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Myrtle: Not A Love Story
And the strange thing was, she knew him. She had known him before, that voice, that proud way he walked. She had watched him as she had watched everyone else, and she had thought him despicable. She had witnessed him bullying Harry Potter, seen him laughing at the misfortune of others.
But of course, nobody knew she knew. She saw more than people thought she did. She just didn’t always tell.
“Why are you crying?”
Myrtle spoke to the cold tiled wall in front of her, sitting in midair with her back to the stall door and her knees hugged to her chest. Her thin, watery voice echoed in the silence, mixing with his crumpled breathing behind her back. She closed her eyes. She liked the echo. It made her feel hopeless.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!” That was his voice, panicked and embarrassed, quivering still. She pictured him turning about in confusion, wand drawn, face red with tears.
“If you knew who I was, you wouldn’t care,” she said, half to herself, tugging on one of the tight dark pigtails that made her scalp ache. She liked the ache. It made her feel pitied.
“Get out of here! This is a boys’ bathroom!” In her mind she saw his face growing even redder.
“Stop.” She didn’t like hearing him angry. It made the echo too loud. “Please don’t be upset.”
There was a long pause.
“Why are you crying?” she asked again.
“I won’t tell,” she said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Who are you?” he asked.
“You wouldn’t care,” she said. “Nobody cares. They tease me every day. Every day.” Tears welled in her eyes, and she tugged at a pigtail again. “Nobody cares about me. Nobody talks to me, ever. I’m all alone,” she said, tears spilling down her face.
“I’m all alone, too.” His voice was quiet.
They said nothing for a long time.
“Is that why you were crying?” she asked.
She heard him draw a deep breath.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess it was.”
It had been a long time since Myrtle had been happy. Perhaps, indeed, she had never been happy. Perhaps, indeed, she was not even happy now.
But she felt content. For the first time in a long time, she did not feel quite so lonely, talking to him; perhaps, indeed, she had never stopped feeling lonely until then. He actually came to see her when he said he would, unlike Harry Potter.
He was bullied too, that much she found out. There was something the bully had wanted him to do, something very hard, because often when he cried he would say, “I can’t do it, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” in a whisper that broke her hollow heart.
She kept his secrets, just as she had promised to do. She never told anyone about him, or about his task.
And she liked being with him. It was never quite clear to her exactly why he was so alone, but something about comforting him made her feel warm, a feeling she had not experienced in a long time; perhaps, indeed, she had never experienced it.
She could barely glimpse him, sometimes, by peering through the crack in the stall door, but it was so small that she was certain he could not see her. She liked looking at him, but she never showed herself to him. She wasn’t anything special – a ghost, and a Muggle-born at that. She didn’t want him to know.
And the strange thing was, he already did.
She heard them fighting. She heard the bangs and crashes and shouting. The echo was too much for her, and she screamed for them to stop, but they didn’t stop, and at last she heard the outcry of a horrible spell and a splash as a body hit the ground.
And then – pain, such pain, she could feel it and yet it was not hers, did not belong to her, and she heard his stumbling footsteps as he stared at what he had done, and she was screaming, screaming, screaming at the thought that the boy – that her boy – was dead.
And the strange thing was, people thought she was being melodramatic. You thought it too, when she shrieked about murder. You thought she just wanted attention. You thought she enjoyed it, the screaming.
But the strange thing was, she didn’t know what she was saying. She was crying out the first words that came into her head in her blind terror.
You didn’t know ghosts could feel pain, did you?
The strange thing is, they can.
It was June, and the month was waning. She heard him without even having to look through the crack in the door; she had learnt the sound of his footsteps.
She heard his breath, but he was not crying. He stopped walking and paused a moment, then spoke to the air.
“I came to say goodbye.”
“But why?” she whispered. “Why are you leaving me?”
He took a deep breath. “It’s tonight,” he said, trying to make his voice as emotionless as possible. “The – the thing I have to do.”
“Oh.” She could hardly force the sound from her throat.
She pressed her face into her knees and squeezed her eyes shut. He knew her name. She didn’t care.
“Myrtle, I’m scared.”
How did he know her name? It didn’t matter. His voice seemed to hollow her out, and he sounded lonelier than she had ever felt, lonelier than she could even begin to understand. And Myrtle realized then that his problem was not simply one with a bully. It was much, much bigger than that.
She looked through the crack in the door and glimpsed a sliver of him, his back to the mirror and the heels of his hands on the edge of the sink, his head bowed as though he were trying to close out the world.
How could she have thought she was troubled, all these years? The worst that had ever been done to her was a few nasty words – mere schoolyard bullying, not unlike she had seen him do to many others. But this was different. So much different.
“Myrtle, I don’t want to be like this.” His voice trembled, but he wasn’t crying. “I don’t know what I’m becoming. I don’t know.”
He was alone in a vast, dark world, and he needed her.
“I don’t know,” he whispered.
He needed her, and this thought made a shock of bravery rise up in her. “I’m coming out,” she announced.
But her cowardice got the better of her and she added, in a whisper: “don’t look at me.”
The chipped grey door melted away from her vision as she floated through it, and she saw herself reflected next to him in the mirror. He looked peaceful with his eyes closed: he might have been sleeping. And she – why couldn’t she have been born pretty? She hated her face, round and pale and plain as a bowl of milk.
She looked at him. It was the first time she had seen more than a sliver of him since – well, probably since he was only a second-year. He looked so much older now. So much less…less cruel, and less well-cared for.
“We’re the same, you and I,” she said quietly, watching the still face. “We’re both someone we don’t want to be.”
“But there’s a difference between us,” she went on after a moment.
She placed her hand just above his so that they were almost touching, and she gazed at the pale fingers through her own. He wasn’t all that old, she realized. His hands were still young.
“You can change,” Myrtle whispered. Tears stung her eyes. “That’s the difference. You can change who you are, and I can’t do that anymore. There’s no going back for me. There’s no going back once you’re d –”
She broke off with a quiet gasp, expecting to start crying, but no tears came.
“Look at me,” she said suddenly. “Look at me.”
He opened his eyes and shifted to meet her gaze, but no shock or anger registered in his face.
She picked up his hand with both of hers. He did not even wince at the sensation of cold.
“See?” Myrtle said, looking up at him. She was so young, he noticed, no more than thirteen. She did not cry, only smiled sadly.
“Myrtle,” he said.
She nodded slightly. “I know your name, too. I know more than people think I do. I just don’t always tell.”
“You’re not like the other boys, you know,” she said. “You’re different. I know that, too.”
He stared at her hands and nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Goodbye.” She moved her hands away, but his stayed still in midair as though frozen in time. He said nothing.
She moved to leave.
She had never noticed the colour of his eyes before. She liked it.
“Thank you,” he said.
She smiled a little again. It felt odd, but in a good way.
“Thank you, too.”
She never saw him again.
And the strange thing was, they should have hated each other.
He should have been repulsed by the fact that she was a Muggle-born, but he wasn’t. She should have been disgusted by the fact that he bullied people like her, but somehow that was not so.
This isn’t a love story, understand. But he did love her in a way, as someone who was like him, even though they weren’t really alike at all. He was hurt, and her soft, empty words made him stop hurting for a little while.
In some sense, it was Myrtle who stopped him from succumbing to darkness. Likewise, it could be said that he stopped her from succumbing to eternal sadness.
In some unlikely way, each saved the other.
And the strange thing was, neither was meant to be a hero.