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Ashlei Tinker

Four Years Later

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Ashlei Tinker

OWLs were coming.

 

Three months ago, Ashlei hadn't been worried. One week ago, she'd realized she was running out of preparation time, but still hadn't been worried. Now, with less than twenty-four hours before the first exam, she was terrified.

 

Ashlei knew she wasn't the only fifth year to be stressed about the most important exams of their life to date. Overhearing conversations in the common room was easy, and her fellow fifth years spent a lot of time studying in clusters, as if the presence of other people was motivating. But it was lonely not to have anyone to confide in - writing to her parents helped, but not having a friend to commiserate with face-to-face was...lonely.

 

It was her fault, of course. One couldn't skip three years of school, hide in the back of classes, make no move to befriend anyone in her house, and expect confidants to magically appear. It didn’t stop her from wishing her life was different, though.

 

Stress was beginning to slide into self-pity, so Ashlei took decisive action. Instead of sitting here in the Great Hall, pushing chicken around her plate for the next half-hour, she was going to study until her brain melted. If her head was full of facts, she couldn’t think about anything else, not even what she’d be using the facts for. Swinging her legs over the bench, she stood up and took two steps towards the door.

 

Ashlei froze. The hair was shorter, but the exact shade of dark red she saw in her memory: a shade she’d kept an eye out for all term, and never seen. The girl’s age was right, too – she looked about Ashlei’s age, maybe a little younger. And the face was familiar, though aged several years.

 

Turning, Ashlei slipped back onto the bench and stared at her place of chicken pieces. It couldn’t be Shelly. All of her roommates from that glorious first year had been gone by the time Ashlei returned to Hogwarts. Gone where, she’d never found out. Though to be fair, she hadn’t told them she was leaving, either, and why would they contact someone who’d abandoned them?

 

No, it couldn’t be Shelly. It was just some fourth year Ashlei had never looked at closely before, who’d gotten her hair dyed. Faces changed in four years, she probably looked nothing like Shelly close up. Still, staying at the table suddenly felt like a good idea. In fact, if she held her head just so, the familiar-looking redhead probably couldn’t see her face at all.

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Shelly Lewellyn

OOC - I've already posted in a duel that Spike was her first person talked to, but this is cool too. ;)

 

It had been exactly one half hour since Shelly had arrived back at the castle in a blur of meetings special permissions, a bit of begging, and a whole satchel full of luck. It was overwhelming what her father had been able to do in such a short period of time considering the man had never shown his face to anyone at any point in the ‘return’ process. It was overwhelming and scary wrapped up in what she saw to be a snakeskinned package. Shelly mildly chastised herself for her feelings as she wearily made her way to the Hufflepuff House. If he wasn’t who he was you’d not be here. You should be grateful. Another viewpoint emerged from her mind and began to debate the first before she could stop it.

 

He should be grateful you took it.

 

You should be grateful for anything he gives.

 

Why? He’s the one who…

 

That was an old, futile battle and Shelly knew better than to let it continue on in her mind for too long before stopping it. She needed something, and though it was the day before her OWLs began, studying now wasn’t going to do anything for her. She either knew it or she didn’t and could only place her trust in the tutors her father had steadily paid while she’d been at her mothers. Shelly was weary from travel and her mind was furiously swirling for attention; she needed something manual to do. Food. Need to eat. The girl turned straight for the Great Hall.

 

 

Entering the Hall, Shelly made an automatic beeline for the Hufflepuff table, not paying attention to anything around her, knowing she’d take the time to enjoy it much more sometime when she wasn’t tired and busy keeping herself in check. It wasn’t until she was nearly on top of the girl that Shelly even noticed her at all. “Excuse me.” That girl looks vaguely familiar. Shelly sat down right next to her, but because of the angle her head was turned to Shelly couldn’t get a good enough look at the girl to recognize her. Maybe she wants to be left alone? Shelly wished that the girl wanted to talk. It sure would make it easier not to think. Shelly noticed the chicken on the girls plate and saw her opening. Vaguely respecting the girls privacy as she grabbed a piece of chicken, Shelly asked a low question very nonchalantly. “Good chicken tonight?”

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Ashlei Tinker

Ashlei's hope that the girl would go anywhere else in the Hall was smashed when she climbed onto the bench just a few inches over. Ashlei quickly changed her thoughts to hoping to be invisible, but either thoughts weren't enough or she'd been too slow, because the girl showed every sign of trying to draw Ashlei into conversation.

 

Of all the luck, Ashlei thought as she began methodically slicing bits of chicken in two, I go a whole term barely talking to anyone outside of in-class partners, and the first person to approach me reminds me of someone I'd rather forget. Her thoughts were turning morbid again, she noticed. Well, there was only exams left before a nice, long summer break. She could handle a talkative Shelly-look-a-like for half an hour. It wouldn't kill her.

 

So Ashlei shrugged in response. "It's alright, I guess." She laid the fork down with a clank, and pushed her hair behind her ears before reaching forward for her goblet and turning slightly towards the girl. "What's your name, by the way?" A little more proof that this wasn't actually Shelly would be nice.

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Shelly Lewellyn

OOC – I’m off this weekend so here is a superquick trash post from me to you to tide you over ;)!

 

The girl had busied herself with cutting chicken, and Shelly wondered momentarily if she’d been deaf. Should I tap her to get her attention? What would I do then? I don’t know any sign language or anything…I’ll give it a try. Shelly put the procured chicken onto her plate and was about to tap the girl and muddle through what would undoubtedly be the most interesting part of her day when the girl actually SPOKE!

 

She’s certainly not happy about her chicken, so it must not be good at all. Shelly eyed her food skeptically and wondered if she should have gone for the roast instead. The roast was obviously juicy and tender; she could see that much from her seat. Between the lackluster review from the strange chickenblahblahing girl Shelly decided that roast was definitely the way to go and she reached a fork for a lovely thick piece.

 

The girl spoke again, asking her name in the oddest manner. What an odd way to ask. Not polite at all. Shelly smiled inwardly and turned toward the girl completely unaware that the meat balanced precariously on the tongs of her fork directly over the gravy as she automatically answered. “Shelly. Shelly Lewellyn…wait.” She’d gotten a good look at the other girl this time, and the meat began to shake almost imperceptibly as Shelly’s brain began to slowly make connections with her past.

 

She’s so unbelievably familiar. It felt as though they’d met in a dream or another lifetime, and Shelly’s eyes narrowed trying to place the dark haired girl until the answer hit her. It can’t be. OhMerlinisit?Itcan’tbe.Butwhatifitwere? “A-Ashlei?” It was almost a whisper, but it was just loud enough to have been real and the fork slipped from her hand, splattering gravy into the air as if to punctuate the moment.

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Ashlei Tinker

Ashlei's goblet had been halfway to her mouth when the red-head spoke. Her hand jerked, sending juice splashing over the sides and trickling down her hand. It was Shelly. Oh. Shoot. This was bad.

 

The girl Shelly was silent a moment, and Ashlei shakily took a drink of her juice. The question hadn't been returned - maybe Ashlei hadn't been recognized in turn? After all, dark red hair was distinctive, while brown was common. There was no reason for Shelly to suspect anything. Really.

 

Alas for Ashlei's fears, the next word out of Shelly's mouth, although stuttered, was clearly Ashlei's name. Ashlei choked on her mouthful, and pumpkin juice dribbled down her chin. Humiliated, she began to dab at it, only to have something wet splash across her face. A flick of the eyes revealed Shelly's hovering gravy fork, clearly the source of the droplets.

 

Ashlei closed her eyes, and visualized emotions. There was the pain, a tight knot. Joy and fear intermingled, with bright slashes of shock and embarrassment. The analysis happened in a flash, as she dove down a familiar mental route, and shut down. The haze flattened, and all was still.

 

Opening her eyes, Ashlei set her goblet on the table, and wiped her face and chin off with the sleeve of her robe. Dabbing at the juice on her hand, she replied tightly. "Yes, that would be me." Her gaze flicked up again, this time gauging Shelly's expression. "How long have you been back?"

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Shelly Lewellyn

(OOC - this is utter blah, but I'm sleepy tonight. Sorry :) )

 

 

She’d been right! It was her old friend Ashlei! But then again…it was her old friend Ashlei. Shelly cocked her head to the side in confusion and stared at the formerly splattered girl across from her. Ashlei had gone from obviously stunned, shaking and choking to stoic and statuesque in what seemed like an instant of time – the transformation was still mesmerizing after all this time. It had actually been the girl’s behavior that had convinced Shelly of her identity before she’d said a word of confirmation in the matter. Ashlei had always had an uncanny ability to shut every emotion down in an instant, something that Shelly had rarely seen done to such perfection in another person. That’s her all right. When was the last time I actually saw her? In the chamber? In the dorm? Whenever it was, their last meeting was probably not an overly happy one, and Shelly was torn between joy and dread about how this conversation would transpire.

 

Shelly smiled and slowly sat down, ignoring her fork as it began to slowly sink into the undoubtedly delicious but now forgotten gravy. “I’m only back long enough to take my OWLS so I can return next term.” That’s enough. All she needs right now anyway. Smiling one of those ‘gee don’t you believe me? You know you waaaaant toooo’ smiles that most teenagers are able to plaster on the fly, Shelly placed her head in her hands and leaned slightly forward, blissfully unaware that the small blobs of gravy peppered across her arms and chest were now squishing together. “What’s new with you? How have you been? How’s the gang? Everyone okay? Dorm still okay?” She knew it was a lot for Ashlei when she’d shut down, and she knew she’d just come across as far too bubbly to boot. She’d be lucky to even get one of those questions answered with any accuracy, but it didn’t matter, she really just wanted some sort of life to return to her companion.

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Ashlei Tinker

(OOC: You always say it's terrible, but then you turn out an amazing post... I can't describe Ashlei that well. :P )

 

It was nice to know she wasn't going crazy. Ashlei'd been sure Shelly hadn't been in classes, and she'd been right. Although how Shelly expected to pass her OWLs...probably the same way Ashlei was taking Potions: study like mad on your own. With enough motivation, it was possible to compress a term into a few weeks - Ashlei knew that better than anyone else.

 

In her peripheral vision, Ashlei saw Shelly smile. She relaxed slightly - smiling usually meant there wasn't going to be a confrontation. Then Shelly started peppering her with questions, as though nothing were wrong. She even asked about the dorm...Ashlei squeezed her eyes shut again. Why would Shelly ask about the dorm? Unless...

 

Needing something to twitch with, Ashlei picked up her fork, and started pushing chicken around jerkily. "You'd know more about the dorm than I would." Her voice stayed level, though she doubted she could keep it that way through her next thought. "Unless." She stilled the fork, and turned to look at Shelly. "Did you not come back for second year?" Ashlei knew her eyes had widened with hope, and she cursed herself for it. Even if Shelly didn't know now, she'd find out eventually. And aloneness was more painful when you knew what you were missing.

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Shelly Lewellyn

(OOC – Happy to oblige, but I didn’t know I was doing that. I still think it’s just blah because I was falling asleep as I posted it. teehee :o )

 

Shelly waited for her question to be answered and watched the reaction of her former roommate, thinking about all the sock hunts they’d shared as well as all the drama. Surely Ashley would be thinking the same while she was in her cocoon. Who knows how she’ll decide to answer. Will she remember all the fun or all the junk? Will she even speak at all? For a moment Shelly felt like the owl in the old muggle commercials that wanted to know how many licks it took to get to the Tootsie Roll* center of a Tootsie Roll Pop*. Once the owl bit the lolly, the commercial stated that the world would never know, but Shelly wanted to know. Would there be life? How many minutes does it take to get back to the reacting side of an Ashlei? Would the world never know? Will I ever know?

 

When Ashlei squenched her eyes, Shelly took it as a sign of life from her old friend and smiled. Excellent! Sure it didn’t look like the reaction she’d get would be a good one, but any reaction was always better than the shell response. A shell response used to mean that there was something that Ashlei didn’t want to think about or deal with; she’d seen it enough in the past to be able to recognize it then, but what if it was something different now? Perhaps a mental disease or something. Shelly allowed her mind to wander freely for a moment or two unchecked. What if it’s that sleeping thing! What do they call it? Narco…tic? No! No! Narco…lepper? No! Narcolepsy! That’s it. Narcolepsy! What if it’s narcolepsy and she’s not really zoning out at all, but sleeping and I have to wake her up! Free reign had obviously taken over in her brief moment of solitude. Whaddo I do? Whaddo I do? The badger was half a step from tossing a random piece of carrot at the girl to test her theory, when a twitch caught Shelly’s attention. SHE LIVES!!

 

 

The dorm was the question that Ashlei focused on and she seemed irritated by it, either that or she really didn’t like that chicken at all based on the way she was shoving the pieces about. Then a change occurred and the girl seemed to brighten a bit. She asked the oddest question about being in the dorm and it sounded as though Ashlei hadn’t been at school at all. But what if she hasn’t! It was possible; Shelly herself hadn’t been to school in an age. “Well I did come back second year, but I was called away soon after term began and I, well, I haven’t been back since.” Mistaking the wide eyes for shock Shelly’s mind raced again and she completely forgot that she’d already been told that her friend knew practically nothing about the dorm. “Did something awful happen that you’re not telling me? Did it burn down or something? Are you okay?”

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Ashlei Tinker

She didn’t know.

 

Ashlei felt frozen: she hadn’t expected this. Fear, she could deal with. Disgust, she’d prepared for. She’d almost hoped to simply be ignored, that when Shelly had recognized her, she’d simply turn away and not speak. It would have been easier than this.

 

Shelly seemed to have realized that something wasn’t right, as her second series of questions revolved around possible disasters to the dorm. If she hadn’t sounded so concerned, Ashlei would have laughed at how far off her guesses were. As it was, she didn’t know how to respond. She wasn’t prepared to lie, but she didn’t want to tell the truth, either. To watch friendliness slip into distaste…no.

 

And yet, if Shelly didn’t know, she would have no reason not to pick up the friendship where it had left off…as she was trying to do right now, in fact. Ashlei wasn’t quite sure why this would be a bad thing, except that she was sure Shelly would find out someday. Coming home from school that first year had been so hard, leaving all her friends behind. The pain would surely be magnified if the separation was final, instead of just for the summer.

 

What to say, what to say… Ashlei knew she was letting the silence drag as she looked up, and around the room. There were so many people here, such an audience. The decision came with a sinking finality: she had to tell Shelly. Most of it, anyway. Ashlei owed it to her, to the girl who’d once cried with her in a cold, dungeon hallway. But not here, where anyone might overhear. This was going to be hard enough without strange ears listening in.

 

Decision made, it was time to act. Ashlei stared straight ahead as she spoke, knowing emotion would get involved if she looked at Shelly. “I wasn’t here for second year, either. Came back, was here a few hours, didn’t run in to any of you, and then-” she stopped, took a breath, went on. “By the time I came back for fourth year, all of you were gone. You, Kirstie, Charlotte, Mandelin – all gone. I never knew what happened to any of you.” Ashlei shrugged at the last, trying lighten up the depression that had crept into her voice. The next part was going to be the hardest.

 

“As for second year, I’m not getting into that here.” She had to close her eyes to manage the flat refusal, blocking out the sight of first years giggling one table over. “Elsewhere, maybe.” Knowing Shelly, that would be enough to prompt her to ask again somewhere private, probably the last private conversation they would have, but it was one more than expected.

 

There wasn’t anything more to say, really, so Ashlei plastered a semblance of a smile on her face, swung her legs back to the outside of the bench, and stood up. Looking at Shelly, finally, she didn’t let her eyes focus on the girl’s face, lest she be delayed. “I’ve got studying to do, so…” Ashlei gestured vaguely towards the doors and was off. If she was lucky, she might have time to organize her thoughts before Shelly came after her.

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Shelly Lewellyn

Shelly had heard the phrase “silence can be deafening” before but she’d never understood it until Ashley went silent. She went silent for a long time. The girl was obviously searching for something in the Hall…someone perhaps? Kirsti? Char? Oh the suspense was killing her. She’d give up a lot to be able see either of those two and could almost feel them running towards her right now. At any second they’ll come and…The seconds passes by and no one pounced on her. Where are they? Shelly started searching too, anticipating a huge giggly sneak attack and tickle fest that would naturally ensue as a result. She did another once over and turned back to Ashlei with a cocked eyebrow. There’s no one about! What’s so exciting about random people eating? Why is she staring at them eat! What's going on here! Does she have some sort of food fetish? She'd heard of foot fetishes, and thought those were just plain odd but a food fetish was just bizarre to the fifth year.

 

 

Even when the girl turned back to her, she didn’t look AT her and Shelly went from frustration back to that odd feeling of ‘this girl must be narcoleptic’. Any minute now Ashlei was going to collapse into that chicken and she’d have bits of it sticking to her cheeks and hanging when she woke up. Should she move the plate? The other girl started speaking, but it sounded rather subdued as she related the details of everyones loss. Shelly took that in for a moment. Everyone was gone. Gone. No one to play with at night. No more GSH. Nothing. It was depressing, but she’d only just found out about it; Ashlei had apparently been living it, and not very well either based on how she’d reacted.

 

Asheli had gotten up from the table, obviously with the hope of leaving her high and dry, and though Shelly had barely touched any food Shelly jumped up with her. “Oh no. Studies can wait. We need to talk. You can’t escape me that easily. Not after all we’ve been through.” Shelly thought a moment and smiled. “We could go to the dungeons again. It’s always quiet there and hardly anyone interferes. Besides, it seems to be our place to hash things out.” Shelly grabbed some cookies, bread and a piece of the chicken (because even Ashleidisapproved chicken was better than no food at all) to make a quick snack and caught up to the girl. “Allright. Let’s go.”

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Ashlei Tinker

Today was just not Ashlei’s day as far as luck went. She barely had five seconds before Shelly was by her side, juggling food and suggesting places for a heart-to-heart. Well, one place in particular: a place that held two very powerful memories for Ashlei. It was odd, how terror could exist side-by-side with friendship. Shelly’s words brought back the warmth, and managed to throttle Ashlei’s reflex ‘No!’ just short of escaping.

 

Why not the dungeons? It was hardly a friendly place to wander, interruptions would be minimal. Also, they wouldn’t be tainting the dorm by recalling bad events there. The dungeons had enough stain on them; a little more wouldn’t matter. Reaching the doors to the Great Hall, Ashlei turned towards the dungeon stairs, and silently descended. Down past the common room and kitchens, the stairs ended near the dueling chamber. Ashlei turned away, and walked into memories.

 

This corridor had been the first she’d recognized, with the distinctive chamber doors barely visible at the end. But before that there had been a turn here and before that she’d walked down a side passage here, and before that… Ashlei reached up and dragged her hand along the cold stone as she made another turn, and ran into a dead end.

 

She paused a moment, then walked up to the wall. Raising a hand, she pressed her palm against stone. It certainly felt real, but her hazy recollection told her there was a passageway here. Sealed, most likely, so that young students couldn’t get hopelessly lost down here. Ashlei had guessed she couldn’t get back in, but was still disappointed. Now that she’d made the commitment to tell this story, she’d half hoped to take it all the way, see her cell with older eyes, as if seeing the place again would make the memory less harsh.

 

She spoke without turning around to see where Shelly was, her voice echoing slightly off the walls. “There’s a passageway through here. There’re cells. I woke up in one of them.” Talking about the end was easier, though she knew she must sound confusing. There was just so much that had come before the cell – she didn’t know where to start.

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