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Chapter 42 : The Escapade
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May had settled in nicely throughout Hogwarts, the warm gusts of wind and green grass a promising prelude to a warm and sunshine-filled summer. The second weekend into the month found students outside enjoying the sunshine, casting stones into the lake without a care in the world. Chatter of summer plans and next year classes bounced off the walls as students’ tried to pre-coordinate classes together.
That was unless, you were a seventh year.
N.E.W.T.s were in two weeks and there was a nervous tick spreading quickly throughout the castle, worrying over what grades they had to earn to keep or raise an overall grade or judging how hard they needed to study to keep from failing their classes completely.
Ashley had found herself late Saturday night in the library, studying alone as Ron and Harry practiced for their final game of Quidditch, Gryffindor versus Slytherin, next week, while Hermione tried to help Neville pass his Potions grade.
She had been in there for hours, watching students call it a day, packing up their stuff and leaving in groups. The words from her books were starting to jumble together, their ability to make sense to her was lost hours ago and yet, she hoped the longer she stared, the more knowledge she would be able to retain.
Her mind started to buzz dully, everything appearing fuzzy and resonating with little sense. Her eyes were heavy with exhaustion, her mind holding in nearly three months of stress. Applying to the Healer program gnawed in the back of her mind, knowing that she couldn’t apply without her N.E.W.T. grades, but stressing all the same about the requirements she knew she had already fulfilled.
Perhaps the most stressful of all, was the lack of reply from Draco, whom she had written to two weeks ago. The restlessness of graduating and attempting to look for him was tempting, so much so that dropping out and heading to the Manor and surrounding areas had crossed her mind more than once.
Did Bellatrix have him?
Where was he?
Was he even alive? Or alone and buried somewhere where maybe no one would find him?
This last thought brought life back to life Ashley’s deepest fears that she had pushed down for the last couple of weeks, buried so deep her subconscious couldn’t even conjure them if she wanted to. But with the end near and the pull of getting out of Hogwarts growing stronger every day, it was hard not to leave the grounds and begin her search.
Shutting her book and burying her head into her hands, she allowed her mind to sink to the one place she had denied it for so long, finding that relishing in her fears was the only way to keep them at bay.
What if she never found him? What if he had become so warped by darkness and the other Death Eaters, that there was no way to be with him unless she wanted to become exactly like him? What would she do then? Would she have to stick with Harry and settle for someone she cared deeply about, but would never love like Draco? Or would she have to live alone, Draco-less and childless, her name dying with her?
She decided long ago, that if she couldn’t be with Draco, then she wouldn’t be with anyone. There would be no one that could make her feel the way he did, the feeling was too unique and too painful to relive. She couldn’t help but wonder if most seventeen year olds doomed themselves to a hit-or-miss fate. But how many of them could say that they had what she did?
She was struggling with exhaustion, glad for picking a seat in the most secluded corner in the library, knowing that the chances of Madam Pince checking on her were low. Her head swayed, as the words blurred together and came back into focus. Before she knew it, she was out.
Ashley woke with a start, startled by the darkness that surrounded her. She looked up at the windows, high above the shelves of books, the pitch darkness like a black blanket. Lanterns scattered throughout the library were glowing weakly, sending an eerie glow that bounced off the wood of the chairs and tables. Gathering her things quickly and shoving them in her bag, she cursed at herself for falling asleep, knowing she would have to navigate the large castle back to the Common Room.
As a string of silent curses left her mouth, she quickly rushed out of the library, her ears prickling with sensitivity as she watched the dark corners suspiciously. How had Madam Pince forgotten her? Surely the librarian would’ve made a more thorough check than that. Hermione would probably be pleased, however, knowing there was a corner that goes unchecked, allowing for all-night studying.
Shutting the library doors quietly, she scanned the dark halls for visible or audible movement. Not knowing who had night duty for the week made her nervous, the thrill of sneakiness drowned out by the sheer feeling of terror.
Knowing that nothing could hurt her was of no comfort, her home and solace during the day had turned into a menacing maze, determined to keep her finding her way back to the common room. She didn’t know what it was about the change of hour, but it was as if she had no clue where to start, the darkness masking her mental map.
Clutching her bag tightly, she turned to the left, quietly making her way down the long hallway. She tried in vain to quiet her loud breathing, the thumping of her heart nearly deafening. How could the three of them have done this on a regular basis when they were younger?
She started to round a corner when she thought she heard steps that were offbeat her own. She stopped, but one footstep continued after hers. Her heart started to beat wildly, her breathing so loud she thought whoever it was could hear her from a mile away.
Carefully peering around the corner, she saw a tall, cloaked figure further down the hall, walking quietly away from her. It didn’t look quite as tall as Snape, nor as bulky in his layers of black cloaks. Their hood was pulled over their face, quite uncharacteristic of a teacher.
She leaned over the corner more, the lantern over their head almost catching their face. What was she going to do now? If this way was blocked, it would take her twice as long to take another passageway and there was no telling what teachers were trekking those corridors.
A loud thud sounded right beside her. Casting her eyes down to the floor, she saw her open bag spilling out the parchment and notebooks. The hooded figure turned to her, standing for a moment underneath the lamp. She could see the shadow of a mouth, but nothing more. There was something odd about the way they stood there, its face buried deep in the large hood.
This couldn’t be a teacher…
Ashley panicked when the figure started to quickly stroll towards her. She knew if she ran off without her books, her identiy would be easily revealed by her name written in them. Panicking, she scrambled to the ground, shoving her books back into her bag. Whoever it was was just yards away. She stood, knowing that the darkness would only conceal her for so long…
Suddenly, she felt a hand on her mouth and an arm around her shoulders dragging her back, barely missing the pale hand that extended from the folds of the cloak. Her capturer dragged her into a crevice in the wall behind a statue.
“It’s me.” Harry breathed in her ear, “Don’t make a sound.”
The pair watched as the hooded figure stopped where she had barely escaped, standing there, as if expecting to hear a noise that would give away their hiding spot. She watched in fear as the head turned towards them. She shuffled back into Harry, who was already pinned against a narrow space in the wall. Reaching for her wand in her jean pocket, she clutched it tightly, struggling to breath through Harry’s hand.
Just as when she thought she might faint from fright, the hooded figure turned on its heel and walked back up the hall, boots clicking menacingly with each step. Harry let go of her, leaning after her as they watched the figure’s cloak billow after it.
Ashley breathed a great sigh of relief, turning to Harry.
“I owe you one.” She breathed, “I thought for sure…”
“Who was that?” Harry whispered, “That couldn’t be a teacher, why would they have a hood?”
“That’s what I was thinking,” She said, grabbing his hand and leading him up the hall, slightly nervous that the figure was waiting for them around the corner. “How did you know I was here?”
She heard a crumple of parchment as Harry waved a piece of paper in her face, too dark to see, “Marauder’s Map.”
“It’s a map, tells me where everyone is. You never made it to the Common Room, and I knew you were in the library. Then I saw you trying to make your way back and I knew you would need help.”
“Whose name was on the map just then?” Ashley asked, squeezing his hand as she checked both ways in the dark corridors. Quiet snores and shifting of the portraits echoed in the abandoned corridors.
Harry was silent for a moment, “I dunno, I didn’t see. I was just looking for your name.”
“Don’t you have your Cloak?”
Harry sighed, “No, it’s the one thing I forgot. Could’ve used it though, but we’ll manage just fine.”
Ashley clutched her bag to her chest, afraid all her books might spill out again.
They were nearly there, they had only to climb two flights of stairs and they were homebound. Just as they were rounding the corner to take the hall to the Grand Staircase, a small figure bounded up to them.
Ashley let out a yelp, nearly kicking Mrs. Norris as she looked up at them with her blood-red eyes, hungry for trouble makers.
She let out a loud meow.
“That’s never good.” Harry rushed, “That means Filch is nearby.”
She panicked, letting go of Harry’s hand, bounding down the hallway in the opposite direction of Harry, who hissed at her, “Ashley! Over here!”
She turned, trying to make her way blindly back to Harry, just stopping short before Filch’s shadow gave way to his form.
“What is this, Mrs. Norris, you found troublemakers?”
Ashley covered her mouth with her hand, trying to quiet the loud breathing. Looking blindly for Harry in the darkness across the hall, she couldn’t make out his form anywhere, hoping that he had gotten away.
Quietly, she backed up further down the hall, hoping that Filch wouldn’t find the urge to come down there. Weary of her loud heels, she stumbled onto a strip of rug that lined the walkway, careful not to step back off again.
This time, she was too frightened to yell out as she was grabbed again, rushed down around the corner of the hall. She couldn’t recognize where she was, they had taken so many turns she would be surprised if they made it back at all.
It was utterly quiet, the grumbles of Filch giving up echoed dully around the corner. She listened hard, knowing that he had shuffled up the previous corridor, heavily disappointed that he hadn’t caught any troublemakers.
She felt a figure press hard against hers, pinning her against the wall.
“What are you-’’ She gasped.
She was cut off by a pair of lips crushing her own, a hand groping into her long, silver hair.
“This isn’t the time!” She growled quietly, pushing him away.
“I’m alive.” He told her.
“What?” She whispered harsly, “Of course you are, you idiot. C’mon, we have to get back to the Common Room.”
He pushed her against the wall again, his lips softening against hers, but just as passionate as before. Ashley couldn’t help it, she melted against his touch. Her hands flew to his neck, raking his silky hair as she pulled him closer to her. She thumbed his smooth cheeks, the curve of his ears underneath her fingers sent shivers down her spine.
“I’m alive.” He told her again, his hands reaching inside her robe and grabbing at the sweater on her waist and hips.
“Why do you keep saying that?”
“I just wanted you to know.”
He pulled away completely.
“Harry!” She panicked, “Where are you?”
She turned her head in confusion, Harry’s desperate whisper carrying down the hall from where Filch had been moments before.
How had he gotten down there so quickly?
“Harry? What the bloody hell are you doing?” She whined quietly, “Quit playing games.”
She felt his presence round the corner, grabbing blindly for his hand.
“What are you talking about?” Harry’s voice pierced the darkness, starting to lead her down the hall.
“Just now!” She hissed angrily. “What the hell was that?”
“Ashley, I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about, I was stuck behind that statue until Filch left.” Harry growled at her in frustration, pulling her up the stairs.
They stopped in front of the portrait, but Ashley pulled on his arm before he could wake the Fat Lady up. There was a lantern further down the hallway and the flame cast enough light that she could see Harry’s face.
“Harry, please,” she pleaded desperately, “you can’t possibly act like you didn’t try and snog me down there!”
Harry looked taken aback. He threw her a strange look.
“What are you talking about? I was behind you the whole time!”
Ashley stopped and stared at him. None of it made sense.
If it wasn’t him, than who?
She rubbed her head in frustration, trying to figure everything out. The hours of studying and the mounting exhaustion was getting to her. Perhaps it was another one of her exhaustive hallucinations that she had had in the last couple of months.
“Harry-’’ she whined desperately, tired tears filling her eyes, a mix of emotions flooded within her and she struggled to not let him see.
“It’s alright.” Harry whispered, stepping closer to her.
He was drawing nearer and she could feel his breath on her face, dried sweat from Quidditch practiced filed her nose, but she wasn’t repulsed in the least. He also smelled of grass, and rain and she could feel herself leaning in.
Just when their lips brushed, there was a large crash that sent Ashley screaming at the top of her lungs.
They looked towards the noise, an outfit of armor came toppling down in the far corner, the head of the suit rolled down the staircase, making an awful clanging noise that echoed loudly through the magnificent wing of staircases. They stood in horror as they heard it fall off an unconnected flight; a moment’s silence as it fell was met with a final bang at the very bottom.
Portrait’s yells in fright and anger filled the wing, a thousand or so shouts and hollers sent followed by all sorts of noises, roars and growls of animals, babies crying and musical instruments clanging in protest.
“Merlin!” She shrieked, “I’m sorry, Harry, I can’t do this!”
Harry squeezed her arm, forcing her to look at him, “You can’t do what? This? When are you going to understand that some people aren’t meant to be in your life, no matter how hard you want them to? He’s not coming back!”
“Oh, yeah?” She growled at him, “Then whose name was on the map? I know you saw!”
“I told you,” Harry sneered, “There was no one. You’ve had dreams of him before!”
She felt the portrait swing open, oblivious to the fact that the Fat Lady hadn’t asked for a password, perhaps too tired to want to listen to their bantering. Huffing, she charged inside.
“What are you so afraid of?” Harry raged as she stomped into the Common Room, “That I might not leave? That I might actually stay?”
She narrowed her eyes at him, shaking her head as angry tears spilled over.
“That was a very bold thing to try and do.” Ashley shot at him.
“You didn’t seem to mind a moment ago!” Harry yelled back at her.
“You just said it wasn’t you!” Ashley growled at him, “It wasn’t you, you were farther behind me!”
Harry faltered, “M-maybe it was.”
Ashley stepped up to him, glaring into his green eyes, “You just don’t want to tell me it was him, you’re afraid to tell me that maybe I’m not crazy. That this time, it wasn’t a dream!”
“He can’t get into the castle, Ashley!” Harry yelled at her, his posture so threatening it made her step back, “I don’t care how brilliant you think he is, there is no way he could get into the castle!”
Harry stared at her and Ashley broke the gaze.
“You’re just imagining things that aren’t real.” Harry told her quietly. “He’s gone, Ashley, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He left her there, her shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs, as he pushed past her to go to the dormitories.
He slammed the door sharply, her ears ringing with his angry words.
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