A Trying Breath by Ephemere
Past Featured StorySummary: A horrifying experience has been pushed aside, and people try to get on with their normal lives. But that experience soon turns into distant memories. Distant memories soon turn into haunting nightmares. When nightmares turn into reality, what can a certain group of Hogwarts students do to keep a certain redhead from slipping away? D/G story you've never quite seen before. Contains trips to the library, snogging, unexpected romance, and dreaming Gryffindors.
Categories: Long and Completed Characters: Draco Malfoy, Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Other Characters, Ron Weasley
Compliant with: OotP and below
Era: Hogwarts-era
Genres: Action, Drama, Humor, Mystery, Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 9 Completed: Yes Word count: 70478 Read: 44943 Published: Mar 05, 2005 Updated: Jun 05, 2008

1. Chapter 1: Visitors in the Dark by Ephemere

2. Chapter 2: Revelations in a Broom Closet by Ephemere

3. Chapter 3: To the Hospital Wing, Hogsmeade, and the Library by Ephemere

4. Chapter 4: Revelations and Consequences by Ephemere

5. Chapter 5: Secret Agent Men and Fragrant Shampoo by Ephemere

6. Chapter 6: Quidditch Boots and Fairytale Romances by Ephemere

7. Chapter 7: Forbidden Fudge by Ephemere

8. Chapter 8: Deplorable Slytherins by Ephemere

9. Chapter 9: Incensed Slytherins and their Failed Plans by Ephemere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Erm, well - "

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A month and a half."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What was what about?"

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

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

"AHA! So you admit it!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A deathly silence followed.

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

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

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

"But Prof - "

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginny! Ginny, come to me.

Hello? Is someone there?

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

Who are you?

Do you not know me?

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

Ginny -


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

Come. Now.

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

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

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

Stay here: hold me longer.

NO! Leave! I don't need you!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing is wrong with me."

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

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

"Because I said so!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know, I screamed pretty loud - "

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hermione! You're exactly right!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Excuse me?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's right. Me." Draco stood blocking the doorway, a triumphant look on his face. "There's no escaping me now Weasley. You're telling me everything that's been going on with you. And you're telling me now."
Chapter 2: Revelations in a Broom Closet by Ephemere
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~*~Chapter 2~*~


Ginny's mouth opened and closed several times before she could actually grasp the fact that she was stuck in a broom closet with Draco Malfoy. She knew she had to say something. The truth might be nice, but no, that seemed too easy. After all, what good would come of that? Why on Earth did Malfoy need to know about Ginny's sleep disturbances? Distracted by these thoughts, she didn't quite realize how comical she looked.

"Ginny, Ginny, Ginny." Draco smirked playfully and stepped closer, making her back up more and more. "Has anyone ever told you that you make such an adorable fish? Just pucker your lips a little more, and I think you've got it. But you know," Draco's smirk turned devilish; by now he had her backed up against the wall. "I much prefer you as a girl. It's a little difficult to snog a fish, you see. But, girls? I think I've got them covered." Draco's face was lethally close to hers. His fingers found their way between the strands of her red hair. She bit her lip and felt her chest rise and fall slightly faster than she would have liked. Before she could stop herself, her eyes darted down to his lips, which were only a matter of centimeters away. A wide grin spread across his face, noting the kind of reaction he was getting out of her. With one hand resting on the wall next to her face, he leaned in a little; then he stopped. He looked back to her eyes. They seemed to be pleading. So he leaned in some more, focusing on her mouth; then he stopped. Now only millimeters stood between them. Ginny fought the urge to jump up and close the distance. Draco beamed at her obvious unrest. "You were saying?"

"Hmm?" That was just about all Ginny could get out of her throat.

"You were just about to tell me what's been happening to you."

"Oh. Well," Ginny closed her eyes for a moment and tried to catch her breath. What is wrong with me?? This is Malfoy! "Erm, it might be easier if you just, backed up a little. Please?" She placed her hand firmly on his chest and pushed until he was a suitable distance. Then she looked up into his amused face and sighed. Seating herself on the ground against the wall, she finally found her voice. "What exactly would you like me to tell you?"
Draco frowned in thought. "Well, let's just start from the beginning. Was the incident a few days ago the same as what happened over the summer?"

"Yes, pretty much. I don't think there was any real difference."

"All right, then. What happened? Were you sleepwalking?"

"No, actually, I was wide awake both times it happened. It was more like - a trance."

"A trance?"

"A trance. I felt as though I basically knew what I was doing, just not why I was doing it. It was as though no one else was there, and I was just moving towards him. I could even feel myself moving. The only thing is, I couldn't seem to come to grips with any part of myself. Even my voice was caught in my throat. But he kept calling out to me. I kept hearing his voice, and we were talking. Or at least, communicating. I don't know, Draco! It's all so confusing. But then all of a sudden, as soon as I managed to regain some sort of control over my mind, it all just ended. Just like that. The dream, or whatever it was, was over. And the next thing I knew, I was waking up somewhere entirely different." Ginny stopped and looked down at the floor. She immediately regretted having opened her mouth in the first place. It took her a second to realize just how determined Draco Malfoy really was. She was sure he would have found everything out anyway, and this way was just much easier, not to mention probably less painful. Ginny's eyes were stinging with tears waiting to be shed. She didn't normally tell people anything about herself. She was so used to being the one everyone turned to and confided in, but not the one to let out her own troubles. All of a sudden, with Draco standing in front of her, piercing at her with his gray eyes, she felt very vulnerable. As though she were naked in the middle of Trafalgar square...with pigeons staring at her. Hmm, that's slightly sickening to think about.

Not bothering to question the disgusted look on Ginny's face, Draco crouched in front of her. He kept his eyes steadily fixated on hers. He knew that whatever it was that was bothering her was not something to be taken lightly. Draco had had a little experience with the Dark Arts. After all, you don't grow up with Voldemort's most trusted minion as your father without noticing anything. Lucius Malfoy was hell-bent upon making him into the "finest Death Eater to fill his father's shoes." Although the thought of killing masses of people for pleasure was always a comforting thought, Draco had other plans for his life. Granted he was no saint, and didn't particularly care much for Muggles; all the same, there had to be a better way to make a living. Just sitting and watching Ginny's face was another reminder of why his father's life could never be for him. How can anyone cause so much pain, yet find so much peace? Draco just sat and studied Ginny for what seemed like an eternity. She absolutely oozed of dark magic. There was something more going on here; he could just feel it. Draco lifted a heavy arm to bring his hand under her chin. He gently forced her face up to his level, and sucked in his breath when he saw her face in the dimly lit closet. Her eyes were red, and tears stained her perfect cheeks.

"Ginny. I need you to tell me something." He wanted very much to wipe her face clean and snog her senseless, but of course, decided against this. Oy, Draco! Knock it off. She's just a Weasley...Draco snapped himself out of his daze and pressed on gingerly. "I know it probably hurts to have to think about this. Still, I need to know. You said there was another man there? Who came to you?"

"Draco, don't make me do this. You have no idea how much it hurts. I don't see how that even matters at all. It's probably some stupid dream that I'll get over anyway." Ginny started shaking at the thought of having to tell Draco everything about who had come for her. Seeing her state, Draco took her shoulders in his hands and held her firmly. He lowered his head till their eyes were completely in line. She could read a look of reassurance, mixed with apprehension.

"You just need to understand something. This is extremely important. Whoever it was, he is obviously very dangerous. I can't say exactly what it is that you've been experiencing, but I can tell that it has a lot to do with very powerful dark magic." He slipped his hands into hers and gave them a protective squeeze. "These 'dream sequences' may just be affecting you for now, but you never know what could happen. Soon enough, it could manifest itself into something much bigger. So please, Ginny, who was it?" Ginny was floored at the sincerity she saw in his face. His eyes were pleading with her, and it hit her that this wasn't just some recurring nightmare. Draco Malfoy, the veritable Ice Prince, was anxiously staring at her, begging her - Draco Malfoy was BEGGING. This can't be happening.

"I - you wouldn't even understand." Ginny shut her eyes in an attempt to make everything disappear around her.

"Try me." It failed.

Ginny forced her mouth to open, and could feel the sound developing at the base of her throat. She would take this leap of faith. She would trust someone for the first time since... Then her lids slowly lifted to reveal two upturned eyes. Her gaze met his. It must be those eyes. It's those gray eyes that sparkle silver. They're so beautiful, so sincere. A far-away smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, and Ginny remembered what it was like to trust someone with full force. She remembered how good it felt to confide entirely in one person and know that everything was just fine. She remembered how hurt she said she would have been if those perfect eyes ever betrayed her. She remembered how wrong she had been: it didn't hurt to be betrayed; it killed her inside. There was the guilt, the pain, the suffering, the tears; what was all of it for? A few moments of pretending that she could trust unconditionally? Everything came crashing down in Ginny's head. It was as though her naïveté had been shattered all over again. She relived that horror of finding out that she had chosen the wrong friend. Her pupils dilated, and her jaw dropped. She paled considerably as she realized the gravity of her potential mistake. She had almost broken her promise to herself. She had almost risked her own life and the lives of everyone she loved, all for an ephemeral moment of security.

To sodding Hell with those eyes! Ginny mentally screamed at herself. The pain was too much to feel again.

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

Leaves were gently drifting to the ground, slowly covering the grass in an array of autumn colors. Each one seemed to be illuminated by a different ray of sun. They burned in vibrant hues of reds and oranges. There wasn't a soul in Hogwarts that could have taken just one look at the radiating beauty of the Grounds. It was truly addictive. The setting sun cast a golden haze over everything. Even the coldest of hearts would have melted under that luminary's prowess. The palest of faces would have turned golden. The saddest of eyes would have danced with fire. The most helpless of souls would have come home, just to bask in the radiance of that late afternoon sky.

Ron leaned his head back till it rested on the trunk of the tree, and stretched out his legs. He was exhausted. Quidditch practice had been especially rigorous today. It had actually ended quite a while before, but Ron wanted to fly around for a little bit longer, trying to figure out the best game plan for the first match of the season. He felt a little overworked, but he wouldn't have traded his position as captain for the world. Taking in deep, soothing breaths, he let his eyes rove across the grass before him. Every time he came back, it was like coming home. Of course, the Burrow was his real home, but returning to Hogwarts just seemed like returning to the norm. Everything would essentially remain the same. There were the same annoying gits, the same professors (with the exception of the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors; they could never seem to stick around), the same excitement over Quidditch, and the same friends. This year, however, despite the apparent constancy, so much was different. It was as though everyone was a new person to him. They hadn't really changed; he had just changed the way he saw them. The precious friends with whom he had stayed up late at night to talk would never be the same. The precious memories of when they were so much younger, and didn't have a care in the world, would never be relived. The precious moments when he could see her smile, and make her laugh, without being bombarded by new and unfamiliar emotions, would be forever gone. There was so much that he needed and wanted to say, but so few ways to do it. The closer and closer the three of them got, the more and more alone he felt. Ron knew they loved him, and he knew he loved them. He loved them both. But nothing would be the same. He lifted his head from the trunk and gently banged it back down. Why does everything always have to change? Gods, what I wouldn't give to just go back to the way things were before.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of crunching leaves coming from behind him. Reluctantly, Ron leaned forward a little and turned his head to see Harry and Hermione crossing the Grounds to his tree. They both looked flushed, and were panting as though they had run here.

"Ron! Finally found you!" Harry somehow managed to get the words out through his breaths. Ron instantly shot up, forgetting any fatigue he may have felt before.

"Why? What's wrong? Is everything all right? Hermione, are you hurt or something?"

"No, no, Ron. Harry and I are fine." Hermione nervously glanced at Harry before continuing. "This isn't about us."

"Oh," Ron breathed a sigh of relief, but soon stopped himself. "Ginny. Is it Ginny? Did she faint again? What happened?"

"Calm down Ron. She didn't faint. Well, at least not again. We just think that we may have a clue as to what caused her little mishap the first time. We think it has something to do with...Malfoy" he swallowed the last part in fear.

"What was that Harry? Sorry, mate, I couldn't hear you right."

Harry and Hermione shifted uncomfortably under Ron's baffled gaze.

"He said, we think it has something to do with Malfoy."

"WHAT?? Malfoy made my sister faint?? What did the little bugger do to her? Just tell me where he is and I'll kill him. I swear, I will."

"Yes, Ron, we are well aware of that." Harry quickly jumped forward to stop Ron from storming back indoors and wreaking major havoc. Hermione came up to the other side of him, and they each grabbed a shoulder and pulled him down until all three were comfortably seated on the ground. Then the two of them took turns narrating the events of the day and their theories about Draco Malfoy.

"Well it does seem logical that he would somehow be connected. And despite this urge I have to pound his skull in, I think a more rational approach is in demand here. If this does involve Malfoy, there must be something huge that Ginny's hiding from us. Otherwise she would have talked to us. After all, it's not as though she fancies the bloke."

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

The sight that met Draco's eyes was shocking. He was almost positive that she was going to tell him. He saw it in her eyes. They softened for just a fraction of a second. Then the strangest thing happened. Draco looked down at her hands in his, and saw them trembling. This petite redhead sitting before him was shaking violently. Ginny looked as though she had just seen the ghost of a forbidden lover. Draco was clearly confused, and slightly taken aback. Part of him wanted to just get up and leave the more than slightly odd Weasley. Yet at the same time, something kept holding him back. Draco willed his legs to move, and stand up. Nothing seemed to be happening, though. So he simply resorted to watching Ginny with heightened curiosity.

For the first time in his life, Draco was at an entire loss for words. He had never seen anyone this afraid before. What made it worse was the fact that he knew that no matter how bad her fear was, it was probably warranted. Draco could only imagine what Ginny was going through. He now just acted on impulse. The sight of this quaking girl in front of him was far too much to bear. He gently pulled Ginny closer to him, and rested her head on his chest. Then he stretched his legs out, and maneuvered himself behind her, so he was seated against the wall, and she was leaning against him. Draco then pulled her closer and cradled her in his lap. Ginny buried her head in his chest and gripped at the front of his robes with her hands. His hands were gently stroking her back, soothing her trembles away. She sucked in air and breathed heavily, in an attempt to calm herself. He tried to give her as much of his warmth as he could. The two of them sat like that for what could have been hours. Neither one seemed to care about the passing time. They simply reveled in the deafening silence, which spoke more clearly than any words ever could have. The cloud of tension that hung over their heads slowly dissipated. The ice in her tears melted in the warmth of his chest, not for the first time. All that remained was the visible shadows of two troubled souls. There were no more words, only dreams.

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

Draco slammed the door and stormed away from Malfoy Manor, his cloak billowing behind him in the wind. He didn't stop marching in a fit until he had gone so far that he had to pause to check where he was. Looking up and down the darkened street, Draco realized just how late it was. He forced air into his lungs and sighed in frustration. Slowly his brow straightened as he calmed himself down.

'Bloody spawn of Satan had to be MY father,' Draco swore at the air and kicked a rock. He shoved his hands in his pockets and continued his walk, at a much more relaxed pace this time.

It was always that moment that came three seconds after he woke up every morning that was the most painful moment of the day. In the few seconds that he lied in bed, caught between sleep and wake, Draco had to force himself to remember the world he was returning to, from his world of dreams. And for those three seconds he prayed, and was almost sure, that his last name wasn't Malfoy; that he had some other father: some father he could be proud of. But those hopes always crashed down before they even properly formulated. Draco was always left disappointed: he was a Malfoy; he would stay a Malfoy.

He had been so confused as a child. He thought growing up to be the most valued Death Eater was the only life for him. Pleasing his father and eventually Voldemort was the only priority on his list. All of that held true until one day, two years ago to the day, when Lucius Malfoy went too far. Voldemort had just risen to power again, and Lucius and the other Death Eaters were called back into service. Draco couldn't have been more excited. He eagerly awaited his opportunity to serve the Dark Lord and prove his worth.

He had been out all day with Crabbe and Goyle, wreaking his usual havoc and being his usual obnoxious self. Draco came in, exhausted from a hot day's worth of fun. He went tramping through the door, past the foyer, and into the entrance hall. All the while he was calling out,

'Mum! Mum, come look and see what I've found!' Draco was holding the most beautiful piece of obsidian that he had laid eyes on. He proudly held it high, and searched for his mother. His foots sounded past the entrance hall, and into the kitchen: empty. He walked through the door at the other end and found himself in the parlor: empty again; out the parlor and onto the terrace: no one; back inside and down the narrow hallway to the dining room: still no one there.

'She's taking a nap,' he decided firmly, suppressing a nagging sensation in the back of his head. He made his way up the stairs and down the hall, past the bathroom, past his bedroom, and stopped in front of the master bedroom. Right as he reached to place his hand on the knob, a sense of foreboding gripped him and the hairs on his arm stood up straight. Draco slammed the door open and whipped his head around, almost afraid of what he'd see. The crashing echo of the rock dropping to the ground filled the mansion as soon as his eyes stopped searching, and rested on the object in desire.

From the outside, Draco looked like a statue. He stood rooted to the ground, his hand glued to the knob. His every muscle was frozen stiff and his eyes were fixated on one point. The blood coursing through his veins raced to his heart to keep it from stopping. He felt as though his brain had been slammed against the inside of his head, and could hear his pulse echoing in his ears. His lids grew round and framed his dilated pupils in two flaming silver circles. Utter shock was the only force that kept Draco from collapsing.

There was his mother, lying on the floor. Her head was turned to one side, a mass of blonde silk clouding her face. Her arms were haphazardly thrown about to either side, and her legs were tangled in the mess of her robes. There was something else that made the picture worse. Draco couldn't bring himself to realize what it was, until he took a step closer and saw the small pool of red spilling from the base of her skull.

'Mum?' Draco's voice gingerly broke the infinite silence. He summoned up all his energy and forced his feet to move closer to the still body of his mother. He immediately dropped to his knees, and leant over her, watching with the same expression of abject shock. Draco closed his eyes and filled his lungs in the hardest breath he had ever taken. Then he opened them up again, and tried to curb the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach as he reached his hand out to draw the hair away from her face. Most fortunately, he found her eyes closed. Looking into his mother's lifeless eyes would have been far too much for him to handle. Suddenly Draco jumped back. He thought he felt something on her face. He put his hand back to her cheek and realized what he felt: warm breath. Every muscle and bone in his body relaxed tenfold and his stomach settled itself once again. Draco closed his eyes and turned his face upwards.

'Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,' he breathed the desperate words. The rest of his actions happened in quick succession. He slipped his left forearm under the nape of his mother's neck, and his right arm went under her knees. He then adjusted so he was on one knee, and slowly rose to his feet with his mother gently resting in his arms. Draco carried her to the adjacent bathroom and stopped in front of the bathtub. Maneuvering his arm so he could pull out his wand, he muttered some words to the tub and it filled with scented soapy water. He worked silently and without thinking, taking off his mother's robes and slowly placing her in the tub. Then he dropped his cloak, removed his boots, and rolled up the legs of his trousers. Draco seated himself on the edge of the tub, straddling his mother's back, with his feet resting inside the water. He grabbed a washcloth and gently scrubbed the blood away from the back of her head. He took up a mug sitting next to the tub and poured soothing hot water over the wound until it was clean. Under his hands Draco could feel his mother stirring back to life. Suddenly the knot in the pit of his stomach returned. He did not want his mother to know that he had found her like that; he was too afraid of both the look in her eyes when she found out, and the explanation that she would give him. So he quickly jumped out of the tub, grabbed his cloak and boots, and disappeared from the room.

The sharp intake of air shook Draco's lungs. He tried to walk off the desire to kill someone, namely his father. That wasn't the last time Draco had seen his mother beaten. Narcissa later explained to her son that she wasn't the right woman for Lucius. She wasn't the woman he thought he had married. Lucius had taken her on as a bride, thinking that she would be a beautiful slave to his every whim. She would beget his heir and help him in his servitude to the Dark Lord. She was only half the woman he thought she was. Narcissa was beautiful, but she was no slave. She did give birth to Draco, but she still refused to side with the Dark Lord. Narcissa never went to a Death Eater meeting, consistently claiming some sort of illness or impairment. Of course, she was mostly telling the truth because Lucius would beat her to the point of handicap every time she refused to attend.

Draco forced himself to breathe as the infuriating thoughts boiled their way back into his mind. He never understood why his mother was so hell-bent upon staying away from Voldemort. All he knew was that his mother represented one of the few constants in his life. She was the only force that could keep him alive. If she had a problem with being a Death Eater, then there was no way he could do that to her. He was thinking all this when his father walked in the room. Draco knew himself too well to just sit there. He immediately stalked out of the room, worried that he may do something drastic if the two of them were forced to be in the same room with his mind in that state.

That is what brought Draco Malfoy to this particular part of the street this time of the night. He was silently fuming his way along, when a glint of red caught the corner of his eye. He turned slightly and saw a great deal more of red. Draco narrowed his eyes into slits, and slowly made his way across the street. He pulled his wand out by instinct, and crept down the alleyway, staying close to the wall. After taking a few more steps, Draco could clearly see that there was a girl sprawled on the ground. His head quickly darted around to make sure there were no prowlers, and that the apparent assaulter had left. Then he sprinted over to the body, and knelt next to it. Draco swallowed hard before reaching out a hand to draw the hair aside. A sickening feeling of déjà vu coursed through his veins, as he feared the worst. Pushing away the fiery tendrils and turning the body so she was face up, Draco could easily recognize the poor girl.
'WEASLEY??' Draco's astonished voice echoed into the barren street. He gingerly reached up to her face and touched the bruise on her forehead. 'What the hell happened here?' Then his eyes drifted across her face and he saw the bruised lips and tear-stained cheeks. Draco's eyes sparkled and widened as he jumped to the obvious conclusion. Filled with rage, he sprang to his feet and bounded out of the alley. Draco ran aimlessly up and down the street, not quite sure what he was looking for. All he knew was that it took a sick bastard to try to rape Ginny Weasley, and no one was going to get away with it.

Having searched the vicinity to his satisfaction, Draco suddenly remembered the reason for his anger. He quickly darted back to check on Ginny. Sitting on the ground next to her, Draco's anger quickly left him, and he was soon filled with another entirely different emotion. His fingers gently stroked her arm, in an attempt to wake her. But this Weasley seemed to be quite a stubborn sleeper. So he instead resorted to taking in the sight of her lying helplessly on the cold ground, the extremely cold ground. Draco shivered through his robes, and only wondered how cold she must be. He immediately pulled her towards him, and rested her against his chest. Cradling her softly, Draco scrunched Ginny up as close as he could. Then he wrapped his cloak around the both of them and rocked her back and forth. The whole situation amazed Draco partly because he was appalled that ANYONE would try to harm Ginny, and partly because he found himself caring so much.
'What's the big deal with her anyway?' he asked himself. Then he looked down into her face and watched her sleep. She looked so peaceful. It was as though this beautiful bundle in his arms was the last sacred piece of goodness left. She represented everything pure that remained in this corrupt world. Even her name, 'Virginia,' showed her purity. If just one spot tainted her perfect image, Draco would be sure that there is nothing sacred. As if she were trying to respond, the girl in his arms began stirring. Draco immediately snapped himself out of his dreams and returned his full attention to the matter at hand.

'Ginny?' Draco's voice sounded much more shaky than it had in his head. He continued to hold her tentatively, but she turned into him more. Draco was a little startled by the blind show of affection, but a grin threatened his lips. He heard her breath deeply and saw her lashes part to reveal two of the richest pools of honey he had ever seen. Draco thought she was beautiful before, but now? His jaw fell slightly before he quickly caught himself and regained his composure. 'Are you all right?'

Ginny jumped slightly at his gruff voice. She suddenly realized that she wasn't in heaven with angels holding her, but was wrapped in the arms of...DRACO MALFOY?? A mixture of fear and confusion crossed her face, but was soon dispelled as the blonde Slytherin tucked a strand behind her ear. She could have sworn she saw him smile - not smirk - but smile a second ago.

'Ginny? Are you all right?' The tone in Draco's voice showed her that this wasn't the first time he was asking her this question. Not being able to form words, Ginny just nodded in ascent. He cocked his head to the side a little, an amused expression playing across his face.

'Do you want to tell me what happened?' Draco tried to hide the building anger in him, but didn't do so well, because his hands visibly tightened around her body. She apparently sensed his apprehension, and decided that it was best to leave this a secret. So she shook her head and buried it in his robes, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Draco nodded his head once.
Right then, he thought to himself. She doesn't want to tell me what happened. It must involve someone that she doesn't want beaten up. Potter. I swear, Potter, if you've so much as TOUCHED Ginny...I will kill you. Draco smirked at his "sharp" deduction, and then smirked wider at Ginny's apparent attempt to burrow a hole in his chest.

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

Ginny hesitantly lifted her head a little, and pried her eyes open. They stung and were sticky from crying. She took in her surroundings. Hmmm, I seem to be in a broom closet. Her eyes skeptically surmised the area and determined that there was no reason for her to be waking up in a broom closet. Right, then. I should probably leave now. Ginny tried to get up, but found that shifting her weight forward was more than a simple task. She looked down and realized that a pair of hands was locked around her, and her legs were tangled with two more legs. Well, this is an interesting development. She turned on to her stomach and looked to her side. Ah, Draco Malfoy. Well I guess there is a reason for me waking up in a broom closet: I fell asleep in it, next to Draco Malfoy. Ginny narrowed her eyes in thought at her "angel" lying next to her. Who would have thought? Ginny laughed to herself at the irony that of all six of her brothers and Harry, none of them were the ones to find her. No, it had to be their arch nemesis, the boy whom they've despised since day one. She reached up and flicked some hair off of his face. He's really not all that bad. All Ginny could remember was waking up and desperately convincing Draco that this had nothing to do with Harry. Still, something seemed to be nagging her at the back of her head. She remembered falling asleep against Draco in the alley, but she also remembered waking up in Draco's bed, with him sleeping in a sofa. She knew that she had left her home late at night, but she also knew that she had snuck back in early in the morning. Something didn't add up. But before Ginny could get too far in her calculations, her thoughts were rudely interrupted.
Draco's arms tightened around her and he turned a little, forcing Ginny to lie sprawled across his chest. She could hear him groan a little before he opened his eyes.

"AACK!" Draco yelled at the sudden sight of red and jumped back a little. Ginny, finally released from his grip, stood and straightened herself off. Draco watched with amusement as the previous nights events came back into his memory.

"Draco? You wouldn't happen to have the time?"

"Time? Oh. Yes." Draco quickly checked his watch. 5:15 AM. "Bugger! Ginny, we'd better get out of here unless we plan on being attacked by the entire Gryffindor House, not to mention a few professors." Draco stood as he said the words and briskly made his way over to the door. Ginny followed behind, too caught up in her own thoughts to say anything.

Draco grabbed Ginny's hand, and they stealthily made their way down the hall, narrowly escaping Filch twice. It was still very early, so the only people that were out were the couples that were sneaking back to their rooms from the Astronomy Tower. So far Draco and Ginny had gone unseen. They quickly ducked behind a rather massive knight to hide from a Mrs. Norris. Ginny was a little more than flustered from being pressed against Draco's chest. She looked up into his eyes and decided to mouth the words that had been bothering her since they woke up.

"Draco." Her voice was almost unintelligibly soft. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry. I know you only pulled me in there because you wanted to prevent something bad from happening. And I know that I should have just told you. It's just that it's a little hard to tell, sometimes, whom to trust. I mean, I have so much trouble deciding whether or not I can put my faith in people that I end up pushing them away. So I usually end up lonely anyway. I will tell you what's been going on. After all you deserve that much, considering how much trouble you've taken to make sure this doesn't end in mass destruction. I just have to convince myself that I can trust you first." Ginny's eyes never left Draco's, and they revealed much of her fear and vulnerability. She sighed, deciding that no matter how she felt, telling him would be the only answer. All she could do now is pray that she was right about him.
As if on cue, Draco reached a hand out and stroked her cheekbone. Then he smirked lightly, before leaning in a little.

"Who ever said that mass destruction was all I cared about?" he whispered into her nervous ears. Both of them smiled involuntarily, and Draco led her out from behind the statue. They were too busy with themselves to remember why they had been hiding in the first place. Draco was still dragging Ginny behind him when he smacked into a slightly taller Quidditch captain.

"Malfoy." Ron growled at the other boy. "Is there a reason you're holding my sister's hand?"
Chapter 3: To the Hospital Wing, Hogsmeade, and the Library by Ephemere
Chapter 3


"Weasley. How good to see you." Draco smirked and pulled the hiding Gryffindor from behind him as he spoke, still clutching her hand. "Now, while I realize that Gryffindors may not be as shrewd as us Slytherins, I thought I could at least credit you with minor deduction skills. After all, how many logical assumptions are there for why Ginny and I would be holding hands, walking about at 5:30 in the morning?" Draco's eyes danced with amusement at Ron's reddening face. This is almost too easy.

"Draco, don't!" Ginny's voice came out as a squeal at his shoulder.

"But don't worry, Weasley," Draco drawled and turned to face Ginny at this last part, "I'm sure she thoroughly enjoyed herself."

Ginny's eyes widened with shock. What is he doing?? Is he asking to get beaten up? "Draco! Don't be an arse!" She desperately whirled around and tried to plead with Ron. "Ron, listen to me. He's just being an idiot. Nothing happened, I - " But Ginny couldn't quite get out the rest of her sentence.

"Let. Go. Of. Her. NOW!!" Ron bellowed at the two of them. Ginny jumped at the sound of his voice, and flew to his side.

"Ron, please. Don't do this, it really was nothing. You don't understand, he's ju-" But, alas, it was no use.

CRACK!

Ron's fist went flying into Draco's jaw. The other boy was caught off guard and flew to the ground. He instantly got up though, and both Quidditch captains were rolling on the floor, a deathly grip on each other's throats. Ginny whimpered; she had no idea what to do. She didn't have very long to think either, as Filch came storming down the hall. The next series of events happened one after the other. Draco and Ron were somehow pried off of each other and ushered to the infirmary. Ron was wearing a particularly smug look, having noted how many more bruises he had inflicted than received. He turned to say something to his sister, but she was already gone.

Harry and Hermione were sitting in the common room discussing Ron's latest disappearance, when all of a sudden a flash of red came zooming through the portrait hole.

"Ginny! Wait!" Hermione shrieked as loud as she could without waking the entire tower. "Where's Ron? Is he okay?"

"He's in the infirmary now." Ginny bit back a sob and turned to go up the stairs. Wait a minute... Then she whipped around. "Hermione, how did you know something was..." But Ginny trailed off when she saw that she was the only one there. Well then.

Ginny slowly trudged up the stairs and tiptoed over to her bed, where she let out a massive sigh. She pressed a hand to her temple and closed her eyes. She raised her hand and swept it across, in an attempt to blot out the rest of the world. It'll never work, you know, she told herself. You can't just escape this. You have to tell someone. Ginny knew that telling someone would be the only way out of this mess. The only question that remained was who.

Hermione? She was trustworthy, smart and very dependable. But Ginny always felt like such a child when she went to Hermione with her problems. It was never much of a comfort to tell the older girl that something was wrong, maybe because she was so close with Harry and Ron. They had a kind of closeness that she could never have, but could only dream of penetrating.

Harry? Most definitely not. Ginny had promised herself a long time ago that she would never let herself be as vulnerable as she had been her first few years at Hogwarts. She was a pathetic child that followed Harry around and sent him cheesy valentines. She had no dignity. If Ginny went crying to Harry now, she would just be taking away all that strength she had worked so hard to build up.

Ron? HAH! Ron wouldn't even attempt to understand how any of this was affecting her. He would simply turn it over to Hermione and declare it a case for the three of them to solve. No, Ginny had only one choice left. There was only one person who could actually help her.

She knew he was just as smart and powerful as her brother, Harry, and Hermione, so he would definitely be able to handle this. Ginny also knew that he had dealt with the Dark Arts and was definitely exposed to pain. There was something else about him too: something that gave him a sort of hero complex he rarely ever showed to anyone. Ginny knew that part of him was aching to save her, if she just gave him the chance; she could see it in his eyes. So it's settled then. I guess I'll just have to find out what exactly makes that Slytherin tick... With that she rolled over and snuggled into her sheets, ever so grateful for Saturday mornings.

"Harry," Hermione whispered, "what are we going to do?" The two of them were sitting next to Ron's bed, watching him lay there. Madame Pomfrey had knocked him and Draco out because they were making far too much noise with their incessant arguing. Hermione could now only wonder what was swimming through her best friend's mind. She started to shake at the thought of what he looked like when he stormed out of the common room. Desperately, she closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. Regaining her composure, she turned to Harry and quirked an eyebrow.

"Well," the dark-haired boy began, before pausing to wipe his glasses. "I'm not too sure what we can do. I mean, it's already pretty much happened. We can't go back and change the past, so we might as well just deal with it."

"But, Harry! You saw the look on Ron's face! What are we going to tell him?"

"What do you want to tell him?" Harry's eyes narrowed slightly in confusion.

"I don't know...but don't you think we should say something? I mean, he was so angry that he just stormed right out of here. It's probably why he even picked a fight with Malfoy to begin with!"

"Ugh, Hermione!" Harry threw his hands in the air and stood up in frustration. "It's not as though he has a real reason to be angry anyway. So we kissed? What does that mean to him?"

"Harry." Now Hermione was standing in front of him. She soothingly placed a hand on his arm to calm the boy down. "He is, after all, our best friend. How can you blame him for being upset if he catches us kissing completely out of the blue? Come on, he must have been expecting one of us, especially you, to tell him something. Who knows? Maybe he thought this had been going on for a while, and we were keeping him in the dark." Now it was Harry's turn to sigh. He ran two fingers across his forehead before smiling down into Hermione's face.

"I know. I'm sorry. I guess we just have to wait until he wakes up to sort this whole thing out." Harry circled his arms around Hermione's waist and clasped them behind her back. He gently pulled her closer till she was resting against his chest. He chuckled softly as a mischievous grin crept across his face. "Until then, of course...we'll just have to find other means of passing the time."

Ginny gingerly opened the door to the infirmary, hoping Madame Pomfrey wouldn't notice and usher her out. To her surprise, Harry and Hermione were already there. To her greater surprise, Harry was sitting in a chair, with Hermione perched on the arm, positively snuggling against him. Ginny cleared her throat to make her presence known. Hermione sprang several feet away from Harry, and both of them stared at Ginny wide-eyed.

"Er, Hullo, Ginny. Just how long were you standing there, like that, by the door...?" Harry nervously fidgeted and stammered out the words.

"Long enough." Ginny was grinning from ear to ear. "So, are you two, 'together' or something? Because if you are, I would just absolutely love you."

"Well, apparently Ron's not all that thrilled with the idea." Hermione looked at the still unconscious Weasley and let out a sigh.

"Erm, well, I have an idea. Why don't the two of you go on to breakfast, you must be starved. I'll stay here and explain it all to Ron when he wakes up. After all, who but his ickle sister could convince him more of anything?" Ginny finished with a sly grin on her face. Please, just leave...

"Well," Harry laughed softly, "I could use some food. Hermione? What do you say? She does have a point." At this, Hermione turned and studied Ginny and Harry for a few seconds before agreeing. Then the two seventh-years walked out of the infirmary, leaving Ginny behind with two seemingly unconscious boys.

Ginny let out a sigh of relief as she took a few steps closer to Ron's bed. She scrutinized his face carefully and ascertained that he was in fact asleep. With a stiff nod she closed the curtain and made her way past his bed and across to a bed on the opposite side of the room. Slowly she drew back the curtain and felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight that met her eyes. Ginny had never seen anyone sleep so beautifully, let alone a Malfoy. She took a step closer and let her eyes graze over his features. A few strands fell loosely across his lids and blew back and forth in the wind from the open window. His cheeks were taught, revealing the determined jaw line. He looks strong even when he's sleeping, Ginny mused at his ability to avoid vulnerability at all costs. Draco's lips were parted slightly, and his chest rose and fell gently with every intake of breath. Ginny sat herself on the side of the bed as her eyes fell on the bruises gracing Draco's face.

"Oh you poor thing," she breathed as a hand involuntarily rose to his face. Her fingers stroked the wounds that were gradually decreasing in size even as she watched. Madame Pomfrey had decided that the slower process of healing would minimize the appearance of scars. Ginny's hand lingered on Draco's face as she moved to caress his cheek with her palm. She jumped a little when he moved into her touch, but Draco quickly snapped his hand up and grabbed her wrist before she could pull it away.

"Oh, Ginny, even you should know by now that I'm quite a lot of things, but none of them is poor." Draco started counting on his fingers. "I've been witty, athletic, engaging, mysterious, and drop dead sexual, but I don't think I've ever been poor. Maybe you could give me a lesson on that one." A smirk teased Draco's mouth, and he lowered his hand, still holding on to Ginny's wrist.

"Oh. I didn't realize you were awake." Ginny chose to ignore everything that came out of his mouth. She had to force herself to put up with the smarmy Draco until she could pull out the one she knew from before. She needed to find the Draco inside that let her trust him. A sigh escaping her lips, Ginny shifted a little and met his eyes. "Draco, we need to talk."

"Are you sure?" He regarded her skeptically, recalling what had happened the last time they tried this. "I don't want to pressure you, but you do know this is pretty important, right?"

"I understand. I'm ready to tell you now. I want you to know, because I want you to help me, and because you deserve to know. First I just want to thank you, Draco, for what happened this summer. I know you told me not to talk about it again, and I haven't told anyone. I just need you to realize that I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't found me like you did, and if you hadn't saved me like you did. You may try to come off as this sodding git, who couldn't care less about anyone besides himself even if he tried. But for some reason, I can't help but feel like I can trust you. I don't know what it is about you. Maybe it's just the fact that I feel like I owe you, or the fact that you just intimidate me. I don't buy that, though. I can't put my finger on it, but I know there's something inside you that just keeps calling out to me, compelling me to put my faith in you. I haven't quite figured you out yet, Malfoy, and believe me, I will. But until then, I'm just going to go along with this gut feeling of mine that you're trustworthy." Ginny took a deep breath after she finished. She spoke the words as fast as she could, afraid that if she stopped she wouldn't be able to force herself to finish.

Draco stared back into her eyes, his expression blank and almost lifeless. He had definitely not expected to be hearing this kind of belief from a Weasley. He was sure he would have to convince her that he had no ulterior motives before she even budged. Then again, why didn't he have any ulterior motives? Draco's head was swimming with confusion over what to think about the nervous girl in front of him. There was no need to sort out the confusion, though, for Ginny had already begun her narration when Draco tore himself out of his thoughts.

"Draco? Did you hear me?"

"Hmm? What was that?"

"I said, the man that kept making those appearances in my - well whatever they are, - " Ginny breathed heavily again. She closed her eyes and willed herself to say the words.

"Tom Riddle?" It wasn't until she heard Draco echoing her own words that she realized she had actually spoken. Draco's eyes danced with thought as he considered Ginny's words. "Tom Riddle..." Why does that name sound so familiar? God, think Draco! "Tom Ri - " his voice stopped short, and his eyes visibly widened. Ginny could feel his grip on her wrist considerably loosen, and she closed her frightened eyes, knowing that he somehow knew the secret identity. Draco didn't seem to notice any of this. He was looking right at Ginny, but he seemed to be looking through her more than actually at her. "My father. That's where I've heard the name before. My father told me the story many times. Of how the greatest wizard in the world walked away from his godforsaken birth, and took on a much greater identity. How he rose to his position of power from an offensive past." Then Draco returned to the world before him. He looked at Ginny long enough for her to open her eyes. Reading her slightly shocked expression, he quickly added, "Yes, well, it's all part of the Death Eater training bit. But how do you know Tom Riddle?"

She let out a hollow laugh. How do I know Tom? Oh not extensively, just enough so that he practically still lives inside of me. "Oh, I guess you could say he's an old friend."

"That's right. The diary. My father told me later about how he slipped it to you."

"Draco, there's more. I don't just know Tom from the diary; he kind of, made his way into my head."

"Well, that's right. You talked to him didn't you?"

"No, Draco, you're not understanding. He basically had this stronghold over me. You remember your second year? When the Chamber of Secrets was opened?" Ginny swallowed nervously and went on, "Well, that was me."

"You??" Draco's jaw dropped to his chest. "You're the heir of Slytherin???"

"No! Volde- Tom is- was the heir of Slytherin. He just made me do all those nasty things. Draco, he practically lived in my head for a whole year. Even after Harry got rid of the diary, whatever was left of him stayed with me. I still see him in my dreams sometimes. He never really left, you know."

An awkward silence followed. Neither one knew exactly what to say; just that something needed to be said. Draco slipped his hand down from her wrist and into hers. The action was so sudden, that Ginny's head darted up. It had seemed like such an affectionate thing to do, that it was unfitting of a Malfoy. Yet, the chills it sent up her spine were all too familiar. Her expression softened and she stared into his face. Then the remembrance came crashing down on her, as thoughts that were shoved out of her head slowly resurfaced.

"Here's how it happened..." and Ginny let the thoughts tumble out from her mind to her throat and off her lips.

The last thing I remember from that night is walking with Tom. He had come back for me, and told me to follow him. It didn't really matter where we were going, as long as I was with him. I followed a few steps behind, but soon enough my mind started wavering. I stopped all of a sudden, next to an alleyway. Ron. I couldn't help but think of him. My brothers, and my family...they're all at home. Should I go back? I should at least tell them that I'm leaving, shouldn't I? Tom, apparently sensing my distance, stopped and turned around.

What's wrong Ginny? Why aren't you coming?

What about Ron? Will he be okay?

Of course he will, Ginny. As soon as he realizes that you're safe, he won't mind. He doesn't care about you anyway. At least, not like I do.

He doesn't? No. No, you're wrong. Ron loves me.

Ginny.
He came at me with this murderous look in his eye. I love you. No one else can love you like I do. Then he just sort of stared at me for a while. You don't seem convinced. Here, let me show you how much I love you. Then you'll see.

He stepped even closer, and reached out to touch me. All of a sudden he jerked my head backwards by my hair. I tried to make noise, and pry his hand away from my head. Then he, well...he kissed me. It was sort of tentative first, then he got all forceful, and he started to hurt me. I was trying so hard to scream and push him away, but he was too strong. When he finally let go, I started to run away, but he stopped me.

Ginny. You must understand. I'm not hurting you: you're hurting yourself. He kept saying it over and over again. I love you, remember? Stop fighting me. I knew it couldn't be true, but something inside made me want to believe him.

I had wanted to tell him that I loved him too, but I just couldn't. It felt wrong. Then I snapped back into reality, and everything just hit me so hard. I was almost sick at the thought of what I might have done. I felt so dirty right then, I just wanted to drop dead. I needed to be home, in my own bed. I wrenched myself free from Tom's grasp, but he grabbed at my wrist, and hauled me onto his shoulder. This wasn't right. Tom isn't here. He can't be here. It just didn't make sense to me. Then it was as though I could see the confusion in my brain, playing out in front of me. Everything around me got distorted. The blinding light that was there for the past hour since I had left my house suddenly disappeared. I could see Tom disappear, and felt myself falling.

The rest is basically a blur, up until a point.

Ginny's fingers tightened on Draco's hand a little. She hadn't realized how serious all this really was until she'd vocalized it. She had spent the last month trying to suppress the little incident, but now she knew that she couldn't, and that trying would really do her no good. The hair on her neck stood up, and she shivered in fright. Never had she been more afraid than now. Even the terror she felt in the Chamber of Secrets paled in comparison to this. This was a combination of all that fear plus the anticipation of having to go through all of it again. He can't be coming back. PLEASE say he's not coming back. Ginny poured all her fear out into her eyes, but found it hard to keep a steady gaze with her violent shaking.

When Draco looked up into her face and saw her tear-filled eyes, he wasn't sure what had come over him. All he knew was that he felt the sudden need to remove anyone that dared to touch her. He gently pulled on her hand, so she fell forward into him. He slipped an arm under her shoulders and across her back, while the other hand still gripped hers, his thumb massaging her wrist. Ginny lay above him, their faces separated by mere centimeters.

"Ginny. I need you to trust me. You can't ask me why. Just know that if anyone touches you, he won't live to see the next day. You know I'm the only one who can help you now. Just promise me you'll trust me, and don't ask questions." He moved his left hand up from her wrist and started toying with her curls as he spoke. His right arm still held her pinned against him, but she made no move to get up.

"Draco, I - "

"Just promise me."

"Fine," Ginny reluctantly let out after a moment of deliberation. "But you j - "

"Shhh..." Draco trailed a finger to her lips to quiet her. He intently studied Ginny's features through hooded eyes. His fingers traced her eyebrow and down to her cheekbone. He ran his knuckles along her jaw line, and slipped his hand around her chin. Ginny sighed at his touch. He held her face with one hand before him. Draco slowly pulled her towards him, closing the gap. Her lips parted and her breath came out rapidly. He tilted his head, and nudged her nose with his. Drunk on the intensity of being this close to her, he madly kissed her eyelids, and all across her forehead. Ginny purred at his sudden outburst, then summoned up all her energy and tore her eyes open. Pushing her weight forward she tried to return to her sitting position, but his arm kept her pressed against him. Draco closed his eyes and turned his face into her hair, taking in her scent.

"Ginny." His voice was hoarse in her ear. "Don't leave. Not this time." He could feel her turn in his arms so she was facing him again.

"Draco, what are we doing?"

"I'm not sure. Just don't leave. I can't let you."

"Why not? What do you want from me?"

"I can't say..." But he trailed off as their eyes met and locked once again. Draco smirked slightly and stroked her face. "No questions, remember? Why don't you just let me convince you to stay?" His hand traveled across her cheek, and down to her mouth. One finger began to trace the outline of her lips, and Ginny moved into the touch, unable to stop herself. Draco gripped the side of her face and pulled her down towards him. Their lips met in the slightest of kisses. Draco was desperately fighting the urge to lunge at her, and he urged her to open her mouth to him. He slowly pulled back and looked up at Ginny sideways. Her eyes were still closed and she looked a little frightened. Draco moved his hand to stroke her lip once again. "Ginny? Come on, just let go for one moment..." Her lips parted at his touch, and he took the invitation. This time she responded immediately, pulling him closer and closer. Her hands trailed their way up to his hair, where they wound circles around his tresses. Ginny nearly collapsed against Draco's chest, intoxicated by his touch. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and pulled her onto the bed next to him. They were lying on their sides, sharing the pillow. Ginny grabbed at the front of Draco's robes and pulled him closer. He locked their legs together behind the knees and traced patterns across her back. Draco's lips finally left hers, and he moved to kiss her ear, then down her neck and in the hollow of her collarbone. Ginny moaned softly in his ear at the burning sensation his hands left everywhere he touched her, and she thought she would either die from it, or drown from the dizziness. Draco's lips were aching, and he found his way back to Ginny's mouth. A strange sensation was growing in the pit of his stomach. It nagged and tugged at him. Just as it got stronger, and he could feel it crawling up to his chest, a cough and a timid voice broke through the air.

"Ginny? Did I hear you come in?" Ron asked as he squinted at his curtains. His head was still throbbing from before.

Ginny's eyes flew open and she squealed as she shot up in Draco's bed. Through the drawn curtain she could hear Ron stirring awake. Her legs were still tangled with Draco's, and his arm was still draped around her waist. She turned her frightened eyes towards him and was slightly shocked at the look on his face. He seemed slightly confused, but very thoughtful. Slowly she could see some sort of realization dawning his features. His eyes widened and his eyebrows reached the top of his head. Ginny wanted to touch his arm and ask what was wrong, when she realized that her hand was still pinned under his head. She looked at it and tugged a little.

"Oh. Right." Draco gingerly sat up, mindful of his still tender wounds. He narrowed his eyes at the girl before him in thought.

"I should really go. I think Ron's awake."

"Hmmm." Then Draco grumbled, adding the last part, "Bloody Weasley. Always ruining my game."

Ginny couldn't stop the blush from spotting her cheeks, and she turned to jump out of the bed. Creeping across the floor, she forced herself not to turn around and take one last look at Draco. It was a good thing she didn't, because what she saw might have scared her.

Draco sat on the bed and let his chin drop to his chest. He brought his hands up to hold his head as he let out a groan. No. It won't happen. It won't come true. I won't let it. I can't let it. I won't let it happen. I won't let it happen... He kept repeating the words to himself as he rocked back and forth on the bed. Everything would only get harder from here on out.

Ron walked slowly towards the Great Hall. His head was swimming with the recent events. He paused for a moment outside the doors, and cocked his head in thought. One side of him was insanely angry with his friends for hiding their feelings from him, but another side believed their story that it was entirely unexpected. One side of him was uncharacteristically angry with them for even having those feelings, but another side told him he was being stupid. So Harry and Hermione were officially a couple. It was only a matter of time, really. Ron had seen it; surely Ginny had seen it. It had only been a matter of time before the two of them got it together. Ron heaved a sigh before his thoughts drifted to his sister. She had been there when he woke up and had narrated the love story of the two Gryffindors. But that wasn't what worried him. Ron was heavily preoccupied with wondering why on Earth Ginny was wandering around with Malfoy. Her answer had been that she needed to get some air, and Malfoy, being Head Boy and all, was trying to take her back to Gryffindor tower. That was another matter that puzzled Ron. How did Malfoy manage to snag Head Boy??? Why did Ginny cover for him to Madame Pomfrey, when she could have easily gotten his Head Boy position removed?? So many questions; so little time. Ron smiled a little to himself and swung the doors open, prepared for the worst.

He marched over to his usual spot, and settled himself between Ginny and Neville. He looked at Ginny for a moment, and when she smiled back, Ron poured himself some pumpkin juice, completely satisfied. Then he looked across at Hermione's nervous expression, and wanted to burst into laughter, suddenly forgetting all of his anger.

"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, "What is the matter with you? You don't actually think I'm upset, do you?" he added after taking a look at Harry's similar expression. "Please, you two are my best friends and I'm just glad that you've finally stopped boring us with your flirting. Not that I want to see a lot of snogging now or anything..." Ron trailed off and made a disgusted face at Ginny, who giggled instantly at her brother's cheerful disposition. Harry and Hermione were considerably red by now, but everything had once again returned to its normal state.

Harry, Hermione and Ron were violently chatting away, spouting all sorts of remarks about Draco Malfoy and their most recent run-in. Ginny smiled to herself, and let her unnoticed eyes wander across the hall. All the students seemed to be laughing, and enjoying themselves. This was very much a typical Saturday morning at Hogwarts. Everyone was excitedly discussing Hogsmeade plans, when Ginny realized that a certain pair of eyes was boring into her head. When she finally looked towards the Slytherin table, she saw Draco staring dead straight at her. She involuntarily shuddered. He had spent enough time with Madame Pomfrey to recover considerably, but there was a fading shade of blue around one of his eyes. The look he wore was enough to freeze water. Ginny squinted a little, trying to draw some sort of emotion from his eyes. She knew that Draco Malfoy wasn't exactly the most open guy, but she seemed to be fairly skilled at drawing out that other side of him. All of her efforts were of no avail, though. Draco still stared at her with a dead expression, as though she weren't even there. Ginny actually turned around to see if he was staring at something directly behind her, when something caught her eye. An owl came screeching down from her right and dropped a letter in her lap. Startled, Ginny looked up at the frightening bird and timidly offered a piece of her toast. With another screech, the owl picked up the toast and flew off. Ron, Hermione, Harry, Seamus and Dean turned to stare at her. Ginny glanced around and started to laugh a little at the circle of raised eyebrows and bewildered expressions before untying the ribbon and unrolling the parchment. Ron instinctively leaned over her shoulder, but Ginny quickly pressed the note close to her chest.

"Ronald Weasley! What do you think you're doing??"

"Nothing! I'm just seeing who's sending my sister letters."

"Why? It's not as though it's any of your business."

"Oh, so protecting my baby sister from evil guys trying to send her evil letters is none of my business now?" Everyone within earshot at the Gryffindor table visibly groaned at Ron's last comment. Seamus leaned over to Harry and whispered,

"You'd think he'd be smart enough not to go there by now. Strangely enough, being Quidditch captain and all clearly hasn't taught him all that much about strategy." Harry hid a chuckle behind his hand and watched the far too familiar seen play itself out. Ginny, however, had not been as pleased with Seamus's wit. She snapped her head around in his direction and narrowed her eyes at him. Then she stuck her nose in the air, and simply read her letter, carefully shielding it from Ron's eyes.

I know you're going to Hogsmeade today. Pick up the following items, and don't let the Dream Team catch you:

...

Meet me at the lake when you get back.


Ginny scanned the length of the letter. She turned it over to look for any sort of signature. Her first reaction was to tear it up and just dismiss it, but then she looked up and saw Malfoy watching her expectantly. Oh. So it's you. Ginny mentally rolled her eyes. So he thinks he can just tell me what to do now, huh? Her eyes widened at the laundry list of items she needed to buy. Her hand instantly flew to her pocket where she fingered the money she had saved from the summer. She had just enough to cover the expenses of all the things Draco wanted her to buy. A little confused, Ginny raised her eyes again to Draco, but suddenly decided against protesting. Another chill going up her spine, Ginny gave a faint nod in his direction to convey her agreement, and he tore his eyes away from her. Ginny let out her breath before realizing she had been holding it. Boys, she resigned, I don't think I'll ever understand them.

"Hulloo...Ginny??" Seamus's voice broke through her thoughts as he waved a hand in front of her. "Ginny, didn't you hear me?"

"Hmm? What was that?" Ginny snapped out of her daze and cocked her head at Seamus. "Oh, I'm sorry, I just didn't really sleep that well last night." She suppressed a smile as she remembered how she had woken up this morning.

"Oh, well, I was just saying how you were going to Hogsmeade today. Because, well, I'm going to Hogsmeade today too."

"Erm, sure Seamus. We're all going to Hogsmeade today." Ginny was a little more than confused at the older Gryffindor's sudden loss for words.

"No I know, I was just thinking. Since, well, you're going to Hogsmeade, and I'm going to Hogsmeade. That maybe we - could go to Hogsmeade..."

"...We are, aren't we?" Seamus sighed in frustration at Ginny's perplexed face.

"Look Ginny. Do you want to go to Hogsmeade?"

"Seamus, what are you talking about? I already said I'm going, you said you're going. Everybody's going. I don't understand." Now Ginny was getting frustrated too. Suddenly they both jumped as Harry slammed his goblet down on the table, nearly splashing Hermione with pumpkin juice.

"GINNY. Seamus is trying to ask you out. Do you want to go out with him today or don't you?" Harry grunted, got up, grabbed Hermione's hand, and strode out of the Great Hall.

"Oh. Well, why didn't you say so?" Ginny nervously tucked some hair behind her ear and shifted a little. It wasn't as though she and Draco were any sort of item; they'd just kissed. She wasn't even sure what that kiss was, besides heated, or where it had come from...Well, she was pretty sure where it had come from. And after all, if his frigid treatment at breakfast was any sign of what he thought of her kisses, she was positive it would never happen again. "Sure, I'd love to. I'll meet you at the front in about twenty minutes." Ginny gulped the rest of her juice down and slid out of her seat, and planted a kiss on her brother's cheek, leaving behind a flabbergasted Ron and Seamus.

"But, Harry, I already told you! I have things to do here."

"Hermione!" Harry threw his hands up in indignation at his girlfriend. "What do you mean 'things to do'? You can't just pass up Hogsmeade and say you have 'things to do.' I mean come on, this is a weekend at Hogsmeade with your one and only. You're going to have to come up with something better than 'things to do.' Unless, of course, I'm not your one and only." Hermione giggled at Harry and gave him a little shove.

"All right, all right, calm down. I just need to go to the library to do some research on..." Hermione looked around the Common Room and lowered her voice to a whisper, "Ginny. Ok? So don't get all uptight. I'll meet you back here later." Then she grinned and snaked her arms around the back of his neck. "Then I can tell you all about my research. And we can do some research on our own..." Before she could finish her thought, Harry had bent down to kiss her, placing his hands gently on her waist. She tilted her face up into his and smiled into his mouth. He tasted sweetly of butterscotch. Hermione started to giggle at the thought of Harry being made of butterscotch, and he pulled away.

"Well," Harry eyed her suspiciously. "I guess you convinced me. I'll meet you back here then?" Hermione nodded and made her way out of the portrait hole.

"Oh, Herm!"

"Yes, Harry?" Harry just looked at her for a moment.

"You never did answer my question."

"What question?"

"AM I your one and only?"

Hermione grinned evilly then took on a thoughtfully amused look. "Hmm. I suppose you're right. I didn't answer your question, now did I?" And with that she walked out of the Common Room.

The autumn weather had deepened to soft hues of red dancing across the streets. Hogsmeade was filled with the echo of excited chatter and the flapping of cloaks in the wind. Two little booted feet tapped along the cobblestone, in perfect unison with two more, slightly larger, booted feet. Ginny was looking around, taking in her surroundings as she walked. Seamus nervously told her stories about Ireland and his great-grandfather's castle there.

"You should come visit some time, Gin." The sound of her name pulled her away from her thoughts.

"Hmm? Oh yes, Seamus. That sounds like fun." Ginny suppressed a sigh. She wasn't completely dense; she knew why Seamus was acting a little more nervous than usual. Normally, Ginny would have been ecstatic to have a good-looking boy like Seamus be nervous around her. Normally, the mere thought of it would have her going into a fit of giggles. Normally, Ginny would be overjoyed at him holding her hand the way he was now. Seamus steered Ginny into The Three Broomsticks and towards a table in the back. Ginny tried to fight down the guilty frustration that was growing at her stomach for not doing its usual flip-flops. Oh, sure, I get all fluttery around Harry when I'm his walking fan club...then when I finally have a chance with him last year, I decide to get over him. Now I'm all fluttery over Mr. Death Eater's son himself, and when perfect little Seamus comes along: nothing.

"Ginny, are you all right?" Seamus was eyeing her curiously from across the table. They had been seated and he had brought over two oversized mugs of butterbeer, but she still seemed lost in some dreamland. The look on Seamus's face sent a wave of guilt over Ginny.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Seamus! Like I said, I didn't get much sleep last night. But I'll try to be more 'here.'" Ginny forced a broad smile and resolved to have as much fun as she could here.

"Good, because I was beginning to worry." Seamus's expression lightened and he started to grin. "You know, Ginny, it is my last year here, and I'm starting to think that there are certain things that I can't really afford to sit around and wait for any longer."

"Oh, well what is it your looking for? I mean, is there something you wanted to do that you haven't been able to do?" Ginny's genuine curiosity brought a far away look to Seamus's eyes.

"Why don't we just say that I'm not going to sit around and watch things happen anymore. Soon enough, things are going to start changing for me...for the better." Seamus finished with a wink and took a large gulp of butterbeer. Ginny let out a nervous chuckle. She really was glad to see the growing confidence in her friend, but was more than a little scared of what he might mean by his words.

Draco flipped furiously through the pages in the book that lay in front of him. He wasn't really sure where to start looking. From what Ginny had described, there was clearly some dark magic going on, but the specific spell was unfamiliar to Draco. It has to be some kind of mind-bending spell...possibly playing on dreams. He was cross-referencing dreams and mind-control. Draco took a glance out the window. The morning hours were slowly winding down, and Draco had to squint into the burning autumn sun. Its intensity seemed to light the entire grounds on fire. The leaves shone red with golden highlights. The sudden burst of color that met Draco's eyes led his thoughts to the reason he was even sitting here in the library.

He couldn't hide the fact that he'd been a little more than fascinated with Ginny lately. She had always struck him as some weak little girl who was far too sheltered and naïve. Even though her innocence made him want to turn and walk away from any thought of her, it was that same innocence that drew him to her. He wanted to keep her as good and protected as she was. Draco had seen enough pain and hatred for a lifetime, leaving him cold to the rest of the world. Ginny seemed to be just the opposite. She had never felt pain, and never saw that ugly side that everyone has. In her eyes, everything was black or white, good or evil. That kind of simplicity never existed anymore, and secretly Draco wished it did. That was his ulterior motive for getting into this mess in the first place: he wanted to preserve the last ounce of simplicity and purity that remained.

Somehow, none of that made sense anymore though. In the last few hours of this morning, Draco had seen how desperately wrong he was. There was nothing left to preserve. He had been drastically wrong about the littlest Weasley. That child of eleven years had opened the Chamber of Secrets, and seen and done more horrble things than Draco could have imagined. As jaded as Draco felt, he never saw true sadness until two years ago. She had lived with this grief for so long, and she still managed to walk somehow. Ginny Weasley was so much stronger than he had ever expected. She had some strange sort of mystery about her. It was as though she was so easy to read and simplistic on the outside, but with just a little prying, you could see there was so much buried underneath. All this was very alluring to Draco, and was the only explanation he was willing to accept for his behavior earlier.

Ginny, Draco's eyes lazily drifted shut and an image of the redhead was plastered on his eyelids. What are you doing to me? He gently massaged his forehead then ran a hand through his hair, suddenly remembering the feel of her hands tangling behind his head. He stretched his back and groaned, then remembered the small sounds of pleasure he had induced from her not too long ago. Bugger! That girl is going to be the life of me! Suddenly Draco's back stiffened and his head shot up. He gripped his stomach and swallowed heavily. It's not true. It's not her.

Hermione walked into the library to see Draco Malfoy sitting at the table hugging himself and rocking back and forth. He seemed to be muttering something under his breath. She slowly made her way towards him and tapped him on the shoulder. Draco literally jumped in the air and his arms flew apart, almost whacking her in the stomach.

"Watch it, Malfoy! I just wanted to see what was wrong with you." Hermione backed a few steps away and eyed him skeptically.

"Well, what business is it of yours, Granger? Not like I want some Mudblood actually caring about me."

"No one," Hermione spoke through her teeth, "said anything about caring about you. I was simply trying to be a good Head Girl and inquire about the well-being of a fellow student. Is that a crime?"

"Of course not. After all, it's not as though you can deny the fact that you find me irresistibly charming anyway." Draco's trademark smirk found its way across his lips and he let the attack ensue. "You better watch yourself Granger; I don't think your little boyfriend, Potter, would like it very much if you accidentally screamed out my name, instead of his." Draco practically laughed at the way Hermione scoffed at him, her eyes wide in shock.

"What on Earth do you know about what Harry likes? That's besides the point!" she quickly added upon seeing Draco's eyebrows shoot up. He was clearly enjoying this. "Look, Malfoy, I don't even know why I'm wasting my time on you. I thought, maybe, you might be sick, but I see that you're just fine. No wait let me correct that. You are sick. Sometimes I wonder if your parents dropped you on your head too many times as a baby." Hermione scoffed one more time then spun on her heel and disappeared into the aisles of books.

Draco shook his head in amusement and sat himself back down. Sometimes I amaze even myself. He returned to the books before him but wasn't able to get much studying done. Hermione had reappeared from the bookshelves, nervously chewing her lip. She gingerly walked over to the chair next to him and settled herself there. Resting her elbows on the table, she simply waited for Draco to look up and notice her. He did.

"What is it now, Granger? You know, I was only kidding about the whole 'Let's cheat on Potter thing!' I would never debase myself enough to have any kinds of relations with a mudblood. In fact, our relationship as it stands now has gone on far too long. Any further conversation would infiltrate my blood. So kindly get up and maintain an appropriate radius away from me." Draco lowered his eyes and began studying again.

"All right Malfoy, here's the deal." Hermione broke the minute-long silence that had followed his most recent string of insults. "I came into the library to do some research, but when I walked over there to find the books I needed, I noticed something funny. None of the books I needed were there. Then I noticed something funnier. ALL of the books I needed were right here, on this table, in front of you." Hermione feigned amazement but only received a blank expression in return.

She continued, "You know something even funnier? Actually, it's not really that funny, just mostly suspicious. None of these books have anything to do with any of the assignments we have. So this must be some independent project you're working on. You must remember that little conversation Harry and I had with you earlier? About you being involved in what happened to Ginny? And Ron and Harry wanting to kill you? Well, let me put it this way. If you share these books with me now, I'll say you're here to just do a little research as Head Boy. No questions asked. Otherwise, I might feel compelled to let Harry and Ron know about your sudden interest in mind-bending, dream walkers." Hermione finished with a smug tilt of her head. She felt very proud for intimidating the Slytherin, or at least attempting to, and was sure that Ron would pat her on the back.

Draco narrowed his eyes at her for a moment before responding.

"No questions asked Granger." He grumbled out and shoved a book in her direction. "If I catch one word of this getting out to Potter and Weasley, you'll wish your parents had another muggle."

Hermione shifted a little then pulled out some parchment and a quill, ready to take notes on her best friend's sister.
Chapter 4: Revelations and Consequences by Ephemere
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.


Chapter 4


First and Second-year students lazily filed out of the library, completely satisfied with their attempts at being studious on this fine Saturday morning. The echoes of footsteps in the halls gradually augmented, as the older students began returning from their Hogsmeade trips. Common rooms were soon packed with excited stories of which wizard was seen with which witch at The Three Broomsticks, and which of the newest Honeydukes sweets taste the best. The chatter intensified and moved its way down the stairs and into the Great Hall, as hungry eyes and growling stomachs took their places at the House tables, eagerly awaiting lunch. It seemed all the Hogwarts students were enjoying themselves over goblets of pumpkin juice, all but five, that is. Two Gryffindors were nervously seated in their Common Room, one more was leaning against a secluded tree, her pockets weighed down, and yet another Gryffindor was cracking her knuckles and resting her quill while her former Slytherin "study partner" was stalking away to a rather important meeting.

Hermione let her eyes shut slowly and let out a deep sigh. After hours of intense research, she had come to one striking conclusion: Ginny is in serious trouble. And depending on the definition of serious, it could mean trouble for just about everyone. Ok, let's just be calm and collected about this. Hermione's hands instinctively rubbed her temples while she tried to ease her own nerves. Deciding that worrying would really get her nowhere, Hermione methodically gathered together her papers and made her way back to Gryffindor Tower. On her way she noticed a great deal of commotion coming from the direction of the Great Hall. Oh good, everyone must be at lunch. Standing before the Fat Lady, Hermione took one last chance to fill her lungs with as much air as she could, then muttered the password and settled next to Harry and across from Ron in front of the fire.

"Hermione," Ron exclaimed, "we've been waiting here forever! Would you care to fill us in on what exactly you've been doing this whole time?"

Harry slung an arm around her shoulder and looked at her expectantly.

"Well? What have you found out?"

"All right, here's the deal," Hermione shrugged away from Harry and pulled up a stool, with her back to the fire, facing the two boys. "I was thinking very seriously about what we knew and saw that day on the train. We were all sitting in the compartment, and I noticed Ginny had fallen asleep. Now, we were looking at the situation from the standpoint that Ginny might have been sleepwalking. The flaw there is that we heard her scream, and it's not as though she's ever developed any sort of pattern for sleepwalking over the past sixteen years. The other approach is that someone kidnapped her. This obviously isn't very likely, considering we were all in the compartment, and would have noticed something. Despite what we thought about Malfoy, Harry, I really don't think he had anything to do with this." She paused to take a breath, but was soon bombarded by Ron's sputtering.

"What do you mean it's not Malfoy?? How can you just rule him out like that?" Ron threw his hands up in exasperation. "Hermione, I can't believe that you, of all people, could actually be dense enough to think that Malfoy is innocent. Malfoy's never innocent. He isn't innocent of anything. Even if it has nothing to do with him, he's guilty. That's number three on the list of reasons why Malfoy shouldn't even be in existence."

"Erm, Ron?" Harry asked with a cocked eyebrow, "What exactly are numbers one and two?"

"One: Malfoy's a git. Two: He's got bloody girly hair."

"Actually, I think he's got quite nice hair." Hermione responded in with a far-away smile.

"HERMIONE!" she jumped at the response she earned from both boys.

"Never mind all that." Harry desperately shook his head of the twelve ugly mental pictures he just had involving Draco's hair. "I have to agree with Ron and say that trusting Malfoy may not be the wisest decision. Why don't you at least tell us why you think he'd be above suspicion?"

"Well," Hermione breathed in deeply as she thought this over. Instinctively, the image of Draco sitting hunched over books in the library for hours on end flew into her head. He seemed so...dedicated. There's definitely something going on with him and Ginny, but I don't think it's mind control. "Look, it's just an instinct I have, ok? We don't have to trust him by any stretch of the means, just not pin the blame on him until we have all the facts. Besides, you don't even know what he's probably not guilty of!" She finished with an exhausted look on her face, and stood up to pace as she continued.

"As I was saying, we were going about this entirely wrong. It's not a simple matter of sleepwalking, or of kidnapping. It's a combination of the two. So I went to the library and began researching sleepwalking, and I found out about dreamwalking. Basically, it's a relatively simple spell that allows you to enter someone else's dream. However, it's simple given one condition. The host, the person whose dreams you enter, must completely willingly allow you in the first time. Once the dreamwalker has access to the host's mind the first time, repeated access becomes much easier."

"So what you're saying is my little sister asked someone to crawl into her head?"

"Not entirely, Ron. See, all that the host needs to do is build a level of trust. That trust can be betrayed or broken, but the spell will be just as effective as long as the host harbors thoughts of the walker. But all of that isn't exactly dangerous. I mean, any of us could enter each other's dreams, but no real harm would be done. It would be more like a game. You see, when the spell is performed, the walker simply guarantees that he or she will play some part in the dream; there is no way of telling what will happen. The dreamwalker has no more sense of consciousness or control over what happens than the actual dreamer. It would produce the same effects as whispering something in a person's ear while they're sleeping; just introduce ideas into a dream. Are you with me so far?"

Harry and Ron frowned for a moment in thought. Then they exchanged a look that meant they knew this was clearly only half of the story. Hermione waited for the two of them to nod before going on with her pacing and talking.

"Right, then. The dreamwalking can be controlled, but only in extreme circumstances. If the host has, at one point, placed complete trust in the dreamwalker, then a second spell can be conducted to allow the dreamwalker to manifest himself in the host's head."

"So this dreamwalker that Ginny has," Harry began, scratching his chin, "he somehow got to the point of total trust and was able to enter her head. And you think that once he was in there, he convinced her to go walking out of the compartment and what not."

"Actually, it may be a little more complicated than that." Hermione shifted nervously before going on. "In order for the mind-control to actually be successful, there needs to be some kind of emotion involved in addition to the trust. Depending on the strength of the emotion, the control grows proportionately. Once it reaches a high point, the manifestation can actually become physical."

"Physical? What do you mean?" Ron's nervous eyes implored her for some kind of answer that wouldn't make him feel any worse about this whole thing. He was, of course, disappointed.

"I mean, if whatever emotion Ginny's feeling towards this person is strong enough, then this person can actually physically appear. At first they will just be in their own world, but with time, and with more dreamwalking the person could come into our world." Hermione sighed at the confused expressions on their faces. "Eventually, we could have a figment of Ginny's imagination walking amongst us."

All three of them froze and sat wide-eyed, staring at the portrait hole as they saw it swing shut behind Neville's departing figure. Hermione's voice became high-pitched and she tugged on a lock of hair as she spoke.

"So, how much of all that do you think he heard?"

"Well, there's only really one way to find out." With that said, Harry marched out of the common room and followed Neville's footsteps towards the Great Hall. Hermione and Ron slumped nervously behind, and they disappeared down the staircase.

Ginny squinted slightly in the blazing sun on her way to the lake. Draco had told her to meet him there after she got back from Hogsmeade, but he wasn't anywhere to be found. So instead she took out the parcel that was weighing down her robes and set it next to her as she lounged beneath a tree. Leaning her head back against the bark, Ginny's eyes fluttered shut from the weight of far too much confusion. So much seemed to be going on in her little world, which was slightly more than boring a few months ago. To be exact, she currently had a teenage psychopath murderer in the making haunting her, the best friend of her ex-boyfriend suddenly interested in her, and she found herself dreaming about potential reenactments of her short-lived snog session with her supposed arch enemy, who had most recently vowed to save her life...again.

Ginny's thoughts involuntarily drifted back to the feel of Draco kissing her. It was so new and frightening, yet naturally refreshing at the same time. It wasn't as though she hadn't kissed boys before, but kissing Draco was like a roller coaster. She had no idea what to expect, and found herself comfortably lost in his arms. Being around him was like being with no other bloke she knew. There had been Michael Corner in fourth year, but he was more of a reason for her to get over her little crush on Harry. Ginny had held a torch for the Boy Who Lived for so long, that she needed a distraction, and the Ravenclaw proved quite adequate. Sure, she fancied Michael, but she never really invested much in him. Even whenever they kissed, it was very awkward. It seemed more of an obligation than any sort of passionate response. Ginny was almost too glad to find an excuse to be rid of him. She thought back to the end of her fourth year, when all she thought she needed was a boyfriend. There was so much fear in the world, with Voldemort on the rise again, and Ginny's nightmares plaguing her, that her newfound confidence was beginning to shake. Of course, she never let on that she was frightened. There was no way Ron would ever have let her join DA or participate in anything if he knew she might start shrinking back to the shell of a person she was in first year. So Ginny turned to the easy answer, and decided to build her confidence externally.

Dean had always been there to talk to her and give her help when she needed it. With Dean, Ginny actually felt like she was in her first real relationship. All the typical elements were there: the fluttery feeling in her stomach when he brushed past her arm, the goofy grins they exchanged, the repeated attempts to escape from Ron's maniacal scrutiny. All the same, something hadn't felt right. When he kissed her for the first time, Ginny was caught off guards, but welcomed the surprise, as she was very much used to Michael's sloppy off-centered attempts. Dean's kisses were always so comfortable, reminding Ginny that she had both feet firmly planted on the ground. It was as though he was her anchor, pulling her down out of the clouds she so often found herself in. But after a few months, Ginny realized she much preferred the clouds. So her fully developed sense of independence brought her here, to this tree, daydreaming about her "experience" with the opposite sex. Letting out a sigh, she shifted to smooth the back of her robes against the rough texture of the tree.

But what am I going to do about Seamus? A voice in the back of her head relentlessly refused to let her simply sit and enjoy the cool autumn afternoon. Ginny picked up a reddened leaf next to her and began to poke at it thoughtfully. Their morning in Hogsmeade was fun, but it seemed interrupted. Ginny simply couldn't concentrate on the poor boy that was with her, her thoughts constantly drifting to a more enigmatic blond she knew. She had an idea, though, that Seamus was trying to build himself up to a point where he would ask her out, and they would be an item. Normally, Ginny would have been far too impatient with his feeble attempts, and would have made the first move. But this time she felt much more comfortable with the procrastination. She rather preferred to let Seamus dawdle in his yet-to-be-fully-realized masculinity while she straightened out the rest of her crazy life. And it was a crazy life indeed, complete with unprecedented feelings toward a Slytherin, of all people.

For the life of her, Ginny couldn't figure out what exactly she felt for Draco. There wasn't exactly a friendship between the two of them: she could barely stand him on most occasions. Still, she couldn't completely hate him, because she had had a glimpse of whoever it was that he kept hidden under that cold exterior, whether he had wanted her to or not. Ginny knew that there was more to Draco than he let on. He had a story to tell, an entirely different life that thrived behind his eyes, that he opened up only for a few brief moments. Ginny ached to know this Draco better, to figure out what exactly makes him tick, but at the same time, the closer she got to him, the more she found out about him, and the more she wished she hadn't. Over half of her confusion right now was because of Draco, and Ginny would be more than happy to be completely free of it all.

Suddenly a gust of wind picked up around her, and she could feel wisps of her hair flying into her face. Ginny opened her eyes and looked up to see the billowing wind lift the idle leaves, and they floated to life, swirling around and around. As if to complete the picturesque scene, there stood Draco, in the center of everything, stony expression and all. Ginny jumped a little at the sight of him. Bugger, it's as though he just shows up every time I think about him. You'd think he was telepathic... His robes were fluttering behind him and his hair was falling in his face. The sun shining in just the right angle behind him created a sparkling halo around his eyes.

"Oh, hullo," she managed in a meek voice after a few moments of gawking "I didn't see you there."

Draco simply smirked and sauntered over towards her, instantly breaking the ephemeral image of her Slytherin angel.

"Harry!" Ron panted behind him, "slow down! We'll get to him soon enough, but I think we should really figure out what we're going to say before we get there."

"Ron's got a point, Harry." Hermione paused to clutch a stitch at her side. I've really got to get in shape. "We're not going to accomplish much of anything unless we have a plan of action. First we need to figure out whether or not we want Neville in on this in the first place."

Harry shot her a look of disbelief at this. He exchanged a look with Ron and they wordlessly agreed that Neville would be the last person they wanted to include on their mission to rescue Ginny from stalkers.

"Oh, come on, you lot." Hermione walked up to them and lowered her voice as she spoke. "You must remember how hard it was to stop him from coming with us to the Ministry two years ago. What makes you think it'll be any easier to cut him out of something that he wants to be a part of now?"

"Hmm, you have a point, Hermione. After all, if my sister is involved, he'll definitely want a hand in helping her." Ron's calm expression earned two looks of utter incredulity from his best friends. "What??" he shifted and felt his face turn red. "Look, I may be a tad overprotective, but I'm not an idiot. I can tell when a bloke fancies my sister."

"Right, Ron," Hermione sniffed, "because you were only the last to know about her last two boyfriends. What you mean to say is that you can tell when a bloke that you approve of fancies your sister."

"All right, you lot." Harry cut in, "I think we're getting a bit off topic. How are we going to deal with this Neville situation?"

Ron rubbed the back of his neck, then voiced his thoughts,

"Well, we've established that we can't cut him out entirely. But at the same time, I don't want him getting too involved in all this. It does feel rather personal, and if what Hermione said about this dream fellow coming to life is true, then I definitely think we should keep this as secret as possible."

"So why don't we just tell him that there's nothing more we can do about it, and we'll talk to Ginny and hope she can stop it herself. We can't let on that we actually plan on investigating further. What do you say Hermione?"

"Sounds like a plan. But before we say anything, we should find out exactly how much he knows. We might not have any explaining to do at all." Hermione finished hopefully, but knew that this was just wishful thinking. She breathed in and went into the Great Hall, praying that Neville was the only one who had overheard them.

They walked through the double doors, and found all the House tables packed with hungry students. Ron led the way over to Gryffindor table, and they seated themselves in their usual seats, except Ron had a space next to him where Ginny usually sat. Before he had a chance to ask where she was, Hermione had already approached Neville with a hushed voice.

"Neville?" she ventured. "Did you have fun at Hogsmeade today?"

"Didn't go." He got out between mouthfuls. "Had to finish that Snape essay." Ron winced at the thought of his own unfinished essay on the effects of newt's tail on outward appearances.

"Oh, I didn't go either! I don't think I saw you in the library though, were you studying in the common room?"

"Stop playing games Hermione." Neville put down his fork and looked her square in the eye. "You lot know very well that I heard everything you said. I also know why you're here, talking to me. But I think you should understand that I fully intend on being a part of whatever it is that you're doing about this. I care about Ginny too, you know. And seeing her hurt is the last thing I want. As scary as the thought of what happened on the train is, it's scarier that something worse could happen to her. So I'm helping, whether you like it or not."

Harry's eyebrows shot into his forehead upon hearing Neville speak so fiercely.

"You know, Neville," he began, leaning across Hermione, "we really appreciate the consideration you're showing. It's very clear that we can trust you to help us out in whatever we do, but that's just it. There's nothing that we're doing right now. See, you left before Hermione could tell us that there's really no way to stop this at all. All it takes is the own will of Ginny herself to stop this. So thanks for the offer of help, and we definitely would include you, if there was something to include you in." Harry finished with a guilty smile, and Ron nodded in the seat across of him.

"Well, I guess so." Neville muttered skeptically before getting up. "Hey, you can't blame me for trying!" And he ran off, claiming he had to fix his Potions homework, leaving behind Harry, Ron, and Hermione to stare after him thinking that was far too easy.

"So, um, Hermione?" Ron broke the silence after a few forkfuls. "I know you told us what's happening to Ginny back there, but I can't help but feel like you got cut off. I mean, is there more?"

Hermione looked up from her plate and set her fork down, her mouth drawn into a determined line across her face.

"There's more."

Draco seized the package sitting next to Ginny and began rummaging through it. Shivers were shooting up her spine at the feel of Draco's hand brushing against hers.

"Dried forget-me-nots, newt scales, rosemary roots...it's all here." Draco's voice taking inventory cut right through her thoughts. "Good little Weasel."

"What did you need all that for anyway?" she snapped, still a little miffed that she had to spend all her money on some whim of Draco's.

"Whoa, slow down before you bite my head off. All of that shopping, after all, is only for you. Here," Draco then reached into his pocket and withdrew some knuts, which he threw into her lap. "I obviously couldn't pay you before, given your psychotic brother."

Ginny fingered the coins in her lap and felt her face turning a slight shade of red.

"Sorry," she mumbled, "but what exactly do you mean, they're for me? What are you going to do with ingredients?"

"Fear not, Ginny dearest, you'll find out soon enough." Draco's eyes were boring into her, and he suddenly turned them away, towards the sun. "I went to the library today. Found some things out I think you should know."

"Oh, you mean you figured out what's going on? So I don't just have some psychotic disease?"

"No, you definitely have a disease. But there's essentially nothing I can do to change the fact that your name is Weasley."

"Draco." Ginny ground out between her teeth, before letting out a sigh. "Would it honestly kill you to set aside the sarcastic glib for all of five minutes?"

"No, I suppose it wouldn't. But then again, why risk it?" Draco turned to meet her eyes, strands of blond falling across his forehead. A deadly smirk was playing at his lips as he moved to lean his elbow on the tree above Ginny's head.

Ginny struggled to feel the strength in her legs, and pushed herself up against the tree, her head now resting in the crook of his elbow. She cocked an eyebrow at him and let out a mischievous grin. Trailing a finger across his chest, she leaned closer to him.

"Are you sure," she whispered, "there's absolutely no way," she could hear his breath get ragged now, "you could change my last name?" It was as though a flint had just been struck in his eyes, threatening to burst in flames, before he stiffened like a bored and turned to stone once again.

"Right, so what I was saying." Draco quickly crossed to the other side of the tree and sat down with his back to it, presumably to avoid any sight of Ginny, who was by now desperately fighting the urge to double over in laughter. "You might want to pay attention to this, it's a little complicated, but I think your feeble mind can pick it up if you try."

Ginny rolled her eyes and sat back down, deciding to filter out his snide remarks.

"Okay, I'm ready."

"Good," and Draco began. "Before I get into all the gory details, what exactly do you know about dream walking?"

"Well, I know that it involves a simple Somnius spell, but won't work unless there's some establishment of trust. Also, neither the dreamer nor the one doing the walking can actually control what happens during the dream." Ginny finished hastily. "Why? Is that what's going on with me?"

"Close, but it's a little more complicated than just that. There's actually a second spell involved: the Concitatius spell."

"Concitatius...isn't that used for some kind of mind control?" Ginny cut in.

"Well, I'm impressed, you're not quite as feeble as I thought." Clearing his throat, Draco went on. "There's two main parts involved in the Concitatius. First, the dream walker, in your case, Tom Riddle, needs to plant some sort of spark in the dreamer, you. In order for it to carry any potency, however, you have to accept it. Acceptance comes from trust, and some sort of heightened emotion. As long as the dream walker elicits a combination of the two, he's good to go. Then, the next time you sleep, wham bam thank you ma'am, the spark activates itself."

"Wham bam thank you ma'am?? Hermione, I can't believe you just said that."

"Oh, Ron," Hermione dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Please, try to keep your jaw from sweeping the floor. I do believe there are more important issues at hand, hmm?"

"Wait, so about this spark..."

"Right. It had to have been a long-term thing for it to have escalated to the point where Ginny's at right now. So that means it involves some serious magic. You see, anyone really can create a spark, but the effectiveness it has depends on the strength of the magic. And the strength of the magic depends on the strength of the wizard, or witch, as the case may be."

"But that means my sister's got some really experienced wizard for a stalker." Ron's eyes darkened a shade as he internalized Hermione's words. "That doesn't even make any sense, though! What kind of company has Ginny been keeping??"

"Look, Ron," Hermione sighed again before speaking. "I don't know much more than you about who Ginny spends time with, but I do know that if she was spending time with potentially dangerous people, she would have the sense to stay away. I also know that the kind of seriousness Ginny's situation has reached depends on an intense combination of trust and emotion, or memory. Basically, whatever Ginny feels for this stalker is enough to consume her, and he's just feeding off of it."

Ginny banged the back of her head lightly against the tree.

"Well, isn't this just great. Once again, it all boils down to the fact that I'm too much of a trusting git. One stupid little mistake, picking up that sodding diary is never going to just leave me alone, is it?" she let out a frustrated sigh before speaking again. "All right, fine. Go on."

"Yeah, right, then." Draco was fiddling with the edge of his robes. He turned his head to the side and suddenly felt the energy drain from him. It's just the stupid spell that's got you like this...she's just another girl, no big deal! "Right. So..."

"Erm, Draco?" Ginny's voice snapped him back into reality. She had walked around the tree and was now crouching in front of him. "You've been sitting like that for a minute straight. And you've done nothing but ramble on. Is something bothering you? I mean, I thought I was supposed to be the psycho in this group," she finished with a smirk.

"No, nothing's bothering me. I was just collecting my thoughts." He looked as if he were considering something very seriously, then spoke, "actually, something is bothering me, Weasel. Is your hair naturally that wild, or do you just keep it that way so you don't entirely blend into the background?"

Ginny sighed, and thought with resignation, At least he's back to his normal self now.

"Well, actually Malfoy, I'm sure you'd love to know that my hair isn't the only part of me that's naturally wild..."

"Sit down, Weasley, let's finish this before people start to notice me associating with the riffraff." He chose to ignore the devilish laugh threatening to escape her lips. "As I was saying, this spark induces fear. Immense fear. Our good friend, Mr. Riddle, feeds off that fear, and slowly becomes real. I'm sure you have some experience with a materializing Tom Riddle, what with your first year and all..." he trailed off and dragged his eyes up to hers.

"Yeah," she searched Draco's eyes relentlessly; she could have sworn she saw something that looked apologetic. "I have a little experience there."

"Well, this manifestation only lasts as long as the subordination lasts. Meaning, as long as you give into it. The only way to stop him from becoming real is to snap yourself out of it."

"But what if she doesn't snap out of it?" Harry was rubbing a hole into his chin, and it was severely red by the time Hermione pulled his hand away.

"Well, it does become increasingly hard to wake up, and the walker becomes stronger and realer each time it happens." Hermione couldn't force herself to meet Ron's eyes as she spoke, afraid of what she'd see.

"So, is there any way to end it for good?" Ron was gripping his fork so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. Hermione reached out with her other hand and placed it on top of his. The three of them sat there looking very solemn, Hermione trying to pour all her strength into her two favorite boys.

"We have to find out what the spark is first. After all, it could cover anything, from a memory, to a feeling, to even just a thought. Then we have to remove it. Don't even bother asking me how, because I have no clue." She added quickly, guessing their next question.

"Who?" Harry squeaked out, then cleared his throat and tried his best to sound strong. "Any of you have any idea of who this stalker man could be?"

"Hmm, I'm not too sure." Ron's eyebrows were drawn close together and a little crease appeared on his chin. "Although, I did visit her in the Hospital Wing once when she was still asleep, and she was muttering something about someone named Tom - wait, you don't think...?"

Three nervous gulps and a few hopeless sighs later, the three friends dragged themselves out of the Great Hall and up to Gryffindor Tower.

Ginny was sitting back on her heels now, trying to take in everything she had just heard.

"Wow, so you found all that in the library?"

"Oh, that reminds me, Gin, you - " he paused mid-sentence at the peculiar look on her face. "What?"

"It's just," she took a moment to look at the perplexed face he was giving her, then let out a little giggle. "Nothing, don't worry about it."

"Riiiight." Draco stood and started brushing off his robes. "Well, I just wanted to warn you that the Mudblood - "

"Don't call her that." Ginny ground out while clenching her fists.

"Yeah, sure." Draco waved his hand to dismiss her, and nearly knocked her nose off. "She was researching your little condition, so to speak, today too. Don't ask. Just be ready for a Gryffindor lecture from your obnoxious little friends when you get back."

Ginny had taken a sudden interest in the grass at her feet. Sitting cross-legged, she was splitting a blade of grass in half with the most pensive look on her face.

"Draco, I was thinking about before. You know what happened in the Hospital Wing? Well, I - " she looked up to see his reaction, only to find herself staring at empty space. "How do you manage to do that? Just move around, and not have anyone notice." With a frustrated sigh she pushed herself up and made her way back towards the castle.

Ginny didn't get very far before bumping into Neville just inside the main doors. She gave him a polite hello, and asked about Hogsmeade, but before she could even make out his answer he was running off again.

"Oh, Ginny?" Neville stopped a little ways away from her, and turned to face her.

"Erm, yes, Neville?"

"Well, I just - " he was turning red all of a sudden. "I wanted you to, er, ah, know that, well, I think you're very strong!" Blurting out the last part, he turned and bolted down towards the library, where Ginny presumed he was going to work on Potions. She shuddered when she thought of her own Potions homework left undone.

With a shrug Ginny continued towards the stairs when she saw someone walking swiftly towards the dungeons. Narrowing her eyes to mere slits, Ginny walked catlike behind him, before pouncing and pulling him into an empty classroom.

"WHAT THE - " Draco flailed his arms as he landed on his back. Reclining on his elbows, he rubbed the sore spot on the small of his back and stared up at Ginny in astonishment.

"Hello, Malfoy. Didn't mean to shock you there, but I've got a few things I'd like to straighten out with you. You've had your turn to do the talking, and now it's mine. So you better be ready to listen, and listen good."

"You know, Weasley, I have been pulled into an empty classroom before. But it's usually not for talking." Draco cocked his head to one side and smirked up at her. "Usually, it entails a rather excited female accosting me and snogging me senseless. You wouldn't have anything like that in mind, now would you?"

Ginny stared at his feigned innocence for a few seconds before complying with his request. Draco fell back partially with shock and partially from having a sixteen-year-old girl pounce on him. When she finally pulled up he was, for the first time, speechless.

"Look here, Malfoy," Ginny was sitting atop his stomach, and jabbed a finger in his chest. "I will not be toyed with. Is that understood? I have more strange men messing with my head than I want to deal with right now. And you better not be one of them!" She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. The next time she spoke, her voice was much softer, "I'm not really sure I understand what's going on here. I mean, one second, I'm hating your guts; the next second, I have you to thank for the reason I'm alive. And while I'd like to think that there's some ulterior motive or reason for why you seem to be shedding your evil persona, for the life of me, Malfoy, I can't figure it out. You have been driving me insane ever since that night you found me in the alley. And frankly, I'm tired of trying to figure it out. So I'm ready to just forget all that. Because the way I see it, who cares why any of this is happening; it is, and that's really all that any of us can say about it. So why not just throw caution to the wind and just...Bugger, I've completely forgotten what I'm even saying." Ginny wore a pathetic smile on her face, and sat back a little. Draco was trying to ignore what her shift in weight was doing to him and closed his eyes to regain his voice.

"Why don't you try again? I'm sure it'll come to you." He suggested in a gruff voice.

"I think what I'm saying, Draco, is that neither of us can just sit here and deny that there's something going on here. So we might as well acknowledge it, and see where it takes us. I mean, after all, how bad can it be? Granted, I'm a Weasley; you're a Malfoy; I'm supposed to hate you, and all that. But, really, isn't that getting a little bit tired? You're obviously not the spawn of Satan or something, so - " she didn't have the chance to finish that sentence before Draco cut her off the only way he knew how.

"Wha - what was that?" Ginny sputtered breathlessly.

"Well, you know, I am a teenage boy." He toyed with one of her curls and slowly pulled her back down above him as he spoke. "I am only able to ignore my raging hormones for so long."

He moved his hand behind her head, and quieted her giggling once again. Ginny leaned in and deepened the kiss, moving her leg between his. Draco groaned at the contact and shifted so she was on her back, and he was half laying on her. Ginny's head was swimming and she was crying out for air; when she broke away, he moved his lips to her jaw line, and trailed kisses down to her throat. Her hands were tangling in his hair, and he could feel her gentle sighs against his chest. Draco raised his hand to stroke her stomach, and began to trace patterns there. Gently pulling on his hair, Ginny raised his head and lifted her lips to his once more. The kiss grew more passionate, and Ginny could feel Draco trembling against her. His chest grew tight, and his head began searing with pain. Within an instant he wrenched himself out of her grasp, curling up on the floor. He let out a cry of anguish, and grasped his head in pain.

"Draco? Draco, what's wrong?" A faint voice was entering his thoughts. He looked up to see a blurry face bent over him, red hair spilling around her. He vaguely remembered something about her. She reached her hand out and touched his face. The feel of her warm hand on his cool skin jolted him back into consciousness. Still gripping his head, he sat up, only to hear the ominous mewing of a cat.

"Mrs. Norris!" he heard the girl shriek.

"Ginny." Draco clutched the pain in his chest and forced the words out. "Go. Just...leave - "

"But, Draco, you're in pain. If I just go get Madame Pomfrey, then - "

"Go, Ginny!"

"But, Draco - "

"NOW! Don't be daft, Weasley." His face took on a sudden coldness and his eyes closed off to any inspection of hers. "I'm sodding Head Boy. I can get out of it, now bugger off before Filch catches you!"

Ginny jumped at his roaring voice and scrambled out of the room, nearly tripping over Mrs. Norris.

"Ginny," Hermione spoke soothingly and reached out to touch the other girl's hand. "Why didn't you tell us what was going on?"

"That's right, Gin. You know Harry and I, your BROTHER, would have liked to hear this story from YOU and not from Hermione, who had to research it! Honestly, sometimes I wonder where your loyalties are!" Ron was pacing back and forth across the floor of Hermione's Head Girl room, throwing his arms in the air.

Ginny's head shot up at these words.

"What are you implying by that, RON?"

"Whoa! Let's just everyone calm down, OK?" Harry decided to jump in from his perch on Hermione's desk when he could sense the conversation taking an ugly turn. The three seventh-years had just let Ginny in on the "secret" of what's been ailing her for the past month. Ginny was seated on Hermione's bed, and the older girl was leaning against the bedpost. Harry moved over to them and put his arm around Hermione's middle.

"I think what Ron is trying to say," Harry began, turning to Ginny. "Is that he wishes you would confide in him."

"That has nothing to do with what I'm trying to say! Why were you walking around with Malfoy this morning?"

"Merlin, Ron! When are you going to realize that my business is MY business! Besides, you really have nothing to worry about; I'm not exactly the worst judge of character, you know."

"Really? You're a good judge of character?" Ron stopped his pacing to stare at his sister in disbelief. "Hmm...let's analyze why we're in this mess in the first place."

"Now Ron - " Hermione cut in.

"Ronald Weasley. I can't believe you would even say that." Ginny stood up as tall as she could, and almost reached her brother's height. She approached him menacingly, and looked him squarely in the face. All of a sudden, whatever retort she had come up with, she lost. Ginny knew that saying anything right now would just start an argument with Ron, and she didn't want to provoke herself to the point where she'd just blow up and tell the three of them to mind their own sodding business. It's okay; just pretend to be sorry. No big deal...you act all the time. After all, you might need them later.

"Oh, Gin," Hermione moved away from Harry and put an arm on her shoulder. "We're not trying to make you feel pressured or anything; we just love you that's all. And we're worried."

"I know, Hermione." Ginny turned around and put on her best puppy-dog face. "I'm sorry, I should have come to you in the first place." She then made her way over to the bed and sat down, only to be bombarded by questions about Tom Riddle.

"Why would he do this?"

"How long has this been going on?"

"What does he do or say to you?"

"Did he say anything about Harry?"

Ginny quietly dealt with all this, and politely denied that she had any recollection of anything. About an hour later, the storm had died down and the four of them were simply looking around the room at each other. Harry finally broke the silence, standing, and reaching for Hermione's hand:

"Well, Gin, is there anything else you want to tell us?"

Ginny looked hard into his face, wondering if she should tell them about Draco. She searched his eyes, the way she so often searched Draco's, and found her answer.

"No, Harry. There's really nothing else I want to tell you." With that, she got up and walked out the door.

Once outside, Ginny took her hand from her pocket and unclenched it. She looked down and saw the nail marks left on her palm, and sighed to herself. The price I pay for strong will. Something was still bothering her, though; when she looked into Harry's eyes, she saw a dullness she couldn't deny. Harry's green eyes shone with concern, but Ginny knew there was more. She knew that despite how much he cared for her, Harry would always place Ron and Hermione first. She knew that he loved them unconditionally, and she knew that he wasn't selfish. But she also knew that he was only human. He was in this to make sure that Tom didn't come out and endanger the lives of his loved ones. Of course he still cared if Ginny was hurt or not, but she couldn't deny the fact that deep down, Harry's main objective was protecting Ron and Hermione.

"He's only human." She sighed to herself and went upstairs to an early bed, after a long and tiresome day.

"Of course it's true! Would I lie to you??" Pansy's voice cut through the common room like nails on a chalkboard. Draco swore he wouldn't be able to hear a worse noise for the rest of his life, only to be proven wrong seconds later by Millicent Bulstrode's shrieking laughter.

"Bugger, you'd think they let the banshees loose in here or something." Draco muttered across the Wizarding Chess board to Blaise Zabini, who simply chuckled in response. They both held their temples as Millicent spoke up again.

"So, you're telling me that the Weasley girl is going with Finnigan??"

"Well," Pansy paused to flip her hair to one side, and casually wink at Draco. "I don't know about them going together, but I do know that he was all over her today at Hogsmeade. If you ask me, it's quite a good match. Irish trash and...well, trash." The two girls erupted in cacophonic laughter once again.

"Honestly, Draco," Blaise asked as he considered his next move, "what is with those two?" He looked up, waiting to hear some snide remark, only to find the seat opposite him quite empty.

Seamus was making his way back to Gryffindor Tower from the Prefect's bathroom, smiling to himself about the day he just had.

Draco was fuming down the hall towards Gryffindor Tower from the dungeons, grumbling about the day he just had.

"Hey Finnigan!" the blond Slytherin called out.

Seamus turned around to find Draco approaching him rather purposefully. He opened his mouth to reply, when all of a sudden he was cut off by the fist that came slamming into his eye.

Draco turned and made his way back to the dungeons, smirking about the sudden turn his day had just taken.

Seamus continued down towards Gryffindor Tower, grumbling about the sudden turn his day had just taken.
Chapter 5: Secret Agent Men and Fragrant Shampoo by Ephemere
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: I guess you'll have to consider this an AU, cuz there are certain elements i just couldn't incorporate from teh fifth or sixth book without entirely changing the story as it started before the fifth book came out.

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~*~Chapter 5~*~


Harry felt himself sliding lower into his chair, silently cringing at the incessant sound of chalk scraping against chalkboard. He had been sitting and listening to Professor Snape drone on about the hypnotic qualities of salamander eyes for what seemed like years. His legs were aching to feel the blood coursing through them again; his muscles were dying to be flexed; his lungs were crying out to be chilled by the brisk autumn air. Hermione looked over at Harry through the corner of her eye, and jabbed him with the end of her quill.

"Harry!" she whispered without taking her eyes off Snape's back. "Sit up, come on, we don't want to lose anymore points today." Hermione nodded her head towards Neville, who was sitting in the corner with his hand bandaged up. The frightened Gryffindor had made the mistake of running into a cart on his way in, afraid that he'd be late. Instead, he ended up knocking over a vile of newt's blood and costing Gryffindor thirty points.

"Unh, Hermione..." Harry slowly dragged his lifeless form up to a sitting position and poised his quill over his paper. Staring at the paper, he willed the lines of ink on the page to form into something coherent. "I don't think I can do this anymore," he whispered back to Hermione, eyes wide and fixated on a single point on the page.

"Oh, Harry, don't be so melodramatic. We only have twenty minutes left." Hermione was smiling despite herself.

"Oh, okay then." Harry visibly relaxed and grinned broadly at her. "That just makes everything better: knowing that we only have twenty more minutes of this mind-bending Hell. After all, I was beginning to think that all semblance of conscious life was going to die inside of me if I had to spend twenty-ONE more minutes plummeting towards my doom in this class. But since it's only twenty minutes, I'll be just fine."

"Why don't you just seal your lips shut, and pretend to pay attention?" Hermione stated while giggling behind her hand and playfully punched Harry in the arm.

"Hmm, I could seal my lips shut..." he then cut a sideways glance at her and quirked an eyebrow. "Or you could seal them for me..."

"Eep!" Hermione squealed, and suddenly felt everyone's eyes on her.

"Miss Granger." The chalk had ceased its rhythmic movements against the board and Snape turned slowly around to fix a severely annoyed expression on the Head Girl's face. "Is there something that amuses you?"

"Oh, no Professor!" her voice had risen an octave and she was nervously fiddling with her quill. "I was just so excited to see you writing that next section about famous potions that use salamander eyes. Thought it would be helpful in our next essay..." she trailed off when Professor Snape's expression turned to that of boredom and he returned to the chalkboard.

Harry was violently shaking with laughter next to her and she had to hit the back of his head to get him to calm down. The blush tainting her cheeks was just starting to fade when Snape called for the end of the class. Harry, Ron and Hermione were making their way out the door, when someone's drawl interrupted them,

"Oy, Granger!" Hermione turned her head slightly to see Draco Malfoy leaning across the table behind her. "If you're aspiring to be an animagus, you might not want to practice turning into a mouse in the middle of Potions. In fact, you might even consider turning into a rabbit, what with those teeth and everything."

"Hey!" Ron appeared next to Hermione and easily towered over Draco. "Hermione hasn't had buck teeth since our fourth year!" his face immediately turned a shade of red when he realized what he said and saw Draco's eyebrows shoot to his hairline. Hermione groaned, throwing Ron a weary glance, and he mouthed an apology.

"Right, then Weasley. Thanks for clearing that up, mate." Draco smirked dangerously at the three friends before brushing past them and out the door towards the Great Hall.

Harry sighed and pulled the two of them along with him out the door and to the Great Hall. They passed Ginny on the way, and she joined them. Harry and Ron walked ahead, animatedly planning the "mysterious" and simultaneous death of Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape. The girls followed in silence, each too far lost in their own thoughts to engage in senseless conversation. Ron paused to pick up his bag that he had dropped when a Hufflepuff went running after his homework that had turned into a canary, grumbling something about Fred and George. Harry took the opportunity to turn and flash Hermione a wink and smile. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny could see Hermione nervously smile back and shuffle her feet a little before all four of them continued down the hall. When Harry and Ron returned to their conversation, Ginny turned to Hermione with a pointed glance.

"Hermione, is there something you want to tell me about you and Harry?" Ginny's question caught Hermione off guard, and it took her a moment to respond.

"Ginny, is there something you want to tell me about you and Draco?"

Ginny tensed and straightened her back before responding,

"Fair enough," she said with a cold look in her eye, but the corners of her mouth were threatening to curve into a smile.

The four of them walked into the Great Hall and took their usual seats at Gryffindor Table next to Dean, Seamus, Lavendar and Parvati. As Ginny reached to her right for some potatoes, she turned her head and smiled a hello at Seamus. After she had served herself, she paused, then snapped her head to the right and gawked at Seamus's face, screaming,

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me! What bugger gave you that??" Seamus groaned in response as the entire Great Hall turned to look at him and the great black eye marring his face.

"Gee thanks, Gin. So much for keeping a low profile, eh?" Seamus murmured to her, all the while with a lopsided grin creeping across his face.

"Hey Finnigan! You walk into a door or something?? That thing's huge!" Blaise Zabini's voice, followed by Parvati's shriek and Lavendar's giggles cut through the air once again, sending the hall bursting into flames of laughter. Seamus's face was burning red, washing Ginny with guilt. She mouthed a "sorry" to him; he just nodded and squeezed her hand. Quickly looking away, and wanting to change the conversation, Ginny turned to Harry and started asking him about his plans for the upcoming holiday. Ron, however, was not so easily distracted.

"So really, Seamus," he started, with a pointed glance at Ginny, as he casually held on to her free hand and motioned for her to pass him the pepper. She simply rolled her eyes and freed her hand from Seamus's to reached across the table. "How did you get that black eye?"

"Well," Seamus shifted uncomfortable in his seat as he spoke, " I'd rather not say...I mean it is rather embarrassing."

"Oh, come now, it's only us. After all, if your housemates can't help you out, then who can?" Hermione tried encouragingly patting Seamus on the hand, and he sighed loudly before muttering something that sounded along the lines of "mad ploy." He repeated himself when he realized no one had actually heard him speak.

"What was that, mate?" Harry cut in, "Something about soy?" he asked with a bewildered look on his face.

"Ooo, I think I heard my mother mention something like that this summer!" Hermione squealed, eliciting yet another deep sigh from Seamus.

"I said, Malfoy!" he roared.

The Great Hall was plunged into silence for the second time that evening. Ginny furrowed her eyebrows and looked across the hall to see if Draco was there, only to find his eyes burning a whole into hers, that typical Malfoy smirk plastered on his face. Realization dawned in her eyes, as she thought back to her Hogsmeade trip with Seamus, and their currently rejoined hands, then thought back again to her "encounters" with Draco. She had to try hard to stifle a grin as she patted Seamus's shoulder.

"Have you seen Madame Pomfrey?" she asked awkwardly, still unable to completely drag her eyes away from across the hall.

"Well, yes, but she said that she was busy with a jelly-leg curse gone bad, so she just told me to wait it out until she was free," Seamus whimpered to Ginny, trying to ignore the rest of the student body. The drama of the evening had mostly died down by the time students filed back to their common rooms and the library to get their work done.

Ginny was settled next to Seamus in a large corner of the library attempting to do her Charms homework. Suddenly Seamus whispered something to her that made her head shoot up and stare at him wide-eyed, while he sat grinning like a mad man. Ginny opened her mouth to say something, but before she could form any sound, a third party joined their cozy corner. Both Gryffindors turned to the boy who was sitting in front of them. Ginny just cocked an eyebrow upon seeing Draco take his books out and lay them on the table. He seemed completely entranced in preparing himself to do work, oblivious to anyone else. She quickly glanced at Seamus, who seemed determined to stare daggers into Draco until he looked up. Ginny turned back to Draco and jumped suddenly when she felt someone's foot rubbing hers. She raised her shocked eyes to Draco's and almost died from holding back her laughter at the way he was determined to be oblivious.

"Malfoy!" Seamus declared in a loud whisper, clearly fed up with the situation. "Do you think maybe you can go do something productive, along the lines of trying to jam your head into a thestral's mouth?"

"Given the current status of certain situations, Finnigan," Draco paused in his drawl and finally looked up, his cool eyes meeting Seamus's blazing ones, "one would think that you would be wary of insulting me." He finished by cracking his knuckles.

"Oh that is some nerve Malfoy. You can't just sit at our table like this! Ginny and I were actually having a good time until you came traipsing along. Why would you want to sit with a bunch of Gryffindors anyway?"

"Calm down, potato boy. It is a library. I can sit basically anywhere I want to. As Head Boy, I don't recall making any rules regarding assigned seating in the library. It's shocking really, that you, as a prefect don't even know the rules of this establishment. Damned shame, Finnigan, damned shame. Don't you agree Miss Weasley?" Draco suddenly turned his cold yet amused face towards Ginny, leaving her completely flustered. Seamus scoffed and threw his hands in the air, throwing Ginny a look. She simply shrugged, and he stormed off with a grunt.

"You're welcome, by the way." Draco muttered to her as he returned to his work before him.

"You know something, Malfoy?" Ginny chuckled more to herself than him, "you're a trip."

"What, pray tell, do you mean by that?" His quill stopped just above his parchment and he raised his eyes to hers, quirking an eyebrow.

"Well, I'm just saying, there are countless tables in the library. Yet, you still come and sit at ours. Why do you insist on baiting him like that?"

"Easy answer," Draco dropped his quill and leaned forward on the table closer to her. He beckoned with his finger for her to do the same. Their foreheads barely touching, he lowered his voice, his eyes dancing with amusement, "he always bites." Ginny felt herself giggle and was about to sit back when she realized someone's hand was playing with her hair. She looked at Draco's face and saw him staring intently at one of her copper curls, studying it at different angles in the light.

"Draco," Ginny's voice was laced with something behind its sweetness, and his eyes were automatically drawn back to hers. She took one of her hands and began to toy with the rings that adorned his free hand. "Is that really the only reason?"

"Why, Ginny, what other reason could you think of for me wanting to pick on the Irish git?" he asked, feigning innocence. Ginny crossed around the table and crouched in front of him, cupping his cheek.

"Draco, is there nothing at all?" He shrugged and she leaned even closer, her breath grazing his skin. "Absolutely...nothing else?" she leaned back to lock her eyes with his, and for a moment, saw what she had been looking for, what she had been afraid was lost.

"Ginny," Draco was speaking out of the base of his throat, his voice coming out as little more than a grunt now. His breath hitched and he seemed hesitant for only a split-second before a completely new look dawned on his eyes. It was a change that would have been imperceptive to anyone but Ginny. "There is no other reason."

Ginny's hand fell abruptly to her lap and she stood up unceremoniously, turning a fraction of a second slower than she normally would have, waiting for him to grab hold of her and tell her he was teasing. Disappointed, she grabbed her books and shoved them into her bag. Draco almost crumbled under the glare she shot him before sticking her chin in the air and stalking out of the library.

"Oh Ginny," he mumbled with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, "you don't even know the half of it..."

Seamus, Ron, Harry and Hermione were all seated at a table in the common room when the portrait hole slammed open. Before the Fat Lady could even finish complaining about rude children, someone bellowed,

"SEAMUS!" Ginny spotted him, and pointed to the spot in front of her. "Come here."

He scrambled to get out of his chair and rush to where she was standing in front of the fire. Slightly afraid of the Weasley temper, Seamus was desperately trying to think back to see if he had done anything wrong. But his thoughts were cut off when he felt his neck being yanked downwards, and a pair of lips crashing on his. Seamus's eyes widened in shock, and by the time he realized what was going on and was ready to respond to the kiss, Ginny had broken it off. She looked at him with a considerably softer expression, although it still did rival that of a charging hippogriff.

"I assume you'll take that as an answer to your question?" Ginny demanded more than actually asked. Seamus nodded violently in response and she made her way up to the girls' dormitory. He turned around to make his way back to the table, when two sets of arms pulled him down on the nearest sofa. Looking at Ron on his right and Harry on his left, Seamus realized he would be spending the better part of the night learning what and what not to do with his newly acquired girlfriend.

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

The next few months passed by rather well for Ginny, despite the dark glances she caught across the Great Hall, and before she knew it, it was well into December. She was sitting at the end of the row in Transfiguration a mere ten days away from the start of winter holidays when she realized with full force the true pettiness of the females at Hogwarts Academy for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ginny was watching a small piece of parchment being passed along down the row facing her, and she simply waited for it to reach her seat. She turned her attention back to the notes in front of her, and wondered how McGonagall could not tell that her students were so obviously passing a note. It had reached the hands of Annie Marple by now, where it paused for her to furiously scrawl something on it. Perhaps she knew, and chose not to care. Either way, Ginny decided that this was very uncharacteristic behavior of her Head of House. Just as Ginny lifted her head to look to the front of the room, an oblivious Hufflepuff passed her the note after adding something to the bottom with a flourish. Ginny was about to read the parchment that had been the center of attention for so long, when she heard a chorus of gasps and squeals from all the girls. She looked around and noticed angry stares at the Hufflepuff next to her, and sheepish glances in her own direction. Ginny, now very suspicious, scanned the note quickly before reading it a second time.

Latest News! Ginny and Seamus still going strong! Who would have thought the hottest item at Hogwarts would go for the littlest Weasley: his best friend's ex! And better yet, who would have thought he'd stay with her this long? Anyway, all bets are down after today, so sign now if you want in!

...


The note continued on with a list of names with a number next to each name. Ginny's eyebrows shot to her hairline as she read through them in her mind, '2 months', '6 weeks', '3 days'?? Oh come on, I deserve more credit than that! She fought hard not to choke on her sugar quill when she read the last comment on the parchment, '2 hours, if that tutoring session I have with Seamus goes as planned!' Turning her head towards the girl seated next to her, Ginny couldn't help but smirk as she spoke,

"Do tell Seamus to meet me in the Common Room later this evening, would you? That is as long as we're still together by that point."

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

"Draco! Where are you going now?" Pansy's voice caused a hitch in Draco's step as he made his way to the portrait hole from the dormitory stairs. He turned in her direction and cocked his head to the side. Pansy tried to sidle up next to him, but Draco was quite taken aback by the way she was convulsing. "What are you thinking, little Draco?" she whispered far too close to his ear.

"Parkinson," he started before grabbing firm hold of her shoulders and pushing her grinning self a comfortable distance away from him, "first of all, I assure that in no way, am I little. Second of all, at the moment, I am heavily contemplating how much you sound like a cat that has just been kicked in the gut. Which is really quite convenient, considering how much I hate cats." With that he spun on his heel and stormed out of the Slytherin common room, aching for air to escape her vile stench that she claimed was perfume.

Draco refused to slow his pace until he neared the tree by the lake that had become the steady meeting place for him and the only reason Gryffindor House should be spared from obliteration. Ginny shivered gently in the cold and spent her time sending small pieces of bark gliding across the layer ice that now covered the lake. She spun on her heel at the sound of snow crunching and fixed Draco with a glare.

"You're late Malfoy," she ground out. "Again."

"How do you know you're not early Weasley? After all, a Malfoy is never wrong."

"Oh, I'm sorry, is that another rule from your rule book? What's another one? Oh that's right, Malfoys hate cats."

Draco's head shot up at this, and he squinted his eyes a little before he shook the thought away and approached her. She rolled her eyes, beckoning him over to the rock next to the tree. Draco walked over and placed a pebble from his pocket on the rock. They both regarded the pebble for a few seconds, before Ginny spoke,

"Draco, do you think we could hurry this up a bit? It's awfully cold out here." Ginny's teeth chattered a bit as she spoke and Draco took in her appearance for the first time. She was wearing a green sweater, the white of her collared shirt barely making an appearance through her red curls. She had no cloak on.

"What's the matter, Weasley? Couldn't afford a cloak this winter?" Despite the obvious malice in his words, even Draco could not hide the faint trace of concern in his tone. Even Ginny could not fail to pick up on it.

"No, Malfoy! I forgot to grab it on my way out of the Common Room." She bit out through her grin.

"Oh, Ginny-luv! Were you really in that much of a rush to see me?"

"Mmm, don't flatter yourself Ferret boy. I was simply escaping an encounter with the rescue squad." Ginny tried to remain as nonchalant as she possibly could, given her random twitching due to the cold. Draco's smirk threatened to take over the width of his face as he walked closer to her and began trailing his hand up and down her arm.

"You know, I'm sure I could devise methods to keep you warm."

Ginny couldn't stop the giggle that escaped from her throat at the glint in his eyes. She turned her face up to his, her eyes brimming with the kind of amusement that he knew only he could draw from her. Draco moved behind her so her back was gently lined up against his chest. She could feel the warmth from his presence envelop her. He reached for his wand with his opposite hand, his arm inadvertently pulling Ginny closer to him. Rolling her eyes once again, she gently leaned her head back on his shoulder. Draco pointed his wand and muttered under his breath, returning the pebble to its original size. He then tilted his head towards her ear and rested the bridge of his nose against her jawbone. Are you ready? Ginny shook her head of the delirium his nearness was causing, and realized the voice in her head was actually Draco speaking to her.

"Yeah. Let's get this going." She took a step away from him and instantly felt the cold again. Taking out her wand, she held it to her temple and closed her eyes. Soon a filmy cloud followed the tip of her wand as she dipped it into the pensieve. Draco had insisted that in order to help her, he needed to see her visions and dreams for himself. So they had been keeping up this ritual of Ginny adding to the pensieve for the past two and a half months. That's not the only ritual we've been keeping up. Ginny smirked to herself as she felt Draco's hand "accidentally" stroke the small of her back. They had been teasing each other like this for so long, it came like second nature to Ginny. She blushed at the thought of what Harry, Hermione and Ron would say if they saw her flirting with Draco Malfoy, let alone even speaking to him. Her blush faded and she felt a knot in the pit of her stomach as she considered what Seamus would think if he ever found out. Her guilt battled hard against her fury when she remembered the real reason for even being with Seamus in the first place: Draco practically shoved me into Seamus's arms, and here he is toying with me. Ginny quickly shook her head to stop thinking in this vein, in order to avoid a confrontation with Draco.

"Ginny." Draco stood back and regarded her with his head cocked to the side. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Malfoy," she snapped her head in his direction and fixed him with a cold glare. "Absolutely nothing. All right, I'm done." Ginny spun on her heel and stalked away from him. The sound of crunching snow behind her only made her walk faster. When Ginny had practically broken into a run, he reached out and grabbed the crook of her elbow, making her spin around and come crashing into his body. Draco artfully slipped an arm around her waist to keep her from running away.

"Look at me. Ginny," he bent his head towards hers as he spoke, "look at me."

She simply shoved her chin out at him fixed him with a stone-cold glare. Her eyes were impenetrable, creating a wall between Draco and the truth inside them. It's quite possible that I've rubbed off too much on the littlest Weasel. Shame on you, Draco, he chided himself as he chuckled under his breath.

"I don't really see what you find so amusing." Ginny's words were choppy, whether from the cold or from her anger. "Except for the fact that I'm freezing my arse off here. But a normal human being with any form of compassion probably wouldn't find that very humorous. Then again, you are Draco Malfoy, prat extraordinaire, so I suppose that's a completely valid assumption to make, then isn't it?" she finished with a flourish, tossing back the hair from her eyes.

Prat extraordinaire? Huh, what do you know, apparently it comes with a title...

"DRACO!" a mix between a shout and a whine broke him out of his thoughts, and returned his attention to the redhead before him. "In case I haven't made it painfully clear to you, I'M COLD!" Draco actually jumped at these words and almost loosened his grip on her waist before repositioning himself and wrapping his cloak around the both of them. To the untrained eye they would have seemed like two lovers, sharing the only warmth left in frigid weather.

"That better?" Draco drawled without any apparent emotion.

"If you don't mind Malfoy, I'd appreciate it if you spoke. You stopped me from leaving, apparently intent on saying something, so I sincerely hope you say it. After all, as much as I enjoy having a staring contest with you, I do have things to do."

"Okay, Weasley. Here's the deal. I don't understand what you're so upset about. One second we're taking care of the penseive, the next second you're stalking off. So what's got your knickers in a twist?"

"My knickers, mind you, are just fine, not that they're any of your business," she added at the sight of his grinning face. "Oh sod off, why don't you! You know exactly what's bothering me!"

"Well, of course I do! I just thought that maybe for five minutes you could actually grow up and be bothered by something that matters!" Draco would have regretted the words the moment they left his mouth, but he was, after all, a Malfoy, and Malfoys do not regret.

" 'Something that matters?' I see. You'd rather I be bothered by something that matters, since this obviously doesn't matter. Of course, what was I thinking?" Ginny tried to stalk off while she still felt like she had some dignity left, but Draco's iron grip on her back prevented her from moving at all.

"Ginny, can you please just calm down for a second and let me explain? Gods, you Weasleys! Look, I didn't mean that wanting to be together doesn't matter. I just meant don't get all riled up over something you can't help. You're with the Irish git now, and aside from his incessant drooling over you, one would think you'd be happy with an Irish puppy."

"You know the only reason I'm with him is because you pushed me away!"

"Well yeah, so maybe I did!"

"Then what are we doing here? I mean, come on, Draco! There's only so much of this - this, whatever it is between us, that you can blame on you wanting to do one last heroic deed." Ginny's hands flailed in the air as she continued without pausing for breath, "What are we, Draco? Merlin knows we're not friends, yet we trust each other. And I can't stand you any more than you can stand me, but we're still here. We both know that there's something between us, there's just no sense in denying it. And if you say that there are complicated reasons for why we can't be together, then what the hell are we doing?" Ginny had calmed down considerably by now. She breathed deeply and raised a hand to stroke his cheek. Lifting her other hand, she held his head before hers and the ghost of a smile traced her lips as she spoke on slowly. "Draco, you said you didn't want me. So if you don't want me, why can't you walk away?"

They stood like that for what seemed like ages. The wind chilled their bones, but neither of them would have known if Hogwarts was consumed by a blizzard right before their eyes.

"Ginny," he whispered with the most passion she had heard from his lips. Ginny started at the voice that sounded so unusual coming from him, but she knew it would subside the moment he spoke again. "What makes you think I can't walk away?"

Ginny smirked at him and dropped her hands from his face.

"Prove it," she challenged him and took three steps back. Standing with her hands clasped behind her back, Ginny quirked a defiant eyebrow at Draco. "You and I both know you've had plenty of opportunities to leave. If you think you can just turn your back on me, then go ahead. Go on, Draco," she gestured at the castle entrance. "Turn around, and don't come back."

Draco sauntered over to where she was standing with a smirk on her face. He didn't stop until she could hear the sound of his breath. He bent his head low towards hers. Ginny's breath became shallow and she tilted her head slightly to make room for his kiss. The closer he drew, the more she trembled from anticipation. Her eyes slowly lidded and her lips pouted a little more than usual. Draco was so close that even he was sure he'd kiss her when he finally spoke, "Watch me." With that he whirled on his heel and stalked away from her disappearing around the corner.

Ginny stood rooted to the ground, unsure of what had just happened. Was this the end of everything? No more meetings? No more help? So she was all alone. Well actually, she wasn't alone at all. She still had Ron, Harry, and Hermione. And Seamus; yes, Seamus, her boyfriend.

Ginny.

Oh right, she had him too.

Ginny, it's been a long time since I've seen you.

Tom walked around her to the front. He stood facing her, and she could see the light surrounding him slowly fading. Ginny looked around and noticed that she could see everything clearly. There was no blinding light; this visit was different from all his others.

"Tom?" her voice came out soft, between a whisper and a plea. "What's happening?"

What's happening? His laughter rang out around her. You've done it, Ginny darling. I knew I could count on you.

"What? What have I done?" her voice was nearly a shout by now. "I haven't done anything!"

Oh, but that's exactly my point, my sweet. I knew you wanted me around. Deep inside you've always wanted me back. Well, your curiosity has paid off.

As he spoke, he moved closer to her and she slowly backed away. His halo was almost completely faded, and Ginny noticed that he never seemed realer.

I've come back, "Ginny."

Ginny jumped at the sound of his voice.

"Thank you, Ginny. I owe it all to you." Tom drawled out with a glint in his eye. Before she could say anything, the world distinctly blurred and he disappeared into thin air.

"Right. Your welcome." Ginny whimpered before she swayed on the spot and fell to the ground.

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

"Get out of the way, will you??" Ron roared at the First Years that simply refused to move fast enough. He was practically picking them up and throwing them aside as he tore down the hall towards the Hospital Wing.

"RONALD WEASLEY!" Herimone shrieked behind him. "I am just as worried about Ginny as you are! But that is no reason to go around harassing people. I'm going to have to take some action as Head - oof! - Girl! Ron!" she paused to clutch her stomach, "That is the third First Year you have thrown at me. Do not make me take action on my own...best....FRIEND!" She ground out the words as she dove at his ankles and made him skid to a stop. Harry and Seamus jogged up to the pair of them lying on the ground. Seamus stood with his hands on his knees, clearly winded while Harry helped Hermione and Ron up.

"Well one thing's for sure," Ron grumbled as he stood up and regarded his Gryffindor teammates, "Quidditch conditioning seriously needs to be taken up a notch or two." Turning his attention to Hermione, he added, "Okay, I'm sorry all right? Let's go...at a moderately accelerated pace."

Harry, Hermione and Seamus had to jog to keep up with Ron's "speedwalking" the rest of the way. The students seemed to part before them like the Red Sea, clutching their belongings and valuable body parts.

"You know, he looks kind of comical, walking like that." Seamus murmured to Harry, watching Ron's arms pump back and forth so fast he thought they would fly out of their sockets at any second. Hermione was giggling at the way his backside twisted so fiercely to keep up with his legs. Ron apparently did not pay much attention to where he was going, and slammed into the door of the Hospital Wing, landing soundly on his back. Harry and Seamus bent over him while Hermione walked in with a huff that sounded suspiciously like "I told you to slow down."

Hermione herself slowed down when she passed through the waiting area and peered in at the beds. She froze at the door and was suddenly very grateful that the boys were not directly behind her.

Draco was holding Ginny's head up, propping her pillows against the headboard. He gently let it back down and began adjusting her blankets. His eyes were completely unreadable. His actions were so tender and affectionate that Hermione was shocked to see no apparent expression of any sort on his face. His eyes were cold as ice, oddly resembling those of a statue. Yet at the same time his movements were so smooth and fluid, she could have mistaken him for an angel. She stood rooted in the doorway, unable to tear her eyes away from the scene in front of her. One of her best friends lay unconscious in a hospital bed. One of the worst people she knew stood guard by the bed like a veritable ice angel.

Ginny stirred and saw Draco moving his hand towards her face. Despite her readiness to deny everything, she knew exactly where she was and why she was there. She smiled and spoke softly in a raspy voice,

"Told you, you couldn't walk away."

Draco's hand stopped in mid-air. For the second time that day his face revealed a hint of the emotions he was feeling. In one fraction of a second, tenderness, panic and fury crossed his eyes. She's right. I can't walk away. His feet seemed unable to move, despite how much he willed them to take him away from her side forever. He got into this deal with a promise to help her, saying it was for the greater good: for his own good. In truth he was slowly killing himself with his mock-heroic deeds. His entire world had changed in one day. One chance encounter had sealed his fate to the hands of a mere curse. A few words, well-placed syllables, had determined the course of his actions for the rest of his life. She was like poison to him. She was poison disguised in the sweetest honey. He could easily drown in that honey, get caught up in her breath. Then the poison would show its true nature and burn his insides. Damn you, father. He watched the way her chest rose and fell sweetly beneath the sheets. Her cheeks were tear-stained and he wanted to sweep the earth clean of anyone that had dared to bring wetness to her eyes. All the pain she was feeling, the torture that he was suffering, the pain he would eventually bring her was all due to one man.

"Damn you father." His voice came out soft and inaudible, but to him his words seemed to echo of the walls of the silent hall. They kept ringing in his ears, the deafening noise threatening to drive him to insanity. He shook his head and wondered how Ginny could have slept through the din. Breaking out of his reverie, Draco snatched his hand away from its fixated position and stormed around the bed, intending to leave before he lost control of his limbs again. At the same moment Hermione took a few steps forward, and the sound of her boots clicking on the floor stopped Draco dead in his tracks. He fixed his impassive glare on her and suddenly the snowstorm outside seemed warm and inviting. He paused one more second, and she made to speak, but he left before she could. Hermione watched Ginny as she listened to Draco's retreating steps. Thinking Ginny to still be out cold, she was about to retrace her steps. She turned back towards Ginny quickly to see her shoulders sag considerably with relief.

Hermione passed Ron, Harry and Seamus on her way out the door. She held up a hand to stop them,

"Not now. She needs her rest."

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

"Hey Draco," Blaise Zabini called, "up for a game of Wizarding Chess?"

"In a minute Zabini. Something I have to take care of." Draco walked past the boy and past the entrance to his common room. He seemed to be casually walking down the hall, but each of his steps was carefully calculated. His muscles were stiff and set on guard for any potential attack. His head was locked into position facing forward, but his eyes saw nearly everything, and his ears were perked to the consistent shuffling noise behind him. He saw the empty classroom coming up on his right. He passed it and counted four and a half seconds before abruptly turning around, trapping his follower in the doorway. Pressing his forearm up against the follower's neck, he slammed the offender against the wall and kicked the door shut with his foot. Catching his breath, Draco lit his wand and shone the light on the perpetrator's face.

"You??"

"Yes, me," Hermione sighed frustratedly. "Do you mind getting your arm away from my neck? I'd like to be able to feel my throat again."

Draco backed up and kept his wand trained on her, ready to flick out a curse at any moment. He angled his head back and narrowed his eyes at Hermione.

"Why are you following me?"

"Well, if you had let me catch up with you, I would have told you that I wanted to talk to you about something. But, no, instead you had to go and play secret agent man," Hermione huffed while straightening her robes.

Draco smirked at her comment and drawled out, "Well, Granger, I knew you had fantasies about me, but I had no idea they involved secret agent men. And when you have these 'daydreams,' tell me, where exactly do you fit in? The helpless girl held victim at the hands of an evil man, who just can't seem to keep her hands off me?"

"Do you ever tire of your glib, Malfoy? Because let me tell you, the rest of us humans definitely have." Hermione fixed him with a glare and crossed her arms across her chest.

"Oh, Granger," Draco chuckled to himself and walked past her to take a seat in the professor's chair. He cut her a sideways glance as he added, "you will never know all the things I don't tire of." He laughed louder when he noticed her blush and saw her scurry to the middle of the classroom and take a seat at a desk.

"Stupid little git. I should have let Ron kill you when I could have." She mumbled under her breath.

"What was that Miss Granger?" Draco called out cupping the back of his ear. "I'm sorry, you're going to have to speak up in my class." He wore an obnoxiously playful grin, but Hermione was again amazed to see that it stopped before it reached his eyes.

"Malfoy - "

"Hmm...let's see, who shall I call on? Which student has their hand raised?"

Hermione shot her hand in the air and growled out,

"MALFOY! Stop being a git and let me talk to you about something!"

"Yes, Granger, maybe I should just listen to you talk. After all, that's exactly what I want to be doing right now." Draco's grin fell and his face reassumed its stony position and he moved to get up and leave.

"It's about Ginny." Hermione's exasperated voice stopped him in his tracks, and he wanted to kick himself for even stopping.

"All right, Granger, out with it. What do you want?"

"I know that you know about everything that's going on with her." Draco's head shot up and he wondered if Ginny had told her and her friends about him. Then he considered whether or not that should matter to him. "Look, I'm not stupid, okay? I know where she goes every day, and I just hope you know how to take care of a pensieve."

"Shut it Granger. You're not the only one with half a brain." Draco went back to picking at his robes rather than looking at Hermoine's scrutinizing face.

"Ron and Harry don't know anything about your involvement in all this. It's just me, but I don't know much either. All I know is that you're helping her, and it seems to be comforting her. Don't get me wrong Malfoy," Hermione got up and started to wander around the room as she continued, "I still hate your guts, and think you're a phenomenal waste of time and energy. But for some reason, Ginny seems to enjoy your company," Draco tried not to wince at those words, "so I suppose I'll keep Harry and Ron from killing you for the time being."

"Well, hot damn, Granger! Aren't you just a precious little bugger?" Draco exclaimed with a look of mock adoration on his face. He dropped the grin and fixed her with a venomous glare, "If that's all, then I'll just be taking my leave of you now."

"Not so fast, Malfoy. I want to know what your motive is."

"Motive? What makes you think I have an ulterior motive?" Draco's face remained frozen to inspection.

"Well, it's not everyday that you see someone go out of their way to help the sister of one of their worst enemies."

"What makes you think it has anything to do with brother Weasel?" he caught his own mistake right as he said the words.

"My point exactly. So you admit there's some underlying reason to all this. I know it specifically has to do with Ginny, so spill the beans Malfoy. And you better give me a reasonable answer. Don't make me get Ron and Harry so mad that you'll be drinking pumpkin juice through a tube." Hermione crossed to stand in front of him, determined to notice that change in his face that she saw earlier.

"Oh dear, I seem to be quaking in my boots." Draco said as monotone as he could. "Leave the threats to the Slytherins, Mudblood. Besides, how is this any of your business?"

"Malfoy, can't you just realize for one second that we don't have to be on opposite sides? Yes, your father is a disgusting Death Eater, but when you had me in a choke hold back there, I didn't happen to notice any marks on your arm. Now call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that you get the mark on your sixteenth birthday. So for some godforsaken reason you're not a minion of Vo - Voldemort. I want to make sure you and Ginny realize what you're dealing with here, so please. Just tell me what's going on. Maybe we can both help her; it'd be so much easier if we worked together." Hermione took a deep breath and considered what she had just said. She took a few steps back and seemed to be a little nauseated, "Oh, Merlin, I can't believe I just asked Malfoy to work together."

Draco laughed softly under his breath and hung his head. He looked back up at her and she could clearly see the signs of weariness written on his face.

"Trust me, Granger, what you just asked me to do pales in comparison to what I'm about to do. Keep in mind, the only reason I'm actually telling you any of this is because I think Ginny's welfare actually depends on it. So don't go breaking up with Potter over this. I'm not reciprocating your perverted little sexual fantasies."

"I don't ha - " Hermione stopped mid-sentence and just shook her head, grateful that he was actually talking.

"You're right, I'm not a Death Eater. I also have no intentions of becoming one. Don't even think of asking me why, because if you do, I will be tempted to kill you, Dark Mark or not. My father asked me on my sixteenth birthday to join Voldemort's army, and I told him he was insane. He, in turn, told me I would suffer pain beyond all reason, and of all kinds. He said I would wish I had never been born, just to avoid the intense amounts of pain I would feel in all ways possible. Well, not in so many words, of course."

"Of coure," Hermione nodded and urged him on.

"When I first heard that I prepared myself for the Cruciatus, of course. But then he picked up his wand and uttered the strangest words I've ever heard. I can't even remember them; I was too busy planning my funeral. Well, anyway, I didn't die, as you can see. I had to ask my mother later what the curse meant. Essentially, it prevents me from ever being happy. I'm supposed to fall in love with a girl - "

"So that's where Ginny comes in," Hermione cut in, more to herself.

"Clever girl, you are. Only problem is, whenever I get close to her, I get this searing pain that starts in my gut. If I'm still - well, close - to her, then the pain consumes me. If it happens enough times, I eventually lose all ability to communicate. I won't die of course, I'll just be forced to stand back and watch the love of my life from a distance. So there's the physical pain. Then there's the emotional pain of having to watch myself hurt her, not to mention the agony of not being able to go near the one person that could potentially shed some light on my life." He finished with a flourish. "And there you have it Granger, my ulterior motive."

For the first time since she could remember, Hermione was struck completely speechless. No reproachful statements, no insightful comments. All she could do was stare at the floor, too afraid to look him in the eye. After what felt like hours, she finally spoke,

"But I don't understand how you know it's Ginny. You said you can't be close to Ginny, but I saw you in the Hospital Wing. You were standing right there, and nothing seemed to happen to you."

"Ah, yes, well," Draco coughed quietly. Hermione had to do a double take before she could completely register that Draco Malfoy was actually nervous. "You see, when I said close, I meant intimately close. As in, intimately close, Granger." Draco added at her slightly perplexed face.

She gasped after a few seconds and looked violated,

"You mean you and Ginny? You two - well, I had a suspicion that something, but I mean...Oh Ginny!" Hermione buried her head in her hands and slouched her shoulders slightly. She didn't look up until she heard Draco snickering.

"Save the poor violated girl act for Potter. Have no fear, we didn't do the dirty, so you can uncover your virgin ears. Little Gin-Gin can still wear white to our wedding." Draco was lazily twirling his wand when Hermione's head shot straight up.

"What did you just say?"

"I said she's still a virgin. You know, wearing white to her wedding? Keep up Granger." He shook his head as he slowly walked towards the door. Hermione followed him to the door, but paused before she left.

"Malfoy, how did your mother know what curse your father put on you?" she asked more high-pitched than she would have hoped.

"He put the same curse on her. That's why they stayed together."

"So your father chose who would be the object of your love??"

"I'm as lost as you are, Granger." Draco responded under his breath before moving out the door and down the hall.

"Malfoy, wait! Is it reversible?" Hermione called out after him, but he didn't stop walking until he reached the Slytherin portrait hole and disappeared inside.

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

Ginny was staring at her feet as she walked down the stairs and continued around corner after corner. From the intent way she was watching them she could see each foot move almost of its own accord, as though they had taken this path so many times they didn't need for her to remember the steps. It didn't matter that she had never made this trip before. Madame Pomfrey had let her leave the Hospital Wing hours earlier, and she had been tossing and turning in bed before she decided to get out. Ginny came to an abrupt stop to brush a stray pebble off her bare foot. In her desperate need for air she had scrambled out of bed and forgotten to put on her boots. Having removed the offending pebble, Ginny tiptoed past Filch, who was bending over Mrs. Norris. Despite her rush, she didn't seem to forget to "borrow" Harry's invisibility cloak. Her feet finally stopped in front of her destination. Ginny cocked her head at the portrait hole, momentarily forgetting that she had overheard the password from a couple of careless Slytherins. Muttering the words, she gingerly entered the common room and looked around. She let out a thankful breath that it was empty. Ginny straightened her back and walked on without hesitation to the door she knew she was looking for. She carefully opened the door and stepped inside. Taking a moment to look around the Head Boy's room, Ginny noticed that it was roughly the same size as Hermione's, only a little larger. A fireplace was lit in the middle of the far wall, with a door at the corner. The loo, maybe? Ginny turned her attentions to the wall on her left, closest to her. There was a desk pushed up against it, littered with papers. She moved closer and noticed that even though there were countless papers lying around, they were all sitting in perfect right angles. So I guess he has more in common with Hermione than he thinks... spinning around under the veil of the cloak, Ginny took slow steps towards the bed. She watched him sleep with a smile on her face. The last time we were here you had the injuries, and I came with the questions. Now I'm the one who's hurt, and I know you want answers. Ginny lifted her hand to bring it to his cheek, but she moved far too slow. She gasped out loud when he held her hand. She stared into his now open eyes as he gently pulled the cloak off from around her.

"So you heard me?" she whispered into the night.

He nodded as he brought her hand down and pressed his lips to it.

"How'd you know it was me? And not someone dangerous?" she asked as he scooted over under the covers and pulled her down next to him. He turned on his right to face her and pulled her close. Burying his face in her hair, he breathed in deeply before whispering against the curve of her neck,

"I can smell you a mile away, Weasley."

"Oh," Ginny murmured, settling back into his arms, "I'll be sure to change shampoos." She felt Draco smirk against her skin and he lifted his head to kiss her ear before whispering into it,

"I never said I didn't like it," he replied. Smiling to herself, Ginny took a deep breath in and out.

"So I'm assuming this means that I can stay with you tonight?" she murmured already falling asleep.

Draco kissed the top of her head and pulled the covers around them, enveloping them in warmth she thought she'd never find. For the first time in months, Draco and Ginny fell asleep instantly, and slept soundly all night.
Chapter 6: Quidditch Boots and Fairytale Romances by Ephemere
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

~*~Chapter 6~*~


“Hermione!” Harry’s voice whined out at the brunette who was swiftly marching towards their round table in the library. “Why don’t you just sit in one place, please?” He turned her face towards his as she sunk into the chair next to him. Firmly lodging one hand in her hair behind his head, he placed his other hand on her shoulder and pulled her closer. “See, isn’t this so much more fun than running around grabbing books?” he murmured just before his mouth descended on hers.

“Harry, please,” Hermione protested beneath his lips. “Ron’ll be here any moment, and I don’t think he’ll appreciate walking in on us like this.” She gently pushed at his chest until he finally withdrew. Harry tore his lips from hers with a cry of frustration.

“Hermione! Why would you invite Ron along to our private ‘meeting’?”

“Look Harry! This is a real meeting ok? We have a purpose here. I’m sorry if you thought I asked you to meet me just to snog the afternoon away. I’m afraid we have more important work to do.” She finished with a sniff and returned to her books in a huff.

“Yeah, we always seem to,” Harry muttered under his breath as he shifted back into his seat.

“Excuse me, Harry, what was that?”

“Nothing, Hermione,” he grumbled in response. “Nothing at all.”

“Look, Harry, I’m sorry if you think that everything will just disappear if we close our eyes and just have fun.” Hermione threw her hands in the air and continued her tirade. “The truth is, we’re in a very sticky situation, and if you can’t see that then you’re clearly not the Harry Potter I’ve grown to know. Despite how different things may feel now that we’re, well – you know – nothing has changed, Harry. We’re still the same.” She finished with a flourish and Harry slowly turned to her, leveling her with a gaze before he spoke softly.

“That’s right Hermione. We most definitely are still the same.”

Hermione’s eyes widened just barely and her breath caught in her throat. She opened her mouth and looked as though she were about to speak, but her throat seemed to close up at the last second. They were sitting and staring at each other with very different expressions when Ron’s voice cut through their thoughts,

“Well, I’m here! Looks like we can officially get this party started. That is, unless you’ve already started, if you know what I mean,” he quipped with a wiggle of his eyebrows. Then taking notice of their staring contest, he added, “Erm, have I interrupted anything?” at this, Harry tore his eyes from Hermione and stood to make his way to the bookshelves.

“Trust me, Ron,” he said as he passed his best friend, “you’ve interrupted nothing at all.”

Hermione looked up and chuckled nervously at Ron’s questioning glance, “Well, have a seat Ron. There’s a lot we need to discuss.”

Three minutes later found Ron idly twiddling his thumbs, sitting across from Hermione, who was busily taking notes out of a book.

“Look, Herm, while your idea of an important meeting may be to stare at your book for hours, I actually have a life.” At the sight of her raised eyebrow, Ron quickly added, “Okay, so maybe I don’t really have a life. But I can still think of more amusing things to do than watch you study. It’s not as though I haven’t seen you take notes before. You’re very good at it, actually. Why don’t I just leave you here to practice, then eh?” Ron made to leave, but was stopped by Hermione’s hand on his forearm.

“Not so fast, Ronald. There is an actual reason I called you here. We’ve just been waiting,” she replied, suspiciously nervous.

“Waiting for what?”

“Not what, Weasley: who. Or rather, whom.” The most unexpected voice came in answer to Ron’s question. “And the answer, of course, would be yours truly.” Ron looked as though a bludger had hit him in the stomach as Draco Malfoy sunk in to the seat next to him.

“Yes well,” Hermione cleared her throat but couldn’t seem to get the squeak out of it. “We’re actually still waiting for –”

At that exact moment, two voices cut her off in unison,

“Oh, bloody hell, no.” Ginny and Harry emerged from behind their backs and made their way around the table. Harry and Ron were busy fixing Hermione with a glare caught between confusion and astonishment. Draco’s eyes soon found Ginny’s and a slow smirk spread across his face.

“Really now, Weaslette,” he drawled out with a tilt of his head. “Don’t sound so disappointed. After all, that’s not what you said when you –”

“Malfoy!” Ginny growled out, “Watch it. Do not push me.”

“Again, not what you sounded like that other night.” Draco was prevented from elaborating when Ginny half leaped across the table and grabbed him by his Slytherin tie. She pulled him closer so the edge of the table was painfully pushing into his chest. Her eyes were narrowed under severely arched eyebrows, and her jaw was set in tight lines. Their noses were almost touching, making Draco realize that he clearly preferred hacked-off Ginny to normal Ginny any day.

“I swear to anyone who can hear this, Malfoy. You do not want to cross me. You can’t even begin to imagine the things I can do to you.” Still seething, Ginny held him firmly in place by his tie, practically forgetting the three pairs of eyes ogling them. She closed her eyes and slowly breathed in, in an attempt to calm herself. She took breath after breath; she was nearing composure, when her breath suddenly hitched. Draco had raised one hand and was gently stroking the curve of her neck. Her eyes flew open and she saw him concentrating very hard on the path his finger was making. Before she could release him, he placed his other hand firmly over hers, and lowered his voice so only she could hear it,

“Is that a promise, Weasley?” his low drawl, so close to her face, rumbled through her gaping mouth and she almost fainted from the sensation, when Ron painfully reminded her of where she was. Ginny’s shoulders were suddenly placed in a death grip and she was jerked back to her seat. Draco consequently was thrown back into his seat when Ginny’s hand released him all too forcefully. Ron then turned to Ginny and was roaring as loudly as he could while still whispering,

“What- is- the meaning- of- this! What was Malfoy talking about, ‘the other night’?”

“Oh, calm down Ron. He’s just saying things to get you all riled up. You’re really just playing into his hands.” Ginny casually swatted Ron’s chest to prove her point that there was no need to be concerned. Ron turned to his friends for support, but Harry was still ogling Ginny for that spectacular dive, and Hermione was plastering a sheepish smile on.

“Really, Weasley,” Draco chuckled, as he adjusted his tie back into place. “The little brat’s right. Your brotherly concern is lost on her. Poor little Virginia’s still a virgin. Well, as far as I know at least.” Draco turned his eyes towards Ginny, as though expecting her to answer the unspoken question. His apprehension was well-hidden behind his sneer. Ginny, however, did not need to respond.

“All right, Malfoy, let’s get a few things straight.” Ron had straightened up by now and was ticking off on his fingers as he spoke, “Firstly, of course she’s a virgin. Seamus knows better than to try anything, now that Harry and I have spoken with him.” Ginny cried with shock, and turned to glare at Harry, who had the decency to look abashed. Ron continued, oblivious to her reaction, “Secondly, her name’s Ginevra; and thirdly, I don’t know why Hermione called you here, but she must have a reason. All the same, if you even think of interfering in a conversation between me and anyone in my family, I will personally rip that pointed nose off of your face.”

If Draco’s last name was not Malfoy, he would have acknowledged that he was speechless. He was, however, a Malfoy, and Malfoys are never speechless. They are tactfully silent, rule #57.

“Right then,” Hermione broke in. “Now that we’ve all got that settled, why don’t we move on to discuss this little situation of ours. I believe there are some introductions that need to be made properly.”



After a long meeting between the five of them, two conclusions were drawn: they all needed to speak to the Headmaster, and Ron is not allowed to murder Draco. Hermione carefully explained that Draco had found Ginny when she fainted, and was the one to take her to safety on more than one occasion. She also told Ron and Harry about the penseive, but quickly lied that it was her own suggestion that they work on it, and the only reason she asked Draco to work with Ginny was because he had more experience with penseives than she did. Ginny casually avoided all conversation concerning Draco and even went so far as to barely notice his presence. When all the roadblocks seemed to be smoothed out, they agreed to meet at the stairs leading up to Professor Dumbledore’s office, to ward off any unnecessary suspicion.

Ginny sighed heavily as she massaged her temples and closed her eyes on the oncoming headache. She heard Draco shuffle until he was seated next to her, his legs just barely brushing hers. She grinned behind her hands, waiting to see what he might say.

“Ginny…” he trailed off, seeming more interested in the lock of red-gold hair he was coiling around his finger. “What the dolt you seem to call your brother said back there, was he telling the truth?” his voice was so soft that Ginny almost had to lean towards him to hear. She withdrew her hands from her face and studied his expression. It was no surprise to her that despite his soft speech, his face was as hard and reserved as ever.

“Well, Draco,” she almost purred his name out. Much to her chagrin, she seemed incapable of speaking his name with the same malice she used to reserve specially for him. “I know what you’re really asking me. And yes,” she continued with a mischievous glint in her eye, “my name is Ginevra. It’s really a common misconception that Ginny stands for Virginia.” Artfully hiding her giggle, Ginny rose and patted an indignant Draco on the back before she made her way to Professor Dumbledore’s office.

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

A large abandoned staircase led up to a narrow hallway, punctuated by a stone gargoyle; behind the gargoyle stood a narrow shaft, whose stone steps spiraled upwards. The dusky hall was devoid of the laughter and innocent banter that filled the rest of the immaculate establishment. The only sound was that of footsteps reverberating off the illustrious marble walls, each step heavier than the last, labored by unspoken words. Five shadows deceptively danced across the floor, feigning youth and innocence. Their bodies had been nothing more than costumes for the last five years, hiding the pain and suffering behind vibrant and innocent physiques. The disguise was beginning to fade, though. Their shoulders were distinctively weighed down by the burdens of bad decisions inherited through the generations. Even their faces were weathered: jaded by the need to shed their childish garments long before their time. This was the result of growing up too fast to remember to miss those blissfully fleeting moments of naïveté.

Hermione stopped in front of the gargoyle and heaved a sigh. She soon felt Harry’s shoulder brush against her left one, and heard Ron come up to stand on her right. Two more sets of footsteps paused just behind her, and Hermione knew that Ginny and Draco had joined them as well; everyone was waiting for her to say the password and lead the way to Professor Dumbledore’s office. The head girl just cocked her head to the side though, seemingly lost in thought.

“How long do you think it’ll take her before she remembers how to speak?” Draco whispered in Ginny’s ear after a few moments had passed.

Ginny stifled her laugh with a slight cough, but before she could respond, he cut her off,

“Oy Granger!” He called out as though she weren’t standing directly in front of him. Completely startled, she jumped and turned around.

“Malfoy I’m right here!”

“Well, I wasn’t so sure about that. I thought you’d taken a mental trip to the loo or something,” Draco responded with a sneer. “But don’t worry, I know what you were thinking, and yes, it is true. I would look rather fetching in nothing but a pair of quidditch boots, sprawled across silk sheets. Even so, like I said before, you really need to stop fantasizing about me this way. Potter’ll get his panties in a twist.”

“MALFOY!” a scandalized Hermione and an enraged Ron and Harry shouted in unison.

“I’ll have you know,” Harry ground out, “I do NOT wear panties!”

“And I was most definitely not thinking of anything of the sort!” Hermione squealed with a furious blush decorating her cheeks. “I was simply trying to collect my thoughts for what we’re going to have to say to Dumbledore.”

With that she turned and spoke the password to the gargoyle before anyone could say anything more. As soon as Harry and Draco stepped onto the spiraling stairs behind her, Ginny quickly snapped out of the reverie she seemed to be in and jumped up behind Draco. Ron followed, but tapped Ginny’s shoulder and inquired,

“Is everything all right? What were you thinking about back there?”

“Oh, nothing…just quidditch,” she replied with a slight blush. Upon hearing this, Draco suddenly had a coughing fit, earning him and Ginny a skeptical look from Ron. However, before he could say anything, Dumbledore had called them in, and all five students filed into his office.

“Ah, Miss Granger, Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy, Miss Weasley, and Mr. Weasley.” Dumbledore’s voice hushed any unspoken words and drove away any stray thoughts. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company today?”

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

“Hypnosis! With SNAPE? I still can’t believe it,” Ron cried out, as he rolled the lemon drop to the other side of his mouth.

“Ronald!” he was stopped from any further rants by Hermione slamming her hand flat on the Gryffindor table. “No matter how many times you say it, it won’t change the matter! And will you PLEASE spit out that insufferable candy before you douse us all with your spit!”

Ron looked from her indignant face to Harry’s sitting across from him with an innocent shrug of his shoulders. “What’s with her?” he asked quietly, “and what’s wrong with the lemon drop? Dumbledore offered them to us, after all.”

Harry shook his head and smiled at his best friend as he reached for a second helping of potatoes.

“You know, she does have a point, Ron,” Ginny started from his right. “After all, I’m the one that has to go into hypnosis.”

“I know, Gin, but who’s to say he won’t try to hypnotize you into losing Gryffindor all our points?”

“Look, I know he’s Snape, and I know he’s a git, but you heard Dumbledore. The only way to prevent another mental assault by Riddle is through a very complex form of hypnosis, which only Snape can administer. You know that he’s been exposed to all kinds of Dark Arts, and he’s really the only expert on the concitatus spell. So really, Ron, it’s not as though we have a choice.” Ginny sighed, and noting Ron’s dejected face, added, “Besides, I have to have a trusted witness present, remember? So it’s not like Snape can try to pull anything.” Although I’m not sure Gryffindor will benefit much, considering who I want to be my witness…

“Yeah, you do have a point, Gin. So when do these sessions start again?”

“Honestly, Ron, do you not pay any attention?” Hermione cut in, “Snape wants to start as soon as the holidays begin, so there won’t be any classes, and no one will interfere.”

“Oh and one more thing, big brother,” Ginny giggled as she stepped out from behind the bench, “Hermione’s right. You are spitting like a madman with that candy in your mouth.” Ignoring her brother’s comments about her being a traitor, she traipsed out of the Great Hall.

“That girl seems less and less like a Weasley every day. I mean, next thing you know, she’s going to tell me she fancies Malfoy.”

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

“Seamus!” Ginny gasped. “We’re in the library. I really don’t think Madame Pince would approve of that kind of behavior.”

“Oh, Gin-gin,” Seamus sighed in response, while his hand started at her knee and slowly trailed up her thigh. “You know that I can’t control myself when I’m this close to you. It’s really your own fault for sitting next to me.” Leaning in for a kiss, Seamus was so focused on the smile Ginny was trying to hide that he didn’t notice a third person join them. Ginny, however, was expecting the familiar interruption, and was only surprised it hadn’t come sooner.

“You know you may be solving your own problem,” Draco cut in, twirling his wand. He found that annoying Seamus was his newest yet most favored pastime. “If you keep breathing on her like that with your potato breath, I’m sure she’d be more than glad to move.”

“He doesn’t have potato breath.” Ginny murmured, lodging one hand behind Seamus’ head. “In fact, it’s rather sweet.” She pulled him slowly closer before their lips finally met. Seamus remained in shock for the first few seconds, as his instinctive reaction at the sight of Malfoy would have been to pull away. However, all his surprise quickly left him and he took advantage of the situation. Shifting himself to wrap his arms around Ginny’s back, he gently pressed against her lips until they parted. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny could see a Malfoy in rage, but only smirked. She let out a lilting moan that began in the back of her throat and shocked both boys at the table. Pulling back, she plastered a dreamy look on her face, and then turned away from Seamus’ pleasantly surprised expression. She then tilted her head at Draco and raised an eyebrow.

“All right, Weasley, enough games. I’ll be waiting outside.” Draco ground the words out and stalked out of the library with clenched fists. Ginny watched him leave with a small smile on her face.

“I don’t get it, Gin. I mean, you’ve explained to me that Snape gave you some demented Potions project that you had to complete over the winter holidays. And you’ve also explained that Malfoy has to escort you, because Snape is an untrusting git. But I mean, it’s been days, and Malfoy still makes a habit of interrupting us. I’m beginning to think he’s doing it on purpose.”

“Seamus! Don’t be silly. After all, what would Malfoy gain by interrupting us, hm?” Ginny didn’t let him respond before she got out of her seat. “All right, I’ll meet you at dinner? Bye!” she chirped and nearly ran out of the library suddenly desperate to get away from Seamus. She burst through the door so quickly that she almost ran past Draco. She quickly whipped around and saw him approaching her. Bracing herself for some kind of verbal attack, she was astonished to see Draco walk right by her without a second glance.

“Coming Weasley?” he called over his shoulder. “Snape isn’t exactly partial to tardiness.”

Ginny hurried her footsteps to catch up with him. Walking beside Draco, she took many covert glances at him, trying to discern his disposition. His face was set in cool lines, his eyes trained ahead of him. Ginny would have paid an arm and a leg to know what was on his mind right now. They were nearing the Potions classroom when he finally spoke.

“Nice little display you put on back there.” Looks like I get to keep my limbs. "I found it rather amusing."

"Are you sure about that Draco?" Ginny replied without missing a beat. "You seemed to put on your own little display too. I wasn't aware Malfoys were allowed to throw tantrums."

"I think we can both agree that the tantrums are reserved for your brother."

"Oh really? Is that the case? I distinctly recall seeing you in the hospital wing after getting in a rather debilitating brawl with said brother. Looks like you two have more in common than you think." Ginny tossed a curl behind her shoulder and flounced off in the direction of her next hypnosis lesson. She didn't get very far when Draco reached out a hand and lodged it in the crook of her elbow, effectively stopping her. When she turned her head to face him, he had fixed her with a sneer.

"I'll have you know, my name will not be associated with Weasley. And you would do best not to make that mistake again."

"Can't associate with a Weasley, Draco? What do I look like?" His grip faltered at her words, and she took the opportunity to withdraw her hand from his grip. "See? We're back in the same place, with the same unanswered question. What are we doing here, Draco Malfoy? Why can't you let go of me? I don't get it...What's holding you here?" Ginny set her face in hard lines and looked him square in the eyes. Seeing nothing, she shook her head slowly and asked just below her breath, "Is anything even holding you here?"

Draco felt Ginny's shoulder brush against him as she walked by, and that became his breaking point. His frozen exterior fell around him. His shoulders stooped and he hung his head. Suddenly Draco needed to reach for the wall to hold himself up. He turned to look at the door Ginny had just walked through, hearing her words reverberating in his head. "More than you know, Ginny," he responded to himself. "More than you know."

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

Three Gryffindors were huddled around a library table, their only companion an overwhelming pile of books.

"It says here that concitatus is an ancient spell often used in dark arts." Ron paused to swallow the chocolate frog he'd been chewing. His book was propped up against his feet and his feet were propped up on the table. "'The fact that it must be at least partially mutual lends to its power, making the magic more vital and useful in various kinds of spells.' Huh, so basically since Ginny unknowingly gave in to Riddle's power over her psyche, and let the spell fester for so many years, it's just amplified into this super powerful spell." He stopped when he saw Harry and Hermione staring at him across the table, their jaws hanging down in shock. "What??"

Harry leaned over to Hermione, "Did Ron just use psyche, fester, and amplified in the same sentence?" he confirmed.

"Oh you heard it too? Thank goodness, I thought I was subconsciously translating him into more elevated language again."

"Hey!" Ron cut in, "I can speak well too, you know! I'll have you know that there are people who appreciate someone who knows how to manipulate language."

"Ohh I get it!" the confusion in Harry's face melted into a good-natured smile. "You're trying to change your talk for a girl"

Hermione squealed and clapped her hands, while the two of them looked expectantly at Ron.

"How are you so sure it's for a girl? Maybe I just find it childish and beneath me to speak as though I don't know how." Studying the expressions of his friends, he quickly added, "All right, it's for a girl. But this isn't just any girl. This one appreciates the finer aspects of life. She's a Ravenclaw, of course."

"Of course," Harry nodded him on.

"Well anyway, I was walking Ginny back from Charms one day, since I was in that hall. So when I went to go meet her, she was talking to this- this goddess!" Ron acquired a dreamy look on his face as he continued to describe his mystery goddess. "She had the most beautiful black hair. Not quite all black, slightly brown in just the right light. Her eyes are deep and shaped like perfect almonds. Her beautiful olive skin: flawless. She has a perfectly sloped nose, leading to the most devastating smile ever. And when she moves, her perfect slim figure radiates with all kinds of feminine...perfection."

"Harry, I think he's gone nutters." Hermione muttered at the sight of a completely smitten Ron.

"Yeah, either that, or he's turned into a puff." Harry replied, equally flabbergasted.

Ron seemed to come out of his daze and glared at the two of them.

"Go ahead and make fun. But you should see her; then you'd know what I'm talking about." Ron snapped.

"All right, Ron," Hermione chuckled and reached over to pat his hand. "Well, do you at least know her name?"

"Well, I didn't get a chance to overhear that part, but I do know that she's friends with Ginny. And they were making plans to study. Turns out Ginny's ahead of her class in Charms, and has offered to tutor." The typical Weasley pride was now etched on Ron's face when he spoke of his sister.

"Then I guess you have you work cut out for you, eh mate? Just turn up the brotherly love, and boom! You're in good with the Ravenclaw." Harry chimed in, nibbling on his sugar quill.

"How right you are, Harry. Speaking of which, my darling sister's boots were looking a little shabby this morning. I guess that buffing spell I learned will come in handy after all. So long, you two." Ron picked up his book entitled, The Essential Chores Chorus: spells to make your life easyand headed back to Gryffindor Tower.

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

"Now, please try to focus on the goal." Snape persuaded when he saw Ginny shaking. She was lying on a cot conjured up by the Potions professor. "Tell me what you can see now."

"I'm in the Chamber now." Ginny's voice sounded pained and far away. "I can see him growing stronger in front of me. He's coming to life, and I'm bringing him back."

"Good, now is he saying anything to you?"

"I- I can't hear. I - oh! It's too loud! I can't--" her voice shook and she shielded her already closed eyes. "Ah! Get out of my head!" Ginny let out an anguished cry, screwing her face up in fear.

Draco, concealed in the shadows of the far corner of the room, snapped his head towards Professor Snape. His eyebrows were drawn together, and he stared at the professor with a panicked expression.

"All right, Weasley. That's enough for today." Snape flicked his wand and Ginny's face relaxed. It was another few seconds before she completely broke out of her trance. Draco was leaning against the wall with his arms tensely crossed across his chest as he watched her attempt to sit up straight. Ginny took the proffered arm from Snape and pulled herself completely upright on the cot. She leaned her elbows on her knees and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. In the back of her over-exhausted mind she registered hearing Draco's slow and deliberate footsteps in her direction, and Snape's swift steps around his table to his seat.

"Are you quite all right, Weasley?" Snape called out. Without looking up to see her nod, he continued, "In that case, is there anything I should know?"

Ginny's head snapped up at this.

"What's that, Professor?" she asked in a timid voice with wide eyes.

"I was just curious, Ms. Weasley, as to whether or not there were any developments or changes in your situation." He was now skeptically scrutinizing the worried lines on her face. "It has been rather long since you had an episode, has it not? Is there anything unusual that you noticed that should be brought to my attention?"

Ginny chewed the inside of her mouth in thought. "Well, Professor, I actually haven't had another spell since the night I was in the Hospital Wing. And, um -" she paused in consideration of what had happened that night. I didn't really hear his voice, right? That was just in my head. It had to be. There's no way. The only reason I haven't had another episode is because of the hypnosis...right?

"Ms. Weasley?" Snape's demanding voice cut in. He was standing with his hands braced against the desk, wearing a dubious face. Ginny stared at him open-mouthed, suddenly at a loss for words.

"Ginny?" her head snapped to the left at the touch of Draco's hand on her shoulder. "If there's anything that seems out of the ordinary to you, you should say so now, before this gets any worse than it already is." His voice was gruff, but oddly soft. Ginny cocked her head and looked into Draco's eyes, suddenly seeing what she'd been hoping for.

"No, there's nothing I need to share." She replied quietly. Draco held her gaze for a few moments longer before removing his hand from her shoulder. He turned towards Snape and nodded, who responded with his own nod. The professor resumed his seat and work, letting Draco and Ginny make their way to the door.

"Oh, Mr. Malfoy. Would you come here a moment, there is something I would like to discuss." Snape called out just before they reached the door.

"Right, Professor." Draco turned to give Ginny a look that meant for her not to go far, and then shut the door and went back into the classroom. Perching on the edge of a desk directly in front of Snape's desk, he stretched his lean legs out in front of him. They were casually crossed at the ankles, and he began to lackadaisically inspect his well-manicured nails. "Was there something you needed?" Draco drawled out.

"As you must already realize, I attended Hogwarts as a student in your mother's class." Snape was staring hard at the boy's face, as though willing him to react. He was sourly disappointed. Draco simply crossed his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow.

"With all due respect, Professor, is there some significance to this clearly obvious statement?"

"I do not know nor do I care how much of your parents' lives is privy to you. Neither is it my place to reveal any lingering or long-lasting tales of Hogwarts from a generation long ago. I do, however, strongly believe that you should realize that all matters are not as they seem. Many times, Draco, a person's actions are wrought by the consequences they may face, or may not face, whatever the case may be. You should know that despite how lives turn out, and despite how bleak the future might seem, there is always the matter of choice. Every decision worth making is carefully deliberated, and a choice is made. No matter how difficult the decision, there is always a choice. No one can force will upon another. Even the Imperius curse can be fought off by an able mind. Do you see what I'm trying to say to you, Mr. Malfoy?"

"Actually," Draco began hesitantly. Looking down at his feet, he rubbed the back of his head. "No, Professor, I'm afraid I don't quite see where you're leading with this. You're making enough sense, but I don't see what this has to do with anything."

The Potions professor looked at his student's confused face and sighed. Making his way around the desk he stood in front of Draco and made to pass him, but stopped to place a hand on his shoulder. Looking past Draco rather than at him, he spoke,

"What I'm trying to say to you is that life is constantly testing us and the strength of our deepest emotions. Even though it may be easy to admit defeat, claiming that your fate is a direct consequence of someone else's actions, this is not the road taken by true men. No matter what cards you are dealt, there is always a choice. You can choose to play the high card, and suffer the pain of being trumped, or you can choose to avoid that pain by playing the lower, more subservient card. Then again, you have a deck full of cards to choose from." Snape deliberately turned to look Draco in the face before adding, "Do not believe that the power to make a decision is taken out of your hands. It never can be." With that, he removed his hand from Draco's shoulder and stalked out of the classroom in the direction of his office.

Draco stared after the billowing robes, part of him wondering if there was more to the professor than he let on, part of him wondering whether or not his mind had fabricated the entire exchange.

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

Ron was settling into a chair in the Common Room, having polished or shined most of Ginny's boots, jewelry and essentially everything in her possession capable of being polished or shined. He reclined with his hands folded behind his head, heaving a sigh. Slowly closing his eyes, Ron let his mind wander, focusing on any and all images that passed behind his lids. At first they were of quidditch, and of his tumultuous climb to his position as captain. He had spent every waking moment practicing and perfecting his keeper skills after his fifth year. By the time he reached Seventh Year status, the name Weasley truly had become royalty on the quidditch field.

Breathing in deeply, Ron let the next image float by. He was standing with his sister, amicably arguing over a box of Every Flavor Beans. The two ended by sharing a hug that soon turned into Ginny putting him in a headlock. Ron chuckled under his breath, and suddenly the image changed. Ron looked up at the girl's face; it was no longer Ginny. She was not holding him in a headlock either, but rather a haphazard embrace. Ron shifted his arms around her and she further buried her face in the crook of his neck. He found that he enjoyed the smell of her chestnut hair. And even though it was big enough to cover half his face, he could think of nowhere else he'd rather be. Ron's eyes flew open, and he again found himself in the Common Room. He resolutely came to the conclusion that a distraction was what he needed. A distraction would prevent him from doing anything decidedly daft. Getting up to go for a walk, Ron passed the pair of newly buffed boots that belonged to his sister. A distraction is just what I shall have.

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

"There's just one thing I don't understand about your puppy - er - boyfriend, Weasley." Draco corrected himself when Ginny's arm flew into his stomach. "He always seems to get so uptight whenever I'm around. In fact, I find it quite amusing."

"Yes, Draco, I'm well aware of how you get you giggles. But how is that hard to understand?" She half-turned as she opened the door and sighed at the sight of his well-placed smirk. The two of them were going for a walk to let Ginny cool off from the hypnosis session.

"I'm not finished; that's not what surprises me. And besides, I don't giggle." Draco snapped at her, setting his first boot onto the snow-covered ground. "What makes me wonder is how you managed to convince him to have me take you to Snape every day like this. I would think he'd be having an Irish fit by now. You must have made up some killer lie for him not to care."

"I didn't lie to him. I simply stated that there was a special project I needed to do with Snape, and you needed to escort me. I couldn't help it if he made the assumption that I was being punished, and that your service was provided because Snape didn't trust me."

"Ah, very sneaky, Gin darling. I must say as a Slytherin I am most proud of you."

"Hmm, I can't decide if that's a good thing or bad thing," Ginny shot back with a smile.

"So, you needed me there to escort you? What's that all about?" Draco swiftly changed topics with the quirk of an eyebrow.

"Oh, come off it, Draco. You know that I have to have someone I trust there with me. Someone that can provide me comfort and stability while the spell racks my brain for evidence of Tom Riddle. This whole thing isn't exactly pleasant for me. I end up delving into memories I'd rather leave alone. I'm digging up events and actions I thought I could finally leave behind. All so Snape can hear all about it. Snape! Of all people! I have to reveal the darkest and most shameful parts of my life to a Potions professor who hates my guts. Even if he is the only one who can find this seed-thingy, it doesn't make it any easier. I think it's pretty clear that I feel physically weak after one of those sessions," Ginny went on, indicating her hand that was resting on Draco's arm for sustenance. "Just imagine how I'd be if you weren't there."

"But Ginny," he argued, ducking his head away from her. "It's not as though I do anything at those meetings. I just stand in the corner and watch you. How is that even helpful?"

"Draco, your presence alone means so much. I don't think you'll understand this but," Ginny's voice softened considerably and her steps slowed down. "just having you around makes me stronger. And I don't just mean during hypnosis."

Draco stopped walking and slowly turned his head to Ginny. He grazed a finger along her jaw before hooking it under her chin. He raised her head till their eyes met.

"What makes you think I won't understand?" his voice sounded gruff to her, and she had to fight the temptation to close her eyes and melt.

"You never let it show. Everything's some big hidden secret for you. You're constantly jerking me around, Draco, with those eyes. One second I feel like they're on fire, but before I can look twice you've closed off again." Ginny breathed in, gaining the strength to go on. Seeing the determined look in her eye, Draco dropped his hand from her face. "See? There you go again, with your stony expression. What are you so afraid of, Draco? Why can't you admit what's right in front of your face? I know you can feel it. I see it inside you. You feel it just as much as I do. You have no idea how powerful this can be if you just admit it."

"Feel what, Weasley?" Draco tried to snap at her, but his voice sounded strangled.

Ginny took a step closer to him, bringing their bodies just to the brink of touching. She slipped a hand inside his cloak and brushed her fingers down his arm.

"Feel alive. It happens to me every time you come near. When our skin touches," she paused to rub her whole palm down his forearm, "it's as though I'm on fire. I'm suddenly aware of all my senses." Ginny slipped her hand into his and brushed her thumb across his knuckles. "Tell me, Draco. What do you feel right now?"

Despite a voice at the back of his head that told him to run, Draco stared at Ginny, trying to find the best way to answer her. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply when he felt her move even closer to him. Their bodies were lined up and she was nuzzling the skin just below the side of his chin with her nose. Swallowing hard, Draco opened his mouth and forced sound to come out.

"I can hear myself breathe."

"Go on," Ginny urged, trailing her other hand up his arm to rest on his shoulder.

"My pulse feels so strong. I think I'm swimming." Draco felt her laugh softly against his skin and opened his eyes. He held up his hands and looked down at them.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"My hands. I can feel them." Draco raised his gaze to meet Ginny's. "It's almost as though I never noticed they were there before. How is it you can do this to me?"

"Do you really need to ask?" Ginny's left hand slowly moved to the back of his neck, while her right settled just above his elbow. Draco moved his arms to rest on her back. He slowly brought them towards each other, drawing her in closer. He began to lower his head towards her, but stopped.

"I didn't ask for this, you know?" Draco murmured to her with half-lidded eyes.

"No one ever does." She breathed, tilting her head upwards.

Draco's head was drawn to hers like a magnet. All of a sudden Snape's words came floating into his train of thought. Play the high card. Get trumped, feel the pain. It's worth it, just look at her face. Play the high card. Play the high card. He chanted to himself, slowly coming closer and closer to kissing the youngest Weasley. Ginny pulled herself closer and he tightened his embrace. Standing on her toes, she closed her eyes and murmured, her lips barely touching his,

"What high card?"

Draco's mind snapped back to reality. Was I speaking out loud? The image in front of him instantly changed. Instead of some missing link in his search for perfection, he saw a girl. An innocent girl, willing to offer herself to him. He could give in to the temptation his body was responding to, but where would that take him? He would only end up hurting this bundle in his arms. She would watch him suffer and would, in turn, suffer herself. All that pain, just to satisfy themselves now. No matter how right it felt, no matter how complete his life seemed with her wrapped in his arms, he would not give in to weakness. Draco pulled her against him and kissed her forehead.

"I have to go. Same time tomorrow." He muttered before detangling himself from her. Without looking back, Draco swiftly walked towards the castle. When he was out of sight, Ginny seemed to step out of her trance. Letting out a cry of frustration she buried her hands in her hair, and drew in a shaky breath. For some reason, even breathing was a taxing exercise.

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

"Camena, this is Seamus, and this is Draco. Guys, meet Camena." Ginny introduced, "Seamus is my boyfriend and Draco is - well, at the moment, he's just annoying."

"Hullo. Nice to meet you two." Camena shook hands with both Seamus and Draco. "Ginny's helping me in Charms. I'm not exactly a stellar student, and I need her to tutor me." The Ravenclaw ran a hand through her nearly black hair and offered them a devastating smile. She was nervously seated next to Ginny, with Seamus and Draco across from the two of them.

"Malfoy," Seamus grumbled quietly when Ginny and Camena had begun to work on their Charms assignment. "I don't see what you're doing here. Ginny's already been to her torture session with Snape today. You can leave."

"Finnegan, my lad," Draco smirked back at him, "I am not studying here for any sort of duty. I simply take great pleasure in watching your face contort like an angry leprechaun."

"Do you think you boys can cut the malarkey for maybe five minutes?" Ginny cut in before Seamus could. "Some of us are trying to get some actual work done in the library, of all places."

"Malarkey, Gin?" Draco mocked with disbelief. "You sound like my Aunt Agnes."

"Draco, I would be willing to lay money that you don't have an Aunt Agnes."

"Maybe not; but if I did, I can guarantee she'd have at least five rather large broomsticks shoved up her arse. That's the only way anyone would be prompted to say malarkey."

Ginny simply rolled her eyes at his glib, but Camena burst into peals of laughter. At Madame Pince's reprimanding glare, she quieted down, but didn't fail to tell Draco just how hilarious she found him. Ginny and Draco's eyebrows shot to their hairline, and they exchanged a look. Draco regarded Camena with an amused expression, while Ginny's was much more guarded. No one seemed to notice Seamus, however, who was rubbing his chin with a suspiciously Slytherin glint in his eyes.

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

Breakfast the following morning brought with it a slew of owls dropping letters and packages across the hall. Hermione's copy of the Daily Prophet landed in front of her, nearly missing her plateful of eggs. She picked it up and read the headline on the front page: Wizarding Holiday Brings Sales to a Record High.

"What holiday?" she muttered to herself. Pushing aside her breakfast, she made room to set the paper down in front of her and read the accompanying article.

"What was that Hermione?" Harry asked from her right. He passed the jar of pumpkin juice across to Ginny's outstretched hand.

"Something interesting in the paper today?" Ginny piped up, filling her own then Ron's goblet.

"Hopefully not bad news. The last thing we need now is another thing to worry about with the upcoming quidditch match." Ron called out rather anxiously between bites.

"Well," Hermione began without looking up from the paper. "It says there's a wizarding holiday coming up. Well, not really a holiday per se. 'Tutelae's Night comes once every seven years, determined by a certain alignment of stars. The more superstitious wizards and witches take this day to celebrate all their loved ones. It is believed that those bonds recognized on Tutelae's Night are infused with divine power.' Oh what a bunch of crock. People will find any reason to invent some holiday just to make money. Honestly - and how pathetic is it for companies to exploit a person's love just to make money off of unnecessary gifts. You shouldn't need some silly holiday that comes once every seven years to show your love. What civilized person would do that?" Hermione sniffed and shoved the paper away from her. She grabbed her plate and began shoveling food into her mouth, grumbling under her breath.

Harry smiled at her and was just about to speak when he was interrupted by a voice behind him.

"Actually, Tutelae's Night wasn't invented by anyone. The stars really do come together in just the right way every seven years, Tutelae blesses all the lovers who wait for her." Luna Lovegood popped up behind Harry and Hermione with a dreamy expression on her face.

"Luna!" Ginny exclaimed, not noticing her friend sidle up. "Does your dad know something about this Tortellini star thing?"

"Tutelae's Night." Luna corrected.

"So wait a bloody second here," Ron cut in, holding his fork up with a piece of fruit still speared on it. "This Tutelae actually does something? It's not just the name of the bloke who discovered this star pattern?"

"Well, it was a woman who discovered the pattern, Ron." The elusive Ravenclaw replied without missing a beat. "And yes, Tutelae watches down on everyone. Then, every seven years, she comes down to empower whoever reminds her of her own love."

"Hold on, Luna," Ginny spoke up, "you completely lost me. 'Her own love?' Do you know the story behind this Tutelae lady?"

"I suppose I could tell you if you really wanted me to." Luna squeezed her way between Harry and Hermione. She casually reached for Ron's toast, bringing forth an indignant cry from him. Without looking away from the toast, she countered, "You weren't going to finish it anyway." Ron sputtered angrily as he watched Luna break of little bits of his toast and pop them into her mouth.

"Please, Luna," Harry chimed in with Ginny. "I think we'd like to know what this is all about."

"Well, here's the story." She put down the piece of toast and folded her arms on the table in front her. "Once upon a time, there used to be many kingdoms. Each kingdom would be ruled independently, and the world of magic lived very close to the Muggle world. Well there was once a king who was growing very old. His son, the prince, needed to take the throne very soon. One day the prince went riding into the forest. He went very far and soon his horse grew tired. The forest around him became dark, and the prince knew he had to get out soon. There was no telling what kind of creatures roam around in thick forests at night." Ron, Harry and Hermione shared a glance before Luna continued. "He was wandering through the forest when he came across a little clearing. Stepping into the clearing, he saw a little hut and a well. The prince went closer, and saw a beautiful young girl. The girl's name was Tutelae.

"Tutelae told the prince that he could stay here for the night. She would feed him and bathe his horse while he rested, then her brother would take him back to his kingdom in the morning. The prince was extremely grateful, and agreed to spend the night. While they were making preparations for the night, the prince learned that Tutelae was a village girl living with her two brothers. Her father had passed away, and they made a very small income by selling their harvest to neighboring kingdoms. Over the course of the night, the prince fell deeply in love with the beautiful Tutelae. When he confessed his love to her, she admitted that she felt the same way, but there was no way they could be together. Their stations in life were too different. The prince then left for his kingdom with a very heavy heart.

"Soon afterwards, the prince's father passed away, and he was crowned King. He married the princess from a neighboring kingdom for political reasons. His new queen was a witch, as was Tutelae. The queen, however, was not a nice woman. She was very possessive of her king, and often hexed any woman who looked at him twice. So seven years passed since the king last saw Tutelae, but he never forgot her. Then one day, he was hunting in the forest and strayed from his group of courtiers. All of a sudden he found himself near a clearing. He instantly recognized Tutelae's hut, and ran to her. The king and Tutelae were both still in love, and decided to start meeting regularly. The queen soon found out about their affair, though, and threw Tutelae into the sky. She was caught in a constellation of stars. When the king found out, he cried and cried over the loss of his Tutelae.

"That night though, she came to him. The king dreamt that Tutelae had come to visit him, and told him that their love was eternal. It would never die, and neither would she. Since it had taken him seven years to find her after he first left her, she promised that she would come to him after seven years. So every seventh year since the queen threw her in the sky, Tutelae came to watch over the king and bless him with ultimate power. When he died, she vowed to protect all eternal lovers. So she returns every seven years to offer the greatest power to soul mates across the world." Luna finished her tale, the dreamy expression never leaving her face. When she was done, however, she didn't wait to hear any kind of response before she extracted herself from the table and walked out of the Great Hall. The four Gryffindors were staring at the spot she just left wearing very thoughtful expressions.

"It might not be true," Hermione voiced, "but it's still kind of sad." Ginny and Harry silently agreed with her.

"All I have to say is," Ron grunted, glaring at the table in front of the previously occupied seat, "she didn't finish my toast either."
Chapter 7: Forbidden Fudge by Ephemere
~*~Chapter 7~*~


Whoosh. The quaffle passed through the curtain of his quidditch robes, just barely squeezing its way through the loop of his arms, and into one of the Gryffindor hoops. Ron almost fell off his broom from the sudden contradicting sounds of raucous cheering from the Slytherin and Ravenclaw stands, and lamenting from the Gryffindor stands. He shook his head to clear it of the extraneous noises, and tried once again to focus on the game at hand. Gryffindor was playing Ravenclaw in what would be the last game of the winter season. If Gryffindor won this game, they would go on to play Hufflepuff once more, before officially holding their spot in the championship. However, if Ravenclaw won, or even scored 100 points, Gryffindor would need to win its next three games to stand a chance. Risking a glance over at Harry, Ron tried desperately to return to his level of play from the last quidditch match. Harry apprehensively drew his eyes away from searching for the snitch long enough to mouth the words, 'Just breathe' to Ron. Nodding nervously, Ron filled his lungs once more with the bitter air of early March. He could just make out the remnants of melting snow on the ground below him. Looking up at the ensuing game, he muttered to himself, Come on, Ronald. It's just Ravenclaw; you've beaten them before, you can do it again. FOCUS! Just as he finished his mantra, the quaffle came soaring towards him. Ron jutted his broom out to the right, extended his arms, and effectively caught the offending object before it could do anymore damage.

"And the Ravenclaw lead is halted at 90 to 60 with a spectacular save by Ronald Weasley! It looks like the Gryffindor keeper has returned to the land of quidditch once again!" The voice of Justin Finch-Fletchley, who had taken over for Lee Jordan following his graduation, boomed through the quidditch field. Ron was just beginning to gloat when he felt someone fly in a circle around him.

"I knew you weren't going to let us win that easily." The lilting voice drew Ron's attention to his right, as he looked into the winking face of Camena, Ginny's newest, most enticing friend.

"Who said you'd win at all?" Ron could almost hear himself form his witty response to the Ravenclaw chaser. However, almost is never enough, as Ron was instead left sputtering at Camena's pretty face, unable to come up with any sort of coherent response. Fortunately for the Gryffindor keeper, he was saved from further attempts by an eruption across the quidditch stands. Turning towards the deafening noise, Ron and Camena could see Harry flying in circles above the field with his right arm held high in the air. Glinting through the cracks of his fist was the coveted golden snitch. Ron turned to Camena, and offered her a grin and a shrug before flying off to rejoice with his teammates.

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

"Well done, Harry!"

"Nice recovery, Ron! Brilliant broom-handling, Seamus!"

The entire Gryffindor house was mashed into the Common Room, in celebration of their recent victory. Harry, Ron and the rest of the quidditch team members were trying to filter out the congratulatory calls over all the clinking of butterbeers and general mayhem. Seamus, meanwhile, was attempting to locate his girlfriend among the masses. Ginny was seated in a corner on the floor, focused intently on scratching her quill on a notebook of parchment while keeping her butterbeer balanced precariously on her knee.

"Ginny!" Seamus called, startling the redhead into almost spilling her drink all over her hard work. "What are you doing over here? I've been looking everywhere for you." He took her drink for her and placed it on a nearby table.

"Oh, hullo Seamus. I was just working on a History of Magic essay that I really need to get done," Ginny replied easily as she closed the notebook a little too quickly according to Seamus. "But that can wait, I suppose."

"Yeah," Seamus mumbled, pulling Ginny to her feet, "I suppose it can."

The way Seamus's eyes kept sliding over to glance at her notebook was not lost on Ginny, and she thought a quick distraction was in order.

"Hmmm, I should be congratulating you for an excellent game, shouldn't I?" Ginny cooed before snaking her arms around his neck. "Could you possibly think of an appropriate way?"

"I think I can come up with a few ideas." Seamus grinned back at her, warming up to the idea, and suddenly forgetting anything he was thinking about before. He gently lowered his smiling face to hers, and their lips touched in a tender kiss. Seamus held her to him with unassuming arms around her back. Before he had the chance to deepen the kiss, they heard someone calling Ginny's name. They broke out of the kiss with Seamus grumbling about Malfoy always managing to ruin his fun.

"Malfoy?" Ginny asked, decidedly ignoring the way her heart rate had just sped up, "But Draco isn't even here. Colin's the one calling me."

"Yeah, well, I can guarantee Malfoy's got something to do with it," Seamus grunted in response, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Hey Gin!" Colin pushed his way towards them through the huddle of fifth years staring at the pictures in a magazine that was clearly not meant for the eyes of anyone young enough to be a student. "Malfoy's waiting for you outside the portrait hole."

"Hah! What'd I tell you!" Seamus called out accusatorily before storming away. Ginny watched the retreating back of her boyfriend, but decided she didn't have the time or energy to fix that little problem right now; instead, she thanked Colin and turned towards the portrait hole. On the way there, she passed Ron and Harry sitting on one of the long couches. Ron saw her leaving, and then turned to look at the clock. Seeing that it was 8:15, he called out after his sister,

"Aw, come on Gin! Can't you skive off just once? Let Malfoy deal with giving Snape some old excuse."

"Now Ron," Ginny countered over her shoulder, "I think you and I both know that a little Slytherin now keeps Slytherin out for good later."

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

"Malfoy!" Ginny panted, "Will you slow down, please? I don't understand why you're in such a rush to get back anyway." She was struggling to keep up with the fast pace he had maintained since they first left Professor Snape's office.

"I would've thought you'd be itching to get back to that little soiree of yours in Gryffindor, Weasley. I think the real question is why you're not in a rush," Draco drawled back, refusing to slow his pace.

Ginny scuffed her boots as she walked, and mumbled something about pending arguments with boyfriends. Draco turned around to see Ginny dawdling behind with a miffed expression in her eyes. Leveling himself with her, he looked into her eyes and murmured,

"Ginny? Is something bothering you?" Ginny looked up, startled by the soothing tone his voice took, "or have you finally realized that you're dating an Irish prat?"

"Very funny, Draco. But actually," Ginny pushed past him and resumed walking to Gryffindor tower, "I'm just not looking forward to the argument I know we're going to have about how you take up too much of my time."

"So Finnigan's jealous of how much time we spend together, eh? I thought you explained to him our little situation." Draco caught up to Ginny and just passed her.

"Even so, Draco, you can't really blame him for being upset, with the way you're always around." Ginny once again took the lead.

"Always, Weasley?" Draco practically growled, grabbing her arm and spinning her around. "Keep in mind, little Gin-Gin, that I have plenty of better things to do with my time than lead you around on your little rehab missions. You would do well to remember that I'm doing you a favor."

"You know what, Malfoy," Ginny roared back, shoving her face up to his, "I don't need you either! So why don't you just go sod off, and get back to your amazingly busy life. Don't bother doing me any more favors, you sniveling little brat! I'm just fine getting out of this situation without you!"

"That's just as well, Weasel." Draco's face resumed its normal icy, impassive expression. "After all, I'm beginning to think you've been fabricating this little 'situation' as you call it. How long has it been since you've had a supposed episode, or even made any semblance of a breakthrough? Really Weasley, of all the ways to con me into spending my time with you, this was rather lame." Draco turned on his heel and stalked back to the dungeons, leaving Ginny with a heaving chest, trying desperately to fight back the tears.

He's just saying that, Gin. Of course he knows it's real. Ginny closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. Her breath shook as she exhaled. Staring at the empty spot that used to be Draco, Ginny trailed her eyes down the long corridor. She watched his silhouette slip around the corner and finally out of her sight. Why does it feel like Malfoy just broke up with me? The silence that settled over the hall was just barely disturbed by the sound of a single tear falling from her chin to hit the marble floor at her feet.

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

Harry was currently engaged in a challenging game he often found himself playing. His right hand reached out to gently rest on Hermione's leg, under the safety of the library table. However, as soon as his fingertips hovered over her knee, his hand was immediately swatted away. Steady, Harry, he thought to himself, a couple centimeters closer this time. Less than a minute later, he tried again, but was swatted away for the fourth time since he'd taken his seat next to his girlfriend.

Hermione raised her eyes to Ron's sleeping form slumped on the table across from her, and whispered out of the side of her mouth,

"Cut it out Harry! I'm trying to study here, and I suggest you do the same if your Transfigurations grade means anything to you."

"Pardon me, Hermione," Harry snapped, scooting his chair farther away from her, "I was under the impression that I'm allowed to touch my girlfriend once in a while. Looks like I was mistaken." He tried to turn back to his books, but found himself unable to focus. Harry muttered something about needing the loo before getting up and slamming his chair back into place.

"Wha- humma-" Ron mumbled incoherently, then swiped at his eyes in time to see Harry storm out of the library. He turned to Hermione with raised eyebrows and a question in his eyes.

"Harry's upset, and this time I think he actually has reason to be." Hermione sighed heavily at Ron's confused expression, and continued, "I don't know if we're working out like we thought we would be when we first got together. We keep having this same argument over and over, and I don't even know if I can fix it at this point."

"Hermione," Ron said as he reached over and placed a hand over hers, "if there was ever a problem in the world I didn't think could be fixed, you would be the witch to prove me wrong. I've never seen you shy away from any sort of challenge. Trust me, Herm, whatever problem you're having with Harry, I'm sure you'll find the best way to make everything better."

Oh Ron, I'm only afraid that I already know the solution...and it might hurt more than the problem itself. Hermione forced herself to smile back at her friend, for once grateful for how naïve he could be sometimes. Apparently satisfied with this, Ron nodded and turned back to his studies.

Harry had closed the door to the library behind him, and was just turning down the hallway to walk off his foul mood. However, he didn't make it two paces until he was almost pummeled to the ground by Seamus. Harry turned to scowl at the fellow Gryffindor, but Seamus was gone before he could form the words. Mumbling something about madmen and something in the water, Harry went off in the other direction.

"Oy, Malfoy!" Seamus called out as he jogged up to Draco. "Slow down, will you? Let's talk," he added as he finally caught up to the now impatiently waiting Head Boy.

Draco watched the other boy catch up to him, and could not help but wonder why Seamus would want to be talking to him. Maybe Ginny told him about our conversation and he wants to play the role of the ever-dutiful, protective boyfriend? "Well, Finnigan," Draco all but growled, "out with it. I don't generally make it a habit of wasting my time on Gryffindors." Seamus cocked his eyebrow and looked like he would be willing to argue that point, but decided against it in the end.

"Look, Malfoy, I've been thinking. I've never really liked you; in fact, I doubt anyone really likes you at all. But it turns out that Ginny doesn't seem to mind you all that much. And considering how much time you two end up spending together because of some insufferable Potions project, it really is a wonder that you're both still alive after all these weeks," Seamus droned on pleasantly, leading Draco to believe he was mistaken in his earlier thoughts. "The way I see it, the only way this is possible is because you're more human than I've given you credit for being. So to make up for getting off on the wrong foot, I want you to join me and Ginny at Hogsmeade this Saturday," Seamus finished with a toothy grin spreading from ear to ear. Draco was looking at him as though he'd grown an extra head.

"Finnigan, give me one good reason why I would want to spend any time at all with you and your silly girlfriend?"

"Because, Malfoy," he responded, sidling closer to Draco with a suspiciously Slytherin glint in his eye, "I'm not quite the trusting Irish git you take me for. I did a little research of my own. Ginny's not being punished in Potions; in fact, she's among the top in her class. And Snape makes it a habit to not entertain students after dinner, the only exceptions being those with detention. Now, unless you'd like me to continue my research and discover something else about your little adventures with my girlfriend, I suggest you show up at the Three Broomsticks at 12:30 this Saturday."

Seamus walked away, clearly pleased with himself, leaving Draco gaping at his retreating form in wonder.

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

It was well into the evening before Hermione was finally left alone in the library. Harry and Ron had tired of studying and opted instead to play some Wizard's Chess in the Common Room. Hermione had managed to patch things up with Harry enough to have spent a pleasant afternoon in the library with him and Ron, but she was still grateful to have the time to turn to researching the counter curse to Ginny's condition. Whenever the other two were around, Hermione always felt apprehensive about what she might find out, given their overprotective nature of Ginny. She much preferred having the time to digest what she was reading and put it into the mildest of words before she told Harry and Ron. There was, of course, also another reason she favored researching this particular topic without the watchful eyes of Harry and Ron.

"Granger," came the familiar drawl before Draco settled himself into the chair opposite Hermione's, "Finnigan has a very inopportune way of interrupting the natural flow of my daily schedule."

Hermione nodded at Draco, instantly deciphering this random statement as Draco's way of explaining his tardiness to her. She had been meeting him regularly in this corner of the library for months since the first time she had shared his collection of books on dreamwalking, and could not help but notice a few subtle changes in him. The most outstanding change was that he had stopped calling her "Mudblood," but simply resorted to Granger or "Hey." The next difference Hermione noticed was the slight tick in his jaw that appeared whenever he was particularly peeved about something. She observed, however, that it really only surfaced when someone mentioned something about his father, Death Eaters, or Ginny. Hermione was abruptly jarred from her musings by a fist pounding on the table. Looking up from her book, she saw Draco scowl at a page before he ran a frustrated hand through his hair and rested his forehead against the heels of his hands.

"Hit a dead end again, Malfoy?" Hermione asked, knowing the feeling well.

"I feel like we keep going in circles here," he grunted back, "sitting here reading is going to get us nowhere. There's nothing that ink on parchment can tell us about what to do about Gin unless we know more than we know now."

"What are you getting at? There isn't anything else we can do but try to find something that'll give us a clue."

"The only clue we need has to come straight from the horse's mouth," Draco mumbled, extracting his face from his hands, and fixing Hermione with a glare.

"Well, it's not like there's any questions we haven't asked Ginny. So unless she's holding out on us about something then -" Hermione's eyes widened as comprehension dawned, "wait a second, you think she's holding back?? But what, and why?"

"Look, Granger, I don't propose to know the inner workings of silly little weasel girls, all right? All I know is that something doesn't add up. She has non-stop nightmares about Tom Riddle coming to her and taking her somewhere since last summer. I have a penseive sitting in my room chockfull of dreams about him approaching her, each more vivid and coming sooner than the last. Then all of a sudden, they stop without any warning. I understand completely that Snape's got her going to hypnosis sessions, and that's supposed to help with the mind control. But all the same, it doesn't make sense for him to stop appearing; he should just be less powerful." Draco let out a frustrated sigh when he was done and began flipping furiously through the book that sat in front of him.

"Hmm." Hermione began to tap her finger against her chin in thought, "You have a point there, surprisingly enough. But I honestly don't believe that Ginny would be having dreams about him and not telling us. I mean, they would definitely show up in either the hypnosis or the penseive. She really wouldn't have a choice in that matter. So something has to have prompted Riddle to stop appearing in her dreams...and that would only happen if he no longer had an interest in manipulating her. Could he have found another target?" Hermione continued to stare into space, the gears in her mind working furiously. Draco meanwhile was frozen, staring at the page in front of him.

"Granger, say what you just said again."

"What, about him finding a new target?" Hermione turned her attention back to him, fascinated by the way he seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough.

"No, before that."

"Erm, he no longer has an interest in her? But that could only be if -" she cut herself off with a gasp, as Draco began to read from the page.

"'Most instances of the concitatius spell in history have involved dark and powerful wizards, as mind control is generally banned in most areas. Additionally, complete cases of concitatius are hard to come by since the wizards tend to abandon their target once they have materialized.' I think we've officially found what Ginny's been hiding from us." Draco looked up gravely.

"It seems pretty clear what our only conclusion can be," Hermione squeaked out, "Tom Riddle's back...in person."

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

Neville sat on one of the cushions in the Room of Requirement, waiting for the minutes to tick by. He had arrived a little earlier than the scheduled meeting time, having given up on studying for the evening. Forcing himself to sit up a little straighter, Neville smiled to himself at how differently he saw himself now from before. Sure, he would still cower at the sight of certain particularly nasty Slytherins, including Draco Malfoy and the Slytherin Head of House, but nevertheless Neville liked to think he had grown a great deal braver over the years. He was no longer hiding behind every corner, scurrying along to his next destination, given that Mrs. Norris was nowhere in sight. He had also used his new surge in confidence to allow him to talk to girls without stuttering. It meant nothing that the list of girls he spoke to easily did not extend far beyond Hermione and Moaning Myrtle. All the same, the Neville Longbottom of his first year would never have been able to conduct himself with nearly as much stealth as he had been lately. And it was this newly discovered skill at spying that found Neville sitting here in the Room of Requirement, waiting to meet with Seamus Finnigan.

"Neville, you're a bloody genius!" Seamus cried as he walked in the room and threw himself on the floor opposite Neville. "I blackmailed Malfoy with what I knew about his meetings with Gin, and he just stood there like a gaping fish!" Seamus rolled his head back and his body shook with laughter.

"Are you sure you should be so happy about this, Seamus? It seems to me like meetings between Malfoy and Ginny should be some cause for concern." Neville picked at his cushion, his brow furrowed in thought.

"Hm? Oh yes, I was thinking about that earlier, Nev." Seamus was lying on his back on the floor, with his arms crossed behind his head. "I know at first I was really upset with Ginny for lying to me about whatever she was doing with Malfoy, but then I started to think about why she would lie to me. The only answer I could come up with is that Malfoy somehow conned her into silence. Then I started thinking of why Malfoy would con my Gin-bug into keeping her mouth shut, and the obvious answer presented itself. Really, I don't know why I didn't see it before. Every time I go to study with Ginny, Malfoy is inevitably there. Ginny is among the best in her Potions class. Malfoy is an arrogant git who doesn't like to admit he needs help," Seamus finished and grinned like a Cheshire cat at Neville.

"Er, Seamus? I'm not quite following you..."

"Don't you see, Neville?! Ginny's tutoring Malfoy in Potions!" The Irish boy exclaimed as though he had single handedly discovered the wizarding purposes of plutonium.

"But isn't Malfoy Head Boy? Why would the Head Boy, who is also rumored to be Snape's godson need tutoring from Ginny in Potions of all subjects?" Neville was shaking his head from side to side with an utterly confused expression on his face.

"Who knows why Malfoy's failing. But you said so yourself, that you overheard Hermione and Harry talking about Dumbledore having to do with Ginny's meetings with Snape and Malfoy. So it makes perfect sense that he would have assigned Ginny as a tutor, because Merlin knows they don't even like each other. Really, mate, what other plausible reason would Ginny have for meeting Malfoy every evening in Snape's room?" Neville took a long moment to study the blissfully ignorant boy sitting in front of him and remembered the first conversation he had overheard about Ginny. Heaving a sigh of defeat, he finally replied,

"Of course, Seamus. No other reason at all."

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

The Great Hall was packed Saturday morning. The excitement of another Hogsmeade weekend was bouncing off the walls. Harry, Ron and Hermione were huddled together, barely able to stop chattering about all the things they wanted to accomplish this weekend. Hermione had been forcing herself to stay in the library for many of the past weekends, claiming that, between her research and her school work, she had no time for anything else. Harry and Ron had finally convinced her, however, that she could take a much needed reprieve and have fun with them this weekend. Ginny, meanwhile, wished she could have found some way to weasel out of the past Hogsmeade weekends, but was instead left to walk the streets with her hand snugly enclosed in Seamus's. You should WANT to walk around Hogsmeade with your boyfriend, she tried unsuccessfully to remind herself. Ginny glanced over at Seamus out of the corner of her eye and sighed heavily at what she saw, or rather, what she did not see. Stop it, she chastised herself, stop pining for things that were never yours to begin with. Her battle with herself was interrupted by a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"Ginny?" Seamus spoke sweetly close to her ear, "is everything all right?"

"Well, I was just thinking about our plans for today at Hogsmeade. Are you really sure you want to be having lunch with Draco? I mean really, you don't even like him. I barely even like him, and I have to spend all this time around him. He doesn't particularly think much of either of us either. So when you think about it, it's really rather ridiculous for the three of us to be having lunch." Ginny was abruptly stopped there with a finger to her lips. Seamus knew it was up to him to stop her now, or she would continue rambling all the way to Hogsmeade.

"Shush, Ginny dear, and just trust me. Lunch will be splendid." Ginny decided then and there that there was nothing she liked about the glint behind Seamus's eyes when he said that.

Ginny was still stealing surreptitious glances at Seamus as they walked down the cobblestones of Hogsmeade. He seemed to be gradually increasing their pace, constantly checking his watch as they neared The Three Broomsticks. Seamus burst in the door and whipped his head around from side to side, keenly searching for something. Eventually he settled for pulling Ginny to a booth near the back, and situated himself so he could watch the door with hawk-like eyes. Ginny was beside herself with confusion when she heard Seamus grumble about how the art of punctuality should be a class at Hogwarts. All of a sudden she felt someone's presence near her, and nearly cursed herself aloud for getting excited.

"Settle your Irish arse down, Finnigan. You look like your head's about to fall off your shoulders. Besides, who could you possibly be searching out, now that I'm here," Draco trailed off when Seamus sprang up from his seat and darted towards the other end of the restaurant. Shrugging, Draco slid into the booth next to Ginny, forcing her to move further into the corner.

"Malfoy," Ginny practically growled at the blond next to her, "I thought we agreed that neither of us had any desire to be seen with one another. So maybe you could tell me why you're sitting here with us?"

"Look, Weasley, I don't know what you're on about this time. Your own idiot puppy was the one that asked me to join you, completely against my will, mind you."

"Why would my puppy purposely call you along? My boyfriend, I mean!" She quickly corrected at the sight of his raised eyebrows. "Besides, why would you even accept?"

"I have no clue what goes on in that potato brain of his. And no, before you ask, I do not tire of the potato jokes; I find them rather witty." Draco ignored the pronounced rolling of her eyes and continued, "And as to why I accepted, it seems that Finnigan has somehow learned the real reason for our little meetings. What did you bloody tell him for? Do you fancy yourself in love with the boy or something?" Draco's blazing eyes gave away how irate he was.

"Me! Why in Merlin's name would I tell him anything? And what business is it of yours if I'm in love with him or with a hippogriff?" Ginny took a deep breath to calm herself down, having noticed some of the other customers starting to stare. "Not that it's any of your business, Malfoy, but Seamus turned to me yesterday and said that he had spoken to you earlier and that you told him the truth about me tutoring you in Potions."

"He said that I told him that?" Draco asked in an incredulous whisper.

"Well, he said that you had essentially confirmed his suspicion." Ginny was prevented from continuing further by Seamus's reappearance with Camena by his side.

"Well, what are the odds of me finding Camena by the bar, at the very same time that the three of us are having lunch?" Seamus remarked in an exaggeratedly casual tone.

"But Seamus, didn't you ask me to - " the end of Camena's sentence was lost as Seamus quickly pulled her into the booth next to him, seated across from Draco, who was conveniently hiding his snicker behind a hand.

"Now why don't we just sit and have a pleasant lunch?"

Ginny thought that the way Seamus kept winking at her strayed so far from subtlety that it ceased to amuse her. Draco, on the other hand, seemed unable to see anything but humor in the situation. Every now and then he would catch a glimpse of Seamus's conspiratorial grin and accidentally let slip a loud guffaw. Conversation continued in a surprisingly agreeable vein, and Ginny found herself forgetting just whom she was lunching with. Seamus clearly had the discretion of a Hungarian Horntail in a room full of dwarfs drinking tea, and this added only a moderate amount of awkwardness to the whole situation. By the end of lunch, Seamus had pulled Ginny off, claiming he needed time with his girlfriend. Draco had taken hold of Camena's elbow and steered her in the opposite direction.

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

"He's just so dreamy, isn't he?" Lavendar sighed, casting covert glances across the Great Hall. "With all that soft hair falling in his eyes...Oh, just look at the way he cuts his meat! Such skilled hands!" Her last comment sent her, Parvati Patil and anyone surrounding them into peals of shrieking giggles.

"Will you shut your gobs already? Hermione's clearly got Harry all sewn up. So why don't you direct you fantasies elsewhere," Ron cut in around a mouthful of blackberry pie.

"Excuse us, Ronald," Lavendar sniffed, "but we were having a private conversation here. Not that it's any of your business, but we weren't even talking about Harry. No offense Harry, but you're really just last year's news." Harry gave her a red-faced nod in response.

"That's right," Parvati chimed in, "there's a new star on the stage: someone whose nasty exterior has mysteriously been taken over by his brooding good looks. Having abandoned his less intelligent cronies, he reigns over his house like a lord over his subjects. His piercing eyes hide countless stories of a troubled childhood that any one of us would love to unlock." Parvati would have gladly continued if she had not just had a roll thrown at her. She fumed down the table, only to see Ginny and Seamus innocently engaging each other in a hushed conversation. Hermione spied Parvati's narrowed eyes, and decided to play interference,

"Parvati, who is this bloke who's caught your attention? Do you think you'll try to pursue it?" All of the girls who were previously sighing across the hall turned to look at Hermione as though she'd grown an extra head. Lavendar threw her nose up in the air and grudgingly responded,

"It really is unimaginable that you wouldn't know who we're talking about. In any case, we're obviously admiring Draco Malfoy, resident bad boy of Hogwarts. And of course none of us are going to pursue anything with him. After all, he's got a girlfriend of his own." At this, Ginny snapped her head in Lavendar's direction, not missing the smug look on Seamus's face. "Yes ladies, that's right," Lavendar continued, "the illustrious Ravenclaw Camena Yates has swooped in and taken Draco Malfoy from right under our noses. It really is a shame that none of us noticed how much of a turn-on a villainous background is any sooner." Lavendar and Parvati shook their heads remorsefully before returning to their meal and to the gossip mill.

Ginny sat up straight and tried as casually as she could to look over her shoulder at Draco. He was bent over his plate, concentrating hard on keeping his peas balanced on his fork. Suddenly he was startled into dropping them all back on the plate by a groping hand at his back. Ginny raised her eyes further and noticed Camena standing behind him with one arm draped across his shoulders, stroking his chest. She whispered something in his ear, making him smirk and lead her out of the Great Hall. Ginny vaguely registered that her grip on her goblet was near lethal.

"Hey Gin, pass me the pepper will you?" Seamus's voice barely floated past Ginny's ears. She slammed the pepper in front of him and scowled into her plate. Neville asked if she was feeling all right, and offered to take her to the Hospital Wing if necessary. Ginny just sighed loudly, apologized for her little outburst, and returned to her meal. She did, however, take an extra effort to stab the chicken on her plate, perhaps imagining it to be someone else. Meanwhile, the couple in question was having a hushed conversation under a tree near the lake.

"Did you mean what you said to me in there?" Draco asked Camena quietly.

"Of course," Camena giggled, "it's as though all the Gryiffindor girls hadn't known you were even male before. The way they were ogling you was just priceless. Even Ginny was trying to steal a few glances. But that was probably just a response to all the conversation. I mean, she is in such a committed relationship with Seamus. It's really adorable how long they've stayed together, considering how indifferent she was to the relationship in the beginning."

"Indifferent, you say?" Draco raised one eyebrow in question at the Ravenclaw who was currently sprawled on her stomach next to him.

"Oh yes, she almost turned him down." Camena tapped her chin in thought with one finger. "Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure she did practically turn him down when he first asked her. But then she said she had some things put in perspective, and couldn't find any reason not to date the poor boy." She let out a small giggle and scrunched her nose before continuing, "Now, of course, the silly little couple's in love." At this, Draco cast her a sideways glance. Almost of its own volition, his mouth formed the words before he could stop himself,

"She's told you she loves him?" He hid his own apprehension by drawling the words out with as much disinterest as he could feign.

"Well, not in so many words. But we were playing this silly Muggle game, Truth or Dare that one of the other girls suggested the other day. And Ginny had definitely admitted to being in love."

"Fine, then." Draco cut the conversation off with a light growl, and a few moments of silence passed over the pair. "So can you think of nothing better to do than talk about Gryffindor love sagas?" he asked in a slightly more hostile tone than he had intended.

"I think I can come up with a few suggestions," Camena cooed back before reaching her arm out to him.

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

Hermione leaned back in one of the plush chairs in the Room of Requirement. Her quill was too busy scratching furiously over her pad of parchment to notice someone glowering at her from his offensive height. Only when Draco moved to block the light from shedding onto her lap, did she bother to look up.

"Yes, Malfoy?" She started, slightly miffed that he had bothered to interrupt her in the middle of furious note-taking. "Can I help you somehow?"

"Don't get too comfortable, Granger!" He snarled back at her reclining form.

"Malfoy, it was your idea to even meet in the Room of Requirement as opposed to the library. So please, don't bother chastising me for something as silly as that." She heaved an exhausted sigh. "Do you really expect me to believe that my comfort level is the only reason you're currently blocking my light?" Draco regarded the witch in front of him, and then took a seat on the coffee table in front of her. He held a book in his hands, and was lightly leafing through it, before coming to a stop at a page that had been earmarked. Draco cleared his throat once, then shot Hermione a cold look before reading from the page,

"The history of the wizarding world has seen many dark wizards, and witches alike, rise and fall through the ages. In an effort to curb the havoc that they can wreak, the Ministry of Magic has deemed three curses as Unforgivable. One of these curses is the Imperius curse, which puts the wizard who casts the spell in control of the actions of the wizard upon whom it is cast." Draco paused in his reading to look up at Hermione's face. He could see her furrowing her brow, clearly recognizing the words as something she had read, but not remembering their context. He sneered once for good measure, then read on,

"As a counter-response to the Unforgivable curses, many spells, potions, and hexes have been developed to manipulate and control through more subtle manners." Draco ignored Hermione's gasp of realization, and continued over her, "One such spell plays upon the concept of 'true love.' When the wizard or witch who is cursed with this spell becomes intimate with the object of his or her affection for an extended period of time, he or she is eventually rendered comatose, and his or her partner is doomed to reciprocate that love forever. The details of this archaic spell are extremely difficult to come by, as its use has not been reported for hundreds of years." Draco trailed off as he shut the book gently and folded his elbows across his knees thoughtfully.

"Well, Granger," he drawled so quietly Hermione almost felt herself leaning towards him to hear him better, "does any of what I just read sound familiar? I believe you should recognize the stipulations of this little curse. I really only have one simple question for you." He paused to stand and straighten out his robes. "What exactly are you doing, researching MY BLOODY CURSE??" The book came sailing at Hermione as he shouted the last few words.

Hermione cowered before the fuming Slytherin in front of her, her head narrowly missing the heavy tome. She gingerly picked the book up and placed it to the side with shaking hands. The only irate teenage boy Hermione had ever come face-to-face with was Ron. Ron usually turned various shades of purple and red, and clenched his fists as he growled. Peeking up at Draco, Hermione realized that this boy painted a very different picture. Draco was standing above her, his body set in stony rigid lines, and at first glance she would have mistaken him for a statue. But if she looked closer, Hermione could clearly see that he was just barely shaking with rage, and seemed to be ready to burst at any moment. She slowly rose from her chair and inched around to the back of it, aching to put as much distance between her and Malfoy as possible. Draco was too quick for her, though, and pounced forward to grab hold of her shoulders. He gave her a good shake before she felt compelled to answer his earlier question,

"See, Malfoy, the thing is," Hermione squeaked at a high pitch, "after you told me about the cruse your father put on you, it kind of peaked my curiosity." She stopped talking when she noticed his eyes narrow.

"As thrilled as I am to know that my fate amuses you, Granger, it would do you well to mind your own business. Don't bother trying to stop the inevitable. I didn't tell you what I did because I wanted you to take me on as some charity case. I simply said it to get you off my back."

"But -"

"No buts, Granger." He growled, shaking her once more. "We have an agreement to research about Ginny's situation, and nothing more. The rest of my life is of no concern to you. I can't wait to be rid of you ruddy Gryffindors for good after this year." Draco let go of her with such force that she was forced back into her chair. Draco stalked over to a chair on the other side of the table and threw himself into it.

"If you can't wait so badly, Malfoy," she replied, noticing that her voice seemed to have returned, now that she could freely move her arms, "then why exactly are you so hell-bent on helping Ginny? It's not like you've got some mandate to be here."

"I really thought our Head Girl wouldn't be that daft." Draco rested his left elbow on the armrest of his chair, and massaged his temples with his left hand. "Do you not recall that Tom Riddle has manifested himself in our world? He also happens to be teenage version of the greatest Dark Lord to cross wizarding England. Anyone with a gram of intelligence and common sense would think to stop him before he got out of hand. This has nothing to do with your sappy fantasies of all-consuming love."

"Malfoy, that may all be true, but you can't attempt to deny that you've fallen in love with Ginny Weasley over this last year."

"You know as well as I do, Granger, that I never attempted to deny the truth." His voice was slightly muffled by the hand that still held his forehead.

"So then why are you pushing her away?" Hermione pressed softly. "She told me that she needed me to start coming with her to her meetings with Snape, because you had made it clear to her that you wanted nothing further to do with her. I understand that under your curse, you can't conceivably be with her without inevitably hurting her and yourself in the process. But when you're so obviously in love with each other, do you really need to be adding this distance?"

"Granger, have you ever wanted something you couldn't have?"

"Oh yes, this one time I desperately wanted a piece of Ron's Christmas fudge that his mum had sent him. I couldn't take any though, because Ron hadn't even had the first taste, and oh, it just killed me to watch that box sit unopened, begging for someone to -" Hermione stopped herself when she saw Draco glare at her from between his fingers.

"This may be a touch too elevated for someone of your caliber, but do try to follow what I'm saying." He exhaled noisily before speaking distantly in a low voice, as though speaking too loud might remind him to hide behind the typical Malfoy pretense. "Being around Ginny is just a constant reminder of what I don't have, cannot have, and will never have, but have always wanted. Every time I'm near her I just need to touch her to know that she's real. I need to mark her to know that she will be just as real the next time I see her. Can you imagine having that box of fudge sitting right under your nose everywhere you go? Now imagine that box were opened and willing to offer itself to you for the taking. But you know that the only possible outcome of taking a piece would be utter destruction." Draco leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. For the first time that Hermione had ever noticed, his face lost its stony façade, and was simply that of an emotionally drained 17-year old boy. "Tell me this, would you close the box and walk away, or just sit there and stare at it, hoping that you won't give in to the temptation?"

Hermione just stared at him for a good minute, taking in everything she had seen. This normally closed off boy had just shown her such a wide array of emotions in the last few minutes. She had seen him rise with uncontrollable anger and pride, and then almost immediately melt into exhausted submission. Now he was sitting before her looking more vulnerable than she could have ever imagined seeing him. As a matter of fact, that look of defeat seemed so out of place with his platinum blond hair and immaculate robes that the sight actually frightened her. Mumbling a quick apology, Hermione gathered her things and took off towards the door. She muttered over her shoulder that they would meet at the same time and place the following day, and then she all but ran back to Gryffindor Tower.

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

Ginny and Seamus were reclining near the stands on the quidditch field in the few minutes before Gryffindor practice. Ginny glanced at her watch and reminded Seamus that he needed to go get ready for practice soon, while she would return to the Common Room to catch up on some work. She slowly sat up from her position lying down on the grass, stretching the kinks out of her back. Seamus watched her lazily without sitting up, but when he saw her rise to her feet, he soon joined her.

"Would you like some help brushing off those grass stains, Gin?" He murmured in her ear while suggestively trailing a hand down her back. Ginny quickly swatted him away and moved out of his reach.

"Seamus, really! What if someone saw us? That'd be more than a touch embarrassing." Ginny straightened out her robes then bent to retrieve a notebook of parchment that she had brought out with her when Seamus abducted her from the library.

"Who cares if someone sees, Gin?" He responded, then added below his breath, "It's not like we do anything anyway."

"What was that? Seamus Finnigan, if you have something to say about this relationship, you might as well say it to my face, instead of ducking your head to the side like that. I think I deserve that much."

"Well I think I deserve a little more from my girlfriend of six months! Ginny all we do is kiss innocently here and there and then you have to run off and do something or the other. I'm not trying to be like one of those boys, but -"

"One of what boys, Seamus?" Ginny's mouth was set in a tight line, in a fine imitation of Mrs. Weasley.

"Look, Ginny," Seamus ran an exasperated hand through his hair, "I'm not trying to pressure you or anything, but we've been dating for quite some time, and we barely act like we're anything more than friends! You say that I'm so good for you, and we've never had any real problems, so I just don't understand what's holding you back!" Right at that moment, something moving just beyond the hill caught Ginny's eye. When she made the mistake of turning her head almost instinctively to follow her eyes, Seamus followed her line of sight to see Draco walking by with Camena's hand in his. "Oh you've got to be kidding me," he muttered under his breath, almost desperately.

"Seamus, no, it's not like that at all!" Ginny immediately refocused her attention on her boyfriend, and pleaded him not to read the truth.

"How else could it be? I always figured he had some sort of unhealthy obsession with you, but I didn't dream that you'd reciprocate." Seamus shook his head sadly and chuckled lightly, "You aren't very subtle though, Gin-bug. Ever since he started traipsing around with that Ravenclaw friend of yours, you haven't been able to see them once without either staring or bursting into some random jealous rage. I guess one good result of me setting them up was that you could finally stop lying to yourself." He regarded her with a sad smile and raised his hand to gently stroke the side of her face with his thumb while his palm cradled her jaw.

"I'm so sorry, Seamus, I never intended for anyone to get hurt..." Ginny trailed off when he took a step closer to her and rested his forehead against hers.

"Just tell me one thing Ginny," Seamus whispered so softly, that Ginny had to close her eyes to focus on his voice completely, "was there ever any part of you that I had?"

All Ginny could do was silently nod back at him. Seamus dropped his hand from her face and turned towards the locker room, broom in hand. Ginny stood rooted to the ground, watching Seamus round the corner and leave her sight. That's the second time I've watched a boy walk away from me, she mused to herself.

In the passing weeks, time glossed over sudden changes, bringing everyone back to a sense of routine. Ginny and Hermione began going to regular hypnosis meetings with Professor Snape, and only earned raised eyebrows from him during the first of these new meetings. Ginny suspected that he had always predicted that either Draco would tire of her or vice versa.

Draco used the extra time to divide his life systematically between his studies, quidditch, and researching the concitatius spell.

Hermione had begun devoting more and more of her time to her secret meetings with Draco. She secretly hoped and dreaded at the same time that his vulnerability might one day show through again. The anticipation was almost addictive, and Hermione suddenly understood what was meant by the term magnetism. While she would never think of him in the way those other girls did (or the way that Draco seemed to think she did), she found herself drawn involuntarily to him. When Harry confronted her about her sudden lack of free time, she realized she had been avoiding her boyfriend to spend time with Draco Malfoy. The thought made her feel suspiciously like Ginny, and that thought scared her sufficiently into withdrawing drastically from Draco and his accompanying research. The remainder of the spring season passed in a flurry of preparations for N.E.W.T.s.

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

Ron was sitting in a chair near the window of the Gryffindor Common Room, fanning himself on the first hot day of May. He was unsuccessfully hiding his snickers behind his hand, while listening to some third years seated on the sofas.

"Merlin, Samuel, you just amaze me with how much you know about Defense Against the Dark Arts. I wish I could handle boggarts the way you do. The way you laughed my bad hair day away was just mind-blowing," a mousy brunette simpered at the boy seated closely next to her.

"Well, you know what they say, Tabitha: laughter is the best medicine." The boy smugly adjusted his robes.

"Ronald, I hope you know you look ridiculous sitting here and laughing to yourself!" Hermione called out to him as she approached his window seat.

Ron quickly shushed her and pointed to the couple he was watching earlier, "Young love," he added with a grin.

Turning to the direction he was pointing, Hermione heaved a sigh and tried to prevent the wistful smile that crept up on her face. It seemed like it was so long ago that she first thought she felt something more than friendship for Harry. It must have been decades since the first time he kissed her and her insides lit on fire. It can't have been less than a century ago when her sleepless nights were caused by dreams of Harry, and not nervous awkwardness. So what was different now? Why couldn't she be around him without hopelessly thinking something was just off?

"Hey, Mione?" The sound of Ron's voice literally made her jump from her thoughts. "Is everything all right?"

"I don't even know what to tell you, Ron," Hermione sighed and plopped into the seat next to her friend. "Everything is just so confusing."

"Is this about Harry?" Ron gently prompted her to continue.

"Well, I suppose it is. But somehow I'm thinking it's got more to do with me than with Harry," Hermione was now watching the couple on the sofa with a far-away look in her eyes. "I know it must sound strange, but every time I'm with Harry, I keep thinking that something just doesn't fit. It's not quite right. I don't mean to imply that something is off with Harry, that's not it," she quickly added at Ron's concerned face. "We just don't seem to work the way we used to. Although, I'm not even sure I remember how we used to work. Oh, I don't know, I just feel as though this entire year has been a slow decline on mine and Harry's relationship."

Ron had been watching the couple as well, but turned to Hermione when she threw her head in her hands.

"Look, Hermione, maybe it's just the stress. After all, you are Head Girl, we've got N.E.W.T.s coming up in a couple weeks, not to mention all the hubbub with Ginny. Bloody Hell, Mione, we're lucky we haven't lost you to St. Mungo's already. Erm, I think that was a compliment in my head before it actually got out," Ron added sheepishly at the way she narrowed her eyes.

"You're probably right. I just can't help but think sometimes..." Her voice trailed off as she saw the third-year couple shyly kiss then blush furiously as they walked out the portrait hole hand-in-hand. "Do you think everyone falls maddeningly in love?"

"Wha- Erm- Eh- " Ron's sputtering was cut off when Hermione turned to him wearing a wild look on her face.

"I mean the kind of love that grabs you by the throat. Where all you can think to do is throw something because you just have to let go of what's building inside. The kind of love that takes someone made from stone, and turns him into a raving madman. The love that creates a fiery passion, only to feed off of it. Like a box of fudge, enticingly held under your nose, and it would kill you not to take a piece, but taking a piece would mean jumping headlong into the unknown, and what if you didn't like it?" Hermione trailed off again as her thoughts played with the words from her least likely study partner.

"Do you want some fudge? Mum just sent me a package, and I would have given it to you if I knew you loved fudge that much," Ron pleaded with her, if only to get that devilish look out of her eyes. Hermione met his eyes for two long seconds before they both burst into laughter.

"I'm sorry, Ron!" She cried between peals of laughter, "I don't know what got into me there. I guess I just got a little carried away with my daydreams."

"Like I said, St. Mungo's is expecting you," the redhead quipped with a friendly smirk. "But seriously, Hermione, don't worry. I'm sure everything will work out with Harry. And as for your question before: sure, I definitely believe everyone falls maddeningly in love at least once. Whether it's with someone you haven't met yet, or someone you hadn't thought to consider before." He paused to give Hermione a searching look before continuing. "Or your best friend of seven years, really isn't the point. If you think you haven't felt that with Harry, who knows, it could just be because you're too caught up with everything else. After all, it's not as though you've met someone else or something. Now, come on, let's go try some of that fudge Mum sent me."

"Right. Fudge."

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

The occupants of The Great Hall were noisily chattering over their breakfast when the owl post came swooping through. Hermione easily caught her copy of The Daily Prophet, while Ginny leafed through her Witch Weekly, when a rather offending screeching owl landed in front of the space between the two witches. Ginny stared with wide eyes at the owl, instantly recognizing its owner. With a fluttering heart she willed herself to put aside her anxiety and reach for the letter attached to the owl's leg. Come now, Gin, it's not like he's never sent you a letter before. And it isn't as though he hasn't spoken to you in almost two months. Besides, it's not as though you've been sitting around dreaming of when he'd try and contact you again...of course not. However, Ginny's internal ramblings were interrupted when something slapped her hand away from the owl. Startled, she shook herself and reached for the letter again. This time the bird was not so forgiving, and nearly bit her hand off. Ginny looked up at the Slytherin table in indignation, as though to ask Draco what was the bloody matter with his bird, but Draco was nowhere to be found. Her impossibly wide eyes widened even further when the owl strutted closer to Hermione and stuck his leg out. The Head Girl blushed profusely and took the proffered letter while mumbling something about silly owls. Ginny's eyes never left Hermione's back even as the older girl excused herself, climbed up from the bench, and left the Great Hall. Harry reached over and closed Ginny's hanging jaw for her.

"Don't want to let the flies in." He shrugged.

It was convenient that Ginny's eyes were still trained on the doors when a thoroughly shaken up Neville Longbottom came stumbling in the doors. He sat down in the gap that used to be Hermione and muttered "good morning"s to his neighbors.

"Neville, are you all right?" Ginny voiced the question that everyone seemingly wanted to know but was slightly afraid to ask.

"Er, yes, I just had a little run-in with Malfoy," Neville responded with forced cheer. When Seamus nudged him with a bemused expression, he leaned closer and whispered, "It seems my surreptitious tactics of following him weren't quite as stealthy as I had thought."

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

Hermione quickly caught the book tossed at her as soon as she entered the Room of Requirement. Not recognizing the title as one that she had used in her research, she immediately flipped to the bookmarked page. Quickly scanning the page with her eyes, she froze and knew what she was looking for without needing to be told.

"There is only one documented case of the concitatius curse being countered, due primarily to the rare nature of the curse itself, as well as the stipulations of the counter-curse." From across the room, Draco's voice breathed life into the words Hermione was staring at so intently. "The counter curse may only be performed in the presence of the mind controller, or it will be ineffectual. The caster of the counter curse must exhibit a stronger form of the same spark that connects the original mind controller and the subject. Once these requirements are met, the caster of the counter curse must recite the words suscitatio ex vestri somnus." Without turning his head from the fire, he continued in a chilling tone, "Before you ask, Granger, there are certain perks to being a Malfoy, despite a surprising affinity for hideous tattoos. The book comes from our library, courtesy of my personal house elf."

Hermione crossed the room to the fireplace and took a seat on the floor. She looked down at her crossed legs and her hands folded in her lap, concentrating intently on what this new information meant.

"Calm your bushy head down." Draco cut her off before she began. "I've already figured out the details of our predicament. It seems that while you were busy avoiding me, I actually remembered my priorities enough to try to stop the destruction of the wizarding world as we know it."

"Now you look here, Malfoy!" Hermione shouted from her seat on the floor, "Just because I don't want to see your face every day does not mean that I don't have my priorities straight. And besides, what kind of priorities are you referring to? N.E.W.T.s? Head Girl duties? Don't think that I haven't noticed you skiving off on your patrol duties the last two weeks! It seems you've done a stellar job setting an example for the other prefects! Really, Malfoy, how can you possibly imagine that I would be as obsessed with Ginny as you are, given what you and I already know to be true? You're just lashing out at me because there's no one else around. Well, you know what? It isn't my fault that you're so top over teakettle in love with Ginny Weasley!" Hermione's chest was heaving when she finished her rant. She was still seething moments later when Draco spoke again,

"Are you quite through?" At her narrowed eyes, he continued, "Since Riddle needs to be present for the spell to work, we'll have to lure him out. Given his unhealthy obsession with Miss Weasley, I propose we make some big show of having her alone in a secluded area, and he'll be sure to make an appearance. Of course, she will have to stop undergoing hypnosis, so Riddle can communicate with her somehow. Once he shows up, I will cast the counter curse, and this whole ruddy mess will be behind us. Ginny, the sweet complacent darling that she is, will never go along with any of this. This is why you must find some way to get her to stop going to Snape, and get her to the secluded spot."

"That's all good and well, Malfoy, but I think you're forgetting something. How do you even know that the counter curse will work? We've gone through everything in her penseive, and still haven't been able to find the spark that started this whole mess." Hermione threw here hands up in frustration.

"Trust me, Granger." Draco turned to her with at stony expression. One scene was playing over and over in his head: I love you. No one else can love you like I do...let me show you how much I love you. Then you'll see. "It'll work." With that, Draco turned and left the room, feeling sincerely as though he had Tom Riddle by the bollocks.
Chapter 8: Deplorable Slytherins by Ephemere
Author's Notes:
Wow, it's been a while! This one's shorter than the others, but it's the transition chapter. There'll be two more after this, and they should go up really soon. Thanks for sticking it out!
~*~ Chapter 8 ~*~


The sound of labored breathing was all that disturbed the silence in the second corridor of the fourth floor. Neville edged further into the hallway, taking comfort in the way the shadows hid his full figure. He closed his eyes and pressed his ear to the wall, listening for the slightest changes in vibrations that would indicate someone’s arrival. She would pass by this spot soon enough; of that he was sure. Then, once she did pass by, he’d make sure he knew exactly where she was going. There would be no evilness had on Neville Longbottom’s watch. He would be there when she got attacked, and would be the first to draw a wand. In her shocked state of fright, she would clutch Neville’s arm and plead with him to save her. But her cries would be unnecessary, as Neville would once and for all prove himself as the hero he knew he was. And once she saw this, she would be rendered unable to resist his dashing charms. Oh, Neville, she would say, Neville, I just…

“Neville?” The boy in question quite literally jumped at the intrusion. His eyes flew open to see Ginny Weasley’s freckled face furrowed with lines of confusion. “What are you doing?”

“I – uh – ” came Neville’s eloquent response. “The better question is what are you doing?”

"I just got out of Charms. I was on my way to the Great Hall for lunch, but – ” Ginny trailed off when she remembered the odd position in which she had found him. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes, of course. I was just simply admiring the texture of these walls here. If you rub your cheek against them, you can really see the handiwork that went into building this castle. You should really try it, Ginny. Come join me.” Neville’s enthusiasm almost convinced himself as he continued to caress the wall with the side of his face.

“I suppose I’ll just take your word for it, Nev. It’s good to see you weren’t doing anything,” she paused, her mind searching for the appropriate word, “strange.”

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

“Gin-NY!” Ron called out after his sister, “you’re supposed to sit with your House! That’s why they have HOUSE tables, not just tables.”

“Oh, shove off, Ron. If I want to sit with Camena, I will.”

“Yes, Ron,” mocked Draco from behind, “please do shove off. And do try to keep the Weasley family squabbles to yourselves.” Draco’s last comment was greeted with two pieces of toast flying directly at the back of his head. He whipped around and narrowed his eyes, but everyone was innocently enjoying their breakfasts. He turned and walked out of the Great Hall, muttering something about redheaded weasels getting what was coming to them.

“You know, Gin,” Camena giggled, “I should be upset with you for pelting my boyfriend with breakfast.”

“Oh, that only counts if your boyfriend’s not a prat. How are things going with you two, anyway?” Ginny asked as she casually tossed a piece of fruit into her mouth.

“Well enough, I suppose.” Camena frowned thoughtfully into her mug of tea.

“You suppose?” Ginny cleared her throat and tried to take some of the eagerness out of her voice. “Is something the matter?”

“Well,” she muttered, pausing long enough to make Ginny hold her breath. “Don’t get me wrong. Draco’s great and all; what, with that excellent body, and fine hair. A girl could really get lost in his arms.” Ginny’s face was frozen in as genuine of a smile as she could muster. “I’ve just noticed that he seems pretty distracted.”

“It’s most probably just N.E.W.T.s. The stress with all of that is bound to make him less eager.”

“Oh, it’s not that. He’s most definitely…enthusiastic when we’re being intimate.” Camena’s cheeks were tinged with the faintest blush. “I just get the impression that he’s thinking of something.” She popped the last of her breakfast in her mouth and got up to leave.

“I’m so happy for you,” was Ginny’s dry response. She picked up her books and the two of them made their way out the doors of the Great Hall.

“I can only hope he’s not thinking of someone else. After all, how humiliating would that be? If I found out that my boyfriend of a couple months was actually sweet on someone else, words couldn’t express the mortification.”

“No, I’m sure they wouldn’t,” Ginny murmured as her eyes alighted on Seamus’s passing figure. Camena mistook the change in her expression for something else entirely. And all Ginny could think was that the soothing hand Camena had placed on her arm was anything but.

Seamus rounded the corner at the end of the hall and ran straight into the Head Boy. Both boys bent to pick up their fallen papers, sneering at each other for good measure. Draco casually brushed off his robes, causing Seamus to scowl at him, even as he brushed off his own robes. The tension between them was palpable. Draco tried to push past the other boy, but soon found himself thrown against the wall. He opened his mouth to say something, no doubt, cutting, when Seamus shook him.

“There’s nothing that you need to say right now, Malfoy,” Seamus growled, unleashing a passion he hadn’t bothered with before. “Just know one thing. If you hurt her, you’ll have seven Weasleys, one Potter, and half of Gryffindor on your ass. But I would give my right arm to be the first to pummel you into the ground.”

“I’m sure I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” Draco drawled back icily as he debated the merits of giving the boy in front of him déjà vu in the form of a black eye.

“Whatever, Malfoy. Just watch it.” Seamus released him and made his way further into the dungeons.

“That’s fifty points from Gryffindor for assaulting the Head Boy, Finnigan!”

“Trust me when I say it was worth it, Malfoy.”

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

The sun was setting, casting a red-orange glow over all of Hogwarts. It was as though the sky had been lit on fire, letting the sun burn out the last vestiges of its light before dusk hit. Soon it would retire, exhausted, only to start all over again the next day. She looked out the window and sighed, wondering how many more sunsets were left before they found a resolution.

Hermione walked into the library and immediately headed for the East Wing, a reportedly favorite spot of Ginny's. Within minutes, she had found Ginny just where she'd expected to find her, moving her quill furiously over a bound pad of parchment. Sitting down at the table, the older girl quickly tried to review what she would say in her mind. Just let her know that since there's been no progress, there's no point in continuing the hypnosis…No progress…no point. Completely casual…Hermione continued her internal monologue without entirely noticing the subject of her musings.

"Can I help you with something? I'm rather busy at the moment." The iciness in Ginny's voice was not lost on Hermione.

"Erm – eh – " Hermione was startled into speechlessness, leaving her to stare at Ginny's silently daring expression.

"I do have some studying to do, Hermione,” she stated, vaguely gesturing at the notebook she had abruptly snapped shut upon the interruption. “Since you don't seem to be entirely capable of forming speech right now, why don't we continue this later, hm?"

"I wanted to talk to you about hypnosis," Hermione finally managed to force out. Where had her carefully planned speech gone? Probably out the window when leveled with the glare that Ginny was currently shooting her.

"I'm not exactly in the mood to open my mind and soul today, Hermione. Especially given the company I'd have. Snape can take his hypnosis and bugger it." With that, Ginny gathered her books in one smooth motion and disappeared from her sight.

The only thought that occurred to Hermione was that at least now she didn't have to find an excuse to get Ginny to discontinue her hypnosis.

Ginny fumed her way out of the library doors, turning randomly down the hall; where exactly she was headed wasn't her priority at the moment. This was probably a mistake on her part, given whom she ran into.

Draco reached out an arm to catch her around the waist, murmuring that he seemed to have an affinity for colliding with Gryffindors today.

"Let go of me, Malfoy. I'd rather fall than be caught by you," she added, anticipating his retort. Draco simply raised his eyebrows, and regarded her with an amused expression.

"Has anyone ever told you how alluring you look when you're angry?" His drawl was heavily reminiscent of the Malfoy charm hidden from her for so long. Ginny looked up into his face, and what she saw bore frightening resemblance to what she saw when she closed her eyes at night. She struggled harder against him, knowing that only her own demise could come at the end of this road.

"Stop," was the only word Ginny seemed to be able to grind out.

"I'm serious, Weasley," he chuckled, smirking fiercely. "The vexed look is really working for you. Or rather, working for me." Ginny had finally managed to stand on her own two feet and gave him a rather hard shove in the chest. This seemed to only fuel his amusement, and he threw her a leer that promised her what she was sure she wasn't entitled to.

"Knock it off, Draco! I don't want to deal with you right now. I don’t even want to deal with you ever!"

"Really, is that so?" Draco asked, taking lazy steps towards her. Ginny forced herself to stay where she was. She was too strong for him. She would be too strong for him. "That wasn't what you said the last time," he murmured, dipping his head low enough to let his breath graze her neck, "was it, Weasley?" Ginny thought that now might be a good time to let him know that he was invading her personal space, but somehow Draco thought he needed to be one step closer to her. She cursed herself when she felt her back press against the wall. When had she backed up? Draco merely laughed softly and leaned his forearms on the tiles behind her, bringing his body that much closer to hers.

"Don't do this, Draco," she whispered, even as she unconsciously leaned towards him.

"Don't do what, exactly, Weasley?" His voice came out as a low rumble that she felt from head to toe.

"You have a girlfriend." Ginny wasn't sure which one of them was in actual need of the reminder. Something about the situation must have struck Draco in the same way, because his next question was,

"Are you talking to me or yourself?"

"Draco, we shouldn't do this," Ginny whispered, forcing herself to believe the words even as she spoke them.

"No, we shouldn't, should we?" His body swayed ever so close to hers. Ginny closed her eyes and breathed deeply the scent of him, knowing that a chance like this wouldn't come again.

"I thought you hated me."

"Oh, Ginny, you really are stupid." She barely heard the admonishment, but it was enough. It would have to be. She opened her eyes again, and this time when she spoke, her voice was loud and clear.

"You have a girlfriend." Something about her the sound of her voice snapped Draco out of his trance.

"So, I do," he replied.

He pushed away from the wall and turned left down the hallway.

Thirty seconds later, Ginny pushed away from the wall and turned the other way.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Harry and Ron had just walked into the Gryffindor Common Room, tripping over each other with laughter. The weather outside was brutally warm for an afternoon in May. Harry had offhandedly muttered that Dudley wouldn't be suffering today. His most recent Christmas wish list included, among several items, a top of the line water gun. Harry explained this to Ron, and then there was a silence that lasted all of about seven minutes before both boys shared identical grins. After verifying a few quick spells, they had rounded up their friends to meet on the Quidditch pitch.

"I don't know why none of us thought to charm our wands into water guns before! Absolutely brilliant, Potter!" Seamus had cried out, before his voice was lost somewhere in the jet stream of water shooting from Neville's wand.

“The Muggles really had it right this time, didn’t they?” Dean practically shrieked the last part of his sentence while fleeing Harry’s pursuing wand.

“Well, well, what have we here? A bunch of sorry Gryffindors playing with water. Maybe we’ll all get lucky and they’ll drown themselves.” There would have been no mistaking that drawl. All five boys shared a grin before simultaneously turning their wand-cum-water guns full force onto what could only be Malfoy, Lord of all that is Slytherin Evil.

In a perfect world, Malfoy would have melted into a puddle of goop, as classically evil witches and wizards are wont to do in the face of water.

Alas, Harry and his friends did not live in a perfect world. Which explains why, upon hearing raucous laughter, Dean turned his head to the right to find Draco Malfoy doubled over with mirth.

“Hey, if Malfoy’s over there having a good laugh,” Dean started suspiciously, “then who are we soaking?” After a general consensus that nothing could be seen past their combined jet stream, they all agreed to switch off their makeshift water guns.

Unfortunately, this general consensus did not include Neville, who was too caught up in the glee of exacting revenge on whom he thought to be Malfoy. The water cleared to reveal a towering, and heavily teed off, Professor Snape. He somehow managed to look menacing despite the water dripping from his hook nose. Not to mention the now pathetic spritz of water shooting forth from Neville’s wand, which was frozen in shock.

Snape walked through the water and wrenched the wand out of Neville’s hand, roaring, “Finite Incatatem!” He then wheeled around to the other Gryffindors and shouted, “You all have just earned yourselves two months of detention! However, since there are not as many months left in you pathetic lives at Hogwarts, you will serve detention with me every night until the end of term.” Snape then turned and headed back towards the castle, levitating Neville’s prone body behind him, and calling over his shoulder, “Malfoy, you will supervise.”

Suddenly Draco stopped laughing.

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

When Ron and Harry finally made it back to Gryffindor Tower, their robes had dried considerably, but were still damp and heavy. They threw themselves into the nearest seats they could find, agreeing that a change of clothes could wait until the sore in their muscles had subsided. Several of the younger students who had been sitting nearby moved away, holding their noses against the combined stench of sweat and damp cotton.

Hermione chose this time to walk in through the portrait hole, her nose firmly buried in a book. She looked up when she smelled dirty laundry, and noticed her two best friends lounging near the fireplace while the rest of Gryffindor was huddled on the opposite side of the Common Room. Alternating her gaze between the two of them, Hermione just sighed, shook her head and found the door that took her to the Head Girl's room.

Both boys' eyes followed her out of the room. Harry picked at his robes a few times before speaking,

"Hey, Ron," he began in a small voice, "can I ask you something?" Looking up and noticing the perplexed look on his friend's face, Harry continued, "Has Hermione mentioned anything to you? About me?"

"I can't talk to you about this, Harry."

"What do you mean, you can't talk to me about this? What kind of an answer is that?" Harry narrowed his eyes, concluding, "She has talked to you! What did she say?"

"Harry, I mean it, bloke! I can't talk to you about this anymore."

"Bollocks! This is me you're talking to: your best mate! Since when is there anything you can't talk to me about?" Harry laughed under his breath. "The only reason you could ever have to hold out information from me would be if I were asking you about the great love of your life or something." He continued to grin at Ron, waiting for some kind of clever response. The silence, however, was unnerving.


"Look, Harry, just drop it, all right?" Ron got up to leave, but Harry stopped him with a hand on his arm. Looking down into his face revealed to Ron the dumbfounded expression on Harry's face.

“Ron – I – " Words seemed to fail the Boy Who Lived.

“I'm going to go shower and change. Can't have people avoiding my stench all day, now can I?" Ron mumbled, jerking his arm out of Harry's grasp and stalking away.

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

Ginny Weasley was sure that she was absolutely mental. Either that or there were some altogether unholy forces at work against her. She couldn't seem to take two steps without finding some ungodly reminder of Draco. She never remembered crossing his path this many times on the way to her classes, but apparently Draco was constantly passing her. The incident that Ginny was currently replaying in her mind occurred when Ginny was standing at the foot of a particular set of stairs with her friends, chatting in the intermittent time between classes. Draco chose that opportune moment to descend said staircase. Her friends, taking the smirk he threw her as a show of his higher status in life, began to console Ginny and state very loudly that Draco Malfoy was a world-class prat. But Ginny couldn't help but see something entirely different in that smirk.

"Camena!"

Ginny felt the girl next to her turn around as they were walking towards the doors of the castle. As for herself, Ginny was as yet undecided as to whether or not she wanted catch sight of the owner of that voice.

"I forgot to tell you something," Draco murmured as he caught up to the two girls. "Hullo, Weasley," he added, leaving Ginny no choice but to turn and acknowledge him.

"Yes, Draco, what is it? Ginny and I told Hagrid we'd be there a little early today."

"Oh, I just wanted to tell you…" Draco trailed off and bent his head close to Camena's ear. He whispered words into her ear, but his eyes were trained on Ginny, and a smirk was playing at the corners of his mouth. Pulling back, he took in Camena's flushed expression before dipping his head again and planting a deep kiss on her lips.

Ginny had just enough time to look away before her emotions forced her to say something she'd regret. When they broke apart, Ginny tugged at Camena's sleeve, gently pulling her towards the door.

"Come on," she grumbled, "we're going to be late." Camena stuttered out a farewell and followed her friend out the door.

Draco watched them leave, the smug expression on his face slowly fading. He ran a tired hand through his hair and exhaled noisily. Turning on his heel, Draco was fully prepared to resume his storming through the halls, when he locked eyes with his apparent audience. He was cut off before he even had a chance to finish sneering,

"What are you doing?" Hermione asked in an injured whisper. "You're getting Ginny all riled up, and to what end? And you're using that poor Ravenclaw as a means of getting Ginny jealous! Don't think I haven't noticed how you've been practically stalking her lately. Gods, Malfoy, even you're not that deplorable. What do you gain from these stupid games? What good does it do to just make Ginny more aware of her – ” Hermione stopped speaking abruptly, her mouth still open, and she blinked with the shock of something that had never occurred to her before. “Malfoy, what's the spark that we're looking for?"

"About time you figured it out, Granger," Draco responded silkily. "Please, don't let me spoil the fun for you. Go on."

"Ginny's in love with you. And Riddle fancies her in love with him. You plan to beat him by being a stronger presence in her mind. But to make sure of that, you're forcing her fixate on her feelings for you, and completely forget about Riddle, even if it kills you in the process." Hermione's face was impassive, and her voice was numb. "I can't tell whom you're manipulating more: that poor girl or yourself," she muttered, closing her eyes.

"Ah, but which girl do you mean?" Draco smirked at her in a decidedly Slytherin way.

"Oh!" Hermione eyes popped wide open as she thought of Camena. "I take it back, Malfoy. You really are that deplorable."

Draco just laughed and pointed out that his father would be proud.

"By the way, Granger, how would you know if I were 'accidentally' running into Ginny several times lately?"

"Oh, well," Hermione stammered, "I've taken to following Ginny a bit, myself, lately. I'm scared for her. Who knows when he'll pop up?" She continued to fiddle with her robes, and would have gone on if she didn't look up to find herself alone. Prat, Hermione thought to herself and turned up the stairs.

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

The week had proven long and laborious for the students of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. The stars and planets were slowly progressing along their path across the sky, bringing with them the end of term. Nearly everyone was working twice as hard in these last few weeks to make up for the months of slacking earlier in the term. A select few students found themselves working extra hard these last few weeks to make up for the distracting thoughts swarming their brains.

Ginny rolled her head around her shoulders, giving her neck muscles a much needed reprieve. She and Colin were hunched over a table in the Common Room, trying desperately to decipher bits and pieces from each other’s Herbology notes. Eventually, the task proved to be too much of a strain on both their eyes and minds to continue without a break.

“Colin, be a love and nip out to the kitchens? I’m feeling awfully peckish.”

“Gin, I went last time! Besides, what makes you think I even have the motivation to go all the way down to the kitchens to get food?” Colin’s defense would have held up smashingly, had his stomach not chosen that exact moment to growl in an uncanny imitation of the Gryffindor mascot. Having won that battle, Ginny stretched and settled herself on the sofa next to Ron, Harry and Hermione, while Colin headed out the portrait hole.

The three seventh-years were apparently taking their own study break, which entailed trying to see which boy could successfully throw the most pieces of crumpled parchment into a sleeping Hermione’s lap. Ginny nestled in closer to her brother, and rested her head on his shoulder. Ron may be overbearing as an older brother most of the time, but at least he was constant. And constancy was something Ginny felt she should hold on to with both hands at a time like this.

“What’s up, Ginnykins?” Ron asked, placing an arm around his sister’s shoulders.

“Nothing. Just tired of a lot of things.”

“Is everything all right? You don’t look so good.”

“Well, thanks! I can feel the love,” Ginny responded, giving him a playful punch. “I’m fine. Although, I do have to admit that I have the strangest feeling I’m being followed. It’s as though someone’s constantly watching me. Gives me the willies.” Fortunately for Neville, no one seemed to notice the deep blush that overtook his face at this comment.

“You don’t think it’s...”

“No, I’m pretty sure I would have noticed if Mr. Riddle made an appearance.” Ginny sat up straight and scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“Has anything happened with that?” Harry and Ron both leaned closer to her, wearing their trademark conspirator looks.

“I don’t know. I don’t feel much different. And I haven’t seen him since I started with Snape. It’s funny, though, because even though I stopped –” Ginny was cut off when Colin burst through the portrait hole, dropping snacks on Ginny’s lap and collapsing next to Hermione.

“Whew, sorry it took me so long.” Colin launched into a rapid-fire tale of his adventures from the kitchens, completely ignoring the glares Ron and Harry were directing at him. “I had just tickled the pear and literally every house elf was running amok. By the time I made it out I couldn’t even carry everything they gave me. I just barely missed Filch on the way back, and had to duck into a side corridor then go up a back set of stairs. And THEN I almost spilled butterbeer all over myself bumping into...” Colin trailed off and his eyes bugged out. “Oh yeah, I just remembered. Malfoy’s waiting outside.”

Now it was Ginny’s turn to nearly spill butterbeer all over herself. She started to scramble to her feet, but was stopped by Colin’s hand on her knee.

“Uh, actually, Ginny, he wanted to talk to Hermione. Heh heh,” Colin laughed nervously, “’s funny, right? Just a few months ago I’d be coming in here to tell you Malfoy’s looking for you.” Everyone was studiously trying to avoid Ginny’s glare as Harry shook Hermione awake. She stirred, upsetting the pile of crumpled parchment on her lap.

“Er, Malfoy’s apparently waiting to talk to you outside,” Harry informed her, while casually brushing off her lap.

“Oh. Well. It’s probably Head Boy business. You know, we have to coordinate the next prefect meeting.” She sneaked a glance in Ginny’s direction, but found the seat empty.

“Whoa, there, Weasley! You’d think you were trying to run me over,” Draco called as the Fat Lady almost slammed straight into him to reveal a storming redhead. “Although, if you want to try it again, I might be more cooperative,” he added with a smirk.

“Shut it, Malfoy!”

When Hermione made it out of the Common Room, Draco was still staring open-mouthed at Ginny’s retreating form.

“What is it now, Malfoy? It’s a little embarrassing to be pulled out of my Common Room to talk to you.”

“Trust me, Granger, the embarrassment is all mine.” Draco sneered at her before snaping, “What the hell is going on with the weasel?”

“Oh, she’s just upset and jealous because you’re here to talk to me, when you used to –”

“Not that, Granger!” Draco growled. “I was referring to our little problem. Did you get her to discontinue hypnosis?”

“She hasn’t been in about two weeks. But as far as I know, there haven’t been any developments. Are you sure he’ll just appear?”

“He should, given the proper motivation. We need to set up a way to get her obviously alone.”

“Well,” Hermione hesitated. She started to pick at invisible spots of lint on her robes.

“Spit it out, Granger.”

“If what’s supposed to stop Riddle is yours and Ginny’s love, then getting the two of you alone would probably be the best way to lure him out. Even the last time he came around you were standing outside with Ginny, weren’t you?” Draco closed his eyes momentarily, the vision of Ginny’s upturned face outlined by the snow flashing through his mind.

“I have detention to supervise,” he finally spoke in a chillingly quiet voice. “I’ll send her an owl.”

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

The moon was becoming more prominent as the sky was becoming ever darker as the boys of Gryffindor trudged their way down to the dungeons for detention.

“I can’t believe we have to serve out the rest of the bloody term in detention.”

“With Malfoy, no less.” Seamus’s expression was uncharacteristically dark as they crossed the threshold into the Potions classroom. Draco was leaning against Snape’s desk, reading from a book. Without bothering to look up from his reading, he pointed to the blackboard behind him as soon as they walked in.

“Well,” Harry said with a deep breath, “here goes nothing.” They settled down to clean cauldrons for the next two hours.

The stars were shining a little brighter as Hermione repositioned her seat in the library. She had a pile of books in front of her as tall as her head. Arithmancy was proving to be her most difficult subject. She fervently scrawled her notes down and reached for another piece of parchment. Blowing a strand of hair out of her face, Hermione tugged the book closer to her and focused on her studies.

“Malfoy, how much longer do we have to do this? We’ve already scrubbed every cauldron in the room. Twice.” Dean had thrown his brush down in favor of grousing.

“Detention lasts two hours, boys. Maybe you should have thought of that before assaulting a professor.”

“We only ‘assaulted’ him because we thought he was you,” Neville muttered under his breath.

“Well, maybe that will teach you a lesson, Longbottom. You should probably steer clear of trying to intimidate your betters,” Draco responded with a sneer. It was all Harry could do to stop Ron from lunging at the other boy.

Hermione let out an exasperated sigh and leaned back in her chair. She had been working on the same problem for the better part of an hour, and had made no progress. There’s got to be something I’m missing, she thought to herself. She started shoving aside parchment in search of her old class notes. Frustrated, she collapsed on top of the table. The cool surface of the wood was relaxing against her flustered cheek. She stretched a little with her left hand and closed around yesterday’s copy of the Daily Prophet left on the table. She started flipping through it randomly, still lying on the table.

“Hey, Harry,” Ron whispered loudly across the room. “Did you finish your Astronomy essay? Sinistra’s going to rail into us if it’s not perfect.”

“Yeah, I went to the Astronomy Tower last night to take care of it. I was going to ask Hermione to look at it.”

“Mmmm.” Ron was looking out the window to judge how clear
the sky was tonight. “Hey, do you see that? Something looks strange out there.”

All the boys in the Potions room turned to look out the window, and did, indeed notice something strange.

Hermione bolted upright, feeling a chill crawl down her spine. Her eyes were transfixed to the block of text on the newspaper in front of her.

There was a shift in the energy in cool night time air. Ginny was suddenly short of breath, and stumbled against the banister. She had come to the Astronomy Tower to get a breath of fresh air and escape from the madness that was turning out to be her sixth year. Now, of course, it seemed like a bad idea. She looked up and was almost knocked off her feet by the surge of energy she felt.

There was an almost blinding light issuing forth from the stars in the sky. Seamus cocked his head to one side, trying to decipher the shape being traced across the sky.

“Holy fuck,” Draco barely muttered before he bolted out of the dungeons and straight towards the Astronomy Tower.

Hermione’s footsteps were echoing through the empty hallway as she raced away from the library.

“Oh, Good Godric,” Ginny muttered as she turned around.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it Ginny, dear?” There was an aura about him that exuded power. “The time has come to make this final, my love.” He hauled her towards him, but Ginny could hardly take her eyes off the constellation burning bright. She could have sworn she heard a woman’s voice calling to her estranged lover.

The Hogwarts library was empty, and the only sign of life was a table littered with parchment and open books. On top of the mess lay a copy of the Daily Prophet flipped open to an article on Tutelae’s Night.
Chapter 9: Incensed Slytherins and their Failed Plans by Ephemere
Author's Notes:
Once upon a time, there was a girl who started writing a story. Three years later she finished it.

Done. Enjoy. :)
~*~ Chapter 9 ~*~


The sky is coming alive, Ginny mused to herself. If only that thought were as romantic as it sounds. Her thoughts were taking a slightly hysterical turn, as she realized the sudden hopelessness of the situation. She actually let out a bark of laughter, causing Tom Riddle to fix her with a sneer.

“Still so childish. No matter, though. You'll grow up in time. It's nothing a few years of marriage to me won't fix,” Riddle muttered half to himself. That managed to suck the humor out of the situation.

Ginny turned around to survey the scene behind her. A few random couples were lying petrified in various corners of the Astronomy Tower, having chosen this romantic night to go stargazing. Tom Riddle, however, preferred to exact world domination in relative solitude, apparently. She just firmly hoped beyond hope that no more innocent students would stray up here tonight.

The mismatched couple was forced to take a few steps back as the sky seemed to bend and swirl until a shape formed in front of them. The silhouette of a woman slowly emerged, and alighted on the balcony. Riddle seemed unable to take in the sight, and had to shield his eyes. Ginny, however, felt strangely emboldened by the woman's appearance.

“Who has called me?” the woman demanded, as her figure became more and more manifest. Ginny was sorely tempted to inform her that this was simply a mistake in records. There was no summoning issued from this Astronomy Tower. Oh no, it must have been a different Astronomy Tower, but how kind of her to come anyway!

“I have! I, the man destined for greatness, the great Dark Lord, have summoned your presence!”

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

The Gryffindor boys still trapped in the Potions classroom were gradually tearing their eyes away from the window, and returning to the task at hand. Neville had recounted the story of Tutelae's Night, stating that the special constellation was scheduled to come into position tonight. This explanation was sufficient for Dean to turn back to work, but Seamus remained curious about Malfoy's sudden disappearance. Ron and Harry exchanged a glance over their shared mop and bucket, conveying that curiosity did not begin to describe their thoughts about Malfoy's running off.

Dean, on the other hand, was wearing a suspiciously Slytherin smirk.

“I wouldn't worry too much about that,” he explained, his smirk turning into a full-fledged grin. “I combined some of what we were learning about laxatives in Muggle Studies with Nev's Herbology notes, and concocted a little surprise for Malfoy. I slipped it in his tea when we first walked in.”

Dean's confession sent the boys into peals of laughter. Ron and Harry, however, were having a difficult time faking their own laughter, as their eyes had immediately flown to Professor Snape's desk. They were staring fixedly at the untouched and still steaming cup of tea.

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

“I know not what Dark Lord you speak of. But if you have summoned the legendary Tutelae from her celestial abode.” Tutelae paused as her form completely materialized in front of them. Ginny could easily see that this heavenly woman's beauty was truly fit for the stars. “You must have something to present to me.”

Riddle presently turned to Ginny with a nefarious grin. He gripped her arm and hauled her back to his side. She looked up at him in disgust and tried to break free, but his grip was ironclad. Riddle jerked on her arm so she was vaulted into his body. Then he sealed her mouth with a most revolting kiss. Ginny tore her mouth away from his with a cry. Before he could say anything to Tutelae, the scandalized redhead cut him off.

“Why the hell do you even need me?” Ginny hissed. “You've already become whole. There's nothing I can offer you anymore. You've already violated the recesses of my mind one too many times. You've taken everything you possibly can! What more do you want?” Ginny finished with a hoarse whisper. Tears were streaming down her face. She itched to wipe her mouth clean of his lingering presence, but her whole body was pinned against his.

“You may have made me whole, Ginny, dearest,” Riddle ground out as he struggled to keep her still, “but my full power has yet to be realized. With Tutelae's gift I can truly rise to my fullest without descending into a pathetic form at the hands of that stupid Potter.” He practically spat out the last words.

A shift in energy in the air caused Ginny and the young Voldemort to turn their attention to Tutelae. She seemed to be getting angrier, and again, Ginny felt a magnetic pull to the legendary woman's passion while Riddle shied further away.

“Silence!” Tutelae raised her hands, effectively putting a stop to all conversation. “I'm sure you realize that my powers can only be transferred to true lovers. Your hearts must be pure, and devoid of hatred.” Tutelae's eyes searched Ginny's carefully, and she took a step towards the younger girl. The two seemed to be caught in a trance. The woman from the stars lifted her arms and slowly an aura began to envelop the two females.

“What's going on?” Riddle demanded. “What's happening? I must be included!” he all but whined.

But a flash of red sparks in the distance distracted Ginny and her long time stalker. They strayed closer to the balcony, trying to discern the source of the sparks. Ginny, however, quickly snapped her head back to see Tutelae slowly becoming incensed. Apparently she had a thing for undivided attention.

Oh, bugger.

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

“Ron,” Harry whispered furiously. He was bent over, taking his own sweet time wringing his mop into the bucket that Ron was managing. “You and I know full well that Malfoy did not run out of here because he had to relieve himself.” Harry was forced to halt the conversation in favor of shoving the mop back and forth a few times across the floor. Of course Malfoy would find it humorous to watch five nearly full-grown wizards clean a dungeons classroom with no use of magic.

Ron was taking the moment of silence to grumble something to the effect of Malfoy being full of shite, even if he hadn't gone to relieve himself.

“We need a diversion,” Harry concluded behind the shelter of his hand.

Needing no further prompting, Ron nodded at his best friend. He looked around the classroom, taking inventory. Dean and Seamus were “cleaning the walls,” although their effectiveness remained in question as one spot in the center of the wall was left glaringly bright with the rest of the space rough and dull. Neville's arm was moving in lazy circles at the bottom of a cauldron, supposedly scrubbing it clean.

Ron deftly removed the wand he had hidden in his robes. He pointed it towards the window, sending forth a series of red sparks. Quickly ducking back to the bucket, he feigned ignorance when Neville exclaimed, “Look! The window's broken!”

“And there are red sparks off in the distance,” chimed Dean. Soon the three oblivious boys were lined up against the window trying to ascertain what exactly had transpired. They turned around to ask Ron and Harry what they thought, but all that remained was a mop haphazardly leaning against a tipped over bucket of murky dungeon water.

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

“Er, sorry to interrupt you. Just was curious about what was going on outside...” Ginny trailed off when Tutelae turned her stormy eyes upon Ginny's brown ones.

“That is not what concerns me.” The woman's voice was powerful and foreboding, yet it provided some untold kind of comfort to Ginny. “I sense dishonesty before me. I feel an impure heart is trying to reach me. Trying to make a mockery of the love I have sacrificed. A mockery of the beauty that is true love.”

Ginny was still wrapped in warmth, but was perturbed by Riddle's silence. She turned to find him doubled over, leaning against the balcony railing. He wore an expression of pain, wincing slightly at the sharp gusts of wind generated by Tutelae's presence. And if Ginny wasn't mistaken, he seemed to be...fading? No, that can't be right. And yet, he seems almost translucent...

At that moment Ginny realized that Tutelae's blessing was not just about realizing Riddle's full power. It was about keeping Riddle alive. He was slowly disappearing in front of her, and she could feel a dull headache coming on. It was as though he was abandoning the real world to re-enter her mind. As her headache grew stronger and Riddle grew weaker, Ginny sneaked a glance at Tutelae and wondered idly whether she preferred the sweet release of pain along with a fully functioning Tom Riddle, or if she could be the brave little Gryffindor and endure the pain in favor of keeping him out of reality.

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

Hermione was racing towards the Gryffindor common room. She had left an utter mess in the library, but that was hardly her concern at this moment. She needed to get to Ginny. And she needed to get Ginny to come with her. How she would force the other girl to trust her was a bridge she would just simply cross when she got there. Each one of her footsteps fell louder and harder than the last. Hermione thought she might go deaf with the echo of her own pace. And yet, the common room could not appear fast enough.

Draco had to brace himself against a wall and vault himself around the corner as he turned left down the hallway that led away from the dungeons. The paintings were clucking their tongues at him, clearly disappointed at this unseemly conduct of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's Head Boy. But Draco was not the least bit aware of anything beyond his robes whipping behind him.

Hermione nearly tripped, and was sorely tempted to just shed her robes and continue tearing down the hall. But even stopping to do that would waste time.

Draco took the set of stairs three at a time, silently cursing his already impossibly long legs for not being longer still.

They were only placated by the constant mantra going off in their minds, Gotta find Ginny. Gotta find Ginny. Gotta find Ginny.

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

Lumos!” Ron cried softly into the darkness of the alcove. He and Harry were hunched over a piece of sorely creased parchment. He muttered a few more words and waited patiently. Ink began to spread across the page, lines and patterns slowly forming. “Bloody 'ell.”

Harry just nodded in agreement. The two boys took a few seconds to take in the whereabouts of their classmates, and then some. Then they tore off in the direction of the Astronomy Tower, silently thanking the Marauders and their lucky stars.

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

Mrrawwwrr!

“Ow! Bugger, Malfoy!”

“Granger! You're such an insufferable Mud- Oof!” Draco cut himself off when his stomach was greeted by Hermione's foot, supposedly in an attempt to right herself. “You're going the bloody wrong way!”

“I'm trying to find Ginny, you dolt. I was headed to the Common Room. Eep!” she squealed when she accidentally squashed Mrs. Norris's tail. The Head Boy and Girl locked eyes for a fraction of a second before leaping into action. Draco grabbed her wrist and continued running towards the Astronomy Tower, ignoring the fact that he was mostly dragging Hermione, as she was facing the wrong direction. “MALFOY! Just – let go so I can – “ She finally wrenched her wrist from his grasp and scrambled to catch up with him properly.

“Riddle's probably already got her in the Astronomy Tower. They sky's positively swirling. I just hope we're not too late,” Draco panted to her. They rounded the corner and came to a screeching halt at the base of the stairwell leading to their destination. Slowly ascending, they tried to peer through the darkness at the faintly glowing figures above them.

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

Deciding that she needed to stall this process, at least long enough to either come up with a plan or allow her friends to miss her and start looking for her, Ginny mustered up her strength and turned to Riddle.

“You're looking a little peakish there, Tom, dearest,” Ginny drawled in her best imitation of her favorite deplorable Slytherin. She placed her hands on her hips, using the opportunity to casually slip her wand into reach. “Something the matter?”

“You,” Riddle hissed at her through clenched teeth, “will not stop me. I know you all too well, Ginny, my love. You think you're strong enough to fight me, but Merlin knows you can't.” He was struggling to stand up, and was hunched before her. “Just like when you threw that diary into the toilets. You thought you were a brave little lion cub.” The memory made Ginny wince, and Riddle pulled himself to his full height.

“What's going on?” Draco furiously whispered to Hermione.

“I can't completely tell, but it looks like Tom Riddle's fading in and out of existence,” she whispered back, entranced by the scene in front of her.

Draco was inclined to agree with her, but there was a niggling feeling in the back of his mind.

“But I came back to you.” Riddle was going on with a sneer planted on his face. “Just like I always do. You're unable to resist me, Ginevra.” By now Ginny was reeling from the pain in her mind. Suddenly a flood of unpleasant memories flashed in front of her mind. She was drowning in a sea of regret, embarrassment, derision. She found herself gasping for air as she tried to anchor herself onto something positive. “Try as you might,” Riddle muttered, standing before her, positively gleaming with strength, “you cannot fight it.”

“He's feeding off of her,” both Draco and Hermione said at the same moment. They watched with horror as the color was draining from Ginny's face, even as it was entering Riddle's. Hermione's hand darted out quick as lightning, stopping Draco from leaping forward. She mouthed to him, Need a plan. Despite the temptation to just ignore her, he knew that she was right. So he contented himself to shaking her free of his arm and waiting, poised for action.

“Enough stalling!” Riddle called out, holding Ginny up by the waist. “We're ready,” he stated to Tutelae.

The wistful woman standing before them closed her eyes. She began muttering words in an unclear language. There was a heat exuding from her being, and Ginny, Hermione and Draco were growing warmer just standing so near to her. Draco awkwardly loosened his tie in the stinging heat. He shed his robes and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead.

Riddle seemed unaffected by the heat, but Ginny grew fainter by the second. She was already feeling weak from the energy that Riddle was sucking from her, and now she felt as though she were standing on the sun. The room began to get slightly fuzzier in front her.

Tutelae then snapped her eyes open and a bright light issued forth from her eyes. The inhabitants of the room were momentarily blinded. Ginny gasped as she felt power coursing through her. A newfound energy was surging inside her, threatening to explode her from within. Her body was suddenly so burning hot that Riddle snatched his arm away from her waist for fear of being scalded.

“Ouch!” Hermione exclaimed, jumping as far away from Draco as she could. She looked at her wrist, and saw a red welt forming from where it had been resting next to Draco's arm. She turned to shoot him a questioning glance when she realized that she was very much alone in the stairwell.

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

All of a sudden the castle shook for a fraction of a second. Harry and Ron had to grasp the wall to keep their footing. The disturbance was so mild that most people might not have noticed it, but they were so close to the Astronomy Tower by now, and were taking off at full tilt that they felt most of the effect. The tower was just around the corner and up a narrow flight of stairs. Just as they regained their footing, a blinding light shot out through the stairwell. Shielding their eyes and slowly approaching, they were both consumed with dread.

The Gryffindors left in the Potions classroom were curiously drawn towards the night sky. They could hardly explain their fascination with the swirling and glowing deep blue beyond. Staring as they were, they had to jump back a few steps when a blinding light took over the window.

Ron and Harry were edging towards the entrance to the Astronomy Tower. They could see the edge of Malfoy's robes trailing behind him. The three friends barely acknowledged each other, watching with trepidation. None of them were quite willing to admit how terrified they were, yet all of them were eternally grateful that they were not alone in this moment.

“What's going on?” Riddle demanded. “I don't feel any different,” he continued, staring at Ginny. “Why is she affected when I'm not? I thought you gave your power to COUPLES! Not just women!” he roared, incensed that his plans were crumbling in front of him.

“I have found the lovers in this room. Born in different worlds. Raised with different ideals. In love beyond their circumstances. Fighting Dark Magic to love each other.” Listening to the words Tutelae was uttering, Hermione couldn't help but wonder if they were referring to Draco and Ginny or Tutelae herself.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN!?” Riddle shouted, shaking with rage.

“She means me.” The cool statement sliced through the room like a hot knife through butter.

“Draco,” Ginny breathed, locking eyes with her Slytherin savior. Draco breathed in deeply, feeling as though his lungs were suddenly capable of so much more. Without wasting any more time he turned to Riddle, pointed his wand, and shouted the counter curse. With each cutting syllable that Draco uttered, Tom Riddle seemed to wither more and more.

In that moment, a whistling sound floated towards them from the direction of Tutelae. Her glowing presence was slowly fading. She smiled at Draco and Ginny and disappeared within the blink of an eye. The room seemed to snap back to normality. Through the darkness that they were returned to, the students could see Riddle leaning against the balcony, struggling to stay alive. Harry, Ron and Hermione darted out into the scene, just as Ginny was losing her footing.

Tutelae's presence was as a crutch for Ginny. As soon as the woman disappeared, Ginny could feel the adrenaline rush dying down. The room was now spinning in earnest. Her wand clattered to the floor, breaking the deafening silence that had taken over following Tutelae's departure. The next events seemed to happen all at once.

Ginny tipped forward, no longer able to hold herself up. Riddle dove towards her discarded wand, determined to remover her and complete the job of draining her power. Draco shot forward to catch Ginny. Ron, Harry and Hermione simultaneously drew their wands and shot spells at Riddle.

Petrificus Totalus!

Confringo!

Expelliarmus!

The combination of all three of their spells sent Riddle flying into the back wall before exploding in a flash of light. A deadening calm took over the Astronomy Tower. Taking ragged breaths, the three best friends glanced around the room, taking in the scene before them.

Three couples were scattered across the floor, leaning against various walls. All that remained of the two non-Hogwarts visitors was a small cloud of dust near the balcony. Ginny was lying limp, her limbs draped over Draco's arms as he gingerly held her up in his lap.

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

“You have all been very brave.” Professor Dumbledore congratulated the five students in front of him. They had spent most of the night recounting the chain of events that brought them here.

“Foolish. Very foolish,” Professor Snape chimed in. “They should have called a professor rather than charging into the situation by themselves.”

“All right, Severus,” Professor Dumbledore continued with a twinkle in his eye. “You've been slightly foolish. But very brave, nonetheless.”

“Professor.” Harry's voice reached out. "Will we have to worry about him coming back? Will her mind conjure up more forms of him from now on?”

“Riddle had managed to manifest a human form of himself from the memories in Miss Weasley's mind. Our memories are like little scattered biscuit crumbs. Riddle had managed to magnetically draw them all together. Now that the three of you have destroyed him, you've destroyed him in our world of reality as well as in her world of memories.”

“So she won't even remember him, will she?” Harry asked.

“She has none of her original memories of Tom Riddle left that he did not touch. She will, of course, remember Voldemort in our era. And even the memories of her encounter with Riddle last night. But everything that she gleaned from the diary has died with Riddle's vain attempt to make himself real.” Professor Dumbledore smiled faintly in appreciation of the irony of the situation.

“It's probably for the best,” Hermione muttered, watching Ginny's chest rise and fall evenly with each breath she took.

“You never know, Miss Granger.” The Headmaster turned to her with a mystery in his eyes. “Our memories our ours for a reason. No one has a right to them. Riddle has taken from Miss Weasley something that was not his to steal. That balance will not be restored. Despite how painful some memories might be, they are still ours to claim.” He paused, placing a hand on Snape's shoulder. “Well, we must be on our way. Several former petrified students and their parents to console.”

All the students seemed to internalize Dumbledore's statement in their own ways. Ron looked past Draco, who had not moved from the shadows near the night table since the two professors walked in, at Ginny lying in the hospital bed.

“Will she wake up?” he asked quietly, just before Dumbledore and Snape had a chance to leave.

“I sincerely hope so, Mr. Weasley,” came the response from the Headmaster.

Then the door shut behind them. It had been hours since the famed incident. Now the sun was well above the horizon, and most of Hogwarts was having breakfast in the Great Hall on this Saturday morning. Harry and Hermione were exhaustedly slumped in two chairs near Ginny's bed. Her curtain was drawn back, and billowing slightly in the breeze from the open window. Ron was standing at the foot of her bed, one hand clinging to the sheets, reluctant to blink, for fear of losing sight of his baby sister again. Draco was slouched in a chair between the nightstand and Ginny's bed. Given recent events no one seemed to have the energy or the motivation to demand that Malfoy leave.

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

“Ron.” Hermione shook Ron awake close to dinner time the next night. “You should really eat something. Come on,” she coaxed.

Ron opened his bleary eyes to see Hermione hovering over him. Then he turned to the bed to see Ginny in the same position as before.

“Has he been here the whole time?” Hermione asked, nodding her head towards Draco.

“Yeah,” Ron muttered in response. “I don't even know if he slept.” He narrowed his eyes at Draco, regarding the other boy thoughtfully. “I think he actually cares about her.”

“Well, he did save her life,” Hermione responded, going on with their conversation as though he were not within earshot. “Come on, let's get some food. Malfoy's probably going to stand vigil anyway. And Madame Pomfrey said she would alert you as soon as Ginny woke up.”

Reluctantly, Ron allowed himself to be dragged to full height. He pulled the curtain shut around Draco and Ginny, then leaned on Hermione's shoulder out of exhaustion, and let her lead him towards the Great Hall where Harry was waiting.

Madame Pomfrey bustled into the room, and yanked the curtain open.

“Mr. Malfoy,” she said, “if you're going to insist on staying, then at least make yourself useful and refill her glass of water.” She pointed to the pitcher resting on counter on the far wall. After fussing over Ginny's sheets, and generally examining her, Draco and Ginny were left alone again.

Draco silently watched Madame Pomfrey leave the room. He turned back to where Ginny was lying and forced the muscles in his legs to work. Slowly rising to his feet, he took the full glass of water to the counter to empty it and replenish it. He stared at the way the water was sloshing around in the glass container as he carried it back to the nightstand. Nothing seemed real anymore. He could hardly remember what thoughts used to occupy his mind before Ginny came in and took over. And now, here he stood, refilling her water glass, wondering if she were ever going to even drink it. Just as he mused over the futility of his actions, a soft moan pierced the silence.

Draco nearly dropped the glass in his hands. Ginny was shifting under the sheets. He quickly placed the water down, resuming his seat and grasping her hand firmly in his. Ginny moaned again, and tried to lift her free hand to her eyes. Sensing that the blankets were too heavy for her weak body, Draco quickly pushed them aside. Her breathing became ragged and she grunted softly as she struggled to open her eyes. Finally succeeding at her task, Ginny swung her eyes wildly around the room, trying to gain her bearings.

“I'm here, Gin,” Draco whispered to her raggedly, his voice showing the strain of not having been used in over a day.

“Draco,” Ginny breathed. “What happened?”

He quickly filled her in on the events of last night.

“The one thing I don't understand is how you and I seemed to be drawing power from Tutelae's Night, but Riddle seemed weakened by it, “ Draco mused as he finished his account.

“I think I may be of some assistance in that department, Mr. Malfoy,” the Headmaster cut in, hovering into the room. “Just came in to check on young Miss Weasley here. I do hope I'm not interrupting anything,” he added in an amused tone, regarding their joined hands.

“No, of course not, Professor,” Ginny responded, but refused to let go of Draco's hand. “You said you knew what happened?”

“Yes, well, I've been pondering these events for some time. And I think I've arrived at the most logical conclusion. Tutelae was rather proud of the love she and her famed King shared. And so, she has always been partial towards lovers, especially those of the star-crossed variety.” Dumbledore's words made Ginny think of Tutelae's haunting voice. “Riddle summoned her last night, thinking that he could channel her power for himself, using you, Miss Weasley, as a cohort. However, that failed because Riddle is devoid of feelings of love.” It was as though a gear clicked into place as she remembered Tutelae's warning regarding purity of heart.

“What remains a mystery is the fact that her power was indeed channeled,” Dumbledore continued with a far-off gaze. “Riddle was incapable of love, and the emotions between the two of you were not true, so he could not have channeled her power. And yet, someone did. Mr. Malfoy, do you have any thoughts on this subject?” The older wizard's eyes sparkled and a small smile played at his lips.

“Maybe,” Draco muttered, thinking back to the way he felt some foreign power lifting him up in the face of Tom Riddle. “Professor, how potent is her blessing?” Draco addressed the question to the Headmaster but kept his eyes on Ginny.

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy.” Dumbledore chuckled. “A true Slytherin at heart. I would say her blessing is powerful enough to counter even the darkest of magic.” And then, if Draco was honest with himself, he could have sworn he saw the Headmaster wink at him before taking their leave.

“Draco.” Ginny's voice interrupted Draco's musings. “Is it really over?”

He turned away from the door where he was staring after Dumbledore.

“Yes, my love.” Draco smiled, taking her hand in both of his, gently stroking her wrist. “It's finally over.” He adjusted so he was seated on the edge of her bed, hovering over her.

“Oh, great Godric,” she muttered, running a hand through the soft strands of hair falling in his eyes.

“I'll forgive that little expletive of yours, considering the fact that you just came back to me from near death.” Draco let go of her hand to lean forward, placing his arms on either side of her head. Then he shifted so one of his legs rested between hers, with his whole body hovering less than an arm's length above hers.

“Oh, well, how sweet of you,” Ginny responded with an impish grin. She kicked the sheets further down, allowing free movement of her legs. “You're taking some awful liberties with my personal space, I see.”

“Mmm, yes, well, I'm just going off past experience with me and you in a hospital bed.” He lowered his body so only a thin layer of air could pass between them. Ginny giggled, moving her legs to trap his hips within the cage of her thighs. “Seriously, Weasley. We've got to stop meeting like this.” Draco dipped his head to steal a sweet kiss. “A bloke can only take so much excitement.” He paused to steal yet another kiss. “Soon enough you're going to develop a hospital bed fetish. Then what will the kids think, with Mummy and Daddy constantly injuring themselves whenever they want a good shag?”

“Malfoy,” Ginny began, staring at Draco in astonishment. “I have no idea what goes on in that silly mind of yours.”

“Weasley, I think I'm not alone when I say I've spent this year seeing far too much of what has been in your mind.” Ginny smacked him lightly on the shoulder. And then there were no more words.

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, craning her neck up to meet his mouth with hers. Their lips instantly parted, not wanting to waste another second before tasting each other again. Ginny dove her fingers into his hair, thrilling in the opportunity to play with the otherwise perfectly coiffed mop. He groaned, and ground his hips into her, secretly loving the way her fingernails felt on his scalp.

One of Draco's hands was caressing Ginny's arm, while the other was at her side, slowly bunching up the material of her hospital gown. She slipped a leg around his waist, tracing lines up and down his calf with her toes.

He moaned into her mouth, impatiently thrusting his hands up the hem of her gown. He reared back on his knees, holding the material in his hands and waiting for her to let him go on. Ginny drew in a breath and looked at the boy, almost man, settled between her legs. His blond hair was mussed beyond belief, and his clothes were ragged from lack of sleep. But it was his eyes that took her breath away. They were burning a hole into hers, two pools of molten silver. His whole expression and body was a sum of tense lines, clearly holding back until she gave him permission. And so, Ginny did the only thing she could think of.

She raised her hands above her head.

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

“We need to talk.” Hermione was standing in front of Harry, distracting him from the book he was trying (and failing) to read for Muggle Studies.

“I figured this was coming,” he responded, with as much Gryffindor bravado as he could muster.

“Harry, you know that I love you, right?” She took a seat on the coffee table in front of him. They were thankfully the only two students in the common room.

“Of course, Hermione,” Harry responded truthfully. “But you're not in love, are you?”

For one of the few times in her life, Hermione was struck speechless. She had an entire spiel planned, that would highlight the things she truly cared for about Harry, but pointed out the slow degradation of their relationship since they declared it was more than friendship.

“I've been feeling the same way, Hermione,” Harry continued, ignoring her gaping mouth. “Granted, I've been in a fair amount of denial for a while. I think I was forcing myself to love you as more than a friend, because it just would have made so much sense.” The words tumbled out of Harry's mouth so casually that Hermione almost found herself looking for the emotion behind him.

“So you agree that we just work better as friends?” she asked tentatively. She was still surprised that she didn't have to convince him at all.

At that moment Ron came tumbling through the portrait hole, remnants of a chocolate frog on his lips. He grinned at his two friends and waved.

“Yeah, Hermione,” Harry answered her, “we definitely work better as friends.”

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

Camena marched across the Great Hall with a purposeful look on her face. She stuck a hand in front of Ginny's face. Slightly confused, Ginny just stared at it for a few moments. When it shook rather impatiently, she assumed she was to take the proffered hand. Camena shook it rather violently before stating, “No hard feelings, Weasley?”

“Weasley? Hard feelings? What are you – “ Ginny was immediately cut off by Harry jabbing an elbow into her ribs. When she turned, she saw him waving his hand to “subtly” indicate that she go along with it. Ginny then turned back and lifted her eyes to Camena's. They were starting to narrow, and the Ravenclaw still hadn't let go of her hand. In fact, she could feel Camena's grip tightening. “Erm, sure, Camena,” Ginny stammered out. "No hard feelings.”

“Good,” came the terse reply. Then the black-haired beauty turned and marched straight out the door.

“What in Merlin's name was that about?” Ginny asked her table mates incredulously.

Everyone was suspiciously refusing to meet her eye, however. Before she could press the issue, Draco burst through the doors with an irritated expression on his face. The whole Great Hall seemed to burst into a raucous applause that barely died down In the face of his withering glare.

Ginny turned to Hermione and asked, “Is this what I think it's about?”

“Well, Ginny,” Hermione responded carefully. “Colin did walk in on the two of you...with his camera no less.”

“Oh, bugger,” Ginny groaned into her hands, trying to sink lower in her seat.

Hermione and Harry, on the other hand, were desperately trying to keep Ron in his seat despite how violently he fought against their hands.

Draco watched the circus that was masquerading as his school with disdain. The gossip mill had far too much time on their hands in his opinion. He tried to tune them out, but his mind kept wandering back to his discussion with Professor Snape.

Apparently the blessing he received from Tutelae was enough to purge his body of the curse his father placed on him. He supposed he was fortunate enough that he and Ginny were in the right place at the right time. With a smirk, Draco mentally acknowledged that maybe Tom Riddle's appearance did have some worth after all. Funny how everything seemed tied together.

Draco toyed with his goblet of pumpkin juice, still curious about the curse itself. It seemed that he would never find out the rest of its specifics. There were some cryptic messages that Professor Snape was sending him during their discussion that made Draco think that the professor may have known Mrs. Malfoy better than he let on. Draco was especially curious as to how the curse determined who the love of his life was. Seems unlikely that father would actually choose Ginny as the object, considering his disdain for the Weasleys, he mused. A voice that Draco decided definitely did not sound like Granger answered him in the back of his head. Maybe you actually fell in love with her without the curse...

He shook the thought away and drained the rest of his juice, ready to storm across the hall and reclaim his territory from that infernal Longbottom.

Neville had approached Ginny through all the gossiping crowds. It seemed that everyone was so intent on spreading their newly acquired rumors that they completely ignored the subjects of these rumors themselves.

“Ginny? I have something I need to tell you.” Ginny peeked up at him through her fingers. Taking her blinks as an indication that she wanted him to go on, Neville squeezed onto the bench next to her. “I think you may be in danger. I'm not sure, but I know it has to do with Malfoy. You should be very careful where you go.”

Ginny lowered her hands to study the boy sitting next to her. Over the years Neville's bravery had grown tenfold. Now Ginny was overcome by the sweetness of his determination. She just did not have the heart to tell him that the “danger” had come and gone under his nose.

“Oh, Neville,” she said, causing him to jump. “Neville, I just.“ He was staring at her wide-eyed by this point. “Feel safer with you watching out for me.” And with that she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

No sooner had she done so, then Draco launched the poor blushing boy up by the collar.

“I understand that rumors are usually unsubstantiated,” he growled, “but this one is most assuredly not a rumor.” Draco lifted Neville by the robes so he was now standing on his tiptoes. “My girlfriend may find it sweet that you slobber after her like some deranged pygmy puff, but I hardly find this amusing.” Draco narrowed his eyes and leaned forward so their noses were barely touching. “Remember this the next time you try sniffing around what isn't yours.”

As soon as Neville was released he scrambled out of the Hall. There was really only so much bravery that one could garner in the face of a raging, jealous Draco Malfoy. Brushing his hands off, Draco turned to said property with a grin, ready for his congratulatory kiss. Instead, he was leveled with a glare.

“Draco Malfoy, what is wrong with you?” Ginny exclaimed, before flouncing off.

“But, Ginny! Oh, come on! I'm not about to be like your other boyfriends and let other guys sniff around!” Draco stormed after her.

Suddenly Ron stopped fighting, his expression of fury replaced by a gleeful grin. Hermione and Harry stared at him quizzically.

“Hey, at least there'll be plenty of fighting between them,” he said with a grin.
End Notes:
Hopefully this last chapter doesn't stray too far from the others. I tried rereading the previous chapters several times to get back into it, since my writing style has changed considerably since I started. But maybe y'all won't notice ;)
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