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Chapter 13: Talking
“Oh my God, someone turn off the sun,” Lessie groaned. It was two the next day and I had just opened the hangings around everyone’s beds, letting in the afternoon sunlight. Apparently, they were still feeling a little delicate from last night’s party.
“Up and at ‘em,” I sang brightly, making everyone groan.
“It’s too early,” Mallory moaned, rolling over and covering her head with her pillow.
I shrugged. “Okay then. But there’s only four hours left to visit Hogsmeade. I guess I was assuming you guys wanted to go.”
“What!” they all shrieked, bolting upwards before grabbing their ears and moaning in pain. Lessie actually fell out of her bed.
I watched them scramble around for a few minutes before calling out, “Anyone want Hangover Potion?”
“You have some?” Rhiannon gasped.
“Brewed it this morning. There’s one for each of you.”
“I love you,” Jess sighed.
“Why did you make us wait so long?” Evie grumbled, downing one of the potions I’d made for everyone.
I smirked. “I enjoy watching you guys suffer.”
“You’re a sadistic jerk and if you weren’t so awesome, I’d hate you,” Lessie sighed in relief as the potion began to take effect.
I laughed as the girls began rushing to get ready for Hogsmeade. “I’ll see you guys later. I’m going outside – it’s gorgeous today.”
“Aren’t you coming to Hogsmeade?” Rhiannon asked, straightening her curly black hair with her wand.
“I already went,” I replied, nodding at a couple of bags at the foot of my bed. “Some of us were actually up at a normal time today.”
Jessamy threw a pillow at me. “You’re such a goody-goody.”
I laughed again, walked out the door after grabbing something from my shopping bags, and called a “see you later!” over my shoulder. I went up to the sixth year boys’ dormitory next. I left my remaining Hangover Potion on Blake’s bedside table. Zeke was in there, awake, and smiled at him. I brought a finger to my lips, silently telling him to be quiet. I didn’t want to wake any of his other roommates, all of whom were sleeping. I especially didn’t want to risk waking Ryan Hughes. The bloke was insanely creepy, not to mention obsessed with me. If he was me in his room, he’d probably tie me up and lock me in a closet somewhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a shrine built for me over by his bed. Ugh. There are some things that people should never have to see.
I left, waving to Zeke, and eventually made my way to the Black Lake. Taking a seat under the beech tree, I pulled out some of the items I’d bought form Hogsmeade. Art supplies. Pulling out a sketch pad and some pencils, I began to draw and image that had been behind my eyes every time I closed them. Joy.
I was a fairly good artist. I quickly drew an outline. Then, I slowly began shading, paying excruciating attention to the details.
About an hour later, I was halfway finished. I felt serene, at peace, as a light breeze gently fluttered at the wisps of hair that had fallen out of my messy ponytail. I was lost in another world when a shadow passed over my sketchpad.
“What’re you doing?” James asked, sitting beside me and looking at my drawing.
“You’ve got eyes, see for yourself,” I replied with a slight smile.
He examined my work briefly before looking at me with a raised eyebrow. “So I take it this is why you wanted to go that art shop earlier?”
I nodded. I had ended up joining Fred, James, Roxy, Rose, and Al in Hogsmeade. I had run into James on my way to the Great Hall for breakfast and he invited me to come along. The older cousins of the Weasley family had a tradition of having family bonding time the first Hogsmeade trip of the year. I had been startled, but accepted anyways, remembering my agreement to be sort of friends with him. The day had been fun, although the others were surprised to see me. Al and Roxy looked smug, Rose was interested, and Fred was just confused.
James looked back at my drawing again. He leaned close to me, his body heat and proximity sending tingles up and down my arm. The smile slowly faded from his face. “Is that Joy?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah,” I said. “This is how I remember her from the last week of her life before she was in the hospital. Back was she was still bright and full of life.”
“She’s beautiful,” he said. Then he looked at me. “She looks like you.”
For some reason, I felt myself blush. Did James just call me beautiful? Sure, he wouldn’t be the first bloke to do so, but hearing him say it made me feel almost shy. I shook my head slowly. “No, she was much more beautiful. She was the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“Were you two identical?” he asked curiously.
“Partially. We had the same features and body types, but her hair and eyes were brown and she had tan skin, like the rest of my family. She also had this.” I pointed to the heart-shaped mark on her face.
“What is it?”
I shrugged. “A birthmark, I guess. That spot was the exact same color as my skin.” I smiled sadly. “We used to say that it was a symbol of how much we loved each other.”
James leaned back against the tree, closing his eyes, and I continued to idly shade my drawing. We sat close together, our arms occasionally brushing. My heart jumped in my chest at each casual touch, confusing me. I mostly tried to ignore it, however, and James spoke again.
“Tell me about Joy,” he requested, opening his eyes to look at me.
“What about her?”
“Anything. Everything. Whatever you feel comfortable telling me.”
I sat quietly for a minute, gathering my thoughts. When I began speaking, my voice wavered slightly. “Joy was… mine. And I was hers. We knew everything about each other, we had no secrets. People say there’s no such thing as twin telepathy, but I think Joy and I could have proven them wrong. We always knew what the other was doing or thinking. When I was seven, I fell out of our tree house and broke my left leg. Joy was inside at the time, but when I fell, she brought Mum and Dad out to help me almost immediately. When they asked her how she knew I was hurt, she said it was because her left leg started hurting and she had a bad feeling. She said she could tell I was in trouble.”
“Wow,” James said in awe.
I set my sketchpad and shading pencils down, leaning my head back against the tree.
“We always knew when one of us needed the other. We took care of each other. I needed her. She needed me. And when we worked together, nothing in the world could stop us.” I laughed. “We were extremely persuasive and manipulative. We used our sweet, innocent face and devious minds to get whatever we wanted. But not to the extent that we were spoiled. We always used our powers for good.”
James started laughing as well. “You two sound like Superheroes.”
“Secret Agents,” I corrected automatically.
He raised a confused eyebrow and I smiled warmly. “We used to pretend we were spies and would sneak around the neighborhood on covert missions. We were Agent Tina and Agent Gracie.”
“Tina and Gracie?”
“I’ve always hated my name,” I began to explain with a sigh. There wasn’t much of a point to keeping secrets from James anymore. “I thought my mum’s little theme for her children’s names was idiotic. So, when were about three – I hated it even back then – Joy started calling me Tina, taken from my middle name, Valentina. I gave Joy the nickname Gracie, taken from her middle name, Graciela, when were nine.”
“Why wait so long?”
I shrugged. “Joy didn’t mind her name. And neither did I, to be honest. It fit her. She was my Joy and she my joy. I just decided she needed a nickname to match mine when she was really upset once and needed to be cheered up. That pretty much became the only time I called her Gracie when we weren’t pretending to be spies. If she was hurt or sad, her nickname would make her happy again.”
Somehow during our conversation, my head had ended up on James’s shoulder. Now, he put his arm around me, bringing me closer to him. Normally, I would object to the contact and close proximity, but for some reason, I didn’t mind this time. I felt content and tingles spread through my body, coming from everywhere he was touching me.
“Why did people start calling you Val?” James asked.
“I asked them to,” I said, my smile turning melancholy. “By the time I was eight, everyone I knew had started calling me Tina, but to me, it was still the special name Joy gave me. Those couple days in between her death and her funeral, whenever someone called me Tina, it felt like I was being slapped in the face. Never again would I hear Joy call me that, so why should anyone else get to call me Tina? The day after Joy’s funeral, I told my family to call me Val. And that’s who I’ve been ever since.”
James frowned at that, looking vaguely troubled. He stared out over the Black Lake for a few moments, his thumb rubbing circles into my arm. The skin there felt as though it was bursting with flame. What was going on with me?
Suddenly snapping out of his reverie, James smiled down at me. “Was Joy as good an artist as you?” he asked, nodding at my drawing.
I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. Somehow, I ended up lying in the grass, my head now in James’s lap. He looked bemused as I grinned up at him. “Merlin, no. Joy had absolutely no artistic talent. Her drawings always looked like blobs. She couldn’t even stay in the lines when we used coloring books. Whenever we did art projects together, mine turned out great, but hers looked horrendous.”
“Harsh,” James smirked, amused.
“Honest,” I retorted. “Besides, she got all the musical talent, so it’s okay.”
“I can’t play any instruments. It just doesn’t click in my brain. Joy, though, was a musical genius. She played piano, violin, guitar, and flute. She also had the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard. It was just so… pure.”
“I sound like a dying cat when I sing,” James said in a matter-of-fact voice. I started laughing again and he grinned, looking pleased with himself. “What other talents do the two of you have? Do you think she’d have been as good at Quidditch as you?”
My smile faded slightly. “Joy was a Muggle. She died of leukemia. Wizards can’t get cancer and Muggles can’t play Quidditch.”
“Right,” James muttered, looking remorseful.
“But we were both dancers,” I added quickly, feeling a twinge go through me at his guilty expression.
“Exotic dancers?” James waggled his eyebrows. I smacked him in the stomach.
“You do realize Joy and I were children, right?” I shook my head. “You’ve been spending too much time with Freddy.”
He gave me a quizzical look and I laughed. “Last year, Fred had this big, elaborate theory about how I was secretly a prostitute and stripper.”
An odd look crossed James’s face. It was part amusement, part anger, and something else I couldn’t place. It was gone after a flash, however, and was replaced with a look of understanding instead. “Is that why he started throwing knuts at you after Ravenclaw won the Quidditch Cup last year?"
“Yes,” I half growled, half laughed. “Bloody arse. If I hadn’t deflected them, they definitely would have left bruises. He deserved the week of detention he got. And the loss of eyebrows.” I smiled as I remembered sneaking into Gryffindor Tower that night and shaving Fred’s eyebrows off as he slept. Professor McGonagall refused to allow him to regrow them with magic. I knew I always liked that woman.
James didn’t reply, but just smirked at me. I hit him on the back of his head. “Ow! Bloody hell, woman, what was that for?”
“You were imagining me as a stripper, weren’t you?”
“No!” he exclaimed, sounding outraged and shocked. “Why would I do that?”
I scrutinized him briefly. He actually seemed pretty genuine. His arms were crossed defensively, his mouth set into a slight frown, and his eyes shone with innocence. Huh. Maybe I was jumping to conclusions. He seemed actually upset by my accusations. I was about to cave and apologize when I saw it. There was something missing.
“You’re lying to me,” I declared confidently.
His frown deepened. “No, Val, I’m not.”
“Oh, but you are.” Now I was the one smirking. “You’re trying to act as though you didn’t imagine me as a stripper. But you did. There’s no way you’re lying your way out of this.”
“Damn it,” he muttered, shoulders slumping. “How did you know? I’m usually so good at the innocent act. Hell, I can even fool my mother! And Ginny Potter gets fooled by no one!”
My smirk stretched into a grin. I was feeling more than a little smug. “Your eyebrows.”
“Your eyebrows gave it away. Try raising them slightly next time instead of furrowing them like you were.”
James looked amazed. “That’s it? You didn’t believe me because of my eyebrows?” He shook his head. “You, Val Sullivan, are something else. How did you figure out the eyebrow thing?”
I rolled my eyes. “James. Please. You are talking to the master of acting and trying to hide things.” My voice took on a bitter tone at that point.
“Can I ask you something?” James said in a serious tone.
“Certainly,” I replied. “I might not answer, but you can ask.”
His lips twitched slightly at that, but he continued to look at me with a steady gaze. He seemed to mull over his thoughts before opening his mouth to speak. “Why did you do it? Start acting, I mean. Why hide how you felt? Why keep Joy a secret?”
I was silent for a second. “That was more than one question.”
“I just… look, it’s my life, okay? I don’t want people judging me or worrying about me.”
I sighed. “Back when Joy was in the hospital, I was a mess. I mean, I still am, but it was a lot easier for people to see back then. My parents alternated between worrying about Joy and worrying about me. I never left her bedside, except to use the loo. I slept there and I ate there.”
James looked troubled. “Why would they worry so much about you? Not to sound harsh, but it’s not like that’s abnormal behavior.”
“Well, when I said that I ate there, I meant that in a loose sense.” At his quizzical look, I elaborated. “I barely ate. One meal a day during the first week, then it dwindled down to small bites every now and then, until the last four days.”
“What happened then?”
I looked away. “I stopped eating completely.”
He gaped at me in shock. Keeping my eyes averted, I picked up my discarded shading pencil and began twirling it in my fingers. “I lost 20 pounds."
“What?” James gasped. “In two weeks? That just doesn’t seem plausible.”
“I have a high metabolism,” I shrugged. “I lose weight quickly if I don’t eat and the stress and fear… well, it wasn’t good for me.”
I felt James’s arms around me and I leaned into his chest. “For a week after Joy’s funeral, I still didn’t eat much. I ended up in the hospital after I collapsed. I had to be hooked up to an IV tube and I was forced to talk with a few psychiatric specialists. Apparently, I had an odd form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The shock of Joy’s illness and subsequent death had brought on anorexia.”
I closed my eyes as he started to stroke my hair. Pressing myself closer into his embrace, I continued, my voice barely above a whisper. “Seeing the… the fear, the worry, the pain, in my parents’ eyes as they watched me in the hospital in the same hospital Joy had been in just a few weeks prior was a bit of a wakeup call. I had already decided at Joy’s funeral that I would hide my pain, but I knew then that I absolutely had to, for my parents’ sake if not for my own. I may have resigned myself to a life of constant sorrow, but I could never be the cause of that for someone else, not if I could do anything to prevent it. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
“At Joy’s funeral,” James said, his voice rough with suppressed emotion, “why did you decide? I get your other motivation, but why did you originally do it?”
“I hate how people treat me. Their pity, their sympathy – it doesn’t make anything better. I don’t want it and I don’t need it. I knew that if I acted delicate, people would treat me like I was. And there’s nothing I despise more than feeling weak.”
The explanation felt tired, overused, when I told it to James. Maybe it’s because really have used it so much. I constantly have to justify myself; I justify myself to David, to James, but mostly to myself. If I didn’t continually assure myself that I made the right decision, who knows what I’d do.
“As for my refusal to tell anyone new about Joy,” I continued, “other than you of course, is so they don’t treat me different. Every time I go home, I can feel the weight of everyone’s stares. All the people in Roscrea look at me and think, ‘There she it. The girl who lost her sister. The girl who watched her best friend die.’ I hate it. It’s always there, reminding me of my greatest pain.”
Tears had formed in my eyes and were leaking out from under my closed lids. They dripped down my face, splashing onto James’s arms, which were still encircled around me. “How could people expect me to be the girl I was before if they won’t let me? They’re allowed to dwell in the past, but I’m supposed to move on? It’s not fair! I want to be the girl I appear to be on the outside, but I don’t know who that is. She isn’t real! I can’t be Tina now, but I don’t want to be Val anymore!”
My body began to tremor with suppressed sobs and I felt a drop of moisture on my head. At first, in the midst of my grief, I wondered if it was going to start raining. When I opened my eyes, however, the sky was blue and cloud-free. I turned to look at James to ask if he felt any water as well, but when I saw him I had my answer. James was crying.
I looked deep into his eyes. There was no pity in them. There was no false understanding. I saw only sorrow pain, and a reflection of the expression in my own eyes. I twisted in his arms to completely face him before throwing my own arms around him and locking him into a fierce hug.
“I don’t want you to be Val anymore, either,” he murmured brokenly. “I want you to be you.”
I clung to him tighter. “I don’t know who that is.”
James pulled back slightly, but he didn’t release his grip and neither did I. Staring into my eyes, he said simply. “Then I guess I’ll have to help you find out. You’re not Tina and you’re not Val. So that means it’s time to find Faith.”
Sorry for another long wait! It would have been up much sooner, but it was rejected, so I had to resubmit it to the queue.
Personally, this is one of my favorite chapters. Val is FINALLY opening up and it couldn’t be to a better person ;) I’m sure many of you will be happy as this chapter was almost completely Val/James. Granted, James is in the friendzone right now, but who says things can’t change?
A bit more insight to Joy and her relationship with Val as well as Val’s struggles after Joy died. The whole anorexia and weight loss thing may seem a bit unrealistic, but both of those were drawn from personal experience. I stopped eating for a few days – much less than Val did, but still – after a really close friend died in a car accident when I was 12. Also, when I’m sick, I can’t eat and after about a week I lose 10-15 pounds, so Val losing 20 isn’t that unrealistic.
Anywho, let me know what you think in a review! And in the meantime, here’s a teaser for chapter 14!
I mounted my broom and kicked off sharply when the whistle sounded. My eyes were trained on the Quaffle, which was arcing towards the ground. I sped towards it, outstripping the other Chasers and catching it with ease. I zigzagged through the air, throwing in spins and loops to throw off Veronica Tyler, who was pursuing me.
Disclaimer: I will only ever be Joanne Rowling after I legally change my name. But even then, I will not own Harry Potter. Such is life.
EDIT July 2012