Masquerade

Hermione drew in a shuddering breath, shoving the dress back in her trunk and slamming the lid. Even through the haze surrounding that night, she could clearly remember the way it had felt. How her lips had burned from his kisses...

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9. Ghost-Like

Chapter Nine

Ghost-Like

   Hermione's footsteps echoed eerily throughout the empty corridors. Stifling a yawn, she gazed around blearily into the shadows. It was the eve of November 16th. All she wanted was to be back in her room, curled beneath her blankets. 

    But of course, duty called.

    Disgruntled, Hermione craned her neck to peer into the empty classrooms as she passed, all the while keeping her ears trained for the sound of Malfoy patrolling nearby. The Slytherin had disappeared earlier in their rounds, no doubt taking it upon himself to poke around where he didn’t belong.

    "Infuriating," she muttered crossly to herself, clenching and unclenching her fists. It was just like him, to shirk his duties this way.

    Thunk.

    Hermione froze, her eyes sweeping around the dark corridor stretching out before her. 

    Thunk.

    The sounds were coming from an empty classroom directly to her right. Probably just some foolish first years out of bed again, she thought in irritation, reaching forward cautiously and pulling the door back a few inches. The room was dark. 

    Hermione flung the door wide. She stepped in and narrowed her eyes, searching the dark corners of the room for the offending students. The only light came from the moon outside.

    The door slammed shut behind her. 

    Hermione jumped in fright. Spinning around, she grabbed the door handle and twisted. It didn't budge. She plunged her hand into the front pocket of her robes, searching around for the comforting feel of her wand.

    It wasn't there.

    "Hermione . . . "

    This time she yelped aloud, whipping around and pressing her back against the door. Her heart was racing. The hair on her arms stood on end.

    "Wh—who's there?" 

    It had sounded almost like Ron. But if he was there, he made no attempt to answer her. 

    "Hermione . . . “

    The voice sounded different. She was trembling now. "Harry? Is that you?"

    Silence.

    "Harry! Ron!" She whispered urgently, anger now flaring inside her chest. "This is not funny!" She took a step forward, away from the door.

    A child's lighthearted giggle sounded from the far corner. For a reason she couldn't place, Hermione felt dread fill her heart. She turned her head slowly to gaze at a door by the window, leading to another room.

    The giggle came again, this time with a flash of shiny blond curls as a young child ran past the door outside. 

    Hermione gasped. Before she could go investigate, however, she felt a presence behind her and suddenly she couldn't move.

    Her heart lurched. She smelled it. She smelled him.

    Warm, strong arms wrapped themselves around Hermione's middle from behind. She stared down in horror. Her stomach was round and large, heavy with child. It strained against the black fabric of her robes. The arms wrapped around her wore silver dress robes.

    Silver. A growing pit of sick certainty filled Hermione's stomach. It was him. It was the man in the mask. 

    His hands rubbed her stomach, tracing circles against her taut skin through the fabric of her robes. She could feel the strong definitions of his stomach and chest pressed flat against her back. He was so close.

    She sucked in a deep breath as he bent his head forward and pressed his lips to her neck. His kisses were soft, hardly even there. Ghost-like.

    He lifted his head and breathed lightly in her ear, sending a shudder down her spine. 

    "We're having a baby, Hermione," he said softly. His voice was flat, emotionless. Neither happy nor sad. And it sounded so familiar

    "Who are you?" Hermione croaked, her voice weak. Disgust washed over her as she realized how afraid she was. 

    "Our baby is going to be beautiful. It will be perfect, Hermione." He ignored her question and instead burrowed his nose into her neck, sucking in her scent deeply. "Our baby . . . “ 

    That's when she realized. She could feel his soft face pressing against hers. He wasn't wearing a mask!  

    But still, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't move her head. She couldn't turn to face him. 

    "Please! Please, just tell me who you are,” she clawed at his hands, trying to push them away so she could turn her body towards him. "I need to know who you are!"

    The man's body tensed, his hands gripping her even tighter than before. It were as if his hands were made of iron. She couldn't escape. And his grip was getting tighter. Hermione cried out in pain, involuntary tears pricking her eyes and blurring her vision.

    "Why didn't you tell me, Hermione?" His voice was vicious now, escalating into a snarl. "Why didn't you tell me about our baby?

    "You're hurting me!" she cried, "I'm sorry! I don't even know who you are! I'm s—“

    Hermione woke up with a choked sob. Her hands flew to her flat stomach, before wrapping around her sides. She held herself as she cried.

    "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she whispered to herself as the tears subsided. "It was just a dream. Just a dream."

    Finally, after a few minutes, her eyes were dry. She sniffled to herself and stared blankly at the far wall. She stroked her stomach the way the man in her dream had. 

    A baby? She still couldn't even grasp the notion. 

    "Granger!" 

    Hermione started at the voice outside her door. Malfoy rapped his knuckles against the wood relentlessly. 

    "Get out of bed, Granger!" he yelled yet again. "There's no way I'm getting punished because you missed bloody breakfast!"

    "Alright!" Hermione snapped. The shock and fear her dream had caused vanished as soon as she heard Malfoy's voice. Grudgingly, she swung her legs out of bed and stood up. Her body ached.

    Standing in front of her mirror, Hermione lifted up the fabric of her pajama shirt. She pressed the palm of her hand against the soft skin of her stomach. It looked normal, but even such a simple touch revealed everything. Her stomach was hardening more and more everyday as her body underwent the necessary changes in preparation for the next few months. 

    Within moments Hermione had changed into her school robes and brushed her mane of hair, attempting to make it look acceptable. She pocketed her wand, a shiver of unease running through her as she remembered its absence in her dream. 

    Hermione stepped out into the Common Room, school bag slung over her shoulder, and stopped short. Malfoy was lounging on the couch lazily, head slung back as he gazed at the ceiling in utmost boredom. She was still having a bit of trouble getting used to being in such close quarters with the Slytherin. It was unnerving. 

    Malfoy sensed her presence and turned his head a fraction, bringing Hermione into his line of vision. His expression was impassive as he observed her. After a few seconds he nodded his head curtly, propelled himself up and out of the chair, and strode out of the portrait hole without a word. 

    This is how it had been for weeks, ever since Dumbledore and the staff had found out about her pregnancy. Draco would wait in the morning to make sure she was on her way to breakfast, and sometimes in the evening for dinner as well. He'd even asked her once if she'd taken her pre-natal potion, which elicited such a look of shock and confusion from Hermione that he'd stormed into his dormitory and never brought it up again.

    She had a feeling Madam Pomfrey was behind the strange behavior. Merlin knows Malfoy wouldn't look after her on his own terms. Still, he'd been quite civil lately. Ever since the ball. It was unsettling, to be honest. He wasn't friendly, but he shot her less nasty glares and refrained from laughing at her expense. He didn't call her "mudblood" and most of the time took simply to ignoring her presence.

    She supposed it was better than nothing.

    All the way down to the Great Hall, Hermione had been mulling over the strange behavior of Draco Malfoy. Now she found herself at the large wooden doors and pushed them open with a sigh. Plastering on a grin, she made her way to the Gryffindor table and her friends, who were already sitting.

    Ginny motioned for Hermione to take the empty seat next to her. She looked disgruntled, and kept shooting irritated glances at Harry and Ron, who were whispering to one another across the table in a suspicious manner. 

    "They're being prats," Ginny said with a roll of her eyes at Hermione's questioning glance.  "Won't let me know what they're on about."

    "It's Malfoy, of course she'll be on our side!" Ron's voice escalated suddenly. Obviously she'd just sat down in the middle of an argument. 

    "Yes, but you know Herm—“ Harry cut off abruptly as he looked across the table and made eye contact with Hermione.

    "Ahem," she said, feeling amused at the boy's obliviousness. 

    "Hermione!" Ron crowed with over exaggerated enthusiasm. She raised an eyebrow in suspicion.

    "Why were you talking about Malfoy?"

    Harry fidgeted beneath her gaze. "We, well—we think he's up to something."

    Hermione sighed in irritation. "This again?" Sure, Malfoy was right git, but for over a year now Harry had been relentlessly suspicious of him for the most ridiculous things. 

    "Look at the facts, Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, a bit louder than intended in his excitement. A few girls from the Hufflepuff table turned to stare at him.

    "Keep your voice down, Ron!" Ginny hissed, half amused, half irritated at her obnoxious brother. 

    Ron continued on as if he hadn't heard a word. "He tried to kill Dumbeldore! Harry was there! He's a Death Eater, Hermione!"

    "He was a Death Eater," she corrected calmly. "And if I remember correctly," she swept her eyes over to Harry, who was looking slightly uncomfortable, "Harry said that Malfoy couldn't make himself go through with killing him. His heart obviously wasn't in it!"

    "He's a Slytherin!" Ron hissed under his breath, eyes wide. He evidently considered this point to be a nail in Malfoy's figurative coffin. 

    "Isn't the Malfoy family under Dumbledore's protection now?" Ginny mused, glancing over to the Slytherin table. 

    Hermione nodded, finding her gaze drifting over towards the Slytherin table. She could hear the Weasley siblings bickering, but it was simply a backdrop of noise as she studied Malfoy—or rather the back of his blond head, as he was facing away from her. He was still proud and insufferable (and quite frankly difficult to stay in the same room with) but there definitely was something different about him. She trusted Dumbledore's judgement. If he felt the Malfoys had changed their ways, then they had. 

    "Hermione!" 

    She jerked back to attention, staring guiltily at Ron who had evidently been trying to get her attention. He nudged Harry, cueing him to speak.

    "I still don't trust him. How do we know Voldemort isn't contacting him somehow? Or that he's not imperiused?"

    Hermione sighed audibly. "Harry, I hardly believe Dumbledore would—“

    "Oh, quit it with the Dumbledore excuse!" Ron groaned, eliciting a murderous glare from Hermione. "Harry won't say it, so I will. You've got to live with the prat—“

    "Ron!" Hermione cried indignantly.

    “—so it really wouldn't be any trouble for you to snoop around on him, would it?" He grinned sheepishly at her, trying to look innocent. Ginny barely managed to stifle her laughter.

    "Snoop around?" Hermione blinked. "Tell me, Ronald, what exactly does that entail?"

    Harry interjected then, evidently trying to rescue the spiraling conversation. "I think what Ron is trying to say is that you could keep an eye on Malfoy, keep tabs on him and the like. You could keep an eye out for odd behavior?"

    "Snoop in his dormitory!" Ron interjected, not finding Harry's suggestions fulfilling enough. 

    "I'm a girl, so I'm not allowed in his dormitory," Hermione said in exasperation. Ron's face fell. "And I'm definitely not going to go around spying on him! That's hardly right!"

    "Aw, c'mon Hermione!"

    "No." she was adamant. "Of course I'll tell you if something seems off,”—Ron looked hopeful—“but in no way am I going to deliberately spy on him! There's a such thing as privacy, you know!"

    "Oh, just drop it, will you?" Harry interjected as Ron opened his mouth yet again in protest. "I told you she wouldn't like the idea."

    Hermione smiled sweetly at her friend, glad someone else was being sensible. Ron was looking considerably put out by this turn of events, but luckily breakfast ended within a few minutes. And then Hermione found herself fighting through a crowd of students to get to her first class. 

    The day flew by in a haze of wand waving, potion brewing and ancient rune characters. Hermione found she could barely make it through dinner, and nearly dropped her elbow in the food at least three times due to the fact that she could hardly keep her eyes open. Finally, caving to her bodies urgent desire to sleep, she announced she'd be turning in early. This pregnancy was really taking a toll.

    "I'll walk you back to your Common Room!" Ron offered, jumping to his feet immediately. She'd never seen him forget about food so fast. 

    "Oh, uh, sure," Hermione said, blushing lightly at the look Ginny was giving her. 

    The walk to the Common Room was silent, tension thick in the air. Ever since the Halloween ball, over two weeks earlier, Hermione had done everything possible to not be alone with Ron. She was terribly confused. She had feelings for Ron, she knew that for sure, but something about that night had just seemed wrong. Maybe because he'd been drunk, maybe because Malfoy had so awkwardly interrupted them, maybe because she'd fled the scene like a fool. Maybe because she was afraid Ron had remembered what Malfoy had said, about her "precious cargo”. Or maybe it was because part of her was actually thankful Malfoy had interrupted, and that felt all wrong. 

    Then again, it could be a mixture of everything: all of the above. Nevertheless, she'd done her best to avoid an awkward situation. But it seemed her luck had run out. 

    Ron finally broke the silence once they reached the portrait hole. 

    "Hermione?" his voice was soft. She even thought she heard a little tremor in it.

    She swallowed thickly. "Yes?"

    "Can I—“ he stopped, eyes searching her face. “Well . . . “

    "Yes?"

    He took a step towards her. He was so close. She could feel the heat emanating off his body. "Can I kiss you again? The right way, this time?"

    Hermione felt her heart start thudding wildly. Her breath hitched in her throat and she bit her lip self consciously, feeling the corners of her mouth lift up in an embarrassed grin. You're acting like a little school girl! 

    Taking her lack of response and wide eyes as a yes, Ron slid one arm around her waist and pulled her close to him. His other hand came up to cup her cheek, before sliding forward to grip her chin. He tipped her face up to his. His blue eyes were dark and searching. 

    Just as he dipped his head forward, however, Hermione stopped him. 

    "Ron," she whispered. He pulled his head back slightly, confusion knitting his brown. "Ron, what does this mean?" She was feeling foolish already, but at this point there was no stopping. "Asking me to the ball, then kissing me, and kissing me now. Are we a couple?"

    Ron's eyes sparkled in amusement. "Hermione Granger, are you asking me out?"

    Hermione's cheeks flamed red, her mouth opening in an “o” of surprise. 

    He didn't wait for a response. He leaned forward and caught her lips, breathing out a sigh of pleasure as her mouth moved against his. A wide, warm hand rubbed against the base of her spine, sending shivers all the way up her back. Tentatively she brought her hands up and rested them on his strong shoulders. He smiled against her lips and Hermione was flooded in a feeling of happiness she could hardly describe.

    For one brief moment, Hermione forgot all her troubles. She forgot about the baby. She forgot about the masked man. She forgot about the difficult times soon to come.

    She was kissing a very sober Ron Weasley, and it felt lovely. 

---

Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! Please let me know what you think, feedback from readers is always helpful and hearing from you all is essential in me keeping up the motivation to keep writing. :) It would also be much appreciated if you would add this to your favourites and/or like it! 

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