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"Ron... Ron... Wake the hell up, Ron, you'll be late for breakfast." Ron Weasley stirred lightly in his bed, curling his comforter up to his chin so far that his toes were revealed to the cool morning air. Whoever had been trying to wake him up shoved his shoulder and muttered something obscene to him, which made him open his eyes and look blearily at his floating alarm clock. It read 8:20 - ten minutes to get to breakfast, and he hadn't showered the night before. Lovely.

He pulled himself from his bed with a loud groan, noting that it had been Seamus who had tried to wake him, and reminded himself to kill the boy later. He quickly pulled on his school uniform and robes, hopping out of the dorm room as he pulled on his worn shoes. Downstairs in the common room, his best friends Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were waiting for him, chatting with some straggling seventh years. Their expressions were concerned, but Ron was all too groggy to pay any attention to their conversation.

"Com'on," he grumbled, tugging at Harry's elbow, "food." Harry and Hermione bade goodbye to the seventh years and followed him out of Gryffindor. They tripped lightly down the stairs, Harry and Hermione talking amongst themselves; Ron merely grunted and rubbed his eyes, brightening only when they entered the Great Hall and were surrounded by delicious breakfast smells.

The trio took their usual seats at the Gryffindor table, Harry and Ron facing the rows of other tables, and Hermione opposite them. Most of the Gryffindors from their year were already halfway through eating, and quickly engaged the newcomers in conversation. The topic of conversation Seamus and Dean roped Harry and Ron into quickly was that of the upcoming Quidditch game against Slytherin.

Ron, being the team captain, tried to keep a positive attitude, but found it difficult to delude himself of the fact that Malfoy had been training his team very very hard since the beginning of the year.

"Don't worry, boys, we'll be fine. Those sneaky Slytherin tactics will never beat our team," Ron said strongly, scrambled eggs occasionally falling from the side of his mouth. "I really think we have one of the best teams in Gryffindor history."

"Yeah, but have you seen Malfoy's team? They have the biggest thugs known to wizardkind, and they have no qualms about brutally disfiguring us to get the Cup," Dean reasoned.

"Ye of little faith," Ron sighed, shaking his head. As he was about to elaborate, Harry tapped his forearm and motioned to the front doors of the Great Hall. Ron looked over and saw Malfoy walking into the room, completely unconcerned with the fact that he was - Ron glanced at his watch - twelve minutes late!

Ron scoffed. "Merlin, that prick has no sense of decency. Can't he at least try to turn up on time? If he's not going to come on time, he should just stay in his dorm," he said indignantly, a little louder than expected over the suddenly hushed tones of everyone else. Harry shushed him and watched carefully as Malfoy walked towards the Slytherin table and sat himself down. Ron looked on, puzzled, and turned to Harry. "Harry, what's -"

"Be quiet, Ron," Harry responded. Ron's eyebrows pushed into a confused V shape and looked around him. Almost everyone at the Gryffindor table - and the other House tables, he noticed - had turned to regard Malfoy. They should take points off for tactlessness, he mused to himself as he strained to hear the whispered conversations around him. When all he heard were mismatched snatches of conversations, he turned to look at Malfoy for himself.

Malfoy was sitting rather calmly in his spot, but was not touching his food. Ron had no idea whether this was usual or not, but he gathered it wasn't, as Pansy Parkinson soon turned to him and seemed to gesture to the food in front of him. Malfoy refused the food tersely and looked up at the entire school, a hard look on his face. 'What are you all staring at?' it screamed, and most of the students looked back at their own food. Malfoy seemed to growl at the Slytherins around him who, while still looking concerned, turned away and left him to himself.

Ron, still wearing an awfully confused expression, turned to Harry again. "What's going on, Harry?" he asked quietly, feeling as though the whole world had gone crazy. Harry looked back at him a little sadly, which threw Ron for yet another loop. Why is everyone so bloody worried about Malfoy? he thought wildly to himself.

"Lucius Malfoy was killed last night," Harry answered quietly, so quietly that Ron thought he had misheard him the first time. When Harry repeated himself, and Ron was assured he had heard correctly, the confusion on Ron's face was even more apparent.

"Well, but, I mean..." Ron floundered in his own confusion for a moment. "Shouldn't we be happy about that?" he asked quietly, leaning towards Harry. Harry gaped and looked at Ron as though he had three heads.

"Happy?!" Harry repeated in a low, surprised tone.

"Well, yeah..." Ron said hesitantly, feeling uncomfortably as if the rules had been changed on him and nobody had told him. "I mean, you knew he was a Death Eater, so shouldn't we be happy there's one less?"

"Ron, how could I possibly be happy about death? We should only be happy if this is resolved without anyone dying; not if we get rid of more and more Death Eaters." Harry sighed, glancing back at Malfoy a little despairingly. "Besides, our side didn't kill him."

"Then who did?"

Harry took a deep breath and looked steadily at Ron, a piercing gaze that frightened Ron a little. "Voldemort. Voldemort killed him for double-crossing him."

"Lucius Malfoy? Double-crossing You-Know-Who? That's ridiculous. Everyone knows Malfoy was in You-Know-Who's pocket the entire time, why would he have double-crossed him?" Ron voiced his thoughts, an incredulous expression on his face.

Harry merely shrugged.

"Nobody knows."

It just doesn't make any sense. Why would Lucius Malfoy, You-Know-Who's most loyal follower, just up and decide to double-cross his master? Ron's thoughts were abruptly halted as Harry tugged on his sleeve to pull him to the first class of the day: Defense Against the Dark Arts with the Slytherins.

Professor Lupin stood at the front of the class, taking note of every student. His eyes, however, kept turning to Draco Malfoy. He had his texbook, parchment, and quill neatly placed in front of him, and his gaze was set straight ahead. To anyone else, his stoic front might have been completely convincing, as he appeared quite detached from the bustle of movement and chatter around him. Remus Lupin, however, was well-versed in keeping secrets, and could see a very broken boy behind the vacant eyes.

Ron hated lectures, especially for classes he thought should be practical, like Defense or Transfiguration. This class period, however, he managed to keep himself occupied by alternating taking notes and pondering Lucius Malfoy's death.

He supposed that Harry was right: no death was a good death. On the other hand, Malfoy was the name he had been brought up to loathe - how could he not feel relief from the man's death? As the class concluded, Ron frowned to himself. He suddenly felt rather petty. Sure, Lucius Malfoy had been a nasty person who had made fun of Ron's family, but wasn't his murder a little more indicative of both You-Know-Who and Malfoy's own character?

Unfortunately, Ron's absorption in his own thoughts made him miss the fact that he was about to walk into somebody; and he did so, stepping on the person's foot and elbowing him in the arm. Ron's apology died in his throat as he looked over to see Draco Malfoy scowling up at him.

"Watch where you're going, Weasley," Malfoy sneered, his face visibly darkened. A sharp comeback was on the tip of his tongue, but he felt Hermione's hand tugging at his elbow. Instead of voicing his dissent, he merely sneered derisively at Malfoy and pushed past him.

"Ron," Hermione scolded lightly as soon as they were out of earshot of Malfoy, "you really ought to be more sensitive."

"Sensitive?" Ron repeated incredulously, gesticulating wildly. Has the world gone completely mad? He thought to himself. So many people had died in the war already, why was Lucius Malfoy so special?

Hermione sighed in a mixture of sadness, fatigue, and frustration. "His father was just murdered," she said in a tone worthy of a kindergarten teacher. "It's a miracle he's even in classes today."

"And if it were any of us, he'd just use the opportunity to take further stabs at us," Ron countered.

"That's not true, Ron," Harry said. "He's never taken a stab at my parents. Which surprises me, really, but he hasn't."

"But it's quite beside the point if he has, because even if he had, you wouldn't want to stoop to his level, would you?" Hermione asked pointedly, her eyebrows raised expectantly.

"Well, no, but..." Ron began, but was quickly cut off.

"You know what I think you should do, Ron?" Hermione said, as if she had come up with her most brilliant idea ever. "I think you should go and say something to him."

Ron's eyes bulged out of his head at the mere suggestion. "Say something to him? Talk to Malfoy? That's... I just... what -"

"I think it's a good idea," Harry interrupted Ron's stuttering and seconded Hermione's idea.

"Well I bloody well don't! What am I supposed to say to him?"

"Tell him you're sorry for his loss."

"But I'm not!" Two sets of furiously disappointed eyes settled on him, and he sighed. "Well... why doesn't one of you do it?"

"Because," Hermione explained, now overtly exasperated, "it would mean more coming from you. It would show to him, and to everyone, that this war isn't just about sides and who's winning. It's about family and friends and the people you care about."

Ron folded his arms and looked at his two best friends. "Fine. I'll do it." He rolled his eyes for good measure. "I must be going crazy..."

Ron stood behind a shelf of books in the library, conspicuously peeking around the corner every now and then. Draco Malfoy was sitting at the head of a table in the back of the library by himself, calmly reading a book and taking notes on it. His Slytherin cronies had left him quite a while ago, but Ron had not yet decided on a plan of action. He wanted to make sure he could say something to Malfoy and then leave as quickly as possible. He was not, however, one for plans, and after a good fifteen minutes of waiting for a plan to come to him, he decided to ditch the forethought and just go ahead with it.

"Malfoy," he said, a little more roughly than intended, sitting down in the seat adjacent to Malfoy's heavily. Draco looked up slowly from his textbook and regarded Ron with an air of superiority.

"Yes, Weasley?" he asked calmly, raising an eyebrow. Ron was, yet again, puzzled. If it had been any other day, in any other circumstances - in any other realm of existence - Malfoy would have spat in his face and made fun of his second-hand robes. He didn't.

"I, um," Ron stalled, finding his voice again, "I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry."

Draco's forehead creased slightly, and he looked a little puzzled. "Sorry for what?" Draco's tone of voice almost frightened Ron, because it was so calm and distant - very unlike the involved displays of utter hatred that Draco usually made.

"For your father. That he died."

Draco's forehead smoothed once again and he looked detached once more. "My father was murdered," he said in an odd monotone, still looking at Ron.

Ron fidgeted under Draco's gaze. "Right, yeah. So, um, I'm sorry for your loss."

"Why are you sorry?"

"Um, pardon?" Ron hadn't figured on an actual conversation. Just... apologize for something, and then leave.

"Why are you sorry for my loss, Weasley, are you deaf?" A little venom seeped into Malfoy's voice, but he was quickly detached once again.

Ron bristled, but answered the question anyway. "I'm sorry because... because people shouldn't have to die. No matter who they are."

Draco pursed his lips and frowned ever so slightly. "I know my father was no saint, Weasley, but he was still my father." The blond head turned back to the textbook, relieving Ron of the penetrating stare. "Besides, it was his own bloody stupid fault for being so arrogant."

Uhh, confused again. "Pardon me?"

Malfoy looked up fiercely at Ron, his eyes flaring in sharp contrast to the blank stare of only a few moments ago. "The only reason my father was killed is because he -" he cut himself off abruptly, visibly repressing his anger. "Never mind," he muttered. Ron fidgeted again, uncomfortable in the silence. He didn't know what else to say, but it didn't seem as if the conversation was really over.

"So... yeah. Sorry." Malfoy looked up unconcernedly, blinked once very slowly, and put his quill down.

"Weasley, do you know what it's like to lose someone?"

"Uh, no. Well, my grandmother died when I was a baby, but I didn't know her. Obviously."

"Well, then, I entreat you to imagine what it would be like to lose your father. The man you've looked up to for the past sixteen years, gone, done away with, just like that." Draco's blank eyes stared into Ron's, causing a shiver to course down the redhead's spine. Draco's eyes were suddenly captivating, and Ron found himself staring into them as his mind wandered as Draco had directed. All he could picture was his mother, sitting at the breakfast table, wracked with sobs. The image was so powerful that tears pricked his eyes, and he had to look away from Malfoy.

Malfoy sighed and looked at his parchment. "Terrible, isn't it?" His words broke the silence and Ron looked up, swallowing his tears.

"Yeah, it is. I -"

"You're sorry; yes, I know," Draco interrupted him, without inflection. Ron looked over at Malfoy, who was now regarding Ron with raised eyebrows and a slight smile. The smile, which could have been more accurately described as a quirk of the lips, wasn't derisive in the least, and spread a warm, serene feeling through him.

Before he knew what he was doing, and before he could stop himself, Ron had reached across the table the short distance to gently put his hand on Malfoy's cheek. When he realized what he had done, Ron's eyes widened a little, but he didn't move his hand. It had been a simple gesture, but it had put a crack in the wall that stood between him and the other boy.

Draco didn't move for a moment. His vacant eyes flashed something that Ron couldn't quite discern before visibly relaxing. Ron, feeling as if he were being controlled by the energy that was now flowing between them, gently smoothed his thumb over Draco's soft, pale skin. Draco closed his eyes serenely and moved his head into the touch a little. Despite being an out-of-body experience for Ron, he found it quite heartening that the other boy hadn't thrown him halfway across the room already. He sighed a little, looking at the peaceful look on Draco's face, and found it suddenly clear what he had to do.

He leaned forward slowly, finding his heart rate and breathing quicken by the second, and pressed his lips lightly against Draco's slightly parted ones. Draco began to pull away at the touch, but Ron's other hand came unbidden to rest on Draco's other cheek, holding him in place.

Well, Ron thought vaguely, this is new. But as he felt Draco tentatively respond to the kiss, he realized that this was something he could definitely get used to.