middle of the Great Hall during breakfast. The rest of the day he kept himself in better check. At 7 o'clock Paul met Hermione in the library for tutoring, if you could still call it tutoring. Since Paul had started socializing with Potter he felt less need to carry on the charade of being a terrible student, freeing himself up for more enjoyable activities with the Mudblood. Of course Hermione, being a regrettably clever witch, had noticed his marked improvement and questioned him about the sudden development. He simply told her that he had exaggerated his ineptitude in order to spend more time with her. As he expected, she was more flattered by his desire then angered with his falsehood.

Paul entered the library that night ready to rejoice in his good fortune and congratulate himself with a physical reward. He found Hermione in their usual spot, staring absently at the bookshelf in front of her. He sat down beside her and caught her in a long kiss. "Hello, beautiful," he whispered.

Hermione muttered a small hello but her eyes never reached his face. Paul internally cursed, what was wrong now? He tried to control the frustration in his voice as he asked, "Is something the matter?"

Her eyes finally met his at that moment, searching for something beyond them. "Paul…" she began, and her voice seemed to falter. "I… something's happened." She seemed to be struggling with whether or not to let him know what was on her mind.

Wrapping an encouraging arm around her shoulder, Paul leaned in and said, "What is it? Whatever it is you can tell me."

She was taking so long to answer that Paul began to feel his blood pressure rising with each frustrating moment. "Mr. Weasley, Ron's dad, he's been infected." Paul tried very hard not to smile. Luckily Hermione's eyes had begun to well over so that any slip in his mask had gone unnoticed.

His day really couldn't get any better. A Weasley out of the way! They had finally hit Potter where it hurt. Surely this news would cause him and his freckled friend to do something reckless and stupid. He collected himself as these thoughts washed over him and pulled Hermione into a deep embrace.

"I'm so, so sorry, Hermione," he gushed, "I know how close you are with the Weasleys." He ran his hands up and down her back, wanting more than anything for this tedious conversation to come to a close. "There's still hope, though," he offered, not believing a word he was saying, "I'm sure St. Mungo's will find a cure soon! They've already slowed down the process so much."

He pulled back from her so he could see her eyes. Her tears made two wet tracks down her cheeks. "It'll be alright," he whispered, stroking her hair, "you'll see, he'll be just fine." He drew her face to his own and kissed her very softly. She we still crying against his face, but Paul was so elated and turned on by now that he hardly cared.

When he felt the smallest of smiles in response, Paul took this as a sign that he could push further. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled Hermione closer, she didn't resist. The kiss deepened. He flicked his tongue across her bottom lip and she opened her mouth willingly. Her hands were in his hair and Paul could feel himself growing hard. Just one more thing to make this day perfect…

Hot breath hit his face as Hermione tilted her head back. He hungrily attacked her neck, nipping at the soft white skin below her jaw. His hands moved across her body, grazing her breasts before traveling down her stomach to the heat between her legs. For a moment he thought he had her. For just one moment he thought she wouldn't stop him like every other time. But the sensation of his wandering digits between her thighs seemed to snap Hermione back to reality.

She pushed against him slightly. He ignored the pressure and applied some of his own. He could change her mind. He knew she wanted it. Beneath that bookworm persona she was aching for a man to have his way with her.

Hermione pushed against him again, a bit harder this time, but then there was a gasp as Paul's finger work began to make an impression. He charged ahead with even more fervor, capturing her mouth again with his own. She whimpered against his lips, still caught between pushing him away and giving in to his desire.

He was close now. He could feel her giving in, but then he pressed his aching erection against her and she bolted upright.

"Paul!" she cried, "Stop." He tried to grab for her again but she was already on her feet, breathing hard against the nearest bookshelf. He stood up too and was about to push his body against her, his hunger overtaking his reason, when Madame Pince rounded the corner and hissed at them to be quite. She gave Hermione a very disapproving look and Hermione reddened.

When the librarian had finally shuffled away, they stood there looking at each other. Hermione was hugging herself while Paul was attempting to overcome his urges. "Paul, this isn't what I came here for today," she said sternly.

"I get it, we can study if you want but I really feel like I'm caught up now," he retorted in frustration.

"It's not that," she muttered, avoiding eye contact once more. "This can't continue."

He stood there for a moment, reading her carefully, not fully understanding what she was telling him. "What do you mean?" he asked stiffly.

"Us. I can't do this anymore… It's too difficult, things are hard enough as it is." Her cheeks were glowing red.

Paul could feel a deep rage overtaking his mind. "It's only difficult if you make it so." His voice came out much colder then he had anticipated.

"Don't you understand? I'm falling for you. It would be too difficult to handle if something happened to you," she cried.

Paul could feel his fists clench as he rounded on her, fighting with all his might to control his anger. "You're being stupid," he said bitterly.

This seemed to take Hermione aback but she recovered quickly. "Listen, with this news about Mr. Weasley… It felt like my heart was breaking, like it would never stop hurting. I just couldn't bear it if you were to die." She was shaking.

Paul could feel the hatred boiling to the surface, "And who's to say I wouldn't outlive you, my dear?"

Her mouth dropped open a bit in disbelief at his words. Paul tried to control himself, being nasty was not going to fix this. He softened his expression and tried to look like he truly regretted his words, "I'm sorry." She filched as his hand reached up to her but allowed him to push back her hair. "I'm sorry," he repeated, "I'm just so in love with you, I can't imagine not being with you." As he was hoping, the "L" word raised a flicker of doubt in Hermione's eyes and he pushed ahead while he had the opening.

His fingers brushed her cheek and wiped away a tear. "Please Hermione, I need you. You're the only good thing I have." Her eyes were searching his carefully but then they fell to his chest.

"I'm sorry, Paul," she said, sadly, "I've made my decision. It's over."

Paul could hold it back no longer. All the hatred and malice he felt for the dirty Mudblood hit his brain with a flash of red fury. His fist hit the bookshelf by Hermione's head and she jumped, her eyes suddenly filled with fear. She mumbled another apology behind a veil of tears and sprinted past him and around the corner.

How dare that filthy Mudblood ruin his plans? Who was she to dump him? The Dark Lord would not be pleased. He began to pace the row of books, breathing heavily with rage. He wasn't close enough to Potter yet. He needed complete trust for the next part of the plan and Hermione had just ruined it for him. Paul tried to think of how he could remedy the situation. Perhaps a few days without him would make Hermione come around. Was there any chance of hanging around Potter now that they had broken up? It would be difficult but Paul would have to try. His mission was to infect Harry Potter with the virus and he had no intention of failing his Master. He would fix this… he had to.

• • •

Later that night, Hermione sat in the large window seat against the back wall of the Head's common room. Through the towering gothic ironwork, she could see Orion's belt twinkling across the peaceful sky. She had been trying to read up on tomorrows Ancient Runes lesson, but her head was now tilted back, captivated by the serene beauty of the night sky. Hermione felt that she had not stopped to watch the stars in a very long time and discovering their silent beauty now at the end of a very bad day calmed her greatly. Their overwhelming beauty made her misfortune seem like little more than a careless brushstroke on a much greater masterpiece.

The breakup with Paul had gone much worse then she anticipated. Hermione had expected him to try to dissuade her, to feel hurt, but she never expected the anger that had erupted from him. She had never heard him so much as raise his voice and so the rage she had witnessed greatly unnerved her.

Oh well, it's over now, she thought, and it's for the best.

Aside from her confrontation with Paul, she was also perplexed by Malfoy's behavior that day. She had arrived in the Arithmancy classroom just in time and was able to hazard a glace at Malfoy's empty seat. He didn't show until twenty minutes into the lecture, losing himself ten points from Slytherin. Furthermore he never once even looked in her direction. Even if Malfoy didn't care to tell the whole school about their kiss, she had at least expected him to throw insulting and degrading looks her way. And yet, there he sat, acting as if nothing had happened (at least so she thought at the beginning of the day). When they met again for their afternoon Potions lesson, she noticed that it was much more than that. He was acting as if she didn't even exist. And because Harry and Ron were with her, they too were avoided. When Ron's cauldron blew up, and Malfoy remained silent, Hermione knew something was really strange. She wasn't sure why his ignoring her was so unsettling. She should be rejoicing that for once the annoying Slytherin Prince was leaving her and her friends alone.

Hermione was startled out of her thoughts as Malfoy himself stepped through the portrait hole. Her presence in the common room seemed to catch him off guard. He stood there for a moment, his eyes connecting with hers for the first time that day, before striding toward his bedchamber without a word.

For some reason, Hermione took the opportunity to jump up from her cozy seat and head him off. Halting with an air of indignation, Malfoy stood in front of her waiting. "What is it, Granger?"

Hermione offered a small smile and tried to meet his eye. "I just wanted to thank you," she said, "You know… for not telling people about last night."

His back seemed to stiffen and his cruel eyes settled on her. "Do you think I want people to know that a filthy Mudblood kissed me?" he asked incredulously.

Hermione's eyes filled with hurt as soon as the words left his lips but Malfoy didn't stop there. "Just do me a favor, Granger, and try to control your disgusting urges in the future."

In that moment all of the disappointment and confusion from the day swelled in Hermione's heart in a burst of anger. Suddenly she found her palm striking Malfoy's cheek in a white-hot rage. "How dare you, Malfoy," she seethed. "You kissed me." Then, fearing what she would do if Malfoy said any more, Hermione turned on her heel and raced into her bedchamber, slamming the door behind her.

Draco watched her go with his hand held against the red welt forming on his face. It was not the first time Hermione Granger had struck him, but it was the first time that he truly felt he had deserved it.

• • •

Author's Note: Long time, no write. Sorry it's been so long. Kind of completely forgot about this story but now that I'm taking the time to reread the Harry Potter books, i've decided to give it another shot. Hope this chapter helps... REVIEW!