Draco was sitting at the kitchen table, a sixth year’s essay unfurled on the table in front of him, his brow knitted together in perplexity. How had his pupil gone so badly wrong? If the uneven scrawl scribbled at the top of the paper was anything to go by, then this poorly explained debacle had been created by Luke Weasley.
“I should have known,” Draco sighed with an amused smile. “Only a Weasley could get it so wrong.”
His evening had been a quiet one, as Hermione had taken herself off out with Ginny Potter. Draco had been quite unceremoniously asked to remain behind and mind the baby as the evening was to become a ‘girl’s night’. Dreading to think what might take place at such an occasion Draco had put up very little of a fight, merely grumbling playfully for Hermione’s sake before making himself comfortable in front of the fire with a tumbler full of whiskey and a good book. He’d had a long day’s teaching and had been looking forward for a bit of peace and quiet. Unlike her usual boisterous self, Evie had been quite contained and after her regular feed had gone down for the evening quite happily. She lay now at Draco’s side in a basinet, mumbling ever so slightly in her sleep and clenching and unclenching her little fists.
Nine months old now, Evie was growing frighteningly fast and her personality was flourishing. She wasn’t quite so peaceful as Hermione had first assumed and had a fiery cheeky side to her that reminded Draco painfully of his older daughter. That Leshia had ever been so young and so untouched made the weathered man ache. He hadn’t known her then. He’d pushed her aside throughout most of her babyhood and her childhood to repent for his crimes, therein perpetrating his worst crime of all: his abandonment of his daughter. With Evie it was all very different, Draco took the time to play with her every day, he would not miss out this time!
For a moment Draco looked up from Luke’s scrappy homework to let his gaze fall on his sleeping baby. That Evie was the spitting image of her older sister, only made in a darker hue, was all too true. Were he to pick Evie up and take her back through time to place her beside her older sister at a similar stage of her life then he would have only the colour of their eyes and their hair to tell them apart.
“You’re going to be beautiful one day Evie,” he told the infant with a tired sigh. “And when you are, I’m going to lock you away until you’re old and wrinkled and not quite so beautiful anymore. The scrapes your sister gets herself into…”
In a whoosh of green flames the quietness of the Malfoy kitchen was disturbed by none other than Albus Dumbledore climbing from the grate. Draco looked up in mild surprise and took in the ancient headmaster’s ragged pale appearance. Something had happened that had given old Albus the shock of his life and had brought him straight to Draco’s door. The younger man could only assume the worst.
Before the words could tumble from the once auror’s mouth Dumbledore took in the scene before him. He was happy to see Draco was alone, for he didn’t know if he could convey his news to both parents. Hermione had always been a favourite of Dumbledore’s, but he had seen how the young woman had changed with motherhood. Her instincts were to protect her children and sometimes they clouded her better judgement. The baby sleeping quietly at Draco’s side suggested the lady of the house was out.
Looking more closely at the sleeping infant Dumbledore’s eyes widened in astonishment. He had not seen Evie in many months and now he had come face to face with the grown baby he too saw the similarities between her and the girl who had caused him so much heartache that evening. Any fear for Evie’s safety though Dumbledore could not find, as he knew that child could never follow her older sister on the dangerous path she had both taken and been thrust down. When Leshia had been born there had been a shadow on her house. She had been born into dark and uncertain times and would never truly escape the darkness that had filled her youth with so many painful memories. Her little sister on the other hand had been born into a time of hope and love and would never suffer the same life her sister had been ordained.
The younger man sat beside the mountain of marking stood to his feet quite suddenly, his chest tight and his heart beating thunderously. Something had happened to his little girl and now Albus Dumbledore had come to deliver the news.
“Somehow I don’t think you’ve come to moderate my marking Albus. What’s happened?” the blond man managed quite calmly, though his grey eyes clouded over darkly and he hung his head, ready for the worst.
“Please Draco, sit down, I have much to tell and I feel I must find a seat before my feet fail me,” the old man returned gravely. Instantly Draco stepped forward and led his old friend to a seat at the table. Within moments he had served the headmaster a mug of tea and had taken the seat at his side with a tumbler full of whiskey. Dumbledore eyed it as though he felt he would rather have the stronger drink after the night he’d had, but said nothing of it.
“This evening, over dinner, Silas Tripper happened upon your daughter and found her in a very compromising situation.” Draco frowned heavily, but bit his tongue to refrain from interrupting. “She was reading ‘the Secret of Strength’ Draco, right under his very nose.”
Draco, who had been taking a gulp of his drink quite promptly spat it out all over Luke Weasley’s work. He stared with wild eyes at the headmaster, who merely nodded in agreement.
“He felt quite similarly I’d imagine when he saw the title. To find that book, of all the books in the world, in Hogwarts and in your daughter’s possession terrified him no doubt and he reacted as you’d expect him to. Now I must know Draco, where could Leshia have obtained it?”
Draco was too shocked to comprehend most of what Albus had just explained and for a moment he had no answers. Where Leshia could have found one of the most notorious books in wizarding history he had no idea, but he could comprehend how this looked to one such as Tripper. This was exactly the moment he had been waiting for. At last he could strike.
“She’s a fifteen-year-old girl Albus,” the younger man finally spoke, his tone unsteady. “How could a child have succeeded where Voldemort himself failed? How could she have got her hands on it? My daughter is many things, but capable of impossible feats she is not, especially if she doesn’t know what she’s looking for. That book is a closely guarded secret, she couldn’t have known about it. Someone must have given it to her. Do you think it might have been Tripper?”
“The thought has crossed my mind. That he is capable of planting something on your daughter to frame her I am in no doubt. He is a man of few scruples and terminally ruining the life of an innocent child is unfortunately not a crime I would feel him inept to carry out. However.” The wizened old man paused and leant heavily on his hand in thought. “If you could have seen him my friend, he was quite beside himself. I cannot believe him to have orchestrated these events. He couldn’t look upon the book, let alone touch it.”
Draco held the headmaster’s gaze a little longer before he hung his head. For a moment he pawed at the wood grain on the ancient table, struggling to stay afloat while a torrent of emotions pulled him in. How on earth was he going to protect Leshia now?
“What happens now?” he finally managed dejectedly. Dumbledore took a long sip from his piping hot tea, before he straightened out, ready to recall the rest of the evening’s troubling events.
“After his finding Leshia with the book Tripper insisted upon going straight to the Minister of Magic. I have not the power to stand in his way when his mind is set upon something, so of course, I accompanied him and messaged for Storik to join me immediately. Thankfully Mr Broadsword was still settling a dispute involving rogue dementors in the north and he was available to meet me at the Minister’s office before Silas and I had even arrived.”
“Young Mr Tripper spared no time in blowing the story out of proportion for Minister Crayik and I spared no time of course in putting his fear mongering into context. Both Storik and I tried and failed to make the Minister see reason. He is far too influenced by the paranoia of those like Mr Tripper and he would not be swayed.”
Dumbledore sighed heavily as he came to the part of his story he was least eager to part with. Draco was watching him intently with his piercing grey gaze and for a moment Albus looked away from them. He had tried and he had failed; he had been powerless to keep Hermione and Draco’s daughter out of harm’s way. Finding strength Dumbledore returned his attention back to the tense father sat on the edge of his seat.
“Leshia is to be put on trial Draco.”
Draco remained deadly silent, but his eyes slipped from Dumbledore’s face to a distant place no living soul could follow. His handsome face was now contorted in a storm of turbulent emotions and tension and one could only imagine at the thoughts running through his well-trained mind.
Quite suddenly Draco was on his feet and after only three strides he had climbed into the grate a handful of floo powder in his hand. Dumbledore too leapt to his feet, amazed at Draco’s course of actions.
“Where are you going?”
“Where do you think? To see my daughter.” With a heavy sigh Dumbledore shook his head and moved to stand behind the basinet.
“And what of this one?”
Draco looked up, his fingers ready to drop the powder without a moment’s thought, but the sigh of his sleeping baby made him stop. Most uncharacteristically he was wearing his emotions on his sleeve and Dumbledore could see how torn the young father had become. To leave one child for the sake of another? Could he do such a thing?
“Leshia will most likely be asleep and if sleep has failed to find her then she has more than enough friends and allies to rally round her for one night Draco. Send a message along with me to let her know you are thinking of her and then stay here, where you are truly needed. There is nothing that can be done tonight.”
Draco’s face crumpled in torment and his shoulders drooped. His gaze flittered between the floo powder in his hand and the sleeping infant in front of his old friend. His baby couldn’t manage without her father, whereas his teenaged daughter was most likely in the arms of friends as he stood there pondering what to do. There was no denying where his heart was pulling him, but little Evie, he couldn’t leave her.
“She’s probably scared to death Albus,” he finally uttered through a constricted throat.
“Yes, she probably is and I don’t deny that you might stave off some of that fear, but you have two daughters Draco and this one needs you infinitely more. You cannot leave Evie alone.”
It was a risky gamble Dumbledore had decided to take. To tell Draco how to parent his children was certainly a foolhardy choice, but if he could be made to see reason by such means then Dumbledore would take the chance. The younger man’s apparent lack of concern for his younger child was disturbing to the headmaster and though he was loath to take a side in the battle that Hermione had sought his advice on, he was beginning to think that perhaps the mother had a point. Draco’s allegiances to his oldest daughter were set in stone and could never be broken. Leshia herself had tried her very hardest to sever their ties and had failed, but the bonds linking Draco to little Evie were fragile and new and had not a lifetime of love and memories to make it strong. Draco couldn’t abandon her now.
A heavy sigh escaped the young man and he climbed from the grate with two thumping steps. Without a word to the headmaster he sat down once more at the table and hung his head over his white hands.
“I’ve done this to her Albus. It’s my fault. Everything is my fault.”
Dumbledore spoke not a word as the broken man at the table reached for a clean sheet of parchment and scribbled a letter of love and reassurance for the child he had no power to comfort, before he folded it neatly and handed it to the wizened headmaster, who moved without a word to the hearth.
“You will tell Hermione what has happened?” the aged man asked kindly once he had collected the floo powder for his journey back to the castle. Draco merely nodded.
“Explain it to her Albus,” he whispered before Dumbledore could drop his handful of powder. “She won’t understand why I haven’t come.”
“I will put her mind at ease on that count my friend.”
With this the headmaster was gone leaving Draco hunched over the table, his shoulders trembling and his heart breaking.
“Leshia,” he whispered, pinching his fingers tightly into the corners of his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done to you and for everything I failed to do for you. I’m sorry.”
Thoroughly wedged into the three-seater sofa, with Rachel on one side, Rodeo the other, Ashley and Nicola leaning on the back rest and Owen Gabriel sat in front of her on the coffee table, his knees sandwiching hers was Leshia. She could not have been more surrounded by friends and loved ones. The girl’s face was tearstained and those pressing themselves against her, willing her to be strong and to take comfort from them were silenced into an ominous stillness that was yet to be broken. Owen slowly reached out to take Leshia’s hands and at his touch the girl looked up into his face, which had grown closer with the young man’s leaning in as far as he could.
“I know you’re scared,” he spoke gently. “But you know Dumbledore and your dad won’t let anything happen to you.”
“None of us will,” Rodeo spoke up firmly. Owen, though his eyes narrowed slightly at the younger boy, nodded resolutely, before he looked back to Leshia’s watery grey eyes. They creased slightly, before she let them wander from Owen’s hazel gaze. With a wince of hatred at the people who had done this to her Owen looked down at Leshia’s hands and rubbed at the glowing sinister Eye that hadn’t stopped hurting the girl since the events down in the hall.
“Flourish and Blott will come forward and tell everyone they’re the ones who gave you the book Leesh,” Rachel now spoke comfortingly and she wrapped her arm even more tightly about Leshia’s small shoulders. “And we’ll all back you up. That thing’s been dumped in your trunk since September, I’ll tell them that! You haven’t got the foggiest what that book is. We’ll all vouch for you!”
“Rachel’s right Leesh,” Rodeo added. “Everyone in the school will vouch for you. He won’t get his way, you won’t be sent away.” Leshia’s shoulders trembled and she lifted her eyes to seek out Owen’s. Her hands clenched tightly around his and for a moment she wanted only him. Her eyes told the young man as much making Owen’s head swim with love for the girl. He had not the means to express himself, so instead he reached out to wipe a tear from under the girl’s eye.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered, expressing all of his concern and affection in his gentle voice.
“It’s calling me,” the girl finally spoke and she lifted her branded hand to show the glowing Eye. The extent to which it was throbbing had seeped into Leshia’s thinking and it was as though her very brain was pulsating along with the cruel burn on her hand. “They’re calling me, the Ministry, I can feel it. It knows, it knows it’s going to win.”
Her desperate words instantly brought reactions from her friends around her, who reached out to embrace the girl and bury her under their arms. Only Owen held back and he held the girl’s gaze with his heartbreak clear on his face. Tripper had taken all Leshia’s hope and happiness away from her and if it was the last thing he did, Owen Gabriel was going to make the scarred man regret it.
Quite suddenly the portrait to the common room swung open making way for the imposing form of Albus Dumbledore. When last they had seen him the old headmaster had displayed only an ounce of his awesome power and as though an electric current had passed through the room the youngsters started to move to leave him alone with the Gryffindor girl.
“Please,” Dumbledore addressed his pupils. “Stay where you are. You need not flee on my account.” Owen, who had not moved at the appearance of the headmaster now shuffled over a bit so that he still held onto Leshia’s hand, but allowed for her to become visible to the headmaster who had made his way over to her.
On approaching the youngster a smile pulled onto the face of old Albus Dumbledore. In even the bleakest of moments strength could be found and upon seeing the support the charming, courageous girl had rallied about herself over the years he felt his resolve fortify and his macabre thoughts dissipate into vigour. A little stiltedly he managed to lower himself onto the coffee table beside Owen so that he might have a frank discussion with the girl who seemed so small surrounded by her protective friends and allies.
“Dear Leshia,” the headmaster sighed and he offered the girl a smile. “I beg of you not to be afraid. I will endeavour to do all that I can to keep you from harm’s way, I promise you this much.” Leshia nodded, her grey tearful eyes wretched and scared. “I have gone to see your father and I have explained to him what has occurred.”
“Why hasn’t he come?” the young girl spoke through a cracked voice. Dumbledore sighed pensively, before he replied quite simply,
“Because I asked him not to.”
Instantly the fire was back in Alecia Malfoy’s face and her pale brow lowered over her eyes in anger.
“Why did you do that?” Her gall was quite impressive for one so young, for to speak in such frank and aggressive tones to arguably the most respected and powerful wizard alive required more than a little cheek and foolhardiness.
“Because young Leshia your father was alone with your little sister and he could not abandon her,” the headmaster replied with equal frankness. Leshia was shocked into silence at such plainly spoken words and for a moment she felt furious at everyone around her, but especially the little usurper who had infiltrated and blown apart her family.
“Your father was very difficult to convince,” Dumbledore continued. “But I assured him that your friends would no doubt have protected and comforted you to last you through to the morning.”
Humbled now Leshia glanced to her closest friends and nodded. They had been a rock to her, a pillar of strength at a time when all hers had failed her. What would she have done without them? In a surprising revelation the young girl realised that she no longer needed her father to rescue her or make everything right again. She could wait for one night as long as Rachel, Rodeo and dear Owen stayed at her side.
“Sorry sir,” the girl finally whispered. “You’re right, I don’t need him, not right now.” With a smile Dumbledore nodded and he reached into the fold of his cloak to reveal the letter Draco had written for his daughter.
“He asked me to give you this.” Delicately Leshia took the letter from her father and held it close, her eyes never leaving the headmaster’s. “For the time being Leshia, until we hear otherwise, things are to carry on as normal. You will still attend your lessons and you will still do your homework. On one count however, I will make an exception. You will not be required to attend your Ancient Runes lessons until this matter has well and truly been put to rest. Are we agreed?”
Quickly Leshia nodded and a small smile wormed onto her face. An invitation to miss Runes? That was the best news she’d heard all evening.
“Very well. Do try to get some sleep.” Here the wizened old man’s fond eyes darted to the girl’s friends his sentiments intended for all of them before he climbed to his feet and shuffled from the room leaving Leshia to unfold the letter from her father.
I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to come to you. It breaks every single one of instincts and my heart that I’m not at your side right now, but I have to remain here to explain to your mother what has happened and to watch over your sister until she returns.
I know you’re scared and I know you’re uncertain, but I promise you on my life that I will not let that coward of a man do you any harm. I won’t let them touch you. You know I mean it. It’s my fault this has happened to you, it’s my sins you’re paying for and in the end the Wizengamot will see sense, even if Crayik and his cronies have gone mad there is still justice left in the Ministry. Get some sleep; I’ll come to see you as soon as I arrive in the morning.
My every thought is with you. I love you.
Feeling strengthened at her father’s words Leshia pulled the letter to her chest and exhaled a sigh of pent up emotion. Her moment of weakness reversed a strong smile pulled onto the girl’s face and she grinned at her friends in turn.
“Well at least one good thing’s come of this,” she explained with a shrug. “I won’t have to see Tripper for a while. Maybe I should run round the castle with a ‘Bring Back Voldemort’ T-shirt, then I might be let off for a whole month!”
Around her her friends laughed, mainly out of relief that their dear friend had finally returned to them and they kept laughing until Leshia staved her laughter due to the pain in her hand growing too strong.
“You’re braver than anyone I know Malfoy,” Owen told the girl with a heartfelt affection. Leshia shrugged her shoulders.
“No braver than most.”
Hermione stumbled through the front door and dropped her keys. She cursed in the dark and struggled to keep herself steady while she bent down to find them. Abandoning them for the morning she shut the door heavily behind herself and glanced up through inebriated eyes to see the kitchen light was on. Determinedly she strode forward to find her husband leaning over a tumbler full of whiskey with a near-empty bottle at his side.
“Make a night of it at home did you?” she asked fondly and swept on Draco to deliver a kiss on his cheek before she focused on the baby lying in the basinet at his side. Without another glance at her husband she lifted Evie from the cot and rocked her close.
“Hello my precious,” she whispered before she buried her face in the soft curls on top of her baby’s head. “Mummy missed you. Yes she did. Did daddy look after you while I was away? Huh?”
Quite suddenly Draco lurched to his feet and wheeled on his wife. In shock she realised his eyes were slightly red and his expression murderous.
“You have no idea,” he hissed.
“Draco? What on earth’s happened?” Feeling a little scared of her turbulent husband Hermione cradled her daughter close and took a step back.
“Dumbledore popped round,” Draco explained, his theatrics and dramatic voice a result of his drunkenness. “You might wonder why? Well it wasn’t for tea and cakes I’ll tell you that much!”
“Draco you’re scaring me, what’s happened? Is it Leshia?”
“Oh you remember our other daughter do you?” As though he had hit her Hermione recoiled.
“That is so low.” Draco winced and hung his head.
“I know. I’m sorry, it’s just…” The tall man trailed off and turned his hunched shoulders on his wife while he massaged his temples. “Tripper caught her with ‘the Secret of Strength’ at dinner tonight. Our little girl is going to have to stand trial before the week is through.”
Had Draco been facing his wife he might have wondered suspiciously at how white and pale she suddenly turned or at the way she held Evie to her chest as though she were about to be snatched away. All the air went out of Hermione leaving her helpless. That book…
“I mean how did she even get her hands on it? Voldemort searched high and low for it for ten years. How could Leshia have found it?”
“Draco…” Slowly the tall man turned around and stared at his wife. The way she had said his name, the way her voice had mutated in fear made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Somehow he knew that was his wife was about to tell him was going to send him over the edge. “‘Flourish and Blott gave it to her and she left it behind, so I posted it to her at school.” The explanation fell out of Hermione’s mouth in a rush of sound and for a few moments Draco reeled before finally his emotions differentiated into fury.
“You gave it to her?” he roared wakening Evie into a surprised little howl. He didn’t heed her. “It didn’t occur to you that sending Leshia the most notorious book of all time, a book so associated with Voldemort that people even fear to speak its name, was the most absurd notion you could have possibly dreamed of? Tripper’s been breathing down her neck from the moment she stepped over the threshold and now you’ve given him the perfect reason to lock our daughter up in Azkaban!” Evie’s scared howls were all that filled the kitchen. “You’ve sentenced our innocent child Hermione, my little girl…”
“Draco stop, you’re scaring Evie,” the young woman cried out, her heart breaking while she pulled her baby close to stop the little one’s terrified wails.
“I don’t give a toss right now!” Draco shouted furiously, his whole face contorted in pain and anger. Once more, as though she had been struck Hermione’s face crumpled.
“How can you say that? How can you be so cruel to your own daughter?”
Draco stared at his wife almost in hatred and for a moment all words left him. His shoulders rose and fell and he knew not how to calm himself down, nor make this situation any better. How could she? How could his wife feel nothing for their oldest daughter, when her actions had sentenced their little girl to possible imprisonment and a terrifying ordeal she was not yet equipped to handle. How could she think only of Evie at a time like this?
With nothing more to say to his wife and no desire to see her Draco stormed from the room towards his study. Once he reached the door he stopped and looked back to the kitchen.
“Just think Hermione, think how scared you’ve made Leshia and how you couldn’t give a damn.”
Hermione’s soft tears joined Evie’s wailing and though the sound of it broke Draco’s tattered heart he slammed himself in his study with a new bottle of whiskey. His dig had been a cruel one and he had intended it to be.
Back in the kitchen Hermione had slowly sunk to her knees, her face buried in Evie’s soft curls, her shoulders shaking from the sobs struggling to escape. Draco’s words had cut her deeply, moreover, because there seemed to be an element of truth in them. Had Leshia finally succeeded? Had her treatment of her mother in the face of such unconditional love from her baby sister severed the tie between mother and child? Did Hermione truly care equally for her two daughters as she had always fervently assured herself?
“I just don’t know anymore.”
After an uneasy night’s sleep Leshia and her friends descended on the Great Hall. As is usually the way, the youngsters felt bolstered by the daylight and no longer did they seem so afraid. Though the school still watched Leshia curiously, she ignored their gazes and didn’t let them eat into her confidence. Only one pair of eyes the girl felt she could have done without.
At the top table Silas Tripper was watching the girl hungrily. As though she were a sheep to the slaughterhouse and he a hungry blade he waited for the girl to meet his eyes and when she did he could see the hatred written across her face. Her anger made his heart thump thunderously in his chest and a cruel smile spread across his scarred face. Leshia’s hand started throbbing and she tore her eyes from the cruel man who had inflicted so much pain on her. His eyes were still on her, but quite suddenly his view of the girl was blocked by a tall man stepping into his gaze.
In surprise Leshia looked up to see her father at her side and she fought every instinct within her not to hug him in front of the school. Wordlessly they walked back towards the entrance hall and stopped at the doors having put enough distance between them and any curious pupils.
“How are you feeling?” Draco finally asked, after he had searched his daughter’s face for any sign of fear and found none.
“Well I was terrified,” Leshia replied softly and a small smile wormed onto her face. “More scared than I’ve ever been in fact, but now, I just sort of feel fine about it I guess. I feel ready for anything.”
Her large grey eyes mirrored the conviction in her voice and Draco reeled at the courage the girl hadn’t inherited from him. When he had been her age he had been a coward and though he had pulled himself together and turned his life around, he still could not attest to holding the same natural bravery as his daughter, which had come from her mother.
“I can see why that hat sorted you into Gryffindor,” he finally spoke earnestly. Leshia pushed him playfully and hid her embarrassment behind a laugh.
“Dad shove off! Don’t get all soppy on me.” Though her father’s words made the girl cringe a little, she felt stupidly happy at his words. “So there’s one thing I’ve been wondering about, what’s so special about this book?”
Draco sighed heavily and looked from Leshia’s curious eyes to the wall behind her. What to tell the girl about the most infamous book of all time? How much could he disclose without breaking the boundaries decreed by the Ministry controlling how much of the book was revealed to new generations. It had been an act of fear that had prompted the Ministry to act and curtail people’s right to free speech and the freedom of information and though normally Draco would be abhorred by such control over his actions, when it came to the Secret of Strength he was more than happy to comply.
“That book,” he finally began thoughtfully. “Is a fabled book. It has powers we can’t explain nor understand. It’s far older than any other book in existence and though it has been carefully maintained, some experts think it came from ancient times. The paper it’s written on is papyrus, which was used thousands of years ago in Egypt.”
“Well if it was written thousands of years ago then how come it’s in English?” Leshia interrupted.
“Ah, see here’s the thing. It only appears to be written in English because you’re English and that’s what you’re expecting. Were a French person to pick up the book it would appear to them in French. Or if a Roman ever read it he would have found it written in Latin. Like I said it’s powerful and nobody understands the magic behind it.”
“That’s no reason to be scared of it though.”
“No, you’re right. For a long time in fact it was revered and kept on display at the Ministry of Magic, but then Voldemort happened and everything changed.” Draco sighed and hung his head a little. “Long ago, when Voldemort first came to power, before your mother and I were even born, he wanted that book. And I mean he really wanted it. For years he searched for it, but it had disappeared and nobody knew where it went. His wanting it so desperately twisted public opinion of the book and people began to fear it. In fact his association with it has caused those who know about it to think it a dark magical artefact, one of the darkest in fact. So Tripper finding you with it…well it’s not good.”
Leshia held her father’s gaze for a while before she let it drop. No indeed, it certainly didn’t bode well for her. That she had already been suspected not only by the Ministry, but also by her family’s friends in the Order of the Phoenix was all too true and to be found with such a dark magical object that Voldemort himself had failed to acquire could only make Leshia’s situation infinitely more difficult.
“You’re worried,” Draco spoke softly. Leshia snapped her eyes back onto his and nodded stiltedly.
“A little,” she conceded. “But I know where I got it and if I tell the Wizengamot the truth and if Flourish and Blott back me up then they should see sense shouldn’t they?”
Draco smiled meekly for a moment and tilted his head back so as to get a better view of his mature daughter’s face. The girl was growing up. Where once panic and anger would have fuelled a heated response and an indignity at being set up in such a fashion, now there was calm and maturity. Leshia was taking the first tentative steps away from her volatile years of puberty towards a future where she might harness her mother’s good sense and for a moment her father only felt a swell of pride.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” he uttered brusquely, forcing his voice to omit his overly emotional feelings.
“You know,” Leshia remarked with her trademark lopsided grin creeping onto her unusually pale face. “I might actually start to believe you if stop saying that. You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself more than me.” Though her expression seemed resolute and cocky, the girl’s voice wobbled tugging once more at her father’s torn emotions.
“I mean it Leshia. I would never let anyone hurt you.” Sensing her father’s momentary weakness Leshia shoved his arm playfully.
“Dad,” the girl finally groaned, a small smile on her own face. “I already told you! Don’t get all soppy. Everyone’s watching.” Back was the teenage expression in Leshia’s face and though moments earlier Draco had relished in her seemingly grown-up attitude, he could not help but feel relief at his daughter’s return to her usual self. He could not wait for her to grow into her full self, but that did not mean he wanted her to do so now. He wanted to hold onto her a little longer if he could.
“Sorry, of course. Can’t ruin the reputation can I?” Quite without warning he reached out and clapped the girl gently about the back of her head.
“That’s right! And don’t do it again,” the amused father said sternly, his hands finding his hips. “Now go back to your table and think about what you’ve done.” With a roll of her eyes and a cheerful smile Leshia nodded to her father in thanks and scampered back to her table to find all eyes in the school were trained on her. Feeling the lump in her chest subsiding Leshia glanced up each table of her peers, meeting as many eyes as she could in the puzzled silence.
“Sorry folks,” she finally called to them, heartened by her own mischief. “But the show’s over.”
To a chorus of appreciative laughter and catcalls the legendary girl dropped down onto her bench only to become enveloped by her friends the moment she did. The girl’s spirits had been raised and even the arrival of an official looking black owl bearing a letter detailing the time and date of Leshia’s trial didn’t affect the girl beyond a slight flutter of worry. She had expected this news, but to see it written down was a little unnerving.
“Here, let’s see that,” Rachel announced, moments before she snatched the letter from Leshia’s pale fingers. While she read her auburn eyebrows lowered over bemused eyes,
Dear Miss Malfoy,
We have received intelligence that you were caught in possession of a highly illegal magical artefact at 19:06 yesterday, Monday the 4th of March by a member of the Minister of Magic’s department of Magical Security. Taking into consideration the severity of this offence and your bearing the Eye of the Ministry, you are hereby requested at the Ministry of Magic on Friday the 8th of March in Courtroom 7 at 11:00 to stand trial. Your circumstances as a minor and a pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under the personal assurances of Albus Dumbledore’s supervision, have contributed to special circumstances resulting in the Ministry deciding to wave the right to hold you in custody until a verdict has been reached. Ministry officials will be arriving at your registered home address of 43 Dockstreet, Bloomsbury, London at approximately 10:30 on Friday the 8th of March. Should you not be present at this allotted time this will be construed as an act of contempt by the Ministry and you will be remanded in custody immediately.
With best wishes,
Department of Criminal Justice
Ministry of Magic
“I love it how they say ‘with best wishes’ at the end,” Rodeo, who had read over Rachel’s shoulder, spoke out amusedly. “As though it makes trying to throw you in Azkaban okay.”
“It’s a total load of utter bollocks is what it is!” Leshia’s best friend grumbled mutinously. “Are they serious? They are totally up their own arses…”
“Rach,” Leshia cut in with an amused smile. “Bitching about them isn’t going to help anything is it?”
“I don’t know, she’s making me feel better,” the young man at Rachel’s side cut in with a sly grin making Leshia break into a cheerful grin of her own. Both friends eyed the blonde girl with cautious expressions for a moment, before she let out a deep yet amused sigh.
“Go on then, slag ‘em off till your hearts content.”
While her comrades broke into reams of amusing rants full of over the top dramatics for Leshia’s pleasure, the blonde girl forced her gaze up to the top table, where she instantly caught sight of the beyond gleeful crack of a smile on Silas Tripper’s face. The Eye burned furiously at the cruel and bitter thoughts that filled Leshia’s mind, yet despite the pain she held his eye. She could have stared at him all day had the headmaster not come to stand at the Runes professor’s side to call him away. Standing at the door was Draco, who was staring not at his daughter, but at the back of Tripper’s greasy head, no doubt willing him all manner of ghastly ends.
Tearing his eyes away from the subject of his merry mood, Tripper climbed to his feet and filed out with the headmaster. At the door the two hot-headed men seemed to square off with one another, ready to burst into a head-butting match reminiscent of stags fighting over a herd, but they stood down sensing the eyes of the school on them. They had obviously been called into a meeting with Dumbledore and after the venerable man had made way for his fiery juniors followed by the cause of all Leshia’s problems, Draco finally caught Leshia’s eye. He merely nodded to her before ducking away into the staff corridor and shutting the door.
“I would not want to be Tripper right now, I’ll tell you that,” Rachel exhaled breathily. “I bet they’re having a boxing match right now.”
“What? And Dumbledore’s reffing is he?” Rodeo sniggered.
“Nah, him and Professor Malfoy, they’re taking it in turns to beat the stuffing out of Snivelling Silas.”
“Hey,” Leshia suddenly laughed. “That’s pretty good. Snivelling Silas, it’s got a ring to it.”
People were starting to empty out of the Great Hall towards their morning lessons, their eyes never leaving the notorious blonde girl until the doors into the hall cut them short. Leshia for one was very happy when her friends started climbing to their feet, following the slow migration towards the classrooms. Muggle Studies was the first order of the day and though Leshia dreaded the treatment she would no doubt receive from most of her teachers, she felt this was the lesser of two evils when compared to the curiosity and pity of the student body.
There was one pupil’s interest however, she felt she could make an exception for. As soon as Leshia and her friends milled out into the entrance hall Leshia felt someone fall into step determinedly behind her. She could tell from the loping strides who had come to see her.
“Morning Owen,” she uttered softly, before she turned around and smiled up into the concerned face of her dear friend. The fifth year boy paused for a moment and glanced up at Rachel, who in a moment of rare tactfulness started to pull Rodeo away by his arm. Quite understandably Rodeo seemed very unhappy with these arrangements to say the least, but Rachel ensured that he took it out on her several yards down the corridor and away from Leshia’s intimate conversation with Owen Gabriel.
“You seem more positive today,” the tall boy spoke when he and Leshia had taken a few steps in their mutual direction.
“I feel more positive too. I can’t really explain it, but I have this feeling that everything is going to be okay.”
“Maybe you’ve got the inner eye after all.”
“Oh very funny.” An elbow passed between the girl and boy and shyly they smiled at one another. “It’s not that, I just don’t think that the Wizengamot have gone totally bonkers yet. I mean Crayik hasn’t been able to convince many of them of his crackpot new regime, that’s what Dumbledore and my dad say anyway.”
“What was that letter that owl brought you this morning?” Owen seemed coy Leshia thought to herself and for a moment she felt a little spark of anger. How dare Crayik and his henchmen impact upon her relationships with her friends and schoolmates!
“Owen you don’t need to walk on bloody eggshells! I’m fine, really,” the girl grumbled amusedly. After staring sidelong at his friend Owen finally relaxed, his tall rigid body settling into a swagger of sorts.
“Yeah ease up, I just didn’t want to rub your nose in it all right shorty?”
“Afraid I was going to cry?” the girl teased fondly, leaning closer to the older boy just for a moment, before she pulled away with a cheeky grin.
“More like hoping for it,” Owen countered and he returned an elbow to her side.
“There’s easier ways to get me to fall in your arms Owen.”
The words escaped Leshia’s mouth before she’d thought them through and instantly she wished she could claw them back. Stunned at her candid remark Owen turned to stare directly into Leshia’s face, but she was embarrassed and avoided his gaze.
“Look I’d better get going,” she finally managed hoarsely. “Before Rodes rips into Rachel too much. You boys and your hormones! Honestly.” Quite suddenly she rushed off down the corridor, disappearing into a throng of second years before Owen was even given a chance to respond.
I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, I mean you seem to hear things way before I do and even the fact that you’re halfway round the world wouldn’t normally stop you, but um, oh yeah, there’s some bad news. Now please please please don’t overreact. It’s bloody scary! But we’ve got it all under control, well I say we, but I mean Leesh and the grown ups and stuff.
So um, it all started with that book you were telling Leesh to read. You know, the one you went bananas over? The one her mum sent her from those to crackpots at the bookshop? Well it turns out it’s a pretty dark piece of magical history. And by dark I mean like Voldemort would have sold off all his Horcruxes…what is the plural of Horcrux again? Sorry, I mean yeah, he would have sold them all off to get it. He totally wanted it and well, Leesh had it.
I bet you already know where I’m going with this if you haven’t already heard and I can already see you fretting and blaming yourself. Before I carry on I have to beg you not to do that! Don’t send Leesh oodles of apology letters, I don’t think she wants to think about it.
Oh yeah, I hadn’t finished. So Leesh got really into this book. She hated it, but she wanted to read it, you know, for you (sorry, I’m not trying to make you feel bad). She had it out over dinner yesterday and Tripper caught her with it. You should have seen him Katie. It was like all the Bogarts in the world were surrounding him. He’s a bloody wuss! Anyway, we all had a horrid night imagining all sorts of bad stuff happening to Leshia, but even though she was very shaken up at first she got better after a visit from Dumbledore and well, she’s fine with it actually. That girl. I know we always talk about her as being this subspecies of human who’s like massively superior to us, but sometimes, I mean I know we joke, but sometimes I think it’s true. You should see her. She’s going on trial and she’s totally fine with it, well, I mean she’s scared yeah, but she’s genuinely convinced she’s going to be fine. Maybe Trelawney and her had a secret get together where the old bat slipped some magic potion into her tea? Who knows.
So yeah, Leesh goes on trial on Friday…
Katie I’m terrified. I don’t want to lose her. I don’t know what we’d do if we did…
I’ve got to go. We’re all planning a quiet little party to boost the house’s spirits. It’s Leesh’s idea before you go accusing me of being tactless. I think the paranoid part of her wants to experience everything one more time before her trial…
Katie I’m really really terrified.
I meant what I said. Don’t blame yourself. I know you bullied her into reading it, but you didn’t give it to her and you didn’t know. Please, try not to feel too terrible. I’ll keep you updated.
PS Could you tell Parys for me? I don’t know if I can write this all out again.
PPS Could you give him a punch too for that last letter he sent me. What a plonker!
Leshia’s estimations as to how her week was going to unfold had been very accurate. Every teacher she came across treated her as though she were a porcelain doll, though few went to the efforts Professor Trelawney gallantly doled out, allowing Leshia to lounge at the back of the classroom and read a magazine while the rest of the class carried on with the lesson. Had Leshia had a penchant for Divination then she might have vehemently objected to such star treatment, but for Trelawney’s lesson she felt she could make an exception. Besides, the way Rachel had been turning green with envy had been compensation enough for the embarrassment of being singled out like a dying child by the nutty woman.
Come Thursday evening Leshia’s nerves had started to fray. While still at school Leshia could pretend everything was mundane and usual, but stood in her parents old chambers, a handful of floo powder clenched tightly in one hand and her arms wrapped around Rachel’s neck, she could pretend no longer.
“You’ll be fine Leesh. I promise!” Rachel whispered, her voice betraying tears she wouldn’t let fall. “And I’m not going to say goodbye, because you’ll be back tomorrow evening.”
A sniff escaped the smaller of the two embracing girls before they finally pulled apart. At the hearth Draco, who had come to collect his daughter, hung his head. He hadn’t been able to shake the guilt all week. His fifteen-year-old daughter was going to face a criminal trial and it was all his fault. It was his prior evils that had brought this momentous challenge to her door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Leshia assured her best friend sincerely while her smile wavered and her eyes were glassy. “Don’t get into too much trouble without me.”
Rachel let out a nervous laugh and back stepped to reach Rodeo’s side, who wrapped an arm around her shoulders in comfort. Both friends watched with sinking hearts as the blonde girl stepped into the hearth, dropped her powder and was gone. Would they ever see her again?
Leshia arrived in the kitchen in a whirl of green flames, which she emerged from unscathed. Awaiting her arrival was Hermione, who despite wanting to floo directly to Hogwarts to comfort Leshia when she first found out about the trial had been advised not to by her husband, with whom she had been on frosty terms with to say the least. At last though the worried mother could embrace her child and despite her fears leading up to this moment, Hermione was delighted to have Leshia return her hug firmly. The girl was scared and in this moment, all she really wanted was her mum and dad.
Draco emerged moments later in the kitchen and for a moment he met his wife’s eyes with a cold stare before he took himself off to the cabinet to fetch his customary tumbler of whiskey. Pretending he and Hermione were fine for Leshia’s sake was going to require all the Dutch courage he could get.
When Leshia pulled away from Hermione the worried mother could see dark bags under her daughter’s dull eyes. Where before vibrancy and confidence had shone out of the teenager’s face, it seemed to have become replaced by a look of resigned terror that had faded into suppressed and deep-rooted suffering. Forcing herself to be strong Hermione stood back and walked towards the soup she was warming on the hob, her eyes never leaving her daughter, who dropped down at the dining table, her fingers tracing a swirl in the wood grain.
Draco, now back with his drink, exchanged another look with his wife, which delivered to her a message that clearly read, “You have done this to our child.”
Though they thought their distinct lack of affection towards one another was too subtle for a distracted teenager to notice Leshia had become aware of it the moment she had come into the presence of both her parents. Without the room in her heart to worry herself over two monumental matters Leshia decided to keep her eyes down and stop her enquiring mind from wondering about all that had passed. It had occurred to her naturally that Hermione’s passing the book along to her would seem to Draco an act of betrayal. She had thought about the arguments that might have passed between them, but at this moment in time such ponderings seemed the luxury of a girl not on the eve of the most vital day of her life.
“Dinner’s ready,” Hermione redundantly informed her shattered family, as both were now sitting at the table awaiting their meal. Seeing Draco sat immediately at Leshia’s side, her feet pulled up and resting on his leg while she hugged her knees to her in a position so natural to both of them they probably hadn’t given it a second thought, made Hermione want to scream and cry all at once. Why was Leshia making this so easy for him yet such a heart wrenching horror for her?
Without a word to either of them Hermione served the soup and took her place opposite the intimate pair. They ate in silence.
“It’s good mum,” Leshia offered quietly, her expression brightening ever so slightly. Hermione raised her eyes hopefully to her daughter’s. The look that passed between them started to soften the coldness in her heart, but before Hermione could cling on to the emotion Leshia opened her mouth to speak again. “Just think, the next meal I have could be in Azkaban.”
Hermione’s eyes creased.
“Don’t Alecia,” she whispered, fresh tears building in her eyes. Her chest was jolting in the hiccups of an impending sob and try as she might for her little girl’s sake, Hermione couldn’t help but allow the feelings to wash over her in a tidal wave. She was powerless to stop them. Months of suffering had left Hermione’s feelings raw and easily penetrable.
In response to her mother’s reaction Leshia’s own face morphed into an angry expression, matched identically by the look on her father’s face at her side.
“Mum it was just a joke, there’s no need to go mental at me,” the girl grumbled, her voice tight from forcing her anger out of it.
“Hermione,” Draco warned in a low voice, but their utterances the mother did not heed. It was all too much. The months of hardship had weakened her and with a yelp of anguish she climbed to her feet and fled the room.
Leshia’s lower lip trembled as she watched her mother running from her side. Surely Hermione thought her chances slim to be in such a state? Her joke about Azkaban, which had seemed to distant a threat when she had made it, seemed a distinct possibility all of a sudden and without a thought for her pride Leshia turned two terrified eyes on her father and reached out for his hands.
“Mum thinks I’m going to get locked up doesn’t she?” the girl mumbled, her voice seemingly changing, becoming more child-like. With white-hot fury at his wife Draco himself trembled slightly, though he was more adept at hiding his true emotions to sooth their floundering teenager.
“Your mother…” Draco trailed off and instead he squeezed Leshia’s small hands in his own. “Your mother is scared. She’s been under a lot of strain sweetheart, she feels cut off from you and she’s scared she’ll lose you for good this time.” Leshia could see through the falseness in Draco’s face, could see his defence of his wife was a matter of course only and that underneath a sea of anger raged. Feeling all the worse for it a pair of tears rolled out from Leshia’s eyes, followed promptly by a couple more. The girl had not even blinked.
Without a word Draco stood to his feet and lifted Leshia to hers with one hand under her armpit. Pulled solidly into the crook of his arm Leshia was led to the Muggle Room where Draco dropped down on the comfy settee with Leshia tucked into his side. He turned the TV on and sought out the dreadful programmes the girl liked to watch. Leshia was beyond speaking, which couldn’t have suited Draco more, as he could not trust himself to.
Instead they watched programme after programme, neither taking in what was happening on the screen, both their minds wedged quite firmly in the events of the following morning, which to the frightened pair seemed to have occurred already. Their path seemed set, leading them through the series of events that would decide Leshia’s fate.
Finally when the programmes started to repeat themselves Leshia yawned and she stood up.
“Goodnight dad,” she managed quietly and she readily squeezed Draco’s hand when it shot into her own to wish her goodnight. Again he couldn’t trust himself to speak and only once the soft padding footsteps of his daughter had faded did the father drag himself up. Furiously he pointed his wand at the television, aiming only to flick the off switch, but instead the screen exploded into light and smoke.
“Damn,” he seethed, his voice trembling with emotion. Draco stalked from the room and shut himself in his study with his customary soothing dose of whiskey. Relief though, he could not find in the bottom of the bottle and so after an hour or so had passed, in which he hoped Leshia had nodded off to sleep Draco made his way up to his and Hermione’s bedroom. He had not slept there since that dreadful night he had found out of his wife’s foolish actions.
Leshia lay staring at the luminous plastic stars she had bought at a muggle toyshop and stuck on her ceiling when she was only eight years old. She had precariously balanced a series of tables and chairs on her bed to reach the Victorian high ceiling, but despite this perilous balancing act she had succeeded in adorning it with a haphazard pattern of celestial bodies. The fact that she had landed herself in St Mungos after inevitably toppling off her contraption had not tainted the memory for Leshia. Indeed, her injuries had reminded her father that Leshia couldn’t be trusted on her own as well as he’d hoped. She had been a terrifyingly adventurous and impulsive youngster and her terrible accident had reminded the young man of this fact. Following this, for a few months at least, she saw more of him until the ministry consumed him once more.
“Crayik,” Leshia hissed in the dark, her eyes never leaving the stars nor the far-away memories of her early childhood; a childhood filled with denial. “I hated you for taking my dad away. I hated you for making me lonely. And now this.”
Sighing Leshia tore her eyes from the stars on the roof to find yet another artefact of her youth: a diary she had written in her years at the muggle school. Sleep had not claimed her and so with a heavy sigh Leshia sat up in bed and turned on her bedside light. The dog-eared diary was in her hands within moments, bits of glitter and old peeling stickers coming away as she grabbed it firmly.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked at page after page of scruffy print, badly spelled words and childish problems. Frequently the perfect and cursive (even in their early years) script of Katie wove in-between the barely legible scrawling of Rachel making Leshia’s heart pine for her ‘sisters’.
Too much. The memories had become too much and with a snap Leshia slammed the diary shut on a page bearing a picture of the three girls napping on the settee in the Muggle Room. It was the summer they had received their letters. Innocently they had curled up around one another and napped away a hot afternoon in the cool shade of the house, oblivious to the forces that would try to rip them apart in their teenage years.
“…couldn’t…just once…tonight of all…”
“…not my…how dare…don’t…”
Leshia lifted heavy eyelashes to her door. Draco’s fury had finally unleashed to come face to face with Hermione’s anguish. The teenager had anticipated this and though she had been waiting for it since the moment she heard her father quietly trying to sneak up the stairs, the sound of their hostility made the girl’s resolve, what little there was left of it, crumble.
“Don’t,” she cried pathetically. “Please don’t.”
The girl rolled over and hugged a pillow over her head, slamming her eyes tightly shut to block out the reality of what was happening to her, what was happening to her family.
Their voices, rising in pitch and volume, pierced the innocent down of the pillow.
“…strong…only a child…she needs…” came Draco’s anger, drumming into Leshia’s unwilling ears.
“…I tried…you and her…forgotten about me…” Followed by Hermione’s heart break, their voices getting louder by the second.
“…have tried harder…you haven’t supported her…she’s terrified…”
“…not my fault! She’s pushed me…but you, her hero…”
“Don’t start…every time something happens…you always pick Evie!”
“It’s easy to blame me isn’t it Draco? When you’re the one who’s really to blame!” Their hostilities were being shouted now and not a word of it escaped their helpless children, who both lay awake listening in shock.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s your fault Tripper’s after her! It’s because of you she’s going through this.”
“Just shut up!”
“No I won’t! Because it’s true! How you can stand there and blame me for not supporting her when it’s because of who you are that she’s in this mess is the last straw Draco…”
“It’s easy to stand there and judge me isn’t it? Well I didn’t have much of a bloody choice in the matter!”
“What does that mean?” Hermione’s usually lilting soothing voice sounded so contorted when she was angry.
“I never wanted children! You know I didn’t!”
Leshia’s heart thudded loudly and painfully in her chest. What was her father saying? At his words the girl’s mental anguish disintegrated into physical pain causing the girl to bend over holding her churning stomach. To think that her cherished father didn’t want her…to have slaved away for so long fighting for every scrap of attention he was unable to give her in vein.
“Of all the low despicable things to say Draco…”
“Let me bloody finish!” The cruelty in his voice cut through Leshia’s tears like a razor blade and she sniffed pathetically, holding back the torrent she had staved. “I didn’t want children because of my past Hermione, because of what might happen to them if someone who had good cause to hate me got their hands on them. My fears are justified aren’t they? Leshia…she’s been made to suffer…too many...I always feared...”
“I said I never wanted children…that doesn’t mean that you can tear into me now...the day Leshia was born…the happiest day of my life…I would do anything to…she’s my child!”
Their voices were fading once more as the volatile feelings driving their argument swelled away. Draco’s words had healed the open sore in Leshia’s heart. It was true, he had never wanted children and she could understand why, but that didn’t mean that now he was a father his feelings had remained the same. The girl knew she and Draco shared a kinship few other fathers and daughters held, their difficult past had seen to that.
“And she’s not mine! That’s what you’re implying Draco!” With a vengeance Hermione’s fury was back, stoked into fiery wrath by words too muffled for Leshia to make out.
“No! It’s what you meant isn’t it? You blame me for disappearing all those years ago. You blame me for not raising her and now you think I don’t have a say in the matter!”
“Hermione that’s such bollocks…”
“No it isn’t! Well you’ve got your wish at last Draco, she’s all yours.”
Leshia pulled the pillow more tightly round her ears, unwilling to listen to the snide whip of her mother’s tongue. Who did she feel more anger towards for her relationship with her firstborn deteriorating into embers? Draco or Leshia? “It’s as though I’m nothing to her anymore…”
“Blame a child why don’t you Hermione.” Silence. Blissful silence. “…that girl has tried…you never notice…even when…”
“…not true…she’s hardly…stubborn…too blind to see…” Their voices had dropped again, this time quite suddenly. Had they finally awoken to the fact that their children might hear them? Uneasily Leshia pulled the pillow from her head and looked up at the door through swollen puffy eyes. Their tones dropped to incomprehensible murmurs and shakily Leshia let out a whimper. Expecting the worst had passed Leshia dragged herself down in bed once more, bringing the duvet up to her chin, her eyes seeking out the innocent plastic stars on the ceiling, now a dim fading yellow in the din of her bedside light.
“…you hate her…” The girl jolted at her mother’s words. What now?
“I don’t hate her!” Whatever he had been accused of had fuelled Draco’s rage and he seemed louder than before. “How could you say such a thing? She’s my child!”
“As is Leshia mine, but…” Silence once more while Leshia furrowed her brow, before Hermione’s shrill voice came again, this time desperate. “No Draco! Don’t go! No! No!”
“How dare you! How dare you suggest that you hate her! Just get away from me!”
“Where are you going? Come back! You can’t run away from this! Go on then! Run and find your bottle! Drink yourself to death for all I care!”
A door slammed followed by the sound of running feet on the stairs. Down below another door slamming indicated that Draco was once more in the confines of his study. Hermione’s loud wailing filled the corridor, muffled only slightly by the thick door of her room.
Panting Leshia sat up in bed, her wide eyes staring at her own bedroom door. She was finding it hard to breath. Every breath was a stab of pain, muted by stammering chokes. In the gloom another cry battled for volume against the impenetrable wails of their mother: Evie was awake.
Before Leshia could quite know what she was doing she was climbing from her bed and scrambling across the room. As quietly as she could she tiptoed onto the landing and glanced into the darkness of her little sister’s room. Hermione seemed to show no sign of having heard the baby and so without a second thought Leshia crept inside and closed the door quietly behind herself. Slowly she approached the cot to find Evie illuminated by a shaft of moonlight. The baby seemed beside herself, her eyes wide and her tiny heart racing.
Leshia sought her own heart for bitterness, but to her surprise found only solidarity.
“They’re your parents too aren’t they?” she whispered, unheard over the baby’s wails. Uneasily she dropped to her knees at the side of the cot and reached a slender hand into the folds of the warm sheets. Her hand found a podgy arm and she squeezed it gently. In surprise Evie stopped wailing and managed with difficulty to roll over and see who this strangely familiar person was. The two sisters eyed one another, both reeling from the shock of hearing the vicious fight.
“They never used to fight like this,” Leshia told her sister, without comfort or anger in her dead voice. “Not before you came along. Maybe, if you’re lucky, the ministry will send me away and you’ll have them all to yourself.” Evie was marvelling at her big sister’s face, not knowing that one day hers would be a spitting replica of the beautiful girl’s. “They’re good parents when they’ve only got one daughter. I wish it could be me, but I guess I’ve had my turn. I wasn’t a very good daughter to them. Maybe that’s why I’m being sent away. I’m not a very good person. Maybe you’ll be better.”
“Guh!” the baby exclaimed, pointing a finger at Leshia’s tears.
“I hate you,” Leshia whispered pitifully, the tears that so intrigued Evie coursing over her cheek. Numbness lay behind her words and though she was stating what she had many a time spat to anyone who would listen, now her time had come to reveal all to the helpless little baby the anger did not come. Nothing came. “I hate what you’ve done to my family…what you’ve done to them.”
Leshia stepped into the hearth, a palmful of floo powder clasped tightly in her hand. Her eyes caught her mother’s for just a moment before she dropped her gaze to the kitchen floor. Hermione’s lip trembled and she dabbed at the make-up concealing her blotchy face. Leshia’s own face resembled her mother’s, yet she had neither the make-up nor the prowess to cover up the remnants of her night’s crying. Seeing them both in such a state when they had ambled down to find Draco in the kitchen nursing a cup of coffee had instated a solid lump in his throat that no amount of coughing could remove. Leshia he had dragged down into the chair beside him and firmly hugged to his side, but for Hermione he reserved no such affection. Let her suffer for the words she had spoken.
To have implied that she hated their firstborn daughter was too much for Draco to forgive. Somewhere in the depths of his reverie a tiny voice of reason was trying to placate the more dominant fiery element of his mind, but Draco didn’t heed it. In fact he bulldozed over the rational thoughts that told him Hermione had been beyond rational thought. The woman had been addled by copious amounts of hormones flushing through her system, brought on by hours of passionate crying. She had not meant to imply she hated their child. Surely though, the dominant angry Draco raged, surely that didn’t excuse such an act of perfidy toward her own daughter?
Leshia herself had very little to say to either of her parents. She had no desire to let them talk with her over what she had inevitably heard. She had no desire to think of anything other than her impending trial.
After casting the kitchen a look that she hoped would not be her last Leshia dropped her floo powder and awkwardly called out, “The Ministry of Magic.”
Swirling flames delivered Leshia into the heart of the Atrium, where instantly she found herself jostled to and fro by a throng of busy people with places to go. The girl clung to the fireplace she had emerged from; her wide eyes searching those newly arrived for her parents’ faces. Several minutes passed, but just as Leshia began to worry that she would arrive late for her trial a firm hand clamped on her shoulder causing the girl to spin around.
“Dad,” she exclaimed breathily. “Where’s mum?”
Draco indicated behind his shoulder with a jerk of his head leading Leshia’s eyes to her mother clutching Evie to her hip right behind Draco.
“Ready?” the tall man asked, failing to remove the darkness from his tone. Leshia grinded her teeth and nodded.
“Not really no, but I don’t really have a choice in the matter.” Draco nodded once before he draped his arm about the girl’s shoulders and led her away towards the queue of people awaiting wand weighing. Hermione walked behind them, her head hanging.
In the queue the Malfoys received more attention than any of them would have liked. Whether it was because of Leshia’s trial, Draco’s infamy or their tear stained faces they had no desire to find out and were quite happy when they found themselves at the wand weighing station.
Eric Munch seemed to have changed little since Leshia’s last visit. She could not know that indeed, he had not done so in many years. Only the light and intelligence seemed to be waning in his eyes. Whether the monotony of his job had finally struck him unable to contemplate much else or the ravages of time were slowly dismantling his mind, Eric Munch was certainly becoming far more like an Imperius victim than a once proud wizard.
Upon seeing the Malfoys come forward the man was startled into sitting up, though where once before Leshia had received a reassuring look of solidarity from the man, this encounter seemed marked by a distrustful narrow of Eric Munch’s eyes at the sight of her. The girl blinked firmly, but made no other display of the man’s suspicion of her. This could not be said for her father, who also had witnessed the expression on Munch’s face.
“I see this place is as susceptible to the rumours and fear mongering as it ever was,” the blond man spoke before his better judgement could prevent him.
“Draco,” Hermione gasped as Munch turned wide eyes on the once Auror, who now seemed to be glowing with white-hot anger. The lesser man quickly averted his gaze.
“Might I remind you Mr Malfoy that you are addressing a Ministry official,” Munch asserted with a trembling attempt at strength. Draco’s shoulders rose and fell, before he hung his head slightly. It was Leshia’s gaze on him that righted his behaviour. She was more important than his hurt feelings.
“You’re right,” Draco offered somewhat sincerely. “I didn’t mean to offend you. We’ve been under a lot of strain. I’m sure you can imagine.”
Munch didn’t respond though and quickly he went about the business of weighing Leshia and Hermione’s wands and delivering to them a badge to pin to their jumpers. The teenager was dismayed to find her badge read Alecia Malfoy, Criminal Trial.
Before anyone could gather to stare at them Draco swept his family away to the Golden lifts. They were given a wide berth and indeed when the first available lift arrived they found themselves alone in it. Draco jabbed angrily at the Level 9 button, feeling furious that his daughter’s trial was being held in the notorious ‘courtrooms’ where all of Voldemort’s followers had been sentenced. They were reserved for the most serious of trials involving perpetrators of crimes so heinous the rest of the Ministry felt better for having them as far removed from public space as was possible.
Tripper’s doing no doubt.
The lift slowly trundled down until it came to a thudding stop.
“Department of Mysteries,” the cool female voice rang out as the doors rattled open with a clink. Leshia peered out into the bare windowless corridor and felt something inside of her switch off. Her fear was gone leaving a nothingness in its place. It had come to this. Being Alecia Malfoy had finally led her into a world of trouble she was not sure how to evade.
“Leshia…” Hermione uttered softly, but the girl shook her head.
“There’s nothing to say. Let’s just get on with it.” With a shadow of her intrinsic bravery lurking beneath the cold facade Leshia strode forwards, her head held high. If she was going down then she was going down as the Gryffindor she was, not as a snivelling tear-stained little girl clinging to her parents’ sides.
Draco felt his face when the proud smile cracked onto it to make sure he really was capable of such a happy expression at a time such as this. Leshia was an entity all unto herself he sighed inwardly.
“As much as I appreciate your show of strength my dear,” he called after the headstrong teenager. “I have to inform you you’re going the wrong way.” Leshia came to a halt and glanced from the black door in the distance to her parents standing at the top of a winding set of stairs.
“Oh,” she remarked eventually. “I knew that.”
“Lih!” Evie was making a grabbing action in Leshia’s direction that the girl artfully avoided as she skirted past her mother and down the stairs. She rushed to get away from her baby sister’s calls in her wake, careening down the winding stone steps. The sudden arrival of the floor jarred Leshia and she looked up to find she was in a dungeon not dissimilar to Severus Snape’s usual haunt. Stone walls dripped with age-old leaks and the light of torches bracketed firmly into the crumbling stone lit the corridor dimly. Along the length of the passageway portentous wooden doors with unforgiving iron bolts dotted the walls. The distance at which they lay hinted at chambers of ominous proportions beyond.
“Alecia Malfoy,” a strong and commanding voice boomed from the din. Leshia strained her eyes to see three hulking figures lingering.
“Yes?” she called back, the fear she had abandoned so readily in the lift returning to her now in eddies and trickles of panic snaking up her skin.
“They are waiting.” Oblivious to her parents in her wake Leshia walked determinedly ahead, forcing herself to put one foot in front of the other, to drag herself toward her fate. Upon closer inspection the three hulking figures emerged to be aurors Leshia vaguely remembered from her childhood, which seemed an age ago now. They were all casting her significant looks. The tallest of the three nodded to the girl almost in reverence before he pushed his bulk into a door of magnificent proportions. Leshia’s eyes glanced inward to find a circular room beyond, lined by purple robed wizards and witches seated in an arena of sorts surrounding a courtroom floor down below. She was about to step over the threshold when quite suddenly she was pulled backwards by strong hands and grappled into a painful embrace. No words passed between Draco and Leshia as he hugged her painfully, failing to believe that this could be the last time he might do so.
As suddenly as she had been pulled into her father’s arms Leshia was released and without a look back she strode into the room. The door was pulled heavily shut behind her trapping the girl and her fate within the hands of the fifty or so stern-faced men and women surrounding the circular stage of sorts. In the middle of the room stood a wooden chair that would surely dwarf Leshia when she took her place in it. Age-old chains hung from the arms of the chair making Leshia falter.
‘They haven’t convicted me yet,’ she thought angrily, before she sped up and went to stand by the chair. Leshia lifted her eyes to scan the faces of those who had the power over her destiny. Many wondered at the sight of the renowned teenaged daughter of Draco and Hermione Malfoy. That Leshia’s reputation preceded her was an understatement, but now they were faced with this girl, so defiantly holding the gazes of the Wizengamot the gathered members began to realise the stories were not the stuff of myth and legend; here before them stood a child unlike any other.
Leshia reached out and fingered the chain dangling from the chair while she looked from one face to the next until quite suddenly she found herself staring into the wide eyes of Minister Crayik. Needless to say the man was concerned to find the fifteen-year-old striding into the courtroom without a trace of fear. For the hundredth time he assured himself that something wasn’t right with that Malfoy girl.
“Alecia Malfoy,” a short wizard to the Minister’s left rang out. Leshia glanced to the tiny man with a whimsical expression on her beautiful face. A part of her felt comforted at his resemblance to her dear old charms professor. Though this wizard looked nothing like Professor Flitwick, there was something familiar about him that brought calm to her fast-beating heart. He was staring at her through thick horn-rimmed glasses, partially hidden by a mop of curly grey hair. He had a kind face. “Be seated.”
Leshia obeyed and sat down heavily on the chair, eyeing the chains as she did so to ascertain whether she ought to brace herself for their binding of her. For several moments she looked at them while the short wizard continued speaking. The girl’s eyes remained on her slender wrist, waiting for the painful twisting of the chains roving over her skin.
“Miss Malfoy!” Leshia looked up startled.
“Sorry,” she offered quickly. “I was expecting them to, you know, do something.” She indicated the chains with a flick of her wrist.
The short wizard paused for a moment before he nudged his glasses down to the end of his nose and peered over them at the girl who had been brought into his midst. Maxwell Pax had been the presiding over the Wizengamot for three years and in this time he had been notorious as one of the fairest members of the group. In the child, seeming so small in the large chair, the short wizard saw veritable whirlpools, layers and all the intricacies in her personality. The young person before him was by no means a wholly good person, but the evil he had been led to believe was rampant and inherent in her character lay not where he sought to find them.
“We have no reason to bind you Miss Malfoy,” Pax finally spoke. “We do not perceive you to be a threat.”
“I was ascertaining your credentials young lady, if you will assist me?” Leshia smiled slightly, sensing an ally in the familiar small wizard. Beside the chairman Crayik was stirring restlessly. He knew he had no control over the Wizengamot or their decision. The last thing he wanted was Leshia befriending his esteemed colleagues with her charms. “You are Alecia Trystin Malfoy, born sixteenth of November two thousand, indeed?” Leshia nodded quickly. “You are currently a pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?” Again a nod. “Very well.”
“Commencing the criminal trial of Alecia Malfoy dated Friday the eighth of March into offences against decree number three in the manifesto for safe-guarding the magical and non-magical community of this nation from dark magic and dark artefacts.”
Leshia glanced at the tall woman who had spoken. Pax remained watching the girl, staring intently at the girl’s wondering eyes. Innocence lay there, he was certain of it.
“Bringing forth the allegations and prosecuting; Silas Tobias Tripper.”
A snaking shiver of anxiety washed over Leshia, who quite without warning dragged her feet onto the edge of her chair and hugged her knees to her chest, making herself seem small while beside her, from nowhere Tripper emerged. She couldn’t meet his eye, averting her gaze instead to a rip in her jeans. Her terror of the man did not go unnoticed by many of the esteemed Wizengamot members.
“Witness for the defence; Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.” This time Leshia’s head shot up and her eyes turned to find the beaming gaze of her headmaster, who had come to stand at her side, his hand on her shoulder. Instantly the girl relaxed and unfolded herself slightly, leaning back into her chair, though her feet still remained on the edge.
“Mr Tripper, please present the charges.”
All eyes in the courtroom turned on the slick-haired man who at this moment was staring with severe dislike at Dumbledore, who had single-handedly (quite literally) undone his intimidation of the troublesome girl.
“The charges,” he repeated distantly, before he raised his eyes to the tall woman. “Yes Madam Aspera, the charges.” Tripper paused to intake an enormous gasp of air before he began, “The charges against the accused are as follows, that she has persistently and knowingly been heavily involved in dark and dangerous behaviour which has indirectly and directly led to events which will resurrect He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.”
At such an enormous weight against the young girl many of the members of the Wizengamot burst into whispers. Leshia chewed the insides of her cheeks while Dumbledore’s hand tightened on her shoulder.
“I shall begin by naming the particulars of the charges. Item one, the deliberate secrecy and aid the accused delivered to her grandfather, the notorious Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. She is charged with passing information and intelligence onto Lucius Malfoy in order for him to avoid capture …”
“You’re a liar!” Everyone stared in shock at the young girl, who could not hold her tongue any longer at the wild allegations. Tripper’s face was grasped by a momentary seizure and for a moment he battled his grimace of loathing to remain resolute in front of the Wizengamot.
“Miss Malfoy, you will remain silent while the prosecutor makes his charges,” Leshia was instructed by the tall serene woman Tripper had addressed as Madam Aspera. The youngster turned her angry expression on the woman.
“But Miss, he’s lying,” the girl tried weakly, only to be silenced by the intense gaze of everyone in the room. Grimly she hung her head and uttered in a pathetic tone, “Sorry.”
“Mr Tripper, continue.” The scarred man though was caught for a moment staring with vile hatred at the child, before he shook himself from his thoughts.
“As I was saying.” Here a filthy glower was cast at the girl. “Item two, many times over the previous six months the accused has been found in possession of dark and dangerous magical artefacts.”
“Many times?” Leshia demanded incredulously. Where Tripper was concerned the girl simply couldn’t hold her tongue. “It was one book and I didn’t even…”
“Miss Malfoy,” this time it was Pax who spoke, peering over his glasses at the defensive girl. “You must wait patiently. It is the prosecution’s right to deliver the charges. It’s how a court proceeding works. You will have your time to speak.”
“You will have your time to speak,” Pax reassured the girl, whose face crumpled. What was the point in all this formal rubbish? Why couldn’t she just say what she had come to say and be done with it? And to have that man accusing her of all these acts when in truth he was the one who had overstepped the mark. “Mr Tripper continue.”
“The final item,” Tripper spoke quickly, his eyes narrowing at the girl in the chair, his chest puffing up with a self-righteousness that made Leshia’s blood boil. “Is her continuing disregard for the safety of her peers at Hogwarts. Over her three years at the school the girl has willingly risked the lives of other children. She has no concern for human life and is a danger to everyone who comes into contact with her.”
“Coming from you!” the girl couldn’t contain herself any longer. “The man who locked me in his lightbox for ten hours. I had bruises for weeks! That’s the man you put in a school Minister, a child abuser!”
For a moment an eerie silence broke out over the room. Somewhere in the back row a tall person had climbed to their feet, though Leshia could not see who due to the bright light shining down on her and blurring her surroundings.
Everyone was staring at the girl, who seemed to realise what she had finally revealed and was pulling back into her defensive arms-about-the-knees pose. Tripper too was staring at the girl with eyes wide in shock, fury and panic. That Leshia Malfoy was an intelligent girl Tripper begrudgingly admitted and he had always assumed that the girl had enough sense to keep the story of what happened that day well hidden. The consequences of what would happen when Draco Malfoy got his hands on Silas Tripper following such a story had been a secret fantasy of the despicable Runes Professor. He needed only one reason to see his nemesis carted off to prison, just one, but for the girl to expose their dark secret here of all places? It didn’t bode well for the man.
Professor Dumbledore, who till now had remained very quiet in the proceedings, took a step closer to Leshia. Though the child couldn’t see, a powerful aura had materialised about the great man once more. That a pupil in his school had suffered at the hands of this despicable man under his very nose…it was enough to bring Albus Dumbledore to tears of frustration.
“Excuse me?” the short chairman of the Wizengamot finally spoke softly and he pushed his glasses back up his nose, staring from girl to man in surprise. “What did you just say?”
Leshia eyes darted up, but found the turbulent gaze of the Minister of Magic on her so looked down again.
“In my first term at school,” she explained shakily, realising that now she had started down the path of exposing the sordid secret she might as well explain it fully. “I got a detention from Tripper, I mean Professor Tripper sorry, and it was just me and him. There was this chair that I had to sit on and when I did I was trapped in this…I don’t really know how to explain it. There was a beam of light on me and I couldn’t move. Over my head there was this crackling electricity…”
“Now she is the one who is telling falsehoods,” Tripper quickly cut in.
“Mr Tripper you will remain silent,” Maxwell Pax spoke with such authority that the greasy-haired man beside Leshia pulled away slightly, his wild eyes darting between his narrowed-eyed Minister and the other members of the Wizengamot.
“I’m not lying,” Leshia complained. “That’s what this machine was for actually, to see if people were lying. So you can stick me in there and I’ll tell this story all over again!”
The girl cast a mutinous look at Tripper, who returned it tenfold.
“Miss Malfoy what happened when you were in this device?” Madam Aspera now asked. Seemingly in the light of such explosive a revelation the correct proceedings of a criminal trial could be overlooked.
“He asked me questions,” the girl spat, jerking her head at the pacing Runes Professor. “They started off simple. You know, asking my name and all that, but then he started asking about my dad and my grandfather and Voldemort. He was interrogating me, and every time I tried to avoid a question or I, well, I lied a little because he was scaring me, well every time that happened these electric sparks would jab my arms and legs. It really hurt!”
A smattering of whispers and murmurs trickled into the arena while the shocked members of the Wizengamot announced their disgust at such a revelation. There were few who denied the girl their trust and those few were shortly put down when they uttered their concerns. One needed only to look at the quivering furious form of Silas Tripper to see the girl had put his nose quite thoroughly out of joint with her story of what happened between them. His trial stood little chance of going ahead in the light of the girl’s torment. After all, a man who was willing to torture a child to implicate her father would think nothing of bringing the girl to a criminal trial to get what he wanted.
“Professor Dumbledore.” As though she had forgotten her headmaster stood beside her, Leshia quickly glanced up when Pax spoke. The powerful aura that she had so rarely seen was flickering about the venerable wise old man and his eyes were cold. Dumbledore was a deeply hurt and aggrieved man. “This information was unknown to you?”
“I didn’t tell anyone sir,” Leshia quickly piped up, shivering at the shame in her headmaster’s tone and knowing she had caused it. “Well, my best friends, but that’s it. We all thought it best not so say anything.”
“Very well.” Pax leaned back for a moment, his small hand snaking circles over his bristly chin while his mind scattered about the recent turn of events. He would need to speak to the Minister in private. He knew Crayik had a vested interest in the outcome of this trial and he also knew that were he to immediately lock Silas Tripper in a cell to commence his own trial the Minister would step in once more. He needed time.
“We are to take a recess. In one hour we will return to determine the outcome of what will happen with today’s proceeding. Miss Malfoy, you will go with your headmaster to his briefing room. I will come and speak with you.”
“What about the book?” Everyone stared with wide eyes at the spluttering wreck of Silas Tripper. He seemed almost deranged, a look amplified by the hanks of dark greasy hair that had come loose and were dangling over his face.
“As for you Mr Tripper, you will return to your own briefing room. The book you speak of is the last of your concerns now. Be gone from my sight.”
Usually a demure and calm man, Maxwell Pax could not keep the bitterness from his tone when faced with such an excuse for a man. The vengeance that had fuelled his attack on an innocent child was clear as day and laid bare now for all to see.
Leshia watched Silas Tripper as she climbed from her chair and followed Dumbledore out. Their gaze never met, as the vile man seemed to have become quite unhinged. His own eyes were flitting between the seething expression on the Minister’s face to the ceiling hidden in the gloom. Hands twitching and feet pacing, Leshia couldn’t help but feel she had seen this Silas Tripper before in a place where neither of them ought to have been.
Leshia ought to have been unsurprised to find her parents waiting in Dumbledore’s briefing room. She ought also to have prepared herself for the white-hot fury in Draco’s eyes and tears in Hermione’s, but she had been far too concerned with her own predicament to imagine that her parents might have been watching the trial.
As she entered the room Draco and Hermione both rose to their feet from their respective positions; Draco leaning against a desk and Hermione perched on the arm of a chair. They both started speaking at once.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“When did it happen?”
“We could have done something…”
“Why didn’t you come straight to me…”
“Did it hurt you darling…”
“That vile disgusting…”
“So upset you…”
“Just stop!” Leshia finally ordered with a defiance she hadn’t realised had followed her into the room. The girl’s parents stopped and stared mutinously at their daughter and for a moment Leshia’s eyes flicked to Dumbledore, who thankfully seemed much restored to his normal self.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Hermione finally spoke, breaking the heavy silence with a question that was on everybody’s mind.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Leshia remarked with a simple innocence that made Dumbledore smile. He had already deeply examined Leshia’s actions and had no questions as to her motives. “Dad he only did it so you’d find out and duel him. He wasn’t doing it to get at me; he was doing it to get at you. He was doing it so he’d have an excuse to lock you up and a pretty good one at that. So I decided no, I wasn’t going tell you!”
Hermione’s eyes closed and she hung her head. Despite the gravity of the situation, the fury burning her stomach and the grief tearing at her heart the mother felt a stab of pride. This was Hermione’s daughter speaking, not Draco’s. This Leshia had grown to be so because Hermione was her mother. Such wisdom and selflessness came not from her Malfoy heritage, it was all Hermione and the sight of it eased her ravaged emotions.
“The girl is right Draco,” Dumbledore now spoke, a small smile on his face. “I too feel your shame. I too feel a great sorrow in my letting this take place in my own school, but please, listen to what she says with an open mind.”
“Dad that short man…”
“Chairman Pax Leshia,” Dumbledore spoke gently, stopping the blonde girl’s impassioned speech.
“Yeah him, well he seemed pretty angry at Tripper. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe this means I won’t be going to Azkaban after all.” Leshia’s eyes flitted to her mother’s concerned face before the drifted back to Draco’s to see his expression had become no less mutinous than when she first walked in.
“You were right not to tell me,” the tall man finally uttered, his tone rippling with anger. “I’m going to kill him.”
Hermione and Leshia glanced to one another after their simultaneous exclamations wondering at how their voices had adopted the same cadence and pattern. It was as though only one of them had been speaking two words at once so alike had their utterances been.
“And then what dad?” Leshia spoke abruptly, darting her grey gaze back onto her father. “Maybe you’d want to invite me to your hanging as a present for my next birthday?”
“Oh Leshia,” Hermione complained with a roll of her eyes. Gone was the maturity of her Granger genes and back was her Malfoy boldness, edging her into blundering headfirst into regardless venting of her feelings.
“Well what do you expect me to do Leshia? Let him get away with it?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what you should do. For once can’t you squash that over-protectiveness to see that actually this has helped my case? By not bursting in wand out you’re helping me dad. Can’t you see?”
Draco dropped his eyes to the age-old carpet while his wounded pride sought a refuge to regroup in. Finding every escape blocked by his daughter’s sensible words though he lifted his gaze level once more, feeling much calmer now the red-rage was subsiding.
“I want to crush him,” he finally spoke, but by his tone and expression the other three could sense the anger was subsiding and Draco would not act on his words.
Draco and Dumbledore’s eyes met and the younger man seemed to be assuring his older friend that he would not do anything foolish. Feeling much assured Dumbledore clapped his hands together.
“Very well, I must go and speak with Chairman Pax and the Minister. I wonder how this ugly revelation will impact upon today’s proceedings.” With this the headmaster was gone leaving Leshia alone with her parents and baby sister, who had been dozing in a comfortable armchair the entire length of the conversation.
“If he ever touches you again…” Leshia glanced up to her mother in surprise to see stubborn anger materialise where moments before there had been level-headed calm.
“I’ll tell you straight away, I promise,” the girl cut in quickly, worried what Hermione might do if she denied her such a guarantee.
Leshia retook her seat with a much greater feeling of ease than when she had first done so. In the hour that had passed she had come to believe firmly that her fate would not see her incarcerated on this occasion. She would live to see another Hogwarts day and that she believed so was clear for all to see. Several members of the Wizengamot could not keep the smiles from their faces when their eyes fell on the restored youngster. They had all agreed, the trial was to be negated; Alecia Malfoy was to walk free without a verdict.
With a childish delight Leshia heard the news of her happy escape though she could not help but feel putout at the light telling off Tripper received. Pax too seemed aggrieved as he delivered Tripper’s pardon and after a cruel glare cast at the Minister it was clear for all to see that the powerful man had worked his influence. Silas Tripper was to remain at Hogwarts and would not stand trial for the abuse claims. Leshia felt indignity bubbling up, edging her to an outburst of epic proportions when suddenly, as if to placate her with the best news that he had saved till the end Pax successfully quashed Leshia’s rising temper,
“Our last matter this morning pertains to Alecia Malfoy’s presence on the Ministry’s watch list. It has been agreed that as of six-o clock this evening the child will be removed from the list and the Eye of the Ministry will no longer mark her hand.”
A titter of laughter spread through the arena as Leshia displayed her glee at such a statement with a triumphant fist thrown into the air. The girl had made quite an impression on the Wizengamot and after returning to their respective homes later that evening dinner tables the country over rang with talk of that strange Malfoy girl.
As for Leshia herself, within moments of being released from the courtroom she found herself sandwiched between her parents who seemed very unwilling to let her go back to school with the Headmaster. Dumbledore pacified them, claiming that Leshia no doubt wanted to return to reassuring normality, to which Leshia agreed adamantly. In truth, she didn’t want to be exposed to the coldness separating her parents and wished to be as far from them as possible. Their wounded expressions as Leshia followed Dumbledore into a hearth in the atrium followed her right into the headmaster’s study at the school.
“Please sit,” the weathered grey man spoke fondly the moment Leshia swirled into being in his fireplace. He had already taken his seat and was stroking his impressive beard pensively. Leshia glanced towards the door pondering her escape before she accepted that before long she would need to own up to her silence over the torture matter. Wondering whether any other pupils in the school had been brought before the head so many times Leshia took the comfortable seat she was being offered before she lifted her grey eyes to Dumbledore’s calm face.
A minute of silence stretched between the pair as they held one another’s gaze, before finally the elderly man spoke words Leshia had not been expecting,
“I am so very sorry for the ordeal you have undergone at the hands of that man.” Leshia raised an eyebrow, the only indication of her confusion at the direction this conversation was taking. “You need not defend yourself child, I understand full well the course you pursued and your reasons for doing so. All I can offer is my passionate assurance that I will keep Professor Tripper under far greater control.”
The headmaster paused staring amusedly at the defiant expression that had materialised, if only briefly, on the youngster’s face.
“Please,” he chuckled genially. “Tell me what troubles you.”
Leshia jerked a little in her seat, trying to skirt around the turbulent anger that had bubbled to the surface. Who was she to challenge Albus Dumbledore? And yet he seemed to open and at ease, so willing to listen to any thoughts she might have. Surely he would not think her impertinent for asking an obvious question?
“Sir…why is he still allowed to work here? Why didn’t Chairman Pax, well, you know, do something about what I said?”
“You must believe me when I say I do not mean to patronise you dear girl, but you might not understand fully what I am about to explain,” the elderly wizard replied soothingly. “Silas Tripper’s appointment at this school is and has always been out of my control. The Board of Governor’s attached to this school are notoriously fickle and being that the Minister himself is on the board they have easily swayed to his propaganda that I have let this school fall to pieces. They believe his outlandish claims that Hogwarts is no longer safe and that I have employed dangerous criminals to teach theirs and the nation’s children.”
“My dad,” Leshia interrupted calmly before she shook her head with a sigh. “Professor, why are people so stupid? They know he’s not that bad, surely they do!”
“I feel to call them stupid would be a harsh judgement indeed. Think instead that they are frightened. They remember the war Miss Malfoy. Many of them remember the one before that as well. What they would do to avoid another…”
“Employ someone to abuse the pupils?” Leshia cut in bitterly.
“Not pupils Leshia, just one. One pupil and one teacher. One pupil and one teacher they fear. Minister Crayik displayed his political muscles in that courtroom this morning. He arranged for the pardon of his man.”
“But surely he’s not that corrupt,” the girl complained. “I mean, dad always made him seem really decent, really fair. He’s not a whole new person just because he’s scared!”
“Perhaps not.” Dumbledore sighed and dropped his gaze to the dark green leather desktop. “I have seen fear twist even mighty men. Perhaps if Silas had been any other auror the Minister would not have intervened, but Mr Tripper is too vital a pawn for the Minister to use in this instance.”
“Why? Because he hates my dad?”
“Precisely, because he hates your father. The Minister wants your father somewhere where he can be controlled Miss Malfoy and he will use every opportunity that arises until the job is done. Now then, the book.”
The blonde girl blinked quickly at the quick change of topic.
“I am afraid I will not be able to return it to you.”
“I didn’t think I’d get it back sir,” the girl sighed disappointedly.
“You wished to finish it.” It was not a question.
“I was really close to the end. I mean, it was a pretty boring book to get all worked up about. It just dealt with the three strengths. You know, strength in friends, strength in family and strength in self. They were just butting their noses in, Flourish and Blott I mean.”
Dumbledore laughed heartily and he took his moon glasses from the end of his nose to polish them on a patch of his robes.
“To hear a child slander such a notorious book,” he chuckled to himself. Leshia overlooked his remark and continued,
“I don’t know why Voldemort wanted it so badly sir. I don’t see what was so special about it.”
“Indeed?” Now Dumbledore looked up once more, restoring his glasses to the crooked bridge of his nose. “Miss Malfoy Voldemort knew none of those things. He was a man who wanted to know everything. He wanted to be all-powerful and here lay a book giving empowering credence to three strengths Voldemort knew very little of. I am not surprised he sought it with such fervour.”
Leshia frowned and glanced to her hands, her eyes catching the seered mark that was yet to disappear. The clock had after all only just struck one-o clock. Somewhere down below her friends were probably staring distractedly out of the windows in their lessons, wondering what was happening to her.
“It has some powers,” she conceded childishly. “Sometimes, when I was in a really bad mood I’d touch it and I’d feel, well, I’d feel good. I would feel strong, but it wasn’t worth all of this. Definitely not! If only Katie hadn’t…”
The girl’s eyes fell lower, wandering over the tear in her jeans, seeking it for answers to a problem she hadn’t brought herself to think about involving her friend far away to the West.
“You can be assured Miss Malfoy that Katie Potter is the sort of person who is most critical of herself.” Leshia’s eyes shot up to the headmaster. “She will quite happily have punished herself infinitely more than you could have done. If you want a nosy old man’s advice, I would stave off your worries of hating her when she returns until you see her. Our hearts have a funny old way of changing sides when we are confronted with the object of our feelings.”
The headmaster’s words rang in Leshia’s ears as she sauntered through the castle. She felt as though nothing could touch her. She was free. Every now and then she stole a glance at the mark on her hand, smiling with glee that she had beaten it. It burned with a pointless vengeance, as though it wanted to impart upon the girl a lasting impression of its presence. Leshia though enjoyed the pain, mentally admonishing the Eye, explaining to it that it couldn’t hurt her any more.
She hadn’t been expecting anyone in the tower and was hoping to fit a nap in before her friends were excused from their lessons, but upon sidling into the common room her eyes pushed past the sixth and seventh years to find Rachel and Rodeo sat opposite one another at the table by the window box. A game of exploding chess stood before them, but neither seemed to be involved in it. Upon Leshia’s arrival two enormous relieved smiles burst onto their faces and they were on their feet within seconds.
“You’re back!” Rachel crowed, as though she hadn’t believed it possible.
“What happened?” Rodeo demanded in the same instant. Leshia laughed at their worry and approached them, only to find herself wrapped in their arms simultaneously.
“You haven’t escaped have you?” Rachel checked quickly, pulling back to meet Leshia’s pleased eyes.
“No they let me go actually,” she responded amusedly. “Turns out they don’t think I’m a dangerous nutcase after all.”
“Well they can’t have looked hard enough then,” Rodeo now chimed in, earning an elbow to his stomach for his troubles.
“For your information they didn’t really look at all,” the blonde girl complained.
“What do you mean?” Rachel asked looking concerned.
“I’ll tell you later. Anyway, what are you two slackers doing in here? Shouldn’t you be at lessons still?” Quite suddenly Leshia’s friends looked down at their feet eliciting a smirk upon the blonde girl’s face. “Yes?”
“Well, we both sort of got thrown out of our lessons,” Rachel responded grimly. Leshia burst out laughing and threw her arms around Rachel’s shoulders.
“But don’t think it’s because we like you,” Rodeo now warned. “I’ll have you know Hagrid was trying to get us down to that swamp to feed the Greyfins. I took one of them Weasley puking sweets just to get out of it.”
Leshia, seeing through the boy’s lie, laughed even louder before she reached out and arm and pulled him into a crushing embrace at Rachel’s side.
“You two have no idea how glad I am to be home,” she whispered, feeling her eyes prickling.
Throughout the course of the evening Leshia expressed these sentiments a dozen times over as upon the house’s return to their common room after lessons an impromptu party burst into being at the sight of Leshia’s evident escape from the stocks. What had the girl laughing hysterically was the banner that dropped from the mezzanine level balcony revealing the slogan ‘Sorry you’re being shipped off to Azkaban’ which had been crossed out with a hastily scribbled ‘We knew you didn’t do it!’ beneath. A glance at Rachel’s proud smug face revealed she was the mastermind behind the mischief.
“What would you have done if they really had shipped me off?” Leshia asked happily.
“We knew they wouldn’t,” Rachel replied simply with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Dumbledore,” the red head explained. “He came up to the common room last night. We were all having kittens basically, it was like someone had died up here. Well anyway, he told us he’d eat his hat if they found you guilty. He was so sure they wouldn’t.”
“It’s a shame they didn’t really,” Rodeo now piped up. He’d been listening to what the girls were talking about. Leshia turned a mischievous smile on the boy.
“Yeah, it would’ve been cool to see Dumbledore eat a hat.”
The party was going ahead full swing. Even the seventh years, who had of late been absentees of the common room, choosing instead to study feverishly in the library for their upcoming NEWTS, were putting in an appearance. It wasn’t so much Leshia the house were celebrating anymore, it was their youth. The seriousness of Leshia’s situation had sobered the teenagers, reminding them that they were all hurtling towards adulthood at speeds they were powerless to control. Now Leshia was returned to them though, the momentary awareness of the slow march of time had ebbed away leaving them all giddy in their freedoms.
Owen Gabriel had taken a long time to come over to greet Leshia, in fact, after growing tired of waiting for the young man the blonde girl went in search of him herself. She found him sat in a corner chatting with the others in his year group, though he quickly climbed to his feet when he saw Leshia march over, a fond smile on his face.
“Shorty,” he chuckled. “Good to see you made it.”
“Why are you skulking over here?” Leshia asked happily, casting Owen’s friends a quick look that told them she had only spoken such words to mock the lanky boy, not with the intention of offending them. They all smiled back to show no offence had been taken; even Dan seemed less hostile than normal.
“Oh you seemed busy,” Owen replied. “I didn’t want to join the rest of the house in crowding round you like you’re the next best thing since Sherbet Sausages.”
Leshia giggled happily.
“What can I say? They love me.”
“Hey,” Owen suddenly exclaimed, genuine joy in his expression. “When did you lose the Eye?”
Leshia’s eyes darted to her hand where her skin lay undamaged, clear, soft and young as it had before the dreadful mark had branded her. There wasn’t a trace of the wretched thing.
“It’s gone,” she gasped, looking back to Owen’s gaze. She wanted to explain. “There wasn’t a trial in the end. I told them something about Tripper that got right up everyone’s noses. They let it drop and said they’d get rid of the Eye too.”
“Nice one,” Owen chuckled appreciatively. “What did you tell them? That he chucks us out the window if we forget our homework and sits on us if we get questions wrong. That sort of thing? ”
“Oh, no, nothing like that, but it’s not really that important,” the girl countered with a faraway smile. Never again did she want to relive the moment she found herself trapped at Silas Tripper’s mercy. “Come on, let’s test this thing. Tripper smells worse than a werewolf’s fart!”
Nothing, other than the laughter of those surrounding Leshia and Owen. Where for months rippling snakes of pain had accompanied even ill thoughts towards the foul Runes professor, now there was no retribution for Leshia’s offensive taunt.
“Anything?” Owen asked with a smug smile. Leshia’s delighted eyes gave her answer. “Try another one!”
“Okay. Tripper still wets the bed!” Again no pain. “When Tripper was born he was so ugly his mum tried to send him back. Silas Tripper is so desperate for a girlfriend he‘s even considering Moaning Mertle because no one else will have him! Tripper‘s so stupid even Muggles know more magic than he does.” Still nothing, save the laughter of Owen Gabriel, delighted to see Leshia entirely back to her old self. For a moment the blonde girl’s smile faltered while she looked into a possible future only she could see. “One day, Silas Tripper is going to pay for what he’s done to me and my family.”
Over the next few Days Leshia cherished every single moment of her time at Hogwarts. She even looked forward to Potions, though after catching a detention for smiling too much Leshia soon cursed her past-self for being so naïve. Though she had dreaded her first run in with Tripper in Monday’s lesson, Leshia was delighted to find as she walked in that her bag drifted off toward the back of the classroom to a desk near Rachel’s and that Silas Tripper didn’t look at her once in the hour-long lesson. Things were back to normal, with the added bonus of a reprieve from Tripper’s bullying her. They were some of Leshia’s happiest weeks at Hogwarts since returning after the summer with two notable absences: Katie and Parys.
Time had marched on since that tearful morning when she and Rachel and bid Katie a subdued farewell at the portrait hole and now the exchange pupils were due back. Whereas most of the school were alive with excitement at the return of their friends, Leshia felt only angst. She had tried to follow Dumbledore’s advice and not worry too much about whether she would hate Katie for her accidental part in her horrible ordeal, but she was too stubborn a girl. A little pit of anger had been growing in Leshia’s heart. Curse Katie for her bossiness? Why did it matter to her whether Leshia read a book or not? Why did she feel she could order her friends around so? Who was she to tell Alecia Malfoy what to do?
Leshia’s dark thoughts had only been made worse by the total silence on Katie’s end. The girl had not written since she received Rachel’s letter and though Parys had informed Rodeo and Rachel that Katie was suffering something chronic, so much so that she’d even stopped coming to some lessons, Leshia didn’t want to hear about it. This in turn worried Rachel, who couldn’t help but fear that things would never be the same again.
The last Friday of term arrived frighteningly quickly and finally the exchange pupils were due back. The excitement in the castle reached fever pitch. Rachel and Leshia tried to steer clear of people gushing about their returning friends and instead kept to themselves. Rodeo had not their worries and instead bounced about the castle all day, eagerly talking to anyone who would listen that Parys was coming back! The young man caught a telling off for his exuberance in the last lesson of the day when finally Professor Malfoy had heard enough whispering from Rodeo’s corner of the room.
“Mr Holsson. One more word out of you that is unrelated to Picklewire Hex countercurses and I am going to send you away for a very long time,” the teacher growled across the classroom, humbling Rodeo into a terrified silence. Draco had not enjoyed his day, seeing as every single class he had attempted to teach were too engrossed by the upcoming holidays and the return of their friends.
Leshia gave Rachel a fond smile and rolled her eyes at her father’s mood, but said nothing and turned her eyes back to her report on the most effective countercurse for the skin mutating Picklewire Hex. She was quite proud with the calibre of her report, considering her mind had been quite absent during the lesson.
Finally the bell went prompting a stampede of pupils to go running for the doors of their classrooms to run down to their common rooms where their newly returned friends would be waiting; all except a select few pupils who happened to have a select few teacher’s breathing fire before them. Draco’s class eyed him desperately, but he took his just revenge on them and the rest of the pupils he had taught that day, by rearranging his desk slowly before climbing to his feet. The seconds ticked on while he walked over the to the door of the classroom and reached for the handle. Some of the teenagers were half out their seats and Draco stared at each one until they lowered themselves. Only once each pupil was sat properly did the teacher open the door.
“You may go,” he uttered grimly before he jumped out of the way of some of the more desperate youngsters sat at the front. The last ones to slink from the classroom were Rachel and Leshia, who both gave Draco a grin before they ambled out. On their way to Gryffindor tower they didn’t speak, dragging their feet a little the closer they came to the portrait hole. Leshia’s anger and emotions were battling one another in the pit of her stomach making everything churn the wrong way round. She felt a little sick if truth be told.
“I might just go to the toilet,” the short girl piped up when she and Rachel reached the portrait of the Fat Lady.
“Oh no you don’t, there‘s no putting this off Leesh,” Rachel grumbled, grabbing the sleeve of Leshia’s robe and dragging her towards the portrait. “Beetle bums.”
Obediently the portrait swung open allowing Rachel to drag her prisoner inside. The common room was awash with noise and bright colourful gifts from far away lands flying about the tower. In an amidst the hugging teenagers and the energetic gesticulating Rachel scanned the faces for her cousin’s, but Katie wasn’t there.
“Let’s check upstairs,” the redhead insisted, while Leshia tried to drag her way back out.
“Or Hagrid’s maybe. You know how Katie likes to hang out round Hagrid’s.”
“Come on Leshia! Move it!” Rachel dragged more firmly while Leshia tried to delay by greeting friends and peers she had missed. Her best friend was having none of it though and dragged Leshia away from everyone she tried to talk to.
“Hey there’s Parys!” the blonde girl cried out when she and Rachel had started up the stairs. For a moment Rachel’s overjoyed face darted across the crowds until her eyes fell on a very tanned and excited looking Parys, who at this moment was telling Rodeo a story with such enthusiasm that several first years seemed to be backing away from him. Rachel’s heart swam with adoration.
“Not now,” she forced herself to say, though it was the last thing on her mind. Dragging her eyes away from the boy Rachel dragged Leshia upwards, needing to use less force now Leshia had no more excuses. The blonde girl knew it was time to face her demons. It was time to face Katie.
Rachel pushed into their dormitory first, stopping a few footsteps inside the door. Leshia joined her side, her heart skipping with pent up anger, her eyes falling on Katie. Time stopped.
Katie Potter sat upon her four poster bed, her eyes staring at a picture in her hands. Her trunk lay at her feet and she still wore her coat. Her hair was in disarray, her cheeks were gaunt and her face was pale and swollen from days of endless crying. The girl had tortured herself with blame at what had happened to Leshia and seeing this the anger fell from Leshia’s heart. Both she and Rachel stared with torment at their friend.
“Katie,” Leshia uttered miserably, drawing the tall girl’s sore red eyes. Fresh tears sprung from those unblinking blue orbs and shakily Katie stood to her feet. She had lost a lot of weight.
“I’m so sorry,” the heartbroken girl whispered. Leshia was surprised that her own cheeks were suddenly wet too and without another thought she sprinted across the common room and swept a weeping Katie into her arms.
“Don’t,” the smaller girl insisted firmly, holding up Katie’s shaking weal form. “What have you done to yourself eh? Look at you you’re a mess!”
“I’m just so sorry Leesh! It’s all my fault…”
“Hey,” Leshia spoke sternly drawing Katie’s gaze. The raven-haired girl stopped crying. “It’s not your fault my dad was an evil man a long time ago. It’s not your fault that he scorned Tripper a very long time ago. It’s not your fault that the Minister of Magic is a coward. It’s not your fault Tripper is out to get my dad and is using me in the process. It’s not your fault that thousands of years ago some Egyptian wizards wrote a book. It’s not your fault that two old men gave me that book. It’s not your fault that decades ago Voldemort wanted that same book for whatever stupid reasons of his own. And so it’s not your fault that I went to trial. Now you stop blaming yourself Katherine Potter, do you hear me?”
With each heartfelt sentence Katie stood a little straighter until finally she seemed somewhat back to normal. A broad smile had pulled onto her face.
“Thank you,” the tall girl uttered strongly. Leshia grinned and shoved her friend now she was sure Katie wasn’t going to break in two at the slightest touch.
“Oh go away you idiot,” the blonde girl laughed. Katie started laughing too and soon found herself buried under the arms of a crying Rachel, who had watched the interaction between her best friends with tears of joy. Everything was going to be fine.
“Oy!” a familiar voice bellowed up from below. The three girls spun around to face the door, which still lay open. “No use hiding up there ladies! I’ll find you eventually!”
“That’s what you think!” Rachel called back, her smile reaching her ears. “I bet we could outwit you any day Parys Jackson.”
“Oh just shut up and come and give me a hug Rachel Weasley.” Like a bullet Rachel was gone leaving Leshia and Katie to follow at an amble, their hands intertwined, both grasping at their renewed friendship that both had assumed lost. They emerged to find Rachel and Parys in an epic embrace that was coming to a close as both parties had taken to poking one another in a battle. It was a battle that was staved however, as the moment Parys saw Leshia he ran forward and swung the girl round in a hug.
“You’re even shorter than when we left,” the boy teased earning himself another poke, though from Leshia this time.
“Yeah and you’re even lankier,” Leshia laughed. “What’s your point?”
Rachel had moved to wrap an arm around Katie and pulled her into a half hug. Katie was embarrassed to be back into common room looking like such a state, though what had her hiding behind Parys and Leshia’s squabbling forms was Rodeo’s shocked expression. He couldn’t believe how ill Katie looked. He knew more than most that the raven-haired girl blamed herself for everything that happened to her, but this thing with Leshia had evidently taken its toll. His heart ached for the once vibrant girl. Quickly Rodeo crossed the common room and pulled Katie into a hug.
“What’s happened to you eh Potter?” he admonished gently.
“Oh,” Katie sighed, melting into his arms. “You know. Same old, same old.”
Rodeo laughed, sending resounding reverberations round Katie’s skeletal chest. She clung to him for a long time until eventually she let him go and smiled a smile of old.
“I’ll be okay,” she told everyone, noticing all eyes had come to rest on her. Leshia reached out a hand and held Katie’s. “Now that I’m home and everything‘s back to normal, I’ll be okay.”