Notes: All characters belong to JK Rowling. One phrase belonging to Charlotte Bronte appears here (citation at end). And no slash this time, although themes of forbidden desire remain in play. Many thanks to Wotan for the beta.
Ginny settled down to breakfast in the Great Hall, feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks. She'd just written the last of her OWL exams the day before, and now there was nothing to do but wait for the results. Knowing she had done well enough in all her subjects, Ginny refused to torment herself by mentally replaying every exam question, and instead began daydreaming about what she was going to do once the summer holidays began.
Lost in her own thoughts, Ginny was surprised when an important-looking letter was dropped by her place at breakfast by a dignified, perfectly groomed owl. No sooner had it deposited the letter than the bird took flight again with a majestic flap of its wings. Ginny watched it fly away in puzzlement - she didn't know anybody whose owls were that fancy, except maybe the Malfoys. And they certainly weren't going to send her any letters. The contented feeling evaporated and was instantly replaced by trepidation - maybe she hadn't done so well in her exams after all, and was receiving a special notice to meet with the Headmaster, or worse, Professor McGonagall.
"What is it?" asked Ron, and Ginny picked up the letter.
Carefully breaking the seal, she pulled out a long sheet of parchment and began to read. Then she folded up the letter and stuffed it back in the envelope.
"Well?" demanded Ron through a mouthful of toast.
"It's nothing. Nothing you'd be interested in," Ginny said loftily, trying to keep her voice casual. The letter was nothing to do with her marks - she'd just been invited to attend the annual Summer Sorcery Ball, the biggest event in magical Society circles.
Not that she'd be going, of course. For one thing, she knew her family didn't have the kind of money it took to properly outfit a girl for that kind of affair. And even if they had the money, Ginny couldn't imagine her parents condoning her participation in an event increasingly dominated by You-Know-Who sympathisers.
Hermione had seen the envelope and the return address. Sniffing with disapproval, she said, "I assume you won't be bothering with that nonsense?"
"Of course not," Ginny said, but to her surprise found herself feeling slightly grumpy at Hermione's assumption. Nobody ever imagined she could be in any way glamorous.
"What nonsense is that?" smiled Harry as he joined them at the table. They all glanced up at him - it looked like he'd just rolled out of bed, but then again, his hair had never been very tidy.
"Ginny's just received an invitation to the Sorcery Ball," Hermione said matter-of-factly, reaching for more marmalade.
Harry pulled a face. "Parvati dragged me to that last summer. Remember Ron?"
Judging from his suddenly horrified expression, Ron did. Since girls were traditionally presented into formal wizarding society the summer they turned sixteen, nearly all the invited girls in Harry and Ron's year had been in need of escorts, and Harry had been a hotly pursued one.
"You're not going, are you?" Ron asked, still looking disgusted at the thought of any event that required the wearing of dress robes.
"I doubt it," answered Ginny, shoving the letter away. "It's not the kind of thing Weasleys do."
But when school broke up for the summer and Ginny returned to the Burrow, she was surprised to learn Mrs Weasley thought it was exactly something a Weasley should do. A Weasley girl, anyway.
"Of course you'll go. Why didn't you owl me as soon as you got the letter?" she demanded, brushing at Ginny's unruly hair in a smoothing gesture. "I went, you know."
"You what?" Ginny said in disbelief. It was shocking enough her mother could show more interest in some social event than Ginny's good OWLs; Ginny wasn't quite prepared for the revelation her own mother had once appeared at the famous Sorcery Ball.
"You needn't sound so shocked." Mrs Weasley stopped smoothing and looked mildly affronted.
"But Mum, it's nothing but a blatant display of pureblood superiority! How could you possibly want me to support that?"
Mrs Weasley smiled. "I see Hermione is improving your vocabulary. It's not just for purebloods any more. It's a chance to honour young witches of exceptional accomplishment - your friend Hermione is the only witch I've ever known to turn them down. And now," she continued, ignoring Ginny's shocked expression, "it's more important than ever that people like us attend, to show that all kinds of witches participate."
"But it's expensive," Ginny said quietly. "I'd have to get all sorts of new dress robes - it's a waste of Galleons. Besides, I don't want to go."
But her mother wasn't listening. "We'll have to plan a trip to Diagon Alley. Now about those dress robes…" she began talking to herself and left the room.
"Don't worry Gin," teased Ron as he sauntered in, apparently having been eavesdropping, "I can probably talk Harry into going with you if you insist on doing this."
"I'm not the one insisting - it's Mum!" snapped Ginny. "And don't do me any favours - I can find my own date."
Ginny still had her doubts about the whole thing, worries not at all assuaged by Hermione's deep disapproval of the entire affair. But when she put on the dress robes and looked at herself in Madam Malkin's mirror, Ginny decided she didn't care what ideological implications were attached to the event - she wanted to wear these robes. And if doing so meant spending an evening at a function that was, in Hermione's words, "an outdated attempt at shamelessly objectifying women and promoting social elitism," well, that's just the way it'd have to be. Shutting her mind to thoughts of how much her new robes must cost, Ginny just smiled as the shop assistant assured her, "You look wonderful." For once, she thought it might be true.
In the end, Ginny ended up asking Harry herself. Years of studious inattention on his part had cured Ginny of thinking anything romantic would ever happen between them, but Harry was the only male friend she felt comfortable enough asking. And he'd gone last year, so she supposed he could at least get her through the first dance without stepping on her feet too much.
Ron had taunted Harry with the fact that he would be lounging in comfort at home, until he was pressed into service by Mrs Weasley, whose friend had a daughter in Ginny's year in need of a date. Thus the night of the event found the two boys up in Ron's room, reluctantly putting on dress robes, and Ginny standing nervously in front of her mirror, trying to make her hair look as grown-up as her clothes. Mrs Weasley bustled in and out, fussing over Ginny's hair and the drape of the robes until Ginny burst out "Mum! I can do this myself!"
Her door now locked, Ginny pulled on the long gloves, anticipating the teasing she'd get from Ron and Harry. But when she came downstairs, neither boy had anything to say except "wow," which might have been insulting if they hadn't been so obviously impressed with how she looked.
Ginny felt just as relieved as anyone when the formalities of the actual presentation were over. She'd managed to get through all the public activities without once tripping over her own robes and now the floor was crowded with dancing couples. Her father danced her mother away to another side of the room, leaving Ginny with Harry. He dutifully waltzed her through the first few numbers, then as soon as possible, he and Ron excused themselves.
"You don't mind, do you?" he'd asked Ginny, apparently having learned from previous experience that girls don't like being left on their own without prior announcement.
But Harry hadn't yet learned that while a girl might say she didn't mind, this wasn't quite what was meant. Taking Ginny's reply literally, he spent the remainder of the evening with some of his friends, and although Ginny was friendly with them, too, she didn't want to spend the night pretending to be interested in their non-stop Quidditch talk.
She slipped outside and wandered away from the sounds of the party, away from the lights and the music and the people who were actually having a good time. She had felt pretty for all of ten minutes. Ginny reminded herself that Harry had come here just to oblige her, but she couldn't help wishing he didn't have to be so obvious about it.
Ginny felt around in the pocket of her robes, glad she had insisted Madam Malkin add one, despite the seamstress's protests that witches' formalwear wasn't meant to have pockets. She always thought it was unfair that witches' robes hardly had any pocket space compared to those worn by wizards. And right now that pocket was coming in handy. Before going up to her room to dress for the evening, she'd suddenly had the urge to fortify herself with some of the Ogden's Old Firewhisky her parents kept on hand. It hadn't been easy, but thanks to inheriting Fred and George's various lock-picking devices, Ginny had opened the locked cabinet without magic, quickly poured some of the spirits into a tarnished flask, and slipped the container into her robes. Now she took out the flask and looked at it, wondering guiltily if she should actually try some.
"Ditched him, did you?" Ginny hastily shoved the flask behind her and turned to see who had spoken.
"Draco?" She squinted in the dark, and wished she had her wand. She'd seen him, of course, throughout the evening. Although Ginny had seen Harry and his friends make Draco look foolish countless times, she had to admit that this evening, Draco had seemed the one most at ease.
"What have you got there?" he asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously, then widening and a smile appearing as he saw. "Well, didn't your parents teach you any manners? Share."
"Like you even know what that word means," Ginny said, feeling shaky. The day had been hot and sunny, and the night remained balmy, but being alone and this close to Draco made Ginny fight back an involuntary shiver.
"Oh, come on." He sighed in impatience. "I'm not that bad. And you must have more than I'd given you credit for, if you dumped Potter. Not to mention the party favours you're carrying around."
"That's not -" Ginny started to explain, then stopped. Let him think she'd left Harry inside - he was certainly the first person she'd encountered who might think so, rather than the other way around. "Fine. Here."
Draco's grey eyes glittered in the darkness. "Thanks." He took a quick swallow. "Didn't think I'd see you here."
Ginny stuffed the flask away. "I have just as much right to be here as you do," she bristled.
"I know." He cocked his head, studying her appraisingly. "Maybe I underestimated you," he continued, his voice softer than she'd ever heard it, and less arrogant. It almost sounded…seductive, she realised, then blushed at the mere idea.
"What are you doing out here?" Ginny asked pointedly, crossing her arms over her chest, where Draco's gaze kept returning. These robes were cut a little lower than she was used to.
"Talking to you."
"You came here just to talk to me?"
"Beats talking to the girl I came with. She's got a thing for some Hufflepuff guy, so…" He spread his hands open in a careless gesture. "No accounting for taste."
Ginny regarded him skeptically. "Right. And as a Malfoy, you think yours is above reproach?"
"Better than others," he answered, and Ginny was surprised he didn't even sound angry. If Ron had been saying the same words, he and Draco would no doubt have come to blows already. "I'm out here with you. I think Harry Potter is the one with questionable taste tonight." He took a step forward.
He smelled really good, Ginny noticed, as Draco moved closer and she couldn't think of anything to say. And he looked even better. Ginny had heard other girls talk about how hot Draco Malfoy was, but had always responded "handsome is as handsome does," and thought of all the horrid things he'd said or done to Ron and Harry and Hermione, or the way he'd embarrassed her at Valentine's Day in her first year. But suddenly that seemed a long time ago and instead of feeling afraid or even just annoyed with Draco, Ginny felt - curious.
So she didn't pull away when he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her, rather, she uncrossed her arms and wrapped them around Draco's back, which felt warm through his heavy dress robes.
Draco was surprised when Ginny not only kissed him back but also put her arms around him. He hadn't been sure how she would react, but was pleasantly surprised to find she wasn't quite the innocent he had once thought her to be. Feeling more assured, he pulled her in to him, running his hands down to rest at her waist.
Ginny wasn't quite sure what animated her not unenthusiastic response to Draco's first tentative kiss. A mingling of curiosity and contrariness had got her started, but now she wondered if Draco was really so bad. Maybe he just needed the right kind of person to bring out his good side. As they continued their activities, however, she soon stopped worrying about analysis and focused solely on doing. The noise of the ball was far away; all Ginny could hear was the blood pounding in her ears and all she knew was this was more exciting than anything she'd ever experienced with Harry, whom she assumed was still inside.
But Ginny hadn't really been paying attention to time, and neither had Draco. The party had begun to break up, and Harry found himself slightly embarrassed to realise he had no idea where his date was. Not finding her in the ballroom, he had ventured outside.
"Ginny!" Harry called, glancing around. He walked further into the garden, then called her name again, having spotted her bright hair in the dark. "Glad I finally found you -"
Whatever Harry had planned to say next, Ginny would have happily bet her father's entire pension that it didn't involve the words " - snogging Draco Malfoy." She leapt away from Draco, almost falling backwards in her haste.
Ginny turned and looked at Harry, her eyes defiant and arms crossed. What did he care who she kissed? He'd hardly talked to her all evening. But he wasn't looking at her; instead Harry stared behind her at Draco, all his anger targeted at the blond-haired boy.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"Why don't you ask her?" Draco replied, acknowledging Ginny with the barest tilt of his head. A trace of a grin crossed his face, and he strode back to the ballroom, leaving Ginny alone with Harry.
Harry focused his attention on Ginny. "What were you doing out here with him? What did he do to you?"
"Nothing!" Ginny burst out. "He didn't do anything to me."
"You mean you -" Harry stopped talking and stared at her. His face was still puzzled, and she could see him working through the implications of her words. "You mean you kissed him because you wanted to?"
Ginny tapped her foot impatiently. "Yes, because I wanted to. Satisfied?"
"No! Ginny, that's disgusting. He's a - a Malfoy for god's sakes." Harry shook his head. "What's Ron going to say - what would your parents say -"
"If they found out? Why should they? This is my business, Harry."
His expression became even more appalled as he asked, "You don't like him, do you?"
"Of course not," she snapped, crossing her arms even more tightly across her chest. "What does it matter to you anyway?"
"But you came with me," he said, feebly, apparently still shocked by what he'd seen, not to mention Ginny's attitude.
"That's right, I did. And you ignored me the whole evening. What would my parents say if they knew that?" she tossed back at him. When he said nothing, Ginny sighed and took a step forward. "Come on, it's late. Just take me home and let's forget this ever happened."
From the expression on his face, Harry was clearly in agreement with her suggestions, and they walked silently back inside, where they joined the queue for Portkeys to travel home. Ginny glanced about the crowded room for Draco, but couldn't see him. Ron had already left, apparently having tired of waiting for Harry and herself.
Just as she had dreaded, her parents were waiting up for them, and so was Ron. "How was it?" asked Mrs Weasley eagerly. She was still in her own dress robes, even though she and Mr Weasley had come home hours earlier, tactfully leaving their offspring on their own.
"Fine!" shouted Ginny and Harry in unison, and they both stomped together up the stairs, Ginny darting down the second-floor landing to her room and Harry continuing upstairs, Ron close on his heels.
"What's going on?" she heard her brother ask curiously, and heard Harry mutter, "I don't want to talk about it."
Alone in her room, Ginny stood before her mirror. Her hair had fallen out of its fancy arrangement and she mechanically picked up her wand to undo the rest of her hair, not caring how she looked anymore. She had been so excited about her new dress robes, but none of it seemed to matter now. Draco was never going to talk to her again, she felt sure, and she wouldn't be surprised if Harry ignored her even more than usual this coming year. Hermione was right - she should never have gone to this stupid Ball.
Ginny was just pulling on her nightgown when she heard a tap at her door. "Who is it?" she demanded, unable to think of anyone she wanted to see.
"It's me." She recognised Harry's voice and reluctantly opened the door a crack.
"What do you want?"
"Look," Harry sighed, and shifted his weight. "We're going to have to put on a good front tomorrow - your parents are going to be wondering what happened. I haven't told Ron anything," he added hastily, "and I'm not going to. Like you said, we should just forget it ever happened. Deal?" He held his hand out to her.
Ginny wasn't quite sure what exactly Harry meant by 'it' - the fact that they'd gone to the dance together? Or the fact that he'd seen her kissing Draco? - but was eager for his silence, and so stuck out her hand. "Deal."
Harry stayed with the Weasleys the rest of August, as he usually did. But this summer his stay was different. The house was full of tension and the ghoul in the attic, feeding on the seething adolescent emotions floating about, took to wailing with even greater relish and banged on the pipes for hours, usually just as everyone was settling into sleep again after being awakened by anguished howls. As a result nobody enjoyed a good night's sleep, especially Ron and Harry who had the room right below.
To make things worse, the days after the Ball were some of the hottest seen all summer. The Burrow wasn't equipped with modern magical conveniences to keep it cool, so in addition to being sleepless and grumpy, they were also uncomfortably hot. When the last day of August rolled around, Mrs Weasley remarked she'd never seen the three of them pack so quickly. And not even Percy had ever been ready so early in the morning to catch the Hogwarts Express. Mrs Weasley came down at seven to prepare breakfast, only to find Harry and her own two children sitting tensely on their school trunks, fully dressed, owls locked securely in their travelling cages.
Ron had asked Harry a couple times over the summer what exactly had happened the night of the Crystal Ball, but let it drop after Harry made it clear he didn't intend to discuss it. He considered asking again on the train ride up to school, but reconsidered as the air seemed to crackle whenever Ginny and Harry got near each other, though each feigned normalcy around the other. Ron wasn't sure what was going on, and on reflection decided he wasn't sure he really wanted to know after all.
Back at Hogwarts, Ginny was irritated to find herself keeping an eye out for Draco. She still wasn't sure what had prompted him to follow her that night, let alone to kiss her. Probably his idea of a joke. With her luck he was already laughing about it. But part of her wondered if he'd kept it to himself as well, and this was the part that made her heart jump up when she finally spotted him as they all streamed into the Great Hall for the Sorting. He was among his friends, and far enough away that Ginny didn't think he'd see her at all, but then he lifted his head, caught her eye for a sliver of a moment, then turned back to his conversation, all of this happening so quickly Ginny wondered if she'd imagined it.
But she wasn't imagining it when Draco stepped out of the twilight shadows one evening a couple weeks after school had begun, making her jump in surprise. She was just returning to the castle from a solitary wander around the grounds and hadn't expected to see anyone.
"So you've dumped Potter for good?" he asked, smiling in a knowing way.
"What are you talking about?" Ginny frowned at him.
"That's what I heard - and that you've been slagging him off ever since the Sorcery Ball. Of course, I know it's probably me you've been talking about, and the story just got twisted around. No way would you ever say a bad word about Harry Potter." He drew out the syllables in Harry's name in a sing-song way and watched her expectantly. "Not the boy you sent a singing Valentine to -"
"Shut up, Ferret-boy," interrupted Ginny. Just as she'd thought. This whole thing was one big joke for him. "I haven't said anything about anyone." She started to push past him, but Draco darted in front of her again.
"Really." Draco took her in, still smiling faintly. "Given the looks he's been shooting me - and mind you, we've never been on the best of terms - I'd say it's going to be a very interesting year. Whether you meant to or not, it looks like you've finally succeeded in making Harry Potter notice you."
Then he stepped forward just as Ginny moved ahead, so that they almost collided with each other. Draco's arms steadied her, but Ginny kept her eyes on the ground. She could feel her cheeks growing warm as he held her by the wrists and was certain he was laughing at her - or would be soon. "Just let me go," she said and pulled away. "I know what you think of me."
She knew he was staring at her, trying to get her to look at him. Refusing, she muttered, "You think my whole family is a disgrace to wizarding pride. I've heard what you've said to Ron. You've probably laughed with all your stupid friends about what happened at the Ball."
"Well, it's true I don't much care for that brother of yours. But last time I checked your name wasn't Ron."
Now she looked up. Although Draco was smiling, it wasn't malevolent. If anything, he seemed to want her to laugh at what he'd said. Ginny felt suddenly short of breath and realised her heart had been beating extra fast the whole time she'd been standing there. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means, you're different," he said softly, and then for the second time, he kissed her.
For a moment Ginny stiffened, still not trusting him. But as Draco continued his embrace, she stopped caring about consequences and kissed him back, not caring that they were leaning more and more heavily against the shrubbery for support, not caring that the thorny branches were catching at her hem and snagging brand-new robes, not even noticing anything except how it felt to be kissing Draco Malfoy again.
Draco had moved his hands to tangle in her hair, and she tentatively rested her own hands behind his head. He wasn't like any boy she had kissed before. Admittedly, there hadn't been that many: a very awkward kiss from Neville when she'd gone with him to the Yule Ball, once with Colin Creevey as an unfortunate result of Spin the Bottle. The girls in her year called him Colin Creepy, and whenever she remembered the way he had leered right before kissing her, Ginny had to agree. Then there had been that time behind the broomshed with a Ravenclaw boy last year, but not even that memorable encounter came close to what she was feeling now. It wasn't just that Draco was good at kissing, but that he was irresistibly wrong for her.
Ginny shifted her weight slightly, resulting in a branch digging into her leg. She flinched and Draco moved back. "What?" he asked, looked a little dazed himself.
"Nothing. Just a branch," panted Ginny, leaning down and rubbing at her leg, dismayed to find a long red scratch across her calf. She looked up and saw, behind Draco, the rising full moon. Its brightness and size surprised her, but what happened next surprised her even more. The moon seemed to speak to her, intoning: My daughter, flee temptation.
"What?" Draco repeated. "What's wrong?"
Ginny dragged her gaze from the strangely arresting moon and back to Draco. She'd heard all the usual stories about odd things happening under full moons, but never this.
She opened her mouth to speak, wondering fleetingly if Draco had heard anything, but already he was backing up. "Well, maybe I'll see you again sometime," he said, then turned and disappeared up the shadowy path.
"Where've you been?" asked Hermione crossly when Ginny finally made her way to the common room. "I thought you wanted help with your astronomy homework after dinner."
"Oh. Right." Ginny's head felt thick and speech was difficult. "I was out for a walk and lost track of time. I'm sorry."
"Well, come see me in an hour if you still need help - I've got this essay to finish," said Hermione, gesturing to a half-filled sheet of parchment.
"Thanks." Ginny edged away and crept up the stairs to her room. Hermione was the person least likely to notice anyone's appearance, but Ginny was desperate to find a mirror; she knew before she even looked what a mess she must be. Sure enough, she had odd bits of leaves all over the back of her robes, and a tiny tear at the side seam.
"What happened to you?" smirked one of her room-mates, walking in.
"Nothing," Ginny snapped, briskly pulling a brush through her hair.
"Uh-huh." The girl nodded, skepticism showing plainly in her face. "C'mon, you can tell me. Did you make up with Harry?"
Ginny put down her brush and began gathering up her homework. "There's nothing to make up with him," she replied airily. "We're friends."
"That's not what I've heard."
"Maybe you shouldn't believe everything you hear," retorted Ginny, and swept out of the room. She wanted to have the dorm to herself, but that wasn't going to happen, and the next best option was sitting next to Hermione in the common room. Nobody was foolhardy enough to disturb Hermione's peace. Settling next to her, Ginny pulled out her own books and pretended to study.
All she could think about was Draco - and that odd moment when staring at the moon. A quick flip through her textbook failed to yield any helpful information about talking moons, and Ginny readily gave herself over to contemplation of Draco. Just thinking about how it had felt to touch him - or how she'd felt when he touched her - sent a shiver along her back. The sensation was not unpleasant, and Ginny indulged herself by going over the details of her brief encounter once more in her mind.
When the common room clock chimed, Ginny realised she'd been sitting there for twenty minutes doing nothing but thinking about Draco Malfoy. She also realised her heart was banging at an alarming rate merely from the memory of him.
Ginny abandoned her book and moved to one of the windows. She shouldn't like him. She shouldn't even think about him, because if she thought about him too much, and if they kept meeting as they did, eventually they would have to talk. And if they talked, they might actually get along, a development that could lead to no good, she thought gloomily.
Pressing her cheek against the cool glass, Ginny saw the moon had now risen and sat high in the night sky. Once again, she heard its command: My daughter, flee temptation. Ginny glanced back at the common room behind her, her eye falling on Harry. Was this some magical trick he'd concocted, trying to scare her? Ginny was no motherless girl; she didn't need the moon calling her its daughter. She knew what her own mother would say about Draco. But right now, Ginny didn't care.
At the same time that Ginny was staring out the window of Gryffindor tower, Draco sat in the Slytherin dungeons, thoroughly annoyed. It wasn't right that he should take the trouble to find her, or that he should even notice where she was. And should a Malfoy have the misfortune to encounter a Weasley at close range, kissing wasn't supposed to happen. That much he knew. Perhaps she had Beguiled him, he wondered idly, knowing even as he had the thought it wasn't true. The spell necessary for Beguilement was Dark Arts work, something he felt certain Ginny Weasley had never studied. But how else to explain his own obsessive thought about her, why he found himself swallowing rude remarks about her brother? Surely she had tricked him somehow.
They had never talked, really, in either of their encounters. Ginny always seemed wary of him, and neither of their manners invited conversation. Kissing seemed easier, somehow. More basic. To talk with her would mean awkwardness, acknowledging the impossible differences between them. And it would somehow be more intimate than he was ready to be with her, and she with him. What they did now was much simpler, he assured himself. Better for both of them.
Ginny didn't talk to Draco again until the Halloween Feast. Except for some odd moments of eye contact around school, they had both steered clear of each other. Ginny had tried to put him from her mind, until she saw Draco in the Great Hall and felt that same uncanny pull towards him. He seemed to feel it too, for at the precise moment when Ginny walked in, Draco turned away from Crabbe and Goyle, as if he'd been waiting for her. Conscious of Harry and Ron beside her, Ginny struggled to make her face a blank when Draco looked at her, his own expression unreadable to her.
"Did you see that?" Ginny heard Harry growl to Ron. "If he doesn't keep his eyes to himself –"
"Who, Malfoy?" Ron apparently hadn't noticed anything.
"Yes, Ron," returned Harry, more snappish than Ginny had ever heard him with Ron. "Eyeing up your sister."
"What?" Ron stopped walking and glared at Draco's back, already disappearing into the crush of students in the Hall. Then he turned to Ginny. "Is that true?"
"No, of course not." Ginny blushed. "Harry's just over-reacting." She hurried over to join Hermione, who was standing in a long line for pumpkin juice.
Forty minutes later, juice in hand, Ginny stood at the edge of the room and watched her brother and Harry doing their best to avoid dancing with any of the girls. At the start of the year Draco had intimated Harry was finally interested in her, but Ginny decided this was just another joke of Draco's. Although she had caught Harry looking at her several times since school began, Ginny assumed it was with continued disbelief, possibly even disgust, over her behaviour that summer.
"Hey, Weasley." Draco's voice sounded behind her. "Come out here for a minute."
Ginny turned to face him. Draco was standing more in the shadows of the open doorway than in the actual Great Hall. He appeared to be holding something, presumably connected to why he wanted her to go outside.
When she hesitated he held out his free hand. "Come on."
Ginny glanced nervously back at the party, where Hermione had just dragged Harry to the dance floor. She thought about what he would say if he knew she had been alone with Draco again. She thought about what Ron would do if he found out. She said, "Okay."
Draco dropped her hand as soon as they stepped outside, and Ginny had to walk quickly to keep up with him. They stayed in the shadowy edges of the castle until the noise of the Feast was barely audible, then Draco cut across the lawns to one of the many secluded areas of the grounds.
"Little thank-you for what you gave me at the Sorcery Ball this summer," Draco announced, holding out a pocket flask of his own, engraved with fancy etching and bearing the Malfoy crest.
Ginny hesitated. She didn't really feel like drinking, and it wasn't just the prospect of receiving a Howler from her mother should she be caught that was putting her off.
"Go on," urged Draco. His eyes had a taunting expression, daring her to prove herself to him. Annoyed, Ginny swallowed, trying powerfully not to cough as the strong liquid slid down her throat, warming as it went.
"This is the good stuff," Draco told her, coolly swallowing some himself. "Aged twelve years. Not like that cheap blended stuff you had."
"I didn't hear you complaining at the time."
"True." Draco held the flask out to her again but Ginny shook her head.
He pocketed the small container, then moved closer. "Look at you," he said, almost whispering despite the fact they were alone, with no one to overhear them. He touched her shoulders with his fingertips. "You've always got your shoulders so high when you're around me. Your back is always up. Don't you trust me?"
"No." Ginny flinched involuntarily at his touch and fought the urge to cross her arms.
"But I've never done anything bad to you personally, have I?"
She scowled. "If you want to keep talking to me, Draco, I don't think you should be asking for a list of personal offences. But for starters, since you've asked, how about feeding me that crap about Harry noticing me this year. Did you think I'd fall for it?"
The teasing look had gone from his face and he said quietly, "It wasn't a joke. Haven't you noticed? Anytime I get within the length of a Quidditch pitch near you, Harry's ready to throw himself between us."
Ginny raised her eyebrows at him. "No, I hadn't noticed. There's nothing different at all between Harry and me. Maybe he just hates you."
"Oh, that's a given," Draco acknowledged easily, and just as casually slid one arm around Ginny's back, forcing her to take a step closer to him and bringing her hip against his own. "But I didn't come out here to talk about Potter," he added. "In fact, I didn't come out here to talk at all."
Ginny swallowed. She didn't like it when they talked, it threw into relief all the reasons she shouldn't be out here with him, all the reasons she shouldn't feel anything but contempt for Draco, and it made her confused because despite all those reasons she still wanted to kiss him. Draco seemed to know this, for he bent forward and took advantage of the situation before she could protest.
"How is it we always end up like this?" he grinned, pulling back after a few minutes.
"I don't know. You're the one who always finds me," pointed out Ginny.
Draco didn't have an answer to this, and frankly she wasn't very interested. Feeling bolder, Ginny put her arms around him and kissed him hard on the mouth.
He responded automatically, but as things continued in an ever more heated vein, Draco pulled back for a moment. "Ginny," he panted, taking a breath and looking at her in the darkness, "I hope you're not getting the wrong idea about anything."
Ginny stared, then she pushed him away from her with both hands. Now she knew why Ron always wanted to hex Draco. "What sort of idea would that be?" she demanded, her right hand busily feeling for her wand.
"Did I ever approach you for anything?" she continued, her voice cold with anger. "I think it was the other way round, Draco. You're the one always coming after me."
"I just didn't want you to think -"
"Think what?" she interrupted. "That you liked me?" She paused and glared at him. "I'm not stupid. Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I want you to be my boyfriend." She sneered the last word sarcastically, and noted with annoyance Draco wasn't even looking at her. Then she realised this was because she had her wand out, and was pointing it at him.
Lowering the wand, she said, "Maybe I was in it just for kicks, too, Draco - ever think of that?" When he didn't say anything she added, "Didn't think so." Pocketing her wand, Ginny marched past him.
For a moment, Draco stood dumbfounded, then he recovered and dashed after Ginny. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Shut up." Ginny stopped and turned swiftly to face Draco. "Don't talk to me again, don't even look at me, Draco Malfoy."
The fierceness of her words stopped even Draco in his tracks, and this time he made no attempt to follow Ginny, letting her stalk off into the darkness alone.
He remained rooted to the spot, straining to keep sight of Ginny in the darkness. But the evening swallowed her up, and with a sigh Draco returned to the Great Hall. Crabbe and Goyle, not to mention Pansy Parkinson, were happy to see him but Draco did little to disguise the fact he was not having a very good time. He searched the large room for Ginny in vain, worried she was still outside. He shouldn't care. She was a Weasley, he told himself, repeating his internal mantra. It wasn't his job to worry about what happened to her. Still, the thought of her, upset and alone in the windy darkness of Halloween night, pricked at his admittedly small conscience. Who knew where she might go? And who knew what else was out there, on a night like tonight.
Draco knew, just as he knew more about Dark Arts and Darks beasts than Ginny would ever be likely to know. After much scowling, Draco finally marched himself over to Harry and tapped him on the shoulder.
"What do you want?" demanded Harry, looking Draco in the eye.
"It's about Ginny," he began and was startled when Harry raised a hand to cut him off.
"I don't want to hear it."
Draco glared. "Yeah, you do." He began to speak quickly. "We had a little, uh, fight and for all I know she's out wandering the grounds alone. And you know what you can find out there tonight…"
"Do you think I care about your tiff?" Harry asked icily.
"No," replied Draco between gritted teeth, "but I think you care about her. She won't talk to me, but I thought maybe you could-"
"Go and find her?" finished Harry, waving him away. "Fine. Just don't let me see you even looking at her again."
"I've already had that conversation with Ginny herself, so pardon me if I don't stick around for your version." Draco glowered menacingly back at Harry, then both of them turned and walked away, Draco back to his friends, Harry moving to the door.
Once outside, Harry found his anger giving way to relief. At last Ginny had come to her senses. Maybe it wasn't too late for him to make things up to her. He knew he should have paid more attention to her at the Sorcery Ball over the summer, but also knew the kind of merciless ribbing he'd have received from Ron had he done so. And when Ginny had told him she'd kissed Malfoy because she wanted to - Harry shook his head and walked more quickly, not wanting to remember how that had made him feel. He'd hoped things would improve once they were back at Hogwarts, but every time he so much as looked at her, Ginny glared back at him. Harry had assumed salvaging anything between them was hopeless - until now.
"Ginny!" He called into the night, growing more anxious. Of course Malfoy would let her go off alone, not even try to find her. Harry lifted his illuminated wand, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Charming the wand to increase its light beyond the usual Lumos, Harry slowly scanned his surroundings, and finally saw her standing alone, just up the path from the castle. "Ginny!" he called again, picking up his pace.
Ginny flinched, startled by the unexpected sound of Harry's voice. She saw Harry walking rapidly towards her, the wind whipping the ends of his long scarf around, his lighted wand held aloft. Something in his expression made her catch her breath and turn away, for Harry was looking at her with a kind of hopefulness she recognised only too well. The way Ron looked at Hermione and Hermione looked at Harry and now, amazingly, Harry looked at her. Draco was right, Ginny thought, and felt her mouth twist into an ironic smile.
Harry's footsteps drew closer, echoing off the flagstone path. In a moment he would be in front of her. She wondered how much his altered attitude had to do with her, really, or how much was simply due to his dislike of Draco. Ginny thought of Draco once more - the way his mouth felt upon hers, the cool of his hands against her back, the way he could fit her body just so against his own. She recalled her recent angry words, and decided she was never going to change Draco or make him somehow good. She wasn't going to fall into that trap, she resolved. Knowing herself free, Ginny turned to meet Harry. There was no warning moon this dark night.
"My daughter, flee temptation" (and the talking moon) is from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, chapter 27.