Chapter 17 : Hidding from Everyone and Midnight Wanderings
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A girl named Ashley walked through the halls of Hogwarts each day, but something was different about her. Different from the person she had been just a few weeks before. And none of her friends could figure out why. You see because over the break she'd been in a horrible car accident, a car accident that had killed her parents and nearly killed her, only she didn't tell anyone. She continued on trying desperately each day to fool everyone, including herself, into thinking that everything was fine.
But she wasn't fooling anyone. Her eyes once shining bright and full of laughter, were now dull and blank. Her teachers were concerned, but determined that she just needed some time. But her friends, they knew something was wrong, and they were determined to find out just what that was.
I didn't find the same enjoyment I used to in school anymore. It seemed like everyday was a struggle, a struggle to just keep living when I knew so many didn't get that chance. But I continued to hide away all the pain, that however made my temper even shorter than usual. For the first few days I kept having to apologize to my friends for snapping at them, and that made my heart ache even more. How could I be so judgmental of my friends? And so I began speaking less and less until I hardly spoke at all.
I was trying my best to act like everything was alright, but it seemed I wasn't fooling my friends. They were so obviously worried about me. But I couldn't tell them. If I did maybe they wouldn't want to be around me anymore, and how could they understand. Everyday they would casually try to get me to talk to them, or ask me questions, but I just kept on changing the subject. Even going so far as to flat-out ignore them.
But one of those days, my curiosity pushed through my sadness so that a sliver of my normal self shone through the mask I had carefully fixed into place.
The day had started off as usual, or well as usual as anything had been since that day. We had another Quidditch practice, a horribly wet and mud-soaked practice. Wood was barely holding in his temper at the twins and had just blurted out that Snape was to referee our next match. The announcement was met with a whole lot of argument from the rest of the team, but I alone didn't utter a word - I mean we couldn't do anything about it, so why waste time arguing?
Later that night I was sitting with my legs curled up under me in a chair by the fire in the Gryffindor common room, Neville was sitting across from me, and Harry, Hermione, and Ron were whispering to each other conspiratorially in a corner. I carefully wrote my most recent Potions essay, silently wondering why wizards didn't realize that pens and paper were so much easier to use then quills and parchment.
But I was snapped up from my reverie as I heard Ron call out, "Hey Ashley! Can you come over here a moment we have a question to ask you?"
I hesitated a moment, but I had been so curious as to what they had been up to for the last few weeks so I thought what the hell maybe I'll get a clue as to what they've been doing. And so with a quick nod I stood up and walked over to them. Not noticing as Neville shared a look of surprise with the trio. This was the first time in weeks I had acted even a bit like my old self. But the looks were quickly hidden away.
When I walked over and looked at the three of them expectantly they appeared a bit nervous, but then Harry asked, "Ashley do you know who Nicholas Flamel is?"
I cocked my head to side saying, "The alchemist?"
They all looked at me like I had three heads and so I continued, "Nicholas Flamel, he's an alchemist and the only known creator of the sorcerer's stone. I believe he may have worked with Dumbledore for a time."
They looked at me another moment before Hermione muttered, "Of course," and sprinted up the stairs. A few moments later she came back down the stairs lugging a large book, quickly flipping through it until she found the page she wanted and pointed at a passage for us to read.
As Harry and Ron shared their thoughts with Hermione, seemingly having forgotten that I was there, all I could think was "It's not Snape". You see that weird ability of mine to tell when people were lying or were suspicious, let's call it a spidey sense, it didn't tingle around Snape. Whenever I was around Quirrell though, I always got the feeling that he was hiding something, had dark tricks up his sleeve. They could do all the plotting they wanted and try and follow Snape around, but that wouldn't help anything. I was sure Snape had nothing to do with this.
As the days moved on I continuingly saw Harry, Hermione, and Ron discussing the sorcerer's stone and how they were sure Snape was after it, but as the days continued everyone's thoughts moved to the quickly approaching Quidditch match against Hufflepuff.
The morning of the game I quietly and efficiently changed into my Quidditch robes and held my ThunderSky gently in my fingers.
The game quickly began, and it was strange, up in the air was the only place I didn't feel the enormous weight of my grief. And as I soared through the air passing the quaffle about and scoring when possible, I felt almost like myself, but not quite.
The game, however, ended quickly. Harry having caught the Snitch within minutes. And so with a slightly heavy heart I returned to the ground. Only to feel the heavy weight of my grief beat down on my shoulders once more.
I returned slowly to the common room, to find a party in full swing. Both unable to participate in such an upbeat event, and not wanting to ruin the fun for everyone else by being a total buzz-kill I fell into what had become a habit of mine since returning after the holidays. Wandering the halls.
Ever since the accident I hadn't been able to sleep, whenever I did I was plagued by horrible nightmares, and so for the most part I just didn't sleep. Gaining only a few hours here and there. So most nights I stayed down in the common room long after everyone had gone to bed, and then proceeded past the fat lady to try and find solace somewhere in the castle. What I didn't know is the Hermione noticed my nightly absences and had been talking to the boys about it, all of them debating whether or not they should go to Professor McGonagall.
Ashley had been different since she came back from Christmas. She didn't smile anymore, or laugh. In fact she rarely even spoke. It took all I had to get even a couple of words out of her.
And it was with growing apprehension that I continued to notice how things just weren't right. First there was the huge emotional shift. Second was the scar that now marred her left temple that she was constantly sweeping her hair over. Third was how she always looked so tired now, and when I had brought this particular development up to Harry, Hermione, and Ron Hermione had admitted that Ashley was hardly ever in their dormitory at night. And my worries only grew from there. The final straw came when Ashley cut her hair one day a few days after the Quidditch match versus Hufflepuff.
Ashley had always had long hair, that fell in soft ringlets to about mid-way down her back. And as far as I knew her hair had just about always been like that, judging from the pictures from home she had shown me. But one day she came down the stairs her hair cut into a short shag with the bottom of her curls just barely brushing her shoulders. Her bangs were cut, and styled severely to the side covering the long scar that ran from just above her eyebrow, down across the edge her lid, stopping just after the crease where her eye met her face.
It was such a surprise that I didn't even comment on it, but that was when I began to really watch her. And so for the next few days that is what I did. I noticed that her mannerisms had changed. She didn't talk to anyone, barely even answering direct questions in class. And when she did speak it wasn't with the flourish I had come to expect from her, but short and to the point. Immediately after she would fall silent once again. It was in my observations that I noticed how sad her eyes looked, and I knew something was wrong. And so I decided I was going to try and follow her.
The next night was a Friday and I sat up in the common room much later than usual, but still when it neared midnight Ashley remained in her chair reading through a stack of books by her side.
So with a very real yawn I said, "Goodnight, Ashley."
I got only a short, "Night," in response but I sighed and just walked up the stairs with normal footsteps before quietly creeping back down to a point where I could see and not be seen.
About and hour later the common room was empty, and Ashley rose from her chair. I quietly followed her out the door, just seeing her turning a corner. I followed her through the maze of Hogwarts as she took deliberate steps. Coming to stop at the entrance to the Astronomy Tower. I watched as she opened the door quickly disappearing up the spiral stairs, before scampering after her.
As I tried to control my panting, I stopped in the entrance to the open area at the top of the tower. I watched as Ashley strode towards the edge before swinging her leg over the side. I started to rush forward. Thinking that she was going to jump or something, but stopped short when I saw her sit back against the stone wall.
I quietly hid behind a stack of telescopes as I watched her carefully, ready to intervene at a moments notice if such a moment came. I started slightly as I heard Ashley begin talking, and thinking that she had noticed me was ready to both apologize and demand some answers. But as I looked up I realized that she wasn't talking to me.
As I sat comfortably on the edge of the high tower I just looked up at the stars. Ever since the accident the stars had always managed to do what no one else could. They brought me a sense of comfort. And call me crazy but I had started talking to the stars, but it made me feel better. I needed to talk to someone, or well something, and my friends were out of the question. They would never want someone as broken and messed up as I was now.
And so gazing up at the twinkling lights I began to speak.
"Today was hard. They kept trying to get me to talk again, but I just don't want to. Nothing's been the same since they died. Everything's wrong, broken." My voice changed slightly as it took on all the anguish I had been feeling. "It's not fair. It's not god damned fair. How could this happen? How could they die? Why did you have to take my parents? And why did you have to leave me here all alone? I want to tell my friends but they won't want to be around me anymore once they find out how screwed up I am. And even if they did, if something were to happen to any of them I couldn't handle it..." And with that I trailed off only to stare up at the stars in silence for a while longer.
After some unknown amount of time, I shook the ghosts from my head and swung my legs back over the side, walking back to the stairs, and off to continue my routine midnight wandering. Never noticing the pair of horrified eyes that followed me to the doorway as I did so.
The moment Ashley was out of sight, I sprung up. I had to talk to Professor McGonagall, but as I glanced at my watch I realized it was two o'clock in the morning. Realizing the professor would likely be less than thrilled with being woken up at such an hour, I decided that talking to her would be best left till morning.
As I hurried through the hallways I never caught sight of Ashley again, and only hoped that she had already returned to her dorm. Nearly tripping in my exhaustion as I neared a very annoyed portrait. I quickly, and as quietly as one can manage when you're as much of a klutz as I am, up the steps and into the dorm the moment my head hit my pillow I was out.
Early the next morning I quickly got back up and pulled on my clothes for the day, before rushing down the stairs and out of the common room ignoring the odd looks my housemates were giving me.
I knocked hurriedly on my head of house's door, and was out of breath when she opened the door and pursed her lips at my slightly haggard appearance.
Before she even said a word I said, "Professor I need to speak with you. It's about Ashley."
Her eyes softened somewhat and she motioned me in. As I sat in front of her desk searching for the right words, I realized I didn't know what to say. Ashley was my best friend, and I realized I had no idea what was going on with her. When she got back from her holiday it was like she was a different person. And when I followed up to that tower I realized she hadn't told me that her entire life had basically been shattered.
From what she said up there it seemed as if her parents had died, but why hadn't she told me? Why didn't she think she could trust me? Could she really think her life was screw up? Compared to mine her's was fairly normal. Or what? I mean...oh...I just want to be able to help her, be there for her.
I sighed as I began my tale, "Ever since Ashley came back from her holiday she's been different. We all know something's wrong, but she won't tell us what. Hermione told me that she's been disappearing from the dorm, or not even coming up at all, so last night I decided I was going to follow her..."
When I had finished McGonagall looked pained, but she seemed to collect herself a moment later. "Mr. Longbottom, I'm afraid it isn't my place to discuss the matter with you, but I will speak to Ashley about this. I'm sure she'll be happy to know that she has friends who care so much for her."
Sensing that I was dismissed I thanked the professor for her time and walked back into the corridor. As I walked absently all I could think was Ashley what happened?
The next day I rose early and found a quiet spot in the library to study and to think about everything that was going on. Maybe I should tell Neville? But you can't, he won't want to hang up with some screw up like you. But I need someone to talk to. But what if something happened to him too?
A moment later I was hurriedly packing my bags and walking out of the library. I needed to move, I always could think better when I was moving. And so I began wandering the corridors again.
After a while I found myself in a deserted part of the castle, and I reveled in the silence. But far to soon I heard voices. Laughing and talking loudly. I stepped to the side to allow whomever they were to pass easily, but unfortunately this definitely was not my lucky day.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here? A ickle lion first year. All alone are we?" said one tall Slytherin among a pack of similar looking goons.
I rolled my eyes and went to continue around them, but was forcibly stopped when my arm was grabbed by one of said goons and spun back towards the group.
"Don't you know how to respect your betters, you little mudblood? Or are you to stupid?"
I tried again to simply leave but this time I was shoved into a wall, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. In an instant my wand was in my hand pointing at the leader of the band of buffoons.
"Oh the little firstie thinks she knows how to play? Well we'll just have to show her that she doesn't even know the rules."
With that six wands were drawn by six nasty looking Slytherin's who were at least five years older than me. But strangely I didn't feel a bit of fear. Call it stupidity or Gryffindor courage, all I know is that I am not in a mood to be screwed with.
One of them sent a quick petrificus totalus my way, which I easily dodged and countered with the same jinx. Mine however didn't miss. This seemed to just piss them off more, instead of deter them as I had so hoped.
Spells were flying all over the place, and suddenly I felt different. It was as if something inside of me had snapped. I saw each maneuver before it could even begin and easily dodged it. I spun and moved like a lithe cat stalking its prey, they couldn't land a single spell.
I dodged a stunner and by then I just wanted this to be over. On instinct alone I raised my hands in front of me. My eyes flashed closed and a moment later the idiots who had decided it was a good idea to mess with me were thrown across the hall, all of them hitting the opposite wall, hard.
Not a moment later I heard Professor McGonagall calling out, "What is going on here?"
I was actually looking around the castle for Ashley so that I could talk to her, this however was not how I expected to find her.
Up against six seventh years in some sort of fight, and it appeared she was winning. When I turned to corner she had just thrown the lot of them across the hallway, and she hadn't even used her wand, just her hands. I hurried up and quickly led the group up to my office sending a patronous to Snape and the headmaster as I went.
I didn't know what this fight was about, but I'm guessing Ashley didn't instigate a fight against six students who had years more magical training then her. But then again the way she had distanced herself from everyone who knew what she would do.
I glanced down at her walking next to me, and was startled by what I saw. Her eyes. It was like someone had flipped a switch inside of her. Her normally calm blue eyes looked fierce and stormy. Their color was darker and deeper blue, like water in the middle of the ocean amidst an enormous storm. When I looked at her she didn't look like herself at all, whether that was how she had been before the accident or after it.
The girl standing next to me right now looked ready for a fight, like she would take on Lord Voldemort himself if he so challenged her. And that was a bit scary.
I sat the seven of them down in my office, placing Ashley far away from the boys in the hopes to keep tensions low and at the same time watching Ashley's eyes which had not yet returned to their normal blue.
About five minutes later Albus and Severus arrived and it was quickly determined who had instigated the fight and the seventh years were punished accordingly although Ashley had a few points taken off when she admitted that it was she who drew her wand first. Which honestly didn't surprise me, I had never seen Ashley as someone who would stand there and take whatever was given them.
Severus had left with his students, no doubt planning on lecturing them about both disgracing their house and being beaten by a first year. But Albus and I remained with a girl whose world had been turned on its head, and whose eyes still looked off and battle ready.
As I looked her over I noticed she was shaking. So I easily conjured a glass of water and handed it to her. What happened next though surprised me, the moment Ashley took hold of the glass the water boiled off and when she quickly set the glass down her hand was imprinted on it.
She looked up at me in surprise and confusion, and I noticed with relief that her eyes were back to their normal grey blue color. Albus made a sound and when I looked over at him he was clearly pondering what had happened; with the glass, with the fight, and with Ashley's eyes.
As I looked at Ashley for a few more moments, I decided that she was fine for the moment, and motioned that she could leave.
Just as she made it to the door though I called out, "Ashley, you should know that your friends are worried about you." An indiscernible emotion crossed her face, but before I could say another word, she was gone.
This couldn't be happening, what was going on with me? I rushed through the halls not even paying attention to where I was going, but I needed to think. There was so much going on and my brain was about ready to explode. And if that happened Filch would likely give me a detention for fouling up the halls. Idiot.
When those Slytherins had attacked me at first I was just trying to diffuse the situation. But then something inside me snapped when they started really firing spells at me. I felt stronger, both physically and magically. I felt as if I could take on the world and come out on top. When I made moves I didn't think about them, it was like I felt them, relying strictly on instinct.
And on top of that there was all this other crap going on with me. With the words of McGonagall I knew that I wasn't fooling my friends. Not at all.
As I rushed through the halls pushing and shoving my way quickly through crowds of students, I blinked back the tears that threatened to fall.
I can handle this.
I can handle this.
I can handle this.
Oh God, I can't handle this.
This couldn't be happening, why is my life so jacked up? This isn't god damned fair! I lost my parents, and now all my friends are probably going to kick me to the curb.
I cannot handle this.
As I rushed through the halls I didn't see the person walking towards me, and they had obviously thought I did, so we both ran smack into each other. And with the speed I was walking, my momentum sent both of us sprawling on the floor.
I looked up already starting to apologize, when I froze. I had ran smack into Neville. And as I looked at him I realized McGonagall hadn't been exaggerating, his face was creased with worry and there were dark circles under his eyes.
I started to hyperventilate slightly as I looked at him, I really don't think I could take it if I lost all my friends to. I stayed silent and slightly shaky as for once it was Neville who pulled me to my feet and I nearly bolted as soon as my feet hit the floor. Oh God, I really don't think I'm going to survive if I'm really all alone.
"Ashley, will you please just tell me what's wrong?" I glanced up through lowered lashes to see such a look of caring compassion understanding etched on his face, and when I looked into his eyes under the compassion I saw pure understanding. And in that moment I broke.
The tears started falling, and a moment later I was sobbing while being held comfortingly in Neville's arms. I cried all the tears I hadn't since the accident. I cried for my parents. I cried for all I had lost. I cried for all that had changed. And I cried for myself.
And as I soaked the shoulder of Neville's robes he didn't pull away or look at me with disgust as I had been so terrified of him doing. No as I cried he just held me closer and mumbled soft, soothing words into my ear.
A few minutes later my tears had gone down to a few hiccuping tears, and I told Neville the whole story.
I told him about the accident.
About how my parents had died.
About how close I had come to dying.
And I told him just why I hadn't told him or anyone else this earlier.
The whole time he just sat close to me, his arm resting around my shoulders, offering me the comfort I so needed. And in that time I could truly feel the cracks upon my heart beginning to heal.
When I had finished Neville looked at me and said, "Ashley, I have a confession of my own to make."
I looked at him curiously as he continued, "I think you deserve to know and it might help you, so here it goes. When I was a year old, my parents were attacked by Death Eaters. They were tortured into insanity by means of the Cruciatus curse, they've been in St. Mungo's ever since. That's why I live with my grandmother."
As I looked at him I saw him trying to hold back tears of his own, I realized that both of us had seriously screwed up lives. But I also realized that it didn't matter. As I offered Neville some of the kindness he had shown me, I couldn't help but let out a sad chuckle.
As soon as I told all of my friends what had happened, I realized how wrong I was. None of them cared, in fact it made me even closer to Harry and especially Neville.
And I realized that I wasn't alone, I never had been.
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