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Chapter 23 : The Assault
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They were nearing the end of March and the castle buzzed with the beginning of summer and the last week before spring break. Talk of family plans and vacations were the center of most students’ conversation, but there was one that wasn’t so sure where she would be headed.
Ashley had written her family days ago, wondering if the coast was clear enough to come home. She had assumed since the visit would be much shorter, stealing a visit to her family wouldn’t be too risky. She wondered if they were truly safe, if the Death Eaters knew where they were, but couldn’t reach them because of the Ministry’s charms. She thought about asking Draco, but treating him like a Death Eater wouldn’t help their relationship at all.
She was envious of the students who got to see their families during the Christmas holidays and would be returning to them in a week’s time. She missed everyone: Fleur, Gabrielle, Apolline, her mother, and her father, Felix. She told herself that she had Draco and the other Gryffindors, but it wasn’t the same. Nothing could replace the sense of security and adoration that her family gave her.
“It’ll be alright.” Hermione tried to comfort her on Friday morning, the last day of classes. “I’m sure the letter will arrive today.”
Ashley sighed, looking up to the ceiling, where it remained absent of any owls. The post was to arrive in ten minutes, and as much as she wanted it to get here, she almost didn’t want to know the answer.
“We’ve told you you can come to the Burrow.” Ron reminded her again, “I’m sure your sister will be there, at least. You can see her.”
“Yeah.” She answered absentmindedly.
“We’ll have a blast.” Harry chimed in, “We can play Quidditch and Exploding Snap.”
Ashley couldn’t help but crack a smile at their support. She knew she had somewhere to go, and at least she could see Fleur, but she wanted more than anything to see her parents.
Just then, a small handful of owls flew in, dropping letters, packages and newspapers to their masters. With each passing second, more and more appeared, landing heavy parcels on plates full of food and knocking over cups, sending the students ducking to cover their heads.
Ashley’s heart started to pound. She waited anxiously, looking up at all the owls. The wait was agonizing, and knowing that any school owl could contain her next week’s fate was adding to her surmounting anxiousness.
Then, there was a letter that started to make its way to her general direction. Trying to suppress her small hope, she looked around to anyone who didn’t have mail yet. Hermione and Harry received their subscriptions to the Daily Prophet, and Ron had already received his package from his mother. Before she could look up again, a letter dropped onto her plate of bacon and eggs, her family stamp sealing the roll of parchment.
A happy squeal emitted from her mouth, but quickly realized that getting the letter was only the first step: now it was whether or not she could come home.
With shaking hands, she tore at the letter, unaware of the three pairs of eyes on her. She cracked a huge grin as she read her mother’s French handwriting:
My dearest Ashley,
We would be most happy to see you this break. We believe that the house may be safe, thanks to the Ministry. We will be waiting for you.
Ashley beamed as she exclaimed, “We’re going home!”
The three beamed at her.
“I told you!” Hermione teased. “It all worked out!”
Ashley’s face faltered a little when she saw slight disappointment on Harry’s face, who quickly recovered when he found her looking at him. Ashley tried brushing it aside, but wondered why he looked so bummed.
The bell rang overhead, signaling the beginning of the end.
She found it extremely trying to sit through the last fifteen minutes of Transfiguration, hardly able to keep still enough to write down her notes. Hermione gently kicked her under the table to stop her fidgeting feet.
“Stop.” Hermione smiled, shaking her head as she flipped over her parchment.
When the bell rang, Ashley had to restrain herself from elbowing the slower students out of the way. Pushing past them as politely as she could, she ran up to the dormitory, double-checking to make sure everything was packed. When she had made sure that everything was in order and ready to go, she bounded off to Draco’s room.
She found him straightening up his quarters, scratching his head and whispering to himself.
“Are you ready?” She asked him.
Draco sighed heavily, “There are some things I need at the Manor that I forgot at Christmas. Is there any way we can stop by before we leave for your parents’ house?”
Ashley shifted uncomfortably, knowing the fear that Lucius would bring if he were in the house.
“It will only be for five minutes, I promise.” He told her.
Ashley debated it, wondering if she was jinxing herself by testing her luck a second time.
“Ashley,” he begged, walking over to her and rubbing her arms in comfort, “I won’t leave your side.”
Ashley knew they were going one way or another, so she figured she might as well comply, “Fine.”
Draco gave her a peck on the cheek, disappearing into smoke over to his suitcase once more. He found that walking wasted time and that he could get to where he needed to go much faster; however, Ashley wasn’t too fond of it.
“Stop!” She hissed, “That isn’t natural!”
Draco threw her a smirk as he closed the clasps of his suitcase.
“It’s almost like your parading it! Like you’re proud of yourself!” Ashley’s eyes narrowed.
Draco looked up at her, “You know that’s not true.”
Ashley huffed, but remained silent.
Draco rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. Deciding to change the subject, he asked, “What if I can’t get through your barriers? Won’t your parents be suspicious?”
“You should be able to.” Ashley hoped more than she knew, “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“What if I can’t?” Draco pressed, “Will I have to come back here?”
“It’s the only way you’re going to be safe, Draco. The others can’t reach you here. I don’t want to find out you’ve been doing their work while I’m gone.” Ashley warned.
Draco had a few sarcastic replies, but knew it was completely inappropriate to joke about such matters.
“Come on.” Ashley tugged at his hand, “Let’s go eat dinner.”
Within hours, Ashley found herself climbing off the Hogwarts Express. It was late afternoon on Saturday and students and parents alike flooded the platform, squealing as they greeted each other. She decided to wait for Draco against the platform wall, where she received many stares and gawks at her beauty. She felt awkward, remembering that the Hogwarts students had gotten used to her. Here, she was something completely unseen.
Ashley looked down at her shoes, feeling herself growing warm although the color would never reach her face.
“Are you alright?”
She looked up to see Draco, straightening the fastening on his black sweater.
“They’re all looking at me.” She said, clutching his arm close to her.
“Why shouldn’t they?” He kissed her cheek.
“Do we have to go down here again?” Ashley whined, furrowing her eyebrows at the street of Knockturn Alley.
“It’s the closest fireplace we have.” Draco tried to comfort her, “C’mon.”
It grew dark almost immediately. Ashley pulled her traveling cloak around her tightly, trying not to make eye contact with the many questionable wizards and witches that stared and grumbled after them. Draco opened the dingy door for Ashley, following her in.
“Welcome to the-oh, Mr. Malfoy, a pleasure.” Mr. Borgin bowed deeply when he saw the couple standing there, paying particular attention to Ashley, “And I see you’ve brought your friend once more.”
“We need to use your fireplace, if you don’t mind.” Draco announced, overlooking his comment.
“Of course, Mr. Malfoy, of course.” He bowed deeply, extending his hand to the back room.
Ashley could feel her eyes on the back of her head. She squeezed the arm of Draco to communicate her growing uneasiness.
He threw a handful of powder into the fireplace. In an instant, it came alive, roaring emerald flames erupted from the base.
“So, I either go first into a house occupied by unknown residents, “Ashley breathed, “Or stay here with a creepy man.”
“Pick the lesser evil.” Draco advised, “I’ll be right there.”
He gently pushed her towards the flames. Taking a deep breath, Ashley shouted, “Malfoy Manor!”
She was there as soon as she stepped through. Looking around the dark house anxiously, she listened for any noise. The house was completely silent, which made her more nervous. Draco landed by her within seconds, taking a minute to observe the silent house.
Ashley let out a yelp of surprise when a little house elf came in.
“Who are you?” Ashley asked, trying to calm her beating heart.
“I am Stella,” the house elf bowed deeply; “Servant to Master Malfoy.”
Ashley turned to him, “You have your own House Elf?”
Draco shrugged, “I suppose.”
Ashley frowned, but didn’t object.
“Is anyone here?” Draco asked her.
“Not that I am aware of, Master.” She answered, “Stella has been alone for a long time, cleaning, cooking and tending to the peacocks.”
Draco gave her a strange look, “Whatever.”
He pulled on Ashley’s hand, passing the Elf who watched them leave. They climbed the marble stairs, opening his door at the end of the hall. The familiar green and silver greeted them, his neatly made bed remain untouched. He grabbed a bag from the corner and started to fill it with things he had forgotten at Christmas. Ashley took a seat on his bed, watching as he packed quickly.
It wasn’t long before they heard a crash in the kitchen and a squeak from Stella. Draco and Ashley looked at each other as it grew silent once more.
They were still for a minute. Ashley’s heart began to race wildly.
“Stupid House Elf.” Draco resumed packing, “Probably dropped something.”
“Draco.” She choked, fear constricting her throat. “I don’t think it was. It’s too quiet.”
They stopped and listened again. But there was silence, absolute silence. Draco was about to say something, but there was a click on the marble floor by the entrance doors.
Someone was wearing loud shoes.
The color drained from Draco’s face.
“Well, it’s not him.” Draco whispered faintly, looking to his arm.
Ashley forced the words that she dreaded saying, “Your father.”
Draco’s face went even whiter. He dropped his bag slowly on the floor. Withdrawing his wand, he hissed, “Stay here.”
“I am not!” She whispered fiercely, “I’m not going to let you go down there by yourself!”
Draco glared at her as he put a finger to his lips. “Don’t argue.”
Ashley slid off the bed, extracting her own wand.
“Please.” Draco pleaded, “It’s probably nothing.”
With that, Draco turned away from her, crouching next to the door. Ashley squatted on the floor, paralyzed with fear as Draco disappeared out into the hallway.
She waited. Nothing in the house made a sound, except for her ragged breathing. Ashley looked around Draco’s room, however stark, to get her mind to concentrate on something else.
To her horror, she heard a short yell that was interrupted with a dull thud, like a body hitting the ground. Ashley sprang into action without thinking, making her way towards the door. Before she knew what was happening, the door closed on her. The lock clicked, keeping her in the bedroom.
Panic started to rise within her, overtaking her senses and ability to think clearly. She grabbed at the door, jiggling the handle for several seconds. Realizing that she had her wand, she cursed herself for the wasted seconds and cried, “Alohomora!”
But the door remained locked; no clicking sound greeted her with freedom.
“Alohomora!” She squeaked with panic, flicking her wand at the door.
Still, nothing happened.
Whoever, or whatever, had done this made sure it wasn’t a simple locking charm. Ashley reeled her head for another spell, but the overwhelming silence made her panic even more.
“Calm down!” She told herself, trying to dismiss the terror that was quickly consuming her, “Think!”
She reeled her mind for anything; every spell that came to her mind was one that would not help her.
Finally, in a last ditch effort, she remembered: “Deprimo!”
The door blasted apart. Ashley quickly covered her face to protect herself from the flying wooden shards.
Now that there was nothing barring her from finding Draco, terror clenched at her heart. She crouched once more, crawling her way over to the banister.
She saw Draco leaning up against the large double doors at the bottom of the staircase, his wand feet from his hand. He looked hunched over, his head lolling weakly. Without a second thought, Ashley rose, sprinting down the stairs.
“Draco!” She slid on the polished floor, pushing the hair out of his eyes.
He looked up at her painfully, grumbling incoherent words.
“What?” Ashley panicked.
“Get…out.” Draco groaned.
“I’m not going to leave you.” Ashley argued.
Draco looked up, horrified as he saw a black cloud start to emerge from the shadows of the staircase. Slowly it spread, clouding the white marble floor in darkness.
“Ash.” He choked, trying to lift his hand, which seemed too heavy. The aftermath of the stunning jinx was too powerful for him, and he couldn’t think straight.
A tall, dark, hooded figure rose, solidifying from a dark mist that clouded around her.
His dream. It was not just an allusion: it was unfolding before his eyes.
It was a large, hooded figure, an erect blade hidden in the folds of its cloak. It stood feet behind her, slowly making its way to its unsuspecting victim.
Please, he begged, help me form the words. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to, the dream finished without him ever being able to warn her. This was going to be no different.
The hooded figure loomed ever closer. Draco wondered how she could not feel its presence. As the figure raised its blade, high above its head, its other hand made a motion to remove its hood.
“Look.” Draco choked, his eyes staring at the figure behind him, but Ashley was too preoccupied with trying to figure out what had happened to him.
Long, blond hair spilled from its hood. A pointed face and long nose appeared from the shadows of its cloth confinement. Draco’s heart dropped.
So this would be the end. His father would be the one to end his life embodied in Ashley.
The blade came down fast…
She was cut off by the swooping motion of Lucius, holding the knife tight against the pale skin of her throat. She dropped her wand in an effort to keep the arm from choking her. Tears of pain streamed down her face as she was lifted to her feet.
“So.” He growled. “We thought we could stride into my house, after I made it clear you were not wanted here.”
Ashley choked, trying to form words, but she couldn’t breathe.
“I will not have your dirty blood soil my son’s name!” Lucius hissed into her ear. “He has finally had enough sense to bring you to me. I knew he couldn’t finish the job! Well, I will finish it for you, Draco.”
He exchanged arms to restrain her, the one holding the knife was now free.
“You waited too long.” He sneered, a crazed look in his eye. “I told you I would come after her myself if you disobeyed my order.”
Draco pleaded with his eyes; he was too dazed to talk.
“P-p…” He tried to say, but couldn’t finish it. He was too exhausted to fight. He looked for his wand, but it was just out of reach.
All of a sudden, Stella stumbled out of the kitchen, clutching her head in pain and wobbling slightly. Stella looked at the scene before her, straightening up at once. Fear emerged from the elf’s large eyes, as she looked from Draco to Lucius choking Ashley.
This was his one chance to save his only reason for living. If Ashley was killed, he would make sure he joined her. But he wanted to live, and the one opportunity presented itself.
“Call Bellatrix,” Draco forced, “I need help!”
Lucius cursed loudly, trying to make a move for the House Elf while restraining Ashley. Ashley made the best out of his imbalance, stomping hard on his foot. Lucius let out a hiss, letting go of her momentarily. When the House Elf had disappeared with a loud crack, he changed his focus to capturing her once again.
Lucius grabbed at Ashley’s feet, tripping over his long robes. She spun around, trying to kick his face. Draco watched, horrified, as Lucius dodged her vain attempts to ward him off. Draco looked at his wand, pushing himself to extend his arm. His finger tips brushed it as he slumped further to the floor.
Suddenly, there was a jet of red light that hit Lucius in the chest. Draco looked up to see Bellatrix emerging from the kitchen, never being so grateful to see her in his entire life. Lucius abandoned his attempt for Ashley as he sprang up, discarding the knife and quickly withdrawing his wand. Draco finally managed to grab it, searching for Ashley as he saw her crawl into the drawing room.
Trying his best to dodge hexes, he crawled over to the doors. A spell hit a mirror above him, crashing down on the table. Draco scrambled to cover his head from the shards of glass that littered the floor.
“I SHALL HAVE YOU NOW, YOU BASTARD!” Bellatrix screamed at him, “YOU WILL NEVER TOUCH HER AGAIN!”
Draco scrambled into the parlor. Bellatrix’s screams and Lucius’ cursing was muffled behind the heavy doors.
“Ashley?” He huffed, crawling around the couch. What little strength he had regained had been lost to his growing panic.
He saw her, lying on her back by the fireplace, hand on stomach, breathing heavily. Her head lolled from side to side and her left hand was bloody and clutching her wand.
“Ashley.” He panicked, crawling over to her.
Ashley looked over to him, removing her hand from her stomach. A hole was bleeding from her torso, soaking her shirt and pants with crimson fluid.
“I guess he got me.” She whimpered, trying to force a smile.
“We have to get you out of here.” He told her, looking up to the mantle where the pot containing the Floo Powder rested.
He pointed his wand at the pot, “Accio Floo Powder!”
The pot missed his hand, the clay breaking into pieces around the floor. Panicking, he pinched a handful and threw in into the fire. The emerald flames licked at him hungrily, the heat warm and inviting.
“YOU WILL NOT GET AWAY!” Bellatrix shrieked. Draco looked up to see the double doors swing open, Lucius staggered in, his hair crazed and a demonic gleam glittering in his eyes. Draco slid his arms underneath Ashley, pulling her on top of him and rolling into the fire, shouting, “St. Mungo’s!”
They rolled into a busy walkway, filled with wizards and witches with all sorts of medical predicaments. A young wizard seemed to be sprouting tentacles from his mouth, while a healer escorted a young witch who had a fish head, her wide mouth opening and closing for water.
Draco looked back to Ashley, lifting his hands to see that he was covered in her blood. Ashley coughed, her eyes rolling in the back of her head.
“Hey!” He whimpered, “Stay awake!”
He looked up to the people walking past him, some giving him worried looks.
“SOMEONE HELP!” Draco shouted, mustering what he had left of his faltering strength, “PLEASE, HELP!”
Within seconds, a trio of Healers dressed in lime-green robes pushed passed the crowd, kneeling next to Ashley.
“What happened?” A young healer asked.
“Sh-she’s been stabbed.” Draco heaved; he was growing exhausted and could barely keep his head up. He battled exhaustion by focusing on Ashley, who was starting to lose consciousness.
Another pair of Healers rammed through the crowd with a stretcher. Gingerly, they picked her up and laid her on the stiff board. She didn’t make a sound, but bit her lip and clenched her hands together to keep herself from crying out.
She looked to Draco, “Please, don’t leave me.”
“I won’t.” He winced, leaning up against the wall.
He broke his promise immediately as the Healers carried her away. Draco heaved, completely out of breath. An older man extracted a vile from his robes, offering it to him, “Here, drink this.”
Draco’s hands fumbled with the flask, drinking it eagerly, licking at the dribble on his chin. Within seconds, he felt revived, full of energy.
The Healer squinted, “Aren’t you a Malfoy?”
He nodded, “Where are they taking her?”
“Probably fourth floor.” He answered, “Spell Damage.”
“It wasn’t a spell.” Draco argued, running a hand through his hair nervously.
“That’s generally where everyone goes when they don’t fit in with the other floors. C’mon lad.”
He grabbed Draco’s arm, hoisting him up.
Draco found his feet to be heavy and his legs unstable, faltering for a solid footing.
“Easy, now.” The healer told him.
After the elevator brought them to the fourth floor, the healer led him down the hall and to a room on the right, where the bed was surrounded by a group of four Healers, quickly working and chattering amongst each other. He brought Draco to the only other cot in the room. Draco let himself relax into the pillow, looking over to Ashley.
Panic continued to grow within him as they hurriedly pushed up her shirt, pouring solution after solution into the wound, quickly unwrapping white cloth and wrapping it around her torso. The female healer looked at Ashley tenderly, smoothing her hair in a motherly way.
“She’ll be fine.”
Draco turned to the male healer who took a seat beside him, “Physical wounds are tougher to heal, as they leave damage to internal organs. Spells: they leave no trace or physical damage, they are easier to fix, as in your case.”
He waved his wand, and a vial appeared in his hand. He gave it to Draco telling him, “They’ll probably give you more within the next couple of hours. She will have to stay overnight. Is there any family you can call, your father perhaps?”
Draco reeled his mind as he tried to come up with a story. Could he tell anyone that Lucius was the one who stabbed her? It would put him in Azkaban for sure for attempted murder of a minor, but he wondered if Bellatrix had already taken care of him.
“We were going to her house.” He told him. “We’ll call her parents.”
The Healer nodded, “Well, I’ll leave you alone. Tell us if you need anything.”
He started to leave, but turned again, “Here, this might make you feel better.”
With another wave of his wand, the blood faded completely from Draco’s sweater, leaving it freshly pressed and clean.
Draco gave him a weak smile. “Thanks.”
The Healer gave him a curt nod, disappearing out of the door. Draco turned to Ashley, who was in plain sight now that the Healers had left, who was rubbing her bandages gingerly. The blood had been extracted from her clothes as well, but it didn’t help her sorry appearance.
Draco took a sponge floating in a basin of water that the Healer had left, and wiped her face. Ashley gave him a weak smile.
“I…I’m so sorry.” Draco choked, unable to look at her in the eyes, “You were right, we shouldn’t have gone back.”
Ashley gave him a tired smile, “No one expected that to happen, Draco. It wasn’t your fault.”
“But, I almost lost you.” Draco hung his head in shame.
“No, you didn’t.” She argued, rubbing his hand, “I was merely resting my eyes.”
Draco looked at her, wholly unconvinced.
“What do we do now?”
“Now?” Ashley gawked, “We stay here, where it’s safe.”
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