Part Two – “A Stranger to Himself”
Disclaimer: All characters and settings belong to J.K. Rowling. This story includes quotes from, and is based on, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, pages 521-523, U.S. Version.
Thank you to my excellent beta, Night Zephyr.
Draco cracked open the door to the Room of Requirement and cautiously peered around it into the corridor. With the exception of Crabbe and Goyle, who were still in their girlish disguises, there was no one else in sight. Goyle waved Draco out, signaling that it was safe for him to leave.
After spending several hours trying unsuccessfully to mend the broken vanishing cabinet, Draco felt drained and frustrated. He stepped outside the room and wearily leaned his shoulder against the heavy door to close it. Crabbe was standing with his back to the door, staring mutely at the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy and his clumsy troll ballet students.
Goyle hastily elbowed Crabbe, and he turned around. Draco’s frustration turned to anger as he marched over to them. “Recognize any family members, Crabbe?” He hissed, jabbing his finger at the tapestry. Crabbe mumbled something and looked away.
“What? Was that supposed to be an apology for not paying attention when I told you to help keep watch? You’d better try again,” Draco demanded, glaring at Crabbe.
“I’m sorry,” Crabbe muttered.
“You should be,” Draco snarled. “You should be sorry you’re such a foolish ape. Get out of my sight. Both of you.”
As they walked away, Crabbe and Goyle appeared to be complaining to each other. Crabbe looked back resentfully at Draco over his shoulder as he turned the corner. Draco simply stared at him, unwilling to waste any more of the little energy he had on Crabbe.
Draco set off in the opposite direction, his footsteps echoing on the stone floor. He hurried down a flight of stairs to the sixth floor so as not to be found lingering near the Room of Requirement.
Cold, he paused at an open window, letting the spring breeze dance across his face. But the warm air was no match for the chill that had taken root in his bones. He stuffed his icy hands into his pockets to warm them. As he watched the carefree students outside enjoying the last few hours of daylight, he felt trapped a world away.
A small group of students floated past Draco, their cheerful voices grating on his already frayed nerves. He assumed they were on their way to dinner. He thought it would be a waste of time to go himself, seeing as he had had very little appetite recently.
An unwelcome image of the broken vanishing cabinet appeared in his mind, accompanied by a familiar ache that throbbed in his side. Each time Draco paced outside the Room of Requirement to open it, he hoped that he would finally succeed and the excruciating pressure on him would end. He sometimes wondered if his anxiety was hiding a solution that lurked right under his nose. In the past several weeks, he had tried all manner of spells, from the simple to the complex, but they had all failed. He felt a sudden, desperate need to escape, to find a place where he could quiet the maddening noise of his own thoughts.
He continued walking, looking for an empty classroom. Peeking into the first one he found, he saw Hermione Granger chattering to Professor Vector. He leaned back against the corridor wall, unsurprised to come across her. Through her frequent presence in the library, Granger had unknowingly thwarted Draco’s attempts to research spells in the Restricted Section. He was unable to concentrate, fearful that she would see what he was looking at and run straight to Harry Potter with a report.
As poorly as things were going, Draco knew they would be much worse if Potter discovered his activities in the Room of Requirement. Thanks to Crabbe’s nosy questions at their first Apparition lesson, Draco thought that Potter already knew too much. But he wished he knew exactly how much of their conversation Potter had actually heard. Draco often felt Potter’s eyes on him during meals in the Great Hall, flooding him with paranoid thoughts.
Walking further along the corridor, Draco came upon the boys’ bathroom. He approached the door purposefully and pulled it open, in search of someone that he thought might be able to help him.
Though Draco had been angry and humiliated when Myrtle found him crying in the bathroom weeks before, he had felt an odd sense of relief as well. For a brief time, he didn’t feel alone, and the crushing weight of loneliness was lifted from his shoulders. Draco had found confiding in a ghost awkward, bizarre, and liberating all at the same time. But he desperately wanted some relief from his anxiety, and he hoped that seeing Myrtle again would help him.
The bathroom was quiet, except for the slow drip of the faucet. He scanned the room and checked under the stall doors to confirm that he was alone.
“Hello?” He called quietly, so that no one outside would hear him. He received no answer and tried again. “Hello? Myrtle?” Once more, he heard nothing. Just as he was about to give up, Myrtle drifted above the cubicle walls.
“Draco! You came back!” she exclaimed happily.
“Keep your voice down,” Draco admonished her, glancing over his shoulder at the door.
“I was hoping you’d come back. I wasn’t sure if you would,” said Myrtle.
“I said I’d come back, didn’t I? I always do what I say I’ll do,” he said, attempting to sound confident.
“Now I know I can trust you,” said Myrtle. “You’re not like that Harry Potter. Do you know him? He said he’d visit me and he never did,” she added sullenly.
“Of course I know him,” Draco replied crossly. “Famous Harry Potter. Always sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“I know why you came here,” said Myrtle, pushing her glasses up on her nose.
“You do?” Draco asked, suddenly feeling exposed.
“Yes,” she replied, soaring up close to him. “It’s the same reason you were here last time. You’re upset and you need to have a good cry. Whenever Olive Hornby had been awful to me, I would go to the bathroom to cry. We’re a lot alike, you know. I understand just how you feel. Are they still bullying you?” Myrtle asked in a sympathetic voice.
“I didn’t come here to have a cry,” Draco sneered derisively, although he was not being entirely truthful. “And no one bullies me,” he added, trying to convince both Myrtle and himself.
“Oh,” said Myrtle, sounding slightly surprised. “The last time you were here, you said that someone was pressuring you to finish a job. You were so upset about it, I just assumed they were bullying you.”
Draco did not answer. He thought bullying sounded kind compared to the kind of threat the Dark Lord had hung over his head. Not a moment went by when Draco did not feel the Dark Lord’s haunting presence, as though he was always lurking in the shadows.
“You haven’t told anyone, have you?” Draco asked, with a rush of panic. “You know, how you saw me…crying. Or about any of the other things I told you.”
“No, of course not,” said Myrtle. “I promised you I would keep it a secret. But we could talk more, if you want. Maybe it would help to talk things out. I’d love to know more about you,” she said, gazing at him with a dreamy expression on her face.
Draco was loath to give up the rare opportunity to have someone to talk to, even if it was a lovesick ghost. But still he hesitated; unsure of how much he should say.
Myrtle seemed to sense his indecision. “If you don’t want to talk about your job, we can talk about something else. Why don’t you tell me about your family?”
Draco turned away from her and shuddered as a chill ran down his back. The last thing he wanted to think of was his family. Knowing that their fate was in his hands was more than he could bear.
In his mind, he could see his mother waiting for some word of his success, waiting to hear that he had saved them all. The mere thought of losing her, the one person who loved him, terrified him. Thoughts of his father frightened Draco as well, but for a different reason. He could only imagine what his father would say if he could see him now, struggling through each day. He was certain that his father would be disgusted with him, and that he would never look at Draco the same way ever again. He wished that he could be the kind of son that his father would be proud of, and he knew that he would be if he could finish his task. Though Draco tried hard to put thoughts of his father out of his mind, they were never far away.
Every night, in his feverish dreams, Draco pleaded futilely for mercy at the feet of the Dark Lord. But when he looked up, he saw his father’s cold face.
“Please, Father,” Draco begged. “Please believe me, I tried my best. But it wasn’t enough. I’ve failed; I’ve cost us everything. I’m so sorry, Father. I let you down,” he cried, clutching at his father’s robes.
The end of the nightmare was always the same. “You are no son of mine,” said Lucius, speaking the words that Draco feared the most. Lucius cruelly shoved Draco to the ground and walked away. His father’s unfeeling voice would echo in Draco’s mind until he woke up in a cold sweat with his fists clenched.
“Draco?” Myrtle called, her voice sounded as though it was coming through a fog. His reverie broken, Draco looked back and found her staring at him.
“What?” he snapped, perturbed with her.
“You don’t have to be ashamed of being sensitive,” said Myrtle soothingly. “It’s all right to cry. I wish more people were like you.”
He hadn’t realized that there were tears running down his face. He angrily wiped them away with his sleeve.
“I’m not ashamed,” he lied. “I’m just frustrated. I have to do this job no matter what. And I would do it if I could, but that’s the whole problem. I don’t know how.”
“There must be someone here you could ask,” Myrtle offered helpfully.
“Yeah, there’s someone I could ask,” Draco snarled, thinking of Snape. “Except he’d swoop in and take all the credit while I’ve been working on this for months.”
“It must be something simple that I’m overlooking,” he continued, thinking out loud. “I have to be close, I’m running out of things to try.”
“I know who you could talk to!” Myrtle said.
“Who?” Draco asked, his hopes rising against his better judgment.
“Professor Dumbledore!” Myrtle exclaimed. “He’s one of the most brilliant wizards in the world. I’m sure he would know what to do!”
Draco’s shoulders slumped and his hopes disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. “No,” he said, in an aggravated tone. “Dumbledore is already...involved in this.”
Draco rubbed his forehead, where a headache had suddenly developed. “I don’t know why I bothered coming here. I can’t believe I’ve stooped to asking a ghost for advice.”
Myrtle’s face crumpled and she began to sob. “I was so wrong about you! You’re just like all the rest! Horrible, awful, and mean!” She soared back towards the cubicles.
“Wait!” Draco called desperately. “Wait! Please don’t leave me! I’m…sorry.” He felt strange apologizing to someone other than his father.
Myrtle stopped and turned around to face him. “Fine, I’ll come back,” she said dramatically. “But you should really be more considerate of other people’s feelings. I do have feelings you know, even in my current state.”
“I said I was sorry,” he repeated, beginning to lose his patience. “Look, I’m under a kind of pressure that you couldn’t possibly understand.”
Draco began pacing but stopped abruptly when, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw someone else in the room. He jumped, his heart pounding so hard that he thought his chest would explode. Shocked, he realized that what he had seen was his own reflection in the mirror, but he did not recognize himself.
He walked up close to the mirror. With a shaking hand, he touched his thin face and pushed his dull hair off of his forehead. Deep, gray circles had formed under his eyes, making them appear dark and sunken. He noticed that the collar of his shirt was loose around his neck, despite being buttoned all the way up. He examined his hands and was startled to see the veins through his pale skin.
He was taken aback by his wretched appearance. He could not remember the last time he had really looked at himself. At that moment, he was certain that he would fail. He could feel time slipping away like sand through his fingers. He only hoped that the Dark Lord would murder him before he had to face his father as a failure.
Draco felt the corners of his eyes burn. He rubbed his eyes angrily, hating his weakness and hating himself. The ache in his side traveled up into his throat, becoming a lump that he could not swallow. He had hoped to feel some sort of relief from talking to Myrtle. Instead, all he had managed to do was bring the emotions he had been trying to suppress to the surface where they could overwhelm him.
He clenched the sides of the sink, choking on the hot tears that were now streaming down his face. His eyesight became blurred and the room swam before him. It was like he had turned on a faucet, now that he had started crying he felt as though he could not stop. He coughed and gasped for air. He felt so weak; his arms shook as he grasped the sink for balance. He was certain he would faint if he let go. He felt as though he was screaming and no one could hear him.
“Don’t,” said Myrtle, her voice partially drowned out by his uncontrollable sobs. “Don’t…tell me what’s wrong…I can help you….”
“No one can help me,” he cried desperately. He lost all sense of control and blurted out his fears. “I can’t do it….I can’t….It won’t work…and unless I do it soon…he says he’ll kill me….”
In the back of his mind, he had the awful feeling that someone else was watching him. Afraid that he had been overheard, he looked up and saw Potter’s reflection in the mirror. From the stunned look on Potter’s face, there was no doubt in Draco’s mind that he had seen him crying. Their eyes met and Draco felt his face flush with humiliation. His tears suddenly dried, and he drew his wand, pointing it at Potter.
In his haste, Draco cast the hex wildly and missed. The lamp beside Potter burst, sending shards of glass scattering across the floor. Potter dove sideways and quickly cast a wordless spell. But now Draco was ready for him, and he blocked it easily.
“No! No! Stop it!” Myrtle shouted. “Stop! STOP!”
They both ignored her, and Draco felt his rage flaring higher and higher as the duel progressed. He wanted to be certain that Potter would not have an opportunity to tell anyone what he saw. Draco shot another hex at Potter, but missed again. Potter’s next try came incredibly close, the spell ricocheted off the wall directly beside Draco and hit a cistern near the still-screaming Myrtle. The bathroom floor was quickly flooded in ankle deep water. Potter slipped and fell in it. Draco’s eyes lit up, he saw a perfect opportunity.
Draco glared at Potter, consumed by his hatred for him. At that moment, Draco believed that Potter was the root of all of his problems. All of this is because of you, he screamed in his mind. If it weren’t for you, the Dark Lord would be in power, and there would be no need to bring Death Eaters into this place. Though he had felt powerless and confused for months, Draco now knew exactly what he wanted and how to do it. He wanted to make Potter feel as much pain as he did; to make Potter wish that he had never set foot in that room. Hatred surging through his veins, Draco pointed his wand at Potter’s chest and cried “Cruci - ”
“Sectumsepra!” Potter yelled, his wand slashing through the air.
Taken off guard, Draco had no time to react. The searing pain was almost instantaneous. The force of the spell knocked him backwards, and he landed hard on his back in a puddle of cold water. He dropped his wand as he instinctively tried to use his hands to stem the flow of blood gushing from his face and chest. The blood coated his clothes while the water soaked through the back of his robes.
After the flurry of spells, the room had gone eerily quiet. The silence was punctuated by Draco’s painful gasps for air. He was both terrified and furious with himself for letting Potter get the best of him. He looked up at Potter, who was now kneeling beside him and mumbling incoherently. Draco was surprised to see his own fear and shock reflected in Potter’s expression. As he watched his blood flow through his fingers, Draco was overcome with the fear that he would die on that cold floor, with Potter looking down on him. He felt as though he was drowning in panic. His body began to shake violently, spilling his blood into the water and turning it red.
“Murder!” Myrtle screamed in a piercing voice. “Murder in the bathroom! Murder!”
Draco heard the door bang open against the wall. Potter’s head whipped up, and his face showed a mixture of terror and guilt. Snape suddenly loomed above Draco, shoved Potter out of the way, and quickly drew his wand. Snape knelt over him and performed a spell in a soothing tone of voice. Afterwards, he pulled a cloth from his pocket and wiped the blood off of Draco’s face. He then repeated the same spell two more times. Draco’s pain began to alleviate, and he felt his skin tighten, as thought it was pulling together to close the many gashes. He was left feeling weak and exhausted, but otherwise unaffected.
Snape lifted Malfoy under his arms and pulled him to his feet. “You need the hospital wing,” said Snape. “There may be a certain amount of scarring, but if you take dittany immediately we might avoid even that….Come….”
“And you, Potter…You wait here for me,” said Snape in a furious voice, pausing at the door. It was obvious to Draco that Snape despised Potter, perhaps even more than he himself did, but he was still surprised to hear Snape speak to Potter in such a livid and ominous voice.
With Draco’s arm across his shoulders, Snape slowly led him out of the room. Compared to how close to death he had felt moments ago, Draco could scarcely believe that he was going to walk out of the room alive. Draco turned back and looked at the spot where he had lain. He watched his blood flowing through the cracks in the tiles like tiny streams. He felt as though he had been reborn and that he had received a second chance. Though he had despaired over his fate, to the point that death had seemed inevitable and welcome, he now realized that he did not want to die. With a surge of newfound confidence, he decided that he would let nothing, or no one, prevent him from completing his task.
Snape guided Draco into the corridor and towards the hospital wing. “I’m going to help you, Draco,” he said quietly.
Draco laughed softly. “Don’t act like you want to help me, Snape. You only want my glory, and I won’t let you have it. Besides, I don’t need you anymore.”
I am alone in this, Draco thought. I will be the only one to control my destiny. I will succeed.