Generations Book 4: Rebel Inside

Chapter 4

Part IV

The quietness of the once Malfoy family chambers broke suddenly with the bright green flames that gave way to an enraged Leshia Malfoy. She couldn’t see straight such was her distress at seeing her homework, the homework she had given her all, destroyed before her very eyes by her. She couldn’t think straight, so there was little chance of her waiting to allow Rachel to catch up. Blindly she stormed out into the corridor and began marching back to Gryffindor Tower. You would have been mad to step into her path; even Tripper wouldn’t have posed Leshia any problem in this mood.

Moments later Rachel emerged in the dark chambers just in time to hear the front door slamming, so quickly she rushed to catch up with her friend. Leshia didn’t slow down when the red-haired girl called after her down the corridor. Instead she sped up meaning Rachel had to run to reach her side before they reached mainstream post-dinner traffic in the corridors.

“Leesh don’t go mental,” the calmer of the two urged worriedly. “Please!”

“I’m not going mental,” her friend countered in that same deep dangerous tone she had spoken in before. The very sound of that un-Leshia voice coming out of her friend’s mouth sent shivers down Rachel’s spine.

“Okay,” she uttered shakily. “Well when you calm down we’ll try and find a way to fix this. I’m sure it’s not ruined.” Leshia shut her eyes tightly and sped up; she would not turn on Rachel, anyone but Rachel and so chose the only other alternative open to her: running away.

In record time the two girls reached the Fat Lady, who opened pretty sharpish when Leshia barked the password at her. The common room was bustling with their hyperactive peers, but they were pretty quick to clear a path for the two fourth-years when they saw Leshia’s murderous expression. Without hindrance the girl reached the stairs and took them two at a time. Before Rachel followed however, she turned and scanned the room for Katie, who was already sat up straight in the window box, a frown adorning her pretty face. The girl on the stairs beckoned her over with an urgent hand movement before she charged after Leshia to make sure the blonde girl wasn’t doing anything stupid.

Predictably, that’s exactly what Leshia was doing.

“Leesh! No don’t do that!” Rachel cried out when she saw her friend about to rip her sodden parchment roll in half. Quickly she darted across the room ignoring the complaints of her full stomach protesting at the sudden movements.

“Why? It’s all ruined isn’t it? Tripper would never take it,” Leshia cried out sounding agonised. It wasn’t clear at this point whether she was very upset or very angry or indeed whether she was crying or not. Rachel didn’t hesitate in pulling the parchment from her friend’s hands and backed away quickly.

“Stop being so stubborn Leshia, you don’t know that yet,” she admonished firmly, before she looked back at the parchment with one raised eyebrow. “Man, how did all this come out of one tiny baby?”

“This is the worst night of my life!” Leshia exclaimed dramatically, before she threw herself face down on her bed and slammed into it with angry fists. Wanting very much to counter this false claim, Rachel instead waited patiently for Katie to arrive in the full hope that her clever cousin would know what to do. Fast footfalls on the steps outside preceded Katie’s hurried entry.

“Where have you two been?” she panted once she fell inside the door. “We were all looking for…oh my God! What happened?” The girl had now seen Leshia’s ruined homework.

“Evie puked on Leshia’s homework,” Rachel explained calmly while on the bed Leshia made a screech like sound in anger. Katie’s brow furrowed so much her eyebrows nearly met in the middle.

“Evie?” she finally managed. “Evie who…no! You went to Leshia’s house?”

“Look we can tell you all about that later, but for now can you fix this? Please?” Rachel seemed desperate and as she spoke she shook the parchment in Katie’s direction. The raven-haired girl stared at it for a moment, her gaze slightly distant as she evidently sought her vast memory banks for a spell that might help. Finally it seemed she had the solution.

“Right, give it here,” she instructed stiffly. Rachel quickly complied and watched while her cousin took the scroll in one hand and pointed her wand at it with the other.

Scourgify,” the bespectacled girl whispered optimistically, as though she were desperately hoping she wouldn’t make the situation worse. Amazingly though, she had picked just the right spell and slowly the putrid sogginess seemed to drift towards the tip of her wand until finally the parchment lay as dry as it had been before the incident.

Hesitantly Katie pulled her wand away while both cousins inspected the homework incredulously turning it slowly in their hands. When it didn’t in fact fall to pieces, burst into flames or something equally so atrocious Rachel looked up at her cousin seeming more proud of the girl than she’d ever been.

“Katie! You’re bloody amazing mate!” Leshia, who had of course been listening to their every sound and movement looked up sharply to see the cousins grinning at one another over the fixed parchment. Instantly she was on her knees, her red face now arranged in delighted shock.

“You never. Katie! I love you!” Suddenly the girl had jumped from her bed and swept her raven-haired friend up in an enormous embrace. She was hugging Katie so tightly the taller girl actually uttered a soft pained sound.

“Okay Leesh, you can let me go now. Seriously you’re hurting me.”

“I don’t care! I want to hug you all night. You’re bloody brilliant.”

“Look just put this away before something else happens to it,” Rachel now spoke up amusedly. At these wise words Leshia finally let their friend go with one last grateful smile, before she took her homework scroll and placed it delicately in her bag, a goofy smile on her face.

“Where did you learn that?” the redhead was asking her cousin curiously. Katie grinned and wandered over to the window seat next to her bed.

“Well remember Ryan Lofting’s girlfriend Amy?” Rachel and Leshia, who had now joined the other two, nodded quickly. “She used to be amazing at household spells. That night of our Halloween bash in second year she used that spell to clean everything. I just remembered that even though the carpets had been all wet and sticky with pumpkin juice and butterbeer and stuff, after she did that spell they were bone dry and stain free. I think the spell sucks up any dirt or liquid. Now will one of you tell me what you were doing at Leshia’s house and why I wasn’t invited?”

Rachel and Leshia grinned to one another, before they made themselves comfortable on the soft rug beside Katie’s bed using it as a backrest. They both explained the story, Leshia highlighting how they’d had no choice and Rachel highlighting how good a time they had had. One part of their story particularly caught Katie’s unwavering attention.

“Your mum picked who my partner is?” she interrupted fervently.

“That’s what she said,” Leshia shrugged. “She didn’t tell us much about the girl.”

“Where’s she from?”

“We don’t know,” Rachel answered.

“But she did say that she’s really sweet and really nice and not really up for big adventures. She sounded like she knew her pretty well, so I’m guessing she’s one of my mum’s old pupils from the Americas Institute.”

“Well if she’s our age though, your mum wouldn’t have taught her too long, only a few terms,” Katie countered worriedly. At this mention of tomorrow’s impending events she had become very nervous.

“My mum once told me they start at nine at the Americas Institute, so if this girl is our age she would have known my mum a few years. Do you remember how well Julia and Carmen knew her and they were our age?” At the memory of the two girls who had briefly shared their dormitory during the international quidditch event of their third year, who had indeed known Hermione very well, Katie nodded slowly.

“So my partner probably is from the Americas Institute?” she finally spoke slowly. Leshia and Rachel both nodded. “So I’ll be going to South America next term?”

The three friends looked to each other with wide eyes; they hadn’t quite pieced it together yet in reverse, but now Katie had said it out loud the fact that one of them would quite soon be very far away humbled them all into silence. Finally Rachel nodded.

“Yeah, I guess so. How do you feel about that?” A tiny smile wormed its way onto Katie’s face.

“To be honest that was one of the places I was most keen to go.”

“So this is good then?” Leshia now spoke cautiously. Katie’s smile grew.

“Very good.”

“Agh I can’t believe you’re going on an amazing adventure and we have to stay here in the cold and the rain!” Rachel suddenly burst out enthusiastically, an enormous beaming smile on her face. “You’re so lucky!” The three girls lost themselves a little to the moment and energetically celebrated Katie’s good fortune.

“It’s not lucky,” Katie countered once they’d calmed down a little. “I was perfectly behaved.”

“You’re always perfectly behaved,” Leshia sniggered. “How many times have you had detention, like twice in your life? And I bet those times it was our fault.”

“You’re right; on both points,” Katie replied smugly. Suddenly though, her smile wavered. “Do you think she’ll like me?”

“Katie!” Leshia spoke loudly and firmly as she climbed to her feet. Before she spoke again she dropped down next to her friend and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “How could anyone not like you? You’re amazing!”

XXX

Katie’s fears certainly didn’t dissipate with Leshia’s heartfelt words of assurance. All night she lay tossing and turning in a state of restlessness wondering what her new exchange partner was going to be like. The last girls she had met from the Americas Institute had been absolutely lovely and if Hermione was sure she and her partner would get on then surely there was nothing to worry about? Unfortunately for Katie, fabricating things to feel insecure about was inherent in her worrisome nature.

Monday morning the girl was absolutely exhausted and yet wide-awake and on edge at the slightest noise. Her friends didn’t fail to notice and spent breakfast trying to cheer the raven-haired girl up to no avail.

“Look Kate, if you’re not going to smile can you at least stop twitching so much?” Rachel told her cousin on their way to Defence Against the Dark Arts, instead turning to teasing the girl in order to get her to start acting normally. “You look like you’ve got rabies or something.”

“That’s when you froth at the mouth you idiot,” Leshia countered gleefully.

“Well it’s weird whatever you want to call it.”

You’re weird,” the blonde girl uttered under her breath, a big lopsided smile on her face.

“You know, if we weren’t going to Defence Against the Dark Arts then I’d pummel you Malfoy.” Leshia laughed heartily at Rachel’s ‘tough guy’ impression.

“Why should it be any different because we’re going to Defence Against the Dark Arts?” Rachel gave the girl a significant look.

“Did you forget about what happened last night?”

“No, but it’s no big deal thanks to your amazing brilliant absolutely fantastic cousin here!” Leshia slung her arm around Katie’s shoulders and squeezed her tightly. Her gratitude for Katie’s quick thinking and homework-restoring capabilities hadn’t diminished overnight.

“You still have to face your dad.”

“Rachel thanks for the concern,” Leshia spoke with forced ease. “But I really don’t think you need to make a big deal out of this. I’m really not worried about meeting my dad.” Though the cousins knew it was all lies they didn’t challenge Leshia on her feelings, letting the girl pretend she wasn’t dreading the next hour where her father would undoubtedly try to push his way back into her life.

Predictably, Draco was on form and from the moment he marched down the corridor inspecting the shirt situation of his first class of the day his eyes lingered on his daughter willing her to look at him, but Leshia was in no mood for cooperating and stared determinedly at her feet until Draco had moved on to let the fourth years into his classroom. Leshia quickly took her seat and busied herself with extricating her book and parchment from her bag until finally her father started speaking to the class.

“Good morning class. I hope you’ve come prepared for our lesson on countering the Balancing Curse by doing the reading I set you over the weekend. This will not be an easy lesson for those who were too lazy to pick up their books.”

Several of the teenagers, those more accustomed to ‘forgetting’ to do their homework, looked to one another with wide eyes. Leshia noticed Parys and Rodeo sat across from her suddenly grow alarmed and quickly she forced herself to suppress the giggle that rose in her throat. When would those two ever learn?

“We will shortly be getting into groups of four to solve a problem involving countercurses you ought to have read about. Now, as I don’t want you to curse each other into the hospital wing, I will be putting you with friends so as to avoid any unnecessary hostile encounters between those of you who can’t seem to see eye to eye.”

Unsurprisingly at this point Draco looked straight into Leshia’s eyes and then across the classroom to where Damian Allseyer was smiling smugly. After his point had been made the teacher walked up to the blackboard and spun it round revealing five groupings of pupils. Leshia was delighted to find she had been placed with Rachel, Rodeo and Parys, but felt a momentary itch of sympathy for Katie, who had been landed with Julius Black, the dreadful Samuel Thomas and a Slytherin girl called Tatiana Zambini who though quiet had quite a sharp tongue. It was an odd grouping and one Katie was evidently not thrilled about. The girl even did a double take when the names appeared on the board.

“Your task,” Draco was continuing, hushing the whispers that had broken out within seconds of their erupting. “Will be to master three effective countercurses, one from each of the Modes of Countercurses as highlighted in your reading. Now this may seem like an easy challenge, however, you have not yet tried the Balancing Curse; this will be your hardest challenge. Now as most of you know, subtle variations in the way the curse is manifested in the victim will require a counter curse from a particular Mode, which is where the problem-solving element comes into play.”

Draco paused and looked over the eager faces of his pupils pausing for an instant on his daughter. For the briefest of moments she was engaged in what he was saying and bright eyed, but as soon as she realised her father had met her eye she scowled and dropped her gaze to her graffiti-covered desk surface. She had no intention of letting him off the hook after the disastrous events of last night.

“Very well,” the teacher called out to the class sounding suddenly invigorated. “All of you get into your groups.” Within seconds the whole class had risen and managed to suppress their surprised utterances when the desks they had been occupying came alive to shoot across the room and line the wall allowing room for a series of padded mats that materialised in their place.

“Come on Leesh, Rodes and Parys are waiting,” Rachel nudged her friend excitedly and quickly the girls joined their friends in the corner by a particularly cushy looking mat.

“Right then who’s going first?” Parys spoke jubilantly, clapping his hands together in excitement. Leshia snorted.

“Well considering Rachel and I are the only ones who actually read up on how to perform the countercurse I’m thinking it ought to be the pair of you.”

“Too right,” Rachel cheered in triumph. “I’m not getting stuck falling on my ear all day.”

“Ah come on, it’s not our fault we’ve got hectic social lives,” Rodeo grumbled.

“Excuses, excuses. Onto the mat, or do you want us to curse you where you’re standing?” At the redhead’s warning the boys quickly darted onto the mat having no desire to fall flat on their faces on the slate tiles they had been occupying a moment ago. Rachel grinned mischievously at Leshia who raised her wand in unison with her best friend.

“Right, on three?” she suggested cheerfully. “One, two, three…”

Corripio pondera!” Parys, who had for a moment shut his eyes tightly, opened one of them to a crack.

“Is that it?” he sniggered in relief. Leshia and Rachel looked to one another in confusion.

“Maybe there’s something wrong with our wands?” the shorter girl suggested and after shaking her wand thoroughly she tried again to no avail. Leshia wasn’t used to failing when she put her mind to it and miserably she dropped her wand hand.

“Here let us try,” Rodeo suggested and he stepped forward, but quickly jumped back when both girls’ wand hands snapped back into place while they countered in unison,

“No!”

“Look let’s try it again, but this time really concentrate,” Rachel instructed eliciting a grumpy sigh from her friend.

“That’s what I was doing the last time.”

“Get on with it,” Parys goaded the girls with the cocky smile of a boy who believed himself to have dodged the bullet. “We haven’t got all day.” Rachel scowled at him and tried several times in quick succession to get the spell to work. All around them in the classroom the pupils of Gryffindor and Slytherin were experiencing similar results while they tried to curse their best friends into a disoriented stupor.

After looking around herself and taking a few steps to the side to avoid Rachel’s out-of-control wand hand Leshia lifted her own and closed her eyes. With her face set in concentration she thought very hard of what it felt like to be controlled by the curse, to feel as though the world had suddenly turned on its side, to feel as though everything was spinning and no matter what she tried to do she couldn’t force herself to stand up. Slowly she spoke the words and pictured her discomfort transferred onto the boy stood before her on the mat mocking her…

“What the hell?” Leshia’s eyes snapped open to find Parys had fallen onto his side, a strange sickly expression on his face. “I did it!” Leshia glanced up at Rachel, who was grinning triumphantly.

“Well undo it, he’s going to be sick!” Rodeo complained urgently, dropping down into as crouch beside his convulsing friend. Rachel hopped up and down uncertainly.

“I can’t remember any of the countercurses…”

“Reddo, reddo!” Leshia insisted, feeling a deep sense of alarm building inside of her. She knew Rachel hadn’t been the one to curse poor Parys…that was her doing and the knowledge that she had hurt her friend was off-putting to say the least. His experience with the curse seemed to far outweigh her own in terms of unpleasantness, but how had she mustered such a curse?

“Oh yeah. Reddo pondera! Reddo pondera!” But try as she might, Rachel couldn’t seem to restore Parys’ senses. Everyone in the class had stopped to stare, some in abject horror and others, namely from the snake house, in mirth. Only one person approached the group in the corner, his face arranged in a peculiar expression. Draco Malfoy was unreadable at the best of times, but right now in this tense situation he seemed afraid, impressed and thunderous all in one.

“Rachel! He’s going green!” Rodeo warned the redhead in annoyance.

“I can’t help it, it’s just not working.” Down on the floor Parys was trying to climb to his feet, his eyes roving over his friends until finally he met Leshia’s gaze. A shiver of worry shot down Leshia’s spine and quite suddenly she found she had raised her wand and uttered the words,

Reddo pondera.” She had wished so hard to retract the curse she had cast that when Parys fell still on the ground she couldn’t quite believe it had worked. Rodeo instantly reached out to steady his friend on the mat.

“Mate are you alright?” A moment of silence passed, until finally Parys cleared his throat and slowly clambered onto his knees.

“I think I’m going to chuck up,” he managed uncertainly, before he looked up at Leshia with a peculiar expression. “You did that didn’t you?” Everyone in the class now looked at the blonde girl, who took a step back. She fought for a few moments to express herself, before finally she nodded dolefully.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do it so…well so powerfully.”

“Hang on, I though I cursed you?” Rachel countered sounding out of the loop. “Didn’t I?”

“It was as though you said the words inside my mind,” Parys told the blonde girl, completely ignoring her confused friend. “It was really weird.”

“Parys I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the boy managed shakily and after inhaling deeply he clambered unsurely to his feet. “Just um, just don’t do it again.”

“All right everyone, back to work,” Draco finally called loudly over the class. Reluctantly the fourth years obeyed leaving the teacher staring at the stunned group in the corner with a deep frown set into his forehead. Across the classroom the second successful curse of the afternoon was made when Katie gave Julius Black a mild headache that sent him slightly off balance. While she uttered the correct countercurse Draco approached his daughter. She knew he was behind her by the looks on her friends’ faces and after arranging her own into a defiant expression she spun around.

“I…” she began defensively.

“May I have a word with you?” Draco spoke before his daughter could object. Leshia shut her mouth promptly and wriggled a little, before finally nodding and conceding defeat. She followed her father up the steps at the back of the classroom to his office where Draco left the door open and wandered in. After casting her whispering friends an agonised look Leshia followed her father inside.

“Look I don’t know what…”

“Do you know that the worst a witch of your training ought to be able to deliver with the Balancing Curse is a queasy stomach and maybe a slight stumble?” Draco cut the girl short before she could explode into a teenage tirade. Leshia shut her mouth promptly and narrowed her eyes at her father, suspecting foul play. “I’m deadly serious. What you just did…and for him to hear you…Leshia what just happened?”

“I don’t know. I just remembered how it felt to be under that curse I guess. I really didn’t mean to hurt him, but he was being so irritating and I…” the girl trailed off and hung her head. Her father was watching her deep in thought, unsure of what to make of this peculiar turn of events. Leshia was talented to be sure, but within the bounds of normal development. This sudden prodigal usage of an advanced curse was certainly not a feat Draco felt her capable and therefore he felt doubly alarmed yet also intrigued by how she had carried it off. More alarming however, was the prospect of word of this getting out and reaching the wrong ears. If Silas Tripper heard about Leshia’s sudden dab hand with curses he would see to it the girl was dragged before an inquisitorial squad.

“Perhaps you ought to leave the cursing part of today’s lesson up to the others,” he finally spoke.

“Dad did I do something wrong?” For the first time in a long time Leshia sounded vulnerable and this about change in personality soothed Draco’s nerves instantly.

“No don’t think of it like that. You just surprised me that’s all.”

“But the way you were looking at me…”

“Leshia I won’t lie to you, I was surprised and a little worried that you could pull off such advanced dark magic.”

Dark magic?” Leshia suddenly jumped back, her eyes wide in alarm.

“Leshia sweetheart calm down,” Draco quickly countered reaching out to grab his daughter’s flapping hands. “You cursed him. Of course that’s dark magic. That doesn’t make you dark though. I don’t want you to worry or go off on one okay? Just…just don’t worry. You’re not me.” For a moment Leshia caught her father’s creased gaze and she felt an ache swell in the pit of her stomach. Slowly she nodded and pulled her hands away from him.

“Can I go back to class now?” she asked softly.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Draco didn’t believe his daughter, but nodded all the same.

“Of course,” he sighed. Within seconds the girl was gone from his side and heading towards the door to the study. “Oh and Leshia?”

“Yeah?”

“How’s your essay?” For a moment Leshia considered dragging it out and torturing her father with the prospect that it had been ruined. In her mind he deserved to know the pain the birth of her sister had out her through, but seeing him now frowning in concern she couldn’t muster the cruelty to inflict such lies on him.

“It’s fine. Katie scorgified it. Good as new!” With this she was gone, hurrying down the steps to find that Rodeo had successfully cursed Rachel and both boys were enjoying the redhead’s complaints that she was suddenly very seasick.

XXX

Leshia was the talk of the class for the rest of Defence Against the Dark Arts and then all the way through Potions. Miraculously for the first time in her history at Hogwarts Leshia escaped punishment under Snape’s watch while all her friends and peers landed themselves extra homework and some even detentions. The hook-nosed teacher could guess the girl had done something extraordinary to incur the gossip of the fourth year Gryffindors, but had no just cause to punish the quiet Malfoy girl. As the teenagers sloped off for break he watched the girl leave with a peculiar itch at the back of his mind. Something wasn’t right with that child.

Leshia remained out of sorts during break and aside from incessantly apologising to an entirely recovered Parys she spoke very little and thought a great deal. Her father had said she had performed very dark magic, but that that didn’t mean she was dark herself. How could that be though? How could one be capable of performing advanced dark magic without they themselves being a dark witch or wizard? Leshia’s mind wandered to the time she had overheard Harry Potter admit to his wife that the Order of the Phoenix were watching her…that they suspected her of having dark affiliations. What if they were right? Maybe she deserved their stigma?

For the first time in a very long time the blonde girl stayed awake throughout History of Magic, though she listened to not a word the ghost professor spoke and stared out the window the entire time, her mind very much engaged elsewhere. Katie was the only one of her friends awake and though she was conscious of the fact that Leshia was floundering she couldn’t help but feel very self-involved with the fact that in less than an hour the exchange pupils would be arriving.

‘I hope she likes me,’ the raven-haired girl thought fervently as the bell rang signifying it was time to move on to Ancient Runes, her last lesson of the day. The trio of friends were very subdued as they ambled along the corridor to the Runes classroom, each with a very different reason for being so. Rachel felt very hard done by to have her best friends grow so quiet.

“Would you two snap out of it!” she finally grumbled, eliciting two wide-eyed stares from her friends. “Leshia, yes you performed a pretty wicked curse on Parys that the rest of us could only dream about, but that doesn’t make you an evil freak! And you Katie are going to become best friends with your exchange person, so stop fretting about whether she’ll like you or not!” For a moment Leshia and Katie smirked at one another. “Now can we stop moping around in silence please? It’s bad enough that we won’t get to talk for an hour in runes, let alone with the pair of you starting now.”

“You’re right,” Katie finally spoke resolutely. “Leesh nobody thinks you’re a freak by the way.”

“I do,” Rachel piped up cheerfully, before she dodged Katie’s well-aimed slap.

“Yes well you don’t count,” the raven-haired girl chided her cousin.

“Say what time do all you exchangers get to bunk off class then?” Leshia asked loudly, hoping to ebb Katie’s sudden desire to console her. The last thing she wanted right now was pity.

“We’re not bunking off!”

“Well whatever you want to call it, what time?”

“After half an hour, midway through,” Katie explained with a nervous shiver.

“Well good luck getting Tripper to let you go is all I’ll say,” the blonde haired girl remarked lightly. “Knowing him he’ll make a big fuss.”

“Knowing him he’ll make you jump through burning rings of fire to get out the door more like,” Rachel countered cheerily. Katie grinned and dodged round Leshia to deliver a clap to the back of Rachel’s head, but the youngest of the trio was swift on her feet and skirted round Leshia as though she were a protective barrier.

“Look don’t drag me into the middle of this,” the blonde girl laughed and when she was sure Rachel had let her guard down she ducked out of the way to allow Katie to pummel her cousin.

“Malfoy!” the redhead complained between Katie’s attacks. “You sell-out!”

Leshia’s laughter rang out down the corridor and by the time the trio reached the Runes classroom they found their peers looking in their direction with amused expressions. Their classmates were of a more studious disposition, but never failed to find amusement in the antics of the hyperactive Gryffindors. Today was no exception and once the three girls had joined the back of the queue a shy smiling Hufflepuff girl who went by the name Francesca Littlewood shuffled over to their side.

“Hi Katie,” she spoke softly.

“His Francesca.” Katie had only really met this girl through their exchange trip meetings and could guess this was why she was now being approached by the painfully shy teenager. “Are you excited?”

While the pair of them spun off into a subdued conversation Leshia rolled her eyes and feigned a bored rigid expression that had Rachel sniggering. They were feeling anxious on Katie’s behalf, but would never admit it to the girl, or even to each other. As a result they were both restless and stupidly, considering the lesson they were about to go into, a lot louder and chattier than normal.

By the time Silas Tripper had flung the door to his classroom open expelling terrified third years into the corridor by the drove-load Leshia and Rachel were in the middle of an animated conversation they were loathe to abandon, but as soon as they crossed the threshold and parted ways to their separate desks they sobered up. How could they not when faced with the bitter-scarred face of Professor Tripper.

“Essays!” the mean young man demanded shrilly once every fourth year had taken their seats. Leshia quickly ruffled inside her satchel and retrieved her pristine essay, feeling reluctant to hand it over to a man who would no doubt pick it to pieces despite her hard work. Against her wishes though, the essay flew from her hand the moment she revealed it and she had to watch it fall into a pile with the others on Tripper’s messy desk.

“No don’t take out your books,” the unpredictable teacher complained hoarsely when his pupils started unloading their satchels. “Today’s lesson is a practical one, you won’t be needing them. Put them away.”

Despite herself Leshia perked up with interest. Any excuse to get out from under Tripper’s nose at the front of the classroom was a grand idea in her view.

“You will notice the rune stones laid out along the sides of the classroom. In a moment you will be studying them in order to tell me which Rune Family they belong to. You will have to make notes and any attempt at cheating or sharing information will land you directly in detention, is that understood? By the end of the lesson I will mark your parchments and this grade will go towards your final year mark.”

Leshia fought the urge to groan as Tripper’s eyes fell onto her. So he was setting them a surprise test that counted towards their end of year mark was he? And before he had even taught them anything to boot.

‘You’re a filthy pile of cow dung, you know that scarface?’ the girl thought to herself cheerfully as she met the teacher’s cruel eyes. He had no idea what insult she had just devised for him and continued to the class.

“I will expect detailed rationales for your assumptions, so do not think you can go from one to the next guessing at what you think it might be and let that be the end of it.” The teacher paused while each pupil in the class hung on his every word. “Well go on then, get to it!”

Leshia was on her feet within moments and scrambled to get to the back of the class where Rachel and Katie had already gathered. Without a word they exchanged a grim expression, before they turned on the impossible-to-decipher weathered rune stones to begin their more-than-impossible task.

Despite the difficulty of the task Leshia became quite engrossed, finding herself more knowledgeable on the different rune families than she had realised. Half way through the lesson she was well on her way to identifying most of the stones, finding only the smooth one by the door with a single notch in it impossible to classify. She was sure it was just a paperweight the teacher had slipped in by mistake not realising the difference, but daren’t bring it up lest she find herself out on her ear.

With her quill between her teeth in concentration Leshia leant her chin on her arms and stared at the stone, willing it to make sense, when suddenly she heard Katie clear her voice. Without hesitation she spun around to see Tripper staring at her friend with narrowed eyes.

“Yes Miss Potter?”

“Um sir, it’s time for the exchange people to go down to the hall now,” the raven-haired girl spoke shakily. Tripper’s gaze narrowed more and he glanced to the clock at the back of the room.

I will say when it is time to go Miss Potter. Now get back to work.” Leshia winced and tried to catch Katie’s attention with a swift shake of her quill; now wasn’t the time to engage the scarred man in battle, the blonde girl thought grimly.

“But sir,” Katie continued nonetheless, not heeding the warnings from her friends and classmates. “We’ve been given permission to go sir.”

“You have not!” Tripper snapped back loudly. “I will give you permission! Now unless you want to find yourself in detention I would get back to my work if I were you Miss Potter.”

“Sir we have been given permission,” Katie continued; she seemed close to tears and despite her instincts trying to keep herself rooted to the spot Leshia found herself drifting over to her friend’s side.

“By whom?” Tripper demanded.

“By Professor Dumbledore sir.” Katie spun around to find Leshia right behind her speaking clearly and meeting Tripper’s furious gaze. “We were all told yesterday over dinner that the exchange pupils would be excused from lessons to go and meet their guests in the hall. Weren’t you listening sir?” This added impertinence Leshia could concede was a stupid decision, but it felt so good to rile the scarred man up, especially when he opened and shut his mouth going as red as a berry unable to think of a way to respond.

“Malfoy return to your work!” the teacher finally managed sounding beside himself. “Everyone else, get back to your work! The three of you who have been…given permission…to leave my lesson get out and leave your parchments on my desk.” Without needing to be told twice the class burst into action. As Katie filed after Julius Black and Francesca Littlewood into the corridor she turned to catch Leshia’s eye, smiling so sincerely in thanks that her eyes turned a little glassy. Leshia rolled her eyes and nodded her head upwards to insist that Katie make a move on before Tripper changed his mind.

Leshia manoeuvred herself out of the teacher’s glare and quickly sidled up to Rachel at the back of the class, shielded by most of their peers.

“You’re mad you are,” the redhead whispered ever so quietly.

“He was about to make Katie cry, what could I do?”

“Um, how about not walk right up to the hungry wolf and climb into bed with grandma?” Leshia wrinkled her brow.

“Too many fairy tales Rach.”

“Yeah well I can’t help it, ever since mum left I’ve been stuck reading to the younger ones haven’t I? Matthew’s favourite is Little Red Riding Hood.”

“Yeah right. That’s what they all say.”

“If I hear talking you can rest assured that whoever is responsible will not be getting any sleep tonight!” Tripper’s voice rang out silencing the friends’ whispers. They worked for a little in silence, meandering through their classmates, feeling peculiar at the absence of the third member of their trio. When finally they met again they’d reached the smooth stone that could not be classified.

“I bet this is a giant’s marble or something,” Rachel grumbled in a whisper, prodding the stone unceremoniously with her quill. Leshia grinned and nodded.

“Probably, or a dragon’s bogey.”

“Yuck!”

“It’s weird isn’t it? Without Katie I mean.” Rachel met Leshia’s eye for a moment before she nodded soberly.

“Yeah it is.”

“I mean I never really thought about the fact that she’d actually be going…I don’t like it.”

“No me either.”

“She’s always been there and then suddenly to have her half way across the world, well…”

“Malfoy! Weasley!” The two best friends nearly jumped out of their skin and spun round to see Tripper standing right behind them. “Both of you detention after dinner!” Leshia fought the urge to roll her eyes as Tripper reached out and wrenched her to her feet from under her arm, marching her clean across the class from her friend. “If I see the pair of you together for the remainder of the class then you can both write off your plans for the rest of the week.”

As soon as the sulking teacher had returned to his work at his desk Leshia met Rachel’s eye and despite the prospect of their unpleasant after-dinner arrangements the two friends burst into giggles.

XXX

Katie hurried down into the entrance hall with Julius and Francesca in close pursuit. They hadn’t really spoken on their way down, just to agree that Leshia was possibly the most foolhardy, yet bravest person they had ever met. Well, Julius Black hadn’t exactly used those words, but Katie knew him to be thinking the same as she and Francesca. Once they arrived at the great hall they found it to be awash with lots of new and interesting faces. The raven-haired girl didn’t know where to look first and found herself merely following Julius Black as he led the way towards Professor McGonagall, who seemed to be in charge with an enormous parchment clamped firmly in her hands.

“Ah! You three, where have you been?”

“Sorry Professor, we got delayed,” Julius offered charmingly.

“Very well, come with me, I’ve got your guests waiting over here.”

Briskly the tall woman led the way across the grand hall to three lone teenagers, who were all engaged in a hushed conversation. Katie’s eyes were instantly drawn to the small grinning girl who had obviously come from a hot country, as her skin was the colour of olives from a life under a warm sun.

“Gabriel Ventura,” McGonagall called out to a similarly coloured young man, who quickly stepped forward, catching Julius Black’s eye. “Meet your host Julius Black.” The two young men clapped their hands together and smiled cheerfully at one another.

“Sorry I’m late,” Julius offered.

“Is okay,” the other boy chuckled.

“Why don’t you join the others and find a seat, the headmaster will be down shortly,” McGonagall suggested to the young men, who sloped off already deep in conversation. Francesca Littlewood was next introduced to her partner Mia Kelly from the Australian School Wallaby Academy, before they too rushed off to find a good pair of seats. Katie felt the girls to be a bit mismatched as already she could hear loud and outgoing Mia Kelly talking up a storm from across the hall. For now though, she couldn’t care less, as it was just her and this small smiling girl left.

“Katie Potter, I’d like you to meet your guest Luisa Cardosa.” Katie’s grin broadened and she reached out a hand for Luisa to shake, which the small girl did promptly. “Right then, now that everyone has arrived, I’ll just go and fetch the headmaster.” With this McGonagall flounced off leaving Katie and Luisa grinning stupidly at one another.

“I don’t know what to say,” Katie finally conceded with a small laugh.

“No me either,” Luisa replied with a passable American accent and a cheeky voice. There was an element about the girl that reminded Katie of both her best friends still up in their Runes lesson.

“Is this your first time in Britain?”

“Yeah it is. I come from Ecuador and I have only ever been to my school in Mexico and to my grandmother in Chile. This is very new to me.”

“Your English is amazing for someone who’s never been here,” Katie conceded sounding genuinely impressed. Luisa giggled.

“Thank you, but that’s because my father comes from California and he taught me to speak English when I was very young. And how about you? Have you ever been to my part of the world before?” Katie grinned and shook her head.

“Never. I can’t wait till it’s our turn to visit you guys.”

“You will find it very different. This hall is so big! We have nothing so old or so big in my school.”

“I’ll show you around when we get out of here, it’s an old castle this school. Big doesn’t even do it justice,” Katie explained. “My friend’s mum told me all about your school once, she seemed to think it was beautiful.” Luisa raised her eyebrows.

“Your friend’s mom, she is Senorita Westcoast yes?”

Katie frowned for a moment, before she remembered the alias Hermione had gone by when she lived and taught in the Americas during her spell of amnesia and not knowing her true identity. The name Leshia Westcoast had been given to her when she washed up on the western shores of the US unable to remember anything other than the name Leshia.

“Oh right! Yeah she is. Over here she’s not called Leshia Westcoast anymore though, she’s called Hermione Malfoy. My friend, Hermione’s daughter, she’s actually the one called Leshia you see.” Luisa’s brow was wrinkled, but after a moment she merely shrugged her shoulders accepting this news very open-mindedly. Her easy-going nature made Katie smile broadly; this Luisa girl was going to fit in at Hogwarts, she could already tell.

XXX

After lunch when Katie and Luisa had taken part in all the getting-to-know-you activities the staff at Hogwarts had planned the raven-haired girl was finally free to lead her exchange partner up top Hogwarts tower along with the other Gryffindors and their partners. The tall girl had already caught the eye of several attractive young visitors and she wondered secretly why the Hogwarts boys always seemed so shabby in comparison to foreign visitors to the castle. There were two boys from Luisa’s school especially that caught Katie’s eye and she had been informed by her new friend that their names were Raffa and Fed, short for Rafael and Federico. Brothers aged fourteen and sixteen respectfully; one was in her own year and incidentally Parys’ partner and the other was two years above and the partner of Tom Weasley, Katie’s own cousin.

Looking forward very much to getting to know these two boys Katie hardly noticed that there were two far better looking chaps right behind her on the trip up to Gryffindor tower. Only once they had filed inside and everyone’s eyes drifted towards the two older men in the room did Katie notice two Adonises had been following in her wake: Matt and Joshua were seventeen years old going on eighteen and hailed from Salem High in the States. They were far better looking than any young man Katie had ever seen and she was sure she and every other girl in Hogwarts had already fallen in love with them. They were the guests of the Tristan twins in seventh year and seemed to have such an easygoing air about them that they would befriend anyone who tried.

Making a mental note to herself to give it a try later on Katie pulled herself from her trance and led Luisa across the room to where Leshia and Rachel were enjoying their free period in lieu of their midnight astronomy lesson to come tucked up in the window box. The two girls were nudging one another and whispering about the new arrivals when Katie suddenly materialised in front of them with her new friend and the latest addition to the fourth year Gryffindor girls.

“Guys!” Katie cleared her throat loudly drawing the sudden attention of her friends. Quickly Rachel and Leshia snapped their eyes onto the small girl stood beside their tall friend and in unison a big smile broke onto each of their faces. “Luisa,” Katie began informatively while her friends jumped down from the window seat. “These are my best friends: my cousin Rachel and Leshia, that girl I was telling you about.”

At being referred to as ‘that girl’ Leshia wrinkled her brow, but said nothing of it. Instead she held out her hand for the new girl to shake.

“Nice to meet you Luisa,” Rachel offered cheerfully. “Whereabouts are you from?”

“Well I come from Ecuador, but my school is the Americas Institute,” the small girl explained looking a little shy.

“Come on Luisa, let me show you round Gryffindor tower,” Katie suddenly piped up and started leading the girl away towards the staircase. Rachel and Leshia let them go, but bowed their heads together the moment their friend and new guest disappeared.

“She’s timid,” Rachel mused aloud.

“Yeah that’ll be perfect for Katie though, I mean when is Katie ever the bolshy one?”

“True. You’re probably right. God knows Kate needs to lighten up and hang loose for once. Maybe if she’s trying to be cool in front of this Luisa girl she might just be normal.” Leshia was wrinkling her brow. “What?”

“Did you just say ‘hang loose’?” Rachel’s cheeks started reddening.

“No.”

“Yeah you did! Rach who have you been talking to? You sound like a muggle film!”

“No I don’t.”

“You do know what ‘hanging loose’ means right?”

“Course I do! Look I heard Rodes saying it once. It sounded funny.” Leshia sniggered and shook her head.

“Rodes is muggle born, the stuff he comes out with sometimes. Best not copy him though. I mean he gets away with it just about because he’s hopeless, but…”

As though the boy’s ears had been burning Rodeo suddenly materialised from the crowds with Parys and the attractive olive-skinned boy Rafael in tow. Leshia instantly fell silent and eyed the newcomer with interest.

“You guys look like you’re up to something,” the muggle-born boy remarked amusedly when he saw Rachel’s bright red cheeks and the way the girl was looking at him.

“Just innocently chatting,” Leshia replied happily.

“Yeah right, that’ll be the day,” Parys chuckled with an almost proud smile on his face as he turned to his new and attractive friend. “Guys this is Raffa, he’s my new best friend.”

The foreign boy laughed amusedly and nodded to the girls in greeting. After the arduous greetings had been disposed of and Katie had returned with Luisa from their tour of the tower the fourth years dropped down at the table around their window box to better get to know one another. Leshia couldn’t stop smiling whenever this handsome Raffa boy looked at her, which he happened to do quite a lot meaning the girl seemed suddenly ditsy and slightly inebriated. Her friends knew what had her acting so silly and though Katie and Rachel were amused, Parys and Rodeo most certainly were not. Neither of them had contemplated the idea of Parys’ partner being so good looking as to draw their female friends’ attention away from themselves and now they were faced with the dilemma they weren’t sure what to do about it.

Infinitely worse however, was the way in which every girl in the room was eyeing the two Salemers Matt and Joshua when they hoped the young men weren’t looking. Leshia was better at hiding her attraction to the tall young men, but Katie at her side had no such finesse and was caught several times staring at them with her jaw hanging slightly.

The two Institute kids had plenty to share about their way of life and how it differed to what they had heard about Hogwarts. Their school sounded far less formal and their sleeping arrangements positively adult. At the Americas Institute the youngsters shared a two-person room in a boarding house complete with its own living room and kitchen facilities. Meals were held in these houses, of which there were ten, and for the rest they operated similarly to the four houses at Hogwarts. They in turn seemed amazed at the formality of Hogwarts, particularly the uniforms the natives wore and that they had been provided with for the duration of their stay.

Raffa and Luisa couldn’t have differed more it seemed and though they were in the same year, they didn’t know one another very well. They didn’t share many classes and were in two separate houses, but in truth the reason they barely knew one another was the fact that they were very different people. Luisa was built along the same lines as Katie; she seemed studious, sweet, shy and tried to keep out of the limelight. Whereas Raffa appeared to be made of the same stuff as Leshia; he seemed bold, outgoing, humorous, up for a laugh and definitely the sort of boy who would flourish being the centre of attention.

Come dinner time the fourth years were already well acquainted with their new friends and happily led them down to the great hall, which seemed to have stretched to accommodate the extra pupils. The long tables surprised the newcomers, who had never seen such dining facilities before.

“And you eat all together?” Raffa asked unsurely while being led to the midpoint where the fourth years always gathered.

“Only every breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Parys replied cheerfully.

“You will find it very different when you come to my school.

“Hey, as long as they serve good grub then you won’t get any complaints out of me.”

“What is this grub?” The boys dropped down onto the bench in a gale of laughter while opposite them the girls were too busy investigating the other newcomers to the school they had not seen yet.

“Check out that girl, she’s gorgeous,” Katie squeaked sounding pained while her finger tremulously pointed towards a striking girl who looked to have come from a sun-drenched country, as she was the colour of gold with white highlights to her blonde hair.

“I wonder which schools are participating in this thing anyway,” Rachel spoke up as though she were voicing what everyone had been wondering: where did all these people come from?

“Honestly, the pair of you never pay attention,” Katie grumbled when Leshia had nodded in agreement to Rachel’s question. Two blank faces met her pointed one.

“And? Seeing as you’re dying to tell us,” Leshia smirked.

“The five participating schools are Hogwarts obviously, the Americas Institute, Salem High, Wallaby Academy and Beauxbatons.”

“Agh that’s no fun, I thought some of them came from places we’d never heard of. Like the North Pole or something,” Rachel grumbled, while at her side Leshia piped up with,

“Or the moon!”

“You’ll get used to them after a while,” Katie sighed to her new friend. The visiting girl giggled happily into her hands. “They think they’re ever so funny…”

“We are funny,” Rachel countered loudly. “In a way.”

Sensing an argument Leshia tuned out of the cousins’ conversation and turned her attention instead on what the boys were telling Raffa. They were all looking up at the Head Table where all the teachers had gathered for the welcoming dinner when they would all be introduced to the newcomers. Professor Dumbledore had already welcomed them all when they first arrived and had no intention of making another speech. It was his intention not to disrupt every day life at Hogwarts as much as possible.

“That hook-nosed man there is one of the one’s you’ve got to watch out for,” Rodeo was telling Raffa in an undertone. “That’s Snape that is and if he catches you out of line detention’s a dead cert.”

“And next to him’s probably the teacher you’ve got to be the most careful around,” Parys was now saying, oblivious to the fact that Leshia had started listening in to their conversation. He might not talk so bluntly about the teacher sat beside Snape had he known. “That’s Professor Malfoy, he takes us for Defence Against the Dark Arts. He’s a bit mental that one and absolutely terrifying. One toe out of line and he knows, even if he’s not in the room. It’s like he can read your mind or something. He used to be a Death Eater so you know he’s capable of anything. You’ve got to watch what you say though because if Leesh catches you…” The three boys looked across the table and all noticed Leshia’s cold grey eyes on them at the same time. Parys stumbled to an end of his sentence and grimaced.

“Because if Leesh catches you then what?” the girl asked slowly. Raffa seemed confused, while Rodeo and Parys fumbled for words.

“Do you like this teacher?” Raffa finally spoke; trying to fill in the gaps so that he might make sense of this new predicament his friends had landed themselves in.

“Something like that.”

“He’s her dad,” Rodeo quickly explained.

“Leshia I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Parys gabbled hopefully.

“It’s fine. I know what everyone thinks about him.” Though she sounded icy a small smile was growing on her face meaning the two young men were off the hook.

“So you are a teacher’s daughter,” Raffa remarked lightly.

“Well yeah, but…”

“Don’t let that fool you mate,” Parys quickly cut in. “Leesh here is as far from a teacher’s pet as you can get.”

“Yeah she’s in detention more often than not and she never listens to a word any teacher ever tells her…”

“And she throws the most wicked underground parties that the teachers don’t know about!”

“Guys cut it out,” Leshia laughed, realising how badly the boys were flattering her to dig themselves out of the hole they had dug themselves into moments ago. “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Yeah all right, but she is pretty cool though,” Rodeo chuckled to Raffa, who was smiling broadly yet holding his tongue. Leshia it seemed had dominated the boys’ attentions for too long and with a loud and obvious intrusion Katie opened the conversation up for the rest of the table, which it remained until Dumbledore stood to his feet moments after hundreds of empty plates disappeared from the tables. A hushed silence welcomed the headmaster to speak briefly,

“Don’t be alarmed,” the venerable old man chuckled fondly, his twinkling eyes roving over the new and familiar faces with equal affection. “I will not keep you long. I am well aware you all wish to return to your common rooms and keep the paintings up all night with your chatter, but before I allow you to do so please let me bestow another warm welcome to our visitors. Our home is yours while you stay with us, so please do not be afraid to treat it as such. Secondly, it is time to introduce the teachers who will be overseeing your studies while you are with us.”

In quick succession Dumbledore called out the names and subjects of the teachers fanned around him. Leshia felt her cheeks grow hot when the visiting girls burst into giggles as her father’s name was called out and quickly she hung her head. Last year she had been considered a pathological by the two quidditch-playing girls Leshia and her dormitory had hosted for the ISQT, who didn’t believe the girl when she insisted the attractive teacher was her father.

“That’s Leshia’s dad,” Katie whispered to the new girl Luisa, whose eyes darted onto the blonde girl the moment she was told and then back to the teacher at the head table. Seeing the similarity she spoke not a word, which brought a smile to Leshia’s face, thankful that she wasn’t going to have to offer any evidence of her connection to the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

After little Professor Flitwick had been introduced Dumbledore bade the student body goodnight, giving them permission to file out in a scramble of benches and bodies being pushed this way and that. At the door to the great hall Leshia suddenly remembered the unpleasant predicament she and Rachel had landed themselves in.

“Uh Rach, Tripper?” the girl uttered to her redhead friend, who was all set on strolling up for a relaxed game of exploding chess and a chocolate frog.

“What do you mean with ‘Tripper’?” Katie asked in a warning tone after Rachel had grumbled a furious expletive under her breath. “Did you two get a detention?” Leshia gave the girl a pointed look in response; no words were needed. “Oh my goodness. What did the pair of you do now?”

“It’s Tripper,” Rachel grumbled bitterly. “As if he needs an excuse to get Leshia in trouble.”

“And you?”

“Maybe he doesn’t like redheads?”

“This isn’t funny Rachel.”

“Who’s laughing?”

The crowds were starting to go their separate ways and Katie could see Luisa eyeing the trio worriedly, no doubt expecting an argument to break out between them. Usually the raven-haired girl wouldn’t have hesitated in letting her more wayward friends know how she felt about them landing themselves in trouble, but she wanted her guest’s first night at the castle to be a night to remember.

“What’s the hold up?” Parys’ voice came moments before the three boys arrived on the scene.

“Katie’s trying to tell us off for getting detention,” Rachel explained drolly. “I bet she wishes she could give us detention. That’s be right up your street wouldn’t it Kate? Giving us detention for getting a detention?”

“Who’s it with?” Rodeo asked while his friends laughed.

“Tripper, that’s who,” Katie stated icily, feeling annoyed with her cousin for making light of her concern. “So there’s just cause for feeling a little alarmed. You watch your back Leesh okay?”

“I will,” Leshia replied seriously, offering the taller girl a heartfelt look that conveyed what she hoped to be her gratitude. Katie was after all only concerned for their welfare, even if she had a funny was of showing it. The newcomers were looking confused.

“Tripper hates me,” Leshia explained for their benefit.

“Positively loathes her actually,” Rachel added with a smirk.

“Yes well you’d better get going then,” Katie concluded, her brow contorted in worry. “We’ll see you in astronomy. Look out for her okay Rachel?”

With this the two detainees rushed off so as not to land themselves in even more trouble. En route they pondered how much more serious Katie was getting with each passing year and wondered if by the end of their Hogwarts careers she would be filling in for one if not most of the teachers.

Tripper was waiting for them and thankfully set them the same task that Leshia and Julius Black had been set their first day back. This time though the teacher stayed and breathed down their necks, never sparing an opportunity to put Leshia in her place. His vicious attacks often left Rachel reeling, her fists clenched and her face set in upset, but Leshia stopped her best friend from doing anything stupid.

You’ll just make it worse, she wrote on a scrap of parchment.

But he’s being a complete git! Rachel scribbled back furiously.

Yeah well that I can deal with, but if you tick him off and he starts lobbing curses this way, I’m telling you now, I’m hiding behind you!

XXX

Draco crept out of the grate as he materialised in the kitchen of the Malfoy townhouse. It wasn’t excessively late, but Hermione was still in the habit of catching her sorely missed sleep whenever the baby went down, so more often than not the poor new mother was sleeping soundly by the time Draco came home from school every day.

Having spent a long portion of his adult life prowling the underground world of dark wizardry Draco had learnt to be stealthy and tiptoed across the kitchen to the base of the stairs without making a sound. When he reached them however, he saw his attempts at silence had been in vein as up above the light in the nursery was on.

“Hermione?” Draco called up the stairs cautiously.

“Up here darling!”

Taking the steps two at a time the man of the house appeared in the nursery moments later having to smile at the sight of his sleep-ruffled wife dressed in an overly large jumper cradling their baby daughter. Evie was smiling delightedly, finding immense pleasure in the expressions her mother had been pulling for her amusement.

“Having fun?” Draco chuckled and without hesitation he paced across the room and kissed his wife adoringly in greeting.

“She wouldn’t sleep,” the new mother yawned. “She’s starting to get fussier, always demanding attention. Aren’t you darling? You’re becoming more and more like your big sister every day aren’t you?”

“Well it must get pretty boring being a baby,” Draco mused and after leaning down to stroke Evie’s soft downy curls he dropped down in the chair beside his wife’s. Without his having to ask Hermione quickly leaned over with her baby held out to her husband. With a broad smile Draco accepted the squirming infant and cradled her in his arms, his eyes never leaving her bright smile. He would have been content to watch her all night.

“You look exhausted,” Hermione mused, noticing the dark circles under her husband’s eyes while he played the game she had just been playing with their delighted baby.

“I am, I hate the start of term. I can never get going.”

“Well it was a pretty exciting day though wasn’t it? All those new pupils!” Draco chuckled at Hermione’s enthusiasm.

“You sound like you wish you were back there teaching them all.”

“I kind of do,” Hermione sighed. “I miss it Draco, you know I do. How was Leshia today? Was she terribly upset still?” A pang of sadness entered the mother’s voice and after tearing his eyes away from Evie’s beautiful face Draco looked up to meet his wife’s eyes, his own creased in remembrance over what had happened that morning.

“She was surprising actually.”

“Surprising?”

“The essay was fine, Katie scourgified it just like you said. It was in today’s lesson actually that she surprised me. They were using the Balancing Curse to work with basic modes of countercurse when all of a sudden that Jackson boy was on the floor. I’ve not seen such a powerful manifestation of the curse in a long time and what is maybe more alarming than it being cast by a fourteen-year-old is the fact that it was our fourteen-year-old who cast it.” Hermione’s eyes went wide and for a moment she looked afraid.

“But how?”

“That’s the thing…I just don’t know. ‘Mione the boy, he actually heard her cast the spell as though she were speaking inside his head…”

“Our little girl performed Oratio Mens?”

For a moment there was silence, in which very slowly the baby in Draco’s lap scrunched up her face ready to let out a tumultuous howl. Hermione’s horrified outburst had more than startled little Evie. Quickly Draco pulled the baby to his chest and patted her back to soothe the tears, but try as he might he couldn’t prevent her cries.

“Sorry,” Hermione uttered through the wailing, though she continued to look shell shocked at the revelation that her daughter had performed advanced dark magic and a technique she ought not be able to master for many years yet and even then most wizards and witches weren’t able to pull off direct mind-to-mind cursing. It was a feature of mind control associated with the Imperius Curse.

“Draco what is going on with our baby?” Hermione’s eyes had gone very glassy.

“Nothing, she’s just crying…”

“No not Evie. What is happening to my little girl?” Draco lifted his eyes to meet Hermione’s crumpled expression and soon regretted it, because it made his heart ache to see his beloved wife so upset.

“Don’t worry about Leshia,” he assured her. “I’m watching her. I’m sure her being able to do the curse so well is because it’s the one I used on her. She remembered how it felt and was able to use those negative emotions to enhance her own spell work. I’m pretty sure of it.”

“But that’s not good either Draco! It means she can’t channel very well.”

“Yes I know,” Draco sighed and he patted Evie’s back a little more to get the last of her half-hearted tears and whimpers out.

“If she’s letting her emotions control her magic then she’s going to become very unbalanced and volatile. Oh!” Hermione clapped her hands down on her knees, now seemingly annoyed. “Why won’t she let me be her mother? She needs me!” Draco smiled as finally Evie let out one last hushed cry of annoyance, before he lifted the baby down again and rewarded her silence with an enormous smile, which she enjoyed thoroughly.

“Leshia will come round when she comes round,” he told his wife through his smile. “That’s what you’ve been telling me.”

“Yes well the sooner the better in my book,” Hermione grumbled. “I miss her so much it’s as though a part of me has fallen off.”

XXX

“Miss Weasley!”

Rachel’s eyes shot open to find Professor Snape bearing down on her, a look of complete and utter disbelief on his unpleasant face. Her cauldron was bubbling over with a peculiar sludgy concoction she was sure oughtn’t be there. How had that happened? She’d only shut her eyes for a second.

“What is the meaning of this?” Snape demanded as the ruined potion seeped onto his clean dungeon floor. Rachel gabbled for her words.

“I…um…I think…”

“You were asleep!”

“I was not!”

“Ten points from Gryffindor for your lies!”

“I think she was just concentrating really hard sir,” Leshia piped up quickly. Snape’s furious gaze slid onto the blonde girl at Rachel’s side. “You know, she was having to focus on whether to put in the shrimp weed or the silver dust, so she had to shut everything else out.”

“Miss Weasley can make up her own excuses without your help Miss Malfoy. Stay out of it!”

“But sir Rachel it’s not Rachel’s fault, I was meant to be telling her when to…”

“Very well, then the pair of you can stay after class and clear it up. A further five points from Gryffindor for wasting my time!”

After his back was turned Rachel made a very rude gesture that had Katie gasping in admonishment. The redhead though couldn’t care less. She was exhausted after Tripper had kept to his word and made the two girls stay up most of the night classifying the rune stones. He’d been most put out that they had astronomy and demanded they return to finish their work after the lesson was complete. Forty minutes was about the only sleep Rachel had got last night and half of that was easily spent at the desk in Tripper’s study when he wasn’t looking.

Leshia was equally sleep deprived, but she was handling her fatigue far better. She was quite sure that it was the excitement of having Raffa in the class that was keeping her awake. Every time she glanced in his direction he was watching her and several times the pair had caught each other’s gaze. Just thinking about the boy made Leshia’s heart pound a little faster and she was quite sure she fancied him something chronic. It was a mutual attraction to say the least.

When the bell went signifying the end of classes Katie jumped to her feet with Luisa in a hesitant pursuit. She didn’t look best pleased.

“I suppose you two are going to make an effort to get detention every day then?” Rachel and Leshia exchanged a smirk.

“What you don’t think it’s a good idea?” Leshia replied on their behalf eliciting a highly exasperated sigh from Katie, before the tall girl flounced from the room with Luisa running to catch up. “You know if she had detention more often she’d learn to love it as much as we do.”

Rachel sniggered, but climbed to her feet to collect the mop nonetheless. By the time she returned Leshia was being berated by a highly bemused Snape. The hook-nosed teacher wasn’t going to make life easy for the cheeky young ladies and delayed them considerably by making them repeat their work several times to get up to his high standards. By the time the best friends had escaped twenty minutes had gone by and they were itching to exert some energy.

“As if the floor in that dungeon ever sparkles,” Leshia grumbled. “I’d forgotten what a pillock Snape is.”

“Yeah he’s been pretty mild since we started sharing with the Ravenclaws, but still, he’s obviously got a whole load of nastiness left to dish out.”

“Maybe he saves it up for when he teaches us.”

“I think we’re reading into this too much Leesh,” Rachel concluded within inches of the Fat Lady. “Snape’s a git plain and simple, we just forgot temporarily because Tripper’s an even bigger git and he’s the one that’s been telling us off lately.”

“Pigswill,” Leshia stated firmly.

“It is not!”

“It’s the password you muppet,” the blonde girl laughed as the portrait swung forward revealing a bustling common room. The friends had barely stepped inside when suddenly they were accosted by a sour-faced Katie; she obviously had something urgent to tell them.

“Oh Katie don’t start, let us get in the bloody room first,” Rachel grumbled.

“This isn’t about you Rachel! This is about Leshia.”

“Me? What did I do?”

“Mila’s on a rampage, they’ve all gone down for training and she can’t believe you’ve got yourself a detention.”

“It’s not a detention, I can train! Did you tell her I was in detention?”

“You’d better hurry up, they’re all down on the pitch.”

Without needing to be told twice Leshia sprinted up the spiral staircase and changed into her training gear. Five minutes was all she needed and before too long she was trying to squeeze through the general hubbub of the common room with her broom in tow. She’d nearly reached the door when suddenly two hulking figures stepped into the her path.

“Are you on the quidditch team?” Leshia felt her heart skip a beat as she slowly lifted her eyes up to meet those of the gorgeous American men. Was she mistaken? Were they really addressing her?

“Um yeah, I am,” she finally managed, concentrating all her energy on keeping her tone neutral.

“Sorry, we overheard you earlier. Do you mind if we come watch?” the darker of the two asked hopefully. All Leshia could do was nod.

“Excellent,” his friend cheered and he clapped his hands together. “We play back home for our county. It’ll be interesting to see how differently you guys work over here.”

Unable to think of anything productive to say – and not quite trusting her voice either – Leshia smiled at the young men and led the way out of the common room into the relatively quiet corridor beyond. Still no words came to her.

“So what do you play?” the blond one of the two asked curiously.

“Seeker.” For a moment the Salemers looked to one another with a significant expression that Leshia couldn’t read, though she hoped they weren’t making fun of her.

“Did you play last year in the tournament?” the darker young man asked pressingly. Leshia wrinkled her brow and wondered what admitting to this true fact would mean for her present situation. What had the young men heard?

“Uh yeah I did actually.” As though this was the answer the young men had been after they suddenly exploded into enthusiasm.

“Man we heard all about you!”

“Sounds ominous,” Leshia managed cockily, finally finding herself able to push past her nerves and act as she normally would. She’d spoken to attractive young men before, why was this such a big deal? The way she had been feeling since the newcomers arrived, it was as though she’d been overdosing on hormones.

“I’m Joshua by the way,” the young man with a mass of dark brown hair and large dark eyes finally introduced himself.

“And I’m Matt,” his blond, hazel-eyed friend added. Both were tanned from living active lifestyles under a hot sun and both were so tall that Leshia had to crane her neck to look them in the eye.

“Leshia,” she offered cheerfully.

“Yeah now I remember. Our buddy Jorge told us about you, said you put Petra Walsh in her place.”

Leshia grimaced in remembrance of the awful girl she had finally beaten after enduring a few days of uncharacteristic cowardly behaviour in which the beautiful yet cruel Petra Walsh bullied her. She had finally got her own back, but not before the visiting Salemer had brought her down to a new low.

“How come you guys don’t play for your school team?” the blonde girl asked curiously, before the young men could recount any other facts their friend Jorge had told them about her.

“County takes up so much of our time. We’re both chasers so half the week we have drills and the other half it’s all stamina training.” Leshia raised her eyebrows.

“That sounds brutal. We only train twice or three times a week, more in the run up to a big game.”

“Well from what Jorge told us, it doesn’t sound like you need any more training. First thing he said to us after he got back was that he saw the next Viktor Krum in the making.” Leshia’s cheeks flushed horribly.

“Oh be serious,” she laughed. With the ice well and truly broken Leshia managed to shift completely back to her usual laid-back self, enjoying the exciting stories these American men had to share about their experiences on the quidditch pitch. They certainly weren’t lacking in enthusiasm and by the time Leshia had led them down to the quidditch pitch she was sorry to leave their side to head into the fray up in the air.

At the sight of the tardy seeker though Mila descended from her place at the centre of a complicated-looking drill to land a few yards from Leshia and the tall young men. Though the stern captain wanted nothing more than to quiz the small blonde girl about her behaviour, the presence of the gorgeous young men halted the words in her throat.

“Sorry I’m late,” Leshia quickly offered. “Rachel fell asleep in potions so I had to jump in and save her neck. We only had to stay behind and clean the floor, that’s all. It wasn’t another detention I promise!”

“Malfoy I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” the seventh-year captain uttered softly. “I really hate moaning on at you, I just wish you’d fit your detentions in around quidditch practice. I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed, we sort of need you on form.” Mila’s eyes were now drifting to Matt and Joshua, who were tactfully trying not to listen in to the conversation.

“Oh, this is Matt and Joshua,” Leshia quickly explained. “Guys this is Mila, she’s our captain. They were just wondering if they could watch a few sessions. They play professionally back in America.”

“Really? Professionally?” Mila uttered, unable to hide the fact that she was a little star struck by the young men.

“Well sorta, it’s not really the same as over here. There’s so many teams in the US, we’re just at county level,” Joshua quickly explained.

“Mila’s boyfriend Luka plays for the Montrose Magpies,” Leshia piped up when her older peers seemed to lull into a slightly embarrassed silence.

“Seriously? Aren’t they one of the best teams in Britain?” Matt gasped. With a wicked smile Leshia slunk backwards until she had entirely left the vibrant conversation she had sparked into life. After mounting her broom she kicked off into the air and flew up to where the others were lounging around chatting in a big circle.

“Trying the fashionably late thing Malfoy?” Owen Gabriel asked cheerfully as Leshia floated up beside him. She grinned cockily at the boy and shrugged.

“Something like that.”

“What strays did you manage to pick up now?” the boy asked cautiously, glancing down at the attractive young men on the pitch. Leshia sensed more than a little jealousy in the boy’s tone and despite herself she laughed.

“That’s Matt and Joshua from Salem, they heard me in the common room and wanted to tag along. They play for their county back home. They’re all right, really easy going and talkative.”

Owen raised one eyebrow in derision, but didn’t say anything of it. That his favourite girl had shown up with two frightfully attractive older men in tow was a cause for concern to say the least.

“Not bad to look at either,” Jaime Wood uttered under her breath. Leshia grinned broadly at her friend and shrugged her shoulders to show she agreed.

“Well I wish you hadn’t brought them,” Owen grumbled earning himself five surprised expressions from his team mates. “Well look at Mila going to pieces, it’ll be ages before she can tear herself away and get on with the training. Some of us do have a social life we’d like to get back to you know!”

The prodigal keeper remained out of sorts for the rest of the training. When Mila did eventually return she seemed terribly invigorated and pushed her champion squad through their paces. Leshia rose to the challenge and dared herself to carry out braver and more suicidal moves than ever before in a mere training session due to the enthusiastic cheers and hoots she was receiving from the attractive young men down on the pitch.

When the girl’s feet finally touched down on the grass at the end of the session she found herself ingratiated with praise and attention from the Salemers, who wouldn’t stop singing the girl’s praises the entire walk back to the castle. When they reached the fat lady Leshia was sure she could quite happily spend the rest of her life with Matt and Joshua and already a cheerful friendship had flourished between the two young men and the unlikely young seeker.

That night when Leshia fell asleep dreaming about quidditch glory in front of a stadium full of young men that closely resembled her new friends, the girl had to hand it to Fate, or whatever it was that had decided to make up for the terrible experience she had had with Salem High pupils last year.

“I think we’re even now,” she whispered into curtains of her bed moments before she drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.

XXX

By midweek it felt as though the visiting pupils had always been at Hogwarts. Indeed, it was difficult for the natives to imagine a time when their new friends hadn’t lived with them. Luisa and Katie had become thick as thieves, each finding in the other a kindred spirit. The bespectacled girl had taken to spending a lot of her time with her new friend at the expense of her old ones, who didn’t seem to mind all that much considering they were enjoying a reprieve from the hard work Katie usually forced on them.

With little else to do with their bountiful free time Leshia and Rachel took to lazing about the common room with the boys. Though they wouldn’t have thought twice about an afternoon rolling about the settees with good old Parys and Rodeo now that this new boy Raffa had attached himself to them both girls felt suddenly invigorated and quite beside themselves whenever the charming boy chose to speak to them.

To the best friends whose positions had been well and truly usurped Raffa’s presence in their lives was bittersweet. Rodeo and Parys certainly got on very well with the rogue-like youngster from South America and the fascinating stories he had to tell about the escapades he and his four brothers got up to back home were spellbinding, but at the same time the friends wished their new friend weren’t such a ladies man, but had the best friends thought one good-looking charismatic foreigner was bad enough, they were about to discover things could get much worse.

“Oh I bet you didn’t set them all on fire!” Leshia complained over the busy breakfast table that Wednesday morning. Her amused complaint was directed at Raffa sat across the table from her and for a moment the boy held his arms out, his expression surprised.

“You do not believe me?”

“No!” the others laughed in unison.

“Maybe you managed to get one of them to light up, but the whole barrel? And in the rain?” Rachel now spoke up, smiling adoringly at the visiting boy. For a moment Raffa looked from one girl to the next, his smile calculating and his eyes narrowed, until finally he leant back and glanced up the table.

“Fed!” he called out. Instinctively the Gryffindors sat around him followed his gaze to see the young man he had already pointed out to be his brother look up from his own conversation with the sixth years.

“Que?” the attractive young man called with a slight nod. Wordlessly Raffa summoned his brother with an urgent beckoning with his hand and then grinned back at his new friends when the older boy begrudgingly climbed to his feet and stepped over the bench.

“Now you will see,” he told them amusedly.

“Yeah well off course your brother’s gonna back you up,” Parys complained amusedly. “What do you expect?”

Leshia and Rachel grinned to one another as the older boy approached. They had been waiting for an introduction to the smoulderingly attractive older version of their new friend. So far they had joined the rest of the school in admiring Federico from afar, but it would seem they were about to bridge the gap between being mere distant admirers to becoming actual real-life acquaintances.

Finally the heartthrob reached the fourth years and after sizing them all up, his eyes lingering a little longer on the girls grinning up at him in a star struck way, he turned his gaze on his younger brother.

“Yeah?”

“Tell them please about the night with the fire demons?” Raffa merely asked. For a moment Fed grinned broadly, before he looked to the fourth locals.

“You do not believe my brother?” he chuckled.

“In a word?” Rodeo asked cheerfully, before the rest of them chimed in with, “No.” Fed’s laughter was contagious and hearty and it made Leshia want to giggle.

“I am not surprised. Many do not believe his story, but I can assure you it is the truth. I saw it with my own eyes. They were all set on fire. Raffa still has scars.”

“Scars?” Leshia demanded interestedly. Both brothers turned to smile at the curious blonde girl and despite herself she blushed and shrunk back a little. “I didn’t mean to say that so loudly,” the girl quickly excused herself with an impish smile.

“You did not show them the proof Raf?” Fed finally spoke sounding surprised. “Well no wonder they do not believe what you say. Show them.” For a moment the younger brother seemed hesitant, before he leaned back, lifted his foot onto the bench and rolled his new uniform trousers up to show a peculiar star like scar pattern on his hairy and tanned upper shin.

“Wow,” the boys awed appreciatively and eyed the foreigner with a look of evident approval.

“Man you’ve got to show us how you did it one of these days,” Parys finally spoke. Raffa grinned and dropped his leg down onto the ground.

“Fed this is Parys,” he then spoke, looking up at his brother while gripping Parys’ shoulder. “He is my partner. And his friend Rodeo.”

A round of handshakes followed before Raffa indicated across the table to the girls, who were doing everything in their power to keep the goofy smiles off their faces.

“And these are their friends Rachel and Leshia.”

Without a word to the boys he pushed in between, Fed leaned over the table and shook first Rachel’s hand and then Leshia’s. What made the blonde girl blush bright crimson however, was the way Fed held onto her hand far longer than any of the others. Across the table both Rodeo and Parys fidgeted protectively, wanting to rip the older boy’s arm back.

“It is very nice to meet you,” Fed spoke charmingly directing his sentiment at the group, but maintaining Leshia’s eye contact. Thankfully before the girl could quite voice any of the silly thoughts whirring round her mind the post owls flocked into the great hall in an enormous swarm. Though Leshia wasn’t expecting anything she was surprised to find an enormous letter drop down on her thankfully dry toast. The owl that delivered the letter betrayed who had sent it.

“Hi Auralia,” Leshia grumbled dryly and after grimacing in Rachel’s direction the girl reached out and pulled the letter from its envelope. While she started to read she didn’t even notice Fed making his exit:

To my dearest Leshia,

How are you my darling? I hope you’re still enjoying being back at school and that you’ve enjoyed the influx of new people to charm. I suppose they’ve all fallen in love with you. Who could blame them?

Life in London is lonely without you. Even though you were a mere shadow this summer, just knowing you were around gave me a great sense of peace of mind. I sometimes sit in your bedroom waiting for you to walk in the door, but of course, you never do. I can’t wait for you to come home at Christmas time. I also often think with great sadness that this is probably how you felt when it became obvious that I wasn’t coming home anymore all those years ago and I feel so guilty. I’m so sorry to have put you through such pain for so long Leshia.

Leshia wrinkled her brow feeling uncomfortable at her mother evidently pouring her heart out in her delicate script. With a heavy sigh she leafed through the pages skimming through the carefully articulated emotions until finally she came to a paragraph that caught her eye near the end of the emotional five page letter:

Your father tells me you performed a powerful spell in his lesson. I imagine you were pretty worried by it and to be honest when your father explained it I was scared for you darling, but I’ve been reading up on it all day. You don’t have to worry about a thing. Apparently when people are exposed to a curse they become quite masterful at it themselves. Being able to experience the feelings and effects of a curse allows the victim to cast it far more effectively. So don’t you worry about a thing. (‘Who is she trying to convince?’ Leshia thought to herself grimly.)

Well then, I’d imagine I’ve probably made you late for your lessons by now. I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of a wet blanket; I just wanted you to know how much I miss you. My life’s just not the same without you in it; regardless of the other changes that have taken place that’s the bottom line Leshia and I need you to know that.

I love you sweetheart and hope you’re having a brilliant time.

With lots of love

Mum xxxxxx

Leshia sighed heavily and folded the letter to hide it from her view. The others noticed her discomfort, but said nothing of it. Only Raffa was frowning, wanting to ask who had sent her such a heavy letter, but before he could speak Rodeo grabbed his shoulder and shook his head.

“No,” he mouthed urgently. After a heavy sigh Leshia looked up to see her friends determinedly looking the other way and knew instantly they’d all been watching her.

“I’m okay,” she informed them sounding false. “You don’t have to act like someone’s died or anything…” The girl trailed off, her eyes falling on the Daily Prophet lying at her side. Instantly they doubled in size and without asking Katie’s permission, who was in the middle of reading the paper she was subscribed to, the blonde girl wrenched the paper into her hands and read the article that had caught her eye with a hungry desperation.

“Oy!” Katie complained the moment the paper was ripped from under her eyes. “Leesh!”

“Sorry!” Leshia offered distantly, too involved in the article to care that everyone was staring at her in surprise. Only once she had reread the piece twice over did she drop the paper onto the table revealing what had caught her eye to her friends.

“Oh man, is that your grandfather?” Rodeo uttered in surprise. Leshia nodded slowly.

“It says he’s been sited,” she explained. “In Belgium.”

“But that’s really close!” Rachel stuttered unsurely. “Leesh you should tell your dad about this.”

“Oh come on, my dad probably knew about this ages before it was printed.” Across the table Raffa’s brow was lowering over his eyes the further he got down the article. The moment he was finished he lifted his eyes from the grisly picture of Lucius Malfoy taken during his time in Azkaban to the Death Eater’s granddaughter, who bore more than a passing resemblance to the old man.

“This is your grandfather?” he finally asked, his tone unreadable. Leshia slowly lifted her eyes to meet his and then nodded.

“Unfortunately and only then on a technicality.” Raffa furrowed his brow, not quite understanding the girl. “Well I mean he’s not really family. The only times I’ve met him he’s either been trying to kill me or abduct me. He’s not the lovable kind of grandfather.”

Despite the gravity of the moment Raffa sniggered and nodded.

“I understand.” The way he looked at her suggested to Leshia that yes, Raffa did understand and for a moment she smiled gratefully at the boy.

“You know what?” Leshia suddenly spoke. “I’m going to keep a scrapbook of these. Katie do you mind if I rip this article out?”

“Um, no I don’t, but Leesh I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“What? Why not?” Already the blonde girl had started removing the article on her grandfather from the newspaper.

“Well if you get caught it’ll look like you’re trying to find him or something.”

For a moment Leshia paused and stared gravely at her friend.

“I am trying to find him,” she finally spoke seriously. “Katie that man tortured me and then tried to kill me. He won’t rest till everyone in my family’s dead and buried. So don’t look so horrified that I want to see him caught and locked up.”

“Leesh think about it,” Rachel now piped up worriedly.

“I don’t want to think about it actually,” Leshia quickly countered and with the article removed from the paper she roughly stuffed it inside her satchel and climbed to her feet. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got an hour’s History of Magic to nap through.”

XXX

Draco wasn’t having a good day. Evie had come down with a fever and a cough and was evidently very displeased about her condition, as she had spent the night screaming at the top of her little lungs ensuring neither Draco or Hermione got a wink’s sleep. The poor man was exhausted and had spent most of the morning grappling with his two seventh year classes in an attempt to engage them in the difficult lesson he was trying to teach them.

At break he had somehow found himself trapped between the two battiest Hogwarts teachers of all: Professor Sinistra and Professor Trelawney. It took the tired teacher fifteen minutes to escape their midst finding himself instead sat alone in the corner with his head in his hand. The last thing he wanted was to be disturbed,

“Malfoy.”

A heavy and irritated sigh escaped Draco before he slowly lifted his gaze to glare at Silas Tripper.

“Go away,” the blond man growled unceremoniously, not caring that he was reacting to Tripper’s presence in exactly the way the slimy man had hoped.

“Bad mood Malfoy?”

“Tripper I don’t have time for these little games you love to play. So please, bugger off okay?” The smile on the scarred man’s face grew showing off all of his discoloured teeth.

“I wonder if this has anything to do with your temper.” Draco glanced down at the newspaper Tripper had dropped on the table in front of him and fought back a furious grimace. There, staring back at him was the gaunt face of his father Lucius Malfoy. “Afraid he’s going to get caught are you?”

“You think this is news to me Tripper?” the blond man demanded dangerously while he took to his feet to meet his old nemesis eye to eye. “You may get your information out of the local rag, but there are those of us with our ear to the ground who have more informed and reliable sources. This account is a false alarm and it’s already been investigated.”

Tripper shifted uncomfortably for a moment, his eyes narrowing in dislike at the attractive man opposite him.

“You’re lying.”

“Ask Crayik if you don’t believe me!” Draco growled exasperatedly.

“Then why…”

“My child is sick and has been crying all night. The last thing I need right now is more pitiful whining from a grown man who’s failed to do his research before attempting once more to wind me up. God Tripper you’re pathetic…”

“Gentlemen!”

Both Draco and Tripper turned sharply to find Professor McGonagall staring at them with wide eyes while behind her the teaching staff of Hogwarts were watching them nervously, as though they had expected the two hotheads to pull out their wands and burst into a duel right then and there.

“The pair of you are going to have to find a way to get along that does not involve turning the staff room into the school playground every week.”

“I’m sorry Minerva,” Draco offered the shrewd woman quickly and for what it was worth, his apology sounded heartfelt. “It won’t happen again.”

Any further justification Draco wasn’t inclined to offer and without a word to his colleagues he stalked out of the room in time to the bell ringing in the distance, signifying the end of break. He had the fourth year Gryffindors and Slytherins next and it was this thought and this thought alone that was preventing Draco from flooing home and climbing into bed; nothing could stop him from seeing Leshia, nothing. These days he only had three hours a week with his daughter where once they’d been inseparable. Even if his foot were to suddenly fall off Draco would make it to his daughter’s lesson.

Heavy chatter filled Draco’s ears as he rounded the corner leading onto the Defence Against the Dark Arts corridor. He heard only joyous voices and despite himself the tired teacher smiled with relief. It was always hit and miss with this class whether he would find them happily engaged in conversation or at one another throats.

At the sound of the approaching teacher the youngsters in the corridor jumped into line, the locals informing their guests about the ‘shirt situation’. Raffa and Luisa had both been reminded of Leshia’s relationship to their teacher by their new friends and as such knew better than to express their initial thoughts on the terrifying man that approached them out loud.

Draco Malfoy was a terrifying person to behold and tired as he was the danger that surrounded him was palpable. It took them a while to realise it, but both Raffa and Luisa had heard of this man, this reformed Death Eater, who had helped bring about the fall of the Dark Lord and where they had expected to find him heroic, they were surprised to find he was far from the comforting and graceful man they had imagined. They could still see in the moody man approaching them the Death Eater he had once been and both newcomers instantly looked down to his covered arm where the mark lay faded and scarred.

At the door Draco stopped and glanced up and down the row of pupils, noting the new faces with interest. For a moment he paused on Leshia’s curious face and noticed that she was wondering why he appeared so dishevelled and out of sorts. The fact that she was paying him attention rather than turning away disinterestedly brought a small smile to the tired father’s face and this gave him the energy to wrench the door open and stand back with his usual dichotic bravado.

This energy carried him through the smooth lesson and by the end of it Draco felt somewhat restored. What’s more, after the bell had gone and the youngsters had all but filed out he had looked up to find Leshia lingering at the door, her brow furrowed in worry. The words, “Are you alright?” had very nearly tumbled from her mouth and what’s more, her father knew it. The girl though soon realised she was crossing the boundary between indifferent pupil and concerned daughter, so quickly she hurried from the room to catch up with her friends, leaving her father with a small smile on his face.

XXX

Leshia, Rachel, Parys, Rodeo and Raffa all sat in a row in the large classroom on the second floor and stared incredulously at Madam Hooch and Professor McGonagall. At their side Katie however, was donning an enormous smile that had evidently been transferred to Luisa and the other girls perched delicately on the bench. The time for ballroom dancing had finally come.

“This is not cool,” Rachel whispered in Leshia’s ear, who nodded very slowly.

“Definitely not cool,” she agreed.

“Who would have thought Katie would actually be right about something?” Despite her mood Leshia sniggered loudly, earning her a stern glare from Professor McGonagall, who was in the middle of demonstrating the basic steps of a Waltz.

“Miss Malfoy do you have anything to add?” the tall woman demanded reproachfully. The eyes of everyone in the year fell on Leshia, who quickly shook her head.

“No Professor,” the blonde girl called out sincerely.

“Very well. In that case perhaps you would like to demonstrate to the class what I have been attempting to describe?”

For a moment Leshia’s eyes went wide and she shook her head while her mouth opened and closed wordlessly.

“Come along we don’t have all day.”

“On your feet Leesh,” Rachel whispered sounding quite beside herself with glee and when it seemed unlikely that the blonde girl was about to make a move she jabbed her fingers into her best friend’s side sending the girl flying to her feet.

“Excellent. Now then, you will need a partner.”

Leshia’s cheeks, had they not been red enough to begin with now grew positively scarlet. The girl was frozen to the spot while their teacher’s eyes roved over the young men of the year group, who for the most part had started posturing themselves forward as a possible partner for the most popular girl in the year.

“Mr Holsson, if you wouldn’t mind,” McGonagall finally decided. Hiding his smile well Rodeo was on his feet within moments with Leshia hurrying to his side. Rodeo was a far better choice than some of the alternatives; in fact Leshia had been worriedly eyeing Samuel, her Herbology partner, who had been growing keener with each passing lesson in Greenhouse Two, the boy had sat up so straight he was hovering several inches above the bench in an effort to be picked.

Once the youngsters had reached their teacher’s side they soon found themselves suppressing their sniggers while McGonagall manoeuvred them into position and instructed them on how to demonstrate to their classmates the correct moves. Leshia couldn’t keep a straight face and every time she met Rodeo’s eyes the pair nearly cracked up in mirth.

“Excellent!” McGonagall called out before she turned on the rest of the year. “Now then, the rest of you arrange yourself into partners and be quick about it. We have a lot to get through.”

“This is the most pointless thing they’ve ever taught us,” Leshia whispered to her partner while their peers broke into chatter and movement. Rodeo grinned dashingly and shrugged his shoulders.

“Hey, if it means I get a dance with the fittest girl in the year then I’m not complaining,” he joked. Leshia laughed delightedly and stepped firmly on her friend’s foot. “Even if she does have two left feet.”

Across the hall Katie watched Rodeo and Leshia from afar with a slight scowl on her pretty features. She had already collared the next best thing to Rodeo in the form of Raffa and was manoeuvring him nearer to the couple she couldn’t take her eyes off. Though Raffa didn’t mind dancing with the beautiful girl, he could tell her mind was elsewhere and therefore refrained from attempting to engage her in too much conversation. He had noticed his dancing partner watching his new friend from afar many times over the last couple of days and wondered at the history that lay there. Parys hadn’t explained it to him very well; only divulging the pair had been an item at some point in the past.

While the youngsters danced to the music there were those who took it very seriously and those who felt it their God-given right to make mischief wherever they could. Leshia and Rodeo were amongst the latter group and though they were able to pull off the dancing steps to perfection, they couldn’t do so with straight face. What didn’t help was that Rachel and Parys, a pair that also fell into the latter group of pupils, quickly moved themselves nearer to their best friends and engaged them in a battle of who could ram into who the hardest and knock the other off their feet.

“Rodes! You’ve got to remember I’m like half your height!” Leshia laughed when her partner nearly wrenched her arms out of her sockets in an attempt to get Parys onto the floor.

“Sorry shorty,” her friend offered cheerfully. “I often forget see? I mean you’re very loud for such a small person.”

“Uh! The cheek!” Leshia cried out and stomped once more on the boy’s foot. Rodeo laughed and quickly hopped onto his other foot for a moment to shake the pain out of his injured one. “Not so little now am I?”

“Didn’t feel a thing. What damage do you think those tiny little feet are going to inflict?” Leshia’s jaw dropped humorously and quickly she attempted to stamp once more on her friend’s feet, but Rodeo was prepared and quickly abused his hold he had on the girl to grapple her into a tickling body lock that she couldn’t escape from.

“Rodes! This isn’t fair!”

“Stop that this instant!”

Leshia’s laugher had evidently been too loud and had drawn the scrupulous attention of Professor McGonagall who stood now, hands on her hips and a massively bemused expression on her tight face.

“Evidently the pair of you can’t work together. I’m going to have to swap you.” Surprisingly Leshia’s smile fell at this turn of events and she caught Rodeo’s eye seeing he felt equally as disappointed. McGonagall was scouring the nearby couples for a replacement pair. She quickly passed over the smirking faces of Rachel and Parys to find a more suitable couple, which she did within moments. “Ah yes, Miss Potter, would you please swap with Miss Malfoy?”

While the raven-haired and blonde girl swapped partners Rachel and Parys glanced to one another gravely. They could sense the significance of the swap even if McGonagall couldn’t. That Katie was over the moon and Rodeo suddenly uncomfortable was evident to the two close friends and with a foreboding look they got back to their dance at the teacher’s instruction.

Leshia meanwhile found herself stood before the devilishly attractive foreign boy, feeling suddenly shy and unsure of herself. For Raffa there was no such insecurity and with a self-assured ease he held his hand out to the girl. Leshia placed her own hand delicately in his and felt a shiver run up her spine as his other hand gently fell on her waist.

“Do they make you do this sort of rubbish at the Institute?” the girl asked with a nervous laugh, as the pair started dancing perfectly in time with one another. Raffa regarded his partner for a moment with a curious smile before finally he shook his head.

“No they do not. Is this not fun to you?” For a moment Leshia rolled her eyes and sniggered.

“Not really, no. Why are you having a great time then?”

“When I find myself dancing with the most beautiful girl in the room I cannot complain I think.” Leshia met the boy’s hazel eyes and forgot for a moment where they were and what they were doing.

“Are you always such a smooth talker?” she asked amusedly. Raffa grinned charmingly and shook his head.

“I am sorry,” he offered amusedly and for a moment Leshia caught his eye before they both laughed.

“I hate being judged by how I look,” Leshia explained after the pair of teenagers had gathered themselves.

“You think it is a bad thing?”

“Definitely. Pretty girls, and I’m not trying to say I’m pretty, but pretty girls aren’t the sort of people who play dirty at quidditch, or who sneak out after curfew to throw parties, or who get themselves kicked out of lessons. And I’m not saying that I do all that stuff either, I just hate it that whenever I do step out of line people always seem shocked by it.”

“Maybe they are shocked because your father is a teacher?”

“Well that’s also true. My mum used to be a teacher here too you know and she was exactly what you expect a teacher to be.”

“Your mother is Senorita Westcoast no?” Leshia wrinkled her brow curiously. “Luisa tells me.”

“Oh right. Yeah she’s my mum, only she’s called Hermione Granger-Malfoy now.”

“Your mother was a very nice lady,” Raffa said kindly. “I can see now why you are you beautiful…”

“Raffa!” Leshia warned fondly.

“Okay, okay. I am sorry, but I cannot lie okay?” For a moment Leshia narrowed her eyes up at the boy amusedly, wondering what she was going to do about this boy who was evidently flirting with her. He was very handsome and charming and would be gone before she knew it so where was the harm? But flirting…how on earth did one consciously make the effort to flirt?

“If you say anything soppy like that again I’ll have to tickle you,” the girl warned, turning to the only device she had at her fingertips, quite literally, and that was physical impropriety.

“What does this tickle mean?” the boy asked with a frown and soon regretted it when his dancing partner’s sharp fingers dug into his sides making him writhe with laughter.

Even after Leshia had been swapped to her third partner with a warning that any more high jinks would lead to her being expulsed from the room, the pair still caught one another’s eye across the dance floor and though Leshia was aware of the fact that she was behaving a little out of character, she couldn’t help but love the thrill of it all. She’d been acting out of character all summer, why stop now?

XXX

The Three Broomsticks was packed full of cheery Hogwarts pupils that brisk Saturday afternoon. It had come as a treat to the pupils and guests of Hogwarts that a trip to Hogsmeade was scheduled for that very weekend and as such the youngsters had enjoyed a fun-filled morning showing the newcomers to the castle round Britain’s only all-magic community.

Raffa and Luisa had been shown to every sight the village had to offer from the Shrieking Shack to the Owlery and even Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes which they had stumbled out of with their satchels bursting full of treats. After all that rushing around the fourth years had decided that a cold butterbeer was in order and had managed to squeeze themselves into the pub and commandeer a booth. It was a tight squeeze, but nobody seemed to mind.

The moment everyone had got themselves settled in Leshia had jumped to her feet stating the first round was on her. Within moments Raffa had joined her leaving the others watching after the suddenly intimate twosome as they squeezed up against one another at the bar.

“Does anyone else think that Leesh is acting a little strange?” Rachel finally posed to the group after everyone had mulled this turn of events over in their heads. Rodeo and Parys quickly nodded.

“Very strange!”

“She’s acting like a different person,” Rodeo grumbled, while across the table Katie was shaking her head firmly.

“Would you listen to yourselves?” she demanded.

“What you don’t think she’s acting out of character?” Rachel countered hotly, wanting more than ever for her clever cousin to take her side so that she might think of a way to rectify the situation.

“No, I think she’s just having a good time that’s all.”

“Kate she’s going after boys left right and centre. That’s not Leesh.”

“Rachel’s right, she’s not been herself all week. Maybe we should say something?” Parys suggested.

“Now hold it right there,” Katie suddenly stated authoritatively. “Leshia’s just letting her hair down so leave her alone! She’s had a really hard summer. If she wants to go after this guy then just let her. You all sound jealous.” Though her insult had been aimed at the group at large her green eyes had pierced Rodeo’s coldly while she said it making her sentiments clear.

“Jealous?” Rachel demanded. “Katie I couldn’t give a toss about Raffa. No offence or anything, but I really don’t care that much. What I do care about is that Leshia’s suddenly hanging round with all these strange guys and she doesn’t even realise how…well how easy she looks.”

By the time Leshia returned with the drinks she was surprised to see she had obviously broken up an argument. The girl though, didn’t try to decipher what had happened between her friends choosing instead to carry on her animated discussion with her new friend.

The others stayed out of sorts the rest of the afternoon and still Leshia didn’t question what their argument had been about. It was almost as though she didn’t care and later on that evening when she and Rachel ambled up to bed ahead of the others to work on their Potions homework her friend called her on it.

“Been in your own little world today have you?” Rachel remarked casually to the blonde girl on their way up the spiral stairs. Leshia frowned heavily at her best friend and shook her head.

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“I think you do. Don’t you care what we were all talking about while you were at the bar?” Leshia’s brow was darkening, but slowly she shook her head.

“I couldn’t care less actually. I don’t want any part in your arguments.”

“It was about you.”

By now the girls had reached their dormitory where Leshia stopped in her tracks and narrowed her eyes at her dear friend.

“What do you mean it was about me?”

“Leesh we’re…”

“No! You have no right to go talking about me behind my back Rach! Seriously I thought you were better than that.” The blonde girl seemed genuinely hurt and confused, though her legendary Malfoy temper could be seen bubbling beneath the surface. Rachel knew she’d have to tread carefully.

“I’m really worried about you. You’ve not been acting like yourself all week and…”

“So? I’m not hurting anyone am I?” Thinking back to the looks on Parys and Rodeo’s faces at the bar Rachel carried on,

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with the new boys Leesh and…”

“Rachel are you serious?” Leshia demanded incredulously. “Please tell me you’re not going to give me this speech. You sound like my dad!”

“Yeah well someone has to seeing as you’ve all but cut him out of your life.” The words fell out of Rachel’s mouth before she’d really thought them through, but once they were out there she couldn’t very well claw them back in. Leshia looked as though she’d been struck.

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

An awkward silence passed in which the best friends stared one another in the eye, unsure of what to do with the painful emotions coursing through them. They couldn’t remember a time they’d had a serious fight and weren’t sure what to do now they found themselves in one.

“Leesh I just want the old you back…”

“This is the real me!” Leshia cried out angrily. “And if you don’t like what you see then you can bugger off and not be my friend anymore!”

With this the argument was finished as abruptly as it had started and after glaring tearfully at the redhead girl Leshia stormed across the dormitory and enclosed herself in the curtains of her four-poster. For a moment Rachel hovered feeling such anxiety that she longed to run over to her friend and apologise till she was blue in the face, but something stopped her and very slowly she backed out of the dormitory and back down the stairs. She couldn’t quite make it all the way and dropped down instead on the mezzanine level beside the railing so that she could look out onto the joyous common room.

What had just happened? She and Leshia never fought. Why couldn’t she have just kept her big mouth shut?

Running footsteps sounded in the stairwell and moments later a figure darted past and up the boys stairwell. The footsteps promptly came to a halt and after only a few seconds a cheery face popped into Rachel’s eye line.

“Rach? What are you doing?” Parys asked curiously, while he made himself comfortable opposite the girl on the floor. His large eyes seemed concerned. “I thought you and Leshia went up to bed.”

“We did, but then we had a fight.”

“Oh right. About what?”

“I told her I thought she wasn’t acting like herself and she took it so personally.” Rachel hugged herself stiffly, feeling ashamed that her eyes were going glassy in front of Parys.

“Oh,” the boy sighed and after a moment’s hesitation he shuffled over to Rachel’s side and pulled her into the crook of his arm. A few tears spilled onto the girl’s freckled cheeks, which she rubbed furiously at.

“She seemed to angry that we were talking about her, like we haven’t got a right to feel worried about her. She’s going it on her own Parys.”

“Leshia’s in a rough place right now Rach. She’s been through a lot and I can understand why she’s acting crazy, but that doesn’t mean she can treat us like crap…”

“She’s not treating us like crap,” Rachel grumbled half-heartedly.

“Well no, not quite, but I kinda think she might start soon if she continues the way she’s going.”

Rachel hung her head and brushed away at more tears that fell.

“We’ve just got to help her through it,” the boy said wisely. “I mean that’s what friends are for right?”

“I just hate to see her messing everything up for herself you know? She’s shooting herself in the foot! And she’s just so damn stubborn…” Rachel trailed off and buried her face in her knees. For a moment Parys stared at her uneasily while her shoulders trembled, before he wrapped his other arm around her and hugged the girl firmly.

“Leshia’s lucky to have you Rachel, she really is. And if she doesn’t see that then she’s a blind little midget.”

“Parys!”


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