Draco Malfoy had been to visit Moaning Myrtle precisely three times before he had come to accept that this was probably going to be a regular occurrence.
Was there anything more pathetic than talking to a ghost about your problems? Draco was quite sure there probably wasn’t, but what other options did he have? He wasn’t about to turn to Pansy or Theo or Blaise, and certainly not Crabbe and Goyle. What would that do for his reputation within Slytherin House if he shared his uncertainty, let them get a taste of the dull sense of panic that was beginning to invade his every waking moment as more and more time went on and ideas for his task were still scarce?
And besides, Myrtle was actually a good listener. She understood his negative feelings too (having plenty of them herself), and what it was like to feel completely alone. And the best part was that she wouldn’t tell anyone, because he knew that she was just as desperate for his company as he was for someone to talk to.
The fourth time, on a cold, windy day late in October, he staggered to the bathroom in a sort of trance.
The necklace hadn’t worked. It hadn’t even made it to the castle doors.
Memories from this summer suddenly flashed across his eyelids: red, pitiless eyes, how they danced with cruelty whenever he raised his wand and pointed it at Draco’s heart; the feeling of his skin being flayed, being dipped in acid, writhing on the floor from the Cruciatus Curse; being forced to watch as the same fate befell his mother, or other Death Eaters that he was displeased with.
Being forced, sometimes, to do the torturing.
Soon enough he was leaning over the sink in the bathroom, shaking and dry heaving, trying to regain control and slow his stuttered breathing and the erratic rhythm of his heart.
Maybe Dumbledore would even suspect, since that Bell girl got hurt. And now…now he had no plan.
He gripped the sink until his knuckles turned white, breathing too hard and too fast.
And then he heard the sound of footsteps, soft, but still echoing on the hard marble floors of the huge bathroom. Stiffening, he straightened up and whipped around, fixing his face automatically with his trademark sneer and pulling up the walls in his mind that his Aunt Bellatrix had taught him to harness to full power.
It was a girl, a girl in his year. Half-blood. He knew her by sight but not by name, probably because she was wearing Hufflepuff robes, and he never bothered learning the names of the Hufflepuffs. But she was more familiar to him than others, and he suddenly realized why – she was the one whose spell work in class was positively atrocious. She had always had difficulty with even the easiest spells, and he remembered Pansy and her group of girls always giggling about it. What was more, he had never seen her in a group of people; she was always alone. Also, he distinctly recalled that she was a Prefect (how, he wasn’t sure, since her magic was clearly shit).
Moaning Myrtle was hovering behind her; they had clearly come from his usual spot with Myrtle, where he usually sat to talk to the ghost, on the other side of the sinks where there was a little ledge near the bathroom windows.
He glared at the girl, hating the uncertainty and slight concern that he saw in her eyes, positively furious she had seen him in a moment of weakness.
“Are you all right?” she asked finally, taking a careful step forward.
“Of course I am,” he snapped, his tone cruel and taunting. “What are you even doing here, anyway? Is a ghost really your only friend? That’s pathetic even for you, isn’t it? Or are you hoping Myrtle can give you spell casting tips?” Her eyes clouded with pain at his biting words; he had done damage, he could see that right away.
Merlin, she was easy. Stupid, emotional Hufflepuffs.
He was relieved when she didn’t say anything else, but instead turned and hurried out of the bathroom, leaving him finally alone.
Well, sort of.
“That wasn’t very nice,” said Myrtle vaguely and a little mournfully, zooming around his head. “And you have a ghost for a friend.”
“I have others,” he said, shortly, even though sometimes he wasn’t so sure.
“What happened, Draco?” she asked. “Something happened, didn’t it?”
Shoulders hunched, he trudged over to the ledge to flop down and tell Myrtle the whole, awful story about the stupid necklace, how it hadn’t worked, how he was out of options, how he was so afraid…
It was the evening of the Halloween feast, but you hadn’t gone.
Too many people, too much excitement.
Instead, you had retreated to the library, which was one of few places that you could usually count on to get some peace and quiet, especially when the entire school was at a feast. Being alone was like a breath of fresh air that you rarely got to have at Hogwarts, or anywhere, really; but here, like this, there was no buzzing in your head, nothing to block. No effort needed from your brain.
That was why it was so shocking when, after nearly an hour of being in the library, you noticed that there was indeed another figure at one of the tables rather than at the feast, staring intently at a book.
When it was just one person, it was easy not to hear them. Still, you at least were always aware another person was in the room, and so you just stared, dumbfounded, at the back of that very familiar platinum blonde head.
How long had he been here? How hadn’t you known? Why wasn’t he at the feast with his cronies? You had never, not once, encountered someone so quiet, and – especially after your encounter with him in the bathroom, where he had been leaning over the sink as if he were sick and scared – you were intrigued.
And so you did something that you almost never did, because doing it all the time without being able to help it was bad enough, you almost never liked what you heard, and it was a rude thing to do, anyway. But the curiosity was so overwhelming that you did it – you actively tried to enter his mind.
The effect was immediate.
He stiffened in his chair, hands gripping harder on the book he was holding, and you instantly stopped, pulled away from the intrusion, suddenly terrified, because you were certain that he had felt it.
This was confirmed when, slowly, he turned to see you sitting at the table and staring at him, your eyes wide. His gray eyes were dark with anger, and you figured that now was probably a very good time to get out of the library, so you hastily picked up the book, snatched your backpack, and all but ran to the exit.
You had gotten half a corridor away and turned the corner at a brisk pace when you heard the footsteps running to catch up with you, and then a hand caught your wrist, roughly spinning you around.
Merlin, he was so tall. He had caught up to you quickly on those long legs, and now he was towering over you, positively radiating fury, so much so that you shrunk back, trembling a little at the legendary sneer of Draco Malfoy. “What the hell are you playing at?” he hissed, jaw clenched and eyes blazing at you.
Your voice was a small squeak. “I – I don’t know what you’re –”
“Don’t play stupid with me,” he interrupted in a snarl, taking another menacing step forward so that you bumped into the wall, book clutched to your chest. “I know what you were doing. I felt it. Spying on me, are you?”
“N-no…I’m sorry, I wasn’t…”
He took a step back, his cold eyes sweeping over you momentarily, now again with his trademark sneer. “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t do it again,” he warned darkly, and with that, he stalked off, his shoulders still stiff with anger and his footsteps echoing through the corridor.
You stood there, breathing hard, still filled with terror and confusion about what had just transpired, and you really only relaxed after long minutes had passed without hearing his footsteps anymore.
Her name was Y/N Y/L/N.
Draco Malfoy had found that out the day after his encounter with her on Halloween, because, much as he was loathe to admit it to himself, it had scared him.
Clearly, she could practice Legilimens. And what was more, she must be quite good, because he had been intently working on Occulumency rather than reading that book in the library. The library was a good place to go to pretend to read schoolbooks while he either brainstormed about the Vanishing Cabinet, tried to make other plans for murdering his Headmaster, or practiced his Occulumency. He had been warned, countless times, that Albus Dumbledore was one of the most accomplished Legilimens there was, so it was of the utmost importance that he continued to practice as he had done over the summer with Bellatrix.
Insane as she was (and as unpleasant as their practice sessions had been), she had done a good job with him, and he could block even Snape at this point.
But along comes this bloody Hufflepuff girl, who somehow was prodding at his mind so powerfully that he had nearly faltered, his defenses had nearly broken, and she could have gotten in.
And if she could do it…what about Dumbledore?
Furthermore, why the hell had she done it, anyway?
Where had she even learned that shit?
It was driving him mad, and his eyes kept unconsciously seeking her out to watch her carefully, suspiciously, and he couldn’t stop it.
He watched her, taking mental notes, because suddenly this girl was dangerous to him. But she didn’t try it again, and when she caught him looking at her she merely averted her eyes quickly, back to whatever she was doing – which, he noted, was usually reading some sort of book or scribbling in a little notebook that she always seemed to have with her.
And she was always alone. In the courtyard, at the table for meals, in the corridors. She kept her eyes down, most of the time, and slipped around the castle, completely unnoticed. Except, of course, now. By him.
All of this distraction was not optimal, considering that the time was passing quickly and he still was having no luck with fixing the Vanishing Cabinet, nor had he come up with another concrete plan. As the third week of November approached, he found himself spending more and more time with Moaning Myrtle. He would wake in the middle of the night, gasping and drenched in cold sweat from nightmares, and without a Calming Concoction he was having panic attacks almost daily.
The days he ran out of the stuff because he had been too tired or distracted to brew more were the worst ones.
The tremors would start in his hands.
They would travel up his arms, and then his breathing would get shorter until he was gasping and floundering for breaths that never felt like enough to fill his lungs. The tears squeezed out of his eyes unwillingly until they were streaming down his pale cheeks, and Myrtle would hover close by, trying to provide comfort; instructing him to breathe, Draco, just breathe, slowly, in and out…
On one such occasion, after a night of particularly bad nightmares full of torture and death and blood, he had hurried there at nearly two in the morning, emptied the contents of his stomach, and was now sitting on the familiar ledge, knees to his chest, sobbing and clutching at his hair so roughly that he felt a painful pulling at the roots. But he didn’t care. Myrtle was murmuring something, but he couldn’t hear her, couldn’t focus enough on her voice because his vision was getting dark around the edges due to lack of oxygen. A curious probing pressed at his brain, but he ignored it; he was too busy seeing his mother on the floor, screaming, and then her pale face standing nearby as the Dark Mark was burned into his arm, and the pain of it was so awful that he nearly bit his tongue in half, the bitter and tangy taste of blood filling his mouth as he writhed in the chair and passed out; when he woke, he saw the skull and snake on his arm, and he hated it.
He shuddered, choking on tears and the lump in his throat.
“Malfoy?” a voice suddenly whispered, and his head shot up wildly, adrenaline pumping through his veins.
Y/N was standing only a few feet away, looking tired and pale and completely stricken, and suddenly he knew that the probing in his brain had been her, and that she had seen it all. This was confirmed when he saw her eyes flick to his covered forearm, looking positively horrified. He scrambled to his feet, furious that she was here again, livid that she was invading not only his most personal time but also his fucking mind. She was seeing him vulnerable, she was seeing him cry, and now she knew, she fucking knew everything!
“What are you doing here?!” he roared, pulling his wand out and pointing it at her. His hand was still vibrating violently and it was still hurting him to breathe. Standing here was making him dizzy.
She held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “I – I was only coming to see Myrtle,” she explained in barely a whisper. He could see how she was trembling. “I swear that I didn’t mean to…to see…I couldn’t help it…”
Whether she was referring to his complete and utter breakdown or his memories, he didn’t know. It only made him angrier that she was pitying him, and he flourished his wand at her with a growl, but no words came out. He was still struggling to get the necessary amount of air in his lungs.
“Malfoy,” she said, her voice suddenly gentle. “You need to sit down…breathe…”
“Shut up!” he choked out, with as much venom as he could muster. “If this is what you want then two can play at this game, you fucking nosy bitch!” She stumbled backward then, watching him with wide, scared eyes, but he quickly brandished his wand at her and shouted, “Legilimens!”
And suddenly, he was in a classroom.
The children around him were probably about seven years old; and the teacher was talking, but he couldn’t hear her, because there was something truly awful going on in his brain. Holy shit, it was so loud – a steady, consistent buzzing: and he realized it was the voices and thoughts from the others sitting around him. He covered his ears, shaking his head, sobbing, wanting it to end, and he was shouting – except it didn’t sound like him, it was a girl’s voice, a little girl – and she was screeching, “Be quiet! Be quiet, please!”
“No one is talking,” the teacher said, rather crossly. “We’ve talked about this, Y/N…”
“Freak,” a girl called across the classroom at her, viciously, a girl in pigtails and a blue dress, and soon the chants were echoing in the room: freak, freak, freak…
The scene changed.
He was doing dishes, slowly, by hand, and when he looked down his hands were small and soft and feminine, and they weren’t his, but the young girl’s…
And the parents were sitting at the table behind him, arguing about something or other, and it was so difficult to block them out, because their emotions were running high; she was trying, truly, she was, because she knew how they hated it when she heard them. No one liked it when she could hear their private thoughts, and the last thing she wanted to do was make people uncomfortable…
But it happened anyway, and she heard it, clear as day, coming from the mother. In fact, it was so loud and clear that she was certain it had been said out loud.
…the divorce paperwork shouldn’t take too long…
And the young girl screeched, unceremoniously dropped the plate she had been washing into the sink with a clatter, and she whipped around with a fire in her eyes and stamped her feet. “You can’t!” she howled, beginning to choke up with tears. “You can’t divorce Daddy, you can’t, you can’t!”
The shocked looks on their faces told her what she had done; what she had accidentally revealed. And they couldn’t quite hide their exasperation or annoyance, their fear of her, even, and she couldn’t not hear how they wished that their daughter could just be normal, what a mess she always made of things…
A rapid succession of scenes happened after that, flicking across his mind so quickly that he became almost dizzy trying to keep up with them. It was just a blur of faces and feelings and places.
Moments where she had accidentally answered someone’s thoughts instead of what they had said; the looks of fear and concern that flooded their features, the strange looks she got; waiting to hear from friends but getting no contact again; even her parents, slowly drawing away, keeping their distance over breaks home from Hogwarts, fearful that she might hear something again, uncomfortable with the girl that could prod into people’s brains without trying; and there was the horrible, aching loneliness, and tears, and hours spent alone in her room…
The scream had come from the girl, only she was in front of him now, and older, and real. This was no longer a memory, and she had forced him out of her mind with a spell, wand held high.
Stumbling a little, his blurred vision slowly adjusted to the familiar scene of Myrtle’s bathroom, and then his wide eyes found her. His mouth was agape, staring at her as she stood before him shaking – but this wasn’t with fear. This was new on her: rage. Her face was blotched with red patches and contorted in an expression of pure hatred, and tears were flowing down her cheeks.
Before he could blink she had flown forward and smacked him across the face.
The sound reverberated through the bathroom and he staggered again from the impact of her hand; he was so positively dumbfounded by the slap and her fire and what he had just seen, however, that all he could do was gaze back at her, mouth still open and hand moving to numbly hold his cheek.
“It’s like I told you!” she yelled, more tears falling down her face. Her voice, however, sounded murderous, not sad or upset. “I told you that I couldn’t help it, Malfoy! You stupid bastard!”
And with that, she turned on her heel and ran away. Her choked sobs floated through the air behind her, and he just stood there, breathing hard, watching the spot where she had disappeared and feeling the strangest, nagging feeling in his gut that he didn’t know how to identify.