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Hard to Keep (6)

6/28/07 11:15 am - Hard to Keep (6)

Part six


Draco meets Myrtle at sunset the next day after he’s smuggled his supper from Snape’s private rations only to find the food worse than any Snape had given him, and he decided it must be laced with some foul tasting potions or perhaps that Snape likes rotting food in the same way he likes the yellow stains on his hands and the greasiness of his hair and keeping Draco tied up out of reach of anything to eat or drink to ensure his safety. He kept looking— searching for something better when he found a long velvet sack too heavy to lift and too hot to touch folded beneath the emptied cabinets and the rough worktable, and he recognized it instantly— the potions. Snape was flustered then and angry, between the Legilimency and his hasty decision to carry his things wherever he was going, he must have forgotten to take the sack, or perhaps its lightening charm had failed so he was forced to leave it behind, hidden away where he would have thought it safe, and Draco smiled as he made his way to the main entrance.

The air is still in front of the huge doors. Pink-orange light pours in from the high windows to mingle with shadows that dance their way across the floor, and Myrtle hovers back and forth in front of him wearing an expression he’s only seen on her only once before— hope, and he was too rushed then to realize that it makes her look much less foolish than she normally does.

“Will we go outside?” she asks, and he shakes his head with a slight scowl.

“Of course we won’t. You said you would show me the way around the castle. You promised, haven’t forgotten about that already, have you?” She gives a dramatic sigh and mutters something about nobody keeping their promises, and he rolls his eyes. “What was that?”

“Nothing,” she says with an odd smile that looks more resigned than the one she wore earlier. “There’s nothing you forget, I’m sure— nothing you fail to notice or choose not to see.”

He narrows his eyes against the light. The sun’s getting brighter, he thinks, fighting back against the coming darkness for the few moments before it’s forced beneath the horizon. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks, and Myrtle looks out the window, avoiding his stare.

“Nothing,” she says, and he can see her despite the sun. Unlike the bright overhead lamps in the bathroom that made her nearly disappear, this light seems to make her brighter. She shimmers against the window and taps her fist gently on the glass and looks like a wholly different person when she turns back to him.

“Why did you help me?” he asks, blinking. “With everything, I mean?”

“You needed someone to.” She keeps smiling and floats over to the wall, where he can look at her with his eyes fully opened. She shines against the castle stones and forces the shadows back, pooling around his feet like dark water, and when he looks down, he can’t see his own. “You were making such a mess by yourself, and you were so upset. You’re very sensitive, you know.”

“I— I’m not,” he begins. “Well, I’m sure you would be sensitive too if the Dark Lord wanted you killed.”

“I know.” She glances out the window one last time, transparent skin shining like ice crystals. “It’s getting cold,” she says, and he nods.

He follows at first, when she starts floating down the main hallway and then walks beside her. She doesn’t speak much, but shows him how to get from the dungeons to the Astronomy Tower by going down a rickety set of stairs and where, years ago, a group of intrepid Hufflepuffs dug tunnels beneath the stones of their common room that curl around the outside of the castle, leading to the kitchens and old storerooms full of heavy wooden chests and rolled up carpets that look like they might fly if given the chance, and one tunnel that doesn’t curve at all, but leads away from the castle towards the forest.

“I don’t get it,” he says, resting a shoulder carelessly against the packed dirt wall. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just get an invisibility cloak if you wanted to sneak about? Or a Hand of Glory, that worked well enough?”

“No,” she says. “Those can only work for a few people at once, not for everyone, and not when someone’s really looking.”

He peers down the longest tunnel, but unlike the others that branch and twist, he can see no bends in it and no hint of light coming from the end. “Where does it lead?”

“I don’t know.”

“But how far—”

“That’s what I thought you should find out. This is the way to escape, Draco, the way that doesn’t appear on any maps. Apparition can be tracked and so can Portkeys, and all the secret passageways out lead right into Hogsmeade, and they’re not really secret anymore.” She pauses to shiver. “They were never really secret from him.”

Draco doesn’t need to ask who she’s talking about. He remembers the red eyes and the feeling of all the walls he built in his mind crashing down around him beneath their gaze, and it’s hard to keep from shivering along with her. There is someone from whom no secret can be kept, not the truth of his final encounter with Dumbledore, not Snape’s loyalties and certainly not the Chamber where they now hide. Draco tells himself it will be okay, in the end and that’s why it was so important that Myrtle finally showed him what he needed to do, and he tells himself that that’s enough, but it’s hard to keep believing it.

He shoves his hands into the pockets of his outer robe as he takes his first steps into the straight tunnel, and he’s thankful, as he walks further in and the light from the room above fades, that Myrtle has somehow gotten brighter, she shines just enough for him to see his feet on the ground and know when to step over roots and rocks and ruts in the path. They walk until his legs are sore from walking, but that doesn’t mean much. He’s less used to movement now than he had once been, his time lying about in the Chamber made sure of that.

He blinks when he sees a light ahead of him, and Myrtle smiles. The ceiling of the tunnel rises and a stairway of flat stones leads to a dome window that she tells him is enchanted to look like a rock if seen from the outside, and Draco rushes up to look through it with Myrtle floating behind him. The sun has set, and it’s easy to forget how bright the sky had been before he went with Myrtle into the tunnels.

He looks out on a grove in the center of the Forbidden Forest empty but for a few young, branchless trees that will probably die when winter comes, lit by the glowing of pale-white moon mushrooms, covering the ground between them. The forest beyond is a blur of dark grays against the black sky, and from it he can hear strange noises that could be the trampling of centaurs or unicorns or strong winds snapping against the upper branches of trees or something much worse. He remembers what he saw his first time in the forest and what Snape told him, when he ran alone back to the castle that night, horrible things about the lengths some would go to in order to keep themselves from truly dying, and he shivers and turns and rushes straight through Myrtle back into the lower tunnel.

“This could go on for miles,” he says. “We should head back. I want to see the pipes maybe how to properly sneak into the Gryffindor dorms, incase that disgusting woman ever comes back to her portrait.”

“I don’t think she will,” Myrtle says, floating slowly back down, and the darkness around him recedes. “Oh, I’ll show you the rest of it, Draco, but this is what you can’t forget. You have to remember it, even when you’d rather think of other things. This is the way out.”

“I don’t want the way out. I don’t need it,” he says, trying to smile. “I don’t plan on leaving, do I?” And Myrtle sighs and begins to float back towards the castle, and he follows.

The walk is silent until they reach the Hufflepuff common room, and then Myrtle begins telling him of the pipes behind the walls, and her words draw strange, complicated maps of mazes more confusing than the castle’s twisting hallways, full of disappearing drains and snaking S-bends that go on forever unless you travel them backwards. She talks about how the water flows to the bathrooms and the kitchens and from them along different channels that twist and branch and reconnect and bend in ways that follow the contours of the castle and ways that don’t make any sense at all, and he looks at the drab stones and finds it impossible to imagine anything beyond them.

He flops down in his spot at the Slytherin table, when they reach the Great Hall, and everything is empty—the chairs and the tables and the walls where the house crests once hung— everything except the sky where the ceiling should be, which is so full of stars that looking at it makes him terribly dizzy, and he begins to understand why people build walls over their heads and in their heads and make rules that may seem stupid at the time and make themselves believe they can’t change, because freedom— true freedom is terrifying.

It might be better, he thinks, to feel too big for the Chamber he’s kept in than too small for the world, and he doesn’t bother telling himself that his future is already decided or that he’s not as helpless as he feels alone in a huge, empty hall, where the silence that echoes off the walls seems redoubled every moment he stays, and he watches as Myrtle weaves in and out of the floating candles and understands for the first time that she’s at once decades older than him and two years younger. She looks up at the ceiling sadly as he tries to look away from it, and she floats just a few feet higher and taps on the crescent moon with her fist.

“The only reason they enchanted it like this,” she says, “was to make it seem bigger.”

He stares down at the chipped wood of the table in front of him, and he can see the reflection of the sky beneath his fingers. “I don’t know why they made it seem so real.”

He shivers from a strange chill that suddenly fills the air, and he glances back to Myrtle, who hasn’t taken her eyes off the ceiling, and she floats slowly higher until her head bumps against it. “Neither do I.”

The decision to leave then is easy, and they both make it at the same time. They walk along hallways with gentle downwards slopes that are easier to find with your feet than your eyes, and Draco wonders how he never before noticed the now obvious slanting where the floor meets the walls. When they’re down far enough, she shows him the huge long-unused pipes that tunnel under the lake. They walk through them into a dark that even Myrtle’s new brightness can do nothing against, and Draco can hear echoes of the water above him and feel small drops hitting his head and his shoulders, always taking him unpleasantly by surprise.

“It’s made of glass the rest of the way,” Myrtle says a few steps in. “If we we’re here while the school was opened it would be full all the time, but if you come back in the daytime, you’ll be able to see the water over you.” Draco imagines himself lying still at the bottom of the lake with Myrtle floating somewhere in the castle above unable to do anything to help, and he’s quick to turn on his heel and walk back in the other direction.

Myrtle follows him this time, and the pipe must have branched off somewhere that he hadn’t noticed, because he comes out on an underground beach that he’s only seen once before, surrounded by the natural stone of a large cave and the shaped stone of the castle walls. There’s light there, a strange sort of light that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere all at once as if a permanent Lumos has been cast over the area. There are shadows splitting off the boulders that lie scattered across the sand, spiraling in every direction, some black as a starless sky and some the soft, clear gray of dust and cobwebs, but from where he stands beneath a rock overhang he can’t see a single one of his own.

The small boats that carried him and across the lake his first year float still in the water and seem smaller now than they did then. He walks slowly across the wet sand and hops from one boat to the next. He tries to use the momentum he builds to move one of the boats forward and adjusts his weight and keeps trying until he slips and stumbles and falls into the lake and swims in the dark water with Myrtle hovering over him. Paddling with his head still above the surface, Draco notices that the shoreline curves inward, and he can see the signs of wear and age on the stones where the lake meets the castle.

The waves are rougher now than they would be on a windless day, and the outward pull would be strong enough to carry the boats away if they hadn’t been charmed motionless, but even then the water must lap against the castle, and he wonders how many years it will take before those stones will have to be replaced or repaired or how long it will be until they’re worn down completely— until they can no longer support everything above them, and whether the castle will fall or slowly sink into the lake, and what the world will be like when it’s finally gone. He shivers, thinking that he’ll really know the answers to all of it one day, and he feels himself starting to sink. “I’m tired,” he says, breathing hard. “I can’t keep going.”

Myrtle reaches a hand out to him with a smile that makes everything about her glow. “You don’t have to.” And if she says anything else after that it’s lost to the sound of water rushing against his ears as his head tips under the surface of the lake. He can see her then, far away from the unnatural light of the beach, she shimmers and bends with the movement of the water— the only real thing he can see against the dark, and then she’s right beside him.

She feels real underwater. She was never the strongest or surest of people— he’s certain of that, not even the strongest or surest of the silly girls who made up her year, but she’s solid pressed up against him with fingers colder than the water that surrounds them, digging into his back, and even if he wanted to breathe now, even if there were air for him and the shock of slipping under hadn’t made his lungs seize up, he doesn’t think he could manage it, and he tries to kick himself to the surface, but he can’t manage that either, so he stays still and keeps his mouth shut tight as she pulls him back up and onto the muddy sand of the shore. He coughs and sputters but is quick to get to his feet, and he avoids her eyes and her smile as they follow a loose stone path back into the castle.

He asks her how she did it when he can breathe enough to get the words out, and she floats nervously from side to side and tells him what she already has and what he’s already known long before, that there’s a different kind of magic in water— a magic that distorts reflections and makes true things seem false and close sounds seem far away and ghosts seem real, because it can’t pass through them as easily as air. He shivers and thinks of a cauldron kept over fire for months never reaching a boil and a slow steady drip and the strange sounds he hears alone at night.

His clothes are soaked, but they dry fast. The outer robe he wears seems to have a quick-clean charm on it, the kind only poor families, who can’t afford to have spare clothes or laundry-elves would use, but he’s thankful for it as he walks with Myrtle through secret passages that lead to libraries filled with old Muggle books and abandoned music rooms and gymnasiums. The portrait frames are empty, and the hallways all seem to blend together, and he wonders if he’ll remember any of the things she’s shown him by the time morning comes.

Climbing stairway after stairway, she tells him what it’s like to be a ghost, how the colors look different at first, and how after a time people begin to look the same and how you never feel pain, but there are still memories and imaginary hurts that linger even after your body is gone, and she cries while she tells him most of it and looks nervous and twitchy when he asks to know more and says it doesn’t matter, but Draco knows it does. He knows it matters more to than Snape’s potions and his travels and his secrets and more than anything she can show him in the castle or outside it.

She tells him other things— things that have nothing to do with death and what comes after— how she fell off the broom her first time flying and discovered dozens of the castle’s secret rooms by getting lost over and over again, and how one winter the lake was so completely frozen that not even the giant squid could break through and the students turned their brooms to sweeping ice, making all sorts of clever adjustments and transfigured anything large enough into heavy rounded stones. She tells him how she liked the way the ice felt solid beneath her and easy to slide across and how she kept one of the altered brooms and hid it in a secret hallway that disappeared the next year. She describes the game— curling, as if Draco would care about such things, which to him sounds very strange, even for something thought up by Muggles, and he thinks about telling her only a Weasley would want to play the sort of sport that involves sweeping or be any good at it, and he thinks of calling her a ridiculous thief— as bad as any other Mudblood until he remembers the broom he claimed as his own just a day before.

The Owlery is empty and has been for so long that even the smell of the owls is nearly gone. He stumbles over his feet walking past and shivers. The windows there are huge and always open and the wind blows in, whipping up the feathers and dust, and Myrtle floats over to the largest window and hovers above its edge for just a few seconds before turning back. She follows him reluctantly into the Divination room, whispering to herself. It’s cold there now, though he doubts she can feel it, or maybe it’s the warmth she can’t feel, but it’s cold all over the castle, and Draco wont let himself think of those faraway places with warm fires and strong heating charms that sparkle in the air or the farther away places where the sun is still bright and the days are still long.

He drinks from one of the bottles of baking sherry he finds hidden in Trelawney’s desk, and he yawns and stretches out on velvet pillows and lights the incense burner on the table beside him. The air is thick here. Dust rises from the floor and swirls through the room at his slightest movement, lit like tiny fireflies by the red-gold light of the beaded lamps, and he wonders why Myrtle looks warily at the crystal balls and scrying water and what the future could hold that would have the power to upset her. He thinks of the dark, seemingly endless tunnel beneath the ground that she was so intent on showing him, and he thinks of the height of the tower room where he now sits, staring out of an arched window that shows nothing but stars and feels dizzy and unsure, and he takes a few more swallows from the bottle, and soon all of his doubts and insecurities are lost in a sticky-sweet haze.

“You should start back,” Myrtle says in a crooning sort of voice when the bottle is nearly empty. “The stairs are tricky, and it’s getting late, and I don’t know how you’ll manage it if you can’t walk.”

“I have time,” he says, laughing. “I have as much time as I want now, don’t I?”

“No, Draco,” she says, “not as much as you think.” And he tries to glare at first, but his face won’t cooperate, so he rolls his eyes and stumbles to his feet and begins looking for another bottle. Time stretches and shrinks like a shadow in flickering light. The candles and lamps go out as Myrtle floats by them and then flare back to life when she is no longer close, and Draco raises another bottle to his lips and laughs when it slips from his fingers.

He stumbles around the floor, picking up bits of broken glass and dropping them again until he realizes it doesn’t need to be done. He laughs again settling himself in the chair behind Trelawney’s desk, putting bangles on his wrists and tying an odd, flowered scarf around his head. “I can do what I like,” he says, his tongue thick in his mouth. “I can do what I like whenever I like, and no stupid ghost can tell me I can’t, especially not when she was a M-mudb—”

The lights turn off suddenly all at once, and Myrtle shines in the darkness brighter than ever before.

“I can still see,” Draco says, picking up a peacock-feather quill as if he might start to write a letter by the light she gives, but he laughs as it tickles, his chin, and it slips from his fingers to the floor. “I can probably see better now than when the lamps were on, and I don’t know why it should bother you anyway, if I say it— it’s true. You were— you are one.” His head swims as he reaches down to pick up the quill and as he tucks it into the scarf he wears and as he sneers at Myrtle. “Don’t want to be reminded of being alive, do you, Mublood? Were you really that pathetic?”

“I hardly see how that matters,” she says. “I haven’t got any blood now, have I?” And she fades slowly or the dark seems to grow overtop of her, and Draco laughs at how very silly and stupid she is and at his own cleverness and at the way the baking sherry spills down the front of his robes as he drinks.

He waves his arms through the air and says, ‘It’s horrible. Everything’s horrible’ in a high, shrieking voice and laughs at the skill of his impression, and he keeps laughing in the dark until he feels cold fingers brushing his neck and a hand pressed hard against his back and then nothing. The smell and the heat of the burning incense dissipates, and in the darkness Draco imagines ghosts gathering around him— ghosts of children and ghosts of the old, ghosts of his ancestors he’s passed in the hallways of his home and seen gathered around the mausoleums on autumn nights, ghosts from wars, who wear shimmering blood across their chests like medals, ghosts missing hands and legs and heads. He’s frightened of them, though he tries to pretend otherwise. He’s frightened because to his eyes they’re horrible and because in his mind they seem sad and desperate, and he doesn’t want to be like that. He tells himself that he won’t be and that he isn’t now, but it doesn’t work.

“I’ve had enough of this!” he shouts into the empty room, and he hears no answer but the faint echo of his own voice. He rises cautiously from the chair, reaching out with his hands for something solid to keep him balanced. “I’ve had enough of you!” And something cold snaps against the back of his knees, and then he’s on the floor, crawling and wondering if his eyes closed when he fell or if his sight has been shocked out of him or if it’s really as dark as it seems, and eventually he stops wondering and starts falling again, but fear takes hold, and he looses consciousness before he hits the ground.

When he properly wakes, he’s on another, harder floor in a colder room with brighter lights over his head and flickering about the edges of his vision, and from the corner of his eye he sees flowers on a mirror ledge and he smiles. He tries to sit up and he tries to suppress the fuzzy memory that someone had caught him when he slipped through a trapdoor and that he floated in the air, and he fails at both.

“You’re in the bathroom,” Myrtle says, and he looks around for her, but can only see a cool light shining out from behind one of the cubicle doors.

“I shouldn’t be here,” he says, blinking. His head hurts, and he feels sick all over. He’s too hot and cold and uncomfortable in his skin. “This is a girl’s bathroom.”

“No,” she says. “It’s my bathroom.” The cubicle door swings open, and freezing water splashes him in the face and Myrtle looks down on him, smiling. “And I said you could be here, for now at least.”

He glances back at the opened stall, shaking water from his hair and glares up at her. “I really hope you used a sink.”

“I didn’t.”

She was angry with him, he remembers, and he remembers why, but he doesn’t apologize. He struggles silently to his feet and wrestles the box of fireworks from its hiding place in the wall and starts down the stairs to the Chamber.

“You shouldn’t,” Myrtle calls after him, and he pauses and sighs, and then she’s right in front of him. “You’re ruining everything by being so reckless— everything, and then none of it will matter . . .”

“What?” he asks, stumbling and dizzy and holding tight to the splintered, wooden box.

“You shouldn’t. You’ll get caught.”

“I—I’m not as stupid as you are,” he says. “I’m not going to freeze anything or spill anything all across the floor, and I don’t care what Snape thinks anyway.” He walks straight through her, shivering as he does and when he tilts his head back to see her glare, he forgets where his feet are and sways over into a jagged wall. He stays leaned against it the rest of the way down the stairs, remembering that he flew there once, and is now having a much harder time of it simply walking.

“You shouldn’t,” Myrtle says again, and when he reaches the bottom, he’s surprised to see her already there, hovering above Snape’s few belongings and the velvet sack he knows hides the potions. He walks straight through her and gives the sack a few hard kicks until the full cauldrons begin rolling across the floor growing bigger and bigger as the near their places and wobble upright without spilling a single drop as the fires beneath them spark to life and until he feels the glass of flasks and beakers shattering beneath his feet.

Draco smiles and lights the a large rocket, which is quick to explode, and its blue-white sparks become a blizzard of snowflakes as they fall to the ground, and he glares when he notices Myrtle hovering near the ceiling shifting her gaze from him to the cauldrons and back again as the weakest fires go out and thin layers of ice form over the potions inside. He says nothing.

Fireworks flare up in the faint, dusty light of the Chamber and wild sparks dance through the air as dark stains of spilt potions spread across the floor. He burns his hand taking them out of the sack Snape used to hide them. His whole left sleeve turns blue when it slips down into one of the cauldrons, and his arm beneath it is unable to move. Myrtle watches silently, following the fireworks with her eyes as they take the shapes of dragons and spinning wheels and sighing as bits of flame drift up into the vents that lead outside. There are tears in her eyes, but he doesn’t ask why. His tongue feels awkward in his mouth and too clumsy to be used for speech, and his reactions are slow. When he takes a second glance at her, she’s looking directly at him, and she seems angry.

“If you had listened to me from the beginning,” she says. “None of this would be happening.”

“I—I want this to be happening,” he says, tripping over the Basilisk’s skeleton as he walks. His limp arm hangs useless at his side and he can do nothing to stop himself from falling. “That’s why I did it, because I can bloody well do what I want!” He lies on the floor, and his shouts echo off the stone walls, and he wonders if any of them make their way out through the vents to what lies beyond the castle. “I’m not sad or pathetic or stupid.” But whatever Draco claims not to be, he is still very drunk, and of course it’s then that Snape returns, blowing into the Chamber like and angry gust of wind, black robes billowing behind him. Draco gets slowly to his feet and takes a wobbling step forwards and righting his scarf as bangles jingle on his wrists, and Myrtle catches his eyes for just a second before swooping off towards Slytherin’s mouth to leave, and for long moments she seems lost in the smoke, but he catches her ducking down behind one of the cauldrons instead, and he wonders why she stays, even if she’s hiding.

Snape’s eyes pass over everything in the Chamber, lingering longer than they should on the un-boiling cauldron that stands where it always has, above the fire and below the drip, untouched by snow or sparks, before settling on Draco, and Draco fills the silence as best he can. “How dare you!” he screams, “You left!” And he feels as if his voice is so loud the stones will not be able to take the force of its echo and will shatter all around them and as if his head is spinning on his neck as fast as a Sneakoscope, making him incredibly dizzy and blazing red to prove yet again that he cannot be trusted.

He keeps screaming. “You were gone for days, and you left me tied up!” It is hard to keep standing and hard to keep his eyes focused. It is hard holding on to secrets that can slip like water from his hands and hazy memories that are being pulled slowly from his mind like smoke and silver thread until all that is left are the things he’s told himself, and he can’t be sure of any of it. He focuses on blocking Snape’s thoughts, though no walls he builds now will be able to withstand focused attacks. Still, Snape pulls back, leaving Draco to wonder if he was ever anywhere but right in front of him glaring at him and the Chamber and all the destruction he’s caused.

“Neither the spell nor the ropes were meant to be permanent,” Snape says, sounding tired and angry and defeated, but Draco won’t let himself believe that, and he knows he can hardly be observant in his current state and congratulates himself on simply pushing words out of his mouth without being sick all over the floor. Snape says little after that but nothing Draco can hear. He turns back to the far wall to face Slytherin’s disgusted hisses and then draws his wand and begins charming the spilled potions up off the floor.

Draco settles himself first in the Basilisk’s skeleton and then by the disused pipe, and he watches as Snape rights the overturned cauldrons, long fingers twitching restlessly. “It was Peeves who did it all,” he says minutes later. “He made this mess, not me.” But Snape shows no sign of having heard him, so Draco leans back farther against the wall pressing his good hand to the floor and watching the dust swirl away from it. He thinks of the spider that once crawled alone across Slytherin’s forehead and whether that might have been the first spider to brave the Chamber after the Basilisk’s death. He has seen no more before or since, not that he can remember, and he thinks of how pointless it seems to be brave or calm or sure of anything— to get up after falling, to brew the same potions over and over again, knowing they may never come out right and how thoughts and feelings and even the things he owns are so hard to keep.

He thinks of a song played long ago at the parties his parents threw and tries to remember the swirling of colorful robes as graceful figures danced across the floor and the way he would sneak away to one of the large windows to watch broomsticks flying over the hills, and he taps it against the pipe, a stumbling, unrecognizable rhythm that his unsteady fingers can hardly sustain. It’s hard to keep his balance, even sitting on the ground and hard to keep his body obeying the commands of his mind, and he wonders if he might have started humming out loud, but if he does, Snape shows no sign of hearing it.

Across the Chamber fires are lit and cauldrons are emptied of what remains in them and filled again and smoke begins to wrap itself around everything. It all passes in a blur as if everything is now moving at an impossible speed, and before he lets his body flop back against the wall, Draco thinks that maybe nothing is truly permanent, not even the things that seem like they are.

Once Draco would have shouted longer or louder. Once he would have listened intently to Snape’s directions and followed them without question. Once he would be sure of the correct path and run along it as fast as he could for as long as he would last, but that time and that person already seem a world away. He knows he’s turned seventeen since he left school the year before, but he can’t remember the day or where he spent it hiding, and he feels very young like he’s had no life before and everything’s started all over again.

Snape calls him a child once more, mumbling angrily with his head stuck halfway in the un-boiling cauldron, and tells him again without speaking that by his age he had already invented dozens of spells and refined the brewing of dozens of potions and had earned his way into important texts as one of the most promising wizards of his generation, even as the Gryffindors tried to sabotage his every move, but there is only one spell that matters to Draco now, and it is in the library still, written on thick parchment and trapped between the pages of a loud-whistling book, but he can feel it inside him too. He tells himself he must be able to, because he said the words just as they were written, and he feels the echo of that power in the water that drips down from the ceiling and in the stones beneath his feet, and it’s real, while the potions that Snape brews in the Chamber do nothing but color the air with their smoke and make it hard to breathe.

Nothing can stay the same always, Draco tells himself again, laughing silently into the pipe, because nothing can remain perfect, but some things can last forever, and if this is a contradiction, he builds a wall in his mind dividing the separate truths. The pale spots on Myrtle’s face are no different from the Dark Mark on his arm or the thin scars that still wind their way across his chest from Potter’s Sectumsempra or that jagged scar on Potter’s own head for that matter— though Potter will follow a different path to immortality, but Draco tells himself he will still be here even when books that tell of Potter have crumbled to dust.

His arm is still stained violently blue and still cannot move, but he feels no pain there, nor any annoyance or frustration for his mistake. No one can live in the world without being marked by it. Once this would have made him feel dirty or disgusted, but now he doesn’t feel solid anymore, as if all the scars and stains that mark him could pass harmlessly through his skin, becoming nothing on the other side, and his shadow has all but disappeared, but that doesn’t bother him as it once did, and neither do Snape’s taunts and threats. He smiles before closing his eyes, and for that night, at least, his sleep is dreamless.

Part seven

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