Hermione looked at her reflection, tweaked her hair slightly and checked the majority of her face way covered before smiling in satisfaction. "What do you think?" She asked herself then giggled self-indulgently. She was nervous, granted, but talking to her own reflection was a step too far for her. Her hands fluttered to the waist band of her dress and she smoothed it down for the tenth time in as many minutes. She wasn't usually so preoccupied with Hogwarts dances but ever since the Yule Ball, and given the certain rules of this ball, she'd been a lot more inclined to attend - at least in secret. As far as Harry and Ron were concerned she was going to hide away in the library all evening, in true Hermione style. "Sorry boys," she whispered, grinning as she twirled around, "but not this evening."

The truth was that Hermione intended to go against the grain of the school system while she still could. Not that she was going to do anything ridiculously illegal; she was still herself after all. No, she was going to challenge the house cliques and stereotypes. She was going to get a boy from each house to dance with her, maybe even flirt with her a bit, and then at midnight she would prove that two people don't have to be from the same house to make it work. The plan was only going to work as well as it could due to the theme of this year's now-annual Yule Ball - masquerade. Hermione could hide behind a mask for the entire evening while she acted out her plan. It was perfect.

As she reviewed her plan, however, Hermione grew nervous again. Gryffindor would be easy. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw wouldn't be so difficult either, but it was Slytherin that worried her. She knew that she herself was conforming to the house stereotypes but the Slytherin boys were so aloof with anyone not in their inner circle. She calmed her nerves with some water and grinned, they were nothing to worry about. "Think of it as a challenge Hermione, like a particularly hard piece of potions work." She told her mirror-self, noticing the relaxing of her stance as she changed her thought-process.

She peered around the corner of the enlarged toilet cubicle to check the room was empty before she left. Several people had seen her go into the cubicle earlier, most notably Lavender who would gossip her identity away given half the chance, and Hermione didn't want anyone to recognise her. Thankfully the girls' toilets were empty and she was able to exit, restore her cubicle to its normal size and stash away her usual school robes just before a small group of first year Hufflepuffs entered. One of them stopped upon seeing her, her eyes wide, Hermione smiled at the girl and hurried past her. She was already late and she wanted as much time as possible to achieve her challenge.

As Hermione entered the great hall she stumbled slightly in her unusual heels. Just as she thought she would end up sprawled on the floor she felt someone grab her arm. She righted herself and turned to face her rescuer. Harry's unruly mop of hair gave him away instantly and Hermione smiled, relaxing in the presence of her friend. Not recognising his best friend of the past six years Harry smiled what Ron described as his 'charmer' smile. "Dance?" He asked, inclining his head towards the already crowded dance floor. Hermione chuckled quietly to herself and accepted the offer. If even Harry, the much more perceptive of him and Ron, hadn't recognised her then she could easily succeed tonight.

They made their way to the dance floor, giving Hermione a chance to admire the room. Professor Flitwick had decorated the room with candles, muggle fairy lights and chandeliers. The effect was a romantic and mysterious lighting, lending well to the evening's theme. There was a draped area to the side of the dance floor with separate table booths for friends and couples to spend time alone together, although Filch could be seen lurking nearby and happily disturbing any wayward couples who took advantage of the shadowy folds.

A muggle dance song was playing, although Hermione couldn't see where the music was actually coming from, and Harry began dancing as close to her as he could get away with. Hermione felt a bit awkward at first but soon began to enjoy the music and her friend's company too much to worry. In fact perhaps she was enjoying Harry's company a bit too much. She found herself wishing that she had no knowledge of Ginny's feelings towards Harry and could pursue him herself. It made sense, she told herself, they'd been through so much together which was bound to bring people together, and they trusted each other more than most people ever did. Perhaps, Hermione decided, it was time to find a new dance partner.

Several songs had passed by now and Hermione was dismayed to see that most of her year were already dancing. She retreated discretely, after pleading thirst to Harry, to a secluded corner to look for her next partner. Many of the boys were wearing their house colours as their masks, and some had already abandoned the masquerade pretence.

Hermione guessed that the music playlist was going to be entirely muggle music this evening, as she had already heard several of her favourite bands and another had just come on. She felt a hand grab hers and pull her into the throng of dancing students. "I love this song!" The boy shouted above Fall Out Boy's Dance Dance. "What house are you in, Slytherin?" Hermione grinned to herself, while she hadn't deliberately chosen her dresses colour to deceive people it had helped distance herself from being discovered. She shook her head and leaned towards her partner. "I thought the whole point of the masks was to keep our identities secret, what good would telling you my house do?"

He grinned and twirled her, causing her to giddily shriek, before pulling her close. "The good it would do, would be making it easier for me to find you tomorrow to ask you out." He supplied. Hermione blushed and said nothing, but remained dancing with her partner for some time. There was no more conversation for a couple of songs, until he broke their companionable silence. "Ravenclaw" Hermione looked up and frowned at him, he grinned and kissed her cheek. "I'm in Ravenclaw, if you wanted to find me tomorrow for any reason. Ask for Pete Wentz." He bowed and left her alone on the dance floor, blowing her a kiss as he disappeared into the crowd. Despite herself Hermione grinned and blushed further, tonight was going well.

She squeezed her way across the floor and into one of the nearby bathrooms. Being a prefect allowed her the luxury of the prefect's bathroom, complete with its full length mirror. She'd narrowly missed being caught with her dress on by Pansy earlier in this room but Pansy was now occupied desperately seeking Draco, and so Hermione was alone. She locked the door and took off her mask. Her eyes glowed and her cheeks were flushed, from dancing and her previous partner's compliments.

She twisted from side to side, ensuring her dress was still in one piece and admiring the way it skimmed her curves without clinging too much. The dress was a striking emerald green and her mask was silver, easily explaining the association with Slytherin, but Hermione had picked the colours to suit her hair and eyes. Plus her mother had bestowed them upon her, insisting that the muggle prom dress would suit the Yule Ball. Looking at her reflection in the mirror Hermione made a mental note to owl her mother at the next possible opportunity and admit that she had been right. As mothers usually are.

Mask back on and a small meal eaten in the quit of the prefect's bathroom Hermione rejoined her year and found a seat facing the dance floor. A slow song was playing and Hermione spotted Ginny dancing with Harry. She smiled to herself, glad she had left Harry earlier that night when she had. No matter what had happened in the past few years, the pair kept going back to each other. Ron wasn't too pleased at first, his best friend and his best sister was never an ideal coupling, but now he too admitted they were good together. Speaking of Ron, Hermione spotted him dancing with Lavender now and sighed. This plan had first come to her mind after she'd caught Ron and Lavender kissing one night on patrols. She'd been dating Ron at the time and her co-patrolling prefect at the time had to stop her from hexing both Lavender and Ron, no easy feat and possibly the reason behind her receiving a new prefect partner in Draco.

Another romantic song begun playing and Hermione groaned, she hated the couple songs, as she as always one of the girls sitting around the dance floor watching all the other couples and feeling more alone than ever. She was considering giving up and leaving, Ron and Lavender were being particularly nausea-inducing this evening, when she felt as if she was being watched. She glanced around her surreptitiously and finally found him. Half hidden in the shadows near the draped area, holding a drink and surveying her as a lion would a zebra. Hermione blushed and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She saw him smirk and take a sip of his drink. He was cool, calm and entirely controlled while she was reduced to a nervous wreck from him just watching her.

She was about to venture over to him when someone tapped her shoulder. She started slightly and looked round. Standing behind her was a tall, handsome Ravenclaw boy whose name Hermione did not know. She'd seen him in some of her classes, and knew he was particularly skilled at ancient runes and muggle studies, so she gladly smiled and accepted his invitation to dance. The romantic song ended just as they stepped onto the floor and was replaced by Johan Strauss' Vienna Waltz. Many couples pulled faces and left.

Hermione faltered, wondering if this boy would do the same. He too paused and turned to her. "Do you know how to waltz?" He asked. She nodded and he grinned. "Good, let's show them how it's done." She took the stance her father had taught her and allowed herself to be led in the dance she had grown up with. Her parents were big fans of classical music and from a young age she'd been taught to dance the typical ballroom styles. The waltz was by far her favourite and most practiced, and it showed. Her partner was also exceptionally good, earning them admiring, and envious, glances around the room.

As she was led around the room Hermione couldn't help but notice the boy from earlier was still watching her. He hadn't moved from his spot and his gaze was just as intense. She hoped he was from Slytherin, it was her last house and she didn't want to lose him just because of her determination to stick with her plan. The waltz ended and her partner stilled, bringing Hermione back from her reverie. She smiled at her partner and excused herself. She begun heading in the direction of her watcher only to realise that he'd moved from his spot when her attention had been diverted. Her shoulders sagged in regret and she headed into one of the empty booths.

She eased off her heels and was rubbing her aching feet when she realised she wasn't alone. Standing in the entrance of the booth was her watcher. His arms were crossed and he was surveying her with an intense curiosity. She froze, and simply stared at him. Up close he was mesmerising. He was wearing a black tuxedo with clover green piping and tie. The chances of him being from Slytherin looked promising. He had blonde hair and piercing eyes. He didn't speak, but simply dropped to one knee and helped her with her shoes before taking her hand and leading her back to the dance floor. Hermione willingly followed him, walking as if in a daze.

The song was fast paced and the dance floor was so full that Filch's personal space rules were impossible to keep, much to the student's joy and Filch's chagrin. Hermione vaguely registered the song as The Veronicas' Take me on the Floor. Hermione's mystery dance partner also took advantage of the tight space to mould his body to Hermione's. Usually she'd be incensed with rage but she found she didn't mind so much when it was him. "So tell me, why would a delectable woman such as yourself lower her standards to dance with a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff and a Ravenclaw when so many of your own have been practically stalking you for a dance?"

The question startled her. Firstly she hadn't been expecting him to speak to her, let alone shower her in compliments. Secondly, he also assumed she was a Slytherin while giving away his own house. Finally, she'd recognised his voice and she wasn't sure what to think any more. She swallowed nervously and simply smiled at him as the song ended and Dumbledore appeared at the top of the great hall.

"Students," he announced, "the time has come. It is now midnight and thus the masquerade has ended..."

He paused for dramatic effect and Hermione knew what would happen unless she did something drastic. She turned to her enigmatic partner and took his hand, pulling him closer to her. "Kiss me." She commanded. He looked startled and simply stared at her. "Kiss me." She said again, gently this time. He relaxed and seemed to enjoy the prospect. Just as Dumbledore declared that it was time for everyone to remove their masks Hermione's lips met her dance partners. As everyone around them revealed themselves, Hermione was still caught up in mystery. As the kiss ended and the pair broke apart they realised they still had their masks on. Hermione glanced around her, panicking, and back at her partner. He was watching her, a look of awe on his face.

Struck by an idea, Hermione took his hand and pulled him through the crowd until they were out in the grounds. "We remove our masks here." She told him. He nodded and reached up to remove his own mask. Hermione nodded as his identity was revealed. "I thought so." She smiled to herself, almost sadly. He frowned and made to take her mask off. She stepped back slightly but he caught her wrist and pulled her towards him. He smoothed her hair down from where the wind had ruffled it and kissed her slowly. She felt herself move into him and her eyes fluttered shut. As soon as they had, his hands moved up behind her head and took her mask off. As they broke apart Hermione's mask fell in between them. She caught his surprised face before running off back to the Gryffindor common room, ignoring Ron and Lavender arguing in the corridor - something she'd usually be only too happy to watch.

She made it to her bedroom before any of the other girls returned and got changed into her pyjamas. She was sat cross-legged on her bed when they came back, giggling about various boys and gossip. Hermione asked the right questions then went back to pretending she was engrossed in her book. However she kept touching her lips, remembering the two kisses she'd shared. How one boy had made her feel like that. She was surprised the others couldn't see it. She felt as if she'd been branded. Property of Draco Malfoy. But would he want her, now he knew who she really was?