Title: Once Upon a Masquerade

Rating: PG-13 (just to be safe)

Summary: Ginny meets her Prince Charming at a masked ball, but he may not turn out to bea dream come true.

Disclaimer: All belongs to J.K. Rowling. All chapter titles are lyrics from Phantom of the Opera. After all, if any of it belonged to me, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this.

Chapter 1: Let the Spectacle Astound You

"A masquerade ball?" Ginny gaped at Hermione in complete astonishment.

"Yes, isn't it a wonderful idea?" Hermione beamed. "After all, Dumbledore's been very into inter-house relations this year, and after the success of the Yule Ball three years ago -."

Ginny wondered if now would be a suitable time to point out that the Yule Ball hadn't managed to further relationships between schools, let alone between houses, and, anyway, only Hermione seemed to look back on the Yule Ball with any sense of enjoyment. Ginny herself only shuddered when she thought of that night. And she could definitely remember how the night had actually been for Hermione. But apparently minor problems, like fighting with one of her best friends, were unimportant when face to face with a solution for solving the never-ending quarrels between houses.

However, the Head Girl was still talking, so Ginny decided not to the mention any of these thoughts.

"- So Dumbledore agreed with me, and he's allowing the prefects to be in charge of the ball. We'll start preparations tomorrow at the prefect meeting," Hermione continued.

"Uh, Hermione," Ginny began hesitantly, "as fun as such a ball might be, how is it going to help inter-house relationships? I mean, a Ravenclaw might ask as Gryffindor, and a Hufflepuff might dance with a Ravenclaw, but there's nothing special about that. Besides," she added in what she hoped was a suitably dejected voice, "you know how everyone gets about the whole date issue. It's always a lot more trouble that it's worth."

"But that is what's so wonderful about this," Hermione exclaimed. "It's a masquerade ball. Only fourth years and above can attend, and only if they're in costume with a mask. And dates are strictly prohibited. That way no one will know who anyone is and you could wind up dancing and chatting with someone you'd never consider talking to otherwise."

"Until, of course, the person actually opens their mouth and speaks," Ginny replied sarcastically. "I think everyone will recognize my hair and voice - or do you have a way to disguise everyone's' voices as well?"

"Of course, everyone will be completely disguised," Hermione replied, not bothered at all by Ginny's sarcasm. "You wouldn't believe how hard it is to recognize someone's voice when you can't see their face."

Hermione seemed so proud of her plan that Ginny couldn't ruin it for her. But she could just see all the girls giggling over their costumes and finding out what the boy they fancied was going as and someone forgetting a mask all together…

"Ginny, you won't tell anyone about this, will you?" Hermione continued. "Dumbledore's announcing it tomorrow morning, and it's supposed to be a surprise, but I just had to tell someone. I thought you could keep it a secret, otherwise I wouldn't have told you. Ron and Harry don't even know."

Ginny glanced up, surprised. To be trusted over Harry and Ron? Sure, Hermione and her had grown closer recently, but that was because Hermione needed a female friend and all the girls in her year annoyed her. Ginny was the obvious next step, and so Ginny had become Hermione's confidant when Hermione needed to complain about school, or house elves' rights, or Ron and Harry, or anything else she just couldn't tell her two best friends. They were, after all, rather insensitive and dense about some things. Plus it was nice for Ginny to have a friend, even though she wondered how much of what she said might accidentally get back to her brother.

She realized Hermione was gazing at her expectantly. Smiling brightly, Ginny replied,

"You know what, I think this will be a great success, Hermione. After all, anyone who likes to get dressed up and go to parties will have fun, and anyone who doesn't can just not bother to go." Ginny inched the smiled up a few notches. "Whatever I can do to help, please tell me."

"Oh good, I'm so glad you think so." Hermione clasped her hands together. "There's so much to do, though. I have to start planning now – after I finish my Defense Against the Dark Arts essay and, of course, I still need to organize my notes from Potions and Charms…" with an absent nod and that all too familiar gleam in her eye at the thought of work, Hermione drifted out the door.

Ginny stared down at her Transfiguration homework, hoping she'd convinced Hermione that she actually liked this idea. Since she had offered to help, Hermione was unlikely to give her as much to do as she would a reluctant Ron or Harry, and perhaps Hermione wouldn't even notice if Ginny chose not to attend. And one could only hope that the rest of the school would find the idea of a masquerade ball as terrible as she did. Perhaps then Hermione's enthusiasm for the idea would wane – though if SPEW was anything to judge by, a negative reaction would have the opposite affect.

"Oh, Ginny," Hermione's head popped around Ginny's door again. "What you said about people not wanting to go – you weren't referring to yourself by any chance? Because I'll need you there in case there's no one else to talk to."

"Ah," Ginny replied smugly, "but you won't know who I am, will you?"

A masquerade ball? What was the old fool talking about, Draco wondered as he absently stirred his coffee. As Head Boy surely he should have been told about this…

Oh wait; he did remember something about it now. Yes, Granger had been talking about it. In fact, she'd cornered him in the hallway this morning to tell him the details. No shame in that one. No idea that as a Malfoy and a Mudblood they had to hate each other. There weren't any alternatives, at least in Draco's mind.

In fact, having to work with an overachieving, interfering busybody like Granger who actually liked this whole inter-house cooperation thing, kind of took the fun out of being Head Boy. Ever since Potter and his faithful sidekicks had had their annual run in with disaster at the end of 6th year, while breaking a thousand school rules and actually getting rewarded for it, all Dumbledore had talked about was cooperating with other houses. He'd gone so far as to name a Slytherin and a Gryffindor Head Boy and Girl respectively so that they would have to work together. The fact that Draco was only Head Boy because The Boy Who Had Everything was a Gryffindor, like Granger, and, therefore, couldn't be Head Boy, took some of the joy out of beating Potter.

"A masquerade!" Pansy squealed, squeezing his arm. "How exciting! I think I'll be a mermaid – or a fairy – or -."

"The point is not to tell anyone," Draco drawled, extracting himself from her grasp. "So we can all make fools of ourselves."

He strode off, ignoring the excited whispers about the ball. Not that he would be attending. No, juvenile school balls weren't for Malfoys. Neither was dressing up and dancing around, or whatever else one did at all ball. And a masquerade ball would be even worse – having to put a paper mask over his face and parade around in costume – the horror!

"Malfoy! Malfoy!" an all too familiar voice followed him down the hall.

"A little louder, if you please, Granger, I can't quite hear you," he drawled. Completely ignoring his sarcasm, the bushy-haired brainiac grabbed his sleeve and turned him around.

"Please don't touch me in public," Draco snapped, pulling away.

"There you are, Malfoy," Granger said triumphantly, as if he had never spoken.

"Was it some kind of competition – who could find the Malfoy first?" Draco sneered. "Well, you found me, off you go."

"Are you bothering Hermione again?" Another loud, obnoxious voice joined the conversation. Draco groaned inwardly.

"I'll have you know, Weasel, that she is bothering me," he retorted. Weasley stepped forward angrily, but Hermione's hand stopped him.

"Please, you two, don't make everything so complicated," she sighed. "Malfoy, I just wanted to remind you that there's a prefect meeting tonight. We've got lots to do for the ball." She was apparently unperturbed by any of Draco's comments. Nothing seemed to bother her anymore. He could remember a time he had annoyed her enough to make her hit him. Was he losing his touch?

"That no dates rule," Draco tried again, "Did you add that because you knew you wouldn't have a date?"

"Hermione would have a date," Weasley said hotly, glancing at her. Draco would have laughed, but Malfoys didn't laugh in public. He smirked instead. So the Weasel still liked Granger. How cute. Pity the look on her face said she wasn't having any of it.

"Come on, Ron, we'll be late for Transfiguration." She took his arm. "And I promised Harry I'd help him with his essay, remember?"

"Doing other's homework, Granger? Tsk tsk." Draco shook his head in mock-disapproval.

"I don't do their homework, Malfoy, I help them," Granger said righteously.

"True," Draco replied. "If you did they'd have better grades."

Granger paused, looking startled. Then she smiled. "I'm flattered you think so highly of me, Malfoy." With that, she and Weasley were gone.

With dismay Draco realized he'd just spent ten minutes in conversation with two thirds of the Golden Trio without so much as a hex or real insult thrown their way. And Weasley hadn't tried to kill him and he'd complimented Granger…

He was losing his touch.

"Masquerade ball…instead of the Halloween Feast…improve inter-house relations…"

Ginny listened to Dumbledore explain the masquerade ball to the room. Toying with her breakfast she tried to block the noise out. How come she seemed to be the only who hated the idea of a ball – and who realized the idiocy of the whole idea?

"Oooh, how fun," Lavender Brown, seated across from Ginny, squealed.

"We aren't allowed to have dates?" Parvati Patil said for what seemed like the hundredth time.

"Yes," Ginny snapped, irritated. "That's what he said."

"Aw, Ginny, it's ok," Lavender said, misunderstanding Ginny's mood. "You still might get to dance with Harry."

"I don't want to dance with Harry," Ginny snapped. "I don't want to go with him to the stupid ball. I don't like Harry!"

Harry, seated a few seats down from Lavender, was staring at her. So was everyone else.

"Hey, thanks, Ginny," he said and turned to Ron. "When did your sister start hating me?"

Ginny stared very hard at her plate.

"She doesn't hate you, Harry," Hermione explained. "She just doesn't fancy you anymore. That was just a first and second year phase."

Everyone else's childhood crushes get forgotten, Ginny grumbled to herself. Mine gets announced to the whole table at breakfast.

"Hey, mate, don't worry." Ron clapped Harry on the shoulder. "She still likes you, she's just in – uh, what's it called again? Oh yeah, denial. She's in denial about you." He grinned as if he'd said something particularly clever.

"What are you talking about, Ron?" Hermione demanded irritably.

"Ginny," Ron replied, as if it were obvious.

Ginny threw her fork down on her plate, and the clatter made the entire table turn and stare at her.

"I'd appreciate it if you stopped talking about me as if I'm not sitting right here," she snapped, standing up. "And I'm so glad to know that you know more about my feelings than I do." She layered her voice so thickly with sarcasm that even Ron couldn't miss it. With a final glare at her shocked brother, Ginny stormed out of the hall.

I don't like Harry, she hissed to herself. Why couldn't everyone else see that? Harry was nice, but he barely realized that she was there most of the time, and Ginny didn't like being in anyone else's shadow. In any relationship she had, she wouldn't be hanging around, waiting to be noticed. Michael hadn't realized that. He seemed to think her existence was dependent upon his wishes. Sure, she'd had fun with him, but it always had to be what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it. He'd even expected her to lose at quidditch just for him! She hadn't been too sad when that relationship ended.

Dean hadn't been much better, even if he was the total opposite. He was so nice and sweet, but Ginny was sarcastic by nature, so when she was sarcastic around him, he always seemed hurt by it. He was just too nice, always dependent upon what she wanted to do, always willing to let her make the decisions. It drove her crazy, even though she knew it was hypocritical of her.

She'd wanted a happy medium, somewhere in between Michael and Dean. Instead she'd found Seamus - except he had definitely been more interested in her body than her mind. So off he'd gone.

Looking at the rest of the male population of Hogwarts, Ginny knew no one lived up to her standards – sweet but not too nice, funny but not obnoxious, opinionated but not a control-freak, intelligent but not arrogant…the list went on. And for the moment that was fine with her. Real relationships didn't start in school anyway. She could wait for the right man to arrive.

But, unfortunately, her brother – and everyone else – thought the right one already had. He just wasn't the one Ginny wanted. Harry probably bordered on too nice, besides being rather idiotic at times. And it wasn't like he wanted anything to do with her either. But Ron just didn't get it.

The only person that understood was Hermione, and that was because she was going through the same problem herself. The entire school had decided Ron and Hermione were a meant-to-be couple. Though Ginny wasn't sure about her brother's feelings, she knew that after their "kind of-sort of-not really" relationship the summer before their 6th year, Hermione wanted Ron to remain a friend.

And yet again, everyone thought differently. It's my life, Ginny thought angrily, why won't they let me live it my way?

As if my day could get any worse, Draco thought wearily. He'd woken up to be confronted by the awful thought of a masquerade ball, no doubt a more hideous spectacle than the Yule Ball had been. He'd spent far too much time in conversation with two of the most annoying people around without deriving any satisfaction from it. He'd spent the entire day dodging Pansy's and the other Slytherin girls' determined attempts to discover what he would be wearing to the ball – and he'd fooled them each time with different, yet equally ludicrous, costumes.

And here he was, in a prefect meeting, listening to Granger organize things for the bloody ball. And now her voice was even interrupting his thoughts.

"Well?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry," Draco drawled. "I got so bored of listening to you talk that I just dozed off."

No one laughed. No one even smiled. Draco decided the opinions of the Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff prefects shouldn't bother him. But why were the other Slytherins just staring at him too? They should be able to appreciate his witty comebacks like that one.

He had really lost his touch.

"Well, let me inform you of what we've done so far," Granger snapped in her best impression of McGonagall. "Since this is all about inter-house relations, we're going to cooperate with each other. I've arranged all the various divisions – you're going to work on the food with Ginny – that is, if it's acceptable with you?"

Who knew Granger could be sarcastic? Malfoy thought. "No, sorry, that's not acceptable with me."

"Well, if you'd paid attention," Granger replied icily, "You could have volunteered for clean-up, set-up, decorations, advertisements -."

"It's not that I object to," Draco interrupted. "After all, I'm clearly the best person to be in charge of the food – I've been brought up on gourmet delicacies. No, I just don't think I can work with a Weasley." he glanced around, and didn't see the youngest Weasley. "She's not even here – clearly she's not dedicated enough to assist me on this. Come to think of it, she probably doesn't even know what gourmet means."

Just as he hoped, Weasel himself stood up, his face red with anger. Unfortunately, Granger stopped him yet again.

"Oh, Ron, sit down," she snapped. "I am so tired of you two! Malfoy, I don't trust you to do anything, since you don't know what responsibility means, and I do trust Ginny – so deal with it."

It was true that Draco's one enjoyment as Head Boy was taking points away from anyone he simply didn't like and being above many of the school rules - and beating Potter, of course. Still, it wasn't as if he purposely avoided his duties as Head Boy – Granger did them all for him.

"I'm hurt by your lack of confidence in me, Granger," Draco drawled. "I've been trying so hard to earn your good opinion, after all."

Granger's response to this was to roll her eyes and return to whatever she had been talking about before. Draco returned to staring out the window. It was no good – whatever he said, the Mudblood didn't even look bothered by it. He could probably call her a mudblood to her face, and she'd just roll her eyes. He had completely lost the famous Malfoy talent of annoying others. His father, all the way off in Azkaban, would hear about it and that would be the end of Draco.

Well I suppose some quality time spent alone with the Weaselette couldn't hurt, Draco mused, After all, she's rather easy to annoy.

The thought gave him great pleasure.

Ginny hadn't gone to the prefects' meeting. They were always worthless anyway, with Hermione doing a lot of talking and no one else really paying attention. Besides, she figured if she wasn't there, perhaps Hermione would forget to involve her in the masquerade ball preparations.

No such luck. Hermione went straight to Ginny's dorm after the meeting, full of concern.

"Ginny, are you sick? You weren't at the meeting, and you're always so reliable, so I wondered -."

Groaning inwardly, Ginny managed a shocked expression. "Oh, Hermione, I'm so sorry, I got so into my Potions homework, and you know what NEWT level Potions is like, and I completely forgot about the time -."

The homework worked, like it did every time. Hermione relaxed. "It's fine, Ginny, you need to concentrate on Potions. We didn't do much, but I put you in charge of the food for the ball – you're working with Malfoy."

"Ok, Hermione." Ginny's attention was on the blank parchment lying in front of her. It took her a few moments to realize what Hermione had just said. "Wait, Malfoy? No, that's not ok. I won't work with him – what were you thinking?"

"Well, I suppose I could change it…" Hermione said hesitantly. "But, Ginny, it can't be that bad -."

"Oh, yes it could!" Ginny cried. "I won't work with that arrogant, spiteful, malicious git. I'll do anything if you'll change it."

The very idea of working with Malfoy filled her with horror. More jokes about Harry, no doubt, along with insults directed towards her family, her poverty, and whatever else about her he thought deserved ridiculing. She would not go through that, not even for Hermione.

"Oh, alright, I'll work with you, and Malfoy can do something else," Hermione sighed. "But only if you promise to go to the ball."

"Anything," Ginny sighed with relief. "Thank you."

It was only after Hermione had left that Ginny realized what she had just promised – and how Hermione had probably arranged the whole thing just for that purpose.

She was tempted to throw something at the closing door as she wondered how, yet again, she had underestimated Hermione and been forced into doing something she wanted to be as far away from as possible.

A/N: Please, tell me what you think – reviews are always welcome.