And Then I Died
“Ooooh, it was dreadful,” she said with relish.
“It happened right in here. I died in this very stall. I remember it so well....”
- J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“The glasses make her look even more ugly, don’t you think, Julia? I’ve never seen anyone even half as ugly as her!” Olive Hornby broke into ferocious giggles. She knew I could hear her. She always knew.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hold back the tears. She would laugh even more if she saw me cry, but I couldn’t stop myself. A strangled sob echoed down the corridor, meeting with louder giggles than before. I covered my ears, but I could still hear her booming voice.
“It’s ten times worse when she starts blubbering everywhere. Let’s go. Maybe we’ll see Tom on the way to Potions!”
I heard them leaving, following her like the stupid sheep they were. Chase after Tom Riddle, ha! Like he’d look at their fat faces and flat chests. Not that he’d look at me, either, but it helped to know that they wouldn’t turn his head.
But they were so horrible! Everyday, every hour, every minute Olive was there, making sure to find the one new thing that would make me cry again. And all her idiot friends would laugh, happy that she wasn’t making fun of them. I couldn’t really blame them. They hated her just as much as I did. They were just luckier.
I tried to wipe up the tears, but they were streaming down my face, wetting my lips and dripping off my chin. My handkerchief had gone missing days before, no mystery who had taken it and some of my other things. Even hiding them made no difference. She still found them and carried them away and laughed as I searched through my trunk.
Another sob emerged. Another disgusting sound echoing down the corridor. Miserable, pathetic Myrtle. Can’t even control herself. That’s what they said about me.
Footsteps at the end, coming near to where I stood. If anyone saw me now... Oh Merlin, I had to run, to hide, to get away from their laughter and staring eyes. An errant giggle reached my ears and I knew they had come back. Olive and her crowd. They were coming back to torment me some more, not having gotten enough fun out of it the first time.
There was a lavatory nearby. I could make it before they found me.
They were girls too. Hiding in the lavatory wouldn’t stop them.
But if they didn’t see me, they wouldn’t know I was there.
They’d think I’d slunk back to the Common Room or to an empty classroom to cry and bemoan my troubles. They wouldn’t look in the lavatory, not this one.
I pushed through the heavy door, making sure to close it behind me with the least amount of noise. They thought me stupid, even I thought myself stupid at times, but that hat put me in Ravenclaw. Surely that meant something.
They were coming closer, their voices loud.
“Myrtle! Where are you?”
“She must have done a runner.”
“Little coward. And to think we came back all this way to find her gone.”
“We had a little surprise for her, didn’t we, Olive?”
Olive’s answering giggle sent shivers down my spine. Oh Merlin, to be able to get her back, to do something to make her pay....
“Yes, yes, we did! But there’s always another time, isn’t there?” Another giggle, this time more like a snort, reached my ear. “Ugly Myrtle and her ugly glasses. There’s nothing better than to watch her blubber and moan.”
The other girls laughed. I held my breath.
“Would she have gone in there, you think?”
They must have been pointing to the lavatory. I stepped back from the door.
“She must be really stupid if she did that!”
I could picture Olive narrowing her eyes, trying to get a thought through that thick head of hers. It was a great temptation for her to barge into the lavatory, I knew that much about her. But I couldn’t move. Fear kept me in place. Cowardly Myrtle. Couldn’t even save herself from the school bully.
“No point. We got better things to do.” Olive had turned away from the door, her voice getting harder to hear. She was leaving and taking her minions with her.
But she gave one last parting shot.
“We’ll get her later. Her and those gore-gee-us glasses.”
Laughter followed her down the corridor.
I let go of my breath only to sob again. It was painful, ripping apart my sides. Leaning against a sink, I let the sobs out, feeling the tears running down my face, dripping into the drain. I made the mistake of glancing at the mirror, at the disgusting reflection it offered.
Ugly Myrtle. That’s who I was. Even I knew I wasn’t pretty. Flat hair, hanging down without curl or wave. Just hanging there, lifeless. Wide hips, wide everything. And the spots. They were the worst, stretching across nose and cheeks, forehead and chin. They never went away, either, not with all the potions and spells in the world. The glasses only made them worse, magnifying the red spots so that there were ten times the size.
No boy would even look at me. The other girls looked at me and laughed, safe in the knowledge that, at the very least, they were prettier than me.
I took off my glasses, trying to see if that helped at all. They were heavy, too, and I didn’t like wearing them. The last pair had broken when I’d fallen down the dormitory stairs. Tripped, pushed, it didn’t matter.
Staring into the mirror, I wondered if this ugliness could go away. If I got old, would I get pretty, too? Or would I only get uglier, another dirty hag in the street, begging for coins? Even the shops wouldn’t take me, not with a face like this.
Pathetic, lonely Myrtle. Doomed to eternal ugliness.
I put the glasses back on, their weight still unfamiliar. I had half a mind to smash them to bits, feeling the satisfaction of destroying something, but I couldn’t. Too expensive. Can’t waste a thing, can we, Myrtle? You should have been more careful about your old pair. Now we have to buy you these. Oh, my parents hated me. Hated me for being so ugly and useless.
A loud hiccough escaped my mouth. A gross sound, but enough to make me stop feeling sorry for myself. The pity never worked, anyway.
I needed to sit down. In a lavatory, there’s only one place for that. Balancing on the rim of a toilet, I leant my head against the wall. It was wooden and not cool or refreshing. I hadn’t even run the tap to clean my face.
Sometimes I wondered if I enjoyed hating myself.
Or maybe it was easier because everyone else already did.
Stop it! Myrtle, you’re such a bore.
I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down. Olive always did this to me. Made me so upset that I couldn’t think straight. I wiped a sniffle on some toilet paper – never use your sleeve, Myrtle, it’s not proper – and tried to think about my homework. If I still had any parchment and ink left – they were always the first to disappear – I should start on that essay for Dumbledore. He’d given an extension because of my glasses. So nice of him. Though he’d do it for anyone. I wasn’t special.
I sobbed again. I hugged myself, trying to stop it from hurting so much. My stomach was empty and I was getting thirsty, but going down to the Great Hall would mean more laughs, more insults. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want people to only notice me because I was fat, ugly Mrytle. The one who moans and cries all the time because no one likes her. Who’d want to be friends with her, anyway?
It was horrible. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to do something that would make Olive Hornby stop laughing. Something that would wipe that cursed smile off her face.
The lavatory door opened and shut again. Someone walking in, their footsteps quiet, almost graceful, but confident. The shoes were wrong. All the girls wore noisy shoes, as though the professors wanted to keep us from sneaking about. Olive did with her beau all the time. He had spots too, but Olive never complained about them
The person was standing by the sinks, so I didn’t need to lift up my legs to keep them from showing beneath the stall. It had to be a girl, then. She was fixing her makeup or her hair, staring at her beautiful face in the mirror, preening like a peacock.
But then... oh, but then, I heard a voice, and it wasn’t a girl’s. It wasn’t even in English. It sounded like hissing. How strange. But it was a boy and boys shouldn’t be in the girls’ lavatory. They had their own on the fourth floor. He either had to be very stupid or very desperate to come in here. The professors always checked these things. A boy in the girls’ toilets. Ugh!
There was another sound now, like something moving. If this boy was trying anything funny, laying out a prank or something like that, I had to stop him. Myrtle, saviour of the toilets. That was a title I could come to like. Better than miserable, moaning Myrtle.
I pushed open the stall door.
I saw no boy.
Blank and staring eyes. So yellow, so awful.
And then I died.
I didn’t know that at first. There was only darkness. I could hear myself think, but there was nothing else. It was all so empty.
No laughter, no taunting. That I didn’t mind. Maybe my ugliness was gone too. Maybe I was part of the emptiness. What did this mean? Had the boy put a spell on me, cursed me into this strange state? But wouldn’t that have hurt? I hadn’t felt anything, only seen those eyes.
Those blank and staring eyes.
I didn’t want to be here. Even though there was nothing here to complain about – it was even empty of Olive and her ghastly laughter – I didn’t like it. There was something wrong about this place. Too dark. Too empty.
Let me go back. Let me wake up and everything will be fine. I’ll make Olive pay at last. I’ll try harder to be brave, to stop caring about how I looked. Just let me go back. I’ll do anything for that chance.
I sniffed, feeling the tears coming back. Like a baby, always crying over nothing. Miserable Myrtle. Never happy, not even when everything was gone.
Wake up, Myrtle. Wake up.
I opened my eyes and saw the lavatory again, but it wasn’t the same. I was not standing on the floor behind the stall door. I was... no. That was impossible.
But there I was, on the floor. I saw myself lying there with blank and staring eyes magnified by those wretched glasses. I was... no. This was a dream. A nightmare. I would wake up in the Hospital Wing and everything would be fine.
I moved closer. How, I don’t know. It was like I was... yes... oh Merlin.
I was floating.
When I realised what this meant, I screamed and screamed. I dove through the air, making all the stall doors slam open. Diving again, they slammed shut. Screaming all the while, I played with these new powers, making the taps fly open, spouting water in all directions. When voices and footsteps rang through the corridor, I leapt for the toilet beside my body and disappeared into the pipes, the water splashing around me.
I was dead.
More than that, I was a ghost lying in a u-bend.
Ghosts, ghosts. What did I know about ghosts? They’d never taught us anything much about ghosts, for all they’re everywhere in the school. Transparent: yes. Floating: yes. Able to go through walls: I would look forward to that.
But there was something else that ghosts could do: haunt.
I would have my revenge on that Olive Hornby.
It was surprisingly comfortable in this u-bend. Would they be finding my body now, wondering how it all happened, how I had died? I wanted to look, but they would see and want to talk with me, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t care how it happened, only that it had.
Dead. It sounded so final, something that I should be crying about. There would be things I’d miss, but I couldn’t think of them yet. There were too many things I wouldn’t miss, and they were filling my head.
I laughed, sending bubbles up into the toilet.
Oh Merlin, I was going to enjoy this.
Shooting further down the pipe, I knew I could work my way to an exit somewhere, or to another pipe leading up. There it was, probably the boys’ lavatory, where that boy should have gone, instead of hiding out in the girls’. I peeked out of a toilet, listening. I didn’t want them to catch me yet. I had to do something first.
Floating through walls was easier than I’d imagined. There was nothing to feel, only a bit of happiness, joy at the thought that finally – finally! – I could make Olive sorry she had ever made fun of miserable, moaning Myrtle. She would beg me for mercy.
And I wouldn’t give it.
She was in the Common Room, whispering with her friends. They were talking about something awful; I could see it in their faces. I crept behind their chairs, waiting, listening.
“Can you believe it?”
“Where’d you hear this from?”
“They were all running around, trying to figure it all out.”
“Apparently the Head Boy found her, heard the screams as she-”
The last voice stopped and the others fell into silence. Olive hadn’t spoken yet. She sat, eyes narrowed, forehead puckered.
“Dead? In that lavatory?”
One of the others nodded. No one else spoke. Even Olive remained silent, not looking at the others. If this was her remorse, it was too late. I was dead and she would soon know what it had been like to be me.
Now was my chance.
I moved directly behind Olive, hovering just above her head. One of the girls looked up and saw me. She jumped to her feet, a scream muffled behind her hands. The others followed suit, leaping away. Olive took in a sharp breath, turning to look at me with wide and staring eyes. It was my turn to laugh, to point, to grin as her face went pale.
“Hello, Olive. I’ve been looking for you.”
Author's Note: Myrtle is officially the most annoying character I've ever written. Trying to keep her in character felt demeaning, but alas, she's whiny, weepy, and vindictive, and there wasn't much I could do to avoid it.
Anyway, the beginning quote and title are from p. 299 of American paperback edition.