Chasing Shadows

Ethel spent a year in Azakaban for a crime she (sort of, mostly, basically) didn't commit, and now the entire world has taken it upon itself to either gawk at her or try to fix her. More so than anyone, apart from her mother (ugh), the Weasley family are pulling out the big guns to try and plonk her back on track, but she's happy being sad, not that anyone can understand how much that makes sense, and she's not eager to let anyone meddle in her life again.

But then one of the Weasley boys stumbles into her life, and it's all she can do to maintain her customary hatred of the world and everything in it.

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2. Blue Eyed Girl

Ethel caught sight of herself in a shop window, tendrils of frayed fabric drifting out behind her, ripped tights and hair that looked as though something had been living in it for at least three months. She looked as though she’d just gotten out of Azkaban. She shivered just thinking of that place, the perpetual chill in the walls, and the wide eyes stares following her shuddering form through the halls, Dementors gliding carelessly on either side of her, their scaly hands poised inches above her shoulders. She could still feel his eyes on her back, that strange, guilty look he’d given her as she shuffled into the cell and the iron clanged shut behind her.

It wasn’t really surprising that most of her family were worried about her, the half-crazy Ravenclaw girl who’d spent that year in Azkaban with the Death Eaters howling in her ears, shrill screaming fading to demented cackling and the slow, wet sobbing of those too sane to survive the darkness. He’d visited her every week, bringing chocolate and books, on one occasion a colourful throw to make her cot a bit cheerier. Sometimes she thought he’d forgotten what she’d done.

Diagon Alley was freezing, and a brisk wind was blowing, biting through the tears in her ensemble. There were several candles flickering in the windows above the shops, but the street was empty, the buildings huddled against the cold. She meandered along, not shivering, because the cold was comfortable, it reminded her of a place where things had been simpler, secure in their horrifying starkness.

“You look like you could use a jacket”. Ethel jumped, catching her boot on the uneven cobbles. She fell backwards with a very unattractive shriek. Her head smashed against the stone and her vision went blank for a moment. When she opened her eyes, there was a man standing over her, stocky, tanned, wearing faded blue jeans and a jumper with a red and pink pattern on it. She realised with a startled groan that her head was on his knees, and instantly squirmed away from him, feeling the bruises already on her back and a heavy pounding behind her eyes.

He was speaking, but she couldn’t hear him, her head was buzzing with pain and embarrassment. It had been a long time since she’d felt that vulnerable, and she didn’t like it. Finally, his words came into focus, “I’m so sorry, I honestly didn’t mean to startle you. This is what I get for trying to be cool!” He stopped talking, probably realising that she wasn’t the least bit interested in apologies. He looked at her form beneath his lashes, smiling nervously, “Can I, um, buy you a drink, or take you home?”

Ethel shook her head, “Better not, I don’t live anywhere you want to go, trust me”. He opened his mouth, probably to object, as they all seemed so eager to, but she silenced him with a shake of her head, “I mean it, I’ll be fine. Just scurry on home and congratulate yourself on not getting involved with someone like me. I’m bad news, okay. It’s a long established fact”. Ethel looked at him then, really looked, and realised she knew him better than he realised. Charlie Weasley, eh? That family seemed intent upon not letting her alone, almost rivalling her own in that respect.

He looked at her two, and she saw that same sudden realisation and creeping horror that came when everyone realised who she was. The fugitive, the murderess who’d gotten off so very lightly, even after all she’d done. Running and hiding for almost a year, fresh out of her sixth year in Hogwarts, the case everyone had followed, that stunning, intriguing mystery. “You’re Ethel Wright, aren’t you?”

She didn’t bother replying. Judging herself steady enough to walk, she stomped off in the general direction of Knockturn Alley, where she kept a tiny apartment filled with items of little consequence, as the Ministry occasionally dropped in for a visit, seeing as she’d just barely escaped admittance to St Mungo’s psych wing. There were plenty of books, a warm bed when she grew tired of the freezing contraption her family had somehow decided was fit for actual habitation. Her house was largely and underground affair, full of monstrous spiders and suspicious corners you simply didn’t invade upon. Ethel missed the soaring heights of Ravenclaw tower, those fabulous windows overlooking the grounds, the study groups and strange holes where a girl could sit with a book and ignore the increasingly strict summons from Professor Flitwick.

Charlie followed her as she wobbled along, clawing her hair off of her face, attempting to run her fingers through it and getting them firmly stuck. “Hey, don’t charge off”, he called.

“Why not?” She asked shrilly, “All I am to you is a ghost story. Parents tell their kids to be good or they’ll end up like me. Sad and insane, living in the darkest hole London can provide, with the shadows of the Dementors still following on her heels, with those wide, mad, china blue eyes, red rimmed and empty”. She remembered seeing her eyes staring back at her from the papers people brandished at her as they led her through the Ministry to face justice with his hand almost touching her arm and those kind eyes narrowed. She remembered how scared she’d been. Seventeen, facing an eternity in hell on Earth, felling her soul already fading away as those chains slid around her arms, binding her to her fate.

“I think you’re innocent, dammit!” He called, “I never believed any of it”. Neither did he, in the end, her captor, but he’d stacked the evidence so neat and so high there was no escaping it, no challenging the facts. It was just a hunch, that’s all her innocence would ever be. A far-flung belief held by the people who think they know what happened.

She turned suddenly and he almost charged into her, “I don’t care what you believe, because to everyone else I am and will always be the girl with the blue eyes, those wild eyes, who ran out of road and got off oh so easily. The Ravenclaw who should have been a Slytherin, because there was nothing logical about what she did, there was only rage and fire and blood, and that’s all I’ll ever be, okay? So don’t run after me with your ‘understanding’ because I don’t care, because deep down I’m still cold, I’ll always be cold, and nothing anyone can say will ever be enough to get rid of that. It’ll never go away, and I’ll never be Ethel Wright, the girl who used to dress so nicely and came top of her class in everything. I’m just the mistake, the one who slipped through the cracks, the fourth most known name in the wizarding world, and not at all for the right reasons”.

He stopped and stared at her, something akin to pity in his eyes. Ethel smiled triumphantly, as though she’d won something, but she only ever lost. “Leave. Me. Alone”, she hissed, and spun around the corner down into the impenetrable darkness of Knockturn Alley, where she knew he would not follow. 

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