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Chapter 49: The Abridgment
The argument that had just passed and the excitement that Draco had returned were wrestling within her for her attention. Had she really just lost a friend? Why were Ron and Hermione more accepting than Harry, especially when the other two had received much harsher putdowns from Draco than he? It clouded the Veela’s mind until she stopped in front of the portrait, looking to the fairies to open the door.
“Your lover is back.” Morganne chided, flying down to be eye-level with Ashley.
“That would be the reason I’m here.” She answered sarcastically.
“Morganne.” Victoria warned.
Morganne threw her one last look as the portrait swung open.
Any thoughts or regrets of the heated argument dissipated when she saw him asleep on the bed. Her heart instantly ached, knowing that he had been through much more than his physical state let on. Quietly, she padded over to the edge of the bed, removing her shoes as she gingerly climbed in beside him. She rested her head against the pillow, gingerly sweeping a blond lock from his face.
His grey eyes opened slowly, a small smile pulled at his lips as he carefully grabbed her hand. How thin he had grown, his hand felt like his bare skeleton as he fingered the anatomy of hers.
“Thank you.” He rasped quietly.
“For what?” She smiled, fingering the edge of his ear.
“For making my bed.” Draco whispered, closing his eyes again. He was so exhausted, but yet so content and elated with her presence, although his physical exhaustion didn’t portray such emotions. He could already feel his heart start to mend every second she was beside him. He felt completely safe, not just because he was in the castle, but because he knew she had held everything that had defined them within her.
She was at a loss for words. Merely relishing in his presence was enough, but there was so much both of them had to say to one another.
“I have so much to tell you.” She said quietly.
“Me too.” He sighed tiredly.
“Draco, what happened to you?” She asked softly, rubbing his shoulder in comfort. He winced, but her touch was welcomed and had been sorely missed.
He opened his eyes slowly. She had to know then, for the physical damage he had gone through couldn’t wait any longer. She had to know the full dangers that had unraveled in the last couple of months. Tomorrow was their last day at Hogwarts: their last day of protection.
With great effort, Draco sat up against the pillows and headboard. He was so tired, but he couldn’t risk falling asleep during his story.
He looked to Ashley, her blond hair falling about her shoulders, her blue eyes sparkled marvelously. The vanilla scent that emanated from her body as she scooted closer to him was intoxicating.
Slowly, he grabbed her hand in his once more, thumbing the soft skin.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” He croaked, his eyes drooping.
“Draco, rest, love.” Ashley smoothed his cheek, gently pushing him back down into a lying position.
“I have to tell you everything.” Draco retorted, “There’s a lot we’re going to have to face.”
This unsettled her and the fact that there were many people that could protect them was hardly comforting.
Draco started his story tiredly, but the more he continued the greater the need to finish it. He watched for her reactions, although she stayed calm throughout the tale. He hadn’t expected anything less, what would anger and resentment do for them now? What could two eighteen year olds do to affect the country’s greatest villains? Irrationality wouldn’t be of help to them, and would only land them in a grave plot.
When he had gotten to the part of the alleyway when he was supposed to kill Delinda, he could see her squirm uncomfortably. He watched as she started to register what was to come: the explanation for his physical state, why he hurt so much, why there was so much uncertainty as to if he would ever fully recover.
Draco rubbed his chest in discomfort. He could feel a stinging in the back of his eyes as he told her, “Despite the pain, I was so mad. I knew she was going to kill me and I would never see you again.”
“Oh, Draco.” She wiped a tear from her face, leaning in to kiss his forehead.
“She knows about you too, Ash.” He told her, grabbing her wrist and pulling her head to his lips. “I tried so hard to keep you safe and all I did was expose you further to the ones I was trying to keep your existence from.”
She pulled back, fingering the material of his jacket. “I know you did the best that you could, even if no one else agrees.”
Draco frowned, “Did someone say something to you?”
“Harry, of course.” She averted her eyes from his gaze, concentrating on the feel of his fabric. She pulled a knee to her chest, resting her head against it.
“What did he say?” He asked, curious, not a hint of resentment or anger in his voice.
She wished she had never said anything. The pain had already started to bubble once more in her chest; it was getting hard to breathe.
“Um…” She faltered, tears spilling from her eyes.
“Ash.” He cooed gently, leaning forward to push her hair behind her ears.
“He made me choose.” She choked, looking up at him. “He said he couldn’t believe I was back with you, after all that you had done to me and what was written in the papers. The Death Eater attacks were all over. I can’t blame him for what he thinks; I knew you were a part of it all.”
“What did you say?”
“Well, I’m here, obviously.” She laughed bitterly, “I told him I couldn’t pick family over friends.”
Draco felt a pang in his chest. He hated that she hurt at his expense.
“Potter’ll come around.” Draco chided playfully, trying to lighten the mood, “He can’t stand to lose a fan.”
Instead of making her feel any better, her face screwed up as she buried her face in her hands. The loud sobs were hardly masked by her physical muffling.
“Ashley!” Draco whined, pulling her to his chest. He ignored the pain that racked in his muscles, knowing that her hurting was far worse than what his body offered him.
“Oh, Merlin!” She sputtered, “This is pathetic. I haven’t seen you in months and I’m crying over Harry!”
“I would lie to you if I said I feel bad.” Draco confessed.
Ashley looked up at him angrily, “How dare-’’
“He tried snogging you, so I don’t feel that bad.”
Ashley narrowed her eyes in thought, piecing together the statement.
She gasped, “It was you that night!”
“Of course it was.” He sniggered, “Merlin knows what would’ve happened if I hadn’t blasted that armor. Probably would’ve shagged you or something horrid like that.”
“You could’ve picked a different way to break it up.” Ashley scowled.
“No, I couldn’t’ve.” Draco shook his head, trying to suppress the smile that was tugging that the corner of lips, “Seeing Potter jump like that was priceless.”
Ashley wasn’t sure whether to laugh at her confirmed suspicious, or be furious at his secrecy, when it was so clear how badly she had been hurting.
“You knew.” Draco told her, before she could react, “I answered the question you wanted to know: ‘I’m alive.’”
She chortled disbelievingly, “I thought I was going mental, I kept having dreams that you came back, I just couldn’t decide if that was one of them.”
“Well, that one was real.” Draco told her.
“How?” She cried, “Harry said he didn’t see anything on the Map.”
“Map?” He asked.
“He has a map that marks where everyone is in the castle.”
Draco scoffed, “I knew that arse wasn’t as clever as he led on to be, sneaking around the castle like he owned the place.”
“I asked him if you were on it, he said you weren’t.” Ashley told him.
“Bloke was lying, Ashley.” Draco rolled his eyes, “Even you knew that, I watched you.”
“How did you get into the castle?” Ashley asked.
“Requirement Room.” Draco told her.
“It’s a room that gives you what you need.” Draco explained, “I needed a room that would give me access to you and outside the castle. I didn’t think it would work, but it did.”
“What was in it?”
“A Vanishing Cabinet.” Draco answered, “The other one was in Borgin and Burkes. No one would have thought anything of it, just something else that creep was selling.”
“Just that once?” She asked.
“Just that once,” Draco confirmed, “After I got your letter, I figured you would do something rash if I didn’t let you know I was alright.”
Ashley stared at him. He was a lot sneakier than she had realized. A true Slytherin-
“I could never truly leave you.” He added.
-but with the heart of a Gryffindor.
Silence ran thick in the room. It was hard to stay focused on one subject, when so much more needed to be voiced.
“Don’t worry.” He told her, tugging on her hair, “He’ll come around.”
Ashley nodded slowly, deep in thought.
“What are we going to do?” She asked quietly
“There’s a safe house I’ve been at.” Draco told her, “But it’s a dingy place. It’s half the reason I’m so sick. Bad air, can’t go outside because someone might see. The Manor has every enchantment on it, but Bellatrix stalks the place.”
Ashley’s eyes widened, “What?”
“Stella made me Secret Keeper,” Draco began, “and of course, no one can find the house, but Bellatrix still knows the plot the Manor’s on. She keeps thinking she can find a way around the spell.”
“Do you think she will?” She asked.
Draco shrugged, “Stella said she couldn’t, because its old magic, but I’d rather not wait and find out.”
Ashley nodded solemnly. It was a lot to know they would have to handle, especially being fresh out of Hogwarts with no secondary education. But she couldn’t think of anyone else she would want to face it with.
“Did you ever get into Healer school?” Draco asked her.
It was the first real smile she had cracked since she walked into the room, “I start in the fall.”
Draco beamed at her, tugging gently on a lock of hair, “I knew you would get in right away.”
“And you’ll start Auror training soon enough.” Ashley consoled.
“Don’t know if they’ll let someone like me in.” Draco confessed.
“Surely Dumbledore would speak on your behalf.” Ashley consoled.
“Well it doesn’t matter right now. Have to finish bloody school first.” Draco rolled his eyes.
“It’s not that bad, I’ll be with you all summer to help.”
“Good, then we’ll get done in half the time.”
“I’m not doing it for you,” Ashley laughed, “I’ll help you.”
“But you’re going to be my wife, are you sure that’s not a wifely duty, to do a husband’s homework?”
Ashley laughed, relishing in the fact that she would be able to call him such in a matter of months.
Draco’s smile fell as he hurriedly grabbed for his kerchief and blocked the violet coughs that rasped from his chest.
Ashley looked at him uneasily, unsure of what to do.
He waved her off, “It’s gotten better.”
“And it’s taken nearly three months to do so.” She argued, “When we leave, we need to go to St. Mungo’s.”
“Ashley, I can’t just stroll in.” Draco reminded her, “They’re still trying to figure out who the John Doe was in the alleyway.”
Ashley sighed, “Well, there’s got to be somebody that can help.”
“There is,” Draco reassured her, “someone in the Order, perhaps.”
Ashley’s eyes grew wide, “Oh, Draco, really?”
He offered her a small smile, “They let me in, that’s where I’ve been staying the whole time.”
She wanted to cry from relief. Despite all their struggles, it was nice to know there were people who still wanted to help.
The whole of the situation was starting to rest heavily on her. She could see that Draco was struggling to stay awake. Lying down, she motioned for Draco to do the same, gingerly pulling the sheets from underneath him, afraid she would hurt him.
She lay in the crook of his arm gingerly.
“Did you get in here by the Cabinet?” Ashley asked.
She felt his head shake against the top of hers, “I wrote to Dumbledore, asking if he would let me back in. Everyone’s families are all spending the night in Hogsmeade for tomorrow anyways.”
“So you’re mother’s not here then, since you’re not graduating?”
“She is,” he corrected, “to watch her daughter-in-law.”
“Does she know?”
“She’s known for a long time.” He kissed her head, giving her shoulder a gentle shake.
Despite their exhaustion, they talked well into the night, even long after the clock had struck midnight. After the heaviest of subjects had passed, pointless banter and mindless chatter became the bulk of the conversation. After such talk of danger and plans to lie low in the oncoming months, it felt better to sneak a few chuckles in, especially when Ashley told Draco of Pansy.
“Oh, Merlin.” Draco snickered, “I would have given everything in my vault to have seen that.”
“You would’ve loved it.” Ashley smiled, “I got her good.”
“She asked for it,” He told her, “after what she had said to you.”
Ashley nodded, her smile fading as she reflected on the comment.
“Don’t.” Draco shook her gently, “You know that’s not why I left, not even close.”
“I know.” She answered absentmindedly, “But it still didn’t feel good to hear it.”
He kissed the top of her head once more, “I chose you, not her.”
Silence fell for a moment.
“I can’t decide if that was better, or what you did to Blaise.” Draco wondered aloud, pondering on the two situations.
Ashley beamed, pleased with herself, “They were both pretty good.”
They listened to the fire crackle sleepily, as if it too, was on its last legs. Ashley concentrated on the sounds of his chest, although rasped breathing racked occasionally, and let it soothe her into a deep state of drowsiness.
“You graduate tomorrow.” Draco forced, sleep overcoming him, but not wanting to leave her quite yet.
Ashley nodded against his chest, letting her eyes flutter against the silk of his shirt.
“I love you.” He whispered drowsily.
“I love you, too.” She answered, before she let sleep take her.