Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling.

A/N: Updated to be slightly less fluffy and more (slightly) in character. Light and fluffy, but half the calories of the original!

Ginny Weasley slipped quietly out of the Gryffindor Common Room. She didn't even disturb the fat lady who was noisily snoring away in her portrait. As the slender redheaded sixth year slipped down the steps to the front doors of the castle, she prayed she wouldn't meet anyone else. Especially not Filch or his horrid cat, Mrs Norris. She was in luck tonight. The doors were dead ahead and there was no sign of anyone else. She let herself out and quickly breathed the spell that would re-lock the doors.

Still in the shadow of the arch over the doors, she transfigured herself into her Animagus form. Anyone looking down at the castle lawn right now would only see a small red fox running swiftly across the open space toward the Forbidden Forest.

The wind was rushing over her furry ears and body, making her feel wickedly free. She loved sneaking out and running through the forest. When Ginny was in her fox shape, none of the other creatures seemed to take much notice of her. She was free to roam and explore and just RUN!

Ginny knew she should get registered, but had learned why Hogwarts students seldom did so. If the teachers knew she could change her form they would put spells on the doors to prevent her from leaving the castle after hours. That had happened to poor Cho Chang last year when the Ravenclaw girl had discovered the ability to transform herself into a beautiful Siamese cat. Cats, owls, and all other magical pets were free to come and go as they pleased, but Cho had been unable to leave in her cat form because of the special spells placed around the castle.

Ginny wanted to make sure that didn't happen to her. There was only one month left in the current school year, but then she had another year at Hogwarts. Having learned a love of mischief from her twin brothers, she wanted to make sure she would enjoy her final year. The only thing she missed was someone to share these nights with. Someone who could explore with her. If Fred and George still been at school, she would have told them her secret. But Ron, while nothing as bad as Percy, was still something of a prig, especially since his girlfriend, Hermione Granger, had been selected Head Girl. Right now, however, that didn't matter. It was a warm, late spring evening and she yearned to just run. As she ran, she was blissfully unaware of the trouble ahead.

"Pass it over, you're hogging it," Vincent Crabbe complained to Gregory Goyle. "Hey, Malfoy, he's hogging the joint."

Draco Malfoy ignored them and stared dreamily out into the darkness of the Forbidden Forest. He knew there were terrible and dangerous creatures in the forest (a lot like me, he thought with a self-mocking smile), but most of the forbidden part was to keep students from sneaking in and snogging, or practicing forbidden magic, or, as in the case of the two imbeciles behind him, smoking pot or cigarettes. He sighed. He didn't bother with the pot. He'd tried it once and hadn't been impressed. But he loved being out in the open air at night. A lifetime spent either in his huge tomb of a house or inside Slytherin's damp dungeon rooms, was reason enough to sneak out. He felt free of the demands and expectations of everyone around him. Out here he was free to relax for a few brief hours and let his guard down.

Crabbe and Goyle accompanied him out of habit. He certainly wouldn't have invited them along. It had been a long time since he thought of them as friends. He really didn't have any friends. They were just people he spent time with, like everyone else in Slytherin house. Some day he would find someone he could really talk to, someone who knew him for what he was and wasn't, and accepted him as such. Then, well, he'd see...

He turned his odd silvery gaze up to the sky and tried to pick out familiar stars and constellations. As he was looking, his body stiffened. Behind him, Crabbe and Goyle were still fighting over the joint, now close to becoming physically violent.

"Shut up, you idiots," he growled menacingly, lowering his gaze to the forest ahead. They stopped immediately. There was just something about Malfoy when he used that tone of voice. It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Draco didn't look at them; he was still staring straight ahead into the forest.

"Do you hear that?" he asked suddenly.

Crabbe and Goyle looked at each other and shook their heads. It was creepy when he acted like this. Goyle had seen his father's hunting dogs do the same thing, stiffen and stare, just before they leaped on their prey and tore it to pieces. Malfoy seemed to have the same uncanny senses. It had saved their butts several times, but it was still creepy.

"I think I hear something coming this way. You two stay here and be quiet."

He slipped through the trees without a sound. That was creepy, too. They both made sure they never talked about him if they couldn't see him, because he could be right behind you and you'd never know it. But for now he told 'em to stay here and be quiet, so they stayed, lips buttoned tight.

Ginny thought she heard something up ahead. She slowed to a walk and moved quietly. She sniffed, but only smelled the fresh earth and fragrant pine. She wished that transfiguring into a fox had given her the true abilities of a fox, but although she sensed more, saw and smelled more than she would as a human, her senses were nowhere near that of a real fox. She moved a little farther ahead and now smelled marijuana. Must be some other kids sneaking out to smoke pot, she thought. She would see who it was, then move on. She didn't notice someone following her as she neared a clearing. Peeking around a tree, she saw Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle sitting side by side, Crabbe holding a still burning joint and both of them seeming to be looking everywhere at once. What are they looking for, she wondered, then felt a chill down her spine. Someone was behind her! She bunched her hind legs to spring forward when something was thrown over her and she was pulled up off the ground.

Ginny squirmed and struggled, trying to bite and scratch. She momentarily toyed with the idea of transfiguring, but dismissed it. As a last resort she could, but she had a good idea of who her captor was, considering the company he was keeping. This was confirmed a moment later when her head slipped free of the covering, his school robe, no doubt. Draco Malfoy's face was just above her snout, but he was smiling at her, a genuine smile that seemed to light up his face. She could have bit him and fled at that moment, but the beautiful smile on his face stunned her. She decided to see what he was going to do. If he looked like getting mean or violent, she could always transfigure back. That would certainly surprise the Slytherins. Especially since she would be able to grab her wand and zap them before they could react.

Draco had slipped his robe off after moving into the forest, leaving him garbed in his uniform trousers and a thin tee shirt, then he had waited. He'd snuck up behind the fox. A vixen, he noted. She didn't even seem to sense him. Not until it was too late to run away, that is. When the vixen was looking at Crabbe and Goyle, he'd dropped the robe over her, scooped her up and caught her.

Now he sat next to a tree, ignoring the other two teens' amazed exclamations. He slipped the robe off the vixen's head, careful to keep the rest of the body swathed in the cloth. He thought she might try to bite at him, but couldn't help admiring her. He smiled.

"You're quite a beauty, aren't you, love?" he asked in a voice so gentle, Ginny couldn't believe it was really Draco Malfoy.

He gently scratched her ears. She closed her eyes and leaned into his strong fingers. This was lovely, she thought. He was able to get the places Ginny never could quite reach without hands. And what did it matter that it was Draco Malfoy doing the scratching? It wasn't as though he knew it was her. Besides, it felt good. He continued scratching and murmuring to her. Ginny wondered vaguely if he had ever treated his girlfriends to this gentleness.

"Friendly, too, aren't you," he smiled again. "Would you trust me, Beautiful? Would you run if I set you free, I wonder."

Ginny wondered, too. She wasn't sure what she'd do. Still scratching and stroking with one hand, Draco began to work the cloth down over her front paws, down the ribs, to her hindquarters. He was careful to cradle her around the ribs (just imagine where his hands would be if I transfigured right now, she thought distractedly) and finally off her tail. Then he cradled her on his lap again and began to stroke her from head to tail.

"You are lovely, aren't you?" he whispered. Ginny knew she'd be blushing if she were in her human form. How could she help it? A handsome boy was telling her how pretty she was. With her bright red hair and millions of freckles, it wasn't something that happened every day. He leaned forward and brushed her face with his own cheek. Ginny thought he would be taking a terrible risk if she'd been a real fox. He was courting a severe bite. But she had to admit that she was impressed. Despite his experience with a hippogryff in his Care of Magical Creatures class, he must have a way with animals. She was even more shocked when he actually buried his face in the soft fur at her neck. The sensation would have caused chills of excitement to run down her back if she had been human right now. She leaned toward him when he stiffened slightly and pulled back to look at her, but they both jumped at Crabbe's loud call.

"Hey, Malfoy! How'd you do that?" Draco glared at him.

"Can I hold him?" Crabbe had the fascinated look of a child gazing at an especially pretty Christmas present.

Now Goyle started, "Hey, no fair, I wanna pet him, too!"

They started to their feet, but Draco stopped them with a look.

"You morons, she's a vixen," he stopped at their blank looks, then explained. "A girl fox. And I don't want you to scare her."

"Oh," they both replied. They came lumbering forward anyway, both with hands outstretched. Ginny tensed. Letting Malfoy hold her was one thing, but Crabbe and Goyle, the Goon Squad? Uh-uh, nope, no way. Draco felt her body stiffen and put a hand up to stop them. Ginny chose that moment to leap from his lap and dash into the woods.

She heard Malfoy berating the two oafs then heard him crashing through the woods after her. Well, she wasn't worried; she could run faster than him in this form. She didn't really attempt any speed because Malfoy would be running blind anyway. Ginny trotted along until she came to a small stream that had fresh water. She was a bit thirsty. As she bent her head to drink she heard a crash to her right.

"Damn," Draco cursed as he tripped over a root.

Ginny jumped. How had he found her? But he hadn't, she assured herself. He was just lucky. She leaped over the stream and ran on, a bit faster this time. When she stopped again, she listened carefully, once more wishing for a true fox's senses. She could still hear Crabbe and Goyle, very distantly, but didn't hear Malfoy at all. He must have given up, she figured, so she sat down and panted, very tired. Suddenly, she heard a twig snap right behind her. She whirled and saw Malfoy, just a few feet behind her. The gentle look was gone. In fact, the expression on his face was so intent, it was a bit frightening. Ginny fled. She jumped toward a small sapling with low, slender branches. Grasping one in her mouth, she carried it forward with her momentum. As she landed, she let go. The branch whipped back and Ginny heard Malfoy's grunt of pain as the branch whacked him, hard. She ran on.

"Damn!" he yelled again. "Hell with this!" Ginny heard the rustle of brush and gave a mental sigh of relief. He had to be giving up this time. He must be a hell of a tracker, she thought, to be able to find her in a forest in the dark.

Ginny decided she'd had enough freedom, for tonight at least. She headed back toward the castle. No matter where she roamed in the forest, she could always find her way back. She had a great sense of direction and it came in handy tonight. She was still very tired, but hurried back through the game trails that crossed the forest. It had been a bit disconcerting to find Malfoy on her trail like that, and she now longed for the security of her bed.

She was near the castle, less than a mile away, when she sensed something else behind her. Her nerves were jangling in a way she'd never felt before. It wasn't Malfoy, she was sure. It felt like something not human. She increased her pace.

The scent from the creature ahead was intriguing. The scent was female, human female, certainly, but with a foxy scent overlaying it. The female went on four legs, too, like a fox. This was surprising. The beast was sure it had smelled fox when it had first picked up her scent. It had smelled fox and something else, musky and flowery. As it looked back and forth, it's yellow eyes picking up details that most creatures would miss even in the daytime, it concentrated its massive, razor-toothed snout on the scent. This was enjoyable. It hadn't enjoyed itself like this in--well, ever! It would track this fox-human, capture her and then...

What was that up ahead? It thought it saw the flick of a bushy tail in the distance. She was speeding up. It must have made some careless noise. They were near the castle that lay ahead. If she made it to the entry and got inside, it would lose its chance to capture her. It stretched its long, shaggy legs, determined not to let the intriguing creature ahead get away.

Ginny could hear it getting closer. It didn't seem worried about making noise now. She was exhausted and knew she could never make the castle before whatever it was caught her. She spent the remainder of her strength getting as much distance between herself and it as she could. Then she turned. Horror almost froze her. Just coming into sight between the trees was a huge gray wolf! There aren't any wolves in England, she thought stupidly, then acted. She transformed back into a girl and reached into her robe pocket. She pulled out her wand, shaking violently. The wolf was charging her. She pointed the wand and yelled, "Stupefy!" as the huge animal leaped at her. Ginny screamed as the beast crashed into her, throwing her backward onto the ground. Her head struck one of the gnarled roots sticking out of the ground and she blacked out.

Ginny felt like a very large dragon had trampled her. Her head was splitting with pain, and every muscle seemed to be screaming for attention. To top it off, she couldn't seem to breathe very well. She opened her eyes. It was dark, but dawn was very near. Lord, how long had she been out? She tried to move and couldn't. Looking down, she saw a pale head across her abdomen. Malfoy! What was he doing here? She moved to push him off and recoiled when her hands touched naked flesh. What the--had she--had he?

She tried to remember the previous night. She remembered Malfoy catching her in her fox form, his hands so gentle when he stroked and petted her. Then those two gits had wanted to pet her, too, so she had run off. He chased her and then gave up. But something else started chasing her. A huge wolf! She looked at Malfoy again, noting he was completely naked and lying right on top of her. But where was the wolf, unless...

No, it couldn't be! Ginny scrambled away, none too gently kicking Malfoy off of her. He rolled over onto his back, mumbling incoherently. Ginny blushed as she looked at him, but couldn't seem to help herself. Like the petting the night before, she might never have a chance like this again. There was no doubt he was magnificent, in spite of the many scars that covered his chest and upper arms. She wondered briefly what had caused them all, but her more immediate concern was why was he nude? If he was an Animagus, why did he remove his clothing? When witches and wizards transfigured themselves, they changed themselves, clothes, glasses, jewelry and all. Only shape-shifters, werewolves and the like, had to remove their clothing. Their forms changed physically, not magically, so clothing would remain on the form they changed into. Could he be? Ginny's thoughts were broken when she heard large bodies stumbling through the woods.

What if it were some of the beasts that inhabited the forest? What should she do about Malfoy? She couldn't just leave him. Then she heard the voices of Crabbe and Goyle.

"...bloody git! Goes off and leaves us stranded. How're we supposed to find our way back?"

"Hey, this tree looks familiar, I think this is the way!"

"Idiot, you said that hours ago and we were nearly spider bait!"

They seemed to be headed right for the small clearing she and Malfoy were currently occupying. She decided she could leave him in the tender care of his friends even if they did sound like they were still half-lit. It was starting to get a little lighter, but Ginny still had plenty of time to get back to Gryffindor tower before anyone woke up.

She transformed back into a fox and slipped into the underbrush. Crabbe and Goyle lumbered into the small clearing where Malfoy lay naked and unconscious. They both stopped dead in their tracks, dumbfounded. Crabbe crept carefully forward and pulled out his wand.

"Malfoy," he said loudly. He poked Draco with the tip of his wand. No response. He poked again, harder. A large, malicious grin spread across his face as he looked at Goyle and returned the wand to his pocket. Then they both burst out in laughter. Ginny felt disgust. This was friendship?

"Oh, this is rich!" Goyle slapped Crabbe on the shoulder. "Mr. High and Mighty Malfoy bare arsed and stretched out for a snooze in the forest!"

Crabbe stopped laughing and smiled nastily. "Hey, let's get even with the git for leaving us out here. Let's drag him to the great hall and leave him there, what do you say?"

Goyle sobered immediately. "Yeah, but what'll he do to us when he wakes up?"

"How's he going to know it was us," Crabbe demanded. "The prat left us out there. We'll just say we wandered about until that oaf Hagrid found us. We'll pretend we don't know nothing about it!"

Now both boys grinned evilly at Draco's defenseless form. They stepped closer to him when Ginny, in human form, stood and pointed her wand at them.

"Stupefy! Stupefy!" she shouted, downing both of them before they knew what hit them. She hurried out of the bushes and knelt beside Draco. "Enervate," she said, waving her wand at him.

Draco came groggily awake. He sat up slowly, groaning and holding his head.

"Gods," he mumbled. "What did I drink last night?"

He finally opened his eyes and found himself staring into worried brown ones. He jerked back, surprised.

"Weasley? What the hell are you doing here? And where the hell am I?"

Ginny sat back on her heels and gave him a frown. "My, my, we're grouchy in the morning, aren't we?"

Draco glared at her and started to rise, then noticed his nakedness. His eyes widened as his face turned red. He tried to cover himself with an arm, glaring at Ginny again as she giggled.

"Modesty? From a Malfoy? I would never have guessed. Besides, it's too late for that, I've already seen everything." She took pity on him, however and turned away. She moved to Crabbe, who happened to be closer to her and started dragging off his robe.

"What are you doing, Weasley?" he demanded. "And how did I get here, like this?"

Ginny finally worked the robe from Crabbe's limp body and threw it to Draco.

"Here, put that on for now." She sat next to him again and looked away while he donned the too-large garment. He sat again, still looking uncomfortable.

"Now think. Don't you remember?" She looked intently into his eyes, willing him to remember. She certainly didn't like the idea that he had been a mindless beast when he had jumped at her.

"What? Did I ravish you or something? That must have been some strong shit, to coin a phrase, and I didn't even smoke any." He sounded bewildered, but closed his eyes and tried to remember. He began muttering to himself.

"I was in the forest, and I heard something.a fox! I remember sneaking behind it, her, and throwing my robe over her. She fought a bit, but settled down and let me pet her." Ginny flushed, remembering how wonderful it felt.

"Then these two idiots scared her away and I chased her..." His voice trailed off as he remembered what happened.

Ginny was fascinated by the different expressions passing over his face, but remained quiet. Finally his eyes focused again on her face.

"You!" he said, narrowing his eyes. "You're an Animagus."

"And you're a werewolf, but you don't see me glowering at you." Ginny returned tartly. "But we have bigger problems right now."

Draco looked at her with a strange expression. He looked dangerous, she thought, starting to back away. With a movement so quick Ginny barely saw it, Draco lunged at her. She landed on her back and cried out as her head struck the ground. Draco lay on top of her, braced on his elbows.

"You know my secret now, Weasley. What should I do with you?" He gave her a small, mirthless smile. "But I know a secret about you, too. What is it worth for me to keep it?"

Ginny glared at him and shoved at his chest, but he was much heavier than her. She couldn't believe she had saved his rotten neck from public humiliation and he was trying to blackmail her. Typical.

Suddenly, Draco moved off of her and pulled her into a sitting position again. He let go of her arms and turned away from her. He pulled his knees to his chest and rested his head on them.

"Look, I'm sorry. Bad habit of mine. Try to find the enemy's weakness and exploit it. It doesn't matter anyway," he said dully. "I'm tired of the sneaking around, lying, everything. Go ahead and tell Dumbledore. He'll probably jump for joy to be able to get rid of me."

Ginny's head was spinning. One minute Malfoy was threatening her, the next he was apologizing and putting himself at her mercy. She knew she shouldn't, but couldn't help herself. She badly wanted to hold him and stroke the pale hair from his brow, as he'd comforted her last night. Instead, she laid a hand on his shoulder. He stiffened, then relaxed.

"I'd bet Dumbledore probably knows, anyway," she said gently. "The man seems to know everything. But, I've been thinking, Malfoy; there wasn't a full moon last night. How did you change?" She had her suspicions, but wanted to know for sure.

Ginny didn't think he would answer at first, but he finally said, "I'm a born werewolf. My mother was bitten before she got pregnant. She transformed at the full moon, but I can transform at will." He said it all dully, as though it was too much trouble to explain.

She nodded. "Hmmm, that's what I thought. And why did you attack me? Am I really the enemy?"

He looked surprised at the question. "I-er-no, of course not. I just wanted to catch the vixen again. I had an idea you were an Animagus, when I smelled your perfume. Foxes don't wear perfume." He gave her a slight smile. "Anyway, I didn't know who you were. After I transformed, all I knew was that I had to catch you. I didn't attack, I just wanted to stop you from getting away."

"So you wouldn't have bit me?" She had to know.

"Look, Weasley, when I change I don't think like a human, but I control my nature, it doesn't control me. I can control myself when I transform. I've never bitten anyone."

"Good," Ginny said abruptly. "Now let's talk about our bigger problem."

He looked disbelieving at her. "What on earth could be bigger than discovering you were attacked by a werewolf?"

She shook her head. "You didn't attack, remember?" Pointing to the brightening sky, she added, "In case you didn't notice, people are going to be getting up soon. I'd rather be safely back in bed when that happens. Are you coming?"

Draco looked bewildered. "To your bed?"

Ginny let out an impatient sigh. "Don't be an idiot! We need to get back to the castle and get back to our own SEPARATE Houses before anyone notices we're gone. Now, come on!"

Ginny stood and reached down. Draco took her hand and rose, but was still shaky from the stupefy spell. He leaned heavily on her, holding her shoulders tightly. She didn't feel moved to complain.

"Gods, I feel weak. That was some spell!" he smiled at her, impressed.

Oh, that smile again. It was enough to make a girl's knees weak, she thought, but not right now! Draco looked at the two inert forms on the ground.

"More of your handiwork, I see. They may be idiots, but we can't just leave them."

Ginny rolled her eyes. She'd forgotten about them. "Some friends you have, Malfoy. They were going to drag you naked to the Great Hall and leave you there. That's why I zapped them."

He looked at Crabbe and Goyle again, frowning speculatively.

"I didn't think they had it in them," he admitted. "But I can't let them get away with it."

"You can plan your revenge later," Ginny said briskly. "Now, where did you leave your clothes?"

"Never mind," he said and plucked the wand from Crabbe's pocket. "Accio" he said, pointing into the forest. A moment later a neatly folded pile of clothes floated into the clearing, a pair of shoes piled on top. Draco grabbed the clothes from the air and dropped them to the ground. He unfastened the robe and Ginny squeaked and turned around. He laughed.

"It's too late for that. You've already seen everything, right?"

He dressed quickly, nonetheless, then dropped Crabbe's robe over his body. He borrowed Ginny's wand and retrieved his own robe the same way. Finally the two set out for the castle.

"What do we say if anyone catches us?" Ginny asked nervously. She had never been out all night before.

"Hmm, we could just say we met for an early morning stroll." Draco said reasonably. Ginny laughed.

"And they might actually believe it if it was anyone but you and me."

Ginny glanced at Draco and saw that he was scowling. Oh, well, she thought, hostilities have resumed. That was too bad; she'd actually enjoyed talking to him. They were climbing the castle steps when Draco grasped her arm and pulled her to the side of the still shadowed archway.

"WOULD you meet me for early morning strolls? Or stargazing at night in the Astronomy tower? Or just," he paused for a moment, his face looking intent and slightly flushed. "Just to run with a semi-vicious wolf in the forest?" He looked so serious that Ginny shivered.

"I don't know, Malfoy. We aren't exactly friends, you know..." she trailed off because what he was asking actually sounded inviting. She would like to have someone there when she explored in the woods, and a wolf would be admirable protection. "I don't understand. Are you just being nice because you still think I'd turn you in?"

He moved closer, backing her into the angle of the walls. Ginny found that being cornered by him was not as menacing as she would have thought. "Do you know what it's like to have a terrible secret and not be able to share it with anyone?"

Ginny nodded, her lower lip quivering. She remembered what it had been like to suspect that she was the one who had opened the Chamber of Secrets, who had let loose the foul creature inside and nearly gotten several students killed. She hadn't been able to tell anyone. It had been too awful.

Draco narrowed his eyes at her, then sighed. "Yeah, I guess you do," he said softly. "Not the stupid secret of being an Animagus, but the other one, from your first year."

Ginny's look of shock and horror made Draco smile slightly.

"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. I've known since that summer and I haven't told yet, right? Besides, you know my secret now, and you don't seem to think it's as horrible as I thought it was." He reached up and gently pushed the fluffy red bangs away from her eyes, then let his fingers trail down to her neck and linger there. "We can keep each others' secrets, don't you think?"

His strong, lean fingers were resting over where her pulse was pounding rapidly. Ginny felt her knees weaken and closed her eyes slightly, wishing he would remove his hand. She wasn't thinking straight or she would realize that he was offering friendship or perhaps just companionship, nothing more.

She pushed him away a few inches and looked into those odd colored, stormy eyes. Gathering her courage, she shook her head.

"Don't worry, Draco. I won't tell anyone. But it would be too hard to spend time with you, knowing you'll be gone in a month."

She put a hand up to stop his protest.

"Besides, we're too different. There's just too much in our past. I think it would be best to forget last night."

She looked down at her hands, which she had clenched tightly in front of her. But she looked up, startled, when he shook her.

"And I think you're a bloody coward," he said angrily. "Huh, some Gryffindor. I think you're afraid you might find out I'm not the evil bastard you think I am. Or are you afraid you might actually---." He broke off, releasing her arms with an oath.

Ginny realized he was closer than he could imagine. She reached out and touched his arm. He glared at her, but didn't try to remove her hand. She swallowed.

"You're right, of course," she said in a small voice. "I'm afraid I'll get to know you, and then like you. And then you'll be gone. I wouldn't want to become your friend, then meet you on the opposite sides of a battlefield, if you know what I mean."

Draco's face became very serious. He laid one hand over hers, holding it on his arm. "And you're so very sure which side I would be on, right?"

"N-not any more, no," she admitted. "I know which side I hope you would be on."

Draco released her and pulled up the left sleeve of his robe. He didn't understand what it was about her that was causing this feeling in him, but he had to convince her. She knew what he was, what he could become, and had taken the knowledge in stride. She had accepted the monster as though it were not an evil abomination. Now he had to show her that the person was not evil, either. Rude, horrid, arrogant, even cruel, perhaps, but not evil. He showed her the smooth, pale flesh of his forearm. There were several scars around the wrist, and more on the other wrist, she noticed, but the skin on the inner arm was clear and blameless.

"I don't know if you noticed, before, but I wanted you to be sure," he said. "No mark. My father tried to force me last summer." He gave a harsh laugh. "Fortunately, the mark must be taken willingly, and torture isn't likely to promote positive feelings."

Ginny shivered. What other horrors had his father subjected him to? But he had chosen long before now, it seemed. She looked up into the hard, gray eyes again. Her hand lifted to brush back the pale silver-blond hair from his face. The hard lines smoothed, the expression softened.

"Now I know another secret about you, but this is a good one," she said gently. "I'd love to walk with you and run through the forest with you, and be your friend, if you still want. Even if it's only until you graduate."

Draco held her hand to his cheek and traced her cheek with his other hand.

"I want a lot more than that," he said finally. "And don't think you can get rid of me just because I'm graduating. But for now, I'll settle for friendship."

Ginny smiled, her heart racing. But she felt the need to lighten the mood.

"Alright, then, Draco, I'll do it on one condition."

Her tone was light and teasing, so Draco smiled when he asked, "And what's that?"

"I'll do it if you promise to scratch behind my ears where I can't reach when I'm a fox."