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Chapter 16: Breakdown
Here’s the new chapter – sorry about the huge wait. I have no real excuses… just a busy life and writer’s block and dissatisfaction with this story in general. I’ve gone back and edited Chapters 7, 10, 13, and 15. I removed the storyline involving Val’s uncle. If you have not reread these chapters PLEASE DO. There aren’t many big changes to 7, 10, and 13, just a removal of all mention of her uncle, but 15 was changed quite a bit. If you haven’t read the revised version of that chapter, this one will not make sense.
“Val! How’s my baby girl?” my dad said, spotting me in the crowd at King’s Cross. Smiling, I walked over to him, dragging my trunk and Mathilda with me, and gave him a hug. I glanced over his shoulder, seeing if either my mum, Hope, or David were there. I didn’t see any of them.
My dad pulled back and examined me. “You look good, kiddo,” he said. “You look a lot better than I’ve seen you for a while. Though you do look a little tired,” he added, nodding at the bags under my eyes, results of sleepless nights, worrying about who I was going to talk about Joy with – people who don’t matter and people who do.
“I’ve been feeling good,” I replied honestly. “There’s just something about this year that’s been making me feel… happier.” That something was James, of course, but I couldn’t tell my dad that. It would be hard to explain why James was the only person I considered a true friend.
“Happier?” Dad asked. “How’s that possible? You’re always such a cheerful girl.” I smiled, although my dad didn’t notice the bitter twist to it. Yeah, I’ve been a right bucket of laughs and merriment for the last six years. Merlin, my family really is blind.
Grabbing my trunk for me and slinging an arm around my shoulder my dad lead me through the barrier separating Platform 9 ¾ from the rest of the station. We left King’s Cross and walked through London for about ten minutes, until we found the Leaky Cauldron. With a wave at Professor Longbottom, who arrived just before us, and his wife, my dad and I took some Floo Powder, and disappeared into the fireplace in a burst of emerald flames. Landing in the sitting room at home, I brushed off excess soot and saw Hope waiting for m
“Little sister!” she cried, rushing forward to wrap me in a ferocious hug. “I missed you!”
I laughed fondly. “I missed you, too. How’s it going at work? Keeping relations with the Goblins friendly?”
Hope grinned. “You know it! But I’m not the only worker in the family. Our dear brother has some very interesting news.
“Hush,” David said, walking into the room. Dad had left to put my trunk in my room for me, and Mum and the Unmentionable were nowhere to be found. “Don’t ruin the surprise, Hope. It’s supposed to be a big announcement at dinner tonight.”
“Let me guess, you got a job as a sports reporter for the Daily Prophet?” I asked, hugging David.
He and Hope stared at me in shock. “How in the name of Rowena Ravenclaw did you know that?”
“It’s you, Day-Day,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I sat through two years of your Captain’s speeches. There are two things that you love in this world: Quidditch and using fancy words. Obviously, you’d want to be a reporter. And since Hope made it completely obvious you got a steady job and the Prophet recently lost one of their reporters, I put two and two together.”
David just stood there, mouth agape, while Hope shook her head. “I’ve been away from you for too long. I forgot how bloody analytical you are.” She mussed my hair affectionately. “Mum’s making you a special meal for your homecoming, so don’t go in the kitchen. I’m going to go help her out.”
As soon as she left the room, David grabbed my shoulders gently and turned me to fully face him. He scrutinized me briefly, his brow furrowed in concern. “How are you?” he asked softly.
“Better than I was the last time you saw me,” I replied, which was true. Even though cold dread churned in my stomach at what I would have to face, I was in a greatly improved condition. James had done wonders.
“You look better,” David said, sounding pleased. “You have bags under your eyes, but you still look better. What happened?”
I smiled slightly. “I made a friend.”
“Val, you have lots of friends,” David said, rolling his eyes. “Everyone in that entire school loves you.”
“Not like this one.”
“Who is it?"
I bit my lip, not quite meeting his eyes. “Funnily enough, it’s James Potter.”
“Really?” David’s eyebrows shot up. “The guy who told you that you were cold and heartless is now your friend?
“Yeah, I didn’t really see that one coming, either,” I muttered sheepishly.
David sighed and shrugged. “All right, then. If he’s making you happy now, then I guess – Val? Hey, are you okay?” He gripped my shoulder in alarm as I swayed on my feet. I had finally gotten a good look at the sitting room and what I saw shocked me.
After Joy’s death, I convinced my family to put away all the pictures they had of either of us. There hadn’t been any pictures of Joy or me when I was younger around for years. But now, they were scattered all over, some in frames, others in scrapbooks, and still others lying in cluttered piles. Everywhere I looked, I saw Joy.
I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see this. Any of it. I had only ever drawn pictures of Joy, never looked at any. For the first time since she died, I was being forced to look at my sister. And I wasn’t ready.
“Val, open your eyes. What’s wrong?” David asked frantically. He didn’t get it. How could he look at those pictures, see her all around, and be okay? Didn’t it bother him? How could he have just moved on like this? Did she ever even matter to him?
I shook my head, backing up blindly. I needed to leave, but I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t see her anymore. I continued to back away from David, heading to what I hoped was the door. Of course, it was just my luck that I would end up tripping over a footstool. My eyes flew open as I fell towards the ground. My eyes landed on a picture of Joy and me, our faces smeared with cake, on our tenth birthday. It was the last picture ever taken of us. It was also the last thing I saw before my head hit the corner of the end table and I blacked out.
I became conscious of someone gently stroking my hair. I was lying down on something soft and comfortable and I was pleasantly warm. Cracking open my eyes, I saw that I was in my room, my mum sitting beside me. I was in my bed.
Wait. I was in my bed. I felt a stab of pain in my chest. I hadn’t slept in my own bed since the night before my tenth birthday. I had refused to sleep in a room that I once shared with Joy. Because now it was only mine.
You didn’t do it voluntarily, I told myself. It’s not your fault. You didn’t have a choice. “Mum,” I croaked, my throat feeling thick. “What time is it?”
“It’s ten minutes to six, sweetie,” she said. “You were out for a while.”
I’d arrived home at 1:30, so I’d slept for nearly four and a half hours. I shook my head slightly, waking myself further.
“You don’t have a concussion, and were only unconscious for about 10 minutes. The whole rest of the time, you’ve just been sleeping. Have you been getting enough sleep?” Mum asked worriedly. “Your dad, Hope, and David, all commented on how tired you looked. Have you been taking care of yourself properly?”
“Of course, Mum, I’m fine,” I said with a small smile that felt forced. “The professors just loaded us up with homework before the holidays. My classes are supposed to be difficult this year, after all.”
“If you’re sure,” Mum said, kissing me on the forehead. “Dinner is nearly ready, so you can clean yourself up and come down.”
As soon as she closed the door, I bolted out of my bed. I stared at the mussed sheets with a sick feeling. I felt as though I had betrayed Joy somehow. I was also a bit hurt by my mum’s behavior. She had automatically accepted my answer, not probing further, not seeing the lie. That was the difference between James and everyone else. Everyone accepted what I said and did at face value. None of my supposed friends questioned me after I ignored them for a week. But not James. He could see me better than anyone else. He understood.
I walked over to my trunk and pulled a quill, some ink, and a piece of parchment. Walking over to my desk, I sat down and began writing.
Well, I haven’t been home long, but things are already interesting. Long story short, I tripped and hit my head. I’m fine – no damage done – but I did sleep for over four hours. I guess I was tired.
I’m still not sure what to do. I don’t know if I’m ready to tell my parents what my life’s really been like. I mean, I told David the basics a while ago, and he reacted exactly the way I was afraid people would. I don’t know if I can handle my parents and Hope doing the same. But on the other hand, there’s no way I can give an extended speech about Joy. It’s not going to happen. Oh well, I have a few days yet, so I’ll figure it out soon.
I kind of realized something just now. You’re the only one who cares. Everyone else just accepts my lies and acting. You look further, search deeper. Four months ago, I would’ve hate you for that. But now, I guess I appreciate it. So thanks.
See you sometime,
I gave the letter to Mathilda and watched her fly out the window. I turned and looked around the room. It looked almost exactly the same as it had when I was a kid. The absence of all the pictures of Joy and I was the only difference. I had torn those down once I got back from her funeral. Other than that, everything was the same. Joy’s bed was still there, the bedspread still in the disarray she left it in the morning of our birthday. Her clothes were still in the wardrobe, not that I ever looked at them. It’d be just as bad as looking at the pictures.
I shook my head. There was no use dwelling on this now. I just needed to focus on what I was going to do now. I guess the first thing I need to do is join my family. So, after stopping in the loo to splash my face with cold water, I walked into the kitchen.
“Feeling alright?” Dad asked kindly. I nodded briefly, taking the seat left for me between Hope and David.
Dinner passed uneventfully, no one asking me about my head. I guess they really don’t care. I picked at my food, too shaken to actually eat, and only spoke when someone asked me a question, which didn’t happen often. Hope and David talked about their jobs. David talked about his search for a flat of his own and Hope described the bloke she had recently started seeing – much to David’s disapproval. I was asked about Quidditch, classes, and my friends. My answers were listless, unenthusiastic, but only David really seemed to notice, not that he bothered to do anything about it.
Once we finished eating, Mum suggested that we move to the sitting room to continue catching up. My heart pounding in dread, I quickly made an excuse about my head hurting. No one questioned my excuse. No one asked me how I was feeling. They just nodded and left the room. Gee, thanks family. I love you too.
When I entered my room, I heard a tapping at my window and saw a slightly familiar looking snowy white owl. With a start, I recognized it as the Potter family owl. Opening my window, I let it in, giving it a few of Mathilda’s owl treats. Then I detached the letter it had tied to its leg and started reading.
Is it lame to be writing to you already? I mean, I just saw you a few hours ago, but I already miss your sarcasm.
The whole family is at my grandparents’ house. And I mean the whole family. You’re famous among the Weasleys, now, by the way. We just can’t shut up about you. I mean, everyone already kind of knew who you were – you are in Vic’s wedding after all – but now it’s much more extreme. It’s only been a few hours, but they all already love you. My parents have practically started worshipping you for tutoring Al. Fred likes to constantly point out that he once dated you, saying that it makes him even more awesome than he already is because of his association to you. Git.
But anyways, I guess the real reason I’m writing is to find out how you are. Do you know what you’re going to do? Just remember that I’m there for you. Well, not literally there, but you get what I mean. I can actually be there, if you want. Or you can come here. If you need to. Whatever. Just keep me updated, yeah?
I laughed a little when I finished reading. It was kind of amusing how we both wrote to each other almost right away. Great minds think alike, I guess. I sighed, setting the letter aside, and lied down on my bed. After a while, I could hear the sounds of people moving around downstairs, getting ready for bed. So, bundling up in several sweaters, coats, hats, and mittens, I opened my window. Grabbing onto the large tree branch that hung outside my window, I pulled myself out and climbed into the old treehouse. Turning on the space heater I kept in there and covering myself with multiple blankets, I laid down on the pseudo-bed I’d made for myself after Joy died. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep.
A few days passed and I had successfully become a procrastinator. I'd been meaning to do so for a long time, but kept putting it off... Joy’s memorial service was the next day and I still hadn’t made my decision. Needless to say, I was panicking. There’s a reason I’m not in Gryffindor. Joy was always the more daring of us. I usually masterminded our little games and antics, but she’s the one who did everything “risky.” I’m just not brave.
My choice wasn’t the only thing bothering me, though. I can’t believe I’d never noticed how ignored I am by my own family. I’ve been hiding from them for years, and they’d never even noticed. I used to just think I was a really good actress, but now I’m not so sure. James sees through every wall, every act I put on without even trying. And I know that other people have doubts as well, like Rose, Al, and even Rhiannon. So then why is my own family so blissfully unaware?
When I go downstairs, everyone is already eating breakfast at the table. Mum had made eggs, pancakes, and bacon. And they all started eating, not bother to wait for me. It stung.
“Morning, Val,” Dad said, not looking up from the paper. David grunted in greeting and Mum and Hope just nodded. I sat down at the place set for me, but just stared at the food. My stomach squirmed and I felt nauseated at the idea of eating. I had barely eaten throughout all of break.
“Alright you lot,” Mum said brightly. “I was thinking we could go down to the church today and start setting up for the service tomorrow. And, Val, I was wondering if you wanted to practice your speech or if you’d prefer to keep it a secret?”
Here it was. Decision time. Do I refuse to speak or do I comply? I thought back on the last six years, the time I’ve spent without Joy. And then I really focused on the last two months, the time I’ve spent with James. And then I realized something. After Joy died, I hated myself. I was miserable and lonely and wishing it had been me who died. In my head, it was my fault that Joy had died.
But meeting James changed everything. Now, I don’t hate myself. Yeah, I feel guilty when I think about Joy’s death, but I don’t blame myself anymore, not really. I was tired of the lies, the secrecy. I wasn’t the girl I was when I was ten, but I’m also not the same girl I was back in September. I may not be “better,” but I’m getting there. And maybe the only way to truly get over Joy’s death was to talk about it.
“Actually,” I said, hesitantly “I… don’t want to make a speech.”
I held my breath as everyone turned to look at me. “What?” my mum asked blankly.
“I don’t want to speak,” I said, fearful but determined. “I just… can’t. I can’t do it.”
“Why ever not?” Dad broke in, sounding confused. “I think it’s a great idea. You knew Joy better than anyone else. Of course you should be the one to talk about her.”
I frowned. “Yeah, because that went so well last time,” I replied, remember my disastrous attempt at giving a eulogy at Joy’s funeral. I felt a small spark of anger growing inside me. Didn’t they get it?
“That’s awfully selfish,” Hope said. “You should share your memories. Everyone is gathering there to remember her."
“I don’t even want to go!”
They froze. Even David, who knew about my grief, was shocked. “You have to go,” Mum said, hear voice saying that there would be no arguments. But I wasn’t listening.
“No,” I said defiantly. “I’m not going. You can’t make me.”
“Don’t be difficult, Val,” Dad said, looking at me warningly.
But I felt my head shaking slowly. “I can’t believe you all,” I whispered. “How are you all so blind? I’m not doing this to be difficult. It’s because I literally can’t do it.”
“Why not?” Mum asked angrily.
“Because I’m a fucked up mess!” I shouted. “How stupid can you be? I never got over Joy’s death! I suffer each and every day over her loss, but you’ve all moved on and don’t care about me, let alone her!”
“What are you saying?” Hope asked quietly. Mum and Dad seemed to shocked to speak.
I glared fiercely. “I’m saying that in all these years that all of you have managed to get over everything, I’ve been in agony. I blamed myself all this time. I could barely look in a mirror for three months without breaking down because I always say her. I see her dying over and over again in my dreams. Don’t you get it? For all of you, things have gotten easier for you. But for me, every day is like the day she died. Sometimes I have to force myself to get out of bed. For the past six years, I’ve been pretending to be okay so that none of you would worry. But I’m done now.”
I looked around at my family. Their faces were blank, their eyes wide. I felt something breaking inside of me. “Aren’t you going to say something?” I whispered.
My parents exchanged glances. “I… don’t know what to say,” Dad said slowly.
“Val, you need help,” Mum said firmly. I stared at her, feeling my heart break. No.
“What do you mean?” I said, my voice deadly quiet. “Tell me, Mum, what exactly do you mean by that?”
“You need to see someone,” she said adamantly. “This is not normal Val. We all experienced the loss of your sister. We all loved her just as much as you. But you can’t hold on to her, not after all these years. She’s with God now, and you need to move on, sweetie.”
I felt tears sting my eyes at her words. Move on? Yeah, right. “Fuck you.”
Hope gasped and Dad stood up angrily. I cut him off before he could yell at me. “How can you say that to me? You’re my mother, you’re supposed to understand. I told you the biggest pain in my life and just brushed it off! Do you care about me at all?”
“Of course, I do. But you can’t keep –“
“No!” I shouted. “This is exactly why I never told you! I knew you’d react like this! This isn’t what I need from you, Mum. You aren’t helping me at all!”
She just shook her head. “You need to go to this memorial service. You need to come to terms with Joy’s loss and I think church will be the best place for you.”
“Church? God? Mum, there is no God! If there was, I’d still have my sister and my mother wouldn’t be such a bitch!”
“Don’t talk to her that way!” Dad roared as Hope covered her mouth in shock. David just looked stunned.
“Val, think about what you’re saying,” Hope pleaded.
“Val, just… listen to Mum,” David said, not meeting my eyes.
I stared at him, disbelief etched on my face. “You… you’re talking their side? David, I thought you understood! You told me you would support me!”
“You knew?” Hope asked, and Mum looked at him accusingly. David looked uncomfortable.
“She told me back in September when I found her visiting Joy’s grave. She asked me not to tell, and, well…”
“I am very disappointed in you Dave,” Mum said. “We could have been helping her all along, but you kept quiet.”
“Stop talking about me like I’m not here!” I shouted. “Are you honestly mad at him for doing what I asked? You’re mad at him because he didn’t betray me? You’re disgusting!”
“Don’t speak like that!”
“You’re supposed to love me and support me! Instead, you’ve completely ignored me for six years! I haven’t been important in this household since Joy died, don’t even try to deny it! You don’t write, you don’t ask about me, and you’ve never noticed how awful I’ve felt! You are shit at being parents!”
“FAITH VALENTINA SULLIVAN!” Dad bellowed. “DON’T YOU DARE TALK TO US LIKE THAT!”
“IS THAT ALL YOU CAN SAY!” I screamed back. “ALL YOU CAN DO IS BERATE ME FOR MY LANGUAGE! WELL, THEN I SAY FUCK OFF! NONE OF YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT ME ANYMORE, SO WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT YOU!”
“We do care, Val!” Hope said, tears in her eyes. “Please, stop this.”
My chest heaved up and down as I fought back tears. I could feel everything inside me breaking. All the happiness, the progress I’d made with James’s help was gone. I felt hollow, empty. I may have hidden myself from my family for all these years, but I had also thought they’d support me. But I had never felt more alienated from them as I did in this moment. And as angry as I was at them, all I could really feel was a deep hurt.
“I’m done,” I scoffed. “Fuck this and fuck you all.” I pulled out my wand and waved it. Everyone flinched, but then looked around in confusion when nothing seemed to have happened. A few minutes later, my trunk, now fully packed, flew down the stairs.
“Don’t bother writing!” I called disdainfully over my shoulder as I pulled my trunk away. They all stared at me, frozen, and I walked out of the house. Walking out to the street, I flung my arm – the holding my wand – out and prepared myself.
A shockingly violet bus appeared the street, screeching to a halt in front of me. A bloke around 20 years old stepped out. He was tall and thin, with long, lanky arms. He cleared his throat importantly.
“My name is Stuart Shunpike, conductor for the Knight Bus, transportation service for a stranded wizard or witch. For only 13 sickles we can bring you anywhere in the entire UK. Where is your destination?”
“Leaky Cauldron, in London,” I said tersely, handing him the aforementioned sum of money.
He scrutinized me briefly. “Aren’t you a little young to be traveling alone? And at Christmas time, too.”
“I’m 17,” I lied, “therefore I’m of age and am allowed to do what I want. And who’s to say I’m not meeting my family somewhere?”
“All right, then,” Stuart said with a shrug. “I’ll take your trunk for you.”
I looked around as I boarded the bus. There was only one other person on, an elderly woman who looked rather shaken as she picked up a chair from the ground and sat in it cautiously. Taking note of all the other chairs that had been knocked over, I decided to take a seat on the floor. It was probably safer that way.
I could feel Stuart staring at me, probably wondering why I wasn’t sitting on a chair. I ignored him, though, as I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. I told my family exactly how I'd felt for the past few years. Sure, they didn’t get all the gory details, but I’m sure my psychotic breakdown would be a big enough indicator. Maybe David would fill them in on what he knew, now.
I shook myself slightly. I just needed to forget about it. The way I saw it, my family was no longer worth my time. For years, I had pretended to be okay for them. But no more. They don’t deserve it.
After dropping off the other passenger somewhere in Wales, the Knight Bus brought me to the Leaky Cauldron. With one last curious look from Stuart, I walked into the dingy looking building. When I started to approach the counter, still unnoticed, I froze. The proprietor was Hannah Longbottom, Professor Longbottom’s wife. If she didn’t recognize me, he definitely would. I didn’t need those questions. Thinking quickly, I pulled out my wand and temporarily changed my hair to be short, red, and curly, my eyes to a chocolate brown, my skin tan, and I made myself six inches shorter.
“Bonjour,” I said, adopting a French accent. “Could I ‘ave a room, please. I am not sure ‘ow long I need it for. A few days, per’aps.”
“Certainly, dear,” Hannah said with a warm smile. “What part of France are you from? And what brings you to London?”
“From ze countryside near Bordeaux. And my seester moved ‘ere a few years ago,” I replied easily. “I am veesiting ‘er for Chreestmas.”
“How lovely. Here’s your key, you’ll be staying in Room 7. Just inform me when you intend to leave.”
“Merci,” I responded. I was feeling quite thankful to Louis for teaching me to speak French and helping me perfect my accent.
As soon as I made it to my room, I collapsed onto the bed. I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. Tears prickled in my eyes and inhaled deeply through my nose. My family was no longer worth even thinking about, the people I’d hung out with for years didn’t really know me, and James was off having a wonderful time with his even more wonderful family. My Joy was long gone. I was utterly alone.
I’m terribly sorry about all the delays. Like I said above, I don’t really have any excuses. Stuff just… got in the way. A huge thank you goes out to Starkid Productions for their genius play, “Starship.” Somehow, rewatching it inspired me to finally finish this chapter. For anyone is a fan of “A Very Potter Musical/Sequel”, but has yet to watch “Starship,” I highly recommend it. It’s like… The Little Mermaid in space. It’s amazing. And anyone who hasn’t seen any of Starkid’s musicals, you have to check them out on YouTube. Utter genius.
Also, I've written a Lily/James one-shot called Songbird and I've also started a new James II/OC story from James's perspective called Choices. I'd really love it if you all checked them out and left a review!
Next chapter will feature the return of James’s POV. And the entire Weasley family. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Here’s a preview of what’s to come!
In just a short couple of months, Val Sullivan had managed to turn my world upside down. I’d thought that I’d loved her before, but that was nothing compared to how I felt now. Every time I looked at her, I felt like I was flying. And whenever I saw a genuine smile of her beautiful face and knew I had put it there… Merlin, it made everything about my life seem perfect.
Good Lord, I’m turning into a pansy. I should probably just give Fred my Man Card at this point. Bloody hell, Val had me whipped and we weren’t even dating.
Disclaimer: While this story is my intellectual property, anything related to the Harry Potter world is not. Woe is me.