Draco Malfoy was on his feet the moment the Ministry Owls swooped into the Great Hall bearing their message to his young and innocent child. He stared in horror, his heart thumping wildly in his chest while it read its message aloud. The moment it had started glowing he winced, remembering very well the day his letter came and branded him similarly…he remembered the pain and the humiliation… He had deserved it though; his little girl had not. While Leshia stared down at her hurt right hand in shock the High Table erupted into disapproving and furious noise. Draco remained silent and paced round the back of the upset teachers to find Silas Tripper staring at his young daughter with a sickly smile.
“You,” Draco managed through a constricted throat. He had never felt so angry before in all his days. Tripper turned slowly and upon seeing the agony on Draco’s face smiled even broader still.
“Something the matter Malfoy?” the cruel man asked breezily.
“She’s fifteen Tripper. Fifteen!” Uncontrollably Draco’s hand jerked with pent up emotion, giving off the impression that the tall and dangerous man was quite deranged. “You’re condemning an innocent child to the suspicion murderers and criminals deserve.”
“The Ministry is not in the business of incriminating innocent young girls Malfoy. If your daughter has been branded with the Eye then you had better believe she deserved it.” Draco twitched once more and he took a step towards the filthy pockmarked man he hated so.
“I’m going rip you apart you cruel…” For a moment it looked as though Draco was going to go through with his threat, but quite suddenly a tall and powerful presence came over the two hot-headed men. Both turned in time to see Albus Dumbledore standing inches from them shaking his head roughly.
“Not here gentlemen,” the headmaster ordered and he indicated the student body, who were all staring at the top table in shock. “Draco I must speak with Leshia alone. Tripper has shown me the book he spoke of before and I need to discuss it with her.”
“But Albus she’s my…”
“I understand dear friend,” Dumbledore countered softly. “And you will see her before too long, but really I must discuss this matter with her. With any luck the Ministry will remove the Eye before the night is through. To brand a child…” This last part he added in an undertone to himself and Draco was relieved to see the headmaster was as angry about this matter as he himself was. “Draco come to my study in one hour. Please, go home and comfort your wife, she will no doubt have been notified of this by the Ministry.”
Pitifully Draco nodded eliciting a snigger from the scarred man at his side. Before Draco could strike the despicable man however, Dumbledore wheeled on the Runes teacher with a look of cold fury.
“You had better return to your quarters Mr Tripper,” the headmaster spoke softly. “And hope that our paths do not cross while I am in this frame of mind.”
Dumbledore’s very aura turned hostile and after a quick smirk at the shocked and frightened girl at Gryffindor table Tripper turned on heal and headed out the staff door at the back of the Great Hall. Draco watched him go, wanting very much to chase after him and beat the sickening man into the ground. He resisted the powerful urge though and looked to his poor daughter, who seemed so very small and alone in and amongst the shocked student body. All he could offer her was a pained looking smile, before he walked the length of the hall and out the grand doors into the entrance hall. Leshia watched him go and felt her heart quickening.
‘He’s leaving me,’ she though weakly. ‘He’s leaving…’
“I think it best,” Dumbledore had started speaking to the shocked looking pupils. “That you all return to your common rooms.” The tall and venerable old man’s eyes fell on Leshia and she knew he meant for her to follow him. There was a general amble to get out of the hall and slowly chatter rose up while people discussed the curious events they had witnessed. Only Leshia and her friends stayed rooted to the spot.
“Leesh are you coming?” Katie asked softly, but Leshia shook her head.
“Dumbledore wants me to go with him,” she replied meekly.
“That’s probably for the best,” Rachel now chimed in bravely, her smile false, but her voice powerful. “Maybe he can get rid of that vile thing.”
“Does it hurt?” Rodeo asked, his dark eyebrows nearly coming together in worry. Leshia nodded shakily.
“A lot,” she whispered. “It won’t stop stinging.”
The fourth year friends looked very much as though they wanted to scoop the injured girl up and carry her off with them, but the headmaster was still standing and waiting for her to join him. After a brave smile to her concerned friends Leshia climbed over the bench and approached the teachers’ table. They were all still stood around, watching as the cause of all this uproar walked up to them. Leshia felt ashamed and dirty and tried to hide the mark on her hand from their pitying gazes.
The girl felt especially annoyed at the grave expression on Severus Snape’s face…he seemed almost protective of her, which only fuelled the girl’s upset. The last thing she wanted now was for known enemies to start smudging the borders and acting like friends. Before too long the girl had reached the head table where Dumbledore reached out a hand to her.
“Come Leshia, join me in my study.” The girl nodded stiltedly and followed her headmaster out the door Tripper had fled by moments before. They spoke not a word on the short walk to the statue of the Phoenix that concealed the entrance to Dumbledore’s study. Before too long though they were walking into the round grand dome Leshia had many a time come to know. How often had she been called here?
‘Too many times,’ she sighed to herself as she made herself comfortable in one of the deep-seated chairs before Dumbledore’s desk. She felt a shiver of embarrassment and shame when she saw her scrapbook sat in the middle of the headmaster’s desk. Dumbledore saw her gaze fall on the book.
“Yes, that is why you have been branded child,” he said softly, before he took up his own seat behind the desk. “It is a weak and shameless excuse to use you as a pawn in their mission to get to your father, but there we have it. Sometimes fear makes even great men do weak and shameless things.”
“Excuse me sir?” Leshia finally spoke. “But who’s trying to get to my dad?”
“Minister Crayik,” Dumbledore replied easily. “That is why Mr Tripper has come to work in our midst Miss Malfoy. Your father is a powerful man and one the Minister has been persuaded to mistrust.”
“Sir I thought…well…the minister, he doesn’t trust me either does he?” A sad smile pulled onto Dumbledore’s weathered face, before finally he shook his head.
“You are a curiosity. A powerful young witch who has a remarkable ability to escape dangerous situations unscathed. This frightens them. And also, though I feel ashamed on their behalf to admit this, they fear you because your father raised you. As long as they suspect and fear him, they will suspect and fear you also.”
“They’re right to feel afraid,” the girl muttered bitterly. “I hate them! They’re cowards! After everything he did for them. After everything he had to give up!” Leshia’s shoulders rose and fell dramatically, but then they dropped when she thought of all the times her father had sacrificed their time together for the ministry when she was growing up. “Everything I had to give up. They’ve got no right to think he’s working against them!”
“No child, they don’t,” Dumbledore sighed.
“He’s only ever tried to do what’s best,” the girl was continuing. “He worked like a dog for them! Why don’t they trust him?” Just where this protective energy was flowing from Leshia wasn’t sure, but deep within her the loyal creature that was her Malfoy heritage awoke spitting and screaming.
“I believe it was when Lucius reappeared,” Dumbledore replied with a well-concealed smile. He could never let the girl know how relieved her father would feel to see her talking in such terms.
“But Lucius tried to kill me. He attacked my mum and dad. Why would he do that if he was working with us?”
“They are frightened because Draco, who has been responsible for a great number of important cases, lied to them. Your father told them long ago that Lucius had been killed, that he himself had taken the Death Eater’s life. When it became evident he had lied your father faced an inquiry into all other cases he had dealt with…”
“He what?” Leshia gasped. “He never said anything…”
“Over the past year and half Miss Malfoy your father has been under an enormous amount of strain, but why should he show this to his daughter? For as long as I have known Draco as a father he has tried his best to protect his children from the dangers that surround them and the trouble they find themselves in.”
“But he…” the girl trailed off and her eyes fell to the scrapbook.
“Draco has faced a backlash from the people he once strove so hard to help. The general public still hold him in high regard though, which will not do of course. For many months now it has been Minister Crayik’s intention to slander your father and lock him away where he can be controlled.” Leshia looked up with wide eyes once more.
“Lock him away?” she whispered. “In Azkaban?” Grimly Dumbledore nodded.
“As I said Miss Malfoy, fear makes even great and powerful men do shameful things.”
“But my dad’s not scary, not really. He’s…well he’s…he’s my dad.” Despite the gravity of the situation Dumbledore chuckled warmly and nodded.
“And you are a teenaged girl, yet they fear you. Fear you enough to brand you in such a way.” Dumbledore’s wise blue eyes fell to the itching mark on Leshia’s young right hand – her writing hand for maximum exposure.
“What does it mean sir? It looks like an eye.”
“It is an eye. Or rather, it’s the Eye. Only the foulest of criminals and most suspected felons in the country are put under the power of the Eye. They can trace you now and observe your movements. It is a mark of utmost shame in most circles. Rarely, if ever, are people branded with the Eye and then turn out to be innocent.” Leshia frowned worriedly.
“I’ve never heard of this Eye,” Leshia complained. “If it’s so shameful, then how come us kids don’t know about it?” Once more the old headmaster smiled sadly.
“Be thankful you do not know all the world’s dark secrets young lady. The Eye is a manifestation of a paranoid governance. Crayik introduced the system long ago when he was the Minister of Aurors. It was a dark time when Voldemort’s followers were causing nearly as much trouble as their dark lord had once caused. The Eye was one of the many ways to combat the dark forces and though it has fallen out of regular usage, many still remember the wide berth given to those with the eye seared into their flesh.”
“Will it ever go away?” Leshia asked worriedly and she rubbed at the itching mark on her hand. Dumbledore nodded slowly.
“If you are proven innocent, you will be removed from the list and the mark will fade.”
“How come there aren’t more of these things floating about? I mean if I can get one for making a scrapbook then surely half of Slytherin must have one? They’re a nasty bunch of…”
“Alecia,” the wizened wizard chuckled gravely. “I have already told you about the extraordinary circumstances that have led to you being shamed in such a disproportionately serious manner. Only a few years ago and Crayik would never have dreamed of using it on a fifteen-year-old girl, let alone the daughter of Draco Malfoy, but as I said, fear is twisting the Minister into a man he can barely recognise I am sure. Now then, this scrapbook…” Leshia winced when the headmaster opened the book and glanced at the scribbled notes alongside the newspaper clippings. “You can see how this might look to a man such as Silas Tripper?”
“Yes sir,” the girl uttered grimly. “But it’s the truth isn’t it? I mean I am trying to find him, I haven’t lied about that.”
The old wizard sighed heavily and rested his bearded chin on his balled up hand. For a moment his keen eyes examined the youngster sat before him.
“Why are you trying to find your grandfather?”
“I thought that much would be obvious,” Leshia complained childishly. “He tried to kill me! It’s because of him that nobody trusts me or my dad. Who wouldn’t want to get back at him?”
For a moment Dumbledore stared deeply into Leshia’s eyes as though he were trying to read her very soul. The girl shifted uncomfortably under his gaze, but held her own. Eventually the old man looked down at the scrapbook once more and shook his head.
“You must tread carefully Leshia,” he finally spoke softly. “The Eye means you are in their sight and they will stop at nothing to find you guilty of crimes you could not even have imagined. You started on this path a long time ago and I cannot stop you, but please promise me you will not go looking for trouble. I feel it will find you before too long.”
For a moment the blonde girl felt her skin crawl at this grave forecast, but finally she nodded sincerely.
“I’ll keep my head down sir.”
“Good. I hope you do not mind, but I feel it best if I hang onto this for the time being.” Leshia glanced to the scrapbook and felt a peculiar sense of longing for her work, but after a few moments she nodded.
“Of course. Um…” the girl hesitated while she climbed to her feet, feeling ashamed of what she wanted to ask. Dumbledore sensed her concerns.
“Your father has gone home at my bidding. He will be back shortly. It was important for me to discuss these matters with you privately Leshia and you know your father better than any. Had he remained he would not have left your side for love nor money.”
“Will I be able to talk to him when he comes?” Leshia asked miserably, hating herself for needing to see her father, for needing his support and protection.
“I am sure he will come for you when we are through.” For a moment Leshia hesitated, but eventually she nodded and climbed to her feet. Her initial terror had now subsided into an irritated annoyance. How dare the Ministry use her as a pawn to get to her father!
“Sir the letter, it said something about reporting to a Ministry official…that’ll Professor Tripper won’t it?” Dumbledore’s blue eyes stared calmly at the young girl, before he nodded slowly.
“Yes. You will have to go to his office every day until this mess is sorted out. I have to warn you Leshia; you must not cross him while he holds ultimate control over your fate. Do not give him a reason to drag you before a panel. He may ask you anything he wishes during your daily meetings and I hope dear girl that you answer him truthfully.”
Leshia hung her head and sighed heavily.
“What about when I’m home for Christmas, what happens then?”
“Do not think of that yet Leshia, I cannot imagine that you will still wear the Eye come Christmas time…”
“Yes, but if? What will happen?”
“Well I would think you would need to report in at the Ministry of Magic every day, but as I said, do not allow such thoughts to trouble you.”
Leshia nodded falsely, wondering how she ought not let such troubling events bother her. The Ministry were steps away from locking her away and thought her a threat to the Wizarding population, what was there to worry about?
“Sir…you won’t let my father fight him will you?”
“Well, I saw, I saw them facing off about to duel, but if my dad attacks Tripper…I mean Professor Tripper, then he’ll be locked away won’t he? So I suppose I’m just asking you to talk my dad out of it when you see him.”
A broad smile grew on Dumbledore’s weathered face, but eventually he nodded.
“I have no doubt your father feels he is owed revenge, but I will do my best to dissuade him. He is a reasonable man, I am sure he will not act rashly.”
“Okay,” the girl uttered unsurely, but she started backing away towards the door nonetheless. She was rubbing the cruel mark on her hand.
“I wish I could recommend something for the pain,” the old headmaster sighed and Leshia could have sworn his voice sounded heavy with emotion and sorrow. “But you will find nothing can alleviate it. It was designed to remind you constantly of your predicament and it will bother you till the day it is finally removed.”
“Was it also designed to make you really embarrassed?” the girl grumbled tetchily eliciting a fond chuckle from the wise old man behind the desk.
“Perhaps. Return to Gryffindor Tower now Leshia. The Heads of Houses have explained the situation to the student body, but you can be assured many will have questions to ask of you.”
“Can I tell them everything?”
“I would advise using your discretion child, do you wish to aid the Ministry in weakening your father’s position by spreading rumours of their suspicions of him?” Quickly Leshia shook her head.
“No, I would never!”
“Then there is your answer.” The girl turned to go, but before she was quite out the door Dumbledore called out to her, “Leshia.”
“Should Mr Tripper be abusing his new position as your keeper, you must notify me right away.” The steely look was back in Dumbledore’s keen blue eyes and though his anger was not directed at her Leshia shuddered inwardly.
Quickly Leshia descended the spiral steps and emerged in the dark corridor beyond. In the moonlight her new branded mark glowed a sinister red. For a moment it glowed bright, accompanied by a searing pain.
“Ow!” the girl cried out and hugged her injured hand close to her chest. “You buggers!”
She was too furious to return to the common room. Besides, she didn’t feel she could handle an inquisition from well-meaning friends and peers. With a determined frown she set off towards the courtyard from which she would be able to monitor the comings and goings to the Headmaster’s study. She wanted her father to get there so she could make sure he definitely wasn’t about to attack Tripper. Though her own predicament was very grave, Leshia’s only thoughts were on her father’s.
“How dare they suspect him, after everything,” she grumbled while she dropped down on a secluded bench deep in the shadows. Nobody would find her here.
Draco paced the corridor with a heavyset frown and a dark glint in his usually pale eyes. His thoughts were lingering on the Ancient Runes quarters where he could so easily slip instead of to the Headmaster’s study and curse that coward Tripper into oblivion. Hermione had taken the news of their daughter’s branding rather well and with the usual optimism Draco had come to admire in his wife, whereas his thoughts were only dark and grave.
Up ahead the statue of the Phoenix loomed and with a heavy sigh Draco sped on. He paused outside of it and uttered the password causing the spiral staircase to lurch into action for a moment. The tall and dangerous man was about to step onto it when something caught his attention…or rather a feeling niggled at the back of his head and made him turn around and glance into the dark courtyard. He couldn’t explain why he was drawn to it and felt he would have explored the peculiar feeling had he not needed to see the Headmaster.
Instead of marching off to investigate though he shook his head to remove the chilling sensation and raced up the stairs at a jog. The Headmaster’s door lay ajar and after knocking ever so lightly, the once Death Eater stepped over the threshold to find the wizened old headmaster waiting for him.
“Draco,” Dumbledore called to the impatient man he had long known as his friend. “Do sit down.”
The angry man obliged the headmaster and sat in the seat his daughter had only recently vacated. He had only been sitting a moment before his eyes were drawn towards the scrapbook still lying on Dumbledore’s desk.
“Of course Draco, take it,” the older man offered humbly. Within an instant Draco had snatched up the book filled with his daughter’s writing and his father’s paper trail. His brow dipped lower and lower as he read, until finally he let out an exasperated sigh and threw the book onto the desk once more in anger.
“That girl! Tripper’s on her case and she purposefully incriminates herself with crap like this?” Infuriated, and with no arena to vent his frustrations, Draco shut his eyes tightly and leant hard on his balled up fist, but the angry feelings still remained so he kicked out at one of the table legs making the grand old desk shudder. “I’m sorry Albus, I just can’t quite believe this has happened. Leshia…the Eye! It’s just all so surreal. What the hell is Crayik thinking?”
“Minister Crayik has long been under the sway of the likes of Tripper and those like him. You know that Draco. So long as the Minister has a nervous council of advisors whispering in his ear you will never be free from their condemnation and sadly, neither will your daughter.”
“This is madness though Albus, since when has the Eye been used to brand a fifteen-year-old girl? If the press caught wind of this…”
“There would be a lot of awkward questions to answer,” Dumbledore quickly interrupted. “Do not invite the wolf to the door Draco, you would soon regret their involvement. The press are ravenous and will twist a story so as to appeal to the public. You could very easily make your situation worse.”
Draco grinded his teeth together and held Dumbledore’s gaze for a moment. What could he do? There was little choice but to quietly accept what had happened while campaigning through the right channels to have his precious daughter’s removed from a list she had no business being on.
“She’s been assigned to Tripper hasn’t she?” the man finally asked darkly, eliciting a nod of affirmation from the headmaster. “He’ll eat her alive. You know my daughter Albus, she’s got the patience of a cocker spaniel, he would have her perpetrating all manner of misdemeanours before the week was through. Do you think I might sit in on their meetings?”
The expression on Draco’s face clearly read he was unwilling to take no for an answer.
“That decision is not mine to make and you and I both know Tripper will refuse such a request.”
“Yes, but Leshia is an underage witch. Surely they cannot deny the girl the protection of a guardian?”
“There is no precedent for such a case that much is certain. I feel that should you personally appeal to Minister Crayik he would oblige you in this matter. I feel your influence has not been entirely corrupted yet,” Dumbledore responded carefully. Draco nodded.
“No I agree. That old dog may be a coward, but he can’t ignore the sacrifices I’ve made for him.”
The two men lapsed into silence while Draco drummed his fingers on his leg; it was as though he were itching to get going so as to call on the Minister at once. Crayik would no doubt avoid him for as long as possible, which meant Draco could spare no time. He had to get through to the Minister before Leshia’s first meeting with Tripper the following day.
“Albus I should go.”
“Yes I know. There is much to be done. I too will try to hail the Minister. I feel he and I have much to discuss.” Draco rose to his feet. “Before you go Draco, your daughter asked me to ensure you would not fight Silas when you see him.” Draco’s brow rose up on his forehead in surprise.
“She is very concerned that you will fall right into their hands by acting revenge on Mr Tripper. I too feel it would be unwise to pander to his obvious attempt to lure you into a battle that might see you incarcerated for a long time.”
“Leshia was concerned about me?” Draco seemed beside himself quite suddenly and the sight of it made Dumbledore smile.
“Indeed, loyal as well. You will find her down in the courtyard I believe. She has been waiting for you.” Draco registered the coincidence in his mind but spoke nothing of it to the headmaster. Why had he felt such a strange sensation in response to the courtyard? Usually he could use his Legilimensy to sense when Leshia was near, but on this occasion he hadn’t known her to be hiding in the shadows. Rather, something quite alien to him had caught his attention.
“I’ll keep you informed of my process Albus,” Draco spoke heavily on his way to the door.
“And I you. Good luck Draco.” With this the hot-headed man disappeared through the door and hurried down the steps towards the courtyard. He was there within moments, peering into the shadows, trying to ignore the peculiar feeling he got in the back of his mind, but then he saw a little shape huddled on a bench in the corner. Slowly he straightened up, as he had been leaning over to peer into the darkness, and approached the figure alone in the dark.
He spoke not a word as he sat down beside his daughter on the bench and stared down at the slightly glowing mark on her young hand. The shock he felt when he realised that it was the source of his peculiar sensation he hid well and did not let on to his daughter that he feared the fact that he couldn’t sense her though he could sense that mark on her hand.
“Is it hurting?” he asked softly. Slowly the girl nodded in the dark.
“Lots,” she whispered in response. “What’ll happen now?”
“We go on as normal and we don’t let them win.”
“Dad I’m so angry,” the girl uttered and her tone betrayed the fury she felt at being stigmatised in such a way. Draco smiled despite the gravity of the situation and nodded.
“I can understand that.”
“No you don’t understand,” the girl countered sharply. “I want to kill him! Tripper I mean. He’s such a rat!”
“Sweetheart don’t say things like that,” Draco admonished quietly.
“Why? It’s true!”
“Because of this,” Draco replied and he reached out to lift his daughter’s branded hand. The girl didn’t pull away. “You’ll have to tread carefully from now on.”
“Surely it can’t tell what I’m thinking. Can it?” Draco smiled sadly and held tightly to his little girl’s small hand.
“I used to think so. You see…I had one once.”
“Do you remember me telling you they put me on trial?” Leshia nodded in the dark. “Well prior to the hearing I was branded with the Eye. It only took one dubious conversation with a dark character down Knockturn Alley to land me in Azkaban. They wouldn’t listen to me when I explained the man was an informer. When you’re branded anything you do will be considered evidence against you.”
“You never told me about the Eye before.”
“It’s not exactly something I’m proud of sweetheart,” the tall man chuckled. “Besides, you never told me about that scrapbook of yours.”
“Well that’s different,” the girl complained weakly.
“Oh yes and why’s that?”
“Because I’m not speaking to you right now. If I were then I might have told you.” Despite the anger bubbling in the pit of Draco’s stomach he burst out into hearty laughter and wrapped his arm about his daughter.
“Oh of course, because when we’re getting on you and I, you tell me everything. How foolish of me to forget.” In the dark Leshia smirked.
“Dad I wish I didn’t…I mean, I wish I didn’t have to…”
“I don’t hate you,” Leshia complained tiredly. “I don’t hate you, but I wish things were the way they used to be. I really miss you. And mum.”
“But Leshia we’re still here,” Draco complained passionately. “Nothing has changed in that respect. We still love you as much as we always have!”
Leshia sighed heavily and shook her head. How could they love her the same as they always had? They had two children to love now…surely their feelings for her had been at least halved by the arrival of their sister?
“Why are you so stubborn?” Draco demanded suddenly, though the girl could hear he was smiling; this allowed her to smile too.
“You know why. You and mum are hardly the most easy-going of people you know that?” Draco laughed heartily once more and squeezed his daughter’s shoulders tightly. He felt he could stay there all night talking to his daughter in this comfortable manner. It had been many months since she had allowed him so close, but he had to leave. He had to protect her from Crayik and Tripper.
“Sweetheart I have to go,” Draco uttered reluctantly. Leshia seized up a little; she still needed her father, why did he have to leave?
“Why?” The panic in her tone made Draco’s resolve waver furiously.
“Because I have to go see the Minister. I will not have that vile man Tripper interrogate and antagonise you on your own, but if I don’t get permission from the Minister then I won’t be allowed in with you.”
His reason was sound and Leshia felt she couldn’t really hold him back, as he was acting in her best interests, but a part of her didn’t want to let him go. It was this part of her that grabbed onto his shirt.
“Don’t go! Please! I don’t want to be alone.” The fear in her voice was agonising for her father, but firmly he pulled her hands from his shirt and stood to his feet. Leshia was helpless but to follow him and cling to his side.
“I’ll walk you back to Gryffindor Tower, but then I really do have to go.” Determinedly the father started guiding his teenaged daughter in the direction of Gryffindor Tower and though she rattled off a number of reasons why he couldn’t leave her behind, he remained steadfast. By the time they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady Leshia’s eyes were wide with worry and it broke Draco’s heart to leave her in this state.
“Just go straight up to bed, don’t feel you have to explain yourself to anyone,” the tall man told the girl firmly. Leshia nodded weakly, resigned now to the fact that her father was leaving.
“Dad you won’t do anything stupid will you?”
“Like what? Throw Crayik out a window?” Though he was joking there was a dark glint in Draco’s eye.
“It’s not funny! Promise me you won’t?”
“I promise you I won’t do anything to make this situation any worse. I’m trying to keep Crayik on side remember?” Warily Leshia nodded.
“Okay.” Quite suddenly she threw her arms round her father’s chest and hugged him tightly. This was all the affection she felt able to give and before her father had even been given the chance to properly respond she spun round and uttered the password to the portrait. It swung open promptly and without so much as glancing back Leshia hopped through it. The powerful emotions causing her heart to thump thunderously in her chest were confusing and terrifying and she had to get away; she had to talk to Katie and Rachel.
As she entered the common room the chattering Gryffindors trickled into silence and stared at the branded girl with wide eyes. She offered them a stubborn grimace, before walking through their midst with her head held high. Katie and Rachel were nowhere to be seen and so without a second thought Leshia careened up the stairs to the fourth year girls’ dormitory.
Her friends were sat on Katie’s bed with Luisa, trying to pretend to do their homework while their minds drifted off to Leshia’s side. At the girl’s arrival they jumped from the bed and enveloped their friend in an enormous and supportive hug.
“Are you okay?”
“What did Dumbledore say?”
“You’ve been gone ages!”
“We thought they’d carted you off to Azkaban!”
“We’ve been so worried!”
Leshia finally pulled back from her friends and caught sight of Luisa slipping out of the dormitory leaving the three friends to talk in private. Before the two cousins could get another word in Leshia retold the whole story to them. By the time she was done her friends were astonished and unsure of how to respond.
“You don’t seem scared anymore,” Katie finally spoke curiously. “You were practically shaking earlier.”
“Oy,” Leshia grumbled with a small smile. “Wouldn’t you be scared?”
“That’s the thing, I’d still be scared!” Katie complained admiringly. “But you…”
“You’ve got that look in your eye Leesh,” Rachel picked up when her cousin fell silent at a loss for words. “That ‘I’m going to get my own back’ sort of look.”
Leshia shifted uncomfortably and rubbed at the back of her head.
“I do want to get my own back,” she finally replied. “But if I try anything Tripper will have me locked away. I’m worried about what my dad’ll do to be honest. He’s off to see the Minister now…I dread to think what’ll happen if Crayik acts all arsy with him.”
“Your dad can handle himself. If he’s been under an inquisition for over a year then you don’t have to worry about him cocking it up now,” Rachel countered wisely to which Leshia nodded doubtfully.
“If you say so. All I know is if he doesn’t win his case and I have to face Tripper on my own every day till they get rid of this bloody Eye…” Leshia waved her branded sore hand at her friends. “Then I’ll land myself in Azkaban before the week is through!”
Everyone stopped and stared as Draco Malfoy stalked along the corridors towards Minister Crayik’s offices. Time had flown by and the frustrated father had spent the whole night calling in favours in order to gain an audience with the Minister. It was now eight in the morning, which gave Draco only one hour to secure an acceptable solution to the grave problem of Leshia’s branding. Though his primary concern was getting Crayik to agree to his accompanying her in her meetings with Tripper, a small part of him hoped he might make the Minister see sense and remove her from the List.
Guarding the entrance to the high security wing of the Ministry were four Aurors Draco had known well back in his Ministry days. They had been informed their ex-colleague would be stopping by, but even so, the sight of their former friend made them burn with shame. They had trusted Draco with their lives and still did. Crayik’s paranoia hadn’t spread to the ranks yet and those who had fought alongside Draco Malfoy had protested furiously against the branding of the man’s daughter. Word of Leshia’s fate hadn’t been widely publicised, but most of the Auror department had heard and felt ashamed.
“All right Draco,” the more senior of the Aurors at the door spoke up gruffly when Draco reached their side.
“Finch. I have an appointment with the Minister.”
“Yes,” Finch replied heavily. “We’ve heard. Sorry business, the whole thing, such a disgrace.” His former colleague’s solidarity strengthened Draco’s nerve and he nodded minutely in thanks.
“Go right on through, Minister Crayik is expecting you.” With a nod to the men Draco continued through the door they held open for him and he found himself in the broad and decadent corridors of the Minister’s offices. He knew the way and within moments had guided himself to the grand oak door that concealed the extravagant study of the Ministry of Magic. The brooding man swallowed hard before he reached out and knocked hard on the door.
As he did so a peculiar face sprung into life in what had appeared to be a normal panel on the door. Newcomers always got a fright when the Warden made its appearance, but Draco, being no stranger to the Minister’s private study, merely blinked at the gnarled somewhat human face in the wood.
“Do you come in peace?” the ancient hoarse voice rang out. Quickly Draco nodded and almost immediately the face disappeared into the wood once more and the door swung open. Draco had never lied to the Warden, but often wondered at what might happen if he did. He had been told the creature inside the door could sense liars and indeed, on the few occasions that felons had managed to hoodwink the Aurors on guard and reached the Minister’s study, they hadn’t been able to get past the truth-seeing Warden.
For a moment Draco inhaled and exhaled slowly, gathering his thoughts and forcing himself to remain calm. Meeting his former employer who had so shamefully branded his child would test the limits of Draco’s patience, but over the years he had grown to be a very patient man…for Leshia he would do anything!
Minister Crayik had always been a fierce looking man, but paranoia and fear had turned him fiercer still. His thick dark hair had grown silver over the months and the deep lines etched into his face that had once made him seem wise now looked cruel and painful. It was his eyes though that had truly changed. Gone was the keen glint that had kept both the public and the staff on their toes and in its stead there lay a wariness Draco construed as cowardice. Here before him sat not Caius Crayik; here before him sat an impostor.
“Sir,” Draco offered darkly the moment he walked in the door.
“Malfoy,” the Minister returned emotionlessly. The two men sized one another up until finally the older one indicated a chair opposite his desk. Once Draco had taken the seat Crayik spoke, “I was expecting you.”
“Good, then you will know why I have come.”
“I will tell you now that I am not going to change my mind. Anyone caught engaging in suspicious activity is branded with the Eye Malfoy and that includes fifteen-year-old girls! We live in dangerous times and we must stick to procedures!”
“Suspicious activity? Sir it was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings.”
“Your daughter is trying to find the last known Death Eater Malfoy, what would you have me do?” Crayik countered bitterly.
“She has only thoughts of acting revenge upon her grandfather, not join his ranks,” Draco complained. “The man tried to kill her! My daughter is similar in design to myself and you know where my thoughts lie. And tell me, do you really think a child would succeed where whole teams of experienced Aurors have failed? Where I have failed? Do you really think Leshia could have found Lucius?”
“If she is working in league with him he might leave her clues. How can we be sure what they might…”
“Remember who you are talking about…” Draco cut himself short and closed his eyes tightly for a moment to regain his senses. “Sir.”
“Sir,” Draco repeated heavily. “Silas Tripper will not rest until he sees me hanged. I can see you are starting to sway towards his manner of thinking or you wouldn’t have sent him to work at Hogwarts. Tell me though, just tell me that you cannot possibly believe, as he does, that Leshia is capable of working in league with Lucius to bring the Dark Lord back.”
Crayik stared plainly into the wounded father’s eyes and couldn’t help but let his mind drift back to the memories he had accumulated over the years of his encounters with young Alecia Malfoy. His very first meeting with the girl had found him lying flat on his back after his feet had been taken out from under him in the entrance hall of the Malfoy Townhouse. The culprit had been a three-year-old angelic looking child with blonde curls and enormous grey eyes. She had seemed all innocence and smiles, but Crayik knew she had raced her miniature broom towards him on purpose. He had known from the very beginning that the child of Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger was both extraordinarily powerful and also extraordinarily sly, but did shrewdness equate to working in league with the Dark Lord?
“I can only rely on the facts Malfoy,” the Minister finally replied. “And the word of those whom I trust.” Draco stared darkly across the desk and wanted to rant and rave about the injustice of trusting the opinion of a man who wanted nothing more than to see all every single Malfoy rotting away in Azkaban, but instead he nodded slowly.
“Of course. In truth, I have not come before you to have Leshia removed from the List, rather I have come to ask whether I might accompany her during her daily briefings with Tripper.”
Crayik frowned thoughtfully and leaned his chin on his hand.
“Minister the girl is underage after all and though there is no precedent for such a case I feel you must act in her best interests. She has yet to be proven guilty and until such a judgment is made you cannot expose her to a potentially harmful and terrifying experience unaccompanied.”
“You are right in saying that this is the first such case,” Crayik finally spoke. He seemed dubious. “I’m not sure the situation calls for a guardian though…”
“Think of it as a personal favour sir,” Draco cut in icily, carefully and clearly pronouncing each word as though he were reading to a very young child. “But not a favour to me, a favour to the girl, a favour she is owed.”
“What are you talking about? Speak sense man!”
“Throughout her life she had to go without the full attention and care of her only parent because he was too busy aiding the very same Ministry that has now turned its back on her.”
“Your failure to attend to your daughter does not mean the Ministry owes her a debt of gratitude Malfoy,” Crayik countered sharply.
“Perhaps not directly, but had she caused more of a fuss and demanded my attention then I would not have been able to put in the hours and Britain may still be plagued by Death Eaters. Indirectly sir, you must admit the country has prospered at a child’s expense.”
He was playing a risky game and he knew it, but Crayik seemed so far from allowing Draco to protect his daughter. The Minister was leaning back in his chair and narrowing his eyes, as though he were trying to find fault with Draco’s story. Once Crayik had been a man of incredible honour and justice and this sensible side could not deny the truth behind Draco’s words. In some roundabout way Leshia Malfoy had been forced to sacrifice her childhood happiness in order for her father to save the country and aid the Ministry.
A sharp jab of shame jolted the Minister back to the present and he quickly covered it with a cough.
“You will accompany her to her daily briefings,” the fierce man ordered starkly. “I will inform Tripper. If you have no other matters to discuss with me Malfoy then be gone, I have much to be getting on with.”
A small smile graced Draco’s ravaged face before he inclined his head slightly in thanks. No more words needed to be spoken and within moments he had crossed the door and paced down the corridors. The meeting had not been entirely profitable, in that Leshia still bore the Eye, but at least he would be able to protect her from their immediate concern: Silas Tripper.
And so life for Leshia went on. Her daily routine now had to make room for a gruelling thirty-minute session with her least favoured member of the castle, but at least her father was on hand to shield her from the worst of it. Often she would hold his hand childishly, but he would never mention it. He knew the Eye pained her more intensely when Tripper turned his interrogating questions on her. Sometimes he would rub his thumb over the glowing Eye and he would feel it settling the frightened girl at his side. It calmed him also and prevented him from climbing to his feet and snapping Tripper’s foul pockmarked neck.
Everyone had been very understanding of the night the owls came. Just what the Heads of Houses had told the pupils of Hogwarts Leshia wasn’t quite sure (as no one would really talk to her about it), though she did know she owed them a debt of gratitude. Only though unscrupulous characters such as Damian Allseyer and his gang of cronies brought up the shameful Eye, but Leshia grew very good at ignoring the boy. She knew she had to be on her best behaviour lest Tripper use it as an excuse to lock her away. Privately though she registered each unpleasant comment and gesture and vowed she would get the vile boy back some day.
Those close to Leshia would attest that every cloud has a single lining, as since her branding Leshia had shifted into a semblance of her old self once more. She stayed close to her friends and behaved how she always had. Not once did she lock eyes with a boy she did not know and often chose to squeeze herself between Katie and Rachel rather than risk sitting beside someone of the opposite gender.
And finally in a flurry of excitement the final week of term arrived bringing with it tasteful Christmas decorations and an extra owl post delivery each day to cope with the influx of cards and gifts. The final Thursday of term was a bittersweet morning for those youngsters who had put their names down to perform in the Hearing Aid charity performance. And though most had been practicing daily towards the end everyone felt a jitter of nervousness when they walked into the great hall that day. The stage was yet to be set up, but all about the hall enormous banners displaying the bands (photos the various bands had posed for the day before, much to their amusement and joy).
Lessons seemed to go excrutiangly slowly that day, despite the fact that many of their teachers had given up on actually trying to educate their pupils in favour of allowing them to do fun activities. Finally though the last bell of the day rang out. Most pupils sauntered off to enjoy their common rooms, but all those in a band were called in for a full run through of the concert.
The Small Band had drawn a line-up towards the end of the night and as to whether this was a good or bad thing, the group were decidedly divided.
“Everyone will compare us to whoever’s come before,” Katie muttered under her breath while a shrill Slytherin girl band belted out an unpleasant rendition of a Cauldron Chicks song on stage.
“Yeah well if they’re comparing us to this then you’ve got nothing to worry about,” Rachel complained firmly.
“She’s right Katie, I think that last high note actually pierced my eardrum,” Parys added sounding pained.
“Plus there’s the fact that everyone’ll be bouncing off the walls at that point, so they won’t be so critical…hey, hey! Check Leesh.” As one the members of the Small Band spun round to see the blonde girl, who at this moment in time was looking both terribly disgusted, angry, afraid and upset all in one expression. After a few moments she realised her friends were laughing at her and she threw them a big grin.
“Sorry, I just…why are they doing this? What did we ever do?” Her hand she flung in the direction of the out-of-tune Slytherins. “How’re you feeling Rach? Ready to knock ‘em dead?”
“Hardly,” Rachel countered coyly and she rubbed her cheek embarrassedly.
“Aww look how shy she is,” Parys instantly teased the girl. “I didn’t know your cheeks knew how to blush Rach. Is that something you’ve just had done or…”
“Oh ha ha,” the redhead complained, though an enormous smile had pulled onto her face. “Look lively, we’re going on after this next lot.”
The chattered amongst themselves humorously until quite suddenly they were all silenced by a tremendously fast drum solo. As one the Small band turned and stared in awe at the band of seventh year Ravenclaws who had by now burst into a professional sounding original song. It was very catchy!
“Crap,” Leshia finally exclaimed on behalf of the group.
“We’ve got to go on after them?”
“Is it too late to bail?” Rodeo muttered grimly, earning himself a sharp jab in the ribs courtesy of Rachel’s elbow.
“We’re not bailing! You lot are a bunch of wusses, now pull yourselves together and lets go get ready.”
The suddenly gloomy band members followed Rachel out into the staff corridor, which was serving as a ‘backstage’ area with their heads hanging. Only their leader at the front held her head high and felt strengthened by her confidence in her own abilities. While they waited for the frighteningly professional song to come to a close Leshia sidled over to Rodeo’s side, who was gripping his guitar with an expression of pure terror.
“How’re you feeling?” the girl asked in an undertone.
“Well,” her friend replied contemplatively, betraying none of the fear in his expression. Indeed, he sounded amused. “Let’s see, I can’t feel my fingers, I’ve got a cold sweat running down my back and I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten how to make my legs work, but other than that, just fine. How’bout you?”
Leshia met the boy’s eyes and rolled her own.
“Hey I’ve been telling you lot all along including me in this little shindig would be your own undoing, so actually, I’m quite looking forward to being able to say ‘I told you so’.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself Leesh, you’re tons better than you used to be.”
“Well considering where I started out,” the girl countered with a big smile. “That’s not saying much!”
“Agh Leesh,” Rodeo grumbled and he leaned into the girl to nudge her playfully.
“Well I suppose it could have been worse.”
“I mean I could have poked an eye or two out by now.”
“Hey there’s still time.”
The pair laughed happily with one another, before quite suddenly the prodigal band on stage brought their song to a close to the clatter of applause coming from the few youngsters who were milling about in the hall. Rachel turned on her friends while they filed off like a General would when facing his troops on the front.
“We can do this guys!” she called to them. Leshia thought it more of a battle cry than encouragement. In fact the flame-haired girl seemed so fierce in her resolve that their band wouldn’t be considered a flop that Leshia felt she wouldn’t dare say anything to counter her. Instead she raised her drumsticks into the air and cried out unsurely,
“Let’s go.” And with this Rachel led the way onto the stage and waited before the microphone while everyone found their places. For a moment each and every one of them froze under the scrutiny of the bright lights and the mildly curious faces of the awaiting youngsters. There was an awful silence in which Leshia completely forgot it was her duty to get them all going. Rachel remembered though and turned around sharply.
“Leesh,” she ordered through gritted teeth. “You’re up.”
The blonde girl behind the drums shook herself out of her daze and then stared down at her white knuckles, as they gripped at the drumsticks Luke had given her.
“Okay, here goes nothing,” she finally whispered to herself before quite promptly she started playing as they had rehearsed. The girl couldn’t help but compare this new ‘skill’ to her more favoured pastime of playing quidditch. Where flying hundreds of feet above the ground with only a slim piece of wood to hold her up and battling the odds to stay aloft while throwing herself into death-defying stunts came so naturally, this new task of keeping a steady rhythm going and providing the backbone to an otherwise okay band was strenuous and difficult. Every time she missed a beat or hit the wrong drum she cringed and felt a little less confident until finally she was happy to come to the end of the song.
Thankfully, nobody had even heeded the blonde girl or heard the mistakes she made. Everyone had been completely and utterly blown away by the surprisingly fabulous singer that was Rachel Weasley. In the past Rachel had of course received a lot of attention; she was the best friend of Leshia Malfoy for starters, but had earned their attention and recognition in her own right by playing her part in the extraordinary circumstances Leshia had found herself in over the years. People though, had never really known anything that set the redhead girl apart from the crowd, until now…
Boy that girl could sing!
The crowds were cheering as loud as they had done for the semi-professional seventh years and as Rachel led the way off the stage she seemed in a world of her own. With a grace her friends hadn’t known her to possess she streamed through the crowds of people wanting to congratulate her and took their praise in her stride. It was as though she had been born to be a performer and was now giving the crowds exactly what they wanted.
Her band of friends behind her could only stare in amazement and grin at one another occasionally; of all the people who deserved this, it was Rachel!
Word of the singing sensation that was Rachel Weasley spread through the school like wildfire and by the time the crowds took their seats in the Great Hall they were all intrigued about the Weasley girl and looking forward for Small Band to take to the stage. Those most curious were the girl’s sisters Hermia and Emelia. That their older sister might possess a pleasant singing voice was of course not news to them, but they had never heard her described in such illustrious ways. The older of the two, Hermia, was indignant that her sister was receiving such school-wide acclaim while the younger, Emelia, bounced up and down on her seat impatiently waiting for Rachel to come on.
The girl barely heeded the other bands, though she had to laugh at the hilarious version of a Muggle song that several of the older years put on. She had never heard of the song ‘Barbie Girl’ and indeed, had no idea what a ‘Barbie’ was, but she certainly enjoyed the hilarious singing and prancing about. Finally, after the hall had been first tortured by the Slytherin girls’ out of tune singing and then dazzled by the amazing talent of the Seventh year Ravenclaws on trotted the Small Band.
Where before they had been nervous, now most of them were damn right terrified. Leshia especially felt her heart fluttering so fast she was sure it was about to leap from her chest in an attempt to escape the potentially mortifying situation. She paused longer than she should of and soon found Rodeo, nearest to her, uttering a hushed, “Pssst,” in her direction.
‘Here goers nothing,’ she thought grimly, before once more she burst into the opening of the song.
Similar mistakes were made and even some new ones crept into the routine, but once more those who noticed were highly outnumbered by those who were simply stunned into silence by the vocal stylings of the previously unknown singing sensation Rachel Weasley.
Again, when the song came to a close the hall erupted into applause and catcalls. Hogwarts were going wild for their school’s latest celebrity and the way Rachel’s face lit up at the attention was a warming sight for those close enough to see it. Though the school cheered on the Small Band had to clear the stage and make way for the unfortunate number coming on after them, but they’d been gone only two minutes when the chanting started,
“We want Weasley! We want Weasley! We want Weasley!”
“Are you hearing this?” Katie spluttered, her face contorted into an enormous smile.
“Rach!” Leshia added, equally as overjoyed for their friend. “They’re totally chanting your name!”
Rachel was too shocked for words. All about them smiling performers were clambering to get close to new celebrity and offer their congratulations, but before they could the girl was wrenched back towards the stage by a flustered looking Professor McGonagall.
“You’re going to have to go back on,” the stern-faced woman was telling the Small Band.
“But Professor we haven’t got any other songs for them…” Katie tried, only to be silenced by the stern-faced ageing witch.
“You’re going back on and that’s the end of it.” By now she’d guided the startled youngsters back to the stage. Those near the front could see them hovering in the door and a cheer went up, which quickly caught on. “Miss Weasley,” McGonagall was continuing, though she sounded softer now as she took hold of Rachel’s arms and offered her a genuine proud smile. “Where have you been hiding that talent?”
With this the girl was propelled back onto the stage, where the disgruntled band who had come on to perform were making way for the more popular performers. With the ease of one born in the spotlight Rachel sauntered over to the microphone while the band behind her took their places.
“Um…” she spoke into it, feeling highly thankful for the bright lights that could not show how flushed her cheeks were. “Thanks?”
A roar of approval met her ears.
“Um, we haven’t exactly prepared another number, but…” With a small cheeky grimace the girl glanced over her shoulder to her friends, who were staring at her curiously. “We might be able to pull something out of our sleeves.”
While the crowds cheered on raucously Rachel mouthed three words to her friends that made them groan cumulatively and hope against hope that their friend was joking, but moments later she confirmed the worst by breaking out powerfully into the first line of ‘My Little Broomstick’. While the Hogwarts crowd both laughed and cheered jubilantly the Small Band rushed to join in and provide a backing for their prodigal lead singer.
Improvising was not Leshia’s forte and having to start mid-song was something she had never practiced, but after stumbling in uncoordinatedly she managed to catch up and within no time she felt relaxed in this well-known song she had rehearsed many a time with the band. This did not mean that when they came to a close for the second time she didn’t feel relieved and jubilantly she ran off the stage to the wall of noise coming from the excitable pupils.
“Rach you’re a legend!” Parys roared in the redhead’s ears the moment they appeared in the staff corridor.
“Yeah, you even turned that naff song into a hit!” Rodeo added before he hugged the girl roughly. Rachel’s eyes were glassy and by the time Leshia had finally waited in line long enough she pulled Luisa from her best friend and faced her directly.
“I don’t know what to say,” she finally burst out laughing when words failed her and she just held up her hands uselessly. She had never felt so much selfless enjoyment for her friend in all her days. “You’re just, you know…I’m speechless.”
“Well,” Rachel spluttered through laughter so happy tears streamed down her cheeks. “If I can make Alecia Malfoy speechless, then that’s enough for me.”
Long after the concert had finished and the performers had all rushed off to change only to return to an enthusiastic party in the Great Hall Rachel and her friends were still glowing. The girl had never received so much praise in her life and the others were all very happy for the girl to take the spotlight. Leshia especially felt peculiarly good and satisfied at putting herself in an awkward situation to make her best friend so happy. She felt gratified and good and selfless and all other good things she couldn’t describe.
All night the Small Band members danced amongst themselves and though a number of suitors approached to dance with both Leshia and unsurprisingly with Rachel, the girls turned them away and made it a ‘friends only’ night. Before too long they would be going their separate ways for the holidays and none could have thought of a better way to send each other off than with this amazing party.
The night did come to an end however, and faster than any would have liked. Friday was approaching and with it came the send off for the foreign exchange pupils. A feast was held in their honour that last day of term and though Leshia had experienced a turbulent time with the newcomers, particularly the boys, she did feel very sorry to see Luisa go. Yes, she hadn’t spent much time with the girl, but she was nice enough and had been such a good friend to Katie.
Katie herself was a miserable thing and cried long after Luisa had gone. Her friends couldn’t really find the right words to comfort her, though they tried long and hard. Even as they boarded the Hogwarts Express the next day they spent the entire journey trying to make their bespectacled friend smile. It seemed a lost cause until finally Rachel managed in the least likely of ways,
“Crap,” she grumbled after opening her trunk to drop her robes into it. The reason for her dismay was the hefty looking homework assignment they had been given in Ancient Runes. “This is going to ruin my holiday, I can damn well tell you that much!”
“I’m looking forward to it actually,” a small sniffling voice came from the corner and as one everyone turned in shock at Katie, as though she had suddenly grown a second head.
“Oh you’re impossible!” Leshia complained finally, though she relished in the small smile that crept onto Katie’s face. “Well you can do mine for me.”
“Yeah! Mine and all!”
“Look why don’t the pair of you come round this weekend and we’ll get it out the way? How does that sound?”
Rachel and Leshia didn’t stop laughing until the train had pulled into King’s Cross Station and before they knew it it was time to start unloading their heavy trunks onto the platform. Everywhere Rachel turned appreciative grins were jumping out to meet her and the girl felt, as they made their way towards a tall red head in the distance that could only be her father, that she was floating on cloud nine. Leshia’s mood could not have differed more; the closer she came to having to say goodbye to her friends for the holiday and the closer she came to having to go home with her parents the heavier her feet became until it felt as though she were dragging them across the platform. How easy it would be to disappear amidst the busy crowd and spend the holiday living on the streets before school called them all back again.
But there would be no such reprieve for Leshia and before too long they’d reached the group of parents. Hermione was hopping up and down impatiently, baby Evie strapped to her chest and at the sight of them Leshia felt a stab of envy and loneliness. She couldn’t get over how much her sister had grown. The baby was six months old now and was starting to pay keen attention to the world around her. Her large dark eyes roved over every sight there was to see and her chubby hands reached out for everything that came near.
“Leshia darling!” Hermione called out the moment the girls appeared through the mass of reuniting families. Dutifully the blonde girl stepped forward and allowed her mother to embrace her, though she felt sick to her stomach at the way Evie’s hands excitedly pulled at her hair. The baby’s laughter brought an involuntary grimace to Leshia’s face that she couldn’t quite hide away once she was released. Before her mother could call her on it though and strong hand had clamped down on Leshia’s shoulder and she turned round to see her father stood behind her and smiling at his wife. Upon seeing Draco Evie erupted into an outburst of incomprehensible noise and she clapped her little hand together in pleasure. The tall man smiled and reached out to lift the baby from the carrier Hermione held her in.
Leshia looked away while he greeted her sister.
‘It’s not like he’s been away all term!’ she grumbled inwardly. ‘She will have seen him this morning the idiot.’
The blonde girl found herself staring at the reunion between Rachel and her father and felt a pang of jealousy. Ron’s attention was solely on his oldest child, who had heard word of her breathtaking performance from Draco when all the ‘parents’ joined together for a pre-children’s-homecoming drink. The red-haired man seemed captivated by the blushing girl before him and despite herself Leshia let out a fed-up sounding sigh.
Searching around for anything to delay having to face her parents Leshia caught sight of Owen Gabriel struggling against the embrace of his mother. So this was the legendary Lucy Gabriel? Without her quidditch armour and not sat astride a broom the woman seemed frighteningly alike the other parents milling about the place. She had the same nondescript brown hair and hazel eyes that Owen had taken to wearing so well in recent months and she was quite tall for a woman. Owen’s father, Adam Gabriel, seemed so unlike his son that Leshia questioned wickedly for a moment whether he really was the young man’s father. Yes, he was exceedingly tall, but here the similarities ended.
Adam Gabriel was a hulk of a man with thick black hair, probing blue eyes and a very angular face. Where Owen was attractive in a charming sense, his charismatic features softening a girl’s heart once he started speaking, his father was drawing an equal amount of attention as his quidditch star of a wife, though his was earned on the merits of his looks alone. The tall man was presently greeting Owen’s little sister Sophie, who had just come home after her first term at Hogwarts and hopping impatiently up and down at Sophie’s side was a girl identical to her, but on a slight delay. Owen’s youngest sister Claire seemed deliriously happy to have her sister home and Leshia wondered at whether Owen exaggerated in his stories about the rivalry between the two girls. They seemed inseparable out there on the platform.
After a few moments Owen pulled free and looked this was and that to see if anyone he respected had caught sight of his mother’s embarrassing greeting of him. Within seconds his eyes had sought out Leshia’s and for a moment they stared at one another in a frozen silence. They hadn’t spoken since that awful and awkward moment on the settee at Rachel’s party where the young man had put his heart out on the line and Leshia had rejected him. For one horrible moment it looked as though the boy was about to turn his head and pretend he hadn’t caught Leshia staring at him, but he adored her too much to act like in such a manner and instead cast her a charming grin, to which she giggled in response.
She didn’t hesitate when he beckoned her over with his hand and left her parents’ sides without a glance back. Before too long she’d crossed the platform to find Owen’s parents watching her curiously and his little sisters nudging and whispering to one another. Leshia though had little concept of shame and merely smiled at them all confidently.
“Mum, dad,” Owen was telling his parents. “This is Malfoy…uh, I mean this is Leshia. Leshia, my parents.”
Lucy and Adam Gabriel exchanged a small smile before they inclined their heads towards their son’s friend and nodded to the girl. She though extended her hand towards them boldly and after another exchanged smile Owen’s parents shook her firm hand one by one.
“It’s lovely to meet you at last Leshia,” Mrs Gabriel announced charmingly. “Owen’s told us so many lovely things about you.”
The girl couldn’t hide the smirk that jumped onto her pretty face and for a moment she looked to Owen amusedly.
“They’re lying of course. I mean they couldn’t tell you about the awful things I say about you could they?”
“Oh ha ha, you’re so funny,” the girl countered fondly. “You tell me awful things to my face, so it wouldn’t matter would it?”
“Malfoy I’m shocked,” the boy exclaimed amusedly and he pressed his hand to his chest. “Would I ever do such a thing?”
“All the time,” she sniggered in return before she realised the young man’s parents were still smiling at her.
“Owen’s told us you’re a seeker Leshia,” Mrs Gabriel was continuing.
“The best he’s ever seen,” Mr Gabriel added with a twinkling smile directed at his now embarrassed son.
“You should consider trying out for the England squad as soon as you’re of age,” Mrs Gabriel continued. “I have it on good authority that it won’t be long before they’ll be looking for a replacement for Joanne.”
“What’s happening to Tayler? She’s really good.”
“Yes, but between you and me, Joanne and her husband Andrew are going to be trying for a baby before too long.” Mrs Gabriel tapped her nose and Leshia felt a flurry of excitement at being included in a secret involving such high-level quidditch players. Mrs Gabriel was continuing, “And from my experience Daos Daubman, the England manager, is always on the lookout for young blood.”
“Oh now you’ve done it,” Owen grumbled fondly when he saw Leshia’s eyes glaze over in a private daydream that saw her being inaugurated onto the England team. “She’ll never stop going on about it now. I’ll bet…” But just what Owen had wanted to say froze in his throat and following his wide eyes Leshia saw why; her father was stalking towards them.
“Um I’d better go,” Leshia quickly excused herself. She didn’t want her father and the Gabriels to meet, though she couldn’t explain why. “Have a great Christmas Owen,” she added before throwing her arms roughly around the boy. “It was lovely meeting you Mr and Mrs Gabriel.”
With this the girl retreated into the crowds before Owen’s parents could even return her sentiments. She reached Draco somewhere in the middle and jumped past him making him turn round.
“Ashamed of your old man?” her father asked with a cold smile, but Leshia couldn’t explain why she had felt the way she did and shook her head.
“No,” she replied defensively. “Come on, are we going or not?”
“The Weasleys and the Potters are going over to Ron’s for drinks,” Draco informed the girl while she led him back to the others. “And we were wondering if you’d like us to join them.”
“Yeah, of course!”
“We thought as much. You and I have to make a quick trip to the Ministry first though.”
Though Leshia was about to ask why, she quickly understood. She hadn’t had her daily visit with Tripper yet and the Eye on her hand was stinging more so than usual. She hadn’t realised this was what happened when she delayed meeting with a Ministry official. Unsurprisingly, in the three weeks that had passed the girl hadn’t been granted a reprieve, despite the best efforts of several powerful and high-ranking Witches and Wizards.
Leshia’s meetings with Silas Tripper had been mild enough, but only due to her father’s presence. She dreaded to think what the vile pockmarked man would do if her father hadn’t won in his discussion with the Minister.
“Who’s going to be my new warden then?” she asked wryly.
“I’m not sure yet. Usually this is a matter for the Auror Department, but who knows how things might have changed since I’ve been gone. They weren’t in the habit of putting the Eye on children back then, but just look at how that turned out.”
Leshia pretended not to feel afraid by her father’s concerns, though inwardly she wavered a little. For her father to be unsure meant the times were very dangerous indeed. Draco Malfoy had only ever been a rock, a pillar of support, a fearless person to hide behind to his daughter. Her father was right, times were changing indeed if he was no longer able to represent all these things.
Hermione had waited while the others had gone ahead – no one was in doubt over which choice Leshia would make – and under an awkward silence the family made their fifteen-minute walk home. Leshia resisted conversation stubbornly and after a few attempts Hermione gave up. Once they had turned onto Dockstreet and were approaching the house though, the new mother tried one last attempt at extending the olive branch.
“I thought tomorrow we might go Christmas shopping darling. What do you say?” Leshia glanced at her mother and soon regretted it, as she caught sight of her sister playing with a strand of Hermione’s thick long hair that had fallen down right into her chubby hand. The sight of the happy baby made her stomach tighten uncomfortably.
“Sure,” she simply replied. She had not the energy to argue and was starting to get nervous about going to the ministry.
“Wonderful,” a relieved Hermione exclaimed and she left the matter at that. Within no time they had reached the front door and Draco easily lifted his daughter’s trunk up the steps and into the entrance hall.
“We’ll meet you at Ron’s,” Draco informed his wife and he leaned in to kiss her quickly before he started guiding Leshia over to the hearth in the kitchen.
“Don’t you want a drink before you go?”
“No time. They’re expecting us.”
“Oh, okay.” Hermione looked very small and alone in the hall Draco thought to himself once he had indicated for Leshia to climb into the grate with a handful of floo powder. He tried to offer his wife a comforting smile before he turned on his daughter.
“What do I say?” she asked, her tone constricted with nerves.
“The Ministry of Magic.” His daughter nodded and within moments she had thrown down her floo powder and given the order. In a swirl of green flames she was gone leaving Draco climbing into the grate in her wake.
“She’s afraid Draco,” Hermione called out before he could quite drop the floo powder in his hand. For a moment Draco faltered and then he nodded sadly.
“I know she is.” With this he leaned back and dropped the
powder. “The Ministry of Magic!”
Leshia had visited the Ministry before, but it had been a very long time ago and she only a little girl. She remembered the Atrium though and stared in amazement at the high dark ceilings. All about her witches and wizards were jostling to get to where they were going. While she was staring with wide eyes at the gilded fireplaces the girl was helpless to resist the current and soon found herself directed towards the golden gleaming Fountain of the Brethren. Here the girl waited for her father, who thankfully found her within moments of appearing in the busy Atrium.
“Ready to go?” he asked his daughter once he reached her side. She nodded quickly and silently and pressed herself against Draco’s arm while they walked. He spared her the embarrassment and said nothing of it while he led her towards the Golden Gates at the far side of the giant room. As usual Eric Much was manning the gates that led to the lifts and a small queue of visitors had lined up to have their wands registered before entering the Ministry. Draco steered Leshia towards the queue and they joined on the end of it. The girl was as stiff as a board and even flinched when the rather rotund lady waiting ahead of them burst out into rapturous laughter. Draco hesitated for a moment before he lifted the arm Leshia had pushed herself again and wrapped it round the girl’s shoulders. She said nothing of it, but seemed to relax a little.
Leshia’s attention was caught by the way people’s eyes kept darting to her hand as they walked past and upon catching sight of the ghastly Eye every single one hurried on, a look of repulsion on their faces. Feeling ashamed Leshia stuck her hands deep in the pockets of her jeans and pushed her thoughts away from the niggling stinging pain in her right hand. All the fight had gone out of the youngster and she wished nothing more to be normal. How she envied Rachel and Katie, already safe in the warmth and cosiness of Rachel’s house.
By the time she reached Eric Munch sat behind a desk bearing the small sign labelled Security she felt she would agree to anything and quickly obeyed when he asked her to show her wand. The man hadn’t changed in all his days of working at the Ministry; still he wore deep blue robes, still he was badly shaven and still he had an impatient and bored manner about him. He seemed a peculiar man, but Leshia barely noticed. Her mind was too far away to analyse the Ministry Official or to notice the way his eyes travelled from Draco to his daughter and back again several times before he finally asked for her wand in as soft a tone as he could manage. Munch even averted his eyes from the Eye respectfully when he took the girl’s wand from her and though Leshia didn’t notice this her father did and he respected the man for it.
Munch placed Leshia’s wand in a strange brass instrument standing atop the desk, which started vibrating and groaning the moment he did so. Within seconds a slip of paper shot out of the side of it, which Munch picked up and glanced at,
“Eleven inches, dragon heartstring core, been in use three years three months? That right?” Draco could see Leshia hadn’t listened to a word the security wizard had spoken and so he squeezed her shoulders.
“Hmm?” the girl uttered, looking down at Munch with wide frightened eyes. He repeated himself. “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
Munch nodded to himself and impaled the slip of parchment on a small brass spike already carrying dozens such slips along its length. He handed Leshia’s wand back to her with a small nod, but Leshia had switched off again and merely took it and pushed it back in her pocket.
“She’ll need a badge Draco,” Munch next spoke. Draco sighed and rubbed the back of his head, but nodded all the same.
“Right and where do we get one of those.”
“Over here.” Munch wheeled his chair across to the other side of his desk where a strange brown box with a peculiar funnel like device stood on top of it. He looked directly at Leshia. “Speak your name into this love.”
This time Leshia had listened and did as she was told. The machine gave a strange clunking noise before it churned out a silver badge that Munch inspected before handing to the girl.
“That ought to last you every day,” he explained to her. Leshia took it and glanced down at the silver badge, which had Alecia Malfoy written above an engraving of an eye identical to the Eye on her hand. Grimly she attached it to her coat feeling this dratted symbol would haunt her for the rest of her life.
“Thank you Eric,” Draco spoke to the man behind the desk, before he guided Leshia back into the steady traffic heading through the golden gates. The steady stream of traffic was diverging into smaller streams that were lining up outside the twenty lifts lined up behind golden grilles. Wanting to spare his daughter the attention she was receiving, Draco led her towards the furthest least crowded queue and shielded her from the prying eyes with his tall figure.
Thankfully a lift descended in front of them moment later to a cacophony of jangling and clunking. Draco led Leshia in by wrapping his arm round her once more and they made their way into the furthest corner of the lift. A man that evidently recognised and knew Draco was pushing his way through the crowds towards them.
“Draco!” the jovial Irishman called out. Leshia thought him to have a kind face, if not slightly rogue-like. He seemed like fun.
“Aaron,” Draco greeted in return and despite the gravity of his mood he managed a smile.
“Haven’t seen you about these parts in donkeys years mate, what brings you…” The man known as Aaron fell quiet because his eyes now caught sight of the small blonde character tucked into the crook of Draco’s eyes. “That’s never little Leshia is it? She’s enormous!”
“Well not quite.”
“Last time I saw you, you could fit in my pocket I swear it,” Aaron told the teenager with a broad genuine smile. Leshia couldn’t help but smile. “What…” Again the Irishman fell silent, his eyes had now fallen on the badge Leshia wore and his expression had turned fierce. “You’ve got to be bleeding kidding! They’ve…but she’s…the Eye?” He seemed too angry for coherent and complete sentences.
“I know,” Draco sighed. The witches and wizards standing near them in the lift started edging away from the enraged Irishman and several were quite glad when the lift came a halt accompanied by a strange mechanical woman’s voice reading out the floor level so that they could get as far from Aaron as possible. Aaron O’Hare was widely renowned for having a fiery temperament.
“I can’t believe it mate, I just can’t believe it,” Draco’s friend was saying through several shakes of his head. His concerned brown eyes fell on Leshia’s face and she shrunk back a little. “This place is heading for the dumps, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
By now the lift had reached the sixth floor, Aaron’s level, but he seemed reluctant to get out. Before he did so he fixed Leshia with a firm look that spoke a thousand words of encouragement and sympathy before the Irishman left the lift in a flurry of angry profanities. Once more the lift doors sealed and Leshia glanced up at her father.
“Old friend,” he told her fondly. “A little too fond of the drink.”
Leshia smiled faintly, but then looked down once more. She stayed this way until the lift had finally brought them to Level Two, the department of Magical Law Enforcement, home of the Auror Department. Draco guided Leshia out onto a corridor lined with doors and windows showing the darkening sky outside. Leshia wrinkled her brow, but soon remembered being told as a child that they were still underground and that the windows had been enchanted to show the outside world for the benefit of the Ministry Workers.
Draco led the way towards the heavy oak doors that led into the Auror Headquarters. He clamped his arm tighter around Leshia’s shoulder before he pushed hard into the door, opening it onto his chaotic former office. The Auror Headquarters consisted of a large open area filled with cubicles. Leshia kept her head down while her father guided her along the rows upon rows of cubicles, very aware that as they passed everyone was turning to stare. Draco greeted several of the Aurors having worked with many of them and he was glad to see the sympathy in their faces. It seemed no one had agreed with the Minister’s actions where Leshia’s branding was concerned.
Finally Draco had reached a door at the end of the open office, which had a rusted metal plate screwed onto it bearing the words, Storik Broadsword, Minister of Aurors. Draco glanced briefly down at Leshia, who was reading the sign warily, before he knocked firmly on the door. A few moments passed before it swung open revealing the haphazard office of the Minister of Aurors. Posters of wanted criminals lined the walls, lining every inch of mud-brown wall. They were largely covered though by crooked and over packed filing cabinets. Strange and dangerous gadgets littered every available surface, jostling for space with mountains of paperwork.
Leshia stared and stared, but soon found herself jolted back to the present when her eyes fell on a picture of her own face. The experience was quite jarring and the fifteen-year-old girl had to do a double take in order to take in what she had seen. Above her face were the pictures of ferocious and unclean looking felons and all of them had an enormous Eye glittering over the surface of the image. Having seen quite enough the girl turned her attention on the Minister of Aurors himself. Storik Broadsword was an enormous man. His Viking heritage was evidently still very much alive inside the flame haired, grisly bearded, fierce looking man.
Broadsword was sitting behind his desk, which seemed surprisingly well kept in comparison to his tip of an office, but when he caught sight of Draco and his frightened child he stood to his feet. Leshia was thankful to see that though the Minister was an enormous man, Draco still towered over him. She felt suddenly very safe beside her strong father.
“Draco,” Broadsword called out familiarly; he had once worked alongside Draco when they were both Aurors and later when Draco took his ‘desk job’ he had become the younger man’s boss when he took the position of Minister of Aurors. He respected Draco Malfoy immensely and hadn’t bought into the Minister of Magic’s fear mongering. This attitude was prevalent amongst all those who had trusted their lives to the blond man earlier in their careers. Trust in someone who had proven their worth was a difficult thing to lose.
“Storik if you don’t mind,” the Viking man countered Draco with a firm smile. “We are friends first Draco, you know that. Come in, come in.” Obediently the blond man led his daughter towards two of the chairs sat before Broadsword’s desk. Leshia shrunk into hers like a small child. “You’re looking older Draco I’m happy to say.”
“Really?” Draco managed through a laugh. He had always liked Storik Broadsword and respected the man immensely. “Why?”
“No longer so damn handsome of course.” A louder laugh escaped the still very attractive man sat in the chair in front of the desk. “Your father couldn’t step into a room back in his day without every woman falling at his feet young Leshia. You should be happy things have changed.”
Leshia smothered a giggle and nodded coolly. Had she been at ease then she might have revealed that really things hadn’t changed, as all her peers at school fancied her father something rotten, but she didn’t feel at ease, so she stayed silent.
“Right then, I see, straight to business,” Broadsword exclaimed suddenly and he clapped his hands down on his knees. He had always been an intuitive man, very good at reading people. “Can’t blame you of course. Nasty business this whole thing!”
“Is there nothing you can do Storik?” Draco asked soberly. The grisly man behind the desk scratched his beard for a moment before he sighed heavily making his whole body shudder. Leshia was sure the she felt the floor reverberating along with him.
“Minister Crayik holds the ultimate authority on these matters Draco, you know that. I want you to know though…” Broadsword paused and looked into Leshia’s hurt eyes. They struck a blow to him and he hung his head ashamedly. “I fought your corner. I fought hard, but there’s those who have got right up close to the Minister and are whispering in his ear every step of the way. Things aren’t the way they used to be Draco. Crayik’s afraid of something big, something he isn’t sharing with the rest of us. Now we have an idea about what it might be, but…” Again the Minister’s eyes drifted towards Leshia and he paused. “But that’s a conversation best saved for another day. Now then, these daily visits.”
Broadsword leaned back in his chair and it groaned so much in protest that Leshia was sure it was about to break through the floor.
“I see no reason why you should have to make the journey in every day. How would you feel about home visits?”
“That would be the ideal solution, if it wasn’t too much trouble,” Draco replied quickly.
“No trouble at all my boy. You’re one of our own, nothing’s too much trouble!”
“Thank you Storik.” Leshia thought she had rarely heard her father sound so sincere and thankful in her life.
“Have you any preference to who I should assign your daughter’s case to. I had Sabine Hirsh in mind, but if you’d rather…”
“Sabine would be an excellent choice,” Draco interrupted his former boss. Sabine Hirsh was an ageing Auror who had maintained such a level of kindness and softness she was seen unofficially as the departmental mother. There was no better choice in Draco’s eyes. Broadsword was trying to make this as easy as possible for his daughter and once more he swelled with gratitude.
“Excellent, then it is agreed.” Again Broadsword clapped his hands down on his knees, before he looked to Leshia for a moment. “Right then onto today’s business Miss Leshia. Have you been up to any dark or suspicious activities since your meeting with Silas Tripper yesterday afternoon?”
The girl’s eyes went wide at the sudden question, but quickly she shook her head.
“No sir,” she assured him honestly, pulling a broad smile onto Broadsword’s face.
“Jolly good. That’ll do for me. You’re free to go, I’m sure you have better things to be doing so close to Christmas.” Broadsword was climbing to his feet and quickly Draco followed. As though she were attached by an invisible string Leshia rose too, though she felt more at ease now and no longer attached herself to Draco’s side. It strengthened her to know that people like Minister Broadsword and Aaron O’Hare were on her side, not to mention all those sympathetic Aurors.
The girl missed the words being spoken between her father and the Minister of Aurors, but soon the grisly man was extending an enormous calloused and scarred hand in her direction. She reached out and shook it. It was like shaking hands with a rock.
“Keep your chin up Miss Leshia, we’ve heard all about you, you’ll get through this and be better for it when you do.” These hearty words of encouragement Leshia carried with her and took strength from them on the way out. Draco could see the transformation in the girl and he hid his proud smile to save her the embarrassment. On their way past the security desk Leshia handed in the silver badge Eric Munch had given her. He raised his eyebrows as though to speak, but before he could do so Leshia cut him off.
“I won’t be needing it thanks,” she told him boldly, before she strode off towards the row of gilded exit fireplaces with Draco hot on her heels. They transported to Ron’s living room with ease to find Hermione sitting upright in an armchair seemingly very nervous, while Harry, Ginny and Ron relaxed with a bottle of wine nearby. The sound of music and children’s voices wafted in from the rest of the house. In a quiet corner Evie was sleeping soundly in a rocker Ron had fished out of the cupboard under the stairs.
The moment Leshia appeared Hermione leapt to her feet and rushed over to the girl.
“How did it go?” Leshia shrugged her shoulders noncommittally.
“Alright. The Minister of Aurors was really nice, he said I could have someone called Sabine something-something visit me at home every day.”
Hermione let out the sigh of relief she hadn’t realised she had been holding and hugged her daughter firmly.
“Oh thank goodness.”
In a swirl of green flames Draco appeared to find Leshia still wrapped in the arms of her mother and he smiled at the expression on his wife’s face.
“Still in one piece,” he chuckled. “I told you not to worry.”
“Oh be quiet, you were worse,” Hermione complained and she pulled back with a smile. Leshia’s eyes were drifting towards the sound of music wafting down from upstairs. “Yes go on, be off with you. Katie and Rachel have been down every few minutes to see if you were back yet.”
“Thanks,” Leshia offered with a big grin, before she darted from the room and up the stairs in a clatter of noise. Hermione laughed stupidly, relishing in the sensation of her nerves relaxing.
“It speaks! My goodness. One trip to the Ministry and she’s actually talking now.”
“Draco,” Ron called out to the blond man, who was shrugging off his long black coat and draping it over a chair in the corner. “Fancy a whiskey?”
The new arrival could see the hopeful expressions on Harry and Ron’s faces and after glancing to the coffee table could see Ron had already laid out three tumblers and a bottle of the finest whiskey he could find at the Muggle supermarket. He suppressed a mocking laugh at their inability to drink the stuff without him and instead nodded.
“That’s just what I need right now, thank you.”
“Oh God, don’t start on that now, we haven’t even had dinner yet,” Ginny groaned fondly, but the men didn’t heed her and before too long the five old friends had settled into the swing of things. While upstairs their children were doing the same. It was easy to forget about all the problems the term had wrought in Ronald Weasley’s cosy detached home in a lovely Winchester estate. For the briefest of times, everything was well in the world and everyone felt better for it.
Christmas Eve fell the very next day and while Leshia shopped for presents with her mother, first on the muggle high street and then down Diagon Alley she couldn’t help but keep her eyes open for signs of Lucius. Away from the house and away from her sister Leshia managed to act quite agreeably for once leaving her mother reeling with happiness.
The traditional Christmas Eve get together was being held at Potter Manor and before too long the Malfoys had apparated to the grand country estate bringing gifts and platters of food. Much fun followed and things seemed to be running smoothly. Before too long the night of festivities had finished leaving the Malfoys to apparate home. Leshia stole a glance at the presents under the tree before she rushed up to bed and felt suddenly at peace with herself. Coming home had been painless thus far and as she curled up to go to sleep she wondered what she had been so worried about.
Come three in the morning, when the girl had only been sleeping two hours or so, she suddenly remembered why she had so dreaded coming home and it all came flooding back to her when a piercing cry erupted in the room next door. Leshia’s eyes snapped open and she glanced briefly to the wall that separated her from her wailing little sister. Indescribably her blood boiled and she narrowed her eyes.
“Oh bugger off,” she cursed bitterly. “You’re ruining Christmas.”
Quite suddenly the wailing stopped and Leshia’s eyes went wide. She held her breath and waited. Ten seconds. Thirty. A whole minute went by and still no sound came from the nursery next door. Suddenly terrified Leshia sat up straight in bed and fumbled for the switch on her bedside light. Once she had found it she paused and listened out, but no sound came from the baby’s room.
“What have I done?” she whispered hoarsely. Jerkily she climbed to her feet and hurried over to her door, which she wrenched open and tumbled out onto the dark landing. Evie’s door was ajar, but no sounds came from within the slightly lit room. Swallowing away a wave of fear Leshia pushed the door open and walked into the room. She didn’t realise that she was holding her breath again, as she walked over to the cot in the corner of the room. Hoping beyond hope she hadn’t unwittingly done something to her sister the girl peered over the wooden railing and suddenly let out an enormous sigh of relief when she saw her kicking and struggling sister, though she soon retracted that relief when she saw how sickly the baby looked.
“Are you okay?” she asked her sister almost accusingly. A soft strangled whimper escaped the infant and Leshia bit her lip. Obviously her sister was unwell. “Well what’s the matter with you?”
Evie was trying to cry, but she couldn’t get the sound out. Leshia stood backwards out of sight of the baby, which made Evie struggle more. She seemed so pathetic that Leshia stepped into view again.
“Look I don’t know what to do. I’ll go get mum.” But as she stepped away Evie seemed to panic and strange noises erupted from her throat. She was trying to wail, but all she was managing to do was make herself choke. “Okay, okay, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll just…um…mum! Mum!”
But Leshia didn’t know her parents had never made it upstairs. They had enjoyed the Christmas party perhaps a little too much and had never made it past the sitting room, where they had collapsed in each other’s arms in front of the fire and the Christmas tree in an alcohol induced stupor that no manner or noise could rouse them from. Leshia continued with her futile calling out a little longer until she realised it wasn’t working.
“Crap,” she grumbled and then looked down at her distraught sister. She couldn’t remember ever having touched the baby and paused for a moment, her hands over the cot, but what else could she do? She couldn’t just let the baby choke herself to death could she? “I don’t want that on my conscience on top of everything else that’s going on. I hope you know that’s the only reason I’m doing this,” Leshia told her sister angrily, before she reached down and clamped her hands around the unnaturally hot baby. Evie was surprisingly heavy and Leshia had to exert more force to lift her than she’d bargained on. Finally she had the baby out of the cot and fumbled for a moment to get a good hold on her sister.
“Would you stop squirming? You’ll make me drop you!” she told the baby grumpily before she finally settled her in an over the shoulder hold that seemed to suit them both. Armed now with her sick little sister Leshia slowly made her way onto the landing again and made straight for her parents’ room. She was a little annoyed to find it empty and the bed not slept in.
“Where are they?” she muttered in an undertone, but was highly relieved to hear that Evie had found her lungs again after being held upright.
Ever so carefully Leshia descended the stairs, making sure she avoided the loose plank midway down. After a terrifying moment where she nearly lost her balance after Evie made a furious squirm to express her annoyance at being ill Leshia managed to find the cool slate tiles of the hall. She glanced about in the dark before her eyes settled on the telltale top of a shorn blond head.
“Dad!” she called out crossly. She could hear him snoring and marched round clasping Evie firmly to her shoulder. Her parents seemed to have passed out and Leshia felt her blood boil. “Is this what you call responsible parenting?”
Angrily she kicked the settee they had collapsed on and the combination of her shrill demand, Evie’s wailing and the shuddering settee roused both Draco and Hermione from their stupor. Within seconds they were both on their feet. The sight of their oldest daughter holding their youngest was the most bizarre thing either had ever seen.
“Leshia,” Draco started croakily, but the teenager had no patience and stamped her foot.
“She’s sick. Take her!” As though the baby were radioactive Leshia held her out at arm’s length only to have her quickly taken from her hands by their concerned mother. Hermione rushed Evie out of the room without so much as a glance at Leshia, which stung the blonde girl deeply. Tears prickled in her eyes and she turned to go, only to find a firm hand clamped around the top of her arm.
“Just leave me alone!” Leshia cried out miserably and she brought her other hand up to squeeze the corners of her eyes tightly.
“Leave me alone.” The girl wrenched her arm free and ran from the room. Thankfully Hermione had soothed the blockage in Evie’s lungs with a potion and the baby was now freely wailing away her unhappiness, which covered the soft cries that escaped her older sister as she darted back up the stairs and slammed her door. Feeling pathetic and alone Leshia slid down her door and thumped herself back into it several times.
“Why. Doesn’t. She. Love. Me. Anymore?” she managed through her sobs, before speech failed her altogether and she hugged her knees close. She rocked to and fro, hugging her tiny body for any scrap of comfort, but found none. Leshia Malfoy felt alone in the world and to make matters worse, the cruel Eye seared into the flesh of her right hand was ablaze.