In which schools are changed, students are sorted, a cat is displaced, and Draco does not slit his wrists.
Maria gingerly cleared her throat, hesitant to break the heavy silence of the invisible carriage. "So what happens when we get to school?"
"How should I know?" Her cousin sneered. Both he and her aunt were looking out the windows, steadfastly ignoring the carriage's other occupant as much as possible. "I go about my business. We haven't had a transfer student since I've been going there, so who knows what you do."
"Oh." There was silence for another couple of minutes before, "/Tante/ Narcissa? Were there any transfer students when you went to school?"
Sighing, Maria turned to look out the same window as her aunt. Two months in England and she wanted nothing more than to run back to France and never leave. Maybe she could beg Madam Maxime to let her live in the school year round. I don't see why I even have to go to Hogwarts. I could just port over to France for the year, see all of my friends, be happy again, and then come back to this trou d'enfer when the year ends. Merlin knows it wouldn't be the first time someone went to school in a different country than they were living in!
Oddly enough, the option hadn't even come up in conversation and Maria had learned quite quickly that the less she said around her relatives, the less she got sneered at.
The day matched her mood perfectly - over cast, drizzly, with a light fog. It was exactly the sort of weather she'd expected from the accounts she'd heard of London. Of course, it had been bright and sunny all summer, but she was inclined to think that it had just been a good year. She couldn't imagine her uncle's family living someplace pleasant without the very landscape being fouled by their presence.
Eventually the carriage pulled up at a train station and the three of them got out. Maria let her cousin and aunt exit first, hanging behind almost demurely. The rest of the family seemed to like it when she acted subservient, even though she hated it and would occasionally do something almost stupidly independent just to upset them.
"This way." Narcissa gestured imperiously before heading through the crowded mob. Maria was almost surprised the woman didn't grab hold of her arm just to make sure she didn't get lost. Then again, maybe she wanted her to get lost, you never could tell.
"But the luggage?"
"The house-elves will get that, stupid." Draco rolled his eyes, following his mother. "Get moving."
The station was stuffed to the gills with people - business men rushing away on out of town business, women dragging children by the hand, lovers exchanging long, almost pornographically intimate kisses - yet the whole lot of them parted almost instinctively for the tall, blonde woman striding through them. The two teenagers directly behind her, however, weren't so lucky. Maria was jostled on all sides and had to struggle to keep up. At one point, someone even groped her as she went past, but when she turned to yell at them she couldn't figure out who it had been and her aunt and Draco were a good ways ahead of her.
By the time she managed to catch up, her aunt and cousin had stopped across from one of the platform dividers. They both gave her a look that was something between disapproval and sadistic glee, but neither of them said anything to her. All her aunt said was, "Alright, Draco, you first," at which point Draco nodded and strode, head up, eyes directly ahead, through the barrier. Narcissa looked at her niece expectantly.
What? Maria thought irritably. Does she expect me to be surprised? It's not like I'm a Muggle who doesn't know what magic...
"Well? Go." Narcissa gestured quickly and irritably toward the barrier.
Oh. Trying not to blush, both in shame for her thoughts and sheer embarrassment (/How was I supposed to know I went next? /) she followed her cousin through the barrier.
The other side was no less crowded than the one she just left, except that instead of many people rushing to many platforms, everyone was gathered on one platform with a big, scarlet steam engine sitting there, waiting to leave. Maria thought it was much prettier than the plain Muggle trains on the other side, even though the others were undoubtedly more efficient. There was something to be said for aesthetic, after all.
"Draco!" Off to her right her cousin was being greeted by the pug ugly girl from the picture in his room. She automatically latched onto his arm like a leech, confirming Maria's suspicion that she was a girlfriend. "Come on, we have to get to the front of the train." She started to drag the pallid boy away toward the carmine train.
"Wait!" Maria called out impulsively. Draco turned to glare at her and the other girl looked at her as if she'd just crawled out from under a rock. Maria fell into her habitual silence and the other two sneered and pushed their way through the crowd. But where do I go?
As if answer to her question, her aunt's voice drawled frigidly from behind her. "I'd get on if I were you; you don't want to miss the train. I'll make sure the house-elves get the luggage on properly." The woman's azure eyes swept the crowd. "Where is your cousin?"
"Cousin Draco went with some," Maria bit back the urge to add the adjective 'revolting', "Girl to the front of the train."
"Ah, of course..." Narcissa smiled, a delicate twist of her coral lips, but she didn't look at her niece again, even as she moved toward the front of the train. "Well, I'll go say goodbye and you, /litten blod fÃ¶rrÃ¤daren/, can get yourself on the train."
Two seconds later, Maria was standing in the middle of a crowd of unfamiliar faces, expected to find her own way to an unfamiliar place. She wanted to bolt back through the barrier. At least in France I knew what people were saying when they insulted me!
Screwing up her courage, Maria made her way to the train.
"I take it that black haired girl was your cousin?" Securely in the front of the train Pansy had released Draco's arm and now the two of them sat, fingers twined, waiting for the other Prefects. Narcissa had come in and said goodbye already.
"Yes." Draco groaned, leaning his head against the damask cushion of the seat. "She's a nightmare! She's always insulting us in French and thinking it makes her so clever, as if the rest of us don't speak it; she's forever trying to be 'helpful'...did I tell you she wanted to give the house-elves clothes?"
"Oh Merlin!" Pansy made a face, her tilted nose wrinkling in a way that Draco found adorable when he wasn't too frustrated to enjoy it. "Just what the world doesn't need, another Granger!"
"At least Granger has some idea what she's doing." The fair boy groaned again, rubbing his temples. "Maria wants to give them clothes because they 'look cold.' And she wanted me to believe she was smart enough to help me with potions! How can you be so completely clueless about house-elves and still be able to do sixth year potions?"
"Sounds like an ego-maniac to me." Pansy rolled her eyes, then her expression darkened. "Not surprising given her looks. Probably spends half of her time in front of a mirror."
"I'll take you over her any day." Draco smiled at her, fondly brushing her heavy bangs off to the side. "You have looks and brains, something she obviously lacks."
Pansy blushed. They were both terribly aware that if all of the girls in the school were to enter a beauty pageant, the name Pansy Parkinson wouldn't even make the top twenty. She was too square, except for her face which was too round, her nose too tilted, her legs too thick, and her hair and eyes the wrong colour. Draco adored her. In fact, he was about to prove his veneration by leaning forward and engaging her in a passionate kiss when the other Prefects started filling the compartment, starting with the two people Draco least wanted to see.
"Oh Merlin, I think I'm going to go blind! For crying out loud, Malfoy, don't do that in public!"
Resplendent eyes narrowed in distaste, Draco turned his jeering expression on the flame-haired boy in the doorway. "What's wrong, Weasley? Jealous because we got here first and you can't spend time sucking the face off of your Mudblood girlfriend?"
Pansy snickered. Ron Wealsey went to draw his wand, but his fellow Gryffindor Prefect stopped him.
"Ignore him Ron. After all, if you curse him, he'll just go running to his Mother because no one respects his Father anymore."
Draco seethed. A summer of listening to his cousin's jibes had, oddly enough, left him even less ready to deal with members of his rival house than usual. She'll be Gryffindor, and she'll fit in perfectly.
There were already four people in the compartment: a crimson haired girl with a dappled face, a boy with a rotund face talking to a toad in his lap, a girl whose nose was buried in a magazine of some sort, and a boy with messy black hair who was talking to the red-head. They all looked to be roughly Maria's age.
Clearing her throat lightly to get their attention, Maria timidly asked. "Excuse me, is there room for one more?"
All four of them looked up. The girl with the magazine had eyes that looked like they were going to pop out of her head (which made Maria distinctly nervous), but she had a nice smile. It was the freckled girl who actually answered her, moving over a little as she did. "Sure, come in!"
"Thank you." Smiling in amelioration, the swart haired girl slipped into the compartment and settled herself onto the maroon seat.
"No problem. I don't think we've ever met." With another smile, as vivid as Maria's was apprehensive, she held out her hand to shake. "I'm Ginny Weasley."
"Maria Malfoy," Maria smiled a bit more confidently, shaking as she was bid. "But please, call me Mary."
The expressions of her companions instantly became a study in shocked revulsion. It reminded her uncomfortably of the way her uncle looked at her when she'd made one of her daring suggestions such as doing away with all of the smelly owls and getting a telephone. The thing she couldn't understand was how she'd managed to offend these people just by introducing herself! What, is there some custom of introduction I don't know about?
"Malfoy?" The dusky haired boy all but spit the name. Now that he was looking at her, Maria could see that he wore thick, round glasses over viridian eyes, which gave him an adorably bookish look. "As in Draco Malfoy?"
"Y...yes, he's my cousin."
"Oh." Both the boy and the flame haired girl looked at her as if she might bite at any moment. The round faced boy shrank back a little bit, and the pop-eyed girl just kept looking at her as if she were a very interesting bug.
Maria's stomach knotted horridly as realization sunk in. They probably thought she was as bad as the rest of her English family. The entire school would probably react like that - friendly until they found out who she was related to, then hostile. She couldn't blame them, really, but it was so unfair! Faintly, trying to keep up the flood of courage that had filled her veins at Ginny's smile and welcome, she tremulously added, "My parents were killed, so I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle. I...I'm transferring here from Beauxbaton."
"Transferring?" The pop-eyed girl looked enthusiastic and leaned forward. "Really? I don't think we've had a transfer student before; I'll have to tell Dad about it! Sorry about your parents. I'm Luna Lovegood." With another of her smiles, which now that Maria saw her closer were nice, but with a slightly manic undertone, extended her hand. "Do you know which house they're going to put you in already, or do you find out when you get there?"
"Pleased to meet you," Maria shook, a bit overwhelmed. "I...House? I'm not certain...Draco's mentioned them, but I haven't been told anything."
"I hope you're in Ravenclaw with me." Luna withdrew her hand, beaming. "You don't seem like a Slytherin."
"Slytherin..." Maria frowned, recognizing the word from her relatives' whispered conversations that died the moment she walked into the room. "That's Cousin Draco's house, isn't it?"
"Yes." The other four nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm from Luna, whose head looked like it would fall off if she nodded any harder, to the round faced boy's timid little bob.
"Oh, well then, I certainly hope I'm in Ravenclaw instead!" Maria sniffed, carefully straightening her quilted skirt over her knees. Perhaps if she made it clear she didn't like her cousin either, she could make some friends. "After two months of l'enfant en bas Ã¢ge terrible I want him as far away from me as possible!"
The boys both looked confused, Luna nodded absently, and Ginny giggled.
"Le enbas what?" The bespectacled boy queried, blinking.
"It means 'the terrible baby,' doesn't it?" Ginny snickered, teeth lightly clenching her lower lip.
"/Oui ! Parlez-vous franÃ§ais? /" Maria leaned forward, alabaster skin aglow. A little voice in the back of her mind was warning her not to get her hopes up, that every time she'd thought she was communicating in the past, something had gone wrong. Still, it would be so nice to be able to talk to someone in her preferred language...
"Ah, not really." The other girl grinned sheepishly. "My brother's girlfriend went to Beauxbaton and I'm picking up a little bit. That's her favorite term for my twin brothers."
"I see." Heliotrope eyes swept the other three. "Do any of the rest of you speak French?"
Three heads shook.
With a slight hesitation, the boy with the toad leaned forward and extended his hand. "I'm Neville Longbottom."
"And I'm Harry." The chartreuse eyed boy extended his hand after Neville. "Harry Potter."
Maria felt here eyes grow large. "Harry Potter? THE Harry Potter? Oh I've heard all about you!" She paused. "Funny, I always imagined you looking a bit more...imposing."
Ginny burst out laughing, as did Luna, who rather brayed like a mule. Neville's eyes went wide. Harry's cheeks colored up and Maria suddenly realized how horrid that had sounded.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I...I didn't mean..."
"Don't worry about it." Harry waved off her apology, although he still looked a bit chagrined.
Her own milky complexion pinked and she dropped her own orchid eyes to her lap. At least they were laughing, smiling, not sneering. It seemed if these people, these Ravenclaws, actually knew what forgiveness was, and fun, unlike her own family. Maybe I'll be alright after all...
The girl next to her was staring up at her. "What are you doing here? You're too old to be a first year."
"Yes, well, I'm a transfer student," Maria informed the urchin, "And that large man told me to come with the rest of you." She hesitated slightly before describing the man who had led her and the twenty or so children surrounding her down to the boats that had carried them across the lake and brought them to this room. Large seemed like quite an inadequate description. She never thought she'd see another person quite the size of Madame Maxime! It's a pity they haven't met. They'd make a good couple, even if he looks a bit...ah...undomesticated.
"I didn't know you could transfer into Hogwarts." The girl eyed her with a curling lip. "What did you do to get kicked out of your old school?"
"I did not get kicked out!" Maria frowned down at the rug rat. The girl had belligerent, sepia eyes, short, sorrel hair, and a pouty lower lip. Maria decided that she was probably going to sort Slytherin. "My parents died and I had to move."
"Oh." The girl didn't look impressed, but didn't say anything more.
Maria decided to ignore her and turned her eyes on the doors before them. On the train she and her new associates (she'd like to think of them as friends) had tried to figure out how she was going to be placed in her new house. After clearing up her confusion on how many houses there were (she'd thought there were only two, but apparently there were four) it was generally decided that she would probably sort with the first years, which indeed seemed to be what was happening. None of them would tell her what sorting involved, but they all assured her it wasn't too bad.
I hope I'm in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. She sighed, fidgeting. She'd changed into her student's robes with Ginny and Luna, but in the small, hot room, they were terribly uncomfortable. That way I'll already know people in my class.
A few minutes later the door opened and a disciplinary looking woman entered. The room quickly fell silent. "Good evening. I am Professor McGonagall and welcome to Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now, you are about to enter the Great Hall, where you will be sorted into your Houses and join your housemates."
Maria listened intently to her future teacher, hoping to learn more about the sorting ceremony, but no further information was given. When told that her future house would act as her family while she was at Hogwarts, she firmly hoped otherwise. I hardly need an entire house full of people sneering at me!
"Alright, now, everyone line up alphabetically and follow me."
It took a few minutes for the gaggle of children to get themselves sorted out, but eventually they managed. With a final nod, Professor McGonagall turned and headed into the Great Hall.
Every eye in the hall turned to look at them and the children around her squirmed with nerves. Maria herself felt calm...well, relatively calm anyway. There were a few loose butterflies fluttering about her stomach, but she managed to quell most of them. In the front of the room, just before the long head table, sat a grungy old hat on a chair. I hope we don't have to touch that! It looks dirty. Probably full of lice...ooo, I don't want them in my hair!
Professor McGonagall stepped up and stood next to the hat. A flagrant lull fell over the assembly and all eyes fixed themselves on the mysterious hat. Maria stared at it, trying to fathom what everyone found so interesting about it. She jumped in surprise, along with all of the first years around here, when the hat suddenly started to sing.
Everyone needs a family
especially when away from home
so come and I'll assign you
a family all your own!
You may dwell with the lions
where bravery is a must
or snug within the badger's den
where dwell the truly just
perhaps you roost with eagles
intelligent and wise
or perhaps the serpents are your kin,
you watch the world with cunning eyes.
Wherever you belong, only I know!
I'll place you safe and fast
in the house where you should go!
The entire hall burst into tumultuous applause. Maria was still staring at the hat and astonishment when Professor McGonagall called the first student up to the stool. "Abbot, Laurel."
A skinny little boy walked up and gingerly placed the hat on his head. It rested in his tawny hair for about a minute before crying, "GRYFFINDOR!"
So that's how it works... Maria thought. How interesting.
"Blakely, Ara." A curly haired little girl ran forward. Much to Maria's surprise, the hat yelled "SLYTHERIN!" almost instantly.
What could that cute little girl possibly have in common with cousin Draco?
"Beuler, Mathew" also sorted Gryffindor, "Costello, Hardy" sorted Hufflepuff, and on down the line until the Professor reached the chestnut haired girl who had been so boorish to Maria while they'd been waiting.
With a personality like that, I'm not surprised! Maria thought as "Jason, Isaac" also sorted Slytherin. Well, I certainly hope I won't sort there! I'm far too nice.
There were no 'k' names and only one 'l' so after "Lawless, Xena" sorted into Gryffindor, it was her turn.
Maria stepped up to the stool and, just before picking up the hat and sitting down, turned to Professor McGonagall. "Please, Madame, call me Mary."
The Professor arched an eyebrow. "Alright then, Malfoy, Mary."
"Oui, thank you." Smiling her most benevolent smile, Maria took her seat and gingerly placed the hat on her head. She was still a bit concerned about lice. After all, that dreadful Gorey girl looked like a prime candidate for them. She nearly jumped out of her skin when, the second the old, patched leather touched her piceous curls, a voice whispered to her.
"Well, you're bit older than I'm used to seeing."
Correctly ascertaining that the voice was in her head, Maria replied, "I'm a transfer student, Sir."
"We've never had one of those before. Very interesting." There was a brief pause and then, "Well, let's see where to put you. Hmmm... is this ambition that I see?"
"I guess..." Maria tentatively replied. /"I've never really thought of myself as ambitious, but my greatest dream is to invent a potion that will cure all ills in the world, or else to become rich enough that I can buy enough food to feed the entire world, or to become the leader of utopian society where everyone is treated fairly and never has any problems! All of my old teachers that I was being 'overreaching', but I truly believe I can be done!" /
The voice chuckled. /"That's ambition all right, and there's only one place for ambition." / With that, the hat announced its decision to the school. "SLYTHERIN!"
There was a smattering of applause. Stunned, Maria slid from the stool, handed the hat to "Monroe, Norma-Jean," and turned toward the Slytherin table.
Ginny looked at Harry, then Neville. "Slytherin?"
Her brother gave her an odd look. "You sound surprised. She's a Malfoy after all."
"Yeah," Harry said, "But we sat with her on the train and she didn't seem like all the other Malfoys."
"Not at all." Neville agreed. "She seemed... nice."
"Huh." Ron looked confused, then shrugged. "I guess there needs to be at least one nice person in the house."
"Draco?" Pansy Parkinson looked at her boyfriend in concerned.
Draco ignored her. He continued to bang his head into his folded arms. "Why me? Why her? Why here?!? Why, why, why?!?"
Well, at least the dÃ©cor is nice, I have to give them that. Maria thought, looking around the well appointed Slytherin common room. The walls and floors were of the traditional stone, but there were high, arching windows looking out on a submarine landscape that Maria could only assume was the underside of the lake she had crossed earlier. The furniture was all sloe leather or ornately carved ebony and the entire area was lit by massive, gold candelabrums. There was a hushed feel to it, like an elegant hiding spot secreted away from the rest of the world.
"The boys' dormitory is down the hall to my left, the girls' to the right. They're both the first doorway." Draco informed the flock of first years with his normal drawl, waving in the mentioned directions. He then turned his eyes to Maria, anemic face tightening in a grimace. "Maria, you're in the fifth year girls' dorm. Parkinson will show you the way." He nodded tersely to his uncomely girlfriend.
"This way," the girl eyed her derisively and spun toward the hallway leading to the girls' dorm. Maria followed, giving her cousin a equivocal look as she followed the other prefect.
Parkinson? Mon Dieu, he even calls his girlfriend by her last name? Do none of my family have even a hint of bontÃ©? Of chaleur? It was, Maria thought, one of the hardest things in the world to imagine.
Pansy led her past the door Draco had mentioned, from which mirthful vocalizations emerged, then past two others, around a corner, past a fourth door and then down almost to the next turn in the hall. There she stopped in front of an elaborately carved door, rapping sharply on its surface as she did so. "This," she jeered, ushering Maria though the door, "will be your room."
"And these," Pansy gestured to the assembly. "Are your roommates." She went around the room from left to right. "Alexandria von Richter, Tanith Argyros, and the twins, Rose and Jasmine Cole. They will show you to your classes this first week and tell you the rules. You understand?" She eyed Maria in as if the younger girl might have misconstrued the perfectly lucid instructions.
Maria fell back on the mechanical politeness that had gotten her through the summer with her relatives. "Yes, perfectly."
"Good. Good night." With a nod to the other four girls, the Prefect turned on her heel and paced out of the room, leaving Maria to greet her new roommates.
Taking a deep breath, Maria stared at the other girls and tried to think of what she should say. The discussion with Harry, Ginny, Neville, and Luna on the train had given her hope, but she was still uncertain of anything that shared a House with Draco. Determined, Maria smiled as glowingly as possible. "/Bonsoir/. It's a pleasure to meet you all! I'm Maria Susanna Malfoy, but please, call me Mary. I'm sure we'll all be great friends!"
One of the twins, a girl with circular glasses similar to Harry's and a wealth of corkscrew champagne hair leaned over the end of her bed and extended her hand in welcome. "Hi! I'm Rose. Are you really Draco Malfoy's cousin?"
Her sister (who looked almost identical except for squarer spectacles) rolled beryl eyes. "Very subtle Rose. Very subtle." Giving Maria a long-suffering look, she explained, "Rose has a crush on him. A bad one."
"Oh, and you don't?" Rose shot back, crossing her arms over her chest and huffing.
"Not as bad as yours!"
"You can both do better." Maria assured them sagely. "Cousin Draco is not exactly the most congenial person in the world. In fact, he can be down right boorish, judgmental, and down right prejudiced. You should hear the way he talks about Muggles and Muggleborn witches and wizards!"
"You mean the Mudbloods?" One of the other girls, the titian tressed girl who'd been introduced as Alexandria von Richter, asked with mock sweetness. "I think we've all heard his opinion on the subject."
"And you agree with it?" Maria stared at her in shock and horror, then transferred her gaze to the twins. Surely her cousin's attitude couldn't be as wide spread as all of that.
Alexandria only shrugged, walked over, and scooped the sleeping cat up off of what was now Maria's pillow. "Come on, Rosencrantz. You're bed's being stolen."
The twins likewise shrugged. "They aren't as bad as all that, I suppose." Rose conceded. "But a lot of people don't like them. They have their reasons."
"But it's wrong!"
"Don't condemn it if you aren't going to try to understand it." Alexandria snapped over her shoulder as she deposited Rosencrantz on her own pillow and then drifted between the sheets.
Maria once again looked from her to the twins who nodded in agreement and turned to their own sleep preparations. She looked at the last girl, Tanith, only to find herself being all but glared at by sloe eyes, then firmly ignored. With nothing better to do, she slunk off to her own mattress.
Okay, it had been a bad start, but she'd done worse with her family. Things would look better in the morning, she was certain. To make herself feel better, she hummed a little inspirational tune from her favorite movie and thought it very appropriate that she was an orphan too.
End Chapter 2