Disclaimer: All characters belong to the wonderful and talented JK Rowling. Natalie McDonald is NOT an OC; she is sorted into Gryffindor in the 4th book. The plot and 'A Chaser's Guide to Quidditch Strategies' are mine, everything else is not.

A/N: This fic is the first one I ever wrote, and was originally posted under my son's account name of DDX. And I think it's actually my favorite. A few changes in the later chapters, but nothing major; mostly spelling errors fixed. K

Ginny Weasley dashed out of her Arithmancy classroom and up the steps toward Gryffindor Tower. Arithmancy was her last class of the day and she was in a hurry to get back to her dorm room and change clothes. She called greetings to the other students she knew but didn't stop to chat today. Today was special: it was the first day of Quidditch practice! As she skidded to a halt in front of the portrait of the fat lady in the pink dress, she practically shouted the current password.

"Puffskein!" she said loudly.

"Tut, tut, girl! Do you want the whole school to..." Ginny didn't wait to hear the rest of the lecture the fat lady was giving as the portrait swung forward to reveal the entry to the Gryffindor Common Room.

"Sorry!" she cried over her shoulder. "In a hurry, you know!"

Then she was up the stairs to the third door up, the small room she had shared with the other girls of her year for the last four years. The sign on the door was all that had changed, now reading: Fifth Years.

Ginny went to the far corner of the small room away from the window (one of the perks of having six brothers who all went to the same school was you learned the beds near the window get all the draft in winter) and threw her book bag on the neatly made spread. She hauled her school robe over her head and changed from the straight legged, black school trousers into some grungy jeans. Her white blouse and tie followed the trousers and robe into the laundry bag in the corner for the house elves to pick up when the students were at dinner. Dragging an old "Weird Sisters" tee shirt on, she considered her reflection in the wavy old mirror above her trunk.

Her trademark Weasley flaming red hair had been tamed a bit by a summer in the sun, along with a very short haircut. It was starting to grow back in, but still tended to spike when she ran her hands through it in class. She had taken to just moussing it straight back to keep it out of her face, but by the end of the day it was spiking again. The sun brought out an unexpected honey gold tone to her skin, but also brought out the freckles that she couldn't do anything about (her mother threatening her with serious bodily injury if she tried to charm or curse the darned things away). She was lucky to have smooth skin, with little or none of the teenage acne that was so agonizingly prevalent at this age. Her wide brown eyes (why couldn't they have at least been an interesting hazel?) were dark, with dark lashes and brows. Her mouth was wide but not as full as she could wish. At least she didn't have thin lips like Pavarti and Padma Patil; hers were just kind of normal.

She glanced down to her thin frame, practically swallowed up by the old tee shirt that was a hand-me-down from Fred or George, and the jeans that wouldn't even stay up except for the tightly cinched belt. She had some curves there, but you'd never know it. She sighed. She liked her baggy clothes; they were comfortable. But she would also have liked it if, just once, some boy would look at her like a girl instead of one of the fellows.

Ginny shook her head as she donned her old, baggy Quidditch practice robe. It was also a hand-me-down from one of the twins, but that was because her Mum had given up trying to make her act lady like while playing Quidditch. Molly Weasley had told Ginny that if she were going to hurtle around like one of the boys, she might as well use their old things to practice in!

As she turned her back on her reflection, she completely missed that the combination of smooth, honey skin, dark eyes and the unusual cut of her hair was striking. She didn't realize that her years of competing with six brothers had added an athletic grace to her movement that was extremely attractive to young men. She just saw a skinny, gawky fifteen year-old with horrid red hair.

Ginny picked up her Nimbus 2001 (used, of course, but still very fast) and headed back to the Common Room.

There were now several other Gryffs in the Common Room. They were lounging, talking, doing homework. One pretty young black girl saw Ginny and smiled, waving her over to the table she was sitting at.

"Hey, Ginny," Natalie McDonald, a third year, said. "Aren't you a little early? Quidditch practice doesn't start for almost an hour."

Natalie, like Ginny, had been selected for the Quidditch team at the end of the year last year. With the loss of Angelina, Katie, Fred, George and Alicia, their team had been almost decimated. The only players to return were Harry as the Seeker, and Dean Thomas, who had been selected as Keeper when Oliver Wood had graduated. Ron, Ginny's older brother, was also one of the new players, along with Seamus Finnegan and Colin Creevy.

"Yeah, I know it's early," Ginny told her friend, "but I want to get used to the old broom again, you know, make sure I don't get blisters on my bum!"

Natalie laughed and nodded.

"Remember how sore we were this summer?"

Molly Weasley (and to a lesser extent, Arthur) had been upset over the fact that the Burrow would be nearly empty this summer. Fred and George were moving to Hogsmead to work on and open their joke shop, Percy was taking lodgings closer to the ministry, and Bill and Charlie were unable to come home (Bill had finally married and now had a home of his own, Charlie and his fellow dragon wranglers having come down with a form of 'flu passed from dragons to their handlers and very difficult to treat). Even Hermione couldn't come for the summer because of a large Granger family reunion held in America. That left only Ron and Ginny home for them to take care of and fuss over. The Weasley parents were driving their youngest offspring distracted until Ginny came up with the idea to invite the Quidditch team to stay for a few weeks. The elder Weasleys were elated. Owls had traveled back and forth as arrangements were made, transportation was arranged, and accommodations prepared. Finally, Dean, Natalie, Harry, and Seamus arrived for a three-week stay. Colin couldn't make it the entire time, but was able to come for the weekends. The Burrow was the perfect place for them to practice, being isolated and away from Muggles, and the individuals came together as a team.

Ginny had been delighted to discover that even though Nat was two years younger than her, she was mature for her age. Ginny had had difficulty making close friends after her rough first year, and was thrilled to have Natalie for a friend. The younger girl was just as excited as Ginny, so despite the difference in age, they were now practically inseperable.

Ginny's eyes sparkled as she remembered how Nat had latched on to Dean during the summer. The older boy had been embarrassed that such a young girl had a crush on him, but was seeing Natalie in a different light now. As though she had undergone some magic transformation over the last few weeks of summer and the new school year, Natalie was now a well developed thirteen year old. Dean, as well as half the male population of Hogwarts, suddenly realized that she wasn't so little anymore! But Natalie was also very smart. She kept Dean and all the other boys at arms length and concentrated on her classes.

"Like my Mum says," she had told Ginny recently, "'Once the boys notice you, they'll always be around, but you only get the chance to be thirteen once!'"

They had laughed, because each knew that if Dean seriously wanted to go out with Natalie, Nat would be more than happy to oblige.

"So, you staying a while or going to the pitch?" Natalie asked, eying Ginny's broom and robes.

"I'm off to the pitch," she said. "I'll see you there soon"

Ginny gave a slight wave and hurried out of the Common Room, anxious to get up in the air and work out the kinks before everyone else was there.

She loved flying. She couldn't remember a time when she didn't want to be on a broom, following all of her beloved brothers around. It had been hard, being the only girl. She felt uncomfortable and shy around boys, always afraid she would say something stupid or wrong or unfeminine around a boy. She had always been bashful around boys, even (or perhaps especially,) Harry, and Harry had been like a brother for years.

But when she was on a broom, Ginny felt graceful. She knew she was a good flyer. But it was more. You didn't have to think of something clever to say on a broom, you said it all with your skill, speed and agility. She also loved to watch others fly, especially if they were good. In Ginny's opinion, she was probably one of the five best flyers in school. That wasn't conceit, it was just facts. She would never admit it, except deep in her own thoughts, but she thought she might actually be almost as good as the two best fliers. Harry and Draco Malfoy were probably the best in school, and there wasn't much difference between them except that Harry had astonishing good luck. There had been times when Draco should have gotten the Snitch before Harry, but he got sidetracked by a Bludger, or the Snitch veered toward Harry at the last moment or something else had happened. Either way, from where Ginny was sitting, they were pretty much equal. Not that Ginny would ever tell that insufferable, pompous, snobbish git that. Be honest, Ginny told herself, you'd probably get as tongue-tied with the stupid prat as you would with any boy. The chances of Malfoy asking Ginny's opinion on his flying were about as good as the chances of the Weasleys winning the Daily Prophet prize again.

Ginny started down the main stairway toward the castle entryway, still letting her mind wander. Yeah, Malfoy was insufferable, a snob, a sarcastic so and so, but at least he seemed to have given up his personal vendetta against the Weasleys. The last time he had gone out of his way to make Ron's or her life miserable was what-two years ago? The year of the Triwizard Tournament? Yes, she thought. When they came back the next year, Malfoy had seemed to withdraw from contact with everyone. He hardly ever seemed to hang out with Crabbe and Goyle anymore. His former girlfriend, Pansy, had seemed put out that he didn't take her around anymore either. It had been the talk of the Common Room for months. Then, as this behavior continued, people found someone more interesting to talk about. Now that Ginny thought about it, she couldn't remember the last time she had seen Malfoy say anything to anyone unless absolutely necessary.

Her musings were rudely interrupted when she slammed right into another student as she ran off the stairs and whipped around the end of the banister. The impact knocked her backward, her broom and the copy of "A Chaser's Guide to Quidditch Strategies" that she always carried flying across the entryway.

Her arms were flailing for balance when she was grabbed roughly by the shoulders and hauled forward. She overbalanced and slammed again into her rescuer. She gave a small 'whoof' sound as the wind was knocked out of her. Her hands grabbed at her rescuer's robes, and she stood there for a few seconds, recovering her wind and wits. She lifted her head, but the words of her apology died on her lips as she met the very angry eyes of Draco Malfoy.

The familiar sneer replaced the angry look immediately as Malfoy, still roughly gripping Ginny's shoulders, shook her slightly.

"Damn it, Weasley, why don't you watch where you're going? What were you doing? Daydreaming about Potter?"

Ginny felt any remorse for nearly plowing Malfoy down disintegrate instantly. She pushed at his chest, trying to move away, but she was somehow backed up against the banister. The leering look he now gave her made her hands itch to slap him. She pushed harder, trying to get room for a good punch in the solar plexus. Malfoy seemed to have other ideas, though. He refused to be pushed away and even seemed to have moved closer. Ginny backed up until the heavy wooden rail was digging into her back. She looked around the usually crowded hallway, but there was no one around.

"Hmmmm," Malfoy was also looking around, but he was taking in the old robes, the broom and her book.

"Quidditch practice, Weasley? That's what you nearly killed me for?"

Ginny again wanted to slap the superior look from his face. Or better yet, break that perfect, straight nose and ruin those smug, pale good looks.

"Nearly kill you, Malfoy? That's a good one coming from you!" Anger and embarrassment made her lash out before she thought about what she was saying. "I'd have thought your father had the market cornered on murderous behavior. Or did he pass it on to you?"

The grip on Ginny's shoulders abruptly tightened, almost painfully. Ginny looked up into Malfoy's face and froze. He looked like he could happily strangle her at this moment. Then he blinked, and the sneering mask settled over his features again.

"What would you know about him?" he asked very quietly.

Ginny was frightened, but still angry enough not to back down.

"Tell me, Malfoy," Ginny said trying to keep her voice calm, "Did you think it a great joke that he slipped that vile piece of evil magic into an ignorant girl's school books? Did you enjoy seeing all those kids nearly killed because of me? Or is it just a routine day at the Malfoy household to try to ruin the lives of dumb first years with things like Riddle's diary?"

Malfoy looked dumbfounded. Yeah, right, Ginny thought. Like he didn't know about it. But he did look distracted. Ginny felt his grip loosen. She braced herself against the railing and pushed with all her might.

Draco was caught off guard and stumbled backward. The girl moved fast. She snatched up her broom and book and was gone. He regained his balance and stared after her. He almost couldn't believe what had just happened. First, Ginny Weasley came barreling into him, out of the blue. When he realized she hadn't even seen him, he almost just let her go on without bothering her. But then she had looked up at him with those huge brown eyes and he suddenly couldn't let go. Good grief, he hadn't passed more than two dozen words with the girl in the past four years, and now he was trying to back her into a corner and-what? He certainly didn't know what he'd planned. Maybe just to annoy her? Try to embarrass her? He shook his head and moved toward the stairway to the dungeons.

Whatever he had in mind had definitely not gone his way. Funny, he'd always had the idea she was quiet and shy. But she didn't seem at all shy about giving as good as she got. And what was that about his fa--he mentally corrected himself--that man? She seemed to think that Lucius Malfoy had something to do with the Mudbloods being petrified a few years back. No matter, he thought, shaking his head again. He wouldn't think about his -- Lucius Malfoy or his ice queen wife, and he wouldn't think about his encounter with Ginny Weasley, either. He would go on as he had the last year and a half: school, Quidditch, staying with his grandparents at holidays. As he opened the hidden doorway that led to the Slytherin Common Room, he wondered briefly why he'd never noticed how very brown the Weasley girl's eyes were.