6/28/07 11:03 am - Hard to Keep (3)
Slytherin speaks only in Parseltongue— horrible inhuman hisses made worse by the loud, grinding cracks that come as his stone jaw nearly unhinges itself with every movement, and despite not being able to understand him, Draco has no doubt that he knows everything said in his Chamber and perhaps throughout the whole castle. His great stone face seems frozen still with his eyes closed and his mouth open and the rest of his features lost to the dark shadows and worn down by that corrosive potions that splatter up from Snape’s cauldrons below and the water dripping down from above and by time, which surrounds everything like the walls that Draco feels closing in all around him. At first he thought Slytherin was upset only over the loss of his solitude, but as the days pass it becomes clear that he cares for neither Snape nor Draco despite them both being members of his house, and Draco makes sure to kick him in the chin every time he walks by.
Finished bottling the remains of his other ingredients and giving up on finding any scales on the skeleton, which has now by some unspoken agreement become Draco’s room, Snape begins searching the remains of the skin the Basilisk shed only days before dying, and he curses under his breath as it crumbles like dried leaves beneath his fingers, and Draco wonders if he will live to see the next autumn or if he’ll sacrifice seeing it in order to stay alive and whether there’s any difference. “Too dry,” Snape mutters, “much too dry to be potent.” He pokes and prods at it with his wand and causes it to glow a dull green before disintegrating further. “Of all the infernal—”
“It’s your fault,” Draco says, and he hears the words echoing off the far wall before he even realizes that he’s opened his mouth to speak them, and he doesn’t know whether he’s talking about the ruined skin or the overturned cauldrons and ruined potions or that every horrible thing that happens to him should be somehow Snape’s fault now that Potter’s not around.
“I beg your pardon.”
“It’s your fault,” he says, standing and stumbling a few steps to rest his back against the wall and keeping his fists clenched tight and his eyes on the wand in Snape’s hand. “It’s your fault we’re trapped here. You’re the one who interfered, the one who wanted the glory all for himself. I was prepared fulfill my task, and I would have carried it through to the end had you not—”
“Your Occlumency needs work, Draco,” Snape says, turning away from the skin to look at him fully. “Do not doubt that I am impressed that you managed to learn it so quickly, but to truly master your thoughts requires practice and more discipline than you have ever shown. I know well what you would have done, and so did Dumbledore. It is lucky for your sake that one of us was able to carry out the mission or the consequences of your failure would have been far worse than what we now expect.”
“Worse?” Draco asks, finding it hard to keep his voice steady, and he thinks of the red glow of the Dark Lord’s eyes and Greyback’s fingers against his neck and his Aunt’s mad laughter. “I don’t think— do you even know what he promised—”
“There are fates far more terrible than death, Draco.” Snape’s greasy hair falls in his eyes, and he does nothing to push it away. “You should know this, as you seem ready and willing to accept the worst or them without struggle.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“No,” Snape says. “You most certainly do not.” And he sneers, and he straightens the folds of his robes, and he draws his wand before Draco realizes that he was reaching for it and before he can think of how to defend himself, and the spell is cast silently, but Draco hears it all the same. Legilimens.
Snape is in his mind suddenly— it’s too hard to keep him out, and the flashes of memory come at him all in a rush. He’s standing in a bathroom crying, and he’s running back from the library, red-faced and out of breath, and he’s staring into cauldrons and tracing pictures in dust and swimming alone in cold water, and then he’s back in the bathroom, sitting on the floor, laughing with Myrtle beside him, and she’s beside him again, walking down into the Chamber and staring at the Basilisk’s skeleton and throwing Snape’s store of lightning leaves into the air and watching as they explode in sharp white bursts.
There are other memories but those pass quickly— his father seeming huge and looking down at him when he was very young and his mother twisting a delicate lace handkerchief in her hands and Potter following behind him on heavy feet and then only with his eyes. He sees his awkward fumblings with Pansy in the dorms one night and with Goyle, when he was wearing the body of a girl and with Crabbe, when he wasn’t, which was the most awkward of all. They flash before him for only seconds as if Snape is casting them aside, digging deeper, pressing through his thoughts for more— more of something he can’t identify, but he knows he can’t let him find it, and he pushes back until the force of Snape’s searching thoughts weaken and then break.
He’s in Snape’s mind then, and no matter how confidently he strides through the Chamber, here Snape is stumbling, clutching his arm and the mask in his hand, trying not to cry from the pain and arriving at a house after an attack with the Dark Mark still bright in the sky above it and hiding behind trees and beneath a disillusionment charms and attention diverting potions as he runs from something neither of them can see. Draco hears Snape talking in a voice weaker than he could ever imagine coming from him, begging for forgiveness and not only for his life but for a purpose to set it to and promising loyalty in the form of an unbreakable vow, and then he sees just who he’s talking to— Dumbledore, and he wonders if it’s possible to make memories truly lie and why Snape would want to, but that distraction is what allows Snape to break the spell, and when he comes to, Draco finds himself lying on his back on the Chamber floor.
“That is quite what I expected,” Snape says, sneering down at him, and even if it is, Draco knows that he can’t say the same for what he saw.
“You didn’t want to kill him, did you?” he asks and tries hard to keep back a pathetic sounding whimper as he uses the wall behind him to steady himself as he stands.
“You didn’t want to— but you . . .”
“I did what needed to be done,” Snape says, turning on his heel and walking back to the remains of the skin. “I kept the promises I made for his sake and yours.”
“And your own,” Draco says, thinking of the desperation in Snape’s voice as he talked to the old headmaster and forcing a smile.
“Yes, Draco,” he says, putting his wand to work on the remains of the skin once more, “and my own.”
Draco shivers and allows himself to fall down again.
Myrtle’s moods shift like dust blown by the wind, and a single misspoken word or misunderstood gesture can send them spiraling away from her, and that’s when she cries. She cries at the normal, everyday things that might make a person sad, and she cries at the things that once made her happy. She cries because she doesn’t like being dead and because she didn’t like being alive, and she cries that night while Snape is sleeping and Draco is huddled awake against the wall and beside the open end of an old pipe.
He taps on the metal casing with his fist and then with just one finger and hears an odd sort of echo coming from above him as the sound mixes with the water and maybe with something just a bit more solid. “Myrtle?” he whispers, still tapping. “Myrtle, Where are you now?”
“The U-bend,” she says in her usual dreary voice, which is carried back to him as loud and clear as if she’s floating right there in front of the pipe, and he casts a quick glace at Snape, who doesn’t stir from the noise. Whatever damage he and Myrtle had done, his former professor’s stores of dreamless sleep potion have remained intact.
“Listen, Myrtle. I want— I need—”
“I’m always in the U-bend, you see. Sometimes I go down to the S-bend, but not so much lately. It’s awful, you know— an eternity spent in a toilet.”
“Yes,” Draco says, sighing and struggling to refocus his thoughts. “Yes, I’m sure it is—”
“I couldn’t think of anything more awful if I tried, really, and I do try, all the time. It isn’t as if I have anything else to do. S-sometimes it’s so bad I wish I would just die, and then—then I realize . . .” she trails off as a fit of sobs overpowers her voice, which had been rather weak and put up hardly any fight, and Draco listens silently and slowly forgets just what questions he wanted to ask about leaving life behind and the words he’d chosen for them as he watched Snape fiddling about with hardened flakes of the Basilisk’s skin and the muddled remains of a once-frozen restorative potion.
“I realize it’s too late,” Myrtle says in a voice softer than before but louder than her crying, and Draco wants her to stop. He knows Snape is asleep and that there are no bothersome portraits to hear them and no statues, save Slytherin, who can speak of his misdeeds only to snakes, and even they would wise to avoid him. No, Draco knows he won’t be caught or punished because of her sobbing, but he wants it to stop all the same.
“Remember,” he says tapping on the pipe again in a rhythm that reminds him a bit of the way Pansy used to sing the school song. “Remember how you told me that Granger brewed Polyjuice?”
“Of course,” she says, gulping and sniffling. “I’m not entirely stupid, you know. I haven’t started to forget, not yet— not with you here to remind me of everything.”
“Yes— Well, why was she doing it, then?” he asks. “I’m guessing she didn’t mean to turn into a cat, though it probably was an improvement on her looks.” And he waits silently until he hears faint watery giggles coming from above.
“Oh, she hated it,” Myrtle says, sighing. “It was wonderful— fantastic even— well, not for her, of course, but to see it happen— that was amazing.”
Draco blinks and wonders for a second if the dark stones of the Chamber should suddenly be transformed into something new, someplace warm and wonderful where he doesn’t have to worry about how it feels to die and what happens after, just as he wonders if this is the first time he’s heard Myrtle admit that there was something in the world once that wasn’t horrible or terrible or awful, and he has to cover his mouth because it’s too hard to keep from laughing. “Yes, but why?”
“Well,” she says, “you wanted to turn Crabbe and Goyle into other people. Some people wanted to turn into them.”
“Why?” Draco asks still laughing and thinking that it must have been Potter and Weasley. “Why on earth would anyone want to be those two?’
“I don’t know,” Myrtle says, sounding farther away than before, and Draco wonders if she’s moved to the S-bend or maybe out of the pipes entirely. “I—I tried to ask, but they wouldn’t tell me. They’re horrible, and they’ll probably get themselves killed.” And Draco knows that even though her moods shift easily, they always return to the same place if left alone long enough, and he thinks of what Snape saw in his head and what he could have been searching for and of what Myrtle said to him about being a ghost and how it’s worse, but not different.
“Well,” he says, making sure to speak right into the pipe. “If they don’t, we’ll have to haunt them more than anyone else.”
“Don’t talk like that,” she hisses, suddenly angry. “Don’t even think it. Oh, Draco . . . Oh, you won’t.” And Draco would have argued with her. He had once when they were both together in the Chamber and the thick smoke from Snape’s positions swirled around them, clouding his sight and his judgment, once before Snape pushed his way into his mind, and Draco starts to think he might understand now what he was looking for.
“No,” he says, and when he’s surprised that his voice sounds very weak, he tells himself that’s only because he’s trying to make it so. “No, guess not. I—I don’t know how, do I? I don’t even have a wand.” And when tears prick at his eyes, he tells himself that’s only because he’s trying to make her think he’s crying.
“Oh, don’t,” she says softly. “It’s okay. Oh, don’t be upset.”
“I’m going to die,” he whispers, clenching his hands into fists and slamming them down against the stone floor. “The Dark Lord is going to kill me, and I don’t get any say about what happens to me after he does. I’m allowed to be as upset as I like.” And when he clutches his sore hands to his chest, he doesn’t bother telling himself anything about acting the part or tying to be convincingly needy. He doesn’t even reassure himself by thinking he has any more control of his moods than Myrtle. He just sobs into his robes and whispers, ‘I’m going to die’ over and over and over again.
“Stop,” Myrtle says, and there’s an odd sort of smile behind her voice, one that he knows shouldn’t be there, but he’s too upset and too weak and too busy crying to question it. “Oh, stop, Draco. It doesn’t take a wand to do it. It doesn’t.”
“What?” he asks, speaking into his chest rather than the pipe, but she seems to hear him all the same.
“It doesn’t take a wand,” she says, and the smile’s there again, but he’s smiling too, now and rubbing his eyes on his robes and tapping on the pipe until he hears something above him tapping back.
He thought he could read lies before, but after what he saw of Snape’s memories, he realizes that nothing is truly as simple as it first appears. Myrtle keeps talking, but he can’t see her face, and as much as he knows that a Slytherin should never trust blindly, he tells himself he doesn’t have any choice but to believe, and he smiles before falling asleep.
He plays Gobstones again with Snape, and again Snape beats him easily, but that is not the victory he wants, as the acid splashes over his hands Draco imagines long yellow fingers moving over the silver, smoke-thin wisps of his memories, and he keeps the walls inside his mind shut against them. When Snape leaves he sneaks up to the library and into the prefects’ bath and watches as the un-boiling caldron below the drip slowly fills, wondering if he can ever learn to see the future in water, and that is how the days pass.
He talks to Myrtle sometimes through the pipe and from the uncomfortable floor of her bathroom, and her moods shift easily from sad to tragic and back again, but to Draco she seems too quick to laugh and too quick to smile and too quick to guess what the next word out of his mouth might be, and at night, in the long minutes before he finds sleep, a part of him starts to rifle through his own thoughts, wondering if she’s really changed and how, but he blocks that too, and by the time the struggle starts to exhaust him, he is already lost in dreams.
Hogwarts doesn’t open that fall. Nothing happens to mark the day students would have poured in from boats and horseless carriages to gather around the long tables in the Great Hall and eat off gleaming, golden plates save for the water in the un-boiling cauldron rising by a fraction so small, Draco wonders in if the drip might have stopped itself overnight. The days keep passing, each one shorter and colder than the last, and even from the Chamber Draco can feel hints of the freezing winds that beat against the castle as if trying to knock it down, and he wonders if they soon might, if the old school will soon give in to everything in the world that seems to conspire against it and if any of its magic will be lost.
He eats stale bread and stews that come from cans, never heated, because Snape will not waste the flames that burn under his precious potions for something so trivial as a hot meal. Myrtle comes down through the walls sometimes when Snape is sleeping or so occupied with his work that he would not notice if a mountain troll came crashing down the stairs, and she floats in front of him twirling about and speaking so softly he can hardly make out a word, as if the only thing that matters is that he sees her, and when he tells her he does, she turns to the Basilisk skeleton and stares at if for longer than he cares to count before disappearing into the smoke. He thinks she seems more agitated than usual but tells himself that she’s always been agitated and that it’s none of his concern anyway, and he steals parchment from one of Snape’s journals and on it draws himself dead with X’s for eyes and writes underneath, ‘I’m sick to death of stale bread.’ Snape sees it, but he says nothing before turning back to his golden scales and the pale-brown leaves they currently measure.
This is different, he thinks, than Snape had once acted, but he can’t get rid of the unshakable feeling inside that nothing really changes, and as day turns to night and then to day again, he wonders how time can keep moving forward. Hogwarts was not meant to exist like this and those who seek its shelter in its current state surely aren’t meant to exist either. Draco tells himself it’s foolish to think such things, but a niggling voice in the back of his mind whispers that there’s some truth hidden in instinct, even in madness, because such things keep men alive sometimes even when the strongest spells fail, but Draco doesn’t care about being alive, or he won’t when he learns how to stay in the world no matter what happens, and early in the morning, while Snape still sleeps, he decides to visit Myrtle.
When he pushes open the cubicle door to find Myrtle floating above her toilet, he’s almost surprised that she doesn’t turn herself to look at him or shift just a bit forward to be looked at by him. She seems to curl in on herself and burry her face in the folds of her robes, but this does little to hide her, as he can see through both her robes and her face to the wall directly behind her. “It was today,” she says, looking utterly pathetic. “It was today that it— that I—”
“That you died?” Draco asks in a voice harsher than the one that should be used to discuss such matters, and he slumps against the cubicle wall to wait for her screams or sobs, but she only wipes her eyes and glares, and while he glares back he wonders if it’s only the effect of her expression or if she looks just a bit older than she had when they first met, and he wonders if it’s the effect of her being doubled over as she is that makes her seem brighter than before.
“Yes,” she says finally in a voice just as harsh as his had been. “You’re just horrible, aren’t you, reminding me like that, as if I could ever forget.”
“But you do forget sometimes . . . don’t you?” he asks, remembering a conversation that now seems years behind them both. “You said that you forget—”
“I was younger than you are now,” she says, swaying slightly and doing what she can to avoid his eyes. “I almost knew it would happen. I was very unlucky, and of course no one cared.” She floats a bit higher and turns her back to him and looks up to the ceiling. Her shoulders shake with each fit of sobs, and Draco takes a step back, wanting to leave silently but instead collides with the door that has swung shut behind him and nearly topples over onto the floor when it becomes too hard to keep his feet steady on the floor. “Yes,” Myrtle snaps, turning on him at a speed that would have been impossible for a real living person with bones and legs the kind of imperfect balance that makes Draco feel as if he might fall over even when he’s standing still. “I do forget sometimes,” she says, “and that’s the worst part—forgetting and then remembering. It’s like dying all over again.”
“Sorry,” he says. He’s apologized to her before— pretended to apologize as he does again, and it hadn’t really worked, and he doesn’t think it will work this time, because she’s no different now than she was, and her moods seems worse than ever, but instead of shrieking or diving down into her toilet to weep for hours alone in one of the bends of the pipes, she shrugs slightly and nods and floats just a few inches lower.
“I don’t have anyone— not anyone who understands,” she says. “Even the others— the other ghosts— they hate me, you see, but they’re not here anymore— they— and Peeves came by earlier with a rhyme about how very ugly I am, and you hate me too, don’t you?”
Draco is fast to shake his head. “No,” he says, looking right at her and behind his back reaching for the latch of the door. “No, I rather think Snape hates you enough for both of us.”
He’s quick to disentangle himself from her stare and quick to back out of the cubicle door and quick to smile as he leaves, and he’s surprised that she smiles back. It’s not until he’s out of the bathroom that he realizes he’s left by the door instead of the stairs down to the Chamber, and instead of turning back he lets his legs carry him through the silent hallways and up and down the still staircases and along the passages lined with sleeping portraits. It’s hard to keep going at a constant pace, and he pauses slightly when he reaches the main entrance, sore and shocked that after at least seventeen years it’s taken his body only a summer to forget how to move.
When, finally, he steps outside, Draco finds his eyes drawn straight to the sun and is lost in a world of cold winds and blinding brightness that comes to him and passes in the few rushed footsteps between the castle and the row of greenhouses. He’s slow to gather dried brown flowers from the pots, and the wrongness of light and fresh air makes his motions seem slower still, but there’s a certain cautiousness in the way his fingers weave around long stems, barely touching the leaves to feel for thorns and the sharp itch that hints at hidden poisons.
The wildest of the plants have taken over the greenhouses entirely, growing up to their ceilings and higher in the places the glass has been broken. Huge ferns blow angrily against the faint breeze that pours in through the still open door, and giant beanstalks stretch towards the sky, and curling vines that he recognizes instantly as Devil’s Snare snake their way towards his feet, but the sun’s light makes them recoil, and keeps them at bay as he continues his search.
After collecting all he needs, he makes his way back outside, keeping to the shade this time and pausing even as his mind tells his legs to run when he catches sight of thestrals flying over the Forbidden Forest, which seems to be expanding, the dark trees multiplying, growing fast and stretching their knotted branches closer and closer, and though he shivers, he never bothers to pull down his sleeves, which he rolled up before plunging his arms elbow deep into hard dirt to fight against the surprisingly strong roots of plants that above the ground appeared long dead. The wind blows harder, whipping dried leaves off the ground and sending them spiraling upwards, and directly overhead, the sun fights its way past the gray clouds that dare to pass in front of it, and when he looks down, Draco can barely see a shadow beneath him.
It’s cold inside on the lower floors, so cold he can’t stop his shivering. He’s been to the Hogwarts kitchens before. Together, Crabbe and Goyle had managed to find their hidden entrance by their second week of school, and they showed him shortly after that, late one night when he asked for their help to come up with something clever to get back at Potter and Weasley, and they took him to huge, bright rooms warmed by ovens and stoves and filled with the smells of fresh food and dish soap and comfort. He had ideas then— poison in their pumpkin juice and owl-delivered gifts spelled to hurt, a Hand of Glory of his own to sneak through the hallways, but the hallways were empty, and the kitchens were close to the dungeons, and for all his ideas, Draco did nothing that night but eat ice cream until he was sick as Crabbe and Goyle practiced their levitation charms on cauldron cakes before giving up and tossing them back and forth and at the house-elves.
There were house-elves everywhere then, screaming and banging each other with biscuit trays and popping in and out of sight so fast all he could see was a blur of motion that remained even seconds after they had vanished. The kitchens are different now, colder and as empty as the rest of the castle, and Draco is careful in his search to find what he needs and slow to walk back through the hallways.
When he arrives at the bathroom, he finds Myrtle floating high above him and messing about with the dim overhead lamp that flickers on and off when her fingers get too near. “Oh, you’re back again,” she says without feeling as she floats down towards him. “I though you might have died out there.”
Draco blinks and searches her face for any hint of expression but only finds a few less spots than were once there. “No, you didn’t.”
“I wasn’t being serious,” she says, looking to him as serious as she ever had. “I knew you wouldn’t really.”
He thinks of the Forbidden Forest inching closer and closer and the Devil’s Snare closing in on him and wrapping long tendrils around his legs and the thestrals more horrible than he could ever have imagined before he saw Dumbledore fall from the tower, and he smiles in spite of it all. “Happy Deathday,” he says, holding out a clear soap bottle from the kitchens filled with everything he could find in the greenhouses that still resembles a flower. He sets it gently on the ledge below the mirrors and just above the sink and as Myrtle floats over to inspect her gift, he pulls an ancient looking loaf of bread from his robe pocket. “And— well, there wasn’t much in left in the cupboards, but this looks rather moldy, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” she says, absently peering down at the bread in his hands. “Very moldy. How did you know about Deathdays?”
Draco puts the bread on the ledge beside the flowers and shoves his hands into his pockets to stop himself from shivering. “We had ghosts at the mansion. They would . . . celebrate,” he says, pausing as he remembers the mournful howls that rose up from the portrait halls late some nights, the cries that his parents would struggle to silence and he would struggle to sneak towards and the pale forms gathered around the mausoleums in late October beneath thin, leafless trees and a pale orange moon. “Most proper pure-blood families have them, you know— not the Weasleys, of course. I hear they only have a ghoul, can you imagine?”
Myrtle stares past him and past the flowers on the mirror-ledge and past the mirror itself, as if there’s really something there behind it all to be looking at, and he wonders if her sight has the power to move through hard surfaces just as the memory of her body seems to. “I want to go outside,” she says finally, and Draco rolls his eyes and finds it hard to keep from laughing.
“Fine,” he says, wondering if she’s even listening. “We’ll go outside. I promise.” And he doesn’t know if she’s heard him or if she cares what he’s said, but she looks up and stares at him, shakes her head slightly, and he stares back. “What’s it like? Being a ghost, I mean— what’s it like?”
“I know what you mean,” she says, and he wonders if she really does, if she really knows he wanted to say this when he asked her what it was like to die, and he remembers that then he thought he could tell when she wasn’t being truthful, but he can’t tell anything now. “It’s cold,” she says, floating just a bit higher, “and it’s empty, and you feel like the slightest wind can blow you away, except you can’t feel any wind, but in the water you feel solid, because of the difference in temperature and the magic that makes it aware of your shape, and it doesn’t matter that there’s no air, because you don’t need to breathe. You disappear in the sun. You forget that there’s a sky above you or ground below, and unless you think about it you can just keep falling forever in any direction.”
Draco forces a smile and suppresses a shiver, but it’s hard to keep the nervousness out of his voice. “Well,” he says, “That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?” And Myrtle looks at him as if he’s the stupidest thing she’s ever seen.
“Yes well, you think everything’s awful, don’t you?”
“I think you are,” she says. “All that nonsense about purebloods, do you really think that makes any difference?” And he notices that her stare has shifted down from his face to the Dark Mark on his arm below his rolled sleeve, and he’s sure she knew it was there all along, so he’s surprised that there’s so much shock beneath her apparent disgust. “You agree with all of it, don’t you? You always did. And you’re being so stupid about everything else.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I had to— my family— if you weren’t such a Mudblood you might understand these things. And yes, I agree with it. I agree that Muggles are worthless and that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to come to school here.”
“People like me,” she says softly. “That’s what you mean, isn’t it?”
He crosses his arms over his chest, trying to keep warm as the air around him seems as if it’s trying to get colder, as she stares at him looking blank and hollow— looking dead. “Well, coming here hardly did you any good, did it?” he says, and he can see his breath in the air.
“Well, no one is here now,” Myrtle says. “And that’s because of you— because of what you did—”
“Yes, and what I couldn’t have done without your help!” he shouts, and he wonders what’s happening— why it’s so hard to keep steady and how he’s so easily losing control over himself and over the situation. It should have been simple— giving foolish gifts to a foolish girl, and then she would smile and laugh, and she would tell him everything he needs to know, and he wouldn’t have to worry about Snape or the Dark Lord or what happens after dying. Myrtle’s not clever enough, he tells himself, she can’t really know what she’s doing, but then he catches the look in her eyes and can no longer suppress his shivering.
“I don’t want to see you anymore,” she says. “I don’t want you to see me either. I don’t care what happens.”
“Oh,” he says, trying to stop his teeth from chattering so he can manage a proper sneer, “then perhaps I’ll leave.”
“Yes, leave— leave just like everyone else does,” she says, floating back up towards the ceiling lamp, and there is no hidden plea in her voice, begging him to stay. “Leave, Draco.”
“I . . .”
“Yes?” she says with an odd smile, and then, “Wait, I need to show you what I found.” She swoops down faster than he’s ever seen her move and hovers beside a stone on the far wall, pressing her hand against it at first and then through it. “Pull it out, then,” she says, and he does, slowly because of its weight and his reluctance, and he reaches with both hands deep into the wall, feeling cheap, splintered wood beneath his fingers and carefully pulling out case after case of fireworks.
“Oh,” he says, trying to stop the smile that’s tugging at the corners of his lips.
“They were left here by those horrible twins,” Myrtle whispers, and he’s so busy shifting excitedly through fire lanterns and spark showers and dancing dragons that he hardly notices the uncommon sharpness of her voice. “I thought you might like to use them.”
“Yes.” He glances up at her, barely catching his breath. “I think I’d quite like to light them under Snape’s cauldrons. You’ve got to promise you won’t tell him though.” And there’s a look in her eyes that he’s never seen before, ‘we’re even now,’ it says. ‘Now, I don’t owe you anything.’ And he shivers again before turning back to the fireworks, and he keeps to his plan, though he already knows it’s failed. “And you’ll have to show me what to do— what to do to become a ghost— promise that too.”
“Nobody keeps their promises,” she says, and he stares down at the shining colorful wrappers with pictures of bright stars and Muggle rockets and moving shapes that glow when it’s too dark to see and too hard keep from looking at her. “But you don’t have to worry about me telling Snape anything, and you should go now. You have to leave before he starts to wonder where you’ve been.”
“I— I don’t have to go anywhere,” he says, putting the cases one by one back into the wall and sliding the stone into place. “I could stay for as long as I’d like.”
“You do have to,” she says, glaring at the flowers and bread on the mirror-ledge. “Everybody does.” And she floats back up to the light on the ceiling and meets his eyes only for a second before touching it and making it glow so brightly he can’t see her or the walls of the bathroom or his own hands in front of him. His eyes burn and he stumbles carefully towards the hole in the floor and the stairs that lead down to the Chamber and the shadows there that wrap around him like a dark winter cloak.
The rest of the day he spends sleeping in the Basilisk’s skeleton, and that night he spends listening by the pipe, but he hears no mournful howling, no faint crying or loud, angry sobs, not even the gentle shifting of water around something that’s not really there, just a silence so complete it makes him wonder if Myrtle’s above him in her bathroom as she always was before, and he traces, ‘I’m sorry’ into the dust beneath his fingers, because he can’t bring himself to speak for fear of making Snape aware of his presence or aware of his previous absence, and he rubs it away with his fist before falling asleep.