Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/draco3/public_html/modules/displayword/displayword.php on line 77

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/draco3/public_html/modules/displayword/displayword.php:77) in /home/draco3/public_html/modules/displayword/displayword.php on line 77
Silver and Rust by Nuyaviel

1. a bump on the head by Nuyaviel

2. protective instinct by Nuyaviel

3. weasley vs malfoy by Nuyaviel

4. afraid to lose by Nuyaviel

5. something new by Nuyaviel

6. a mystery by Nuyaviel

7. confusion by Nuyaviel

8. a small price to pay by Nuyaviel

9. danger by Nuyaviel

10. more than a little interesting by Nuyaviel

11. insight by Nuyaviel

a bump on the head by Nuyaviel
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing except the plot.

A/N: Harry and Draco are in their seventh year, Ginny is in her sixth. Many of the Death Eaters, including Lucius Malfoy, are in Azkaban.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"You call it madness, but I call it love."
-Don Byas

CHAPTER ONE
(a bump on the head)

“Weasley! Weasley! Weasley!”

Flying high on the quidditch pitch, Ginny Weasley grinned, exhilarated, and slapped her brother Ron a high five as she zoomed past him. She had just executed an awesome stunt that involved nearly falling off her broom, but it was worth it. She had scored a goal, and now Gryffindor was ahead by 10 points. It seemed the crowd would never stop cheering.

It was the first game of the season, and the entire school had turned out to watch. With Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter, seekers and longtime rivals, leading the two talented teams, the match promised to be an exciting one. And so far, it had been. The players on both teams seemed equally matched, and the score was almost always tied.

Even though less than half the crowd supported them, the Slytherins were a great ball game. Most especially Draco – not only had he become a more daring and skilled flier, he had also made some good decisions in picking his team members. They were formidable opponents.

The score was now 80-90, in favor of Gryffindor. The crowd erupted in cheering again as Ron pulled off a spectacular save, keeping the Gryffindors in the lead. “Weasley! Weasley! Weasley!”

Unfortunately, right then a bludger zeroed in on Ron and crashed into his stomach. He doubled over in pain, his broom swerving wildly. Almost before anyone could react, the Slytherins scored a goal. 90-90.

Ginny, frustrated, sped towards the quaffle. They had lost their lead! As soon as she passed the ball to her fellow chasers, they weaved around other players in an intricate pattern that led them directly to the Slytherin goalposts.

Above her, she saw Harry searching for the snitch, and some distance from him, doing the same, was Draco. Despite herself, she grinned at how good they looked - one had white-gold hair above his jade-colored robe, the other was in a crimson robe with a head of jet-black hair. But they had the same tall, lithe form, and wore identical expressions of intense concentration. Good thing she hated Malfoy and no longer had a crush on Harry, otherwise she would be seriously distracted.

She turned away to catch the quaffle as a teammate tossed it to her. She hurled the ball at a goalpost, but the Slytherin keeper deflected it, keeping the score tied. A Gryffindor player darted forward to intercept the quaffle before a Slytherin player could catch it.

Then Ginny, by pure chance, saw it. The golden snitch. It was darting around a Slytherin goalpost, glinting in the sunlight.

She looked up. To her horror, Draco’s eyes were trained on the snitch, while Harry's attention was diverted. He was dodging a bludger.

The Slytherin began speeding towards the snitch, the light of triumph in his eyes. Harry wheeled around, instantly saw and assessed what was happening, and plunged into a dive. The goalpost was between them, but Draco was much closer - even on his Firebolt, Harry couldn't possibly beat Draco to the snitch. It looked like the game was lost. Ginny could see the controlled panic in Harry's expression.

But two things happened immediately to change the course of the game.

One, the quaffle was thrown at Ginny, and she caught it automatically.

Two, a bludger came haring after her.

Ginny didn't have time to think. She knew only that Gryffindor had to win.

And, grasping the quaffle with both hands, she used it to hit the bludger towards Draco. It caught him squarely on the head, and he gasped at the force of the impact, his eyes rolling back in his head.

Harry caught the snitch almost immediately. Triumphant, he held it up.

The stadium exploded in cheers. “GRYFFINDOR WINS!” Madame Hooch shouted.

But Ginny didn't hear the announcement. Her eyes were fixed on Draco, who seemed to be having trouble with his broomstick. The Slytherin veered to one side, then another. He was only holding his broom with one hand, with his other he rubbed the bump on his head. As Ginny watched, his grip loosened, and he toppled sideways.

Ginny inhaled sharply and shot forward. Without thinking, she reached out to steady him.

But by the time she got to him, there was, to her surprise, nothing left to do. If he was in the least bit dizzy, he hid it well. His silver eyes were clear, sharp, and he brushed her hand away. His tone was incredulous. "What are you doing?"

Ginny blinked, feeling a bit foolish. "I thought you were going to - er - fall off your broom."

Draco rubbed the bump that was forming on his head. "Your concern is touching, Weasley, but unnecessary. The bludger did little more than knock me off course."

"I wasn't aiming at your head," Ginny said, by way of apology.

Draco shrugged. Without another word, he flew away.

By the time Ginny got down, the rest of the players had descended. The Gryffindors were jubilant, the Slytherins disappointed. She found Harry in the crowd and headed for him.

Hermione got to him first. “You won!” she squealed, throwing her arms around Harry.

Harry laughed, pleased. Spotting Ginny, he moved towards her and slung his arm around her shoulder. "Thanks to Ginny." He grinned down at her. "I don't know if what you did was allowed, but it worked."

Ron appeared then, sweaty and exultant, and Hermione threw her arms around him too, an action which made his ears go so red they almost glowed. “You were magnificent, Ron!” Then she pulled away, looking worried. “Are you all right? I saw the bludger coming, but I couldn’t warn you, it was terrible!”

Ron seemed quite unable to speak until Hermoine finally released him. Then, still flushed, he grinned at his sister. "That was bloody brilliant, Ginny! We won, and you gave Malfoy a bump on the head!"

"At least my bump on the head didn't damage my brains, Weasley. Unlike yours."

The four of them - Harry, Ginny, Hermoine, and Ron - whirled at the familiar sneering tone.

Draco Malfoy, his blond hair in a rare state of disarray, surveyed them all coolly.

"I don't have a bump on the head," Ron snapped.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Then it must have been long ago. Unfortunately, its effect on your intellect has yet to wear off."

Ron sputtered. Hermione opened her mouth to make a retort, but was silenced when Draco stepped towards Ginny and extended his hand towards her.

His silvery gray eyes were veiled. “Congratulations, Weasley.”

Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise, but she automatically reached out to shake the hand he had offered. For lack of anything better to say, she came up with, “What?”

Her companions, especially her brother, looked equally dumbstruck.

A lazy smile curled the corners of Draco's lips, and in that moment, he looked rather handsome. His hand was warm, his grip firm. “It was your win, not Potter’s.”

Then, releasing Ginny's hand, he turned and walked away.

Ron regained his wits and started to go after the Slytherin, but Hermione held him back. “Leave it alone, Ron."

"I'll give him a bump on the head --"

But Madame Hooch bore down upon them before Ron could elaborate on his threat, a smile on her face, congratulating them on their win. She had come to retrieve the snitch, but not before she collared Ginny to ruffle her hair and compliment her on her flying abilities and innovative tactics. No, there was nothing in the rules against what Ginny had done.

It was only when Harry released Ginny to strap the snitch back into its box that she realized, with faint surprise, that he had had his arm around her.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

"We almost won," Vincent Crabbe grunted after the match, in the Slytherin common room.

Despite the loss, Draco smirked, recalling all too well the look on Harry's face when it looked like the Gryffindors had lost. "At least I beat Potter," he said with a shrug. "Or I would have, if not for Ginny Weasley."

In an effort to commiserate, Gregory Goyle scowled and nodded in agreement. But he didn't do much more. Unlike Crabbe, who had accepted without question Draco's decision not to let the two of them join the Slytherin quidditch team, Goyle felt resentful. But only a little. He knew he wasn't a very good flier.

Draco ignored Goyle's pouting and reflected for a moment on Ginny Weasley. Normally he would have called her "weasel," but he felt that her incredible, admirable resourcefulness warranted his respect. He would probably never forget that glimpse he had gotten of her just after the bludger came at him from nowhere: her red hair a long, windswept mass around her face, those brown eyes huge and shiny, the crimson quaffle grasped tightly between her slender fingers.

Of course, maybe he only remembered Ginny Weasley as being beautiful in that frozen instant of time because the bludger had destroyed his senses. He rubbed the bump on his head.

"Drakie-poo!"

His reverie interrupted, Draco didn't bother to glance up. He knew who it was. Pansy Parkinson perched on the armchair beside him, and Draco stifled a silent groan as she brushed an errant lock of pale hair from his face.

Smiling, she cooed, "You were terrific, Drakie-poo!"

Draco cleared his throat. He held nothing against Pansy - okay, maybe he held her annoying nicknames and whiny voice and malicious pettiness against her - but he had only put up with her because his father had ordered it. And his father had only ordered it because she was a pureblood. And now his father was in Azkaban. The logic was simple. As of this year, his seventh in Hogwarts, Draco no longer had to put up with Pansy.

So he said, and even with a semblance of charm, "I appreciate the compliment, Pansy, but since we lost, you can see why I have a problem believing you."

Pansy laughed, a shrill sound. "But you really were terrific, Drakie. If it weren't for that Weasley girl, you would have beat Potter."

Seeing that subtlety wasn't working, Draco tried another tactic.

"I just lost a quidditch match to Gryffindors, Pansy." Draco buried his head in his hands dramatically. "If my father were here I don't know what he would say... I think of him in Azkaban, confident that I'm out here in the free world showing all the mudbloods what we Malfoys are made of..."

Draco wondered, beneath his pained outburst, if his theatrics were working. Judging from Pansy's face - or what he could see of it as he surreptitiously peeked between his fingers - they were. He decided to lay it on a bit thicker. "I can't bear the idea of my father being disappointed in me... I must be left alone, I must work out what to say..."

Even Pansy couldn't ignore so broad a hint, and she left. To Draco's irritation, Crabbe and Goyle decided that he also wanted them to leave, and they went away too.

Thus, left alone by the fire in the Slytherin common room, Draco fell into brooding.

He wondered with mild interest if Lucius Malfoy even thought of his son in Azkaban. But he didn't really care. He had stopped caring the day his father first used the Cruciatus curse on him, years ago. Now the only person that mattered was his mother, Narcissa. She didn't care too much about quidditch.

Actually, the only thing his mother cared for nowadays was Draco. She felt that her biggest fault lay in allowing her son to be ill-used by his father, and she thought that the best way for the wounds inside Draco to heal was for him to receive unconditional love from someone besides his mother. Some nice girl who wouldn't hurt him. Narcissa had never voiced it, but she plainly felt that Pansy wasn't that girl.

Some nice girl. Draco didn't doubt that one would come along, in fact, he expected it. But not anytime soon. He just didn't think his future girlfriend was to be found in Hogwarts. The problem was that he knew everyone in Slytherin, and wasn't interested in any of them. Also, he was indifferent to most Hufflepuff girls, he knew most of the females in Ravenclaw were smart enough to stay away from him, and the Gryffindors weren't even worth considering.

Perhaps after he graduated, he would meet someone.

After a moment, Draco abandoned the common room and retreated to the solitude of his dorm.
protective instinct by Nuyaviel
DISCLAIMER: I still own nothing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The heart has reasons that reason does not understand."
-Jacques Benigne Bossuel

CHAPTER TWO
(protective instinct)

A weekend, and Draco was in Hogsmeade - fortunately, due to a simple lie on his part, without Pansy Parksinson by his side. He had simply pretended he was sick, and now, he ducked into the nearest shop everytime he heard her familiar whiny voice drawing near. A small price to pay, to be spared her attentions.

The wind was chilly. Draco walked down the street, past a line of curious little shops, Crabbe and Goyle by his side. All three of them were carrying bottles of butterbeer for warmth.

(Purchasing the butterbeers had been a nuisance - a horde of Gryffindors were huddled around one table, playing some foolish game that involved the spinning of a bottle and stupid dares. When they entered, it seemed that the most recent dare had been for some Gryffindor to kiss the next person to walk through that door, and since that person was Goyle, the Gryffindors had prudently decided to tone down the dare. A flying kiss would do. The look on Goyle's face when a mousy-looking girl had tentatively blown him a kiss was priceless.)

Recalling the experience, Draco scowled. Ginny Weasley had been in the group, and despite himself, he had found himself thinking of her after that quidditch game last week. Not often, but randomly: while eating a meal, walking down a corridor, or listening to a lecture. It bothered him, but only a little, because he knew nothing was going to happen anyway. She was a Weasley, and he was a Malfoy.

A particularly strong gust of wind swept past them, but Draco ignored the cold. He, Crabbe, and Goyle were headed for the Shrieking Shack.

A rumour had been floating around that an escaped Death Eater was hiding out there. But as far as Draco could tell, very few people (all of them students) were aware of the rumour - the Slytherins could be eerily secretive when they wanted to be. Many of their own parents being Death Eaters, ex-Death Eaters, or at least sympathetic to Voldemort and his followers, it was in the Slytherins' interest to keep this particular rumour to themselves.

Draco wanted to see for himself if it was true. He didn't question why he felt it necessary. Perhaps he wanted to remind himself of the fate he had escaped by defying his father. Perhaps he saw his father in this vagabond Death Eater, and a twisted loyalty made him feel as though he should help the wretched man escape. Perhaps he wanted to hear what the Death Eater had to say about the path he had chosen to take. He didn't know, and he didn't care.

He just wanted to see.

Cautiously, Draco proceeded towards the Shrieking Shack. Crabbe and Goyle lumbered after him. Draco glanced at them with a hint of affection: what they lacked in brains, they made up for in loyalty. His quest to search for the Death Eater was pointless and reckless, but they stayed with him anyway.

The wind howled around them. Draco looked around. For a moment he thought he saw a flash of red behind one of the trees, but the glimpse was so fleeting that he dismissed it as a figment of his imagination.

He strode forward swiftly, until he was close enough to touch the dilapidated wooden walls of the Shrieking Shack.

Draco hesitated. Then he peered into the dark depths of an open window.

What happened next was so sudden and surprising that none of them had time to react. A bony hand shot out, gripping Draco by the throat, and even as he reached up to try and free himself, a wand appeared in his rapidly blurring vision. The hand was terrifyingly strong - Crabbe and Goyle were taking too long to react - already Draco felt the pain in his throat, saw black dots swirling before his eyes -

A voice rasped out. A female voice. It sounded like a spell.

Draco felt himself go rigid, and the hand loosened. In the first sweet moments of release, Draco thought of nothing but the welcome air flowing into his lungs, everything else blurring into the background. By the time he recovered, he realized that he couldn't move, and that Crabbe and Goyle were also still and unmoving. A Freezing Charm?

His eyes flew to the face that had appeared in the window.

She looked like someone who had been pretty once, who would have held a hint of that prettiness as she aged, if not for the bitterness etched onto her features. Her hair was grimy. She glared at them, hatred in her eyes, and her voice was croaky from lack of use when she spoke. "You! You're Lucius Malfoy's son!"

Draco couldn't respond. He didn't want to. Whatever he had expected, it wasn't this.

"You look just like him," she sneered. "He was furious when you refused to get the Dark Mark. Ranted and raved about it to the rest of us for days."

She kept her wand pointed at him. Crabbe and Goyle had paled into insignificance. "I don't know how you found me here, but I'll let you know that I'm leaving. I can see I'm not safe here." She paused. As if to herself she murmured, "I could use one of the Unforgivable curses... but for what? More trouble for me... more chance of getting caught..."

She coughed, and for an instant, Draco almost felt sorry for her. Then she spoke again.

"You're worse than I am, Malfoy," she wheezed. "I could never betray my own father - they say that in Azkaban, he still screams about you at night - how you put him there -"

Draco's eyes darkened at that, but he was helpless.

Finally, the Death Eater retreated into the darkness. A few minutes passed. The Slytherins were tense, waiting. But she didn't come out again.

Draco tested his limbs, but he still couldn't move. How long would it take for the spell to wear off? His eyes darted around, assessing the scene.

Three bottles lay abandoned on the ground, spilling butterbeer out into the soil. Crabbe and Goyle were frozen, panic in their eyes. No one knew they were there. The wind was blowing stronger now, colder.

Draco inhaled. He was going to stay calm.

A familiar redhead chose that moment to emerge from the trees, her wand extended in front of her.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

Ginny was aghast at the scene she had witnessed.

She had only been taking up a dare. She and a bunch of other Gryffindors had been passing time by playing a harmless little game with simple rules: they formed a circle around a spinning bottle, and whoever it pointed to had to pick between Truth or Dare.

When the bottle had stopped on Ginny, she chose to do a dare before Ron could ask her something about Harry. Lately, it seemed, he was really keen on getting the two of them together.

Harry always laughed when Ron tried to matchmake him with his sister. "Just because you're dating Hermione doesn't mean I have to date Ginny," he would say, with his easy, charming grin. "Why do couples always want other people to be part of couples?" And Ron would back off, but never for long...

A dare it was, then. Some idiot - was it Dennis Creevey? - had come up with the notion of making Ginny go inside the Shrieking Shack, alone. And she was to come back with something to prove that she had been there.

So Ginny had smiled to show that she wasn't scared, put on her coat, and slipped out into the windy afternoon.

She should have chosen truth. "Who here do you see yourself dating?" "Harry, but only because he's slightly better than everyone else in this group." Which was, actually, the truth. The guys in Gryffindor were such weenies. Ravenclaw had all the good-looking males.

And when she was within sight of the Shrieking Shack, she saw that three people were already there. Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle. Instinctively, not wanting to go through an encounter with older Slytherins when she was so obviously outnumbered, she ducked behind a tree. She thought for a moment that Draco had seen her, but since he didn't react, she decided he hadn't.

There was no time limit on her dare. And no point in getting into a scuffle. She'd wait them out.

Then that witch had emerged out of nowhere, putting the Freezing Charm on all three Slytherins before Ginny could blink. It seemed she had even attempted to strangle Draco. Ginny's first instinct had been to rush out and help them, but then the witch had poked her head out of the window and started talking, and Ginny realized she would be better off observing for awhile. After all, she was virtually invisible in her hiding place. If she jumped out now, the witch would put a Freezing Charm on her, and the situation would only end up worse.

Finally the Death Eater - by then Ginny had gathered what she was - stopped talking. And vanished. Ginny waited for a few moments, making sure she was really gone, then she stepped out.

Three pairs of eyes flew to her immediately.

She knelt in front of the nearest person, who happened to be Draco. And she tried to remember a spell she could use to undo the Freezing Charm.

Nothing came to her. Frowning, she ignored the murderous glint in the Slytherins' eyes as they rotted while she racked her brains.

Then a memory came to her: the D.A. Dumbledore's Army. Harry teaching them a new spell...

Ginny tested it out on Draco. Nothing happened. She changed the "d" in the spell to a "t,' and tried again.

Draco groaned and sat up.

"Yes!" Ginny cheered.

"Took you long enough," Draco muttered. But his retort was uttered in a low, lifeless tone that made Ginny, who had stood up to remove the Freezing Charm from the other Slytherins, turn around to look at him.

He sat with his back straight, directly facing the dark window from which the witch had emerged. His face was clouded, and Ginny, recalling the things the witch had said, realized how much they had hurt him.

She hesitated. Then she went to Draco, kneeling in front of him. Her brown eyes were warm and direct, meeting his pale gray eyes without flinching.

"Forget her," she said softly. "Unless you regret anything you've done."

A silence. Ginny watched the conflicting emotions on Draco's features, and she had to restrain the urge to touch him. She had never seen the supremely confident Slytherin looking so vulnerable before.

Then all the emotions on his face coalesced into one: shock. Before Ginny could whirl to see what had stunned him, he had lunged forward, pulling her into his arms. The word 'crucio' registered faintly on her senses as his arms tightened around her, his body twisting so she landed beneath him. Crushed between the ground and Draco's hard, unyielding body, Ginny could barely breathe.

Then she saw the Death Eater in the window. Ginny gasped. Thanks to Draco, the Cruciatus Curse had hit the ground harmlessly. But now the Death Eater was rallying nicely, swinging her arm to point her wand at them, her mouth opening to shout out another spell -

Ginny felt Draco wrench her wand out of her grasp. Until that moment, she hadn't realized she was still holding it. In one lithe motion, Draco whirled, keeping her body protected with his, her wand extended in front of him. "Stupefy!" he shouted, just as the bright flash of another Cruciatus Curse sliced into his chest.

For an instant - for an eternity - Draco emitted a terrible sound, writhing. Clearly, he was in agony. Then, stupefied, the Death Eater dropped her wand, and Draco collapsed onto Ginny, panting. Sweat stood out on his brow.

Ginny was having difficulty breathing under Draco's weight, but at that moment, feeling gratitude and an intense protective instinct towards him, she would have died rather than pushed him off her. Instead, she put her arms around him. Tenderly. She stroked his back and made soothing sounds.

Then Draco stiffened and shot up. He said nothing, but their gazes met and held. His was hard and closed.

He turned away. Quietly, coolly, he said, "Call someone for the Death Eater. I'll see to Crabbe and Goyle."

Ginny reeled back at the change in him. But she recovered quickly. She lifted her chin. Without a word she turned and walked away from the Shrieking Shack.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A/N: Thanks so much to all who reviewed...
weasley vs malfoy by Nuyaviel
DISCLAIMER: Oh, if only I owned more than my dumbassed plot.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"If I'm not in love with you, what is this I'm going through?"
-Faith Hill

CHAPTER THREE
(weasley vs. malfoy)

"You deliberately endangered yourselves by going to the Shrieking Shack! You all know that students are discouraged from going there. That Death Eater could have murdered you!"

It was Sunday, just before dinnertime. The day after the scene at the Shrieking Shack.

Minerva McGonagall, magnificently furious, directed the full force of her glare at the four students in front of her. Crabbe and Goyle cowered. Ginny winced, but managed not to lower her head. And Draco Malfoy - well, one wasn't born into a prominent and prominently arrogant wizarding family for nothing. He met her gaze squarely, his eyes hooded. If he felt any hint of remorse or fear, he hid it well.

That further aggravated Professor McGonagall, and she lashed out at the Slytherin. "I would have expected you of all people to know better, Malfoy! Crabbe and Goyle have already told me that you knew beforehand of the Death Eater's presence in the Shrieking Shack." At this point Draco looked evilly at his minions, and they flushed dully.

"And yet you went there," Professor McGonagall went on. "Knowing full well what a Death Eater is capable of!"

Draco flinched at that not-so-veiled reference to Lucius Malfoy, and the Transfiguration teacher calmed down slightly.

"Thirty points from Slytherin for each of you," she snapped at the boys. Then she turned to Ginny. "As I understand it, you showed up there not on a foolhardy quest to seek out a Death Eater -" and here she narrowed her eyes at Draco - "but simply to fulfill a dare. Ten points from Gryffindor."

Ginny exhaled a quiet sigh of relief.

Professor McGonagall snorted. "I wasn't done, Miss Weasley. Furthermore, you all have detention with Mr. Filch every night for the next two weeks. Including weekends," she said.

She saw all four students wince.Good. She hoped that impressed upon them the utter foolishness of what they had done. The Death Eater, who refused vehemently to identify herself, was now in Azkaban, under a heavily guarded cell, classified as 'extremely dangerous.' Hogwarts students wand to wand with an 'extremely dangerous' Death Eater! The professor inhaled, quelling her temper.

"You may go." Professor McGonagall sat down heavily behind her desk, and beckoned the students out of her office. Hunting out Death Eaters! Taking up dares to go to the Shrieking Shack! Merlin, but idiots some students were...

Outside, Ginny gathered her nerve as the three Slytherins started walking down the corridor towards the Great Hall, for dinner. Taking a deep breath, she took off after them, and placed herself right in Draco's path.

He stopped, looking down at her.

Ginny cleared her throat. "I wanted to - er - I wanted to thank you."

Draco's gaze was cool, distant. "For what?"

"For what you did," Ginny said stiffly. "When we were at the Shrieking Shack."

He shrugged. "You're welcome."

And with that, he moved around her and went on his way, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

"When we asked for proof that you'd been to the Shrieking Shack, we didn't mean that you should bring a Death Eater," Seamus Finnigan joked. Everyone, even Ginny, laughed.

Ron didn't. "It's not funny," he grumbled. He waved the Daily Prophet accusingly at his sister, who knew full well what it said.

An escaped Death Eater is brought to justice. The Death Eater, who refuses to divulge her identity, was discovered in Hogsmeade; specifically, in the Shrieking Shack, which has the distinction of being known as the most haunted place in all of England. The renegade witch was subdued by four Hogwarts students - a testament to the quality of Defense Against the Dark Arts education in Hogwarts, if not to the school's disciplinary committee. After all, Hogwarts students are strongly discouraged from venturing near the Shrieking Shack; in doing so, they violated an indirect command. In fact, a Hogsmeade official said, 'It's a miracle those students are alive. All it would have taken was the Avada Kedavra curse...

Ron scowled. "Mum will kill me! It'll be a miracle if I stay alive after Mum bawls me out for not protecting you!"

"Come on, Ron. It's not like I was hurt," Ginny pointed out reasonably.

She had decided not to tell anyone that Draco was the reason she hadn't been harmed. She knew Draco wouldn't relish the thought of everyone at school gossiping about how he had saved a Weasley. Not that she cared what Draco wanted, but since he had protected her, refraining from embarrassing him was the least she could do.

"You could have been," Harry said seriously.

Ron brightened at that display of concern, and Ginny groaned silently. "But I wasn't, and that's that." She decided to change the subject. "I have detention for the next two weeks. I won't be able to attend Quidditch practice."

Harry took it well, but Ron was upset. "We have a game with Ravenclaw coming up!"

"I can handle it." Ginny paused. "What I can't handle is the fact that I have to spend detention with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle."

Seamus burst out laughing. "Three against one. That really isn't fair, is it?"

Ron began to look upset again. "Seamus, if Dean is busy with Lavender, why don't you go hang out with Neville? Stop causing me headaches."

Seamus chuckled, and Hermione smiled. "Actually, it's one against one. Crabbe and Goyle won't bother you, Ginny, unless Malfoy says so."

"Weasley versus Malfoy." Seamus grinned. "Has a nice ring to it."

"Weasley murders Finnigan," Ron mumbled. "Sounds even better."

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

"That's not fair!"

Ginny, outraged, scowled at Draco, who was lounging lazily in an empty bed. Doing absolutely nothing. In contrast, Ginny was grimy and sweaty, having just finished scrubbing out exactlyfive bedpans - yes, she was counting - without the use of magic. And all the while, Crabbe and Goyle did Draco's work for him.

"Fair?" Draco glanced at her. "Not that it's any of your business, Weasley, but Crabbe and Goyle owe me. They ratted me out to McGonagall, remember?" He decided not to mention that Crabbe and Goyle had been horrified at the idea that they had betrayed him, hadn't even thought that that was what they were doing. They had only been saving themselves from McGonagall's wrath by telling her what she wanted to know. They would never have ratted him out if they'd known that was what they were doing, but since they had, they were incredibly repentant, and had readily volunteered to do his detention for him.

"What I remember is that they wouldn't have gone to the Shrieking Shack in the first place if it hadn't been for you. In my opinion, you owe them, Malfoy!"

Draco smiled blandly. "Fortunately your opinion doesn't count for much."

Ginny wanted to grab the pillow from under that swelled blond head and pound him with it. Right then, if she'd been holding her wand and had the ability, she would have cheerfully cast the Cruciatus Curse on him.

Sensing what she wanted to do - and knowing that she wouldn't do it, not with Filch drinking tea with Madame Pomfrey in her nearby office - Draco chuckled. "Don't get so bothered, Weasley. What Crabbe and Goyle do for me doesn't affect you."

Oblivious, Crabbe and Goyle continued to scrub out bedpans a few beds away. Ginny looked at them, then back at Draco. Then, clenching her fists, she marched off towards the next bed, where she bent back to her task. Her motions were rigid with suppressed frustration.

At one point, her motions became so strong that the scrub she was using flew out of her hands, sliding under the bed. Ginny muttered a curse that singed even her own ears. Pushing the bedpan aside, she bent and shoved her arm under the bed, groping around for the scrub.

Draco's eyes widened, and he sat up to enjoy the view. Ginny was on all fours as she searched for the scrub, and unbeknownst to her, her derriere was presented very invitingly. Grinning, Draco watched as she wiggled with her upper body under the bed. It was crude, but he couldn't think of any other way to put it: she had a nice ass.

Then Crabbe and Goyle caught his eye. The two bulky Slytherins had also paused in their work to stare at Ginny's butt in the air. Feeling vaguely annoyed, Draco said, more sharply than he had intended, "Get back to work, will you? You have to finish cleaning your bedpans and mine before Filch comes back."

Ginny's hand closed around the scrub, and she straightened up, looking irritated. "They're doing your work for you, Malfoy. Don't be such a slave driver."

Disappointed now that the show was over, Draco flopped back down on the bed. In a sanctimonious tone, he said, "A slave driver? Crabbe and Goyle are not slaves, Weasley. I can't believe you'd think that."

Sarcasm was an art that every Malfoy had perfected. Unable to come up with a retort, Ginny, bowing to superior forces, decided not to answer. She went back to scrubbing out the bedpan.

Draco, denied a bout of verbal sparring, scowled. Surreptitiously, he observed the youngest - and, in his point of view, the most interesting - of the Weasley children. He couldn't believe no one was coming up to him to chortle about his temporary lapse into insanity - and that was what protecting Ginny against the Death Eater had been. Insanity. The key word was 'temporary.' He wouldn't waste time on a Weasley again. Even a Weasley who had restrained herself from throwing him to the gossips.

Against his will, Draco thought of his father.

Lucius Malfoy despised the Weasleys. Once, it seemed, Molly Weasley had scorned him, and he never forgave her for that insult. His hatred spilled out to Arthur Weasley and the children. In fact, sometimes Draco wondered how Arthur had even managed to get anywhere in the Ministry of Magic, considering all the unfavorable gossip that Lucius filled the Minister's ears with at every opportunity.

But Lucius wasn't obsessive. Many other things in his life were more important to him than his hatred for the Weasleys. Still, he never passed up a chance to attempt to ruin them - Draco remembered, a bit guiltily, how Lucius had once used You-Know-Who's childhood diary to attack Ginny. If he wasn't obsessive, he was focused. Lucius never forgot or forgave anything...

"That's it!"

Ginny, unable to take another moment of watching Draco Malfoy laze around doing nothing, succumbed to the urge to physically harm him.

She threw the scrub at him. She had perfect aim; it hit the center of his forehead. Exactly where Ginny had intended it. The dirty scrub landed in his lap, soiling his robes.

Draco was up like a shot. "What the hell?" He glared at Ginny, who for a brief moment looked more shocked than he was, rubbing the red mark that was growing livid on his forehead. "I swear to Merlin, Weasley. First the bludger, now the bloody scrub.If you hit me on the head one more time..."

Ginny nearly sneered at him. "You'll what?"

She couldn't recall ever being so pissed off in her life. Her irritation with Draco Malfoy began right after the episode at the Shrieking Shack, when she had time to reflect on how annoying his shifty moods were. It had worsened when he so cavalierly dismissed the thank-you which had been a struggle for her to say. And now, faced with his infernal laziness, his egotistical certainty that he deserved Crabbe and Goyle's slavish devotion to him - Ginny's temper had snapped.

Draco picked up the scrub and tossed it back. His own aim was impeccable; the scrub landed precisely in the center of the half-clean bedpan. Which was where he had wanted it. Behind Ginny, Crabbe and Goyle had perked up, sensing a threat to their leader. Draco signalled for them to stay where they were. He could handle Ginny alone.

"Violence seems to be a trend for Weasleys," he commented, deliberately seeking to provoke her temper.

"Arrogance seems to be a trend for Malfoys," she snapped back. "Every single Malfoy I've known is a threat to society."

Against his will, Draco smiled. Then he realized what he was doing, and his smile vanished, replaced by the trademark Malfoy sneer. He cast about for something to say that would hurt Ginny. "Every single Weasley I've known is a bloody do-gooder. Except for one." He saw a flash of pained comprehension in those brown eyes, and doggedly pressed on. "Percy Weasley. How did your parents manage to raise such a snivelling suck-up?"

Ginny paled. It was a low blow. Pressing her lips together, she turned without a word and went back to work.

A silence descended. Ginny finished her bedpan and got started on another. Meanwhile, in the same amount of time, Crabbe and Goyle between them managed to get four bedpans done.

On the bed, Draco found himself simmering. Damn, but he was bothered. No, not because he had hurt Ginny. Hell no. But because..

The longer it took for him to come up with a reason, the more annoyed Draco became. He sat up in bed, and glowered moodily at Ginny, who pointedly ignored him. By now she didn't look hurt, she looked mad. For some reason, that made Draco feel a bit better.

He turned away from Ginny, but kept his eye on her. However, she must have thought he was no longer watching, because suddenly her shoulders drooped and her movements slowed.A myriad of emotions flickered across her face: bitterness, regret, sorrow, wistfulness, love. Most of all love. Despite everything, Ginny still loved Percy. Her strayed brother.

Draco winced. He had to apologize.

"Bloody hell!" he exploded. Ginny glanced at him, and he gave her his most heartless glare. She didn't look at all intimidated. Yep. No force on earth would make him say "I'm sorry" to a Weasley.

Still, the fact remained that he owed her an apology.

So Draco got up and made his way over to Crabbe and Goyle. "Hand me a scrub," he muttered sullenly.

Blankly, they stared at him.

"A scrub!" he snapped.

Goyle looked around for an extra scrub and handed it to Draco.

And Draco Malfoy, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in the English wizarding world (Narcissa had nearly gotten into a duel with Lucius, but in the end she managed to overturn her husband's decision to disown their son after his refusal to become a Death Eater), bent down. He checked to see if Ginny was watching; she was.

This was his apology. He fumed to himself. Ginny Weasley could take it or leave it.

And, holding the scrub like a weapon, Draco started to clean a bedpan.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A/N: Probably my last update for awhile, but I'll continue this, I swear it.
afraid to lose by Nuyaviel
A/N: Thanks to all who reviewed...


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition."
-Alexander Smith

CHAPTER FOUR
(afraid to lose)

Midnight. Draco was a spectre with changing hues, one moment shadowed in darkness, the next bathed in silvery moonlight. He carried his broom with one hand as he strode swiftly towards the quidditch pitch.

It was after curfew, but Draco wanted to practice. Slytherin had a game with Hufflepuff the week after the next, and his detention was still in place, so he wouldn't be able to practice with the rest of the team at a decent hour. After that last game with Gryffindor, another defeat would make it harder for them to win the Quidditch cup.

And he refused to let that happen. He was going to defeat Weasley and Potter if it was the last thing he did. And by Weasley he didn't mean Ron, but -

Ginny!

He came to a stop, blinking. Her appearance was so sudden, so perfectly timed, that he couldn't help feeling as though he had conjured her with the intensity of his thoughts.

She looked flustered, the night wind whipping her hair into a tangle of fiery strands. Her brown eyes were luminous, pearly. Her black robe contoured itself around her shapely figure. Plenty of girls were lovelier, but right then Draco felt that Ginny was unrivalled in simple appeal.

"You're not allowed to be here," she told him, almost automatically.

He allowed himself a smirk. "Always the prefect. Sadly for your credibility as an enforcer of rules, Weasley, neither are you."

She glared at him. "I’ll go through another two weeks of detention if it means you’ll be punished for breaking the rules.”

Draco would have made another wiseass retort, but his eyes had zeroed in on the broom clutched in Ginny's fingers. The broom he saw in his nightmares of losing at quidditch. He found himself saying instead, incredulously, "That's Potter's Firebolt!"

"So? I borrowed it from him because I need to practice for our match with Ravenclaw this weekend."

The parallel in their situations struck him, but he had no time to think about it. He was too busy glaring at the Firebolt. "And Potter actually lent it to you?"

"No, I snuck into his room and stole it."

At the sarcasm - and the idea of Ginny sneaking into Potter's room - Draco's eyes narrowed. Without thinking he said, "I'll race you."

Race her? Ginny glanced at him. "That's not a good idea."

"Afraid to lose?"

Her temper sparked. "Fine. Let's do it. Can you handle losing?"

"Don't waste your time worrying about the consequences of a Malfoy losing. It won't happen."

"You must have forgotten our last match, then. Did the bump on your head destroy your memory?"

Bantering back and forth, trying and failing to insert real malice into their retorts, the two mounted their brooms.

Ginny turned her face away from the moonlight to hide the agitation on her face. Race with Malfoy? What possessed her to agree? She was asking for trouble!

And for his part, Draco was also making an effort to conceal his irritation with himself. Was he crazy? She had a Firebolt! He was setting himself up, not only to lose to a Gryffindor girl who was younger than he was, but to lose to a Weasley!

He wanted to take back the challenge.

“Ready to lose?” he asked, calling on his enormous reserve of arrogance. The world would have to be falling down around his ears before he betrayed any hint of his thoughts.

“Ready to face the world tomorrow knowing that you lost to a younger female Gryffindor who also happens to be a Weasley?”

Draco scowled. Could she read thoughts? And anyway, if he lost, it would only be because she had Potter's bloody Firebolt. “Luckily for you, the losing of Weasleys to Malfoys is commonplace, so your defeat won’t cause too much gossip.”

Ginny smiled as confidently as she could. “Malfoy, get real. I have a Firebolt.”

Maybe she could really read thoughts. Draco rose up into the air, and flew towards the quidditch pitch, coming to a halt near one of the golden goalposts. “Not only do I have an equally superior broom, I have talent.”

“The Nimbus Two Thousand and One is nothing compared to the Firebolt, and are you saying I don’t have talent?” As she rose up and flew after Draco, Ginny was amazed at how easy her broomstick was to handle. No wonder Harry treasured it! It responded to her slightest touch, moving with sleek effortlessness.

“You said it, Weasley, not me.”

Ginny studied Draco. His blond hair looked unbearably soft, and the lean muscles in his arm were evident in the way he gripped his broom. In profile, his features were sculpted, aristocratic, and the set of his full mouth was grim – and - and why on earth was she looking at his lips?

She looked away. “Enough talk, Malfoy. Let’s go.”

Both competitive, they were each determined to win, if only to shut the other up. They leaned forward on their brooms, ready to race, the moonlight casting its liquid glow over them.

“To the other side of the lake and back.”

“We have to land at the further side of the shore, take a rock, and ride back. The finish line is this goalpost.”

“Why do we have to take a rock?”

“To prove that we didn’t cheat. There’s no referee, and we won’t be able to watch each other all throughout the race, so who’s to say if we actually rode all the way to the other side of the lake or not?”

“I would never worry about being accused of cheating, but I suppose you Malfoys are used to it.”

“That's because you always lose, Weasley, and no one bothers to accuse the loser of cheating."

Before Ginny could think up a suitable reply to that piece of haughtiness, Draco spoke again. "Wait. Before we start, let's set some conditions."

Ginny paled, and Draco congratulated himself. He was beginning to feel the combination of Firebolt and aggravated Gryffindor unbeatable, but his pride refused to let him back out of the race. That was the same as losing. So he decided to coerce her into backing out instead.

"What conditions?" she asked.

"If I win, you have to..." Draco cast about for something horrifying enough.

"Scrub out all your bedpans for the rest of detention?" she suggested hopefully.

"Crabbe and Goyle can do that. Let me see..."

"If I win you can't make any cracks about Harry and Ron and Hermione until Christmas break," she said quickly.

He grinned. "How noble." His smile widened as it came to him. Even Ginny would have to retreat at this. "If I win you have to..." He paused dramatically, checking her reaction. She looked apprehensive. "You have to tell everybody you slept with me."

Ginny's mouth dropped open. Then she recovered, and her eyes began to blaze. "Slept with you?" Her fists clenched."That's disgusting, Malfoy, even for you! I don't know what you're trying to do, but I'm not going through with this!"

She started to descend, but at the last moment, she looked up. Smug triumph was glinting in the Slytherin's eyes.

That so infuriated her that she rose up again. "Fine! If I lose, I'll tell everyone I slept with you. But if you lose, Malfoy, not only do you have to lay off my friends, you have to throw the game with Hufflepuff."

Draco lost his smirk. "Throw it?"

"Lose on purpose." She met his gaze defiantly. "If I win, you have to lose the game with Hufflepuff on purpose."

His eyes darkened. "If I lose, I will throw the game and stop arguing with Potter and his friends until Christmas break. But you're asking for two things. So will I. If I win, not only do you have to tell people I slept with you, you have to..." This time his pause wasn't for effect. He was thinking. He had almost done it! She was ready to back out, but somehow he had provoked her into going on with the race. Damn it. What was worse than having to tell Potter's sidekick, a.k.a. her older brother, that she had slept with Draco Malfoy?

Then it came to him. He hesitated.

She sat poised on her broomstick, elegant and determined, her features delicate in the moonlight. For some reason - which his mind refused to divulge - Draco plunged in.

"You have to actually sleep with me." He made sure his tone was as malevolent as possible.

A beat of silence, then Ginny reacted. She spluttered, "You're out of your mind!"

"Am I?" He met her gaze without flinching, his eyes intense. Drawing her into their silver depths.

And, without warning, he leaned forward and kissed her.

Ginny was stunned. She almost fell off her broom. But the his arms were around her, solid, supporting. Hesitantly, she twined her arms around his neck, allowing her fingers to curl through his silky blond hair. His lips were at once soft and firm, a wonderful contradiction of that part of the male physique, and she felt her own lips parting. The melding of their mouths was hot. The kiss deepened.

The world around them ceased to exist. Neither felt the coldness of the wind. They forgot that they were on broomsticks, too high above the ground for comfort, the night sky with its stars stretching for infinity above them.

It was Draco who broke away, his breathing harsh, his entire body tense. Ginny tried to steady herself on her broom, but she was trembling.

For a long while, the two of them didn't speak. Draco kept his gaze fixed on the goalpost at the other end of the field, fighting to keep his face free of any emotion. Ginny looked down, staring hard at a rock far below on the ground, trying to calm the tempest of her feelings.

"Shall we race?"

Ginny stiffened at the flatness of his voice. Not knowing what to say, she nodded.

"Very well." Draco poised himself on the broom, leaning forward, his body rigid, his eyes glinting with resolve. Ginny followed suit. A kind of desperation and exhileration was warring inside her. She couldn't lose, could she?

"Ready." Draco's voice was cool and hard. "Set... go."

They sped off.

At first it seemed they were equal. Then Ginny started to pull ahead, partly due to adrenaline, partly due to the Firebolt. She landed by the lakeside a second ahead of Draco.

She hadn't counted on his extraordinary agility and her own clumsiness, aftermath of that unexpected kiss. As she fumbled for a rock, he braced himself with his legs on the broom, bent down, and scooped up the nearest stone. Then he straightened up on his broom and sped off, even as Ginny finally managed to close her hand around a rock. There were no wasted motions, nothing but fluid dexterity and lightning speed. Ginny started her flight back to the goalpost less than a heartbeat behind Draco, but he was in the lead and he stayed there.

Ginny felt something icy spreading inside her as she urged the Firebolt on. She was going to lose, she was going to lose...

Then the Slytherin turned his head to glance at her. Their eyes met, iridescent gray and gold-brown.

And, almost imperceptibly, Draco slowed. Ginny found herself catching up to him, then overtaking him, then she was clutching the goalpost, holding on for dear life.

A split second later, Draco reached the goalpost. He didn't look at Ginny.

"You win," he said.

He descended to the ground and got off his broom, then began walking away. Leaving Ginny with goosebumps, still high up, more confused than she had ever been in her life.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

"How was practice?" Harry asked. He studied Ginny. "You look tired."

It was early morning of the next day, in the Great Hall, where students were wandering in to eat breakfast.

Ginny had dark shadows under her eyes. She hadn't slept well. But she forced a perky smile for Harry's benefit. "Practice went great. I'm ready to face Ravenclaw."

Harry said nothing for a moment, watching her. Then, "Did something happen?"

Those emerald eyes were too perceptive. Ginny stuffed some toast into her mouth to avoid talking, and shook her head. The kiss, Draco, and unless her eyes had deceived her, Draco had intentionally lost the race... No, nothing happened last night.

Perhaps the biggest lie of her young life.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

Draco stood in the quidditch pitch, his grip tight around his broomstick. His teammates were soaring in the air, performing stunts every now and then, calling out to each other and laughing. Practice was going great.

"Come on, Draco!" Marvin called out. He was a fifth year, one of the Chasers, part of that rare breed of genuinely happy-go-lucky Slytherin. "Get up here and show us how it's done!"

Draco didn't answer. He smoothed his face into a cool expression, and kept it that way as turmoil wreaked havoc in his brain.

That stupid bet last night! Why had he agreed to it? He had started it, all of it. And why the bloody hell had he let himself lose? He was winning, by Merlin! And he had thrown the race, just as he was supposed to throw the game with Hufflepuff!

And why, why, why the bloody everlasting hell had he kissed Ginny?

He took a deep breath, watching his teammates. The Chasers performed some stunt that ended with the quaffle shooting like a bullet through a goalpost. The Keeper flew around the goalposts on the other end of the field, expertly practicing hand movements to deflect balls. And the Beaters, chortling, beat the bludgers at each other.

Was Draco going to throw the game with Hufflepuff?

His teammates were so primed to win. If he lost, he would be letting them down. But he wondered what Ginny would think of him if he failed to keep his word. Did it matter? No, it didn't! What mattered was winning. What mattered was his handpicked team, so supportive of him as captain of the Slytherin quidditch team. But he had given his word. Granted, the word of a Malfoy was nothing much, but only because his father had made it so...

"Come on, Draco!"

Finally, Draco mounted his broomstick and soared into the air. He caught a quaffle someone tossed to him, and threw it back.

Marvin dove to the ground, and let go of the snitch. It darted away.

Draco hurtled off after the tiny ivory ball with its frantic golden wings. As his hand closed around it, he hoped that someday he would be forgiven.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A/N: About time I wrote that. I hope to get the next chapter written sooner.
something new by Nuyaviel
"Just because I love you as you are doesn’t mean that I have given up all hope of your improvement.."
-Anonymous




CHAPTER FIVE
(something new)

[flashback]

"I always call Lucius Malfoy 'your father.' That is all he is to me... all he has been, since the moment I first realized what he was up to with those awful friends of his." Narcissa's tone was sharp, bitter.

"The Death Eaters," Draco said quietly.

"At first I was young, in love, and turned a blind eye to his doings. I didn't know what that brand on his arm meant. By the time I accepted what was happening I was pregnant, and though I tried to stop him, he never listened. Always talking about 'his Lord...' He was always gone, always off with You-Know-Who and his minions. The one time I tried to leave him, he flew into a rage, and hit me. He had never done that before. I feared for you then, my unborn child. And though I no longer loved him I stayed because I knew he would hunt me down. I hated him then. For being so weak. So easily seduced by corruption and power."

Draco said nothing, and his mother took a deep breath and went on.

"Sometime after I gave birth to you, Harry Potter was born. The Boy Who Lived. And it seemed like everything was finally working out... your father denounced his friends, his activites, You-Know-Who. He gave sizeable donations to the Ministry of Magic and to various charities. He stayed at home, and was most devoted to you. The period right after You-Know-Who's first downfall was a blissful one, for your father was on his best behavior, and yet it didn't last. Soon he was embroiled in unsavory deals and situations again. I wanted to leave him, but I was afraid he would hurt not just me but you, so I stayed. And made sure that there would be no other children. That's why you're an only child."

A hesitation, then Draco voiced for the first time the question that he mulled over whenever he looked at hi mother. "Why didn't you ever stop him from using the Unforgivable Curses on me?"

"I couldn't." Narcissa's voice was barely perceptible. "He used them on me too."

A sigh. Draco said, "You should have just called him 'Lucius,' mother. He wasn't any more a father to me than he was a husband to you."

[end flashback]

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:

"Boo!"

Draco ground his teeth and tightened his grip on his broom. Damn, but he hated being booed at. Sure, he was used to being booed at by the rest of the school, but the Slytherins booing at him... this was something new.

He had just swerved in front of Marvin on purpose, blocking the Slytherin Chaser from making a shot. His interference had cost them twenty points, the ten they had lost and the ten the Hufflepuffs had managed to score when Marvin in his shock had dropped the quaffle, straight into the arms of a Hufflepuff chaser who wasted no time in hurling it through a goalpost.

"What the hell was that?" Marvin yelled. He didn't wait around for a response. He shot off to retrieve the quaffle in an attempt tosalvage the situation, leaving the older Slytherin feeling like an utter moron.

Of their own accord, Draco's eyes started searching the quidditch pitch. Not for the snitch, but for that flash of coppery red hair... there she was. Ginny Weasley, sitting between Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.

Sitting with her arms folded across her chest. Looking bored. Looking completely unmoved! Draco's blood began to boil. Here he was, throwing a game for her, and she didn't even seem to care!

Draco clenched his fists and turned away. As he watched the Slytherin beater hit the bludger at some Hufflepuff, he imagined the bludger was Ginny's head.

He glanced at the scoreboard. His teammates had caught up to the Hufflepuffs; the score was tied again. Damn! And as a Hufflepuff player threw the quaffle at the goalpost, he could see the Keeper, Blaise Zabini, poised to deflect it. His teammates were simply too good; he would have to butt in again. He hardened his resolve.

Tightening his grip on his broom, he pretended to see the snitch next to Blaise. His dive for the imaginary snitch prevented the keeper from making his move, and the quaffle soared through the goalpost. Hufflepuff was in the lead again.

"BOO!"

Draco ignored it. He had eyes only for Ginny.

Her head was bent, and she was talking to Ron. She wasn't even looking at the game. Her attention was completely on her brother, as though Draco wasn't performing the most noble deed of his young life right in front of her.

He was so angry his vision began to darken. Honor was lost on mudbloods!

"Look out for the snitch, damn you!" Marvin shouted as he flew past. But Draco had to make a conscious effort not to search for the snitch. If he saw it, he had a feeling he wouldn't be able to prevent himself from going after it.

By then the Slytherin team was getting at once bewildered and riled up, torn between the genuine respect they had come to have for Draco and their anger at the very obvious fact that he was screwing things up. A Slytherin chaser dropped the quaffle in the confusion, straight into the arms of the Hufflepuffs. They scored another ten points. Before anyone could react, they managed to score yet another. The score was now 80-50, and it wasn't the Slytherins who were winning.

Marvin, a look of intense determination on his face, intercepted the quaffle and made a spectacular shot. Draco instantly cut the ball off. The Hufflepuffs caught it and scored another ten points while Blaise buried his face in his hands in frustration.

Marvin bellowed out some curse words that mingled with the "boos" of the crowd. Draco, shaking with fury, turned his head towards the Gryffindor who had caused all this mayhem.

She was examining her nails. Draco almost dove towards her, his intent murderous. He was going to strangle that evil little –

Then suddenly, she looked up. Her act crumbled then, as she began to shiver, unable to fake nonchalance or disinterest any longer. She had been watching Draco lose, all right. He could see that. Those deep brown eyes locked on his, and to his amazement, she mouthed clearly, "Win."

All his anger drained out of him, and Draco froze in place, gazing at her lips. Had she said, "Win?"

"You can still win this, you moron!" she shrieked loudly. Ron and Harry looked at the crazy redhead next to them with amazement.

And for the first time since the game began, a grin split Draco's face, and immediately he was soaring upwards, looking for the golden snitch, feeling lighter than he had felt in months. He was going to win this.

The Hufflepuffs scored again. 100-50, but Draco no longer cared. All he cared about was finding the snitch.

And he saw it, that glimmer of gold and ivory that heralded victory most of the time. He grinned. No more attempts to intentionally lose. This was what he was good at.

He flew, and the wind rushed past his ears. He sensed the Hufflepuff seeker trying to catch up, and dismissed him as irrelevant.

A moment later, the snitch was in Draco's hand, its wings fluttering frantically inside his closed fist. He held it up triumphantly.

"SLYTHERIN WINS!"

The cheers were mixed with boos, for no one had forgotten his earlier bungling of the Slytherin's game. But Draco felt better than he could remember feeling in a long, long while.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

"You were cheering for Malfoy!"

Ginny winced at the harsh accusation in her brother's voice, but she said nothing. What could she say without revealing too much?

"You were cheering for Malfoy!" Ron repeated when she said nothing. This time he sounded more confused than angry.

Harry intervened. "Come on, Ron. It's not like Ginny kissed him or anything. She was just being nice. Did you see how awfully Malfoy played?"

Normally Ginny would have been delighted that Harry was defending her, but the words It's not like Ginny kissed him or anything kept ringing in her ears. She could feel her face burning. Ron would go berserk if he found out that she had actually snogged Draco.

But he had really done it… he had thrown the game for her. She thought of the Draco in Harry and Ron’s stories, the Malfoy who had set them up to be caught by Filch in their first year, the Malfoy who had called Hermione a mudblood in their second year, the Malfoy who had nearly gotten Hagrid sacked in their third year… yep, the list of his misdeeds were endless. He had definitely been a jerk.

And yet, Draco had kept his word, though it was only she who would ever know it. An odd warmth began to creep through her. Draco was different from what he had been.

“You were cheering for Malfoy!”

“I heard you the first time, Ron,” she said mildly.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” Ron sounded like an angry father.

Hermione sighed. “Come on, Ron. Harry’s right. Even I wanted Malfoy to shape up, he was playing so badly. And Ginny called him a moron, right in front of everyone. Doesn’t sound like she’s in love with him.”

Ron spluttered. And Ginny, throwing Harry and Hermione grateful glances, stood up and left the common room to think things over in her dorm.

[][][][][][][][][]-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-[][][][][][][][]

“How many of us are left?”

“Five,” said Howling Night. The Death Eaters who were still roaming free had formed a group to avenge themselves, and they had given themselves codenames in the dangerous time right after Voldemort’s downfall. Now, as they plotted revenge, they retained the codenames. It was safer. “Medea was captured by Malfoy’s son and his friends not long after she left us. Near Hogwarts, in the Shrieking Shack. It was in the papers.”

Bitter Wand scowled. “What’s that kid’s number on our hit list?”

“Twenty-three.”

“What number are we on?”

“Seven.”

“A long way to go. Maybe we should bump him up a little. He didn’t just betray his father and a few other Death Eaters, you know. I remember he couldn’t even kill Dumbledore.”

Their leader, Dark Moon, spoke up. “No.” His tone was final. “We don’t move anybody up on the hit list. Medea’s death was her own fault. She had some crazy idea of leaving us, leaving everything behind. And look where she is now. We must stick to our plan, exact revenge on all who helped in the downfall of our Lord.”

Howling Night nodded, and Bitter Wand’s scowl deepened. “Who’s number eight?”

“Remus Lupin.”

“Before we get to Lupin, perhaps we should think about Potter. He’s number one on our list, and we skipped him.”
“He’s too well protected. We settle for merely hurting the loved ones of others, but Potter we must kill. And we must proceed as planned until we catch Potter unguarded, which may take awhile.”

“Lupin, then. Do we kill him or someone he loves?”

“Someone he loves. He’s one of those hero types, and that shall hurt him more.”

“Who?”

“That woman he’s with, the Auror… they call her Tonks.”




A/N: Sorry if it sucks… and please, review. I really want to know what people think, and suggestions are much appreciated.
a mystery by Nuyaviel
DISCLAIMER: Everything except the plot is J.K. Rowling's. Incidentally, I read HP before it turned into a worldwide sensation, and I thought J.K. was a male. Took me awhile to accept that the blond woman next to all the articles about HP was J.K. herself.
A/N: Okay, that was completely pointless. This is what happens when I'm bored.
________________________________________

"In the arithmetic of love, two minus one equals nothing. And one plus one equals everything."
-Mignon McLaughlin

CHAPTER SIX
(a mystery)

Hedwig swooped into the Great Hall, her snowy wings spread wide. She glided once around the hall before landing in front of Harry, who stroked her on the back before unknotting the parchment tied to her leg. He unrolled it, and his face paled.

“Harry, what’s wrong?” asked Hermione, alarmed. A delivery owl landed on the table, and she slipped it a Knut without bothering to look at the Daily Prophet it had delivered. She placed her hand on Harry’s arm.

Ron looked worried. “You’ve gone rather pale, mate.”

Harry wordlessly handed over the parchment. Ron read it, his eyes widening, then gave it to Hermione.

~Tonks at Mungo’s. Have reason to believe it involves ~Death Eaters. BE VERY CAREFUL.
~-Lupin

Instantly Hermione seized the Daily Prophet. She scanned it feverishly.

Ginny, unnoticed by the trio (but one Slytherin at the far end of the Great Hall had taken unwilling note of her), appeared at the table. It was breakfast time, and she was hungry – she had spent a good part of last night thinking about Draco. And she still hadn’t come to any conclusions as to what he felt about her.

Or, for that matter, what she felt about him.

A ribbon of anxiety began working its way up her spine as soon as she saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The three of them looked jumpy, and their complexions were chalky. Ron and Harry were staring at a piece of parchment on the table like it was a bomb, and Hermione was rapidly turning the pages of the Daily Prophet.

“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked, walking up to them. Before they could react, she grabbed the parchment and read it.

It slid through her fingers onto the floor, and color drained from her face. “I see.”

Hermione slapped down the Daily Prophet. “Nothing in here. Whatever’s happening, it looks like the Ministry is turning a blind eye again.”

“They always do. Whatever’s happening, it can’t be good. And how can it involve Death Eaters? Voldemort is dead,” said Harry.

Hermione was the only one who didn’t flinch at the name. Sighing, she said, “Look, Ron, Ginny, you have to get over it. Voldemort’s gone.” The Weasleys flinched again, and a note of impatience entered Hermione’s voice. “That’s right, Voldemort! How are we going to go after his minions when we’re still afraid of him? Despite the fact that he’s dead!”
Ginny took a seat next to Harry, saying nothing. He took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze.

Ron looked angry. “I hate it when you revert back into Know-It-All mode. You don’t understand, okay? We spent our whole lives hearing him referred to as You-Know-Who, and you can’t just change that.”

“Why not?”

“Why not?” Ron repeated incredulously. “Well, for one –“

“I think,” Harry intervened, “We should forget You-Know-Who –“ Hermione rolled her eyes, and Harry shrugged diplomatically. “– and concentrate on the Death Eaters. It looks like they’re the threat now.”

“But the strange thing is, the Aurors should be more than a match for a few Death Eaters,” said Ginny slowly.

Hermione nodded. “Right. The problem isn’t the magical powers of the Death Eaters, which are probably quite impressive, though I’m sure the Aurors can handle it. The problem is that they’ve managed to hide their very existence. It's a mystery where they are, who they are, and how they get away with everything.”

The four of them fell silent, thinking it over. Harry let go of Ginny’s hand to pick up the parchment left lying on the floor. He slid it into his pocket.

“We need to talk to Professor Lupin,” said Hermione decisively.

“I should think he’d be staying at Tonks’ bedside,” Ron said.

Harry considered. “We can’t protect ourselves if we have no idea what’s happening. I have the note; I’ll take it to Professor McGonagall and ask permission from her to visit Tonks and meet with Professor Lupin."

Ron and Hermione nodded.

“What time is it?” Ron asked.

Hermione checked her watch and told him. “Come on, we’re going to be late for our first subject. Harry?”

"Go on, I'll just finish this," he said, gesturing to his plate of toast.

Ron and Hermione got up and began to leave the Great Hall, talking in low voices to each other. Harry looked after them, the barest hint of longing in his expression. Then it vanished, and he stood up, leaving the toast uneaten.

“Harry, wait.” Ginny grabbed the older Gryffindor by the arm.
He looked at her. “What is it?”

“I want to be with you when you meet Professor Lupin, okay?”
Harry hesitated, then said gently, “You have to ask Ron. You know how protective he is.”

“When he finds out it was you who let me come he won’t be too mad. You know how keen he is on getting us back together.”

Ginny’s grip tightened on Harry’s arm, and for a moment their eyes met, green and brown, a world of history passing between them. A history of passion and jealousy and laughter and tenderness, but no regret. Bloody hell, they'd loved each other so much. But it was clear, too, that it was over.

Finally, Harry nodded. “You can come.”

Ginny smiled. “Thanks.”

And with that they parted ways.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

“Crucio!”

Danaya watched Shadow writhe on the floor for a few agonizing moments, then she grabbed Dark Moon’s arm. “Stop! Stop it!”

Dark Moon shook her off. “He made a mistake, Danaya. He has to pay.” Beside him, Bitter Wand looked coldly at the figure on the floor and nodded.

“There are only five of us,” Danaya said desperately, rushing to place herself between Shadow and Dark Moon. “If we cannot trust one another, we will never be able to avenge ourselves.”

“He betrayed our trust by failing to kill Tonks!” spat out Bitter Wand.

“She’s nearly dead! The medics say she will probably die,” Danaya shouted back.

"Probably is not good enough -"

Howling Night spoke up, interrupting Bitter Wind. “If one of us makes a mistake, I do not like to think that we will be tortured as a punishment.”

Bitter Wand said, “Then we cannot make mistakes.”

“We already fear getting discovered. If we also fear each other, we will make even more mistakes. We will fall apart.”

Danaya dropped to her knees beside Shadow, who was trying to get up. He struggled to speak, but she shushed him.

Dark Moon’s eyes flickered to Bitter Wand, then to Howling Night. “Very well. We shall not use the Cruciatus Curse on each other.” He turned his gaze on Shadow. “And I trust that there will be no more mistakes.”

Shadow nodded and finally, with Danaya’s help, managed to stand.

Howling Night watched Shadow. “What did Tonks mean when she said, ‘I know who you are?’”

“It means she recognized me from elsewhere.”

“As a Death Eater?”

Shadow stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“If she remembered you from one of your exploits as a Death Eater, then why did she lower her wand?"

“What does it matter?” said Shadow sharply. “It was that hesitation which let me attack her.”

“It was her words which suddenly made you desperate to silence her.”

“Enough,” said Dark Moon irritably. “Howling Night, do not invent conspiracies where there are none. You said yourself we must not splinter as a group.”

Howling Night fell silent.

“Danaya.” There was a wealth of warning in Dark Moon’s voice.

Danaya looked at him.

“Do not ever again interfere with my actions.”

She lowered her head. “Yes, Dark Moon.”

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

Draco leaned against the wall, cloaked in shadow. It was the darkest part of the corridor, but he knew the Gryffindor sixth years had Potions next, in the dungeons. (With the Slytherin sixth years, actually, which was how he knew, from the complaints in the Slytherin common room every night.) His eyes glinting with a predatory anticipation, he waited.

Harry emerged from the Great Hall. Without pausing, he went in the direction Ron and Hermione had gone. Draco paid him no attention.

A moment later, Ginny appeared in his vision. She was leaving the Great Hall for classes. She passed by without noticing him, looking preoccupied. And Draco made his move, like lightning, his arm lashing out at a blurring speed.

Ginny gasped at the sudden hard grip on her wrist. “Draco!” Instantly she realized her mistake. “I mean – Malfoy –“

His grip tightened until it was just short of painful. “Can’t take it back, Ginny.” He put a deliberate emphasis on the name, and she winced. He gave her a dark look. “It’s certainly a delight to know that our relationship has progressed to the point where we can call each other by our first names.”

Ginny tried to pry his hand loose, but to no avail. “We have no relationship, Malfoy,” she hissed.

"Don't we?" His smile was humorless, and Ginny flinched.

“Why are you so mad?” she asked, trying to break free. But he was too strong.

An image of Ginny clutching onto Harry’s arm materialized, their eyes intense as they gazed at each other. Draco had been leaving the Great Hall when he saw that touching scene, and he wished he hadn't. Did they still care for each other? He thought they had broken up, but... Grimly, he banished the picture from his head. “I’m not mad," he told Ginny.

“Could have fooled –“

Draco lowered his head and kissed her. Hard. Without hesitation she kissed him back, and he smiled against her lips. He curved on hand around the back of her head, reveling in the silkiness of her flaming hair on his skin.

Finally Ginny drew back, looking dazed. “I’m going to be late for class,” she breathed. It was completely out of context, and she looked like she was searching for something more to say.

“I just wanted to thank you for letting me win the match with the Hufflepuffs,” Draco said softly, and smiled when he saw her get even more confused. Good. He was still holding her. Reluctantly, he let go.

“You’re going to be late,” he warned.

Ginny stared at him, then turned and fairly ran away.
________________________________________

A/N: I updated within the month! Bwahahahahahahaha! Please review...
confusion by Nuyaviel
Author's Notes:

DISCLAIMER: J.K. Rowling owns everything.

A/N: I may be in love with the guy who played Cedric Diggory in the Goblet of Fire. Whoever he was. :) Just sharing…
"In choosing the one you love, don’t choose the one you can live with, but the one you can’t live without.”
-Anonymous

CHAPTER SEVEN
(confusion)

"The Gryffindor team consists of Potter's best friend, Potter's girlfriend, and Potter's roommate. So much for partiality from the team captain..."

Ginny, as she mounted her broom, glared at Zacharias Smith. She dearly wished she could crash into him and wipe that smug smirk off his face, but she'd already done that once before. Professor McGonagall was onto her. Best not to push her luck.

On the ground, Draco ground his teeth. Potter's girlfriend indeed. Ex-girlfriend. What he'd give to lock Smith wandless in a closet with a Boggart. He glowered at the Hufflepuff commentator. Smith's greatest fear was probably a cockroach or something moronic like that.

"Ra-ven-claw. Ra-ven-claw," the Slytherins around him chanted. Not out of any great love for the Ravenclaws, but because their chances for the House Cup were greatly increased if the Gryffindors lost the match.

As one, the Gryffindor team rose into the air. Harry flew beside Ginny, leaning close to whisper something to her. She bent her head towards him to listen. Her hair was pulled back into a tight, no-nonsense bun, but a few stray strands had escaped, fluttering wispily across her face.

Automatically, Harry tucked the strands behind her ear. "Give 'em hell, Ginny."

She grinned, thinking with faint wistfulness that she would have considered his big-brotherly gesture wonderfully romantic a year ago. "You bet."

Harry smiled, then flew off to shake hands with the Ravenclaw team captain.

Below them, Draco seethed. He had been starting to think that Potter was a fine bloke under all that self-sacrificial hero crap, but now he saw that his first impression was right. Potter was actually just a moron with messy hair masquerading as a martyr for gullible girls like Ginny –

He tore his eyes away from Ginny, irritated. She was nothing. How had he gotten himself in so deep?

"What's wrong?" Goyle grunted next to him.

Draco blinked. Had Goyle actually perceived the expression on his face and decoded it to mean that something was wrong? Goyle was denser than the Forbidden Forest. You had to parade it in front of him to make him understand. And even then he probably wouldn't.

"Yeah, what's wrong?" Crabbe asked, joining in.

Draco sighed. First Goyle, now Crabbe. Was he that obvious? Next thing you knew they wouldn't be copying their assignments from him anymore.

"Nothing," he muttered.

For the rest of the game, he deliberately kept his eyes on the Ravenclaws, cheering them on. Although it was an effort to boo instead of laugh when a Bludger hit by a Gryffindor Beater accidentally knocked out Zacharias Smith, forcing Luna Lovegood to take the commentator's stand.

The crowd waited expectantly. On the rare occasions that she was given a chance to commentate, Luna never failed to entertain.

Ron bungled a save and let out a roar of frustration.

Luna looked at him. "Weasley seems to be afflicted with the Rogabibiky Ruckus," she said seriously into the mike.

"What's a Rigobakiky Ruckus?" someone shouted amidst the laughter. Even Ron, in the air, seemed to be laughing.

Luna appeared to be honestly shocked. "It's famous! The Rogabibiky Ruckus, named after Roga Bibiky, who first made use of it, is a –"

"Lovegood," Professor McGonagall interrupted, her tone hovering between amused and exasperated, "If you don't cease that prattle about nonexistent afflictions and start commentating on the game –"

A cheer rose up, drowning out whatever the Transfiguration teacher had been about to say. Ravenclaw had scored again. 50-50.

In the end, despite a heroic effort by Ravenclaw that managed to gain them a lead of 20 points, the Gryffindors won, thanks to Harry. His spectacular dive for the snitch, his toes actually brushing the ground before he pulled up, had brought the Gryffindors to their feet, stamping and cheering. A group of third years unfurled a "Go Potter" banner and set off fireworks, bought from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.

"You'd think it was the bloody House Cup, the way they're carrying on," Draco grumbled. Ginny and Potter had just flung their arms around each other in celebration. Annoyed, he raked his hand through his hair and got up.

"What?" Crabbe and Goyle grunted at the same time.

"What do you expect?' Blaise Zabini appeared beside him, smirking. "I mean, from people who set off fireworks in broad daylight. It's like using the Lumos spell in a well-lit room."

Draco laughed; glad that he would have someone else to talk to besides Crabbe and Goyle. At least for the moment. Crabbe and Goyle were unbeatable in terms of loyalty, but still, it was good to be with someone who could actually carry on a decent conversation. Zabini could be a bit vain sometimes, but Draco rather thought he'd be vain, too, if he looked like Zabini. He had that tall-dark-and-handsome thing going for him, all high cheekbones and intense eyes. Pansy was always ogling him when she thought Draco wasn't looking.

They began walking together back to the castle. The conversation turned to Quidditch, a subject which animated both boys. Zabini said that there was a new broom coming out, supposedly even better than the Firebolt, called Quitarol.

"Quitarol? Strange name," said Draco.

"Q.T.A.R.O.L. originally," Zabini explained. "The owner said it stands for Quicker Than A Ray Of Light."

The two of them laughed. "I wish. Not even Potty can beat something that moves faster than the speed of light," said Draco. "But it won't come cheap. I bet the broom costs a bloody fortune."

Suddenly, Zabini gave a short laugh, his dark eyes gleaming as they fixed on something in the distance. "Yeah. Nothing she could afford."

Draco turned. Ginny and Potter were walking together back to the castle, laughing and chatting. He felt an irrational spasm of anger at Zabini's arrogance, which he swiftly quenched.

And as to his initial reaction to the sight of the easy intimacy between the two Gryffindors... well, he didn't even want to think about that. Where were Weasley and Granger, anyway?

"She's not only poor, she comes from that crazy family," said Zabini contemptuously. "Purebloods, but they seem to exclusively befriend Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers. That girl is one of the worst. All she does is follow Potter around."

Draco inhaled, and made himself nod.

"At any rate," Zabini went on, "even if by some miracle she got her hands on a Quitarol, she probably couldn't handle it."

Finally, unable to stop himself, Draco spoke up, more loudly than he had intended. "I think she could."

Zabini blinked, taken aback. "Er – what?" Right then, he sounded remarkably like Crabbe and Goyle. And those two were looking askance at Draco too, surprised at his sudden defense of Ginny Weasley.

Draco turned away to hide his flush. He tried to salvage the situation. "I mean, she's not exactly a bad flier. You don't have to be Krum to fly a broom, even if it's a Quitarol." They didn't look convinced. Hastily he added, infusing as much arrogance as he could into his tone, "And after all, Weasley beat me once." His tone said, if you can beat me, you're bloody well good enough to handle any broom.

It worked on Crabbe and Goyle. Forgetting about Ginny, they settled down and started comparing muscles again, but Zabini was studying Draco shrewdly.

"What is it?" Draco asked defensively.

The other boy shook his head and said nothing. Harry and Ginny entered the castle. Zabini, Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle were a few steps behind them. To Draco's relief, Zabini turned the conversation back to the Quitarol.

But once they were inside the Slytherin common room, Zabini said casually, "Pansy says you've been ignoring her lately."

Draco gave him a sharp look. "So?" Inwardly he winced at Zabini's astuteness. Sometimes he forgot that the Slytherin was more than just a pretty face.

"I'm just wondering who's taken Pansy's place," said Zabini.

Draco was considering how to respond to that when a shout interrupted their conversation. "Hey, Malfoy, Zabini!" A group of younger students called to the popular seventh-years, inviting them to join their game of Exploding Snap.

Saved! "Guess we'd better humor them," said Draco instantly, ready to escape Zabini's offhand probing.

Zabini's smile, tinged with amused tolerance, lit up his handsome features. "Yeah, I guess we'd better."

They made their way over to the younger students. As Draco played, he mulled over the benefits of friends like Crabbe and Goyle, and friends like Zabini.

-----------------------------------------

Ginny, carrying a bottle of ink and a quill, finally decided to start working on the mountain of homework she had neglected for Quidditch practice. She was smiling, still euphoric at their victory over Ravenclaw. She had just settled down in a cozy spot in front of the fire when Hermione suddenly sat down beside her.

"Ron and I have broken up," said Hermione without preamble.

For a moment Ginny didn't react. Then it registered, and she knocked over the bottle of ink, her mouth forming a soundless "What?" as she turned to face Hermione.

Hermione pulled out her wand. With a wave she righted the mess, then she met the Ginny's eyes, her own tired and sad. "He hasn't told you yet?"

Ginny shook her head, lost for words.

"I suppose he told Harry first," said Hermione quietly.

Finally Ginny found her voice. "Oh, Hermione..." She leaned forward and gave Hermione a hug, which the older girl gratefully accepted. Ginny felt tears soaking her shoulders.

After a moment Hermione pulled away, swiping at her eyes. Ginny had never seen such pain and confusion in her eyes before. She reached out and clasped her hand, gently asking, "What happened?"

"Ron and I have been arguing a lot lately," said Hermione, her voice shaky, "But I didn't think..." she trailed off, pulling away from Ginny to bury her face in her hands. "Oh, I don't know!"

Ginny sat quietly, letting Hermione cry for awhile. She looked around the common room, but Harry and Ron were nowhere in sight.

She was about to ask Hermione if she wanted to sleep when the portrait door swung open. Professor McGonagall clambered ungracefully in, and she spotted them immediately. "Weasley, Granger," she began, marching towards them.

When she saw the expression on Hermione's face, she stopped. "What's wrong?"

"N-n-nothing, Professor," Hermione sniffled. This was obviously a lie, but Professor McGonagall decided not to question it.

"Remus Lupin has just informed me that Potter wrote him a letter, asking him to ask me for permission to let the four of you visit Nymphadora," said the Transfiguration professor briskly. "That means you two, along with Potter and Weasley. I have decided to allow you, on the condition that you return to Hogwarts by lunchtime tomorrow. You may skip your morning classes, but not your afternoon ones. You may use my fireplace to leave first thing tomorrow morning."

Ginny and Hermione exchanged guilty looks. What with the Quidditch match and Ron and Hermione's break-up, they had almost forgotten about Tonks. "Thanks, Professor," said Ginny. "We'll tell Ron and Harry – I mean, I will," she hastily amended, seeing the stricken look on Hermione's face.

"Very well," said Professor McGonagall. "I shall see you tomorrow, then." She hesitated, looking closely at Hermione, then she turned and left the common room.

Ginny started to say something, but Hermione quieted her with a gesture. She motioned around them. To Ginny's surprise, almost everyone in the room was stealing covert glances at the two of them. Professor McGonagall's arrival had drawn attention to them, and they looked curious as to what Hermione was crying about.

"Nothing to see," Ginny said loudly, glaring at everyone who met her eyes. "Just two girls gossiping –"

"It's all right," Hermione interrupted, sighing. Wearily she said, "I need some rest, anyway. I just wanted to let you know."

Ginny wondered where her brother was, and if this was his fault. She'd make him sorry if it was! To Hermione she said, "We'll talk after we get back from visiting Tonks, okay?"

Hermione nodded, standing up. Then she left.

Ginny turned back to her homework, but she could no longer concentrate.

She wondered if Ron was as miserable as Hermione was.

----------------------------------

"We're done with Lupin," said Bitter Wand, sounding satisfied. "Word has it that Tonks is getting worse."

"Then it seems you are forgiven, Shadow." Dark Moon's tone was unreadable.

"He was number eight," said Howling Night. "Nine is Kingsley Shacklebolt. Ten is Alastor Moody. Eleven is Rufus Scrimgeour. Twelve is –"

"That's enough for now," Dark Moon interrupted. "Let us concentrate on the problem at hand. How shall we punish Shacklebolt?"

"We should hurt him directly," said Danaya.

For a moment the five Death Eaters were silent, considering how best to attack a wizard as powerful as Shacklebolt. Then Dark Moon spoke, coldly.

"Shadow shall do it," he said. Beside Danaya, Shadow stiffened.

Howling Moon spoke up. "I think Bitter Wand should assist him." He looked at Bitter Wand, who was glaring furiously at him. "You and Shadow have been at odds for a while now. We cannot afford that."

"I agree," said Dark Moon.

Danaya spoke woodenly. "That settles it, then."

Bitter Wand clenched his fists, but he said nothing.

Shadow smiled. It was a hard smile, joyless, cold and flat. "This should be interesting."


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A/N: See y’all next chapter, when it comes… which may be a while…
a small price to pay by Nuyaviel
Author's Notes:
Again, I own nothing. I do hope for some reviews, though. ^_^
"The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for."
-Maureen Dowd

CHAPTER EIGHT
(a small price to pay)

From an editorial in the Daily Prophet, not long after Voldemort’s downfall in the summer before Harry Potter’s seventh year at Hogwarts:

This time around, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named will not return from the dead. The Dark Arts and its practitioners have fallen, mostly due to the effectiveness of the Ministry of Magic in handling He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s rise from the dead, and in orchestrating his second downfall, this time for good. Thanks to the leadership of Rufus Scrimgeour, these dark and difficult times are coming, at last, to an end…

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

“Professor Lupin?” asked Hermione tentatively.

She and Harry stood side by side in the doorway. Some distance behind them were Ginny and Ron. He and Hermione had not once looked at each other since they had left Hogwarts that morning, and there seemed to be a barrier preventing them from getting within a ten-feet radius of the other. Both looked like they could keep up their stony fašade indefinitely.

Remus Lupin, sitting slumped in a chair next to a hospital bed, turned. When he saw his four ex-students, he smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. His grief was palpable, as was his weariness.

Ginny and Hermione went to either side of the hospital bed. Tonks was diminished: her skin looked pale and waxy, her body seemed to have shrunken under the bedsheet, and, most depressingly, her vivid hair was dull brown and matted. Lupin was doing his best, but he could not prevent Nymphadora Tonks’ slow, steady decline.

Tears in her eyes, Hermione grasped the Auror's lifeless hand. “We’re here, Tonks.”

“Can she hear us?” Ron asked, subdued.

Lupin shrugged tiredly. “There’s a chance she can.”

“How is she?” Harry met his former Professor’s eyes.

“Worsening.” Lupin’s voice broke. “I don’t know what spell they used… I’m just glad it wasn’t the Avada Kedavra… but they say that the longer she stays unconscious, the less her chancesare ofever awakening…”

The four students all turned respectfully away, giving Lupin time to collect himself.

“But let’s not talk about that.” His voice sounded steady enough, so they looked back at him.Lupin had composed himself. “Why don’t we talk outside? I don’t want to disturb Tonks.”

Hermione and Ginny were reluctant about leaving Tonks alone, but Harry and Ron, as depressed as though a Dementor were in the vicinity, readily agreed. Outside the room, they sat in hard plastic chairs and waited for Lupin to tell them what was going on.

“I need you to do me a favor,” he said. The four students traded alarmed looks. Reading their expressions correctly, Lupin added, “And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Death Eaters.”

“What, then?” Hermione and Harry asked at the same time.

“There’s a case coming up at the court of the Wizengamot,” said Lupin. “Demetria Kilrathi vs the Ministry of Magic. I assume you’ve heard of it?”

Only Hermione nodded. “The Aurors mistakenly tortured her husband, Virreor Kilrathi, for his alleged collusion with Death Eaters.”

“Correct,” said Lupin. “He is now insane. I have met Demetria, and she wants compensation from the Ministry for authorizing the use of the Unforgivable Curses against anyone who was a suspect. Even the ones, like her husband, who would later turn out to be innocent.”

Harry hesitated. “But isn’t the Ministry justified? After all, the Death Eaters were using the Unforgivable curses on them. The Aurors had to fight back.”

“Yeah,” Ron said. “I know it sounds cold, but I don’t think it was a mistake for the Ministry to allow the Aurors to use the Unforgivable Curses. Wasn’t it necessary to defeat You-Know-Who?”

“Necessary?” Lupin asked incredulously. “And why must we use the Unforgivable Curses to begin with? When did we sink to the level of Voldemort? We are different from Voldemort precisely because we don’t seek to control other people with the Imperius Curse. We don’t use Avada Kedavra on Death Eaters, we put them in Azkaban. And we don’t revel in the pain of our enemies. We don’t torture them into insanity with the Cruciatus curse.”

Lupin paused. “We didn’t need to use the Unforgivable Curses. We needed to defend ourselves, and we needed to defeat them. There are other kinds of magic we could have used, ones that didn’t involve the Dark Arts.”

Harry and Ron exchanged uncomfortable glances and said nothing. Despite Lupin’s impassioned speech, they were unconvinced. Ron said, “But the mistaken use of an Unforgivable Curse against one person doesn’t outweigh all the other terrible things prevented by the use of it.”

Lupin stared at him. “Doesn’t it? You think sanity of a wizard whose only sin was being in the wrong place at the wrong time is a small price to pay so that the Aurors could use the Unforgivable Curses against anyone they believed to be on Voldemort's side? And Virreor Laguna wasn’t the only victim.”

“Professor Lupin’s right,” said Hermione quietly. “Plenty of innocent witches and wizards suffered under the Ministry. They were desperate to look like they were fighting back.” She looked at Harry. “Have you forgotten Stan Shunpike?”

Harry flinched. “But…” He trailed off, reflecting.

“Albus Dumbledore, as far as I know, never once used an Unforgivable Curse against the Death Eaters,” Lupin told them. “And yet he was one of the greatest of us who opposed You-Know-Who.” Lupin looked at Harry. "And you only ever used the Avada Kedavra against Voldemort. Isn't that right?"

Harry nodded reluctantly.

Ginny spoke up for the first time. “What task did you want us to do?”

Lupin coughed. “The lawyers for Demetria Laguna want to ask Neville Longbottom to be a witness for them.”

There was a silence while the four students considered.

Finally, Hermione spoke, aghast. “Because of his parents. Frank and Alice Longbottom met the same fate as Virreor Laguna –” Her eyes widened. “Under the hands of Death Eaters who were then sentenced to life in Azkaban, for doing the exact same thing that the Aurors did.”

“Precisely,” said Lupin. He smiled, and this time he reached his eyes. “This is irrelevant, but I’d forgotten, Hermione, how clever you are.”

Hermione looked like she didn’t know whether to be flattered or confused. “Er – thanks, Professor – but Neville –”

“It'll kill Neville," Ron broke in. "You know how much he hates rehashing what happened to his parents. Why not ask his grandmother to testify instead?”

“Because she has refused,” Lupin said simply. “Despite the fate of her son and daughter-in-law – or perhaps because of it – she believes that Scrimgeour did the right thing by authorizing the use by the Aurors of the Unforgivable Curses. She loved Frank and Alice, and she could never pay back their tormentors…”

“Poor Neville,” murmured Ginny.

“I want you to tell Neville,” said Lupin. “His grandmother has forbidden us from requesting this of him, and though she seems to have forgotten that not everyone needs to obey her orders, I will. I believe that Neville will volunteer for the task, without us having to ask him outright, once he understands what we want him to do.”

No one spoke. Hermione looked anxious, Ron fidgeted, and uneasiness was clear in Harry’s eyes.

“I’ll tell him,” Ginny said abruptly.

The three older Gryffindors turned to her, all wearing identical expressions of surprise. Hermione recovered first. “Perhaps you should leave that to us, Ginny… we’re closer to him…”

“No, you’re not.” Ginny’s voice was apologetic, but firm. “He admires you, but come on, when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with him?”

“When was the last time you did?” Ron countered, looking more astonished than antagonistic.

“The day before yesterday. He and Luna have gotten into the habit of studying together in the library during their free time, and I join them when I can.” She narrowed her eyes at Harry’s dubious expression. “It’s more pleasant than you think. They’re very kind. I can talk to them about practically anything.”

Ron, Harry, and Hermione had nothing to say to that.

After a moment, Lupin spoke, not quite able to conceal his worry. “Very well, Ginny. You can tell him. I don’t want to pressure you, but the Wizengamot will hear the case in a few weeks. There’s a lot at stake here, not the least of them Rufus Scrimgeour’s career… we’ll need to talk to Neville, prepare him for questioning.”

Ginny nodded. “All right.”

The anxious look did not vanish from Lupin's face. "You must understand the depth of Scrimgeour's support... the Daily Prophet did nothing but praise him after Voldemort's downfall, saying he was responsible for the return of peace and order. People credit Scrimgeour for ending Voldemort's reign of terror. It will be difficult to go against such a respected Minister of Magic."

"All right," Ginny repeated.

Hermione watched Lupin. “Sir… why are you getting involved?” She flushed at the bluntness of her question. “I mean, do you know Demetria Laguna?”

A shadow crossed Lupin’s face. His voice, when he answered, was hard and quiet. “Not directly, no.” He glanced up at the walls, searching for a clock. “And now, I think it’s time for you to return to Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall told me you would still attend your afternoon classes.”

There was nothing more to say, except the perfunctory goodbyes and wishes for Tonks to get well soon. Hermione conjured up flowers for the fallen Auror, a tricky bit of magic which won another real smile from Lupin. Then the four students left. Ron and Hermione maintained their distance from each other.

When they were gone, Lupin buried his face in his hand and exhaled.

------------------------------------

“Demetria seems to be an offshoot of the Black family tree,” said Hermione in a low voice. “She used Kilrathi, her mother’s maiden name, as her surname until she married Virreor Laguna. Her father was some randy Black.”

The three of them were in the library, talking in low voices. Originally it had been Hermione and Ginny, but then Harry showed up. Ron had been with him, but he veered away from the table as soon as he saw Hermione. He was now seated with Neville and Luna in a distant table.

“How did you find out?” Harry asked.

“Old school records,” Hermione explained. “I’ve been checking old issues of the Daily Prophet too. The gossip section.”

“It's all so complicated,” Ginny groaned.

They fell silent, each contemplating the situation.

“I feel terrible for Tonks,” Hermione said softly.

“I think Lupin has it worse,” Ginny admitted.

Harry’s mouth had thinned into a firm, hard line. “Lupin didn’t tell us anything about what happened to Tonks. I think that’s more important than this Demetria’s case against the Ministry, though I hate Scrimgeour as much as she probably does. I want to know why Lupin thinks Death Eaters were behind the attack on Tonks.”

Neither Hermione nor Ginny answered him.

Some tables away, Ron gazed at Neville, whose head was bent over an Herbology book, with a hint of sadness. Later, he knew, Ginny was planning to talk to him. Soon Neville was about to be thrust into an intricate game of wizard rights and politics, and he would have a difficult time. Ron only hoped Neville could handle it.

“Why are you looking at Neville like that?” Luna asked in her blunt way.

Ron blinked. “What?” He flushed. “I mean, I’m not looking at Neville.”

“Yes, you were,” said Luna.

Ron sighed. “It’s a long story.”

Luna considered him. “Well, any time you feel ready to talk, we’re right here.”

------------------------------------

Draco wanted to kill Blaise Zabini.

“Drakie, sweetie, what’s this I hear about you and some other girl?” Pansy asked, hands on her hips, head tilted annoyingly.

In a nearby couch, not bothering to hide the fact that he was eavesdropping, Zabini remained calm under the force of Draco’s glare. “Don’t look at me, Malfoy. I wasn’t the one who told her.”

“What do you mean, it wasn’t you?” Pansy rounded on Zabini, her eyes flashing. For once she didn’t look like she wanted to eat the good-looking Slytherin right up. “Do you know anything about this?”

“Ask your boyfriend,” Zabini suggested mildly.

Draco wondered if he was imagining the emphasis Zabini put on the word ‘boyfriend.’ But he could see that Zabini was telling the truth – whoever had told Pansy that his attention was shifting elsewhere, it hadn’t been him. So who? Draco remained quiet, weighing whether it was better to mollify Pansy now or to let her see that it was over between them.

He decided on the latter. “You know how gossip is, Pansy.”

“Untrue?” Pansy asked pointedly.

Draco's silence intimated just the opposite: that, in fact, the rumors were very true.

Furious, the Slytherin girl slapped him. She actually slapped him. Draco saw it coming, but he didn’t prevent it, partly because he was being an ass and he knew it. Never mind the fact that his dumping of Pansy had been a long time coming. The sound of her palm connecting with his cheek rang through the common room, silencing the boisterous noise of the other Slytherins.

Crabbe and Goyle jerked up, aware that harm had been done to Draco but not sure how to deal with the girl who had inflicted it.

Draco shot his minions a look that told them to keep still. Then he reached up and rubbed his stinging cheek, gazing evenly at Pansy.

She crumbled. “Draco…”

“I’m sorry, Pansy.”

She burst into tears and stormed away, leaving Draco alone with Crabbe and Goyle. And Zabini. And a bunch of fourth-years who looked torn between fascination and a strong desire to be anywhere else but there.

“If I noticed, other people are bound to,” Zabini pointed out.

“Notice what?” Draco snapped, his hand still on his stinging cheek. Who knew Pansy was so strong?

“You and Ginny Weasley.”

The bald statement made Draco freeze. “What are you talking about?”

“Stop playing innocent, Malfoy. I don’t even see why you’re doing it. Playing innocent, I mean. Are you afraid of what people will say? I know my opinion of that Weasley girl isn't exactly sterling, but listen – I don’t care. You could date a bloody Squib if you wanted. So don’t hold back from dating anyone – squib, muggle-lover, muggle, or otherwise – on account of me… though I can't imagine you going out with a Muggle...”

For a moment Draco was still, then, albeit reluctantly, he laughed. “Your unprejudiced open-mindedness, Zabini, may be the best of your traits.” Then his tone changed. “However, just for the record… I’m not afraid of what people will say.”

Zabini raised an eyebrow. “Then what are you waiting for?”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A/N: I hope to update soon… bear with me... :)
danger by Nuyaviel
"You may only be one person to the world, but you may be the world to one person.”
-Anonymous

CHAPTER NINE
(danger)

“So,” said Draco wryly, surveying the house they had just moved into. It was nothing shabby, really, just much smaller compared to the Malfoy’s old mansion. Two bedrooms instead of five, the kitchen and dining room were connected, and he and his mother had to share a bathroom. If things didn’t get better soon, he thought to himself, they’d be mistaken for Weasleys.

Then he scowled to himself. Bloody hell. Hating the Weasleys was a habit he’d picked up from his father.

Behind him, Narcissa looked up from where she was unpacking a box of books and smiled. “Don’t take it too hard, Draco. This is a lovely house. You’ll get used to it.”

“I know,” said Draco. And he did. There were worse things in life than being poor. As he had found out.

In the period after Voldemort’s downfall, Lucius Malfoy had spent a fortune trying to bribe Ministry officials and buy his innocence. But that proved futile against Harry Potter’s eyewitness testimony, for not even the Minister of Magic would go against the wizard who had defeated Voldemort at that point. By then, Lucius was rarely home, and Narcissa and Draco locked themselves in a room when he was. The net was closing around Lucius Malfoy. One by one, the Death Eaters were going to Azkaban.

When Lucius spent another fortune on a convoluted escape plan — he planned to change his identity and hide out in the American wizarding community for awhile, waiting for things to cool down in England — it was Draco who told the authorities, anonymously, of his plans. Aurors descended on him as he tried to flee, and he went to Azkaban.

Lucius blamed Draco, of course. Not that he had any proof. Even Ministry authorities suspected Draco. But only Narcissa knew for a fact that it was her son who had ratted out his father.

In Azkaban, Lucius withdrew into himself. Occasionally, it was reported that he ranted about Draco and Harry, seeming to focus on those two as the reason for his imprisonment. But that was it. Narcissa visited him only once, to tell him that she was leaving him, and that she had taken steps to ensure that he could never change his will, which left everything to Draco. Lucius only stared at her until she left.

She sold Malfoy Manor to pay her husband’s debts, refusing to touch a knut of the sizeable chunk of money still in the bank. “That’s your money, and you’re not touching it until after you graduate,” she would tell Draco. She bought a smaller house, and the two of them moved in. No house-elves. No servants. Just the two of them.

“Will you be all right here while I’m at Hogwarts?” Draco asked with concern.

“Certainly. I know I didn’t work while I was married to Lucius, but I actually got higher grades than he did back in Hogwarts, you know. I’m quite qualified for a lot of jobs. I think I’ll work at St. Mungo’s. Oh, and Draco…”

“Yes?” Draco asked, settling into a couch.

Narcissa continued unpacking boxes. “I can take care of the house by myself while I’m the only one here, but you better learn to help when you’re here with me.”

Draco nodded. “All right.”

Narcissa waited for a moment. When Draco just sat there, she stood, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at her son. “Get up! Help me unpack!”

Draco blinked and jumped up, finally getting the point. “Yes, mother.”

------------------------------------

His eyes keen and troubled, his wand held ready at his side, Kingsley Shacklebolt strode into the Transfiguration classroom, ignoring the students. His eyes were on Professor McGonagall, who had ceased her lecture to watch Kingsley’s entrance with astonishment, and, perhaps, a hint of anxiety.

“Something’s wrong,” said Shacklebolt quietly as soon as he reached the teacher’s table. He lowered his voice, but Hermione, seated in front with Parvati and Lavender — Ron had dragged Harry to the back of the class — heard him.

“I’m in the middle of a lesson,” Professor McGonagall told him, but she couldn’t quite conceal her uneasiness. The only time Ministry officials barged into classrooms without notice was when they had to inform a teacher of some Voldemort-induced catastrophe. Of course Voldemort was gone now, but still… the fission of fear remained.

“This can’t wait,” said Shacklebolt.

“All right,” said Professor McGonagall. She turned to the students. “Class dismissed. I will continue the lecture next meeting.”

When everyone just stared at her, she sharpened her tone. “Get out! I’ll see you on Thursday!”

The students scrambled up and stuffed their things into their bags, talking in hushed whispers to each other as they filed out of the class. Hermione, Harry, and Ron lingered for as long as possible, trying to catch some of McGonagall’s and Shacklebolt’s conversation. They only heard “I think Death Eaters are…” before McGonagall sent them hurrying out of the class with one smoldering glare.

“What could that be all about?” Hermione wondered aloud.

“Well, at least it’s not Voldemort this time,” said Harry. Next to him, Ron forgot to flinch. “Although Death Eaters don’t seem much better.” Next to him, and within three feet of each other for the first time in a while, Ron and Hermione nodded. In fact, the three of them were so distracted that Hermione and Ron didn’t even notice that they were nodding in unison.

“I hope everything’s all right,” said Ron.

Hermione stopped walking. “Let’s listen in.”

“Are you crazy?” Ron hissed, less out of anger at Hermione than from genuine trepidation. “Did you see the way McGonagall glared at us? Clearly her conversation with Shacklebolt is meant to be private!”

“If we don’t eavesdrop now, we’ll never know,” said Hermione matter-of-factly. “Right, Harry?” She blinked. “Harry?”

Harry was already tugging his invisibility cloak out of his bag, headed back towards the Transfiguration classroom.

Automatically, Ron and Hermione traded bemused looks, then flushed and turned away from each other. It was their first civil interaction since their break-up. Hermione hesitated, then went after Harry; Ron followed her. They caught up to him just as he dropped the invisibility cloak over himself.

“Make room, Ron,” muttered Harry as the three of them squeezed under the cloak.

“It’s Hermione taking up space,” said Ron.

“Are you saying I’m fat?” snapped Hermione, taking immediate offense.

“No, I’m saying your bulky bag of books is taking up space,” said Ron under his breath. Indeed, Hermione’s bag, bulging with schoolbooks, was taking up too much room. Ron’s and Harry’s ankles could be seen. “Leave it.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, but she darted out into the hall to hide her bag behind a statue of a goblin, one of those who had opposed the goblin rebellion and campaigned for peace with wizards. Then she slipped back under the cloak with Ron and Harry. “Prudencio the Peacemaker would turn over in his grave,” she murmured. “His statue used as an instrument of deceit? He opposed spying, you know. Ratted out both goblin and wizard spies to each other during the rebellion. It nearly got him killed.”

“You’re going to get us killed if you don’t stop talking,” said Ron, looking nervously around.

To her own surprise, Hermione said, “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m babbling. I’m just really worried.”

Ron opened his mouth, then closed it. McGonagall and Shacklebolt’s voices could be heard.

“Are you saying that Death Eaters attempted to kill you? Shacklebolt, almost every Death Eater has been rounded up—”

“The key word there is ‘almost.’ I’m telling you, no one else could have done it.”

“Start at the beginning, then.”

The three of them neared the door, their footsteps soundless, listening intently to the heated conversation between McGonagall and Shacklebolt. Silently, they slipped into the Transfiguration classroom, standing in the back, near the door.

“Look, there’s no time to explain everything now,” said Shacklebolt, sounding harassed. “I just stopped by to warn you. I have no proof except my own experience, but my theory sounds right to me. It explains the attack on me, the attack on Tonks, the death of Pettigrew in custody, the attack on that civilian wizard who blew the whistle on Bellatrix Lestrange — if I’m right, then some of your students may be in danger.”

McGonagall inhaled. Shacklebolt went on.

“In particular, Harry Potter and his friends – the Weasley kids, Ron and Ginny, and Hermione Granger. Along with the members of that club they formed. The Creeveys, Neville Longbottom, the Lovegood girl… And with Draco Malfoy and Cho Chang. After all, they all had a hand in bringing down Voldemort, didn’t they? They say it was Malfoy who betrayed his father, the Chang girl was only too eager to help the Diggorys in their crusade against Death Eaters. I know she’s already graduated, but you’d do well to contact her, tell her to be careful —” He cut himself off. “There’s no time to explain everything now,” he repeated. “But keep a close watch on those students I mentioned. I’m deadly serious. They may be in danger.”

Under the cloak, Hermione trembled. Harry put an arm around her, but kept his eyes on Kingsley Shacklebolt. The tall Auror, who had shown himself to be quick of mind and a very powerful wizard on numerous occasions, looked incredibly weary.

“Tell me everything, then!” cried McGonagall. “What am I supposed to protect our students against?”

But Shacklebolt was already hurrying out of the classroom. McGonagall chased after him. “Shacklebolt!”

“I’ve got to leave, I need to speak to Remus—”

“Don’t waste time leaving school grounds so you can Apparate. Use my fireplace, for Merlin’s sake. But you better tell me what’s going on!”

“All right, but I’m in a real hurry, and if I don’t finish—”

“Just start talking!”

“Very well, very well! In my office yesterday, I received a note…”

Their voices trailed off down the corridor. In the classroom, the three Gryffindors stood frozen in place.

“Well,” said Harry finally.

“We have to tell Ginny,” said Ron, looking worried. He scrambled out from under the cloak and practically ran down the corridor. Harry and Hermione wasted a moment looking startled, then went after him.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” Hermione panted.

“Because I don’t want Ginny to end up like Tonks! I know I sound paranoid, but you know my sister. She just always gets into trouble.”

------------------------------------

In the Great Hall, Ginny watched the group of Gryffindors entering with some surprise. As far as she knew, the seventh year Gryffindors were dismissed later than the sixth years, and by her estimate they were supposed to have shown up twenty minutes later. What were they doing here so early?

She quickly scanned the faces entering. Neither Harry, Ron, nor Hermione was there.

She had just finished dinner, and she had been about to go to the Gryffindor dormitory, but she sat back down. As long as he was here…

“Neville!” she called out. It was now or never. She had been putting it off long enough.

“What is it?” Neville eyed Ginny warily. She blushed. She had been making excuses to talk to him alone since they visited Tonks a couple of days ago, and each time she chickened out, and they ended up discussing inconsequential matters. Neville probably thought she had a crush on him.

She sighed. Well, she thought wryly, time to disabuse him of that notion.

“Can I talk to you alone?” For the ten-millionth time, she added silently to herself. This time I’ll tell you about Demetria Kilrathi. I really will.

“Well, I was going to eat,” said Neville hesitantly.

“Oh, right.” Ginny slapped her hand against her forehead. “Right. Well, I’ll wait for you, then.”

“Um, okay,” said Neville. He sat down.

“So why were you dismissed so early?” Ginny asked.

“Kingsley Shacklebolt came,” said Lavender before Neville could answer. She sat down next to Ginny. “He was really worked up. He wanted to talk to McGonagall. She sent us out so they could talk in private.”

“Hey, where are Ron and Harry?” Dean asked, looking around.

“Hermione’s not here, either,” said Parvati.

“They’re probably involved in whatever Kingsley’s so worried about,” said Seamus, shaking his head. “They always are.”

All around the table, heads nodded sagely. Ginny stole a sideways glance at Neville, oblivious to her, as he chewed a mouthful of food. What could be wrong? Was it something to do with Demetria Kilrathi? Hurry up, Neville, she urged him silently. I need to talk to you.

Ron, Harry, and Hermione chose that moment to burst into the Great Hall, panting. “Ginny!” Ron bellowed.

“What?” she asked, and she stood, truly alarmed now. “What is it?”

Her brother beckoned her from the doorway. “Come here. I need to talk to you.”

All over the Great Hall, heads were turned towards the three Gryffindors in the doorway. Ron’s shout had drawn attention to them.

Ginny bent and murmured to Neville, “I’ll talk to you later, all right?”

She made her way over to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They watched her approach with mixed expressions, but worry was dominant. She frowned.

What was going on?

------------------------------------

“This is all your fault!” Bitter Wand snarled.

Shadow buried his face in his hands. His voice was muffled as he replied, “Shut up, okay? Just shut up. You’re not blameless.”

Bitter Wand gritted his teeth, but he couldn’t contest that. He closed his eyes, imagining Dark Moon’s face when they told him they had made a mistake.

“At least we won’t get tortured.” There was the barest hint of humor in Shadow’s tone, and Bitter Wand whirled on him. “This isn’t funny!”

“Who’s laughing?”

Bitter Wand glared at him. “Now what?”

“Now, we think of another plan. And we better do it soon, before Kingsley Shacklebolt figures everything out.”

Bitter Wand clenched his fists so tightly, crescents of blood appeared on his palms. Their power lay in their secrecy; once people knew there was a renegade band of Death Eaters loose, seeking revenge, they would be on their guard, and things would be that much more difficult for them.

“We better think fast,” he said coldly, working to conceal his fury. He had never hated Shadow more than he did at that moment. “Otherwise, it’s all over.”

------------------------------------

“Say that again,” said Ginny, stiffening.

Ron looked upset. “I said, it sounds like a lot of people are in danger, including you! What part of that do you not understand?”

“No, you listed the people in danger. Say the names again.”

“Well, Harry, obviously! And me, and Hermione, and you, and the Creeveys, and Neville, and Luna, since we helped Harry, and Cho Chang, for helping the Diggorys in their crusade against Death Eaters, and even Malfoy for ratting out his father or something like that. But— wait, where are you going?”

At the mention of ‘Malfoy,’ Ginny had bolted out of her chair, and she was halfway out of the common room before Ron had finished talking. “Out,” she shouted to her bemused brother. The portrait of the Fat Lady closed behind her.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A/N: Read and review!
more than a little interesting by Nuyaviel
Author's Notes:
A/N: Sallie made an excellent, excellent point. (Thanks for the review, by the way!) I think I neglected to mention that the flashbacks are meant to explain why Draco has changed from an evil bastard to someone Ginny Weasley could fall in love with. And to shed some light on what the situation was before the events in this fic took place.
Please review!
"Love is friendship set on fire.”
-Anonymous

CHAPTER TEN
(more than a little interesting)

An editorial from the Daily Prophet, the summer just after Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts:

With the death of Albus Dumbledore, and the certainty that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is no longer safe for our children, classes will not resume as usual this upcoming school year. Acting Headmistress Minerva McGonagall said in a statement, “We feel that students will be safer in this difficult time with their own families…” So classes will be suspended for at least a year, while the Ministry of Magic deals with You-Know-Who and his followers.

Such a move is unprecedented. The last time You-Know-Who was in power, Hogwarts continued to operate, though the dangers were great. Professor Dumbledore was also the Headmaster then, and he insisted that students were safer in Hogwarts than anywhere else, explaining that Voldemort would be more likely to attack a wizarding home than Hogwarts, which has an enormous number of protective charms around it, along with being guarded by the Professors, many of whom are among the most talented witches and wizards today.

But Albus Dumbledore is dead, and so are his assurances. It is safe to assume at this point that Hogwarts will reopen only after You-Know-Who and his followers are defeated.

Another editorial. The summer just before Harry’s seventh year at Hogwarts.

More good news! Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is reopening at last. All students may pick up where they left off when classes resume. Certainly our batch of graduates for the next seven years will be one year older than usual, but the point is, they will be getting older. Because the threat of You-Know-Who is gone. And thanks to the heroics of Harry Potter and his friends, all other Hogwarts students can continue their education. They can go to school for the first time in over a year.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

In the faculty room, the four House Heads — Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, Professor Flitwick, and Professor Sprout — huddled around a round table. They were discussing Kingsley Shacklebolt’s warning. A silencing charm was on the door. They had advised Filch and the other teachers who hadn’t been included in the impromptu conference to be alert.

“What were the students doing while Hogwarts were closed?”

“Most of them stayed home, but others, like Harry, were active in the fight against You-Know-Who. I have a list of those students here. Let’s go over it, and tell me if I’ve missed anyone. We will put these students under protection…”

Professor McGonagall unfurled a long scroll, which she spread out on the table.

“Harry Potter. Hermione Granger. All the Weasleys, of course — but at the moment Ron and Ginny are the only ones who are still students here, and they’re the only ones we have to worry about. Colin and Dennis Creevey. Luna Lovegood. Neville Longbottom—”

“Speaking of Longbottom,” Snape interrupted, “Wasn’t Lupin going to ask him for help with the Laguna case?”

“As far as I know, yes.”

“Does that have anything to do with this?”

“I don’t know.” McGonagall frowned. “To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure of too much right now. I don’t even know where Shacklebolt’s warning came from, he was so vague about it. All I know is that he mentioned Death Eaters.”

“Death Eaters!” Something terrible flashed across Snape’s features, but he mastered himself immediately. His face was stoic when he said, “Not all of them were captured.”

“True. We must assume that the threat, whatever it is, is coming from the Death Eaters. So we’ll leave the Laguna case to the others who oppose Scrimgeour and we’ll take care of the danger to our students.”

“The problem is that there seem to be three sides in this,” said Flitwick anxiously. “Scrimgeour’s side, the Death Eaters side—”

“And our side,” finished McGonagall succinctly. Her lips curled up in a rare, if grim, smile. "Which I like to assume is the good one."

“The Death Eaters and Scrimgeour are against each other, of course,” said Flitwick. “Scrimgeour is against us, and we are against him. And we are against the Death Eaters, and they are against us.”

“I’m confused,” Sprout admitted.

McGonagall heaved a sigh. “So am I.”

------------------------------------

Ginny found Draco as he left the Great Hall after dinner. Without explanation, she started tugging him towards the nearest empty classroom, and with no resistance except a token, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’, he went along. That should have alerted Ginny to the fact that something was different, but she was too busy thinking about her brother’s warning to notice the subtle change in Draco’s attitude towards her.

Once they were inside, she closed the door behind her. Calmly, so as not to alarm him, she repeated everything Ron and Harry and Hermione had told her about being in danger from Death Eaters.

But Draco didn’t react as she had expected. Instead of being afraid, he looked bemused.

Then he spoke. “Let me get this straight. You came here to warn me?” Draco stared at Ginny. And for the first time in quite a while, his face broke out in a genuine smile. “You’re worried about me!”

Ginny gasped. “Bloody hell! I’m telling you that your life is in serious danger and you’re sitting there making jokes!” Angrily, she spun on her heel and started to march out of the room. “Fine. Whatever.”

Draco caught her by the arm and pulled her back to face him. He had wiped the smile from his face, but he couldn’t quite conceal the glimmer of satisfaction in his eyes.

Ginny wanted to slap him. “You’re a real idiot, you know that?”

“So my father told me,” murmured Draco, and he lowered his head to kiss her.

After a few heated moments, Ginny pulled away, flushing. “All right. You’re going to have to stop kissing me, Malfoy!”

“Draco.”

“Malfoy,” she said pointedly. “Did you hear a word I said?”

“Danger. Death Eaters. Be careful,” he said, parroting a few key words of Ginny’s anxious warning. Then he kissed her again.

Ginny broke away. “Bloody hell!” Hurriedly, she backed away from Draco, putting the teacher’s table between them. “Is it just me, or aren’t we mortal enemies?”

Draco pressed his lips together, firmly hiding his grin. He didn't think Ginny would appreciate levity right now. “It’s just you.”

“You hate me, Malfoy!”

“Draco,” he said. “And I don’t hate you.”

“Yes, you do.”

Draco sighed. “Why are you hiding behind the table? And don’t think I haven’t noticed that it is my supposed hatred we’re discussing, not yours. Does that mean you don’t hate me?”

“I am not hiding behind the table,” snapped Ginny, choosing to address only the first question. “And we’ve been talking for a few minutes already! Why the bloody hell have you not insulted me yet? Are you sick?”

“I’m not sick,” said Draco, rolling his eyes. “I just had a little talk with Zabini, that’s all.”

“Blaise Zabini?” Ginny pounced. “Ha! It’s a bet. It’s a bet to see how long it’ll take you to drive me crazy. Or something stupid like that.” Her eyes narrowed. "Is it a bet to see if you can get a Gryffindor to fall in love with you?" A horrified look flashed across her face. "Or -- have sex with you?"

Draco sighed again. Then, in a movement so quick Ginny didn’t even have time to react, he leaned forward and grabbed her by the wrists, maneuvering her over to his side of the table. She stumbled. He caught her.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked.

“Lower your voice, Ginny.”

“I want to know what Zabini said to make you suddenly decide that it’s fine for you to make skin contact with a Weasley.”

“What are you waiting for?”

“What?”

“That’s what he said.” Draco pinned Ginny to the side of the table, his hands braced on either side of her, on the tabletop, effectively imprisoning her in his arms. He looked down at her. She inhaled, as though to gather strength, then stiffened her spine and met his gaze squarely.

“He asked you what you were waiting for?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Ginny’s eyes held his steadily. “Care to elaborate?”

“No.”

“Then may I say something?”

“By all means.”

“I think you’re tricking me. This is a lose-lose situation. If I return your advances you win some sort of bet, and if I don’t you vow revenge on me forever. It’s not fair.”

Draco leaned his forehead against hers. “You’re a suspicious person,” he said softly. His hips pressed against hers intimately, and Ginny fought to hide her blush, to keep her gaze locked on his. “I thought you hero types always believed the best of everybody.”

“First, I’m not a hero type, and second, the kind of person who believes the best of everybody is more commonly called na´ve.”

“Are you calling Potter na´ve?”

For the first time, Ginny smiled. “That’s where you’re wrong, Malfoy. Harry always, always believes the worst of you.”

Draco smiled back. He leaned in even closer, his nose brushing against hers now. “And you?”

“Harry and I have whole conversations about how evil you are. We—”

She didn’t finish her sentence because his lips touched hers. This kiss was the best yet. There was no urgency, no hurry, just a slow, sweet, thorough exploration of lips and tongues that ended only when Draco pulled away, his gray eyes warmer than Ginny had ever seen them before.

"It's not a bet, Ginny," he murmured. "Although I must admit, your last idea had some merit."

Ginny couldn't think clearly with his body pressed against hers."What?"

"You mentioned that this might be a bet to see if I could get you to have sex with me." Draco smiled. "In other words, you think that I think I'm capable of seducing you. I find that more than a little interesting."

"Interesting?" Ginny scowled. All right. Time to take charge. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she twined her arms around Draco's neck and leaned up to kiss him, her lips parted and inviting. She buried one hand in his silky blond hair and curled the other around the nape of his neck, sliding her knee smoothly between his legs. She all but melted into him, the kiss deepening, intensifying, as her heart pounded in her ears and his arms tightened around her.

Finally, she pulled away. She smiled at Draco. "I think you think that I'm capable of seducing you."

Before he could reply, Ginny hurried from the room. She heard him coming after her, and, still shocked at her own nerve, she fled.

------------------------------------

Kingsley Shacklebolt's tale was particularly nerve-wracking to Lupin, because he kept imagining what Tonks had gone through.

Shacklebolt had received a note from one of his friends, requesting a meeting in a desolate section of Knockturn alley the very evening of that same day. The note was sealed, in his friend's handwriting, and mentioned a grave danger, along with a plea for utmost secrecy. Shacklebolt, worried, had shown up. But his friend hadn't.

Instead, a cloaked figure, its face hidden in the shadows, had attacked him.Shacklebolt caught a glimpse of the hand holding the wand, dark brown and scarred, just before the Cruciatus Curse hit him full on. He went down, screaming.

But he wasn't one of the most feared Aurors for nothing. He still remembered his instructor's voice describing a scenario for him: "Okay, let's pretend you're not winning the fight. The Death Eater hit you with acurse, probably the Cruciatus, because they have a taste for pain. You fall to the ground, screaming and writhing in agony. Now -- you're going to have to assume that the Death Eater is standing near you, watching avidly as you suffer, because that's what Death Eaters like to do. So you'll lash out with your legs and arms. Maybe he won't expect that. Maybe he'll fall to the floor with you. That's a lot of maybes, but if things go your way, then you've got a chance to survive. If you don't have your wand, use your fists. They're weapons too."

So Shacklebolt had done just that. He rolled over, flailing his limbs wildly, and felt his forearm hit a leg. He gripped the ankle and pulled, with all his might, and the figure landed on him.Shacklebolt felt an elbow catch him in the stomach just as a voice shouted, "Levicorpus!"

There's two of them, Shacklebolt thought. The figure on top of him soared into the air. Shacklebolt felt desperately for his wand, but couldn't find it. He was still fumbling around when, incredibly, the floating figure somehow dropped its wand. Shacklebolt caught it and pointed it at the direction of the voice. "Petrificus Totalus!" he bellowed.

He turned his head just in time to see another figure dodging his spell. This one was light-skinned. That was the only impression he got before the man shouted, "Accio wand!"

The enemy's wand zoomed out of his hand. Without thinking, his instructor's voice saying 'use your fists' roaring in his head, Shacklebolt took off after the wand. He caught a glimpse of wide, stunned eyes just as he lunged forward, swinging his fist. It connected solidly with the man's cheek. He grabbed the wand back and kneed his attacker in the groin, making him double over in pain, and Shacklebolt shoved him under his accomplice, who was still floating in the air.

Shacklebolt spotted his own wand at his feet, where his second assailtant had probably dropped it in their struggle, and he picked it up, pocketing the extra wand.

"Who are you?" he shouted, his wand pointed at them.

The second attacker struggled to his feet. Above him, his companion flailed helplessly, and his cloak pooled around his neck, revealing a brown, thin body.With the Dark Mark burned into his shoulder.

Shacklebolt stared at the brand, and a chill coursed through him. Shit.

The second attacker jumped up, grabbing his partner by the ankle, and slipped his hand into his pocket.

"Put your hands where I can see them!" Shacklebolt yelled, but it was too late. The two cloaked figures had already vanished into thin air.

"Probably a Portkey," he muttered. "Damn."

And without wasting any more time,Shacklebolt headed for his friend's house, the friend who had allegedly sent him the pleading note. He was home. No, he hadn't sent Shacklebolt any notes, but would he like to stay for dinner?

Shacklebolt grimly declined the invitation. His next stop was Hogwarts. He didn't want to go to the Ministry; he feared Scrimgeour would accuse him of inventing stories, trying to scare the magical community just after Voldemort had been defeated. His mind was churning. If Death Eaters had attacked him -- him, Kingsley Shacklebolt! -- then a lot of random events that had been taking place since Voldemort's defeat suddenly had a new, and terrifying, meaning. So he warned McGonagall, then went to see Tonks and Lupin.

After the story was over, Lupin sat back, shaking his head. "Bloody hell," he whispered. "Death Eaters. That's what Tonks said, too. Of course, she was rambling at that point."

Shacklebolt exhaled heavily. "Your turn, Lupin. What happened to Tonks?"

"Well." Lupin glanced towards the door that led to the hospital room where Tonks was still unconscious. As soon as Kingsley Shacklebolt had arrived, he had taken the conversation to a secluded section of the hallway, to avoid disturbing Tonks. He gazed at the Auror now, mulling over his answer.

"Well?" Shacklebolt repeated.

"To tell you the truth," Lupin said slowly, "I don't really know."
insight by Nuyaviel
DISCLAIMER/ A/N: If I had a dollar for every time I wished Harry Potter was mine and not J.K. Rowling's, I'd be Bill Gates.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


"Do you love me because I am beautiful? Or am I beautiful because I am loved?”
-Anonymous


CHAPTER ELEVEN
(insight)


Ginny spoke of the Laguna case. Or tried to.


She was trying so hard to spare Neville's feelings that she had managed to dance around the subject for almost an hour now. She dwelled at length on Scrimgeour's good name in the magical community, blabbered nonsense about Demetria Laguna's connection to the Blacks, ranted for at least ten minutes about the evil of Death Eaters, and basically avoided the whole point.


Neville listened, seemingly lost for words, but Luna -- who had insisted on staying to listen, despite numerous hints from Ginny that she'd rather talk to Neville alone -- had no patience for her tact. "Spit it out," she said at last, impatiently. "What does Demetria Laguna want from Neville?"


The three of them were in the library, and Ginny paused to look around for eavesdroppers before responding. She needn't have worried; the library was nearly empty. Time to get to the point.


"To be a witness," she said reluctantly. "To tell the Wizengamot that the Cruciatus is inhumane, and not particularly effective -- especially as a tool to force confessions -- since anyone will confess anything to escape the torture."


"Like what happened to my parents?" Neville's voice was a whisper. Luna reached for his hand and squeezed it, a gesture that Ginny noticed only because she was making an effort to turn away from the look on Neville's face. Inwardly, she cursed Lupin and Scrimgeour and all the other high-profile wizards for putting her in this position. Big boys playing big games. Who was thinking of Neville? Who was considering the possible trauma such a trial could inflict on such an impressionable young man?


"I'm not doing it," Neville said. His voice was higher than usual.


"Neville--" Ginny tried, but he was no longer listening.


"I can't!" he said loudly, and his voice was so pained that Madame Pince, for once, did not give the noisemaker a glare meant to intimidate the culprit into silence. Instead, she gave Neville a look of worried concern, but she soon reverted back to form when her gaze shifted to Ginny. Her evil glare said, what have you done to the poor boy?


It's not me, it's the bloody Ministry of Magic, Ginny wanted to yell, but she forced herself to stay calm. At least Madame Pince was restraining herself from interfering. And Neville's reaction was not unexpected. For a moment she searched for words, and finally, simply, she said, “Professor Lupin trusts you, Neville.”


He paled. “Surely he didn't think I'd agree to this!”


“Yes. He did. He was certain of it, in fact.”


A silence fell over them. The mixture of guilt and anguish and uncertainty on Neville's face made Ginny want to cry.


"I think you should do it," said Luna unexpectedly. "They need you. To show that Scrimgeour made a mistake in authorizing the use of the Unforgivable Curses."


Neville lowered his head. Ginny stared at Luna, stunned. The last thing she had expected was coherent advice from Loony Lovegood.


And she wasn't done yet. “If Scrimgeour wins the case,” she said calmly, “Then the decision won't be overturned until an entirely different group of wizards fill the seats of the Wizengamot. Perhaps the decision won't ever be overturned. Then the next time a Dark Wizard comes along, the Aurors can use the Unforgivable Curses on innocent people again.”


“People like my parents.” And it was Neville who said it, his voice steady. He hesitated for only a moment before nodding. “All right. Tell Professor Lupin I'll do it.”


Ginny shut her gaping mouth, remembering belatedly to nod. Then she sighed. “I'm not the one who should be thanking you,” she said softly, “But I think I'm speaking for Professor Lupin and Demetria Laguna when I tell you how much your testimony will be appreciated.”


“I'm not doing it for them,” said Neville.


Ginny looked at Luna, who was gazing at Neville with a small smile on her face. She saw Ginny looking and met her eyes; her smile widened.


Ginny smiled back. “I understand."


-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:


"Stop."


Bitter Wand stopped talking, not really in deference to the command, but as an instinctive reaction to the coldly terrible note in Dark Moon's voice. Shadow, who had been stoic ever since he and Bitter Wand had rejoined the others to confess their failure with Kingsley Shacklebolt, found that his hand was trembling. In fear? He shoved his hand into his robe's pocket to hide his shaking, but Danaya noticed. She bit her lip. Next to her, Howling Night was pale.


"You lost your wand?" Still in that same deadly voice.


Bitter Wand nodded jerkily.


"Crucio!" The force of the spell sent Bitter Wand to the floor, where he screamed in pain for what seemed like eternity. Shadow's entire body was shaking now. His fear was justified. For Dark Moon turned his wand next on Shadow, and though he had tried to prepare himself for the pain, he still writhed and made animal sounds of hellish agony. Not even Danaya dared to stop the torture, though. At last, Dark Moon lifted his wand.


"You better hope they're not smart enough to think of using your wand," he warned. "Or you must die."


The cold certainty of the statement pierced the fog of pain still clouding Shadow's senses, but he had no energy to react. At the moment, the memory of the Cruciatus still vivid in his mind, he felt death was welcome. Next to him, Bitter Wand, hunched into a ball on the floor, was silent.


"What will they use the wand for?" Danaya asked timidly.


"To find us." And it was Howling Night who spoke. He understood, and he was the only one besides Dark Moon who did.


Danaya swallowed. On the floor, Shadow closed his eyes. Bitter Wand remained silent.


-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-


Hermione, Harry, and Ron went to visit Tonks again. Ginny, busy with Neville, elected not to come with them.


It was a weekend this time. Tonks was still unconscious, but Shacklebolt was there, in a serious, quiet conversation with Lupin about something. The three of them instantly butted in.


At Lupin's nod, Shacklebolt agreed to tell them his story. They trooped into the hallway, to leave Tonks in peace inside her room, and the Auror related to the trio what had happened to him. They hung on to his every word. When he was done, Harry and Ron were worried, but Hermione looked deep in thought. An insight was taking shape in her head, and to her, it was so obvious that she couldn't believe Shacklebolt hadn't thought of it.


Lupin was turning to go back in when she spoke.


“Wait,” said Hermione sharply. Both Shacklebolt and Lupin turned to her. “Do you still have the Death Eater's wand?”


Shacklebolt looked surprised. “Actually, yes, I do. I had forgotten.”


“I have an idea,” Hermione said. “Ollivander's back, right? Why don't you go to him and see if he remembers the Death Eater's wand? Maybe he can give you a lead.”


For a moment there was silence, then Lupin shot Hermione a look that was close to reverent. “That,” he said slowly, “Is truly brilliant.”


-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:


But Hermione's euphoria at her stroke of `brilliance,' as Lupin called it, was short-lived.


By some awful coincidence, Hermione ended up paired with Draco during their Transfiguration class. The complex spell used to change a plant into an animal required more power than an underage wizard had, so Professor McGonagall had them cast the spell in pairs. The combined force would be effective. “In a few meetings,” she had warned, “I expect you to be capable of doing this spell on your own.” But for now, pairs it was.


The Gryffindor and Slytherin seventh-years took this class together. Ron had instantly paired up with Harry, who looked apologetically at Hermione before starting to attempt the spell with Ron. Parvati and Lavender had paired up, and Seamus, who was Harry's usual partner, was absent — neither Neville, Dean, Crabbe, or Goyle had gotten into Advanced Transfiguration. Draco usually paired up with Zabini, but Pansy had gotten to him before he could. She seemed to be mad at Draco. And Millicent Bullstrode, like Seamus, was absent.


Hermione and Draco each stood alone, wondering what to do, when McGonagall caught sight of them.


“Granger! Malfoy! Pair up and get started!” she barked.


“What dreadful luck,” Hermione muttered, marching over to Draco. She shot Harry and Ron an evil glance. Ron ignored her, but Harry mouthed “Sorry,” which mollified her. But only slightly.


“What's the matter? You and Weasley had a fight?”


Hermione shot him a glance. Had he just said Weasley, instead of Weasel? He had probably just forgotten. She hadn't failed to notice Pansy's barely concealed anger towards her `Drakie-poo,' and waspishly, she retorted, “We're as happy together as you and Pansy are.”


Instead of coming back with some witty gem of sarcasm, Draco said only, “Pansy and I have broken up. You just make sure to tell all your friends that.”


Was it only her imagination, or had Draco emphasized `all your friends'? Hermione scowled. “Yeah, why don't I do that. I'm sure Harry will jump for joy when he hears that you and Pansy are now both free to prey on innocent people.”


Draco grinned. “You just keep all the hatred coming, Granger. Don't bottle it up inside."


The fact that his tone was so obviously devoid of malice caught Hermione by surprise. She was in a bad mood; had been ever since Ron had abandoned her for Harry. (Or was it vice versa? She quickly squelched that thought.) Admitting guiltily to herself that she was treating Draco the same was he treated everyone else — spitefully — she sighed. Making a genuine effort to be civil, she said stiffly, “Let's get started.”


They started to perform the spell. They didn't do well, which got Hermione's hackles raised again. “Put the stress on the third syllable, not the second!”


“You try it my way, and if it doesn't work, we'll try yours, all right? Nothing's going to happen as long as we're saying the incantation differently.”


Hermione gritted her teeth. “Fine.” They tried Draco's way. The spell didn't work. They tried it Hermione's way. The plant shook itself, and its leaves melted into its stem, which had thickened, forming a snakelike pattern. It wiggled gently. It still wasn't a full-blown snake, for it wasn't hissing, but close enough.


“Yes!” Hermione exulted, shooting Draco an I-told-you-so look.


He rolled his eyes. “Very well, Granger. You were right.”


Had Draco just effectively admitted that he had made a mistake? What was going on? She swallowed her first response, and began thinking. He ignored her.


After a moment, she said, “I think Pansy's trying to make you jealous.”


Draco turned. Pansy was flirting heavily with Zabini; when she saw him looking, she laughed and pressed herself even closer against his side. Zabini wasn't encouraging her, but he wasn't pushing her away, either. He shrugged at Draco. His look said, what can I do?


Draco shook his head and turned back to their almost-snake. “Let's try that again.”


“You're not jealous?” Hermione was watching him closely.


“Should I be?”


They tried the spell again, but Draco forgot to say it correctly. The snake-plant remained the same. Instead of castigating him, Hermione said, “There's a rumor going around that you're dating someone else.”


Draco failed to follow the direction of her thoughts. Thinking she was just trying to annoy him, he said casually, “And who are they saying is the lucky girl?"


“What they're saying, Malfoy, is that it doesn't seem to be a Slytherin."


He turned to face her. She gazed evenly back at him. “Is it a Gryffindor?”


Draco knocked the plant over. The pot crashed to the floor, cracking, and dirt spilled out. The plant was crushed and bent at an odd angle.


"Malfoy!" Professor McGonagall advanced on them, her nostrils flaring. She lifted her wand, but Hermione beat her to it; with a wave of her wand she righted the mess.


Professor McGonagall stopped in her tracks, looking impressed at Hermione's advanced use of magic. The plant and pot were restored so perfectly that it was impossible to tell they had ever been damaged. Forgetting about Draco, she smiled and granted Gryffindor ten points, then moved on.


When she was gone, Draco hissed, "What are you talking about?"


“You told me to tell my friends that you're now single and available,” she pointed out. “My friends are all in Gryffindor.”


Damn. Hermione was so irritating that it was easy to forget how smart she was. He glared at her. “Why don't you mind your own business?” he snapped.


“At last,” she muttered. “The Malfoy we all know and hate.”


They spent a moment glaring at each other, then turned back to the plant.



==============================================================


A/N: Review if you have the time... I'd really like that... and sorry for the delay in updating. But certainly you're used to it by now. ^_^


This story archived at http://www.dracoandginny.com/viewstory.php?sid=2810