Two weeks later.
Hermione Granger had recently adopted a spring in her step... and everybody noticed. The usually studious girl who kept to herself was gone, and in her place was a charismatic and cheerful individual. She smiled more frequently, complimented people, helped various first, second and third years with their work and was, well, a joy to be around. Very few people could be in her presence and not smile. And as well as everybody noticing, everybody knew the reason behind the change. No matter who you asked, you’d get the same answer...
“Draco bloody Malfoy.” Ron snarled as he ate his porridge violently. “Malfoy is the reason she’s happy, Harry. Malfoy, the same git she punched in third year is the one who’s put that ruddy smile on her face.”
“It would appear so, Ron.” Harry said lightly, moving the Prophet to a new, safer spot on the table, away from Ron’s hand, which had missed the pitcher of pumpkin juice by an inch.
“I don’t understand! He made her life miserable for years, and suddenly they’re best friends!” Ron cried, jerking the spoon in his other hand about and splattering oats across a picture of the Chudley Cannons scoring for the 7th time that match. Harry gave up all hope of reading his paper, and rolled it up for later.
“I know Ron. I know.” He said, giving his friend a sympathetic look. “Maybe it’d be different if you told her.”
Ron nearly choked on his spoon. “Bloody hell mate, I can’t do that! She wouldn’t talk to me ever again!”
“You never know, that’s all I’m saying.” Harry said, standing up and looking around the hall. “I’ll see you later, got things to do.”
When Ron didn’t respond, Harry looked back and saw his friend in seemingly deep thought. He sighed, shook his head affectionately, and left.
Not 5 minutes later, Hermione walked in looking for her friends. She saw Ron and sat opposite him, clasped her hands together in front of her, and opened her mouth to say something.
“I like you.” Ron blurted out and subsequently flushed a rather amazing shade of red.
“I like you too, Ron.” Hermione said, smiling at the blushing boy.
“No, I mean... I like you.” He repeated, stressing the ‘like’. It was Hermione’s turn to blush.
“Um... I -” She struggled to find words, and eventually came up with “Oh.”
“So, uh, would you like to, um, go to the Ball with me?” Ron managed, his voice slightly strangled.
“I’m sorry, Ron. I’ve already got a, uh, partner.” She had to stop herself saying ‘date’, but couldn’t quite suppress the smile that wormed its way onto her face.
“Oh.” Ron said, half-heartedly. But he spotted the grin before she managed to smother it. “Oh. It’s Malfoy, isn’t it?” The venom dripped from his voice.
Hermione was slightly startled by his response. She wasn’t used the apparent ‘jealous’ side of him. “Yes, I’m going with Draco.”
Ron scowled. It didn’t suit him. He stood up abruptly. “Do me a favour Hermione?”
“Okay.” She said softly, not quite meeting his eye.
“Don’t come crying to me when he hurts you” He spat, “because you’re just asking for it now.” He turned on his heel and stalked out of the hall.
“He made it sound like I was some kind of masochist!” I hissed at Draco. We had seated ourselves in the very back of the library. It was deserted pretty much all of the time apart from when we used it. People didn’t really delve into the library as most of the stuff needed for classes was placed conveniently close to the entrance. “I mean, at first I was shocked and it made me think a bit, but now I’m just pissed off! Who gave him the right to treat me that way? I mean-”
“Hermione” Draco’s voice was firm, “breathe between sentences, okay? It makes it hard to keep up otherwise.” My shoulders relaxed a bit, and my breathing became less erratic. “And what do you mean, ‘made you think a bit’?”
I blushed, “It just made me think about how this looks. One minute I hate you, and it’s me, Ron and Harry against Voldemort” Draco flinched a little, and I shot him an apologetic smile “and your Dad isn’t exactly an adoring fan of Harry, we both know that, anyone who reads the Prophet does. And then there’s you, who’s always been a big fan of your Dad and now we’re friends...” I trailed off, not meeting Draco’s eye, instead becoming very fascinated by the floor. I could see his hand gripping his knee in my peripheral vision, knuckles starch white against the black of his trousers.
“And what, pray tell, does that mean, Hermione?” His voice was tight.
“I don’t understand.” I said lamely. I understood. I understood so well and it hurt.
“What. Does. That. Mean?” He emphasized every word. “What does the fact I feel the need to impress my father have anything to do with this friendship?”
“It means you’re easily influenced, Draco, that’s what it means. It means if your father asks you to take the Mark, you probably will, and not just because he asks you to take it. Because of what you not taking it entails. I know that much and” I paused for a second, but it felt like a year. The sound of Draco’s breathing stopped. “And it doesn’t change anything.”
His hand slackened, knuckles fading slowly from paper white to alabaster again and he exhaled heavily. “It – it doesn’t?”
I glanced up to meet his eyes and they were soft. Soft like the pale, grey, downy feathers of signets. They were vulnerable. Young. Like I imagined them to be when I pictured him young and pouting at a Dinner Party because he doesn’t want to wear dress robes. I smiled softly, “Of course not.” I whispered.
And just like that, with those three words, I made a promise - a promise that I would rather die to keep than break.
And I don’t know why. Not entirely. Everything was different now; I could feel it in my bones, in my chest. Everything was going to change in ways I never thought possible.
A thought broke me out of my reverie.
“The ball’s tomorrow.” I said suddenly, sitting up.
“The ball?” Draco said in a rare moment of stupidity. “Oh! The ball! What’s the problem?”
“I haven’t got anything ready.” I said, gnawing on my thumbnail. “I need to go to London, or at least the nearest town...” I stood, grabbing all my things together. “I’ve got to go, I need to buy a dress and I need to get McGonagall’s permission to floo out of the castle.”
He nodded, staying seated. “I need to finish this essay, I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“If not later today.” I said, shooting him a smile as I weaved through the bookshelves.
It didn’t dawn on me until I was climbing the staircase to McGonagall’s office that the essay that Draco had needed to finish had been the very same one he’d supposedly been finishing when I’d met him in the library two hours earlier.
I stumbled out of the Leaky Cauldrons fireplace 20 minutes later. McGonagall had been reluctant to let me go, but after a series of logical points and ‘when have I ever let you down’s, she caved.
I had until 4 this afternoon, seeing as all the shops closed early on a Sunday, and it was already 12, so I had to get going. I had £400 for a dress from my parents and £200 pounds of my own savings, and I was confident that I’d be able to find one for much less than that if I looked hard enough, but part of me wanted to spend £600 pounds on a dress, part of me wanted to splash out, to look amazing and be the most memorable person at this ball.
I slid out onto the London High street, and started walking, pushing my way through crowds, past tourists and into stores. So many ‘excuse me…’s, ‘thank you…’s and ‘I’m sorry but...’s had left my mouth when I collapsed into a comfy chair in Starbucks an hour and a half later that I thought I might scream if I had to say it one more time. I closed my eyes and massaged my temples as I waited for my hot chocolate. I could feel a serious headache brewing. It was after I’d received my hot chocolate that I saw it on a magazine. The dress. The dress I wanted, no, needed for this ball.
Unfortunately, it was in an Art Museum.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to be exact.
My perfect dress was Junon by Dior from his Winter 1949 – 50 collection. I picked up the magazine and flicked to the page the article was on and stared at it, sipping my hot chocolate.
It was beautiful, and I had to find a copy of it today. I finished my drink quickly, and threw myself into muggle London once again, determined to find my dress.
I stumbled into McGonagall’s office at five in the afternoon carrying bags upon bags of stuff for the ball. There were about 7, if I counted correctly. I hastily thanked my startled professor and headed towards the Gryffindor common room, eager to sort everything out for tomorrow.
I’d not found a copy of the Junon in muggle London, so I’d grabbed as many pictures of it as I could and headed to Madam Malkins. The woman was a genius with a needle and thread, and after much begging and pleading and telling of why I needed this dress so badly, she agreed to make a copy of it for me.
All in the name of ‘young love’, she told me with a wink. This, I hardly need to tell you, confused me greatly.
So as I pulled out my dress, carefully covered in a white plastic dry cleaning sack, I felt my chest swell with anticipation and excitement. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow night, and it was all down to Dior and the Junon copy that hung securely in my wardrobe, protected by 5 locking charms and a muggle bolt lock.
And that was the reason for my fabulous mood as I entered the great hall that night for dinner.
“Why’re you so cheerful Hermione?” Asked Ginny from her seat beside Harry.
“I’ve just got my dress for the ball, is all.” I told her, smiling shyly.
She squealed and leant forward. “Can I see it?” She asked excitedly, “You can see mine!”
I shook my head, “No one’s seeing it until tomorrow apart from me. Sorry Gin.”
The smile never left her face as she sat back, leaning on Harry.
“It’s that good, huh? Well I’m glad you found one you like, especially at such short notice. D’you think Draco’ll like it?” She asked, causing me to blush.
Harry and Ron both turned to her, faces shocked. “You too?” Ron thundered, “Since when were you on a first name basis with Malfoy?”
“Yeah Gin? Since when?” Harry asked, a stab of jealousy jilting his tone.
She shrugged, obviously unconcerned by their outbursts. “Hermione refers to him as Draco whenever she talks about him and I guess it’s just rubbed off on me. I’m not friends with him; I just refer to him by his first name.”
Ron narrowed his eyes, scrutinising her face before returning to his meal, muttering something about ‘Bloody Malfoy’ and ‘Corrupting my friends and family’. I sighed, and rolled my eyes at Ginny and received chuckle in return, which hastily changed to a cough when Ron looked up suspiciously.
The rest of dinner passed quietly, filled with conversations about everything except the upcoming ball. If anything about it was mentioned, the speaker was silenced by Ron’s hateful glare and more often than not a jab in the ribs by the person next to them. As a result Ron was sat on one side of the table, and Ginny, Harry and I on the other.
“Quidditch!” Harry said after a rather awkward pause. Everyone except myself brightened up, and started discussing plays in great detail with things like ‘wronski feint’ and ‘sloth grip roll’ being mentioned every so often. I smiled at my group of friends, and took the opportunity to leave the table, praying to not be noticed.
I guess Merlin was smiling down upon me today or something, because I managed to escape the dinner table without being noticed by my friends, and was met on the way out by Draco.
“How’d the shopping go?” He asked me as we walked around the corridors aimlessly.
“Good. I got my dress, and I love it.” I said, smiling up at him.
“I’m glad.” He said, grinning back at me. “I’m sure you’ll look lovely.”
I blushed, and ducked my head. “Thank you.” I intended for it to sound strong and confident, but it came out quiet, almost a whisper. “Have you got your dress robes?”
“Yes. Mother always makes me bring a pair, Merlin knows why.” He said wryly. “I hate the things.”
“I know. You’ve told me before.” I said, watching my shoes. I opened my mouth to speak, but hesitated.
“What?” He asked, and I looked up startled. He was watching me, eyes curious.
“I was just wondering if… If you were still going to the ball with me tomorrow.” I said quickly, “Taking me, I mean. I understand if you’ve changed your mind or aren’t even going and-”
“Yes.” He said firmly. “I am still taking you. If you’re willing to go with me, of course.” I nodded slowly, smiling. He stopped walking, and after a moment I realised we were at the Fat Lady, she was watching us curiously, and I raised an eyebrow. She simply winked at me, and turned around, looking over the landscape.
“Thank you for indirectly walking me to my common room, Draco. Chivalry isn’t dead after all.”
He laughed, and bowed his head slightly. “Shall I meet you in the entrance hall tomorrow around half 6? The ball starts at 7, right?”
I nodded, “Where is it?” I asked, “Does anyone actually know?”
He shook his head, “We’re all supposed to go to the great hall, and then the real location is announced.”
I nodded again. I seemed to be doing that a lot lately. “So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then again at half six?”
He smiled at me, and I quickly turned and muttered the password, the portrait swinging open and revealing an empty common room. I turned back and before I could stop myself I stood on my tiptoes, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek.
“Good.” I said, smiling at him and disappearing into the common room before I could see his reaction, my heart pounding against my ribs and my smile so wide it hurt my cheeks.