Chapter 1 : Twelve Strikes
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"Once upon a time, there was a Yule Ball at Hogwarts," said Lavender in a strange high-pitched strangle, holding in her laughter as she glanced at the dress on her bed. The other girls in the dormitory giggled slightly. "It'll be magical," she sighed, closing her eyes and leaning against the wall. "Tonight will be magical."
Across the room, Hermione fussed over her dress, thinking that this color was much better suited for her skin tone. Originally, she wanted something pink. Pink was very feminine and she certainly felt very feminine. When she saw the periwinkle blue dress - almost some sort of magical creature, it was that beautiful - she immediately changed her mind.
"You're going to have a romantic time," Lavender said to Parvati, smirking slightly, "with Harry."
Parvati smiled coyly. At the moment, she was applying her makeup. Her eyes were outlined in kohl and there was a slight pink hue on her eyelids. Her dress, Hermione noted with the hint of the smirk, was pink. "And you with Seamus," Parvati responded, raising her eyebrows meaningfully.
"Who are you going with?"
Hermione didn't notice that Lavender was talking to her until the girl cleared her throat. When she looked at her, she was surprised to see that the rest of the girls in the dormitory had all turned to look at her. She felt slightly embarrassed, especially when one of the girls smirked at her old bathrobe.
She didn't answer immediately. Instead, she offered Lavender a polite smile and said, in a biting tone, "You'll see."
For a moment, all the girls were aware of the tension in the room. Hermione simply stared at Lavender while Lavender frowned. Parvati moved forward, ready to whisper something to her best friend - when a third year walked into the room and asked, shaking with sobs, if anyone knew how to fix her hair. The reaction was instantaneous: the fourth year girls formed a strange circle around the child, some of them wondering if they should consult the latest issue of Witch Weekly.
The hours moved slowly, it seemed. Hermione applied her makeup carefully, as though she was painting. She held the brush of eye shadow delicately, especially when she was painting the silver shadow across her eyelids. A hint of silver stayed on her eyelashes, she noted with a frown. She brushed a hint of blush across the apples of her cheeks. Despite the fact that she bought a pink lipstick for tonight, she decided to wear medicated chap-stick.
When she was done, she was surprised to see that she still had forty minutes to spare. Around her, the girls had begun to move in frenzy. Someone lost her shoes. Someone couldn't find her favorite earrings and someone lost her mother's most expensive bottle of perfume.
She glanced at the mirror again and found that she rather liked her hair this way - sleek. Practicing a smile, Hermione found that she also rather liked her teeth this way.
For a moment, she considered describing this new version of herself. The right words didn't come to her. It was irregular, she finally decided. The word didn't fit but it was all she had.
"You look nice," one of the girls said. Hermione turned around to see who only to find that no one was near her. Most of the girls were in the bathroom, fussing over their hair.
She smiled again, this time genuinely. And she took the compliment regardless of whether it was meant for her or not.
In another part of Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy stood straight, glancing into a mirror. His expression was solemn, despite the festivity of the evening. His hands brushed over his sleeves, feeling the smooth material underneath his fingertips. He moved his head forward, accentuating his already pointed chin.
When he raised an eyebrow, he was surprised to find that he looked very much like his father. The robes, he realized, must have done this. Normally, he thought that he looked a great deal like his mother. Tonight was different. Tonight he felt something strange inside him.
"Power," he said softly, feeling the shape of the word stay on his lips a second after the sound was emitted. It was nice word to say, he realized.
It was a better thing to have and he knew this.
He swayed for a moment, looking at his reflection and then, after careful scrutiny, deciding that he was pleased. He looked handsome.
The only pang of the evening, he noted as he stepped out of his dormitory, was his date. Pansy Parkinson wouldn't be the most beautiful girl at the Yule Ball. It didn't matter what dress she wore - Draco knew that Fleur Delacour would steal that title. Part of him, the part that was impulsive and childish, wanted to go with her. Another part, the part that understood decorum, knew that this desire would mean nothing tomorrow.
Draco tried not to care. He tried not to care when he received Pansy. He tried to push all thoughts of jealousy and anger out of his mind.
"Happy," he whispered softly, holding the word close to him. Pansy held his arm and the two looked ideally suited for each other.
Giggling, Pansy said, "You look great." She fluttered her eyelashes and Draco curved his mouth into a slight smirk.
A moment after the silence fluttered in, Pansy blinked. "Aren't you going to ... " she touched the side of her dress robes.
He moved his head to the side, blonde hair falling into his face. He watched her, amused at her embarrassment. After a moment he said, "You look nice."
The two of them stared at each other, the silence enveloping them. Draco couldn't help but notice that despite the dress robes, despite the makeup, despite everything, Pansy still looked very much like Pansy. He had hoped ... he had hoped for something out of the ordinary.
The two walked towards the Great Hall in silence. Pansy, he knew without even looking at her, had an expression of curiosity and anxiety. She opened her mouth, taking a quick breath of air, several times. Each time, Draco smirked. It was the sort of thing Pansy would do - Pansy who was infatuated with him.
He thought about her and how she felt sometimes. He supposed that he should have been nicer to her. It would have been courteous. The thing was, though, that he didn't care at all. In his mind, Pansy was the girl who had always been around. And there had been absolutely nothing interesting about her.
They were maybe five minutes away from the Great Hall and Draco could already hear the soft hum of music.
When they were younger, just second years, Draco had been slightly interested in Pansy. It was sometime around that year that he noticed the slight changes in her. Everything about her screamed femininity.
At that time, he had been interested.
It was new and he wanted to be around her. Or maybe he thought about her.
He definitely thought about her.
Later, however, he realized that other girls were better than Pansy. Other girls were more interesting than Pansy.
"Stupid champions," Pansy muttered underneath her breath, casting a strange glare at Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies. "Who do they think they are?"
Draco glared at Roger - for different reasons. He turned to look at Fleur - the blood rushed to his face. Fleur was beautiful; Fleur was exquisite; Fleur was everything he wanted.
He imagined the two of them would snog later that night - perhaps after a slow dance. The urge grew in him, until it filled him everywhere.
Draco blinked and turned to face Pansy. He glanced at her dress, this time sneering in disgust: this was no compensation.
Around this time, Hermione Granger and Viktor Krum were moving slowly from the Gryffindor common room. Hermione couldn't help but notice that Viktor was still grinning down at her.
She didn't feel like talking just yet. If anything, she basked in the silence. It was almost as if she extracted a sense of power in the quiet walk.
By the time they approached the Great Hall, she felt a strange mixture of anxiety and excitement. Her nerves were on edge.
"Champions over here, please," Professor McGonagall called out suddenly. Hermione was amazed to see that the professor had dressed for the occasion: red dress robes and a wreath around the brim of her hat. She cast Viktor a side long glance but he was not as amused as she was. Had it been Harry or Ron with her, they would have laughed.
The champions and their dates formed a line near the doors of the Great Hall. Hermione was slightly nervous; she had a vision of herself tripping during the dance. She glanced upwards and then smiled widely.
"Hi, Harry!" she said. Then, seeing his date she added, "Hi, Parvati!"
Harry grinned at her, though his reaction was much slower than she expected. Parvati didn't say anything.
"Here we go," Hermione said to Viktor as the doors opened. He smiled at her, taking a step forward. Inside the Great Hall, Hermione had received several curious glances. Some of the older boys smiled at her, purposely accentuating their best features. She grinned in amusement.
The girls were worse - mean and slightly cruel. Viktor's fan club scowled at her. Pansy Parkinson's mouth opened like a fish at the sight of this new Hermione; Hermione was surprised to find that Malfoy had kept any remark to himself.
Even when Ron stocked past her, silent, she was unaffected. She would, she decided, have fun tonight.
Considering the number of songs the Weird Sisters had played, Hermione judged that several hours had passed. The material of her dress stuck against her back. Locks of hair were matted against her face. She thought some of her makeup was smeared across her face - just sparks of glitter now. The way she was dancing, jumping on the balls of her feet, would result in a broken heel. Viktor's body was close to hers; she could feel the heat radiating off of him.
"Hey," she yelled over the song. He didn't hear her. "Hey," she said, louder this time. "I have to go to the bathroom."
He blinked at her, brown eyes dazed. She pointed out of the Great Hall and he nodded. "I'll be right here vhen you get back."
She didn't have to use the bathroom - it was more of a feminine habit (Funny, she thought, how those habits just sort of came with the outfit). In the bathroom, she was surprised to see that most of the stalls were unoccupied. She looked at her reflection in the mirror; even with the sweat, she was pleased with her appearance. There was one strand, though, that had been undone from the knot at the back of her head. She lifted it and attempted to push it back into place only to dishevel more locks.
After a minute of staring, she turned away from the mirror and walked out of the bathroom. She was moving towards the Great Hall when her body collided with the shoulder of another student.
"Sor-" her apology died in her throat at the sight of Malfoy. His dress robes were impeccable and he looked significantly handsome despite the sweat from inside. This must have been an acquired trait after all those pureblood ceremonies. His hair, however, was previously slicked back; throughout the course of the evening, his hair had become unkempt.
"Like what you see," he asked, tone full of malice.
Instinctively, Hermione took a step away from him. "Of course not," she responded, her voice shrill.
He raised an eyebrow. "You were staring."
"You were in my way."
He tilted his head to the side, his eyes trailing down ... The hint of a smirk appeared on his thin lips. Something in his face hardened then, almost suddenly. His head snapped forward and he took a menacing step forward. "Get out of the way."
He was less than a foot away from her. He had never been this close to her before. Something about this, and perhaps the combination of butter beer from before, pleased her. The way he was standing, she could see the slight imperfections in his face. His face was thin - his teeth were slightly crooked - his ears were a bit large.
"Only you would come to the Yule Ball to fight," she replied coolly. Even with this new found power, this new found secret (Malfoy often pretended to be perfect), she was angry. The anger boiled inside her and her heart sped up. Her muscles tensed and her fingers were itching for her wand - which was back with Viktor.
"Let me guess," he said sarcastically, "you came to the Yule Ball expecting a fairytale evening with Krum?" He rolled his eyes and Hermione noticed that there was something disgusting about his eyes - hard and lifeless.
She shook her head and the disheveled curls fell into her face. "Not everyone comes to the Yule Ball with a charity date." She licked her lips and then laughed. "If only Pansy actually fancied someone."
Malfoy gave her an intense glare. He took another step forward, this time, his shoulder brushing against hers. "Pansy is lucky to have come with me."
"No one is lucky to be in your company," she answered, feeling the tension rise the moment the words left her lips.
The atmosphere was thick with irritation and conflict. Malfoy faced her full on - five inches between them. At that time there was one strike of the grandfather clock. He narrowed his eyes at her, until they were blue slits. There was another strike and he muttered lowly, "How would you know?"
When the third strike sounded, Malfoy's fingers had traced the curve of her shoulders. On the fourth strike, he lowered his head and their noses touched. By the fifth strike his lips were pressed against hers. She felt something strange inside her - something from the anger and the tension. On the sixth strike, she kissed back, feeling his cold lips against her own in an angry kiss. His tongue was inside her mouth on the seventh strike; she was shaking in anger, in irritation, in this damned kiss. The eighth strike was softer in her brain, sort of like the faraway sound of the Great Hall and the Weird Sisters and Viktor-
She pulled away on the ninth strike, eyes wide in anger. "What - strike - was that?"
He stumbled, caught off balance in the aftermath. His eyes were darker and his mouth, Hermione noticed with embarrassment, was slightly swollen. He opened his mouth, a sneer already forming on his face - when the twelfth strike sounded, booming throughout the castle.
He blinked at her and took a step to the right, walking away from the girl he had just kissed.
Hermione stood there for a moment, confused and angry. She replayed the event in her head (how she managed to stomach it a second time amazed her). The anger spread throughout her body, flowing in her like blood. She narrowed her eyes at the memory of Malfoy's lips and then walked into the Great Hall. When she saw Viktor, who was bobbing his head to the music, she couldn't help but feel terribly guilty. But even with this guilt, she couldn't help but bring her fingers to her lips.
"Vhat are you smiling about?" Viktor asked when she came towards him.
On his way to the Slytherin common room, Draco couldn't help but berate himself for his impulsive behavior. He didn't have to kiss her, did he? He didn't have to. And he did. He had never been so furious with himself.
And yet, even in his anger, he remembered the way her lips felt and the way her skin felt and the way she smelt. He tried to blink away the memory only to find this futile. If anything, his memory of her grew. If anything, he was able to vividly recall why he had done something like this - why he kissed that Mudblood.
Because of the way that dress was, because of the way her hair was, because of the way she had looked nothing like Granger.
Because she had been the most beautiful girl at the Yule Ball.
He walked into the Slytherin common after saying the password to the portrait. Looking around the room, he was surprised to see that no one was back yet. He supposed Pansy was still there, waiting to see where he went off. He had intended to leave her there, lying about having to use the loo.
He hadn't expected to run into Granger, not when she looked so cozy with Krum. He had let his eyes wander towards her in his boredom. She was a decent dancer, although she lacked a sense of rhythm. She did not, however, lack proper snogging technique.
It wasn't the best happy ending; but it would have to do.