Title: A Change of Heart (Part 5 of 5)
On the day of the Spring Equinox, Draco decided he would return to Wiltshire for Easter break.
He missed his parents terribly, even missed the lesser residents at the Manor: the roses, which would be in full bloom by April; the peafowls, whose new eggs should be hatched by the time the holidays approached. Plus, the light from his Bluebell basilisk, while an acceptable substitute of a winter’s day, was no match for the vivacious glow of spring. He would risk the wrath of the Dark Lord and his servants for a date with the sun.
Arranging for the last-minute transportation with the Hogwarts Express was no trouble; many students had not returned after Christmas, voluntarily or not, and the blood status check was deemed unnecessary for those who had managed to return. As a seventh-year, it was a mere courtesy for Draco to relay to Professor Snape of his plan to leave the school.
He should not have done so.
If he had not, he would not be sitting now by the edge of the Mirror of Erised, a vial of Veritaserum in his trembling fist.
Destroy the mirror before you leave, the former Potions Master had said. He had appeared windswept, his oily hair tousled and his skin pallid – as if Winter, banished from the greening moors and mountains, had broken in and taken him hostage.
“Professor, I –“ Draco began, unsure of whether to deny his knowledge of the mirror or to veto its destruction. The shiver racing down his spine further hampered his judgment, and his lips froze the words to a standstill.
The clinks of glass against glass and the fragrance of elderflowers once again inundated the room; the sweet scent became almost tangibly strong when a tumbler materialised before Draco. He reached for it, only to be shocked by the icy stabs on his fingertips; he would have dropped it if not for the fixed look from Professor Snape.
The small, black pupils challenged Draco to consume the drink; and so he did, raising the tumbler to his lips to take a sip.
He almost spit it out. The liquor’s bitterness was so intense that it seemed caught at Draco’s throat, barring the entry of air into his lungs; he swallowed with much difficulty, which was rewarded by a pleasant warmth seeping into his every vein.
The headmaster’s gaze did not falter, yet even without its coercion Draco found himself desiring more, despite the taste; thus he closed his eyes and guzzled all of the tumbler’s content.
For one moment, Draco lost himself, his strength and focus spent on reconciling the sensations of agony and bliss; the soothing effects of the alcohol barely compensated the overwhelming urge to bite off his tongue. When he slowly re-oriented himself in the Headmaster’s office, Snape was looking out of the window, the thin, cracked lips curling to what could only be a smile –
That, and the ghost of an intrusive tug that he felt in his clearing mind, finally made Draco drop the glass onto the carpet. It landed with a soft thud, a cue for Snape’s smile to snap back to a sneer.
Draco was not surprised, neither at the headmaster’s deceit nor the spilled dregs dying the burgundy plush a deep emerald. “Those thoughts are private,” he protested.
“And who knows how long they will remain so, should the mirror stay,” Snape responded after turning to pace the other end of the office, the heavy folds of his robe his only feature remaining clear in Draco’s vision.
The voice lacked something distinctive – the usual snide diction, the cutting tone; somehow, Draco found it more difficult to dismiss. His mind had already conjured the image of a cracked mirror, of feathers caving into a gaping mouth as the mutely screaming man battled behind the veil, desperate to defend against the black gashes assaulting his world.
He shook his head; the alcohol made it heavier than usual. “I can’t do it.”
“I’ll show you how.”
“I ...,“ Draco found himself twisting the fabric of his cuffs, his sluggish mind churning concomitantly to devise a scheme, an excuse, “... doubt I’ll have sufficient magic to carry it out.” He regretted to have spoken instantly; even in his own ears, the words sounded false and pathetic, close to begging for a derisive reprimand from the headmaster.
But none came.
Instead, there was a sparse chorus of jingles, and Draco turned to see Snape intent on realigning a toppled silver instrument on a spindle-legged table. At Draco’s scrutiny, he dropped it immediately and straightened to march, with strides even more controlled than usual, back to the mahogany desk.
“Mr Malfoy,” he then addressed Draco caustically, “nothing is infallible. And you, of all people, should appreciate that the more ostentatious the display, the more prone to obliteration it is.”
Draco settled in a chair so his weakened knees would not give. “Then why don’t you do it?” he asked, only to notice the slur in his drawl from his thickened tongue, “why didn’t you do it?”
“Because I wanted you to see,” Snape swept towards Draco and leaned close to him, the smell of morning dew drifting in his wake; his answer was equally swift, quiet, yet brutal, “And now,” his long white fingers pulled open the buttons on his chest, and from the web of dark laces they yanked out a moleskin pouch, “you’ll annihilate the evidence that may be your death sentence with this.”
The pouch felt warm to Draco’s hands, much warmer than he had thought Snape could ever had felt. He untied the knot with some trouble, his fingers insubordinate with excitement and intoxication. Two vials then slipped from his hand and fell beside the tumbler.
Even from the distance, the content of the glass containers was simple to identify; a small maroon cube bobbed sluggishly in a heavy suspension, looking timeworn and fragile. As Draco bent to pick up the vials in the silence of the office, he realised that the antidote of Amortentia made a soft sound with its every movement, a tinkling reminiscent of wind chimes. He regarded the headmaster in search for an explanation.
“Veritaserum will dissolve the Mirror of Erised.” The scorn had all but dissipated from Snape, as if the sight of what looked little different from a rusted piece of metal could banish the most vicious of fury and calm the most tempestuous of seas. The dark pupils never left the maroon cubes as the former Potions Master continued serenely, “One batch should be sufficient. As for the other one ...,“ he distanced himself from Draco again, straightening the already well-positioned glass case that had once belonged to the sword, “... consider it a token for your service as Head Boy. How you’ll use it – to extract truth or to repel love – will be your choice.”
“No.” Draco stood up with a start, oblivious to what Snape had just said beyond the mirror; the words from Slughorn’s lesson managed to filter through the clouded state in his mind. “Isn’t it true that Veritaserum derives its insight from Amortentia, which in turn shares its magical attribute with the Mirror of Erised? If they are to interact, their powers should be synergistic, should they not? How can they end up mutilating one another?”
The teacher in Snape returned; he turned to listen to Draco intently, evidenced by arms folded across the chest and his distinctive words of encouragement. “Amuse me further with your insight,” he said, “tell me how you have conveniently neglected that the Truth serum is in fact made from the antidote of the love potion.”
Draco, for reasons unbeknown to him, developed an urge to emerge victorious in this debate. “Antidotes need not be the same as antagonists,” he ventured.
“But they both render a potion impotent.” Snape suggested quietly. He moved to the desk, picked up the dried tumbler on his way before settling in his chair. The glass was placed before Draco, who pressed on and incorporated it into his demonstration.
“Take this glass, Professor,” he said, “and assume it to be the stomach, maybe, or the liver. Meanwhile, the potion may be the wine you offered me. If I had filled it with some ordinary elderflower wine, then you had nowhere to place your brew. No one would have been able to tell the difference from sight and smell alone; I would have potentially found myself an antidote that shut out your potion, but did nothing to antagonise its properties. In fact, the antidote must have share many similarities with the potion itself.”
A curl of Snape’s lips, and Draco knew that his answer had been satisfactory. “So,” the headmaster poured himself a glass of the wine, “how would you call this class of antidotes?”
Draco pondered for a moment. “Competitors,” he drawled, his eyes catching the rays of the sun charging through the window only to be deflected by the glass case. Without further thought, his caution addled by alcohol and his logic blinded by recent triumph, he blurted out, “Gryffindors.”
Snape’s expression darkened. “Elaborate,” he commanded, taking a sip of his drink.
“Inside this castle, they were thieves of our glory, our snags.” Determined not to cower, Draco sought to justify himself as succinctly as possible. “But students from Durmstrang, for example, are unlikely to differentiate between them and us, aren’t they?”
A corner of Snape’s mouth lifted. “Someone had a change of heart.”
Draco knew better than to rebut, opting instead to observe the rise and fall of the headmaster’s chest, just visible beneath the loosened robe. The sight of it was strangely comforting.
“Professor,” he resumed after Snape poured his third glass of wine, “you haven’t answered my question.”
“Why should Veritaserum damage the mirror?”
“Mr Malfoy, I’ve never mentioned any harm.” The sharp focus of Snape’s eyes began to diffuse; a faint tinge coloured his skin to a shade more human. The softened lines on his face showed no signs of him imbibing anything less than pleasant.
Draco frowned. Since when and how far had the professor spiralled towards being a drunkard? “Sure you did,” he countered, “the wine’s playing tricks –”
Swivelling his glass to study the amber fluid, the professor smirked and cut Draco off. “Doubtful, despite my very wishes,” he said. “And the word I used, Mr Malfoy, was 'dissolve'. You are handed the task of damaging the mirror.”
“I fail to see a difference other than in semantics.”
“Your tolerable insight into antidotes was evidently a stroke of luck,” Snape finished yet another glass of wine, “as I should have expected. I shall relegate you to remedial first year Potions for failing to apply the most basic principle of Potions –”
It was sufficient clue. "Like dissolves like," Draco called out.
The sole affirmation was given in the form of instructions from the headmaster. “What you will collect is a small quantity of fluid, the product of the silver cast melting into the serum. The frame needs to be destroyed as well, but a simple magical fire will suffice. My concern, which should be yours as well, is that being nonpareil, one cannot predict whether the mirror will be reconstructable from the melt. I would suggest you to discard it in multiple batches. Otherwise, dispose of it in an open body of water.”
Memories of a storm of broken feathers returned, ghosts of fervent kisses and entwined limbs that caressed as much as they haunted Draco’s senses. Winds whistled in his ears before condensing into water, rising against the golden frame that morphed into the mountains - then, the Black Lake materialised before his eyes, its surface rippling in the spring’s breeze as it waited for him to leave his heart’s desire to drown.
He grabbed the bottle on the desk and guzzled the wine that remained.
“Someone once said to me,” Snape said, ever so softly, his glass set on the desk, his eyes focusing past Draco on the menagerie of silver instruments, “that one’s dreams as shown in the Mirror of Erised were neither knowledge nor truth, that to dwell on them was to forget to live.”
At these words, Draco merely looked up. The wine had mollified him.
“That someone was an old fool. Those dreams were knowledge – and truth about the man who stood to be judged. He who truly lives has chosen to dwell on them, to acknowledge the yearnings of the soul that, unlike vices that intoxicate the mind and senses with gratuitous pleasure, are clear, if sombre, reflections of his identity, of his place in this world. These thoughts necessarily bring confusion. Pain.” The alcohol had loosened his tongue, and another sip of it hoarsened his voice to a whisper. “And if it’s too late, regret.”
For a brief moment, Draco wanted to inquire what Snape had seen in the mirror, how his mind had found peace with the demands of his soul. Could a man and his heart seal a pact? To ask would have been an invasion of privacy, however, thus he hesitated. His courtesy was unjustly rewarded by yet another tug on his mind.
“Stop butting in,” he grumbled.
There was no mistake this time. Snape’s lips crooked into an odd but genuine smile; he then picked up the empty bottle on the desk.
“There’s no difference in ingredients between this drink and what you called ordinary elderflower wine.” The headmaster seemed to address himself as his hands caressed the empty surface, where usually a label should have been placed. “The elderberries had not yet ripened when ripped from their branches during harvest. That’s all.”
“Aren’t they poisonous?” Draco permitted his thoughts to stray.
“Indeed. The fact that both of us are alive should convince you that I’m well aware of the issue.” Snape’s diction hardened again, and with a wave of his wand the bottle was banished to the fireplace, where tongues of flames leapt to lap up the last drop of alcohol. “Your curiosity should be satisfied, however, and I expect two scrolls of parchment from you on the detoxification methods of elderberries, to be completed during your stay at the Manor.”
Rather than protesting, which would have been futile anyway, Draco wished to demand why the Headmaster bothered with the young but deadly elderberries. Why didn’t he abhor them, dispose of them like other cultivators? Why did he dedicate his time and effort to cleanse them of their poisons, when their benign, mature form was so ubiquitous that even the Weasleys could afford it?
But then, Snape had looked him at the eye.
“We shall discuss your findings upon your return.” He had commanded, before tipping his tumbler for the final sip; only then had he continued, his face still hidden behind the glass, “Immediately, and in person.”
Draco had no longer needed to make his inquiries. He had understood.
Having understood, however, did not make the current task easier.
“It’s time,” Myrtle’s voice rang lightly in the Chamber, “or you’ll miss the train. Did you say goodbye to him already?”
Draco nodded, his eyes remained fixated on the mirror, on the he who appeared to be quiescent behind his twin, on the tattered veil of feathers that had turned yellow and on the verge of demise. The stare returned at him was accusatory, the chill in the expression ill-suited to the profuse sweat beneath his travelling cloak.
At the corner of his eye, he could see a dash of silver looping gracefully along the lighted basilisk; the ghost soon hovered beside him, glowing more brilliantly than she had ever before.
“Why don’t we try this?” Myrtle looked immaculate, almost pretty; her robe was perfectly fitted, her long hair pulled to a neat French braid. “I’ll spread myself on the mirror – maybe it won’t see you any more. Then you’ll do whatever you need to do.”
Draco sat down on the floor. “I must pour a whole vial of Veritaserum all over it.” He wrapped his knees with his arms and looked up to his friend. “Even for ghosts that’ll be a bit much to get showered with, I suppose?”
Myrtle lowered herself to the gold frame, a shadow of mist fanning on the mirror as she approached. “I don’t think it matters, Draco. I’m not real, don’t you see? There’s no truth hidden in me.”
“You’ve lied to me before,” Draco argued, chuckling sadly as he thought about the time she had introduced him to the mirror, “and what if –“
“No what if’s.”
“You’ve always believed in me.” She attempted a pout, a playful sideward glance; but the air was too heavy with the weight of impending doom and she gave in with a sigh. “Draco, really, so what if something happens? What do I have to lose?”
“Your boyfriend. And your life at Hogwarts –“ Draco caught himself; Myrtle’s time in the castle, though memorable, was hardly worth nostalgia.
The ghost giggled as she watched him bite his lip. “That’s the thought. Nigel understands – that I’m bound to leave when it was him who showed me … the one thing that’s made dying nothing to be scared of,” her smile revealed to Draco what it had been, bittersweet for its belatedness, its irony, “that to move on is the best fate for us ghosts.”
She paused before the final declaration, her voice suddenly sharpening and her pitch higher at every syllable. “It can be the best fate for you, too. Follow your heart –” The last word ended as a shriek, but Draco had no time to contemplate its meaning, for her form shot towards the ceiling and was then diving downward in a ferocious spiral, a silver tornado that wrapped around him, blinding his sight as it froze his every muscle. He could feel the sting of strong winds that swept the potion out of his hands, could hear the loud crack as Myrtle retracted her long, ghostly robe, throwing the vial against the mirror and smashing it into a million pieces; he could smell the impossibly rich scent of Veritaserum, of Manor roses mixed with the aroma of freshly baked pastries …
Then his senses revolted. Numbness permeated his skin, his ears detected nothing but a soft hiss mingled with the fading buzz of the explosion; his nose was assaulted by a pungent odour that reminded him of war and infirmaries as his vision was inundated, with merciless clarity, by an overpowering shade of blue. The white light from the mirror was extinguished, as was the silver ribbon that had been –
“Myrtle!“ Draco cried.
Perhaps the mirror had once been an invisible space within the Chamber; perhaps the void it left behind explained the intensity of his voice and the resonance of its echoes, drawn out and indelible as the name it was calling used to be.
Myrtle ... Myrtle … Myrtle …
She was gone.
It was difficult for Draco to carry out his task; the waves of his wand were too stiff to siphon the pearl-white melt of the mirror back into the vial without a spill, his trembling hand barely managed to levitate the frame over the arching ribs of the basilisk. He saw, in a trance, how the procession of Bluebell flames flared up and slowly swallowed the gateway to the undecipherable world that had been his sanctuary; the vine relief on the gold withered in the heat as it retreated, higher and higher up the frame until it unravelled from the inscription at the pinnacle, the trellis from which it had sprouted and grown.
Draco could not watch any longer. He busied himself with checking the locks of his school trunk, found comfort in the familiar sensation of serpents slithering onto him, their cold, lean bodies encircling his wrist. The crystal casket, retrieved from the mouth of Salazar Slytherin, felt warm as always; the Bluebell flame was burning steadily inside. Awestruck and angered in equal measures by its resilience, Draco stood motionless before it, unable to bring himself to extinguish the fire.
What bestowed him with the strength was a rumble, as the last fragment of the mirror’s frame toppled onto the spine of the basilisk.
It shook Draco, roused him.
It was time to depart. To seek the promises of spring – the resolute and inevitable return of light, no matter how dark the winter; new lives as tender as rose petals under his fingertips, no matter how deeply frozen the ground, hopes and dreams as bountiful as the plumage of peacocks, no matter how barren the landscape.
It was time to go home.
"Finite Incantatem," he whispered, and the Bluebell flames flickered into embers. He pocketed the casket, the vial of molten Erised placed within it.
And in the last sapphire shimmer from the basilisk, Draco stepped out of the Chamber of Secrets.
He had never seen the Black Lake at daybreak.
The small boat glided through the veil of ivy, which opened into the vast plane of gold-streaked cerulean. The air was still cold from the night, but the winds, tamed by the promise of a new day, had forged the surface of the lake into yet another mirror.
Draco’s reflection, lost when he had traversed the same body of water last autumn, was found again; his gaunt face had filled, his pale skin a perfect canvas for the vibrant rising sun.
He dipped his hand into the water's mirror, watched his fingers break through the glow. There was no Golden Snitch, and definitely no lover waiting for him beneath a blanket of feathers.
There was only a promise to be kept.
The casket was placed in his lap, the crystal facets shimmering to the flaming skies. He opened it and uncapped the vial.
Drop by drop, the iridescent fluid dove into the lake. The boat sailed on, marching Forward, the only navigation command that Draco knew.
Myrtle would have approved. He watched the blossoms of silver ringlets, beneath which liquid pearls dispersed and spiralled into the depths. He wondered if Nigel found traces of his love in the waters, if he tried to cling onto them like memories in a Pensieve. Was the selky in mourning? Or was it truly possible to rejoice in the shadows of Death, to see it as an enemy destroyed?
The vial emptied as the shoreline approached; weighing it in his hand, Draco thought it would make a wonderful gift for the Headmaster; he could present it along with his essay on elderberries, a memento of what the mirror had shown him, had shown them both.
And perhaps, one day, the truth would indeed merge with their hearts' desires.
The wand-maker bellowed a thunderous snore in his sleep.
A sense of defeat suddenly welled up within Draco. “I must go back upstairs. Father will realise I’m missing,” he said, his tone as low as his mood. Lovegood nodded with a sad smile; she drained the water from the casket and handed it to him, and he returned its previous inhabitant – a vial of Amortentia’s antidote from the Headmaster – back into the hollow. She then offered him the last rose petal, which he clutched tightly in his palm.
As the door of the cellar materialised at the tap of his wand, she called his name once more. “Draco.”
He turned; he could not ignore her since she had handed him his first Bluebell flame.
“I want to paint a mural for the fairy tale when I go home. May I use your face?“
Draco felt uncertain, but there was little time to think; thus he merely looked at her as the heavy iron fell, separating the fates of the two friends once more.
It had been customary for Draco and Lucius to have a glass of wine together in the drawing room shortly after dinner, the only private time shared between father and son in their unremitting servitude to the Dark Lord.
The chandelier’s light stung in his eyes after the visit to the cellar. Draco had managed not to squint as he quietly sipped his elderflower wine; it tasted like water, its character had long succumbed to the overpowering taste of Firewhisky, which his father was downing in loutish gulps.
They did not exchange a single word.
Draco observed his father, or rather, the shell of what his father once had been. His skin was creased and sallow, the long, silver hair unkempt and his spine held in an unnatural bent. He reminded Draco of the albino peacock dying on the hedges, and the yellow, tattered remains of feathers –
A sudden commotion exploded within the Manor. There was shuffling and screeching, of heavy objects hauled roughly along the hallways; there were voices – of bellowing men, of his mother, whose diction, though light, was always resonant. His father jumped onto his feet, banished all traces of alcohol before falling back onto the chair, his bloodshot eyes fervent with hyperawareness.
All faculties of perception left Draco, however, once he saw the spoils from the Snatchers shunted into the room. He staggered towards the mirror above the fireplace, heedless that the casket in his pocket crashed against the armrest, then against the vial of antidote that had rolled out of it, shattering the glass and releasing the potion. It sizzled in the air and burned as it drizzled down his skin.
But he could not feel it, for his sense of touch had all been siphoned back to that one night in the Chamber of Secrets, to the storm of feathers raining upon him, to the pressing need of flesh again flesh, cumulating to that searing cold on his lover's forehead that had banished his touch –
He stared into the reflection before him. The captive’s face beside his own was inflamed beyond recognition, red with pain and swelling save for a white imprint on the forehead – it could have been searing hot, just as the black Dark Mark could blaze like a scorching fire. But at this moment, drained of all colour, the skin pulled so taut that it seemed frozen and would crack like a glacier, the lightning scar looked cold as death.
The face glowed, but only because the chandelier glared mercilessly upon it, the crystalline drops slicing radiant shard upon radiant shard into the flush skin, on dark bruises along the shaded jawline that the caked, even darker head of raven hair was threatening to engulf.
There was no warmth, no light, no comfort. The veil of peacock feathers had long retreated, or perhaps, shredded into half-beings lingering just beyond Draco’s vision, scrambling frantically for a lifeline as they demanded him to look, to identify the stranger who stood resolutely out of his reach.
The scrolled frame of the mirror encircled their two faces; its intricate bands of gold coiled and twisted, ensnaring their fates and entangling them within this one time, one place; poor imitations they were of the vines endowed with life, woven into words that proceeded to sing in Draco’s ears, starting softly as a lullaby –
I show not your face …
The song strengthened to a chorus, an opus of hopes and fears that lifted him sky-high only to crash upon him.
… but your heart’s desire.
Amidst the din, a voice from faraway slithered into his senses; it sieved through the darting echoes between his ears, the muddled thoughts of a Seeker – or was it a Chaser? – desperate to escape the mind's prison that Draco knew not how to destroy.
“Is it? Is it Harry Potter?”
He could answer, thereby acknowledge what the mirror had shown to him –
Men are such liars. Myrtle drifted into his memory, tutting with a giggle; through her silver, translucent frame, the Headmaster, windswept and his buttons undone, was gazing into the mountains beyond Hogwarts. I wanted you to see, he said, each solemn word infused with the scent of elderflowers, the truth about the man who stood to be judged.
It was clear in the reflection.
Once again, Draco looked into the mirror – the one in the present, the one from the past.
Clear it was, indeed, what his soul had yearned for.
Clear it was, what he could own, who he could be, if he offered himself a chance.
“I can’t be sure,” he uttered, but his words, reluctant as they sounded, were unconvincing even to himself.
A battle-cry pounded in his chest, forging his strength as it steeled his resolve.
There was no denying of what this fight would be about; bright as the Golden Snitch, elusive because Draco had set it free. He had sought it and would chase after it; the prison crumpled beneath his feet, and his new world, his new life spread before him like water into the heavens.
Eyes shut close, the warlock sealed a pact with his heart.