“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.
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.
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.
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.