She'd been at Mahoutokoro for just over two years, having transferred out of Hogwarts after her first disastrous year there with the merciless bullying from 'the boy who lived,' and his friends; Ronald and Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood.
According to rumors, Hermione wasn't the first they'd driven off, as a few years prior, the young son of Lucius Malfoy had also transferred to the same school as her.
He was only three years older than her, the same age as Harry and Ronald, so he was still in school – in fact, he was the best Quidditch Seeker ever seen.
But in the last two school years, she'd failed to run into him even once.
Since she'd never spoken to him – and had only seen him a couple of times from the bleachers during the Quidditch games – it was hard to understand her hero-like worship of him.
The thing was, he was one of the only other students from the United Kingdom, as almost everyone else in school was from Japan, China, or other parts of Asia – which made it hard for her to fit in with the other students.
She excelled in her classes, oftentimes being the first to complete a potion or spell successfully. But there was more to her than just being a nerd. She was just like any other girl: wanting clothes and shoes, wishing to talk about boys, and looking to have fun just for the heck of it. Unfortunately, that was near impossible, for while her dorm mates were mostly friendly to her, there was a general separation between them and her.
However, with the night of the Annual Fall Masquerade upon her, it was the one night where nobody would stop talking just because the Caucasian girl walked into a room. She'd be just another stranger in a sea of masks.
And because of that, it was her night.
It was why she'd gotten such a gorgeous dress.
The ankle-length dress had a beautiful teal bodice made of satin with periwinkle sleeves of chiffon which draped off the shoulders in several thin layers. Meanwhile, the skirt had a multitude of short segments of silk that fell lightly on top of one another in a flowing formation as they slowly darkened from a brilliant sky blue to a navy blue.
She'd also found a pair of shoes which were a mere shade deeper than the base of the dress.
But it was the mask, with the nidnight blue satin covering, lace trim, small tassels dangling off the sides, and actual sapphire accents, that was the crowning piece de resistance to her outfit.
She smoothed her hand over the skirt as she paused in the hall.
Her nervousness tempted her to run back up the stairs and head straight to her room.
She couldn't do that though, so Hermione took a deep breath before stepping through the double doors and into the ballroom.
The room, much like her fellow students, was decked out to the nines. Half the students wore traditional Asian formal wear, with colorful kimonos, sarees, and cheongsams. While the other half went more in the direction of party dresses and suits. And the ballroom itself was exquisite, with flowing silk drapes, crystal chandeliers, and gilded statues.
For a few seconds, Hermione simply stood in the archway and stared, soaking it all in. Because, even though it was her third masquerade ball, the sight was no less magnificent.
Then someone else who was slightly late to the ball bumped into her, forcing her to take a couple of unsteady steps forward as she tried to stop herself from falling.
Hermione took a steadying breath as she counted to ten in her head so as to prevent herself from starting something with the person who'd deliberately smacked into her – there'd been more than enough space to go around on either side of her.
Unable to resist, she opened her mouth to lay into the jerk as she spun to face the person. "Why you –"
"I'm sorry for accidentally bumping into you, but I thought for a moment I saw an angel wrapped all in blue and didn't know what to do." He was significantly taller than her with white-blond hair. While the hair wasn't all that weird – given how many people used Color Change Charms – the height was shocking.
She snorted softly as she turned on her heel, quickly walking away from him. Hermione couldn't help but wonder if he honestly believed lines like that actually worked.
She also couldn't figure out why she found the comment strangely endearing.
Hermione made her way through the crowded ballroom, looking around as she did so.
She recognized a couple of her dorm mates, Cho Chang and Sue Li, as she passed by – in spite of their masks. Of course, she'd seen their costumes ahead of time. Even though she hadn't been trying to spy, it had been impossible not to notice.
Hermione was almost to the tables against the wall when a hand on her arm stopped her.
A glance behind her proved there were two girls with long black hair in matching purple sarees and masks. It was Parvati and Padma Patil, her other two dorm mates.
"Want to dance?" the one on the right half-shouted.
"Sure!" she shouted back, getting pulled out onto the dance floor before she even got the word fully out.
Once in the midst of the dance floor, with bodies pressed against her on all sides, it wasn't so much dancing as jumping and writhing in place. The music being played was one of the different pops that were currently hip, though she couldn't tell which.
There were many of her fellow students who would probably yell at her if she openly admitted that she couldn't tell what genre it was. But to her, K-pop, C-pop, J-pop, Mandopop, and the numerous other styles all sounded remarkably similar.
Luckily, she didn't have to voice that opinion, and instead just followed along with everyone surrounding her, jumping when they did and moving her hips along with the best of them.
As the minutes passed and the song changed more than once, she was slowly forced towards the fringe of the crowd and away from Padma and Parvati. Hermione could have fought to stay next to them, but she knew they'd really just invited her to dance with them out of the same genial kindness that was shared when they were in the dorm together.
Besides, the jumping up and down, swinging her head side to side, and swaying of hips was fun but quickly tiring. So once she was pushed out of the inner circle of dancing bodies, she made her way over to one of the tables and sat down.
Hermione was looking through the crowd of bodies when someone sat down next to her at the table.
"So, are you having a good time?"
She glanced over, finding the same guy sitting beside her as had bumped into her earlier. "Are you stalking me or something?"
"I just never expected to see anyone around here as beautiful as you."
She barely resisted rolling her eyes. "I bet you use that line with all the ladies."
His lips twitched into a small smile. "Just you."
"Yeah, right. And who are you?"
"I don't know, why don't you tell me who you are?"
Hermione's eyes narrowed slightly. "I asked you first."
Even with his face mostly covered by his mask, she could see his ice-gray eyes glittering with mischief.
"Why don't we get back to that in a moment? In the meantime, may I have this dance?"
His words were perfectly timed with the start of a slow song, and though she hadn't seen him give any sign, she was severely tempted to find out how they knew to switch it at the perfect moment.
When she didn't say anything quickly enough, he stood up and took her hand, pulling her from the seat.
As he walked backwards onto the dance floor, tugging her with him, it didn't immediately catch her notice that the floor had significantly cleared.
He spun her around in a light twirl before he pulled her into his arms.
At first, they swayed back and forth, the movements hesitant mostly thanks to her nervousness, before they finally started moving with more purpose as she realized who she was dancing with.
In truth, Hermione couldn't be a hundred percent certain, but in her heart, she knew it was him; it was Draco.
It couldn't be anyone else.
The song drew to a stop, and she prepared to pull away, expecting it to go back to a typical pop song. But instead, another slow ballad started.
He pulled her closer once again. "I wish we could stay like this forever," he murmured in her ear, echoing a desire she hadn't even dared to allow to fully form in her mind.
"Why?" she asked just as softly.
"It's nice to be merely a simple stranger for a change. And when this night ends, that won't be the case anymore."
"Why not?" Part of her wanted him to admit that he was who she knew him in her heart to be, wanted him to come clean, but the rest of her understood the anonymity he was alluding to.
After all, hadn't that been why she'd wanted this night as well?
"Because everything ends. Someday, I'm sure you'll understand."
He reached up and brushed her cheek gently as she closed her eyes. He wouldn't believe her if she told him that she already got it.
But she was glad they were able to dance for the moment. In fact, if he asked, she'd gladly stay on the dance floor with him for the rest of the ball.
Tomorrow's goodbye would be soon enough.
He proceeded to twirl her around.