“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.
“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.
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.