Ginny Weasley rounded the corner, bumping shoulders with someone coming in the opposite direction. She sighed impatiently as the book she held in her hands fell to the floor. The other person didn't even turn around.
"Am I invisible to everyone around here?" Ginny muttered to herself.
Lately, people seemed to be ignoring her. Of course, she expected it from some people - Harry for one. He just never noticed her, as usual, and she was beginning to think he never would. And even her brothers were starting to ignore her too. Again, she half expected this; she was the youngest of the family, and she was a girl. Two things that would set her apart from them all. But she always used to get special attention from Bill and Charlie because she was their baby sister, and Fred and George used to play jokes on her especially, which was irritating, but only their unique way of saying they cared.
Now everyone seemed to be too busy with their own lives to pay her much attention. After all, how important was she, compared to You-Know-Who and the Order? Thinking that made her feel very insignificant, like she didn't matter, like she had nothing to give.
She sighed. Her thoughts seemed to be going off in this same vein a lot lately, and it never made any sense no matter how much she tried to figure it out. Surely it wasn't that much to ask, to be noticed? Clearly she was the only one that thought so.
Ginny shrugged and carried on to the Library; maybe Luna would be there to take her mind off things. Even if Luna was a bit strange, Ginny never minded her company.
Luna was there, reading the Quibbler upside down, her wand stuck behind her ear as usual. Ginny set her book down on the table, letting her heavy bag fall from her shoulder onto the Library floor. She sank into a chair, exhaling and closing her eyes. Luna looked up absent-mindedly.
"Oh hello, Ginny," she said dreamily, her slightly protuberant eyes lighting with a vacant smile.
"Hi Luna," Ginny replied dully, resting her chin on her hands. "What's that you're reading?"
The Ravenclaw girl seemed to awaken from her absent-minded daze. "Just another article about that Pogrebin found in Yugoslavia. They're only native to Russia, you know, so that's why it's so - what's the matter, Ginny? You look upset."
Luna gazed at her with something close to concern. Ginny looked away, and shrugged again.
"Nothing, I'm just - actually Luna, can I ask you something?" she said, sitting up.
"Of course you can."
"Do you ever get the feeling that people are ... ignoring you?" Ginny said.
"People often pretend not to see me," Luna replied with unflinching honesty, "They know I'm there, they just don't want to talk to me."
Ginny looked at her, at the girl who had it much, much worse than she did. The saddest thing was that Luna knew about all the horrible things people said about her. Worse still, they didn't even seem to bother her.
"Er ... right," Ginny muttered.
Luna smiled inanely; her eyes expressionless and her innocence more pronounced than ever.
"See you later, Luna," Ginny said, standing up.
"Bye Ginny. Hope you feel better," Luna said, going back to the Quibbler as Ginny walked out of the Library, waving a hand over her shoulder.
Ginny shook her head as she entered the corridor. Poor Luna, she thought sadly, and felt a stab of sympathy for the Ravenclaw girl.
In the common room that night, an argument had broken out; Ron was bickering with Hermione - as he so often did - and Harry was watching from the sidelines, concentrating on not getting involved.
Ginny spent more time watching Harry than she did on her Charms essay, resulting in a half-finished assignment, and undoubtedly a detention from Flitwick tomorrow. If she didn't spend so much time wishing Harry would notice her, then she'd never have another detention in her life.
She hadn't expected anything to change over night, but change it did. When she woke the next morning, she had no idea that by the end of the week she'd have a foolproof way of attracting everyone's attention.
It started out pretty normal; get up, get dressed, go down to breakfast, then spend the whole day learning - supposedly - important stuff. Mind-numbingly boring; as usual, but then, she wasn't really expecting anything different.
But just as dinner had finished, she was on her way to the common room - to while away the further two hours of tedious monotony that would inevitably follow such a dull day - when she saw Malfoy coming in the opposite direction.
She wasn't afraid of Malfoy, but she did try to steer clear of him, owing to the fact that he could make someone's life miserable just by breathing. That, and he was the most obnoxious, poisonous little git ever to exist. Or something.
It was inevitable that they would cross paths, and at least Malfoy wasn't followed by his usual band of Slytherins. Ginny was sure, that, without them, he wouldn't even deign to bother her. At least, she hoped he wouldn't.
When he was so close he couldn't pretend she wasn't there, he threw that damn arrogant sneer in her direction and continued on his way. Ginny shrugged at the pointlessness of it all, and carried on walking to the Gryffindor tower.
All that week, though, she had the idea that Malfoy kept popping up whenever she was on her own. And when she sat down at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, and glanced over at Malfoy with the Slytherins, he would always be staring at her intently. Then she would turn away, feeling that those cold grey eyes were plotting something decidedly evil. By Sunday evening, she was more than slightly worried and was considering telling Harry and Ron, so they could do something about it, when she was dragged unceremoniously into an empty classroom and thrown against the wall.
She rubbed her elbow where it had collided with stone and glared up into Malfoy's sneering face.
"What was that for, you prat?" she asked angrily.
Malfoy sniffed "Weasley, shut up. I think I might have an offer you can't refuse."
"Right," Ginny scoffed. "Next you'll be saying you're a reformed character, and you really actually like Muggle-borns."
A muscle twitched in Malfoy's jaw. "I'm going to pretend you just said something worthwhile," he said through gritted teeth.
Unimpressed, Ginny folded her arms across her chest. "Yeah, you do that. Now what do you want?" She glared at him steadily.
"Doesn't it ever bother you?" Malfoy asked her suddenly, his face uncharacteristically sincere.
"Doesn't what bother me?"
"The fact that you've never been noticed? The fact that you're still waiting for Potter to turn and realise that you're the one he wants, now and forever?"
It was the last thing she'd expected, and Ginny was so astonished that her mouth fell open and she couldn't think of a single thing to counter his rather verbose statement.
Malfoy laughed at her reaction. "You think I don't notice the little things, Ginevra Molly Weasley?"
"H-how d'you know that? My full name?" Ginny gaped at him. "Even my friends don't know that."
"Merlin, I know almost everything about you!" Malfoy's eyes glimmered.
"I watched you," he replied simply. "And it helps, of course, that I am privy to information from certain sources." He grinned again. "But mostly, it was my own observations."
"And why, in the name of Merlin, would you "observe" me?" Ginny asked, suspicion settling in her mind. "I would imagine I'm not a very interesting subject."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, nice humility, Weasel," he drawled.
"I'm sorry, did your point get lost amongst your witty retorts?" she shot back, irritated that Malfoy was taunting her, and that she was letting it get to her.
"My point is this: if you want people to notice you - and I know you'd love it if Potter suddenly couldn't take his eyes off you - then you have to take charge. Make them sit up and take notice of you. Don't sit around waiting for them - act now and think later."
Ginny suddenly suspected Malfoy was having her on, playing an obviously very amusing joke to pass the time, so that, eventually, she'd end up looking like a fool, and everyone could have a good little chuckle about the time that Ginny Weasley fell for Malfoy's twisted little charade.
"You," she said, mustering up all her previously abated anger, "are sick."
Malfoy goggled at her, although perhaps "goggled" was too ungainly an adjective to describe someone with that grace and stature. And why on earth was she staring at his considerable physique, just barely disguised by his school robes, when she was burning with fury and couldn't stand the thought of being in the same room as him a moment longer?
"What the hell are you talking about, Weasley?" he snapped.
"This is way beyond joking, isn't it, Malfoy?" she spat. "You want to get me back for whatever heinous crime I've committed against you in a past life, or something, right?"
"Actually," Malfoy said, glaring at her through narrowed eyes, "no, I'm not joking. Does this face look like that of someone who jokes on a regular basis?"
Well, at least she had a reason to stare at the angles and contours of his face now, though of course, she was giving him the evil-eye as opposed to giving him an admiring look, because that would go against everything Ginny thought of Malfoy. It was very, very wrong of her to think of Malfoy as anything other than The Enemy - and anything this hostile definitely needed the capitalisation. Now that she thought about it, though, there were several tiny laugh lines around his eyes and mouth, so maybe he didn't joke all the time, but he did smile, which was somewhat reassuring.
"No, I s'pose not," Ginny shrugged. "But this still is some kind of plot to make me a laughing stock, isn't it?"
"The only thing this is, is a plot to get people's attention, alright?"
"But - why? Why are you trying to help me?"
Malfoy sighed with irritation. "Because it would make things a lot simpler," he hissed, and suddenly he was back to his old, abrasive self. "Pansy seems to think that no amount of rejection is too much when it comes to chasing me. In fact, I would say she borders on obsessive these days. So I help you get what you want, helping myself in the process. Either way it's win-win. For me, anyway."
Malfoy had finally cracked, Ginny decided, somewhat worried by the decidedly sinister look on the Slytherin's face. She knew he'd have to be at least a little unbalanced to subscribe to all that pureblood supremacy nonsense, but she'd honestly never thought he'd be this off his head. He was trying to help her out ... but only because it was of benefit to him. Malfoy clearly didn't know the meaning of charity.
So she looked up at Malfoy and asked, "What does this so-called help entail?"
And here his smirk widened until it gave him a very ominous air. He chuckled softly and for some reason, he still looked amused even after he'd explained what he wanted.
"You have to pretend to go out -" he paused for dramatic effect, his eyes shining, "- with me."
"Oh no," Ginny said immediately. "No, no, no. I'm sorry, but I refuse. What will everyone think of me then?"
"That you have good taste," Malfoy smirked.
"Don't be stupid!" she snapped. "I'll be considered a traitor to Gryffindor, not to mention Harry and the others!"
"The whole point of this is to get people's attention, am I right?"
"Well - yes ... but I -"
"And I know how much you want Potter to sweep you into his arms and fall madly in love with you," he went in a bored voice.
"How would you know?" Ginny shot back spitefully. She was getting pretty fed up of Malfoy pretending he had the answer to all her problems.
"Because, I know you, Ginny," Malfoy said superciliously.
"No, you don't!" she said fiercely, clenching her fists together.
"Oh really? Let me prove it then; ask me any question, the first thing that comes to your mind, and I bet you ten ..." He glanced down at her, smirked nastily, before continuing with, "Sorry, one Galleon that I get it right."
Wanting to wipe that smug smirk of his face, Ginny complied and said, "You're on." She thought for a moment. "What's my favourite colour?" she asked.
"Lilac," Malfoy said promptly.
Damn, she thought, but out loud she said, "When's my birthday?"
"Eleventh of August." She could see the gleam in his grey eyes and knew that he was well beyond pleased with himself.
"Okay, what colour are my eyes?" She snapped her eyes shut quickly.
"Brown. That was easy. You'll have to think harder, Gin," Malfoy mocked.
"Fine, how many brothers do I have?" He was sure to get this one; everyone knew how many Weasley offspring there were.
"How many sisters do I have?"
"Oh, come on, how stupid do you think I am?" Malfoy asked, insulted now. "You don't have any sisters."
Ginny was annoyed now; she wanted to give Malfoy a question so hard that he'd never get it.
"What underwear was I wearing last Thursday?" She smirked with satisfaction; even she couldn't remember what underwear she'd worn last week.
"Black lace ones. Very kinky, I might add." He grinned slyly at the rising blush in her cheeks. She'd thought for sure he'd never get that one right ...
"How on earth d'you know that?" she asked in astonishment, wondering if she should be worried that this was slightly stalker-esque of him.
"I already told you; it's because I know you. Better than most people do, I would imagine."
"You were behind that highly amusing scene in the corridors last week, weren't you?" Ginny accused him, recalling the previous week's embarrassment. She'd been on her way to Charms when a blast of spell-driven wind had gusted through the corridor and lifted her robes, not to mention the robes of the various other students nearby. It had been a singularly humiliating experience, but she'd perfected her skills with the Bat-Bogey Hex that day.
Malfoy affected a look of total innocence, but even he couldn't perjure himself that much. "Of course not," he said, in a very unconvincing tone. "Well, alright, I might have walked around the corner at that precise moment, but would I do something so ... don't say it!" he finished wryly, seeing that she was about to reply with an emphatic yes.
Ginny gave an explosive sigh. "Look, Malfoy, I don't care about your problems with Parkinson, and I really don't fancy having you as a boyfriend just so she'll bugger off. You'll have to do that one on your own, I'm afraid."
"Well, that's your trouble, right there," Malfoy said suddenly, eyes glittering with malice. "You're afraid. You're worried that it won't work and things will stay just as they are. You're scared that you might be in love with a boy who doesn't even know you exist."
"I am not scared, you stupid great wanker!"
"Oh, yeah? Prove it!"
And since she couldn't, since she knew, deep down, that Malfoy was right, Ginny turned sharply on her heel and ran all the way to Gryffindor Tower, refusing to let go of the tears that threatened to fall all the while.
Draco Malfoy watched Ginny go, his smirk slipping when she'd rounded the corner. His eyes held no trace of amusement, though there was as malevolent spark in them as he realised that this little rendezvous with the Weasel had proved effective in his overall plan to get revenge on the people who deserved it most.
Just months ago, his father had been placed in Azkaban, and previously before that, the Malfoy name had been dragged through the mud because that sanctimonious bastard, Potter, had seen fit to announce several of the Dark Lord's followers by name. So now, instead of receiving gratuitous praise and admiration from the other Slytherins, the whole house had shunted him aside, and were now leaving him out of their plans to get the Gryffindors.
Draco's fists clenched and unclenched by his sides, grounding his teeth so loudly he was surprised no one could hear him.
It was a good thing he could be charming to people when he wanted something, and it was even better that Ginny Weasley was suffering from being ignored too long. The two things combined would make sure that Potter and his friends would get what was coming to them after all.
It was a shame though, that Ginny - er, that'd be Weasel, then? - was so gullible as to believe he really only wanted to help her and rid himself of Pansy's unwanted advances. The way things were going back in the dungeons, he'd be lucky to exchange eye contact alone with Pansy, never mind any thing sexual.
But still, whatever he did to Weasley's little sister would be nothing compared to what he had in store for Potter and his smug supporters. Draco wasn't entirely sure what it was he was going to do, but Potter had ruined Lucius's image and the family name, so this ...
This was his revenge.
When Ginny woke up early the next morning, she decided to push the conversation with Malfoy out of her head and concentrate on more important things, like ... well, like Quidditch, and homework. Yeah.
The other four girls who shared the dormitory had already gone by the time Ginny emerged from the bathroom, with her hair brushed haphazardly into a ponytail. Taking a long time in front of the mirror was just a petty distraction from the thoughts buzzing around in her head; she really didn't want to dwell on Malfoy's words, but found she couldn't think about anything else in their place.
She accidentally went the long way to breakfast, so lost in thought was she that she took the wrong turning on the fourth floor. So she was mightily surprised that, when she came back to reality, she was not, as she'd thought, on the ground floor, but actually wandering somewhere on the first.
Uttering a curse under her breath, Ginny swung around and started off for the marble staircase that lead down into the Entrance Hall. Halfway there, an unfortunately familiar voice could be heard down a side passage, and she stopped to listen.
"- just can't help it. I haven't been able to sleep for days." Cho Chang's voice was unusually breathy and she sounded somewhat mournful.
"Er, well I - I'm sorry about that, but -" Harry's voice echoed along the passageway next. Ginny stopped dead in her tracks, heard pounding madly.
"No, let me finish. I had plenty of time to think about things over the holidays, and I realised I treated you unfairly," Cho said, her voice now clear and firm. "I was trying to come to terms with Cedric's death, and I used you as a distraction so I didn't have to think about him. I should never have done that, and I'm sorry."
There was a long silence. Ginny waited with bated breath for Harry to reply, but when he did, that same breath was crushed out of her lungs with devastating force.
"You really mean that?" he said gently, and there was a small murmur of assent from Cho. "Oh, God, you can't imagine -"
His words were cut off, and Ginny, who unfortunately had a very good imagination, chanced a look down the passage and felt her world come crashing down with some spectacular sound effects.
Harry had his arms wrapped around Cho's waist and she had her lips planted on his, and it had to be real because Ginny knew she would never imagine something like this in a million years. Before she could gasp, or scream, or do anything that alerted the couple in front of her of her presence, she staggered backwards out of sight, breath coming in harsh pants that had nothing to do with the mad dash she'd made back into the main corridor.
On legs that suddenly seemed dangerously unsteady, Ginny eventually made it back to Gryffindor Tower. A vague pang of hunger reminded her that she'd been on her way to breakfast, but another, more insistent twinge, somewhere in the vicinity of her heart, urged her on to her dormitory. Once inside the reassuringly familiar red and gold surroundings, she collapsed onto her bed, wrenching the hangings shut and rolling over onto her back.
She couldn't get the image out of her head; Harry and Cho, entwined like no tomorrow, kept popping up in her mind, and she couldn't seem to stop thinking about them. It hadn't even occurred to her to worry that Cho might try and worm her way back into Harry's good graces, and Ginny cursed herself for this oversight. If she had thought about it, of course, she probably would have relied on Harry telling the Ravenclaw to take a running jump into the lake, or something. Ginny hadn't factored in Harry's humongous crush on Cho, thinking rejection might be enough to stem his infatuation.
Obviously there wasn't enough rejection in the world for that to happen. Something Harry had in common with Pansy Parkinson, if Malfoy was to be believed, although why this occurred to Ginny right at that moment, she wasn't entirely sure.
Wait a minute ... Malfoy! That was it!
He'd offered her a foolproof way of getting Harry to notice her, and damn it but she was going to accept it. And while it wasn't the smartest thing, getting involved with a Slytherin like Malfoy, it was the best idea Ginny could think of. Harry couldn't want Cho back - he just couldn't - and Ginny was going to make him realise that.
Just as soon as she found Malfoy and let him know that she'd accepted his proposal.
He wasn't in the Great Hall when she went in there, nor was he hanging around outside the Potions dungeon, even though he had a lesson there in five minutes - and she only knew this because she'd memorised Harry's timetable, and she knew Gryffindor sixth-years had Potions with the Slytherins of the same.
At lunch, and at dinner, she searched the table furthest from her own for a gleam of silver-blond, but, to her frustration, Malfoy was nowhere to be seen until dinner was nearly over. Even then he was surrounded by his usual gang, and desperate as she was, Ginny had no desire to talk to Malfoy when the likes of Pansy, Crabbe, Goyle, Zabini, Nott and Millicent Bulstrode were hanging around.
She got her chance, though, when he casually brushed his friends off and strolled out of the Great Hall, presumably on his way down to the dungeons and Slytherin common room. Without stopping to think, she jumped out from behind a suit of armour, grabbed Malfoy's arm and dragged him into a nearby broom cupboard.
Surprisingly, he didn't protest, and when she'd closed the door behind them, he lit his wand and smirked.
"Couldn't keep away, eh?" he said cockily, and despite the fact that she needed his help, Ginny felt like slapping the grin right off his face.
"Don't be such a prat," she bit out instead.
He held up his arms in mock surrender. "Alright, what can I do for you, Weasel?"
"I've decided to - to reconsider your offer," Ginny said, going for loftiness and instead getting a stammer. "People are ignoring me, and I'm sick of it. So ... do we have a deal?" She took a deep, calming breath and stuck out her hand.
Malfoy glanced down at it, and for a minute, Ginny thought he'd pull a revolted face and back away as though she was contagious. After a few seconds, in which he stared at her hand and said nothing, she lowered it and folded her arms nervously instead.
"Malfoy?" she prompted.
He blinked, and then a slow sneer stretched over his face. "I don't know, Weasley. You turned down my generous offer once ... why should I give you the opportunity again?"
She rolled her eyes. "Because I just couldn't resist your warm and caring nature," she said sarcastically. "Why d'you think? I saw Harry with Cho this morning and ... well, I decided you might have a point."
Again, she tried to act indifferent, but didn't quite manage to pull it off. Malfoy grinned at her like he knew what was bothering her so much. Ginny clenched her hands into fists; if he asked what she'd seen Harry doing this morning ...
"Okay, Weasley," he said eventually. "I think we have a deal."
When he held out his hand, Ginny took it without thinking twice. She was half expecting a clap of thunder or a bolt of lightning to strike as she did so, but there was nothing but a disappointing lack of sound. Malfoy quickly wrenched his hand away and gave it a theatrical wipe on his robes; Ginny's fists clenched again.
"You're such a wanker, Malfoy," she said in disgust.
"An unfortunate truth, Weasel," he replied, laughing at the blush rising in her cheeks.
"Shove off," she muttered, and pushed the cupboard door open with her shoulder, checking to see if anyone was hanging around.
The Entrance Hall was mercifully empty, though, and Ginny stepped out of the cupboard with a relieved sigh and started for the marble staircase. Behind her, Malfoy coughed, and she turned.
"There's a small antechamber next to classroom eleven; meet me there at half-past eight tomorrow morning."
And with so much as a goodbye - though Ginny hadn't seriously been expecting one, and would have been extremely surprised if there had been - Malfoy stalked off in the direction of the dungeons. Blinking at his abrupt departure, Ginny stayed where she was for a few seconds, thinking deeply; then she shrugged and made her way to Gryffindor tower.