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*Author's note: I do not own anything HP*





“All right there?”

Draco just stared up at her, bewildered. He wondered in the back of his mind if he’d finally driven himself mad by thinking about her too much. Maybe what was standing before him wasn’t actually Ginny, just a mirage of some sort. He was frozen as she dropped to her knees in front of him, peering into his face with an intensity he hadn’t seen from her before.

“Hello-o,” Ginny sang, waving her hand in front of his face. “Anyone home?” She grinned.

Draco shook himself slightly. “H-hi?” he stuttered, trying to smooth down his hair after so aggressively pulling at it.

Ginny was still grinning widely -- almost madly -- in front of him. She adjusted herself so she was sitting on the floor.

“How’ve you been?” she asked cheerfully, as if they hadn’t just spent the past few weeks ignoring each other, and as if Draco hadn’t practically declared his love for her in their last interaction, and as if she wasn’t currently covered in her own blood.

Draco gaped at her. “How’ve you been? he repeated incredulously. “How’ve you-- I honestly don’t even know where to start right now--”

If it was even possible, Ginny’s grin grew even wider as she took in Draco’s spluttering. Although the smell of drying blood was making Draco nauseous, he was caught between the desire to cringe away from it, and wanting to abandon all dignity and throw himself at her. He settled on inching away from her a bit -- it wouldn’t help anything if he were to be sick all over her.

“Ginny, is that your own blood?” asked Draco.

Ginny glanced down at herself. “Ah, right,” she answered distractedly. With a quick muttered “Aguamenti!” she wet the corner of her robes, using them to scrub her face. It didn’t do much, just smeared the blood around even more. Draco rolled his eyes.

“Come here,” he said, forgetting his nausea and pulling her to him. Ignoring the swooping sensation in his stomach that came with touching her, he carefully wiped away the blood. It didn’t seem to be coming from anywhere. No cuts were visible on Ginny’s face, just inky bruises around her eyes and along her jaw. “What’d they do to you this time?”

“Just knocked me around a bit,” she replied nonchalantly, as if this were a regular occurence. With a sinking feeling Draco realised it probably was a regular occurence. Ginny was too much of a troublemaking hero for her own good, he thought.

“This looks like more than just being knocked around,” growled Draco. He finished cleaning Ginny’s face and sat back to get a good look at her. “Where’d the blood come from?”

Ginny’s grin turned wickedly triumphant as she declared, “Nosebleed Nougat.” Draco raised an eyebrow at her. “I pop one in after about ten minutes,” Ginny explained, “and usually whatever poor soul’s on detention duty figures he’s done his job well enough and let’s me off. Then as soon as I’m around the corner I take the other half of the sweet.” She paused, apparently deliberating on whether to continue. “Once I swallowed a Fainting Fancy on accident. Took over an hour for Neville to find me and shove the correct antidote down my throat.” She laughed uncomfortably.

Draco was half impressed, half horrified that she’d been in so-called detention enough times to have picked up this little trick. He shook his head at her. “Still getting into trouble, of course,” he said, but he was smiling. He couldn’t be happier at the moment. Ginny was there, with him, and all seemed to be well between them. Of course, as soon as he thought this, Ginny spoke again.

“I really am sorry, about, well, you know.” She stuck her hands in the pockets of her skirt, which must have been difficult as she was sitting down. “Things got a bit out of hand, I think, and I--”

Draco held up a hand to stop her. “Don’t be stupid,” he said, grinning at her. It was so odd to see Ginny looking sheepish like that. “I’m sorry. Can we be friends again, then?”

A relieved smile lit Ginny’s face. She all but tackled Draco in a hug, holding herself to him tightly. “I’ve missed you,” she mumbled, her voice muffled against his robes.

For a moment they sat there, just holding onto each other. Draco’s heart swelled. It would be much better to have Ginny in his life, like this, than not at all, he realised. He could be her friend.

------

Unfortunately their renewed friendship came shortly before Christmas break. In the days before they were to leave, Draco spent every possible moment with Ginny, knowing he’d face several weeks of turbulence at the Manor. He wanted to ingrain in himself how Ginny made him feel, stock up on that happiness before being plunged back into the darkness.

Things really did seem to be back to normal. Neither of them mentioned the awkwardness of the incident in the broom cupboard -- Draco wasn’t ready to revisit that, anyway. The humiliation of it hadn’t left him, rather he pushed himself to rise above it so he wouldn’t push Ginny away again. And although they’d avoided the subject so carefully -- and the subject of Potter -- he felt that it couldn’t be long before Ginny, bold as she was, would force him to talk about it as she had tried that night. Every evening he came prepared for it, but every evening Ginny talked of everything else, it seemed. From missing quidditch (“Maybe we can find a way to sneak out and play one-on-one sometime...”), to grumbling about the amount of homework Slughorn gave (“I mean, honestly, two feet on the uses of actual flobberworms!?”), to guessing what might be served for dinner the next day (“They haven’t served Shepherd’s Pie in ages, that’s all I’m saying!”), Ginny always kept their conversations light.

That wasn’t anything new, though. They always tried to stick to happier subjects, Draco thought. However, there was something, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, that was different about Ginny’s manner. He chalked it up to residual awkwardness over their argument, and let it be.

It was one evening as they were sitting, as they so often did, in their corner of the Library, when he caught onto the subtle changes in Ginny’s behavior once again. It was hardly noticeable, but Draco prided himself on knowing Ginny well enough at this point to be able to tell when something was different. He hardly knew how to describe it. It was almost as if she was allowing herself to touch him more often -- placing a hand on his arm to get his attention, ruffling his overgrown hair, leaning her head against his shoulder as the evening grew late. Aside from the fact that the physical contact made Draco want to squeal like a silly teenage girl, it was rather confusing to him. Ginny had made it clear that they were strictly friends, but if Draco didn’t know any better, he’d say Ginny might actually be flirting with him.

He had to restrain himself from punching the air triumphantly. At least, if he was correct.

He realised he had been reading the same sentence over and over again as he was wrapped up in his thoughts. With a sigh, drawing the courage to bring up Ginny’s odd behavior, he tilted his head down to where her head was resting against him.

“Ginny,” he murmured, loathe to bring the moment to an end. “What’re you doing?”

“Hmm?” She moved away from him, quickly sitting upright again. “What do you mean?” she asked innocently, turning to him with wide eyes. Draco was tempted to roll his own. He knew when Ginny was avoiding the question.

“Nevermind,” he said coolly. They went back to working in silence, her on her  essay, and he reading the chapter on human Transfiguration that McGonagall had assigned. At least, attempting to read the chapter. Ginny was proving to be far too distracting at the moment.

Only minutes later Draco noticed it again. Ginny placed a hand on his knee gently, and asked if he’d look over her essay. He took it from her, pretending to read it. In the corner of his eye he saw Ginny leaning toward him again. This time Draco angled his body slightly away from her, so instead of resting against his shoulder as she had expected, she lost her balance and almost fell into his lap.

“Hey!” she exclaimed, righting herself. She looked furiously up at him. Draco sniggered. “What was that about?” she snapped. A blush crept across her still-bruised cheeks.

“What do you mean?” asked Draco in the same tone Ginny had used minutes before, widening his eyes in feigned innocence. Ginny huffed. “Come on, Gin,” Draco pressed. “You’ve been acting differently ever since -- you know -- and it comes off a bit confusing to me, seeing as you -- you know -- don’t feel -- er --” He was stumbling over his words like an idiot, trying to get his point across. “You’re just being different.”

Ginny sighed. “I know,” she said softly, rubbing a hand over her face. Her blush deepened. “I just -- Merlin, I don’t even know how to say this -- it’s just, you were right. That night. You were right.” She looked him in the eyes with the same intensity she had the night they decided to be friends again. Draco still couldn’t tell exactly what it meant.

He was stunned. Ginny was hardly the type of person to ever admit she was wrong, and what she was saying didn’t make any sense to him. He was right? About what? That she and Potter still had an understanding, that they were still together? Or that he was wrong in the first place, that she didn’t have any feelings for him. If that was true, why was she even bringing it up?

“I’m...confused…” he finally admitted. Ginny grinned.

“You. Were. Right.” She spoke slowly, as if she was explaining something to a small child. Draco couldn’t even register how that bothered him, as he was still focusing on his confusion. Ginny rolled her eyes dramatically. “You were right,” she repeated again, tentatively taking his hand in hers. “About everything. About Harry and about...about my-my feelings…” She hesitated. “You weren’t imagining things. I do care about you.”

The confession only stunned Draco even more.

“If you care about me, then why did you say you didn’t?” he asked, not quite understanding exactly what she was saying. “I asked you, and you said--”

“I said I couldn’t, not that I didn’t,” said Ginny cryptically.

He continued to gape at her. “Well that’s just bloody confusing, Ginny. How am I supposed to make any sense of--”

“You’re not. I’m sorry.” Ginny smiled shyly. “I mean, I am a girl. We’re not supposed to make sense, are we?”

Again the space between them was silent. Draco was trying to process this new revelation. Ginny seemed happy to let him do so. She turned back to her homework, fighting a grin, and continued writing her essay. Draco followed suit, picking his book up off the floor that he must have dropped some time during their interaction, and opened it to a random page. He read a sentence here and there, not able to concentrate. Finally it hit him.

“Wait,” he began, a smile slowly creeping onto his face. “You like me?”

Ginny burst out laughing, not looking away from her essay.

“Yes, Draco. I like you.”

“Despite everything?”

She deliberated a moment, tilting her head towards him. “Yes. I’d say because of everything, though. You are who you are, and the situation is what it is. And I like you.” She leaned forward and planted a kiss on his cheek. It seemed to warm his body all the way down to his toes. Without another word, Ginny took his hand, threaded her fingers with his, and went on with her essay.

Draco felt giddy, thrilled. He felt like he could do anything at that point -- cast the strongest Patronus, successfully hide Ginny from the Dark Lord, run a marathon. He gave her hand a squeeze and flipped to the correct page in his book.

------

Two days before Christmas Break, Draco was in the Slytherin Common Room while Blaise and Pansy gossiped like girls. A searing pain shot through his left arm. Draco jumped, knocking over Pansy in the process, and wrenched back the sleeve of his Oxford shirt. He half hoped it was just a stray spider that had made its way into his shirt, but knew he was wrong. The brand against his skin coiled sickeningly, glimmering as if it were moving. Pansy smirked proudly.

“There’s our boy,” she announced proudly through her nasally voice. “Called off to duty. Good luck, darling.” The others looked up with interest.

Blaise clapped Draco on the shoulder. “Off you go, then, I expect. Will you be back before we leave?”

Draco shrugged numbly. It was unexpected, being Summoned so abruptly. Professor Snape hadn’t mentioned anything to him, and he had no idea what this meeting would involve. He wordlessly stood up, pulling on his robes, and left the Common Room.

Professor Snape met him in the Entrance Hall.

“We must hurry,” Snape hissed, practically dragging Draco from the castle by the scruff of his robes. They made their way towards the front gates. Once they were beyond the Hogwarts boundaries, Draco prepared to Apparate, planting his heel into the ground. He was suddenly yanked to the side, beneath the coverage of the thick trees lining the path.

“What the -- you could’ve Splinched me!” Draco fussed, tugging his arm out of Snape’s grasp. He would have continued complaining if it weren’t for the look on Snape’s face.

“Quiet, boy!” Snape snapped, glancing around them anxiously. “Listen to me, Draco,” he continued, speaking hurriedly. The Dark Lord isn’t pleased with his progress thus far. The fact that the Potter boy is still in hiding vexes him greatly. He will expect information from you of what’s happening at Hogwarts. If there was ever a time to put your Occlumency to use, it will be tonight. I feel you've progressed enough in your studies to be able to protect what you need to, if you prepare yourself. But you must give him something, to protect yourself. Is that clear?”

Wide-eyed, Draco nodded. He tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach and the shaking in his hands as he focused on Apparating back to the Manor. The two of them strode through the iron gates, which turned to smoke as they passed, and arrived at the front door. Draco drew his wand, tapping it once on the heavy door. The door creaked open ominously, and Snape pushed a hesitant Draco through the entry way. They paused just outside the dining room.

“Are you ready?” Snape breathed in a low whisper, almost too quiet for Draco to hear.

Draco nodded sharply, and led the way into the dimly lit room. They were the last to arrive. Snape made his way to the front of the long table, next to the Dark Lord, as Draco took his own place next to his mother. She clasped his hand silently under the table, her sharp nails practically digging into him. Her fear radiated from her, sinking into him.

As the meeting began, he sat stiffly, mentally preparing himself for what would inevitably come.

------

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