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Chapter 50 : The Speech
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Ashley played with her gold and scarlet sash, trying to distract herself from the turning in her stomach. Her eyes flitted to her ring, which sparkled despite the lack of natural light. She could feel the girls on her left looking at it, as she covered it with the bottom of her scarf, feeling a need to protect what it stood for.
Although there were roughly three dozen seventh years per house, Ashley found herself sandwiched between students she hadn’t become friends with within her own. Leaning back, she could see Hermione chatting to a sandy-haired boy on her right. Ron and Harry were behind her, but she dared not look back to see Harry’s glare burning back at her.
It was easy to not think about Harry when she was with Draco, but now that she was alone in her thoughts, the anxiety of their resulting friendship pulled at her mind. She was part of the Weasley family by Fleur and being around the family was unavoidable, although by no means dreaded. Harry, who had no family left, was also part of the Weasley’s. Sharing each other’s company was inevitable. Would he really risk such awkwardness, just to make a point that was invalid?
To distract herself, she looked to the procured stands to her left, searching the sea of parents for hers. She quickly found the small clan of white-blond wizards, Narcissa and Draco had joined her family, who quickly faded into a sea of red hair, as Fleur binded both the Weasley’s and Delacour’s together. Her heart fluttered as she watched Draco talk with her mother, introducing Narcissa to Apolline and Felix, who gave a warm smile to the Frenchwoman and flushed slightly as Felix grabbed her hand to kiss it.
Her whole family was there, her little clan of six, to support her.
“Good afternoon, family and friends, and of course, graduates.”
The attention of the students and audience was turned to Dumbledore, who had sidestepped the podium to make his welcoming speech.
The man was usually known for his odd choice in color and robe style. Grays, blacks, and other drab colors was his usual garb, but the students dazzled at the grand robes that hung on his tall frame.
The base color of the robes were gray, unsurprisingly, but as he turned to the audience in the stands, the students sitting on chairs on the grand lawn of the school, and then back to the faculty behind him, the robes changed brilliantly into the colors of each house. When he stopped his movement, they were caught somewhere between two, the clash of red and green, yellow and blue encapsulated all that gazed upon the brilliant outfit. Even his beard was fashioned for the occasion, colored glass beads were tied in it, clinking gently with his movements.
“I would like to take a moment and personally commend you in your accomplishments and admirable dedication to get here.” Dumbledore began, his blue eyes twinkling as he peered over them from his little stage. “I, too, once graduated, although I’m sure it is hard to believe, and I understand and appreciate all that it has taken to have reached this point. I have been Headmaster of this wonderful school for many years, and can say with upmost confidence that this has been one of the brightest and one of the most enjoyable classes I have seen pass through.”
Some of the student perked up, especially the Ravenclaws, priding themselves on their dedication to study throughout the years, thinking their hard work had elevated the whole class to have received such a compliment.
“In my past commencement speeches, I have lectured on success, triumph, and chasing dreams. But today, I would like to address the topic of preparation.”
Dumbledore took a moment’s pause for effect.
“This is nothing new to many of you, as it has taken years of dedication and preparation to have gotten you to this point. However, when you leave these grounds for the last and final time, you will be faced with new challenges that will take a different sort of preparation. One that is not defined by finishing a last minute essay for Transfiguration, studying to concoct a potion for Professor Snape’s class, or even pouring over books and notes to prepare for your N.E.W.Ts, a series of test I’m sure that has been your hardest yet.”
There was a murmur of agreement that passed quickly over the students.
“As you set out about your lives, pursuing more advanced educations, whether it is for Healing, Auror apprenticeship, or even becoming a band member of the Weird Sisters, whom I might add, is my favorite group…”
Polite giggles and laughter resonated between the audience and students.
“…will be vital in the need to prepare for what is to pass.”
The laughter died quickly, he had their full attention now.
“A war is coming.” Dumbledore announced somberly. “And only preparation wins a war. Preparation to further advance the mind in defeating the enemy, preparation physically to combat the bodily challenges to push forward, and preparation to build one’s spirit to withstand the hardship and trials of what is to come.”
Ashley took a moment to look over to her family, where Draco was rubbing subconsciously at his left arm, as if talking of defeating the enemy he was bound to hurt him. Narcissa watched him, placing a soothing hand on his shoulder.
Discussing the oncoming challenges the previous night was hard enough, but hearing Dumbledore commence a war-time speech was terrifying.
“Each one of you has a part in preparing our world for such trials.” Dumbledore continued, “We have not yet begun to fight and may have a long while until we are all called to defend our kind. Gryffindors, with your hearts of lions, we will need your bravery to lead the timid and hesitant.”
Some of the Gryffindors perked up at their call to future action, puffing out their chests and nodding their heads in silent agreement at the assignment ahead of them.
“War is not fought with equality or fairness. All war is deception, and Slytherins, we will need your keen wit and cunning to ‘slither’ around those who do not have the purest of intentions.”
The Slytherins sitting in rows ahead of the Gryffindors snorted and snickered in mocking. The House of Slytherin sprouted from families who were on the other side, and yet they were being addressed by the enemy to fight for a side they were raised to believe was wrong.
“When deception wears thin, the first causality when war comes is truth. Hufflepuffs, we will need your dedication to work hard to maintain the truth of what is good and right and just. Fight like badgers: unflinchingly and with gusto.
“When all has passed, and the side of the light has risen triumphant, we will need you, Ravenclaws, for one may know how to gain such a victory, but not know how to use it. Lead us to take flight like eagles, for we will need the brightest of minds to lead the foolish and petty, to turn wrongful eyes to knowledge.”
As he finished addressing the last house, his gray robes flashed a brilliant mesh of blue and gray.
“But what house each of you belongs is not the only deciding factor in how you should prepare. We will all need those Healers, to mend the broken hearts and spirits of those surviving lost loved ones. We will all need Aurors to track down the malevolence and evil that will cloud our world. And yes, we will even need those who wish to entertain us to bring laughter and be the beacon of light, however small, in times of darkness. Whether it be a band mate in a musical group or owner’s of a quaint, but quite wonderful, joke shop.”
Fred and George high-fived each other in the audience, but shrunk in their seats when Mrs. Weasley leaned over and threw them a glare.
Dumbledore motioned to the faculty sitting in chairs behind him, “Behind me, these professors have provided all the preparation you’ll need to be successful members of society, whatever endeavors you may find yourself in. You have prepared yourself to walk across this stage, and I have no doubt in my mind that you will continue to prepare yourselves to do great and wonderful things.”
He gave them all a kind smile as he looked at them.
“Without further ado, I would like to bring forth the following students, to hand them their diploma recognizing their completion at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Starting with the Ravenclaws…”
Polite clapping and some cheering as certain names were called broke through the applause as each Ravenclaw was awarded their diploma, blue and silver beads tying the scroll of parchment together.
After several minutes, Dumbledore called up the Hufflepuff students to receive their certificates, after them, the Slytherins.
Most students were tired of clapping, and in no way felt inclined to applaud the most disliked house of the four.
Ashley held her applause altogether when Pansy was called. She watched with disdain as the girl pranced up the stage, accepting her diploma with disguised disgust from receiving it from Dumbledore, and waved it around when she exited the stage, finally taking her seat once more after several seconds of showing off.
“Blaise Xavier Zabini.”
Ashley had to bite back a hiss as she watched the dark boy stride up the stage. Ashley felt inclined to look to Draco for his reaction and watched as her fiancé glared daggers at the boy the whole time. Blaise gave a simple nod to Dumbledore in thanks and made his path back to his seat. By a stroke of bad luck, Blaise caught the Veela’s eyes, locking in an intense glare. Her eyes started to burn and slightly water, but she wasn’t going to admit defeat. Blaise broke her gaze when he turned back to sit down.
“And last, but certainly not least, the Gryffindors…”
The Gryffindors straightened. It was their turn at last! This would be the transitioning moment into real adulthood
“Jason Alex Anderson…”
A boy three up from Ashley rose proudly, taking his moment on stage as he waved to his family in the stands.
“Lavender Marie Brown…”
A girl with a round face and curly blond hair rose from her seat.
“Suzanna Beth Crawford…”
Ashley took a deep breath, trying to calm her pounding heart. This was her moment. When she had that paper in her hand, she was officially released into the real world.
“Ashley Valora Delacour.”
She rose from her seat and tried to keep a steady pace, focusing hard on not stumbling in the plush grass. She could hear her section cheering for her, and tried hard not to let herself beam foolishly. She shook Dumbledore’s extended hand, the gold and red glass beads clinking together as he handed her her diploma.
“Congratulations, Miss Delacour.” Dumbledore gave her a gentle smile.
“Thank you, professor.” She breathed.
“The best of luck.” He finished, readying himself to call out the next name.
In order to get back to her seat, she had to pass by the stands. She looked to her parents, then Draco, and the rest of the Weasley family, who was beaming at her, the twins giving her thumbs up.
She felt a buzz surge through her as she stared at the rolled parchment in the hand.
She was done, finished.
“Hermione Jean Granger…”
This chapter of her life had come to a close, and she could feel another open, with so many blank pages to fill.
But Dumbledore was right: there was much to prepare for, and time was a fickle thing. The War could come at a moment’s notice…
“Harry James Potter….”
…and yet, it was hard to stir fear within her when she looked to her family in the stands, watching the others receive their diplomas, a happy glow emanating from their beings. Gabriella caught her eye, giving her a beaming smile and mouthing J’taime, her blues eyes sparkling with swelling pride. Ashley smiled back and looked down the line to Draco, who was staring back at her. Her heart swelled with love and amazement that he had come back at all. He was her hero, in all that he had endured and pushed through to ensure the safety of not only her, but his mother, his House Elves, and all of those around him who might be affected by his staying.
He was the hero of her story, not Harry, who was the one of everyone else’s.
“And last, but certainly not least in value or recognition, Ronald Bilius Weasley.”
At last, the Weasley clan stood on their feet, cheering Ron as he flushed a deep crimson and marched sheepishly up to Dumbledore, who laughed as he patted Ron’s arm, wishing him luck in all that he endured.
When Ron had taken his seat, Dumbledore turned to face them once more.
“I am proud, of each and every one of you. You have done great for this school, and continued to pave the path past students started, and future students will continue. Congratulations, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, class of 1998.”
The students withdrew their wands, holding their breath as they waited for Dumbledore’s permission.
The old man retracted his own wand from his robe, holding his wand high above his head. Without verbal command, a white stream emitted from his wand, buzzing high into the air. Eyes followed the bright light, as it cracked and fizzled into a large replica of the Hogwarts crest, the House animals roaring, hissing, and growling as they clawed the air, the brilliant colors of the houses glowing against the dark afternoon clouds.
The students raised their wands in the air victoriously, shooting various streams of red, gold, green, silver, blue, black, and yellow high into the air, the colors becoming a rainbow mesh of sparks. High pitched wails emitted from the wands as one spark after the other jetted from each students wand, the streaming colors raining back down on them like pixie dust.
Parents and friends broke free from the stands, dodging others to find their graduate.
“Ashley! We did it!” Hermione slammed into the young girl, hugging her tight and laughing merrily into her ears.
A round robin of hugs and congratulations were exchanged between the various students, although the Slytherins weren’t very interested in participating.
Ashley removed her cap, letting her long hair fall free of its entrapment into the stuffy hat. She walked over to the family who were on the sidelines, trying to stay away from the large mass that had collected in the center.
“Oh, my baby!” Apolline sobbed, crushing Ashley in a hug.
“Mère, you don’t have to cry!” Ashley laughed, kissing her mother’s cheek.
“Oh, Ashley!” She cried, wiping her eyes as she pulled back. “I only have Gabrielle left. Soon, you will be off getting married like your sister!”
Ashley hesitated, her left hand clenching and releasing in anxiety. Did she wait and tell them together with Draco? The exclamation was too hard to pass up…
“Well…” Ashley faltered, extending her hand to her mother.
A squeal emitted from Apolline, as she grabbed Ashley’s hand roughly and brought the sapphire to her face. Gabrielle’s eyes went wide as she joined her mother, their excitement and talk of what they should have at the wedding was lost in their quick jargon of French.
Ashley fearfully looked to her father, who had an eyebrow raised.
Narcissa and Draco had made their way over to the group, figuring that enough alone time had been provided between her and her family. Apolline gave another squeal and she hugged Draco and then Narcissa, who looked rather uncomfortable at first, but eased after she saw that Apolline meant no harm.
Ashley sidestepped the other four, looking to her father.
“Papa, he’s a good-’’ Ashley quickly defended, but was cut off when Felix lifted his hand for silence.
“Zee boy asked me zee day you leeft zee house!” Felix told her. “I told ‘im ‘no’ of course, I did not know ‘im! But, ‘e cares for you, leettle flower, and ‘e loves you veery much. I am ‘appy for you, amour.”
Ashley sighed a great sigh of relief as she fell into his extended arms. His large frame encompassed hers, as he returned the tight grip she had on him.
“Go see ‘im.” Felix told her gently, his thick mustache lifting with his hidden smile.
Ashley turned to Draco, who had peeled from the trio of their mothers and Gabrielle, who were now talking freely now that Narcissa knew that Apolline was outwardly excited, not off her rocker.
Draco smiled at her tiredly. The daylight did not do much for his appearance, but at least he looked happy.
He wrapped his arms around her as tight as he could, but his muscles ached and burned.
“I’m proud of you.” He breathed, kissing her silky hair.
She rubbed the back of his jacket lovingly, basking in his embrace that she had been depraved of for so long.
He pushed her away to get a look at her face, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.
“Potter’s making his way over here.” Draco said in low tones, giving her a small smile.
Ashley looked up at him, as if begging him to not make her go talk to him.
“I haven’t indulged in friendships.” Draco told her, “Don’t be like me.”
He kissed her cheek quickly, giving her one last look before he left her to join his new family.
Ashley spun slowly, taking a deep breath as she turned to face Harry, who was slowly making his way over, a sheepish look painted on his face.
He stopped in front of her, trying with great difficulty to maintain eye contact.
“I should have just congratulated you yesterday, even if I felt differently.” Harry confessed, rubbing his neck in nervousness.
“I know it’s not easy for you, given your history.” Ashley offered, trying to be as gentle as she could. She didn’t care about how hurt she had been by his comments; she just wanted his friendship back.
“I talked with Ron about it yesterday and felt really bad. I didn’t know he and Hermione had taken it so well.”
“You can’t judge your feelings by what others think, Harry.” Ashley told him, fumbling with her hat in her hands.
“I’m sorry. It was thick of me to have you pinned between us, especially since I knew I would lose.” Harry apologized.
“I didn’t want to and I still don’t.” Ashley pleaded with him, trying to stray from the edge of desperation.
“Truce, then.” Harry extended his hand.
“Oh, Harry.” Ashley exasperated, pushing his hand aside as she hugged him tightly. Harry hugged her back quickly, preferring her form of exception.
“You’ll still come though, won’t you?” Ashley whispered.
“Only if I can be a bridesmaid.” Harry joked as he released her.
Ashley smiled at him, exhaling her worry and fears, letting it dissipate with the last few sparkles of the house colors as they fell from the sky.
“Well, I should let you get back,” Harry nodded, “but I’m sure I’ll see you soon. They’ll probably end up throwing you a big engagement party.”
Ashley nodded, “Bye, Harry.”
With one last glance, Harry jogged back over to the Weasley’s who took turns hugging him and shaking his hand. Knowing that it would be several more minutes before they were able to make it over to the Weasley’s, she made her way back to her own family.
“What do we do now?” Ashley asked, the feeling of freedom from school and years as a student had been relieved, and left her quite lost and in need of direction.
She looked to them all, but her mother looked as though she would burst.
“I zink wee have a weeding to plan!”
A/N: Mère= french word for mother, J'taime= I love you, amour= love, just fyi :)
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