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A Trying Breath by Ephemere
Chapter 1: Visitors in the Dark by Ephemere
Her breath shook as her lungs took in the sudden gust of wind. Her fingers clutched the handles of the window that she had jerked open. Fiery tendrils swept passed her face to reveal an upturned face with a determined jaw. A single tear stained her cheek, trailing from her wind-stung eye. Her chest rose and fell gingerly under the billowing nightgown. She slowly opened her eyes and turned them up towards the blackened sky studded with diamonds.

Her eyes sparkled with hope as she took in calming breath after calming breath. She closed her eyes again, but the images were still there, dancing vibrantly behind her lids. She could see his arm wrapping around her waist; feel his warmth as he pulled her closer to him. Her head jerked a little to the side as she modestly turned away from his whispers in her ear. It felt real. So real that she could almost feel a smile creeping its way across her face.

Then she snapped back to reality. His arm about her waist was nothing more than the cord of her robe coming undone. Their warmth was simply the fire burning behind her. That whispering was just the wind playing games with her. She shook her head and closed the window, completely assured that she would never forget him. Her eyes fell on the clock next to her bed. 2:17: Almost there. With one last sigh she rolled over and tried to sleep off this feeling of apprehension hours before her sixth year at Hogwarts started.

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"HARRY! Oy, Harry! Over here!" A slightly overenthusiastic Weasley was jumping up and down trying to catch his best friend's attention.

"Ron! Will you please calm down?" breathed an exasperated Ginny. "Harry will make his way over here. I assure you there is no need to jump about as though your bum's on fire!" For the past ten minutes Ginny had been trying to stand as tall as she could, despite the queasy feeling she felt in the pit of her stomach, but Ron's random bursts of excitement were clearly not helping.

"She's right, you know, Weasley." Both redheads jumped at the familiar drawl behind them, one considerably more than the other. "Even a prat like Potter would be able to spot that red stuff sitting on your head. What's that you say? That's hair? I never would have been able to tell." Draco feigned astonishment as he ran a hand through his own silver locks.

"Bugger off, Malfoy. I have every right to be excited to see my own friends. Of course, you would know what I mean if you actually had a few of your own. Friends, I mean." Ron grinned at his own wit and turned to see Draco's scowl, but to his dismay the Slytherin had already left. So he turned his attention back to finding Harry, but resorted to a simple wave when he caught the other boy's eye.

"Hey, Ron, Ginny. Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. How are you all?" Harry beamed at them all as he made his way across platform 9 ¾.

"Well, Hello, Harry!" Mr. Weasley immediately took his hand and clapped Harry on the back. "Good to see you. However, I was quite eager to show you my newest discoveries with erclekticity this summer. It's a shame you couldn't make it over to the Burrow."

"Oh yes, I'm terribly sorry about that. Dumbledore actually wanted me to spend the summer with the Dursleys in France; I didn't want to bother fighting him on this one. I thought I should pick my battles."

"Ah, of course, you really should spend as much time with them as you can, family is still family, after all. But let me tell you about my discoveries. You see - "

"Oh please, Dad, Harry doesn't want to hear about Muggle things that he sees everyday! Do you, Harry?" Ron rudely cut his father off, apparently annoyed at his incessant discussion of 'erclekticity.'

"Erm, well - "

But Harry didn't have the chance to finish as Ron was already pulling him off in the direction of the Hogwarts Express. Ginny looked over her shoulder and shrugged at her parents before following the boys. Hermione was just about to board the train, and was waiting for her friends to come join her.

"Goodbye, kids! Behave yourselves, now! I don't want to have to send out any howlers this year!" Mrs. Weasley called after them, frantically waving goodbye.

"And we definitely don't want to receive any," Ginny mumbled under her breath before calling out a goodbye. They all waved one last farewell to the parents standing on Platform 9 ¾ and headed in to find a good compartment. Hermione slid open a door about halfway back, and closed it almost immediately with a squeal.

"Snogging like that should be outlawed in a public place," she complained with a sudder. Ron and Harry suppressed chuckles as they watched the two girls march ahead to find a more "available" compartment.

Having found one, the four of them slid in to their seats close to the back of the Hogwarts Express. Hermione immediately flipped open her book to a page in the middle and began reading.

"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed with indignation, "You're reading already?? Classes haven't even started! Don't tell me you didn't finish your summer assignments."

"Don't be silly Ron! Of course I've finished my assignments. I just thought I'd get through some reading. See?" she showed the three of them the cover: Hogwarts: A History, 2nd Edition. "They just came out with it. I can't wait to find out all the facts that were missing from the last one." Ron was still gaping at the fact that Hermione even owned a book that big, and rolled his eyes at Harry.

"You know, Hermione, it's not like we've ever needed a book to tell us all the secrets about Hogwarts in the past few years," Harry plainly stated with a grin.

Now it was Ginny's turn to roll her eyes. The three of them would never change, really. It was as thought they came into this school as three little eleven year-olds, and were going to eventually leave as three slightly bigger seventeen-year olds. All the same, nothing beyond their physical makeup would actually be any different. Not to say that their physical makeup wouldn't be a drastic change. Of course, Hermione had definitely had some growing up to do over the past few years. She had turned into quite an attractive girl for her age, with decent-sized breasts and her bushy hair finally under control. Harry had grown into his robes as well: Quidditch had clearly done his torso a favor. Ginny grinned to herself at this last thought. Despite her fading crush on Harry, she couldn't help but admire his growth.

"Helloooo, oh Ginnny," Ron tried to bring his sister back down to Earth. "I think we've officially lost her." He turned to Harry and placed a fist on his heart, feigning a look of despair.

"Wow, there's a sight I never thought I'd see. A Weasley looking depressed. Hmm, it couldn't POSSibly be because he can't afford new robes. Although new robes wouldn't exactly help his cause, considering he'd pretty much look like a git even if he strutted around stark naked. Now there's a picture I definitely don't want to see: Weasley naked. I don't think there's enough sweets in Hogsmeade that - "

"I thought I told you to bugger off Malfoy!" But Ron didn't need to cut off the Slytherin boy. His drawl had come to an abrupt stop when his perusal of the compartment left his gaze fixated on a young girl trying to scrunch herself into the corner as far as she could go.

She peered up at him through her lashes, and their eyes met. Ginny thought for a moment she saw something in his eyes, something that looked a lot like a memory of a certain upsetting incident, but she couldn't be sure: they turned to their usual steel gray before she had a chance to decide what exactly Mr. Draco Malfoy was trying to tell her with his gaze.

"I - " Ginny had almost forgotten where she was, and whom she was with. Everything beyond the locking connection between those two pairs of eyes seemed to melt away. She wanted to say something, but she wasn't sure what to say.

"Ginny." Draco's expression warmed from his usual malice to a softer kind of concern. "It's been quite some time."

"A month and a half."

"A month and a half too long." His eyes stayed locked with hers and he slowly crossed the compartment till he was kneeling in front of her.

"Draco, I don't know what to say about any of this. I never meant for this to happen, you know." Ginny shifted uncomfortably under his gaze, but couldn't bring herself to tear her eyes away.

"I know. But why do you talk about it like it's a curse?" He moved his hands to rest on hers. "This feeling is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me."

"For me too. I'm just so afraid...of everything..." She trailed off as Draco leaned forward on his elbows so their faces were almost touching. She could feel his electricity sending chills up her spine as his hands slowly trailed up from her elbows to her shoulders, and began rubbing her arms.

"Don't be. There's nothing to fear now." As he spoke his sweet breath caressed the skin on her face, and she sighed, against her better judgment.

A smirk played on his lips and he moved his hand up to brush her hair out of her face. His hand lingered on her forehead, and he moved to trace her eyebrow. His fingers slowly traveled down her face, until he was cupping the side of her face with his hand. Ginny involuntarily moved into his touch. Taking it as a sign, he gently pulled her face closer and closer to his, till eventually he stopped: only a thin layer of air separated their lips. She jerked her head a little, aching for his lips to touch hers. Right as he was about to move in for the kill, the train jerked.

Ginny's head snapped back into focus, and she realized she was still looking at Draco from across the compartment. He was standing in the doorway, just as he had been, eyeing her suspiciously. Ginny blushed furiously and it took everything in her to bite back the grin that threatened to spread across her face. Oh, whoops. I must have dozed off for a bit there...

Just as Ron was following Draco's line of sight, to see why he had suddenly lost his sneer, the train ground to an abrupt stop. It threw everyone off of their feet, and finally broke the contact between Ginny and Draco. The five students were lying there in a crumpled heap as they tried to gain a sense of what was going on.

"Oof! Ron!" Harry grunted, as Ron's elbow jutted into his stomach. The taller boy was trying to pick himself up off the top of the pile.

"Sorry about that Harry." Ron turned a little red before extending his hand to help Hermione up. The trio having successfully gotten to their feet and dusted off their robes, they looked up to see a bigger shock than the one that had knocked them to the ground.

"Are you all right?" Draco mumbled, holding Ginny up by her elbow. She went a little faint from all the excitement, whether from the train or from a certain someone's presence. He quickly slipped his arm around her waist to steady her.

"Mmhmm. You? Did I step on you?" Her voice came out as nothing more than a whisper, despite her efforts to calm herself. The train then started up again with a jerk, throwing the two flabbergasted brunettes and a particularly fuming redhead back into their seats, and Ginny further into Draco's embrace. Apparently this jerk knocked him back into his senses, as a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth.

"Now, now, Weasley, no need to throw yourself at me. If you want a piece of the action, that can definitely be arranged." His voice dripped with innuendo as he stood her back up. "All we have to do is add your name to the list." Draco's voice had become a deadly seductive drawl by now and he fingered a strand of her hair.

"Really? Is that all? You mean you're actually keeping a list of all the people that want to shove their broomstick up a particularly narrow spot of yours?" Ginny couldn't help but smile at her own sarcasm.

Ron, on the other hand, was far from smiling. He pushed Ginny back down into her seat and leapt up in front of Draco.

"MALFOY!" Ron growled at the other boy and seized him by the front of his robes. Then, upon seeing Hermione's disapproving look, and remembering the threat of a howler from his mum, he stepped closer and dropped his voice lethally low. "If I EVER see you touch my sister again, I will not only take her up on her little threat, but I will make you wish I Avada Kedavra'd you just to put you out of your misery."

Draco and Ron matched each other sneer for sneer before Draco slapped away his hands. He then preoccupied himself with straightening his robes, looking thoroughly bored with the entire situation.

"Listen up Weasley. If I wanted to touch your sister, believe me, I would have already."

Hermione could feel someone flinch a little against her. "And if I wanted you to touch my robes, I would have bought something far less valuable. So please, spare me the trouble of severely beating you about the head, and spare yourself the waste of breath. Don't try to threaten me." Draco turned to walk away, and Ron looked as though he were about to stop him.

"Ron, don't. He's right. He is a severe waste of breath." Ginny stared daggers at the tall Slytherin. Draco smirked and stalked away.

"What the hell was that about??" Ron's anger hadn't exactly dissipated, but he decided to take it out on Ginny instead.

"What was what about?"

"Oh, you most definitely know what I mean. You were sitting there, making all, googly-eyes at the thing that just walked out of here!" Ron was flailing his arms about so violently, he almost knocked Harry's glasses off.

"I was not making googly eyes!" Ginny had now stood up by this point. "And besides, even if I was making googly eyes, what right do you have to tell me whom and whom not to make googly eyes at, huh?"

"AHA! So you admit it!"

"I didn't admit anything! Oh Ron, sometimes you can be such an insufferable git!"

"I'M the git?? You're the one who doesn't even know a Malfoy when she sees one!"

"Oh please, Ron, I'd rather be getting all mushy with a Blast-Ended Skrewt than Malfoy, and you know it." Ginny chose this opportune time to shift her eyes from Ron's to Hermione, as she shook silently with laughter at the image of Ginny getting mushy with a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Taking advantage of the lightened mood, she turned back to Ron and thrust her chin in the air. "Besides, you and I both know very well that this has nothing to do with Malfoy. You are just incapable of admitting that I'm only one year younger than you, and am perfectly competent at handling myself."

Harry and Hermione shifted uncomfortably as they sensed a heated discussion rise up, not for the first time.

"Oh really? You can handle yourself?" Ron face was very comparable to a tomato at this point. "Well, let's analyze the situation. The last time you 'handled yourself' where did you end up? Oh yes, that's right, the Chamber of Secrets."

"Ronald Weasley." Ginny now glared at her brother and spoke in no more than a whisper. "That was pushing the line one step too far."

Hermione, not being able to stand any more shot up and stood between the two of them. "Now, now, there's really nothing to argue about here. Ron, Ginny wasn't throwing herself at Malfoy, he was just being stupid. And Ginny, Ron didn't mean anything by what he just said, he was just being stupid."

"Hey! How come we all get to be stupid, but Ginny doesn't?" Ron whined and pointed at the smug look on his sister's face.

"Oh shut up, Ron." Hermione mumbled, but the mood in the compartment had visibly lightened.

Things were pretty quiet for the rest of the ride. Hermione's nose was back in her book, and Harry and Ron were inspecting some chocolate frogs. Ginny turned her thoughts back to the summer; and to a certain set of gray spheres that turned silver in just the right kind of lighting...

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Hey, what's going on??" All the Hogwarts students were crying out at the sudden darkness they were plunged into. A great commotion erupted as everyone was trying to discern the cause for the lack of lights. Then before anyone knew what was happening, a shrill scream pierced the air.

A deathly silence followed.

"Hermione?" Harry whispered into the darkness as he felt around the compartment.

"Yeah, I'm here," she whispered back, "where's Ron?"

"Over here." The three joined hands to make sure they knew where they were. "Gin? Come over by us."

Nothing.

"Gin?" Ron's hand began to shake a little. "Ginny?? Stop playing, Gin. Where are you?" He dropped the whisper, as he frantically slapped his hand around for his sister.

Hermione's lower jaw began to quiver: she couldn't feel Ginny's leg against hers anymore.

"Ginny...?" She called out tentatively, afraid of what she would hear.

Nothing.

Now the three of them were desperately trying to reach around their compartment to see if Ginny was there.

"Get back in your seat, Mr. Malfoy!" Professor McGonagall's voice pierced through the door of the compartment.

"But Professor, my seat's that way!" Draco whined.

"Honestly, Mr. Malfoy, it really does not matter. Just sit in here." Professor McGonagall slid open the door to Harry, Ron and Hermione's compartment and shoved him in.

"But Prof - "

"MR. MALFOY! Seat yourself, and twenty points from Slytherin!" The Head of Gryffindor slammed the door shut and marched off.

"Malfoy?" Hermione's voice came out much softer than she intended. "When Professor McGonagall shoved you in here, did you notice anything strange?"

"You mean besides the overbearing presence of prats?" Draco fumed at being forced to stomach three whole Gryffindors for the rest of the train ride. Wait a second - THREE whole Gryffindors?? "W-where's... Ginny?"

Even Ron didn't protest to the obvious concern in Draco's voice. The four of them sat trembling in the darkness. Sick with fright. Where had Ginny disappeared?

"W-where's Ginny?" Draco's voice pierced the darkness.

"Gee, I don't know Malfoy. Why don't you tell us? You probably did something with her anyway." Harry spat the words out without even thinking. Being this near a Malfoy for this long clearly had adverse effects.

"Honestly, Potter, what would I gain from hiding Ginny Weasley? It's not even like asking for ransom money would do me any good."

"BOYS!" Hermione's frustration could no longer be contained. "Can we please focus on the matter at hand? Like why Ginny's all of a sudden disappeared?"

Harry turned a little red and sheepishly looked over at Ron. Even in the lack of light, he could tell that his friend had definitely lost some color.

"Ron?" Harry ventured, "Are you well? Come on, let's go take a look and see if we can't find her."

Harry and Hermione dragged a barely breathing Ron out of the compartment and into the aisle.

"Lumos!" Three wands lit up and followed each other down past the compartments. A fourth wand reluctantly lit up as well and trailed behind, not wanting to sit alone in the midst of what promised to be an adventure. Harry was leading their little procession, and took very slow steps taking care to press his ear up to each door, listening for any sign of Ginny.

Nothing.

How could she have just disappeared? This isn't like her at all... Harry's head was swimming with theories of what could have happened to the littlest Weasley. Harry couldn't say that he had Ginny all figured out the way he did Ron and Hermione, but he certainly felt as though he pretty much knew what was going on in that head of hers. She wasn't the type to just run off randomly, especially without telling Ron first. And then there had been that scream. Harry had only heard that kind of blood-curdling scream in one memory, and it was etched into his brain. The piercing sound he heard whenever the Dementors approached, the sound of his mother dying. That was all he had of her. Just the sound of her dying was all that was supposed to bring him motherly comfort on rainy days, nothing more. He didn't even have the sound of her laughing, or singing. Did she sing? No matter how much Sirius or anyone else told Harry about his parents he would never know what it was like to touch them, to feel the warmth of their embrace. It was all just a dream. A dream that sometimes seems real but is just never enough. Ron was lucky; he was truly lucky. He had a huge family that he could yell at or laugh with and still know that they'd always be there the next day when he woke up. They'd always be there... O God, we have to find Ginny. Nothing better have happened to her. These thoughts were just filling Harry's, mind when he stubbed his toe on something lying in the middle of the floor.

"What the - O, God! Ginny?" realization hit Harry like a freight train as he bent over whatever it was that tripped him. The light at the end of his wand revealed a wisp of red hair that crossed a shadowed lid, rested against a pert nose and stopped before a pair of slightly parted lips.

"Ginny?? PROFESSOR!" Ron fell to his knees and called out to anyone who would come. Soon enough a small crowd had gathered around Ginny's unconscious body lying there.

"Oh dear!" Professor McGonagall was clearly not going to have a stress free first day. She quickly conjured up a stretcher and laid Ginny on top of it. The train still hadn't stopped, despite the lack of light, and before long the Hogwarts Express had reached its destination. Hermione couldn't have been more relieved. Even though they found Ginny, finding her unconscious didn't seem like much of a victory. She was desperately grateful to be able to get away from the murmurs and whispers that were undoubtedly the start of budding rumors.

Ron, Harry and Hermione quickly got off the train and went to go join a carriage with a considerably shaken up Neville.

"Oh Hello Harry, Ron, Hermione." Neville's meek voice greeted them as they filed into the carriage. "What happened back there on the train?" he asked with a shudder; the effects of the most recent happenings hadn't yet worn off.

"I don't know Neville." Harry's voice broke the silence minutes after Neville's question lingered in the air. "I really don't know." Ron looked over at his best friend. They may not know what had happened, but he could be guaranteed that they would soon find out.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Drink this. You'll have a dreamless sleep, and feel much better in the morning." Madame Pomfrey spoke soothingly to the now awake Ginny.

"Oh, thank you. Am I really going to have to miss the sorting ceremony? I'm feeling so much better." Ginny looked up and tried to make the saddest most innocent eyes ever. Upon seeing the nurse's suspicious glance, she quickly added, "I was just walking down the aisle, and tripped. Really, nothing happened."

"I still think you should follow the headmaster's advice. Plenty of rest, and that's all for you. But if you're really upset about missing the dinner, I suppose I could bring you some food and then let you sleep."

Ginny nodded and thanked Madame Pomfrey, watching her leave the room and shut the door behind her. She sighed and turned her head in the other direction.

What HAD happened back there? It was so strange. One second she was sitting in the compartment, just thinking. Draco had just left, and she was starting to remember again. A faint smile played across her lips. But then what? She remembered it getting bright, and having an uneasy feeling. Ginny squinted her eyes shut and tried her best to concentrate. It was coming back to her.

All of a sudden everything had gone dark on the train. She had closed her eyes to block out the noise from all the students asking questions, when it happened. There was a blinding white light. And there he was. He stood there, holding his arms out to her. She couldn't make out who it was, other than a silhouette with outstretched arms. He kept calling to her, and coming closer. A sickening feeling of déjà vu gripped her stomach.

Ginny! Ginny, come to me.

Hello? Is someone there?

Ginny, I'm here. I'm here at last.

Who are you?

Do you not know me?

But, I can't see you. Who are you?

Ginny -


She had gasped as sudden realization hit her. He was now standing inches away from her, holding his hand out to her.

Come. Now.

She had protested, but he grabbed her hand and jerked her up. She wanted to tell him to let go, but her throat closed up before she could say the words. He threw her down and stepped closer. Ginny could see him bending over her and reaching out to pick her up again, and she regained composure. She screamed louder than she had ever screamed before. Her whole body screamed, and her head swam with delirium as she tried to come to terms with what was going on. Then it became chillingly silent. Her voice stopped short, and she stared into those eyes that had haunted her so many nights: nights that turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Quaking with fear, she felt him pick her up. They walked like that in silence, the blinding light surrounding them, as though in a dream. Her eyes were glazed over in a trance.

I can't believe he's here. I can't believe he's back. How can this be happening? Who cares, all that matters is he's here. He's here for me at last. I knew he never meant to hurt me. I knew he wasn't just using me; I was his. I am his. No one else matters. Nothing but those eyes matters. Those gray eyes, those beautiful gray eyes... and her mind drifted to another pair of gray eyes that she knew so well.

Wait, what am I doing? No, stop! No, put me down! Go away from me; stay away! She fought hopelessly with her mind against the image in front of her. She had tried desperately to shake this feeling of need and dependence. Her hands had flown to the sides of her head and she had begun to shake violently. Her mind swam with conflicting forces.

Stay here: hold me longer.

NO! Leave! I don't need you!


The next thing she knew the light had disappeared, along with the man who was holding her.

She fell to the ground, and the last sound she heard was the thud of her own head hitting the aisle.

Ginny opened her eyes. A sick feeling was developing in the pit of her stomach, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. A hand slowly went to her mouth as she recalled everything. Her eyes were wide open with fright and understanding. She finally knew what was going on. He had come back. He had never really left. But now he was here... for good? Who knew? It couldn't have been a dream. They found her their in the middle of the Hogwarts Express. Just like he had found her in the middle of the alley. She woke up in his arms, heard his voice tremble as he gently called out her name. She laid there and listened, absorbing the warmth that was in him. Who was this angel that had come to her? A sigh escaped her parted lips before her eyes fluttered open and she saw. Ginny could have drowned in those eyes, and she very nearly thought she would have turned to liquid if he hadn't spoken just then -

"Ginny." She jumped at the all too familiar voice in the doorway.

"Oh." Speak of the devil. "Can I help you?" Ginny tried to lace her voice with his typical malice, but failed miserably. He smirked at her attempt.

"Yes, actually, you can." Draco drawled the words and sauntered over to her bed. "You see there's this girl I know. She's never been too much of a concern for me, until pretty recently. She seems to have this habit of winding up unconscious in random places. And it just so happens that I have to be there to rescue her every time. You think you can explain that to me?" He had reached her bedside by now, and peered into her face, wearing an expression of mock-curiosity.

"If I recall, Dumbledore never mentioned you being there to 'rescue' me. In fact, he explicitly said Harry had been the one to find me, and Ron had been the one to call for a professor. He did mention Hermione, but your name just didn't seem to come up, Malfoy."

"Is that right?" Draco leaned in so his face was close enough for her to feel his breath. "I was two feet behind the Dream Team. There's nothing I don't see, and don't you forget that."

He could feel Ginny shiver at the cold look he shot her, and chuckled under his breath. He then straightened up and perched himself on the side of the bed before talking again.

"Actually, I lied. There is one thing I don't see. I don't see how you can pull off these little disappearing acts and still walk around like nothing's wrong with you."

"Nothing is wrong with me."

"Bollocks! Let me remind you little Miss Weasley, that it's not every day that I go walking down a street at night, and I find someone lying in an alley, completely unconscious. Potter may have beaten me to you this time, but I was definitely there the last time. Now maybe you should tell me what the bloody hell's going on with you and your little psychotic episodes."

Ginny stared into his furious face. Why does he care anyway? Besides it's not like there's anything he can do about it. "Why should I tell you?"

"Because I said so!"

"Well, I think it's just lovely that in dream land, Malfoys get pretty much whatever they want. But out here in the real world, things don't always work out that way."

"Ginny, you know why you have to tell me."

"No, actually, I don't. Care to enlighten me?"

"Ugh! Ginny!" Draco sighed with frustration. For a split second he let his mask slip and showed her something in his eyes that she had rarely seen anywhere. "You know I can help you."

"You want to help me?" The words left her mouth before she could fight them.

"Of course I do. You really gave me a scare back there."

"I know, I screamed pretty loud - "

"No, not then. You scared me this summer. I've never seen someone that hurt." He could see tears begin to well up in her eyes and quickly shifted his gaze away, suddenly finding the folds in the sheet very interesting. "It's just that - I don't know how to say it but - "

"Draco. What is it?" She gently touched his arm and urged him to go on.

Draco's head shot up at the contact. His startled eyes met her persuading ones. He frantically searched for the words that he knew he needed to say.

"I just..." Then deciding against it, Draco turned his head away again. "I've seen a lot of pain in my life so far. I don't like it when I have to see more. In anyone."

"Oh." Draco could hear the disappointment in her voice as she took her hand away. He mentally cursed himself. "You wouldn't be able to tell that Draco Malfoy actually cared about seeing pain in other people." Draco smirked at this and let out a silent laugh.

"You'd be surprised Weasley. I may be cruel, cold, and not to mention dead sexy. But I'm still human." He got up at this, and Ginny watched his back. Then he turned around and faced her again. "Despite how sexy you may think I am, I am still, very much human." Seeing the girl before him blush, Draco let out a satisfied smirk and walked away from the infirmary.

"Don't let this make you think I'm done with you yet Weasley." He called out just before he shut the door behind him.

Ginny fell back against the bed and let out a heavy sigh. She had to have been breathing, but somehow she felt as though she had just held her breath for the full ten minutes that Draco had been there. What am I going to do with myself? Ginny closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to wash away any remains of this most dreadful day. But before she could fully relax, the door opened back up and in came Madame Pomfrey with her dinner. Oh joy. At least I get food.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Harry looked up from his book and across the table at Hermione's pensive face. Oh great, she's at it again. Hermione had spent the last three days since school started, and Ginny had been released, trying to figure out what was going on with the other girl. Even after Madame Pomfrey had let Ginny go, no one seemed to know anything more than before. It was as though nothing had ever happened. Ginny and the rest of the school simply went about her normal routine, going to classes, doing their work, and everything seemed to settle back to its original state. Still, whenever any of them had a conversation with Ginny, it was as though there was an elephant in the room, but no one wanted to acknowledge it. Hermione and Ron had tried on several occasions to back into the question of what happened several different ways. No matter what they tried, Ginny always seemed to maneuver out of it, claiming she had to go do Potions, or go wash her hair. Wash her hair? How long does that take? Harry ran a bewildered hand through his own untidy hair before giving in to Hermione's thoughtful look.

"All right Hermione. What's on your mind?"

"Well, I was just thinking. Maybe we've been looking at this entirely wrong. What if Ginny was just so mad at Malfoy for being a prat, and decided to go out and find his compartment and scare him. So after it got dark, she went looking for him; but instead, he found her first! So she screamed and fainted with fright. I mean, that would explain why Malfoy was right outside our compartment when McGonagall threw him in..."

"Hermione! You're exactly right!"

"Oh I don't know Harry, I was just making a guess."

"No, I mean you're right about us doing this entirely wrong. We've been sitting here asking Ginny over and over where she's been. Obviously she's not going to tell us. At least she won't if Malfoy has something to do with it."

"What are you saying, Harry? That Malfoy DID something to her?? Because if that's it, and Ron finds out, there will be no end to this."

"I don't know...but there's only one real way to find out." Before she realized what was going on, Hermione was being dragged across the common room and out the portrait hole in search of a certain Slytherin.

Draco was sitting in the library finishing a Charms assignment, when in waltzed Harry and Hermione. They crossed the library and stood on either side of his chair, staring daggers into the sides of his head until he looked up.

"What'd you do to Ginny?" Harry spat the words out as soon as Draco acknowledged them.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard him, Malfoy. What do you know about Ginny and what happened on the Hogwarts Express?" Hermione was quickly losing her temper at the arrogant Slytherin.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Draco shifted and returned his attention to the books sitting before him on the table.

"Bloody Hell you don't know what we're talking about. First you show up in our compartment, uninvited. Then you and Ginny start talking in low voices, and you insult her to the point that Ron has to throw you out. THEN you follow us when we go looking for her, and I most definitely saw you coming out of the infirmary the first night we got here. Care to explain, or am I going to have to force it out of you? Well Malfoy? Make a choice: either you talk, or I make you talk."

"I already told you, I - don't - know. Is there something else I can do for you? After all as much as I enjoy Gryffindors breathing down my neck, I could do without the sight of you standing next to me, ruining my image." Draco's words dripped with sarcastic boredom.

"Oh there is most definitely something you can do for me. Although it'll probably pale in comparison to what I'm going to do to you, if I find out you're involved in what happened to Ginny." Harry growled at the other boy and clenched his fists.

Draco immediately kicked his chair back and stood to face Harry, their noses almost touching. Draco's eyes narrowed till they were dangerous slits. Then he cocked his head to the side and poised his hand, ready to take out his wand at any time.

"Don't threaten me, Potter. You should know better than that. I didn't do anything to ickle Ginny Weasley, so I'd appreciate you wasting the tough guy act on someone else." He smirked and looked over his shoulder at Hermione. "Why not try Granger? I'm sure she'd get turned on by it." With that he picked up his books and stalked away.

The two Gryffindors stood there in fuming silence, watching Draco leave.

"Did any of that seem odd to you?" Hermione asked, her eyebrows drawn together in concentration.

"What, Malfoy being an arse? No, not really. Why?"

"No, I mean the part about him getting so upset, almost defensive. And if you notice, he never did answer our question."

Harry and Hermione looked at each other for a moment, then decided that Malfoy was clearly the answer to their mystery. Now, if only finding out the rest would be that easy.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Ginny was walking to the library to do some studying. The common room was far too noisy, and she just wanted a quiet place to sit and read. She smiled to herself. It had been three whole days since the unfortunate mishap, and she hadn't even had a single disturbing dream about a haunting man. She did happen to have one or two other kinds dreams involving a particularly strong pair of arms carrying her, but that was an entirely different matter.

There was a slight bounce to her step. She had even been so lucky as to avoid answering badgering questions from her friends. Things really seemed to be going her way.
Ginny was toiling with these thoughts when all of a sudden she was pulled behind a door.

"Lumos!” Her apprehender's wand just lit up

"Oh. You." Ginny looked at Draco standing before her and swallowed nervously. She knew what was coming.

"That's right. Me." Draco stood blocking the doorway, a triumphant look on his face. "There's no escaping me now Weasley. You're telling me everything that's been going on with you. And you're telling me now."


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