Generations Book 4: Rebel Inside

Chapter 11

Part XI

Draco stepped over the grate into the kitchen of his London townhouse. It was late, as he’d been on duty parading through Hogwarts endless corridors in search of mischief. He wasn’t expecting to find any though as he was pretty sure most of the castle’s youngsters would be regaling one another in their common rooms and dormitories with their adventurous tales. Indeed, the only people he’d caught after curfew had been a gaggle of little first year Hufflepuffs because one of them (Draco still wasn’t sure which) had had a nose bleed. After escorting the young girls to the hospital wing Draco had seen not a soul, living or dead, on his evening rounds.

The time to himself gave him time to think though and he had mulled over the last few weeks of his life in calculated detail. After Leshia’s trial had been abandoned a part of him that had been trapped in the dark since her branding was suddenly released. A shadow lifted from his heart leaving him optimistic. Hermione had sensed this change in her husband and she too had been trying. They hadn’t spoken properly since the horrible fights that had engulfed them a fortnight ago, but the atmosphere at their Dockstreet home was distinctly less bitter.

The lights in the kitchen were out, though Draco smiled at the plate of dinner his wife had left him. It seemed engulfed in flames, though the moment Draco sat down to eat the flames disappeared leaving a hot plate of lasagne in their stead. The tall man chuckled; Hermione was a truly talented witch in all areas of magic. He was certain this spell was one of her own. While the brooding man ate his mind drifted back to his memories of Hermione Granger in school. How he had hated her intelligence and her ability in their lessons. Quite an able student himself, Draco had still never managed to best the Muggle-born witch. Darkness had shrouded Draco in those days. He had found little to love and to cling onto. Certainly, he had only looked at Hermione with hatred. When had that changed?

A flash of a smiling Hermione, flour on her face, egg in her hair, while she and Ginny Weasley baked together at 12 Grimmauld Place, jumped into his mind’s eye. Her flyaway hair she pushed back with floury hands, her eyes alive with the joy she and Ginny enjoyed together, she had been beautiful. It had been the first time Draco had looked on her with anything less than hatred. It had been the first time doubt crept into his mind. Hermione had seen him and her face had hardened slightly. She hadn’t trusted him then. Her reprove had made Draco feel unclean and he had stalked from the kitchen, only to be plagued by that moment in his sleep. Hermione had been a regular member of his dreams since that day.

The lasagne was delicious and Draco finished his plate within ten minutes. Dutifully he washed it clean, not wanting to leave his wife a dirty kitchen in the morning. His study was calling him. Hermione had left an interesting report about a colony of giants surviving in the Himalayas on his place at the table before breakfast and Draco had been meaning to read it all day. A small smile crept onto the tired man’s face at the thought of his wife’s kindness.

A soft light was coming from the lounge. Leaving his article for another day Draco ambled into the lounge finding Hermione lying on her front on the soft rug by the hearth. The fire was burning out leaving embers, leaving just enough light for Hermione to make out the pictures she pawing over. Draco closed his eyes for a moment. Her knew those photo albums; Hermione had spent weeks grafting the pictures she had recovered from her missing years into lovingly crafted albums. She had wanted to piece together the missing days into false memories. Photos of Draco and Leshia had been salvaged from both usual and unlikely sources. Molly, Ginny and Lavender had provided plenty of pictures for the collection, but Hermione had gone further afield, going to Muggles whose children Leshia had played with at school and the football club Leshia had been a member of very briefly.

Draco chuckled in memory alerting his wife to his presence. Hermione looked up in surprise.

“What?” she asked with a smile. Her husband shook his head and walked slowly over to the woman sprawled out on the rug. Easily Draco dropped down beside her on his front.

“I was laughing at a memory.”

“Which one?”

The air between them was static with nerves.

“When an overweight Muggle called me in to discuss why our daughter might be better suited at a different football club,” the tall man explained with a wry smile. Hermione smiled, she had heard this story, but she wanted to hear it again.

“Tell me again what she did.” Draco met her dark eyes and quickly looked away from the love he saw in them; the love for himself and the love for their daughter.

“It’s not too bad really,” Draco chuckled. “In her first match she managed to explode six footballs when she kicked them.”

“Oh there was more Draco,” Hermione laughed, leaning over to nudge Draco’s shoulder with her own. “What she did was quite terrible.”

“Well,” the tall man shrugged. “She might have set the referee on fire. I can assure you he wasn’t permanently injured.” Hermione laughed heartily and shook her head.

“How you explained that one away I will never know,” she crooned happily, before her eyes fell to a picture of a seven-year-old Leshia stood in a field near the burrow. The little girl had a muddy stain on her cheek, ripped jeans, a grubby t-shirt, a tangle of long flowing curls and a look of permanent mischief on her face. The photograph-Leshia kept giggling at someone out of sight, before she dared to pull a funny face at the camera and then double over in laughter. She was a little imp.

Hermione stroked the picture lovingly.

“She was so precious,” the mother sighed, glancing to the picture below, which had been taken the same day on Ginny’s camera. Leshia was asleep, crumpled in a little heap in a flowerbed. Her large eyes fluttering in dreams, her hands balled into little fists clutching at a raggedy dishtowel. Hermione closed her own eyes, picturing herself scooping her tired little daughter into her arms and rocking her closely. Her heart ached for the years she’d missed.

Draco looked to the pictures too and felt humbled by the strength of Hermione’s emotions. He could never understand how she felt. Yes, most of these pictures had not been taken by himself. He had missed all these moments too, but his had been an act of choice. Leshia hadn’t been snatched away from him by his lost memories, it was his own actions had had caused him to miss these early years in their daughter’s life, never to return for second chances.

“She was precious,” he finally agreed, but with a smile he turned the album a few pages on to a series of pictures he had taken. “But she was also a little nightmare,” he added with a smile. Hermione opened her eyes and instantly laughed aloud when she saw the pictures Draco had found.

There was Leshia, aged six, her face scrunched up in a furious tantrum, repeatedly breaking a series of ornaments on a shelf in the kitchen. Her cheeks were red and her hair was wild. She had been half forced into her pyjamas by a furious Tally, before the Houself had given up leaving Leshia to run round the house in her pyjama top and her knickers. The little girl in the picture was the epitome of fury herself.

Beneath it lay a picture taken moments later which showed a struggle of momentous proportions between Tally and her charge. Draco had been laughing so much the camera had been shaking, which it did now in the album, stuck in that joyous moment in time.

“She was still precious,” Hermione laughed, her fingers trying to stroke down Leshia’s tempestuous hair. The little girl in the picture jumped away from the fingers, scowling furiously at them. “I love her Draco.”

The blond man stayed silent, his eyes closed while his wife’s heart ached. He knew this. He knew it as much as he was aware of his own love for their daughter…both of them.

“I never ever meant to imply I hated her…”

“Don’t,” Draco sighed. “We both said things we didn’t mean.”

“I miss her.” There was sorrow in Hermione’s voice, though thankfully Draco could see no tears in his wife’s eyes. It was almost as though Hermione had run out of tears to shed over the state of her relationship with her daughter. “Do you think…do you think she misses me?”

Draco sighed heavily and wrapped his arm about Hermione’s shoulders, the first display of affection he had showed her in many weeks. It felt good.

“I know she does,” he whispered. Hermione smiled and leaned her face into Draco’s neck.

“I hope things are better this holiday,” the mother sighed softly.

“Well they can’t be much worse than they were at Christmas time,” Draco chuckled. Hermione leaned back, her expression amused, her face inches from her husband’s.

“What do you mean?”

“Darling,” Draco laughed. “Christmas time was bloody miserable!” Hermione laughed too. It felt good to laugh.

“You’re right,” she finally managed through the laughter. “Anything is going to be absolute heaven in comparison.”

“Kiss me.”

Hermione stared into her husband’s eyes in surprise. His face was arranged in love and longing. It had seemed a long time since he had looked at her in this way. As though she saw him for the first time Hermione’s heart ached for him.

“You don’t need to ask,” she whispered, finding herself suddenly pushed up against Draco’s face. Their kiss was desperate, hungry and passionate, making up for the weeks where they hadn’t allowed themselves to care for one another. Several minutes later they pulled apart; far up above the baby was crying. Both knew her cries and both knew this not to be an urgent demand. Evie was coming into her own and was merely demanding her parents’ attention. Draco’s brow creased in frustration and Hermione felt it too. She met Draco’s eyes, before a small smile crept onto her face.

“She can wait,” the mother whispered softly through her smile. Draco was suddenly overcome with love and he rolled onto Hermione startling her into laughing out loud. “Draco you brute! Be gentle!”

The handsome man pulled away from his wife, his smile ripe with fondness.

“How gentle?” he asked softly, his tone amused. Hermione leaned in and kissed his lips with the utmost care.

“Very gentle,” came her quiet response. “I’m an old mother of two you know.”

“Call yourself old again and I’m going to beat you woman,” Draco warned happily. Hermione met his eyes and batted her eyelashes at her husband.

“I’m an old old hag,” she teased.

“Right, that’s it!”

Gales of laughter rang from the rooms of the Dockstreet home once more and behind the grand curtains love, which had lain hibernating a while, awoke in a glorious sunrise basking the people within with a deep happiness nothing could shake.

XXX

Leshia yawned as she watched the countryside outside the window slowly changing into the suburbs of London. She had been very sleepy since a hyperactive Rachel had dragged her from her bed at an ungodly hour saying they had missed the train. Leshia and Katie had been halfway out the dormitory when a grumpy Nicola called them back saying they’d been had, it was only six-o clock and would that ruddy redhead please jump out the window.

Rachel had suffered their recrimination however, in that neither best friend had spoken to her for at least two hours. In the end Rachel had become quite upset and the tired pair had given in. They were all in far too good a mood to let silly squabbles ruin things now. On the long journey from Hogwarts they’d discussed their various plans to ensure Leshia didn’t have to spend too much time at home with her sparring parents and her baby sister. They’d already planned a week’s activities, though secretly Leshia and Rachel knew they were going to have to underhandedly change some of them. They certainly weren’t going shopping three days in a row!

Rodeo and Parys had joined the girls half way through the journey. The laughs that had wafted from their cabin had drawn several dozen onlookers into walking past the window, not-so-surreptitiously peering in to see what was so funny. All they saw however, were five good friends enjoying one another. Nothing too interesting then.

Time had been cruel though and before the children were aware of it they had nearly arrived at their destination. The voice of Professor McGonagall wafted over the tannoy that Kings Cross was approaching and that pupils ought to return to their cabins to tidy them up a bit. The deputy head had evidently patrolled up the corridors and been quite unhappy about the chaotic states of most of the cabins. Most youngsters were still in a state of giddiness over being reunited the day before and the age-old train had born the brunt of their exuberance.

Rodeo and Parys had slinked off the to the cabin they had shared with some other fourth year boys to repair the damage leaving the girls to slump down in their seats. Their cabin needed little repairing, save for the curtain that Leshia, Rachel and Rodeo had torn down in a re-enactment of the quidditch match they had so gallantly won while everyone had been away. Katie and Parys had laughed themselves silly over the acting capabilities of their friends, though they did seem suitably impressed with the end result.

In the distance the London Eye appeared in the haze over the city bringing both a smile and a frown to Leshia’s face. A part of her was happy to be home, but a larger part of her was dreading the homecoming she was to receive. She wasn’t sure how much more of her parents’ coldness towards one another she could take and so far she‘d only been exposed to it for an evening. How was she to manage two weeks? With every passing moment the days of their happy familial life were becoming a distant memory.

“D’you reckon the parents’ll want to hang out round one of our places tonight?” Rachel asked when she caught sight of the tell tale red bricks of King’s Cross station looming at the end of the tracks.

“Probably,” Leshia replied softly, retreating into her thoughts faster than Rachel’s positivity could stall. “I mean we normally do don’t we?”

“Hopefully it’ll be round mine,” Katie piped up, trying to help her cousin’s cause in bringing Leshia back out of herself. Her suggestion managed to draw a curious expression from the blonde girl. “Well we never meet round mine.”

“You liar,” Rachel accused happily. “We’re round yours way more than we’re round mine.”

“Yeah that’s because your house’s the smallest,” Leshia countered, letting her friends distract her. “I mean, no offence or anything.”

“Good grief!” Rachel grumbled, a broad smile on her face. “Now you’re lying! What did I do to earn friends like the pair of you? Leesh my house is way bigger than yours.”

“Yeah right.”

“How many bedrooms has yours got?” Rachel demanded, her smile still going strong. Leshia looked up for a moment in thought while she mentally counted.

“Well four bedrooms,” she finally conceded, knowing Rachel’s house had three more bedrooms. “But in terms of rooms my house probably has more.”

“Oh really,” Rachel smirked in response.

“Well there’s the Muggle room…”

“What about our playroom?”

“Yeah okay, I‘ll give you that one, but we’ve got a separate lounge and dining room.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever even been in your dining room!” Rachel complained. “Hang on, are you sure you’ve even got one?”

Leshia started laughing.

“Of course I’m sure you muppet, it’s round the back, between the pantry and the Muggle room. And just because we don’t use it doesn’t mean it’s any less of a room! Does your house have a dining room?”

Rachel smirked and shook her head; the Weasleys ate at the large oval dining table in the bright and airy kitchen…or lounging about on the settees in the living room when Ron was feeling lazy.

“And what about dad’s study? Does your house have a study?”

“Give over. You win.”

“And what about the pantry and the utility room…” Leshia burst into happy laughter when Rachel suddenly leapt to her feet and started attacking Leshia with sharp rib-seeking fingers. The blonde girl wrestled back until quite suddenly both sparring parties were jolted onto the floor by the lurching stop of the train. Katie suppressed wild snorts of laughter before she used a levitating charm to bring her trunk down to her feet.

“I’m going to miss magic,” she sighed while she led the way onto the platform where many dozens of her peers had already poured out. In an amidst the rabble of hugging elbows and shoulders Katie dragged her trunk, peering over her shoulder to see she’d already lost Rachel and Leshia. There was a steady current dragging the raven-haired girl away down the platform, so she kept going, unable to stop and wait for her best friends. A very tall red-haired man was waiting up ahead, with an identically tall red-headed man at his side.

“Uncle Fred, Uncle George,” Katie uttered to herself with a happy smile. Though she hadn’t seen the family for the usual amount of time, indeed, as equally long a time as all the other Hogwarts-bound children of the Weasley family, but on account of her travelling half way across the world the bespectacled girl felt like she hadn’t seen them in years, not months.

Through the reuniting families Katie pushed until finally she came upon a gathering of Weasleys. It seemed everyone was in attendance, even Lavender, who had turned up to greet her children before she and Ron worked out a sticky agreement on when the estranged mother could visit during the holidays. Hermione, Evie balanced on her hip, was stood at Ron’s side offering him silent support while she waited for her own family to arrive. When Katie arrived calls went round the ring of cheery adults, until finally the youngest of the Weasley adults struggled forward to wrap her daughter in her arms.

“Katie!” Ginny breathed out jubilantly, squeezing her daughter so close Katie winced a little. “Look at you! You’ve grown again! And you’re so tanned. How was it my darling? Was it fabulous? Did you get to see the Incan ruins? Tell me all about it!”

Katie giggled and pulled away from her mother to give her a truly warm smile.

“Later mum,” the girl exclaimed breathily. Before the girl was able to truly revel in the sight of her mother’s face Katie found herself pulled into her father’s embrace. “Hi dad,” Katie uttered softly, smiling even more when she felt Harry kiss the top of her head.

“Did you have fun?” he asked quietly, leaving the avalanche of questions for his wife. He had only one question of his daughter. Katie pulled back and looked into her father’s curious eyes.

“Lots and lots and lots of fun,” she replied genuinely, eliciting a proud smile on her father’s face. Harry Potter could sense a change in his daughter and seeing her now so self-confident and natural made his heart swell with joy. He and Ginny had spent many an evening discussing how Katie’s trip could impact on her turbulent self-confidence and on the surface it seemed that he, Harry was the victor. He had been the one to suggest Katie would come back a far happier young woman, both with herself and her place in life. At first glance it would seem he had been right.

A flurry of flame-haired youngsters flooded the group leaving Katie to be jostled by the way side. She found herself pushed over to the side where Hermione was still supporting Ron. Katie couldn’t remember being so close to Leshia’s little sister and despite an instinct telling her not to give in to her curiosity, she couldn’t help herself and turned to stare at the ten-month-old baby.

“Wow,” Katie gasped loudly, drawing Hermione’s fond gaze.

“Hi Katie,” Leshia’s mother offered affectionately, reaching out an arm to pull the raven-haired girl into a half hug. Evie grabbed onto Katie’s long silky hair as she did so.

“Ow,” the tall girl exclaimed in surprise, pulling back with her hand on the back of her head.

“Careful,” Hermione laughed, pulling Evie’s podgy hand away from Katie. The baby evidently wanted to grab another handful of the soft black hair. “She’ll latch onto anything you put in her path. She’s a little monster.”

Katie was still staring at the baby in surprise.

“She’s identical to Leshia when she was a baby,” the raven-haired girl finally spoke, lifting her eyes slightly to meet Hermione’s. The young woman was nearly as tall as Hermione now.

“Now then, either you have a spectacular memory or…”

“Photos,” Katie quickly offered with a shrug.

“Of course,” Hermione replied with a smile, before she looked at her baby’s face, curiously watching the flurry of activity on the platform while desperately wanting to be a part of it. “You’re right though and it’s not just the way she looks either. This one is another Leshia in the making. Do you want to hold her?”

Katie’s eyes darted about guiltily. If Leshia caught her she would never hear the end of it.

“Hermione I’m sorry,” Katie whispered, seeing Hermione’s smile fall a little and feeling wretched deep inside. “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that…”

“Don’t you worry,” the mother replied quickly, reaching out a hand to squeeze Katie’s shoulders. “I know how hard it is to be in the middle of things. You should have seen your father and Ron when they were in school. My God could they argue and I was always smack bam in the middle of it.”

Katie giggled, before quite suddenly a tall figure stepped between her and Hermione. Tactfully the bespectacled girl looked away while Draco kissed his wife lovingly, though secretly a small smile was fighting to crawl onto her face. Surely things couldn’t be too bad between Leshia’s parents if this was how they greeted one another?

A stream of babbles escaped Evie’s smiling mouth when she saw her father, though in this moment Draco seemed only to have eyes for Hermione. This is how Leshia happened across them from across the gathering of old friends and family. A small part of the teenager wanted to wretch at seeing her parents kissing, but another, much larger part started dancing in her heart. Her parents weren’t fighting anymore, they were still in love!

The blonde girl was so happy she didn’t even notice her baby sister attached to her mother’s hip. Instead she surged forward through the reuniting Weasleys and pushed herself between her parents, giving her mother such a firm hug Hermione mistook the girl’s arms for Draco’s. Only when she opened her eyes did she see what had happened. Joy flooded Hermione’s senses and without realising why she suddenly had free arms (Draco had quickly relieved his wife of her baby-holding duties the moment Leshia had appeared between them) the relieved mother stooped low and dragged her teenaged daughter into a powerful embrace.

“I’ve missed you,” Hermione uttered through an inhalation of breath, in which she took in her daughter’s scent. It brought comfort to her instantly.

“I’ve missed you too,” Leshia whispered.

“Lih! Leh, Laah! Lih-Leh!” Evie had spotted her sister and was garbling sounds to get the girl’s attention. Two grey eyes opened and peered from Hermione’s shoulder at the interloper. Her heart may have softened to her mother, but it hardened instantly at the sight of her sister. Not wanting to take it out on Hermione Leshia turned the other way and remained in the hug. She didn’t care for her angst right now, all she wanted was her parents, together, happy and in love.

“Right then, drinks at ours?” Harry proposed to the smiling group. It had been a long time since such a feeling of well-being had descended on them all. A round of ‘hear-hears’ went round the ring while Rachel stuck her tongue out at Katie; her cousin had got her wish.

With several children grappling on to arms the adults apparated (sometimes in several goes) their offspring and their belongings to the sprawling Potter Manor. As soon as they arrived the youngsters disappeared into the depths of the house to play and gossip leaving the large group of friends to slink into the kitchen where Harry opened a bottle of champagne.

“What are we celebrating?” Ginny asked fondly, rubbing her Husband’s shoulders as she walked past to get the flutes out. Harry grinned and nodded to Hermione, who seemed so deliriously happy her face reminded him eerily of the time Ron had been poisoned by love potion in their sixth year.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“Oh shut up Harry,” Hermione laughed, flicking a stray cereal flake on the counter at her friend.

“No, this does require a celebration,” Draco countered firmly. “This is the first time Harry’s been the one to provide the alcohol for one of these shindigs.”

“Filthy lies!” Ginny crowed over the laughter of the kitchen. “It’s not his fault you monopolise the drinking round here Draco. Now make yourself useful and put that sleeping baby of yours in one of the bedrooms before she wakes up and ruins the party.”

XXX

“Did you two notice that Parys’ hair has little blond streaks in it now?”

Leshia and Katie exchanged fond smiles and shrugged their shoulders in unison. The three girls were relaxing in the beer garden of the Leaky Cauldron, watching people amble in and out of Diagon Alley every now and then laden down with shopping bags or chattering excitedly to whomever would listen about which establishments they wanted to visit. The girls had watched several Hogwarts pupils go by in gaggles of friends or chaperoned by hassled looking parents. They had been quite lucky to get a table in the busy dusty strip of land the proprietor of the tavern had recently decided to turn into a beer garden during the fine weather. His gamble had paid off, and the sun trap was a routine stop for travellers in and out of the alley.

Rachel had been absent-mindedly mentioning young Mr Jackson all morning, revealing the extent to which she had been thinking about him. Leshia and Katie were trying their utmost to be tactful and hadn’t said a word about their friend’s evident adoration of the boy.

“No, I didn’t really notice,” Leshia finally replied with a grin, before she sipped at her pumpkin juice to smother her laughter.

“Really? I thought it was really obvious on the train yesterday.”

“I noticed,” Katie responded, before she added in a hesitant undertone, “Sort of.”

“Well you saw him everyday when you were out there. You probably wouldn’t notice and Leesh is just plain unperceptive.”

“Hey!” Leshia laughed. “I notice things! Like I noticed you flicking through Katie’s dictionary last night. Unperceptive my arse, do you even remember what it means?”

“Yeah, it means short blonde girls have problem with their vision because they‘re too small to see over everyone else,” Rachel countered, her smile showing her fondness for her friend. Leshia wanted badly to retort, but Katie had started laughing far too loudly for her to be heard over.

“What?” the blonde girl asked instead.

“I’ve missed you two,” the bespectacled girl managed through her laughter. “And it’s imperceptive, not unperceptive.”

Leshia and Rachel turned to stare at each other with bemused expressions.

“Yeah I knew that,” Leshia finally complained with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders.

“Me too. I knew it first.”

“Oh shove off!”

The two friends started shoving one another while Katie happily stared at a newly arrived couple strolling and in hand through the brick opening that had opened to allow them passage into the pub yard.

“Ryan! Julia!” the tall girl called out, waving her hand at the once Gryffindors. At her call Leshia and Rachel promptly stopped shoving one another and glanced up to see the happy couple heading over with beaming smiles. Without a second thought Leshia jumped to her feet and ran over to her old quidditch captain. At the last minute Ryan lifted his hand out of Julia’s grasp and prepared himself for the ecstatic embrace of the young girl he corresponded with on a regular basis. He and Leshia had never stopped being fond of one another and she regularly filled him in on her antics at school.

“Shorty,” the tall man chuckled when the girl nearly bowled him off his feet. “Look at you, you’re a giant.”

“No I’m not,” Leshia laughed, though she blushed at the compliment.

“Well okay, maybe not a giant, but you’ve grown.”

“Hi Julia,” the blonde girl quickly greeted Ryan’s girlfriend. “How are you?”

There was a glow of happiness surrounding the woman. Leshia could almost see sparkles of joy radiating from her.

“Very very good,” the young woman replied. Leshia frowned slightly, but didn’t have time to wonder at Julia’s inexplicable good mood as Ryan had started talking again. Leshia looked at him and saw he was starting to grow a beard. He looked older.

“We’ve just been looking for you down Diagon Alley,” the young man explained cheerily.

“How did you know I was there?”

“We went round yours first. Your mum pointed us in the right direction. You’re a hard one to find you know that?”

“Too many enemies,” the girl replied with a roll of her hand. Ryan smiled at her joke and nodded.

“I get it.”

“Why were you trying to find me?” Ryan and Julia exchanged an ecstatic smile that made something in Leshia lurch to attention. Somehow she knew was Ryan was about to say.

“Well, we’ve got some good news actually. We’re getting married.”

“Yes!” Leshia cried out, jumping forward and hugging both Ryan and Julia simultaneously. They laughed while Leshia garbled her congratulations in a stream of excited sounds. At the table Katie and Rachel called their congratulations to chorus their blonde friend.

“Thanks,” Amy giggled when Leshia pulled back. “We’re pretty excited about it too.”

“When are you getting married?” the short girl asked happily.

“End of August,” Ryan replied, before he glanced once more to Julia to check whether it was the right time to ask. The young woman smiled and nodded in a way that told him to ‘go ahead’. Leshia’s smile dropped to a puzzled expression. “We want you to be one of the bridesmaids.”

“Oh,” Leshia uttered, her expression wide in surprise. “Me? Why?”

Ryan and Julia laughed loudly, while Ryan reached out to ruffle Leshia’s long curls. The girl pulled away from his hand with a fond smile on her face.

“I’m not eleven anymore Ryan,” she grumbled playfully.

“No, but that’s how I’ll always see you.”

“Leshia Ryan and I might not have got together if it hadn’t been for that party you threw at Halloween. We’ve always think about you when we talk about that day,” Julia explained graciously, her eyes glowing with a deep joy. Leshia felt indescribably touched and averted her eyes slightly at the strength of the emotion rippling through her.

“It’s not just that,” Ryan added. “I mean, yeah, it’s that, but the other bridesmaid are Taylor and Becka, our sisters. And you’re like a little sister to me too shorty. It wouldn’t be right if you weren’t there as well.”

A goofily proud smile pulled onto Leshia face before she lunged forward and hugged the engaged couple powerfully.

“I’ll do it,” her muffle voice came from somewhere near their armpits.

“Of course you’ll do it,” Ryan chuckled. “We weren’t giving you a choice in the matter.”

“I mean, you know, thanks for thinking of me and everything,” the girl quickly offered, pulling back with a wry smile.

“We’ve already got the dresses, they were made by Madam Silvergrace especially,” Julia now started speaking drawing Leshia’s gaze. Behind her Katie made a strangled cry, which Leshia ignored. “Taylor and Becka are coming round Saturday to do a fitting. Do you think you could make it?”

Quickly Leshia nodded. “Yeah, sure.” Amy smiled graciously.

“Great! We were thinking around three. Is that okay for you?” Again Leshia nodded and quickly reached out to accept a piece of paper Julia was thrusting in her direction. “Here’s the address. It’s in Clapham. Do you know how to get there?”

“I’ll get my mum to come,” Leshia responded before she thought the implications through. After the way she had been acting, could she really ask her mother a favour? And what if she wanted to bring the interloper?

“Good idea,” Julia responded with a smile. “Well I’ll see you Saturday then.”

“Oh okay, yeah sure.”

“Be good shorty,” Ryan put in, giving Leshia a small one armed hug before he and Julia headed toward the pub giving Leshia’s friends a wave goodbye as they went. Once the door had clanged shut behind them the blonde girl scrambled back to her chair, her expression still shocked.

“I’m so jealous,” Katie grumbled the moment Leshia joined them.

“What? Why? I’m sure you’ll be a bridesmaid too one day.”

“No not about that. I mean that’s great and everything, but, oh! It’s so much more than that.”

“It’s about the stupid dress,” Rachel cut in wryly, her expression withering. Leshia suppressed and smile.

“Yes, it’s about the dress. Madam Silvergrace Leshia! Do you remember last year’s beauty pageant?”

“Oh God don’t remind me,” the small girl grumbled throwing her hands up to her face to stop flashes of embarrassing memories overwhelming her. How she wished she could blot that day out of existence.

“Well do you remember the voucher you won?”

“Vaguely.” Leshia’s hands still covered her face.

“The really expensive boutique on Diagon Alley? Well that’s who’s made the bridesmaid dresses. I bet they’re amazing. You get to keep bridesmaid dresses you know.”

“Fabulous. I can give it to you then.” A snort of laughter escaped Rachel, causing Leshia to pull her hands from her face and throw the redhead an amused smirk.

“Like anything that fits you will fit this beanpole!” Katie’s eyes went wide in anger, so Rachel quickly added, “No Katie, not because you’re a great big porker. It’s just because you know, you’re nearly twice as tall as Leshia.”

“Bugger off,” Leshia laughed, reaching out to deliver a thump to her best friend’s arm. “Didn’t you hear Ryan? I’ve grown.”

“He was trying to sweet talk you so you’d say yes.”

“He was not!”

“Right that’s it,” Katie announced, climbing to her feet with a grin on her face. “Shall we go back to yours Leesh? I feel like sunbathing and Michael’s go all his little third year friends round today so there’s no way I’m getting into a bikini with them around.”

“Strikes me as exactly the sort of thing you’d be into,” Rachel remarked earning herself a punch to her other arm. “Easy! I was just joking.”

Leshia had also climbed to her feet cracking up and set off into the pub with her friends in her wake arguing fondly once more. The walk back to Dockstreet was a slow one owing to the girl’s laziness on the bright sunny day and the busy hoards of shoppers revelling in the fine weather and the spring sales. Finally the tall grand townhouses of Leshia’s street came into view and the girls burst into a childish race. Leshia outpelted the others with Rachel coming a close second. Katie arrived a good five minutes later. Her heeled boots hadn’t allowed her the same leverage Leshia and Katie’s trainers had given them and by the time she reached the house the other two had ambled in leaving their bags in the middle of the hall. Katie wandered in panting to find Rachel and Leshia in the kitchen where Hermione had just looked up from an enormous dusty relic. She was wearing a strange device over her left eye and her hair was wild. She still wore her pyjamas and had evidently been hard at work since the moment she woke up.

“Hi girls,” the scruffy woman called out, pulling the magnifying device from her eyes returning them to their normal size.

“Hi mum,” Leshia spoke softly while Katie and Rachel offered more exuberant greetings. A part of Leshia was still slightly uncomfortable. How was she supposed to act now? Was she still angry with her mother? Was she merely relieved that her and Draco weren’t getting a divorce that she had masked her true feelings with relief? Why did everything have to be so confusing?

“Have you had a good morning?” Hermione asked, yawning while she pulled away from the dusty relic.

“Yeah, it was great,” Katie replied.

“We just bumped into Ryan and Julia, they’re getting married!”

“Are they?” the woman at the table gasped, clasping her hands together happily. “That’s wonderful news! I’m so happy for them.”

“Yeah, they asked Leesh to be a bridesmaid too.”

Hermione’s wide eyes darted to her daughter who smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s no big deal,” the blonde girl uttered softly. Hermione respected Leshia’s awkwardness and simply nodded.

“It’s good news,” the mother said softly. She wanted to scream with excitement, but remained coy about her own joy. She would let Leshia set the pace of the rebuilding pf their relationship.

“Yeah. Say, I was wondering,” the girl spoke awkwardly. Hermione remained very quiet, her expression neutral. “On Saturday. Are you busy?”

The girl’s mother ignored that she had a hair appointment in the morning and afternoon tea with Ginny booked in at a lovely new teashop on Diagon Alley. Instantly she swept her schedule clean.

“No, not busy. Why?”

“Well Julia asked me if I could try the dress on at about three. I was wondering…would you please come with me? I don’t really want to go on my own and it’s in Clapham. I’ve got no idea how to…”

“Darling,” Hermione interrupted happily. “Of course I’ll come with you. Don’t be silly. Do you have the address?”

Leshia fished a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and reached out to hand it to her mother. Hermione took it and studied the address before she climbed to her feet and rested the scrap against a vase on the shelf.

“Do you girls want something to eat or drink?” she asked the youngsters, who were already heading out the kitchen.

“No thanks,” they all replied in unison.

“We were just at the Cauldron,” Leshia explained, before the trio clunked loudly up the stairs. Hermione closed her eyes, hoping they wouldn’t wake Evie from her afternoon nap. Leshia seemed so normal; Hermione wanted to clasp on to her behaviour as long as possible before an incident between her daughters ruined everything once more. That things between eldest child and mother seemed on the mend was something Hermione wasn’t taking anything for granted; she knew everything could change at the drop of a hat.

Upstairs Leshia was fumbling through the messy top drawer of her chest of drawers to fish out every bikini she owned for Katie to paw through and find a suitable set to wear in the back garden. Rachel had gleefully suggested, “Why bother? They won’t fit anyway,” and had received a pillow to the head for her efforts. The redhead had no desire to sunbathe, it only turned her sensitive skin more freckly than it already was, but she could see with a small disparaging sigh that where Leshia would have normally joined her in the shade, the small girl was grabbing a bikini for herself.

“Since when have you cared about having a tan Leesh?” Rachel asked, forcing herself to sound light-hearted. Leshia saw through her friend’s falsehood and cast her best friend a frowning expression.

“Well if I’m going to be a blimming bridesmaid I’ve got to look okay don’t I? Don’t you remember hearing about Rebecca Walling? She was the fittest girl in the school in her day. Well, so Luke and Tom say anyway.”

Rachel snorted with laughter.

“I can’t believe you of all people are competing to be the most beautiful bridesmaid!” Leshia threw a stray sock at the flame-haired girl.

“I’m not competing. I just want to look, well, okay. You know?”

Rachel didn’t want to mock Leshia’s insecurity and instead she shrugged her shoulders.

“I think you’ll do just fine Miss Hogwarts runner up.” Leshia rolled her eyes and turned her back on Rachel missing the sad smile that crossed the girl’s face. Now Leshia was changing too. Why was it that Rachel always seemed to be the last to grasp what the other two always seemed to know years in advance?

While Leshia and Katie changed Rachel’s eyes fell on Leshia’s childhood diary, still lying on the bedside table from where Leshia had left it two weeks ago before her trial. The redhead grinned broadly and she picked the flaking mammoth of a book up and started flicking through the pages. She could remember each scrawled page and each picture. It was like looking back in time. Her eyes came to rest on a picture taken when the girls were nine years old. They were all wearing muddy jeans and t-shirts. Their hair was in disarray and none of them wore shoes.

Rachel looked to the nine-year-old version of herself, happily slurping at an ice cream and she sighed inwardly. She still associated with that Rachel, while looking up from the nine-year-old Katie, happily scratching at a scab on her shoulder to the Katie now preening herself in a mirror, admiring her skinny physique in the mirror, the redhead knew this wasn’t even the same girl anymore. Nine-year-old Leshia kept disappearing behind the picture’s edge, only to be proffered back in by Ginny’s arm. Leshia had been in a sulk that day and didn’t want her picture taken. The girl looked so young in her tumultuous expression. Rachel smiled, remembering how grumpy Leshia had been that day (owing to Draco not appearing for a barbeque at the burrow when he had promised he would). Glancing up at Leshia now, cautiously glancing at herself behind Katie’s dominance of the mirror Rachel felt doubly sore. Leshia had changed out of reach too leaving Rachel alone.

“You know,” the freckled girl spoke up drawing both Katie and Leshia’s curious gazes. “Ryan’s right. You have grown, you’re nowhere near as short as you used to be.”

There was truth in the redhead’s words. Slowly, but surely Leshia was catching up, she just hadn’t opened her eyes to see it. Surely the notoriously-short girl was nearly as tall as herself?

“Rach,” Leshia complained through a beaming smile. “Just because you’ve been on a ant at us today doesn’t mean you have to attack us with compliments you know.”

“I haven’t been on a rant,” Rachel complained happily. “It’s true. Look.” To prove her point Rachel climbed off Leshia’s bed and went to stand with her friends in front of the mirror. Katie dutifully stepped aside and looked in amazement as Rachel stood beside their blonde friend. How had they all missed it? Leshia stood less than an inch shorter than her flame-haired friend.

“Oh my God!” Leshia squealed beyond happiness. “Look! I’m nearly as tall as you! I’m not short anymore! When did that happen?”

“It can’t have been too long ago, you weren’t this tall before I went away,” Katie observed.

“Mum!” Leshia ran from the room, grabbing an overly large T-shirt as she went to pull over he bikini-clad body. “Mum! Measure me! I’m huge! I’m as tall as Rachel!”

The girl’s voice wafted down the stairs while Rachel turned an amused smile on her cousin.

“Are you okay Rach?” Katie asked softly, reaching out to drape her arm around Rachel’s shoulders. The redhead shrugged.

“I feel weird. Must be the sun, it always makes me go a bit weird.

“Rach, I hate to tell you this, but you’re always a bit weird!” Laughter wafted out of Leshia’s bedroom while Hermione led an excitable Leshia upstairs to lean her against the doorframe in hers and Draco’s room. Surely enough, once a pencil had marked on Leshia’s new height, it transpired that the fifteen-year-old had grown several inches over the last year. She was nearly as tall as her mother, which brought great satisfaction to Leshia’s face.

“I’ve got to tell dad! Where is he anyway?”

“The Ministry. They called him in,” Hermione explained dryly, her expression matching Leshia’s indignation when she next spoke.

“The Ministry? After everything they did to me? He’s still grovelling at their feet?”

“No darling, he’s not grovelling…”

“He may as well be.”

“I don’t like it anymore than you do, but you’re father feels like he owes them something,” Hermione tried to explain. A flash flew in front of Leshia’s eyes, a flash of an eighteen-year-old Draco strangling a man in a ditch while panic waged around him. The girl shook the dirty memory away. Her father’s past was a minefield of unpleasant memories. She understood why he sought so desperately for salvation.

“He doesn’t though does he?” Leshia asked softly. “Not them anyway.”

Hermione smiled at her wise daughter’s remark.

“No, he doesn’t owe them anything, certainly not Minister Crayik, but he has to make amends somehow and by helping the ministry he’s making some sort of effort. Besides, he’s helping Storik, not Minister Crayik.”

“I guess he thinks it’s better than nothing.”

“Exactly.”

“Well when he gets back don’t tell him, I want to surprise him.”

“Alright sweetheart.” A fond look passed between mother and daughter before Leshia rushed back to her room to find her friends ready to saunter out into the garden to enjoy a happy afternoon in the sunshine.

XXX

Leshia pushed herself close to Hermione’s arm while her mother apparated them to the stairwell of the Clapham apartment building the following Saturday. The week had flown by and it was time for Leshia’s dress fitting. Hermione had managed to subdue her daughter, who had been bothering her for the last hour, demanding to know whether it was time to go yet. Even the fact that Hermione had been changing Evie hadn’t stopped the girl, who had marched right up to her mother and baby sister as though Evie weren’t even there. Hermione had been left smiling at Evie’s curious face after Leshia had marched out having heard there were still twenty minutes to go.

The week had been heaven for Hermione. It would seem Leshia was really trying and despite her evident hatred of her little sister, the girl was trying her hardest to patch things up with her mother. The whole family was benefiting from the change in dynamics and family dinners had been a delight. Draco had a permanent smile on his face and every night he went to sleep with Hermione wrapped in his arms, a smile lingering on her face even in her dreams. Draco had been left in the kitchen holding a struggling Evie while Leshia clung to her mother to apparate to the South London apartment building.

“It’s flat three isn’t it?” Hermione checked while leading her nervous daughter up the modern sterile stairwell. Leshia nodded, her jaw locked in nerves. Just why she was nervous she couldn’t say, but ever since Hermione had revealed that it was time to go a persistent butterfly had started doing loop-da-loops in her stomach. Flat three was on the second floor and after checking Leshia was following up the stairs Hermione knocked firmly on the door. A bright faced young woman answered.

“Hello,” she greeted happily, looking from Hermione to Leshia lingering in the stairwell behind. “You must be Miss Granger. My sister’s told me all about you. And this is the famous Leshia surely?”

“The very same,” Hermione chuckled, beckoning her fifteen-year-old daughter forward with a quick wave of her hand. “Come on darling.”

Leshia forced herself to be brave and walked up to her mother’s side.

“Hi,” the girl offered firmly.

“Hello,” the young woman smiled warmly. “I’m Becka, Julia’s sister. Come in, come in, everyone’s in the living room. Well, if you can call it a living room. Why Julia and Ryan chose this poky place is beyond me. It’s supposedly quite trendy, but all I see is walls, walls, walls.”

Becka led the way into the flat, which as she had vocally expressed was quite a small little place. The kitchen seemed to be the lounge and the dining room all in one and packed with so many women as it was, made it feel very poky. A big round of ‘hellos’ went round as Leshia and Hermione appeared. Becka introduced them to Diane, Anna, Patricia, Jean, Wendy and Taylor. Leshia lost track of who was whose mother, aunt and grandmother and instead fixed her eyes on Ryan’s little sister. The girl was eleven years old and tiny like herself. Indeed, with her mousy curly hair and spirited little face, there was more than a passing resemblance to Leshia in her early days at Hogwarts. No wonder she had reminded Ryan of his little sister. Taylor stormed forward upon Leshia’s arrival and shook her hand firmly.

“I’m going to be in Hogwarts next year,” the girl announced proudly. “I hope I’ll be in Gryffindor. You’re in Gryffindor aren’t you?” At her boldness Leshia felt her own returning.

“Yeah I am. Are you brave?” The small smiled on Leshia’s face told the younger girl she was being kind and quickly Taylor nodded.

“Yeah I’m really brave! I’m sure I will be. Ryan’s telling me all the time I will be. Can I try out for the Gryffindor team when I’m in?”

Leshia smiled broadly; Taylor hadn’t been mistaken, she certainly was very brave to march up to the fifteen-year-old girl and speak in such terms.

“If it’s up to me then definitely, but I probably won’t have a say in these things. That’ll be up to the captain.” Taylor wrinkled her brow.

“But Ryan says you will be the captain.” Now it was Leshia’s turn to frown.

“According to who?”

“His mate Luka.” Leshia’s eyes went wide. The Luka Taylor spoke of was the boyfriend of Mila, Leshia’s captain who would be finishing Hogwarts at the end of the year. Was this news Luka’s guess as to the passing of the captain’s band or had Mila told him something? After all, Tom or Luke would be a more logical choice seeing as both had been on the team longer.

“Leshia.” The blonde girl snapped herself out of the daydream where she was leading her team to glory, the captain’s band strapped tightly about her arm, to find her mother smiling at her. “Come on darling, Julia’s going to show you the dress. Call me if you need any help.”

Leshia nodded and followed a smiling Julia into the poky bedroom she shared with Ryan. On the bed lay an olive green dress, which seemed to be shimmering somehow. Julia lifted it up and handed it to Leshia. It felt weightless in her arms.

“Don’t worry if it’s too big. It should be enchanted to fit to your size once you’ve got it on.”

“Thanks,” Leshia replied breathily, her eyes falling on a pair of white heeled shoes in front of he mirror.

“Those too,” Julia explained, noticing Leshia’s gaze. “Just slip your foot in and they’ll shrink around your foot. It’s a really great spell. Madam Silvergrace is more than just an amazing designer.”

Leshia waited patiently for Julia to slip out the room. She was desperate to try the dress on, but before she pulled her jeans and top off the girl wandered over to a series f picture frames that had caught her eye. She thought it might be rude to look at them with Julia in the room.

A happy laugh escaped Leshia’s lips when she saw the pictures showing the antics of Ryan and his friends both during their Hogwarts days and ones that had evidently been taken since. One picture in particular caught her eye, which evidently showed Ryan and his friends in their first year. She couldn’t get over the change in her idol; he had been a white-blond cherub with rosy pink cheeks and a mop of long hair. Toward the back stood a three-piece frame holding pictures of Becka, Taylor and… Leshia felt her eyes grow wide when she saw the third occupant of the frame. It was a picture of herself in first year, dressed in her Hogwarts uniform, holding the quidditch cup with a beaming face. Filled with pride Leshia forced her eyes away from the pictures; she had a dress to try on.

Her jeans and t-shirt she discarded on the floor before she lifted up the shimmering garment. The dress was so slippery in her hands it took her a while to find the bottom. She shivered in her underwear and her trainers. Finally she found the bottom and pulled the garment over her head. The girl peered at herself in the mirror and felt her heart plummet; the dress was like a sack on her bony body.

“Oh,” the girl uttered in surprise. As thought the dress had read her thoughts, it started shrinking, pulling in at the seams and tightening in to fit Leshia’s thin frame. The beautiful straps of twisted vines and flowers all made from the finest silk, yet fluttering in an imaginary breeze, grew tight on Leshia’s shoulders and the sparkling fabric tightened in at the waist, yet remained quite loose at the chest. The gown draped beautiful over her body, staying floaty and loose at the bottom, making way for a little train to trail behind Leshia’s legs. When the dress had stopped moving Leshia tore her eyes away from her appearance in the mirror to find the shoes. They were sweet white strapped heels with green flowers snaking round the straps. The moment Leshia’s feet, which she extricated from her tatty trainers, touched the shoes they shrunk to fit beautifully round her slender toes. The straps wound up the girl’s tanned leg (she and Katie had spent many an afternoon in the sun this week) and fastened without Leshia needing to touch them. She was dressed.

Uneasily, as the shoes were higher than anything Leshia had ever worn, the girl climbed to her feet and moved to stand before the mirror. The girl was mesmerised by her own appearance. She looked like a real woman, not the awkward fifteen-year-old she felt inside.

For too long Leshia had stopped and stared at herself and after a quiet knock at the door Hermione’s face appeared.

“Is everything okay my…” Hermione stopped speaking and she rushed inside. Her own face arranged in shock. “Oh Leshia darling!”

The youngster turned a stupidly proud face on her mother when Hermione came to stand at her side, tears welling in her proud eyes and the pair embraced. No words needed to be said. It was a monumental moment. Hermione’s little girl was nearly a woman and here before her was a glimpse of what that woman was going to look like. She was a beautiful creature.

XXX

A week passed. A week filled with small steps and big steps that saw Leshia and her mother returning to a happy relationship. Draco stayed away. He could see he wasn’t needed and in truth, though he did want to help the Ministry, his true reason for staying away was his desire to leave Hermione and Leshia alone. He could see he change in them daily and knew his not being around was helping. With no distractions and no one else to turn to in the house Leshia was seeking out her mother more and more. Things were finally returning to normal in the Malfoy household.

The last Sunday of the holidays arrived. Leshia was due back at Hogwarts the next day and she and Hermione had been lazing around the Muggle room while Leshia finished a mammoth Ancient Runes essay, pausing every now and then to seek Hermione’s advice on a passage she was about to write. Her mother aided her little, as there was no need. It would seem Leshia had truly got the hang of this Runes business and it swelled Hermione’s heart with pride.

Little Evie had woken from her nap around four and had complained until Hermione went to fetch her and left her playing on the floor in the Muggle Room. Leshia was quite content to ignore the baby and didn’t even mind every time Hermione addressed her little sister. As long as the teenager could ignore the baby, then she would be just fine.

The phone rang in the hall and Leshia ran to get it.

“Hello?” she asked breathily.

“Hello darling, is your mum there?”

“Mum!” the teenager bellowed. “It’s Ginny!”

Hermione and Leshia passed in the lounge before the teenager dropped down on the floor once more, studying an awkward passage of her essay. She was finding it difficult to express exactly what she meant. She was going to have to test this one with Hermione when she got off the phone, but by the sounds of it, her mother was quite happily engaged in a nattering session with her best friend.

“Lih!”

Leshia lifted two bemused grey eyes to find her little sister sitting at the other end of the coffee table, her fingers in her mouth and her large wide eyes staring straight at Leshia. A tuft of thick brown curls were sticking on end on top of the baby’s head and her cheeks were rosy from her afternoon sleep. Their eyes still locked together, Evie pulled her hand from her mouth and stuck her two hands on the floor. Shakily she placed her feet as far apart as they could go before she stuck her padded bottom high in the air. With the aid of the coffee table leg the rest of her soon followed. Leshia rolled her eyes and looked away from the baby, who had returned her wet hand to her mouth.

“Lih,” Evie mumbled through her fingers.

“Oh bugger off,” Leshia grumbled in return. “You’re not that cute!”

Evie wasn’t deterred by the hostility in Leshia’s voice and she tottered forward, the coffee table serving as a handrail. The wet little hand had left the baby’s mouth and was ready toward Leshia.

“I’m warning you, if you touch me with that hand I’ll transfigure you into a hamster. I’m serious! I can do that you know.”

Her bluff flew over the head of the ten-month-old, who persistently placed one fat little foot in front of the other, never taking her eyes off Leshia’s face. With a growl the older girl grabbed a thick Runes book and darted away to Draco’s armchair. There was no furniture to bridge the gap between baby and girl, so surely Evie wouldn’t be able to reach her here? She hadn’t started properly walking yet.

Evie reached the end of the coffee table and pondered the distance between herself and her desired object: her sister. Unperturbed the little one stuck one foot forward and let go of the table. For a moment she wobbled, but she held her balance. Another step followed. Leshia’s eyes went wide. Her sister was walking!

“That’s it,” she whispered, her words springing out without a thought behind them. “My God, you’re walking!” The girl jumped from the chair to the ground, dropping to her knees and holding out her arms. “Come on! That’s right.”

Evie held Leshia’s gaze, determinedly making the little steps she needed to reach her target. The sisters were nearly upon one another when Hermione walked in.

“Evie!” she cried out, seemingly not noticing her older daughter with her arms spread, waiting to catch the baby when she reached her. “You’re walking!”

Hermione ran forward, standing right in front of Leshia, in order to pick Evie off the ground. A dark feeling ran down Leshia’s neck straight into her stomach. Tears filled her eyes. Her mother hadn’t even noticed her. She’d only noticed the baby. She only ever noticed the baby.

Leshia got to her feet and ran from the room. By the time Hermione noticed she heard the door slam.

“Oh no,” the mother into the top of Evie’s head realising her mistake. “Oh no!”

Outside Leshia scaled the wall and was all set on careening down the street when she ran straight into someone who wasn’t there a moment ago. The girl tumbled to the ground and was quickly helped up by the newly-apparated arrival.

“Watch yourself Leesh,” Draco admonished, a thread of worry snaking through his mind. Why did Leshia seem to pale and shocked? “Where are you going in such a hurry?”

The girl seemed incapable of speech and so without another word Draco collared her and apparated with a snap to the dusty yard of the Cauldron. He sat Leshia down in a booth and ordered himself a firewhiskey and his daughter a butterbeer before joining her side again.

“Now then, what’s happened?” he asked softly, though there was a commanding ring to his tone. Leshia stared deeply into her father’s eyes and shook her head.

“I thought things were better dad,” the girl uttered barely louder than a whisper. “But they’re not! They’re as bad as they’ve always been.”

Draco’s hopes and feelings were deflating rapidly, as though they were a balloon popped on a thorn. He could guess where this was going.

“What happened?” Leshia looked down with dark brooding eyes. “Leshia,” Draco warned. “Tell me, what happened?”

“It’s just mum that’s all. Mum being mum and loving her more than me.”

Draco frowned, silently demanding more of an explanation, while fire burned in his stomach. Hermione, she’d ruined things! Just as they were getting better! How could she?

“Evie started walking just now,” Leshia explained, ignoring the way her father’s eyebrows rose at this news. He was suppressing his instant reaction of joy for Leshia’s sake, though he wanted to burst into a smile; his baby, walking! “And I was, well, I was happy about it I guess. I was helping her and then mum ran in and stood right in front of me like I wasn’t in the bloody room. She didn’t even notice me. It’s not fair dad! Why does she love Evie more than me? I’ve tried so hard this holiday, but it’s all bloody pointless!”

Draco stared down at his drink. Anger was rippling under his skin. Everything had been going so well. Why now?

“I agree,” he finally uttered darkly. “It was inconsiderate of your mother to ignore you when you’ve been trying so hard. I’m sorry she did that. Look, why don’t you come back with me eh?”

“No,” Leshia complained vehemently, after swallowing a big gulp of her butterbeer. Her drink was nearly empty. Draco’s was too. “I don’t want to be anywhere near them. I’m going to Rachel’s.”

“Leshia, please,” Draco sighed. “Don’t…”

“Don’t what dad?” the girl growled fiercely. “I didn’t do anything remember? I’m not the one who started walking! Maybe if I did then mum would notice I exist.” Anger and fire were pouring from the girl’s mouth and Draco didn’t want to stop them, for he felt them too.

“Alright, fine,” the tall man sighed and he leant back on the bench, his sad grey eyes watching Leshia’s furious ones.

“I’ll be back later,” the girl stated while she climbed to her feet. “Don’t wait up.”

“Hey!” Draco exclaimed coldly, grabbing Leshia’s wrist, stopping her from storming off to the fireplace. “You’ll be back by ten, no later.”

Leshia’s teenaged rebellion fell short of Draco’s serious expression and she nodded humbly.

“Fine, back by ten.”

“Good. I’ll see you later.” With this the girl was gone, darting round punters until she reached the fireplace where she dropped the floo powder calling out Rachel’s address before she was gone. Draco watched the green flames engulf the girl and then nothing. He climbed to his feet and stalked outside. It took him only a few moments to apparate to the doorstep and storm inside. Hermione was waiting, Evie in her arms.

“Draco! Evie took her first steps!” the mother cried out the moment her husband walked in. Draco gave his wife a cold look and instantly Hermione’s smile dropped from her happy face.

“Yes I know.”

“How?” she asked unnecessarily. She knew how and she now knew why her husband seemed so furious.

“I ran into Leshia outside. Or rather, she ran into me. You remember Leshia don’t you? Our firstborn?”

“Draco,” Hermione exclaimed coldly. “Don’t be so cruel. I know she was hurt, but she didn’t give me a chance. She ran away before I could speak to her.”

“You blocked her out Hermione. She was trying with Evie, but you went and stood in her bloody way, your back to her. How was she supposed to feel?”

Hermione’s brow creased in guilt; she had been kicking herself inwardly since Leshia stormed from the house.

“I know. I know what I did was wrong. I just didn’t think. All I saw was Evie walking. Draco you should have seen her!”

“My God won’t you listen to yourself!” Draco accused furiously. “Even now you just don’t care! Everything was going so well…”

“That is so unfair,” Hermione cried out, finally letting her angst fill her voice. “I do care! I’ve not stopped thinking about Leshia since she stormed out.”

“You didn’t come after her did you though?” Draco spat. Hermione’s eyes went wide.

“Yes I did! But she was gone! I can’t believe you Draco. Do you really think I don’t love my daughter? After everything we’ve talked about?”

Draco looked with cold eyes and a cold heart into his wife’s eyes. He had been so happy. The last fortnight had been so perfect. His judgement was clouded. In his moment of darkness he saw not his beloved wife. No, all he saw before him was a woman who had ruined everything he had held dear.

“I think you love Evie more and I think you are to blame for what is happening to this family.”

He could not have spoken crueller words and Hermione turned from her husband, her eyes filling with tears.

“I think you should go Draco,” the woman finally managed, a sob cracking through her voice.

“I agree.”

No more was said. Draco swept up the stairs past his wife, filled his trunk with as many clothes as he could find and he was gone. Hermione collapsed on the stairs, tears flooding down her face. How had it all gone so wrong so quickly? Could she forgive Draco for his cruelty? Could she forgive herself for unwittingly setting her relationship with her oldest daughter back to the beginning? When would this misery end?

XXX

Leshia woke early the following morning. After a quick shower she was changed and nibbling on a piece of toast. No one was around. The girl frowned while she stared at her trunk in the hall. Someone must have moved it the night before and by the loving careful way everything had been folded inside Leshia could guess it was her mother. A snake of anger wriggled through Leshia’s stomach. She couldn’t think of her mother without pain gripping her heart. The girl was secretly hoping Hermione wouldn’t see her off to the station, but as light footsteps descended the stairs the girl knew she wasn’t going to have her wish. Hermione had expertly wiped away any sign of her night‘s crying from her face, but her eyes showed the heartbreak. Leshia though didn’t look her in the eyes and saw not her mother’s suffering. She didn’t suspect a thing.

“Good morning,” the mother offered hopefully, but she only received a nod in response. “Are you nearly ready to go?”

“Where’s dad? Isn’t he taking me?” Leshia asked coldly. She didn’t see the tears form in Hermione’s eyes. She had spent the whole night crying for her husband.

“No darling, not this time. He had to leave early this morning. Some sort of disaster with Peeves I think. He’ll see you at the castle.”

Leshia sensed a lie, but didn’t care for its source. Instead she merely nodded and finished her toast. Hermione realised she was only bothering her daughter and making things worse and instead went to get Evie ready for the journey to the station.

Silence surrounded Leshia and her mother while they walked through London, Leshia’s trunk dragging behind her on the small rattling wheels, Evie sleeping sounding on Hermione’s shoulder. The station was heaving and once they reached the platform Leshia started to board the train without a second glance to Hermione.

“Leshia!” Hermione called. The girl stopped and barely looked around. “Have a good term my darling.”

No response. The girl was gone. Tears welled in Hermione’s eyes. She watched helplessly while all around her children hugged their mothers and mothers kissed their children. Her tears were falling. Her daughter was gone. Hermione’s head hung and she lifted a shaking hand to hide her shameful grief.

Warm arms surrounded her and pulled her into an embrace. The smell of Ginny’s perfume overwhelmed Hermione. Moments later the shaking woman lifted her free arm to cling to her best friend while Ginny hugged her firmly. Hermione could hear Harry herding the children onto the train, but at the last moment she lifted her eyes to meet Katie’s concerned gaze. She promptly closed her eyes again.

“Harry,” Ginny spoke gently. “Could you please take Evie?”

The baby was lifted from Hermione’s arms and gently Ginny looped both arms through Hermione’s.

“Take a deep breath,” Ginny ordered softly. Hermione obeyed and felt herself spinning into oblivion. When she opened her eyes again she was in Ginny’s kitchen. “Sit down my dear.” Ginny directed Hermione to a barstool before she made her way to the kettle. While she walked Harry appeared in the room with Evie still asleep in his arms. He gently placed the baby on the soft padded window seat and went to sit beside Hermione, cupping her hand in his. She smiled shakily, before tears streamed from her eyes once more.

While Ginny placed four cups of tea on the table her foresight paid off; Ron appeared in the kitchen, stumbling slightly in dizziness. He took the fourth seat at the bar and nursed the cup of tea, his sad eyes glancing from Hermione’s trembling form to Harry and Ginny’s helpless gazes. None of them knew what had happened and Hermione was in no state to tell them. They could wait.

XXX

Leshia prized her eyes open t find Rachel jumping into view in the bright morning light. Quite unceremoniously she gave her friend a big kick sending the redhead flying off the four-poster bed. Despite her just having woken up, Leshia grinned at the furious profanities that Rachel unleashed after her tumble.

“Serves you bloody right,” Leshia grumbled, pulling herself out of bed in order to get into the shower queue. Rachel and Katie followed quickly and the three girls waited in a sleepy silence for their turn to wash. While they waited Parys and Rodeo flew past them, uncharacteristically early to be awake, showered and dressed.

“What’s up with you two!” Rachel accused, reaching out a foot to trip Parys as he ran past. The boy stumbled and quickly doubled back to deliver an attack on the pyjama clad girl.

“Rumour has it the sixth years played a joke on the lower years,” Rodeo explained, his smile smug, yet also slightly sympathetic. “Dipped all their hands in warm water last night. The whole stairwell smells like wee!”

“No!” the girls all exclaimed in shock.

“It’s true,” Parys agreed with a grim expression. “We thought we’d get in here before they all descend on the showers. It’s pretty bad up there. I’d stay away from that lot today. The common room’s going to be a bloodbath later on.”

Arguing male voices carried down the stairs.

“Come on Rodes, let’s go,” Parys urged his friend and quickly the boys ran from the room leaving the girls staring in wonder at the furious argument between several red-faced younger boys and the sixth year pack. Tom and Luke seemed to be in the centre of the mess.

“I hope they learn their lesson,” Katie uttered softly.

“Yeah, it’s just not funny this time,” Rachel agreed leaving Leshia to nod. A part of her found it hilarious scaring the other part of her into wondering what was wrong with her? Why did she always have to be different?

Within twenty minutes the girls had arranged themselves at Gryffindor table and were doling out breakfast stuffs to one another. After nearly four years of eating together nearly every morning they knew what to serve one another and what to leave alone and soon their plates were full. Leshia dug in hungrily, her eyes lifting to the top table as they usually did. Surprise stopped her mid-mouthful and she stared, open mouthed at her father. What was he doing there so early? Didn’t he normally have breakfast at home? And why did he seem so pale and dishevelled?

“Earth to Leesh!” Rachel waved her fingers in front of Leshia’s face. The blonde girl blinked rapidly at her friend. “Ah! There you are! I thought someone had used the thinking curse on you without us noticing.”

“Very funny,” Leshia grumbled. “Look. It’s my dad. What’s he doing here?” Rachel turned her curious blue eyes at the top table and then shrugged her shoulders.

“Maybe your mum’s having a lie in and wasn’t up to cook him breakfast?” she suggested. Leshia rolled her eyes fondly, letting herself be pulled away from her sad thoughts.

“I’m sure he’s capable of fixing himself eggs on toast. He always used to manage.”

“I wonder where Tripper is,” Katie interrupted the other two. Leshia and Rachel’s eyes flew to the empty seat at the top table and frowned in unison. There was no slick-haired monster where there ought to be one. Professors Sprout and Flitwick were leaning across the gap happily informing one another about their holidays.

“Maybe he’s sick,” Rachel suggested.

“Madam Pomfry would be able to heal a cold Rach,” Leshia countered.

“Well maybe it’s something worse. Maybe he’s come down with something like dragon fever. That can kill you you know.”

“Yeah,” the blonde girl laughed. “But you also have to be in contact with dragons and somehow I don’t see Tripper spending his holidays down at the dragon sanctuary.”

“Okay then, well maybe he’s not sick. Maybe he died.”

“Rachel!” Katie admonished sternly. “That’s a really wicked thing to say.”

“I didn’t say I hope he had died! I just said maybe he did. Oh come on, it’s not like the world would mourn him is it? He’s a nasty great big ugly bully!”

Leshia nodded at her friend’s side, but whereas Rachel wasn’t hoping for the demise of the filthy Runes professor, she certainly was. A more rational portion of her mind was pondering whether there had been some repercussions to the statement she had made in her trial, but surely the newspapers would have got wind of such a story? Leshia forced herself not to get her hopes up and instead let her eyes drift over the headlines of Katie’s Prophet.

Infamous Death Eater spotted nine times in a week. When will the Ministry act?

As though everything else had ceased to exist Leshia grabbed the paper and started reading hungrily. Her grandfather was back. She had forced herself not to think of him since Christmas, which had been greatly aided by the fact that his name had stopped appearing in the headlines. Something had changed though because here he was, seen nine times in the capital, desperately searching for something if the witness accounts were to be believed. One hapless Muggle had managed to catch the notorious dark wizard in one of their holiday snaps taken down Tottenham Court Road.

The picture was motionless and printed in fading ink. There stood a happy Muggle family, smiling brightly into the camera while behind them, stalking into the shot was Leshia’s grandfather. He had grown older still than the last time Leshia had seen his face in a paper. The long hair he had once delicately maintained straggled from the top of his balding head and his eyes seemed sunken into his skeletal skull. There was little meat left on the old man, as though he hadn’t eaten a solid meal in many months. He looked terrifying.

Leshia looked into the old man’s eyes and felt a cool terror slip down her spine. She realised she was afraid of him. What had he been searching for? And how had he dared come out in the open so many times? Whatever he was looking for must be incredibly important. The girl looked at the surroundings in the picture. She knew that street well, as she walked down it whenever she wanted to visit Diagon Alley. Lucius Malfoy had been photographed painfully close to her home during a week when she had been on holiday. How many times had she walked past that shop during the past fortnight? Could he have been there, hiding in the crowds?

“I hope you weren’t looking for me,” the girl whispered.

“Hmmwhahh?” Rachel sprayed Leshia with crumbs eliciting a goofy laugh from the blonde girl.

“Ugh,” the girl cried happily. “Swallow before you speak Rach. Yuck!”

In front of the dining pupils Albus Dumbledore rose to his feet. His expression seemed grave and Leshia wondered if this had something to do with the sightings of her grandfather.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she admonished herself. ‘Why would Dumbledore be afraid? Lucius isn’t after him.’

Leshia let her grey eyes slide to her father, who was still looking down at his plate. Though the sightings of her grandfather couldn’t explain why Dumbledore seemed out of sorts, maybe it explained a little of Draco’s sore face, the girl wondered. Though the thought did make Leshia fear the article even more. If her father was worried then she ought to be terrified.

“Good morning dear pupils,” the headmaster spoke, drawing the gazes of all Hogwarts pupils and staff, save one, who still stared at his plate. “Once more, I welcome you back to our fine castle. You need not fear, I will not bore you with another speech. I am sure last night’s welcome will suffice. No, I merely wanted to address you about something quite grave and serious before the news filters into the papers and gossip grips your imaginations twisting it out of all proportion.”

Leshia, Rachel and Katie exchanged curious glances. Grave and serious news? For a moment the blonde girl’s eyes dipped to her grandfather’s dead eyes. Could he be the news that had put Dumbledore so out of sorts?

“When I tell you what I have to say, I implore you not to let your initial reactions cloud what ought to be a grave announcement. I know many of you will not appreciate the true gravity of the situation and I wish you to know I understand, but please, try your very best to show the appropriate respect.”

Katie’s eyes were going wide and she stared at the back of Rachel’s head. Had her cousin been right in her jesting? Had a certain disliked member of staff kicked the bucket during the holidays?

“My news relates to Professor Tripper.” Whispers darted round the tables while Rachel turned around with wide eyes meeting Katie’s. For a moment the headmaster waited for silence to return to the Great Hall and for all eyes to seek out his once more.

“During the holidays our Ancient Runes professor went missing,” Albus Dumbledore spoke clearly. His aura prevented the pupils from bursting out into whispers once more. “The Minister of Magic informed me himself yesterday and by the end of today every newspaper and rag across the whole nation will be twisting the story round and putting forward ridiculous rumours to enter into circulation round the wizarding world. It is unnecessary for me to add that the circumstances behind his disappearance are suspicious and that there is a great deal of concern over the state of his health. There were signs of struggle.”

Shocked faces stared up at the headmaster with wide eyes. Dumbledore’s eyes trailed over the pupils until his eyes met Leshia’s. She was one of the few who had remained neutral. The wise old man held the tempestuous young girl’s gaze for a moment before he looked back to the student body.

“I am telling you all this because I think you have a right to know,” he carried on seriously. “It will be your responsibility to keep a level head. If I hear of celebrations or gimmickry about this news in this very saddest of times you will gravely offend me. I expect the very highest moral calibre of the pupils of this school.”

Silence reverberated round the great hall while pupils grappled with their thoughts. Nearly every single Ancient Runes pupil fought their natural instincts to smile. Tripper gone? It was a dream come true for most, but Dumbledore’s severity made them falter. No, this was not a time for celebrations. The youngsters would not tell a soul of their private relief.

“Now then, those of you who take Ancient Runes need not fear. I have already started looking for a suitable replacement to teach you the remainder of your courses. In the meantime I suggest you use your newly found free time to study in the library. I am sure your replacement teacher will expect to move you on quite speedily in your learning and I would hate for you to fall behind.”

With this the wise old man sat down as though he had not just delivered a serious announcement. The student body gradually filled the hall with conversation once more, though it was with a subdued air that the pupils made their way to their first lessons of the day.

“I can’t believe he’s been kidnapped,” Rachel finally spoke, drawing Katie’s amused gaze.

“I don’t think you can call it kidnapping if he’s in his thirties Rach.”

“Well whatever it’s called, who would want him? He’s foul…”

“Remember what Dumbledore said,” Katie warned, though her heart wasn’t in it.

“Hey I’m not celebrating,” Rachel complained with a smile. “I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking. Leesh you agree with me right? Leesh. Leshia!”

The blonde girl looked up in surprise, torn from her thoughts. She raised her eyebrows questioningly.

“Yes?”

“Nah never mind, you’re off with the faeries you are. Come on, let’s go. I need the loo and I am not being late for Defence Against the Dark Arts when your dad looks like that!”

Leshia glanced up at the murderous expression on her father’s face and she nodded, secretly agreeing with her friend. The trio of girls headed up the table, drawing Parys and Rodeo along with them as they went. En route to the classroom Rachel ran off to the toilets leaving the others to mill around in the corridor.

“I can see Allseyer’s not changed a bit,” Leshia remarked casually, her gaze drifting up the corridor to the swagger of her Slytherin nemesis in the distance. “He’s still sauntering round like he owns the place.”

“Can see you’ve not changed either Leesh,” Parys countered with a cheeky smile. Leshia snapped her eyes onto the tall boy with an expectant expression.

“And by that you mean what exactly?”

“Ah mate don’t,” Rodeo groaned amusedly, elbowing Parys’ side. “Let’s keep it friendly shall we?”

“Well I mean you’re on his case as much as he’s on yours.” Parys ignored Rodeo’s sensible advice and with his hands thrown to the air Rodeo grabbed Katie and dragged her giggling up the corridor to leave the other two to bicker it out.

“That one will never learn,” Rodeo chuckled. “I’m not sure how he managed all those months away without Leshia to wind up.”

“Oh he managed, by picking on all the girls in his host house,” Katie explained happily. “By the end of our stay most of them were in love with him, but there were those who hated the sight of him. He’s a funny one Parys, he’s growing more cocky every day.”

“Damn right,” Rodeo laughed. “He’s got a funny way of showing his feelings.”

Katie frowned slightly.

“What do you mean? His feelings?” the girl asked worriedly. Rodeo frowned.

“Isn’t it obvious? God Parys has been in love with Leshia since he bloody met the girl.”

The smile on the bespectacled girl’s face fell leaving an aghast expression in its wake. Rodeo frowned in confusion. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, it’s just…” Katie trailed off and shrugged her shoulders. “I didn’t know that I suppose.”

Rodeo cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his head.

“I hope I didn’t upset you or anything. I mean, you don’t fancy him do you?” Katie let out an amazed utterance and quickly shook her head.

“Me? No not me.”

Relief spread over Rodeo’s face, which didn’t go unmissed by Katie’s keen gaze. The boy’s frown was back while he tried to work out why his words had so jarred Katie.

“Well if you don’t fancy him, then who…” The boy trailed off, before he snapped his eyes up at Katie’s green eyes, creased in concern that she had just revealed too much. “Rachel! Rachel fancies Parys!”

Katie winced.

“Yes! But please don’t say anything, she’ll kill me.” Rodeo chuckled.

“Your secret’s safe with me Katie, but you have nothing to fear you know,” the boy explained cheerily.

“What do you mean?”

“Well have you noticed that Parys is a bit of a git, well in a fond way you know, to Leshia and Rachel. He likes nothing more than to pick on them till they finally lunge at him and he gets his way.” Katie’s eyes were wide.

“He fancies both of them?” she asked in amazement. Rodeo laughed and nodded, wrapping his arm about Katie’s shoulders and giving her a fond shake.

“No need to look so surprised. I thought it was bloody obvious, he’s no like that with anyone else.”

“Well so which one does he like more?” the raven-haired girl inquired urgently. Rodeo shrugged his shoulders and rubbed the back of his head.

“I don’t think even he knows. Why are you so bothered anyway?” Katie rolled her eyes.

“Because Rachel’s one of my best friends and I didn’t want her to have the same problem we all had,” the girl explained loosely. Rodeo frowned.

“Huh?”

“Oh you know, the whole you, me and Leesh thing.” Rode raised his eyebrows and looked suddenly embarrassed. He had behaved despicably towards Katie last year and still cringed when he remembered the look on Katie’s face when he left her weeping in the corridor.

“You know,” the boy spoke, trying to force the memories away. “You’ve changed.” Katie suppressed a grin and shook her head.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re a lot more…I don’t know, chilled out I guess. In a good way!” Katie burst out laughing happily and shoved the boy’s arm.

“You know what Rodes, I feel a lot more chilled out,” the girl sighed contentedly, while she watched Rachel emerge from the toilets and throw herself into the play fight Leshia and Parys were currently involved in. “Come on, we’d better go and get them or they’ll be at it all day.”

Katie led the way, missing the way Rodeo stared at the back of her head in confusion. He hadn’t worded himself very well, but he was certain that Katie was different. She seemed so much more self-assured, so much happier in her own skin. She intimidated him a little. Where before he had always held the upper hand she seemed suddenly quite independent of his attentions directed toward he. It was almost as though she didn’t care. Rodeo sighed heavily, trying to uncluttered his thoughts while Katie pulled their sparring friends out of the fray they had found themselves in. The tall confident girl led the way while the others trailed behind her laughing happily about who had won their fight.

Most of the Gryffindors and Slytherins were waiting outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, regaling one another with loud stories about their holidays. Katie brought her friends to a halt at the end of the line behind an extremely brown Nicola, who was telling Ashley all about her trip to the Cote d’Azure in France. Upon spotting the bespectacled girl Nicola promptly turned her gaze on her.

“Did you go away Katie? You’re looking even browner than you did when you got back from the exchange trip!” Nicola asked enviously. Katie grinned and shook her head.

“No, me and Leesh spent the holidays lying in the sun in our back gardens.”

“We also did other stuff,” Leshia quickly interrupted, her worried eyes seeking out those whom she’d wish not to think her spending her entire holiday sunbathing. Katie rolled her eyes at the blonde girl and turned to face Nicola once more leaving Leshia hanging her head in front of an amused Rachel.

“If you didn’t want people to judge you for being so vein then why’d you ditch me in the shade for most of the holidays?” the freckled girl asked fondly. Leshia shrugged before she looked up to glance along the line of awaiting pupils. Her eyes soon found Damian Allseyer dominating the attention of the fourth year Slytherins. Just how he commanded so much reverence from the snakes the blonde girl would never understand, in hr eyes the cretin was a mousey looking boy who had told far too many lies and had earned a very devious looking face as a result of it. He was a coward through and through. She just didn’t understand.

Leaning against the wall nearest the door, his eyes trained on the wall opposite stood someone Leshia was not in doubt of: Julius Black. He would be a far greater leader to rule the snake house the girl thought privately. His very aura spoke of darkness and power. He frightened her, as she never knew what he was thinking. His intentions were veiled. What did he want?

As though he sensed her gaze Julius Black lifted his pale eyes to meet Leshia’s across the corridor and for a moment the teenagers stared at one another. Unspoken words passed between them, but what Julius might have been saying Leshia didn’t know. She was only aware of her own stream of thoughts pouring out to the boy.

‘I don’t trust you,’ she told him in her mind. ‘I just know you’re up to no good. I don’t trust you one bit.’

A snake of a smile wormed onto Julius Black’s face before he looked away up the corridor. The sound of heavy footsteps was approaching prompting a surge of fourth years to jump against the corridor wall and check the state of their shirts. Draco’s face slowly came into view and for those who had not heeded him at the head table, his sour expression caught them off guard. Evidently they were in for a painful hour’s lesson.

Without his cursory glance up the ranks the teacher shoved into the door and barked for the pupils to follow him in. Several scared eyes sought out Leshia, but she gave them a shrugging gesture to convey she was none the wiser than they were. The girl kept her eyes down as she took her seat where finally she dared to look up. Draco was watching her, his expression more turbulent than it was moments ago. Quickly the girl looked down.

‘What did I do?’ she thought to herself grimly.

“Good morning,” the teacher finally spoke when all the shuffling and fidgeting had subsided. The fourth years stared at him wide eyed. “We are starting a new family of counter curses this term. Today you will be in the library carrying out research in silence.”

The teacher turned his back on the class and started writing on the blackboard. While he wasn’t looking the fourth years took a moment to exchange grimaces. Draco turned around and caught only one pair of youngsters leaning across the gap between their desks.

“Miss Weasley, Miss Malfoy, stop.” Leshia and Rachel slowly leaned back into their seats, their expressions surprised at the hostility in Draco’s voice. Angrily their teacher turned from them and underlined the words on the board.

“Ocular Hexes,” he read aloud. “Who can guess what these hexes target?” A few hands bravely crept into the air. Without turning round Draco called aloud the one pupil who would undoubtedly seek to give an answer. “Miss Potter?”

“They affect your eyes sir,” a meek response came.

“Good. All of you, on our feet.” Instantly the pupils responded. Slowly the teacher turned around. “We are going to the library. If one of you so much as breathes a whisper you will be spending the evening sorting through my archives and putting them into alphabetical order. Is that understood?”

The class nodded fearfully and quickly followed their teacher out of the room. The whole class, even the cantankerous Slytherins, managed to walk in silence toward the library. They were nearly there when quite suddenly Draco stopped and turned very slowly on his heel. The pupils nearest him stumbled over one another to step backwards.

“Miss Malfoy,” came the very sinister command. Toward the back of the row the blonde girl stepped out of line, her head hanging slightly. How on Earth had he heard her? She’d only whispered one word to Rachel. Surely her father couldn’t have heard that? “Return to the classroom immediately.”

“But sir…” the girl tried.

“Go, now!”

Flinging her arms up in frustration Leshia stormed back the way they had come, cursing her father under her breath. Why was he taking out his anger on her? What had happened that had put him in the worst mood she had witnessed in a great number of years?

Once inside the classroom Leshia stalked up and down the tables trying to calm her temper, but she was too annoyed. She ambled over to her father’s desk to see if she could find a clue to his bad mood, but found nothing save the disarray of pupils’ essays and lesson plans. The girl’s eyes drifted toward the open door to her father’s study. Her eyes slid from side to side, no one was around.

The girl took the steps two at a time, feeling guilty before she’d even reached the messy study. She knew if her father caught her she would find herself in a world of trouble, but her curiosity was too keen. She had to know what had happened.

The study was gloomy, but Leshia knew where to find the light switch. Her father’s study was more messy than she’d ever seen it, clothes lay scattered among books, littering the floor making in near impassable. The coffee table lay littered with several empty glasses and a downed bottle of whiskey. With a worried niggle at the back of her throat Leshia stepped into the study toward the desk, which heaved under a mountain of books and papers. Did her answers lie there?

Leshia stopped. She never reached the desk. Slowly the girl turned her head to look into the door that she had not seen open since her first year. Beyond the door lay a small bedroom with an unmade bed that had evidently been slept in and an open trunk at the bottom of it. That explained all the clothes.

“Oh no,” the girl exhaled, her eyes tearing up. She knew why her father was in so foul a mood. Feeling numb the girl backtracked out of the study. She needed air, she needed to think! Before Leshia knew where she was going her feet had taken her far from the castle and into the grounds. She cared not that she would catch an enormous punishment for wandering off, all she cared about was what she had witnessed. Her father was living at the castle again.

But what did that mean?

Tears were streaming down Leshia’s cheeks. She knew what that meant. It meant things were not as they had seemed during the holidays. Hermione and Draco’s happiness had relied on Leshia’s to get them through. They weren’t happy together anymore.

“No,” the girl wailed letting her face drop in her hands, panic gripping her chest. Her parents had separated. That could be the only explanation. “It’s all your fault!” A scream filled the grounds, Leshia couldn’t contain her anguish anymore. The face of her evil little sister flooded the teenager’s mind and she burned with rage at the child. “This is all your fault!” she repeated shakily. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you!”

It started to rain.


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