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Wayward Son by La Klap

Format: Novel
Chapters: 11
Word Count: 76,402
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Romance, Angst, Young Adult
Characters: OC
Pairings: OC/OC, Draco/Pansy, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 10/20/2006
Last Chapter: 04/10/2008
Last Updated: 04/10/2008

(Credit for the banner goes to the wonderful Alora.)
HPFF Recommended Story March 2007

Unwanted, unexpected and nearly unborn, but he's ignorant of it all. Join Draco Malfoy's son in an emotional rollercoaster ride through Hogwarts, starting in his fifth year, until he confronts his father. Does his father consider him a son? Or not a person at all? (not compatible with the DH epilogue)

Chapter 11: Chapter Nine: Proper Dignity

Author’s Notes: Err, yes. So. I haven’t updated in a bit. However, after some dawdling, I sat down and decided I had to go and finish this dang thing. The scene became soooo long that I cut out the two I had planned on including with it, as that would perhaps take me even longer. Anyway, I hope it is worth waiting for all these months – I’m sorry for neglecting this little project.


Chapter Nine: Proper Dignity

Remember this -- that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life. -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus


I hated balls.

In all honesty, there was never an occasion that required more frillying and dilly-dallying than a ball at Malfoy Manor. It was to be held in the evening, which meant that the entire day, my mother could be found running about the house, yelling shrilly at the house elves, at my father, at Aiden and even at me, even if I was hiding in a corner trying to imitate a wallflower. I had lost count of the amount of times I had been ordered to wash my hair, had heard her shriek at my father to please not go into the ballroom because it was being cleaned, and had been witness of her attack on Aiden's robes at least three times.

Ball time definitely brought out the very worst in my mother.


Cringing, I hurried up a flight of stairs, to the second floor, nearly forgetting the creaking step that would betray my presence. My mother's footfalls were already thundering upwards, repeating my name almost as if she were on a crusade. Holding my breath, I tried not to make the door move as I slipped into the nearest room, which happened to belong to my grandmother Narcissa. Luckily she was touring the French countryside this year - despite my father's frequent protests that she was too old to do so on her own - but nevertheless, the familiar scent of heavy perfume darted up my nose and made me sneeze in the blink of an eye.

I heard a muffled "Aha!" downstairs, and cursed softly before darting out of the suite again - no point in getting caught in my grandmother's abandoned living quarters if I was going to be found anyway. My heart sank as my mother reached the top of the stairs, slightly out of breath, and the point of her finger was so accusing that I immediately felt guilty, though I wasn't sure of what I'd done wrong this time.

"You, young man, were supposed to give me the shoes you were planning on wearing tonight so I could get them polished! Three hours ago!"

Oh. Right. Forgot about that.

"I - err, didn't I?" Goodness, why was she worrying about shoes? Robes I could understand – well, actually, I couldn’t understand that either – but who was going to pay attention to what I was wearing on my feet?

"No you very well didn't! And you better get to it right now! Leave them in the hall." She took a deep breath, then furrowed her eyebrows a bit. "What are you doing up here, anyway?"

I was about to answer "Nothing," when she turned on her heel and ran downstairs again. That woman was going to break her neck before the end of the day.

Over the course of several hours, not only did I drop off my shoes in the main hall, but I was also ordered to go wash my damn hair again (she actually said 'damn', too - I was surprised into obedience), redress into my dressrobes twice because there were still wrinkles in it before Mother had them ironed once more, and to my bewilderment, she finally told me to go help the house elves in the kitchen. There is no other order that can convey that much of a message of 'You are useless - please go somewhere where I can't see you'.

I wasn't certain if staying within her sight would be a bad thing or not.

Finally, though, after much more yelling and bellowing and hair-pulling, I was wandering around aimlessly in the hall as a few house elves did a last-minute clean up. The large oak doors were open, and a small breeze fluttered through the chamber, promising an altogether pleasant evening. Wringing my hands, I looked up to the balcony that led to the ballroom, connected to a rather majestic spiral staircase, and I hoped none of the ladies would trip on the smooth dance floor - I'd nearly lost my footing earlier.

"Guests arriving soon... Oh I should've - no, got taken care of..." My mother's muttering drifted through the ballroom doors above, and it was rather distracting. I nervously peeked outside, almost imagining people already walking up the lawn, but it was still empty. A few seconds later I was joined by Aiden, and I wrinkled my nose. He reeked of Eau de Ponce.

At least I would be able to smell him coming.

"Anyone?" he asked.

"No," I said.

He scoffed briefly and went upstairs. About a minute later my mother hurried out of the living room - how she'd got there, Merlin knew - and stormed up, her hairdo wobbling precariously. "Aiden! I need you downstairs to welcome the guests! Don't wander!"

Ugh, guest welcoming with Aiden. What were we, clerks? I scowled around the hall as my brother came walking down again, a broody expression on his face. "Wish they'd just cancel the whole blasted thing," he muttered darkly before popping a strawberry into his mouth.

"See you plundered the table first chance you got," I commented, staring at his moving jaw.

"The food's the only good thing about this event," he retorted. I slowly inclined my head in agreement.

It still took about half an hour for the first guests to finally arrive, and five minutes later it was snowballing people into our Manor. Aiden and I couldn't escort everyone upstairs fast enough, busy with taking their cloaks and faking smiles while they stared up at the balcony. Most of them took the initiative when they heard music coming from the ballroom doors, and simply trailed upwards without a glance back to us. Like a herd of geese, the rest followed, allowing us to take a brief break and sneak up to get some grape juice.

Derek's family arrived pretty soon after, brightening my mood somewhat. His little sister could just as well have walked inside on accident, as she absently looked around the hall before her mother tugged her along. For a few moments, Derek held us company in the hall, and he whispered in my ear, "So why didn't I get a welcoming speech?"

"Don't have one," I muttered back, folding Mr Nott's cloak and putting it in the large closet on our right. Honestly, the point of welcoming most of the pureblooded population in our humble mansion was putting on a fake smile and stuffing away their travelling cloaks - many of them had been visiting every four years, anyway.

Derek was called upstairs pretty soon after, and then the boring part started, knowing that the majority had arrived but still having to wait for those few latecomers. After an hour, Aiden went upstairs muttering about food and didn't come back, and I was left to wander around the hall, the open doors bringing in breezes that became chillier and chillier as time progressed.

Of course the last guests had to arrive as I was slouched against the wall and looking like a lost teenager instead of welcoming host. However, the people were Sally and her parents who'd known me my entire life, so it wasn't that bad, I supposed. Her father handed me his huge cloak and gave me a pat on the back that nearly threw me off balance. Ick, nearly got that coat hangar in my eye... He then took his wife by the elbow and led her to the stairs, walking by me again in the process. I frowned, having noticed the pallor of Mrs Goyle's face compared to the raging blush on her cheeks, but had assumed she'd been wearing excessive make-up - however, moving into the candlelight, I could clearly see beads of sweat on her forehead and took note of her slightly ragged breathing, the careful way she walked... Why would she attend if she was sick?

Sally shuffled forward, awkwardly moving out of her cloak to reveal her purple dressrobes, but when she handed it to me she didn't meet my eyes, instead choosing to stare after her mother. While I tried to wrestle the cloak between all the other ones, praying I'd be able to remember which was whose later, I asked, "How's your mum doing?" I retreated from the pressing materials to throw her a strained smile. "She seems rather ill."

There was a short pause that seemed to drag on and on, as Sally kept staring at the staircases. "Or maybe," I mumbled, starting to doubt my observation immediately, "it was just a trick of the light."

"No." The answer was quick and clipped, like this was not at all something she wanted to talk about. "She's just off. It'll be fine."

She was biting the side of her thumb, like she usually did when she was nervous. I sighed. "If you say so."

A brief, pensive silence hung in the air between us before we simultaneously made a movement to walk to the ballroom. I halted. She halted. Then we both moved forward again and I figured that while it might not have been very gentlemanly to do so, I couldn't keep waiting forever for us to sort out our awkwardness – I led her to the ballroom above.

Arriving in the large, oval room, I was glad to see that most guests were entertaining themselves, and more importantly, keeping my parents busy so I could walk to the other side of the room unnoticed. I couldn't care less about some rich, foreign pureblood's son my father would want to introduce me too, or the daughter of an influential political figure who my mother would more than willingly shove on my case. No, the only things that held my interest at the moment were conveniently located together at the end of the ballroom - friends and food.

"Pleasant evening, isn't it?" I said to Derek, ducking around what would have been a slam on the back and reaching for a few very miniscule sandwiches. Why were those things so small? Was that food fashion or something? One of those probably fit in the palm of my hand. Yes, it did.

"You can grump around all you like, but the food is nice," Derek mentioned with a lazy grin, holding a plate with some of the most mismatching food I'd ever seen. From one look I recognised sate, spaghetti, a slab of custard cake and a handful of raspberries. I'd just put one of my pathetic sandwiches in my mouth and couldn't answer immediately with words, but I figured an eye roll said enough on the matter.

We ate in silence for a while, looking at the various people on the dance floor. I was especially keeping a wary eye on Gwendolyn, who was happily chatting - err, snogging away with a bloke not too far away from us. One second she'd need to peek over his shoulder and spot us, another one to excuse herself, and one more to reach our side and bore us to death with snooty bragging about who exactly he was. For some reason, I was rather glad that Caitlin and Sally arrived to form a distraction - the two of them were still better than one Gwendolyn.

"Oi, you two," Caitlin greeted when she reached us, beaming with happiness. What was it with girls and their suddenly becoming inexplicably happy whenever they got the excuse to dress up and dance? It was slightly terrifying to think that, under these circumstances, Derek and I were no longer her rather annoying and immature housemates; we had, stuck into stiff dressrobes with immaculate hair, been graced with the dubious honour of being potential dance partners.

Judging by the expression on his face, Derek had had exactly the same epiphany and we exchanged half-concealed, panicky looks - being tutored in the foxtrot most of one's childhood definitely assured a phobia of dancing later on.

"Err, hi," I said politely, staring over their heads. "Having fun?"

There was no time for them to answer, as the second Sally opened her mouth and Caitlin's curved into a would-be-pleasant smile, a high shriek sounded from our right and approximately three milliseconds later a small, dark-haired girl had flung her arms around my waist. Derek chortled and walked off to retrieve some more food, leaving me in the company of the two bemused girls and a very happy, hyper nine-year-old.

"Nice to see you too, Leonora," I muttered weakly, prying her arms away from me. A steady stream of words flooded from her mouth, though I didn't understand half of them as she kept twirling around, as if she was trying and failing to take in everything that was happening around her. It wasn't until she took hold of my wrist, hopped up and down twice, and yanked me towards the dancefloor, that I fully understood what she wanted.

I glared at Caitlin and Sally, who were looking far too amused for girls who'd been beaten by a nine-year-old brat, ignoring the fierce demand of, "Dance! I want to dance!" and the relentless tugging on my brand-new dressrobes. For Merlin's sake, why was it always me who ended up having to do these things?

"Have fun," Caitlin commented with a giggle, then took Sally by the hand and walked over to Derek - maybe to prevent that he get snagged by an overactive kid as well. I really did not have much choice but to follow Leonora - I was too afraid she'd start crying again if I refused. I'd heard her crying enough for a bloody lifetime.

It didn't help that Leonora was really short and very stubborn, and insisted on reaching up to my shoulder because that was how she was taught to dance and she would have it absolutely no other way. Trying not to look as if I had a hunch, I awkwardly tried to steer her away to the side, where I could see her parents - smiling. Bollocks... Why was everybody staring? Had they never seen a teenager dance with a little kid before?

On a second thought, I figured they probably hadn't.

After two songs, I finally managed to persuade Leonora that the dark-haired, unassuming boy on the other side of the room secretly wanted to dance with her, and was just on my way back to Derek again when my father halted me in my steps.

"Alucard. I'd like you to meet some people... why don't you follow me." I understood it wasn't a question and nodded, automatically glancing behind him as if he were hiding the person from me. However, he turned and stalked to a small group standing slightly further away, who all greeted my father and me with nods and good evenings and it's-such-a-pleasure-to-be-heres. I tried to wipe my sweaty palms on the side of my robes without attracting attention to it -- I hated introductions.

My father held his hand out to a big, bald man with a large auburn moustache that quirked as he smiled at me. I was pretty sure that he had arrived with two classmates of mine, Cecilia and Vivian Answorth, though neither were around at the moment. Taking my father's hand, the man commented, "So, this is your youngest son, Draco? Alucard, isn't it? It's honourable to meet you, boy."

Attempting to keep my eyebrows in their regular positions, I bowed my head slightly. "I insist the pleasure is returned, sir."

While I was sure that I hadn't said or done anything funny, the man erupted in booming laughter, causing the petite woman next to him to slap him on the arm exclaiming, "Charles! Please!"

"This is Charles Answorth," Father said, his mouth curved into a thin smile. "He owns almost every shop in Diagon Alley and regulates everything very successfully."

Charles Answorth's gales turned to chuckles, and he waved off the praise, however coolly it was presented. "Oh, Draco, must we always talk about materialistic achievements? I'll tell you, boy," he turned to me, lowering his voice, though I was sure it still carried all the way through the ballroom, "when I was your age, I could to things with an empty Butterbeer bottle that made all the ladies blush and all the boys hoot!"

I had to bite hard on the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing, as the disapproving glare from the woman I assumed to be his wife looked very threatening. "I -- I'm sure that was very entertaining, sir," I answered when I was certain I wouldn't express amusement anymore, but Mr Answorth was spared a reply by my father's insisting hand, steering me to the other couple who had stayed silent throughout our previous exchange.

"Mr and Mrs Faulkner." The two people seemed to fit the pureblood standard a bit better, a soothing balm for the odd shock Charles Answorth had been; their clothing was immaculate, their smiles polite but dubiously genuine, and their mannerisms like they should be, as they both put out a hand for me to shake. When those formalities were over, my father announced, "My younger son, Alucard."

When not Mr, but Mrs Faulkner spoke up first, I realised that my father had never introduced me to Mrs Answorth, and the thought made my stomach churn. Did that mean I was not allowed to talk to her?

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Alucard. The occasion did not arise at the last Ball held here." Mrs Faulkner's voice was kinder than I expected and I nodded in response, not sure if I should say anything else. My mother had taught me a lot, but I often wondered why she had skipped over most of the pureblood formalities in etiquette lessons.

Father cleared his throat, and I noticed that his smile reached a lot more toward his eyes than when he had done so to Mr Answorth. "Mr and Mrs Faulkner are Unspeakables at the Ministry."

I nodded again to show I had understood, not wanting to appear like I was going to pry. Nobody knew what the Unspeakables did, nobody outside the department, anyway; for all I knew they were sitting there playing cards. It would be a good joke, if a bit of a sour one. Mr Faulkner, however, was looking at me oddly and I quickly broke eye contact, on the off chance that he was a Legilimens and had been wedging into my thoughts. "It's nice to meet you both," I said quickly, smiling at Mrs Faulkner. "I hope you will enjoy the rest of the evening."

My father's hand was on my shoulder again, steering me away from them, and I understood why Father had wanted me to meet them -- an Unspeakable in the family would be very fortunate, as they held a lot of status. It was an approved career. And that was exactly why I vowed never to be one.

I was subtly moved towards two people my mother was talking to -- I hoped they would be the last. I wanted to go back to my friends.

"Lucille, Baldric," my father greeted them, squeezing my shoulder as if I should take note of the immediate use of first names. "I wish to introduce my younger son to you -- Alucard."

"Oh, Lucy, you must hear him play sometimes, he's very talented with the piano," my mother jumped in, taking the woman by the arm, beaming as she looked at me. "I'm sure you'd love to, wouldn't you dear?"

I nodded mutely, not wanting to let my mother down, ears glowing red at the praise and the smile the unknown woman sent my way. "Really now? If you say so, Pansy, I'd gladly." She held out her hand. "Lucille Hoffmann. It's lovely to meet you, Alucard."

Before I could say anything to her, her husband stuck out a large hand, following her. "Baldric Hoffmann," he said shortly, and shook my hand gravely as soon as I let go of his wife, almost as if we were meeting at a funeral instead of a ball. My head was starting to buzz with all these introductions of people I recognised but had never quite known the name of – it was rather disorientating, especially since I didn’t particularly care who these people were.

Baldric Hofmann’s gaze travelled past me, focusing on someone behind me, but not letting go of my hand. "Ah, and young Miss Goyle."

Despite knowing it was rude to turn in a handshake, I did it anyway, and saw Sally approaching and taking place next to me. "Hello sir, madam. Hello Mr Malfoy," she said a bit more meekly when she stared at my father. "This is an amazing ball you have organised."

Finally the handshake ended, and I quickly moved my fingers to get rid of the sweaty feeling. Perhaps Mother ought to invest in Cooling Charms next time there was a dance.

"Thank you," Father replied to Sally, inclining his head slightly. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

Mr and Mrs Hoffmann were following the exchange with their eyes. It looked oddly comical and I struggled to hide a grin. Sally coughed and shuffled her feet.

"Erm, sir, I was wondering if I could take Alan away from you for the moment? He still owes me a dance." She met my eyes and raised her eyebrows, as if daring me to say otherwise. I held my tongue, eager to take the excuse to get away from these little power plays.

"Hm. If he does, who am I to hold you back? Off you go." There wasn't a trace of disparagement in his voice, and I briefly admired Sally for accomplishing that before she grabbed my hand and all but dragged me to the dance floor.

"Did I owe you a dance?" I muttered when we'd found a rhythm, not being able to recall anything of the sort. Unless she meant that she'd been planning to do so before Leonora had promptly claimed me.

"Mhm," she replied as we twirled to avoid a couple more prominent in waistline than we were, "You looked like you needed one."

I snorted, but she paid it no attention. It was pleasant enough, I supposed, since it wasn't every day I got to dance with pretty girls, even if it was dancing and even if she was my ex-girlfriend. It didn't matter all that much at the moment.

As a matter of fact, something that interested me more caught my eye as the song changed, and while Sally had already slowed down to a stop, I tugged on her hands to indicate I wasn't done yet. Ignoring her bemused expression, I watched as across the room Mrs Goyle was leaning against her husband, and even from the distance the high blush on her cheeks and sweat on her forehead were evident. It really didn't look right. It didn't look, as Sally had told me, 'just off'. We didn't have to dance closer for me to see that.

"What's wrong with your mum?" I asked quietly, raising my voice just enough to be heard over the music.

Sally, who had been looking pleased and content only a moment before, frowned, a flicker of annoyance crossing her gaze. "I told you it was nothing."

"Sure doesn't look like nothing," I muttered back, trying to sound casual.

She blushed, although the frown did not leave her face. "It's none of your business."

"I know. I still want to find out what it is."

"Well, good luck, because I'm not telling you."

She was trying to slow down to a natural stop, forcing us to the edge of the dance floor. I let her. I didn't want to be the centre of attention, anyway.

"So... are you just going to keep lying to me, or will I actually know what it is by the end of the evening?"

"Merlin, if I'd known you were going to nag so much, I'd never have saved you from your father," she hissed between her teeth. "Just drop it."

I felt her tense, and reluctantly, I ceased my questioning. "I don't nag. I'm persuasive."

“You’re a persuasive nag, how does that sound?”

“Like a lie?”

Her only reply was a short laugh that didn't really contain any humour.

At the end of the dance I brought her hand up and swiftly pressed my lips to it, chancing a breath to inhale the perfume I knew she'd sprinkled over her wrists beforehand. My first reflex was to pull a face as it tickled my nose, but I managed to hold it back. When I met her gaze, her eyebrow was lifted slightly, though considering the circumstances her gaze could have been a lot more derisive.

"Trying to get in my good graces, are you?"

Sometimes the fact that she could practically read my mind was very unhelpful. "Yes."

She pursed her lips as she turned around and stalked off, head held high. I noticed that she dodged through several clusters of people, maybe to prevent me from following her, before joining her mother, father, and several others who had gathered round. Battling my curiosity, I decided to not go over and look myself, but before I could actually find Derek again he found me.

"How'd it go?" he asked as we left the ballroom, slipping downstairs, out of the Manor and into the fresh air. "The introducing stuff?"

"All right, I suppose," I answered, raising one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. I briefly wondered if anybody would miss me back inside, but nearly immediately knew I didn't care that much. "Could have been a lot worse. They weren't that bad. You?"

Derek snorted. "Mate, you know my father doesn't care about all that."

"Oh, that's right." I kicked a pebble ahead of me and heard it bounce on the base of the fountain, which loomed in the darkness a few metres ahead. The clattering water reflected the light from the lamp we just passed, making it seem like the water was simply dancing in midair. It was a bit freaky, to be honest.

The first thirty minutes away from the stuffy ballroom were nice, just sitting around and flinging fountain water after each other, the pebbles gnashing under our fancy shoes. When we did get cold, however, our damp clothes combined with a slight wind not the best in an April night, we decided to head back to the Manor. Maybe we'd hang around and eat, who knew, though my feet hurt so much by then I didn't think I'd be able to stand one more dance.

The warmth inside was like a sodding wall, though, so despite our plans, Derek and I stood just inside the hall and complained about the boring music and the ladies who had apparently marinated in their perfume. The scent of fake flowers practically wafted down to us from the open ballroom doors.

"We're getting career advice soon, aren't we?" Derek suddenly asked out of nowhere, when our conversation had just lapsed into a comfortable silence. "My dad wants me to go into law enforcement or something."

I laughed. Like a law enforcer would have a place among a circle of pureblood families that still owned a great deal of Dark artefacts, even if they always denied it. "That sounds like a really bad idea."

"I know, right?" Derek's tone contained a trace of uncertainty, but his smile was easy and his expression carefree. "I told him I didn't want a boring desk job and he suggested that... Suppose he wants me to bust your father for something."

"Mhm." The possibility suddenly seemed less funny than it had in the previous moment.

"I want to play Quidditch."

Blinking in surprise, I looked up. "Derek, mate, you don't even play on a House team yet."

My friend's jaw was stubbornly set forward, though -- he wasn't going to be averted by common sense. "I'll try out next year. I've been practicing for ages. This is something I really want, not work at the Ministry, not following people for statements, and my marks probably aren't good enough to be a Healer -- I just want to fly. Do you even realise how amazing it is to sit on a broom and not having to think about anything except the broom and not falling straight to your death?"

"Err..." I thought about reminding Derek that I was not terribly fond of heights and that his description was not helping, but I didn't have to. He talked.

"I wonder what Malyras will say about it, if he really says anything at all. I guess he'll want me to have a back-up plan or something if it doesn't work out, or I dunno, I break my neck or something in my first week." He shrugged. "I'll see... there's nothing else that really looks cool to do for the rest of my life, you know?"

The idea of Derek playing Quidditch for the rest of his life was slightly horrifying, but I didn't comment -- perhaps he would have changed his mind by the next month. No use arguing about an unsure future, and I was sure Malyras would bring up the point of retiring early when Derek put his plans on the table.

"Alucard, get up here!"

My father's voice sounded hollow in the big hall, but nevertheless I did not misinterpret his tone -- he'd never been a very patient person. I hastily checked if there was no mud on my shoes and no grass on my robes before running upstairs to the ballroom again, Derek hot on my heels. I had no idea what I had done wrong -- or what I was required for, really -- but I was quite certain it had to do with casually leaving without informing anyone.

However, before I could prepare an excuse at the top of my head, the loud, bone-chilling sound of a wailing child reached my ears, and to my utter horror, little Leonora was shoved at me. "Quick," my father demanded, helping me out of the ballroom nearly as fast as I'd come in, "before her parents notice. Get her quiet! I will tell them you are walking her outside." He reached for the ballroom doors and shut them almost entirely, until only a sliver of light came from between them.

Derek, who had not even managed to enter, chuckled softly. "You must have some really bad Karma, mate."

"Shut it," I muttered, trying to carry the kicking and screaming girl down the stairs without much success.

"Shut it yourself!" she hollered, one of her feet connecting rather painfully with my shins. I winced, throwing a glare at Derek. If he would stop standing there being useless and looking entertained, and actually help me, it would be a whole lot easier. This was the second time this holiday a whinging child had been dumped on me – the same one, who had also insisted strongly to dance with me -- a tiny sliver of sympathy would be grand.

"I was not talking to you, okay, Leonora?" I asked. "Come on, let's go outside for a bit. Or do you want to play the piano again?" Her wails became increasingly louder as I talked, making me raise my voice, too. For a stereotypical tired child, she was being one big handful -- all her left energy was spent trying to get out of my grasp.

I finally got her down the stairs and dragged her over to the corridor leading to the informal dining room, not trusting her in any other space. The Manor contained plenty of sensitive items and I was not about to let Leonora destroy some and let the blame fall on me.

Derek was walking ahead of me, opening every door along the way, so all I really had to do was pull the resisting girl along. Last time I had had to look after her, I had not been as exhausted myself, but it was past midnight and frankly, I would have paid a good sum of money for a soft bed and silence. When we reached the dining room, her high screeches seemed to have dulled down, but I knew it was merely a subtle Silencing Charm on the walls. Aiden and I used to be shut in the room when we needed time to 'cool down', back when we were younger. How fitting.

As a result, there was nothing inside a young child could hurt itself with, so I felt free to let go of Leonora and watched her crumple to the floor. I sat down at the table -- or rather, let myself drop into a chair. If I'd had any energy left, I would have felt bad.

"Hey girl, don't look so sad. It's making me cry."

I'd just put my head down on my arms when Derek spoke, calm and yet loud enough to be understood. I curiously watched on as Derek pulled the oddest faces at Leonora, and for a moment, I was convinced it did not work. However, slowly but surely, between his weird expressions and the occasional pat on the back, she grew silent, with only a hiccup escaping her every-so-often.

"Teach me that trick, please," I muttered.

"Sorry mate," Derek answered with a smug grin lighting his face, "it kinda involves sacrificing my dignity."

"Suppose that rules me out."


Before I could really come up with a semi-clever retort, the door carefully opened and Alessandra stepped in, hopeful eyes glancing around the dining room before catching sight of her little sister. "Oh, Nora," she sighed, hurrying forward and pulling a tissue from her pocket to wipes the tears off Leonora's face. She looked up at me and smiled, still quite pretty despite her obvious weariness. "Thank you so much -- I couldn't get here earlier, I hope she wasn't too much trouble --"

I didn't bother saying we had only just arrived after some small war, instead just shrugging. "'S okay, Derek managed to calm her down." I vaguely wondered where Aiden was.

Alessandra flashed her smile at Derek, too, before lifting Leonora from the floor until the nine-year-old was standing on her own. "There, sweetheart, we're going home. I bet you want to go to bed, don't you? Come on, mum and dad are waiting. Do you want to say goodbye?"

The girl shook her head and wandered over to the door. Derek and I shared a look behind Alessandra's back, my friend's gaze conveying what I was thinking -- brat. What a complete and utter brat.

"Well, it was lovely, and it was great being here," the older girl said, tucking a stray curl behind her ear before ushering her little sister into the corridor. "Bye! I'm sure we'll stop by again soon."

"Bye," I replied dully, but only after the door had slammed shut after her.

A brief silence descended before Derek broke it. "I think I am about 2 percent more deaf."

"That sentence makes no sodding sense," I muttered back.