Generations Book 4: Rebel Inside

Chapter 8

Part VIII

Owen,

I hate it here! I hate her! I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make your Christmas as miserable as mine, but I needed to confide in someone and your face just won’t get out my head, so just deal with it. I can’t even think straight. I haven’t even been to sleep, because every time I try I have bad dreams. I can’t even really tell you about what’s happened, except that my mum just doesn’t love me anymore. She’s made that clear and I think…oh I just don’t know how to say it…well I think her and my dad, I don’t think they’re doing so well either. I heard them fighting for hours till they finally went to bed. They were both a bit drunk, but still…and what’s worse is they were fighting about me.

I wish we were back at school. I miss Gryffindor Tower. I miss Katie and Rachel. And I miss you. I need your sense of humour right now, I really do. And I am sorry that I’m lumbering you with this letter on Christmas Day, but like I said, I really need you right now.

Sorry if this doesn’t make any sense. I’m exhausted, but I’m afraid of what’ll happen if I close my eyes. Can’t you make this all go away?

Oh yeah, Happy Christmas.

Leshia

PS Sorry it’s not a card

Leshia stared at the messy letter through sore tired eyes and nodded to herself. It would have to do. She wasn’t going to rewrite it a third time. With a resolute sigh she tied the letter to the leg of Auralia, the Malfoy’s family owl, and whispered for her to bring it to Owen Gabriel through a hoarse and sore throat. She had spoken the truth in her letter of course and had lay for hours too frightened to move at the argument that was roaring between her parents down below.

Draco had been so angry with his wife for her ignoring their older daughter and the damage it had done and Hermione had been equally furious that he hadn’t seemed to care that Evie was ill because he’d been too concerned over Leshia. To Leshia the message was clear, ‘Dad loves me, mum doesn’t.’

This was of course an unfair judgement for the girl to make, for she could not know how much and how passionately her parents loved both their daughters. Hermione was a mother and programmed by instincts. A sick baby was enough to disable all her other concerns and priorities and she had of course not meant to snub Leshia, especially when the girl had acted so out of character and actually carried her sister to her parents. Had Evie not seemed so poorly, or had Hermione perhaps not been so drunk she would have showered praise and love on her eldest child for so selfless an act.

It was also very unfair to claim that Draco didn’t care for the baby in equal measure to how he cared for his older daughter, but he had no maternal instincts. He saw only a baby that was unwell and likely to recover very quickly, whereas in his older daughter he had seen her very soul aching and hurting. He knew Leshia’s every expression, her every movement and could see the great sacrifice she had made to put her own feelings aside to help her sister. He had wanted to wrap his arms around her for that, but Hermione’s actions had made that impossible and he felt resentful of his wife that she had jeopardised his close relationship with his daughter.

All in all Christmas morning was a morbid occasion in the Malfoy House. Hermione had so wanted Evie’s first Christmas to be perfect and she had gone out of her way to make it so, but now everything was ruined.

After Auralia had taken off into the sky Leshia exhaled heavily and retreated into her room, away from the cold morning air. It was still frightfully early and the sun hadn’t quite risen, but she couldn’t stay cooped up upstairs much longer. Tiredly she wrapped her fluffy white dressing gown round herself and pulled on her fluffy dog-head slippers before she opened her door to a crack. The landing was silent and with a small flutter of relief in her chest she crept out and down the stairs, artfully avoiding the creaking planks.

When she reached the hall she realised someone was awake. It was too late to return to bed and so after setting her face in a defiant expression she strode towards the kitchen to find her father marking essays at the kitchen table. He stopped hesitantly when Leshia walked in and stood inches from the table. Her face was blotchy and tear stained and her poor eyes puffy from tiredness. Not a word passed between them and feeling a torrent of emotion she thought she had pushed away Leshia walked over to her father and hugged him. She knew he loved her. She knew that much. They had been happy together, just the two of them, for a long time before Hermione returned and even though it stung so deeply to think her mother no longer loved her, at least she still had her dad.

Draco returned her embrace powerfully, as though he thought this to be their last ever hug. She seemed so small just then and he rubbed her back slowly thanking whatever grace had brought her back to him at last, for he knew that where he was concerned at least, Leshia had forgiven him and was ready to return to their old way.

“Did you get any sleep?” he asked her at last, when he was sure he was able to control the emotion in his voice.

“Not really,” she sniffed. “Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas sweetheart.” They waited several more moments and Leshia still clung to her father. He didn’t mind, but worried for his daughter. He wanted to see her face, and read her thoughts from her expression. “You letting go any time soon?”

“No,” she mumbled simply and then she smiled sorely when her father’s laughter reverberated through her own chest. She had missed that. But she did let go and she wiped at her eyes to brush away the tears that hadn’t stopped leaking out of them since she had witnessed her mother’s dismissal of her. Her eyes spoke what she could not; they were asking for forgiveness, forgiveness for acting so horribly towards her father these last few months when in truth he had loved her all along. He had never stopped loving her and Leshia knew that now.

“Don’t,” Draco told her quickly and he reached out to hold her hand. He squeezed it comfortingly and though he didn’t say another word, Leshia knew what he meant and she managed a shaky smile. No more needed to be said on the matter, they knew each other too well and everything that had needed to be said and done had been said and done.

Leshia dropped down into the chair close to her father’s side. While she glanced at the first year essays he was marking she reached out and lifted a piece of cold toast he had abandoned several hours ago. It was both stale and soggy, but she nibbled on it to satisfy the painful hunger in her stomach.

“Are we going over to the Burrow later on?” Draco stretched out his arms behind his head, still feeling far too happy with himself, but eventually he nodded.

“Grandma Weasley would never let us get out of it,” he replied while stifling a yawn. Leshia nodded slowly, before she turned two mischievous eyes on her father.

“Can we open the presents?” Draco laughed and shook his head.

“You know we can’t.”

“Oh please! Just one, I’ll pick a really small one.”

“Out of the question, your mother would kill me,” Draco complained and he noticed that the unease he felt at mentioning Hermione was mirrored in Leshia’s face. “Why don’t you help me mark these eh?”

“Me? Help you mark essays?” Leshia’s eyes gleamed impishly with this invitation to take on such an important task.

“I don’t see why not, you did quite well in your first year if I remember rightly.”

“Dad I did get an O,” the girl scoffed amusingly, both making fun of herself, but also making a point.

“Oh of course. How could I forget? So you’re an expert are you?”

“Yeah!” she replied obviously.

“All right then, let’s put you to the test. Read through that and tell me where this poor sod’s gone wrong.” Draco dropped a messy essay down in front of his daughter and after giving him a superior smile letting him know she accepted his challenge she turned on the first year’s work. She threw herself into this task whole-heartedly, very happy for something to do after a horrific night and though in the beginning she was very astute and pointed out all the errors Draco himself had picked up on after only ten minutes or so her mind started wandering. Before too long she had leant her chin in her folded arms on the table and was moments away from drifting off while she tried to finish the essay.

“Sweetheart why don’t you go to bed for a few hours,” Draco suggested, his smile a warm one full of affection for the sleepy girl.

“I’m going…” A massive yawn wracked the teenager and she struggled to keep her eyes open. “To finish it.” On she ploughed, until she reached the very last sentence. With a triumphant smile she pushed the essay across the table towards her father and then rested her cheek on her arms. Before Draco had the time to look up she was already asleep. He considered nudging her awake and sending her up to bed, but she seemed so peaceful and he was still relishing in her close proximity. So he left her to dream at the kitchen table, while he carried on his work with a smile nothing could tear from his face.

Two hours passed at least, until finally the silence was broken by soft footsteps on the stairs. Moments later Hermione appeared in a similar state to the way Leshia had entered the room. Despite their fight Draco’s heart hurt to see his dear wife so downtrodden.

“Happy Christmas,” she whispered miserably, her eyes welling up with tears when they fell on Leshia’s sleeping form. She knew what this meant. She knew Leshia had made up with her father and she felt suddenly jealous and childish.

‘Why should it surprise you?’ a soft cruel thought popped into her head. ‘She’s always loved him more…’ Hermione shook her head jerkily to shake the feelings away.

“Happy Christmas,” her husband replied softly and before he allowed his wife to speak he extended the olive branch, “I’m sorry about last night. I’m just so sorry.”

For a moment Hermione looked as though he had struck her, but then her face crumpled and she nodded quickly.

“Me too! I’m just so sorry for everything.” Within an instant she had crossed the kitchen to where Draco had risen to his feet and they embraced. Draco kissed his wife’s face over and over, wishing to erase the cruel things they had said to one another and she pressed herself into him as firmly as she could to forge their union anew and make them one again.

“How is she?” Hermione whispered once they had reaffirmed their love for one another.

“Hurt,” her husband replied. “And exhausted.”

“She looks so peaceful when she’s asleep.” Hermione had now pulled away from Draco and with a tearful expression she sat down in the chair he’d vacated in order to lean in and stroke Leshia’s curls from her face. “Has she…I mean are you two…”

Draco hung his head and nodded; he didn’t want to use Leshia’s forgiving him as a weapon against his wife and couldn’t meet her eyes when the small agonised sound escaped her. Hermione though, was nodding her head.

“I suppose it’s what I deserve,” she whispered turbulently.

“Don’t talk like that…”

“But I do Draco. I don’t show her. I can tell her till the cows come home, but unless I show her she’ll never know how much she means to me…how much this is killing me.” Tears were streaming down his wife’s face and Draco moved to envelop her in his arms from behind.

“It’ll take time,” he spoke quietly into the back of her head. “But she will come around. Trust me. Please.” Hermione sniffed loudly and she nodded, but then froze as Leshia stirred in her sleep. Both she and Draco watched as the girl settled once more and waited till her breathing became heavy before they spoke once more.

“It’s still early, you should send her up to bed for a few hours sleep. We’re not expected at the Burrow till twelve.”

“We should all get some more sleep. You head up, I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Hermione nodded shakily, but climbed to her feet all the same. She paused on the stairs and listened while her husband woke their eldest daughter and the envious ripple returned. Before she could be caught though she returned to her room and lay in bed waiting for her husband. His heavy footsteps were accompanied by lighter shuffling ones and she listened keenly to the short conversation they held on the landing. It was too muffled though and she didn’t understand a word of it. Before too long Draco was climbing into bed and the moment he did so she latched onto his side. He wrapped two strong and solid arms about her and so they slept, trying to forget what had been said, but knowing they never really could.

XXX

When the family awoke again they celebrated Christmas. It was a subdued affair, not at all what Hermione had envisaged for her baby’s first Christmas. Compounding the poor woman’s misery was the way in which Leshia acted with her father. Though six months had passed she was amazed by how easily the girl and her father could forget all that had transpired and act as though nothing had happened. They were inseparable once more and so in tune with one another it made her head swim. The only comfort she could offer herself was to indulge in Evie’s loveliness and so she doted on the baby. It was a Christmas of two families really: Leshia and her father and Hermione and her baby.

Thankfully they didn’t have long to dwell on this sorry state of affairs, as shortly before twelve Sabine Hirsch dropped by unannounced looking overly excited and a bit tipsy. The old and lovely woman had been in the middle of her own Christmas celebrations. Leshia had to smile in the presence of the jovial woman and after merely looking at the innocent and happy young girl and dutifully asking whether she had been engaged in any dark activity Sabine nodded to herself and wished them all a Happy Christmas, before she flooed away once more.

The Malfoys were due at the Burrow and so quickly they all changed and met once more at the hearth in the kitchen. Within no time they had flooed across to the Weasley base where all the children and grandchildren had already turned the place upside down. The Malfoys were a welcomed addition and became inundated with gifts and embraces the moment they appeared in the busy kitchen. Leshia was whisked away by an excitable Rachel and led all the way up to her father’s once room, which was still decorated from floor to ceiling in Chudley Cannons posters and paraphernalia.

“You’re looking really…swollen,” Rachel exclaimed mid-story. She had been talking about the fantastic gift her father had got for all his children when she suddenly realised Leshia’s appearance. “Are you sick?”

“Hey, she’s right you know, you’re eyes are double the size,” Katie agreed. The raven-haired girl had waited up in Ron’s old room while Rachel had been sent on a mission to find Leshia. Secretly she had been trying to fit in some homework, but she had masqueraded this under the claim that she’d been reading a magazine. Rachel of course believed not a word of it, but who was she to complain if it meant Katie wasn’t on at her to do some homework as well?

Leshia glanced from one friend to the next, before she buckled under their sympathetic expressions and told them the whole story. She had intended to at least wait till after Christmas to explain her horrific Christmas morning, but now she’d started she found she couldn’t stop and the whole sordid affair came tumbling out. When she was done her best friends seemed shocked.

“Wow, that sounds rough,” Rachel finally grimaced.

“But you and your dad,” Katie quickly added. “You’re back to normal again right?”

“Yeah,” Leshia shrugged and a bright smile pulled onto her face despite her attempts to stop it. “I knew I missed him, but I never realised just how much, till now.”

“Well don’t you miss your mum in the same way?” Rachel glared at Katie; hadn’t her bespectacled cousin heard the whole story?

“Of course I do, but she’s made her choice hasn’t she?”

“I don’t think it’s that simple…”

Thankfully the girls couldn’t quite get into their discussion because quite suddenly a tapping sound at the window drew their attention. They all turned to see that the source of the noise was a large barn owl.

“Auralia!” Leshia exclaimed and she rolled off the bed and ran to open the window. The Malfoy owl had returned with a letter and had known to find Leshia at the Burrow. Thanking the owl profusely Leshia took the letter from her and then dropped onto the floor in front of the bed. It was from Owen and had been written hurriedly:

Leshia,

Happy Christmas to you too. Way to ruin Christmas Morning! I’m just kidding. You’ve got me pretty worried though. I hope you’re still hanging in there. I’m sure it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be. You do tend to blow things way out of proportion. Are you smiling yet?

In all seriousness though, I would come rescue you this very moment, but there’s the slight problem of my fearsome dragon of a granny. She comes round every Christmas see, and if I bunked off to come rescue my fair maiden she’d take great pleasure in tearing my hair out when she caught me. She’s deceptive and hides behind this frail old lady disguise, but really she’s the meanest old boot you ever met!

How’s tomorrow though? I could meet you at the Cauldron say ten-ish? You can pour your heart out to me then.

I hope you’re sorting things out. Don’t you know it’s Christmas? You’re meant to be happy on Christmas. I can’t stand to think of you upset on today, of all days. If you still need me to come rescue you don’t let my granny scare you, I mean she is pretty scary, but if you really need me I’ll trap her in a tower (our downstairs loo) and come fetch you. I’m pretty sure we’d make it back before she’d figured out how to switch the light on.

Owen

PS Don’t take any crap Malfoy, from anyone

Leshia reread the letter twice before she turfed it over for her friends to digest. They were giggling by the end of it and chanting all sorts of silly things about how Owen and Leshia were going to end up up a tree and get married and have a baby’s carriage, but Leshia didn’t heed them. Instead she borrowed an ancient scrap of parchment from Ron’s old desk and scribbled on it in pencil, Emergency temporarily diverted, see you tomorrow at ten and a small thank you before she sent the letter on its way with an indignant Auralia. Whether or not owls had any concept of Christmas was doubtful, but she was very aware she had just flown two long journeys in a row and wanted a rest.

Leshia watched the owl go with a dubious frown; what was going to become of her slip of parchment? If she were an owl she’d delight at finding as many possible ways to destroy letters, particularly if she wasn’t being appreciated. Thankfully though Leshia wasn’t an owl and Auralia would deliver the letter good and true, though she would dart away before the recipient could send a reply.

“So are you going to go see him tomorrow?” Katie asked, her expression mischievous and far from the subtlety she was renowned for.

“Yeah, I don’t see why not.”

“Are you going to get with him again?” Rachel now asked plainly; she wasn’t in the mood for pretending to be tactful.

“Rachel!”

“Well you’re no better Katie. So, are you?” Their curious eyes turned on Leshia, who joined them on the bed again, before she shrugged.

“I don’t know. I still don’t think I like him that way, but I know I can trust him. I know he’ll set me straight.”

“Well that’s what we’re for isn’t it?” Rachel asked, sounding a little put out. Leshia rolled her eyes and reached out to ruffle her best friend’s hair.

“Yes and that’s why I’m sat here telling you all about it. It’s just Owen’s got another way of looking at things and sometimes it’s good to get two different opinions, that’s all.”

“If you had to pick someone to be your boyfriend right now, you know out of all your friends, who would you pick?” Katie asked with a crafty smile on her pretty face; she was looking at both her friends. Leshia and Rachel withdrew expressing reluctant utterances and refusing to play the game, but Katie fixed them with a firm expression and they knew they’d never hear the end of it unless they gave a response.

“Okay Leesh you go first,” Rachel grumbled.

“Well. It’s a stupid question, because I wouldn’t want to go out with any of them at the moment, but…”

“Come on, if you had to choose one, who would it be?”

Two faces had forced their way into Leshia’s mind and as she sized Rodeo up against Owen she just couldn’t decide which one she liked more. Owen was a laugh and he was charming and he’d always been there for her since the moment they had met, but Rodeo was beautiful and she’d known him the longest and before he turned strange he’d been Leshia’s biggest crush. With Rodeo’s turning back into normal again and Owen’s persistence in trying to woo her she just didn’t know where her heart lay.

But Katie was giving her a heavy look and she knew she’d have to pick one.

“Owen I guess,” she finally uttered. As though this was the answer Katie had been waiting for she pressed her hands together and squealed delightedly.

“I knew it!”

“Oh shove off,” Leshia grumbled with a smile. “Who would you pick then if you’re so clever?”

The blonde girl instantly regretted her question, because she already knew the answer. Somehow, indescribably, she felt jealous and she wished she could have answered Rodeo instead.

“It would have to be Rodeo,” Katie replied, feigning a thoughtful expression. Leshia knew her real reason for asking the question had been to reveal her liking Rodeo again and she felt hoodwinked and stupid. “Rachel, your turn.”

The redhead was scrunching up her face and picking at a feather protruding from the duvet they were sitting on. She had planned to say someone revolting like Smelly Henry, but when she saw how serious her friends had taken the question she suddenly felt like revealing her true answer also. There was only one name that sprung to mind.

“I’d go with Parys I think,” she finally replied. Leshia and Katie didn’t seem surprised.

“Yeah I can see you two together,” Katie merely said. Rachel stared at her friends nonplussed.

“Excuse me? Aren’t you two in the least bit surprised? I mean you could pretend for my sake!”

“What?” Leshia laughed. “We’ve known all along that you fancy Parys.”

“I do not fancy him,” Rachel complained fiercely. “Would you say you fancy Owen?” Leshia opened and closed her mouth and then shrugged her shoulders.

“Well that’s different. It’s complicated.” Leshia and Katie rolled about laughing at the tirade Rachel burst into, but they could see they’d struck a nerve and they soon stopped and changed the topic of conversation to something all together more benign: what they had got for Christmas.

By the time they were being hailed downstairs their moods had been set to rights and they filed downstairs with the throng of other Weasley grandkids who’d been taking refuge in the other bedrooms lest they be roped into laying the table or helping in the kitchen. The table had been magically extended to fit the dozens of family members and guests around it and to the youngsters’ dismay name cards had been affixed to hovering baubles above each place setting preventing them from forming a gang with their particular favourite cousins and ignoring everyone else. Thankfully Leshia found herself sat in between her best friends. Opposite sat her father, but next to him sat her mother with baby Evie – much recovered – in a baby seat right at her side. Leshia couldn’t avoid looking at her sister, though she tried her hardest to focus on her friends.

Rachel and Katie were on form though and they distracted their friend enough that she barely noticed her little sister across the table. The girl enjoyed herself immensely and the Christmas Dinner couldn’t have gone any better. By the time overstuffed relatives were flooing back to their homes Leshia was delighted to hear that they would be receiving Katie and Rachel’s families for drinks at her place. No doubt Hermione and Draco had insisted on this get-together to stave the awkwardness at home, but Leshia didn’t care about the reason behind it, her friends were coming over and that’s all that mattered.

Leshia was one of the last to floo across. She’d been trying to catch the white mice the crackers had unleashed and take one home, but she didn’t have time and soon found herself wrenched under her father’s arm and steered into the hearth. He followed shortly afterwards and when he reached the kitchen his daughter was about to rush off with her friends with a can of some muggle concoction called Coca Cola in her hand.

“Oy,” he told the girl fondly and beckoned her over. She rushed back to his side impatiently. “Before the three of you disappear upstairs, can you put on one of the muggle disc film things for the rest of them?”

“What a DVD?” Draco stared at the girl nonplussed.

“No a film disc thing.” Leshia grinned, but nodded all the same.

“Sure.” She waited for a moment for permission to run off until finally Draco nodded with a small smile on his face. Leshia led the way for all of Rachel’s younger siblings and Katie’s brother Michael to the Muggle Room. Here she sat them all down on the comfortable settees and put on a Christmas cartoon for them. The younger ones were instantly captivated, but the older ones grumbled in protest and instead gathered in a corner to chat. Leshia didn’t care what they did and soon ran back through the sitting room where the parents were already opening a bottle of champagne and then up the stairs to find her best friends lounging about in her messy room.

“I don’t see how you can live like this Leshia,” Katie admonished the moment Leshia appeared and shut the door behind her. The blonde girl grinned.

“Yeah well I don’t see how you can live the way you do. I mean just look at how upset you get when we come over and move something out of its designated place.”

“Yeah and the last time we stayed over I’m pretty sure I caught you making my bed while I was still sleeping in it,” Rachel agreed humorously. Katie’s cheeks glowed and she instead turned her attention on Leshia’s wardrobe.

“So,” she exclaimed importantly and she pulled the doors open. “Let’s decide what you’re going to wear for your date with Owen tomorrow Leesh.”

“It’s not a date.”

“Well whatever it is, you’ve got to look nice.”

“Katie he sees me when I’m dressed head to toe in mud stained soaking quidditch gear with my hair standing on end and blood dripping from my face,” Leshia explained, thinking of her usual state after a game. “I don’t think he cares what I wear.”

“Ah, but you are thinking about it,” Katie countered lightly leaving Leshia to make an exasperated noise and drop down beside a chuckling Rachel. The redhead stayed well and truly out of it, but laughed herself silly at the power struggle between her friends. In the end Leshia agreed to try on outfits just to silence Katie and a fashion show of sorts unfolded. Finally Katie insisted she had found the right outfit for Leshia, which consisted of the shortest skirt the girl owned – and even then it still nearly reached her knees – and a revealing top the girl had bought for a summer holiday in the sun a few years back. The blonde girl assured her raven-haired friend that she would wear the outfit the following day.

Unsurprisingly, come morning time Leshia didn’t do anything of the sort and dressed instead in her standard attire consisting of jeans, top, cardigan and trainers. Dressed for the day the girl rushed down at quarter to ten to find only her mother awake and brewing a cup of tea. Startled, the girl paused in the archway.

“Good morning darling. Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Hermione asked, once her surprise had worn away.

“I said I’d meet Owen at the Cauldron at ten.”

“Oh. When will you be back?”

“Not too late. Well, um. I’ll see you later.” Hermione barely had the time to say goodbye before the girl had rushed back into the hall pulled on her coat and bag and rushed out into the brisk London morning. The girl walked quickly through the relatively quiet streets until she reached Charing Cross Road, which was heaving with muggles as usual. These weren’t muggle commuters though; these ones were brandishing oodles of shopping bags and were evidently taking advantage of the Boxing Day sales. Leshia had to battle her way through their midst until finally she reached the small side street that held the unobtrusive and run down pub.

Owen was already waiting and the moment Leshia walked in at ten on the dot he jumped up from a booth off to the right and waved enthusiastically. Within moments Leshia reached his side and accepted the glass of Fizzles Lemonade he had got for her with a grateful smile.

“It’s manic out there,” she grumbled while she pulled her coat off.

“Tell me about it, mum and Sienna have gone clothes shopping. The way they were preparing for it you’d think they were marching out to battle not wandering down the high street.” Leshia giggled and felt a wave of calm come over her. All the agony of Christmas morning seemed a long time ago now, but she knew she’d have to talk about it, so she tried not to forget about it entirely.

“So tell me Malfoy, what was so awful that you had to have that evil bird of yours wake me up at six in the morning?” Leshia grinned apologetically before she explained the whole story to him. Retelling it brought the feelings of neglect flooding back and by the end of it her shoulders were rising and falling rapidly. Owen paused for a moment before he spoke and took a sip of his drink with a thoughtful expression on his face.

“You know what,” he finally spoke. “That does suck, your mum was really out of line.” Leshia felt her shoulders droop in relief. She hadn’t realised she had been holding her breath; desperate to find out what Owen thought of how she had reacted. “Has she apologised?”

“I haven’t really spoken to her.”

“Yeah all right, but she hasn’t even tried?” Leshia shook her head sadly.

“I think she must be a bit, you know, put out that me and dad are back to normal.”

“And what did your dad say about it?”

“Nothing. I think he’s too happy that everything’s fine again between us to try and get me to, you know, talk to my mum and stuff. You should see him Owen, he’s totally back to how he always used to be.”

“And your mum?”

“Well she’s miserable,” Leshia replied softly and tears welled up in her eyes. She brushed away at them angrily. “But it’s her own fault. She made that choice, not me!” Owen nodded and he took another sip of his drink.

“In the end,” he finally spoke. “You’re both going to have to make sacrifices. You know that don’t you? I mean in the end, you’re going to have to take the high road and so is she.”

“But she…”

“Yeah Malfoy I know, she’s the one that changed the score, fair enough, but if you love your mum then you’re going to have to be the bigger person and make it right. I’m just telling you how it is.”

Leshia glared childishly at her friend for a moment, not wanting to hear the truth in his words, but eventually she nodded and her expression softened once more. She felt she would agree with anything Owen said.

“So, what d’you get for Christmas? Anything good?” he next spoke charmingly, having sensed that it was time to move away from Leshia’s complicated problems lest they get bogged down in them all morning.

The pair chatted for hours without even realising that time was flying. Leshia felt she could have quite happily stayed locked in a booth with Owen all day, but soon he started looking towards the door. He knew his mother and sister would soon be returning and when they did it would be time to go.

“So what’s been going on with that Eye of yours? Do you still meet with Tripper or…”

“Oh that!” Quickly Leshia explained what had happened at the Ministry. All the while she rubbed the sore mark on her hand though she had to smile when she remembered how she and the girls had put makeup on it the night before and tried to make it seem less cruel. The result had been a hideous mess, but they’d had a great time while it lasted. The Eye had almost certainly known it was being mocked and it had pained the girl something rotten and glowed fierce red until she washed the make-up off again.

Leshia told him this story too and Owen had to clutch his sides while he laughed, because they hurt so much.

“You?” he finally managed. “Own make-up?” Leshia’s jaw dropped in mock outrage and she playfully slapped his arm.

“Yes I own make-up. What’s so shocking about that?”

“Well,” Owen chuckled. “You’re just such a non-girl that’s why.”

“What the hell is a non-girl?”

“Look don’t get your knickers in a twist, I’m trying to give you a compliment. You’re just not like the other girls, you’re perfect, that’s all I’m saying.” For a moment Owen seemed embarrassed and he shut his eyes, rubbing the side of his head for something to do.

Leshia wasn’t sure if she’d ever liked him more than she did in that moment and before she could stop herself she lunged forward and kissed him ever so quickly. He hadn’t been expecting that and when he opened his eyes in surprise Leshia was sipping at her drink a mischievous smile in her face. The young man was chuffed with himself and drank his own drink, his heart thumping powerfully in his chest.

“Oh yeah,” he suddenly exclaimed and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. He handed this to Leshia. “Do you have a muggle telephone?”

“No. What’s that?” For a moment Owen looked dismayed.

“Well it’s…” But then he noticed the impish smile on Leshia’s face and he shook his head fondly.

“Hilarious Malfoy. Look here’s our number. Dad uses it for work sometimes, but I don’t think they’d mind if you called on it. As long as you promise not to call at six in the morning.”

Leshia smiled shyly and took the piece of paper from the boy. She hiccupped in excitement when she saw the numbers he’d scribbled down and then delicately placed it in her purse deep in her bag.

“I would give you mine,” she spoke one she trusted her voice not to do something silly. “But I don’t know it off by…Ryan!”

Owen blinked. One moment Leshia had been sat talking to him and the next she was jumping into the arms of a tall and good-looking young man on the cusp of turning twenty. Ryan Lofting, the former quidditch captain of the Hogwarts team, was still as charismatic as ever and the way his face glowed when he greeted the small girl he’d always thought of in the way he thought of his little sister was touching, but suddenly his expression turned severe and it changed when he looked at Owen.

“Ryan, you remember Owen Gabriel right?” Leshia exclaimed giddily. She hadn’t noticed the way her older friend’s expression had changed.

“Afternoon Gabriel.” The girl couldn’t ignore Ryan’s steely tone of voice however, and she soon glanced up in surprise.

“Ryan what’s…”

“I’d like a word with you shorty, if it’s not too much trouble.” Leshia frowned in worry.

“Am I in trouble?”

“In private?” Leshia turned her eyes on Owen, who was glancing from the girl to the man in concern, but he stood to his feet nevertheless.

“I’ll wait over by the bar,” he said uneasily, before he skirted round the hulking form of Ryan Lofting and made his way across the pub. Leshia was still confused, but she sat down across from her older friend and waited for him to speak. When he didn’t she felt she had to say something,

“Ryan you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

“What’s all this crap I’ve been hearing about you getting off with half the population at Hogwarts eh?” his expression had softened, though his tone was still severe and laden with the over protectiveness he had always felt for Leshia.

“It wasn’t half the population at Hogwarts,” Leshia complained half-heartedly. “And anyway, where did you hear that?”

“That’s beside the point,” Ryan quickly countered her. “And what the hell were you thinking when you got wasted?”

“Ryan,” the girl complained embarrassedly. She respected the young man so much that this berating of her was torturous.

“No I’m serious shorty, I couldn’t believe it when I heard about that night. If I were still at Hogwarts I’d have locked you in your dormitory.” Leshia stifled a laugh, but didn’t doubt the truth in his words. “I hope you’re getting your act together, or I might have to come back to sort you out.”

Even his tone was softening now. Ryan Lofting enjoyed seeing the teenager too much to stay mad at her for long, though when he’d heard about her antics through various sources – predominantly his good friend Luka, who regularly received Hogwarts updates from his girlfriend Mila, Leshia’s captain – he’d lost his temper the way he would have if he’d heard of his own little sister behaving in such a way. Ryan Lofting had always been proud of Alecia Malfoy, but for the first time he’d felt a little ashamed and he’d hated it.

Leshia could see all this in his face and the thought that she’d made her older friend and idol feel ashamed of her humbled her through to the core.

“I won’t do it again, I promise,” she assured him. “I’ll behave.”

“Well what are you doing out with that Gabriel bloke?” He was being over protective again, but Leshia could see his heart wasn’t in it.

“Owen? You don’t have to worry about Owen Ryan. I trust him and I know he’ll always do what’s best for me. He’s one of the good guys.”

“I hope for his sake you’re right, because if he messes you around Malfoy I’ll fold him in two.” Leshia smirked, but she nodded all the same. She glanced over to where the young man in question was loitering, casting her a worried glance every now and then and she smiled broadly.

“Um, can Owen come back now? He doesn’t know what to do with himself.” Ryan turned around and glanced at the tall young man himself before he let out a heavy sigh. Leshia’s growing up bothered him deeply, but he’d never say anything of it to the girl.

“I’d better be off anyway. Julia will be wondering where I’ve got to.” He rose to his feet and quickly Leshia followed, wishing he could stay longer.

“I heard a rumour you and Julia are going to get married,” she piped up cheekily. Ryan cast the girl a wry smile and pulled her into a hug.

“Don’t be so nosy.”

“Ha! You can’t talk!”

“Yeah well I’m allowed, I’m bigger than you are.” They pulled apart again and Ryan gave the girl his usual charming smile. “Remember what I said Malfoy, you look after yourself.”

“I will, I promise.”

After one last nod Ryan drifted back into the crowds and Leshia watched him go with a pang of sadness. Soon though Owen had returned looking wary to approach.

“He’s gone you wuss,” Leshia sniggered.

“What did he want?” Owen asked as he sat down again.

“To set me straight.”

“Oh yeah? Well that’s good I guess.” The young man’s face though fell and Leshia frowned for a moment before she turned round to see Mrs Gabriel walking in with Owen’s older sister Sienna, who had finished at Hogwarts the year before. “That’s my queue to leave I’m afraid.”

Leshia nodded bravely and climbed to her feet with her friend. She pulled her coat back on and grabbed her bag before she followed Owen over to the hearth where his family were waiting for him.

“Remember, just a phone call away,” the boy told the girl with a corny smile. Leshia laughed, but nodded all the same.

“Thanks Owen, thanks for being there for me.”

“I’d do anything for you Malfoy, you know that.”

XXX

And so the holidays ambled on with Leshia spending most of her time at either Katie or Rachel’s houses or locked up in her room doing the mountain of homework the fourth years had been set by unscrupulous teachers. Draco felt more ease at the girl’s infrequent comings and goings than Hermione did, because every night she would seek him out after Hermione had gone to bed to have a chat and a goodnight cuddle. Though he had promised Hermione that he would try to explain to her that awful night when she had seemingly turned her back on their oldest daughter in favour of their youngest, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Leshia was allowing herself to be his little girl again and he felt he would sooner push hot pokers into his eyes than jeopardise that closeness again.

On New Years Eve Leshia woke up late. She’d spent most of the night getting to grips with her impossibly difficult Ancient Runes essay and had finally fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning. The house was empty and quiet as she descended the stairs and she soon found out why when she found her mother’s note in the kitchen,

Popped out to Diagon Alley to get some fireworks for tonight. Won’t be long. There’s some scrambled eggs in the fridge if you’re hungry.

Love mum

Leshia sighed and flicked the note across the counter. She would have liked a trip down Diagon Alley. For a moment she considered running to catch up with her parents when suddenly a menacing face caught her attention. It was the face of Lucius Malfoy. The picture was on the front page of the Daily Prophet, which Draco had left out on the kitchen table beside his customary mug of coffee.

Leshia wrinkled her brow and approached the newspaper; the heading was coming into view. Killer spotted in London, proof at last! Hungrily she dropped down and read the article, which explained the photograph that had been taken had been leaked by a Ministry official and that it was genuine and had been taken less than a fortnight ago. Leshia gulped hard before she found the courage to look at the picture again and soon wished she hadn’t.

Her grandfather was looking haggard, but crueller than ever she had seen him. He was furious at whoever had taken the picture and kept moving forward as though to strike the cameraperson. She could believe this was a recent picture, as he seemed far older than when she had seen him at the end of her second year. His eyes though, were still as keen and she knew deep down that he was capable of great evil.

The Eye on her hand burned and quickly she dropped the newspaper. How could it have known she was looking at a picture of her grandfather?

“Sod off,” she grumbled at the red mark. “I’m just reading the paper.”

But already the girl had sewn the fruits of an idea. She didn’t dare focus on it directly in case the Eye was reading her thoughts, but she knew she was going to go to the spot where it had been taken. Before she had been branded and before her scrapbook had been taken away she had triangulated a possible area for him to be hiding in. The picture didn’t reveal much about the location, as the houses in the background were the same tall and noble houses that filled every corner of central London, but Leshia still got a feeling that she knew where it was.

She stared heavily at the picture and memorised its every detail. She couldn’t take it with her, because if she were caught with the article that might be enough to put her on trial. Every moment she was aware of the searing itching Eye and she rubbed at it absent-mindedly, willing it to stay unaware of her plan. When she could see the picture in her mind’s eye she climbed to her feet hurriedly and ran upstairs to change. If her parents came home before she got out the house she was sure she wouldn’t be able to hide her plan from them so easily.

Within ten minutes she was out the house, running down Dockstreet in the direction of Tottenham Court Road. Her parents often chose the less busy route to and from Diagon Alley along Gower Road and if she could reach the heaving muggle shopping street she knew she would avoid running into her family. Thankfully fortune was smiling on the girl and she reached the crowded high street a few minutes later. The muggles offered enough cover and she surged along with them to the crossing with Oxford Street, where Tottenham Court Road turned into Charing Cross road. She had grown up in this part of London and knew it intimately.

Her grandfather was hiding, she was sure of it, in the area between Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road known as Soho, so this is where she headed. It had become a trendy hotspot among muggles in recent times and Leshia had to buffer along crowds the whole way. Only once she’d struggled deep into the heart of Soho did she find herself alone along a cramped and run down looking street. She delved into her bag for the map she’d brought with her and searched for Piffle Street, where she had long decided to start her search.

With a flutter of angst she realised she was on a street parallel to Piffle Street and suddenly she seized up. She stuffed the map in her bag and glanced around nervously. Her grandfather could be watching her at this very moment.

“Keep calm,” she whispered to herself when she felt her breathing rapidly increasing. “Just keep your head down.”

And so she did. She hurried up the street towards the café she had long ago read about, the café where Lucius Malfoy had been spotted many weeks ago. She found it within no time and stood across the road, taking in the red peeling paint on the dormer window and the rickety sign that read Cindy’s Café. The girl glanced left up the street and then right, but seeing nothing out of the ordinary she crept across the road and pushed heavily into the door. It opened with a jangle, but none of the regulars looked up. A heavyset woman behind a greasy looking counter raised her eyebrows at the teenager, but said nothing. Leshia approached her anxiously, stealing just a moment to look towards the table in the window where the witness swore she had seen her grandfather. Just then her Eye burned, but she forced the pang away and approached the woman.

“What can I get you love?” the large woman asked in a gravelly voice.

“Um, I’m actually looking for someone,” Leshia replied boldly, forcing away her unease in favour of the self-assuredness she usually adopted.

“Don’t sell people.” The woman seemed fierce and Leshia felt in her pocket for change. She knew she’d never get any answers at this rate. With a handful of money she pulled it out and saw to her great relief that it was predominantly muggle change. She had hoped that this would be the case, as she’d last worn these jeans when her mother took her shopping down the muggle high street.

“Okay then, well can I have an orange juice please?”

“Orange juice?”

“Hmm.”

With a heavy sigh the woman got to work. She clearly hated her work and the way she opened the fridge cantankerously, pulled out a carton of orange juice and sloshed it into a glass made Leshia pity her, rather than resent her. Moments later she’d slid the glass towards the short pretty girl and held out her hand.

“That’ll be two quid.” No longer sympathetic Leshia grimaced while she handed over two shiny one pound coins and stuffed the rest of the change back in her pocket.

‘Two quid for a glass of out-of-the-carton orange juice?’ she thought to herself angrily. ‘What a rip off!’

“So this person I’m looking for,” the girl spoke up again, entirely ignoring her high priced drink. The fierce woman craned her head back, looking down her nose at the small teenager. “Well he was in here a while back see and I’m wondering if he’s been in since.”

“What’s he look like?”

“He’s tall and really pale. And he’s got really long white hair that’s going sort of grey and, well, he’s got eyes just like mine.”

“Relative is he?” Leshia winced and ignored the question. “Some people were in asking about the same man a few months back. Loads of ‘em. Don’t remember him though.”

Leshia pushed back her sigh and nodded. She realised that of course Ministry witches and wizards would have come after the report and interrogated anyone who’d been in the café at the time. Following this they would no doubt have obliterated any memories of the event lest fanatical people come hunting for Lucius afterwards, which by the sound of the woman’s account was exactly what had happened.

“Okay then, thanks for your help.” Leshia turned to go.

“What about your drink?”

“I’m not thirsty anymore.” With this Leshia pulled the door open and the bell jangled once more. She didn’t see the woman behind the counter turning to pick up a telephone in the corner. She couldn’t know she’d been given orders to call a special number if ever anyone came looking for the tall blond man again.

Leshia scratched at the burned Eye and glanced up and down the street. With a grim sigh she headed off to Piffle street once more and stared up its length with an increasing feeling of dread. She walked up and down it several times, but nothing out of the ordinary happened or occurred to the girl. There was a muggle man down one end fixing the motor in his automobile and on her third walk past him he called out to the teenaged girl.

“You alright there pet? Not lost are you?” Leshia jumped a little and turned round to see the ageing man was a kindly sort of creature.

“I’m looking for someone actually.” Again she described her grandfather. The car washing muggle listened patiently, but had to shake his head.

“Not seen anyone like that round these parts dearie,” he replied apologetically. Leshia thanked him and went on her way. She spoke to a few more people, but every single one gave her the same blank response.

“Oh it’s no use,” the girl sighed heavily and she turned to go. Quite suddenly though she stopped and stared at the houses across the street. Then she turned around and stared at the ones behind her. Again she looked at the buildings across the street and with a jolt of panic she realised this was where her grandfather’s recent photo had been taken. Her skin crept uncomfortably and she shuffled closer to the muggle cars, feeling safer now she had something to hide behind.

“He’s been here. He’s been here recently…agh!”

Her hand was on fire! The agony whipping up her nerves nearly disabled the girl, but she kept her wits about her long enough to burst into a run. Determined not to get caught she sprinted from the suspicious spot she had found herself in and rounded a corner mid-way along Piffle Street. Quite suddenly she glanced off someone and landed on the ground.

When she saw who she had crashed into she very nearly fainted with terror. Even the pain in her hand became numb when she saw him: Silas Tripper.

“S-s-s-si-si-sir-sir,” she stammered and she climbed from her knees to her feet, but something was wrong. Professor Tripper seemed deathly afraid of his very surroundings and as though he hadn’t even noticed the girl he put one foot out unsurely in front of the other and hobbled on, his arms outstretched as though he were blind or very disoriented. Leshia stared after him.

What was going on?

She didn’t wait to find out though and turned and ran. She didn’t stop running, even when she stumbled into the heavy pedestrian traffic along Oxford Street. Indeed, she didn’t stop running till she reached her house where she paused for a moment on the steps and got her breath back. Her heart was racing, her hand burning, she didn’t know whether she’d been caught or not and couldn’t even muster the courage to go inside. What had just happened? Why had Tripper seemed so deranged? Why hadn’t he even recognised her?

For ten minutes she sat on the steps, frozen solid with fear, until finally the door behind her wrenched open. Leshia spun around to find her father looking at her with a relieved expression clear on his face while in the hall behind stood her mother talking hurriedly with Sabine Hirsh. They all stared at the girl in surprise.

“Leshia, where have you been?” Draco asked urgently when his surprise wore off. He reached down and helped Leshia inside, though she stayed very close to him when she saw the significant way Madam Hirsh was looking at her.

“We’ve been terrified darling,” Hermione now spoke. “You hadn’t even left us a note!”

Evidently Madam Hirsh hadn’t told Leshia’s parents for the urgency of her visit, but they knew something was amiss. They wanted desperately to talk to their daughter alone and find out where she had been and what she had doing, but Madam Hirsh had pressing business with the girl. Leshia’s Eye was glowing ferociously.

“Is there somewhere I can speak to Leshia Draco?” Madam Hirsh asked her former colleague, who nodded jerkily.

“My study. Please, it’s this way.” With Leshia clamped under one arm he led the way through the dark corridor under the stairs to the wood panelled study. Madam Hirsh went in first followed by Leshia, but when Draco tried to follow Leshia pushed him back.

“Can I talk to her alone?” she asked in a whisper. She seemed deathly afraid.

“Why?”

“I just, I have to,” Leshia replied shakily. “I can’t tell you now.” Draco glanced past his daughter to where Madam Hirsh had made herself comfortable on one of the leather settees along the wall. Her expression was still very serious.

“Sweetheart what were you doing?” Draco lowered his voice to a whisper. Leshia felt naughty and ashamed and shook her head.

“Something I shouldn’t have been doing.” With this thought she pulled back and closed the door, shutting out her father’s worried expression. Draco made no effort to stop her, though he sank down against the wall outside the study, his heart rate quickening.

Inside the wood panelled room Leshia approached Madam Hirsh and sat down at her side. Just how much the Auror knew Leshia wasn’t sure, but evidently they knew something, or she wouldn’t have arrived when she did. Eventually the kind-faced woman let out a heavy sigh and she spoke.

“I’m afraid I’m obliged to ask you these questions Leshia. Answer them truthfully.” For a moment Madam Hirsh’s face creased into a pleading expression and she added powerfully. “Please.”

Fearing what might happen if she lied Leshia nodded ardently to say she wouldn’t dream of it.

“Good. Now then, have you been engaged in any dark activity since our meeting yesterday morning?” A broad sweeping question that Leshia was sure she could answer truthfully.

“No,” she responded slowly. “Nothing dark.”

Madam Hirsh glanced to the Eye on the girl’s hand, which didn’t change. Nodding quickly she asked the next question,

“And have you been involved in any suspicious activity since our meeting yesterday morning?”

Leshia hung her head and her eyes creased slightly. She held her branded hand to her chest with her good one and rubbed the skin alongside her burning mark for comfort. Finally she responded,

“Yes,” she said softly. Madam Hirsh winced and Leshia knew why, her hand felt as though it were on fire again and with a small cry she dropped it into her lap. “I went for a look, that’s all, to see the street where that picture was taken, you know, the one in the Daily Prophet this morning.”

“Why?” Madam Hirsh demanded powerfully, emotion straining in her voice.

“I don’t know why, I just wanted to see. There’s no harm in it, nothing else happened I swear!”

Again her hand burned in agony and Leshia cried out louder. Her whole right arm was trembling now and the pain the teenager was in was making Madam Hirsh’s face contort into such sympathy it made Leshia’s head swim.

“I asked you not to lie Leshia, something else has happened that you are not reporting to me.”

“Okay okay,” Leshia panted. “I went to the café, you know the one, down Dodge Street to ask if the woman had seen him recently. I don’t know why I did that, but I did and I can’t undo it.”

The pain in her hand was lessening and Leshia pulled her hand to her front again and nursed the searing Eye as best as she could. She met Madam Hirsh’s eye and felt comforted by the relief that lay there. It was as though she were receiving communications that Leshia couldn’t hear, for she stayed quiet for a moment and then nodded resolutely.

“What’s going to happen now?” Leshia asked quietly and she let out a long slow breath as the pain had all but receded now.

“You’ll receive a written warning.” A torrent of emotion that Leshia hadn’t realised she was holding back suddenly released and tears sprung from her eyes. She wiped at the furiously. “There there girlie, don’t fret. The worst of it is over.”

Leshia accepted the pink and purple striped handkerchief that Madam Hirsh was handing her and she dabbed at her eyes. Promptly she gave it back to the auror and sniffed loudly to stave any more tears.

“Now I know you’re a curious sort Leshia. I knew your father very well when he worked at the Ministry and he told me all about you. I also know you’re a Malfoy and it’s in your nature to seek revenge when you feel you’re owed. Your father holds grudges too.” Leshia didn’t feel insulted by these words, because she knew they were true. “But let me advise you and please, listen carefully to what I say. This en’t no game child, this is more serious than you can imagine. Them people who put that mark on your hand didn’t do so as a warning; they were taking the first steps to locking you away from your father, from your mother and from all your friends. If you walk right into their hands you’ll be an old woman before they let you out. Them who care about you would have no say; you’d be gone, lost to them. You think carefully about that.”

Leshia nodded and felt a stab of immense guilt when she thought of the pain she would cause her parents and the pain she would cause her friends if they could never see her again.

Madam Hirsh was rising to her feet and as she went she patted Leshia’s hanging head comfortingly.

“You’re a brave young lady, there’s no doubting that.” With this she swept out of the room. Leshia heard her talking to her parents, but didn’t really heed what was said. They talked for a long time and by the time they were through she had promised herself that she would no longer seek out Lucius. What a waste of a life it would be if she got herself thrown in Azkaban. When she heard her parents saying goodbye Leshia rose to her feet and wandered out to find the on route to the study.

“Can we not talk about it?” she spoke before words could come tumbling from their mouths. “I know what I’ve done and I know how lightly I got off, so can we just…can we just not talk about it. Please?” Draco’s shoulders drooped and he nodded once, but Hermione’s face contorted in emotion. She couldn’t just let it drop, she knew she couldn’t.

“I don’t think I can just let this go Leshia. I don’t think you understand.”

The blonde girl stared coldly into her mother’s eyes.

“I understand perfectly well,” she countered icily. She raised her throbbing hand and showed her mother the glowing mark. “I understand what this can do and I understand how it works now! I don’t see one on your hand, so I don’t think you understand. I won’t let it hurt me like that again.”

With this Leshia marched past her mother and dashed up the stairs before Hermione could call out to her. Draco stared at the floor, before he let out an exasperated noise and stalked into the kitchen where a cabinet of bottles lay in the corner by the pantry. By the time Hermione joined him he was clutching at his second tumbler full of whiskey, having downed the first one. His wife was glaring at him.

“You just stood by,” she accused him.

“Pardon me?”

“You stood by and let her talk to me like that, as though I were nothing. I’m still her mother! Doesn’t that mean anything?” Draco’s brow lowered darkly.

“She was pleading with us to leave her alone, to let her digest this whole sorry business in private. Don’t blame me because you couldn’t grant her that simple courtesy.”

“Oh don’t give me that,” Hermione cried out loudly. “If she were still ignoring you you would have been the exact same.”

“I would not.”

“Yes you would. Just admit it! You’re going to have endless opportunities to talk about today with her, but what chances am I going to have? She doesn’t talk to me at home and soon she’ll be back at school where I have absolutely no say in what she does.”

“You could have bloody well left it for a few hours though couldn’t you? But no, you couldn’t leave it. You never can!”

“Don’t talk like that to me!” Hermione now cried out, tears welling up in her eyes. “You’re the one who always has to intervene in everything she does. Not me!”

“Well you’re the one who’s pushed her away!”

“That’s so unfair! How could you say such a thing Draco?”

Their voices were rising and up above their daughter heard their every word. Tears had started streaming down her cheeks again when she realised her stupid foolishness had led to yet another fight between her parents. It was her fault they were on the brink…it was all her fault. Knowing what she had to do she strode over to her desk and searched inside her wooden keepsake box for the number Owen had scribbled on a piece of paper.

The phone she needed stood in the downstairs hall and so with her heart in her mouth Leshia tiptoed out into the landing. Her parents voices were so much louder, so much angrier, so much crueller without her door to muffle them. They were laying into each other, bringing up old wounds as well as new ones and for a moment Leshia was paralysed by their cruelty to one another. She regained control though of her body and forced herself to creep down the stairs, artfully avoiding those planks and floorboards that might give her away. She reached the phone in silence and picked up the cordless device before turning on heel and darting back up the stairs again. She pressed her free hand into her ear and squeezed her shoulder against the other one to block out their screams when she heard her mother cry out,

“You’ve never taken my side! You’re always so afraid of losing her. What basis for a strong relationship is that if you can’t say or do anything that might turn her away from you?”

To which her father replied furiously,

“That is total and utter bollocks!”

Within no time Leshia had reached her room and she pushed the door shut behind herself, feeling a little relieved by how it muffled their horrible words. She dialled the number with shaking hands, her tears falling on the screen and merging the digits. As she pressed the phone to her ear she hoped against hope she hadn’t dialled it wrong, but soon enough a little girl’s voice came down the phone,

“Hello this is Claire Gabriel speaking.” Leshia hiccupped away her tears and forced herself to sound natural.

“Hi. Is Owen there please?”

“Yeah he’s here.” Owen’s littlest sister paused on the other end of the line and Leshia nearly rolled her eyes.

“Could I speak to him please? It’s Leshia.”

“Leshia?” young Claire asked delightedly. “From school?”

“Yes.” Giggles erupted on the other end of the line from not one, but two girls and Leshia felt her eyes burning with embarrassment and annoyance. Thankfully though, Claire didn’t drag out her misery.

“Owen!” Leshia heard her yelling in the background. “It’s your girlfriend on the phone.” She was teasing him and Owen’s two little sisters now burst into reams of laughter. Still tears streamed down Leshia’s cheeks when she heard a particularly loud sob come from down below. Any minute now they’d wake up the baby and then what?

Finally she heard Owen’s voice grumbling at the giggling girls on the other end of the line before he managed to snatch the phone from them.

“Malfoy, is that you?” he asked charmingly and from the waning laughter and the sound of footfalls on the stairs Leshia could guess Owen had escaped his sisters.

“Yeah it’s me,” she managed through her misery. There was a pause on the other end and even the footsteps stopped.

“Are you crying?”

“Yes.”

The footsteps started again at a quicker pace than before and soon Leshia heard a door closing and then silence. Owen didn’t know what to say.

“My parents,” she offered. “They’re having a massive fight downstairs. I think…Owen I think they hate each other. And what’s worse is, well it’s all my fault. I did something stupid today and now they’re having a massive fight because of me!” Leshia broke down into tears and for several minutes she cried quietly. She couldn’t know how the sound of it broke Owen’s heart and how he felt incapacitated by her pain.

In the nursery next-door Evie finally woke up to the screams downstairs and she matched them with her own. Leshia fell silent and even Owen could hear why. No one could deny that Evie was a surprisingly loud infant.

“Is that your sister?” he asked redundantly.

“Yes,” Leshia sniffed and she staved her tears. This wasn’t helping anyone. “Oh Owen I don’t know what to do. I’m just so unhappy.”

“I know,” he replied gently. “Look, it’s just a week and then school will start again and you’ll be able to get away from it all.”

Just a week. A week’s a bloody age!”

“You wouldn’t be saying that if I said you had a week to live,” Owen countered her and Leshia could hear him smiling. “You’d be saying ‘Christ! Only a week! I’ve got so much to do and so little time!’”

“Yeah,” Leshia laughed. “But that’s not the case though is it?”

“Can’t you pretend, for me?” Again the girl laughed and it was like music to Owen’s ears. That he could bring her back from the brink of complete and utter misery made him feel indescribably good.

“Okay,” she managed through a shudder. “I’ll pretend I’ve only got a week to live, for you.”

“Great. So that’s the first thing you’ve got to do. Second thing is you’ve got to get out that house.”

“Where will I go?”

“I would love to say here Malfoy, I would love to see you, but I think you’ll understand when I say that while my sisters are home I’m not inviting you here. I’d be locked up in Azkaban for using some if not all of the Unforgivable curses before you’d even had a chance to take your coat off.” Leshia laughed happily and nodded in the gloom of her room.

“No I understand. They are terribly, I’m sorry for not believing you.”

“That was just a fraction of their evil power. Look why don’t you go to Weasley’s?”

“That’s a good idea,” Leshia sniffed. “Only thing is their fighting in the kitchen, which is where the flooing fireplace is.”

“So what? Just ignore them. They’ll stop fighting when they see you. Someone should probably let them know you’re sister’s up and wailing anyway. Damn that baby is loud!”

“Tell me about it.” A pause followed in which Leshia rubbed the rest of her tears away with her sore hand. “Thanks Owen. I’d better go before they realise what they’re doing and then try and talk to me about it.”

“Yeah alright. No worries Leshia, like said, anytime.”

“Can we see each other before we go back to school?”

“Name a time and a place and I’m there.”

“Tomorrow, one-o clock at the Cauldron.”

“It’s a d…” Owen paused and then continued unsurely. “It’s a deal.” The weight of what he had wanted to say made a tingle of electricity carry down Leshia’s spine, but she said nothing of it.

“Good. Well I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

“I love you.”

Leshia’s eyes went as wide as they could possibly go and her breath caught in her throat. The line had gone dead and now the caller busy tone was ringing persistently in her ear. What had he just said? Had she heard him properly?

Frantically, her heart in her mouth, she redialled the boy’s number. He picked up instantly.

“Owen what did you just say?” She heard him laugh.

“Get off the phone and go to Rachel’s house. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With that he hung up once more leaving Leshia unsure of whether she had heard him correctly or not. She didn’t have time to ponder it now though; she could truly dissect their whole conversation with Rachel’s help when she got to the Weasley’s house. What was important now was getting out the house before her parents tried to talk to her about what she’d heard.

She made no attempt at creeping this time and quickly made her way down to the hall and dropped the phone in its cradle. Then, with her head held high, she strode into the kitchen. The moment she did so her parents stopped and stared at their daughter in shock, but she didn’t heed them and instead climbed into the grate and grabbed an handful of floor powder. They made no attempt to stop her.

“She’s crying by the way,” Leshia told them soberly, before she dropped the powder and cried out, “Thirteen Windermere Street, Winchester.”

In a swirl of green flames she was gone, reappearing moments later in the kitchen at Rachel’s house. She startled the life out of Ron who had been making a sandwich for his impatient young son Matthew.

“Leshia! You scared the life out of me, is everything okay?”

“Sorry to barge in,” Leshia quickly offered though she could see Ron’s face was sympathetic. He could see she had been crying. “Is Rachel about?”

“Yes she’s upstairs, go right on up.” Leshia smiled gratefully at her best friend’s father and after swooping to give Matthew a hug, for the little boy had started calling out her name the moment she appeared, the girl ran through the house and straight up to Rachel’s bedroom. The door was plastered with a dozen or so posters of quidditch players and a band Leshia had never heard of and it also bore a sign that had once read No Boys Allowed, but had long been changed to read, No Slytherins Allowed.

The blonde girl didn’t knock, but pushed the door open to find her friend sprawled on her front reading an enormous Ancient Runes book. Her back was turned to the door and without looking out she angrily complained,

“What have I told you lot about knocking?”

“Um, sorry. I’ll come back in,” Leshia mumbled and she pulled the door shut again. This time she knocked on it only to have it wrenched open by a confused Rachel.

“I thought it was you, what are you doing you muppet? You don’t need to knock. I thought you were one of those harpie sisters of mine. They’ve been bugging me all afternoon because they know I don’t know a bleeding thing about Runes and I can’t do our bloody essay, but…” Rachel paused when she got a good look at her friend and quickly she closed the door behind them. “But you haven’t come to commiserate about our Runes essay have you? Something’s happened.”

Leshia nodded shakily and she sat down on the plush carpet cross-legged. She retold the whole story; only leaving out the fact that she had met Tripper on the corner of Piffle Street and that he had been acting as though his brains had been addled. Leshia was beginning to think she must have imagined this part, because she didn’t see how she could have escaped him unscathed had it really been Tripper.

“Wow Leesh, that’s pretty heavy,” Rachel finally spoke when her friend had brought her story to a close.

“I’m so scared they’re going to break up.” Now the redhead looked up sharply and she shook her head.

“Two fights don’t suddenly mean they’re going to break up. I mean my parents…” She paused for a moment and Leshia felt horribly guilty for being so insensitive. “My parents were fighting like that every day for months before they called it quits. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“Sorry Rach, I didn’t think.”

“Don’t be stupid, of course you didn’t. You’ve had a rough day.”

The two girls lulled into silence while Leshia picked at the enormous Runes tome. She’d lost all energy to talk and Rachel could sense as much, but she was excited about one particular part of Leshia’s story.

“So Owen really said that he loved you and then hung up?” A big grin pulled onto Leshia’s face and she nodded quickly.

“I swear he did, but then when I called back he pretended he hadn’t. I don’t think he meant to say it you know.”

“Yes, but he did! Oh wow!”

“You sound like Katie.”

“Can we tell Katie?”

“Of course we’ll tell Katie, what time is the party round theirs?” Rachel glanced at her watch.

“A few hours yet. Are you going to go dressed like that?” Leshia glanced down at her clothes and shrugged her shoulders.

“I’ll give them time to calm down and then go home and change right before we have to leave. Hopefully they won’t try to talk to me. I wouldn’t know what to say.”

Rachel sighed heavily and shuffled to sit next to Leshia so that she could wrap her arm around her best friend’s shoulders tightly. She squeezed her friend into a semi-hug that Leshia appreciated immensely.

“The crap you get yourself into,” Rachel finally sighed and despite her mood Leshia laughed happily. “You just never learn do you?”

XXX

New Years Eve was a solemn occasion for the Malfoys and the week that passed equally so. All in all Leshia was delighted when the time came to wheel her trunk to King’s Cross in order to board the Hogwarts Express again. She hadn’t allowed her parents to talk to her about the fight she’d overheard and had spent most of the remainder of the holidays hiding at Rachel’s house or meeting Owen at the Cauldron.

Hermione had never seemed so downtrodden as when she hugged her daughter goodbye and offered soft words of apology for the miserable fortnight they’d all endured. Leshia remained silent though and could only offer a whispered goodbye before she sought out her friend’s in the cabin they’d already reserved with their trunks. The girl remained in a grim mood for many hours until finally a passing visit from Owen cheered her up no end.

Being back at the castle was like a breath of fresh air for Leshia and as soon as she crossed the threshold she felt fully back to he old self again. Her friends sensed the change in the girl and were thankful for whatever magic Hogwarts had worked. Gryffindor tower was alive with laughter that night and as such come Monday morning the youngsters were all very groggy, but still smiling. For the fourth years their first lesson of the day was to be Defence Against the Dark Arts and with full stomachs and tired brains they made their way to the first floor corridor that housed their classroom. The Gryffindors arrived slightly after their Slytherin counterparts and upon seeing the snakes Leshia’s skin scrawled. She’d forgotten just how much Damian Allseyer got on her nerves.

The boy was smiling slyly at her while she approached and though she tried to ignore him he blocked her path making it impossible. His eyes darted to the Eye on her hand and his smile turned to a look of revulsion. It was all an act of course, it had become his lot in life to torture Leshia Malfoy to the extent that she lost her temper and the Eye glowed and burned her. He’d seen it by chance once, but soon worked out the correlation.

“It won’t be long now,” the Slytherin rat was speaking for all to hear. “I hope you all read the papers. He’s been sighted, Lucius Malfoy.”

Leshia bristled slightly while her friends tried to turn her away from the pointy-faced boy and his cruel words.

“And when he’s caught you’ll go down with him.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about Allseyer,” Leshia growled.

“Oh no? That speaks for itself doesn’t it? My father told me that there’s never been a case of an innocent person being branded with the Eye. They all end up in Azkaban eventually.”

Leshia’s thoughts flew to her father and she shook her head heavily.

“Well that’s where you’re wrong, because I can think of at least one person.” Allseyer’s cruel smile grew; she’d walked right into his trap.

“Thinking of daddy are we? There’s still time yet. As soon as his old man goes down, he’ll stand no chance. None of you Malfoys will. Good riddance is all I say!” Leshia’s hand burned and she knew without looking at it that it was glowing. She was seething. How dare this ignorant child talk about these things as though he were the authority on the matter?

“You’re a fool Allseyer,” she whispered shakily. “You’re talking about it likes it’s some sort of game. You’ve got no clue do you? You’re just a foolish childish little boy and if it takes me the rest of my life I will lose this and I will deal you what you’ve got coming to you!”

She’d seen too much and she’d felt too much pain. The girl seemed dangerous and yet wise at the same time and for a moment even her friends turned and stared at her. It was as though all the darkness in the world had possessed the blonde girl, if only for a moment.

“I’m telling Tripper about this!” Allseyer’s call went out. He was afraid.

“No,” Leshia countered him furiously. “You won’t.” A stalemate ensued and the girl and boy stared each other down, until finally a tall young man with black hair and pale eyes came to stand between them. Julius Black faced his Slytherin companion and uttered under his breath,

“Don’t waste your time. You’ll be dragged into it.”

Considered a silent authority amongst the fourth year snakes Julius Black’s words had a powerful impact on Allseyer, who gave Leshia one last disgusted look and turned on heel.

“I’m not going to waste any more time on you Malfoy. You can stew in your own mess.” With this he flounced off with his gang of cronies in close pursuit in order to file onto the back of the line. Leshia’s shoulders were rising and falling rapidly. Oh how she wished she could march up to that vile horrid boy and curse him. Julius Black meanwhile had turned round and he quickly caught Leshia’s eye. He merely shook his head minutely at the girl before he dropped back into the queue of silenced pupils. Leshia continued to watch him though his head was now hanging and she continued to do so till a fast loping stride at the end of the corridor forced her and her friends into the queue as well, where they briefly checked the status of their shirts.

Draco could sense the residue of hostility in the air and after checking to see his daughter’s face was stony he guessed correctly that she had been at the heart of the conflict. He said nothing of it though and checked the row of shirts before standing back to let them pass. His mood was quite dichotic as usual, but as he took his place at the front of the classroom a small smile snaked onto his handsome face.

“Good morning fourth years, I wish I could say I’m happy to see you, but you all seem so miserable I won’t bother.” A titter of laughter brightened up several glum faces. “Today’s lesson will be quite an enjoyable one I’m sure. Over the next three weeks you’re going to be learning how to conjure a Patronus Charm and we will be starting this topic with a practical session.”

Several of the youngsters sat up straight, their faces keen and alert. Katie’s hand was hovering over her desk, ready to fly into the air should Professor Malfoy ask them a question.

“Who can tell me what a Patronus is?” Right on queue the raven-haired girl’s hand snapped into the air and her eagerness earned her a smile from Leshia’s father. “Yes Miss Potter?”

Katie inhaled for a moment, relishing in her own knowledge before she spoke clearly and carefully,

“A Patronus, when conjured correctly, is a silvery-white creature cast by a witch or wizard from the tip of their wand to defend them against the attacks of certain creatures, such as Dementors or Lethifolds.”

Leshia and Rachel glanced to one another with a wry smile and in unison they shook their heads. What they would do without Katie’s encyclopaedia-like knowledge when she started out on the return voyage of the exchange programme in a week’s time they had no idea. How would they cope without her giving them the answers all the time?

“An excellent answer Miss Potter, five points for Gryffindor. And who can tell me what form the creature takes?” A few more hands lifted into the air, Leshia’s amongst them.

“Yes Miss Malfoy?”

“It depends on your personality doesn’t it?”

“How so?”

“Well if you’re a really brave sort of person then your Patronus might be in the form of a lion or something, but if you’re a bit of a wuss…I mean a coward,” Leshia quickly covered when the class started laughing. Draco silenced them with a look.

“Carry on Miss Malfoy.”

“Well yeah, so if you’re a coward then it might be a…um…a wet fish maybe.” Again a laugh from the class. “And if you’re a filthy horrible excuse for a human being then it might be in the form of a rat.” Here the girl glared across the classroom at Damian Allseyer, who met her eyes and narrowed his own.

“Interesting examples, but correct nonetheless,” their teacher quickly spoke up, his tone firm enough that Leshia dropped her glaring match with her nemesis and looked up at her father innocently. Across the class those who hadn’t heard were beginning to see the change that had happened between the girl and her father and many sighed a sigh of relief. Defence Against the Dark Arts would be a far more pleasant experience without the tension Leshia’s ignoring of her father had wrought on the whole class.

“The ability to cast a Patronus,” Draco was continuing to the class. “Is something some of you may learn in a day, yet it make take others years of diligent study. There are those who cannot access powerful enough memories or thoughts and for these it will be the hardest. Who knows what sort of memories or thoughts fuel the Patronus and determine its strength? Yes Mr Black?”

“Positive ones sir.”

“Well done, five points to Slytherin. Mr Black is right of course, you will all need to search deep within yourselves for the happiest memories or the most joyous thoughts you can find and it will be these that will help you cast the Patronus Charm.”

“Um, sir?” Everyone’s eyes darted to a Slytherin girl at the back of the room. Taryn Silverton was a mousy sort of girl, who many had doubted was a true Slytherin due to her meek nature, until the day word spread that she had reportedly burned a fifth year girl’s hair off for borrowing her hairbrush without asking. “My dad told me once that he learned how to do a Patronus for his NEWTs. Are we…I mean aren’t we…”

“Doing it too soon?” Draco offered kindly to the shy girl, who nodded quickly.

“It’s true that even when I was at school it was tackled far later in the curriculum, but times have changed and when the Dementors turned on the magical community the ability to defend oneself against them became a high priority. In fact, ten years ago or so Patronus magic was covered every single year. Thankfully this isn’t the case any more, though rest assured, you will be covering them in your seventh year as well.”

The fourth years listened intently while Draco instructed them on the state of mind they must try to seek and then the proper incantation. The class repeated it after their teacher several times over until each one of them had a good grasp of the charm. Finally, when Draco could sense the attention of his class slipping he stood back and took out his wand. He hadn’t demonstrated yet the charm in action and it was time to remind them of what they were trying to achieve.

For a moment he cleared his mind and thought back to the happiest memories he could muster. The images came flowing to him: the first time he and Hermione had kissed, the births of both his children, the first time Leshia had uttered ‘dada’, the day Hermione came back to him and most recently the day Leshia did too. These positive emotions flowed through him until he could almost see his Patronus in his minds eye. When he knew he was ready he opened his eyes and spoke out the incantation.

Expecto patronum.” Out from his wand shot an enormous silver raven that emerged flapping into the classroom. It all happened so suddenly that the teenagers sat in the front row actually screamed in panic, but there was nothing to fear about the Patronus. It may have taken the form of a frightening and seemingly ferocious large bird – which surprised only Leshia – but it emanated such positive feelings that they were all drawn towards it.

When the class had been awed long enough Draco dropped his wand and released the charm and the Raven disappeared in a cloud of light. The class still stared at him in shock and surprise.

“Very well then. Off you go.” Nobody moved a muscle until finally a hand popped up. “Yes Miss Malfoy?”

“Are we doing them at our desks sir?”

“Yes, at your desks.”

“But…but what if we hit the person in front?”

Draco suppressed the smile on his face. He didn’t want the girl to think him mocking her and by the looks on her peers’ faces it was evident they all thought as she did. They still had so much to learn.

“I will give a hundred housepoints to the person who manages to form a Patronus so strong and with such a defined form that it knocks the person in front over. Don’t you worry about that. Spend today’s lesson trying to reach the frame of mind you need, don’t worry about anything else.”

Across the room a sort incantation was uttered and then another at the back. One by one the pupils in the room searched their happiest of memories and daydreams in order to find the positive emotions they needed to cast the charm. And slowly, one by one, whispers of white smoke started escaping the ends of wands. Rachel was the first to do so out of the whole class and when Draco saw it he silence the pupils and asked the redhead to demonstrate. Thankfully she was able to repeat the process and didn’t mind when Draco asked what she had been using to fuel the Patronus.

“I was thinking about the Hearing Aid performance Professor,” the girl replied shyly.

“Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor.”

And so the lesson continued. Katie succeeded soon afterwards, as did Rodeo and Parys. Of course none of them held any sort of form, but they had at least achieved the beginnings of a Patronus. Out of the whole class only Leshia floundered.

She tried. Oh she tried very hard! But every time her mind found a happy memory or a pleasing thought fell into her head the cruel Eye on her had started burning and she lost the happiness she needed to carry out the charm. The fact that she couldn’t manage what everyone else had achieved was crushing to the usual overachiever and this frame of mind only furthered her failure in trying to conjure the charm.

Towards the end of the lesson, when all the pupils had now taken it upon themselves to create even larger clouds of smoke Draco walked over to his daughter’s desk and crouched down. She’d given up and was staring at her hands.

“It’s not working is it?” he asked softly, so as only her friends sitting nearby could hear.

“No.” The Eye on her hand was glowing again.

“No,” her father repeated sadly. “I didn’t think it would.”

“It’s because of this isn’t it?” The girl lifted her hand pitifully.

“I’m afraid so. It interferes in deeper magic than its creators had intended.” Again Draco’s mind lingered on the fact that when he came near to the Eye all he could sense was its powerful cruel magic rather than the young girl it had been branded on.

“Wonderful,” Leshia sighed grimly, but she forced a smile at her father, which he returned. No more needed to be said and so he stood up and brought the lesson to a close. The only good thing to come out of the lesson as far as Leshia was concerned was the fact that her peers received homework to work on their Patronuses, which she of course could not do.

XXX

The week passed by frighteningly quickly. Leshia, Katie and Rachel became quite inseparable, as each one realised in turn that they would now be incomplete and separated from one of their trio for a whole term. Parys too would be going and together the five friends seemed very down as the weekend approached. The only positive twist Leshia could give to the trip was that both Damian Allseyer and Julius Black would be going. She didn’t know how Julius Black had managed to get himself back on the list and she suspected she never would, but inwardly she was grateful. The boy unnerved her still, despite the help he’d given to her over the years.

Sunday night a big feast was held to say farewell to those Hogwarts pupils who would be going their separate ways in the morning. Katie and Parys’ group were apparating out first thing and they wouldn’t really get a chance to say goodbye in the morning. All across the Great Hall pupils were in tears and hugging their friends. Leshia hadn’t realised quite how emotional she would get at Katie’s departure and found herself close to tears most of the night.

When everyone had finished their meals and the plates disappeared to be seen to down in the kitchens, Dumbledore the headmaster rose to his feet.

“Dear pupils,” he called out to his school with the fondness of a grandfather addressing his grandchildren. “I feel very sorry to say goodbye to some of you and just as sorry to see the sadness in the faces of those being left behind. Remember though that this will be an adventure! The sights you will see and the experiences you will gain will last you a lifetime and I am envious of all of you. I can offer little consolation to those who will be staying, save that three months, when you look back at your long lives, is a very short amount of time. Before you know it, your friends will be back with stories to last for weeks and hopefully a little keepsake or two.”

Leshia and Rachel grinned pointedly at Katie, who giggled through the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.

“You hear that?” Rachel whispered. “Bring back presents!”

“Serve your school well wherever you are travelling and don’t be afraid to try every new experience offered to you. We will be awaiting your return with great anticipation. Do not forget that! Now then, our travellers have an early start ahead of them, so please, try to keep any festivities back in your common rooms down to a minimum.” Here the headmaster turned his twinkling eyes on Gryffindor table, where many were bashfully avoiding his gaze. “Perhaps try to limit yourselves to a round of drinks and then off to bed hmm?”

With this he sat down triggering a trickle of pupils to start moving towards the door. Leshia and her friends soon followed, with the blonde girl and her redhead friend sandwiching Katie in-between them while they walked. They were too glum for words and Katie too nervous to call them on it. She was so looking forward to seeing Luisa again, but the prospect of living away from Hogwarts in a far far away land was damn right terrifying.

“Malfoy!” Leshia turned around just as she stepped through the portrait hole into the common room and found Mila the quidditch captain pushing crowds out the way to get to her star seeker.

“Hi Mila, you okay?”

“Yes! I just need to discuss something with you. Come with me.”

Leshia furrowed her brow at her friends in curiosity, but followed Mila through the common room and up the girls’ stairs all the same. For the first time since second year Leshia walked into another girls dormitory other than her own and the similarity yet difference of it all made her feel uncomfortable. The seventh year girls had had a lot more time to get settled in than their fourth year counterparts and everywhere Leshia looked stories leapt out at her.

Mila’s bed for instance was surrounded by posters of her professional quidditch playing boyfriend and her cluttered nightstand bore pictures of them both together and very much in love. Behind the posters of Luka though were faded ones showing a band that had been in vogue years ago when the young woman was only in first year or a male centrefold the young woman had cut out of her Teen Witch magazine. It was a dormitory that spoke of age and it made Leshia feel immensely sad for Mila and her friends, who had but two terms left at the school before they were set free to fend on their own.

“Sit down,” Mila offered cheerily and Leshia took up her offer. She dropped down on the bedspread Mila had brought from home and waited patiently for a hint of what this private discussion might be about. “I’m sure you remember that Joss and I will be going to Australia this term as part of the exchange trip.”

For a moment Leshia’s eyes went wide. No, she hadn’t remembered that fact and quite suddenly she was alarmed. To lose Jocelyn Jones, a fantastically accurate chaser was one thing, but to lose the quidditch captain herself for a term was quite another.

“What’s more, Luke and Tom will be heading off to the Americas Institute which only leaves you, Owen and Jaime Wood to keep the team going.”

“Oh.”

“And I thought that while I was away you could take up the captain’s strip. How does that sound?”

“Me? Captain? Shouldn’t it be Owen, I mean he is the oldest?”

“Leshia,” Mila chuckled. “This is your fourth year on the team and you’re by far the best player on the team, even when all team members are accounted for.”

Such a big compliment Leshia had been expecting and she rubbed the back of her neck embarrassedly. Mila had always admired and respected Leshia for her modesty and grinned broadly.

“Sorry,” she chuckled. “All I’m saying is that I trust you okay Malfoy? I trust you to do what’s best for the team. You’ll have to hold some trials to get some players to fill our positions till we get back and you’ll have to put in a lot of effort and a lot of hours to get everyone up to scratch before you face Hufflepuff in five weeks time.” Leshia was nodding slowly, drinking all this in. “But I know you’re up to the challenge, or I wouldn’t have asked you.”

“Okay,” the young seeker finally responded and she sounded resolute. “I won’t let you down Mila. I promise.”

Ten minutes later, after Mila had loaded the girl down with files and files of notes on tactics and manoeuvres and exercises to do in practice Leshia made her way carefully down the flights of stairs till she reached her own dormitory. It was empty and so after unloading the files on top of her trunk she hurried downstairs to find everyone gathering for one last butterbeer before Tom and Luke and their secret stash of the stuff deserted them for the term.

“We should have followed them and found out where they get it from,” Leshia told her friends the moment she appeared at their side with a drink in hand.

“Where’d you spring from?” Rachel exclaimed in surprise. She’d spilled half her drink down herself.

“Upstairs. Mila’s just made me temporary quidditch captain while she’s away.”

“Hey that’s wonderful news!” Katie cheered, her voice slightly shaky. Leshia’s brow lowered in upset and she shuffled over to her friend in the window box and wrapped her arm about her shoulders.

“This place isn’t going to be the same without you Katie,” she spoke truthfully and earnestly.

“No don’t…” Rodeo cried out sounding pained, but then he groaned fondly.

“What? What did I do?”

“Look!” the boy complained happily and he pointed to Katie, who had promptly started crying. “We just got her to stop before you came down.”

“Oh,” Leshia sniggered and she wrapped her other arm around Katie, who collapsed against her, crying freely. The girl couldn’t be consoled and remained in a state the rest of the evening. Saying goodbye to Rodeo brought on a fresh wave of sobs and she clung to the embarrassed boy and the foot of the girls’ stairs while Leshia and Rachel said goodbye to Parys. He seemed a miserable thing, though in true Parys fashion was trying to put a brave face on and turn it all into a joke.

“Ow, watch it Rachel that was my foot,” he complained when the redhead girl hugged him.

“It was not you liar,” she complained in a fierce yet fond tone. She was the same as he was Leshia thought while she watched them. Never would Rachel allow anyone to see how hard it was for her to say goodbye to the boy they all knew she fancied. She too would turn it all into a joke until he came back again, but who was Leshia to say anything of it?

“Hug me back properly Parys,” the flame-haired girl complained jovially. “Don’t give me a stupid boy hug.”

“What the hell is a boy hug?” the tall boy scoffed, though he tightened his arms around the girl and closed his eyes seeming pained.

“You know, when you pat each other on the back awkwardly like this.” Rachel demonstrated and Leshia felt she had to look away. Their embrace was lasting as long as Katie and Rodeo’s. Though in their case the pain seemed mutual, whereas Katie’s was disproportionately higher than the young man she had wrapped herself round.

“Can I hug someone now?” Leshia finally spoke up. She’d been standing on her own for several minutes feeling decidedly like a fifth wheel. Parys and Rachel pulled apart and with a big grin they pulled Leshia into their midst and their hug turned into a three-way embrace. Soon though Leshia was hugging Parys goodbye and then helping Rachel to pry Katie away from Rodeo and lead her upstairs.

It was a turbulent night and no one got very much sleep. Everyone was dreading Katie’s alarm from going off, but sure enough four-o clock crept by. The Americas Institute bound pupils would be leaving so as to join their new schoolmates at their dinnertime and had to leave frightfully early to make up for the time difference.

Katie showered and the dressed in silence. The others were awake and fighting back tears, but they didn’t come out. Finally though Katie cleared her throat and crept over to first Ashley and then Nicola’s beds to say goodbye to them. They were quite tearful and it warmed Katie’s heart, who hadn’t thought they would notice whether or not she was there. Those two rarely included themselves in the trio’s conversations.

Next Katie crept to Rachel’s bed and forced herself to be strong. Tears trickled down her cheeks while Rachel held a brave face and tried to turn the situation into a big joke, but failed miserably. When Katie was whispering that she really ought to say goodbye to Leshia and then be on her way she was surprised by a hug from behind. The blonde girl had been far too impatient to wait her turn. Katie laughed through her sobs and turned round so as to hug Leshia properly.

“You’d better behave out there on the other side of the world,” Rachel told her cousin through her tears.

“Yeah, Parys will tell us everything you’re up to.”

“And if you misbehave we won’t have you back again.”

Katie laughed and finally pulled back from her best friends. They were all crying. She nodded to show she appreciated the joke and then stood up to collect her satchel – her trunk had already disappeared from the foot of her bed. Armed with this the three girls made their way to the portrait hole.

“I don’t know how the pair of you are going to manage without me,” Katie managed light-heartedly. “You’ll be in detention each day, no homework will get done and you’ll fall behind in every single lesson.”

Her two friends glanced to one another.

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Sounds like bliss,” Leshia joked.

“Yeah, you’re right. Good riddance Katie, don’t let the portrait hit you on the way out.”

With this they stepped back and let the portrait close leaving only the muffled half laughter half sobbing from their friend now separated from them. They listened out till her peculiar sounds had all but faded away and then turned on each other with pitiful expressions.

Wordlessly they took each other’s hand and sat down on the settee in front of the fire feeling numb. There would be no getting back to sleep now.

“She will be okay won’t she?” Leshia finally spoke.

“Of course she will, Luisa will look after her and besides, she’s got Parys.” Rachel paused for a moment and hung her sad head, before she added softly, “I really wish he hadn’t gone you know.”

“I know you do. It’s just not going to be the same without them.”

For a long time the girls stared into the fire, their hands entwined childishly while they both contemplated their misery and felt glad for one another’s company. Neither would ever speak of it, but both had the same thoughts. What would they have done if they were separated? Could they have gone through with it?

“Hey Leesh?” Rachel asked suddenly.

“Hmm?”

“Can I be a Beater?” Despite her solemn mood Leshia sniggered and looked up at her best friend.

“Well are you any good?” she teased.

“Yeah! Luke and Tom taught me everything they know.”

“Well you’ll still have to try out you know,” Leshia told the girl fondly, which elicited a feigned exasperated sigh from the freckled girl.

“What’s the point in your best friend being quidditch captain if she can’t even get you on the team? I mean what is the world coming to I ask you?”


Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.