“What are you doing now?”
The question Victoire expected to hear often, being only a week out of Hogwarts and this being the first family gathering she’d attended since.
Her little dive put a damper on all other post school activities. She skipped several schoolmate parties, though with drinking the main agenda for most of those affairs, she considered herself better off. Victoire's last drink had been one part butterbeer, one part vindictive Hufflepuff, and a splash of what Healer Hayes referred to as her mercurial temperament. That little cocktail nearly cost Victoire her life so she didn’t mind staying home. She neither wanted to explain her abstinence nor push her luck. She’d experienced enough drama on the dock.
“Ollivander’s this summer. His newest apprentice didn’t make the cut so he’ll need help while he searches for the next victim.” In truth, she received Ollivander’s owl that morning, giving her the news and inquiring about her availability, but she thought best to let people assume she’d intended to work at the wand shop all along.
“Oh, dear,” Nana Molly clucked as she brought yet more food to the table in the Burrow’s garden. Stopping to call out to suspend the Quidditch game for lunch, she turned without missing a beat and rejoined the conversation. “What’s that so far - five?”
“Six,” Grandpa Arthur corrected. “You’re forgetting the German bloke. He lasted a week.”
“Right twitchy he was.” George said, snatching a roll from the latest platter to arrive. “His odds didn’t even make for a good pool. Not like this last one – he had some convinced he’d stick. His departure proved quite profitable.”
Victoire had helped Ollivander in his shop since the summer after her fifth year and Ollivander's fourth attempt to train an apprentice. The job was mostly an excuse to spend time in Diagon Alley, where Teddy worked at Gringott’s to pay for his trip. Time alone proved hard to come by, and her working down the street afforded them the opportunity to sneak breaks and carve out time together before anyone expected her home. Victoire planned to use her money to surprise Teddy in Austrailia at the end of his year abroad. Turned out, he surprised her first.
“Break out the next pool, Uncle George, he’s looking for lucky number seven.” Victoire winked at her uncle before smiling at her grandparents. “Can you believe it? He’s never going to retire.”
Come to think of it, if her situation didn’t improve, Victoire could see herself working for Ollivander until she was as gray as him. He still wouldn’t have found anyone he trusted with his legacy and she still wouldn’t have found something better to do. She'd be the batty old shop lady feeding stray cats out the back alley door. She'd smell like catnip and wand wax. Children would dare each other to come near her.
“Why don’t you be his apprentice?” Lily dropped in a chair beside Victoire, flushed from the game. “Seven could be your lucky number. We already know he likes you.”
“Me? No.” Victoire snapped out of her sad little fantasy to tuck a bit of Lily's silky red hair behind her ear and tap her perky nose. True, Ollivander liked Victoire, which still amazed her. Who knew almost destroying a man’s shop would be such a bonding experience?
“Likeable doesn’t mean qualified. I’m just a shop girl. Apprentices finish a complete course of study before applying, and Ollivander’s still unimpressed with them.”
“So, study Wandlore first.” Lily’s green eyes shone with confidence, as if life was the simplest thing in the world.
“Bimas has the most extensive courses in Wandlore available,” Aunt Hermione interjected, missing the implied disconnect between ‘likable’ and ‘qualified’.
Surprising as she was usually quite intuitive
More surprising still, the fact Victoire's status as ‘Waitlisted’ hadn’t filtered through the extended family. She supposed, in a family like this, everyone assumed when you wanted something you went for it and you got it. This group didn’t have much experience wasting time on the B-List.
“You’re going to uni?” Teddy’s voice came from the garden gate behind Victoire.
Her heart stopped and the sight of him kicked the breath from her body. After so much time anticipating a reunion, she hadn’t even considered he’d show that afternoon. Yet, he strode in from the makeshift pitch with the cousins, surprising everyone but her grandparents.
The way Teddy moved carried its own excitement. James and Fred flanked him, vying for his attention. A group of young Weasleys eagerly crowded behind. Al trailed after, the last to leave the pitch with his broom still over his shoulder.
“I’m not sure I'll be attending this year,” Victoire replied carefully, her words drowned out by a sea of enthusiastic greetings.
She should've run to him. So much of her wanted to, but she remained rooted to the spot. He'd met someone else.
The fact had been tumbling around in her head for days despite her best efforts to suppress it. He found someone else and she cursed herself for expecting anything different.
And yet, her mind automatically seized on another thought. Teddy came alone
. She wondered what that meant and cursed herself again for caring.
She hid a thick swallow in her throat and stayed put.
Al moved through the gate, squeezing past the crowd to make his way to the shed.
“Alright Al?" Teddy put a hand on the boy’s head. "You've had a haircut.”
Al ducked away. “Yeah, I’ve had ‘bout 30 of ‘em.”
Ginny shot Al a glare for his cheek, which he met with a defiant glance of his own.
“Sounds 'bout right.” Teddy gave a cautious chuckle. He must’ve decided he best give Al his space and moved away from the gate to greet the adults. Lily jumped up from Victoire's side to cut Teddy off with an exuberant hug.
Victoire continued to hang back, unsure how to handle herself in his presence after her disappointment the week before. She still bore light scratch marks and bruising on her forehead, arm, and legs, added to some very tender ribs. Those things hadn't bothered her, she hadn’t even taken time to cover them up. She knew she might have suffered the same injury if she hadn’t been alone.
She was prepared to defend her choice of diving for the Mervillage to the family. They didn’t know Teddy was the one she’d been waiting for. Not only at graduation, but ever since he’d left.
Like a bloody fangirl.
Teddy, however, would know. The marks were visible, leaving her anxious, leaving her self conscious about him seeing them. And knowing. They all but glared out she hadn’t moved on. Always, somewhere in the back of her mind she held the belief nothing would change in all the time they were apart.
Obviously, things had changed for him.
Victoire thought he changed. He looked different. He was broader, his once lanky frame now more filled out and defined. His hair a dark mahogany with glints of honey highlights. She wondered where the shade originated. His eyes were dark - not their natural amber or even the rich brown he preferred his NEWT year - but a shade not far from black. She didn’t remember ever seeing his eyes so dark.
Teddy had a habit of collecting features from those around him. Ever the mimic, he seamlessly blended different physical traits -eyes, mouth, dimples, anything- to alter his own appearance as it suited him. Innocent, persuasive, thoughtful, intelligent, intimidating. He had quite a range. Subtle enough most people didn’t realize.
The sophisticated appearance he'd assumed unnerved Victoire. The look seemed out of place at the Burrow. He carried himself differently also. He appeared so adult Victoire felt all the more childish with her scrapes and bruises.
Al dropped down in the seat Lily vacated. “Glad you’re not joining the welcome parade. Fred and James are tripping over their skirts like a couple of fangirls.”
Nana Molly broke up the love-fest by shooing everyone to the table. Of course, she took the opportunity to give Teddy a huge hug of her own without the added competition. She then led him to an open spot at the far end of the table.
“Hey, you took my seat!” Lily returned set on retaking possession from her brother.
“You were busy,” Al responded.
“Give it back!” Lily tried to push him off.
Her brother remained unperturbed by her threatening glare. “Mine now.”
Victoire intervened before an all-out brawl ensued, conjuring an extra chair and making Al scoot down to make room for it and Lily on her other side.
Ginny set drinks in front of each of them. “You two better learn to get along or I‘m not going to let Vic take you to the boat this summer. She doesn’t need the aggravation.”
“No worries, Aunt Gin. I can either dunk ‘em or let the fairies have a go at ‘em.” Victoire tried to sound light but only managed a tinny quality in her voice. She didn’t chance a glance down the table.
“I’m good with that.” Ginny winked at Victoire before proceeding to her place.
“So,” Victoire turned to Al and asked, “are you still on restriction for jumping your dad’s Apparition?”
“Nah, Dad downplayed it with Mum.”
“You're lucky. You know that?" She shook her head. Nothing stuck to this kid.
“Not lucky. Good.” He smirked.
Victoire wished she could be either. Then maybe she could determine how to make a graceful exit. At the moment she had nothing. Even her appetite left her. Pushing the food around her plate, she had yet to look at the far end of the table. She wondered how soon she could escape.
Better to face the inevitable ribbing she'd be taking for her recent misadventure and deflect a little? Or, better to leave and save herself the ordeal only to wonder what'd be said in her absence?
Not looking didn’t stop Victoire from hearing. She cringed as Neville’s voice drifted from the vicinity. “No, she didn't get the gillyweed from me and don’t even think about it,” she overheard him telling Louis and Fred.
Too late to leave. Victoire dared a glance down the table in what turned out to be a huge tactical error – her Uncle George smiled at her. “Terrorizing the air not enough for you anymore, Vic; you’re taking on the water now as well.”
“Isn’t there a swamp still in the halls of Hogwarts marking your last day? I hardly think I topped that stunt,” Victoire returned. The effort was decent, but not retort enough to stop the conversation once started.
James, sitting right by Teddy, piped up then, nearly vibrating with curiosity. “How big was it? How many times did you slam against the rocks before you got away?”
“James!” Ginny gave her eldest a stern stare.
“What?” he asked innocently. “You said I couldn’t bring it up. I didn’t. No one ever said we couldn’t talk about it if someone else brought it up.”
“Who said I slammed against the rocks?” Victoire glared at Al.
“Not me. Must've been Dad,” Al insisted with his hands up in the air.
James continued as if on a mission, trying to get as far as possible with the questioning before Ginny shut him down.
Unfortunately for Victoire, the damage was done. The whole table tuned in when James said, “Dad made it sound bad, what with the blood and the broken ribs!”
“Bruised. Not broken. There was no breaking,” Victoire assured.
“If you don’t count the skin,” Fred supplied.
, I used to like the cousins.
Ginny was already after her eldest. “How did … ok, where are they?”
“Where are what?” In contrast to his little brother, James did not do innocent well. He was far too much an open book and no one – especially his mother – bought the act.
“The extendable ears. I’ll want them as soon as we get home. Not like they're even doing you any good - you got the story wrong,” she finished shaking her head.
"Was a bit out of range,” James mumbled.
“Really, it was a quick encounter." Victoire started an attempt at damage control. "I got out just fine. I'd have been completely unscathed if I hadn’t run into an overprotective mum.”
“What about grindylows?” Roxanne asked, wide-eyed, from the other side of Lily. She had a healthy fear of the water and by extension everything in the water.
“I was fully prepared for them. You think I saw even one?” Victoire shook her head.
"You can be sure grindylows are clever enough to stay well away from a foaling hippocampus,” Lysander supplied.
How helpful. Who invited him?
“How was it?” Rose spoke up, her eyes shining with possibility.
“Amazing. Words don’t do justice.” Victoire really meant that, and the memory brought a smile to her face despite the unruly turbulence of her nerves. Maybe she'd get through the day after all.
Teddy remained silent during the exchange. She dared not look directly at him. Oh, you’re still there?
Yeah, that’s how she was playing it. No relation between him and the conversation going on.
“Are mermaids as beautiful as their portraits?”
Victoire laughed. “Not in the least.”
A few more questions about the village itself and the conversation had run full course. That seemed to be the end of the share-and-tell section of lunch. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Relief didn't completely unclench the tight ball of apprehension in the pit of Victoire's stomach. It lessened a bit, but she still couldn't think of eating. She was glad to have Nana Molly engaged elsewhere and not on the usual prowl to get the family to consume more food.
Victoire jumped up first to help clean the table as the family finished the meal. She took a few extra minutes to compose herself in the kitchen before heading back outside. No small wonder she hadn't broken anything.
Coming out the door, she caught sight of the table, now filled with an array of deserts. She wasn’t sure what her grandparents would do with themselves if the family didn’t routinely gather at the Burrow for Sunday lunch, but Victoire would venture if they dropped Nana Molly off in famine infested regions she might actually end world hunger.
Half the crowd remained sitting, some already tucking into desert. The remainder milled around the yard. The Quidditch game hadn’t resumed, as many of the prime players busied themselves with the sweets.
Another thing that hadn’t changed for Victoire in two years - how tuned in she was to the exact timbre of Teddy’s voice. She actually felt it in her spine. “I can’t believe how much I missed, how the kids have changed. Vic graduating.”
.” Al corrected with emphasis from nearby. “Last week. You missed that too.”
“Ok, that's it, we’re going. Mum, thanks for lunch,” Ginny announced obviously still adjusting to having all three high energy kids back home full time. With Harry and Ron off somewhere else that day, no one was around to balance her load or convince her otherwise.
“But I’m not finished yet!” James whined over his desert.
“Yes, you are.” Ginny pulled James up as he grabbed everything possible from his plate and shoved the fistful in his mouth. “Vic, I can’t imagine why you'd want to, but you can pick them up whenever you're done with work tomorrow. If
you're still interested.”
Lily piped up, “Please, I didn’t do anything.”
"I’ll be there,” Victoire assured her. "Have your swimmers packed. It's supposed to be hot,” she said in an afterthought as the Potters made their way to the Floo. Turning around, she found herself face to face with Teddy.
,” he mimicked Al’s tone, “and the Mervillage. Big week for you.” He smiled a warm, spontaneous smile.
“Big day, actually,” she corrected, unsure what her own face might be doing.
“Without a doubt, but you made it. And, for what it’s worth, I’m proud of you.”
She cocked her head and stared at him, gobsmacked. “What is that worth?”
Victoire couldn't believe she’d said that out loud. Now she sounded like Al the sullen thirteen year old. She wondered if it was too late to have Ginny take her home too.
Teddy had the decency to appear worried as he struggled for words without really coming up with any.
“You know what? Just forget it," she responded evenly, trying to back-track from her previous slip. “I did fine on my own.”
“Yeah, you look it.” By the expression on his face, he meant to tease. An attempt to deflect the tension. By the look on her face, he clearly missed.
"Excuse me.” She turned without qualifying her departure. The best excuse was no excuse, right?
Victoire made her goodbyes, asking her grandparents to send Louis and Dominique home by Floo when they were done playing Quidditch.
She went directly home, not surprised to find her parents out. They ran a charity foundation focussed on helping Lycans and their families make a decent life for themselves. The war of blood purity may have been over, but victory didn't mean society was free of prejudices. The bias remained, merely subtler.
Today her patents were hosting a fundraiser, and with her siblings still occupied at the Burrow, Victoire actually had some time alone at home. She collapsed on the sofa in a heap before realizing she'd forgotten her shoes. She'd kicked them off somewhere at the Burrow.
She wasn't about to go back for them. Her sister would probably find them somewhere and grab them when she left. Dominique was good that way.
Victoire performed a quick cleaning spell on her feet and proceeded to prop them up on the sofa, lying back and sticking a pillow over her face.
Almost an hour later, Victoire had neither worked up the ambition to move from the spot nor drifted off to sleep. The doorbell rang, stirring her out of her thoughts. She contemplated ignoring it, but with the second ring chiming in a double-tap, she decided whoever was on the other side wasn’t inclined to go away.
Victoire opened the door to find Teddy. He handed her a long slim box with a red bow.
“Did you just dart out to the corner market for this?” The gift did look about the size of a box of spaghetti.
“No,” he replied accepting her tone with an indulgent shake of his head.
“Pop back home and find something to throw in a box?”
“Just open it and stop trying to make me feel like a bigger git. Al’s on a mission for that already.”
Victoire pulled the ribbon to open the lid and gaped. Inside lay an exquisite quill unlike any she'd ever seen. The feather a brilliant azure blue with the fringe on the end shimmering silver. The light dancing over the richly coloured surface was nothing short of mesmerizing.
“One of these hasn't been available in Europe for 50 years.” His voice washed over her smooth, earnest. “If you have any more doubt as to my intent for the gift, you might take note, it's the exact colour of your eyes.”
He reached across the distance separating them and tilted her chin up, tearing her eyes away from the quill until she met his gaze. “I didn’t forget about you.”
“Thank you,” she managed, even more mesmerized.
He stepped inside the door and, for the first time in almost two years, Victoire felt his arms around her again. His warm breath in her hair, his deep voice resonated in her ear. “I’m sorry.”
For what, exactly, she wasn’t sure. The owl, the silence, the graduation, the village?
She didn’t ask.
Note from Ty - Thanks to my amazing beta Stefeny from LiveJournal and everyone who has taken the time to offer feedback. It means a lot.
Edited March 2012