It had been a long summer as far as Alecia Malfoy was concerned; a summer filled with screaming babies, smelly nappies and flustered parents. The fourteen-year-old girl conceded the latter may in part be her fault, just a little of course. In rebellion to the birth of her little sister Leshia had spent very little time at home this summer.
Throughout the week Fergus and Blotts, Leshia’s employer second summer running, had demanded every moment of the girl’s attention, calling her to work before her exhausted parents had risen and only giving her leave to go past six in the evening, at which point the teenager would undoubtedly floo to one of her friend’s houses to hide out till curfew. These hours were of course voluntary and despite her two employers’ concern that Leshia rarely went home anymore, the girl held out claiming she needed the extra pocket money. She was such an efficient little worker the ageing men had not fought her on the matter.
On the weekends the girl had stayed at either of her best friends’ houses without fail, managing to arrange it so she hadn’t spent a single one at home. All in all, the girl had been a ghost of a family member, one Draco and Hermione, her long-suffering parents, had not had the pleasure of encountering on any semblance of a regular basis all summer. Always home by curfew and then straight up to her room, they had no reason to punish her, but boy did they miss her. Family get-togethers with the extended Weasley clan were as close as they got to their daughter, and even then her submergence in the vast army of Weasley grandchildren made it difficult for them to engage her in any sort of conversation.
The girl had become a stranger to her own parents, and all because of Evie: darling little Evie. None could begrudge her the adoring love all those who encountered her doted on her, as the baby girl was a beautiful child and so nicely natured. Where before her her older sister had demanded every scrap of attention of everyone she came across, Evie was most content just to watch the world unfold around her. She had no desire to be in the centre of it all.
Like fire and water the sisters, separated by fourteen years, differed. Both in exterior and internal attributes they could not have been more opposite, which had not helped in their bonding. The older blonde and grey eyed with all the bravado of a well-travelled con man, the other dark haired and dark eyed and with the serenity of a newborn angel. Leshia and Evie were only sisters in their shared genetics and nothing more. No matter how much Hermione tried to console herself by comparing pictures of her oldest daughter as an infant to her new baby girl and noting the likeness in their beautiful little faces, indeed in the face Evie was a near-replica of her older sister, the new mother could not be consoled at Leshia’s attitude towards her family.
It had been Hermione’s dream to have a second child, and although the baby was all she had hoped for, her firstborn’s reaction was not. Where had they gone wrong? Why was their oldest daughter so abnormally adjusted that the arrival of a sibling had caused her such grief and turmoil. Hermione’s extended absence throughout most of Leshia’s childhood was almost inevitably to blame for all this grief, but it was too late to change all that. The distressed mother couldn’t simply turn back time and avoid getting herself abducted. If only Leshia would spend more time at home with the baby then she might learn to adore Evie’s unique little personality. Hermione felt Leshia would definitely recognise much of her own stubbornness and mischief in Evie, but Leshia didn’t want to look. She would rather work her ever-waking moment than be home with her family.
It was a very sorry state of affairs.
Even with just one whole day of holiday left to wile away Leshia was at the bookshop stacking displays and seeing to customers. She’d come across nearly every youngster in the school by working behind the till and as such had been granted a head start on the start of term gossip. Though she had sorely wanted to pass the gossip on to her various friends and schoolmates as they filed in to buy their books, she had refrained. Surely she owed them her silence due to some sort of customer-shop assistant confidentiality? The youngster had often been reduced to biting firmly on her tongue when the subjects of another’s gossiping walked in and she felt they were owed some sort of warning.
This was one of those moments.
Leshia had just been finishing up with a customer, a portly woman buying a full array of first years books for her son or daughter, before she finished for the day when a tall permanently-frightened looking girl wandered in with her equally tall, yet less frightened looking parents and older sisters.
“Leshia,” Harriet Coldcauldron managed with a bright smile when she noticed the Gryffindor girl stood behind the till. For a moment Leshia smiled guiltily at the newcomer, before she quickly tried to settle the portly woman’s change. The customer however, wasn’t budging and instead was staring at the girl with a thoughtful look.
“Leshia?” she finally asked in what can only be described as a haughty tone. The girl at the till nodded awkwardly to her customer. What had she done now? “Alecia Malfoy?” Now Leshia furrowed her brow, but she nodded once more.
The portly woman’s eyes roved over Leshia’s features, before she nodded stiltedly.
“You look like your father,” was all the woman said before she lifted the package of books and stalked from the shop with an air of someone believing themselves to be above everyone else in the street. Leshia stared after her with a putout expression, wondering who she, or Draco, had offended now.
“Have you had a nice summer?” Rudely Leshia was jolted back to the present and she found herself staring suddenly into Harriet Coldcauldron’s large hazel eyes. Instantly the guilty squirm in her stomach returned.
Harriet did not know it yet, but her boyfriend, Gareth was about to dump her for her best friend Daisy. It was a sorry state of affairs and one Leshia had been entirely informed about by a tearful Daisy, whose family was close with Gareth’s and whose summer had been inexplicably intertwined with the boy’s. Leshia had made all the right sympathetic noises, but couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable hearing about the whole thing. Boys and crushes had nearly ripped apart her friendship with her age-old friend Katie.
“Uh yeah, it was okay. Yours?”
“Great,” Harriet laughed nervously. Leshia had always felt the girl looked very uncomfortable in her own skin; how awful that must be. “How’s your little sister?” Harriet next asked.
It had been public knowledge at Hogwarts last year that Hermione had had a baby girl. Indeed, she had given birth to Evie in the Hospital Wing and many of the school’s pupils had come to say goodbye to their favoured teacher and greet the new baby before they left on the last day. Harriet had been one of these. Leshia forced a very false smile onto her face.
“Just being a regular baby I think,” she managed as politely as she could. Harriet, oblivious to Leshia’s tension, gave a sickly smile.
“Oh I always wanted a little brother or sister. It sucks being the youngest. You’re so lucky!” Leshia’s fake smile wavered as she fought the urge to regurgitate what she had heard about Gareth and Daisy.
“Well, anyway, can I help you get your books?” she asked firmly instead. Harriet shook her head with a shrug.
“No that’s okay, I’m getting Rianna’s hand-me-downs. So does she cry lots, Evie I mean?” Leshia rubbed the back of her neck forcefully.
“Um yeah actually. Quite a lot.”
“Do you think she recognises you yet?”
“Well, uh I don’t…” Leshia was finding it more difficult to keep the gossip regurgitation down and was sure she was about to say something very hurtful when suddenly the door to the shop opened again and a wonderfully familiar youngster burst in with a big grin.
“Rachel!” Leshia called out, unable to hide her relief.
“I’ve been sent to fetch you by her ladyship my cousin, we’re mustering for one last butterbeer in the Cauldron before school starts again.” Leshia beamed at her best friend, full of gratitude. “Oh hi Harriet, didn’t see you there.”
While Rachel busied herself with the startled-looking girl Leshia quickly collected her things and poked her head round the office door where her employers Mr Flourish and Mr Blott were fussing over something hidden from Leshia’s view by their rather rotund bodies.
“Um Mr Flourish? Mr Blott? I’m just heading off,” Quite suddenly the two men spun around, a poorly wrapped parcel in their hands, their faces flustered.
“Leshia!” Flourish gabbled sounding surprised. “You’ve caught us.”
“Excuse me?” the youngster chuckled. “Caught you?”
“Well we couldn’t have you go off without giving you a token of our immense appreciation for all the time you’ve devoted to us this summer,” Blott explained and despite herself Leshia laughed.
“You really shouldn’t have!” Quickly the parcel was shoved into her hands and the two lumbering men awkwardly patted the young lady on the back while she pulled the freshly wrapped paper off a large and very old book.
“The Secrets of Strength,” Leshia read aloud interestedly. Curiously she looked up at her employers.
“It is a very rare and fascinating old book Leshia,” Flourish explained. “We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.”
Not quite knowing what she had been bestowed with, yet knowing it pained the two men to give it up, Leshia hugged them in thanks before carefully stowing the book in her shoulder bag. The men escorted Leshia back into the shop where Rachel was looking very sheepish next to a crying Harriet, enveloped in her sister Beth’s arms. Leshia raised her eyebrows in a silent demand at her friend, but the redhead simply shrugged guiltily and rushed to join Leshia at the door.
“Now you be good young Leshia, even we come to hear of your Hogwarts adventures eventually you know and it doesn’t half worry us to death when we think of the dangers you put yourself in!” Blott ordered Leshia fondly. She smiled and nodded.
“Trust me, I will be staying out of trouble this year.”
“Excellent,” Flourish cheered jovially. Before any more admonishment could come Leshia dragged Rachel away down the emptying street towards the pub.
“What did you do to Harriet?” she asked amusedly.
“Ah, well, you see…”
“Rach,” Leshia warned, her eyes twinkling fondly.
“How was I supposed to know she hadn’t the foggiest about Gareth and Daisy?”
“Because I told you she didn’t,” Leshia laughed loudly. “Oh seriously, you’ve just broken that poor girl’s heart.”
“Hey, I didn’t cheat on her,” Rachel complained, the colour rising in her cheeks. “She’s better off knowing now anyway, then she can get her crying out the way before we get back to school.” The girl continued to tease Rachel about her faux pas until they reached the cauldron where a little gathering of soon-to-be fourth years had commandeered a booth in the corner. Katie, Parys, Rodeo, Ashley and Nicola were thoroughly enjoying themselves by the time Leshia and Rachel arrived, but when they saw the two girls approaching they called out to them joyously.
“Finally, you’re here!” Katie cried out and she dragged Leshia down beside her. “Where have you been?”
“Watching the heartbreaker over there do her thing,” Leshia chuckled, giving Rachel a playful glare.
“What?” Katie laughed, but seeing most of the table watching her and realising this was a sensitive topic around Katie and her ex-boyfriend Rodeo, Leshia shook her head quickly.
“Never mind, it’s not important.”
“So, one last day of freedom then back to the ball and chains,” Parys Jackson sighed grimly. He had long been one of the heartthrobs of the year alongside his best friend Rodeo Holsson. Both tall and well on their way to being broad shouldered toned young men, the two youngsters had been drawn together initially by the mutual peculiarity of their monikers, but within moments of comparing stories about their unique parents they and realised they were kindred spirits, mates, on the same level.
Parys had been a slow bloomer and whereas his mate Rodeo had long since benefited from his mother and father’s model good looks, Parys was only just starting to truly grow into his noble features. Whereas Rodeo was bohemian, scruffy and rogue like, with long hair now reaching the nape of his neck bleached from the sun and permanently in a shaggy mess, Parys wore his hair short and neat and there was a sense of nobility about the young man even now, dressed in baggy ripped jeans and a creased T-shirt.
“I can’t wait to go back to school,” Leshia countered adamantly. “Can’t bloody wait.” Her friends exchanged an awkward look to one another, what were they meant to say to such a statement? They had been skirting round the obvious fact of Leshia’s distancing herself from her family all summer and didn’t feel it was their place to challenge the girl on it, but it did make things awkward when it came up. Katie shifted on her seat, her mouth half open to speak the words she’d been wanting to for weeks. Before even Rachel could intervene however, Leshia spoke again, “Who is that?”
“Who?” Ashley Reed, a girl who had only been forced into friendship by the fact that they shared their Gryffindor dormitory, asked curiously. Leshia nodded to a large formidable woman standing at the door to the pub, about to wander out onto the street, a houself hurried behind her, laden down with packages.
“She keeps glaring at me,” Leshia complained and she shifted uncomfortably.
“Leesh she’s not even looking this way,” Rodeo now spoke up amusedly.
“She was a second ago, and back in the shop. Who is she? Does anyone know?” Now Leshia looked up at her friends, her expression hopeful.
“I think its Mrs Savage,” Katie finally replied in deep thought.
“Hey! Is she Old Man Savage’s wife then?” Rachel asked interestedly.
“The very same.” Leshia felt her insides churn a little.
“Old Man Savage,” she repeated to herself, suddenly feeling very well informed as to why that woman had cause to hate her so.
“Uh, can someone help a muggleborn out please?” Rodeo piped up when he saw the significant looks cross his friends’ faces. Nicola White, the final occupant of the Gryffindor girls’ dormitory and Ashley’s best friend giggled at Rodeo’s side. She too was muggle born, but this could not account for her girly fit as she had been giggling at Rodeo’s side all afternoon.
“Rodes I hate to say it mate, but you’re beyond help,” Parys told his friend grimly, a smirk pulling at his handsome face.
“Yeah yeah,” Rodeo chuckled when the table erupted into laughter. “Whose Old Man Savage?” Everyone glanced to Leshia feeling it really ought to be her story to tell. She was staring down at her hands.
“Old Man Savage was a Death Eater, a really really nasty one,” she finally spoke, looking up now into Rodeo’s interested face. “Otherwise known as Crispin Savage. He was a big supporter of Voldemort and did some horrid stuff during the war. He killed a lot of muggles. That was his thing see.”
“Well after Voldemort was killed he carried on killing. Took my dad five years to track him down and a week’s duelling to bring him to justice. Before he was carted off to Azkaban Savage vowed my dad and everyone he cared about would suffer for what he did.”
“Two weeks later and he was dead. Killed himself so they say.” Rodeo whistled appreciatively.
“That’s some pretty heavy stuff. Doesn’t that scare the hell out of you?” Leshia raised her eyebrows.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, people vowing to kill you and stuff.” Leshia grinned.
“Rodes I can’t even tell you the amount of people who have sworn revenge on my dad and his family. I bet I don’t even know about the half of them. This one was juts heavily publicised at the time, that’s all.”
“So that woman, she’s his wife?” Rodeo asked, glancing back to the door. Leshia sighed and nodded.
“Seems so and she was buying first year books. You know what that means?” Now Leshia directed her tired gaze at Rachel and Katie, who nodded grimly.
“Slimy Samuel is coming to school,” they replied in unison.
“Slimy Samuel?” Rodeo spoke again.
“Samuel Savage their son,” Leshia explained. “I’ve never met the kid, but everyone who has says he’s a nightmare.”
“And he’s got a reason to hate you,” Rachel chuckled, earning herself an amused glare from Leshia.
“And he’s got a reason to hate me,” Leshia repeated. Suddenly she groaned dramatically and slid down on the soft bench. “There was me thinking this year was going to be a walk in the park.” Her friends laughed.
“Leesh where you’re concerned nothing’s ever a walk in the park,” Katie assured the girl. “But it’s okay, he’s only in first year, what’s he going to do?”
“Well if his mum has been teaching him Dark Arts since his old man topped himself then I’d say he’s capable of quite a lot,” Leshia replied grimly.
“But the whole school’s got your back mate, you’ll be fine,” Parys spoke reassuringly, but soon changed tack when Leshia play-glowered at him, “Okay, so three quarters of the school, that’s still more than enough to ward off one little first year.”
Feeling reassured by her friends’ support Leshia sat up again at the table and was about to change the topic of conversation on to a more worthy subject that didn’t revolve around her when suddenly she caught sight of a familiar face across the pub. Her own face grew stony.
“Um, can we go back to yours now Katie?” she spoke stiltedly. Where most of her friends frowned with this about turn Rachel, who had been also been scanning the pub instantly understood her friend’s mood and felt saddened by it.
“Leesh I’m sure he’s not going to come over,” the redhead explained gently, reaching out to squeeze her friend’s arm.
“Who?” the boys demanded. Katie though, had by now spotted the unmistakable figure of Draco Malfoy parting the crowds at the bar, still oblivious to the fact that his estranged daughter was sat only a few yards away. He seemed to be waiting for someone, glancing toward the door leading out into the dusty yard beyond.
The youngsters had all fallen silent, not daring to speak lest Draco hear them and not daring to bring up the peculiarity of this situation lest they force Leshia to talk about something she had no desire to talk about. They were stuck, frozen in a very uncomfortable moment in time.
“Leesh we can go if you want,” Katie finally spoke. As though her soft response had carried magically across the bar to Draco’s ears he suddenly turned to look straight at the six teenagers watching him. Startled at the sight of the child he had missed more than he could explain that summer staring at him now so contemptuously Draco briefly looked away, before he grinded his teeth together and pushed himself from the bar. He was walking over.
“Great,” Leshia muttered and quite suddenly she was on her feet looking at the friends she, Katie and Rachel were leaving behind. “Sorry to run, but we’ll see you guys Sunday on the train.”
“Take care Leesh,” Rodeo called after the girl tentatively, his eyes creased in sore disappointment that she was going. Though the three girls’ escape was a speedy one, they weren’t quite fast enough and before they reached the hearth, ready to floo back to Potter Manor Draco had stepped in their path. Leshia faced her father, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Hi,” she stated civilly. Draco mimicked her pose, towering over his short daughter.
“Hi. Katie’s tonight is it?” he looked past his child briefly to her friends, who were watching him with sympathy in their eyes.
“When will you be home? I know Ginny’s planning…”
“Curfew. You already told me I had to be home by ten, so that’s when I’ll be home,” Leshia interrupted simply. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“No I know sweetheart.” Her father’s gentle tone and understanding was too much for Leshia who nodded quickly.
“Okay, well, we’d better get going,” she stated bravely and after glancing up into her father’s sorry eyes she quickly looked away again and skirted round his massive form to the hearth.
“Have a good evening girls,” Draco told her friends with a sad smile before he ducked under a low beam beside the hearth to seek out who he had come to meet. Katie and Rachel exchanged a heartbroken look as Leshia threw a handful of floo powder into the hearth, shouted ‘Potter Manor’ and then promptly disappeared in a swirl of green flames.
Hermione looked at the little bundle in her lap with a smile pulling at the corners of her mouth and a tear rolling down her cheek. Baby Evie was struggling a little in her blanket, looking up with dark eyes, seeking out Hermione’s, too young to wonder why her mother was both crying and smiling all in one go.
“It’ll be okay little one,” Hermione whispered through a loud sniff, unsure of who she was trying to reassure. “Sometimes mummies and daddies get angry with each other. I didn’t mean to shout so loud. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
Hermione laughed stupidly to herself, wiping at her face with the back of her hand. How ludicrous she felt, trying to explain to a two-month-old baby why she and Draco had had yet another argument, why she had shouted her anger and pain away, why Draco had stormed off into the evening.
“It’s your sister,” Hermione was continuing, finding it hard to stop now she had started. “My wonderful darling little girl who doesn’t even look at me anymore. She’s so like your father. If only she would spend some time with you she’d understand, she’d love you as much as we do, we’d be a proper family. She’s just so stubborn…”
Hermione broke down into sobs, bending over her baby and hugging her tightly to her chest. The baby struggled more. For a while her mother rocked her backwards and forwards, too upset to speak.
Leshia, Katie and Rachel were giggling fit to burst, sprawled across the plush carpet on Katie’s floor, pouring over a fresh batch of pictures Katie had had developed earlier that day. Happy scenes from the last few weeks of the summer bounced out of every moving photo and several times the girls stopped to recall the moment a certain picture had been taken.
“Aw Katie can I have this one?” Leshia suddenly demanded with a big smile on her face as she looked at the picture of the three of them, squeezed into the swinging bench in Katie’s back garden seemingly happier than they’d ever been. It was a tribute to old times, a sign that all was not lost and that Leshia had been happy at some point during the long summer.
Katie looked wistfully at the picture, almost reluctant to give it away – she too had loved it the moment she saw it – but after seeing how happy it had made Leshia she nodded selflessly.
“Of course you can have it,” she replied kindly eliciting a beaming smile from the blonde girl, who pawed lovingly at her new prize. “On one condition.”
“You put it up at Hogwarts so I can still see it every now and then.” Leshia grinned and rolled across the soft carpet to her friend, who she hugged with one arm about her shoulders.
“It’s so weird to think of us all going back to Hogwarts,” Rachel suddenly mused aloud. “I mean today was the first time I’d seen Ash since we broke for summer.” The other two nodded in agreement.
“Well she was in Australia with her family wasn’t she.”
“I was wondering why she looked so brown,” Leshia piped up.
“I can’t wait to get back to the dormitory, I’ve kind of missed everyone,” Katie now said with a small smile.
“I think I saw nearly everyone there was to see come through the bookshop,” Leshia now put in. “I saw everyone I really wanted to see, and loads I didn’t want to see.” The other two exchanged a smile, their minds both picturing the pointy angry face of Leshia’s nemesis: Damian Allseyer. “I didn’t see Owen though.”
“What, Owen Gabriel wasn’t there every day trailing your every move?” Rachel sniggered amusedly. Leshia grinned and stuck her tongue out at her friend.
“He’s not like that. Last year when he wasn’t around in summer term everything just sort of settled back down into just being friends.”
“Yeah for you maybe,” Rachel was continuing with a big smile. “I’m telling you Leesh, that boy is still smitten. So where’s he been all summer then? That first week we couldn’t get rid of him.”
“Been away hasn’t he,” Leshia replied simply. “I forget where, we’ve been writing, but most of the time he just sort of complains about his sisters. One of them, Sophie, is coming to Hogwarts this year and he’s in a state of shock. It’s really funny.”
“Little siblings should be banned from coming to Hogwarts,” Rachel now grumbled, evidently thinking of the first of her many younger siblings who she had never seen eye to eye with joining Slytherin two years ago. The girls mostly ignored each other at school, but whenever they went home for the holidays they were at loggerheads. Unsurprising, the tragic divorce of Ron and Lavender had divided the children terribly. As of yet though, Hermia was the only one to truly side with their mother, who she was most alike, but Lavender’s break from parenting to travel the world had rather left Ron with all the children depending very much on the kindness of his family and friends to help him with his brood.
Despite all this though, Ron was coping splendidly.
“There’s one small grace in my situation,” Leshia suddenly spoke stunning her friends into silence. Was she really about to talk about the drastic event that had changed her family for good? “When she’s Hogwarts age I’ll be long gone.”
Leshia could never bring herself to say Evie’s name. Katie and Rachel exchanged significant look, one fraught with the memory of arguments they had been having all summer. Katie desperately wanted to plague Leshia with questions and make her open up about her feelings, but Rachel had never allowed it.
But if Leshia brought it up herself, did that mean she was ready to talk about it?
“She’ll still be a part of your life though Leesh,” Katie finally spoke; ignoring the wide-eyed glare Rachel was casting her. Leshia looked up sharply to the raven-haired girl and seemed surprised that finally they seemed to be speaking about this terrible weight that had been hanging over them all summer. She couldn’t stop now.
“I know. That’s the worst part,” she finally whispered. “I don’t…I don’t like being in the same house as her. I hate it there! I just don’t understand it. How they can lover her so much when she’s just this blob that screams and smells. And when she’s not screaming or eating she’s just sleeping! I don’t get it!” Leshia was talking quickly now, extricating herself from these thoughts that had been plaguing her all summer. “All I’m saying is I don’t see how they can love her more than me when she’s just this…thing.”
Katie’s eyes crumpled into despair while Rachel gulped a little.
“Leesh they don’t love her more than you, there’s no way,” Katie said sadly.
“Well they do,” Leshia complained gruffly. “She’s not done anything to earn their love and yet she gets more of it than me. You should see it, every time they lay eyes on her they just go all soppy and…oh it’s just wrong.”
“She’s your sister Leesh, surely that means something,” Katie was continuing. Leshia shook her head.
“It means nothing. It means that after nearly fifteen years of it just being the three of us she’s come in and taken my parents from me. If anything it means I hate her. I just…I hate her.”
The cousins exchanged a look of great sadness. They couldn’t hear Leshia talk this way. They just couldn’t accept that she felt these things.
“She hasn’t taken them away,” Rachel now tried.
“Yes she has,” Leshia countered quickly. “You know my mum’s not coming back to school don’t you? And my dad’ll be flooing in every day. He won’t be at school anymore. He’s always been there. He…” Leshia grew quieter until she trailed into silence, her thoughts evidently on her father’s notable absence from Hogwarts. The cousins could guess it would not be the same for their friend without her father’s subtle yet ever present existence about the place.
“And you know the worst part of it all?” Leshia finally spoke again. Her friends raised their eyebrows in silent questioning. “I only took bloody Ancient Runes because my mum wanted me to and now she’s not even going to be there!”
“It’s not funny,” Leshia grumbled, a smirk on her face.
Now Katie sniggered.
“Guys,” Leshia tried, but she too broke into sniggers.
After the tense conversation it felt good to laugh and the girls kept their conversations to more light-hearted topics until they were called down to dinner. With big smiles on their faces the three girls appeared in the kitchen where Ginny, Harry and their son Michael were already seated at the family table.
“It’s about time, food’s nearly gone cold,” Michael complained once the girls had dropped down at the table.
“We didn’t take that long,” Katie countered, a slight edge to her voice.
“Don’t start,” Harry silenced his children before a fight could break out. “Let’s try and act like the happy family we are in front of our guests shall we?”
“But dad it’s just Rachel and Leshia,” Michael complained. “They like are family.” For a moment Ginny beamed at her son before she served her husband and the teenagers. Chatter was raucous as the youngsters filled each other in on gossip they had heard about school. Leshia was providing the most undisputed facts, but was happily joining in with the guesswork her friends were engaging in. She didn’t think anything could spoil her mood now; it was almost like old times. Almost…
“So Leshia, how’s your mum?” The stern look in Ginny’s eyes betrayed the fact that she was mortified by how Leshia was acting. She couldn’t bear to see her best friend suffer so under Leshia’s treatment of her and felt the teenager was behaving out of line. Ginny had always loved Leshia, but knew the girl had a darker streak to her than she saw in any of her children or brothers’ children. Leshia was part Malfoy and though her goodness often countered it, the youngster could sometimes act as despicably as those she claimed to hate so.
Leshia turned to stare straight into Ginny’s familiar eyes and for a moment the table went absolutely silent.
“Um, I’m sure she’s fine,” Leshia finally spoke.
“You know what Leshia, I don’t think she is,” Ginny countered immediately. Harry hung his head and looked at his plate. He didn’t want to get involved. Hermione was hurt and he hated seeing one of his oldest friends so desperate, but he would not start on Leshia; the teenager had to work things out for herself. That’s how she had always learnt.
“I don’t…” Leshia mumbled, her brow darkening, her look growing stony, so like her father. “I don’t really…”
“She misses you Leshia, she misses you very very much.”
“How do you know?” the girl now demanded, she had been pacified and polite long enough.
“Your mum is my best friend…”
“Yeah and she’s my mum. I live there don’t I?”
“Do you? It seems to me you’ve spent most of your summer staying as far away from home as you can.” For a moment Leshia stared into Ginny’s eyes with Draco’s darkness, her shoulders silently moving up and down as though she were panting, but no sound escaped the young girl.
“Mum how could you!”
Everyone turned in surprise to see Katie staring at her mother with a severely moody expression on her pretty face, anger contorting her features.
“What?” Ginny asked sounding worried and surprised.
“You don’t understand in the slightest! You don’t know what Leshia’s been through. How dare you sit there and make her feel small and cruel.”
“Katie that’s enough,” Harry spoke firmly. Katie though, didn’t think so.
“Leshia’s my guest and you’ve upset her, well done.”
“I said enough.” Harry had raised his voice and his message was clear. Katie had overstepped the mark and would be punished later for such impertinence, but the raven-haired girl felt it had been worth it when she glanced across the table to see Leshia’s eyes glassy, but a small smile on her face; her gratitude for Katie’s solidarity was plastered all over her face.
Rachel yawned as she stepped out of the grate at 13 Windermere Street, Winchester. The house was warm and cosy and the smell of Italian food still lingered in the messy kitchen. Her father Ron tried to keep it in order, but with six daughters and one son, the single father had rather a lot on his plate. The older girls, Rachel and Emelia especially, tried to help out as much as they could, but there was only so much the teenagers could achieve.
It was still home though and the moment Rachel materialised she smiled broadly. The sound of her sisters’ playful screaming came from the family room and so after picking up an apple from the fruit bowl Rachel wandered through to find her father submerged under three of her younger sisters. Nine-year-old Ria and twin seven-year-olds Daniella and Harmony were all in fits of laughter bullying their father while Emelia watched on clapping happily.
“Rachel! Come and help us squash daddy!” Harmony cried out the moment Rachel wandered into the warm sitting room.
“Keep it down girls,” Ron laughed, clearly in his element. “Matthew’s just got off to sleep, you’ll wake him up again.”
With one tremendous effort Ron toppled all three girls onto the sofa and finally regained his feet, reaching out an arm to his eldest child.
“How was it? Did my sister nearly poison you with her poor excuse for a home cooked meal?” he called to the girl cheerfully. Rachel grinned and soon reached her father’s side, hugging him briefly as he slung his arm about her shoulders.
“Smells like you had take away so what would you know about home cooked dad?” Rachel countered cheekily.
“Hey! I’ll have you know I did more than just get take away. I mean there’s the deciding what to have bit, waiting for the delivery boy, paying him with all that confusing muggle money and then serving it out…” His account was drowned out by Rachel’s drain-like laughter, which instantly brought a smile to the proud father’s face. His happiness was etched with sadness though, soon this daughter and two of his others would be leaving again. And though it would be easier to look after only four children instead of seven, it pained him to see them go.
Especially Hermia. Her pain at missing her mother and her refusal to let Ron close had eaten the father up all summer. How was he supposed to reach out to the only one of his children who was as alien to him as her mother had been when they first met?
“Come on you, let’s got see you’re all packed. There’s no turning the train around again if you’ve forgotten your pyjamas.” Rachel followed Ron out of the family room and up the stairs to the small bedroom Rachel had long since claimed for herself. Most of the younger girls had to share, but Rachel had always been given her own space. In her absence it seemed Ria, the sister most like her, had commandeered the room, but the girl had relinquished it just as readily when Rachel returned for the summer.
The girl’s half packed trunk lay sprawled out in the middle of the floor, evidently posing as some sort of gathering point for messy creased clothes, stray books and the odd mismatched shoe.
“Love the organisation Rach, very different,” Ron chuckled.
“Hey, you’re worse than I am. Don’t pretend your cupboards look any better. Only difference is my mess is out for everybody to see.” Ron grinned at the girl and nodded.
“I wanted to talk to you about Hermia.” Rachel stared in surprise at her father, before she dropped down on her cosy bed, snuggling into the cushions she had propped up against the wall.
“Yes Hermia,” Ron sighed, taking the desk chair and straddling it the wrong way round so he could lean on the backrest. “I need you to look after her Rachel.”
“Well I know the pair of you don’t see eye to eye, but she’s been through a lot with your mother going. You know how close they were and she needs someone to look after her. God knows she won’t let me near, so I want you to promise me that you’ll try when you get to school.” For a moment Rachel stared at her father in amazed bemusement.
“Dad she hates me,” the girl finally uttered eliciting a snort from her father.
“No she does not hate you,” he assured her. “You just don’t get on, that doesn’t mean you hate each other does it?”
“Well, she is a Slytherin…”
“Don’t,” Ron said and for the first time he sounded quite sharp. “Family first Rachel, then all other factors. She’s your sister, your closest sister in age, she’s next in line after you, you have to help her through.”
Rachel hung her head and nodded, feeling a little ashamed.
“Dad what happens when families break down?” the girl finally asked meekly. She reached across for a large pillow and hugged it tightly to her chest. Ron frowned and cocked his head to the side.
“What do you mean sweetheart? Like when your mother left or…”
“No I mean like when a family member vows to never love her parents again and actually seems to mean it.” Rachel fell silent, staring sadly at her duvet cover. Her father instantly knew what she was talking about, despite his being rather handicapped by being slow on the uptake when it came to teenage emotions and dramas.
“Leshia will forgive her parents in the end Rachel, you know she will,” the young man sighed, feeling instantly for his good friend Hermione, wishing her to be free of the pain she was feeling at her family troubles.
“I just hate watching her go it alone dad, she’s not as strong as she thinks she is.” Ron laughed abruptly earning him a quick glare from Rachel.
“I’m sorry,” Ron excused himself in his mirth. “She’s just so like Draco; thinks she’s invincible eh? She’ll need you in the end Rach and until then you’ll just have to put up with her I’m afraid.”
Rachel sighed and nodded, wondering why she was never the centre of the drama. Leshia and Katie were such strong-minded young women who got themselves into all sorts of emotional dramas that Rachel never seemed to get a look in. Even her family breakdown hadn’t really caused a stir. After sighing a second time the young girl looked up into her father’s comforting eyes and smiled.
“Thanks for being my dad. You’re the best.”
Leshia materialised in the grate at the Malfoy Townhouse to be met by a wail of sound. Instantly she reached to cover her ears; Evie was at it again. Pacing the landing on the second floor Hermione was trying to pacify her youngest daughter to no avail. Evie was upset about something and was hell bent on expressing it to the tired house. With an angry profanity muttered under her breath Leshia slung her bag from over her shoulder and dropped it on the large table she always associated with her father.
While she was growing up he would rarely be seen parted from the grand table, his life-consuming work sprawled out over it. For a moment Leshia reached out to touch his chair, the chair he had always sat in, the one she had wiled years away sitting beside begging for his attention. In anger she pulled her hand back. Fair was it? That she had had to beg for Draco’s attention while she was growing up, but now he happily bestowed it on her newborn sister who returned none of it.
“All she does is look at you,” Leshia grumbled, stalking out into the hallway. The noise upstairs was bound to be unbearable and so after deciding against heading up to her room the teenager silently snuck across the hall to the sitting room beyond the formal lounge, which had long been dubbed the ‘muggle room’ due to the presence of the television set Leshia had once found to be her only companion during her childhood.
The girl pulled the doors shut behind herself and before getting comfortable in the wide and cosy sofa. Her blanket lay on the edge, lovingly folded and looked after. For a moment Leshia wondered how many times her mother had unfolded and refolded the old thing, crying into it about the state of her family, but such thoughts churned her stomach, so after dragging the warm wool about her shoulders she flopped back on the cushions and turned the TV on, instantly finding one of those hilarious cartoons her parents disliked her watching.
Draco was in his study when he heard the TV being switched on. For a moment a smile slid onto his grave face; Leshia was back and not barricaded in her room for once. Taking this rare opportunity he climbed to his feet, his customary glass of whiskey in hand and strode from the room. Once he reached the muggle room he paused, wondering whether he should knock, but then getting angry with himself for considering such formalities in his own with his own daughter, he pushed the door open and walked in. At first he feared Leshia to be asleep, but as he wandered round to sit in his armchair he realised the girl was simply frozen, not sure whether to bolt or to stay and try and ignore her father.
“You’re back early,” Draco remarked with a sigh. He had a bad headache, a crying induced headache.
“Yeah, got tired I guess,” Leshia replied uneasily, forcing an awkward laugh at a bad joke on TV. Draco smiled sadly and sat down in his armchair.
“You know earlier, at the Leaky Cauldron, you didn’t have to run out on your friends, I wasn’t there to harass you,” he spoke softly. Leshia’s skin crawled.
They lulled into silence while Leshia forced herself to concentrate on the large screen and Draco watched his daughter with longing for a time when she did not feel such…indifference to him. The worst part of his heartbreak was that Leshia didn’t seem to hate him, or even dislike him; she just didn’t seem to care at all. He couldn’t allow himself think this was true, but it certainly did feel like it.
Upstairs Evie gave a particularly loud and miserable yell. Leshia twitched and briefly shut her eyes to drown it all out. Draco noticed.
“You used to do that too. Always surprised me by how loud you could get when I didn’t think it was possible. She’s just like you,” he blurted out, unsure of why he was telling Leshia this when it would most likely make her upset. As he had predicted Leshia’s eyes flew onto him and Draco felt he had better carry on before she had the chance to speak, “Look sweetheart I’m so sorry that this summer has been all about Evie. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to do anything together.” For a small while Leshia and Draco looked at each other, their identical grey eyes locked in a desperate gaze. Neither wanted this, but how to stop it now it had started? Slowly Leshia nodded and looked back to the TV. The moment had passed.
This lack of response made Draco’s temper spike a little. Up above Evie’s wailing grew louder. How was he expected to make amends while Leshia pretended he didn’t exist? Pretender his words meant nothing? Pretended he didn’t care?
“Don’t shut me out Leshia,” he finally managed brusquely, returning to the one state of mind that had always seen him through.
Quite suddenly his daughter climbed to her feet, strode over to the TV, angrily switched off the switch and strode away to the door where without turning to look at her heartbroken father she called back to him,
“I’ve changed my mind. I will be working tomorrow, I need the money.” With this thinly veiled excuse she was gone closing the door reasonably behind her. Leshia had learned not to slam doors, play loud music or break rules this summer. She had been ideally behaved…her parents had not even the excuse to talk to her while punishing her because she never did anything wrong anymore.
Leshia collected her bag from the kitchen and ran up the stairs two at a time. On the landing Hermione was surprised by her daughter’s sudden appearance, but before she could speak the teenager merely nodded her head minutely to her mother before closing herself away behind her heavy door. Moments later the sound of music wafted out, just quiet enough to be acceptable, just loud enough to drain out the horrid sounds of the interloper.
Flourish and Blott were very surprised to see Leshia back the day after her supposed final day, but were happy to accept her help. The girl didn’t get back till six-o clock to find her parents in frosty moods. Evidently they’d been arguing again.
“Leshia,” Hermione called out when she heard the front door quietly open and close.
“Yeah it’s me,” the girl called back, all set on darting up to her room.
“Darling you’ve had a letter.” Leshia paused on the doormat and looked into the kitchen to see her mother at the stove stirring dinner. Evie was nowhere to be seen and so with a heavy sigh Leshia stepped inside the room the family had once spent so much of their time in.
“Have you had a nice day?” Hermione asked her daughter turning at the stove to face Leshia, who shrugged.
“Yeah it was fine,” the teenager replied. “So um, where’s my letter?” Hermione nearly winced, but inhaled bravely before nodding towards the large cabinet along the wall. Leshia made a grab for the letter, realising with a big smile that the handwriting on the front belonged to Owen Gabriel, her once crush. Hermione felt tears sting her eyes when she saw her little girl’s face light up and only wished she still had the power to make her feel such happiness. Lately, she only seemed to make the girl angry.
“Thanks,” Leshia said simply, before she darted from the room towards the stairs. Only once she was safely in her room did Leshia tear the letter open and drop down on her bed to read,
Well, I’m back in the civilised world again. Seems unreal. I feel like I’ve been away for six years, not six weeks. Hope you haven’t been getting yourself in any trouble. Any chance of meeting later on to catch up before we get the train back to school tomorrow?
I know you’ll say yes, so I’m not going to bother writing any more, my arm’s too tired.
Leshia smiled a little as she reread the letter a second time. Owen was back! Without thinking she jumped to her feet and wandered over to her desk where a parchment and quill lay over a recently finished holiday essay Professor Snape had set them for Potions. With all the time spent locked in her room Leshia had been given plenty of time to put a good effort in and she was sure the grumpy old Potions Master was going to be pleasantly surprised at her work. Shoving the rolled up ten foot essay aside Leshia picked up a scrap of parchment she had already doodled over and penned a quick response to her friend,
About time you got back. Some of us have been working hard this summer, not swanning off to exotic locations. Meet me at the Leaky Cauldron at 11, give me some time to break curfew. You’d better have brought me a present!
With the parchment in hand she rolled it up tightly and sealed it with a little wax, before she climbed to her feet and opened her window. Sitting up on the broad windowsill she flung her hand out into the evening. The girl waited for a few moments, impatiently flicking the catch on her window, until finally a small tawny owl landed on her arm looking ruffled.
“About time you showed up,” Leshia told the owl bemusedly. She had never liked Auralia, the Malfoys’ family owl, who had never taken a liking to Leshia since she had found it highly amusing as a toddler to pull the bird’s feathers out. “Here, can you take this to Owen Gabriel?” The bird gave an indignant hoot as Leshia affixed the letter to her leg. “Please,” Leshia added forcedly, imagining her letter pecked to a million pieces if she didn’t show the bird some respect.
Quite suddenly Auralia took off and swooped out of sigh beyond the tall trees at the bottom of the garden. Leshia watched her go with an excited fluttering in her stomach; she was going to see Owen again at last! Now the only problem was sneaking out. Though Leshia was sure her exhausted parents would make it an early night – indeed they always seemed to crash into bed around ten thirty these days – she couldn’t take the risk of waltzing straight out the front door. Irritated, the girl clicked her nail against the window frame, thinking how best to get out of her room. Her eyes scanned her room for inspiration and fell on the broom lying abandoned in the corner of the room where she had dumped it the moment she got home from school.
A triumphant smile pulled at her face as Leshia realised she could simply fly down from her window and then sneak out the alley at the bottom of the garden. The Leaky Cauldron was a fifteen-minute walk from the house, so if she left at around twenty to eleven she was sure to get there on time.
Feeling invigorated by the prospect of the first mischief she had caused all summer, Leshia climbed down from her windowsill and shut the door. The smell of her mother’s fabulous cooking wafted up from below and for a moment Leshia forgot about the way she had been acting all summer and wanted to go down and have a taster. Quite suddenly though a loud bawling sound erupted from beyond Leshia’s wall making the girl’s good mood plummet frostily.
Leshia frowned when she realised no one was coming to see to the crying baby in the room next door. Where was her father? Five minutes passed in which Leshia’s head started to pound. She couldn’t take the noise anymore and so after an angry profanity cursed under her breath the fourteen-year-old climbed to her feet and carefully pushed her door open. The sound out in the hall was far louder than in the protection of her room, but Leshia managed to fight her instinct to pull back and wandered out.
“Mum?” she called out cautiously. “She’s crying,” she added unnecessarily when no reply came. Awkwardly the girl stepped from one foot onto the other, glancing at her parents’ open door to see her father wasn’t in their room. “Mum!” Still no response. Leshia frowned worriedly and looked over her shoulder into her sister’s dimly lit room. “Agh damn it,” she sighed and slowly approached the door. Very slowly she pushed it open wider than it already was and approached the beautiful ornate cot that had once belonged to her many years ago. Inside Evie lay squirming and red in the face, the awful smell that was wafting up from the baby indicated what had her so distressed.
“Oy,” Leshia uttered when she was stood over the baby. Evie’s eyes had been squeezed shut in her despair, but suddenly she opened them at the strangely familiar voice and looked up into a face she barely knew. Quite suddenly she stopped crying, interested in who this person was. The two sisters locked their eyes on each other both amazed by the other. Leshia took a step back. Evie let out a cry of distress. The moment was gone.
“I’m coming,” Hermione’s voice called out from the stairs and her quick footsteps sounded. Leshia started backing away from the crying baby guiltily. At the door she met her mother, who looked simply astounded to see her older daughter backing out of her youngest’s room.
“Leshia?” Hermione uttered in surprise.
“I didn’t do anything,” Leshia quickly stammered. “She was crying and you and dad…look I didn’t touch her okay?” With this the teenager fled and quickly hid herself back inside the safety of her room leaving her mother standing in the baby’s doorway with a small shaky smile on her face.
Later that evening Leshia further surprised her mother into smiling spontaneously when she showed up for dinner five minutes early, offering to lay the table. Draco, who had been loitering in the hall heard his daughter’s offer of help and came striding into the kitchen in time to catch Hermione dabbing at her eyes with her apron. The parents exchanged a hopeful smile while Leshia was taking out the placemats from the sideboard, oblivious to the silent communication going on behind her back.
“Want some help?” Draco offered when Leshia straightened up with the table settings. The girl looked up at him blankly and shook her head.
“I’m good thanks,” she said simply and started placing the tablemats out.
“You can help me carve the meat darling,” Hermione called out to her husband, a very silly smile on her face. Draco grinned and ambled across the kitchen to his wife, doing as instructed, keeping a surreptitious eye on their daughter, who had laid the table in expert time. He hated admitting it, but a small part of him was suspicious of her intentions. Hermione had told him all about her earlier surprising behaviour in Evie’s bedroom and now this voluntary time with her parents? He knew his daughter well enough to suspect that something was up, but he didn’t want to let it spoil his mood and tried not to worry about it.
Soon the three of them were sat at the table enjoying Hermione’s delightful cooking. Though Hermione and Draco revelled in this time with their child, it was marred by the feeling of strangeness that this was the first time they had sat down to dinner together since the very first evening of the summer holidays. Leshia’s mood was as pleasant as it had been all summer and occasionally she even granted her parents a smile.
“So have you packed everything you need for school?” Hermione asked brightly when a silence lulled over the table. Leshia looked up sharply and nodded.
“Do you need me to wash anything for you?”
“No I’m good.”
“Are you sure?” Leshia’s jaw twitched and she nodded slowly, turning back to her meal, withdrawing again from the conversation. Hermione caught Draco’s eyes, her face crumpled in upset, what more could they do? How were they supposed to get Leshia through if she wouldn’t even talk to them?
Talking about school made Leshia hurt. Whenever she really sat and thought about the fact that her parents wouldn’t be returning to Hogwarts a cold sinking feeling weighed down in Leshia’s chest. Yes she would still be seeing her father on a daily basis, but the fact was that when the bell went at the end of the day he would be gone. Their luxurious once-family chambers would lie silent, gathering dust, never again to welcome Leshia in to a warm and cosy family scene.
Plagued by these thoughts Leshia’s eyelids grew heavy and her eyes fell to the centre of the table in a world of her own. Hermione noticed and it pained her. Why was it that amidst her friends Leshia could revert back to her charming self, but around her parents seemed to be a new person? The girl was so full of anger. So…so like Draco.
Leshia’s plan went off without a hitch and at ten to eleven she was walking in to the Leaky Cauldron. She had got there rather quicker than she had expected as several times she had broke into a nervous little run when she thought someone was following her. The pub was packed full of cheery patrons and familiar faces. Leshia kept her hood over her head and made her way over to the bar where Tom the barkeeper was polishing a very large tumbler.
“Tom,” Leshia whispered, hoping not to draw attention to herself in and amongst the crowds. She had become friendly with the burly barman during her summer as a regular on Diagon Alley and had, on the odd occasion where she was desperate for a legitimate reason to stay out of the house and the bookshop had no need for her, she had worked for Tom clearing tables and keeping the kitchen clean. Tom liked the youngster.
“Should you be out and about at this time?” the grisly old man replied inconspicuously, a big smile on his face. Leshia shrugged her shoulders in a grimace.
“I’m meeting a friend Tom. Please don’t tell my parents.”
“Leshia you’re underage, you’re not allowed to be in here at this time.” Tom seemed amused.
“Yeah I know, but I’ll stay out the way and well…you sort of owe me, you said so yourself.” Leshia squirmed a little at having to call in a favour. She was right in saying Tom owed her, she had kept quiet about a lot of things she had seen happening in the respectful pub and had worked for pittance. Tom grinned a toothy smile at the girl.
“You’re more Malfoy than I realised,” he chuckled. “Very well then, but you stay put in that booth over there in the corner. What can I get you?”
“Just a jug of pumpkin juice would be great,” Leshia beamed at the man, before she scampered through the jolly crowds to the booth Tom had indicated. From this secluded spot she peered out from under her hood at the patrons of the pub able to gaze at them without any retribution. Thankfully no one too well known to the girl had graced the Cauldron that night; otherwise she would not have wanted to stay. At eleven on the dot Owen walked in and shiftily glanced around to see where Leshia had hidden herself. It was the girl’s frantic waving that gave her position away, and after a small smile Owen slinked across the pub, avoiding any unwanted attention.
“Evening Malfoy,” he greeted his smaller friend cheerfully before he dropped down next to the girl and awkwardly half hugged half shook her hand.
“You’re practically black,” Leshia exclaimed in wonder, staring at Owen’s highly tanned skin in amazement. He had evidently been lying under a warm sun all summer. The tall young man grinned dashingly and shook his head.
“Been a long summer hasn’t it, so why do you still look exactly the same as the day I left? Haven’t you been out at all?”
“Not much actually, been working mainly.” Owen frowned.
“Working? As what?”
“Just at the bookshop again.” Leshia didn’t want to talk about her summer, but Owen wasn’t going to let her glaze over the fact that she hadn’t done anything all summer.
“Why have you been working? I’ve been to your house Malfoy, your family’s loaded.”
“I wanted to earn my own money,” Leshia lied easily. “I’ve nearly made enough for a new broom!”
“Leesh your broom is one of the best,” Owen assured the girl. “Besides, you love that broom.”
“Yeah well, not anymore,” Leshia girl countered miserably, unable to express how much she’d turned her heart away from the most precious gift she had received from her father in first year. She couldn’t explain how she felt a deep sadness wash over her whenever she touched it.
“So if you’ve been working all summer, what did your parents think of it?” Owen had grown to understand Draco when last year the frightening teacher had grilled him in a one-on-one session and practically force-fed him whiskey. The youngster had been into the Lion’s den and had come out alive and with a more thorough understanding of what made Draco Malfoy tick.
“They didn’t think about it, not really. She takes up most of their time.” Owen frowned.
“Your sister?” Leshia hung her head a little, her eyes disappearing behind her heavy hood. “Leesh tell me you’re still not hung up on that. I told you before I went away you have to make an effort, not just turn your back on them all.” Leshia shifted uncomfortably at Owen’s true words. Before he had gone away he had seen the way Leshia had responded to Evie’s birth and had spoken words of warning to his friend; she had to get over this issue now before it snowballed. She had ignored him it seemed.
“Coming from the guy who’s spent the last six weeks moaning about his little sisters,” Leshia forced herself to laugh, forced herself to change the subject.
“Hey, my little sisters aren’t innocent little babies. My sisters are fire breathing dragons, I’ll tell you that!” Leshia laughed properly now, the darkness gone, her mood restored. Owen kept her in stitches while they drank their way through three jugs of pumpkin juice. The evening was drawing to a close and closing time was approaching. All about the pub drunken patrons were stumbling around in overly delirious or foul moods. The youngsters felt giddy too, it had been wonderful catching up after such a long time apart.
Their giddiness however, was about to come to an abrupt stop. Leshia had just been mid-raucous laughter when a sudden nasty presence washed over the youngsters. Before they could understand what had happened a tall black-clad figure sat down on the bench, blocking the escape route out of the booth.
“Professor Snape,” Owen gabbled in shock. For a moment the hook-nosed teacher stared at Owen with an immense amount of displeasure before his eyes slid on to Leshia, who had hung her hooded head, hiding her face behind the dark cloth.
“Mr Gabriel, Miss Malfoy,” Snape finally spoke. Like a jack-in-the-box Leshia’s head flew up, her defiant gaze meeting her father’s friend’s steely one. “What exactly are a pair of underage pupils doing in a pub at one-o clock in the morning?”
“Catching up before school starts,” Leshia replied honestly, her tone entirely cocky, her manner infuriating and childish. Owen glanced briefly to his friend and shook his head ever so slightly. They had been caught and had to try and back out of this situation in tact; winding up a frosty looking Snape would not help matters.
“Miss Malfoy you might try to remember exactly who you are talking to, you are in serious trouble. Do not make matters worse for yourself.”
“How can I be in trouble? You can’t do anything to me yet, we’re not even at school!” Snape raised one eyebrow at the girl before pulling a pocket watch from his robes.
“By my count the time is seven minutes to one, which would make it officially the first day of school, which would make me officially your teacher again Miss Malfoy. So I repeat, do not make your situation any worse. Now both of you come with me.”
Leshia wanted very much to argue, but Owen shook his head at the girl and dragged her along by her elbow, leading her after the teacher who had already stalked out into the warm night.
“Let’s just push him over and run,” Leshia whispered to her friend, who managed a broad grin despite his grim mood.
“Even though I know you could outrun him Leesh, that wouldn’t exactly do you any favours.” Leshia smiled cheekily and shrugged, feeling a familiar warm thumping feeling in her chest: adrenalin! She had gone so long without it that the return of adrenalin and mischief made Leshia feel herself again for the first time all summer. Snape had come to a halt outside the pub in the dreary street.
“You, Mr Gabriel, how did you get here?” Owen shrugged.
“My older sister apparated me here,” he replied truthfully. Snape thought hard for a moment, he had a duty to both youngsters, but wanted more than anything to escort Leshia home to her parents.
“You are to floo home immediately. I will be writing to your parents to explain your behaviour.” Owen sighed, but his disappointment was not for himself, but rather for his friend. If he was being sent home by the floo network then Snape would be personally escorting Leshia home.
“But…” the boy began, looking at Leshia.
“Now Mr Gabriel.” Owen smiled meekly at his friend one last time before he stalked back inside, a definite edge to his walk.
“You, Miss Malfoy, take hold of my arm,” Snape next ordered leaving Leshia watching the potion’s master with a grimace, as though touching him was the last thing on the planet she wanted to do. “Now.” Feeling dejected and a little worried about what was going to happen Leshia reached out and wrapped her arm around Severus Snape’s. She couldn’t help but cringe, though this was not because of the suffocating moment of blackness that accompanied Snape’s apparating them to her front gate. The moment the world remade itself Leshia lurched away from her teacher and flung the gate open, storming up it to the front door. Snape was right at her side and before she could open it with her keys the potion’s master had knocked loudly on the grand door.
“What are you doing?” Leshia demanded. Snape though ignored the teenager, a small snake of a smile winding its way onto his face. After five minutes of silence the front door finally creaked open revealing a tired-looking Draco dressed only in a pair of house trousers that he had hurriedly pulled on over his boxer shorts. Though initially he looked guarded, the moment he saw who stood upon the step. After staring incredulously into his daughter’s face Draco looked up into his friend’s eyes, a hard look on his handsome face.
“What is the meaning of this?” he finally asked. Snape reared himself up into his most haughty pose.
“I just caught your daughter at the Leaky Cauldron with Owen Gabriel where she has been since eleven-o clock tonight,” Snape explained. Leshia turned quickly to glare up at him, silently wondering how he knew how long she’d been there.
“You what?” Draco demanded, his eyes falling to Leshia’s face. “You snuck out to meet that boy in a pub in the middle of the bloody night?” The teenager narrowed her eyes slightly at her father. “Oh get inside,” Draco snapped brusquely and he reached out, took hold of Leshia’s arm and dragged her inside. She extricated her arm from his hand as quickly as she could, all set on storming upstairs. “My study Alecia, don’t you dare go up there.” For a moment Leshia seemed less assured of her mood and glanced anxiously at the dark arch under the stairs that led towards Draco’s enclosed and frightening study.
“Now,” her father stated darkly. Leshia sighed heavily and took one last look at the grinning Snape, before she turned on heal and stormed off towards the archway. Only once she had disappeared through it did Draco turn around with one eyebrow raised.
“I thought it best to bring her straight home,” Snape remarked casually, doing a poor job at hiding the mirth he evidently felt at causing Leshia such grief.
“Yes, thank you Severus,” Draco replied brusquely. “Tell me honestly, what were they doing?” For a moment Snape thought of how much worse he could make Leshia suffer were he to make up a little white lie, but the old Potion Master was not a deceitful man. He would tell the truth.
“They were talking and drinking pumpkin juice.” For a moment Draco looked relieved, but then his face grew stony once more.
“Thanks Severus.” After a slight incline of his head Snape backed away from the door and promptly disappeared leaving Draco staring at the step he had vacated. After he had closed the front door and stepped back into the hall he glanced up at the landing. No doubt Hermione would be lying awake, wondering what was going on, but for now he couldn’t comfort her. Leshia needed to know she had overstepped the line and all summer his wife had been preventing him from taking a firm hand with their daughter, stopped him from shaking some sense into her, but now she had finally crossed one of the boundaries Draco was going to use it to try and talk some sense into the girl.
With his face arranged in a steely expression the troubled father stalked down the dark corridor to his study where Leshia had awkwardly made herself comfortable on the settee that lined the wall between two grand bookcases. She still looked so very small despite the fact that soon she would be turning fifteen.
“We’ve been so patient with you,” Draco spoke as he walked in the room. Quickly he shut the door behind himself so his voice didn’t carry up the hallway to Hermione’s ears. He didn’t want her interrupting what had to be said. Leshia hadn’t seen her father so out of sorts in a long time, he was furious, terrifyingly furious! “And this is how you repay us? By sneaking out in the middle of the night to a pub?”
“I couldn’t think of anywhere else to meet,” Leshia cried out indignantly. Draco stared at his daughter for a few moments his eyes wide at her rebuttal.
“How dare you sneak out in the middle of the night full stop!” he finally countered loudly. “Anything could have happened to you.”
“Well what do you care anyway?” the girl grumbled under her breath. Again Draco was silenced, his shoulders rising and falling rapidly with pent up anger and frustration.
“Don’t twist things round Alecia, you’re the one who has pulled away from us not vice versa,” the furious father finally managed, his eyes gleaming dangerously. “You’re breaking your mother’s heart and you don’t even care.” Leshia looked for a moment as though she wanted to argue more, but quite suddenly she slouched down on the bench, staring up at her father with what could only be called a teenage surly expression. She was done talking. Draco though, was not.
“Perfect demonstration my dearest,” he exclaimed with a cruel smile on his face. “Exactly my point. Why we’ve let you get away with this behaviour all summer is beyond me. I know it was tough on you with Evie and everything, but you chose to act the way you’re acting now. If you’d only open your eyes you’d see how alike you she is and how we still love you just as much as we always have.”
Leshia rolled her eyes and slouched even further down.
“Damn it Alecia you will respect me.” For a moment the pair of them locked eyes, Leshia’s half closed in feigned-boredom and Draco’s wide in anger. He didn’t know what else to do apart from striding across the room and physically shaking the girl. “Fine,” the father finally exclaimed loudly, throwing his arms up in the air. “Have it your way; push us away when you need us the most, but you had better well understand that we’re not going anywhere my girl. You only get one set of parents. We’re yours and we’re not going anywhere, so I suggest you deal with it. In the meantime tomorrow you will be joining Professor Snape in his carriage on the way to school in punishment for your actions tonight.”
This at last wrenched a reaction from the cantankerous teenager, who sat up straight a look of livid anger on her beautiful features. Through an immense amount of restraint she held her tongue though and merely got to her feet. At the door to her father’s study she turned around and cast him such a filthy glare it left Draco tossing and turning all night. Had he imagined the hatred in her perfect face?
Hermione lay in bed listening to the raised muffled voices down below in the study. Her heart was pounding uncomfortably fast and a cold sweat was gathering on her brow. The storm she had been trying to head off all summer was going ahead full throttle and part of her wanted to throw a tantrum to voice her displeasure at Draco’s breaking her trust. He had to understand that they couldn’t push Leshia. Hermione felt her husband ought to know how badly Leshia would respond to this ‘tough cop’ way of doing things. The girl was too much like her father and if she felt she was being told what to do her natural instinct was to defy.
Quite suddenly scampering footsteps on the stairs indicated that the argument was over and as Leshia’s door shut forcefully Hermione sat up in bed. Draco would no doubt be drowning his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey down below and so after pulling a thick cardigan about her shoulders Hermione descended the stairs, her face set in a stubborn expression. As she had guessed Draco was sat in the chair behind his desk, a heavyset tumbler in his hand, his face stony.
“And did it work?” his wife asked the moment she flounced in, shutting the door behind herself. Draco glanced up, one eyebrow raised. He was in no mood for games. “Does she love us again?”
“Oh don’t start,” Draco complained icily.
“Why not? You evidently did on Leshia.”
“Do you even know what she’s done?” Draco raised his voice surprising Hermione into losing her defiant frown. Quickly she shook her head.
“What has she done Draco?”
“Sit down and I’ll tell you.”
“Sit down!” Her face contorted in hurt Hermione lowered herself into one of the chairs opposite Draco’s grand desk. Seeing her so upset at his firm manner Draco softened his hard features, but only just. “Severus was at the door just now,” he explained, sounding forcedly light-hearted; an act Hermione saw through.
“What did he want?” she asked suspiciously.
“He was returning our wayward daughter from the pub.” For a moment Hermione’s eyes went wide.
“She was at the pub?”
“That’s what I said isn’t it?” Draco looked away from his incredulous wife in annoyance, kicking at he desk leg. “She was with that Owen Gabriel boy.”
“What were they doing?” Hermione couldn’t quite believe her ears. That Leshia, who had been perfectly behaved all summer, would suddenly sneak out the house in the dead of night to go to a pub and meet up with a boy was certainly farfetched and hard to believe.
“Severus said they were talking and drinking pumpkin juice,” Draco replied and the look of relief that spread across Hermione’s face annoyed him more.
“Well that’s not so bad, she probably wanted to see him before school started.”
“Not that bad?” Draco demanded. “Hermione our fourteen-year-old daughter has just been dragged back from the pub at one in the morning. How can that not be bad?”
“All I’m saying is that it could have been worse,” his wife countered, feeling her temper rising. She didn’t think she could handle another argument, especially not on this night, Leshia’s last night home for three months. She hadn’t been separated from her daughter for any real length of time since she had been rescued from her kidnappers two years previously and the prospect of being so far away from her oldest daughter, who had spent all summer pretending she was not part of the family, was quite horrifying.
“You mean she could have been wasted?” Draco countered cruelly.
“Draco don’t start! She’s not like that. I don’t want to fight, not tonight.” Draco seethed for a moment, ashamedly wanting to take his anger out on someone, anyone, but Hermione’s pleading face wrenched Draco’s mood out from under him. Instantly his expression softened.
“I’m sorry,” he managed meekly. “I know you’ve been dreading tomorrow.”
“I just wish she could have stayed home today instead of going in to work. I really thought we could spend some time together, just the two of us. I was going to take her shopping,” Hermione explained weakly. She seemed so sad and so pathetic it made Draco’s blood boil all over again. How dare Leshia do this to her mother!
“You’ll have to make her come home every few weeks to see me Draco, you know she won’t if we let her decide.” Hermione seemed suddenly desperate, as though Leshia was already halfway to school.
“Babe don’t work yourself up about it, you know she’ll come round in the end,” Draco tried comfortingly and after downing the drink in his glass he climbed to his feet, walked round his desk and lifted Hermione to her feet so that he could embrace her firmly. As she buried her face in his chest he had the sneaking suspicion his wife had started crying, again.
“I just feel like I’m losing her all over again,” the fraught mother miserably sniffed. “My little girl. And the worst part is it’s all my fault!” Draco suddenly pulled away, taking Hermione’s arms in his hands, staring hard into her tearful eyes.
“Don’t say that. It’s like you’re wishing Evie away.”
“Oh I’d never!” Hermione exclaimed passionately. “I just wish Leshia wasn’t trying to make me choose.” Draco tightened his grip on his wife and leaned in to his her forehead.
“She’s a teenager. What’s worse, is that she’s a Malfoy teenager,” he explained quietly. Despite herself Hermione managed a little laugh between her tears. “She’s going to have to find her own way if she won’t accept our guidance. All we can do is support her from the wings and make sure she always knows we’re there for her.”
“When did you get so wise?” Hermione asked with a smile, sniffing away the last of her tears.
“Well come on, I learnt from the best. You’re like the wisest person I know.” Hermione’s smile grew tenfold and she lunged up at her husband, kissing him firmly.
“And in the meantime we have a new little girl to get to know don’t we?” she finally spoke when she pulled away. Draco smiled and nodded.
“Yeah,” he exhaled pensively and he swung his arm round Hermione’s shoulder, leading her out of the study towards the stairs. “Let’s try and get things right this time round.” His wife laughed, seeing his joke for what it was and with a lighter heart she allowed Draco to guide her back up to their room.
Leshia was unpleasant over breakfast, positively hostile on the walk to the station and silent on the platform while her tearful mother tried to say goodbye to her. The fact that she had Evie attached to her front in a baby carrier wasn’t softening Leshia’s evident foul mood, which she was still carrying from the moment Draco had sentenced her with her punishment. Across the platform pupils were staring interestedly at their once-teacher and the baby. Several of Hermione’s more favoured pupils came to greet her and coo over Evie and while Hermione tried her best to accommodate them with a bright smile, her thoughts were almost entirely on her oldest daughter, who was standing, head hanging, in a world of her own.
Draco had already carted her trunk onto the train, reigning in Leshia’s almost entirely feral cat Philly on his lead. The girl had rather ignored the cat she had once so desperately wanted, but didn’t want to give him up just yet. He had made the journey back with her in the summer and would be coming back to school, but whether she would see him once they got there was highly unlikely. Severus had readily agreed to chaperoning Leshia on the long train journey and stood a little way down the platform watching the awkwardness the Malfoy family represented with a cruel smile.
“I promise I’ll write you several times a week,” Hermione told her daughter with a brave smile. She was fighting back the tears. Leshia merely nodded simply. “If ever you need me I can be at Hogwarts in a flash! You know that.” Again a nod. Hermione was finding it harder to fight back the tears. “Well come on, give me a hug and then get on the train,” she forced bravely and she reached for her daughter, who looked for a moment as though she was going to give in and embrace her mother, but suddenly Evie started kicking her legs and Leshia froze refusing to be pulled into her mother’s arms while her sister lay in the way.
“Darling, she’s just…” Hermione began, a tear rolling over her cheek.
“I’ll take her,” Draco said firmly. The look he cast Leshia was a dark one as he reached in and easily lifted the baby from the carrier. With Evie out the way Leshia allowed her mother to pull her into a firm embrace, which she weekly returned.
“I wish this summer could have been different,” Hermione whispered into Leshia’s hair. “I wish you could have been happy. I’m going to miss you so much darling.”
“I’ll miss you too,” Leshia whispered. Though she had barely voiced it Hermione still heard and it brought a big smile to her teary face.
“We love you Leshia. We love you more than ever before. I just wish you could see that.” After one last squeeze Hermione let Leshia pull away. The girl offered her mother a doleful smile before she turned quickly on heal and strode towards the carriage Snape had holed up in.
“See you at dinner Leshia,” Draco called after the girl, but she was still far too mad with her father to pay him any attention. Once she had reached the carriage Leshia inhaled sharply, before she climbed on the train not trusting herself to look back and see the weeping state she had left her mother in. Snape was sitting in the furthest cabin to the front and as Leshia passed her laughing schoolmates, happily reliving their summer holidays with one another a heavy weight grew in Leshia’s stomach. Snape’s carriage door was shut and after staring at the teacher through the glass for a few moments Leshia pulled the door open. Without a word to the horrid man she sat down as far from him as she could, slouching down and crossing her arms. From her bag she pulled out a muggle music player, which she would take advantage of until the magical field around the school would prevent her from using it again till she left for Christmas.
As she plugged the whit headphones into her ears Snape raised an eyebrow in her direction. Leshia ignored him and turned to look the other way as she turned the muggle music on. It was loud and fast paced and within seconds Snape had extricated his wand from his pocket and pointed it in Leshia’s direction. Both ear buds flew out of the girl’s ears and hovered five inches away from her head.
“What are you doing?” Leshia demanded. “Just because I have to sit with you doesn’t mean I have to talk to you.” Instantly realising she wasn’t on holiday anymore Leshia quickly added a humble, “Sir.”
“For starters,” Snape spoke slowly and clearly. “You are going to blow your hearing out with such rubbish and you seem to have a hard time listening as it is.” Leshia stared icily into the teacher’s eyes. “Secondly, I have no desire to listen to this noise you call music for the rest of the day. So either you turn it down or I will confiscate that thing and you shall have to sit in silence for the remainder of the trip.”
“Fine,” Leshia managed civilly, keeping the hatred out of her voice, though it was evident on her face. Snape rolled his eyes, but swished his wand once more sending the ear buds flying back into Leshia’s ears. She quickly turned down her music and slouched down low in her chair until finally the train pulled out of the station leaving a sea of waving parents behind.
Teacher and girl stayed in silence for hours while Leshia dozed off to her music and Snape engulfed himself in a large and ominous book, but then, unexpectedly the batteries in Leshia’s music player died.
“What?” she grumbled, taking it out of its case to study what had happened. She had charged it so that it ought to last the day. Casting Snape a foul look – his magical meddling must have done something to it – Leshia stuffed the muggle device into the top of her bag and lay back with a heavy sigh. They were still a good few hours away and with nothing to distract her Leshia was sure she was going to go mad. Philly, who might have offered a slight change to the humdrum of the journey was sleeping silently curled up at Snape’s side.
‘Traitor,’ Leshia thought to herself grimly.
Her boredom soon started to affect her teacher, who couldn’t concentrate with the girl’s incessant sighing and leg swinging. Every five seconds she moved to fidget with something new.
“You only have yourself to blame,” he finally said sharply, looking up with a thunderous look. Leshia glanced up at him with a frown.
“Sir I don’t think it’s any of your business,” the girl replied as politely as she could.
“Oh no? Not only did you make it my business and everyone else’s at the Cauldron last night, but now your father has made it my business as well.”
“I doubt he told you you could interrogate me about the whole thing,” Leshia grumbled. Snape smiled ever so slightly, making Leshia fidget even more in worry that Draco had given Snape permission to grill her on her behaviour.
“I always knew you were a spoilt and selfish sort of girl,” Snape was continuing. “How nice of you to prove me right after all these years.”
“You know what sir, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about,” Leshia complained angrily, finding it hard to keep her attitude in check.
“And I don’t think you know who you’re talking to!” Leshia glowered at the man sat across the cabin and fought the urge to make an exasperated grumble. Looking pained the girl turned her head slowly away from the teacher and leaned against the side of the cabin. She forced her eyes shut; even if she couldn’t actually sleep she would pretend so that Snape would leave her alone.
‘Thanks for this dad,’ the girl thought bitterly, tears stinging at her closed eyelids.
Night had fallen when Leshia finally opened her eyes again. With a happy smile she realised they had reached Hogsmeade and it was the train’s screeching to a halt that had woken her up. Pupils were gathering in the corridor and without a glance to the teacher Leshia rushed to join them. She soon found her immersed in a hoard of second years, who greeted their idol enthusiastically and plagued her with questions about her summer. Only when the doors opened was she able to escape onto the platform where she sought out her friends.
“Leesh!” With a wide grin Leshia spun round to see Rachel and Katie bearing down on her.
“You survived!” Rachel crowed, wrapping an arm around Leshia’s shoulders.
“Uh hmmm.” The three girls spun around to see Snape standing in the doorway to the carriage glowering menacingly at them and soon scarpered down the platform towards the horseless carriages.
“Ugh it was terrible,” Leshia exclaimed passionately once they’d made themselves comfortable in a carriage heading up the long lane towards the school gates. “Snape is such a pillock! Seriously! He had the nerve to bring up what’s been going on at home, like it’s any of his business.”
“No,” Rachel exclaimed in disbelief. “That’s pushing a bit far isn’t it? Maybe you should tell your dad.”
“Oh come on Rach, he’s probably the one who told him to bring it up,” Leshia complained, before she let out an exasperated groan. “I am so happy to be back at school away from the lot of them. You cannot imagine!”
The cousins exchanged a worried look, but didn’t challenge Leshia on the matter. She seemed happy and back to normal for now, but who was to say she would stay that way if they made her talk about what had happened in the summer and just now with Snape on the train.
“Rodeo walked right into our cabin door earlier, it was so funny,” Katie suddenly gushed happily. Leshia laughed picturing the sight, but missed the significant look Rachel was trying to cast her.
“What a plonker, why’d he do that?” the blonde girl giggled.
“Well exactly that, he’s a plonker,” Katie chuckled. Suddenly Leshia frowned and glanced to Rachel with raised eyebrows. The last time Katie had spoken so fondly of their friend was when she was still going out with him. Rachel returned Leshia’s look with a pointed one that screamed ‘you don’t know the half of it’. Indeed Leshia didn’t, she hadn’t seen the way Katie had doted on Rodeo on the journey up, it was almost as though she was totally head over heals with the boy again.
“Um Katie? Don’t you like um, hate Rodes?” Leshia asked. She couldn’t have sounded more untactful. Katie though didn’t react badly to her words; instead she just giggled and shook her head.
“Don’t be silly Leesh,” the raven-haired girl countered sounding very silly herself. Leshia and Rachel exchanged a sidelong uncomfortable glance and proceeded to change the topic of conversation very quickly.
“No new Weasleys this year,” Rachel sighed contentedly. Leshia laughed.
“Oh no,” she wailed in feigned disappointment. “You lot aren’t actually giving some other kids a shot at Gryffindor for once are you?”
“For your information, we’re branching out now. You know, expanding the empire and all that,” Rachel replied snootily. “I mean look at my sister, she’s in Slytherin. Ruddy harpie.”
“Rachel!” Katie admonished while Leshia dissolved into raucous laughter. “You mustn’t call her that, it’s mean!”
“She’s mean, that’s why she’s in Slytherin.” Rachel did leave it though, her father’s words weighing heavily on her mind. Her father had asked her to look after Hermia, no matter how much the girls couldn’t see eye to eye, so that’s what she was going to do.
By the time the girls reached Hogwarts they were all in gloriously good moods, despite the shaky start to the day. A fine feast was awaiting them inside and soon they’d be reunited with all their friends. As they ascended the stairs leading up to the entrance hall they were happily chatting about gossip they’d heard on the train when suddenly Leshia walked into something solid. When she realised who she’d bumped into she jumped back in disgust.
“Evening Malfoy,” came the silky voice of Julius Black. The enigma he really ought to be called. This boy, of darker heritage than even Leshia, had been sorted into Slytherin, but never lowered himself to their petty bickering and jeering. He was aloof, solitary, brooding and yet Leshia had learned to hate him by the way he could infuriate her with a mere sentence. He was a tricky young man, whose allegiances seemingly lay with Leshia and her friends, but would never say so aloud. He had helped save Leshia’s life from a murderous spirit set on her by his Slytherin peers before the summer and Leshia had avoided him ever since.
“Black,” was all Leshia managed with a nod before she skirted round the tall boy and dragged her friends away to the great hall. “God won’t he ever stop growing?” she grumbled to her friends. “He’ll be ten feet when we graduate.”
“Just because you’re a midget,” Rachel chuckled, earning herself a playful elbow to the ribs for her troubles.
“You should be nice to him Leesh, he did help us save your life,” Katie admonished. Leshia rolled her eyes.
“Well that sort of means you can’t moan about him all the time. We still don’t know why he did it. If only you could look past hating him and wonder why he did it then we might get somewhere.” Leshia shrugged petulantly, looking like a told-off child.
“Why do we have to get anywhere anyway, it’s not like he’s going to do it again.”
“Well you never know Leesh the trouble you get yourself into,” Rachel sniggered. Leshia didn’t get a chance to retort as by now they’d wandered into the grand hall, their eyes taking in the sheer majesty of the place, the sounds of their peers reuniting joyously meeting their ears.
As one the girls let out a contented sigh: they were home.
Gryffindor table was the most raucous and loud of the lot and as the girls passed down its length they were greeted enthusiastically by their housemates. Finally they reached a spot midway down the table where the boys had carved out a little space for the fourth years to sit down.
“What took you lot so long?” Parys piped up when the girls dropped down opposite them on the bench. “They’re about to start sorting the first years.”
“Well then it looks like we’re right on time,” Leshia countered cheerfully, before she glanced around herself at the occupants of the great hall. The familiarity of the faces was comforting to the girl, but when her eyes fell on the long table at the front of the hall her smile fell. Her father was looking more furious than ever she had seen him, the target of his glare a man similar in age with slicked back black hair, scarred yet ruggedly handsome features, a figure as tall and imposingly well built as his own and the scruffiest garb Leshia had ever seen on a teacher. She felt she recognised him, but could not pinpoint where she had seen him before, or why he and her father should be glaring at each other so.
“Who’s that?” she asked her friends interestedly.
“Who?” Rachel piped up.
“That guy my dad’s having a glaring match with.” All heads now turned to the teachers’ table.
“Yeah we were wondering that earlier,” Rodeo replied. “He must be the new Runes teacher. I mean, who else would he be?” Leshia wrinkled her brow worriedly.
“I hope he isn’t.”
“Why?” Rachel now asked with a furrowed brow.
“Can’t you see the way he’s glaring at my dad? He’s not exactly going to love me is he if he looks like wants to rip my dad’s head off is he?” Leshia grumbled and she turned bitterly away from the top table. Her friends weren’t given the chance to counter her though, as at this point the side door of the great hall was thrown open reveal Professor McGonagall leading a train of anxious looking first years into the hall.
“They are absolutely tiny,” Parys whispered gleefully, emphasising every single word. “Look you could just step on one of them and no one would notice.”
“You say that every year, it’s just you getting bigger moron,” Leshia teased him cheerfully.
“Well just because some of us are growing there’s no reason to take that tone,” Parys countered snootily, a big grin plastered on his handsome face.
“Growing stupider by the minute more like.” Parys wanted very much to get into a comical argument then and there, but by now McGonagall had led the young first years to the sorting stool, placed ritually in the centre of the platform. All eyes were on the hat as it rose to the occasion and produced a fantastically funny song that had everyone clapping raucously.
“That hat gets funnier every year,” Rachel chuckled appreciatively over the din. For a moment Professor McGonagall waited for the noise to die down before she addressed the first years, explaining to them the procedure they had no doubt been terrorised over by their older siblings. Leshia leaned forward interestedly to catch a look at the youngsters. Only one caught her eye, a very small and very blonde boy, who seemed to have an angelic face. He already had a swathe of youngsters circled around him intrigued by the charisma his mischievous face exuded.
Al Sharif, Sayid was the first to take to the stool and was soon after sorted in Ravenclaw, who rose to their feet cheering for the first new pupil to be sorted into their house. It was a while before Cotton, Alfie became the first new Gryffindor and at this news having watched the other houses’ celebrations, the Gryffindors went absolutely mad to best their neighbours. Little Alfie Cotton seemed overwhelmed and quite unwilling to joint the raucous table. Again the Gryffindor stock ran dry until finally a lanky girl with a precocious face was called forward by the name,
“Gabriel, Sophie.” Leshia’s eyes snapped up the table to where Owen was watching his sister on the stool with bated breath. The hat took a long time to decide before it deigned the youngster Gryffindor material and she too was given a hero’s welcome. Leshia had to smile when she saw Sophie glance up the table to her brother the moment she sat down, who offered the girl a thumb’s up. She knew he only pretended to find his sisters annoying. He was a big softie under all that talk.
Leshia kept watching the little blonde boy, wondering who on earth he was until finally McGonagall read out a name that sent shivers down her spine,
“Savage, Samuel.” For a moment none of the youngsters moved, until finally the very same little blonde boy Leshia had been watching stepped forward and took his seat.
“Anyone taking bets?” Leshia whispered to her friends, hiding her unease at seeing this boy finally come to Hogwarts. While the hat was deciding Leshia took the moment to glance up to the top table where Draco too was watching the boy intently.
“Come on hat, what’s taking so long? I’m starving,” Rachel grumbled under her breath.
“Slytherin!” To a roar from the far table Samuel Savage climbed to his feet and seemed to linger for a moment. Whatever he and the hat had been discussing was still very much unfinished, but McGonagall soon edged him along to the Slytherin table.
“Hey look at that, he didn’t want to be in Slytherin,” Rodeo remarked sounding surprised. “That’s not their way is it?”
“If the hat put him in Slytherin then you can bet there’s something rotten in him,” Leshia spoke quietly, feeling very relieved that the boy was heading over to the far side of the room. For one horrid moment she had got the distinct impression he was going to wind up in Gryffindor.
“Leesh don’t say stuff like that, you don’t even know him,” Katie admonished firmly. The last children were sorted quite quickly into their houses and finally the traditional lavish dinner materialised on the four tables.
“Finally!” Rachel and Parys cried in unison and they started piling their plates high. Leshia couldn’t help but grin happily at being home with her closest friends. It was almost possible to pretend that behind her at the top table both her parents were sat as they always had been and that no baby by the name of Evie Malfoy had come into the world.
When every student had eaten more than they felt their bodies capable of the plates disappeared leaving a content silence to sweep over the hall. To this natural welcoming note the venerable old headmaster of Hogwarts Albus Dumbledore climbed to his feet. His eyes twinkled as he scanned faces, new and old, and rejoiced at seeing his pupils so happy and healthy.
“Welcome.” His voice carried even to the edges of the great hall. “A very happy welcome back to old faces and welcome for the first time to all our new first years who so bravely faced the sorting hat earlier this evening. I trust you all enjoyed your summers, forgetting everything we have taught you and too much fun to recall, but now, alas, it is time for learning again.”
“I have two messages for you, I suspect you shall get awfully excited at one of my announcements and will therefore address it last so as not to diminish your joy at the appointment of our new Ancient Runes teacher in the wake of Professor Granger’s sad departure. Hogwarts, please give a warm welcome to Professor Silas Tripper.”
Leshia’s head popped up suddenly, her face contorted in a mixture of complete disbelief and total curiosity. Now it all made sense! That was why she had caught her father exchanging as furious glaring match with the strange man, it was Silas Tripper!
“No way!” the girl finally managed to articulate her surprise.
“What’s wrong?” Rodeo asked.
“That’s Silas Tripper he’s like, well he’s like my dad’s worst enemy. They hate each other!” Suddenly Leshia’s face fell. “Oh fantastic, Silas Tripper will be teaching me! Bloody brilliant! I may as well fail Runes now and be done with it.”
“Do you think that explains why your dad looks like he’s about to explode?” Rachel asked grimly, drawing Leshia’s attention to Draco who indeed, had gone so pale and angry looking that Leshia forgot her feelings towards her father momentarily and felt very worried for him.
“I’m not surprised he’s mad,” Leshia sighed gravely. “Tripper spends half his life trying to get my dad thrown into Azkaban. He very nearly succeeded once.”
The polite applause that had briefly swamped the hall died down awaiting this more exciting news that Dumbledore had to share with them all. The last time he had deigned to grant them an exciting start-of-year announcement he had told them all about the exciting International Schools Quidditch Tournament that Hogwarts would be hosting. It had turned out to be a blazing success and the possibility of just such an event had most of the pupils waiting on tenterhooks.
“Dear pupils,” Dumbledore called to the student body, a fond smile on his face. “In just two weeks time pupils from four schools from different corners of the globe will be descending on us.” For a moment frantic whispering gripped the excitable youngsters and Dumbledore simply had to wait with a small smile until they quietened down. “Now I know what you must be thinking and unfortunately the answer is no, we are not hosting another quidditch tournament. However, it is in due part down to our raving success hosting the ISQT that the event I am about to explain to you has been brought into life. Or rather, perhaps more accurately, it is due to our show of sportsmanship and international cooperation that we have been invited to join in a tradition that has already proven to be successful for many years.”
Several pupils were wrinkling their brows, finding themselves already confused by the headmaster’s rambling explanation. Those who were still following him however, were hanging on his every word.
“Pupils, this year fifteen boys and fifteen years in fourth year or above will be taking part in a pupil exchange trip.”
Noise broke out across the hall as those over fourth year happily started whispering to one another about how fantastic the proposition seemed, while those in third year and below grumbled about the unfairness of it all.
“Each of these thirty pupils will be paired up with a counterpart in one of the four schools joining us on this journey. After the Christmas holidays each of you will get the chance to travel to your counterpart’s school for the term. We have been included as a late entrant in this year’s exchange tradition and therefore we do not have the chance to send you away this term. Fortunately, your counterparts are all mobilised and will be arriving two weeks tomorrow.”
“This leaves us very little time to sort ourselves out and see which thirty lucky pupils will be given this wonderful opportunity to experience another country’s culture and customs. Tomorrow we will be affixing a list to the notice board and anyone who wishes to take part in the tournament must write their name on the list before midnight.”
“Friday after dinner we shall all bare witness to a lottery in which the fifteen girls and boys are chosen. Anyone who demonstrates that they are incapable of following rules and acting as a suitable ambassador for the school will be removed from the runnings.”
“Now then, without further ado, everybody rise please, we have a school song to perform.”
Several affronted faces met the headmaster’s request, before they all obliged with a tremendous scraping sound rising up from the benches scratching across the slate floor.
“Why’s he not telling us anymore?” Leshia whispered to her friends.
“Well it’s Dumbledore isn’t it?” Rachel countered. “He’s going to tell us just enough to get us interested then hold out on us till we all go bonkers.”
“Some of us are already bonkers,” the blonde girl sniggered. Rachel’s feigned aghast cry was lost though, on a sudden roar of mismatched melodies. The school song had started and every pupil in the room was singing to their own personal tune. Leshia and Rachel chose to belt out a very speedy version to the tune of Jingle Bells. Finally once the last pupils had brought their songs to a close the headmaster smiled over his school and nodded his head towards the doors.
Before Leshia got caught up in the general throng heading towards the great doors into the entrance hall the girl glanced up at the top table where Draco was watching her, his expression unreadable. He looked like he had something grave on his mind and for a moment Leshia felt incredibly grave. She didn’t like seeing her father so troubled.
Draco paced the floor of the headmaster’s study; every inch of him screamed agitation. Even his fingers were twitching in annoyance. As soon as Dumbledore had given the pupils leave to go Draco had been at his side asking in a voice barely audible than a whisper for a private audience. He had not trusted himself to speak any louder; he was having far too difficult a time controlling his emotions. Dumbledore had sighed and nodded; he owed Draco an explanation. They had not spoken on the walk to the headmaster’s study and now they had reached it and Dumbledore had taken his seat Draco Malfoy seemed no closer to voicing his concerns.
“I can’t believe it Albus,” the prowling man finally stated, his voice cold and dangerous, his face as dark as a thundercloud. Albus had to give him the utmost respect, though he would never fear the young man stood before him, he could see why Draco had become one of the most successful Aurors the ministry had ever seen. There was something so terrifying about his piercing pale eyes and his intimidating statuesque figure. He looked like he could break a person in two.
“No,” Draco was continuing calmly. “I will not believe it. Him? You hired that man? Of all the possible witches and wizards in the world, you had to choose Silas Tripper.”
Dumbledore sighed heavily and shook his head.
“I understand your grievance…”
“Do you Albus? Do you really?” Draco was slipping, his emotions creeping into his voice. “You know the history between us.”
“Yes I do,” the elderly wizard spoke softly, holding Draco’s frightening gaze.
“Well then I can’t understand why you’ve done this,” the young man cried out, fully losing his temper now. “That man will not rest until he sees me hanged in Azkaban. He’s been trying to get me thrown in there ever since I joined the Order. You know he nearly succeeded don’t you? Five weeks I was on trial. Five weeks they kept me in that place. I’m not going back. I won’t have him here; I won’t have him teaching my child. He’ll start on her next, just you wait and if he does, I’ll kill him!”
Dumbledore’s brow creased in concern, Draco didn’t seem to be bluffing. As the enraged man seemed to have finished his tirade, Dumbledore dared to speak,
“The appointment of Silas Tripper as the new Ancient Runes Professor was not one I had any control over.” Draco frowned heavily.
“What?” As though the wind had suddenly been blown from his sails Draco’s shoulders drooped, his face contorted in confusion.
“The Ministry forced me to instate him Draco.” For a moment Draco stared at Dumbledore in immense confusion, but before long his anger was back, tenfold what it had been before.
“Crayik sent him here?” he demanded. Slowly Dumbledore nodded. “That bloody backstabbing ungrateful…”
“Draco,” Dumbledore soothed. “You must not take it personally. He has been sent here to spy on all of us.”
“Bollocks, he’s been sent here to keep track of me and me alone. Why else would Crayik have picked Tripper? After everything I’ve done for him, after all the sacrifices. I gave up my own daughter’s childhood so I could do his every bidding whenever he needed me to and this is the thanks I get? Sending in a persistent little dog that won’t let up until he sees me thrown in prison. Wonderful.” With this last statement Draco dropped down into the chair by the desk, slouched down a pitiful look on his face. He felt so very betrayed.
“I’m sorry Draco,” Dumbledore offered gravely. “I will do my best to keep Silas in line.”
But his words were lost on the desolate young man slouched in the chair opposite him. Draco had been betrayed by what was once his greatest ally. Minister Crayik had always stood by him, even when accusations had been flying around about Draco’s allegiances well into Leshia’s childhood. Now though it seemed the paranoid ageing wizard had changed his mind on his once favourite Auror.
Gryffindor tower was awash with noise and excitement. The first years were being indoctrinated into the house in the usual flair of the Lion’s house. An initiation of sorts had degraded the common room into reams of laughter and already the new Gryffindors were convinced they had been sorted into the absolute best and most fun house in the whole school. Leshia had remained on the sidelines watching as the older pupils took charge and she had enjoyed it much more this way. The last time they had organised an initiation the girl had found herself in detention for a week with Snape, so this was a far better alternative.
A terrible lump was growing in Leshia’s throat and the longer she remained squeezed into their usual window box with Katie and Rachel, the larger it grew. She didn’t want it to form; she knew what that lump meant. It meant she wanted to cry and though she fought it, Leshia knew it was because of the fact that ever since she had lost sight of Draco at dinner she had become painfully aware of the fact that he and Hermione were not down in their once family chambers, they were hundreds of miles away. She was going to cry, she just knew it.
All in all Leshia was very grateful when everyone turned in for the night, but try as she might sleep wouldn’t come. Her mind would not let her rest. As an indication of how wretched she was feeling, Leshia even felt distressed about the fact that Tally, the family houself, could no longer be found beavering away with the rest of the castle elves. All ties had been cut. She was alone.
With sudden clarity Leshia sat straight up in bed. Her clock was reading midnight, but there was something she had to do. She had to see it. She had to see her parents’ empty family chambers. She had to see it with her own eyes, to see that they really had gone, that her life really had irrevocably changed.
Silently she slid off the bed into her school shoes and crept out the room. The common room was still lit by the dwindling embers in the hearth and helped light the way to the portrait of the Fat Lady. Remarkably, no one hindered Leshia’s journey down the many corridors and staircases she needed to cross to get to the portrait of the bride and groom that concealed the entrance to her parents’ old chambers. After tickling the groom’s foot the portrait swung open revealing the grand old door. Leshia pushed against it, but it didn’t budge.
“No,” she whispered, leaning her had against the wood miserably. Tears stung at her eyes. “Please open.”
Suddenly the door gave way and the girl stumbled inside the chambers. A fire sprung into life in the hearth lighting up the dustsheet-covered furniture. Everything that had made the place her parents’ home had been removed and only the bare minimum had remained.
The most notable absences though were the fact that Draco was not sat on the sofa, a pupil’s essay in one hand, a glass of whiskey in the other, with Hermione curled up at his side, some immense tome open on her lap sipping at a glass of wine.
A small sob escaped Leshia as she approached the white covered sofa and sat down right in the middle, feeling very small and very alone. When she shut her eyes she could still picture the place as it had been, as it ought to be now and if she tried really hard she could almost feel Hermione and Draco’s presence sat either side of her, smiling at their daughter. For just the slightest moment Leshia smiled. For just one slight moment she wasn’t alone.
The fire crackled and jolted Leshia from her daydream. The moment was gone. And when she opened her eyes she saw as much. Tears streamed down her face and pathetically she lifted her knees to her chest, hugging them tightly, burying her face in them. In between her sobs Leshia hiccupped the words she had been feeling so poignantly all summer,
“I. Miss. You.”