Author's Note: Hey friends! A few months back, the Dramione Fanfiction Forum hosted a Masquerade fest. The piece I submitted, Masked Motives, was the second piece I wrote for the fest. This was the first, and I didn't actually intend to publish it until I was recently encouraged to do so by the lovely Kyonomiko. So if you hate it... yeah.

I've been cast adrift since Chronos was completed but I have some new WIPs in the pipeline that I'm excited to start posting for you all soon. This is a temporary offering, and a brief 'hello' :)

Warning: This piece is a nobility AU and contains tragic themes. You have been warned. Not your thing? I suggest you turn back. I won't love you any less.

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter franchise.

Lord Draco Malfoy, only son and heir of His Grace, the Duke Lucius Malfoy of Wiltshire, observed himself in an elegant silver mirror.

He wore a dark green tunic with fine silver embroidery; black trousers with black leather boots rose to his knees. His closest friend and courtier, Theodore Nott, slipped a luxurious black cloak upon his broad shoulders, the high collar embellished with silver detailing. His sword hung at his waist, an exquisitely crafted blade with emeralds laid in the hilt, the pommel sculpted into the head of a snake.

His hair, such a pale shade of yellow as to be nearly white, was styled in a fashionable manner and his eyes – one of his most striking features – were a sharp and intelligent grey, bright with flecks of silver.

He met Theodore's mischievous hazel eyes in the reflection of the mirror and smirked.

"So," Theo said, twirling a black mask in his hands. "Tonight shall be the night."

"I suppose so," Draco said with a roll of the eyes. "Mother really does insist I select a bride."

"But why go to the effort of throwing such a party?" Theodore asked, inspecting a spot of dust on the mask. "There hasn't been a masquerade ball on the grounds of Malfoy Manor in…"

"Eighty years," a woman's sharp voice interrupted. "Since that poor girl was murdered in the gardens. Stabbed by a jealous courtesan. It was long considered a bad omen."

Draco turned to his mother, Duchess Narcissa Malfoy, forcing a bland smile at her story. His mother was fond of myths and tales. Narcissa was beautiful as always in a stunning gown of silver, her long hair twisted into an elegant coiffure; she shone like moonlight. A silver mask was already affixed to the upper half of her face, her lips painted a bright red.

"Mother," he greeted with a tilt of his head. Beside him, Theo dropped into a bow; Narcissa waved a dismissive hand and the man stood.

"My son, you look dashing," his mother responded, pressing a quick kiss to each of his cheeks. "And the reason, Theodore, is because Draco insists he will only choose a bride he cares for."

"Then why the masquerade?" Theo drawled, turning to the Duchess.

"Because each Lady of noble blood from across England and elsewhere will attend the masq, and Draco may select the one he most prefers, regardless of her familial and political affiliations. It is, I am told, a compromise."

Draco smirked at the sharpness in his mother's voice. It had been a battle just to get her and his father to agree on that. Duchess Narcissa turned to Draco, laying a hand on his shoulder.

"Now that you are nineteen, my son, you simply must be wed," she said, though her eyes were affectionate as she gazed at him. "And so handsome you are. She will be a lucky woman indeed."

Narcissa peered through the window of Draco's bedroom suite, observing the guests arriving in the distant gardens.

"And I dare say the common girls in the village will be disappointed," Narcissa added, her red lips twitching. Draco held her gaze, feeling his own lips tug into a smirk.

"More for Theo," Draco simply said. Theo barked an appreciative laugh.

"Do hurry, won't you?" Narcissa said as she walked to the door. "The Ladies are arriving – I advise you not keep them waiting."

Theo turned to Draco, affixing the black and silver half-mask to his features. Then the courtier donned his own mask, a simple but elegant black to match his black attire. Draco couldn't recall whether he had ever seen Theodore wear anything other than black. His own parents had been killed by a rival court when Theo was young and Duke Malfoy had taken him in as a ward.

"May you find the loveliest, most suitable Lady in attendance," Theo murmured and Draco clapped his friend on the shoulder, offering a genuine smile.

"Thank you, my friend," Draco responded. "And may you find the one best to warm your sheets for the night."

Snickering, the two young men walked side by side into the gardens.

Draco looked around the gardens in dismay, already finding himself bored and irritated. The Ladies invited, while presumably all beautiful beneath the masks, were shallow, simpering fools. How was he supposed to select one when they were all the same?

The gardens had been decorated beautifully, he supposed. Lanterns hung and cast flickering shadows on the well-kept gardens; his mother's favourite pastime. Servants walked about with trays of food and drink and Draco helped himself to a flute of champagne.

A small group of string musicians played nearby, their beautiful crescendo the only thing lifting Draco's soul. He had danced with several Ladies, none of whom he had had any interest in speaking with further.

He had told his mother he wanted to marry someone he cared for, and while that was true, he longed for a partner he could connect with intellectually, as well. Draco had always been bright and observant, constantly in pursuit of logical endeavours.

His father had initially refused the thought, demanding that Draco would marry the Lady who would most advance their political influence; it had taken Narcissa's persuasion to allow even this masquerade ball wherein Draco could select from the prescribed few.

But yet, he felt no connection with any of them.

Finishing the last of his champagne and dropping the empty glass on a nearby tray, Draco stalked further into the gardens, seeking solace amongst the night air and the fragrance of his mother's prized nasturtiums.

Draco loosened his collar as he walked, seeking to escape the confinement of the crowd and the tight air. He felt so stifled, some days – the weight of so many expectations crushing him.

He did not want to marry and rule; he wanted to explore, to travel the world freely, a true companion by his side. But he was the sole heir; he had no choice.

"Hello," a soft voice said, breaking him from his musings. Draco's hand instinctively moved to the hilt of his sword. A young woman stood nearby; she bowed her head when he turned sharply in her direction. He let his arm fall back to his side. "I apologize – I did not mean to startle you."

"You didn't," Draco said, his brow furrowed. He hadn't realized he wasn't alone. Perhaps he had been so distracted in his thoughts.

He didn't recognize the girl as one he had already danced with. She wore an extravagant corseted gown of emerald green, embellished with gold embroidery and detailing. Her chocolate locks fell in lush curls around her shoulders, and a refined mask of gold clung to her face. In the darkness he could see her rich brown eyes observing him; her delicate pink lips curved into a demure smile.

"I'm Draco," he said quickly, realizing his poor manners.

"Lord Draco Malfoy," she purred, briefly bowing her head. "I am aware. It is a pleasure, Lord."

"I didn't see you at the ball," he said, wondering how he had not noticed such rare beauty. For even beneath the mask, she was surely a delight to behold.

"I do not much care for the crowds, I'm afraid," she said quietly. "I prefer the stars and the sky."

"As do I," he admitted softly, meeting the eyes of the stunning girl. It had not slipped his notice that she had not similarly introduced herself.

"But yet, you are to be Duke one day," she admonished teasingly. "It shall be required of you to converse and dally about with the bland and uninteresting courtiers." She rolled her eyes beneath the mask, gesturing animatedly. "I can't imagine you will have much fun if you would rather be alone."

"I don't imagine I will," he said, halting at her unusual presence. "But I am not alone, right now."

"I am not much for company," the girl said, waving a dismissive hand. But her eyes sparkled even so.

"You're the most entertaining company I've come across tonight," he admitted, stepping closer. Despite himself, he reached out to feel one of her chocolate curls. "What is your name?"

"I am Lady Hermione Granger, of Cornwall, My Lord," she said, dropping into a curtsy.

"Lady Hermione," Draco breathed, tilting his head inquisitively. "I was not aware of a Lady by that name in Cornwall."

"Lesser nobility, My Lord, I would not expect you to know of me," she said, offering him a dazzling smile. "I spent many years away in private school."

"And what did you learn during those many years?" he asked, his tone low. He had never been so captivated by a woman in all his life; the way she moved, the exuberant way in which she spoke.

"So many things, My Lord," she said, gazing openly at the sky, now filling with stars. "I learned of the world and the moon and stars and all manner of living things. And how England is so very small."

"Have you left England?" he breathed, transfixed.

"No, My Lord," she said softly. "Here I shall always remain."

"I mean to explore the world, one day," he said quietly. He felt his lips curve into a smile. "Perhaps you can come with me."

"Perhaps," she murmured distantly. "I don't suppose that would be proper."

Draco stared at her, confused. Was she not aware he was to select a bride at this party? Or was she simply blind to the effect she had on him? His father had specified that any woman in attendance would be appropriate. He need not look further; she was the one he chose.

"Dance with me," he said softly, holding out a hand.

"Very well," she purred, dipping her head as she slipped her small hand into his. Her hand was cool in the night air and he instinctively drew her closer.

She did not question that the music from the party did not reach them so far out. She merely sunk into him as his hands came to rest on the fine bodice of her dress and her shoulder. She kept up to his every step, and he hummed a soft tune as they danced, lively dances and slow ones.

She drew away, dancing an unfamiliar dance that he knew was entirely her own, and Draco joined her, allowing his soul to fly as he danced with this perfect and beautiful stranger that was exactly what he wanted.

And she threw her arms up as she spun, Draco gazing absently after her. She was light-hearted and free-spirited, but carried a deep intelligence within her soul that Draco could feel in his very bones. She was witty and clever and stunning, in mind and body.

She was everything.

He caught her hand, dragging her closer once more and she laughed, delightedly, as if she had never danced before, throwing her arms around his shoulders.

They danced on and on, and Draco how no idea for how long, as he lost track of time entirely, this wonderful woman in his arms and quickly within his heart. Draco cared not if the other Ladies were looking for him, hoping to persuade him to select them.

When they paused from dancing, out of breath, they sat on a bench beneath the stars, talking of her studies and his life as the son of a duke, and where they might go if they had the chance. They talked and danced and talked as the night carried on.

Finally they stopped dancing, and Draco grinned, stepping closer toward her.

"You're beautiful," he breathed, meeting her captivating brown eyes.

"How ridiculous to say, you cannot see me!" she exclaimed. "For all you know, I am a terror beneath this mask!"

"I know it, that you are not," he said quietly. "You are so beautiful within, you must be on the outside as well. I believe it to be true."

She laughed and Draco grinned, his hands still lingering on her waist.

"May I remove your mask?" he asked, softly, stroking her side.

"You may not," she teased. "This is a masquerade, is it not?"

"It is," he permitted, swallowing heavily, "but I do believe I have made my choice."

She dropped her chin as she stared at him, and Draco almost thought she took a small step back.

"I cannot be your choice, Lord Draco," she whispered. "You must select another. I must go."

"What?" he breathed. Then louder, "Why?"

He grasped her wrist as she turned to leave, spinning her back to face him. Her skin beneath his hand was still chilly in the night air, despite the dancing. Her lovely lips were downturned in a frown as she gazed at him, unable to speak.

"You must not go," he said, taking a deep breath. "For I desire to select you as my wife. You shall be my Lady and my partner. You are the only one for me, Lady Hermione Granger of Cornwall."

"I only wish it could be so," the girl breathed and tears leaked from beneath her mask. Draco lifted a hand to brush them away.

"It shall be so," he said, smiling. She offered a small smile in return.

"But what will everyone think?" she asked, "if you were to select me?"

"They will think I have chosen to marry with my heart," he said, drawing her closer. "They will know that I have the most wonderful, clever and beautiful Lady in England by my side."

"Oh, Lord Draco," she murmured coyly, "you flatter me so."

She lifted her hands, tracing the sharp lines of his mask. Gently, she lifted the mask from his face, her breath hitching as she beheld him gazing at her.

"You are very handsome, My Lord," she said quietly, tracing her fingers along his cheekbone, his jaw. Draco merely swallowed, pulling her closer. He brushed his knuckles across the front of her bodice, even as his other hand rose to remove her mask.

She jumped back, as if startled and Draco quickly lowered his hands. His brow furrowed as he stared at her, the girl of his dreams as she backed away, her head shaking subtly.

"I must go," she breathed, her chocolate eyes frantic as they met his. "Thank you, Lord Draco. I had a most magical evening."

"Likewise," Draco said, smiling at her even as she continued to back away. "I shall send for you, My Lady Hermione."

She curtsied once more before fleeing the gardens. Draco stared after her for a long moment, willing his breathing to calm and his heart to cease its joyous dance. A smile played about his lips as his feet absently carried him back to the party.

"Did you choose a bride?" Theo asked when Draco found him, wide-eyed as he beheld the dazed smile on Draco's face.

"I have," Draco said, grinning broadly. "She is everything I could have hoped for."

Theo bowed his head. "I am glad, My Lord. I look forward to meeting her."

Draco watched for his Lady as he took another glass of champagne from one of the servants, but he could not see the vibrant green of her gown. Perhaps she was to return to Cornwall yet tonight. Perhaps she had a carriage to take her home.

He was friendly with the other Ladies who approached him, but he knew in his heart there was no other that could catch his attention like the lovely brunette with whom he had danced and danced.

So when he finally drifted to his suites and prepared for bed, Draco knew he would dream of the one he intended to spend his life with.

"Theodore informs us you have selected a bride," Narcissa said over tea the next afternoon. "How wonderful, Draco, I am so pleased for you. We will begin the arrangements for the wedding and send for her soon."

"Yes," Draco said, smiling. "She is both beautiful and clever. You will like her, I am sure of it."

"As am I," Narcissa agreed.

"What is her familial name?" his father asked. Draco refrained from rolling his eyes. He had expected His Grace would still care about the influence her family carried.

"Granger, of Cornwall," Draco said, mixing a spoonful of milk into his tea.

"Granger," Lucius repeated, as if unfamiliar with the name. "Of Cornwall, you say?"

"Yes," Draco said, reaching for the sugar.

"The Grangers of Cornwall," Duke Malfoy said again. "Oh, I have not heard of the name of Granger in quite some time."

"It was the house of Granger who lost that girl in the gardens, eighty years ago," Narcissa said in a hushed voice, as if anyone could have overheard.

"Right you are," Lucius agreed. "I thought that girl was the last of their house. The only daughter and heir."

"I suppose, maybe a cousin?" Narcissa questioned.

Draco barely listened as he stirred his tea, so caught up in the memories of the night before. A smile danced upon his lips as he recalled the way she had gazed at him.

"What was her name, then?" Lucius asked Narcissa. "The one who was murdered in the gardens?"

"I can't recall," Narcissa murmured. She tilted her head, deep in thought. "Oh, I remember. It was Hermione. Lady Hermione Granger of Cornwall."

Her hands, cold as ice.

Here I shall always remain.

Draco's spoon fell to the plate with a clatter.