Generations Book 3: the Blue Lions

Part Eight

Part VII

Leshia's news spread through the school like wild fire, with word of the legendary American sporting school only furthering Hogwarts' defiance and determination to win. Leshia and her fellow Firsts could not help but feel a little worried about the upcoming tournament, but as they were enjoying a temporary celebrity-status most were milking it for all it was worth. Within the day all of Hogwarts' quidditch players had dates for the ball save one, who quite simply refused to get dragged into all this malarkey. Leshia alone of her peers kept a low profile and didn't give in to the hysteria of the moment. In her short career at Hogwarts hysteria had often tried to involve her and often it had succeeded, but on this occasion she was refusing point blank. Finding out that Owen Gabriel would be taking one of the beautiful Frances-Taylor sisters to the ball didn't bother Leshia one bit, and quite surprisingly, neither did finding out that Rodeo and Katie would be in attendance together bring a rise out of the girl; her indifference to all things quidditch and ball-related was total and complete.

Wednesday brought about the biweekly Blue Lions meet in the room of requirement, and as usual Leshia and her friends arrived a little early to make sure the room was in order. It had been that very morning that news about Rodeo and Katie's arrangement had broken and as such Katie was walking around on eggshells where Leshia was concerned. No matter how hard the blonde girl tried to assure her tall friend that in actual fact she couldn't care less about anybody's ball arrangements let alone theirs, Katie would not let the matter lie, despite Rachel's hints to drop it. Even now while Leshia examined the past few sessions' log notes Katie sat opposite the girl on a pile of cushions staring intently at her friend.

"You're sure you don't mind?" Katie persisted for the umpteenth time. Leshia shook her head calmly, managing to suppress her irritation with Katie's persistence.

"Yes Katie, I'm sure I don't mind," Leshia assured her.

"Because I won't go with him if you mind."

"I really don't mind," Leshia repeated.

"Katie would you leave the poor girl alone?" Rachel laughed uneasily; she herself was very unsure of Leshia's feelings and intentions. Why was she suddenly so relaxed about the impending relationship between the boy she had an immense crush on and one of her best friends? Katie turned a desperate expression on her cousin. What was she meant to do?

"Well who are you going with?" Katie asked determinedly. "Parys?"

"No," Rachel answered for the blonde girl. "He already asked me."

"He what?" Leshia finally spoke amusedly, looking up with a big grin. "You and Parys?" The twinkling smile on her face mocked the redhead girl fondly and Rachel retorted by sticking her tongue out.

"No you idiot, there's no me and Parys, we're going as friends. Neither of us can be bothered with any of this date rubbish so we said we'd go together to get out of anyone else asking us." Leshia grinned to herself before she turned back on the ledger. "Leshia! Don't go thinking there's…" the redhead began hotly.

"Oh keep your hair on, I'm not saying anything am I?" Leshia laughed.

"So who are you going with?" Katie enquired lightly, her keen eyes narrowed on the small girl in intrigue.

"Why do I have to go with anyone?" Leshia countered simply, keeping her eyes firmly on the grand book Katie had been scrawling in. "It's just a stupid ball and I'll have lots more fun if I'm not attached to some dull boy all night. Now will one of you go and let everyone in or do I have to sit here and get inquisitioned all night?" Rachel agreed to go and let the hoards of Lions in while Katie stared at Leshia through narrowed eyes; something wasn't right!

As usual everyone was on time and within no time, after they had poured themselves a drink and helped themselves to the customary cake, the discussion had begun. Unsurprisingly, though no less embarrassing for Leshia, talk of her untimely fall was top of the agenda. Those who had not witnessed it were dubious as to the mysterious nature those who had been at the scene of the fall insisted surrounded it and within no time an argument had broken out. Though mortified that it had been brought up, Leshia would not sit silent while people questioned not only her sanity, but even worse than that: her quidditch skills.

"I did not slip off the broom," the youngster stated loudly and slowly, her temper rising, causing her pale cheeks to flush with anger. "What sort of an idiot do you take me for? Who in their right mind just falls off a stationary broom?" The members of the Lions stayed very silent and looked down at the ground; Leshia seemed infuriated that they had dared to suggest what had happened to her was mundane and quite without any mystery attached. And never was there anything so frightening as an infuriated Malfoy. Even the tiny female variety, though not as frightening as the grown male version, was a force to be reckoned with. Any who spoke up now ought to know that they were playing with fire.

"I saw the whole thing." Leshia glanced across the circle at Owen, who was firmly avoiding Leshia's eyes. "She didn't fall because she suddenly lost her balance, or the wind caught her by surprise, or because she's a complete and utter incompetent moron who just let go of her broom and slid off it." The boy seemed quite wound up. "She fell off because something gave her a bloody hard shove; something that I couldn't even see. So would one of you please tell me why we shouldn't be discussing this? Because to me this is exactly the sort of thing we should be worried about and trying to figure out." The boy's chest rose and fell rapidly, indicating how fervently he was trying to defend Leshia's name and reputation and for a moment the blonde girl smiled at him and mouthed,

"Thank you." Owen's outburst seemed to quell anyone's doubts over Leshia's recount of what had happened and now the conversation turned instead to what on earth could have attacked her and whether it was related to the other events that had been going on.

XXX

Upon deciding that an international quidditch tournament was to take place at Hogwarts all the teachers of the school had gathered to discuss how this prestigious event (though to some merely a nuisance) was going to affect the daily goings on at Hogwarts. It had been a loud and lavish affair in the staff room, with Dumbledore ensuring his staff were provided with the most delicious of foods and just a very little ale to ease the situation along. To begin with, the discussion had been tame, with everyone proactively contributing their thoughts on where the guests should sleep, how hosting orders were to be established, how they were going to give trials for the team, and what magical events were going to be included in the opening ceremony.

However, within no time this happy conversation turned sour when it became evident that some members of staff had entirely conflicting views on aspects of the tournament. The largest such issue was indeed the most complicated to settle; when should the games take place?

Already Madam Hooch had explained the logistics of the tournament to her colleagues. There were going to be two pools, Pool A and Pool B, each one consisting of five teams. The teams within these pools would all play each other resulting in a pool winner and a pool runner up. The tournament would then progress to knock out mode, with two semi-finals, pitting the runner up of one pool against the winner of the other and vice versa. The finale of this week of entertaining and hopefully breathtaking sport would be the final in which the victor of the tournament would be decided.

All this the teachers had understood, in principle agreeing with the twenty-three matches such a set-up would produce. When it came to talking about the logistics of fitting in five matches on every weekday and delaying returning the pupils home for Christmas to hold the final on the Saturday however, talks rapidly broke down.

Most members of staff found themselves divided into two camps; those who wanted to scrap lessons and play quidditch all day long, and those who simply refused to have their lessons cut short and insisted the quidditch matches be fit in after school hours.

"But a quidditch match can last hours!" Madam Hooch had bitterly objected. "How are we to fit in five games in one afternoon? It's absurd!"

"I simply cannot afford to lose an entire week's lessons," Severus Snape had snapped back. "My fifth and seventh years have mock exams in the first week back after Christmas. With the number of dunderheads I've got in those years they'll need all the time they can get."

"This is a wonderful opportunity to show Hogwarts off to schools from all over the world Severus," Hooch had then retorted. "Are you really going to sabotage our chances because you're an incompetent…"

"How dare you! As though teaching children to ride on a broom or throw a ball is as challenging as getting them to create an invisibility potion without blowing themselves up or making the effect irreversible!" The argument had moved on from here full throttle, with no one backing down.

"Why must the whole school attend each game anyway?" Hermione had finally spoken up when and icy silence filled the staff room. She had been one of the few who remained on the fence about this issue; it struck her as a nuisance that she should miss out on teaching time, especially with the mocks coming up, but to fit five games of quidditch into a mere few hours would be impossible.

"It's a bit pitiful to invite them and not provide supporters or an audience." Hermione's brow had furrowed even deeper and for a moment she clearly pondered the predicament. When she next spoke everyone was forced into hearing her out due to the sensibleness of her plan. Those who had a match would obviously be given time off classes to go and play, with whichever dormitory was hosting them being given time off to watch as well as the dormitory of their reserves and the reserves themselves. This would amount to a large enough crowd, with on average two people being hosted per dormitory.

Games could be rotated so that each team had an equal number of 'in school' matches as well as 'out of school' games, so that no one year would be missing out on excess amounts of lessons. Indeed, the schedule could be manipulated in such a way that seventh and fifth years not miss important lessons.

Once she had finished explaining the logistics of her plan Hermione's colleagues stared at her in silence for few moments, before they turned on each other all talking at once. Most seemed to be in agreement with the plan and were now talking fine-tuning. Only Draco remained silent (as he had throughout the meeting), though he had smiled proudly at his wife, before he mouthed,

"Know it all."

XXX

The week, though action packed with the Gryffindor girls spending every spare moment making their dresses for the ball, was flying by for Leshia, who's fear about disappointing on the international stage was eating her up inside. Everyone else in the school would attest to the week crawling by at a veritable snail pace, but for the young seeker Sunday arrived all too soon and with it, the arrival of their ISQT guests. The arrival of the quidditch-playing guests was far less spectacular than anyone would have guessed and it rather went along the lines of one moment they weren't there and the next they were. The youngsters had been told over breakfast to come to the great hall at certain times appointed by which house they were in. Gryffindor were the first to be called to the hall and excitedly the youngsters surged upon the double doors the moment they were swung open.

Inside the tables had magically disappeared, leaving way for comfortable sofas arranged in nine separate groups. Lots of youngsters were milling about, youngsters not dressed in Hogwarts' uniform, youngsters that had obviously just arrived from far off and exotic locations. Leshia was swept inside along with the rest of the house and instantly her attention was raptly caught by the wizarding pupils from a school evidently in Africa due to the very dark hue of their skin. The robes they wore could not have differed more from the black simple robe Leshia and her peers wore over their grey uniforms; bright purple was the predominant colour on the long sleeveless robe, with scarlet and gold edgings to the elaborate cloth. They looked fascinating.

"They must be from École du soleil de sorcellerie," Katie whispered when she realised Leshia was staring at the same group she had first been drawn to. "They're from Senegal."

"I wish we could have got them, they look wicked," Leshia whispered back.

"I think that's our lot over there," Katie told her shorter friend, nodding in the direction of the only non-uniformed group of the bunch, at least, not in a school uniform. All seemed to be donning a uniform that consisted of jeans, trainers and a colourful assortment of T-shirts, but this could not be a school uniform surely? With carefully arranged hairstyles, painstakingly crafted manicures and made up to look as though they had stepped out of a model shoot, the girls amongst the crowd looked severely out of place. Leshia felt something in the pit of her stomach squirm. Beside her, Katie was feeling it too.

"They're gorgeous," the tall girl finally uttered, but before either of her friends could reply, Professor McGonagall had raised her voice over the chatter of the excitable Gryffindors,

"Now then," she called out shrilly and everyone in the great hall turned to look at her. "When I call out your dormitory I would like only one person to come forward to greet your guests and lead them out of the great hall. It is in everybody's best interests if you work out amongst yourselves who that person will be now, so that the rest of you may wait outside. There are far too many of you for this to work effectively as it is." Upon this announcement Leshia and the other four girls in her dorm turned to look at each other through narrowed eyes.

"Rock, paper, scissors," Rachel finally announced and as one the five girls flung their balled up fists into the space between them all.

"One, two, three," they all called out and then displayed their chosen weapon. Three rocks and two papers meant Katie, Ashley and Nicola were out of the running leaving Rachel and Leshia grinning at each other.

"Give it your best shot Malfoy," Rachel giggled happily. Leshia grinned back at her best friend and held out her small grubby hand.

"One, two, three." Two rocks.

"One, two, three." Two papers.

"Oh this is ridiculous," Katie grumbled. "Why can't you two be normal for two seconds? Do it properly this time."

"Okay," Leshia said calculatingly, before once more the two girls held their fists out toward one another.

"One, two, th…"

"Shotgun!" Rachel stared at Leshia in surprise.

"Hey! We're not playing shotgun rules," the redhead exclaimed firmly. Leshia grinned and shrugged her small shoulders.

"Shotgun rules apply to everything Rach, you should know that, you've got siblings."

"But if I'd known we were playing Shotgun rules I would have called it by now," Rachel complained, her disappointment evident. For a moment Leshia felt terrible.

"Well, if you want you can," she began generously, but Rachel shook her head firmly; there's no breaking the Shotgun rules and Leshia had called it fair and square.

"No, you go, I'll wait outside." Leshia grinned comfortingly at her friend and watched as her four dorm-mates filed out of the hall with the majority of their fellow Gryffindors. Leshia was happy to see that Rodeo had won out of the boys and so she sidled up to him with a grin.

"Do you see them?" Rodeo told his friend softly, while he nodded across the hall to the yellow clad, dark-haired group of pupils. "They're from Xí Xiào, it's this school in China. I've heard that instead of playing with beaters they have broom-riding swordsmen instead." Leshia sniggered despite herself. "What?"

"Rodes don't believe everything Parys tells you, he's just winding you up," the short girl chuckled, eliciting a dashing grin from the boy.

"What makes you think I got this from Parys?"

"Where else would you hear such a crazy story?" Rodeo's cheeks went a little red.

"Rachel," he finally managed embarrassedly, which caused Leshia to start laughing loudly. People started to stare at her, so Rodeo slung his arm about her neck and dragged her toward him. "Stop it kid, people will think I'm a laughing stock."

"You are," Leshia chuckled, but stopped at her friend's embarrassment. "I mean to believe Rachel of all people…" Leshia trailed off, because McGonagall had by now walked over to the few remaining pupils with a long list.

"Right then, that wasn't so difficult now was it? We'll start with first year boys." And so it began. Leshia was fascinated by all the interesting pupils that were called forward to be house with the lower years in Gryffindor. Evidently the schools had been organised so that they would be divided equally between the houses and by the time years one and two had been designated and had left four schools had been called forward: Xí Xiào, Durmstrang, the Americas Institute and Durmstrang. Now it was Rodeo's turn to collect his guests, who were coming from the Australian wizarding school: Wallaby Academy. Two boys who could only possibly be described as 'surfers' (though this was not a description any of the Hogwarts lot really knew and therefore did not know how to describe these two boys) and went by the names Harvey and Jesse accompanied her friend out of the door and now Leshia felt a twang of nervousness; it was her turn.

"Staying with the third year girls," the teacher read out. "From Salem High, Petra Walsh and Heather Green!" Leshia looked toward the jean-clad school and noticed grimly that the two most attractive girls of the group had picked up two backpacks and were now strutting forward with more than their fair share of attitude.

'Brilliant,' Leshia thought to herself, before she assumed a pleasant welcoming expression and made her way forward as well. She could see the two preened girls sizing her up as they approached and by the time the two parties met, Leshia was sure they had carried out a full analysis and consequent judgment on her appearance.

"Hi," the short girl offered in a friendly tone and she held out an ink-spattered hand for the two newcomers to shake. They didn't exactly fight over who would go first, but eventually the deed was done and Leshia was leading them out of the great hall. "I'm Leshia," she offered. The taller of the pair, a girl with flowing golden locks, a deep tan and large brown eyes introduced herself as Petra the varsity seeker for Salem High, while her ever-so-slightly shorter, auburn, blue-eyed companion transpired to be Heather, one of the varsity team's star chasers.

"Are you sure you're in eighth grade?" Petra asked before Leshia had even managed to welcome them to the school. The short girl furrowed her brow.

"Eighth grade?"

"Petra they don't call it that here," Heather corrected her friend, before she turned an extremely patronising expression on Leshia. "Sorry, that's just what third year is called in America," she explained, as though Leshia were a child.

"Oh, right," the British girl finally replied uneasily. "Um, well then yeah, I'm sure I'm in eighth grade."

"Sorry," Petra offered, her tone indicating that she didn't feel apologetic in the slightest. "It's just, you're so small." A small cough escaped Leshia's lips and for now she was deliriously happy that they had reached the entrance hall and her friends had fallen upon them.

"These are my friends, they share a dormitory with me," Leshia explained before she introduced the four other girls. Petra and Heather's faces fell even more and on the walk back to Gryffindor tower they continued to express their less-than-impressed conclusions of Hogwarts and her pupils.

"Your school is so old," Petra announced. It wasn't a compliment.

"Well it is a castle," Katie countered, taking their lack of enthusiasm rather personally. Leshia wondered whether she might not be so insulted were they not quite so attractive.

"Our school was built like five years ago, it's basically brand new," Heather told the Gryffindors with a smug smile.

"Good for you."

"Katie," Rachel said loudly, giving her cousin a warning look; why was Katie acting so very un-Katie like? "So what's your school like then? Leshia told us she saw some pictures of it and there were these strange metal oblongy thingies in the corridors." Petra and Heather tittered.

"Oh I can't get over your accents, they're so cute!"

"Those 'oblongy thingies'," Petra began, poorly imitating Rachel's accent. "Are called lockers, we keep stuff in them during the day. We don't live at school like you guys, so we don't get to keep all our stuff around all the time."

"We do actually have homes as well you know," Katie explained with a frown.

"Well obviously…" Petra began, but all of a sudden her friend reached out and grabbed her arm firmly. For a moment Leshia and her friends had no idea as to why, but then it dawned on them; in the distance Draco was approaching. Leshia's heart started skipping in horror.

'Oh please don't let them fancy my dad,' she pleaded silently, but the closer Draco came, the more the their new guests swooned. The young man had not failed to notice and as he approached his daughter he caught her eyes worriedly, thinking the exact same thoughts as she.

"Morning Miss Malfoy," he offered Leshia as he passed and she nodded with a look of commissary before her father was gone. Petra and Heather spun around to watch him disappear round the corner.

"Don't tell me that guy is one of your teachers," Petra exclaimed hysterically.

"Yeah, he is," Leshia said with a bemused expression on her face. "Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"You guys are so lucky."

"He is so hot!"

"Yeah, um, he's my dad." For a moment Heather and Petra stared at the girl blankly, before they exchanged a look of bafflement, followed promptly by cackling laughter. Evidently they thought Leshia was either demented or joking. "No seriously," the blonde girl complained. "He is."

"Sure he is honey," Heather breezed over the girl and for a moment Leshia glanced to her friends with her hands in the air as if asking 'what should I do?'. Each and every one of them shook their heads with raised eyebrows: what could she do? So they left the matter, though Leshia had a terrible feeling that this was only going to get worse before it was resolved.

Upon reaching their dormitory, having scrambled through a heaving common room filled with fascinating faces, the girls found their room to be much changed since they had left it that very morning. All the beds had squeezed round to accompany two smaller four-posters with sheets the colours of Salem High's shield. Petra and Heather's trunks lay at the foot of their beds.

"Wow, what a small room you guys have to share," Heather announced the moment the girls led them in.

"We like it," Katie countered defensively.

"Don't you get cold? There's a draft coming in this window," Petra added to her friend's negative sentiments.

"When you've got your curtains shut and you're under your duvet you won't notice a thing," Ashley assured the two Americans. Her excitement at having the girls from Salem stay with them had since diminished upon finding out how insufferable they were, but she had to make an effort. While Petra and Heather 'freshened up' behind their curtains Leshia dropped down on her bed with a stony expression. Katie and Rachel soon joined her.

"Why don't you show them this?" Rachel suggested, lifting a picture of Leshia and her parents off the bedside table. "Maybe then they'll believe you." Leshia shook her head.

"I'm not going to bother. I'm just going to focus on my game and that's it," the small girl said firmly. Katie and Rachel exchanged a grimace.

"They're going to drive us all mad," the raven-haired girl finally said miserably and after a moment's pause Leshia nodded.

"Yep!"

XXX

Everyone else's guests were entirely lovely and when the girls managed to escape after a few hours to the common room for some light relief from their American 'friends' they found it mostly deserted. Only a few loner-types remained behind while everyone else was no doubt showing their guests around. Somehow Leshia and her friends had pawned Petra and Heather off on Ashley and Nicole, giving them a few hours to work out a game plan on how to stay sane while in the presence of their new room mates.

"I swear if they moan about one more thing," Rachel seethed; on their way out of the dormitory Petra had just been announcing how the dormitory smelled funny. The girl had actually meant that it smelled old, but all five Gryffindor girls took it as a personal insult about their hygiene.

"If they didn't do it in such a sneaky underhand way then I could deal with it," Leshia added. "But it's just the way they sound so nice when they're saying it that drives me mad.""I think they're stupid airheads," Katie concluded tetchily. "So, what's the plan? Nicky and Ash will be furious if we leave them with the girls all day."

"Well we could take them for a tour of the Forbidden Forest and abandon them there?" Rachel suggested cheerfully. Leshia snorted with laughter at the thought of it, but Katie gave her cousin a strict look.

"Be serious Rachel," the oldest of the three admonished, but then a small smile tugged onto her pretty face. "And don't tempt me."

"Don't you have to take part in that opening ceremony thing Dumbledore was talking about this morning?" Rachel now asked Leshia, who shrugged her shoulders with a dumfounded look on her face. "Shouldn't you know these things?"

"Hey, nobody tells me anything," Leshia chuckled. "I just go with the flow." Rachel grinned amusedly at the blonde girl and was about to make a teasing remark when the portrait hole swung forward and most of the third year boys climbed in with their two Australian friends in pursuit. Seeing their friends sprawled over the sofas the boys quickly made their way over. Where one moment they had been comfortably relaxing, the next the girls found themselves either sat on, shoved aside or leaned upon. Leshia happened to go through a process of all three until finally Parys decided how he wanted to sit: feet resting on Leshia's shoulders.

"Parys I'm not a foot rest," the girl laughed and she pushed her friend's feet from her shoulders to her lap. The newcomers stayed clear of disturbing the girls and instead opted for the footstools by the hearth.

"This is Harvey and Jesse," Rodeo announced for the girls' sake, nodding first to the more blonde of the two blonde boys and then to his neighbour. They could have passed for brothers. "Guys," Rodeo was continuing, looking now at his new friends. "This is Leshia, Rachel and Katie." After a few waves and muffled 'hellos' all round the atmosphere relaxed a little.

"Leesh plays seeker for the firsts," Parys piped up, reaching out with his toes to poke Leshia in the face. "Don't you shorty?"

"Parys," Leshia complained fondly and she shoved his foot down again.

"What do you guys play?" Rachel piped up; staring at the boys with a strange look Leshia had never seen on her face before.

"We're beaters," Harvey replied in an accent the redhead found simply divine. The joy must have shown on her face because the bohemian boy grinned at her. "Your accent sounds just as funny to us."

"Please, no more accents," Katie grumbled. "We've already had those nitwits upstairs imitating us all morning."

"Who's a nitwit?" Rodeo asked amusedly; he rarely saw Katie riled up, but it amused him no end.

"Our two girls, they're so incredibly idiotic it begs belief."

"They're not that bad," Leshia snickered.

"Oh really, so when they were drooling over your dad they were positively delightful were they?" Katie countered with one eyebrow raised at her short friend. Leshia shifted uncomfortably.

"Well…"

"Wait a second, they fancy your dad?" Parys asked in amazement. Leshia glowered at him playfully.

"And what's more, they think she's a pathological liar…or a little crazy," Katie continued. She was met by questioning looks. "She told them to back off because he's her dad and they didn't believe her."

"Seriously?" Parys was by now in fits of laughter, which were only mildly stifled when Leshia started pummelling him with the cushion she had been leaning on.

"Who's your dad?" Harvey spoke up curiously.

"You saw him," Rodeo explained. "He was telling off that second year kid in the entrance hall." For a moment both Harvey and Jesse's eyes went wide and they looked to Leshia slightly fearfully. What had Draco done now?

"He's not that bad," Leshia quickly explained.

"Yeah he is," Parys assured the newcomers. "But it's okay, Leesh isn't like him all the time."

"Oh that is it!" Leshia laughed aloud, before she went all out in attacking the boy in a play fight that had everyone in stitches of laughter. By the time the girl had exhausted herself the others were chatting again, which they promptly stopped doing when the fifth year boys wandered in with their guests. Leshia particularly stared in wonder as two boys from the school in Senegal followed the Gryffindors in. Tom and Luke Weasley, the beaters on Gryffindor squad and cousins of Katie and Rachel, led their friends and newcomers over to the already large group relaxing on the sofas.

"Hey," they all offered and momentarily there was an exchange nods and smiles, while the boys introduced the newcomers to each other. The two from Senegal turned out to be Emeka (preferring to go by his nickname Emi) and Adama.

"This is the girl we were telling you about," Tom spoke up when silence lulled over the group. Leshia cringed and looked away before the redhead Weasley even had a chance to stride over to her and drop his hand on top of her head. "This is Leshia, she's our seeker." The boy that had been introduced as Emeka stepped forward and held a large hand out to Leshia who uncertainly shook it with an impish smile on her face.

"Um, hi," she offered.

"I am also a seeker," the boy explained.

"Oh right," Leshia replied. "Cool." For a moment a brilliant smile flashed onto the young man's face, before he nodded to the girl and stepped back beside his friend.

"We were going to go down to the quidditch pitch and show them round, anyone wanna come with?" Luke suggested to the crowd. The boys were definitely in, as they had been wanting to show their Australian friends the pitch all morning, but hadn't quite built up the momentum to go out into the cold.

"These stairs are so steep, I'm gonna break my neck on them before the week's through." The sound of yet more complaining wafted out from the stairwell and like three jack-in-a-boxes the girls were on their feet.

"We're coming," they said simultaneously and rushed out ahead of the others. The walk was a pleasant one, and even though it was cold there was such a degree of international bonding going on that nobody noticed. Rachel and Harvey seemed to drift off into a world of their own and while Katie and Rodeo kept Jesse amused Leshia found herself walking alone with Emi.

"So you're from Senegal right?"

"Not exactly no," the young man replied. "I am from Nigeria, but my school is in Senegal. And you, you are from England?" Leshia nodded.

"Yep, born and raised in London."

"Ah London, I have always wanted to visit this place." Leshia wrinkled her brow.

"It's nothing special, just lots of muggles and their muggle traffic," she shrugged. Emi laughed deeply.

"Where I come from London seems such a faraway place. My mother is a how do you say it? Muggle." Leshia nodded, suppressing her grin at the boy's pronunciation of the word. "When she was younger all she ever wanted was to come to England and live in London."

"She never did it?" Leshia wondered.

"No," Emi laughed. "She met my father and now she can go wherever she wants whenever she wants. She does not like to stay in one place very long. I believe she and my father are staying in Nepal at the moment." Leshia grinned.

"That sounds like so much fun! I wish I could say mine are the same, but they're both teachers here and live on the third floor." Emi seemed surprised.

"Your mother and father are both teachers?" Leshia nodded. "Here?" Once more a nod, accompanied by an impish smile.

"Yeah go on, laugh at me for being a teacher's pet," the girl chuckled, but Emi didn't seem inclined to laugh at her.

"Why should I laugh? Being a teacher is a very honourable profession. When a person has parents who are honourable they too become honourable." Taking this insightful and rather deep comment as a compliment Leshia beamed at the boy and nodded, hoping he wouldn't get to know her father too well lest he find out that once upon a time Draco Malfoy was the least honourable young man in England.

The quidditch pitch impressed both lots of newcomers, who explained on their way back to the castle that their own pitches needed a lot of improvement before they might host an ISQT. The snow had started falling and this seemed to awe the boys even more than the pitch, who had seen snow so rarely in their lives; indeed Emi confessed he had never come across it in all his seventeen years. It took an immense amount of persuasion to lure the four foreigners in, but finally they conceded when they heard about the delicious lunch the houselves had prepared. And boy, had they outdone themselves today! Leshia and her friends had never seen the likes of such fineries in the great hall, nor such lavish decorations strung about the place. Christmas may have been over a week away, but it was already going full swing in the great hall at Hogwarts.

Though it was impossible (surely?) the hall seemed longer than usual to accommodate the extra influx of pupils – after all, with nine visiting schools, each one bringing a team of seven and a team of seven reserves the grand total of extra pupils equalled one-hundred and twenty six heads. Gryffindor table, like all the others, was bursting with colour and everywhere they looked beaming smiles showed that international relations were going strong. The newcomers even appeared to be having a good time over on Slytherin's table. Though they desperately wanted to sit down with Luke, Tom and their guests, where indeed Rodeo and Parys had led their new friends, the girls had to make their way down the table to where a furious Ashley and Nicola were still minding Petra and Heather, who had if anything, started complaining more. Even the glorious food was being picked to pieces – figuratively speaking of course – for being too calorific for the liking of these two model-esque young women.

"Hi," Leshia tried brightly when they sat down with their dorm-mates and their guests.

"Where have you lot been?" Nicola asked icily.

"Pressing business in the ahm, library," Rachel replied with a large bright entirely fake smile. The two girls across the table seemed far from convinced and for a moment they conveyed through their glares that after lunch the two Salemers would be their problem! Petra and Heather, if they had noticed the hostilities, weren't paying them any attention, as both were staring up at the head table with dreamy expressions. It took Leshia a while to notice them, but when she did she instantly regretted following their gaze to her father.

"Please stop staring at him like that," the girl pleaded. "It completely gives me the creeps!" As one the two attractive girls spun around and stared at the small girl.

"Okay," Petra began slowly. "So it was funny the first time. The second time it was pretty creepy, but now this? You either have a seriously twisted sense of humour, or you're losing it honey."

"Stop calling me honey," Leshia grumbled. "And why do you think I'm lying? Why would I lie about something like this?"

"If he really is your dad then why did he call you Miss Malfoy this morning?" Heather asked pointedly.

"He always calls me that in school and I call him Professor Malfoy," Leshia explained. "It's so I can be normal like everybody else." The two American girls exchanged a cruel grin, as though mocking the girl for thinking she might be normal. "Oh get over yourselves," Leshia grumbled and turned around so that her back was facing the girls, who started tittering gleefully.

"Cows," Leshia mouthed furiously. The afternoon didn't improve, as despite her head-to-head with the girls, she wasn't excused from chaperoning the 'two pains' around. Thankfully come five-o clock Leshia was summoned to the quidditch pitch with her team to go over the welcoming ceremony events. The show was going to be an action packed display of Hogwarts' superiority and only now did Leshia find out that groups of pupils had been practising all over the show for this very day. There were bands, orchestras, choirs, performers, dancers and even synchronised broom dancing scheduled for the evening's entertainment.

Though across the pitch the two pains were stood with their team being instructed on the night's schedule by Professor McGonagall and Madam Hooch, Leshia felt she had finally got away from them and was consequently in a deliriously good mood. It had not escaped the team's attention.

"You're happy," Owen remarked amusedly, walking up beside the girl and following her gaze.

"Damn right I'm happy," Leshia beamed at the boy. "I'm free from them!" Owen started laughing.

"Not getting along? Aw, what a shame," he chuckled. The girl turned a frown on him.

"You don't seem surprised."

"Yeah well I figured as such, the two guys staying with us are pretty cool and they said nobody on their team or even in their whole school likes those two girls. The only reason people put up with them is because they're good at quidditch," the boy explained. Leshia felt a twang of anger.

"They're good are they?" Owen raised his eyebrows and nodded, leaning backwards and forwards on his heals.

"Sorry shorty."

"Oh, that means they're really good," Leshia groaned, before she sighed heavily. "So yours are nice are they?"

"What Dave and Jorge? Yeah, they're great. I can't be near Jorge without cracking up, he's the funniest guy I've ever met, and Dave, well he's alright, bit of a weirdo, but still, he's cool."

"So why'd we get the rejects?" Leshia grumbled. Once more Owen started laughing, which earned him a glare from the girl, but she couldn't stay mad at him, not when his face was so lit up from his mirth. It melted her resolve within seconds. "Want to swap?"

"Hey I wouldn't mind, they're pretty fit." Owen laughed even louder when he saw the girl scrunch up her face and turn her back on him with her arms crossed. "I'm kidding dearest, you know you're the only woman for me." The boy had slung his arm around Leshia's shoulders and for a moment they stared at one another in surprise. What had Owen just said? It had been intended as a joke, and had worked in the past with female friends, but now, with Leshia it seemed all wrong.

"Um, yeah, so this ceremony," Owen managed through multiple clearings of his throat.

"I can't believe I hadn't heard about it," Leshia added sounding awkward.

"Yeah they kept it pretty secret." With this their forced conversation was over and after an apologetic grin at the girl Owen ducked out and went to talk with the Mills twins. Leshia chewed on the insides of her mouth and looked up in time to catch Valerie Beckett glowering at her. The small blonde girl glowered back triumphantly.

XXX

The ceremony was indeed incredibly impressive, with each team putting on a little show (entirely choreographed of course and it did rather put the Hogwarts teams to shame, who had not planned anything). The firsts embarrassment about not having an impressive display of their team's strength or agility soon subsided when they saw the breathtaking performance that had been planned. Hogwarts may have gone down 9-0 early on in the evening, but they certainly came out the victors in the end. The delicious dinner that was laid on afterwards sealed their fate as the most talked about school when everyone turned in for the night.

The following morning the third year Gryffindors awoke to the sound of loud chattering. With heavily furrowed brows each of the girls looked to their clocks to see what time it was, as it certainly didn't feel like their usual hour of waking up. They soon found in outrage that it was six-o clock.

"What are you two doing?" Katie it would seem was going to confront them about it, and after grinning broadly and egging Katie on silently Leshia rolled over and peered through her curtains to see the raven-haired girl had clambered out of bed and was facing off with the two American girls clad alarmingly in quidditch gear.

"We're going to practice if you must know," Heather told Katie with a putout expression; clearly she didn't feel the younger girl had the right to question them on their activities. Leshia's face fell: practice? They were going to train at six in the morning?

"You what?" the blonde girl couldn't help but splutter. The two Americans turned their smug expressions on her.

"Practice?" Petra explained patronisingly. "You know? Where you train with your team so you can win."

"I know what practicing is," Leshia snapped. "But why the heck are you practicing at six in the morning?"

"Actually we normally start at five," Heather corrected. "But today coach let us have a lie in because we got to bed so late." Leshia's expression was one of horror.

"Why?" was all she could manage.

"Because we're going to win," Petra's reply came, a cool and steely smile on her made-up face. For a moment Leshia locked eyes with the girl, wanting more than anything to storm across the dormitory and throw her out of the window.

"We'll see about that," the smaller girl finally stated coolly, before she pulled back through her curtains and pulled her duvet over her head. The argument in the dormitory did not cool down after her exit.

"Look, you can practice whenever you bloody well like. Practice from midnight till dawn for all I care, but you might have the common courtesy to respect the fact that the rest of us are asleep and keep it down," Katie was continuing. The two Americans sized her up, and then quite simply turned their backs on her and continued with their conversation even louder than before. Katie had never looked so surprised and outraged. Long after the two girls had disappeared down the spiral staircase Katie still stood routed to the spot fuming in anger at their treatment of her. Finally after everyone had fallen asleep again Katie shook herself from her mood,

"You had better thrash them tomorrow Leesh, or I'm never speaking to you again!"

"Would you all just go back to sleep!" came Ashley's despairing warning and not a peep was heard until the girls woke at seven-thirty to dress for the day. They kept silent as they pulled on their uniforms and noticed that Petra and Heather had not yet returned.

"Well I'm not waiting for them," Katie announced and she flounced off. "I'd rather poke my eyes out with a blunt stick."

"Katie," Rachel exclaimed in impressed surprise. "When did you get so dark?" Deciding that none of them would wait for the two visitors all five Gryffindor girls set off for breakfast discussing what they might do about their terrifically rude guests. Going to the teachers was ruled out, as they would no doubt find some way of blaming the five third years for all the upset, which would not do. Getting their own back seemed out too, due to the fact that they would get detention for the rest of their lives for endangering the success of the tournament. No, it seemed the only way to truly stick it to them was to beat them at quidditch and this meant it all lay squarely on Leshia's shoulders. Over breakfast the youngster didn't speak a word at the unfairness of it all. As if she needed more pressure to perform?

Just as they were leaving the great hall to head off for morning lessons they were joined by the Salem girls. With neither Hogwarts nor Salem having a game until after lessons the girls would be joining the Gryffindors on their daily schedule, so it came as rather an annoyance that the girls were late for breakfast.

"You don't have time for breakfast," Katie told the two older girls as they flounced past dressed once more immaculately – they had evidently spent the last hour or so carefully preening themselves to look so perfect. "If you're late for lessons here you get detention, and we're not getting in trouble for you."

"Oh lighten up four-eyes, we don't eat breakfast," Heather jeered snidely.

"Hey," Leshia complained defensively. "What is your problem? Katie's done nothing wrong, you've got no right to talk to her like that." For a moment the two girls sized her up, until eventually Petra managed through a snigger,

"You're right, that was uncalled for. Heather, lighten up." There was absolutely not sentiment behind her words and now Leshia saw how truly Slytherin-like these girls were. They ought to have been housed in that house, there they wouldn't have much to complain about, they would have fitted right in.

"Come on, we'll be late for charms unless we hurry," Rachel told her friends uneasily and so they hurried off. It was safe to say that the American girls didn't keep their negativity to themselves throughout the day's lessons, so much so that even the Slytherins who had shared the lessons with them wanted to oust them for their cheek; to suggest that the work they were carrying out was 'baby stuff' was abhorrent. Send them back where they came from!

Come two-thirty the moment Leshia had been dreading arrived: Defence Against the Dark Arts. As usual the youngsters all lined up outside the classroom awaiting the arrival of Professor Malfoy. Petra and Heather seemed to be preening themselves even more now they were to come face to face with the Adonis himself. It was sickening Leshia to the core.

"You might want to tuck in your T-shirts, he probably won't let you in like that," the youngster tried, extending perhaps the smallest of olive branches to prevent the two girls from being embarrassed by her father. They took her branch and snapped it.

"Oh get real, as if!" Heather laughed. Though the two Salemers didn't heed her warning, it did filter back through the queue of pupils and after a few moments the six other guests being hosted by the other dormitories in this class had tucked in their tops so as not to get in trouble with this teacher they had heard so much about. The two Australian boys Harvey and Jesse, who had witnessed Draco's punishing a second year, seemed terrified at the very thought of having to sit down with this man for an hour and a half and were the first to comply.

Long loping strides alerted the class to the impending arrival of their dichotic teacher and as one they jumped back into the wall. Draco had reached them within moments. He glanced up and down the queue, trying his very best to ignore the way his daughter's guests were swooning at him, inspecting the shirt-situation.

"You two," Draco finally spoke, looking up at the American girls. "I don't know if you've been told, but here at Hogwarts we have a strict shirts tucked-in policy, so if you want to enter my classroom then I would do something about it." The two girls promptly lost their smiles and hurried to tuck in their skimpy t-shirts as best as they could. At the sight of them Leshia couldn't help the glee that sprung on her face, nor the whisper she blurted out to Rachel and Katie,

"They had that one coming."

"Miss Malfoy," Draco raised his voice and Leshia looked at him in surprise. "Do I need to remind you about the rules as well? After two and a half years I had rather hoped I would no longer have to repeat myself. I do so hate repeating myself."

"But sir we're not even in the…"

"Do you wish to join me after class Miss Malfoy? Because I hear you have prior arrangements." Leshia bit her lip and hung her head slightly, feeling the colour rising in her cheeks. Her father's treating her as though she weren't anything to him wasn't helping her cause, and even now Petra and Heather were smirking at her. Inside the classroom the youngsters found the by-now-uninteresting extra eight desks and quite deliberately Heather and Petra sat either side of Leshia in Katie and Rachel's usual seats. With Draco watching the class like a hawk, the girls couldn't object and her friends opted instead to sit behind and in front of Leshia to console her against whatever torture Heather and Petra were going to put her through this lesson.

"Welcome to those of you not usually in this class," Draco spoke once everyone had taken their seats. "My name is Professor Malfoy and this is Defence Against the Dark Arts. This will be a one and a half hour lesson, if you abide by the rules and participate in my class then it will go much quicker I assure you." A polite tittering filled the class. "First order of the day, last week's homework." As had become routine Draco flung a pile of parchments into the air, which dutifully zoomed back to their respective owners. Upon turning to the back page Leshia saw a large O gleaming out at her, beneath which her father had scrawled:

Bored me silly in paragraph two, I have read the book you regurgitated from over a hundred times, but overall outstanding

Leshia furrowed her brow as she reread her father's mixed message. Over her shoulder Petra was scanning the script, finding it hard to read, though she was suppressing a loud snigger at the result. Quite unknowledgeable about Hogwarts' marking system, and with Salem High's rather muggle approach to marking – A through F – O seemed absolutely abysmal. Draco noticed.

"Do you have a problem miss…" He trailed off, his eyebrows raised in silent demand of a name and his eyes steely; he had seen what had the girl sniggering so. Why was she laughing at his daughter?

"Walsh," Petra replied, lingering on every letter of her name. "Petra Walsh."

"Miss Walsh, perhaps you didn't notice at the beginning of this lesson when I told Miss Malfoy off for breaking the no silence rule."

"No I noticed Mr Mal…"

"Professor Malfoy if you please," Draco interrupted in a steely tone. "And I'm glad you noticed, but this does then bring me to the question of why you did not feel this rule was applicable to yourself." Petra felt her cheeks flushing and for a moment Leshia smiled down at her desk, not daring herself to look up lest she lose control and burst out laughing at the unpleasant girl.

"I didn't…" The girl trailed off. "Sorry."

"Very well," Draco sighed loudly. "I had hoped that I would not have to spell it out to you, but to save myself from repeating myself countless times down the line, allow me to explain the rules to you newcomers. The five tenants I demand from you while you are in my lesson are arrive on time, arrive presentable, participate in my lessons, be respectful of one another and be silent unless you have been invited to talk. Does everybody understand? Because the next person who breaks one of these rules will receive detention regardless of what school you are in, whether you have a quidditch match or not, or even if you have a terribly sick aunt on her deathbed. Do I make myself clear?" The class nodded quickly in response. "You Miss Walsh having broken three of my rules are on thin ice, so be aware that even the remotest hint or inkling that you are about to break another will land you in detention." With a silent whoop of triumph Leshia finally looked up to see Petra wrinkling her brow in confusion: which three rules had she broken? Silence that was one, appear presentable was possibly two, but what was the third?

"Respecting each other," Leshia mouthed to the girl when her father turned his back to write something on the board. Petra narrowed her eyes in dislike at the girl and continued to act out of sorts all lesson long. Not a peep about how easy the work was (because in all honesty they had not done this before) or any other criticism about the lesson emerged from the two girls and Leshia for one was happy for the pause in their moaning.

When the bell for the end of the day rang Leshia wasn't surprised to be asked to remain behind, which she did obediently. After everyone had filed out Draco approached her desk for once and leant against it, reaching out to ruffle his daughter's hair.

"So little one, what's the story with those two visitors of yours?" he asked amusedly.

"They're insufferable dad," Leshia wailed petulantly. "They complain about everything, fancy you, and when I told them to stop it because you're you know, my dad, they didn't believe me! They think I'm either lying or completely and utterly mental." To her surprise Draco started laughing.

"They don't believe you?" he chuckled "Why's that then? Am I too youthful looking?" The young man swept back an imaginary mane of hair that made Leshia snigger.

"Sure dad, yeah that must be it. Absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they're totally off their rockers!" Draco smiled at his daughter adoringly and reached out to squeeze the back of her neck comfortingly.

"Ignore them," he advised her.

"I can't just ignore them," Leshia grumbled. "They're driving us all insane and they've only been here twenty-four hours."

"Well what would you prefer? I could get out the baby pictures in your next lesson if you'd rather and tell everyone the intimate details of all your most embarrassing childhood moments. That would prove it beyond all doubt wouldn't it?" Her father was enjoying himself and as such Leshia pulled a face at him.

"No, they'd think I'd put you up to it," the girl sighed before she pulled her satchel strap onto her shoulder and found her feet. A look of nervousness crossed her face that only her mother or father could have noticed.

"Don't be nervous," Draco assured his daughter brusquely, knowing that his daughter was now fixating on that afternoon's match versus the French school Beaubatons. "They're a bunch of girls. You'll thrash them."

XXX

And what a thrashing it was, after only twenty minutes the game was over with a thrilling score of 380 to 10 in Hogwarts' favour. It had been the first match of the afternoon and as such everyone had turned out to watch it. The atmosphere was electric with the home crowd going mad over their home victory. Though Leshia's catch hadn't been one of her more spectacular occasions, her performance, and the performance of the whole team, had been solid. The team looked unbeatable.

In the stands Katie and Rachel had felt particularly gleeful when they saw the concerned looks upon the Salemers faces. The two girls masked their disappointment at Hogwarts' superiority well, but it was still clear to all those who had only ever seen smug disdain on their two pretty faces. The two cousins couldn't have been more ecstatic to see Petra and Heather be taken down a peg or two. After Leshia had caught the snitch the two Americans disappeared from sight. Their match wasn't till the evening slot, which started at seven after dinner (the time slot predicted to draw the largest crowd). So it was too early to be rushing off for practice or team talks; secretly Katie and Rachel felt the two girls had slinked off to avoid having to congratulate Leshia on her performance.

Several victory laps later and Leshia was enjoying a warm shower, followed by a team talk in which the Hogwarts Captain, Slytherin's James Flint, bestowed praise upon his team. The day, which had started out so horribly, was brightening up after all and finally when Leshia managed to make her way back to the common room with a very talkative Owen and Mila they were welcomed with ear-piercing applause, before being whisked off to the comfortable seats.

"You lot were amazing!" Tom Weasley crowed. "Even without us there to cover your backs."

"The Mills twins did a good job, we must confess," Luke added through a snigger. He was evidently thinking about the moment the two large twins had collided mid air chasing the same bludger.

"Provided some pretty good entertainment too," his cousin chuckled and for a moment the common room was enveloped by hearty laughter and mirth. Leshia was about to excuse herself in order to find her friends when suddenly two visiting youths appeared and congratulated Owen on his fine performance. Their accents gave their school away and for a moment Leshia felt a bit rigid with fear, were all the Salemers as insufferable as her two? Owen had already assured her that Petra and Heather were an anomaly, but until she witnessed it for herself, she wouldn't quite believe it.

"Malfoy this is Jorge," Owen was now speaking, his hand indicating the Hispanic-American boy with a large mop of brown tight curls, an overly large smile and moon-shaped bright brown eyes. He looked enchanting.

"You were pretty good out there kiddo," the foreigner told Leshia amusingly. "Too bad you had to catch the damn thing so fast, we were trying to analyse your tactics to think up a way to beat you guys tomorrow." The boy was joking, but Leshia still felt a shiver of fear at the thought of playing Salem tomorrow evening. What if they lost?

"But that is our tactic," the girl replied cockily. "If you want to beat us you'll have to get there before I do." The common room roared in approval and Jorge started laughing.

"Good point," he conceded, before he made way for his friend.

"This is Dave," Owen spoke up once more. Dave couldn't have contrasted more to his friend, as with snow-white skin jet-black hair and frightening black eyes, the boy didn't look as though his face could handle smiling. Indeed, Leshia felt it might crack if he even tried. He didn't say a word to Leshia and made his exit quite soon after appearing.

"What did I do wrong?" Leshia whispered to Owen when the noise grew once more to acceptable levels for private conversations. The tall boy frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"Owen are you blind? Your guy Dave just ignored me."

"He's just shy, don't worry about it." But Leshia did worry about it, and she worried even more about it over dinner when she noticed the strange way Dave was watching her. She didn't like it one bit. The table was once more filled with the jubilant chatter of the home crowd and their visitors. Even up at the top table the teachers seemed to be enjoying themselves mingling with the various staff that had accompanied the foreign pupils. Draco appeared to be wrapped up in a very interesting conversation with the coach of the Durmstrang team, while Hermione was happily catching up with the two women that had accompanied the Americas Institute players; she had of course known them when she worked there during her stint of 'disappearance', when she had actually been living a false life in South America with amnesia.

Rachel and Harvey, the Australian boy staying with Rodeo and Parys, seemed to have entirely forgotten that there was anyone else at the table and were so entirely wrapped up in their own world that not once did Rachel notice the significant grins Katie and Leshia were passing each other.

"She's in love," Katie mouthed to her blonde friend and for a moment Leshia laughed so hard even Rachel resurfaced to see what had happened. Though Katie's suggestion may have been taking it a bit far, it did look as though Parys was out of a date for the ball Rachel had agreed to accompany him to. During dinner Emi made his way down the table from where he and his friends were sat and nodded to Leshia with a big smile.

"I saw you play this afternoon," he said approvingly. "You are very skilled. I hope that we will meet at some point in this tournament."

"Thanks," Leshia blushed. "How did your game go this morning?"

"It went well thank you." This seemed to be it for their conversation and after a nod the boy excused himself and exited the hall with several of his team mates.

"That has got to be the most modest guy on the planet," Rodeo sighed admiringly, staring after the hulking seeker almost enviously.

"Why?" Katie enquired.

"Because, they won like four hundred and ten points to ten." Leshia's eyes went wide and she spun around again to watch as Emi left the hall. For the remainder of the dinner the youngsters caught up with those who had gone to watch matches, until the clock struck quarter to seven prompting a mass surge of people to start moving toward the quidditch pitch. Leshia and her friends followed the crowd and found some good seats within no time.

"Who are they playing?"

"The Dutch school, Laakstang," Katie replied.

"Hey I've been there, in first year," Leshia piped up when she remembered where she'd heard the name. "It's tiny, I can't believe they'd have a quidditch team! So, we're supporting Laakstang right?" In a chorus of laughter her friends agreed and as such when the Dutch team did their warming up lap they were some of the few cheering them on enthusiastically.

Within no time the game had begun bringing down with it Leshia's hopes and morale. Salem High were sickeningly good, with an aggressive and accurate duo of beaters, a solid keeper, a very tactically sound team of chasers who seemed to be almost telepathic with one another, and though it pained Leshia to admit it, a very able seeker. Petra may have looked all grace and elegance on the ground, but this was nothing to how natural she looked on a broom. It didn't take long for the girls to notice their male friends were staring at the beautiful American seeker in admiration.

"You don't fancy her do you?" Katie demanded of Rodeo and Parys.

"Well no," Parys lied.

"You do know she's horrid don't you?" Leshia checked with one eyebrow raised in disapproval.

"Hey," Parys chuckled. "We don't wanna marry the girl, but we can still look right?" The girls exchanged a look of reprove before they focused their efforts on the game at hand. Laakstang weren't a bad team; they had one particularly fantastic chaser who seemed to be scoring a tremendous amount of goals despite the valiant keepers attempts to keep most of them out, whereas down the other end Laakstang's brilliant keeper was making sure they were pulling ahead ever so slowly. Up above the two seekers circled the pitch, with Petra's superior flying skills distracting Salem's fans from the travesty that was going on below: Salem were trailing 10 to 60. Exactly how this had happened she wasn't sure (she hadn't after all been studying the breath taking performance of the star chaser and keeper on the apposing side), but she damn well wasn't going to let it continue any longer.

Her mission now set Petra threw herself more determinedly into the game, and while everyone was still enthralled by the gritty action going on mid-level Leshia watched her new nemesis very carefully. With every death defying swoop and dive the girl made Leshia's heart sank lower and lower. Petra was good. Petra was in fact very very good. How would she be able to compete?

"Hey look, the harpy's seen the snitch," Rachel suddenly exclaimed over the roar of excitement and true enough, Petra was diving. The Laakstang seeker didn't stand a chance. Within seconds it was all over for the Dutch team who had played so valiantly.

"Agh," Rodeo complained over the cheers in congratulations of the victors. "I was enjoying that. The problem is you seekers are getting too bloody fast for your own good." Leshia grinned wryly at the boy.

"Well maybe you chasers should try and keep up and score faster goals." The crowds started to surge back towards the castle and in all the excitement and chatter Leshia managed to remain silent as she contemplated Petra's performance. When they reached Gryffindor tower she was finally called on it.

"What's wrong with you? I know Salem won, but they weren't the better team out there. You guys'll hammer them," Rachel told her best friend with a big grin.

"Petra's really good Rach," the blonde girl replied with a sigh. The look of disbelief on the redhead's face was priceless.

"Excuse me? Do you actually think she's better than you? Because I'm telling you now Leesh, that's crazy talk! You're twice the seeker she is. Trust me." After a polite smile Leshia ducked out of the conversation, heading instead for the stairs. She had lots of homework to do and with two games the following day she would have lots of work to catch up on later as well. Katie joined her, ever the conscientious one, and within no time they were sprawled over Leshia's bed painstakingly reading star chart after star chart for their divination assignment.

Leshia had just finished writing, due to a conflict between Saturn and Venus combined with a waning moon difficult times lie ahead, when the door to the dormitory flung open and in waltzed the two triumphant Salemers. They were evidently the type of sportsman who would not only be guilty of being a bad loser, but also treated winning in the worst possible way: with excessive arrogance, smugness, disregard for the feelings of the opposition and a misplaced sense of total superiority.

"Congratulations," Leshia called out to them; she on the other hand, prided herself on her high level of sportsmanship. "That was a really great catch," she offered to Petra. The two girls smiled cockily.

"Thanks," Petra replied breezily, acting as though she had just won the world cup when in actual fact her catch of the snitch had been quite mundane. "We were awesome, you guys better watch out tomorrow." For a moment Leshia fought the urge to roll her eyes, but finally she settled her face into a pained smile, before she turned back on her work.Katie was shaking with anger, and though Leshia tried to head off an outburst on her friend's part, she was unfortunately unsuccessful.

"What did you think of our game?" Katie demanded angrily, eliciting two very bitchy smiles from the girls.

"You guys did okay," Heather simply muttered, before the two friends turned on one another and started chattering about the highs and lows of their performance and how they were quite frankly the best team at the tournament.

"They're just winding you up Katie, ignore them. They've obviously got nothing better to do with their time." Leshia told her friend simply when it looked as though Katie was about to march across the dormitory and started cursing the two Salemers then and there. "Now help me with this," the girl continued when it didn't seem as though Katie were backing down. "Because the way I've worked it out, on the eighteenth I'm going to be either having a baby or killing someone…or maybe both."

"Let's hope it's the latter," Katie grumbled darkly, before she assumed a bright smile and helped her friend correct the glaring mistakes in her homework.

It was late when Rachel finally retreated to the dormitory wearing a very silly smile. Katie and Leshia, still hard at work grinned at one another, before they turned on their red-haired friend amusedly.

"So," Katie announced, grabbing Rachel's attention. "Where have you been?"

"Me and Harvey just had the most exciting game of chess I've ever had," the girl gushed while she changed into her pyjamas.

"You've been spending an awful lot of time with Harvey lately," Leshia remarked with a furrowed brow. Rachel paused and glanced up at her friends with a strange expression. "Is there something you're not telling us?"

"No," Rachel stammered promptly, the colour rising in her cheeks as she lied. "There's nothing to tell. We're friends okay? I'm going to bed, I'm tired." With this she climbed onto her bed and shut the curtains without so much as a 'goodnight'. Katie and Leshia looked to one another in confusion.

"Rach?" Katie called out, but the only response she got was the loud and over the top snores coming from Rachel's bed. Leshia shook her head at her raven-haired friend and turned back on the Potions assignment she had been working on.

"She'll tell us when she's ready."

"You know," Katie pondered aloud. "Out of all of us, she is by far the most secretive."

"Yeah we already knew that though. What with your inability to keep your emotions to yourself and with everyone already knowing what's going to happen to me about ten seconds before I do she's by default going to have the most secrets," Leshia chuckled.

"Well, it's just not what you'd expect from Rachel is it? I wonder how many secrets she's keeping from us."

XXX

The following morning Hogwarts once more played astonishingly well to beat the Chinese school Xí Xiào 240 to 50. The only difference being that this time Leshia's catch was beautiful to watch as she raced the Chinese seeker Huan Li to within an inch of her life in order to catch the small golden ball. It was a frightening affair to behold, with a plummeting dive that nearly had Katie looking away, but in the end she was glad she had held out as Leshia caught the snitch inches from the ground.

The game had coincided with break time and for twenty-five minutes the Hogwarts team had enjoyed the full support of the school. However, as the game had gone on for an hour and a half only a handful of supporters had been able to watch. No matter though, as before the team had even managed to change and rejoin their classes, word of their fantastic victory had swept through the school, ensuring that every person they passed clapped them on the back in congratulations.

Petra and Heather, who had watched the whole thing with Katie and Rachel said not a word to Leshia or any of the other Hogwarts players. Their minds were entirely focused on that evening's match when the two quidditch giants would meet in battle on the quidditch pitch. Leshia's performance had shaken Petra's unwavering confidence and for the first time she actually felt respectful of the little seeker, something she covered up for with an immense amount of unpleasantness.

Come evening time the confidence the morning's game had instilled in Leshia had all but waned and now she sat at dinner in complete and utter silence, literally jumping out of her seat whenever someone spoke to her and she wasn't expecting it. It was painful for her friends to see and nobody could quite figure out what had Leshia so worried. To them it was clear as day, all biases aside, that the Hogwarts seeker by far outranked the interloper from Salem. So why the small girl should be so concerned was beyond them. Paralysed by her doubts Leshia was in a very dangerous position; everything hung in the balance and it all depended on her pulling it together before the seven-o clock game.

"Leesh," Rodeo spoke up towards the end of dinner, when people had already started to leave for the pitch. His large blue eyes spoke only of concern. "You'll be alright kid, you know that don't you?"

"Yeah," Katie added worriedly. "Just go out there and do your thing."

"And don't let Petra get on your case, she's more scared of you than you are of her. Difference is she'll use her fear and turn it on you, don't let her," Rachel added in a moment of clarity.

"Thanks guys," Leshia uttered, before she climbed to her feet and joined Owen and Mila down the table in order to go and change for the game. Where Leshia was terrified her two peers were excited.

"We're going to wipe the floor with them," Owen announced on their way out to the changing rooms.

"Of course we will," Mila laughed. "But don't lose sight of your game. You just have to focus on keeping that quaffle out of the hoops and you just have to catch the snitch before they do."

"Sure," Leshia managed, her throat nearly entirely closed up from the constriction her terror was placing upon it.

"Are you okay Malfoy?" Owen asked concernedly. "You don't look so good."

"I'm fine, really!"

The stands around the quidditch pitch had not seen the likes of such an audience in a long time. Everyone had turned up to see the bloodbath between the two arguably better teams of the tournament; so much so, that not a soul was left inside. Even the ghosts had arrived in the teachers box to watch the spectacle unfold. Team songs were whirring round the stadium like sirens and laughing faces filled every spare seat and every bleacher. Hogwarts flags were being flown in their hundreds and here and there colossal Hogwarts emblems that had been emblazoned on sheets stood out against the warmly clad audience.

It was into this frenzy that the teams emerged in a burst of energy. Speeding round the pitch as fast as they could the Hogwarts team evoked from their supporters such a noise it was a wonder they didn't hear them in Hogsmeade, but even this electrifying atmosphere wasn't enough to shake Leshia from her worries. Facing off with the Salem crowd Leshia dared to look up to find Petra watching her with the smuggest look she had ever mustered in Leshia's presence. Shaken, the small girl looked away.

'I can't do this,' a small voice piped up in the back of her thoughts.

"Go away, yes I can!" Madam Hooch was making the slow walk towards the box of balls in the centre of the pitch, which she opened unceremoniously with a firm kick. Speeding off into the cold night the bludgers and snitch went, and after a moment's hesitation in which the whole school roared with anticipation the referee threw the quaffle into the air.

Hogwarts took possession and off they went, the team of amalgamated chasers putting on a show for their supporters. Up above Leshia was rising slowly to get to her usual vantage point in order to better seek out the snitch, while down below Petra, who had sunk below the mid-level state of play was speeding arm stretched out ahead of her. Leshia saw the girl and though for a moment she felt the girl might be feigning in order to draw Leshia into a psychologically exhausting battle, after a few moments it became clear this was no ploy: this was the real thing.

Without a moment's hesitation Leshia threw herself downwards, falling with such pace that she was no longer sitting on her broom, merely clutching at it with two tightly gripped hands. Dangerously she fell straight through the field of play, nearly coming a cropper two battling chasers and one beater on her path. Had the situation not been so disastrous then people would have been in awe of her skills at this moment in time, but as it was, this was not the time for celebrating.

Though through tremendous effort Leshia managed to catch up to within the tail twigs of her rival's broom, Petra Walsh, after only one minutes of game play had enjoyed too great a head start and as such felt her fingers enclose around the snitch. It was all over, Hogwarts had lost! For a moment there was complete silence while down below the two seekers collided. Petra, too overjoyed with herself, stopped midair ensuring Leshia, who had been just on her tail crashed straight into her. The two girls fell no great distance to the ground where a drama ensued that Hogwarts had never seen the likes of before.

Though the Salem girl wasn't badly injured Leshia's head was spinning to such a degree she could barely stand up straight. Petra took the crash as a personal attack from a sore loser and as such dived at Leshia the moment she found her feet after the fall. The crowds, now having regained their voice, were outraged that the game was over before it had really began and felt foul play must have been involved. Stand by stand swarmed the pitch, outright rioting the fact that they had lost, while in the midst of the chaos Leshia was trying her utmost best to stay standing while receiving a terribly unwelcome attack from the triumphant seeker.

"Stop what you are doing, all of you!" the most powerful voice any had ever heard broke over the chaos; they were helpless to obey. Up in the teacher's box Albus Dumbledore was on his feet, his wand pointing to his throat to magically enhanced his already venerable voice. His colleagues had disappeared from his side and were by now spreading out amongst the children in order to keep the peace. Hermione and Draco had but one pupil in mind and after struggling through the hoards of unhappy children they reached the two seekers, who alone of all the children had not stopped at Dumbledore's command.

"What are you doing?" Hermione demanded when they came across the pair locked in a rather one-sided battle.

"She crashed into me on purpose!" Petra yelled furiously, flinging her hand at Leshia in fury. Hermione had by now rushed to her daughter's side, who collapsed against her very unsure of which end of her blurry vision was up and which was down.

"You silly girl," the mother was now exclaiming in anger. "She was right behind you when you stopped midair! There was nowhere for her to go. What is the matter with you? Leshia darling can you hear me? Draco help me!" Petra stared in wonder at Leshia and her mother and then her eyes flew to Draco, who had not yet said a word, but was glaring at the American girl with such anger she wanted very much to run away; she had finally worked it out.

"Do not move a muscle," Draco finally spoke, addressing Petra in such a way she wouldn't dare disobey. Following this Draco joined his wife at their daughter's side where he crouched before the dizzy girl.

"Leshia?" he spoke slowly and calmly, reaching out with his hand to steady the girl's chin and raise her head.

"I'm going to be sick," was all the girl could manage, before quite unceremoniously she was. It took Draco an immense amount of speed to get out of the way in time.

"We have to get her to the hospital wing, she's got concussion," Draco told his wife while he rubbed the girl's back comfortingly. By now the crowds were clearing upon Dumbledore's instructions to return to their dormitories. The emptying pitch allowed Jason Cunningham, the coach of the Salem High team and their only chaperone here on this adventure, to find his seeker and see the mess she had caused.

"Petra!" the rather portly old man called out to the girl the moment he was in earshot. "What do you think you're playing at attacking this girl like that?"

"But coach," the girl tried defensively, finally finding the arrogance she had based her whole life upon.

"Don't 'but coach' me," Cunningham countered furiously and for a moment he stood panting as he reached the scene of the crime and had to get his breath back. "I have half a mind to kick you off the team and give Harbourer a shot at glory." Petra's eyes flew as wide as dinner plates. "Oh calm down, of course I won't do that. We're in for a shot at gold here kiddo." The man's disapproval at his star player's conduct had evidently been purely for the sake of keeping up appearances and now his true sentiments were revealed; he was proud of his seeker, fighting and all.

"Actually," Draco spoke up. "When the rules for the ISQT were being drafted tight attention was paid to rules of conduct and I wouldn't be at all surprised if your seeker here has broken them to such an extent she will be sent home." Both Coach Cunningham and Petra turned to Draco in anger.

"No way is she being sent home," the portly coach insisted. "It was a misunderstanding. Besides, technically that girl started it by crashing into Petra." Evidently this man had not been informed of Draco and Hermione's connection to 'that girl' or he would not have spoken so bluntly about her.

"Why you," Hermione began sounding outraged, but promptly stopped when Leshia once more resumed her unpleasant spell of vomiting.

"We will discuss this with the headmaster," Draco told the two Americans. "You should return to the staff room, I will go and fetch him and we shall discuss this rationally."

"Draco she really needs to get to Poppy," Hermione loudly interrupted before Cunningham could reply. The urgency in his wife's tone caused Draco to turn around and she Leshia was now slumping entirely against her mother; she was losing consciousness. Without hesitation he reached forward and lifted the girl from the ground.

"Excuse us," he said simply, before he started towards the castle with Hermione right by his side tending to her daughter worriedly.

"Hey, what about the headmaster?" Cunningham called after them.

"Go to the staff room, we will find him and join you after we've brought our daughter to hospital wing," Draco called back with a trace of anger trespassing on in his tone.

"Daughter?" Cunningham turned on Petra with confusion in his face. She rolled her eyes, once more using her arrogance to cover up for the shame of having accused the girl of lying and having beaten her up when she was already half battered from the crash.

"Don't ask."

XXX

A quick potion later and Leshia was back on her feet with a slight headache. Though physically she had been put back together again, nothing could mend her heartbreak at having lost the game for her team and the whole school.

"Leshia you can't blame yourself," Hermione insisted on the walk down to the staff room. Draco had excused himself to go and find Dumbledore and inform him of the situation.

"Why?" Leshia countered meekly. "It is my fault. They won because she got there first. I just…I just wasn't quick enough."

"But darling it was out of your control. The snitch must have gone to hide right by her. There was nothing anyone could do." No matter how hard she tried nothing could console Hermione's daughter, especially when she came face to face with the girl who had beaten her. Mother and daughter reached the staff room before Draco had located Dumbledore, but Petra and her coach had found their way okay and were talking amusedly when they arrived. Silence ensued as Hermione sat down near the others, dragging Leshia down at her side by her arm, which she squeezed comfortingly before she let it go.

For ten minutes they waited in silence until finally the door to the staff room opened once again, this time preceding the arrival of Albus Dumbledore, Madam Hooch and Draco. The latter sat down on Leshia's other side, effectively cocooning the girl in between her parents, while Dumbledore assumed a much more neutral position between the two parties.

"Are you alright Leshia?" Madam Hooch asked her seeker worriedly and for a moment Leshia smiled at the concern; she had messed up and yet still her coach cared?

"Yeah I'm okay thanks," she replied reassuringly and then had to smile again when Madam Hooch beamed at her and nodded.

"Good. We need you." Once the eccentric sports professor had sat down on Hermione's other side the meeting was ready to begin. Everyone looked to Albus Dumbledore expectantly, who had taken from the folds of his robes a long parchment emblazoned with the new emblem designed for the ISQT.

"I have here," the venerable wizard spoke slowly. "A copy of the rules of this tournament. Rules that have this very evening, been broken." It was a sign of the utmost respect Dumbledore commanded that neither Cunningham nor Petra interrupted him at this stage. "Please, allow me to read to you code of conduct number two, 'Fighting, whether it be on the pitch or off, will not be tolerated to any extent. Such a crime will be punished by immediate disqualification and expulsion from the tournament. Visiting players will be returned to their schools forthwith and hosting players will be removed from the team and forbidden from attending any matches or partaking in any tournament events'." With this Dumbledore paused and rolled the parchment up once more, looking now at Petra Walsh with a disappointed expression. "So far, I have felt nothing but pride of the way in which the visiting players and our very own pupils have befriended one another on and off the pitch. This tournament is achieving everything it was set out to do: forge friendships between the great quidditch-playing schools of the world. That is, until this evening when everything seems to have gone rather awry. Miss Walsh, can you please explain to us what prompted you to attack Miss Malfoy?" Petra squirmed a little under the gaze of the most powerful wizard alive.

"I thought she crashed into me on purpose, I was angry." Albus contemplated the girl for a moment; yes she was proud and arrogant, but in her explanation of the events he found no lies.

"Did you know Leshia was suffering from concussion and could barely stand?"

"Hermione please," Albus told the young mother calmly, his fondness for her permeating his tone.

"She's made a good point Albus," Draco backed up his wife. "Whether her intentions were to defend herself against what she believed to be a first strike by Leshia, the fact of the matter remains; she attacked someone who could not even stay on her feet."

"I didn't know she was concussed," Petra defended herself.

"No maybe not at first, but surely you might have noticed when she did not fight you back?" Draco countered protectively. Petra shrugged sheepishly.

"I just thought she was really bad at fighting," she offered. Draco looked to the ceiling in frustration, counting to ten in order to refrain from losing his temper.

"Oh this is pointless," Madam Hooch finally spoke up. "All this is meaningless. She should be sent home straight away."

"Why?" Coach Cunningham now demanded. "She thought she was defending herself. There was a clear misunderstanding and she shouldn't be punished for it. Please, it's not fair to send her home when she's the best seeker in this tournament." Leshia hung her head in misery wanting more than anything to be set free from this farce of a meeting. Obviously Petra wasn't going to be sent home, no matter how many people she had fighting her corner.

"More like the luckiest," Hooch muttered in an undertone.

"What was that?" Petra demanded.

"Enough," Albus Dumbledore sighed heavily, drawing once more with ease the attention in the room onto himself. "This is indeed a difficult situation. The rules are clear that fighting is not to be tolerated and yet I cannot argue with Miss Walsh' convictions. I agree she felt she was defending herself, and after tonight's impressive performance I feel it would be doubly cruel to send her away for such a misunderstanding." Leshia shut her eyes; so, Dumbledore felt Petra was the better seeker out of the two as well?

"Albus just look at what she did to our daughter," Hermione tried desperately, lifting Leshia's chin to show the bruises on her face. The girl kept her eyes tightly shut.

"Hermione I understand this has been very upsetting for you, but you must see how fate had played a cruel hand in this."

"Her cry of innocence might carry more weight were she to show even the remotest sign of remorse," Hermione exclaimed furiously as she climbed to her feet. Leshia jumped up beside her in order to get out of the room as soon as possible. "But as she is evidently pleased with herself I have to entirely disagree with your decision Albus." With this the woman stormed out with Leshia clamped firmly to her side under one arm. Draco watched them leave longing to go with them, but knowing he had to stay. There were more things to sort out.

"I don't think it's a good idea for the girls to continue to share a dormitory."

XXX

Leshia's dismay had deepened and try as she might Hermione couldn't repair the girl's confidence. Her explanation of Albus Dumbledore's words as mere diplomacy went in one ear and out the other where Leshia was concerned. She was not so easily consoled and when they parted at the portrait of the Fat Lady Leshia could see the makings of tears in her overly emotional mother's eyes. This only furthered Leshia's depression, who retreated into the common room with an immense sense of shame.

Inside the crowd of Gryffindors and their visiting guests stopped and stared in silence at the unlucky girl, who despite having all odds against her had put on such a show of her flying ability that none doubted her to be the most talented flyer in the tournament. To come within the wake of the Salem seeker, who had enjoyed such a head start it begged belief that Leshia had caught up, was a victory in itself and everyone respected her for it.

Very slowly people started to clap and before too long the whole common room was filled with applause. Their faith in her managed to bring a smile to the girl's battered face and after a moment's hesitation she bowed to a chorus of laughter and praise. The confident Leshia of old was back and she did not object to being swept along by the crowds until she reached her friends and team mates.

"Are you okay Leesh?" Rachel asked her best friend worriedly, making room for the girl on the sofa by unceremoniously pushing Parys off it. The boy didn't mind and guided Leshia into the seat when she seemed reluctant to take it after his expulsion from it.

"Yeah, that maniac really laid into you," the tall boy added before he sat down at the girl's feet.

"Yeah I'm fine," Leshia sighed. "Just hate the fact that we lost. Now we'll never win."

"What are you talking about Malfoy?" Owen Gabriel demanded. "We can still finish second in the pool which means we'll face whoever wins pool B in the semis." Leshia looked up at the boy hopefully.

"We haven't lost yet?"

"Far from it. This just makes it a little more exciting, that's all. All we have to do is beat the Dutchies on Thursday and we're through."

That night before the girls went to bed they received a visit from the head of their house. Professor McGonagall explained to the third year Gryffindors that there was to be a change of plan where the guest arrangements were concerned. Petra and Heather would be moving out and upon hearing this news the girls couldn't help but cheer jubilantly. McGonagall couldn't agree more with them and as such didn't reprimand them for their behaviour.

"So we won't have any guests anymore?" Ashley asked disappointedly; everyone in the school had a guest or two, it would be most unfortunate were they to be the only ones without. McGonagall smiled at the girl.

"No my dear, in one of the other houses there has been a case of incompatibility as well and as such two girls are in desperate need of a new dormitory to stay in. I feel they would much better match your age and interests than the guests you have already been so unlucky with. May I tell the headmaster you agree to the swap?"

"Yes please!" the unanimous response came. McGonagall smiled once more at the eagerness of the youngsters and when she took her leave she directed an especially warm smile at Leshia; a smile that looked incredibly out of place on her normally bemused face.

"Excellent flying this evening Malfoy, you were very unlucky not to win." With this the old witch disappeared only to return half an hour later with two small Hispanic looking girls. The girls vaguely recognised them as being part of the Americas Institute crowd. Both were reserves.

"Ladies," McGonagall addressed the Hogwarts girls. "This is Julia Pirés and Carmen Garcia, they are with the Americas Institute group." Leshia and her dorm mates waved excitedly at the newcomers, who seemed to be grinning back an awful lot; they had been placed with such an awful dormitory prior to this one and were much relieved to see these new girls looked nice. "Right then, all your things have been moved so I'll leave you girls to it." After the venerable witch had departed all the girls relaxed a little and before they had even introduced themselves the Hogwarts girls led their new guests to their dormitory. Just the sight of the room was a relief to the new girls, who had most disliked their prior lodgings.

"Who were you staying with before?" Rachel asked eagerly; she and the others had been arguing over whether it was Hufflepuff or Slytherin.

"The one underground," Carmen offered in stilted English. This didn't offer much insight as both Slytherin and Hufflepuff had subterranean common rooms.

"Um the one with all the snakes? Sleetherin is it called?" Julia added.

"Told you!" Leshia crowed triumphantly at the others, quite alarming their new visitors. "Oh, sorry, we just had a bet over which house you were with. I'm not surprise you hated Slytherin, they're a bunch of snakes themselves. I'm Leshia by the way, Leshia Malfoy."

"Yes we know," Julia beamed at the girl. "You are the daughter of Señorita Westcoast no?" For a moment Leshia looked blank.

"You what?" But then it all clicked into place and she quickly nodded. "Oh right. Yeah, I am." Back when Hermione had been living under amnesia in America she had gone by the name Leshia Westcoast, a name she had been given when she washed up on the west shores of the United States muttering incomprehensible sentences and only remembering the name Leshia.

"Your mother was our favourite teacher when she was at our school," Julia was continuing. "We were very sad when she left." Leshia grinned meekly eliciting a very apologetic look form Julia, who now realised what she had said. "But it was very good your mother came home to you of course…"

"I get what you mean," Leshia chuckled, before she stepped aside so as her friends could introduce themselves. It turned out that the two newcomers were also in their third year, or rather, the equivalent of third year, and were both reserve Chasers. The dorm they had been assigned to belonged to the second year Slytherin girls, who had been so unpleasant that after one hour the two guests had wanted to go home. They had been seeking out a swap since they arrived and after only one hour with the Gryffindor girls, the two youngsters felt the wait had been worth it: they had hit the jackpot.

XXX

Life with Carmen and Julia was much more enjoyable than life had been with the two girls from Salem and already strong friendships had been forged between the two sets of girls. With the departure of the insufferable pair Leshia's confidence was growing back, though it was also nice to have a day off from matches on Wednesday to enjoy the other games without something niggling at the back of her mind. Come Thursday and Hogwarts played a solid game of quidditch to beat the Dutch team of Laakstang 230 to 50 ensuring they finished second in their group. Salem High had beaten Beaubatons that morning to clinch the coveted top spot in the pool, but no matter, Hogwarts were through and that was all that mattered.

By dinnertime a large sign had been posted on the notice board dictating what time the two semi-finals were going to be held the following day. Hogwarts had been given the prime time of seven-o clock which was most definitely a plus, but what was less satisfying was that their opponent was to be the seemingly unbeatable school from Senegal, who had beaten every team in their pool with ease to come top of the group. Salem high would be facing Durmstrang at four, a much more manageable opponent.

Over dinner the atmosphere at Gryffindor table was electric as usual. Leshia, Katie and the boys were entertaining Julia and Carmen into fits of laughter, while Rachel and Harvey, her new beau, retreated into their usual private conversations. During the main course Emi, the seeker from Senegal made his way back up the table in search of Leshia and contrary to his past brief bouts of speaking before disappearing, this time he sat beside her and they talked for the remainder of the evening all the way back to Gryffindor tower. The tall hulking boy was fascinating to Leshia and after witnessing his many stunning performances she had nothing but the utmost respect for him. When they parted to go to bed both were egging the other on over their game tomorrow, which meant that instead of going to sleep terrified about the following day's big game, Leshia was in fact looking forward to it.

XXX

"Oh my God, I haven't finished my dress!" came the cry that woke all the girls in the third year's dormitory at some ungodly hour. The culprit of the morning call was Katie, who had decided since completing her dress that it was in fact a terrible piece of clothing and was now very much despairing over what she could do about it. The ball was taking place that evening after Gryffindors battle with the École du soleil de sorcellerie.

"Katie your dress is fabulous, go back to bed," Rachel called back less than comfortingly.

"No it's not, it's hideous!" the raven-haired girl wept. A loud groan permeated the room, after which a ruffled looking Leshia emerged from her bed.

"What's wrong with it?" the puffy-eyed blonde girl asked, trying to force herself to sound concerned.

"Leesh she's just freaking out over nothing. Leave her and go back to bed," Rachel insisted, though she knew Leshia would do no such thing.

"Look at this," Katie uttered pathetically, pulling at the strands of floaty material she had attached to the shoulder straps. "I'm going to look like a circus freak." Leshia sniggered, but soon repented when her friend glared at her. "Why can't it be more like yours?" Katie now whimpered as she looked across the room at the pretty simple dress Leshia had crafted together that now hung on the end of her bed,

"Because I didn't go overboard," Leshia replied with a grin. "Come on, we'll go downstairs and fix it." After a pathetic little nod Katie sniffed loudly and collected together her dress making things.

"I'm not coming," Rachel insisted loudly, but already a foot was emerging from her curtains. Leshia and Katie exchanged a grin.

"Good, we don't want you to," the blonde girl laughed.

"I'm really not coming!" But by now a very tired looking Rachel had appeared, who pulled her dressing gown about herself and waltzed out of the room ahead of her friends. They grinned once more to each other before following their friend out.

Katie's dress required a little touching up, but more than anything this early morning sewing session gave the girls ample time to catch up and chat with just the three of them. With the invasion of so many new friends they had barely had any time to themselves. And even though most of their morning was spent teasing Rachel over her 'boyfriend' (a claim she flat out denied) it slowly began to dawn on them that this would be their last proper day at the castle for two whole weeks.

"It's going to be so strange being on my own again," Leshia said sadly.

"I hope you don't mind if I come and live at your place," Rachel added. "My parents can't even be in the same room as each other anymore. It's so depressing." Katie and Leshia remained in absolute silence as they watched their redhead friend. Perhaps the early morning had made the girl more inclined to open up, but all in all, this was the most Katie and Leshia had heard about their friend's suffering at home. "It got so bad in the summer that Ria and the twins came and stayed in my room each night." She was referring to three of her many younger siblings. Rachel had now trailed off, evidently her bout of 'sharing' was over and it had left Katie and Leshia pained; they had no idea things had got so bad for Rachel's family.

"You know you can come and live at mine any time you like," Leshia finally spoke trying to sound natural as though Rachel hadn't revealed anything. "Right then Potter, I think this monstrosity has finally been transformed into something quite cool."

"Oh get you Malfoy," Katie laughed, but there was a certain element of truth to Leshia's words. With the rescued dress the girls made their way upstairs again and as it was practically time to get up anyway they changed into their uniforms and made their way down the breakfast.

XXX

Draco yawned loudly and stretched under the thick covers. Sleep had been coming so easily to him as of late and he welcomed it with open arms. His whole life he had been an insomniac coming and going in bouts that left him awake most of the nights at their worst. Rolling onto his side Draco reached out an arm to find his beautiful wife, but instead of the soft curves of Hermione's body the young man's hand grasped instead at the sheets of a deserted bed.

"'Mione?" he called out into the gloom, most put out that he had been denied this opportunity to cuddle his wife; soon they would be home and privacy was not bountiful when you had a fourteen-year-old and her friends commandeering the house. The sound of retching wafted out from the bathroom and in moments Draco was on his feet. He crossed the room to the bathroom with two paces and wrenched the door open to find poor Hermione crouched by the toilet. "You're not being sick again," Draco announced sounding alarmed, before he quickly fetched a glass of water for his wife from the sink in the bathroom.

"It's nothing," his wife lied tiredly. "Probably that chicken from last night." Draco lowered his brow in suspicion.

"I ate the chicken too last night and I'm fine. So why don't you stop lying and tell me what the hell is going on? You've been funny all term! First all that throwing up in the beginning and every day you've found something to cry about and now you're back on this again. So why don't you tell me and save both of us a lot of hassle?" His temper was rising; how he hated people lying to him, especially Hermione. For a moment Hermione remained silent while she flushed the toilet and washed her face. Her husband's steely gaze brought tears to her eyes. She couldn't hold out any longer!

"Draco I'm pregnant."

Absolute silence. Slowly, Hermione turned around to face her husband and found him looking more shell-shocked than ever she saw him.

"You're…" he finally spoke uncertainly. "You're…um…"

"Pregnant." Draco's mouth opened and closed as though words were trying to escape from it, but no sound came. For the first time in a very long time Draco Malfoy didn't know what to say. "Don't be angry…"

"I'm not angry," the young man cut in quickly and it was true, no trace of anger laced his voice. "I'm…" He trailed off and rubbed at the back of his head anxiously, his eyes moving down his wife until they settled on her stomach. Now he came to think of it, she had been looking a little rounder lately, but this he had enjoyed. Hermione had always been far too thin despite her efforts to put on weight for a womanlier figure.

"You're not happy," Hermione stated miserably. Her hands flew to her bump protectively, trying to comfort herself in thoughts of her unborn child.

"I'm surprised," Draco countered passionately, yet still no anger entered his mind. "Have you known all this time?" After a slight pause his wife nodded dolefully. Two tears rolled down her cheeks causing Draco to shut his eyes; he couldn't see Hermione cry, it broke his heart and with all the crying she had been doing that a lot lately.

"I didn't know how to tell you," the young woman cried mournfully. "I knew you didn't want another baby. I just…I didn't know what to do." The despair in her voice was too much and after snapping his eyes open Draco crossed the short space that separated he and his wife and pulled Hermione into his arms firmly.

"I'm not angry," he repeated as she wept freely into his shoulder. "I…I don't…" Infinite thoughts were whirring round his poor head. Nothing was differentiating into a single comprehensible train of thought, making assessing his feelings on the matter impossible. Quite suddenly he pulled away and looked deeply into his wife's eyes a glimmer of a smile on his shocked face. "You're really having a baby?" Hermione nodded stiltedly, hardly daring to hope that Draco actually seemed happy about the new turn of events. "We're having another child?"

"Yes," Hermione managed breathily before quite suddenly Draco kissed her with such passion she would have tumbled to the ground had he not reached out and caught her. Finally Draco had made up his mind, finally he his emotions had differentiated into complete and utter jubilation: he was going to be a father again!

More and more over the last few months had Leshia's impending growing up and flying the nest been at the forefront of Draco's thinking. She was growing up far too fast for his liking. Where had his little girl gone? He found himself regularly pining for the days when instead of falling for every handsome young man who smiled her way the thought of 'boys' made her squirm in adorable disgust. He couldn't turn back time, but now he would get the chance to do it all over again!

"Wait a minute," the young man suddenly exclaimed and he pulled back looking once more shocked. "What about Leshia?"

XXX

Breakfast was as glorious as ever. Semi-final day had brought with it an extra rambunctiousness to the youngsters, who were virtually bouncing off the walls in excitement for the impending big matches after school and the ball that the evening would bring. Leshia too found herself entirely swept up in the excitement of the day. Everywhere she looked people were watching her, shooting her winning smiles whenever she caught their gaze. She and the rest of the Hogwarts team had never enjoyed such celebrity status. Even the most unlikely people seemed suddenly supportive,

"Try not to fall off today Malfoy." The class had been waiting outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom when this statement had been made, causing everyone in the vicinity to turn around and stare in complete shock at he who had uttered it.

"Allseyer," Leshia exclaimed finally; complete and utter incredulity on her face. "You're wishing me luck?" Allseyer bristled tetchily.

"No I'm not wishing you luck I'm just telling you not to fall off your bloody broom." With this the conversation was over and the pointy-featured boy spun on heal starting a very loud conversation with his thug-like friends.

"That is, without a doubt, the strangest thing that has ever happened," Rachel finally concluded slowly prompting a chorus of laughter from the Gryffindors and their new friends.

"Leesh where's your dad? He's five minutes late," Katie spoke over the laughter.

"He's probably got caught up telling some poor excitable sod off for being too happy or something," Leshia chuckled, effectively hiding her curiosity and concern with humour. Where was her father? Five minutes later the fast paced footsteps of a man in a hurry sounded the arrival of the tardy teacher. He didn't even glance at anyone's shirts as he opened the door and hurried them in. Most were very reluctant to enter, as on their usual brusque teacher's face was the largest smile any, including Leshia, had ever seen him produce.

"Sorry I'm late," he told the youngsters once he'd reached the front of his class. "I got held up." Here he cast his daughter a look so powerful she jerked backwards in complete and utter confusion. What had happened to make her father so deliriously happy and yet so emotional towards her at the same time? "As you well know, today we had scheduled an end of term test to see whether any of what I've been telling you all year has actually sunk in…" He paused and lifted the papers to a chorus of muffled groans. "But I've changed my mind." Holding his wand to the tests they suddenly burst into flames and despite themselves every single youngster in the room cheered. "It's the last day of term after all, perhaps we should do something fun."

'Okay,' Leshia thought to herself. 'Now I'm worried.'

What followed was possibly the best lesson any of the third years could ever remember having. Sparring with jinxes, levitating one another through the air and playing with a family of small Ragmols – a creature not dissimilar to a cross between a very small bear and a common household pet renowned for their affection towards humans – Draco had found in his study and was about to pass over to Hagrid, this lesson was not going to be soon forgotten.

The youngsters were enjoying themselves so tremendously that even the bell failed to turf them out. Draco couldn't muster the negative feelings to get angry with them and instead physically shepherded the youngsters out of the classroom. Leshia tried to remain behind.

"Dad what's wrong with you?" she asked worriedly.

"Nothing," Draco insisted, pushing the girl out along with the rest of her friends and peers.

"This is not nothing," Leshia insisted. "I think we should be calling some aurors in or something." Draco laughed heartily. "Or at least an exorcist."

"Get going, you'll be late for your mother's lesson," her father laughed warmly, but then he stopped and briefly hugged Leshia firmly to his side. "Good luck tonight little one." After he'd kissed her head he retreated into his classroom. Wanting very much to follow him back in Leshia had to be dragged away by her friends. On their way from Defence Against the Dark Arts to Hermione's classroom for Ancient Runes Leshia confided in her friends her concerns for her father's wellbeing. Though they agreed it was very unlike Leshia's father to appear so outwardly happy, they didn't think the girl should get so worried about it. That is, until they saw Hermione.

"Hello!" the young woman beamed at her class the moment they walked in. "I Hope everybody's ready for a fun packed end of term lesson." Leshia's jaw actually dropped as she stopped still in the doorway. Not her mother as well! "That," Hermione said fondly when she saw her daughter paused in the doorway. "Is a very good way of catching flies." Reaching out Hermione closed her daughter's mouth by pushing up her chin, before she ruffled the girl's hair and stepped aside for the youngsters to continue filing in having pushed Leshia out the way.

"Mum what…"

"Come on Leshia go and sit down, we haven't got all day. I've got lots planned for us all." Rachel and Katie ended up escorting their friend to their usual seats. Hermione was not wrong about her estimation of how much fun this lesson would turn out to be and soon everyone was gleefully playing the wizarding games Hermione had delved out from an old stockroom where they had long lain forgotten. Leshia's concern had now deepened and though she tried her best to partake in the activities she couldn't help but drift off and watch her mother from across the classroom; Hermione was glowing.

"I understand your concern," a voice spoke near to Leshia's left ear, and after spinning round she found Julius Black had taken a seat beside her to watch the game she was vaguely partaking in.

"You do?" Leshia asked incredulously. The dark haired boy nodded slowly.

"I too would be concerned if my parents suddenly started acting like that." The boy nodded across the classroom to where Hermione was spinning in a circle with a streamer, demonstrating to a group of girls a part of a game they didn't understand. Leshia turned back on Julius Black defensively.

"So she's happy, what's wrong with that?" Julius Black offered the girl an icy smile.

"You are going to have a lot to deal with this year Malfoy and the sooner you start taking advice the better. I don't know what all this is about, but what I told you before, it still stands. You're going to have to be vigilant and remember, never lose faith in what you know in here." At this the boy tapped two fingers on Leshia's forehead leaving a strange tingling sensation where he had rapped her on the head. "Even when everyone else turns against you, believe in yourself."

"What does that mean?" Leshia demanded, but Julius' message was over and he was climbing to his feet again. "Hey!" the girl complained and she jumped to her feet all set on following the boy.

"Leesh it's your turn!" Rachel piped up jubilantly and moments later the girl felt several hands on her and quite unceremoniously she was pulled back into her chair. Before she rolled the gemstones Leshia watched as Julius Black retook his seat, looked over his shoulder and grinned at her charmingly.

XXX

"Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, ghosts and ghouls welcome to the semi-final match between École du soleil de sorcellerie and Hogwarts." Thunderous applause and cheers filled the dark snowy night as the two teams emerged onto the pitch. The prior semi-final had enjoyed an audience to remember when Salem High just about beat Durmstrang to secure a place in the final, but nothing compared to the sheer energy coursing off this audience. The excitement of the week's games had reached fever pitch, with the ball-clad youngsters covering their beautiful garments with thick coats, scarves, hats and gloves jumping up and down in excitement and ecstasy waiting for the start of this sure-to-be tantalising game.

Leshia felt not a jot of nerves as she looked about herself in awe. Everywhere she looked she saw banners with her name and face occasionally flashing onto them amidst the names and faces of her fellow team mates. For as long as she would live she vowed never to forget this moment, because surely, never again would she be in such a position? Madam Hooch called the captains forward who warmly shook hands with one another and exchanged sentiments of luck to one another – James flint of Hogwarts was after all hosting and had made firm friends with Moussa N'Dour of Senegal. Quite surprisingly on the call for the two captains to greet Emi the seeker crossed the pitch as well and reached out for Leshia's hand. She quickly placed her ever so small hand in his larger than large one.

"Good luck to you my friend, I am happy to finally meet a worthy opponent in this tournament," the young man told his small friend amusedly. Leshia beamed up at him and returned his sentiments before the young man retreated to his side for the start of the game.

"Come on Hogwarts!" James Flint called out to his team as he mounted his broom. "This one's for them!" A hand flung at the audience around them spawned the whole school to start cheering. The powerful feelings evoked in Leshia made her head swim as she mounted her own broom and kicked off into the air in time to Madam Hooch's whistle. Soaring above the crowds the chants of the vast crowd were still very loud, but now her mind was focused entirely on the small gold ball jittering about somewhere in this vast pitch Leshia could no longer hear them.

Hogwarts had possession of the quaffle. Flint passed to Val, who tried to pass to Mila, but the pass was intercepted by a very determined Senegalese player. Like rockets the opposition's chasers launched their counterattack, catching Owen so off guard that their first strike at goal was an accurate one.

"And the École go ten points ahead to nothing with a stunning goal by Oluwa…Oluwi…um, Oluwat…how on Earth do you say this name?" Laughter broke out over the pitch as Hogwarts' commentator – a newcomer to this season – struggled with the foreign name. Muffled voices sounded in which the young man in charge of commentating was informed of the offending girl's nickname Olu to save from having to say her full name of Oluwatomisona each time. "Sorry about that, as I was saying, what a stunning second minute goal by Olu Agalaba."

Determined to take back the ten points the Hogwarts chasers fought back hard and fast, managing to claw back their taken ten points and another ten on top of that leaving the score after ten minutes at 20 to 10 in favour of the home team. The match was a gritty one, with forceful tactics just short of aggression dominating the mid-level play and even up in the clouds Leshia had never been forced to dodge so many bludgers as she did in this game. It was a comfort to Leshia that Emi scouted the skies near to her location, always keeping within twenty yards of the girl. Should either see the snitch it would be down to an old fashioned race between the two seekers that much was certain.

Wanting to test whether she was following him by chance or whether he was stalking her in the sky Leshia dropped into a dive quite suddenly, but not so as to look as though she had seen the snitch. The Senegalese youngster followed her promptly.

"Ah, so that's how you wanna roll is it?" Leshia chuckled into the snowy winds, before she rolled over onto her side performing manoeuvre after manoeuvre to test her friend's flying prowess. As it turned out, with Emi keeping up hair-raising stunt after hair-raising stunt, his flying skills seemed to match those of Leshia. Tired of her game and with a better understanding of how her friend could fly Leshia settled back into a scouting pattern. If either of them now saw the snitch Leshia was convinced that it would all come down to speed; they seemed matched for airborne expertise but were they matched for speed? Leshia was a much smaller person than Emi and though they had the same broom surely Leshia would be able to push hers to much further limits than he could?

Down below the École had pulled back into the lead with four fantastic attacks which left even Owen Gabriel, legendary keeper that he was, grasping for thin air while the quaffle sailed through one of the gold hoops. The score lay at 50 to 20, something that had the Hogwarts crowds roaring with disapproval. Calls for Flint, Beckett and Evanovitch to get their move on were ringing through the night.

"Why are we losing? They're keeper isn't even that good and we supposedly have the best junior keeper in the whole world sat there on his arse being useless," Rodeo put to his friends bemusedly in the stands.

"Rodeo stop picking on Owen Gabriel, he's saved more than he's let in!" Rachel complained.

"Yeah, why do you always have to badmouth him?" Katie added. Rodeo shifted uncomfortably.

"I just…oh bollocks." The boy's hand shot up to point to the huge falling shape that was Emi on a dive. He was feigning or he had seen the snitch, but either way Leshia was helpless to follow. The boy had a good lead on her and now as she chased his tail twigs she couldn't help but worry; the gap between them wasn't getting any smaller. The field of play shifted things in Leshia's favour as suddenly she found something she could beat the Senegalese boy at: dodging players. With utmost care Emi navigated his way through the fraught battle going on mid-level. Leshia, perhaps much more suicidal than her opposing seeker merely threw herself through the field of play, artfully dodging anything that came into her path. The result of her ever-so-precise control and quick reflexes was that the Hogwarts seeker emerged below the field of play before Emi. A flash of gold revealed that her friend had not been trying to trick her; he really had seen the snitch.

"Go Leshia!" a roar of agreement came from the audience and without hesitation Leshia threw herself behind the snitch with Emi only inches behind her. Together they tussled, darting round each other, trying to get ahead, but neither could quite make it. They were equally matched out here in the open.

"They're both too good," Rachel told her friends up in the stands. "They'll never beat each other this way."

"Did you see the way Leesh just melted through the chasers?" Parys yelled over the noise. "If the snitch goes into the field of play Leesh'll get it for sure. She's a much more agile flyer."

"Yeah, have you seen the size of Emeka?" Rodeo snorted, his admiration of the Senegalese seeker had only grown these past few days.

"Look!" Katie suddenly squealed in complete and utter excitement. The reason for the girl's sudden outburst was that both Emi and Leshia had rejoined the level of play and seemed to be staying there. The snitch was trying to hide in and amongst the chasers and beaters and with the amount of bodies and balls being thrown around at this level it probably would have been the best place to hide. 'Would have been' being the operative phrase, because even though with a normal set of seekers hunting it down this would have been sufficient enough cover, the snitch had not counted on Alecia Malfoy's talents in the mid-level.

With a grin of triumph Leshia pulled ahead of Emi, darting past chasers, quaffles, bludgers and beaters as though they weren't there. Within moments the large boy behind her had fallen away to such an extent the battle now lay between Leshia and the gold ball. Which one could out-fly the other in all this traffic?

All eyes were on the small Hogwarts seeker as she neared the home end goal hoops. Owen steadied himself as the small girl came rocketing towards him. Should he lose his nerve and try and move from her path it could cost them both the game if they collided. He was going to have to stand his ground.

Desperately the gold snitch shot through the largest of the hoops, but it's flight had been in vein as due to her sheer size Leshia flew straight through the hoop after it, her small fingers clasping around the ball with ease once they had reached the other side.

"Leshia Malfoy has caught the snitch!" Wave upon wave of roaring cheers filled the air. Hogwarts were through to the final and what a game it had been!

Leshia, still clutching the snitch, barely had time to look around before she found herself flattened by her fellow players. Carefully they navigated their way down to the grounds where they were fully able to jump on top of one another in complete triumph and jubilation. The small seeker found herself hoisted to the broad shoulders of the Mills twins, and together the team ran laps of honour round the pitch; it was as though they had already won the cup.

After warm showers and a congratulatory talk by Madam Hooch the youngsters were free to run back to their dormitories and change for the ball their peers had already started. It had just gone eight-o clock, which left five hours for the teams to enjoy themselves at the farewell ball. Straight after tomorrow's games the youngsters would all be going home whether they be Hogwarts or visitor. Once they had been freed from the talk Mila excused herself from her two fellow Gryffindors to sprint back. Her friends were waiting for her and would not wait very long! This left Leshia and Owen to amble back together; neither were too desperate to get to the ball – despite Owen having a date who would no doubt be waiting for him outside.

"You know, I've never seen anyone fly like you did this evening," Owen told his small friend truthfully. Leshia grinned and shoved his arm.

"Don't get all soft, that's such a lie! You must get to see the most amazing flyers in the world when you go to watch your mum's games." Owen stared at the girl with a firm look.

"Stop being so bloody modest, most people don't just throw themselves into the path of bludgers or beaters or chasers because most people get scared. You don't seem to."

"Of course I do," Leshia complained cheerfully. "It's just how bad could it get? The amount of terrible horrible painful things that have happened to me, what's a midair collision with a beater going to do to me? Break my head maybe, but that's about it." The look of admiration Owen gave Leshia nearly made her go weak at the knees, so she looked away from him. "This dance is going to be so dull. Do we even have to go?"

"Hey speak for yourself Malfoy, I'm rather looking forward to it," the tall youngster countered and he offered his friend a dashing smile. She rolled her eyes at him and brought up a more fitting conversation: how much she was going to enjoy beating Salem in the morning.

It took Leshia ten minutes to change into her dress and stick her unruly blonde curls on top of her head. Opting for some comfortable heelless shoes the girl was quite happy with the result the ensemble made and after pulling a shawl she had borrowed from her mother round her shoulders she rushed out of the dormitory again. She and Owen had agreed to walk down together and he said he was literally going to pull on his dress robes and that would be it. Leshia had promised she wasn't like most girls and would be ready within moments and she kept to her word.

"Come on Malfoy, we haven't got all day!" Owen called up the spiral staircase when he heard the dormitory door fly open and light footsteps sound in the stairwell. When Leshia finally appeared round the corner the breath caught in Owen's throat forcing him to choke. Leshia rushed to his side and thumped him on the back.

"Are you okay?" she asked worriedly once her friend had regained his breath.

"Yeah," the boy managed. "You look, well, you look really nice." Never before had he sounded so sincere and for a moment Leshia felt happier than she could recall. Even catching the snitch a mere half an hour earlier hadn't compared with the joy she now felt.

"So do you," she replied cheerfully before she led the way down to the great hall. Neither had any idea what a funny picture they made; both dressed in their evening wear it looked as though they were going as a couple and with he being so tall and she so short the image of them together was most humorous.

Down in the entrance hall there were many people still milling about who had only just reached the party or were waiting for friends or partners. In and amongst the crowds of people the fifth year Ravenclaw Charlotte Frances-Taylor waited impatiently. All her friends had gone in ahead of her and now she was being forced to wait for Owen Gabriel. It wasn't on! With a numerous amount of propositions to this dance Charlotte had felt particularly honoured by Owen Gabriel's asking her to the ball; he was after all the Hogwarts team keeper and rather dashing in his own way. Waiting around for him though had not been part of the deal.

Finally upon hearing his laughter the young woman looked up expectantly only to find her date for the evening descending the stairs with a tiny vision in white. Just who this mysterious beautiful creature was Charlotte had no idea, but upon seeing her date for the evening hanging on the girl's every word the young woman felt her blood boil.

'Keeps me hanging around all night and then shows up with another girl?' she thought to herself furiously. 'How dare he!' She had now been spotted.

"Charlotte!" Owen called out to the young woman, who crossed her arms across her chest and raised her chin into the sky, looking anywhere but the approaching keeper and this mystery girl. "I hope you haven't been waiting long," Owen told the girl when he had come to within yards of her. He was wary of her attitude; the last thing he wanted was a girl with attitude. Valerie Beckett had come with more attitude than he could handle and since then the fifteen-year-old young man had learnt his lesson.

"Actually," Charlotte began tetchily, turning round to face off with Owen and the new girl. Quite promptly Charlotte's eyes went wide. "It's you!" She was staring at Leshia with such horror that the small girl actually took a step back.

"Um, I might just, uh, go," the girl excused herself, before she shot Owen a cautious look. "See you in there I guess." Without waiting for a reply the girl darted away into the great hall where she promptly stopped and stared about herself in awe. The hall had never looked so gorgeous as it did on this night. With rich colours draped from wall to wall and candles hovering in every available space, it was a Christmas masterpiece. Central to the hall's decorations was the colossal tree that had been missing all week, and from within its powerful bows little fireflies lit it up from branch to branch. Beautiful buffet tables lined one wall, while a large stage with a popular band lined the other. In between the beautifully dressed youngsters and certain adults were swaying slowly to the slow song being performed.

"Wow," Leshia sighed appreciatively. Catching sight of a head of red hair she recognised sat beside a sleek glossy head of black hair Leshia headed towards her friends in the distance. She had not got far before she was noticed.

People were staring at the girl making no attempt to hide their shock at seeing the small seeker appear so beautifully. Yes they had all known the girl was very pretty, but never before had her features seemed so striking, nor her tiny figure so feminine. She was most definitely a young woman in that dress! Leshia glared at the nosy crowd who parted for her as she walked past, and couldn't have been happier when she reached the table at the far end of the hall that her friends had commandeered. They all looked fabulous.

"Finally," Leshia groaned announcing her arrival to her friends who turned to stare at her. "Oh God, not you lot as well. Would everybody stop staring at me? God!" Fed up with the attention Leshia threw herself down in a seat beside Parys, who did not heed her in the slightest and still continued to stare the girl up and down. She rewarded him with a dead arm for his troubles.

"Ow," Parys protested loudly and he rubbed his sore arm. "Do you mind? Why do you make yourself look so nice if you don't want people to appreciate it." Leshia playfully glared at him.

"I didn't do anything, just put on a bloody dress that's all."

"Hey if that's all it takes," the tall boy chuckled adoringly, but quickly looked away from the girl when she raised her fist for another blow to his arm. "I'm not looking, I'm not looking!" he insisted with his hands raised in surrender.

"Leesh tonight's game was your best yet you little star," Rachel announced and suddenly the table's occupants remembered they had not yet congratulated the girl. In a chorus of noise Leshia blushed crimson at the praise they delivered on her shoulders, but she took it with much more grace and ease than she did compliments about her appearance.

"You know that girl Owen's with," Rachel finally changed the topic of conversation.

"Yeah, that's Charlotte Frances-Taylor," Leshia replied.

"Well she keeps glaring at you you know that right?" In surprise Leshia followed Rachel's gaze and true enough she was receiving a very evil glare from the fifth year Ravenclaw sat beside Owen who was chatting with his visitors from Salem High enthusiastically.

"More to the point, what does that Dave guy want?" Leshia grumbled when she noticed that once more the strange Dave from Salem High was watching her keenly. "He's so strange!"

"That guy," Rodeo suddenly exclaimed. "I'd watch it if I were you Leshia, I've heard he fancies the pants off you!"

"Rodes," Leshia laughed at the boy's words, but the information he had passed on did worry the young girl something awful.

"No seriously, I've been meaning to tell you, they think he's like stalking you or something." The mirth of the situation suddenly disappeared into thin air.

"Who's they?" Leshia demanded.

"The fourth year boys."

"Owen knows?" Rodeo shifted tetchily at the mention of the other boy's name.

"Yes your precious Owen Gabriel knows."

"Care to dance?" Katie suddenly spoke up looking at her 'date' with a dance-with-me-or-suffer-the-consequences look. Rodeo was helpless to join the raven-haired girl, but as they walked past Leshia he did lean down beside her.

"Just watch your back okay?"

Upon Katie and Rodeo's departure it seemed Leshia was rather left to her own devices as everyone and their dates took to the dance floor. Perhaps regretting her decision not to say yes to any of the many propositions she received for the dance Leshia instead kept herself busy by laughing to herself about Rachel's love struck expression. She and Harvey were evidently in the throws of young love.

"Excuse me?" Leshia froze as someone sat down behind her; someone with an American accent. "I said excuse me?" Very slowly Leshia turned around and winced when her fears were confirmed: there sat the terrifying Dave.

"Hi," Leshia managed weakly, sounding very much like a scared child.

"I was wondering whether you would like to dance?" the boy asked firmly, his dark eyes frightening Leshia with the intensity within them.

"Um, I don't really um…no sorry." Dave leant back in his seat without another word to the girl, but he remained watching the back of her head when she turned her back on him. Every muscle in her body was tensed and after barely five minutes Leshia climbed to her feet and practically ran from the table to the drinks stand. Unfortunately for her, Leshia merely ran from one awkward situation to another.

"Hey shorty," Owen Gabriel called to Leshia when she appeared beside him and Charlotte. In fright Leshia spun around. "What's wrong with you?" the tall boy laughed fondly, much to the bemusement of the girl on his arm. "Something happened?"

"Um, no, nothing," Leshia quickly responded hastily, but her eyes couldn't lie about the worry that was ruining her evening. Seeing her so afraid made Owen lose his smile and he turned suddenly serious.

"Malfoy what's going on?"

"Nothing!"

"Owen drop it, she said nothing was wrong," Charlotte Frances-Taylor cut in impatiently. This was not the ball she had envisaged when she spent three hours preparing for it earlier on this afternoon. For her date to be paying more attention to a third year than to her was unfathomable. The beautiful Charlotte Frances-Taylor was not accustomed to being put second full stop. Owen flat-out ignored the girl, his attention on Leshia only.

"Look either you tell me or…"

"Oh stop it. You sound like my dad!" Leshia complained angrily. "Besides, you could have warned me about Dave. He's a nutter, he looked like he wanted to throw me over his shoulder and make a run for it." Owen seized up a little.

"Dave? What's he done?" Leshia rolled her eyes and sighed exasperatedly.

"Nothing." But this nothing was about to develop into a definite something when across the crowds the black-eyed black-haired boy was approaching with a look of cruel determination on his face.

"Oh," Owen uttered.

"Owen I want to go and dance," Charlotte spoke up once more, not giving up on her date just yet. Yes, she would easily find a replacement, but why should she have to?

"Um, not now," Owen vaguely replied, his attention almost entirely upon the boy closing in on Leshia. He could see what had the girl so wired, Dave looked positively evil.

"Follow my lead," the tall boy muttered under his breath as he disentangled his arm subtly from Charlotte's. His subtlety was in vein, as the approaching Salemer had not even noticed them stood beside the small seeker. "Dave!" the tall keeper called to his guest the moment the young man was in earshot.

"Oh, hello Owen," Dave replied, his eyes never leaving Leshia's face. The girl shuffled closer to Owen's side despite herself. "Leshia, please I insist, you must dance with me. It will be fun."

"Mate," Owen laughed uneasily. "I've been keeping quiet all week because I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but I can't believe you still don't know." Everyone looked to Owen in surprise. "Leshia's my girlfriend. You can't just ask her to dance you know that right?" His lies sounded so convincing that even Leshia believed him for a moment, especially so when he slung his arm around her shoulders. The height difference between them made them look ridiculous, but none could argue they did look made for one another.

"If she's your girlfriend then why did you bring another girl to the dance?" Dave questioned the taller boy icily.

"Charlotte and I had it planned a while back before me and Leshia got together, I was just keeping to my word," the boy lied easily.

"Ugh!" Charlotte finally snapped. She had had enough of this farce of a date and with one last tempestuous glare at the short girl under her date's arm she strode off. Owen rolled his eyes amusedly before looking back to Dave.

"Ex girlfriends, you know how they can be," he chuckled. Dave nodded slowly, taking in every lie Owen was spinning. "Come on Malfoy, I believe you owe me a dance." With a quick nod and wide eyes Leshia allowed herself to be guided towards the centre of the dance floor.

"Thank you so much," the girl finally managed once Dave was well and truly out of sight.

"Don't be an idiot Malfoy, I should have said something sooner. I just thought I could protect you without you ever having to know about it that's all. I know it's a stupid male macho thing to do, but…"

"Yeah," Leshia interrupted. "But still, thanks." The pair locked their eyes together and for a moment a spark passed between them, one neither could ignore. "Um, I'd better go and find, um, my friends…"

"Malfoy I wasn't joking," Owen chuckled. "After that quality acting you do owe me a dance. Now come on, show me what you got." Completely enthralled by her rescuer Leshia was easily persuaded and so they danced. They danced a lot and they looked so convincing as boyfriend and girlfriend that the rumour mill went into overdrive. Before even three whole songs had passed the rumour reached the ears of Draco Malfoy.

"Have you seen Leshia Malfoy and Owen Gabriel?" a whisper caught the young man's attention. He spun around to see who had uttered it, finding it to be a second year girl whispering to her friends. "I heard Gracie Walker in third year telling her friends that they're going out."

"What?" Draco spluttered before he could contain himself. The girls spun around in horror to find the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher bearing down on them. "You heard what?"

"Um, that Leshia is going out with Owen Gabriel," the second year squeaked sounding terrified.

"Where are they?" Draco demanded and after the girl jerkily shot her hand in the direction of the dance floor the young man was off on the warpath. It took him only a few moments to locate his daughter locked in the arms of the keeper dancing to some soppy love song, looking entirely convincing in their lie. With one hand Draco took hold of Leshia's arm and wrenched her from the boy before he started leading her away briskly.

"You! Come with me!" The angry father was evidently addressing the tall boy he assumed to be his daughter's first boyfriend and after rolling his eyes to the heavens Owen Gabriel followed them off the dance floor to a quiet corner of the hall.

"Dad stop it!" Leshia cried out forcefully when it looked as though Draco was about to explode. "It's all just an act." Her revelation caught the words in Draco's mouth and he had to stop and stare at the girl.

"What?" he finally demanded, taking a moment to glare ferociously at the fearless boy who seemed impervious to his threats.

"There's this boy from Salem High who's stalking me, so Owen's pretending to be my boyfriend so Dave leaves me alone," Leshia explained quickly. Draco stared at the girl with narrowed eyes, searching her face for deceit.

"Pretending?"

"Yes pretending." Draco looked away for a moment before he started off into the dance floor.

"Right, Dave you say…"

"Professor Malfoy don't!" Owen called out. Both Leshia and her father turned very slowly to look at the boy in amazement. He certainly didn't fear Draco, which was more than most adults could profess to.

"What did you say?" Draco asked very slowly, the danger radiating from his very aura. This did not dissuade Owen.

"Sir if you go and do your thing with Dave then you'll blow our cover and for now this is working, so I don't think you should do anything," the young man explained. Draco seemed incredulous.

"Do my thing?"

"I understand you're very protective of your daughter, but sir she's safe with me. You don't have to worry." Leshia's admiration of her tall rescuer shot sky high into the beyond; finally, a member of the male species that did not cower in fear at the thought of facing off with her father. Evidently Draco too felt impressed by the boy's calm words and in truth he could see that they were dealing with the situation well enough to not need his help. Damn.

"Fine," the father grumbled, feeling decidedly replaced. "But I'm watching you." The message he conveyed was clear as day, 'Mess with my daughter and you'll have me to answer to.' "And you." Draco now wheeled on his daughter, his brow crinkling a little in dismay when he saw how grown up she looked. "If you'd rather avoid unnecessary attention then why not cover up a little?" After reaching out to briskly pull Hermione's shawl onto their daughter's shoulders Draco retreated into the dance floor, seeking out his wife so as he could be consoled about the fact that their little girl was no longer their little girl.

"You shouldn't listen to your dad," Owen told the girl softly, sounding for the first time humbled. "You're the most beautiful girl in here tonight."

XXX

The night ought to have lasted forever or so Leshia and most of her peers felt. She and Owen had danced until the candles were blown out and the remaining youngsters shepherded from the room. The following morning brought with it the last two matches of the tournament; the first a play off between Durmstrang and the Senegalese to decide who would win third place and the second the coveted final everyone had been waiting for.

Leshia and her friends cheered on Emi and his team in their game, and whether their support made a difference or not, the École du soleil de sorcellerie beat Durmstrang in a very one-sided game. Lunch divided the two games and it was a terrifically loud affair, but one Leshia and the other Hogwarts lot had to miss as they were preparing for the 'big game'. James Flint had never before devised so many tactics nor plays and frantically the team tried to keep up with him.

By the time one thirty rolled by and the sounds of the expectant crowd permeated the walls of the changing room letting the players know it was time Leshia was bored silly; she had one mission and one mission only: to beat Petra Walsh and not show any mercy. Her confidence once shattered had since grown anew. She knew she was the better of the two players and as such had not a doubt that she would enjoy watching the American girl suffer.

Walking onto the pitch seemed not as exciting as when they had played in the semi-finals. Perhaps it was because of a sixth sense that Leshia already knew how this day would end, or perhaps because after the first such match the equal intensity of this one seemed somehow diminished. Either way, as Leshia mounted her broom and soared into the sky she felt no nerves, only the excitement at thrashing Petra.

The moment the quaffle was released Hogwarts took possession and on their first play James Flint scored a fantastic goal, which came accompanied by,

"What a stunning first minute goal by Hogwarts captain James Flint! Start as you mean to carry on eh?" The commentator couldn't have been more accurate and within five minutes the score stood at a ridiculous 50 to 0 in favour of the home team. Salem's luck at having come thus far was now completely and utterly spent in the face of the Hogwarts side at the height of their strength. Up above Leshia's mind was focused once more on just one thing: the snitch. She did not even notice Petra flying up to meet her.

"I've been preparing my bow," the wretched girl called out over the winds.

"Good for you," Leshia called back.

"Don't you wanna know what for?"

"Not really no."

"It's for when we win the cup." Down below the sound of Hogwarts scoring once more filled the air making Leshia smile.

"Sure Petra, when you lot win the cup." The condescending tone Leshia adopted flew in the face of the beautiful Salem seeker, who wondered what on earth had happened to the weak girl she had shared a dorm with for just two days. Another goal sounded in favour of Hogwarts. This game was turning into a farce. "You know there's two types of bully," Leshia was now saying.

"What?"

"Those who bully because they can and those who bully because they have to?"

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about," Petra snapped furiously. Leshia smiled serenely, enjoying taking this harpie down a peg or two.

"Those who do so because they can are the true bullies, but those who bully because if they don't they'll either disappear into the background or fall prey to bullies themselves, well they're really just victims. Pathetic victims."

"Shut the hell up!"

"Make me." With this Leshia threw herself down into a dive with Petra furiously following in her wake. For the enjoyment of the bored fans Leshia put on such a show, which also served to reveal the sheer superiority of Leshia's flying skills compared with those of Petra. Perhaps it was cruel of Leshia to embarrass the girl in front of the mocking crowds as Petra spiralled and lost control in her anger, but Leshia had always been a little cruel. Whereas Petra was a type two bully through and through, far too insecure to form normal attachments to people instead covering up for her own weakness by being horrible to all those around her, Leshia was definitely the first type of bully. She was bringing Petra down now because she could, pure and simple.

Around them the game had deteriorated to such an extent that Salem had all but given up leaving Hogwarts leading with a huge lead to absolutely no points on the Salemers part. The crowds were getting restless; even the play off had been more enjoyable to watch than the hammering Hogwarts was delivering Salem. Leshia too was growing bored and decided Petra had been teased long enough. Coming to a halt above the field of play Leshia waited for the infuriated Petra to catch up to her.

"It's all over," Leshia called to the girl. "We're so far ahead regardless of what happens between you or I, you've lost. There will be no ISQT cup for you. All that pathetic practising was pointless." A glimpse of gold fluttered down below and without hesitation Leshia threw herself after the snitch with Petra helpless but to follow, though she didn't stand a chance. Within moments it was all over, Hogwarts were the ISQT champions.

What an anticlimax it had been though. Returning to the great hall for the prize giving ceremony everyone discussed how yesterday's game versus the Senegalese had felt like the true final and indeed they weren't wrong. For Leshia though the match they had just breezed through had been an important step in reclaiming her dignity from the Salem seeker; she had been vindicated.

XXX

Saying goodbye to their new friends was one of the most heart wrenching things the girls had ever had to do and despite exchanging addresses and in some cases muggle telephone numbers it just didn't seem adequate. Would they ever see each other again? Boarding the Hogwarts Express Rachel seemed inconsolable. She had not spoken of what went on between she and Harvey, but towards the end of the ball they had disappeared for a good hour or so. Katie insisted they had been off in some deserted classroom somewhere snogging, to which Rachel insisted they had just been talking. It was a dubious debate and on that Leshia steered well clear of.

The girls found an empty cabin near the end of the train and loaded their trunks onto the racks above the benches. Leshia had not been able to find Philly her cat, who in the space of the year had become so wild he spent most of his time off exploring – indeed Leshia was entirely sure he'd deserted her – and so she was travelling home without him. It irked her not to know where the blighter had gone. Katie seemed to want to get something off her chest, which instantly made Leshia brace herself for the worst. The night before when she had returned from the ball the others had been sleeping; they had returned an hour or so before Leshia and her mock boyfriend. Upon Rachel's instructions not to bother Leshia before the final Katie had been forced to keep silent about the fact that their small blonde friend had spent the whole night dancing with the illustrious keeper, but now Rachel couldn't hold her back any more. Indeed, in her woebegone state Rachel couldn't do much anymore except stare out of the window dolefully dreaming of her Australian friend.

"So," the raven-haired girl spoke at last, a look of such glee on her face Leshia was entirely sure the corners of her mouth were reaching her eyes. "You and Owen."

"There is no me and Owen," Leshia explained calmly. "We were pretending to stop Dave the maniac stalking me."

"Pretending?" Katie repeated incredulously. "Leshia I know you, you couldn't have acted that look on your face. You love him!"

"Katie," Leshia groaned. "I do not love Owen Gabriel. He's a really good friend who helped me out last night that's it." Katie's eyes positively beamed with the knowledge that she knew better, but kept her tongue. She wouldn't push Leshia; she'd already received the backlash from Rachel last night at pushing her too hard over Harvey.

"What about you and Rodeo?" Rachel now spoke up, turning finally to her friends with a glare directed at Katie.

"What do you mean?" the girl's cousin replied shrilly. Leshia wrinkled her brow and looked from one girl to the next.

"Can we not talk about boys? That's all we ever seem to talk about," Leshia finally interrupted firmly. "Can't we talk about how I rubbed Petra's face in it instead?" With a chorus of laughter the cousins consented and for almost the entire journey home they chattered gleefully about the fall from grace of the Salem harpies.

King's Cross was positively heaving with eager parents awaiting the return of their sons and daughters. Amidst the pandemonium Harry, Ginny and Ron waited impatiently for the return of their children. Lavender had opted out of making the journey to the station, though her plans did suggest she was going to be home the entirety of the children's Christmas Holiday. She and Ron had something important to tell them.

Into the crowded station full of eager relatives the Hogwarts Express finally pulled bringing with it the cargo of young witches and wizards. Katie, Rachel and Leshia were some of the last to climb from the train, as in the corridors they had come across Rodeo and Parys and spent at least ten minutes wishing them goodbye and a happy holiday season. By the time they emerged onto the emptying platform they laid eyes on their gathered parents – Hermione and Draco had by now joined them – and Michael, Hermia and Emelia, the younger siblings of Rachel and Katie.

"Oh do take your time," Draco called across the platform to them. Despite their antics at Halloween the girls were welcomed with open-arms and large smiles and soon they were all making the short walk back to the Malfoys' town house for dinner before everyone went their own separate ways. Tally, the head houself of the Malfoy family, had returned a few days early to break the house in after the three months it had lain empty gathering dust and as such it was deliciously warm and lived in by the time the three families reached it. Hermia decided to floo home straight away to see her mother, but the other children all remained, running straight for the 'muggle room', which housed the house's only television.

"Right then, who would like a drink?" Hermione asked her friends happily and after a round of yes pleases the glowing young woman went about fetching them, but the task was soon assumed by Draco who insisted his wife sit down after the long journey down from Hogwarts. This show of concern caused Ginny to look to her best friend with raised eyebrows; had Hermione told her husband of her 'condition'? Hermione grinned conspiratorially and despite herself Ginny squeaked and clasped her hands together in front of her face.

"What's wrong with you?" Harry laughed fondly at his wife, who remained absolutely silent lest she reveal the surprise. Once everyone had a drink in front of them and, after shutting the door keeping out any small interlopers, Draco had taken up the seat beside his wife it was time to let their friends in on the big news,

"We're having another baby," the young woman gushed. For a moment the room filled with loud congratulations, which Draco soon hushed when he explained they hadn't told Leshia yet.

"When are you going to tell her?" Harry asked with a slight wince; he for one would not want to be in or even near the vicinity when Leshia Malfoy found out she was no longer going to be Draco and Hermione's only child. The expecting parents looked to one another in concern.

"We don't know yet, we haven't really discussed it," Draco finally replied. "I only found out yesterday morning," he added with a grin aimed at his wife.

"She's got a lot on her plate at the moment," Hermione sighed, ignoring her husband's pointed expression. "What with boys and all that. Why is it that every move our girls make is dictated by some boy or others? I don't remember being so boy obsessed when I was their age."

"That's because you weren't normal," Ron stated amusingly.

"After hanging out with these two all the time you would have been forgiven for going off men altogether," Draco added with a grin aimed at Harry and Ron.

"Hey!" both friends complained through their laughter.

"Hermione fancied me first I'll have you know," Ron piped up with a large smile. Like clockwork the old argument of old emerged with Draco loudly complaining,

"In your dreams Weasley."

XXX

Christmas time descended on the Malfoy household with no mercy. Ever since Hermione had been reunited with her family she had made sure Christmas was a time to remember. Beautiful decorations hung from every available space and over fifty Father Christmas dolls and figurines jostled for space in nooks, crannies and every available surface space. Leshia loved the over the top decorations, but Draco felt perhaps his wife was going too far – especially when he opened his sock drawer one morning to find a small Elf figurine amidst the sea of black cotton.

"Are you mad?" the young man laughed as soon as he found the doll clutching onto one of his better pairs. Hermione, sat by her vanity table taming her wild mane of hair, beamed at her husband.

"A little, yes."

"'Mione…"

"Baby it's Christmas," Hermione countered before she found herself on the receiving ends of one of Draco's lectures about Christmas propriety. "I only get this one chance to go completely overboard."

"Yeah, but this year is worse than ever," Draco tried to reason with his wife. Hermione's hands flew to her growing bump while her face shone with pride and love.

"It's because of this," she tried to explain. "The nesting instinct is kicking in." Draco sighed heavily and rubbed the back on his head with a pair of socks.

"All right," he finally exclaimed, shutting the drawer with the elf still inside seemingly guarding his socks. "But you can't use that against me every time you know," he chuckled.

"It's my right as a pregnant woman," Hermione giggled in return causing Draco to roll his eyes to the ceiling in fondness. "Oh you didn't know? We've got all sorts of special allowances and stuff we can get away with."

"Such as?"

"Well firstly, we get to do what we want when we want because the hormones are making us do it," the young woman began, ticking an imaginary list off on her fingers. Draco laughed heartily before he dove at his wife locking her in a firm embrace about her shoulders. Hermione yelped playfully. "Stop! You have to be careful!"

"What? I can't help it; my hormones are making me do this," Draco countered amusingly, kissing his wife while she tried to struggle away.

"Mum? Dad?" The two grown adults darted apart guiltily as though they were mere teenagers caught in the act. Their daughter's cautious call had come from just outside their door, which lay ajar.

"Yes darling?" Hermione called back shrilly.

"You do know this door's open don't you?" the teenager asked with a slight tone of reprove; she understood her parents were very much in love and that of course they had to 'do stuff', but couldn't they have the common decency to shut the door first?

"Come in you idiot," Draco chuckled, finally letting his wife go to pull on the socks still clutched in his hand.

"Is it safe?"

"Get in here," Draco laughed. Warily Leshia poked her head round the door, a pre-emptive look of disgust on her face should anything untoward be going on in the room. Thankfully both her parents were presentable and the girl could relax.

"I thought we were going into town today? I've hardly bought any presents yet and it's Christmas Eve tomorrow!"

"We're coming, just wait a minute or two," Hermione admonished the girl fondly. The request seemed to pain the girl who scrunched up her face and checked her watch.

"What's so urgent?" Draco asked tiredly, though a smile did pull at the corners of his mouth.

"We arranged to meet Rodes and Parys like ten minutes ago, we might not get another chance to see them this holiday. Even Katie's been allowed to come today," the girl explained and due to the urgency of her situation she let the look of fond amusement pass between the parents without calling them on it. "Can I go on ahead and meet you in town?"

"Will you get lost?" Draco asked with feigned-seriousness eliciting a tired look from his daughter.

"Dad," she said simply, as though this were answer enough.

"Go on darling, we'll catch up with you later. Do you need any money?" Hermione interrupted the father-daughter dynamic before the mirth of the situation suddenly turned sour by one wrong word from either party.

"No I'm okay, I've been saving up for ages," Leshia replied happily. "Thanks mum." With this the girl was gone and after several scampered footsteps the two parents heard the front door slamming.

"You shouldn't wind her up, we're trying to keep her happy remember?" Hermione told her husband with a worried frown. "We have to tell her about…you know, before we get back to Hogwarts. I just don't know…"

"We won't let it ruin Christmas," Draco assured his wife soothingly and with ease he crossed the room towards her. "New Years Eve, we should tell her at the party, she'll have plenty of friends around her to diffuse the situation." Hermione wrinkled her brow in worry.

"You think it's better with more people around?" Draco nodded slowly while he thought about it. If he knew his daughter, and he had a pretty good feeling he knew her very well, then he was sure having her friends about her would ease her suffering greatly and with the distraction of the party to keep the attention off herself she would find dealing with his much easier.

"I'm sure of it," her husband replied, before he assumed a dashing smile. "Now, where were we?"

XXX

Leshia reached Diagon Alley in time to hunt down her friends and enjoy a morning's productive shopping with them. At around noon the youngsters decided to take a break in the Leaky Cauldron for some warm pumpkin juice, where they descended on a corner booth enthusiastically showing one another their purchases. Their laughter was so raucous the bar's attention was almost entirely directed at them; some with fond smiles at the teenager so evidently enjoying their holiday, but most with reprove.

"You do know there are other people in this bar don't you?" Had Leshia's friends not recognised the voice then her actions might have seemed rather surprising, but as each and every one of them recognised the deep tone of the once Captain of the Gryffindor quidditch team they didn't even bat an eyelid as Leshia leapt to her feet and flung her arms around the tall man's chest.

"Ryan!" the girl cried out in complete and utter jubilation.

"Hey shorty," her once captain and older-brother-type chuckled fondly and with all his might he hugged the girl back. "Hang on, I don't mean to alarm you," he suddenly said and for a moment Leshia pulled back worriedly. "But you've grown. I can't believe you've actually grown."

"Hey," the girl laughed happily, pushing her friend back fondly. "Shove off. It was always bound to happen one day. It's not much anyway." Ryan beamed at her.

"Just checking. Hello all," he offered to the others, who greeted him enthusiastically. "So, I hear congratulations are in order."

"What for?" Ryan rolled his eyes with a grin and rapped his knuckle very gently on the girl's forehead.

"International Schools Quidditch Tournament? Do you remember it at all, or have you taken one too many bludgers to the head?"

"Oh right, yeah that." The once Gryffindor captain and heart throb laughed out loud and nodded.

"Fair enough, I understand. You were never one to blow your own trumpet. Still, congratulations." Leshia shrugged meekly.

"Thanks."

"Only wish they could have done something so cool back in my day," the tall young man sighed wistfully. Leshia giggled despite herself.

"Ryan you left less than half a year ago."

"Hey, it seems like an age ago. I really miss the old place. Is old McGonagall still on the warpath?"

"Like you wouldn't imagine." And so for at least an hour the youngsters filled in the Hogwarts veteran on everything he had missed and even went as far as to explain the mysterious goings on to the young man. He seemed concerned about the fact that Leshia had been hurt twice and made Rodeo and Parys promise on pain of death to keep the young girl safe; Leshia was entirely sure she had never blushed so much.

Just as the young man was excusing himself to leave (he had left his girlfriend at home entertaining their relatives while he just popped out to pick up some new potatoes and a vial of newts' eyes) two figures appeared behind him in search of Leshia.

"Professor Malfoy, Professor Granger," Ryan quickly offered them with a nod of his head.

"Hello Ryan," Hermione beamed at the young man while Draco offered him a nod of his head and a small respectful smile. "How have you been?"

"Mum he's in a hurry," Leshia quickly spoke up, and whereas Draco batted the girl across the back of her head gently for being rude Hermione beamed at the tall man.

"Of course, have a lovely Christmas."

"You too Professor, see you around Shorty. Oh yeah and Malfoy you tell Owen Gabriel that I can't believe he joined the moment I left…" The rest of Ryan's call was lost over the crowds jostling for space in the Leaky Cauldron. Leshia remained in a good mood the rest of the day; a mood even shopping with her mother at the local muggle supermarket for three hours couldn't shake her from.

XXX

Christmas Eve went down a blast with everyone descending on the Burrow for a large party, which was soon relived the following day on Christmas day when the Weasley clan gathered for Christmas day and invited the Malfoys. Leshia and her friends thoroughly enjoyed the festivities and ate more than they could have imagined. In fact, Leshia was entirely sure she was going to have to be rolled home when the time came.

After Christmas lunch the girls were rather surprised to be called down by their parents who wanted to 'talk to them about something'; whenever this phrase was uttered it could never be good news the girls had long since worked out. With Katie still being punished for the events at Halloween the poor girl was very reluctant to come downstairs with her friends; she couldn't fit in any more punishment surely?

"We're not going to bite," Harry laughed the moment the three wary girls peered round the door into the kitchen, which was where they had been summoned.

"We just wanted to talk to you about something," Hermione added. This did not reassured the girls one bit, but they did obey and filed inside the large room still in the process of cleaning itself after lunch. Huddled together, they squeezed onto two chairs with large eyes and vulnerable expressions, seeming like very young children rather than fourteen-year-olds.

"We're throwing a big party on New Years Eve," Draco finally spoke after he'd enjoyed enough amusement at the girls' expense. Immediately Leshia relaxed and a curious expression adorned her pretty face. Katie and Rachel however grew tenser expecting to be told after this announcement that they would not be allowed to attend due to their horrendous overall behaviour.

"And we were wondering whether there was anyone you wanted us to invite?" Hermione now spoke up. Finally Katie and Rachel joined Leshia in her elation and for a moment they spouted out names of all their friends and fans from school.

"Could you possibly limit it to one each? We're going to ask some the others to invite friends as well," Hermione asked the girls fondly.

"Rodeo," Katie immediately responded followed promptly by Rachel exclaiming,

"Parys." Everyone now turned to Leshia who shrunk away from their expectant faces.

"I don't know, Owen Gabriel?" she suggested. Across the table Draco's left eyebrow twitched, but any other reaction to the name of the boy who had so entertained his young daughter at the ball just over a week ago he did not show.

"Wonderful," Hermione beamed at the girls.

"Is that it?" Rachel asked warily, eliciting laughter from the gathered parents.

"Well actually, could you tell your cousins to think of a person they would like to invite," Ron told Rachel and Katie.

"What all of them?" the red-haired girl exclaimed in surprise.

"No, just the ones at Hogwarts if you don't mind," Hermione quickly corrected. "We don't have the Potters' facilities." Here the young woman shot Ginny and Harry a fond smile, which they laughed off. Thankful that they were avoiding trouble the girls hotfooted it out of the kitchen and went to spread the message about the New Years party. Leshia had never endured so much teasing about Owen Gabriel before in her life and it was a small miracle that her patience did not completely snap in two. Several times that evening she found herself reaching for her wand to curse her two friends, especially when they started miming kissing actions and singing the childish nursery rhyme "Leshia and Owen sitting in a tree", but thankfully the girl restrained herself and when she went home that night her two best friends were still in one piece.

The week dividing Christmas from New Years thankfully passed without any strife or mischief (at least, none detected by Hermione or Draco – Leshia quite happily took to her favoured hobby of driving Tally the houself completely bonkers, but she kept it so well hidden even Draco was surprised by Tally's suddenly erratic moods) and soon New Years Eve had fallen upon them. Hermione's instincts – nesting or otherwise – had gone completely bananas and she spent the entire day preparing the house in some sort of frenzy. Leshia and Draco steered well clear of her and instead busied themselves with running errands; any excuse to get as far from the house as possible.

Rodeo, Parys and Owen had all gratefully accepted their invitations and finally as eight-o clock rolled by Leshia was given leave to go and fetch them from the Leaky Cauldron with Katie and Rachel in tow, who had arrived half an hour early with their parents to help set up that which Hermione in her frenzy had overlooked. Wrapped up warmly against the falling snow the girls chattered to one another about the outfits that lay beneath the layers. Katie and Rachel had nothing but praise for Leshia's ensemble, which in all honesty she had spent the entire week planning. Never before had she put so much thought or effort into deciding what to wear to an event, but in the end Leshia was very happy that she had pondered it so carefully; her skirt-jumper-boots combination was spot on and the moment she had rushed down the stairs to greet her friends Katie had felt very envious of the beautiful girl.

The Leaky Cauldron was positively bursting with festive patrons and it took the girls several minutes to find their male friends despite having arranged a predestined meeting spot. Finally, and not a moment too soon to Parys who had had to endure the frostiness between Leshia's suitors, the six youngsters clapped eyes on one another and started the short journey back to the Malfoy homestead.

Leshia led the way with Owen by her side and quite predictably three lines of couples formed with Rachel and Parys taking up the rear grinning to one another tiredly about their friends: this evening though full of potential was most likely going to end in someone or other's tears.

"Did you have a nice Christmas?" Leshia asked the tall boy beside her once she'd started them all off on the journey home.

"Not really no," Owen chuckled. "My little sisters have been waging war on each other all term apparently and it all came to a head at Christmas. I could have throttled them both I tell you. How about yours?"

"Yeah it was okay, my parents are being weird, but then again, that's nothing new," Leshia replied with a shrug, before suddenly she adopted a wide-eyed gleeful expression. "Hey I ran into Ryan Lofting at the Leaky Cauldron right before Christmas and he told me to tell you he couldn't believe you finally joined the moment he left. " Quite surprisingly Owen started laughing heartily. "What was all that about then?"

"Your ex Captain," Owen began amusedly. "Nearly got down on his knees and begged me to join the team last year, and the two years before that he made such a play for my allegiance I could have sworn he was trying to ask me out not get me to join his team." Leshia laughed raucously, picturing her once captain's passionate desire for the best possible Gryffindor team and the lengths he would go to to attain it. "He just couldn't accept that I was contract-bound not to play for the team. I guess now he thinks I really hated him. Shame, I've always liked Lofting, he's an alright guy." Leshia grinned at Owen.

"I bet he doesn't hate you," she tried, before her stifled laughter broke out in a very undignified snort. "Okay, so maybe he does, but I'll set things straight the next time I see him."

For the remainder of the brief walk to Leshia's front door the pair entertained one another with shared memories from the last term, until finally Leshia steered her friends up the stairs to the grand black front door, which lay open for arriving guests. Inside the house had filled with so many people Leshia was sure they'd come to the wrong door.

"This is it," the short girl announced to the boys before she led them through the crowds to the utility room behind the kitchen, which was doubling as a coatroom. "You lot can dump your stuff in here." While the stripped themselves of their layers Leshia – still coat clad – stared out at the guests trying to recognise faces amidst the sea of people.

"How did all these people get here in less than half an hour?" she muttered to herself.

"By magic?" Rodeo offered cheesily, earning himself a Cheshire-cat grin from the blonde girl by the door.

"Only from a muggleborn," the girl sighed mockingly before she beamed at the handsome boy to show him she had been joking. "Come on, I'll show you my room." With the much less bulky youngsters in tow they made far better time traversing back through the crowds to the stairs, but only once they had ascended them could they freely move without having to worry about knocking someone over in the process.

"This is it," Leshia exclaimed proudly, throwing the door open onto her newly cleaned (though still not very tidy) abode. Rodeo and Parys started sniggering. Leshia sighed and rolled her eyes amusedly. "Just say it."

"Nothing," Rodeo managed with a straight face.

"It's just this is exactly how we pictured your room," Parys added.

"What do you mean?" Leshia demanded.

"Chaos," both boys burst out with laughter, dragging Katie and Rachel into their mirth. Even Owen managed a smile; what they had said was very true after all. For a moment Leshia looked from one to the next before finally she ushered them out.

"Fine, wait downstairs for me," she laughed and with this she shut the door behind herself. Instead of going down into the sea of people the youngsters hung about the hall studying the multitude of interesting artefacts Draco and Hermione had collected over the years and also the plethora of pictures Hermione had stuck up about the place chronicling Leshia and Draco's life while she had been away; she liked to pretend she hadn't missed them by hanging up every picture she could find from those years, and often it worked.

After a mere few minutes the door to Leshia's room creaked open again and there she stood in all her 'perfect outfit' glory. The boys actually went silent for once, which did not escape Katie's notice, only furthering her envy deeply. "Ready to see what's going on downstairs?" Leshia posed to her friends, before she darted down the stairs. They took a while to mobilise themselves, but finally they followed. On their way down to the crowded hallway Rodeo and Owen exchanged the most competitive glare that had ever passed between them.

After ten minutes of swimming aimlessly through the sea of strangers Leshia and her friends finally encountered one of the hosts. Hermione was in her element and at this moment she was surrounded by a hoard of old school friends she hadn't seen in years. The girls were done for before they'd even opened their mouths.

"Seamus, Dean," Hermione addressed her old friends while she dragged the girls into her arms; no mean feat for quite a small pregnant woman. "Here are the girls I've been telling you about." The two men beside Hermione looked down with fond expressions, instantly seeing the likeness of the girls to their old school chums the moment they looked upon them.

"No need for introductions," Seamus chuckled. For the next ten minutes the girls were helpless to escape and they found themselves being told anecdote upon anecdote of their parents' days at school until finally they managed to excuse themselves and darted into the kitchen to find something to eat.

"Okay, no going near any of our parents tonight," Leshia told the others determinedly. "Unless you want to get bored to death all night." With plates of buffet-style food and cups of delicious 'strictly for the children' punch in their hands Leshia led her friends to the muggle room where most of the other younger guests had holed up for the night. With the muggle television blaring out some muggle music channel the atmosphere was much more relaxed and 'hip' allowing Leshia and her friends to finally relax.

"You've got a pretty sweet house here Malfoy," Owen remarked appreciatively once he'd found a spare seat on one of the beanbag-like chairs in the corner. Leshia dropped down on the ground beside him, almost forgetting her other friends were with them.

"But you live in London too right? What's your house like?" Leshia inquired naively – not one for travelling about her native city, she had not seen the vast variety of buildings the capital had to offer. Owen stared blankly at the girl for a moment while these very thoughts ran through his mind until finally he burst out laughing.

"Malfoy you're too much," he managed through his laughter. Across the room Rodeo bristled tetchily over his drink. "I live in Hampstead, so it's mostly detached or semi-detached houses right? We've got this big old early nineties monstrosity my dad says is an architectural dream house. Me just moved about a year a go, I loved our old place." Leshia was blushing, ashamed of her inexperience.

"We've lived here as long as I can remember, my mum's parents left it to her when they died. They also had a house in the country, but it hurt my mum too much to keep it, so she sold it." With a furrowed brow Leshia wondered what was making her share these things. She never really spoke of her parents' past with her closest friends, let alone with some boy she had really only known a few months.

"Sorry to hear about your grandparents," Owen offered. Leshia shrugged meekly.

"Me too, I never met them. They died before I was born. Voldemort killed them in the…" she trailed off, perhaps now she had said too much? Owen, far from uncomfortable nodded seeming incredibly humbled. Unlike most wizards and witches, none of his relatives or family's closest friends had perished in either of the great wars with Voldemort. His family had stayed well clear of the upheaval and the battling, whereas the lineage of this girl before him had been involved in all aspects of the war, good, bad, atrocious and heroic.

"Your grandfather," the tall boy began tentatively. He wasn't sure how responsive Leshia would be to talking about the other side of her family, but he was dying to know. Ever since Leshia had come to Hogwarts with her dichotic father and her history stooped in dark magic Owen had wondered about that side of her past. The Malfoy name after all, carried with it such connotations of evil and despair that one couldn't help but find any bearer of such a name truly fascinating. "You know, on your dad's side. Do you know him?" Leshia silently watched the tall boy, her large eyes calculating what she ought to say next and whether she should stop this conversation before she had the chance to divulge too much.

"No," she finally replied. "No I don't know him. I thought he was dead. That is, until last year. He resurfaced." This Owen already knew. "He was trying to snatch me." This he did not.

"What? You're serious?"

"Unfortunately, yes I am," Leshia sighed. Sensing an incredibly sensitive topic Owen changed tack once more.

"What about your dad's mother?"

"What's with all the questions?" Leshia countered, a hint of defensiveness to her tone, but still a smile on her face. Owen went a little pink in the cheek.

"Uh sorry, I didn't mean, I mean, it's not like," he stammered, seeming for the first time unsure of himself and entirely without the answers. Leshia found it so hilarious she burst out laughing and changed the topic of conversation. Once more, across the room on the most comfortable of the settees Rodeo squeezed his cup to tightly the sides split pouring the contents onto his lap. Katie, sat by his side following his gaze, felt something deep within her screaming and burning to get out.

'Take your chance Katie. Just do it for God's sake!'

"Come on," the girl said aloud brightly. "Let's get you another drink." Helpless but to follow the pretty girl back into the kitchen, especially when she was batting her eyelashes at him, Rodeo and Katie left. On their return the raven-haired girl had been pretty effective in diverting the bohemian boy's attention entirely back onto herself.

"Katie!" At the kitchen door the pair of youngsters turned around to find Hermione bearing down on them. Wary to be dragged to another reunion they started backing away, but Hermione now more-determined than ever with the weight of what was to come, would not be so easily shaken off. "Have you seen Leshia?" she called persistently, catching up to the teenagers through some Olympic medal-worthy acrobatics.

"I think she's looking for Rachel in there," Katie lied convincingly, pointing back into the kitchen they'd all just emerged from.

"You're sure? I didn't see her," Hermione countered worriedly forcing such guilt to creep over Katie that she nearly cracked.

"Maybe she went upstairs Professor Granger?" Rodeo suggested.

"Well if you see her, tell her I have to see her urgently," Hermione relayed firmly, before she set off again in search of the wayward girl. She and Draco had decided that the time to tell their daughter their news was now long overdue and both were urgent to find her. With Rodeo's fresh drink he and Katie darted back through the crowds to the muggle room where at first it appeared that Leshia and her tall friend had disappeared, but upon closer inspection and Rachel's urgent head nodding Katie found the blonde girl once more, tucked into a corner with the tall keeper seemingly involved in an intimate conversation. Katie and Rodeo could not have known that moments earlier Draco had been stalking the room causing Leshia to dart for cover dragging her friend with her mid-conversation.

Indeed, from their position it appeared to be very much the first move they had both been waiting for: one with dread the other with anticipation. Rodeo could not believe his eyes and for the second time that night his drink burst in his hand. Katie thought fast, she had to act now; because if she didn't then she was pretty certain Rodeo would go marching across the room to fight for the small blonde girl.

"Look," Katie said shrilly, taking hold of Rodeo's sodden hand and staring fixedly at the top of the doorframe where in her decoration madness Hermione had affixed a beautiful sprig of mistletoe – indeed, every doorframe in the house came complete with a sprig or five and observant Katie had been the first to notice their every location for an eventuality such as this one. Rodeo did look following Katie's lead and the moment he saw the off-green leaves a smile darted onto his face despite his horror at finding Leshia tucked into a corner with Owen Gabriel.

"Um, well…" the boy stuttered, looking back to the beautiful girl before him while rubbing the back of his neck feverishly. Her heart racing a million miles per second Katie assumed the confidence of someone far more outgoing than she…someone like Leshia in fact.

"You know, it's pretty much against the law to pass by one of these things without kissing someone," the girl said in as husky a voice as she could manage. Rodeo grinned despite his nerves.

"Is it? Well we can't have that can we?"

"My thoughts exactly."

Leshia looked up the same time as Rachel did across the room and both felt their skin suddenly crawl at the sight of their two friends kissing beneath the mistletoe, though both for very different reasons. Rachel could have screamed: what was Katie doing? Seeing his friend suddenly seize up in some sort of seizure Owen too followed her gaze to the two lovebirds in the doorway and while he took the time to react Leshia darted from his side suddenly wanting very much to find the nearest toilet and regurgitate what little dinner she had managed to consume.

"Malfoy!" Owen called after her and without the kissing pair even noticing the two youngsters flew past them in the doorway. Everywhere Leshia darted jovial and slightly intoxicated faces met her; several times people called her out, trying to engage the young Malfoy in conversation, but not once did Leshia stop. She had to reach the downstairs cloakroom, she had to shut out the images that were burning into her brain every second that passed. Rodeo and Katie had finally done what they had been threatening to do for over a year; they had taken the step of declaring their feelings for one another openly. There wasn't a doubt in Leshia's mind that they were now going out. Even though she had tried to prepare herself for this moment Leshia never realised it could hurt this much.

"Malfoy wait!" Owen called after Leshia fervently; in the crowds she was getting away from him and as she knew her home infinitely better than he, the moment she disappeared from sight she would be gone. "Leshia would you stop!"

Draco snapped his eyes in the direction of the boy's call. Barely a second later and Leshia ran straight past him, though she didn't get terribly far as with the reflexes of a cat Draco had reached out and stayed her shoulder. Turning round with an expression so horrified Draco immediately assumed the worst and turned on the approaching boy with a look of such fury Owen stopped still in his tracks.

"You…" he began with such a growl the happy partygoers in the vicinity turned around with almost fearful expressions.

"Dad," Leshia interrupted. A protective arm pulled Leshia to her father's side while he closed in on the young man he feared had wounded his child.

"It's not me she's upset with," Owen quickly defended himself, assuming once more a fearlessness Draco had to respect.

"I'm just feeling sick," Leshia spoke up before Owen could divulge too much to her father.

"What?" Draco asked his daughter with a look of suspicion and disbelief.

"Dad I am going to be sick," the girl warned and quickly without hesitation Draco led the girl the short distance to the cloakroom where he pulled a small bottle from the cabinet.

"Drink this," he ordered and while Owen waited outside worriedly Leshia complied. The potion must have been very powerful or effective because moments after ingesting it the desperate feeling had gone leaving Leshia seemingly back to normal; only the emotional disgust and sickness now remained. "What happened?" Draco demanded before the girl had even got her breath back.

"I suddenly felt really sick, Owen was worried about me," Leshia lied flawlessly.

"He said you were upset," Draco countered suspiciously.

"He thought I was. I suddenly ran off, what would you think?" Leshia was so convincing even Owen saw truth in her words. That Malfoy girl was so entirely multifaceted he had no idea what to make of her, all he knew is that he wanted to know more. Draco once more glanced to the boy in the corridor.

"So you're not upset?" he finally asked his daughter, concern lacing his slate eyes, hidden well from the boy out in the corridor.

"No," the girl countered forcing a convincing smile on to her face. "Why, what's up?" The unconvinced father looked deeply into his daughter's eyes, sure that this was not the moment to be bringing up the big news, but also so entirely sure they couldn't wait a moment longer, before finally he nodded firmly.

"Your mother and I need to talk to you about something." Concerned about what this 'something' could be, Leshia allowed herself to be guided towards her father's study. Owen tried to follow.

"You, stay here," Draco called back to the young man dangerously. He was helpless to comply, though he did try to speed things along by directing Hermione toward the study when she rushed past in search of her husband or daughter. With a beaming smile at the boy she followed in their wake and now it was all a waiting game. Owen Gabriel slouched down against the wall in the gloomy under-stair hallway, his eyes never leaving the study door, his mind never leaving Alecia Malfoy.

Inside the dark wood study Leshia sat down on the comfortable red leather settee that lined the wall of the grand library cum office. She had never liked this room. It always came hand in hand with punishment and as such now held negative connotations for the young loose wire. Draco, all set on going in search of Hermione opened the door in time to have his wife come flying in expectantly. The look of such gravity that passed between her parents made Leshia very much want to make a run for it. Why did she get the feeling she wasn't going to like what they had to say?

Without a word to one another Hermione and Draco took two chairs from beside the desk and sat down opposite their daughter. Squirming on the spot Leshia pulled her hands into the ends of her sleeves and wrapped her arms about herself; she appeared so little Draco wanted to scoop her up in his arms as he did when she was a small child in need of comforting.

"Darling," Hermione exclaimed breathily, almost shaking with the significance of the situation. They would all no doubt remember this moment for the rest of their lives.

"Mum you're scaring me." The words escaped Leshia's mouth before she had consciously thought to utter them and for a moment she wished she could claw them all back because Hermione's face, already teetering on an expression of great emotion, now crumpled in dismay.

"I'm sorry sweetheart, I'm not trying to."

"Are you going away again?" The heart wrenching emotions Leshia's innocence and vulnerability were evoking in Hermione's over-emotional state caused her trembling to increase.

"No," the mother exclaimed powerfully, shaking her head very firmly. Leshia now looked to Draco.

"Are you?" He too shook his head, trying to retain his neutral expression while inside the sight of his little girl, normally so sure of herself, so utterly flailing in insecurity made him want to take hold of her and run. He didn't want her to hear their news. He didn't want to break her heart; he would rather die before he let that happen.

"No one's going anywhere," Draco spoke calmly when he had enough faith in his voice to speak normally. Why drag it out? "Your mother is pregnant."

Quite suddenly and without warning, without even a reaction from the girl, she was on her feet and out the door.

"Leshia!" both parents shouted after her. Their calls were in vein as by now the girl had darted out of the corridor and into the crowds. Owen watched her pass him and without hesitation he was on his feet following her. She made straight for the door, which still lay open and once outside did not stop running. Hopping expertly over the fence her instinct was only to run; to run away from the news her parents had just dropped on her.

How could they have another baby? She was an only child. She always had been and she always would be. How could she share her parents? How could they have a baby at Hogwarts? Surely they couldn't? Surely they'd move? In one foul swoop she would lose both her parents. They had lied: they were going somewhere. They were leaving her! How could they do it to her?

With so many thoughts and questions jostling for space in her mind Leshia felt entirely sure her head was going to explode. All she could do was run, run away from it all. Run away from them.

"Alecia Malfoy stop!" Not listening to whoever was in pursuit the girl sped up, but her escape had been thwarted, though not by whom she had predicted. Strong arms took hold of hers and suddenly the girl found herself pulled backwards into a strong grip. Whoever had found her was rocking her while she openly wept away her sorrows. Whoever had found her carefully, soothingly, lovingly healed her open wounds and eased her suffering. Whoever had found her cared more for her wellbeing than anything that had ever come before.


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