The End of the Beginning

By Andrew Crawford

Drama / Romance

Chapter 44

"Don't watch your feet; you want to be looking up at me."

"I'm trying; I just didn't want to step on your feet."

"I know, but that is why we memorize the steps so you won't have to think about them." Hermione waved her wand at the record player, "Now one more time tonight."

Neville lead her in the first few steps of the dance beautifully. He caught the front edge of her toe right before the verse ended and kept looking down after that, but it was a vast improvement from when they had first started. Her feet had been sore for quite a while after their first session.

"Very good Neville, you're coming along smashingly. Hannah will be blown away." She gave him an encouraging smile. "Want to meet one more time before the ball?"

Neville blushed, "No, I think I got the hang of it now. I really appreciate this Hermione; sorry for all the times I stepped on you."

"It's quite alright, it happens." Hermione waved her wand again to switch the record player off. "I'm more than happy to help."

"So how are things with Harry?" Neville bent down to take his dress shoes off.

"They're great."

"You know, I always wondered about you two. You were always very close."

"He's my best friend." Hermione smiled, "Always has been."

Neville smiled and shook his head. "So I have to ask, was it you that put Harry up to inviting Malfoy to the after party?"

"I didn't put him up to anything. I simply pointed out how sad it was that Malfoy didn't seem to have anyone that cared, no friends to speak of."

"I see."

"Though I agree with what Harry did. You'll be nice to him won't you Neville?"

"It's a little hard to be all chummy with him all of the sudden," Hermione rolled her eyes, "but I suppose I'll do my best. Thanks again Hermione, see you around." Neville walked passed her and out into the second floor corridor. They had been practicing in an empty classroom. Hermione put away the record player and record she had borrowed from the library and took a seat in a chair, enjoying the silence. It wasn't often she got to pause and just listen anymore.

The sound of footsteps came up to the door and someone knocked softly before pushing the door open.

"Hi." Harry took the chair next to her. "How'd the lesson go?"

"Quite well, Neville really has gotten much better."

Hermione felt butterflies flutter in her stomach for reasons she wasn't sure of. "So, are you ready for the ball?" Harry asked, smiling nervously.

"Not really if I'm honest." Hermione looked at her feet, "Maybe it's just out of habit or for some other reason I can't tell, but I'm still scared."

"I'm pretty nervous too."

Hermione looked up at him and couldn't help but laugh. "Harry Potter? Nervous? You're the bravest person I know."

"Well in hindsight, everything I've ever done looks more stupid than brave." Harry smiled.

"I'd say it all worked out in the end."

"Yeah. This will too you know."

"I know." Hermione reached down and squeezed his hand. She thought of all the times she had been scared and how Harry had always grabbed her hand while they helped each other survive. This wouldn't be any different. "I love you, Harry."

"I love you too."

"Watch where you're going Malfoy."

Draco never did get used to the sneering of his housemates. He walked out the entrance hall and onto the grounds towards his one sanctuary from the dirty looks and whispered insults. It was a small grove of trees just inside the grounds on the far side of the castle.

He plopped down and heaved a deep sigh.

This is not at all how it's supposed to be.

His final year at Hogwarts should have been about making plans for a bright future of Ministry success, basking in quidditch glory and sticking it to Potter whenever he could.

Instead it had been a year's worth of being a bigger outcast than that oddball Lovegood girl. Even his own housemates only gave him short reprieves when he played well in quidditch. With Crabbe dead and Goyle awaiting trial he had no one to turn to, no friends to speak of.

It wasn't fair. None of it. His mother wrote to him weekly, but he had stopped reading the letters ages ago. They always said the same thing. Always prattling on about how they would make it through this and how his father would keep them afloat until everyone stopped hating them. He hadn't spoken to his father in months.

His father had always been his hero, the one person he looked up to the most. He was powerful, connected, liked and respected. People stepped aside and tipped their caps when Lucius Malfoy walked by. Draco idolized him, but he hadn't been able to live up to him. His father had strength of will that Draco lacked. Where his father acted with purpose, he had only shown reluctance.

His father loved him, which Draco knew. Lucius would have never abandoned his cause for anyone else besides his beloved son. It was the one thing that kept their relationship afloat. But somewhere between his first and second battle at Hogwarts something had broken. They had both reached their breaking points.

"You know, if you keep that scowl on forever then your face will get stuck that way."

The voice surprised him out of his reverie, the Weasley girl stood a few feet in front of him.

"What?"

"It's something my brothers used to tell me. You look miserable."

"What do you care?" he snapped.

"Who said I cared? I was simply making an observation." She replied coolly.

"Then why are you here?"

"I can walk wherever I please thank you."

He stared into her brown eyes. There was a spark of defiance in her face that complimented her athletic features. If he looked passed the fact that she was a Weasley, he had to admit to himself that she was a pretty girl.

She peaked one of her eyebrows.

"Sorry." He mumbled, looking away at the tree to his left.

Was he just checking me out? He can't be serious.

Ginny looked down at Malfoy. He was staring off to his left, purposely not making eye contact. It used to be the sight of him made her want to hex him into jelly, but the person sitting on the grass was a shell of the boy who used to torment her friends. She almost felt sorry for him. She did feel sorry for him.

"Listen Draco, why don't we start over?" she reached out a hand.

He stared back at her in disbelief. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, let's try and put the past behind us and start fresh."

"Why? Why would you want to do that? What are you people up to? First, Potter invites me to that party and now this." Draco looked like a cornered animal.

"Is it so bad to have people that want to be your friend?" She answered the confused look that flashed across his face before he spoke, "My mum always taught me that there was some good in everyone, if you're willing to take the time to find it."

She could see him thinking hard. What is he so afraid of? She couldn't help but notice his light grey eyes, so cold in all the years she had known him, had thawed and were more the palette of a rainy day.

He finally reached out his hand to her and she firmly shook it.

"Good, now I'm going to finish my walk before the free period is up. You can join me if you like."

She turned away from Draco and walked towards the lake.

He had just made friends with a Weasley. His father would have a fit. Then again, Draco had already begun to wonder if being like his father was really what he wanted out of life.

He still didn't get why she had been so nice to him or why Potter of all people had reached out to him. He had spent all his years here taking joy out of doing what he could to make them miserable. They were beneath him; at least that was what he had been taught to believe. But maybe there was something to them after all. They were willing to forgive or it seemed that way and that was something even Lucius with all of his willpower was unable to do.

Draco rose to his feet and brushed the grass off of his expensive robes. At the very least he had little to lose for trying something new. He headed in the direction of the lake at a leisurely pace, assured his longer legs would catch up to her before too long.

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