When they came it was teachers and staff: the sort of faces Myrtle recognized remotely. The headmaster was there first, a little round sort of man who favored robes that stopped short of his shins and wore circular hats that looked like flattened flower-pots.
His usually rosy face, Myrtle saw from where she hovered in the corner, was horribly sickly looking, and when he saw the body, quiet by accident for he had not expected to turn the corner and find her corpse just lying there despite having been warned by Sir Nick, he blanched and ran for one of the toilet stalls, where he promptly threw up his evening meal. Myrtle was actually rather pleased by this, and she grinned as Dippet at last left the stall, dabbing at his mouth delicately with the kerchief he had conjured.
“Sir Nicolas,” said Dippet, clearing his throat uncomfortably, “is she here now? I cannot see her.” And indeed the headmaster could not, he turned in a dizzy little circle but not once did his roaming eyes come even close to Myrtle’s corner, and the pleased flush of emotion Myrtle had felt when she saw that at last her death had some kind of impacting blow, vanished.
“Why can’t he see me!” she asked indignantly, turning on Nearly Headless Nick. “I can see him, and you and you can see me!”
“I don’t know, dear,” said Nick placating. Meanwhile the headmaster stared at Nick, his gently piggy eyes worried and weary at the same time.
“What is it, Sir Nick?” he asked.
“Excuse us, Professor Dippet. There seems to be a bit of confusion. Myrtle Dowerhaint is here, but apparently you can’t see her? This is entirely strange, because I can see her, and she can certainly see all of us.”
“She is a ghost though,” replied Dippet, again surveying the flooded bathroom, now liberally draped in night shadows, “is she not?”
“Seems that way to me,” said Nick, frowning at the girl. “Tell me child, how old are you?”
Myrtle twitched away from her intense glare of the headmaster and replied most petulantly, “I am nearly fifteen.”
“How near?” asked Nick.
“…nine months near,” glowered Myrtle. She drifted away from her little corner and began to circle the headmaster curiously, who batted at the air ever so often as if fending off a bug. “Why can’t he seem me? I thought everyone could see ghosts.”
“Nearly everyone can,” replied Headless Nick. He worried the edge of his thumb and frowned at the headmaster, who kept shooting nervous look’s at the body of the dead girl, her clothes soaking through as the water level on the floor increased, the flooding yet stopped. “Most people – well, wizard-kind that is – have no problem seeing ghosts, and most ghosts want to be seen.”
“What?” asked Dippet, head snapping up. “You’re talking to the girl?”
“She’s worried that you cannot see her, Headmaster,” Nicolas said respectfully. He followed Dippet’s queasy gaze as it once again rested on the corpse of the girl. Floating closer to the teacher, he said softly, “Did you know she was only fourteen?”
“Nearly fifteen!” Myrtle corrected as she drifted away. Sir Nicolas ignored her, moving to rest a cold and sticky hand on the shoulder of little Headmaster Dippet who had the good and respectful sense not to throw it off.
“Poor thing. I wonder what happened here.”
“What indeed,” muttered Nick darkly.
Just then the lanky form of Albus Dumbledore ducked into the room, and in his wake he brought others, one of the healers (apprentice in tow) from the hospital-ward, a grounds-man, Professor Binns, who immediately drifted to Sir Nicolas’s side, and lastly a young boy, twisting the edge of his school tie in his hands as he hovered just in the doorway of the bathroom. “It is really her?” he kept asking, dancing around in an effort to see past ghosts and people. “Is it really Myrtle?”
Now, you might find it surprising if it is said at this conjuncture, knowing what you know about Myrtle Dowerhaint, that the youth standing in the door was actually her friend. Her only friend in fact. Let us, for a moment, examine the personage of little Hubbard Gilnook.
There he stands, his whole body – a perfectly normal collection of little boy limbs attached to a little boy torso – fairly vibrating with horrified and curious disbelief as he gigs around in place, trying to catch a glimpse, even the smallest peek, of his best friend.
You see, he can’t exactly believe that it is her, but a extremely small pin-prick sized part of him is secretly excited, because after all, he’s never actually really known someone who’s died, and course it’d be rotten luck if it is Myrtle cause she was the only who even ever gave Hubbard a second look, but wow; because if she is dead, well, Hubbard is the only student on the know.
Funny thing though, about Hubbard. The boy was really very easy to ignore, not unlike the one person in the world he called friend (though if ever asked, Myrtle might have said the friendship in question was suspect at best). So the adults in the room, and the various ghosts found it all to simple to turn their backs on the boy, and while there was a great increase of activities – a soggy body, carefully levitated onto a conjured stretcher while teachers and healers and headmasters all debated about the unknown happenings in the bathroom, and established ghosts attempting to grill the existence of a new ghost – Hubbard got more than an eyeful.
And of course he was immediately horrified, for what small twelve year old boy wouldn’t be upon realizing that his one friend (prickles and all) was in fact dead. His wailing finally caught the attention of Albus Dumbledore, who was quickest to step out of the bathroom and scoop the lad up in his arms.
“Gentleman,” Dumbledore said, his voice booming in his chest where little Hubbard Gilnook has his face pressed, “there is a time and place for these conversations and this is not it. Shall we be about our business?”
If Headmaster Dippet felt annoyed at Dumbledore’s ability command the situation, and if Sir Nicolas felt discomforted because Professor Binns had nothing helpful to say about the ghosthood of Myrtle Dowerhaint, neither man showed it. As for the healer, and the apprentice and the grounds-man, they were all more than happy to quite the bathroom, and so the whole troop marched out, not a one sparing a backwards glance for the girl who hovered, sniffling, in the stall in which she died.
It is unfortunate though, that Myrtle did not follow her body out of the bathroom, down the hall and to the stairs, for if she had she might’ve heard the wild speculation Dippet did nothing to suppress, and she might’ve witnessed a rather handsome youth, prefect badge shining and guileless face concerned, stop Dumbledore and pull him to the side.
“Sir, it is true?” Tom Riddle asked, eyeing the floating stretcher which bore the young girl’s body. Dumbledore caught the eye of the healer, who immediately understood the teacher’s intent and took into her arms Hubbard, who’s wails had tapered off to the most pitiful sort of whimpers.
Both student and teacher waited until the healer, bundle well in hand, was out of ear-shot. Only then did Tom press his case. “Could they really shut down the school?” he asked hands lank at his side. “I’ve nowhere else to go.”
“It would a most unfortunate turn of events,” replied Dumbledore tiredly. “But not entirely impossible. A girl has died.”
“But Sir,” said the prefect. Dumbledore waited for more, but Tom looked away, swallowing whatever else he’d meant to say.
“Dippet speaks too freely, Tom,” Dumbledore said, heavy hand landing on the seventh-year’s shoulder. “We don’t even know what happened yet. While closing the school as a preemptive measure sounds wise, it may not be the best course.”
“People will be concerned though,” said Tom, licking his thin lips. “The parents will cause problems and the authorities will come, they always do.”
“Of course, all to be expected.”
Tom shook his head, shadows making sharp the fine bones in his haughty face. “I can’t leave now, Sir,” the boy said softly. It almost sounded as if he spoke to himself, except that his dark eyes flickered to the lined face of Albus Dumbledore. “I’m not ready yet. They can’t make me leave until I’m ready.”
“No one’s going anywhere yet, Tom,” Dumbledore said. Surely he meant to sound reassuring but the deep frown on his face, and the murky depth of emotion in his voice made the statement sound like a quarrelsome growl, and Riddle drew back, uncertain: should he feel insulted that the teacher had snapped at him, or weary that perhaps the man saw too much?
“What would it take, to keep the school open?” the prefect asked, squaring his shoulders.
“Nothing less than the truth,” replied Dumbledore carefully. He rocked back on his heels and surveyed the boy in front of him down the line of his nose. “A girl died and her – her killer would have to be caught.”
“Yes, I see,” said the boy, nodding to himself. “A killer must be caught.”
“The killer, Tom,” Dumbledore corrected. “The killer must be caught.”
“But if caught, they wouldn’t close the school, right? If caught, I can stay.”
Dumbledore paused before answering. He looked at Tom Riddle as if searching for something, and the moment between them stretched out thin, until it seemed that both boy and man held their breath, waiting for the moment to break.
“It’s late, Tom,” Dumbledore finally said, looking away from the boy. The teacher pushed his half-moon glasses up his nose and added, “You should be abed. And don’t” – Dumbledore amended, just as Tom Riddle turned away – “go prattling about this to any of your classmates. Do you understand? This is not to be known about by the majority.”
“Of course, Professor,” the boy replied, his mouth turning up at the ends in a tight echo of a smile. “It will be our little secret.”
Hello Reader. I just wanted to quickly thank everyone who's showed interest in this odd little story. I appreciate your feed back, your reviews, favorites and support.
I am very much enjoying the process of writing about Myrtle and I'm thrilled that you readers have had such a good responce. I hope you'll stick around to find out more of this girl's story.
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