The days until the ball were limited. Time was slipping ever so precariously through Hermione’s hands and she was powerless to stop it. If it wasn’t essays due it was exams. If it wasn’t exams it was a dance test. If it wasn’t a dance test it was tutoring. If it wasn’t tutoring it was Draco‘s brusque attitude as of late. If it wasn‘t Draco being an unexplainable jerk it was… the list never ceased. The date was January the sixth, the ball was in just six days.
“Draco, I want to talk to you,” Hermione called to him as he was about to pass where she was sprawled on the couch.
He slowed in his steps. “Hurry up, I’m in a rush.”
“Where are you rushing off to?” she swung her legs over the edge of the couch and sat up to face him.
He ran a hand through his hair and she noticed he was clutching a pair of pointe shoes and a pair of men’s character shoes. “I need to meet someone and then I’m going to the dance studio.”
Hermione pretended she had not picked up on the inflection he gave the word ‘someone’ assuming he was referring to Pansy. “You spend all of your time in that studio now,” she observed.
He shrugged, but did not answer.
“I want to talk to you about this insane tango-pointe dance you claim to be choreographing.”
He moved towards her, placing his hands on the back of the couch. “Yes?”
“Draco, you know as well as I do that it is physically impossible to do a tango in pointe shoes.” She stopped but he said nothing. “Impossible,” she reiterated.
Draco sighed. “I promise you that it is not impossible. Stop thinking inside the box. There is a way to do it.”
Hermione shook her head.
“The thing about you, Miss Hermione Granger, is that you’re too book smart for your own good. As soon as something is mentioned that involves thinking in a nonlinear way you simply can’t function.” He moved away from the couch.
Hermione stood. “That sounded borderline insulting,” she said.
Draco stalled in his steps, his back to her. He sighed and turned back to face her, his hands to his sides, open in apology. “I didn’t mean it to sound so cruel. I just-” he stopped again and struggled for words before allowing himself to fall into the couch cushions. “My mother sent me another letter.”
Hermione gingerly sat next to him. “What did it say?” she asked.
“The usual,” Draco grumbled as he played with the laces on his shoes. “She’s panicking…thinking that my father is up to something.”
“Maybe he is,” Hermione supplied.
“I have no doubt that he is,” Draco answered. “But I doubt it is anything of consequence. If the Dark Lord had given him a task I would know about it. Mother would have mentioned it. She tends to fret. She is mostly worried because she doesn’t know what is prompting him to be so secretive, but she knows he is up to something.”
Hermione was caught unawares by his statement. His father was a servant of the Dark Lord. Sometimes she forgot that he was so closely linked to the Death Eaters. Forgot that he was hovering on the border of Death Eater himself. “Do you love your Mother?” she asked before she realized what she was asking.
Draco’s eyes turned hard and his gaze was ice cold as it focused on hers. “Why?” he demanded.
Hermione sputtered. “Never mind.”
“I think I’ll leave for the studio now,” he said as he pushed himself to his feet.
Hermioe found she was suddenly scrambling for a way to keep him from leaving her angry; from leaving a rift between them. “Draco -wait.”
With an annoyed glare he turned to face her a third time, eyebrow cocked.
“Tomorrow we need to rehearse the opening dance for the ball. You know it’s this week and we haven’t practiced at all.”
He grunted a unintelligible reply and exited the room, leaving her feeling off balanced and slightly depressed. He had been moody and borderline cruel all week. His behavior was unexplainable and she was having a rough enough time dealing with life in general without him sneaking around all the time and glaring at her so often. She settled on to the couch with a heaving sigh.
A few halls away Draco stopped his rampaging and leaned against the cold stone wall. He knew it was unfair. He knew he was hurting her but he couldn’t stop. It was his defense; his cruelty. It was to keep them both safe. He knew things were going to explode soon.
Six more days passed in an absolute blur, the morning of the Holiday Ball dawning cold and white. Hermione had lived in a state of confusion for the past three days as she ran about being the perfectionist that she was, supervising decoration committees and food committees and music committees and the like. On top of all that classes had ploughed on and she had had a surplus of homework. It was as if the professors were relishing in the cruelty of the entire situation.
Hermione hadn’t seen Draco the entire day. He had woken in the morning before she had come down to the common room and left without telling her where he was going. Of course, she had to remind herself that there was no reason why he would have to tell her where he was going, but perhaps it would have been decent for him to have done so. She was positively furious with him at the present moment because his disappearance meant that she was forced to handle all the last minute panic-details alone. She could have killed him for that.
Preparing for a ball was tiresome. Not in the “running around to decorate” way but in a “putting on makeup and primping hair and otherwise beautifying one’s self” way. She had never cared much for primping. Even being a dancer on stage had not altered that. She preferred the natural look. But, tonight was different and she found herself casting a glamour over her body as she stood before the mirror in her sparkly dress. Tonight she felt as if she was fighting for something, and she refused to allow herself to admit that it was a jealous streak over Pansy Parkinson. After staring at her own reflection for another three minutes, and then feeling thoroughly disgusted with her level of vanity this evening, she turned and stalked out of the room.
Hermione’s decent from the staircase was positively cinematic, and it nauseated her. She wished her dress blended in better with the crowd, but it did not. She wished she hadn’t smoothed her hair down and shadowed her eyes because it was painfully obvious that she had put an effort in to looking different for this event. And people were staring.
“Hermione,” a voice caught her attention. She turned to find Harry coming down the stairs, Ginny, bedecked in a beautiful emerald gown, on his arm. “You look great,” he said with a smile.
Beside him Ginny grinned. “Beautiful,” she agreed.
Hermione was flustered by the comments and turned away, only to come face to face with Ron, whose cheeks were an unbecoming shade of red. “Hermione,” he breathed.
“Ron,” she said in response.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence where no one knew what to say. Hermione cleared her throat, but was saved as yet another voice echoed across the hall. “Hermione.”
She turned and her breath caught. Draco was striding towards them, clad in black from head to toe and frowning profusely. He was devastating. Trailing after him was Pansy, also clad entirely in black, her gown a tad on the short side; on the bottom and the top. When Draco stopped before her, regarding her with a heavy expression, Pansy slipped her arm through his and stared intently at Hermione, dislike painted in all sorts of colors across her face.
“Draco,” was the only word Hermione could squeeze out of her mouth.
“Pansy,” Draco scowled and subtly shrugged away from her touch. Pansy did not notice his rebuff.
“Ginny, Harry,” Ginny pointed to herself and her date. “Now that we’ve all met-”
“I’d like a moment,” Draco said, his eyes not leaving Hermione. No one moved. “Alone,” he said in a dark voice.
Harry and Ginny nodded and went to walk away when Ron opened his mouth. “Not a chance,” he growled.
Hermione turned to Ron with a beseeching glance, but Draco’s reaction stopped her from forming any line of thought. “I didn’t ask you to stay, Weasley. I’d appreciate it if you stepped back, as this is Head business and I don’t see a Head’s badge pinned to the second hand robes of the Great Underachiever.”
“Listen, Malfoy,” Ron hissed as he stepped between Hermione and Draco, scowling. “You have no right to talk to me like that.”
Next to Draco, Pansy decided it was about time she added her two cents. “Drake, I don’t want people to see me standing here talking to the Mudblood and Ratter Tatter Weasley, so let’s go in.” She reached for Draco’s sleeve and he firmly pushed her off.
“Wait for me inside, Pansy,” he said in a low voice. “Granger and I have to open the ceremony and I can’t have you hanging on my back as we dance.” Pansy pouted but turned on her heel, haughtily stalking into the crowd. “You too, Weasley,” Draco said. “I’m not into threesomes.”
Hermione scowled at Draco. “Don’t be crude,” she scolded him.
Draco bit back the retort that rose to his lips, and turned to Ron again. “I won’t ask again.”
Ron raised his eyebrows, clearly challenging the boy. Hermione panicked. “Ron, Ill see you inside. Draco is right, we have some Head business to deal with. I’ll be right there. It would be nice if you would be kind enough to find me something to drink for after the opening dance,” she tried to smile but failed.
Ron shook his head, his eyes hard and leveled with Draco’s. “I’ll be watching you all night. Don’t come near her.” And then he stalked off.
Draco’s fists were clenched. “I hate him. You know that?”
Hermione did not answer his question. “I’m a bit upset with you right now,” she informed him.
“You look-” he stepped closer to her and she had to control her reaction carefully as they were in the midst of the entry way to the Great Hall and some stragglers were still filtering through the space “-amazing.” His voice dropped.
“Did you hear me?” she hissed, trying to keep her head clear. “I’m furious.”
Draco stepped back. “Why?”
“Because you disappeared for the entire day and I was left all alone to deal with all of the last minute details and supervising the set up this afternoon was no picnic!”
“You know if I had been there I would have been no help,” he said.
Hermione almost stomped her foot in frustration. “I needed help!” she insisted.
“I wasn’t with Pansy,” he said softly.
Hermione tried to pretend the information had nothing to do with her current fit, but the fight drained out of her nonetheless. Draco almost smiled. “What were you doing all day?” she managed.
Draco did not answer her question. “Are you ready to do this?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. Its some consolation that we won’t be the only ones on the dance floor, after the first few seconds anyway. But I in no way wish to be doing this.”
“You’re very brave,” Draco nodded.
“I can’t do it,” her eyebrows raised.
“Just look at me,” he said as he started towards the door. “Don’t pay attention to anything else.” As he crossed the threshold of the Great Hall, and cheers arose from the students within, Hermione decided that would be entirely impossible.
“And now, dear friends, students and faculty alike, I give you your Head Boy and Girl; Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger!” The applause that followed the Headmaster’s words was tumultuous. “Now,” he continued as Draco and Hermione reached the center of the dance floor and Draco took her hand in his, “our Heads will open the Ball with the traditional waltz.” He raised his wand and a lilting ¾ drifted through the hall.
Hermione followed Draco to the center of the room, her eyes focused intently on the floor before her. Draco stopped, reaching for her and her breath hitched in her throat. She did not look up at him. He placed one hand on her waist and took her other hand in his, taking a deep breath she knew was for her benefit. She tried to mirror his move, trying to bring the calming sensation on, but to no avail.
“Why is she dancing with him?” she heard whispered as they turned about the room and passed different groups of people.
“She’s a horrid dancer. He should be dancing with someone else, someone more talented.”
“She’s Head girl though!”
“So what? That’s not a good enough reason. Anyone could have opened the ceremony. We didn’t have to be submitted to this.”
“Look at me,” Draco said. His voice startled her, her eyes meeting his before she could stop them. “Listen to the music,” he said in a husky tone. He was trying to distract her from her paralyzing fear and the voices all around them, but it was not working.
“Honestly, I could do it better.”
This last voice sent ice streaming through Hermione’s arms and legs. She felt almost like a stone statue that was being carted ungracefully around the room as her eyes met those of the latest speaker, their smirk still sitting crooked on their mouth and their eyes smoldering.
“You are a fantastic dancer, Pansy,” the girl next to her said as if in sudden realization.
“I know,” Pansy’s eyes never left the couple, and Hermione could feel them boring through her back. Draco seemed unperturbed.
As the dance ended, after what seemed like a century, Hermione quit Draco’s presence without a word and, ignoring the now less than enthusiastic applause, she made her way to where she saw Ginny sitting alone at a table. Unfortunately, her first impression was completely wrong and by the time she realized it, it was far too late to turn around and make a graceful exit as Harry and Ron had both risen to their feet from where they sat on either side of Ginny. Ginny was frowning.
Ron reached her first, wordlessly thrusting a glass of water into her hands. She looked up at Harry and he tried to smile at her, but Ron shot him a scathing glance.
After two hours of sitting in the same spot at the same table and staring at the same place on her skirt, Hermione had decided she hated balls. No, not just hated, but loathed. Ron was horrid company. He did not dance. He spent all of his time with a drink of punch in his left hand. Every few moments he would twirl the contents of the glass before tipping it over his lips. His eyes were dark.
Hermione had given into weariness and boredom and folded over the table, her head in her arms tilted away from Ron’s visage. She was on the border of sleep when a large commotion broke out on the dance floor. At first, she did her best to tune out the noise, but eventually the clamor become so forceful she had no choice but to raise her eyes to the scene being made on the dance floor; a scene she was horrified to behold.
On the center of the floor was a raven haired beauty, her limbs encompassing a blonde who’s very posture gave him away. Hermione didn’t look for more than a second and her imagination did the rest for her. She felt as if she was going to be sick. She stood, her chair clattering over sideways behind her. Ron laughed, his gaze never leaving the cup he held before him and the swirling liquid inside it.
“Not such the Prince Charming, is he?” Ron mused. “He seems to prefer Pansy, anyway. That must be quite the blow.” He raised his glass to his lips, smiling slightly.
Hermione felt bitter tears prick at her eyes and took off through the crowd and out the open doors of the entrance hall, onto the lawn. Ron carelessly took one final swig of his drink, wiped his sleeve across his mouth and rose to his feet. He cast a scorn ridden glance at Draco, who was watching Hermione leave, a tortured expression on his face as he tried to get Pansy off of him.
Ron exited the hall in search of Hermione, whom he found beneath a large weeping willow at the edge of the lake. She was sitting on the ground and her knees were pulled up to her chest. He stopped before her, hands in his pockets.
“Explain it to me,” he said softly.
She raised her eyes to meet his, her face expressionless.
“How is it that he was able to break through your walls? What is it that he did that I can’t?”
Hermione shook her head. “Ron, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Its too late for that,” Ron said in a flat tone.
“I love you like my own brother, Ron,” Hermione insisted, her hands raised imploringly.
Ron grabbed her wrists tightly and pulled her to her feet. He was far too close. She could smell the fruit punch on his breath. His fingers were tight, but almost gentle all at the same time. “I don’t want that kind of love,” he growled. “You just need to be shown what you are missing with him. You think what he gives you is the best it gets, but that isn’t true.” With this proclaimed he pulled her closer against him and had his mouth over hers before she could properly protest.
A million things ran through her head at once, the last of which being that this was wrong. Just wrong. She froze, not knowing what to do. The pressure dissipated before her poor mind could convey the message to push him away.
“I swear to Merlin and all that you hold dear, if you ever touch her again without her permission I will do far worse then cause a temporary link between your face and my fist. I swear to you, you would be a fool to pursue her past this point.”
Hermione sagged against the tree trunk, eyes focused blearily on her savior. He practically blended into the night with his midnight colored robes.
“You see, Hermione?” Ron claimed as he took a large step back from where Draco was now standing before the brunette girl. “He’s violent and he proves it at every turn. One day he will turn around, like the snake he is, and bite you.”
“I’ll show you my fangs,” Draco growled, his fists balling up.
Ron shook his head and centered his eyes on Hermione’s. He had never looked so vulnerable and it broke her heart. He held his hands before him, slightly to the sides, palms up in a beseeching manner. “Hermione,” his voice was a low whisper. “Don’t do this to me. Don’t walk away from me with him. I won’t be able to stand it.”
Hermione said nothing. She turned her head to the side, unwilling to meet his eyes. After a few moments of dead silence she took a steadying breath. “I told you,” she said. “I love you like a brother. I really honestly do. I don’t want to walk away from you in any manner. I just can’t give you what you are looking for.”
“But you can give it to this bastard here?” Ron shouted.
Hermione flinched and Draco instinctively stepped between the two of them. “She’s given you her final word, Weasley. Take it and go. Don’t torment her anymore.”
“What the hell do you care? Why are you even here? Don’t you see, Malfoy? If it wasn’t for you I would be where you are standing! This is entirely your fault and I will never stop hating you for that! If it wasn’t for you I would be exactly where you are standing and she would be telling Harry or some other guy that she loved them like a brother because she was in love with me!”
“That is some vivid imagination you have,” Draco crossed his arms against his chest.
“Isn’t your date missing you?” Ron sneered.
“The wonderful thing about Pansy is that she’s incredibly dense. I’m sure she’s occupied with Crabbe or Goyle at this time and when I go back in she won’t even remember I left.”
Hermione tried to pretend his comment didn’t hit her square in the gut, but it did and she made the mistake of physicalizing that point. Draco turned to face her, and much to Ron’s disapproval, he reached out to take her hand. After he had secured her fingers in his he turned to Ron once more.
“I’m sick of squabbling, Weasley. Hermione told you how she felt about the situation and I am sure that if she ever changes her mind she’ll inform you.” Draco then turned with the intention of leading Hermione through the night and back into the castle where he was going to insist she go up to the common room instead of returning for the last hour of the ball, when Ron stepped forward in one last appeal.
“I’ll tell everyone.”
Draco stalled in his steps. “No one will believe you,” he shook his head.
“I’ll tell them what’s going on between the two of you.”
“Nothing is going on between us, Ron,” Hermione interjected. “Nothing except that Draco seems to be the only person out here who cares about my feelings at all.”
“I do care!” Ron insisted. “That is why I will do everything in my power to keep you from falling into his trap!”
“I’m standing right here. There is no need to talk in such a manner about me.”
“Ron, don’t be absurd! I think someone must have spiked your punch or pumpkin cake or something because you have been acting so strangely all night and I don’t want to be around it anymore! If you want to talk to me in a civilized manner then come find me! You know where I will be!” With that said she turned around and took off for the castle at a run. Draco followed immediately after her.
Ron did not return to ball.
“I want you to go upstairs. I’ll make your excuses for you if anyone asks and I’ll meet you up there as soon as I can get away.”
Hermione nodded and then looked up at Draco with an odd look on her face. “Thank you,” she said.
He looked away, into the hall where Pansy could be seen dancing between Draco’s old cronies. “I have to talk to you,” he said, swallowing.
“Alright,” she said, prepared to listen.
He turned back to face her, taking her arms above the elbows. “Not here. I’ll come upstairs. I’ll meet you.”
“Alright,” Hermione said shakily as she started up the stairs. “I’ll meet you there then.”
Draco didn’t make his way into the common room for another hour and a half. When he finally did appear it was very late and Hermione was curled up on the couch half asleep. He touched her shoulder gently as he walked into the dark common room. She stood and he took her hand, forcing her to follow him up the stairs and into this room where he began to strip off his heavy cloak and jacket.
“I hope you don’t mine but I am so hot in these clothes.”
Hermione shook her head and uncomfortably sat on the edge of Draco’s bed as he bustled about his room. She was silent.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“Your father’s elf meant to kidnap me,” she said slowly.
Draco slammed the door to his closet. “Yes.”
“Why? Why did he send one of his servants after me and what happened when you got there to get Ginny back?”
“Its been almost two weeks,” he said. “Let it go.”
“I was almost kidnapped by your maniacal father!” her voice rose. “My best friend was! Aren’t you the least bit concerned?”
“You sound like my mother,” he said under his breath as he turned away.
“Excuse me?!“ she hissed to his retreating back. “Face me, you coward.”
Draco’s entire body stiffened. He slowly, very slowly, turned to regard her. “Don’t you ever call me a coward.”
Hermione’s eyes flared. “I’ll call you whatever it pleases me to call you. Explain yourself. What do you mean by ‘you sound like my mother‘?”
The wind wooshed out of Draco’s sails in one fell swoop. His focus fell to the ground between them. “You care too much for those who don’t deserve it,” he said in a hoarse voice. A deep throaty whisper. “You see things in people that no one else sees.” His eyes met hers and her heart hammered in her throat. “I’m sorry. Sometimes you just remind me of her. The similarities can be distressing.”
Hermione was distressed alright. “You think I am like Narcissa Malfoy?” she breathed in disbelief.
“No,” Draco stepped closer. “I think you are like my mother. Narcissa Malfoy is a façade that a very lost woman is forced to wear by a man she thinks she is in love with.”
“So you think I’m lost.” She was having difficulties breathing.
He reached a hand to her face and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “Sometimes its like you don’t know whether to curse me or kiss me.”
“Sometimes you’re right,” she smiled only she was terrified. They were talking about kissing… did that mean they were acknowledging that some sort of relationship existed between them? They both knew it was there but they had never actually spoken of it. “So you think that I wear a façade?”
“I know you do,” he answered.
“No, I don’t,” she protested.
“We both do,” he said. “You walk around every day pretending that you don’t feel something for me and I walk around pretending I don’t feel anything for you. You pretend you’re happy and I know you’re not.”
Hermione felt like she was dreaming. “You feel something for me?” she squeaked.
He rolled his eyes. “Sometimes frustration, sometimes anger, sometimes I want to throw you against a wall and brain you with your own dance shoe,” she laughed and he leveled his eyes to hers “and sometimes I want just as much to be like we were that night you told me your secret. Or the night you woke up from a nightmare to find me there. Sometimes.”
Hermione’s breath caught in her throat.
“I told you once that I was selfish, and its true. You would never guess how hard it is for me to deal with Weasley. But the selfishness does not end there. I’ve been horrible to you. Not just in the years before this one, but recently as I pushed you away because I was terrified of what you made me feel. I’ve been cold and distant and mean when I want nothing but to be the opposite. And with you I feel almost as if I could be. I can’t stop thinking about what you did for me, when I had the flu. How you sat there with me the whole time. I can’t help but to think I wouldn’t have it in me to care for someone like that.”
Hermione’s eyes closed. “I don’t know,” she admitted. Maybe he didn’t have it in him. But that idea bothered her far less than it should have. “Draco-” she started, but his lips cut her off.
“I’m sorry I punched your friend,” he said against her skin.
She shivered. “I’m not.”
He grinned against her mouth. “Alright, I’m not either.”
She allowed her hands to trail up his arms and clamp behind his neck as he swept her off her feet and she found herself buried in the sheets of his bed, his mouth moving over her silently.
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