Fire Fall

Author: Bella (musedepandora@yahoo.com)

Disclaimer: Fire Fall is a work of fan fiction, written due to the authoress' respect and love for the works of J.K. Rowling. The setting, mythology, creatures, and history of the world of Harry Potter is barrowed. The plot devices created by the authoress are her creative property. No profit is being made by the writing of this piece of fan fiction.

Pairing: Ginny/Draco

Rating: PG13

Archiving: All I ask is to let me know where to find you and my story. Contact me through my email provided.

Short Summary: Ginny Weasley has fallen before but now, there's even more at risk. A game of Quidditch takes an unlikely twist. For once, Draco Malfoy will better Potter though both make the catch. *Finished*

* * *

"Goal to Gryffindor!" Lee Jordan's voice boomed over his cheering house and the booing Slytherin. "That leaves the score: Gryffindor leading eighty to Slytherin's lousy twenty. Take that, Slytherin!"

            "Jordan . . ." McGonagall's voice half-heartedly warned.

            "Back to the game," Jordan quickly continued. "Slytherin has the quaffle. Warrington passes to Montague. Montague passes to Warrington. Warrington passes to . . . Bloody hell, make up your mind!

            "Sorry, Professor," Lee added before McGonagall could object. "Katie Bell steals back the quaffle for Gryffindor and heads for the goal! Eww! Katie takes a nasty hit by a bludger via Slytherin beater Goyle! Pucey gives a pathetic attempt to recapture the quaffle, but he'll have to try better next time. Bell passes to Weasley, who shoots off down the field towards the Slytherin posts with the Slytherin chasers at her heels. Go, Ginny! Knee 'em in the —"

            "Jordan!"

            "Sorry, Professor."

            There was a booing from the stands while the Slytherins cheered and whistled.

            "Montague steals from Weasley, taking liberty with his elbows. But –Hey! - it could be my view. It's not like the commentator box is known for its visibility or anything or the commentator for his skill."

            "Jordan . . ."

            "Right. Montague passes to Pucey. Pucey barrels downfield. Watch out for that bludger, Pucey! Just kidding!" There's a pause as McGonagall wags a finger at Lee. "What?"

            Jordan quickly returns to the game when there are loud cheers from the crowd. "Pucey seems to be having trouble with the Gryffindor beaters – seems to have gotten rusty after being regulated to reserve last year. It's only this year, with the change in Slytherin captains, that he has been given a second chance. Ouch! I think he'll be seeing the benches again, real soon! But, of course, with Malfoy as captain –"

            "Jordan . . ." McGonagall's voice interrupted. "The game, if you will . . ."

            "Just giving some background, Professor," Jordan assured. "Speaking of the Slytherin captain, he's taken up his favorite position, riding right up on Potter's tail.

            "Malfoy! I know Harry's a nice guy but he's not going to catch the snitch for you!"

* * *

            "Get away, Malfoy!" Harry Potter kicked out towards Draco before accelerating up another five yards.

            Draco followed up a couple yards, satisfied with his closeness to the other seeker. Well, as satisfied as he could be when he wanted little more than to knock the smug git off his broom.

            His hands were tensed on his broom's handle. Draco could feel his muscles pulled taut and tense, aching to speed forward and clutch the Golden Snitch. He opened and closed his hands, trying to ease what would grow to be a pain as soon as the game was over. Without the release of a win, that readiness, that tense expectation, always left him pulled so tight that he would find any way available to release the pressure. Often, the release presented itself as something solid and painfully hard – A locker, for example. The clenching and unclenching of his hands had soon become habit. He liked the way his leather gloves hissed against the polished wood. He liked how his fingers began to numb. That lack of sensation would come in use later.

            He had begun to ignore the specifics of the game around him. After Pucey dropped the quaffle and Crabbe managed to fall off his own broom with no assistance –He'd later claim there was a bee – Draco decided yelling himself hoarse was no use. If anything, it was serving to distract his team further.

            Seeker was never a good choice for captain. Both positions required constant attention. The seeker was supposed to see only the snitch while the captain was to observe all possibilities and developments.

            But who else would be the Slytherin captain, if not Draco Malfoy?

            "Another goal to Gryffindor! Ginny Weasley is fast on her way to making herself a name as a chaser! Who knows, maybe she'll replace Spinnet permanently." Jordan's voice broke through Draco's silent musings. There was an obnoxious roar from the crowd and Draco realized that he had followed Potter to the Gryffindor side of the field.

            Harry Potter was now a good ten to twelve yards ahead of him and seven yards up. He was clapping for the Weasley girl with a ridiculous smile on his ugly face.

            Ginny Weasley was racing back to the other side of the pitch as Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell broke off and raced to the side. The Gryffindors cheered and grinned as the two chasers flew by. Rows of hands shot out, as if to touch the two girls, whether it was a gesture of support or half-hearted attempt to be a physical inclusion of the game, Draco didn't know. Slytherin's never reached out. You could get your arm pulled off that way.

            Stupid Gryffindors.

            The Gryffindor beaters were racing forward, opposite the two chasers. Draco recognized the play. It was one of Wood's old favorites. Angelina would do well to be more original. If he remembered correctly – and he always did – the third chaser would stay behind and gain height, waiting to receive the quaffle.

            And Ginny Weasley began a steep ascent up twenty yards off the ground, thirty . . . How utterly predictable.

            Draco generally had no real bone to pick with Ginny. She had grown into her ridiculous bushel of red hair with lean, long legs and pert, young breasts.

            Yeah, he looked.

            He was a sixteen year old boy, after all, and she was a fifteen year old girl with a young woman's body. She hadn't just grown physically over the summer, because Draco couldn't definitely say how much she had or hadn't changed. It was more as if she had suddenly appeared that year, if anything. He certainly hadn't paid her mind before. No, if rumors held true, she had also grown out of her troublesome and more than questionable obsession with one boy who lived . . . As did a large portion of Hogwarts' female students. Apparently, his angry-troubled-slightly-twitchy-boy-who-lived routine was far less adorable than his prepubescent alter-ego.

            A choice in the right direction by Draco's opinion. If she weren't a Weasley and a Gryffindor to boot, he might have considered shagging her – a one or two time, definitely no more than three time, thing.

            Meanwhile, Ginny Weasley flew lazy circles in the air, nearly thirty yards up. She was leaning over on her broom, watching a scuffle between the Gryffindor beaters, Katie Bell, and his own chasers. Madame Finch was shouting, threatening to intervene. Weasley, Potter's lanky side-kick, was yelling his piece from the Gryffindor posts, too cowardly to do any more.

            "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to hit a lady? Oops, stray elbow! Really, that could've happened to anyone, Katie! Oooh, does poor Pucey have a boo-boo?" Jordan's voice mocked at a hundred times its usual strength.

            Draco cradled his head within his hands as Pucey began to call a foul but Madame Finch agreed with Lee Jordan and the game continued. Cheers and mocking laughter rose from the mass of Gryffindors and an eerie silence surrounded the Slytherins.

            "Crabbe!" Draco called, unwilling to take much more of this. The other boy looked around dumbly for a moment, squinting in the sunlight. Finally spotting Draco, Crabbe nodded across the distance between them. "Stop them!" Draco yelled. "Just stop them!"

            Crabbe nodded again and raced forward to where Goyle had just hit a bludger at Katie Bell's head. The two spoke conspiratorially and Draco knew he had to get to Montague – He was the best chaser and perhaps a few harsh words and maybe a threat or two to his limbs would wake the older boy up. Draco refused to sit idly by and watch his house be so disgraced. His father had taught him better.

            "And Potter's spotted the snitch!" Jordan cried into Draco's perception. "Remember, catching the snitch ends the game and awards its catcher's team a hundred and fifty points!" Lee needlessly added.

            Draco speeded forward, his emerald robes billowing behind him and slapping at his back. Wind whistled past his ears, biting as he went. He held so tightly onto his broom's handle before him that he could feel a sharp pain and slickness through his numb fingers.

            Harry Potter was too far ahead. He was too fast. He was too good.

            Draco had no delusions of thinking he was going to catch that snitch or win the game. He was only thankful his father was not there to see.

            Unconsciously, he slowed as Potter flew faster, growing further away. He was tired of trying and knowing he'd never be as good as Harry –Bloody! – Potter.

            His head turned sharply at the sound of a loud crack and woman's scream. The crowd was still cheering loudly s they watched Harry Potter speed to victory – again. Errant strands of blonde hair fell into his eyes as he pulled his broom to a stop. He pushed the nuisance aside, as he watched Ginny Weasley slouch forward on her broom, loose her balance, and fall to the side, one hand frantically grasping for purchase.

            While the crowd of Gryffindors cheered their star seeker and hero to victory –Slytherins hissing and booing – Ginny Weasley fell from her broom and tumbled and twisted downward.

            Draco's first instinct was not to rush to her rescue. Instead, it was to glance about to find what would-be hero or oh-so-brave Gryffindor was already hurtling to her rescue.

            But there were none.

            Madame Finch was torn between Pucey's gushing nosebleed and whatever trick Potter was pulling to make his win just that more grandiose. Maybe this time he'd swallow the snitch and spit fire from his arse. Surely, he'd use it to further battle the forces of evil. No matter poor Ginny Weasley had fallen from her broom. And what about the starry-eyed old fool, Dumbledore? What, too absorbed in his favorite pupil to see the one falling to certain death? No spell to slow Ginny's decent when Potter's going to catch the snitch?

            Draco would later say that he did it to spite the Troublesome Trio or that having a Weasley owe him a life debt was too practical or to take the attention off Potter or for the house points or House Cup or . . . The point is, Draco would later have an abundance of thought-out and Slytherin-worthy reasons to why he did it. But at that moment, he knew he was the only one close enough, fast enough, to save Ginny Weasley. He may not be good enough to catch the Golden Snitch, but he was good enough to catch a little red-headed girl.

            She had begun her fall a good ten yards above him and when he threw himself and broom forward, she was already below him, twisted within her scarlet robes and hair and flailing. Draco rushed downward beside her, his eyes flickering between Ginny Weasley and the swiftly approaching turf. He wasn't going to get himself killed for the silly girl. Lucky for her, he was an excellent broomsman.

            He grabbed her about the waist. His hands folded around her while his feet held onto the broom. The catch was far from graceful. Draco threw himself back, pulling his broom out of its nose dive and causing it to swerve and spin, nearly tumbling handle over broom end.

            Ginny gave small, whimpering screams, her hands buried in his robes. His hands clung just as tightly to her. He was far too close to just let her go. Her burgundy robes whipped across his face as he tried to level the broom without dropping her in the process. That would have utterly defeated the whole purpose.

            Finally, he mastered the broom, no more than two yards from the ground. Finding himself short of breath, he spit Ginny's hair from his mouth and tried not to gasp like a fish out of water. He shook his head back, trying to toss the longer strands of his own hair from his eyes. No such luck, as it felt to be pasted in place with sweat. What he'd give for a pair of shears.

            It was with that thought, that he became aware of the silence.

* * *

Draco slowly looked about him as he hovered two yards above the ground. Ginny was in his arms, but whether he was holding her there or her him, he was a bit unsure.

            A murmur began in the stands. He was unable to tell Slytherin voice from Gryffindor and this unnerved him. He couldn't tell if the murmur was approving or not. Draco held his chin just a bit higher with the uncertainty. The murmur grew louder and Draco watched students turning to their neighbors and whispering. He thought he saw a Slytherin smile. He definitely saw several point. That certainly was a bad portend for things to come. The Gryffindors appeared dumbly confused, as if they were waiting for someone to jump out with a "gotcha!" Figured.

            Draco first registered the teams' shadows falling upon the grass a short distance below his feet. They could have been oddly shaped clouds, blocking the sun and lazily floating back and forth. He didn't want to look up to them or anyone. Or, more accurately, Draco didn't want anyone to look down on him. Those shadows were easier to look upon; those shadows beneath his feet were easy to look down on and would never look down on him, in turn. If only life were nothing but shadow. . .

            "I  . . ." Jordan seemed to try to speak, "Hmm." He cleared his throat before trying again. "Well . . ."

            "I'll be damned," McGonagall's voice was caught from behind him, and she offered no repentance. She stood with her hand over her heart; mouth slightly ajar, her wand in a death-grip to her side.

            "Ginny Weasley has fallen from her broom," Jordan found his tongue, "and the opposing team's seeker, the Slytherin captain, the leader of her team's greatest foe, enemy in a blood feud spanning back innumerable generations, Draco Malfoy saved her from a mortal fall. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you, perhaps –just maybe -, mistaken; a Slytherin may have a heart. Hell hath frozen over. The apocalypse is upon us."

            McGonagall was moving from the stands, speaking hurriedly to the headmaster, with expressive hand gestures. Dumbledore held back his robes as he and Minerva tackled the stairs, Snape following closely behind. The Headmaster moved surprisingly fast for such an old man.

Without McGonagall's objections, Jordan continued on without censorship.

* * *

"Malfoy?"

            Draco looked down at the whisper of a voice. Wide green eyes looked back at him. They fluttered and closed for a moment. Her eyelashes were dark and clung together with tears. Her hair hung away from her face, bent over backwards in his arms as she was.

            "Yeah?" he said or something of the like. He was more concerned with the thunderous voices around them. He finally looked up to the players on their brooms above. It was easier than looking at her. They weren't as close to him.

            "Can you-" Her voice broke.

            The sun was so bright in his eyes that he could only see that they were all looking down on him as they slowly descended, almost as if they weren't moving at all. It felt wrong to move. He'd have to deal with the consequences that much sooner. The Slytherins looked down at him with furrowed brows. They appeared the most reluctant to move, almost as if they were waiting for him to drop the girl. Crabbe hit the end of his bat rhythmically into his other palm. Draco wondered momentarily if Crabbe would've felt guilty if Ginny had died from the bludger he hit her with.

            Draco knew he wouldn't.

            The Gryffindors moved much faster, though just as hesitant. They watched him closely, sharing concerned glances. They were half-waiting for him to drop her, as well. Draco held her a little tighter just to spite them.

            "And just as Harry Potter caught the snitch!" Jordan continued to commentate. "This is one for the record books! Can't wait to see the captions, "Potter gets the Snitch, Malfoy gets the girl!"" He laughed at his own nonsense. His words were beginning to be more and more random and make less and less sense. Lee appeared to be coping by saying whatever inane thing came to mind. Luckily, no one was listening to him.

            Draco looked around quickly for Potter, expecting him to come flying in and take Ginny from his arms, and take the glory with her. But he was no where.

            "The Headmaster and Professors are entering the pitch now." Jordan picked up commentating the after-events as an extension of the game. The crowd simmered down slightly to hear him.

            "Could you," Ginny spoke up again, more forcefully, frantically, "put me down? I think, I think I'm going to be . . . I'm going to be sick."

            Draco quickly steered the broom down and as soon as his toes met turf he put Ginny on her feet. She was unable to stand on her own and she fell to her hands and knees and was –true to her word- very sick. Draco grimaced and looked away, focusing on the voices instead of her retching.

            "Oh, dear child!" Professor McGonagall bent down and petted Ginny's back and pulled back her hair, the voluminous folds of her cloak falling around the girl, as if to hide her from the crowd's scrutiny. Or maybe to hide her from him.

            "Mr. Malfoy."

            Draco turned and dismounted his broom at Dumbledore's voice. The old man stood a short distance away and looked up from Ginny with concern in his eyes, brightening with some foreign emotion as he looked on Draco. He walked over to him and Draco took a half-step back. He had thought the Headmaster would be happy; pleased, at least.

            Dumbledore reached out and put an arm around his shoulders. He squeezed Draco's shoulder and his eyes looked down intently at him. Draco tried to pull away but Dumbledore squeezed his shoulder again and smiled. Draco stopped trying to pull away.

            "Very well done, Mr. Malfoy. You did good today, Draco, and I'm proud of you."

            Draco opened his mouth because he was sure he should say something to that, but his mind seemed momentarily disconnected to his tongue. He knew he wanted to say something to that and was annoyed with his inability to come up with a worthy reply. He had watched Dumbledore smile like that, watched his eyes twinkle proudly down on other students like that –namely one Harry Potter- but he had never looked at Draco that way. Whenever he looked to Draco, there had always been sadness in his eyes, pity. Draco hated pity. 

            Damned if he'd ever admit it later, but Draco felt something lift within himself as he realized that it was genuine pride in the older man's eyes, and they were focused on him. It hurt when the Headmaster looked away from him and back to Ginny, but he didn't take away his arm and Draco stood just a bit taller next to the older man.

            "Just let it all out," McGonagall advised as Ginny began to sit back. Ginny shook her head and wiped her face with her hands.

            "I'm fine, Professor. Really, I am," she said and she looked at him. Truly looked at him. Her face was blanched so pale that her freckles were more profound and her little mouth was red and open. She swallowed and looked away. He could see her thinking, trying to understand, trying to understand what she should do.

            "Malfoy –," she began before a burgundy blur threw itself upon her.

            "Oh, Ginny! Ginny, are you alright? Did you break anything? You fell but you were too far! I didn't see! I'm so sorry!"

            "Ron, it's O.K.," she said, as the boy all but strangled her. Over his shoulder, Ginny continued to look at him. Finally, she just closed her eyes and hugged her brother back.

            Potter ran up and stopped several feet away. Hermione followed behind and rushed past him to stand dumbly beside Ginny and Ron. Professor McGonagall rose to her feet and moved to stand beside Hermione. Both shared a glance before not-so-surreptitiously looking at Draco and back at each other. Harry remained standing dumbly away from them all. Draco noted with a curl of the lip that he still held the fluttering snitch in his gloved hand. He looked guiltily down at Ginny, his jaw clenching. He was purposefully avoiding looking at Draco. As were the Weasleys. It must have been easier that way.

            "I think house points to Slytherin for Draco's good deed are in order, Headmaster." Snape said from his side.

            Draco looked over sharply to his head of house. Snape looked down on Ginny thoughtfully for a moment before shaking himself and looking over Draco's head to the Headmaster.

            "Don't you agree?"

            "Quite right, Severus," Dumbledore agreed. "One hundred points to Slytherin House for Draco's act of selfless heroism."

            "Is that how much a Weasley's life is worth?" Draco mused. He spoke it aloud because he was unsure how Dumbledore would react. He dared those eyes to dim and the grip to loosen and smile to waver, as Dumbledore would realize Draco was not Harry Potter and would never be Harry Potter.

            Neither happened.

            If anything, Dumbledore held him tighter.

            "Absolutely not!" the man enthused. "Life is priceless, Draco. Look at Ginny."

            Draco did as he was told and saw Ginny looking back at him while her brother obsessed over her and she continued to profess her well being.

            "She's alive because of you," the headmaster continued. "You didn't just affect her today. You saved something precious to Ron and their family. You saved something precious to many people. More good will come of this. From your choice."

            "I didn't mean to," Draco tried. Ginny began to stand and Ron helped her to her feet, expecting her to crumble at any minute.

            "I'm proud of you, Draco," Dumbledore reiterated.

            Draco felt uncomfortable, the feeling he had when Dumbledore pitied him. Was pride just another form of pity. Both were the other feeling that they needed to give him something. He looked away from the Headmaster, trying to hate the man for his pride in him.

            He found himself eye to eye with Professor Snape.

            The potions master gave him a slight nod, like an equal. Draco didn't know if that was a good thing or not. His father had told him Severus was a brilliant but weak man. His father had said that he was a man who confused his place and side far too often for his own good. But, his father was in Azkaban and Snape was beside him and Dumbledore. He was glad his father was not there to see.

            He gave a slight nod back.

* * *

Harry Potter stood to the side, away from the group as the Gryffindor team crowded around Ginny and laughed and hugged and laughed some more, sharing their close-calls. He looked down at the snitch struggling in his grasp and the crowds whispering about him. He couldn't remember why he was holding it anymore. Harry Potter let the snitch go and watched it fly side to side before flying away.

            No one except Draco noticed as he walked off the pitch.       

* * *

The hallway was too crowded. There were too many voices, too many thoughts. The Hufflepuffs were chatting inanely and laughing gleefully, too gleefully; it was damn near unnatural. A stray Ravenclaw giggled amongst the brood. Draco idly wondered how he came to be there. He had just been released from the last class of the day and he was too tired to deal with the voices and the thoughts. It was really all too much.        

            It had been three days since his match against Gryffindor. Two days since he had been called to the headmaster's office and found both Dumbledore, as well as Professor Snape, waiting for him. Last night, he had –somehow- received an owl from his father. His father ever had an impeccable timing and a sixth sense concerning those under his control. It was unfair really. That owl hadn't told him anything that he hadn't previously known. But it did exactly what it was supposed to. It reminded Draco that his father was merely indisposed of the moment, not dead. A short time before, Draco would've been thrilled with the token of his father's attentions. But now he wished his father had forgotten him.

            Draco feared his father could sense his worthy thoughts. He felt the need to cleanse himself of them alongside the thrill of rebellion.

            There was a part of him – a dangerous part of him – that began to believe he did not want to be his father. His father was in a place he never wanted to be. Caught. Restrained. Unfree. Was a son born not to outlive his father? Draco believed he could be a man greater than Lucius. He had seen his father fall. He saw his father's mistakes. He did not care if Lucius would escape to prove himself worthy again. He had faltered. He had weakness. He was but a man. Draco would not repeat his father's folly.

            Draco wondered how long ago Lucius had first seen it, the glimmer of something greater, within his son. Had it scared him? Did he fear Draco would see? That was why Lucius had painted Draco a world of black and white. It was so that Draco would not see that the world was painted in shades of flame; Draco a fire born brighter.

            But Draco saw and relished in his midnight realization. At breakfast, he had thought it silly but as the day wore on, the thought intensified. Perhaps he had merely needed time to adjust.

            Draco felt a freedom in this realization. He was free from the fear of his father because the man's opinion didn't matter. And he was free from his father's choices because he could now make his own.

            And he would make them better and greater.

            His first choice was Ginny Weasley, and he realized as another Slytherin slapped him on the back – a common occurrence since his house was awarded a hundred points and Draco properly explained his motives – that his first choice had panned out remarkably well.

            He silently thanked his father for his midnight owl. It reminded Draco that he had not been forgotten and Lucius was afraid of a son's new freedom.

            "Malfoy?" a sweet, uncertain voice asked.

            He halted mid-step and realized that he had wandered into a different hall. This one was hardly occupied. Ginny Weasley stood before him, several books clutched to her breast, and her chin held high. This was already amusing.

            He chose to be civil and see where it'd advance him. There was a thrill accompanied by the expectation.

            "Hello, Weasley," he bid pleasantly.

            "I wanted to thank you," she said, stiffly as if over-rehearsed, then quickly turned and began to walk away. She stopped at Draco's laugh and turned with an odd mixture of emotion painted on her face, framed in hair the color of blood or a great fire.

            "Was that a thank you or do you always begin them with an exit?" Draco drawled across the distance.

            Ginny had the decency to turn with a blush. Crabbe and Goyle laughed from behind. Their presence was now so familiar that he had forgotten they were there at all. He would've noticed if they weren't. Ginny looked over his shoulder and at them venomously.

            "Crabbe, Goyle," Draco called without turning. Instead, he watched Ginny's face. She appeared skeptical and bemused. There was a glint of acknowledgement. "Leave. Take my bag back to the dorm."

            He felt their hesitation.

            "Go on then."

            They both turned on their heels and left, Draco's bag with them.

            "Better?" he asked.

            "What are you playing at Draco?"

            "With?" Draco moved to the corridor's wall, seemingly glancing over the tapestry hung there. He really couldn't have cared less about the ancient piece of cloth.

            "Everything," her voice cracked in the word harshly admitted. "I saw your face. No matter what you've told the school, you didn't plan what you did. You were as surprised as the rest of us."

            "Really, Weasley, seeing as you were doubled over, face green as a toad, you aren't one to judge. You're grasping," he tried to explain away, glaring at the tapestry.

            "No, I'm not!" he heard her growl and her heels tapping on the stone floor. Draco took it that she was walking away until the sound grew near and she pulled on his shoulders. "Look at me!"

            "I'm looking at you," he said, turning and pointedly pushing her a step away instead of letting her continue to claw at him.

            "I'm sorry," she said, absently raising a hand as if to readjust the fall of his uniform. He hid a flinch at the rise of her hand by ducking his head and acting as if he, himself, were already going about righting his shirt and cloak. "But, I haven't been able to sleep."

            "You should see Pomfrey," Draco coolly replied.

            "No. I mean, I already have. She just coos over me and feeds me some dreamless sleep potion. It's not the same," Ginny explained, her fingers worrying together before her. Draco followed the gesture and saw her fingers turn white and blotchy with the intensity that she was twisting them. "I just keep thinking, you know?" To his horror, her eyes began to glisten with tears. "About what happened; what if you hadn't caught me? It was real close, huh? I could be dead right now."

            "Yeah, that's how it goes. If you can't take the danger, don't play Quidditch," he taunted, trying to anger her. Maybe then she'd forget her tears.

            "You're right," she said and he tried to hide his surprise. Ginny was thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe I shouldn't."

            "What?"

            She looked up to him sharply. The damn tears were still there. "Maybe I shouldn't play Quidditch. The thought of getting back on that broom scares the life out of me. I haven't been that scared since . . . since Tom."

            Of course, it took a moment for the 'Tom?' waiting on his tongue to be said to fade into recognition. She was talking about the diary. He really knew very little about what had happened. But he knew enough.

            "So much for Gryffindor courage," he said to break the intensity of the silence.

            She laughed a brittle shadow of a girl's giggle and looked away momentarily, swiping at her face quickly before looking back defiantly. "So, because a stupid hat put me in Gryffindor when I was a child, I have to be brave for the rest of my life? That's fucked up."

            "Welcome to the real world."

            "Draco Malfoy, I've been living in the real world since I was eleven years old. Don't patronize me for a few tears."

            That was a bite he hadn't expected from the girl. He opened his mouth to say something but couldn't think of anything witty enough to not sound tried.

            "Why am I still here talking to you?" he asked aloud, tiredly.

            "Maybe you have a thing for me," she said with a shy smile.

            He scoffed and rolled his eyes.

            "That's what Hermione thinks. You should've seen when she said that last night. Ron was raging for hours; not even Harry could calm him down. He says he's going to give you a black eye."

            Draco laughed and Ginny laughed with him, though he was sure it was for different reasons.

            "I love my brother," she said out of nowhere.

            "Then make sure he doesn't get anywhere near me, because a Malfoy always wins," he replied, sounding less condescending than he would've wished.

            "He won't do anything;" she paused, worrying her lip. Some moments, Ginny seemed so fiery and strong, but then she was in tears and biting her lip in a puerile gesture. "You saved my life."

            "So I've been told," he drawled.

            "You know," Ginny said mid-thought.

            "What?" he questioned, annoyed with having to ask.

            "You're still here talking to me," she pointed out with a small smile.

            "Only because I'm too lazy to move."

            "Hard day?"

            "You could say that."

            "Because of me?"

            "If by you, you mean Gryffindors in general," he said, picking a piece of lint off the sleeve of his cloak with care.

            "By our mere existence, I presume?" she asked, with a hint of humor, but generally stoic.

            "That and your fellows have been gawking at me for three days straight. You'd think walking down a crowded hallway would afford a man a moment of peace, the slack-jawed idiots," Draco explained bitterly, crossing his arms almost in a distancing gesture. "But no. You damn Gryffindors are bloody everywhere. Like roaches."

            "I know exactly what you mean. But I don't think it's just my house. It's the school," Ginny replied, taking a step forward, nervously glancing at her feet. "Sometimes, I can't tell the difference between the houses anymore."

            "Good for you we're color-coded," Draco deadpanned and Ginny smiled.

            "All I see is black," she said, her smile fading.

            "Are you sure you didn't hit your head on the way down?"

            Ginny gingerly touched her temple, hiding the gesture poorly by pushing errant strands of hair behind her ear. Draco laughed and watched as her cheeks blushed almost prettily.

            "You're a real bastard, Malfoy!" she said, a bitterness there.

            "I am many things; a bastard isn't one of them."

            "You know what I mean," Ginny replied, trying to sound annoyed.

            A strange silence fell between them. It was awkward and drawn out. Draco, at that moment, would've loved to be somewhere else but the stifling awkwardness of the stillness made movement seem a faux pas he did not want to commit.

            "You haven't really said anything," Ginny interrupted the silence. She was brave for doing that. If Draco had been speaking to another Slytherin, the two would've shared a heavy glance and wordlessly decided that the silence meant they had said everything that they could afford to say. If Draco were speaking to a Slytherin, they'd be walking away from each other right now. He didn't think that any less brave; it was just different.

            "I've said plenty," he defended, momentarily distracted as the edge of the tapestry shifted slightly with a cold wave of air that ran down the hall. It tapped at his shoulder as if to get his attention.

            "I don't really talk unless I've got something to say. I guess with a house full of brothers, I've learned to be quiet. It's not worth yelling over the noise all the time. But you seem to talk to actually avoid saying something. I wonder, did you learn that from living in the snake pit or your father?" Ginny bit her lip as if briefly unsure if she had overstepped an invisible line.

            Draco thought for a moment.

            "My father, I think. It's a real advantage in McGonagall's class," he answered.

            "She hates nonsense."

            "That's the best part," he pointed out. "Technically, I answer her questions. She rarely calls on my anymore."

            "She never really calls on me either," Ginny shared. "It's okay. It's nice to disappear sometimes."

            "That's what nearly got you killed," Draco said, pushing the tapestry away but it moved back to tap-tap-tap on his shoulder.

            "Which time?"

            "Does it matter?"

            "I guess not," she answered, smiling as she watched him push the tapestry away yet again. "But each time I disappeared for different reasons."

            "Really?"

            She nodded.

            "I thought they were rather similar," Draco said with a ting of sarcasm, pushing off and away from the wall, unwilling to get into a battle with a piece of fabric in front of the girl. "Both times, everyone was too busy looking at Potter."

            "I never thought of that," Ginny admitted, stepping forward and reaching out to his shoulder. She stilled and waited for him to stop her. Curiously, he didn't move as she batted some dust from his shoulder. Damn oversized piece of yarn was filthy! "So why did you see me?"

            "I realized I could see straight up your robes," he lied, though Draco now wondered why he hadn't thought of looking before. Of course, Draco Malfoy was above looking up Quidditch players' robes. Sometimes, when one is flying so fast, a player could get confused, and he didn't want to accidentally look up the wrong player's robes. Draco shivered at the thought.

            "Then you would've done better looking to Katie. I know for a fact she flies solo when playing against Slytherin; something having to do with luck. She read it in a book somewhere. I don't really understand but the twins always got a dreamy smile before those games. I'm suspicious they were somehow involved. They always are," Ginny said, smiling when talking about her brothers.

            "I don't think I'll let that bit of information get out," Draco said and Ginny didn't even try to hide her surprise.

            "Why? I thought you'd be quick to tell."

            "The last thing my team needs is another distraction," he explained. "The question is: why did you tell me if you thought I'd be so quick to tell in turn?"

            A devious glint flashed in Ginny's eyes. "Maybe because I want Katie to put back on her knickers."

            Draco covered a laugh with a cough but he knew it didn't fool her because the deviousness spread to her lips as they twisted in a smirk. A book dropped heavily somewhere down the expanse of halls and the sound echoed to their ears. Ginny looked nervously towards the sound, her smile falling, as if they were somehow involved in a passionate little tryst. But they might as well have been. They were from two houses, divided. To be speaking to each other, even after what happened, was wrong.

            "We're loitering in the halls," she said, directly quoting one of Filch's constant complaints. It was worthy five house points and, if caught by Filch himself, detention.

            "We're done here, anyway," Draco remarked, trying to think of somewhere he had to be, but nowhere came to mind. Really, he could've stayed there the afternoon with her.

            "I'm not," Ginny replied before covering the three steps between them, gaining confidence with each step, and grabbing his chin.

            He opened his mouth to object but Draco quickly forgot why as she pressed her lips to his own, closing her eyes so tight that it might have hurt. Draco refused to close his eyes and watched her as she just held against him for a moment. She moved her lips slightly, unsure of how far she wanted to take her own action. Not very far was the answer as she quickly pulled back and went about straightening her skirt and picking up her book bag from the floor.

            "Why'd you go and do that?" he asked, in a tone that sounded as if she had hit him, not kissed him.

            "Because I've been wanting to do that since you caught me. I just love my brother too much to do it in front of him. His heart couldn't take it," Ginny explained, holding her chin high. "As far as I'm concerned, we're even now. None of it happened. And this," she gestured between the two of them, "will never happen again." Ginny turned to quickly leave.

            "I save your life and all I get is a kiss?" he asked, crossing his arms again.

            "No," she corrected, readjusting her book bag, and forcing a smile, "you get my first kiss. Not even Harry has that."

            With that she swiftly turned and left as fast as she could without running. Draco watched, momentarily put out that he had not gotten in the last word. But what was he to say to that? He couldn't think of anything better than silence. Looking both ways, he made sure to see no one before he raised two fingers to his lips. It wasn't exactly a good kiss, but she was right. He had something that Harry Potter would never have, could never have. And if Potter got over himself and suddenly saw Ginny, Draco would've ever had her first. Then, if he had something so valuable, why did it feel forced and unpleasant? Why didn't she even try to make it work? Of course, he mused while turning the opposite way down the corridor, maybe she had been waiting for him to even try. It was forced and unpleasant because he made it that way and now it would always be, for both of them.

Good thing it never happened.

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