I was lying in bed at about three in the morning a few days ago with the windows were open, a chilly breeze drifting in and rustling the posters on my bedroom walls. A strip of greenish-silver moonlight glowed on the ceiling, trickling in through the barely parted curtains. The air about me was still and cool, and I was so awake and alert that I could taste the stale dust motes on my tongue. Outside, cats yowled in the distance and cars whirred occasionally from the main road, but in my room it was deathly silent – apart from the sound of the wind, rustling the posters on my bedroom walls.
It was so very dark, yet I could still somehow see the outline of the curtains on the opposite wall from where I lay. They swayed gently, dark grey in the moonlight, reminding me of wraiths haunting a graveyard. Don’t be so silly, I told myself; they’re pale blue with white and navy dots on them and you bought them three years ago in John Lewis. But they continued to waft eerily, and I found myself pinned to my bed with fear. The hairs on my arms stood on end. Invisible, skeletal hands were grasping me about my throat. I couldn’t even bring myself to sit up and turn on the light. They look like ghosts, I said to myself. No, not ghosts – dementors. And for a moment I fully expected to see a cloud of cloaked soul-suckers drift in through my bedroom window and leech me of my happiest memories.
In that moment, I considered quickly how to defend myself in case of an attack. A Patronus charm seemed like the obvious answer. Well, I didn’t have a wand, so I could forget trying to cast the actual spell. Hmm . . . would just shouting the incantation work? No, I remembered. “It will only work if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory”. I thought that, if a battalion of vicious dementors should invade my fortress, I ought to be armed with a squadron of happy memories with which to protect myself. So then, let me search about in the caverns of my mind for memories strong enough to defy Misery itself.
The only problem was, none of the happy memories truly gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling – the sensation I believed necessary to repel a dementor. Sitting in the sun with friends? The thought was good and it made me smile, but it wouldn’t drive away the tattered rags lurking in the corners of my imagination. What about the prospect of summer, drawing ever nearer in a golden haze of sunshine and excitement? No; I even had my doubts about that, because two more weeks of school stood in the way and the morning seemed distant and pale compared to the pressing, consuming darkness of night. Even the thought of getting a position on one of the school newsletters, Brown Army, didn’t fill me up with confidence when I felt weak and vulnerable.
It terrified me beyond belief that I had no memories powerful enough to protect myself from what is, JK Rowling explains, depression personified. It seemed incomprehensible to me that the one thing I would not be able to withstand would be sadness, just because I couldn’t think of a happy enough thought. How could it be that I was facing this problem, even with my new Cheerful Thinking resolution? I fell asleep, worrying pointlessly that the core values of my life had fallen away beneath me, and the dementors haunted my dreams.
Today I had an epiphany. I remembered a time last Christmas, when I sang a song that I had written to a group of about twenty people, in a small room in the Students’ Union at Warwick University. I introduced myself, sang for under two minutes, took a bow, and went to sit back down again by my friends. But a woman stood up as I passed and said to me, “Did you say you wrote that?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I did.”
“You are a poet, girl,” she told me. “Don’t forget that.”
Something about that moment changed the way I saw myself at the time. It was the highest compliment anyone could’ve possibly paid me, and it hit me, other people actually think I’m good at something. Someone who isn’t my mother thinks I’m talented. It made me really, truly happy, and I walked for the rest of that day with a spring in my step.
But by the next morning I’d forgotten what she’d said; or, more to the point, I’d forgotten the true meaning of what she’d said. I had forgotten that when she told me I was a poet, what she meant was, “It is a gift.” I had forgotten to take joy from the fact that I had somehow, inexplicably, touched her with my words. I let my happiness slip away, despite the fact that it had been handed to me on a silver platter, ready and garnished with a cherry on top. And so, when I might’ve needed it most, it wasn’t there for me, because I’d let it fall back into the drudge of everyday life, instead of holding onto it as a jewel that, once upon a time, gave me such joy and content.
I suppose the moral of the story is, hold onto happiness. Don’t let go of things that give you the warm, fuzzy feeling. But most importantly, keep reminding yourself of why it is special. It won’t be enough to just present the memory of what physically happened; you have to remember what you felt like, what your reaction was, how you turned it over in your mind for hours afterwards. Did it fill you up with champagne bubbles? Did you smile until your face ached? Or maybe you found yourself floating on a fluffy cloud? There’s more to it than the actions – you have to be able to relive the feelings. That’s what a strong memory is, in my opinion; only such a memory could support a Patronus. Hopefully now, when the dementors come to get you, you’ll be better prepared than I was.