I lay quietly, listening to the sound of Victoire’s heavy breathing as she slept deeply. It was the first night she had slept properly all week. She hadn’t told my why she’d been lying awake into the early hours of the morning nor admitted that she couldn’t sleep, but my ears caught every movement she made. That was why it was so hard for me to sleep tonight; Victoire’s light snoring stopped me from slipping off. I wanted to ask what was keeping her awake, but I just knew that it wasn’t the right time. I knew her well enough to know that she would tell me what was bothering her in her own good time; she knew me well enough to know that I would notice her anxiety. In that balance, we didn’t rush each other to talk. We didn’t need to, we could rely on our trust.
I dearly hoped it was not me she worried about; going back to work had not been an easy decision, but it was one I whole-heartedly supported even if being without her scared me. It wasn’t just the fear of being left alone (which I wasn’t), it was the fear of being left without her. I didn’t know if I could trust anyone else to know me so intricately that they could solve any problem that arose. When I had Victoire, I didn’t fear the world, the darkness or the day. She could make everything better just by placing her hand on mine, her lips on mine. I’d never needed safety or security, but now I depended on it like a drug and I couldn’t help but be intoxicated by my need for her. It wasn’t lust, as I had once felt. It was love and fear and the small boy inside of me crying out for care. I’d never known love like it and I wasn’t sure if it was healthy.
The days without her passed slowly; my grandmother and I used to have so much in common that now lay wasted and irrelevant. I used to adore her art, her paintings; I once helped her with gardening; once upon a time I was useful. My ailment now created an awkward silence between us that it was hard to remember we were the only family we had. I felt so terribly guilty for it, for the strange atmosphere, but there was nothing I could say to make it better. We hugged in the morning, she kissed my cheek in the evening, a constant cycle of uncomfortable hello-goodbyes. I told Victoire none of this; I didn’t want to add to her worries.
Once Victoire woke, it would be the weekend and we could live again. Such precious moments could be used to rebuild our lives again. Things had not been right for a long time, whether my fault or not, and we needed our normality back. I was slowly beginning to accept that the normality we’d had before could never be recovered, though I didn’t know how. I could barely tell which way was up at the moment, my emotions seemed to be floating on strange waters; I had no control over them and I could barely get a grip on myself. I was a changed person, though for better or worse it did not seem to matter. I was just me, just Teddy and that’s who I was always going to be, blind or not. I could let it drag me down, let it destroy my life or kick it in the behind and get on with it. I was starting to think I’d choose the latter.
I wasn’t sure how long it was going to be until the morning, because I’d lost count of the time after I drifted off at midnight. When I’d woken up again, it was like all my body clocks had been reset; I was once again lost in the darkness without any bearings or way of measuring time. The panic was beginning to lesson now; I was used to the sensation of being completely loose and as long as I knew there was someone nearby I could resist the temptation to run around like a panicked (headless) chicken. I supposed I was calmer with Victoire beside me. She put me at ease. Just seeing her in the distance used to bring a smile to my face, and it was one of the things I missed most. I just wanted to see her gorgeous eyes one more time, to see the sun reflect off her golden hair once more, to see her smile as we kiss. Oh, how beautiful she was with that fire in her eyes, the intense passion that she rarely wore without good reason. It had become more and more frequent in the recent weeks before my blindness, she’d become so beautiful. I regretted I would never see her again.
I frowned into the darkness. I had promised myself I would not dwell on things in the past. Whatever could have been wouldn’t be and I had to stop thinking like this; it would only lead to dark places. No, I would have to pick myself up and refuse to let my mood slip into the abyss of depression which I’d dipped in a few times before. So, I couldn’t see how beautiful Victoire was; I knew it already and I counted my lucky stars that she still loved me. She was a gorgeous person, no matter what she looked like. I loved her for more than just her appearance. With that thought, I drifted back into slumber again, my dreams light and inconsequential.
“Victoire?” I finished off the dregs of milk from my cereal and awaited her response. She had hardly spoken a word all morning, except to tell me the time and ask what I wanted for breakfast. It was unlike her to be so quiet around me; nowadays she tended to fill the silence for me.
“Mmm?” Her voice was distant and slow. No doubt she’d been thinking of something entirely different and I was the one to drag her back to the present.
“Can we sort through my boxes today?” I knew why we hadn’t done it already; it was going to be awkward whenever we did it and I didn’t see the point in waiting any longer. Clearing out some of my old stuff might give me some kind of closure. There was no point keeping things I could no longer use.
“Boxes?” she mumbled after a pause.
“Yeah,” I said gently, sipping at my tea. “From when I moved in.”
“Oh,” she said, her voice stronger. I’d finally snared her attention. “Of course we can. I can’t believe we haven’t don’t that yet. It doesn’t feel like that much time has passed.”
I nodded, though I couldn’t disagree with her more. The past month had been the longest of my life, and I could remember it all in agonising detail. Sometimes I felt so ashamed of my behaviour that I wanted to get down on my knees and beg her forgiveness. At other times, I wanted to hold her so close and never let go because she stuck by me, she didn’t leave me.
“I was practically living here before anyway,” I commented, draining my mug of tea and placing it back down on the table.
“That’s true enough,” she sighed thoughtfully, taking my mug and placing it in the sink. The china clinked against the metal of the sink, filling the silence that was growing in the air. “Are you ready to unpack these boxes, then? They’re next to my wardrobe.”
I stood up and carefully followed her in the direction of the bedroom. Most of the time I groped my way around the flat; I spent so much time there that I was used to the layout of the furniture and could navigate pretty easily without relying on my stick. Victoire and I had made an agreement to keep the flat as tidy as possible in order to save me from tripping over stray objects. I’d though she would have problems with that; she was naturally disorganised and she lived in a permanent state of clutter. But I hadn’t fallen over anything except a stray lipstick tube every once in a while. I’d walked into the kitchen table a few times, but that was my fault rather than her untidiness. Her parents (her mother in particular) had always nagged her about keeping things tidy and she’d never changed her habits… Even I, to a certain extent, tried to encourage her to be a little more organised. I’d thought such words would always fall on deaf ears, and I couldn’t be more surprised that now she’d become a tidier person. I could barely believe it.
I reached where she was standing, supposedly beside the wardrobe and we sat down together on the floor, the carpet fibres tickling my bare toes. There was the soft clunk of Victoire placing a heavy box on the carpet in front of me, and the ripping of cardboard as she peeled back the lid. Then she stuck her hand in and passed various objects to me. Instead of turning the job into a “what if” exercise, it became a sort of game. As she passed each of my possessions to me, I had to identify what it was I was holding. Borrowing my wand (which I never went anywhere without; no doubt she had momentarily lost hers), she banished the now useless things to one side of the room (my astronomy set, some binoculars, a watch) and put things to keep in another. Keeping my mind on our game, I was able to ignore how much of my prized possessions I was forced to throw away. Then again, what use could I possibly have now for my books? I couldn’t read them and I refused to have Victoire read to me like a child. My quills and ink were disposed of too, what parchment I had left being donated to Victoire.
“You could learn to write again,” she argued, trying to gently tug the quills from my grasp. “I’ll help you.”
“But I couldn’t ever write anything without you having to check it over first,” I countered tonelessly. “We might as well continue as we have been doing; you write it for me.”
She let go of my hand, and I threw the old quills aside. I understood where she was coming from. Not everything was impossible for me now, but still required some major adaptation that I didn’t want to accept. Learning to do all those things that were now very difficult for me again would take up so much of my time and hers too. Learning how to read a crystal ball again was not a priority. As such, the crystal ball I’d kept since my school days was thrown out as well.
Box by box my possessions dwindled. The pile of discards was far larger than the pile of things I could keep. Most of those were mostly sentimental objects, from my first bear, named Teddy, to things like my parents’ rings and jewellery. These were not things I could use on a daily basis anyway. My cutlery and crockery would be kept, loaned to Victoire until we could decide what to do with them. Once we’d reached the last box I found I had a strange detachment for the contents. Where I had once placed such a high value on material objects I now felt a strange coolness. They were not going to make me feel any better about my situations and so I was far more indifferent to the trinkets I’d collected over the years.
We eventually found the bottom of the last box and I sighed, relief washing over me. That hadn’t been as bad as I’d thought it was going to be, and I was glad for my detachment from the things I had once used daily. Banishing the boxes too, Victoire leaned around me.
“Teddy, I think you should keep these,” she said softly, handing me a stack of objects, flat and cool against my palms. “I’ve kept them safe for you, I didn’t want them to get damaged in the boxes.”
I traced the first object with my thumb, feeling the two levels of the rectangle. The surface was smooth and flat, and I knew what these were. They were photo frames.
“I can’t see them, Victoire,” I said eventually, uncomfortably heat growing in my chest. I’d made it all morning without a problem, but the thought of throwing the photos away pricked at my eyes. However, the thought of keeping them was even worse; I’d know they were there and never be able to lay eyes upon them again. “I don’t know if they’re worth keeping.”
“I know,” she mumbled. “But they’re so lovely and they mean a lot to you, I can tell.”
I put the first frame gently down on my knee and traced the frame of the next. I recognised the tiny dimples as the star-studded pattern. I’d spent many an evening tracing that frame and staring into that photo, talking to it, just watching it. It was of my parents, their happy faces shining in a time of darkness. I could remember it like I could still see it right in front of me. My hands shook as I held the frame tightly, my eyes stinging. I stared into my memory of a photo, just a photo, and refused to be roused by Victoire’s voice. It was like I was losing my parents all over again.
That photo had been my favourite out of all I had seen of my parents; I watched as my mother’s hair changed colour, as her nose changed shape and she showed how similar we were. I’d always been ashamed of my ability to transform my featured, having never met my mother or another metamorphmagus. I had never felt the temptation to change my appearance because I didn’t understand my ability. And my mother wasn’t there to help me put it right if it went wrong. I was told I resembled my father greatly, and I couldn’t deny that in that photo we did look remarkably alike. I hadn’t wanted to change that link we shared. Holding the frame tighter, I couldn’t even be sure if it was even that photo, or if they even remained in the frame. It was like holding an empty shell because I couldn’t be sure of the contents. I didn’t want to forget them. I blinked away the tears before they could fall and placed the frame on top of the other photo. Victoire’s voice had died away and I, for once, was glad of the silence. I was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, Teddy,” she said as I returned the photos to her. “But I couldn’t just throw them away.”
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated, shuffling closer to where I sat. She wrapped her arms around my waist and rested her head on my shoulders, and I leaned into her embrace.
“I wanted to do them proud,” I said in a choked voice. “I wanted to fight and be brave like they were. But all I did was make things worse.”
“Listen,” she said forcefully. “You listen to me. They would have been proud of you, Teddy. I know they would have. Look at you, look what you’ve been through. You’re the bravest person I’ve ever known and the strongest, too.”
I swallowed, tears hovering. I sighed, eventually, holding Victoire tight. “I love you.”
“I know you do, and I love you too.” She kissed my cheek, ruffling my hair with her hand. “And your parents did too. Don’t you ever forget that.”