Author's Note: Obviously, the characters and settings aren't mine, they belong to J.K., but I was watching the Goblet of Fire movie the other day, and the scene at the end of the ball, after her big fight with Ron. She sitting there on the staircase, and there was... something about that scene that stuck in my mind. Now, that scene didn't happen in the book, but there is a part where she leaves the ball for a short while, and I've decided to work it in right there. There is a bit of text taken directly from the book, pages 421 to 422 (US edition). It starts at '"Hi," said Harry.' and goes to '-disappearing into the crowd.'

And one character quite obviously acts OOC towards the end, but I really like that ship, as implausible as it is.

And also, for those of you who might be reading 'World Enough', I promise, it's not abandoned. If you read my last A/N on it, you'll know that I was having major computer problems for a while, and I've written the next chapter no less than TWICE now, only to have the computer crash and wipe it out. So now, it's about 50 done for the third time, but it takes me a long time because I look things up as I go, and I can't get online at home anymore (no landline, no broadband, etc), so when I do the spells, etc, I have to go to my mom's or grandma's.

Hopefully, though, within the next few weeks you'll get an update on that one!

-oOO0OOoo-

Interlude: Yule Ball

Hermione sank to the stairs making a useless attempt to stem the flow of tears. All around her, people were laughing, dancing, and tiny little fairy lights were fluttering about near the ceiling. The decorations were beautiful, the mood and music were perfect, and even the weather seemed to be cooperating with the plans for the Yule Ball.

The evening had started off more glorious than she could imagine. She had dressed herself in the most beautiful periwinkle robes, made of a soft, floaty material she couldn't name. The robes were charmed with the best perfect-fit charms that could be found in Hogsmeade. She'd spent at least an hour on her hair, washing it, curling it, and arranging it to perfection. She'd added a few sparkly hair ornaments, and clasped a delicate chain around her neck. She'd even donned heels for the first time in her life, charmed to match the color of her dress, with a delicate strap across her ankle and a two-inch heel. Low enough that she felt comfortable wearing them, but tall enough to make her a better match in height for the famous Seeker. Also, she'd thought practically, tall enough to keep the hem of her very expensive dress from dragging the floor.

She'd danced with Viktor for what seemed like hours after dining on the most exquisite meal that Hogwarts had offered. She'd chosen a nice baked fish with a side of rice, Viktor had mutton, and they'd had a chance to sit and talk without all the interruptions of giggling girls in the library.

After they'd danced for a while, Hermione mentioned to Viktor that she wished she'd had more of the pumpkin juice from dinner, and he'd offered to find her something to drink. "Yes, please! I'll wait at one of the tables for you," she'd responded gratefully.

Together, they walked off the dance floor, and after a moment's pause, he'd left her standing near where Ron and Harry were sitting. Unable to comprehend her luck, she gave a little twirl before flopping down gracelessly into a chair beside Harry. He and Ron were the only students still seated at the dinner tables, having both been abandoned by their dates, and every other student having moved on to better things.

"Hi," said Harry. Ron didn't say anything.

"It's hot, isn't it?" said Hermione, fanning herself with her hand. "Viktor's just gone to get some drinks."

Ron gave her a withering look. "Viktor?" he said. "Hasn't he asked you to call him Vicky yet?"

Hermione looked at him in surprise. " What's up with you?" she said.

"If you don't know," said Ron scathingly, "I'm not going to tell you."

Hermione stared at him, then at Harry, who shrugged.

"Ron, what --?"

"He's from Durmstrang!" spat Ron. "He's competing against Harry! Against Hogwarts! You- you're- " Ron was obviously casting around for words strong enough to describe Hermione's crime, "fraternizing with the enemy, that's what you're doing!"

Hermione's mouth fell open.

"Don't be so stupid!" she said after a moment. "The enemy! Honestly- who was the one who was all excited when they saw him arrive? Who was the one who wanted his autograph? Who's got a model of him up in their dormitory?"

Ron chose to ignore this. "I s'pose he asked you to come with him while you were both in the library?"

"Yes, he did," said Hermione, the pink patches on her cheeks glowing more brightly. "So what?"

"What happened- trying to get him to join spew, were you?"

"No, I wasn't! If you really want to know, he- he said he'd been coming up to the library every day to try and talk to me, but he hadn't been able to pluck up the courage!"

Hermione said this very quickly, and blushed so deeply that she was the same color as Parvati's robes.

Yeah, well- that's his story," said Ron nastily.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Obvious, isn't it? He's Karkaroff's student, isn't he? He knows who you hang around with... He's just trying to get closer to Harry- get inside information on him- or get near enough to jinx him-"

Hermione looked as though Ron had slapped her. When she spoke, her voice quivered.

"For your information, he hasn't asked me one single thing about Harry, not one-"

Ron changed tack at the speed of light.

"Then he's hoping you'll help him find out what his egg means! I suppose you've been putting your heads together during those cozy little library sessions-"

"I'd never help him work out that egg!" said Hermione, looking outraged. "Never. How could you say something like that- I want Harry to win the tournament, Harry knows that, don't you Harry?"

"You've got a funny way of showing it," sneered Ron.

"This whole tournament's supposed to be about getting to know foreign wizards and making friends with them!" said Hermione hotly.

"Not it isn't!" shouted Ron. "It's about winning!"

People were starting to stare at them.

"Ron," said Harry quietly, "I haven't got a problem with Hermione coming with Krum-"

But Ron ignored Harry, too.

"Why don't you go and find Vicky, he'll be wondering where you are," said Ron.

"Don't call him Vicky!"

Hermione jumped to her feet and stormed across the dance floor, disappearing into the crowd. Tears tracing streaky tracks through her carefully applied make-up, she pushed past people whose faces she couldn't quite make out. Some of them shouted after her angrily, but she paid them no mind. How could Ron act like this! It was crazy, and it was awful. Her first real date, ever, and her best friend had thrown a wobbly and ruined it.

She batted aside a fairy light that had strayed too low on her way out of the doors, and into the entrance hall. The stairs to her left were darkened, as this was not an area that had been decorated for the ball.

Dropping her face into her hands, she wept as quietly as she could, sitting on a stairstep. Behind her, she could hear the band playing a new song, another faster one, and the laughter of students who were having a great time.

Hermione sniffled.

She should be in there, finishing a butterbeer right now, dancing with Viktor, the boy that all of the girls had wanted to go with.

With the sides of her fingers, she made an attempt to wipe the tears from her eyes, but they came away black with runny mascara. Silly, stupid makeup, silly, stupid ball. With a heaving sign, Hermione clutched at the knees of her dress robes, wishing she had her wand, or at least a cloth to wipe her face.

Suddenly, one appeared before her. Not quite comprehending, Hermione stared at the handkerchief.

It was a perfectly ordinary square of cotton, with delicate black stitching around the outside. In one corner, there was a letter monogrammed in dark green, though she could not make out which letter it was, due to the fact that a set of fingers were holding it out to her, and partially obscuring it.

The fingers were fairly ordinary. Five of them, long and slim, free of any cuts, scars, or other visible imperfections. Even the nails had been perfectly groomed, buffed to a dull shine. They were very nice fingers, and bore no resemblance to Harry's brown ones, with calluses, scars, and dirt ever-present. They didn't look like Ron's either, with his freckles and bitten nails.

But they were definitely male fingers.

She followed the fingers up to the hand, and down the cloth-covered arm. Black dress robes. Hardly in short supply tonight.

Again, all fairly ordinary.

But when she reached the boy's face, her breath caught in her throat. She blinked rapidly to clear her eye and get a better look at who was standing in front of her.

This was decidedly unordinary.

Because in the dimly lit stairwell, offering her his spotless handkerchief to dry her tears, was Draco Malfoy.

Hermione didn't know what to do with herself.

At her hesitation, he frowned, and took a knee beside her. Slowly, he placed the cotton against her cheek, her tears and make-up staining it a dirty brown.

Meticulously, he wiped until the tear tracks were gone, and her face was as clean as it had been several hours before, when she first began to get dressed in anticipation of the night.

When he was finished, he held out the handkerchief to her once again, and this time her hand lifted to take it.

Briefly, their fingers touched.

The skin-on-skin contact seemed to jolt her out of the daze she had been in. "Why are you-"

"You are too beautiful to night to waste it all on someone like Ronald Weasley." Draco looked her dead in the eye, with an unreadable look. Without another word, he stood and ascended the stairs. She watched as he re-entered the ball.

She looked back at the cloth in her lap and fingered the embroidered 'M' in the corner. It was Malfoy green, she realized belatedly. Roughly two shades darker than the Slytherin green of the student robes.

And he's called her beautiful. She ice prince of Slytherin had left the ball to attend to her, a mudblood.

That thought filled her with... something. Something warm, tingly, and vaguely euphoric. Nevermind what Ron thought, Draco was right. The night should not be wasted. With that, she stood, and marched defiantly up the stairs. She glanced at the large clock far up above, and found that it was just past 10:30. The ball wasn't closing until midnight.

That left her with an hour and a half to not worry about what Ron thought. Hermione squared her shoulders, blew her nose, tucked the soiled cloth into the bodice of her dress (she'd over-analyze her encounter with Draco at another time), and walked into the ball. Head held high, she sought out Viktor and asked him for another dance.

A nice, slow dance, followed by a butterbeer.

-ooOO00OOoo-

Pleas R&R!