When Hermione walked into the Great Hall the next morning, nothing looked any different. No one looked at her and whispered, no one seemed curious at all. Feeling a little nervous, Hermione wondered if Draco had told anyone. Peering discreetly at the Slytherin table, she couldn't help a small smile when she spotted Draco smiling at her, and Pansy Parkinson glaring at her with a look of mingled hatred, disbelief and raw fury. So, Draco HAD told someone. Speaking of Draco, he had risen from his place at the table and was walking swiftly towards her. Curious, but wary, gazes followed him. Then, in front of the entire school, Draco went up to Hermione and kissed her on the cheek. When he drew back, Hermione knew her cheeks would be beet-red, but she smiled at him before going up on her toes and kissing him softly on the lips. This extracted full-on gasps from the watching students.
"Good morning," Draco whispered.
"Morning." Hermione grinned up at him. "The whole school is staring at us."
Arching an eyebrow, Draco said, "And? I don't care what people say. I love you and I'm not afraid to show it." As if to show he meant what he said, Draco bent and kissed her lips firmly. Before drawing back, he murmured against her lips, "See you in Potions."
Then he stepped back, turned around and went back to the Slytherin Table where he was met with shocked stares and angry whispers. Seemingly oblivious, Draco attacked his scrambled eggs with renewed gusto.
Hermione sat down at the Gryffindor table, lips still tingling from Draco's kiss. She was uncomfortably aware of the stares of her fellow Gryffindors.
Harry finally broke the silence by saying, "I have to say, Hermione, I wasn't sure whether to believe you, but after this... display of affection, I suppose I have no choice."
Hermione looked up, relieved to see a small smile on his face. "No, I suppose you don't," she responded, giving a weak smile of her own.
That relaxed the stunned group, and the chatter of the morning resumed, if a little muted. Ginny nudged Hermione with her elbow and whispered, "He's staring at you."
Turning around, Hermione met Draco's gaze with a smile, which he returned, eyes happy.
"He really IS different with you." Ginny sounded amazed.
Later that day in Potions, Draco purposely sat beside Hermione, hurrying over before anyone else could claim the seat next to her.
"Hey." He grinned.
"Hey." Hermione grinned back at him, then sat up straight when Professor Snape called the class to attention.
"Today we will be revising our studies on the bezoar, open your books to page 145..."
The lesson dragged on, and even though she was with Draco, Hermione wanted it to be over. Hermione considered herself to be relatively good at Potions, but she couldn't stand the stuffy dungeon in which the subject was taught, nor did she particularly like the professor who taught it.
Finally it was over, and the class filed out quickly, giving Hermione and Draco funny looks as they passed by. Sensing her unease, Draco took her hand in his, twining their fingers together. It certainly didn't help the stares or whispers, but it soothed Hermione to have him near her. With her head on his shoulder, they made it to the Great Hall. Just outside the door, Draco pulled her gently to the side.
"Are you ok? None of the Gryffindors giving you any problems?" he asked softly.
"No, no. I've had a few funny looks, and one or two glares, but other than that it's been alright. Unless you count Ron." Hermione scowled. "He still hasn't gotten over finding us in the Astronomy Tower that night..." She sighed. "What about you?"
Draco ran his free hand through his white-blonde hair, his other hand still holding hers. "More than a few glares from my fellow Slytherins, unfortunately. Pansy's been the worst. She's acting like I was cheating on her with you. But I never even ONCE considered going out with her. She's shallow and whiny. She's the most ANNOYING girl I've ever had the displeasure to meet." He took a deep breath before continuing. "Even Crabbe and Goyle are refusing to be seen with me. But I suppose as long as I have you..." He smiled, tucking a lock of stray hair back behind her ear, caressing her cheek as he did so. "I guess I'll be okay." He leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. Then he pulled away and guided her into the Great Hall, holding her hand all the while. When they reached Hermione's place, next to Ginny, Draco kissed her cheek and said, "See you at dinner?" To which she replied, "Definitely." As he released her hand and started walking away, he paused and turned back to nod politely to Ginny and Harry, saying, "Weasley, Potter," before continuing on his way.
Sitting down next to Ginny, Hermione heaped her plate with ham and cheese sandwich quarters. She was about to take a huge bite out of one when Harry, sounding stunned, said, "Was Malfoy just... POLITE to me?"
"And me?" Ginny added, sounding equally dazed.
Feeling smug and satisfied, Hermione smiled to herself as she bit into the best ham and cheese sandwich she had ever eaten in her entire life.
The rest of the day passed quickly, and Draco walked her to the Great Hall for dinner, kissing her on the cheek before heading to the Slytherin table. As he kissed her cheek, he whispered in her ear, "Astronomy Tower, seven o'clock?" But he was gone before she could answer. Hermione ate her dinner with anticipation squirming in her stomach.
"Where are you going?" asked Ginny as Hermione pushed open the portrait hole.
Understanding immediately, Ginny called after her, "Ok, have fun!" and giggled madly. Rolling her eyes, Hermione made her way to the Astronomy Tower.
Hermione was mildly surprised to find Draco waiting for her. Normally, she arrived just ahead of him. He was sitting on one of the tables that usually held a map of the stars. Perching beside him, Hermione leaned on his strong shoulder and sighed. "It feels different, doesn't it? Everyone knowing about us, I mean."
Without looking at her, Draco answered softly, "Yes, it does."
Sensing that something wasn't right with Draco, Hermione looked up at him with concern. "Draco, is something wrong?"
He didn't answer.
Taking his face gently in her hands, she turned his head towards her. She gasped in horror. The area around his eye socket was badly bruised, and it looked like someone had dragged their fingernails across his cheek, leaving four red lines that oozed blood.
"Draco! Who did this?"Hermione was horrified, and felt anger stir deep within her.
Turning away from her, Draco muttered, "It's nothing, I'm fine."
"No, you're not!" she scolded. "Now tell me what happened!"
Jaw stiff, Draco answered haltingly, "Pansy Parkinson. She freaked out at me, and she punched me. I couldn't hit a girl, so I grabbed her fist the second time. She raked her other nails across my cheek. I shoved her onto the couch and came straight here."
Hermione felt her hands ball into fists and a red haze descended on her vision. She jumped to her feet and headed to the staircase, not entirely sure what she intended to do to Pansy Parkinson, just that it wouldn't be pretty.
"Where are you going?" Draco's voice was hurt.
"To the Slytherin Common Room. That Parkinson girl needs a lesson in manners, and I'm going to teach it to her," Hermione growled in reply.
Draco grabbed her wrist, not pulling her towards him, but not letting her move even an inch forward.
Yanking as hard as she could, Hermione spat through gritted teeth, "Let me GO! She can't get away with this! YOU may not be able to hit a girl, but I sure as hell can!"
Just that one word made Hermione stop struggling. Turning her head to Draco's bruised and bloodied face, she narrowed her eyes angrily. "Why?" The word came as a feral hiss, surprising them both.
"You can't just march into the Slytherin Common Room! They'd tear you apart. Look what one of them was willing to do to ME, a fellow Slytherin. If you waltzed in there, a Gryffindor, they would not hesitate to beat you to a pulp."
Finally absorbing his words, Hermione relaxed in his grip, allowing herself to be towed firmly back to the chart table. "I'm sorry," she apologised. "I don't know what came over me. I suppose... I suppose I just hate seeing you hurt. Emotionally or physically. I REALLY want to punch that girl." Hermione ground her teeth together, trying to keep a hold on her temper.
Draco laughed. "Well, it's good to know that you do care about me."
Smacking him on the arm, Hermione said indignantly, "Draco! Of course I care about you! How many times have I told you I love you?"
"More than I can count." A faint smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
A peaceful silence fell between them, and Draco absent-mindedly played with a strand of Hermione's hair.
After a few moments of this, Hermione sighed and slid off the table. "Come on, Draco. You should get Madam Pomfrey to check that eye and those scratches. They really do look terrible."
Reluctantly, Draco followed her to the Hospital Wing. When Madam Pomfrey demanded what had happened, Draco started to blow it off but Hermione cut in and said, "Well, Pansy Parkinson had always entertained the fancy that Draco and herself would one day begin dating, but when she found out that Draco was seeing me, she may have had some sort of breakdown. She went a little crazy and attacked Draco." She indicated his black eye and claw-like scratches on his cheek.
At Hermione's explanation, Madam Pomfrey threw up her hands in exasperation and cried, "Children these days! No self-control!"
Madam Pomfrey administered the potion to reduce the swelling around Draco's eye, and dabbed on an ointment that got rid of the scratches. After thanking her greatly, Hermione led Draco out of the Hospital Wing.
When they reached the point at which they had to part, Draco pulled her close and kissed her hard on the lips, placing his hands on her hips. She responded by twining her arms around his neck and kissing him back eagerly.
They stood for a few more moments, then Draco pulled away regretfully, and hugged her tightly to him.
"Love you," he whispered.
"Love you, too," she replied just as quietly.
Then they parted ways to their seperate Common Rooms, where they readied themselves for bed.