A/N: I thought I'd add this to my collection here (makes me look a tiny bit more productive than I actually am :) It's a Downton Abbey/Harry Potter crossover of sorts, written for Emily31594 as part of the M/M Fandom Secret Santa Project as Crawleyhouse on tumblr.

Needless to say it was real fun to put HP and D.A. together, two of the best fandoms to write for imo. So I hope this is a bit of fun for you guys, too. Enjoy :)

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, December 1913.

The Express kept gathering speed and quickly disappeared from view into the snowy landscape that surrounded Hogsmeade's train station, where only a few figures stood scattered around to wave off siblings and friends who were on their way home for the Christmas holidays.

It was freezing and Mary's breath clouded the air around her head. She was the only one clad in an elegant black cloak with a silver clasp and a green striped scarf wrapped around her neck. No other Slytherin had bothered to come out here simply for the sake of seeing off some annoying brother or sister. She had wanted to bring Sybil in person, if only to catch one of those precious few moments she ever got with her youngest sister…

Sybil was a Gryffindor.

Granny had nearly had a stroke when the news of Sybil's sorting had reached home. In over five generations there had been no Gryffindor in the noble House of Grantham. Some Ravenclaws, yes, even a Hufflepuff in 1806…

But Sybil was special in many ways. She would spend this Christmas in Ireland with her boyfriend, Tom Branson. Another red and gold one Tom was a pure-blood at least, Aunt Rosamund had argued. And even Papa, after some struggle, seemed to take a grudging liking to the young Irish wizard.

Now in her seventh and last year, Mary had chosen to stay at school over the holidays. The decision had made her feel very grown up and important. But now that the train had left, she almost wished that she had been on it as well.

Edith and Patrick had gone home to Downton together and Mary was sure that her sister would take full advantage of her absence. Their family had long ago decided that Mary ought to marry her cousin Patrick, for the sole purpose of keeping the bloodline 'pure'. Naturally this could also be achieved if Patrick chose to marry Edith…

The small station was deserted by the time she pulled her cloak tighter around herself and turned to leave. Mary took one look over her shoulder and rolled her dark eyes in exasperation.

Matthew Crawley stood a few paces away from her, clutching a small suitcase in his right hand and a broomstick in the other. He was staring at her intently, his blue eyes uncannily bright in the snowy landscape.

Mary glowered at him.

He had threatened to stay behind, if she did. Sybil's confounded boyfriend must have blabbed, otherwise he could not have known that she had lied to him. Or had he actually waited here all this time to see whether she would board the Hogwarts Express with her sister?

Mary had told him that she would, simply to get him to go home. She sighed heavily and dropped her gaze down to the muddy snow below her fine black leather boots, half hoping that he would just disappear and leave her alone. The dark curtain of her hair was blown around by a freezing gust of wind.

"I knew you were lying, you know."

Mary couldn't help herself and laughed unkindly at his words. "So?" she spat, looking straight at him at last. He carefully edged closer, probably afraid that she might hex him. It had happened before. "You should have gone home." she chided more seriously.

But Matthew's smile remained angelic and she grew irritated. His round cheeks were bright red with either excitement or bashfulness and she quickly fixated on the equally red scarf tied neatly around his neck. Worst, he was wearing that look again…

That ridiculous, stupidly hopeful look which annoyed her to no end.

The truth was, there had been only one kiss…two years ago. And Matthew had still not let it go, even though she had explained to him over and over why exactly there was no future for them as a couple.

At first, he had reacted with sulleness and hurt pride, as befitting many a sixteen year old wizard who had been rejected, but for some reason, he seemed to have gathered new hope since last summer. Mary had a horrible suspicion that Sybil might have told Tom something. The two boys were good friends and room mates…

However, the fact that Matthew was a Gryffindor did not weigh in as much in her refusal to go out with him as one might think. No. The real problem was another…

His father was a pure-blood, even distantly related to the House of Grantham as her father's third cousin, once removed. Unfortunately, Reginald Crawley, a renowned medical wizard at St. Mungo's hospital, had fallen in love with a muggle woman, a nurse working in a muggle hospital in Manchester.

The result was a half-blood wizard, not only with a muggle-born mother…but…how did Lyra Black put it? "He's basically half-mudblood!" The ugly word had hit Mary in the face like a slap. Once the rumours had started that she might be interested in a Gryffindor, the Slytherin girls had come down on her like a pack of hungry vultures. Of course they had enjoyed the scandal immensely.

"A muggle mother-in-law? Oh, lucky you!" Griselda Goyle had sneered. "Your children would be one quater mudblood!" Lyra had cried in horror. "Honestly, he looks more like a muggle than a wizard." Lucinda Malfoy had decided with a disdainful sniff…

Mary had wanted to hex them all into oblivion, but instead, she had told them roundly that it was all nothing but horrid gossip and if they didn't cease their nagging, she would tell everyone about that time she had caught Lucinda in the Quidditch broom closet with a Sixth Year Hufflepuff.

Blackmail was still the most popular currency amongst Slytherins. And also the most effective…

"Won't your mother miss you?" Mary asked, ignoring the arm he offered, as she began to trudge the path back up to Hogwarts, her feet sinking in the snow with every step. She saw him flinch out of the corner of her eye. "Sorry." she muttered half loud, "I don't actually wish to talk about your mother."

"Why not?" Matthew wondered, blinking at her with keen interest. Mary grimaced. She hated this. All of this. There was simply no right and no wrong anymore. Of course she knew what was considered proper, but she did not like to think of it like this. "Because of…reasons." she offered lamely.

The Hogwarts carriages, converted into sleighs in winter, stood ready behind the station. When Matthew seemed to lag back, staring dumbly into space in front of the sleigh, Mary hesitated. Part of her was relieved that he did not seem interested in joining her on the ride back up to school…whereas another part was incredibly put out.

"What is it?" she demanded after all, haughtily rearranging her magnificent black cloak in her seat.

Matthew raised one hand and touched something in mid-air, shook his head and finally turned to climb into the seat next Mary, though there was plenty of space all around them. It occurred to her that they were quite alone…

"You can't see them, can you?" He smiled sadly. "See whom?" she asked testily. Instead of replying he stared down at the folded hands in his lap. And suddenly his bright red cheeks lost their vivid colour and all of his bashful excitement disappeared. Mary's frown deepened, though she did not really want to ask what was wrong.

"I myself can only see them since the summer…"

She did not know what possessed her, but something in the way he spoke, in the way he cowered and hung his head, caused her left hand to withdraw from the warm interior of her heavy cloak and wrap all five fingers around the cold hand that trembled slightly on his right knee.

Matthew stared at their entwined fingers in awe, but as he gratefully flexed his hand around hers, the blessed touch was withdrawn again as quickly as it had appeared. Mary buried her hand back in her cloak and turned to look out at the vast expanse of the great lake as they raced past it, the weak winter sun gleaming ominously off the silvery surface.

The young wizard next to her cleared his throat. "Would you like to go to Hogsmeade later?"

"No." Mary lied.

To her surprise, he left it at that and remained oddly silent for the whole rest of their journey. When the sleigh pulled up at the main gate of the castle, Matthew hopped out first and gallantly offered to aid her descend. Once more, she ignored him.

"Professor Dippet said the Three Broomsticks opened again." Matthew tried unperturbed. The ancient village Pub had been shut down for nearly two weeks now after a gang of trolls had found its way into the area and rampaged half the village.

Matthew followed her through the castle until he could go no further. At the entrance to the Slytherin common room, Mary turned around, irrationally angry at his puppyish behaviour. "You should have gone home to your muggle mother…I don't know why you think that things have changed, but they haven't." Her voice was hard. "I have to concentrate on N.E.W.T.s and I…well, I don't want to spend time with you. So just leave me alone."

She did not wait for his reaction, though the flash of shock on his features had given her some indication. She nearly growled the password at the portrait in front of her. The entrance opened and she left him standing in the dark corridor without another world or look.

Lyra was lounging on one of the elegant green chairs in front of the fireplace, a magazine for witch fashion in her lap. "Oh dear, you look positively aweful." she greeted Mary, who took off the heavy cloak and gracefully settled in the chair across from the pug-faced girl. Ever since she went out with Peregrin Parkinson, Lyra had become obsessed with her wardrobe…

"Someone followed me to the train station and back." Mary grumbled, then looked around for any trace of drink or treats in her vicinity. If only they had serving house eleves here, like at Downton. Carson, their head house elf, would have offered her tea and mince pies a second after her return…

"Let me guess…Mudblood-Matthew, wasn't it?" Lucinda sneered from somewhere behind her. Mary glowered at the intruder. In the Slytherin common room, there seemed to be nothing useful to do but to eavesdrop, plot and meddle. If only she had half as much interest in other people's affairs, she'd probably feel a lot more comfortable around here.

The insult had cut her, though she was careful not to show it. Considering how long it had taken to do away with all the rumours, she was not about to start them afresh. "Yes." Mary said blankly and otherwise ignored the pale blonde witch.

"Huh. I suppose he must be looking for some distraction these days." Lyra shrugged, then picked up her magazine again. Mary, who had wearily turned to the fireplace, looked back at her companion in confusion. "What?" Lyra appeared to be confused in turn. "Oh please Mary, you must have heard of this…" she continued cryptically. Mary sat up straighter as Lucinda Malfoy took a seat next to them, her smile gleeful.

"His father died last summer. Hattie Prewett told me."

Suddenly, the fire from the hearth had no power to warm her as an icy clump formed in Mary's stomach. She had not heard. Nobody had told her. No one in her family had known…though that was probably not entirely correct.

The truth was, nobody had cared.

A cousin of her father's had died and no one had seen fit to go to the funeral or even mention him. Not since he's been ousted from the family tree. 'Blood traitors' and 'muggle lovers' were not considered worth grieving over…

"Excuse me." Mary said mechanically and rose from her perch. Her emerald robes billowed behind her as she made to leave the Slytherin common room as soundlessly as a prowling cat. She went up to the elegantly furnished room she shared with four other girls and laid down on the silken covers to stare at the dark canopy overhead.

She had a lot of thinking to do, but fell asleep about an hour later. Nobody dared to wake her and so she sat up in bed on Christmas morning, her robes rumpled and her dark locks a dishevelled mess.

At the foot of her bed was a large pile of presents. Mary ignored it.

Matthew was bent over his book, but today the words and sentences did not seem to make any sense in his brain at all. 'Wizarding law' and 'Magical jurisprudence' fascinated him, but on this particular day, it seemed as dull to him as paint.

He winced.

Spending Christmas day in the library…was there anything more pathetic? Mary must be right about him. He was behaving absurd! To follow her around and pester her…

One might think he was like…Stanislaw the Stalker here in Chapter 17…a wizard who used to creep after witches in the 19th century. The Wizengamot had tried and sentenced him to Azkaban in 1889.

He rubbed his bleary eyes, feeling a horrible sting at the memory of yesterday. Mary's refusal. And the horses…thestrals...that he could see now, after what had happened in the summer.


Tom had wondered why he wasn't going home to his mother, but there had been too many reasons to adequately explain this. Having grown up in a half-wizard, half-muggle household, he had always found it difficult to fit into any of the worlds completely. His mother had, immediately after dropping him off at King's Cross this summer, taken a plane to Africa together with her sister and two of his muggle cousins.

She was a wonderful nurse, a wonderful mother…but she needed a lot of work to distract her these days. He had understood the impulse to go out into the world and to do something, but he had been unwilling to follow her there.

Professor Dippet once offered to transfer him to a wizarding school in South East Africa to be nearer to his family, but Matthew had refused. Back then, he had thought that he did not want to leave because he cared about his education in England. Or because he had all his friends here, but the truth was that Tom and William spent much more time with their girlfriends nowadays and he could of course take his N.E.W.T.s anywhere in the world.

In the end, there was no point in deceiveing himself. The true reason for his staying behind was...beautiful and imperious, with tea-coloured eyes, beautiful dark hair and a face like finest marble with a smattering of faint freckles...

His reason was clever, terribly witty and honest to the point of rudeness.

Rudeness and hatred.

No, that was not fair. She did not choose to hate him…she but she was made to hate what he was…which was somehow worse, because there was no possibility to alter it. He could not change who he was and how she perceived him. And he bloody well shouldn't wish to...


The voice went through him like bolt of lightening; his quill flopped clumsily out of his fingers and onto the pristine page of the magical law book. "Merlin!" he cursed, not sure whether he was panicking because he had ruined a library book, or because Mary Crawley had just crept up behind him.


They both turned to see whether Madam Clipp, the librarian, had witnessed the sacrilegious incident. Luckily, the witch in question merely glowered at them for making a racket and disrupting the calm sanctity of the library.

"Silence!" she hissed disapprovingly.

Mary nodded towards the door, one of her hands resting on the sleeve of Matthew's robes. He stared at her, utterly dazed for a minute, then finally regained his wits enough to gather up his parchments and ink and follow the elegant swish of dark hair and green silk out into the corridors.

"So…" Once they were free to speak, Mary felt oddly tongue-tied. She was aware that she had his full attention. "So?" Matthew prodded, a teasing glimmer in his blue eyes. Mary bit her lip from saying something rude. She hated it when he, or any boy really, got smug with her. "I just thought it's stupid of you sulk alone in the library today."

"Stupid?" he baited, watching her amused from aside. Mary frowned. "Yes." she sighed. "I mean, what I said…it's nothing personal. I hope you know that."

Matthew did not know how to reply and merely tried to keep pace with her. He had no idea where she was leading him. The castle was eerily deserted at this season. "Here." Mary said blankly as she stopped short in front a naked stone wall. "What's here?" Matthew blinked in confusion.

"The room." Seemingly out of nowhere, a heavy wooden door had appeared.

There was no explanation for it, Matthew thought. She did not have her wand out nor had she uttered a spell that would have accounted for this bit of magic. Nevertheless, he followed her willingly into the interior of the mysterious place.

Inside, it resembled a regular common room and for one wild moment Matthew imagined that he had been allowed into the Slytherin quaters. However, there was no green and silver, none of the Hogwarts House colours or symbols, in fact. "This is our neutral ground." Mary explained as she moved slowly towards the fire place in one corner. When she turned around, Matthew was shocked to see her genuinely upset.

"Otherwise...I'd never get to see Sybil. We're not in the same year...or house. And she's never without Tom or her mud…err…muggle-born friends." Mary's voice was tinged with bitterness and she quickly averted her gaze. "We meet here once in a while, just to catch up."

Matthew came closer, not quite sure how to react to this uncharacteristically emotional confession. He had never seen Mary Crawley as someone who would 'miss' another person, even if they were related. "Thank you." he uttered. "For showing me this." He threw his hand out nervously to gesture at the interior of the room.

"Don't think too much of it." she said automatically, making it quite clear that she had regained her usual cold and careful composure. Matthew tried not to be perturbed. "May I sit?" he asked politely.

For an instant it seemed as if Mary would say no, but when she shrugged delicatedly with only one shoulder, he took this to be a good sign. Even more so when she sat next to him on the comfortable two-seater. They were nearly swallowed up by the gigantic cushions.

Despite their cosy setting, there was still a palpable tension in the air. After another charged minute of silence, Mary cleared her throat. "I thought about 'obliviating' you." she admitted. Hearing this, he cast a nervous glance at the slender wand clutched tightly in her pale hand. Rose wood and dragon heart-string.

When had she drawn it?

Matthew licked his lips. "But…you didn't do it." he pointed out, hoping that there was a good reason for this. To his relief, she smiled tentatively, though her expression was still guarded. "No, I didn't."

"It would have been futile, you know." he reminded her. "Next time I'd have seen you, here at school. Well, I would always have fallen in lov... "

His heartfelt words were cut short by a flick of her wand.

"Don't say it!" she hissed, and Matthew realized in horror that she had hexed his lips to be glued together. Panic gripped him for a second when he could not open his mouth, but he quickly forced himself to calm down and merely stared at her accusingly.

Mary buried her face in both hands. "I know…but for Merlin's sake, don't say it!" He could tell that she was fighting with issues that were very dark and very powerful. Whether it was her family codex, society'sl expectations or perhaps something within herself, was difficult to tell.

The minute she looked at him again, Mary seemed to notice what a terrible thing she had just done and quickly passed her wand over his mouth again. "Finite incantatem." Matthew groaned with relief when the spell was lifted.

"I'd hoped that you would like to seal my lips…albeit in a more pleasant fashion." The cheekiness was not to be hexed out of him, Mary thought wrily, though part of her felt like laughing at his silliness. Another thing she hated about him. Why did he have to make her so...

Happy. Ugh.

She cast her eyes up where they got stuck on something right above Matthew's head. Seeing her disturbed demeanour, Matthew followed her gaze upwards. His mouth fell open...

"Did you..put it there?" he croaked. "No!" Mary hastened to deny.

Out of nowhere, a sprig of mistletoe had appeared, dangling from the ceiling right over the couch where they had settled. "I only thought..." Matthew mumbled, shaking his head. He had of course thought of kissing her!

Why, he had hardly thought of anything else these past two years.

"The room did it!" Mary stated firmly, her cheeks bright pink. It was designed to cater to its inhabitants' every whim. And apparently, it had also detected the secret, the naughty corners of her mind...

Or heart, if she had one.

He contemplated this idea. The strange room must have sensed his desire. And yet, it was of no use at all if Mary did not feel the same. "You don't have to kiss me, you know. Just ignore it." he mumbled, already sure that she would.

The fire crackled in the background, so loudly in fact that it drew their attention. Its colour changed to a poisonous green as the flames slowly morphed into the shape of a head, hovering in the middle of the fire. "There you are! Mama wants to know if…" the head grumbled, then broke off abruptly.

"Edith!" Mary gasped over her shoulder. But the floating head already squinted past her at the wizard perched stiffly on the couch next to her. Edith shrieked, "Oh! Oh dear! Is that…the mudbloo…"

Quick as lightening, the rosewood wand had reappeared and with a forceful flick, the green flames in the fireplace were extinguished. Mary's face was stony and pallid as she regarded the smoking embers. "She'll tell them." It was a bleak statement, not a question.

Matthew tried to rise, adrenaline pumping through his extremeties at the thought that Mary might get into serious trouble over this…over him! Yes, he wanted to be with her, more than anything…but he still wouldn't suffer her being punished in any shape or form, and certainly not for his sake! "What can I do?"

Mary wordlessly held out her hand for him to help her up. "Nothing. It's too late now." she determined. "It's too late, darling." Her last words were whispered so quietly that Matthew did not trust himself to have heard correctly. Very slowly, he edged closer, guided by the pull of her hand.

In her mind's eye, Mary could see Edith gleefully rushing to their parents in order to let them know that their eldest daughter enjoyed an illicit affair with the half-blood Crawley. And she knew that it ought to bother her, that she ought to rush home and try to explain...

But then there was Matthew, who looked at her with such rapt attention, such earnest adoration, that she could hardly think past the simple urge to fall into his warm embrace, press her heart against the frantic beat of his…and indulge in the kiss she had secretly meant to steal from his lips all day.

Lips she had abused with her magic only minutes ago. Or perhaps hours ago? What did it matter?

Laughing in between kisses, she tipped them both over to fall back into the cosy haven of cushions. Matthew groaned helplessly when she straddle his legs, the fine silk of her witch's robes sliding tantalisingly over the coarse cloth of his simple wizarding attire.

When her laughter died away, however, Matthew blinked up at her in plain disbelief, or perhaps, distrust. "Please…" he entreated, "…don't play with me." She could tell he was serious with his plea. "I don't deserve it…not from you."

"Oh Matthew…" She stroked a lock of blonde hair out of his forehead. "I've never played with you…and if I did, it wasn't intentional." He nodded, accepting her words as he took the hand that had caressed his face and kissed it fervently.

Mary shuffled a little and laid her head onto his chest. "Will you be mine, then? Are you sure?" he asked, seeking some kind of assurance that she wouldn't push him away again in an hour. She looked up and kissed his chin. "Are you quite sure that you really want me…with everything this would entail?" Mary threw back at him, one eyebrow quirking up.

His answer was earnest. "Yes."

"Then God help you." she breathed, shaking her head at the naive, besotted smile he gave her then. Clearly, this idiot wizard had no idea what he was getting himself into. "My family will make your life a living hell from now on. Everyone will." The idea hurt her more than she could admit.

With both his hands, Matthew cradled her face, as if it were the most precious item in the world. "They will make our life a living, together." he feared, otherwise unimpressed by her dire warnings. "But I'm not afraid." he said truthfully, though he could tell that she was to some degree. "Because…I...I love you, Mary. Truly."

It did not surprise him that she would not reply in kind. Even if she felt likewise, she had never been allowed to speak of such matters freely. Tom had often lamented this about Sybil. The Crawley witches had been taught to restrain all tender feelings at any cost.

"Happy Christmas, Matthew." Mary whispered instead, though he wanted to imagine that the sweet intonation when she uttered his name meant nothing short of 'I love you, too'. In the muggle world, his mother had said that miracles would often happen around Christmas time. In the wizarding world, magic made the concept of 'miracles' obsolete.

But perhaps, just perhaps, he had just experienced one.

After two blissful hours of, admittedly, nothing more productive than the continued exchange of breathless kisses, they emerged from their hiding place. Mary's stomach had rumbled around tea time and Matthew had laughed so hard at her mortified expression that she had used her wand on him again…

In the end, he barely felt those burn marks on his bottom when, to everyone's astonishment, Mary Crawley of Slytherin House took her seat next to him in the Great Hall for the much awaited Christmas feast.

Mary felt everyone's eyes on her and it wasn't pleasant. Lyra and the other girls stared at her aghast from the other side of the one great table that all Houses shared for the holiday festivities. But she might as well have sat down at the Gryffindor table for all the dirty looks she was getting.

Traitor. Worse – blood traitor.

It was written all over their faces, and not just the Slytherins'. Some of the teachers looked highly irritated as well. Professor Dippet cleared his throat emphatically to stop the harsh buzz of whispers all around the table. And while he wished them all a happy Christmas, Mary was ready to make a run for it…

But then, the expression on Matthew's face arrested her. He stared them down, Slytherins, teachers, ghosts…everyone who dared to sneer at their new, tentative bond. Mary bit back a nervous laugh and mirrored his attitude instead. She raised an eyebrow at Lucinda Malfoy, daring her to speak up...

So defiant was their stance that their audience quickly turned to busy itself with more pleasant matters, such as the heaps of delicous food which magically turned up on silver platters in front of them as soon as the Headmaster had clapped his hands.

Christmas turkey with gravy, a choice of cranberry and mint sauce, stuffing and roast potatoes, followed by several inordinately large flaming Christmas puddings proved to be sufficiently distracting for the remainder of the evening...

"Do you mind terribly?" Matthew inquired after a while. "What?" she wondered, speaking through a mouthful of stuffing. He smiled at her, half amused, half sad. "All the…negative attention you'll get from now on." For an instant Mary considered lying, but if she had one particularly un-Slytherin-like quality to her character, it would be her tendency to avoid falsehood.

"Not…terribly." she negotiated, pulling a face nevertheless. He nodded and they ate in silence. To Mary's left sat a blonde witch, her brown robes rather threadbare. "I'm Anna." she said, her keen eye resting on Mary with a mixture of fascination and doubt.

Mary frowned at her pudding. This was difficult. Was she expected to befriend all Gryffindors now that she was…seeing one herself? "Mary Crawley." she offered reluctantly. The blonde witch laughed. "Oh, I know." She stood to scrape the last of the brandy cream out of a bowl. "We're in Herbology, Charms and Care-of-Magical Creatures together." There was a mild note of accusation in Anna's voice, though it was softened by the friendly twinkle in her eyes.

"Oh." Mary blushed and quickly turned back to Matthew who had observed their exchange with interest. "Anna is in the same year." he explained rather redundantly. Mary huffed. "Yes, well…I'm still not going to avow my own House, because of…this." She waved a hand out between them. And if he expected her to become a part of his 'circle' now, he was sorely mistaken!

After dinner, the students dispersed for their various different Christmas activities. Some exhanged gifts, others stood under the vast Hogwarts Christmas tree to sing carols, with more or less skill. Some made to retire their common rooms already. When Mary walked past a group of Slytherins, she hoped dearly to be ignored. "Howler's already on the way, I reckon." someone hissed and giggles ensued.

The 'M' word fell repeatedly.

Lyra, unwilling to take part in the bashing of her friend, shooed the group towards the exit of the hall. Slytherins usually preferred the private luxuries of their dungeon to the rest of the School.

Matthew stood right behind Mary, though his face did not give away whether he had witnessed the unhappy exchange or not. He seemed nervous.

"Let's go outside." Mary suggested. They summoned their cloaks and turned their backs on the rest of the Christmas party. He was still silent when they strode through the inner courtyard of the castle, illuminated by hundreds of torches now that night had fallen.

Snow was falling very slowly all around them, adorning Mary's long, dark hair with glittering flakes here and there. This seemed to distract Matthew from his brooding, at least momentarily. He raised one hand to touch a single flake and his fingers somehow found their way into the heavy mass of chocolate hair. "Beautiful." he whispered almost reverently.

Heat shot into Mary's cheeks, despite the cold air around them. "I can finally put my hair up in spring...when I turn seventeen." she said by means of distraction, though there was also a hint of womanly pride in this casual remark. "In spring..." Matthew repeated.

Mary nodded, not quite able to follow the trail of his unspoken thoughts.

Together, they ambled on. "You'll have many new legal rights when you're seventeen, you know." Matthew said after a while. "Of course I know my rights." Mary scoffed. "To do magic at home, getting my license to apparate…"

"Marrying." he added quietly.

She halted abruptly.

"That's not…well, I'm…" Mary fumbled for words. "Most of all…I can't wait to be able to travel. Papa promised me a new broom if I do well in the exams. A Nimbus 1914. It's divine!" Bit unsubtle, she thought, but a change of subject usually worked.

Matthew nodded slowly. "Divine." he agreed drily and noticed that she seemed to steer them back towards the main building of the castle. Shortly before they reached the entrance, it broke out of him despite his best efforts to keep silent.

"Sybil said you will marry your cousin."

There was a fifty percent chance that she would simply turn on her heel and leave him standing in the snow with his impertinent questions and his sad blue eyes…but Mary had made the conscious decision not to.

"Yes." she sighed. The snow had slowly drenched his hair into a dark-blonde mess, half plastered to his head. The corners of his mouth drooped visibly, giving him the look of a muggle puppy dog, like the ones she had seen on the streets of London. "You…love him?" he asked softly, not looking at her.

"No." Mary groaned, rolling her eyes as if he had just asked the most oafish question imaginable. "But it is expected…"

Matthew heaved a great shuddering sigh and licked his lips, suddenly tensed as if he had been injected with a shot of Madam Druid's 'Pepper-up-Potion'. "Then marry me!" he intoned, cheeks pink and eyes wide with expectation. She frowned. "Didn't you listen? I said, it is expected that I marry Patrick...and even if I were free to choose someone else..." The words trailed off, leaving the appalling truth hanging in the icy air around them.

Snow flakes gathered in his brows and lashes, until he blinked again. Rapidly, eagerly. "Times are changing." he argued, though Matthew was aware that he spoke more out of despair than actual conviction. It might be a modern age of magic they lived in now, but some obstacles were simply insurmountable...

"Matthew." she whispered softly. One of her warm hands came out of the thick wooly cloak to touch his cheek. "Don't be silly, darling." He sighed and closed his eyes, not quite defeated yet. "I'd never push you. But...promise you'll consider me at least. Please, promise."

Mary shivered, her body cooled out from their lengthy walk. She saw his lips move almost inaudibly and a moment later, she felt a cloud of warmth engulf her like an invisible blanket. He must have cast a charm to warm her...

She smiled. "Alright...I promise."

His tense expression brightened immediately and she had a terrible feeling that it might have been kinder to tell him now that having a bit of a dalliance in their school days was fine, though already questionable, but marriage…marriage was entirely out of the question!

The noble 'House of Grantham' would surely go up in flames like a dried up Christmas tree in a dragon's cave.

She took his hand and he squeezed it, leading them back into the safe enclave that was Hogwarts. In here, they could be whatever they wanted to be…but out there, in the real wizarding world, matters were decidedly more complicated.

"Shall we go back to…'the room'?" he asked hopefully, his voice quite hoarse. Mary laughed. "Isn't it a bit late? What sort of witch do you think I am?" she breezed, one eyebrow raised up disapprovingly. Blushing dark red, he started to ramble a string of apologies and explanations until she flung her arms around his neck and shut him up with a thorough kiss...

Still smiling, she led him by the hand until they found themselves in front of the mysterious door again. He gaped at her dumbly. "Happy Christmas, Matthew." she grinned and pulled him inside before a group of Fifth Year Hufflepuffs turned around the corner. What happens at school, stays at school, Mary thought as she allowed herself to enjoy the rest of this Christmas night, wrapped in Matthew's cloak, his strong embrace and his eager kisses.

They spoke for hours of things they had never told anyone else in their entire lives and found that perhaps there was also magic in the simple proximity of two souls that felt inexplicably whole now, as if they had belonged together always.

When Matthew asked her once more, Mary shushed him. "Spring." she promised. That's when she would give him her answer and he seemed to accept this delay after all, happier now that he had a date to look forward to.

Sighing, Mary turned her pale face up for another kiss, and thanked Merlin that it was still deepest, darkest winter...