As he watched her walk away, Malfoy didn’t know what to think anymore. There was a part of him that was glad she was the one to his secret, yet another part that screamed danger. Not only was he actually caring about a mudblood, but she was meddling with his business. This meant no good. He wouldn’t go to the Room of Requirement, not today. Instead, his feet took him to the library where he gladly started reading. Anything to occupy himself… But still, he couldn’t chase the memories out of his mind. He hoped Cleaver was right: he didn't want to follow his father's hollow path. In the past, Lucius had always made the decisions for him. Now that he was older, he could see the choice; not that he had any though. His father still controlled his life, no matter how many miles separated them. Every day, Malfoy was updating his views on the world, views that his father had carefully chosen for him when he was younger, views that censored his reality. He was a Malfoy, and therefore supposed to follow the family tradition. Nobody cared what he thought about it or how he felt. Well, nobody except for this Cleaver girl.
Maria was on her way to her common room, still somewhat shocked by her recent encounter. She simply could not believe she had just had a near decent exchange with Malfoy. He had acted so calm, so detached, as if he was concealing something – there had to be something else she was missing. Then again, the thought of being murdered would be enough to drive anyone beserk. Still, it all resembled a dream more than reality.
As she passed by Dumbledore’s office, something struck her. She had made a deal with herself, a long time ago. It went as follows: she would tell Dumbledore about her suspicions if she still didn’t know what Malfoy was up to, which was true. However, she wasn’t too sure anymore if she wanted to tell the Headmaster. She was, after all, closer to uncovering the truth. But on the other hand, if his task was as dangerous as she thought it was, Dumbledore ought to know. He was Dumbledore for Merlin’s sake! He could always make things work and solve any problems.
She advanced to the stone gargoyle, paused a moment, wondering, and asked to see Dumbledore. Nothing happened. Flushing, she turned around, feeling ridiculous, talking to a statue. But as she made to leave, the gargoyle freed the way, revealing a twisting stone staircase. She climbed the high steps and arrived face to face with a large, dark wooden door. She suddenly felt very intimidated; never before had she set foot in the Headmaster’s office. Yet, she had been through Malfoy’s obnoxious intimidation; surely she needn’t worry.
She knocked three times on the door and it opened almost immediately. Dumbledore was peering into an old stone basin that lay on his desk. He lifted his gaze over his half-moon spectacles and looked at Maria:
"How may I be of help?"
"I’m sorry to interrupt you, Headmaster, but there’s something I would like to tell you… If you don’t mind," she added quickly, nervous.
"And what may that be?"
His voice was welcoming and calm. It was very soothing, which helped Maria un-tense a little.
"It’s about Malfoy, Sir, Draco Malfoy."
The Headmaster gestured for her to sit down in the chair facing his desk. As she did so, he continued:
"I knew from the start it would be impossible for him to hide it from everyone. It does not surprise me that a bright witch such as you has figured it out. Now, how much do you know?"
"I know that the Dark Lord has given him a mission. I suspect him of being a D – she forced herself to say it – a Death Eater. His task has something to do with the Room of Requirement, since he spends all his time there. It’s dangerous and he thinks he’s going to fail. He doesn’t want anyone getting involved for their own sakes, but I think it’s also for his too, because the cost is his death. It seems to me as though he doesn’t want to do it anymore; he’s proven to be... different . I’ve come here to ask if you could help him."
"Miss Cleaver, I am well aware of everything you just mentioned. You are on the right track; however, I am afraid I cannot be of any assistance to you. Mr. Malfoy already has all the help he needs; the question is whether or not he is going to accept it. I strongly encourage you to continue what you have so brilliantly started. He will need someone to lean on, someone capable of understanding. This is all I ask of you, for I too agree that he is different."
He nodded slightly and Maria understood it was time to go. She got to her feet, but something was burning inside of her. She had to ask, she just had to know:
"But, of all the students, why me, Professor?"
"Because you see the good in a person’s heart and understand the importance of compassion. You notice people who are pure-hearted and good-intentioned, even when they hide it or when you least expect it. Doesn’t your love for all animals, purest of beings, prove this?"
To these words, Dumbledore gazed upon his phoenix, Fawkes. Maria smiled; she like to think it was true.
"It’s just... I mean... Malfoy?" she stuttered.
"But you have already said it yourself: he distinguishes himself from the rest."
Dumbledore was still looking at Fawkes and was now stroking his feathers with gentle fingers. Maria turned around and left, her heart heavy.
Christmas feeling was in the air when Maria entered the common room. It seemed like everybody had already forgotten the Dementor attack in Hogsmeade. She went to her dormitory and started loading her trunk. This year, she didn’t bother taking down her posters that hung magically beside her bed. She would only be gone two weeks after all. The other girls hadn’t packed yet, since the Hogwarts Express left tomorrow at noon. But Maria was anxious to see her family again. Of course, they had written to her and sent pictures, but she was still far away.
Maria was a half-blood; her father was a wizard and her mother a muggle. She had a brother who was two years older than her that had also been to Hogwarts. He, in his time, had been sorted into Ravenclaw too. Both her parents worked in the financial business and her brother was pursuing his studies in the scientific domain. All this meant that she was raised the muggle way. But Maria didn’t mind it; she always said she had the best of both worlds, literally. She could enjoy the simple yet technologically advanced life of muggles while keeping all the privileges of the wizarding world, which she so dearly cherished and admired. However, when regarding her relatives’ occupations, she sometimes felt like the only true witch of the family.
She finished packing and slouched onto her trunk, exhausted, gazing at the posters around her. She smiled; they all featured movies, bands or muggle actors, and most of the girls here had no clue what or who they were.
But now, she was hungry. She entered the Great Hall and it was, as she had expected, crowded with people hugging and saying goodbye. As she sat down, Davies came to her:
"I never got the chance to wish you a proper happy birthday."
She looked into his brown eyes questioningly. Then, he withdrew from behind his back a long package. Seeing as he was offering it to her, she took it with a curious frown. She opened it and… couldn’t believe her eyes. She was holding a brand new firebolt. It was polished and shiny: simply flawless. She looked up at Davies in total awe, her mouth hanging slightly open.
"It’s also your Christmas present. You see, it kind of costs a lot…"
She swiftly got to her feet and hugged him vigorously.
"So, I take it you like it?" Davies asked jokingly.
"Like it? It’s perfect!"
They looked at each other. Davies was slightly leaning in, a tender smile lighting his features, when...
"Oh! I also have something for you…"
She fumbled in her pocket and mentally thanked herself for coming prepared. She gave him a small velvet box. He opened it revealing a bronze whistle with his initials engraved on it in metallic blue.
"I know it’s not a broom or anything fancy, but –"
"It’s awesome thanks!" he said purposely cutting across her.
He looked at her affectionately and a wave of warmth rushed through her. He leaned in on her but this time she didn’t stop him. He kissed softly her, lingering on her lips. Maria didn’t move - ‘Malfoy’s right,’ she thought, before breaking the kiss, ‘the bloody ferret.’ Davies looked nonetheless satisfied and everyone around them was staring. It was quite shocking, since Maria was usually rather shy in public. She sat down, embarrassed, and Davies followed her. She hastily filled her plate and started eating, listening to her friends talk. Only a couple of students were staying at Hogwarts over the holidays, as always. Maria gulped down her food and said goodbye to her friends. She didn’t quite enjoy everyone’s stare on her. Besides, she would see her friends again on the train. However, instead of going back to the common room, she headed for the Room of Requirement. She just knew she would find him there.
And she did. She barged on the concealed door, acting hurriedly before she changed her mind about it, and yelled:
"Malfoy, it’s me! Could you please come out?!"
Nothing happened. She pressed her ear against the door but the other side was silent. ‘Why did I even come here?’ she thought angrily. ‘Because you wanted to see him,’ her subconscious mind answered for her. ‘Now that’s just great,’ she scolded herself, sarcastic, as she walked away. Suddenly, the magical doors opened loudly and Malfoy strode out, looking around.
For a second, she could have sworn she saw his face brighten up as he noticed her; but then, a crooked smirk spread across his lips as he eyed her expectantly, throwing his shoulders back exuding an overall arrogant look. She dug her nails into her palms, trying to remain courteous despite his annoying expression.
"I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas." She enunciated every word almost too carefully, forcing her voice to stay calm.
His face softened at once as his smirk turned into a smile. He felt like laughing at her feeble attempt to reign in her irritation. His eyes seemed to shred off their coldness.
"You too. Take care."
Malfoy instantly regretted his two last words as Maria’s eyes widened slightly. He mentally kicked himself even though he had meant them. ‘Idiot.’
"Um, thanks. Are you going home tomorrow?" she asked precociously, cocking an unsure eyebrow at his previous response. Nonetheless, she was glad to note that his so-called ‘shield’ held a weakness, and that was all she needed to find determination.
Malfoy cringed at the thought of ‘home’. He was so lost in his own hatred and anger that he almost forgot to answer:
"No... I’m – I’m staying here."
Maria didn’t have to hear more; she knew why he had to stay. An uncomfortable feeling fell between them.
"Actually, do you fancy a walk outside?"
She had jumped on the occasion; he obviously wasn’t in the mood for snappy retorts, and she still had to find out about his secret... Malfoy was frowning, apparently hesitant.
"Aren’t you going to get in trouble for this?" he asked.
"I thought you liked trouble."
Malfoy smirked. He didn’t know what had gotten into her, but he was glad that it had.They both went to get their coats. Maria was feeling a bit uneasy: it really wasn’t like her to ‘flirt’ with two guys at the same time – let alone one guy. However, it didn’t feel like she was cheating on Davies, but rather on Malfoy. Was it because she wanted to find out about his task, and therefore supposed to focus her energy on him? Anyhow, this feeling wasn’t reassuring…
They met outside in the falling snow and away from other student’s eyes. She was glad to see that he had indeed showed up. He smirked crookedly as she approached; she braced herself for sarcasm. He waited a few seconds in silence before breaking out:
"No twenty questions tonight?"
She actually let out a chortle. His smirk grew.
"Good. I won’t have to pretend like I don’t know the answer."
She rolled her eyes in good-humor as she started walking ahead. He caught up to her easily.
"What do you usually do, for Christmas?" he asked in what he intended to be a matter-of-factly tone. His avid eyes betrayed him.
Maria stopped in her steps to stare at him. She hadn’t expected it to be this easy.
"Are you serious?"
"You’re hurting my pride, Cleaver." He frowned, faking pain, as he raised a hand to his chest.
"I was just checking!"
"Yeah, well, what do you do?"
"Not much, actually. I just spend some time with my family." She paused shortly as the awkwardness of it all seeped in. Why did Malfoy even care? She continued anyway, making up conversation: "What about you?"
"I thought we weren’t playing twenty questions."
"Actually, we should play; it’ll limit you to only twenty."
"Ha ha ha. Very funny."
Malfoy was grinning.
"Actually, I do have a question."
"Only one?" he teased.
"What does the Slytherin common room look like?"
She had always wondered and was finally talking to someone who could answer. Her innocent interrogation caught him unaware. He rubbed the back of his neck.
"Um, well, it’s green."
"Wow Malfoy. I’d figured that out myself, thanks," she mocked.
The corner of his mouth etched upwards and he went on to described the common room. After that, conversation was surprisingly easy. They walked on the castle grounds until very, very late. ‘I can't believe we're being civil to each other,’ Maria thought. Could his made up shield be cracking? ‘Hopefully.’ Both of them were happy that neither of them was bringing their usual subject up. It was refreshing. They talked about anything that came to their minds; Maria felt that she could say anything and Malfoy would still listen. Whereas for him, he was just glad to be a normal school boy for once. He trusted this Cleaver girl, even though he knew he shouldn’t. But tonight, he didn’t care, because he was just another guy talking to another girl. Or rather, a most special girl.
They walked around the edge of the Black Lake – it was frozen solid. When Maria noticed this, she pulled Malfoy onto the smooth surface, much to his protest. She must have explained to him the theory of ice skating at least five times, and he still didn’t seem to understand.
"See, you just slide… like this…"
She started gliding, but it didn’t work that well since she was wearing boots and the ice was covered in a thin layer of powdery snow. Malfoy was just standing there, watching her and half-thinking she was just crazy. It was a few minutes before he tried himself; he wasn’t bad, for his first time. She was spinning, making circles around him – only slightly showing off and teasing – when she tripped on a heap of snow, inevitably, and crashed right into him. He caught her right before she hit the hard, cold ice. He lifted her up back to her feet with surprising strength as she mumbled a shy ‘thanks’ and their eyes met. His blond hair was covered in snowflakes and his eyes were a soft, slightly blue-tinted grey, but alive with emotion. His gaze was intense. Maria felt a bit awkward and turned her head away, looking to the other end of the lake.
"It’s…beautiful," she whispered in one breath.
"Yeah, it is."
The moon reflected on the icy lake and the snow drew shadows on its smooth surface. Everything seemed to sparkle and glow in the moon light. They both stared for a while, taking in the view. Only then did Maria realize with a jolt in her heart that Malfoy was still holding her, rather tightly, to his chest.
"Um, I think we should get back now. It’s late and I’m leaving tomorrow."
"Right…" Malfoy said while releasing her, suddenly uncomfortable.
They walked back up to the castle for the second time that day. But this time, not in silence.
"I never thought I would ever say this, but skating isn’t so bad... You know... For muggles, though," he said.
"I’m glad you have a new found respect for them," she said ironically. His features twisted at the sound of the word ‘respect’. "By the way, you do know you’re a good listener."
"Yeah well, only because you listen to me." A spark of mischief lit his eyes. "Then again, everything I say is undeniably interesting."
Maria giggled against her will. They reached the entrance and Malfoy was, again, the first to speak:
"Let’s do it again, sometime." He wasn’t hiding his eagerness as much as he had before.
"Sometime," she said with a smile.
Malfoy smiled back – a real one – and they parted for their own dormitories. Maria too had enjoyed tonight, and not for the reasons she would have thought of. Of course, she was doing her job of ‘getting close to him’ and finally succeeding. He was letting his faithful guard down; she smiled yet frowned at the thought. What did he have to hide? Anyway, she also liked talking to him. He wasn’t like she thought he was. Okay, he was sarcastic and slightly - alright, very - arrogant, but he was still a very caring and gentle guy - okay, maybe not - still, his eyes weren’t as cold as one would have expected. She was pleasantly surprised and started thinking of him as a potential friend. Maybe that was it, his treasure behind his tough shield: a soft side.
Malfoy walked towards the dungeons with an unusual spring in his steps. For perhaps the first time, he had completely forgotten about his ‘mission’. He liked her very much; she was very intelligent, unhealthily clumsy yet driven. Malfoy liked that about her. Her determination and ambition made her strong. He also never got tired of listening to her voice, as he never got tired of looking at her either; the way her long brown-blondish hair flowed around her whenever she moved, her pale, soft skin, her mesmerizing eyes and her lips… ‘That don’t deserve Davies’ ’ Malfoy thought. It just felt weird whenever he saw them together… as if something inside him had just awaken and was raging to burst out. This feeling, he soon understood, was jealousy. ‘That’s just bloody stupid’ Malfoy concluded. After all, he barely knew her. ‘Okay, maybe not barely, but…’ he kept looking for an excuse, but it didn’t come. Would he have to admit he liked a mudblood? Him? Not that her blood status meant anything to him now… right?
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