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magicicada

Hard to Keep (8)

6/28/07 11:20 am - Hard to Keep (8)



Part eight

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

Draco dreams of the huge stones at the Chamber’s opening falling as slow and silent as snow. He darts between them as fast as he can to avoid being crushed, trying to make his way up the stairs and through the halls and out of the castle, and he looks for the broom he’s left hidden in the shadows, but he can’t find it anywhere, and by the time he’s finished looking, the entrance is fully blocked. More stones fall— the ones from above shake themselves loose, and the ones beneath his feet begin to drop away, leaving nothing below but darkness and thin, twisting pipes that move, bending and disconnecting and rearranging themselves. He jumps over them on the remaining patches of floor, and he tries frantically to pry open Slytherin’s mouth and to lift the stones too heavy for him to move in front of Snape’s makeshift stairway.

Myrtle passes in and out of the Chamber, silently appearing and disappearing through the walls and stone piles, and Draco slams his body against them shouting and coughing from the smoke or dust or from his own exhaustion. He falls hard on to a solid patch of floor and he can feel his pulse racing and the Dark Mark burning on his arm and blood pooling all around him. Myrtle hovers over him, but this time she offers him no help. She’s all he can see, and she just smiles and glances nervously from the floor to the walls and back again and laughs as if she has some deep and terrible secret, and then he sees nothing.

A part of Draco realizes he’s dreaming, and that newly awakened part of him realizes that the rest is still very much asleep, but things are changing around him. He feels wet and cold and frightened, and the voice in his mind he used to tell himself he’s sure and safe and not scared of anything at all is no longer there to comfort him. There are memories then— memories swirling around him, nearly choking him with strange magic thicker than the smoke that surrounds everything— centaurs running across the forest with sure, easy strides, the giant squid flashing its warning colors as it darts through the lake before heading for warmer waters, thestrals flying over the castle in slow, easy circles as if they could go on forever.

Draco wakes fully with his heart hammering in his chest and his breath caught in his throat, and when he turns his head the skull of the Basilisk is glaring down at him through the smoke and the dust his movement stirs, and he screams before remembering where he is. The un-boiling cauldron below the drip has begun to overflow, and his robes are soaked with the water he once used to measure the days, but time doesn’t matter anymore, neither do Slytherin’s hisses or Snape’s potions or the way fear rises in his chest with every breath he struggles to take. There is only one thing that matters now, and he tries to remember the way he felt the night before and the way he felt in the library after saying the spell and the way he felt when Myrtle promised she would tell him just what he needed to know, but he can only think of how nervous she looked then and the way she shifted fast from side to side, drawing over her path in trails of fading light, as if there was some secret he might discover if he were able to really see her.

He stands, and it’s hard to keep his legs steady, and he rushes up the stairs towards Myrtle’s bathroom. Snape catches his eyes for just a second and lets him go without a word, looking out over his makeshift workbench as he chops the adolescent mandrakes he spelled voiceless, barely glancing up from their silent, screaming faces.

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

The climb is harder than Draco remembers. His feet can't find steady ground, and he catches himself looking down to see if the stairs have been frozen again— but no— they’re wet as always and looser than ever before, and when he begins to think about guiding himself back down towards the Chamber, he catches sight of Myrtle glowing above him and keeps stumbling forward. “What are you doing here?” she asks the moment his shoulders are level with the floor.

He finishes his climb slowly and pauses to catch his breath. “I’m visiting you, aren’t I? Just like I promised I would.”

“Promised?” She looks surprised at first and then floats around him in a slow circle and forces an unpleasant smile. “You’ve had bad dreams.”

“What?”

“You were screaming,” she says, “last night and this morning. I thought it was a mandrake for a while, but no— I’m sure it was you. If it were a mandrake you wouldn’t be here now, would you?” She seems agitated and not as concerned as he would expect, and he doesn’t bother telling her that if he were killed by a mandrake scream he would be right where he is now, floating easily between the walls and mirrors and telling her that it’s nowhere near as unpleasant as she tried to make him believe.

“You weren’t down there at all, were you?”

“No, I was here,” she says, hovering still in the air. “I nearly always am.” And she’s said it to him before, but he’s no longer sure he can believe her. He narrows his eyes trying to figure out what’s changed— what secret difference there is that she could hide.

“It was terrible, really awful.” He sighs and shivers. “Well, you would have liked it, I suppose.” And he gives what was intended to be a rakish grin that falls flat the second he catches his face in a mirror, and he wonders how the confidence he felt the night before could have left him so easily, washed away by nothing more than spilled water. “I died, I think, usually I wake up first or go somewhere else, but in this one—”

She winces and looks down at the floor. “I was here. I was here the whole time. I hardly ever leave.”

“Oh, right. You look different.” She rolls her eyes, and he notices that they seem brighter like the rest of her, less obscured by fog and tears. He blinks and gives a laugh that comes out as a cough. It makes his throat feel terrible and the rest of him feel immeasurably better. This time his smile isn’t so forced and isn’t so hard to keep from falling away. “You’re not wearing your glasses anymore.”

“I didn’t like them,” she says, shrugging. “Neither did you. I’ didn’t expect you’d notice.”

“Yes, but I thought you couldn’t . . .” She shrugs again, and he leans back against the wall and lets himself slide easily to the floor. “So, what are we going to do, then?” he asks, sounding almost like himself before his Mark and his mission, and Myrtle laughs and sounds like someone he’s never met before.

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“What about Hornby?”

“Oh, she’s dead now,” Myrtle says with a soft bitterness that makes Draco want to look away. “She got married and had children and grandchildren. Some of them stayed here to go to school, others went as far as Beauxbatons and Salem Institute. They never saw me, not everyone does. Sometimes I’d rather them not. I’m good enough at hiding, you know.”

“Well, I see you, don’t I?” he asks, and he wishes he brought his broom up from the Chamber or that his legs were more ready to walk or that the stone walls weren’t so close on all sides. He wants to see more than long hallways and endless tunnels, and he wants to convince Myrtle there are places she’d rather be now than this bathroom where she died before she starts remembering and acting like herself again. He wants run from the castle, to go outside and to take her with him, but before he can say it she begins to dart back and forth between the cubicles, moving fast and looking worried and leaving trails of bright light behind her and his wants and wishes are quick to fade.

“We’re too much alike for you not to see me, I think.” She glances briefly towards the windows with a humorless smile. “And you won’t, not always.” She taps on the porcelain tiles, slow and soft, and the tapping echoes in Draco’s head as if its happened a hundred times before, and he blinks.

“I thought you couldn’t touch things.”

“I couldn’t— I can’t.” She snatches her hand away from the wall and floats towards the cubicles and the sinks— towards him and he reaches up as she passes over head and grabs her hand or the image of her hand or the air where he imagines her hand must be, wondering if he’s only fooling himself to think it’s really there and wondering why he would want to touch her anyway, and her wrist threads itself through his fingers, and he tells himself he can really feel it there. She glares and freezes in the air, and the air freezes around her, and Draco shivers but he doesn’t move. “I don’t know what you did to me— what you’re doing. Stop it! Get off!”

“I . . .”

“Stop!” she shouts, glaring, and her hand feels like thin ice that will shatter if he presses too hard, and he blinks again and shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts.

“You’re changing,” he says, pressing his hand against hers as if to shake it, thinking of the first time they met.

“No,” she says. “I can’t. I’m not. Things don’t change, not after they die.” And with her free hand she holds the mirror ledge as if she’ll use it for leverage to pull herself away from him, but instead she only turns her head and glances to the flowers he brought her months ago, bright purple now where they were once brown, with sparks of magic running through their stems, and her fingers brush the base of the bottle and then slip under it and through it, and it rises from the mirror ledge slowly and tips so that the water inside spills down into the sinks, and the snake-head faucets twist and snap and look up at her in confusion. She smiles down at them and at Draco, and when the bottle settles again on the mirror ledge the flowers are dried and the color of dust.

He tries to keep his eyes fixed on their hands, and he tries to hold tighter, but he’s given up trusting himself and when his fingers slip through he feels horrible and cold and empty. “I’m sorry,” he says, not sounding a bit like he means it, and she blinks and draws her hand away from him. He knows he’s said it before— weeks before when his plans were clear and she still held a purpose in them. It’s hard to keep from wondering why he says it now.

“Sorry for what?”

“I don’t know . . . maybe for everything, maybe for talking to you in the first place. I was scared. I think I was more scared of what would happen if I died than of what would keep happening after. You don’t like it here. Why did you stay? Why did you stay so I could find you and you could ruin everything? This is your fault, you know.”

“Oh—” she gasps, almost smiling, and he feels sick thinking about how horrible things make her laugh.

‘I’m not like you,’ he tells himself. ‘I don’t want to be anything like you.’

“Draco,” she says. “Oh, it’ll be okay.” But it won’t, because things never are, and it’s already too late. He’s already said the words she brought him, and it’s hard to keep from remembering how eager he had been to have them.

“Shut up,” he says. “It is your fault— your fault for being a stupid, scared Mudblood who didn’t have anyplace better than a bathroom to—”

“Don’t call me that.” She fiddles with her hair and picks at her chin, and any lingering traces of a smile are gone from her face.

“What?”

“Don’t call me that ever again,” she says glaring down at his left arm past the stains and the fabric of his robes, and he wonders if her sight can pass through barriers as easily as her memory of a body seems to and what she could see inside him if she looked hard enough. “That’s what he called me. Do you think I don’t hear things— that I don’t remember? Do you think the pipes don’t lead behind the walls of Dumbledore’s office? Do you think I didn’t even notice the whispers that pass between portraits or the way the other ghosts used to talk of difficult times ahead and Dark Lord worse than Grindewald?” The overhead light grows brighter as she speaks, brighter than her and brighter than it’s ever been before, and even when he closes his eyes he can still fell the brightness on his skin and see it through his eyelids, and then there is a clattering of glass and a crackling of magic and darkness all around him.

“I don’t know,” he says, opening his eyes and forcing a smile and crossing his arms so his Dark Mark is pressed against his chest. “You never really seemed to care about much that was going on outside your toilet, did you?”

Myrtle hovers as if sitting above the center sink and rubs a trembling hand over her cheeks. “You can’t be like him, Draco. Snape’s right about some things. You can’t be willing to kill people to keep yourself alive.”

“Actually,” Draco says, and he tries to make his smile seem real. “Actually, I think Snape’s point is that I should be willing to do a bit more to keep myself alive, but that doesn’t matter, not now, not after I— not after you—”

“It does matter!”

“And anyway, Dumbledore was old. He—”

She looks angry when he mentions Dumbledore but shakes her head fast and shines brighter. “It’s easy to make excuses.”

“You helped me!” he shouts, not caring if it rouses Snape or Peeves or draws long dead people long departed from their portraits back to their frames to watch the hallways and laugh and point as he stumbles by. “I wouldn’t have come as nearly as close if it weren’t for you. I told you everything I wanted to do, and you helped me.”

“I’m dead,” she says as if that explains everything and looks for a few moments as if she’s about to cry just as she used to. “I’m dead now.”

“And I will be soon enough!” Draco’s shoulders tremble and he clenches his fists tighter. “And I’ll end up like you! And it’s your fault!”

“I— well— you won’t—” Myrtle begins, but her mouth snaps shut, and Draco imagines a click of her teeth that sounds almost real, but there is no noise. There could be no noise from her other than her droning voice and he’s heard enough of that to last a very long time.

“Well you’re not making sense, are you? I don’t know why I listened to you in the first place.”

“I do,” she says with another half-hidden smile that makes him nearly sick. “It’s because I wanted you to.” And he can’t imagine what she means by it. “Because you wanted to believe what I had to say, and because I was the only one who would listen to you. You have to be careful when you get out there. I won’t ask you to promise, but—”

“You’re talking like I’m about to leave.”

“You—”

“Well, I’m about to get away from you now, aren’t I?” He needs to get away worse now than before. He imagines his screaming from the Chamber, and he can almost really hear it. He looks at Myrtle and is mad at her for everything she said and everything she can’t do and for laughing when he fell, even if it’s something that only happened in a dream, and he wonders if he’s been angry at her before for something like this— for another failure in another dream, but everything blurs together, and he feels like he’s falling again, losing his balance and his bearings. He thinks of tumbling from a chair in the library and stumbling through the hallways and slipping here in the bathroom above the Chamber when the floors were covered in ice, but it’s all dull and dim and clouded by smoke and dust and strange memories and by his own confusion.

Nothing seems real anymore and in the dark he can’t see anything but Myrtle, and he runs for the door, remembering suddenly that mandrakes always need to be added fresh to potions, that they’re always quick to expire, and that whatever Snape has been brewing for all these months, he’s nearly finished.

“It’ll be okay,” Myrtle says, but he doesn’t want to believe her now, and once in the hallway, he turns back for just a moment and imagines he can see her outline glowing through the closed door. Strange winds blow through the hallways, gently batting him back and forth. His shoulder hits the wall, and he falls to his knees, unsteady and uncertain, and he stays there shivering for long minutes before rising to his feet, and he walks, thinking that if he does it right he can go on forever, but his stomach hurts, and his hands tremble.

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

Draco walks by the room of requirement again, alone this time and glad of it, but he doesn’t know what he needs or how to ask for it. He expects to get lost as he keeps walking and to see something horrible around every corner. The puddles on the floor ripple as the wind passes above, and the morning sky looks dark through the windows, and he tells himself again that he’s isn’t afraid.

He makes his way down to the glass pipe under the lake and walks out to its center. The water is dark and empty, and he wonders if the mermaids and the squid have left to escape the cold and if there is some way he too could leave untraced if he were brave enough to try. The little sunlight that makes its way to the lakebed filters through and plants swaying gently above him and snakes over the pipe in constantly changing patterns, and he lays down to watch the dance of reflections, comparing the view to that seen from the inside of the Basilisk’s skeleton and trying to decide which would make the better grave.

He thinks of falling stones and falling water and shadows creeping everywhere, taking on lives of their own, but he doesn’t see his own shadow anymore, and shadows flee from Myrtle and her brightness. He imagines her in the bathroom, huddled in her toilet or pipe bends, floating in lazy circles, freezing the water in the sinks or dying all over again, and he shivers and tells himself he’s glad to be away from her.

He doesn’t know how he makes it to the headmaster’s office— Dumbledore’s office, because he can’t think of it belonging to anyone else— whether he climbed each staircase needed to reach the top of one of the schools tallest towers or found a secret passage or touched a still-activated portkey as he stumbled through the halls or if he floated up from the lake, but his thoughts soon turn to the office itself. It feels terribly empty, though its walls hold the only portraits remaining in their frames. The painted people look more dead than asleep, though a few soft snores and one loud, orange nightcap worn by a small round-faced wizard give them away.

There are other noises— the moving of pipes behind the walls, the outside stones creaking with the wind, the ticking of a strange clock with twelve hands and no numbers and a large Phoenix on the desk in by the far wall, coughing and wheezing alone without even a portrait awake to watch over it. He saw it before, while he was a student. The night he was to kill Dumbledore it had attacked him, circling him over and over again and nearly pecking his eyes out on his way to the Astronomy Tower, and he saw it a night earlier in Snape’s memory. It looks very different now— a mess of dull, molting feathers, cloudy eyes and a cracked beak that it struggles to open as waddles closer— old and ill and terrible, surrounded by Dumbledore’s golden astrolabes and cosmic calibrators, and Draco tries to step back and to turn away but finds himself frozen in the center of the room and looking the thing right in the eyes as it glows brighter for just a few seconds and bursts into flames.

The fire burns white-hot at its center and soft yellow around the edges, consuming ancient books, stacked on the desk and rumpled scrolls of parchment and the Phoenix itself, and Draco worries that his own skin will burn if he can’t soon force himself to move, and he is struck by the startling contrast of something cold behind him and wants to run more than ever back to the safety of the Chamber..

“Wait.”

He knows it’s Myrtle, and he can feel her floating slowly closer as he watches the fire burn out, charring the wooden surface of the desk below. He feels sick and unsteady and as frightened, but he doesn’t bother telling himself she’s to blame.

“Wait,” Myrtle says again, and he wants to tell her to shut up and to go away and to let her know that he would leave if he could move at all and has no intention of doing as she says, but his throat is tight and his tongue feels too thick to make words. He sees her reflected in Dumbledore’s instruments and in the window behind the desk, looking nervous and upset, and his eyes settle on the pile of ashes on the center of the desk.

The whole of the room is cold suddenly and dark in spite of Myrtle’s glow, and Draco shivers and swallows hard. He thinks of feathers the color of flames, flowers sparkling with magic, shining eyes and a withered black hand, fireflies spilled on the floor, sunsets over the lake, and how everything gets brighter right before the end.

Draco wipes his eyes and folds his arms across his chest in a feeble attempt to steady himself. His stomach hurts worse than it had that morning, and his hands tremble more than ever before, and he feels as if he’s falling and floating all at once despite being stuck in place by shock or fear or some secret spell designed to protect the office or the valuable instruments or whoever the head of the school might be might be, but there is no one to watch over Hogwarts now, and even when there was Draco was always reminding himself that he didn’t at all care what Dumbledore thought of him. He hears noises coming from down the twisting staircase, and he hears Myrtle tell him to wait once more and something squeaking and shuffling about on the desk in front of him.

The Phoenix is young now, covered more in fluff than feathers, and it shakes the ashes from its wings more easily than Draco has ever managed to brush the soot of the Chamber from his robes and scrub it from his skin. He takes a deep breath, and Myrtle makes ridiculous cooing noises behind him, and if he could find his voice he would surely laugh at her, but that doesn’t matter now. Draco feels at once able to move his legs and too weak to stand, and the room brightens as if everything has been polished and spelled clean. There is warmth then— a warmth that no cold can touch and no water can put out, and Draco can tell Myrtle is inching closer, but he doesn’t shiver. The Phoenix snaps and hisses at them both, and Draco smiles to himself, thankful it can’t yet fly, while Myrtle murmurs to herself about not expecting it would like her very much.

The portraits begin rousing themselves, shaking away their tiredness and peering around the office, sharing their drowsy greetings with each other. Draco wonders why these are the only portraits in the castle not yet abandoned. He wonders if it’s because the former headmasters and headmistresses care about the school more than the others or if maybe after holding the office for so long they don’t have anywhere else to go. He glances from one to the next, wondering what the school was like when they were in charge and how different they must find it now, until Dumbledore meets his eyes for just a second, and he’s quick to look away.

“I don’t expect that giant taught you much about magical creatures,” Myrtle says. “I went to school with him, you know, and he only seemed to care about horrible things.” Draco doesn’t bother telling her she’s always seemed to enjoy horrible things herself— causing nightmares and thinking about death and that that’s not really any better than liking thestrals and Blast-Ended Skrewts, but he keeps silent— she had, after all, been killed by a monster.

He notices from the corner of his eye that she has moved and is now hovering in front of Dumbledore’s portrait with her hands clenched at her sides, and when she speaks next he can’t be sure who she’s talking to. “Phoenixes are rather spectacular. They can do quite a lot when they choose to and when it’s not too late.”

“Well, I knew that would happen,” Draco says, rubbing his eyes and finally turning fully to look at Myrtle. “I knew, and anyway I hardly care about the old man’s stupid bird. I wouldn’t have been at all sorry to see it really dead.” She gasps and stares at him, and he’s struck by how out of place she looks surrounded by so much color and so many reminders of life and with no corners for hiding. Some of the portraits seem to glare at her and others look at her with confusion or pity or with something like fear, and Draco’s sure she followed him and sure she’s never been here before, and he tries to forget the warmth and the dizzy relief he felt just moments earlier.

“I just meant because—” she begins to say, but is interrupted by high-pitched laughing rising up form the hallways below.

“Is that Peeves?”

“It’s better not to bother with him,” she says. “It’s better to just wait . . . that’s why I told you to.” The Phoenix hobbles on unsteady legs across the desk and chirps in a voice that might one day grow to really sing. Draco laughs at it, and it blinks up at him not nearly as menacing as before.

“I’m not afraid of a poltergeist,” he says. “I never was. Why would you want me to stay away from him?”

“I— I just thought . . .”

“Why are you following me?” he asks. “Why are you here? You can go anywhere you want.”

She looks at him as if she can see into his mind, and rests her hand against the wall of the castle as if it’s solid and real as the stones themselves. “There are some places I can’t go.” But Draco hardly hears her reply. He’s off after Peeves, and for a few moments at least, Myrtle stays behind.

“You!” He shouts, running down the stairs and past the gargoyle. “You told Snape— you told him I was in the library!” And Peeves turns to look at Draco as if he’s mad, but Draco knows he’s right. He’s sure of it. He’s dizzy, and his hands shake, but he tells himself he’s sure of it and tells Peeves he’ll be sorry.

Peeves just laughs, tossing a familiar ink-stained book between his hands. He’s rough with it, and as pages begin to spill out, he tosses them as well. “You told old Snapey I was in your Chamber.”

“You were—” he starts to say, but no, that never really happened— it was only ever a nightmare, but he knows now why he told Snape it did— why it was the first thing to come to his mind, and Peeves laughs harder than before.

“Draco dreams, and then he screams and stains his fingers blue.
Snapey stews and makes his brews. He sees just what you do.”


“Shut up! I’ll set the Bloody Baron on you!” Draco shouts. “We’ll see how you like that. Don’t think I can’t!” And Peeves and the book and all of the torn pages he was juggling float still in the air. Draco can make out the pictures on them now and some of the writing— cauldrons, charts, purple flowers, diagrams on skinning toads and collecting porcupine quills. A potions book, he thinks, but his thoughts are chased away as Peeves begins to sing again.

“The Bloody Baron wasn’t seen.
He couldn’t stay where he had been.
If Draco could just use his brain
He’d know he won’t be back again.”


Draco blinks, and as the echoes die away he begins to think Peeves looks serious and sad. He doesn’t laugh anymore, and Draco shivers again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The ghosts,” Peeves says, circling slowly around him. “You must know—”

“Get away from me.”

“They’re gone— all of them— all but one.”

“Sod off, you!” Draco says, kicking out at him and nearly losing his balance. “Leave me alone.”

Peeves gives a crocked smile, plucking the book from the air and holding it out for Draco to take, and Draco reaches for it. He reaches for it, knowing that it’s surely full of Doxys or charmed finger traps or hidden jinxes to make his teeth fall out so he can no longer bite through the stale bread he’s given every day or something far worse that he can’t imagine.

“Stop it!” he hears Myrtle shout from behind him and then again as she floats between them. “Just stop it!”

Peeves does a rather poor impression of her, moaning as if he’s in terrible pain, and she seems to push him so that he loses balance and tips on his side.

Draco blinks again, wondering how she could do it and if it’s only because he’s a poltergeist and if then there would be nothing for her to push just as she has nothing to push with. His head hurts. It’s hard to keep pretending some things are happening and other things aren’t and hard to keep pretending he knows what’s real. The book Peeves was holding falls opened to the floor with a piercing whistle, and Myrtle is fast to kick it shut.

“Go away,” she says to Peeves, “just go away.” And he looks at Draco with and unreadable expression before turning and tumbling down the hallway, and Draco tells himself that he had wanted Peeves to leave him alone all along and didn’t care at all what he had to say, and he lets himself be relieved again and dizzy and warm.

He holds out his hand, and when Myrtle rests hers above it, he feels nothing more than weight of air, but everything pressing down on him lifts. He remembers when she floated quickly from the Chamber and from Snape and when she fled from the library. This time, she doesn’t leave and she doesn’t hide, and with his finger he traces ‘I’m sorry’ into the air where her hand should be. There is a faint tapping behind the wall, a snap of metal and the rush of water. He can sense it now as Myrtle must be able to. The pipes twist and curve and branch off in so many directions, and Draco wonders whether they will all lead to the same end, and whether he will find his future there, and he’s still scared, no matter what he’s been telling himself, and Myrtle isn’t. He looks at her and wonders if she’s beginning to realize it.

The gargoyle slides back in place to once more guard the spiral staircase, and they stay very still, waiting for Peeves to get further away.

Myrtle doesn’t speak and doesn’t move, and he’s not sure anymore whether he was angry for what she’d done or what she hadn’t or whether in the blur of dreams and memories he was made angry by something else that he can no longer remember. Falling to the floor of the Chamber seems more real than saying her words in the library or shouting at Snape the night before. There’s something different about Myrtle, more than the loss of her glasses or even the loss of her fear, something he can’t quite explain, but it’s hard to keep thinking and hard to keep so quiet and so still.

“You’re brighter,” he says to Myrtle, and she shakes her head and smiles and glances towards the nearest window.

The forest begins now just where the castle ends, and vines are already threading themselves between the stones and climbing up the outer walls. He looks down on it and imagines the shrill calls of birds and growls of strange animals. Twisted trees reach upwards towards a darkening sky as if trying to break free of the roots that tether them to the frozen ground, while the leaves that have already been shaken from their branches lie decomposing in the empty courtyards and blow through the air as the wind gains strength. It’s frightening, he thinks, and horrible, and he wonders how he’ll leave the castle if he needs to before telling himself he has no need to leave and that by spring it will be warm enough to fly over it all on his broom, if he must.

Draco turns from the window and walks slowly back towards the Chamber, and Myrtle lingers for a few moments before following behind, and outside the castle, snow begins to fall.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Draco stumbles down the makeshift stairway to find the Chamber filled with strange prickling magic and heavy silence and more smoke than ever before, and he finds Snape below his workbench, lying still on the floor. Thoughts come and thoughts leave just as fast like water slipping down a drain. Draco shivers all over and wants to run or grab the broom and fly away or somehow smash open the stone walls of the Chamber to let the smoke finally escape. The floor is wet and he slips when he takes a step back and slips again when he grabs Snape’s workbench to steady himself.

He wonders if Snape slipped as he did and hit his head when he fell or was struck by a backfired spell or choked on one of his potions. He wonders if he passed out from the smoke or just stopped breathing, but Draco is the one who can’t breathe now, and he remembers how pleased he was the night before at the thought that Snape would someday die. There are other memories that flash in his mind— images that seem to rise up through him from the damp of the floor and mix with the smoke and the shadows and there is something loud growing underneath the silence, resonating in the stones and rattling the cauldrons on their stands, tearing apart the stillness of the air. He hears it first as pain and then as sound, and the pain and the sound cannot be separated. It builds fast, and he falls to the ground beside Snape and as the shadows begin to creep around the edges of his vision, he sees Snape’s wand on the floor just an arm’s length away and beside it the knife he held that morning as Draco left— the one he was using to chop mandrakes.

His hands shake as he grabs Snape’s wand and as he props himself up on the table. He can’t see the mandrakes or tell where their sound comes from, but they’re getting louder— much too loud, and he knows what their screaming can do. He tries to think. There are so many memories floating around him, but he can’t find the one he needs, and he feels as if he’ll fall again soon and doesn’t think he’ll be able to pull himself up so easily. The magic in Snape’s wand seems drawn from the Camber and the air around him—it pulses against his trembling fingers with increasing urgency, and though he doesn’t remember the words at first, the motion and the meaning come naturally and the silencing spells slip through the wand as sparkling light and soon covers everything, pushing away the shadows.

His heart beasts fast and his breaths come sharp and unsteady as the smoke fills his lungs, and the pain in his ears continues despite the silence. It’s then that he screams, but he has no voice and there are no echoes and so much empty space his words can’t fill. He continues talking, muttering and mumbling things that he can’t hear and only half understands about what’s fair and what’s right and what has to be.

He wants to touch Snape— to know for sure whether he’s dead or alive or something in-between, but he’s scared— scared of knowing so many things and never sure what he really wants, so he tells himself it doesn’t matter over and over again and tries to build the walls in his mind to separate desires from actions, but the memories get in the way and he feels something inside him reaching past the boundaries he set. His hand reaches toward Snape’s arm, and his fingers brush his robes before he pulls away.

Draco tries to stand straight as the magic swirls around him and to think clearly, but it’s so hard to keep track of his thoughts and hard to keep pressing back against everything that urges him forward.. He knows Snape used Legilimency on him— real Legilimency, which requires no wand waving or incantations. It’s not something he’s done before, but the magic guides him, and his mind knows what to do. It’s like reaching out and like feeling breath on his hand, and Draco does this too and notices strange currents of air from Snape’s mouth and nose, but that is not where he focuses. He feels Snape’s dreams stirring in his mind— strange images darker than the memories that fill Chamber, and he doesn’t look any deeper but smiles, telling himself he could and keeps smiling as he briefly considers spelling Snape motionless and tying him up with charmed ropes.

He steps back across the damp floor towards the ingredients Snape keeps in stacked jars beside the workbench, and he takes a deep breath and coughs. He could search for the mandrakes and destroy them himself and make Snape wait another season to brew whatever potions require them. He could tear apart the Chamber worse than he ever has before, overturning each cauldron and vanishing the mixed potions from the floor using Snape’s own wand as he lies unconscious, but he’s tired now and relieved and dizzy, so he only holds the wand tight and shoves a few extra pieces of dark bread into his pockets and laughs as he packs puffskein fluff into Snape’s ears.

Draco takes off his outer robe and spreads it in front of him before he flops down on his back inside the Basilisk skeleton, surprised that he no longer feels cold enough to always need it on, and he leans back with Snape’s wand resting on his chest. Strange sounds rise through the unnatural quiet, and the pain in his ears worsens. He raises Snape’s wand and waves it to cast silence over the Chamber, and it feels like something he’s done before, many more times than once, and he tells himself that he can go on forever, but he knows that’s not true, and he doesn’t know how much time he has left. Minutes pass and then hours. Again the noises begin, and again Draco waves the wand, and again silence flows over everything.

The magic is strange now— different than it was before like an echo or a reflection in deep water or a shadow that grows larger than the one who casts it. Draco can fell it growing and changing in the still silent echoes that bounce between the walls as it spins and twists his spells and their meanings as it rises in the smoke and shimmers in the water spreading across the floor and the dark shadows that lie beneath. He fights against it, screaming ‘Silencio’ louder and louder until the spell finally manages to steal his voice away. It’s hard to keep his hands steady and hard to keep raising his arm and waving the wand and hard to keep himself awake. He sleeps and rouses himself and sleeps again, and slips in and out of disjointed memories more frightening than his dreams— portraits shuddering in their sleep and disappearing from their frames, strange writing appearing over the fog on mirrors, books in the library tumbling from their shelves, Dumbledore’s Phoenix losing its feathers.

‘I will make it through the night,’ he thinks, ‘and Snape will wake in the morning.’ Draco talks to himself and to no one. The pain in his ears is intense and unchanging, but he can still hear his voice when it breaks through the spell, and he can manage to raise Snape’s wand and to cast it again and again— more and more frequently as the night goes on. “I can do this,” he says. “I can keep doing this forever.” But doubt creeps in, no matter how many times he tells himself this or how much he forces himself to believe it.

The noise rises again, and soon everything is loud— the dipping water, the groaning pipes, his heartbeat and mandrakes’ scream. He could run, and if he runs now he could make it up the stairs and through the doors to the hallway where no sounds from the Chamber could hurt him, but he doesn’t run. He doesn’t stand or even sit. He takes a deep, unsteady breath and tightens his hold on the wand. The memories continue their dance through his head, but he thinks of the portraits in the headmaster’s office waking up and of the book he nearly took from Peeves’ hand and of Dumbledore’s Phoenix chirping and flapping its tiny wings, and he thinks of what he must do.

Something changes whether in the Chamber or in himself. The darkness behind his eyes and the smoke in front of them seem to lift for just a moment, and he casts a silencing spell stronger than any of the others, and it doesn’t lie overtop the shadows but mixes with them and lets them it carry it and weave it into the air and the magic of the Chamber. He can no longer hear his heartbeat, but he feels its pace slow and become steadier as if it could go on forever or long enough. The pain in his ears eases finally, and beneath the workbench Snape seems to draw a deep breath.

He easies his grip on the wand and lets himself rest as the memories rise up off the damp floor, and he sees first years riding in boats across the lake, friends laughing together during nighttime astronomy lessons before looking up unafraid at star-filled the sky above them, his common room full of people and full of voices that weave themselves together, becoming a song that lulls him to sleep, and he dreams of Myrtle’s face as she stares out a window.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Part nine

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