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Chapter 48: The Choosing
He shook with nervousness as she pulled him into the Entrance Hall. It was unfortunate, that the students had coincidentally finished dinner as the pair walked in. There was a steady trickle of students exiting from the Great Hall. Some passed by him without thought, not knowing who he was or even remembering if he had left school at all. He received shocking gasps and growls from the other three houses, not to mention some rather confused looks from his fellow housemates. He didn’t want to be there, like a freak on display, someone who had abandoned all of them only to return, as if he was silently begging for forgiveness as he met their confused eyes.
His muscles tensed, ready to move his body out of the spotlight as soon as his mind gave the command. He felt a gentle shake on his hand. It was as if he had momentarily forgotten the one thing he had been dying to see for so long.
“It’s alright.” She told him quietly.
He exhaled a ragged breath, knowing that it was as long as she was by his side.
Draco opened his mouth to say something, but his stomach churned with disgust and a need to recoil away as a dark haired girl peeled from a group of giggling Slytherin girls.
“Draco!” Pansy shrieked.
Even without the use of his usual nickname, his real name sounded even more displeasing on her lips.
She smashed into his tall frame, making him let go of Ashley’s hand. He looked to her, whose blue eyes were burning into the Slytherin’s back, although her face betrayed little emotion.
“I was so worried.” Pansy said, grabbing his face to look at her. “Where have you been? I’ve heard rumors, but-’’
“Please, let go.” He squirmed away from her, “I’m rather tried.”
“But of course.” Pansy swooned, stepping in front of Ashley, whose features were already on their way to becoming distorted with anger. He knew what she was when she was beyond angry, but no one else did. He wanted Pansy to see it least of all, not for her sake, but he didn’t want her to have more fuel against Ashley than she already did.
Her ignored acknowledgement of Ashley was swelling into a need to defend her. He hadn’t seen her in so long, she was all he wanted. He cast an apologetic glance over Pansy’s shoulder. Ashley failed at stifling her huff, but Draco knew she wouldn’t stoop to Pansy’s demeanor.
“I’ve heard so many rumors.” Pansy breathed fearfully, “Come to the Common Room, Draco, I’m here for you. Tell me everything.”
Pansy pulled on his arm, but Ashley had had enough.
Ashley quickly shoved her aside, looping an arm through Draco’s.
“That’s what he has a fiancée for.” She said in a threatening tone.
Pansy looked like she had been struck in the face; the blow hitting her harder than all of Ashley’s jinxes outside of the Transfiguration classroom a few weeks prior.
Pansy looked at her this time. Ashley made sure to tilt her left hand in the light; the diamonds sparkled blindingly, disabling her to miss them even if she wanted.
Pansy swallowed hard, looking at Draco venomously.
She leaned in, tears sparkling in her gray eyes.
“Really?” She breathed, as if Ashley couldn’t hear. “Of all people?”
“Of all people.” Draco confirmed quietly.
Pansy shook her head in disbelief. She raised her finger to scold him, but was at a loss for words. Shaking her head, she turned from them and starting making her way down to the dungeons.
She turned, spitting a last ditch insult, “You shame me, Draco Malfoy! You will never hear from me again!”
Turning on her heel, Pansy Parkinson disappeared.
“We should’ve gotten engaged sooner.” Ashley told him.
An immediate smile cracked on his face, “If only I had known that was the solution.”
The students were coming out in a heavier flow, gossiping whispers echoing off the high ceilings.
Ashley tugged on his hand, pushing through the students towards the staircase. Draco started to lead her down the opposite side of the corridor towards his room, but Ashley pulled back.
“Let me get my things for tomorrow.”
His heart nearly broke. He hadn’t expected to be away from her so quickly, no matter for how short. He could feel his chest start to constrict all over again, and he tried to nod unflinchingly, but she saw right through him.
She grabbed his hand gently, giving it a little shake, “I’ll only be a minute. Go rest.”
There was something terrifying about not being able to walk down to his abandoned corridor with her. His one saving grace was that the likelihood there would be questioning students was low. It was the one time in his life he was grateful that he wasn’t necessarily close to anyone. Those who would have, like Crabbe and Goyle, were most likely sulking in the dungeons, ignorant of his unfavorable return.
But yet the doubt and anxiety anchored him there. He knew he should move, as more and more students were flooding out of the Great Hall. He wanted to get out of sight quickly, but not out of hers.
She stepped up to him and kissed his cheek lightly.
“Go, Draco.” She mumbled softly.
As if the affectionate gesture gave him a mustard seed of strength, he turned from her, stealing one last glance as she disappeared into the crowd of students, although her bright white hair marked her movements.
“Is that Draco Malfoy? My God, he looks awful.”
“What an arse, to show up again. Who does he thinks he is?”
The whispers already started to float to his ears, fueling him with an even greater need to escape from sight.
He pushed past students carefully, his sides still hurting and any amount of physical pushing on his chest seemed to stir violent coughing fits, for which he had to sidestep the crowd and sputter through. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he eventually stumbled his way to the lonely corridor, the torches dully revealing the pathway to his portraits.
The fairies gasped and giggled as they made their way from the river towards the front of the picture.
“Draco.” They mused, “We thought you were never coming back.”
“Well, I am.” He answered tiredly, “Can you let me in?”
“What happened?” Morganne purred.
“Please,” Draco pleaded, “let me in.”
“We can’t do that.” Morganne grumbled, unsatisfied with his answer, “You haven’t been here in months.”
“And yet we still belong to him.” Victoria stepped out, her red flaming waves floating in an invisible breeze, “The year is not yet up, Morganne.”
Morganne rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll give an exception this one time.”
“How generous.” Draco muttered darkly.
The portrait swung open without another word.
It was nostalgic to see his room once more. The fire was roaring happily in the fireplace, greeting its long lost Master. The bed was neatly made, wondering who had done such a thing, as it was uncharacteristic of him to have left it in such a state. The perch that usually contained the presence of his hawk was empty, having sent her home long before Ashley had walked into the room that night, thinking that he wouldn’t have returned.
His cane was doing little to help with the exhaustion seeping even further into his being. It was a battle; his injuries and fleeting health were taking its toll on him.
The feather stuffed blankets and pillows almost made him cry out in relief, conforming to his every dip in his body, cupping him like a glove, as if hugging him to the mattress to sooth the stresses of the past months.
He could feel the ache seep from his muscles, sending them into a burning rage reminiscent of the first swigs of Firewhiskey. After the pain had subsided, his tiredness overcame him and he finally let himself rest, where he knew he was safe from everything.
Was it too good to be true? Was her fiancé, Draco Malfoy, really just down the corridor? It felt unreal, like the reoccurring dreams she would have of him coming back to the castle, then would wake up moments after, most likely after she stumbled upon an object in her dream. As she weaved between students, she looked for any random books on the floor; triggering the end like they had in her nightmares. But as she kept walking, her heart beating hard, her whole spirit lifted with the last half hour’s events, she knew it wasn’t a dream. A dream couldn’t be this good, this surreal.
She tried to keep her smile in check, but she couldn’t help but beam all the way up to Gryffindor tower.
As soon as she got in, she was bombarded by Hermione and Ron.
“Is it true, that bloke’s really back?” Ron asked, disbelieving.
“It’s already spread like wildfire.” Hermione breathed, rushing over to Ashley.
Ashley nodded, but had to bite her lip, although unsuccessful at smothering her glee.
Ron gulped hard, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, “Well, I haven’t seen you this happy in months. So, I guess it’s not such a bad thing, having the slimy git back.”
Hermione gave her a small smile, but it was the first she had given genuinely in regards to Draco.
“I’m happy for you, really.” Hermione offered, giving her a small nod.
“We’re engaged.” She blurted.
Hermione and Ron’s face froze in shock, their eyes wide as saucers.
Ashley pulled her hand from her pocket and extended it to them. Their eyes went wider at the sight of the ring than it did the initial news.
“Blimely.” Ron peered over Hermione’s shoulder as she grabbed her ring finger, tilting it in the light.
“It’s beautiful.” Hermione breathed, examining the jewel.
“Must’ve cost a small fortune.” Ron’s mouth pulled in a sidelong grimace.
“I know you’re not thrilled.” Ashley started quietly, “But, things are going to change, he promised.”
They both eyed her wearily.
“No more of his hatred.” Ashley looked to both of them. It was all she could say. If she added anymore, she felt the idea of mending years of repairs would be cheapened. It would be hard, but she hoped they would give him the chance.
“We’re happy.” Hermione smiled at her, giving a side long glance at Ron, until he reluctantly nodded, “But I don’t think it’s us you’re going to have to worry about.”
“Harry.” Ashley winced, glad for his absence in the Common Room.
Hermione nodded, “He should be coming up any minute.”
“Well,” Ashley breathed, “I better find him before he catches word.”
“Good luck.” Ron told her, giving her a look that suggested she would need it.
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow, then.” Ashley offered gently, still not feeling as if she had their approval. On second thought, she didn’t know why she would have gained it so easily. She was engaged to the boy that had demeaned and degraded them their entire career at Hogwarts, she was naive to think that they would have squealed at the idea.
The couple nodded, watching her as she turned away.
She turned back to Ron, who had stepped away from Hermione, who looked rather surprised at Ron’s boldness.
“We’ll work on it too…if he upholds his end.”
Ashley sighed with relief, knowing that it had taken Ron a lot of gut to announce such a statement. She knew it wasn’t the most thrilling thing, for a Malfoy to be joining the family, but his effort meant more than Galleons to her.
She gave them both a final nod as she pushed her way through the portrait, making her way down the stairs.
The question of whether or not to seek Harry out was raging inside of her. He had been one of her dearest friends, but she didn’t want to incur his wrath that would put a damper on her happiness. But did telling him mean she was rubbing it in his face? Would he think she was being caddy, as if to say This is what I was waiting for the whole time, something you could have never amounted to?
The internal struggle waged on until she felt a firm hand grab her arm.
She turned to look at the perpetrator, staring into the face of Harry, his green eyes ablaze with anger.
“We need to talk.” Harry told her, guiding her into an empty classroom, the dying candlelights unable to mask his disappointment and rage.
“Malfoy’s back?” He spat when the door had clicked into its latch.
Ashley nodded solemnly, as if she was being scolded from a parent.
“Are-are you insane? Harry stumbled.
“Harry,” she breathed carefully, “you knew, you always knew.”
Harry shook his head in disbelief, rubbing a shaking hand through his unkempt hair.
“A-and you’re just going to assume that everything is fine now?” Harry spat, “Are you that thick to believe it’s not some sort of trap?”
Ashley frowned, “A trap? Are you mental?”
“Oh, come off it!” Harry grumbled, pacing around the room. He couldn’t look at her straight in the eye, he was too angry at her for her naivety and quite frankly, although he would never admit this to her, he was sore she hadn’t picked him, even if he all along that she never would’ve.
“I don’t know if you’re aware,” Harry’s voice dripped with sarcasm, “but Voldemort isn’t dead yet! Malfoy’s one of his followers!”
Ashley balled her fists, the anger starting to rise in her, “He is only one of them because of his father! I don’t care what you think Potter, but he would never do those things!”
Harry narrowed his eyes at her, “Is that what he told you? Daddy made him do it? He’s been obsessed with the Dark Arts since day one, Ashley!”
Ashley was torn between letting his anger blow over and really letting him know what she thought. She was so tired of convincing people that Draco was decent, that this whole time he had just been surrounded by people who made him look otherwise.
“You don’t know him like I do.” Ashley retorted weakly.
“We know him better than anyone!” Harry boomed, “He’s sure never cared to be anything but the real person he’s been for the last seven years: a pathetic, insecure little arse that can’t stand up for himself. He’s nothing but a weak ferret! You don’t want someone like that!”
His blows were becoming harder and harder to deflect. Ashley bit her lip in restraint.
“You can’t be around people like him!” Harry’s voice cracked, “He’s a marked man. He’s following the one thing that killed my parents!”
Ashley narrowed her eyes, “Quit being so selfish! You weren’t the only one who’s been affect by You-Know-Who! I was chased here by those who follow his reign. I had to flee my home! I was affected too!”
“And yet here you are, crawling back to the one who will soon take part in all of that in the months to come! Haven’t you forgotten what he’s done to you? You were broken for months! You aren’t thinking!”
“No, you aren’t.” Ashley hissed, “I thought you would understand second chances. With all the shit you’ve done in the past few years, teachers haven’t begrudged you, friends haven’t let you. You’re the one person whose been given more second chances than anyone…clearly more than deserved! And you’re begrudging me for being the one person that is giving that chance to someone who’s needed it all his life?”
Harry stopped pacing and went quiet as he turned to face her.
“I’m marrying him, Harry.” Ashley’s eyes stung with tears as she subconsciously fingered the ring, in which Harry’s eyes traveled. “He’s going to be my husband. And if you’re forcing me to chose between someone who is going to join my family, and you, well…that should be clear enough.”
The words hurt to spit out, but they had to be said. She couldn’t put up with his disapproval anymore. She had decided right then, that she had to let him go if he was going to guilt-trip her rest of her life...
“I hope you can forgive me of the wrong you feel I’ve done to you.” Ashley choked, her throat itching with the wave of emotions. “But if you’re forcing me to chose…”
She couldn’t finish and decided it was time to end the conversation before she allowed him to say anything he would regret.
Ashley turned from him, his gaze burning a hole in the back of her head, as she quickly slipped out the door.