6/28/07 09:59 pm - Hard to Keep (10)
Title: Hard to Keep
Type: Draco/Moaning Myrtle sort of het, mostly gen
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of this.
Summary: Hogwarts isn’t the same after Dumbledore’s death. Snape isn’t the same. Draco isn’t the same, and Myrtle most definitely is not the same as she was before. All proper wizards believe in ghosts, and sometimes ghosts believe in them.
Notes: I might have something more to say about this later. I know it’s not perfect, but right now I like it, and I’m really glad to be done with it.
Snape doesn’t speak, and he doesn’t fade in to the background so Draco can try to ignore him. His stare is focused mainly on Myrtle, and Draco imagines he’s trying to think of a spell or a potion he could use to do away with her, or maybe he’s surprised she hasn’t floated away and hid— that she seems to be glaring back at him, and Draco feels caught in the middle and too numb to move from the floor.
“We should not allow distractions to delay our departure any further, Draco,” Snape says finally. “The forest is more dangerous at night, and it would be best to get our start while there is still some light in the sky.”
“You shouldn’t go through the forest at all,” Myrtle says, and Draco coughs, and Snape manages to look even angrier than before. “You can’t forget?” she whispers very close to his ear. “You remember, don’t you?” But he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. His own memories seem foggy and distant, and it’s hard to keep his focus long enough to pull them back from where they hide. He can’t ignore Snape. He can’t tell himself he’s not there, because he is, but he can put his energy to better use than worrying, and he can se the same tools he built his walls with to push aside the debris and find what matters and what’s true.
Draco closes his eyes, and he thinks of his time in the Chamber, of things forgotten and things remembered, of Myrtle and Snape and his mother, of a fragile trust and a vow that can never be broken, and he knows that he is now numbered amongst those who live only because of the sacrifices of others. He thinks of the way out, and he thinks of how Myrtle never got a chance to use it.
“What about you?” he asks opening his eyes, and Myrtle glances quickly at Snape before turning back to him.
“You wanted to go outside, didn’t you? It’s not just something I forgot, it’s something you wanted— you asked . . . you kept asking . . .”
“I still might.” Myrtle laughs, with dry eyes and a very bright smile, but it sounds like she’s sobbing, and he knows she’s lying to him. This time he can tell right away.
“Shut up,” he says, still thinking hard, and then, “Peeves knew. He knew you were tricking me.”
“Yes,” she says offering no other explanation or descriptions of how awful he was and how he always tormented her.
“He tried to tell me, didn’t he?”
“He did tell you, even though I tried to stop him. You just decided not to hear or remember or understand what was right in front of you. He told you because he couldn’t believe it would work out well in the end.” Her shimmering is doing strange things to the light, and Draco closes his eyes again and opens them slowly. He can feel cold air pouring in through the vents and Snape standing nearby, rigid and still and the pipes creaking as they shift positions behind the walls and beneath his feet, but all he can see is Myrtle. He thinks that sometimes what matters most isn’t so easily defined and that there are vast stretches between truth and lies.
“Has it?” he asks.
“As well as it could,” she says with a shrug and a stronger laugh, and maybe that’s the only answer there can be. Peeves is a spirit of mischief, after all. It will be hard for him, perhaps, with no one but spiders and mice to play his jokes on, but Myrtle was a person once. She needs to be seen to be real— to be properly believed in to keep from disappearing, just as she told him, just as all ghosts do, and Draco wonders if it’s something he was told long ago or something he always knew, because it seems real and right, and how could he have ever told himself otherwise? “As well as it could,” Myrtle says again, and he blinks and chokes back a laugh of his own, because he never would have taken her for an optimist.
It’s hard to get to his feet again and hard to keep standing, and hard to keep from looking at Snape, who would take the slightest glance from him as the cue to leave immediately. “You said you would show me where all the pipes lead.”
“Most don’t lead anywhere at all,” she says softly, and she looks different. Her brightness has changed somehow— it reminds him of a sunset or a Phoenix about to burst into flames. “Magic cleans the water and it goes around and around forever in the same patterns, never changing.”
“What about you?” he asks again, and something catches in his throat, because this isn’t about going outside. This is about what happens to ghosts when there is no one to see them, and about knowing finally that he will be gone from here very soon.
She opens her mouth and closes it a few times and shakes her head, and maybe she doesn’t know the answer, and maybe she doesn’t know how to explain it, or maybe she knows he’ll be able to tell if she lies, and in the lull between his words and hers his mind races to come up with a solution. Scenes rush through his head faster than any of the memories— frantic plans and elaborate scenarios. Could she go with him? Could she find another place? Could she, if she tried, move through portrait frames or magic mirrors or the Floo network? Time stretches, and Draco tries and tries to come up with the right idea, with some logical way, but each one of them fails in the end, and in the midst of each scene being played out in his mind, Snape is there waiting. His whole body aches. He feels tired and sick and dizzy, and Myrtle keeps shaking her head. “You’re leaving,” she says.
“Yes,” says Snape. “We're not safe here any longer, and perhaps when we are out, Draco, and away from certain influences, you will be more capable of taking your own safety— your own future into account.”
“He hasn’t done anything,” Myrtle says, and Snape glares at her, and she glares back for just a moment before continuing with only the slightest tremble in her voice. “And I haven’t done anything to him!”
Snape looks at her as if he’s about to start shifting through her thoughts, but then turns away as if he can’t find a path in or maybe as if he doesn’t need to. To Draco it’s clear enough that she’s telling the truth, and maybe he should tell the truth as well or at least a lie that starts with the truth. “She’s right,” he says. “I haven’t done anything, not like you think.”
Snape stares at him for a few seconds, and without any of the walls in place it’s terribly uncomfortable and more humiliating than he would like to think about, having those fingers poking about, looking over everything. Draco can feel half forgotten memories returning— real and vivid in his mind peeking out from where they had been hidden— the House Cup being stolen away from Slytherin his first year, losing in Quidditch again and again, a wine glass falling to the floor as his levitation charm failed. He’s dropped so many things since then and so often on purpose, and Snape’s urging him to let go of his hold that has been so hard to keep, but the fear still twists inside him. He’s afraid to stay and afraid to leave, afraid to die and afraid to let the future come and stand before it. “It’s okay, Draco,” Myrtle whispers. “It’s not as horrible as you think.” And maybe she’s talking about letting Snape in or maybe she isn’t. He’s despised her for years, and she has no real reason to trust him.
Draco knows he won’t have to do this again. He’ll have to rebuild his walls before he goes out into the world again and build them carefully so they won’t conceal things from himself as well as his enemies. He stares back at Snape he tells himself there’s nothing he need hide, and so there isn’t. It is horrible but not as horrible as he thought, and after a while, without even pushing back he sees into Snape’s mind for the smallest moment, or maybe it’s just a memory of Snape’s somehow absorbed by the castle, but his mother is there, and she’s asking about him as Snape tells her he’s well protected and promises to keep him safe. “It has been decades,” Snape says, when he has finally retreated and Draco is leaning heavily against the cubicle wall, breathing hard. “Several decades since a Defense against the Dark Arts professor has returned to Hogwarts for a second year. Some say that the position is cursed, but I have returned, and I did so determined you would learn if not to protect yourself from curses then at least to protect yourself from your own stupidity.” He glances at Myrtle, more annoyed than angry and then fishes about in his pockets before drawing out a bit of puffskein fluff that he holds between his fingers, examining thoroughly. “Perhaps you are beginning.”
Still short on breath, Draco listens to Slytherin hissing below him, and he glances between Snape and Myrtle and then down at his own trembling hands. There are secrets bleeding out of each of them now, whether by Legilimency or the strange magic of the castle, and he looks at Snape and the fluff in his hand in a way Myrtle looked at him once, and he doesn’t think about jealousy or blood or any magic other than the kind that made him want to bring Myrtle dead flowers and made him want to keep Snape alive before the other magic could show him how. ‘We’re even now,’ it says. ‘Now, I don’t owe you anything.’
He thinks of the memories hidden beneath the water of the un-boiling cauldron that Snape used to watch him, the memories Myrtle hid from, the memories he stored behind the walls in his mind to help him hide from the truth. He thinks of how unnecessary all the hiding has become. His head hurts, but his mind is not a Pensieve. Things won’t spill, won’t be lost and disappear. He looks from Snape to Myrtle, and he knows he won’t forget, and knowing that makes him think he might be able to step out into the changing world and to pick up his discarded life, even knowing it will never be the same.
It would be so easy, he thinks, to stay in the castle, just as it’s so hard to keep thinking of what it must be like outside and remembering how trapped he felt at first and how much he wanted to get away. It is very dangerous, he knows, to confuse familiarity with safety, but still he wonders what would happen if he could stay with Myrtle. He wonders if he would fade with her, getting weaker and paler until there’s nothing left that he used to be, and memories pass through him of tipped cauldrons and fireworks and snuck ingredients that weren’t about Snape, not really, though he may have thought it at the time. They were about Draco himself— his grasps for attention, his ways to prove he was still alive, to change things with his own hands even if it was only to ruin a few potions.
He wonders about Myrtle— what if she survived? What if she lived past looking into the Basilisks’ eyes— lived a whole life and left again leaving her thousand small marks on the world? But she left her mark in him. He can feel it, and the Mark the Dark Lord gave him can no longer hurt him so much. He shivers, feeling warm and cold at once and he conjures his own memories of Myrtle underwater in the lake and floating down from the divination room, closing books and touching walls and ceilings and tables, freezing potions, overturning shelves, writing on mirrors and in books. For someone without a body— without skin or blood or life, she’s touched so much.
“Why?” he asks, and Myrtle shakes her head. The room seems colder and then warmer. The overhead light flashes and flickers, and glows brighter and brighter, and then it explodes in a shower of sparks and shattered glass, and Draco thinks that it’s been broken before, and that it must have been fixed since then without his noticing it by Snape or Myrtle or by the castle itself. So many things can be mended, but not everything. Myrtle keeps shaking her head, but when she speaks her voice is strong.
“Because of Dumbledore,” she says, “Because he would have let you.” And Draco hears the words she doesn’t speak too— just like he let me. “It would have been so easy, and because of Tom Riddle, because he would have wanted you to, and so will whatever he is now. Because they were so wrong about everything— everything that matters. Because they were always so sure of the rightness of their great decisions and wanted to see if everyone else could make them as well.” She grabs the edge of a cubicle door and it seems to shake beneath her fingers. “How could they expect you to know what choices you have? And how can you make choices when you don’t really understand what there is to lose or when you trick yourself into believing there’s not anything to lose? When you’re mad or greedy or scared of all the wrong things? And how can you live with those choices if they leave you dead or worse than dead? The world shouldn’t be like that,” she says, and her hands seem to tremble as much as his ever had. “It should be better than that!”
She hits the door with an open hand and Draco’s sure he can hear it rattling, and he glances at Snape just for a moment, but he looks too surprised to say anything.
Myrtle looks down at her hand and sighs, and she shakes it a few times before shoving it through the door and back. She rubs it on her robes and against her face and floats back towards the mirrors, and Draco looks at her and at her reflection. “It’s not a great adventure,” she says, floating forwards again. “Not when you’re young, maybe not ever.” And Draco’s not sure that he understands her, but Snape seems to. He looks as if he’s almost nodding, and when she nods to herself, Draco notices that her shining has become dull and flat, almost slippery as if it’s about to slide away at any moment like falling water. “It’s horrible really, but there are some things worse, like living your whole life afraid and searching for ways to keep from really facing it. It’s not just your choices that make you who you are— it’s everyone’s— everyone around you.” Her voice falls to a whisper, but he can hear it clear as anything. “Why? Because of myself, because I had to do something or try to, at least, and because of you.”
She doesn’t cry, not anymore, but she seems to rub her eyes just incase. His fingers brush her wrist and then wrap themselves around it, and she holds on to his arm, much tighter than she should be able to. It’s not like before, not like anything he’s felt before. Her fingers are solid and strong. Snape hovers in the background, silently threatening to pull them apart, and Draco thinks that even if he tries he might not be able to.
The smoke is everywhere, and close as she is, Myrtle seems lost in it. He can hardly see her anymore. “You have to leave,” she says, and he knows it’s true. He wants to tell her that he’ll come back and to tell himself too until he’s sure of it, but he doesn’t know that much. He thinks of failures and triumphs and everything that the future holds and all that it hides from him, and the words are lost in his throat. He won’t let himself make anymore promises he won’t be able to keep. He can’t think of anything to say or how to say it, and it’s hard to keep trying, so he holds tighter.
Draco closes his eyes against the smoke and opens them again. The light is dim, but a single memory burns bright in his mind, and it’s not from the castle, not one of the shades and shadows drift past. It’s his— only his, and it might be stupid or silly to some— it’s a bit horrible and some parts terrifying, but hopeful and sad and brilliant and completely true. In a blink Myrtle disappears, but he can still feel her hand.
Draco stands there, tense and terrified and ready finally to break free of all the closed in spaces where fear echoes loudest, and he’s aware suddenly of the changes all around him. The forest grew and the days shortened. It is winter now. The moon traveled through all its phases many times without his seeing it, and the sun rose and fell and rose again more than he could keep track of on his own. The cauldron that was empty when Snape set it below the drip now overflows and there are memories all around him. He sees himself in them, when he tries, how he fell and got up to keep falling. He slipped in puddles and on ice and stumbled, sometimes over nothing more than his own feet, but bruises healed and scars faded. His hand was stilled and learned to move as well as it had before. He collected flowers from the greenhouses that had lived and died and lived again in a glass bottle before Myrtle touched them, and watched a Phoenix burst into flame and shake off the ashes.
He tells himself he sees her, even though he knows he that doesn’t— that he can’t. His hands are less sure of himself, and his grip falters and is barely regained.
Snape looks at him, now, as if he’s not quite so foolish as he was just a few hours earlier, and he feels older than before, changed and marked somehow by the world he hides from and everything that touches him, and he thinks that Myrtle died long ago, and some things can’t change, not really. He looks at her though he doesn’t really see her, and he can’t no matter how he tries, but he can feel her feel her, at least, her hand and her arm against his skin only slightly colder than the castle air.
He tells himself over and over again that she’s still there, and of course it’s true, but it’s hard to keep from doubting, and it’s hard to keep his grip steady with his hand still scraped and sore. He closes his eyes, and it’s easier then. She feels real at first, like someone still alive, and she seems to pull back just a bit as if expecting him to let go, but he doesn’t. He tries to think of something to say—something to shout. He wants to curse her for lying to him, for letting him lie to himself, and for making him feel more weepy and pathetic than she ever really was. He wants to find a way to get her to do as he asks, but she never would, and things would be very different if she had. In the end, Draco says nothing, and the bathroom is almost perfectly silent as he opens his eyes. He feels something shifting beneath his fingers her hand seems to lose its proper shape it feels wrong and not quite real, but he doesn’t let go, not when it changes into something cold as ice and then hotter than cauldron fire, not when the air around him flashes so bright he has to shut his eyes again. She feels almost normal then, normal for her, like something cool and very fragile with fingers that to tap and trace out invisible words on his skin and are then gone just as fast as wind blows dust across the floor.
Draco finds his voice then. “Where are you?!” he shouts, and he searches the sink basins and every cubicle, splashing has hand in toilets and staring at the walls as if he may be able to see through them if he tries hard enough. “Where are you?!”
Snape says nothing, not as he kicks at the rubble around the Chamber opening, not when he slams his fist against the loose stone that was once used to guard a hiding place as secret as the Chamber itself, not when he stumbles to the floor gasping for air and furiously rubbing his eyes and not when he stands again, finally with a deep breath and trembling hands.
The skeleton of the Basilisk lies still covered in dust on the floor of the Chamber below, and Snape runs his long, yellow-stained fingers over one of the snake-head faucets, darting his hand back as it snaps at him, catching the fabric of his robe in its sharp fangs. The potions are packed away, hidden in Snape’s bags and his pockets, wrapped in charms to shrink and lighten and protect. The fires are gone now, but some of their heat remains and mixes with the water pouring down from the ceiling to form pale clouds of fog that rise up through the hole in the floor. Draco’s silencing spell has been gone for hours, but there is no sound save for Slytherin’s hisses, coming from between his closed lips, and Snape and shuts his eyes tight before turning towards the door, and Draco shuts his eyes too and listens for noises in the pipes and thinks of swimming and flying and a tunnel beneath the school and the forest that could go on forever, and he taps on walls and sink basins, waiting for an answer that never comes.
There are the shadows that stretch long and the very short, squat shadows that form only when light is shone directly overhead and the soft, grey shadows that move and swirl like dust blown by the wind in the empty places where they make their homes, and the outside world is filled with all of them. There are the shadows that change from one moment to the next and the shadows that come at night and flow like cold water across the floor until the darkness fills every corner, and there are the true shadows— the ones that show the exact form of those who cast them, and Draco’s follows behind him as he leaves.
There was once an ugly little girl who spent her life thinking of horrible things and crying in bathrooms and wishing for the world to be a better place without ever lifting a finger to make it so, and one day she died and became a ghost, and later after the story of her life had been over for many years she would almost seem to live again— to no longer think only of horrible things and to stop crying in bathrooms and wishing for the world to be a better place without lifting a finger to make it so, to find that her hands could hold so much more than air.
Myrtle watches the door swing shut silently, and she sighs. It was so hard to keep from answering Draco, so much harder than she thought it would be. She unclenches her fists and closes her eyes and floats aimlessly from side to side, avoiding the mirrors that will no longer show any reflection of her.
She will wait, and the waiting won’t bother her, not at first. She will listen through the pipes and airshafts for the sound of footsteps in a secret tunnel, and she’ll flick her invisible fingers against one of the snake-head faucets, and it will turn its face away as it hisses. They’ve always hated her, and she’ll hate that this can make her smile against her will. The sky outside the window will become dark and then light and dark again before she can be sure that the castle is empty.
The silver threads of memories that danced through the air will slowly begin to disappear. Short days will pass, bleeding into long nights, and they will add up over and over again, becoming a chain of weeks in which nothing happens. Soon she will lose track of time as she had before, but all the years she’s spent here will weigh down on her. She’ll think of the other ghosts and how long it took for them to fade to nothing with no one to see them and believe, and she will think that it was her choice— that out of everywhere Hogwarts was the one piece of the world she decided to bind herself to— the only place she will be able to stay for just a moment alone without being lost completely— a mistake, perhaps, one of many. She was never one of the smart ones.
Myrtle will grow to hate the emptiness of the castle more than she’s ever hated anyone who once inhabited it— more than the old headmaster who died or the dark-haired boy who hissed at the faucets in their own language. Names will fade, all but one— Draco, and she will remember that she hated him too, but never for very long, and there will be fear— fear worse than any she’s felt before. She won’t be able to imagine, at first, how difficult it is to be alone and so trapped or how hard to keep from crying. She will run her hands along the cubicle doors pretending she can feel them, and she will talk to herself until she no longer has any voice, and she stay huddled down in the S-bend until even the water passes through her. She will listen to hear the poltergeist singing as it makes its way down the nearby corridors, and its songs will become quieter and quieter each time it passes by, and she will hover almost perfectly still above the bathroom floor, too scared to do anything else. It will be then that she’ll remember the feel of parchment beneath her fingers and floating back and forth so fast it almost made her dizzy and being believed in so much that even her lies were never questioned. She’ll remember a different kind of fear, one that came along with making plans that she knew couldn’t fail and having the power to change someone’s dreams.
It will be dark and very quiet, and she’ll know then that she lied to herself in those hours she spent thinking of the rightness and finality of her choices— telling herself stories of how Draco would leave unbound to any piece of the world and she would then be gone fast and forever and how in those few in between moments she would be free for the first time in her life and all the years that came after and that she wouldn’t be afraid— not of anything. Despite not being able to feel or touch, she will grasp at mirror ledges and cubicle doors and walls, trying to cling to what little she has while thinking that she deceived herself as much as Draco had done, and she’ll wonder how she could have ever thought differently?
Sometimes her mind will drift slowly back to a time and a place where life and death mingled just heartbeats and touches away and when someone held her arm even though he couldn’t see it to know it was really there. It was too hard then to keep visible knowing there would soon be no one to look at her, and she ended it, of course, because he never would. She will tremble a bit each time when she thinks of the moment she let her hand pass through his. It will be a memory stronger and more real than any of the others she’ll manage to hold, and she will think of what happened after and how she felt hopeful in spite of everything, believing she’d done something to help. She’ll have no one to help her like that— to push her hard towards the future, only memories, most of them to dim to recall save for the one that will glow bright in the darkness of her bathroom.
The fear will never fade, and Myrtle will know that there is nothing she can do to change that. She will hold on to it at first, and it will remind her who she is and who she was, and then she’ll relax her grip and let it pass through her like everything else. She will imagine feeling Draco’s pulse beneath her fingers and hearing his voice in the wind blowing in through the vents, asking what on earth she is and where she’s gone and finally asking why. She will ask herself these things, all the while thinking of water— how it felt against her skin and how once she felt solid in comparison, how it could turn to ice under her hands or become steam that covered the mirrors thick enough that she could draw her letters across them.
She’ll have nothing to say then or to write, but she will hover and sway to the rhythm of fingers taping against nothing and read invisible messages— apologies traced into the air with enough meaning that they’ve doubled and tripled and lingered for months between the dust motes and found their way back to her through miles of empty corridors. She will laugh to herself then, because Draco thought he was leaving completely but a part of him never will, and he may be fighting with everything he has or resting as he deserves to after months of sleeping on stone floors. He may be dead and on a journey that carries him beyond this world or hiding still, crouching in shadows with trembling hands and wondering how much longer it will last, but she will be where she always was and will feel tears prickling behind her eyes because, no matter how many times he’s written it or how much he meant it or how much he pretended he didn’t mean anything at all, there is nothing to be sorry for, not for her either, nothing to regret or cry for. The world shifts as she floats still in the air and blurs without her glasses. Everything just is.
She will think about how he held her arm and then about how he didn’t because she wouldn’t let him any longer and how in a single moment everything can change, but it is never easy. She will think about how she holds something now but not with her hands and will look around her trying to figure out just what it is. She will smile then despite the fear that surrounds her, despite the lack of light in her world or sound or hope, and one night when the sky is clear and filled with stars, she will slip through the wall that separates the castle from the world outside, and she won’t ever come back.
It’s not hard to keep things, not when you figure out how. What’s really hard is letting go.