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Finding Faith by sour_grapes_snape
Chapter 17 : Unexpected Guest
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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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.


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