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magicicada

Hard to Keep (5)

6/28/07 11:13 am - Hard to Keep (5)



Part five

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Draco thinks first about following the halls and staircases to the prefects’ bath to try again at swimming in cold water and then about braving another trip outside to get just a few breaths of fresh air. Knowing no one can stop him from going wherever he pleases, he considers a visit to the dungeons and the Slytherin dorms to remind himself of a place that was once almost home or a climb up to the towers so he can look out and remind himself that the world isn’t as small as it feels, but nothing he can think of seems worth the nervousness that always comes with walking too far beyond the Chamber, and there’s nothing to learn from any of it, not alone.

He thinks sometimes of what must be happening in the world, of the war with the Dark Lord and who’s winning and who will win and whose side he and Snape are on, and whether any of it will really matter if he stays in the Chamber alone with the shadows and Slytherin’s angry hisses. He’s been kept in the dark in more ways than one, and he’d been angry for everything Snape hasn’t told him, but now there is only the one question that burns in his mind, and with his heart pounding in his chest and his breaths coming too fast for the slow pace of his walk, he sets out for the library, pausing only briefly to check on the water in the un-boiling cauldron— to see how it’s risen and how it shimmers with magic and how so many strange shapes seem to move beneath its surface.

He thinks the Restricted Section has been upset when he first sees it. He’s been there so many times that he could once almost remember the order of books on the shelves, even if he’s never dared to read a single one, but now they seem out of place and not set as neatly as they had once been. It’s just a niggling thought then, a troublesome whisper in the back of his mind that is easy to push away as he tells himself again that everything is fine, but as he walks further in, he can no longer ignore his initial impression. By the time he gets to the Transfiguration Section he can’t even walk as he once had with shelves overturned in the aisles and pages ripped out of books and scattered over the floor. “What happened here?” he asks himself, and the answer comes in a sharp laugh and two balls of crumpled parchment hitting him on the side of his head.

“Messy, Messy, Messy,” Peeves says, hovering above the shelves, juggling three scrolls and a large book with feathers sprouting from its spine that giggles whenever it passes through his hands. “Who could have made such a mess?”

“What did you do?” Draco asks, and the poltergeist smiles and lets everything he’s juggling fall so that Draco has to jump out of the way to avoid being hit in the head by something much harder than parchment.

“Nothing,” Peeves says hanging upside-down and kicking his feet back and forth as he laughs. “I didn’t do anything at all. Perhaps you’d better ask M-m-moaning M-myrtle.”

Draco picks a small journal up of the floor and throws it at Peeves, nailing him in the foot and causing him to spin nearly a dozen times before righting himself. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks. “What do you think you’re doing here?” but Peeves only laughs before clearing his throat and starting to sing.

“Malfoy has a girlfriend, and she lives in a loo.
He once tried to kiss her, but his lips went right through.
Nasty old Snapey doesn’t know what to do,
Because soon Malfoy will be dead too!”


“Stop it!” Draco shouts. “Shut up, you!” And to his surprise his voice is joined by another, shouting, “You have to leave! Get out! You shouldn’t be here!”

He stumbles over books and torn parchment as he turns to see Myrtle floating beside one of the overturned shelves, and for just a moment he wonders if she’s talking to him instead of Peeves.

“What are you doing in here?” he asks, taking a step forward as two more balls of parchment slap against his head.

“N-nothing,” she says, tearing up. “I—I can’t read the books, can I? You had to remind me of that, didn’t you?” And he watches as she reaches for a book in the Necromancy Section, and her hand goes right through the entire shelf, and then she glares at him and glares at Peeves and floats higher. “It’s horrible. You’re ruining everything. You shouldn’t have come here, not yet.”

“Myrtle,” he says, ignoring scroll that knocks him in the shoulder and the folded-paper swan that pecks at his ears and Peeves’ howling laughter right behind him. “I didn’t do this. It wasn’t me, and why do you even care. You’re not the one who needs to find— who’s looking for . . .” He grabs the swan’s neck in his fist, choking it as its paper wings beat uselessly against his fingers. “You can’t even read the books unless you can put your head partway through them! And what would you read anyway? You’re dead!” Myrtle sobs, head in her hands, and the swan struggles free and flies lopsidedly away into the Arithmancy Section.

“And you’re horrible,” she hisses as Peeves summersaults through the air behind her.

“Well, yes. You would think so, wouldn’t you,” he says, reaching behind his back for the thickest book he can find. “When I’m dead I won’t be spending my time here— that’s all I meant, really.” He tosses the book through her at Peeves, who dodges easily away.

“No,” she says with a hint of a smile. “No, I’m sure you won’t.”

Draco nods and tosses another book at Peeves through Myrtle, this one Peeves catches and throws back at him, and though he’s fast enough to duck out of the way, it hits the shelves just above his head and sends the books held there raining down around him. “Stop it,” Myrtle says. “Stop it both of you.”

Peeves laughs, and Draco tries not to, each picking up a book to throw through Myrtle and at each other as she floats still in the air glaring at him. Peeves is more intent on hitting him than on dodging his throw, and Draco knows his aim is perfect, but the book he hurls only travels a few feet through the air before knocking into Myrtle with a dull thud and falling still to the ground.

He blinks, and Peeves drops the book he was holding and Myrtle looks at the shelves behind him as if he’s the one who can be seen through. “What?” he asks. “You?” But she looks away quickly and swoops over their heads and out the door, and after long moments of exchanging silent glances with the poltergeist, he starts a slow walk back to the Chamber, angry with Peeves and angry with Myrtle and angry with himself most of all for so easily forgetting the purpose of his trip.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Draco stops thinking that there is an entire world outside the castle. He makes himself forget about his mother, hiding or already caught because of his failure and his father trapped far away in a prison far more terrible than Slytherin’s Chamber, surrounded by mist and violent water. Sometimes, just before sleep, when the wind pours in from above and parts the lingering smoke for only a few moments, he thinks he can see Pansy, wand in hand, adding frills and ruffles to her pink robes or Blaise’s sharp smile as he stares at pretty girls across the Great Hall or Crabbe laughing from behind the wrinkled covers of a comic book or Goyle giving him indignant glares before downing flask after flask of Polyjuice Potion. Sometimes he sees himself— Draco, as he had been, more solid and stronger than he is now, walking with purpose and a long, dark shadow stretching behind him, but these thoughts never last long.

Beyond the walls there is an endless grey sky and the frightening forest beneath it and the darkness stretching on forever, and he trades the memories of everything it once was and everything he had once been for the ghost of a girl he would have never seen in the years before he’d sworn his loyalty and his life to the Dark Lord and still has every reason to hate. The empty days of his discarded life litter the ground behind him like a snake’s the newly shed skin, glimmering faintly before turning dull and unrecognizable, and he thinks he can see it when he looks back to where his shadow once followed.

It’s hot in the bathroom and wet even along the steps leading up to it, and Draco hasn’t stood there longer than a minute by the time his socks have soaked through. All of the are sinks on, water from the snakes’ mouths spilling silently downwards to basins overflowing with near-scalding water, and the air is thick with steam. “I’m going to die,” he says, to a mirror as the mouth of the snake-head faucet bites his thumb and doesn’t release it until blood starts dripping into the sink below, and he knows that Myrtle floats behind him, even if the bright lights shining overhead and the fog on the mirror’s surface make her impossible to see despite the zigzagging lines traced over it. “I have to know how to do it. I’m going to die.”

“Oh no,” she says, voice shaking. “No, you just think that. You’re not, Draco— not yet— not for a very long time. You’ll be old then— you won’t want to stay here forever.” He wonders if he’s supposed to ask why the floor is covered in water or how the sinks were even turned on, but instead he paces across the floor to inspect the tracings over the fog on the next mirror, his feet splashing as he moves.

“Tell me. You have to.”

“No.”

“Myrtle, tell me.”

“You don’t want—”

“If you don’t tell me, I’ll never come visit you again.” he says, and the faucet catches hold of his thumb again and bites it harder than before. “The school won’t open in this year or the year after. I may be the last person you ever see here besides Snape, and he’s still trying to figure out how to banish you. I say, you had better tell me soon or you’ll be sorry. I’ll make you sorry.” It’s an empty threat, he knows. No cursed necklace or poisoned mead would work on her, even if he could find such things alone in the castle, but she cries— she cries so hard he wonders for just a moment if she might be making a show of it.

“It’s in a book,” she whispers, still sniffling back tears, and he snaps his head around fast to look at her.

“What?” He knows he must sound angry, shocked at least. He was willing to fight for her secrets, and that she should give them so easily after so long for no reason he can see seems horribly wrong and makes him feel hollow inside, as if he’s just a breath away from floating up on the rising steam to join her.

She bites her bottom lip after wiping her eyes and stares down at the floor with and odd sort of smile. “H-how to do it— it’s in a book.”

“In the Restricted Section?” he asks, forcing away his doubts and confusion and the memories of Peeve’s nonsensical rhymes that still echo in his mind.

“No,” she says, floating a bit closer and swaying awkwardly from side to side and moving her gaze from the wet floor to the mirrors behind him. “They took all those kinds of books out after— after I— they didn’t want others like me, you see, not students.” She glances briefly at the bottle and the flowers on the mirror ledge and Draco wonders if she’s noticed that the once-dried leaves have turned green or the faint hints of color along the stems. “It’s in a book about— about flowers— everything— all my notes. I quite liked flowers while I was alive— so that’s where I kept it.”

“Is this book in the library?” he asks, and she nods without meeting his eyes, and he smiles, even knowing that no one will see it. “Good. I’ll stop by later—”

“No!” she shouts, swooping down in front of him. “No, you can’t get it yet, not yet!”

“Why not?” he asks, sighing first and narrowing his eyes to search her face for anything different, but she looks just as she always had, the same tears making her eyes shine and her glasses fog and the same spots on her chin that she pretends to pick at, and if there is anything unusual about her expression, it’s that she’s still smiling faintly.

“You can’t,” she says again. “I . . . you just . . . Peeves— he’s always been so horrible to me. If he knows what you’re looking for he’ll hide it. I’ll come with you. I’ll show you. I promise.”

“You really will?” he asks, and he’s surprised that there’s no surety left in his voice and that finally getting what he’s wanted for so long doesn’t make his legs feel more sturdy beneath him or strengthen his sight so that he can see through the fog or even bring the pace of his heartbeats back to normal, instead it makes him feel terribly weak. He takes a deep breath, hands shaking as he wipes blood from his fingers on to his robes, and he tells himself that it’s only sweat that burns his eyes and says, “It’s very hot in here.”

“Sorry,” Myrtle whispers, blushing as much as it’s possible for someone without blood or skin to blush, and she swoops down through the floor and up again and Draco watches as the water turns quickly to ice, spreading from the spot she’s touched across the floor and up the pipes to the sinks and to the faucets above them, leaving huge columns of icicles that look more like still waterfalls, and Draco’s lucky to have jumped up when the first shock of cold pinched at his feet to avoid being frozen to the floor, though slipping as he lands sends him tumbling backward across the ice and crashing down hard on his side.

He blinks and winces and falls twice more getting to his feet, surprised that it’s become so hard to keep standing. “You didn’t have to do that,” he says gliding slowly across the floor, careful to avoid the hole and the stairs and grabbing a sink to steady himself.

“Leave, Draco,” she says, just as she has before, but it doesn’t mean what it once did. She nods down at the way to the Chamber. “You’re closer to the way down now. Leave, and I’ll show you when everything’s dry again.”

“You’ll really show me then?” he asks, grabbing sink after sink along the row as he makes his way towards the Chamber, careful to avoid the faucets, though they too seem frozen. “You’ll show me what I need?”

“Yes,” she says floating higher and twirling about with an odd sort of smile, “just what you need. You should go back now.”

Draco nods and says, “Okay” and smiles back at Myrtle before turning and focusing his attention fully on walking across the ice and back down to the Chamber. The stairs that Snape had so hastily constructed shift and shake beneath him, slick from water and freezing slush, and he is careful never to put the whole of his weight on any one of them all at once.

Once back, he glances into the un-boiling cauldron before settling himself in the Basilisk’s skeleton and preparing himself for sleep and whatever will be there to meet him when his eyes close. There is something more to life outside the castle, he thinks, something to do with the shape of the moon and the strength of waves beating against the shores on distant beaches and the way the stars move across the sky. It’s something that he is losing as he blocks it from his mind. There is a war, and both sides want him dead, but the world doesn’t change here. He thinks of Myrtle’s smile and her promise and the frozen stillness of the bathroom just above him, and he can wait— if it’s not much longer, he can wait.

~*~*~*~*~*

Draco dreams, that night. He dreams of Myrtle with him in the Chamber, watching as he overturns all of Snape’s cauldrons and throws his potion vials against the far wall as Peeves laughs and kicks his feet and tosses ingredients from Snape’s stores into a huge fire he’s set in the center of the room. Myrtle sighs, floating through the flames and the smoke, looking as if she might be trying to put the fire out with whatever coldness she has in her, while murmuring about ridiculous things like writing on mirrors and pages torn out of books and the need to keep safe forever, even after Draco’s ensured his future with spells to bind him to the earth.

She winces and looks teary-eyed, and Peeves moves from the ingredients to the Basilisk’s skeleton and begins to throw its bones onto the pile of burning Mooncalf eyelashes and Kneazle whiskers and spider legs. She sighs heavily, a difficult task for someone who weighs nothing at all, and tells Draco again to be careful, but it’s hard to keep listening to her moaning and whispering and hard to keep glancing over at the disappointment written on her face and hard to keep searching for some secret meaning behind everything she tells him.

He rolls his eyes and reaches down for the largest, heaviest cauldron on the floor, the one that never boils, and laughs when he finds that he can lift it on his own. He carries it back to where it once sat, before it was rolled across the floor, spilling pearly-gray liquid as from it as he goes, and Myrtle stops floating agitatedly back and forth between the corners of the Chamber and Peeves stops tending to the fire as Draco swings the cauldron by handle, slamming it into Slytherin’s face until the stone begins to shatter.

Slytherin makes a few broken hisses in a condescending tone Draco’s heard from Snape many times before, and Draco keeps swinging the cauldron, screaming to no one and laughing hysterically as the face of his house’s founder is slowly reduced to rubble. Myrtle tells him to stop, as she must have been telling him the whole time, and Peeves sings as he zips up out of the Chamber, and taking a wand he finds lying beneath Snape’s workbench, Draco begins throwing every curse he can think of at the walls and the potions spilled on the ground, at the fire and the pile of stones where Slytherin’s face had been only minutes earlier and at Myrtle.

He wants the spells and hexes, burning on his fingers to silence her thoughts and give strength to his own, and he doesn’t need to say the words, just think them hard enough to send them buzzing through the smoky air, and some explode in the as soon as they drop from the wand, and some bounce of the walls and the floor as colored bolts of light, swirling around him, passing right through Myrtle.

Wind fills the Chamber, blowing the smoke and spreading the fire and sending his own curses back to hit him, and suddenly he has slimy tentacles sprouting from his face and red boils on his arms and acid burns on his fingers, and just as suddenly all of it is replaced with fur and then with scales and then with his own too-pale skin.

He summons water to put out the fire, but he can’t stop it from pouring out of the wand, no matter how hard he thinks or how hard he screams, and Myrtle watches silently as the water keeps flowing down, not slowing to a drip until he’s neck deep in it, and below, strange things begin brushing against him, gripping hard at his feet and winding around his legs, and trying to pull him down. The wand falls from his hand and sinks, and he doesn’t go searching for it.

Myrtle floats over to him, looking very much like she’s expected this to happen all along, and he wonders why he didn’t, why he thought for once his plans wouldn’t fail, and he shouts out of fear, not bothering to think that the tears in his eyes might have been caused by the smoke, and she promises to go find help. He watches as she leaves, and he waits and waits for her to return, and something hard closes around his hand below the water, trying to wrestle him under, and he wakes up on the floor with his arm threaded through the Basilisk’s bones before she gets back.

He feels something terribly cold against his hand and jerks it towards him with enough force to shatter the three ribs that had held it in place and looks up to see Myrtle smiling. “Nightmares?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, coughing and staring down at his hand to make sure it hasn’t been frozen off. “Horrible ones.”

“I wasn’t here,” she says, absently looking away at the far wall and into Slytherin’s closed eyes. “I came through the wall when I heard you screaming.”

His hands tremble, and he nearly falls to the floor as he stumbles out of the skeleton, and he looks around the room to see that Snape’s cabinet is still in place and the cauldrons that had his most precious potions in them are still gone and that Slytherin is still where he always was, hissing softly with his mouth opened and his lips turned down as a spider weaves its web in the hollow of his ear. “Well you’re here now, aren’t you? And I can’t imagine why you would be unless it’s to finally show me to that book you keep hidden in the library.” He wonders if he’s angry at Myrtle for something that happened between them in a dream or if he’s mad about the dream itself and thinks she might have been the cause of it, and he’s thankful that she isn’t very clever, that there are so many things she doesn’t know and so many things she died before having the chance to learn, because she only nods.

“The library,” she says, “of course, the book. That’s why I’m here. I would have come later, but you were screaming. I thought you called my name.”

“I wouldn’t,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I’m sure I didn’t.” And Myrtle nods again.

“I’ll wait for you there,” she says before floating upwards, brushing his shoulder with hers and making horrible chills run down his back, leaving this time trough the Chamber’s ceiling, and he’s slow to walk across the Chamber and slow to climb the stairs and slow to follow the hallways to the library and settle himself at a table far from the Restricted Section, across from the shelves of Herbology books and beside a long window, but he doesn’t look outside, and soon the slowness turns to impatience.

He leans back in his chair and taps his fingers on the tabletop and mutters about stupid ghosts not doing what they say they will and wonders, just for a second, if there might be some truth to it buried beneath his annoyance, and just as he begins telling himself not to let nervousness and bad dreams turn his brain to mush, a thick, hard bound copy of one of the more recent editions of ‘Potions and Poisons’ drops down onto the table in front of him only inches away from landing on his fingers. He pulls his hands back fast, forgetting that they were the only thing holding him in place, and his chair tips backwards and sends him tumbling down onto the floor. Above him Myrtle smiles and laughs and says, “Hard to keep your balance today, is it?” as if the answer isn’t obvious enough.

He stands eventually and opens the book on the table and is met with the screaming whistle like a kettle-topped cauldron coming to a boil, and he slams it shut. “You didn’t tell me it would do that,” he says, turning to glare at Myrtle.

“I didn’t know,” she says, and he sighs and turns back and opens it again, wincing away at the noise, and a young woman with red hair and familiar green eyes smiles and waves at him from the from the page of ‘Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Masters’ as someone with much darker hair moves out of the picture with surprising quickness towards an article on revolutionary new techniques of Pensieve construction.

“I thought you said it was a book about flowers.” He blinks still looking down, and threads of doubt begin to weave themselves through his thoughts, but he blocks them as he blocked Snape’s searches, and over his shoulder Myrtle reaches down and slams the book shut just as he did.

“It is,” she says, and Draco would have thought she was breathing hard if it were possible for her to breathe. “I mean it was— some of it. I never cared much for books, so I wouldn’t have really known.” She turns the book’s pages clumsily and silently through diagrams of cauldrons and flames and vials and pages of nothing but words until she gets to a small picture of purple flowers and blinks down at it. “There— deadly nightshade that’s . . .”

Draco takes a step back so her shoulder won’t go through his again, but as he watches pages moving beneath her fingers and the book in her hand hovering inches above the table, he wonders if that’s what would really happen if they get too close. “The book!” he says. “You’re holding it! I thought you—”

Instantly, the book falls closed to the table, and Myrtle floats backwards with her hands behind her, looking down at the floor and up at the ceiling and everywhere but at Draco. “No— I — no.”

“But you . . . you did.” He reaches down for the book and pulls his hand back fast upon finding how cold it’s become. “I saw you.”

“I just stopped it from screaming, that’s all.” She darts nervously from side to side and pretends to pick at her chin. “Here,” she says, moving forward and pointing to a page in the book sticking out further than the others. “Open to that.”

He flips through the pages slowly, expecting a blast of noise to fill the library at any moment, but it never does. He comes to the place Myrtle pointed to and finds there a parchment covered in shaky, scribbled writing in a dark ink that stains the pages it’s pressed against in and comes off on Draco’s fingers when he reaches a hand out to touch it. It’s a spell, a long one covering both sides of the parchment, but something about it seems wrong and new, even the parchment it’s written on shows no signs of age, but preservation spells have always been strong.

He expected it to be shorter and simpler, as the most powerful enchantments always are. He expected it to be written in one of the old languages that only someone with magic in their blood can speak, the languages where each word held hundreds of secret spells from back when no wizard needed a wand to focus his power. He thought that would make him feel better about having his own wand taken away, and he glances up at Myrtle, who sways nervously from side to side. It would be useless, he thinks, comparing a spell she’s found and written to Snape’s scrolls or the books his mother keeps in her secret library behind the portrait of her great-grandfather, who had once been headmaster of Hogwarts. Myrtle’s still not looking at him, but he nods to her and he takes a deep breath and stands straighter, pressing his palms flat against the table.

The spell she’s written seems like nothing more than a dozens of simple spells and hexes strung together, things that contradict each other— spells for weightlessness and cheerfulness coupled with sadness and heaviness, spells to bring shadows and complicated Lumos charms, strange spells that are only used on plants to keep their roots firm in the ground and to soften tree trunks before the axe. He reads them all aloud, and he means them, and he tells himself it’s the intent that matters more than the words. When he’s finished he slumps back into the chair and waits, but nothing happens.

“I didn’t feel anything,” he says after minutes of waiting, and Myrtle looks down at him, and from her expression he can’t tell if she’s pleased and trying to seem upset or upset and trying to seem pleased. He knows that she didn’t want to tell him anything at first, but perhaps she’s learning not to be so foolish about such things, or perhaps she’s foolish as ever and disappointed that he was able to trick her so easily into giving him what he needed, but whatever the reason for her odd glances and strange half-smile, Draco finds it hard to keep from smiling back.

“You don’t,” she whispers. “You don’t feel anything yet. You’re not supposed to, not until . . .”

“So, that’s it?”

“Yes,” she says, biting her lip. “That’s it. That’s all.”

He leans back in the chair again, but this time it hovers, balancing itself at an impossible angle as Draco sits there, kicking out at nothing and feeling himself flooded by an incredible sense release and relief and victory that he could never before imagine. “That’s it,” he whispers, and then he slams his hands down on the table, shouting, “That’s it!” He hops easily to his feet and overturns the table and kicks the chair so it spins, still balanced precariously on one leg and pulls a book down from a nearby shelf and hurls it across the room laughing as rich, dark soil spills from its pages and leaves sprout up all over it’s cover, and it’s hard to keep from jumping up and down and hard to keep his hands from shaking.

“Stop it, just stop it!” Myrtle shouts, nearly crying, and he reaches out to touch her hand, but she pulls back quickly, passing easily through tables and chairs.

“Lets go flying,” he says, walking towards her until the overturned table blocks him from moving any further.

“Outside?” she asks.

“No,” Draco shrugs, and he thinks of the thestrals flying over the forest and the Devil’s Snare growing longer and more tangled in the dark greenhouses and the Whomping Willow punching angrily against the cold wind, and none of it scares him. None of it matters, and he doesn’t know why Myrtle would want to see it anyway. “Better not,” he says, “not with the way Snape has been lately. No matter where he is now, he’d be sure to find out, and I’d much rather not be tied up again, even though I have managed to escape on my own this time.”

“Of course,” she says. “Of course not.” And she takes her glasses off in a quick easy motion and uses the back of her hand to wipe her eyes before putting them on again, blinking. Draco blinks too.

“You’ll go then?” he asks, and she nods before he realizes that he doesn’t have a broom and doesn’t know where he can get one. In those moments after saying the spell words there was only relief and a dizzying need to separate himself from the ground beneath his feet and move faster than he’s dared to in months, and no matter how reason tries to ground him, he tells himself that he’ll find what he needs if he searches, and he’s not just thinking of a broom and a proper place inside the castle to fly. He’s thinking of everything he’s ever complained of having gone without in the Chamber— proper food, warmer robes, a wand so he can let out all the magic he feels pooling inside him and crackling in the cool air. “Wait here, will you?” he says, and he starts leaping over chairs on his way out of the library before even hearing her answer.

“Yes,” Myrtle says, when he’s nearly reached the door, and he turns around to see her floating still above the ruins of the Herbology Section. “I have time.” And a part of him wants to stay there and keep looking at her, but it’s too hard to keep his feet from moving forward.

“So do I,” he says to himself when he steps out into the hallway, and then he screams it, because so long as he’s in the castle he doesn’t care who hears or what they can do to him. “So do I!” And because he has time, he takes it. He walks slowly, at first, down the center of wide hallways, imagining crowds of younger students parting ways to let him past and he walks faster through the narrow back corridors, knocking fists against empty portrait frames as he rushes by. He loses his way at first but only in the sense that he’s spun himself around so many times he can no longer tell east from west. He had no plan from the beginning, no imaginary map to follow, and when he comes to a golden frame, housing a picture of red velvet curtains and an empty chair that he recognizes from his prefect patrols as the best place to catch the worst sort of troublemakers, the ones who made trouble for him without ever getting into any themselves, he tips the frame forward and slips easily through the large hole in the wall it was meant to conceal.

The Gryffindor common room is huge and round to fit the shape of the tower that houses it. There are sofas and plush chairs and small round tables set across the wooden floor without thought or planning, and dust that lays still over everything. Draco can see the room’s emptiness, and he can feel in his chest, and it bothers him more than he’d ever admit. He tries to walk up a set of stairs, but it turns into a slide and sends him tumbling down to leave print of his body in the dust on the floor.

He finds another set of stairs, this one leading down, and he searches through the seven dormitory rooms they lead to. He finds three brooms and takes the best for himself, a Comet 360 with straight twigs in its tail and slight dents on its handle as if it had been nicked by the careless swinging of a heavy beater’s bat while in flight. It might belong to a Mudblood, he thinks, someone whose parents are stupid enough to think brooms should only be used for sweeping, because he can’t imagine a proper wizard leaving a broom behind. He holds it in his hands for long moments wondering if he should drop it in disgust and if such an action would prove anything to anyone other than himself, but even in the small rooms he can feel the emptiness pressing in on him, and he decides not to care about the broom’s former owner, because its his now, and he can tell himself he found it in Slytherin or in the broom shed or that it was a spare he kept all along, a slower broom to make Quidditch practice more challenging. He can tell himself anything he wants, and he can make himself believe it so long as he finds a place to hide the truth, such is the power of his Occlumency.

Wedged under a mattress, where even the most diligent house elf might have neglected to look he finds a large, patched robe, probably left behind by some seventh year, who would have no need of school robes wherever he was going, and he puts it on over his own robes, and he makes his way back to the common room and out into the hall, pausing only for a moment to look at the footprints in the dust that he leaves behind.

He hops easily down the stairs with the broom slung over his shoulders, and when a balled sheet of parchment comes flying at the side of his face, he swings the broom around fast to bat it away. Peeves laughs sharply and appears balanced on the lower banister in a one armed handstand.

“Malfoy’s girlfriend’s lying to him! Snapey thinks he’s mighty dim!” he sings before throwing another ball of parchment that hits Draco square in the forehead and zipping away through the halls.

“Snape’s not here anymore!” Draco shouts after him, and he rolls his eyes and picks up the parchment. It’s nothing but a page torn from a book, the publishing information of a twenty-year-old potions text covered in smeared black ink. He tosses it back into a corner and continues on his way.

In the library, he finds Myrtle sitting in a chair at a table that has somehow been set back on its legs and staring down at an open book in front of her.

“Race you back to the Chamber,” he says and watches as the book closes and she floats back through the chair.

“Alright” She’s looking out of the window rather than at him. “Are you sure it’s safe?” she asks, turning back to him and nervously playing with her hair.

“I’m sure it’s not.”

She seems to sigh, and he swings the broom down in front of him and they both share a silent look and coupled with half smiles before setting off in opposite directions.

No matter how wide the hallways seemed when walking them down the center, they’re narrow on a broom, and the faster he goes the narrower they become. His shoulder brushes against the stone on one side and with only a slight correction he slams against the opposite wall. It’s dark and hard to keep his bearings, and everything blurs together. The portraits and tapestries and windows at first pass only as flashes of color brighter than the stones that surround them, and as his speed increases, he can’t see them at all. He loses his balance flying too close to the ceiling and then again flying too close to the floor, and both times he hits the walls hard on each side, trying to find the center. The turns are sharp, and he nearly misses them.

The broom— his broom feels alive beneath him, when he lets go of the nervousness and speeds through the colorless tunnels, trusting himself to find his way without slowing down and then without thinking. He imagines himself swimming, eyes closed, in cool water, and he knows where the walls are without having to touch them, and he knows that every moment is painful and uncertain and just the same as the moment before, and he tells himself that he can do this—
That he can go on forever.

It’s hard too keep his thoughts from carrying him away, just as it’s hard to keep from going straight when he passes the doors to Myrtle’s bathroom, but the broom leads him through and then down the stairway tunnel in a blind vertical dive that the closeness of the walls surrounding him makes it impossible to pull up from. He lands on his feet somehow, but his eyes are closed, and the air is suddenly colder than he remembers, and he thinks he may have had to do a summersault in the air to manage it. When he opens his eyes the first thing he sees is Myrtle perched in Slytherin’s mouth, looking bored and nervous and amused and a dozen other things that a person shouldn’t be able to look all at once.

“How—how did you?” he asks, breathing hard.

“The pipes,” she says. “They lead everywhere.”

“That’s not fair!” he nearly shouts, tossing his broom down onto the floor and kicking Slytherin in the chin harder than usual. “Just like you to cheat.” She laughs, sounding almost relieved and almost frightened, and he notices that she seems to be looking at the Gryffindor crest on his robes. “Shut up.”

“I could have just gone right through the floor,” she says, “but I don’t like that so much, so I only go that way if I’m in a particular hurry. The pipes are much better, really, especially if you want to get to the secret rooms that only appear every new moon or every seventh Sunday. They don’t normally have walls to go through, you see, and it was quite a trick finding them.”

“You’ll have to show me, then,” he says. “You have to show me everything.”

“Everything,” she says, looking doubtful.

“Yes, everything. Tomorrow. We can start at the main entrance and go all around the castle.”

“It will take longer than just tomorrow. It will take longer than the next two months of tomorrows.”

“I have time,” he says, smiling, “promise you’ll show me.” And Myrtle looks just a bit uncomfortable, but nods before floating away to her bathroom.

He taps on the pipe, that night, over and over again, and Myrtle taps back. Neither of them has any sense of rhythm, but the sounds of their tapping and the swishing of water and the echoes bouncing of the stone walls of the Chamber all blend together into a song without words, and he asks many times if she’s there, and she says yes, in the U-bend or in the S-bend until he doesn’t need to ask anymore, because the question’s in the tapping and so is the answer. He asks it with his fingers, and eventually, the meaning changes, and it’s not a question anymore but the same declaration passing back and forth between them— ‘I’m here. I’ll always be here’ — and Draco believes it. Belief has come easily lately, and he thinks himself stronger than he’s ever been before, stronger than Snape and stronger the castle and stronger than any faint doubts that are becoming easier and easier to push away.

It may be hard to keep Snape from finding out what he’s done, and it may be hard to keep himself alive and out of the Dark Lord’s reach, and it may be hard to keep living in the unchanging world of the castle, but, for now at least, in the dark safety of a secret chamber, he can be invincible and equal to any challenge. He keeps taping on the pipe as if he could go on forever, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever need to sleep again, but deep down a part of him that he blocks away with the walls he can build out of thoughts and false memories knows that he is wrong about a great many things. He does fall asleep that night, on the floor beside the pipe with his head resting on his newly found robe, and he dreams of faucets fashioned into snakes and of the pale shapes of ghosts moving beneath dark water, of skeletons and frightening shadows and the feeling of drifting away on the faintest wind, and he forgets it all by morning.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Part six

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