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Hard to Keep (4)

6/28/07 11:07 am - Hard to Keep (4)

Part four


In the weak light of a new morning, a small, black spider crawls across Slytherin’s forehead and looks, for all the shadows staring down upon it, as if it’s about to fall into the potions, and Draco watches over and over again as it tumbles down and catches itself on nearly invisible strands and pulls itself up through the steam, tiny legs stumbling against the dampness of the stone to continue on its way, and he finds himself amazed that anything can live here and keep living in spite of everything conspiring against it. He taps on the pipe in a made-up rhythm, and he scratches out the words traced on the floor, and he keeps watching, as Slytherin hisses and Snape rises to his feet, finally awake, and without a trace of tiredness in his stare or in his step he turns to look at Draco, who smiles and starts to tap on the pipe louder than before.

“Horrible pest,” Snape says with a sneer, looking from Draco to the spider, now stumbling over Slytherin’s nose, and for a second Draco pauses to wonder which of them he’s speaking of, but his silent question is answered by the smacking of Snape’s wand against the wall and a tiny flash of green light and the spider falling limp into his hand. “This will be useful,” he says, peering at Draco through the steam and the smoke, “so long as it can be preserved properly. I wonder if I can trust you to carry out such a simple task.”

“Probably not,” Draco mutters, and though most of the spider’s body is crushed, its legs keep twitching as if trying to pull itself up one last time, and he wonders if that’s what he’ll look like when he’s dead, and he wonders if it hurts, and he wonders how much longer he’ll have to wait before he finds out, and still it’s hard to keep from laughing, because useful is so much more than Snape will ever be able to say about him.

Snape frowns, glancing back at his potions. “I suppose, then, that it would be unwise to leave these again when I must leave.”

“Yes.” Draco nods, sneering and slamming his hand down hard against the pipe. It hurts, and it’s hard to keep from sucking in air between his teeth and hard to keep from screaming, but he manages it. “Very unwise.”

“You are being foolish, Draco, and irresponsible,” Snape says, plucking the spider’s legs off one by one with a tiny pair of silver tongs and placing them each in a different vial. “Would you throw away the sacrifices of so many others, made to keep you safe? Would you belittle them in such a way?”

“He’ll kill me,” Draco says, wiping his eyes and his forehead and trying hard to keep ignoring the pain that spreads from his palm up his arm and to the tips of his fingers. “You know that as well as I do. When he finds me he’ll kill me.”

“Then he will not find you,” Snape growls, suddenly furious. “We will keep him from you. Dumbledore promised you protection, did he not?”

“Yeah,” Draco says, clutching his hand to his chest as he coughs and slumping down further against the wall, and he tries not to think about what happened after that offer was made or the way the dead-eyed thestrals swooped above the treetops.

“And do you really think I am so much below him that I cannot do the same?”

‘I don’t know,’ he wants to say. ‘I don’t know what to think of you.’ But he nods, though Snape’s back is to him, and he keeps nodding faster, and Snape seems to understand it.

“Keep your head, Draco,” he says. “Keep your head, and you may also be able to keep your life.” He sets down the final leg and starts grinding the spider’s midsection with a mortar and pestle. “You were not here yesterday morning.” He turns to look Draco in the eye, and the hands that crushed and killed the spider are there suddenly in his head and shifting through his thoughts.

Draco takes a deep breath, and in his mind he sets down the boundaries, the walls through which he will not let Snape pass. “I had something planned,” he says, letting a bit of truth slip through, “something to plan.”

“There are to be no more thoughtless risks, no more plans of this nature. Am I understood?”

Draco nods as the fingers search for holes or locks that can be easily picked, a simple entrance rather than the one hard earned by smashing himself against the wall and hoping it is the first to break. Draco sits up a bit straighter and fiddles with a loose string on the sleeve of his robe and bites his lip.

“I had hoped,” Snape says, “that you would prove more trustworthy, at least in maters that concerned the preservation of your own life.”

It doesn’t matter, Draco tells himself within the walls he’s laid, and Snape doesn’t trust anyone anyway. The fingers are still there, prodding and poking and finding nothing.

“What would your father say?” Snape asks. “Your mother? The family that named you for stars? Would they be proud of you now— to see you fall so low that you would hope for nothing more than to die and make your home in a toilet?” Draco laughs nervously at first and then swallows a gasp and a good deal of smoke along with it and coughs hard. There were no holes, no weak places Snape could have entered by, and Draco knows his face must give him away, because Snape’s lips twitch upwards and he keeps staring, and his face gives him away also. “There is always enough,” he says, “always enough of you I can know without seeing, without being told. Did you think I would not notice you putting yourself in danger?”

Draco stares back at Snape and smiles. ‘Halfbolod,’ he thinks in the deep places of his mind where even he can barely reach, ‘jealous.’ He’s seen the horrible place Snape calls his home, and it’s little better, than the Chamber, but more importantly he saw the flash of anger in his dark eyes when he spoke of Draco’s parents, his mother who forced him into the vow and his father who had thousands and thousands of Galleons to spare, more money than the life of an un-loved professor could ever be worth, but left him nothing but responsibility. Snape is jealous of privilege and of power and maybe of the plans he’s made, and for just a second it’s hard to keep from thinking of another time he was sure Snape was jealous, and how wrong he was then, but he pushes those worries away and keeps smiling and says, “Nothing I’ve done was dangerous.”

“Walking the hallways alone!” In a wild flapping of robes Snape’s hand points upwards. “Do you not see the danger in that?! Wandering beyond the walls of this school, and for what? To pick flowers for that girl— that ghost?! Your behavior is that of a contemptuous child!”

Snape is finding it too hard to keep control of his anger, and Draco feels the fingers pull back and rises to his feet. “What are you going to do? Put me into detention? In case you haven’t realized, I’m not in your class anymore!”

“Yes, of that I am well aware, but I thought you would know better than to let the end of your schooling be the signal to stop using your brain entirely. There is much you still must learn that you are refusing to consider and much you already know that you seem intent on forgetting completely, and I will not tolerate either from you! If you cannot show the proper caution, then you will be watched more carefully. Think about your actions. If I know of them think who else might— how many portraits there are in the castle to go and tell whomever they please that you were roaming the hallways, how many ghosts there were to inform any who enter a seemingly abandoned castle that it’s already occupied?”

“But they don’t,” Draco says, thinking of Myrtle, who won’t even tell him what he most wants to know, and the other ghosts, who he hasn’t seen no matter how many hallways he wandered. “They haven’t. It doesn’t matter.”

“Let me make myself clear, Draco,” Snape says, voice softer and angrier than before. “Your world is about to shrink. You will not leave this castle. You will not leave this wing, and unless you can do so responsibly and cautiously, you will not leave this room!”

“You already hardly let me out,” Draco mutters through another bout of coughs and Snape sneers.

“And if you continue to show such little care for your own future,” Snape says, pulling his wand from the pocket of his robes, “I will put you in a body bind, and you will not move from the spot you now stand.”

“What does it matter?” Draco shrugs, shaking his head and stifling a cough. “You’ll do whatever you want anyway. Why don’t you just tie me up now?”

“I had hoped you could be your own judge of the world— decide for yourself what’s dangerous and what is wise.” Snape shakes his head and his voice grows softer still. “I see now that I’ve placed my expectations wrongly.”

“There are things more important than saving your own skin,” Draco says. “You might have known that if you’ve ever been anything other than a coward.” And whatever hints of false regret there were on Snape’s face fade completely.

“Very well,” he says. “I don’t think I even need to tell you who you sound like.” And, of course, Draco knows who last called Snape a coward, but he doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing, and he may be just as much of a coward, sneaking across the country on special missions safely out of sight while Dark Marks rise into the night sky and families are killed in their homes.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “Maybe Potter was right for once.”

“Indeed.” Snape sighs and raises his wand until it’s pointed at Draco’s chest. “There are matters I must attend to outside this school, and you’ve made it clear that you cannot be trusted to accompany me,” he says, and his wand waves in a slow, curving arc and there is red light everywhere and a shout of "Petrificus Totalus!" And Draco’s head knocks against the wall on his way down, but that is not all. There is another wand motion and another spell, this one cast in silence, and strong ropes spring from Snape’s wand, slithering like snakes across the floor until they reach Draco and wrap themselves tight around his arms and legs.

He wants to scream or curse or even to cry, but the fall has knocked the air from his lungs, and all he can do is gasp and cough and swallow mouthfuls of smoke and dust. Even when the shock has died away he finds it hard to keep breathing. He feels one of Snape’s hands on his forehead checking for damage, and it’s almost as bad as having Snape shuffle through his thoughts, and then he feels a sharp tug at his scalp and watches Snape moving away fast to shrink and pack away his flasks and vials and beakers of potions and ingredients, putting all of them into a long velvet sack and covering the few lonely cauldrons remaining on the floor with protective spells cast in silence, and Draco listens to the rush of water in the pipes above him and wonders if it’s possible to drown alone on a cold, dry floor.

Snape walks over to him then with only a small pack on his shoulder to hold everything of value that had once filled the Chamber and he keeps walking and leans down until he and Draco are face to face. “I should thank you,” he says. “I wouldn’t have thought to tie you up unless you suggested it, but perhaps I should be more cautious where you are concerned.” Draco hasn’t seen him so close in months, but he seems to have aged years in that time. His eyes are red-rimmed and tired, and the lines on his face look like scars, and he blinks and coughs, trying to speak after realizing some of them actually are. “And, Draco,” he says softly in a voice as weak and empty as the one he saw in his memories of Dumbledore, “if you have not yet realized it, there is something I care about more than myself.”

It’s killing them, Draco thinks. It’s killing them both to stay in a place like this, but at least Snape can get out sometimes. He takes a deep breath and tries hard to keep from thinking of how much worse Snape always looks after returning from his mysterious errands, and long after Snape has turned on his heel and swooped away through the lingering smoke in a swirl of black robes, his empty hands swinging at his sides, Draco clenches his fists, forearms straining against the ropes that bind them together and screams.


Draco lies still on the floor, his slow breaths stirring the dust around him, and before giving in to tiredness brought on by long-sustained anger, he closes his eyes, and he imagines himself rising up with the smoke until he’s far above the castle’s highest towers with no broom or levitation charm to hold him there, and when he sleeps, he dreams of drowning. He dreams that he’s back in forth year at the Triwizard Tournament and that he’s the Hogwarts champion instead of Diggory or Potter, and he stands on a small pier at the edge of the lake about to attempt second task. Dumbledore is there, a corpse with twinkling eyes and a crocked smile, telling Draco to search the freezing waters for who he would miss more than anything, and from the stands, the whole school boos and hisses and stares at the Mark on his arm calling him Death Eater scum, but their voices are stolen away by a cold wind before the French girl and Krum act together to push him into the lake and laugh as he sinks like a stone, and as the wind dies, he can hear the crowd in the distance cheering, and he can watch them getting smaller and smaller until the water is too murky for him to see through and they disappear.

Time passes quickly as he falls, and long strands of kelp and sea grasses whip and wind around his arms and legs, colder than the water that surrounds him, and they stop him from swimming back up to the surface, and the mermaids, who don’t look anything like the pretty one on the wall of the prefects’ bathroom stare at him as they float around him in lazy circles and jab tridents into his chest, ripping open the pale scars that linger as reminders of Potter’s curse.

He gasps as red blood clouds the water, and he tries to cry out for help but chokes instead, realizing that it’s been far too long since he’s last had air to breathe, and he sees Granger, huddled unconscious next to a smaller pale-haired girl, but there is no one there for him to rescue, which is just as well really, because he can’t unwind the weeds clinging tight to his body, no matter how he struggles, but he keeps struggling, kicking into the lakebed and thrashing as wildly as his restraints will allow, and he’s still sinking, sliding down into the soft ground and the loose sand that seems to swallow his feet and then his ankles and then his shins.

There is nothing solid to hold and no one to reach for. He watches the champions rescue those most precious to them, and Krum swims like he flies, fast and determined and focused only on his target, and the French girl swims like a Veela dance, gentle grace concealing fierceness, and Draco continues to sink, knowing only the burn of water against his eyes and the harsh blurring of everything he sees.

The sun is too far above, and its light is gone from him, and as the colors shift to black, he feels a part of himself that’s not bound to his body floating up through the water and the wind as he’d imagined doing earlier, and hovering outside a window, he watches Myrtle in her bathroom, alive as he’s never seen her before, looking down into a toilet bowl, crying and staring into yellow eyes that burn like the sun before falling to the floor and never moving again. Draco shivers, and despite the feeling of falling fast there is something hard beneath him as his arms struggle forward and feet slam down against stone and his legs try once more to kick, and everything is cold like fingers of ice against his skin.

It’s still dark when Draco jerks upright gasping and shaking and feeling as if his heartbeat must be loud enough to hear from the tallest towers. He’s sits up and is shocked further to see Myrtle hovering above him, glowing with a strange, pale light that all ghosts must have, though he’s never noticed it being quite so bright before. He blinks at her and then down at the ropes pulled loose over his arms at legs and no longer knotted together, and he tries to catch his breath. “Who— who untied me?”

“Well I certainly didn’t,” Myrtle says with and odd sort of smile. “I can’t touch things like that, you know. You were thrashing about so much they must have loosened on their own. Were you scared? Terrified? Horrified?” she asks looking pleased with herself, and he nods.

“Nightmares, that’s all,” he says and his voice sounds as if it’s been replaced by horrible choking sounds, but Myrtle seems to understand him.

“That happens sometimes, did you know? When ghosts are near, your dreams— Well, they— Was it awful? I’m sure it was.” She twirls, floating higher and clapping her hands silently. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. I’ve never tried before except once with Olive Hornby, and no one but you has really paid me any attention in so long. You were scared, weren’t you?”

“It wasn’t so bad,” he says taking a deep breath and coughing from the smoke and dust in the air and looking down at the ropes he’s shook and slipped himself out of before holding them up to see if he’s managed to tear them, but he hasn’t. They look just as they always have and feel cool against his skin, and he drops them onto the floor and looks at them a bit longer. “It got me out of these, didn’t it?” He struggles to his feet and feels a smile creeping across his face. “With Snape gone we can— we can do anything.”

“Oh no!” Myrtle says as he kicks Slytherin hard in the chin. “Oh, Draco, you must be careful.” But he’s already careful, that’s part of the waiting, and when she smiles back, he wonders if it’s because she truly understands what he can’t bring himself to say or because she’s pleased she was able to frighten him while he was sleeping.


Whether Myrtle’s near or not, horrible dreams begin to visit him every night, and daylight seems farther and farther away from his place in the Chamber in the skeleton of the Basilisk, where he can hardly see the silhouette of his hand against the bones as he uses it to stir the dust that surrounds him. Myrtle seems happier as the days pass, and Draco leans against the wall or stretches out on the bathroom’s tile floor or climbs over the toilets and the cubicle walls when his legs begin to get sore from going so long without moving properly, and Myrtle moves quickly, flickering in and out of his vision.

“Slow down,” he says, one day when she seems to be going particularly fast. “Slow down. You’re making me dizzy.” But she keeps darting about without any plan or pattern as if trying to take measure of the bathroom’s space in the way only someone who can move through solid things and is concerned only for the boundaries set in their mind can. “Slow down,” he whispers, surprised at the weakness of his voice, and rather than slowing, she stops entirely. Though her, Draco thinks he can see something scratched over the fog of the mirrors almost like writing, and he wonders if Peeves has been bothering her again and if that might be the cause of her apparent agitation, and the question must be evident in his eyes, but she’s the one to ask it.

“What’s wrong?”

He only forces a smile and waves a hand in front of his face as if there’s some dust there too. “Just slow down,” he says, even though he knows she hasn’t been moving.

She floats forward until her hand brushes his, and he shivers from the cold. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he says. “The fumes are getting to me, I guess.” But Snape’s been gone for days and his potions with him, and Draco has already begun to wonder if he’ll ever come back. It’s hard to keep his eyes opened, and he knows he would be napping now if there were any hope of pleasant dreams. “Do you ever sleep?” he asks Myrtle, yawning as he speaks and burying his hands in the folds of his robes. “You never seem to.”

“No,” she says, shaking her head slowly. “We can pretend, but it’s not the same thing.”

“Don’t you get tired?”

She sways from side to side slightly as if being blown by an unseen wind. “Yes, but it passes. It takes years sometimes, but it passes. Anyway, the dreams are what you really miss.”

Draco gives a bitter laugh and forces a smile. “I don’t think I’ll miss mine.” She nods and sighs, and though her moods shift as fast as they always have, he can no longer read them. “Are you tired now?”

“No,” she says, “not anymore than usual.” And he wonders if she would have given the same answer when they first met or when he and Snape first walked into her bathroom and down to the Chamber or on her Deathday less than a week ago, and he thinks that whatever she has of a life can’t be much different than his now with sudden shifts that bring no real change and every day the same, but at least she’s here still, even after dying. He blinks and looks up at her face and into her eyes and tells himself there’s something there despite the fact that he can see straight through to the faded green tiles behind her— something brighter than he’s noticed before, something stronger and smarter, something like really being alive.

“How do you do it?” he asks, and she sighs and shakes her head again and floats just a bit lower.

“Because I can’t do anything else.”

“I don’t mean not sleeping,” he says, but maybe she doesn’t mean that either. “I mean— well, you know, all of it. There were spells, right? But you said it didn’t take a wand.”

“You should know, shouldn’t you? You’re a pureblood, after all. I managed to figure it out for myself when I was younger than you are now. I—I should have known better than to think you’d care! You’re just like all the others!”

He runs a hand over his face, smearing it with dust from the floor. “I want to know.”

“I don’t care,” Myrtle says. “I don’t care what you want. No one cares what I want, do they?”

“Tell me,” he says, yawning again and closing his eyes. “I’ve been waiting, and I¬¬— I don’t know how much longer—”

“Why?” she asks, and he doesn’t need to look at her to know the expression she wears, despondent and angry.

“Because,” he says, absently swirling his hand on the dusty floor beneath him. “Because I— They’ll kill me. . . soon. I know they will . . . the Dark Lord . . .” He swallows hard, furiously telling himself not to become weepy and pathetic as he has so many times before, and when he has to open his eyes and wipe them with the back of his hand, he tells himself it’s okay, because he only cries to Myrtle and that doesn’t count, because she’s not a real person, not anymore. “I need to know,” he says, voice shaking. “I need to.”

“Oh,” Myrtle says piteously, patting him on the back with a cold hand. “Oh, you really want— Oh, you’d really do it . . . You shouldn’t. You don’t need to. It’ll be okay.”

“How?” he asks, and from the look in her eyes behind the foggy frames of her glasses he knows that she realizes he’s not asking how it will be okay, because it won’t, and as hard as she’s been to read, he can tell that much at least.

“Well,” she says. “You leave an imprint of yourself behind, of course— Oh, but you shouldn’t.”

“Yes,” he says, trying to summon enough calm to slow his heartbeats and reminding himself he hasn’t gained what he needs yet, though he’s closer to it than ever before, and it’s hard to keep that excitement from showing. “Yes, but how?”

“I—it was— No, I’m not telling you.”

“What?” he asks, suddenly finding it hard to breathe and hard to keep from screaming in frustration.

“I’m not telling you,” she says, shaking her head before floating back and forth so fast he settles his eyes on the floor. “I’m not. I can’t. I figured it out and no one helped me. I hadn’t even met any other ghosts before I came here. I don’t see why I should tell you. After all, you— you were rather horrible to me. I don’t think I shall ever forgive you.”

“You’re not telling me?”

“No,” she says, and when he looks up, he’s met with an odd half-smile. “I’m not. I can keep a secret, you know.”

“No, you can’t,” he says, glaring and pushing himself up off the floor. “I’ll get it out of you eventually— that or I’ll figure it out on my own, anyway, even if you don’t tell me. If you figured it out, I certainly can. It’s not like I really need the help of a Mudblood.”

“You did once,” she says, and her floating stills, “or have you forgotten? Have you been blocking that away along with everything else you’d rather not think about?”

He rolls his eyes and wipes his hands on his robes and smirks. “I bet the Restricted Section has something.”

“It doesn’t,” Myrtle says, looking nervous until he slips back down to the Chamber, and before he’s taken even two steps he can see her swoop down into the nearest toilet and hear her moving through the pipes, and before the makeshift staircase winds inward so that he can see nothing of the world above the Chamber, he notices that the center mirror is smudged all over and the flowers in the bottle on its ledge look greener than before.


Draco Malfoy is not a handsome boy— Myrtle knows this. She has seen many handsome boys in her time. Cedric Diggory had a strong face and a stronger heart that he wore on his sleeve beside his Hufflepuff crest, and James Potter was cruel and courageous by turn but always striking, even to the ones who tried not to look at him, while Sirius Black was dazzlingly bright and darkly beautiful, and before them, the two Prewett boys had hair like fire and smiles that lit the hallways, but they’ve all gone now, and Draco’s not handsome, but he is alive.

She knows that he tells himself things— deceives himself far more than she’s ever wanted to deceive him, but in spite of it all, she knows how desperately he clings to his life, how scared he’s become since his hold has been loosened. She knows he’s telling himself he’s safe no matter where he goes, even when he’s recognizes so many dangers, and lying to himself about what he would have done in the tower months ago and what Snape has done in his place, and convincing himself that there are no flaws in his plans and ideas. She knows the threads of memories can be easily severed. At best they’re foggy, uncertain, insubstantial— like ghosts—like her, and there are so many fears and so many secrets overlapping and clouding everything.

She feels strange lying to him, strange and powerful and almost real again, and she thinks she could get drunk on that kind of power and thinks about lying to him more about the things that don’t matter just to see if she can after he said she couldn’t, but she could never bring herself to do it. He calls her Mudblood or says it about someone else in a horrible voice that makes him sound cruel and desperate and weaker than she ever was, and she thinks of how easy it would be to sit back and rest on her excuses and watch the water flow and the days pass and watch Draco pay for his mistakes, but nothing is easy now.

It’s hard to keep going as the days shorten and the nights grow longer, hard to keep secrets and promises for as long as such things can be kept, hard to keep still and steady and constant as a part of her shifts closer to the true change, which is known to be wholly impossible. It’s hard to keep Draco on the path she’s set for him and hard to keep Snape from discovering her plans and the portraits from speaking too loud and the poltergeist from ruining everything by putting too much truth into his silly rhymes, but truth doesn’t matter if no one will listen, and the portraits empty quickly when she passes by at night while they sleep, and she wonders to herself what nightmares she could bring them. It’s hard to keep trying to touch the world in the few ways she can and hard to keep to her path when she knows what is waiting at the end. She cries, sitting in the U-bend or the S-bend or floating slow between the cubicles, and she hears Snape’s screams rise from the Chamber like the smoke that now fills the bathroom, and she shivers at his words. There are some fates worse than death.

Snape’s come to her each time he left, stealing away secretly in the night, and each time he time he returned, stumbling wearily back to the Chamber in the faint light of early morning, and he has told her to stop and to stay away from Draco with threats that made her cry no matter how ridiculous and impossible they were. He was always ugly, and he always saw her, and he hated her from the first time he snuck into her bathroom as a second-year student, searching for the Chamber and Slytherin’s heir.

He’s smarter than she is and likely has been since before he came to Hogwarts to begin his studies. He tells her that in the way he looks at her and the way he tries not to, but he doesn’t know what Draco’s capable of alone, just as Draco doesn’t know where his travels lead and neither of them could ever guess at her plans. For all Snape observes in the castle, for all his glares and taunts and secret spying, she knows he will never really see what she does to the portraits at night or the books in the library or the mirrors in her bathroom. She can slip easily in and out of memories. She leaves behind no footprints, and the stones of the castle do not feel her as she passes through.

She worried about the other ghosts— that they would share her secrets or notice her out of the bathroom so much more now than all the years before or that they would speak too loudly about where Snape and Draco hide, but they don’t know, and they’re disappearing— gone forever to the mists and the winds. Once she thought Draco would be able to save her from the fate of the other Hogwarts ghosts, but now she knows the reverse must be true. It scares her. She worries that she doesn’t yet care for him enough to lose so much for his sake, not for the frightened boy who has taken longer than most to let his promises break, and if she really is willing to do what she must and to give up what she has for the memory of a life that should have been longer and a death that should have been different. She was never one of the courageous ones.

She knows nothing of bravery or nobility or sacrifice. If she had a daring bone in her body, it was buried long ago by a family that’s now been long dead and never quite understood her magic or her sadness. The books that tell of how to become a ghost are in the Transfiguration Section, put there while she was in school by a Professor who once believed strongly in the choices made by children who didn’t yet know their own minds— the choices that would make them who they are, and Draco would find them all if he kept looking.

She had never been optimistic in her life and whatever small hopes she once had have faded away since dying. She was sure Harry Potter would be killed when he first went into the Chamber. She wanted him to join her, though she knows now that he never could, and she wonders if it’s possible for someone to change their mind even when they can’t change themselves. She wonders for Draco’s sake as well as her own. It’s odd, she thinks, and very wrong for a ghost to believe so strongly in a living person, but that belief comes naturally when everything else is so hard, and she imagines herself sometimes standing in a doorway or before a tunnel or at the mouth of a pipe with her long-stopped heart beating hard in her chest and thinking she’s ready to start something that’s terrifying and exhilarating and almost like being alive.

There are wars outside the castle and crimes and sicknesses and a thousand other terrible things, and she can no longer pass beyond its walls alone, but Draco will. He may fight one day, if he has to, and he may fight like a madman or an animal. She sees that look in his eyes, even as he tells her it’s all hopeless, that glint of defiance that he summons when speaking to Snape. They’re the best, those who will not let their life pass easily from them, and she wants him to be as good as he can. He may turn away from the fighting when he realizes the wrongness of each side. He looks sick and shivers at the talk of death, even while trying to be careless— she sees that too and approves of it in her own way. No matter what he looks like or how foolish he can be or what horrible things he says, she wants him to stay alive and to really live, so she puts water into the flowers he brought her and smiles and laughs and lies when she must and tells herself, as he always does, that everything will happen as she chooses.

Tom Riddle was full of magic and confidence and ambition. He walked through Hogwarts as if everything he touched belonged only to him, smiling to himself at his brilliant ideas and laughing at the pain of others. Tom was so handsome it was frightening. He wants Draco dead, and he would laugh at Draco too if he found him, one day, floating between the cubicles. She thinks of Dumbledore, of the Basilisk, of memories spilling down from the pipes and up from the Chamber, of Draco’s tales of a Dark Lord with glowing eyes and the belief that death can be truly be conquered. She imagines silver threads floating through the darkness and tells herself that she will shine before the end. She won’t let him get what he wants.

Part five

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