This is a story I wrote for a challenge on the Mugglenet forums. I liked it, but I want to hear from you! If you read this, please tell me what you think. I'm entering it, so I would like to know what people's opinions are. Also, if you would like to beta it, write that in the review. I could really use a beta for this. Thanks. Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""'

Blackness---that's all I ever see here. I can't make out my hand, or the wall, or anything else through the inky air surrounding me. I used to think I might get out of here, if I was good. Mum told me that. She was always telling me, 'If you're good, Maverick, I'll get you out of here. Behave yourself, and mind you don't make too much noise. Obey your father, don't complain, and keep that bloody mouth of yours shut.' I do that a lot. Keeping my mouth shut, that is.

I have to stay quiet in case someone comes over. No one ever hear me, or Mum gets angry. Her lips purse together in a tight line and she glares at me with her eyes as cold as ice. I don't like that glare. It means I'm not going to be eating today, and I'll have to do chores all day tomorrow. That's the only time she lets me out, when I'm doing chores.

The only time I get to really be free is in my head. There, I can go out where the sun is and pretend I'm not Maverick anymore. I'm not the ghost boy from the dark room. Even when it's cold out, I can have the sun in my head. I can go to places like London and the ocean. Those are the only places I know about in real life, but I can make places up in my head. I can go to Song, where it's always sunny, or go to rainy, gray Pulltrum. I can go into the garden and see Mum's prize flowers that she always tells me about. If I want, I can fly out over my house and never come back. But, it's only in my head. When I wake up, I'm still ghost boy in the room. I'm still hungry, and I'm always cold.

'Mav - er - ick!'

I'm crouching in my darkness, listening to the clumsy footsteps outside as my door swings open. Dad is red-faced, and he looks like he's just won the lottery. He grins and pulls me out by my old shirt, which is dusty from being in the dark room so long.

'Mav - er - ick!'

Ever since I was little, I've always had my darkness, my loneliness, and Dad's late-night visits. Ever since I was a little kid, when I used to cry in the stuffy room while Mum and Dad ate their dinner in the kitchen beyond my door, I've been afraid of the darkness, but even more of the light. It's okay to be lonely, so long as Mum doesn't come in with the fly swatter and her eyes like ice, or Dad with his calls of: Mav - er- ick!

'Are you ready to fight, ghost boy?' he asks me. I shiver in the cold kitchen and blink. My back is facing the room, and I wish I could see it. I wish I could be alone again. Alone with my darkness and the tick of the kitchen clock as my only company. That's where I'm safe.

'Will you die for the honour of your family and of the Pureblood race?'

My teeth chatter as cold sweat runs down the small of my back. If I close my eyes, I won't see him. I won't see him standing there with his wand at my throat and his empty eyes the colour of dirty water. I won't see the kitchen clock ticking away, or my pale hands as they shake. I'm only the ghost boy, and I'm invisible. Alone and invisible.

'Will you, boy? Will you die for the cause?'

'I will, sir. I'll fight and I'll die and whatever else it takes for the cause. I will, sir.'

My legs are wobbly and my eyes start hurting. I want to tell him I'm not ready to die yet, and can't this wait for another day? I want to tell him I don't like the cause. What good has the cause ever done me, except to wake up every night to stand shivering in the kitchen and promise to die for something I never knew. I want to run out of that kitchen, away from the clock, and the wand, and the dark room that smells like rotten fruit. I can never do any of that. I don't know anything but my life in the room. I don't know how to say no to the cause that wants me dead.

'Will you fight that half-breed scum, the Muggle-Lovers and Mudbloods? Will you kill them for the cause, boy?'

'I will, sir.'

'What will you do, boy?'

'Kill the half-breed scum, sir.'

'The what?'

'The Muggle-Lovers and Mudbloods, sir.'

Dad is smiling and stumbling over to me, his wand still at my neck. I stand like a statue, because that's all you can do when you're the ghost boy. I wish I were a real ghost. If I was, I could walk through the kitchen wall and get away from his scary smile and black wand. I could get away from the promises I never want to keep. I squeeze my eyes shut tighter and tighter until they feel like someone's punching them. My back hits the wall. Solid. I'm not a real ghost, because I can't walk through that wall and escape the kitchen. I'm standing in my torn trousers and thinning shirt, shivering in the chilly darkness while Dad composes poems about the Dark Lord's fall in the war with Harry Potter.

'Would you kill the Blood-Traitor, boy? Would you torture him into madness and kill him like a dog?'

'I would, sir. I would kill him like a dog.'

I don't want to kill anybody like a dog. Mum says my room is the place the dogs used to sleep in when her family had dogs, and she gives me the cold bits from meals that would have been for the dogs, if we had them. I suppose that sort of makes me the dog, and I don't want anybody killing me. They can't, anyway. I'm already listed to die for the cause. They kill you like heroes when you die for a cause.

'Would you be a brave lad and jump before the killing curse itself to save a comrade?'

I don't know the answer to this one. It's a new question, and new questions can be tricky. They lead you on to think you're right, and just when you go to answer, they pop a surprise on you and make you answer wrong, and then Dad gets furious, because you're never supposed to answer wrong.

'I would, sir. I would jump before the killing curse itself to save my comrade.'

'WRONG, BOY!' Dad roars. His wand isn't pointing at me for show. A hundred white-hot knives dig into my skin and I'm rolling on the floor, because my knees can't hold me up anymore. Hot wires are pressing at my skin like the fire from one of Mum's candles. My fingernails are being pulled out. Someone is screaming. My head is foggy and someone is screaming like a man being burned alive. My mouth flaps open; I slap the floor with my hands and feet.

Help me! Help me, please. No more, no more. I'll never answer wrong again. Just help me. Just please help me.

There is no one here that will help me. They won't ever help me. They never have. Dad is laughing and I'm screaming and begging, and it goes on like that for about minute. Scream, laugh, beg. Scream, laugh, beg.

'Would you die for a comrade, boy? Would you even risk death for a comrade?'

My mouth is hanging open, but I can't speak. The pain is running through me---cold, hot, cold, hot. I gasp, but nothing comes out. All I can see is the fog.

'N--nho! No, no, please. No, sir. I---won't. I won't die . . . for anything . . . but the . . . cause.'

He smiles and lifts me to my feet. I'm only glad I've done something right.

'Good, lad. Make me my coffee. It's a battle today. I can smell it. Are you ready to die for the cause, son?'

'Yes, sir. Black coffee, sir. Yes, sir. I'm ready to die, sir.'

Nighttime is almost over, and Dad will go back upstairs soon. He will go back to being Day Dad, who is almost like Mum, only stricter. He will leave me alone at last, and I can sleep in my darkness until Mum tugs me out by my ear to do the chores. My cousins are coming. They come every month and I can always hear them from my room. They are normal boys. Normal boys have rooms with sunlight that don't smell and they can go outside any time they want. They don't live under the fallen rocks and ruins of an old manor. They can eat any time they like, and they don't have to die for the cause.

I wish I could be a normal boy. I have my darkness and my lonely times. I have no food and no water. I'm all by myself with a Mum that tells me I can get out if I behave and a Dad that makes me promise to die every night.

Mum says Dad isn't right in the head at night. He has memories. He can't control himself from the guilt and them images of his friends dying at the hand of the enemy. I don't know who the enemy is, and I can't ask. I can't ask why anyone cared about the stupid cause in the first place, or why Dad is upset that it lost. He tells me everyone pledged to die for the cause during the Great War, and I think it's no wonder they lost; everyone promised to die and no one was left to fight. But, Dad isn't right in the head, and when you're not right in the head, you can't understand things like that. You can't understand that everyone had to die and left you all alone with the memories and the grief.

'Ah, there's my coffee. We'll have to bring you out to battle to make our coffee in the field. Bloody coffee's never good enough in war. Tell me you'll die for the war, son. Tell me you'll die and I'll give you a bit of bread.'

don't want to say those words ever again. I don't want to say I'll die for the cause that gave Dad his memories. I don't want to have the memories and the guilt when I grow. But, I want that bread. I want that bread so badly it hurts. My belly is grumbling and growling. It wants that bread even more. IT says, take it. Don't be a fool and take the bread. You've said it before, and you'll say it again. Take it.

'I'll die for the cause, sir. Surely I'll die for the cause. I'd readily do it.'

The bread tastes like parchment in my mouth. It's stiff and thick down my throat, and dry. I wish I could take it back now. I want my words back, and Dad can have his crumbly bread.

'How much are you willing to put out for the cause, son?'

Another new question. I don't want to answer this. I don't want Dad's wand at my throat, or his muttered curses that bring hot knives to my skin.

'Would you be willing to kill your own father? Would you kill your father for the things he's done, the failures on his conscience? Would you kill me, son?'

I would. I would kill him if it meant that I could get away forever and live on a beach. If I had the courage, I would surely do it. But, I can't bring myself to say it. I can't bring myself to admit that I wish him dead, because, somewhere very deep down, I want him to stay with me out here in the kitchen forever. It's not really so bad, the late-night visit and the swearing. It's not so bad not being alone for once. He's the only one that ever talks to me like this, even if he is mental, or touched to the head, or has too many memories.

'I . . . I . . .'

'Say it boy. Say you'll do it for me. Do it for me, and I'll let you out for good.'

He pleads with me, and the little bit that likes his company tells me to say no. Say no and go back to your dark room. Don't make any more promises you don't want to keep.

'I would, father. If that---if that is your will, I would do it.'

He looks happier than I've ever seen him before. I'm frightened and I want to go back to bed. I want my darkness, and I don't care if it smells like a dustbin. It's as if Dad isn't really here anymore. It's just me and the wand he pushes into my hand. I've never held a wand before. It feels too heavy in my fist. I don't want to do this. Oh, Merlin, please don't make me do this. I don't want to be alone here. I never meant my promises. I never meant them, and please Merlin, don't make me do this.

'Go on, son. Do it, and you can go away forever.'

He laughs, but it's not a happy sound. It sounds empty as it echoes around the kitchen.

'I c-can't,' I beg him. My hand is trembling with the wand. I want my mum to come down and make me go back to the darkness. I'll do the chores, I'll make the promises, but don't make me keep them. Don't make me keep my vows.

'DON'T FAIL ME! DON'T---NEVER---'

He's on the floor now, sobbing into his hands like I've never seen anyone sob. He scratches the floor with his fingernails, bites his lips, tugs at my trouser leg. My bare feet are freezing on the cold floor, but they're numb now, and I can't feel them. My whole body is numb, because I've never seen my Dad crying like this before. I can tell that he's feeling more pain than I've ever felt, curses and all.

'You made your vow, boy. Keep it. KILL ME!'

I feel so bad for him that I almost do it. I raise the wand and think of the curse he tells me about all the time. The curse that killed his father, and his friends, and everyone else he stood by. He's on the floor, crying, and I'm crying, and now we're both bawling our eyes out like little babies. He cries loud and angry and full of sadness. My crying is silent, like I've always been. The tears come rolling down my cheeks, and I know I can never kill him.

'Draco! Draco, are you bothering the boy again?'

My mum is on the stairs, looking furious, her icy eyes piercing right through my heart. I back away as she comes down. Her face is closed, like she doesn't want me to see what she's thinking.

'Draco, come upstairs to bed and stop being foolish. Severus is coming by tomorrow with your potion, and I won't have you in such a state for him.'

I met Severus once, when I was younger. I'm not sure how old I was. I never know how old I am, but I must have been small, because he was very big. He said something about keeping boys in closets, but I never understood. Dad doesn't understand either. He looks up at Mum with eyes red-rimmed and tear-stained cheeks. He looks lost.

'Come now. I won't stand for this anymore. Send the boy back to bed and stop this nonsense.'

Dad looks afraid when he says quietly, 'Yes, Pansy. Boy, back to bed with you. What are you thinking being up at this hour? You have chores tomorrow! And give me my wand back!'

He stumbles off toward his bedroom, but Mum stays behind, so I know I can't leave yet.

'Do you see what that cause does to men, Maverick? Your father was a great man once, and I admired him more than anything,' she says, sounding very far away. For once, her eyes aren't cold and icy, but misty and lost. 'Never join that cause, Maverick. Stop taking those bloody oaths. Promise me you won't. I need you here in the house, with me. It's a dangerous world out there. I don't want you ever being a part of it. If you stay in your room, you'll be safe, Maverick.

'The dark is good for you. The only way to keep you safe is to keep you in the dark. You'll understand some day. I don't want you becoming like your father. No, no, you're much better off here. You're better off with me and your father and perhaps Severus. He always did have his head on straight . . . .'

She has her arms around me never before, and it's warm in there. It feels so nice and safe.

'Oh, well. Back to bed with you. You have to be up early tomorrow.'

Once again I'm left alone in the dark. I look at the kitchen window and think about what my mum said. It's no use running away, really. I don't know that world, and she loves me. She tells me that sometimes. She loves me, and I want to stay forever in her arms.

The door of my dark room is open, and I shut it behind me. Here in the dark I can be safe forever. I won't have to join the cause ever again.

'I promise.'