Harry Potter: Now that the final battle is over, it’s not Voldemort he dreams about: it’s the cupboard under the stairs, his gangly seventeen-year-old limbs crammed into a space that wasn’t big enough even when he was eleven. It’s Hermione who notices that something’s wrong, after the tenth or eleventh time he shows up at breakfast looking like he hasn’t slept much. A lot of people look like that these days, but she can tell that this is something else. It takes a long campaign of pestering before he gives in and starts looking for a therapist. It takes even longer for him to find one who can see him, Harry and not The Boy Who Lived, and who actually listens when he talks rather than assuming that they already know what’s bothering him. He also has to get special permission to leave Hogwarts once a week to go to sessions, because he’s still in school and rules are rules, but according to Hermione he’s not the only one of the eighth years who does this. After she says that, he finds himself glancing at faces in the hallways, trying to decide who’s swallowing their nightmares alone and who isn’t. Hermione also tells him that there’s no shame in asking for help, but it still feels wrong, like admitting a weakness that he couldn’t afford before, when the fate of the wizarding world rested on his shoulders. He’s still not used to the dizzying absence of that weight. He spends his first few sessions talking about Voldemort, because it’s easier, because it makes more sense, because he’s still playing a part even though he knows that he doesn’t have to anymore. Finally, his therapist says that she wonders if there’s something else bothering him. Finally, he describes the nightmare that he’s been having more and more often, about the cupboard. He explains, haltingly, the part of the story that most people in the wizarding world don’t know, about how he grew up believing that he was worse than insignificant, that he didn’t deserve even the tiny space he occupied. When she asks him why he thinks he’s dreaming of the cupboard now, his answer surprises even him. “When Hagrid came to get me,” he says, “when I found out that I was a wizard and that I had somewhere else to go, it felt too good to be true. For months, I was terrified that I’d wake up and it would all be gone and I’d be back with the Dursleys. And then, when I found out that it was up to me to defeat Voldemort and that I might not make it, it seemed…right, somehow. Like it finally made sense why I got to have all of this, because the wizarding world needed me, because I had a job to do. And now that it’s all over, sometimes it feels like it was a dream. Like now that I’ve done what I was supposed to do, it’s only a matter of time before someone sends me back.”
Rapunzel, Rapunzel: Even before she’s old enough to ask, she knows that the woman who raised her isn’t her only mother: she knows that there’s another story outside the tower, in the world she’s allowed to see but not touch. When she finally does ask, the woman who raised her, the only mother she knows, hesitates for the fraction of a second before telling her: almost if she doesn’t want to hurt her, almost as if she loves her enough to spare her this knowledge. “The woman who gave birth to you didn’t deserve you,” she says. “She gave you up for some lettuce.” Rapunzel spends too many hours thinking about that story, puzzling over it, turning it over and over in her hands like an hourglass, as if by shaking the grains of sand into the correct pattern she might be able to understand. Sometimes, after that, she feels as though she isn’t real at all, as though she only exists in the space between those two women, the mother who raised her and the mother who gave her up. They are the hall of mirrors and she is the reflection. They don’t have therapists in her world, but when the prince climbs to her tower window, a blurred shape in the twilight, it’s the first time she’s spoken to anyone who only knows her as herself and not as a reflection of anything. She talks until she’s hoarse, and he listens, and she thinks that magic might be real after all.
Mary Lennox, The Secret Garden: Years later, when the story about the magic garden that brought them all back together has become an old story, its edges worn with use, she starts to think about all of the ways that it isn’t quite true. In one way, the garden saved them, but it also allowed them to keep hiding the reasons they needed to be saved in the first place. She sees it in Colin’s face when he doesn’t think anyone’s looking: he’s happy to have his father back, of course he is, but on the inside he’s still that sickly boy in a dark room, wondering why no one ever came for him. She sees it in her own face, when she looks in the mirror and notices the flush in her cheeks, how she smiles more easily now. Smiling feels good, sometimes, but at other times she misses the contrary little girl she was, that spark of anger that burned so bright inside her. Sometimes she thinks that that little girl never really went anywhere, she just learned to hide her away in the dark in the same way that his father used to hide Colin. There’s no one to say this to; even Dickon doesn’t understand. One winter day, though, she finds Colin on the other side of the garden wall, sitting on a bench and looking at the sleeping roses, his face tight in that way she remembers too well. Really, she thinks, the story they tell should be about how they found each other first, two abandoned children in house full of ghosts. She sits down next to her cousin, and for a long time she doesn’t say anything, and the silence feels like its own truth. “Do you ever think about the way it was, before?” She doesn’t know if he’ll answer or not, but asking the question is something.
Lucy Pevensie, The Chronicles of Narnia: After everything that’s happened, after she and her siblings have been through a war and the long, slow process of putting Narnia—and themselves—back together, she doesn’t feel like she has the right to still be upset about how they got there. Peter and Susan and Edmund have all apologized, after all. Sometimes, though, when she wakes up in her bed in Cair Paravel and can’t go back to sleep, while she’s staring at the molding on the ceiling and watching the shadows move, she still thinks about the moment when she told them about Narnia and they didn’t believe her. It’s a thing that lives in her gut and in her throat, the memory of telling them something so real and true that she couldn’t get through the story without her breath catching, her heart pounding in a new rhythm, and having them look at her like she was nothing, a delusional little girl. She doesn’t want to still care about this, but she can’t help it. It’s a wound that won’t seem to heal no matter what she does, no matter how much she loves them or wants to be better. When Edmund tells her about this strange idea he’s had, that maybe he could train some people to help Narnians who are struggling with their own thoughts or feelings, she’s the first to encourage him and to offer to help however she can. The history books will credit King Edmund with starting the mental health profession in Narnia, but Queen Lucy with encouraging Narnians to see therapists by going to see one herself. Facing one’s own demons is the better part of valor, after all.