Draco sighed heavily as he stared at the statue of the phoenix. What was he thinking? The note…that third terrible note had arrived a few days ago, putting demands on him that he was unable to deliver on, threatening him with exposition should he fail to retrieve the objects on the list; oh what a list it was. The items scrawled down in neat script were the recipe to a resurrection. To be more precise, the worst resurrection of them all. Could Draco take part in such a plot? Could he fall back into the dark, to where the world stopped still and Voldemort consumed his every thought and action? Yes, Voldemort. His former master was returning, Draco could feel it in his bones and in the ache of his flesh beneath the repugnant dark mark. The items the blackmailer had demanded could be retrieved by Draco only and that was why he had been chosen, but surely the safety of the Wizarding community was worth more than Draco's reputation…worth more than his family?
"No," the young man hissed despite himself into the empty corridor. His mind flew to his poor wife and child…he'd lose them. If they found out what he was, what he was capable of and what he had done, then he would lose them for good. He couldn't take that chance, or could he? "Sugar Spider," the young man exclaimed in defeat, causing the statue before him to swirl into the heavens, giving passage to the stairwell that would lead Draco to the one man he could trust.
Albus Dumbledore sat behind his desk with a heavy frown of concern upon his face. Here before him stood the most troubled young man he had come across in a long time, and the reasons for Draco's doubt made old Albus worry.
"Draco, you look as though the weight of the world has been dropped onto your shoulders. What could be troubling you so my good friend?" The young man dropped his head slightly, his eyes resting on the edge of Albus Dumbledore's old grand desk. He remained silent. "It seems once more you have come here for council, though what you want to hear you do not know." Draco nodded very slowly, feeling like a little boy in front of the venerable old headmaster.
"I'm losing…" he began, cutting off his words to think of the best way to explain, 'The plot' 'Control' 'My mind' 'My family'… "I'm losing the way," Draco finally decided, looking up into the old man's eyes, desperately seeking out guidance. Old Albus Dumbledore smiled.
"You were jolly lucky to have found it in the first place my boy," he chuckled jovially. "For I have never had such a privilege. 'The way' has been clouded for me many a year."
"Well then how do you know what to do?" Draco asked with a furrowed brow. "You always know what to do." Once more the old headmaster chuckled.
"With life's infinite number of choices, any number can be the 'right choice'. There is no certain path in this life Draco, nor in the next. We certainly like to think of ourselves traversing a path set out for us by the ages, but live as long as I have and you will soon find out that we make our own destiny." Draco hung his head once more. "You must do what you have to do Draco."
Slowly, Draco lifted his grey eyes to those of his friend. What had the old man just said? 'You must do what you have to do.' Did Albus Dumbledore know Draco's dilemma? Did he know about Draco's past?
"Now then, I hate to leave you, but I have to see Argus about this year's Christmas decorations. Last year I was sneezing from December to January with all the Mistletoe he'd pinned about the place. Do excuse me." With this the old man climbed to his feet and ambled from the study, leaving Draco stood beside the desk, having risen to see the old man out, staring around himself with a heavy frown on his face. The paintings on the walls lay bear as all their occupants had sauntered after Dumbledore to see Filch's reaction at being told his decorations weren't up to scratch. Draco was well and truly alone.
Leshia ran until she couldn't run any longer, at which point she dropped down onto an out of the way spiral staircase and hung her head. Tears were streaming down her face, as they had done since that moment she saw Owen Gabriel and Valerie Beckett canoodling.
"Why does he even like her?" the young girl wailed to the stone walls. "She's horrid!" Unable to understand her own emotions, after all she didn't even like Owen Gabriel, at least not in that way, Leshia was despairing. Surely she was losing her mind? Her symptoms weren't those of teenage hood, no, they were all warning signs of insanity!
The young girl sniffed pathetically in the cold stairwell. It was her birthday in the morning. She would be fourteen years old, and with the extra year surely a dozen more problems would arise. By the time she hit twenty the girl imagined she would be riddled with such problems she would have to be locked up in St Mongos for her own good and everybody else's.
Fast footsteps sounded up the corridor. Not wanting to be seen in such an embarrassing state Leshia pulled her feet up hugging her knees to her chest and sank into the shadows. The footsteps were getting closer, until suddenly a tall figure strode past the entrance to the tower stairwell and would have continued on his path had Leshia not called out,
Draco slid to a halt and spun around just barely catching sight of his daughter tucked into the stairwell. The heavy bag in his hand burned him with shame and Draco wanted more than anything to turn and run, but there sat his daughter, crying over some new trauma in her life, finally seemingly forgiving him for trying to ruin it.
"Leshia?" the young man finally replied and he strode across the corridor toward the girl, artfully hiding the bag by blocking it with his body. The young girl watched him the whole way until he reached her side.
"I'm sorry," she squeaked, before her face crumpled into tears again and she dropped her face into her knees, hugging them close to her chest with her arms. Without hesitation Draco placed the bag he held between his feet before he sat down beside his child, wrapping two arms about her protectively. What had happened now?
"What's happened?" Leshia shook her head quickly.
"It's nothing," she cried. "I don't even understand it." Draco knitted his brow together and anticipated a problem he was definitely not going to understand.
"Well maybe I can help. What happened?"
"It's Owen," Leshia wept freely, her uncontrollable emotions running riot. Draco seized up a little: Owen Gabriel. What had that scoundrel done to his little girl?
"What did he do to you?" Leshia must have heard the ferocity in her father's tone, because she suddenly looked up desperately.
"Nothing! That's just it. That's why I don't understand it. I just ran into him kissing Valerie Beckett from Ravenclaw, and then this happened." The young girl indicated her pouring face, at which she rubbed with her sleeves, sniffing loudly to stave her pathetic tears. Draco felt helpless; how could he stop her from growing up and having these problems? How could he protect her from time? "I just don't know why," the girl was continuing. "Because I mean, I don't even like Owen, not like that." Not wanting to disagree with the girl (though seeing the truth of the situation) Draco smiled gently and stroked her wild curls from her face.
"Want me to take a hit out on him?" he suggested, deadly serious in his question. Leshia, mistaking his intentions for mirth, chuckled lightly.
"No, that's okay dad," she sighed and then rubbed her face once more. Her had tears almost totally subsided. "I'm such an idiot."
"I'm not arguing with you on that one." Leshia beamed up at her father.
"I'm sorry I was horrid. Again. I just can't seem to stop myself." Draco sighed and finally allowed a small smile onto his face.
"I'm sorry too," he said softly. "I shouldn't have handled it the way I did. We were both in the wrong."
"Does mum hate me?" Leshia asked worriedly.
"No she doesn't hate you," Draco countered firmly. "She's wondering what she did to deserve a daughter like you, but…" Leshia laughed loudly cutting off her father's lies, seeing them for the fibs that they were. "Come on," Draco exclaimed and he climbed to his feet, lifting the bag up into his hand as he went. "You should come and apologise to your mother." Leshia nodded and allowed herself to be helped off the step, though her eyes never left the sack in her father's hand.
"What's in the bag?" she asked curiously as the pair of them set off down the corridor, Draco's arm loosely hanging about her shoulders.
"Your birthday presents," Draco lied easily, thinking of the perfect way to stop Leshia from looking in the bag.
"Really? Can I see?" the young girl asked hopefully.
"You most certainly cannot."
Rachel's brow was furrowed so much she looked like an old woman as she leant over the large piece of decorated card with her wand. Her brilliant idea of making a card for Leshia had backfired when she realised the spell work she needed to make all the various components do as they were told was far too advanced for her years. Where her original plan had included a triumphant broom-riding Leshia catching the snitch as it tried to leap out of the card, her actual version simply showed a singed vaguely Leshia-shaped piece of card jittering about the sky erratically.
"Oh this is rubbish," the redhead groaned, before she dropped her wand onto the table and her chin into her palms. Across the table Katie was smirking while she kept her own head bent over her Potions homework. "What are you grinning at?"
"Oh nothing," Katie remarked lightly. "I just hate to say I told you so."
"You know," Rachel mused, shoving her pathetic attempt at a homemade birthday card to the side. "You've been in an awfully good mood these last few weeks."
"Yeah, and you still haven't told me about what happened on Halloween between you and Rodeo," the redhead was continuing.
"Yes I have," Katie countered chirpily.
"Um no, you haven't. You've spun me some cock and bull story that nothing happened, but I know you Katie Potter, so spill." Katie sighed witheringly, but before she could defend herself with lies the door to the common room swung open and instinctively Rachel dived to cover her artwork with a discarded jumper. False alarm, it was only Rodeo, the Weasley cousins and Mila returning from practice, chatting excitedly about their progress. Rachel sighed with relief and pulled the jumper off her artwork.
"Oops," Rachel grimaced when she saw the sparkles she had deposited on the jumper. Not knowing who's it was, the girl tossed it across the common room with a guilty expression on her face. "I wonder where Leesh is." Katie now looked up, her eyes turning glassy when she caught Rodeo grinning at her. Rachel tried very hard to ignore the look that had passed between the pair of them.
"Owen's not come back yet either, maybe they're together?" Katie proposed with eyebrows raised suggestively. Rachel rolled her eyes.
"For some reason I don't think Leshia's gone off with Owen Gabriel behind the bleachers." Katie grinned even more and shrugged her shoulders. "Hey Rodes, where's Leshia got to?" Rachel called to the boy as he headed past them to change.
"Stayed behind to get some extra practice in, she probably feels crap about wiping out last Saturday," he explained, before he disappeared up the stairs. Within ten minutes he was back however, changed into something more comfortable and holding a small bundle of tools and a little clay figurine.
"Wow, what's that?" Rachel pressed, peering over Rodeo's shoulder when he dropped down next to her at the table. Katie too looked interestedly at what the boy was doing.
"It's for Leshia's birthday," the boy explained proudly. "See it's a little model of her on her broom. I'm nearly done painting it and then I'll try and make it fly, just like that model of Lukas Krosovitch that she loves."
The young man leant back and revealed that yes, the tiny model was an exact replica of Leshia riding her broom, dressed in quidditch robes that the boy was in the process of painting in personalised colours. It was a beautiful and thoughtful little gift, clearly revealing how much Rodeo cared about Leshia. Katie, who had only received a book from the boy, sniffed loudly and turned back to her work, her heart racing in jealousy.
"Aw Rodes you softy," Rachel giggled, but she had to admire the boy's handiwork. He was definitely very talented. The redhead was well aware of her cousin's sudden icy demeanour, but she was choosing to ignore it and hoping Rodeo would do the same. He should not be made to feel guilty about making Leshia a nice birthday present.
"That's really coming along," Parys' voice came before moments later he appeared at his best friend's side. "Hey," the boy chuckled. "This is a right Leshia appreciation society over here."
"What did you make her?" Katie asked, a hint of spite in her voice. Rachel glared sharply at her cousin, warning her to stop it. Parys shrugged.
"Me? I'm not the arty type," he replied simply.
"He's lying, he's put together a really nice scrapbook for her. It's mainly pictures, but there's also loads of notes from kids round the school and news clippings and stuff," Rodeo explained, showing off when Parys didn't seem to want to.
"Rodes, it's a secret mate!"
"Yeah but not from them," Rodeo countered amusedly. Across the table Katie huffed loudly, feeling furious that Rodeo referred to her as though she were nothing but a bystander. Rodeo and Parys briefly frowned at the girl in confusion.
"News clippings?" Rachel pressed, trying to distract them from her cousin's antics.
"Yeah, well not exactly a reputable paper…more like the Hogwarts Tribune really," Parys explained with a shrug. "But hey, she's been in loads of their articles." Rachel giggled and nodded.
"That sounds amazing," she said truthfully. "Leshia'll be chuffed!"
"Have you just come over here to gloat?" Rachel and the boys stared in surprise at Katie. What had she just said?
"Uh, no," Parys tried awkwardly. "Actually I was looking for my jumper."
"Really?" Rachel said loudly, her cheeks glowing bright red with guilt. Parys instantly saw she had something to hide.
"Yeah, really. What did you do with it?"
"Parys Jackson, I'll have you know…"
"There's a jumper lying behind the sofa mate," Rodeo told his friend, who back stepped until he came across the besparkled pile of fabric lying on the floor.
"Rachel!" the boy accused, but a grin was pulling at the corners of his mouth.
"Yes?" Rachel replied innocently.
"How the hell am I going to wear this now?" Parys demanded as he held the sparkly jumper up to his front. Rachel beamed at him.
"I think it brings out the colour of your eyes," she tried charmingly, eliciting hearty laughter from both boys and even a giggle from moody Katie. After collecting some homework Parys joined his friends at the table to work, which they did in relative silence until the door to the common room burst open once more. Both Rodeo and Rachel hurried to hide their work, but it was once again unnecessary, as the new arrival was only Owen Gabriel.
"He looks pleased with himself," Rachel remarked and indeed, the boy had a huge Cheshire cat grin from ear to ear.
"He's a twat," Rodeo grumbled, turning back on his work with a heavily knitted brow.
"What?" Rachel laughed. "Since when?"
"Since forever all right?" With this the topic was closed, though Rachel was very curious as to why the boy hated Owen Gabriel so much. Just before the group were considering sending out a search party for Leshia the door to the common room flew open again revealing the enigmatic young girl grinning broadly. This time Rachel and Rodeo were quick to hide their birthday gifts in Katie's satchel – she only mildly objected – before Leshia had bounded over to them and dropped down at the head of the table.
"You look happy," Rachel remarked.
"That's because I am happy," Leshia replied happily.
"Oh yeah, why what happened?" Parys inquired.
"I'm a Malfoy again."
"Well it's about blimming time," Rachel chuckled. "You aren't half stubborn when you want to be Leesh." The blonde girl grinned.
"That's why you love me," she said happily. "I'm starved. Who's up for some dinner?" After a general consensus of yes the small group climbed to their feet and started drifting towards the door.
"Parys," Leshia enquired with a furrowed brow, as she regarded the boy with her head cocked to the side. "We're another month or so off Christmas. You do know that right?"
"Oh haha very funny," Parys grumbled while the others laughed raucously. "Blame Rachel."
"Why, what did she do?" Rachel gave the boy an urgent look.
"Uh, nothing much, bit of an accident really," he then tried, doing a poor job in covering up for his giveaway. Leshia though wasn't buying it, and she was frowning suspiciously at her friends.
"You guys are up to something, and I don't like it."
"Oh my God I love it!" Leshia squealed with joy when she tore the paper of the parcel Parys had handed to her. Curled up on the sofa in the common room Rachel and Katie had dragged Leshia down first thing in the morning to receive gifts from all her friends. So now here she sat in her pyjamas, surrounded by a mountain of discarded wrapping paper and gifts. No one else was up yet aside from the third years, so they had the run of the place to themselves. "Parys this is amazing!"
"Yeah, it's okay," the boy stated shyly, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. Leshia beamed at him and after discarding the book in Rachel's lap she jumped to her feet and hugged her friend firmly. Glowing bright red Parys hugged her back and then had to clear his voice several times. By the time he'd stopped Leshia was back on the sofa tearing the delicate paper off the small gift Rodeo had handed her.
"Wow," the girl marvelled when she tore the paper clear from the hovering model of herself. "Rodes this is…"
"God somebody's finally gone and done it," Rachel laughed.
"What?" Rodeo asked worriedly. Leshia still hadn't said anything.
"You actually made Leshia speechless," Rachel laughed. "Good job."
"This is so cool," the birthday girl finally managed and she looked up with thankful eyes. "Thanks Rodeo, it's amazing!" He too received a hug, which he took with more grace than his best friend. In fact, he didn't want to let the girl go and it was clear on his face. Eventually though Leshia pulled away from him and as his was the last present in line, started clearing up the wrapping paper. Once up in their dormitory Leshia proudly displayed her cards on her bedside table (making sure Rachel's haphazard attempt that was still very dear to Leshia for the thought of it was at the front) and strew her presents out on the bed to tinker with later.
There was no time for examining them now, because breakfast would soon be served and if Leshia got caught up in them now, then she would surely get lost in them for a few hours. After dressing promptly the third years ambled down to the breakfast, finding themselves the first ones to reach the glorious table where they dived upon the food hungrily. Before they could quite fill their stomachs with breakfast however, Leshia found herself the subject of a loud, raucous, out-of-tune yet entirely endearing rendition of 'Happy Birthday to you'.
It was turning out to be a fantastic birthday, only made better by the arrival of Draco and Hermione, who showered their daughter with presents and affection. Leshia pretended to be terribly embarrassed by their open adoration of her, but they could see how in her element their daughter felt. Even lessons seamed much more enjoyable and easy going than normal and by the time the last lesson of the day, Defence Against the Dark Arts came along, Leshia was quite sure this was the best birthday she'd ever had. Even Damian Allseyer's jeering and teasing failed to get a reaction from the girl.
"Do you hear anything?" the girl asked her friends with a confused expression on her face. Damian Allseyer turned fuming from the girl, hissing something under his breath at his friends, which elicited cruel laughter from them. Only one Slytherin hung his head and shut his eyes; something had to be done. Light footsteps signified Professor Malfoy was on his way and everyone darted into line, their hands flying to their hems in order to check whether their shirts were tucked in. By the time Draco reached them they were all presentable. Draco too seemed in an abnormally good mood on this day, though it had little to do with Leshia's birthday, as much as the girl wished to think so.
"In," Draco told his class after glancing them up and down, and as was his usual way he held the door open and watched each youngster as they filed past him. Leshia alone of her peers offered the teacher a huge beaming grin, which he couldn't help but smirk amusedly at.
"Get in," he chuckled at the girl. Once all the children had found their seats Draco took up the front of the classroom and spun his blackboard round to reveal groups of five. Most of the youngsters were grouped with friends; Leshia, Katie, Rachel, Rodeo and Parys all found themselves in the same group. Evidently Draco was trying to get the groups to work most effectively with each other.
"Today we will be working in groups," he explained to the class. "So if everybody would like to rearrange the desks into the groups on the board." The scraping of eager youngsters moving about the classrooms with their desks in tow soon filled the air and within no time they had completed this task. "Well that was painless," Draco remarked. "The name of today's lesson is Tribal Warfare. Today we will be preparing for a role-play game. Each of you will play a different tribe of Kappa. If you remember, last week we spent a lot of time discussing the animosity that has existed between the different Kappa tribes of Britain. Next lesson we're going to have a mock battle and we will see who has built up the strongest colony in today's lesson, for which I'm going to provide each of you with various resources." A murmur of appreciative yeses went up around the classroom; never before had they ever done something so fun in Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Leshia and her friends were given the Palaku tribe, found in the waterways of southern England, and were soon underway trying to research the history of the tribe in order to better answer questions in the quiz portion of the role-play. Draco explained a little more about the game that they would be playing saying that in order to get battle points the children would have to answer questions about their tribes. It was a strategic game that they would be playing and the more they knew about their tribe and about Kappas the better their tribes would do in battle.
Leshia and her group easily went about effectively gathering information on their tribe and on the species in general by splitting in two with Rodeo and Katie exploring Kappa facts and figures and the other three working on the Palaku books. With the general hubbub of the excitable children and the movement as children moved from table to table borrowing books Leshia didn't notice Julius Black moving to stand beside her until he practically breathed down her neck.
"What are you doing?" Leshia demanded of the boy.
"I came to give you fair warning," the dark mysterious boy offered gently in her ear. "Don't trust your eyes, what you believe inside will never let you down." With this he leant past the girl and lifted a book from her side before he disappeared again leaving Leshia staring after him with a deep frown.
"What was that about?" she finally uttered, completely baffled, before she turned back to her friends. They shrugged in unison.
"He's a Slytherin, what can you say?" Rachel finally tried, but Leshia and everyone else knew there was more to it than that.
"Just leave it for now Leesh, think about him later. Have you written down a line of Kings yet?" Leshia took Katie's advice and soon thoughts of the mysterious Julius Black flew from her head when she read about the gory dethroning of Ugmug the Slippery.
Until three thirty the children worked hard and Draco was very impressed with them, so much so in fact that when it came to dishing out the homework he had planned for them he refrained and instead told them to get into their groups at some point before the next lesson and plan their game plan. For the first time in anybody's memory when the bell went the class wasn't eager to run out of the class, in fact, Draco had to tell them to stop working several times so they could clear out.
"You can stay though," he told his daughter, who grinned cheekily at her father while her friends filed out moaning about the end of their fun lesson.
"That was so cool dad, why did you give us such a fun lesson?" Leshia asked curiously. Draco grinned at the girl wryly.
"Don't go thinking it's because of your birthday." Leshia grinned innocently and twisted round slightly, looking very childlike despite her fourteen years.
"Sure it's not," she teased. "So what did you want to see me about?"
"Dinner actually, your mother requests your company, God knows why. Those friends of yours are invited too."
"Katie and Rachel?"
"Yes them, and your mother mentioned something about a certain Mr Holsson and Mr Jackson being invited as well," Draco said with a shrug.
"Rodeo and Parys?" Leshia yelped happily. "Mum said they could come round tonight?"
"Apparently so. Do you think they'll come?" Draco asked with a sneaky smile.
"You don't scare them that much dad." Draco grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
"I hope you're right shorty. We haven't had fresh meat for dinner for a long time." Leshia, fully grasping her father's double meaning, but not checking him on it, grinned at her father and picked up her bag heading for the door. "Don't be late," Draco called after her, before he chuckled to himself. Life felt good today.
Leshia had to run to catch up with her friends, who had already made it down the corridor. Not for one moment did they think the happy grin on Leshia's face was going to affect them.
"Guess what?" Leshia beamed at them.
"Your dad's made you God of the Pakka tribes?" Rachel guessed cheerfully.
"Nope, but hey that would have been cool. No seriously though, you four are all invited to my parents' place tonight for dinner." Both Rachel and Katie nodded, quite happy to join Leshia's parents for Leshia's birthday dinner, but the boys, who had never spent even a moment with the entire Malfoy family gathered in one place, were looking horrified.
"What's wrong with you?" Rachel asked amusedly. The two boys exchanged a worried glance. Could they express their concerns in front of the birthday girl?
"Well," Parys tried diplomatically. "We've just never…uh, spent time with Professor Malfoy outside of uh, the class. You know?"
"Oh don't tell me you're scared of my dad," Leshia laughed heartily. "He's not going to be Professor Malfoy over dinner, he'll just be my dad." Rodeo and Parys still seemed dubious. They didn't know Draco well enough to know that there was a distinction between Draco and Professor Malfoy; to them, those two personas combined into one big terrifying entity. Katie and Rachel secretly felt Leshia was dreaming; there was no way Draco was going to relax into his usual self in front of the boys, not when he could have his fun terrifying the life out of them all evening.
With more on their minds than they had had before Leshia joined them on their trek back, the children carried on towards Gryffindor Tower to deposit their belongings and find something to do before dinner. They had just about reached the main staircase when a girl's screaming drew their attention.
"What's that?" Katie demanded in surprise.
"It's coming from up there," Rachel exclaimed and after sharing an ominous look the five friends started running in the direction of the girl's agonised cries. Several of their peers had the same idea, and soon a massive throng of concerned and intrigued pupils were surging towards the source of the noise.
"Out of the way!" came the voice of Professor McGonagall, as she came sweeping through the crowds. The sounds of shocked pupils were now wafting back through the corridor and finally the third year friends had to come to a stop because the traffic ahead of them had come to a stop.
"What's that on top of her?"
"Is that a cabinet?" Leshia and her friends exchanged an urgent looks as the whisperings filtered back to them, and after nod Leshia started to push through he crowds with her friends in pursuit. Everybody's memories were still fresh from the party Leshia had thrown not so long ago, and being generally well-liked throughout the school, nobody hindered her passage too much. Within no time they'd reached the front of the gathering of pupils and rather suddenly wished they could have remained at the back.
"Oh God," several of them uttered and Katie even turned away from the poor flattened girl lying moaning on the ground. The colossal piece of furniture on top of her could not have got there by accident.
"That's Helen Carter," Rodeo whispered to his friends with a concerned look on his face. "She's in Care of Magical Creatures with us."
"Yeah she's in Hufflepuff," Parys added with a concerned frown: who had done this to the poor girl? "She's always seemed really nice."
"Everybody go back to your dormitories," Professor McGonagall finally told the gathered crowd firmly. Professor Lewis and Professor Snape were already tending to the fallen girl, discussing in hushed undertones the need to get poor Helen to St Mungos. The gathered pupils seemed defiant and refused to pander to McGonagall's orders first time round.
"I will be giving detentions to those who remain behind," the old woman warned them firmly. Leshia turned on her friends.
"Come on, let's go," she told them grimly. None of them spoke as they made their way back to Gryffindor tower, each trapped in their own grim thoughts. Finally, once they'd sat down at their usual table by their usual window box in the common room, they had to discuss what had happened.
"Why would someone do that to Helen?" Parys asked worriedly. Everyone shrugged their shoulders. All around them news of what had happened to Helen Carter buzzed like the hum of a bee colony.
"That was no accident though," Leshia finally said with wide eyes. "I hope she's okay."
"She…" Katie began slowly, before she hung her head in concern.
"Well she, she's a muggle born isn't she?" A significant look went around the table, which also saw Rodeo shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
"Let's not jump to conclusions," Leshia finally said firmly, not wanting her muggle born friend to fear for his safety, nor wanting the others to start scare mongering. "We should gather some more information, wait and see how Helen's doing." The others nodded, seeing her advice for what it was: common sense.
The afternoon had quite lost its shine, and while they waited to go for dinner the youngsters worked at their homework, their minds drifting off routinely to the poor Hufflepuff girl trapped beneath the gigantic cabinet. On their way down to Leshia's parents' chambers they chatted in a subdued way about the accident. It seemed everyone they passed was talking about it, and after a severe case of crossed wires the children heard reports ranging from Helen having made a full recovery to the worst-case scenario that she had died.
"My parents will know what's really going on," Leshia assured her concerned friends and they hurried up to reach the chambers. Leshia promptly let them in and as she pushed the door open thoughts of Helen Carter were temporarily shifted from the children's heads when they smelled the delicious cooking coming from the kitchen. Leshia beamed a smiled at her friends before she led the way in.
"Hello?" she called out into the empty and haphazardly cleaned living room. The dining table was laid and the sound of Hermione singing along to a tune in her head wafted out from the kitchen. "Hello!" Leshia called out even more loudly.
"Just a minute," Hermione called back, and so Leshia sat her friends down on the sofas, where they appeared most uncomfortable. Leshia herself plopped down on a cushion on the floor beside the coffee table, absent-mindedly examining the essays that lay there. With an unpleasant jolt of surprised she realised the top essay belonged to Owen Gabriel, which Hermione was in the process of marking, so quite suddenly she slid it across the table and turned her head from it.
"What was that?" Rachel snickered amusedly.
"Hello, who'd like a drink?" Hermione appearance saved Leshia from explaining herself and soon the children were feeling a little more comfortable with a glass of fruit punch in their hands. "We'll start dinner as soon as Draco gets back."
"Where is he?" Leshia asked curiously.
"He'll be back soon," Hermione replied breezily, skimming over Leshia's question as though she hadn't asked one. Leshia furrowed her brow, but let the matter drop; interrogating her mother in front of her friends would make everyone feel awkward.
"Did you hear about Helen Carter?" the girl asked suddenly. Hermione's smile dropped.
"Yes, I'm afraid to say I did," she replied.
"Do you know if she's okay or not Professor Granger?" Parys asked with a concerned frown. Hermione smiled sweetly at the boy.
"Well I don't know for sure, but apparently they're hopeful she'll make a full recovery. Her progress so far has been encouraging."
"Did she have very bad injuries?" Leshia asked with a wincing expression.
"Well compared with some of the scrapes you've got yourself into they might seem relatively mild, but they had to repair her whole skeleton and she had lots of internal damage."
"That's mild?" Leshia gasped with wide eyes. Hermione smiled at the girl.
"Yes my dear, in comparison to some of the accidents you've got yourself into it is mild. While you've been totally unconscious your father and I have had to deal with the complete destruction of your body." Leshia shrugged meekly.
"Sorry," she offered with a smile, before she turned back on her friends, who seemed much more relaxed now they knew Helen Carter would most likely be fine. While they waited for Draco Hermione kept the children entertained by showing them pictures she had taken during the summer (a large number of them featured at least one of the girls), until finally the door opened and Draco walked in. The boys instantly went rigid at the sight of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. What were they letting themselves in for? After taking a few paces he stared blankly at the five children for a moment, until eventually he nodded.
"Oh right," he managed, remembering why they were there.
"Hi dad," Leshia said cheerfully, followed quickly by hurried, "Hello Professor Malfoy," greetings from her friends. Draco nodded towards the children.
"Hi," he replied formally, before he assumed a somewhat cheerful face and dropped down in his favoured armchair.
"Is everybody ready for dinner?" Hermione asked the children, before she beamed a smile at her husband. He nodded with an amused dark expression, while the children gave a unanimous affirmative response. "Well take a seat then, I'll go and serve it up." Leshia bounced to her feet, instructing her friends on where to sit ensuring she had the seat near the top of the table beside her father at the head of the table and opposite her mother, so that her friends didn't have to sit so near to their teachers. Draco was the last to amble over, stopping to pour himself a glass of wine from the bar cabinet in the corner. By the time he took his seat at the head of the table Hermione had laid out a beautiful spread and was busy serving the hungry children. The young man was most amused by how the two boys stiffened in fear as he did so.
'So they should,' he thought to himself, glancing at his daughter. They should know not to mess her around, he felt firmly. They should know that if they ever hurt her, they'd have him to deal with. Once everyone had been served Hermione took her place, and where Leshia reached for her knife and fork, the others sat still watching Leshia's parents, only reaching out for their own once Draco had started eating.
"Hmm, it's good mum," Leshia piped up happily, thoroughly enjoying the roast beef dinner Hermione had prepared especially for her daughter knowing it was the girl's favourite meal.
"Yes very good Professor Granger," Rodeo and Parys stammered at the same time.
"Thank you," Hermione beamed at the children. At the head of the table Draco was grinning as he chewed on his food; this evening might just turn out to be entertaining the way those two boys were carrying on.
"So, Rodeo," Draco finally spoke up, lingering on the boy's name to drag out the suspense. Just hearing the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher speak his first name was nerve-wrecking enough for Rodeo, who had only ever been addressed as Mr Holsson by the frighteningly dichotic teacher. "I didn't know you played quidditch."
"Um yes sir," Rodeo quickly replied, furrowing his brow worriedly; he hadn't thought Draco knew anything about him, so why should it come as a surprise that he played quidditch?
"Leshia's told us all about that muggle game you play. Ball foot is it?" Leshia rolled her eyes across the table, an amused grin on her face. She knew her dad was just winding Rodeo up.
"Um football actually," Rodeo corrected.
"Right," Draco replied, nodding his head slowly with narrowed eyes still aimed at the boy.
"Yeah, I started quidditch last year after the world cup. Katie was teaching me last term." Spluttering coughs suddenly erupted from the small blonde girl at the table, and she reached for her water desperately to wash away her choking. Instantly Draco's large hand had flown across the gap between them, powerfully clapping the girl's back to help her get her breathe back.
"Excuse me," Leshia finally croaked, fixing Katie a hard disbelieving stare. How had the dark-haired girl managed to hide that one? Rachel too was staring at her cousin in disbelief.
"Only a few times," Katie tried to excuse herself.
"You didn't think to ask Leshia?" Draco continued, his tone entirely changed. Right before his eyes Rodeo and Katie had hurt his daughter. He wasn't going to let this lie. "She is after all the best quidditch player in your year isn't she?" Rodeo squirmed a little.
"Rodes wanted to keep it a secret to surprise Leshia," Parys spoke up, staring fearlessly at the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. The dark boy was quite fed-up with Draco's bullying of his friend. Draco's slate eyes slid onto Parys smoothly, the animosity gone. Good, at least one of his daughter's suitors had backbone.
"Indeed," the young man finally spoke.
"So Rachel, have you heard whether you're going to be spending Christmas at the burrow yet?" Hermione now spoke up brightly, putting a stop to Draco's nonsense. "Because your dad hasn't got back to anyone yet. We've no idea what he's got planned." Rachel shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't think he does either," Rachel said cheerfully.
"Are we all going to the burrow again?" Leshia asked hopefully, the pain of Rodeo and Katie's betrayal washed deep under the surface again. Hermione nodded with a big smile.
"Yes, Molly and Arthur are throwing a Christmas Party on Christmas Eve. I think half the wizarding community is invited!" The girls grinned excitedly at one another; they hadn't heard about this, how exciting! With the mood softened the conversation around the table settled into a much more relaxed atmosphere, dominated by Leshia, but enjoyable nonetheless. Once the plates had been conjured into the sink the children were preparing to leave when all of a sudden the lights went out and a beautiful grand cake levitated in with four gigantic sparkling candles on top of it. Hermione and Draco started singing 'Happy Birthday to you' and were soon joined by Leshia's friends. When asked to make a wish Leshia paused for a moment, a look of serious consideration on her face. Katie and Rodeo shifted uncomfortably from side to side; what was the girl concocting?
"Come on Leesh, we haven't got all day!" Rachel piped up happily. With a grin at her friend Leshia blew the candles out successfully in one go, before she slowly lifted her eyes darkly to Rodeo and Katie sat side by side.
Over the following days the mood at Hogwarts was electric. Word of Helen Carter's untimely accident with the colossal awards cabinet had everybody chattering. Professor Dumbledore had to make an announcement on Wednesday before the rumours got out of hand (indeed, some rumours claimed the girl had been squashed to her death) that Helen was recovering well and would be back at school the following week. This did little to quell the rumours.
The rumour mills were also going into overdrive about the flourishing inter-house romance between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, which saw Owen Gabriel and Valerie Beckett getting very intimate in the great hall, the corridors, the quidditch grounds, the playing grounds…well, in fact just about every corner of Hogwarts there was to get cosy in. Leshia contained her feelings quite well in the face of things, but threw herself so firmly into her work and her quidditch that every teacher she came across couldn't help but feel impressed by her effort. Even old Snape couldn't find a reason to punish the girl or mark her down and ended up giving her her first O in a very long time.
Wednesday also brought about the role-play game Draco had promised the children and after a fierce mock-battle with the other tribes Leshia's group were picked to the post by Julius Black's tribe; something that did not sit lightly with the girl. Her request for a recount of the points was laughed off, but when she persisted the girl found herself losing Gryffindor five points.
Friday brought about the premature return of Helen Carter and she was given a Hero's greeting. Everyone enquired after her well-being and after taking barely a few steps within the castle she had received more attention from the Hogwarts populous than ever before.
"Come along Helen dear," Professor Sprout, who had accompanied the girl from her house back from St Mungos, urged the girl. "The headmaster is waiting to see you in his study." Helen allowed herself to be escorted through the school to the headmaster's study, which she had never been summoned to in her two and a half years at Hogwarts. Consequently, when she saw impressive spiralling entrance into the Headmaster's tower, she felt terribly impressed and yet also mightily worried about what she would say to the venerable man therein.
"Don't you worry Helen," Professor Sprout assured the girl kindly. "Professor Dumbledore only wants to ask you a few questions. There's nothing to be worried about." Helen Carter was not assured, and as she walked into the Headmaster's study her fear escalated beyond all measure, as there, stood beside the Headmaster was Professor Malfoy.
'Oh, why does he have to be here?' Helen thought to herself worriedly before she very reluctantly accepted the seat she was being offered across from the Headmaster. Thankfully Professor Sprout took the seat beside the girl; she was not going to let Draco Malfoy bully a story out of her charge.
"Now then Miss Carter, I am terribly happy to see you have made a full recovery," Albus began kindly. "I trust they treated you well at St Mungos?" Helen nodded quickly.
"Good. I am very happy to hear it. Now then," the headmaster continued, briefly glancing over his shoulder at Draco, who still stood with his arms crossed, regarding the girl with a calculating gaze. "I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you some questions about Monday. Do you feel you are up to it my dear? Because if it is too soon you must say and we will leave it a few more days." From the expression on both men's faces Helen could see they desperately wanted answers sooner rather than later and as she felt she had so little to share anyway, Helen knew she ought to speak of it now.
"No, I can talk now."
"Excellent," Albus said heartily and he clapped his hands together in triumph.
"What were you doing before it happened?" Draco suddenly asked, finally uncrossing his arms and taking a few steps forward. Helen looked up at him in alarm.
"Professor Malfoy is more knowledgeable on such matters than I Helen," Albus offered in explanation. Helen nodded slightly, before she looked back at the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.
"Um, I was going back to my common room sir," she replied shakily.
"And were you alone?" Draco continued in a softer tone this time after catching the fierce look Professor Sprout was casting him. Helen nodded.
"Francesca had detention on Monday so I had to go on my own." Draco frowned and lowered his head a little in thought; the girl had not seen her attacker, or she would not have said she was alone in the corridor.
"You did not see your attacker?" Helen shook her head slowly, her large black eyes innocent of any lies.
"Did you hear anything?" Once more a shake of the head.
"Just this loud creaking noise. It was so loud I turned around to see what it was and then the cabinet was on top of me."
"And when you turned, you didn't see anyone?" Helen fidgeted nervously. All week she had feared she was going out of her mind, because truthfully, she had not seen anyone in the corridor that day. The cabinet had fallen by its own accord.
"There was no one there Professor. I'm sure of it."
"That cabinet could not have fallen on its own Miss Carter," Draco said sternly. Professor Sprout cleared her throat and Draco twitched agitatedly; why ask him to take over the investigation of what had happened, why ask him to carry out an interrogation if they weren't going to let him do it properly?
"I'm not saying it did sir, I just don't think there was anyone in the corridor when it happened," Helen countered bravely. Draco looked to the ceiling while forcing himself to remained calm.
"Was there anything unusual about that day? Anything at all?" Helen looked to the ground and tangled her fingers together distractedly. "Miss Carter?" Draco pressed, urging the girl to look at him once more.
"I smelled something," the girl uttered barely louder than a whisper.
"You smelled something," Draco repeated, managing to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
"Yes sir. It smelled like…well it smelled like death."
"Thank you Helen, that will be all," Albus interjected with a big smile at the girl. "You have been very brave and we are all very proud of you for bouncing back from such a terrible thing such as this." Helen smiled goofily at the praise. "At the end of the term you must let your parents know they are invited to the final assembly where you are to be awarded the Godric Gryffindor Award for Bravery." Helen's goofy smile spread to dangerous proportions and she nodded gratefully.
"Thank you sir!" she exclaimed in glee. Albus smiled at her fondly.
"You are most welcome my child. That will be all. If you would escort our hero of the hour to her common room Professor Sprout I would be most indebted to you. I fear you are going to be quite the talk of the school for many weeks to come Helen, you must remember perfect your autograph." Helen giggled and nodded, before she followed Professor Sprout out of the room. Draco watched the girl go with a serious frown on his face.
"An old man I have become," Albus sighed heavily and he shook his head, while Draco wandered round the desk to hover by the chairs. "It is a fool who cannot admit when they are beaten, and I will not tolerate foolishness on my part Draco. I must confess that I do not know what to make of this whole sorry situation. That poor poor girl could have died and now I know not what to make of it." Draco continued to stare the old man down. "You however, seem to be in the throws of an idea, so I shall leave you to it my friend," the headmaster chuckled when Draco did not speak. The young man nodded and headed for the door. "Ah Draco? I feel I must explain something."
"What?" Draco asked with a furrowed brow. What was the old man talking about now?
"Presenting Helen with the Bravery Award when so many times before your own daughter has come so close to death the light has left her eyes may seem hurtful to you."
"I hadn't thought of it Albus," Draco lied.
"Well even if you have not, Leshia most likely will. Would you please do me a great service in explaining to your daughter that true bravery need not be rewarded with plaques and fame. True bravery is its own reward."
Long afterwards when Draco prowled the corridors on his way home he pondered Albus' words. True bravery was its own reward, yes, this was true, but who had the old man aimed his sentiments at? Did the wise wizard have insight in Draco's dilemma? Was he testing him? Draco's jaw twitched at his own cowardice. He had cowed to his blackmailer the moment his comfortable existence had been put into jeopardy and he had done something he knew in his heart was wrong. Yes, life had become considerably more comfortable since the threats had stopped coming, and yes Draco could sleep easy at night once more, but at what cost had these luxuries come? And did old Albus Dumbledore know?
Hermione was lounged over one of the settees when Draco came home. The sight of her beautiful figure draped over the cushions while she marked a terrifically long scroll was a sight for sore eyes where Draco was concerned: she was beautiful. In fact, Hermione had been unusually beautiful of late and even though Draco had not an inkling as to why his wife suddenly appeared irresistible, he was not complaining.
"Hi darling," Hermione beamed at her husband the moment he walked in. "So, what's the verdict?"
"A tricky one," Draco sighed before he crossed the length of the room and dropped down beside his wife, stroking her wild mane off her face.
"I was right. That girl was alone when the cabinet fell on top of her. No pupil, teacher, interloper or ghost was near her when that thing fell on her."
"So what happened?"
"That's what I'm going to find out," Draco replied with a dashing smile. Slowly his smile faded into a simple look of adoration as he regarded his wife.
"What?" Hermione giggled.
"Can't a man admire his wife?"
"Of course, but you're looking at me as though you've never seen me before. What's wrong with you?" The young woman dragged herself up and faced her husband on her knees.
"You just look different lately, that's all," Draco replied with a shrug. Hermione faltered.
"Good different?" Her husband nodded very slowly.
"Wonderful different. I must confess Hermione Malfoy, you are the most beautiful woman in this world and the next." For a moment Hermione's glowing face lit up in joy, her eyes beaming the pride she felt for her husband, but then her face fell when the realisation of the truth she was hiding from him set in. "What's wrong?"
"Oh nothing, I just feel a little sick that's all," his wife quickly offered, looking away from Draco's enquiring eyes. The young man chewed the insides of his cheeks, suppressing the concern he felt raging deep within. It had been a while since Hermione had had one of her sickness bouts, but whenever she succumbed to them he feared for her and felt worthless within for not being able to put an end to her suffering.
"Come on," he finally said loudly and he climbed to his feet, easily sweeping Hermione into his strong arms.
"What are you doing?" his wife laughed gleefully.
"Well if you're sick then there's only one thing for it." After sweeping her away to the bedroom Draco placed his dear wife carefully within the comfortable grasp of the mountain of pillows atop the bed. "Now this, will certainly have to go," he announced, taking hold very gently of her arms so as to pull the chunky jumper from her concealed figure.
"Draco," Hermione laughed. "This isn't helping."
"You're sick right? So you should be in bed," Draco reasoned. "And you can't be in bed with these constricting clothes can you?" The young man deftly pulled his wife's blouse from her small frame as though he'd been doing it his whole life.
"You brute," the young woman giggled and she clutched her shivering body with her arms, trying to conceal her precious minute bump from her husband. He did not notice it. "I'm freezing."
"I'm getting to that," Draco assured her, taking now from his wife her comfortable house-trousers so that now her glorious figure was on show for the world to see. "Much better," he remarked amusedly. Hermione's teeth chattered together.
"Yes well I'm still freezing," she complained fondly. With a charming smile Draco lowered himself onto the bed beside his wife, cradling her into his arms and holding her close to him. For a moment a sliver of fear spread up his spine like a snake made of ice; what if the lid was blown of his torrid secret? What if he lost this precious woman?
"I would never do anything to hurt you," he offered softly, kissing her soft lips with a tenderness he only reserved for her.
"No, you don't," Draco sighed and he leaned his forehead against hers. "I love you Granger, I always have, and I always will."
The following Wednesday brought about the second official meeting of the Lions in the room of requirement. As before the room provided their comfortable surroundings to bask in and their ledger of meeting notes. Leshia and her friends let the rest of the group in and instantly everyone was buzzing over Helen Carter's unfortunate story.
"That settles it doesn't it?" Tom Weasley was saying loudly. "Helen's a muggle born and now she gets attacked? I bet the Slytherins are behind all this."
"But it's not just muggle borns," Leshia complained – she had been trying to stave off a flood of paranoia tasking over the supposedly brave and level headed members of the club. "I haven't really mentioned this yet but…" The girl rubbed the back of her neck agitatedly. "Well in the beginning of term a cabinet fell on me too."
"Oh yeah!" Rachel suddenly exclaimed while across the room Owen looked up in remembrance. How had they all forgotten about that one? A near-identical crime and it had slipped everybody's minds?
"I wasn't hurt, not that bad anyway, but it was the same sort of thing," Leshia explained to the group, who were looking shocked to say the least. "I was walking along on my own when all of a sudden I got this horrid feeling and before I knew it I was under a cabinet."
"You told me Peeves did it," Owen finally spoke up sounding hurt. Leshia looked up at him with a defiant expression.
"Well I couldn't tell you the truth could I? Nobody back then knew there was anything strange going on. You would have thought I was out of my mind."
"No I wouldn't," the boy countered defensively.
"Yeah you would," Rodeo piped up, defending Leshia from the taller boy's attack. Leshia rolled her eyes and interjected before Owen could snap back at her friend,
"It doesn't matter," she said loudly. "I'm telling you now. So it's not just muggle borns that are being attacked."
"Yeah but," Rachel said meekly. "No offence Leesh, but the Slytherins wouldn't mind seeing you squished under a cabinet would they? You're like prime target number one. It still could be them." Leshia nodded fervently.
"Absolutely, I just don't want all the muggle borns in the castle to start fearing for their lives and having nightmares about flying cabinets that's all."
"What about that thing Black told you the other day?" Parys spoke up. "You know, he was being pretty weird wasn't he?" Leshia nodded and recounted the tale of Julius Black's mysterious warning to the group and by the end of the session they were all convinced the Slytherins were somehow behind the mysterious goings on at the castle. The youngsters started observing the Slytherins' behaviour routinely, exchanging tales in the corridors and in hushed groups in the great hall. All the while ISQT and Gryffindor quidditch practices meant Leshia was totally swamped, which made completing her homework and having any semblance of free time entirely impossible. The girl just about managed to set aside an entire day for Rachel's birthday on the last day of November, ensuring her best friend had a fun-filled day complete with extravagant gifts, a stolen cake from the kitchens and plenty of butterbeer. Rachel went to bed that night muttering 'Happy Birthday' to herself and clutching half a dozen Liquorish Wands in her hands.
The end of term was nearing with only three weeks left – and secretly the youngsters felt the last week didn't count, as this was the week of the International Schools Quidditch Tournament and with dozens of guests and quidditch every day it wouldn't really feel like real school anything – and slowly the children noticed their work loads intensifying in the run up to the holidays. All in all they were thrilled when in the weekend after Rachel's birthday a Hogsmeade trip was announced.
The November weather had brought to their door a fresh dusting of snow and before the girls headed out that gloomy Saturday morning, they wrapped up firmly against the cold blizzardy weather. When they reached the picturesque little village Leshia remembered what Owen had told her about Hogsmeade come-Christmas-time; it was beautiful! Everywhere little candles hovered in the air, magically never going out despite the horrid weather. Carol singers ambled around in droves. Christmas wreaths hung from every door and mistletoe in every doorframe. The piece de resistance was definitely the gigantic tree in the tiny square that served as a village centre. Leshia had never seen such a beautiful tree and insisted she and her friends walk round it several times to appreciate its beauty properly.
After at least four times round the Christmas tree Rachel had had enough and dragged her two friends into the nearest tavern, where she collected several Butterbeers and plopped down in a corner booth. The warm liquid soothed their insides and before too long the girls had gone on their way again; they had Christmas shopping to tend to and not too long to get it all done.
"Which one do you think Ashley would like more?" Rachel asked Leshia with a grimace, before she held up a putrid pink talking hair band and a putrid yellow talking hair band. Leshia grinned and after a moment's thought she nodded to the pink one.
"Can't go wrong with pink and Ashley," the girl chuckled, before she stifled a grin and picked up a hot pink pair of sparkling animated boxer shorts. "How about these for Parys?" The two girls were still laughing heartily when the door to the tiny novelty shop flew open and in swept their two male friends bringing half the blizzard with them. Unseen in the corner it appeared as though Katie was on her own as she stood paying for her items at the cash register.
"Hey you, what are you doing here?" Rodeo called out to the tall girl, speaking with a familiarity Rachel and Leshia had never witnessed before. Almost instinctively the redhead reached out and wrapped an arm around her best friend's shoulders; more to restrain her friend than anything.
"Shut your eyes," Katie hissed to the boys fondly and they did as they were told, theatrically bringing their hands up to their eyes while their Cheshire cat grins remained.
"I dread to think what you got us in this place," Parys laughed.
"Hey," Katie retorted sounding a little offended. "You'll take what you're given."
"Yes miss," the dark boy chuckled, before he turned around and started examining the shelves on the other side of the shop. Leshia and Rachel watched from their hiding place as Rodeo sauntered over to their friend's side and while still covering his eyes draped an arm around the girl's shoulders.
"Don't worry about him kid, he's an ungrateful sod," the boy charmed. Leshia's face morphed into a wounded look at his words. 'Kid' wasn't a name he'd used for her very often, but as far as she knew, it was a nickname he had always reserved for her and her alone. Katie seemed to have entirely forgotten that her friends were in fact in the shop with her.
"What makes you think any of this stuff is for you two?" Katie teased, her thick dark eyelashes veritably batting at the good-looking youngster with his arm slung round her shoulders. Across the room Leshia wanted to vomit into the basket of fake-vomit. "I think I've changed my mind and you shan't be getting anything from me."
"Oh come on, let me make it up to you. Can I buy you an ice cream?"
"An ice cream?" Katie laughed. "Have you even been outside? It's freezing!"
"Yeah fair enough, but have you had a sundae from the teahouse yet? Because they're so good they'll blow your mind," the boy urged. For a moment Katie considered his proposal, while across the shop Leshia tried her very hardest to use her mental powers to break the two up flirting shamelessly by the cash register. Her powers evidently needed some fine-tuning.
"I'd love to," Katie finally decided. Across the room Leshia's temper snapped.
"What are you two doing skulking over here?" They had been caught and whereas Rachel straightened up to confront Parys, who had caught them eavesdropping, with a witty comeback, Leshia hadn't even heard him. Her ears were burning. Quite suddenly and without warning she straightened up and marched right out of the shop, her friends staring after her in surprise (and guilt). Once outside in the cold snow Leshia's mood did not improve, as she had taken barely two steps before she bumped straight into a certain legendary keeper and his beautiful new girlfriend.
"Watch it," Val warned when the small girl trampled all over her new snow boots.
"Malfoy?" Owen tried more tactfully, aware that the girl was upset about something. "What happened?" He received no response, but for a moment he locked eyes with the girl's glassy ones; the sight of her made his head spin. The next moment she was gone.
"She's so weird," Val concluded.
"Ease up," Owen warned, his tone betraying his feelings more than his words ever could. "She's my friend and she's upset."
"That girl," Val stated coolly. "Is always upset about something or other. You're wasting your time on her. She's just a freak."
"What's your problem?" Owen demanded calmly. "I tell you someone's my friend and you start bashing them?" For a moment Val paused, her keen mind fully realising the extent of Owen's feelings. So, she had a fight on her hands, well then, time to step up to the plate as it were.
"You're right," she lied charmingly, her beautiful large eyes morphing into a puppy-dog routine. "I'm sorry. That was really harsh of me."
Leshia stormed all the way back to the castle where she flung her shopping into her trunk and then changed into her quidditch robes. ISQT training would be starting in an hour or so and Madam Hooch never objected to a little extra credit. So, with her broom over her shoulder Leshia marched out onto the quidditch pitch, pushing herself to the limits, trying to race away her hormones.
By the time the rest of the squads had made their way out she had clocked several hundred laps, all of which Madam Hooch had been watching from her office. She didn't know what had turned Leshia Malfoy into an A student where quidditch was concerned, but she had to admit she liked it.
"Before we begin I have to remind some of you firsts that if you don't pull your weight then I won't have any hesitation in dropping you from the team," the coach warned her players before the training had even started. "This is a big event for the school and I have been charged with providing Hogwarts with the best possible team I can find, and I have to say, some of you are lacking. A little practice in your own time goes a long way. Leshia Malfoy is going to go far in this game because she lives and breathes quidditch. Take this afternoon for example; she's been out here an hour already trying to improve her game. Several of you," the fierce-looking woman explained, and here her eyes lingered on Val and several of the Slytherins on the team, before she continued, "Could learn from our seeker and put in some extra hours."
Leshia hung her head and tried to shuffle backwards. This was the last thing she needed; to have half the firsts hating her for being a quidditch swot. Brilliant. She could see Val's eyes narrowing already and wished more than anything that the Christmas holidays would arrive so she could get away from everyone and everything at Hogwarts.
Leshia wasn't mistaken in her estimation of Val's bitterness at being told to be more like Alecia Malfoy, and her anger only continued to grow and grow when Leshia outperformed every single member of both squads. Still fuelled by the afternoon's upsets Leshia was effectively channelling her emotions into speed, power, agility and skill and quite frankly, she was bloody fantastic out there in the snow and the winds. Val simply couldn't take it.
"Nice catch Malfoy!" Owen called over to his small friend when she made yet another astonishing catch of the snitch. "You're on fire today." Brow set firmly Val soared high with her quaffle, evading the beaters Nick and Will Mills in their training exercise very effectively and also setting herself on a collision course.
The impact of colliding into the small blonde girl wasn't too bad, but after being caught of guard Leshia easily tumble from her broom. Luckily their exercises were being held close to the ground, but the girl still took a nasty tumble.
"Val!" Owen cried out in horror. "What the hell do you think you're playing at?" By now several friendly faces had rushed to Leshia's side, helping the wincing girl to her feet while she clutched her swollen eye socket evidently pained.
"It was an accident," Val lied poorly, the venom on her face still clear as day when she looked upon popular Leshia's support group concernedly making sure the pint-sized seeker was well enough to carry on.
"Like bloody hell it was, you purposefully knocked her off her broom."
"No I didn't," Val countered. "Why would I do that?"
"I have absolutely no frigging idea why you would do that! It's insane!" Owen complained, his protectiveness of his friend shining through beyond all else. It was making Val's blood boil. "Go and apologise."
"No!" the not-so-beautiful-anymore girl countered childishly. "You can't tell me what to do Owen Gabriel. Why do you care so much anyway? This is Alecia Malfoy we're talking about here. I'm your girlfriend, shouldn't you care more about me than some ruddy midget?" For a moment Owen lowered his head and stared firmly at the girl he'd spent the last few weeks getting to know very well.
"You're right," he finally concluded, pausing long enough to watch the smug look materialise on Val's face before he continued, "I should care more about you, but I don't. We're through you and I." With this he turned on heal and jogged off to see how his friend was doing after her tumble. It turned out that the girl, who had witnessed 'the break up' was doing extraordinarily well as the large grin on her face could attest to. And as she took to the skies her jubilation lit up the heavens, parting the black clouds and letting the sun in, if only for a moment.
Nothing could pull the girl from her good mood; even witnessing Katie and Rodeo snuggled up on the settee together when she returned from training didn't upset her, something Rachel instantly noticed. She had been shooting grimaces at the loved up pair all afternoon, dreading Leshia's return to this lunacy.
"So seriously, where's our Leshia gone?" Rachel demanded when Leshia had breezed up to the dormitory to change.
"I don't know what you mean?" the blonde girl chuckled whilst she changed.
"Well first you storm off from town. Don't get me wrong, you had every right to be upset because Katie was being a tactless squib, but next thing we know you're flouncing into the common room as though you've been popping Heaven Drops all afternoon. I mean I can see why you might do that, but I've checked the stash and its still going strong. So spill!" Leshia laughed heartily at her friend.
"I don't know," she finally offered with a shrug. "I mean Owen did break up with Val in training today…"
"Oohhh," the redhead interrupted with a look of completed understanding. "Say no more, I get it now."
"Yeah nice one smartarse, maybe you can fill me in," Leshia grumbled fondly.
"Well it's obvious isn't it? I don't see how you can still be in denial Leesh. You fancy Owen!"
"I do not," Leshia complained. "I think I was just jealous because he's my friend. Honestly, why does everything around here have to come down to who fancies who? I mean not everything is controlled by our love lives is it?" Rachel grinned cheekily.
"The way you and Katie carry on it might as well."
"Oh really? So in this alternative universe where everything we do is controlled by our hormones where do you fit in Rach?" Leshia asked amusedly. "Who do you fancy?" Rachel smiled serenely.
"As of yet, no one," she offered happily eliciting a broad smile from her blonde friend.
"I don't believe that for one second." The rest of the evening passed by on a haze of homework on Leshia's part. Her good mood prevailed though and once she was finally done with her work she and Rachel stayed up most of the night wrapped up in an enthralling battle of Wizarding Chess. A stalemate decided the game and with only few hours before Leshia was due out on the quidditch pitch for the weekend's Gryffindor training she turned in for the night.
Barely three hours later and the tired girl stood rubbing her eyes at the edge of the pitch while her team mates chatted enthusiastically around her.
"You look wrecked Malfoy," Mila told the seeker concernedly. "Is it all getting too much for you?" There was nothing but concern in her captain's eyes, but still Leshia knew she had to tread carefully. If she admitted even the slightest weakness it could endanger both her position on the Gryffindor team and the school side.
"No," she managed through a stifled yawn. "It's just me and Rach stayed up half the night playing a bloody game of chess. It's my own fault, honest." Mila nodded kindly and left the girl to it while she started setting up the exercises. Leshia was about to take up her broom and join Jaime Wood in the skies for a warm up lap, when suddenly the small girl fell into shadow.
"Hi Owen," Leshia replied, feeling a little jittery in the boy's presence. Curse that Rachel for putting ideas in her head.
"Sorry about yesterday," the keeper was continuing, his head hanging slightly in shame. "Val was a real cow to you."
"Not your fault," Leshia pointed out.
"Well yeah, but she only did it because she was jealous that we're friends. You know?" Leshia nodded, feeling stung by his reference to them as merely 'friends'. "So it is sort of my fault."
"Don't worry about it, I've got through much worse," the girl offered happily, before she swung her leg over her broom and jumped a little into the hair, hovering near the ground. Owen quickly followed and together they joined the second-year chaser on her warm up. The atmosphere was a pleasant one as it often was at Gryffindors training sessions. Tom and Luke Weasley had the players laughing at their antics, Mila had them working hard at their exercises, Jaime and Leshia enjoyed their own larking around and a general sense of amiability made all seven youngsters feel a true sense of belonging and well being. When the snow started up again Mila told her team to start cooling down, which they did reluctantly; none of them were quite ready to go in yet, which is why they all hung in the air chatting while down below Mila started putting away the balls. Christmas plans were the talk of the table and everyone was eagerly recounting their various stories of Christmases past.
"Ouw," Leshia cried out as a great weight collided with her chest sending her flying from her broom. For the second time that weekend the small girl found herself free-falling toward the ground. Up above her surprised team mates were on their brooms racing after her. None were clear on what had happened. One moment Leshia had been amongst them laughing at Tom Weasley's amusing tale, and the next she was gone fast approaching the ground. They did not reach her in time and when they touched down beside the fallen girl they found her to be unconscious.
"Leshia!" most cried out in horror, trying to revive the girl.
"We have to take her to the hospital wing," Owen said firmly, he alone keeping his wits about him.
"No," the fallen girl interrupted croakily moments before her eyes fluttered open. "I'm fine."
"Just how exactly are you fine?" Owen demanded.
"And why did you fall off your broom?" Luke Weasley added.
"I didn't fall," Leshia complained and she dragged her aching body up off the ground, finding herself hoisted to her feet by half a dozen pairs of hands. "I was pushed. Didn't any of you see it?" Most of her friends shook their heads concernedly, wondering if perhaps the girl had been knocked on the head one too many times.
"I did," Owen finally admitted, reluctant to admit he had been watching Leshia and not Tom who had been telling the story at the time. "I saw. You didn't fall on your own, that's for sure, but serious Malfoy, you've got to go to the hospital wing!" By now Mila had run over from the other side of the pitch. She hadn't witnessed the fall, but guessed something was wrong when she saw the team crowded round the seeker, whilst her broom still hung in the air some thirty feet above. When she was filled in on the situation Mila didn't heed Leshia's complaining and instead frogmarched the youngster straight to Madam Pomfry, who checked the girl over and repaired minor damages she had sustained in her most recent accident.
With Madam Pomfry's warning to look after herself better ringing in her ears Leshia trudged back to Gryffindor tower, her mind whirring. What had pushed her? And why hadn't she or any of he others seen it? Surely that could only mean one thing? That this predator, this horrid creature prowling the castle was some sort of ghost. There were also more pressing concerns, such as why Leshia had now fallen prey to this creature three times; once at the shrieking shack, another time when the cabinet had trapped her and now this. Was this a personal thing? Had Damian Allseyer finally found a way to get her without incriminating himself?
With so many questions to answer Leshia sped up until she reached her friends' sides. They had heard all about Leshia's fall from the others and were both very concerned about what had happened.
"Come on, let's talk upstairs," Leshia told them and only once they were safely within the privacy of her four-poster with curtains drawn did Leshia explain fully what had happened.
"You should tell your dad Leesh," Katie said firmly.
"Oh not this again," Leshia groaned. "Katie I don't want to go running to my dad every single time something goes wrong. This is something for the Lions to figure out, it's our duty, not his."
Leshia's fall did filter back to her parents though and come Monday afternoon in their last lesson of the day, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Leshia caught an earful from her father for not telling her parents sooner about her frequent accidents.
"I also hear from Minerva that a few weeks ago you found yourself in a similar situation to Helen Carter," Draco lectured his daughter, who sat alone in the classroom after the lesson, staring tiredly past her father's shoulders. "When were you going to tell us about that one?"
"I didn't think it was important dad," Leshia complained finally. "I mean, it wasn't the same as that whole Helen Carter thing, it was only a tiny cabinet in the first place so I wasn't hurt, and secondly I'm pretty sure it was Peeves who pushed it." Laying the blame once more at the Poltergeist's door didn't sit right with Leshia, but she couldn't have her father figuring out that she and her friends were looking into the source of all the mysterious goings on at Hogwarts, as surely, Draco would not allow it.
"You're lying," Draco complained tetchily. "It wasn't Peeves Leshia. So tell me what really happened." Leshia sighed and shook her head.
"I don't know what happened. One minute I was walking along and the next I'm under this great big cabinet…"
"You just told me it was a small one," Draco interrupted, a worried expression creeping onto his face.
"Um, well you know, figure of speech," Leshia quickly covered, trying to console her father's worry a little. "Owen Gabriel and his friends rescued me anyway and then we told Professor McGonagall. So it's not exactly like I was keeping it from you. I just thought she might have told you."
"And you didn't see anything?" Leshia shook her head. "Hear anything? Smell anything?" This time the girl furrowed her brow; so, Draco had heard word of the peculiar smell victims of this creature caught wind of moments before it struck.
"No, nothing," Leshia lied convincingly.
"And what about yesterday, when you mysteriously fell from your broom," Draco continued.
"Why do you say it like that? So I fell, big deal. There was nothing mysterious about it."
"Really? So you're telling me that you can perform absolutely outrageous death-defying stunts on that broom of yours without falling off, yet somehow you managed to slide off it from standing still?" The small girl shrugged her shoulders.
"In my defence, it was snowing," she tried. Draco narrowed his eyes at his girl, feeling infuriated by her secrecy.
"Fine," he exclaimed icily. "If you want to keep secrets then go right ahead, but I will find out eventually, mark my words!" Leshia had no doubt of the truth behind her father's sentiments and so with a small nod she climbed to her feet and started toward the door. "Wait," her father called after her, and after several loping strides he'd reached her side and swept her into a powerful hug. "I beg of you not to get caught up in all this, but if you absolutely have to just...just watch your back okay?" Leshia nodded into her father's chest.
"Okay," she assured him, feeling rotten for causing him such grief all the time.
"I mean it Leshia," Draco warned her, and after squeezing her firmly he let her go, his hands on her shoulders, his eyes staring into hers in slight desperation. "Watch your back!"
That night over dinner Leshia felt subdued; her parents seemed incredibly withdrawn up at the head table, and as it was due to her knack of getting in the middle of things which caused her to have a nasty thirty-foot fall, the girl couldn't help but feel miserable. Her friends left her to it, leaving her to stew in her own thoughts. After all the evening's plates and platters had cleared from the tables Albus Dumbledore climbed to his feet and hall hushed down to hear what he had to say.
"I will not detain you long," the old man assured the youngsters. "But I have news that might interest you about our upcoming international sporting event. As is the custom when we wizarding nations come together, we are going to show off. It is not enough for our Hogwarts pride that we will host these pupils from all over the world in our beautiful school. And it is not enough that we are going to educate them to our high standards as our guests accompany you in your lessons. No, we must go one step further, which we will do by holding the grandest ball Hogwarts has ever seen." Across the hall the pupils burst into whispers of excitement. On Gryffindor table Leshia and Rachel exchanged a horrified look, which soon saw them bursting into their own giggles. "On the last Friday of term we shall throw open the doors of the Great Hall to hold a farewell festival for our international guests. There is not a single dormitory in the castle that shall be free of our visitors, so I appeal to you to make your individual charges feel welcome. In a few moments you will be free to go, and outside on the notice boards you will find who you are to host in a week's time."
"I hope we get decent ones," Rachel uttered to her friends, who nodded firmly.
"Yeah, can you imagine if we wound up with whatever school's equivalent to Slytherin?" Leshia agreed grimly.
"Now I have given you enough reason to go charging out of the hall in a most disorderly fashion," Dumbledore continued amusedly, his bright eyes twinkling mischievously. "By all means, charge away." Leshia and Rachel were on their feet before any of their housemates and within no time they'd reached the entrance hall in a clash of pupils. Being quite wily they managed to squeeze through the throng of eager pupils until they reached the notice board.
"Let's see," Rachel thought aloud, as she ran her finger down the list of dormitories until finally she got to:
Gryffindor 3rd Year Girls
Petra Walsh, 19/10/1998, Salem High Heather Green, 8/4/1999, Salem High
"They're like, old," Rachel announced once both girls had read and then reread the names carefully. "They're two years above us." Leshia nodded grimly, thinking not about the age of their guests, but their school. This Salem High was the athletically renowned school she had read about in the library not so long ago. If the propaganda in the book was anything to go by, then these girls would surely belong to the best team at the tournament? Feeling more than a little grim, Leshia and Rachel squeezed out of the crowd relaying to their dormitory mates the identities of the girls they would be hosting.
Both Ashley and Nicola were thrilled to be getting guests from America, hoping they would bring with them all manner of paraphernalia they had no doubt read about in their magazines, but Katie shared her friends' doubt. These girls were in the equivalent of fifth year; surely they wouldn't be able to relate to these young women?
"It is sort of exciting about the ball though isn't it?" Katie asked her friends wearily; she so desperately wanted to spin off into giggling chatter about the upcoming event. Leshia noticed.
"Yeah, it should be great," she lied enthusiastically. Katie beamed at the blonde girl and she was off, rambling about dresses, make up and dancing, while Rachel gave Leshia a 'what-did-you-do-that-for?' look. Leshia rolled her eyes subtly at the redhead, before she put all her effort into joining in Katie's enthusiasm. If Katie wanted to talk 'ball' then Leshia would gladly accommodate her, despite feeling rather grim about the whole affair herself. Once at Gryffindor tower all the third year girls made their way upstairs to see what suitable attire they had in their chests of drawers or in their trunks and with a chorus of wails of despair it turned out that they had very little suitable dresses for such a prestigious event.
"I have nothing to wear," Nicola announced firmly. "And we just had the last Hogsmeade trip of the term, we won't be able to buy anything!"
"Well we could always ask Gracie and Daisy if they have anything we could borrow," Ashley suggested to her best friend, referring to the other two girls of their posse who had been sorted into Ravenclaw. Katie too was staring forlornly at her chest of drawers; evidently she had nothing suitable to wear. Leshia knew without looking that she had nothing elegant enough for a ball and though she couldn't understand it, this irked her.
"I'm just going to have to make something," Leshia sighed heavily. All four girls turned to stare at the small blonde girl with wrinkled brows.
"You? Make something?" Rachel finally announced, speaking the sentiments of the other three. Leshia feigned an insulted expression.
"Yeah, me. Why not? How hard can it be? I bet my mum would help, and she orders material from this shop in France all the time." Her friends were looking jealous of her connections and after considering pretending to snub them before letting them know that of course she would help them too, Leshia felt it would be too cruel to lead them on. "If you lot want some help or some material my mum would be all too happy to help."
And so it was decided. In an unusual case of all five third year Gryffindor girls doing something together, they all piled onto Ashley's bed with notebooks and pencils in hand to start making sketches. Caught up in the excitement of the whole thing they sketched for hours until finally Ashley called it a night and forced the others into joining her in retirement by demanding they evacuate her bed.
The following morning the hall was ripe with chatter over the upcoming tournament. Leshia, Rachel and Katie were late to the table and could only just about squeeze onto the bench sandwiched between some of the fourth year boys and the sixth year girls. Leshia gleaned from Mila that they had been given two girls from a school coming from Senegal and that Owen's dorm had been given two boys from Salem High.
"Should be interesting," Leshia's tall friend confided in her. "I had a mate who goes to Salem High, he always used to boast that they were the best quidditch players in the world. I bet when we play them they'll see what real quidditch is all about. It'll be good to rub it in his face when we beat them." Leshia smiled nervously. "What's wrong shorty? You seem pained."
"Well it's just I found this book in the library a while back, it was about wizarding schools," the girl explained cautiously.
"Considering a transfer Malfoy?" Owen asked amusedly.
"No, but I did read about Salem High. They're good Owen, really good." Owen grinned charmingly.
"Yeah, but not as good as us right?" Leshia's face remained stony and for the first time all morning Owen Gabriel seemed less sure of himself. He trusted Leshia entirely, and if she felt they had something to be worried about, then there was something to be worried about. "Do you think they're better than us?" he asked concernedly, his hazel eyes sucking Leshia in like two black holes. She couldn't lie to him.
"Yes, I'm pretty sure they're better than us."