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Maple Tree

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There's a tree that has been outside of my bedroom window since before I can remember. It's a big, old maple tree that's about thirty feet tall and very wide. It's the only tree I can see out of my window, as father always insisted that the grounds be kept bare of trees. He's paranoid that people could hide in trees to spy on us or commit some other form of misdemeanor without being seen. I used to try to tell him that it was useless; that if someone really wanted to spy on us, they'd just use an Invisibility Cloak like any other wizard in his right mind. He never listened to me, of course, and when I was about ten years old he wanted to cut down my tree. I protested vehemently by throwing the best, most mature tantrum I possibly could to make him change his mind. That tree has been a constant in my life, always, changing only with the seasons. I have many memories connected with that tree, and I could not - would not - let my father cut them down.

When I was very young, the tree served as the only source of entertainment on the grounds of Malfoy Manor. Mother would take me outside when it was sunny, and while she lay basking in the rare sunlight, I would run around the tree and try to climb it. Sometimes I pretended I was one of the spies my father talked about and crept around the base of the tree before pouncing on my mother, who always expected it. Mother and her friends also had afternoon tea in the shade of the tree, and I would play with a young Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, and Blaise Zabini. They were much more fun back then, when we would play our favourite game: Aurors and Dark wizards. We used to fight over who would be the Dark wizard.

I abandoned the tree for a few years while I attended Gloire, a prestigious wizarding kindergarten. Still, even though I didn't play under the tree, it was always there, looming over me during thunderstorms and brightening my room when the autumn twilight hit its bright yellow leaves.

My parents sent me to a primary school when I was five - one year before most of my peers. They encouraged me to make friends with certain people and often arranged for them to visit against my will. I whined and complained, but they still ordered me to play with people like Cadell McNair, Freidrich Walters and Kirk Sanders. I hated them, and I remember fighting with my father about it, but he never listened. The tree came back into the picture when I learned how to climb it and hid in the foliage when I knew the boys were coming over. I hated winters for the next five years, because the bare branches didn't hide me well enough.

The year between the end of primary school and getting my Hogwarts letter was the year my father wanted to chop down the tree. As I was not in school that year, he bought me a broomstick and my wand early and taught me how to fly and how to use some simple magic - most of it for Dark purposes - in the hopes that it would convince both my mother and myself that Durmstrang was a far better place than Hogwarts for a Malfoy. I loved learning the magic, and could cast most of the spells in the Standard Book of Spells: Grade One by the time I got my letter, along with a few simple transfigurations and potions. I did not, however, enjoy the prospect of Durmstrang. Cadell, Freidrich and Kirk had all gone to Durmstrang while I was stuck at home, and they wrote me passing on all the horrible urban legends first years are invariably bombarded with. My mother intercepted these letters, and had read enough about the school in the Daily Prophet enough to insist that I attend Hogwarts.

On crisp autumn afternoons, I used to go outside to the tree and practice my magic on it. I would climb to my seating place and try to change the color of a leaf to bright blue instead of the yellows, reds, and oranges that autumn was so famous for. I practiced keeping leaves and twigs afloat with wingardium leviosa. I even made a growth potion that made the tree grow five feet in ten minutes.

That winter, I was introduced to Pansy Parkinson. Her parents had brought her to my mother's New Year's celebration, and I remember thinking she was the strangest looking human being I'd ever seen in my life. Pansy was the first girl I had been expected to converse with, and I didn't like her from the beginning. To tell the truth, she was too much like me, and at age ten I didn't appreciate anyone taking the personality I had carved out for myself. My parents made me walk her around the grounds in the dark that night, even though it was cold enough to freeze vodka at the time.

I took her to the tree, where the feeble light from my bedroom window spilled over the grounds. She was a precocious little girl, and obviously knew what she wanted, because as soon as there was a lull in the small talk, she pressed herself against me and kissed me as only a ten year old knows how. We both had our eyes open, and the kiss felt more like a prolonged familial kiss than anything romantic. Needless to say, I was not impressed, and I told her very plainly that she was doing it wrong, and that she would have to learn how to do it properly before trying it on me again. Then we sat on the grass and I showed her how to transfigure a dandelion into a blade of grass.

By the summer before Hogwarts, father realised that his plan to teach me magic wasn't going to convince neither my mother nor I of Durmstrang's superiority, and he took desperate measures. As punishment for the both of us, he decided he was going to get rid of the tree. My mother was also rather attached to the tree, it being the only sign of life on the Manor grounds, but she didn't dare directly oppose father on yet another of his decisions. So, it was up to me to save my tree. I took to sitting outside all day everyday in front of it, diligently practicing my spells and transfigurations. The sun did nothing for my complexion except to tint me bright red on my neck, nose, and ears whenever I sat on the western side of the tree in the afternoons. My father occasionally came out and yelled at me to get out of the way, but I looked at him innocently and said, "but father, I'm studying". I knew he didn't really want to cut down the tree, but I didn't want to take the chance that he would do it just to spite me.

The day my Hogwarts letter came, I was sitting under the tree with my shoes off, trying to turn my shoelaces into garden snakes. Father came up to me, clutching the letter tightly, face set, and thrust the letter into my hands, disrupting my concentration as my shoelaces turned green. I turned the envelope over in my hand and noticed that the seal had been broken. "Congratulations," he said gruffly, and turned on his heel. I opened the letter hurriedly as he left and grinned at the green cursive writing on the yellowed parchment. There was nothing that could deter me from going to Hogwarts now.

Before leaving home, I had to pack everything that was important to me in one trunk. My father restricted me like this because he knew that if I were given unlimited space, I would probably try to take everything in my room. As it was, it took me three days to pack the trunk in the most space economising way possible. I brought everything I could: my clothes, my books, all my best quills and parchment sets, and all the little trinkets my mother and grandmother had bestowed upon me in my eleven years. The one thing that I would really miss, however, could not be packed into my trunk and transported to Hogwarts.

Living in the Slytherin dungeons was probably the most depressing experience of my life, and the cause of most of my bad moods during those seven years. I missed being able to look out of my window and see my big maple tree in the grassy plains of the Manor grounds. They didn't even have maples at Hogwarts, only oaks and pines and other thick, dense trees whose leaves could never turn the reds, oranges and yellows of my maple. There was nowhere for me to hide, either, when I wanted to get away from someone - or myself.

I went home every holiday, despite the accusation by my parents that I was not being independent enough, not branching out and making the right sort of friends. I rebelled by locking myself in my room for the duration of my visits home and not talking to anybody. It wasn't really fun for me, but it was better than enduring my parents' wrath. I did, however, look at my tree. I drew my tree to pass the time, and by the time I was in third year, I could draw it from memory. I wasn't very good at drawing anything else, but I could run off a thousand copies of my maple tree in its various seasonal states without even thinking.

In my fourth year, the tree was struck by lightning. It happened in the spring, so I wasn't there for it. My parents didn't notify me of it; they merely mentioned that there had been thunderstorms. I came home and my tree was missing three major limbs and it was almost black all along its trunk. I was not impressed, and I looked up every charm I could to see if I could fix it, heal it, make it better, but there was nothing. I was encouraged by the fact that it started growing leaves again in July, but they all fell off by September. It just made me sadder going back to Hogwarts, and I was in a rather depressed state throughout the first term.

Fifth year was difficult for me. I was a Prefect, my grades were fantastic, I was on my way to becoming what Snape told me was one of the finest Potions students Hogwarts had seen in a long time, and my friends were all growing into far more intelligent companions than previously. On the other hand, Cedric Diggory was dead, the whole school was in shambles, I had been in a terrible state since the end of the previous year, and yet I still had to maintain my cool and aloof demeanor. It was quite the job to juggle everything and still seem on top of it all. I think the Prefects' bathroom helped.

I had a breakdown over the Christmas holidays, when my parents had made me stay at school. Blaise was present at the time, which I have always regretted. I always thought if I were going to have a mental breakdown, I'd at least do it alone. He doesn't talk about it - for which I am forever grateful - but I can see the concern in his eyes when I offhandedly mention that I'm a little stressed out.

It was a very adolescent sort of breakdown, so I was able to bounce back pretty easily thereafter. Still, I was found out, and Snape made them lock me in the infirmary for three days. Fortune had it that the day after my breakdown, Harry Potter fell off his broomstick and broke three of his ribs. He was in there for considerably longer than me, but he was completely incapacitated for the three days I was there.

I enjoyed staying in the infirmary; more than most would, I'm sure. I had a bed by the window, and I could look out and see the snow-covered grounds. Most people would have gone stir-crazy cooped up in a room for three days straight like that, but it was refreshing for me - a nice change from the dank, windowless Slytherin dungeons.

I was in a very emotionally vulnerable state at the time, so when Harry asked me that first night "so, what are you in for, Malfoy?" wincing because it hurt to talk, it opened the floodgates. I'm surprised I didn't end up talking at the poor boy for the entire three days. I did, however, pour everything out, finally finishing up at three o'clock or some equally ungodly hour of the morning. He was awake for it all - I know, because I was looking at him the whole time - and took it all in very considerately. When I'd finished, he smiled half-heartedly at me and said, "Sleep, Draco."

It was a cathartic experience, venting all my worries and insecurities. I slept heavily and contently that night; it was probably the best night's sleep I had had since I started at Hogwarts. The next morning, however, I awoke with a horrible sinking feeling. I dreaded to think what Harry would do with the information I had let slip the night before. We were, after all, enemies, and one was never to show any weakness before one's enemy. I had visions of Harry telling everyone he could get his hands on that I was mentally unstable and that I should be sent away.

He didn't, of course, and I should have known better. He didn't even mention what I had said. For the remainder of my stay, we talked about normal things, always very quietly, speaking around the real issues that plagued our minds. I left after the third night acutely aware of the fact that I could never go back to being Harry's enemy. I had revealed too much, and he had listened too carefully, and neither of us could go back to the petty fights that had defined our relationship thus far.

Things progressed steadily from there. We called an unstated cease-fire between the two of us, which worked until I called Granger a Mudblood and Weasley a poor, ragged fool. He didn't make it personal, though I could tell by the look in his eye he was begging me to throw down my guard. It didn't take me long to do so, at least for him, because until you've looking into Harry's pleading eyes, you don't know the meaning of the word weakness.

I went home over the Easter holiday to find my tree alive and budding with leaves. Father hinted that he had something to do with the resurrection of the tree's health, but he attributed it to nature's course. I spent most of my holiday sitting in the tree, drawing the tree from this new perspective, and thinking all too much about Harry. We had kissed just before I left for holidays, in the Quidditch changing rooms after Slytherin beat Ravenclaw, which definitely changed the dynamics of our relationship.

We continued our clandestine affair through the end of fifth year and all of sixth year, hiding in closets and empty classrooms, stealing kisses in empty hallways and behind the trees of the Forbidden Forest. To everyone else, the cease-fire remained in place, and we barely spoke to one another except for the occasional congratulations on the Quidditch pitch. It was painful, to say the least, but we were both naturally secretive people and managed to keep to ourselves without anybody catching on.

During the summer before seventh year, my father set me an ultimatum. It was, by then, well known to me that my father was a Death Eater, and that he expected me to follow in his footsteps. His ultimatum was simple, really. He gave me until my eighteenth birthday to decide between two very simple options. On the one hand, I could join the Death Eaters, live secure in the knowledge that my parents would look after me, and get my full inheritance. On the other hand, I could take half of my inheritance and leave Malfoy Manor forever.

Neither option was very appealing to me, to tell the truth. I had been brought up to revere the Dark Arts, but I had also been filled with a great sense of personal pride and will. Joining the Death Eaters, while perhaps a vehicle for greater personal gain, always seemed to me as a relinquishment of one's own power - something I could never subscribe to.

Harry's place in my life and in my heart was also a large factor in my decision. We never talked about it, but I knew he wanted me to throw away everything I had been taught and join Dumbledore's side. He would never admit to it, of course, but I knew he wanted it. I knew I couldn't do that, though. I am too proud a person to relinquish anything to either side. I would fight for myself when the time came, and whether that happened to be defending the Dark Arts or my boyfriend's life would remain to be seen.

I spent the summer holidays in my room and the tree, occasionally wandering the grounds, trying to make my decision. I tried to draft a letter to Harry explaining my predicament, but it never came out the way I wanted it to. I sounded either too melodramatic or too blase about it, which I wasn't. It was just a decision I had to make - a decision that would most likely change the course of my life.

Harry visited me that summer. We spent the night in my tree, where I promised him the world and more. I guess I was feeling the effects of the ultimatum, but I never mentioned it to Harry. He was so calm and peaceful, I couldn't bear to ruin it for him. He looked as if he had not a care in the world, and I couldn't rip that from him. I did, however, force him to meet my parents. They were, to say the least, none too impressed. I was surprised that father didn't disown me then and there. Mother occupied Harry while father took me to the study and reprimanded me. He interrogated me harshly about my relationship with Harry, and I answered every question truthfully. I think he would have liked it better had I lied to him, but I found no reason to; I had made my decision. During his tirade, he mentioned more than once that he would be chastised by the Dark Lord, which made me realise that he had been reduced to a subservient being - nothing more than a common house elf to Lord Voldemort. Malfoys were not subservient to anyone, not Voldemort, not Dumbledore, not anyone. I decided then and there, with my father screaming obscenities in my face, that I would never join the Death Eaters.

My birthday is in April, so I kept my decision to myself until the last possible moment. My parents allowed Harry to stay with me for the remainder of the summer holidays, during which we mostly kept to ourselves, in my room or my tree. We resolved to reveal our relationship to our closest friends at the beginning of the year, and figured the news would spread from there. A boarding school is deceptively large; just because there are a lot of people does not mean that news travels slowly. By lunchtime on the second of September, everyone knew. It caused trouble, as anyone could have predicted it would, and there were a lot of conspiratorial whispers going around the school for months into the first term.

I think Harry suffered more than I did. My friends wouldn't talk to me for a week or two, but eventually they got over it and at least pretended that I was fit to converse with. Harry, on the other hand, all but lost Weasley; they had terrible fights, both public and private, throughout the school year. Granger still talked to him, but I think she was very torn between him and Weasley, and couldn't ever give him the full support she should have. Harry would never say he regretted it. He would tell me he had me and that's all that mattered, but I know better. Having something as constant and comforting as friendship ripped from beneath you so suddenly was is not an experience I would put anyone through.

We survived the first term with a few bumps and scratches, so to speak, and we were as pleased as we could be with the various outcomes. Peripheral acquaintances and teachers never treated us any differently, though they probably thought very little of us. We felt confident that the remainder of the school year would not present any more social problems for either of us.

I didn't tell anyone about my decision concerning the Death Eaters, not even Harry, in case anyone caught wind of it. My birthday fell three days before the Easter break that year, so I sent my father a letter on my birthday explaining to him in very simple terms that I would not be joining the Death Eaters, and that I would be coming briefly to the Manor over the break to pick up the rest of my belongings and the half of my inheritance he had promised me. I got no letter in return, but the family carriage was sent to the gates of Hogwarts to pick me up for Easter.

The entrance to Malfoy Manor is on the south, and my room faces west. You can't really see the tree from the road unless you're looking for it. I wasn't looking for it when I rolled up to the big double doors of the Manor, so I didn't notice any irregularity. Father was waiting for me in the lobby, his hands folded across his chest, his face set in determined, seething anger. I knew there was nothing I could do or say that would change anything; I had made my decision and that was final. I felt some small satisfaction in knowing that I would never be as he was to Voldemort, and no small thrill in being able to leave the Manor forever.

Father ordered me to my room, and I obliged happily. All I could think of was how happy I would be, free of the clutches of my father and his Master - free to be with Harry. I had it all planned out. We would leave Hogwarts and live together in a flat in London. Our combined inheritances would keep us going, but we knew we would eventually have to get jobs. Aside from his Fighting of the Dark Lord, Harry wanted to pursue Quidditch professionally, and was already making contact with his ex-teammate, Oliver Wood, who had already made it to first-run Keeper for Puddlemere United. I wanted to study Potions at the Academy in London. We would be happy, and no amount of pessimism from our so-called friends would deter us from that. I climbed the marble stairs to my room, filled with hope and happiness.

The first thing I saw when I walked into my room was the sight out of my window.

My tree was gone.