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Chapter 20: Tension
This chapter is dedicated to Kellsey. The world is a darker place without you, love. Rest in peace.
Looking back on my life, it’s amazing how different things seem now. I was miserable for years, surviving by the force of my will alone. There was a group of people that I felt cared for me, but I mostly indifferent to them. But now, I smiled and laughed with ease, and genuinely liked and even loved an entire family of amazing people. And at the heart of that was James Potter, someone whom I had never spoken to until the end of last year.
That was probably why, the minute I walked into the Ravenclaw common room and Lessie came barreling into me, shrieking about how much she missed me, I felt an enormous stab of guilt. Until I grew close with James, everyone considered us to be best friends. But in my head, we had never been friends. Don’t get me wrong, I do care for her happiness and wellbeing, but… she doesn’t know me.
“Hey, Less,” I said quietly. I wasn’t sure what to do. She didn’t care for the real me. But I had never told her, so how could she? She had no way of knowing about Joy. I mean, sure she should have noticed something was wrong this year, as I had been kind of obvious at times, but still.
She pulled back and looked at me. “Is something wrong? Did I do something? I mean, you never wrote back.”
“I never got any letters from you,” I said, frowning.
Her eyes widened. “What do you mean? I sent you a letter and your gift the day before Christmas. I wrote again twice but you never responded.”
“Oh,” I said, understanding. “Your owl probably never found me, I wasn’t at home.”
“Then where were you?” Lessie asked, tilting her head in confusion.
“Er, I ended up spending the holidays with the Weasley family,” I said awkwardly.
Lessie suddenly scowled. She grabbed my hand and began pulling me towards the girl’s staircase. I could have resisted, as she’s so tiny, but I let her take me. “C’mon,” she said darkly. “The other girls are upstairs, I want to talk to you.”
Jessamy and Rhiannon were indeed in our dorm when Lessie and I arrived, although our other dorm mates, Evie and Mallory, weren’t there. They both looked up, smiling, and began to greet us before Lessie cut them off with a look. When did she get so authoritative?
“So Val,” she began, sounding upset, “would you like to tell me why you spent your Christmas with James and his family when you have been declining my invitation to you to join my family in Greece ever since first year?”
Rhiannon looked over with a frown. “You were with the Weasleys? But you always told us that your parents insist on having you home for the holidays. And Fred told me that even though they have a big Christmas, they like to keep it solely within the family.”
I looked over at them all, the guilt building. Rhiannon looked troubled, Jess was confused, and Lessie seemed hurt. I swallowed. What could I tell them?
“I went home initially. And I didn’t plan on going to the Burrow. It just… happened.” I said evasively.
“How?” Lessie demanded. “And I want a real answer. You’ve been so distant lately, it’s like I don’t even know you.”
I swallowed, hard. I was done with lying. It wasn’t healthy. It was time to come clean with my story. Besides, it wasn’t much of a secret anymore. My family knew everything, along with the entire Weasley family.
“A few days before Christmas, I had a big fight with my family and I walked out on them. I took the Knight Bus to Diagon Alley, planning to stay there for the remained of the holidays. But the next day, I ran into James, who was there with his mum, Fred, Al, and Rose. I told him what happened and he brought me back to his grandparents. I stayed there for the rest of break.”
“What did you fight about?” Jess asked. Rhiannon made a slight noise of protest, obvious sensing that it was a bit of a sensitive topic. But it was time to tell them. It was time to let the secret out.
“It was a lot of things,” I said hesitantly, “but most of them center around… around Joy.”
“Joy? What, being happy? Why would you argue about joy?” Less asked, puzzled.
“Not joy, as in the emotion,” I corrected, feeling sick. “Joy, as in a person’s name. My twin sister, to be precise.”
Identical looks of shock crossed their faces. Before any of them could question me, I continued. “My twin sister, Joy, was my best friend in the entire world. She means more to me than my own life and I would have given anything, done anything, for her. She was a Muggle. When we were ten years old, she got a Muggle disease and died. Don’t tell me your sorry, don’t ask me if I’m okay, don’t treat me any different than you normally would, and for God’s sakes, Lessie, stop looking like your about to cry.”
Lessie froze, giving me a strange look. They all looked slightly disturbed and upset. I suppose I could understand why. I had been a bit abrupt and detached in my explanation.
“You… you have a twin sister?” Jessamy said slowly. “And you never told us?”
“I thought we were friends,” Lessie whispered.
“Don’t,” I said, closing my eyes. “Don’t try to make me feel guilty. I did what I had to. I don’t regret my actions. Things happen for a reason, even if you don’t always know the reason.”
“But why wouldn’t you ever mention it?” Rhiannon asked.
I sighed, trying not to feel irritated. I had brought this all on myself, after all. “Because it wasn’t something I talked about. I didn’t want people to know.”
“You were hiding your own sister from people?” Lessie said incredulously. “Why? Didn’t you love her?”
“I love her more than anything and anyone in this entire world!” I spat. “How can you ask me that? Just because I don’t like talking about Joy doesn’t mean I don’t love her.”
“Then why wouldn’t you ever say anything?” she demanded stubbornly.
I tried to contain the rage that was flowing through me as I stared at Lessie. I was overreacting. She doesn’t know. I kept repeating that to myself, inhaling deeply so as to remain calm.
“After Joy died, I shut down. I was a wreck. I was broken. I hated life and everyone in it. But when I noticed how worried my family was, I stopped showing emotion. I let them think I was moving on so that I didn’t hurt them more than they already were. I didn’t tell people here at Hogwarts about Joy because I didn’t want their pity. I just kept on pretending.”
Rhiannon fixed me with her steely gray gaze. “Pretending?”
She looked a bit sad, as though she knew what was coming next. I wouldn’t put it past her. She sees everything. It’s rather disconcerting.
“Pretending,” I repeated. “The person you all know isn’t really me. I mean, it is me, to some degree, but it also isn’t.”
At Lessie and Jess’s confused looks, I elaborated. “Whenever I’m not alone, I act like I’m okay. But, truthfully, I’m not. I miss Joy so much that it hurts. All the time. But since I don’t want people to know, I don’t let it show.”
“So, everything is just… an act?” Jess asked in disbelief.
I nodded. Lessie gave me an inquisitive look. “What I want to know is how James Potter fits into all this?”
“James knows,” I said simply. “I told him at the end of last year.”
“You told a stranger before you told us?” Jess asked, hurt.
I didn’t like the way they were looking at me as though they were offended. It’s my secret. It’s my decision whether or not I tell them. They had no right to be like this. “I don’t owe you anything,” I whispered defiantly.
“But we’re your friends!” Lessie burst out. Jess looked even more upset, but Rhiannon just looked at me calmly.
I just shook my head. “Not when you act like this.”
At that, I walked out of the room. I didn’t care. They know the truth now. It’s up to them to figure out how they’ll react. If they can’t accept me not telling them right away, if they act like my parents, then I don’t need them in life. Without thinking about it, I headed off to the Gryffindor common room.
When I walked into the red and gold filled room, I glanced around in search of the familiar, messy haired profile. Upon spotting the familiar, ruffled black hair sitting in a corner, his back to me, I skipped over and threw myself in James’ lap.
“Er, Val? What are you doing?” came an uncomfortable voice from behind me. I turned around to an unexpected sight.
“Shoot!” I said, springing up. “Sorry, Al, I thought you were James. You two look identical from behind.”
Lily, who was sitting with him, laughed. “James is up in his dorm, I think. You can go up and see him.”
“Nah.” I threw myself on the floor, stretching out in front of Al and Lily’s feet. “Why go find one Potter when I have two right here?”
Al snorted. “Because you and James are practically joined at the hip.”
“All the more reason to take a break from his company to be with other people. If I only ever talked to James, I’d be antisocial. And I’d probably lose my mind,” I said matter-of-factly, hiding a smile.
“I doubt James has the same reservations,” Lily muttered. I pretended not to hear her.
“So, my dear sweet Albus, how is Defense the Dark Arts going?”
He looked at me oddly. “Er, Val, you do know that classes haven’t started yet, right? It’s no different than it was before the break.”
“But I didn’t ask about it during break,” I pointed out. “And you had an assignment over the holidays.”
“I don’t remember telling you about that,” Al frowned.
I laughed. “Yes, because you are the only source of information I have about fifth year Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. After all, it’s not like I know a lot of fifth years. I also didn’t spend Christmas with the person who teaches the class. Or help Rose with her assignment when she started freaking out about it.”
“It can’t be healthy for one person to be so sarcastic,” Lily said in amusement.
“Then you must be terminally ill,” I shot back. Lily Potter is lecturing me on the overuse of sarcasm? I guess pigs really have flown.
“To answer your question,” Al said quickly, “and to cut off the impending argument on which one of you is more sarcastic, Defense is going well. Teddy told me that I’m averaging a low E right now.”
I let out a whoop. “Put ‘er there, kid!” I shouted, holding out my hand for a high five.
When Al went to smack my hand back, I seized his wrist, pulling him down to the floor where I was. I then proceeded to wrap an arm around his neck in a headlock, my other hand giving him a noogie. “I’m so proud of you. My baby boy is growing up!”
“Val, let me go!” he protested, trying to squirm out of my grip as Lily collapsed into fits of laughter.
“No!” I said in delight. “My little Allykins is not only passing Defense, but he’s excelling at it! Aw,” I cooed, pinching his cheeks while still keeping him trapped against me.
I heard the sound of a throat clearing and glanced up to find James staring at me with a bemused expression. “Do I want to know?”
“Jimmy, my boy!” I exclaimed. I pushed Al away, springing up. “Give your brother a hug and tell him you love him.”
“He’s getting an E in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Now go express your pride and elation over this fact in a display of brotherly affection. Go!”
James and Al both eyed me warily, though Lily just laughed harder than ever. I just smiled brightly at them.
“Eh, Val?” James asked slowly. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Oh, I’m just happy dandy. But I won’t be for much longer unless you tell Al you love him.”
James glanced between me, Al, and Lily before gently grabbing my wrist and pulling me away from his siblings. I went willingly, though I was feeling a bit confused.
Once he found a slightly more secluded part of the common room, James sat on the ground, tugging me down with him. “Okay, do you want to tell me what’s up?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said to him, still smiling brightly. I felt uneasy, uncertain, though I tried not to let it show.
James raised an eyebrow. “C’mon, Val. It’s me. I know something’s wrong.”
I looked away. “What makes you think that?”
“You’re overcompensating,” he replied simply. “You’re acting too happy and quirky. You’re not smiling your real smile. I just want to know why.”
“It’s nothing. Really.”
James looked at me skeptically. “Rubbish. Do I look completely daft to you? Just tell me what’s wrong.”
I sighed. There was never any point in trying to resist. Somehow James manages to make me tell him all my secrets. But I suppose he’s sort of earned it. “I had a bit of a fight with Lessie, Jess, and Rhiannon just now. I think.”
“Well, I got pretty mad at them. And then I stormed out. So yeah, I suppose it was a fight.”
I laughed slightly bitterly. “Take a wild guess.”
He appraised me for a moment. “You told them about Joy?”
“And Bingo was his name-o.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I shrugged. “Not really. It wasn’t anything too important. They were offended that I hadn’t told them. I was offended that they thought they had a right to know. It’s my life and my decision. Everybody has secrets. I’m sure they have some, so they shouldn’t begrudge me mine.”
“You do realize you told me you didn’t want to talk about and then proceeded to tell me about the fight anyway, right?” James asked, smirking slightly.
I pushed him lightly. “Shut up. There’s a difference between talking about it and telling you about it.”
“If you say so.”
“You’re a git,” I told him, leaning my head on his shoulder.
“Yes, but I’m your git,” he laughed. I smiled slightly, tilting my head so that my face was buried in his neck.
“You smell good,” I murmured. And he did. It kind of reminded me of the field Joy and I would go to when we were kids. We used to go there in the summer the day after a storm would roll through. Everything would smell fresh and warm and just… good. That field was mine and Joy’s favorite place to go. It’s where we were happiest. So I guess you could say that James smells like happiness. Like home.
“Um, thanks, I guess,” he responded, his voice cracking slightly. I inhaled his neck again and I heard him swallow with difficulty. I lifted my head to look at him and found him staring at me, his face inches from my own. My eyes widened as I felt that same anticipatory tension that had been in that room on the top floor of the Burrow. James’ eyes flickered down to my lips for a second and blood rushed to my cheeks as I blushed.
“Right, well,” I said hastily, jumping up to my feet. “I just realized I never finished unpacking. I should go do that. Right now. I’ll see you at dinner. Bye James!”
With that, I half-ran towards the portrait hole, forcing myself not to look back. I am such a coward.
I sat in my empty dorm, lost in my though as I lazed on my bed. My dorm mates were still down at dinner. I had left early when a letter from my parents arrived. I had looked at it, snorted, and ripped it in two. I didn’t want to read it. I’d felt James’ concerned gaze on me, but didn’t care. I’d left the Great Hall, leaving my food mostly untouched. I was no longer hungry.
I couldn’t believe them. I didn’t want any letters from my parents. I could never see or talk to them ever again for all I care. There was a sick, churning feeling in my stomach – probably the reason I didn’t feel like eating – and my eyes prickled.
I let out a long breath, sitting up slowly. It almost hurt to move. It felt like so many things were weighing down on me. I needed James. He makes this feeling go away. But of course, that isn’t exactly possible. It was awkward being around him. There was no denying it. After visiting him in the Gryffindor common room, I felt weird. I couldn’t be as close to him as I was before. Every time I look him in the eyes, I get a flashback of his face moving closer to mine, and my heart begins to race frantically. I don’t like that feeling.
Heaving myself off my bed, I moved to open my trunk. Shifting through various clothes and books, I found what I was looking for: the unopened present from Joy. I gently turned the box over in my hand, finding the small tear I’d made before Joy had collapsed. I wanted to know what was in it. It was a fairly small box, neatly wrapped with a bow on top. I held it up to my ear, shaking it slightly. It didn’t make any noise. Sighing, I set it back in the bottom of my trunk. I couldn’t do it.
Next, I dug out the photo albums I’d showed James for Christmas. I ran my hand over the top one, feeling hesitant. Curling my fingers around the cover, I began to open it. But I snapped it shut the second I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I hastily tried to bury it back under everything in my trunk, but Lessie and Jessamy walked in before I could get all the books out of sight.
“What are those?” Lessie asked curiously, though she couldn’t quite meet my eyes. Or maybe I couldn’t meet hers. Either way, there was no eye contact.
“Nothing,” I said, trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice. “Just some old photo albums.”
“Can I look?”
I shoved them away and sharply shut my trunk with a loud snap. “No. I didn’t even look through them. I just… wanted to pull them out.”
“So you don’t look at the pictures?” Jess asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. I haven’t looked at them for years. Heck, Christmas was the first time I even pulled though out since I first packed them.”
“Why did you take them out then?” Lessie’s eyes were narrowed. I glared at the floor, feeling irate. What right did she have to look so suspicious and annoyed?
I looked up, eyes flashing defiantly. “I let James look through them as his present. Do you have a problem with that?”
“Yes, actually, I do,” Lessie seethed, despite the warning noise Jessamy made. “I just don’t quite get why you would show James Potter of all people, but not me, who is supposed to be your best friend.”
“Things change,” I told her, swallowing my anger at the disparaging way she said James’ name. She doesn’t know James the way I do. She has no right to judge him. “And seriously, where have you been for the past two months? Of course I would show James before anyone else.”
Lessie scoffed. “You know Val, I don’t think I like the new you.”
“Is that so?” I raised my eyebrow. “Because the ‘new me,’ as you put it, is the happiest I’ve been in years. Are you telling me that you liked me better when I was miserable? Gee, you really are a good friend.”
“But you weren’t miserable!”
“Lessie,” Jessamy warned, looking apprehensive.
“No, no, Jess,” I said, smiling unpleasantly. “Let her talk. I want to hear this.”
Lessie gaped at me for a moment. Then she scowled. “I’m just saying that James Potter has changed you.”
“And in a good way,” I said fiercely.
She laughed harshly. “If that’s what you want to believe.”
“It’s the truth. I’m happier and I feel better about myself. And that’s all because of James. Why are you hating on him so much anyways? Weren’t you the one insisting that he and I should date not too long ago?”
“Yeah, well, I changed my mind.”
I opened my mouth to retort, feeling murderous, but Jessamy cut me off. “Just stop it you two! You’re both acting childishly.”
I shook my head. “Just forget it. I don’t want to be in her” – I threw a glare at Lessie – “presence right now. See you later.”
And for the second time that night, I walked out of my dormitory, feeling extremely vexed.
I ended up in the Astronomy Tower. With a slight smile of nostalgia, I clambered up onto the window ledge so that I could look out over the grounds. Smoke was coming from the chimney on Hagrid’s hut, gently curling towards the sky. A lone owl swooped over the top of the Forbidden Forest. Everything was quiet and still as the sun set, ruby sparkles reflecting off the snow. It was beautiful.
I thought back to the last time I had been here like this. I had retreated to this spot, wanting to avoid Lessie, just like I was now. Back then, it was because I had seen a sudden resemblance between her and Joy. I hadn’t wanted to look at her. I didn’t want to look at her now, either. But it was for a much different reason.
Before, I had cried, mourning Joy. But now I smiled, if sadly. I remembered the good things. The warmth of her smile, the kind way she treated everyone, and the way she gained the love of everyone she met. Joy had been a social butterfly. Though I was always her best friend, she made it her personal mission to befriend everyone she met. I remembered our school days, how Joy would always find the one person that was on their own and invite them to join me and her. In her mind, no one should ever be left alone.
I laughed slightly. That was kind of ironic. She spent her life making sure people weren’t alone, but then she abandoned me in death. A tear trickled down my cheek.
But that wasn’t true. I’m not alone. I have James.
James. He’s certainly changed a lot since the last time I was here like this. The way he’d talked to me, so shocked to find out about Joy was so different to the easy acceptance he now shows for everything I tell him. The smile returned as I thought of him.
But then something began to nag my mind. When we’d been up here, James had kissed me. It had been so sudden, so unexpected, that I hadn’t felt much at the time. But now, I really thought about it. I remember the gentle way his hands had held my face, cradling it carefully. His lips had been warm and soft, tender in the way that they’d pressed against mine. I ran my hand over my own mouth absentmindedly. There had been a sort of heat, a tingling shock that my distraught mind had overlooked. It had been a good kiss, I realized.
I dropped my head into my hands. What was the matter with me? I had decided that I couldn’t date James. I can’t handle the change and I need him as my friend. So why am I dwelling on this?
I glanced around outside again. I blinked in shock when I saw that darkness had fully descended, stars twinkling in the sky. How could that much time already have passed?
I carefully edged my way back inside, placing my feet on the floor. I really didn’t want to go back to Ravenclaw Tower. I mean, I still need to see Zeke and Blake, but I couldn’t bear to see Lessie again. Just the thought of her made me want to punch her. I can’t go back to my dormitory. So I guess there’s really only one place for me to go.
Walking through the corridors, I realized that a lot more time had gone by than I’d thought. It was already way past curfew and most people were in bed by now. I quickened my pace, keeping care to move swiftly and silently. Then, for the second time that day, I approached the portrait of the Fat Lady and entered the Gryffindor common room.
I trekked up the stairs to the sixth year boys dormitory, carefully pushing open the door. All the boys were already in bed, soft snores coming from two of the beds. I tip toed over to James’ bed, gently shaking him awake.
“Huh? Wha- Val? What are you doing here?” he whispered sleepily.
“Can I stay here tonight?” I asked hesitantly.
He blinked, becoming fully awake and sitting up. “What?”
I looked down at my feet. “It’s just, I really don’t want to go back to my own room – not tonight, at least – and there’s really no other place I could think of to go, so…”
“No, no, it’s fine, yeah. You can stay,” James said hastily. “Yeah, just take my bed.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he brought his hand up to cover it. “No arguments, just do it.”
I smiled at him gratefully as he got out of his bed, conjuring up a mattress for himself, complete with sheets, blankets, and a pillow. He scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. “Er, do you need anything? I mean, like to sleep in, or something…” He trailed off, casting a doubtful look at the jeans and sweater I was currently wearing.
“Oh, yeah, that’d be great,” I said, not meeting his eyes. “I should’ve have grabbed something myself before coming here.”
“No, it’s fine. Here.” James pulled out a pair of flannel pajama pants with a pattern of Quaffles on them and a baggy Gryffindor t-shirt.
I smirked at him, trying to regain a semblance of normalcy. This was just so awkward. “You do realize I’d be a traitor for wearing this?”
“I can find you something different if you’d like,” he fretted, fidgeting. So much for acting normal.
“Nah, it’s okay. I was just joking.”
He nodded jerkily. “Right. Er, bathroom’s right over there…”
I walked away, frowning. What was going on with us? We’d shared the sitting room at his grandparent’s for nearly the entire holiday. But now it felt weird to sleep in his dorm? Was it because there are other people in the room?
I changed into the pants quickly, but stared at the shirt briefly. On the back of the shirt “Potter” was written in gold lettering, along with his Quidditch number. There was a strange stirring in my stomach as I looked at it. I was wearing James’ clothes.
After exchanging my sweater for the shirt, I walked out of the bathroom. James was on his mattress, glancing around the room restlessly. He looked at me when I came over and cleared his throat. He took a moment to stare at me, his eyes taking in his clothes on my body. I saw his Adam’s apple bob up and down for a moment. “Okay then. Er… goodnight?
“Yeah,” I said faintly. “Goodnight.”
I got into his bed, feeling slightly dazed. I didn’t like this. There was a weirdness between James and I, something that hadn’t been there before. Something that had shown up after he and I almost kissed.
I shifted slightly, rolling onto my side. I had told myself I couldn’t fall for James because it would change things. If things stayed the same, I’d be okay. I was happy existing like I had been, with James as my best friend and everyone oblivious to my life. But now my family knew about everything and my former friends knew about Joy.
Things had changed. And I wished more than anything that they hadn’t.
I had a lot of difficulty with this chapter. I’ve been sick and having writers block. The words just didn’t want to come. But now, I’ve been hit with inspiration and finished this chapter in just a couple hours. But I wish I hadn’t had that inspiration.
Today (August 30, 2012) is the six year anniversary of the death of my close friend, Kellsey. She was the first real loss I’ve ever experienced in life and the reason this story exists in the first place. A lot of what I’ve written is inspired by what I went through after her death. So now, I just want to take this moment in this Author’s note to remember her. And to remind you all not take any of your loved one’s for granted. You never know when you’ll lose them.
Thank you for reading.