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High up above the vast castle grounds, a girl stood gazing at the stormy beyond, her face a vague reflection on the rain splattered glass. The night had arrived, after weeks of planning and preparation, yet she felt strangely reluctant to venture out of the safe knell of her room to what lay beyond.

 

Her restless hands smoothed the confection of claret-hued silk and chiffon, her gown for the evening’s festivities. It was quite exquisite, and in any other situation, she would have loved to be wearing it, dancing with Ron and sipping away on pumpkin juice, laughing with her friends. That was how it should have been, her final year and final ball, but things did not always turn out as one expected.  It was a lesson that made some part of her ache with longing.

 

Tonight, however, she felt a degree of self-consciousness and anxiety to which she was unaccustomed. The dress, so vibrantly red, would draw attention to her. Just whose attention she subconsciously wanted to seek, was something she tried valiantly not to think about. Gazing back at the window, she focused on calming her features, clearing the tell-tale signs of her inner most thoughts like creases from fabric.

 

Her scrutinising gaze took in the graceful curve of her neck that swept upwards to where her hair, dark and gleaming in this light, was elegantly twisted and coiled. She shouldn’t be concerned with the result. After all, she was spending the evening with Seamus, her friend, who cared about her even when she had a quill tucked behind her ear and ink smudged across her fingers.

 

It was the strangeness of the night that had her feeling so unsettled, she mused. Her eyes glazed over as she watched the liquid pearls outside cascade against the glass. The last time she had been in this position, readying herself for a ball, was some years prior. She had been angry then and determined to prove to Ron that she was in fact a girl and well able to find a partner to attend with.

 

Those few years felt like decades, given all that had happened between that night and this. She had always assumed it would be her red-haired friend who would take her to the next such event, whilst reality had determined otherwise. She missed them. Harry and Ron. So much had occurred in the weeks since her arrival at the castle, yet it was really in that moment that she was hit with the full force of their absence. Off chasing villains and hunting horcruxes in order to save the world, while she stood placidly, dressed in her finest and waiting to attend a ball.

 

She couldn’t help feeling slightly superfluous. Clever Hermione protected by the castle gates. She laughed rather bitterly at the notion. Her feelings of displacement and uselessness were compounded by the fact that she had yet to make much progress with the ring. Adding to that were her conflicting thoughts of him, the boy who was her enemy, yet had somehow become the riddle she couldn’t quite resolve. Her attention shouldn’t be focused on him, on thinking about his intentions, his plans, and attempting to read meaning in his actions. She should instead be accomplishing her side of the deal, as at least that would be something to help Harry.

 

Yet all she had accomplished was to wage an internal battle with herself.

 

She glanced down at her hands, her head nodding almost imperceptibly. She would address that situation. She had to, and she had no way of knowing how much time was left on the clock for her to do so. The problem certainly wasn’t a lack of application. She had practiced many times wearing the ring and with little progress. Having learnt from past mistakes, Hermione had taken care to calm herself before each session. Yet each time she placed the silver band around her finger her stomach would clench strangely and she would be overcome by a rather unfamiliar and exceedingly overwhelming sensation. She was confused, utterly confounded.

 

Shaking herself, Hermione breathed in deeply, once more smoothing the delicate fabric of her dress as the knock on her door resounded in the room, which had been silent but for her thoughts.

 

****

 

He entered the room, late as usual, the better for both making an appropriate entrance and to afford a greater view of the scenery, and more particularly, the gathered collection of people. Studying the vast space, he tilted his head, affecting the posture of the supremely composed aristocrat. Feigning composure was not something he had ever really had to do before.

 

As his gaze swept the room, he noted the poignant, haunting atmosphere that had been created. The vast space of the hall was dimly lit with blue-tinged flames, which danced high up toward the ceiling, casting an eerie glow on the students mingling below.  Mist hung low on the flooring, created so that it would swirl around the feet of those dancing there.

 

Draco had not bothered getting involved in the decorating of the hall, having very little interest in such frivolous things. She had done a decent job though, he though rather grudgingly. Whatever else about her, and though he was loathe to actually admit it, she usually did.

 

As his thoughts strayed to the girl in question, as they had taken to doing of late, he saw her glide into his line of sight. She stood amid the mist and dim lighting, a vibrant burst of colour in the unearthly light. He felt his throat constrict and his breathing hitch as he watched her, remembered moments flicking across his mind.

 

The effect on him seemed to go unnoticed by the general populous. She looked up though, possibly having felt the heavy weight of his gaze upon her. It was a strange thing, how one person could be so consuming as to block out all else. On some conscious level, he knew the hall was full of silly girls gossiping and boys awkwardly trying to talk to them. Yet it all felt so juvenile, so insipid, compared to the charged look that passed between the two of them.

 

Everything about this girl, so wholly wrong and imperfect, was seared into his memory. How, he mused, could the ethereal creature before him be as she was, what she was? Impure. The word left a bitter taste in his mouth, and seemed to scorch across his vision in scalding letters engraved across the very image of her.

 

Draco had no idea what kind of hold she had over him, what intrigue she had sparked, and was fairly sure she didn’t know either. One thing he did know for certain, he had been infected somewhere along the way. The taint and poison of her pulsed through his veins so that at times he wanted to pierce the thin veil of his skin and drain himself of her. To cleanse himself and renew all that he’d formerly known and trusted. Yet despite all of this he would not avert his gaze, even after she looked away.

 

He was called back to the bustling sounds of high voices and the tinkling of glasses when a hand came to rest on his upper arm.

 

“Pansy,” he said by way of greeting.

 

“Draco,” she murmured in response, her lips red and curved.

 

“Shall we?” he asked, before leading her toward a far table around which his fellow Slytherins had gathered. Safe from his thoughts, for the moment.

 

****

 

Hermione felt dizzy from the intensity of what had passed, and the strange look on Malfoy’s face as he watched her. Not malevolent or threatening, as was his tendency, but instead slightly exposed. She turned her gaze back to Seamus and forced a smile as she attempted to grasp the thread of the conversation. It was lost to her entirely.

 

Instead she said, “Shall we head over to the table?”

 

Seamus looked at her oddly for a moment, as though uncertain. Had he watched her? Had he seen the torrid exchange with Malfoy? After a second or two he smiled, rather suddenly, and steered her toward a table where their friends were congregated.

 

Ginny, Dean and Lavender, Parvati and some boy from Ravenclaw, as well as Neville and Luna, were all seated. She greeted everyone and settled down. There was warmth and comfort here, in this circle, the familiarity of her friends was much needed. While outwardly she felt she was containing herself rather well, inwardly she felt she was blindly groping for some strand of clarity to cling to. It was ridiculous, she knew, but Hermione felt as though she was being pulled back and forth between two magnetic beads of light.

 

She also knew that being seated there, with her people, was right. It was her place.

 

And yet her body felt sluggish, a hazy aftermath of the violently thrilling torrent which had ripped through her for that strange moment when his gaze had seemed to own her entirely. There was something fiercely disturbing about the weariness and exhilaration she still felt after the exchange. She did not understand it.

 

There had been something thrilling about that heightened state. She had felt every nerve ending, was conscious, it seemed, of every cell in her body, which hummed with that strange sensation of uncontrollability that she only ever felt when wearing her ring. A mind searing clarity before she plunged into the depths of her own confusion.

 

No. She certainly did not understand.

 

Her recent awareness of him, on a level previously unknown, concerned her greatly. He had always been hard to ignore, given his very nature, tendency to cruelty and the particular vindictiveness he had always directed at herself and her friends. This was different. She found herself contemplating him in an entirely new way, wondering at the volatile nature of his moods, at the intent and meaning behind each word and look. She wondered, with increasing regularity, just how it was that he had gotten under her skin, breached the barriers that had always existed between them. And, more specifically, how she had let him.

 

She knew she hated him with every fibre of her being, and yet he need only glance at her and she felt aware. Alert. Awake. As though she had resurfaced from the depths of the ocean and gasped in the dizzying oxygen of which her body had been so deprived.

 

But he was Draco Malfoy and she was Hermione Granger. And in this world, with all that had happened and was to come, they each represented so much more than their own choices. What good was that heady rush if she would only be polluted in the process? Nothing good would come from this fixation, and yet, she realised, he had consumed her thoughts once more.

 

She needed distraction, a call back to reality, and not the tenuous thread of thoughts that beckoned to her constantly. Hermione turned to Seamus, feeling guilty once more for indulging in unbidden thoughts and neglecting him. He was real. He should be the sole focus of her thoughts this night.

 

He looked at her curiously, his easy grin coming slow to his features. He held his hand out and she felt her own smile tug irresistibly at her features. She slipped her hand in his and allowed him to lead her to the centre of the hall, currently adorned with many charming looking couples.

 

****

 

She was spinning gracefully in his arms. For the moment, at least, she was here. She was with him. Smiling and laughing. Here.

 

The boy gazed over the girl’s shoulder to a table in the far corner of the hall where the blond boy sat leaning back in his chair. A girl sat beside him resting her hand rather suggestively on his leg as she spoke. The boy inclined his head in agreement but his gaze was otherwise diverted.

 

The boy with the roguish smile twirled the girl in his arms once more before pulling her back, protectively, into his arms. He glared warningly at the blond who smirked assuredly back at him.

 

He had never trusted Malfoy.

 

****

 

Several hours later Draco walked along the corridor, cast in shadow, such that the meddlesome Gryffindor walking in his direction did not notice his presence. The ball had ended and he had shaken Pansy off, determined to sit in the quiet of his dormitory. He did not need her voice competing with the noises in his head.

 

A shimmering gossamer image was resting against the wall ahead of him. Granger was out of bed and very much alone. He doubted Finnigan knew she hadn’t obeyed his no doubt strict instructions that she go straight inside to bed, lest she be accosted by the villainous Slytherin.

 

She looked far too untouchable resting there, her thoughts clearly far away. He slowed to a stop directly across from her, leaning his back against the wall, watching. The only sign that she noted his presence was a slight stiffening of her body as she raised her head and allowed her gaze to wander from his shoes upwards, averting it before it reached his. She straightened her posture, turning as though to slip discreetly into her dormitory, but was halted by his body, which suddenly and swiftly appeared inches from her own.

 

Neither moved and still she refused to look at him properly. He could see she was breathing shallowly, as was he. Neither spoke, the moment feeling to fragile, and the knowledge that words would somehow break it, act as a reminder of why they should not be there breathing one another in.

 

He didn’t want to touch her for fear that she would burn him, and yet there was very little he could have done to stop himself. He lifted one hand to graze her lips in the same way his puffs of breath fanned and stroked her cheek. Her eyes were on his lips and she still would not look at him. Yet she didn’t move, she didn’t run. It seemed she was pinned in place by the same weight that held him.

 

His nose almost touched hers as he tilted his head, his mouth a mere breath away from hers. His hand traced over the bare skin of her shoulder and the back of her neck, cupping the weight of her head, which seemed to sag as though it were too heavy for her to carry alone.

 

“Look at me,” he demanded, his voice rather more hoarse then he would have liked. She trembled and closed her eyes. This was a side of her he had never seen before, vulnerable.

 

“Look at me,” he whispered this time, a ghost of a whisper. She looked up.

 

The silence in that second was marred only by erratic heartbeats and hitched breathing. What came next was a blur, moving hands and mobile mouths. Fuelled by anger, frustration, confusion and Merlin knew what else.

 

He could not think.

 

She met him touch for touch, kiss for kiss. She pushed him against the wall – never one to be submissive – he pushed her back. Wrenching her lips from his she leaned back, not bothering to conceal her ragged gasps for air as she looked up at him angrily. His hands were pressed against the wall behind her as he looked down at her. His thoughts bounced from one erratic question to another. What was he doing? Why? And how could he possibly stop?


 

He knew why. She had haunted his dreams at night and lingered in the crevices between each new thought during the day. A montage of images flickered like a reel of film in his mind: her body pressed against his in the astronomy tower, her flushed cheeks after he kissed her in his dormitory, her dancing with bloody Finnigan at the ball, and her in that moment pressed once more between him and a wall.

 

Her lips were swollen from his kisses, her hair tousled from his touch. Her eyes ablaze with the very same loathing and self-disgust he felt at that moment.

 

He leant down, his mouth brushing the softness of her earlobe as whispered in her ear. “I fucking hate you, Granger. You know that.”

 

She looked darkly at him for a long moment and shook her head, “You don’t know what hate is; you only think you do.”

 

He turned that one over in his head, thrown off slightly by the intensity in her voice. She pushed away from him then, slipping through the portrait to the safety of her dormitory. She left him there, consumed by conflicting thoughts, acute frustration, and a desire to haul her back out.

 

There was only one thought that repeated itself clearly amid the rest. He was more infected than he knew.

 

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