The Great Hall was abuzz with talk of Quidditch the following Saturday morning. The sky in the ceiling revealed a cloudy but bright day, perfect conditions for the Hufflepuff and Slytherin match. Ravenclaw and Gryffindor were decked in articles of yellow and black, offering tokens of support as they passed Hufflepuff and hisses of defeat to the Slytherins, who sulked at their table from lack of support.
“Don’t know why they’re surprised.” Harry announced, looking over at their table, “They’re the least favored house.”
“Stupid gits, the lot of them.” Ron’s voice was muffled as he shoved a large forkful of egg into his mouth.
Ashley let out a laugh as she re-adjusted her yellow headband, fastening the buttons on her peacoat that she had enchanted to turn yellow.
“I’m hoping they win.” Hermione wished, “I would hate to see Slytherin take the Quidditch and the House Cup again.”
“They haven’t won since first year.” Ron told her, “They won’t win again.”
“Well, I’d rather win the House Cup.” Hermione rolled her eyes, “It’s much more prestigious than Quidditch.”
Harry and Ron dropped their forks to look at her. Just as they were ready to pounce on her for her comment, the post came in.
The usual squeals of surprise echoed in the air as students tried to catch their parcels before they fell into their porridge and cereals. Ashley looked for her daily paper, nearly dropping it into Ron’s bacon.
“Oi!” Ron said, “Whotcher there!”
“Sorry.” Ashley smirked, the smug look quickly falling off her face as a series of portraits decorated the front page:
DEATH EATER ATTACK IN DIAGON ALLEY
A band of Death Eaters attacked Diagon Alley late Monday night, leaving many injured and at least one fatality, the Head of Board of Investigators Delinda Fleagle, whose body was found in a back alleyway, clearly struck with the Crutacius Curse several times before put to her death.
Investigators aren’t sure who tortured Fleagle, although Bellatrix Lestrange is strongly believed to have committed the crime, fleeing the scene long before Ministry officials were able to find her. Investigators also found a Death Eater outfit containing a large-sized cloak and mask that had been abandoned in an alleyway. There has been no trace of the wizard or witch who wore the outfit, although it has been confirmed that it was not Bellatrix Lestrange.
Fenrir Greyback is also a suspect heading the attack, as many of the eye witnesses that were submitted to St. Mungo’s had claw-like scratches and marks scattered on their bodies.
The death of Delinda Fleagle has caused much upset at the Ministry, and have remained quite tight-lipped about the incident until Wednesday afternoon, when an official statement was released declaring the intent of arrest of Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback, who will be brought to Azkaban to receive the Dementor’s Kiss upon capture.
A third party member was claimed to have been seen fleeing the area where Lestrange and Fleagle were believed to be, disappearing with an unknown woman who tried to help the Death Eater escape the clutches of Lestrange, where she had performed the Crutacius Curse on the John Doe multiple times. Identification of the unknown man and woman who helped him is needed, and anyone who has any information should contact the Ministry immediately.
There has been a curfew set on Diagon Alley, to ensure the safety of the shopkeepers and residents, until further pending from Ministry officials.
Ashley dropped the paper as she saw the large pictures of Bellatrix and Fenrir grace the front page, their large portraits throwing her glares and silent cackles.
“Oh, Merlin.” Ron said, looking alongside Harry at the other side of the table.
The room had suddenly become stuffy and her sweater felt as if it was choking her. Tucking the paper underneath her arm, she left the bench quickly.
“Ashley!” Hermione called worriedly.
“It’s fine!” Ashley piped, “I just need some air.”
Ashley rushed out of the Entrance Hall, feeling a gust of wind blowing the loose strands of her braid back, quickly walking to her trademark tree.
She unfolded it, and read it twice more, hoping that it would’ve given her some insight.
Unnamed Death Eater.
It had to be. It made sense the more she thought about it. Maybe Bellatrix had told Draco to kill this Fleagle woman, but Draco couldn’t do it because that’s not the type of person he was, despite what anyone else said. He fled, dropping his costume, but then the rest seemed to be a jumbled puzzle. Why would Bellatrix torture him? And why would a random stranger help a Death Eater? They were tabooed and condemned from society. Maybe Draco’s vulnerable age wasn’t such a bad thing, allowing people to see that he wasn’t cut out for this and would help him.
But the Crutacius Curse? Multiple times?
Ashley removed the paper from her face, gazing out onto the calm lake. A pressure inflated in her chest and she didn’t know if it was from fear, anger, or hurt.
What was happening to him?
She didn’t even know she was crying until she had to wipe the tears away. She gave a loud, frustrating cry as she threw the paper onto the grass, Bellatrix’s portrait mocking her with her silent cackles.
She found herself standing on the line between giving up and seeing how much more she could take. Two and half months stood between her and finishing school.
But then what would happen?
She turned to see Harry walking up to her, his green eyes searching her blue ones.
“-getting some fresh air.” Harry nodded, “Yeah, I’ve heard that story before.”
Harry bent to pick up the paper, seeming to entice even more hysterical silent cackles from Bellatrix.
“I know why you’re worried.”
“Everyone should be worried.” She retorted, “The most sinister woman is out there, attacking and killing innocent people.”
“You think its Malfoy.” Harry voiced, giving words to the fear she didn’t want to say out loud.
Ashley rubbed her forehead in exhaustion and too many other emotions to name, “Merlin, I can’t do this anymore.”
“Yeah, you can.” Harry told her, “You only have two months and then you can go find him.”
“I don’t think I will. “ She answered, “Look at what he’s become.”
“At what’s he’s become?” Harry scoffed, gesturing to the article, “He didn’t commit any crime and he got away. I mean, that might be cowardly to them, but, I think it says something louder than that.”
“No matter.” She turned from him.
Harry wrapped his arm around her and hugged her.
“Look.” He started, his head resting on hers, “I dunno what a breakup feels like, because I don’t think Cho counted. But, I know that it doesn’t feel good.”
“Yeah.” Ashley’s throated tightened, but she relished in the feeling of his strong hug, knowing it was the one thing she had silently needed in the past three weeks.
He tugged on her braid playfully, so much like Draco used to.
“Look, I’ll make you a promise.” Harry told her. “Me and Ron are going to be Aurors. And, if it makes you feel any better, we’ll keep an eye out for him.”
“Oh, Harry.” She said weakly, “I don’t want you to waste your career searching for him.”
“Well…we have a while to think about it.” Harry pulled out of the hug, grabbing her hand and leading her towards the pitch, “C’mon, let’s get a seat.”
Ashley and Harry were the only ones in the stands for over twenty minutes. She had never been near the pitch when it was empty, the absence of the shouts and hollers giving the stand a rather dead feeling. The students made the game come alive.
Harry veered her on the path of mindless conversation. She could feel a creep of a smile on her face, her soft laughter ringing out onto the filling field, the houses yelling banter at each other as they parted to take the staircase to their designated stands.
Hermione and Ron eventually made their way up, giving them warm greetings as they saw Harry and Ashley together, the grim mood disappearing completely as the pitch buzzed with the oncoming game.
She looked down to their hands, which had been interlaced and held with just enough grip that she knew he was there for her. Normally, she would have recoiled, but it was there that she felt it was nothing to pull away from.
“Sodding, filthy gits.” Ron kicked the grass in frustration.
“It wasn’t that bad.” Hermione tried weakly.
“They were slaughtered!” Ron groaned.
Harry tugged at Ashley’s hand, giving her a knowing smile that they had to let Ron battle his frustration out on his own, but it was hard to watch him with a straight face.
“Well, there’s still Ravenclaw and our game.” Hermione tried again, taking a hold of Ron’s hand, hoping the touch would calm him down.
Ron rubbed his hand in frustration. “Whatever, they never did well in Quidditch anyways.”
“I don’t know why you so worried.” Hermione shook her head, “That puts them at the bottom, its one less team we have to worry about.”
Hermione caught the other couple’s attention, rolling her eyes.
Ron grabbed a rock and flung it angrily at the lake, the water rippling to the shore.
“I’m going to miss it, though.” Harry added, leaving her side to throw in a rock after Ron. “Quidditch… all this.”
He looked up to the castle, the other three following his gaze.
“Yeah,” Ron mumbled, “it’s been our whole lives, hasn’t it?”
“There’ll be plenty to do afterward, though.” Hermione tried to lighten the mood, “You two will have your Auror training, Ashley will have her Healer clinics and I’ll go into the Muggle Department at the Ministry.”
“But we’ll all still be friends though, right?” Ashley blurted.
I can’t stand to lose anyone else, the least of all them.
She rubbed her head in frustration, always feeling like she darkened the mood.
“Of course.” Hermione gave her a kind smile.
“We’ll always be around each other, I reckon.” Ron asked, “I can imagine us coming home to you two and everyone else at the Burrow every day.”
Ashley and Harry locked eyes for a moment, turning their gazes away from each other. Their relationship had an unspoken quality to it and they weren’t really sure what that quality was.
“We’ve been friends for so long.” Hermione added, trying to cut the tension that Ron was oblivious he had created. “I can’t see us going anywhere.”
Ashley felt a single drop on her head and then another. Looking up to the sky, gray clouds had stealthily rolled over the grounds, sending fat droplets descending on the lake, making the water jump with the thickening rainfall.
“Oh, no!” Hermione whined, trying to stuff her hair back into her hood, “I didn’t put any Anti-Frizz Cream on today!”
“Let’s go!” Ashley exclaimed, leading the charge back to the castle.
They hadn’t gotten far before a torrential downpour descended upon them, turning the frequently trudged path to the castle into mud.
Ron headed the four of them as they took a running start up the hill single-file. As expected, Ron slipped, sliding back into Hermione, sending Ashley crashing down on Harry.
With squeals and yells of surprise, they fell back, the small mudslide returning them to the beginning position at the bottom of the hill. The rain was cold and their hair was plastered onto their heads. Students up ahead had managed to make it up before the dirt had liquefied and rushed into the dry confines of the castle.
“We’re not gonna make it!” Ron cried over the sound of rain. They took a look at each other and burst out laughing. Ron’s red hair was plastered to his face; Hermione’s hair was soaking, making her look like a banshee. Ashley’s peacoat was smeared with mud along with Harry’s glasses, which he had to do without, his green eyes squinting through the grey sleet.
They tried once more, but to no avail. They slipped and scrambled up the hill, adding more mud to their outfits with each fall. Ashley’s lungs hurt as a result from laughing so hard, her shaking body disabling her to extol enough energy to continue climbing.
Harry was having the most difficulty, practically blind as he tore at the grass. Ashley turned to grab for his hand, dragging him up the hill. Hermione grabbed Ashley’s arm, Ron attempting to pull the three of them up as he collapsed at the top.
“Ron, come on!” Hermione laughed, her voice hoarse, “Don’t lie down!”
“H-Harry!” Ashley’s voice was lost in her laughter, pulling on Harry whose face was caked with mud.
When they all had gotten their bearings, they started to sprint towards the castle, Hermione and Ashley taking another fall in the wet grass with their slick flats, the boys’ roars of laughter drowning out the beating rain.
The girls scrambled up, shoving past the boys to be the first in the hall.
The warm blast of air greeted them as they shivered into the Entrance Hall. The bright lighting revealed how truly dirty they all were.
They giggled as they looked at one another, covered from head to toe in mud and water, dripping onto the marble floor.
“We better go.” Ron told them, “Before Filch finds us.”
“I think I have an extra change of clothes in my room.” Hermione turned to Ashley, “It’ll tide you over until we can get back into the Common Room.”
They climbed the stairs together, parting ways when they had climbed the last step. Taking one last look at each other, bickering over who was the dirtiest, declaring Harry the winner, who was almost unrecognizable with a brown face and caked hair, took a final bow before he and Ron scrambled to the bathrooms.
Later that night, her demons had attacked her once again.
She lay in bed awake, looking out the window at the dark Quidditch pitch, smiling at the memory of earlier that afternoon. Although it had been fun to be soaked in rain and splashed with mud, there was nothing to replace the feeling of being warm, dry and tucked into bed.
“When we come home to the two of you…”
Ron’s comment had bothered her, as if he had already fated her to an ending she didn’t want to have.
Was this her fate?
Was Draco just merely a passerby and Harry the one to be permanent?
Draco had filled her heart in a way no other could have and broken it with the same amount of uniqueness. No matter how hard Harry tried, there would always be an empty space that he could never fill.
Frustration quickly bubbled within her at her helplessness. No matter how hard she shoved, she couldn’t get the article out of her mind.
Deep down in her heartache, where she never dared to dwell, knowing that pain would kill her, she knew that Draco was the John Doe: the tortured, the one who got away, the one who did right when he had every reason to do wrong.
Slipping out of bed, she shuffled around on her bedside table for a piece of paper and a quill. Sneaking closer to the window, she used the moonlight to scribble out a short note. Closing the door to the bedroom, she bounded down the stairs and into the Common Room, where she knew she would see Harry working on an essay at a table.
Harry looked up at her, giving her a small smile, “I always tell myself that every time I write an essay, that I won’t wait till the last minute. But I always do.”
“Sometimes the last minute is the best minute.” She offered.
“Yeah.” Harry rubbed his eyes tiredly, reshuffling his papers, “I’m surprised you’re up.”
“Actually, I was wondering if I could borrow Hedwig.”
“Yeah, of course.” Harry rose from his chair, walking past her and up the stairs to the boys’ dorms. “She just came in from hunting, actually.”
They snuck in quietly to the boys’ dorms. A sense of awkwardness came over her, knowing she had no right to be in there, even though the curtains were drawn around the beds and heavy snoring echoed in the room, creating an odd symphony of deep slumber.
Harry pushed the window open quietly, disrupting Hedwig preening her feathers on a ledge.
“Come on, Hedwig.” He motioned to her.
She hopped forward, giving a small hoot as she rested on the window sill.
Ashley took the piece of string Harry handed her, tying it onto Hedwig’s extended leg.
“Just…don’t come back unless it’s delivered, please.” Ashley pleaded to the snowy white owl.
Hedwig offered a reassuring hoot, turning out of the window sill.
Ashley watched the owl, her one shot at a peace of mind disappearing into the blanket of darkness.