It felt like I was in a daze. And truthfully, it was a really awful feeling, I was in a stupor that I just couldn’t shake off. Back when Joy died, I at least had a family, and then pseudo-friends, to pretend to be happy for. Now I didn’t. And that is what had made all the difference.
Well, that and the fact that my self-blame for Joy’s death was irrational – I could recognize that even if I couldn’t get rid of the feelings of guilt. Now, it would be irrational if I didn’t blame myself.
I had been in the library the other day when I noticed James watching me. When I’d snuck a glance at his face I was slightly surprised that his expression displayed no animosity. Instead, he’d been wearing the same inscrutable look he used to watch me with at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.
I wanted to go over and talk to him, I really did. But I couldn’t. I was being a coward, I’ll openly admit it. It’s just that I didn’t want to get hurt and, more importantly, I didn’t want to hurt James again. And there’s a very good chance that both of those would happen.
I was in the library once again – this time without James there – and had my typical pile of books scattered around me. My work for the week was long finished and now I was reading just to pass the time. I’d probably end up reading every single book in this place within a week or two. It’s all I do any more.
I read until my eyes drooped and the words began to blur together. Since I’d been going to sleep late and waking up early so as to better avoid all my roommates. I haven’t been getting very much sleep as of late. And when I did sleep, I usually had nightmares. It had gotten to the point where I thought it might be better if I just stopped sleeping altogether.
I was just about to drift asleep when a hand gently shook my shoulder. I jolted in surprise and twisted around to see Rhiannon looking at me in concern. She had her Quidditch practice robes on. Wait. Quidditch…
“You coming to practice, Captain?” she asked gently. “It’s the first one since the holidays.”
“Yeah,” I said distractedly, gathering up my books. “Sorry, I blanked out there for a while. I’ll be right down.”
Grabbing my bag, I stood up only to have the room spin slightly and black spots appear in my vision. I gripped the back of my chair, as the wooziness hit me, squeezing my eyes shut. Rhiannon’s hand found was on my arm once more and when I looked at her, her eyes were wide in alarm.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded slightly, my head clearing. “Yeah, sorry. I guess I got up a little too fast. I’m fine now.”
She bit her lip but accepted it anyways. Alright then, let’s go.”
I think it’s safe to say that what followed was the worst Quidditch practice I’ve ever had in my life. It wasn’t that everyone else was bad – they all played quite well, to be honest – but for me, it was just miserable. I’ve never played so bad before.
My throws were weak and inaccurate and my flying was sloppy and unrefined. I was actually quite ashamed of my performance. And throughout the practice, I would continue to get dizzy spells and have to halt midair so I wouldn’t fall off my broom. The team kept shooting me worried looks, but they didn’t say anything. The one time Bronwyn, one of the Beaters, tried to suggest that I sit down, I shot her such a vicious glare that no one else tried to say anything. Thinking about it, that probably didn’t help my case with having every person in this whole damn school avoiding me.
Which, you know, really doesn’t make sense. I can understand James and Lessie avoiding me, and, to a slightly lesser extent, the rest of the Potters and Weasleys and the girls in my dorm, but seriously, what crawled up the rest of the school’s arses? I suppose they might just be avoiding me because I seem to suck out the happiness from everywhere I go. Just call me a dementor.
After an hour, I let everyone go. It was pretty clear that I was the only one who needed practice. But I really couldn’t bring myself to train on my own. I was just so exhausted. I’ve never felt so physically weak before in my life. My head pounded and even my vision seemed just the slightest bit blurred. I was just so tired.
I stood under a steady flow of hot water in the shower in the changing room for what felt like hours. The benefits of going to a magical school: you never run out of hot water. I felt the tension that had been gripping me since the fight with James slowly start to melt away. It didn’t go away completely, and I’m not sure it ever will, but it did lessen by a considerable degree. I flexed all of my muscles simultaneously and then relaxed them. Bracing my hands against the wall next to the shower head, I took deep, slow breaths as water ran down my face. Maybe I should just stay here for the rest of my life.
When I finally mustered up the will to turn off the water, dry myself off, and get dressed again, everyone was gone except for Rhiannon, who appeared to be waiting for me. There was a slightly calculating look in her eyes as she examined me. Pursing her lips, she shook her head. “You look like shit.”
I recoiled slightly. It’s not the worst thing anyone’s ever said to me – I can think of a quite a few that would top that – but I still felt slightly offended. She didn’t have to be so blunt about it. “I feel like it, too.”
“So stop,” Rhiannon responded simply.
I raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’ll just do that right now,” I said sarcastically.
“You could, you know,” she said.
“Uh, no I can’t,” I shot back. I sound kind of like a toddler. “Despite the fact that I, like you, am a witch, I can’t just magically make myself better.”
“You won’t know until you try.”
And with that slightly ambiguous statement, Rhiannon walked out of the room. Okay, what was that? I just shook my head and walked over to my locker to grab my broom. But then as I went to leave, the most debilitating dizzy spell I’d felt today hit me and I stumbled. Gripping my head with one hand, I leaned against the nearest locker. My vision veered out of control and then everything faded to black.
Waking up was a very confusing moment. I wasn’t sure what had happened or where I was. Dragging my heavy eyelids open, I was greeted with a very unwelcome sight. I was in the Hospital Wing.
I absolutely hate hospitals of any sort. Understandable, really, seeing as the worst experience in my life was spent in one. There are no words to describe how awful those two weeks I spent watching Joy grow weaker and weaker truly was. And of course, I had to return myself shortly after. Ever since, I’ve avoided hospitals. I even went so far as to teach myself healing spells so that I wouldn’t have to go. This is actually the third time I’ve been here. The first time was when I was really sick in my second year and the other was earlier this year when I got hit in the head with a Bludger. But why was I here now?
“Good, you’re awake,” Madam Corner said, pulling me away from my thoughts and handing me a light purple potion. “Drink this.”
I obeyed unquestioningly, sighing in relief as I felt the pounding in my head subside. That paired with the sleep I had just had left me feeling more refreshed than I’ve been in days. I was still rather fatigued, but it was a vast improvement.
“And this one, too.” She handed me another flask, this one’s contents being navy blue.
“What were those for?” I asked. “And why am I here, anyway?”
Madam Corner gave me a very stern look. “You are here because you fainted after your Quidditch practice. Your friend, Miss Moore, brought you here.”
I guess Rhiannon came back to the locker room, then. “I fainted? That’s strange. I mean, my practice didn’t go very well, but for in the sense that I played badly. I don’t know why I would have…”
“You fainted,” Madam Corner said, lips set in a frown, “because you haven’t been eating enough or getting proper sleep. You’ve completely worn yourself out. You slept for fourteen hours.”
“Fourteen!” I gasped, bolting upright. With a tut, Madam Corner pushed me back down. My mind was reeling. Fourteen hours? Quidditch practice had ended at 8:00 last night… I was supposed to be in class!
“Madam Corner, I’m supposed to be in Ancient Runes right now,” I said desperately. “I need to go!”
“Your professors have all been informed that you will be spending the day here,” she replied patiently.
I shook my head. “No, I don’t need to stay here, I’m fine.” Don’t make me stay. Please.
“Actually, Miss Sullivan, I’m going to have to disagree. You are most certainly not fine,” she told me disapprovingly. “When a student is hospitalized for depriving herself of the proper nutrition, it is something we take seriously. Especially if it’s a relapse.”
“Relapse?” I asked, dread beginning to curdle in my stomach.
She nodded tightly. “Yes. We do have your medical records, even your Muggle ones. I believe you were diagnosed with anorexia when you were ten years old?”
My mouth went dry. “I… well, yeah. But it was part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
“After the death of your sister?”
I clapped my hands over my ears. “Please, I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“If it makes you uncomfortable, then alright,” Madam Corner said, patting my hand. “Either way, you’ll have to stay here overnight and possibly longer. You may not like it, but I’m afraid I have to monitor you. It’s a part of regulation, I’m afraid. And you need to regain your strength. Not to worry though, Miss Moore has promised to bring you all the work you miss.”
“Great. The sounds just wonderful. “ I forced a smile. I was stuck in a hospital. Just fabulous.
What then ensued was perhaps the dullest day of my life. I mean, things haven’t been all that exciting for me as of late, due to the whole being friendless and alone thing, but at least I had books to pass the time. Now I was just sitting in the one place in the entire castle that I had avoided at all costs.
Despite being extraordinarily tired due to the sleep I’d been depriving myself of, I slept very fitfully that night. I blamed it on being in a hospital. God, I hate them.
I wasn’t sure at what time it was – very late, that was for sure – but at one point when I woke up in the middle of the night, I felt an odd weight on my hand. It was enveloped in warmth. It felt like someone was holding it. But when I opened my eyes and looked, the feeling vanished and I saw no one there. Glancing around, I thought I saw something ruffle the bedding of the cot that was next to mine. But still there was no one. Shrugging it off, I rolled over and tried to fall back asleep.
Can I leave yet?
“Who are you?”
I stared at the women who had taken a seat next to my bed. She was very professional looking, wearing crisp robes with her hair pulled back from her face in a tight bun. There was a clipboard balancing on her knee. It was my second day in the Hospital Wing, about mid-afternoon. Rhiannon had stopped in twice since I’ve been here, but she never said anything. Just gave me my work and offered a weak sort of smile.
“My name is Andrea Carlson,” the woman said, appraising me with slightly squinty brown eyes. I felt uncomfortable under her gaze. “And I’m just here to talk to you.”
“Okay…” I said hesitantly. “What about?”
“Oh, we’ll get to that later,” she replied casually. I don’t really have a good feeling about this.
“So,” Andrea said brightly, “I hear you’re a Ravenclaw? I was in that House back in my day, as well. Do you like it?”
…was she for real? “Uh, it’s all right, I guess. I’ve always valued intelligence, so I suppose it’s the best place for me. I don’t think I’d really fit in very well in the other Houses.”
“And why is that?” she asked, picking up a quill. I raised an eyebrow at her. She laughed good-naturedly. “Oh, don’t mind me, it’s just a few doodles. I’m listening, don’t worry.”
Doodling. Right. Whatever, then. “Well, I don’t think I’m really sly enough for Slytherin. I’m smart, yes, but not as… I don’t know, cunning as most of them are. And although they aren’t as prejudice anymore, they still value blood purity and I’m the offspring of a Muggle and a Squib. I suppose Hufflepuff wouldn’t be a bad fit. I’m generally pretty nice to people and my teachers all think I’m hard-working. But I just don’t think it’d really work.”
I hesitated. I knew that answer. It’d really become pretty obvious to me recently. I’m not daring enough. I overthink things. I sit around and let my mind go crazy instead of just being courageous for once in my life and doing something crazy. I doubt myself too much. But I didn’t know this Andrea Carlson. I wasn’t going to tell her that. “I don’t know, I guess you could say I’m not as audacious as I need to be.”
“And what do you mean by that?” Andrea asked, seeing to sense my hesitation. Here’s a hint lady: if someone hesitates before answering a question, it generally means they don’t want to talk about it.
“Oh, you know, they jump head first into situations without thinking about it first. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I just like to pay at least a little bit of attention to the possible consequences.” And that was the understatement of the year. I speculate wildly on what things mean so much that it ends up coming back to punch me in the face. Or tell me that I’m a worthless human being.
“And why do you think you do that?” Andrea asked me, scribbling in earnest. Yeah, she’s totally just doodling. How dumb does she think I am?
“You’re the therapist, why don’t you tell me,” I said coolly, crossing my arms. She said it herself, I’m a Ravenclaw. And a pretty damn smart one, at that. Even if I have been kind of dumb lately.
She raised her eyebrows at me. I stared back defiantly. Andrea sighed, setting the clipboard down on my bedside table. “As cliché as it may sound, I am actually here to help you.”
“I don’t need your help,” I dismissed her. I really don’t. I know what’s wrong with me. I don’t need anyone else telling me it. I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime.
“On the contrary, I think you do,” Andrea contradicted. I don’t like Andrea.
“Yes, well, here’s the thing,” I said, hitching an obviously fake sweet smile onto my face, “I don’t really care what you think.”
She frowned. “Miss Sullivan, that really doesn’t matter. If a student showcases self-destructive behavior, as you have done, then outside help needs to be sought.”
Who the hell is this woman? She doesn’t even know me. I’m really not a fan of all these assumptions she’s making. “I neither need nor want ‘outside help.’ But fine, you want me to talk about why I’m here? I will. Yes, I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was younger as an effect of PTSD. I was hospitalized and had to talk to a therapist. There aren’t words strong enough for me to express how much I detested that. It didn’t do anything for me and it’s really not going to do anything now, either. I’ve been fine since then.”
“Then why did you faint the other day?” Andrea said, a slightly smug smile on her face. I wanted to slap it off.
“I fainted because I’ve neglected my health as of late. I’ll admit it – I’ve been depriving myself of proper sleep and I haven’t been eating as much as usual. But I’m hardly the first person that’s ever done this. So now, I’m aware that I haven’t been taking care of myself properly and I intend to fix that. Can I go?”
Andrea made a note on her clipboard. “I’m sensing some hostility.”
I inhaled sharply through my nose and my left eye began twitching. Is this woman serious right now? I resisted the urge to scream and pull my hair out. If she keeps this up any longer, then she’s going to be the one who needs to be hospitalized. “Probably because you’re annoying me.”
When she opened her mouth to reply, I shoved the blankets I was wrapped in off of me and rolled off the bed. I grabbed the clothes I had been wearing, which had been lying neatly folded on my bedside table. I turned back to Andrea and announced, “I’m leaving. I don’t need to be here. Have a nice day.”
“Miss Sullivan, you have a problem!” Andrea cried, grabbing my arm. I shook her off roughly.
“Yes, I do. But it’s not what you’re here for. I do not have anorexia. Trust me, even if I was, being stuck here would be enough to motivate me to eat. So thank you for your ‘help,’ but your services are not required. If Madam Corner asks, I went back to Ravenclaw Tower to change clothes and then I’m going to the kitchen to eat. Happy?”
I didn’t wait for answer. I strode out of the Hospital Wing without another word. I was done with that place.
I probably should have rethought my decision to leave the Hospital Wing while still wearing the very short, very thin hospital gown I’d been forced into wearing. The amount of leg I was showing was really rather indecent. Not to mention that the tie in the back of the gown left a good portion of my back uncovered. I think I gained a few secret admirers when I passed by that group of third year boys. Oops.
I also turned quite a few when I walked into the Ravenclaw Tower. Unfortunately for me, classes were over for the day, and it was too early for dinner, so the majority of the students were around. I drew quite a few wolf whistles. Needless to say, I shot them all the bird.
My luck did take a bit of a turn for the better though, when I went up to my dormitory. Rhiannon was the only one in the room. She raised an eyebrow at my attire, but said nothing while I dug for a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt to change into. I paused when I saw the corner of a red t-shirt and pulled it out.
It was James’s shirt. The one he let me borrow when I spent the night in his room. It was only a couple weeks ago, but it felt so much longer. I stared at the back of the shirt, where “Potter” was emblazoned across the back. A familiar pain twisted in my stomach and I set the shirt aside. I missed him.
I walked to the bathroom to change. I stared at myself in the mirror. I was feeling better, I really was. Well, physically anyway. There were still dark circles under my eyes, but they weren’t as prominent and my skin looked less sallow. But it still seemed like I was ill. And maybe I was.
I started when a gentle tapping sounded on the door. It was Rhiannon. “Are you okay, Val?”
I quickly splashed some water on my face before opening the door and walking out. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“I take it Madam Corner let you leave the Hospital Wing,” Rhiannon said, taking note of the hospital gown I held loosely.
“Eh, kind of?” I said hesitantly. “Actually, no not at all.”
She gave me a suspicious look. “What does that mean?”
“It means that I may or may not have walked out of there without her permission or knowledge,” I hedged.
“Val,” Rhiannon sighed in exasperation. “You can’t just leave.”
“You don’t understand,” I said, recalling my previous irritation while I was talking to stupid Andrea Carlson, “a therapist was trying to talk to me. That has got to be the most useless job in the world. Therapy didn’t help the first time, why would it help now?”
“You had therapy before?” Rhiannon asked. Whoops. Maybe I should watch what I say instead of just ranting.
“Yeah,” I admitted. “Uh… after, um, my sister died, I sort of… stopped eating. And I was hospitalized and had to see a therapist for a little while. It was seriously the most useless thing in the world. I snapped myself out of it on my own. And since then, things were fine.”
Rhiannon shook her head slowly. “No, Val, things weren’t fine. They’ve never been fine for you, not as long as I’ve known you. You hid it well, it took me two years to see it. And most people seem to think I’m pretty observant.”
“Maybe I should consider a career in acting,” I said sardonically. Then I paused. “Wait. What do you mean it took you two years to see it?”
“You and James are so alike,” she said, half to herself. “I mean that I figured out that you were pretending to be happy a long time ago. I didn’t know why at the time, but I also knew that if you’d wanted me to know, you would’ve told me.”
Well. I really didn’t expect this one. “You’ve known…” I said slowly, trying to wrap my mind around this. “You’ve known nearly the whole time. You noticed. How… how did you know?”
“It’s not that hard to see, if you know what you’re looking for,” Rhiannon said gently. “I had always wished I could help you, but I knew I wasn’t the right person. I hope you can forgive me for that.”
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” I told her, still struggling to get a grasp on what she was saying. “I just… wow.”
“Val, are you happy?” Rhiannon asked seriously.
I looked at her disbelievingly. “Oh sure. I’m just dandy. Couldn’t be more cheerful, really.”
“So what are you going to do about that?” she questioned next.
“I – what? What are you doing? Why are you asking me all these questions?” Why is it that these days whenever I’m not wallowing in self-pity, I’m utterly confused?
“I’m trying to help you,” she responded simply.
I stared at her. “If you want to help me, why have you been avoiding me and treating me like a pariah like everyone else in this entire bloody school?”
“Because I don’t want to be your next replacement,” Rhiannon said firmly.
“What does that even mean?”
She shook her head. “I’m not telling you. That’s the whole point. You need to figure things out for yourself. You need to fix things yourself. You need to do things for yourself. You, Val, need to be you.”
“I wasn’t aware I could be anyone else,” I replied, nonplussed.
“Then I suppose that’s something else you’ll have to figure out, too,” Rhiannon said with a slight smile. I wonder if she’s being irritation on purpose.
“I don’t know how to do that,” I said in a small voice.
“Think about everything that’s wrong with your life right now,” she began. “Think about everything that is making you unhappy and the things you don’t like. Then figure out which ones you can actually fix. And not just the ones that would be easy to fix. The hard ones too. The ones that you’re afraid to do. Those are those the most important ones.”
I laughed harshly. “I don’t even know where to begin with all that.”
Rhiannon shrugged. “Sometimes it’s easiest to start at the beginning.”
I thought for a moment. Ever since I became friends with James, things had been improving for me. But now I worse than ever. Where had everything started to backslide?
It wasn’t a hard question. I knew the exact point in time when I started eating less, sleeping worse, and worrying about everything. And so, with a small smile for Rhiannon, I left the room. For the second time that year, I was off to talk to Professor McGonagall to ask for a favor.
New chapter! It’s not quite as depressing as the last two… it’s not exactly happy, but it’s not so horribly sad that all I want to do is eat ice cream and cry about the mid-season finale of Doctor Who. So it could be worse. Right?
If all you beautiful, wonderful people would be so kind as to leave a review, I promise to be your best friend forever! And all my friends receive free kittens. True story. (Okay no, that’s a lie). So let me know what you think!