It was two days before Draco felt confident enough to attend classes again. The burning had faded into slight and ever-present warmth surrounding his extremities. A light buzzing was the only trace that there had ever been such a massive rush to his tired brain. Madame Pomfrey assured Draco, in strangely unconfident tones that fell flat on Draco’s ears, that this was normal and it would fade soon enough on its own.
‘Soon enough’ never seemed to arrive though. The air in the dungeons where the Slytherin dormitories resided was damp and chill. It had bothered him before only in the way a stray hair that tickles your check would. Now it was warm because he was warm, and it brought a sense of foreboding each time he came down to sleep at night or study in the common room. He found himself looking over his shoulder, waiting for that damnable bird to attack him once more and finish the job it started in the Headmaster’s office.
It was for this reason that Draco decided to start studying in the library after classes were ended each day. Whenever he could, the lower levels of the castle were avoided except to sleep at night. The dungeons were supposed to be chill and damp, he muttered often to himself. Not warm, not sultry, not muggy with heat from his body.
Insomnia was yet another of the mysterious side-effects from a phoenix’s tear. Vivid images and flashes of colour connected to strange longings and fears hounded every waking moment, and par for the course, those which were not so much waking as sleepwalking.
Draco’s grades suffered for this; even in Potions where everyone knew he was the professor’s pet. Lack of concentration was also a concern in Quidditch where the Slytherin team was worked harder than ever at each practice, often not returning until late at night just before curfew was called.
Slytherin would open the season in the first game of the year against none other than Gryffindor. All players were required to be in top form and Draco clearly wasn’t.
He wasn’t looking forward to this game.
In spite of being nary an inch over five feet, Ginny knew that she was considered one of the most remarkable Chasers the Gryffindor Quidditch team had seen in many a year.
She flew lightening quick, notwithstanding her ancient Cleansweep, dodging Bludgers with mad loops and swirls as if she had been born a bird and not a very small girl. Having six brothers who lived, ate, and breathed Quidditch helped tremendously in this regard, even if by doing so she was considered something of a tomboy.
Her sensible wool cap flew off after a particularly dangerous flip and she let her dark auburn curls blow behind her like a flag. She was well aware that the sun-lightened streaks of gold she’d carefully mixed through her hair with a charm made it apparent from a long distance that she was a Gryffindor. It was the first game of the season, Gryffindor versus Slytherin, and Ginny grinned as the crowd took note of this with wild applause.
“Ginny! Heads up!” Ron chucked the Quaffle in her general direction, confidant that she would catch it. Which she did of course, flying off toward the Slytherin goal and feinting to the left in order to confuse their Keeper. It was a very stupid move on his part, she thought, and Ginny allowed herself to grin only after she had sent the Quaffle past his right side. Oldest trick in the book.
Cheers went up from the stands as she circled the hoop in a lazy victory dance and sped down almost vertically to retrieve the ball. Millicent Bulstrode, one of Slytherin’s Chasers, beat her to the punch though and raced off across half of the pitch before Ginny could blink an eye.
Determined, Ginny leaned forward over her broom and was coming close to the centre hoop, the rest of the team far ahead attempting to cut Millicent off. Gregory Goyle of the Slytherin team was flying nearby however, Beater at the ready, and whacked a Bludger hard towards Ginny’s head for no apparent reason. Ginny’s eyes widened and she flew sharply up, closer to the central hoop in order to avoid it.
The Bludger missed its target, what she assumed was her head, and hit her broom handle instead, cracking the antique in half. Ginny felt it snap and started to fall before she made a wild leap and grabbed the centre ring with one hand.
Looking around, Ginny noticed that none of her team-mates were anywhere close, they had gathered near the Gryffindor post where Millicent was in a tangle of arms and feet with Seamus Finnigan. Ginny rolled her eyes and tightened her grip on the ring, the cold metal biting into the soft flesh of her palms.
Not even the announcer was aware of her predicament in all the commotion from across the pitch.
Breathing heavily, Ginny tried to pull herself up in order to better grip the wet, slippery ring. But she was positive that the weather and fate seemed against her that day. Ginny felt her one hand slip and she started to fall.
Shutting her eyes, Ginny silently prayed that she would fall on a soft, not terribly breakable part of her anatomy. She was jerked out of that plea by the feel of a broomstick beneath her, her breath lodged in her throat. The slight weight of her landing made the broom overbalance, sending it into a wild somersault while the person riding the broom clutched onto her from behind.
When it rebalanced, she took a moment to clear her head and glanced behind her, instantly wishing that she hadn’t.
“I didn’t know it was raining Weasleys today or I would have brought my brolly,” Malfoy snickered, his pale eyes gleaming and his face flushed with exertion.
Biting back a retort, Ginny sighed and turned to face the front. “Could you please fly me to the ground, Malfoy?”
Draco spared a glance around the pitch and noticed that Ginny’s team-mates were still embroiled in watching the mad dash for the Quaffle over at the Gryffindor end.
“I could . . .” he mused. “Or I could dump you here and see if you could make your own way down.”
He could hear her teeth grinding and she twisted the handle of his broom in her tiny hands, likely wishing that it was his neck. Draco grinned. “Please, fly me down, Malfoy.”
It was hardly a suitably phrased request.
“Since you asked so nicely.” Draco pushed the broom down into a steep, vertical dive, imagining her horrified face with a smirk as she gasped and leaned back. Apparently the littlest Weasley wasn’t so arsing confident when she wasn’t the one controlling the broom.
This felt better, Draco thought to himself. Just a little friendly torture between enemies. For the first time in weeks, his head was clear and he knew exactly what he was about.
They were about twenty feet above the ground when he saw it: the Snitch!
Draco nervously glanced behind him, noticing that the Gryffindors had finally realised their star Chaser was riding on his broom, but they were still far in the rear. Looking above and to the right was Potter, pushing forward and solely occupied with keeping the Snitch in sight and ignoring all else. Draco grinned in anticipation as a plan formed itself in his mind. Distraction, he learned at an early age, is the key to all spur-of-the-moment plans.
He pushed Ginny’s back until her chest was firmly planted in his broom handle, covering her body completely with his own. She gave only a muffled squeak and tried desperately to push him off. He moved his hands in front of hers and leaned closer, trying to build speed and conceal her bright red hair with his cloak.
The Snitch was so close he could almost taste it! Just above and ahead. Potter was closing in though, right behind him, hand stretched and seeking.
“Hold the broom steady or we‘ll both go under!” Draco whispered to the thoroughly squashed Ginny under his chest. He didn’t wait to see if she replied, but brought his feet up to hold and stood carefully on the broom handle, deliberately using Ginny’s bottom for balance.
Potter pulled up swiftly beside Draco, his chin dropping when he finally saw Ginny clutching the broom under her for dear life and apparently being groped by his rival. The distraction was enough though, and it gave Draco the advantage he needed. The Snitch was already firm in his grasp! The tiny wings fluttering against his fingers, trying to escape, but he wouldn’t let it escape. Not ever again.
Trailing them closely was the entire Gryffindor team, murder in their gaze. Harry was the closest though, almost able to touch them. Draco sped off faster, allowing time for a victory loop-de-loop and a friendly smack to Ginny’s behind before touching the ground.
She fell over with a soft thud upon landing, grass brushing in sharp contrast to her reddened cheeks.
“It should rain Weasleys more often, apparently it’s a lucky omen,” Draco drawled, dusting off his cloak and staring at the prize in his hand with something close to disbelief as he studied the golden Snitch laying on top of his leather gloves. “Should have checked Trelawney’s forecast.”
Draco didn’t have much time to feel smug though when Harry and the rest of the Gryffindor team showed up.
“You’re dead, Malfoy!” Ron Weasley shouted, ignoring his sister who still lay huddled on the ground and shivering.
Draco turned around, allowing himself to coolly look the redhead up and down as if measuring his value. “Wrong, Weasley. She’d be dead if she hadn’t fallen on my broom. I thought you Gryffindors were all about family and bravery,” he sneered, even though he well knew that Ginny probably wouldn‘t have died from the fall unless she landed on her neck. “But I suppose you wouldn’t have noticed if your precious sister nearly died because you were too busy being crammed up Millicent’s arse.”
“Son of a b—”
Ron was only barely contained by Seamus and Harry, their arms wrapping around his torso from behind. But by the looks on their faces, it was obvious they weren’t terribly keen on holding him there. Time to go.
“Well, I suppose this little beauty put Slytherin in the lead for the Cup, eh?” Draco held the glinting Snitch up in the late autumn sun, inspecting it closely between thumb and forefinger before pocketing it. Madame Hooch be damned, he was going to keep this as a souvenir of his victory over Potter. Finally, something to write home about. “Later, losers.”
The Gryffindor common room was fairly quiet that evening. Rain pelted the windows and lent a dull grey cast over what was a normally colourful room.
Seamus and Ron were playing chess in a dreary corner and Hermione was reading a book so close to the fire that her hair crackled on occasion from contact with the heat. Ginny reclined on a sofa, covered by her cloak and staring into the flames. Everyone else was either studying or out on the Quidditch pitch receiving a harsh lecture about teamwork and several laps around the field courtesy of their Captain, Mr Harry Potter.
Somewhere inside, she knew that no one blamed her for what had happened earlier that day. Brooms break and Malfoy always was a rotten tosser, so that wasn’t anything new. But fear . . . that was something else entirely. Ginny felt sure that she could have kept Malfoy from getting the Snitch if she had only had the temerity to make him lose his balance or fly the broom closer to the ground. But fear kept her from it and the game was lost. Not only that, but the slimy little git actually managed to get house points for keeping her from breaking her neck!
She had been so terrified after the match that Harry had been forced to send her to the common room with Ron and Seamus half-carrying her into the warmth it promised. At least it had given them an excuse to stay out of the rain.
There had been no control, it wasn’t her broom and he had—
Ginny stopped and shuddered as she recalled Malfoy’s hand steadying himself by grasping her bottom in his hot fingers.
It was peculiar though. Malfoy had always struck her as someone who would be just frostbitten as his attitude, skin cool like a snake. Instead they had burned her even through the thick padding of robes and corduroy trousers. Ginny almost wondered if he had branded his handprints into her backside.
“I’m going to take a shower, Ron,” Ginny murmured as she stood and stretched, walking towards the sixth-year baths. Ron grunted his assent and waved a hand in her general direction to show that he had heard her.
Stripping down, Ginny felt the need to check just to make sure there was no visible sign of Draco Malfoy’s ferret-like fingers on her body. There were none, as expected. And though the rational part of her knew it was foolish, the emotional side stated that it was necessary to bathe his indelible presence away.
The showers were soon steaming, curling her hair about her face, and suddenly Ginny felt ill at ease. It wasn’t helping anything but was in fact making the sense of Draco Malfoy’s aura even stronger.
Disgusted, Ginny turned off the showers and put her dirty uniform back on. Maybe a nap before supper would help. With this thought in mind, she trundled down the hall to the sixth-year dormitories and fell onto the soft, feather mattress of her bed.
Harry was thoroughly worn out and drenched to the skin when he came through the portrait hole and into the common room some hours after dusk.
Ron was playing a game of chess in the corner with Seamus, and Hermione was reading as always before the backdrop of a roaring fire. No one else was around as his team-mates had already retired to the shower rooms just off the pitch.
Harry sighed and flopped down in front of the fire, accidentally hitting Hermione's book with one hand. He could see her blink with her mouth open to make a comment from the corner of his eye, and he looked up to see her studying him. Her lips closed quickly and her eyes softened.
"Harry, are you all right?" Hermione laid a hand on his arm in concern. He flinched, not expecting her to touch him.
"Nothing much, I just have a bad feeling about this year. It's been too quiet for too long and it seems like everywhere I look there are signs of bad things to come." A log in the fireplace splintered loudly, appearing to confirm his fears. Hermione only sniffed in disgust.
"You've been in Professor Trelawney's class for too long. That old crackpot has been filling your head with nonsense for years and it's finally started to sink in. You should have dropped Divination ages ago."
Harry crossed his arms and scowled, making Hermione drop her hand to the rough hearthstone. "I'm not talking about real signs. It's just . . . I have a horrible feeling that Voldemort will chose this year to strike."
Hermione looked toward the ceiling, not quite rolling her eyes, but the message was clear. "You said the same thing last year and the year before that. Honestly, Harry, you need to calm down."
He furrowed his brow and leaned forward almost menacingly. "How can I calm down?" he asked in a deceptively calm voice. "Voldemort is always there, and if he isn't, there is something else: Death Eaters, Basilisks, evil professors. I want to calm down."
"Yes, he is always a threat, things could go wrong at any time. But you can't live your life in fear of retaliation!" Her usually quiet voice was starting to become shrill as more words poured forth. Ron and Seamus looked up from their game in the corner and were watching the exchange silently. "I don't care if you want to ignore me and sit in your room, drinking Fire Whiskey every night and fail all of your classes because I'm not going to put up with it anymore. When you decide to grow up, I'll be here. But until then, I'm not talking to you. I can't watch you do this anymore." Her lip trembled slightly and there was a crack in her voice as she said the last word.
Hermione stood swiftly and grabbed her book, stomping up the stairs as fast as her short legs could carry her. Harry was about to go after her, but decided to let her cool off instead. He raked a shaking hand through his wet hair and closed weary eyes against the fire, which was making them dry up and sting.
If Harry had looked up at that moment, he would have seen the glint of dark amusement from two eyes hidden in the shadows.
It had been two weeks since the infamous Quidditch match against Slytherin and Ginny was beginning to feel normal again. Hermione and Harry apparently had had a falling out and that left she and Ron to pick up the pieces. One of them was always with Hermione, talking to her between classes or asking for help with assignments. The best way to keep Hermione from withdrawing completely was to make her concentrate on schoolwork. Harry, of course, kept himself company with a bottle of Ogden's Fire Whiskey, like always. This did nothing for Hermione’s nerves of course, and lately she had been even worse company than before, petulantly snapping at anything with or without a pulse.
Ginny had been up late the night before, studying for her Potions exam, so she was yawning as she made her way into the Great Hall for breakfast. The effect of her lazy stretches was startling on the entire male population. They all stopped to stare at her, whispering furiously behind hands to their fellows. Ginny pretended not to notice, deciding that it must be because of the incident, even though that was ages ago. She plopped down into her seat and grabbed a piece of toast, liberally smearing it with butter and jam.
Hermione was sitting beside her instead of at her usual place between Harry and Ron. She also noticed the furtive glances and giggling, for once not as caught up in her own problems. "Ginny, why is everyone staring at you?" she whispered.
Ginny looked around, dropping her toast when she became aware that everyone was staring at her, not just Slytherin house. The entire Hall gave a guilty jerk and went back to eating their breakfasts.
"I-I haven't the faintest, Hermione." Ginny was shaking. It was first year all over again. The whispers, the stares, the look of disappointment from others at their table. What did she do?
"Are you sure?" Hermione prodded.
"Yes, I'm sure. I haven't done anything."
Suddenly there was a roar of applause when almost every boy in the Hall stood up and shouted praise as Colin Creevey came skidding in to breakfast. He gawped about, panic etched clearly into his skin. Everyone laughed and sat back down to enjoy their meal.
Ginny glanced up into his startled eyes as he raced over to her chair and started trying to drag her out of it by force. She slammed down her fork and pushed him away. "Colin! What on earth are you doing?"
He didn't stop though, but became more insistent as words poured out. "I need to talk to you, it's urgent."
Ginny looked back down at her plate while she absently plucked his shaking hand off of her arm. "Whatever it is, you can say in front of Hermione, she can keep a secret."
Colin shook his head. "No, this is something about you, not just me."
"Go on, Ginny. Obviously it's important."
Ginny gave Hermione a sceptical glance. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, go ahead, I'll be fine.” The corners of her mouth quirked up wryly. “You don‘t need to suffer my infantile temper anymore than you do already."
This was all the assurance Colin needed and he proceeded to drag Ginny out of the Hall and into a disused classroom. He spared a glance around the room, looking for intruders. His entire body was shaking and for the first time, Ginny was truly worried about him.
"Colin?" she placed a hand on his chest, feeling his heart beat rapidly against her palm. "What's the matter?"
"What's the matter? You wouldn't ask that so calmly if you knew what has happened."
"What?" Ginny‘s eyes widened.
Colin took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Someone stole my portfolio."
Ginny gasped and took a step back. All of the stares she had been getting this morning at breakfast were suddenly making sense and she knew without having to ask. "Why didn't you tell me before? D-did they . . ."
Colin nodded. "It's worse than that though, Gin. Whoever stole it sold some of the pictures."
She felt certain that her eyes were the approximate size of dinner plates. "Sold! Sold to who?"
Colin backed up a few paces, seemingly ready to physically defend himself against her notorious wrath. "Playwizard magazine."
"Playwizard!" she screeched, her throat suddenly raw from the force. "Someone sold your nude studies to Playwizard!"
Ginny paced up and down the room, barely restraining herself from taking her anger out on Colin. Who would do such a thing? "What about the pictures of Padma and Parvati?"
Colin shrugged. "I don't know. They aren't in the magazine though, it's just you."
She sneered, "How thoughtful of them."
"I'm sorry, Gin."
"Sorry? You're sorry? My life is ruined because I wanted to help you get into art school and you're sorry!"
"I didn't know! I thought that they would be safe. And your life isn't ruined. People will forget about this eventually, Gin. Just give it some time. It‘s not as if you were completely unclothed. Just, erm, mostly."
Ginny covered her face in a lattice of trembling fingers. "What will my mum say? And all the boys in school are probably ogling me this very minute." She straightened up and she could see the homicide written clear in her eyes just from looking at his face. Colin skirted back a little further. "I want to know who did this, and then I'm going to kill them."
Her voice had been quiet, but there was determination and a very dangerous fury, which belied the silence that stretched between the two friends. Colin edged forward and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "If it'll make you feel better, you can tell everyone my little secret."
Ginny glanced up at Colin, startled. Yeah, she was getting stared at, and later on it would probably progress into catcalls and pinches to her backside. But Colin . . . he would probably be beaten on a daily basis and called names she couldn't bear thinking about. She put an arm about his waist and squeezed.
"Oh no, Colin. I couldn't possibly do that to you. They would eat you alive."
Colin's lips twisted wryly, his forehead beaded with sweat. "No worse than what they are going to do to you."
"No, it would be much worse. Believe me about that. This isn‘t your Muggle world, I‘m afraid." Ginny sighed and rested her head on his chest, all her anger at him melting. "Poor Colin."
He laughed. "Poor Colin? How you can hug me after what I've let happen is beyond my ability to know. You truly are a saint."
Ginny scoffed and smacked his arm in a playful manner. "I'm hardly a saint. Come on, we need to get back to the Hall and have some breakfast. Something tells me that this is going to be a long day."
Reviewing is good for your soul, and mine, too!