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Finding Faith by sour_grapes_snape

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 26
Word Count: 109,821
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Fred, Teddy, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Victoire, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/OC, Teddy/Victoire

First Published: 03/20/2012
Last Chapter: 02/10/2013
Last Updated: 02/10/2013

Summary:
Beautiful banner by nostalgia @ tda




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When grief is a constant factor in you life, opening up to people can be a little difficult. In fact, it's utterly impossible, so you shut them out instead. And no one, not even James Potter, can change that. But then again, sometimes you just need to find a little faith.
 
 
 
 


Chapter 1: Joy
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          My name seems to be one of life’s cruelest forms of irony. In truth, there really wasn’t anything wrong with my name – it wasn’t anything wonky or overly embarrassing, although I’d never really liked it – but when you paired the name to me, it became a complete oxymoron. My name is Faith and I have none.
 

          That is to say, I don’t have any faith. Not anymore, at least. My faith died at about the same time my Joy did. Joy was the name of my twin sister. How cliché, huh? I have an older sister, Hope, and an older brother, David.
 '

          Now, before you complain about David’s name, my psychotic parents named him David because they couldn’t think of an awful name for him, something that would match Hope, the oldest of us four, like Joy and Faith did. So they called him David for the express purpose of giving him the nickname Dave. Why? Because it rhymes with brave. Gag me.


 

          My mom’s a Muggle, but dad is a Squib. Hope, David, and I all received magical ability. Joy didn’t. Maybe that’s why she got leukemia.


 

          It probably seems odd, Joy and I being twins, but only me being a witch. Well, we’re fraternal. We look absolutely nothing alike. Joy got the same lightly tanned skin, glossy dark hair, and rich brown eyes as the rest of our family. I was the weirdo with the blond hair, blue eyes, and skin so white I made snow look grey.


 

          Looks were pretty much the only difference between Joy and I. We both had the same bubbly outlook on life, propensity for sarcasm, and charming wit. We did everything together and everyone who met us loved us instantly. We were best friends.


 

          Then Joy died.


 

          It was very sudden. Joy and I were celebrating our tenth birthday with our family. We had all just finished eating our birthday cake and Joy and I had begun opening presents. We started off by exchanging the gifts we had gotten each other. I clearly remember Joy giggling as she handed me my present.


 

          “This one is special, made just for you, Tina.”
 

          Tina. That was the special nickname Joy had for me. I’d always hated my name, even before it had the connotations it now has, so Joy began calling me Tina, derived from my middle name, Valentina. Slowly, the rest of my family began calling me Tina as well, but it always meant more coming from Joy. My Joy.


 

          I had taken the gift from her and had just begun to tear the paper when it happened. Joy collapsed onto all fours, vomiting blood, before falling unconscious. My parents rushed us all to the hospital, Hope and David trying to calm me down as I screamed and cried hysterically, clutching Joy’s hand desperately. I let go frantically when I saw the bruises blossoming from under my vice like grip. 
 

          The doctors told us that Joy had developed leukemia, cancer of the blood. Apparently, in chronic cases, warning signs and symptoms won’t always appear. It was an extremely severe case. Joy died two weeks later.

 
 

          I spent those 14 days in the hospital, never leaving Joy’s side. I can remember praying and praying, promising to do anything, give anything, as long as my sister would be healthy again. As Joy’s condition grew worse, my praying intensified, but my faith wavered. On the last day, Joy took my hand, pain clouding her eyes, and said, “I love you, Tina.”


 

          Tears streamed relentlessly from my eyes as I stared into hers, silently begging her not to leave me. Slowly, the light began to leave Joy’s eyes and her fingers slackened around mine. Her harsh, labored breathing slowly stilled and all forms of life deserted her. Joy died and I felt myself die alongside her. 
 

          Ever since that day, I’ve gone by Val, and I swore I would never again put my faith in anyone or anything.

 
 

          I started Hogwarts the next year as a changed girl. By no means was I a bitter harpy. I was still mostly myself, nothing drastic enough to make my parents overly worried. I just smiled less, laughed rarely, and my sarcasm had more bite. I still charmed those around me, but I had grown more reserved, never really opening up and sharing myself with those around me. If anything, my aloofness drew others to me even more. Everyone in the school loved the mysterious, delightful little girl with the grace and presence of a woodland fairy.


          I did eventually allow people to get close to me. I acted like I used to be, cheerful and outgoing. No one knew that it was just a cover. That's the way I wanted it to be. I told Hope and David not to spread word about the loss. Their friends knew, of course, but I wanted it kept from the whole school. I didn't need the pity.
 
 

          I joined my brother and sister in Ravenclaw. I excelled in my classes, quickly becoming the top student in my year. In my second year, I joined the Quidditch team as a Chaser, became the highest scorer in third year, and helped Ravenclaw win the Quidditch Cup my fourth and fifth year.


 

          I had a large group of friends, but I didn't actually feel close to any of them. I dated a little, but never had any serious boyfriends. On the outside, I seemed a popular, brilliant, athletic girl, full of life and loved by all. But in reality, I just existed, my soul twisted and dark, withering away in the absence of my Joy. My true self was long gone, I was merely a shell of who I used to be, a mockery of the personality that Joy and I once shared. No one really knew me, not the real me.
 

          After Joy died, I built up walls around myself, protecting myself. Every time I closed my eyes, I'd see Joy’s beautiful face, wasting away as she died, wracked with pain as her body destroyed itself. I kept myself contained so I would never love someone like I loved her ever again. If I didn’t love anyone, I wouldn’t have to have faith. My faith was gone and I planned on keeping it that way. No one could break down my walls.


 

          That is, until James Sirius Potter came crashing into them like a wrecking ball.


Chapter 2: On the Platform
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       I pushed my way through the crowd of strangers surrounding me, weaving between people exchanging farewells and receiving greetings. Most people would find it odd, how much more at ease I felt, encompassed by people I had never before seen in my life than I did around the people I called my friends. But then again, I didn’t have to pretend for these people. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know what I was hiding.
 

         My parents trailed behind me as I found my way to the barrier between platforms 9 and 10. Glancing around me at the Muggles at King’s Cross, I surreptitiously slipped through the wall, entering onto Platform 9 ¾. I had barely made it a few steps when I heard a loud, high-pitched squeal assault my eardrums.
 

         “VAL!”
 

         A small figure jumped at me, catching me in a ferocious hug. I laughed, setting Alessia Karalis back onto the ground before giving her a proper hug.

 

         “Lessie! I missed you, you little Greek fireball.”
 

         Lessie grinned up at me. At only 5’2”, she was about as petite as they come, with gently waving, deep brown hair. But what she lacked in stature she more than made up in enthusiasm.


 

         “Oh my Merlin, Val, I missed you too! So much, I can’t even begin to tell you. Seriously, life just sucks without you!”


 

         I smiled. “Oh, shut up. You live in Greece, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and you have more family than I have hair on my head.”
 

         Lessie glared at me playfully, before shoving me with all the might her tiny body could muster. Unfortunately for her, I was abnormally tall, at 6’1”, and rather strong from all my years of Quidditch training. Therefore, when she tried to push me, she actually sent herself stumbling backwards a few steps, whereas I didn’t move an inch. She huffed as I started laughing.
 

         “Do mine eyes deceive me? An angel has fallen down from heaven and landed right in front of me!” exclaimed a deep voice from behind me.


 

         I spun around and was met by the grinning sight of Mikolas Karalis, Alessia’s younger brother. He was a fifth year and looked exactly like Lessie, except he was over a foot taller than her and his eyes were a chocolate brown, unlike Lessie’s sea green ones. 
 

         “Hey, Mike,” I greeted him warmly, throwing my arms around him in a hug. Then a slapped him on the back of the head. “And flattery will get you nowhere, you prat."
 

         Mike laughed, leaving one arm around my shoulder. “Well, you’re just as sweet as ever Val. Really, how can you stand being so kind-hearted and nurturing?"
 

         I opened my mouth to reply, but Lessie cut across me before I could say anything. “Remove your arm from around my friend, or I swear to Merlin I will bite it off. I love you little bro, but Val is way too good for you."
 

         “Hey!” Mike protested. “That is… completely true actually. She’s too good for everyone.”


 

         I rolled my eyes. “Now you two are being ridiculous. I’m only too beautiful for this ugly mug. That’s all,” I said with a cheeky grin at Mike.
 

         “Oho, is someone a little full of themselves now? What would ever give you that idea?”
 

         I smirked. “Maybe our first meeting? Not forgotten that, have you?”
 

         Mike blushed, muttering under his breath about being young and foolish.
 

         I first met Mike after finishing my first year at Hogwarts. Lessie, ever the little ball of eagerness, had dragged me over to meet her entire family. While her three older siblings trailed behind us, I was introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Karalis and their five children too young to attend Hogwarts. The Karalis family had apparently taken the stereotypical large Greek family to the extremes. Rhea, Lessie’s sister who was now a third year, was watching the triplets, who would be starting Hogwarts this year. Mike was standing with his parents, looking at the Hogwarts Express with hunger before Lessie and I made our way over there.


 

         I made quick work in charming Mr. and Mrs. Karalis. Adults always loved me and Alessia’s parents were no exception. However, they weren’t the only one I had charmed. As soon as I began talking with them, Mike had looked over at me and went into apparent shock. His eyes were wide and his mouth was agape. He stared at me unblinkingly as a pink flush slowly crept onto his face. In his defense, I was rather pretty. I don’t mean to sound conceited, it was just a fact. I may have hated that I looked absolutely nothing like the rest of my family, but there was no denying that it worked for me. My blond hair fell just past my waist, and it seemed to glow in sunlight. My eyes were a vibrant turquoise, clear and sparkling, and my skin could make snow look gray.
 

         Always polite, I introduced myself to Mike with a gentle smile, causing his entire face to glow a brighter red. When I asked him his name, he just continued staring, making a strangled, choking noise. His parents had laughed, introducing him as Mikolas. At the use of his full name, Mike had cringed and glared at them, bypassing red and turning purple. Lessie piped up at that moment, telling me to call him Mike. I had turned back to him and said in a very sweet voice, “Nice to meet you Mike.”
 

         I smiled even bigger, displaying pearly white teeth, and Mike proceeded to throw up. On my shoes. Understandably, he spent his first four months at Hogwarts avoiding me, running in the other direction whenever he saw me. It wasn’t until Lessie convinced him that I wasn’t upset that the two of us were able to become friends. He continued to have a crush on me for a while though, until I went on my first date in the middle of fourth year.
 

         “Aw, is someone a little embarrassed? Poor wittle Mikolas.” I teased, grinning in anticipation for his reaction. He opened his mouth to tell me off, but he was interrupted before he could speak.
 

         “Val! Lessie!”
 

         “Vally-Wally!”
 

         “Sup girlies?”


 

         Jessamy Harrison, Maisie Finnegan, and Rhiannon Moore ran toward us from three different directions. Jess and Rhiannon were fellow Ravenclaws, along with Alessia and I. Maise was a Gryffindor, like Mike.
 

         I turned to Maise first. “Really, May? Vally-Wally? You honestly want to go there? You know I can out ridiculous-nickname you any day.”


 

         She laughed. “Yeah, yeah. Are you going to hug me or not?”
 

         I threw my arms around her in response. May didn’t really get along with Lessie, Jess, and Rhiannon as she did with me. I talked to people from all four houses, but the other three generally kept their circle of friends within Ravenclaw.
 

        While the other girls greeted each other, Mike occasionally interjecting into their conversation, Roxanne Weasley joined Maisie and I. May and Roxy were both Seventh years and were Chasers for Gryffindor. We became friends in my second year after Ravenclaw pulled an upset by beating them in the Quiddich match that year. At first, they disliked me for being the newbie that wiped the field with them, but they soon succumbed to the typical “Val-Charm.” We became great friends after that. Well, they liked me, in any case. I wouldn’t say I’m really close to anyone. Not anymore.


 

         I chatted to May and Roxy for a bit, Alessia, Jessamy, Rhiannon, and Mike hovering on the outskirts, until Roxy’s twin brother, Fred, ambled over.
 

         “Hey, Rox. Mum and Dad wanna say goodbye,” he said, jerking his head back in their parents’ direction. Then he dropped a wink at me. “Looking good, Val. You just get hotter and hotter every year.”


 

         I laughed, reaching out to tousle his hair. “Thanks, Freddy. I really appreciate your blatant and unrefined flirting.”
 

         “Anything for you, babe,” he smirked, winking again.
 

         Freddy and I had dated for a little bit towards the end of my fourth year. It lasted about three weeks. I date rarely and for short periods of time. I can never let any of the guys I date too close, never open up, and they notice. But that’s fine. I don’t really deserve love and happiness anyways. Fred and I decided that it wasn’t working, but decided to stay friends. The other two guys I went on more than one date with had both been a little bitter, but not Fred.
 

         “Shut up, jilted lover boy and let’s go,” Roxanne said, rolling her eyes and grabbing Fred by the arm.
 

         “See you on the train!” they both simultaneously called back to me.
 

         “Yeah, I should go have one last goodbye with my parents, too,” Maisie smiled.
 

         “Alright, later May!” I waved as she walked away.


 

         “Soooo…” I said, throwing my arms around Rhiannon and Jess, “Notice anything?” I grinned.


 

         Rhiannon shriek and pointed at the badge already pinned on my chest. “You’re Quidditch captain? I knew you would get it! You’re such a brilliant Chaser, Val!” Rhiannon was the Keeper for Ravenclaw and the only one of my fellow dorm mates on the team.
 

         “Congrats, girly,” Jessamy said with a smile. She didn’t really like Quidditch, but was always supportive.
 

         “Well, well, you’d better watch out Val. Gryffindor’s going to be an all new team this year,” Mike smirked at me. He was a Beater. “We have a new captain as well.”


 

         “Who?” I asked curiously. Gryffindor’s captain last year, Drake Hill, had been a bit of an idiot, not utilizing the team’s natural talent to its full ability.
 

         “James Potter,” Mike replied, nodding toward the tall, messy haired boy who was currently hugging his mother goodbye.
 

         I felt my blood run cold. James Potter. No. Anyone but him. I stared at him, a memory flashing through my mind. The cool stone... the breeze from the window... the look on his face when... As I gazed at him in horror, he turned around and immediately locked his eyes with mine. I began drowning in the depths of his hazel eyes and before I knew it, the ground came rushing up to meet me as my knees gave out and everything went black.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

AN
 

Dun dun dun! Overly dramatic? Maybe. Do I care? Absolutely not. Sorry this took a while, I wrote it in two different parts and I left the first part at school over a four-day weekend. The good news is right now, chapters three and four are both finished! So they’ll be up soon. And chapter five is currently in progress.
 

Big shout out to TwinkleStarx for leaving me my very first review. You rock! Anyways, I decided I’ll leave a little preview for Chapter Three for you, since you totally made my day when you wrote the review.
 

         A familiar head of messy black hair passed outside our compartment, and I jumped as James looked in, directly at me. Confrontation seemed evident in his eyes, as though he was just waiting for something to happen between us.
 

Disclaimer: I am not British. I do not have millions and millions of dollars. Therefore, I am not J.K. Rowling and do not own Harry Potter.
 

Also, big thanks to the band, Fleetwood Mac, for the name Rhiannon. I think I’ll go listen to that song right now…


Chapter 3: The End of Avoidance
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          I came to after about three minutes – apparently I hit my head, judging from its throbbing – and there was a surprisingly large crowd gathered worriedly around me. My parents, Lessie, Mike, Jessamy, and Rhiannon were in a tight circle around me, looking anxious. Other friends had gathered about me as well, Priscilla Macmillan, Lorcan and Lysander Scamander, Rachelle Demoux, and various others. Maisie, Roxy, and Fred had rejoined the group. But most surprising was the man currently bending over me, concern showing in his vivid green eyes. Harry Potter.


 

 
 


 

          The electric green sparkled as he looked at me. “That was quite the little tumble you took there. How’re you feeling?” 
 
 


 

          “Al-alright,” I mumbled, glancing around me. James stood on the outside of the group with the rest of his family. I met his eyes briefly and his gaze was inscrutable. I looked away quickly.
 
 


 

          “Any idea what happened?” Mr. Potter asked, still looking a bit fretful.
 
 


 

          I swallowed nervously, still fighting back the flashback that had put me in this situation. “Just felt a little faint. The heat, you know?”
 


 

 


 

          “You sure that’s all?”
 
 


 

          “I didn’t have much of a breakfast, either,” I said, still not meeting his eyes.


 

 

 

          Mr. Potter smiled at me, before looking around at the group of people crowded around me. “Alright people, let’s back it up. Poor girl needs room to breathe.”


 

 

 

          I murmured an embarrassed thanks to him as he helped me up. Everyone backed away except my parents, who rushed forward, my mother looking slightly frantic.




 

 

          “Oh, sweetie, are you okay? Are you sick? If you don’t feel well we can take you to the hospital. I’m sure Headmistress McGonagal would arrange something for you,” my mother fussed, simultaneously trying to take my pulse and assess my temperature by laying her hand on my forehead.


 

 


 

 


 

          “I’m fine, Mum,” I muttered. “Like I said, it’s just the heat, not enough to eat…” I trailed off as my dad placed a hand on my shoulder.




 

 

          “Are you sure?” he asked, looking me in the eye seriously. “You know fainting can often be indicative of… other things.”




 

 

          Joy’s crumpled body, surrounded by her blood on our living room floor on our tenth birthday flashed into my mind. I blanched, feeling the darkness, the… the hopelessness seize a tighter hold around me. I glared at my dad. “I said, I’m fine.


 

 

 

          My dad flinched at the sudden venom in my voice and my mum looked on the verge of tears. I shrugged off my dad’s hand before turning back to Mr. Potter.
 
 


 

          “Thank you for your help, Mr. Potter,” I said, heaving a charming smile onto my face with a bit of difficulty. How dared my dad bring up Joy…

 


 

          “No problem,” he replied, looking slightly confused and more than a little curious. “Just eat some chocolate on the train – it’ll make you feel better. You were lucky you didn’t get a concussion from the hit you took to your head. It’ll just be a little sore for a bit. You should also probably have Madam Pomfrey take a look at you, just in case.”




 

 

          I nodded as he walked back to his own family. I looked at my parents for a moment before briefly hugging them both. “I’ll write to you, give Hope and David my love, and I’ll see you at Christmas,” I told them shortly. “Bye.”




 

 

          And before either of them could say a word, I took off to the Hogwarts Express, towing my suitcase and my owl, Mathilda. I know that seems a bit harsh, but my parents should know better. I may have fooled everyone into thinking that I was okay, happy even, but any reference to Joy made me spin. When I’m around, she’s just not mentioned. I can feel her presence – or lack of presence – every second of everyday, tearing at my soul and tormenting me mercilessly. I didn’t need any more reminders.




 

 

          I felt a pair of eyes burning on the back of my head. I tried to ignore it, but the intensity of the gaze compelled me to turn. I looked back and, for the third time today, I stared into the eyes of James Potter. He still wore an unfathomable expression, his eyes clouded with an unknowable emotion. I swallowed, hard, before deliberately turning away and continuing towards the train.




 

 

          After attending the Prefect’s meeting, I quickly found Alessia, Jess, and Rhiannon in a compartment with Blake Rainemen and Zeke Boot, two fellow Ravenclaw Sixth years. I put my truck overhead before taking a seat between Zeke and Rhiannon.




 

 

          And the Goddess has arrived!” cried Blake, causing everyone to roll their eyes. Blake was a notorious flirt, always trying to chat up every moving, breathing female he meets.




 

 

          “Haven’t I told you to stop calling me that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.




 

 

          “But your beauty surpasses that of any mere mortal,” he protested playfully. “How can I not call you that when light and glory shines from your every orifice?”


 

 

 

          I rolled my eyes once more before kicking him in the shin. I said I was charming; I never said I wasn’t violent.

 


 

          “Bloody hell, woman!” Blake groaned, grabbing his leg. “What do you eat? It’s not natural for a girl to be that strong.”

 


 

          “Excuse me?” I smirked. “You want to go there? I can make you cry and you know it.”

 


 

          Zeke scoffed. “A bee sting could make Blake cry. Dude’s a pansy.”




 

 

          “Please, like Val couldn’t make you cry too,” snorted Blake.




 

 

          “Of course she couldn’t!” Zeke exclaimed defensively. “I am a manly man. Therefore, girls do not make me cry. No matter how beastly they are.”


 

 

 

          “Beastly? Oh, you’re definitely asking for it now,” I mock growled, before launching myself at Zeke. He yelped as I crashed into him, and tried to pull away. I seized his arm and twisted it, holding it at a painful angle behind his back.




 

 

          “Ow, Merlin!” Bloody hell, woman, let me go!” Zeke shrieked.




 

 

          “I’m sorry, what was that Mr. Manly Man? I couldn’t hear your girlish cry over the sound of your shattering dignity,” I smirked, tweaking his arm a bit more amidst the giggling of Lessie, Jess, and Rhiannon and the laughter of Blake, which was bordering on hysterical.


 

 

 

          Zeke yelped again before capitulating. “Alright, alright. You can beat up any bloke, any day, with both hands tied behind your back. And you’re not beastly. You’re beautiful and delicate like a rose. A rose with thorns. A lot of sharp, vicious thorns.”


 

 

 

          I let go of his arm and returned to my place next to him, a smug look lingering on my face.


 

 

 

          “You’re my hero, Val,” Jessamy said admiringly.


 

 


 

 


 

          I rolled my eyes. “You guys over exaggerate my ‘glorious’ qualities, you know that? I’m not really as amazing as everyone makes me out to be.”




 

 

          “Whatever you say, Val,” Rhiannon said appeasingly. I just shook my head and looked out the window on the door of our compartment.


 

 

 

          Conversation swirled around me, mostly Blake flattering Lessie outrageously. Jess had pulled out a book, and Zeke, one of Ravenclaw’s Beaters, was discussing Quidditch with Rhiannon. I continued to stare blankly into the corridor, my mind wandering back to the incident on the platform, ignoring Lessie’s frequent glances in my direction.



 
 

 

          James Potter. We really didn’t have much of a past. We were in the same year, but I’d never really talked to him. Sure, I’d dated Fred, his cousin, and was friends with several of his other cousins, but he and I had never really interacted. Until last year, that is. The memory sparked in my brain once more, and I felt it rankle there. I’d managed to push all thoughts of James Potter out of my head over the summer. But now that I was back at Hogwarts, there’d be no avoiding him.




 

 

          A familiar head of messy black hair passed outside our compartment, and I jumped as James looked in, directly at me. Confrontation seemed evident in his eyes, as though he was just waiting for something to happen between us.


 

 

 

          Yeah, this is definitely the end of avoidance.




 
 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



 

 

AN




 

 

So ends chapter three. Hmm, what is this mysterious event that took place between Val and James? So, what do you think? What happened? Also, do you like Lessie? How about the others? There isn’t a lot of interaction between them in this chapter or the next one, but they’ll be around more in chapter five. It will also feature the return of Fred.
 


 

Anyways, here’s another little preview of the next chapter, chapter four!



 
 

 

          “So, do you want to tell me what’s going on between you and James Potter?”



 

 

          “What? What are you even talking about?” I asked in fake confusion, although on the inside I was panicking. “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him before.” That was a lie, of course, but no one knew about the incident last May. There was no reason for Alessia to be suspicious.
 
 


 

Disclaimer: This is Jo’s world. I just wish I lived in it.


Chapter 4: Encounter by the Lake
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          The rest of the train ride passed without incident. I ate some chocolate from the trolley like Mr. Potter told me to and I managed to ignore Alessia’s continued worried glances in my direction. The opening feast went typically, though I could feel more eyes on me than usual. Word of my fainting spell seemed to have spread quickly. Several people from each House had approached me, wondering how I was doing. The aging matron, Madam Pomfrey, had also checked me over, ensuring that I was in good health.
 




 

 




 

          I suppose it’s nice to have a lot of people who like and care about you, but it was all so fake. The girl everyone thought I was… she disappeared six years ago, before any of these people had actually met me. Sometimes I really hate the perfection that everyone seems to think I am. If they knew the real me, the callous, bitter creature I’d become over the years, they’d surely run in the opposite direction.
 
 




 

          Later that night, I was lying in bed, trying to forget the odd way James’d looked at me earlier. I’d thought everyone else was already asleep – it was, after all, well past midnight – when Lessie crawled into my bed beside me. I looked at her in confusion, but she just stared up at the blue hangings above my bed.
 
 




 

          “Lessie… what-“ I began, but she cut in before I could ask her why she was there.

 




 

          “So, do you want to tell me what’s going on between you and James Potter?”

 




 

          “What? What are you even talking about?” I asked in fake confusion, although on the inside I was panicking. “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him before.” That was a lie, of course, but no one knew about the incident last May. There was no reason for Alessia to be suspicious.






 

 

          “Oh, cut the crap,” Lessie scoffed impatiently. I blinked at her in surprise.






 

 

          “I…”
 
 




 

          “On the platform today, you got all weird when Mike mentioned him, and you passed out when James looked you in the eye. He was staring at you all through dinner tonight, too.” Lessie had an accusing glint in her eyes.






 

 

          “A lot of people were staring. They all heard about me fainting. Which, incidentally, has nothing to do with James Potter.” I looked Lessie in the eyes.






 

 

          She looked at me skeptically. “…Right. You know, just because I’m Greek, doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”






 

 

          “What does being Greek have anything to do with a person’s intelligence level?”
 
 




 

          “Nothing.” Lessie paused. “Well, I don’t think so, anyways. I just needed something about me that was unusual to use for an example.”






 

 

          I snorted. Yeah, because there aren’t any Greek people in the world. Except, you know, everyone in Greece.”

 




 

          “Well, how many Greek people are in Hogwarts?” she asked defensively.

 




 

          “Other than you? Hmm, let’s see, how about your six brothers and sisters? Not to mention the three that has left already.”






 

 

          “Yeah, well it’s not my fault I have enough family to rival the Weasleys.” Lessie muttered under her breath. Then she glared at me. “And speaking of the Weasley family, that was a nice attempt to distract me.”






 

 

          I looked her dead in the eyes. “Alessia. There is nothing going on with me and James Potter.” Not right now, anyway. But judging by the looks he’s been giving me, something was going to happen. But I doubt it would be anything like Lessie was insinuating.






 

 

          Lessie’s eyes softened and she sighed. “Alright, if you say so.” She got out of my bed and started to walk away before turning around again. “If there was anything, you know you could tell me, right? You’re my best friend; you can tell me anything.”

 




 

          “Of course. You’d be the first to know. For any guy, not just James Potter.”






 

 

          As Alessia crawled back into her own bed, I felt a wave of guilt crash over me. Best friend. I’d never really applied that term to Lessie and I. But, looking back on the past few years, that must be how it seems to everyone. I certainly spend the most time with her out of everybody else. I tried not to think about how hurt she’d be if she found out how much of my life I hid. She had absolutely no idea about Joy. No one did. Except… never mind. Don’t think about that.






 

 

          I rolled over, still troubled. Maybe… maybe it wouldn’t hurt to open up a little. Let myself need someone. Maybe Lessie and I really could be best friends – no. I can’t. As soon as I let myself need her, trust her, put faith in her… she’d be gone. She’d end up leaving me somehow. Just like Joy. My Joy.

 




 

          I told myself I could never have friends. Not really. And I was going to stick to that decision.




 

 




 

 




 

***
 
 




 

          I awoke early the next day, after a night of fitful sleep plagued by dreams of watching Joy die, again and again, while I did nothing to stop it. I just sat there praying as though it would actually do some good. Who needs faith anyway?






 

 

          As everyone else in my dorm was still sleeping, I dressed quietly, deciding to go for a run before heading to the Great Hall for breakfast. I walked down to the Black Lake, before taking off at a quick jog, pacing myself for several laps around the lake. I had been running for about 20 minutes, building up my endurance level, and wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings, when I suddenly slammed into someone and both of us were sent sprawling to the ground. I landed on top of the other person, smacking my head against a very hard, muscled chest.

 




 

          “Oww,” I moaned before quickly scrambling to get up. “Sorry about that,” I said holding my hand out to the person I had knocked down.

 




 

          I gaped in horror when I was James Potter sitting up, rubbing his chest, and glaring at me. “Bloody hell, can’t you watch where you’re going?”






 

 

          “My apologies,” I muttered as he ignored my proffered hand and heaved himself up from the ground.

 




 

          He scoffed. “’My apologies?’ What is this, the 1800s?”






 

 

          “Well excuse me for having some manners,” I spat. Oh yeah, Lessie, James and I are definitely having an illicit love affair. Please.






 

 

          “Since when do manners include rudely running into someone trying to have a relaxing walk around the lake? Especially when drenched in sweat. Dear Merlin, woman, you look disgusting. Not to mention smell.

 




 

           I clenched my jaw. “It’s called a work out. Maybe if you tried it sometime, Gryffindor wouldn’t suck so much at Quidditch.”

 




 

          Instead of getting angry at my jibe, however, James just smirked. “Well, well, well. Someone isn’t very joyful today, now are they? Did your so called friends finally figure out what a phony you are?”

 




 

          “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, my throat going dry. Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it.






 

 

          “Oh, I think you do,” James replied maliciously. “Not forgotten about our little meeting in the astronomy tower last year, have you? I thought you might be a little more grateful. After all, I did stop you from committing suicide.”






 

 

          I growled. “Shut. Up. You have no idea what you’re talking about. I was NOT going to kill myself, I wasn’t even considering it. I would never do that. You’re just a manipulative creep that thinks he’s God’s gift to the world.” Too bad God would have to exist to do that. But “He” doesn’t. If he did, he wouldn’t have taken Joy away from me.
 
 




 

          James just laughed sinisterly. “Really? So there’s no one you were hoping to join by killing yourself? No one you cared about who you want to see again?” I flinched at his harsh tone. “Oh wait, that’s right. You don’t care about anyone. Never have, am I right? You’re a just a selfish bitch who pretends to care about people, but on the inside, you’re just a soulless, cold-hearted, little slag, who sucks the life out of everyone around you. I don’t know what people see in you.”






 

 

          I felt myself shake with anger. How dare him. How dare he imply that I never cared. My vision flashed red as I once again saw Joy in front of me, her lovely hair falling out from the futile and desperate chemotherapy, her wan, but still beautiful face drawn as she whispered her last words to me. Before I knew what was happening, my fist lashed out so fast it was a blur through the air.

 




 

          CRUNCH

 




 

          My fist crashed into James’ nose, shattering it, and James was once more reacquainted with the dirt. I was breathing heavily, desperately trying and failing to hold back the tears that had begun rolling from my eyes.

 




 

          “You-fucking-little-bastard,” I seethed, my entire body trembling with my rage. “You don’t know a goddamned thing. So shut the fuck up and never, ever, speak to me again.” To make my point clear, I rammed my foot into James’ stomach with all the force I had. He cried out in pain, his breath whooshing out of him. Then, without a backwards glance, I stormed back up to the castle.






 

 

          I found myself a secret little niche on the second floor and, casting a silencing charm around the area, I let the tears flow freely, my whole body wracked with sobs as I begged for my sister. That’s all I wanted. I just need my Joy back.






 

 

          But no one knew about her. Joy was my secret, the secret I could never tell anyone. No one knew my secret. No one could.

 




 

          But the memory from last year, the one I had been suppressing with all my might ever since I saw James at Platform 9 ¾ yesterday overwhelmed me.

 




 

          James Potter knew my secret.






 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 




 

AN
 




 

Wow. That was dramatic. I know James seems like a real jerk right now, but he has his reasons. It’ll all be explained later. Next chapter will feature the return of Val’s other friends and the start of classes. And maybe the full story of what happened between Val and James during fifth year. I haven’t quite decided…
 




 

Anyway, thoughts? What do you think of the relationship between Val and Lessie? Feel sorry for Lessie? Think Val is a jerk?
 




 

Also, Val makes several anti-God/religion/faith statements. She made quite a few in this chapter and will continue to do so for the next several chapters. Just to make things clear, these are NOT my views. I believe myself to be a relatively religious person. Val is just in a very dark place and has spent six years unable to cope with the loss of her sister, the person she most loved in the world. Obviously, she’s going to have some issues.
 




 

And now… another sneak preview!






 

 

          Lessie was looking at me strangely. There was an appraising look to her eyes and her lips were pursed in thought. It was as though she was examining me for any unusual behavior. She was probably trying to see if James’ injured state upset me, since she was clearly still hung up on the idea that he and I were up to something together.
 

 




 

Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to the wonderful, fabulous, and effervescent Joanne Rowling.


Chapter 5: A Strange Request
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          After about 15 minutes of wailing and sobbing, I went off to the nearest bathroom, taking care not to be seen by anyone. After checking that the loo I was in was empty, I looked at myself in the mirror. My tank top was soaked in sweat and my athletic shorts had a grass stain. My long hair was falling out of its ponytail and was a mess from me clutching at it when I was back in the niche. My cheeks were flushed and tearstained and my eyes, normally a bright turquoise, were now a deep, startling blue. They changed colors every time I cry.
 


 

          Basically, I looked like a mess. I washed my face and fixed my hair, taking deep breaths to calm myself. Afterwards, my face was clean, with a slight, lingering pink tinge. If you overlooked the different colored eyes, I just looked like I’d had a thorough workout. Not like I had just been tortured by the ghost of my dead twin sister by James Potter.



          I headed back to my dormitory to take a quick shower before going to the Great Hall. I arrived in time to see Mallory O’Donnell and Evie Stebbins leaving. I smiled at them briefly, keeping my eyes averted, in case they hadn’t returned to their normal hue. While I didn’t spend as much time with Mallory and Evie as I did with Alessia, Jessamy, and Rhiannon, we all got along fairly well. They waved before continuing on their way down the stairs and I entered our room to find my friends putting the finishing touches to their hair and makeup.

 

          “Hey, Val, where have you been?” Jess asked, spotting me in the mirror as she put on her mascara.



 

 

          Lessie, glancing over her shoulder as she tied a blue ribbon in her mahogany hair, smiled at me. “Went a run around the lake? Isn’t it a little soon to start those?”



 

 

          I sighed, avoiding eye contact with any of them and nodded. “Yeah. Let me shower quickly before you guys head out. I’ll be ten minutes.”



 

 

          “Of course you will,” Rhiannon quipped, straightening her skirt. “You spend the least amount of time on your appearance than any of us, but still can’t help but be twice as gorgeous. You can even pull off the sweaty and disgusting look.”



 

 

          I laughed. “Gee, Rhiannon, that’s so flattering. Glad I can make disgusting look sexy.”



 

 

          “Well, you can,” grumbled Jess, shooting me a playful glare.



 

 

          “Oh, whatever.”



 
 

 

***



 
 

 

          Twenty minutes later, the four of us were eating in the Great Hall, halfway finished with our breakfast. We had been joined by Blake and Zeke, as well as a few of our other friends in seventh and fifth years. I was sitting, lost in my thoughts, as everyone chatted happily around me, when a commotion was caused over at the Gryffindor table. Roxy Weasley had shrieked loudly at something, and several other people were gasping in shock.



 

 

          We all looked over, and I felt a surge of vindictive pleasure at the sight of James Potter sitting down, wincing in pain as he did so. It was clear he hadn’t been to the hospital wing after our little encounter by the Black Lake. There was dried blood on his face, his nose was crooked and flattened, and both of his eyes were beginning to bloom into what were sure to be fabulous bruises. He ignored all the worried questions and shrugged off offers to be helped to the hospital wing. It was clear by the way he was holding himself carefully that his ribs were in serious pain. I would have felt guilty if the bloody wanker didn’t deserve it so much.



 

 

          “Merlin,” Zeke muttered, “What the hell happened to Potter?”



 

 

          Jessamy frowned. “Yeah, seems odd, doesn’t it? Someone obviously doesn’t like his face too much.”



 

 

          “Or his ribs,” said the ever observant Rhiannon. “Did you see how gingerly he was moving? They must have taken some damage somehow, too.”



 

 

          Lessie was looking at me strangely. There was an appraising look to her eyes and her lips were pursed in thought. It was as though she was examining me for any unusual behavior. She was probably trying to see if James’ injured state upset me, since she was clearly still hung up on the idea that he and I were up to something together.



 

 

          “Hmm, wonder how that happened? And why he hasn’t gone to the hospital wing?” I said lightly, glancing back at my half-finished plate of bacon, kippers, and toast.



 

 

          “Yeah,” agreed Blake. “It’s not like him to draw attention to himself.”



 

 

          “What do you mean?” asked Jess. I perked my ears in interest, but kept my expression only mildly curious, still aware of Lessie’s gaze.



 

 

          “He’s right,” Rhiannon agreed. “Haven’t you noticed? James Potter prefers to fly under the radar. Most people would expect him to be conceited or attention-seeking, considering his entire family is famous, but he really seems like he’d rather be on his own or with his family and a select few other friends.”



 

 

          I blinked, surprised to find that her observations were correct. Thinking back, James Potter had always shrugged of the crowds of girls who vied for his attention, and never hung around with that many other people. He was one of the most popular kids in school, yet he seemed to try and discourage that fact.



 

 

          I frowned to myself. This image of James Potter that was presented to everyone else didn’t really match up with either of my encounters with him. He had been downright nasty back by the lake, and last year… well, I didn’t really want to think about that right now. And besides, who am I to judge a person for acting differently around other people than how they really might be?
 


 

          Rhiannon, Jess, and Blake continued to discuss James’ injuries, while Zeke and I finished eating and Lessie just watched me. About 10 minutes later, Professor Morgan, Head of Ravenclaw House, came around with this year’s schedules. As I had gotten an O in all 11 of my O.W.L.s, I had little to worry about. After being cleared for the 7 classes I wished to continue taking, I went off to Ancient Runes with Jessamy and Zeke.


 

 


 

 


 

***




 

 

          I was leaving my last class of the day, Charms, with the whole group when I heard a voice calling from being me.



 

 

          “Val, hey! Wait up!”



 

 

          I turned around, seeing Fred running down the corridor towards me. His dark hair was ruffled around his head and he looked nervous.



 

 

          I put my hands on my hips. “Frederick Weasley. Shouldn’t you be leaving your own class? Typical Gryffindor, skiving off.”



 

 

          “Okay, first of all,” Fred said, catching up to me, “my name is not Frederick. Second, I had a free period. You’re such a Ravenclaw.” I stuck my tongue out at him. “And third, I need to talk to you.”



 

 

          “Oh, of course. Because we’re not talking at all right now,” I smiled.



 

 

          Fred rolled his eyes. “I meant, talk to you alone, Oh Sarcastic One.”



 

 

          I glanced back at Lessie, Jessamy, Rhiannon, Blake, and Zeke, who were watching me and Fred. The girls were looking on in interest, the boys with slightly wary expressions. Over-protective gits. I smiled at them and waved them ahead. They left, but Rhiannon had to pull Zeke away. Zeke had never really like Fred, as he was one of his rival Beaters. Stupid Quidditch prejudice.



 

 

          I turned back to Fred and raised an eyebrow. “What’s up Fred? What do you need to talk about that’s so secretive and important?”



 

 

          “We’re friend, right?” he asked abruptly. “I mean, like we talk and hang out and there’s nothing awkward between us?”



 

 

          “Yeah…” I said slowly, narrowing my eyes slightly.



 

 

          Fred ran a hand through his hair. “So, like, I can ask you an… unusual favor and it won’t be weird?”



 

 

          I blinked. “What are you getting at, Fred? Am I going to want to punch you?”



 

 

          “Nothing-nothing like that. It’s just… you’re friend, Moore. She isn’t, I mean like-look is she-“



 

 

          “Spit it out, boy!”



 

 

          “She isn’t dating Boot, is she?” he asked, his eyes narrowed in dislike. Yeah, Fred hated Zeke about as much as Zeke hated him. Prats.



 

 

          I stared at Fred in understanding. “Oh my Merlin… you fancy Rhiannon, don’t you?”



 

 

          “What? No! No, what gives you that idea? C’mon, Val, don’t be ridiculous,” Fred said, laughing uncomfortably. He kept his eyes averted, a slow flush creeping up his dark skin.



 

 

          “Aha! You do! You do like her. Aw, Fredward, that is so cute!” I exclaimed, pinching his cheek and grinning at him.



 

 

          “My name isn’t Fredward, either,” he muttered.



 

 

          I threw my arm around Fred and began walking down the corridor. “Don’t worry, Fred-O, Rhiannon is currently unattached. In fact,” I continued, more to myself, “she hasn’t really talked about any guys since last March.”



 

 

          “And she and Boot, I mean they just seem so close. I thought maybe…” Fred trailed off.



 

 

          “Totally and completely platonic. They’ve been friends since they were eight. They’re more like brother and sister than anything.”



 

 

          Fred smiled in relief. “Good. I just… I don’t know. Do you think you could help me win her over? I mean, would that be weird?”



 

 

          “Fred, I think the two of you would be a great couple,” I said honestly. “And no, it wouldn’t be weird. In fact, I think it’s adorable that you’re asking me for help, Freddy-Weddy.”



 

 

          Fred groaned. “Enough with the pet names, woman. I can tolerate Freddy, but seriously, these other odd names for me have got to stop. You’re always coming up with something weird or cutesy. It’s enough to make a guy want to hurl.”



 

 

          I smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Alright Freddykins. My little Googlie Bear. Cutie-petutie.”



 

 

          “Not interrupting something, am I?” came a cool, unemotional voice from behind us.



 

 

          We both turned around, me removing my arm from Fred’s shoulders, and saw a disinterested-looking James Potter behind us. He still hadn’t been to the hospital wing, although he had cleaned the blood off his face. The promise of black eyes that I had seen earlier had fully appeared. Both of his eyes were a rather spectacular mixture of black, blue, and purple. I clenched my fist slightly, feeling an odd mixture of pride and guilt.



 

 

          “Nah, man, just catching up with Val,” Fred said, looking uncomfortable. He glanced at me quickly, clearly warning me to say nothing of the subject matter we had previously been discussing.



 

 

          James sneered, glancing at me as well, although his look was much more derisive. “Really, Fred? Didn’t you finish with that thing two years ago? Surely you can do better than Faith Sullivan.”



 

 

          I flinched at the use of my first name and glared at him hatefully. “Don’t call me that, Potter, or I’ll break your nose. Oh wait,” I smirked, “looks like that’s already been done for me. So much for Quidditch skills. Aren’t you supposed to have something called reflexes? Oh, never mind. You’d need actual talent for that.”



 

 

          James glared back at me, a muscle jumping in the corner of his mouth, but otherwise completely ignored my jibes. “What’s wrong with calling you Faith? Too real for a fake like yourself?”



 

 

          “At least I’m not living off of Daddy’s fame,” I retorted. James’ face went flat and even Fred blanched a bit. It was a low blow. Everyone knew that all of the Potter’s wanted to establish themselves apart from their father’s notoriety. “See you around, Fred,” I said, spinning on my heels to head back to the Ravenclaw Tower.



 

 

          “Stay joyful,” James called back to me in a sarcastically cheerful voice.



 

 

          I froze. There it was again. Her name. I whipped back around, my eyes blazing in anger. James had a smug smirk on his face, his eyes glinting malevolently. Fred wore a confused and wary expression, looking back and forth between the two of us. My chest heaved up and down as I felt a familiar pain twist inside of me.



 

 

          “Go fuck yourself,” I snarled before stalking back down the corridor. Those guilty feelings I’d had? Yeah, those were gone now.



 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

 

AN



 

 

There we go, longest chapter yet! It’s a bit of a filler chapter, but I needed to start working in some of the subplots. I thought about making some a bit more serious, but I figured Val’s past was dark enough. What do you think? And Fred and Rhiannon? Think they’ll work?


 

 


 

Anyways, the Googlie Bear nickname is from Monsters Inc. I don’t own that nor did I make it up.



Here’s the newest preview for chapter six!

 

 

          “H-hi,” he stammered, looking nervous. “I’m-“



 

 

          “Albus Potter, I know,” I cut in, still smiling.



 

 

          He blinked in surprise. “Ho-how’d you know m-my name?”



 

 

          I raised an eyebrow. “Well, besides the fact that I’m friends with half of your cousins, I’m pretty sure everyone knows who you are because of your dad. No matter how much you might hate it.”



Disclaimer: Anything cannon that you recognize is J.K. Rowling’s. The rest is all a figment of my bizarre mind.
 


Chapter 6: Tutoring
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          I was sitting at the Ravenclaw table on a Saturday morning. It was pretty early for the weekend, not quite 9:00, so I sat in solitude, with only a scattered few other people eating in the Great Hall. I reflected on my first week back. After both our little run-ins on the first day, I hadn’t seen James at all. Fred had asked me what our fight had been about, but I just shrugged noncommittally and asked him about Rhiannon. Honestly, that boy was just too cute. He got all shy and embarrassed whenever I brought her up.
 


 

 


 

          I was shaken by my thoughts when Zeke plopped down on the bench opposite me. I looked up at him as he began pulling all the food in reach toward him and piling it up on his plate. Bloody animal. The boy never stopped eating. He began stuffing his mouth full to bursting. I raised an eyebrow.



 

 

          “Don’t give me that look, Val,” he said, swallowing his half chewed food. Gross. “You eat like a bloke so you can’t make any comments about me.”
 


 

 


 

          I rolled my eyes. “Zeke, I realize I may eat more than the average girl, but you, sir, are a bottomless pit. Your stomach is like a black hole.”
 


 

 


 

          “More than the average girl?” Zeke asked incredulously. “You eat like a bloody monster! I can’t understand how you’re so skinny.”



 

 

          “High metabolism. Quidditch. I’m muscular, not skinny. And what’s with you comparing me to unflattering things all the time? First, I ‘m a beast, now I’m a monster.”
 


 

 


 

          “Speaking of Quidditch, Miss Captain, when’re you holding tryouts? I need a new partner since your brother left and we also need a new Seeker,” Zeke said, stuffing his face with bacon. Seriously, he just ate 17 pieces of bacon at once. Would it be ironic to call him a pig?


 

 


 

          “Next Saturday,” I said, sipping some pumpkin juice. “Let Anna and Justin know if you see them before I do.” Anna Russel and Justin McFlanner were the other two Chasers on the team, both fourth years.



 

 

          “Someone is going to die,” Lessie growled as she flung herself down on the seat next to me. She grabbed a piece of toast and bit it violently. He left eye was twitching and she glared at a plate of pancakes viciously, as though willing it to burst into flames. Lessie isn’t really a morning person.



 

 

          “What is this?!” I gasped overdramatically. “Alessia Persephone Karalis, up before noon on a Saturday? Surely this is a sign of the apocalypse! Quick, Zeke! To the secret bunker!” I exclaimed, grabbing Zeke’s arm.



 

 

          He started choking on his oatmeal and even Lessie, Mistress of Darkness and Hate, had to stop herself from smiling, although she continued to glare murderously at inanimate objects.



 

 

          “Shut up, Faith Valentina Sullivan,” she grumbled.



 

 

          I sobered up immediately. “Don’t call me that,” I snapped harshly.



 

 

          Lessie flinched and looked at me apologetically. She knows I hate my first name, although not the entire reason why.



 

 

          “Why is your middle name Valentina, anyway? That’s not even remotely Irish,” Zeke asked awkwardly, trying to break the tension. That boy can be a bit daft sometimes. Honestly, when recovering from an uncomfortable moment, it’s best to change the subject completely.



 

 

          I smirked slightly. “Apparently, my parents were in Spain, celebrating their seventh anniversary, when I was conceived.” Zeke blanched. “My middle name is homage to that.”



 

 

          “Right,” Zeke muttered, looking embarrassed. “Sorry I asked.”



 

 

          Lessie looked back and forth between us before bursting out laughing, her previous bad humor apparently forgotten. Merlin, that girl is a rollercoaster.



 

 

***



 

 

          I was leaving Defense Against the Dark Arts Tuesday afternoon when Professor Lupin called me back into the classroom. I smiled at him curiously as I walked back to his desk. He only started as a teacher last year, but I knew him pretty well as his fiancée, Victoire Weasly, is friends with my sister, Hope.
 


 

 


 

          “Did you need something, Professor?” I asked politely. Outside school, I called him Teddy, but it wasn’t really appropriate at Hogwarts.



 

 

          “Ah, yes, Miss Sullivan. First off, I wanted to congratulate you on your Defense O.W.L. You got the highest score since my godfather sat his exams.”
 


 

 


 

          I blushed and smiled politely. It’s not every day your compared to the savior of the Wizarding world, even if his son is a git-faced jerk. Although I was good in every subject, I particularly excelled in D.A.D.A.



 

 

          “As you are, without a doubt, my best student, I was hoping you could do me a favor. I have a fifth year student who is struggling quite a bit. I believe he could benefit greatly from a good tutor…?” he trailed off, looking at me appraisingly.



 

 

          “I would be glad to be a tutor, Professor.”



 

 

          Teddy – er, Professor Lupin – smiled at me. “Are you quite certain Miss Sullivan? After all, you must be busy with all your N.E.W.T. classes and prefect duties. Not to mention your new position as Quidditch captain. A well-deserved honor, I must say. I may have been a Gryffindor as a student, but your performance at last year’s Quidditch final was phenomenal. I found myself rooting for you against my former House!” He leaned down conspiratorially. “Don’t tell anyone.” He winked.



 

 

          “Why, thank you, Professor. But really, it’d be no trouble at all to tutor a fifth year. I’d love to be able to help someone,” I said earnestly.



 

 

          “Thank you very much. I’ll let him know so he can contact you about scheduling times to study.” Teddy began packing up his things, so, taking that as my dismissal, I turned to leave.



 

 

          “Oh, and… Val?” he called hesitantly, losing the “Professor” persona he put on to amuse me whenever he talked to me in school. I turned back and saw that his warm brown eyes were looking at me in concern. “Take it easy, yeah?”



 

 

          I nodded and left. I didn’t like that look he had given me. I couldn’t be sure, but I had my suspicions that he knew about Joy. I knew that Victoire, being friends with Hope, knew. But I also knew that Hope, for my sake, had asked her not to tell anyone. I shrugged it off before heading back to Ravenclaw Tower. It was only as I sat in the common room, working on a Transfiguration essay with Jessamy, that I realized Teddy hadn’t told me who it was I’d be tutoring.



 

 

***



 

 

          “V-Val Sullivan?” came a tentative voice from behind me. It was later in the evening, and I was eating dinner with the girls and Blake. Zeke was in detention. Professor Longbottom had apparently not been amused when he’d told a couple of first year Slytherins that the Whomping Willow was a great place to study.



 

 

          I turned around and met the distinctive emerald green eyes of Albus Potter. I smiled at him politely. “Yes?”



 

 

          “H-hi,” he stammered, looking nervous. “I’m-“
 


 

          “Albus Potter, I know,” I cut in, still smiling.



 

 

          He blinked in surprise. “Ho-how’d you know m-my name?”



 

 

          I raised an eyebrow. “Well, besides the fact that I’m friends with half of your cousins, I’m pretty sure everyone knows who you are because of your dad. No matter how much you might hate it.”



 

 

          Al tilted his head to the side. “Okay. How’d you know that?”
 


 

 


 

          I just shrugged. “Observation, I guess. And, not to be rude, but did you need something?”



 

 

          “Oh, yeah!” he said with a slight start. “Erm, you’re kind of my new tutor.”



 

 

          “Wha-that’s you? Huh. Didn’t see that one coming,” I said in surprise.



 

 

          Albus grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, Considering who my dad is, you’d think I’d be great at Defense Against the Dark Arts, but no such luck.”



 

 

          “Hey,” I looked at him seriously. “You’re not your dad. No one should expect you to be.”



 

 

          “You mean it? Wow. Thanks! No one’s ever said that to me before,” he said, smiling in earnest now. Okay. This kid is adorable.



 

 

          “No problem. Does tomorrow in the library at 7:30 sound alright for your first tutoring session?”



 

 

          Al grinned. “Yeah, thanks! I’ll see you then!” He walked away with a cheerful bounce in his step.



 

 

          I turned back to my almost finished steak-and-kidney pie to find the girls all staring at me. Blake was too immersed in his food to pay attention to anything else. He and Zeke were cut from the same bale of cloth. At least Blake actually had manners, though.



 

 

          Lessie was trying to hold back laughter, Jess was smiling, and Rhiannon looked contemplative. I just raised an eyebrow at the three of them and reached for some treacle tart. They continued looking at me until I finally sighed, and set down my cutlery. “What?”



 

 

          “I think somebody liiiiiiikes you,” Lessie said in a singsong voice. Jessamy smiled even wider.
 


 

 


 

          I rolled my eyes. “Oh, grow up. Tell her she’s crazy Rhiannon.”



 

 

          She just shrugged. “It did seem like he did, a bit. But that also might be because you were so kind to him about his dad. I’m guessing not many people respond to him the way you did, so your more positive reaction may cause him to think that he likes you, when in fact, he really doesn’t know you and therefore has insufficient information to base his feelings upon.”



 

 

          Lessie stared at her, mouth agape and even Blake stopped eating long enough to give her a baffled look. I just smiled. “Are you sure you’re not secretly a therapist in disguise? You’re so observant and insightful.”



 

 

          “Bloody Merlin, Rhiannon,” Blake said. “How is it possible that you and Zeke get along so great. That bloke is incredibly thick.”



 

 

          “Not really. He’s in Ravenclaw, therefore he has to be intelligent. Not that you should judge a person based upon the stereotypical qualities of their House. Or race, gender, or any other physical characteristic, for that matter.”



 

 

          “I still say Albus Potter fancies Val,” Lessie piped up.



 

 

          “Well,” I said, “Freddy’s about to pass by. Maybe I should ask him his thoughts on the matter. Hmm, what about that, Rhiannon?” I asked, shooting her a sly look.



 

 

          Her cheeks had a faint pink tinge as she shrugged again. “Whatever you think. He’s your friend, after all.”



 

 

          “And ex,” Blake muttered, shooting a suspicious look at the dark haired boy. He may not have a personal agenda against Fred like Zeke did, but he still didn’t particularly trust him. Wanker.



 

 

          I swatted him on the arm. “Oh, never mind. I still say you’re crazy Lessie, but I guess I’ll see when I tutor him tomorrow.”



 

 

          “Ooh, romantic,” Lessie grinned. I hit her as well. Bint.



 

 

***



 

 

          I sat in a quiet corner in the Defense section of the library at half past 7, waiting for Albus. I had my old D.A.D.A. book from last year and the year before open in front of me. I had spent a free period today reviewing them so I would be prepared for whatever Al needed. He showed up after about a minute, looking apprehensive.



 

 

          “Hi Al,” I said, smiling at him. “Sit down and let’s get started.”



 

 

          “Al-alright,” he mumbled, not quite meeting my eyes. Ah. So he was back to the stuttering, was he?



 

 

          “Hey, look at me,” I said kindly. He glanced up, shifting uncomfortably. “What’s up? There’s no need to be nervous. I don’t bite.”



 

 

          “Yeah I know. I just… I couldn’t quite believe it when Teddy – er, Professor Lupin, that is – told me my tutor was going to be the most intimidating girl in the school,” he said with a slight blush.



 

 

          I blinked. “Intimidating? I’m not intimidating… am I?”



 

 

          Albus shrugged. “Well, yeah, kind of. I mean, you’re a genius, a brilliant Chaser, you’re totally gorgeous, and have a million friends. You’re kind of like… I dunno, untouchable, yeah? Like, you’re the Hogwarts Golden Girl. Everyone in this entire school loves you.”



 

 

          Everyone in the school? Yeah, right. Have you met your brother? I thought wryly. But on the outside, I just laughed. “Al, please. I’m not scary. Seriously, the way people perceive me is utterly ridiculous. Honestly, if they all knew…” I trailed off uncertainly. What was I doing? Was I really going to tell Albus Potter my secret. Sure he seems like a nice kid, but so did James. See how that turned out.



 

 

          Al smiled tentatively. “So, umm, Defense Against the Dark Arts, yeah? I’m really kind of hopeless at it, to be honest. I just, I dunno, can’t get the hang of it.”



 

 

          “Not to worry, kiddo,” I said with a conspiratorial wink. “By the time I’m through with you, you’ll be a pro.”



 

 

          “Woah, woah, woah,” I whipped around to find Fred grinning at me. “Are you trying to corrupt my baby cousin, Val? Tsk tsk, taking advantage of a fifth year. Some people just have no standards.”



 

 

          “That’s true, I really don’t have standards. I mean, I dated you , didn’t I?” I smirked mischievously. “I don’t think I could stoop any lower.”



 

 

          Fred grabbed his heart dramatically. “Oh, you wound me! And here I was, hoping you’d be willing to rekindle the flames of our love.”



 

 

          “Oh, should I tell Rhiannon that?”



 

 

          “Yeah, well… you just… shut up, Sullivan,” Fred grumbled, the predictable blush spreading across his cheeks.



 

 

          I laughed as Albus looked on in confusion. “Fred? What’re you doing here?” he asked.



 

 

          “I was actually hoping that I might be able to catch Val in a more agreeable mood so that I could interrogate her about that dear brother of yours Alby.”



 

 

          “Alby?” I asked as Al blushed. “And you say my pet names are vomit-inducing.”



 

 

          “See, Al? Every time I try to bring it up to her, she always changes the subject or glares at me as though she’s killing me in her mind.” I raised an eyebrow. “Guess I got lucky this time,” he continued in a stage whisper.



 

 

          I looked at Fred, amused. “It’s like you want me to punch you.”



 

 

          “Avoidance!” Fred sang. What is it with people and doing that today?



 

 

          “Okay,” Albus said in frustration, “what am I missing?”



 

 

          “Well, young Albert, your lovely tutor here is apparently in a bit of snit with your delightful brother, James. And frankly, I haven’t got a clue what it’s about. However, some very nasty, sometimes ambiguous, words were exchanged between the two. Quite mysterious, really. Val here absolutely refuses to mention it, and Jimmy Jams hasn’t really spoken to anyone, let alone me. In fact, I rather think he’s avoiding me. Most likely due to the fascinating discussion I witnessed between the two.”



 

 

          “Ambiguous?” I asked, impressed. “What do you know? Freddy-Weddy really does have a brain.”



 

 

          “You see! You see!” he shouted. “Why won’t you tell me?”



 

 

          I was suddenly irritated. “Maybe I’m not telling you because it’s none of your business,” I growled softly, fixing Fred with a fierce glare. This, finally, seemed to pierce the jovial air he had about him. Fred gulped at the look I was giving him and Albus looked nervous once more.



 

 

          I cleared my throat. “Now, if you don’t mind, Freddy, I’m supposed to be tutoring your cousin, so…” I flicked my hand at him, shooing him away. Fred just nodded, silent for once, and turned and left.



 

 

          Taking a deep breath and rearranging my face into a more pleasant expression, I turned back to Albus. “Alright then. Defense.”



 

 

***



 

 

          I arranged to begin meeting with Al for tutoring on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He was a bright kid, but something about D.A.D.A. just didn’t click in his mind. I was fairly certain, however, that after a couple weeks, he’d be fully capable. Al had reverted, yet again, to his stuttering after Fred left, probably because I’d intimidated him, despite my previous assurances. After a few minutes he managed to loosen up. I then found him to be a genuine, funny person. If I didn’t already know he and James were brothers, I never would have guessed, based on my experiences with the two. But I guess our respective first meetings were rather different.



 

 

          It was odd. Despite being amicable with quite a few of the Weasleys, I’d never really talked to any of the Potters before now. James had always been a bit aloof and Al, it seemed, was rather shy until you got to know him. Lily, however, I did try to avoid. It was nothing personal, though. Lily Potter was bubbly, vivacious girl with a bit of fire to her personality. Frankly, she reminded me of myself – or rather, how I used to be. And that was exactly why I avoided her in the first place.



 

 

          I had stayed in the library after Albus left, taking the opportunity to do some of my own Defense work. I was reading ahead in the textbook, researching dementors, when someone dropped down into the chair across from me. I glanced up at them idly and at first, I thought Albus had returned. But then I did a double take and saw that the face in front of me was sharper, more defined. The jaw was stronger and the eyes, not covered by glasses, were a golden hazel, not green. James.



 

 

          “What do you want,” I all but snarled, my eyes narrowed with hostility. James, however, displayed none of the anger and dislike he’d had around me for the past week and a half. Instead, he wore the same guarded, unfathomable expression he’d given me at Platform 9 ¾.



 

 

          “I think that’s a question you need to ask yourself,” James said, staring at me intently.



 

 

          My breath caught in surprise. “What? What are you talking about?”



 

 

          “You’re empty,” he spat, the anger suddenly returning. “You use people to try and make yourself feel whole again, but you never give anything back. You’re like a dementor,” he continued, gesturing at my open book. “You’re unable to sustain yourself, so you feed off of others. Sure, you’re not as harmful, but you think you won’t do damage? That Alessia and Boot and even Fred won’t be hurt when they find out?”



 

 

          I started choking. I inhaled, but no air reached my lungs. My hands quivered and I stared at James, eyes wide. “No, that’s – you’ve got it wrong. That’s not – I don’t – it’s not for my benefit. I pretend for them, not in spite of them. It’s for them all. My parents, my siblings, everyone. I hide it all.”



 

 

          “Well, maybe you shouldn’t,” James said, eyes blazing. “Stop being selfish. You think you’re doing it all for them, but you’re not. You just want to save yourself from more pain. Stop suppressing the memories. Do you think Joy would want you to forget all the good memories, just because she died?” He shook his head. “You’re pathetic.”



 

 

          As he walked away, I just sat, transfixed to my spot. I could feel ice spreading through my veins and my bottom lip began to tremble. Suddenly, I bolted from the library, leaving behind all my books. I just ran and ran, blindly searching for somewhere, anywhere, that I could hide.



 

 

          Eventually, I made it into a room. I had no idea what it was or where it was, but I didn’t care. I collapsed into a corner and huddled up into a ball. I gasped for breath and my entire body was shaking as I tried to restrain all the memories. But eventually, I knew that I was too weak and I succumbed. My surroundings seemed to blur and fade as the memories washed over me and took me away.



 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



 

 

AN



 

 

Okay, so yeah. How about that, over 3,000 words? I don’t really know where all that came from, but I’m pretty happy with it. I also ended up writing the very ending to the story today as well. Don’t worry, that won’t be any time soon, but I’m really glad I know exactly where everything is leading now.



 

 

So… what did you think? Al? Rhiannon and Fred? Lessie? And JAMES? Wow. I kind of surprised myself with that little bit at the end. So, do you think he was right? Or is he being too harsh?



 

 

Next chapter will have a flashback of everything that happened between Val and James in their fifth year. In fact, the whole chapter will be a sequence of flashbacks. This way, you’ll really get an idea of the relationship Val and Joy had.



 

 

Anyway, let me know what you think in a review! What you like, what could be improved, things that confuse you, things you think aren’t realistic, I want to know it all! Please? :)



 

 

Preview!



 

 

          I pressed my head closer to the door, desperate to hear more.



 

 

          “Joy is nine years old. By then, Hope and Dave had already shown signs of magic. And Faith has shown so much, it’s rather shocking,” I heard my mum say in a concerned tone. “Joy, though… well, I guess we’ll have to accept that Faith is going to Hogwarts without her.”



 

 

          I pulled away, stunned. Leave my Joy? Go away to school without my best friend? I’d just as soon cut myself down the middle and leave half of myself at home. Because that’s what Joy is. Half of who I am. Without her, I’d be nothing.



 

 

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is a product of the brilliant mind of J.K Rowling. Finding Faith is a product of my mind. Whether you find it brilliant or not.


Chapter 7: Memories
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Flashback 1
 

Age 4
 

Sullivan Residence

 

          “Faith, dear, you have to eat your vegetables,” my mum said, looking at me reprovingly.
 

          “Oh, but, Mummy! They’re just so yucky,” I made a face, crossing my eyes and sticking out my tongue.

 

          “Faith Sullivan! Do as your mother says, please,” Daddy said. He tried to look stern, but failed when he winked at me.

 

          I turned in my seat and looked at Joy beseechingly. She smiled brightly and tugged her left ear, our code signal. Then she looked at our parents while I picked up a green bean and put in my mouth. Bleck.

 

          “Mummy, Daddy,” she said with wide-eyed innocence. I fake chewed and added another bean. “There’s a strange man walking around outside. Should we go say hi?” 


          They looked alarmed. “No, no, sweetie, just stay there,” Mum said, shooting Daddy a look. They both got up and walked out of the room. 


          “Coast is clear,” David hooted. He, Joy, and Hope all descended on my plate and began eating my vegetables. I spat out the ones in my mouth and tried washing the taste away with milk. We had this routine down after just a few months. Joy would always distract Mum and Daddy and then those three would eat any food I didn’t want.

 

          “They’re coming back,” Hope warned. We all nonchalantly started eating our food, Joy going on about a butterfly we had found in the backyard today. It was purple and blue. Joy had wanted to call it Bob, but I insisted that it was more of a Steve.
 

          My parents entered the room and sat down again, looking at us suspiciously. “Faith,” I winced at the name, “did you really eat your green beans or did you feed them to the dog?” Daddy asked, glancing at our terrier, Charisma.
 

          “No, Daddy, I eated them all. They were very yucky,” I bit my lip and fluttered my eyelashes.
 

          “She ate them,” Hope said, adopting a bossy tone. “I wouldn’t let her give them to Char.”
 

          That was Hope’s main job. Acting like a stern, suck up, tattletale, when in truth, she was thoroughly entertained by Joy and I’s antics. Mum sighed. “Well, alright then. But I swear, you tow are up to something,” she said with a glance toward Joy and I.
 

          I tugged my left ear and we both gave Mum and Daddy our biggest, brightest smiles. “We’re not doing anything. We just love you both so much,” we chorused in perfect unison.
 

          Hope and David struggled to hide their grins while Daddy chuckled and Mum swooped down on Joy and I, kissing us on the forehead. “Oh, my sweet little angles,” she cooed. 
 

          Under the table, Joy and I gave each other a high five.


*** 

 

Flashback 2
 

Age 5
 

Muggle Primary School

 

          “Higher, Tina, higher!” Joy giggled as I pushed her on the swings on the playground.

          “I’m trying Joy!” I shouted, laughing as well. I willed myself to make Joy soar through the air with my next push. Suddenly, Joy seemed to fly up in a graceful arc without my hands even touching her. She shrieked jubilantly as she came swinging back again. She was moving so fast, I dove out of her way. 
 

          “Woah!” she exclaimed breathlessly. “How did you do that, Tina?”
 

          I looked at her, wide-eyed. “But-but, I didn’t even touch you. You just… flew!”
 

          Joy shook her head. “No way. There’s no way I did that. It had to have been you.”

 

          I shrugged. We both looked at each other for a few seconds. Despite the different skin tone, hair color, and eye color, we looked exactly the same. We were the same height, same weight, and had the similar facial features. The biggest difference was the birthmark on Joy’s face. Her skin, much darker than my creamy complexion, had a single flaw; a pale spot just below her eye in the exact shape of a heart. It was one of my favorite things about her.

 

          I broke the silence. “Hey, let’s go play hopscotch!” 


          Joy nodded excitedly and we both took off running. There weren’t any other kids playing hopscotch, so we gladly started up our game. It’s not that we didn’t like the other children, we got along quite well with them all, but we just preferred to spend our time with each other.
 

          We had been playing for about 10 minutes when I got thirsty. “Joy, I’m going to go get some water, okay?”
 

          “Okay, Tina, I’ll stay here,” she said, a sunny smile on her face.


          I skipped over to the drinking fountain. There was no line so I gratefully began to take a drink. When I turned around, I accidentally bumped into an older boy. He was a lot bigger than I was and looked to be about 7, like David was. 


          “Sorry,” I said brightly, making to move past him and go back to Joy.
 

          The boy grabbed my arm and yanked me back. “Hey,” he snarled, “I don’t like little girls running into me.”

 

          I looked at him with wide, frightened eyes. “I’m sorry, it was an accident.”
 

          “Do I look like I care?” The boy started shaking me, keeping a firm hold on my arm. I desperately tried to get myself free, but his grasp was too tight. It was so tight, that I began to lose feeling in my arm.

 

          “Please,” I begged. “Just let me go, I’m sorry.” What was this boy’s problem? I had barely brushed him, but he was freaking out on me! 


          “Let my sister go!” Joy had run over and was looking at the boy holding me angrily. I don’t like it when she’s mad. My Joy should always be happy.

 

          The boy looked at Joy in disbelief. “No, I don’t think I will.”

 

          Suddenly, Joy stomped on the boy’s foot with all her might. He let go of me and grabbed his foot with a groan. Joy immediately seized my hand and we both ran off, away from the mean boy.

 

          “Are you okay, Tina?” she asked, as we collapsed on the ground by the slide. “Did that meanie hurt you?”

 

          I smiled. “I’m okay, Joy, thanks to you. What would I do without you?”

 

          Joy pulled me into a hug. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to go anywhere. I’ll always be here for you. I promise.”

 

***

 

Flashback 3
 

Age 6
 

Sullivan Residence


“Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday dear Hope,

Happy Birthday to you!”
 

          My family sang to Hope, now 11, Joy and I singing louder than anyone else. She giggled, her brown hair falling around her face as she leaned forward to blow out the candles on her cake. Dad cut and served the cake, chocolate with chocolate frosting, and we all began eating. Suddenly, Joy leaned over and smeared frosting across my cheek. I gasped, then grabbed a piece of my cake and threw it at her. It stuck in her hair and she looked at me, smiling evilly.


          “Girls, girls. Don’t make a mess,” Mum scolded, but she had to hide a grin. We both turned to smile at her angelically. This time, a smile really did cross her face and Dad, Dave, and Hope all started laughing.
 

          I looked at Joy and she looked at me. I pulled on my left ear and she winked, as identical smirks started to cross our faces. Simultaneously, we both seized our cake and threw it in Hope’s face. Then, a devious glint in our eye, we said “Oops. Sorry, Hope. Happy Birthday!”


          A brief silence followed. Cake fell off of Hope’s face and onto the floor. Mum sat, aghast, and David’s eyes were as wide as saucers. Hope slowly lifted her hand and swiped some cake off of her face. She looked at it, and then stuck her finger into her mouth. She grinned and said “Delicious. Thanks for the cake girls.” 


          The entire family simultaneously burst out laughing, Joy and I clutching at each other to keep from falling onto the floor. Amidst the ruckus, none of us noticed that an owl had flown through the open window, sitting primly on the table with a letter tied to its leg.
 

          “Look!” David shouted, pointing at it. We all stared at the owl in astonishment, Dad with a glint of recognition in his eyes. The owl hopped forward and held its leg out to Hope. The letter was addressed:
 

Hope Iris Sullivan

The Kitchen

 Number 8, Montevideo Road

Roscrea, Tipperary, Ireland
 

          Dad had a slight smile on his face as he gestured to Hope. “Go on, then. Open it.”


          With a curious glance toward him, Hope tentatively reached forward and detached the letter from the owl’s leg. It ruffled its feathers and took off out the window once more. Hope slit the envelope and pulled out a piece of parchment. As she read the letter, she let out a gasp.


          “What is it, Hope?” David asked eagerly.
 

          She looked around at us with shining eyes. “I-I’m a witch.”

 

          Dad laughed joyfully and Mum cracked a smile, though neither looked surprised. David, however, looked confused and Joy and I both frowned. “That’s not a very nice thing to say about yourself,” Joy said reproachfully.
 

          “No,” Hope laughed, “it means I can do magic! I’m magical! Look!” She thrust the letter toward us. It was from someplace called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
 

          “Let me explain,” said Dad, leaning forward with an endearing smile at the confused look David, Joy, and I all wore. He then went on to describe how everyone on his side of the family, other than himself, had magical ability. He told us all about the magical world, how witches and wizards live among us. We sat up very late that evening as Dad described endless details about Hogwarts and the past wizardring wars. He talked about some weirdo called Voldemort and the hero Harry Potter. He told us about Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. He explained about Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff.
 

          Joy and I were utterly enchanted. David, though he was interested, had nodded off around the time Dad was speaking of the Chamber of Secrets. And Hope, oh Hope. She was absolutely beside herself with delight.


          That evening, when Joy and I went to bed, we talked endlessly about magic. We wondered if we had magical abilities too and we dreamed about a future at Hogwarts.

 

***



 



Flashback 4
 

Age 8
 

Sullivan Residence

 

          Joy and I were lounging around in our room. We had music playing and I was putting plaits into Joy’s hair. A knock came from the door and Mum stuck her head in.
 

          “Girls?” she asked. “Dad and I are going out and Dave is at a friend’s house. Will you be okay on your own?”

 

          Joy smiled at her. “Of course, Mum. We’ll just hang around in here. We know all the rules: don’t answer the phone, don’t open the door for strangers, don’t use the oven, and don’t do anything stupid.”

 

          “Good luck with that last one, Joy,” I laughed. She swatted my leg in protest.
 

          “That’s my girls,” Mum said, smiling gently. “There’s food in the fridge that you can heat up in the microwave when you’re hungry.”
 

          “Okay, thanks. Bye, Mum, love you!” I called as she turned and left.

 

           I finished braiding Joy’s hair as we heard the car pull out onto the street. Joy got up and tugged on her left ear. I smiled and turned the music up to blasting. We began to dance around, flailing our arms through the air and jumping on our beds.
 

          We both screamed in glee when our song came on. It was an old song, by and American band. But we both absolutely loved the Red Hot Chili Peppers and By the Way was definitely our favorite of their songs.

 

          Joy and I hopped down from our beds and threw our arms around each other. We began to jump up and down to the beat, bobbing our heads and waving our free arm.
 

          “Standing in line to see the show tonight and there’s a light on!” we sang-shouted, dancing around, still intertwined.

 

          When the song ended we collapsed onto Joy’s bed. As we lay there, catching our breath, Joy looked at me and said, “You know, I’ll always think of you when I hear that song.”

 

          I smiled. “Of course! I think of you. It’s our song. Forever and always.”
 

          The music kept playing but Joy and I stayed on her bed, staring at the ceiling. We’d covered it with pictures. There were several of our family – all together or in smaller groups – but most pictures were of me and Joy alone. There were pictures of us at the hospital after we were born, us at school, on our birthdays and Christmas, but mostly just candid shots of the two us around the house. Playing outside, making art projects, the two of us falling asleep together, and a few of me taking care of Joy when she got sick. She gets sick a lot more than the rest of us, but I always help her get better.
 

          Joy picked up a strand of my hair and began playing with it. “Your hair is so pretty, Tina. I wish mine was this color.”

 

          I sat up. “Really? ‘Cause I’ve always wanted your hair. In fact, I wish I looked just like you, so I could fit in with the family. I just look so different from all of you.”

 

          “Tina, don’t say that. You belong to this family. You belong to me. You’re my Tina.”

 

          I smiled. “My Joy.”
 

          “Besides,” she said, “you don’t want to look exactly like me. I’ve got this stupid white spot on my face.”

 

          I reached out and gently touched the pale heart below her left eye. “That’s one of my favorite things about you,” I whispered.

 

          “You mean it?” she asked in a small voice. I nodded vigorously. She smiled. “Good. Then anytime someone asks about it, I’ll say I have it to show how much I love my sister and how much she loves me.”

 

          I pulled Joy into a hug and held her there. We stayed there so long that eventually we fell asleep, still locked into our embrace. 


***

 

Flashback 5
 

Age 9
 

Sullivan Residence

 

          Joy and I sat on my bed, legs crossed over each other’s, laughing and talking. It was June 9th, exactly one month from our 10th birthday. Hope and David would be home soon, and we talked eagerly about next year, when we would hopefully be going to Hogwarts as well. As the sun set beyond the horizon and the room grew darker, Mum called for us to go to bed.


          I got up and smiled down at Joy. “I’m going to go brush my teeth, I’ll be right back.”

 

          Five minutes later, I was walking back towards our room, and as I passed by Mum and Dad’s room, I caught the word “Hogwarts.” I paused to listen, putting my ear against the crack between the door and its frame. 
 

          “They’d absolutely love it. I remember going to Hogwarts when my siblings each graduated. I’m sure there’s still time for Joy to show signs…” Dad trailed off.
 

          I pressed my head closer to the door, desperate to hear more.
 

          “Joy is nine years old. By then, Hope and Dave had already shown signs of magic. And Faith has shown so much, it’s rather shocking,” I heard my mum say in a concerned tone. “Joy, though… well, I guess we’ll have to accept that Faith is going to Hogwarts without her.”


          I pulled away, stunned. Leave my Joy? Go away to school without my best friend? I’d just as soon cut myself down the middle and leave half of myself at home. Because that’s what Joy is. Half of who I am. Without her, I’d be nothing. 


          I walked slowly back to our room, still in shock. I sat down on my bed, lost in my thoughts. 
 

          “Hey,” Joy said, looking concerned. “What’s up?”
 

          I looked over at her, feeling my heart wrench. I couldn’t ever lose my sister. She was my everything. I got up and ran over to hug her. “Don’t worry, Joy,” I said. “I’ll always love you. I’m not going to let you go. I promise I’ll never lose you.”
 

***
 

Flashback 6
 

Age 10
 

Joy’s Funeral

 

          I was broken. I was lost. I was empty. I was faithless. I had no Joy.
 

          I sat at the front of the church. I was dressed entirely in black. My hands shook as I stared up at the casket in front of me. Next to me, my Mum was sobbing, clutching Dad’s hand, who was struggling to contain his grief, looking like the most defeated man I had ever seen. David had a tight grip on my shoulder, tears falling from his cheeks and dripping off his nose. Hope wept quietly into a handkerchief, her face blotchy and puffy. All around us were crying people, family and friends. I alone sat, dry-eyed.
 

          The priest stood up front, speaking of loss and of new life. Of an eternal life with God. I felt the words stab into me. God? What God? Would such a so-called “God” take a life? More than that, two lives? Because I certainly don’t have mine. It’s inside that casket, with the lifeless body of my Joy.
 

          I felt anger rise up inside my as the priest continued, trying to console everyone in attendance. He talked about Joy, describing her attributes and glorious qualities. I had to stifle a scoff. What did he know about Joy? What could he say to summarize who she was? He didn’t know her. No one did. Not like I know her. Knew her.
 

          Dad spoke about Joy as well, giving a eulogy. His voice cracked and tears flowed freely from his eyes. Even his words, though, were not enough. Joy was mine, she was me. As he finished his speech, he smiled briefly at me. It was my turn to speak.
 

          I walked up to the pulpit and looked out at the people in mourning. They stared at me, some in wonderment. My eyes still had not shed any tears. I had cried myself out long ago.
 

          “My sister is my everything,” I began, my voice quiet but strong. “Ever since I was born, she was the most important person in my life. I understood her and she understood me.”
 

          I took a breath. My sight began to shrink, gaining a tunnel-like quality until all I could see was Joy’s casket. My breath seemed to catch in my throat. I gripped the sides of the pulpit, feeling my knees wobble. I squeezed my eyes shut, silent, tearless sobs wracking my body.

 

          “She wasn’t supposed to die,” I gasped out. “I need her. I need her so much. I close my eyes and I see her face, wasting away as she died in the hospital. I see her everywhere around me. In the sun that still shines, the flowers that bloom, and the laughing of children. And I think, ‘How can there be beauty? How is there happiness?’ My Joy is gone. Nothing will ever be beautiful or happy again.”
 

          I broke away, stumbling back to my spot. But as I looked around, I knew that it couldn’t be done. I couldn’t sit here any longer. I ran from the church, outside. I collapsed into the grass, shivering, my hands clutching at my hair, threatening to rip it out.
 

          I glared up at the sky. “It was you! You did this to me! You took her from me! Well, you don’t deserve her. She’s better than you. She’s better than us all! I don’t believe in you. You’re not real. You’re just a lie! A lie! Give me my sister back! GIVE ME MY SISTER!” I shrieked, tumbling over the edge into hysteria. My dad came out of the church and sat next to me. He rocked me back and forth as I began to weep bitterly. I wailed and sobbed and screamed.
 

          As Dad held me, his tears falling into my hair, I made a solemn vow to myself. Never again would I let someone see me like this. Never again would I lose a hold of my control. I would put on a face for everyone. I would be okay, I would look happy. But only on the outside. From the outside, I would seem like a normal girl, I would be myself again. But underneath was a very different story.
 

          I was broken. I was lost. I was empty. I was faithless. I had no Joy.
 

***
 

Flashback 7
 

Age 15
 

Astronomy Tower


          The wind whipped my hair about as I stared out the window, leaning out over the ledge ever so slightly. It was June 21st. I would be going home in just a few days. Back to Roscrea. On this day, six years ago, Joy had still been alive. On this day, when we were nine years old, I’d had a dream that Joy had left me. I’d woken up, screaming, and Joy had told me she’d be with me forever. It had been an empty promise.
 

          I felt a tear course down my cheek and I stared out around the grounds. The sun was setting, tinges of pink, red, orange, and deep purple spread through the sky in a glorious sunset. Hagrid had flowers blooming in his gardens and everything was green and lovely. I stuck my head out further, looking into the Forbidden Forest. I couldn’t quite see far enough, so I cautiously eased myself onto the ledge, my legs dangling out in open space.

 

          I squeezed my eyes shut briefly, more tears falling from my eyes. I breathed deeply, shutting the pain out from my mind. Lessie had straightened her hair today, and from the back, I could almost imagine that she was Joy, but older. I tried to imagine how she would look, if she was still alive. She’d probably have the same proportions as I, tall and thin, but with curves of a woman. Her hair, would be long, but still shorten than my own waist-length tresses. She’d be utterly beautiful, with her rich eyes and the white heart on her face.
 

          Tears flowed faster and my breaths turned to gasps. I looked back around the school grounds again, lost in my despair. I heard an intake of breath from behind me as the door slammed shut. Someone rushed forward and grabbed me about the waist, pulling me from the ledge I sat upon.
 

          I turned around in shock and looked into the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. Well, second, actually. No one could beat Joy. My Joy. I blinked and recognized James Potter. I hadn’t ever spoken to him before and I felt confused as he looked at me in alarm.
 

          “Er, excuse me?” I asked. “Is there a particular reason you violently yanked me to the floor?”
 

          He stared at me, breathing hard. “I just… I just stopped you from committing suicide.”
 

          “Are you crazy? What the hell makes you think I was going to kill myself? What is wrong with you?” I gasped.
 

          “Well, you were kind of sitting on a ledge of a very tall tower and crying. What was I supposed to think?”
 

          I felt bitterness twist my face into a harsh smile. “That I was trying to get a better look at the scenery? Because that’s what it was.”
 

          “Right,” James said skeptically. “And the reason for the tears was…?”
 

          “Hmm… let me think… none of your goddamned business? Oops, didn’t mean to speak of mythical creatures.”
 

          “What-what d’you mean?”
 

          I lifted an eyebrow and smirked cynically. “I said ‘God,’ didn’t I?”

 

          “You… don’t believe in God?” James sounded incredulous.
 

          “Believe?” I snorted. “Sorry, that word does not compute. Belief? Faith? Trust? Ha! Don’t make me laugh.”
 

          “What the hell is wrong with you? What happened to the real Val? This is not the girl I know.”
 

          “Know? You don’t know me. You haven’t ever even talked to me before today.”


          James bit his lip. “Well, yeah, I know that. But you’re pretty much the most popular and well-loved girl in the entire school. I’ve seen you around, you used to date my cousin, and you’re friends with a lot of my other cousins as well.” 
 

          “That may be true, but you’re operating under the impression that they all know me,” I said with a harsh laugh.


          “What do you mean?” 


          I shook my head, tears still smarting in my eyes. “No one knows me. None of my so-called friends, not even my family. They don’t understand, they don’t know. Everyone sees me how I want them to. But that’s not me. It hasn’t been me for almost six years. And I intend to keep it that way.” 
 

          The words were spilling out of my mouth without abandon. The inner torment and turmoil I had kept bottled up since that day at Joy’s funeral was finally being unleashed. And I didn’t care. On some level, deep inside my mind, I was screaming at myself to shut up. That I was ruining everything I had worked for. I was making myself to vulnerable, giving another person control over me. But at the moment, I hurt too much to give a damn.
 

          “So, you’re saying that this person that everyone thinks you are is a lie. That you’re actually just a callous, untrusting, unfeeling, empty excuse for a human being?” James seemed almost angry. And… disappointed?
 

          “You’re hitting the nail on the head, there Jamey-poo.”
 

          “Why? How? You said… you said that you haven’t been the person everyone thinks you are for six years. What changed?”

 

          More tears leaked from my eyes and my face contorted. “Everything changed.”
 

          James grabbed his hair viciously, raking his hands through the messy black locks. “How?”

 

          “How what? How did I change? How did I lose my faith? Ironic, isn’t it. My name is Faith. Yet faith is completely empty and meaningless. Just like me.”
 

          “Why don’t you believe in God?” James asked quietly.
 

          “Because, my naïve friend, why should I trust and believe and have faith in a cruel, selfish bastard, that lords over us, pulling strings and causing pain and destruction? Why should I thank this soulless being for what he’s done to me?” I gasped in a breath, tears cascading down my face now. “Why should I love something that took away my Joy?” I added, so softly I wondered if James even heard it.
 

          Apparently, he did. “How did he take away your joy?”

 

          “Leukemia,” I spat.
 

          James tilted his head, his expression a mixture of confusion and frustration. I looked at him for a second before taking the plunge. “Joy was my twin sister. She died two weeks after we turned ten. It was sudden, totally unexpected.”
 

          Understanding lit his eyes. I turned away, back to the window, trying to ignore his presence as I wallowed in my misery and guilt. He put his hand on my shoulder. “I am so sor-“
 

          “DON’T!” I roared, whirling around so fast, James was knocked slightly off-balance. “DO-NOT-SAY-YOU-ARE-SORRY!”
 

          He stared at me, eyes wide. He took a deep breath and said, “You can’t shut yourself out. You can’t turn your life into a lie. You have to keep living. Keep living because Joy can’t.”

 

          I slapped him across the face. He had no right to mention my sister. My Joy.
 

          James didn’t react to the slap. He just continued to look at me. Suddenly, his hands were holding my face and he pulled me forward. In a surreal moment, his mouth covered mine in a searing kiss. I stood, rooted to the spot, incomprehension filling my mind. Somewhere in my mind, I recognized that his lips were soft and warm, gentle as he pressed them to mine with a heartbreaking tenderness.

 

          He pulled away, only to put his mouth next to my ear. “I’m going to fix you,” he whispered, his breath an intoxicating caress against my cheek. James took a step back and, with one final look, walked out of the tower.
 

          I was still frozen in place and I subconsciously lifted my hand to trace my lips in confusion. I tried to ignore the odd feeling in the pit of my stomach as I returned to my ledge, sitting on it once more. I examined the grounds once more. This time, there were two thoughts consuming my mind, rather than one.
 

          Joy

 

          James
 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

AN

 

Oh. My. God. This chapter is hugeI was definitely not expecting that. But I think it was pretty necessary. I really wanted to illustrate the relationship between Val and Joy. The dependency, the protectiveness, and the overwhelming love. I hope I did an okay job of that.
 

I don’t know how many of you know the band, Red Hot Chili Peppers. But they kind of rock my world. Seriously, I love so much I had to include them in my story. I’m going to see them in concert in October, and every time I think about it, I nearly go into convulsions of excitement. I can’t wait! Also, this chapter, especially the last flashback, was inspired by the song Fix You, by Coldplay. Genius song. When I first bought it on iTunes, I listened to it for a week straight. So beautiful, if you haven’t heard it, you seriously need to check it out.
 

This chapter was actually very interesting for me to write. I have three older brothers, so I don’t have any true, sisterly relationships. Sure, I have close friends, but it’s still not quite the same. I see girls all the time who don’t appreciate their sisters and I just think that they take them too much for granted. They don’t understand what they have. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brothers. They’re great and even though I want to kill them sometimes, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I just think there’s something special about a bond between two sisters. Which was a big inspiration for me starting this story in the first place.
 

Anyways, let me know what you think. Was it too overdone? Do you understand Val a bit better now? And the last flashback! What did you think of that? Let me know in a review!
 

I’m thinking chapter nine will be in James’ point of view. But until then, here’s a preview of chapter eight!


          “Oh, nothing, really. Just musing about how much you guys look alike. You have the same grey eyes and curly hair, even if Rhiannon’s is black and yours is sandy blond. You two could be siblings.”

 

          “We are!” Rhiannon cried, wrapping Zeke into a hug.
 

 

          “Yeah, Rhee-Rhee’s my sister. There’s nothing better than having a wonderful sister. But you, of course, already know that, Val.”


          I stiffened. My eyes flashed and I looked at Zeke, my jaw clenched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, James, and all other Harry Potter related things. I, sadly, do not. Such is life.
 

Also, once again, Val’s statements about God, faith, etc. are not my own views.
 

EDIT July 2012: Those of you who have already read the story will notice I took out the bit about Val’s Uncle. I didn’t like the way that plotline was going and I decided to take it out. Look for edits to later chapters, as it will cut out a significant bit of the story.



Chapter 8: Confrontation in the Library
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        “Alright, everyone, listen up! I want all those trying out for Beater to go to my left, and all those trying out for Seeker to go my right,” I shouted.
 

          It was Saturday morning, and I was holding Quidditch try-outs. There was a decent amount of hopefuls for the two positions, so I figured this would last nearly until lunch. I watched as everyone shuffled off toward the indicated side of the field. I narrowed my eyes as I saw a group of five boys from Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. I think they were fourth years.
 

          “Hey! You five! Get off the pitch, and tryout for your own House team, yeah?”


 

          They ran off quickly and I tried to suppress my irritation. “Why the hell were they here, anyway?” I muttered to Zeke, who was standing next to me.


 

          He shifted uncomfortable, shooting me a wary look. When I had dragged myself back to my dormitory on Wednesday night, I had not spoken to anyone. Lost in the haze of memories, I had barely been responsive for the rest of the week. Everyone was walking on eggshells, unsure of how to deal with the snappy, bitter attitude I had taken on. Sure, I was still holding back a lot of my pain and resentment, but they were all so used to me being outgoing and happy. Even the teachers seemed hesitant around me.
 

          “Well, er, Val, the thing is… you’re kind of really hot. And, as Quidditch captain, you have to be in charge and command everyone. And that is, frankly, generally accepted to be a sexy quality in a girl. So…” Zeke trailed off as I glared.


 

          “Gee, thanks,” I said bitingly.
 

          He held up his hands. “Don’t shoot the messenger, Val. Besides, you asked.”


 

          I sighed, tightening my ponytail. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, Z.”


 

          “Say Val,” Rhiannon said, coming up behind me. “Do you just want me to practice with Anna and Justin for a while? Then we can observe a bit more when you narrow down the choices?”


 

          “Sure, that sounds like a great idea. I’ll call you three when I need you.” I forced a smile that I know she didn’t buy. Rhiannon was way too observant to be fooled by me when my acting was so shoddy. She didn’t say anything, however, and flew off towards the goalposts.


 

          I turned back to the small crowd in front of me. “Okay, Beaters. You will be going first. Each of you find a partner, grab a bat, and meet me up in the air.”


 

          After nearly half an hour of practice with Muggle softballs, I narrowed the selection down to four; two fifth year boys, a fourth year boy, and, surprisingly, a second year girl. This time, they took turns individually to hit an actual bludger with Zeke. For five minutes, one of them would aim for Anna, Justin, and Rhiannon, while Zeke would block. Then they would switch positions for another five minutes. Finally, I had each one work as a team with Zeke. After the four had each had their go, it was startlingly obvious who the new Beater was. I raised an eyebrow at my teammates and they all nodded.


 

          “Congratulations, Bronwyn,” I said, smiling at the tiny, black-haired girl. She gave a small yelp of surprise before grinning widely, two dimples popping out in her cheeks. I shook hands with the other three boys. They seemed upset, but no one could deny that Bronwyn was the rightful Beater. She was unsettlingly strong for someone her size and had deadly accuracy. She’d managed to hit Justin twice and Rhiannon once during her five minutes and hadn’t let a single bludger touch them. She worked well with Zeke and would be a great addition.


 

          I landed back on the ground to talk to the Seeker hopefuls after telling Bronwyn to stick around for a team meeting after the tryouts. I split the Seekers up into four groups comprising of three people and had each group race each other around the pitch. I took the winner of each group and releasing the snitch, had them compete to find it while Zeke shot bludgers at them. In the end, a third year, Rowan Fawcett, was the winner.


 

          “Alright team,” I said, as we all landed back onto the pitch, “everyone please welcome our new players, Bronwyn Garth and Rowan Fawcett.” There was a brief smattering of applause and Zeke clapped Bronwyn on the shoulder. “And we’ll begin practice next Wednesday evening. Sound good?”


 

          There were murmurs of agreement and I dismissed everyone to go to lunch. I walked with Rhiannon and Zeke. They were bickering good-naturedly, Zeke with his arm thrown around her. I looked at them for a moment. I could see how Fred might have gotten the impression that they were dating. However, that was just an outsider’s view. Anyone who spent a decent amount of time with the two could tell that there were no romantic feelings at all.
 

          “What are you looking at, Val?” Zeke asked with a smile while Rhiannon laughed at whatever he had just said.


 

          “Oh, nothing, really. Just musing about how much you guys look alike. You have the same grey eyes and curly hair, even if Rhiannon’s is black and yours is sandy blond. You two could be siblings.”


 

          “We are!” Rhiannon cried, wrapping Zeke into a hug.


 

          “Yeah, Rhee-Rhee’s my sister. There’s nothing better than having a wonderful sister. But you, of course, already know that, Val.”


 

          I stiffened. My eyes flashed and I looked at Zeke, my jaw clenched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


 

          They both looked shocked. “He-he was just talking about Hope, Val. What’s wrong?”


 

          “Oh, I… nothing. Sorry, I’m just a bit tired,” I said evasively. Merlin, what was James doing to me? I can’t control anything anymore.


 

          Zeke and Rhiannon still looked worried, Rhiannon with a calculating glint in her eyes. I couldn’t have her using her odd perception on me, not in my vulnerable state, so I cleared my throat and pointed towards Hagrid’s hut. “Hey, I’m going to go visit Hagrid for a bit. I’ll see you guys later.”


 

          I headed toward Hagrid’s without another word. I could still feel their gaze on my back, but I ignored it, my thoughts still buzzing around in my mind. I was so preoccupied, I didn’t notice the other people leaving Hagrid’s and ran right into Albus Potter.


 

          His hands shot out to steady me. “Careful, Val. Get your heads out of the clouds, there girl.”


 

          “Sorry, Al,” I smiled at him, reaching out to muss his hair. I just finished with Quidditch tryouts. Guess I left my mind back on the pitch, huh?”


 

          “So you’re telling me you just covered me in your sweat? Awesome, I can advertise that fact and sell these clothes to your many admirers. I’ll be rich!” he gave a fake evil laugh and rubbed his palms together, smirking.


 

          I shoved him. “What is it with everyone telling me about having followers today? First Zeke, now you.”


 

          “What did Boot say?” Al asked, tilting his head.
 

          “Well, I had a few Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors show up to try out for the team. They were all blokes, so Zeke told me it’s because they think that me ‘commanding’ them is sexy.”
 

          Al nodded in fake contemplation then glanced at me. “Yeah, I can see that.”


 

          I shoved him again and opened my mouth to retort. It was only then that I noticed James was standing behind him, watching us with an inscrutable expression. I felt myself freeze up as I stared into his eyes. The corner of his mouth twitched up, but whether it was a smile or smirk, I couldn’t be sure.


 

          “So, anyways, Al,” I said, mouth dry and my eyes still locked with James’, “I’ll see you Tuesday night for our next study session. Be ready to practice your jinxes. I’m off to see Hagrid.”
 

          “Alright then,” he said slowly, confusion in his eyes. “Bye Val! C’mon bro, let’s go to the Great Hall.”


 

          As soon as I broke eye contact with James, I felt myself inhale a deep breath of air. I don’t know how much more of this I’ll be able to handle. My mind still plagued with worries, I turned around, heading to take the long way back to the castle, rather than continuing to Hagrid’s hut like planned.


 

***


 

          Weeks passed. I kept up with my regular activities. I held Quidditch practices, studied and did my homework, tutored Al, and spent times with my friends in all the houses. But things were different. There were visible chinks in my armor and although no one, other than James of course, knew what was wrong. Lessie constantly tried to cheer me up, Jess gave me space, shooting me sympathetic smiles, and Rhiannon constantly gave me worried, contemplative stares. Zeke and Blake were completely lost and frankly, a little frightened.
 

          Nothing worked. Normally, though I could never really forget about Joy, I was able to push back the torment, the agony, back, keep it at bay for periods of time. But now, it was constantly in my mind. The memories I’d forced myself to repress haunted my every waking hour and plagued my nightmares. For over a month now, I’d only been sleeping for a few hours a night. Bags were starting to show under my eyes, my skin had a sallow undertone, and my face had taken of a pinched look.


 

          On a Wednesday night in mid-October, I was in the library studying with two of my friends, Priscilla Macmillan, a fifth year Hufflepuff, and Rachelle Demoux, a sixth year Slytherin, and Maisie and Roxy. We were quite the stunning display of House unity.
 

          “Hey, May?” Roxy said. “How long was that Charms essay supposed to be?”


 

          “Two and a half feet,” I murmured before she could respond.


 

          All four of them started at me. “How the hell did you know that?” Roxy asked. She was always a bit of a blunt one, not at all like Fred.


 

          “Hmm?” I said, idly flipping a page in my Transfiguration book. I glanced up at them. May and Rachelle looked worried, while Priscilla and Roxy looked dumbfounded. “What?”


 

          Roxy suddenly slammed her book shut. “Alright, Val. You’re going to tell me what the fuck is up and you’re going to tell me now.”


 

          “What are you talking about?” I asked, feeling dread settle in my stomach. It was only a matter of time before someone finally cracked and asked me about my, for lack of a better word, depression. Of course it would be Roxy. She was Fred’s twin. The girls patience had been wore down to nothing. In fact, I was surprised she even lasted this long.


 

          “Have you looked in a mirror recently?” Roxy’s voice started growing in volume. “You look like shit, girl! More than that, you look ill. Your concentration is shot and you look like you’re constantly in pain. Sure, you’re still Superwoman, doing everything better than everyone else, but dear God, you’re killing yourself. And I don’t know what happened between you and my cousin!”


 

          “You have a lot of cousins, Rox,” I said in a weary voice. I knew which one she was speaking of, of course, but I was going to stick to this oblivious façade for as long as possible.


 

          Roxanne scoffed and smashed her fist into the table. “You know who I mean. James! Fred told me about that little shouting match you two had during the first week of school. He stares at you all the time, and recently he’s been looking like someone cancelled Quidditch! What the hell is going on?”


 

          I stood up, quickly sweeping my books, ink, and parchment into my bag. “Just forget it,” I muttered. Maisie, Priscilla, and Rachelle all looked shocked. Roxy looked furious.


 

          As I turned to walk away, I felt a hand on my arm. Rachelle looked at me, un-Slytherin like concern in her eyes. “C’mon Val. You can just shut everyone out. Talk to us.”


 

          I almost laughed. All this was happening because I couldn’t shut anyone out. Cracks were splintering through my perfectly created illusion. People were getting glimpses of the real me and it was quite obvious that they didn’t like what they saw. I pulled away from Rachelle, just shaking my head, before I walked out of the library.
 

***
 

          I was sitting in the Owlery. I sat on the floor, my back against the wall opposite the door. I held my arms around myself, fighting off shivers. It seems the warmth of summer was truly retreating as the leaves in the Forbidden Forest changed colors and began to fall. Evening had fallen and there was a definite chill in the air. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, suppressing the tears that welled up behind them. It seemed all I did recently was cry. I hated it. I hated being weak.


 

          I doleful hoot came from next to me, and I opened my eyes to see my owl, Mathilda staring at me, a letter tied to her leg. I reached out and detached it, recognizing Hope’s handwriting. I unfolded the letter, smoothing it out, and began to read.


 

Dearest Vally-kins,


 

          How’s that for a pet name? I know how much you love coming up with ones for other people; I figured it was high time I gave you one. What do you think is it sickening enough?


 

          I realize it’s been a while since I wrote. I’ve been pretty busy at my new job. It’s wonderful working in the Goblin Liaison Department. I’ve been doing pretty well, or so my supervisor tells me, so I think I’ll be getting a promotion soon! David’s also been staying with me in my flat. He’s almost finished with his internship and plans to get his own flat once he secures a steady source of income.


 

          There’s a more important reason for this letter, however, than idle chit-chat and catching up with my baby sister. As you know, Victoire and a certain Defense Against the Dark Arts professor of yours are getting married. Well, I’m going to be the Maid of Honor! I’m so excited, I can’t even begin to tell you! I know, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking that I was the obvious choice. Well, I didn’t want to presume. Dominique had just as much chance as I did.


 

          Anyway, I have another little surprise for you: Toire wants you to be one of her bridesmaids! I can see the skeptical look you’re giving this letter, but it’s true! Toire wants a bunch of bridesmaids, and she considers you as a sister just as much as Dom. And she wanted a few non-family members, since all the other bridesmaids besides you, me, and Sammy are her cousins. The wedding is in the beginning of March. You’ll be given permission to leave Hogwarts for the weekend. That is, if you want the job. Either way, you’re still invited to the wedding, but Toire doesn’t want to force you into it. When you decide, if you haven’t already, just tell Teddy – that’s Professor Lupin to you.

 

          Anyways, what’s up? How’s Hogwarts? Still ruling the school? Keeping your grades up, I’m sure, and you’re probably rocking it as Prefect and Quidditch Captain. How is Quidditch anyway? Replaced that idiot brother of ours?


 

          Hoping (no pun intended) that all is well. Love you little sis.


 

          Love,


 

          Hope


 

          I smiled slightly, reading Hope’s letter. Vally-kins. That was a new one. I’m sure Hope was counting down the days until David left. She loves him, don’t get me wrong, but he was a complete slob. Not to mention overprotective. She probably hasn’t had a date in months. Unlike me, Hope wasn’t hesitant about dating, but she wasn’t a slag or anything.


 

          Bridesmaid. I was actually rather touched that Victoire would consider asking me. I felt a stab in my heart as I thought of how Joy would have jumped at the position. When we were 8, my oldest cousin, Ally, had gotten married. Joy had loved it. She had talked endlessly of plans for her own wedding and for mine. The way she spoke of them… it was a fairy tale come to life. Even at 8, she had been a hopeless romantic. I knew that I had to accept Victoire’s offer. For Joy.
 

          I pulled ink and parchment out of the bad I still had with me from the library and began writing a response to Hope. The whole thing was mostly b.s. Sure, there were base facts – tidbits about my friends, new members of the Quidditch team, the odd anecdote from class – but there was so much cheer throughout the letter I almost felt sick. I confirmed to her that I would indeed be a bridesmaid, offered her my condolences about David staying with her, and congratulated her on her job. With a last message of farewell, I sent Mathilda off again.


 

          Checking my watch, I saw it was five minutes to curfew. I heaved myself off the floor and began trekking back to Ravenclaw Tower. I collapsed onto my bed the second I made it to the sixth year girl’s dormitory. I hadn’t even been lying there for a minute before Rhiannon came and sat down on my bed. She was the only other person in the room. Our other four roommates were still down in the common room.


 

          “Hey, Val,” she said softly, beginning to stroke my hair gently. “How’re you doing? I heard about what happened in the library.”


 

          I lifted my head. “How?”


 

          “Fred told me,” she said. I smiled slightly. She and Fred weren’t dating, not by a long shot, but they had started talking to each other. Fred was practically floating down the hallways nowadays. I don’t know when he decided to get so cute.


 

          I shrugged. “Yeah, well. Roxanne has always been kind of impatient. And tactless. And persistent. But I suppose she wouldn’t be Roxy if she wasn’t.”


 

          “I talked to Priscilla. She’s worried about you. We all are. Hell, I think half of the people in this school, teachers included, are worried about you. You’ve been off for over a month. I know it’s not my place to pry and you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but I think you need to talk to someone.”


 

          I looked at Rhiannon. That was one of the wonderful things about her. Sometimes, her over perceptiveness could be annoying or inconvenient, but she always knew when to push and when to leave someone be.


 

          “I’m always here if you need me,” she continued, a sad smile lingering on her face. “I’d understand if you don’t tell me though. But seriously, Val, write to your parents or your brother or sister. Talk to Lessie, or Fred, or any of your other friends. Talk to Professor Lupin, Professor Morgan, or even Headmistress McGonagall. I don’t care who, just let someone help you. I hate seeing you like this. We all do.” By the end, Rhiannon had unshed tears sparkling in her eyes.


 

          I sat up and hugged her. She clung to me slightly, trying to convey without words that she cared about me, that she wanted me to be okay. I smiled slightly, though it didn’t quite reach my eyes. “Thanks, Rhiannon,” I said quietly.


 

          She nodded, before getting up and exited the room, leaving me alone with my thoughts. She was right; I did need to talk to someone. The problem was that there was only one person I really wanted to talk to. One person I needed to. And I couldn’t. She was dead.


 

          But as I sat there, pondering to myself, I had a stroke of inspiration. Maybe there was a way I could talk to Joy. Not face-to-face. Not even in a way that would allow her to answer me. But still, it would be enough to satisfy me at the moment.


 

          Quickly, I went down the stairs to the common room. I smiled and nodded at Lessie, Jess, Rhiannon, Blake, and Zeke as I crossed the room. Then, paying no heed to the fact that it was after curfew, I left. I needed to see Professor McGonagall.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN
 

Well, that’s it for Chapter 8. Not super exciting, I know. But it was necessary. I needed to start moving the story along and Val needs to start showing some growth as a character. Granted, it might seem as though she’s backtracked, but this chapter was actually pretty important for setting up how she’s going to change as a person.


 

Priscilla and Rachelle were both briefly mention in Chapter 3, in case you forgot. Also, Professor Morgan is the Head of Ravenclaw House. She’s mentioned in Chapter 5.


 

So, what’d you think? Did you like Roxy? How about Rhiannon? Why does Val need to see the esteemed Headmistress? Review! Please?


 

Big thanks to Sebastian Alfayalfa for reviewing every single chapter today. You rock. Seriously. And thanks to everyone else who has review so far, you guys make my day every time!


 

Now, it’s time for a very special preview from Chapter 9. This one is going to be from James’ perspective! You’ll finally find out what’s been going on in that head of his…
 

          I was confused. I was pissed off. I was sad. And I was hopeful. Is it normal for a bloke to feel this many bloody emotions at once? Or am I turning into a girl or something? Dear Merlin, I hope not. Fred would never let me live it down. Neither would Al, or Louis, or Hugo, or Ted, for that matter. Heck, even Lily would mock me mercilessly. I’m actually quite proud of how she’s turning out. She’s a feisty little bugger that won’t take crap from anyone. I’ve trained her well.

 

Disclaimer: I’ve been lying to you this whole time. I’m actually J.K. Rowling in disguise. The sky is also magenta and the world is ruled by an elephant dictator named Phillip.


Chapter 9: Turning Tables
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James Potter POV

 

 

          I was confused. I was pissed off. I was sad. And I was hopeful. Is it normal for a bloke to feel this many bloody emotions at once? Or am I turning into a girl or something? Dear Merlin, I hope not. Fred would never let me live it down. Neither would Al, or Louis, or Hugo, or Ted, for that matter. Heck, even Lily would mock me mercilessly. I’m actually quite proud of how she’s turning out. She’s a feisty little bugger that won’t take crap from anyone. I’ve trained her well.

 

          But, anyways, that’s hardly the point. The point is, Val freaking Sullivan is messing with my head. Seriously, I just feel like banging it against the wall every time I see her. Or think about her. And that happens a lot more often than I’d like to admit.


 

          Perhaps I should explain. I’ve had a crush on Val since we were both second years. It all happened during the Gryffindor/Ravenclaw Quidditch match that year. We had both made our respective teams as Chasers and were facing off for the first time. Although Gryffindor won the Cup, Ravenclaw had won that match. And a lot of it fell down to Val. The girl was insanely talented, even as a newbie. Her aim was dead accurate and she had quite the throwing arm. I don’t think she’s missed a single shot since she joined the team. But I digress. The point is, during the course of the match, Val ended up knocking me off my broom, trying to get in one last shot before the snitch was caught. She’d made the goal – of course – and then taken me to the hospital wing, rushing me off before anyone else could get to me. She didn’t even stay on the pitch to celebrate her team’s victory.


 

          She hadn’t stuck around though. I had passed out about a minute after hitting the ground and didn’t come to for about 15 minutes. I’d woken up in the hospital wing, surrounded by the team and my enormous family, but Val wasn’t there. That evening, however, I’d received an unsigned note reading Sorry. Great game today.


 

          It was right about then that I felt the figurative sting of Cupid’s arrow. I didn’t talk to Val, I was frankly too much of a pansy to, but I did start noticing her more. How genuinely kind she was to everyone. How she excelled in every single subject. I already knew how gifted she was on the Quidditch pitch. People from every House flocked around her. She was bright, bubbly, and pretty much perfect in every way. I was a goner.


 

          It was always a bit of a godsend to me that she dated so rarely. But it was a slap in the face when she dated Fred in fourth year. I was furious with Fred, although it was kind of unjustified. I hadn’t told him how I felt about Val. I hadn’t told anyone. The way I had seen it, I had zero chance with her, so why bother looking like an idiot. I wonder now how things may have been different if I had spoken to someone, or acted on my crush somehow.
 

          Then… everything changed. I decided to go up to the Astronomy Tower one night as my fifth year was coming to an end, hoping to clear my head from the pressure of my O.W.L.s. I had been completely shocked and rather frightened to see Val perched precariously on the edge of the window ledge, crying. Naturally, my mind jumped to conclusions and I rushed over to her to, I believed at the time, save her life.


 

          Of course, my little heroic bubble had been popped when Val, the lovely sweet girl I was so enamored with, had denied my accusations of suicide and turned cynical and bitter. I couldn’t believe the words that had been coming from her mouth. And then… then, she told me about her sister. Joy. It was only then that I was able to see past the twisted mask she wore on her face and see what lurked beneath it. Pain. Torment. Guilt. And a sadness so heartbreaking it made me want to cry myself.


 

          I tried to make her understand. I needed her to understand. I felt her loss in that moment. I felt it so deep that, for a moment, I felt as though I had lost one of my own siblings. But when I tried to tell her that, she’d snapped. The rage on her face left me shaken. It was so clear to me that she couldn’t deal with her loss. That it’d been following her, haunting her, ever since it happened. So, I tried to tell her to let it go, to stop suppressing her memories. Instead, she’d slapped me across the face.


 

          So I did the only thing I could think of. I kissed her. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it was long enough. It was long enough for me to know that I had to help this girl. I knew that somewhere inside of her was the person she’d been pretending to be. I knew that she was just as wonderful as I’d always thought her to be, even if she wasn’t at the moment. The kiss was also long enough for me to realize that I’d stopped fancying her long ago. The kiss was long enough for me to realize that I was in love with Val.


 

          In that moment, I decided that she was going to get better. I was going to help her accept her sister’s death; help her see that letting go won’t mean she doesn’t love her sister. And I was going to do this by any means necessary.


 

***


 

          “Oi! Earth to James. Hello, anyone in there?”


 

          I blinked, and looked at Fred, who was waving a hand in front of my face. “What?” I asked, slightly annoyed.


 

          “Dude, you just blanked out there for about 10 minutes,” he said raising his eyebrow. “What’s going on in that big head of yours?”


 

          “Yeah, because you’re one to talk,” I muttered, slightly embarrassed. Truth was, I had zoned out, staring at Val. But if I told Fred that, I’d have to turn in my man card. Yes, I have an actual man card. Fred made it for me when I was a fourth year. It’s a laminated piece of paper with the word “man” written on it in large, red letters. Don’t ask me what its significance is. Fred’s a bit odd. He decided that, as my older, supposedly wiser cousin, he need to mentor me in the ways of being a man. When he thought I was ready, he gave me the card and warned me that he could take it back if I compromised my man status. Whatever that meant.


 

          Fred and I were sitting in the library. I was frankly rather shocked that Freddy was willing to go to the library. Although, I’m pretty sure he has his eye on that Ravenclaw girl, Val’s friend Rhiannon. I suppose he thought that Rhiannon might be here, as a studious Ravenclaw.


 

          Too bad for Fred, she wasn’t. Val, however, was. She was sitting with Roxy, May Finnegan, and two other girls I didn’t know. The girls kept up scattered conversation while they worked, although Val didn’t really participate. And this was what had me worried. She’d been… off ever since the last time we’d spoken.


 

          I jumped as Fred snapped his fingers in front of my face. “You’re doing it again,” he sighed.


 

          “Sorry, man, I guess I just can’t concentrate.”


 

          “Oh, really? No kidding,” he scoffed. “What has you so distracted anyway?” Fred began craning his neck around in search, rising to his feet.


 

          I pushed him back into his chair. “Nothing,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t notice Val. Too late.


 

          “Aha! It’s Val, isn’t it?”


 

          “What does Sullivan have to do with anything?”
 

          “Alright, seriously James. What the hell is going on between you two?”
 

          I laughed bitterly. “Freddy, you’d have to be crazy to think something happening between me and Val Sullivan.” She probably hated me anyways. I’d been a bit of an arsehole. Well, a huge arsehole, actually.


 

          “Really, now?” he asked skeptically. “Then I suppose you wouldn’t have any issues telling me the meaning behind that little fight you guys had on the first day of school, now would you?”


 

          He had me there. But I couldn’t tell him about Joy. It was in no conceivable way my secret to tell. Val clearly did not want anyone to know about her sister. So why she told me, I have no idea. And if anything, the way I’ve treated her will have done nothing but encourage her not to tell anyone.


 

          Ah, there it is again. The guilt. After I’d first found out, after I’d kissed Val, I had been willing to do anything to help her. Now, however, I couldn’t help but think I was too harsh. I’d hoped that by antagonizing her, forcing her to remember her sister, maybe Val would come out of her shell. Open up to someone. Namely, me. Yet, I’d watched her for this past month and if anything, she’d gotten worse.  Looking at her now, she seemed sad and ill. And still completely, utterly… faithless. And it was my fault. What had I been thinking? How the hell would making her feel like complete and utter shit help her come to terms with her grief? And why would she feel like opening up to me, anyways? In her eyes, it hadn’t really worked out all that well the first time. God, I was so stupid.


 

          “Fred,” I began, but we were interrupted by the sound of a slamming book. Roxy, it seemed, was fed up with Val’s defeated attitude. She began demanding answers from Val, her voice verging on a shout as she tried to get Val to talk. I felt my blood run cold as she mentioned me.


 

          “You know who I mean. James! Fred told me about that little shouting match you two had during the first week of school. He stares at you all the time, and recently he’s been looking like someone cancelled Quidditch! What the hell is going on?”


 

          I felt Fred’s eyes on me. I determinedly averted my own eyes, focusing back on my work, but straining my ears so I could catch Val’s answer. What would she say?


 

          But Val just shrugged off Roxy’s interrogation and walked out of the library. I kept my eyes on my Transfiguration essay, firmly telling myself that I couldn’t run out after her. Footsteps stormed over in my direction and I felt a hand roughly grasp my hair and yank my head up.


 

          “Ouch! Merlin, Roxanne, what the bloody hell is wrong with you?” I asked, meeting Roxy’s glare.


 

          “Fix. It.” Her voice was a snarl as she jabbed me in the chest with her finger.


 

          I opened my mouth in confusion, but Roxy jumped in before I could speak.


 

          “Val. Whatever you did to her, fix it. Now.”


 

          “Woah, woah,” I held up my hands. “I didn’t do a damn thing.” Lie.


 

          “How stupid do you think I am?” she seethed. Maisie came up behind her, arms crossed, looking upset. The two unknown girls had apparently left.


 

          “James,” May said quietly, “we’ve never seen Val like this. It’s been going on for far too long. We don’t know for certain it’s you, but you’re the only person we know that has antagonized her.”


 

          Before I knew what was happening, I found myself nodding. “Okay, yeah I’ll fix things.”


 

          May nodded before gently pulling Roxy away, who was still glaring at me. I gathered my books together and said goodbye to Fred, my mind too occupied for school work.


 

          Fix things. Fix Val. That had been the plan from the start. But my first attempt had clearly failed. So ends Plan A, now it was time to move onto Plan B. The problem? I have no bloody clue what Plan B is.


 

***


 

          At about 10 o’clock that evening, I was wondering around the castle, paying no mind to where I was going. Frankly, I was putting off having to go to bed. Every time I closed my eyes, I would always see the raw pain in Val’s eyes when I mentioned Joy. Needless to say, I completely regretted everything I’d said to her this year.


 

          Well, not everything. The jibes about her sister, bringing up the Astronomy Tower incident, all the insults I’d thrown at her, those I regretted. Except one. Calling her fake. Because that one is actually true. Sure, she’s not a fake in the typical sense, but she is still is one. She puts on airs, pretending to be what she isn’t, fooling other people about what she’s really like. Yeah, her persona is who she was before Joy died, but it’s still not who she is now.


 

          There are few things I hate more than fakes. And unfortunately, due to my unearned fame, I had to deal with a lot of them. People constantly tried to be “good enough” to be my friend. Girls tried to make themselves “perfect” so I would want to date them. I hated it. There was a reason most of my friends were family.


 

          Val is just so freaking complicated. She’s not being herself, but at the same time she is. It’s like, on the surface, she’s one thing. The charismatic, kind, lovely girl everyone loves. But underneath that is a deep layer of hurt, pain, and cynicism. Dig even further, though, and there was another, deeper layer that was exactly like the surface. Like a pie.


 

          I leaned against a wall, trying to silence my thoughts, and glanced around at my surroundings. It seemed that I had unconsciously wandered to the corridor leading to the Ravenclaw common room. I used to come here all the time in my third year, hiding by the entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of Val. What? I know it was stalker-ish, but I was thirteen. All blokes are a bit creepy at that age. Just look at Hugo. He’s thirteen right now and is a complete freak when it comes to the opposite gender. The kid stole the socks of a girl he fancies and smells them every night. He smells her socks. That definitely has to be Uncle Ron’s influence. Aunt Hermione’s way too hygienic for a sock fetish.


 

          I whipped around as I heard footsteps approaching from around the corner. I cursed under my breath, looking for a spot to hide. Al had the cloak tonight, so I had no cover. There was a niche about 10 meters away from where I was, but there was no way I’d be able to make it in time. I shrank back into the shadows, holding myself tense.


 

          I felt a shock run through me when I saw Val rounding the corner. She still looked tired, sick, and upset, but there was a slight smile on her face and a vaguely… hopeful glint to her eyes? She stopped dead when she spotted me, halfway down the corridor.


 

          “What are you doing out this late?” I blurted suddenly. She raised an eyebrow.
 

          “I could ask you the same question,” she said, her mouth set into a frown. I stared at her lips for a moment. They were full and lightly pink. I knew from experience that they would be soft and warm against mine… I shook myself slightly, realizing she was talking.


 

          “At least I’m actually near my common room. You’re a long way from the Lion’s Den, aren’t you?” I smiled slightly at her analogy. “Besides,” she continued, “I’m a prefect. What’s you’re excuse?”


 

          I looked at her blankly. “You may be a prefect, but you’re not scheduled to be on patrol tonight.”


 

          “And how would you know that?”


 

          Because I know everything about you. At least, everything I can without talking to you or anyone you’re close to. “I happen to know that the fifth years are patrolling tonight. My cousin was complaining about being paired with Scoripus Malfoy. You know Rose?”


 

          “Of course. Sweet girl, excellent Keeper, and top of her year. I know Scorpius as well. Kind-hearted boy, though most people don’t see it, brilliant Seeker, second in his year behind Rose, and the first decent Malfoy in centuries. He and Rosie are so meant to be, even if she doesn’t see it. Stubborn little bint,” she added with a slightly affectionate smile.


 

          “You’ve talked to her before?” I asked. I hadn’t known that. I knew she got on well with a fair few of my cousins, but I hadn’t known Rose was one of them.


 

          Val rolled her eyes. “Yeah. She’s close with Dom, so Dom introduced us back when I was a third year.”


 

          “How many of my family members are you close with, anyways?” I asked, my curiosity piqued. I hadn't known she was friends with Dom, either. Dom was three years older than us. I didn’t even stop to think how bizarre it was that Val and I were having a relatively normal conversation that didn’t involve any violence, yelling, or personal insults.


 

          She looked away. “None of them. I’m not close to anyone. But I know Toire, Dom, Louis, Fred, of course, Roxy, Rosie, and Molly. Oh, and Al, too, now.”
 

          “Really? Vic and Molly?”


 

          Val gave me a look that immediately made me feel like an idiot. “Victoire was the first Weasley I’ve ever met. She’s only best friends with my older sister. Toire came to my house back when I was seven. And Mollzers is the coolest third year around. Nothing like your Uncle Percy is rumored to be.”


 

          My brain was starting to ache. “How do you know about Uncle Percy? We may all agree that he’s a right old stick in the mud, but there’s still no way Molls would say anything bad about him.”


 

          “She didn’t have to,” she said, rolling her eyes again. “I heard all about him from Rhea.”


 

          “Who?”
 

          “Don’t you know anything about your own cousins? Rhea Karalis, Alessia’s sister? Also the sister of one of your Beaters? She’s Molly’s best friend. Just because you’re too afraid of being used by other people to give them a chance, doesn’t mean everyone else in your family is.”


 

          Now I was really dumbfounded. My jaw dropped and I looked at Val in incredulous shock. “What?”


 

          “You’re a wimp, Potter. You’re too afraid someone will try to use you because of your dad’s fame to allow other people to befriend you. Newsflash, not everyone cares. The only people you hang around with are your cousins and family friends, like the Longbottoms and the Scamanders. Yeah, I get it; there are people that only like you because you’re a mini-celebrity. But that doesn’t mean you should shut everyone out. You’re too presumptuous, thinking the worst of everyone. Maybe you should try giving someone the benefit of the doubt for once in your life.”


 

          She paused to take a breath before plowing on, a vicious glint in her eyes. “When was the last time you talked to someone new in the Great Hall? In class? The library? Heck, even your own common room? Do you even know everyone in Gryffindor? Or even in sixth year? I bet you couldn’t name more than 10 people outside your little circle. And there’s no excuse for that. There are good people in the world, in this school. You just have to suck up your irrational fears and deflate your head.”


 

          Val may as well have punched me again. She was right. I tended to ignore anyone I wasn’t already acquainted with. Anytime someone made a friendly gesture, I just brushed them off, assuming they wanted something. I didn’t even know who my own cousins were friends with!


 

          Val smirked. “It’s not fun having someone point out all your flaws, is it? But, see, here’s the difference between you and me; I already knew what a fucked up person I am. But for you… reality stings, huh?


 

          A choking noise was coming from my throat. In all honesty, while I felt like a jerk for how I’ve acted toward other people, it wasn’t truly a big deal. Not in the long run, and not when it could be so easily fixed. But as Val had said, someone viciously pointing out your faults isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. And if someone were to tell you about how your inability to recover from the loss of your sister makes you a horrible person… well it would be that much worse.


 

          “What,” Val asked, “No clever comeback? No comment about me to deflect from yourself? You’re not going to start ripping into me about things that are none of your business?”


 

          I shook my head slowly. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.


 

          “What?” she said in astonishment.


 

          “I’m sorry,” I said louder, full of sincerity. “I shouldn’t have done what I did. Said what I did. I was wrong.”


 

          Val stared at me for a moment, a flurry of emotions flickering across her face. Without warning, she turned and punched the wall. I took a step forward in shock as she let out a quiet hiss, shaking her hand. She whipped back around to look at me when I gently took her hand to assess the damage. It was broken.


 

          “Let me heal you,” I murmured, pulling out my wand. Before I could do anything, though, Val shoved me away.


 

          “Stop messing with my head!” she growled, now kicking the wall. Huh. I hadn’t really pegged her as the violent type.


 

          “What do you mean?” I watched her warily as she threw her hands in the air, a frustrated look on her face.


 

          “You’re bloody bipolar! We basically ignore each other for almost five years, then suddenly – Bam! – you’re saving me from what you incorrectly assumed to be a suicide. Then, when I slap you, you kiss me! And this year, you constantly stare at me! On the first day back, you gave me the weirdest looks, but the next day you yell at me and insult me, throwing my sister’s death in my face! I break your nose, but you refuse to get it healed. You insult me some more. You spend a week glaring at me until you confront me in the library. You start off all mysterious before you lapse back into the insults until I end up curled in a ball in the Room of Requirement, sobbing and shaking from buried memories. And then – nothing. Nada. We ignore each other for a month and a half. Nothing but stares on your part. But now? Suddenly you’re apologizing and trying to help me? What gives?”


 

          She was breathing heavily by the end of her rant. Oh, hello, guilt. I missed you. Val was completely right. I was kind of being a jerk. No, not kind of. I was being a jerk. My eyes were closed, but they snapped open when she stalked past me.


 

          “By the way,” she snapped, before flinching slightly, for some odd reason. “I was talking to Professor McGonagall.”


 

          Then she proceeded to answer the riddle the eagle knocker asked her and storm into her common room. I leaned back against the wall once more. God, I was an idiot.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

AN


 

And… ta da! There we have the mystery of James Potter. Not so mysterious anymore, is it? I know, it’s a bit cliché, him having a long-term crush on Val, but I like to think his ways of dealing with her are a bit unorthodox. Most guys wouldn’t think “Hmm, this girl I like can’t deal with the demons of her past. I should be a huge jerk-face meanie butt to her so she gets better and then falls in love with me.” At least, I hope they don’t think that.
 

All in all, I’m not the happiest with this chapter. I’ve been working on it for a while, but I still feel like I don’t quite do James justice. I have a very clear picture of how my characters are in my head. Val, I think, translates very well from thoughts in my head to words. James, however… I don’t know. What do you think?
 

We’ll be back in Val’s perspective for chapter ten. Here’s a bit of a preview of what’s to come:
 

          I sat up in shock and locked eyes with my brother, David. “Ho-how long have you been there?”
 

          “Awhile,” he replied, sitting down next to me. “I came in when you started talking about our little sojourn into Mr. McCormack’s backyard."
 

          “You mean when you got treed by his dachshund?” I asked, smiling slightly.
 
 

          David groaned. “Don’t remind me, that thing was vicious. I had been so excited to go on that ‘spy mission’ with you two. I’d spent the last week hearing about your little adventures. But it seems that fate declared that would be my first and last time joining you two."
 

Disclaimer: James Potter II is a character born from J.K. Rowling’s mind, just like anything else you recognize. And the "like a pie" line and comparison is from Dr. Horrible's Sing- Along Blog. If you haven't seen that movie, you have to check it out. It's hilarious and Neil Patrick Harris sings. Enough said.


 

Just a side note, despite the chapter title, this song was not inspired by, nor is it related in any way, to the song “Turning Tables,” by Adele. But I do love that song.


Chapter 10: Visit
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Joy Graciela Sullivan
 

Beloved Daughter and Sister
 

July 9, 2003 – July 23, 2013



 

          “Hi, Joy,” I whispered. “Gracie.”

 
 

          I sat down in the grass near Joy’s gravestone. There was a slight chill in the air and a breeze stirred my hair around my face. “It’s been awhile since I’ve called you Gracie, huh. Your extra-special nickname. I only used it when you were upset. I first came up with it when you had to go to the hospital when you burned your hand. You were so upset because it meant you couldn’t play piano or guitar or any other instruments anymore. You always loved music.”

          I reached out and gently touched her name, engraved into the marble. “Tina and Gracie. Remember how we’d pretend those where our spy names? We snuck around the neighborhood, rolling around like ninjas, calling each other ‘agent’ and using our signal.” I gently pulled on my left ear.

          “Remember the time we convinced Hope and David to come with us?” I asked with a breathless laugh, tears starting to roll down my cheeks. “We tried to sneak through Mr. McCormack’s back yard and his dog ended up chasing Hope and David up a tree,” I laugher harder, my tears falling faster.

          “You and I had to distract Mr. McCormack and convince him to show us his dog so they could escape! That was a week before Hope and David left for Hogwarts. David was going for the first time. That’s why I started the spy game, remember? You were sad about them leaving, so I made up a game to get your mind off of it. I also slept in your bed for a month once they left. You wanted to feel less alone. Did you know I haven’t slept the in our room since you died? Your bed is still in there, I wouldn’t let Mum and Dad move it. But every time I come home from Hogwarts, I look at your empty bed and I can’t do it. Once everyone else is asleep, I sneak out the window and sleep in our old tree house. I set an alarm so I wake up early and can come back in."

          I moved to lie on my back, my head resting by Joy’s gravestone. In a twisted, morbid way, it was almost like I was a kid again, lying side by side with Joy on her bed or mine. I stretched my arm out a little, imagining I was reaching out to hold her hand. The sun came out from behind the clouds, warming my face.

          “You’re still my best friend, you know. There’re several people I hang around with, but they don’t know about you. It’s not that I’m ashamed of you,” I added hastily. “I just… I don’t want their sympathy. I don’t want people telling me they’re sorry. That they understand. Because they don’t and they can’t. Sure, they can understand loss, but not my loss. Not even Mum and Dad can. That’s not to say that I can understand their loss. Not fully. We had different relationships with you, therefore, our losses are different.”

          I sighed and ran my hand through my hair. The sun was causing it to emit a soft, golden glow. The shine seemed out of place, juxtaposed by my misery.

          “That’s why I maintain that no one I know can understand my pain. I don’t think anyone ever truly understood just how much I loved and needed you. How much I still love and need you. No one gets it. They haven’t lost a twin, a sister, a best friend. They haven’t lost themselves."

          “Why didn’t you tell anyone you were struggling so much?” said a voice from above me.

          I sat up in shock and locked eyes with my brother, David. “Ho-how long have you been there?”

          “Awhile,” he replied, sitting down next to me. “I came in when you started talking about our little sojourn into Mr. McCormack’s backyard.”

          “You mean when you got treed by his dachshund?” I asked, smiling slightly.

          David groaned. “Don’t remind me, that thing was vicious. I had been so excited to go on that ‘spy mission’ with you two. I’d spent the last week hearing about your little adventures. But it seems that fate declared that would be my first and last time joining you two.”

          I hummed quietly, stroking the smooth marble around the word “sister” on Joy’s gravestone.

          “You and Joy were always quite the pair,” David went on. “You girls probably could’ve conquered the entire world together.”

          I laughed. “I remember how Joy and I would convince the cashier at that shop down the street to give us free candy.”

          “Yeah, and you wouldn’t share with me or Hope unless we promised you something in return.”

          “Oh, we would’ve shared either way. We just wanted to see if you two were really gullible enough to think we wouldn’t.”

          “You sneaky little gits!” David exclaimed. “I can’t believe I fell for that!”

          “Neither can I,” I teased. “Are you sure you didn’t bribe the Sorting Hat to put you in Ravenclaw?”

          He pushed me. We sat in a companionable silence for a few minutes, my head resting on his shoulder. After a while, David spoke.

          “Hey, Val?” he asked tentatively. “Is this why you never visit with the rest of us? Because you… you’re still so hurt over it?” 

          “David, this is the first time I’ve ever visited Joy’s grave,” I admitted. “I never wanted to before.”

          “But… why? You loved Joy more than anyone else. How could you not visit her?”

          I shrugged. “I guess that I knew it would everything too real for me. Seeing her grave would be undeniable proof that she’s gone. By not visiting, I could sometimes convince myself that Joy is just… away. On vacation or visiting people. Going to a different school. Something that she could come back from.”

          “Val…” David hesitated. “Joy’s dead. She’s not coming back.”

          “I know,” I said harshly. “Believe me, no one knows that better than me.”

          David stared at me for a moment. “You’re not okay, are you? You haven’t been okay since Joy died.”

          “No. No I haven’t. I’m a complete mess and no one knows it.” Except James. But that wasn’t something I was going to get into.

          “Val, that’s… that’s not healthy.”

          “Do you think I don’t know that?” I snapped. “What is it with people pointing out how messed up I am? I’m aware this isn’t normal. I’m aware that I’m completely fucked up! There’s a reason I pretend to be okay – I don’t want or need anyone’s pity or help!"

          David blinked. “I thought you said no one else knew.”

          “I-what?”

          “You said ‘what is it with people.’ That implies that other people know."

          I was silent for a moment, debating whether or not to tell David about my life at Hogwarts. I had completely dismissed the idea just a moment ago, but now I wondered if maybe I should tell him. I scrutinized him briefly. His dark brown hair was cut shorter than when I’d last saw him. His eyes had an uncharacteristic serious light to them, but still retained their typical honest, open look. I smiled slightly. He was still my big teddy bear of an older brother. David was tall, five inches taller than my 6’1” frame. As a former Beater, he was very muscular. Despite the foreboding appearance, I knew he was a bit softie. I leaned over and put my head on his shoulder, and David put his arm around me.

          “Maybe it’s time I finally tell someone the whole story of my Hogwarts life,” I sighed. David gently set his chin on top of my head, pulling me closer.

          David sat and rocked me slowly as I began talking. I told him about the emptiness, the bitter anger, and the overwhelming pain that has consumed me since Joy’s death. I explained my pseudo-friendships with Lessie, Rhiannon, and Jessamy, and the boys. I mentioned the various Weasleys I hung around with and all my other “friends.” I talked about the way I faked my happiness, keeping my sorrow buried so no one could see it. I spoke of the guilt I felt every time my friends extended a kind gesture. Then I went into detail. I described all of my confusing encounters with James Potter. I explained the depression I’d been in for the last month and a half.

          “And so,” I concluded, “Rhiannon told me I needed to talk to someone and, well, the one person that came to mind was… Joy. I went to Professor McGonagall to request permission to visit the weekend. She already knew about Joy, of course, so she told me to take all the time I need. I was coming back from her office when I had that final run-in with Potter.”

          David was silent. He was still holding me, so I twisted around to look at him. Silent tears were rolling down his face.

          “I had no idea,” he whispered brokenly. “I mean, I knew you weren’t quite the same without Joy. I could see that much. But now, knowing the torment and agony you’ve been in for the last six years…” he trailed off.

          He pulled me against him tighter. “I’m so sorry, Val. So sorry.”

          “Don’t say that,” I muttered. “I don’t want sympathy. Not even from you.”

          David looked at me, gently stroking my hair off my face. “I feel like a failure. I’m your older brother. I’m supposed to protect you. And here, you’ve been completely miserable and I had no idea. What Mum and Dad would think…”

          “You can’t tell them,” I said, pulling out of his arms. “You can’t tell anyone. Not Mum and Dad, not Hope. No one.”

          “Val…”

          “No, David!” I shouted, standing up.

          “You need help!” he cried, rising as well. “Damn it, Val, you can’t keep living like this. It’s not right. Rhiannon is right! Hell, James Potter is right! You can’t suppress memories, you can’t block everyone out, and you can’t torture yourself with guilt! You’re just killing yourself slowly!”

          “Then maybe it’s better for me to die!” I shrieked.

          David froze. All the color drained from his face and his hands started to shake. “Don’t you dare say that,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t. I can’t lose you, too, Val. Please.”

          I turned away. “This is exactly why I don’t tell people. It’s my business and it’s my life. You don’t have to worry. I won’t commit suicide or anything. It’d be an insult to Joy if I willing stopped living when she didn’t have a choice. I’ll be fine if you would just leave me be. I’ll deal with things my way, and you just forget everything I told you.”

          “That’s not good, Val.”

          “Please, David. I don’t need this.”

          He threw his hands up in frustration. “Well, what do you need then?”

          “I need Joy,” I said, glaring at the ground at me feet. My back was still turned. “I need my sister back. But that’s not going to happen, so just drop it, alright?”

          “Okay, Val,” David said in resignation. “Just remember that I love you. We all do.”

          “Yeah, I know,” I sighed, turning back around to give him a hug. “I love you, too. You’re my big brother.”

          “Always. Just… think about what I’ve said. I’m going to go, then, I guess. I’ll let you have some more time alone with Joy."

          “Thanks. Bye, David,” I said with a small smile.

          “See you at Christmas, little sis.”

          As David walked out of the cemetery, I took my spot on the grass again, stretching out alongside Joy’s grave. I stayed there for the whole day. I reminisced about the childhood antics Joy and I got up to, told Joy about my life without her, and asked about death, all while tears poured down my face.

          The sun was starting to set when I finally got around to discussing James. “So, there’s this guy in my year and I’m not quite sure what to make of him. His name is James Potter. For five years we pretty much ignored each other. But at the end of my fifth year, we had a bit of a… run-in. Basically, I told his about you, he got upset, I slapped him, and he kissed me. Then, this year, he decided it was his job to tell me what a horrible person I am. We’ve yelled at each other, I broke his nose, and I’ve succumbed to tears on multiple occasions. So much for trying to fix me, huh? So then, after all of that, we just go back to ignoring each other. I’m a mess from all the memories and now he just stares. Then, out of nowhere, he apologizes! Says he’s wrong and some other nonsense. I’m just… so confused."

          I sat up, running my hands through my long blond locks. There was a dull throbbing in my head and face felt puffy from all the tears I’d shed. I read once that when a person experiences loss, the best cure is simply. Well, that’s complete and utter crap. For me, time has only made things worse.

          Thoughts of James buzzed around in my head. With the memory of the incident in the Astronomy Tower still fresh in my mind, I began gently running my fingers over my lips. I tried to reconcile the James that had taunted me about Joy and the James that had kissed me so tenderly in my head, but it just didn’t compute. When I closed my eyes, I could feel his fingers gently twisting in my hair, his warm breath on my cheek when he’d whispered in my ear, and those soft lips…

          I shook my head violently, dispelling the memory. What was wrong with me? I was here, in Roscrea, visiting my dead sister, and I’m dwelling on thoughts of James Potter. I looked around, noticing the rapidly descending twilight and heaved myself to my feet, with uncharacteristic clumsiness. Glancing around once more, ensuring no one else was nearby, I pulled out my wand. In a quick flourinshing movement, I conjured up a large bouquet of freesia, purple orchids, and accents of wild marsh marigold. Back when Joy was dreaming of her perfect wedding, those were the flowers she’d wanted. I waved my wand again and again, creating hundreds of flowers. They overflowed around Joy’s grave, creating a spot of brightness in hues of purple and pink, with bursts of yellow.

          I examined my work, smiling gently. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Joy. Gracie.”

***

          I returned to the cemetery in the late morning the next day. I knew I’d have to return to Hogwarts tonight, so I planned to make the most of my time. As I walked towards Joy’s grave, highly noticeable due to the flowers I’d left, I was surprised to see that David had returned.

          “Hey,” I said as I strode up next to him.

          “You did this?” he asked, gesturing to the flowers. “You do know you’re underage, right?” he added when I nodded.

          I shrugged. “So? I made sure there weren’t any Muggles around and the Ministry can’t know for certain that it was me; there are plenty of other wizards around. Besides,” I continues, staring at the inscription on Joy’s gravestone, “any punishment would have been worth it.”

          David wrapped his arm around my shoulders and we stood there in silence. We stayed there in the cemetery for two hours before one of us spoke again. We had eventually sat down, still in our half-embrace, and continued to stare at Joy’s floral grave.

          “Do you ever just feel like screaming?” David asked, the afternoon sun now beating down on our heads. It was unusually warm for late October in Ireland.

          I sighed. “All the time.”

          “Every time I visit, I feel like this is my fault. Like I should have known.” His voice broke. “I can’t help but think I’ve failed as an older brother.”

          I swallowed thickly, a bitter taste in my mouth. “Trust me, David, it’s not you who’s failed.”

          “Val, you’re not a failure, it’s not your fault. Joy had a disease, there’s nothing any of us could have done, no matter how we might feel.”

          “I see her in my head all the time,” I whispered. “I watch her life slip away in the hospital, see her collapse in our living room on our birthday.”

          David pulled me tighter against him and the conversation pauses again. We sat there for another hour, lost in our memories and drowning in our guilt.

          It was David, once again, who interrupted the silence. “What did she give you?”

          “Hmm?”

          “Joy,” he elaborated. “On your tenth birthday. You never finished opening the present she got for you. She collapsed before you could remove the wrappings. What did she give you?”

          “I don’t know.”

          He looked at me in surprise. “You never opened it?"

          “No,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s in my trunk at school right now. I haven’t looked at it since I put it in there.”

          David examined my face for a few moments. He looked troubled, as though he wanted to say something. I raised an eyebrow, silently reminding him of his promise to leave my business to me. He nodded briefly before dropping a kiss on the top of my head. We stayed there for the rest of the day, remaining in complete silence. There were no words that needed to be said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AN

A bit shorter than the past few chapters, but I felt there wasn’t anything more. I knew what I wanted to happen in this chapter, although I had thought it would take longer. But I got to the last paragraph and realized “Oh. I’m done.” I must say, I particularly like that last line.

You were able to kind of meet Hope through her letter in chapter eight, now you get to meet David. What do you think? This was a lot easier for me to write. Having three brothers, it’s easy to write a brother/sister relationship.

So yeah, that’s that. Review? And now, a preview for chapter 11!
 

          It was my turn to roll my eyes as he shot me a cheeky wink. Teddy may be an adult, but he certainly didn’t have the maturity of one. Suddenly, he cleared his throat, folded his hands on his desk, and looked at me with a disturbingly business-like expression. Huh. Maybe I’d spoken too soon.

 

          “Let’s get down to business, then,” he said, cracking his knuckles. Teddy opened a drawer in his desk and handed me a long piece of parchment, covered in Victoire’s elegant script.

 

Disclaimer: Still don’t own Harry Potter.

EDIT July 2012


Chapter 11: Flight
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          “I trust you found your brief respite to be restorative Miss Sullivan?” Professor McGonagall asked, peering at me through her square spectacles, her normally stern expression relaxed into something that looked like… concern?



 

 

          I smiled brightly. “Very much so, Professor. Thank you for asking and thank you for allowing the trip in the first place.”



 

 

          “Well, to be perfectly honest with you, Miss Sullivan, I’m rather glad you came forward with your request. Many people, staff members included, were very worried about you. You’re one of the best students Hogwarts has seen. I hope from now on you’ll be back to your old self.”



 

 

          “Of course, Professor.”



 

 

          With an unexpected smile, the Headmistress dismissed me. It was Sunday evening. Before I’d returned, David had taken me out to our favorite little café. We used to go there all the time as children, though I’d been hesitant to return. It’d been years since I’d gone there. It reminded me too much of Joy.



 

 

          For the weekend, I’d been able to fully embrace my past. I’d talked to Joy, talked to David, and basically lived inside my childhood memories. Now that I was back at school, however, I hardened myself. My break had been exactly what I’d needed to rebuild my walls. The bubbly, happy persona I wore as a protective layer was back on. This time, no one, not even James Potter, was going to break through it.



 

 

          I walked up to Ravenclaw Tower without any incidents, but as soon as I entered the common room, I heard a shriek and then someone suddenly slammed into me.



 

 

          “Merlin! Lessie, calm down, you’re constricting the air flow to my lungs!” I gasped, identifying the person currently displacing my diaphragm. For such a petite girl, Lessie had an impressively strong grip when she hugged people.



 

 

          “Val!” Jessamy exclaimed, as Lessie continued to squeeze me in her hug of doom. “God, we were so worried! Where have you been?!”



 

 

          Two arms wrapped around Lessie and me. “Val!” Blake shouted gleefully, spinning me and Lessie around in a circle. “I missed you! I could barely survive these past two days without seeing the most beautiful girl in the world!”



 

 

          “Guys – can’t – breathe.” I choked.



 

 

          Blake hastily set us back on the ground and Lessie let go of me. Blake then grinned and winked at me.



 

 

          “Val Sullivan,” Jess growled, putting her hands on her hips, “would you care to tell me where it was, exactly, that you were this weekend?”



 

 

          I had to suppress a smile at the tone of her voice. Jessamy was basically the sweetest, most innocent girl in the school. Even after all these years, she still blushes when Blake flirts with her. But whenever one of us got in trouble, she instantly went into strict parent mode.



 

 

          I nodded toward Rhiannon, who was looking at me with nearly palpable relief. “I took Rhiannon’s advice.”



 

 

          Everyone turned to stare at her. In fact, Jess’ glare was so accusing, Zeke wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders.



 

 

          “Huh?” she asked, nonplussed.



 

 

          “You told me to talk to someone. So that’s what I did.”



 

 

          “And that made you disappear all weekend?” Jess asked skeptically.



 

 

          I shrugged. “I went home. On Wednesday night, I talked to McGonagall and got permission to go to Roscrea. I ended up spending most of the weekend with David.”



 

 

          “Wait, I though he lived in London with Hope?” Zeke said in confusion.



 

 

          “He does. He, through some crazy random happenstance, was home for the weekend.”



 

 

          “Wait a minute,” Jess said, holding up her hand. “If you decided to go back to Ireland on Wednesday, why didn’t you tell any of us? You left so early on Saturday, too… Lessie nearly had a heart attack when you weren’t in bed!”



 

 

          I looked over at Lessie, who had been completely silent during the whole conversation, an unusual thing for her. She bit her lip and shrugged slightly. It was only then that I noticed that her eyes were watery.



 

 

          “Less,” I said, touched. I reached over and pulled her back into my arms. Lessie was always such a fiery little ball of energy, it was a shock to see her like this. I felt a pang of guilt as I realized how worried she must have been, how much she must value my friendship.
 


 

          Zeke shook his head. “I think what Jessamy is trying to say is that we were worried about you, but we’re glad you’re okay now.”



 

 

          “Sorry, guys,” I said, smiling ruefully. “It was just something I needed to do.”



 

 

          They all nodded. Blake opened his mouth, an interested expression on his face, but Rhiannon stomped on his foot, throwing him a sharp glare. I rolled my eyes. Blake always was a little tactless. He was probably going to ask about my trip, but Rhiannon, being who she is, knew I didn’t want to talk about it. If my experiences with David and James had told me anything, it was that people didn’t need to know about Joy or what a mess I am. Trust is overrated.



 

 

          James. I felt my stomach knot nervously when I thought of him. I had no idea what to expect from him. His behavior towards me was so erratic, so unpredictable. It was probably too much to hope that he’d go back to ignoring me. My palms felt clammy and my heart hammered in my chest. What was I going to do?




 

 

***

 


 

          I had Defense Against the Dark Arts first thing Monday morning. I went to class early so I could talk to Teddy privately. I set my books down in my usual spot before approaching Teddy’s desk. He glanced up at me as a neared.
 


 

          “Hey, Val, what’s up?” he asked. I raised an eyebrow.



 

 

          “Excuse me, Professor, but don’t you mean Miss Sullivan?”



 

 

          “Class hasn’t started and there’s no one else around,” he said rolling his eyes. “I’ve known you for five years, so I don’t really see a problem with calling you Val for the moment.”



 

 

          I grinned. “Well, okay then, Ted. I just wanted to let you know, as per Hope’s instructions, that I would be honored and thrilled to be one of Toire’s bridesmaids.”



 

 

          Teddy let out a whoop and threw his hands in the air. “Alright!” he exclaimed. “My wedding will be a real party now!”



 

 

          It was my turn to roll my eyes as he shot me a cheeky wink. Teddy may be an adult, but he certainly didn’t have the maturity of one. Suddenly, he cleared his throat, folded his hands on his desk, and looked at me with a disturbingly business-like expression. Huh. Maybe I’d spoken too soon.



 

 

          “Let’s get down to business, then,” he said, cracking his knuckles. Teddy opened a drawer in his desk and handed me a long piece of parchment, covered in Victoire’s elegant script.



 

 

          “This parchment is your lifeline. It contains all the information regarding dress shopping, dress fittings, hair and makeup meetings, flower and decoration discussions, and various rehearsals. Please let Victoire know any conflicts ASAP. Also, if you have any dress preferences as far as color and style, contact Victoire no later than November 1st, which is less than two weeks away. Decisions will not be finalized until the last dress shopping date and there is no guarantee that your request will be granted. Any allergies, health conditions, or medications should be brought to Victoire’s attention at your earliest convenience. Any and all decisions must be approved by Victoire and her word is law. Once she makes up her mind, there will be no attempts to dissuade her. If you agree to all of this, please sign your name here,” Teddy said, pulling out another piece of parchment, a quill, and ink.



 

 

          I stared at him in utter shock. In a blink of an eye, Ted had turned into a hardcore lawyer. And the rules and stipulations? Dear Merlin, Toire was going to be a huge bridezilla. Signing my name on the proffered parchment, I wondered what I was getting myself into. It kind of felt like I was selling my soul to the devil.



 

 

          “Excellent,” Teddy said, whisking the signature-filled document away and locking it in a drawer. He grinned goofily, effectively ruining the serious businessman act he’d had going. “Sorry ‘bout that. Tor’s freaking out already. She wants the wedding to be absolutely perfect.”



 

 

          I nodded, but before I could respond, someone came bounding into the classroom.



 

 

          “Hey, mate, so I had a question for – oh. Sorry, am I interrupting?” James stopped dead upon spying me and his expression became a little nervous.



 

 

          “Nah, man,” Teddy grinned. “I’m glad you’re here, actually. I wanted to talk to the both of you.”



 

 

          James slowly walked up to the desk, stopping next to me. He stood awfully close and I shifted uncomfortably. I could feel heat radiating off his body, making my knee wobble slightly.



 

 

          Teddy cleared his throat. “Right, then. Toire informed me that once the wedding party was complete, I could begin telling everyone who they’d be matched with, as far as walking down the aisle, first dance after Vic and I’s, seating arrangements, blah blah blah. Anyways, she decided that, assuming Val would accept the offer, which she oh so graciously did, the two of you would be partners.”



 

 

          Shock and dread filled me simultaneously and I stared blankly at Teddy. Next to me, James was biting his lower lip with an ambivalent expression. I stared at his mouth briefly, before shaking myself slightly.



 

 

          “What?” I managed to croak out, feeling as though something was stuck in my throat.



 

 

          “You two are a pair. You’ll walk down the aisle together, be seated together at the reception, dance together for the wedding party’s dance, etc.” Teddy looked a bit perplexed by our expressions.



 

 

          James suddenly snapped out of his daze. “That sounds great, Ted.”



 

 

          I stared at him. Where did that come from? I felt my confusion swell. James just agreed to basically be my date to a wedding, one that also involves spending time with me beforehand. I felt my hands narrow suspiciously.



 

 

          “Yeah,” I said, still glaring at James, “just wonderful.”



 

 

          “Brilliant! Okay, I know you two aren’t all that well acquainted, so at Toire’s request, could you both attempt to get to know each other? Spend some time together, hang out, whatever.”



 

 

          “For sure,” said James with a grin. I just nodded. What in the name of Merlin was going on here? What could James’ motivation for agreeing to this be?



 

 

          Teddy nodded gratefully. “Well, class should be staring soon so I suggest you take your seats, Miss Sullivan and Mr. Potter.” He grinned devilishly.



 

 

          “Yes, sir!” I said with a mock salute. James laughed and I sent him another suspicious glare. He stopped laughing, but smiled at me, raising an eyebrow. I frowned back before turning to take my seat between Lessie and Blake, who were just sitting down.



 

 

          “What was that about?” Lessie asked eagerly. She had a mini-crush on Teddy.
 


 

          “Oh, nothing,” I said casually. “Just discussing his impending marriage to Victoire Weasley.”



 

 

          I watched Lessie carefully out of the corner of my eye. Her shoulders drooped slightly, but, as expected, her smile was a bright as ever. Everyone knew Teddy and Toire were perfect for each other, so their engagement wasn’t a huge disappoint. More like… inevitable. Besides, Lessie wasn’t shallow enough to make a big deal out of a silly school girl crush.



 

 

          “What about?” she pressed as Jess, Rhiannon, and Zeke joined us.



 

 

          I smiled slightly at her enthusiasm. “He was just going over a few details I needed to know as one of Vic’s bridesmaids.”



 

 

          I quickly clapped my hands over my ears, prepared for her reaction. Zeke, who was sitting next to her, jumped and cringed when Lessie let off a high pitched squeal. Everyone turned to stare at her as she started clapping her hands excitedly, bouncing up and down in her chair, still squealing.



 

 

          “Miss Karalis,” Teddy called over the noise. She immediately froze in her chair and became quiet with a small squeak. “Kindly refrain from uttering that sound inside my classroom ever again.”
 


 

          “Yeah,” I muttered under my breath, “I’m pretty sure there are dogs six miles away that have gone deaf.”



 

 

          Lessie shoved me ineffectively as the class laughed. Teddy struggled to hide a smirk.



 

 

          “Alright class, settle down,” he said. “Now today, we shall start discussing the Patronus charm. We won’t be practicing it until next class, however. For now, I want you to understand the theory. So…”



 

 

          My attention started to drift as Teddy began to explain how to repel dementors. I looked over at James instead. He was quietly taking notes, although he didn’t seem to be paying much attention either. Briefly, I wondered how well he does in this class. Obviously, he’d passed his O.W.L.s, but I pondered how he did in comparison to Albus.



 

 

          As I continued to stare at him, he turned and looked back at me. Our eyes met and he smiled at me. I felt a warm glow in my stomach and, without thinking, I smiled back. James smiled even wider before I realized what I was doing. I quickly looked away, staring down at my desk. What was I doing? What was wrong with me?



 
 

 

***
 
 


 

          Later that day, I was studying in the library. I had just finished with Quidditch practice and decided to finish up my essay on dementors for Defense. Jess had been with me, but as she’d gotten a head start while I’d been at practice, I’d sent her off when she’d finished. Now, I sat alone, working fastidiously as other students slowly began trickling out.



 

 

          Someone dropped into the seat across from me, setting books on the table. I looked up in shock, seeing James Potter smiling at me. I stared at him, dumbfounded.



 

 

          “Hey, Val, how’s it going?” he asked, also pulling out his D.A.D.A. homework.



 

 

          I continued to gape at him in complete surprise. “Not to be rude… but what the hell are you doing here?”



 

 

          James set his quill down. “Now Val,” he said with an amused smirk, “surely an intelligent girl such as you can figure out what most people would do in a library.”



 

 

          “I meant, what are you, James Potter, doing here, at my table?”



 

 

          “Defense Against the Dark Arts essay. Just like you.”


 

 


 

          My head started pounding. After a moment of silence in which I questioned James’ mental abilities, I slammed my head against the table. What was it with this kid and giving me the urge to hit things?



 

 

          “Whoa, there,” James said in slight alarm. “Don’t hurt yourself.”



 

 

          I looked up with a glare. “Why. Are. You. Here?”
 


 

          James bit his lip for a moment. He looked at me briefly before his eyes flicked nervously around the room. They landed on me for a second and he blinked. Then his eyes made their circuit again, his fingers fiddling with his quill. We sat there awkwardly for a few more moments before I hit my head against the table once more. Maybe I’d be fortunate enough to knock myself unconscious and escape.



 

 

          “Okay, okay,” James yelped hastily. “Stop doing that!”



 

 

          I lifted my head as well as my eyebrow as I regarded James with annoyance.



 

 

          “I’m just doing what Teddy asked. He said we should get to know each other, spend more time with each other, so that’s what I’m doing.”



 

 

          I snorted derisively. “Forget what Teddy said. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have to interact at all. We’ll do all that’s expected of us at the wedding, but nothing more. So you can go now.



 

 

          “No, I don’t think I will,” James stated mildly, but there was a spark of defiance in his eyes.



 

 

          “Excuse me?”



 

 

          “The wedding’s just an excuse. I’m not doing this for Ted and Vic, I’m doing this for me.” James shrugged carelessly, looking directly into my eyes.



 

 

          I felt myself start to drown in his golden hazel gaze. There was such sincerity in his expression that made my heart ache. James started at me and I stared right back. We sat there for an immeasurable amount of time. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. As he looked at me, I could feel the cracks begin to form in my newly rebuilt walls. My hands began to shake. Then, James smiled. It was so honest, so genuine, that I felt my heart break.



 

 

          I stood up abruptly, slamming my hands down on the table. I jerkily grabbed my books, shoving them into my bag. I couldn’t do this. Another minute with James and my resolve would crumble. I don’t know how he did it, but he could get through my barriers like no one ever had before.



 

 

          The most disturbing part, though, was how those moments I’d just spent staring into his eyes, I could almost forget. Forget my pain, forget my guilt, forget my grief. And that scared me more than anything. The way I saw it, forgetting my agony was one small step away from forgetting Joy. And that was something I would never be able to forgive myself for.



 

 

          “Just leave me alone,” I gasped out before I fled from the library.



 

 

          I felt James’ eyes burn into the back of my head as I retreated. I fought the insane desire I had to turn back and look at him. I ran through the corridor, my head spinning. My mind in a confused jumble of thoughts, I didn’t notice Lessie coming towards me until I ran directly into her.



 

 

          “Val,” she groaned as she went sprawling to the ground, “was that really necessary?”



 

 

          “Sorry, I wasn’t really watching where I was going,” I said, smiling remorsefully and pulling her back to her feet.



 

 

          “Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled.



 

 

          “So where were you going?” I asked.



 

 

          Lessie smiled. “To find you, actually. We were thinking of having a little slumber party, girl’s night thing tonight.”



 

 

          “Sounds fun,” I forced my voice to sound bright, cheerful. Unfortunately, it didn’t work too well because Lessie’s expression became vaguely worried. Either James was a sever detriment to my acting skills, or Lessie had become a lot more observant. Somehow, I doubted it was the latter of the two. When it came to perception, Lessie and Rhiannon were on opposite ends of the spectrum. While Rhiannon saw everything with a sharp understanding, Lessie had her head in the clouds. Despite her intelligent mind, she was often oblivious to the world around her, regarding everything with and almost childlike eagerness.
 


 

          “Are you okay, Val? You seem a bit upset,” Lessie said, frowning.



 

 

          “Oh, it’s just the stress of our N.E.W.T. classes. And we thought last year was bad, eh?” I nudged her playfully.



 

 

          She groaned. “Oh, God, we’re all doomed. If Val Sullivan, genius extraordinaire, is stressed, what will happen to us lowly, meager people?”



 

 

          “Shut up,” I smiled as we walked toward Ravenclaw Tower.



 

 

          We joined Jessamy and Rhiannon in our dormitory a few moments later. They had stripped the beds of their pillows and blankets and were lying in a circle with our other dorm mates, Mallory and Evie. Music was playing and the girls were talking and laughing, flipping through magazines and eating junk food.
 


 

          “Hey, girls,” Jess smiled.



 

 

          “What’re we talking about, girlies?” Lessie asked, flopping down between Rhiannon and Evie.
 


 

          “Boys,” Evie winked and everyone giggled.



 

 

          I stretched out next to Jessamy as the girls started discussing the various boys in our year and the year above us.



 

 

          “What do you think, Val. Lorcan or Lysander Scamander?”



 

 

          “Hmm,” I thought for a moment, “well, Lorcan’s a bit more muscular, but Lysander is smarter.”



 

 

          Lessie scoffed. “Intelligence? C’mon this is purely girl talk. We’re discussing attractiveness only.”



 

 

          “Intelligence is attractive!” I protested.



 

 

          “Says the girl who once dated Fred Weasley,” Jess teased.



 

 

          “Fred’s smart,” Rhiannon interjected quietly. Everyone turned to look at her. She looked slightly uncomfortable.



 

 

          Mallory looked at her curiously. “How do you know? He’s in the year above us and he’s a Gryffindor.”



 

 

          Rhiannon blushed slightly and I smiled. “It’s because she liiiiikes him,” I smirked, causing her to blush even more.
 


 

          “Shut up,” she muttered, “I do not. We’re just friends.”



 

 

          “Darn,” I said in mock disappointment, “he’ll be so sad to hear that.”



 

 

          Lessie snickered as Rhiannon’s head snapped around to look at me. “What?”



 

 

          “Oh, nothing, really. It’s just that Freddy really likes you and he’d be quite disappointed to learn you don’t feel the same way.”



 

 

          “Er, oh, I… um…” Rhiannon was flustered, her cheeks now a truly spectacular shade of scarlet. There was no denying the pleased smile that was making its way onto her face and I felt a surge of satisfaction. Maybe she and Fred would finally get together now.
 


 

          “Rhiannon had a boyfriend, Rhiannon has a boyfriend,” Lessie sang out gleefully, soon being joined by Evie.



 

 

          “Okay, okay, quiet down,” Rhiannon cut in. “Moving on now.”



 

 

          Mallory sat up and leaned forward into our circle. “Alright girls, I want to hear everyone’s thoughts on this next one… James Potter.”



 

 

          I cringed slightly. Of course somebody would have bring up James. Mallory wanted our thoughts, but truth be told, I had absolutely no idea what I thought of James.



 

 

          “Hot,” giggled Evie.



 

 

          “Agreed,” Jessamy smiled. “Merlin, those eyes…”



 

 

          I shivered at that, knowing firsthand the captivating quality of James’ eyes.



 

 

          “Forget the eyes,” scoffed Lessie. “I’m way too busy staring at the muscles to even think about looking at his face.”



 

 

          When Mallory turned to look at me, I merely shrugged and said, “He’s a really excellent Quidditch player.”



 

 

          “Boring!” called Evie.



 

 

          The girls laughed and Mallory moved on to Rhiannon. “Hmm, James Potter. Very attractive and, as Val said, excellent at Quidditch. He’s rather intelligent and kind, if a bit aloof. He also has taken a rather large fancy to Val.”



 

 

          “What!” shrieked Evie and Jess together. Mallory looked surprised and Lessie squealed excitedly, exclaiming, “I knew it!”



 

 

          I, however, froze completely. One look at Rhiannon and I knew she was serious. I couldn’t believe this. James Potter fancies me? There was no way. Rhiannon may be observant, but she wasn’t infallible. She had to have gotten this one wrong. It was impossible.



 

 

          “What?” I asked faintly, echoing Jess and Evie.



 

 

          “He likes you,” Rhiannon said casually. “It’s so obvious. He stares at you all the time. Even Fred’s managed to pick up on it. Apparently, he always starts acting weird and nervous when you’re around – can’t focus on anything but you. I know you guys had a little insult contest at the start of the year, but James totally fancies you.”



 

 

          I frowned at that, a sentiment Mallory seemed to share. Looking a bit put out, she quickly changed the subject.



 

 

          After a while, we all got up and blasted the music louder. We were all dancing and laughing when it happened. We were all dancing and laughing when it happened. We had been playing a bunch of old, American Muggle music, but I hadn’t expected that song to come on. But I knew, right from the opening guitar chords, what the song was. It was our song. “By the Way” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.



 

 

          “Oh, I love this one,” Jess cried excitedly. Everyone began moving to the beat as my insides slowly turned to ice. I hadn’t listened to this song in over six years.



 

 

          “Turn it off,” I said in a loud, but shaky voice.



 

 

          “What!” Evie shouted. “But this is such a good song!”



 

 

          “TURN IT OFF!” I shrieked, clutching my years, trying to block out the song.



 

 

          Everyone stopped to stare at me in shock. But no one touched the music. Our song continued to play, my hear tearing more and more with each note. I could feel the beat, it was almost tangible as it battered at me, wounding me further.



 

 

          I could take it no more. In a flash, I crossed the room to the door, my movement jerky. I slammed the door shut behind me as I descended the stairs. I tripped and fell when I was about halfway down, tumbling down the remaining steps until I reached the bottom of the staircase. Heaving myself up, I practically ran through the empty common room – it was well past midnight – and out of the door.



 

 

          I aimlessly wandered the halls, tears streaming down my face. It wasn’t lost on me that this was the second time I’d run away from an uncomfortable situation today. I’m turning into a coward. But I guess there’s a reason I’m a Ravenclaw and not a Gryffindor.



 

 

          I was passing by a window overlooking the Quidditch pitch when I heard someone call my name from behind me. It wasn’t one of the voiced I’d expected, however. It was a bloke’s voice, deep and soothing. It sounded kind of familiar, actually. With a feeling of dread, I turned around to see James approaching me, a concerned look in his eyes.
 


 

          “Hey, are you okay?” he asked, his glorious eyes lingering on the tears that were tracking down my cheeks.



 

 

          “You,” I spat, ignoring his stupid question, “of course it’s you. Why is it always you?”



 

 

          “What do you mean?” he asked cautiously. For some reason, this filled me with inexplicable anger.



 

 

          “Every time I turn around, you’re there! Merlin, are bloody stalking me or something? Seriously, why don’t you just leave me alone?”



 

 

          “I can’t,” he said quietly.



 

 

          Rhiannon’s words flashed through my mind. He likes you. A derisive laugh clawed its way out of my throat. Not bloody likely, Rhiannon. My harsh laughter slowly dissolved into sobs that wracked my whole body. I completely lost all of my restraint, a torrent of tears breaking free. It seems that as of late, I’ve had no control over my own tear ducts. I blame James.



 

 

          “Woah, woah,” James said, reaching a hand out towards me.



 

 

          I jerked out of his reach violently. “Go away,” I sobbed. Dear Merlin, I was pathetic. “Go on, just leave. Everyone else in my life does, why won’t you?”



 

 

          “Because,” he said in a quiet but intense voice.



 

 

          “That’s a shit answer.”



 

 

          James chuckled softly at that. “You don’t want me to leave,” he said. “Not really.”



 

 

          He reached out a hand, cupping it under my chin. He pulled my head up and he held my gaze. Golden hazel met turquoise for a surreal moment and I felt something break inside me. And then I gave in.



 

 

          Without knowing how, I ended up in James’ arms. I held him tightly, my head tucked into his chest, and I cried uncontrollably into his shirt. He had one arm wrapped around my waist and the other gently stroked my hair.



 

 

          I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know why James did it. I don’t know how long we stayed there and I don’t know how it will affect our messed up, for lack of a better word, relationship. All I knew was that for the first time in over six years, inside the embrace of James Potter, I didn’t feel quite so lost anymore.




 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 


 

AN



 

 

No time for the usual ramble – I’m in intense writing mode and just had a huge surge of inspiration for later chapters. Therefore, I must focus solely on the story. No useless anecdotes or long winded explanations today. But review anyways? Yes?



 

 

Next time on Finding Faith!



 

 

          “I’m sorry, Al, did you have a question?” I asked, confused as to why he was staring.



 

 

          “Oh, I have a lot of questions,” he replied. “But none of them have anything to do with Defense.”



 

 

          I tilted my head in confusion. What was he talking about? “Like what?”



 

 

          Al shrugged. “For starters: what you’ve done to my brother; the big secret you’re hiding; why you’re ignoring your friends today; and why you’re so sad all the time. Although, I’m guessing that the answers to those questions are closely related. Maybe even the same.” 



 

 

Disclaimer: Despite intense negotiations and the hiring of lawyers, I still do not own Harry Potter.


Chapter 12: Friendly Acquaintances
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          When I woke up the next day, I was momentarily confused when I felt hard stone against my side. And when I felt a warm body against my back and an arm draped over waist. I sat up, feeling my head pound as I did. I looked around, identifying the fourth floor corridor. Then I looked down next to me and blinked. James was on the floor next to me. Of course.


 

          I pulled James’ arm off me and leaned against the wall. Needless to say, yesterday had been an interesting day. I’d been sought out by James after finding out we’d be partners for Teddy and Victoire’s wedding, spent an insurmountable amount of time staring into his eyes, and then cried in his arms all night after having a breakdown from hearing mine and Joy’s song. I’d probably completely freaked out my dorm mates. And James. Merlin, I had no idea what to do about him.

 

          Just as I had come to the decision that I should avoid James completely, he began to stir. Of course, that’s just my luck. Clearly the world hates me. James groaned and sat up, rubbing his blearily. His usually messy hair stuck in in a thousand different directions. It was kind of cute.


 

          He blinked at me and smiled softly. “Hey,” he said, his voice quiet and tender. My stomach gave an odd flip at the sound.


 

          “Hi,” I murmured back, closing my eyes. I had no idea what I was going to do.
 

          “How’re you feeling?” he asked kindly.


 

          “Alright.”


 

          “Anything you want to talk about?”


 

          “No,” I said forcefully, coming to a decision. “And if I did, it wouldn’t be you I’d talk to.”


 

          He blinked, a look of shock and hurt crossing his face. I forced myself to look away from him. I didn’t need the guilt.


 

          “I thought…” James trailed off uncertainly.


 

          “Well, you thought wrong. Just because you took advantage of me when I was vulnerable doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to start telling you all my secrets. You know too many of them as it is.”


 

          I made my voice harsh. I didn’t know James’ motives, but I wasn’t about to fall for his trap. I don’t know if he was planning on fooling me somehow, using me, hurting me, or, the least likely, he actually did like me. Yeah, right. All I knew was that it wouldn’t work. James Potter wanted me to trust him? Please.


 

          “Val,” he pleaded.


 

          “I meant what I said.” My voice was cold. “Leave me alone, Potter.”


 

          With that, I walked away. Despite my assurances that I wouldn’t be fooled by him, I knew that I was incredibly close to doing something stupid. For a few moments, I’d thought that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to trust James Potter. But that was ridiculous. I knew better than anyone that trust was useless. After all, as soon as I would start to trust James, he’d end up leaving me. Someway, somehow, he’d be gone once I started to need him.


 

          Just like Joy.



 

***

 

          It was much earlier than I’d expected. When I went up to the sixth year girls’ dormitory, everyone was still sleeping. Apparently the slumber party had broken up sometime after I left, because the blankets and pillows were back where they belonged and the girls all slept in their own beds. I showered and got ready for the day quickly and quietly, slipping out of the room before any of them woke up.
 

          I ate breakfast down in the kitchens. I didn’t really fancy having to face the questioning stares and worried glances. I suppose I could have eaten with people from a different House, but frankly, I didn’t want to be around anyone right now.


 

          The day passed by in a blur. I kept apart from my friends, not speaking during lessons or free periods, eating meals in the kitchens, and just generally avoiding them. After our first class, they all caught on to what I was doing. Lessie continued to stubbornly sit next to me in class, making attempts at conversation that I brushed off. Rhiannon kept her distance and Jessamy smiled sadly at me. Mallory and Evie whispered when they saw me. Blake and Zeke were just confused. And James… he continued his constant staring.


 

          When I met Albus in the library for tutoring that night, I set him some work to do before pulling out some of my own. In the nearly two months of tutoring he’d had, Al had really improved. He barely needed my help anymore.


 

          I had my Ancient Runes book open and I’d spent the last ten minutes reading the same line over and over again before I realized that Al was staring at me. His gaze was unwavering and his lips were pursed thoughtfully. In that moment, he reminded me extraordinarily of James. It was the expression he always work of late when he stared at me.


 

          “I’m sorry, Al, did you have a question?” I asked, confused as to why he was staring.


 

          “Oh, I have a lot of questions,” he replied. “But none of them have anything to do with Defense.”


 

          I tilted my head in confusion. What was he talking about? “Like what?”


 

          Al shrugged. “For starters: what you’ve done to my brother; the big secret you’re hiding; why you’re ignoring your friends today; and why you’re so sad all the time. Although, I’m guessing that the answers to those questions are closely related. Maybe even the same.”


 

          “And what makes you think I’d tell you?” I asked, narrowing my eyes.
 

          “I never said you had to,” he replied, holding up his hands defensively. “You’re the one who wanted to know my questions.”


 

          “Where’d you come up with them, anyways?”


 

          Al raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been around you long enough. I notice things.”


 

          I sat for a moment, troubled. I was more than a little bothered by the fact that Albus had been able to figure me out so easily and quickly. Had I always been this transparent or was my act totally slipping this year? Finally, I asked the question that plagued me the most. “What do you mean, what am I doing to your brother?”


 

          “You know what I mean,” he scoffed. “Ever since the end of last year, James has been different. He’s been quieter, not that that’s a bad thing, and he’s… I don’t know. He’s changed. Suddenly, family is the most important thing in the world to him. I mean, he’s always liked us and stuff, looked forward to family get togethers, blah blah blah. But now, he’s made a Herculean effort to spend time with the whole family. He taught Lucy how to play Quidditch, he’s had “bro time” with Louis and Hugo, he and Fred are practically inseparable, and one day this summer, he willingly volunteered to help out at a sleepover Lily and Molly had for all of the current third years. And later he told me it was fun.


 

          I stared at Al wide-eyed as he shuddered in apparent horror. Something told me that James’ sudden interest in spending time with his family had to do with my story about Joy. I was almost… touched that he’d decided to truly appreciate his family because of me. I bit my lip, trying to wrap my mind around this new piece of information. James Potter was by far the most confusing person I’d ever met.


 

          “And it’s not just the cousins,” Al continued, “he also made more effort with everyone. He took Granddad Weasley to Muggle London and went to work with Dad, Uncle George, Aunt Fleur, and Aunt Hermione for several days over the summer. Worst of all, though,” Al’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “he asked Uncle Percy about his job! And he was sincere! And interested!”


 

          Al was so outraged by this apparent blasphemy that I couldn’t help but laugh. And once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. Tears of mirth streamed down my face as my laughter began bordering on hysterics. Al looked at me in affronted alarm and the ancient librarian, Madam Pince, gave me a frightening glare. Well. So she can apparently look past James or Roxy yelling at me in the library, but my laughter is heinous crime?


 

          “I’ve always wanted to meet your Uncle Percy,” I smiled. “I’ve heard so much about him from your various family members. Louis in particular gave me a colorful description.”


 

          Louis was currently a fourth year, Gryffindor like the rest of his family, and was quite the little charmer. Being well acquainted with Victoire and Dominique, I’d first met him on the train when he started Hogwarts. I spent my third year leaning how to speak French from him.


 

          “Colorful?” Al asked. “I don’t like the sound of that. Louis is far too young to be using colorful language.”


 

          This made me roll my eyes. It had always struck me as odd, being the youngest in my family, how in the eyes of a protective older family member, the youngest ones had to remain perfect and pure. The hypocrisy of it all amused me endlessly. It didn’t matter how much you yourself messed up, but if a younger sibling or cousin did something half as bad, you became irrationally angry.


 

          “Anyways,” Al went on, breaking into my thoughts, “I’m not going off on a tangent right now. I believe you asked about James?”


 

          “You already answered that,” I muttered, feeling heat starting to creep up my face.


 

          “Not completely, I haven’t. I’ve just started to scratch the surface,” Al protested.


 

          I grudgingly waved my hand, gesturing for him to continue.


 

          “Right, so James is oddly obsessed with family – check. He also found a church in Godric’s Hallow and started visiting it about two or three times a week during the summer. I mean, we’ve attended mass before, not regularly, but now James is more adamant about attending, but he won’t say why.”


 

          That one disturbed me. I tell James there is no God and now he’s constantly visiting a church? On the outside, however, I just shrugged it off, indicating for Al to go on.


 

          “James has also been acting very different here at Hogwarts. Everyone was expecting him to turn into a complete Quidditch Nazi when he got Captain, but he’s been completely laid back. Almost distracted, actually, as though his mind is on other things. It’s really strange, seeing as before this year, Quidditch was practically his entire life. He also has been studying a lot more.”


 

          “That’s nice, Al,” I said with a hint of frustration, “but what does all that have to do with me?” I was desperate to know how he’d made the connection.


 

          “Ah, but that’s what I want you to tell me. How are you connected to this? What significance do you play in James’ transformation?”


 

          “What makes you think I’m involved at all?”


 

          “Isn’t it obvious?” Al asked softly. “He stares at you constantly. He makes an excuse to leave the room when someone mention you, but he’s always watching you. In fact, he’s doing it right now.” Al nodded at something I couldn’t see, gazing over my shoulder.


 

          I turned around and saw James sitting at a table with Fred and their friend Frank Longbottom, a Seventh year and Professor Longbottom’s son. James was wearing a searching look. When our eyes met, he smiled, just like he had the last few times. At that, I could practically feel the smugness radiating from Albus. He’d seen the smile as well.


 

          I turned back around in my seat slowly, fixing Al with a flat stare. He smiled innocently at me, although there was a self-satisfied glint in his eyes. I just raised an eyebrow.


 

          “Aw, c’mon,” he whined. “As my tutor, shouldn’t you be happy when I get something right?” He looked at me with puppy dog eyes. He was just too bloody cute.


 

          I sighed, leaning across the table to ruffle his hair. “You’re just lucky you’re so adorable.”
 

          “Ugh,” he groaned, “way to make me feel like I’m eight years old, Val.”


 

          “Maybe if you didn’t act that way, I wouldn’t treat you that way,” I replied in a superior tone, rolling my eyes but smiling nonetheless. “Now finish your Defense essay.”


 

          “I already did,” he said, surprising me.
 

          “What? When?”


 

          He grinned impudently. “While you were zoned out, pretending to read your Ancient Runes book.”


 

          “Shut up,” I grumbled, reaching forward to grab his essay. I read through it quickly and I felt my smile grow bigger with each sentence.


 

          “Well?” Al asked nervously.
 

          “Excellent work,” I said, causing him to beam. “There are a few minor mistakes but are easily fixable, and overall, very well done. I think you might even get an O on this one.”


 

          Al that, Al let out a loud whoop and darted around the table to hug me, He started babbling excitedly, thanking me over and over again for how much I’ve helped him.


 

          “Okay, okay,” I laughed, “I’m stunningly fabulous and the greatest person in the world, I get it. But although you may be doing well this year, if you want to get an O.W.L. in Defense Against the Dark Arts, you’ll have to know everything from your past four years as well.”


 

          “You’re right, of course. You’re always right,” he sighed.


 

          I smirked. “Damn straight. Alright, let’s review, shall we? Tell me everything you know about werewolves.”


 

          As I sat there listening to Al state the five identifying characteristics of a werewolf, I tried to ignore the gaze I felt on the back of my head. I was sure that gaze belonged to a certain messy haired boy with hazel eyes…



 

***

 

          “Well, well, well,” a guy’s voice said from behind me, “if it isn’t my favorite Ravenclaw.”


 

          I turned around and grinned when I saw who it was. “Don’t let your sister hear you say that, Mike. Lessie may look delicate and fragile, but she’s a petite explosion waiting to happen.”


 

          “Don’t I know it,” Mike muttered.


 

          “Well, sir,” I said, throwing my arm around his shoulder, “what can I do for you this fine Halloween afternoon?”


 

          “Talk to my sister?” he asked quietly.


 

          I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. I t had been over a week since the slumber party incident and I was still avoiding everyone. I wasn’t really sure why. It would only cause more questions when I finally started taking to the girls, Blake, and Zeke again. Quidditch practices with Rhiannon and Zeke had been a bit awkward, to say the least.


 

          “I don’t know, Mike,” I said, avoiding his eyes. Maybe things were better off this way. I couldn’t keep up my charade forever. Eventually, I’d make a big enough slip and soon after that, everyone would know my secret. They’d all either pity me or find me heartless, thinking that because I kept her hidden, then I didn’t love my sister, my Joy. And both of those were the last things I wanted.


 

          “Please, Val,” Mike pleaded. “No one is happy right now. Everyone missed you and you seem miserable. You don’t have to isolate yourself from the people that love you.”


 

          By this time, you’d really think I’d be used to the guilt. But nope, there it was, as sharp and bitter as ever. It seemed like no matter what I did, I was going to end up hurting someone. Maybe I should have thought about that when I first vowed to forever hide my pain back when I was ten.
 

          “I’ll see what I can do,” I sighed. Mike smiled at me, giving me a brief hug.


 

          I guess for now, I’d just do what would make everyone happy. As for what would come later… well, I guess I’ll just have to see.


 

 

***

 

 

          This year, Halloween fell on a Friday, so the feast that night was extra extravagant. Massive pumpkins, nearly the size of a classroom were suspended in the air. An eerie fog floated a couple of feet off the ground and green lights glowed from no visible source, casting an ominous glow around the Great Hall. Bats flew overhead and ghosts drifted by, appearing out the fog and surprising several students when the ghost passed through them. The food was decadent and there was a variety of spooky entertainment.

 

          I was hovering uncertainly in the doorway. I hadn’t been in the Great Hall since before the slumber party, opting to eat in the kitchens instead. I spotted my friends near the middle of the Ravenclaw table. They seemed to be joking and chatting as usual. Perhaps it was conceited and perhaps it was my imagination, but it seemed as though there was something off about their laughter.


 

          Taking a deep breath, I walked towards them with determined strides. Blake was currently flirting outrageously with Jessamy, much to everyone’s amusement. They were all laughing and Jess was blushing. Hmm. Normally Jess, Rhiannon, Lessie, and I would roll our eyes or flirt back, just because Blake was so ridiculous. Yet, here was Jess, a spectacular shade of vibrant pink. And now that I thought of it, Blake did seem to be paying special attention to her as of late, something he only did when he liked a girl. I smiled slightly to myself as I sat in the empty seat next to Lessie.


 

          “Hi, guys,” I said, suddenly feeling a little shy. “How’s it going?”


 

          They all turned to look at me. Lessie beamed so brightly I felt a slightly warm glow. Not everyone was quite so welcoming, however. Rhiannon gave me a small smile and Zeke, who sat across from me, reached over the table to pat my hand. Blake and Jessamy were a bit colder. Blake nodded and Jess just looked at me, though she did seem a bit relieved.


 

          “Hey, Val,” Zeke said easily. “When did you say our next practice was?”


 

          “Sunday at 3,” I replied. “None tomorrow, as it’s Hogsmeade weekend.”
 

          “Ooh, that’s right!” Lessie exclaimed. “I forgot it was Hogsmeade tomorrow. Excellent, I am in desperate need for a trip to Honeyduke’s.”


 

          I smiled widely. “Trust me, Less, the last thing you need is sugar.”


 

          Everyone started laughing and soon we were all acting as though I hadn’t been estranged from them for a week and a half. I still received a few subtle, questioning looks every now and then, but everyone had the good grace not to ask me about it. Even Blake was more tactful than usual. Of course, that may have been because he was so focused on complimenting Jessamy. Rhiannon and I exchanged knowing looks. They totally fancied each other.
 

          The Halloween feast passed without too much incident. The food was delicious and the entertainment was fantastic. By the end of the night, we had been joined by several people from other Houses. Throughout the night, various people invited us to Halloween parties they were throwing. At first, we all declined the offers, but eventually, and after much persuasion, we ended up accepting Fred and Roxy’s invite.


 

          After the feast, the girls dragged me up to our dormitory to get ready. I sat on my bed and watched in amusement as the girls scrambled around, trying on and rejecting outfits, and frantically doing their hair and makeup. Evie and Mallory soon joined them, although they were going to a different party.


 

          Once they all finished, Lessie, Rhiannon, and Jess gathered around me in a slightly menacing half-circle. Jess’ hands were on her hips, Rhiannon tapped her foot, and Lessie’s smirk was so sinister that I almost felt frightened.


 

          “Now, Val,” Jessamy began, using her infamous “voice of reason.” Now I knew I was in trouble. “We know you don’t like to dress up, or wear makeup, or do anything particularly girly, but this is a party.”


 

          “You’ve been so off lately, you need a fun night out. You need to let loose, go a little crazy, and just have fun,” Rhiannon continued.


 

          Lessie then glared at me with a stern, no nonsense expression. “We are picking your outfit. We are putting on your makeup. We are doing your hair. End of story.”


 

          I sighed and looked at them. I contemplated running, but I knew I couldn’t avoid all three of them. Resigning myself to my fate, I nodded.


 

          “Okay,” said Lessie, taking charge. “Jess, you do hair. Rhiannon, you do makeup. I’ll pick out an outfit. Go, go, go!”
 

          Jessamy and Rhiannon each seized one of my arms and dragged me in front of the mirror. Jess started twirling my hair around her wand and Rhiannon looked me dead in the eyes. “Do. Not. Move.”
 

          Twenty minutes later, my hair hung in artfully messy curls – thank Merlin for magic – and I was trying not to swipe at the eyeliner I had around my eyes. I’d never worn it before and I found it mildly irritating. As Rhiannon put on the final touches of my blush, Lessie threw some clothes at me.


 

          “What the hell is this?” I sputtered, looking through the clothes, none of which were mine. They consisted of a sheer pink V-necked blouse with a black, low-cut tank top and black, pink flowered skirt that wouldn’t even reach halfway down my thighs.


 

          “Your outfit,” Lessie said simply. “You don’t own anything hot enough, so you’re borrowing from us. And you’re wearing it all with these shoes. No complaints.” She held up a pair of four-inch peep toe heels.


 

          I examined them. “Where did you get these? I don’t own any like these. And although I might be able to wear some of the same clothes as the rest of you, there’s no way I could fit my feet into any of your guys’ shoes.”
 

          “I expanded a pair of mine. Now go change.”


 

          “You do realize I’m going to be 6’5” in these, right?” I called over my shoulder as I headed to the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror. I had to admit, I did look hot, albeit in a sluggish sort of way. My makeup popped against my pale skin, as did the hot pink shirt over the black. Because of my wild curls, my normally straight hair was shorter, brushing against my ribs instead of my hips. The combination of the skirt and the shoes made my legs look ridiculously long.
 

          The girls all squealed when I came back into the room. As they babbled about how gorgeous I looked, we linked arms and, for better or worse, headed to the Gryffindor common room.



 

***



 

          I was bored. I sat in an armchair in the corner, watching the party. Upon our arrival, the girls all accepted glasses of firewhiskey. I declined. Zeke and Blake had already arrived at the party and pulled us over to dance. After half an hour, they were all majorly buzzed. Now, two hours later, Lessie was snogging a random seventh year Gryffindor, Blake and Jess had joined a game of strip poker, and Rhiannon was dancing with Fred. I had no idea where Zeke was.


 

          Everyone around me was in various stages of drunkenness. Most people were stumbling around, laughing and dancing. A few others were puking and some more had even passed out. Their friends were drawing on their faces. How charming. It seemed that I was the only one completely sober.


 

          Frankly, I was regretting my decision to come here. Guys had been hitting on me all night. It sounds conceited, but it’s true. They had come in hoards, some trying to be suave and charming, while others were sloppy and drunk. It was taking all of my willpower not to just run back to Ravenclaw Tower to wash my face, pull my hair back, and change into my baggiest clothes. But I figured I should stay to watch my friends, make sure they didn’t do anything stupid. Well, nothing more stupid than what they’ve already done.


 

          The party continued to surge. I stepped in when the guy Lessie had been snogging tried getting a little too friendly. Let’s just say he might have some trouble having kids in the future. I recused Blake when a group of fifth years tried to convince him to jump out the window with a broom so he could fly back up before he hit the ground. Blake can’t even fly, but he was going to do it anyways. And I started cheering when Fred asked Rhiannon out and she agreed. Hopefully they would be able to remember it in the morning.


 

          The party started dying down around three in the morning. People started leaving, falling asleep, and passing out. Zeke had turned up around two, mostly sober, but wearing a plastic bag instead of his shirt. He didn’t say where he had been and I was too afraid to ask. He ended up taking Lessie, Jessamy, and Blake back to Ravenclaw Tower shortly after he reappeared. Rhiannon was still with Freddy, so I was staying to make sure she’d make it back okay.


 

          I watched Albus carry his sister Lily, who’d drank for the first time tonight, much to his displeasure, up to his dormitory. She’d passed out and as Al couldn’t go to the girl’s dorm, he was sacrificing his bed for her. The tender look on his face as he stumbled up the stairs was heartbreakingly adorable. He may have been yelling at her for being drunk earlier, but now he was taking care of her when she needed it. I smiled gently, thinking of David.


 

          “So, are you the sober cab?” someone asked, breaking me out of my reverie. I looked up, seeing James, of course, smiling at me, holding out an unopened bottle of pumpkin juice. I took it but didn’t drink.


 

          “Am I the what?” I asked, perplexed.
 

          “Er, sober cab?” he asked half-heartedly. “Designated driver? They’re Muggle terms for the person who decides not to drink to keep their drunken friends safe.”
 

          “Yeah, I know, I just never really thought of it that way. I sat there uncomfortably as he nodded awkwardly.
 

          After a moment of silence, I added, “And I wouldn’t was designated not to drink. I just don’t.”


 

          “Yeah, me neither,” James said, sitting in the chair next to me. “I’ve seen too many stupid, drunk people to want to partake.”
 

          I shrugged. “I just don’t know how I’ll react to the alcohol. I guess I’m afraid I’ll start talking about things that are better left unsaid.” Why the hell am I telling him this?
 

          “Joy?” James asked, an oddly wry smile twisting his face. I looked away.


 

          We sat there for a few minutes. By now, the party was nearly over, less than a dozen people were still here. Fred and Rhiannon were on a couch, talking and holding hands.


 

          I looked over at James, who was staring at the floor and sipping his pumpkin juice. I was utterly confused. His words from last Monday ran through my head. I’m doing this for me. What did that mean? And why did I suddenly feel so comfortable talking to him?
 

          James looked over at me and smiled. He’s always doing that now, smiling at me in that gentle, caring way. My stomach lurches every time I see it. My breath catches in my throat and I bite my lip. For the last week, I’d been pondering what to do about the James situation. And I still had no bloody clue.


 

          “Look, Val,” James began nervously, “I know I haven’t been exactly kind to you in the past, and I’m really sorry for that. I was a right bastard and I was wrong to treat you that way. I realize how hard your life must be. I mean, I can’t even begin to understand what you’ve been through. Hell, I don’t think there’s anyone who can. But I’m sure there are sometimes that you might want to talk to someone. And, well, as I’m the only one who knows… I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you ever need to talk, I’ll always be here to listen.”


 

          I don’t think there’s anyone who can. Those words stuck in my mind, bouncing around in my thought. He understands. He gets that he can’t get my pain. And he accepts it. I stare at James in disbelief, a warm tingling feeling spreading through my veins. Finally.
 

          “You… you really mean that?” My voice was small, quavering. I needed to hear him say it again. I needed to know that there was someone who knew how isolated I felt.
 

          “Mean what?”


 

          “That you don’t think there’s anyone who understands how I feel.”


 

          “I, er, yeah.” James looked slightly uncomfortable, ruffling his hair nervously. “I mean, I never knew Joy, but it’s obvious she was special to you. Every relationship is different so no one can truly understand it unless they’re a part of it.”


 

          I stared at James. Then my face broke into a wide, genuine smile and I flung my arms around him. He seemed taken aback, slowly bringing his arms up to hug me back. “Thank you,” I whispered in his ear.


 

          He tilted his head in confusion. “For understanding,” I clarified. “One of my biggest fears about telling someone is that they’d tell me they understand my pair or that they’re sorry. Because they can’t understand and they never will, and believe me, I don’t want their sympathy.”


 

          James took my hand and we sat there for a few minutes, smiling at each other. But as my moment of happiness faded and Joy’s loss came back into clarity, I pulled my hand away. I still wasn’t sure what I was doing about James. This sudden closeness was frightening. I could feel a part of me yearning to trust James, to have faith again, but I shied away from it, not wanting the pain it would bring.


 

          But then James, smile still on his face, came up with the solution I had long been looking for. He stuck his hand out and in a hopeful voice, he asked, “Friends?”


 

          I bit my lip, contemplating the proffered hand. I shook my head slowly. “I don’t have friends. I can’t.” His face fell, but I smiled. “Can you settle for friendly acquaintances?”
 

          James grinned brightly as I shook his hand. “Sure. For now.”


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN


 

I apologize profusely for the wait! My life is SO incredibly busy, I can’t even tell you. I know last time I said I was in intense writing mode and many of you assumed that would mean quick updates. Well, let me explain. I have chapters 13 through 17 written and 18 through 20 planned. But the finished chapters are written. They still need to be typed. With the business of my life lately, I haven’t been home and I don’t have a laptop, so I’ve been using regular, old-fashioned pencil and paper to write this story. Let me give you a quick run-down of my life as of late: Dance competitions, prom, piano recitals, senior class trip, preparation for graduation, preparation for a three hour AP Calculus test, three English papers, a physics final, and working part time. I’m about to lose my mind.


 

But you know, I’m usually very good about updates! So having to wait this once shouldn’t be bad! And the chapter? Doesn’t it make it all worth it? James and Val are friends! This is a good step, be excited! And forgive me? Please?
 

Moving on then, here’s a teaser for chapter 13! It’s personally one of my favorites!


 

          “She’s beautiful,” he said. Then he looked at me. “She looks like you.”


 

          For 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.”


 

Disclaimer: Everything you don’t recognize belongs to me. Everything you do, unfortunately, belongs to Jo.


Chapter 13: Talking
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          “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.”


          “How so?”


          “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.”


          “Pardon?”


          “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.”
 

          “Val.”
 

          “I just… look, it’s my life, okay? I don’t want people judging me or worrying about me.”
 

          “But why?”

 

          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.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

AN

 

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
 



Chapter 14: The Match
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

AN

 

As this chapter is about Quidditch, I thought I’d put in a brief list of all the players for Ravenclaw, in case you’ve forgotten some of them.

 

Val Sullivan – Chaser, 6th year, Captain

Anna Russel – Chaser, 4th year

Justin McFlanner – Chaser, 4th year

Zeke Boot – Beater, 6th year

Bronwyn Garth – Beater, 2nd year, new team member

Rhiannon Moore – Keeper, 6th year

Rowan Fawcett – Seeker, 3rd year, new team member


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          Life with James as a “friendly acquaintance” was a big change. I’d never really thought that one person would have such impact, but then again, James wasn’t exactly an ordinary person. He kept me constantly on edge, but in all the best ways. He was unpredictable; every time I thought I had him figured out, he would surprise me with something new to wrap my mind around. Most surprising, and touching, however, was his obvious effort to befriend more people. I still remembered how I’d told him off for being too aloof back before we’d come to an understanding, so whenever I saw this, I gave him my biggest, brightest smile.

 

          I started spending a lot more time with him. We studied in the library together, sat near each other in classes, and sometimes ate meals together. James even went so far as to tell me the passwords to the Gryffindor Tower so I could drop in whenever I wanted to. Being around James was like a breath of fresh air. We hung out with his family a lot, too. I became better acquainted with those I previously didn’t know that well; Lily, Hugo, and Lucy. But I found that the time I spent alone with James was the most precious.

 

          Whenever James and I had one on one time, we invariably ended up discussing Joy. I described Joy’s personality, our relationship, and recalled several childhood memories. And James would ask questions and hold me whenever I cried, which happened less and less as time went on. I soon found that whenever I was with James, my pain faded. With a simple smile, James made my life better. And it scared me.
 

          My friends – although the term isn’t completely correct – noticed my sudden change. I still spent time with them, but my absences were certainly noted. The girls all teased me, telling me I was in denial when I insisted that James and I were nothing more than friends. Blake was confused and Zeke was disapproving. He kept spouting some nonsense about “fraternizing with the enemy” or something. Bloody Quidditch rivalries. Although, he was much more focused on Rhiannon and Fred, who were now officially dating, rather than me and James, who definitely were not.


 

          That’s another thing that troubled me. According to Rhiannon, James fancied me, and none of the other girls were disputing that. When I was around the Weasleys, Roxy, Rose, Al, and even Louis all sent James and me smug, knowing smirks. This just added to my fear that I was too dependent on James. It was bad enough that I already needed him – something I swore I would never do – but if he actually like me as well? My attempts at dating never work out and I just knew if James and I were a couple, it would end badly. Besides, I don’t even like James that way. At least, I don’t think I do. I’ve never truly fancied someone before, so I guess I wouldn’t know what it feels like.


 

          I wondered what Joy would think of him. Would she like him? I wanted so badly to talk to her – and this time, actually receive responses. Would she think he and I are better off as friends? Or would she agree with Rhiannon and say he fancies me? I just wish I had her back. I need my Joy.


 

***


 

          “Someone’s working hard,” James commented, taking a seat next to me in the Ravenclaw common room and causing me to jump. James was rather good at logic puzzles and easily gained access to the Ravenclaw Tower whenever he wanted it.

 

          “Not exactly,” I replied. “I’m just reviewing some Quidditch plays.” It was Friday night and our match was tomorrow. It would be my first Quidditch match as Captain, so I wanted to make sure we’d leave a lasting impression. And a good one.


 

          “No peeking!” I exclaimed when James tried to take a closer look. “These are top secret, property of Ravenclaw. If you think I’m going to let you steal my brilliant ideas, then you, sir, are vastly incorrect.”


 

          James smirked. “I don’t need your silly plays. I’m quite confidant in my own team’s abilities, so I feel no need to stoop that low. Besides, you Ravens are going to have to play extremely well if you want to overtake the Mighty Lions in the standings.”


 

          Gryffindor had played their first game shortly after the start of November, two weeks ago. They had slaughtered Slytherin in the opening match of the year and were feeling rather smug about it. I had to hold back a smile as I prepared to deflate James’s head.
 

          “Is that so? Well tell me something, Oh Mighty One, which team whooped your team in the final match last year?”

 

         “Ravenclaw,” James muttered, his smirk fading.

 

          “Correct. And which team has won the Cup for the last three years?”


 

          “Ravenclaw.”


 

          “Very good,” I said, my voice dripping with condescension. “And this year, which team’s captain holds the school record for Most Goals Scored in a Match and Most Goals Scored in a Season?”


 

          “Ravenclaw,” James sighed. “Okay fine, I get it, you guys are awesome. Especially you. You did, after all, break all my mum’s records when she was in school.”


 

          “Exactly,” I said, leaning over to shove him. I must have taken him by surprise, because he ended up sprawled on the floor. He looked up at me, complete shock crossing his face. I couldn’t help it: I busted out laughing.


 

          “Wow. I must not know my own strength. Or you’re just a wimp. Probably both.”

  

        “Har har,” James said dryly, grasping my hand when I held it out to help him up. Suddenly, I found myself being thrown forward and I joined James on the ground.


 

          We both stared at each other briefly. His smirk was back in place and I crossed my eyes and stuck my tongue out at him. We both started laughing hysterically, flopping back to lie down completely. My head lolled on his stomach, jolting with his every chuckle. James curled up into a fetal position around me as we both gasped for breath.


 

          “Why is this so funny?” he wheezed.


 

          “I don’t know!”
 

          After a few minutes, we managed to stifle our laughter. Grinning like fools, we pulled ourselves off the floor and back into our chairs. We began talking of everything and nothing at the same time. We talked for quite a while, until we reached a lull in the conversation. Then, we just sat there and smiled at each other until we heard a disturbance behind us. We both whipped around in our seats at a chorus of “aws” from Lessie, Jess, and Rhiannon and an obnoxious wolf-whistle from Fred.


 

          I crinkled my eyebrows. “How’d you get into Ravenclaw Tower, Fredward? We all know you’re rubbish at riddles.”


 

          “Hey now,” he protested. “My name is not Fredward, and are you insulting my intelligence?”


 

          “No, Fred-Head, I’m insulting your logic and reasoning skills. There’s a big difference.”


 

          Freddy blinked, an incredulous expression crossing his face. “Fred-Head? What the hell kind of a nickname is that, Val?”


 

          “I’m not sure,” I said, shrugging. “But it’s been a while since I gave you a new pet name.”


 

          “Why can’t you just call me Fred?”


 

          “Just give it up, man,” James interjected.


 

          Rhiannon smiled up at Fred. “Maybe I need a cutesy name for you.”


 

          “No,” he moaned, covering his ears. “Stop with the names.”


 

          Lessie and Jess both laughed and the four of them began light banter. James and I still sat in our chairs and just looked at each other with amused smiles. After several minutes during which conversation floated around, I reached over and grabbed James’s wrist, pulling it toward me to check his watch.


 

          James gave a startled jump and looked at me in surprise when my hand closed around his wrist. I felt a jolt of electricity where our skin touched and I dropped his arm quickly. It wasn’t a painful or uncomfortable feeling, merely unexpected. Actually, the aftershocks of the feeling were rather pleasant, shooting waves of warmth through my body.


 

          “Sorry,” I muttered to James, my cheeks flushing lightly. “I just wanted to check the time.”


 

          “It’s okay,” James smiled. “And it is currently 10:43.”


 

          “What?” I gasped.


 

          James looked slightly befuddled. “Yeah. Where did the time go? I got here at 9:30, yet it feels like only a few minutes have passed.”


 

          “Never mind that, I need to go to bed!”


 

          “Want me to come with you?” James asked with a devilish smile. I punched him on the arm.
 

          “You and you,” I said, pointing at James and Fred, “go back up to your own common room. Rhiannon, gather up the rest of the team. We all need to get some sleep for the match tomorrow.”


 

          “Okay, see you, Val,” James said easily, leaning over to give me a brief hug before turning to Fred. “C’mon, Lover Boy, let’s go. The Supreme Ruler Val had spoken.”


 

          I laughed as Fred gave Rhiannon a quick kiss on the cheek. She blushed slightly and waved as he and James walked away. “Bye Pookie Bear!” she called.


 

          Fred cringed as everyone joined my laughter. “This is all your fault, Val!” he shouted accusingly over his shoulder as a chuckling James pushed him away.


 

          “Right then,” I said, suppressing giggles. “It’s bed time. Team!” I called to them all. “Get some sleep!”


 

***
 

          The next morning, the Quidditch team met in the common room and went down to breakfast as a group. This was a tradition David started when he was Captain and I had decided to continue it. I like promoting team bonding and it presented us as a united group. As we walked to the Great Hall, I noticed Bronwyn, our new Beater, was pale and shaking slightly, and the Seeker, Rowan, looked a little green.


 

          “Hey, you two,” I said, putting a little distance between us and the rest of the group, “don’t worry, okay? You’ll be great.”
 

          They nodded, although Rowan didn’t look too assured. Putting an arm around each of them, I led them over to the Ravenclaw Table. After forcing everyone on the team to eat, not that Zeke needed encouragement, we left to head down to the pitch. There were calls of good luck from the rest of my House, but only a scattered few from the other Houses. Most Gryffindors and Slytherins were supporting Hufflepuff in this match. After our winning streak the past three years, many people wanted to see us knocked off the top. The entire Weasley/Potter family, however, was dressed in blue and bronze. I smiled at them when we passed.


 

          After everyone put their blue Quidditch robes on in the changing room, I stood up in front of where they were seated on the benches. It was time for my first pre-match pep talk as Captain.


 

          “Alright, team. I know most of you are probably expecting me to give an elaborate, motivational speech that will be so inspiring it will spur us on to victory. Well, that’s not the case. That was really more of David’s thing.” I smiled, recalling the long, complicated speeches he would make that would often leave us all in awe. My brother could certainly have a way with words sometimes.


 

          “The thing is,” I continued, “I don’t think you lot need that. There’s nothing wrong with giving a motivational speech once in a while to give encouragement in a bleak situation, but this isn’t one. The amount of talent on this team is staggering. The skill level is higher than ever. And the determination and dedication that each and every one of you possess is so outstandingly displayed that you all inspire me. So let’s all go out there and show everyone why Ravenclaw deserves to win the Quidditch Cup for the fourth year in a row.”


 

          Zeke let out a whoop and the whole team started clapping. Bronwyn and Rowan looked much more reassured and Anna and Justin high fived. Together, we all walked out onto the Quidditch pitch. The air was crisp and cold, but the sun was bright in the sky. It was late in November, but there was no snow on the ground. Overall, conditions were good.


 

          “And here is the Ravenclaw Team,” called the Quidditch announcer, Westley Roberts. “We have Bronwyn Garth and Zeke Boot as Beaters, Keeper Rhiannon Moore, Rowan Fawcett as Seeker, and Anna Russel and Justin McFlanner. And rounding of the Chasers is first time Captain, multiple record holder, Ravenclaw’s star player since she started in her second year, and in my opinion, the most beautiful girl on the face of the earth, VAL SULLIVAN!”


 

          A huge eruption of cheers followed my name, and not just from the Ravenclaw section. Although the majority of the student body was here in support of Hufflepuff, I seemed to have earned myself several fans. Heck, even some Hufflepuffs were cheering for me. I blushed slightly and waved at the crowd.


 

          The Hufflepuff Team had arrived on the pitch before us and was already in line. My team walked forward, falling into a V formation with me leading at its peak. We all walked with determined strides, our brooms held casually over our left shoulders. When I reached the middle of the pitch, I stopped walking and the rest of the team continued forward until we stood in a line, smiling confidently. Then, all at once, we dropped our brooms from our shoulders and held them at our sides. A younger Hufflepuff looked slightly frightened and the others all seemed intimidated by our admittedly impressive display.


 

          “Captains, shake hands,” ordered Professor Davies. I stepped forward, as did the Hufflepuff Captain and Keeper, Jake Smith. He glared at me as he caught my hand in a tight grip. Jake was the most recent of my ex-boyfriends. We had dated for a little over a month the previous December. It seemed he was still a little bitter over the breakup.


 

          “You’re not going to get a single shot in,” he hissed through clenched teeth. I flinched slightly when he sprayed me with a light mist of spit. Lovely.


 

          “We’ll see about that,” I said brightly, smiling and wiping my face in an exaggerated gesture. I held my arm out to him, displaying his saliva residue. “Would you like this back?”


 

          Jake growled. He legitimately growled, his teeth bared in a snarl. Yeesh. He looked like a feral dog. Maybe I should buy him a muzzle and leash.


 

          “All right,” said Professor Davies, “I want a nice game from all of you. Keep it clean and we won’t have a problem. Everyone ready?”


 

          He winked at me when I gave him affirmative. He had always shown a bit of favoritism to Ravenclaw – but only off the pitch – as he was a former Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain. Professor Davies practically worshipped me. He actually cried tears of joy when I broke the school record for goals scored during a game.
 

          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 of Veronica Tyler, who was pursuing me.


 

          “And they’re off!” shouted Westley. “Val Sullivan with the Quaffle, of course. Best Chaser Hogwarts has ever seen, that girl is. Just look at her fly! I’ve never seen someone more suited for the air. Sullivan goes into a spectacular spinning loop, what incredible speed and – wait, where’s the Quaffle?”


 

          At the peak of my loop, I tossed the Quaffle to my left where I knew, without having to look, Anna would be to catch it.


 

          “Brilliant play by the Ravenclaw Chasers. Russel passes to McFlanner. Nice block made by new Beater, Bronwyn Garth. Blimey, she may not look like much, but she’s got an incredible arm. Russel back in possession, she throws an over-the-shoulder pass back to Sullivan, who is fast approaching the goal posts.”


 

          I rapidly wove between Bludgers and other players, clutching the Quaffle tightly. Jake was watching, a ferocious scowl on his face as he hovered alertly in front of the middle post. I sized him up for a moment before planning my attack. As I approached, I tossed the Quaffle towards the left hoop, my eyes narrowed in concentration. My throw wasn’t particularly powerful and it arced gracefully through the air. I had still been a lengthy distance from the goal posts and Jake had plenty of time to prepare, flying over to block the shot almost lazily.
 

          With a sudden burst of speed, I shot forward towards the Quaffle. Seizing it out of its trajectory towards the left post, I threw it once more. This time, it hurtled to the all too exposed right goal with more than twice the speed of my first throw.”


 

          “Ravenclaw scores!” screamed Westley excitedly as the crowd roared in approval. “Did you see that?! An absolutely brilliant play made by Val Sullivan.”


 

          Zeke high fived me as he shot past to shoot a Bludger at Veronica, who had the Quaffle. It smashed into her side and she dropped the Quaffle, where it was intercepted by Justin. He streaked off back to our goal posts. I flew up higher, pulling ahead of him. When I was about 10 feet from the goals and an equal distance above them, Justin threw the Quaffle up towards my feet. With deadly accuracy, I kicked the large red ball, sending it through the middle hoop before Jake even knew where Justin had tossed it.


 

          The Ravenclaw supporters cheered once more and Westley crowed ecstatically. “And she does it again! Sullivan scores after an amazing play with her fellow Chaser. It’s obvious Sullivan has been inventing some very creative plays."
 

          The game continued spectacularly for us. Anna scored twice, Justin once, and I scored five more times. I was on a hot streak, making every shot I took, intercepting passes, and working with my team. Anna and Rowan had become almost unwilling to attempt to score themselves, preferring to give me the Quaffle. Once, I looked at the crowd and saw James, dressed head to toe in blue, cheering and yelling. The surge of happiness I got gave me the strength to heave the ball through the goal post from almost halfway across the pitch.

 

          “Half an hour into the game and score is 110-10 after Sullivan makes her eighth goal of the match,” said Westley. “There’s still no sign of the Snitch, although both Seekers continue to search.”
 

          Rowan was starting to look nervous as he circled the pitch. I caught his eye briefly as I tailed Jason Ryans, giving him the thumbs up before I flew forward and punched the Quaffle out from where it was being held between Jason’s arm and body. Anna caught it, immediately passing it to Justin, who threw it to me a short while later as he dodged a Bludger. As Bronwyn sent that Bludger towards Hufflepuff’s Seeker, I flew down the pitch.


 

          Jake was steaming in front of the goal posts; he hadn’t blocked any of my shots today and he was clearly beyond angry. As I flew closer, I heard a loud smack and a whistling sound approach me, a sure sign of an impending Bludger.


 

          Without pausing to think or slowing my speed, I tightened my grip on my broom with my legs and threw myself over the side. I flew forward, dangling upside down, and threw the Quaffle towards the goal while the Bludger passed by where my head had been moments ago.

 

          “Another score for Ravenclaw! Merlin, how does she do it?! Sullivan is on fire!”


 

          I huge cheer – the loudest yet – erupted from the Ravenclaw supporters. I searched through the crowd of students, finding James once more. He was frozen, staring at me with wide, shocked eyes. When he caught my gaze, a huge grin spread across his face and he began applauding with slow, awed claps. I winked at him before flying off again.


 

          Another half hour went by. After Rhiannon was hit in the arm with a Bludger, she let in five more goals. We were still well ahead, however, the score being 210-60. Anna and Justin had scored once more apiece, and I made the remaining ones. I was on peak form today, playing better than ever. Jake was in fits of rage over how well I was playing.


 

          Hufflepuff was in possession when it happened: Rowan and Georgia Smulders, the Hufflepuff Seeker, went into divers, speeding towards the ground. Time suddenly seemed to stand still as everyone held their breath. I could hear Westley shouting, “And it seems the Seekers have spotted the Snitch! Fawcett and Smulders are neck in neck. Either one of them could catch the Snitch!”


 

          He’s right, I thought. Suddenly, I realized that if Hufflepuff were to catch the Snitch, then the score would be tied. All the other players had frozen and were avidly watching the Seekers. I spotted the Quaffle being held loosely by Veronica Tyler. I flew towards her and jerked it from her grip. Speeding across the pitch, I eyed Jake where he hovered in front of the goal posts, as fixated on the battle for the Snitch as Veronica. Both Seekers had an arm outstretched as I closed the distance between Jake and me, my arm pulled back. With a grunt, I launched          the Quaffle forward with all my strength, sending it straight through the left hoop with incredible speed.


 

          “Fawcett catches the Snitch! Ravenclaw wins!” Westley shouted. “Wait – what’s this? It seems Val Sullivan made yet another goal, mere seconds before her Seeker ended the game. Not only does this mean Ravenclaw wins 370-60, but Val Sullivan has set a new record of 17 goals in one game!”
 

          The crowd went absolutely wild, screaming and chanting my name. I locked eyes with James, who was cheering outrageously, and mouthed “beat that.” James started laughing but stopped abruptly, looking horrified and pointing over my shoulder. I turned around just in time to see that Jake had a Beater’s bat in his hand before a Bludger smashed into my face.


 

***
 

          “… going to kill the bloody bastard.”
 

          I squeezed my eyes shut tighter at the sound of the menacing growl. I shifted slightly and moaned quietly at the dull ache that pounded in my head. The voices floating around me paused when someone gasped.


 

          “I think she’s waking up! Val? Val, can you hear me?"
 

          The voice sounded like Lessie’s. I shifted again, not wanting to pen my eyes yet. A few other voices joined Lessie’s but I tried to ignore them. Then I felt a warm hand took mine and someone whispered in my ear. “C’mon, Val. I know you’re awake. Open your eyes.”


 

          I shivered. It was James, I’d know his voice anywhere. I slowly slid my eyes open and took in my surroundings. I was in the Hospital Wing and an impressively large crowd of people were gathered around my bed. Rhiannon and Zeke were with the rest of my windswept looking Quidditch Team, as well as Lessie, Jess, and Blake. Fred was sitting next to Rhiannon. He was shirtless and his entire torso was painted blue with Rhiannon’s name in bronze on his chest. Al was on Fred’s other side and sitting right next to my bed was James.


 

          “Okay,” I said thickly, “whose arse am I kicking for putting me in here?”
 

          Everyone laughed loudly except James, who glared at the wall. His grip tightened on my hand, but it wasn’t unpleasant. I raised an eyebrow at him, but he shook his head slightly and mouthed “later.”


 

          “So, really guys, what happened?” I asked.


 

          “Jake Smith happened,” Lessie said, rolling her eyes.
 

          “That’s right!” I gasped. “He hit a Bludger towards me!”


 

          “Yeah,” Zeke said darkly. “He was so enraged that you had played so incredibly and him so shoddy, that apparently he thought you deserved to be knocked unconscious. Which you were.”


 

          I rubbed my forehead where the pain was the most concentrated. “Wanker.”

 

          “You’re telling me,” James muttered under his breath, still sounding murderous.


 

          I frowned at him. “Easy, there, tiger. Calm down. Just take deep breaths, think happy thoughts.”


 

          “Calm down? Val, he could have actually killed you! Do you have any idea how lucky you are?!” James jumped out of his chair. He looked agitated and completely pissed off. He growled out something unintelligible before stalking out of the room.


 

          We all stared at the door James had slammed behind him. I felt uneasy and a bit sad that he’d left me here. Biting my lip, I glanced around at all the remaining people. “Do you thing one of you can go make sure he doesn’t go kill Jake?"
 

          “We’ll go,” Al said after exchanging glances with Fred. They both got up, Fred giving Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek, and followed after James, only much more docilely.


 

          “I wonder why he was so upset.” I mused, shaking my head.
 

          “It’s ‘cause he fancies you,” Blake said with a shrug. I stared at him in shock. Blake was even more oblivious than Lessie! He doesn’t notice anything, but he can still see something that isn’t even there?


 

          “He does not,” I said impatiently. “He and I are friends. He doesn’t like me that way.” He couldn’t. Because if he did, I’d have to let him go, something that I was frighteningly unwilling to do.


 

          “Oh, wake up, Val!” Lessie exploded. “He totally does! Hell, sometimes I think you fancy him back. You two have been practically inseparable for almost a month and he’s the only person I’ve ever seen make you smile so much. Besides, you two are pretty much perfect for each other.”


 

          I blocked out the words she threw at me. “Shut. Up. Just drop it, okay?” My tone was harsh, unrelenting. “Can someone please just tell me what exactly happened with Jake?”


 

          “Jake took a bat from one of his Beaters and hit a Bludger at you. It crashed into your head and you were knocked unconscious. The whole team tried to attack Jake, but Professor Davies stopped. He then proceeded to shout at Jake, who now has a month of detention, lost his Captaincy, and will not be allowed to play in Hufflepuff’s next match. In the meantime, you were brought here. You were out for about three hours, but only because Madam Corner gave you a sleeping potion,” Jessamy said flatly, but her forehead was creased with worry and her eyes shone anxiously.


 

          “You forgot something, Jess,” Rhiannon said mildly. “The second the Bludger hit your face, you began falling. So James summoned your broom and raced down to catch you before you hit the ground. It was rather astounding and heroic and saved you from multiple broken bones. He then carried you here. But, you know, he definitely doesn’t fancy you.”


 

          “Just leave it be,” Zeke said when my eyes narrowed. Internally, I began brooding. James’s actions to save me were, all in all, awe-inspiring and frankly very touching. I started to try and think of ways to thank him, though I knew he’d insist I didn’t have to.
 

          After about 10 minutes, the Quidditch Team, minus Zeke and Rhiannon, went back to Ravenclaw Tower to enjoy the party that was going on there. The others stayed until Madam Corner kicked them out at 8. James, Fred, and Al didn’t return.
 

          I was being forced to stay overnight, despite my pleading that I leave. Madam Corner was convinced I would party and aggravate my head if she let me go. It was now sometime around midnight. I was far too uneasy in the Hospital Wing to be able to fall asleep. Therefore, when the door opened and closed, seemingly of its own accord, I was more than a little startled.


 

          “Who’s there?” I whispered.


 

          Suddenly, a grinning James appeared as he whipped off a silvery looking cloak. “Now, now, Val. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”


 

          I ignored him. “I see you have your dad’s old invisibility cloak there.”


 

          “How’d you know about that?” he asked, his smile fading slightly.


 

          “Al told me about it once.”


 

          James shook his head. “Of course he did. That kid couldn’t keep a secret to save his life.”


 

          I smiled slightly before asking, “Did he and Fred find you before you killed Jake?”


 

          “Yeah,” he grunted, sitting down. “And I wouldn’t have killed Smith – just severely injured.”


 

          I laughed quietly and James took my hand. He looked thoughtful for a moment as he brushed his thumb along the back of my hand, making me shiver. “Why does he hate you so much? Smith seemed like a decent bloke, why would he attack you like that?”


 

          “Ex-boyfriend.”


 

          “Ah,” James said, rolling his eyes. “I guess he never got over you ditching him, huh?”


 

          “He split up with me, actually,” I corrected.


 

          He seemed surprised. “Really?”
 

          “Yup.” I popped the p. “All of my boyfriends have.”
 

          “Seriously?” James looked downright shocked now.


 

          I sighed. “Yeah. They can all tell that I’m hiding something, that I’m holding back. With the exception of Freddy, they’ve all wanted to… I don’t know, be in possession of me, I guess. Show off that I belong to them. But when they find that I don’t play along with that, that I’m not fully… committed… it upsets them so they break up with me. I suppose I’m used to it now.


 

          “Basically, you can’t keep a boyfriend… because you can’t tell anyone about Joy?”


 

          “If you want to put it that way, then yeah.”


 

          An odd look crossed James’s face. It looked almost hopeful. Strange. We were silent for a few minutes. I fidgeted restlessly while he stared at the bed next to me. My eyes shifted around the room and I twiddled my thumb. My left leg began shaking. Suddenly, James dropped my hand, reaching out and putting it on my knee, stopping my leg. I froze.
 

          “Relax,” he murmured.


 

          I stared at his hand. For some reason, feeling its warm weight on my knee made me nervous. My breath caught in my throat and I felt odd flutters in my stomach.


 

          “You look a bit agitated,” James said thoughtfully. “What’s up?”


 

          “Nothing… I just hate that I have to be here.”
 

          He nodded. “Ah, the usual ‘I’m perfectly fine and don’t need to be in the Hospital Wing’ situation.”


 

          “No,” I said slowly, “I probably should be here. I just… don’t like hospitals.”
 

 

          James looked at me, sharp understanding in his eyes. “Bad memories?”


 

          “Yeah.”


 

          Subconsciously, I reached out, grabbing James’s hand and holding it in my own. He smiled at me gently. Before, I had felt uneasy, upset that I was being forced to stay in the Hospital Wing. But now that James was here, I felt soothed, peaceful. He stayed with me the whole night and I eventually drifted into a dreamless sleep.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

AN


 

Well, that’s that. Val kicks butt and James is adorable. Hufflepuff got pwned and their Captain is a jerk. And some cute Val/James moments, if I do say so myself.


 

Not much to say at the moment, just trying to write as many chapters as I can. I’m doing pretty well, and I’ve also started a new story. I plan on posting that one next, so keep a lookout for it. I should be able to keep updates going for both stories, because I have now OFFICIALLY GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL!!!!! I am DONE! FOREVER! I’m a little excited, if you can’t tell. I am more than ready to start college.


 

Anyway, leave a review and tell me what you think. Next chapter will feature snowball fights, letters, and a pouty-pants James.
 

          I scoffed. “I wouldn’t eat you, Fredward, that’s gross. You’d be way too tough and stringy. If I were to eat anyone, it’d probably be Jess.”


 

          She quickly sat up in surprise, eyeing me warily. Fred looked equally disgusted and amused and Rhiannon started laughing. Lessie looked slightly troubled. “Why wouldn’t you eat me?” she whined.


 

          “You’re way too petite,” I dismissed as everyone else looked at her incredulously. “There isn’t enough meat on your bones. Fred and Rhiannon are both too muscular. But Jess would be perfect. She’s nice and lean, but still substantial enough to be a good meal.” I looked at her thoughtfully. “I bet you’d make a lovely roast.”


 

Disclaimer: Still not J.K Rowling. And also, bonus points for whoever can figure out what movie I used as inspiration for the name Westley Roberts.


Chapter 15: Jealousy and A Letter
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          “Val Sullivan, I am going to kill you!” Lessie shouted. I grinned and wiped off the residual snow left on my hands from the snowball I had just thrown at her.
 

          “You’re the one who wanted to go on a walk outside. There is snow on the ground, therefore I will throw snowballs. It’s a law of nature,” I said, grinning impishly.
 

          It was now mid-December. A plethora of Christmas decorations had been put up around the castle and snow blanketed the grounds. After the Quidditch match, I had achieved a momentary surge of fame. Countless people offered me congratulations on my record and others extended sympathy for my trip to the Hospital Wing. While I would smile and thank them, I wished they would just leave me alone. My closer relationship with the entire Weasley family – at Hogwarts, at least – had also given me a degree of notoriety, but it was all unwanted. Perhaps it was James’s influence, but I no longer wanted my large group of friends. I was content to spend time with the girls, Blake and Zeke, and James and his family. Frankly, that group was large enough on their own.

 

          Lost in thought, I didn’t notice the snowball flying towards my head. Spotting it at the last second, I quickly ducked and it hit Jessamy in the face instead.

          “Alessia Persephone Karalis!” she gasped. 


          “Val started it!” Sometimes Lessie truly astounded me with her level of maturity.

 

          “I don’t care who started it, I’m ending it!” said Jess, going into strict parent mode.
 

          “Hey, Mum” I called to her teasingly. She turned and I threw a snowball at her face.


          “Val!”

 

          And with that, the three of us began an epic war. We hastily built forts and created as many snowball as we could. The rules were simple: to win, you had to conquer your opponents’ bases while protecting your own. If you were hit with a snowball three times in a row, you were sent back to your own base.
 

          The game ended after about half an hour. As a Chaser and the most athletic in the group, I had a clear advantage. But by teaming up against me, Lessie and Jess put up a valiant fight, but in the end I was victorious. We were all lying in the middle of the war zone, out of breath and covered in snow, when Fred and Rhiannon walked up to us, holding hands.

 

          “See? This is what happens when I leave these three alone,” Rhiannon said in amusement.
 

          “Hey!” Jess protested. “We all know I’m the voice of reason in this group!”

 

          “Then why do you look like you just got your butt whooped in a snowball fight?” Fred asked.

 

          I got up and brushed snow off myself. “Because she did. They both did, actually, despite their cheating tactics.”

 

          “Nowhere in the rules did it say there couldn’t be teams,” Lessie retorted.

 

          “So you’re saying you two still lost to Val even though you were working together? Remind me to never make her mad. She’ll probably eat me,” Fred said with a shudder.

 

          I scoffed. “I wouldn’t eat you, Fredward, that’s gross. You’d be way too tough and stringy. If I were to eat anyone, it’d probably be Jess.”

 

          She quickly sat up in surprise, eyeing me warily. Fred looked equally disgusted and amused and Rhiannon started laughing. Lessie looked slightly troubled. “Why wouldn’t you eat me?” she whined.
 

          “You’re way too petite,” I dismissed as everyone else looked at her incredulously. “There isn’t enough meat on your bones. Fred and Rhiannon are both too muscular. But Jess would be perfect. She’s nice and lean, but still substantial enough to be a good meal.” I looked at her thoughtfully. “I bet you’d make a lovely roast.”
 

          “I’m guessing this was a bad time to enter the conversation?”

 

          We all turned to see James, who was standing with Lessie’s brother Mike, looking at us with a confused smile.

 

          I winked. “We were discussing who would be best to eat if I were to resort to cannibalism. Hypothetically, of course.”

 

          James and Mike started laughing. Mike came over and pulled me into a hug. “I swear to God, Val, you make life worth living.”

 

          “Thanks Mikey-Wikey,” I said, leaning my head on his shoulder. Sometimes he reminded me uncannily of David. Over his shoulder, I was James scowling darkly at us. I shot him a confused look, but he turned away. Well. Someone was a bit moody.

 

          “Mikolas,” Lessie called to him, “what have I told you about Val?”


          Mike turned to stick his tongue out at her. “Off limits, I know. How come, according to you, every time I touché her, it’s because I have sinister intentions? Why can’t this just be a friendly hug?”
 

          “Besides, Less,” I chimed in, “who’s to say I don’t have sinister intentions. I was planning on eloping with Biker Miker.”

 

          “Ours is an insurmountable love,” Mike sniffed, sounding so snooty that we all started laughing. Except for James. He glared at Mike so viciously that his left eye started twitching. It was actually kind of scary.

 

          “But seriously,” Lessie said, suddenly sobering up, “if you try anything with my baby brother, I’ll rip your perky little boobs off.”

 

          I lifted an eyebrow. “Harsh.”

 

          “Little?” Fred asked with a leer. Rhiannon, James, and I all hit him, me breaking out of Mike’s embrace to do so. While Fred whined about getting bruises, Mike put his arms around me again.
 

          “Okay,” James said, hastily pulling us apart, “let’s not forget why we’re here, Mike.”
 

          “Oh, right,” he muttered.
 

          James turned to Fred. “Extra Quidditch practice. Say goodbye to your lady love and your arse on the pitch.”

 

          Fred groaned, but obliged, kissing Rhiannon on the cheek and saying, “I’ll se you later tonight, Ann.”

 

          James grabbed his arm and Mike’s arm and began towing them towards the Quidditch pitch. Raising my hand it a wave, I called, “Bye Mikey! Bye Fred-O! Bye James!”

 

          Mike and Fred returned the farewell, but James just kept walking, completely silent and looking straight ahead.

 

***

 

          That evening, I was feeling pensive. What was up with James? He’d been acting so strange this afternoon. He’d been acting so strange this afternoon. I was helping Blake with Transfiguration in the common room when it became too much. Pushing aside my book, I turned to Blake.

 

          “Hey, I just remembered something I need to do. Is it okay if I leave?” I smirked slightly. “I’m sure Jessamy could help you.”

 

          Blake blinked twice, a slight flush creeping up his neck. Winking at him, I left the room, heading towards Gryffindor Tower. The Fat Lady in the portrait leading to the common room gave me a disapproving look, but let me in nevertheless when I gave her the password. She gives me that look every time I come here. She probably thinks I’m up to something bad.
 

          Looking around the room, I didn’t see James, but I did find Fred with Simon Longbottom. I walked over to them, smiling at Al as I passed. He was listening to Rose rant about preparing for their O.W.L.s with a glazed look in his eyes.

 

          “Hey Frederick, Simon,” I said, sitting in the chair next to them.

 

          “Val,” Fred nodded. Simon flinched, looking at me nervously. He was the guy Lessie snogged back during the Halloween party. Apparently, he was still frightened of me, even though it’s been a month and a half. In his defense, I did punch him in a rather sensitive area. Next time he should just stay away from girls when he’s drunk.

 

          “James around?” I asked. “I need to talk to him.”
 

          “He’s up in his dorm,” Fred said, jerking his head towards one of the staircases. “He kicked all of his dorm mates out earlier.”

 

          “He’s been really grouchy today. He’s been up there since their Quidditch practice ended, just brooding,” Simon commented.
 

          “Yeah,” Fred scoffed, “not to mention the fact that he was a complete Nazi during practice. He was just moody and yelled at us the whole time. He nearly made Maisie cry.”

 

          I stood up from my chair. “Well, good. That’s what I wanted to talk to him about. Later.”

 

          I walked towards the boy’s staircase, pretending not to have heard Fred’s mutter of “good luck.” Ascending the stairs, I almost ran into Hugo, who was leaving the third year dormitory. He winked and smiled at me kind of creepily and I patted him on the back. He was an interesting kid. Probably his father’s influence.

 

          I knocked briefly on the door to the sixth years’ dorm before flinging it open. James looked over at me in surprise. He was the only one in the room and he was lying on his bed, presumably, the curtains hanging open. He was also shirtless. I blinked in surprise and tried not to stare. While he wasn’t ridiculously muscled, there was definite definition.
 

          Shaking myself slightly, I looked at James’s face. “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Pants, still sulking in your man cave?”

 

          “I… what?”

 

          “You heard me. Are you PMSing right now or did you lodge a stick up your arse?” I asked, smiling pleasantly.

 

          “Uh…”

 

          I walked over and sat down on the bed next to James’s. I looked at him, quirking and eyebrow. “Seriously, James. What was with you today? Everything was fine, but then you turned into the Hulk out of the blue. You were just glaring and scowling at everyone and then you completely ignored me. I talked to Freddy and Simon, they said you were practically a slave driver during your practice. And you made a third year cry! What’s up?”
 

          “Why do you care?” he asked sullenly, rolling over to face away from me. His back was as muscled as his front. Damn.

 

          “What do you mean, why would I care? Of course I care! You’re my friend, James.” I was more than a little shocked at his behavior.

 

          James laughed cynically. “We’re just friendly acquaintances. You don’t have friends, remember?”

 

          I looked down at my hands. “I do now,” I whispered.

 

          James whipped around and sat up, staring at me, eyes wide. “What?”

 

          “You’re my friend, James,” I said, biting my lip but looking at him directly in the eyes. “You’re the first person I’ve ever considered a friend since Joy died. Somehow, when I’m around you… I feel like-like everything will be okay. I’m actually sort of happy. Against my better judgments, I can’t help but trust you. So… don’t waste it, I guess.”

 

          I crossed my arms in front of me and looked away again, feeling incredibly vulnerable. To say I was scared was a gross understatement. I was completely terrified. I had opened myself up to another person, grown to need him. My breath was shaky and I trembled, my eyes squeezed shut.

 

          The bed I sat on sank a little as a new weight was added to it. James put his arms around me, pulling me into a hug, my head now resting on his shoulder. “Thank you,” he said, his voice low and intense. “I won’t ever hurt you, Val. I promise.”

 

          I clung to him. “No, James, thank you,” I whispered. His words were touching, but on the inside I felt cold. Under my breath, quiet enough that James couldn’t hear, I said, “Don’t make promises you’re not sure you can keep.”

 

***

 

          “Hey, Blakers, come here for a bit,” I called. I was sitting at the Gryffindor Table in the Great Hall, eating breakfast on Thursday morning. I was sitting with James, Al, Rose, Fred, Roxy, and Maisie Finnegan. Fred was currently trying to put scrambled eggs up Al’s nose while Roxy cheered him on. You can definitely tell those two are twins.

 

          Blake ambled over, wearing a slightly confused expression. He smirked as Al started slapping Fred with a piece of bacon. “What do you need, Val?”


          “Do you still have my Transfiguration notes from Sunday night? Rose wants to look at them.”

 

          “But she’s a fifth year…” he responded, sounding perplexed.

 

          I grinned at Rose. “She’s also a little nerd who wants to prepare for next year.”

 

          Rose blushed and glared at me. “Just in Transfiguration. That git, Malfoy, is catching up to me in that class and I want to get well ahead of him. Prat won’t know what’s hit him next year.”

 

          I smirked. Young love. I can’t wait until the day that Rose and Scorpius realize they’re perfect for each other. I really, really hope I’ll be able to see the reactions of their fathers, as well. I’d bring popcorn.
 

          Blake lifted his eyebrows at Rose, but said nothing to her. “I’ll bring your notes to Herbology.”

 

          “Thanks Baker Blaker!”
 

          He left with a salute. Al gave me an odd look. “Baker Blaker?”

 

          “Don’t be so critical of another person’s pet name, Allison.” Al winced. That’s right. Don’t mess with me, Potter.


           “I changed my mind,” Al muttered. “Call me Ally all you want.” Bam. Victory is mine.

 

          “Since when does she call you Ally?” James asked, puzzled.
 

          Al shrugged. “About two or three weeks ago. She has all sorts of ridiculous ones, but Ally, apparently, is her favorite.”
 

          “It’s because you’re so adorable,” I said nonchalantly, helping myself to some more waffles. I had just finished three of them and now I grabbed four more. Everyone stared at me.

 

          “How the hell do you eat so much?” Fred asked bluntly, sounding simultaneously impressed and disgusted.

 

          “Quidditch. Dance. I run five or miles every day. I’m tall and I have a high metabolism. Ergo, I need a lot of food. Thank you all for being so judgmental.” I smiled at them all sweetly.
 

          “You still dance?” James asked.

 

          I nodded. “Yup, the Room of Requirement transforms into a really nice studio, and I see my teacher whenever I’m home for the summer holidays.”

 

          “Can you show me sometime?”

 

          I bit my lip. “Maybe.”

 

          The truth was, no one other than my teacher had watched me dance since Joy died. James, understanding the tightening around my eyes and my sudden stillness to mean I was fighting off the pain, gently took my hand under the table. When did he start reading me so well? Normally no one noticed the changes, as they were incredibly subtle.

 

          May looked like she was about to ask a question when the morning post arrived. Mathilda landed gracefully in front of me, holding out her leg and hooting dolefully. I gently stroked her head and detached my letter. Pushing a bowl of cornflakes toward Mathilda, I glanced at the outside of my letter. I was expecting it to be from Victoire – she’d been bombarding me with letters about the weeding for a month – but instead I saw my mother’s handwriting.

 

          “What’s Vic freaking out about now?” James asked, grabbing a pastry. “Finally realized the with you and I as a couple for the wedding, no one will be able to tear their eyes away to look at her and Ted?”


          I kicked him under the table and rolled my eyes. “It’s a letter from home, actually.”

 

          James looked at it in interest, the nosy git, but before I had a chance to open it, Rose let out a horrified gasp. “I didn’t realize that the post was so late. We’re going to be late for class! Come on, Al, we have a Defense test!”

 

          She seized Al’s arm and began dragging him away. Chuckling at his martyred look, I called, “Good luck, Albert! Make me proud!” Then I turned to James, who was now frowning. “Let’s go, James, Herbology is a-waiting.”

 

          Ignoring the deepening of his frown, I walked out of the Great Hall with him lingering slightly behind me, my letter now forgotten in my pocket.

 

***

 

          That night, I met Al in the Gryffindor common room for tutoring, rather than the library. We were joined by Louis and, of course, James. The amount of time he and I spent together had been increasing exponentially ever since Halloween. Things, however, had seemed almost awkward after Sunday when I told him he was my friend. We sent each other secret smiles and I often found myself blushing. When we walked to class together, we would casually bump hands or shoulders. More than anything, we were reminiscent of first years with their first boyfriend or girlfriend. It was actually kind of sickening.

 

          My feet were resting in his lap as Al and I discussed the Unforgivable Curses with Louis, who was just learning about them. Al was now excelling at Defense Against the Dark Arts, so all that was left was to catch him up on four years of struggling.

 

          “What are some of the signs that someone is under the Imperius Curse?” I asked, trying not to laugh when James tickled the bottom of my feet with his quill.

 

          “Oh, I know this one!” Louis exclaimed. “We talked about it today.”

 

          I snapped my fingers in front of his face. “Hush, Loubacca, I’m tutoring Algae, not you.”
 

          “Loubacca?” Al asked, but rolling his eyes at his own nickname.

 

          “Yeah, like Chewbacca from Star Wars.”

 

          “What’s Star Wars?” Louis asked.
 

          I gasped, staring at him in shock. “Oh, Merlin, did you really just ask that? What has the world come to?”
 

          “I agree with Lou, what’s Star Wars?” asked Al.
 

          “They’re these Muggle movies from back in the 70s. Well, Episodes IV, V, and VI are. Episodes I, II, and III come later. But most of us fans don’t really like to talk about those.”


          Al and Louis just stared at me. “That makes no sense…” Al said.
 

          “Really, Al?” James interjected, sounding disappointed. “The original Star Wars trilogy is pretty much the greatest set of movies ever made. Dad and I have watched them a billion times at home. How can you not know about them?”

 

          “Yes!” I shouted. “Thank you, James. You see, this is why we are friends!”

 

          James grinned brightly at that and even blushed slightly. I bit my lip, smiling back. Friends. After Joy died, I didn’t think I’d ever have an actual friend again, and if I had, I never would have thought it’d be James Potter.

 

          Al was looking at us suspiciously, but Louis was oblivious to our silent exchange. “So, who’s this Chewbacca guy, then?”

 

          “He’s a Wookie,” I explained. “A large, strong, and very hairy creature from the planet Kashyyyk.”

 

          “He’s also the copilot of the Millennium Falcon and best friend of Han Solo, the infamous smuggler,” James added.

 

          “Mmm,” I sighed. “Han Solo. That man was dreamy.”
 

          James frowned at that but Al laughed. “Trust you to dream about a fictional character, Val.”

 

          “Hey!” I protested. “The actor who played him was fit. Seriously, do not even get me started on him in the Indiana Jones movies. Holy hotness in a fedora”

 

          James broke in hastily. “Yeah, yeah, no need to go on. Tangent aside, didn’t Al have a question to answer?”

 

          I clapped my hands together. “Right! Okay, Allosaurus, signs of the influence of the Imperius Curse. Go!”

 

          And so, with James frowning more deeply than before for some odd reason, Al, Louis, and I continued studying. We were there for about an hour. After that, Louis went up to bed and Al looked for Rose to ask her a question about the homework they were set in Astronomy.

 

          James and I stayed in front of the fireplace. We had moved out of the armchairs and were now sprawled on the floor, my head resting of James’s stomach. Although curfew was fast approaching, I felt no desire to leave.

 

          “Hey, what did your mum say in her letter?” James asked, playing idly with my hair. We were actually supposed to be finishing our Arithmancy homework, but I didn’t really have any motivation to do so.

 

          “Oh!” I said, sitting up. “I never read it.” I pulled it out of my pocket and laid back down again to quell James’s protests. I opened the letter and began to read.

 

My Dearest Val,

 

          How are you dear? It’s been a while since your last letter. I imagine you’re quite busy, though, with all your classes, tutoring, and that fancy game you magical folk play. Those records don’t break themselves!

 

          I’m writing to talk to you about Christmas this year. I assume you’re coming home, as usual? Hope and Dave will be staying at home and they’re both quite excited to see you again! I know you and Hope will have to be attending several meetings and appointments for Victoire’s wedding. Do you have other plans to see your friends during break?

 

          Lastly, I have some exciting news. As you know, you and Joy were much loved by everyone in Roscrea, especially our church community. So this Christmas, there is going to be a memorial service for Joy. It’s going to be one big celebration of her life. And they want you to speak at it! Isn’t this exciting? I know you don’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Won’t it be great sharing your memories of Joy?

 

          I hope you are well and I can’t wait to see my beautiful daughter again!

 

Love,
 

Mum

 

          As I read the letter, my hands started shaking and cold dread settled in my stomach. My chest felt tight and the room spun in circles. When I finished the letter, I jerkily tore it into pieces, crumpled them together, and threw them into the fire with all the strength I could muster.

 

          “Val?” James asked tentatively.
 

          I ignored him, instead looking wildly around the room. They want me to speak about Joy. Won’t it be great sharing your memories of Joy? Why on earth would that be great? I never talk about Joy. Only with James.

 

          I ripped out the elastic holding my hair into its ponytail. I began running my hands through my hair, pulling and clawing at the roots. I started rocking back and forth and my breath was coming in shuddering gasps. I could feel the tenuous happiness James had given me crashing down around me. I can’t tell people about Joy. I can’t. It was hard enough having to tell James. Now I’m expected to talk about her in front of a large group of people? I couldn’t do it at her funeral and I sure as hell am not going to do it now.

 

          “Val,” James said urgently. “Val!” He grabbed at my arms, forcing them down by my side. I struggled with him, but he managed to overpower me.

 

          Everyone remaining in the common room was staring at us. The members of the Weasley family looked anxious, almost frightened. Roxy had actually risen from her seat, and looked like she was about to come over to James and I. Noticing this, James pulled me to my feet and practically dragged me out the portrait hole. I was still in a state of panic.


          James ended up bringing me to the Room of Requirement. He pushed me into one of two chairs that had appeared in there. Kneeling in front of me and taking my hands in his, James looked me in the eyes. “Val. Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.”

 

          I squeezed my eyes shut. Memories assaulted me. Listening to Joy sing and play piano. Making scrapbooks together. Pulling pranks on the other kids in our primary school. Sneaking around the neighborhood. How was I supposed to tell people about this?

 

          “There’s going to be a special memorial service for Joy over the holidays. My mum just wrote me, talking about how exciting it is. I’m expected to give a speech or something, talking about Joy and our childhood.”
 

          James blinked. “Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I mean, it’s been helping you to tell me about it all, won’t it be nice to talk about Joy with people who knew her?”

 

          I stared at him incredulously. “James, it took me six years to talk about her. And the fact that you never knew Joy made it easier, not harder. There is no way I can tell all those people who still treat me like a little girl about how wonderful Joy was.”

 

          I took a deep breath, trying to slow my heart rate. My hands still quivered, but I was beginning to obtain at least a semblance of calm. “It might seem stupid, but I just… can’t face those people. I had a happy childhood, but now it just makes me feel bitter. Talking about it isn’t really high on priority list.”

 

          James’s hand found its way under my chin and he lifted my head to look at him. He eyes bore deeply into mine, but I closed my eyes. There was something in his eyes when he looked at me… something I was afraid to see. Then, in a surprisingly tender gesture, he carefully wiped away the tears on my face. I opened my eyes and let out a slightly breathless laugh.

 

          When he cocked his head in confusion, I explained. “I used to do that for Joy. Wipe her tears away, I mean. But no one’s ever done that for me. Joy just let me cry into her shirt.” I wrinkled my nose. “It kind of tickles.”

 

          James laughed loudly at that. He sobered up quickly, though, and looked at me in concern. “What are you going to do about Christmas, then?” he asked.

 

          “I don’t know,” I sighed. “I really don’t want to speak at the memorial, let alone go. I guess I’ll just have to figure it out.”

 

          “Just remember how strong you are,” James said gently. “And know that if you ever need to get away, tell me. Anytime you need me, I’ll be there. And write to me even if you don’t.”
 

          I leaned forward, pulling him into a hug. “Thank you,” I breathed into his ear.

 

          There, in James’s arms, things felt like they would end up okay. But I knew that it wouldn’t be, that the feeling was only an illusion created by his warm embrace. The truth was I had a hard decision to make. If I refused to speak at the service, I’d need a good reason. Nothing would work but the truth. This left me with two choices: I either had to talk about Joy to a bunch of strangers or to my parents. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

AN

 

So… yeah. Not so happy anymore. Things were getting too good for Val, of course something bad would have to happen. This story is nowhere near done!
 

James and Val are officially friends, though! That’s good, right? Things are going to get really… intense and sad during the next chapter, so just be prepared for that. It’s not very nice.
 

Review?
 

So here it is, a teaser for chapter 16.
 

          “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.

 

Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe is owned by J.K. Rowling. Also, George Lucas owns Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And huge thank you to The Beatles, also known as the greatest band in the universe, for being extraordinarily inspirational and easing the writing process. The words practically write themselves when I listen to their lovely voices and other exceptional musical talents.

 

EDIT July 2012



Chapter 16: Breakdown
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


July 2012

 

AN

 

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.”

 

          “Okay, Mum.”
 

          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. 


James,

 

          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,


Val

 

          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.

 

Val,

 

          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?
 

 

Stay awesome,


James
 

 

          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. 


          Bang.

 

          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.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

AN

 

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.


 



Chapter 17: Unexpected Guest
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James Potter POV
 

 

          “Staring out the window isn’t going to make the letter come faster,” said an amused voice from behind me. I turned to see Al smirking at me. We were sitting in the kitchen at the Burrow.


 

          “I’m not waiting for a letter,” I lied. Al’s smirk widened.

 
 

          “All right, then. If you say so. But when the letter does come, tell Val I say hi.”


 

          I ran a hand through my hair nervously. “I’m not waiting for a letter from Val,” I insisted. “Can’t a bloke sit in a kitchen without having to face ludicrous accusations?”


 

          “Ludicrous?” Al raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see how my supposed accusations are ‘ludicrous.’ You and Val have both been sending each other a letter every day since break started. Sometimes you’ll send two. Nana Molly asked me yesterday why you hadn’t mentioned having a girlfriend." 
 

          “Val’s not my girlfriend,” I answered automatically. But I wish she was.
 

          Al just brushed that off, ignoring me. “But now, you’re here, freaking out, because Val didn’t respond to your last letter. You sent it two days ago, but there’s been no response. You’re worried about her. The only thing I’m wondering is why.”


 

          I glanced at Al warily. The kid was way too astute. I’m surprised he hasn’t actually figured out Val’s secret out. It was so easy to see how much pain she was constantly in. Of course, it might be obvious to me because I knew about Joy.
 

          Joy. Every time I thought about her, I was plagued by curiosity. Val had told me all about her already, but I still wanted to know more. And, more than anything, I wished I could find out what Val was like back then, back when she was still Tina.
 

          I was saved from having to answer Al by Nana Molly’s arrival in the kitchen. Despite her old age, her hair was still as red as ever.


 

          “Why, James,” she said in surprise. “I thought Albus was the only early riser among you lot.”
 

          I smiled charmingly at her. “I thought maybe today I could help you cook breakfast. You do so much for us all, I thought you might like a bit of assistance.”


 

          Nana laughed. “Such a delightful boy you are. Tell me, who are you trying to impress?”


 

          “Why, Nana, I’m appalled,” I gasped in mock horror. “Can’t a guy help his wonderful and kind grandmother without having ulterior motives?”


 

          “In this family? No.” 
 

          “He’s waiting for a letter from his girlfriend,” Albus put in. I glared at him.


 

          “She is not my girlfriend,” I insisted. “She’s my friend. Who’s a girl. She’s my friend-girl.”


 

          Al and Nana both looked at me skeptically. “Shut up,” I said, not able to meet their gaze. Dear God, could I be any more obvious?

 
 

          I helped Nana get breakfast started before she sent me off to get ready for the day. I was still in my pajamas, as I’d been hoping to find a letter from Val and didn’t bother changing when I woke up. I was concerned that Val’s lack of response meant something bad had happened. And, if I was being perfectly honest, I missed her like crazy. 
 

          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.
 

          I smiled at Victoire as I passed her on the stairs. Then I froze. Of course! Vic was friends with Val’s older sister. She’d met her back when Val was seven. If anyone could tell me about “Tina,” it would be her.

 
 

          “Hey, Vic!” I called in excitement. “Hold up, I want to talk to you.”


 

          “What’s up, James?” she asked. 
 

          I shifted my feet nervously. How to bring it up without making it completely obvious that I fancy Val… “Er, it’s kind of private.”


 

          She raised an eyebrow, but led me to an empty room, nonetheless. “Speak, child,” She said impatiently. She gets more and more manic with each passing day. Must be the impending wedding.


 

          “I guess… well, I guess I was wondering if I could talk to you about, er, Val?” Dear Merlin, when did I get so awkward?


 

          “I think I know where this is going,” Vic said, smirking. Oh no. “I’m a bit surprised you came to me, though.”
 

          I shook my head hastily. “No, Vic, not anything like that. I was just wondering if you could tell me what Val was like… back when Joy was still alive.”


 

          Victoire looked at me in utter shock. “You know about Joy?"
 

          I nodded. “Val told me. I’m actually the only person she’s ever told.”


 

          “Wow,” she murmured. “I guess I can tell you. I swore to Hope not to ever tell anyone about Joy at Val’s insistence. But I guess if you already know…” she trailed off.


 

          “It’s not something I like to think about,” Vic began. “I remember meeting those two very vividly. And now, well, knowing Val doesn’t have Joy anymore… hell, I miss Joy and I only met her a few times.”


 

          “What were they like together?” I asked softly.


 

          “My God, they were… I don’t even know. I’ve never seen anything like them before. I swear they probably could have owned the world by now if… you know.”


 

          “Yeah,” I said sadly.


 

          Vic sighed, running a hand through her long hair. “Watching Val and Joy together wasn’t like watching two separate people. They were two halves of the same whole. When they looked at each other, you could see that they were each other’s entire world.”


 

          “How did they act around each other?”

 
 

          “They were the most mischievous little girls I’ve ever met!” She burst out laughing. “Oh, they were completely adorable. They always concocted these little schemes. They would go around their neighborhood and play these ridiculous games that no one else could understand. Everyone they met was putty in their very capable hands.”


 

          I smiled sadly. The was Victoire described them, they were so much more than sisters of best friends. And now, knowing that Val had lost Joy, I couldn’t even imagine how awful things must be for her. “Tell me about Val. You know, when she still went by Tina.”


 

          “She was a lot like she is now. But… in a different way. More genuine, I guess. There was a sparkle in her eyes, an innate happiness that isn’t there anymore. Val had the most beautiful eyes. Hope used to say that whenever she felt sad when she was a kid, she’d just look Val in the eyes and somehow, everything would be better.”

 
 

          I nodded. I felt the same way about her smile – her real smile.
 

          “She laughed a lot more back then. There was just an aura around her when she was with Joy. She was outgoing, charming, funny, and sarcastic.”
 

          “A sarcastic seven-year-old?” I asked, feeling a smile grow on my face.
 

          “Oh, definitely,” she said, laughing again. “You should have seen her and Joy. When I was at the Sullivan’s house for Christmas in my third year, they had a sarcasm contest. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.”


 

          “Anyway, I need to go shower. Teddy’ll be here soon,” Vic said, standing up. “Just ask if you have any more questions. But you know, the best answers would come straight from the source.”


 

          I stared out the window as she left the room. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the familiar snowy owl approach until it tapped on the window. I jumped slightly before feeling a surge of excitement. She wrote back! But a surge of plummeting expectations engulfed me as I let Hedwid Junior (Lily picked the name) inside. She didn’t have a letter.


 

          “Where are you, Val?” I whispered. “What’s happened?”


 

***
 

          Later that day, Fred, Rose, Al, and I decided to accompany Mum on a trip to Diagon Alley for last minute Christmas shopping. I still needed to find a gift for Val – I had no idea what to get her! Rose and Al were getting a joint present for Nana and Granddad, and Fred hadn’t bought anything. As usual.


 

          We flooed to the Leaky Cauldron, briefly greeting Neville and Hannah. After tapping the brick and opening the passageway to Diagon Alley, my mum turned to us. “Alright you lot,” she said. “Fred, you’re hopeless, so you’ll come with me. Rose and Al will obviously go together and James, you can do what you want. Let’s try to get this done as fast as possible.”


 

          Rose immediately led Al off to Flourish and Blotts, ignoring his protests, and Mum let Fred take her towards Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes at his insistence. I browsed around for a while. There was a necklace that I looked at for a while, but in the end I wimped out, thinking it was too fancy to give to a girl that was only a friend. Instead, I bought a picture album that I was going to fill with pictures from this year.


 

          Walking around, I saw that all the others were still shopping, so I decided to get some ice cream. Ordering a double scoop of chocolate fudge ice cream with whipped cream, I sat down. There was only one other person in there, a girl who sat with her back towards me. She looked familiar, with long blond hair tied up in a ponytail. It was a captivating color, unique. With the sun slanting through the window, it caused her hair to glow. I’d only ever seen one person with hair like that…


 

          “Val?” I asked tentatively. The girl whipped around and I rushed over to hug her. 
 

          “Val Sullivan, why have you not responded to my letter?” I demanded.


 

          “I-James? What are you doing here?” she asked me quietly. 
 

          “Shopping with my family, but don’t avoid the question,” I said playfully, grinning at her. But then I looked at her more closely. Her face looked drawn, pinched. The bags that had begun to form before break now looked like dark bruises under her eyes and I wondered if she had lost weight. Her hands shook subtly and her eyes shone with unshed tears.


 

          I felt my lungs slowly becoming compressed. Something had happened. Taking her hand and gently pulling her up, I lead her out of the shop and into a secluded alley so we could talk without being overheard.
 

          “What’s going on?” I asked in an intense voice. “What happened? Why are you here?”


 

          Val just shook her head, the corners of her mouth pulling down. Clearly, things didn’t go well back at her house. Her decision regarding Joy’s memorial service had taken its toll. She looked the same as she did after she got that letter, but worse. I reached out to brush a wisp of hair off her face, but she flinched, backing away from me. She looked like she was afraid. But she mostly looked hurt. 
 

          “Val,” I said desperately, holding my hands out cautiously. “Val, I’m not going to hurt you. I want to help you, I won’t hurt you. I need you to trust me.”


 

          “You’re all I have,” she whispered before collapsing into my arms. She shook with silent sobs and I held her, bewildered. Burying my head into her hair – a difficult feat, considering she was less than two inches shorter than me.
 

          “You’re okay,” I breathed. “I’m here, you’re okay."
 

          After she calmed down, I brought her back into Florean’s and bought her some ice cream, though she didn’t eat it. Holding her hand and looking into her eyes like I was, it was easy to pretend Val and I were dating. I imagined being able to hold her hand all the time, run my fingers through her long, soft hair, kiss her again…


 

          I pulled myself harshly away from those fantasies. You are trying to help her, I told myself firmly. Making her your girlfriend is not the goal. Just… hopefully an additional benefit, eventually.
 

          “Can you tell me what happened?” I asked Val carefully. Obviously, she was fragile right now. More so than usual.


 

          She sighed. “I guess you could say I had an… epiphany. My family doesn’t care about me. They don’t notice… anything. At all. I mean, I know I’ve been acting like everything was fine, but you’d think that as my family, the people who should know me better than I know myself, they would notice a difference.

 
 

          “Sometimes people don’t see what they don’t want to,” I said kindly.


 

          “But they still should,” Val said, shaking her head. “And Lessie and the girls, Blake and Zeke… they’re completely clueless. The person they’re friends with isn’t really me. The only person I have… is you.”


 

          Val looked up at me, staring into my eyes. I stared back, unable to speak. Looking into her eyes, I could see what Victoire was saying. Her eyes were deep, an endless turquoise, but they were empty. They always had been. It was something her family really should have noticed. There was no sparkle, no life… just existence.


 

          “I’ll be here for you,” I promised. “Always.”
 

          She nodded, still not breaking our stare. In that moment, I think I learned what true devotion was. I knew that I would literally give up my own life if it would somehow give Val her Joy back. It probably should have worried or frightened me, but it didn’t. And isn’t that what love is? Valuing someone else’s happiness and wellbeing over your own? 
 

          “Please, Val,” I said desperately. “Why are you here and not at home?”


 

          She dropped her gaze, her shoulders caving in. I immediately wished I could take my words back. “I left home yesterday morning,” she admitted. 
 

          “Why?”


 

          “You know about the memorial? Well, when I got home, I noticed our sitting room was filled with pictures of Joy. It… startled me, to put it lightly. I accidently tripped and hit my head on an end table. Not a big deal,” she said, catching my worried look, “but I had to tell some lies so my parents didn’t worry. And that’s when I noticed that my family is oblivious idiots.”

 
 

          “What happened?” I asked, concerned.


 

          She shrugged, her eyes downcast. I could see how much this was hurting her, though she didn’t want to show it. “I guess I just noticed how easily they all bought my lies. And how they really don’t care. They don’t ask about my life, they take no notice. It’s like I’m invisible in my own home. They just accept whatever story I tell them and move on. And believe me, my lies suck now. I blame you.”


 

          I smirked slightly, but gestured for her to keep going. “Well, it came to be the day before Joy’s memorial, two days ago. My mum started talking about going down to the church to prepare things. So I told her that I couldn’t do it. Any of it. So they all told me I was being unreasonable and stubborn and that I was selfish. So I told them. I told them how I’ve felt since Joy died. And they reacted exactly how I feared they would. My mum told me I needed help, my dad had nothing to say, except to scold me when I used language. Hope was unsupportive and David just sat there, doing nothing. And I freaked. I screamed at them at how horrible they all are. I told them they were terrible parents they were. I yelled at how they stopped caring about me. Then I packed my bags and left. No looking back.”

 
 

          Her tone was harsh, upset. She was so shaken that I felt my heart break for her. I hugged her cautiously, not wanting to scare her again, but she leaned into me, accepting my embrace. “You have no idea how much I need you,” she breathed.


 

          I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face and I felt a huge leap of happiness. It may not be love, but it was progress. One day, Val Sullivan will be my girlfriend and I’ll show her how to be happy again. Then I won’t have to feel guilty for the images I get in my head when I hold her like this. Hey, I’m a bloke. What do you expect? 
 

          I would have been content to stay like that forever – pathetic, I know – but of course the moment would be ruined by Fred.


 

          “James,” he called in a sing-song voice, walking into the shop with Mum, Al, and Rose. “How dare you eat ice cream without – oh.”


 

          He stopped skipping over to me when he saw Val in my arms. A suggestive smirk grew on his face and he opened his mouth to speak. I cut him off silently with a fierce glare and a look of concern replaced his smirk when he caught site of Val’s desolate expression. Al and Rose stopped short as well, and my mum looked on with confused curiosity.


 

          “What’s going on, James? Who is this?” she asked.


 

          “Er…” I trailed off and Val looked up, noticing the new arrivals for the first time. She blushed slightly and scooted away from me. Damn.

 
 

          “Oh. Um, hi Fred, Al, Rose, and… uh… Mrs. Weasley,” she said uncomfortably. I took her hand under the table, squeezing it comfortingly.


 

          “Mum, this is my friend, Val Sullivan,” I said, feeling a happy glow at the word “friend.” Dear God, what was wrong with me? I used to be manly. Now I’m all… sensitive and… emotional. It’s pathetic. And gross. I’m worse than Al.


 

          Understanding shone in my mum’s eyes and she winked at me subtly. “So you’re the Val we’ve all heard so much about!”
 

          “I guess,” Val said, looking down. Okay, this wasn’t good. Whenever Val met new people, she was usually charming and confident. A shy and awkward Val wasn’t something I thought existed.


 

          I scrutinized Val. She looked so… forlorn. Lonely. I shook my head, knowing I couldn’t let her spend Christmas alone. “Mum,” I said, inspiration striking me, “can Val stay at the Burrow for the rest of break?”


 

          Everyone looked at me in surprise. “Er, wouldn’t she want to spend it with her own family?” Mum asked, confused. Val flinched slightly and I put an arm around her shoulders.


 

          “With all due respect, Mrs. Weasley,” Val said, her voice still worryingly quiet, “I don’t have a family. Not one that cares about me, at any rate.”


 

          “What d’you mean they – “ Fred started, but I glared at him again, subtly shaking my head.


 

          Mum gave me a searching look, concern etched on her face. I met her eyes with a determined, pleading expression and she nodded. “The more the merrier.”


 

          “I wouldn’t want to intrude,” Val said, but I could see the hope, the longing in her eyes.
 

          I brushed her hair, which had fallen over her shoulder, back. “Val, there are seriously about 30 people at the Burrow right now. One more won’t make a difference.”

 
 

          “There’s plenty of space in my room for you to stay,” Rose offered and Val smiled at her.


 

          “I guess I should go get my things, then,” she said. 
 

***
 

          “Hey, family!” I shouted when we all walked into the Burrow. “Congregate!”


 

          Everyone slowly trickled into the kitchen. Val was standing out of sight so I could give her a big entrance. She’d rolled her eyes when I’d insisted on the theatrics but I was persuasive. It seemed to have cheered her up a bit, anyway. 
 

          “I present to you all, our newest guest, the lovely Miss Val Sullivan,” I said in a grand, posh voice.


 

          Fred, Roxy, Dom, and Molly all started cheering and Louis let out a whoop. With a collective shrug, the rest of the family joined in the applause and Val walked into the room gracefully, stepping lightly on her toes. At the increased vigor in clapping from all the cousins, she took a fluid curtsey, looking like a ballerina. Probably because she is one.


 

          Uncle George wolf-whistled at her and waggled his eyebrows at me. Val and I both blushed as Al started laughing. Several of my cousins stepped forward to hug and greet Val, Hugo a little overenthusiastically, and the adults smiled at her with appraising looks. I felt oddly nervous.


 

          “So you’re the infamous Val,” Aunt Hermione said, stepping forward. “You have quite a hefty list of accolades preceding you." 
 

          “All exaggerations, I’m sure,” Val replied, rolling her eyes. She does that a lot. It’s kind of adorable. Thank God no one here is an Occlumens.


 

          “I don’t know,” Uncle George inserted, an impish grin on his face. “What was it you said, James? ‘She floats in ethereal beauty when she walks, like an angel fallen from Heaven to grace us all with her presence.’ Seems pretty accurate to me.”
 

          Val turned bright red while, conversely, all the color drained from my face. I should’ve known not to take that drink Uncle George had offered me. My descriptions of Val had become a bit, er, flowery. I was never going to live it down.


 

          “You wouldn’t say that if you knew my devilish side,” Val smirked, recovering splendidly. Uncle George laughed and Val shot me and indecipherable look out of the corner of her eyes. Bloody hell, it was hot. You will not jump her, you will not jump her, I told myself. 
 

          “Besides,” Val continued, a mischievous look on her face, “if anyone here is angelic, it’s you, George. You just look so… holey." 
 

          I beamed at Val in excitement. Anyone who was comfortable enough to make jokes about Uncle George’s lack of an ear was welcomed into the family with open arms. In fact, Uncle George started laughing harder than ever and several of the adults joined in.


 

          “You, my dear, are an absolute delight. That’s the very first joke I made about my ear, too. You now have the official George Weasley Seal of Approval,” he said, grinning brightly.


 

          Even more commotion was caused when Teddy walked in the door. He’d been staying at Hogwarts to help with supervision, but now he was here for the rest of the holidays. There were cries of greeting as he entered the kitchen and he seemed surprised to find us all gathered here. His eyes landed on Val, who was still bantering with Uncle George, and blinked. Then, he sought out me and sent me a wink. I felt myself start to flush again. Did everyone know that I fancy Val?
  

          “If it isn’t my favorite student!” Ted called out jovially, setting his bags down and approaching Val. He ignored the many protests from those of us still in Hogwarts.

 
 

          “What are you doing here?” he asked. “There’s nothing for the wedding today.”


 

          Val and I both froze, looking at each other. Everyone in the kitchen stopped talking, looking on in interest. “Yeah, Val,” Lily asked. “Why are you here? Not that we all don’t love having you.”


 

          “Er,” I began, but Val broke in, her voice devoid of the previous happiness that had just started to return.


 

          “I left home and James asked me to stay here, rather than the Leaky Cauldron where I was,” she said. She looked calm on the outside, but I knew that on the inside, she was hurting.
 

          “You-what?” Aunt Audrey asked. “Why would you do that?”
 

          Val frowned. “Because they don’t deserve my pretense or presence. They don’t understand or care. I didn’t feel safe or loved in my own home. So I left and I’m not going back.”


 

          The room was silent. Everyone looked at Val in confused concern, especially Victoire, who knew Val’s family. “Pretense?” she eventually asked.


 

          “That I was happy,” Val elaborated. “That I was normal, that my life was in order, that waking up in the morning doesn’t get harder and harder with each passing day.”


 

          Shock was evident in everyone’s face now. I walked over to Val and took her hand. We looked at each other for a moment and an understanding passed between us. She nodded and I whispered in her ear, “Top floor. I’ll meet you there after I… tell everyone. It’s what you want, right?”
 

          She nodded. With a swell of courage, I ignored the fact that my entire family was in the room and I kissed Val on the cheek. She looked at me in surprise before smiling slightly and leaving the room. I turned to my puzzled family and took a deep breath, preparing myself.


 

          “Val’s had a hard life,” I began. “Can you all just… listen while I tell her story and I can answer questions after?”


 

          Everyone gave their consent, the mood solemn. “When Val was a kid, her best friend was her twin sister, Joy. Wait, don’t ask questions yet,” I reminded them, holding up my hand when Rose, Roxy, Fred, and Lily all opened their mouths.

 
 

          “Joy and Val were extremely close; they were practically the same person. Val has told me all about her, and the love and commitment on her face when she talks about Joy was… astounding. The day of Val and Joy’s tenth birthday, Joy was diagnosed with the Muggle disease, cancer. She died two weeks later.” 
 

          Molly and Aunt Fleur gasped and Uncle George smiled sadly. “Val was… destroyed. And still is. Since that day, she lost who she was. She can’t trust people and she doesn’t know how to be happy anymore. She just pretends that her life is fine so that her family doesn’t worry and so people don’t pity her. She’s very popular at school, but she says she has no friends. Well, except for me.”


 

          “This year, I’ve been trying to help her. Show her that it’s okay to need people, that not everyone is going to hurt her, leave her. And she’s made progress, but now, well, I think she’s lost a lot of it. And I don’t blame her.”


 

          “What happened?” Dominique asked softly.
 

          I inhaled deeply before going on. “One of Val’s biggest fears is that people will treat her differently because of Joy. People in her hometown always do and she hates it. That’s why she pretends like she’s okay. But she did her job too well. Her family never noticed. And now, they pretty much ignore her. She’s been getting better, so now she noticed how inconsequential she is in her own home. In her mind, her family doesn’t love her.”
 

          “But they do!” Victoire interrupted. “Her older sister is my best friend! She always talks about Val.”
 

          “Just because she loves her, doesn’t mean she pays attention,” I said gently. “You don’t know Val as well as Hope does, but you could still see something was wrong. But did Hope?” 
 

          Vic looked down. “If she did, she never mentioned it. You’re right.”

 
 

          Teddy put an arm around her, but signaled for me to continue. “Anyways, for reasons I won’t go into now, Val finally told her family. And they responded badly enough for Val to confirm the suspicions in her mind that they don’t actually care about her. I doubt that’s actually the case, but it’s what Val believes. So, she left. I found her in Diagon Alley and brought her back here. Please, all of you, don’t treat her any differently because of this. It’s the last thing she needs.”


 

          There were nods of assent and Nana Molly wiped her eyes. everyone, whether they knew Val well or not, was in varying stages of sadness and disbelief.


 

          “You know, that’s what I’m wondering,” Fred broke in. “How did you and Val get so close? Why did she tell you all of this?”
 

          I sighed. “She told me last year. I found her crying in the Astronomy Tower and she ended up spilling her entire story about Joy. I-it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. She was harsh and bitter, angry at the world. Essentially, I know her story because I stumbled across her when she was feeling vulnerable. Then this year, I knew from watching her that I needed to help her. So that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s starting to work.”
 

          “Not to sound insulting,” Rose began, “but why did she choose you to open up to further. I mean, at the beginning of the year, she didn’t seem to like you very much.”


 

          I shrugged. “It’s because I understand. Yeah, I’ve made her do hard stuff, like relive memories of her childhood, but I just… get her. And apparently, no one else really does.”

 
 

          My mum walked over and hugged me. “I’m so proud of you, James,” she said. “You are making such a difference in that poor girl’s life. You must really love her.”


 

          I pulled back in surprise. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
 

          “Please, James, you’re not fooling anyone,” Louis said. “Everyone can see it. You fancy the pants off Val.”
 

          “I-shut up,” I mumbled.
 

          “Ooh, you showed him,” Uncle George said cheekily. “Very witty response. Bitingly clever, I’m surprised Louis isn’t crying in a corner. Anyways, isn’t your lady love waiting for you upstairs?” He waggled his eyebrows.


 

          I rolled my eyes, but didn’t say anything, leaving the kitchen. I walked up to Uncle Ron’s old room, where Fred, Louis, Hugo, and I were all staying. I walked into the room hesitantly, afraid of what I might see.

 
 

          Val was lying on one of the beds – mine, actually – and was staring up at the ceiling. She sat up when I entered the room, forcing a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. I sat next to her and silently put my arms around her, holding her. She leaned into me and we both lay back now, Val’s head against my chest. We stayed like that for a while until I spoke.


 

          “They all care about you,” I said softly.


 

          Val snorted. “They don’t even know me.”


 

          “But they know your story.”


 

          She hummed quietly, one hand absentmindedly tracing a pattern on my chest, driving me insane. I could feel goosebumps forming. “Thank you, James,” she finally whispered. 
 

          “For what?”
 

          She tilted her head, her eyes meeting mine. “For making me feel safe.”
 

          My heart stopped for a moment at her exquisite beauty. The way her eyes shone with sincerity, how her hair fell gently around her face, and, more than anything, the glory of the trust I had earned from her made her the most stunning girl I’ve ever met.


 

          “Always.”
 

***
 

          Val quickly made her way into the hearts of the entire Weasley family. After a day, I managed to coax her out of her shell. It was obvious she was still upset about her experience with her family, but she managed to smile and laugh. The best thing, though, was that her moments of happiness were never faked or forced. She was legitimately happy.


 

          Although she was supposed to stay with Rose, Molly, and Dom, at night Val and I both left our rooms to go to the sitting room together. We stayed up talking until we both fell asleep on the couch. We were teased endlessly for that in the morning. After that, Nana Molly told us we could sleep in the sitting room if we wanted.

 
 

          It was now the night before Christmas. The whole family was in the sitting room, chatting and laughing merrily. Everything seemed to be going fine; I was discussing the joke shop with Uncle George while Val was thoroughly charming Uncle Percy. Oddly enough, her smile looked real as she talked to him about Merlin-knows-what horrendously boring thing he was up to at work. Out of nowhere, I saw Val freeze out of the corner of my eye. I broke off midsentence from my conversation with Uncle George and watched Val run from the room and up the stairs 
 

          “Er, excuse me for a moment,” I told Uncle George distractedly. He nodded, barely concealing a smirk, as I followed after Val.


 

          I found her in the room she was technically supposed to be staying in. She was sitting on a bed, staring at her hands. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes had that faraway look that told me she was trying to hold back the pain.


 

          Crossing the room and sitting next to her, I put my arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head on my own shoulder. “Why is my life such a mess, James?”


 

          I rested my chin on her forehead. “Because sometimes bad things happen to good people.”


 

          “I wasn’t aware I counted in that category,” she said with a harsh, sarcastic laugh.


 

          “Hey,” I said, grabbing her chin and tilting her head so I could look her in the eyes. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

 
 

          She shrugged. “Sorry for running out. Your uncle just mentioned the Goblin Liaison Office in the passing, and, well, it made me think of Hope and…” She trailed off.


 

          “I miss her,” Val said suddenly. “And David. And my parents. I love them. But I just… can’t be around them. I love them, but I don’t need them.”


 

          “Everyone needs their family, Val,” I contradicted. Worry was gnawing at my stomach.
 

          “Not me. I only need you.” 
 

          My heart soared, though I tried to stop it. Much as I loved Val and how much she seemed to need me now, I knew it wasn’t healthy. Hopefully by spending time with the rest of my family she’d realize I wasn’t the only person who cared about her. And then maybe she’d forgive her own family. 
 

          “I have a Christmas present for you,” Val said, interrupting my thoughts. “I was going to give it to you tomorrow, but… well, I want to do it now.”


 

          She got up and went over to her trunk, which was kept in this room, and began rummaging through it. I watched her intently, curiosity piqued. I saw her shift through school books and clothes. I blushed a little when I saw a brief glimpse of one of her bras. Mind out of the gutter, James, I told myself sternly. 
 

          Finally, she seemed to find what she was looking for. In the very bottom of her trunk were several photo albums and a wrapped gift. I was surprised then, when she grabbed the albums and brought them to me. “What-“
 

          “Pictures,” Val interrupted. “From my childhood. They range from when I was born until just before I turned ten.”


 

          Understanding crashed into me and I looked up at her in shock. She smiled wryly. “You always ask about Joy, I figured maybe it was time you actually saw her.” 
 

          “I-wow. Thank you,” I told her earnestly. I paused. “But what’s that?” I jerked my head towards the present in her trunk. Looking at it again, I could see where it was a little torn on one side.


 

          Val’s face twisted and I regretted my question. I seem to do that a lot. You’d think I’d have learned to have more tact by now, but no such luck. But when I opened my mouth to take my words back, Val covered it with her hand. 
 

          “You don’t have to apologize. Sometimes things you do or say remind me of Joy, but that’s not something you need to be sorry for. So relax, yeah?”


 

          I stared at her, unable to move. Her hand was on my mouth. I could feel it pressing against my lips. Her skin was warm and soft and it made my own skin burn. And she smells good. Like, really good. Is it creepy that I’m smelling her? Probably, but I don’t really care at this point. God, I want her so bad. It’s not fair. Why does she have to be so amazing and bloody gorgeous? I’m going insane here.
 

          “Um, am I to take your stare to mean you agree or to mean that you didn’t take in a single word I just said?”
 

          I blinked. Val was looking at me with a slightly amused smirk stretching out her lips. Her full, pink lips that had been so soft against mine the one time I had kissed her… Snap out of it, James! “Sorry, er, spaced out for a bit. But yeah, I heard you.”


 

          “Good,” she smiled. “And that box is the present Joy gave me for our tenth birthday. I never got the chance to open it.” 
 

          Her smile became sad and I took her hand. “Why don’t you open it now?”


 

          She shook her head quickly, biting her lip. Damn, that’s hot. I wonder if I could – Dude! Seriously! “I can’t do it,” Val gasped out. “I just… can’t.”


 

          “Shh, hey, it’s okay,” I said, hugging her. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”


 

          She took a deep breath. “You’re right. Sorry for freaking out. Anyways, I’m going to go back down to the sitting room, but you can stay here and look through pictures if you want.”


 

          “You don’t want to look with me?” I asked, cocking my head to the side.


 

          “No,” Val said, closing her eyes. “I haven’t looked at those pictures for six and a half years. This is the first time they’ve been taken out of my trunk since I put them there when I was eleven.” 
  

          With that she turned and walked out, leaving me staring after her. With a wistful smile, I looked down at the albums in my lap. I grabbed the first one and opened it. I was greeted with a picture of two newborn babies being held in the arms of who clearly must have been Val’s parents. She doesn’t resemble them very much, and not just because her parents were tan, brown eyed brunettes.
 

          I flipped through the pages, still smiling. As babies, Val and Joy were utterly identical. They both had a light fuzz of blond hair on their heads and the typical watery blue eyes all babies have. They were the same size and had the same features. Normally babies cry a lot, but in every single picture of the two of them, they were smiling and laughing happily.


 

          Once they were a few month old, the differences started appearing. Joy’s skin, hair, and eyes all darkened up, while Val just became blonder and paler. At about six months, the pale heart under Joy’s eye appeared.
 

          I felt tears sting my eyes as I advanced into their older years. There were endless pictures of the two of them. The rest of their family joined them in occasional pictures, but for the most part, it was just the two twins. There were pictures of them in dance outfits, Joy with various instruments while Val drew, and of the two of them at school. The utter contentment on Val’s face broke my heart. She was so happy, so joyful
 

          I was crying in earnest now. There were pictures of Val and Joy dressed all in black, striking poses to look like spies, Val dressed up like a nurse and Joy looking sick. The last picture was the one that broke me the most. It was the two of them and the date below the picture told me it was just a week before their tenth birthday. The girls were sleeping next to each other. Val was resting her head on Joy’s stomach and they were holding hands. The caption read “Tina and Gracie: Best Friends Forever.”


 

          I closed the album and buried my head in my hands. I couldn’t believe that this had affected me this much. I carefully placed the albums back into Val’s trunk and headed downstairs. Val was laughing and talking with Al and my parents, who think that Val is just about the greatest thing to happen to me. Not that I’m arguing with them about that.


 

          I walked over to them, my eyes fixed on Val. I put my hand on her shoulder and gently turned her around. Her smile faded slightly as we looked at each other and she took in the tears that rolled down my cheeks. She wiped them a way, a tender look on her face, and then hugged me. I held her, her face burrowed into the crook of my neck. We stayed like that for a while, my family watching silently.


 

          Eventually we pulled away and looked at each other. “Thank you,” I told her, for once not caring what everyone else was thinking.
 

          Val smiled and for a second – so brief that had I blinked I would have missed it – I saw a sparkle in her eyes. It was gone so fast I almost thought I had imagined it. “No,” she said. “Thank you.”
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN 
 

Sorry about the lateness of this chapter. I may or may not have gotten caught up watching the Olympics...


 

Gah! James is so difficult to write. I really want to have his perspective interspersed throughout the story, but it’s just so hard! He never quite comes out how I want him to… I agonized over it for days. I’m still not quite happy, but I just need to move on and write the rest of the story. Don’t judge too harshly.


 

Just a side note, right now I’m guestimating this story will be a little over 25 or so chapters long. The end is nigh! But there is still quite a bit left to happen.
 

Also, I started a blog about my writing. I'll be posting about my stories, you can ask my any questions you want, and I may even have teasers about what I'm currently working on... I can't put the link here, but if you go to my Author's Page, you'll find the website. Cheers!

 
 

But other than that, what are your thoughts? Good? Bad? Leave a review and let me know! And in the meantime: Chapter 18! Back to Val’s point of view for this.


 

          “I didn’t know we were having a wet t-shirt contest, James,” I said cheekily. “I think I’ll just forfeit right here and now.”


 

          “Oh, I don’t think so, Sullivan,” he mock-growled. If I wasn’t so tired, I probably would have foreseen what came next. As it was, I was utterly unprepared when James ripped my blanket off and tackled me, his sopping shirt getting me wet as well. 

 

          “James bloody Potter!” I yelled, pushing his off me as he started laughing. “I’d shut up if I were you, unless you want me to remove all chances of you having children.”


 

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the intellectual property of one Joanne Rowling. It does not belong to me, much to my chagrin. Finding Faith, however, is completely mine.


Chapter 18: A Very Weasley Christmas
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                “Merry Christmas!” came a loud, excited squeal next to my ear. I moaned quietly, shifting on the mattress in the middle of the sitting room at the Burrow.


 

          “C’mon, Val,” the voice continued. “Wake up! Presents!” Whoever was trying to wake me up was going to die. And so was James. It’s his fault I was up super late last night. And now someone was trying to disrupt my sleep. Good Merlin, now they were poking me. If they aren’t careful, they’ll lose that finger.


 

          I rolled over, burying my face in my pillow. The person bothering me apparently got the message because the prodding stopped. I heard a thump and James grunted loudly. “What the hell, Lily?” he groaned.


 

          “Wakey wakey, sleepy head! It’s Christmas!” Lily, apparently, said brightly.


 

          “I don’t care, I just want to sleep,” James responded, his voice muffled. I wondered briefly if was lying face down on his pillow as well, but then decided I was too tired to care.
 

          “Presents, James, presents!” Lily insisted. Judging by the commotion that was coming from their direction, she was probably jumping up and down on him. It’d probably be funny to watch, but I’d have to open my eyes to do so. And it just wasn’t worth it.
 

          James groaned again, louder. “For the love of all that is holy, Lily, get the bloody hell off me.


 

          “Then get up!” she sang. “We’re opening all the presents as a family and you and Val are the only two still sleeping. Up, up, up!”


 

          James mumbled something incoherent. After a brief moment, I thought I heard splashing water and James let out a loud yelp, followed by a thud. Rolling over once more, I managed to peel my eyes open, and I was glad I did. James was hopping up and down, completely soaked with water, while Lily laughed in delight. I began to chuckle as well, amused as James tried to remove some of the ice that had gone down his shirt.


 

          “I didn’t know we were having a wet t-shirt contest, James,” I said cheekily. “I think I’ll just forfeit right here and now.”


 

          “Oh, I don’t think so, Sullivan,” he mock-growled. If I wasn’t so tired, I probably would have foreseen what came next. As it was, I was utterly unprepared when James ripped my blanket off and tackled me, his sopping shirt getting me wet as well.


 

          “James bloody Potter!” I yelled, pushing his off me as he started laughing. “I’d shut up if I were you, unless you want me to remove all chances of you having children.”


 

          James sobered up immediately, giving me a wary look. Lily snorted before laughing harder than ever and I grinned smugly. Then I batted my eyelashes innocently, a vapid expression overtaking my face. Lily continued giggling and James just looked confused. While he was contemplating my sudden change in demeanor, I grabbed the half-full bucket Lily had discarded and threw the rest of the ice water on his head. He began to splutter indignantly as Bill, George, Dom, Al, and Molly walked into the room.


 

          “Atta girl, Val!” George whooped, giving me a high five. Everyone else joined in Lily’s laughter, as James shook the water out of his hair like a dog, sending droplets flying. Dom smacked him upside the head when some of it landed on her. I’ve always liked Dom, she has a delightful proclivity for violence. Must be the Veela blood.


 

          Nana Molly – she’d insisted that I call her that – bustled into the room next. She shook her head when she the damp clothes James and I were wearing. “Oh dear. You two better go change your clothing before we get started. Can’t have you catching a cold, now.”


 

          James grinned at me impishly. “You heard the woman, Val. Let’s go change. I’ll help you.”


 

          I shoved him into the pool of water on the floor. He looked at me indignantly and I raised an eyebrow. “James, I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean for us to change together.”


 

          James pouted. “You’re no fun.”


 

          “Watch it, buddy. I’m thinking of revoking your friend status,” I said jokingly. “Also, what are you, five? Pouts and puppy dog eyes only work on the weak.”


 

          “And people with hearts!” he protested.


 

          I shook my head at him reprovingly. “Are you calling me heartless on Christmas? For shame, now you have to give me one of your presents.”


 

          “What! Who made up that rule?”


 

          “Me.” I smirked at James. “You have to listen to me because I’m the guest here and it’s your job to make sure my stay is enjoyable and stress-free. And let me say, tackling me when you’re covered in water and then insulting me isn’t really helping your case.”


 

          James quickly got onto both knees, holding his hands out pleadingly. “Oh, wonderful and mighty Val, thou art truly majestic and beautiful. Thy mercy knows no bounds and thou art great. Tales of your generosity and power have spread through all the lands, and all speak of your stunning visage and insurmountable knowledge. Oh please, Val the Magnificent, grant me your forgiveness and do not remove one of my oh-so-valued Christmas gifts. If you so please, you will forever be in my gratitude.”


 

          I stared at James for a moment before bursting into hysterical laughter. Everyone else in the room joined in and James waggled his eyebrows at me. “You are, by far, the most ridiculous person I have ever met,” I told him.


 

          “And that’s why you love me.”


 

          I patted his head. “If you say so. Now, carry me up to my designated room if you want to earn forgiveness.”


 

          “Your wish is my command, your majesty,” he said pompously before scooping me up into his arms and skipping – yes, skipping – up the stairs. I started giggling and James ignored Fred’s shout of “whipped!” from behind us.


 

          Wait – I was giggling? Who giggles? I laugh. I chuckle. I snicker. But giggle? It’s so… girly. And I was giggling at James, who was holding me in his arms. It was almost like I was… flirting with him. But I wasn’t. And if I was, which I’m not, why the hell would I do it by giggling? It makes me seem like some insipid, air-headed bint that… bats her eyelashes or something stupid like that.


 

          Oh, Merlin. I did that earlier. I batted my eyelashes at James. Granted, it was in jest, but still. What the hell is wrong with me? Just a few days ago I was wallowing in misery, completely convinced that my life was crap. Yes, things aren’t exactly going swimmingly, but… I don’t think I’ve been this happy since Joy died.


 

And the vast majority of that is due to James. But that doesn’t mean anything. He’s just a good friend, is all. It doesn’t mean I fancy him.
 

          Does it?


 

***


 

          An hour later, the sitting room of the Burrow was littered with ripped and discarded wrapping paper. The endless members of the Weasley family were talking merrily, discussing gifts and throwing the socks Fred had gotten everyone at his head. That is why people shouldn’t leave all their shopping for the last minute. Also, where did he find neon orange socks with purple bananas on them?


 

          There was just one thing that was bothering me. The Weasley family had been overgenerous, all going out to get me gifts and insisting that I didn’t have to give them anything. Their generosity was touching and I really appreciated it. However, the one person I didn’t get a present from was James.


 

          He was sitting next to me, fidgeting nervously. Was it because he didn’t get me anything? It’s not like I’m mad about it. A bit hurt and surprised, yes, but it’s not like I was going to say anything.


 

          Suddenly James cleared his throat and sat up straight. “Er, if I could have everyone’s attention. Um, as some of you may have noticed, I have yet to give Val her present. It’s a bit… unorthodox, so… yeah.”


 

          He turned to look at me. From behind him, he pulled out a wrapped gift, handing it to me. “Originally, this was your gift. But I recently decided it wasn’t enough. I was up late last night thinking and I was struck with inspiration. So, once you feel asleep around two, I stayed up until four in the morning preparing this for you.”


 

          James reached under the couch and pulled out a guitar. I stared at him in wonder. “When I told you I sang like a dying cat… well, I was lying. I just wanted to make you laugh. I actually do a bit of singing and song writing. And last night I wrote this for you.”


 

          He dropped his head, looking down at his guitar as he set his hands into place. The whole room was quiet as he began to play. He started out by plucking out a haunting melody in a minor key. Soon, the music eased into chords, a harmony interwoven through it. Then, he began to sing.


 

          She wears a mask of smiles
 

          She’s a joyful girl, a happy child
 

          But beneath her false mien
 

          Lies thoughts that remain unseen


 

          Her past plagues her mind,
 

          The one person she left behind.
 

          She’s forgotten what she did,
 

          She’s forgotten what they said.


 

          Do not love your Lord in haste.
 

          You must now love Him at your pace.
 

          And you won’t need to make your case,
 

          When you finally meet Him face to face.


 

          Do not love your Lord in haste.
 

          You must now love Him at your pace.
 

          And you won’t need to make your case,
 

          When you finally meet Him face to face.


 

          Listen to the wind blow.
 

          It speaks thoughts that no one knows.
 

          The breath of God will heal your wounds.
 

          He smiles at you in the moon.


 

          Your sister is with Him now
 

          Though you may not know how
 

          One day you’ll realize
 

          You won’t have to say goodbyes



 

          Do not love your Lord in haste.
 

          You must now love Him at your pace.
 

          And you don’t need to make your case.
 

          Now that she’s finally met Him face to face.


 

          Do not love your Lord in haste.
 

          You must now love Him at your pace.
 

          And you don’t need to make your case.
 

          Now that she’s finally met Him face to face.


 

          She’s gone on…
 

          She’s gone on…
 

          She’s gone on…
 

          She’s gone on….


 

          Don’t cry, my dear.
 

          Dry your eyes, no more tears.
 

          God has her now, don’t fear.
 

          Don’t cry, my dear.


 

          I stared at James as the song ended. Tears were rolling down my face, but I smiled gently. Many of James’s family were crying as well. James was just looking at me, biting his lip uncertainly. I leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.


 

          “That was beautiful,” I whispered, my throat feeling choked. “I can’t believe you… that was so… just… thank you.”


 

          “C-can I talk to you? In another room, I mean. I just want to… explain some things, I guess,” he asked hesitantly.


 

          I nodded in assent and we both left the room, retreating up to the top floor where he was technically supposed to be staying with the rest of the boys. We both took a seat on the same bed, James taking my hand. We looked at each other for a moment before I broke the silence.


 

          “It was a beautiful song, James, and it means a lot to me. But… well, you know I don’t believe in God.”


 

          “That’s why I wanted to talk to you,” he said seriously. “I want you to tell me why, exactly why, you don’t believe in Him anymore.”


 

          I gaped at him for a moment. I hadn’t realized this was such a big deal to him. “God is supposed to be this greater being, someone who knows everything and controls everything, right? Well then, tell me why He would do something like take my sister away from me? What higher purpose does that serve? And why Joy? She was a believer. She was a good person. Why take her away from the world?”


 

          “Just because you don’t know the reason, doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” James said quietly.


 

          “I don’t care what the reason is, it’s rubbish!” I said loudly. “Joy didn’t deserve to die and I didn’t deserve to have her taken away from me. If God is supposed to love everyone, why would He do something to hurt me so badly?”


 

          James gripped my face between his hands. “Because it’s made you stronger. You may not see it, but you are the strongest person I know. You have put other people’s happiness above your own since you were ten years old. You hid your hurt so it wouldn’t hurt others. I know you love your sister and I’m not saying her death is in any way a good thing, but it has made you such a good person.”


 

          “So I was a bad person when she was alive?” I asked, growing angry.


 

          “Not at all,” he replied, still calm. “Look, Val, there are things in this world that we can’t understand. Things that can’t be explained by magic or science. If we can’t believe that it was all done by God, then what can we believe?”


 

          “I just don’t see why I should have faith in anything. It’s caused me nothing but pain,” I said stubbornly. I could feel myself weakening though. I wanted to believe, I did. It just hurt too much.


 

          “Would you say you trust me Val?”


 

          “What?” I asked, confused by the turn in the conversation. James stared into my eyes.


 

          “It’s a simple yes or no answer. Do you trust me?” He withdrew his hands from my face. I found myself missing their warmth.


 

          “You know I trust you, James. You’ve given me no reason not to and frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I replied confidently.


 

          “And would you say that you’ve been happier since you started trusting me?” he continued, still looking at me intensely.


 

          “I-yeah. I have been,” I said in bewilderment. Where was he going with this?


 

          “You trust me to be there for you, you trust me not to hurt you, and you trust me with your secrets, correct?”


 

          “Without a doubt,” I responded with a slight smile.


 

          James brushed my hair back from my face gently. “So then you have faith in me. Right, that’s what that means? You blindly hope and have faith that I will not let you down, that I will be your friend and I will always care about you.”


 

          Without missing a beat or waiting for me to answer, he continued, his voice growing stronger. “And back before Joy died, you trusted and had faith, not only in God, but in everyone around you? Am I right?”


 

          I nodded, too absorbed in his words to speak. “You were happy then. I know you were, you’ve told me, Victoire’s told me, and I’ve seen it in your pictures. But when Joy died, you lost all your faith and ability to trust and you were miserable. But now that you have faith in me, you’ve become happier. Maybe not as happy as you once were, but you’re better off than you were for the past six years. Do you see the connection? Faith is an important thing to have, Val. It doesn’t have to be in God, but you need it all the same.”


 

          I bit my lip. I could feel something twisting and rolling inside me. I felt as though I was on the edge of a cliff, leaning over the drop-off, but I couldn’t see what was below. I didn’t know how far I would fall or what was waiting for me at the bottom. All I could feel was a desperate desire to cling to the solid ground, what I knew, contrasting with a nearly overpowering need to just let myself fall, explore the unknown. The battle raged on inside me as James’s eyes bored deep into my own.


 

          “Have you ever considered,” James whispered, leaning in closer to me, “other ways in which Joy’s death affected your own. If it weren’t for your isolation, you and I probably wouldn’t have really met. You wouldn’t have shown me the importance of family, of being open to other people. We would just have continued to exist in our own worlds, with nothing to bring us together. If Joy hadn’t died… you and I wouldn’t be friends.”


 

          Realization hit me. Hard. I gasped in a breath that chafed down my throat and my heart began to hammer against my chest. James was my Joy. He was everything she had ever been to me. Someone to understand me, someone to talk and laugh with. Someone to love.


 

          When Joy left me, James came into my life to fill the void she left. No one can or ever could replace my sister, but James was someone new to rely on, depend on. Granted, it took time for him to become my Joy, but if he’d arrived in my life right away, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate how big of an impact he had made on me.


 

          Did God really not leave me alone after all? He made me learn how to survive on my own. I did I horrible job of it, but I did it nonetheless. I stopped depending on other people and I made myself strong. Now, God has given me a new person to need and love. I guess everything really does have a reason.


 

          “Why is it,” I said in a small voice, “that I spent six years convincing myself there is no God, but you were able to change my mind in under five minutes?”


 

          A smile broke out over James’s face as he caught the underlying meaning of my words: that I do believe. “Because, Val, you never really stopped. You just needed me to open your eyes and wipe away your denial.”


 

          “I need you for so much more than that,” I breathed. “James, you are everything that Joy once was and beyond.”


 

          “Glad to be of service,” he said cheekily. “Now, c’mon. If we don’t hurry, they’ll start Christmas dinner without us.”


 

***


 

          James and I joined everyone in the kitchen. The entire family was milling about, everyone wearing the sweaters that Nana Molly had knitted for everyone. She’d even made me one, rushing to finish it before today. It was a lovely shade of lavender and was very warm. I was rather touched that she’d thought to make me one, include me in the family.


 

          Dinner was delicious, even better than anything they’d ever served at Hogwarts. I sat by James and his Aunt Fleur. Across from me was Lucy. Throughout the entire meal everyone talked and laughed, sharing stories. I listened in delight as Harry, at Lily’s insistence, told everyone about how he spent his sixth year at Hogwarts watching Ginny jealously, waiting for his chance to be with her. I laughed at how awkward he was and next to me, James was shifting uncomfortably.


 

          Ron and Hermione also reminisced about their Hogwarts years, telling us about the secret Defense Against the Dark Arts group they formed with Harry. Their descriptions about that Umbridge woman were hysterical. I nearly cried from laughing when George started doing impressions of her.


 

          That evening, everyone congregated in the sitting room. We were all together, but everyone did their own thing. Fred was playing Ron in a few games of Wizard Chess while Hugo watched. Victoire discussed wedding plans with Fleur and Nana Molly, Arthur nodding off next to them. I was sitting with Ted, Dom, and James, of course, talking about Quidditch.


 

          Glancing around the room, I smiled to myself. The love and happiness everyone felt was so evident, I wanted to dance with glee. Now this is a family. It was so comforting to be surrounded by the care and affection the Weasley family felt for each other. I never wanted to leave.


 

          The day passed like this, with the easy camaraderie of family. So did the next day, and the day after that. I didn’t spend every second of my time with James, but he and I always made time to hang out, just the two of us.


 

          Three days after Christmas, he and I were in the bedroom on the top floor, avoiding Victoire. She was having a bridesmaid meeting today and she was freaking out before it had even started. I knew I’d have to come down for the meeting eventually, but for now, I was content to tell James about the time Joy and I decided to camp out in the park without telling our parents.


 

          “So then, in the morning, we got out of our collapsing tent and started walking home. It was only on our way back that we discovered that the entire neighborhood was frantically searching for us,” I laughed, finishing the story.


 

          James laughed with me, lying down on the bed. I laid down the opposite way, my legs hanging off the bed and my head cushioned against James’s stomach. He started stroking my hair while I traced patterns on his arm. We were both quiet, but it wasn’t an awkward silence. It was more like the silence of two people who are completely comfortable with each other. There was no need to break the quiet with talk; it was enough for us both to be in each other’s presence.


 

          After a long period of time, James finally spoke. “What are you thinking about?” he asked softly.


 

          “How wonderful you are,” I said honestly. I cringed a bit after the words left my mouth, thinking it corny, but I felt James shake with laughter underneath me. I sat up to look at him, confused. His eyes were sparkling as he grinned up at me.


 

          “What’s so funny?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.


 

          James sat up as well. “Nothing really,” he replied with a nonchalant shrug. “But I was actually thinking the same thing about you.”


 

          I started laughing too. “Oh, God, we are so cheesy. We’re like that couple that everyone both envies and hates at the same time for being so sickeningly adorable.”


 

          He stopped laughing abruptly, looking at me with an unfathomable expression. I met his gaze and we stared at each other. The room began to feel hot and I felt a sizzling sting on my cheek when James reached out to tough my face. I wasn’t sure if he started leaning first, or if I was the one who moved, but we were suddenly inches apart.


 

          “Val,” James whispered, his other arm snaking around my waist. I continued to stare, unable to look away from him. His nose brushed mine, sending a tingling feeling down my spine. I brought one hand up to rest on his shoulder as his eyes slowly closed. My own fluttered shut as well, and I felt his warm breath tickle my parted lips –


 

          Bang!


 

          With a jolt, James and I jumped apart, him falling off the bed, as the door to the room was thrown open. I looked over at the person who had interrupted us, feeling strangely disappointed and relieved. Then I froze.


 

          Elbow-length chestnut hair, perpetually tanned skin, and brown eyes filled with concern. I inhaled deeply, swallowing harshly. “What are you doing here?”


 

          Standing in the door was my sister, Hope.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

AN


 

Cliffhanger! I just realized that I haven’t had many of those… better late than never, I guess. Anyone hate me for interrupting that intense Val/James moment?


 

I would also like to take this moment to say that I am in no way trying to push my religion or God or whatever on any of you. Val’s issue with disbelief is a large factor to this story and for anyone who has experienced loss, I think, and it was something that needed to be confronted. If you are in anyway offended by my reference to God, I would like to sincerely apologize and I hope it doesn’t make you stop reading my story. It doesn’t matter to me what you believe, whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or if you worship the giant spaghetti monster in the sky. I just hope everyone can have an open mind about religion in general and specifically for my story.


 

The song in this chapter is actually a song my older brother wrote about a friend of ours that committed suicide over a year ago. I changed a few of the lyrics to better suit this story, but the vast majority of it is still the same. It’s a really beautiful song and I cried the first time I heard it. If I could somehow include a way for you all to hear it, I would.


 

Also, this chapter is dedicated to 227743Weasley and Choconut892, both of whom have lost family members. Thank you for your support, it means the world to me.


 

Anyway, let me know what you think in a review! I love reading them all and they encourage me to write faster. But no pressure or anything :)


 

Here’s a teaser for Chapter 19! I can’t believe this story is already this far.


 

          “Val,” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder. I wanted to throw it off. Its weight felt like a lie, like false comfort. “Joy’s dead. You can’t hold onto these past memories like this.”


 

          I whirled around, sudden anger sparking in me. “You’re saying I can’t remember my sister? That I should just forget about her? Believe me, Hope, I know better than anyone else that Joy is dead.”


 

          “You need to talk about these things!”


 

          “I do,” I said harshly. “With James.”


 

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and everything related to it belongs to J.K. Rowling. Not me. Sad face. Chapter title based off of “A Very Potter Musical,” by Starkid Productions. Check it out on Youtube if you haven’t seen it!           


Chapter 19: Important Discussions
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          I never really thought that perfect moments existed. Life happens randomly, nothing can really be planned and things don’t just “fall into place.” Sitting on the bed in the top floor of the Burrow, watching James’s face grow closer and closer to mine, nervousness and anticipation curdling in my stomach, I wondered if maybe I was wrong. Maybe sometimes, life does throw in perfect moments every now and then.


 

          But of course, reality had to knock sense back into me. Perfection is an unattainable myth. Instead, life is complicated. It’s messy. And it likes to knock me back on the ground every time I pick myself back up.


 

          “Hope?” I asked, cutting through the awkwardness that had filled the room. “Why-what are you doing here?”


 

          “Victoire is having a bridesmaid meeting today, as you know,” Hope replied, eyes flicking between me and James, who had pulled himself off the floor and was trying to hide a blush. “As the Maid of Honor, it’s fairly important that I be here.”


 

          “Right,” I muttered.


 

          James cleared his throat uncomfortably, his hand shifting though his hair. “Er, hi. I’m James Potter. Uh, you must be Val’s sister.” He stood up and stuck his hand out to Hope, discomfort written clearly across his face.


 

          Hope looked at James appraisingly. She shook his hand hesitantly, still glancing back and forth between him and me. “Nice to meet you, James. Your cousin speaks highly of you.”

 
 

          He ducked his head in a nod, biting his lip. He looked back at me briefly, and his cheeks flushed red. I had to stop myself from smiling. He was adorable.


 

          I stood up, tugging my shirt down slightly. “Wait up here, James,” I said quietly. “I’ll come talk to you after the meeting.”


 

          He looked at me sharply and Hope raised an eyebrow. I left the room silently, not looking back to see if Hope followed me.


 

          As soon as I left the room, I felt myself start to blush. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I almost kissed James. James Potter, my best friend and the only person in this world that I truly trusted. It was easy to say that things were about to get complicated.


 

          “So, what was that?” Hope asked from behind me as she closed the door. We stood at the top of the landing and I watched her warily.


 

          “I’m not really sure, but I doubt I’d tell you even if I was,” I said, not meeting her eyes.


 

          Hope blinked, frowning. “C’mon Val. You can’t be mad at me. You’re my sister and I love you.”


 

          “Doesn’t mean you know me,” I retorted. “Face it, Hope. You haven’t known who I am for over six years. Don’t try to pull the love card on me. You can’t guilt me into forgiving you.”


 

          “But I didn’t do anything!” she protested.

 
 

          “Exactly.”


 

          “Val, please,” she said, catching my hand as I tried to walk down the stairs. “How can you blame me for not seeing what you didn’t want me to see? What you didn’t want anyone to see.”


 

          “James sees,” I said firmly. “He saw back when I didn’t like him. He sees everything, yet we’ve only really known each other for two months. Even when I was trying to get him to leave me alone, he didn’t give up. He knows things about me that I never even knew myself.”


 

          Hope grabbed my other hand, looking at me imploringly. “Why didn’t you tell us?” she asked softly. “About Joy, about… about how you felt? Why did you stay quiet for so long?”

 
 

          I pulled my hands free and looked away. “I was the one that was messed up over Joy’s death. I didn’t need any of you worrying. I don’t tell people because they don’t need to know.”


 

          “Val,” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder. I wanted to throw it off. Its weight felt like a lie, like false comfort. “Joy’s dead. You can’t hold onto these past memories like this.”


 

          I whirled around, sudden anger sparking in me. “You’re saying I can’t remember my sister? That I should just forget about her? Believe me, Hope, I know better than anyone else that Joy is dead.”


 

          “You need to talk about these things!”

 
 

          “I do,” I said harshly. “With James.”


 

          And with that, I turned and marched down the stairs before she had the chance to stop me. Her words echoed in my ears, stinging and burning. Let go of my memories? As if. Even if I don’t want to remember, I will never forget.


 

*** 
 

          Needless to say, the meeting was a bit awkward. The bridesmaids were me Hope, Dom, Rose, Roxy, Lily, and Victoire’s friend Sarah. The tension between Hope and I was so obvious that even Sarah, who was oblivious to our disagreement, felt awkward. Dom, Rose, Roxy, and Lily kept glancing at each other, frowning, and the side of Toire’s face was twitching. She was majorly stressed about this wedding.


 

          To be perfectly honest, I felt kind of useless at the meeting. It was basically Vic telling us all what her plans for the wedding are and us all agreeing and telling her she was a genius while she glared at us. She was actually kind of frightening. After an hour, she let us all go, reminding us that we would be going to get our dresses fitted in a week. The wedding was almost a month away.


 

          I left the room hastily, but once again, Hope caught me before I made it to the stairs. I could hear the other girls shuffling around in the kitchen. In fact, I distinctly heard Roxy shush Lily so they could listen. I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes, but I also felt a bit annoyed. It wasn’t their business. 
 

          “Seriously, Val,” Hope began, her voice tinged slightly with desperation. “Can you please talk to me?”


 

          I sighed in resignation. “What do you want?”


 

          “I just… my God, Val, I’m so sorry,” she breathed, tears sparkling in her eyes.


 

          My throat closed up as she enfolded me in a hug. I let her hold me, though I made no move to embrace her back. My shoulders tensed and I squeezed my eyes shut. Hope pulled back quickly, looking at me with hurt in her eyes. I felt a bit guilty, seeing it there, but I did nothing to rectify it.


 

          “Please,” she whispered. “We had no idea, about any of it. But we should have. We’re your family and we love you and we should have known. Please forgive us, Val. We all lost Joy. We can’t lose you, too.”


 

          “You didn’t lose me,” I said, my voice sounding too calm, even to me. “You let me go.”


 

          With that, I backed away from Hope and retreated up the stairs. I took a deep breath once I reached the top landing. James was waiting for me in there. James. Who I had almost kissed.


 

          I pushed the door open hesitantly. James was pacing around the room, looking impatient. He looked up as I entered the room and smiled at me. My stomach twisted and I felt a smile forming on my own face.

 
 

          “How was it?” he asked.


 

          “As to be expected,” I replied with a shrug. “Victoire told she wanted our opinions on everything, but in reality, she just wanted us to agree with her. So that’s what we did. It was kind of boring, really.”

 
 

          James took my hand and pulled me down onto the bed. “That’s not what I was talking about.”


 

          “Oh.”
 

          He brushed my hair back – he does that a lot – and raised his eyebrows. I looked over his shoulder, not quite able to meet his eyes. His gaze was intense, and I felt almost nervous when he looked at me like he was. When did this happen? James shouldn’t make me nervous.


 

          “Are you going to tell me, or are you going to stare aimlessly off at the wall for a little longer?” There was amusement in his voice, but only on the surface. Anyone who knew him well, which I did, could hear the tension, the worry underneath the humor.

 
 

          I slowly let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Looking up at the ceiling now, I shrugged. “It wasn’t anything terrible, I suppose. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know, please forgive me, you should have said something,’ blah blah blah. She also felt the need to point out that Joy is dead, as if I didn’t already know that,” I scoffed. “She also told me to move on. A bit blunt, if you ask me. No one lets me forget, but everyone expects me to. Doesn’t that just make a bunch of sense?”


 

          “You’re being bitter,” James pointed out gently. I looked at him, a wry smile twisting my lips. I was in an odd mood. There was the ubiquitous pain that I had felt since I saw Joy collapse in our sitting room, but it was dulled. I was upset about my fight with my family, but it really didn’t feel important right now. When I was with James, nothing else seemed to matter anymore. With him, I was happy. It was simple, but it was wondrous.


 

          “You’re right,” I conceded. “Sorry. I just… don’t know how to feel about it all. I guess only time will tell.”

 
 

          James looked at me in puzzlement. “You’re in a rare form. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”
 

          “I feel different. You make me feel different.”


 

          At his raised eyebrow, I smiled. “Not bad different. Just… the rest of the world kind of fades away. I have worries and troubles, but I just can’t focus on them around you. It’s refreshing.”


 

          And at that, the awkwardness crept back into the room. I looked down, seeing that we were holding hands, and quickly pulled back. We both glanced at each other warily, uncertain as to what happens next.

 
 

          “Val…” James began, tentative.


 

          “I don’t know,” I responded automatically.
 

          The corner of his mouth twitched, but he still regarded me seriously. “How can you not know if you didn’t even let me finish?”
 

          I shook my head. “I know what you were going to say. But I don’t know what my answer is.”


 

          “Then what was my question?”


 

          “You know,” I whispered, willing back my blush. He quirked an eyebrow.


 

          “Do I?” James’s face was blank, uncaring. It was a mask of indifference and I knew it was false. There were cracks in façade. He was trying to look like my answer was trivial, like this was all unimportant, but I knew him too well. What I didn’t know was why he wanted me to think he didn’t care.


 

          “You were going to ask… you know… about what happened earlier. Before Hope walked in.” I couldn’t meet his eyes. It was all too… intense. I could feel a connection of some sort, a spark binding us together. It frightened me.
 

          His hand found its way under my chin and, like so many times before, James pulled my head up so he could look at me directly. I closed my eyes, afraid of what I would see, what I would do.


 

          “What was going through your mind?” he asked quietly. “When… it… almost happened. What were you thinking?”


 

          “I don’t know.”


 

          “Would you have, you know, gone through with it, if Hope hadn’t walked in?”


 

          “I don’t know.” 
 

          “Did you want to?”
 

          “I don’t know!” I cried, finally opening my eyes. “Please, James, just leave it alone! I just… don’t know!”


 

          “Dammit Val, then what do you know?” he said, his voice rising. He sounded agitated, upset. I could feel his hand shaking from where it still gently gripped my chin. His brow was furrowed and he looked troubled.


 

          I got up, pulling back from him harshly. “Look, just drop it, okay! Can’t we just forget this happened? I need to think… I don’t know… I just…” I trailed off, breathing heavily.


 

          Did I want this? Did I want to date James? I couldn’t even figure out my own feelings. And that wasn’t the worst of my problems. What was James feeling? Was he afraid that I liked him, that he was leading me on, and was now trying to figure out how to let me down easy? Or did he, like everyone kept saying, fancy me, and was trying to figure out if I felt the same?


 

          “James,” I said in a softer tone. “I don’t know what that was before, I honestly don’t. All I know is that you’re my best friend, my only friend, and I need you. I need you how you are right now. I don’t know what I want, and I don’t know what you want, but I know that I need things to stay the same. I can’t handle any change right now, James, I just can’t.”


 

          He looked at me, his expression inscrutable. I felt like I was dangling from a great height, a fragile hold keeping me suspended in the air. Everything depended on James’s response. If he agreed with me, let the past stay in the past, then I would feel the earth firmly beneath my feet again. But, if he didn’t let this go… I would plummet to the ground. And then I would be alone.


 

          James let out a big sigh. “All I want is for you to be happy, Val. If that’s what you need, that’s what we’ll do.”


 

          I smiled and hugged James tightly. His arms wrapped around my waist, gently squeezing. I could feel fire spread through my body at the closeness. It made me feel alive and vibrant. It was as though I could do anything as long as I had James. The only thing I couldn’t do was figure out was why the hell I felt that way.

 
 

***


 

          If I had to pick a favorite Weasley, not including James, it would probably be George. The man was utterly hilarious. He was constantly jovial, always making jokes and pulling pranks. He was basically a less clueless and more awesome version of Fred. It was obvious he had never really grown up.


 

          George seemed to like me just as much. As James had said, my joke about his ear instantly endeared him to me. And my continued joking with him and the rest of the family just served to strengthen the affection. I wasn’t sure why, but I just really liked being around George. I may not have known him long, but he honestly felt a bit like a father to me. Except I think I’m the more mature of the two of us.

 
 

          I found myself sitting outside, despite the cold, on my last night at the Burrow. James was inside, having an eating contest with Fred, Teddy, and Ron. Normally, I would have joined them, but things had been a bit… odd between James and me. Yes, I was still closer to him than anyone else in the world and we spent almost every second together, but it was different. It felt like there was something in the way. So instead of showing all those boys what eating really is, I decided to take some time to think to myself.


 

          As it turns out, I didn’t get much time for solitary reflection, as George joined me shortly after I went outside. I glanced over at him and smirked. “Evening, St. George.”


 

          He chuckled softly at the name I had given him. “Care to tell me what you’re doing out here, Val?”


 

          “Thinking, I guess,” I said with a shrug.


 

          “Ugh,” he shuddered. “How awful. I guess it’s a good thing I’m here to save you from it. When I was your age, I made sure to never think when I didn’t have to.”


 

          I smiled slightly. “That must be where Fred gets it from. What a great role model you are. Besides, I know that’s not true. Where else would you have gotten all the ideas for your joke shop?”
 

          “True,” he acknowledged. “Fred and I did a lot of thinking for that.”


 

          “Fred?” I asked. How could his son help him when he wasn’t even born?


 

          “And there it is,” he muttered. “The thing I came out here to talk to you about.”


 

          At my confused look, his mouth twitched into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m surprised you don’t know. You’re a smart girl. Far too smart to be stuck hanging around with James and Fred. The way everyone talks about you, you know everything. But I guess you don’t know this.”

 
 

          “And I still won’t know unless you tell me,” I said, baffled by the way he was talking in circles. This didn’t seem like the George I had come to know over the holidays.


 

          He suppressed a snort. “Yeah. You’re definitely too good for James. And to think you actually dated my son… I would think he tricked you into it, but you’re far too clever.”


 

          I laughed at that and he joined me. “All teasing aside,” he said, looking more serious and… a bit sad, “there was something I think you and I should discuss.”


 

          “What it is?” I asked. Was it about James? Had anyone noticed a difference in how we acted? Were we acting different? Was it obvious?

 
 

          “By now, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the Weasley family is rather large. Yeah, I know, that’s the understatement of the year. Well, it should be bigger. I have a twin brother, Fred.”

 
 

          I stared at him in astonishment. He has a twin? How could I not know this? Seriously. We even learned about the Weasley family in History of Magic. But I didn’t know this major detail? How could I not have known? And why didn’t James mention it?


 

          “Fred was my best friend. We were Beaters for Gryffindor together, pulled pranks, and opened the joke shop together. But he was killed during the Battle of Hogwarts,” George said of this in a matter-of-fact voice, but I could see the sadness in his eyes.


 

          I looked at him in shock. Of course. Of course Fred would have died. Why else would he be missing? I looked out over the snow covered gardens, biting my lip. George… knew. He knew exactly how I felt. And here he was, one of the most upbeat, cheerful people I’ve ever met. He’s happily married and has a wonderful family. He lost the person closest to him, his other half, but he was fine.
 

          “It really sucks, doesn’t it,” I said. He raised an eyebrow and laughed.


 

          “That has to be the most refreshing reaction I’ve ever gotten. People I don’t know will walk up to me on the street and tell me how sorry they are for my loss, even to this day. My God, I can’t stand that.”


 

          “Tell me about it,” I agreed. “There’s a reason I don’t tell people about Joy. I hate going home for the summer, because all the people in Roscrea look at me with such… pity. They all tell me they understand my loss, but they don’t. Their sympathy doesn’t make me feel better, it feels like they’re patronizing me. That’s why I like your family so much. None of you do that.”


 

          George nodded sagely. “It’s because we know what it’s like. Those of us who went through the war had to experience a lot of tough losses, and we’ve told our kids all about it. Believe me, if anyone can understand you, it would the Weasley family.”


 

          “You know something,” I said thoughtfully. “Right now, you feel more like a father to me than my own dad. It’s kind of pathetic. And your brothers and sister are nothing but kind to me.”


 

          He clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Things will work themselves out in the end, don’t you worry. And if I’m your father, does that mean I have to have the strict parent talk with James?”


 

          I looked at him in surprise, raising my eyebrow at his suddenly jovial tone. “I’m sorry, what?”


 

          “Oh, don’t give me that rubbish, Val. I’m missing an ear, not eyes.” He nudged me playfully. “You and my nephew. You two aren’t exactly subtle.”


 

          “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I responded automatically, blushing furiously.


 

          “I know you two aren’t dating, I’m not that presumptuous,” he acceded. “But honestly, if you two start fancying each other any more, you’ll probably explode into a pile of teenage hormones. Disgusting.” 
 

          I had to suppress a smile at his teasing words, but I was still mulling over what he said. Well, he’s gone through the same things I have, maybe I can talk to him about James. Didn’t I just say he was like a father to me?


 

          “I’m… really confused,” I admitted. “I just… I don’t know. James is super important to me, I mean, you’d have to be blind not to see that. But he’s just my friend. And I don’t know if I want to change that and if I do, how that will affect everything. I’m scared, I guess.”


 

          I glanced at George, who now looked kind of nervous. “Oh God,” he muttered, “I am not good at this. Um…” He cleared his throat and spoke louder. “I know that it’s hard to trust people, love them unconditionally, after feeling such a loss, but it honestly makes things better. I had a really hard time after Fred died, but Angelina helped me so much. Don’t give up on… on love, or whatever, just because you’ve gone through hard things in your life. Because it will all mean so much more to you, because you can appreciate it so much more than people who have never gone through loss.”
 

          “Who would have thought,” I said with a small smirk, “George Weasley, giving serious, wise advice about love to a teenage girl. If word of this gets out, your reputation will be ruined.”


 

          He stared at me for a second. “You’re blackmailing me, aren’t you?”

 
 

          I grinned impishly. “You know, the thought never crossed my mind. But now that you mention it, there are a few… requests I’d like to make.”


 

          “Shut up, kid,” he said, shoving me. “As an adult and authority figure in your life, I cannot condone that sort of behavior.”

 
 

          I raised an eyebrow. “But…”


 

          “But as George Weasley, I feel nothing but proud and highly amused.”


 

***


 

          The next day, I piled into a compartment on the Hogwarts Express with the Weasleys. Even though we split up into two compartments, it was still rather crowded. I was with James, Fred, Roxy, Al, and Rose. Louis, Lily, Hugo, Molly, and Lucy were in the compartment directly across from us. Throughout the ride, several people visited us, including Maisie Finnegan, Mike Karalis, Simon Longbottom, and the Scamander brothers.


 

          I sat next to James, my legs splayed over his lap while I leaned against Al. Rose and Roxy were across from us while Freddy was sprawled on the floor. James was drumming out a rhythm on my knees, Rose was reading, Fred was babbling about seeing Rhiannon – who had stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays – again, and Roxy and Al were debating the importance of Chasers vs. Seekers in Quidditch.


 

          “The team that catches the Snitch is not guaranteed to win the match. It’s up to the Chasers to give the team enough points that the 150 gained from the Snitch will be inconsequential,” Roxy argued. A valid point, if I say so myself. Of course, I might be a bit biased.

 
 

          “Yeah, but the game can’t end without the Seeker. And everyone knows the Seeker is the most important player,” Al shot back.


 

          “Oh, that is bullshit and you know it!” Roxy snapped. If Al wasn’t careful, she would probably get violent soon. Roxy hits hard. Really hard. I’ve always thought she’d be a good Beater. But then she’d have to work with Fred, and that would just spell disaster. She’d probably end up hitting Fred more than the Bludgers.

 
 

          “Then why is the Seeker the most targeted player by the Beaters, the most idolized by fans, and the highest paid position in the professional league?” Al asked with a smug smirk.


 

           Roxy scowled furiously. Yep. Al is definitely going to be attacked pretty soon. “Because there is for too much emphasis placed on their value. This is exactly the point I’ve been trying to make. All you have to do is fly around for a while and then catch a ball faster than another person. Anyone can be a Seeker if they have good eyesight and a small amount of flying ability. Chasers are vital to the whole game the entire time. We have to be agile, athletic, and clever. We have to be able to work as a team, think fast, and weave through all the Bludgers and other players.”

 
 

          “Besides, Al,” James broke in, “I wouldn’t say Seekers are the most idolized. At least not at Hogwarts.”


 

          “Really, then who is?” Al asked skeptically.


 

          “Well, think about it. What person would you say it the most idolized at Hogwarts for their Quidditch talent? And then tell me what position they play.”


 

          Slowly, everyone in the compartment turned and looked at me. I glanced around at them in confusion. “What?”


 

          James flicked my leg. “It’s you, idiot. Everyone knows that you’re practically worshipped for being the Chaser Extraordinaire. Like seriously, in that last match against Hufflepuff, when you flipped upside down to avoid the Bludger and then scored? I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing that move used in the World Cup this year. Genius.”

 
 

          “He’s been trying to learn that one ever since,” Rose commented, turning back to her book. “After he fell off his broom for the third time I told him to stop unless he wanted me to write to Aunt Ginny.”


 

          “You stealing my moves, Potter?” I asked, raising an eyebrow in amusement.


 

          “And failing at them,” Roxy snorted. James blushed slightly.
 

          “Oh, just go back to your argument,” he muttered.


 

          I patted James on the head as pompously as I could. “It’s okay Jimmy, I still love you, even though I should turn you in for plagiarism.”


 

          He turned to look at me, looking shocked. “What did you call me?” he asked slowly, sounding disbelieving. Um. Okay then, that’s weird.


 

          “Jimmy,” I said, nonplussed. “It’s generally an accepted nickname for James, but I guess I don’t have to call you that if it bothers you…”


 

          “No,” he said quickly. “No, I like it. Call me whatever you want.”


 

          “You’re going to regret that,” Fred muttered. Al nodded darkly, breaking away from his continued argument with Roxy.


 

          I glared at them. “I’m sorry, do you have any complaints Fredward and Allison?”


 

          Al winced. “I thought we agreed that you wouldn’t call me Allison?”


 

          “Yeah,” Fred chimed in. “And you very well know that Fredward is my least favorite of your little names.”


 

          “And that is exactly why I used those names. Now shut up before I hit you both.”


 

          “Notice how James gets the option of declining a stupid nickname,” Freddy grumbled.


 

          I rolled my eyes. “That’s because I actually like Jamie. I just put up with you, Fredino.” I ruffled James’s hair affectionately.

 
 

          “Okay, I put my foot down at Jamie. It’s way too… cutesy,” James interjected, although a huge grin was overtaking his face. What was he so happy about?


 

          The rest of the train ride passed trivially after that. For the most part, I sat in silence, still half sitting on James, and thinking about everything that had happened to me over the holidays. I confronted my past, spilled my secrets to my family, and I broke. Then I met the entire Weasley family and put myself back together with insurmountable help from James. Now, I was better than I have been for six years, but there was something nagging my mind ceaselessly.
 

          There are boundaries to every friendship, but especially those between a girl and a bloke. There are certain things you don’t talk about, things you avoid doing, and lines you don’t cross. But as of late, and especially when James and I were in the bedroom before Hope showed up, those lines had been blurred. Even now, James and I might be considered too close for those who are merely friends.

 
 

          Now I had to think about the conversation James and I had after the bridesmaid meeting. I had to think about what George told me last night. I had to think about what I wanted. But most importantly, I had to figure out what James was thinking.


 

          It may seem odd that James was my top priority. But our relationship has always been about me in the past. Making sure I was happy, talking about my life. It was time for me to start thinking about James and what he wanted and needed.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN


 

Aw, look at that. Val is maturing. Putting other people first!


 

So what did you think? Especially about the long awaited talk with George? I was a little unsure of it. It seems a bit… sappy?


 

Originally, back in Chapter 8 I said that the Ted and Vic’s wedding would be in March, but now I’ve moved it to February. I’m planning on going back and changing Chapter 8 to reflect that. Basically, I changed it because this story is progressing a bit faster than I thought it would way back then. There are specific things I want to happen at the wedding and I just can’t delay them.


 

After last chapter, this story received it’s one hundredth review! Congrats to Dezire_427! You know, when I said you had to be number 100, I was actually joking, but well done anyways, my dear.


 

Just a little aside, if you’ve never heard the song Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine, I highly suggest you give it a listen. Not only is it an amazing, beautiful song, but it seriously makes me think of Val and it’s been a huge inspiration for this entire story. 
 

Leave me a review and tell me what you think! And in the meantime, here’s a preview for Chapter 20!


 

          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.

 
 

Disclaimer: I’m sure that by this point, you comprehend that I am not J.K. Rowling.


Chapter 20: Tension
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This chapter is dedicated to Kellsey. The world is a darker place without you, love. Rest in peace.
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          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.”


 

          “Uh… what?”
 

          “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.”


 

          “You think?”


 

          “Well, I got pretty mad at them. And then I stormed out. So yeah, I suppose it was a fight.”


 

          “About?”


 

          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?


 

          “No reason.”


 

          “Bullshit.”


 

          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.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN


 

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.


Chapter 21: Tipping Point
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                The first thing I became aware of the next morning was the muttering of voices.
 

          “Nice work getting her here, mate, but you do realize you’re supposed to be in bed with her, right?”


 

          “Har har, Simon. Really witty. Why don’t you tell her that? I’d love to see her punch you in the balls again. “

 
 

          “Nah, he’s right, man. You have been hanging around with the hottest girl in the school for how long now and still nothing’s happened? What happened to that Potter charm?”


 

          “Just shut up, okay? There’s nothing going on between me and Val. So drop it.”


 

          “Touchy.”


 

          I sighed softly, shifting around in my bed. I didn’t know where those voices were coming from, but I was too tired to care. Right now, all I could focus on was how good my bed smelled. It was familiar and welcoming, but not how I remembered it smelling. Oh well. I could definitely get used to this.

 
 

          “I think she’s waking up. Will you two bugger off?”


 

          Odd. That sounds like James. Come to think of it, my bed smells like James, too…


 

          “Ooh, do you need some time alone with your lady love?”
 

          “Kinky.”
 

          “Longbottom. Thomas. Go away before I hex you.”

 
 

          I burrowed my head deeper into the delicious smelling pillow. Right now, I was just too tired to care about the unexplained voices that sounded like James, Simon Longbottom, and Royce Thomas.


 

          I was vaguely aware of the sound of retreating footsteps when I felt part of my bed sink lower, indicating that someone had sat down. I squeezed my eyes tighter, not ready to get up.

 
 

          “Val?” James’ voice was soft, gentle. “You awake yet, Val?”


 

          I didn’t really feel like answering, so I didn’t. A warm hand began to softly stroke my hair, locks of it slipping between long fingers. It felt soothing, natural, and my scalp began to tingle pleasantly. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but I hoped it wouldn’t stop.

  
 

          “I guess you’re still asleep,” James continued to murmur, my hair now being brushed away from my face with the same careful strokes. “You look so peaceful when you sleep. All the tension, all the sadness just melts away. I hate it that you still look sad all the time. Granted, you look a lot happier than before, but still sad.”
 

          My mind sluggishly thought over those words. I suppose I was sad. Although right now, I was pretty content. I vaguely wondered if I was dreaming. I remembered feeling so tense and uncomfortable yesterday. Surely there was no way I could feel this relaxed if it wasn’t a dream.


 

          “I want to make everything better for you. You know that, right? It’s all I’ve ever wanted ever since last June. I told you back then that I would fix you. And I’m trying. But it’s just so hard to be around you sometimes.”


 

          I frowned into the pillow. Why is dream-James telling me this?
 

          “I think about that day in Uncle Ron’s old room all the time. The day that we almost kissed. I can’t tell you how much I wish your sister hadn’t shown up when she did. But maybe I should be glad. Things are so… strained between us right now. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I mean, last night we could barely even talk to each other. I miss you. And now, I’m just sitting here, talking to you and watching you sleep like some sort of creepy stalker.”


 

          My lips twitched slightly, but I was still slightly disturbed by his words. He wished Hope hadn’t come into the room… does that mean he wants to kiss me?


 

          “It’s a good thing you can’t really hear all this. I mean, despite your tendency to be observant, you seem to be the only who misses the obvious. But you’re smart. If you could hear me right now, you’d surely be able to put it all together. Merlin knows I’m not very subtle.”


 

          Now I felt insulted. Because I could hear him. But I had no idea what dream-James was talking about. What is it that everyone but me apparently seems to know about him? I really wish dreams could make sense.

 
 

          “Every day that passes by with things still the same between us kills me. God, I sound like such a sappy, unmanly fool when I say this. But it’s true, I suppose. Sometimes I think my life would just be so much easier if I wasn’t in love with you.”


 

          I felt my heart stop beating. Okay, now I knew that it must be a dream. Because James would never say that in real life. He’s not in love with me. He can’t be. But then, why would I dream about James saying that? I’m not in love with him, either. Am I?


 

          I figured it was time to wake up, pull myself out of this dream, before things continued. I was scared of what dream-James might say next, so I forced myself into lucidity.


 

          I tensed my muscles slightly before relaxing them. I heard an intake of breath from next to me and the extra weight left my bed. I rolled over onto my back before slowing peeling back my eyes. Once they were open, I was met with an unexpected sight.

 
 

          Red. That was the overwhelming feature that I saw. I was used to waking up to blue. But instead, I found myself looking around at a dormitory filled with red. Where was I?


 

          “Er, Val?” My head snapped to the side at the sound of James’ voice. Just like the one in my dream.


 

          “James,” I breathed in surprise, taking in the sight of him. He was dressed in his school uniform, his red and gold tie loose around his neck. His hand ruffled his hair in what I had come to realize was a nervous habit and he was watching me warily. I felt confused. “Where am I? And why are you here?”


 

          “Uh, you’re in my room Val. You came here last night because you didn’t want to stay in your own room. Remember?”


 

          And that in all came flooding back to me. I knew yesterday had been tense. The fights with Lessie. Sitting in the Astronomy Tower. The awkwardness with James. I blinked at him. “Oh. Right.”


 

          “Yeah,” he agreed. Why did he look so scared? I watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he continued to regard me with discomfort.


 

          “What’s up with you?” I asked curiously.


 

          He jumped slightly. “Nothing! Nothing at all. I just – er, did you hear anything? Like before you woke up? Someone talking or…”


 

          I shook my head and he looked relieved. “I was having an odd dream though. It was really… just unexpected.”


 

          “Oh?” he asked. “What about?”


 

          I thought over the whole thing, of dream-James’ confession of love. There was no way I was telling him that. “Fred was being chased around by a bottle of butterbeer that was holding a giant pair of scissors. Weird, right?”


 

          James laughed, life coming into his face. He looks attractive when he laughs. Like, more so than normal. Because let’s face it, James Potter is an extremely handsome bloke. It just becomes even more prominent when he laughs.


 

          But why was I noticing all this now? I mean, yeah, I’d have been an idiot if I’d never thought that James was good-looking, but it had never really garnered any extra attention. At least not from me. Well, except for that time when I saw him shirtless. Or when Lily threw that bucket of water on him on Christmas morning. Mmm, the way his shirt had clung to his muscles was unbelievably sexy. You could literally see the ridges of his abs…


 

          What is the matter with me? Why am I thinking about this? I shook my head, trying to dispel the thoughts. I glanced at James to find him staring at me warily once more.


 

          “You okay?” he asked.

 
 

          “Fine, fine,” I replied quickly. “But I should probably get back to my own dormitory. I’ve got to get ready for class and all that.”


 

          “Right,” he responded, nodding hastily. “Um, do you want to borrow the Cloak? I mean, so people don’t wonder…”


 

          I caught on to what he was saying immediately, my cheeks flaring up in a flush. “Oh! Yeah, that’d be great, thanks.”


 

          James rummaged through his trunk briefly before pulling out the silvery cloak he’d inherited from his father. He handed it to me silently as we both avoided looking at each other. It was almost painful how uncomfortable around each other we now were. I glanced at him briefly, meeting his eyes and shooting him a half-smile of gratitude. He inclined his head and looked away.


 

          “I’ll just… return your clothes later than?” I asked, plucking at the t-shirt he’d lent me.


 

          “Nah, it’s fine, you can keep it,” James said quickly. “Really, I don’t need them back.”


 

          “Okay,” I mumbled. “Thanks.” 
 

          “Yeah, no problem.”


 

          We lapsed into silence once more and I had to resist the urge to smack myself in the face. What on earth had possessed me to come here of all places?


 

          Because James makes you feel safe and loved, an unwanted voice whispered in my head. I tried to ignore it. Loved? Why would I feel loved? I don’t. Because James doesn’t love me. And I don’t love him.
 

          Right?
 

*** 
 

          I rejoined James when I made it down to breakfast. While I sat at the Gryffindor table, as per usual, he and I didn’t speak to each other. Instead, he was talking to Roxy and Maisie Finnegan about a new play he had come up with while I asked Fred about his dad’s joke shop.
 

          “Recently, Dad’s been working on developing a new line of products. I don’t know what it is though – he refuses to tell anyone – but it’s going to be big. And I think he has a new idea for a Skiving Snackbox as well,” Fred told me, buttering a piece of toast.


 

          “I see,” I said, nodding. “And what new illness has he come up with this time?”


 

          Fred shrugged. “Don’t know. Once again, he’s being all hush hush about it all. In the past he always told me about his ideas, but he stopped giving out specifics… yesterday, actually. He’d been telling me all about them on Christmas, just in general, and then yesterday he told me that was all he was going to tell me about it.” 
 

          “Strange.”


 

          “I know right!” Fred said, after taking a large bite of his toast, subsequently showering me in a spray of crumbs. I brushed them off me absentmindedly, only feeling mildly disgusted.

 
 

          Suddenly, I grinned. “Tell me Frederick, do you think it possible that your dad didn’t give you the details because he knew you might pass them on to me?”
 

          “Uh, well he knows we talk a lot,” he replied, frowning slightly in thought. “In fact, just before he refused to give me more information about his new products, he was asking about how much time you and I spend together…”


 

          “Well that explains it,” I said, smirking. “Your dad may or may not have reason to fear being blackmailed by me and was probably worried about information of any kind be leaked.” 
 

          “And why would Uncle George be fearing blackmail?” James asked, jumping into the conversation. I wasn’t aware he had been listening.


 

          I gave a noncommittal jerk of the shoulders. “No reason, really. Just a joke I made after we had a conversation about Fred.”

 
 

          “You guys were talking about me?” Fred said in confusion.


 

          “Not you, Fred, your Uncle Fred. His brother.”
 

          “He talked to you about Uncle Fred?” James looked surprised. “He almost never talks about him.”


 

          I gave James a skeptical look. “While I don’t doubt that’s true, why would it surprise you that he chose to talk to me about it? Also, thanks for telling me that your uncle had a twin brother that died in the war. It’s not like that’s a topic that I’d be interested in, or anything.”

 
 

          “I figured you’d know,” James mumbled.


 

          “Well next time don’t assume,” I responded sharply.
 

          James frowned and we both turned back to our previous conversations, though we had drawn some startled glances. “Trouble in paradise?” Fred muttered under his breath.


 

          “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” I responded airily.

 
 

          “I’m not stupid, Val,” Fred continued seriously. “I can tell something’s off between you and James. And as your friend, and James’ older and much wiser cousin, I feel it is my right to know.”


 

          “I… it’s nothing,” I said, forcing myself to sound cheerful. I took a large bite of eggs, trying to eat quickly. My stomach felt raw and empty. I knew I hadn’t really been eating as much as usual for the past few weeks. I tried to ignore the fact that my clothes were a bit looser than usual.


 

          Fred raised his eyebrow at me and I sighed. “Just leave it, it’s not a big deal. We’ll figure it out, okay?”


 

          “If you say so,” Fred acceded. “But if you ever need anything…”


 

          “I’ll find someone much more able to help me,” I said primly, causing him to laugh.


 

          “You’re so mean to me, Val,” he pouted. “Anyways, I’d better go. I was going to meet Rhiannon before class.”


 

          “Whipped!” I called to him as he walked away. Fred made a rude hand gesture and I grinned briefly before turning back to my food.

 

          From the corner of my eye, I could see James glancing at me occasionally, but I tried not to pay attention to it. Is it weird to say that I miss him? Because I did. I missed how James and I had been. I wanted the closeness and the trust we’d had before Victoire’s bridesmaid meeting over break. But it was gone. And I had a horrible feeling that we wouldn’t be able to go back – there was only moving forward. But I didn’t where that would take us. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s change.

 
 

          I had reached for a bowl of fruit, spooning some onto my plate when my owl flew over. I only had to glance at the writing on the front of the letter to know how it was from. My stomach dropped.


 

          “Of course,” I spat under my breath. James and everyone else turned to look at me. I detached the letter that Mathilda was carrying, allowing her to fly back to the owlery. I stared briefly at the parchment in my hand, my name written on it in my mother’s careful handwriting. Then I promptly tore it to shred without even looking at what it said.
 

          “Are you sure you want to do that?” James asked carefully. “You might want to read what she has to say.”


 

          He clearly could tell who it was from by the look on my face. I stared down at my plate. “No, I really don’t.”

 
 

          I pushed my food around with a fork for a moment before pushing my plate away from me. My stomach, which had felt almost painfully empty moments before, tightened. There was no way I could eat now.
 

          “I’m not hungry,” I said, shaking my head. James frowned.


 

          “You need to eat, Val,” he insisted, putting a hand on my shoulder. I shook it off.


 

          “I’m fine, James,” I replied through gritted teeth.


 

          He sighed. “With all due respect, no you’re not. You’re too thin. Eat.”


 

          “Bugger off.”


 

          “Just eat, Val!” James’ voice got louder and he was looking at me in frustration. “And you should talk to your family. They’re probably worried about you.”


 

          I felt anger flare up inside me. “Just drop it, okay? I’m a big girl and I can take care of myself.”


 

          “I’m just trying to look out for you!” he protested.


 

          “Well, stop it!” I snapped. “Can’t you just… leave me alone? It’s my problem, not yours.”

 
 

          With that, I sprung off the bench, pulling my bag onto my shoulder in jerky, agitated movements. Then I strode swiftly out of the Great Hall, ignoring the thunderstruck looks the Weasley/Potter family was giving me.


 

*** 
 

          I was feeling really annoyed as I walked up to my dorm. Everything just seemed to grate on me today. The nerve of my mother for actually trying to contact me now – was there a particular reason she decided to wait so long before deeming me worthy enough to write a simple bloody letter to? And then James. I know he was just looking out for me and trying to help but I really don’t care. It’s my life. He can just butt out.


 

          Considering how pissed off I already was, it really was no surprise that I utterly freaked out at the sight that greeted me when I walked up to my dormitory. Lessie and Jessamy were huddled around my trunk, flipping through my photo albums. The ones of me and Joy.

 
 

          “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, blood immediately pounding through my veins as I flushed in anger. They were going through my stuff. I was beyond mad – I was bloody furious. And, if I’m being honest with myself, hurt.


 

          The three of their heads snapped up to look at me. Rhiannon and Jess looked guilty. But Lessie… she met my furious gaze with a look of defiance. “You wouldn’t let us look and you didn’t talk to us – what were supposed to do?”


 

          “Gee, let’s think,” I said, my voice bitingly sarcastic. “Maybe, I don’t know, respect my privacy?! I watched my fucking twin sister die – did it ever occur to you that it’s not something I particularly like to talk about, you fucking bitch?”

 
 

          “So you can’t talk to us, but you’re perfectly fine telling all your secrets to James bloody Potter?” she shot back hotly. My vision went red, I was so angry. My hands clenched into fists and I could feel myself shaking.


 

          “WHY THE FUCKING HELL SHOULD IT MATTER?” I screamed. I was done.


 

          “Because I’m supposed to be your FRIEND!”
 

          “Really? Then you’re a really fucking bad one! What kind of shitty friend goes through their friend’s stuff after they explicitly said they didn’t want them to?” My voice was shaking too. I honestly couldn’t believe this. How could they do this to me?
 

          “Val, try to understand it from our point of view –“ Jessamy began, but she broke off when I rounded on her.


 

          “You want to see it from your perspective? Are you fucking kidding me right now? Maybe you should try and see it from my perspective. You want to know about my life? Fine. I spent two weeks watching my best friend in the entire world waste away. I was holding her hand when she died. I’ve been depressed for six years. I hated life and everything about it. End of story.”

 
 

          “Except for the part about James,” Lessie muttered stubbornly.


 

          ”WHAT is your bloody DEAL about him?” I shouted in complete frustration. My hands gripped at my hair, tugging at it violently.
 

          “I just want to know why you told him all this before me?” she whined, wearing a look of betrayal. I wanted to hit her. To punch her or slap her across the face or something. She was mad because I told someone else before her? How bloody selfish can a person be?


 

          “That’s all you care about?” I asked, my voice deadly quiet. “You don’t care about any of the stuff that I went through, only the fact that you weren’t my number one confident? Fuck you, Alessia Karalis. Fuck you.”


 

          And I walked out. Out of that room and out of her life. I said it before: I was done. Done with that argument and done with that girl. She was no better than my own goddamn family.


 

***


 

          I was roaming the corridors, blindly looking for the only thing that would help me. “JAMES!” I shouted. “JAMES I NEED YOU!”


 

          I continued walking around, searching for the boy that had become the center of my life. I didn’t care that I had previously been annoyed with him. Because I needed him. I needed James Potter more than I needed air.


 

          I finally found him in the corridor outside the Defense Against the Arts classroom. There were several other people milling around. I rushed to him, sighing in relief as I threw my arms around his waist. “James, thank God.”


 

          “Woah, hey!” he said in surprise, arms coming around me automatically. “What’s up?”


 

          I shook my head, my nose grazing his neck as I buried it into the hollow of his shoulder. “Nothing,” I mumbled. “I just need you.”


 

          I felt him stiffen at my words, so I pulled my head up so I could look at him. Due to my unusual height for a girl, he was only an inch taller than me. It’s a good thing I never wear high heels. Slowly, James pulled my arms away from him and took a step back. I stared at him in hurt confusion.

 
 

          “I’m not just going to accept that,” James said, a hint of defiance in his tone and his expression hard. “You can’t just rush up to me like this and say nothing. We’ve gone over this, Val. You have to talk to me.”


 

          I felt myself bristle. I had been so on edge as of late. I’d thought the fight with Lessie had been the worst of it, but now I wasn’t so sure. Because something told me this conversation with James was not going to end well.


 

          “Excuse me?” I said icily. “You’re the one who’s always insisted that you want to help me. Talking about it won’t help.”


 

          “Is that so?” James responded, looking frustrated. “Because I seem to recall that the last time you thought that, you spent six years wallowing in misery.”


 

          I gasped. How… how dare he? I felt my gaze flatten into a harsh glare. “I’m sorry, do you want to repeat that?”


 

          “My pleasure. Perhaps if you learned to live in a world where other people exist, you’d actually know how to be happy.”


 

          I shoved James, anger boiling over. I haven’t felt this angry at him in months. Not since we became friends. “And what is that supposed to mean?”


 

          James’s hands flew up into his hair, running them through it almost violently. “It means that I care about you, Val. I want to help you, I do. But when you act like this, you’re not letting me. And I’m not the only one. People do care about you – your friends and your family. But you’re so good at shutting them out. Your self-destructive.”


 

          “You think I asked for all this?!” I cried. “You think this is how I wanted my life to turn out? Because I wish that every single day that had happened since my tenth birthday didn’t exist!”


 

          We were heading into dangerous waters. A crowd was gathering around James and me, watching in perverse fascination. James and I were dancing very delicately around the subject of Joy’s death. If we weren’t careful, one of us would let it slip. And then it would be all over.


 

          But sudden hurt was shining in James’ eyes. “Every day?” he asked quietly. “Even these last two months? You wish that they would go away?”


 

          I opened my mouth to say something, but James cut me off. “I thought you were happier? You told me so yourself! Or was that all a lie? Were you just using me to distract yourself from Joy?”


 

          I glanced around at the crowd in panic. “Shush! Don’t… don’t talk about that right now. It’s not the place for it.”


 

          “What good does it do you?” he questioned. “Hiding behind false happiness? How does that make your life better? Why won’t you talk about it to anyone?”


 

          “Because everyone disappoints me! Lessie, my parents, everyone! I shouldn’t have told them and I sure as hell should NEVER have told you!” I shrieked, tears beginning to well up in my eyes from the rage. I was just so angry. My vision blurred and my hands shook. I don’t know why this all hurt so much, but it did.


 

          Conversely, James’ face was now completely devoid of emotion. “What?” he asked blankly.


 

          “I shouldn’t have ever told you,” I informed him furiously. “It’s brought me nothing but trouble. I was better off without you.”

 
 

          “That’s not true,” he said quietly.


 

          “Yes it is!” I shouted, completely opposite of him. “I was comfortable! I was sad, but I was comfortable! Everything’s had to change because of you and I hate it! I hate my life and it’s all your fault!”


 

          “That’s not true,” he insisted again, his voice breaking. “Stop it, Val. Don’t say things like that.”


 

          “Why?” I asked, laughing bitterly. “Do you want me to lie to you like you’ve lied to me?”


 

          James shook his head, slowly, despair spreading across his face. “C’mon, Val. Don’t be like this. I just want to help. That’s all I’ve ever wanted was to help you. I put aside everything I felt just to make you better. Don’t do this to me.” 
 

          I snorted in derision. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve given up so much just to help me. Don’t make me laugh.”


 

          “I have,” he continued, all hope dimming from his face. It made me feel a cynical sort of happiness. If I was going to be miserable because of him, then he should feel the same. “I ignored how I felt because I wanted to fix you.”


 

          “How you felt? Please. You felt nothing.”


 

          “Yes I did.” James looked me deeply in the eye, golden hazel boring into turquoise blue. “I love you.”


 

          I froze. I felt my heart stop for a split second before picking up double time. My eyes went wide and I could do nothing but stare. Around me, I heard everyone that had gathered to watch the showdown gasp, but I paid them no mind. Because James loves me.


 

          It was just like my dream, I realized. I had heard it this morning. Which meant, it really wasn’t a dream. It was real. Because James loves me. He just said so.

 
 

          But… no. No. It was a dream. And now… now James is lying. Because he doesn’t love me. He can’t love me. It wasn’t possible.


 

          “That’s not true,” I said, my tone devoid of any warmth. James’ face fell. “That’s a lie. A horrible, sick lie. You don’t love me.”


 

          “Yes I do,” he said softly, taking a step towards me. I backed away quickly. “I love you, Val. I’ve loved you since second year.”

 
 

          “No. No you don’t.”


 

          “I love you.”


 

          “Well, I don’t love you!” I shouted, everything seeming to break. The look of devotion on James’ face crumpled and faded away, being replaced by a deep hurt. “I don’t love you and I NEVER WILL!”
 

          I continued, feeling a vindictive pleasure at the words. “I don’t love you, James Potter. You’re not good enough. You’re arrogant and I liar and I really can’t see a reason why anyone would love you!” I twisted smile found its way onto my face as a tear rolled down his cheek. “You’re nothing. Nothing to me and nothing at all. You’ll never, ever –“


 

          “STOP!” James roared suddenly, whirling around and punching the wall next to him. I jolted backwards a step, fear flooding through my veins. “Just. Stop.”

 
 

          He rounded on me, the anger I had previously been feeling shining clearly out of his eyes. “You’re wrong. You’re WRONG! You’re the one who’s not good enough! You’re selfish, Val. Selfish! Everyone is always doing something wrong in your eyes! They upset you so much because we can’t magically understand what you’re going through. Well, newsflash! If you don’t tell anyone, who the fuck are they supposed to know?”


 

          My mouth hung open, but no words found their way out. Even if I could have spoken, I really don’t think there was anything I could say. But James plowed onwards, stuck in the rage that had consumed me moments before. “You were so hurt that your family didn’t realize how sad you were. But who’s fault was that really? YOURS. So they reacted badly when you told them. Well, boo-fucking-hoo. What did you really expect? And same goes with your friends! You expect everyone to accommodate your every need, regardless of whether they know about it or not!


 

          “And then there’s me. You’ve treated me like shit. I have been at your every beck and call for MONTHS because I love you and I wanted you to be happy. Well, I’m done now. Because you don’t deserve it. You’ve used me this whole time and never felt a thing!”


 

          I felt like I was choking on nothing. James had said some horrible things to me before when he was trying to wake me out of my stupor of misery, but this… this was something else. Because this time, he actually meant the words he was saying. And he still wasn’t done. 
 

          “What are you going to do now, Val, huh? What are you going to do? You’re no longer on speaking terms with your family, every conversation with your friends ends up in a fight, and me? Frankly, I really don’t want to see you ever again. I’m done with you. Done. And you? You have nothing.”


 

          He approached me then and this time I didn’t move. I couldn’t. He leaned his face right in close to mine, his breath tickling my cheek. When he spoke, his voice was deadly quiet. “You have nothing.”


 

          And then he walked away. I stood, rooted to the spot, staring at his retreating back as my eyes began to sting. I was vaguely aware of the crowd dispersing, everyone completely silent. Some people threw me sympathetic glances, but most glared. I didn’t care. I no longer had the capacity to.


 

          As James rounded the corner and disappeared from sight, I felt something break inside me. A sudden, violent detachment that shook my very being, rocked through me. I had felt this only once before, in the last second of Joy’s life. It was the feeling of completely losing yourself.

 
 

          My knees grew weak, so I took a few stumbling, shaky steps over to the nearest wall where I collapsed to the ground. With my hands pressed to my temples, I hung my head between my knees. Huge, wracking sobs caused my entire body to tremble. A weight that I hadn’t felt for two months descended upon me, crushing me. I knew this feeling well. But I really wished I didn’t.
 

          “What have I done?” I whispered to myself in anguish. That was an easy question. I had just destroyed James, and done the same to myself in the process. He was right. I was self-destructive. Every good thing I had going for me, I had shattered.
 

          I have nothing.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 
 

AN
 

…er, hi? How’s it going? …please don’t hate me. I had to do it! Really, I did! This scene has been planned since, like, chapter 14! It’s necessary to the plot. I mean, I really wish it wasn’t, but it is!


 

Poor James. Val was really awful in this chapter. Like, really really awful. When was writing this, I was like, “No, Val! Don’t say that! You do love James! Stop being so mean!” But unfortunately, she didn’t listen to me. She doesn’t really listen to anybody. So now things are really sucky for her. Blah.


 

Er, would you all still be kind enough to leave a review? Every review is like giving ten hugs to James! And he really needs a hug right now. Please? Do it for James!


 

Also, I just posted a new story called In My Life. It's going to be a series of one-shots revolving around Lily and James. It would be awesome if you would all give it a read!

Also, I can answer any questions people have over at my blog. Look at my author's page for the website.


Chapter 22: Nothing
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I’m not sure how long I sat in that corridor, my head still hung between my knees. The tears ran dry after a while – they always do – though I continued to shake uncontrollably for quite some time after that. Other students, and perhaps teachers, passed by me throughout the day, but none attempted to speak to me. I doubt I looked very welcoming.


 

          My stomach rumbled, protesting its empty state. I could almost feel it shrinking as time went on. It definitely didn’t help that I’d walked out on breakfast early and had been eating only sparingly for a while now. But I didn’t have the energy to get up, let alone the will. I just wanted to sit there and… drown in despair, I suppose. I’d lost all my capacity to care about, well, anything. Nothing mattered anymore.


 

          Time passed. It always does. I could feel every agonizing second as it slipped away, cutting into my skin like a million tiny papercuts. It was a slow sort of pain, something that never quite faded and was constantly increasing. I had thought that I had felt the worst pain in my life after Joy died. I had thought nothing could make me feel even more terrible than that. I had thought wrong.


 

          I wasn’t sure why things were so much worse this time. Joy had been my entire life for ten years. James had only become important to me in November. But as I considered it, it made sense. Because James had started to heal me. Being with him like I was had eased the sting of Joy’s loss. But when James left me, it brought back every harsh reality he had pushed out of my head. My Joy was gone. And so was my James.


 

          There was also the fact that this time, no one could tell me it wasn’t my fault.


 

          I had always, in some corner of my mind, blamed myself for Joy’s death. I knew it wasn’t rational, but grief never is. In my head, I should have been able to stop her from dying. In my head, it should have been me.


 

          And what good is magic, anyway, if it couldn’t even prevent a simple Muggle disease? What was the point in me being the one who could do magic if I couldn’t even use it to save my sister? Wizards and Muggles have been coexisting – albeit secretly – for how long, and yet no one ever thought to try and help them?

 
 

          I sank my head deeper into my hands, rubbing my temples. I was a mess, a broken, shattered mess. And this time, there was no one around to fix me.


 

          At some point, I managed to drag myself away from that corridor. I didn’t go to any classes that day. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to go to any the next day. I had no will to do… anything, really. I just wanted to lie down and drown in my sorrows.


 

          I was lying in my bed in Ravenclaw Tower, the hangings drawn up around me. I had been there since shortly before dinner, I think. It was later now, though. I could hear my roommates, moving around, speaking in hushed tones. They knew I was here. None of them tried to talk to me, though. I doubt I really seemed all that welcoming right now.


 

          As I closed my eyes, my hearing sharpened enough to pick up a few of the words that were being muttered. I caught “Val,” “James,” and then “heartless.” Suddenly I felt angry. They were talking about me? I rolled over onto my stomach, annoyance radiating out of me. Like they were all perfect.


 

          In fact, the more I thought about it, the more enraged I became. I had just lost the most important thing in my life – hell, I had lost everything – and those girls had the nerve to sit there and talk about it?


 

          I yanked the bed hangings aside, a glare on my face. Everyone froze and looked at me. Lessie and Rhiannon were both shooting hard looks at each other from the corners of their eyes, Rhiannon’s arms crossed firmly over her chest like she only does when she’s upset. Jess had been watching them warily. Evie was sitting with Mallory on her bed, and their heads had been bent close together as they whispered.


 

          “If you all don’t mind,” I ground out between clenched teeth, “I think I’m going to find somewhere else to stay tonight. Then you can all continue to talk about me in peace.”


 

          I got up and to leave, walking slowly with my back held stiff. As I reached the door, I heard Lessie mutter, “Who are you going to stay with this time? I doubt James will want you back.”


 

          I faltered slightly, but continued to exit, slamming the door behind me. I felt tears prickle my eyes as I ran down the stairs. She was right. Where could I go? I doubt I was even allowed in Gryffindor Tower, let alone James’ room.


 

          I ended up going to the Astronomy Tower for the second night in a row. I glanced at the windowsill I had used as a perch on two occasions previously. I felt no desire to sit there now. Sitting down on the floor, I let my eyes slowly shut.


 

          I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, wandlight was being shone in my face. I peeled my eyelids back slowly to find Rose looking at me, clearly on Prefect rounds. I sat up quickly and we both stared at each other, both wary. I saw a mixture of anger, pity, and sadness on her face.


 

          “Anyone up there, Weasley?” I heard Scorpius Malfoy call. They did rounds together. 
 

          Rose’s blue eyes continued to gaze at me, torn. Then she cleared her throat. “No, it’s all clear.”


 

          Then, not saying a word to me, she turned and left.


 

***


 

          Somehow, I always seemed to end up in that corridor. When I wasn’t barricading myself in the library or sitting up in the Astronomy Tower, I was in that corridor when I ruined everything. I would just sit against the wall, crumpled up into the same position I had found myself in on that day.

 
 

          I would sit there for hours, doing absolutely nothing. I was doing a lot of that, actually. Nothing. I just felt so blank and empty. My anger had long since dissipated. And there was nothing left to fill its place.


 

Eventually, I felt someone slid down the wall to sit next to me. I had stopped shaking long ago, but I still continued to stare resolutely at the small stretch of floor between my feet. The person didn’t touch me or speak. They just sat there, like they were waiting.


 

          Giving in, I lifted my head to look at my visitor. My neck creaked as I straightened, stiff after being held its position for so long. Taking in the turquoise hair, I blinked in shock when I saw Teddy sitting next to me.


 

          “Ted?” I croaked, my voice thick and sore from the sobs that had worn it out so many hours previous. “What are you doing here?”


 

          “You didn’t come to class today,” he stated blandly. “And every time I saw James, he looked like he wanted to kill someone. You know that I consider the Weasleys to be my family, especially now that I’m about to marry Toire, and it seems to me that you’ve been accepted into the extended family as well. So you could say that you and I are family.”


 

          “If you want to look at it like that,” I whispered. I didn’t tell him that the Weasley family wouldn’t be considering my family for much longer.


 

          “I do,” Teddy said, nodding. “Now why don’t you tell me why you’re slumped over in this corridor?”


 

          I laughed weakly. “Because I’m stupid. I am so stupid. It’s almost funny, how truly stupid I am.”


 

          Teddy continued to nod, reminding me vaguely of a bobble head doll. “Coming from my brightest student, that’s not something I really expected to hear.”
 

          “Yeah, well, there’s a lot you don’t know, Ted.”


 

          “So tell me.”


 

          What was the point? Talking about it wouldn’t change anything. That’s what I’ve always said. Talking about Joy doesn’t make her any less dead. And telling Teddy about my fight with James won’t undo it. But then again, what do I really have to lose? James was right. I have nothing.

 
 

          “I had a fight with James,” I sighed, the words stinging even as I said them. “A bad fight. I said some things… bad things. I was so stupid.”


 

          “What did you say?” Teddy asked, true concern in his expression. But I just shook my head.


 

          “Bad things. I shouldn’t have said them. They weren’t true, any of them. I was just so mad…”


 

          “I’m sure James will forgive you if you just talk to him,” he tried to assure me. I just shook my head.

 
 

          “No. No he won’t. He hates me now, Ted. And it’s all my fault.”


 

          Teddy sighed. “Val, I don’t think James could hate you if he tried. He’s been crazy about you for ages. Trust me, he doesn’t hate you.”


 

          “Yes he does,” I said stubbornly. “He hates me. And he should. It’s what I deserve. I deserve to be miserable. I deserve to have nothing. I have nothing, Teddy. Because now James hates me.”


 

          “Look,” Teddy said, irritation clearly showing in his voice. “This whole pity party you have going on? It needs to stop. This isn’t like you. Not only are you my student, but I also consider you to be a friend. And you aren’t acting like yourself.”


 

          I just looked at him, feeling dead inside. “But I don’t know who I am. I can’t act like myself because I don’t know who or what that is. All my life, I’ve been utterly dependent on other people. Joy or James. Now I have no one. I have nothing.”


 

          Teddy stood up. “Then figure it out.”


 

          We walked away and I dropped my head back to my knees. I was alone again.


 

***


 

          I pretty much ended up isolating myself to either my dorm – when it was empty or everyone was asleep – the Astronomy Tower, or the library. I would get up extremely early to eat breakfast and go to dinner at the last minute when there was little to no people. Because of the timings, I didn’t really get to eat much, but that really wasn’t a problem because I had no appetite. I would skip lunch entirely.


 

          It’s been a week since my fight with James. A long, excruciatingly terrible week. I don’t even want to stop and figure out how many times I’ve randomly burst into tears. The thing is that I want to apologize. I really do. Those words I shouted at James… I feel sick just thinking about them. There was a reason I didn’t want to tell Teddy. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ashamed in my entire life. The problem was, every time James sees me, he turns and walks in the other direction. And I’m too bloody scared to chase after him.


 

          I watch him sometimes, when he doesn’t notice. It sounds kind of creepy, but I can’t help it. He’s not happy. Not at all. He storms through the corridors like a thundercloud, ready to lash out anyone who even remotely annoys him. I don’t like it. James is supposed to be cheerful and optimistic. He’s not acting like my James.


 

          I know I should just suck up my fear and tell him I’m sorry, but I just… can’t. Because he’s better off without me. He may be angry at the moment – and rightfully so – but once he gets over it, he’ll realize how much worse I made his life. And then he’ll be happy. Happy like I’ll never be.


 

          I have no one now. My bloody family abandoned me and I have absolutely no friends now. Or anyone who wants to be in my presence, really. Lessie glares at me every time she sees me, though I could care less about her. Jessamy has made herself scarce. I see Rhiannon watching me from time to time, an odd expression on her face, but she hasn’t actually spoken to me either. Every other person in the school avoids me. And then there’s the Potters and the Weasleys.
 

          I have to hand it to them all, they certainly know a thing or two about family loyalty. The morning after the fight, Lily sought me out and told me I was a bitch. I kind of deserved that. Fred watches me with the same expression Rhiannon does, which is ridiculously appropriate considering they’re dating. Rose, though she shoot me sympathetic glances from time to time, refuses to actually associate with me. Everyone else glares and avoids me. But I think the worst blow came from Albus.


 

          The middle Potter child became something of a younger brother to me this year. He’s an adorable kid, he really is. I grew exceedingly fond of him during the course of the tutoring. Which is why is rejection of me stung quite a bit. I suppose I should probably be numb to the pain by now, though. But I’m not.


 

          I saw him in the library two days after the… incident. He was sitting alone, doing homework. I had passed close by to him to see what it was. He had been working on an essay for Defense Against the Dark Arts and was clearly struggling a bit. I had taken a deep breath and tapped him on the shoulder, wondering how he’d react.


 

          His inquisitive look had flattened the second he turned around and saw it was me. He hadn’t said a word, merely raised an eyebrow to silently question my presence. I had offered to help him in a rather shaky voice, I’m embarrassed to admit. I had been afraid of his answer. With good reason.


 

          His voice had been harsh when he’d answered. His exact words still floated around in my brain, even five days after. I don’t think it’s I’ll forget easily.


 

          His hands had been clenched into fists when he’d begun telling me off. “You’re probably the last person on earth I’d accept help from at the moment,” he’d begun. “You really have nerve, you know. My brother cared about you and you destroyed him. You were out of line and you were a fucking bitch. Before, I though you and him would have been good together – hell, everyone in the entire school thought that! But now I’m glad you two never got together. Because you definitely don’t deserve him. So just stay away from James. And stay away from me, too, for that matter.”


 

          I’d nodded once and walked away. There wasn’t really anything else I could’ve done. I did cry about it later, though. Not that that’s all that unexpected. Crying is all I seem to be doing lately. I think James told me I was the strongest person he knew, at one point. He was wrong.


 

          I’m weak. I am so weak. I’m an emotional cripple. I can’t function without someone to lean on. I had always considered myself a rather independent person. By choice, I’d held myself back from really truly befriending anyone. I’d thought that if I held myself at least slightly aloof, it would I wouldn’t get hurt. It would mean I was strong. But it didn’t make me strong. The loneliness had weighed down on me – much like it is now – to the point that I was knocked to ground the second James had started pushing at my barriers. I’d compensated for that by befriending James. I had been a fool. I still am.

 
 

          Do you know that phrase? Life sucks and then you die? It’s true.


 

***


 

James Potter POV


 

          Do you know that phrase? Life sucks and then you die? It’s true.


 

          Because if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think my life has ever sucked more than it does now. And it bloody pisses me off.


 

          Do you know that feeling you get when you just know that something terrible is going to happen? That awful, gut-wrenching premonition that things are just going to go horribly wrong? Savor it. Because most people think, while they have that feeling, that it is just so awful that they’d rather have the terrible thing happen, just to get it over with. Those people are wrong. Because there is no feeling in the world than when everything takes a jarring turn for the worst.


 

          I knew that something big was going to happen between Val and I. I’d have to be an idiot not to see it coming. It was obvious. The tension, the awkwardness… it was all just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. And I really wish it hadn’t.


 

          I don’t think I’ve ever felt so angry in my life as I did when I started yelling at Val. But if I was being perfectly honest with myself, I knew I was just hiding behind the anger. I was using it as a shield, just like Val used false happiness. Because in truth, I was just hurt. And I hated it.


 

          “James?”


 

          I looked up at the sound of Fred’s voice. He was looking at me with an inscrutable look on his face. He’d been looking at me like that for the past week. I was sick of that, too.


 

          “What do you want, Freddy?” I sighed. “Don’t you have Potions right now?”


 

          “Finished early. Teresa Walsh accidentally overturned her potion, so Sluggy had us all go early,” he explained, dropping down into the armchair next to me.


 

          I merely grunted in response. I didn’t really feel like talking to anyone. Talking was overrated. I always told Val she should talk more. Just look where that got me.


 

          “You know, you are exceptionally irritating when you’re pissy,” Fred commented lightly. “Or scary, depending on whom you ask. I think those first years that ran away from you yesterday would choose the latter.”


 

          “Are you trying to be funny?” I asked him in annoyance.


 

          “No, I never try to be funny. It just come naturally,” he replied easily. I rolled my eyes.


 

          “Hilarious, Fred,” I deadpanned. “Really, very witty. How do you do it?”


 

          “Remember what I just said about being irritating? You’re doing it again.”


 

          I glared at him. That was actually kind of offensive. “Terribly sorry. Would you like me to start skipping around and singing in joy? I think I can arrange that.”


 

          “I don’t think that would really help much,” Fred said hesitantly.


 

          I scoffed. “I know. We all know what a mess is made when people pretend to be happy even when they’re not.”

 
 

          “And there we go,” Fred said eagerly. “We managed to broach the real topic I wanted to discuss much faster than I expected.”


 

          “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” I responded breezily. I’ve already stated my views on talking. And talking about that is definitely last on the list.


 

          “Don’t play dumb. How stupid do you think I am? I’ve had enough of you acting like you’re going to eat anyone who crosses you. So stop it. Just stop. And I know it would put both of us in danger of losing our Man Cards, but you honestly just need to talk about this. And that’s what I’m here for.”


 

          “You can just leave then,” I told him irately. “Because I’m not going to talk about it.”


 

          “I can wait all day,” Fred sang. I flinched.


 

          “Don’t do that,” I said. “Seriously, hasn’t your singing scarred the entire family enough in the past?”


 

          He snapped his fingers. “Aha, that’s right, you’re the singer in the family, aren’t you? You wrote that song for –“


 

          “Don’t say it,” I cut in.
 

          “Say what?”
 

          I glared at him. “Now you’re the one playing dumb. You know what I’m talking about.”


 

          “No, really, I have no idea what you mean,” Fred said innocently. “Tell me, James, what is it I shouldn’t say?” 
 

          “Just be quiet.”


 

          “Hal? Cal? Shall? Am I close?”


 

          “Drop it.”


 

          “Pal? Sal? Zal? Oh, wait. It started with a ‘v’ didn’t it? Her name is V-“


 

          “Shut up!” I shouted. “Can’t you just leave it alone? Clearly, this is not something I want to talk about!”


 

          Fred stared at me, his face impassive. “Val.”


 

          I threw a pillow at him and sank my head into my hands. I was pathetic. Utterly pathetic. This… this girl had turned me into a mess. How could she do this? I’m James Freaking Potter. I’m better than this. I have the biggest family in the school. I’m captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. I’m the most sought after guy in the school! And I’m… I’m… totally in love with a girl who doesn’t and never will feel the same.


 

          “I miss her,” I moaned in defeat, not lifting my head. I felt Freddy’s hand clap me on the shoulder.


 

          “I know you do, mate,” he said gently. “I’m just glad you can admit it.”


 

          “Not interrupting, am I?” came a girl’s voice. We both looked up and saw Fred’s girlfriend, Rhiannon.


 

          “Go ahead and sit down,” Fred said smiling at her. I shot him a look. Okay, so he goes through all this trouble of making me think of Val and then invites his girlfriend – who isn’t even a Gryffindor and shouldn’t really be in our common room – to sit with us. That makes a lot of sense.


 

          The curly-haired Ravenclaw examined me for a moment. “How are you, James?”


 

          Er… “I’m fine.”


 

          She shook her head. “No you’re not.

 

          What? Jeez, talk about being blunt. What is with this girl? “Yes. I am.”


 

          Fred snorted. “Mate, don’t lie. Ann sees everything.”


 

          “Ann?”


 

          “It’s what he calls me,” Rhiannon said. “Apparently my full name is too long for his tiny brain to comprehend.”


 

          I think I like this girl. She’s got a sense of humor. It kind of reminds me of… 
 

          Nope. Not thinking about her. It’s bad enough that Rhiannon is actually one of her friends. Or at least was. I’m not really sure. And I don’t care. Nope. Not at all. I don’t care.


 

          Except, I do care. And I hate it.


 

          “You think it’s weird to be talking to me because I’m friends with Val,” Rhiannon said. It wasn’t even a question. She stated it like she knew it was a fact.

 
 

          I gaped at her. She shrugged. “Like Fred said, I see things. I think that if people took a moment to stop and really watch those around them, we’d all understand each other much better. But most people get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and never take a moment to hit pause and really observe what goes on around them.”


 

          “How philosophical,” I murmured. She shrugged again.


 

          “Anyways,” she said, “Fred asked me to come talk to you because –“


 

          “Wait,” I interrupted. I turned to Fred. “You asked your girlfriend to talk to me? About what?”


 

          “Val,” he said simply. “I know you don’t want to, but it’s something you need to talk about. And I can’t think of a better person.”


 

          I stared up at the ceiling in exasperation. “This is ridiculous.”


 

          “Is it?” Fred asked. “C’mon, James, would it really hurt to talk to Ann, one Val expert to another?”


 

          “Expert?” I snorted in derision. “Would you really call her an expert? I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Val complain. Believe me, one topic was how none of her friends or family ever noticed anything about her.”

 
 

          Fred glared at me, apparently upset that I’d insulted his girlfriend, but this time I really didn’t care. I’m mad. I can upset whoever I damn well please.


 

          Rhiannon, however, seemed to ignore it. “I know you’re angry, James. You have a right to be. But I also know that, above everything, you’re hurt. You devoted yourself to Val and you really, really helped her. And she just threw it all back in your face.”


 

          “Exactly,” I mumbled in agreement.


 

          “And the really sad thing is, you were really good for her. You made such a difference in her life. I was always afraid to push her, because I didn’t want her to snap. But you weren’t. You broke down the walls she’d built around herself. That was something I could never do,” Rhiannon said, almost talking to herself. I felt a momentary spark of confusion at her words.

 
 

          “Wait, what? What do mean? Are… are you saying you knew?”


 

          “That Val’s twin sister had died?” she asked. “No. But did I know that something was wrong and she wasn’t actually happy? Yes. I figured it out sometime during third year.”


 

          I couldn’t do anything but stare, my mouth hanging open. She’d known? Seriously? “You knew… and you did nothing? What kind of a friend are you?”


 

          That was rude. I knew that. But at this point in my life, I’ve run out of fucks to give. Because really, what was up with that? Rhiannon has known for three years that Val was only pretending to be happy and she did nothing about it? What the hell?


 

          “Tell me, James,” she said mildly, “what happened when you first tried to confront Val about Joy? Did she respond well? Did she immediately accept that you wanted to help her? Was she perfectly willing to talk about it all with you?”


 

          “No… but I did kind of insult her a lot. Which, in hindsight, may not have been the best decision.”


 

          She smiled slightly. “Actually, I’m going to have to disagree with that. I think that was the best thing for her at the time. Which is why you were the best one to do it.”


 

          Now I was just confused. “What do you mean?”


 

          “You were actually smart in what you did,” Rhiannon explained. “You kind of shocked her, woke her up from the stupor she’d fallen into. And then you became her friend. And that, I think, is what she needed more than anything else.”


 

          I covered my face with my hands. “Yeah, well, I kind of blew that now, didn’t I?”


 

          “No,” she said fiercely, surprising me. “James, you did nothing wrong. Nothing. The reason things didn’t turn out well is because Val’s afraid.”


 

          I lifted my head. “Afraid? Of what?”


 

          “Love.”


 

          I couldn’t help it: I burst out laughing. It was just such a ridiculous concept to me. And there was no mistaking the bitter edge to my laughter. “Please. Val loved her sister so much that she ruined her entire life. She was so consumed with devotion to Joy that she gave up every chance she had to be happy. Don’t tell me that it’s love.”


 

          “But isn’t it the love for her sister that caused her the greatest pain in life?” Rhiannon persisted.


 

          I faltered for a second. “I – well, yeah. But she always talks about how much she loves Joy. How can she be afraid of love?”


 

          Rhiannon smiled sadly. “Don’t you see? It’s easy for Val to love Joy because, harsh as it may sound, Joy’s dead. She’s not changing or going anywhere. But Val also connects all the sadness in her life to her love of Joy. Because she loved her, she has hurt when Joy was gone. So in Val’s mind, loving someone opens you up to be hurt by them. It’s really not an uncommon thing for people to experience, especially after such a difficult loss. Val’s just taken it to the extremes.”

 
 

          “So what does all this have to do with me?” I asked. I felt tired. It was a sort of weariness that sat heavily in my bones, completely unconnected to sleep or exhaustion. I was just tired of everything.


 

          “Are you really that dense?” Rhiannon snorted. “James, Val is afraid of loving you. It’s been coming for a long time. Everyone around her constantly tried to convince her that you were in love with her – you were kind of obvious – but she refused to accept it. Because to her, love was something bad. And if you didn’t love her, then she wouldn’t have to worry about figuring out whether or not she loves you. And loving you was something she really didn’t want to do. But, unfortunately for her, love isn’t something you can control, so she went and fell for you anyways.”


 

          I felt tears sting in my eyes. If Rhiannon was to be believed, Val loves me, too. And that was the only thing I’d ever really wanted. But it was out of reach. Because everything was such a mess. And I really didn’t even know if it was true or not. What was I supposed to do? Run to Val and tell her how much I love her? Because that didn’t really turn out too great the first time. So what was my other option? Just sit here and do nothing, never really knowing the truth?

 
 

          Before I knew it, tears were spilling over my cheeks. I was crying. I was fucking crying. “What the fuck, am I actually crying?” I said outloud. “I am. I’m crying. What the hell is wrong with me, why am I crying? Stop it, tears. Stop. Stay in my eyes, I don’t want to cry! Stop!”


 

          I started smacking my cheeks, hoping it would force the tears back into my eyes. I know, not my smartest idea. Both Rhiannon and Fred burst into laughter and I eventually joined them. I wasn’t sure why, but it felt kind of good.


 

          After a moment, my laughter subsided. “Wait, wait, why are we laughing? I’m still mad and sad.”


 

          Fred repressed a snort at that. I suppose I did sound fairly childish, but still. I’m mad. And I’m sad. I can express that however I damn well please. I turned to Rhiannon. “So what do you think I should do?”


 

          “Nothing,” she said simply.


 

          “Nothing?”

 
 

          “Nothing.”


 

          “But why?” I don’t think I’ve ever felt more confused than I have throughout the course of this conversation with Rhiannon. How does Fred stand it?


 

          “Look, Val needs to straighten out her life. If you leave her alone, she’ll realize how much she misses you, and then she might actually go out and do something for once. Sometimes, you just have to let it be.”


 

          I nodded slowly. I suppose it made sense. But still… “It’s just that I want to talk to her, you know? But I also don’t. Because I miss her. Yet, at the same time, I can’t forget what she said. Those words she shouted at me… they keep replaying in my head, over and over. I don’t want that to happen ever again.”


 

          Rhiannon looked at me sympathetically, but there was understanding in her gray eyes. “She hurt you.”


 

          “Yeah, she did,” I said quietly. “And despite it all, I still love her. And I feel like such an unmanly pansy for talking about this.”


 

          Fred grinned. “You said it, not me.”


 

          I punched him.


 

***


 

          Later that day, I was looking for a book in the library when I saw her. She was sitting at a table, alone, books surrounding her and a look of exhaustion on her face. There were bags under her eyes and she looked pale. Well, she always looks pale, considering she’s as her skin in pretty much devoid of all color, but now it look unhealthy, almost gray. I could tell she was losing weight.


 

          I couldn’t stop the worry that spiked through me at the sight of Val. She looked terrible. I wanted to go over to her, comfort her, and try to make her better. That’s all I had been doing for months. But Rhiannon was right. I couldn’t.


 

          Val had to learn to stand on her own. She needed to find strength in herself, not from other people. Maybe she loves me, like Rhiannon said, and maybe she doesn’t. Right now, it doesn’t really matter. Because I think the thing she really needs is to love herself.

 
 

          So I won’t go over to her. I’ll stay away for as long as it takes. I’ll keep acting like I’m mad at her, even though I’m really not anymore. And we’ll see what happens from there. I can’t fix her this time, she has to fix herself. I can do nothing.


 

          Nothing. 
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN

 
 

That was just depressing. Seriously. This chapter was so depressing. Did anyone else get sick of Val’s pity party? It wasn’t just me? Good.


 

You can all thank the incredibly lovely Akansha, aka Dezire_427 for the part in James’ POV. It wasn’t originally part of the plan, but after she mentioned it, I really liked the idea. It showed how he was feeling, how he would be acting for the next few chapters, and revealed that Rhiannon knew about Val’s depression early than originally planned. 
 

Yes, she knows. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?


 

Anywho, whilst writing this chapter, I came to the realization that there are a whole bunch of songs by Mumford and Sons that are ridiculously appropriate for this story. Why I didn’t figure it out before is beyond me, but better late than never, I suppose. If you visit my blog (the sight is on my Author’s Page) I’ll be posting several lyrics from some of the songs. Because my revelation must be shared!


 

So yeah, if you could all leave a review, that would be wonderful :) I’d like to thank everyone who reviewed the last chapter – it was the most I’ve ever gotten! Also, I recently posted a James/Lily short story that could use some love. Hint hint.


And yes, the line "I'm still mad and sad" is indeed from A Very Potter Musical. And "James Freaking Potter" is a reference to the song "Harry Freaking Potter" from A Very Potter Sequel. No, I am not obsessed with Starkid. I can stop any time I want to. 

 

Stay beautiful!


Chapter 23: Waking Up
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                It felt like I was in a daze. And truthfully, it was a really awful feeling, I was in a stupor that I just couldn’t shake off. Back when Joy died, I at least had a family, and then pseudo-friends, to pretend to be happy for. Now I didn’t. And that is what had made all the difference.


 

                Well, that and the fact that my self-blame for Joy’s death was irrational – I could recognize that even if I couldn’t get rid of the feelings of guilt. Now, it would be irrational if I didn’t blame myself.


 

                I had been in the library the other day when I noticed James watching me. When I’d snuck a glance at his face I was slightly surprised that his expression displayed no animosity. Instead, he’d been wearing the same inscrutable look he used to watch me with at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.


 

                I wanted to go over and talk to him, I really did. But I couldn’t. I was being a coward, I’ll openly admit it. It’s just that I didn’t want to get hurt and, more importantly, I didn’t want to hurt James again. And there’s a very good chance that both of those would happen.


 

                I was in the library once again – this time without James there – and had my typical pile of books scattered around me. My work for the week was long finished and now I was reading just to pass the time. I’d probably end up reading every single book in this place within a week or two. It’s all I do any more.


 

                I read until my eyes drooped and the words began to blur together. Since I’d been going to sleep late and waking up early so as to better avoid all my roommates. I haven’t been getting very much sleep as of late. And when I did sleep, I usually had nightmares. It had gotten to the point where I thought it might be better if I just stopped sleeping altogether.


 

                I was just about to drift asleep when a hand gently shook my shoulder. I jolted in surprise and twisted around to see Rhiannon looking at me in concern. She had her Quidditch practice robes on. Wait. Quidditch…


 

                “You coming to practice, Captain?” she asked gently. “It’s the first one since the holidays.”


 

                “Yeah,” I said distractedly, gathering up my books. “Sorry, I blanked out there for a while. I’ll be right down.”


 

                Grabbing my bag, I stood up only to have the room spin slightly and black spots appear in my vision. I gripped the back of my chair, as the wooziness hit me, squeezing my eyes shut. Rhiannon’s hand found was on my arm once more and when I looked at her, her eyes were wide in alarm.


 

                “Are you okay?”

 
 

                I nodded slightly, my head clearing. “Yeah, sorry. I guess I got up a little too fast. I’m fine now.”
 

                She bit her lip but accepted it anyways. Alright then, let’s go.”

 
 

                I think it’s safe to say that what followed was the worst Quidditch practice I’ve ever had in my life. It wasn’t that everyone else was bad – they all played quite well, to be honest – but for me, it was just miserable. I’ve never played so bad before.


 

                My throws were weak and inaccurate and my flying was sloppy and unrefined. I was actually quite ashamed of my performance. And throughout the practice, I would continue to get dizzy spells and have to halt midair so I wouldn’t fall off my broom. The team kept shooting me worried looks, but they didn’t say anything. The one time Bronwyn, one of the Beaters, tried to suggest that I sit down, I shot her such a vicious glare that no one else tried to say anything. Thinking about it, that probably didn’t help my case with having every person in this whole damn school avoiding me.
 

                Which, you know, really doesn’t make sense. I can understand James and Lessie avoiding me, and, to a slightly lesser extent, the rest of the Potters and Weasleys and the girls in my dorm, but seriously, what crawled up the rest of the school’s arses? I suppose they might just be avoiding me because I seem to suck out the happiness from everywhere I go. Just call me a dementor.


 

                After an hour, I let everyone go. It was pretty clear that I was the only one who needed practice. But I really couldn’t bring myself to train on my own. I was just so exhausted. I’ve never felt so physically weak before in my life. My head pounded and even my vision seemed just the slightest bit blurred. I was just so tired.

 
 

                I stood under a steady flow of hot water in the shower in the changing room for what felt like hours. The benefits of going to a magical school: you never run out of hot water. I felt the tension that had been gripping me since the fight with James slowly start to melt away. It didn’t go away completely, and I’m not sure it ever will, but it did lessen by a considerable degree. I flexed all of my muscles simultaneously and then relaxed them. Bracing my hands against the wall next to the shower head, I took deep, slow breaths as water ran down my face. Maybe I should just stay here for the rest of my life.


 

                When I finally mustered up the will to turn off the water, dry myself off, and get dressed again, everyone was gone except for Rhiannon, who appeared to be waiting for me. There was a slightly calculating look in her eyes as she examined me. Pursing her lips, she shook her head. “You look like shit.”


 

                I recoiled slightly. It’s not the worst thing anyone’s ever said to me – I can think of a quite a few that would top that – but I still felt slightly offended. She didn’t have to be so blunt about it. “I feel like it, too.”


 

                “So stop,” Rhiannon responded simply.


 

                I raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’ll just do that right now,” I said sarcastically.


 

                “You could, you know,” she said.


 

                “Uh, no I can’t,” I shot back. I sound kind of like a toddler. “Despite the fact that I, like you, am a witch, I can’t just magically make myself better.”


 

                “You won’t know until you try.”


 

                And with that slightly ambiguous statement, Rhiannon walked out of the room. Okay, what was that? I just shook my head and walked over to my locker to grab my broom. But then as I went to leave, the most debilitating dizzy spell I’d felt today hit me and I stumbled. Gripping my head with one hand, I leaned against the nearest locker. My vision veered out of control and then everything faded to black.


 

***


 

                Waking up was a very confusing moment. I wasn’t sure what had happened or where I was. Dragging my heavy eyelids open, I was greeted with a very unwelcome sight. I was in the Hospital Wing.


 

                I absolutely hate hospitals of any sort. Understandable, really, seeing as the worst experience in my life was spent in one. There are no words to describe how awful those two weeks I spent watching Joy grow weaker and weaker truly was. And of course, I had to return myself shortly after. Ever since, I’ve avoided hospitals. I even went so far as to teach myself healing spells so that I wouldn’t have to go. This is actually the third time I’ve been here. The first time was when I was really sick in my second year and the other was earlier this year when I got hit in the head with a Bludger. But why was I here now?


 

                “Good, you’re awake,” Madam Corner said, pulling me away from my thoughts and handing me a light purple potion. “Drink this.”


 

                I obeyed unquestioningly, sighing in relief as I felt the pounding in my head subside. That paired with the sleep I had just had left me feeling more refreshed than I’ve been in days. I was still rather fatigued, but it was a vast improvement.

 
 

                “And this one, too.” She handed me another flask, this one’s contents being navy blue.


 

                “What were those for?” I asked. “And why am I here, anyway?”

 
 

                Madam Corner gave me a very stern look. “You are here because you fainted after your Quidditch practice. Your friend, Miss Moore, brought you here.”


 

                I guess Rhiannon came back to the locker room, then. “I fainted? That’s strange. I mean, my practice didn’t go very well, but for in the sense that I played badly. I don’t know why I would have…”


 

                “You fainted,” Madam Corner said, lips set in a frown, “because you haven’t been eating enough or getting proper sleep. You’ve completely worn yourself out. You slept for fourteen hours.”


 

                “Fourteen!” I gasped, bolting upright. With a tut, Madam Corner pushed me back down. My mind was reeling. Fourteen hours? Quidditch practice had ended at 8:00 last night… I was supposed to be in class!


 

                “Madam Corner, I’m supposed to be in Ancient Runes right now,” I said desperately. “I need to go!”


 

                “Your professors have all been informed that you will be spending the day here,” she replied patiently.


 

                I shook my head. “No, I don’t need to stay here, I’m fine.” Don’t make me stay. Please.


 

                “Actually, Miss Sullivan, I’m going to have to disagree. You are most certainly not fine,” she told me disapprovingly. “When a student is hospitalized for depriving herself of the proper nutrition, it is something we take seriously. Especially if it’s a relapse.”


 

                “Relapse?” I asked, dread beginning to curdle in my stomach.


 

                She nodded tightly. “Yes. We do have your medical records, even your Muggle ones. I believe you were diagnosed with anorexia when you were ten years old?”


 

                My mouth went dry. “I… well, yeah. But it was part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”


 

                “After the death of your sister?”


 

                I clapped my hands over my ears. “Please, I don’t really want to talk about it.”


 

                “If it makes you uncomfortable, then alright,” Madam Corner said, patting my hand. “Either way, you’ll have to stay here overnight and possibly longer. You may not like it, but I’m afraid I have to monitor you. It’s a part of regulation, I’m afraid. And you need to regain your strength. Not to worry though, Miss Moore has promised to bring you all the work you miss.” 
 

                “Great. The sounds just wonderful. “ I forced a smile. I was stuck in a hospital. Just fabulous.


 

                What then ensued was perhaps the dullest day of my life. I mean, things haven’t been all that exciting for me as of late, due to the whole being friendless and alone thing, but at least I had books to pass the time. Now I was just sitting in the one place in the entire castle that I had avoided at all costs.


 

                Despite being extraordinarily tired due to the sleep I’d been depriving myself of, I slept very fitfully that night.  I blamed it on being in a hospital. God, I hate them.


 

                I wasn’t sure at what time it was – very late, that was for sure – but at one point when I woke up in the middle of the night, I felt an odd weight on my hand. It was enveloped in warmth. It felt like someone was holding it. But when I opened my eyes and looked, the feeling vanished and I saw no one there. Glancing around, I thought I saw something ruffle the bedding of the cot that was next to mine. But still there was no one. Shrugging it off, I rolled over and tried to fall back asleep.

 
 

                Can I leave yet?


 

***


 

                “Who are you?”


 

                I stared at the women who had taken a seat next to my bed. She was very professional looking, wearing crisp robes with her hair pulled back from her face in a tight bun. There was a clipboard balancing on her knee. It was my second day in the Hospital Wing, about mid-afternoon. Rhiannon had stopped in twice since I’ve been here, but she never said anything. Just gave me my work and offered a weak sort of smile.

 
 

                “My name is Andrea Carlson,” the woman said, appraising me with slightly squinty brown eyes. I felt uncomfortable under her gaze. “And I’m just here to talk to you.”


 

                “Okay…” I said hesitantly. “What about?”


 

                “Oh, we’ll get to that later,” she replied casually. I don’t really have a good feeling about this.


 

                “So,” Andrea said brightly, “I hear you’re a Ravenclaw? I was in that House back in my day, as well. Do you like it?”


 

                …was she for real? “Uh, it’s all right, I guess. I’ve always valued intelligence, so I suppose it’s the best place for me. I don’t think I’d really fit in very well in the other Houses.”


 

                “And why is that?” she asked, picking up a quill. I raised an eyebrow at her. She laughed good-naturedly. “Oh, don’t mind me, it’s just a few doodles. I’m listening, don’t worry.”


 

                Doodling. Right. Whatever, then. “Well, I don’t think I’m really sly enough for Slytherin. I’m smart, yes, but not as… I don’t know, cunning as most of them are. And although they aren’t as prejudice anymore, they still value blood purity and I’m the offspring of a Muggle and a Squib. I suppose Hufflepuff wouldn’t be a bad fit. I’m generally pretty nice to people and my teachers all think I’m hard-working. But I just don’t think it’d really work.”

 
 

                “And Gryffindor?”


 

                I hesitated.  I knew that answer. It’d really become pretty obvious to me recently. I’m not daring enough. I overthink things. I sit around and let my mind go crazy instead of just being courageous for once in my life and doing something crazy. I doubt myself too much. But I didn’t know this Andrea Carlson. I wasn’t going to tell her that. “I don’t know, I guess you could say I’m not as audacious as I need to be.”


 

                “And what do you mean by that?” Andrea asked, seeing to sense my hesitation. Here’s a hint lady: if someone hesitates before answering a question, it generally means they don’t want to talk about it.


 

                “Oh, you know, they jump head first into situations without thinking about it first. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I just like to pay at least a little bit of attention to the possible consequences.” And that was the understatement of the year. I speculate wildly on what things mean so much that it ends up coming back to punch me in the face. Or tell me that I’m a worthless human being.

 
 

                “And why do you think you do that?” Andrea asked me, scribbling in earnest. Yeah, she’s totally just doodling. How dumb does she think I am?


 

                “You’re the therapist, why don’t you tell me,” I said coolly, crossing my arms. She said it herself, I’m a Ravenclaw. And a pretty damn smart one, at that. Even if I have been kind of dumb lately.


 

                She raised her eyebrows at me. I stared back defiantly. Andrea sighed, setting the clipboard down on my bedside table. “As cliché as it may sound, I am actually here to help you.”

 
 

                “I don’t need your help,” I dismissed her. I really don’t. I know what’s wrong with me. I don’t need anyone else telling me it. I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime.


 

                “On the contrary, I think you do,” Andrea contradicted. I don’t like Andrea.


 

                “Yes, well, here’s the thing,” I said, hitching an obviously fake sweet smile onto my face, “I don’t really care what you think.”


 

                She frowned. “Miss Sullivan, that really doesn’t matter. If a student showcases self-destructive behavior, as you have done, then outside help needs to be sought.”


 

                Who the hell is this woman? She doesn’t even know me. I’m really not a fan of all these assumptions she’s making. “I neither need nor want ‘outside help.’ But fine, you want me to talk about why I’m here? I will. Yes, I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was younger as an effect of PTSD. I was hospitalized and had to talk to a therapist. There aren’t words strong enough for me to express how much I detested that. It didn’t do anything for me and it’s really not going to do anything now, either. I’ve been fine since then.”

 
 

                “Then why did you faint the other day?” Andrea said, a slightly smug smile on her face. I wanted to slap it off.


 

                “I fainted because I’ve neglected my health as of late. I’ll admit it – I’ve been depriving myself of proper sleep and I haven’t been eating as much as usual. But I’m hardly the first person that’s ever done this. So now, I’m aware that I haven’t been taking care of myself properly and I intend to fix that. Can I go?”


 

                Andrea made a note on her clipboard. “I’m sensing some hostility.”


 

                I inhaled sharply through my nose and my left eye began twitching. Is this woman serious right now? I resisted the urge to scream and pull my hair out. If she keeps this up any longer, then she’s going to be the one who needs to be hospitalized. “Probably because you’re annoying me.”


 

                When she opened her mouth to reply, I shoved the blankets I was wrapped in off of me and rolled off the bed. I grabbed the clothes I had been wearing, which had been lying neatly folded on my bedside table. I turned back to Andrea and announced, “I’m leaving. I don’t need to be here. Have a nice day.”


 

                “Miss Sullivan, you have a problem!” Andrea cried, grabbing my arm. I shook her off roughly.


 

                “Yes, I do. But it’s not what you’re here for. I do not have anorexia. Trust me, even if I was, being stuck here would be enough to motivate me to eat. So thank you for your ‘help,’ but your services are not required. If Madam Corner asks, I went back to Ravenclaw Tower to change clothes and then I’m going to the kitchen to eat. Happy?”


 

                I didn’t wait for answer. I strode out of the Hospital Wing without another word. I was done with that place.


 

***


 

                I probably should have rethought my decision to leave the Hospital Wing while still wearing the very short, very thin hospital gown I’d been forced into wearing. The amount of leg I was showing was really rather indecent. Not to mention that the tie in the back of the gown left a good portion of my back uncovered. I think I gained a few secret admirers when I passed by that group of third year boys. Oops.


 

                I also turned quite a few when I walked into the Ravenclaw Tower. Unfortunately for me, classes were over for the day, and it was too early for dinner, so the majority of the students were around. I drew quite a few wolf whistles. Needless to say, I shot them all the bird.

 
 

                My luck did take a bit of a turn for the better though, when I went up to my dormitory. Rhiannon was the only one in the room. She raised an eyebrow at my attire, but said nothing while I dug for a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt to change into. I paused when I saw the corner of a red t-shirt and pulled it out.


 

                It was James’s shirt. The one he let me borrow when I spent the night in his room. It was only a couple weeks ago, but it felt so much longer. I stared at the back of the shirt, where “Potter” was emblazoned across the back. A familiar pain twisted in my stomach and I set the shirt aside. I missed him.


 

                I walked to the bathroom to change. I stared at myself in the mirror. I was feeling better, I really was. Well, physically anyway. There were still dark circles under my eyes, but they weren’t as prominent and my skin looked less sallow. But it still seemed like I was ill. And maybe I was.


 

                I started when a gentle tapping sounded on the door. It was Rhiannon. “Are you okay, Val?”


 

                I quickly splashed some water on my face before opening the door and walking out. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.”


 

                “I take it Madam Corner let you leave the Hospital Wing,” Rhiannon said, taking note of the hospital gown I held loosely.


 

                “Eh, kind of?” I said hesitantly. “Actually, no not at all.”


 

                She gave me a suspicious look. “What does that mean?”


 

                “It means that I may or may not have walked out of there without her permission or knowledge,” I hedged.


 

                “Val,” Rhiannon sighed in exasperation. “You can’t just leave.”


 

                “You don’t understand,” I said, recalling my previous irritation while I was talking to stupid Andrea Carlson, “a therapist was trying to talk to me. That has got to be the most useless job in the world. Therapy didn’t help the first time, why would it help now?”


 

                “You had therapy before?” Rhiannon asked. Whoops. Maybe I should watch what I say instead of just ranting.


 

                “Yeah,” I admitted. “Uh… after, um, my sister died, I sort of… stopped eating. And I was hospitalized and had to see a therapist for a little while. It was seriously the most useless thing in the world. I snapped myself out of it on my own. And since then, things were fine.”


 

                Rhiannon shook her head slowly. “No, Val, things weren’t fine. They’ve never been fine for you, not as long as I’ve known you. You hid it well, it took me two years to see it. And most people seem to think I’m pretty observant.”


 

                “Maybe I should consider a career in acting,” I said sardonically. Then I paused. “Wait. What do you mean it took you two years to see it?”


 

                “You and James are so alike,” she said, half to herself. “I mean that I figured out that you were pretending to be happy a long time ago. I didn’t know why at the time, but I also knew that if you’d wanted me to know, you would’ve told me.”


 

                Well. I really didn’t expect this one. “You’ve known…” I said slowly, trying to wrap my mind around this. “You’ve known nearly the whole time. You noticed. How… how did you know?”


 

                “It’s not that hard to see, if you know what you’re looking for,” Rhiannon said gently. “I had always wished I could help you, but I knew I wasn’t the right person. I hope you can forgive me for that.”


 

                “Uh, yeah, I guess,” I told her, still struggling to get a grasp on what she was saying. “I just… wow.”


 

                “Val, are you happy?” Rhiannon asked seriously.


 

                I looked at her disbelievingly. “Oh sure. I’m just dandy. Couldn’t be more cheerful, really.”


 

                “So what are you going to do about that?” she questioned next.
 

                “I – what? What are you doing? Why are you asking me all these questions?” Why is it that these days whenever I’m not wallowing in self-pity, I’m utterly confused?


 

                “I’m trying to help you,” she responded simply.


 

                I stared at her. “If you want to help me, why have you been avoiding me and treating me like a pariah like everyone else in this entire bloody school?”


 

                “Because I don’t want to be your next replacement,” Rhiannon said firmly.


 

                “What does that even mean?”


 

                She shook her head. “I’m not telling you. That’s the whole point. You need to figure things out for yourself. You need to fix things yourself. You need to do things for yourself. You, Val, need to be you.”


 

                “I wasn’t aware I could be anyone else,” I replied, nonplussed.


 

                “Then I suppose that’s something else you’ll have to figure out, too,” Rhiannon said with a slight smile. I wonder if she’s being irritation on purpose.


 

                “I don’t know how to do that,” I said in a small voice.


 

                “Think about everything that’s wrong with your life right now,” she began. “Think about everything that is making you unhappy and the things you don’t like. Then figure out which ones you can actually fix. And not just the ones that would be easy to fix. The hard ones too. The ones that you’re afraid to do. Those are those the most important ones.”

 
 

                I laughed harshly. “I don’t even know where to begin with all that.”


 

                Rhiannon shrugged. “Sometimes it’s easiest to start at the beginning.”


 

                I thought for a moment. Ever since I became friends with James, things had been improving for me. But now I worse than ever. Where had everything started to backslide?


 

                It wasn’t a hard question. I knew the exact point in time when I started eating less, sleeping worse, and worrying about everything. And so, with a small smile for Rhiannon, I left the room. For the second time that year, I was off to talk to Professor McGonagall to ask for a favor.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN

 
 

New chapter! It’s not quite as depressing as the last two… it’s not exactly happy, but it’s not so horribly sad that all I want to do is eat ice cream and cry about the mid-season finale of Doctor Who. So it could be worse. Right?

 
 

If all you beautiful, wonderful people would be so kind as to leave a review, I promise to be your best friend forever! And all my friends receive free kittens. True story. (Okay no, that’s a lie). So let me know what you think! 


Chapter 24: Shake It Out
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                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:

                Tina!

                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!

                -Joy

                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.”
 
                “But –“

                “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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AN

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!


Chapter 25: Happy
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                I had the strangest feeling gnawing at me as I walked through the deserted corridors of Hogwarts on the night of my return after my weekend at home. My time in Ireland had rushed by so quickly that I was having difficulty adjusting. I had gone through something entirely momentous in my life, but it seemed so trivial. In a way, it was like nothing had happened at all. I hadn’t had some great revelation or gone through this huge emotional upheaval. I had struggled, certainly, but compared to some of the other experience I’ve had this year, finally coming to terms with Joy’s death seemed almost… easy.


 

                Maybe I had made it out to be harder than I thought. All these years, I’ve been clutching onto the idea that there was no possible way for me to get over the loss. But here I was, feeling at peace with the world for the first time in a long time. I reached up to touch Joy’s locket. And I smiled a real smile.
 

                I was so lost in thought that when I rounded a corner, I collided right into a hard chest. Stumbling back slightly, I found myself looking at Teddy. He glanced at me and muttered, “Sorry.” 
 

                My heart sank slightly and my smile faded as he made to continue past me. I’d nearly forgotten that it was the entire Weasley/Potter family that was feeling a bit antagonistic towards me. I had more work ahead of me than I’d anticipated. But then Ted stopped and looked at me again with a slight frown.


 

                “You look different,” he told me, seeming a bit puzzled.

  
 

                My smile found its way back onto my face. “I feel different.”
 

                “I mean, you look the same,” he said. “But also different. There’s just something…” 
 

                “Different?” I finished, amused. “I went home this weekend. I talked to my parents and did a lot of… healing, you could say.”


 

                Teddy scrutinized my face for a moment. “You look happy.”


 

                “I am happy. Because I’m moving on, Ted. And I’m letting go.” The words felt good to say. Happy. I’d forgotten what that felt like.
 

                “Merlin,” Teddy breathed. “You’re happy.” He hugged me very suddenly. “You’re happy!”


 

                I laughed. “I’m happy! Or at least, I will be soon.”


 

                He let go of me. “Soon?”


 

                “There are some people I need to talk to,” I said determinedly and with more confidence than I’d had in ages. “A messy-haired, hazel-eyed person in particular.”


 

                Teddy grinned brightly and hugged me again, picking me up. “I’m so proud of you! I don’t know what you did this weekend, but I’m glad you did it! Because let’s face it, the entire family has been miserable without you. I don’t know how you managed to become so important to all of us, but you did. That messy-haired, hazel-eyed person most especially.”

 
 

                I laughed again. “Blame Victoire. She was the one who became friends with my sister and consequently began to assimilate the entire family to me.”


 

                “You’ll have to let her know it’s all her fault this weekend,” Ted replied, setting me back down the three inches he’d lifted me off the ground.


 

                “What’s this weekend?”
 

                Teddy stared at me incredulously. “What’s this weekend?” he repeated. “Toire would kill you if she’d heard you say that. The wedding? You know, the one you’re a bridesmaid in? Is this ringing any bells?”


 

                I blinked. “Is it really that soon? Oh my God, where did the time go?”


 

                Teddy shrugged. “Not sure. Just make sure you don’t forget now, eh? Vic will never forgive you if you miss the wedding. Anyways, I need to be going, but it was good to talk to you. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you smile. See you, Val.”


 

                “Bye, Ted,” I said and we both continued on our separate ways.


 

                Right then. That’s one Weasley/Potter down – well, technically Teddy’s a Lupin –  and only about one hundred more to go. I felt fairly confident that I could get most of them to come around. There was really only one person I was worried about. And he, of course, was the most important one by far. Such is life, I guess. 
 

                Fate once again decided to throw exactly one of the people I was looking for at me, because when I was about to reach the entrance to Ravenclaw Tower, Fred walked out, probably having just been visiting Rhiannon. He nodded to me in acknowledgement, wearing that same inscrutable look he’d had for the last few weeks, though it was tinged with a bit of curiosity. I stopped him before he could walk away.

 
 

                “Hold up, Fred, I want to talk to you,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder.

 
 

                “Hey, Val,” he said carefully. “How are you?”
 

                I hugged him suddenly. He clearly wasn’t expecting it because he began to splutter in surprise. “Merlin, woman! I, bloody hell, I just asked you a polite question! There’s no need to get all touchy-feely. What are you – I don’t – why are you hugging me?”


 

                “You’re a good friend,” I told him. “I want to let you know that I value you and your friendship and I won’t ever take it for granted. And I’m very glad you and Rhiannon are dating, you two make a lovely, albeit unexpected, couple. And I’m sorry I’ve been such a bitch but I just went home and figured out my life, so now I’m going to apologize to everyone because you all mean so much to me and I just want us all to be friends because you all make me so happy and I just figured out how to be happy and I know that I can be happy even without all of you, but I don’t want to be happy without all of you, so please start talking to me again.”


 

                Fred just stared at me, wide-eyed. “Who gave you drugs?”


 

                I laughed. “No one. I just… did you listen anything I just said? I’m sorry for everything that’s happened Fred, and I promise that I’m going to fix things. But I miss you, so will you please start talking to me again instead of just always watching me with that weird look on you face?”

 
 

                “You look happy,” he said dumbly. Really, Fred? That’s all you have to say?


 

                “I am happy,” I replied. Teddy may not be blood related to Fred, but they certainly are alike.


 

                “You’re happy!” he exclaimed, and this time he was the one who hugged me. Okay then. Apparently people think that me being happy is a reason to hug me. All right. 
 

                Fred sobered up after a moment. He looked at me seriously. “How do you feel about James?”


 

                “What do you mean?” I said evasively, looking away. I have to say, that isn’t something I’d ever expect to talk about with Fred. It’s especially awkward when you stop to think about the fact that he is both James’s cousin and my ex-boyfriend.

 
 

                “Oh no, no, no, no, no,” Fred said. “Don’t you get all coy and clueless now. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Look, Val, I’m happy to see you happy and everything and I was never mad at you, I was avoiding you for the same reason Rhiannon was. But no matter how old we get and despite the fact that he’s only a year younger than me, I’ll always see James as my little cousin. And you’ve broken his heart. You said you were going to apologize to everyone and fix things. Is James included in this?”


 

                I bit my lip. “He’s the number priority. And he’s the one I’m most worried about. But I’m not… I’m not scared anymore. Well, I am scared, but for a different reason.”


 

                He stared at me for a moment. “I’m a bloke. I’m rubbish when it comes to feelings. So I’ll let you talk to Rhiannon about all the emotional tosh and whatnot. But it’s good to see you smile like that, Val. And just… talk to James.”


 

                “Thanks Fred,” I said, and he patted my on the shoulder slightly awkwardly before he left.


 

                I walked into the Ravenclaw Common Room and glanced around quickly. When I didn’t spot Rhiannon, I headed up the staircase to the girls dormitories. With a bounce in my step, I pushed open the door to my room, calling, “Rhiannon you beautiful human being, where are you? You are the most wonderful, intelligent, fabul – oh. Hi.” 
 

                I stopped abruptly when I saw Rhiannon sitting with Lessie and Jessamy, all three of them staring at me curiously. I waved uncomfortably. I’d decided to give up on being mad at Lessie. Yes, what she did was wrong and terrible and she had absolutely no right, but… it’s just not worth the energy. Besides, life’s too short to hold grudges.
 

                “How are you all?” I said, trying to cover up the painful silence. “Uh… have a good weekend?”


 

                Rhiannon raised her eyebrow and gave me a knowing look and Jess looked at me apologetically. She clearly was feeling guilty about everything that had happened. She’s never been good with confrontation. But Lessie was staring down at her lap, where she was twisting her fingers.


 

                “What’d you do, Val?” Rhiannon asked me, gray eyes twinkling. Clearly she could see the apparently noticeable change in my demeanor that both Teddy and Fred had been able to pick up. And let’s face it, if it’s something that Fred notices it’s going to be pretty obvious.

 
 

                I smiled – I’ve been doing that a lot – at her. “I fixed myself. Just like you told me to.”


 

                “And do you understand everything I had been talking about?” she asked.


 

                I thought back to the seemingly cryptic comments she’d made before I went home, the ones I hadn’t been able to figure out. About how I could be happy if I wanted and how she didn’t want to be my next replacement, the person I depend on for happiness instead of creating it on my own.
 

                “I do,” I nodded. “You gave me the push that I needed to take care of it all. So thank you.”


 

                I had really wanted to talk to Rhiannon about everything that had happened, but it felt too weird to talk about it in front of Lessie. I had given up being mad, yes, but that didn’t mean that things were okay between us. And while I knew that I had to talk to James and the rest of his family, I wasn’t sure it was my job to fix things between Lessie and I. But I was going to do it anyways. Like I said, life is too short.


 

                “Lessie,” I said in a low voice. She looked up, apprehension shining in her eyes. “I’m sorry about everything that happened. I felt that it was my right to keep those very personal parts of my life to myself, but I’m sorry that doing so hurt you. That was never my intention. Despite the fact that I was hiding behind a façade for these past years, I did genuinely care about you. I know things aren’t going to be like they used to, and honestly I don’t want them to be, but I would like it if we could be civil to each other, at the very least.”
 

                Lessie nodded slowly. Then, without warning, tears filled her eyes and she burst into tears before jumping off the bed and into my arms. I held her in surprise – seriously, what is with all these people hugging me – and patted her back, holding back my confusion.
 

                “I’m so sorry,” she wailed. “I was so awful to you. I was mean and heartless and I totally invaded your privacy and I was wrong and I’m just so sorry! Please forgive me, please! I promise I’ll never do it again!”


 

                “Uh, it’s okay, Less,” I told her hesitantly. I don’t like people crying on me. “I’m not mad about it anymore.

 
 

                She sniffed, looking up at me with watery green eyes. “You’re, like, the best person in the world, you know that?”


 

                “Nah, I’m not,” I contradicted. Not even close. “But thank you anyways.”


 

                The four of us then all sad down on Rhiannon’s bed and I told them about my weekend. I felt warm inside as I took in the proud expression Rhiannon was wearing and the way Lessie and Jessamy were listening closely to me. I think that I’ve finally found a proper friend in Rhiannon. She’s someone I feel close to and believe I can tell anything to, but I don’t blindly depend on her. And though I may not truly be friends with Lessie and Jess right now, I think that, over time, there is potential for that to change. And that’s perfectly all right with me.
 

***


 

                Down in the library, I was scanning the tables for a head of messy black hair. I had been back for two days now and had sought out the majority of the Weasley family and bridged the distance between us. Things were going really well for me at the moment, but there were still a few people that I needed to talk to, one in particular. I finally spotted the hair I was looking for, but unfortunately it was attached to the wrong head. 
 

                Al was sitting over near the Charms section with Rose and another boy from their year – I think his name was Brendon Waters. I may have been searching for James, but I still needed to talk to Al. Besides James, I think he was the angriest at me. I guess it’s time to set things straight with him.
 

                I walked over to where the fifth years were sitting and dropped into the vacant seat. They all looked up at me. Rose smiled, Brendon looked puzzled, but Al just stared. He’d probably heard from his cousins what had happened. I glanced down at the essay he was writing.


 

                “You used the wrong form of 'your.’” I told him, catching the error out of the corner of my eye.
 

                Al raised an eyebrow. “Uh, thanks. You know you were only my Defense tutor, not grammar.”
 

                “My boundless intelligence encompasses a wide variety of subjects,” I replied dryly with a shrug. “I feel I should pass on all aspects of my expert knowledge.”


 

                Al snorted. “You know, most people would just sound conceited saying that, but you’re so self-depreciating that it’s practically a joke.”

 
 

                “It actually was a joke,” I corrected. “You need to practice detecting sarcasm. I can tutor you in that, too, if you’d like.”


 

               “You need it,” Rose threw in, smirking at Al. He rolled his eyes at her.


 

                I turned to Brendon. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Val Sullivan, it’s nice to meet you.” I offered him a hand to shake, which he took tentatively.

 
 

                “Yeah, I know,” he said slowly. “I think everyone in the whole school knows who you are. You’ve got quite the reputation.”
 

                I winced. “I’m sure I do.”


 

                “Oh, no no!” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean that as a bad thing. I mean, you’re a prefect, Ravenclaw Quidditch captain and star Chaser, and well, you’re really tall for a girl. So you’re pretty hard to miss.”


 

                I raised an eyebrow in amusement at him. I think I might like this kid. “Thanks. It’s nice of you to point out only my fairly good, non-offensive traits and identifiers. Your tact is admirable.”


 

                “Er, your welcome?” It was more like a question than a statement. “Or… thank you? I don’t know how to respond to that.”


 

                “Don’t worry about it.” I clapped him on the shoulder. “But I would like it if you could do me a favor. You too, Rosie.”


 

                “What do you need?” Rose asked, though she looked like she’d already guessed what it was.
 

                “I’d like to talk to Al for a moment, if the two of you wouldn’t mind me stealing him from you. And if you’re okay with it as well, Al.” I nodded at him.

 
 

                He watched me for a moment before acceding. “Yeah, that’s fine.”


 

                Al and I both got up and moved to a different, empty table, leaving Rose and Brendon to continue working on their Charms. We sat down opposite each other and I looked at Al, feeling slightly baffled. He was neither being antagonistic, nor friendly. He just looked like he was… waiting for something.


 

                “Look, I know I messed up,” I began, but Al held up a hand to cut me off. I waited tensely for him to speak.
 

                “You don’t have to tell me about it,” he said. “I’ve heard already, from Rose, from Roxy, from Fred, from Molly, hell, from half of my family. And I’m glad you’re going around to all of us, I am. We’ve all really missed you and it really wasn’t easy to be mad at you, especially when Fred heard from Rhiannon that you were in the Hospital Wing. But you know, there’s really only one person you should be explaining yourself to, and it certainly isn’t me.”


 

                “I know,” I told him earnestly. “I’m going to, I am. I guess you could say I’m just… working my way up to James. No offence, but he’s the one that really matters. Which is what makes it kind of scary.”


 

                Al smiled at me then. “And why is it that you’re scared?”


 

                You know, he and Rhiannon are kind of alike. That’s definitely something she would’ve asked me. Luckily, I knew the answer to that one. “I’m scared because I love him and I’m afraid that after what I did and said, he won’t feel the same way anymore.”
 

                Al’s grin stretched even further so that he was practically beaming at me. “Just tell him that and everything will be okay. It’s good to have you back, Val.”
 

                I reached out and took his hand. “I missed you, kiddo. I need my Ally-wally in my life.”


 

                “I could do without the nicknames, though,” he laughed. “Either way, it’s good to see you smile like that. It’s not something I’ve seen before.”
 

                I shook my head. “Everyone feels compelled to point it out. Even Professor Longbottom commented on it in Herbology.”

 
 

                “It suits you,” he shrugged. Then something seemed to catch his eye over my shoulder. I turned to see what he was looking at.


 

                James was looking through a bookshelf that was mere feet from where Al and I were sitting. He didn’t seem to have noticed us. But when he turned around his eyes fell on me immediately. He stood perfectly still and his eyes flashed down to where I was still holding Al’s hand. I felt the smile fade from my face.
 

                James’s eyes met mine and we stared at each other for a silent moment. His jaw clenched. “Hi, James,” I breathed.


 

                He inspected me warily. He must have found something in my face that upset him because his hands curled into fists and something seemed to shatter in him. Then he turned and stalked away.

 
 

                Bitterness flooded my veins. That really wasn’t very reassuring. I glanced at Al. “What was that you said about everything being okay?”


 

***


 

                Dear Val,


 

                I’m so glad I got your letter. I’ve really missed talking to you, sis. Since you told me you never read the letter I sent you (hurtful. Tsk tsk.) I’ll just relay the main message: I’m sorry.


 

                I feel like I kind of failed you as a brother. I knew that you’d been struggling, but I didn’t do anything to help you. Yeah, you might have told me you didn’t want me to, but I should have anyways. And for that I really must apologize.


 

                However, hearing about what you’ve done to turn your life around makes me so proud. You’re a truly remarkable person, Val, and I’m proud to say I’m related to you. I love you, sis, and I’ll see you at Teddy and Victoire’s wedding. Miss you.


 

                Love, 
 

                David


 

                I smiled as I read the letter. It had come a little bit late – today was the day of the wedding. I was currently at the church where the wedding would take place, getting ready with the rest of the bridal party. My hair had been curled and partially pulled back. The dress that we had all eventually decided on was really quite lovely. It was strapless and formfitting to the top of the thighs, from there flowing gently to the floor. A large bow accented the waist. It was a deep teal blue – the only color that Victorie deemed suitable for her wedding that also worked as a color for all the bridesmaids. It wasn’t easy to find a good color, as we were a rather diverse group, with brunettes, redheads, and blondes alike.

 
 

                Joy’s locket was nestled just under my collarbone. It had been a bit of an issue with Vic at first, considering it was gold and the accent color for the wedding was silver. But she’d consented to overlook my faux pas seeing as the necklace was rather special to me. It’s odd to think that I’d only been wearing it for a week.



 

                I was standing a bit apart from the rest of the bridesmaids and Victorie, looking in the mirror, David’s letter loosely grasped in my hand. It seems odd, but I think I can see what Teddy and Fred and everyone else had been talking about. I do look different. It’s a subtle thing, but still noticeable. There just seemed to be more life in me. My white skin looked healthy and there was a sparkle in my eyes that hadn’t been there before.

 
 

                I saw Hope come up behind me in the mirror. “You look beautiful,” she told me.
 

                “Thanks. You too.”


 

                “I’m really sorry about everything,” she said, keeping her voice low so the other girls couldn’t overhear.


 

                I took a step back and leaned against Hope. She rested her head on my shoulder. “Yeah, me too.”


 

                I may have lost one of my sisters, but I think it’s about time I really start to appreciate the one I have. Before, I’d only ever seen a resemblance between me and Joy, and then a resemblance between Joy and the rest of the family. I myself didn’t really look like the rest of them. But as I stared in the mirror, I saw that I was wrong. Hope and I had the same nose and the same cast to our eyes. I’m sure if I looked longer, I’d find even more similarities. The same goes for the rest of my family.

 
 

                There was a knock on the door, and poked his head in. “Girls? It’s time.”


 

***


 

                The wedding was beautiful – extraordinarily so. All of Victoire’s stressing and freak out moments had paid off. The church was lavishly decorated, but entirely tasteful. Everything had come together perfectly.


 

                James and I still weren’t talking. Throughout the week, I’d tried to approach him, but he’d avoided me. He never gave me a chance to apologize to him, brushing off my every attempt.

 
 

                Everything else in my life had straightened out. I had reconciled with my family and sorted things out with my Ravenclaw friends. The Weasley/Potter family was being exceptionally wonderful. And I had finally confronted my past and learned how to deal with Joy’s death, six and a half years later. But despite the fact that for once I was actually trying to be happy, it still wasn’t quite right. Because there was one thing left for me to do.
 

                Everything had felt so awkward during the wedding. When we walked down the aisle together, James’s arm had been rigid, unrelenting. His smile was forced. It wasn’t an obvious thing, but I could see it. I knew James.
 

                I stared at him through the whole service, silently begging him to look at me. He didn’t. He kept his eyes fixed on the floor. I doubt he was really paying attention to the wedding. I know I wasn’t.
 

                James was unhappy. It was upsettingly obvious. I knew that I was the only person that could make it better, as conceited as that may sound. I had caused the problem, therefore it was my job to fix it. I just couldn’t seem to figure out how.
 

                The wedding flowed into the reception flawlessly. I sat at the high table with the rest of the wedding party during the meal. I picked at my food restlessly. Glancing around, I saw Fred waving at Rhiannon, who sat with George and Angelina. I saw Professor McGonagall chatting with Harry, who was holding hands with Ginny. And then, just a few seats down from me, I saw the couple of the moment. Victoire was playfully feeding Teddy bits of food off her plate, laughing, while Ted stared at her adoringly. They were so in love it almost hurt to watch, but entirely adorable at the same time. I looked away.


 

                I wanted that. I wanted to be so in love with someone who felt the same way that people couldn’t help but smile when they saw us. I wanted to have someone to go to when I was happy, sad, angry, or any other emotion. I wanted someone who would always be there for me and for whom I could do the same. I wanted it all.

 
 

                And the sad thing is that I’d nearly had it. The loving look in Teddy’s eyes as he gazed at Toire was familiar – I’d seen James looking at me in the same way. I just hadn’t realized it at the time. But after our stupid fight, he stopped looking at me altogether, except for the one time I caught him staring in the library. And that hurt more than I’d ever thought it would.
 

                Once the dinner ended, Ted and Vic took to the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife. Halfway through, the wedding party joined in. I felt a twisting, stabbing sensation in my stomach as James unwillingly took my hand in his, the other at my waist, mine on his shoulder. He kept his gaze fixed over the top of my head, still refusing to meet my eyes.


 

                “James,” I said softly. I saw him flinch almost imperceptibly, so I continued. “Please talk to me. Please.”
 

                “I have nothing to say,” he muttered.


                 “Don’t be like this,” I pleaded. “I need to talk to you.”

 

                He stiffened. “You’ve already told me all I need to hear. Look, just… dance, okay? That’s all we’re required to do.”


 

                I lapsed into silence, trying not to feel hurt. This was my fault. I had been such a daft idiot. Everyone else had seen how James felt about me, but I was too far gone in denial to accept it. I had been afraid.


 

                When the song ended, James let go of me, quickly taking a step back. He nodded at me once before walking away. As I watched his retreating back with a sense of déjà vu, I expected to feel another stab of rejection and pain. But I didn’t. Instead, I felt a swelling of courage and determination. I wasn’t giving this up without a fight.

 
 

                As a new song started up, I pushed through the people joining in on the dance floor to where James had gone. He had swiftly made his way off to the side, grabbing a flute of champagne from a passing server. He didn’t see me approach.


 

                “Put that down and come dance with me,” I said, pulling the champagne from his grasp. He looked at me in surprise.


 

                “I thought we already went over this,” he mumbled irritably, running a hand through his jet black hair.


 

                I shook my head stubbornly, grabbing his hand and pulling him back onto the dance floor. “Too bad. I don’t care what you said. Right now I am going to talk and you are going to listen.”


 

                James raised his eyebrows, but obliged, placing his hands on my waist as my arms slid around his neck. Our dance was much less formal that it had been previously. We were both silent for a moment as I collected my thoughts.


 

                “I’m sorry,” I began. James snorted and I glared at him. “Are you going to keep on being an arse or are you actually going to listen to me?”


 

                 He looked at me incredulously. “Are you being serious right now? You started all this. Trust me, this is nothing compared to how you treated me.”
 

                “I’m trying to apologize for that!” I shot back. “God, do you have any idea how absolutely awful I felt, and still feel, for saying that stuff to you? I’ve wanted to take it back this whole time, but with you acting like a right prat, I’m not sure I want to!”


 

                That was a lie, but I decided to just go with it. My voice had risen, attracting the attention of the people near us. I inhaled deeply before I said, in a much softer tone, “Please. You’re not you when you do this. You’re not my James.”

 
 

                “I don’t think you have the right to call me your James anymore.”


 

                “But I’d like to,” I whispered, not quite meeting his eyes. His hold on my waist tightened slightly, and not in an unpleasant way. Rather, I felt tingles spreading though me from the contact. When I chanced a glance at James, I saw the hard look on his face had softened. Taking this as a sign of encouragement, I continued.


 

                “James, I am so sorry. I never should have gone off on you like that. It was just… everything about Christmas just… caught up with me. And I snapped. Again. I didn’t want to talk to my family, I didn’t want to talk to Lessie, I didn’t want to deal with the fact that things were changing between us. So it was you I started shouting at. But those words I said… believe me, if I could take them back, I would. Please, please don’t hate me. You are easily the most important person in my life and when I see the hurt in your eyes, knowing I put it there… I feel sick.”

 
 

                James nodded his head slowly. “You know, I was out of line as well, at the end. I didn’t have to say some of the things I did.”


 

                “But I needed to hear them,” I insisted. “Listen, James. I hate what I said to you, but I wouldn’t change the aftermath of it at all.”

 
 

                “Why?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. 
 

                “Because I was taught the best lesson I think I’ll ever learn in life,” I said simply


 

                I thought back over those days following my fallout with James. They were miserable and awful, but then I was able to change. I figured out a lot of things about myself. And I did so much. It’s amazing.”

 
 

                A slight smile was creeping onto James’s face, though he tried not to let it show. “What happened?”
 

                “I found Faith,” I said with a rueful smile. “It was you who once said that if I couldn’t be Tina and I didn’t want to be Val, then I had to find Faith. And I did.”


 

                “You see, James, I learned a lot important things. After Joy died, I gave up. I didn’t see any reason to be happy, so I wasn’t. My happiness was purely dependent on Joy. But then you came along.” I paused, looking at him.


 

                “James, you changed everything for me. I was so… resigned to the fact that I would forever be miserable. But you were the flaw in my plan. You gave me a reason to be happy again. With you, everything seemed to brighter, better. You were my savior, James.”
 

                As I continued to look at James, his beautiful hazel eyes seemed to grow watery. I tightened my hold around his neck before surging on. “I wouldn’t trade those months for anything. You showed me how to smile again. But James, I never could have kept that up. Because once again, my happiness was based solely on one person.”
 

                “When you walked away from me after our fight,” I said, my voice growing choked, “it was like losing Joy all over again. I had once again lost who I was. Because I need you too much.”


 

                “I never wanted that,” James whispered hoarsely. “I wanted you to be happy, but I wanted you to be happy for yourself, not for me.”


 

                “I’m not blaming you,” I said quickly. “James, you were the best thing to ever happen to me. But I was emotionally deficient. It was my issues that caused the problems.”

 
 

                He tried to argue with me, but I interrupted. “It’s true. I’ve always said that I’m a mess, but I never knew just how bad it was. And after talking to Rhiannon, I decided that I didn’t want to be like that anymore. I went home. I talked to my parents and wrote to my brother and sister. We talked about everything. And… we’re okay now.”


 

                “That’s great, Val” James said quietly.


 

                I smiled. “For the first time, I feel okay about Joy’s death. I’ve made up with my family and my friends. But most importantly I’ve learned that happiness is a choice. Bad things happen to everyone. It’s up to you to look past them and find things to be happy about. And I’ve finally done.”
 

                “I’m really glad,” James said, that same sad, strange little smile on his face.


 

                “I went home,” I repeated. “For the first time since Joy died, I spent the night in my bed. I looked at the old pictures and went through her old clothes. I finally opened the present she meant to give me on our birthday.”


 

                James gestured at the locket that was around my neck. “Is that it? It’s beautiful.”


 

                 I nodded. “Yeah. It makes me feel a bit silly when I think that I could have been wearing it all this time. I’m okay with that, though. I’ve taught myself how to be strong.” 
 

                “I can see that,” James replied, the sadness now reaching his eyes. Why was he sad? “You’re strong, confident, and capable. And you did all that without me. I know what you’re going to say to me, Val. You don’t need me anymore. Let’s face it, you never really needed me. You always had this potential. In fact, you’re really better off without me.”


 

                I felt my heart sink. What? What was he saying? Shock and disbelief spread through me, along with hurt. James continued to talk, breaking my heart a little more with each word.


 

                “You said that you regretted what you told me in our argument, that you wish you could take them back – but you never said they weren’t true. I get it, Val. You don’t… feel the same way I do. You don’t love me. And I’m okay with that. Or at least, I’m trying to be. You don’t have to let me down easy. I understand.”


 

                I gaped at him. He though I was trying to be nice about rejecting him? The idea was so ludicrous that I almost laughed. But James stepped away, breaking our dance and waved feebly. “I’ll see you around, I guess.”


 

                With that, he turned to leave. I blinked once, not quite able to process what was happening. But then I snapped into action. I’d had enough of watching James walk away from me. There was no way in hell I was letting it happen again.


 

                I put my hand on his shoulder and James twisted his torso to look back at me. I saw my opportunity immediately. “You don’t know a goddamn thing, you stupid, stupid boy,” I told him.


 

                I snaked my arm over his shoulder and took hold of his silver tie. Then I jerked his body around so that he was facing me once more and I pulled his head down to mine. And I kissed him.


 

                I placed my other hand on the back of his neck to hold him there, moving my lips against his softly. James froze for a fraction of a second before I felt him smile against my mouth. Then he wrapped him arms around my waist and pulled me against him tightly.


 

                There is no way to describe the feelings that coursed through me as James gently caught my lower lip between his teeth. I’ve heard that when you kiss that one perfect person, your heart will race, fireworks will explode, heat will spark between you two and a million other clichés. But as we deepened the kiss, I knew none of those descriptions could even come close to the reality.


 

                The rest of the world faded into the background and all I could think was that in that moment, as I kissed James with every bit of passion I had, I finally understood how it truly feels to be happy. Not because I was dependent on James for happiness or that I was foolishly needy, like I had been in the past. I was happy because I had finally accepted love. And think that right then, when I kissed James and chose to be happy, Joy was watching me. And she was happy, too.

 
 

                James and I broke apart when we heard the sound of applause. We looked around to see Fred, Al, Rose, Rhiannon, George, and Ginny all clapping and cheering at us. Fred and George wolf-whistled simultaneously. A few of the other wedding guests looked over in curiosity. Hope winked at me.
 

                I turned back to James, who was starting to turn red. “Merlin, my family is so embarrassing,” he muttered.
 

                I laughed loudly, drawing even more looks. I cupped James flushed cheek in my hand and smiled at him. “In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not trying to let you down easy. The only reason I hadn’t yet told you that what I said in our fight wasn’t true was because I was afraid you were still mad and would be the one to reject me. But I’m going to go ahead and assume that isn’t true. And that means there’s only one thing left to be said.”
 

                I ran my fingers through his messy hair, rejoicing at what I was about to say. “I love you.”
 

                James leaned his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to hear you say that.”


 

                “I love you,” I told him again, and he grinned.


 

                “I know.”


 

                “Shut up!” I exclaimed excitedly. “You did not just pull a Han Solo on me! You really are perfect for me, James Potter.”


 

                He threw his head back and laughed, picking my up off the ground and twirling me around. “You really are the most amazing girl I’ve ever met, Val Sullivan.”


 

                I rested my head against his shoulder in contentment. Things had finally – finally – fallen into place for me. There was just one thing nagging at my mind slightly because of James’s last sentence.

 
 

                “You know, I’ve been thinking,” I said contemplatively, “maybe Faith isn’t such a bad name after all.”
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

AN


 

And there we have it. That, my wonderful readers, is the conclusion to this story. There will be one more chapter, an epilogue, but this is technically the end of it all.

 
 

It’s a bit cliché, I’ll admit, but I’m really happy with how this all ended. Everything’s come full circle. The first sentence is something along the lines of Val not liking her name. And even the chapter titles coincide, being “Joy” and “Happy.” And the funny part is that was entirely coincidental, something I thought about long after I named this chapter.

 
 

I’d like to thank you all for reading, you’ve been wonderful. I’ll post a longer thank you on the epilogue, as well as details for what I’m planning on doing next. I’d love it if you would all let me know what you thought in a review. Until then, stay beautiful.


Also, Han Solo is a character from Star Wars and I therefore do not own him. But I'd like to. And the "I love you. "I know." bit is from Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas owns it - or he did. Now it's all been sold to Disney.


Chapter 26: Epilogue
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                “Here’s the last box,” James said, setting it down on the floor of my new flat. We’d finished our final year of Hogwarts three months previously and I’d finally saved enough money to feel comfortable about moving out of my parents’ house and living on my own.


 

                James and I had started dating after Teddy and Victoire’s wedding. We’d stayed together all throughout the remainder of our sixth year and our seventh year as well. He had already moved out of his parents’ house and was living in a flat not too far from mine. His flat, however, was in Wizarding London. Mine was in Muggle London, something that seemed to baffle James.


 

                “I don’t know why you decided to move to a place where you can’t openly use magic,” James said, flopping down onto my sofa. “But you’re all moved in: Muggle style.”


 

                I flicked him on the back of the head. “You shouldn’t be so dependent on magic, James. Doing things manually isn’t going to kill you and it should give you a newfound respect for how Muggles do things.”


 

                “Now you sound just like Aunt Hermione,” he told me.

 
 

                “Thank you,” I replied. “Hermione is a very hard-working, intelligent woman. I think all people should strive to emulate her.”


 

                James chuckled. “You would turn that into a compliment.”

 
 

                “Are you implying that being compared to your aunt would be an insult? For shame, James. Oh, she is going to be so upset when I tell her.” I shook my head feigned disapproval.


 

                “Are you threatening me?” James asked, getting back on his feet and sliding his arms around my waist.


 

                I leaned in closer to him. “Maybe I am. Does it bother you?”

 
 

                “It’s kind of hot, actually,” he said.


 

                I wound my arms around his neck, my fingers lightly ruffling the hairs on the nape of his neck. James tilted his head down, his nose nudging mine gently. Smiling slightly, I kissed James softly for a brief moment. When his lips tried to follow mine when I pulled away, I smirked and took a step back, breaking out of his hold.

 
 

                “I still need to unpack,” I reminded him feeling smug when he groaned in frustration. If it were up to James, we’d probably just spend the entire day snogging. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But id o have other responsibilities to take care of, unfortunately.


 

                “You’re killing me, woman,” James complained. “We’re inside your flat now. Surely we can just do this part with magic.”


 

                “Doing things the Muggle way builds character.” I handed him a box. “Will you stop whining if I let you put away my bras and knickers? That should be all kinds of fun for you.”


 

                “I resent the fact that you think that unpacking your, er, undergarments would be exciting for me,” James said, trying to look indignant. It wasn’t working.


 

                I raised an eyebrow. “James. You’re an eighteen year old boy and I’m your girlfriend. At the very least, you’d be curious to see what it is I’ve been hiding underneath my clothes. And that’s the best case scenario.”


 

                “Yeah, well, when I imagine that, it’s not your knickers that I’m interested in,” James muttered.

 
 

                I smacked him on the shoulder lightly. “You’re such a prat,” I laughed.


 

                He rolled his eyes. “You’re the one who just pointed out that I am indeed a red-blooded, heterosexual teenage boy.”


 

                “Just go unpack,” I said, amused, pushing him towards the door leading to the small bedroom. “Have fun. But not too much fun.”


 

                Without turning around, James shot me the bird and I laughed again. Yes, James and I were not having sex, despite having been dating for over a year and a half. I happen to belong to the ever decreasing population of people who want to wait until marriage. This positively delighted Fred when he found out and he likes to take the mickey out of James at every opportunity. Boys.


 

                Speaking of Fred, I think he might be stopping by later. He and Rhiannon had broken up back in March. They had tried to do the whole long distance relationship thing, but in the end it had just kind of fallen apart. It was a mutual parting, I think, though neither of them had really wanted to end it. It certainly wasn’t something either one of them liked to talk about.


 

                Rhiannon had become my closest friend, outside of James. She was still living with her parents, but in a week she would be moving in with me. It was especially convenient, as we were already working at the same place.


 

                “Hey!” James called from the bedroom. “This box is filled with books! I though it seemed too heavy…”


 

                “Did you really expect me to leave you alone with a box full of my knickers?” I asked him, joining him in my new room. “Please. I’m not stupid.”


 

                “No, you just have trust issues,” he grumbled, shuffling through the contents of the box. “That’s a lot of books about Muggle medicine.”

 
 

                “Well, I kind of need them for my job,” I pointed out.


 

                I was working at St. Mungo’s as part of a new, special team. I had interned there the previous summer and, after extensive discussion with the Board of Director’s for the hospital, they had started up a team of mediwizards to research and find magical cures for Muggle diseases. I had started right after Hogwarts ended and was currently researching cancer. Leukemia in particular.

 
 

                Rhiannon was working in the psychiatric ward, putting her innate perceptiveness to good use. I didn’t see her very often when we were there – we usually only met for lunch – but I suppose that’s a good thing now that we’re going to be living together.


 

                James was temporarily working for George at Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. He had applied for a job at the Ministry of Magic for the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes and should be hearing if he’d gotten it soon. He had been hesitant about the job at first – half his family worked at the Ministry, though none in that particular department, and he’d been worried he might be given some sort of preference because of it, or at least accused of receiving it. There were no doubts in my mind, however, that he’d get the job due to his own ability.


 

                “You’re just using your job as an excuse,” James said, examining the titles of my various books. “I know you really just want to read as many boring books as possible, since you don’t have Ancient Runes for that any more. Nerdy little Ravenclaw.”


 

                I grabbed one of the books and thumped James on the head with it. “First of all, Ancient Runes was a fascinating subject whose subtleties are lost on impulsive, thick-skulled Gryffindors like you. And second, you’ve said yourself that you love my nerd-like tendencies. So stop contradicting yourself, git.”

 
 

                “You know, I could probably turn you in for abuse,” James said, rubbing his head theatrically. “You get violent easy.”


 

                “I’m just trying to build up your pain tolerance. Wimp.”

 
 

                James stuck his tongue out at me in a stunning display of maturity. Sometimes I can’t believe I publically acknowledge that he’s my boyfriend.


 

                I sat down on the floor next to James, leaning my head against his him. In response, he brought his arm up and draped it around my shoulders, pulling me closer against him. We sat there in a companionable silence and I found myself caught up in thinking of how we’d gotten to this point.


 

                We hadn’t had the most orthodox relationship, I can say that. I’m not sure when exactly I had fallen for him. Probably sometime in early December, because I was clearly in hard-core denial about my feelings by the time Christmas rolled around. Sometimes I would find myself doubting how I had really felt in the past. I mean, is it really possible for someone to fall in love after just a month?

 
 

                After a moment, I always brush off those thoughts, though. I’ve long said that every single relationship in the world, every single love is different from all the rest. And the love I had for James, and the one he had for me, was the most important one I’d had in my life. He was more than just the bloke I was dating. He was my best friend.


 

                In truth, I couldn’t really imagine myself ending up with anyone but him. I know that I could be happy without him, but the thing is that I don’t want to be. We were both much too young to even think about marriage, but there really wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we would end up there someday. Some people may call me naïve because of it. I prefer to see it as having a little faith.


 

                I placed my hand on the side of James’s face, my little finger brushing against the pulse point in his neck. Pulling his head towards mine, I kissed him softly, bringing my other hand up to rest against his chest. James responded immediately, wrapping his arms around me and dragging me onto his lap. His fingers tangled into my hair as his lips moved in sync with my own. I ran my hand through his hair, something I knew he loved. As expected, he drew back and opened his eyes to look at me.


 

                “Faith,” he murmured.

 
 

                Yes, I go by Faith now. After the wedding, I’d decided that Val didn’t really suit me anymore. I’d become a different person than I’d been before. And, just like when I’d stopped going by Tina, I felt my name was kind of representative of who I was. Now, it was like a manifestation of the journey I’d taken in my life. I’d stated off as innocent and oblivious to the harshness the world could contain and then later become blind to all the good. But last February, I’d transformed into a combination of the two. I understood the pain that life can have, but I also was mature enough to look past it. And so I’d decided to start going by real name.


 

                James likes to tease me about, even now, about having Multiple Personality Disorder. Whenever I’m in a particularly child-like mood he calls me Tina and if I ever start to brood about something, he asks me when I’d decided to become Val again. His levity about the subject really helps to keep me grounded. Some people may have seen in as insensitive, but I knew it was just James being James.


 

                I was about to lean forward and close the minimal distance between us once more when I heard a knock sound from the other room. I got up, ignoring James’s protests, and went to answer the door. Vaguely, I wondered who it could be. Fred wasn’t due to be here for about an hour and we’d be seeing the rest of the family later tonight. Nana Molly had invited everyone to the Burrow for dinner.

 
 

                I opened my door to find a young girl standing there, holding out a vase of flowers. She was a cute little thing, with long brown hair and bright eyes. Actually, she looked a little familiar…


 

                “Here!” she said brightly, offering the flowers to me. I took them, bemused. Who was this girl.

 
 

                “Those are for you,” the girl said, beaming up at me. “Mummy says they’re to welcome you to the building.”


 

                I stared at the girl. The vase was full of pink freesias, the same flower I always left on Joy’s grave. Actually, the girl looked eerily similar to Joy. She had the same coloring and the same delicate facial structure that Joy and I had both shared.

 
 

                “Grace!” a woman called, stepping out of the flat that was across the hall from mine. She was clearly the little girl’s mother. “I told you to wait for me and Dad before coming over. The pie still needs a few minutes to cool!”


 

                I could feel myself filling with shock. This adorable girl, who so resembled Joy, was named Grace. My nickname for Joy had been Gracie. I discreetly pinched myself, wondering if this was some sort of strange dream. It was all to coincidental.


 

                “Hello, sorry about this,” the woman, Grace’s mum, said to me. She held her hand out to shake mine. “My name’s Bailey Patterson. I live across the hall with my husband and daughter. We heard that our new neighbors were moving in today and we just wanted to welcome you to the building. Unfortunately, someone got a little eager.”


 

                The girl, Grace, waved at me. “You’re pretty. How old are you?”


 

                “Grace,” Bailey reprimanded, shooting me an apologetic look, but I laughed. Grace was just so precocious.

 
 

                “Thank you,” I told her. “You’re pretty, too. I’m eighteen, how old are you?”


 

                “I just turned ten!” she said proudly. I blinked. This was just getting too weird. Of course she’d be ten.


 

                “Who’s at the door?” I heard James call from behind me. He walked into the doorway. “Hello,” he greeted Bailey and Grace.


 

                “This is my boyfriend, James,” I introduced him. “He’s helping me move in. My friend Rhiannon will be joining me next week. My name’s Faith Sullivan.”


 

                “It’s very nice to meet you both,” Bailey said with a smile. Grace leaned forward, trying to peer around James and me into the apartment.               


 

                “Can I see your house?” she asked and then, without waiting for an answer, darted around my legs into the flat.


 

                “Grace!” Bailey scolded, looking aghast. She turned to me, “I’m so sorry, she can be a little too friendly sometimes.”


 

                “It’s not a problem,” I assured her. “She reminds me of myself when I was younger. You can come in as well, if you’d like, as long as you don’t mind a bit of clutter. I haven’t been able to unpack yet.”


 

                I let Bailey into my flat and she walked over to where Grace was standing. The young girl was staring up at the picture of me and Joy that was hanging on the wall. It had been taken on our tenth birthday, before the hospital trip. It had been the first thing I’d brought into the flat. I’d taken care to hang it up before I moved in any of my boxes or furniture.


 

                “Who’s that?” Grace asked, pointing at the photo.


 

                I smiled pensively and James discreetly took my hand. “That’s me with my twin sister,” I said.

 
 

                Looking at the photo, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different my life was now. Two years ago, I was nervous and distrustful around James and I hated him for trying to make me think of my sister. I was still secretive and silently suffering. I was too afraid of change to move forward with my life. And now I was in a committed relationship with that same boy who had put me on edge and I thought of Joy with fondness and only slightly wistful love. And the really amazing fact of it all was that I was still the same person I was. Only this time, my happy exterior actually extended below the surface.

 
 

                Grace turned to look at me, an understanding that seemed wise beyond her years filling her large, familiar looking brown eyes. I really wasn’t sure who this girl was, but I knew she wasn’t just a normal ten-year-old. Somehow, it almost seemed like she knew about Joy. But that was a ridiculous notion.

 
 

                “I like you,” Grace announced suddenly. “Let’s be friends.”


 

                I glanced over at James, who was watching the two of us with a soft smile, while Bailey just looked bewildered. James winked at me discreetly and I knew that he could see the resemblance between Grace and my sister as well. I’m sure he’d even made the connection about her name with my former nickname for Joy as well.


 

                “I’d love to be your friend,” I told her. “And since I’m your friend, I’d like it if you called me by a super special nickname.”


 

                Grace looked interested. “What?”


 

                For a split-second I marveled at how incredible and unexpected this moment was. In a way, it was almost like a second chance of sorts. It wasn’t a replacement - nothing could ever replace Joy - but this was something special.

 
 

                “You,” I whispered, already feeling a surge of fondness for the girl, “can call me Tina.”


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 

A/N


 

And that, my friends, is the end. This story is officially finished. It’s crazy for me to think that’s its over already. It feels like just yesterday that I was posting the first chapter to this site, wondering if people would like it. I would like to very sincerely thank every single person that has ever read this story. It means so much to me and I appreciate every single review, favorite, and read. You have all been wonderfully supportive and kind, in both reviews and on my blog. I feel truly touched by the love that has been shown to me.


 

I wrote this epilogue months ago, sudden inspiration for it striking when I was only about halfway finished with the story. I made a couple of edits and things, but I’m very happy with how this all ended up. It feels so good to see Faith (and yes, I think of her with that name, now – sorry if it’s confusing!) finally get her happy ending.


 

Last, I’d like to let you all know what I plan on working on next. I currently have two stories in the works at the moment – another James II/OC novel and a Lily/James short-story. Check those out if you’re interested – they’re a bit lighter and less serious than this story was. In addition, I have plans for a few more stories that I’d like to start posting soon.


 

First of all, I have an idea for a companion story of sorts to Finding Faith. It would be comprised of one-shots with missing scenes and alternative perspectives from Finding Faith. I may even do a few prequel/sequel-ish chapters.


 

Also, I have two ideas for more novels. One is a darker, more action-y Albus Severus/OC and the other is a Rose/Scorpius. I have the Al story planned out pretty well, but the Rose one doesn’t really have much of a plot yet. However, I do know that it is going to take place in the same world as Finding Faith and will occur during Faith and James’s seventh year. So be on the lookout for more stuff from me!


 

And so, one last time, I’d like to thank you all again. You are truly amazing and I love each and every one of you. Stay golden, my dears.


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