Chapter Nine

Hermione grasped her head in her hands. "Unbelievable," she muttered into her butterbeer. It was muffled by the chatter of the Three Broomsticks.

"It's true! I love you Hermione!"

She looked up incredulously at Cormac's face and knew it wasn't love there but anger. She had just told him she didn't want to see him anymore. "Cormac," she tried to sound kind but she really wanted to slap him for being so dim, "you don't love me. We went on one date."

"Exactly! One date and we're done? If you think I'm so awful, why even bother?" He was practically hyperventilating.

"I was confused," said Hermione, trying to put it the nicest she could. "I was angry and wasn't thinking clearly. I should never have asked you."

Her soothing words had the opposite effect. "I was revenge?" Cormac's eyes gleamed as his color deepened. "You-you... Used me? To get back at Weasley?"

Hermione's inner warning bell went off and she decided it was time to leave. She put a couple coins on the table to pay for her butterbeer and stood up. "I'm sorry Cormac." His only response was a clenched fist. With a sigh she wrapped her scarf around her neck and walked toward the door.

"BITCH!"

She stopped. His scream had gotten everyone's attention. The Three Broomsticks was silent except for the scraping of chairs as people turned to stare. Hermione blushed as she felt everyone's eyes on her. Her gaze drifted to the nearest table, full of amused looking Slytherins. Except for Malfoy. He only stared at her face as it got even more red. Rather than excite Cormac more, she quickly hurried from the pub.

*****

Draco kicked a chunk of ice in his path. He had left his gloves at the Three Broomsticks. He probably could have frightened a first year into getting them for him, but Pansy was becoming unbearable again. She had talked all the way from their common room to the pub. He hadn't really been listening, only giving a "Hmm," or and "Ok," where needed. Then, after they got there and witnessed Mclaggen and Granger she had launched into her favorite subject: mocking the mudblood. But he had disappointed her there. She had goaded him on, expecting his usual insults.

"Did you see her? About time people noticed what she is. She isn't even worth the trouble, being a mudblood."

He hadn't found his usual enjoyment from torturing the Golden Trio this year. Probably because he saw it's futility in the face of his task from the Dark Lord. Now Potter, he hated him of course. Weasley was almost worse. But Granger... For some reason whenever he thought of her his usual distaste was replaced by the feeling of her fingers in his hair as he cried into her sweater. H shook his head, trying to erase the image, but he knew it was impossible. He had tried.

Almost on cue, he saw her. She was walking down the street, headed into the alley behind the Three Broomsticks. Her scarf blew out behind her like a flag. Why did he always notice her? Everyone was headed back to the castle so the streets were practically empty. In the silence, Draco heard a scream.

His reaction was automatic. He took off at a sprint for the alley Granger had disappeared into. As he came around the corner he saw McLaggen had her up against a wall, his wand pointed at her neck. She was clearly afraid, and obviously had been disarmed or McLaggen wouldn't have stood a chance. Even from where he stood he could see her shudder as her attacker traced his free hand down from her neck, popping shirt buttons as he went.

Draco saw red. "Expelliarmus!" he screamed, not even waiting to see if his spell hit before charging the bulky Gryffindor. "Stupefy! Stupefy!" He way the big guy go down, his wand skittering away down the alley. Draco stood over him now and saw the fear in his eyes. He felt the rage concentrate in his wand and he yelled, "Cruc--"

"Malfoy stop!" Granger grabbed his arm, her eyes wide. "He's not worth it!"

Draco couldn't believe it. One minute the guy was going to rape her and the next she saved him. He looked into her wide eyes and slowly lowered his wand.

McLaggen made a grateful sobbing noise from the snow at his feet and Draco groaned in exasperation. He grabbed him by the collar and punched him one... two... three times in the face before throwing him back onto the ground and delivering a swift kick to his abdomen.

"What's this? What's happened?" Madam Rosmerta hurried out.

"This scum's just molested a girl outside YOUR pub," he sneered, kicking McLaggen one more time to accentuate the word SCUM.

*****

For the next few minutes, Hermione was overwhelmed by several professors who were in the pub. After assuring them all she was alright and having a butterbeer forced on her by the distraught Madam Rosmerta, Hermione finally left the pub.

She was surprised to see Malfoy's dark silhouette waiting for her up the street. Unsure of how to thank him, she approached tentatively.

"You okay?" he asked, trying to sound nonchalant, but Hermione saw the real concern in his eyes.

This is so surreal, she thought and quickly nodded, "Um-hmm." His face visibly relaxed and he leaned back against the wall. All of a sudden, Hermione's heart felt like it would burst into flames. Of all the people to be standing here concerned for her it was MALFOY. On an impulse she would never be able to explain, Hermione went up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek.

The words, "Good then we're even," were on the tip of his tongue, but suddenly Granger was coming toward him with her lips. He stiffened and felt them brush the corner of his mouth. Shocked, he could only stare at her. Did Granger just... KISS me? He watched her face, looking for some hint of a trick, or at the very least a joke, but she looked as surprised as he felt. Her face quickly changed from surprise to embarrassment and she shook her head, turning away to continue walking up the street.

Suddenly, Draco felt completely alone. It was as if her leaving was the world leaving and his task from the Dark Lord looked larger than ever. Draco knew he was a coward, but he never knew it's depths until he reached out after her.

He grabbed her arm and spun her back to him, lowering his head to catch her lips in his own. As their bodies collided he felt her gasp, but she met his kiss with the same uncertain intensity. He felt her arms tighten around him to pull him closer, but he was already holding her as close as he could.

After what felt like hours, they broke the kiss and Hermione stared up in wonder at the man she thought she knew. His eyes were intense, almost hungry, as he looked back. He seemed to be examining every part of her face. Then she felt his hands drop from her waist (how did they get there?) and she saw him realize what had happened.

Her senses came rushing back and the full validity of what she'd done overwhelmed her. She had kissed Draco Malfoy! And, she realized with even more astonishment, he had kissed her back! Unable to cope with the strange burning feeling spreading over her, she turned and hurried away. She heard a crunch on the snow like he was following her, but no others followed. Her mind still reeling, she looked back over her shoulder as she reached the top of the street.

Malfoy hadn't moved, but his eyes were still following her, and had lost none of their intensity. With something between a shiver and a sigh, Hermione hurried back to the castle.

*****

The next day was double Potions with Slytherin. Of course. Hermione was never late to class, but today she definitely wasn't early. She procrastinated until the very last second before walking in that door. He was going to be there. After she'd gotten back to the castle, her brain had already begun dissecting everything that had happened with Malfoy. I was in a state of shock. I didn't know what I was doing. But that doesn't explain what he was doing...? Did he want me to kiss him? Did he expect it after he saved me? But his face...

"Come on Hermione!" she whispered to herself, "You're a big, brave Gryffindor. If you can face Death Eaters, you can face Malfoy!" With a deep breath she stepped into the classroom. Everyone was already there, including Malfoy. He looked up from his book and for a second she felt her knees go all wobbly. He smirked a little, but broke their gaze by glancing back down at his book. But she could tell he was still looking at her from under his eyelashes.

Alrighty, Malfoy. We'll just skip over the two minutes in heaven we had. You wanna pretend it never happened? No argument here. My lips, for all intents and purposes, are sealed.