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Chapter 24: Masquerade
“Life is short, and should not be wasted pursuing and seducing the wrong people. The choice of target is critical; it is the set up of the seduction and it will determine everything else that follows. The perfect victim does not have certain facial features, or the same taste in music, or similar goals in life. That is how a banal seducer chooses his or her targets. The perfect victim is the person who stirs you in a way that cannot be explained in words, whose effect on you has nothing to do with superficialities. He of she often has a quality that you yourself lack, and may even secretly envy – the Presidente, for example, has an innocence that Valmont long ago lost or never had. There should be a little bit of tension – the victim may fear you a little, even slightly dislike you. Such tension is full of erotic potential and will make the seduction much livelier. Be more creative in choosing your prey and you will be rewarded with a more exciting seduction. Of course, it means nothing if the potential victim is not open to your influence. Test the person first. Once you feel that he or she is also vulnerable to you then the hunting can begin.”
Hermione decided on soft curls and pulled the front up in a small bouffant so the main focus would be the mask, and of course her red lips. She had thought about Draco the entire time while getting ready so she could be prepared to seduce him according to the little knowledge she had of him. “Besides, even though we’ll be in masks, I can’t have you looking like a mess next to me,” kept repeating in her head, though she didn’t know why she cared about his opinion so much.
The plan was to meet Draco at the top of the bottom flight of the Grand Staircase stairs just outside the Great Hall, where they figured a lot of students would be meeting as well. When she came to the landing, she saw she was right – couples stood talking together, singles waited patiently for their dates so they could go in together. She searched the crowd looking for Draco but she couldn’t see his very recognizable head. Just when she was thinking of returning to the common room, thinking maybe he was running later than she was, an arm snaked around her waist and she felt goose bumps rise on her neck from the soft exhaling of the person behind her.
“Late for your own party?”
She shivered. “Mal-,”
His hand pressed gently, but quickly, over her mouth. “We’re supposed to remain a mystery, aren’t we? What good is wearing a mask if you babble my name outloud?”
She nodded and he removed his hand, checking he didn’t get any lipstick on his palm. When she turned to face him she nearly choked. “You dyed your hair!?”
A small smile passed fleetingly across his lips. “It’s a charm, to make me unrecognizable. It’ll wear off at midnight when we take our masks off.”
“It brings out your eyes,” she said simply, before turning her back to him again. “Shall we go in?”
He shook his head and took a small step forward so they were side by side. “We should lay down some rules, don’t you think?”
“Rules? What for?”
Draco sighed and awkwardly reached out to cup her hand in his. “Nobody knows who we are. If we act like ourselves, it will be a dead give away, even with my dark hair. We need to be anonymous – part of the crowd. If we’re dressed as a couple, we could at least pretend to be one.”
She was in shock, her mouth dropping open in a sort of guppy way. “You couldn’t have possibly just said what I thought I heard. Isn’t it your mission in life to make sure people like me know ‘their place’? Now you want to pretend to be with me?”
He shrugged nonchalantly and began moving down the stairs towards the Great Hall doors. “I’ll act the part as best I can, and I suggest you do the same. The last thing I need is for someone to recognize me with you.” Hermione resisted the urge to sigh and instead took a few steps closer to Draco so there was hardly a gap between them anymore.
The Great Hall, fully decorated, was hardly recognizable as they passed under the archway of various shimmering white flowers. It wasn’t so much all the decorations that caught her eye, but the interaction of her fellow Hogwarts students – dancing, talking, laughing with each other, blood status a faint memory and houses a thing of the past. There was no way to identify who was who, no robes or crests or rivalries. To say the least, it was everything she had hoped for since reading Hogwarts: A History the summer before she had been sorted into Gryffindor. Magical cooperation, friendship without prejudice, was finally beginning to take the shape. She only hoped it would thrive when everyone’s true identities were revealed at midnight…
“Do you want a drink?”
Hermione looked up at Draco, surprised that while she had been lost in thought they had made their way across the dance floor and to a table under one of the high windows in the corner of the room. The slightly hostile edge in his voice seemed to have been dropped, and he was smiling at her in a way that would be charming if she hadn’t known he was faking it.
“I’m not thirsty, but, maybe…”
She shook her head and plopped down in the chair he had pulled out for her. “Nevermind.”
“Would you like to dance?”
Hermione looked up at him. “Why did you wait until after I sat down!?”
Draco shrugged. “Do you want to dance or not?”
She nodded and accepted his right hand before following him onto the dance floor.
“Which one is her, do you think?”
Davin shook his head and shoved his hands in his pockets. “How the bloody hell am I supposed to know? I can’t tell any of them apart!”
The twins, Davin and Blaise had all come together, wanting to mingle with as many girls as possible while they didn’t have to worry about houses, instead of being stuck to one date. Blaise knew about Hermione and Davin’s earlier conversation and seemed to be taking it pretty well; he had charmed up 2 girls already and it was only 10. Michael and John had danced a little, mostly twirling girls around and passing them off to another guy within a matter of seconds due to the less than stimulating conversations, and had opted to help Blaise pinpoint Hermione when they had grown bored half an hour before. The problem was that half the girls in the school, if not more, had dark hair and were around the same height. No one had really spent much time examining Hermione until this year when she changed, so looking at facial features and expressions wasn’t much help either.
“Why don’t you just walk up to a girl and tie a ribbon on? If it’s her, you get a wish. If it’s not, I’m sure you could sweet talk whatever girl it is into giving you said wish anyway. Either way you win, mate,” John said with a chuckle, clinking his glass to Davin’s.
Davin shook his head. “You don’t understand what’s at stake, John.” He motioned to the doors leading out of the Great Hall, indicating that John should follow him.
They walked from the Great Hall out to the grounds, crunching the cold, dead leaves as they made their way to the open space of trees and grass leading down to the lake. Most students preferred to study in the stone garden’s just outside the doors where the teachers patrolled, the others, like the Slytherin’s, chose instead the grassy areas where they could lay out on free periods.
“What’s so damn important that we had to leave the party? There was this blonde I was ab-,”
“John listen, Jesus!”
John narrowed his eyes and plopped down on the grass, irritable from the firewhiskey he had been consuming periodically from a flask since before the dance started.
Davin sat down next to and layed back on his hands. “She was Blaise’s girlfriend. You, Michael and I all know about that bet he had with her, about how he could have her?”
His friend nodded.
“Well…,” he paused for dramatic affect, “it never came to fruitation.”
John cocked an eyebrow. “…And?”
“What do you mean ‘and’?”
“I mean what else? Is that it? He didn’t get to fu-,”
Davin’s hand flew out and clamped onto John’s mouth. “SHUSH!”
A girl was running out of the courtyard and down towards the lake on a separate path than the one Davin and John were on. A boy was following her but at a somewhat leisurely pace, as if he couldn’t decide if he should chase her or let her flee. Davin wanted to stay and see what was going on, but he knew he had to tell John what was happening outside of their cushiony school world. With a grunt he grabbed his friend by the collar and pulled him up before they both disappeared into the shadows to make their way silently, and undetected, into the Great Hall again.
“I don’t understand what the big deal is!”
“Of course you don’t, in your eyes you don’t do anything wrong, do you!”
“See! You’re so egotistical all the time! How could you do that to me?!”
Draco sighed and finally reached Hermione at the edge of the Black Lake. They had been having a good time together – spinning around on the dance floor, trying to guess who the students around them were, laughing – until Draco had taken it a little too far and slapped her bum. Hermione’s face had turned red instantly and she had run out of the Great Hall, embarrassed even though no one knew who she was. He still wasn’t sure why he had done it, but as he had been trying to explain to her as she ran, he was just in the heat of the moment playing up their “relationship”.
“I’m not some cheap thrill you know!”
He scoffed. “What makes you think I’d want to get any type of thrill from you?”
She glared at him. “Well you’re the one who asked me to the dance!”
“Because it was pathetic to see the organizer of said event without a date!”
“I could have found a date you know!”
“I was just trying to do my part to help the less fortunate!”
As soon as he said it he wanted to take it back. It was true that their bloodlines were different and that he had been brought up thinking that Purebloods were superior, but if he really thought about it, he didn’t know anything about Hermione Granger except for what he saw at school. What were her parent’s like? Did she have nonmagical friends? Who’s to say she didn’t live in a huge house among Muggles, living like royalty? It was practically programmed into him to judge others, it was what was expected of him, and he usually felt no regret doing so. But she was the brightest witch of their age, as everyone so often pointed out… And she did do a lot of work outside of class, like organizing the Masquerade… Not to mention her clothes and robes never looked like hand-me-downs or used goods, not like those filthy Weasley’s… Plu-, “OW!”
“YOU DESERVED IT!” Hermione screamed, kicking another pebble towards him. “You and your big head and your superiority complex and thinking women are your slaves! I’ve seen how you treat the other girls and I am NOT like that!”
He narrowed his eyes as a third pebble hit him in the thigh. “Oh really? You could’ve fooled me with the way you’ve been prancing around the castle since we got back from summer vacation!”
She glared back at him. “You have no idea what I’m going through right now, Malfoy, you can’t even begin to imagine. Don’t you dare accuse me of anything, you have no right!”
A deep laugh echoed from Draco as he bent backwards holding his stomach as if he’d burst. “Now that is RICH Granger! Do you really want to know what every single guy in this damn school is thinking about you? Because I can tell you right now!”
Hermione’s features shifted from angry to hesitant as she stared intently back before turning around and facing away from him. “I don’t care.”
“You don’t care? You don’t care that people think you’re easy now? That you’re just looking to get laid? Every single guy in this castle has lost respect for you because you’ve been flaunting your body around as if anyone hungry enough can taste you. That’s what people think of you. If you were trying to get them to “want you” it certainly worked, but all your actions have consequences and now you’re just another girl sleeping around. And to think I actually preferred you before all of this, back when there was intrigue and mystery. Now you just look like used goods to all the boys, to the whole school.”
The wind, which had been steadily picking up the past few days, came on strong as Hermione rocked in place wondering if what she just heard was the truth. Had her plan really backfired so extremely? She thought about the reactions of the people around her… All the stares, all the whispers… Were they really thinking about how she was easy? She just wanted the attention all the others girls got, she wanted to be wanted, she didn’t want to be easy…
“For being referred to as the brightest witch of our age, you’re not very intelligent are you Granger? Guys like getting pleasured but they don’t want a girl who gives out for free.”
Hermione shook her head. Of all the people to be giving me advice… It wasn’t fair! This whole school year so far hadn’t been fair… She just wanted to be different, to be beautiful and sexy and wanted and instead she was talked about behind her back for being easy… How had things gone so horribly wrong? Why couldn’t a social life be written out like a formula for a love potion? That would have made way more sense and taken less time.
What had she been thinking, believing someone like her – with her brain and her books – could become beautiful? It was so cliché to be wishing to be attractive, something she had never thought she’d ever do. Her parents always told her that beauty fades but brains last forever, intelligence lasts forever. She had never been stunning, always plain with her buck teeth and untamed hair. Things had gotten better when she “grew into her teeth”, as her dad liked to say, and she had matured a little in regards to her body. But it was foolish to think she had been the type of girl that stopped traffic, even though that’s what she always wanted.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Hermione shook her head and turned to face him. “Is that why you asked me to pretend to be your date? Because you thought you could get some?”
“And for your information, Blaise and I never had sex! He never fulfilled his part of the bargain!”
Draco looked stunned. “Bargain? What in,”
“You’re sick Draco Malfoy, really sick!”
He watched as she screamed in frustration and ripped the mask off of her face, throwing into the dirt. “Her-,”
“Why are you doing this to me? Why?”
Draco wanted to answer but it seemed like she was asking herself, not him. He couldn’t believe he was watching her as she raked her fingers angrily through her curls, tears beginning to fall, hiccups mixed with grunts of frustration and whimpers of dissatisfaction. His first instinct was to laugh and be cruel as he had been the past 6 years, but when it came down to it he couldn’t deny that it hurt to see a girl in so much pain, even if the girl was one of his enemies. She seemed so broken and vulnerable, which was a harsh contrast to the strong and independent girl Hogwarts had grown to know.
He sighed and slipped off his tuxedo jacket, which he had worn more for style than for warmth, and draped it over her shaking shoulders. It was obvious she was shaking from emotion, not from being cold, but he hoped she would feel a little better and stop making so much noise. He couldn’t deal with crying girls.
“I don’t want your jacket.”
She was unbelievable. “It’s not like I’m giving it to you to keep, I just thought it would make you feel better.”
Hermione turned to face him and despite the angry look on her face, she looked very fetching with the too-big jacket and the tight dress. “And since when do you care about how I feel?”
Draco rolled his eyes and stepped towards her, extending his hand for the second time that night. “You’re a mess and it’s getting cold. Why don’t we just go back inside?”
“I don’t want to.”
“I just don’t.”
“Do you plan on staying out here all night? In the dark cold by yourself?”
He had a point. “Well I don’t want to go back to the dance, and you’re still supposed to be my date,” she responded grumpily, cupping her hand with his.
“We can do whatever you want as long as you stop crying and kicking pebbles at me.”
She hiccupped and swatted him as they began walking back up towards the castle.
They didn’t speak another word to each other until the reached the Entrance Hall, where they sat down on the steps of the Grand Staircase. Hermione had left her mask outside in the dirt but it was nearing midnight anyway, and everyone was still inside the Great Hall dancing and celebrating. Draco’s arm was draped lightly around her waist, her head on his shoulder as she hiccupped until the tears stopped. The music from the Halloween Masquerade was faint through the doors, turning to slower romantic songs the closer the minutes dwindled to midnight. Hermione was still angry and Draco was still frustrated but they both enjoyed the company nonetheless.
“Thanks for your jacket,” Hermione said numbly as she tapped her feet against the marble step.
“The suspenders are a nice look for you.”
He glanced down at himself. “You think so?”
She nodded. “It’s a dashing look, kind of mysterious, kind of sexy in a classic way.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “Did you just call me sexy?”
“I think you did Ms. Granger.”
She blushed and looked back down at her feet, wringing her hands together. “Can I ask you something?”
Draco raised and eyebrow and moved his arm, choosing to lean back on his hands instead as Hermione turned slightly so her body was facing him at an angle. “If you must…”
“Well, earlier, when we were outside… You, um…”
“I don’t know if you realized it but, well you kind of…” She took a deep breath. “The thing is, you,”
“Out with it Granger!”
“You said you preferred me before all these transformations!”
Screams and cheers erupted from the Great Hall as students pulled off their masks, many of them throwing them into the air as if they were graduation caps. For the most part students seemed content with who they ended up looking at; at the worst they walked away like they hadn’t been together, at the best they hugged and laughed.
Davin looked around frantically to see if the girl he had tied the ribbon on was Hermione, but he couldn’t seem to find the girl anywhere. All around him his school mates were talking loudly, hugging and dancing, enjoying the last moments of the dance now that they could identify each other. He passed the twins sitting at a table, thoroughly drunk, chatting up a pair of blondes who looked too young for them. Where could she be? He knew exactly what he was going to wish for, and he wanted it more than anything.
Growing weary of trying to make his way through the mass of bodies he decided to give up searching on the floor and wait outside the doors of the Great Hall, that way he could see everyone coming out. He pushed one of the double doors open and stepped out, looking to see if anyone else was out there. His eyes came to rest on the stairs where a very old friend of his was kissing a very smart girl.
shoutout to 802betty for being reviewer #401! at least, according to her review :] if it’s wrong, oh well, I hope you enjoy the shoutout anyway!