In the corner of the small, scarcely lit cubicle, a tap is leaking.
Many years ago, such a monotonous sound, one dull drip after another, might have bothered her, tested her patience until it drove her mad.
These days, however, she finds it rather comforting. It reminds her of raindrops and of fresh autumn air she can no longer inhale.
Ghosts don't breathe, you see. Nor do they possess a sense of smell. Their capacities on the whole are quite limited, when one stops to think about them, but then so are their requirements.
Ghosts don't need sustenance or sleep. They never get hungry, tired, cold or sick.
Which isn't to say they're also immune to pain and torment.
One major disadvantage the dead — or rather, the not-quite dead — have over the living is a mind bursting with vivid memories.
Of course, one might argue that forgetfulness is a flaw anyone can do without, but such isn't necessarily the case for ghosts.
If most of their memories range from sad to plain tragic, they tend to cling to their grief, for it's the only certainty they know. They cannot forget because a part of them won't allow them to.
Ghosts like that—ghosts like Myrtle—also end up haunting themselves.
She rests her gaze on the wall. A thin stream of water slowly seeps down the tiles and onto the dirty floor below.
Sometimes Peeves stops by. He tells her she should leave this place, mingle, try to have some fun for a change, but she can't.
She was never terribly sociable, you see, not even when she was still alive, and the people she does approach, on those occasions when her anguish gets so bad she thinks she might implode, they don't like her very much either.
Some of them, Luna Lovegood for instance, are kind enough not to show their annoyance, though, but still… Myrtle can tell they'd rather not have anything to do with her.
Then again, perhaps she shouldn't expect them to listen, never mind understand.
It's all quite incomprehensible to the logical mind, and it's a little bit embarrassing as well.
The greatest tragedy, the thing that hurts the most — even now, especially now — isn't that she was killed. Nor is it the boundless loneliness or the aftermath of everything that horrible Olive girl said and did.
The worst of it all, the part that still makes her cry…
Tom Riddle was the first boy she ever fell in love with.
She stood no chance with him, though, and she should have known as much right from the very start.
He was clever and charismatic. He carried himself with an air of sophistication and wealth, despite the rumours that he'd grown up in an orphanage; not a Knut to his name.
Furthermore, he was handsome. She would have done anything for a smile, or even a minute of his time.
She was so naïve back then.
As if someone like him would ever be truly interested in her…
She was short, frumpy and plain looking, and not terribly good with words or people. She often wondered why she'd been sorted into Ravenclaw. Everyone else seemed so much smarter than her.
Yet Tom insisted he wanted her.
One afternoon, he asked her to meet him later, on the second floor, by some old tapestry depicting a hunting scene. He also told her to keep the rendezvous a secret.
"We wouldn't want anyone to start spreading juvenile gossip, would we? That would cheapen everything before it has even begun."
Alarm bells went off in her head, but she chose to ignore them. She wanted so badly to believe his lies.
She was desperate as well as naïve, and that's not something she's proud of today.
"You will be the first," he said. In hindsight, his smile was more superficial than sincere, but she didn't notice at the time.
She thought he was speaking of things that were romantic, exciting and potentially scandalous, particularly in those days. Still, scandalous or not, she knew then as she knows now that she wouldn't have refused him. She wouldn't have been able to resist, no matter what it might have done to her reputation.
Tom was everything she'd ever wanted.
So she went to meet him that night. She had to. Love is blind, especially the besotted schoolgirl variety.
She'd almost reached the tapestry when she heard strange noises coming from a nearby bathroom. She frowned. Had someone taken ill? Was there anything she could do to help?
Tom hadn't arrived yet. He was probably still doing his prefect rounds and had encountered some incident along the way. Some of the fourth-years were pretty boisterous and forever breaking curfew.
Either way, she had a few moments to spare.
Slowly, she walked into the room.
There was water dripping down those walls, too, and the moment she stepped through the door, an odour of fungus and sewage and other things she tried not to think about assaulted her nostrils. It was a smell she associated with decay and death.
She was excited that night, overjoyed at the prospect of a date with him, but she was also frightened; overcome with anticipation and dread in more or less equal proportions.
He was a strange boy, Tom. Everyone said so. He was brilliant and polite, but there was also something sinister about his character.
Back then, she attributed it to his past. Children could be so cruel. Perhaps he'd had a terrible time at the orphanage, been bullied even more than she was by Olive, and as a result, he didn't know how to act around people without being curt or defensive.
Yes, she was horribly, ridiculously naïve. He understood people better than anyone. He knew precisely which buttons to push and when.
She stood in the middle of the room, trying to establish where the noise had come from. She soon realised that the place was deserted, apart from her. Perhaps all she'd heard had been the wind rattling the windowpanes. The old castle could get pretty draughty.
Then, suddenly, there was an odd rustling behind her, like the billowing of robes and… something else.
Her heart hammered in her chest. She turned around slowly, expecting to find Tom standing in the doorway, smiling and puzzled to find her here. Perhaps she'd even get a 'hello' kiss, if she was lucky.
She was wearing her prettiest dress, hoping he would approve.
She wasn't wearing her glasses, however. They made her look ugly and dull; Olive said so as well.
So Myrtle was unable to see what was slithering towards her, determined and with a dangerous, deadly gleam in its dark eyes.
"T-Tom?" she stammered, but then she noticed the sharp fangs, just a little too late, and seconds later, her entire world was enveloped in darkness and her heart stopped.
Tom was her first love, her only love, and some days, when she's feeling particularly maudlin, she cries for what might have been.
The life she never had.
Sometimes, she wonders what would have happened if she had been pretty and a pureblood. Would he have been kinder to her and killed someone else instead? Would he have chosen her for other, nicer things?
Of course, daydreams only lead to disappointment.
She's well aware of that now.
She has given up on romance. Who'd want to date a ghost? Except perhaps another ghost, but all the others here are old, unkind or not quite right in the head.
Besides, she's through with love.
Given half the chance, she'd gladly settle for someone just willing to listen.
Wrapped up in thoughts that are neither constructive nor pleasant, Myrtle doesn't notice the door open and abruptly close. Only when the choked sob resounds through the room, does she realise she's no longer alone.
Myrtle blinks. Is this a dream?
No. Of course not. Ghosts don't sleep. Or hallucinate. Bitter memories keep them grounded in a harsh reality, at least metaphorically speaking.
Nonetheless, she has great trouble believing who it is who's standing there.
Draco Malfoy looks nothing like his usual arrogant self. His shoulders are hunched and his hair is in disarray, sticking up at odd angles in the way Harry Potter's always does.
"I can't do this," he mutters, over and over again, leaving her wondering whom he's struggling to convince.
She swallows a lump that only exists in her mind. She regrets not having a corporeal form, for if she did, she'd place a comforting hand on his shoulder and say that surely, it can't be as bad as all that?
True enough, she doesn't like him very much. She doesn't suppose many people do, except those in awe of his money or scared of his father. Lucius is a nasty piece of work; almost got the Weasley girl killed a few years ago.
Finally, unable to remain a silent witness any longer, Myrtle speaks. "A-Are you all right?"
It's a stupid question, the kind even a complete cretin would already know the answer to, but she has to start somewhere.
Draco shakes his head.
Surprised at his complete, albeit temporary lack of pretension, she blurts out, "What's wrong?"
For a brief moment, he looks startled, but then lets out a long solemn sigh. Something about his demeanour makes her wonder whether he's only letting his guard down because he has nothing left to lose.
When he finally speaks, spilling horrifying tales of terrible schemes he must help bring to fruition, she realises he hasn't all that much to gain either.
She suspected Tom would go after Dumbledore sooner or later. She's had decades to think and theorise about his plans.
She even tried sharing her findings a few times over the years.
Not a soul would listen, though; not even Harry Potter.
No one ever listens. They think she's a bother, a nag who should have been put out of their collective misery ages ago.
She'd leave if she could, but where would she go?
The outside world is even crueller than Hogwarts, and she's got into trouble before for trying to haunt people.
The young man by the sink has stopped talking. His words might have made her blood run cold if she had any, but as it is, she only feels anxious and sad.
Being Riddle's puppet is a fate no one deserves, not even an arrogant pureblood who has made many other students' lives hell for the past few years.
"I'm sorry," she says, and honestly she is. There is nothing she can do. There is no one she can tell about this either, because seeking counsel would mean spilling his secret and that might put him in even more danger.
He's on his own, and he knows it.
Myrtle sighs. Some things never change. Tom Riddle will stop at nothing. He'd wipe out entire worlds if it would help him live forever.
All she can do, as she stands there watching the tall boy splash water onto his pale face in an attempt to make all evidence of tears disappear, is hope that Draco Malfoy will be luckier than she was.
If he's not, she supposes he can come keep her company.
Maybe he'd be willing to listen. She'd never ask for anything more than that.