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disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and Draco's hug ;) A/N: well I did say it wouldn't take so long to put this up! Not exactly one of my favourite chapters I find this one a little too rambly despite its shortness (Yes I am fully aware how short this chapter is but it just can't be helped!) but nonetheless it had to be written so here it is. Enjoy!
*** ONE STEP FORWARD ***
It seemed to Draco that forever had passed since Granger and him had stood on the balcony when it was only over an hour ago. She had asked and he, after a long silent debate in his mind, surrendered the story of his family curse to her. She had listened carefully, giving him her fullest rapt attention as the twisted tale of ancestor Malfoy came tumbling forth from his lips. She was scared, there was no doubt Draco could feel the heat of her fright from the close proximity of the positions in which they were standing in. He could feel every thread of emotion weaving through her and it made his own physical and mental self respond in ways he had no control over. A long yet somewhat soft silence ensued as he concluded his little storytelling session, trailing his voice off into nothingness. His mind fell into thought and he knew she was succumbing to the same thing. Silently, he wished he had mastered the skill of Legilimency but the moment he thought it out, he quickly banished it from his mind. No. Interfering with magic was always bad, he had had plenty bad experiences to learn from. Her whispery voice came flowing out of her lips in a tone that proved to him just how weakened she was by what he had just told her. "Is there no way around it at all?" "No, I ... hadn't thought of it ..." He paused. Why hadn't he thought of it? Why hadn't he searched feverishly for ways to counter the curse and escape death and disinheritance? Why had he readily accepted his ill fate without a second thought? Then the answer came to him. Of course. It was so obvious. "I mean ... don't you think the past eleven generations of Malfoys have tried to escape this curse?" She nodded and he found himself relaxing slightly as though her nod was an approval he had been waiting for. "I never knew ..." "Neither did I ..." She pursed her lips. The simple gesture comforted him for some unfathomable reason. He put it down to familiarity; he had been so used to seeing her purse her lips in anger at him although at that moment there was anything but anger in her expression. Instead, her face held a sense of calm serenity with a tinge of worry that had been the theme of the night. "Malfoy ... can I ask you something?" He nodded, she paused. "Why, after all these horrid years ... why do you seek my friendship now?" He had no ready answer for her and the more he stared at her, getting lost in the complex vortex of the soul in her eyes, the more confused he became. Why did he? Why her? What was so important about befriending her? And it came back to him. That terrible night. That fateful night. He swallowed hard and looked away at the distant stars twinkling innocently in the night. "Do you remember ... the night after the end of the Great War? After Potter destroyed You-Know-Who and the remaining Death Eaters went on a rampage until they were almost all destroyed by each other? I had fought on your side, the good side and when I came home ... my father was there. He was furious with me for betraying him and the Dark Lord. You might not remember this but he had seen me jinx and hex several Death Eaters by your side when Weasley went down and Potter got engaged in a battle with You-Know-Who. He saw how much harder I fought when you were taken down yourself although at that moment all I wanted was to hurt as much of the Dark Side as possible. I had no other intention. "When I came home, he confronted me, asking me how dare I, as a Malfoy, fight alongside a mu-ggleborn. Well, you can just imagine the names he'd used but I won't repeat them. He questioned my family pride and when I spat and told him I had none anymore whatsoever, he was livid. He accused me of being a traitor to family and I suppose that's just about accurate. He threatened to bring you down because he refused to see any other reason other than you putting me under the Imperius Curse just so I would do your bidding and help destroy the Dark Lord. "I was pissed, basically. My father was never the rational one, always making impulsive false accusations but for some reason, that night he had gone too far. My tryst with the Good Side had come from no one but myself and to blame it on you was just preposterous. See, I won't deny I admire your skill because for a muggleborn witch you are exceptionally excellent. I for one, didn't want to see you get hurt by my father's crazed assumptions. He was already severely hurt during the Great War and I knew he was not up to par but I didn't give a damn. "I ended up sending him to Azkaban and from then on I swore to myself that no matter what I would never turn out to be like him. I wanted to change, I wanted to be different from the Draco Malfoy I used to be. And most of all, I craved for friends, real friends. I wished for someone to understand me and never in a million years did I imagine I'd get it from you. You have to realise I did not plan this out, I did not come back from this horrible nightmare of sending my own father to prison thinking 'oh let's make friends with Potter and gang!' I still loathe Potter, I still dislike Weasley but you were different." Draco blinked quickly and slowly turned around, leaning back against the railing and looking at her square in the eye. She was a picture of fragile loveliness that not even Rembrandt, known for his angelic portraits, could even paint right then. More than anything he wanted to be her shelter from the imminent death that was encroaching on her with each day and he sighed softly at its impossibility. "I guess to put it simply you became the one good thing in my life since I came back to school. You became my source of welcomed distraction from my private woes although you didn't even know it. All those times we had to go patrolling together or when we had to attend prefect meetings and all we did was banter back and forth ... I reveled in those witty sarcastic comebacks you always supplied me with. And then I saw you cry. That was when it started. I saw you as a person instead of just someone to provide me with verbal entertainment." His voice dropped down a notch, his eyes searching into hers for what he did not know. "Then Hogsmeade happened..." "Hogsmeade..." She stepped even closer to him, amazement flitting over her face. "It finally started at Hogsmeade ..." He gave her a faint nod, taking great notice of the minimal space between them and the fact that it just felt completely natural. He was at ease with their position and from the way her body language was moving in a relaxed manner, he could tell she was the same way. "So we're friends now? After all those years you were completely horrible to me and my friends?" "I suppose an apology is on the cards .." "A full-out apology ..." "I do owe you a big one ..." "Yes, really big ..." A moment of pause, then bright laughter bubbled forth from both of them. It was unknown what the cause might be, for nothing obviously funny had happened so Draco put it down to an outlet to relieving their mounting stress due to their own separate miseries. He had not really laughed for the longest time, not being able to find anything truly funny to laugh at. He shook his head and smiled at her, taking in the sight of the way her eyes lit up when she laughed; how her face shone as she laughed. Her crazy hair suddenly did not appear so crazy anymore, if anything it only added a certain zesty bounce to her appearance. He leaned in and gave her a quick tight hug. "Goodnight, friend," he whispered and pulled away, giving her a playful salute before stepping out of the french windows and making his way into his room to retire for the night.

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