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Chapter 24: Shake It Out
It took a fair bit of persuading, but I think Professor McGonagall could see how broken I was. She’s not blind to the goings-on around Hogwarts, after all. Only an idiot wouldn’t have known about the fallout between James and me a few weeks ago. So in the end, she once again gave me permission to go home over the weekend.
I took the Knight Bus back to Ireland. To Roscrea. It dropped me off in front of my house on Montevideo Road. My house was fairly quaint, I suppose, located in a part of the town with older buildings. It was a two-story stone building, with the clichéd ivy climbing up one side of the building. It did look rather pretty, though. The gardens were bare, the flowers waiting for the warm breath of spring air before they would burst from their earthen confines. Ireland in spring is really one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. But right now, it’s still winter. Though there aren’t the blankets of snow that lie around Hogwarts, there is a bit of a chill to the air.
I stared up at the house, a fairly non-threatening structure, with dread curdling in my stomach. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this, but I knew I had to be. I can’t live my life like I have been any more. There comes a point when a person realizes that enough is enough. It’s time to move on.
I walked up to the door and hesitated for a split-second before grasping the burnished iron knocker – how stereotypical – and carefully rapping it against the thick wooden door. Taking deep, slow breaths, I waited nervously until the door swung open and I was greeted by my dad, his eyes widening in shock as he saw me.
“Hi Dad,” I said quietly, almost shyly, before he had a chance to speak. “Do you think I could stay here for the weekend?”
Wordlessly, he swung the door open wider, allowing me inside.
“Who’s at the door, Liam?” I heard my mum call from the kitchen. I braced myself for her shock when she walked into the room. She stared at me for a moment, just as speechless as Dad.
I smiled tentatively. “Hi, Mum.”
Talking with Rhiannon made me realize how foolish I’ve been. Fear is a stupid reason for a person to stop living their life. And that’s exactly what I’d been doing. I had been paralyzed by my fear of losing those I love that I had actually started to fear love itself. And I was still afraid. Part of me thinks I’ll always be afraid. But maybe I can learn to ignore it. I have enough regrets in my life. I don’t need any more.
“Val,” my dad breathed, finally finding his voice. My mum stared at me for a moment longer before launching herself at me and gripping me in a fierce hug. I closed my eyes as I inhaled her familiar scent. Mum’s been wearing the same honeysuckle-scented perfume for as long as I can remember. I felt myself instantly relax as I breathed it in. Despite everything that’s happened, I loved my mum.
“I think we should talk,” I said shakily, drawing back. “There are some things I should probably tell you.”
This time, things were different. I think both my parents and I have grown as people since our last, disastrous conversation. For one, I was ready for full disclosure. I didn’t bluntly throw out a very general statement about how my life has deteriorated, like I did during the holidays. And they didn’t make brash assumptions about me and how I’d been feeling. Instead, my parents listened and I told them everything. During my explanation of how my life’s been since Joy died, I could see at several points where they’d want to say something or stop me. But I just kept going, letting the words pour out of me. I told my parents the story of my life over the past six and a half years. And it felt good.
I spoke for over an hour. I didn’t leave anything out. I told them everything I had told James and much more. I told them about this year in the most detail, about how James found a way to get past my walls and make me feel safe. And how I found myself falling in love with him, but was too blinded by fear to see it or accept it. Last, I told them about our fight and how it was like Joy’s loss all over again.
“So please, Mum and Dad,” I implored, “I need your help. I know that I said some things to you last month that I shouldn’t have and I’m sorry. But I love you both and I… I need you to help me to… stop needing people so much.”
They were both crying. It probably hadn’t been easy to hear, the fact that your daughter was so messed up because of the death of your other daughter. But somehow, they also seemed rather unfazed. Like they had… almost expected some of the things they had heard. So I asked them about that.
“Why don’t you seem more, I don’t know, surprised or something?” I asked them.
They exchanged glances and Dad reached forward to gently grab my hand. “We got a letter about three weeks ago,” he said.
“It was from you friend James,” Mum told me. I gaped at her and she smiled wryly. “He was worried about you and thought we… deserved to know about some of the things that had been going on in your life. He said in the letter that while it really wasn’t within his right to tell us, he felt he needed to do something. He just wanted to help you.”
I furrowed my brow, trying to assemble my now jumbled thoughts. There was a time when I probably would have been offended, outraged at what James had done. He really didn’t have a right to tell my parents what they should have heard directly from me, but in a way, I was almost glad he had done it. If nothing else, it tells me how much he cares. Or at least, how much he used to care. I don’t know if he still feels that way anymore.
I pushed the thoughts away. This weekend wasn’t about James. It was something I would have to deal with, and soon, but it wasn’t my current priority. This weekend was going to be about leaving the past in the past and moving forward with my life. It was about change.
And it was time for the first one. Looking both my parents in the eyes, I asked them something I’d never done before. “Will you come visit Joy’s grave with me?”
The trip to the graveyard with my parents – the first one I’ve ever taken with them – was only the tip of the iceberg. It had been an emotion filled event that felt almost cleansing, but there was still so much left for me to do. That night, I gathered every bit of my practically non-existent to prepare myself for what I was about to do. When it came to be time for bed, I had my parents come into my room.
“Okay, so you know how… I haven’t spent the night in my bed since Joy died?” I started, to which they nodded gravely. I think that one had really upset Mum. “Well, it’s time to change that. But… I – I don’t think I can do it on pure will alone.”
It was hard to admit that, the fact that I was still too weak to fix myself without help. I wanted to be strong and independent, but it was something that was going to take time. And if I wanted my fresh start, I was going to have to accept help.
“What do you need, Val?” Dad asked gently.
Pulling out my wand, I flicked it thrice, causing the window to lock magically, a lock to appear on the outside of my door, and a key to appear in my hand. I held up the key. “I need you to lock me in here. I’m going to want to leave, not stay in this room, I already know that. But I need to spend the night here.”
I gave my mum the key and my dad my wand. “Take these. Lock me in here with that and don’t let me out until the morning. You have my wand, so there’s no way I can get out of the door or the window. I have no choice but to stay in here until you unlock the door.”
Mum frowned. “Are you sure you want to do this, Val? It seems a bit extreme.”
“It is extreme,” I agreed. “But it’s the only way.”
They both hugged me goodnight and told me they loved me and that they were proud. As they left, a click sounding when they locked the door, I felt a smile spread across my face. Since Joy died, Mum and Dad have been fairly scarce on telling my siblings and me that they love us. Probably as a side effect of their own grief. But hearing it now… it felt good. I may not have a perfect relationship with my parents, but it’s on the mend. Right now, that’s good enough for me.
I looked around the room, my brief moment of levity fading. If I was going to be honest with myself, I was absolutely terrified to sleep here tonight. There was a reason I’d been refusing to do so for so long. My eyes fell on Joy’s bed. It was exactly the same as it was the morning of our tenth birthday. The sheets were rumpled, the coverlet pushed back. There was even a slight indentation in the pillow from where her head used to rest. I’d insisted that no one touch a thing in our room after Joy died. And they’d listened, even after all this time. Perhaps, on some level, they really did notice that there was something wrong with me.
I frowned at the dust that lingered on the bed. When I got my wand back in the morning, I’d clear it away. Magic would be much more thorough, although I’m technically not supposed to use it outside of school, being sixteen and all.
I continued to stare at Joy’s bed, moving closer. Upon further inspection, I found one dark brown hair clinging to the pillow. I felt a sting behind my eyes, but I didn’t cry. There comes a point, I think, when tears just aren’t enough. The pain and the sadness that you feel are so intense, so vast, that crying just won’t do it justice. That’s how I felt as my eyes beheld that one last organic remnant of my own flesh and blood.
“Stop it,” I whispered to myself. “You’re stronger than this. If you want to move on and get better, you need to cut out the parts that hurt.”
And that’s what I did. I cut out my aching heart when I reached for the crumpled sheets and stretched them to cover the whole bed, smoothing out the wrinkles. Then I grabbed the bedspread and did the same. Last, I flipped the pillow over.
Joy’s bed was now neatly made, without a single crease to show that a young girl had once slept there. I sank slowly to the floor, tucking my legs up against my chest and resting my chin on my knees. It was such a small change, straitening up the bedclothes. But it made all the difference. Because it was a start. My new start.
I had a restless night, I will admit. I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be easy, but things seem a lot harder when you wake up in the morning after getting only about two hours of sleep. Especially when you’re just starting to recover from depriving yourself from sleep. But I made progress, and the rest I’ll just have to try and shake off.
I’d spend most of the night pacing around the room, trying to avoid looking at Joy’s newly made bed. There were many time throughout the night when I’d regretted my decision. I know that it was for the better, but in a way grief is like a drug. It consumes you, floods your veins, and twists you until you aren’t really sure who you are anymore. It possesses you like a bitter spirit, filling you with dark energy. But you just can’t help but take another hit, reawaken the pain because it seems easier than giving it up. You might want to quit, desire it with every fiber of your being, but a part of you can’t give up the misery. Your pain is your escape from the real world and confronting who you are without it.
It’s not something that would make sense to anyone who hasn’t felt it themselves. It’s easy to say “Can’t that person see what they’re doing to themselves? Why can’t they just give it up?” The fact of the matter is change is a frightening thing. Once you acclimate yourself to something, even something that’s entirely self-destructive, it’s so difficult to give it up. And that’s what it felt like, looking at Joy’s bed. Looking at it was like another shard of pain, another dose of my drug. It felt like I’d destroyed one of the last tangible pieces of evidence that my sister had existed, lived in this house.
That pain I would get from regretting my decision was, in a way, almost comforting. I was used to this sadness. It had become my life. Ridding myself of this toxin, finding happiness, that was unknown. And even if I knew it was good for me, I almost didn’t want to do it.
But in the end, you just have to let life happen. There is suffering and despair, but there is also elation and hope. You have to take the good with the bad and find the balance. Then you can find your rest. And so I did, although in my case, it was more literal that metaphorical. Towards the end of the night – technically early morning – I was able to turn my back on Joy’s bed, ignore it, and sleep.
I think my parents were shocked when they walked into the room that morning. They definitely hadn’t expected me to straighten up Joy’s bed. In fact, I think they may have even been as upset by its sight as I had been throughout the night. Perhaps they had left it like it was so long because they felt the same way as I did.
“How are you?” Mum asked quietly. She was trying hard to take notice of all my feelings, an effort I legitimately appreciated.
“Tired,” I said honestly. “I didn’t get much sleep last night… but I think it’ll go better tonight.”
Both my parents nodded. Dad eyed me carefully. “What are your plans for today? How can we help you?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, squeezing my eyes shut. Shake it out, I told myself. You know what you need to do next. So do it.
I looked at Mum and Dad. They were watching me so attentively, trying to observe every detail. I felt a bitter stab of regret, one very different than the one caused by the sight of Joy’s bed. Now, I was regretting shutting my parents out for so long. I don’t think they know who I am. I certainly don’t really know who they are. We’d lost the parent-child connection long ago, through both their fault and mine. But it’s never too late to fix things.
“I think it’s time that we go through Joy’s old things,” I said. “I need to move on, and I can’t do that if I keep insisting we hold on to everything from when she was alive.”
Once again, they both nodded, beyond words. I realized this was going to be just as much as an undertaking for them as it would be for me.
I can’t tell you how long we spend going through everything that had once been Joy’s. My mum burst into tears the moment we opened up her old wardrobe of clothing, and I very nearly joined her. We sorted through all her old clothes, dividing it up into piles. Some of it we decided we would give away. There was no need for it all, really. But some was packed up into boxes to be stored in the attic. Just because we’re letting go, doesn’t mean we have to give it all up.
Next, we went through many of her personal keepsakes and trinkets. We kept all of these, but once again packed them up for storage. It took longer than expected because my parents and I kept reminiscing as we went through everything. Looking at a certain shirt would remind us of some of things we did when Joy wore it, or we would recall where she got a certain necklace or souvenir. There was a lot more laughter than I thought there would be, but that was okay. I think we all were able to appreciate Joy’s life a little more after that.
After several hours, we stared around the transformed room. We had put away Joy’s desk and wardrobe, leaving only her bed. I wanted it there, as a reminder. It was like a physical manifestation of what I’d gone through and what I still had to overcome. But I was feeling more up to the challenge than ever.
“Thanks for everything,” I told my parents. “I… I know this wasn’t easier for you, either. But I really appreciate it.”
Mum smiled at me gently and Dad pulled me in for a brief hug. I have to admit, I felt closer to them than I ever had before after that day. But I also knew that my next step was something I’d have to take alone. So, after a brief – and very late – lunch, I sat in my room alone, staring at the trunk I’d brought with me from Hogwarts in slight trepidation.
The first thing I took out of my trunk were the photo albums. I ran my hand over the leather cover of the top one, feeling an odd sort of determination. Like everything else in my life, I’d been avoiding looking at pictures of Joy. But, like everything else in my life, it was time for that to change.
I nearly slammed the book shut again when my eyes fell upon that first picture. I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten that we had been perfectly identical at birth. Were it not for the caption, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out which one of the newborns was me and which was Joy. It was disturbing to realize I’d let the fact that Joy was once blonde, blue-eyed, and pale slip my mind. But the evidence was sitting right in front of me, cradled on my lap.
I flipped through the pages, watching us grow and change, Joy especially. In the back of my mind, I wondered how it was possible for us to be identical in all aspects but coloring. Having the exact same features would suggest that we were identical twins, but since Joy was dark and I was light, that would be indicative of being fraternal. It didn’t make sense.
I pushed the thought out of my mind as I continued. That wasn’t the point of this. A smile found its way onto my face as perused all the old photo albums. I had thought this would hurt, be almost unbearable. It was the reason I hadn’t looked at these for years. Don’t get me wrong, it did hurt, but it didn’t have the same sinisterly addictive quality as looking at Joy’s bed last night had had. And to me, that meant only one thing: I was healing.
The pictures were only a stepping stone to the real task, though. I’d seen Joy’s face in my head so often that seeing it captured in a picture wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. But there really wasn’t anything that could prepare me for what was coming next. I reached into my trunk and pulled out the never opened present Joy had gotten me for our tenth birthday.
I ripped the paper off before I could second guess myself. As the paper tore, I felt a similar tearing in my chest. Once again, I had to cut out my broken, mutilated heart. It was the only way to get a new, undamaged one. Maybe I would find it inside this box.
My hand shook slightly as I opened the unwrapped box, no idea in my mind as to what would be in it. I slightly strangled gasp forced its way up my throat as I beheld the present. It was a beautiful necklace, with a delicate chain and large, heart-shaped locket. Engraved onto the face of the heart was an intricate letter. Staring at it, I figured it was a “T” for Tina, but it could easily have passed for an “F.”
I ran my hand over the shining locket, feeling the smooth, slightly cold metal. It had been sitting idle for years, but it was still the most beautiful piece of jewelry I’d ever seen. Popping open the locket, I saw two pictures staring back at me. In one side was my face, and in the other was Joy’s. It was absolutely perfect.
Glancing in the box again, I saw a folded piece of paper, slightly yellowed with age. I unfolded it and smiled at the sight of Joy’s childish handwriting. It read:
Happy birthday to you! And to me, hee hee. I saw this at Mr. Sheehan’s shop and knew I had to get it for you. It was supposed to be super expensive, but Mr. Sheehan gave it to me real cheap, cause he likes us so much. Isn’t that nice of him? We should do something to thank him. He even put the pretty letter on it for me! Or for you, I guess. It’s supposed to look like both a T and an F. Cause even though you’ll always be my Tina, you are Faith too. Love you sissy!
I didn’t realize that I was crying until the tears dripped down onto the note. I had said before that I was done with crying, that I was out of tears. What I didn’t realize was that I could cry out of happiness. Because there was no denying the… the joy that filled me because of that gift, that note. Clasping the locket around my neck, I felt it settle just below my collarbone. I knew it was going to stay there for a long, long time.
Patrick Sheehan was possibly the nicest man to ever walk the Earth. He owned a small jewelry store that was less than a three minute walk from my house. Joy and I used to go and look at all the pretty things he had there when we were kids. Mr. Sheehan had never been married, but always wanted kids, so he was always absolutely delighted when we would come by. He doted on us endlessly and we saw him as a sort of second father. We would bring him flowers or cookies, I would draw him pictures and Joy would sing him songs. And he would let us try on whatever jewelry we wanted.
I haven’t been to see him since Joy died. I’ve seen him around the town, sure, but I’ve never actively sought him out or visited the store. There were too many memories and I couldn’t even bear the thought of it. But now, with Joy’s locket securely fastened around my neck, I figured it was time for me to stop by.
I stared up at the familiar sign outside the store. It was wooden and weather, with peeling paint that read “Sheehan’s Fine Jewelry.” I wave of nostalgia washed over me and my lips quirked up faintly. The bell that’d been there for as long as I could remember rang out cheerfully as I pushed the door open.
The shop was devoid of customers and Mr. Sheehan looked up eagerly from behind the counter. Elated shock shone on his face when his eyes fell on me and he grinned. Everything about him seemed so familiar, he hadn’t changed a bit. He still had thick, curly black hair and the omnipresent stubble on his cheeks. His steely blue eyes still crinkled up when he smiled his crooked grin and his face looked leathery and weathered, but young at the same time. He hadn’t changed a bit.
“Tina Sullivan!” he exclaimed eagerly. I flinched almost imperceptibly at the use of my former nickname. As I hadn’t seen him much since Joy’s death, he’d never learned that I don’t go by Tina anymore. I didn’t correct him.
“Is that really you,” Mr. Sheehan asked, coming out from behind the counter and smiling at me. “You’ve gotten so tall! Why, you must be as tall as your father now. And you’re far lovelier than I remember. I’ve missed having you around here, badgering me all the time.”
I grinned. Same old Mr. Sheehan. “Hold on now,” I protested, “what’s this ‘badgering’ nonsense? You used to practically beg my parents to let me come down and see you.”
“That’s true,” he acceded. “You were quite the delight to have around here. But it’s been awhile! Far too long, I must say. I know you’re all busy, off at that fancy boarding school you and your siblings all went to, but surely you couldn’t have forgotten about little old me?”
I grimaced sheepishly. “Sorry about that, Mr. Sheehan. It just… didn’t feel right to come down anymore.”
He nodded gravely. “Aye, I can understand that. But I’m glad you’re here now. But speaking of that fancy boarding school, shouldn’t you be there right now?”
“I got permission to visit home for the weekend,” I explained. “There were some important things I needed to do.”
Mr. Sheehan raised an eyebrow. “And one of them was to come see me? Tina, I’m touched.”
“To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t in the original plan,” I admitted. “But then I got this and I had to come by.” I brushed my fingers over the locket gently.
He looked at the locket carefully for a moment before regarding me in surprise. “Why, I remember that locket well. Your sister managed to weasel it out of me for your birthday. But that was over six years ago. What do you mean you just got it?”
I bit my lip. This really wasn’t something I’d planned to tell Mr. Sheehan. But, why not, I guess. “I never got a chance to open the gift before… you know. And I really wasn’t in a sound enough mental state to open it until now. It’s part of the reason why I’m home.”
“Well then, I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said kindly. That was one of the things I loved about Mr. Sheehan. He’s just about the sweetest man in the world and he never pries. I may not have had many things to hide as a child, but I did know that Mr. Sheehan would let me have secrets. I didn’t realize until now just how much I’d missed him.
“Thanks.” I fingered the locket once more, trying to figure out how to bring up the topic. “Mr. Sheehan, what was the original pricing for this locket?”
“That? Why would you like to know?” he asked.
“I’d like to pay you the amount you took off when Joy first bought it,” I told him determinedly. As a nine-year-old, I didn’t understand that Mr. Sheehan’s store wasn’t very prosperous. It was enough for him to live off of, but he certainly didn’t have much luxury. I knew this now, and I wanted to help out the man that had helped make my childhood as wonderful as it was, even if I was just helping in a small way.
But Mr. Sheehan just waved off my offer. “I hardly remember what its original value was. And it doesn’t matter, either way. I don’t want your money.”
“Tina,” Mr. Sheehan said seriously. “You and your sister were a blessing in my life. You wouldn’t know this, but before the two of you started visiting me all the time, I was very unhappy with life. But you and Joy had a way of making everything around you brighter. There is no possible way for me to repay you for what you two did for me, so at least accept this. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Impulsively, I wrapped my arms around Mr. Sheehan and hugged him tightly. He patted my back gently before I let him go. “You really are a wonderful person,” I told him earnestly. “Thank you so much.”
“It’s not a problem,” he replied, waving me off. “But if you’d really like to do something for me, you could always stop in for a visit or two this summer.”
I grinned brightly. “You can count on it.”
I slept much easier that night, exhausted from everything that’d happened. The sight of Joy’s bed still made me a bit uneasy, but I was able to ignore it much better than I had the previous night. I went to church with my parents the next morning, another first since Joy’s death. I didn’t pay too close attention to the preacher’s sermon, as I had to continually shake the image of Joy’s coffin out of my head, but I knew that, too, would go away with time.
I spent the day catching up with my parents, getting to know them again. We made another visit to Joy’s grave before I had to go back to Hogwarts. Like I had back in September, I conjured up large bouquets of flowers to decorate the slightly desolate looking plot of earth.
Kneeling down near the headstone, I whispered a goodbye to Joy. “I love you, Joy. You mean so much to me and you always will. But I’m finally letting you rest in peace. I’m letting you go. Thank you for everything. You are the biggest blessing I’ve ever had in my life. And now, I’m going to go figure out how to be happy without you. I love you.”
I hugged my parents before departing on the Knight Bus once more. I promised them I would write to them, and Hope and David as well. I left Roscrea feeling more secure about my relationship with my parents than I ever had before. More importantly, though, I’d learned to trust myself. I knew how to be strong and how to depend on myself. I was going to be happy and I was going to be happy because of me, not other people.
I was more emotionally stable than I had been in years, but I still couldn’t help the small sting of fear that filled me when I was dropped off in Hogsmeade. Waiting in for me in Hogwarts was another mess to sort through. This time, though, I had confidence in myself that I could handle it. I was ready to face James.
Here it is – finally! I don’t know why this chapter was so difficult to write, but it is pretty pivotal. I’m still not super happy with it, but you’ve all waited long enough for this one. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how important this chapter was.
Leave me a review and tell me what you thought. The story is almost over! Right now, I have plans for only two more chapters, possibly three. I can’t believe it’s been a little over seven months since I first started writing this story.
Chapter title is the song “Shake It Out” by Florence + the Machine. It’s an extremely beautiful song and I believe I’ve mentioned it before. It’s very fitting for Val and this chapter, so I recommend you all give it a listen! Thanks for reading!