Generations Book 4: Rebel Inside

Chapter 3

Part III

Ginny stared at the little bundle in her arms with a serene smile and a niggling jealousy that would not let her enjoy this moment in peace. There was something so immensely satisfying about holding a young sleeping baby, reassuringly warm and heavy in her arms. It had been an age since her own children had been so young and looking now at Hermione’s baby girl she could not help but feel envious.

Her friend was half lying in her chair a cup of tea pressed up against her lips, as though she were trying to infuse some energy into herself by inhaling the fumes. Her heavy eyelids were closed and were it not for the fact that she was engaged in conversation, Ginny would be convinced that the new mother was fast asleep. She didn’t of course miss the sleepless nights and the exhaustion post-natal life could inflict.

“She’s just so pretty ‘Mione,” Ginny sighed contentedly while she forced away her niggling jealousy. How could she begrudge her friend such a precious little child when the poor woman was having to cope with the troubles of motherhood both with her new baby and her teenaged daughter?

“She’s very pretty,” Hermione yawned. “Pity she doesn’t get it from my side,” she added with a chuckle.

“Oh give over, you’re gorgeous and you know it.”

“I wasn’t fishing for a compliment,” Hermione laughed and she opened her eyes to see a fond frown on her friend’s face. “I only meant to say that she doesn’t look like me.”

“Yes she does! Look at this hair, and those eyes they’re…”

“Her colourings are mine, that’s true, but she looks just like Leshia did when she was this age and there’s no denying that girl is all Draco.”

“Leshia also looks like you you know,” Ginny countered soothingly. “She’s got your smile.”

“Well since she spends so little time smiling these days I guess you’d never know,” her friend sighed. Despite the gravity of the emotions behind these words Ginny giggled and shook her head.

“She has a look about her. I mean you’re not wrong when you say she’s her father’s daughter. There’s no doubt and with this little one you can definitely see the resemblance too, but there is just this look about Leshia. She just…well there’s no doubting she’s yours either.”

Hermione, touched by her friend’s words, smiled broadly and stretched out her limbs as far as they could go. She had been planning on taking a nap when Ginny arrived unannounced for a cup of tea and an excuse to moddy coddle the baby. She was glad for the company, but felt a little warning might have been nice. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d washed her hair and had to admit she felt very scruffy in her jogging bottoms and an old shirt of Draco’s. Sat beside the vision of elegance that was Ginny Potter, the new mother felt positive troll-like.

“Thanks Gin.”

“The genes of the father must be more powerful that’s all. I mean look at my children, they look nothing like me.” For a moment Hermione wanted to challenge her on this fact, but before she could open her mouth Ginny shook her head and continued, “It’s true, so don’t try and argue me on the matter. It’s a good thing they’re not called Weasley. Whoever heard of a Weasley with jet-black hair?”

“Ron’s Hermia has got brown hair.”

“Oh it’s auburn at best, besides, I think Lavender’s taught her how to dye it. Poor Hermia, she really has been moulded to be that woman’s double hasn’t she?”

“Ginny you can’t call her ‘that woman’,” Hermione laughed. “She’s your brother’s wife and the mother of his children.”

“For now she is. It won’t be long before the divorce is final. At least your girls have a look of you in them. My two don’t look anything like me, but that doesn’t matter. It’s what’s inside that counts. They’re like me on the inside just as much as they’re like Harry, so I put up with them.” Her joke roused hearty laughter from poor tired Hermione.

“Oh you put up with them do you? How very forgiving of you.”

“Well they can’t help it I suppose.” Little Evie wriggled a little in her sleep silencing Ginny within moments. She turned her beaming smile on the baby and fought the urge to squeeze her tightly. “Oh,” she sighed mournfully. “I wish mine were this big again. Do you remember them all? We had a house full of babies whenever we went round mum and dad’s.”

“Overrun with babies is a better way of describing it,” Hermione laughed, her own eyes fondly resting on her daughter. She felt such love for her baby she often felt she would never get tired of watching her. “How you all managed to reproduce at the same time to overwhelm your parents with grandchildren is beyond me.”

“Oh it was fun though wasn’t it? Never a dull moment.”

“It was fun,” Hermione replied with a smile. “Do you remember when they started crawling?”

“Oh don’t!” Ginny cried jubilantly. “What little terrors they were! All you had to do was turn your back on them for one moment and they were off.”

“Just how they managed to egg each other on when they couldn’t talk is beyond me. When they were alone they were never that bad.”

“Oh give me a break,” the flame-haired woman snorted. “Your Leshia was equally bad at home. How many times did Harry and I have to come over because you and Draco had lost her.”

Hermione smiled ruefully and looked around for something to flick at her friend. That Ginny spoke nothing but the truth didn’t matter of course. Being Leshia’s mother when she was a baby had been a terrifying experience. The girl was so wild-spirited that she had endangered herself at every given opportunity. It would have been more accurate to say that being around cautious Katie seemed to calm Leshia down significantly, but Hermione would never admit this out loud.

“Do you think Evie will be as bad?” Hermione asked suddenly, voicing for the first time a fear she didn’t realise she had been harbouring. Her friend’s smile grew and after a few moments she shook her head.

“Evie’s very different to how Leshia was,” she soothed. “If this would have been Leshia she would be awake and screaming for someone’s attention.”

“They’re similar too though Gin,” Hermione countered. “She’s got a mischievous side to her, I know she does.” A great look of sadness washed over Hermione’s face as she thought of her wayward daughter now so far away both in the geographical and emotional sense.

“Leshia will come round,” Ginny spoke softly, sensing her friend’s thoughts.

“Will she? She’s a different person Ginny. At least, she is with us.” The redhead at her side shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “What? What do you want to say?” Hermione dared her. She could always tell when her friend was holding back.

“Well…it’s just.” Ginny trailed off unsure whether her words were cruel or not. “It sort of feels like…”

“Ginny please, you can tell me anything.”

“It’s just that Leshia’s only just started acting like you don’t exist. Katie’s been like that most of her life. She just…well she doesn’t express her emotions very well. Not to us anyway. I’ve had to spend the last decade or so watching my daughter effortlessly bond with her friends and tell them everything she should be confiding in me.” Hermione’s face crumpled.

“Ginny I’m so sorry, I never meant to…”

“I’m not having a dig at you. I know it must be so distressing to have Leshia suddenly change from being so attached to you both to this surly indifferent monster.”

“She’s not a monster,” Hermione uttered weakly.

“That’s the thing ‘Mione, she’s acting like a monster, you’ve got to set her straight.” Hermione sighed exasperatedly thinking her friend had taken a leaf out of Draco’s book. Why was she the only one who seemed to understand Leshia’s reaction to Evie and subsequent behaviour?

“Leshia isn’t Katie Ginny. She doesn’t respond to orders. If anyone tells her what to do she’ll always try her hardest to do the exact opposite. She always has!” Ginny’s face had become slightly hard.

“What are you implying about my daughter?”

“I don’t mean it like that!” Hermione covered quickly, her expression apologetic. “I’m just saying she’s not a Malfoy. She doesn’t have the world’s most stubborn man as her father. As much as I love my husband, you have to admit he has a unique personality that when manifested in a teenaged girl is quite difficult to work around.”

Quite suddenly Ginny laughed gaily.

“Very diplomatically put,” she managed through her laughter. Hermione grinned and shook her head.

“Leshia is many things,” she continued. “She’s full of surprises, so many extremes all in one.”

“Well it must be difficult finding the balance between Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy.” Hermione nodded fervently.

“Well exactly, Draco and I work so well because we compliment each other exactly. We have things in common of course otherwise we’d never have stuck together, but I just love it that he’s so different to me. Now imagine our poor children, what if they’re in constant turmoil trying to deal with two very different sides of their personalities?”

“This one’s hardly in turmoil is she?” Ginny countered, looking down at the sleeping baby in her arms.

“No, but maybe one day she will.”

“Hermione you can’t be held accountable for the fact that your teenaged daughter is being exactly that: a teenager! She’s not in turmoil, she is unique and when she’s grown up a bit she’ll calm down a bit. I know you, you’re more proud of that girl than anything you’ve ever done. Leshia knows she’s loved, she’s just acting like a fourteen-year-old.” Hermione sighed and reached out for her baby. Happy to oblige Ginny gently handed the warm little bundle over to the new mother.

“Sometimes I have to agree with Draco,” Hermione said softly and after pulling her daughter close to her chest and kissing the soft downy curls atop her head she continued, “Sometimes I don’t ever want her to grow up.”

XXX

Leshia was wet and bedraggled when she and Owen finally made it back to the common room. They had happily deposited the quidditch training supplies in the storage shed down by the pitch with a cheerful banter that didn’t reflect the tense moment that had passed between them on the quidditch pitch. At the Fat Lady the friends parted, the shy smile passing between them the only indication that something out of the ordinary had happened that afternoon.

Katie, Rachel and the lads were at their usual table adjoining the window box that the redhead had currently commandeered with a mountain of Runes notes and books. After quickly rushing upstairs to change into some drier clothes Leshia grabbed her own Runes work and made herself comfortable at the table beside her raven-haired friend. For the most part, her friends were happy to see her.

“What’s the matter with you?” Leshia asked Katie, when the girl had barely looked up at her greeting.

“Oh don’t get her start…” Rachel began quickly, but the bespectacled girl looked up, her expression fierce, before she burst into a grumble she had evidently been spouting all afternoon,

“I don’t see why we didn’t do the ballroom dancing in PE today. I’ve been looking forward to it all summer. I mean for once we were going to do something that didn’t revolve around flying, kicking, running, throwing, catching or chasing and what do they do? They give us some stupid fitness test instead.” Leshia glanced to the redhead in the window who rolled her eyes as if to indicate it was Leshia’s own fault for asking.

“Well we’ll probably do ballroom dancing next week,” the blonde girl finally suggested when it looked like Katie had said her peace.

“Oh you think so do you Leshia?” The girl seemed prepared for this response. “Then why didn’t Madam Hooch tell us then?”

“If you feel so strongly about it then maybe you should have asked her don’t you think?” Leshia countered, not one to shy away from speaking frankly about her feelings. Katie narrowed her eyes at her friend.

“All Madam Hooch cares about is quidditch at the end of the day. She doesn’t have time for those of us who don’t care for the sport.”

“Oh that’s a lie, she’s alright Madam Hooch. She wouldn’t just flat out ignore you if you ask her a question,” Leshia snorted.

“Well maybe not coming from Hogwarts’ very own quidditch legend.” Her tone hadn’t quite been spiteful, but everybody sensed the sarcasm and cast the girl admonishing glares.

“Katie get over it, there’s no point in getting worked up about PE. I could understand if you were getting upset about this.” Leshia indicated her notes piled up in front of her on the desk. “Personally I want to cry every time someone mentions the word ‘Rune’.”

Katie let the matter drop, though her bad mood kept her from enjoying what was left of the day with her friends. Her bad moods were legendary and as such the others tried to avoid involving her in the conversation as much as they could. Thankfully after a good night’s sleep the raven-haired girl was back to rights and as she and the others made their way down to breakfast she apologised for flying off the handle the day before. Leshia and Rachel were more than understanding and happily teased their friend about her temperamental moods for the rest of the morning.

By the time they reached Greenhouse Two, where the fourth year lessons were being held this term, and lined up alongside it with their Ravenclaw counterparts Katie had had enough and warned the girls that if they carried on their jeering much longer she would go back on her word and be moody with them for the rest of the week. Seeing this as no empty threat a sniggering Rachel and Leshia held their tongues and kept quiet until they were given entrance into the overgrown greenhouse.

The fourth years had already discovered in their first Herbology lesson of the week that this particular greenhouse housed a collection of several mean looking plants. Parys especially had become intimately acquainted with one when he leaned back a little too far only to find his head suddenly enveloped by stinging tentacles. Professor Sprout hadn’t seemed perturbed by this and quickly set the plant to rights with a flick of her wand, but it was a lesson Parys and many of the others wouldn’t soon forget.

“Good morning fourth years,” the portly Professor announced to the class fondly once they had taken their places at the stools surrounding the enormous potting tray in the centre of the room. “You’re all in luck! I hadn’t intended to start this part of the course in your second lesson back, but then again, I had very little hope that I would be able to procure the shipment full stop.”

Leshia and Rachel glanced to one another ominously while at their side Katie sat up straight, a sheet of fresh parchment leaning on her lap and her quill ready to start taking notes. A ‘shipment’ that was hard to come by certainly didn’t bode well for the fourth years class.

“Can anyone tell me,” Professor Sprout was continuing. “What three plants make up McCooley’s list of most endangered species?” Unsurprisingly Katie’s hand shot into the air. What was perhaps a little more unexpected, was that after a moment Leshia’s hand slowly joined it. “Miss Malfoy?”

Leshia fought the urge to roll her eyes at Professor Sprout’s visible surprise at her volunteering to answer a difficult question. She had always got Os in Herbology, so why should it seem surprising that she knew the answer? Just because her usual attitude towards Herbology found her doodling through most of the lessons and not listening to a word the teacher said didn’t mean she didn’t know things.

“Isn’t the Thorncrested Hereford Root one of them?” the girl spoke a little unsurely. Sprout smiled broadly.

“Excellent Miss Malfoy,” the teacher applauded cheerfully. “Five points to Gryffindor. Miss Potter?” Katie’s hand still hung in the air, but she was now staring at Leshia with a furrowed brow, as though she was in disbelief at what had just happened. “Miss Potter?”

“Oh right, sorry, um the Vetican Poleathic Willow? The Whomping Willow is an example of this sort of tree.”

“Well done Miss Potter, another five housepoints to Gryffindor. Who now can tell us of the last plant in McCooley’s three?” Again Katie lifted her hand to which Sprout bid her speak by a nod of her head.

“Paykoi miss,” Katie replied simply. “The only plant with real intelligence and the ability to move about. They used to be mistaken for animals mimicking plants. They’re very very rare.”

“Yes, very good Miss Potter. Take another five housepoints,” the jovial teacher replied. “You are right in saying they are the rarest of McCooley’s three, but fortunately for us, they are not so rare to escape my careful tracking them down. Fourth years! In pairs you will be rearing a Payki each through the germination process till they reach adolescence, at which stage your specimens will be taken over by the fifth years. This is a very rare opportunity and I will not abide with any nonsense. Each of these seeds must be reared with the ultimate care and attention. Today we will spend the first part of the lesson learning in depth about the potting requirements of Paykoi, as you will see each seed requires slightly different requirements, which we will endeavour to discover for your individual projects in the second part of the lesson.”

Katie seemed exceedingly excited about this lesson and during the first half whenever Leshia or Rachel attempted to drift off or stop paying attention she bossily forced them to attend to their teacher once more. Seeing as the raven-haired girl was sat between the other two, this gave them very little choice but to do as she wished. All in all by the end of the theory part of the lesson Leshia very much wanted to move across the potting tray to where Rodeo and Parys had hardly paid attention throughout the boring lecture.

“Now then, I have already assigned pairs,” Professor Sprout announced and before the youngsters could utter a communal groan the teacher spun the blackboard round at the front of the class. Leshia wrinkled her brow when she saw she had been put together with Samuel Thomas, a Gryffindor boy who she had never really spoken to, but knew to be a bit of an idiot from Rodeo and Parys’ descriptions of the boy. She felt even more dismayed when she saw her friends’ fortuitous matches. Rachel had been paired with Parys and Katie with Rodeo. It didn’t seem particularly fair to the blonde girl, but she didn’t get a chance to complain as Professor Sprout was instructing the youngsters join their partner so that she might give out the seeds.

Samuel, a bespectacled sandy haired weedy boy unfortunately afflicted with a terrible case of acne was smiling shyly at Leshia, who beckoned the boy over with a brisk hand movement. With Katie and Parys swapping seats this at least ensured that Leshia got to sit beside Rachel and Parys instead of moving across the potting tray to the boy’s territory. After a few moments the boy made his way over.

“Hi Leshia,” he uttered. The girl smiled ruefully, but nodded all the same. She didn’t want to be cruel to her new partner, even if he did look like the school’s biggest swot.

“Hi Sam. Is it okay if I call you Sam?” Quickly her partner nodded.

“I’d love it!” The boy took the stool at Leshia’s side while she glanced to her friends at her side with drooped shoulders to show her annoyance at this arrangement. Rachel was sniggering into her hands, but Parys at Leshia’s side wrapped an arm about her shoulders and shook her playfully to show his sympathy. Across the potting tray Katie was watching her partner with doe eyes, while he in turn was watching Samuel Thomas calculatingly.

“Right then class, would one member from each group come and collect their Payki,” professor Sprout called to the class as she emerged from the storage closet with a trolley full of wooden boxes. Leshia glanced to her partner.

“Do you want to or…” she began slowly.

“Yeah I can get it! No problem.” Instantly Sam was on his feet and darting across the greenhouse as though someone had set off a firecracker under his stool.

“Guys! He’s weird!” Leshia quickly groaned to her friends. Parys and Rachel seemed overcome with mirth for a moment.

“That’s because he fancies the pants off you Leesh!” Rachel managed through her laughter. Leshia glowered at her best friend fondly.

“Oh you think so do you?”

“You know, amazingly, Weasley’s right for once,” Parys now spoke up amusedly, quickly catching Rachel’s elbow as it flew towards his ribs. “That guy’s always asking us about you. It was so funny, last year when you and Owen had that snog up on the balcony…”

“Parys!” Leshia hissed, but the boy just spoke over her,

“He was there trying to get Rodes to go beat the guy up with him.”

“Seriously?” Leshia asked worriedly. Parys grinned.

“Don’t worry Leesh, the guy’s all talk. He’s harmless. I think he was just trying to get in with Rodes. I mean look at the guy, does he look like he can pack a punch?” Sam was now making his way over again with a box in his hands.

“Hadn’t one of you better go and get your seed?” Leshia told her friends amusedly.

“Oh yeah,” Rachel exclaimed and she looked to Parys with one eyebrow raised; which of them was going to have to get off their stool and go and get the seed? “Shotgun not it!” she quickly cried. Parys wrinkled his brow.

“You can’t shotgun something like this…”

“Yeah you can!” the girls either side of him retorted firmly.

“Shotgun rules apply to everything Parys,” Leshia informed the boy. “You’ve got siblings, you should know.” Seeing he would lose this battle if he complained and as he was precariously positioned between the two feisty girls Parys climbed to his feet and wandered off. He was the last to collect a seed and as he retook his stool Professor Sprout instructed the youngsters to carefully open their boxes. Leshia took control and pulled back the lid to see a peculiar grooved seed that was surely as big as her head.

“Are they meant to be this big?” the girl asked the group at large.

“It looks more like an egg than a seed,” Rachel agreed.

“A keen observation Miss Weasley,” the teacher spoke up with a proud smile; she really was very pleased with herself for securing this practical for her fourth years. “They resemble eggs both in appearance and in function. Inside is a germinating seedling somewhat in the shape of a human baby. We know very little about the stages of development of the foetal Payki, as they are so endangered herbologists have been forbidden from interrupting with their life cycles. Now then, if everybody is ready, we will start our investigations to see what sort of potting environment our seedlings prefer.”

Working out the exact recipe of minerals, nutrients, water and brandy that the young seedlings preferred was meticulous work and after only a few minutes Leshia was bored. Where her friends were completing this task as a backdrop to enthusiastic conversations, she and Samuel worked in relative silence. The boy seemed to shy to speak and Leshia was tired of asking him questions and inviting him into a conversation. She spent a lot of her time watching her peers and felt a little distressed at the way in which Katie was swanning around her partner.

The last thing anybody needed was for the raven-haired girl to start fancying Rodeo again. Their last break up had nearly torn apart the trio’s friendship and Leshia wasn’t sure if they could survive another incident. Katie held grudges and even if Leshia hadn’t actually done anything to incur the girl’s wrath this still didn’t prevent all hell from breaking loose when Katie felt wronged.

More worryingly perhaps, were the sharp pangs of jealousy Leshia felt whenever Katie touched the boy. She’d had these feelings before and worried that they were returning. Back then things had been far too complicated and Leshia would sooner take a vow of romance abstinence than enter into a love triangle like that one again.

“Parys! Sparky is not an alcoholic! You’re giving her far too much brandy.” Rachel’s loud complaint dragged Leshia from her reverie and with a smile she glanced round to see her friends enjoying themselves.

“Sparky? Rach I told you we’re not calling him Sparky. His name is Terminator!” the boy countered while pouring more and more brandy into the testing soil. Rachel quickly stayed his hand.

“What sort of a name is Terminator for a girl?” the girl grumbled fondly.

“Well for starters it’s a boy and secondly Terminator is a wicked name, it’s this muggle robot action hero.”

“Well there you go, we’re not naming her after a muggle,” Rachel countered happily.

“No you don’t get it, the Terminator wasn’t actually a real muggle, he was this…”

“Still don’t care we’re calling her Sparky.” By now Leshia couldn’t contain her laughter and when they realised their conversation had become the source of their friend’s mocking amusement Rachel and Parys straightened up.

“You guys are going to scar your Payki before it’s even born,” the blonde girl laughed. Parys grinned and wrapped an arm around Rachel’s shoulders.

“Leshia with this one for a mother, that thing doesn’t stand a chance.”

“Hey!” Rachel cried out jubilantly, before she picked up a handful of soil and unceremoniously stuffed it down the back of Parys’ shirt. The boy went rigid as he felt the soil trickling down his back while Leshia’s hands flew to her mouth half in shock half in complete and utter joy.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” he managed, an enormous smile growing on his face. “Big mistake Weasley.”

“What’s going on over there?” Professor Sprout’s strict call came. All three teenagers turned to the teacher with feigned innocent expressions, before they all shook their heads simultaneously.

“Nothing Professor,” Parys spoke on behalf of the group.

“Have you figured out what conditions your Payki favours yet?”

“No miss, not yet,” Rachel now responded soberly.

“Well you’ve only got ten minutes, I suggest you stop chatting and try a little harder. If you don’t finish this by the end of the lesson you’ll have to come back during break.”

With this added incentive every group managed to work out their specimen’s ideal potting environment. Before they could flee the greenhouse for their next lesson the youngsters were lumbered with homework to be completed for their lesson the next day. Now they knew the conditions the Payki preferred they were to research what sort of personality the seedling was going to exhibit once it had sprouted; a task that would no doubt require an evening down in the library.

Sam was eager to arrange a time with Leshia as they walked back towards the castle, but she avoided his keen pestering saying they’d work something out later in the common room. He was difficult to get rid of, but eventually when Leshia and her friends needed to leave the boy to ascend Professor Trelawny’s tower to get to divination and he needed to get to his Arithmancy classroom they parted ways. Leshia was glad to see the back of him.

“I can’t believe how eager that boy is,” the girl groaned.

“We could have a word with him if you like?” Rodeo suggested keenly. Leshia sniggered and shook her head.

“It’s okay Rodes, I don’t need help dealing with Samuel Thomas. I just have to put him off,” the girl grumbled.

“Maybe you could eat something really spicy at dinner so that when you have to work with him he’ll think you have really horrid breath and go off you?” Rachel suggested cheerily.
“So that’s what you’ve been doing all these years,” Parys suddenly exclaimed sounding enlightened. “You’ve been trying to put me off! I always wondered why you…” The rest of his jeer was swallowed up by a playful yelp as Rachel tackled the boy. They chased each other all the way to the top leaving their friends laughing in their wake. The closer they got to the classroom the more sluggish Katie became. This was always the way; out of all their lessons Divination was the only one the raven-haired girl couldn’t abide and wished she hadn’t taken.

Yes, she disapproved of the wishy-washy nature of it all, but her dislike of Trelawny’s lessons was far more deeply rooted in the fact that the mad old woman always foretold miserable events in her future. It was as though she had simply transferred her fear of Harry Potter’s turbulent existence onto his much more sensible daughter, who didn’t appreciate the grim predictions one bit.

“Come on Katie, there’s no running from her now,” Leshia stated cheerfully and started dragging her friend along by the arm.

“Oh why couldn’t I have done Arithmancy instead of this nonsense?” Katie groaned.

“Because Arithmancy would have been really really boring and besides, then you would have been alone with the world’s biggest swot…” Leshia paused for a moment and wrinkled her brow. “Actually, you wouldn’t have minded that. Never mind, you’re stuck now so come on!”

By the time the three youngsters joined their panting friends at the top of the tower the hatch leading into Trelawny’s classroom had been lowered. One by one their classmates were ascending into the chintzy room that made their heads swim. Damian Allseyer was near the front of the queue and before he could ascend he and Leshia locked their eyes together in a glower not lacking in hostilities.

“Leesh what name do you think is best?” Rachel spoke loudly, wanting to distract her blonde friend from the Slytherin snake up ahead. “Fart or Burp?” Along with Katie and Rodeo Leshia dissolved into laughter. Rachel and Parys however, seemed quite serious.

“What you don’t like either of them?” Parys chuckled. By now they had got to the steps and clambered up one by one, instantly feeling sobered by the thick waft of incense that pummelled their senses. Leshia climbed up last and sat down her usual armchair with Rachel and Katie either side of her. Professor Trelawney was fantastically bizarre as usual and currently was distracted by telling Ravenclaw’s Gracie Wallice that she ought to beware of rogue umbrellas. After the youngster had assured the teacher she would always be on the look out flying brollies Trelawney turned to scan the classroom with her usual fearful gaze. Instantly she singled out Katie, Leshia and Rachel’s table.

“Here we go,” Katie uttered under her breath to her friends, who grinned conspiratorially to one another; they quite enjoyed seeing their raven-haired friend do battle with the peculiar teacher. Trelawney shuffled over slowly, her hand slowly rising up to point in their direction.

“I see a shadow on you child,” the woman spoke shakily. Either she had had one too many herbal tees Leshia thought to herself, or she was definitely overdoing the dramatics this year. Slowly the teacher approached and as she did so to everyone’s surprise her unfocusing gaze fell on Leshia, not Katie.

“Me Professor?” Leshia asked unsurely. Trelawney ignored the girl’s confusion and shuffled even closer, her finger pointed squarely at the blonde girl. Never before had she predicted any of the hardships in Leshia’s life, so this turn of events was unsettling to say the least.

“A shadow lies on you. A shadow you have carried with you a long time. I see you alone…I see you all alone in despair. You must tread carefully or you will have nothing left. A shadow lies on you.”

The teacher’s wide frightened eyes met with Leshia’s narrowed ones and for a moment they gazed at one another, before Trelawney finally backed away and looked to the class, visibly shaken.

“Good afternoon fourth years,” she called out. Briefly the teacher glanced at Leshia before she spoke again, “I trust you have all returned with open minds to better read the mysteries the future has in store for us all.”

Leshia remained shaken and though her friends assured her that their teacher was a nutcase and that none of her predictions about Katie had ever come true, the blonde girl could not put the woman’s words out of her head. Damian Allseyer’s mirth across the classroom only furthered Leshia’s bad mood and by the time they were released for lunch she stormed ahead with her friends hurrying after her.

Only Rachel hung back, her brow furrowed deeply in thought. The teacher’s prediction of Leshia ending up alone coincided with a terrible gut feeling she already had about her best friend being banned from the exchange trip. What if Trelawney’s prediction referred to everyone else being selected for the trip leaving Leshia with no allies to fight off another attack by Allseyer and his gang? It took the red-haired girl only a few moments to make up her mind about what had to be done.

XXX

Leshia’s head lolled tiredly, her eyes half open. A raucous lunch and the boredom of History of Magic had pushed Trelawney’s warning from her mind for now. Professor Binns had serenaded most of the class to sleep with his monotonous drone about witch hunting in the fourteenth century. It was a mark of just how boring the age-old ghost had become that even such a gory fascinating subject could send the teenagers to sleep. Leshia had managed to hold on to her conscious throughout most of the lesson, but her grip was slipping. Thankfully the bell went releasing the fourth years into the corridor beyond.

“I didn’t think it was possible, but he’s even more boring than he was last year,” Leshia yawned as they headed towards their Muggle Studies classroom.

“Maybe there’s no end to his powers,” Rodeo suggested. “He’s a secret weapon. I bet he could bore someone to death.”

“Hey! Maybe we should set him loose on Allseyer!” Leshia suggested cheerfully, her eyes narrowing as in the distance Damian Allseyer and his friends were making the same walk between classrooms as Leshia and hers.

“Leshia don’t say stuff like that,” Katie admonished. “Prove that you’re better than he is.”

“Um!” The others turned in surprise to see Rachel hovering behind them a frozen expression on her face.

“Rach what’s wrong?” Leshia asked sounding both concerned and amused.

“I need the loo!” the redhead announced strangely. While the boys sniggered Leshia grinned at Katie about this sudden change in their friend.

“Well go on then, we’ll meet you down there,” Katie told the girl. With their permission Rachel turned around and darted off leaving her four friends staring after her in amusement.

“Rachel’s weird,” Parys finally stated cheerfully, before he and Rodeo carried on up the corridor. Katie and Leshia took a little longer to follow them.

“What do you think was wrong with Rach?” Leshia asked quietly so that the boys ahead wouldn’t hear their conversation. She didn’t want them to think she was in fact a little bit concerned by Rachel’s peculiar behaviour. The girl had seemed out of sorts since Divination.

“I’m not sure,” Katie replied with a shrug. “She keeps her feelings close to her chest.” Leshia frowned, wanting to contradict the raven-haired girl’s judgment of her cousin, but she couldn’t fault it; Rachel did keep her feelings well hidden, even from Leshia.

“Did she say anything to you at lunch while I was…um…”

“Sulking?” Katie suggested with a smile. Leshia feigned a glare at the bespectacled-girl.

“I wasn’t sulking. Trelawney just freaks me out that’s all.”

“Oh come on, she’s never right is she? She’s been foretelling my doom for a year now and I’m still standing aren’t I?”

“Yeah I know. I just…well she seemed so scared didn’t she? And normally when she’s rattling off her big ideas about you falling down stairs and getting hit by comets and stuff like that she sounds almost bored as she’s saying it. You know what I mean? Like it’s your run of the mill everyday sort of death prediction, but today she seemed terrified by what she was saying.”

“Oh thanks,” Katie sniggered.

“Well you know what I mean,” Leshia complained fondly.

“No not really.”

“Anyway we’re completely missing the point here,” the blonde girl continued. “Did she say anything at lunch?”

“Nothing important, actually, nothing much now I come to think of it. She was in a sulk as well,” Katie remarked with a furrowed brow. “I wonder what was wrong with her.” Up ahead the two boys burst into laughter. Katie’s eyes turned positively glassy when her eyes fell on Rodeo; an action that set alarm bells ringing in Leshia’s head.

“Um Katie?” the girl spoke worriedly. “Do you fancy Rodeo again?” Quite suddenly the raven-haired girl spun around to stare at Leshia in surprise.

“After what he did to me? Never!” she hissed indignantly.

“Well I’m sorry, it’s just…well…” Leshia fell silent wondering if perhaps without Katie’s guidance on what was tactful and what was plain insulting she would continuously stick her foot in her mouth. As they reached the muggle studies classroom their friends ahead were already filing inside, so Leshia reached out and elbowed her friend slightly in the arm.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it,” she apologised humbly. The taller girl quickly nodded.

“It’s fine.” She wore a genuine smile and even though she sounded slightly frosty, Leshia knew she hadn’t really offended her friend. The two girls soon reached the door where they peered over their shoulders the way they had come.

“Should we wait for Rachel?” Leshia suggested.

“Not much point, she knows the way,” Katie countered and flounced inside. The smaller girl stayed a moment longer, her brow furrowed in worry, before she too ambled inside and took her usual seat. Her friend was already involved in an animated conversation with the boys, but Leshia just couldn’t relax. The minutes were ticking by and still no Rachel.

“Maybe I’d better go and find…” the blonde girl began as she rose to her feet, but at this point Professor Lewis rose to his own at the front of the class.

“Sit down please Miss Malfoy, we’re going to start.”

“But sir I was just going to find Rachel,” Leshia countered. The teacher with the exceedingly kindly face frowned for a moment.

“Is she lost?”

“Well no, she’s on her way, but…”

“Then please sit down, I’m sure she’ll be here in a moment.” Leshia obliged and dropped down into her chair with a thump. Her friends were frowning at her in confusion and indeed if it were physically possible, Leshia would have joined them. She couldn’t explain her unease, aside from the fact that Trelawney’s warning had triggered in her a general nervousness.

The minutes ticked by as Professor Lewis tried to explain the Muggle life cycle to the fourth years, a topic that would last the whole curricular year. Leshia didn’t really listen to a word he was saying and watched the clock at the front of the classroom instead. Ten minutes had crept by and whereas Katie seemed oblivious to Rachel’s continued absence, so engrossed was she by her notes, Leshia couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to her best friend.

Finally, nearly fifteen minutes after the lesson had begun, there was a lazy knock at the door. After Lewis had bid the knocker enter Rachel appeared nonchalantly, as though there was nothing peculiar about her late appearance.

“Miss Weasley,” Professor Lewis reproached the girl sternly. “You are nearly fifteen minutes late. Where have you been?” For a moment Rachel glanced to her friends, who were all wearing matching confused expressions, before she looked back to the teacher, shoved her hands deep in her pockets and shrugged.

“Just lost track of time I guess.”

“You lost track of time?” Rachel shrugged again. “Very well, detention; my office after dinner. Now go and sit down.” The red-haired girl quickly bolted from his side with a relieved expression and sat down in her usual seat between her best friends. They were both staring at her, one in complete incredulity, the other in anger. Just what had possessed their friend Leshia and Katie didn’t get a chance to pry out of her however, as Lewis worked them hard throughout the hour lesson. Finally when the bell went giving the pupils of Hogwarts leave after another day’s lessons Katie practically frogmarched Rachel out into the corridor with Leshia having to run to catch up with them.

“What do you think you’re playing at?” Katie demanded crossly when they reached the busy corridor. For a moment Rachel glanced to Leshia with a significant expression, before she turned back to her cousin defiantly.

“I don’t care what you think about Trelawney, she’s right! Leshia shouldn’t be alone, not with Tripper and Lucius and Allseyer and God knows who else out to get her,” the girl spoke hotly. Instantly Leshia’s expression turned from incredulous to crumpled, as she felt truly touched by her friend’s words.

“You did this to get out of the exchange trip?” Katie demanded in disbelief, to which her cousin nodded firmly.

“And I’d do it again.” Katie looked from one friend to the next feeling an intense burst of isolation, before quite suddenly she stormed from their side into the busy traffic.
“Rach…I…” Leshia didn’t know what to say.

“Like I wanted to go on that trip without you anyway,” the flame-haired girl suddenly spoke with a cheerful smile. “When do you think she’ll start talking to me again?” Her friend grinned happily.

“Christmas. And that’s if you’re lucky.”

XXX

That the week had gone terrifically slowly was the general consensus of the fourth years and over of Hogwarts, but finally Friday dinner arrived meaning it was time for the lottery to take place. Katie still refused to speak to Rachel and Leshia had to tread very carefully, as the slightest wrong move was being used as an excuse to berate her. The girls tried their best to pacify their raven-haired friend throughout dinner, but eventually gave up and succumbed to the enthusiastic conversation being held by their peers.

“The odds are pretty good you know,” Tom Weasley was saying enthusiastically.

“What do you mean?” Rachel asked curiously.

“Well we managed to get Hagrid to tell us how many people have been kicked off the list already and he says it’s about a quarter of them. So that means there’s like a one in three chance of getting chosen to go.”

“Around thirty people got detention in just one week?” Leshia asked with a wrinkled brow. “That’s not normal is it?”

“Yeah well Tripper was never around before either was he?” Luke chuckled at his cousin’s side. “The man’s gone overboard giving out detentions whenever he can. He’s on a major power trip!”

“So how come you two have managed to stay out of trouble?” Rachel sniggered. “You’re in detention every week!”

“What’s a week’s exceptional behaviour compared with a chance to go on the trip of a lifetime?”

Rachel and Leshia glanced to one another grimly, both cursing Silas Tripper for ensuring they weren’t in with a chance to go. Aside from the odd family holiday to the continent, they had never left their country, especially not independently of their parents. It would have been amazing to be chosen. Despite themselves the girls brooded throughout the remainder of dinner and felt positively grim when Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet at the top table. The chattering pupils instantly fell silent to hear what the headmaster had to say.

“Pupils! It is that time at last, we are going to select those lucky thirty pupils who will be taking part in the international exchange trip between magical schools,” the old wizard called over the hall with surprising resonance. As though on a silent command an enormous golden device appeared on the table in front of the headmaster. A large glass ball sat at the centre of the machine revealing a number of what looked to be fluttering birds inside of it. On closer inspection the pupils at the front of the hall could see that the strange flapping things were not quite alive, but instead were made of paper. Katie, who had been sitting at Rachel’s side seized up in anticipation at the sight of the device.

“After your name has been called out I request that you come and collect an information packet from Professor McGonagall,” the headmaster was continuing. “You will be expected to read all the information it contains in preparation for your first meeting tomorrow evening. We have so little time before our guests arrive, so I regret to inform those who get chosen that this coming week will be quite riddled with meetings.”

“Agh, that sounds like more work,” Luke uttered under his breath to the Gryffindors. “I thought this was supposed to be fun.”

“I can assure you,” Dumbledore continued, turning his twinkling eyes on the mid section of the Gryffindor table. “That these efforts will soon be forgotten by the excitement this experience will offer. Very well, without further ado, let us begin the boys’ draw.”

As one all eyes in the room fell on the golden device as the fluttering notes inside the glass ball sped up into a flurry of winged activity. Several people leaned forward as Dumbledore lowered his hand slowly into the hive and easily picked a fluttering note from the mass. At his touch the piece of paper straightened out in his hand. For a moment the headmaster glanced at the name in his hand, before he turned his half-moon spectacles on the table furthest from the Gryffindors.

“Dylan Sylverstone.” To an appreciative roar from the Slytherin house a tall wiry boy climbed to his feet and approached the top table, where he shook Professor McGonagall’s hand and took the brown paper packet she was holding out to him. As soon as the boy had started back to his seat all eyes returned to Dumbledore. The age-old wizard already held the next note in his hand. With so many names to get through it was no surprise he was trying to hurry things along.

“Jonah Tristan.” Leshia and her friends joined in with the Gryffindor cheer as one of their seventh years climbed to his feet to collect his packet. Despite all odds his identical brother Joshua followed him moments later.

“What are the odds?” Luke grumbled under his breath, no longer cheering jubilantly along with the house. “Not much chance of the both of us getting picked now mate.”

“It’s not like Dumbledore would…” Leshia tried to tell the boys, but as she spoke the headmaster himself spoke aloud the next name and it was one that silenced the girl and all those around her,

“Parys Jackson.” In surprise the tall boy sitting opposite Leshia climbed to his feet while his house applauded him. Only his closest friends found it difficult to join in the cheers. It had not struck them till this very moment that whoever was chosen for this trip would be gone for nearly three months. It was only at this moment that the fourth years felt the loss such a separation was going to afflict.

As Parys retook his seat at the table, the brown package clutched in his hands he glanced to his best friend and finally shrugged his shoulders.

“What are the odds?” he managed sounding a little amused.

“One in three, weren’t you listening?” his friend chuckled and finally managed to push away his own shock to clap the boy on the back. “It’s wicked mate! Congratulations!” Following the boy’s lead the girls quickly congratulated their friend fondly and exuberantly, making up for their socked reactions moments earlier. The friends had missed Hufflepuff’s Richard Everett and Ravenclaw’s David Beckett being called up in the excitement of Parys’ good fortune, but the next name Dumbledore read aloud stood little chance of being ignored,

“Julius Black.” Leshia’s head popped up as though she were a jack-in-the-box.

“How did…” The girl trailed off in anger as she watched the Slytherin enigma climb to his feet on the opposite side of the great hall. Just how the boy had managed to get himself back on the list was a complete and utter mystery to Leshia and her friends, and whereas they were free to wonder at this free of prejudice, the blonde girl was far too angry to contemplate the ins and outs of the situation; she only felt bitter rage at his worming his way onto the list and her failure to do the same.

“It’s not fair Leesh,” Rachel tried to pacify her friend.

“You’re bloody right it’s not. The little weasel!”

Leshia was not to be consoled. Not even Luke and Tom’s miraculous inclusion onto the list brought a smile to the girl’s face. She was far too scorned to take pleasure in her friends’ triumphs.

“And the last young man to join those fourteen I have already read out will be…” Everyone waited with baited breath as Dumbledore unfurled the paper note in his hand. He stared at it for a while before he lifted his eyes and scanned every single table before he found the one he had been looking for,

“Damian Allseyer.” A cumulative groan rose up from the thirty or so boys who had not been chosen to go on the trip while across the hall the Slytherins were celebrating and they had a reason to. Both Ravenclaw and Slytherin had an unusually high percentage of boys going on the trip, which also meant they would have an unusually high number of guests inaugurated into their houses at the expense of the others.

The fourth years over on Gryffindor table had looked to Leshia at the announcement of the final name expecting her mood to plummet even lower, but to their surprise she suddenly brightened up with a big smile.

“Damian Allseyer and Julius Black gone for a term?” she told the others to settle their confusion. “I couldn’t have wished for anything better even if I tried!”

Not quite believing this was the extent of Leshia’s feelings on the matter, the others were happy that she was at least able to let the matter drop for now. The girls’ draw proved to be just as tense as the boys’. Again several sibling pairs were being chosen and with every name that was called out Katie grew a little tenser until eventually she was sat as straight as a board, her knuckles white from gripping the edge of the table to hard.

“Don’t worry Katie, there’s loads left,” Leshia lied in an attempt to console the girl as Dumbledore lifted another note from the bird notes.

“Valerie Beckett.” Leshia stiffened slightly at the girl’s name. In her third year she and this girl had come to blows on more than one occasion. They were not what could be called the best of friends and whereas most of Leshia’s rivalries were due to worthy causes, her issue with Valerie was different; they had fought over a boy, though be it unwittingly on Leshia’s part.

“This only gets better and better,” the blonde girl uttered under her breath. Rachel sniggered and elbowed her friend in the ribs.

“If only Tripper was going with them right?” the redhead chuckled. Leshia grinned.

“If only he was,” she sighed wistfully. Valerie Beckett retook her seat and all eyes turned again on Dumbledore as he picked another note from the glass ball. For a moment his eyes lifted to the Gryffindor table before he spoke,

“Katie Potter.”

Rachel could have sworn she heard a squeak emanate from her cousin before the table erupted into cheers. This time the friends were ready for the emotions of being left behind and easily bested them in order to cheer for their friend; Katie had wanted this very badly. Almost shakily the raven-haired girl approached Professor McGonagall to collect her package. Parys catcalled and the girls hooted.

Once the girl had retaken her seat again she turned watery eyes on her friends and simply shook her head. She had no words.

“You’re a muppet you know that?” Rachel chuckled and quickly embraced her cousin. “And you’re going to have an amazing time!” After they had separated Leshia practically climbed over Rachel to hug the bespectacled girl in congratulations.

“She’s right, out of all of us you’re the only one that might actually learn something on this trip too. I mean we’d probably just make some international enemies or something like that.”

“Hey! Speak for yourself,” Rachel complained happily.

“Oh come on, with your powers to annoy the hell out of everyone around you? You wouldn’t stand a chance Rach,” Leshia laughed with a big grin, before she quickly ruffled her best friend’s hair. “You’re actually quite lucky we put up with you.”

“Right that does it!” Rachel suddenly erupted happily before she lunged at Leshia in a tickling frenzy. Their play fight was cut short by Dumbledore loudly calling out the last lucky girl to be included on the trip, issuing the tumbling Gryffindor girls a fond look of warning. They managed to cheer along with the rest of the house, though they weren’t quite sure who had been picked. When Leshia saw her quidditch captain Mila climb to her feet however, she frowned.

“Mila’s going?” she asked worriedly and then quickly counted on her fingers. “And Luke and Tom…and Joss! Crap!” The others stared at her in slight confusion.

“What are you on about?” Rodeo spoke for the group.

“Second term we play Slytherin and with all them lot gone that just leaves me, Owen and Jaime. What the hell are we going to do? We can’t play them with just the three of us.” The others shrugged, evidently not finding this as big a concern as Leshia did.

After Mila had retaken her seat the pupils of Hogwarts were finally excused for the night. Katie and Parys were desperate to get back to the common room to tear open their paper packages, so they rushed ahead with Rodeo jogging to catch up. Leshia and Rachel took a much more leisurely approach and strolled out of the great hall towards the grand staircase. The last thing they had been expecting was an ambush.

“Bloodtraitor!” Leshia spun around to find Damian Allseyer and his cronies emerging from behind one of the enormous pillars that supported the ceiling high above.

“Allseyer. What do you want?”

“To rub it in of course!”

“You think I’d want to go on that trip if you’re going on it?” the blonde girl hissed, her brow lowered over icy eyes. Allseyer smiled cruelly.

“Everyone can see how much you want to get away from the bloodtraitor father of yours so yeah, I think you wish you were going on this trip. Not surprising either, if my father had chosen to once again pollute his bloodline with a Mudblood then…”

“If you think that you can…” Leshia began furiously feeling a refreshing surge of anger fuel her words.

“I can do what I like Malfoy,” Damian Allseyer laughed cruelly.

“You’re sure looking cocky for a guy who was hiding behind a picture of a Malfoy not so long ago,” Leshia growled furiously at the boy. For a moment Allseyer’s smile fell at this reference to his cowardice in the showdown he had engineered for Leshia and the murderous spirit he had tried to control throughout their third year. He had been confidant in its presence only when he held a picture of Draco Malfoy, the only being the creature feared. “I notice you’re not trying to kill me this year Allseyer. Something the matter? Ran out of ideas?”

Quite suddenly the boy pulled his wand on Leshia, who was equally as quick to return the favour. The enemies eyed each other with intense dislike and ignored their friends’ pleading to put their wands away.

“I don’t need any bright ideas Malfoy. Just two words and you’d be dead right now.” Despite the tense mood Leshia laughed.

“Are you serious? You think you’ve got the guts? Well I dare you Allseyer! Go on, do it!” Allseyer’s hand twitched and for a moment he chewed his lower lip as though the temptation were too much for the boy. Quite suddenly though his eyes went wide and his wand hand flew down at his side. Leshia wrinkled her brow at this change and wondered what had overcome her nemesis, when suddenly she fell into shadow.

“Miss Malfoy!” Tripper’s cruel and twisted sneer came. Leshia spun around and looked up at the teacher with both fear and defiance. The scarred professor glanced from the girl to the boy and then back again. He had seen it all unfold and knew Allseyer had drawn his wand first. “Detention,” he finally concluded, glaring only at Leshia and not the other perpetrator of this altercation. “My office after lunch tomorrow.”

“But sir…” Leshia tried.

“Do you want to join me now?” the cruel man demanded eliciting a quick shake of the head from his victim.

“No sir,” the girl conceded and she hung her head. As though she could feel Damian Allseyer’s jubilation at finding in the unpleasant an ally who hated Leshia as much as he did, Leshia’s skin crawled. Once the Runes teacher had limped away Leshia lifted her head again and stared at the man through narrowed eyes.

“Come on Leshia, let’s go catch up with the others,” Rachel urged her friend, who seemed dead set on glaring at Tripper for the remainder of her days. Finally though, she ripped her gaze from the man and turned around to find Allseyer and his friends nearly wetting themselves in laughter.

“It’s nice to see at least one of the teachers has their priorities straight on the treatment of traitors at Hogwarts.” Leshia stared at the boy silently, before quite suddenly she lurched in his direction. Instinctively Allseyer backed away eliciting a frightened yelp. Leshia though had been feigning an attack and merely stopped short of the boy, smiled a twisted sneer, before she stalked away with Rachel in pursuit.

XXX

The following day Leshia, Katie and Rachel descended on the library. It was a rainy Saturday and the library was bursting with the upper years, who were no doubt already struggling under vast amounts of homework. Leshia found it hard to concentrate on her Runes assignment; all she could think of was what Tripper was going to do to her in their one-on-one detention.

As is always the way with such things, the detention came much sooner than it would have had Leshia not been dreading it. After lunch she grimly offered her friends a meek wave before she ambled towards the Runes study. Again her heart sank as she remembered how differently this place had made her feel when her mother was in charge, but bravely the girl reached out and knocked on the door. Unusually Tripper was the one to answer, which he did by wrenching the heavy door open.

“In,” he growled. Leshia eyed the twisted man worriedly, but squeezed past him into the cluttered study nonetheless. Instinctively she made towards the table with the Greek rune stones she and Julius Black had been documenting.

“Where are you going?” Tripper growled. “Sit over there.” A mottle hand pointed towards a spindly chair placed right before the desk under a peculiar device that shone down on the chair below.

“Sir?”

“Do it!” With a heavy heart Leshia sighed and did as she was told. The chair was even more uncomfortable than the one she had sat in before, and for a moment the youngster wondered at the craftsmen that had made such a cruel chair.

‘Probably King Cruel himself,’ the girl thought bitterly as Tripper sat down behind his desk in the gloom. Under the bright light of the machine above her head Leshia found it hard to make out the rest of the room.

“What is your name?” the man suddenly demanded. Leshia frowned heavily, her face morphing into a disgruntled arrangement.

“What?”

“You heard me!”

“But sir, you know my name,” the girl complained in confusion.

“I am testing my instrumentation. Now tell me, what is your name?” Awkwardly the teenager glanced upwards where the peculiar mystery device hung. ‘Instrumentation’ was an ominous word and for a moment she worried what this madman was up to. It was almost as though her were interrogating her.

“If you want to get out of here by the end of the day then I would cooperate if I were you.”

“Alecia Malfoy!” Leshia spoke quickly and clearly, managing to keep most of her anger from her tone.

“Who are your parents?” Tripper asked, glancing upwards as he did so. For a moment the girl paused; she didn’t feel comfortable. This was all wrong.

“Sir I’m sure that this isn’t allowed…”

“What?” Tripper snapped icily. “Allowed? I work for the Minister of Magic himself Malfoy. Everything I do is allowed! Now answer the question.” Leshia squirmed a little on the uncomfortable seat.

“Draco and Hermione Malfoy,” she finally replied darkly.

“What is your relation to the wanted criminal Lucius Malfoy?”

“I don’t have any relation to him…” Quite suddenly a bright lightning spark of light shot down from the device and struck Leshia’s arm. She recoiled in pain and clutched her singed skin to her chest, her eyes full of fear as she looked up at the cruel device.

“As you will see Miss Malfoy, your lies won’t do you any good here.”

“You’re insane!”

“Silence! Answer the question truthfully.”

“He’s my dad’s father alright? Why are you asking me these questions when you know the answers already?”

“Why Miss Malfoy, you’re here to help me fine-tune my equipment, nothing more. Your answers are irrelevant to me.”

“Yeah right, you’re just using this as an excuse to…”

“Do you know where Lucius Malfoy is?”

No!” Leshia hissed loudly and then smiled broadly when Tripper seemed disappointed that his machine had not punished the girl. “See! You don’t know everything!”

“Has Lucius Malfoy been in contact with you since you saw him last?” the twisted man continued unperturbed.

“No.”

“Do you know what his intentions are?”

“No.” A sparkle of lightning shot from the machine, but did not quite hit Leshia. The child nonetheless ducked down to avoid the painful punishment. Tripper paused and narrowed his eyes calculatingly at the girl.

“Not entirely the truth eh? A part of you must know what he plans to do!”

“Well it’s obvious isn’t it?” Leshia complained sounding fraught; this was worse than she could have imagined.

“Is it?”

“Well he didn’t come back for a family reunion did he? He’s trying to resurrect Voldemort, I thought that much would be obvious.” At the name Tripper twitched noticeably. His eyes narrowed at the girl in slight fear.

“How do you know this?” he managed. Leshia frowned.

“It’s. Obvious,” she stated very slowly and loudly. “He’s with the bad guys, they want Voldemort back so that’s what he’s trying to do.”

“Are you helping him?” Leshia shook her head firmly. “Have you helped him?” Again a shake of the head, but this time the device above sparkled threateningly. Leshia furrowed her brow and glanced upwards in amazement. “How have you helped him?”

“I don’t know!” the girl cried out quickly. Tripper glanced up expectantly, but his machine remained quite still. Silence followed in which the ministry stooge made notes on a watermarked piece of parchment. Leshia squirmed in her seat, wondering what would happen if she made a run for it and told the headmaster what Tripper was doing. He’d never put up with it…but then again, if she invoked the full extent of Tripper’s rage then he would only come back with a warrant to officially interrogate her and then he might be crueller still. Besides, Leshia Malfoy did not need Albus Dumbledore or anyone else to fight her battles for her!

“Your father,” Tripper suddenly spoke and he looked up with eyes narrowed in hatred. Leshia squirmed a little more; this was not a line of inquiry she was terribly happy about. Above her the machine crackled as though it sensed the girl’s pre-emptive design to avoid the questions. Tripper almost smiled. “Does he know where Lucius Malfoy is.”

“No,” Leshia quickly replied, though up above the machine struck again, detonating directly over her head. In surprise the teenager ducked down. Tripper looked away in thought, before he scribbled a note on his parchment.

“Is your father trying to resurrect he-who-shan’t-be-named?” Leshia shook her head.

“No,” she stated firmly, but again the lightning struck and again failed to hit her. “He’s not!” the girl cried out, but the machine lit up her surroundings with sparks. Leshia slumped down furiously; her own uncertain emotions about her father and his part in Voldemort’s downfall and Lucius’ survival were implicating him. It was best not to speak she decided.

“Is your father working together with Lucius Malfoy?” Leshia stayed silent. “Answer the question Miss Malfoy!”

“No!”

“You will answer the question or suffer the consequences!” Tripper growled.

“Fine! I’ll suffer the consequences thanks,” the girl quipped lightly.

“This is your last chance!” Tripper roared in anger. “Either you answer my questions or you will remain here the rest of the night.” Leshia stared into the man’s eyes and finally shook her head; she would not be responsible for her father being thrown into Azkaban. She had already implicated herself, which was bad enough.

“I’ll take the consequences thanks,” she spoke hoarsely. Tripper climbed to his feet suddenly, his chair falling over in his wake. Leshia jumped back in surprise.

“You’re just like your father,” the cruel man whispered bitterly, before he raised his wand to the machine.

Vindico,” he ordered it. The air around Leshia seemed to solidify. In alarm the girl realised she couldn’t move her arms and legs; she was trapped! Above her the machine was gathering sparks until quite suddenly a bolt struck her in the leg. The youngster cried out despite herself. “You were warned. I’ll be back for you later.” With this Tripper stalked from the room leaving Leshia frozen in the prickling light as bolt after bolt struck her arms and legs in cruel punishment.

The girl lost count of how many hours she remained frozen. Tiny holes were starting to form in her jeans and T-shirt where too many sparks had struck her. The pain, though initially had been severe, had now numbed with excessive exposure and now with each blow Leshia’s resolve to find a way to withstand the bully that was Tripper strengthened. She would not run to her father or the headmaster the moment she was free; no, she was going to see this through to the end and plot her own revenge. Besides, the last thing she needed was for her father to duel Tripper, as this would surely be the excuse the cruel stooge needed to throw Draco into Azkaban.

‘I bet that’s why he’s doing this,’ the girl thought to herself in her light-prison. ‘Well it’s not going to work.’

Night fell and still Leshia was given no relief from the constant pain of Tripper’s cruel device. Her stomach was rumbling, which could only mean that dinner had long since passed. The cruel teacher’s words lingered in Leshia’s mind. He had said she would have to stay all night, which could only mean she had many more hours of torture. Fitful sleep started claiming the girl in between shocks until finally she fell into a deeper sleep undisturbed by the pain.

“Wake up!” Leshia’s eyes shot open. The device no longer held her, so quite suddenly she jumped to her feet and backed away from Silas Tripper, sat once more behind his desk. “Leave.”

The girl didn’t need telling twice and within seconds she was out in the corridor, sprinting back towards Gryffindor Tower with heavy bruised legs. The castle was darker than she had seen it in a long time and every corridor Leshia turned down was deserted. It was obviously very very late. By the time she reached the fat lady the girl was shaking a little with emotion and frustration.

“Toad bogies,” she whispered shakily to the dozing portrait, which dutifully swung forward without even waking up. Leshia clambered inside the hole to find a common room lit only by the embers of a dying fire and a small candle in the corner over by the fourth years’ window box.

“Rodeo?” Leshia whispered in surprise when she saw the room’s only occupant. The boy jumped comically and looked up from his notes, clutching at his chest where his heart lay.

“God Leesh, you’re going to give me a heart attack!” he complained amusedly, but soon the mirth was wiped from his face when he saw the state the girl was in. “What did he do to you? Why are you back so late?” Leshia shook her head and walked stiffly over to the settee in front of the hearth, where uneasily she lowered herself down. Within moments Rodeo was at her side.

“Everything’s messed up Rodes,” the girl finally whispered. Her eyes were growing glassy. “Everything’s completely wrong and I…” She dropped her head, tears rolling down her cheeks. Before the boy knew what she was doing Leshia had wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him firmly, an embrace he quickly returned.

“Did Tripper hurt you?” he asked calmly. Thankfully he couldn’t see Leshia’s wincing face or he would not have believed her lies,

“No, I’m just tired.”

“Leesh I know your life must be totally on its head right now, but…well we’re all here for you you know?”

“I know.”

“And if you want, I’ll take a hit out on Tripper,” the boy added resolutely. Despite herself Leshia laughed shakily and pulled away wiping the tears from her cheeks.

“What’s a hit?”

“Well you know,” Rodeo explained, his expression that of an archetypal ‘tough guy’. “I’ll hire someone to take him out.” This time Leshia’s laugh was a genuine one and she shook her head.

“That’s okay. Tripper’s a small small man Rodes. Whatever he does, I’m not going to let him get to me.”

XXX

Sunday brought very unwelcome questions to Leshia’s door. She couldn’t avoid showing her bruised limbs to her friends as they changed in their dormitory and when Katie and Rachel saw the abuse Tripper had wrought on their friend they were more enraged than Leshia had ever seen them. She had to plead with them not to approach Dumbledore or worse, her father and instead urged them to think of a way to get the cruel teacher back. They understood Leshia’s worries; what on earth would Draco do if he found out about the pain Tripper had put Leshia through.

The girls were reluctant to fuel Leshia’s desire for revenge and instead urged her and pleaded with her to stay out of Tripper’s way. They also managed to eventually persuade Leshia to slink down to the hospital wing after dark when the corridors were less busy with nosy people. As usual Madam Pomfry was very good at making Leshia feel very guilty for getting herself injured, but also very good at asking few questions. From experience, the girl knew Pomfry wouldn’t speak of her mysterious injuries; the woman was bound by a type of patient-healer confidentiality that prevented her from telling tales.

Monday brought the most difficult challenges to Leshia’s door: having to come face to face with both her father and Tripper. Defence Against the Dark Arts fell first thing Monday morning and from the moment Leshia avoided her father’s eye in the corridor he suspected something had happened. Throughout the lesson she again avoided looking directly at him to the point that after the bell had gone he called for her to remain behind. She did so exceedingly reluctantly.

“Something’s happened hasn’t it?” Draco asked once the door had gently shut behind Rachel, the last and most unwilling pupil to leave the class. Leshia looked at the floor beneath her father’s feet sulkily.

“What makes you say that?”

“Whenever you can’t meet my eye it means you’re hiding something,” her father replied firmly. “And you haven’t been able to look at me all day.” As though wanting to prove him wrong Leshia looked up sharply, but the moment she met her father’s concerned gaze she averted her eyes again, intently studying the window instead.

“Look it’s nothing you have to worry about dad. I just…”

“Is it to do with Tripper?” Again Leshia met her father’s eyes, finding them narrowed this time in suspicion and dislike. The girl’s hesitation gave it away. “Leshia, what did he do?”

“Nothing!” the girl complained hotly. “You don’t have to fight my battles for me dad! I’m not a little girl anymore.” Draco’s head twitched slightly to the side and in his irritation he pushed himself from the desk he had been leaning on to pace the floor.

“He bullies grown women and grown men too! You don’t have to be a little girl to fall victim to his abuse. I just want to look after you sweetheart.” His tone betrayed more desperation than he had intended and in truth Draco wasn’t surprised when Leshia jumped to her feet, irritated by his words.

“You don’t have to look after me anymore, I’m nearly fifteen,” the girl countered hotly. Draco’s face crumpled in frustrated amusement at her words and in annoyance he lifted his hands to his face eliciting an exasperated noise.

“Fifteen and invincible right?” he asked slightly crueller than he had intended. Leshia stared into her father’s eyes icily before she nodded. With nothing more to say to him the girl slung her satchel over her shoulder and started towards the door.

“Whatever happens,” Draco spoke coarsely. At the door Leshia stopped, her hand inches from the handle. “If you turn out to be human like the rest of us, you know I’d do anything to protect you.” Leshia closed her eyes tightly, before she pushed into the door and into the corridor beyond. As she ran away from her father’s classroom she felt hot tears stinging once more at her eyes. Fearing they were about to start falling she dove into an empty classroom and leaned her head back against the door she had shut behind herself.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she whispered into the gloom.

XXX

In Ancient Runes Leshia managed to hang her head and avoid any more calamities by behaving exceptionally and working very hard. Even Tripper couldn’t fault her efforts, though he did present the whole class at the end of the lesson with a punishment more cruel possibly than the one he had dealt Leshia. The inexperienced teacher set the fourth years a near impossible assignment due in in a week’s time and the threat of removal from his class should they fail to do the work. Though none of them dared complain about the insurmountable task to the teacher himself, the moment the youngsters were out of Tripper’s hearing range they all burst into frantic complaints. Katie arguably worried the most, as with most of her time being consumed by trip meetings, she had very little opportunities for doing homework.

The Ancient Runes pupils commandeered the library from the moment they were released from that lesson and only trip meetings and quidditch practice relieved certain members from their group studying effort. The youngsters had decided as a group to work together. Even Leshia managed to overlook her dislike of Julius Black to cooperate with the boy; the class’ academic futures were at risk and as this was all many of these pupils had, the stakes were high indeed.

By Wednesday Leshia and her friends were losing their wits a little, but thankfully, en-route to the library a happy distraction was about to give them a well-earned rest. Before they could get to the double doors of the library several figures stepped into their path. They were all members of the organisation they had founded in their third year: the Blue Lions.

“Hey guys,” Leshia remarked lightly when the group of Ravenclaws and Gryffindors appeared. “You look like you’re on a mission.”

“We are, sort of,” Gracie Wallice spoke on behalf of the group. “We were wondering if we were going to keep the um, you know, thing going this year.” The girl winked elaborately at the best friends, who backed away a little.

“Are you okay Gracie? You’ve got this twitch…” Rachel began with a wrinkled brow, but Katie quickly silenced her with an elbow to her ribs.

“We hadn’t really thought about it,” the raven-haired girl replied truthfully.

“Maybe we should hold a meeting to talk about it,” Noah Tristan, another Ravenclaw in fourth year, suggested. Leshia glanced from Katie to Rachel and then back at the group in front of them. Finally she shrugged.

“Sounds good, after dinner in the usual spot?” Her proposal was met with approving nods all round. “We’ll try the coins, but just in case, you’d better mention it to everyone you come across okay? We’ll do the same.”

As soon as the trio of friends had made themselves comfortable in the library they turned their thoughts not to their impossible Runes homework, but to the issue of whether or not they ought to continue with regular Blue Lions meetings. There had been a definite need for the meetings the year before due to the continuing threat to life at Hogwarts, but with the Mordgeist had been beaten never to return and aside from the resident Ministry psychopath there was little else threatening the safety of Hogwarts’ students.

Katie surprised her friends by revealing that she did in fact have her Blue Lions coins on her. She used her wand to change the details on the coin, which would trigger a chain reaction in the coins of the other members. It was an idea that they had pilfered from Hermione’s ingenious method of communicating to the organisation of her era, Dumbledore’s Army. The sight of the coin brought back memories of a simpler time for Leshia, which she explained to her friends after they pressured her to explain why she was feeling glum.

“Isn’t that just totally messed up?” Leshia groaned. “That to me the ‘good old days’ was a time when a homicidal monster was trying to kill me.” Rachel sniggered.

“Actually, that sums you up pretty nicely.”

“Cheers,” Leshia grumbled fondly.

“Um guys?” All three girls looked up to find David Sykes, a Ravenclaw member both of the Blue Lions and their impromptu Runes studying sessions, standing over them with raised eyebrows. “I know you’re talking about the um, you know what, but they’re wondering over there if you’ve had a chance to work on section H yet.”

“Oh um, not yet,” Leshia uttered a little embarrassedly. “But we will!” she added when David seemed disappointed. The boy walked away to let the others know and after they had been cast disappointed looks by the very academically minded Runes pupils the three Gryffindor girls turned their attention to their work.

Finally as dinner was looming, the Runes pupils shut their books in favour of sustenance. Being the only Gryffindors who took Ancient Runes the trio of friends were free to run back to their common room venting their frustrations with loud conversations and giggles. Once back at the tower they came across a general throng of their peers moving out towards the Great Hall and after they had struggled through them to drop their satchels in their window box they readily joined the mass exodus.

“We’d better let people know about the meeting,” Leshia whispered to her friends, who nodded decisively. Several of the members were trying to catch their eye as though signifying that they had noticed on their coins that a meeting was to be held, but it couldn’t do any harm to check.

“I’ll go see if those guys got the message,” the blonde girls told the others as she nodded ahead to where Owen Gabriel and his best friends Paul and Dan were sauntering with a swagger in their steps. No doubt the giggling girls behind them had something to do with their bravado. Leshia fought the urge to roll her eyes in amusement.

“We’ll go see about them,” Rachel agreed, heading off in the other direction to confront her fifth year cousins Sarah and Amy. Katie chose to alert Tom and Luke.

“Hey, can I have a word,” Leshia called out to Owen and his friends as she suddenly appeared at their sides. They turned to look at her with matching curious expressions.

“Shorty! We thought you’d dropped off the face of the earth,” the tall keeper remarked cheerfully.

“Very nearly, but not quite,” the girl countered cheerfully and beckoned the young men away from the crowd with her raised eyebrows. After glancing to one another and then at the disappointed gaggle of girls in their wake they followed.

“Something the matter?” Owen asked once they’d reached a relatively quiet part of the corridor.

“I was just wondering if you guys checked your coins at all?”

“Coins?”

“Yeah you know, about the you-know-what.”

“Um, no not really.”

“Owen stop playing around! You know what I’m talking about,” Leshia complained. Finally after feigning his bewildered expression a little longer Owen laughed and nodded.

“Yeah we noticed, everyone’s been watching those things since the start of term. About time you called a meeting,” the tall boy explained.

“Yeah well, we’ve had bigger things on our minds,” Leshia countered with a rueful smile.

“We’ll be there okay?” Paul assured Leshia with the usual chilled manner he reserved only for her. There was something about him that the girl had never quite liked, as he was always brusque with her. Most of Owen’s friends in fact seemed a little strange with the girl, though it didn’t often bother her. Now was no different; she had bigger things to worry about.

“Okay cool, well I’ll see you there. You can get back to…” Leshia rolled her hands in the general direction of the giggling throng of girls with a wrinkled brow. “Whatever it was that you were doing.”

“For your information shorty, we were networking,” Owen explained matter-of-factly. Leshia grinned cockily at the boy.

“Right,” she finally uttered drolly. “Well please, don’t let me get in the way.” Her lopsided grin still in place the girl bowed out of their way before turning on heal and running to catch up with her own friends, who had succeeded in passing the message on to the rest of the Gryffindor Lions. They relayed the same information that Owen had; people had been watching their coins for days now waiting for news and everyone seemed relieved that a meeting had been called.

“I hope people aren’t going to report creepy goings on again,” Leshia grumbled as they walked into the Great Hall. “On top of everything else, another spook problem is the last thing we need!”

XXX

The Room of Requirement rose to the occasion as it provided the usual meeting place for the Blue Lions. Once everyone had made themselves comfortable with warm mugs of butterbeer and pumpkin tarts the meeting began. Though everyone had been quite eager to hold the meeting, nobody seemed to have anything untoward to report and it soon became a general consensus that the group should only be summoned if anybody caught wind of any suspicious behaviour or goings on. They all agreed that they shouldn’t disband by any means, but that regular meetings weren’t important this year.

With the issue resolved speedily Leshia, Katie and Rachel had no excuse but to trudge back to the library, along with David Sykes, to attend the frantic Ancient Runes study session that had been reluctantly continuing without them. The atmosphere in the library was dire and reminiscent of the usual pre-exam cramming frenzies that usually graced the library at the very end of the year. Madam Pince was baffled by the sudden intensity at which the fourth years were working, but had surmised from the staff room gossip that the new teacher at school was most likely to blame. If it weren’t for the fact that she’d had to threaten them several times with expulsion from the library for talking in loud and agonised tones then she might have felt sorry for them.

It was a miserable second week back for Tripper’s fourth year pupils and by the weekend they had reached fever pitch over their half finished assignments. Sleep became a thing of the past and the days of ‘dossing about’ had become a mere distant glimmer of a happy memory. Leshia, Katie and Rachel were in over their heads and they knew it.

On Sunday afternoon Katie became the first person to finish followed shortly by Julius Black. They aided their friends as much as they could and soon most of the class were on the home straight. With not much else to be deduced from the heavy rune dictionaries and theory books in the library and wanting to seek out more comfortable environments to write their conclusions the class went their separate ways, looking to one another as though they had just survived a life-or-death catastrophe together, not a mere homework assignment. Katie had to rush off for a pre-dinner trip meeting, as in the morning the international pupils would be arriving, leaving Rachel and Leshia to amble back to Gryffindor Tower in near catatonic states. They were exhausted and far from being on the ball. This was a bad time to ambush them, but unfortunately for Leshia, fate was not smiling on her.

“Leshia!” Both girls froze and slowly turned around to see Draco walking briskly towards them.

“What are you doing here?” Leshia asked sounding far from pleased to see her father. His brow dipped at the girl’s cheek, though he said nothing of it.

“Your mother’s expecting you home for Sunday dinner,” Draco relayed firmly, his tone indicating that argument would not be welcome. Rachel glanced to her friend worriedly, hoping the blonde girl would manage to keep herself out of trouble for long enough to finish their assignment.

“I can’t,” Leshia finally stated simply.

“Why not?” Draco’s grey eyes were slightly frightening, even to Leshia. She could not know how Hermione had feared Leshia’s rejection of her invitation and how seeing this pain and caused Draco such discomfort that he had stormed straight from the kitchen to collect his wayward daughter by force if need be.

“I’ve got work to do.”

“Work that can’t be done at home?” Draco warned. Leshia quickly shook her head.

“No I need Katie,” she lied.

“Nice try sweetheart, but Katie’s in a meeting,” her father quickly pounced. Leshia narrowed her eyes at him slightly, hating for the umpteenth time his knowledge about the goings on at Hogwarts.

“I also need Rachel!” the girl quickly added. At her side the redhead fought her every urge to turn and stick her tongue out at her best friend for well and truly dragging her into the middle of this domestic argument. Draco glanced briefly to his daughter’s friend and then back at Leshia.

“Rachel’s more than welcome to come as well. What are you doing anyway?” Leshia fidgeted slightly on the spot and glanced down at the papers in her ink stained fingers.

“Runes,” she uttered under her breath.

“Excuse me?” Draco leaned in to hear better.

“Ancient Runes,” Leshia repeated louder this time, turning her tired gaze on her father.

“Are you serious? For God’s sake your mother is like the local expert on this stuff,” Draco spoke loudly, his tone indicating that he felt his point had been made and that Leshia would be coming with him. His daughter too, could see she had lost this battle and turned quickly to Rachel, not even masking her pleading expression for her father’s sake.

“Please come,” she begged. Rachel glanced to Draco’s stony face and then back to Leshia’s desperate one. How could she say no to her best friend? But then again, what sort of a madwoman with a death wish would she have to be to say yes to having dinner with the Malfoys?

“Of course I’ll come,” Rachel finally stated firmly.

“Excellent!” Without any further ado Draco led the youngsters away to the chambers he and Hermione had once inhabited. He tried not to feel offended by the fact that his daughter was trying her very hardest to exclude him from the conversation by discussing her assignment in depth with her friend.

The hearth in the once-cosy family chambers had been connected to the Malfoy townhouse in London on the floo network to enable Draco easy access to and from work and using this Draco led the two girls home. Leshia went through first finding a delicious smelling kitchen on the other end. Her mother was bent over a tray of freshly roasted potatoes and though he back was turned Leshia felt her chest tighten at the sight of her. Suddenly coming face to face with her mother after their two week separation without a chance to prepare for it had rather swept away Leshia’s fervent desire to ignore Hermione and all she really wanted was to cross the kitchen and give her mum a big hug.

“Hi mum,” the girl called out quickly, hoping to force away her weak emotions.

“Leshia!” Hermione called out and she spun around with an enormous smile adorning her lovely face. Only the sight of her oldest daughter could have elicited such a smile from the woman. Though she still held a carton of herbs in one hand and a jug in the other Hermione crossed the kitchen and quickly embraced her daughter, who didn’t pull away. “You look exhausted! Are you alright?”

“Mum I’m fine,” Leshia complained amusedly. “We’ve just been working really hard on this assignment. I’ve still got to finish it. Dad said we could do it now…”

“We?” As though in answer of Hermione’s question quite suddenly Rachel appeared in a flurry of green flames. A momentary hurt expression materialised on Hermione’s face, before she pushed it away and bore down on Ron’s daughter.

“Hello darling,” she called out warmly and hugged the girl as tightly as she had hugged her own daughter.

“Hi,” Rachel replied sheepishly. “I hope there’s room for one more, it’s just Leesh and I have been working on…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Hermione assured the girl. “You’re more than welcome at our table any night of the week and you know you are.” Finally as Hermione pulled away from the teenagers the flames burst into life one last time revealing a slightly apprehensive Draco. He glanced from his daughter to his wife as though he had expected to find them in the middle of a catfight. Thankfully this was not the case.

“Can I have my drink now?” he asked his wife amusedly, instantly relaxing when he saw the situation was still amicable. Hermione beamed at her husband and collected a tumbler filled with amber liquid from beside the stove.

“Yes I think so,” she replied happily and passed it to the man of the house. He smiled gratifyingly and dropped down at the table.

“Come on Leesh, let’s get started. I’ve nearly forgotten everything Katie dictated to us,” Rachel urged quickly, before she dropped down her stuff at the other end of the table and sat down. Though her parents were watching her every move, Leshia quickly joined her friend and both girls took out their long parchments to write their conclusions.

“Can I get you girls a drink?” Hermione suggested. She was in her element and seeing her so pleased made Draco smile amusedly. He only hoped she would be this happy later on after Leshia had gone home for the night. Hopefully the youngster wouldn’t give her mother another reason to fall asleep crying silently in her pillow.

“Yes please!” both girls replied eagerly and were soon enjoying a cocktail style juice drink complete with straws and little umbrellas. Leshia rolled her eyes almost fondly at the concoction while Rachel beamed at Hermione when the drink was placed down in front of her.

“If only we could get this sort of treatment in the library,” she mused wistfully. “I think I’d be the school’s biggest swot if we did.” Leshia snorted despite herself and shook her head.

“You’d still have to fight Katie for that title,” she laughed happily.

“True, that cousin of mine is scarily nerdy.” The girls exchanged a fond grin before they turned back on their work. Their conclusions were soon complete and just in time for dinner to be served. Hermione had just about finished laying the table when both girls dropped their quills as one and lifted up their creations.

“At last!” Rachel crowed. “It’s dead!”

“Don’t say that, not after we spent a week working our fingers to the bone…” Leshia began grimly.

“Good grief!” Both girls spun around quickly to see Hermione staring over their shoulders in complete shock at their assignments, an enormous platter in her hands. “What on earth has that man set you?” Without asking she snatched Leshia’s parchment from her hands after quickly placing the platter on the table and scanned down the enormous roll with expert eyes. She seemed flabbergasted and after glancing to Rachel’s to confirm what Tripper had asked the youngsters to do she turned her wide eyes on Draco. “He’s out of his mind!” she exclaimed.

“Hermione,” Draco warned simply, nodding his head to his surprised daughter and her friend; now was not a good time to have a rant about Tripper’s teaching methods. As though remembering the girls’ presence Hermione looked down at them sharply, her face crumbling in sympathy.

“This project,” she began slowly. “This project is meant to be set in the last term and it’s meant to take the whole term. Did he ask you to do this in a week?” Leshia and Rachel looked to one another in shock, but both nodded slowly.

“Threatened to chuck us out if we didn’t do it was more like it,” Rachel concluded. Hermione’s eyes went wider still, though neither girl had felt this were possible.

“Um mum, there’s smoke coming out of the oven,” Leshia quickly pointed out, hoping to find a way to distract her mother’s attention from their Runes lessons. Talk of Tripper made her very awkward as whenever the man’s name was mentioned Draco turned his eyes on her, as though he were trying to read her mind. If he ever found out about what Tripper had done…

“Oh no!” Hermione wailed and thankfully she handed Leshia’s parchment back to her before she charged across the kitchen to deal with the burning roast chicken. Thankfully it wasn’t too badly damaged and after some careful spell work the four diners were happily enjoying the delicious home cooked roast along with a cheerful banter that warmed the chef’s heart. To see Leshia so at ease and in the presence of her parents was a sight for sore eyes and even though she had to attribute most of this change in her daughter to her delightful redhead friend, Hermione was still grateful for the interaction.

Draco too was thankful that Rachel had come. The mere presence of the girl had relaxed Leshia to a semblance of the adoring daughter she had once been and more than once she had shared a smile with her parents and spoken to them about an amusing anecdote from the castle. Insightful though her parents were, but Leshia knew in herself that her contentment at the dinner table could not entirely be attributed to Rachel’s catalytic effect. She was genuinely happy to be home and spend this time with her parents.

“So basically,” Leshia concluded, finishing a long discussion about those who had been chosen for the trip. “We’re both really happy we got kicked off the list before they could draw the names. I mean almost all the school’s most annoying people are going and there’s a chance we could have ended up with one of them so, well, we’re just pretty happy we’re not going.”

All lies of course and Draco and Hermione knew it, but just the mere fact that Leshia was happily talking to them again meant they wouldn’t challenge a word that came out of her mouth.

“How’s Katie feeling about meeting her partner tomorrow?” Hermione asked curiously once a pleasant silence had taken hold.

“She’s terrified!” Rachel sniggered.

“Yeah, but Katie’s always terrified. She’d run away from her shadow if she could,” Leshia added amusedly.

“She’ll like who we’ve put her with,” Hermione continued serenely and enjoyed the moment of complete shock on the girls’ faces.

“What do you mean ‘we’? Mum did you help plan this thing or something?” Leshia exclaimed in surprise while Rachel simultaneously asked,

“Who’s she with? Where are they from?” Hermione grinned at Draco who shook his head, as though to tell her she’d said too much.

“I can’t tell you much, but yes, I was approached to help team up the pupils. I’ve taught at Hogwarts and at the Americas Institute and I’ve also visited some of the other schools to give guest lectures so Albus called in my help to assign partners.”

“When was this?” Leshia asked curiously and silently added, ‘And how come no one told me?’ though to this of course, she knew the answer.

“Only last weekend, after the lottery,” her mother replied.

“Will we like this other girl?” Rachel asked hopefully. “Because it’s all well and good making her like Katie, but we only put up with her because she’s family.” Though Leshia laughed heartily at the joke Rachel kept her eyes on Hermione, still wanting to know the answer to her question. Hermione smiled fondly at Ron’s daughter and nodded.

“I daresay you’ll like her. She’s a sweet girl and you’ll probably scare her to death with your antics, but she’s very very very kind.” Rachel and Leshia glanced to one another with their eyebrows raised.

“Oh, she sounds like a swot,” Leshia uttered under her breath.

“Sweetheart just because someone doesn’t stick their neck out for every hair-brained scheme that comes along doesn’t automatically make them a swot,” Draco remarked amusedly.

“Well it doesn’t make them a Gryffindor though either does it?” Leshia countered. Her father smiled and shrugged.

“Bravery and foolishness are two very different things.”

“Only if it goes wrong,” the blonde girl stated wisely. Hermione wrinkled her brow, while her father smiled genuinely with pride; Leshia was turning out to be insightful now she was growing a little older, which was always pleasing to see.

“Excuse me?” Hermione asked.

“Well think about it, people only ever say someone was being foolish when they act bravely and it goes wrong. If you get it right then people always say you were brave, because you got it right. Do you get it?” The intelligent wanted dearly to shake her head, as quite frankly her daughter’s logic was a little confusing, but she did see a semblance of a point in the girl’s rambling and was about to nod were it not for the sudden bawling that erupted upstairs.

Everyone at the table froze as Evie’s cries reminded them all of the unmentioned tiny fifth person in the house. Hermione and Draco looked to one another, before finally the mother climbed to her feet and after smiling apologetically at the girls bustled out to attend to her youngest daughter. Leshia watched her mother go with a wounded look.

“Well what if someone gets it right by accident?” Rachel spoke up loudly, her expression slightly urgent, as though she wanted more than anything to claw the old Leshia back to the table. Draco looked to the redhead girl with a genuine smile, thanking her silently for her efforts. Leshia turned quickly and stared at her friend looking puzzled.

“How?”

“Well if you are actually being foolish, but get it right by mistake. How does that fit in to your theory?” The blonde girl wrinkled her brow while a lopsided smile grew on her face.

“Ah well that’s neither. That’s just called luck I’m afraid.” As if by magic it was as if Evie had never interrupted the cheerful post dinner conversation.

“Well then you’re the luckiest person I know,” Rachel sniggered, before she braced herself to the playful punch Leshia dealt to her arm.

“Hey! I’m brave. Aren’t I dad?” The girl turned an expectant expression on her father who wanted more than anything to treasure this moment in time. It had been many months since Leshia had sought his assurance and guidance where before it had been a daily occurrence.

“Very brave,” he finally replied fondly and smiled broadly when Leshia beamed at him. “But also incredibly foolish and extraordinarily lucky!” Rachel burst into laughter and was about to continue the joy of ganging up on her best friend when suddenly Hermione bustled into the room with tiny Evie in her arms. The baby looked very pink and distressed.

“Draco Evie’s been sick everywhere. She’s not well!” the mother called to her husband worriedly. Leshia’s smile instantly fell and she climbed to her feet. Her parents hardly noticed; their attention was very much concerned with the crying bundle in Hermione’s arms, which had paused momentarily to make a peculiar sound from deep down within her stomach as though she was about to repeat her performance from upstairs.

Suddenly Leshia darted across the room. In a terrifying vision she foresaw a sight that churned her own stomach. All she wanted to do was to get her assignment as far from her projectile sister as possible.

“Draco what are we going to do?”

“Hermione take her to the bathroom she’s about to be sick!”

“Get her away from our work!”

As though she had been granted a seat to a horrifying drama Rachel watched as the scene in front of her unfolded almost in slow motion. As the three Malfoys all spoke over one another Evie finally expulsed what was left of her own dinner and through a horrifying turn of fortune she had aimed it directly at her older sister, who was still frantically trying to carry her essay to safety.

Even once the baby had resorted back to her tears the four older occupants of the room remained frozen in the horrible moment. Any joy, any semblance of normal life that they had all enjoyed before vanished into thin air. Instead all that remained were Evie’s screams and Leshia’s ruined homework. The blonde girl stared at her work, her face crumpled in complete and utter despair while her shoulders rose and fell silently.

“Leesh,” Rachel spoke finally, her words freeing the Malfoys from their horrified silence.

“Darling,” Hermione tried, but Leshia was backing away from her mother and her sister. Her eyes had now narrowed on the crying baby in such a cruel way that Hermione could barely look. “It was an accident. We can fix it…”

“Do you know how hard I worked on that?” Leshia spoke softly, her voice seeming an octave lower than it normally did. She shook as she spoke. “Tripper was probably going to tear it to pieces anyway. I did not need this! Not today!” Quite suddenly the girl grabbed her satchel and lurched towards the hearth. Hermione was unable to stop her and Draco made no attempt to.

“Leshia please! It was an accident, she didn’t mean…” The rest of Hermione’s words were lost though as her oldest daughter disappeared into the green flames of the hearth leaving Rachel awkwardly making her way round the table to collect her own undamaged work. She glanced awkwardly up at Hermione as she made her way round to the hearth.

“Thank you so much for dinner,” she offered quietly and then looked up at Draco. “I’ll um…I’ll see if I can maybe you know, talk to her.” Though the tormented father seemed forlorn he managed a smile at the redhead girl and reached out to squeeze her shoulder.

“Thanks Rachel,” he replied gently. “Goodnight.” As the redhead girl disappeared in the flames she wondered what scared her more; the thought of trying to console Leshia through this latest upset or the fact that Draco had actually showed her affection.

In the kitchen at the Malfoy home Evie’s cries were rising in both volume and anger. The baby was evidently exceedingly annoyed that she felt poorly and felt she had to voice this to everyone in the neighbourhood. Her mother finally pulled herself from her despair and started seeing to her, trying to comfort her while she walked briskly into the kitchen to find a draught that might settle her baby’s stomach. Draco watched his wife and daughter with a detached feeling of emptiness. He couldn’t explain how lonely he now felt without Leshia’s presence making their family…or rather, making his life complete.

“She was herself again,” he finally spoke distantly. “She was finally acting normally.” Hermione almost ignored him, managing only a vague nod in his direction in response. “Hermione are you listening?”

“Hmmm.”

“I think her friends are the key. We have to involve them all because when they’re around our daughter actually lets herself be our daughter again.” Again a silence met Draco’s heartfelt words. To him nothing was more important than restoring his position in Leshia’s life, but it seemed that all that mattered to Hermione at this moment was Evie’s health. It would be unfair of course to suggest that she valued this at the expense of Leshia’s happiness and place in the family, but her instincts were demanding she saw to the most immediate concern, and this was Evie’s condition. Draco however, couldn’t understand this.

“Hermione!” he spoke sharply. “Please listen to me.”

“Draco don’t start this now,” his wife quickly countered him, her voice desperate and worried. “Evie’s sick!”

For a moment Draco was silenced and he looked to his baby’s squirming arms and legs with a forlorn expression. Emotions were tearing him up inside, trying to drag him in all sorts of different directions at once. Yes he was concerned for his younger daughter, but somehow his concerns for Leshia were taking over. Evie would be well again, but Leshia…

“You’re forgetting her Hermione!” he finally spoke darkly. In shock at such a statement his wife spun around to see her husband stalking out of the kitchen.

“Draco come back!” But Draco didn’t come back. For what seemed like the hundredth time since they had come back from Hogwarts at the beginning of the summer Draco locked himself in his study with a bottle of whiskey and an album full of memories. He would drown his sorrows in the pictures of his little girl when she still loved him and wish more than anything that he could turn the clock back.


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