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Victoire

I carefully hung the used tea towel on the screen in front of the fireplace to dry and joined my aunt at the kitchen table. Pointing my wand at the runner beans, they started to slice themselves. Watching them easily split apart as though cut by an invisible knife was almost relaxing; what did runner beans have to worry about? They certainly didn’t have a blind boyfriend to deal with, absent friends nor interfering relatives.

“How’s Teddy doing?” Ginny asked, her eyes on the potatoes she was peeling. I knew she had been dying to talk to me about it since I had arrived an hour or two earlier. I had not talked to anybody yet except for the usual greetings.

“I’m not sure,” I said slowly. “Though he did smile today.” Such a simple action, yet for Teddy it seemed like a large hurdle. The grim look that haunted his features these days were almost erased by the small curling of his lips. If not erased, then at least they were momentarily covered.

“That’s good, I suppose.” Relief relaxed her muscles. “You’ll take good care of him, won’t you?”

“Of course I will,” I promised, though I had been telling myself to do the same ever since I discovered his ailment. My resolve was stronger now it was being challenged. “I love him.”

“I know, I know,” Ginny sighed. “You always have done.”

“Right,” I said awkwardly, sweeping the sliced beans into a saucepan and getting up from the table. “Thanks. I’ll just go and see where the others are.”

I didn’t know why I lied; it was really a lie, I just didn’t want her knowing how protective of Teddy I was. I wasn’t his babysitter, but I didn’t know if I could trust the rest of my family to be tactful around him. He was far too temperamental to not get upset over careless remarks. I’d left him in the sitting room, where there was enough going on to prevent the silence finding him. He told me there was nothing worse than silence and darkness combined.

“Victoire?” I turned around just as I reached the door to find another aunt tugging on my elbow. One look at her pursed lips determined her to be Audrey. “Will you sponsor me?”

“Um,” I said irritably, reaching out for the doorknob.

“Please?” She said, not letting go of my elbow. She could be awfully tenacious when she wanted something. “It’s for a good cause!”

“What is it?” I sighed.

Audrey mumbled some terrible drab sounding charity and handed me a piece of parchment to sign. Like the good relative that I was, I signed it and gave her three knuts. Hiding a scowl, she stormed off to find some other, more charitable, family member. Shaking my head, I entered the living room, where my mother and my Uncle Charlie were trying to pin balloons to the ceiling. I needn’t add that they were both failing, for Charlie had the delicacy of an ox and my mother was too busy looking at herself in the mirror over the fireplace.

Resigned to the sofa, Teddy and Dominique sat in silence. Placing a hand on his shoulder first so as not to alarm him, I sat down with them.

“How are you feeling?” I mumbled, careful not to attract Maman’s attention. She probably couldn’t resist the chance to make some amazing potion to cure him, even though all the Healers in St. Mungo’s had already failed.

“Queasy,” Dominique cut in, her hand on her forehead as she dropped over the sofa’s arm. “I feel bloody awful.”

“I wasn’t asking you,” I snapped. “It’s your own fault you feel so terrible. Maybe it’ll teach you to act more maturely next time.”

“Leave it,” Teddy said gently, grasping my hand and squeezing it.

“Are you okay?” I asked, quieter this time so my sister couldn’t butt in.

“I’m fine, stop worrying. Maybe you should offer to help your mother,” he added, with a hint of amusement in his voice. “She’s been giving poor Charlie grief all morning.”

“I bet,” I said with a smile. I left them on the sofa and retrieved my wand from my pocket. “What can I do, Maman?”

My mother gave me such a stony glare that I decided to make a swift exit, leaving Charlie to face her on his own. Probably my talents were better served elsewhere; as I approached the kitchen, I saw my grandmother and Ginny setting the table. Bounding in, I grabbed the napkins and started making them into little paper animals.

“How’s work?” My grandma enquired, using her wand to lift the finished napkin animals onto the place settings. Out of all my family, my grandma was especially keen on how my job was developing. All of the articles that I got published were cut out of the newspaper and then pinned on the notice board beside the sink. Actually, I wouldn’t put it past her to put a Permanent-Sticking Charm on each one, to prevent me from removing them from the public eye.

“I’m not sure,” I said with a sigh. Her eyes followed my wand as I swirled it. “I think I’ll have to take some time off to keep Teddy company, just until he gets back on his feet.”

Frowning, she shook her head, grey strands of hair falling in her face. “I hope you’re not going to throw away your career for a boy.”

Blushing, I kept my head lowered. “It wont be for long. And he’s not just any boy.”

“Is this why you haven’t been eating?” she said shrewdly.

“I am eating,” I said indignantly. “You think everyone’s too thin.”

My grandma sighed, lifting another paper animal, this time a badger, onto the place mat in front of her. “Look after yourself too, sweetheart.”

“I will,” I muttered, trying to find another animal to make.

I had no issues with looking after myself; I was relatively low maintenance, and the only really big expense I had was the regular buying of lipstick. I had taken to wearing it again now Teddy couldn’t see it. It was horrible, but as I knew he couldn’t scold me for needing to wear it I could get away with it. Unfortunately, it didn’t really make me feel better anymore. It was just another routine I’d let myself fall into and now I was reluctant to get out of it. Without Teddy’s nagging, there was nothing to stop me continuing like I was.

Gradually, more of my aunts and uncles filtered into the kitchen and joined us at the table. Uncle Ron was fashionably late, being ushered in by a frazzled Hermione, and was welcomed with Happy Birthday cheers. Presents were passed up the table to where he was sitting and we all turned to watch him unwrap them.

It was only as Ron opened his second present that I realised there was an empty space at the table. Looking around confirmed my suspicion that Teddy was absent and I got up to go and see where he had got to. Horrible thoughts of him sitting all alone on the sofa came to mind and I quickly excused myself. Nobody seemed to notice that I’d gone, luckily.

I didn’t have to go far to find him, for he was just about to enter the kitchen. I supposed I should have expected that he’d be slower than the rest. I hated myself for worrying about him so much, but at the same time I hated him for being the cause of my worries. It was going to be a long few months if I couldn’t learn to put my worrying into perspective. I couldn’t check up on him every few minutes or else it would drive both of us quickly insane. Watching him waving his stick slowly from side to side brought tears to my eyes. I wasn’t sure if he had noticed I was there or not, but he looked so terribly alone. Would I be able to reach him in the dark place that he was in?

“Do you need some help?” I asked quietly, trying to control the worry in my voice. I didn’t want him to know how anxious I was.

“No,” he said gruffly. “I can still walk, you know.”

I kept my mouth shut, trying ever so hard not to watch his every move and assess the risks. Was this what being a parent was like; The constant worry and the persistent fear that they were going to hurt themselves? It was hard for me to envisage a relationship where I had to mother him. We had always had a mutual respect for each other, an equal weighting to our team. Things were slowly starting to shift and I wasn’t sure I could accept the new responsibility.

As I turned to return to the table, I heard Teddy’s stick fall onto the stone floor with a clatter. My head snapping round, I saw as he lay huddled on the floor, his hand reaching around for the lost stick. With his knees awkwardly bent and his arms outstretched, he reminded me so much of a fallen toddler that I couldn’t help but rush to his side. I knew the others had turned to look because the conversation had all too suddenly died away. They began to rise from their chairs too, but the look that I gave them stopped them in their tracks. I didn’t care, I just wanted to check that Teddy wasn’t hurt after his fall.

Grabbing his stick, I crouched down beside him, my arm around his waist. “Here.” He took the stick from me, but made no move to get up. Gently, he laid it on the floor beside his feet. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine, Victoire,” he barked. “I’m bloody fantastic. You know what? I’ve never been better.” Alarmed, I noticed he was shaking. “I can’t see, I can barely walk and I can’t seem to do anything by myself.”

Stunned, I grasped his waist tighter for fear that he would fall down from shaking so hard. I pretended that there wasn’t a blush creeping up my neck from the fixed gazes of my family.

My lip trembled. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I don’t need your help, ok?” he said gruffly. “I need to do things by myself. Otherwise I’ll never do anything again. Why can’t you understand that?”

“Because I love you,” I mumbled shakily. “I can’t bear to see you like this.”

“Take a long hard look,” he said angrily. “Stay there and watch all you like. Stare enough for the two of us.”

“Don’t do this to me again,” I whispered, kissing his cheek. “We’ll get through this together.”

“It’s not always about you,” he said, his voice breaking. “It’s about how my life is fucking over.”

“It’s not over,” I whispered, kissing his cheek once again. I was shocked to find that his cheek was wet with tears. I pressed my mouth along his jaw bone until I found his lips and pressed harder. “It’s not over until you give in. And I won’t let you give in.”

“I can’t do it,” he whispered, turning his cheek away from my lips. “I just can’t.”

He sank to the floor, leaning his head against the wall. I sank with him, my arm moving higher so it rested on his shoulders, my hand running gently through his hair. “You can, Teddy. You are not alone and you never will be. Trust me.” Looking back at the table, I saw my family avert their eyes, no longer dumbstruck. “I’ll take you home now.”

Slowly, we stood up together, hand in hand. I made sure that I never let go of him, just so he knew that I was there. Smiling apologetically at my relatives, we left. I didn’t know where we were going to go, but he was better off anywhere else than in a room full of people. Outside in the yard, I took his arms in my hands and drew him close to me. I hushed him, for he his body shook with sobs.

“Trust me,” I said again, curving my arms around his waist. “It’s going to alright.”

His head rested on my shoulder, his arms limp by his side. “Don’t ever leave me,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by my jumper.

I stroked his back with my thumb, distracting myself from my own tears. “I promise you I won’t. I promise.”

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