Step by step

Heart to heart

Left

Right

Left

We all fall down

Step by step

Heart to heart

Left

Right

Left

We all fall down, like toy soldiers

Bit by bit

Torn apart

We never win

But the battle wages on,

For toy soldiers.

-Eminem, "Toy Soldiers" (Encore)

He could hear them perfectly from his perch on the windowsill. For all he tried to shut them out, he could hear every laugh, every word that they spoke. Just the three of them, sitting together and laughing companionably about everything and nothing. He sighed quietly. It would be so easy to just get up and leave the Common Room, to disappear into the dormitory and pray for morning. But he refused to move. He refused to give in to weakness.

Slowly, he pressed his fingers to the cool windowpane. Mist formed around the warm skin and blurred his vision of the crisp, snowy night outside. Snow fluttered gently to the ground from enormous clouds and fell to rest on the tress that sagged beneath its weight. He sucked in a breath of the icy air.

"No, Hermione – look, if you move there than this pawn will get that piece and it will leave this piece open for the Queen to capture. You see?"

He shut his eyes slowly and focused on the darkness behind his eyelids. If he concentrated hard enough, the noise of their camaraderie almost faded away. . . "But that doesn't make sense! Strategically, if you do this, than that ought to happen!"

Almost, but not quite.

He opened his eyes and was too empty to sigh. He shivered from the cold of the night and let his hand fall to his lap. He leaned back against the wall and pulled his knees to his chest, tucking his chin in the gap between them. He stared absently out the window, laughter of those who sat by the warm fire echoing in his head.

It was cold, by the windowsill. And he wanted so to be warm.

Literally and theoretically, he mused, stealing a glance at the couches. There they sat, never once glancing over to see him, pale and shivering, as they played chess. Hermione let out a peal of laughter and Harry shook his head with a good-natured grin as Ron's Queen destroyed his King.

Ginny entered, her cheeks flushed from the cold and Harry wound his arm around her waste, pulling her onto his lap. She kissed his forehead lightly and rubbed her hands together. "Bloody freezing out there," she said breathlessly, and absently moved Harry's chess piece. She blushed with a sheepish grin as he poked her, laughing, "Oi! So you think you can just come in and take over, do you?"

The whole picture was beautiful. Pure friendship—untainted happiness amidst all the dark that surrounded the school.

He shut his eyes again, trying to block it out. What is darkness? He thought, desperate to cover the noise with his own voice. Just the absence of light…by definition, he added, rubbing his thumb against his pajama's fabric. But what is a definition? Just a group of words made up to describe something.

He traced the penguin on his sleeve as he thought. Made up to describe. . . made up. So what is true darkness?

Girlish laughter floated over from the group near the fire. Hermione and Ginny were perched on the couch, reading a romance novel together. The boys were relaxing in the armchairs now, rolling their eyes.

That is darkness! He thought forcefully. There is so much light in one, close circle. . .closed off from the rest of us. So much love that it goes into a circle and becomes hate. So much goodness that it makes me sick.

He almost could not believe his own thoughts. He turned back to the window and looked out again, mentally describing the scene as he fought to keep everything quiet—the group near the fire, the music playing from Hermione's muggle stereo, his own mind. He tried to make everything silent, tried to keep himself from thought.

But he couldn't.

When I close my eyes, it is all darkness, he deliberated. There is no light. Does that mean I am dark? Does that make me evil?

He wondered whatthey saw when they shut their eyes. He wondered if, as eyelids closed, their worlds exploded into a rainbow of colour and light. He tried not to, but failed to keep from wondering what Voldemort saw when he went to sleep at night.

Did my parents ever think like this? The thought haunted him. Did they ever question the side that they fought for? Just how passionate were they about it? And sometimes, after an earful of the sickening goodness around him, he considered the fact that maybe, just maybe, his parents were ashamed of him. What am I fighting for? He asked, eying the happy quartet with envy. Am I fighting for that?

He did not know what he wanted for fight for, but it was not the scene he was watching. Maybe, if he had been part of it, his thoughts would be different. . .but not now. It was too late now. He pulled the sleeves of his penguin-and-igloo pajamas down over his hands and balled them into fists.

His feet were frozen stiff; the leggings that matched his shirt did not cover them. He tried to flex them but they refused to be budged. He wondered vaguely if it was possibly to freeze to death while only yards away from a fire.

Or maybe it's symbolic, he contemplated. Maybe it's symbolic of the light evaporating inside me. Maybe I'm turning dark . . . yes. Cold is usually associated with darkness. With evil. This thought struck him as odd and he wondered, Am I evil?

He shook his head, almost laughing. No . . . not evil. Not quite yet. He fought again to flex his toes but still could not and he knew that he could not much longer hide in the safety of the shadows. Soon he would be forced away from the windowsill and the familiar cold that comforted him every night. Soon he would be forced to stumble over to the fireplace and let himself get warmed up.

The only reason he did not just let himself freeze was because the feeling of warmth returning to his body was one he treasured above anything else. The feel of his numb, frozen feet slowly starting to tingle and then in a flick of the fire bursting into heat and turning red.

He considered the possibility that they would notice him as he walked over. He chewed on the thought of more than just a passing nod as he stood before the orange flame.

Fire is a funny thing, he stated mentally. He could feel his feet beginning to numb as noticed, startled, that they were completely white. It licks and jumps peacefully . . . but destroys so much. He laughed a little, quietly.

Sort of like I could. He mulled over the thought. It would be so easy to turn to the dark side. It would be so simple, just to give in, just to switch sides. No one would ever have to know, no one would ever have to suspect . . . me. Becoming a Death Eater. He shook his head, grinning at the stupidity of the thought. It's laughable, really.

He stood slowly and winced as he put weight on his feet. Every step towards the warmth of the fire hurt and he wished repeatedly that he could have stayed in the safe harbor of the shadow. Of the window. The cold, unforgiving window.

Ginny looked up from the book and smiled at him. "Oh, hullo!" She said gaily, fighting to keep Hermione from turning the page in the muggle novel. "I didn't hear you come in—did you, Herms?"

The girl shook her head, smiling kindly. "You stealthy beast," she teased, her brown eyes sparkling. "No, Ginny—I'll just read ahead a little—you still have a whole page. . ."

He turned his back to them, ignoring the way his eyes burned as he stared into the fireplace. They had finished with him. He felt the familiar rush of heat flowing into his toes and allowed a smile to grace his pale face. He began to stop shivering and put his hands flat on the air against the heat. Warmth flowed into him. He shut his eyes as it overtook him, and opened them only when he knew that he could not get any warmer.

He stood a moment more, and then stumbled back into the shadows. No one so much as looked up as he exited, but Ron cuffed Harry's shoulder as he teased him lightly about becoming Quidditch Captain.

He realized with a jolt that he felt out of place when he was in the light. I prefer darkness, he declared as he plopped back down into the familiar cold that radiated from the glass. I prefer darkness and cold . . . and the honesty of evil. He smiled to himself as he examined his pajama sleeve. A penguin waved unmovingly at him from the entrance of an icy igloo.

He mulled over the thought again. The honesty of evil . . . me, a Death Eater. The thought did not make him laugh this time. Instead, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Is everyone equal in darkness? He brooded. It doesn't matter what the skill levels are . . . only how much darkness has consumed the person in question.

He smiled to himself, allowing a morbid laugh to escape his lips. He heard laughter flit over from the group near the fire and did not feel jealousy. Instead, he curled his lip in contempt at them. Weak bastards, he thought condescendingly. They do not know what true happiness is. He laughed again, louder this time. True happiness . . . yes. Yes . . .

He imagined his arm with a Dark Mark branded in his skin and he smiled. He looked forward to the pain, to the burn. He looked forward to the screams of agony that would surely follow after every kill. He looked forward, even, to being beaten by his Master . . . his Master that would surely know the meaning of True Happiness better than anyone else.

We have a lot in common, Voldemort and I, he thought grimly, and felt a strange sort of pride well up inside him. And soon, the world will see it. He thought back to just a few minutes before as he had fruitlessly fought off the darkness. He realized how foolish he was, how stupid, to try and resist it. It was so comforting, so kind . . . he shook his head and looked out into the black sky.

"Aren't you cold?" Hermione asked as she passed by.

He looked back at the light and the fire and felt the chill of his feet. And he smiled, imagining the pain that would come as he brought each and every one of them down to their knees, begging to be killed.

"Not at all, Herms," Neville Longbottom replied, flexing his toes. "Actually, I'm quite warm."