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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
The First Move and an Epiphany by Hearts Cadence
Chapter 17 – The First Move and an Epiphany

Draco lay on his back, eyes fixed on the canopy of his bed as he tossed a practice snitch back and forth between his hands. When the knock came he didn’t bother answering, but the door opened anyway.

“You know,” he said dryly, without looking over, “generally when you knock and no one acknowledges it, that’s a good clue to sod off.”

“I thought maybe you might make an exception for me.”

Draco jumped at the sound of Professor Pierce’s voice, losing the snitch so that it zipped away from his grasp and became a gold blur in the room. Pierce chuckled and used his wand to summon back the errant ball.

“Surprised to see me?” he asked, amusement in his eyes as he handed Draco the snitch.

“Professors usually don’t visit the dormitories,” Draco mumbled, sitting up by now and trying to regain his lost composure.

“Sorry for the breach in conduct. I just wanted to speak with you before your match.” He cocked his head, sandy hair shaggier-looking than ever as it fell over his forehead. “This is the big one, isn’t it? The big show-down between Gryffindor and Slytherin to see who goes on and who’s finished for the season?”

“Don’t worry, Professor.” Draco’s mouth was a hard line, jaw set. “You’ll get your Cup. I’m going to make sure Weasley’s so thoroughly beaten she won’t want to show her face again.”

Pierce sighed, pulling over a trunk to sit on. “I’m not here to make sure you’ll win, Draco.”

Draco took on a wary expression. “Then what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing. I just wanted to talk to you about Miss Weasley.”

Draco went tense. What did Pierce know about it? “Yes…?”

“Why don’t you just tell me what she did?”

Draco swung his legs up onto the bed, leaning back so he sat half-reclined against his pillows. He did not want to discuss this. “I don’t know what you mean. What she did when?”

“Draco,” Pierce sounded slightly exasperated, “we have a fair bit of history, wouldn’t you say? Let’s just drop all the games and get to it. You know what I’m referring to.”

Draco suddenly felt such an intense surge of dislike for the man that it surprised even him. Pierce was the reason for all of this to begin with, using Draco from the start to achieve his own ambitions of carrying the House to the top. And, remembering now his earlier thoughts that Jonathon Pierce was far too sly for his own good, Draco began to wonder if even that goal was true. What did the man really want? Because Draco was beginning to have his doubts, and he was tired of being strung along.

Thinking his words over carefully, Draco answered, “I will win this match. I promise I’ll be avoiding her, so you don’t have to worry about losing House points. Slytherin will succeed, and you’ll get your glory. So what does it matter to you my relationship with Ginny? …Sir.”

Pierce raised his eyebrows at the hint of hostility. His reply came soft and serious. “You’re distracted. You honestly believe you’ll be able to play when all you can think is revenge? You’ll never spot the gold when all you can see is red.”

Draco gave a sardonic smile. “So you are here to make sure I win.”

The lightest shade of pink flushed Pierce’s cheeks, and Draco felt quite gratified to see it. Pierce’s eventual reply came slowly, cautiously. “I would like to see you win, of course, but I wasn’t lying when I said that wasn’t my purpose for coming. Is it so far fetched to think that perhaps I care about your well-being?”

Draco snorted. “You made it abundantly clear from the beginning that our agreement had nothing to do with emotion. It was all mutual gain, remember?”

Pierce smiled, but the expression had a hard edge to it. “The thing about the beginning is that it always changes by the end. I already said we’ve built a lot of history these past months. I don’t know where you stand, but for myself, things are different now.”

Draco wanted to roll his eyes. Did Pierce honestly believe he would listen to tales of caring from a fellow Slytherin? Especially after he’d seen firsthand the man’s skill with game-playing.

After several moments of silence, Pierce said, “Fine, I suppose I can’t expect you to trust me. I had hoped after everything…” he trailed off, shook his head. “So don’t tell me for my benefit. Tell me for yours. Trust me or don’t, I might still be able to help, and what have you got to lose?”

Now Draco did roll his eyes, unable to help himself. “You’re the one who said to drop the games, Professor. I think you were right. We should. And I also think you already know full well what happened, so there’s really no need for me to bother telling it again, is there?”

Pierce smiled tightly, eyes narrowing just slightly. “I know something of what happened. I don’t know your perspective on it, though.”

“It’s just like her perspective, only higher up.”

Pierce crossed his arms, eyeing Draco frankly. “Funny, I took you for a lot of things, but never a coward.”

Draco laughed, short and humorless. “A coward? How do you figure that?”

“You’re afraid to face your own emotions,” Pierce returned coolly, never breaking that heavy, blunt gaze. “Because, believe it or not, you have them, Mr. Malfoy. We Slytherins like to delude ourselves into thinking we’re very logical, clever people above petty things like feelings, but the truth is most of us are just too scared to face them. So we hide them away where we don’t have to deal with them and call it intelligence when it’s really only cowardice in disguise.” His gaze turned slightly contemptuous. “I thought you were above all that, though. But I suppose even I misjudge character on occasion.”

Draco felt his temper begin to crackle just beneath the surface. “I’m not hiding anything.”

“For not hiding anything, you’re certainly not sharing much.”

“Maybe I just don’t want to discuss my private life with you!”

“Or maybe you’re just too cowardly to say the words out loud!”

Draco was on his feet then, fists clenched. “You want to know what happened? Fine! She was all over that Thomas bloke in the Great Hall, and when I tried to ask her what the hell she thought she was doing, she proceeded to inform me that she couldn’t be around me anymore!” His breath came rapidly, eyes ablaze with remembering. “She got the protection she needed from me and ended it first chance she got. There, that’s my perspective. Happy?”

In an instant Pierce’s entire demeanor underwent a transformation, softening and turning sympathetic. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Draco snorted, tossing himself back against the pillows once more. “Save it. I’m better off.”

“Are you?”

“Look at the mess she’s gotten me into already,” Draco pointed out. “With her out of my life, everything can go back to the way it was.”

Quietly, Pierce asked, “You mean miserable?”

“I wasn’t, and am not, miserable just because she’s not hanging about making a nuisance,” Draco snapped.

Pierce raised his eyebrows, then bent down and flipped up a section of Draco’s duvet, revealing a half-emptied bottle of firewhiskey stashed beneath the bed. He lifted it up and swished around the meager contents. “Not miserable, hmmm?”

Draco gave a sharp mental curse, silently berating himself for having done such a shoddy job of hiding the bottle the night before. But then, he had been rather drunk at the time. “There are other reasons to drink,” he defended himself coolly.

“But none that you would engage in. You’re not the type to tolerate losing control without very good reason.” Pierce gave him a pointed look. “And you’re also not stupid enough to risk punishment for possession of alcohol by keeping it stashed under your own bed…again, unless you had very good reason to need it right on hand.”

Draco scowled. “Do you have a point you plan on getting to?” Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was crossing the line speaking to a professor with so little respect, but just then it couldn’t have bothered him less. Pierce could expel him for all he cared.

The professor just ignored the improper conduct. “I do, actually. Like it or not, you were happier around Miss Weasley. Despite all the mess that resulted, and all the confusing emotions she put you through, you were happier, and you can’t tell me you weren’t.”

“You’re mad.”

“You’re in denial.”

Draco swiveled around to face Pierce. “Aren’t you sort of forgetting something? Like the fact that she announced she’s finished with me? There’s no point arguing over whether I was happy or not, because it doesn’t make any damn difference!”

“She’s as human as you and me,” Pierce reminded him quietly. “She makes mistakes just the same. You might be surprised by the difference between what she said to you and what she really feels.”

Draco shook his head, resisting the hope sneaking up on him, hating it and hating Pierce for creating it.

“It’s worth finding out,” Pierce went on, undeterred. “You have something special with her. Something worth fighting for.”

“Yeah? And what’s that?” Draco asked, irritated.

Pierce’s smile came slowly and a little sadly. “You really haven’t figured it out yet, have you?”

Draco frowned defensively. “Figured what out?”

Pierce shook his head. “Remarkable,” he muttered. “So blind.” Then he met Draco’s eyes firmly. “You’re not going to like the truth.”

An alarm went off somewhere in Draco’s head, a sharp warning, only for what he had no clue. But curiosity got the better of instinct. “Didn’t we already cover the no game-playing bit?”

Pierce’s serious gaze never wavered from his. “Fine, I’ll be frank then. You’re in love.”

It took a long time for Draco to react. Silence wrapped around him, seeming to somehow restrict even movement. All life came to a halt, a spell putting everything on pause. Then, abruptly, he doubled over in laughter. “How can you say that with a straight face?” he asked between gasps for air, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.

Pierce didn’t so much as crack a smile, but he didn’t look upset or even surprised by Draco’s reaction either. “Tell me,” he said quietly, “why else did you got so angry, are still so angry, to see her with another young man?”

Draco’s amusement faded. “I didn’t care,” he snapped. “She was just mucking up a plan of ours. Awhile ago some people were getting suspicious about how much time I was spending with her, so I made up this story about her fancying me. Obviously, her hanging off some other bloke compromises that.”

Pierce looked unconvinced. “All right, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that’s true and that you’re not rationalizing. Even so, it doesn’t explain your behavior now.”

“My behavior is perfectly normal.”

“Draco, you got drunk on school grounds and left the evidence where I could find it without even looking.”

“I’m not in love!” Draco got up to pace restlessly. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound? People like me don’t love.”

Pierce smiled grimly. “People are people. Everyone is equally capable of love and hate too. Some people just have a bit more trouble with it than others.” He sighed. “But I can see you’re not willing to listen right now. Perhaps you’ll eventually accept it in your own time.” He shrugged as if to say “I tried” and walked to the door.

Hand on the doorknob, he paused and added, “I won’t report that alcohol to the Headmistress this time, but don’t let me catch you at it again. I can only compromise my duty as a professor so many times.”

Draco watched him exit the room with a tight jaw, annoyance and lingering incredulity at the man’s suggestion still boiling under his skin. Unable to take just standing around, he shoved the practice snitch into his trunk, yanked out a cloak, and swung it over his shoulders as he strode through the door.

The locker rooms were still deserted when he arrived to change into his Quidditch gear, the other players not likely to start trickling in until closer to the match. He took advantage of having the place to himself by indulging in a long, steaming shower, even though he didn’t need one. He wanted whatever relaxation he could get at the moment.

All too soon, though, he heard the commotion of his teammates and shut off the taps, taking their arrival as his cue to get ready. He pulled on the uniform grimly, Quidditch the last thing he cared to do just then. If the other Slytherins noticed his lack of enthusiasm, they wisely chose not to comment.

The sunlight hit his eyes like a bee sting, the roar of the crowd like an explosion. Walking onto the Quidditch pitch for a match was always sensory overload, but for once, it just irritated him. He instinctively sought out the opposing team, and almost immediately a tell-tale red ponytail drew his gaze. His chest tightened painfully, and he found he couldn’t look away.

Ginny was already astride her broom, smiling along with whatever the other Chaser was saying but still appearing rather unhappy to him. The paradox reminded him of what Pierce said about finding out where she really stood, and he felt another surge of that damned hope rushing through him.

He jerked his eyes away, scowling at nothing in particular. He did not love her. He didn’t even particularly like the backstabbing little Gryff anymore.

“I don’t,” he muttered under his breath.

Adrian Pucey glanced over. “What?”

Draco shook his head. “Nothing.” He swung a leg over his broom and kicked off, soaring up into the air and away from the chaos below. The game started with a great cry from the students and the collective whoosh of twenty seven brooms shooting into the air. Ginny took up one of her standard search patterns just below him, always just in the corner of his eye. It drove him mad.

Time dragged by in slow motion, the action below a blur and Ginny an annoyingly constant presence in his conscious. He hardly bothered with looking for the Snitch. That was why when he saw the unmistakable glint of gold near one of the goal posts, his first reaction was to hover in place, staring while his distracted brain tried to remember what that meant. Then all at once everything clicked into place and without a second thought, he flattened himself to the broom and sped off.

Wind surged over him, pulling at his Quidditch uniform and flattening his hair back from his face. He didn’t dare look away from the gold, but from the corner of his eye he could tell that Ginny was close behind to his right, nearly overtaking him. Her flying was truly something to behold, agile and faster than her shoddy old broom had any right to allow for. He knew beyond a doubt that if not for his superior one, she would win this race.

The Snitch took a sharp curve to the right, the change in direction favoring Ginny over himself. He cursed and careened to the side, trying to both follow it and cut her off at the same time. She deftly avoided the move though, swooping down below him and rising in a burst of speed that made him curse again.

The Snitch flitted restlessly only seconds away, and over the pounding of his heart Draco could hear the announcer’s voice screaming through the air that it was impossible to tell which Seeker would get there first. He risked one quick glance over, and in that second, understood two very important things. The first was that he was ahead of her, just barely, but enough that he would win beyond a doubt. No amount of expert flying could surpass the undeniable fact that her broom could not match his.

Second, he saw that she knew it too, a pained resignation clear on her face. But that determination that always drew him still remained as well, firm to the bitter end. He knew that she would not give up until the Snitch was in his hand. This stupid, pointless match meant that much to her. It was what she trained incessantly for, worked so hard towards all year. Himself, if he were honest, he didn’t give a damn about the whole bloody thing.

He had maybe a second to decide, the whole world rushing towards this one climax; it was enough. Readjusting his grip on the broom, he feigned a slip and shifted his weight, making his body jerk the path of his flight just enough to look convincing but not forced. He made a show of trying to recover and regain his lead, but Ginny had no trouble darting ahead and, less than a heartbeat later, she had the Snitch.

The stands exploded. Ginny looked over at him, not smiling in exultation but staring with disbelief. For a brief moment their eyes met and held. Then the rest of her team swarmed around her, literally lifting her off her broom and carrying her through the air amidst the deafening cheers of their peers. The announcer’s voice split through the pandemonium, “Gryffindor wins! Gryffindor wins! Slytherin is officially out of the running!

Draco let it all fade to the background in his mind, spiraling slowly to the ground and ignoring the glares of his teammates. He didn’t care. On the red and gold side of the pitch the celebration already started to kick off, Gryffindors breaking out bottles of butterbeer and sweets and hauling it all happily back to their Tower behind the team, led by Ginny Weasley who perched on the shoulders of the two beaters.

Draco looked away, slipping quietly off the pitch to the broomshed. He left the door open and was holding his broom over its spot when a greeting from behind made him spin around in surprise.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you,” Theodore Nott apologized with an amused half-smile, his hands shoved casually in his pockets as he leaned against the doorframe.

Draco narrowed his eyes, cursing himself for not shutting and locking the door. “You didn’t.” He turned back around and finished putting away his broom. “Taken to stalking me now, have you?” He knew it wasn’t the most tactical maneuver, but quite frankly, he wasn’t in the mood just then.

“I prefer to think of it as taking a friendly interest.” Nott watched silently as Draco turned around again, his expression impossible to read. “Interesting performance,” he remarked.

Draco stiffened. “If you’re here to harass me about losing…”

Nott shook his head. “No, no, I didn’t mean that.”

Draco regarded the other boy suspiciously. “Then what did you mean?”

“Oh, I think you know.” Nott showed his by now familiar half-smile, as if he knew a secret no one else did and was quietly proud of the fact. “But since I know you won’t ever admit it on your own, I’ll just come right out and say it: you threw the game.”

Draco felt a wash of panic but hid it well, scoffing. “Are you mad? Why would I throw the deciding game of the season?”

“Yes, that is the question. Care to explain?” When Draco only glared, Nott sighed and continued, “Thought not. How about this? I’ll give you my guess, and you tell me if I’m right.” He paused as if he expected a response, but when none came he forged ahead anyway. “I think that there’s more to this little affair with Weasley than you’re letting on. I think maybe you do care about her.”

Draco wanted to shout. What was it with today and people insisting he had feelings for the girl?

Nott’s half-smile spread just a bit. “I thought so.”

Draco’s attention snapped back to Nott. “I never said you were right.”

“You didn’t have to. You’re losing your touch, my friend. You’re almost as easy to read as a Gryffindor these days.”

Draco took a threatening step forward, eyes as hard as the steel they resembled. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to lately, but I’ve had enough. Either come out with it or leave me the hell alone already.”

Nott didn’t seem the least intimidated, giving a shrug. “Like I said, friendly interest. And on that note, I’m curious: how long has this Weasley thing been serious?”

Draco’s fingernails cut into his palm. “I don’t know where you’re getting this from, but I can assure you, I do not care about the little bint.”

Nott laughed. “Don’t know where I’m getting this from? How about the fact that you spent far too much time just talking with her and practicing with her and a dozen other innocent things for it to be just physical. Or the fact that you nearly snapped your fork in half at breakfast when she was with that other bloke. Or, I don’t know, maybe the fact that you just threw the most important game of the season to this point so that she would win. Very selfless, by the way. I’m sure Dumbledore and Potter both would be quite proud.”

“I did not throw the game!”

“Oh, please Malfoy. You’re not the best flyer, but even you know how to keep a broom on course without slipping half off it. That’s the kind of clumsy thing only a First year would do.”

“Obviously not, because that’s exactly what happened. I was going way too fast, the wind was blowing stronger that high up, and I lost my balance. The end.”

“Just stop, would you? It’s embarrassing.”

“Nott, do you honestly think that I would do something like a throw a game for somebody else? Especially a Weasley?”

“The old you wouldn’t have,” Nott admitted. “But ever since this summer you’ve been different, and now that you’ve been hanging around Weasley? Well, you’re not even you anymore.”

Everything felt like it was spinning out of control, racing into a whirlpool of frustrated anger and confusion that threatened to swallow him up and drown him in waves of doubt. Was he really so different? More importantly, if he was…would that be a bad thing? Pierce’s words echoed in his mind: “ Like it or not, you were happier around Miss Weasley.”

“A piece of advice for you, Malfoy,” Nott said into the quiet of Draco’s inner turmoil. “A girl like her, she’s going to have a hard time getting over her morals. Probably harder than you’ll have getting over yourself. So if you want her, I suggest you swallow your pride, and make the first move.” He shrugged. “Just a thought.”

Draco didn’t bother yelling, or even arguing for that matter. He just let his head fall back against the wall with a hollow-sounding thump and asked, “Are you quite done?”

“Actually, yes. Have a nice day. Oh…and it would probably be best if you waited as long as you can to come back to the common room. They’re a bit annoyed with you at the moment, I’m afraid.”

“Nott!” Draco suddenly called, pushing away from the wall.

The boy turned around.

“Really, what are you playing at? Why come find me just to say all that? What’s any of this to you of all people?”

But Nott only gave his damnable half-smile and continued on his way.

Draco swore under his breath, pivoting around to put his back to the open doorway and burying his hands in his hair. When did everything turn into such a bloody mess again? It was games within games and not a trustworthy person in sight.

His eyes drifted over to Ginny’s broom, resting where someone must have put it for her after the match. She had been the exception, a breath of fresh air amidst the choking cloud of deception he existed in. But not anymore.

His hands dropped to his sides, hanging useless. She had used him just like everyone else would if he gave them half the chance. Just like he was almost positive Jonathon Pierce was doing now…somehow. But despite the latter suspicion, he couldn’t help but think about the man’s advice to see where Ginny really stood. What if it was only a misunderstanding?

He shook his head. That was just a fool’s hope talking, and that sort of thing could get a man killed in this world. But still…if it were true, and if Nott was right, he would have to bridge that gap first. But how in the name of Merlin was he supposed to do that? No force on earth would convince him to go apologize, that was for sure.

He swore again, a little more harshly. Now how did that happen? He went from hating her this morning for her betrayal to considering making amends. He slammed his fists against the walls in frustration, squeezing his eyes shut. He just wanted things to be easy. He just wanted to be left alone.

He spun away from the wall and strode for the door, but just as he stepped outside he stopped and looked back at her pathetic old broom. A sudden, irrational wave of loathing for the thing rushed through him. She would have won without any problem if not for that piece of rubbish, and then he wouldn’t have had to throw the game, and Nott wouldn’t have come here adding yet another piece to this damned puzzle. He doubted if it would even hold up in her beloved Championship, so it was probably pointless letting her advance anyway. It would only lead to greater disappointment later on.

His eyes flicked over to his own broom. A memory flashed through his mind, one of Ginny a long time ago, depressed but still strong as ever. It was the first time he’d noticed her fierceness, the first time he’d appreciated her beauty…all because of Pierce’s damned potion, but that was besides the point. She’d wanted to play him, and she’d demanded he bet his broom…only he had won and kept it.

He looked back to her broom, then his again, and he arrived at a decision that had him muttering yet more curses under his breath as he stepped back into the shed.

- - - - -

Ginny released her breath all at one great, relieved moment. The night air made her skin tingle a little painfully with cold, but the stars above were brilliant and anything was better than being stuck up in her common room full of raucous, celebrating teenagers. The silence that could only belong to the outdoors instantly soothed her frazzled nerves, and she thanked whatever higher powers out there allowed her to sneak away from the merrymaking.

By all accounts, she knew, she should have exulted in the party still raging on in Gryffindor Tower. After all, it was in her honor, the one who kicked Slytherin out of the running and carried their team one step closer to victory with her win. And what a win it was, too. Never had a race for the Snitch come so close -- everyone swore it -- and neither had success seemed so unlikely for someone who somehow, miraculously managed to pull ahead at the last possible second. It was truly a feat to strike awe in anyone. Dean joked that she would be receiving offers from professional teams any day now. She should feel positively ecstatic.

Except she knew it was all a farce. She should have lost; she was losing. But for some reason Draco purposely let her win. Sure, it appeared that he’d simply lost his balance, but even aside from knowing his talent and abilities, Ginny had seen the way he moved his hands, shifted his body just so in order to jerk his broom off course. It had certainly been a convincing ploy, but from that close, she couldn’t mistake it for anything else.

But why?

The question had nagged at her incessantly ever since her hand first closed around the Snitch and her mind had a chance to catch up with what her eyes had just witnessed. Why in the name of everything magical would Draco Malfoy willingly lose to a Gryffindor, and a Weasley at that? Her confusion was only made worse by the fact that as far as she knew, he still hated her. It just made no sense.

She didn’t really know where she was going until her feet stopped in front of the broomshed. She smiled a little, thinking that it figured her subconscious would lead her to flying. The door came open with the hint of a squeak, the moonlight outside just enough to illuminate the room without the use of her wand.

She kept her broom in the back, but when she got there, the beautiful piece of flying equipment that met her eyes most certainly did not belong to her. She frowned, perplexed. Dean had told her that he’d put away her broom when she’d gotten carried off, and she could understand if he had put it in the wrong spot, but that didn’t account for a totally different broom occupying hers.

As for the alien broom, she couldn’t really make out the model in the dim light, but she could easily see that it was far nicer than anything she had ever owned. She pulled out her wand and muttered a Lumos spell. Her heart skipped a beat.

It was Draco’s broom.

She closed her eyes, willing reality to come back from wherever it ran off to for that moment, but when she opened them again, Draco’s broom still lay there cradled in place, confronting her like a giant question mark. What in the world was going on? Was someone trying to frame her, make it look like she stole it or something? It sounded like something Pansy might do, maybe in order to get Draco mad enough to go ahead with the kidnapping scheme.

Well, she would prevent that right now. Filled with annoyance at the empty-headed Slytherin girl’s low tactics, Ginny walked over to Draco’s spot to switch back their brooms only to find it empty. She made a small noise of frustration, gathering her hair back tightly from her face. Now what? She would still give back Draco’s, of course, but that left her very much broom-less.

Ginny decided right then and there that she detested Pansy Parkinson more than anyone else in the world at the moment.

She trudged back over to her spot, taking a moment to gaze wistfully at Draco’s broom and even running her fingertips lightly over the glossy handle. It truly was an amazing piece of craftsmanship. With a sigh she lifted the broom carefully from its cradle, but when she did something fell loose from the bristles and fluttered to the floor.

For a second Ginny felt a wave of irrational panic, afraid she’d broken it somehow, but the wave subsided when she saw it was only a piece of parchment. Brow furrowed in curiosity, she bent down and picked it up. There, written in a precise hand she could never mistake, it read, Figured you would get more use out of it than me. I obviously won’t be needing it any time soon.

Ginny only stared in dumb astonishment for what felt like a very long time. Finally, she blinked and managed to tear her gaze away, distractedly shoving the note into her pocket. She stood staring at the floor for a second longer…then sprinted out of the shed, broom clutched in a tight grip.

She hardly noticed the cold wind when it hit her skin and threw back her hair, focus solely on the castle ahead, but for some reason she did notice the lone figure lying in the middle of the Quidditch pitch. A second glance at the unusual scene brought white-blond hair to her attention; she skidded to a halt so fast she nearly fell over. Not bothering to question her good fortune, she changed direction and ran as hard as her legs would allow, feeling the breeze rush past her face like an icy slap.

Draco was stretched out on his back, staring up at the star-studded sky with his arms folded behind his head and his legs crossed at the ankles. When she got closer he lifted his head but made no other move, and Ginny couldn’t make out his expression in the dark.

“Hey.” It came out a little breathless from the run.

He kept staring at her for a long time, making her shift awkwardly. Finally, he answered with a neutral, “Hi.”

Ginny swallowed, trying to remember why she’d been so confident just minutes before. The light weight of the broom in her hand brought her back to present, and she held it up. “You did this?”

Again, he regarded her for a long, uncomfortable moment before saying simply, “Yes.”

Relieved, she sat down cross-legged next to him, lying the broom across her lap. “Why?”

“Like the note said, I won’t be needing it.”

“You know what I mean.”

He lay flat to fix his eyes on the stars once more, saying nothing.

Ginny swallowed again, remembering Pierce’s advice. Just be ready to say sorry when the time comes. “Um, Draco?”

“Hmmm?”

“I…I just wanted to…apologize. For before. I was…well, I was wrong.”

He didn’t move, but she did see his eyes shift over to her, patiently inquisitive.

She took a breath. Of course he wouldn’t make this easy. “I got scared, okay? I’m not used…I’m not used to the way you, I don’t know…I guess the way you make me feel. The way I think when I’m around you, you know?”

“Honestly? No, I don’t know.”

Ginny sighed. “I’m supposed to hate you. But I don’t. And I’m supposed to hate your personality. But I’m starting to pick up on it. And…and I thought that must be a bad thing, but maybe…maybe I was wrong about that too. Maybe you’re helping me.”

Draco rolled up, draping his arms over bent knees. “What are you trying to say, Ginny?”

It took every ounce of willpower not to look down, but she managed to hold his gaze steady. “I’m saying that I never should have tried to push you away. I’m saying I’m sorry. I’m asking for you to forgive me. I’m saying I want to be your friend again…if you’ll let me.”

He considered her for a long time, Ginny’s pulse pounding in her ears all the while, before a wry smile crept onto his lips. “Did that hurt?”

She laughed, feeling some of the tension drain out of her. “A little. Not nearly as much as it probably would have hurt you.”

He kept his smile, and again his unreadable eyes considered her for a long, silent stretch. When he finally spoke again, his tone was casual. “So you like the broom?”

Ginny blinked, surprised but knowing him well enough to follow his lead. “Uh…yeah. Yeah, it’s brilliant. But I can’t accept it, you know that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s too nice! I would feel guilty every time I got on it.”

“You feel guilty all the time anyway. Why not at least get a decent broom out of it?”

She grinned, shaking her head. “Draco, thank you. Really. But I can’t.”

“Well…I guess you’re in quite the fix then.”

“What do you mean?”

“I knew you would be difficult. So I destroyed your old one.”

“You what?!”

Draco sniffed. “I was doing the thing a favor. It looked like it’d gone through a war.”

“Draco, I can’t believe you destroyed my broom!”

“I didn’t. Your broom is right there.” He pointed to the broom on her lap. “I took your former broom for myself. But just looking at it depressed me. So I tossed it in the fireplace.”

She put her heads in her hands, groaning. “Draco.”

“Oh, you know you wanted mine anyway. This was the only way you would take it. Besides, I don’t see why you’re so upset. You bet me for it before, remember?”

“Yes, but then I would have earned it, and that was also before I found out your dad disowned you and wouldn’t send a new one the second you owled!”

“Weasley? Quit whining, shut up, and get on the damned broom. I know you’re dying to try it out.”

Ginny stared at him, then shook her head in disbelief. She looked down at the broom. It really was so gorgeous, and truth be told, she was dying to take it for a test flight. She looked back at him…and she had an idea.

She stood up and swung a leg over the handle then leaned down to offer him her hand. “Come on.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“Just come on. I want to show you something.”

He eyed her for a suspicious moment, then grasped her hand to pull himself to his feet. Ginny motioned for him to get on behind her, and after one last skeptical study from him, he complied. Ginny felt his arms wrap around her middle, the lean muscle of his chest against her back, and for a second her mind went blank.

He shifted impatiently then, bringing her back to reality and leaving her wondering what in the world that had been about.

“Ready?” she asked, turning her head a little to catch a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye.

“Depends on what you’re planning.”

She could swear she actually felt his breath against her ear, momentarily distracting her from his words. Why was he so close? “I’ll take that as a yes.”

Not giving him the opportunity to come back with some snarky reply, Ginny pushed off and easily carried the broom into flight. She privately marveled at the ease with which it slid through the night air. Experimentally, she accelerated and grinned at the instant response, practically able to feel the air slicing apart in front of her. Unable to resist, she gripped the handle a little bit tighter and dropped into a steep dive, as fast as she could, the wind whistling past her ears.

Ginny heard Draco curse behind her, muffled by her hair blown back into his face, and his arms tightened drastically around her waist. Laughing, Ginny yanked the broom up at the last minute, speeding into the sky once more.

“Lord, Ginny!” Draco snapped when she slowed, his arms relaxing around her again.

She smiled. “What? Weren’t afraid, were you?” She could just picture the scowl on his face.

“A little warning would be appreciated,” he grumbled.

She giggled, riding on the same high she always got from flying, only ten times better so that for a moment, she almost forgot the whole point of this. Suddenly remembering, she turned the broom around and headed back towards the castle.

“Where are you going?” Draco asked, but she didn’t reply.

When they reached the castle she didn’t descend, but rather kept climbing into the air until they were flying right through the crazy system of turrets and towers. A little more tricky maneuvering through the eccentric architecture, and she spotted the tower she was looking for, one of the tallest on the castle, circular with a flat roof and surrounded on all sides by the classic, square-zigzag patterned wall. She touched down.

Draco stepped off slowly, shooting her a bemused look. “We’re on top of a tower.”

“Yes we are.”

“Any particular reason we’re on top of a tower?”

She moved towards him, and after just a second’s hesitation, she took his hand and drew him to the other side of the space. Standing right at the waist-high wall and still holding his hand, she swept her arm in a wide arc, indicating the scene before them.

Hogsmeade glimmered in the distance, a thousand little pin points of yellow light, wavering and winking and creating a sphere-like glow around the entire town. The occasional blue globe floated amid the streets, residents out late using their wands for light, and on all sides of the village sprawled the grounds of Hogwarts, vast and mysterious in the veiling darkness of night.

But most spectacular of all was what hung over their heads. The stars blazed forth, a breathtaking display fit to take even the most stubborn person’s breath away. From the height of their tower it seemed like they could reach out and take one, a dazzling drop of white flame in the palms of their hands.

Neither spoke for a long time.

Finally, Ginny let go of his hand and decided to bring up the matter that still bothered her. “You threw the game.” She didn’t look at him.

He glanced down sharply. “What?”

Keeping her eyes on the sky for a second longer, she turned her eyes up to his. “You heard me. You threw the game today. I didn’t win, or at least I shouldn’t have. Why did you do that?”

Draco turned his gaze back to Hogsmeade, expressionless. “I know I’m fair impressive, but the truth is you won, I lost, end of story.”

Ginny moved between him and the view down below, leaning back against the low wall and crossing her arms. “I’m not stupid. You didn’t lose your balance. I saw you shift on purpose.” She cocked her head, eyes softening. “Why? And why did you give me your broom and destroy mine so I had to accept it?”

Clearly annoyed, Draco shifted on his feet, refusing to look her in the face. “Winning that bloody game meant more to you than it did to me, and…” he seemed to struggle with what he said next, “and you were better, all right? You know you were.” He glared at some point over her shoulder. “Should with all that bloody practicing you do…” he muttered, just barely audible.

She smiled, feeling a warmth spread through her even up on that freezing tower. “And the broom?” she prompted quietly.

He shrugged, finally meeting her eyes. “The broom’s the only reason you wouldn’t have won, and I wasn’t going to lose on purpose — something completely against my nature, I hope you know — just to see you beat in the long run because you’re riding a broom they probably made in the 18th century.”

Ginny’s smile grew wider then, the warmth filling her from head to foot — not because of what he’d said, or what he’d done, but because of what those things meant. He admitted it himself — throwing the game went against his very nature…but he did it anyway. She understood the significance of that. Pierce had been right.

“And what about you?” he demanded, folding his own arms over his chest. “Why did you suddenly decide it was okay again to be around me? You were quite adamant against it not too long ago, as I recall. I was changing you.”

Ginny told him exactly what she had confirmed in her own mind only moments before. “Yeah, you were. You still are.” She smiled mysteriously. “But maybe I’m changing you too.”

Then she turned around and leaned forward on her elbows, inhaling the crispness of the air and the beauty of the scene around her, completely content in the knowledge that things were right again. She didn’t care if it wasn’t supposed to be right, didn’t care about separations of House or name. He was her friend once more, and in his own, incredibly unique way, a true and honest one. That was enough. She promised herself that she would never let misguided preconceptions get in the way again.

Leaning there letting the mood wash over her, she was totally oblivious to the fact that the boy behind her, watching her so intently, was arriving at the most flooring, mind-blowing realization of his life, fighting it every inch of the way but incredulously, inescapably forced to confront it. When he did, it felt like an epiphany, and even though everyone had been telling him the very same thing, he still could hardly believe it. The force of it paralyzed him.

Because in that moment, Draco Malfoy realized that he really was in love with Ginny Weasley.

- - - - -

A/N – Oh my LORD that was so hard to write. Hopefully I did the scene justice.


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