I apologize for the long wait. I will respond to no-doubt furious questions as to why this took so long with one phrase: college is a bitch.

AOME: CHP 18

Euphoria is a funny thing. It quite literally feels like you're on top of the world, but sooner or later, as is the case with all good things despite how much I wish it weren't true, it comes to an end..

In a haphazard sort of way, I was experiencing the same type of thing.

It wasn't to say that I wasn't happy anymore—oh no, that surely wasn't possible—but that I was merely drained. I had been all over the emotional map today, done hard labor all afternoon out in the cold, made dinner, become downright hysterical several times, played chess, jumped out of my skin countless times, finally admitted my secret, cried so hard my whole body ached and finally…Draco had kissed me.

I had had a bit of a day. I was tired.

It was rather scary how suddenly it had come on, too. After I had come to peace with Draco's admission, it was like my body had decided that all was now settled, and that it could finally rest.

It was fairly embarrassing, actually. One moment I was listening to Draco's assurance that everything was alright whilst I felt his chest beneath my fingers, and the next thing I knew I was opening my eyes to find myself sagging in his arms, as if I had fainted.

Some crash, eh?

"Ginny?"

I jerked awake, opening my eyes blearily to peer up at the smudgy cream colored mass calling my name. The figure began to take shape after I blinked several times, and I nearly closed my eyes again in contentment and went back to sleep when I realized it was Draco.

In fact, the only reason I didn't is because he had a rather unusual look on his face. It was a mixture of what I could tell was amusement, but he seemed to be trying to conceal it under a form of concern, which looked extremely awkward and foreign to his features.

When I realized I wasn't standing on my own accord it became clear where the concern was coming from.

"Oh dear. I'm terribly sorry. Did I…er….?" I trailed off, closing one eye in trepidation.

Draco raised an eyebrow, the barest hint of a smile tugging at his lips. "I'm not quite sure, actually. At first I thought you had fainted, you see, because you nearly went limp."

I winced, closing the other eye and throwing the back of my hand over my face.

"But then," he continued, and I could just hear the smug amusement in his voice, "I figured you must've fallen asleep, what with the snoring and all."

My eyes flew open. "Snoring?!" I exclaimed, mortified.

He smirked in response.

I groaned. "Oh, hell."

"Well think about it this way—it couldn't have been too terribly unattractive, because I let you remain in that state for a good couple of minutes. In fact, the only reason I woke you was because I was beginning to fear for you health. Some of the noises you were making…" he trailed off, making a grim face.

I was ninety-percent sure he was bluffing, but part of me was still severely troubled by that comment.

"It's been a long day, alright? There's something wrong with you if you're not drained after that whole bit," I defended, though still embarrassed. I took a moment to reinstate my footing, which was somewhat challenging, as if my coordination was completely barmy.

Draco relinquished his grip on my shoulders after he was happy that I was fit to stand on my own accord. "I suppose a bit. I don't need much sleep."

"Even you've got to be spent after today," I insisted. "Bloody nutters not to be. Besides, you sure passed out when we first arrived."

With a level eye, Draco responded, "Call me crazy, but that may have been partly due to the fact that I had to haul around the likes of a hysterical witch through four feet of snow."

"Well now we both know that there's no denying that that was your fault."

He raised an eyebrow, smirking a little. "My fault, was it?"

"Precisely. You drove me to my wits end! You wouldn't have had to carry me if you hadn't made me so bloody mad."

He seemed to find this amusing, and leaned forward, so that he was nearly eye-level with me. "I'd gladly take the blame for that," he murmured in that new tone of his, which I was beginning to think was far too unfair of him to use, as it had a nearly dangerous effect on me.

I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself, then stepped out from between him and the desk. True, he had kissed me and there was now no reason for me to think that my reaction to him would come as a shock, but I hadn't exactly secured the right to have free reign over his body, either, however much I wished it. I wasn't quite sure where the boundaries were at this point.

I could feel his eyes on my back. "I do feel a little guilty about that, though. I wish you'd at least try to sleep, if only a little. There's no reason to stay awake, anyhow," I pointed out. I had a strange feeling he was smirking.

"Fair enough," I heard him respond, and I was unsurprised to hear the smugness in his tone.

I was just about to feel satisfied with his response when I realized something that completely obliterated that feeling. Why this had only just occurred to me I'm not sure, but as I glanced towards the bed it was only then that I realized how small it was, and how large the two of us were.

I turned around awkwardly, wondering whether or not Draco had noticed this problem as well. It wasn't that we couldn't fit, you see, but rather that if we were to make ourselves fit there wouldn't be much room for anything else. As always, this was a double-sided issue to my mind.

I tried to play the situation down, casually glancing back at Draco, though I had a nasty feeling my eyes were a bit wider than normal judging by his response.

He seemed to be gauging my reaction, and with a calm expression, gestured towards the bed with a sweeping hand motion. "It's all yours." He smiled slightly, and I blushed as I realized he must have sensed my discomfort. So much for playing it suave.

I blinked stupidly before the meaning sunk in. "What? Where are you going to sleep?" I asked, concern and guilt washing over me once again.

Draco shrugged as if this was unimportant. "Weasley, I'm a smart man. I'll figure something out."

"Don't be ridiculous—there's plenty of room for the both of us," I protested, trying to sound resolute. The bed seemed to be shrinking by the second.

Draco chuckled. "That's not really the problem, is it?" he asked, turning to me with a roguish grin, though I could have sworn it appeared a bit bitter. "Besides, how do you know I'm not a bed hog?"

I was caught by surprise. "Are you?" I tried to restrain a smile.

He simply smiled mysteriously. "You're the one that wanted to crawl into bed so badly—get on with it, will you?"

I said the first thing that came to mind, without thinking it over first. Such a thing was a bad call on my part, for it yielded a horrible result.

"Not unless you come with me."

Draco seemed to be stifling a laugh as he raised an eyebrow, but I could have sworn I saw his eyes flash with something other than mirth, if only for a moment.

A few more moments passed.

"Very well," he stated smoothly, voice completely in control once again.

My stomach did such a tremendous somersault I thought I was going to be sick. That was it?! It was that easy?

I swallowed, and responded in an even tone that was the exact opposite of what I was feeling. "Fine."

I glanced at the bed again, and felt a hand on my back ushering me forward—it really is alarming how fast he can move sometimes. I resisted the urge to dig my heels into the ground, mainly because the last time I had attempted said strategy it had resulted in a rather embarrassing episode.

When we reached the bedside I remained standing, my hands clenched into fists and limbs stiff.

Thankfully I was saved the trouble of explaining that I couldn't use said appendages because he reached around me and smoothly pulled back the blankets. I climbed in numbly, sliding all the way to the wall, shaking. I felt him follow suit, and my body went as stiff as a board.

Draco rolled to his side, facing me, and I quickly squeezed my eyes shut. I vaguely felt him fluff the pillows, followed by shifting a large amount of blanket in my direction, which I suspected might be to ensure that I had enough, but I found that doubtful.

"Comfortable?" came his smooth voice from near my ear, so close I nearly jumped. I could feel his chest rising and falling against my arm, which twitched longingly with the desire to touch him.

"Yes," I lied.

There was an abrupt whoosh of air and suddenly he was no longer against my arm at all. "Splendid. I can leave, then."

My stomach gave another flip, and I sat bolt upright. "What?!" I exclaimed.

"You never said I had to sleep here, simply that I had to get into bed with you," he pointed out as he climbed out from under the blankets.

Why that conniving little…little…!

I spluttered angrily at him for implementing such juvenile antics before sticking my tongue out at him and promptly rolling over with a huff to stare at the wall.

"Fine," I growled, feeling betrayed and utterly manipulated. "If you want to act childish, go right ahead."

I was in the midst of thinking how perfectly content I was with ignoring him for the remainder of the evening, Merlin be damned where he ended up sleeping, when a series of awkward shuffling noises piqued my curiosity and I gave in. It didn't really matter—I knew myself well enough to say with confidence that I couldn't have ignored him the whole night anyhow.

I rolled over to see Draco shifting the large armchair slightly, followed by the rickety old desk chair. He positioned the latter several feet from the armchair, with its back to the side, as if he was trying to create one large, continuous chair.

"What are you doing?" I asked incredulously, eyes narrowed.

He turned towards the bed, completely ignoring my question, apparently in search of something.

His eyes landed on an item near my feet. "Might I borrow that?"

Confused, I glanced down and saw that he was referring to a rather thin afghan. Suspicious, I asked a question that, in retrospect, was pretty moronic. "What do you want it for?"

He raised an eyebrow. "To sleep with," he responded dryly.

I craned my neck so as to get a proper view of the contraption behind him. The desk chair was lower to the ground than the armchair, creating two differing levels of support that would no doubt bed his back in a lovely manner. Together the two only made a relatively flat surface of about three or four feet. I could only imagine how his long legs would dangle off the end awkwardly.

"You can't possibly mean to sleep on that thing."

"The only matter left to decide is whether it'll be with or without a blanket."

"I'm not allowing this." I protested defiantly.

"I take it that means I don't get the blanket. Very well, then. Goodnight, Weasley."

And without further elaboration, he blew out the three remaining candles in one huff, effectively shrouding the entire room in pitch darkness.

There was another series of shuffling noises, a soft thunk followed by a muttered curse, an extremely strange creaking noise, and then complete silence.

I remained sitting for a few minutes, staring blankly in the direction of where Draco's sleeping apparatus was located. When he stubbornly refused to comment, I asked, "You're not actually going to do this, are you?"

"Some of us are trying to go some rest, Weasley. I'm bloody tired." His voice sounded somewhat strained, as if something was poking him in the back, and thoroughly un-tired.

I rolled my eyes and flopped onto my back. "Have it your way," I said in a clipped tone. "I'll just have to try to take up this entire bed all by myself."

There was a very distinct squeaking noise, followed by another muffled curse.

I paused at this, an entirely ludicrous idea forming. It was somewhat demeaning, quite unlikely to be affective, and would no doubt end in total humiliation. It had one big thing going for it, however—it was the only plan I really had.

"It's rather chilly here all by myself," I stated timidly, hardly believing I was actually doing this.

No response.

"And actually, not nearly as comforting. Rather lonesome, in fact," I continued, trying to make my voice smooth.

There was a grunt followed by the rustling of fabric.

Somewhat encouraged, I decided to step things up a notch. "I hate being alone when I sleep—I love the feeling of being close to someone."

The chair groaned sickeningly.

I felt my face burn at the thought of what I was about to say, and I was sure he would be able to see it even in the dark. "Don't you like that, Draco? The feeling of someone else's body pressed up against you all night long?"

There was a crack and a deafening thud.

Sitting bolt upright, I leaned over the edge of the bed, completely unsure of where he had fallen, which is what I assumed had occurred. There was no response. I leaned down farther, fear beginning to seize me.

"Dra—"

All words were cut off with a strangled cry as a strong pair of arms abruptly pulled me off the bed and onto the floor—or more accurately, a very warm, very masculine body. I gasped upon the contact, completely taken by surprise. I could immediately feel my body start to tingle. From what I could tell, I was positioned somewhere on his lap, but it didn't really make much of a difference anyway as a pair a lips erased all of my thoughts.

The kiss was different this time—it was rough, demanding, fueled by an emotion that I easily identified as lust. Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered the fact that my little seduction charade had worked, though I hadn't exactly intended to end up with the both of us on the floor. Oh well—Draco was much more comfortable than the bed anyhow.

I nearly cried out when a hand snaked up to rest at the base of my neck, and when the other began sliding under my shirt and up my back I was fairly certain I did. I began to feel a desperate need building within me, and suddenly needed more. My hands traced the path from his own up to his shoulders, relishing the feeling of the toned muscles beneath my fingers. They continued along the contour of his shoulders and up the back of his neck, resting to tangle in fine strands of smooth hair, which was just as soft as I had imagined, and entirely worth enduring every mind-boggling antic he had ever thrown at me.

Draco inhaled sharply when this happened, breaking contact for a moment to let out what I could have sworn was a groan.

And then, quite abruptly, "Ginny, stop," he bit out, in what sounded like a painful, strangled manner. His voice was hoarse, as if his throat was dry.

I cringed, trying desperately to mask my disappointment. "What? Why?" The tone of his voice, raspy and low, demanded I do the opposite.

"Because you're not the only one that reacts, you know. This is precisely why I didn't want to sleep next to you," he whispered in my ear. It sounded like an admission, and I wished that I could see his face. Still, I failed to see how it applied.

"So?" I for one found the fact that he was reacting to me a very good thing.

"So?" he exclaimed in what sounded like disbelief. "You're the one that just made me prove that I care about things other than this and you wonder why I stopped? It'd be a pretty poor idea to let things get out of hand after that discussion, wouldn't you agree?"

I frowned guiltily, the logic beginning to sink in. "S'pose so," I muttered. I begrudgingly made to move off of his lap and onto the floor, but was promptly poked in the arse when I attempted to sit.

"What is this?" I wondered aloud, wrenching a piece of something out from under me.

"Wood, probably."

It took me a moment to piece together how exactly this had occurred, when I suddenly recalled the cacophonic noise from earlier.

"So the chair…?" I asked tentatively, trying, but not too hard, to hide the amusement in my voice.

I could feel Draco send me a glare in the darkness, which clearly stated that he was able to see through my charade without effort. I found that I didn't much care. "Is indisposed," he finished.

"What happened, exactly?"

"Well it was no thanks to you," he sneered, in a tone that made it plain he held me entirely responsible for the whole incident, and that the fact that he was the one that had constructed and decided to sleep upon that feeble contraption he had tried to pass off as a bed had absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever. "I was trying to roll over, to drown out your voice, and apparently the shifted weight destroyed the leg."

"I reckon it wasn't sturdy enough," I consoled, trying to sympathize. Unfortunately it came across as slightly mocking instead, which, again, I didn't feel bad about in the least.

"Obviously," he responded, and I knew that he had rolled his eyes, despite the darkness. He tried to use the same tone as before, but I could detect a bit of resentment underneath his words.

There was a moment of silence, during which I assumed Draco mourned the loss of his only excuse for giving me the entire bed.

"Well, let's get off the floor," I suggested, standing up on wobbly legs and suppressing the jittery sensation that was threatening to overcome me.

"There's really not enough--"

"Draco, you've no choice in the matter. Where are you planning on sleeping, the floor?" I demanded, secretly pleased my plan had somehow miraculously worked out, albeit in a different way than intended.

There was another pause, as if he was actually considering the floor an option, and I groaned, exasperated.

"Are you that uncomfortable with the idea of being that close to me?" I asked, incredulous and slightly brassed-off at the fact that he was trying this desperately to avoid the situation.

"What?" he scoffed. "How can you honestly think that after...," His voice cut off, and I flushed. He sighed before continuing. "As I said, I don't want things to get out of hand, and I am simply trying to put myself out of temptations reach." He stated the last part like a fact, but I still felt my mouth go dry at the implications within the words.

"I—I promise not to do anything,… er..." I couldn't seem to make myself say the word—it seemed too ridiculous to use it to describe myself.

Draco scoffed again, and mumbled something about not having to try that hard under his breath.

I steeled myself, and said what seemed to be the last thing that would change his mind. "It's not like I'd protest if something were to happen, anyway."

"That's not the point!" he snapped, suddenly enraged. Had I not grown used to his mood swings I would've jumped; as it was, I simply found myself confused.

"Look, this is all kind of irrelevant. If you don't want anything to happen and I won't let anything happen, we've nothing to worry about," I assured him in a voice that was more confident than I felt.

"I—" he sighed hugely, as if finally accepting defeat.

"Let's just get some sleep," I added, closing the subject. "Merlin knows we both need it. Come on." I groped blindly for the side of the bed in the darkness, and climbed in first, sliding all the way to the wall. After a few moments, Draco followed. We barely managed to fit into the bed without touching each other.

I immediately tried squeezing my eyes shut but, having the feeble luck I possess, of course, instantly found myself completely alert.

Wonderful.

Curious as to whether or not Draco was comfortably situated, I listened closely, but was unable to detect even the sound of him breathing. In fact, the only thing I did notice was the thick tension hanging in the air between us, heavier than any blanket.

I don't know how long we remained like that, but to me it felt like ages. I did everything I could think of in an attempt to distract myself and relax, but to no avail. Finally, after my third attempt at counting hippogriffs, Draco broke the silence.

"So I've been thinking," he started in a clear tone that indicated he had had about as much luck sleeping as I had, "about the real reason neither of us are sleeping yet. If I'm not mistaken it's due to the fact that we can't bloody-well relax because we're so damned afraid of crossing boundaries. Would you agree?"

I felt my eyes widen at his language, which rarely became foul, before considering his words. "Yes, I'd say so."

"Right," he said curtly, as if preparing himself for something. "Well, the way I see it is like this: the reason we're afraid of crossing boundaries is because we want this to be based on something other than the physical, correct?"

I took a brief moment to wonder what 'this' meant, and another to slow my heart at the implication that he was considering the future, and that I appeared to be in it. A hoarse "yeah" was all I could manage.

"Likewise, if we were to be sure that our relationship—"

My heart took off like a rocket, thundering so loudly in my chest I would have bet my life that Draco could hear it. My brain couldn't even form a coherent thought, instead repeating three things over and over, as if in shock.

Me...relationship...Draco...me...relationship... I struggled to pay attention to what he was saying.

"—was honest and open enough so that we could be rid of such doubt, the boundaries, essentially, could be done away with altogther."

"Well, yes," I responded, unsure of where he was going with this and still in shock from the fact that he considered us to have a relationship. I felt like he was throwing far too many things at me at one time, as if I was barely able to comprehend them all. "But how exactly do you propose we do that?" I asked, not really expecting an answer. That alone should have tipped me off— I had long since learned that, with Draco, you couldn't really expect anything.

In a clear, determined voice, as if he had thought it through, he said, "I'm going to confide in you."

I froze, which you would think impossible when you're lying down, but trust me, I have never been so still in my entire life. I tried to speak, but found that my throat had closed up. It was as if my body had shut down, unable to do multiple things in addition to this multitude of new information, such as breathe and circulate blood at the same time.

I heard him take a deep breath before continuing. "Besides, I'm sick of listening to the part of my brain that insists on yelling at me to trust you," he muttered.

I rejoiced at the fact that I wasn't the only one that experienced said phenomenon, and would have laughed at the irony under normal circumstances.

There was a pause before he spoke again, and when he did I almost flinched at the tone of his voice—I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but something about it was ridiculously scary.

"I'm assuming you remember what I mentioned earlier about my father," he stated, in an eerie sounding monotone.

I found my voice as I realized I wanted to comfort him, to make him sound normal. "Of course."

"I'm also assuming then, that you, being of solid intellect, were able to gather that things between us aren't exactly ideal."

I swallowed. "I did."

"Right," he said dully. "It really goes back to what I was telling you this afternoon while we were shoveling. As I said, my father is convinced that he knows precisely what's best for me and my future. He is insistent that making certain…choices is the only way to keep our family and its status secure."

An icy hand seemed to grab hold of my chest. "Choices?" I whispered.

"Yes." There was a pause, and when he spoke again his voice was so hollow I almost didn't recognize it. "Particularly those concerning my allegiance."

My stomach plummeted. I said the only thing I could manage. "No," I whispered, not wanting to believe it.

Draco let out sharp, nearly hysterical laugh. "It's not that surprising, is it?" My father's been in and out of Azkaban, hasn't he? It's no secret—only natural that he'd want me to continue on. Says it'll protect the family, and that there's no way to back out. It'd be like committing treason."

I couldn't breathe. My lungs stung, eyes burned. It took a great deal of effort to form the words that I knew I had to say, and when I was finally able to, it was so shaky and uneven I didn't even think he could understand. "He wants…he wants you to swear your allegiance to V-Voldemort," I choked.

"Yes," he replied quietly.

I swallowed, though with difficulty, and forced myself to continue. "And you don't want to." I could feel myself trembling, petrified of what his response would be.

There was a pause so long I was almost certain he was going to contradict me, to say that I had misunderstood. Maybe that would have been easier to hear instead of his reply.

His answer was barely audible. "No."

It was like a tidal wave hit me in slow motion. I slowly felt every part of my being, mental and physical, become absolutely overwhelmed. I was light-headed—shock, horror, hate—everything came crashing down to engulf me.

"You know what the scariest part of it is?" he continued. "There are things about it that appeal to me—the respect, the power—but it's like signing your life away. And Voldemort isn't the person I want to give mine to."

I became aware that I was shaking my head absently, and took my first breath in what felt like minutes, quivering terribly, and brought a trembling hand to my throat.

"Draco you—" I choked for the second time. "Oh God," I managed to wheeze.

I felt utterly useless to him, as if nothing I could say would matter. Filled with complete desperation to do something, I did the only thing I could think of: I rolled over, clutching to his chest with all of my strength.

He didn't seem to know how to respond to the gesture. His body was stiff, as if surprised.

I didn't let go.

"I'm here," I whispered, snuggling closer. My eyes spilled over, creating a wet spot on his t-shirt. "I just want you to know that."

The phrase that had somehow become our support system seemed to work, and he slowly moved to pull an arm out from under me, ushering me slightly to him.

"There's more," came his voice. It sounded strained, as if he was trying very hard to remain unemotional.

I ran a hand up his arm in what I hoped was a soothing manner.

"All of this creates a lot of tension in the household. My father—well, he doesn't have the most reputable communication skills. When he's stressed he solves his problems by forgetting about them."

I waited, heart racing.

"He drinks. He does stupid things—says stuff he'd never—" he sighed. "Most of the time I can handle the things he says—I'm used to it. But sometimes he hits nerves, and my control slips." He let out a mirthless laugh. "Last summer my father and I had just had an argument. He left the house and returned a few hours later completely gone, and started things up again. My mother hates it when we fight, and tried to get him to settle down, but that sent him even more over the edge. I intervened, then, tried to get him to see reason, and when I did he told me that I was killing my mother by jeopardizing her safety—that clearly I didn't love her enough, or I'd be willing to make the pledge. I snapped. I punched him—I punched my father." He let out what almost sounded like a cough.

Chest aching, I sought out his hand in the darkness, grabbing hold tightly. When he drew a deep breath I felt his chest rise unevenly beneath me.

"Oh, Draco…" I murmured, "I'm so sorry."

"Ginny, I—I don't want you to—" His voice was hoarse, and unless I was very much mistaken, he was crying. I knew better than to hurt his pride by admitting I knew such a thing, however.

"Don't worry," I said quietly, "I'm still here."

Knowing my words couldn't solve anything, I simply held on to him, whispering that everything was going to be okay anyway until his breathing slowed, and I was sure he was dreaming.

Only then did I reach up and wipe the tears from his face.

END CHP 18