Fledgling, Chapter One - Conversation

Disclaimer: Not mine. Wish it was. Must move on.

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Ginny picked at her food morosely, trying not to show her tear-stained face to the rest of the Gryffindor table. Harry was staring off, lost in thought, green eyes turned inwards, contemplating something. Ginny loved that look; it was the cutest thing she'd ever seen, and she'd tried to let him know it.

Damn those stupid Valentine's gnomes. Damn Professor Lockhart and his stupid Valentine's Day ideas. Even though it had been four years since the preening Professor's ruse had been uncovered and Lockhart himself disgraced, Dumbledore had decided it might be a good idea this year to revive it. She didn't blame Dumbledore - the rest of the school had had a wonderful fun time, delivering Valentines all day. But Ginny had been hiding her face in embarrassment for the whole day.

Why hadn't she learned her lesson in her first year? If only she hadn't sent Harry another  singing valentine. Then Malfoy might not be sitting there, silently smirking at her childish attempt.

Malfoy. Ginny intensely hated the very name. How dare he, she seethed inwardly. How dare he make fun of her in front of everybody? Ginny felt a fresh wave of tears threatening and tried desperatelyto contain herself. She hiccoughed slightly and felt a single drop drip down her face. Oh, no, she thought miserably, and quickly got up to go to the bathroom, see if she couldn't wash her face and compose herself. She rushed past the Slytherin table where Draco Malfoy was sitting. In her hurry, she stumbled on a corner of her too-large robes.

"Watch it, Weasley." Draco's voice, sneering. "You nearly stepped on my foot there."

Ginny turned to face him, all thought of composure forgotten as she beheld the Slytherin boy's smug face. He looked silently back and winced inwardly at the fury in her brown eyes.

"Shut... up," she hissed, bringing her face inches from Draco's. "Just shut up."

Draco's eyebrows shot up his forehead. He felt a slight stirring in the pit of his stomach which was entirely unfamiliar and rather unpleasant. "Fine then," he shot back, rather lamely. "A bit edgy, are we? Potter didn't like your valentine?"

Ginny's eyes blazed and she drew back her arm as if to smack Malfoy across the face. He recoiled hastily, knocking over a bowl or two in his hurry. Ginny paused. The fluttering in Draco's stomach grew ever more intense. Draco couldn't identify the feeling but was beginning to resent it.

All of a sudden, Ginny smiled - just a quick quirk at the corner of her mouth. "Nice addition to your robes, Malfoy," she told him, deadly serious, but instead of anger, amusement now danced acrossher face. "Searching for a new look? A bit of spaghetti sauce here, a meatball there?"

Draco was completely floored. "What?" he asked blankly. Ginny grinned wickedly and pointed to his arm. Malfoy had managed to put his elbow in the pasta in his attempt to distance himself from the angry Weasley girl.

The rest of Slytherin table snickered. Draco groaned, lifting his arm and inspecting it. "Great," he muttered. Ginny was obviously trying not to laugh.

Draco glanced up at her, glaring. "It's not funny, Ginny."

Ginny burst out laughing. Draco was all the more perplexed. "What now?" he asked. "Have I upset the pumpkin juice?"

Ginny covered her mouth with her hand and attempted to stop giggling. "You, saying my name like that." The last giggles subsided and she grinned at him. "You NEVER call me Ginny."

Draco realized what he'd done. "So I did," he said slowly. "Well." He glanced up at her, frowning slightly. "Don't take it personally."

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "Sure... *Draco*," she said, smirking.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Ha ha." The gnawing sensation in his stomach was now identifiable: it was guilt. Guilt? Draco asked himself. From a Malfoy?

It doesn't matter, you idiot. Malfoy or not, you were cruel, a voice nagged at him in the back of his brain.

Of course it matters, Malfoys ARE cruel, Draco told himself sternly. But despite his resolute mindset, he knew he was questioning himself.

How dare you, his conscience said furiously. How dare you hurt this poor girl's feelings. What has she personally ever done to you?

"Look," Draco began slowly. "I, uh... I didn't mean to... well..."

Ginny watched the Slytherin boy. He looked - was it possible? - rather uncomfortable. Finally, he looked up at her. Ginny saw strands of fine silver hair falling lightly over grey eyes. She got past the eternal block he seemed to have, just for a second - and saw a pained expression on his face.

"I'm sorry," Draco said quietly.

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Gotta love those Malfoys.

I know, I know, stupid way to end a chapter. Don't go away; I'll be right back.