A/N: Thanks to all who reviewed...
"Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition."
(afraid to lose)
Midnight. Draco was a spectre with changing hues, one moment shadowed in darkness, the next bathed in silvery moonlight. He carried his broom with one hand as he strode swiftly towards the quidditch pitch.
It was after curfew, but Draco wanted to practice. Slytherin had a game with Hufflepuff the week after the next, and his detention was still in place, so he wouldn't be able to practice with the rest of the team at a decent hour. After that last game with Gryffindor, another defeat would make it harder for them to win the Quidditch cup.
And he refused to let that happen. He was going to defeat Weasley and Potter if it was the last thing he did. And by Weasley he didn't mean Ron, but -
He came to a stop, blinking. Her appearance was so sudden, so perfectly timed, that he couldn't help feeling as though he had conjured her with the intensity of his thoughts.
She looked flustered, the night wind whipping her hair into a tangle of fiery strands. Her brown eyes were luminous, pearly. Her black robe contoured itself around her shapely figure. Plenty of girls were lovelier, but right then Draco felt that Ginny was unrivalled in simple appeal.
"You're not allowed to be here," she told him, almost automatically.
He allowed himself a smirk. "Always the prefect. Sadly for your credibility as an enforcer of rules, Weasley, neither are you."
She glared at him. "I’ll go through another two weeks of detention if it means you’ll be punished for breaking the rules.”
Draco would have made another wiseass retort, but his eyes had zeroed in on the broom clutched in Ginny's fingers. The broom he saw in his nightmares of losing at quidditch. He found himself saying instead, incredulously, "That's Potter's Firebolt!"
"So? I borrowed it from him because I need to practice for our match with Ravenclaw this weekend."
The parallel in their situations struck him, but he had no time to think about it. He was too busy glaring at the Firebolt. "And Potter actually lent it to you?"
"No, I snuck into his room and stole it."
At the sarcasm - and the idea of Ginny sneaking into Potter's room - Draco's eyes narrowed. Without thinking he said, "I'll race you."
Race her? Ginny glanced at him. "That's not a good idea."
"Afraid to lose?"
Her temper sparked. "Fine. Let's do it. Can you handle losing?"
"Don't waste your time worrying about the consequences of a Malfoy losing. It won't happen."
"You must have forgotten our last match, then. Did the bump on your head destroy your memory?"
Bantering back and forth, trying and failing to insert real malice into their retorts, the two mounted their brooms.
Ginny turned her face away from the moonlight to hide the agitation on her face. Race with Malfoy? What possessed her to agree? She was asking for trouble!
And for his part, Draco was also making an effort to conceal his irritation with himself. Was he crazy? She had a Firebolt! He was setting himself up, not only to lose to a Gryffindor girl who was younger than he was, but to lose to a Weasley!
He wanted to take back the challenge.
“Ready to lose?” he asked, calling on his enormous reserve of arrogance. The world would have to be falling down around his ears before he betrayed any hint of his thoughts.
“Ready to face the world tomorrow knowing that you lost to a younger female Gryffindor who also happens to be a Weasley?”
Draco scowled. Could she read thoughts? And anyway, if he lost, it would only be because she had Potter's bloody Firebolt. “Luckily for you, the losing of Weasleys to Malfoys is commonplace, so your defeat won’t cause too much gossip.”
Ginny smiled as confidently as she could. “Malfoy, get real. I have a Firebolt.”
Maybe she could really read thoughts. Draco rose up into the air, and flew towards the quidditch pitch, coming to a halt near one of the golden goalposts. “Not only do I have an equally superior broom, I have talent.”
“The Nimbus Two Thousand and One is nothing compared to the Firebolt, and are you saying I don’t have talent?” As she rose up and flew after Draco, Ginny was amazed at how easy her broomstick was to handle. No wonder Harry treasured it! It responded to her slightest touch, moving with sleek effortlessness.
“You said it, Weasley, not me.”
Ginny studied Draco. His blond hair looked unbearably soft, and the lean muscles in his arm were evident in the way he gripped his broom. In profile, his features were sculpted, aristocratic, and the set of his full mouth was grim – and - and why on earth was she looking at his lips?
She looked away. “Enough talk, Malfoy. Let’s go.”
Both competitive, they were each determined to win, if only to shut the other up. They leaned forward on their brooms, ready to race, the moonlight casting its liquid glow over them.
“To the other side of the lake and back.”
“We have to land at the further side of the shore, take a rock, and ride back. The finish line is this goalpost.”
“Why do we have to take a rock?”
“To prove that we didn’t cheat. There’s no referee, and we won’t be able to watch each other all throughout the race, so who’s to say if we actually rode all the way to the other side of the lake or not?”
“I would never worry about being accused of cheating, but I suppose you Malfoys are used to it.”
“That's because you always lose, Weasley, and no one bothers to accuse the loser of cheating."
Before Ginny could think up a suitable reply to that piece of haughtiness, Draco spoke again. "Wait. Before we start, let's set some conditions."
Ginny paled, and Draco congratulated himself. He was beginning to feel the combination of Firebolt and aggravated Gryffindor unbeatable, but his pride refused to let him back out of the race. That was the same as losing. So he decided to coerce her into backing out instead.
"What conditions?" she asked.
"If I win, you have to..." Draco cast about for something horrifying enough.
"Scrub out all your bedpans for the rest of detention?" she suggested hopefully.
"Crabbe and Goyle can do that. Let me see..."
"If I win you can't make any cracks about Harry and Ron and Hermione until Christmas break," she said quickly.
He grinned. "How noble." His smile widened as it came to him. Even Ginny would have to retreat at this. "If I win you have to..." He paused dramatically, checking her reaction. She looked apprehensive. "You have to tell everybody you slept with me."
Ginny's mouth dropped open. Then she recovered, and her eyes began to blaze. "Slept with you?" Her fists clenched."That's disgusting, Malfoy, even for you! I don't know what you're trying to do, but I'm not going through with this!"
She started to descend, but at the last moment, she looked up. Smug triumph was glinting in the Slytherin's eyes.
That so infuriated her that she rose up again. "Fine! If I lose, I'll tell everyone I slept with you. But if you lose, Malfoy, not only do you have to lay off my friends, you have to throw the game with Hufflepuff."
Draco lost his smirk. "Throw it?"
"Lose on purpose." She met his gaze defiantly. "If I win, you have to lose the game with Hufflepuff on purpose."
His eyes darkened. "If I lose, I will throw the game and stop arguing with Potter and his friends until Christmas break. But you're asking for two things. So will I. If I win, not only do you have to tell people I slept with you, you have to..." This time his pause wasn't for effect. He was thinking. He had almost done it! She was ready to back out, but somehow he had provoked her into going on with the race. Damn it. What was worse than having to tell Potter's sidekick, a.k.a. her older brother, that she had slept with Draco Malfoy?
Then it came to him. He hesitated.
She sat poised on her broomstick, elegant and determined, her features delicate in the moonlight. For some reason - which his mind refused to divulge - Draco plunged in.
"You have to actually sleep with me." He made sure his tone was as malevolent as possible.
A beat of silence, then Ginny reacted. She spluttered, "You're out of your mind!"
"Am I?" He met her gaze without flinching, his eyes intense. Drawing her into their silver depths.
And, without warning, he leaned forward and kissed her.
Ginny was stunned. She almost fell off her broom. But the his arms were around her, solid, supporting. Hesitantly, she twined her arms around his neck, allowing her fingers to curl through his silky blond hair. His lips were at once soft and firm, a wonderful contradiction of that part of the male physique, and she felt her own lips parting. The melding of their mouths was hot. The kiss deepened.
The world around them ceased to exist. Neither felt the coldness of the wind. They forgot that they were on broomsticks, too high above the ground for comfort, the night sky with its stars stretching for infinity above them.
It was Draco who broke away, his breathing harsh, his entire body tense. Ginny tried to steady herself on her broom, but she was trembling.
For a long while, the two of them didn't speak. Draco kept his gaze fixed on the goalpost at the other end of the field, fighting to keep his face free of any emotion. Ginny looked down, staring hard at a rock far below on the ground, trying to calm the tempest of her feelings.
"Shall we race?"
Ginny stiffened at the flatness of his voice. Not knowing what to say, she nodded.
"Very well." Draco poised himself on the broom, leaning forward, his body rigid, his eyes glinting with resolve. Ginny followed suit. A kind of desperation and exhileration was warring inside her. She couldn't lose, could she?
"Ready." Draco's voice was cool and hard. "Set... go."
They sped off.
At first it seemed they were equal. Then Ginny started to pull ahead, partly due to adrenaline, partly due to the Firebolt. She landed by the lakeside a second ahead of Draco.
She hadn't counted on his extraordinary agility and her own clumsiness, aftermath of that unexpected kiss. As she fumbled for a rock, he braced himself with his legs on the broom, bent down, and scooped up the nearest stone. Then he straightened up on his broom and sped off, even as Ginny finally managed to close her hand around a rock. There were no wasted motions, nothing but fluid dexterity and lightning speed. Ginny started her flight back to the goalpost less than a heartbeat behind Draco, but he was in the lead and he stayed there.
Ginny felt something icy spreading inside her as she urged the Firebolt on. She was going to lose, she was going to lose...
Then the Slytherin turned his head to glance at her. Their eyes met, iridescent gray and gold-brown.
And, almost imperceptibly, Draco slowed. Ginny found herself catching up to him, then overtaking him, then she was clutching the goalpost, holding on for dear life.
A split second later, Draco reached the goalpost. He didn't look at Ginny.
"You win," he said.
He descended to the ground and got off his broom, then began walking away. Leaving Ginny with goosebumps, still high up, more confused than she had ever been in her life.
"How was practice?" Harry asked. He studied Ginny. "You look tired."
It was early morning of the next day, in the Great Hall, where students were wandering in to eat breakfast.
Ginny had dark shadows under her eyes. She hadn't slept well. But she forced a perky smile for Harry's benefit. "Practice went great. I'm ready to face Ravenclaw."
Harry said nothing for a moment, watching her. Then, "Did something happen?"
Those emerald eyes were too perceptive. Ginny stuffed some toast into her mouth to avoid talking, and shook her head. The kiss, Draco, and unless her eyes had deceived her, Draco had intentionally lost the race... No, nothing happened last night.
Perhaps the biggest lie of her young life.
Draco stood in the quidditch pitch, his grip tight around his broomstick. His teammates were soaring in the air, performing stunts every now and then, calling out to each other and laughing. Practice was going great.
"Come on, Draco!" Marvin called out. He was a fifth year, one of the Chasers, part of that rare breed of genuinely happy-go-lucky Slytherin. "Get up here and show us how it's done!"
Draco didn't answer. He smoothed his face into a cool expression, and kept it that way as turmoil wreaked havoc in his brain.
That stupid bet last night! Why had he agreed to it? He had started it, all of it. And why the bloody hell had he let himself lose? He was winning, by Merlin! And he had thrown the race, just as he was supposed to throw the game with Hufflepuff!
And why, why, why the bloody everlasting hell had he kissed Ginny?
He took a deep breath, watching his teammates. The Chasers performed some stunt that ended with the quaffle shooting like a bullet through a goalpost. The Keeper flew around the goalposts on the other end of the field, expertly practicing hand movements to deflect balls. And the Beaters, chortling, beat the bludgers at each other.
Was Draco going to throw the game with Hufflepuff?
His teammates were so primed to win. If he lost, he would be letting them down. But he wondered what Ginny would think of him if he failed to keep his word. Did it matter? No, it didn't! What mattered was winning. What mattered was his handpicked team, so supportive of him as captain of the Slytherin quidditch team. But he had given his word. Granted, the word of a Malfoy was nothing much, but only because his father had made it so...
"Come on, Draco!"
Finally, Draco mounted his broomstick and soared into the air. He caught a quaffle someone tossed to him, and threw it back.
Marvin dove to the ground, and let go of the snitch. It darted away.
Draco hurtled off after the tiny ivory ball with its frantic golden wings. As his hand closed around it, he hoped that someday he would be forgiven.
A/N: About time I wrote that. I hope to get the next chapter written sooner.
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