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Playing Pretend by academica
Chapter 1 : The Last Remaining Fan
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 13


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The Janus Thickey ward at St. Mungo’s Hospital was quiet that Wednesday morning. Leftover second-shift Healers wandered the halls, pushing medicine carts or peeking into the rooms to make sure the patients weren’t getting themselves into trouble. A pair of women sat gossiping at the front desk over a tray of pastries purchased from a nearby bake shop.

The corridor, flanked in white brick and locked doors, led to a room with a view.

When he first came to the hospital, his prognosis was good. The doctors laughed about how unique his problem was, having had his memory erased by a broken wand. It was just a matter of figuring out what exactly had happened, how the wand had malfunctioned, and then he would be good as new and back out in the world. Eventually he would remember who he was, surely, and stop waffling back and forth about his decision every other day.

He was a relatively compliant patient. In fact, the only thing he ever requested aside from his mail and a few gourmet substitutions to his meals had been a series of books by his favorite author, a Mister Gilderoy Lockhart. They were arranged in a pile under his bed, the corners creased from having been read and re-read a thousand times. He never tired of those grand adventures. Sometimes he was convinced he’d been on them, but not always.

Yet his condition declined. He began forgetting more than just himself; he misplaced the Healer’s names mid-sentence, he forgot how to put on his robes, and he got lost on his way to the dining area once. He had to ask for help with words in books he had written himself.

Any other patient would have closed themselves up in their rooms and slept it all away. This particular patient, though, never lost one thing—his spirit. His fans kept it in place.

The light from his window shone across the room upon a collection of scraps Spello-taped to the wall. Anything in his fan letters that stuck out to him was ripped out and put up on display. His name, the one he did not quite believe in but clung to all the same, was repeated time after time in many different styles of handwriting. Any mention of his books, his family, his education—they all had places in this confusing mosaic of text.

His worthless collection had grown so large, and yet he still knew nothing of his identity.

He really came alive when he had a visitor. He would brag about his adventures and delight in the shower of praise thrust upon him by his many admirers. The daytime staff would just stop and watch him sometimes, laughing to themselves as he reenacted a sample from one of his many glorious journeys. Eventually he would start climbing on the tables and raising his voice and the other patients would start to complain, and then the show would be over.

But no new books were published, and eventually the stream of visitors trickled away. His desperation had shone through a little too much for the last few. His stream had run dry.

He became more irritable. Some days he would complain that everything hurt and he needed to get out of the hospital and get fresh air. Some days would be spent in bed, lying in saddened silence. Sometimes he would read the books like they were fresh off the shelf; other times would bring with them such furious anger that he would chuck the books across the room, knocking one or two meaningless strips of parchment off the wall.

On a bad day, he could be heard ranting and raving, pacing about his room and complaining about how unfair it was that someone had taken his name and written lies about it. He couldn’t remember having gone on any of the journeys depicted in these books, and it confused him to see them in print. His attitude toward Lockhart and his fame changed with his mood, with the time of day and how filling his lunch had been and how much his medical team frustrated him. The pieces did not fit together in his mind, and his reaction to his plight was ephemeral. It would have made a grand mystery had it been penned in a book. As it was, the patient’s dilemma was just sad. All the Healers in the ward thought so.

Tuesdays were good days. That was when the letters came.

The absence of all of his in-person visitors magnified the importance of the one letter a week, written in neat script by an little old woman who had read his books several times over and loved picking his brain for little details about his travels. She’d often ask him curious questions, such as whether a parasol was appropriate for a garden party and if he would recommend using the same methods he’d used to defeat Bulgarian venomous bats to get rid of pesky house mice. His room’s floor was stacked with letters now, forming a neat perimeter around his bed. It was like he was keeping everyone out of a world he created.

His cognitive state had deteriorated further over the years. With no visitors, he had no one to talk to aside from the staff; his baseless boasting had long since alienated his neighbors. Even his attempts to write back to his last remaining fan, filled with desperate pleas of wanting to discover himself again, were intercepted by the Healers. Do no harm, indeed.

To be truthful, there was little harm left that could be done. He was getting old now, too, and his mind seemed to slip a little further every day. His body was not what it had once been, and he had grown weak from years of subsisting on hospital cuisine. Lately, the portions he’d been eating had grown smaller and smaller, with the accompanying complaint that it just took too much effort to eat at times. The Healers fed him intravenously and hoped for the best, but he was not an anomaly. Many others like him just faded away.

So he spent long hours alone, alternately reading his books and wanting to destroy them. He had no identity, but did he even need one in this place? He had no energy for getting out.

One Sunday, he heard one Healer tell another that a little old woman had passed away.

The unfortunate circumstances of her death upset him for quite a while. She had a stroke, they said, and was en route to the hospital but just didn’t make it there quickly enough. They had been so close, he and his only remaining fan, almost able to meet one another. He had practiced for years what he might say if she ever came to the hospital to talk to him. In his youth, he had held little concern for individual admirers, but the connection between him and this one person was so strong in the wake of his hunger for social contact. He wanted to thank her just for caring, for keeping his mind ticking on with her questions. If anyone could tell him what his battered books and medical team could not, it was her.

Now the chance had passed, like two trains moving silently past one another in the dark.

On Monday, he asked for the staff to pile his letters up on his bed. They filled his lap and hemorrhaged outwards onto the sheets, and when one or two spilled onto the floor, he requested again that they be handed to him. He spent the entire day in bed, picking at his meals and poring over words he’d already read a dozen times. They were her remains.

On Tuesday he got up, with much effort, and began removing his pieces of parchment from the wall. He balled them up, tape and all, and put them in the trash. The Healers speculated that maybe he was starting anew, giving up on his fruitless quest now that the last personal reminder of his past life was gone. But he was merely cleaning up. He must have known.

It was one of few selfless acts, or so the person who wrote his obituary would remark.

That evening, a favorite nurse came to tuck him in. Gadding with Ghouls was open and laying upside down on his chest, which rose and fell with shallow breaths. He asked the pretty blonde if there was a letter for him, and she smiled sadly and shook her head. She dismissed it as his memory acting up again, poor old chap. He bid her goodnight softly.

On Wednesday, they found him, a shell of his former vibrant self. He lay peacefully in a silent room, his eyes open and a fading smile on his lips. The Healers said it was likely a combination of neurological breakdown and stress, although it could have been old age.

The newspapers came, suddenly having found a renewed interest in his unfortunate story. They asked the Head Healer if the patient had any intriguing last words. Perhaps a beloved anecdote from one of his travels, or some profound wisdom about the nature of life?

The comment had not struck the Healer as important at the time. He had walked in on the patient clearing off the wall, reflecting on each piece of paper as he took it down. It seemed like he was savoring their meaning before disposing of them forever. The patient had noticed his presence, looked at him, offered him the small pile of trash to be taken away.

“I can be anyone I want to be.” That was his only explanation. He gave it with a smile.

No letter had come, and so his confirmation had. It was all right. He could say goodbye.

After much debate, the staff decided not to bury him with his collection of memories. They preserved the books and a few of the more interesting letters in a glass case in the waiting room of the Thickey ward. The obituary writer used the same name he’d given his article. It greeted any new patients and visitors to the ward, a story without a bright cover or pages.

Playing Pretend: The Memoirs of Gilderoy Lockhart

Daily life trudged on in that ward. Patients entered and exited his room, and fond memories of him trickled from conversation to conversation in those corridors. The staff constructed a persona for him from pieces of his life, little tidbits of his time there and scandalous old rumors. The truth about the patient, as it turned out, lived on longer than he ever could.



Author’s Note:

Thank you so much for stopping by to check out my new story!

This one-shot is a submission for unwritten_curse’s Last 24 Hours Challenge :)

I’d love to hear your feedback on the story. I tried to pour on lots of detail and imagery and really stretch my creative muscles. I hope it all makes sense and flows together well. This was an intriguing and difficult challenge, that’s for sure!

Thanks so much for reading, and again, please stop to leave a quick review!

-Amanda




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