Tonight Draco was the walking depiction of debonair. He wore expensive dress robes and a decently-sized, non-obnoxious top hat. He had rather gone without the hat, but aside from the fact that he was playing by the rules, his platinum blond hair was a dead giveaway as to who he was and that was the last thing that he wanted. The black mask he slipped over his eyes would do the rest of the work, and Draco smiled at his reflection once he was through.
For the first time in almost three years he would be able to walk about without scrutinizing stares. He could get away from the whispers. He could feel…normal. He would relish in tonight and make the most of it because by this time tomorrow he would be back to feeling as alone on the inside as he was on the out.
With a sigh, Draco left his dorm and strolled through the empty common room until he made it through the portrait. Even though Slytherin was quite a ways from the Great Hall, music from the masquerade-themed ball could be heard clear as day. A spell, most assuredly, and he smiled even more at the frivolity that lived in the air. The corridors radiated with a festive feel as its ceilings had been bewitched like the Great Hall's. It reflected a cloudy night, but from those clouds came a light cascade of snow that slowly trickled to the ground and landing on Draco's shoulders. The ground itself was clean of any snow, but the ambience wasn't diminished by it.
Draco continued along, shaking his head every now and again to rid himself of the memories that the halls were forcing him to remember. Not tonight, he feverishly thought to himself. Tomorrow he could remember all the terrible things he'd done within and to the school. Tomorrow he could dwell on the fact that despite knowing the ostracism he would incur from returning to Hogwarts to finish out his seventh year at age twenty-one, that he came anyway. Tomorrow he would brood over the fact that there was still five more months left to endure the hell he'd willingly walked into.
Draco hadn't even realized he'd been frowning. The unfamiliar voice that had called out to him belonged to another seventh year he couldn't make out due to his own mask. The boy had clapped a hand on his back while passing and then continued on his way into the Great Hall with his date. Despite the temporary distraction from his thoughts, they were back again, and so was the deepening of his frown. A deep breath entered and left his lungs as he plucked up the courage to follow his classmate's lead and enter the transformed Great Hall. His smile returned once he had, and he suddenly felt transported back to the Yule Ball.
Students were laughing joyously. Others were getting punch. Couples were dancing to a disembodied orchestra. Draco observed it all. He cautiously made his way further into the Great Hall, afraid as though someone would recognize him and shoo him out of the ball that was designed to bring students closer. Houses, more specifically. Although the war had been a little over three years prior, this was the first year that Hogwarts was able to reopen its doors. Even with magic it had still taken the better part of a year and a half to get the school up and running again –to rid of the debris, to rebuild, to replace staff who had died. Students who had been unable to complete their seventh year –either by not voluntarily returning to a school run by Deatheaters, or unable to return because of a destroyed castle –had been offered to come back and do just that. Other students who had gone to Beauxbatons or Durmstrang for the time being gleefully returned to their precious Hogwarts. And then of course there was the new group of first years. With the war very fresh in everyone's minds, there was a true sense of camaraderie among everyone except with Slytherin House. The other three Houses got along famously well, but when it came down to the slippery House, everyone grew cold and distant. That was the reason behind the masquerade ball. It was ingenious, really. To have every student wear a mask, concealing who they really were, there were no Houses here. There were no sides to take here. There were just people. Students. Students having a good time and Draco standing among them.
Draco smiled once again, more to himself than for anyone's benefit, but it had somehow gathered the attention of a young woman standing near a buffet table full of sweets. He thought of her as a woman, and not a girl, because of the way she carried herself. She was enjoying the ball, yes, but it wasn't in a giddy, childlike way. She held a certain type of grace and poise that could come from nothing but experience and Draco concluded that she had to have been like him –someone who had come to finish out their seventh year because the war had prevented them in the past.
Whoever she was had locked eyes with him and she blushed. Draco's smile had morphed into a small "o" and for the first time in his life he was rendered speechless. She was, in truth, very pretty. Due to the nature of the ball, only her eyes, lips, and general curve of her body could tell him that she was. It was enough. He swallowed once, finding his throat dry. She was a vision in white, reminding him very much of a swan. A white, spaghetti-strapped dress adorned her and, in truth, there was nothing spectacular about it. Regardless it fit her body like a glove until it hit her waist, and flowed gently to the ground and swayed when she moved. Attached to her back were white feathered wings and her mask was feathered as well. The most striking thing about her were her lips. They were pouty and colored a deep pink. He imagined how soft they had to be and nearly tripped over himself, lost in thought, as he started walking over.
"Oh, Hermione, you look great!" Ginny exclaimed as she stared at her friend. Hermione smiled as she stood at the top of the stairs leading down from the girls' dormitory. She had kicked the redhead out of their shared bedroom because she had been absolutely never-wracking to have in the room with her. Ginny was more in tune with these types of things –dresses, makeup, hair, etc. She had assumed that Hermione wouldn't know heads or tails what to do with herself for the ball tonight, but she wasn't a total loss. Her white gown she'd gotten herself. The wings, the mask, she'd done herself as well. Her hair, less bushy, tamed curls, all piled neatly on top of her head, she'd found the appropriate potions herself. Hermione only had one question and she was currently working up the courage to ask Ginny about it as she hit the final stair.
"The lipstick?" She asked as she rubbed her hands together anxiously. "It's not too dark, is it?"
Ginny smiled as she took her friend's hand in hers. "It's lovely, Hermione. Besides, this is a masquerade ball. This is the time to accentuate every asset as possible. If those lips don't get you a boyfriend tonight, then I don't know what will."
Hermione rolled her eyes as she laughed. "I'm not looking for a boyfriend, Ginny."
"A one night stand then?"
Ginny laughed hysterically as she began pulling her along. "Oh, my saint of a friend. Just remember one thing tonight, will you? No one will know who you are. Don't be afraid to do something a little…not you."
A little not me… Hermione thought to herself as she and Ginny walked arm-in-arm towards the Great Hall. She could only chuckle at that notion because she could never not be who she was. She wasn't spontaneous. She wasn't adventurous. She preferred to play life as safely as possible, especially after coming out of a war with far fewer bodily and emotional scars than she could've ever imagined. Tonight she had intended to be a voyeur; to be a fly on the wall as she watched the rest of Hogwarts mingle and forget about the invisible lines that divided them. Although, she did promise Ginny that if a guy asked her to dance that she wouldn't turn him down. She only hoped that no one would ask. She absolutely hated dancing.
"The Great Hall looks beautiful." Hermione smiled broadly as she took in the massive room. It was bathed in white with the snow that fell from the ceiling and littered the ground. She instantly thought of the Yule Ball from her fourth year and was happy that the odds of a repeat of what happened that year were zero. She had no date (unless she counted Ginny) and neither Ron nor Harry was there or at Hogwarts at all. Sadly, only she out of the three were interested in finishing their final year. Harry had been fast-tracked into the Auror training program and had become one in record time. Ron was helping George run the joke shop and certainly didn't need another year of school to be efficient at it. Hermione on the other hand, although she could have easily gotten a job at the Ministry or anywhere she wished, lived for completeness. She'd worked hard for six years at Hogwarts and would be damned if a war stopped her from taking that last step. That's why she was here, and she was quite proud to be.
"I swear all of Honeydukes is sitting at this table." Ginny said as her eyes poured over the large array of sweets. Hermione had to agree.
"If my parents could see this they'd highly disapprove." Hermione replied, trying to figure out what she'd like first while simultaneously wondering if whatever she ate would disturb her lipstick. She eventually sighed and decided not to eat anything just yet. Instead she let her gaze wander over to the growing crowd of students until her eyes stopped altogether on someone on the other side of the room. He was smiling, dazzlingly she might add, with perfect white teeth that would make any dentist proud. He was striking. There was simply no other way to describe it. The way he carried himself, alone, off to the side and seeming to be surveying the ball-goers, let her know that he had to be someone like her –returning to finish out their year that they'd missed. He wore black robes and a modest top hat. His mask was black as well and Hermione couldn't help but think that his skin shined like porcelain against the black backdrop that was his clothes. She suddenly felt self-conscious in her white. She didn't quite expect for the Great Hall to be drenched in the color and she thought that she must've blended in with the surroundings. Just when she was about to look away, he noticed that she was staring and immediately she blushed. Her cheeks rouged even further when she saw that his jaw had slowly dropped. Was he…? Did he really…? Had he found her…?
"Ginny," Hermione breathed. Her voice was barely above a whisper, her vocal chords betraying her as every syllable seemed to catch in her throat. "That guy over there isn't really…looking at me, is he?"
Ginny's attention snapped to hers quickly and she eagerly began looking in the direction Hermione had been staring. She smiled then. "Oh, yes he is. And he's coming this way too!"
Hermione's heart quickened. Her mysterious voyeur was indeed taking clear, purposeful steps in her direction, and the closer he grew, the more erratic her heart seemed to get. "Ginny," she whispered, but there was no answer. She took a quick look to her right to find that her redheaded companion had abandoned her. Hermione nearly swore. In the end she didn't because she was now confronted with the handsome face who had captured her attention amidst the thick crowd.
Draco took a deep breath. He was nervous. Beyond nervous. It wasn't that he was afraid to talk to her, but rather he was afraid of her reaction to him. He spent his time at Hogwarts alone because no one wanted to have any associations with a Deatheater, reformed or not. Professors avoided group projects in their classes because they knew that no one would want to work with him. To be standing so close to another student, to…anyone, really, made him as happy as he was scared.
"Would you like to dance?"
Hermione's face blanched. "I…um…"
She knows who I am.
She's going to say no.
"The thing is…"
This was a mistake.
"I don't dance." Hermione finally blurted out. There goes my promise to Ginny. Her masked admirer tilted his head slightly as he stared at her. The corner of his mouth curled upwards in a delicate smile and she felt part of her melt. If the other side turned up as well, all of her would certainly fall into a puddle on the floor.
"May I ask why not?"
Hermione let her eyes fall to the ground as her cheeks reddened. "I don't do crowds."
If she continued to blush further, her lips would match. Draco found it adorable and moved to speak before he lost his voice yet again. "Understandable, but I think we should dance anyway."
Hermione chuckled at his boldness. "Can you make me forget we're in a room full of people?"
Draco stretched out his hand and felt his heart thump at every second that passed by as it hung in the air. Hermione looked down at it and back into his eyes. His steel grey eyes. They were familiar, those eyes; his voice too. But before she could think anymore she slipped her hand in his and felt her stomach flip as his fingers curled over it delicately. Soon she was gently being pulled through the crowd, past various students, and soon in the middle of the Great Hall where music hovered above them. Draco placed his left hand on her waist, the fabric of her dress feeling like silk against his skin. Hermione's left hand made it to his shoulder, and she immediately remarked how expensive his robes felt. They both hesitated when their free hands had to join together, but they did in time, and it happened so slowly. The bottoms of their palms touched first. The body of their hands leaning closer to each other until the base of their fingers touched. Their fingers remained free for a moment, thumb to thumb, index to index, the rest following suit in resting against their respective partners. Draco's fingers gently shifted right until they occupied the space between Hermione's own. He bent his, she bent hers, and they intertwined.
Hermione knew they were dancing, but she was lost. She only knew they were moving because everything around them was a blur. She wanted it to stay that way. She wanted to keep the feeling of his hand on her waist and discretely edging their bodies closer as they danced. She wanted to memorize the way her companion looked –as though this was the happiest time he'd ever had in his life.
And it was. Draco loved the feel of her hand in his. He loved the feel of her other hand on his shoulder. He loved it even more when her hand moved and settled itself on the base of his neck. He thought butterflies were only limited to the stomach, but apparently they could flutter down your spine.
"Thank you." Hermione suddenly said. Draco's hold tightened. He only now realized that there was no space between them and that his left hand, his entire arm really, was fully wrapped around her.
"For making me forget."
It was amazing really, how his saying the word "pleasure" made Hermione feel the definition of the word. The way his lips delectably brushed together as the "P" fled his mouth, the faint visual of his tongue flicking to the roof of his mouth for the "L," a full show of immaculate teeth as the "Eh" sound followed the previous consonants, his lips falling against one another in a pucker for the "-SURE." The innocent lust that filled her within those few seconds was absolutely sinful.
Hermione shyly looked away from him while Draco regarded the vision he was dancing with. Because yes, she could only be his imagination as he'd done nothing good in his life to deserve the pulsating attraction that this woman caused him. She had done nothing but just…exist. The simple tilt of her head was enough to make him want to cart her away somewhere unknown where she could be his and he could be hers. The soft curve of her cheek, her slender neck –untainted with any imperfections –and the blush that rose up from her chest that slowly reached her face.
As the signs of an ending song came to his awareness, Draco realized that he would soon have to let his swan go. When the night was over he'd have to let her go completely. And then what? Lose her to the sea of students and charged with the task of having to find her by the shape of her lips and her enticing curves?
"What is it?" Hermione asked, her fingers unintentionally raking against the back of his neck. Draco closed his eyes to the touch, feeling as though he could die a happy man at such innocent affection.
"Would you take a walk with me?" Draco suddenly asked.
Hermione shook off all reservations she had about going off with a stranger as she nodded. Ginny's words about doing something "not her" kept running around in her mind as she once again slipped her hand into that of her anonymous partner. Someone she longed to touch. Someone she longed to press herself against and never let go. Someone, who all she knew about him was the color of his eyes, the shape of his mouth, and the feel of his hands.
They left the Great Hall together, ignoring passersby as they went. Draco kept holding her hand, never once tugging her along because she deserved no such treatment. They walked in silence, the music from the ball flowing over their heads, only to finally fall silent as they excited the castle and made it onto the grounds.
Out here the snow was real. So was the cold. Hermione shivered as the winter air struck them, and Draco released her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders. His wand would have done a much better job than his own body heat, but so long as she didn't complain, he wouldn't. He relished the feeling of her body on his –even if the touch was safeguarded by layers of clothing he wished to let slip from her shoulders and get lost in the white.
They stopped walking once they reached the lake. It was a frozen body of water that beckoned to be walked on, charmed so that no snow covered it. Hermione looked on, consciously aware of the subtle strokes of her companion's thumb as it gently slid up and down her arm.
It transfixed her, but not more than how it had affected the man who was hypnotizing her. Draco was in trouble, he knew, because he was setting himself up to fail. How could he go on tomorrow knowing that one of Hogwarts' students was a dream he never wanted to wake up from?
He wanted to get her name, but he knew that such a question begged reciprocation. How would she react knowing that he, of all people, had garnered her attention? He feared missing out on a happiness that took him months –no, years to find. All wrapped up in the walking definition of purity.
"Would it be too forward of me if I kissed you?"
The question caught Draco off-guard. Hermione felt embarrassed having asked. She felt her practical side scolding her for living without morals. Her other side, the side that was sinking into his arms and loving the feel of him cradling her, his fingers tracing up and down her arm, that side didn't want to waste what was turning out to be an incredible fantasy.
"No," Draco replied as he let her go enough so that she could face him. "It wouldn't be forward at all."
Draco lost his resolve.
He let one of his hands come up and touch her cheek. Caressed was more like it. His hand was soft and comforting, and Hermione leaned into his touch. Draco slowly leaned forward, his lips barely brushing hers before she closed the teasing gap between them.
Their lips touched once, and then parted. With almost unnoticeable tilts of their heads their lips connected yet again, but this time more than a just a graze. From corner to corner their mouths joined, leaving not a space. Their tongues reached out to meet one another with a sweet greeting –sliding past each other in an effort to explore their partner's home.
Their kiss was deep. Their kiss was slow. Draco's hands had maneuvered their way to her waist, holding her tight and holding her close. Hermione's arms were wrapped around his neck, keeping him near as their kiss delved into passion.
If either had kept count, they would've known that minutes had ticked by –minutes filled with Draco's playful nibbling of her lip, Hermione's teasing licking of his. When they finally pulled away they were breathless, but eager to lose said breathlessness all over again.
This couldn't just be it. Hermione had to know who had trapped her in a web of intimacy that she wanted to repeat until the end of time. She swallowed, a hand easing itself from his neck and reaching for his mask. She was surprised when her hand was caught in his and he slowly shook his head.
"You'll hate me."
Hermione frowned. "How do you know that?"
Draco tried not to let his melancholy show, but it was downright impossible. "Because everyone already does."
"So…after tonight you'll just…we'll just…go?"
She hated how desperate she sounded. Draco loved it. He was wanted. Needed even. How could he deny her? How could he deny himself? With a shaky breath he rested his forehead on hers.
"Your mask first."
Hermione had no issues complying. She nodded and slowly slipped hers off. Draco impressively held back his shock. Granger. It was Granger. But the fact that he was attracted to her -her, the former bane of his existence, the witch who'd once annoyed him to no end, the girl-turned-woman who he'd been forbidden to like due to his long-ditched prejudices -wasn't the problem. It was the fact that he knew she would hate that it was him who had stolen her affection.
Draco didn't want to, but he reluctantly and with a shaky hand slid his mask down. Unlike himself, Hermione couldn't suppress her surprise. And what else was that he had seen in her eyes? Was that disappointment? Was it regret? It was something, and it made Draco's world shatter like glass.
"I knew you'd hate me."
Hermione didn't reply. She didn't move out of his arms either. She was stuck in limbo –an in between of her past and her present with the blond she avoided in the halls. He wasn't evil, she knew. He was different, she knew. And although one's past shouldn't define who they were, his past was carved in stone.
And yet, his present had captured her own. He was delicate, careful, sweet, and enticing. Why did his true mask have to obscure what lay underneath? She focused on his eyes. She zeroed in on his lips. She continued to feel his hands, and all of those things were what made her heart flutter more times in one night than it had ever in her life.
Hermione sighed and closed her eyes and let her senses take control. She eased into him, hugging him almost, and buried her head into his neck. A second later she was standing on her toes so that she could reach his ear.
"Masquerades allow you to be someone else for a while." She whispered to him. "I…I'd rather do that."
Draco felt giddy. He let his grip on Hermione tighten, not only to steady himself, but to keep her close. "What about tomorrow?"
Hermione pulled back from him some and stared into his eyes, dissolving the Malfoy coating and burying it with his past. "When tonight's over, then we can think about tomorrow."
Draco nodded and leaned back in, stealing her lips in a kiss that was less gentle, more passionate, and bleeding into her every hope that tomorrow wouldn't be filled with any regrets.
Hermione, using what little concentration she had to conjure a bubble of heat around them, felt the snow melt beneath her feet. And as she felt one strap of her dress slip, and heard the tumble of Draco's hat as it hit the ground, she hoped that tomorrow, after the entanglement of white and black, that she'd still be seeing grey.
Author's note: Hello :). So this little tidbit came at the awful time of one a.m. when I had to be up for work at 5:30. Regardless, I'm proud of it and I hope that you liked it! Please leave a review and let me know what you thought. I'm considering, though I'm honestly not sure, of writing more. We'll see.
Thanks for reading!