A strange sound brought Leshia from her slumber. It was a wheezing sound, almost like the sound of Philly, her cat, snoring. She lay in darkness, wondering which way was up, unable to move. The girl had not the will power to panic; her mind was far too sleepy. Whatever had happened, she was sure she wasn't dead and that was the important thing. Very hazily Leshia tried to remember what had happened to land her in this position. She was finding it very difficult to recall anything in detail. She knew she was at school, but what year…and what house? How peculiar, even the faces of her parents were eluding her.
Now that certainly wasn't good. With a fed up mental huff Leshia struggled against her blindness, trying to remember how to open her eyes. It took her an immense amount of effort, but finally clouded light spread across her field of vision in two thin slits. The wider she opened her eyes the more Leshia began to worry at last; she had not a clue where she was or who these people standing over her were. And what was that strange leather like bubble surrounding her nose and mouth; pumping with every breath she took. At least it revealed the sound of the wheezing.
Whoever those people in their strange green robes were, they were very worried. A flurry of movement broke out the moment Leshia opened her eyes, and finally two faces the girl recognised parted the green-robed strangers.
'Oh yeah, that's what they look like,' the girl thought lazily, feeling immediately calmed at the appearance of her parents. Though she wasn't used to seeing them so grave, nor so concerned, she was happy to make a little sense of the nightmare she had woken up in.
"Can she hear us?" her mother was asking a particularly old and grisly green-robed man. He wore tiny round spectacles, though they were barely visible beneath his mop of frizzy white hair.
"It is unlikely. We are still trying to ascertain the extent of the brain damage. I'm sorry Mrs Malfoy, but it will be a while yet before we know anything concrete."
'Of course I can hear you. I'm not deaf,' Leshia wanted very much to say indignantly, but she had entirely forgotten how to speak.
"When can she come off the life support?" her father next asked. The grisly healer looked now to Draco's drawn face and shook his head.
"At the moment it is a more a matter of if, not when Mr Malfoy," he replied gravely.
"I see." Hermione dropped her face into her hand and her shoulders trembled, while Draco sat down on the edge of the bed. Leshia fought her very hardest to follow him with her gaze. "She's watching me," Draco spoke suddenly to the healer. "Surely that means something?" Hermione now looked up and sat down quickly at Draco's side.
"Darling if you can hear us, please baby please look to your left," Hermione pleaded with her daughter.
'Oh do I have to?' Leshia grumbled to her private audience. 'This is all so stupid!' The fear in her mother's face was enough of an incentive to respond though and with a tremendous amount of effort the girl complied, her eyes moving jerkily to a concerned looking young woman in green robes stood beside the other side of her bed.
"There!" Hermione exclaimed with a huge smile, standing up to face the healer. "That proves it. She can hear us!"
"Are you in any pain?" Draco asked, sounding miserable and pathetic. The fact that for the umpteenth time he had failed to keep his daughter safe was beginning to snake cracks through his already vulnerable heart. His chest had felt so tight when he heard word that Leshia had been transported to St Mongo's in such a deathly state she wasn't breathing anymore he was sure he was about to experience a heart attack. Only Hermione's calm level-headedness saved him. How the girl had survived falling headlong over the banisters from the seventh floor was beyond him, and whether she would make it through the day was questionable, but for now Draco was holding it together. He had to, Hermione had rather broken down since her calm and determined act from earlier, and the last thing he wanted was for her and the new baby to be in jeopardy as well. Draco Malfoy had to remain strong.
"You have to give her options," Hermione said gently. "Leshia if you're in pain look at me, if you're not look at your father." Feeling very fed up with this game Leshia turned her tired eyes onto her father's face, where they remained. The momentary smile that graced his tired face was soothing to the girl who started suddenly to feel very heavy. Sleep was claiming her once more and though she tried to fight it, her eyelids were drooping until finally they were closed, her thick eyelashes fluttering against her face.
The next time Leshia awoke she was in a large and dark ward, cut off from most of the room by a heavy curtain. At her side her parents slept, curled up on two seats, leaning against one another for support. They looked exhausted, but there was a small smile on Hermione's face that had not left it since she found out Leshia had once again made it back from the brink of oblivion. It had in fact, been Leshia's closest meeting with death yet, as she would enjoy boasting about much later on when she told horrified friends that she had actually died for a few brief moments.
"Mum, dad," Leshia croaked quietly, but her alert parents jolted awake at the sound of her voice within the second.
"Darling!" Hermione soothed and she descended on Leshia as though she had thought she would never see her again; which indeed she had, for a brief moment when she saw Leshia attached to the various spells and mechanisms the healers had described as a 'life support system'. The girl owed that curious leather gizmo round her mouth and nose from earlier a lot more than the lazy curiosity she had offered it in her stupor; she owed I her life.
"What happened? Where am I?" the girl asked, trying to pull herself up in bed; everything hurt.
"You're in the hospital," Draco replied, while he walked round to Leshia's other side and helped her sit up. "As to what happened, we don't know. You fell from the seventh floor down to the base of the grand staircase." Leshia's eyes went wide.
"You most certainly did, half the school can attest to that," Hermione sighed and she shut her eyes tightly, imagining the horror of seeing the impact.
"I don't remember it," Leshia finally managed sounding very shocked.
"That's not surprising," Draco replied gently. "You suffered severe brain damage. You might be a bit shaky for week or so."
"Will I be okay though?" Leshia looked up at her father with a face creased in concern. He smiled and nodded.
"Good as new by the end of the holidays," he replied sounding more gentle than ever she had heard him. The horrors the day had brought had left no room in Draco's mind for negative feelings. He couldn't even muster the negativity for his usually brusque nature. All he wanted to do was smile and yell from the rooftops that Leshia was going to be okay.
"Will I have to stay here long?" Leshia next asked worriedly.
"Only a few days darling," Hermione replied, stroking down her daughter's messy curls. "And we'll stay here the whole time."
"We most certainly will not," Draco countered firmly, though he was smiling. "I'll stay with Leshia, you should go home and rest."
"I'm not leaving her…"
"Guys," Leshia interrupted seeing a clash of her parents' stubbornness was imminent. "I'm really just very tired. You should both go home. Come back in the morning."
"But…" they both began.
"You have to let people know I'm fine. I bet Rachel and Katie are having kittens. Please, I'm just going to be asleep anyway." Hermione and Draco took a lot more persuading, but they did eventually agree to go home for a few hours and return in the morning. After they had gone Leshia felt a little bad; she had lied to them. She wasn't tired at all and now they were gone she was a little afraid of everyone else she was sharing the ward with. A matron had come and pulled the curtains back now Hermione and Draco were gone so Leshia could monitored and this allowed the fourteen-year-old to see everyone else in the 'Repaired Brains' ward. None of them were children and most looked as though they had lost a lot of mental capacity in whatever accidents had led them to needing their brains to be put back together again. Even asleep they were acting bizarrely; one woman for example kept continuously sitting up and lying down. It looked terrifically exhausting. While another seemed to be stuck in a perpetual dream walk, never allowing her legs to cease on their endless walk to nowhere. Leshia felt it was a very good thing she was strapped to the bed.
The only other occupant in the room awake was Leshia's immediate neighbour to her right, an old man sitting straight up in bed with wide eyes. He looked both terrified and terrifying all in one. Nervously Leshia lifted her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
"Do you see them too?" the man managed in a sound barely louder than a whisper. Leshia shook her head quickly.
"The lights." Slowly turning his head to look at Leshia the man suddenly darted back and a few tears trickled out of his wide eyes. "They're all around you."
"What are you talking about?" Leshia demanded as the hairs on her arms and neck rose up. "I don't see anything." The man seemed too frightened to move. "Talk to me? Hello?"
"They're all around you," he cried, getting so flustered the matron was lured out from her comfy seat in the healers' quarters where she had propped her feet up to enjoy a battered copy of Witch Weekly.
"Shush Warren," she soothed sounding anything but soothing.
"But they're everywhere, they're all over that girl. What is she? What is she?" the man known as Warren was now so distressed Matron took out her wand and pulled the curtain around the man's bed. When she reopened them moments later he was sleeping, still sat up in bed, the only indication he had been coaxed to sleep the fact that his head was hanging and light snores were escaping him.
"Go back to bed Miss Malfoy, he won't trouble you again," the Matron told Leshia in the same tone, her attempt at bedside manner evidently.
"Sleep girl, your body needs it." With this the large matron stomped out leaving Leshia looking at the sleeping form of Warren with mixed emotions. Turning her back on the mad man Leshia rolled over and hugged her knees close to her chest, pulling the duvet over her head and wishing more than anything that she was home.
Warren's words would not leave her mind. What had he meant? And why had the hairs stood up so on her arms and neck. Surely he wasn't just insane? Surely there was method to his madness. After half an hour of jumping every time someone walked past the ward Leshia had had enough and very sorely she climbed out of the bed and crept over to the door. A bright sparsely crowded corridor lay beyond the ward, with healers and matrons occasionally passing in the distance. The healers' quarters were obvious due to the warm light creeping out of an archway not far from Leshia's ward.
As she got near the sound of a warbling witch met Leshia's ears coming from an ageing gramophone and when she finally reached the archway she looked onto a pleasantly arranged room for the matrons and healers who had to mind the night shifts. Matron herself was sat in the corner with a large biscuit, mid-dunk into a steaming cup of tea. Her attention was entirely enraptured by the fascinating article about a new potion invented to get rid of love handles. Of course it was all just a scam and the ingredients required for the potion could only be bought from the organisation that developed it, but Matron had always been very gullible.
"Excuse me?" Leshia called out from the doorway. Matron looked up in surprise.
"Go back to bed Miss Malfoy!" the round woman ordered firmly.
"I can't sleep. Not till I know what that Warren guy was on about." Matron narrowed her eyes at the girl and climbed to her feet towering a massive height above the youngster by the door. Squaring herself up for a lecture the Matron was about to break out when Leshia pulled off her most vulnerable expression that could melt even hearts of stone. "Please?" With a heavy groan Matron sat down again and indicated a rickety chair for Leshia to sit down on, which the girl did within seconds.
"Warren suffers from a condition known as Duivel Syndrome," Matron explained.
"Sounds foreign," Leshia interrupted, but quickly regretted it when Matron's eyes went wide in warning. "Sorry, I won't interrupt again."
"No you won't or I shan't tell you." As if daring the child to interrupt again Matron paused, but Leshia stayed quiet this time. "It is a foreign condition, or at least it was discovered by a Witch from South Africa. Translated it means 'Devil Syndrome'." Matron paused to take a bite out of her now-soggy biscuit. With an immense amount of patience that Leshia didn't really possess, the girl remained silent while the round woman ate.
"This syndrome has confused healers for decades. We still don't know whether it is a mental disorder that refuses to cow to conventional hallucinatory treatments and spells, or whether there really are such things as Devils and the syndrome is just a sixth sense."
"What are these devils? Can he actually see them?" Leshia asked, forgetting about the not-interrupting rule. Matron didn't mind this time.
"Warren sees them as energy, as lights if you will. They terrify them. We believe he perceives a sense of true evil from them."
"He said they were all over me…" Leshia trailed off and hugged herself close. Matron seemed sympathetic.
"Don't you worry Miss Malfoy, he says that to everyone. These devils, according to the sufferers of Duivel Syndrome, cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end and often contributes to the feelings of dread that strike people of a weaker disposition." This all sounded very familiar to Leshia, who quickly glanced up at the Matron and frowned heavily. Could there really be Devils at Hogwarts, Devils turned violent?
"Can they…can they hurt people?" the girl asked. Matron smiled.
"No, don't worry. They pass through people as though we were air. They can't hurt you. They're only hurting poor Warren." The Matron seemed genuinely concerned for the poor man and Leshia softened towards her.
"Why is he in there with us? What happened to him?" the girl asked.
"He tried to put a spell on his own mind to stop him from seeing the lights, nearly roasted his retinas." Leshia shuddered. "Now then, I believe you should get back to bed young lady, your mother will not be pleased if she hears you were up all night. You should be resting. Getting over that terrible accident of yours isn't going to happen in one day. You're going to have to take it easy."
Leshia did take it easy; she wasn't really given much choice on the matter. The day she was discharged from St Mungos Hermione had actually driven their old Muggle car to the hospital where Draco had not moved from Leshia's side as he promised since his return that first morning. Three days had since passed and the concerned parents weren't risking any form of magical transportation to get Leshia home where she belonged. A wheelchair served to take the weak girl from her bed to the car and once they had crossed the city to Dock Street where the Malfoy family home lay warm and waiting for the invalid, Draco carried a severely bemused Leshia to the muggle room.
Hermione had prepared Leshia's favourite room in the house for her arrival. She had set up a bed on the comfiest of settees fitted with all the refreshments Leshia could possibly need and a bell she could ring that was magically enchanted to reach Hermione and Draco's ears even if they were to be halfway around the world. Leshia was grateful for the creature comforts for the first ten minutes, but soon afterwards the cabin fever set in. She had been waiting days to catch up with her friends and share with them what had happened, but for love nor money, Draco and Hermione were not letting Leshia off the settee. The occasional break to attend the toilet was the only freedom she was granted away from their concerned gazes.
"But why can't they come here to see me?" Leshia demanded after a whole morning of such moddy coddling.
"Your physician told us you aren't supposed to overexert yourself for a few more days," Hermione replied from her position on the other comfortable settee, where she had nestled into an impressive array of cushions with her books and scrolls. She was becoming quite impossibly large now Leshia often felt worriedly. Now she had plenty of time to observe her mother she realised her new sibling didn't have much time left inside their mother's womb and the thought of it always left her with a slightly sick feeling in her mouth and a fluttering in her chest.
"Yeah so? Having Katie and Rachel round isn't exactly overexerting myself is it?" Leshia grumbled, looking away from her mother's baby bump where the interloper was growing strongly and steadily. Hermione laughed warmly and beamed at her daughter.
"Are you joking sweetheart? No doubt they would want to hear the whole horrific story straight from the horse's mouth, you would soon find yourselves embroiled in some adventurous plot or other and before we knew it you'd be off on some quest or other. So no Leshia, your friends can't come round yet."
"But mum I'm so bored!"
"How can you be bored? We bought you those muggle DVDs of your favourite programme. There's hours of entertainment on them." Leshia eyed the muggle cartoon video set cantankerously. Yes she would normally have been thrilled at the sight of the thoughtful gift from her parents – especially as Leshia knew they didn't really approve of the outrageous cartoon – but for some reason the sight of them now merely fuelled Leshia's tetchiness.
"But what if I don't want to watch TV? I want to see my friends." Hermione's brow crinkled in sympathy, but there was no way she was budging on this matter. She had never come so close to losing her precious firstborn; she would be taking no more chances when it came so her safety.
"Leshia I said no."
"What's going on?" The sparring mother and daughter looked up to see Draco walk in with a book in hand and a brusque expression on his face. He'd been lured in from his study by the raised voices and was now eyeing Leshia warningly; the girl had to know her parents meant it when they said she would find herself bed-ridden for a few days.
"Nothing's going on, that's the whole point," Leshia complained furiously, kicking at the coffee table angrily. Draco's eyes flew momentarily to his wife's who seemed a bit flustered herself.
"Leshia I know it's going to be hard for you to take it easy," Draco finally spoke calmly. "But it's either our way or we'll be forced to take you back to St Mongos." Draco's word was final and though Leshia argued till she started to get short of breath, they didn't budge on the matter.
Her time imprisoned in her once favourite room of the house allowed the girl plenty of time to ponder what had happened over the last two terms. Leshia was sure Draco was no closer to solving the mystery than the Lions were, which meant either he was losing his touch or the situation was very serious indeed. The girl was so convinced of her father's implacable strength she knew he could never lose his touch, if anything he was getting more powerful and gifted with age, so that left only one alternative, which didn't bode well for the future of Hogwarts.
After four days Hermione finally deigned Leshia well enough to go down to the Leaky Cauldron to meet Katie and Rachel. Easter was nearly upon them and despite her regular bouts of complaining at the unfairness of it all, Leshia hadn't tried to escape once. She deserved a treat.
The sun had been basking London in a delicious spring warmth for days now and so when Leshia finally stepped out with her parents for the first time in a week the weather rose up to the occasion. Hermione stayed very close to her daughter as the youngster skipped ahead, often having to place a protective hand on her shoulder to calm her down, but finally they reached the Cauldron.
Katie and Rachel had been so concerned for Leshia they in turn had needed to be severely restrained from charging round the Malfoys' and demanding to see their fallen friend. The moment they saw the girl enter the pub they crossed it within seconds and hugged Leshia with such might the girl winced.
"Easy girls," Hermione warned her daughter's best friends fondly. "She's not out the woods yet. You're all going to have to take it easy." The three girls eyed her with the mischief they were known for, before they claimed a quiet booth away from the rest of the packed pub. Hermione left her to it, but kept a surreptitious eye on her daughter from her place at the 'parents' table.
"Sweetheart she's not going to spontaneously combust," Draco chuckled when he noticed Hermione's concern. She turned an indignant expression on her husband.
"This coming from the man who didn't want to Leshia come out."
"I had no problems with letting her out," Draco countered fondly. "I just didn't think that a smoky packed pub was the best place to take someone who's just recovered from a major trauma. She can barely get up the stairs without getting out of breath."
"She's not the only one," Hermione grumbled, rubbing her bump with a fond frown. She didn't remember ever being this big when she was pregnant with Leshia. Then again, it had been so long ago and she still a teenager, things were bound to be different this time around.
"I was going to say, you're looking enormous!" Ron piped up happily.
"Thank you Ronald."
"When are you due Hermione?" Ginny asked sounding more than a little jealous; life had seemed so much simpler when her children were little babies free of dangerous adventures and turbulent emotions.
"So long still? Are you sure there's not two in there?" Draco momentarily choked on his drink and turned on his wife with a very wide-eyed questioning look that elicited warm-hearted laughter from his wife.
"Very certain. While we were at St Mungos with Leshia I went to the Obstetrics ward where they checked me over. There's just one healthy baby in there."
"A healthy girl baby or a boy?"
"Argh what's with all the tea party talk?" Draco grumbled, interrupting the two women before they had a chance to really get going. He had been artfully avoiding these sorts of discussions since it became public knowledge that Hermione was expecting again, seeing as it seemed that whenever Hermione and any other woman got together these sorts of discussions got going.
"Aren't you excited Draco?" Ginny asked teasingly. "Looking forward to the birth and all that?" Draco glowered at her.
"I'm looking forward to breaking open that case of fine Cuban cigars I've been saving for the right occasion."
"Hear hear!" Harry and Ron chimed in simultaneously.
"Aside from the fact that you two don't even like cigars," Ginny cut in, smiling fondly at her husband and brother. "I know you're lying Draco."
"Oh really. And how do you know that?"
"I bet you can't wait to meet this new baby."
"What's there to get excited about? It's a baby!" Draco complained. He quickly furrowed his brow worriedly when he saw the look of intense hurt materialise on his wife's face. 'What?' he quickly mouthed.
"You adored Leshia when she was a baby. Why will this time be any different?"
"I adored her the odd occasion when she was asleep. The rest of the time she was either making a lot of noise or being sick all over my best suits. Then she started walking and we spent most of our waking hours looking for the little blighter after she'd done the disappearing act for the hundredth time."
"So when did you actually start liking being a father?" Hermione asked and the wounded expression hadn't left her face. Draco tried to soften her hostility with a charming smile.
"I never said I didn't like being a father, all I'm saying is there's not much to look forward to at the beginning. You spend every waking moment trying to see to its needs, which you have to work out from a very limited repertoire of sounds." His words were confirming Hermione's worst fears; that he wouldn't enjoy being a father a second time round, but time to debate this new issue the parents never got, as across the pub a commotion had roared up.
"Is it true Miss Malfoy?"
"Were you assaulted by the Hogwarts Monster?"
"What did it look like?"
These snippets of hurried demands were interrupted by the occasional flash of a camera bulb and before the pushy journalists could get a response out of the frightened girls they had descended on they were pushed aside by a gaggle of protective parents.
"Ah here are the parents!" a tall wiry journalist suddenly exclaimed excitedly. He had a wire-thin moustache that curled up into elaborate bows and his hair was slicked back with what looked like shoe polish it was so dark.
"Mrs Malfoy how did you feel when you heard your daughter had been pushed from the rafters by a homicidal monster?"
"How long was it that she was clinically dead?"
"Enough," Draco exclaimed so forcefully the journalists stopped jabbering and their magic quills and cameras turned on him.
"You will find no story here. There is no story. Where did you hear such rubbish?" His sensible words were lost on the crazed writers who, seeing they wouldn't get a word out of the frightening ex-Death Eater turned their sights on the impressionable girls.
"Were you scared Leshia, when you found yourself falling?" Leshia though glanced to her father, who shook his head brusquely; ordering her not to say a word. Rachel received no such message.
"Leshia doesn't get scared!" the girl stated indignantly.
"Yeah, it's not like this is the first time she's been in hospital either," Katie added.
"Come on," Draco spoke up again. "We're leaving."
"But dad we just got here," Leshia complained. Her complaints fell on deaf ears and quite unceremoniously she was yanked from her chair. Her friends quickly followed, making their way through the crowds of ravenous press to the sunny street beyond. Luckily they didn't follow as soon as the family and friends stepped out into the street full of Muggles.
"How did they find out?" Leshia asked Draco, still very indignant her first sojourn into the real world again had been cut so short, though not indignant enough to kick up a fuss; it would seem her friends were following them home, which would suit her fine.
"I don't know."
"Is it bad?" Leshia next asked. Draco remained silent.
"Yes darling," Hermione now cut in with a comforting smile. "It's very bad."
Monster On the Loose at Hogwarts! An unidentified monster is on the loose at Hogwarts Castle! Are our children still safe? Following a tip-off that revealed a young female student had plummeted to her death after being pushed from the rafters above the Great Hall by the monster itself, a throng of stories has emerged about some rather unsavoury goings on at the Castle this year. Albus Dumbledore and his teachers have been keeping very quiet about the whole matter, and all their attempts to identify and capture the beast have gone in vein. The Monster's latest victim is none other than a teacher's daughter, which may explain why her horrific fall hasn't been publicized before now. Alecia Malfoy was thankfully revived in St Mungos after her terrible accident and seems to be making a full recovery. She is the daughter of the famous couple Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger, who played a large part in the defeat of Voldemort at the Battle of the Ages. Have they fallen so from Grace that they cannot now even keep their own child from harm's way? When we caught up with the family of three little Alecia was back on form catching up with her best friends at the Leaky Cauldron. The girl was in high spirits and had this to say about her attack, "I never get scared! I'm in and out of hospital all the time so I'm used to it." Though she may be approaching it so flippantly, we here at the Daily Prophet are worried for the hundreds of children at Hogwarts. This isn't the first time something like this has happened… Turn to Page 5.
The article remained pinned to the Malfoy's fridge for days, until finally Leshia tore it down in an angry fit. The nerve of those blood thirsty reporters! Leshia had endured a throng of owls baring letters mocking her so called vanity and after the third day she'd had enough. Hermione and Draco were amused by the paper and had pinned it up to mark Leshia's first mention in a National Publication, but the girl was too spitting furious to see the funny side.
The more serious implications the article had wrought were anything but funny. Every day new stories about the incompetence of Albus Dumbledore and his greatest allies Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy were vicious and spreading fast and Hermione sat down one evening and had a long chat with Leshia that some of her friends might not return after the holidays. This upset Leshia, but spurned her on to find out what was terrorising the school so she and the Lions could put a stop to it.
Easter Sunday was held at Potter Manor and was such a light hearted and entertaining affair that nobody had the inclination to bring up the national scandal that was Hogwarts. Indeed, the whole second week of the holidays was a bit of light-hearted relief that was sorely needed by all, but it was over far too soon. Before anyone knew it they were all boarding the Hogwarts Express to make the long journey North. The train seemed a lot less packed than it usually did, but had the girls thought it wasn't going to affect them they were sorely mistaken. After only ten minutes underway the door to their cabin was suddenly wrenched open by two very hyperactive young men.
"Parys!" Leshia complained happily when the boy practically squashed the breath out of her in a bear hug.
"We're just so happy you're okay Malfoy!" Parys exclaimed loudly into her ear.
"Parys that was two weeks ago, get off me you lump." After the tall boy climbed off Leshia she met eyes with Rodeo. She had been thinking about him a lot over Easter and had managed to quite successfully go two weeks without responding to his endless letters and muggle phone calls. He was distraught that she had taken such offence to him that she would ignore him so cruelly, but he had really hurt Leshia. By calling her father a merciless killer he had effectively closed her heart to him and she hadn't been ready to forgive him yet. At the sight of him so distraught at the doorway any negative emotions towards him that Leshia might have been harbouring flew out of her head. With a small nod and a smile, he was finally forgiven. The relief that flooded his face brought a smile to everyone's faces; all except Katie, who still couldn't look him in the eye without wishing all manner of nasty things to happen to him.
The boys quickly made themselves comfortable before Rodeo finally spurted out what he had been wanting to say the moment he walked in.
"Mila's looking for you," he told Leshia in a very poor attempt at casualness.
"And why's that?"
"To discuss emergency quidditch training."
"Rodeo stop beating about the bush and get it off your chest. Why do we need emergency quidditch training, we're only playing Hufflepuff. We could win that without any chasers or beaters! All you'd need is a keeper and a seeker. They're rubbish," Leshia boasted giddily.
"Well that's just it. You're going to have to do without your keeper I'm afraid." Leshia's smile instantly dropped.
"What's happened to Owen?" she demanded icily, causing the smile on Rodeo's face to falter. He really ought to have attempted some tact Parys felt at his side.
"His parents aren't letting him come back to school until this whole monster thing blows over," Rodeo explained. Leshia felt as though the wind was knocked from her lungs. No Owen indefinitely? The girl remained in silence while Rachel and Katie objected to this injustice on her behalf.
"Don't worry Leesh, I'm sure he'll talk some sense into them," Parys finally interrupted their tirade, slouching down low so his eyes were level with Leshia's. His attempts to cheer the girl up blatantly flew in the face of Rodeo's feelings for her, but he was too happy at this run of luck to care. Owen Gabriel wasn't coming back to Hogwarts this term; nothing would be able to wipe the smile of Rodeo's face!
"As soon as we get to the castle we'll have to hold a Lions meeting to see if anyone felt anything strange over the holidays," Katie announced.
"I bet you my whole collection of quidditch figurines that nobody felt a thing," Leshia spoke firmly. "In fact, I'll throw in my signed England jersey, that's how sure I am."
"Do you still have that?" Rachel now sniggered gleefully. "I mean didn't you get that when we were like eight?"
"Yeah, and you slept in it every night! Hasn't it disintegrated by now?" Katie added gleefully.
"I'll have you know I still sleep in that jersey and it's as good as new."
"You sleep in a quidditch jersey?" Rodeo laughed incredulously.
"Correction, a six-year-old quidditch jersey!" Rachel cut in raucously.
"Well what would you have me wear? Satin pyjamas?" Leshia giggled, but soon stopped when she saw Rodeo seriously considering it for a moment. "In my defence," she quickly carried on light-heartedly. "It is signed by the whole of the England team who won the World Cup of 2010. It's probably worth a fortune."
"And you sleep in it?" Parys asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yeah well it's comfy. Anyway! Enough about me, Rachel sleeps in her granny's mangy old nightie!"
"Hey!" Rachel cried out when the cabin's mocking laughs turned on her now instead. She found herself defending the cosiness of Grandma Weasley's snugly nightie for most of the journey. She was blue in the face from arguing so much when the boys slinked off sniggering to themselves in order to get ready to gather their things together. Darkness had fallen and they were nearing Hogwarts; they could all feel it in their bones.
Sure enough, twenty minutes later the third years found themselves disembarking with the rest of their peers to head up to the carriages. Leshia was having such a good time laughing at Rachel that she didn't notice the foul stench of the Slytherins until they stumbled across them on the path leading up to the road.
"Hello blood traitor!" Allseyer's sharp and harsh voice cut through the girl's laughter like a knife. Leshia turned an amused expression on him.
"Hello big nose," she replied cheerfully. Allseyer didn't even bristle.
"Saw your interview in the Prophet last week. Fearless eh? That's not what you were saying last year when we beat the stuffing out of you. Begging for your life if I recall." Leshia lost her smile and glared fiercely at the boy.
"So were you when you came face to face with a harmless little grass snake," she countered to the cackling laughter of her friends. Allseyer didn't even flinch.
"Your time's running out blood traitor. Have you noticed how your allies have already started dropping like flies at the whisper of trouble? You haven't seen anything yet!" With this the Slytherins sauntered off with the bravado their privileged backgrounds had imprinted on them leaving Leshia scowling after them. She would have stormed after the pointy-faced cretin had a certain dark haired brooding young fellow not stormed past her and shoved her shoulder roughly.
"Watch it!" Leshia cried after Julius Black, but the young man didn't stop at her calls, instead he hurried after Allseyer catching the ringleader's ear. Whatever he said Allseyer was not impressed and spoke hurriedly back. Leshia would have given her eye-teeth to hear what was said between them.
"Leesh let it go, he's not worth it," Rachel muttered in Leshia's ear.
"Don't you see? He knows what's going on and I bet you anything he's the one that's behind it all."
"Allseyer?" Katie spluttered incredulously. "Leesh do you realise what you're saying. You're suggesting Allseyer is outsmarting the greatest wizarding minds of the century. Including your dad and Albus Dumbledore."
"You're right. He's getting help! And I bet that Julius Black has just the right connections."
"I don't know Leesh, much as I hate the guy he has always seemed on your side," Rodeo countered sounding dubious.
"He was probably trying to lull me into a false sense of security."
"Leesh no offence, but you're starting to sound a little off your rocker." Leshia grinned fondly at Parys and threw her arm around his shoulders with great difficulty, but kept the rest of her suspicious tirade to herself.
Back at the castle a delicious welcoming feast awaited the tired youngsters, who dug into the various dishes ravenously as though her hadn't been fed or watered at all since going home.
Across the great hall three of the houses were suffering from many key losses. There was a subdued quiet atmosphere in the hall, in morbid remembrance of friends dearly missed, who had not been allowed to return to school by overly worried parents. It was a point worth noting, Leshia felt, that the Slytherins seemed to be boasting a full quota and were as raucous as ever, if not more so now they were clearly the dominant house of the school. Leshia felt sick to her stomach at the sight of Allseyer's smug grin, which he kept flashing at her whenever he caught her watching him, followed promptly by a very rude gesture.
It was a sign of respect that no one mentioned the terrible Prophet article that had named and shamed Leshia as a stuck up narcissistic masochist, nor pester her with endless questions about whether she was okay or not after her death-defying leap without a parachute. The girl was left very much alone to peer up the table sadly, watching as Owen's friend Paul was left to tag along with the other boys in their year that they evidently rarely spent time with. He seemed sorry for himself that both his best friends hadn't returned to school, but all Leshia cared about was Owen Gabriel. She had not realised how important his charming interactions meant to her until she was going to have to do without them.
"Nicola's not coming back?" Rachel sounded in shock and her surprise pulled Leshia from her silent reverie to look across the table to where Ashley was sporting an expression similar to Paul's. She too had been abandoned by her closest friend.
"Her mum's completely bought in to the whole perilous monster thing and because of the spell on the club, Nicola couldn't explain that we've got it all under control and that we're working on a solution. We have to figure out what's going on Leesh!" Ashley's wide eyes bored into Leshia accusingly, as though she were personally responsible for her friend not returning to school.
"I know Ash," Leshia replied, pushing aside her temper at being accused in this way: it wasn't her fault the Prophet ran the story. "We all want this to stop. More so because if we don't, one of us is going to end up dead and then they'll close the school. And the way it's been going, it'll probably be me!"
"Leesh don't talk like that!" Katie complained. Leshia rolled her eyes fondly, but nodded to show she took back her morbid statement.
"It's okay Ash, you can hang out with us until Nicola comes back."
"Yeah, other than Leshia's often suicidal antics and Katie's book worming, they're an alright bunch," Rachel piped up happily.
"What about you?" Katie laughed.
"Yeah, people who live in stone houses shouldn't throw glass!" Everyone stared at Leshia for a moment, while she wrinkled her brow and looked up at the ceiling adorably. "No that's not right. How does it go?"
"Looks like you should take a leaf out of Katie's book and do some studying up shorty," Parys' voice came. He and Rodeo had been not so surreptitiously listening in to the girls' conversation.
"Or maybe you shouldn't be so nosy and keep out of other people's business," Leshia retorted happily. At her statement the boys cracked up laughing.
"This coming from you?" Rodeo laughed. "You're like the most nosy person in the world." Leshia wasn't given the chance to retaliate, as when she opened her mouth wide to start her amusing tirade the hall fell silent. Albus Dumbledore had climbed to his feet at the Head Table, and this mere movement commanded the respect and silence of all those gathered. Leshia, who's back was turned to the teachers, would not have noticed and would have proceeded to cry out indignantly, had Rachel not suddenly lunged at the girl and covered her mouth.
"Mwhamm mmwar mmmyou mmoing?" Leshia mumbled into the girl's hand.
"Shhh and turn around," Rachel whispered in her ear, a big smile on her face. Leshia behaved and did as she was told, instantly losing her smile when she saw the venerable head teacher staring his pupils down calmly.
"Welcome back dear pupils," he finally spoke when all eyes had eventually turned on him. "I deeply regret the circumstances in which we have all returned, and I am sure I speak for all of us present that those who could not make it back after the holidays are sorely missed." At Gryffindor table Leshia nodded without thinking, her thoughts lingering on Owen Gabriel.
"No doubt you were all exposed to the stories that were run daily in the newspapers over Easter. You could not have avoided the hysteria and for that I apologise. I wish for you all to understand that Hogwarts is still as safe as it ever was. I will not lie to you; we do not fully understand the powers at work at Hogwarts this year. We are not entirely sure we know the face of this new enemy, but we can assure you we will do everything in our power to keep you safe."
His words were so reassuring, as surely the wizard who came back from death itself and many times afore that kept even Voldemort himself at bay, would keep them all safe? And who could forget his right-hand man; the terrifying Draco Malfoy was a force to be reckoned with and certainly many of the youngsters felt safer in his presence than outside of it.
"We need each and every one of you to be vigilant. Should you have any information, no matter how trivial, about the identity of this so-called monster then please come forward. Do not keep it to yourself. Do not try and fight what you do not understand."
Dumbledore's keen eyes slid onto the trio of Gryffindors and met with Leshia's. The girl held the venerable old man's gaze until he smiled briefly and looked away to the hall at large.
"Enough, I expect you are all desperate to return to your beds. Once more I remind you to look after one another. You are each other's greatest defence against any who would wish to harm you. Do not underestimate the power of friendship." With this Dumbledore sat down in time with a general throng towards the doors. The Gryffindors were some of the last to leave the hall and at the doors Leshia turned around to see Albus Dumbledore hunched over his hands, his eyes closed in silent thought. He seemed to be a man with more troubles on his mind than he was letting on.
Once they had made their way through a rammed common room to their dormitory Leshia started rifling through the satchel she had abandoned at the end of her bed still filled with the books she had left abandoned in it on the last Friday of term.
"Either I've gone mad and you're swotting up before school starts tomorrow," Rachel remarked amusedly when she saw what Leshia was doing. "Or you're up to something."
"I'm guessing the latter," Katie piped up. Leshia grinned at her best friends and dropped onto her bed, a piece of parchment and a quill in hand.
"Who you writing to?"
"That moron Owen Gabriel. Why didn't he tell me he wasn't coming back before we got to school?"
Owen Gabriel! How could you? Didn't think to let your friends know you weren't coming back to school? What am I, not your friend anymore? I'm so mad at you Owen! When are you coming back? If you're not back here within two weeks I'm going to march down to London and drag you back myself! And you think I'm joking. Dumbledore gave a speech at dinner tonight. He's scared. Really scared! You could tell. I'll tell you what, if you can do some research from London while we're here stuck in lessons then I might just forgive you. Don't do anything I wouldn't do! From Leshia PS If we lose quidditch next week I am holding you personally accountable
It had taken the girl several scribbling out to decide how she was going to sign off the letter. 'Love' was too direct and simply penning her name seemed too distant. Though she wasn't happy with 'from' it was by far the lesser of all the evils. She couldn't have Owen reading into her accusing letter. She was too mad at him to let him think she still liked him.
When she was done Leshia rushed over to the window nearest her bed and leaned out into the chilly night's sky.
"Leesh shut that window! It's freezing!" Rachel grumbled. The blonde girl smiled broadly before a very large owl landed on her arm.
"Whoa! You're big!" she laughed and attached the letter to its leg. "Can you please bring this to Owen Gabriel? If you peck him really hard next time we meet I'll give you a lemon drop." With a hoot the owl flew off into the darkness leaving Leshia to pull back inside and shut the window.
"What did you say?" Katie asked with a small smile. "Did you give him a hard time."
"Well he's going to regret not coming back. I'll tell you that!"
Malfoy be reasonable! It's not exactly my fault is it? The Olds are totally over reacting, and as they clothe and feed me, I can't exactly rebel too much. My mum's the paranoid type, can't help it. I didn't tell you because I knew you'd probably come down here and make a scene. You'd have made things way worse. Sienna's already got mum and dad all riled up at the prospect that you're my girlfriend. As much as I try and tell them otherwise, they're already picking out wedding dresses. Sorry about that shorty, but it looks as though you're stuck with me. Maybe after a few years and an heir to carry on the Gabriel name we can invent a scandal and you'll be free to go marry that Allseyer bloke. It would break my heart, but hey! Malfoy you're playing Hufflepuff! You could beat them as a one-man team! You'd better not lose; I'd like to have a reputation to come home to. I'll do what I can shorty, but I can't promise anything. My parents don't move in dark and foreboding circles I have to say, so unless old Mrs Hattie Rosebud is behind the evil presence at Hogwarts, then I can't say I'm going to have much luck. Be good! Owen PS Look after yourself! PPS Serves you right!
The letter came the very next day Leshia received her reply over breakfast delivered to her by the very same owl she had sent to Owen. Thankfully Rachel had a stray lemon drop at the bottom of her satchel, which Leshia fed to the bird. In return she received a painful nick to her finger.
"Ow! I told you to peck him, not me!" The bird hooted indignantly, before flapping its great wings and taking off. Its actions made a lot more sense after Leshia read Owen's last line, at which point her already broad smile burst into a little laugh.
"So what did sir have to say for himself?" Katie asked happily.
"Oh, just how we're going to get married." Across the table both Parys and Rodeo spluttered into heir pumpkin juices. "He's joking!" Leshia quickly added when her best friends exchanged a conspiratorial smile. "He also says that I'm going to leave him for Allseyer. That should tell you how sane he was when he wrote the letter!"
"He's probably got a touch of cabin fever," Rachel commiserated. "It would drive me mad being trapped inside with my harpie sisters."
"I do wish you wouldn't say that word Rachel!" Katie grumbled. She had long taken offence to the word 'harpie' and as Rachel used it more than most, she tended to find herself offended nearly every day of the week.
"Well they are harpies!"
"Rachel! That's so mean!"
"Well they're my sisters, I have a right to be mean. You're mean to Michael."
"That's different," Katie countered humbly.
"Well…because he's a boy. Anyway, they're my cousins and I won't have you calling them the H-word in my presence." Leshia, who had been sniggering behind her hand throughout this conversation finally cracked up laughing and climbed to her feet to make her way to their first lesson of the day: charms.
"When you two are done with you lovers' spat, feel free to join me," she chirruped back over her shoulder, thoroughly cheered up by Owen's letter and by her friends' silliness.
After being inundated with homework in every subject the girls decided early Saturday morning that a trip to the library was in order. The end of year exams were looming and Leshia and Rachel had been horrified to find out that Katie had been studying over the holidays. It didn't seem fair to increase their homework workload when they had so much else to be getting on with. It didn't leave much room for investigating the mysterious goings on at the castle.
They had barely had time to arrange a Blue Lions meeting to discuss what Leshia had learned in the hospital about demons and the strange syndrome. Everyone was certain that it was related to the troubles at Hogwarts, but try as they might, they couldn't work out how. Leshia's accident had humbled the youngsters and the rule they had tried to reinforce before the holidays about always travelling round in pairs was lobbied for until each and every one of the gathered teenagers agreed to it; even Leshia, who remained indignant about the whole thing. She didn't like having a keeper.
In between the hours spent working and sleeping Leshia managed to squeeze in some quidditch practice. Everyone was feeling the strain of the summer term and no one was very keen on the daily quidditch practices that Mila had scheduled. Her reason for demanding so much time of them was the need to train with their replacement keeper Eliot Wood, the twin sister of Chaser Jaime, both daughters of the Scottish Quidditch keeper Oliver Wood. The girl was good, she had learned all she could from her father, but Mila still insisted on wearing the team thin. That Saturday the girls congregated in the library marked the day the Gryffindors had walked out on their captain saying enough was enough, they had to study!
The library was packed with conscientious pupils studying hard for their exams and trying to manage with the extra homework they had been lumbered with. Even so, the girls had managed to procure a small round table away from the fray; as had become the norm Ashley was with them. She sorely missed Nicola and felt the three adventurers were a poor substitute for her best friend, but was grateful for their kindness in letting her join them. It wasn't too bad after all, Katie was very informed about the latest fashions and styling tips and already the girl had learned a host of new ways to keep her hair glossy and her teeth white. She couldn't wait to share them with Nicola!
"What was the fourth statute in the Pact with the Giants?" Rachel suddenly spoke up agitatedly.
"What's a statute?" Leshia, who was studying Potions, piped up; she hadn't got round to reading up on the year's worth of History of Magic she and most of the class had slept through. Katie groaned.
"The pair of you! Rachel, the fourth statute dictates that all Giants shall refrain from maiming, damaging, killing, destroying or harming human livestock that happens to roam into their territories if said livestock is either clearly marked or known to belong to a local farmstead." Rachel and Leshia both blinked. "And Leshia, do some bloody reading already. The exams are only six weeks away!"
"History of Magic is such a bore and I'm going to drop it as soon as we're done with our OWLs. So why should I bother? I want to focus on the subjects I'm going to be carrying on to NEWT level."
"No you don't, you're just being lazy!" Katie grumbled. "And I've had enough of the pair of you asking me ridiculous questions. The next one of you that asks me a stupid question will wake up to find themselves completely bald." Leshia and Rachel sniggered at one another, but obediently held their tongues. For a few more minutes the girls worked in silence, until it was broken by a disgruntled huff from Leshia.
"What's wrong now?" Katie demanded petulantly. "Wondering what a flask is?"
"As much as I adore your teachings Katie, I think I might pass if it's all the same thanks," Leshia retorted amusedly.
"Well what is the matter?"
"Him over there with his slimy stare." Simultaneously all three girls followed Leshia's gaze until their eyes fell on Julius Black, minding his own business in another corner of the library, seemingly submerged in his mountain of work.
"Leesh he's just doing his homework, surely you can't take that personally?" Rachel chuckled.
"A minute ago he was watching me. Always watching. Watching, watching, watching! You'd think he'd get bored! He's driving me mad."
"And that's exactly what he wants," Katie stated wisely. "So just ignore him and he'll go away."
"He'll never go away! He'll hang around in my shadow until he drives me slowly bonkers. I mean doesn't he have anything else to do with his time?"
"Well why don't know go and tell him this instead of wasting our time?" Katie complained. Leshia stared firmly at Katie wanting to retaliate, until she concluded that actually that wasn't such a bad idea.
"Fine," she exclaimed haughtily. "I will." With this she flounced off leaving Rachel shaking her head at her cousin.
"If she kills him and gets sent to Azkaban I'm dobbing you in for assisting."
Leshia's face was stony as she crossed the library, her eyes never leaving Julius Black's, who looked up the moment she jumped to her feet. His expression matched hers; he had no patience for Alecia Malfoy when she was on the warpath. The girl came to a stop once she reached his table and after crossing her arms indignantly she narrowed her eyes at the boy.
"Can I help you with anything Malfoy?" the boy asked drolly.
"I don't know, can you stop staring at me?" Julius black raised one dark eyebrow mockingly.
"If you weren't making such a scene then I would quite happily stop looking at you."
"I'm not talking about now! I'm talking about before. Stop looking at me okay?"
"What on earth makes you think I'm looking at you?" Julius countered icily.
"Oh don't pretend Black, every time I look up you're sat there staring. What's your point? What do you want?" Julius Black shut his eyes tightly and climbed to his feet, pushing his chair back so roughly it toppled perilously before coming to a rest moments away from tumbling to the ground.
"Turn around Malfoy," he spoke in a growl.
"Just do it." Unwilling to turn her back on her enemy for too long Leshia glanced over her shoulder. "That is what I have been looking at," Julius continued, pointing a long finger at the history timeline hanging on the wall behind Leshia's table. Leshia furrowed her brow and stared firmly at the timeline, trying to keep the pink rise in her cheeks at bay. When she was certain she'd be able to hold his gaze Leshia turned back to find Julius Black watching her stoically.
"I suppose you're going to say that yesterday in Defence Against the Dark Arts you were also staring at something behind me? And Wednesday in Runes?"
"You're imagining things Malfoy, it's really very sad."
"No," Leshia growled angrily. "What's sad is skulking about the place pretending like you know everything."
"And what makes you so sure I'm pretending?" The simplicity of Julius Black's face made Leshia falter. He seemed so sincere, so truthful; oh fie him and his mysterious ways. Suddenly the young man reached out his hand and tapped her firmly on the forehead with his long fingers. One day this young man was going to be very tall, his overly large hands gave that away. Leshia jerked her head back in annoyance. "Think Malfoy, think! Everything you need is right here in this very room."
"But not in a library book right?" Leshia uttered so dangerously she was shaking a little from her anger at the enigma stood before her. How dare he touch her! Julius Black sighed heavily, but nodded all the same.
"Right." Swallowing her pride Leshia turned to go, but after taking a few paces from the boy she stopped and turned around slowly.
"If you ever touch me again…" the girl trailed off, but the darkness in her face spoke what a thousand words couldn't. Soberly Julius Black nodded: message received.
It all started when Parys lost his Blue Lions coin; the string of bad luck that led to the curfew. With so much time devoted to quidditch and homework Leshia hardly realised there was a world going on around her at all. She barely remembered Katie and Rachel grumbling to each other about having to make him a new one and didn't really register it. Pretty soon afterwards things started going very wrong.
Katie awoke one night to find a shadowy figure hands tight as steel around her neck. Her floundering luckily awoke the others who saved her from the nightmare only she could see. Luke and Tom suffered a dreadful headlong collision during quidditch training and when they awoke two days later in the hospital wing they attested to not having control of their brooms anymore.
Their injuries meant the B-squad beaters had to take their places in the game against Hufflepuff and as such when Gryffindor walked onto the pitch to face their last adversary they felt quite unsure of themselves. With nearly half the team completely unknown to them the fans were worried their usually spectacular side was going to let them down. The cup was still very much up for grabs with no clear-cut leader in the runnings. Gryffindor stood a good chance; if they could beat Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw beat Slytherin in their upcoming match then they would be victorious. It was too many ifs for Mila's liking and she had been stern in her speech to her team.
There was no need though and before many of the spectators had settled down into their seats for an exciting and unknown match it was all over with Leshia's fastest catch of the snitch yet. Though everyone was a little dismayed that their trudge down to the quidditch pitch had been in vein, the Gryffindors were still delightfully happy and threw a little party in honour of the amalgamated team.
The evening's festivities came to an abrupt halt when Parys mysteriously slipped on the stairs and went tumbling down knocking himself out in the process. While he spent the night in the hospital wing the rest of the Blue Lions formed an impromptu meeting to discuss the recent turn of unlucky events. Leshia's mood didn't improve on their way back to the common room as right outside the secret room she bumped into none other than Julius Black who was looking shiftier than ever she saw him.
The final draw in a series of minor attacks on pupils across the school was possibly the most alarming yet; one day, Michael Potter went missing.
At first everyone suspected the boy and his friends were having a laugh, trying to worry the Gryffindors into falling for their practical joke, but when dinner passed and Michael still hadn't turned up everyone sat up and paid attention. Harry and Ginny floo'ed to the castle within seconds of finding out their son was missing and Katie became so upset she withdrew into the curtains of her four-poster bed.
Draco caught the brunt of the worried parents' anger, but he bore it as silently as he could, knowing he would be far less amenable were their situations reversed. If Leshia were missing, he would bring down any who stood in his way until she was back at his side. The fact that he felt guilty for his good friends' child going missing was firmly pushed into the closet full of shame he already felt at being too weak and short sighted to stop what was happening at Hogwarts.
The curfew came about the following day, when with no sign of Michael a squadron of Ministry Aurors were called in to oversee a rescue effort, headed up by Draco himself. Their efforts paid off and on the third day of his disappearance Michael was found, hanging on to dear life by a thread beside a familiar pond Draco had once taken his pupils to. The coincidence was lost on the Aurors, but Draco knew and held the thought privately in his mind, mulling over it whenever he got the chance.
Michael recovered and the school remained open, but there were more than a few terrified parents who pulled their children out as soon as Michael's story broke. The curfew remained and the pupils lived in fear. When they weren't in lessons they were crammed into their common rooms and the library. It was a miserable existence lit up only briefly by the swinging party Gryffindor threw for themselves when Ravenclaw beat Slytherin by ten points, giving way for the Lion's house to claim the Quidditch Cup.
The depressed mindset of the pupils made them very difficult to educate. Had the situation been less dire, then the youngsters would have loved the fun lessons their teachers set for them to try and get them to engage in their work.
Hermione especially had been going all out with her classes and had set the third years a project to make their own ancient rune alphabet in pairs, make their very own clay Rune stones and then they would spend their last lesson of the project deciphering another pair's stone, before writing up a report about their experiences. Katie and Rachel had a wail of a time during the weeklong project; Leshia however found herself fuming as for the second time in her life one of her parents posing as her teacher partnered her up with one of her sworn enemies.
For a week Leshia wouldn't speak to her mother, instead relaying messages through her highly distracted father. Draco seemed to be affected by the curfew more so than the pupils. He had hardly seemed himself for weeks and before Leshia's silent treatment of her mother she had confided in Hermione her concerns for Draco. Why hadn't he solved the mystery yet? What was going to happen if he didn't?
Before their last lesson in which they were going to present their findings to the class Julius requested a library sessions with Leshia, who despite wanting very much to decline, agreed. She didn't want to get a bad mark or this whole damned project would have been in vein.
Their alphabet had gone very well as had their Rune stone, an excellent combination of Leshia's creativity and Julius' fine eye for detail. This combined presentation was proving to be the crux of their partnership; yes, they were actually going to have to talk.
"So you're going to talk about where we got our inspiration from, I'll talk about the key characters, you'll then talk about the filling characters and then we'll both talk about the inspiration for our stone. Agreed?" Leshia stated coldly, not even looking at Julius Black.
"Well that's all well and good, but are we going to write a script or are we just going to wing it?" Leshia stared firmly at the boy and sighed heavily.
"If we must."
"Well you do know this project is counting for a quarter of our mark don't you?" Leshia sighed once more and kicked at the table leg.
"Fine, I'll write my bit and you write your bit. We'll compare them afterwards." No more was said between the two as they got to work. Leshia stuck her tongue out as she concentrated, fully enveloped in what she was writing. She barely noticed Julius Black staring off into space, his quill dancing across her project notes.
"If you actually get started instead of scribbling on my notes we'd be done a lot quicker," Leshia told the boy darkly, reaching out to yank her notes away from the boy. Julius seemed putout and looked down at his hands, seemingly counting to ten.
"This is pointless," he finally exploded frustratingly. "Write what you want, we'll just wing it." With this he picked up his books and stormed out leaving Leshia watching after him in complete and utter confusion; Julius Black had just lost his rag. She didn't even know it was possible. The boy was such a stoical creature; she had only ever seen him deviate slightly from his normal calm exterior. He was a perfect opposite of Leshia the temperamental: Julius the calm.
"Fine, be like that!" Leshia finally mustered to call after him and after fuming for a moment she shoved her pages roughly into her satchel and stared down at the grain of the table.
She missed Owen. When was the last time they had written one another? How long until she saw him again? Without his ever present friendliness around she had rather started to forget him and what it felt like to touch his skin, to see him smile…she missed the closeness they had enjoyed, but now she sat and thought about the boy, she wasn't sure why they had been so close after all.
"Leesh?" Leshia looked up sharply to see Rodeo approaching her cautiously. He looked so consoling and so kind that Leshia had to smile at him.
"Hi Rodeo, what are you doing here?" Leshia indicated the seat Julius had just vacated and after a dashing smile Rodeo dropped down into it.
"Doing some last minute studying for this Care of Magical Creatures test we've got tomorrow. Hagrid wants us to do a practical exam on the best ways of feeding a five mouthed razor fanged scorpion." Leshia's eyes went wide.
"How about with a very long pole?" she finally managed amusedly.
"Very funny kid," the boy laughed. "So what you doing here and what is that?" He instantly made a grab for the impressive rune stone and turned it over in his hands.
"It's this rune stone Julius Black and I made in class," Leshia sighed pensively. Rodeo looked up with one eyebrow raised.
"You and Black?"
"Don't ask, my mum's idea. We were in pairs." Rodeo nodded and shrugged, not saying any more on the matter.
"So what are these things?" The boy was fingering the runes Leshia had roughly carved into the clay that Julius Black had so carefully touched up to look authentic.
"They're runes, the ones that Black and I made up."
"You made them up? What all on your own?" Leshia grinned and shrugged.
"Well, we based them on the Dichotical Scryan Line Type Runes that the Usmanian Tribe of Ghana were using nearly ten thousand years ago, but yeah, basically we made them up." Once more Rodeo stared his friend down before he finally shook his head heavily and placed the rune stone back on the table.
"I am so happy I didn't take Ancient Runes," he exclaimed breathily. Leshia grinned and glanced to the book he was holding: '101 handy tips for dealing with flesh eating pets'. Her grin grew.
"Not as happy as I am that I didn't take Care of Magical Creatures." In the distance the first bell of the evening rang signifying that those who had been escorted to the designated public spaces were to get ready to be chaperoned back to their common rooms. Leshia and Rodeo climbed to their feet.
"We should do this again sometime Malfoy, it's been ages since we actually talked, just you and me." Rodeo seemed so sincere and ashamed.
"Yeah that's because you turned weird on me Holsson, but it's okay. I understand it's because you're a boy."
"What do you mean?" her friend laughed happily, very relieved Leshia wasn't taking this opportunity to turn his humble apology into a rant.
"Well you know, hormones and all that."
"What so you girls don't have hormones? Is that what you're saying?" Leshia grinned at her friend as they reached the queue of surly and impatient looking pupils.
"No, we do have them. It's just that our brains are programmed to think before we act on them, but you lot, you just follow them blindly no matter how much trouble they get you into."
"Isn't that romantic?" Rodeo asked charmingly eliciting a snort of laughter from Leshia.
"It's bloody annoying!" she managed.
"Miss Malfoy calm down." Professor McGonagall was giving Leshia a firm look that screamed fondness for the young Gryffindor.
"Seriously though Leshia, I am sorry I've been so horrible to you lately," Rodeo spoke humbly when the teacher up ahead turned to another group of misbehaving pupils. Leshia looked into the boy's eyes and saw intense shame there; she didn't want him to feel this way.
"Rodes it's fine, really. All's forgiven and forgotten, seriously. So stop being so bleeding serious on me okay?" Rodeo nodded brusquely, amazed at Leshia's multifaceted personality. Sometimes she could seem to cold, aloof and only interested in her own self gain and yet other times she was more selfless than anyone he knew.
"Okay everyone, stay together. No wandering off!" Professor McGonagall would be guiding the library-conscious Gryffindors back to their common room and she took her task very seriously. Leshia and Rodeo lingered at the back of the group, looking around at the dark castle despairingly. Even though it was nine in the evening and on a normal day most of the corridors would be deserted anyway, the prowling teachers around every turn and the tense unease lingering on everyone's faces meant Hogwarts looked like a very different place.
"You ready for exams Malfoy?" Rodeo asked cheerfully moments away from Gryffindor corridor. Leshia grinned and shrugged.
"No not really, but hey, we've got two weeks yet."
"Two weeks? Is that all?" the boy spluttered. "I thought we had more than that!"
"Where have you been all month?" Leshia giggled. "Every lesson we get an earful from the teachers."
"Yeah I just tend to switch off when they get going," Rodeo sighed. "My brain is too tired. I can't wait for summer. Got anything exciting planned?"
"Um, not really. I'll be working at the bookshop again."
"When's your mum going to, you know, have the new baby?" Leshia met Rodeo's eyes and looked pained, before she looked at her feet and shrugged her shoulders.
"Soon I guess, she's absolutely humongous."
"It'll be alright you know." Leshia looked up at him sharply, her eyes cold.
"No offence Rodeo, but how would you know? You're a single child aren't you?" she stated icily. The boy at her side shrugged his shoulders.
"I always wanted a brother or sister. I'm really jealous you know."
"Yeah well as far back as I can remember all I wanted was my mum back, I hadn't counted on getting a little brother or sister to boot. I mean the second she comes back she's having another baby. It's like I'm not enough." She was voicing concerns she hadn't truly admitted to herself yet and the pain was evident on her face. She was feeling completely inadequate and left out by the whole prospect of having a younger sibling. She would be losing her parents.
"Leesh you know your parents worship the ground you walk on. They probably want more kids because they're hoping they'll get another just like you." Leshia sniggered with laughter despite her depression at the thought of the impending new arrival.
"You really do know how to suck up don't you Rodes?" she giggled before she threw her arm around his shoulders. "You're alright Holsson, you're alright."
The impending exams only a fortnight away had sent Hogwarts' bedraggled pupils into a cramming frenzy. The curfew had made it very difficult for the members of the Blue Lions to meet to discuss any more developments in the monster stakes, but finally the Sunday before the exams were due to take place they managed to get everyone together in the Room of Requirement.
The faces of everyone gathered were glum and gaunt looking. Along with the impending tests nobody was getting a good night's sleep, which soon became the subject of everyone's discussion.
"I don't remember any dreams anymore," Sarah Weasley, older cousin of Katie and Rachel, revealed sadly. "Just nightmares." Most of the others nodded in agreement.
"I keep catching shadows behind me, but when I turn around, there's nothing there!" Parys added.
"Well at least no one's getting hurt anymore are they?" Leshia tried to regain control of the situation; everyone looked like they were on the brink of wanting to start a lynch mob. The group members looked to one another for assurance that this was very much the case. Only one hung her head and trembled a little.
"Amy what's wrong?" Katie asked her older cousin. The girl had hardly spoken a word all throughout the meeting and Katie, ever the perceptive one, had been quick to pick up on it. The girl looked up sharply at Katie's words and everyone was shocked to see tears in her eyes.
"What's happened?" Rachel now asked with immense concern, while at Amy's side her best friend and cousin Sarah wrapped a protective arm about her. She of course knew what the matter was and had tried to persuade her friend not to reveal the story…she didn't like the idea of what might follow if she did.
Amy though, could not suffer in silence anymore and with two shaking hands she pulled the collar of her jumper down. As one the Lions winced and withdrew at the sight of the purply black finger marks around the girl's sore and swollen throat.
"Who did that to you?" Luke and Tom Weasley both demanded in unison, anger radiant in their faces at the thought of someone hurting their younger cousin.
"Yesterday morning," the girl managed shakily and a few tears fell from her wide eyes. "I woke up to find…" Amy paused and lifted her terrified eyes to Leshia, who suddenly felt something churn in the pit of her stomach. She didn't like the way this was going. The two girls held each other's gaze, Leshia's brow darkening every moment while Amy grew more and more distressed. "He was crouched over me his hands round his neck. His eyes were so dark, so scary! He didn't look real!" the girl suddenly burst out.
"My dad? You also saw my dad? You're saying he did this to you?" Leshia spoke very slowly. Amy shook from her tears and shook her head.
"It was him, but it wasn't him! I can't explain it." The group lulled into silence unsure of what to do. Leshia looked so dark she could have passed for her father on his darkest of days. Someone had to say something.
"Leshia?" Everyone's heads turned slowly to look at Rachel. Eventually Leshia followed suit and looked to her best friend for guidance. "I know this isn't what you want to hear right now, but that day that I slipped in the bathroom, the day after my fall? Well, the reason I fell was because I saw his reflection. He was right behind me, but when I turned around, he was gone." A silence spread out to the far reaches of the room and Katie, who was sat nearest to Leshia, could have sworn she heard the girl's thudding pulse. Rachel quickly continued, "I don't think it was your dad, that's not what I'm saying. I know he wouldn't do any of this. I know he couldn't. It's just maybe this demon, this monster or whatever it is, maybe it can change shapes."
Again silence ensued while Leshia herself looked near to tears. How could she fight this any longer? Her closest friends simply wouldn't incriminate her father for no reason, and that voice, the one she had heard right before…
"Before I fell over the banister before the holiday," she finally croaked barely louder than whisper. Several of the Lions leant in to hear her better. "I heard him. He was pleading with someone and then I felt it. Maybe this demon is here because of him and that's why he can't seem to find it or identify it. Maybe it's all his fault, because of all the evils he's done in the past?"
"Or maybe it really is a shape shifting demon," Katie spoke firmly now. She couldn't have Leshia publicly oust her father. She wouldn't let her dear friend plunge the nails into her own coffin. "This hasn't got anything to do with your dad Leesh. Right then, everyone's going to have to spend a little time this week researching shape shifters okay? I know it's exams, but we can't let this lie, we're on to a new lead."
The way Katie took charge of everyone was a relief to Leshia, who took the opportunity to make amends to her dad in her mind and in her heart. She felt awful for saying such things about her father, but was more confused than ever about why everything was pointing to him.
When everyone had been told what to do they all filed out. Leshia remained behind to write in the ledger, trying to find an excuse to avoid everyone's prying eyes. Rachel and Katie tried to remain at her side, but Leshia was adamant they leave her to it. In the silence of the comfortable room Leshia crumbled and the tears rolled down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry dad," she cried into the gloom. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it…" Leshia dropped her face into her knees, hugging them tightly to her chest to squeeze away her shame and pain. She was afraid; afraid that now she knew of Draco's past misdeeds, his treachery towards her mother and their dearest friends that she would never truly trust him again. What if this was all his fault?
The door to the room creaked open and a figure crept in. Leshia went rigid as a feeling of dread crept down her spine. Despite herself she started panting and the hairs on the back of her neck and arms stood to attention. Bracing herself for the worst Leshia looked up sharply just about catching sight of a dark head of hair disappearing out the door before it was promptly pulled shut. In an instant Leshia was on her feet sniffing her tears away firmly. Was that…? Surely not! How could he have found the room? How did he get in? Leshia ran out into the corridor beyond to find it deserted. Shivering against the chill that swept up her spine Leshia shook herself out of her mood. She had to get a grip!
"Leshia?" The girl spun around and found her father standing only a few yards behind her. Before he knew what was going on she had lunged forward and hugged him firmly. "What's happened? Why are you alone? You know the rules."
"I was just catching up with Rachel, she rushed ahead to go to the toilet, but I thought I heard something suspicious and stayed behind." The lie sprung to her lips without her even needing to think about it. Draco, though knowing she wasn't being quite truthful, believed her nonetheless.
"Why have you been crying?" he asked brusquely and finally managed to push his daughter back to look into her bloodshot eyes.
"You don't want to know," Leshia said stubbornly. "And I don't really want to tell you." Draco furrowed his brow in slight annoyance, but he had no right to push her. Suspecting teenage dramas to be the source of her upset he instead dragged her into the crook of his arm and led her towards the portrait of the fat lady.
"I don't care if you were only on your own for a few minutes sweetheart, you shouldn't be out here alone at all!" he said as they walked, returning to the one arena where he held complete control: discipline.
"Well if I have to catch you again you'll find yourself having to stay with your mum and me until the end of term. Got it?" Leshia's eyes went wide at the prospect of constant supervision and nodded quickly.
"Got it," she stated firmly.
"I mean it Leshia. You have no idea how dangerous times are at the moment; I don't want anything to happen to you. Your mother would never let me hear the end of it," Draco chuckled. Leshia laughed half-heartedly along with him, wanting very much to ask him if he had any idea of the dangerous times they were living in.
"Dad when are you going to put a stop to all this?" she finally asked dolefully. Draco leaned back slightly and regarded her with a calculating expression. "It's really boring having a curfew and all my friends, well they're scared."
"Are you scared?" her father finally asked gravely and after a moment's thought Leshia shook her head.
"Not yet." The pair held each other's gaze until finally Draco shook his head quickly as though shaking himself out a trance and hugged his daughter firmly.
"I'll fix it. I promise. Now go and study, my exam first thing tomorrow? Did you forget? Why aren't you in there swotting up?" Leshia grinned and hugged him back firmly.
"Why do I need to study, you'll give me an O no matter what I do. I don't even have to turn up," she joked cheerfully. Draco laughed and pulled back with a warning look.
"Just try it shorty and you'll find yourself sitting third year all over again."
"Well just think how little work I'd have to do if I've done it all before." Draco chuckled and ruffled his daughter's hair.
"Go and study, I'll see you bright and early in the morning." Leshia beamed at him and nodded happily, feeling entirely comforted from her earlier upset. Inside the common room was deserted as everyone was up in their dormitories cramming for the start of exams. Up in the third year girls' dorm there was no exception; the girls were concentrating hard on their Defence Against the Dark Arts notes and only broke for air when Leshia walked in.
"Are you okay Leesh?" Rachel demanded and she jumped to her feet. The blonde girl smiled charmingly at her friend.
"I'm fine, really. Now come on, can someone remind me about the Kappa Tribe warfare thing, because I think I've just completely blocked that one out."
That night the girls got to bed at four in the morning, when the early morning sun was creeping over the misty horizon.
Monday's exams consisted of a three hour morning Defence Against the Dark Arts exam that had the children leaving the room with their heads hanging in despair and an afternoon three hour long Charms exam that ended much more positively. All in all it had been a mixed, but overall satisfactory day of testing and when the girls climbed in to bed much later on when once more the clock was climbing into the wee hours of the morning, they were feeling good about their odds.
This feeling of wellbeing was about to change.
Leshia awoke to the sounds of a high-pitched scream. Before she had struggled into full consciousness and prized her eyes open another scream joined the first.
"What?" she managed and she sat up, pushing her hands down onto the bed to sit up. Her hands clutched at damp sheets. Leshia's eyes flew open, though she immediately regretted it; she was covered in dark red blood. In terror Leshia scrambled up her bed and looked her body over for injuries.
"Leesh don't move!" Katie cried out. "Ash go and get help!"
"What's happened to me?"
"You're cut Leesh and it's bad, just don't move," Katie insisted while at her side Rachel was trembling from head to toe at the sight of their best friend. All across Leshia's shoulders and neck deep gashes were sliced painfully into her skin. The fact that she had survived an unknown amount of time since this brutal attack had occurred was a miracle and Katie didn't want Leshia panicking more than she had to.
"Where am I cut?" Leshia demanded, reaching up to feel her neck. Her hand instantly recoiled and she started panting. "I'm…I can't…what…"
"Leesh please," Katie pleaded and she rushed to the blonde girl's side, sitting down next to her and pushing her down firmly to keep her still. A tear rolled down her pale cheek. "Please don't move!"
While Rachel wept Katie kept Leshia contained enough for Ashley to get help in the form of Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfry. The healer managed to heal the cuts in moments, but insisted on levitating Leshia to the hospital wing to give her some rejuvenating potion to bring her blood levels back up.
That day Leshia had to do her exams from the hospital wing. It was hardly fair she thought to herself, her mind would not leave the fact that she had nearly died in her sleep. Whoever was attacking everyone was getting angry and desperate with the end of term nearing. How were the teachers going to respond to this one?
"My dear pupils. Owing to recent developments I am very sorry to announce that until the end of term your dormitories are going to be monitored regularly by the staff to ensure your safety," Albus Dumbledore announced over dinner that evening. The incredulous pupils, those who had not witness Leshia's brush with death, stared at him with open mouths. "We do not wish to invade your privacy, but the situation has become dire. I am afraid to say that if we cannot solve this matter over the summer, then we will not be reopening for the new term."
Had Leshia thought the situation could get any worse, she was gravely mistaken, as shortly after dinner Hermione and Draco approached their daughter telling her that she was to be staying with them until further notice. The angry looks on their faces meant Leshia had no choice.
She sunk to an all time low.
"How's the revision going?" Leshia looked up from her work at the dining table to see her incredibly massive mother wobble in. Just how it was physically possible for her to be so big was completely beyond the young girl, who felt a stab of anger and pain whenever she saw her pregnant mother glowing with happiness.
It was late and the family had already been for dinner in the great hall; a point of contention that Leshia had insisted upon so that she could still see her friends while serving her sentence at her parents' quarters. Indeed, Draco had just got back from escorting Rachel and Katie back to Gryffindor Tower. They had spent most of the week with Leshia at the Malfoys' revising together so it didn't really matter where they were, but how this little arrangement was going to work after their last exam in the morning, Leshia wasn't sure. They couldn't truly 'hang out' at her parents' place for two weeks until the holidays. Could they?
"It would go even better if you could tell me the answers," Leshia replied with a cheeky smile. It was fortunate that Runes, the hardest of her subjects, was her last exam. She had spent all week going over Character sheets and timelines, trying to cement the complicated knowledge in her mind. Her last order of the day was to go over the project she and Julius Black had done together.
"Now what sort of mother would I be if I helped you cheat your way through life?" Hermione chuckled adoringly.
"A much loved one," Leshia grumbled. From the settee in front of the fire Draco looked up from his marking and smiled broadly at his wife.
"If it's so easy to win her love, I'd say go for it," he suggested cheerfully. His smile was such a rare feature on his handsome face that both Leshia and Hermione looked at him with wide eyes, trying to savour the moment while it lasted. Draco Malfoy had become almost as reclusive as he was back in his Ministry Days.
"I hate it that you're both teachers," Leshia finally broke the silence with a grumble. She was joking, but only just. "Now would you both be quiet, I'm trying to remember Pentathic Veran Round Type Runes to compare with the alphabet Black and I made up and your yapping isn't helping me. Man, you would never get this in the library!" Hermione obediently kept quiet and joined Draco at the coffee table where her sixth years' exams lay waiting to be marked. She had no doubt in her daughter's abilities; Leshia had suffered a slow start to Runes, but had since become one of the more competent members of the clever group.
At the dining table Leshia sighed heavily and leafed through her notes, flicking through them as though a cartoon was drawn in its pages waiting to be brought to life by the quick interchanges between the pages. Suddenly she stopped and stared at the scraggly script on the page in a handwriting that wasn't her own.
"Mord…" she uttered and turned her head to read the words. "Gist? Gest? Geist? Mordgeist?" Quickly she pulled the sheet of notes out and recognised the script as Julius Black's doodles. Each one read the strange word 'Mordgeist'.
"Mordgeist?" the girl spoke aloud again in complete and uttered confusing.
"What did you just say?" Leshia looked up quickly to see her father had risen to his feet, his face as dark as a thundercloud.
"Mordgeist. Why? Dad what's wrong?" Draco Malfoy's face had gone as white as a sheet.
"Darling? Are you alright?" Hermione chimed in concernedly.
"Dad what's a Mordgeist?" Leshia asked urgently; everything was falling into place. Whatever was attacking them all was a Mordgeist, whatever that was, and the realisation was evidently dawning on her father at this very moment.
"Um…" Draco started backing towards the door slowly.
"Draco don't you dare," Hermione called after him firmly. "Don't you dare walk out that…"
"I'll be back!" With this the young man was gone leaving his wife and child staring after him in anger and surprise. He didn't return all night and when Hermione finally shepherded Leshia to bed so that she would be well rested for her morning exam the girl's mind was whirring. Julius Black's involvement in this whole sordid affair was blurry to her. Was he trying to save her or boast about his achievements? How was she going to learn more about these Mordgeists? Why had Draco gone so pale?
"If only I had Katie's cloak I could go to the library. All those books, there must be…" Leshia paused and Julius' cryptic message finally made sense in her mind. Many moons ago his intrusion into her researching, the day he had left that strange old book on her table…those dark horrible eyes of the man's depiction on the page had lain right below the title 'Mordgeist'.
"The book!" she cried out. "The book that's in the library, but not a library book. It's his book!"
For Leshia the Runes exam could not have gone by any slower. She raced through her questions, scribbling down in a script only her mother would be able to read and then waited out the remainder of the exam time impatiently. Finally Hermione gave the class leave to go and as Leshia raced out she beamed at her mother to let her know that despite her mind only being half on the exam, it had gone well.
"What is up with you Leesh? Let's go outside with everybody else. The exams are over! We have to celebrate!" Rachel called after the blonde girl as she led her friends towards the library.
"What we have to do is go to the library."
"Oh no! Are you mad?" Rachel complained exasperatedly. "Leesh we just finished our exams for goodness sake."
"I swear this is good Rach, now come on and hurry up, I'm not sure it it'll still be there!" This caught her friends' attention and they followed Leshia against the mainstream exodus of the castle until they reached the library where only as few older year pupils were cramming before their afternoon exams. Leshia dragged her friends over to the table she had been sitting at that day when Julius had put the blatant clue right under her nose and found it, quite naturally, free of any books. Madam Pince was very efficient in keeping her library presentable.
"Argh, it's not here!"
"Leesh I'm not taking another step till you tell us what's going on," Rachel insisted and she crossed her arms bemusedly. Leshia looked from one unimpressed face to the next before she sighed and dropped down at the table. Her friends quickly joined her.
"A few weeks ago when Julius Black and I had to do that project together in Runes he wrote the word Mordgeist all over my notes without me noticing what he was doing. He then stormed off when I didn't even look at them."
"And?" Katie managed when Leshia paused, waiting for a reaction from her friends.
"Well ages ago when he interrupted me in my research he left this great big book on the table and even though I didn't think anything of it at the time, it was open on this page that talked all about these Mordgeist things." Katie was now getting the picture even if Rachel wasn't.
"It was his book wasn't it?" the raven-haired girl spoke slowly in a far away voice. "That riddle you told us that he told you, about finding the answer in a book in the library. He left you his book!"
"I know," Leshia sighed sounding pained. "And I was too stupid not to read it at the time and now it's gone. There's more though, last night I said it aloud, you know, Mordgeist and my dad, well he went totally pale and stormed out. I think he knows what's going on at last."
"Well at least one of us does," Rachel finally grumbled tetchily. "Will one of you tell me what the heck is going on?"
"Julius Black has been trying to help Leshia all year. He's known what's going on and has been trying to help, but we didn't figure it out till just now," Katie explained patiently. "And if we can find this book her left for Leesh then we'll know what we're up against."
Rachel thought it over for a moment.
"Come on, let's go ask Madam Pince," Leshia announced as soon as the look of realisation dawned on her freckled friend's face. The girls spared no time in racing over to the frightening librarian's desk where she looked up at them sternly.
"Yes?" she asked threateningly, wondering what the girls were after, as their exams must have finished by now.
"I left a book in here a few months ago and I was just wondering if you might still have it lying around," Leshia lied easily. Madam Pince stared her down over the top of her round spectacles.
"What sort of book?"
"Well it was big and old and I just realised it's missing. Last time I had it was here." Feeling incredibly scrutinised Leshia held her ground while Madam Pince stared her down, until finally she nodded over to a pile of abandoned books on a trolley in a dusty corner of the library.
"Best look over there." The girls raced off with Madam Pince's warning to calm down ringing in their ears and then spent the next ten minutes pawing over the trolley for the book that matched Leshia's description.
"It's not here!" Katie wailed. "What are we going to do?" Leshia leaned back and thought hard, grinding her teeth hard.
"Come on, I've got an idea."
Julius Black lay back under the shade of the great tree just within hearing range of his housemates. He could always be found lurking in the shadows, not quite a part of the group, but near enough to be included in the gossip, the plans, the treachery and the wickedness that plagued the house and its members. He was very happy the exams were over, but was growing more concerned. Their completion meant soon it would be too late to complete what he had set out to do, if only that damn Malfoy girl weren't so stubborn…
As though he had summoned her with his thoughts Julius Black looked up to see Alecia Malfoy storming across the grass towards him. In her wake her friends followed breathlessly, matching looks of concern on their faces, which contrasted so with the determined fury on Leshia's. In a second Julius was on his feet ready to head Leshia off lest she reveal too much.
"You! I need to have a word with you!" the girl called out and across the grounds the Slytherins stopped what they were doing to watch. Julius Black grinded his teeth together. By now Leshia was within yards of him. "What the hell is a Mordgeist?" The dark boy had not been expecting this and despite himself his face fell forward a little, looking, for the first time in his school career, worried. Katie and Rachel noticed even if Leshia was too angry to see.
Across the grounds the Slytherins were looking at one another and approaching closer so that they could hear better. Julius Black wasn't taking any chances; before Leshia knew what was going on he'd grabbed her arm and dragged her away with her friends in pursuit.
"Don't you ever use your brain Malfoy?" he demanded angrily.
"Not here!" Leshia wrenched her arm from his grip and stopped walking.
"Yes here! Just tell me…" Julius wheeled on her, his expression entirely incredulous. Why had it been entrusted to someone so foolish and stubborn? How on Earth had it happened? "What is a Mordgeist?" the girl pressed.
"Shut up!" Julius exclaimed fervently, cracks of fear snaking through his stoical façade. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes you do! I know you…"
"Malfoy shut up and listen, because I am only going to say this once and after that I shall pretend you do not exist. Understood?" Julius interrupted hoarsely. In the distance the Slytherins were catching up with them. Leshia nodded quickly, the look of anger still etched into her striking features. "Don't trust your eyes. Shut them if you have to I don't care, just don't believe what you're seeing! Trust your instincts! They won't guide you wrong." With this Julius stepped away from her and gave her such a look of urgency and pleading that Katie dragged the girl away. She didn't tear her eyes from Julius' face until she was manually forced round by her friends and led back up to the castle.
In their wake Julius stayed routed to the spot his heart going a million miles a minute until finally the burley Slytherins caught up with him.
"What was that little argy bargy about Black?" Damian Allseyer demanded with only a hint of his usual cockiness; he wouldn't dare unleash it all on such an enigma as Julius Black.
"She thinks I'm to blame for all the attacks," Julius lied easily, turning his cold eyes on the ringleader of the sorry group of teenagers. "Threatened to rat me out to her father." Damian Allseyer smiled while his friends laughed wildly. Inwardly Julius sighed from relief, he was going to get away with it this time, but in future he was going to have to be more careful.
"You know, I think I'm actually going to miss Blood Traitor when she's gone."
Leshia's imprisonment lasted after the exams finished and even though her friends were regular extras in the Malfoy homestead, Leshia was sure she was going to go mad. Their regular appearances made up for the fact that Draco was rarely home anymore and when he was he was in Leshia's small room that doubled as a library and was not to be disturbed. Leshia's pestering of him about what a Mordgeist was had not helped matters. It was a sorry state of affairs and by Thursday Leshia had had enough of being so clueless and called a Blue Lions meeting, even if it meant skipping the curfew that started right after lessons ended.
She was the last to make her way from the History of Magic classroom to the Room of Requirement. She had been called to stay behind due when it became evident that she was asleep; whether it was the fact that she was snoring lightly or when she dropped her head down onto the table that alerted Professor Binns the girl wasn't sure, but she was very happy to have talked her way out of detention, even if it meant being ten minutes late for the meeting.
The hallways were deserted as usual and Leshia rushed off so as not to be alone for too long. Half way to the Tapestry though she skidded to a halt on the nicely polished floor; she wasn't alone. Very slowly she turned around to find a tall figure lurking in the shadows of the corridor.
"Dad?" she called out uneasily. She would recognise his stature even in near-darkness. Something however, wasn't quite right.
"I need to show you something," he spoke in the faraway voice she had heard the day she fell from the stairs and ended up in St Mongos. The girl gulped.
"Come out of the shadows. You're scaring me." On command her father obeyed. He was soaking wet. Leshia looked into his eyes and felt her heart skip a beat. Here she was, face to face with the Mordgeist.
"Okay," she managed brightly. "Show me." The serious coldness in the creature's eyes remained, but he stepped backwards and walked into the dark open doorway he had been lingering by. Leshia steadied herself and counted to ten. The day of reckoning had arrived. Without a glance back she stepped into the dark.