Monday had come quicker than she expected, as the cracks of the early morning light pierced through the openings of the heavy curtains. She opened her eyes, surprised to find herself not exhausted, but ready, almost itching to move. As quietly as she could, she pushed back the curtains, digging in her trunk for the cleanest clothes she could find to muster up a decent school uniform.
She sat on the edge of her bed, putting her clothes on mindlessly. The rest of the weekend had been relatively quiet and Ashley knew it was due to her outburst with Harry Friday night. The boys had made sure to stay clear of her the rest of the weekend, the only company braving to be with her was Hermione, who was stiff with the information that she had another “Draco Relapse”. What Ashley didn’t know was that Harry heard her call his name in her sleep, confirming the fact that she had been dreaming about the blond-haired Slytherin, sorely disappointed when she awoke to find Harry in his place.
There was nothing Ashley could say to mend the awkwardness between the two girls as they sat in the library Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Hermione’s nose buried in a book, occasionally scribbling notes. Hermione was too nosy to leave Ashley completely by herself, in her fragile state and too good of a friend to stir any questions that would cause her pain. Hermione knew that if she wanted to discuss the matter further, she couldn’t be the one to bring it up. She had to allow Ashley to do it, even if that meant watching her drown herself in her pain and despair. Ashley couldn’t stand to let anyone see her weak, vulnerable and it was a quality that had started to rub Hermione in the most irritable of ways.
Ashley rubbed her eyes, feeling the slow sinking of exhaustion hitting her once more. She felt as if she had had a good sleep, not stirring or dreaming until she awoke only a few moments before, but feeling as if she had run twenty laps around the castle, utterly exhausted and emotionally drained.
“Ow.” She whined, feeling the cold metal of Draco’s ring scratch her eyelid. She frowned at it, moving her hand up and down with the familiar weight that she had grown used to with wearing it. She looked to her other ring, gray as the angry storm clouds that were settling over the castle. He was stressed and anxious, although she didn’t know from what.
She looked to her little jewelry box on the top of her bedside dresser that Draco had gotten her at Christmas. Opening it, the familiar soft music floated through the air, its drawers shuffling hurriedly as it suggested a pair of golden earrings to match her Gryffindor outfit.
“No, I’m putting something in.” She told it. As if it understood, it shuffled to offer her an empty drawer. Grimacing, she removed the mood ring, dropping it on the velvet lined cushion. She looked to Draco’s ring, the large square face with its cursive M and wands on either side seemed to be challenging her to take it off.
I promise, Draco’s voice filled her head, that one day, I will see you again. But don’t let me hold you back from living your life, but don’t forget me either.
Ashley swallowed hard as the grabbed at the ring, struggling to get it past her first knuckle. She winced as it fought to stay on her finger. When she felt the joint pull and let out a muffled yelp, the ring finally came off.
“I won’t forget you.” She told it, “But I have to accept that I won’t see you for a long time.”
Reluctantly, she let his ring fall into the compartment with a dull thud. She shut the box with a quick snap, cutting off the music. She could hear the shuffling of the little drawers, filing away the two things that helped her stay connected to him.
Stretching her fingers in front of her, she stared at the red marks from the pressure of the metal, feeling rather naked and light. Before she could think to go back and retrieve them, she buckled her shoes and bounded out of the room.
Her head felt relatively clear as she headed down to Transfiguration, mentally going over last minute notes as she entered the classroom, popping open an ink pot and fingering the tip of her peacock quill to make sure it was sharp, ready to write her essays and short answers.
“Hey.” Hermione greeted as she sat herself down next to Ashley, “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.” Ashley nodded, putting her books on the floor underneath her desk.
The bell struck overhead, the giggling and bustle of last minute students filled the classroom. McGonagall raised her eyebrow in interest, deciding to let the disruptions slip, if only this once.
“Let’s begin right away.” McGonagall called, her voice hushing last minute test talk. She waved her wand and tests started to spread amongst the students, landing with a dull thud on their desks, signaling a thick test. Ashley’s heart beat with anxiousness, hoping that she was as prepared as she’d like to think she was.
“No talking, no cheating. Make sure that you are using regular quills. I will know if they are enchanted with any testing devices, in which you will fail automatically and will be unable to take your N.E.W.T.s. Be smart about this.”
They looked up at her with bated breath.
McGonagall gave them one last look over before she finalized, “Begin.”
The scribbling started furiously, students rushing to sign their names at the top of their tests, frantically reading and answering questions.
Confidence washed over her as she read question after question, circling the answers with her dark blue ink. Before she knew it, the multiple choices had been answered, the short answers filled out with her graceful cursive and she was halfway through her essay.
Naturally, Hermione had finished within the half hour. Students grumbled after her as she gathered her things and handed her test over to McGonagall, who gave her a small smile. Ashley looked as McGonagall handed her a small slip of paper, knowing full well that they contained the grades for their goblet transfigurations.
Ashley sighed heavily, wanting to finish to receive her grade. She felt good about the test she was currently taking and knew that she would most likely be able to pull up her overall grade in order to take the N.E.W.T.
Her hand gave one last shout of a cramp as she put down her quill, looking over the length of her essay. Not bothering to proof read it she rose from her seat, scrambling up the aisle to give her test to McGonagall.
She looked it over, flipping the pages to check for completeness. Ashley waited with bated breath, wanting nothing more than her test grade from last week.
“Good.” She looked over her test, adding it on top of Hermione’s. She watched eagerly as McGonagall shuffled through the small pile of half-sheets.
She handed it to Ashley, who quickly looked for the single letter grade.
“It was more than an A but not quite an E, I’m afraid.” McGonagall told her.
Ashley nodded, “I know. I just wanted to pass.”
“You should give yourself a little more credit, Delacour.” McGonagall smiled at her.
“Thank you, Professor.” She smiled, bending to grab her books and walking out of the classroom.
“How did you do?”
Ashley nearly jumped out of her stockings when Hermione jumped from behind the corner as soon as the classroom door shut.
“An A.” Ashley shrugged, “I know my glass wasn’t the best. Let me guess, an O plus?”
“Oh, don’t be silly.” Hermione rolled her eyes, “There isn’t such a thing as an O plus.”
“You know what I mean.” Ashley grumbled.
“Yes, I did get an O.” Hermione answered, “But an A is still good!”
“It’s alright.” Ashley shrugged. “Hopefully I did well on my test.”
“I’m sure that you did.” Hermione asked, “Now, off to Potions.”
“As many of you know, your N.E.W.T.s. are in less than two months.” Snape sneered as he circled the cluster of students in the dark dungeons. Ashley was already tired of hearing about the tests, although she knew the professors had hardly started to brush up on it. “The practical portion of your test will be making a Calming Draught, which, if created correctly, I will allow you to use on your test.”
There was a straightening of the students in their chairs, a strong will to create the potion correctly to use on the most anxiety-induced tests given at Hogwarts.
“You will have two chances to achieve this: today and another session in a month to come. This period, you will perform this task in groups, the second, you will perform by yourselves. Should you and your partners succeed today, you will be rewarded a vial. If you perform the task again correctly, you will receive another vial, totaling for two vials to use on two different N.E.W.T.s.”
Hermione smiled at herself, sure that she would receive both vials. She looked to Ashley, who gave her a reassuring nod that they would perform the task perfectly.
Snape seemed to have seen her glances between the other three, when he continued, “I want groups of two, but since Mr. Malfoy isn’t here, there will be one group of three.”
The four looked between themselves, wondering who should be the odd man out.
“But I will pick the groups.” Snape sneered, “I would be right in assuming the Fantastic Four split up into a variation of the Golden Trio and we can’t have that.”
The four of them shifted uncomfortably as snickers from the Slytherins came from behind.
Snape gave them all one last glare before he went to his podium in the front of the room, reading off a list he had already created.
“Finnigan with Parsons.”
Sean gave a grimace as he looked at a menacing Slytherin girl with greasy, black hair.
Ashley huffed silently as he continued reading the names, knowing that Snape was cross-housing the pairs.
“Weasley with Crabbe.”
Ron slumped his shoulders as he looked to Crabbe, who cracked his knuckles threateningly.
“Potter with Goyle.”
Harry looked rather unfazed, knowing that there wasn’t much of a selection in Slytherin partners.
“Granger with Bulstrode.”
Hermione gave a slight grimace, as if she was remembering the dueling lesson back in second year when Millicent had wrestled her to the ground. She had been this lucky to have avoided her thus far, but sighed heavily as she realized she couldn’t have expected to get off that easy.
“Longbottom, Parkinson and Delacour will make up the group of three.”
Ashley’s heart nearly gave out.
Ashley knew there was no way that Snape could’ve known about her detention then, as he couldn’t see him hating one of his own that much to put her with the girl who landed her in the Hospital Wing.
She couldn’t bring herself to look at Pansy, who she could feel do the same. She hadn’t seen Pansy since last week, but it was rumored that Madam Pomfrey was still trying to remove the rest of the scars from the Boil Jinx she didn’t know she had even hexed her with.
“Ingredients are in the file cabinet. You have one hour.”
Ashley stiffly slid off her seat, dragging her feet over to the Potions cabinet, where Hermione and Harry quickly filed beside her.
“Does Snape hate you or what?” Harry sniggered, reaching for a vile of bot fly wings.
“It is rather unfortunate.” Hermione agreed quietly, shoving bottles of ingredients in the crooks of her arms.
“Just try not to lose your temper.” Harry nudged her playfully, turning to her and making his way towards Goyle, who was looking rather disgusted by having Harry as a partner.
Swallowing hard, Ashley made her way towards Neville and Pansy, who were sitting one seat apart, Neville looking quite relieved being partnered with one of his own.
“I suppose we should get started.” Ashley said awkwardly, setting down the bottles and vials on the table, making her way to her original seat for her book, throwing one last pleading look to Hermione, who gave her the same look as she turned to back to Millicent.
“Here, Neville.” She dictated, sprinkling the fly’s wings into a mortar, giving him a pestle. “Grind these.”
Ashley was completely determined to secure her fist vial of the Draught and she wouldn’t let Neville screw it up for her. It was obvious that she was going to have to be the leader of the three, as Pansy sat in her chair, arms folded and giving Ashley a sulking glare.
Ashley looked at her, about to dictate a task to her. She took a moment to look at her face, seeing for herself that the rumors were true. Pansy had slight red blotches all over her face, disrupting her olive complexion.
“Here.” Ashley offered gently, guilt weighing heavily within her chest as she tore her eyes away from her, looking back into the cluster of ingredients. “This has to be added first in the cauldron.”
“I’m not taking orders from a Gryffindor.” Pansy sneered.
“Do you want this Draught or not?” Ashley hissed, glaring down at her.
Pansy narrowed her eyes, but added the Dittany leaves anyway.
They worked in silence for several minutes, but Ashley couldn’t help stare at Pansy’s face when she wasn’t looking. A little piece within her was glad she had healed from her curses and jinxes, but felt slightly guilty in the absence of a full recovery.
“I’m sorry about jinxing you.” Ashley choked several minutes later, unable to look at her as she stirred the simmering potion.
Neville looked up at her, eyes wide with shock.
“Whatever, Delacour.” Pansy dismissed venomously, “I don’t need your pathetic apology.”
Ashley looked up at her, eyes narrowing in anger, “You’re the one who started it!”
“Is there a problem, Delacour?”
Ashley stiffened as she felt Snape’s looming presence behind her.
“No, Professor.” She said through gritted teeth, unable to wipe the glare from her face as she locked eyes with Pansy.
“Then continue without pointless banter.” Snape scolded, walking away to check on the other students.
Ashley wanted to retort with another snarky remark, but she looked at Neville with wide eyes as she saw him drop in the fly’s wings into the liquid.
“Neville, no!” She shrieked, but it was too late.
She watched in horror as the potion turned an angry red, thinning as it started to bubble towards the surface. Pansy scooted out of the way as the potion bubbled up and over the cauldron.
“Professor!” Ashley panicked.
Snape turned to the call, his cloak billowing over to their table.
Ashley’s chest filled with anger as Snape registered who had called him. His lip curled in its trademark smirk.
“Pity.” He said sarcastically, waving his wand at the spilling heap of destroyed potion. “I believe you are done for the remainder of the class.”
“We can’t start again?” Ashley tried weakly.
Snape narrowed his black eyes at her, “I would hope that in a N.E.W.T. level class, a student wouldn’t need a do over, Miss Delacour. Perhaps you were in over your head when you signed up.”
Snickers from Slytherin’s filled the room as Snape joined them by shaking his head with disgust.
Defeated, Ashley plopped down beside Neville, resting her head in her hands.
“I’m sorry, Ashley.” Neville said pathetically, “I thought it was three turns.”
“No.” Ashley groaned, “It definitely said four clockwise stirs.”
Neville turned red, trying to pass off the epic fail as he flipped mindlessly in his Potions book.
“It’s alright.” Ashley’s tone softened, patting him on the shoulder.
“It most certainly is not alright. That’s one less vial for me. Why are you even in this class, Longbottom?” Pansy seethed.
“Shut it, Pansy.” Ashley spun her head to glare hard into her grey eyes. She looked away quickly, their familiarity piercing her right in the heart.
“Well, if I can’t do it with you,” Neville whispered to her, “there’s no way I’m going to be able to do it on my own.”
“She’s right though.” Neville mumbled somberly to her, “I honestly don’t know why I’m in this class. I don’t even need this for my career. Just trying to please my Gram, I guess.”
Ashley nodded, offering him a kind smile.
The three sat in silence for the remainder of the period, Ashley occasionally throwing the scattered trio looks to see if they had managed better than she.
“Time is up.” Snape drawled, peering into the groups of cauldrons as he walked by. By the look on his face, it was apparent that no group had passed. Until he walked by Hermione and Millicent, who sat in her usual smug state, waiting for Professor to confirm that she had created the potion perfectly.
He raised an eyebrow, as if contemplating taking the chance to strip his least favored Gryffindor, besides Harry, a chance to take a Calming Draught, or allowing the chance to give it to one of his Slytherins. He seemed a little torn.
“Passable.” Was Snape’s final verdict.
Hermione frowned her dark eyebrows at him and Millicent looked somewhat pleased, although Ashley knew Hermione had done all the work.
“You will each be allowed one vial, distributed at the first of the exams.” Snape scowled, turning back to his desk as the bell ran overhead.
“Dismissed.” He drawled.
Gryffindors and Slytherins alike scrambled to gather their books and squeeze out the door.
“Buggar.” Ron cursed, “Working with Crabbe is a nightmare.”
“Crabbe?” Harry scoffed, “Goyle is dumber than a flobberworm.”
“Well, I can’t say anything too positive about Millicent, either.” Hermione added.
Ashley grimaced at their complaints.
“Dare we ask about Pansy?” Ron asked her as they walked up the flight of stairs back into the Entrance Hall.
“I tried apologizing.” Ashley offered, “Her face is still pretty bad.”
“After what she said to you?” Ron exploded, looking at her like she was crazy, “Are you mental?”
“Ronald.” Hermione scolded, turning to Ashley, “As you should have. That’s the right thing to do.”
“No,” Harry argued, “the right thing to do was hex her into oblivion, which she did.”
Ashley stifled a snicker as Hermione rolled her eyes.
“Now what?” Harry asked, stopping them in the Entrance Hall.