Disclaimer:  All belong to JKR, all hail the HP Queen!  Mine is just wishful thinking!

Note:  Short, disgustingly sweet, and totally out of canon.  Sorry, I couldn't help myself!  Now, back to Chapter 14!  (sound of whip cracking in background!)

Draco sat in the locker room awaiting the rest of his team.  As he sat, he couldn't help thinking about some astounding events in his life recently.  There had been quite a lot going on, as it happened.  He'd got an owl from his mother about two weeks ago, saying that his father had finally been taken into custody.  The ministry must think they had a solid case, Draco mused, since they had finally picked the elder Malfoy up.    Last week he'd also been invited by owl to attend the try-outs for the Falmouth Falcons in the fall, which had thrilled him no end.  Earlier this week, Draco had received another owl from his mother, this one from their villa in Spain.  She had left England, and she wasn't coming back.  She'd left Draco with a small monthly allowance to see to his needs until he graduated.  He could then join her in Spain, but the family mansion had been sold, so he could not return there.  Finally, he'd got an owl from his father's solicitor, congratulating him on his eighteenth birthday and sending him the lease to a small flat in Diagon Alley.  It was his, free and clear, paid for the next several years and could be occupied immediately. 

He shook his head.  It was only February and the weather was filthy right now, but although Draco was sorry about his father, and missed his mother a bit, he wasn't thinking about a nice, cozy flat in London or a palatial villa on the ocean.  He didn't ponder the possible life of a professional quidditch player.  He wasn't even thinking about the freezing sleet outside and the fact that he had to play in it in less than a half hour.  He was thinking about fiery red hair and soft, full lips.  He was contemplating cushiony curves and small, strong hands that held him tightly.  He was envisioning Ginny Weasley. 

Ever since finding Weasley and some of her friends playing a game of 'Spin the Bottle' in the Astronomy towers a month or so back, she seemed to be all Draco ever thought of.  He did his patrolling with less interest than he had before (which had been little enough), now seldom taking names or points.  As often as not he would purposely ignore kids sneaking about.  It wasn't because he'd gone soft, but because he had more important things to do.  As long as he didn't find anything dangerously out of the ordinary or anything that might get him in trouble if he overlooked it, Draco would finish his rounds as quickly as possible so he could hurry to the Astronomy towers and meet the girl he'd become infatuated with.

It was demoralizing to realize that he was infatuated with her.  From the start he'd known that whatever was between Ginny Weasley and him was only temporary.  By her own admission, she'd been 'lusting' after him, and had plotted how to get him alone so she could appease her curiosity and kiss him. 

Draco was considered fair looking at best and Ginny Weasley was one of the prettiest girls in school.  So when he realized what the she was up to, he'd immediately been suspicious.  Weasley wasn't just pretty, she was popular and a born leader.  He'd found it difficult to believe that she'd really been attracted to him, and had acted accordingly.  And nearly ruined the best thing to happen to him in years.  When he realized his mistake, Draco had been able to work things out with her.  They had begun meeting almost every night.  It had started as marathon snogging, although it never went past a certain level, but recently they'd spent some of their time actually talking.  And Draco found, to his dismay, that he enjoyed just talking to the littlest Weasley.  She was bright and sharp and had an almost cutting wit at times.  And she was interesting. 

Draco knew that if she decided there was to be no more snogging, he would be satisfied just to spend time with her.  And he couldn't let her know that.  If she ever suspected that he felt more than just a physical attraction to her, she'd probably call quits to their entire relationship, if you could call what they had together a relationship.  To her it was probably just very pleasant kissing.  He couldn't help wondering if she cared at all about the talking and getting to really know one another, or whether she just humoured him to get what she wanted.  Probably not, he reasoned. 

And despite that, Draco couldn't walk away from her.  He had decided that if he wanted to keep any part of her in his life, he would just have to hide his growing feelings for her.  On that depressing thought, Draco began changing into his uniform.  He couldn't help a smile at how she'd described him as 'dead sexy' in his Quidditch uniform.  He had to admit that the corduroy trousers fit his long, lean legs extremely well and the knee-high leather flying boots just enhanced the effect.  His jumper was fitted and hugged his slender frame and the Slytherin green robe was a good colour on him.  He liked the gloves and wrist guards or 'bracers' as well, and could almost see why she thought he looked good in his 'kit'.  Hell, even to himself, he looked pretty good in the get up.  As he finished strapping up his boots, the rest of his team began to arrive.  Draco looked at them with satisfaction.  They were seriously good, and his team had a strong chance of beating Gryffindor.  He'd told the Weasley girl the first time he'd kissed her that he would gladly knock her off her broom if she stood between him and getting the snitch.  He would find out today whether he'd been telling the truth.  When Madam Hooch knocked on the door of the locker room a few minutes later, Draco looked at his team. 

"Let's go out there and KICK SOME GRYFFINDOR ASS!"

The game was well into the second hour and Draco was growing frustrated.  He'd spotted the snitch several times, but so had Weasley.  They would both give chase and end up in a knockabout battle for position.  And they would get so involved in jostling, knocking or slamming the other out of the way that the snitch would disappear.  Draco knew Ginny Weasley was strong, but he was surprised that she was so tough and tenacious.  She refused to give way despite his being bigger and stronger, and she was wickedly quick and clever on her broom.  Even though Draco had threatened to knock her off, she had nearly unseated him twice with surprisingly painful elbows in the ribs.  She was sneaky, and he found that in spite of himself he liked it.  But he wasn't about to let her get the snitch before him.  The score was tied at 50-50 and neither team could seem to get an advantage.  The beaters were getting sloppy, the chasers were growing tired and Draco, for one, felt frozen.  He was afraid that even if he did reach the snitch first, he might just allow it to slip through his numb fingers because he wouldn't be able to feel it!  He had to get it quickly and get this game over with.

As Draco flew above the pitch, scanning endlessly for the small blur of gold, he spared the Weasley girl a quick glance.  Yes, she was a tough one, all right.  Her lips were blue and quivering, her face was pale, and he could see, even from a distance, that her generous frame was shivering.  But she continued to scan the pitch, as he was doing, looking for the snitch. 

Draco was taken by surprise when she looked up at him.  It was almost the first time their eyes had met this afternoon except when they had been trying to slam one another off their brooms.  He was shocked when her cold-pinched face suddenly flushed with warm colour and she gave him a quick smile.  Then she was back to flying circles and scanning for the snitch. 

Draco was so surprised that he almost missed the flash of gold several feet above the Gryffindor seeker.  His eyes widened as he watched the small golden ball hover above her for a moment before darting away.  Instantly Draco was in pursuit, noting that Weasley had followed immediately.  He was ahead of her, but she was gaining quickly as the snitch angled in her direction.

No way, Draco thought, urging his broom faster.  He was torn between glee and concern when a bludger suddenly sped across Weasley's broom handle, nearly whacking her on the hands.  She slowed for only a second, but it was long enough for Draco to pull firmly ahead of her.  He was reaching for the snitch, could almost feel it in his fingers when another bludger screamed by, an inch from his nose.  He automatically pulled up, and only a second later corrected, but now Weasley was just ahead of him.  They were flying low, still following the snitch as it worked its way closer and closer to the ground.  Crouching over, nearly doubling himself on the broom, Draco pulled even with her and within reach of the snitch.  He did reach out, just catching sight of Weasley as she veered toward him to once again knock him off course. 

Not this time, he thought as his foot slid behind hers on her footrest.  With a quick movement, he jerked his foot against her ankle, unbalancing and unseating her.  He reached out and grabbed the snitch, then dropped quickly, tangled a hand in the back of her robe and hauled her back onto her broom.  It was done so quickly that those watching (Madam Hooch especially) weren't really certain what had happened.  But when Draco slowed and raised his hand, displaying the snitch fluttering helplessly in his grasp, the whistle sounded.  The crowd roared with victory or disappointment, but it didn't matter.  The game was over. 

As the cheers and celebration died down, Draco finally got his team to head back to Slytherin.  He knew there would be a party going on there but strangely he wasn't in the mood to celebrate.  He'd done it; he'd beaten the Gryffindor team finally.  It hadn't been Potter, but it had been the self-righteous do-good gits that he'd always lost to before.  He should be dancing on the tables, but he wasn't.

It wasn't just Gryffindor he'd beaten.  He'd beaten the pretty, passionate young woman who had come to mean so much to him lately.  After he'd hauled her back onto her broom, Draco had been surrounded by his own players and hadn't had a chance to look at, let alone talk to her.  He knew how much winning had meant to her, but he'd cheated by unseating her and had snatched the victory from her.  Even though he had warned her, she'd probably never speak to him again, never mind meet him after curfew for some illicit snogging.  Draco realized that he wouldn't have ever let her win, just so she wouldn't be angry, but he couldn't help almost wishing that she'd grabbed the snitch first.  Shaking his head, he slumped back on the padded trainer's table he was sitting on, stretched out and locked his arms behind his head.  He didn't have anywhere to hurry to now, so he might as well just stay here.

Ginny glanced around once more, her hand hovering just above the door handle.  The coast was clear and she quietly opened the door to slip silently into the locker room that the Slytherin team had used.  She listened for a moment before moving stealthily along the lockers toward the training area and showers.  Malfoy hadn't come back to the castle with his team, so he must still be here, she thought.  Most of the locker room was dark, since the chill, wintry sun was near setting, but she saw a bit of light ahead.  As she rounded the last locker, she saw him lying on the training table and staring up at the ceiling.  His head was resting on his arms, and one long, slender, corduroy and leather encased leg was crossed over the other.  Ginny felt her heart rate increase as she noticed that his Quidditch jumper had ridden up above the waist of the trousers, exposing a narrow band of lean abdomen.  Swallowing, she found she couldn't move.  She didn't really want to, yet, anyway.  He'd just beaten her team in the most important Quidditch game of the year and she was a little upset, for one thing.  She wasn't upset with Malfoy, though.   She was upset with herself for allowing him to beat her.  He had cheated to do so, but that didn't bother her; she'd cheated, too, when she'd tried to unseat him.  That wasn't why she was just standing here.  She just wanted to watch him for a while.  He wasn't out celebrating his victory with his mates.  Instead, he was here, all alone.  Deliciously, enticingly alone.  As she stood, rooted to the spot, her mind drifted back over the past several weeks.

She'd told Colin Creevey, one of her closest friends, about her obsession with the Slytherin prefect.  He'd been understandably horrified.  He'd doubted her sanity and offered to 'take her to see someone' about it.  When she'd finally convinced him that she was serious and she meant to somehow steal one kiss from the arrogant git, he'd decided he would help her.  "At least there will be one sane person in the group," he'd told her.  By careful listening and questioning, they'd found out that the prefects didn't patrol randomly.  Most of them had a favorite route, or 'beat' that they would cover each night.  And she'd found that Malfoy almost always did the Astronomy towers and surrounding corridors.  It had been easy to get some other kids in on the idea of the silly game; most of the teens here were sexually frustrated, anyway, and it was an innocent way to relieve some of the tension.  Only Colin had been in on her real plan, which was to be left alone somehow with Malfoy.

She'd thought she had achieved that by getting locked up with him, but she hadn't counted on him being so uncertain with her.  She had been prepared for him to push her away or laugh at her once she'd stolen her kiss, but that was before he'd kissed her back so enthusiastically.  That had been just heavenly, and visions of more delicious snogging had briefly danced in her head. But Colin had popped his head in just when things had been going so well.  And afterward, Malfoy had acted like he'd been disgusted and Ginny had been near tears.  It had been embarrassing, especially when she found the other kids still waiting for her.  She'd been as surprised as Malfoy that they hadn't deserted her.  It was touching, but it had been a major inconvenience to have to face them at that moment.

Now, weeks later, Ginny understood that Malfoy had acted so contrarily because of all that misplaced pride of his.  He'd just assumed that the younger kids had been out to humiliate him, and had acted accordingly. It didn't have anything to do with not being attracted to her, but at the time it had hurt for him to push her away as soon as Colin had opened the door. 

Ginny almost shook her head at Malfoy's odd behavior.  It had to be obvious that she was attracted to him.  She couldn't remember ever reacting to anyone the way she reacted to him, but he just didn't seem to see it.  Every time she met him in the Astronomy towers, he was so…hesitant.  He wasn't shy, he just waited until she made the first move, every time.  It was almost as though he was waiting for her to tell him to bugger off.  Sometimes she had to be very careful what she said, to make sure she didn't get his pride in an uproar.  Why, she wondered, did he have to act like that?  And why couldn't he be the one to initiate something, just once?  Why did he have such a hard time believing that she loved the way he made her feel and she couldn't seem to get enough of it?  If that weren't insane enough, she was actually enjoying the non-snogging time they had been sharing lately.  She liked learning more about him, besides that he was a damned good kisser and sexy to boot.  He seemed to enjoy it, as well, so what was the problem, Ginny asked herself again? 

It wasn't as though Malfoy didn't want her.  She knew that he did.  That was more than obvious every time they kissed.  As soon as she broke through that reserve of his, he was as passionate as she could hope, even though he'd never yet made what she would consider improper moves on her.  Draco Malfoy, the perfect gentleman, her brain blurted out, almost causing her to giggle nervously.  No, there was no problem at all once she actually got him to kiss her.  It was the getting there that was frustrating.  With a feeling of resignation she realized that if she were going to get her Malfoy fix tonight, she'd have to go to him, as usual.

Ginny let her eyes travel over him once more, taking in the thin, almost ferret-like face that she'd grown very fond of.  The blond hair was as silky as ever and was currently mussed and falling over his smooth brow.  Her gaze traveled down his chest to his flat abdomen and slender hips, then lovingly along the long legs.  She couldn't seem to get enough of seeing him in his Quidditch uniform.  It was so much better suited to him than the billowy school robes that hid his naturally graceful, athletic form.  She wondered idly what he wore at holidays; whether he stuck to the traditional light under robes with a more formal robe on top or whether he opted for trousers, jumpers and perhaps even blue jeans.  Now that was a mouth watering though, she mused, her pulse rate climbing another notch.

As she watched, he suddenly moved.  He straightened into a sitting position, and then pulled his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them and staring ahead, almost straight at her.  In fact, Ginny noted, flushing, if he moved his eyes just slightly to the side, he would see her.  He looked pensive; as though he had something very important on his mind right now.  And for a moment, Ginny wondered if he might just want to be alone.  Maybe that was why he was out here instead of celebrating in Slytherin. 

I should really leave him be, she thought, taking one step back.  If he'd wanted her company, wouldn't he have let her know somehow after the game?  As she moved, his gaze shifted, and she found herself staring into his pale eyes.

I wonder where she is now? Draco thought to himself.  He could imagine her in the Gryffindor common room, with her mates, complaining (or possibly crying) about her defeat.  No, he decided, she would not be crying over her loss.  She would be mad as hell and planning some painful vengeance that she would never actually have the heart to enforce.  Oh, she would have had the courage, he was sure, but she was too soft hearted to purposely hurt someone.  That didn't prevent her from tearing him up inside all unintentionally.  She probably wasn't giving him a second thought, he told himself morosely.

Sitting up, Draco did something he seldom did any more.  He pulled his legs up and rested his chin on his knees.  He used to do this when he was feeling upset or sad as a young child, but since coming to Hogwarts, where everyone watched what you did and judged you by your actions, he'd put away the childish habit.  Now, though, there was no one to see what he considered a trait of weakness. 

If Ginny Weasley was thinking about him right now she was probably regretting that she'd ever gotten involved with him, and formulating some 'kind' way to tell him to bugger off.  Regret was an odd emotion and not one Draco commonly suffered, but he felt it now.  He regretted that he hadn't spoken with the girl more about the upcoming game and what would happen after.  He regretted that he would never get a chance to hold her again and feel her soft body against his and taste her sweet lips.  And he most regretted that he'd never just swept her into his arms, as he wanted to every time he saw her, and kissed her like mad. 

With a feeling of resignation, Draco decided it was time to go back to Slytherin.  No one was likely to come looking for him, but he might feel less depressed surrounded by his classmates.  He was about to slide off the table when he noticed a movement to the side.  His eyes swiftly shifted that way and he was suddenly staring directly into Ginny Weasley's deliciously surprised brown gaze.  He started, equally surprised, then stood quickly, and probably awkwardly.  On stiff legs, Draco walked slowly toward the girl he'd been thinking about, wondering if she weren't just some figment of his imagination.  When he was standing in front of her, he stared into her eyes, as though trying to figure out if she were real or not. 

"You're here," he said, his voice low and disbelieving.

Ginny's eyes traveled from his face, fixed in an expressionless mask, to his neck, where she could see the large vein at the side of his neck pulsing.  His chest was rising and falling rapidly, as though he were breathless and trying to suck in oxygen.  And his hands, his long, slender, strong hands were clenched tightly at his sides.  She looked up again.  Was he angry that she'd come here?

"Uh, yeah," she answered lamely.  How did he make her feel so weak and timid, she wondered?  "I just though you might want some company."

He didn't answer and Ginny swallowed the sigh of disappointment that threatened to escape her.  "I didn't mean to intrude," she said into the lengthening silence.  "I'll just leave."

She would have, too, except that he extended an arm, resting his hand on the locker behind her and blocking her path.  She looked from the arm to his face, still unreadable.  Moving in the other direction, she tried to slip past him once again, but once again he placed an arm in her way. 

"Malfoy," she said uncertainly, "I'm trying to leave you alone."

"What are you doing here, Weasley?" he demanded.  "Why did you come all the way out here in the first place if you were just going to turn 'round and go away?

That's the million galleon question, isn't it, Ginny told herself.  Thinking quickly, she said, "I saw that you didn't come back with your team, and I wanted to make sure you were all right."  She gave him a tiny smile and added, "I wanted to make sure I didn't hurt you too badly during the game." 

She'd meant it to sound teasing, but obviously he wasn't in a teasing mood.  Oh, great, Gin, get all that pride riled up.  Ginny watched the expression on his face change instantly from unreadable to insufferably arrogant.  She braced herself.

Draco's hands came away from the locker quickly as he straightened.  One of his eyebrows rose, heightening the affect of the arrogant expression. 

"As though you could, Weasley," he sneered.  "I was trying so hard not to fall off my broom laughing that I barely noticed.  Do you think those pitiful little love taps you gave me actually hurt?"

No, you idiot! his brain screamed.  You're going to ruin everything!

That was it.  Ginny had had it.  It wasn't bad enough that she had come sneaking out here, tracking him down, creeping into his locker room when she should have been enjoying a hot shower and a nice pout by the fire.  No, that wasn't bad enough.  Now the stupid git that she couldn't seem to stop chasing after was insulting her! 

"Apparently not, Malfoy," Ginny said, seething on the inside but damned if she'd let him know he'd hurt her.  "Well, obviously you're fine and obviously you want to be left alone.  I'll be off now."

Say something!  Draco's brain was screaming at him.  He could see that he'd hurt her, it was so easy to read that lovely face now that he knew her better.   But he couldn't find the right words.  He did open his mouth, but nothing came out.  Draco could only watch as she slipped back into the shadows.  The sound of the opening door was faint, but the crashing slam as it was closed caused him to jump. 

"Way to go, stupid ass," he said to himself as he leaned against the locker and slid to the ground.  His heart jumped hopefully when he heard the door open again, then plummeted to his feet at the words she shouted.

"Just so you don't have to wonder, I'll be avoiding the towers from here on."

The door slammed again.  Lowering his forehead to his bent knees, Draco sighed.

Stupid, selfish git, Ginny fumed.  A day and a half hadn't done much to alleviate her anger at Draco Malfoy's proud, irritating behavior.  She realized that the insult was rather mild for the spoilt brat she'd been lusting over for the past several weeks, but it hurt that after all their meetings and conversations he would purposely say something so spiteful.  He'd been laughing at her during the game?  Of course he had, Ginny thought.  What else could he do?  Here she was, flying around him, trying to watch him and using any excuse to touch him when she should have been looking for the snitch.  He'd apparently not given her a thought during the game except as the pest who kept getting in his way.  Even though her team wasn't really angry with her, she was angry with herself for letting the git distract her.  He'd probably been planning it ever since that first night they kissed. 

Ginny continued to rant mentally, ignoring her friends, ignoring her lessons, and glaring at nothing in particular.  She'd been so distracted that when the potions professor asked her a question, she'd actually told him, 'What do I care?'  The supercilious prat had looked like she'd just handed him a gift-wrapped package as he gave her detention for this Friday.  Despite all the distractions, she did, at some level, realize that Malfoy's attraction had been genuine, but she wasn't about to admit that now.  She would never look at, let alone talk to or kiss the smug, selfish git again.  No going to the Astronomy tower, no wandering about the dungeons alone, and no sneaking into the Slytherin locker room.  She wouldn't even watch Slytherin's next game.  That was it; it was over, finis, the end.  Draco Malfoy was out of Ginny's system for good.  As long as she never saw him in knee-high leather flying boots again.

Draco was in a foul mood as he watched his team practice.  It had been almost a week since that stupid incident in the locker room last Saturday, and Draco had not been able to talk to Weasley at all, much less apologize to her for snapping at her.  She'd meant it when she'd said she wouldn't be in the towers any more.  He'd gone up every night, hoping against hope that she might be there, but she wasn't.  He couldn't catch her eye at meals because she either sat with her back to him or she outright refused to look at him.  She never went anywhere alone, and he couldn't catch her between classes any longer.  Draco had never realized just how easy the girl had made it for him to see her. 

She snuck out of Gryffindor to meet him.  She would purposely be outside his classes sometimes, or sometimes she would linger after her own class so they could meet.  Often she would lag behind her mates after meals and they'd be able to spend some time together.  Hell, Draco thought, she'd done it all!  And he hadn't even seen it!  He just kept taking what she was willing to offer, never offering anything of his own.  He'd never, even once, sought her out.

Why should I when she was always there, the self-serving, arrogant part of him demanded?  He knew the answer already, though.  He should have done so she would know that he cared about her.  There it was, the plain truth, and it seemed so silly, so easy to admit it now that he'd bollixed everything up.  Why hadn't he told her that?  Why, when she'd been embarrassed and shy about coming looking for him, hadn't he just accepted her story and thanked her for her concern?  And then snogged her silly, while you were at it!  That would have been the thing to do, but it was too late now.

  Draco was so involved in his thoughts that he didn't hear his teammates shouting at him.  He didn't hear them until the bludger screamed toward him.  He looked up at the last second and saw a blur of black heading straight toward his face.  Throwing himself to the side, he barely dodged the thing.  The movement caused him to overbalance and slide sideways, tipping over and falling from his broom! 

Draco was rather lucky that he'd only been ten or so feet from the ground.  The impact was jarring, especially since they'd had some rain, which had later frozen, making the surface of the pitch rock hard.  But he'd be fine.  That was enough, though.  He'd had enough of practice for one night.  Calling for the other players to round up the balls, Draco limped over to the ball-box and waited for his team to bring the bludgers and the quaffle back. 

"Hmph," Draco said to himself as he trudged back to the castle.  His teammates had returned all the balls (they hadn't even taken the snitch out, since Draco was just watching, and not practicing himself), then had run off, leaving Draco to stow the extra gear.  He'd give them hell, later.  Right now he was one large ache. 

He'd even lifted his practice jersey to look at himself in the mirror inside the locker room.  His fall had made the damage Weasley had inflicted even worse, and Draco flinched as he saw the new red patch overlaying the large, purple and black bruises Weasley's elbows had left behind last Saturday.  He couldn't believe he'd actually called those surprisingly painful jabs 'pitiful, little love taps'.  Stupid ass, he told himself again.  What kind of an idiot told the girl who had her hooks sunk into his heart that she couldn't hurt him? 

Draco finally plodded up the castle steps, leaning heavily on his broom.  He slipped inside, knowing that everyone would be getting ready for supper.  He sighed heavily as he crossed through the corridors toward the stairs leading to the dungeons.  He was halfway down when he heard someone coming up.  He stopped, leaning against the wall.  He didn't fancy the thought of whoever it was coming up jostling his aching body.  As the other student stepped onto the landing below him and started up the stairs, she froze.

Ginny no longer ranted about Malfoy's behavior.  She really needed to get past it, but it was only now, that it was too late, that she realized just how much she'd grown to care for the stuck-up git.  She got through her detention, trying not to wish that he might just show up.  He didn't, and it took a while for Ginny to remember that Slytherin was practicing tonight.  She had heard the team return as she was finishing up on the cleaning Professor Snape had given her.  Just as well, she thought.  She didn't really want to see him anyway.  Gathering her things, Ginny hurried upstairs.

Rather, she hurried to the first landing and then froze.  Oh, lord, she thought breathlessly, drinking in the sight of him as a parched woman would drink up a glass of water.  He looks so wonderful.  Swallowing, Ginny dragged her eyes away and started up the stairs, hugging the opposite wall and trying not to let him see how much he still affected her. 

"'Scuse me," she muttered as she brushed past him. 

He did nothing to stop her.  He could barely breathe in her presence, afraid that he might break into pitiful apologies and declarations that she would laugh at.  But he could and did follow her with his eyes, letting his gaze linger over her face for the few seconds she looked at him.  He watched her mount the stairs, his insides aching.  As she disappeared around the next curve in the stairs, Draco finally let out a deep sigh and slid tiredly to the ground.  He couldn't help banging his head against the hard stones of the wall, muttering, "Stupid—ass—stupid—ass--." 

Ginny slipped around the corner and then stopped, her bag clutched tightly to her breast.  He hadn't said a word, barely even looked at her.  He could have stopped her easily; she'd walked right by him.  But he hadn't.  He didn't care about her at all.  Then she heard the small thud, followed by a low muttering. 

'Stupid ass?'  Ginny knew it was his voice, but who was he talking to?  Or about, for that matter?  Moving carefully, Ginny peeked around the corner in time to see him bang his head into the wall once more before swearing. 

"Now that was really stupid," he said to himself. 

He lifted his arm and grabbed the railing, but he seemed to be having trouble pulling himself to his feet.  Was he hurt?  Ginny continued to watch as he finally struggled to a standing position, and stood, swaying slightly, before he regained his balance. 

Draco took a step down, now muttering more loudly.  "Couldn't just say, 'Thanks, Weasley, I'm much better now you're here', could I?" he demanded of no one in particular.  "Couldn't just have ignored what she said and kissed her, no, that would have made too much sense." 

Draco shook his head at his own ridiculous rambling, taking the next step too quickly.  He stumbled against the railing and went down, hard, clutching his ribs.

"Shit," he muttered.  "And that was bloody imbecilic!" 

Ginny watched him go down and dropped her bag.  She was down the steps in seconds and at his side, kneeling next to him and reaching for his hands.

"Are you all right?" she asked, unable to keep the concern from her voice. 

Grimacing, he glanced up at her, not quite believing she was there beside him.  "Weasley?" he said, his voice rough.

Ginny sat back, suddenly remembering the last time she expressed concern for him.  She tried to tug her hands away, but he held them tightly. 

"You're all right," she said quickly.  "I'll be off now."

He still refused to release her hands.

"You're here," he said, his voice low with disbelief.  "Why?"

Ginny couldn't help feeling a wave of déjà vu.  Hadn't they had this conversation before? 

"I heard you fall.  I can see you're fine, so I'll be off."

Here it was, Draco thought.  His golden opportunity.  She was sitting right there, in front of him, and all he need do was hold her there until he figured out the right words to let her know how he felt. 

She finally pulled her hands away, but she was looking at him, watching or waiting for something.  He didn't say a word, but merely stared at her.  It was almost a repeat of last week, with the notable exception of the insults.  Ginny stood and held her hand out. 

"I'll help you up, but then I have to go."

Draco looked from her hand to her face, unable to believe that she really meant to just leave him.  He glared at the hand and struggled to his feet once more.  "I can get up myself," he snapped.  "Now you can go running off to wherever it is you're in such a hurry to get to."

I spoke too soon, Ginny thought to herself.  Now the insults would start. 

"Fine, Malfoy," she said, turning away.  She practically ran up the stairs, cursing herself for thinking he'd cared for her.  Regardless of the rot he'd been muttering, he couldn't wait to chase her away again.  Well, that was fine, because she didn't need him, after all.  She'd be just fine without him.  Ginny paused to pick up her bag, but as she reached for it, it was snatched away. 

"What the…" she said, rounding on the young man standing on the step below hers, holding his side and giving her a pain filled smirk.  "Malfoy, my bag…"

"You want it, Weasley?" he taunted.  "What's it worth to you?"

Ginny straightened abruptly.  This was just too familiar.  Even though she hurt for him, she was not going to let herself in for more heartache.  "What do you mean?  It's mine!  Give it back."

"What will you give me for it, Weasley?  Will you give me a kiss for it?"

Ginny had been glaring at him, but now her face became blank.  She lifted one eyebrow in a pale imitation of the expression he was so good at.  "So you can throw it back in my face with another insult?" she asked coldly.  "No, thank you.  I'm sometimes a bit thick headed and stubborn, but I do learn eventually, Malfoy.  I think I've had enough of sneaking around and never knowing what I'm letting myself in for.  Keep the damned bag, with my compliments."

Ginny whirled and marched up the stairs, ignoring the fact that he was calling after her.

Draco brooded all night, or at least until he finally fell asleep somewhere around three in the morning.  When he woke, he was still brooding.  She'd done it.  She'd left him there on the stairs, holding her book bag and icily telling him she'd had enough of him.  He glared at the book bag, with its doodled flowers and hearts and the names of several disgusting boy bands scribbled on it.  Why did girls feel the need to draw on their bags, anyway, he wondered, irritated.  He realized that he wasn't irritated with the doodling, per se.  He was incensed that nowhere in the myriad scribbles and splotches was any indication of her feelings for him.  There was no 'Draco' with hearts and circles, no 'G (heart) D', nothing closely resembling 'GW+DM'.  And the realization that he hoped to find something like that disgusted him. 

It didn't matter, though.  He still brooded that she hadn't thought enough of him to engage in the usual treacley adolescent expression of affection.  And how was he to get the damned thing back to her, anyway?  Her homework, quills, ink, hell, even most of her textbooks were in the bag.  Was he supposed to just saunter up to the Gryffindor table, plonk the thing down in front of her and say, 'Here, Weasley, you forgot this'?

Suddenly Draco's head snapped up.  He was getting an idea.  It was insane, and guaranteed to get him severely beaten, but it might just be worth it.  With the first real smile he'd worn in some time, Draco got up to shower.  He wanted to look his best today.

Ginny sat with her back to the Slytherin table absently listening to the conversations around her.  She had not cried yesterday.  She hadn't pined all night long.  She had gone upstairs, showered, and changed into pajamas.  Then she'd gone to bed with a tiny, cat in the cream pot smile.  Ginny had finally realized, somewhere between Draco's self-pitying ramblings and his almost pleading request for a kiss, that the insufferable git actually cared a lot for her.  He was a 'stupid ass' as he'd called himself, but he was her stupid ass, and she was damned if she was going to let him off so easily.  She was done chasing after Draco Malfoy.  If he really wanted her, he would damn well have to come and get her. 

When she woke, Ginny showered and took extra care with her appearance.  She met Ron in the common room and took him out into the corridor to have a quick chat with him.  The quick chat took longer than expected, but the result was worth it.  It was finally time to go to breakfast. 

Being a Saturday morning with no trips to Hogsmeade, no one felt compelled to hurry.  Ginny now sat and nibbled absently on her toast, all the time feeling eyes boring into her back.  Glancing across the table, she met Ron's eyes.

"You were right," he said quietly.  "Looks like he's lost his puppy, poor sod."

Ron sneered at that point, belying the sympathetic words.  "You sure, Gin?  I mean, we are talking about Malfoy."

Ginny smiled sweetly.  "If you can tell me positively that he hasn't changed a bit, I'll back away."

Ron glanced toward the Slytherin table, then back to his sister.  "Shit.  Fine.  I'll back off unless he does something to hurt you."

Giving her brother a grateful smile, Ginny popped the last bite of toast into her mouth.  She pushed her plate away and it disappeared.  Then she waited.  Ron was watching for her, and after only a moment, his eyes widened. 

"Shit, Gin, I think this is it."

He continued to watch over Ginny's shoulder for a second, then looked away.  Ginny fought the urge to check behind her.  She'd know soon enough if Draco were coming over.  She could tell by the reactions of everyone else at the table that he had indeed come to their table.  A large, heavy book bag dropped next to her, and Ginny looked slowly around.

Draco was looking very ill at ease.  It didn't help that his ribs still ached, but he didn't care about that right now.  He glanced up and down the table, noting the stares, many frankly unfriendly, that the Gryffindors were giving him.  Hell with them, he thought.  He had more important things to worry about.  He looked down at Ginny.

"You forgot this, Weasley," he said.

The look she gave him almost made him grin.  She'd been hanging around him far too long.  Somehow, even though she was sitting and he was standing, she gave the impression that she was looking down that long, freckled Weasley nose at him. 

"Thanks," she said dismissively, turning away.

She was not going to make this easy, he saw.  Draco shoved the bag to the floor, drawing a protest from her that she stifled immediately. He smirked and sat down next to her. 

"You're a hard girl to apologize to," he said quietly.  "I've been trying to talk to you all week."

Ginny lifted her eyebrows innocently.  "Really?  That's odd, I've been right here."

Draco sighed.  He could feel unfriendly eyes on him and he wished he could just drag the girl out of the room and talk privately.  She would not allow it, though, he was sure.  He would have to either deal with her here, in front of the damned school, or get used to life without her.  There was no contest there.  Wiping the smirk from his face, Draco took her hand.  She tried to pull it away, but he was holding it firmly. 

"Well, what do you want," she demanded.

Draco couldn't be sure, but the angry tone aside, the girl was looking mighty pleased with herself.  He felt anger well up inside him, but he stifled it.  'Misplaced pride' she had said weeks ago, and she'd been dead right.  If it hadn't been for his misplaced pride, he wouldn't be sitting here right now, ready to eat crow.  No, his brain said sneakily, you would have done weeks ago.  No, he wouldn't have because he wouldn't have put his foot in his mouth in the first place.

"I want to apologize for what I said last week," he answered firmly, his voice loud enough that several of those nearby could hear.

"Really?"  Ginny's eyes glinted.  This was a good start, but she wasn't quite ready to forgive him yet.  "Is that all?"

Draco narrowed his eyes.  She was playing with him!  Well, two could play at that.  "Not really," he said, letting his voice drop.  "If you want me to beg, I could always beg you to meet me in the Astronomy towers again, or cry for you to come back to the locker room, or…"

"That won't be necessary!" she said quickly, hoping Ron hadn't heard that.  She'd explained some things to him, but not everything.

Draco smirked again.  The Gryffindors were still staring, but the one person he'd thought would raise the most ruckus hadn't said a word.  He glanced over to Ron Weasley questioningly.

The large, burley boy shrugged.  "It's her life," he said.  "But if you hurt her, I will kill you," he added matter-of-factly. 

Draco's eyebrows rose at the flat statement.  Apparently there wasn't going to be a problem with the brother.  And if Ron Weasley didn't have a problem with him seeing his sister, no one else would dare say a word.  Giving the boy he had always detested a brief nod, Draco turned back to the thorn in his side that he couldn't seem to live without. 

"There was one other thing," he said finally.

"Oh?" Ginny asked in a bored voice. 

Her heart was pounding.  He'd actually done it.  He'd come to her, here, in public!  But would he go that last step?  Would he actually declare his feelings for her?  She chanced a quick look into his thin, arrogant face.  And then she felt her heart melt.  He looked so nervous that she now knew he cared for her. 

"Look, Weasley, Ginny, I—er, that is, we're not—aw, shit.  Will you go out with me?"

Her smile was a thing of beauty and Draco, stunned, wondered what the hell had taken him so long.  She threw her arms around his neck, causing him to flush with a mixture of embarrassment and pleasure and drawing shocked gasps from most of those observing. 

"Of course I will," she said happily. "Now was that so hard?"