It took several moments for the most of Leshia's grief to come out before she suddenly became aware of the subzero temperatures her mere jumper couldn't protect her from. Though the moment the girl started shivering her comforter crept round her side and hugged her to his chest. Leshia knew without looking up who had come to find her.
"You don't have to explain," the young man countered.
"No I do, I don't…" the girl managed through her tears.
"Malfoy you don't have to explain anything to me…"
"They're having a baby." The wails that escaped the girl broke Owen's heart and while he felt the mild surprise at her words he hugged her firmly to him, rocking her steadily, willing her to stop feeling this anguish. For several more minutes the girl cried until she finally gave one almighty sniff and looked up at the tall boy.
"Thank you," she whispered, her warm breath tickling his chin, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Don't be absurd," he complained gruffly, wrapping his arms more firmly about her neck and shoulders. He had to look away, he couldn't trust himself not to.
"Owen, look at me please." As though her words had some magic hold on his senses and his actions Owen looked down once more, falling trap to those large grey soulful eyes. Leaning in he wanted nothing more than to make contact with her, to make everything better.
Running footsteps broke Leshia's hold over the boy, who looked up to see a man on a mission bearing down on them. Though his common sense told him to let go of the daughter of that murderous looking man, Owen instead tightened his grip on his friend's shoulders. He would protect her from the world if need be.
"Leshia!" Draco yelled out, the despair his dangerous expression kept well hidden only revealing itself in his voice. The father skidded to a halt a few yards from his child and her companion and for a moment he steadied his shoulders, making himself appear as large as possible so as to intimidate the young man into letting Leshia go. What was he doing here?
"Go away!" the girl cried and she turned her head, burying her face into Owen's thick jumper.
"Baby please, come back inside," Draco pleaded. "Can't we talk about this?"
"Why?" Leshia demanded furiously, her distress now making way for anger. The girl wheeled round and pulled away from Owen a little so as she could face her father properly. "What's there to talk about?"
"We can explain…"
"Oh save it," the girl interrupted, her grey eyes conveying such hatred and pain Draco wanted nothing more than to shrivel up and hide from them. Why had he passed onto her such traits and such powers? "There's nothing to explain and there's nothing to talk about. Just leave me alone!" Furiously the girl turned on heal and started stalking off.
"I'm losing her," Draco whispered barely audibly. Owen alone heard his panicked sentiments and stared in complete surprise and shock as Professor Malfoy, the once Death Eater, the terrifying teacher who had fought Voldemort and lived to tell the tale was brought to his knees by a fourteen-year-old girl.
"Leshia I'm begging you, please come back inside." Something in his tone made the girl stop and slowly she turned around. The sight of her father literally on his knees begging her not to hate him brought a wave of common sense and sensibility crashing down on her. Without hesitation she ran back to his side and took hold of his arm, trying to drag him to his feet.
"Don't be stupid, get up!" the girl complained sounding scared above all; what could bring the venerable Draco Malfoy to his knees? She feared seeing such humility and weakness in her father who, for better or worse, seemed the most impenetrable fearless person to ever walk the earth.
"You'll come back inside?"
"Yes I will, just get up!" The fraught feverish urgency in her voice alerted Draco to the fear and pain his moment of weakness was causing the girl and quickly he rose to his feet, dragging Leshia to his side with such strength he hurt her shoulders. As though he hadn't witnessed the whole thing Owen stood by and watched as father and daughter walked back down the pavement to the house. Had he just imagined the whole thing?
Once inside Leshia followed her father to the study where Hermione was still weeping without restraint. Even Leshia's return couldn't stave the woman's tears and sobs and it took her several minutes to regain control over her hyperactive emotions.
"Don't you ever run from me again," Hermione cried forcefully, pulling Leshia to her side before the girl had been given a chance to speak. "We don't run from our problems in this family. You hear me?" Leshia nodded worriedly, never before had she heard her mother so mad and distraught all in the same voice.
"It was a surprise," the girl finally explained. "I mean, you couldn't have warned me just a little? Maybe dropped some hints or something?" Glimpses of the normal humorous Leshia peered through her façade of anger and upset and as such it gave her parents hope.
"So what do you think about all this?" Draco spoke up. Leshia looked from her mother to her father and shook her head.
"I'm sure I'll be fine with it, I just…" She trailed off and looked to her mother's bump; now she knew of its existence she couldn't understand how she could have missed it. "I just need some time to get my head round it." This was as good an answer as they were going to get and for a moment Hermione was overcome with joy. Draco too couldn't have expected more from the girl and for a moment Leshia was enveloped in her parents' arms.
"Oh my God, Owen!" Leshia suddenly yelped and she tried to pull free.
"Yes, about that," Draco suddenly spoke up with surprising and unexpected force. Leshia rolled her eyes to the heavens and actually cracked a smile.
"God, I hope it's a girl so you can stop treating me like a baby." With this the girl rushed to the door, entirely missing the jubilation that passed from mother to father. Hermione was now entirely convinced they would be a happy family after all, but these sentiments Draco found hard to subscribe to. They were far from being out of the woods yet.
It took Leshia all of two minutes to find the tall boy who had not left her side since the moment she picked him up at the pub. She apologised profusely for leaving him stranded on the pavement and offered her thanks for looking after her, to both of which he said she was not to mention another word about it; what were friends for after all?
Leshia's last task of the night in overcoming the grief that had so tainted the end of the year was to seek out the two lovebirds that had spawned her emotional rollercoaster ride and make her peace with them. They too weren't difficult to find, having not moved from the 'muggle room'. When Leshia walked in she found them nestled into the cosiest settee, hands loosely intertwined gazing adoringly at one another with Parys and Rachel sat beside them shooting them despairing looks. Even Leshia's entrance didn't seem to break them apart, though they did look humbled.
"Where have you been?" Rachel asked awkwardly when Leshia joined them. The blonde girl smiled wryly and looked to Katie and Rodeo.
"My parents, they had something to tell me," she sighed. "And what about you guys? Looks like you've got something to tell me as well?" The smile pulling at her lips came easier than she had expected and within no time she was properly grinning at the loved up pair. The relief that poured from them was so palpable it was almost embarrassing.
"Thanks Leesh," Katie mouthed to her friend when Rodeo turned to beam at a much-relieved Parys: so far so good. Leshia nodded with a heartfelt smile to one of her oldest friends; how could she deny such an important person in her life this chance at happiness? No matter how deeply Leshia cared for Rodeo, she cared deeper still for Katie and would do anything in her power to protect her and keep her happy: ever the Malfoy.
"So what did your parents want you for? More old chums to do the meet and greet with?" Rachel asked cheerfully, a silly giddiness having taken over her senses now all seemed well once more. Leshia smiled wryly and shook her head wanting ever so much to taunt them with, 'You'll never guess', knowing that they never would, but instead she merely stated with a cool and level head,
"They're having another baby." Silence filled the room as Leshia's words filtered out in waves. Within moments every youngster in the room had heard and all anyone could do was stare.
"Damn," Rachel finally spoke in a slow tone, a strange smile pulling at her lips. "You've upstaged me. I was about to tell you all that my parents are getting divorced."
No girls had such stories of the holidays to tell, as did the third year girls from Gryffindor. With one's parents getting divorced, one finally getting together with the boy of her dreams and one finding out she was to have a baby brother or sister, their gossip spread through third year like some new and exotic disease. By the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade station everybody aboard the Hogwarts Express had heard the news and consequently everywhere Hermione turned she was receiving congratulations from the student body. Draco, not so approachable, glared at anyone who dared to glance in his direction with a smile.
"We should have told her not to say anything," Draco grumbled on their carriage ride back to the station. Hermione chuckled happily – she had been very happy lately her husband had noticed.
"It's pretty difficult to hide now darling." Glancing down at the growing bump Draco smiled despite himself and nodded.
"True." Appreciatively he stroked his wife's bump, wondering at the little person that lay beyond. Telling Leshia had liberated his imagination and whereas before he had only ever pictured just one more version of their daughter, now he found himself free to wonder at what other combinations he and Hermione could produce. What if they were to have a boy? Draco twitched despite himself.
"Darling what's wrong?" Hermione asked in surprise eliciting a firm shake of the head from her husband.
"Nothing," he lied, unable to express his fears at producing a son. The name Malfoy ought to die with him: the last of the true Malfoys. No man could ever live again with the traits of the dark wizarding family. No man could ever rise to be as great as Draco nor as terrible as Lucius. Draco Malfoy could have no son. He could have no heir. He could not risk unleashing upon the wizarding world the possibility of another tyrant.
A beautiful cosy dinner lay waiting for the students and teachers the moment they wandered into the castle out of the snow. At Gryffindor table people were finding it difficult to miss the new couple on the scene and with the regular adoring glances they shot at one another and the loosely entwined arms Rodeo and Katie weren't trying to play down their attachment to one another. Across the hall those third year girls who had not quite believed that the delectable Rodeo was unavailable now saw in misery that the rumours had been true. Even those at the top table had noticed; after all, the teaching body too found enjoyment in the veritable drama stories than enveloped their pupils. What better soap story than a co-ed boarding school full of teenagers?
"Oh poor Leshia," Hermione suddenly exclaimed over her soup. She and Draco had yet to hear the rumours some of their colleagues already felt was old news. Draco looked up sharply at these words, but didn't notice anything untoward. In fact, their daughter was mid raucous laughter at some obscure story Rachel was telling. She looked far from warranting the words 'poor Leshia'. With a wrinkled brow Draco turned back to his wife. She smiled adoringly at him.
"Try again, this time don't look at Leshia," Hermione teased. With a frustrated sigh Draco looked back to the table, this time he caught sight of Rodeo and Katie exchanging a shy embarrassed kiss.
"Oh," he suddenly remarked. Confused as ever with Leshia's moods, feelings and wild emotions Draco had managed to gauge which of her many male friends were particular favourites of hers and though he tried very hard not to think about it he had come to accept that one day, due to mutual adoration on the boy's part, Rodeo and Leshia might become an item. This was as far as Draco's thoughts on the matter had ventured. He had not known that there was a third contender in the match and as such was very surprised to see Katie now suddenly attached to the boy's side. With raised eyebrows Draco turned to his wife, who had known all along the ins and outs of situation and had predicted this might happen. With Katie's maturing above and beyond the other two, how could it not?
"I don't want to hear it," Draco suddenly stated simply when Hermione opened her mouth to explain the whole sorry saga to him, before he reached out his hand and stroked Hermione's growing bump. "When this one's born we're keeping it under lock and key until it turns eighteen. No more bloody romances agreed? I'm going to go grey before the year is out. I know it." Hermione laughed at her husband's dramatics adding to the general mirth of the evening.
On their steady amble back to the common room Leshia came face to face with Owen Gabriel for the first time since that embarrassing evening when she must have appeared such a spoilt brat. Blushing a little she smiled at the boy on their way up the great staircase.
"Hi," she offered, which he returned with a dashing grin.
"Practice tomorrow Malfoy, Mila's just told me," the boy continued with as much ease as though the week preceding the holidays and the holidays themselves had never happened. "Hope you didn't eat too many mince pies. Can't have you rolling off your broom again can we?" For a minute Leshia felt puzzled by the immense disappointment that permeated her mind. Why did it matter that Owen had assumed the roll of mere friend once more? What did she expect?
"For your information," the girl countered, forcing herself to sound natural. "I don't even like mince pies."
Settling back into the rhythm of the castle took some getting used to by the excitable youngsters still reeling from their exciting holidays. Leshia and her friends were no different and for the first few days of school life they managed to land themselves in two detentions with, quite surprisingly, Professor Sprout and Professor Binns.
Lined up outside muggle studies on Tuesday morning the girls were still complaining about their punishments, one of which would take place after school.
"I didn't even know Binns gave detentions," Leshia grumbled. "I mean have you ever heard anyone say 'got to go now, I've got a detention with Binns'?" Rachel and Katie laughed happily at their friend and shook their heads truthfully.
"It's not like we did anything too terrible," Rachel added to her Leshia's grumblings. A sound escaped Katie's throat that suggested she felt they had.
"You two were asleep! I only got in trouble with you because I was trying to help you." Leshia and Rachel glanced to one another with furrowed brows.
"Oh come on," Leshia complained with a grin. "Everybody sleeps in History of Magic! How anyone stays awake with all that endless rambling is completely and utterly beyond me."
"I manage," Katie countered snootily
"Yeah, but you're not normal," Rachel concluded. "It's a bit of a jip though, I mean half the class was sleeping, why should we get in trouble?"
"You were snoring Rachel," Katie exclaimed in bewilderment. How could her friends not see how they had brought this situation on themselves? "And you," Katie wheeled on Leshia. "You fell off your chair. You couldn't have made it more obvious, the pair of you." Leshia and Rachel grinned at one another.
"You didn't have to get involved though," Rachel offered gratefully, to which Katie returned a mischievous smile.
"Yes I did, I've always wondered what Binns does in his spare time."
"Ha," Leshia spoke aloud sounding amazed. "One week with Rodeo and you've turned into one of us." Thankfully at this point the youngsters were interrupted by the door flying open revealing a class of first years rushing off chattering loudly. After the rabble had cleared the third years were able to file inside and find their usual seats. Professor Lewis was looking more jovial and captivating than ever and as such the moment they sat down the youngsters waited in silence for their adored teacher to start doing what he did best.
"Good morning everyone," the kind-faced man spoke jovially to his class. "I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas." Several nods around the classroom confirmed his assertion allowing him to continue. "Today's lesson will be a little different. As you know this term we are going to start a topic I have called 'Muggle Towns'. The highlight, I hope, will be our fieldtrip." Excited whispers broke out over the room and for a moment Lewis waited patiently for them to ebb away. "In February, about seven weeks away or so, I have been permitted to take you for an excursion in Manchester. I would have loved to take you all to London where we would most definitely come face to face with the largest muggle city of them all, but I fear it is too large for us to truly appreciate what we have learnt. Manchester is my hometown and I know it well. It is as varied as London yet on a much smaller scale." The class watched their teacher silently, willing him to continue talking.
"There will be a great number of us going, as all classes from third year through seventh are going to be going." Once more excited whispers. "So I am going to require from you the utmost common sense and good behaviour. If between here and February you demonstrate that you will not be fit to come along then I'm afraid you will have to remain behind." Utmost silence filled the room. A fieldtrip was such a rarity that even the most outrageously behaved youngsters, case in point Leshia and her friends, would be as good as gold in order to go. "Right then, without further ado, let us begin today's lesson. Our topic for now is going to be city structure." With this the geography lesson on muggle cities began and though it bored some of the youngsters silly, they didn't make a sound lest they be left behind come the big day.
The following day brought the first Blue Lions meet of the New Year. The general consensus the group came to by the end concluded that nobody had experienced an ounce of peculiarity at home, indeed even the dreams and headaches had stopped, but the moment they returned to the castle the horrid strange goings on had began once more in force. In fact two muggle born girls had had to spend the night in the hospital wing due to the sheer agony of their headaches; headaches that Madam Pomfry in all her wisdom and experience could not heal.
Strange happenings had increased and Leshia and her friends started to feel incredibly uneasy in their castle home. Everywhere they went they sensed the sinister aura of a creature so malcontent it was lashing out at everything and everyone, but what it was they had no idea. The crunch point came the second week of term when a poor second year girl fell from the astrology tower during her lesson. Vanessa Pinkett was so badly injured she was rushed straight to St Mongos where thankfully they managed to put her back together again with no great trouble.
Upon her return the girl was given a hero's welcome and before too long her story flittered back to the Lions. Vanessa vowed that she hadn't slipped or lost her balance. No, she insisted she had been pushed, though with the gravity of such an accusation she kept it well hidden from the teachers, claiming to them instead that she had toppled clumsily over someone's bag.
After Vanessa Pinkett's story broke Leshia and her friends started trawling the library. It seemed to Leshia and Rachel that they had spent far too many hours researching in the library and they refused to enjoy it, but Katie insisted they go every spare moment of their time. The following Wednesday brought the next bi-weekly meeting with the Lions. Whereas some were dubious about Vanessa's declaration of foul play the second years amongst the group complained fervently that prior to Vanessa's fall they had been feeling sick and afraid and then they had seen the girl physically pushed from the turret by an invisible entity.
"It sounds so ridiculous," Paul, Owen Gabriel's friend and ever the cynic, grumbled. "Why haven't the teachers put a stop to it if there's something untoward going on?"
"My dad's been assigned to it," Leshia explained. "And he's got other things on his mind. I'll bet now they all take it a lot more seriously though. That's the second outright attack. Parents'll start complaining soon."
"Oh there must be some clue," Katie suddenly exclaimed in frustration. "Something that we've overlooked." The youngsters wracked their brains. Surely the combined intellects of twenty something keen minded teenagers could crack a case such as this one?
"Other than the fact that nobody in Slytherin has been attacked or even voiced any concern there's not much for us to go on," Rachel finally spoke.
"How do you know Slytherin are in the clear?"
"I asked my little sister Hermia," Rachel retorted defensively before she shuddered despite herself. She and Hermia were enemies to the end and it had taken a vast amount of nerve to ask the younger girl about strange goings on. Hermia's disgust and confusion when Rachel tried very haphazardly to explain what she meant was answer enough that nobody in Slytherin had voiced any concerns over strange goings on; at least not in Hermia's presence.
"Well that means they're behind it doesn't it?" Rodeo now asked, but Leshia shook her head.
"Not necessarily. Whatever is doing this might just be a ghoul or monster that shares their vision of a Slytherin only school. We can't rule out the possibility that they've got nothing to do with this."
"That doesn't sound like you," Katie remarked amusedly. Leshia let the jibe slide and instead stepped down to allow the others to discuss what she had said. There was no such objectiveness from the crowds, who were all ready to see Slytherin bite the bullet and take the blame. By the end of the meeting they left trying to pinpoint characters within the motley bunch that could possibly pull something like this off.
"I'll bet it's all Allseyer's work," Rachel announced to her friends while Katie finished writing in the ledger. At her side Rodeo was playing with her hair and making things difficult for her, but she was loving every minute. Parys too had remained behind and lay stretched out on the comfortable cushions now vacated.
"What makes you think he's up to it?" the dark boy piped up mid-stretch. "I mean I know he's a loser, but still, that's not definitive proof is it?"
"He's the only one in that house with the intelligence to pull it off though," Rachel countered.
"What about Julius Black?" Everyone stopped and stared at Leshia, who had spoken these words. They hadn't thought to incriminate Julius Black, as the boy's actions in the past had not hinted at murderous tendencies. "Well he's cleverer than Allseyer by far and he's got the darker family history. He could have easily found something monstrous and brought it back."
"His family history is no darker than yours and you don't just find terrifying entities lying around your house do you?" Katie countered. Leshia grinned.
"Yeah, but I don't go looking for them. All I'm saying is you've all fallen in love with Julius Black when in actual fact he's the most dangerous person in that house. You don't know what he's capable of."
"Oh and you do?" Rachel snorted. "Just because he doesn't want to be friends with you doesn't mean he's evil Leesh." Like a missile Leshia flung a pillow across the room, smacking her best friend in the face, who erupted into a fit of giggles.
"And he's always looked out for you," Katie added.
"Well I don't care what you say," Leshia finally grumbled. "I don't trust him."
A week passed in which more strange goings on irked Leshia something terrible. She kept a keen eye on Julius Black, but the stoical enigmatic young man didn't give any hint as to any involvement in the sinister events wracking the castle and its occupants. He seemed oblivious even to Leshia's obvious observations of him, though of course this wasn't the case and when the girl wasn't watching he would surreptitiously glance back in her direction. He could see she needed more help.
Come Friday evening and the student body was loud and raucous with energy and weekend anticipation. A trip to Hogsmeade had been arranged and as such they were all in high spirits. It was a small wonder that the youngsters fell silent when Albus Dumbledore rose to his feet.
"I trust you are all enjoying your dinners," the Headmaster greeted his pupils. "And you need not worry, it is not I who will be boring you with one of my many announcements. Instead I would like you to remain attentive and respectful of the girls who are about to speak. No doubt what they have to tell you will have you all shrieking with excitement, but please contain yourselves until they are through." With this the Headmaster looked to his right and nodded to two girls Leshia didn't particularly recognise. Once they had taken the centre stage however, Katie was kind enough to fill everyone in.
"That's Eva Westwood and Tara Peters," the bespectacled girl whispered loudly for all to hear. "They're the queen bees over at Slytherin."
"Katie," Rachel stated calmly. "Do you know everything?" While Leshia sniggered, Katie saw the mocking for what it was and stuck her tongue out at her cousin. "No I'm serious…"
"Do you two mind? I'm trying to listen," Leshia hushed her friends, focusing on the attractive pair on stage; for some reason she had a very bad feeling about all of this.
"Hello Hogwarts!" one of the girls bellowed over the intrigued audience. "Sorry to interrupt your dinner, but we won't take up too much of your time we promise."
"We're just here to announce and explain," the second girl continued in an equally as dominating tone. "A new competition. Now I'm sorry to say that it's nothing like the thrilling ISQT cup we held here last term, it's a little more low key than that."
"But hopefully no less exciting," the other cut in.
"Yes absolutely. Some of you may have heard about our plans, I think everyone in Slytherin has known for quite some time now…"
"Oh get on with it," Rachel muttered under her breath over at Gryffindor table while dramatically Leshia dropped her head in her forearms. That last sentence had confirmed her worst fears.
"What's wrong with you?" Parys asked amusedly.
"Wait for it," Leshia groaned, holding up her finger waiting for the catch line.
"This year Hogwarts is going to play host to our very own beauty pageant," the girls at the front of the hall cheered in unison. As though she were striking a symbol Leshia struck her finger down eliciting bouts of laughter from her friends.
"We're calling it Miss Hogwarts," the first girl explained, talking loudly over the chatter that had broken out across the hall (and the laughter over on Gryffindor table). "In the weeks running up to Valentines Day you can nominate people by placing their name into the boxes stationed about the school. They will all look like this and have the submitting forms attached to the side." Here the second girl held up a pink box adorned with sparkling stars.
"Fantastic," Leshia muttered sardonically.
"You won't be able to put your own name in we've made sure of that and each of you will only be able to submit one entry."
"On Valentines Day itself the nominees will be revealed and once more we will ask you to vote for who you believe is Miss Hogwarts in your eyes. We'll reveal the procedure for that day nearer to the time."
"Right, I think that's it," number one was concluding, looking to the side in deep thought in order to ascertain whether she had forgotten anything. Once she had decided that they had explained everything the two girls waved theatrically to the crowds before making their way back to their table. Their departure was met by shrill cheers from the female members of the student body – and those boys who thought the pageant may resemble the muggle beauty pageants they might have seen on muggle televisions.
The pageant dominated the conversations of every house the entire weekend. The trip to Hogsmeade was rather pushed into the backs of everybody's minds and even when they descended on the village it was all most could talk about. Katie particularly, grew incredibly excited about the pageant and whenever they passed one of the pink boxes she grew little giddy. Rachel and Leshia however, would not let her speak of it in their presence; they thought it was far too silly and would not even acknowledge its existence.
Katie instead had to contain all her feelings on the matter for when she could drape herself over Rodeo in the common room and talk his ear off about the upcoming beauty competition. He had remarkable patience and whenever the issue was raised he told her she would no doubt be one of the nominees, if not the grand prize Miss Hogwarts. That Katie was the most beautiful girl in Hogwarts was an oversight, but in Rodeo's eyes his new girlfriend was the most beautiful girl in the whole school.
In fact earlier that day he had dragged Parys to one of the more out-of-the-way boxes and had tried to submit many forms with Katie's name emblazoned on them in his scruffy script. The magic controlling the submission boxes however, had evidently been devised by a greater wizard than he and he couldn't get round the magic preventing him from ensuring his girlfriend got through.
"Oh this is crap," Rodeo grumbled and he strew the forms in this hand out of the window before he wheeled on Parys. "Well go on then, you haven't submitted one yet have you?"
"Mate you can't just go round recruiting all your friends to vote for Katie, I'm sure there's some sort of magic stopping you from forcing people you know." Rodeo stared tiredly at his best friend.
"Parys don't make me beg." The darker boy looked to his feet and rubbed the back of his head.
"What? Why not?" Rodeo demanded with a heavy frown.
"I already nominated someone," his friend uttered quietly. Rodeo's frown intensified, before he suddenly threw his head back in defeat.
"You picked Leshia didn't you?" he groaned.
"Why say it like that? She's the fittest girl we know."
"Yeah, but she doesn't even care," Rodeo complained miserably. "It's like the most important thing in Katie's life right now, but Leshia, well she doesn't even let Katie talk about it in front of her." Parys chuckled despite himself. "It's not funny!"
"Yeah it is Rodes, Leesh is a pretty funny girl."
"I hope you mean funny as in messed in the head," Rodeo sighed sounding aggravated. Now it was Parys' turn to frown.
"Mate that's harsh," he admonished firmly. "So she doesn't care about all the normal girly things. Neither does Rachel, but you don't complain about her." Rodeo stared his friend in the eye wondering which of them was going to back down, before he realised that yes, he had overstepped the mark.
"You're right, sorry. You know I didn't mean it."
"Well that's what I'm worried about," Parys countered, before he started back down the corridor towards Gryffindor tower.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing, it doesn't matter. Let's just go back."
"Parys stop! What did you mean?" Rodeo had now caught up to his best friend and was looking to him firmly, demanding an explanation.
"Well it's just ever since you and Katie you know, well you've been really off with Leshia. I don't understand, you're the one that changed everything," Parys tried to explain meekly. Indeed he hadn't expressed his feelings very well, but they were spot on. Rodeo's attitude towards Leshia had changed significantly since he and Katie finally decided to give it a go. He could not know it was a defence mechanism, a way of forcing himself to believe in his heart that he had made the right choice, that he didn't like Leshia better."I just don't like the way Katie feels like nothing compared to her. You should hear her sometimes, it's like Leshia's the grand master of the school and we all have to follow her lead."
"Yeah but that's just Katie's insecurity!" Parys countered, finally allowing the passion to enter his voice now he felt his best friend had crossed the line. "Leshia hates it that the lower school sees her as some sort of deity. You know she does, and just because Katie is too insecure to stand up for what she believes in doesn't mean you should suddenly turn your back on a really good friend. Leshia came first, remember? God, you didn't even like Katie when we first all started hanging out together. Girlfriends come and go Rodes, but friends, they're for life." Rodeo stared Parys in the eye seemingly wanting to battle his corner fervently, but common sense prevailed and he nodded briskly.
"You're right, I'm sorry. I'm not bashing Leesh, far from it, I just have to put Katie first now…you know?" Feeling suddenly sorry for his tormented friend Parys grinned.
"The grass is always greener mate."
Draco was enjoying his weekend thoroughly. Yes Hermione was going through some record-breaking mood swings and sending him on errands to the kitchens in the middle of the night with the most peculiar requests. Her latest fad was dried beef with whipped cream on top drizzled with vinegar. It sickened Draco to his stomach to watch her eat it, but every time she made a request he obliged with all his heart; she was about to bare him a second child after all.
Other than that however, the young man had enjoyed the castle emptying of most of its pupils for half the weekend immensely. He did not think anything could get in his way as he made his way down to breakfast on Sunday morning with Hermione still tucked up in bed. He was wrong.
Draco noticed the yellowing parchment tucked under his plate before he'd even sat down. The sight of it made his stomach perform veritable somersaults within the confines of his chest and for a moment he did not want to sit down.
'This can't be happening again,' he told himself inwardly. 'Surely I've done enough!' Furious that he was being blackmailed once more Draco sat down heavily, taking the parchment into his hand in a fluid motion not even Professor Sprout noticed though she was looking directly at him wishing him a good morning. The young man returned her greeting dutifully and struck up a slight conversation. Acting naturally in the face of great adversity was something Draco had always been good at; it was what made him such a good liar. Finally when the portly head of Hufflepuff had turned back to her breakfast Draco glanced down at the parchment in his hand and immediately a small sound of dismay crossed his lips.
"I can't do that," the young man uttered despite his immense amounts of training and control.
"Can't do what?" Professor Sprout returned, imagining Draco to be continuing their conversation.
"Oh sorry," Draco quickly offered and he shoved the parchment away into his pocket. "I was talking to myself."
"Don't we all?" his table neighbour chortled happily. Though he smiled warmly at the old teacher Draco's eyes remained icily cool, as his keen mind calculated all the options, trying to find an escape route. Surely he couldn't do what that wretched note had asked him to? With grave eyes the young man turned from his conversation to glance at Gryffindor table where Leshia sat chatting happily with her friends. His heavy heart knew there was no alternative.
"Katie! Katie!" The cry of a fraught Samuel Thomas, one of Rodeo and Parys' dormitory friends rang through the common room late that Sunday afternoon. Everyone stopped whatever it was they were doing to stare in bewilderment at the young man charging into the room with a terrified urgency.
"Over here!" Rachel called out when her cousin seemed paralysed by the intense worry that had suddenly come over her. Sam reached the table where they had been doing their Runes homework within moments.
"It's Rodeo," the boy panted, his hand pointing towards the portrait hall. "You've got to come quickly. He's been hurt!"
"How?" Leshia now piped up, remaining calm in the fraught situation. Had Katie seemed withdrawn at the entrance of the boy that was nothing to how numb she had gone now. With white skin and wide eyes she was incapable of even movement.
"We were…" For a moment the boy spluttered for air and panted more heavily. "We were playing football outside. Rodes went off to get the ball. He never came back." Leshia was on her feet within seconds and after an urgent nod to Rachel they heaved their paralysed friend to her feet.
"Come on Katie, deal with it or stay behind," Leshia told her almost coldly. Katie obeyed the small girl and followed the other three out in a state of shock. On their way to the hospital wing Sam explained that they had found their friend cut, bruised and unconscious on the tree line. When Sam had rushed off to get the girls the boy had not yet come to.
By the time the messenger and the girls had reached the hospital Rodeo had thankfully received treatment and had been awake for most of it. Seeing her boyfriend beaten to within an inch of his life knocked Katie's senses back into her and the moment they crossed the threshold she bolted to the boy's side, throwing her arms around him. She pawed over his injuries in a state of complete despair, but he batted her away claiming most of the apparent wounds were mere mud stains.
"What were you doing playing in the torrential rain anyway?" Katie demanded panic-struck. Rodeo chuckled, but didn't defend himself. He was happy for the attention as Leshia and Rachel too descended on him, though he wouldn't catch Leshia's eye. The girl noticed and instantly her calculative mind started pondering why he would avoid her gaze. What had she done?
"What happened?" Katie demanded. Rodeo smiled wryly.
"I got beaten up."
"Yeah, we can see that, but by who?" Leshia asked amusedly. Still the boy would not catch her eye.
"I don't know," he replied, staring instead straight ahead at the opposite bed. "They crept up on me when my back was turned. I didn't get a good look at them."
"Do you remember anything about them?" Rachel urged. Finally Rodeo briefly flicked his eyes on to Leshia's calm face, before he looked away promptly. When he next spoke there was a colour rising in his cheeks,
"It was a man, I'm sure of it. Tall with very short hair…that's all…that's all I remember." Leshia narrowed her eyes in understanding and for a moment she hated the boy. Without any explanation as to her actions Leshia climbed to her feet and was all set on walking out of the door. "Leshia stop!" Rodeo called after her, his voice was sincerely apologetic. "I don't think it was your…you know." The girl counted calmly to ten to still the anger that had washed over her moments before until finally she wheeled around and sat back down on the end of the bed with everyone staring at her in confusion, save Rodeo who looked very sorry for even implying Draco could have attacked him.
"You'd better not Holsson," the girl stated firmly without a trace of mirth in her steely tone.
"Leshia he's just been beaten up! Leave him alone," Katie admonished the small blonde girl, who nodded quickly.
"Sorry." The rest of the visit in the hospital wing was tainted for Leshia, who try as she might, could not relax and settle into the others' fun making. She had been rattled and would no doubt be on edge the rest of the day. Before too long Madam Pomfry chased the youngsters away and Rodeo with them; he was free to go she concluded. The attention being doted on Rodeo lasted through to the common room and was still going strong when Leshia excused herself to go and have dinner with her parents in their chambers as was becoming a Sunday tradition.
The Malfoy chambers were as welcoming as ever with delicious smells enticing Leshia in before she'd even stepped through the doorway. Inside gentle candlelight lit the messy room giving it a homely feel and for a moment Leshia felt a stab of pain. What would it be like should her parents move back home to have their new baby? What would it be like to come into these chambers and find them dark and alone?
Shaking off the strange shudder that had suddenly come over her Leshia started into the room. Without quite understanding what had happened Leshia found herself suddenly on the floor.
"Leshia?" Hermione's call came and moments later she appeared laughing herself silly at the girl sprawled out on the floor. "What are you doing down there?" Her daughter rolled her eyes exasperatedly.
"Well obviously I tripped," she retorted, before she squirmed onto her knees to see what had brought her to the ground so painfully. The instant her eyes fell on the large pair of boots covered in mud her brow dipped in concern.
"Oh I told your father not to leave them by the door," Hermione suddenly sighed and she went to finally move the offending footwear herself. "Honestly darling, he's been in a strange mood all afternoon, even for him."
"Where is he?"
"Shower. And that's his third since he came in from the rain!" A lump was forming in Leshia's throat, which she couldn't push away with common sense.
"What was he doing out in the rain?"
"Oh I don't know, he won't tell me." Leshia followed her mother into the kitchen where she had been preparing the traditional Sunday roast with utmost attention and care. It was no wonder she had been too distracted to truly push Draco on his whereabouts and it also explained why she hadn't mentioned Rodeo's attack. Prior to the girls' arrival he had been questioned by Professor McGonagall, so no doubt most of the teaching staff had heard.
"Rodeo was attacked this afternoon," Leshia announced without warning. Hermione wheeled round in shock splattering the kitchen and her daughter with gravy from the ladle she held clasped in her hand.
"What? Is he okay? Who attacked him?"
"Yeah he's fine, he was just beaten up. He didn't get a good look at whoever it was, but he does seem to think it was a man." Hermione didn't draw the same conclusion that Leshia had.
"Well that's very peculiar, what man could be stalking Hogwarts attacking pupils? Where did it happen?"
"Out in the grounds. They were playing football and the ball rolled away so he went to get it down by the forest." In the living room the sound of the bedroom door opening caused Leshia to rush inside to see her father emerging fresh from his third shower of the afternoon.
"Hi dad," the girl called to him, her expression revealing a trace of the suspicion rattling about her mind. Draco, though normally he would have picked up on her behaviour, merely nodded to her and went to look through some papers on the coffee table. There was something very serious on his mind. "You shouldn't leave your boots lying right by the door you know," the girl continued and she went to sit down at her dad's side. "I nearly cracked my head open tripping over them."
"Oh well," Draco finally spoke. "Better luck next time."
"Hey," Leshia laughed. "So what were you doing out in the rain anyway? Didn't anyone tell you when you were a child that that's a wonderful way to catch a cold?"
"Leshia stop being so damn clever and go and help your mother." His tone meant no arguments and for a moment Leshia considered going against his wishes and persisting on the matter, but after examining her father's knuckles and finding them clear she finally felt the defensiveness kick in: why should Rodeo cause her to doubt her own father? It was ridiculous.
"Sorry," the girl uttered and after quickly hugging her father around his neck she rushed off to help Hermione serve up the delicious roast. More confirmation of Draco's innocence in Leshia's eyes came when he seemed subtly surprised that Rodeo had been attacked and started asking all sorts of questions that surely struck him off the list of suspects. Leshia went to bed that night certain of her father's innocence and terribly rattled that Rodeo, who already had been treating her miserably, could dare to suggest Draco had attacked him.
"Why would dad bother with him anyway?" the girl whispered into the gloom.
Leshia's treatment of Rodeo over the following few days was terribly cold. Katie hassled the girl to relax saying that her new boyfriend had not intended to incriminate Leshia's father. The small blonde girl however, pointed out that usually perceptive Katie was being blinded by ignorance in the name of love if she didn't realise what Rodeo had been doing. Their regular catfights gave the dormitory a very frosty feel, despite the weather starting to brighten up ever so slightly outside. February had now dawned on the frozen castle and with it the occasional glimpse of sunshine and the spring to come. February also brought with it excitement about the impending Miss Hogwarts competition and whereas it had been put on the backburner for quite some time, now discussions about it were out in force.
The Lions were all to eager to attend their biweekly meeting the Wednesday following Rodeo's attack and as usual everyone was on time and ready to begin. Rodeo's unfortunate incident took centre stage and attracted great debate about whether they ought to consider it part of the mysterious negative entity floating about the place or whether it had quite an un-mysterious story behind it. Rodeo fervently insisted he had felt all the symptoms described by the other attacks: great unexplained fear and the stench of death.
"But all the other attacks were carried out by an invisible entity," Gracie of Ravenclaw said firmly. "You saw your attacker."
"But there was something very not normal about him," Rodeo complained. "He didn't look real."
"But if we do include this then it makes it much more complicated," Leshia explained. "Because now we'll have to look for a being that can transcend different states don't we? Something that can take on human form and something poltergeist-like that we can't see at all."
"Maybe this thing is actually a physical human form that controls things from a distance?" Katie suggested; she had been fighting Rodeo's corner the entire duration of the discussion. Everyone frowned at the girl. "Well think about it, maybe it can somehow harness powers over gravity or something that allows it to carry out attacks from a distance, but with Rodeo it just attacked."
"Hey that's a really good point!" Rodeo piped up happily.
"So basically what you're saying is it's a wizard doing it?" Leshia stated incredulously. Katie thought for a moment and then nodded unsurely.
"Sort of, but of course not a normal wizard…"
"And the feelings of immense terror and the stench of death?" the small blonde girl continued bluntly, her cold eyes forcing Katie to look away feeling bullied. Just why Leshia should take her suggestion so personally she couldn't understand, but Leshia was only thinking about what Rodeo had suggested before, that her father was behind all the attacks.
"Leshia ease up, I thought everyone's allowed to talk freely in this group," Rodeo complained almost aggressively. Leshia turned to look him in the eye with narrowed eyes.
"Yes, and she did speak freely didn't she? Aren't I allowed to speak freely too?"
"You're bullying her."
"Guys!" Parys suddenly spoke up drawing all attention onto himself. "This isn't helping." In agreement with the boy Leshia quietened down and remained so for the rest of the meeting. She was not having a good week as far as friends were concerned. Rachel had stated clearly that she didn't want to get involved in the battle and Parys wasn't much help either leaving the girl feeling very ganged up on by the double-team that was Katie and Rodeo. After she had been such a good sport about their union she felt incredibly hard done by to suddenly be on the receiving end of their protectiveness over one another.
Feeling very deserted by her friends Leshia took to spending more and more time on her own researching in the library. Never informing her friends she always managed to find herself some time on her own to think things over and get away from feeling bullied by Katie and Rodeo and abandoned by Rachel and Parys. She had started scouring random titles on the shelves for mentions of the creature they were looking for, but so far she had not found anything vaguely resembling what they were looking for. The situation was growing insurmountable and overwhelming.
Early Saturday morning Leshia made her way to the library before any of her friends finding it deserted. Never before had she been the first one in the library and the sight of her caught the librarian so off guard she uttered squeak of surprise. Leshia tried her best to ignore the neurotic woman and made her way to her usual table where she took down a random volume and started leafing through the pages.
She didn't remain the only occupant of the library very long, as within no time the regular bookworms started appearing, remaining so much in the background Leshia didn't even notice them drifting in around her until someone sat down right beside her. In surprise the girl slammed her book shut and looked up to see none other than Julius Black watching her with an amused expression.
"Sorry," he finally whispered. "Didn't mean to scare you."
"You didn't," Leshia complained defensively, forgetting to lower her voice to a whisper and instantly regretting to do so when she was quite unceremoniously shushed by the fussy librarian. "What are you doing here Black?" she whispered once she had offered the librarian an apologetic smile.
"Do you hold some sort of monopoly over the library or something?" Julius chuckled quietly. "I know you've been spending a lot of time here, but…"
"Have you been following me?" Leshia demanded under her breath.
"Oh don't flatter yourself," the boy countered amusedly. "I know you have been terribly busy researching…something, but I've been sat across the library from you every time you have skulked in picking random titles off the shelves."
"I do not skulk," Leshia bristled. "And I can't help it you're a loner and spend all your time in here, but I'm terribly busy."
"Yes I can see, though what you are looking for I haven't quite worked out yet. There seems to be no pattern to the books you take off the shelves."
"It's none of your business anyway."
"Perhaps not," the boy sighed and he looked down at the books he had placed down in front of him. They seemed to be a random assortment of runes books open on various different pages and stacked atop one another in disarray. "But you would not accept advice were I to give it." Had Leshia been her more perceptive self and not spitting with anger over the boy then she might have realised she could utilise him. He was evidently tying to help her, but she couldn't see past her own rage. Julius Black wanted to shake her for it.
"I most certainly would not. You don't like me remember? Any help you were to give would most likely get me blown up or something." The girl seemed so resolute in her dislike of the boy that he got to his feet lifting his many books with him.
"Allies need not like each other Malfoy," Julius Black said very quietly, his peculiar eyes boring deeply into Leshia's.
"And enemies certainly don't," the girl countered firmly. After a mere nod Julius Black took his leave, heading for the other end of the library to his usual table to do his work. Leshia watched him go and felt infuriated by his meddling. Only when she turned back to her book did she noticed the boy had forgotten one of his many books. Leshia stared at the pages furiously, why did Julius Black rattle her so much? Resolutely she slammed the boy's book shut and shoved it away from herself, focusing on the large volume she had picked out.
"Ruddy Slytherin snakes the lot of them!"