Generations Book 3: the Blue Lions

Part Twelve

Part XII

Owen focused on the corridor ahead as he and the dangerously dichotic Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher walked further and further from the concerned crowd gathered outside the portrait of the Fat Lady. Very much at the forefront of his mind was the story Leshia had only just revealed to him about Professor Malfoy's antics out in the dark forest. Any man who would willingly stick his arm into almost certain demise was not a man to be trifled with. Almost certainly a fearless creature, Owen realised his bravado was only going to carry him so far with Leshia's father. He was going to have to choose his words exceedingly carefully.

"My daughter is fourteen." Owen looked up in surprise at the words the professor had just spoken. How was he meant to respond? With caution would be the advised course of action the young man decided.

"Yes sir I know." Wanting very much to add that he himself was only fifteen, Owen held his tongue. No words followed and after studying the steely features of the teacher beside him Owen looked back to the corridor once more feeling his confidence slipping. He couldn't help it, but every urban legend he had ever heard about Draco Malfoy were jostling for his attention. Was it true he had once frightened a known follower of Voldemort to death? Had he really killed his own mother in cold blood? Were the whispers true? Had he really been born without a soul?

Silence consumed the pair as Draco led Owen on a certainly premeditated route; where it was leading was unclear as of yet, though very much at the forefront of Owen's worry. Where was the dichotic overprotective father taking him? Possibly he was going to feed him to the Samian Greyfins to test the true extent of his theory. After all, the terrified boy, no matter how well he was hiding it, couldn't have differed more from the fearless stoical teacher who had shoved his arm into their midst.

"What are your intentions with my daughter?" Draco suddenly demanded in the most clichéd line he could have delivered. The dangerous growl in his tone made Owen's skin crawl and he quickly shook his head.

"Professor Leshia is a really good friend, that's all there is to it," the boy lied, masking his feelings for fear of what Draco would do to him if he found out he liked Leshia in that way.

"So then you admit you're leading her on?" Draco barked, pausing momentarily to face the boy with twitching left eyebrow. Owen's strategy was evidently backfiring.

"No sir! I would never!"

"So how can you attest to wanting to be her friend while at the same time treating her as far more than mere friends? Do you find it funny to toy with her emotions when she's still too young to fully know what to do with them?" Owen shook his head quickly, losing some of his bravado in the face of the murderous glint in Draco's eyes.

"No sir!" After inhaling sharply Draco stalked up the corridor once more with the extremely reluctant fourth year boy trailing in his wake. Not another word was spoken until the reached a large portrait of a bride and groom. Here Draco stopped and reached out to touch the painting. Despite himself Owen started backing away nervously. It seemed they had reached their destination. The painting swung forth at Draco's beckoning and revealed a large door that the teacher pushed open forcefully.

"In," he told the boy brusquely and when Owen seemed no closer to going into the Lion's Den Draco stepped forward a pace. This served to intimidate the young man before him into darting inside the dark entrance way and soon he found himself in the homely Malfoy quarters. Had Professor Malfoy truly brought him to his home? What could be his plan the boy wondered. After glancing about nervously, Owen jumped a little when the door behind them slammed and Draco paced into the room. He made straight for a corner cabinet where he lifted two tumblers from a shelf and a large aged bottle of orange liquid. Owen's father was a gin and tonic sort of man and consequently the youngster was not so accustomed to the strong stuff. He gulped when Draco placed the two glasses down on the coffee table and started unscrewing the bottle in his hands.

"Sit down won't you?" he offered with an icy glare. Owen felt he would far rather stand, much easier for a quick getaway should the situation demand it, but Draco seemed in no mood for arguing the matter so with a resigned sigh the young man sat down on the settee Draco had indicated. After pouring two generous portions Draco dropped down on the end of the coffee table and lifted a glass into his hands. For a moment he stared at it before he looked up into Owen's worried eyes.

"Please," the teacher said hoarsely, nodding towards the second glass and after a moment's hesitation Owen reached for it. Draco took a large swig of his own drink and knowing he would soon be under scrutiny to do the same Owen took his first ever sip of whiskey. The sharp taste brought a wince to his face and after he had convinced himself to swallow he made a face that showed his age. Despite himself Draco chuckled briefly.

"Your first taste of the stuff?"

"Yes sir," Owen managed sounding slightly high-pitched. Draco regarded the young man with eyes narrowed in thought before he visibly relaxed and brought his feet up onto the edge of the settee, resting his elbows on his casually spread knees. He appeared too young to have a daughter Leshia's age Owen thought to himself, not knowing his own youth was now under scrutiny. He could not know he had just passed the first of Draco's tests. The way he had shown his years in his response to Draco's hardened drink had pleased the father; here before him sat but a boy after all and he felt no longer threatened enough to play the "Professor Malfoy" game. He was here as Leshia's father, not as a tyrannical teacher.

"I know what you're thinking," Draco finally spoke and Owen wrinkled his brow curiously, no longer so afraid after he had sensed the change in his drinking companion. "And you're wrong."

"What am I thinking sir?"

"That I'm blundering into this situation like the overprotective dad that I am without really knowing what's going on." Owen remained silent and took a large sip of his drink. Again his reaction brought a smile to Draco's stern face. "I know my daughter better than anyone. I know exactly how she thinks, what she feels, when she's upset. She can't hide that from me, no more than you can from your parents. So you see, I have a pretty good idea about what's going on. You Owen Gabriel, have hurt my daughter even if she's never let you see, or even if she's not aware of why herself." Owen frowned.

"When?"

"On many occasions," Draco countered, his mind thinking back to the particular occasion when he had stumbled across Leshia bawling in an out of the way stairwell for finding this young man in a steamy embrace with another girl.

"I've never meant to hurt her," Owen tried with so much conviction Draco felt dismayed: this young man cared deeply for his daughter, were his intention to scare him off, he was sure he wouldn't be successful.

"Yes well whether you meant to or not, you did and as her father I don't take too kindly to people upsetting my daughter."

"Sir..." Owen trailed off, unsure of the stance between he and Draco. What was the teacher getting at? Did he want him to stop seeing Leshia? Because Owen was very sure he would never agree to that, no matter what Draco threatened to do to him in return. Draco continued to stare firmly at the boy, who looked away, his eyes drifting to a large picture on the mantelpiece opposite the settee. It was a large beaming picture of child-Leshia. The girl was in the 'muggle' room of the house Owen had visited at New Years for the Malfoy Family's party where Leshia had wept into his arms about her friends' betrayal and the news that she was to become a big sister.

The picture brought a smile to Owen's face and when Draco saw this he followed his gaze to the picture of his daughter, jumping up and down on the settee in the muggle room with childish delight. Perhaps it was the activity she was partaking in, or the plaited pigtails, but something about the picture made her seem about five years old.

"Would you like to know when that picture was taken?" Draco asked sounding neither dark nor particularly happy. Owen nodded. "Not even two years ago." Owen furrowed his brow. Surely not? Leshia looked but a child in this picture. And yet, it had been taken in the summer between first and second year before Leshia had undergone the subtle changes of becoming more feminine than childlike. "So you see, she really is only a child." Owen ground his teeth together petulantly, feeling his temper rising in defence of his adoration of the girl.

"Professor, respectfully, she's not a child anymore," the boy managed firmly. Draco narrowed his eyes and downed the rest of his drink, dropping his feet to the ground, losing his easygoing nature within a split second.

"What do you think I'm trying to do Gabriel?" Draco demanded and he refilled his glass; he seemed somehow out of his element, as though the cracks of the worried father were starting to snake through his firm façade. Owen felt a little sorry for the man. It must be hard to feel as though he was losing his daughter to her countless suitors.

"I'm not sure Professor Malfoy, I'm really not. Are you trying to scare me off Leshia? Because I'm telling you now it won't work."

"Yes I can see that," Draco replied angrily. "The lot of you are acting as though she's suddenly turned into a Veela."

"Leshia's amazing sir." The words were so heartfelt that Draco sighed and walked over to the mantelpiece scanning the pictures of his 'amazing' daughter with a father's heartbreak.

"If you ever hurt her…" Draco began darkly, his eyes falling on a picture of Hermione with their daughter, barely a few weeks old staring mesmerised at her mothers face. Despite himself a smile pulled at his face; soon they would relive these days anew. Leshia was certainly no longer that baby anymore, no matter how much it pained him.

"Professor you don't have to worry, Leshia can take care of herself." Had he been expecting more hostility Owen was pleasantly surprised to find Draco spin around with an amused grin on his face.

"Yes, I know." As though he were seeing the frightening enigmatic teacher in a new light Owen realised Draco Malfoy really was just a man. The mystery surrounding him dropped off and all it left in its wake was a concerned father worried about his daughters many suitors stealing her away from him. The young seeker couldn't slate Draco for that, he too would fight tooth and nail to keep Leshia's adoration and he had only known her a few terms.

With one last sigh Draco walked over to the settee and dropped down beside the young man sat there. For a moment he pondered the absurdity of this situation. Here he sat with a fifteen-year-old boy, and a pupil of his at that, sharing a glass of whiskey in the middle of his living room. Hermione was not going to be pleased.

XXX

"Mum what's dad going to do to him?" Thoughts of her cosy bed had flown out of Leshia's head the moment her father had led Owen away down the corridor and now she and Hermione sat on a stiff bench lining Gryffindor corridor, both anxiously watching the distance for the return of the men in their lives.

"I don't know darling, he didn't mention any of this to me," Hermione replied worriedly.

"Well you two must talk, what has he said about Owen?" The mother turned briefly to smile at her daughter.

"Nothing for you to be concerned about. This is just your dad being your dad I'm afraid."

"But Owen isn't even my boyfriend," Leshia complained. "Is dad going to do this with every male friend I have? Because I don't think I'll have any left by the end of it." Her mother laughed warmly.

"Nothing could chase them away darling, they all adore you. And for good reason." Leshia rolled her eyes.

"Don't start mum," she grumbled fondly. "Did you hear about Professor Lewis taking us all to muggle Manchester on Wednesday?" the girl suddenly piped up happily; amazed she hadn't discussed the matter with her mother before now. With so much going on, it had rather escaped everybody's heads that within a week they would be taking the fieldtrip into the heart of a muggle city. Hermione smiled broadly at her daughter.

"Well of course I heard, I'm one of the chaperones." Leshia hid her disappointment at this news with a look of surprise.

"Really?"

"Darling did you think it would just be Professor Lewis and all fifty-odd of you that are going?" For a moment the blond girl shrugged meekly; in truth she hadn't pondered the possibility that other teachers were of course coming to supervise the large gang of pupils.

"Who else is coming?" Leshia asked worriedly.

"Professor McGonagall, Professor Sprout, even Severus I think."

"Snape's coming?" Leshia demanded icily.

"Professor Snape Leshia," her mother warned fondly. "And yes, I believe he is."

"What about dad? Is he coming too?"

"No he's not." Leshia didn't push the matter, though she wondered why her father was absent from such a heavy-duty list of teachers. She could not know that he had wanted to come, but was asked by Dumbledore to remain behind. They were up to their necks in whatever was going on with the mysterious presence stalking about the school attacking the pupils and the last thing Hogwarts and its pupils needed was for one of its main protectors to leave it vulnerable. Draco had seen sense and after making sure Hermione would keep her eyes open for any trouble, he had conceded to staying.

Leshia couldn't hide her relief at knowing her father wasn't going to be coming on the trip and though Hermione felt a little stab of hurt at seeing her, she couldn't really be upset; Leshia was after all only wanting a moment's peace to let her hair down.

"Are you upset that I'm coming?" she asked worriedly.

"Don't be silly mum. Professor Lewis hasn't actually told us much. How are we getting there?"

"Portkey I believe. It'll drop us off at the Magic House in the centre of town."

"What's the Magic House?" Leshia asked curiously.

"It's a safe hold for the magical community, almost a leisure centre really the way they use and abuse it." Hermione seemed fond in her teasing of the magical community of the north, but behind her words lay a rather firm belief that they tended to get a bit carried away in those Northern towns. Leshia would fit right in, she thought later with a small smile.

The pair fell into silence while they looked up the corridor once more. They managed to distract one another for ten more minutes or so before they decided enough was enough and twenty minutes was surely enough to have 'a word'? With the same mission on their minds the two Malfoy ladies set off down the corridor. They followed the route Draco had led Owen down and having a sneaking suspicion she knew where they had gone, Hermione led Draco down the corridor towards the family chambers.

"Why would dad have taken him here?" Leshia asked worriedly, hoping her mother was very wrong.

"I know your father," Hermione sighed. "I know how he thinks." This was answer enough for the expectant mother, who led Leshia along towards the portrait of the newlyweds. Before she had even reached out to the groom's foot however, the painting swung forward revealing a rosy cheeked Owen following Draco out the door. Hermione crossed her arms with one eyebrow arched while Leshia looked to her friend worriedly, silently asking him if everything was all right.

"What are you doing here?" Draco asked with a slight smile at his wife. Her arched eyebrow rose even higher.

"I should be asking you that same question."

"Owen are you okay?" Leshia asked when the boy avoided her eye.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Draco Malfoy…" Hermione, who had been standing nearest the boy and smelled what she had suspected on his breath, began sounding very bemused. Both Leshia and Owen glanced to one another and automatically took a step back. "I would like to have a word with you."

"Now?" Draco asked fondly, glancing to the two youngsters eyeing them worriedly.

"Yes, right this instant." With this Hermione managed a smile at the two youngsters before she sped into the family chambers. Draco watched her go before turning on Leshia and her friend.

"Dad, what did you do?" Leshia asked warily.

"Absolutely nothing sweetheart. Run along." With this Draco followed his wife into their chambers and pulled the door shut behind himself. Instinctively the portrait sealed soon afterwards leaving Leshia looking up at Owen urgently.

"Okay so everyone here seems to know what's going on except me," the girl finally spoke aloud sounding bemused above all else. "What did my dad do to you, how did my mum know and why is she spitting furious with my dad?" Owen laughed and in an instant Leshia got an answer to all three of her questions when the familiar smell of whiskey brushed against her face. "Ah, right."

"You know Malfoy," Owen said cheerfully, slinging his arm about the girl's shoulder and dragging her back down the corridor. Leshia had not the heart to fight him on this and she suspected with his added surge of whiskey-induced-confidence she wouldn't stand a chance if she were to try. "Your dad? He's alright."

XXX

Draco hadn't seen his wife so angry in a long time. When he retreated into the living room once more he found her staring at the two empty glasses on the coffee table, her worst fears confirmed.

"You are so irresponsible!" she snapped the moment he walked in the room and shut the door behind himself.

"Granger calm down. It's not good for you and the baby."

"I will not calm down!" Hermione exclaimed passionately, her eyes wide as dinner plates and her hands curled into little fists at her sides. "You just force-fed a child liquor Draco! He's fifteen! What were you trying to accomplish?" Draco rolled his eyes and sighed exasperatedly before he dropped down in the armchair furthest from his furious wife.

"For starters," he finally began magnanimously. "There was no force-feeding involved. I offered and he accepted, plain as that."

"Probably because he was too terrified to say no!" Hermione grumbled in an undertone.

"Secondly," Draco spoke louder, though he smiled at his wife's interference. "You're the one that keeps insisting Leshia isn't a child anymore and this boy is one year older than she is. So how can one be a young woman and the other not a young man?" Hermione glowered her answer with a glare. "Thirdly, what I hoped to accomplish was accomplished."

"And what was that?" Hermione demanded. For the first time since Hermione had started her tirade Draco finally lost his smile and seemed incredibly humble.

"He proved, for now at least, that he was worthy of our daughter." Hermione wrinkled her brow and suddenly crossed the room to her husband's side. He hadn't expected her to lavish loving attention on him at his announcement; though it was a pleasant turnaround to the seething hormonal wife he had been dealing with moments before.

"Oh you darling," Hermione finally exclaimed jubilantly.

"Just about mind you. He's still a cocky so and so that needs taking down a peg or two," Draco grumbled, not wanting his wife to think him too soft.

"But a cocky so and so you approve of," Hermione gushed, lavishing another shower of kisses on Draco's bemused face.

"Right that's it." Within moments Draco was on his feet and heading for the door, his mood only for show and Hermione knew it.

"Where are you going?" she laughed in his wake.

"To terrorise the first misbehaving pupils I come across!" With this he was gone and Hermione beamed after him. She knew her husband well and at this moment in time he had allowed himself to feel too good about himself meaning he had to go and do something cruel to reinstate in his mind that he wasn't a 'nice guy'. Draco Malfoy would never allow himself feel too good about himself. He didn't deserve such luxuries. Not yet anyway.

XXX

The change in Owen was a subtle one, but occurred it had. His friends noticed the moment they saw him, in the way he walked with his head held high and the increased presence he carried with him into the common room. Owen Gabriel had gone into the Lion's Den and survived, but not only that, he had come out a man, judged to be so by the manliest of all men that Owen knew. Yes Malfoy was a nutcase, a total and utter nutcase, but boy was he brave, and in his fifteen-year-old mind bravery accounted for masculinity.

Leshia couldn't quite believe it as they headed back to Gryffindor tower; Owen and her father had shared words and drinks and the boy had lived to tell the tale. Feeling indescribably proud of both of them Leshia was not to be pulled from her good mood, which only increased when she and Owen climbed through the portrait hole to find Gryffindor had once more risen to the occasion and an impromptu party was going ahead full steam to celebrate the win over Ravenclaw.

"Leshia!" Rachel crowed the moment the blonde girl entered into the hubbub. It took the youngsters a long time to reach each other, but after struggling past well-wishers and mad dancers the two best friends found each other.

"What did your dad do to Owen?" Rachel asked worriedly once the two girls had ducked away from the noise into the girls' bathrooms.

"He gave him whiskey," Leshia replied happily. Rachel wrinkled her nose and brow and looked more incredulous than ever before.

"Okay, I understand," she finally sighed dramatically. "It's too painful to talk about."

"No you moron," Leshia giggled happily. "He really did. I think that whatever trap my dad spun for Owen, well I think he passed." Rachel was looking very incredulous.

"You mean your dad actually likes Owen now?"

"Well I wouldn't go that far, but he definitely isn't doing the overprotective dad thing anymore, which is only ever a good thing right?" Rachel nodded quickly.

"Well yeah, if he's for real."

"Why wouldn't he be?"

"Well it's your dad isn't it? He could suddenly change his mind. I mean we all know he's totally and utterly off his rocker." For a moment Leshia seemed a little hurt, but then all of a sudden her expression shifted into mischief and she lunged into a play attack on her best friend, ruffling her hair and tickling her sides with no mercy.

"Truce!" Rachel squealed gleefully when she couldn't contain herself anymore.

"Will you stop insulting the Malfoy name?"

"Yes! I swear! I promise on my great aunt Millie's polka dancing dish towels!" Instantly Leshia released the redhead and the pair beamed at one another.

"Polka dancing dish towels?" Leshia finally managed sounding quite beside herself with mirth.

"Oh I've never told you about them? They're amazing."

"Rachel? Leesh?" Halfway through Rachel's excitable story about her favourite family heirloom the two girls looked up as Katie peeked her head round the bathroom door, her brow wrinkled as she expected to find some sort of drama going on. When both her best friends seemed to be perfectly happy and mid-exuberant conversation Katie frowned in confusion.

"Nicky and Ash told me you two disappeared in here. I thought something had happened with your dad," Katie said with a furrowed brow in confusion.

"No, my dad was as good as gold for once," Leshia replied happily.

"Then what are you doing?" Katie asked looking a little left out. "In the bathrooms?" she added.

"What do you think?" Leshia feigned seriously. "I was about to have a bath."

"Oh," Katie managed uncomfortably, before both Leshia and Katie cracked up and dragged Katie in by her shoulders. The raven-haired girl beamed at Leshia happily and hugged her firmly about the neck.

"You've got to stop it with the near-death experiences on the quidditch pitch Leesh, I couldn't breath that last match. You scared me half to death." Leshia snorted cheerfully.

"Nah, quidditch wouldn't be the same without seeing me freefalling through the clouds before pulling off some last second fantastic recovery." Katie and Rachel exchanged a grim look.

"Well I could certainly do without it," Katie insisted. "So your dad didn't kill Owen, that's always good right?" Once more Leshia snorted cheerfully with laughter. The afternoon's events had only furthered to put her in a delightfully good mood.

"Better than having to report the poor sod missing and my dad winding up in Azkaban for it yeah," Leshia replied happily, before she stifled a very large yawn with her sleeve.

"Come on, let's not deprive the party of its guest of honour any longer," Katie chirruped happily, swinging her arm around Leshia's neck and guiding her back towards the hubbub in the common room.

"Yeah, let's try and get in a few rounds before she passes out from exhaustion," Rachel added in mirth. Her estimation of Leshia's tiredness was as usual spot on and after just one bottle of butterbeer the young seeker could be found snoozing lightly in the most comfortable settee of the lot right in front of the hearth. Were she any other poor unsuspecting napper she would have woken to find an everlast ink moustache adorning her face, or worse, half an eyebrow mysteriously missing, but as she had just put in yet another star performance in the name of the house, everyone left her alone. And when Tom and Luke Weasley, the mischief-makers of the decade, tried to sneak a 'Snore-me-wake' lozenge down Leshia's throat they found themselves suddenly airlifted away from the girl by some of the older lads.

Leshia woke hours later in the same position she had fallen asleep in her stomach grumbling and her neck stiff. After having light-hearted go at everyone in her vicinity when she woke for allowing her to sleep in the middle of a party (how embarrassing!) Leshia finally cheered up at the prospect of dinner and followed her friends down to the great hall. Only now did she share with them what her mother had told her about their muddle studies trip, which was due to take place in only a few days. The others were equally as disappointed as she had been to hear they would be chaperoned by some of the strictest teachers Hogwarts had to offer – accusing glances were thrown at this point at Snape and McGonagall up at the head table. How were they going to enjoy themselves with Snape breathing down their necks the whole time?

As though sensing the spreading unease about his planned field trip Professor Lewis climbed to his feet at the end of dinner to announce a meeting being held the next day after lessons to go over the final plans for the fieldtrip. Needless to say the youngsters were all frightfully curious and the following day Leshia and her friends were warned twice in their Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson before they earned themselves a detention with Draco that even Leshia's half-hearted attempts at the end of the lesson couldn't worm them out of.

"It's so unfair, everyone was talking," Leshia grumbled to her friends as they rushed off towards the main hall.

"The Slytherins were positively gossiping on the back row. Why was your dad picking on us?" Rachel added. Only Katie felt their punishment was probably deserved, but she kept this to herself while her friends moaned on. Finally they reached the great hall and they ran inside to find most of their peers had already gathered. Seeing Rodeo and Parys sat on the other side of the group from Owen Gabriel and his friends Leshia, who had ran in first and was leading the way, very nearly didn't know which way to go when posed with the dilemma. Whereas both groups were trying to hail the girls over Leshia found herself being drawn towards the older boys, before she was quite rudely dragged back to Earth by Katie taking the lead and dragging her over to their year mates. Leshia couldn't take her eyes off Owen Gabriel as she took her place on the bench next to Parys.

"Gone off us have you Leesh?" the boy whispered to her trying to sound flippant, but actually just sounding hurt.

"Huh?"

"You wishing you were sat with them," Parys stated. It wasn't a question.

"I will if you keep feeling sorry for yourself," Leshia sniggered and she briefly wrapped her arms around her friend and hugged his head. He squirmed away, his big grin restored, as down in the centre of the gathered pupils Professor Lewis had stood up to get their attention.

"Good afternoon everyone," he beamed jovially at the gathered pupils. "I have called you all together to discuss Wednesday's plans." For a moment his twinkling eyes turned towards Leshia and her friends – it was their dissent spreading through the ranks that had brought about this emergency meeting to settle everyone's concerns. "As you may have heard we will be joined by several of my esteemed colleagues so as to minimise any hassles we might come across on our journey into the muggle world. Life as a muggle is not easy and for some of you, you will totally and utterly lost without some expert guidance. For that reason I want you all to be on perfect behaviour for the teachers giving up a day of their busy schedules so that we may go."

"Now then, on Wednesday morning I'm going to have to ask you to gather quite early I'm afraid. We have a lot to get through and one of our first orders of the day is observing muggle rush hour, when they flood the public transport system and the roads in order to get to their many jobs."

"How early is early sir?" a sixth year boy from Ravenclaw piped up from across the group.

"An excellent question. Does anybody here remember what time rush hour commences for muggles?" the professor put forward to his amalgamated class.

"It usually takes place between seven-thirty and nine in the morning sir," a bookwormy-type from Hufflepuff quickly offered.

"Excellent Dorothy, five points to Hufflepuff," Professor Lewis beamed at the girl, while across the room Owen and his friends rolled their eyes at one another and mocked their classmate cruelly. Leshia furrowed her brow at him across the void and instantly the keeper stopped and hung his head in shame. Leshia had no idea about the fourth year class dynamics and therefore was unaware of the insufferable teacher's pet Dorothy Graham.

Meanwhile Katie and Rachel were exchanging grimaces when they truly thought about what this Dorothy girl had said. Rush hour fell between seven-thirty and nine, so that meant that they were surely going to have to meet at an even more ungodly hour in order to get to Manchester in time.

"Everyone will be expected in the main hall on Wednesday at quarter to seven in the morning," Professor Lewis next announced to a chorus of groans.

"I didn't know there even was such a thing as quarter to seven," Rachel whispered to her friends worriedly, who sniggered happily in return.

"At which point," Professor Lewis was continuing cheerfully over the grim mumbles of his pupils. "You will be divided into your year groups and your supervisors will take you through the portkey one group at a time."

"Sir aren't we going as a group?" Leshia found herself asking with a concerned frown set into her forehead. Across the group Owen met her eye with the same expression of disappointment. Suddenly the excursion seemed less enjoyable to the pair and several others who had hoped to spend time with people outside of their year.

"Each year group has been preparing different topics for this trip Miss Malfoy. There are too many sights and processes to observe. Some items may coincide and the groups will come together, but for the most part we will only come together for breakfast and lunch."

"Oh," was all the blonde girl could manage and she slumped back in her chair next to her Parys and Rodeo seemed indescribably happy with themselves. While Professor Lewis continued to explain that they would be given their individual schedules on the day of the trip he vaguely explained that he would be drifting between the groups so as to teach them personally, for the most part they would be with their supervisors.

As Leshia and her friends ambled out later that evening the girl felt indescribably low. All she could grumble before she disappeared upstairs to start work on an impossibly difficult Transfiguration essay, "I'll bet we end up with Snape as our supervisor!"

XXX

Tuesday evening saw a subdued crowd heading to bed early after an evening spent lounging around the common room. Leshia was one of the last of the muggle studies lot to remain behind as quite early on in the evening she and Owen had somehow ended up on one armchair. As she lay in bed tossing and turning Leshia pondered how it was she had ended up in such a pleasant predicament. In the end the girl felt she had to thank Professor McGonagall, who had set such a difficult piece of homework Owen had noticed the assignment on his way past. He had instantly dropped down onto the armrest of the chair to tease the girl and after the first play fight they found themselves in he had slid onto the armchair, squeezed in with Leshia. He had not moved all night.

With a happy sigh Leshia squirmed down in her sheets remembering how good it had felt to lie back tucked under Owen's arm, her legs dangling over his. She had felt so absolutely at ease and yet so stricken by butterflies that every time he moved she thought she would swoon and faint from giddiness. When it came down to it it had been Owen's friends who had dragged him away, claiming they were not going to carry him down to the great hall come quarter to seven in the morning and so after hoisting Leshia to her feet in his wake Owen had sauntered off, looking decidedly put out that their cosy interlude had been interrupted.

Leshia could entirely understand how he felt and the last thing she remembered thinking about before she fell asleep was the giddiness of knowing Owen Gabriel was sleeping barely a few yards away upstairs on the floor above.

The following morning the third year Gryffindor girls were highly rudely awoken by Rachel, who went from one bed to the next jumping on her friends with no remorse. They were furious with her as they changed into their 'muggle' clothes and packed satchels for the day's note taking and adventures. Leshia was the last one out of the room and with a heavy yawn she traipsed after her friends, becoming instantly more alert when she noticed ahead of them down the corridor Owen and his friends were tiredly dragging their feet towards the great hall. Needless to say Leshia's attempts to speed her friends up in their direction was not heeded and so she had to wait until they reached the hall before she could sidle up to her friend and poke him in the ribs in greeting while he stood mid-stretch.

Despite his tiredness, Owen managed to offer the Malfoy girl a charming grin before he dropped down with his friends on a bench with a few others from their year. Leshia drifted over to where her friends had claimed a bench for themselves and only now did the girl notice her mother was beaming at her from a gathering of teachers.

"Morning," Leshia mouthed and she waved happily before looking back to her friends. They seemed less exuberant and even Rachel was frowning. The source of their displeasure was undoubtedly the sour look on Rodeo's face, who had been sulking ever since he noticed Leshia and her new beau sandwiched into a cosy armchair the night before. However, at this moment in time, the young girl was oblivious to anyone's feelings except her own turbulent ones.

A little past quarter to Professor Lewis separated from the teachers' side and drew the pupils' attention onto himself with ease.

"Good morning everyone," he called out cheerily. "I am very pleased to see that you all made it on time. Without further ado, allow me to introduce the supervisors to each assigned group." Without beating round the bush Professor Lewis looked to the third years with a twinkling smile. "Third years, your supervisor for the day will be Professor Granger," he told them and despite herself Leshia grinned happily at her friends. She had been hoping for Professor Lewis himself, but had already decided that her mother was definitely the next best choice.

"Come on you lot," Hermione was now calling to the tired youngsters. "We've got a lot to see. On your feet." Had they expected a slow welcome into the morning the pupils were much mistaken as one moment they were waving their other-year-friends goodbye and the next they were being pulled by their bellybuttons towards the cereal box portkey. After the spinning sensation had stopped Hermione stepped backwards to see all seventeen of her charges had made it. She had the largest group by far, but felt more than capable to deal with them.

"Come on, let's clear out before the next group get here," she instructed the class and led them out into a very quiet corridor in the so-called Magic House of Manchester. Similar to the Ministry in London in design, the building was enormous with mysterious goings on round ever turn. The youngsters felt they could have stayed and explored a lot longer, but Hermione was leading them out into a cold dark street.

"Where are we going Miss?" Rodeo piped up, seemingly back in good sorts now Leshia and that Owen Gabriel boy had been separated.

"We're going to meet up with the fourth and fifth years for breakfast at the station," Hermione replied cheerfully. "It's a brisk fifteen minute walk everyone, so let's get going. Now remember, act like a muggle!" Leshia soon found her way to her mother's side at the head of the group with her friends trailing behind them. Though everything was fascinated and she wanted to turn her head this way and that Leshia had more urgent things on her mind.

"Mum are you sure you're up for a brisk walk?" she asked in an undertone. Hermione chuckled genially and smiled warmly at her daughter.

"I'll be fine darling," she assured the girl, before her expression quickly changed more serious.

"Mr Allseyer, stay with the group!" the strictest sound Leshia had ever heard come out of her mother's mouth suddenly rang out. At the back of the hoard of third years Damian Allseyer, who had been all set on wandering down a very interesting side street stopped in his tracks. How had that God-awful woman known what he was doing? She didn't have eyes in the back of her head…did she? "If I have to warn you one more time you will be walking up front with me. That goes for all of you. We will not hesitate to send anyone home who is not behaving themselves."

"How did you do that?" Leshia whispered once the chatter had resumed behind them.

"Ah," Hermione crowed gently and she beamed at her daughter. "I have my ways." Not mentioning the rather easy Humuslocus charm – a group location spell that alerted Hermione to the whereabouts of her group members – she had taught all the supervisors Hermione's decision to remain mysterious worked to prompt Leshia into promising herself that she wasn't going to misbehave no matter who or what tried to provoke her. For the remainder of the walk Leshia and her friends chatted happily to Hermione who led the group without any hassles to the central station. Everywhere muggles drifted around in smart suits or with a large case attached to their hands and before she knew it Hermione's charges had started to drift off.

"All of you, come back!" she called the third years and whilst the muggle stared at the school children they obeyed, their heads hanging in embarrassment. "Professor Lewis has been preparing you for this trip a long time he assures me," Hermione told her group as she led them to an out of the way section of the station where she, McGonagall and Snape (the fourth and fifth year supervisors respectfully) had agreed to meet for the packed breakfasts. "You must know you cannot simply walk off into unknown territory. There will be time to explore later, I can assure you, but for now we are all going to stick together. Now then, yesterday you were all given a workbook in your Muggle Studies lesson weren't you? Come on, come on, take a seat and let's get them out. I believe your first exercise can be completed from this very spot."

XXX

Hermione proved inspirational in getting the moping, tired and hungry youngsters to complete the first exercise in their books – taking note of all the different types of muggles who swarmed the train station at rush hour, an exercise in identifying them by their fashion choices and their accessories. Finally, after half an hour they were joined by the fourth years who had stopped to do a similar exercise in a large square barely five minutes down the road and shorty after their arrival, the fifth years, who had taken shelter in the bus station for their first exercise.

The youngsters were needless to say, absolutely starving and before Owen and his friends could drift over to where Leshia and hers were commandeering a bench the classes were called forward by their supervisors to collect paper bags of packed breakfasts lovingly prepared by the castle's elves. By the time Owen did finally track down his new favourite girl, she was greedily tucking into a bacon sarnie.

"Where have you lot been?" she asked happily as Owen squeezed onto the opposite bench beside some fourth year girls – Leshia had moments before been pondering how grateful she was that Valerie Beckett did not take Muggle Studies.

"In the blimming cold," Paul answered for his friend as he peered inside his paper bag at the glorious contents.

"It sucks that we're going to separate again soon," Leshia next sighed.

"McGonagall was telling us we'll be meeting up again for lunch in this large muggle mall. We'll be doing a few exercises together afterwards she was saying," Owen tried to console the girl, who cheered up greatly at this news. Before too long the third years had finished and were being dragged away by their teacher, who was taking them onto a train to carry out their second exercise. Despite her exuberance at sharing a cramped four-seater booth with her four friends Leshia couldn't help but feel dismayed when the train pulled out of the station leaving Owen behind.

XXX

The morning was progressing swimmingly Hermione thought to herself as she led her excited and well-behaved class into the large mall she had promised them some free time in before lunch. The class had responded so well to their tour through the various parts of town they had learned about and on the various public transports they had studied.

She was beginning to lose their attention and so the moment she had showed them where to meet for lunch she set them free, giving them half an hour to browse the shops and arcades till their hearts content. Within seconds Leshia, Katie and Rachel had managed to lose their male friends and drifted over to one of the many muggle high street fashion outlets that had caught their eye.

"So Leesh," Katie finally spoke aloud what she had been wanting to spill all day. Rachel glowered at her ominously.

"Hmm?"

"What happened between you and Owen last night?" Leshia looked up from the jeans she had just been studying to frown at her bespectacled friend.

"Absolutely nothing."

"What do you mean nothing?" Katie pressed with a mischievous expression dancing across her pretty face. Rachel's glower increased tenfold; she had warned her cousin countless times as they got ready for bed the night before to go easy on Leshia. The blonde girl didn't respond well to invasions into private emotions she didn't even fully understand and Rachel knew this all too well. Katie too, ought to know this, but she had remained blissfully ignorant to Rachel's warnings and was now going ahead full steam.

"Katie! Look over there. Eighty percent off, last chance bargains!" Rachel suddenly spluttered, pointing towards a rack of unloved and grubby looking rags. Katie was not impressed and raised a delicate eyebrow in her cousin's direction.

"Rach those clothes are eighty percent off for a reason," she finally exclaimed firmly.

"You never know Kate, in an amongst the rags you might come across a real bargain, but then again if you were too snobby to look..." Rachel trailed off and shrugged her shoulders while on Katie's face a look of doubt spread. Rachel pounced. "Might even find that black halterneck top you've been going on about all week."

"Be right back," Katie announced suddenly and within seconds she had darted off towards the forgotten clothes to peer through the rummage for something worth purchasing. If there was one thing Katie couldn't resist then that would be a good bargain.

"Thanks," Leshia whispered with a small grin, conveying a huge swathe of gratitude with such a simple gesture. Rachel smiled back and shrugged her shoulders.

"What do you think of these?" the blonde girl suddenly asked, pulling a pair of jeans off the rack and holding them up to herself. They trailed far below her trainers making Rachel snigger.

"Unless you're planning on bribing your mum into performing a lengthening charm on your legs, then I'd put them back."

"Hey! That's not all that bad an idea. Why haven't I thought of that before?" The girl seemed deadly serious.

"Because there's no such thing," Rachel sniggered. "And even if there were, you're mum would never charm your legs longer Leesh." The blonde girl grinned, before she sighed dramatically.

"Pity." Pushing the jeans back onto the rack Leshia and Rachel started towards the door, looking over their shoulders to see Katie was contemplating a rather sorry looking red top.

"Katie put it back, that looks like it was someone's breakfast in a past life," Rachel called out cheerfully. While the two girls roared with laughter Katie shoved the top back onto the rail as though it had given her an electric shock, before she careened after the other two. Luckily for Leshia Rodeo and Parys were what could only possibly be called 'loitering' outside and so Katie's inquisition of Leshia did not continue.

"So ladies, did you have a good time shopping?" Parys asked cheerfully leading the girls over to a decorative fountain that had already drawn several muggle ruffiens to its allure. Leshia was all too sure she didn't want to sit down by it, as judging by the hooded teenagers gathered around it it was some sort of gathering point for the muggle truants.

"They don't look very friendly," Leshia whispered in Rachel's ear as the boys dropped down on a bench with Katie sandwiched between them, regaling Rodeo with some story or other about a time her brother Michael fell into a fountain similar to this one. Leshia and Rachel hung back watching a particularly intimidating group of youths watching them back in turn. Their looks weren't particularly savoury.

"Oh yuck Leesh, they're checking you out," Rachel grumbled in disgust.

"Don't stare at them then," Leshia complained, squeezing onto the bench on Parys' other side, allowing his tall body to block out the frightening muggle boys.

"This is all just too weird," Rodeo finally sighed when Katie's amusing anecdote had come to an end.

"What is?" Leshia piped up.

"Well I'm sitting in a shopping centre, with you guys," the boy explained happily. "It's like two worlds colliding. I'm not sure I like it." Rachel sniggered with laughter and from her position on the floor she lifted up her feet and rested them on Parys' knees.

"It's not like we go home in the holidays and never leave the confines of our wizardly homes," she sniggered while Leshia furrowed her brow at the girl.

"Since when did you start using the word 'confines'?" she teased, but quickly regretted it when Rachel's foot reached out and kicked her gently in her arm. "She's got a point though, we do know how to do muggle things you know Rodes."

"Shhh," Katie admonished her friends, a bemused expression on her face. Nearby a group of muggles were watching them in bemusement. "Remember where we are." Thinking it best to get away from their glowering faces the five Gryffindors climbed to their feet and ambled off talking in hushed tones as they went about gormless muggle youths. The mood was a slightly subdued one until the youngsters came across a shop baring the name 'Gadget Stop'. Instantly the children's eyes went wide with interest and they shuffled in to paw at all the shiny 'toys' inside. Before too long they were spending their muggle pocket money on the delightful and humorous memorabilia.

"Oh I want this so bad!" Leshia groaned, pawing at a delightfully funny hot water bottle in the form of a muggle cartoon character she was very fond of. The price tag bore a sum greater than the amount Leshia had clutched in her hand.

"Why don't you go to one of those hole in the wall thing that gives out muggle money?" Rachel piped up at her side. Leshia sniggered.

"They don't just give you money Rach, you have to have a bank account."

"You do don't you?" the redhead asked with a wrinkled brow. "Didn't you use one of those things the last time we all went to the muggle high street?"

"Well yeah, but I'm not meant to use it,"

"Well then why do you have it?"

"Emergencies."

"Couldn't you call this an emergency? You know, if you stretch the truth just a little bit?" Leshia looked down at the hot water bottle with an expression of deep thought.

"Hmmm."

"Just think of your poor feet when the cold weather rolls in."

"It's nearly spring," Leshia giggled to an exasperated sound by Rachel.

"Leesh I'm trying to make this easier for you." After grinning at the redhead Leshia flung the hot water bottle at her friend and headed for the door of the shop.

"Want me to come?" Rachel called after her, but she didn't get a response, as Leshia was gone. She remembered seeing a cashpoint further along up the row of shops and soon she had stuck her rarely used bankcard into the slot. It took the youngster a few moments to remember her pin code and the correct way to request money, but finally she'd withdrawn twenty muggle pounds. Fingering the strange note briefly with a gleeful smile Leshia stuffed it in her pocket before she spun around. Instantly she lost her smile. In her momentary lapse in concentration the young girl had become surrounded by the very same youths that had been ogling her so menacingly at the fountain.

"Alright there gorgeous?" a spotty thug leered at her as she shrunk back against the wall scanning the rows of hideous faces for an escape route.

"Fine thanks," she replied with a steely determination. Though she had looked fists in the face many times at school, somehow these foreign creatures were all the more terrifying in their military uniform of hoods and training trousers. They looked so faceless…so cruel.

"Where you off to in a hurry?" the boy was continuing, closing in on Leshia as though she were a slab of meat and he a hungry wolf.

"My friends are waiting for me." Not heeding her words the leader of the pack closed in even more until Leshia could smell the cigarette smoke and cheap beer on his breath. He was even viler up close than from a distance. "I really have to go," Leshia stated firmly trying to skitter away from the thug, coming acropper two of his thuggish cronies on the way.

"You'll go when I say you can go," the leader growled in what he most likely thought was a terrifically seductive bad-boy fashion, but actually only furthered to turn Leshia's stomach.

"I'll go where and when I want," Leshia countered angrily. Her spirit was certainly putting the thug-like leader off. He wasn't used to girls turning him down. Then again, he'd never tried these tactics with a girl like Leshia before. She wasn't like the scallywags that skived school to hang about the mall chasing after the truant boys, but there was something so special about her even the lowlife thugs were drawn towards her.

"Not this time gorgeous, you're not going anywhere." Pressed up against the hideous boy now Leshia fought the urge to gag right in his pockmarked face. She wondered privately how much trouble she would be in for hexing him with boil curse she had once used before to bring her nemesis Damian Allseyer to the ground in agony.

"I promise you, you're going to regret this," Leshia hissed angrily, glaring so furiously at the boy she was amazed he didn't back away. Perhaps only magical people swayed under Malfoy glaring powers.

For a moment the thugs laughed in such an oafish way Leshia couldn't stop herself form rolling her eyes. What a ridiculous predicament to find herself in! Quite suddenly though, before she could be punished for her cockiness the boy's face inches from her own burst into a bloody fountain. A large balled up fist that soon knocked the boy straight in the eye was evidently the source and despite herself Leshia screamed and struggled away from the violent fight that suddenly enveloped the thugs and…

"Owen!" Leshia cried out as her saviour caught a blow to the mouth from the furious dethroned thug king. "Stop it you monster!" Leshia cried out at the boy and without thinking she ran forward into the fray. The thugs cared not that she was a girl and soon Leshia found herself on the receiving end of many a punch. It didn't matter though; her main concern was getting to Owen Gabriel, who was being used as a veritable punch bag by three of the thugs and their leader.

Owen watched through half closed eyes, swollen from the astonishingly painful beating he was receiving, as Leshia threw herself into the fight. Wanting to throttle her for her stupidity he tried to struggle free, to get her out of harms way. His physical pain at the hands of those punches was nothing compared to the anguish he felt at seeing Leshia catching blows to the face for trying to help him. He was beginning to lose consciousness just as Leshia fell to her knees a yard from him.

"Leshia!" he called out sounding pained. Quite suddenly the tables turned and as one the group of thugs started fleeing from the muggle security guards, hailed by several of the anxious onlookers. Not only muggles had watched in amazement as the fight broke out, but hearing a commotion Leshia's friends had rushed from the shop to see that as usual their friend was at the centre of all the trouble.

"Leesh!" Rachel cried out, the first one to break the stunned silence. She had reached her best friend's side before Leshia had managed to pull herself to her feet. Inches from her Owen was being dragged to his feet by his bloodied friends Dan and Paul. Both he and Leshia were panting, staring at one another with concern in their matching expressions.

"Are you okay?" Owen demanded of the girl, reaching out a long arm so that he could cup the side of Leshia's injured face with his hand.

"I'll be fine. What about you?" He grinned dashingly.

"I'll live."

"What were you thinking?" Leshia then demanded sounding pained. In the distance another commotion was stirring when both Hermione and Professor McGonagall caught wind of what had happened and were fast approaching through the concerned looking Hogwarts crowds.

"He was going to hurt you, I couldn't let him do that," Owen replied with a passionate edge to his tone. His eyes betrayed far more of his feelings, but Leshia still couldn't understand how sick Owen had felt when he saw that vile muggle beast pushed up against her, his face inches from hers. It had almost looked as if they were about to…

"Leshia! Are you okay darling?" Hermione didn't care that several of the Hogwarts pupils started laughing at her emotionality.

"Mum I'm fine, but Owen's not." The tall boy glowered playfully at Leshia when her mother turned on him and instantly winced. He couldn't know how bruised and unrecognisable his poor face looked.

"Oh," Hermione grimaced. "Are you okay Owen? Are you in a lot of pain?" The boy shook his head wearily.

"No, it's not so bad," he lied, wincing despite himself in pain as he moved his battered head. Looking from her daughter to the boy and then to his bleeding and bruised friends Hermione sighed heavily.

"We have to get them back to the castle," she uttered in an undertone to Professor McGonagall at her side who nodded seriously and glanced around to see most of their charges had made their way over to see what was going on.

"You ought to take them as far as the Magic House, I will stay here with the others." Before too long Hermione was leading the injured pupils out into the street. Muggles stared in shock and at one point Hermione froze in fear as in the distance a muggle copper was walking determinedly towards them. Luckily enough for Hermione and her charges a youth chose this time to snatch a handbag right in front of the policeman and he had to abandon the bloody group of children to take off after the child in pursuit.

"I can't believe this has happened," Hermione sighed heavily, looking at Owen's injuries again with a worried wince. The boy did look terribly battered. She had not yet asked what happened – though she had determined from the worried pupils that had come to find her, Owen and his friends had been saving Leshia from a group of muggle ruffians.

"What do you mean?"

"Well it's not exactly painting a wonderful impression on the rest of the school. We take you into the muggle world and you get beaten to within an inch of your lives. The parents will not be happy about this one." Hermione had spoken so softly only Leshia heard, but for a moment Leshia wished she too could have missed her mother's worried sentiments. She hadn't thought of that one.

For the remainder of the short journey Hermione hurried her charges on as quickly as she dared until they reached the Magic House where the clinic quickly saw to the worst of the injuries Leshia, Owen, Paul and Dan had sustained in the fight. When they were feeling far better Hermione saw them home through the floo network and though she sent them off towards the hospital wing she headed off towards the headmaster's study to explain what had happened.

XXX

Far later still when Leshia and her heroic friends had been discharged they soon found themselves in another exceedingly awkward situation.

"Leshia!" Before she could quite turn around Leshia was wrenched into a powerful hug. "Your mother told me what happened," Draco exclaimed breathily, as though he had been running towards the hospital wing to find the youngsters, which, in fact, he had. After one last firm squeeze Draco let the girl go and sized up the recovered youngsters with an appreciative look. Hermione had explained why the fight had broken out and to hear that these men had risked their own safety to ensure Leshia's was a definite way to Draco's heart. "Thank you," he told the three surprised boys with an earnestness they hadn't expected.

"Dad we've been through a lot and that recovery drought Madam Pomfry just shoved down our throats is making my head swim," Leshia explained as kindly as she could. Draco looked to her seriously, before he nodded.

"I'll see you later then," he managed, before he nodded once more to the young men and started back down the corridor, a definite edge to his walk. Leshia didn't envy any who got in his way.

Luckily the Gryffindors experienced no more interruptions on their journey back to the common room where they changed out of their bloody clothes. Dan and Paul were slipping into the stupor Pomfry's amazing healing drought held over them so Owen left them to seek out Leshia on the off chance that she might have stayed up to seek him out also. They met at the meeting of the two stairwells and smiled shyly at one another.

"You shouldn't have done that Owen," Leshia was the first to speak.

"What saved you from having that muggle oaf slobber all over you?" the boy chuckled, though his eyes showed no laughter.

"Well no, that was great, but did you have punch him? Use your words Owen, not your fists," the girl teased happily.

"Oh that is it," Owen crowed and he manhandled Leshia into a headlock. "Are you happy I saved you from that disgusting muggle?"

"Yes!" Leshia laughed raucously.

"Are you happy I nearly knocked his block off to prevent him from sticking his tongue down your throat?"

"Yes!"

"Will you be good if I let you go?"

"Absolutely!" Her captor seemed to consider it for a moment. "Owen!"

"Okay, okay," the boy chuckled before he let Leshia go. She was grinning fit to burst and lunged at him digging her fingers into his ribs, entirely flying in the face of her earlier statement to behave. With an immense amount of control Owen suppressed the urge to squirm away and instead he stopped her by pulling her towards his chest with powerful arms, stopping her attacks in an instant.

"I thought you said you'd be good?" Owen laughed and he looked down at his friend, who was beaming up at him with such a mischievous face he burst into laughter at the sight of her.

"You should know by now Owen, I'm not capable of being good," Leshia explained, her warm breath tickling the tall boy's chin.

"I think you could be very good if you wanted to be," he said softly. Leshia's smile faltered for a moment and her eyes narrowed in silent understanding of the true meaning behind her friend's words.

"What if I don't know what I want?" she whispered. Quite suddenly and without warning Leshia was experiencing her first ever kiss. It was nothing like she had expected and over far too soon, because suddenly Owen pulled away from her a cocky grin on his increasingly handsome face.

"Does that make a difference?" he asked her cheerfully. For a moment Leshia's eyes drifted off to the side in an expression of feigned thought. She looked charming.

"A little, yeah." Leshia's second kiss lasted longer than her first and after getting over her initial surprise she was able to enjoy it much more. Though part of her was wondering what all the fuss was about – there was after all nothing too spectacular about the act – a sliver of electricity darted down her spine at Owen's touch. She, Leshia Malfoy, was kissing Owen Gabriel!

Down below an audience had gathered with the return of the pupils from both the fieldtrip and the afternoon's classes. As though perfectly placed for maximum visibility on the mezzanine level overlooking the common room Leshia and Owen were the first things people noticed when they trudged in after a long day.

Hoots and catcalls soon broke the two embarrassed youngsters apart, but not soon enough for the third year Gryffindors, hurrying back in order to check on their injured friend, to miss it. At the entrance to the common room Katie uttered a small pained sound; the intensity of Rodeo's grip on her hand when he saw the display up on the mezzanine had surely sprained several of her fingers?

Without a word to the others Rodeo stormed out of the common room. Katie was hot on his trail, rushing to catch up with him to try and pull him back by the arm. He shook her off furiously.

"Rodeo!" Katie called after him, tears building up in her eyes.

"Leave me alone!"

"Don't push me away. Please!" the girl pleaded and after falling back to rub the tears away she pelted after her boyfriend once more.

"I'm not pushing you away. I just want to be on my own!" Rodeo sped up so much so that Katie had to run to reach his side. Only when she caught up did he spin round, his expression terrifying to the loved up girl at his side.

"Let me help you," Katie tried, feeling her stomach writhing and churning as she spoke. An intense jealousy and panic was ripping her up inside. How could Rodeo still care so for Leshia when they had been together nearly three months? How could he act this way in front of her?

"You can't help me Katie, that's the whole point," Rodeo countered and for a moment he seemed truly pained. "I just…I just can't do this anymore. I'm sorry!" With this he took off again leaving Katie near-hyperventilating point in the corridor.

"Can't do what?" she finally blurted out; tearing after him again and dragging him back by the arm.

"I can't pretend anymore Katie. It's not fair on you," Rodeo tried to explain, his face contorted in upset. He was being a cretin, lower even than the Slytherin scum he hated so. How could he have sunk so low? How could he be hurting an innocent girl?

"How are you pretending? Talk to me, I just don't understand." Katie had dissolved into tears and though Rodeo felt horrible through to the core he also felt relieved, though he hated himself even more when he worked out what that floating feeling was in the back of his mind.

"Katie I don't think we should be boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, not when I feel so…" A loud sob from Katie caught the words in Rodeo's mouth.

"I hate her," the girl finally wept freely, expressing words she didn't really mean.

"No you don't Katie," Rodeo sighed. "This isn't her fault. You should hate me."

"No I really do hate her. She's always better than me! She always gets what I deserve…I just…I can't…" At this point the sobs consumed poor Katie, who sunk to her knees in the middle of the corridor weeping into her knees with no control. Rodeo's brow was furrowed so deep he looked a hundred years old and for the longest time he pondered what on Earth he could do to make things better. Luckily for him this decision was soon taken out of his hands.

"Katie?" Rodeo spun round to find a very concerned Nicola and Ashley bearing down on them. They had returned late from the great hall where they had been showing their non-muggle studying friends the purchases they had made in Muggle Manchester.

"What's happened?" Nicola asked worriedly as she wrapped her arms around Katie's shaking form. Ashley glared fiercely at Rodeo, who backed away cowardly.

"Katie I'm sorry," he finally managed before he darted off, trying to get away from everything that had just happened. Nicola and Ashley guided an incredibly despairing Katie back to the common room just in time to find the girl's best friends heading out to look for her. The two groups met in the cramped passageway leading the portrait hole to the common room and when they saw Katie Rachel and Leshia immediately swarmed to her sides.

"What happened?" Rachel asked soothingly, her expression one of intense worry.

"It's all over," Katie wept in reply.

"What is?" Leshia now asked, her expression a matching pair for Rachel's. At her mild words Katie looked up sharply and pulled away from Leshia so suddenly she stumbled back into the wall. All four girls stood around her stared in surprise. "Katie?"

"Don't talk to me!" the raven-haired girl almost shrieked. Her heartbreak making way for fury. "This is all your fault!"

"Katie steady on…" Rachel exclaimed when she saw an incredibly doleful look materialise on Leshia's face. Her blonde friend was in no mood for a battle and would not attack poor desperate Katie in her lowest moment, not even in self-defence, but should the heartbroken girl continue on her tirade Rachel would end up with two desperately upset friends to tend to.

"No I will not steady on!" Katie now turned on Rachel. "She deserves it! And you do too for always taking her side!" With this Katie fled through the hushed common room up to their dormitory where she hid herself behind her thick curtains. All the four remaining girls in the passageway could muster was an exchange of very shocked expressions.

XXX

Later that evening, long after dinner, when Leshia snuck out of the common room to seek out her parents she was still incredibly subdued. Katie had not re-emerged from her bed cocoon and had only let Nicola and Ashley in to talk, who returned later to explain that the girl was in such a state they were worried they ought to take her to Madam Pomfry. Owen, hearing about the fight, had respectfully kept his distance from Leshia, who sat with Rachel in their usual window box with shell-shocked expressions feeling very much alone without the third party of their trio making it a tight squeeze.

Neither girl knew what to do about the situation. They didn't feel a jot of anger towards their best friend, who was no doubt suffering the most from her broken heart. With so much hostility towards innocent Leshia how were they going to repair this situation? Leshia's argument for seeking her mother's comfort was that they needed outside help on this one. Rachel knew the score, but had said nothing of it and allowed Leshia to rush off to seek her mum and dad out in this moment of misery wishing she too could magic herself home to get her father's always-rather-unique take on things. How she missed her dad now.

Luckily for Leshia she came across no one who hindered her path on her way to the portrait of the bride and groom and before too long she was pushing the door open onto a candle lit living room where her parents were both marking work. Hermione had know something traumatic had happened to the girls since she escorted her injured daughter back to the castle; Katie's absence from dinner and Leshia and Rachel's blank expressions had revealed that a drama had occurred.

"Oh darling, come here," Hermione called to the girl the moment she appeared in the room. Without a word to either one Leshia dropped down on the settee next to her mother. Tears were streaming down her face, which was now screwed up tightly in a sob-like expression. Immediately she was swept up into her mother's arms who rocked her ever so gently while she let all the hurt out at Katie's words. Sensing a problem he would no doubt only get angry over Draco climbed to his feet and after stroking Leshia's wild curls into place he took his leave, busying himself in the small second bedroom Leshia sometimes used, but was primarily used as a makeshift library.

"What happened sweetheart?" Hermione asked gently when Leshia's tears started subsiding.

"She blames it all on me," her daughter sobbed.

"Blames what on you?" Hermione asked soothingly, knowing enough to realise Katie was the subject of this statement.

"That Rodeo dumped her."

"Oh dear," Hermione exclaimed worriedly, getting a pretty good idea about what had happened. "Why did he do that?"

"Because he's a stupid boy and doesn't know anything!" Leshia hissed angrily. Hermione chuckled despite herself and after squeezing Leshia tightly she pulled away to look her daughter in the face. "I sort of…" The girl trailed off and looked at her tightly balled fists in her lap.

"What darling?" Hermione coaxed, wanting to hear the whole story.

"Well he kind of…" Again Leshia trailed into silence as she relived the afternoon's events. Hermione waited patiently. "Well he saw me an Owen kissing." At this her mother's eyes went wide in surprise. "It was the first time!" Leshia quickly added earnestly, not wanting her mother to think this was a regular occurrence. After a beaming smile that let her daughter know she wasn't disappointed at the news Leshia continued. "Well he saw that and then flipped out at Katie. She blames me for the whole thing."

"That's very unfair of Katie, she shouldn't be blaming you," Hermione stated with a flare of motherly protectiveness creeping into her voice.

"Mum she was heartbroken, I don't think she was thinking straight," Leshia countered wisely earning herself a beaming proud smile from her mum. "I just don't know how she's going to get over this…I don't know if she'll want to be my friend anymore. It's just ruined everything!"

"Katie will get over it," Hermione tried soothingly, with the wisdom of a woman who had had her fair share of heartbreaks. Leshia stared incredulously at her mother.

"I'm not sure."

"Leshia darling love makes us all do very stupid things and often our friends are the ones who take the fall for it. She will come round." Leshia sighed and wiped at her dry eyes.

"And until then I just have to suck it up don't I?" she asked in a small voice. Hermione smiled at her and nodded meekly. "Because she's my friend and I owe her that."

That night Leshia stayed at her parents' chambers. Hermione didn't dare bring up the Owen situation, knowing Leshia had enough on her plate to worry about and instead the family enjoyed a good old fashioned trip down memory lane with several of Hermione's new photo albums that she had taken to arranging when all her maternal hormones came flooding in. Leshia almost forgot about the drama going on in Gryffindor tower, but just before she drifted off in the comfortable second bedroom of the family chambers her thoughts flew to poor Rachel all alone and the immense guilt she felt right before sleep claimed her ensured her sleep was plagued with nightmares.

Thursday morning brought with it a wave of gossip and rumours. So much so that by the time Leshia emerged to head down for breakfast the whole sorry affair had been made entirely public. She ignored the whispers of the gossip grapevine and instead held her head high as she walked down to the great hall where her friends were sitting spaced out amidst the rest of the house. Rachel and Parys were sat together and so Leshia rushed to their sides, happily welcomed to sit between them once she had reached them. After scanning the table Leshia saw Katie sitting next to her brother, her face pale, her breakfast untouched. Up the other end Rodeo was sitting silently beside Tom and Luke Weasley failing to even smile at their humorous antics, his plate clean of any food. The last person Leshia noticed was watching her intently, his expression a perfect arrangement of an apology. Owen felt truly awful for what had happened and he hoped he expressed this to Leshia before she turned away from him to address her friends.

"I'm so sorry for abandoning you last night," the girl exclaimed fervently the moment she touched down beside Rachel. "I can't believe I left you all on your own. I'm just…"

"Oh give over," Rachel managed amusedly. "Don't be so dramatic. I'm fine aren't I?"

"Yeah and besides, she had me shorty," Parys piped up cheerfully; he alone didn't seem too shaken by the whole ordeal. He knew the girls well enough to assume they would soon be bosom buddies again and quite frankly he was glad for Rodeo that he was finally being true to his heart.

"Yeah, but I was really selfish and I'm sorry," Leshia continued to Rachel after she shot Parys a small smile.

"Listen to you! You're like the bleeding heart society. I am absolutely a hundred percent fine I promise you," Rachel chuckled, though she soon lost her smile when she glanced up the row at Katie. "Her on the other hand…"

"We're just going to have to get her through it Rach," Leshia sighed, sounding pained at the thought of all the angry backlash they were going to get in return. "No matter how much she tries to curse us."

"Hey less of the us," Rachel snorted happily. "If she takes out her wand then I'm out of there. She's got a nasty accurate technique that one, like she was an expert wizarding dueller in a past life!"

"That's it!" Parys suddenly exclaimed jubilantly. The girls looked to him in puzzlement. "That's what I want to be when I grow up. A wizard dueller!"

XXX

Katie didn't speak to Leshia for days. It was hard going for the fiery young girl, who many a time wanted to snap and scream and rage at the raven-haired girl for being so unreasonable. As a result of this distasteful treatment Leshia was a fierce thing to behold and even managed to get herself thrown out of her father's lesson for being a cocky little so and so. Owen was relegated to the background and though he felt hurt in Leshia's pretending their kiss had never happened, he could entirely understand why. She had enough on her plate with Katie's little hurtful game.

Rodeo was arguably the most outcast by the girls who didn't give him the time of day. He and Parys took to moping about with the two of them well out of the way of the rivalling girls. Rodeo felt too guilty to see what he had done to the firm friendship that had been going strong between these lifelong friends. It was all his fault and it hurt him to see poor Katie taking it all out on Leshia.

Come Monday afternoon after a very shaky Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson Leshia and Katie found themselves serving a detention together. Katie's attitude had copped her an attention with Draco as well and in a thinly veiled attempt to help patch things up between the girls Draco had set them a detention together. Rachel's attempts to land herself in trouble so she could join them had amused Draco, who fondly cast her from his classroom instead of giving in to her wishes. Katie and Leshia needed to sort this thing out on their own. Their task was a simple one, grouting the stairwell on the East tower and for the most part they managed in silence. That is, until Katie finally felt her temper boil over. Leshia didn't really know what had hit her, one moment she had been forcefully digging her trowel into the loose join on two slate tiles and the next Katie was on her feet her eyes boggling dangerously, her glare enough to turn a lesser person to stone.

"What?" Leshia finally asked worriedly when Katie didn't speak.

"It's all your fault Leshia!" Katie exploded angrily. "Why do you always have to be better than me? Why did you have to lead him on, even when he and I were together! It was just cruel and vindictive!" Leshia furrowed her brow.

"I didn't lead him on," she finally managed, trying not to sound as angry as she felt at such an accusation.

"Oh no? Then how come he couldn't just forget about you? How come we were happy?" Katie sounded totally and utterly insane to Leshia, who backed away down the stairs a little.

"Katie I know you're hurt and I know Rodeo really screwed up…"

"Don't blame this on him!" Katie countered manically. "It's not his fault you got inside his head and wouldn't leave."

"Katie I'm not the one that broke your heart, it's not fair for you to take it out on me!" Leshia countered, feeling her temper rising in spikes. One moment she felt like cursing her childhood friend whereas the next she felt like pulling her into a hug to mend her broken heart.

"Leesh give me a break," Katie exclaimed a tear jumped down from her wide eyes. "You've been breaking my heart my whole life!" This cruel blow made even Leshia's eyes glassy with tears and she would have turned on heal and stalked off had she not suddenly felt a sliver of dread sink down her spine. She reached out to the handle on the stairwell, her breath coming out in quick bursts. Katie too could evidently feel it as she was edging towards the other side of the stairwell.

"It's back!" Leshia managed, trying to force away the fear making her knees weak. Just as the stench of death hit their nostrils Katie turned one last look of complete and utter terror on her friend before quite suddenly she lurched backwards through the stained glass window right behind her.

"Katie!" Leshia screamed in total and utter panic and she ran forward to the now empty window frame, looking down to see Katie's unconscious form lying on the roof of the great hall many yards below. "Katie please!" Leshia cried out as footsteps sounded all around her.

"We heard arguing," someone was saying, while someone else started screaming.

"She pushed her out the window!"

"Oh my God, is Katie dead?"

"Malfoy you're a bloody psychopath!" While all around her accusing glares locked on to Leshia, her only concern was Katie. All set on jumping out the window after the raven-haired girl Leshia only stopped when a steel grip clamped down painfully on her shoulder and pushed her aside. Severus Snape looked past the twittering children urgently to the little figure lying far down below. Pulling back sharply he fixed Leshia a look of mixed emotions. On the one hand he seemed more furious than ever she saw him, and yet he also seemed a little fearful.

"Professor I didn't…" Leshia began quickly, fighting back tears when she thought of Katie lying down below, possibly broken beyond repair.

"Silence!" Snape roared. "You. Do. Not. Move. A. Muscle!" Leshia buttoned her lip instantly and stumbled back into the handrail, tears spilling over as the murderous glares of everyone in the corridor bored into her. "If she moves one muscle you have my permission to curse her with whatever you wish!" Leshia didn't dare disobey the teacher as he suddenly flounced down the stairwell, though she desperately wished to creep back to he window to see how Katie was doing. In her mind not a sliver of anger remained, only fear that she was about to lose one of her most trusted 'sisters'.

The murderous pupils never took their eyes off Leshia, each and every one of them with their wands at the ready lest Leshia try and push one of them out the window. People soon forgot about her popularity in the face of such deviant and evil behaviour and most it was out of fear that they tracked her every move. The sound of hurried footsteps startled most of the gathered crowds and for a moment Leshia wondered who else had come to treat her as though she were a murderer. When she heard her father's voice however, Leshia's heart swam with hope. Maybe now she would be safe?

"Out of the way," the brusque tone of Professor Malfoy parted the stairs, until finally he got a clear view of his stricken child and the broken window. Without hesitation he pushed the glaring youngsters away until he reached his daughter's side at which point he dragged the girl into the crook of his arm, looking at her and silently demanding an explanation.

"Sir it's Katie, she just fell through the window," Leshia managed, pointing a shaking hand at the broken panes. Quite suddenly Draco lurched towards it dragging Leshia with him to see that down below Snape and several other teachers he had come across were gathering around Katie's unmoving form.

"All of you, return to your common rooms at once," Draco barked dangerously at the gathered youngsters.

"But sir she pushed Potter out of the window!" a vile voice Leshia knew well drawled from up above. "We were told to stay here and curse her if she tried to move." Draco turned his ice-cold eyes up towards the general area Damian Allseyer was hiding in. The boy had not the courage to state such accusations in the open.

"By whom?" the young man growled furiously.

"By Professor Snape." Draco seethed for a moment.

"If you do not leave now then I shall start cursing each one of you, now move it!" His warning was heeded and a quick stampede ensured soon father and daughter were alone at the window.

"She just fell dad," Leshia whispered fearfully, her tears not yet abated. "One minute there was this horrible smell and the next she just flew backwards, just like someone had shoved her, but there was no one there!" Draco turned his grave eyes on Leshia and led her slowly away from the window when down below the teachers were levitating Katie's still unmoving form towards the nearest hatch.

"Of course you didn't push her," he finally spoke, leading the way down to the nearest corridor that would lead them to the hospital wing. Not another word was spoken between them until they reached the medical wing where Katie had been thankfully revived. She seemed to be coping with her tumbled off a tower quite well and the moment Leshia walked in she tried to climb to her feet. The words she was angrily growling at Snape and the other teachers brought a big smile to Leshia's face.

"I'm telling you one last time! Leshia did not push me out of the bloody window!"

XXX

Thankfully following this rather dramatic end to the feud Katie returned to normal and the friendship between the three childhood buddies was restored. Katie's brush with death was old news by the end of the evening, though what was rather amusing was her angry speech to the great hall that Leshia had not pushed her out of the tower when the rumour mill seemed to be going into overdrive. Leshia received several apologetic stares from those who had been in the tower accusing her of attempted murder. She rather wished they would keep thinking it, she'd never had so much peace and quiet since people started suspecting her of having homicidal tendencies.

Needless to say an emergency Blue Lions meeting was called to try to get their heads round what had happened to Katie. Needless to say the group was very shaken by the two girls' account and they decided it would be prudent to start a 'never go anywhere alone' rule. Though it hadn't helped Katie and Leshia in the stairwell, Katie had still ended up battered and broken on the roof below; at least Leshia was there to sound the alarm. The group shared a momentary shudder when they thought of what could have been had she just been left there.

Over the following days the atmosphere at the castle was a subdued one. The tension between Leshia and Katie may have evaporated into thin air the moment Katie had toppled out the window, but the fact that Rodeo was still outcast and Owen was tiptoeing around made Gryffindor tower an awkward place to be. Combined with the fact that Draco was stalking the corridors with Professor Snape trying to find answers to what was going on at Hogwarts, emerging from the common room wasn't exactly a fun activity either.

Nearly a week passed in which life gradually returned to normal. Quite suddenly and without a fuss Rodeo merged back into the group as though he'd never been away. Katie was making a star effort at being civil to the boy and the others were very thankful for this fact. Sensing Leshia's life returning to normal Owen finally approached her Saturday at quidditch practice. While she was taking a breather to down a bottle of water Leshia became suddenly very aware of the fact that someone was standing behind her. She didn't need to turn around to know who it was.

"Is everything okay now?" Owen asked her quietly, walking up beside her to watch the training unfold before them. Leshia exhaled heavily, blowing the air out while she thought of a way to answer this difficult question.

"Define okay," she finally managed. Owen grinned.

"You know, with your mates."

"Yeah," the girl stated with a shrug. "It all got so bad there for a while Owen. I feel really bad."

"It wasn't your fault though," Owen complained; in his heart he knew this conversation was not going to go the way he wanted.

"No, but it all happened because of something I did." The girl trailed off into silence, wrapping her arms about herself when a chilly wind blew up against the youngsters.

"Where does that leave us?" Owen finally asked.

"I don't know. It's all too complicated. If just one…you know, what happened on Wednesday, well if that was enough to nearly set my friends on self destruct then I dread to think what…I just…I'm sorry." Leshia finally looked up to find Owen smiling at her. He truly admired the girl stood beside him. When you first met Alecia Malfoy she came across as cold, selfish and willing to do anything to get what she wanted, but behind the bravado and the façade was one of the most selfless girls in the school. She had got this from her mother.

To think that Leshia would forego her own happiness for her friends' wellbeing was almost too much for Owen, who wanted to wrap his arms about her shivering form and insist she ignore her petty friends. Leshia would never allow it.

"Me too," Owen finally sighed.

"If things were different," Leshia sighed heavily. "If things weren't so complicated…"

"Well maybe later right?" Owen finally managed to bring some lightness to his tone and he grinned a lopside smile at the short girl at his side. "You know, when you've grown a bit. This would have never worked anyway see?" With this he easily rested his elbow on top of Leshia's head, who was grinning mischievously at the boy. Quite without warning she lunged at him in a play attack and before too long the good friends were laughing away the pain they both felt at having to prematurely end a relationship that might have flourished between them.

Leshia's high spirits restored she really enjoyed the rest of the training, but when she returned to the castle she discovered this was only to be a fleeting sensation. The moment Leshia and her teammates stepped foot in the castle they were bombarded by messages from worried peers. Over the rabble Leshia and her friends could just about make out "Rachel" "Fell" and "Stairs". Without needing to hear the exact message Leshia sprinted off with many of the others hot on her tail. The hospital wing was their destination and before too long they had reached it.

"Hold it," a brusque voice called to them before they could all go piling in. The youngsters spun around to find Professor Malfoy and Professor Snape engaged in a hushed conversation in the shadows.

"Sir is Rachel in there?" Leshia asked with a deep furrow set in her brow. After a grave look had passed between the men Draco nodded. "Well can I go and see her?" the girl demanded next.

"Yes you can, but the rest of you will have to wait out here."

"But sir she's our cousin!" Tom and Luke piped up in unison. Looking as though he very much wanted to roll his eyes Draco nodded and flicked his wrist in the direction of the doors letting them know they too could go in. The three youngsters didn't need telling twice and within seconds they had burst in to find Katie, Rodeo, Parys and Rachel's little sisters Emelia and Hermia gathered around a bed. They weren't speaking, all of them hanging their heads, the two red-haired young girls looking close to tears.

Leshia was between them in moments and when her eyes fell on Rachel's battered form she too felt tears welling. Her best friend was almost unrecognisable amidst the blooded bruises and cuts that littered her face and body. She was out cold, looking so pale behind the injuries she looked to be made of wax.

"Rachel," Leshia whispered and her shoulders drooped down in defeat.

"They don't know if she's going to wake up," Emelia managed, a tear spilling over onto her cheek. Without thinking Leshia wrapped her arm around the young girl's shoulders and pulled her tightly to her side.

"You woke up," Leshia told her brusquely, drawing attention to the fact that Emelia too had suffered an injury similar to this one if it was what Leshia suspected it to be: a stairs related attack. "Now will someone tell me what happened?" It was Katie who explained how Rachel had rushed off during their library session to use the loo, but never came back. Katie and the boys had gone looking for her only to find a screaming gaggle of youngsters surrounding Rachel's battered and unconscious body at the foot of the grey staircase.

"Is Rachel going to die?" Hermia, Rachel's Slytherin highly unpleasant sister asked sounding now a small vulnerable child. Leshia rolled her eyes and wrapped her other arm about the taller girl on her other side.

"No she's not going to die," Leshia said firmly glancing from one worried look to the next. Leshia had not seen the worry on Dumbledore's face when he came to check on Rachel a moment ago. He certainly hadn't seemed convinced of Rachel's odds. Before they could explain this to Leshia the doors to the hospital wing flew open and a very flustered Ron burst in, followed by Draco. They seemed to be arguing.

"Just tell me why this is the second time one of my daughters has been attacked on your watch Malfoy…" Seeing the surprised youngsters Ron fell silent while Draco seethed behind him. Ron scattered the children aside and when his eyes fell on Rachel they too welled up with tears. Hermia and Emelia were at his side within moments, finding him far more comforting than Leshia's brusque attempt to console them. Ron wasn't the only one desperate for answers and after casting Rachel one last wounded look Leshia rushed from her side to Draco's. He wrapped an arm round her shoulders and led her back into the corridor where the anxious pupils were still waiting. Neither father nor daughter heeded them and they walked a little up the corridor to find some privacy.

"Dad do you have any idea what's causing all this?" Leshia asked; not caring that she and Draco were about to discuss something she and the Lions ought to be working on. In the beginning she hadn't wanted Draco's help, but then again, in the beginning Rachel's life hadn't been hanging on by a thread either. Draco sighed heavily sounding very frustrated.

"Very few ideas," he complained darkly. "It doesn't bode well Leshia. If they haven't heard already, just give it time and over the Easter holidays the parent body are going to find out about all these attacks and then the newspapers will find our and then we'll have a very big mess on our hands."

"Will they close the school?" Leshia was very worried.

"If we can't find out what's happened I don't think we have to worry about that, I doubt anyone would come back next year."

"I would," Leshia said with a small smile.

"Yes well we all know you're more foolish than most."

"It's called bravery dad." Draco chuckled. Suddenly though Leshia didn't seem so brave anymore as her face fell.

"Will Rachel be okay?"

"What do you think?" Draco's expression had softened and he wasn't just being difficult, he really was posing the question to his daughter, who shrugged meekly and started scuffing her trainers on the rug.

"I don't know."

"No really, Leshia was do you think?" Draco pressed, raising her fallen chin so he could look her in the eye. They were glassy with tears.

"Yes, I think she'll be fine," the girl finally conceded.

"Well then, stop worrying. She will be fine."

XXX

Rachel stirred heavily in her sleep and opened her eyes to find the sun streaming through the curtains of her bed. She had been given Monday off to recover and now she was out of the hospital wing she had really enjoyed her free time. It had taken the girl nearly twenty-four hours to rouse from her coma and when she did she was quite amazed to find a vast gathering of concerned friends and family standing vigil around her bed. She was then inquisitioned (most frighteningly of all by Draco and Snape in a private interrogation) in which she explained till she was blue in the face that without warning she was tipped down the stairs, crashing about with such force it was as though she'd been shot out of a cannon. Right before the horrible fall she revealed the horrible smell of death had lingered in the air for a split second, not giving her enough time to get away.

Having Gryffindor tower to herself was a treat and after lying in until her stomach started grumbling, Rachel pulled herself from her bed and ambled downstairs to the bathrooms. The common room was deserted and for a moment Rachel felt a little concerned, but shrugging away the cowardly feeling she marched into the girls bathrooms to brush her teeth. Some inconsiderate young ladies had evidently just had showers and not left the windows open the air the room as the whole bathroom was steamed up. Rachel grumbled happily to herself about insensitive upper-years and then started brushing her teeth. The steam was sticky and left Rachel feeling hot and bothered. Her stomach was churning uncomfortably ('Probably the hunger,' Rachel tried to excuse it) and the hairs on her arms and neck were standing on end ('Steam gives you Goosebumps right?'). She was just about getting ready to rush back to the safety of her bed when Rachel became very aware of the fact that she wasn't alone anymore. Trembling from head to toe Rachel looked up into the mirror meeting a pair of dark dark eyes narrowed in evil at her. She recognised that face. She knew who that man was.

Spinning around to confront him Rachel suddenly found herself alone.

"What the…" she barely managed before quite suddenly a wave of stench hit her nose and she slipped onto the floor with force, her head bouncing off the sink on her way down. For the second time in two days Rachel was found out cold. When she awoke many hours later once more in the hospital wing she was too afraid to mention what she had seen and instead pretended she had slipped on the wet floor. She managed to act normally around Leshia through an immense amount of effort, though the blonde girl saw through it somehow, knowing Rachel was hiding something from her. She went to bed that night feeling very concerned for the safety of her friends and wished they could find out what was going on and beat this invisible monster, only to wake a few hours later from a nightmare in which she ran lost through a grey misty wood to find she couldn't breath. A weight was pressing down on her neck as though two powerful hands were wrapped about it.

"Help," the girl wheezed, struggling against an invisible weight on her chest. Her pathetic cry wouldn't have roused even someone sleeping two inches away, let alone her friends across the dormitory. The horrid smell that preceded an attack by the monster stalking them trickled down from the invisible entity choking the air out of poor Leshia. "Help," she cried out once more, but this time no sound escaped. Frozen and unable to make a noise Leshia felt the end was near and for a moment, in complete defiance, she grumbled to herself that this was a very pathetic way to die.

Death though, never came, as quite suddenly her curtains were wrenched open and Katie and Rachel bore down on Leshia, dragging her off the bed away from her invisible attacked that flew the moment the girls appeared. For now it seemed Leshia would survive the night. The girls stayed awake all night long, curled up tightly on Rachel's bed whispering in hushed tones about how they wished they could leave the castle. Whatever this monster was, it was evidently out to get the Gryffindors and if they were being totally honest, the three young ladies were absolutely terrified.

Across the tower in the third year boys dormitory Rodeo woke with a start. His dream had seen him wandering a cool and dark wood, the sounds of a whimpering man's voice haunting through the dark trees. It had been uncomfortable and Rodeo was momentarily glad to have risen from it, but when he felt the steel grip tighten around his neck his blood froze. His eyes shot open to find a cruel and twisted face inches from him while freezing fingers squeezed at his windpipe.

"No!" Rodeo managed hoarsely and he kicked out at the man hovering above him, come to finish him off after he had failed to finish the job many weeks ago now in the woods. The boy didn't have time to think; instead he struggled wildly against the solid grasp of the teacher sat on top of him. Furious that he was going to be wiped out in his bed Rodeo managed one last powerful shove and managed to upend his attacked. Within moments Rodeo was on his feet and he just about caught his attacker's eye before quite suddenly the man was gone.

After waking Parys up in a state this left two dormitories in Gryffindor tower wide awake throughout the night too frightened to blink, let alone consider returning to sleep.

XXX

The Blue Lions watched each other across their circle with matching expressions. Nobody had experienced a good night's sleep, with strange nightmares, headaches and experiences keeping them all awake throughout the night. Leshia and Rodeo's experiences were unique in that they were the only ones who had actually been attacked and when they recounted their chilling tales the group fell silent.

"This is getting serious," Luke Weasley finally announced darkly.

"It's like it's stuck in Gryffindor tower," Ashley complained weakly, her large eyes creased in concern. "That's three attacks in the space of one day."

"Stuck? Or sent?" Leshia countered with a serious expression. "We seem to be catching the brunt of all these attacks." The group fell silent, agreeing with Leshia on that matter.

"Where does it go?" Katie suddenly asked quietly. "I mean surely if it's in the tower we'd be able to sense it…"

"And smell it," Rachel cut in in an undertone.

"It can't be in the tower all the time." Rodeo looked up with dark eyes, wanting to explain what he thought on the matter, wanting to truly reveal every detail of his story. He had not mentioned who he had seen.

"Maybe whoever it is has other stuff to do during the day," the boy suggested, earning some very strange stares.

"Whoever?" Rachel finally asked.

"Rodeo what are you hiding?" Leshia demanded.

"I just…last night." The boy was shaking and it was a sign of how frightening and serious the matter was that nobody laughed at him for it. "Well I saw him again. I saw him hovering right over me, strangling me! He was there!" While most of the youngsters were entirely in the blue about who Rodeo was talking about, his closest friends knew what he meant. Leshia's face went so pale and cruel Rachel and Katie shuffled away from her.

"You saw my dad strangling you?" she finally repeated spitefully, ignoring the shocked expressions on the group's faces at her statement. Rodeo nodded quickly.

"It was him Leesh."

"So my dad tried to strangle me too? Is that it?" The boy opened his mouth several times to speak, but then shut it once more and shook his head, not sure how to respond to this question. Without another word Leshia climbed to her feet and headed straight for the door the air almost bending around her such was her anger.

"Leesh it's not safe!" Rachel called after the girl, who paused momentarily at the door before she stalked back to the group. Had any thought she was going to listen to her friend's sensible advice they would have been very wrong.

"Let me tell you Rodeo Holsson," the girl seethed, pointing an accusing finger at the boy. "If my dad were trying to kill you, you can damn well believe he would have succeeded by now!" With this she stalked out properly this time, leaving the youngsters silently watching the door in her wake.

"I believe you," Rachel finally whispered breaking the silence with her shocking revelation.

"What?" Katie alone demanded. "You think Leshia's dad is trying to kill everyone?" In the face of such loyalty to Leshia Rachel shrunk away and hugged her arms about herself.

"No I don't think it's Draco, but yesterday when it was just me in the bathroom. Well…I saw him in the mirror." The group remained deadly silent, each with a creeping feeling of dread. "When I turned around he wasn't there. So no, I don't think its Draco, but what if it's a demon that can shape shift?"

The group discussed the possibility until their stomachs started to grumble. It was time to go for dinner, but before they could leave Rachel planted herself in front of the door.

"Promise me, each and every one of you, that you won't tell Leshia about what I said!"

XXX

Leshia was furious. How dare Rodeo accuse her father of trying to kill everybody! What hurt possibly more than the boy's revelation that he thought Draco was a homicidal maniac, was that Rodeo felt him capable of killing his own daughter.

"Well that just proves what a retard he is," Leshia hissed loudly. She could have carried on her angry rant at the boy had strange presence behind her not brought her to a halt on her aimless angry walk. Spinning on heal Leshia was ready to take on even the monster itself, but there was no need. "What do you want?"

Julius Black looked from Leshia's face to her white knuckles, tightly balled into fists. The girl had been wound up, but by who and why he had not the right to ask her.

"Something the matter Malfoy?" he finally asked with an enigmatic smile. His eyes remained cold.

"What makes you think I would ever tell you?" Leshia spat back angrily. "Oh just go away! I've got enough on my plate without having to worry about what's going on in your mind!" Leshia looked all set on storming off again leaving Julius back frowning after her in slight concern. Again he was going to have to try and make her see.

"All that time you've been pouring through library books," he said softly. Leshia stopped in her tracks and stared at her feet. If she were a cat her ears would have been pinned back, listening intently to Julius' words. "It won't help you. Whatever it is your looking for, you won't find it in a library book. The answer is however, in a book in the library." Leshia hung her head even lower at his curious statement and only after she managed an extremely exasperated sigh before she stormed off again, this time heading back to Gryffindor Tower to seek solace in the privacy of her bed curtains away from everyone else.

"Password?" the portrait demanded stoutly when Leshia reached its side.

"Frog guts," Leshia grumbled and on demand the portrait swung open to reveal an unusually dark passageway beyond. A wall of terror and stench hit Leshia, but steadying her shoulders she looked deeply into the gloom, ready to take on the creature inside, desperate to clear her father's name.

Quite suddenly the presence disappeared from her mind and after wondering what had scared it off Leshia jumped when a firm hand snaked onto Leshia's shoulder. With a slight gasp she spun around to find her father staring past her into the depths of the passageway, a strange furrow set into his brow. The presence had well and truly gone, but Draco too had felt it.

"Dad!" Leshia exclaimed with an emotionality she hadn't realised was bubbling close to the surface right behind her anger. Quite suddenly she hugged her father roughly about the chest, a hug he returned.

"Something you want to tell me Leshia?" Draco finally asked. Leshia thought of all that had happened, of everything that had been said and done…she couldn't tell.

"No," she lied.

"Aren't you hungry? Dinner started ten minutes ago," Draco next asked, ignoring Leshia's lies, which he had sensed without his vague powers of Legilimensy.

"I think I might just go to bed, I'm feeling really tired." The look Draco cast her as Leshia stepped unsurely into the empty common room was one of intense thought. His mind was whirring, evidently about the strange phenomenon that had happened moments earlier, but also thoughts about his daughter's secrecy. He'd always known she and her friends would be looking into it and yet he had no idea how far along they were. Did they know more than he? Leshia was playing her cards very close to her chest and gave nothing away other than the fact that someone had upset her.

With a sharp intake of breath Draco stalked away; there was much to be done.

XXX

The weeks passed and the murderous presence did not return. Whatever had happened at the passageway between Leshia and spirit, it had retreated from Gryffindor Tower and indeed Hogwarts itself. The strange rumours stopped dribbling back to the Blue Lions, who were able to relax into a normal pace of life once more. The big fight that seen Leshia storming off was not revisited in conversation; not even by Leshia, Katie and Rachel, who instead tried to get on with things.

The Easter holidays were upon them in no time and on the last day of term the Blue Lions decided to meet to go over the term's events. Many of them had started walking about with a false sense of security that everything was all well and good; they needed reminding about the horrors that had been inflicted upon the pupils of Hogwarts all term.

"I don't expect anything to happen at home, but we should all be vigilant to keep our ears open for any news," Katie told the group as they climbed to their feet all set to get going. The train was due to depart in an hour's time and many hadn't finished packing yet. Rodeo met Leshia's eyes, a secret passion suddenly making him cross the room to her side.

"What?" Leshia asked him darkly.

"You should watch your back okay?" he told her, sounding pained. Leshia narrowed her eyes at him.

"What? At home?" Rodeo nodded jerkily.

"I'll know you'll hate me for saying it. I would never forgive myself though if something happened to you and I didn't…"

"You stupid muggle!" Everyone stared in shock at the venomous expression on Leshia's face as she expressed such cruel sentiments. Rodeo's face instantly turned to a wounded look, but before anyone could say anything Leshia stormed from the room a second time.

"He doesn't know what he's talking about!" she grumbled, feeling tears of shame tingling her eyes. Why did Rodeo have to insult her family so? Why couldn't he just leave them be? With more pain than she would admit Leshia sprinted up the grand winding staircase, not really sure where she was going, just knowing she had to get away.

"No…" Leshia stopped quite suddenly, stumbling up a step or two.

"Dad?" she called out worriedly into the darkened corridor branching off from the staircase.

"No! You can't tell them!" the disembodied voice now sounded from Leshia's voice. "This isn't the way! Don't tell them! I can't let you tell them!" The voice was getting fainter, drifting down stairwell.

"Wait!" Leshia cried out and she rushed forward to the banister looking down the steep drop to find the source of her father's pained voice. "Dad?"

Quite suddenly, and without precursory warnings, Leshia was falling.


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