Author's Notes: Thank you, thank you, thank you to those who reviewed my stories!!! I was kind of reluctant to pose 'Hidden Depths' because it was too short… the first draft didn't even go beyond 1,000 words! But, oh well… I'm glad I did, and I'm glad some people seemed to like it. Thank you again!

And now, here comes another standalone fic… it's not necessarily connected to 'RF' and 'HD', but let's just say that the *familiarities* are still there. The idea just came to me one day while I was reading some other fan fic, and I thought… why not? Hehe :) Anyways, hope you like it… it's kind of long (compared to my other fics), it's kind of different… but please review!

Freedom to Become

The Great Hall was dimmed to almost black, with nothing to illuminate it but candles and floating balls of bright yellow flames that, surprisingly, weren't hot to the touch. These balls of light were like fireflies in the night; buzzing bees that roamed the dark hall, trying to chase away the lingering shadows that lurked at every corner. Glimpses at the actual appearance of the walls were fleeting and quick, but the effect was still there: seventh year students could just marvel and gawk at the elaborate paintings that colored the walls, paintings that depicted fond memories for each of the students. It seemed as though these walls were charmed to reflect their happiest recollections as they stayed at the school, and it also seemed as though what each of the student sees is literally quite different from what the other does. One might see himself in the moment he won the championship cup, the other might see himself the day he finally gathered the courage to stand up and impress an infinitely difficult professor. A gasp or two could be heard from here and there: one student had just relived her first kiss with the boy she loved, the other had just witnessed the time she received passing marks on three of her most complicated tests. The reactions to their seeing these fond memories in front of them were varied and different, but their thoughts were the same: there had never been anything in their young, short lives that could easily surpass the experience they had gained after studying within the walls of this unique and inimitable school.

"Freedom to Become", that was the theme of their little last dance. It was an apt description, for the students were indeed allowed to wear and look like whoever or whatever they wanted to be. Prejudices, bigotry, judgments… these three little words were forgotten, nonexistent, as the students did appear in accordance to their own preferences. The risk of humiliation and embarrassment was infinitely lessened as the students were also allowed to wear masks to hinder the discovery of their identity. Dare to become, then hide what you are? It was one of the mysteries that night, but it was not as though these young men and women were indulging in a little time of philosophical contemplation themselves. Some felt bold and went without masks, the others hid behind ones that showed only their eyes. Some felt bold and went looking like complete idiots, others opted to go more traditional and went as people going to a formal gathering. Gowns of silk, satin and velvet mingled and clashed with pastel-colored tights and ridiculous looking bows, real, expensive chunks of jewels exchanged brilliance with fake, cheap pieces of rocks. Truly, it was a sight to behold, and the students and professors alike could only gape at the sheer difference, at the outcome of it all.

Hidden in the depths and covered in the shadows, Hermione Granger stood alone. She watched with quiet mirth in her eyes as her housemates and schoolmates enjoyed themselves immensely in their last dance of their year. She cannot tell which is which, actually; she just knew that people were dancing in the hall and she was assuming that those were indeed her classmates. That assumption of hers was because of the fact that these wizards and witches had done such a great job of disguising themselves that even those dancing cannot tell who they were dancing with. Even she cannot identify where exactly among the crowd her friends were. That ignorance, that knowing the unknown, was only a mild source of irritation for her, but for the others, it merely added to the heaps of confusion and excitement that was gradually escalating as the night waltzed by.

Despite her slight bouts of amusement, she was really quite agitated. Hermione was constantly on watch, trying to locate eyes that belonged to the man as immaculate as her supposed-date-for-tonight could only be. Of course, with the dim lighting and the outrageous-looking costumes, she wasn't quite sure where, or who, or what he'd come as. Because she never knew what he would look like, she could only groan in frustration as her eyes mentally did a comparative study on every male in the room, trying to see if she could identify him through his build alone… she did this discreetly, of course, her calculating eyes hidden underneath the mask she wore. 

Growing increasingly aggravated, she began to wonder why he wasn't doing anything to approach her. Surely he would have recognized her, would he…? Then she resisted the urge to smack herself. Of course he wouldn't recognize her! He couldn't recognize her at all…

She looked down on her gown and smoothened away invisible wrinkles that dared flaw her perfect appearance. Earlier, Hermione, drunk with the knowledge that absolutely no one can identify her tonight, went crazy and, well, went wild. She enchanted her hair so that it would lengthen to reach her waist, and then dyed it silvery blonde. Her eyes swirled with the color of the stormy sky, gone was the color of the earth in them. Then, she did the unimaginable: she donned on a pair of emerald earrings, a ring and a necklace, each piece of jewelry shaped to curl into the appearance of a snake. Next came the unforgivable: she wore a deep green, velvet dress that boasted of her womanhood, of her blossoming from a sweet child to a tempestuous woman. Lastly, she did the unpardonable: to finish the effect, she molded a mask decorated with emeralds and two intertwined snakes at both sides.

When she stared at herself in front of a full-length mirror, she could hardly recognize, yet alone remember that this woman staring right back at her and the woman days before this was one and the same.

Hermione Granger, Gryffindor, stared at the mirror, and Hermione Granger, Slytherin, stared back.

Oh, if he could only see me now… she thought gleefully. Draco Malfoy, eat your heart out!

The transformation was complete. She could only grin at her own astonishment for accomplishing something as bold and as manipulative as this. It was sneaky, it was devious… it was the complete opposite of her own self! And yet, that was precisely it, the exact reason why she did this. It was so unpredictable, so unexpected. No one, absolutely no one would suspect that this woman with SLYTHERIN screaming off from her in bold, capital letters was Hermione Granger. Who would ever think that that was possible, that she would proudly wear the colors of the 'enemy' in such an event as this?

She remembered the moment she stepped into the Great Hall; gasps that can be hardly called as such met her ears and made her smile beneath her mask. Ah, yes, she thought. This was the effect that she craved for. People were wondering amongst themselves, who can she be? They were intrigued by her; she saw it in the gawking eyes of those around her. She searched the sea of faces for a familiar pair of moonlit eyes, trying to see if he was as astounded by the others, but to her disappointment she found none. Her spirits slightly dampened, she quietly headed towards the darker part of the room and stayed there, completely oblivious to the paintings that would have displayed her fondest memories with him had she taken the time to look at them.

Of course, on her way to where she was now, she was stopped time and again by offers of those brave enough to dance with a Slytherin in full display. Hermione needed only to look in their eyes to know her answer to their query… No. This was the last dance of the school year, and would she spend it in the arms of another? No. Certainly not. There were only very rare occurrences wherein they could spend time together in the midst of a lot of people without having to live each moment in pretense. This event, this masquerade ball was one of them, and she would certainly not waste such an opportunity to be with him like a normal girl would be with a normal guy in a normal party like this.

But if that was the case, then the night might go on without her dancing at least one dance… because it seemed as though the blasted, annoying, selfish, irritating, stupid dumb piece of git would not make his appearance tonight…

Heaving a sigh that was tainted with both disappointment and exasperation, she began to move towards the door when suddenly a bold, firm hand snaked around her waist and brought her back towards something firmer, bolder.

Before her mouth could utter something in response, a lazy drawl near her ear caught her unaware, unprepared… "Going somewhere, my beautiful Slytherin princess?"

And then she knew exactly who was holding her.

Hermione lifted the hand off her waist and turned around, bent on giving this bastard a piece of her mind… but the outburst never came.

The outburst never came because never in her life would she dream seeing him like this… like a Gryffindor in full display.

She raised her surprise-filled eyes and met his… brown… ones. "You're a—" she muttered, almost incoherently, completely thrown by the colors she had never seen on him before. "You're a Gryffindor!"

He folded his arms in front of his chest, his face unreadable because of his own mask. "No need to call names," he quipped.

It was true, though. Draco Malfoy looked every inch the brave, noble Gryffindor that he came as. He wore a deep crimson robe that was open at the center, and a golden shirt peeked out from the crevice that this robe created. A small, lion-shaped pendant hung low on his chest, and to amplify the effect, his mask was pure white except for the beautiful and intricate rendition of a lion on one side. Clearly, anyone would see that he looked as though he was the very epitome of Godric Gryffindor, one of the Four Founders of their school.

"Hasn't anyone ever told you it is rude to stare? You're a Slytherin, you're supposed to know your manners." Draco said bitingly.

Hermione closed her mouth immediately, her face flushing pink. "It's just that—" she muttered faintly, her voice small, "You're a Gryffindor… and you've got brown eyes and… brown hair."

He cocked his head to one side, pointed at his eyes and ruffled his hair. "You're not the only one who's adept at making potions. But I've got to admit… this is something surprising as well…" At that, he stepped even closer to her, caught a strand of her hair and lifted it. He stared at her eyes, and quietly studied the color on them. "It looks good on you," Draco said, a genuine compliment on his lips and his eyes, orbs that were softened by the color of earth in them.

She bit her lip, and then took her time to look at him. It was almost humorous, really, that she'd come to the ball as a female Draco Malfoy, and he came as a male Hermione Granger… they've never really talked about their costumes, so how on earth…? "We match," she said.

"Yes, because Slytherins and Gryffindors are really meant to be with each other, you know."

She was about to retort to that when Hermione remembered that he was late. Severely late at that. Silver eyes flashing in annoyance at having to wait for him, she hissed. "Where have you been?" she asked, the snake in her appearing in her venomous tone. "You're late. I thought you'd never show up!"

He snorted, then gazed appreciatively at his date. "And miss seeing you like this? I'd rather rot."

She looked unmoved, though she did catch the several approving looks he sent her. "How did you recognize me?"

Brown eyes blinked at her innocently. "My love brought me to you." he said dryly.

This time, it was she who snorted. "Really."

He rolled his eyes, heaved a sigh. "Alright. I was late because I cast a locator spell."

"You needed a locator spell to find me?"

"I just needed to be sure." Draco told her. "When you came in looking like that, I had my suspicions, but I really needed to be sure. After all, it'd be embarrassing for me to come to the wrong girl now, would it? It would ruin my reputation."

"What reputation?" She mocked. "Don't you know your reputation's already ruined? You came as a Gryffindor. If you're so-called friends could see you now…"

Without waiting for her to finish, he seized her immediately and placed her in front of him. "Well, my dear," he told her, his hand already rubbing small, torturous circles on her lower back, "I wonder what your friends will say if they see you like this… fraternizing with the enemy and all that…"

Hermione raised her hands and rested it on his shoulders. Her eyes flashed with something other than ire. "Why'd you think I came looking like this?" she told him, as she wished fervently that they could both do away with their masks.

"Because you wanted to know how it feels to be as beautiful as me?"

She pounded her fist on his chest, and then pondered for a moment. "Actually, yes. And mind you it worked like a charm. I've already been asked to dance so many times..."

The hold on her waist tightened almost immediately, and the eyes that gazed at her began to fill with another kind of fire. "What?" he muttered low, dangerously low.

Hermione chuckled, and that only elicited a growl from him. "Relax, your highness, king of the jungle." She told him. "It wasn't like I danced with them, you know. Even if I'm a Slytherin tonight, I still try and maintain my standards…"

"Thank Merlin for your standards," he said. Then, he began to guide their movements as they proceeded to dance. Draco lowered his face and rested it on her shoulder, his hands possessively holding on to her. "You know…" he said. "I'm feeling particularly bold tonight. Do you think we could remove our masks…?"

She stepped back. "Are you serious?" she asked. "But what if—"

His eyes burned with a fiery determination. "Screw them," he said firmly. With that, he removed his hands from her and clutched at his mask, and then proceeded to take it away. When his face was revealed, she could only gasp at the difference his eyes and hair made. He smiled at her.

"Huh," she muttered. And then she removed her own mask. "It's not like we're going to be recognized, anyway—"

Before she could breathe her next breath, Draco was already in front of her, holding her like close to him. "Now if you don't mind," he drawled lazily, "I'd like to do something I've been wanting to do."

Hermione knew the answer, but felt it right to ask, "What's that?"

"This." And then he lowered his face and caught her lips with his. His hands remained on her waist, and hers on his shoulder as they savored the intimacy of the moment, as they savored the hauntingly familiar dance that they were indulging themselves in.

Around them, the students were shocked to see the Lady Slytherin and the Lord Gryffindor fraternizing with each other, so to speak. Murmurs and speculations danced crazily around them, questions about who they were and what they thought they were doing… scandalous! They thought. Completely scandalous!

And had Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy been looking at the walls instead of feasting on each other, they would have seen themselves painted on the walls, for now these walls reflect the moment they both threw away their masks and surrendered completely to the magic of the ball, for they had truly seized the moment, the freedom to become… free.