At the request of a few reviewers, this story has been expanded and, in my opinion, greatly improved. Please take a look and tell me what you think. I welcome suggestions and I hope you enjoy my work. Please review!
Draco looked around at the crowd of masked witches and wizards pensively. While the idea had repulsed him initially, a masked ball had it's benefits. Though he had escaped prosecution as a death-eater, he was viewed as a traitor by most; The Dark Mark on his forearm branding him forever as the enemy. In his mask, he was just another anonymous, albeit wealthy, wizard.
He moved freely through the crowd, at ease with social interaction. After all, he had been raised in high society. He had to admit that it was a relief to not see judgement in the eyes that met his. Most people wouldn't expect him to attend a ball celebrating the five year anniversary of the fall of Voldemort.
Of course, Harry Potter, ever the saint, had personally contacted him about attending the ball. Draco found it rather nauseating that bleeding-heart Potter was such a do-gooder. However, Draco couldn't quite find it in himself to hate Harry as much of the goodwill had been directed at him.
The years following the war hadn't been easy. Lucius Malfoy had been arrested for his part in the war, along with the remaining Death Eaters. Narcissa Malfoy wasn't arrested, but she was placed on a watch list along with Draco. Harry had been unwilling to stand up for Lucius, but gladly spoke to the Ministry about monitoring Draco and his mother rather than sending them to Azkaban.
Draco could easily spot Harry's messy black hair across the ballroom. He rolled his eyes, wondering why Potter never bothered trying to control his hair. Before he could give it further consideration, his eyes fell on the young woman Potter was dancing with. She was a brunette, so that ruled out Ginny Weasley. Draco spotted Ron Weasley nearby, dancing with a young woman with curly brown hair. That had to be know-it-all Granger.
So who was Potter dancing with? She was graceful and her bright smile seemed to make the room feel more inviting. She wore a pale blue, satin ball gown that accentuated her curves and made her skin appear luminous. Potter muttered something in her ear, making her laugh. The sound was joyous and almost musical, leaving Draco with a strong desire to snatch her away from Potter and discover her identity.
The young woman graciously accepted a dance from man after man. She didn't appear to be particularly flirtatious, but she was obviously well liked. Draco couldn't imagine why he would suddenly be so intrigued by a woman that he didn't know.
Draco frowned when Harry caught his eye and gave a little nod of greeting. Draco returned the nod, pleased that the woman took notice of the exchange. She was sipping from a flute of champagne wearing a pensive frown.
Draco's attention was diverted for a moment by an old witch complimenting his taste in dress robes. He suppressed an irritable groan as she chattered at him, oblivious to his impatience. Once she was finished admiring the expensive fabric and intricate stitching, he thanked her as politely as he could manage and turned his gaze back to the mystery woman. She wasn't there!
With a silent huff of frustration, he scanned the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. After several minutes, he nearly gave up. The ballroom was quite full, and he supposed that there was the possibility that she had left. He was surprised when he realized that Harry had moved to stand right next to him. Harry smirked slightly and gestured to the wall opposite of where they were standing. "She's over near the window," Harry said.
"Thank you," Draco said quietly, relieved, his eyes fixed on the far wall. He turned, intending to ask who the woman was, but Harry Potter had already disappeared into the crowd again. Determined, Draco made his way across the ball room. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so full of curiosity. He found the young woman quite attractive even though most of her face was covered by a mask. It would drive him mad to go home without having learned her name.
He was pleased to find her in front of a large window just as Harry had said. She was chatting easily with three other masked women. She gazed out the window from time to time, her body swaying slightly to the music.
Burning with the desire to discover her identity, he drew in a deep breath and moved closer. The women paused in their conversation to eye him curiously. "Please forgive the intrusion," Draco said politely. He was dimly aware that the women were sizing him up, but his focus was on the young woman that was suppressing an amused smirk. "May I?" he asked, holding his hand out to her, one eyebrow raised in challenge.
The lovely young woman blushed prettily, placing her hand in his. She ignored the surprised expressions of her companions. Draco led the woman to the dance floor, pulling her closer and into his arms. The other women watched with a great deal of surprise and curiousity.
"I was wondering if you were going to stop staring at me long enough to ask me to dance," the young woman said softly.
"You've managed to keep me quite distracted," Draco told her, smirking at her blush. "Who are you?"
The woman tilted her head to one side with a playful smile. "Now, that would ruin the fun of the masquerade ball," she said.
"I disagree," he retorted with a frustrated frown.
"Be patient," she said gently. "You'll find out soon enough. Besides," she added with a sigh, "you may not like me very much when you find out who I am."
Draco frowned at that. "I highly doubt that will be the case," he said, sliding the hand on her waist to her lower back. He eyed her thoughtfully. "Where do you work?"
"At the ministry," she replied simply.
"Which department?" Draco prompted, trying not to seem overly eager but failing miserably.
"Patience," she chided with a soft laugh. She grinned when he frowned. "I never thought I'd see Draco Malfoy pout." She laughed at his look of shock.
"You know me," he said, a bit concerned. Most people at this celebration would give him a wide berth. His name was synonymous with evil and dark magic, the opposite of Saint Potter. Nearly everyone that opposed Voldemort viewed him as a traitor. It didn't seem to matter that he had only been a student at the time, or that his family had been threatened. This woman was obviously well known and would surely know about his family's role in the war. Yet, she was there in his arms, willingly. He was a bit unsettled when he reluctantly met her gaze and saw sympathy in her kind smile.
"It wouldn't be fair to judge you based on the past," she said quietly. "And it's a bit irrational to punish you for your father's choices."
"The general public is not usually rational when it comes to the war," Draco pointed out, rolling his eyes.
She smiled at him. "I'm not the general public," she reminded him.
"I wasn't the nicest person in the world myself," Draco said reluctantly.
The woman smirked slightly. "Then I suppose you'll just need to prove that people can change their ways," she said firmly.
The pair talked in this way for quite some time, discussing every topic that Draco could think of. The woman was clearly well-bred and very intelligent. Her kindness and pleasant disposition were very appealing. Draco kept her close to him for the remainder of the dances, happy that she seemed content to remain in his arms. It was a struggle not to run his fingertips over her lovely skin.
Draco found himself completely smitten with this beautiful young woman. Without knowing her name, he found her irresistible. Part of him wondered if knowing who she really was would change his opinion, but he didn't think it was possible with the attraction he felt toward her.
Near the end of the ball, everyone began unmasking. Draco hesitated, knowing that most people were unaware of his identity and he wasn't keen to reveal himself in the presence of such a large group. The woman seemed to understand this and led him through the doors. They stepped out into the night air, stopping to sit down on a bench under a large tree. The moonlight peaked through the branches, giving just enough light to the pair.
Draco tugged his mask off eagerly and turned to look at the woman. She looked a bit nervous. He thought this was odd. Who was she, and why would she be afraid to reveal herself to him? He was a bit of a society outcast, while she was clearly well liked.
He reached up and gently pulled the mask away from her face, watching as she closed her eyes tightly for a moment. When she opened them, her eyes met his, and he froze.
"Granger?" he blurted out in shock. "What are you... I didn't... What are you playing at?" he finally managed, scowling defensively.
His harsh tone stung. "I'm not playing at anything," Hermione retorted, her tone icy. "I was at the masked ball, dancing with friends. You were staring at me. You were all alone. You wanted to dance with me, so I let you." She frowned at him. "Harry wants everyone to give you a chance. This was my opportunity to give you a chance. You spoke to me and danced with me with no preconceived notion of my blood-status or house rivalry. I had no motive other than to be kind. You seemed like less of an arrogant twit tonight, but even I can be fooled."
She stood up and started to move away, but he caught her hand hastily. "Wait," he said in a rush. "I apologize. I... Well, I was shocked." He sighed as she reluctantly sat back down. She didn't seem to notice that he still had her hand in his. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"For one, it hardly seemed like a good idea to make a scene in front of that crowd," Hermione said frowning. "I also wanted to give you the chance to show that you could be decent." She paused and blushed. "Part of me wanted to show you who I am without the muggleborn stigma."
Draco remained silent for a few moments. He looked down and saw that he still held her hand in his. He withdrew his hand reluctantly, trying to focus his thoughts. It had been kind of her not to draw attention to them. He was sure that she was as aware as he was of the reaction he would likely get if his identity had been revealed at the masquerade ball. It's likely that he would have given himself away with his reaction to her identity.
He glanced at her with a sigh. She had made a fair point. He had been completely enchanted by her without knowing who she was. His first impressions were that she was a well-bred and sophisticated woman. Now that he knew who she was, did it really change how she made him feel as they danced?
He looked up too meet Hermione's warm brown eyes and nearly winced at the wariness he saw in her expression. "I apologize for my tone," he said quietly. "I was just surprised." Hesitantly, he reached out and caught hold of her fingertips, relief washing over him when she didn't jerk her hand away from him. He held her hand in his, reveling in the softness of her skin. He sighed and shook his head, looking suddenly amused. "Potter knew that I was staring at you all night. He could have clued me in."
"I think Harry was hoping that you'd see past your prejudice," Hermione said softly. "You weren't likely to approach me if you knew who I was. He wanted to give you the chance to redeem yourself. "
"He probably shouldn't try so hard," Draco said shaking his head. "My family, and most of the wizarding world for that matter, wouldn't approve of a... friendship between us."
Hermione tilted her head to one side and gave him a smile that made his chest feel oddly tight. "I won't tell if you won't," she whispered. She stood up and watched him as he stood as well. "I have to get going. Bye Malfoy."
Draco watched in bemusement as he reluctantly let go of her hand and she started to walk away. "Will I see you again?" he called after her.
She twirled around to face him with a grin. "Who knows?" she replied with playful shrug.
Draco watched her leave, and sighed. He was startled when he felt someone pat his shoulder. He turned to find Harry Potter standing just behind him, smiling. "She's a wonder," Harry said fondly. He shot a knowing smirk at Draco before moving away. "Have a good night."
Draco stood in the shadow of the old tree, his mind swirling with thoughts. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but Hermione Granger hadn't been it. All the same, he didn't regret that fact that it had been her hiding behind the mask. She had been a great deal more kind than he deserved, and had seemed to enjoy spending time with him. She had known who he was and graciously accepted his attention anyway.
Stepping away from his father's ideals was rapidly becoming much easier.