In which Mary is introduced, toes are stepped on, insults exchanged, and the prose is very, very purple.
The last thing Draco Malfoy expected to find when he arrived home from school was every house-elf in the Manor scrambling too and fro hauling furniture from the guest bedroom to the attic and back. Everyone in mourning because of his father's incarceration, yes. Aurors snooping around in a pathetic attempt to locate his father's private stash of Dark Arts articles, certainly. Spring cleaning, no.
"Mother?" The confused sixteen year old called, searching for the regular familiarity of his one remaining family member. "Mother, I'm home! What's going on?"
Two house-elves belatedly broke off from their furniture moving to grab Draco's bags, whimpering apologies and promising to shut their heads in the oven as soon as possible. The others seemed to take no notice of his arrival except to call, "Mistress! Mistress, young Master is home," up and down their little line. It was a slow process, but it eventually produced a very frazzled looking Narcissa Malfoy.
"Oh good, you're finally home. I was worried. What kept you?"
Draco shifted uncomfortably. He really didn't want to admit to his mother that he'd been turned into a giant slug and shoved in the luggage compartment. On the other hand, lying wasn't that good of an idea either. He compromised. "Potter threatened to curse me because of Father. I tried to defend myself, but a bunch of his worshipers got me first." There, that was all true...more or less.
His mother's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Indeed. Well, I'll write the ministry about that...no use even bothering with that fool of a Headmaster, but the Minister, much as we might not be in his favor at the moment, will still listen to threats. I will not have you declared free game for those crass Mudbloods because your Father actually sticks by his convictions."
"Thank you, Mother." Draco smiled, never doubting that she would get exactly what she asked for. While his father was the one he turned to first in a political crisis, it was only because he was better connected and held more immediate sway with the Ministry of Magic. He never doubted his mother's capacity to apply herself when she felt like it. A loud yelp from the kitchen as two house-elves shut their head in the door reminded him of his earlier question. "Out of curiosity, why are we cleaning out the guest bedroom?"
"Yes, well." Narcissa's lip curled in an expression of pure disdain. "I have a bit of unfortunate news on that point. Your Uncle Augustus and his silly wife managed to go and get themselves killed last week. Apparently they'd decided to go out into the wilderness with only some pathetic Muggle equipment to protect them and offer up shelter. They were stepped on by a giant. It serves the blood traitors right. Anyway, your cousin Maria is now an orphan and your Father being her nearest living relative, despite the fact the family disowned Augustus, she's being sent here for us to care for."
"They're sending a blood traitor here?" Draco stared up at his mother's pale face in utter horror. "Can't...can't we send her to an orphanage or something?"
"Not if we want to keep our standing in the community, unfortunately." Narcissa sighed. "Your Father may have given to every charity in the Isles, but the title of Death Eater has always negated the one of humanitarian. If we turn your cousin out, it will be seen as proof that we're heartless monsters." Her expression softened sympathetically as she looked at her son. "However, she won't be here until tomorrow afternoon, after the Ministry 'inspects the accommodations' and satisfies themselves that we won't feed the girl to trolls or something, so tonight we can do whatever you wish. Is there something in particular you'd like for dinner? Someone you'd like to have over?"
Gazing around the home that he'd been eager to return to, but that suddenly seemed like a prison, Draco asked if they could go out for dinner. His mother didn't argue.
"So, Oncle Lucius is in prison for murder? Mon Dieu! Well, I can't really say I'm surprised given that what MÃ¨re and PÃ¨re said about him. He's always sounded rather grim and frightening to me, although I'm sure he has his good points, other wise you wouldn't have married him, Tante Narcissa."
Draco tried not to grind his teeth together. Across the table, he was quite certain his mother was doing the same. If nothing else, Narcissa Malfoy's smile was very stiff and her fingers were clenching her fork to the point that her knuckles were white. His cousin had been there for an hour and managed to set the entire household on edge. From commenting that the house-elves looked cold and needed clothing to her comments about "Oncle Lucius," Draco was about to say that he'd rather be seen as a monster than have the girl in the Manor another second.
For the first time in his life he looked forward to the end of the summer. The night before had been down right disconcerting without his father there to drill him on what he'd learned in school that year and to glare at the waiters at the restaurant when they didn't get the food cooked to perfection. Now he was forced to share his life with this twittering, rude...Weasley, for Merlin sake! She'd been quite disappointed to find no "TV" and "VCR," and while Draco had no clue what those things were, he was certain you could find them somewhere in the pigsty the Weasleys called home.
At least when I get to school I can get away from her. There is no way that is sorting into Slytherin! The image of taunting the girl as she Sorted into Gryffindor, or even better - Hufflepuff! - was the only thing keeping a smile on his face.
He didn't even have the satisfaction of saying his cousin was butt ugly. In all honesty, she outshone every girl in Slytherin. She was tall and lithe with skin like marble, perfectly chiseled into the likeness of a young goddess. A cascade of midnight dark waves fell over her shoulder, off setting the paleness of her skin and shimmering even in the dimmest light. Wide, violet eyes smiled at the world from above the perfect tilt of her nose and the pretty, cherry bow of her mouth. All in all, she'd probably be the prettiest girl in school next year. For some reason, this left Draco feeling almost jealous.
"Will the house-elves have my room set up tonight? Or will I have to spend a night in a guest room. Not that I mind either way, of course! It's lovely just to be here."
"Your room will be ready." Narcissa replied, her lips barely moving from their tight smile. Draco heard the unspoken 'or I will know why' quite clearly, but it was doubtful that the silly, dark haired girl caught it.
"Oh good!" Maria smiled, taking a dainty sip of her drink. It was disgusting how someone who acted so much like a Muggle could have the table manners of the best Pureblood. "If nothing else I want to get my pictures up." She sighed and a wistful expression settled over her previously animated features like a spider's web falling onto a satin pillow case and marring the perfect finish. "At least then I can known MÃ¨re and PÃ¨re are watching me."
It took all of Draco's ability not to gag.
"You're leaving me here by myself?" Maria looked up at her Aunt in shock. She was aware that her family didn't like her (perhaps she shouldn't have been quite so free in voicing her opinion on her uncle that first night, but she'd been jittery and babbling), but she'd never thought she'd be abandoned on the third morning of her stay.
Her aunt sighed, straightening her jacket. "I am not leaving you alone, Maria..."
"Please, Tante Narcissa, call me Mary."
"...Draco will be here as well." The older woman continued as if she hadn't said anything. "However, I simply must go to court. Your Uncle is having his trial today, and I would sooner die than miss it. You can understand that, can't you?" Far from being a plea for sympathy, the final question came out heavily contemptuous, as if asking a particularly dim witted child something extremely obvious.
"Yes, of course." Maria replied, trying not to bite her lip. She didn't want to be left with her cousin. She didn't need her (admittedly poor) Divination grade to tell her that Draco did not like her in the least and didn't want her anywhere near him. Every friendly overture she'd made to the boy since her arrival had been met with a sneer much like the one her aunt was giving her now. Still, it didn't really bear dwelling on. "Do you have any idea when you'll be home?"
"We should be home in time for dinner, with any luck." Narcissa finished her preparations and turned to give the girl her full attention. "And you are not to disturb your Uncle when he gets home, do you understand? People don't want to deal with strange teenagers bombarding them with questions when they get out of Azkaban."
"How do you know he'll get out at all?" The question was asked innocently, purposefully devoid of any mention of Lucius Malfoy's offence or her opinion of it, but it still earned her a withering glare.
"Your Uncle will get out. I know he will. And you will not give him a hard time. Is that understood?" The cold conviction in her aunt's voice made Maria want to crawl off into a corner and hide.
"Yes, Tante Narcissa."
"Good. Well then, have a nice afternoon." With that, Narcissa swept out of the house, leaving her niece to watch her depart. The doors clanged shut. Maria felt like they were cutting her off from the world.
Without any real hope of finding company, she wandered off in search of her cousin. Her aunt and uncle's Manor was far bigger than the house she'd lived in, and although not quite as large as the Beuxbaton castle, it was a lot emptier. Maria really couldn't figure out why three people (she hadn't gotten used to the fact that she was actually /living /here) needed so much space. Her footsteps bounced off the stone walls and echoed back to her, making her feel like an insignificant speck in the grim, uncompromising view of the world.
She found Draco in the library, a pile of books next to him and a scroll of parchment stretched out on the desk in front of him. He was writing, pausing every so often to check one of the books and, over all, seemed quite busy. None the less, she cleared her throat lightly to let him know she was there.
The quill stopped its scratching and sharp, silver eyes glared up at her. Quirking one flaxen eyebrow Draco asked, his voice drawling honey slow over every syllable, stretching the work like taffy. "Yes?"
"What are you doing?" Maria kept her rose petal lips turned up in a polite smile, her manner as inoffensive as possible.
Apparently Draco Malfoy could be offended by just about anything. His reply was in the same drawl, but with a bitter undertone. "Homework."
"Oh? Can I see? Perhaps I could help."
There was that sneer again, that sneer she hated so much, telling her that even if she could help he would rather slit his wrists than accept it because he was superior to her in every way. "I don't think so. Potions is a difficult subject."
"I love potions!" Maria brightened, her face coming alive as hope swelled in her breast. Maybe she'd finally found a way to work her way into the family and gain a little bit of respect. "What are you studying?"
Draco's sneer turned to a snarl and he all but hunched over his scroll, protecting it from his cousin's sparkling lavender eyes. "I'm studying sixth year potions, post O.W.L. potions, advanced potions that you aren't ready for! Go play with those dolls you brought with you or something and leave me alone! I have serious work to do; I don't have time to play with you."
With a gasp, Maria felt her eyes fill with tears, little pearls of salt water sliding from the corners of her eyes, down over the gentle, blushed curve of her cheeks. She fought them back, pulling the thin, jet lines of her brows down in a stormy scowl. "You don't have to be like that! I'll be in fifth year next year; I'll be taking my O.W.L.s too and it's not as if I'm stupid! I was just offering to help."
"And I was just telling you that I'd rather kiss one of the house-elves on the ass." Draco sneered back. "And yes, you can tell Mother I said that! I don't care!"
"You...you... garÃ§on mÃ©chant! " Turning on her heel, Maria stalked from the room. She wanted to run, away from the room, away from the house, away from this family of people who hated her, but she wouldn't give her cousin that satisfaction.
Draco's laughter followed her out of the room. "Is that the best you can do?"
Maria managed to hold her tears back until she got to her room, her one haven in the otherwise dreary life of Malfoy Manor. Once there she threw herself on the bed and wept openly. She didn't understand how her life could have gone so horribly wrong! One day she was the prize student of Beauxbaton with two loving parents, who probably spoiled her, admittedly, but were none the less warm and supportive, and now, here she was in the middle of an unfamiliar country where everyone seemed to hate her. Why me? Things like this aren't supposed to happen in real life! They're only supposed to happen in silly sentimental stories!
Her aunt and uncle were home in time for dinner. Determined to make a better first impression on her uncle than she had her aunt and cousin (she was, after all, much calmer and more aware of what she was saying), she hunted through her closet and selected her best dress to wear to dinner. It was a pale lilac with dark plum roses on it and short sleeves. Her mother had given it to her for her birthday just that past fall. A pang of loss went through her as she looked at herself in the mirror, trying to decide what to do with her hair. She finally pulled it back with two barrettes, curling it into little ebony ringlets that spiraled delicately down her back. Snowy tights, her sable, formal slippers, a heart shaped opal necklace (her birthstone) and matching earrings finished the outfit.
She examined herself as best she was able in the mirror, added a fine dusting of pearly eye shadow, and smiled. "There! At least he won't be able to complain about my appearance!" Feeling better about herself than she had since her parents' funeral, she all but ran cheerfully from the room to go and greet her uncle.
She almost ran into Draco rounding the corner to the staircase. The boy eyed her as if she'd just crawled out from under a rock. "Watch where you're going."
"Sorry." She somehow managed to choke down her retort of 'why don't you' and stick to the basic apology.
The politeness bounced off her cousin as if he were wearing dragon hide. "What are you wearing?"
"A dress." Maria snapped, not taking a care for her tone until it was too late. She made up for it by answering primly. "I thought since I had the time, it would be best to look proper for Oncle Lucius when he got here. I see you've decided not to dress for the occasion."
Draco snorted. "I knew Father was going to get out of Azkaban. They couldn't keep him there if they tried." Pride edged its way into his voice, his chin notched up, and his lips twitched up at the corners in that superior manner of his. "Besides, I am dressed for the occasion. You can bet that Mother won't be wearing some silly ball gown simply because she's glad Father's home!"
"It's not a ball gown, you bouffon stupide! It doesn't have a puffed skirt, or puffed sleeves or anything of the sort!"
"Oh, your insults are getting better!" Her cousin's smile was sickening saccharine, like over frosted cake. "Did you spend all day practicing them? I'd also advise not using them around Father. He's the one who taught me French."
"I'm sure Oncle Lucius will give me no reason to use them!" Determined not to let her cousin have a chance to retaliate, Maria turned and stalked down the stairs. Behind her, Draco was once again laughing. She ignored him.
For such a large house, Maria had leaned her way around rather quickly, at least when it came to certain rooms. She could find the library, dining room, main ball room, visitor's study, and her room from just about any place on the grounds. She'd also stumbled across her cousin's room, but she didn't like to think about that. The walls had been covered in Quidditch posters and pictures of some pug ugly girl (probably a girlfriend), two offish gorillas, an attractive yet haughty looking black boy, and a scrawny little boy who would have looked better in Maria's dress than she did. The members of the Quidditch team had been the only ones smiling at her, and she'd gotten the horrid feeling that if they hadn't been paid to smile, they would have been glaring down at her with the same look as the others, silently demanding to know what she was doing there.
The dining room was one of her favorite rooms in the house. True, the portraits here, like everywhere else, tended to either ignore her or eye her disdainfully (Draco's room was still the worst!), but the walls and floor were paneled in wood as opposed to the stone of the hallways and library, and it gave the whole room a warm feeling that most of the rest of the Manor lacked. In the center sat a beautifully carved cherry wood table, adjustable in length. It was currently situated to seat four with a large amount of food in between. The chairs were of matching wood, their seats and backs covered with rich, emerald velveteen. The spare chairs were lined up against the wall. The whole room was lit by a giant, elaborate chandelier made of crystal that glimmered like diamonds. Maria thought there must be thirty six hundred crystals in that one chandelier.
Narcissa Malfoy was already there, standing next to the table and speaking in a low voice to a tall, slender man. His skin was ivory, as was his short, slicked back hair and his robes, while clearly of high quality, were badly rumpled and slightly grungy.
This, then, was her uncle. Dirt and wrinkles aside, Maria rather thought he should look a bit more ragged, having just come from prison, but she supposed he really hadn't been there too long. Not even a full month.
He must not have been guilty if they let him out so soon, She thought ruefully. No wonder Tante Narcissa and Draco have been so sore with me. The things I said the first night! They must have known he was innocent. She was determined to make up for her error and therefore stood still and silent, waiting to be noticed.
When at last the conversation ended and Lucius Malfoy turned to look at her for the first time, the first thought that struck her was that yes, this was definitely Draco's father. Argentate eyes gazed frigidly down at her, as if they could look past her skin and into her soul, pull her apart and judge her innermost being. It was a bit unnerving.
"So, this is her? Our vÃ¤hÃ¤inen mÃ¤Ã¤rÃ¤ totuttaa vereen kavaltaja? " Lucius' tone as he spoke was friendly enough, but it held an unpleasant undertone that made Maria suspect it wouldn't sound so friendly if she could understand whatever language her uncle had just used. A short, soft chuckle behind her - obviously Draco - seemed to confirm that suspicion.
"Yes." Like her son, Narcissa seemed familiar with the strange language her husband used, but she didn't laugh.
"Indeed." Another sweep with his silvered gaze and Lucius asked, "And what's your name again girl?"
Feeling she had a bit more of an advantage now that the conversation rested on her, Maria answered as primly and properly as she knew how. "Maria Susanna Malfoy, but please, call me Mary."
"Hn. You look like your Mother."
Maria felt ready to float with pride. It glowed up through her, causing her cheeks to flush and her amethyst eyes to sparkle brighter than the crystal lighting the room. Finally, she'd managed to impress one of them! "Thank you very much! People always say that." She curtsied at the compliment.
Her elation died as her uncle's upper lip curled in a slow sneer, worse than anything Draco had ever graced her with. Malice hardened his eyes to little ashen stones. "Yes, well. Shall we eat?"
Maria couldn't even reply. She simply nodded. Confusion twisted her stomach in knots. Perhaps he'd thought she was belittling his compliment by mentioning it was a common one? But that's so silly! He must have known I was being honest! Unhappily resigning herself to her confusion, she watched the dishes magically appear on the table.
The food was served and half eaten in silence. Several times Maria tried to get up her courage to say something, but then her uncle would cast a covert glance at her out of the corner of his eye, as if to make certain she wasn't making a mess, and she changed her mind. Finally, though, finally she got up the courage to ask, "Oncle Lucius?"
The auricomous man at the head of the table looked at her diffidently over a modest forkful of potatoes. "Yes."
Clearing her throat a little, Maria continued. "I was wondering.../MÃ¨re/ and PÃ¨re left me enough money, I was wondering if, sometime convenient, we could go someplace and I could buy a little TV?"
Across the table, Draco nearly choked on a mouthful of greens.
"A what?" Her uncle looked at her as if she were speaking in tongues.
"You know, a television." Maria prompted, not understanding how the whole family could not know what something as simple as a TV was. Narcissa watched her through narrowed eyes, her nostrils flaring slightly. Draco was practically goggling at her, as if she'd just suggested flying to the moon.
Lucius simply smiled, slow and malevolent. "Ah, yes. I've heard Arthur Weasley speak of those. They're a Muggle device, are they not?"
"Yes!" Maria nodded cheerfully, once more pleased that she was communicating.
"And your parents, your Mother especially, liked Muggle things, didn't they?"
"Oh yes!" As much as she didn't like to think of her loss, Maria had always loved her parents and was delighted to finally be talking to someone about them. She had tried several times to start a conversation with Narcissa on the subject and had always been shooed from the room. "We had all sor..."
"Well I don't."
Maria blinked, the words cutting through her happy babbling. All trace of a smile had vanished from her uncle's face, leaving only his eyes, staring at her like the eyes of twin hurricanes, Dementors sucking the happiness from her. Helplessly she turned to her aunt, but Narcissa refused to look at her. Draco sneered at her, his expression a less subtle mimicry of his father's. Finally Maria dropped her eyes to her plate. "Oh." A couple of silence filled moments later. "May I be excused?"
"Of course." Lucius drawled, bored, disdainful.
Maria stood up and, not caring what they thought of her, ran from the room.
"So, what do you think of your niece, my love?"
"If we're lucky, the Dark Lord will kill her and we can earn a bit of sympathy for our 'loss.'"
End Chapter 1