The following week went by very slowly. Maria had resigned to waiting and hated every second of it. She even sometimes found herself hoping Malfoy would just refuse to tell her his secret to put an end to it. But those moments were, indeed, rare. On his side, Malfoy felt terrible. He wanted to tell her for the sake of it, but also didn’t want to for her own sake. Every day, that was all he could think of. Should he take the risk of putting her and himself in mortal danger? It was a huge risk... yet pushing her aside was impossible. He wanted her by his side... but was he that selfish? She had been honest with him and he felt like he owed her something for that. It would just be fair, and only what she deserved; the truth, no matter how much it pained him or her. Even after everything he had done to her friends and her in the past, she still wanted to help him. Maybe telling her wasn’t such a bad idea after all? But only if she respected one vital condition: she would have to be extremely careful. Malfoy knew she wasn’t stupid, he knew she would understand; still, could he really tell her what he had been hiding all year? A tight, reckless feeling seized his heart.
Friday night finally came, and Malfoy showed up purposely early for their prefect duty. He had set his mind that very afternoon on what he was about to do and he couldn’t help but feel nervous – something Malfoys weren’t used to feeling. It had been a week since the last time they had spoken: they never spoke to each other in public. For the millionth time, he started to doubt his decision when he saw Maria walking down the corridor towards him...
Maria instantly knew something was wrong with him; his greyish eyes were round – with anxiousness? She felt him uneasy, and she thought she knew why. He started talking, his tone grave:
"I know it took a long time, but I don’t regret it. I really had to think it out."
Maria had a hunch of what was coming. He just looked so solemn and sorry; he was clearly going to refuse. She had been foolish to think he would suddenly change his mind when all year he had insisted on the importance of keeping it to himself. She couldn’t believe how much time she had wasted just to hear a no. She looked down, bracing herself against the final blow.
"I’ve decided to tell you; everything."
Maria looked up with big eyes in shock. She couldn’t believe her ears, but she indeed saw Malfoy was being honest; a tiny crooked smile hooked the corner of his mouth as he looked at her, hesitant. She couldn’t help it: she threw herself into his arms. He had no choice but to catch her, a bit bewildered but nonetheless delighted. Maria was simply in heaven... or very close to it. This meant so much to her; now she knew that he trusted her and that she too meant something to him. She couldn’t believe things were finally coming together... however impossible they may seem. Only then did she realize she was still in Malfoy’s arms; but she didn’t want to let go, and neither did he. She could feel his heart pounding unevenly in his chest and smiled warmly at the thought. He truly liked her.
She shivered pleasantly as his arms slid down to her waist. They both pulled slightly back to get a better look at the other.
"I should have told you before, knowing this is what I’d get." He was smirking crookedly, slightly boastful.
"And you still haven’t said anything," she reminded him, letting her hands slide down his arms, breaking free against her will.
Malfoy grasped her hand and pulled her towards the stone wall where they sat under a burning torch. The fire was drawing shadows on their faces and suddenly the atmosphere lost all of its happiness. Malfoy’s eyes were serious and hard, suddenly seeming much darker, and she fully understood how serious this was.
"Before I say anything, I want you to promise me something," he said urgently.
She nodded, her eyes following his every movement intently, and he continued:
"Promise you’ll be extremely careful. Don’t trust anyone; you never know."
"I promise," she blurted out without hesitating.
There was a short pause during which Malfoy’s expression twisted sombrely. His eyes were uncharastically dark and the bags beneath them stretched further down as the torch’s shifting shadows flickered above him. His lips were tight, almost as white as his skin. Maria had stopped breathing, truly frightened; only not of him, and not of what he was about to tell her. She was afraid for him. A frown then creased his forehead, allowing the fire’s light into his eyes again as they turned back to their usual, clear color. Maria untensed at once and something occurred to her; she hastily said it before Malfoy could place a word.
"Have you considered using a Fidelius Charm?"
"Yes, but I trust you."
Maria smiled and reached out for Malfoy’s hand. It was cold. He looked into her beautiful blue-green eyes and took one last deep breath.
He paused and frowned once more, unsure. Did he really want to put her in terrible danger?
"- can’t do this."
He let go of her hand and turned to face the other end of the corridor. Maria had somehow expected this to happen.
"I promise you I’ll be fine," she implored to his back.
Even though Malfoy was looking away, she could still sense him hesitating, his shoulders crisp as he passed a worried hand through his blond hair. He then looked down as the silence stretched on. It was a nerve racking minute before he finally spoke:
"I have to let Death Eaters into the school and," he paused, "kill Dumbledore."
Maria gasped, both of her hands flying to her mouth. Murder! He was going to have to commit murder! It was monstrous to think that a sixteen year old boy had been assigned to kill! Even worse; assigned to kill his own Headmaster! Voldemort clearly wanted him dead. In her mind, Maria connected all the dots with a sense of striking horror. No wonder Malfoy was so dreadful; he would have to murder or be murdered for Merlin’s sake! She looked at him and could tell he was uneasy – and anxious; he still didn’t know if he had done the right thing by opening his mouth about it. It was a while before Maria could marshal her thoughts effectively: yes, Malfoy was in the midst of a mess beyond measurable proportions and yes, she did want to help him. Because she liked him. That was the way reality went; ‘Might as well deal with it’ she told herself resolutely. All of a sudden, she got up to her feet, determined.
"I’m sure we can figure something out," she said holding out her hand to Malfoy.
He looked up, and couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. A faint smile marked her pale face, her hair cascading over her shoulders, her eyes mysteriously bright. That was much, much more than what he had been asking for. Without hesitating, he took her hand as she helped him up. They laced their fingers and walked along the dark corridors, relieved... yet troubled beyond measures.
Maria had a new found respect for Malfoy. She knew it must have taken a huge amount of self-control and courage to get where he was now, completely alone, without letting his secret leak. And if he had denied her help, it had been for her own sake. Every time she thought about it, her heart swelled with pity and pride and a heavy lump formed in her throat. By Sunday, she had already come up with loads of plans, but none of them were never near good enough. It would have to be flawless, well-prepared, unanticipated, organised, carefully schemed, infallible... beyond their means. The day before, Malfoy had told her everything about the Vanishing cabinets he had procured and hid in the Room of Requirement. Apparently, they hadn’t been a pleasure to repair. Malfoy had merely purchased them as a distraction in the face of his fellow Death Eaters; he had only been trying to buy some time. For what? Perhaps to live.
At first, it was hard for him to accept the fact that Maria now knew and that she was getting involved. He got used to it of course; but he still hated himself for ever telling her. She kept saying that it was what she wanted and that he shouldn’t feel bad even the tiniest bit. Nevertheless, that just reminded him of in how much danger he had put her. How could he have been so stupid – to change his mind after one short day? He cursed at the thought. Luckily, on the other hand, a part of him was thankful; even though he was in the worst state ever – quite deplorable actually – she was still there for him. It eased his despair to know that she was staying by his side no matter what. Still, it only eased it. He wished it all to be over, to forget about everything and just enjoy being with her; but Maria never stopped. She was constantly trying to think up a plan. Sometimes she even got mad at him for just sitting there while she was racking her brains for ideas. But Malfoy simply didn’t see the use of it; they’d never find a good enough plan.
The following Thursday, late in the evening, Maria and Malfoy were in the library; always looking for the slightest hints. They had been browsing through books for five straight hours, half-heartidly on his side, when Maria decided she had had enough:
"I’m off to bed; I can’t stand these Dark Magic books anymore," she said closing the one in front of her with a disgusted expression, "Or maybe I’m just sick of-"
"Looking for something nowhere to be found?" Malfoy finished for her, equally displeased and unashamedly bored.
Maria froze for a second; her thoughts flew by so fast it was dizzying.
"Exactly!" she almost shouted enthusiastically.
Madam Pince appeared from behind a bookshelf, scorning in Maria’s direction; but she didn’t care, she had finally found it.
"Malfoy that’s it! You’re a genius!" she now shouted even more enthusiastically.
"Of course," he said flashing a smirk.
Seeing as she wouldn’t stop flouncing around and didn’t even react to his comment, he began to fear for her sanity, raising a concerned eyebrow. She swiftly grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out into the corridor. She was very lively for someone who had been wanting to go to bed.
"I’ve found a plan! A really good one!!"
Malfoy looked at her, suddenly frowning very seriously, and then glanced towards the end of the corridor.
"Not here, tell me tomorrow night."
Maria looked a bit disappointed but still consented: "Alright." She spent the next day perfecting her plan. Actually, it was only part of a plan, but it was still good. She couldn’t wait to tell Malfoy; it was the plan, she knew it. Friday night finally came and they met in the gloomy corridors. However, Maria’s uplifting spirit would need more than cold stones to be dampened.
"So, what’s this marvellous plan of yours?" Malfoy inquired sarcastically, rolling his eyes underneath his blond fringe, sounding already unconvinced.
"We let Death Eaters into the school using the Vanishing cabinets; leave one in the Room of Requirement and put the other somewhere in Hogsmeade," she explained rapidly, not wanting to forget anything.
"How can that be a good thing?"
"Let me finish!" she scolded, with a hard glare, "I’ll alert the teachers and the Order before, so that they have time to prepare for the attack. I’ll say I overheard you talking to a Death Eater in Hogsmeade, or something like that. But here’s the catch; we let Death Eaters in on a night Dumbledore’s not here."
Malfoy thought seriously for a while, a concentrated look confining his features, arms crossed. It made sense, he even would have deemed it brilliant; only, something bothered him.
"It’ll be dangerous. And risky."
"But the castle’ll be prepared!" she said begging him to understand, "Listen, I know it’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can come up with. Voldemort thinks you’ve tried, I know you’ve won and Dumbledore doesn’t die."
She had listed the last three objectives off her fingers; he stared at them dazedly.
"Hopefully, so do I," he replied, pale yet slightly smirking.
Maria smiled back and sighed, leaning against the stone wall, relieved. An incredibly heavy weight had just vanished from her shoulders. She threw a sideways glance at Malfoy – and found herself ogling instead. His hair was messy, falling into his eyes – the way she liked it – and his shirt’s top button was undone, his tie hanging loosely around his neck while his sleeves were rolled up. To flaunt about the castle by day like that would have been social suicide; she was glad to note that he didn’t keep up such protocols around her. At least he deemed her beyond that, and she smiled warmly at the thought. The fact that this apparel made him look insanely good also helped her gratefulness.
On Malfoy’s side, a considerably lighter weight was pulled off his shoulders, but it was still enough to give him a reason to smile. For the first time in months, he couldn’t help but think that maybe it would all turn out for the best after all. But he quickly chased that thought; he didn’t want to heighten his hopes. He already knew too much about deception.
"Thank you," he simply said, his grey eyes smoldering.
Maria lifted her eyebrows in surprise, her turquoise eyes sparkling hugely in the dimmed light.
"Wow, you apologize last week, and now you thank me. You’re really surpassing yourself," she stated, mocking.
"I could call you names if you want," he wore a crooked sneer, "to make up for it."
"But then you’d have to apologize for being evil," she smiled to herself at her choice of words. "Which you are."
"You never let it go, do you." It was a mere observation, a fact. His blond head was slightly tilted to the side as he looked her up, arms crossed.
"Nope," she chanted, amused.
She turned around, immensely satisfied, her skirt twirling as she started walking. She was only a few steps away when she felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her waist and hot breath on her neck.
"Neither do I," he whispered into her ear, his voice alluringly rough.
His soft lips touched her neck ever so lightly; her bones melted under her skin as an overwhelming wave of emotion coursed through her veins and heart. His arms loosened and she turned to face him, a bedazzled look on her face. He was smiling, yet hunger lingered deep down in his silvery eyes as he gazed upon her. Maria suddenly felt very exposed; the spot on her neck that he had just grazed was blazing hot. She looked away, too self-conscious, and when her eyes found his again, they had lightened. He took her hand in his and they walked along the corridors together... in an almost casual manner: Malfoy seemed keen on holding her close to his side.
"I was wondering," Maria started thoughtfully, "do you always ‘untidy’ yourself after hours?"
She had gestured at his un-tucked shirt and general apparel. He simply shrugged.
"No point in keeping clean." A smirk flashed across his face. "Besides, I’d love to see you all..."
Maria had mimicked blocking her ears, turning a vivid shade of red. Malfoy let out a laugh and caught her wrists, lowering her hands.
"I’m only stating the obvious," he sniggered earnestly, his eyes clear.
"Yes – well, a little too obvious, don’t you think?" He chuckled as she frowned, thinking. "But, then why are you so clean around everyone else?" she pushed.
"For the same reasons as you."
She looked at his pale face round-eyed.
"You heard me." He was smirking crookedly, watching her sideways. "For the same reason you’re different with me, for the same reason you’re so secluded in public and so... wild in private."
"And what may those reasons possibly be?" she defied him, her hands on her hips.
"Reputation, for one: because you just don’t want to be bothered by others. And because you need to let it all out at some point, for two."
She narrowed her eyes and peered at him, suspicious. He was much more observant than she gave him credit for. Much, much more. Her expression warmed up at once.
"So, I’m shy in public?" she teased.
"Very. You look quite innocent, actually. It’s hard to believe you can hold so much temper."
"My temper is fine!"
He rolled his eyes humorously, a small smile tugging at his mouth’s corner.
"Oh yeah, it’s just fine – and I’m Harry Saint Potter."
Maria couldn’t retain her laughter. It echoed in the empty halls, stretching Malfoy’s smile. She walked ahead as he remained behind, for once in his life feeling honestly, truthfully happy. He looked her over and couldn’t help but want her. He wanted her all for him, he wanted to hear that enchanting laugh and gaze into those turquoise eyes; even though they spent half their time fighting, even though she was incredibly bossy... even though she was a mudblood. He had given up arguing with himself; it simply made no sense and for once, he didn’t mind.
Maria was already a good way ahead when she turned around, beckoning Malfoy to follow as her long locks danced about her. Seeing as he remained immobile with a strange fixated expression, she frowned gently, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.
"Maria, will you go out with me?" he blurted out loudly from the other end of the hallway.
She froze: her body didn’t obey her mind anymore. She could only manage staying picture-still as he hastily came up to her, his silver eyes livelier than ever.
"Will you?" he whispered, inches away.
"What?" was all she could answer in a hushed voice, her thoughts and heart fluttering erratically.
Malfoy cocked his head back slightly, his eyebrows furrowed, perplexity lingering on his face for a brief moment. His eyes became distant, suddenly seeming a dull shade of gray.
"It’s just that… you said my name," she said looking away and blushing.
Malfoy grinned in relief. Impatient, he added:
"So, will you?"
"You do know that we won’t be able to show off in public - I mean, because of the plan and everything; it really wouldn’t be a good idea." She was fiddling with the hem of her sleeve, watching it intently, her cheeks still red.
"Agreed," he simply answered. He placed his hand underneath her chin and pulled her face upwards towards his. There was no escaping his intense gaze. "Was that a yes?"
She smiled shyly yet keenly. Her eyes literally sparkled in the candle light, and he took some pride in noticing so. A beaming smile stretched his pale lips; life seemed ridiculously good at the moment.
However, Malfoy’s bliss was short lived; it was late and Maria had Quidditch practice the next morning. She lowered his hand half-heartedly and clasped it tightly. Curiously, a small smirk suddenly lit her features.
"See you, Draco."
She had turned and was about to walk away when Malfoy reached out for her, a wave of heat rushing through him. He swung her around swiftly.
"Draco?" he said lifting a cocky eyebrow. "What happened to Malfoy?"
She looked at him with a playful smile. She wormed out of his grasp and disappeared around the corner.
"You tell me," her voice chanted from afar.
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