Owen moved with reflexes that belied his usual casual demeanor. One second Victoire was frozen, eyes wide, an ugly vase being waved threateningly in her direction and the next she was in a small room with a desk and a fireplace. The crack of their arrival and the low, institutional hum of overhead lighting replaced the accusations and angry rebuttals of the room that they had vacated. Without Owen’s grasp, Victoire might have keeled over as she had not expected the sudden Apparition and was alarmingly nauseous from it.
Owen let out a low whistle as he righted her. “Holy mid life crisis.”
“I can’t believe she came after us that way,” Victoire said in a daze as she looked up at Owen. “We weren’t implying that her husband was up to something. We were simply inquiring about his wand.”
Owen cocked his head to the side and smirked. “I can see it. You walk in on someone fondling your husband’s wood - it‘s personal.”
Victoire glared at him, scandalized. “You asked me to verify it!”
“Relax, love, the problems in that household existed long before our involvement,” Owen asserted as if being caught in the middle of a domestic dispute was a normal occurrence for him. He approached the desk, opened the bottom drawer, and pulled out a plain brown bottle that he uncorked and handed to Victoire. “Here. To settle your stomach.”
Victoire took the bottle and wrinkled her nose as she sniffed the pungent odor of fermentation. She handed it back. “Thanks, I’m fine now.”
Owen shrugged and took a swig himself before he corked it back up and slid it into the drawer. “Did you have it long enough to tell?”
“Yes, the core was dragon heartstring. He’s not the one.”
Owen took a seat, leaned back in the chair, and threw his feet on top of the desk. “Can’t say I’m disappointed this time. Imagine spending bloody holidays with those two.”
“Bloody would probably describe it.” Victoire finally relaxed somewhat. She looked at Owen. “We really aren't good at this, are we?”
He looked up from his reclined position at the desk. “What? We eliminated all but three possibilities, and today was the first significant threat of violence.”
“You’ve had to physically stick your foot in at least two doors to stop them from being shut in our face. You may not consider that violence, but it can’t have felt good.”
“Didn’t feel at all.” Owen pointed to his boots on the desk. “Hand crafted by some bad ass aboriginal wizards. I could walk across molten lava and not feel it.”
“When did people get so touchy about their wands?” Victoire perched on the corner of the desk. “At school, everybody talked about what wand they had and how they got it. It was no big secret.”
Owen carelessly rifled through some papers on the desk as he spoke, “Wands are new when you are a kid. You want to show off. Takes years to get paranoid about that stuff.”
“Where are we?” Victoire finally inquired.
“I can have an office.”
“As apparently you do.” Victoire gestured around. “What do you do in your office?”
He looked affronted but answered, “Put out fires, keep the Ministry appeased, and mostly stop the wizard guests from freaking out the muggle guests. Beyond that, whatever Dorothy can nag me into.” Owen waved a bullet pointed list from the top of the pile of papers before he let it drop back on the desk in a flutter.
“Dorothy your boss?”
“Dorothy my assistant.”
“Well, sure. You need an assistant. Who else you going to chase around the desk?”
His eyes narrowed, but the effect was lost in the gleam that was still visible and the slight upturn at the corner of his mouth. “There’s no chasing. Uncle Joe has a firm belief eligible assistants are bad for business. He handpicked Dorothy. Competent, well organized, unfailingly persistent, and plain as a brown paper bag. Her idea of a good time is alphabetizing.”
“Can’t wait to meet her.”
“Stick around. She’s hovering somewhere.” Owen glanced at the door and Victoire actually expected it to open on cue. When it didn’t, he continued, “Doesn’t matter how many silencing charms I place on these walls she always seems to know when I’m in.” His features held the air of begrudging respect as he nodded slowly. “Crafty little muggle, she is.”
“I should probably let you get to work, then.” Victoire stood and walked to the fireplace with an eye out for the powder container that would confirm its connectivity to the floo network. She didn’t want to think about Apparition anytime soon. “I have to find a rug without really looking.”
“Is that a riddle? I hate those.”
She laughed as she picked up a muggle photograph from the mantle and admired the smiling black haired woman with grey eyes pictured. “No, I want a rug, and it seems everyone else wants to be a part of it. Make it a thing.
” She placed the frame back and turned from her survey of the mantle. “I have no interest in a thing
. I just want a rug.”
“We’ve got rugs. Twenty of them on fifth floor waiting to be replaced. You want one?”
Owen escorted her to a floor undergoing massive redecorating. A wave of his wand sent several cylinder shaped packages against the wall springing into motion. Soon the length of the corridor was paved with rugs that had unwound themselves enough the stretch its width.
Victoire didn’t hesitate to kick off her shoes and pad down through the varied patterns, making her way down the hall and back to the first, which was, without question, the most vibrant rug. Her toes dug into the thick pile. “They don’t look worn out. Why the need to replace?”
Owen had remained leaned against the door frame of the stairwell they had come up. “Decorator bullshit. Something about post war being bright color, end of the darkness, whatever. New thing is understated. Back to darkness, I guess, I zoned out somewhere in there.” He looked around at the neatly packed furniture. “Everything here doesn’t match the new vision so it’s scheduled to be shipped out to a muggle agency that disperses it to shelters and stuff.”
“Oh, I can’t take a rug away from a shelter,” Victoire insisted. Her toes halted and she stepped off of the rug quickly.
Owen chuckled, pushed himself off the door and stepped up to her. “I heard about your room. The shelters are likely better furnished. They can spare one rug out of twenty.”
She playfully flicked his ear but felt a flash of irritation course through her, not so much at the comment but at the thought that the report on her room could only have come from one source. She opted not to dwell on whether that source was direct or indirect, whether it proved her wrong or on the mark enough to prompt action.
She considered Owen’s offer as she retrieved her shoes. Her alternative required shopping for a new rug, which, in itself, required a plausible excuse to exclude her mum or Iska from the event without seeming like a complete bitch.
“You know what, I'll take your offer, but I need you to give me the name of the agency so I can make a donation to ease my conscience.”
Owen shrugged. “I’ll have them send this one?”
Victoire nodded with a huge smile as she surveyed her rug. The colors were loud and the pattern a bit busy for such a small room, but she liked that about it.
She reached out to give Owen an enthusiastic hug as he held the door for her. “You saved my day, possibly my life.”
He returned her hug and gave her a wry grin. “Careful, wouldn’t want to make this into a thing.”
Victoire flooed home to let her mother know how she had so serendipitously come into ownership of a rug. She was in a brilliant mood as she recounted her story. Her parents listened to her ramble on, Bill squeezing Fleur’s shoulders every so often, and then she stayed for dinner before heading back to the immersion house for what was to be the last night before classes.
Victoire was feeling so good she even chanced another Apparition that day to get her back to the campus. Instead of heading straight to the immersion house, she diverted to the reserve and shifted to take a quick flight around the woods surrounding the campus.
She touched down on the neighboring roof, shifted back, and entered the house through the window in the attic stairwell. Tonight she would stay there for the first time. To sleep in her own room - by herself. She wasn’t really alone. There were more people in the immersion house than Shell Cottage, but it was different. It was her lease and, therefore, her place.
She heard a series of large thuds below and hesitated, contemplating whether she should investigate. On the one had, she believed keeping a low profile on the third floor was her most prudent course of action. On the other, curiosity always trumped prudence, at least where Victoire was concerned.
She tiptoed down the stairwell, opened the door a crack and peeked out. Phineas and Micah were in the stairwell with a few pieces of furniture. They appeared to be debating which to move back into the room first.
"We might get this done in time for me to grab a real meal before my shift begins," Micah commented as they each grabbed one side of a desk and headed into the room with it, her voice drifted out to the landing. "It's always a bonus having time to chew. So, what's the scoop on your meeting tonight? What does a teaching assistant do here at Bimas?"
Diogy caught sight of Victoire and his interest drew Micah’s who poked her head back out the door to check on the dog.
“Where’d you come from?” she asked.
Victoire stepped out of the stairwell slightly, gestured back over her shoulders, and said, in what she hoped was not a conspicuously quiet voice, “Up.”
“Don’t worry. He and Armond went down to the kitchen, and, it appears to me, he's avoiding you now, too.”
“Oh, well, what are you two doing?”
“Adjusting,” Micah said with a smile before appraising Victoire and continuing with a challenge in her voice, “How long you been ‘up‘?”
“Not long,” Victoire hedged.
“You’re the one who unlocked the window, aren‘t you?” Micah’s look was smug. “Checked out the roof, then?”
Disappointed to hear her clever little secret wasn’t so clever or so secret after all, Victoire begrudgingly admitted, “Yes, I came in that way.”
Phineas halted halfway to the door with a bookcase in his grasp to ask, “What roof?”
“Across the fire escape to the building next door. You can get to it from the landing going to Victoire’s room,” Micah said as she sat on one of the desk chairs in the middle of the landing.
“Cool, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Victoire agreed, “it’s almost like it‘s own room. No chance of anyone seeing you…Apparate.”
“Exactly,” Micah agreed, “very convenient.”
Phineas took in the information, following the conversation without comment, as he systematically moved furnishings back into the suite. Soon only the chair Micah occupied remained. He opened his mouth, but whatever words he formed were lost.
The house shook under their feet as a tremendous crash echoed from below. Diogy sprang forward barking like mad, and bounded down the stairs where the noise originated. Micah took after the dog before Victoire and Phineas, responses a beat behind, sprinted down as well. Phineas' initial reaction might not have been as quick, but his long legs made up the difference as he closed in on Micah. Victoire jumped multiple stairs at a time in an attempt to keep up.
The wake of the percussion was almost tangible as it moved up the stairs. The air crackled around them with a charge that met them in a wave as if the house wards surged inward, regrouped, and then pushed back out to their barriers. Victoire felt the tingle around her and it made the hair stand up on her arms.
They were the first to reach the foyer, which was thick with a sawdust cloud slowly settling on every surface. Particles still suspended in the air, caught by the rays of light crossing from the adjoining rooms. Victoire’s eyes felt gritty; her mouth dried out and she felt a scratchy, almost sandy, texture all the way down her throat when she tried to swallow.
Teddy and Armond ran up from the kitchen and joined them in the foyer as they all gaped at what they saw.
Through the haze, the rough outline of the main door stood out, only it was bulging awkwardly inward. Almost as if the door itself had expanded to defend against whatever had attempted to penetrate it. There were hairline cracks of light showing through sharp splinters in the wood, but no clear visibility to the outside. The window of the door was dark, whatever covered it opaque enough not to permit any light through.
Diogy barked and sniffed all around the area as others made their way to the stairways, peering cautiously down from the landings above.
“Did anyone see what happened?” Teddy approached the group surveying the scene from the bottom of the stairs.
“No, and its difficult to make anything out from here,” Phineas responded. They both cautiously approached the wreckage.
“We’re trapped?” An anxious voice came down from second floor. “We don’t even have our wands. How are we supposed to defend ourselves?”
“I wonder if this is a test? Like, how we handle ourselves in an emergency.”
“Whatever this is,” Micah called up the stairs, “I doubt it’s a standard muggle event. There are other doors. Diogy and I’ll go around back, maybe we can see from the street what‘s going on.”
“I’m going with you,” Teddy said and addressed Phineas, "I'll meet you at the door, and we'll figure it out. Don't get too close if its not safe."
“But, you won’t even have a wand.” Paulette, having descended mostly down the staircase, held a book in her hand as a weapon.
“You’ll have your wand as soon as you clear the back yard,” Victoire responded automatically. Micah had not hesitated a second, while Teddy, who had paused, shot Victoire a quick look as he headed toward the back of the house.
Phineas was now at the door, still moving cautiously, but intent on inspecting the damage for a source. Victoire and Armond were close, but they really only hovered, unsure of what to do to help. It wasn’t long before the dog’s bark could be heard.
There was a tense silence in the hall as everyone waited.
Then, Micah’s laugh carried through the door. Her words jumbled as she attempted to speak through it. “Wh … who … or… dered … the… rug?”
“Rug?” Victoire’s eyes widened in horror and her stomach plunged as she surveyed the damage in a whole new light. Oh, he didn’t! But, then, why wouldn’t he?
She was such an idiot. She never even thought to ask how Owen would send it. She assumed delivery would be via muggle means as with the other items.
“That would be mine,” she admitted sheepishly.
Teddy’s deep voice broke through Micah’s merriment. “I think the house rejected your mode of delivery.”
“How bad is it?” Victoire called through the door, feeling the weight of the stares from her housemates.
“It’s hard to explain. The rug is impaled in the doorway itself,” Teddy surmised from the other side. The door quivered slightly and emitted a wicked creaking sound. “I can’t move it.”
“Don’t try. The house might come down on top of us,” Pauline declared in panic. Her own biblio-weapon still raised, and, by the look she threw her, Victoire half expected to be clobbered over the head with it. “We’ll have to move until they fix this,” she stressed, “Its unsafe.”
Phineas examined the point of impact. He ran his hands along the door frame paying close attention to the fissures in the wood. “The integrity of the frame itself is intact, and this does not appear to be a load bearing wall. What does it look like from outside?”
“The door is splintered but there are no cracks in the frame,” Teddy reported.
“There should be no need to vacate,” Phineas spoke with conviction, turning his head slightly but not stopping his inspection entirely. “I don’t suggest trying to remove the impaled rug right now as that may, in effect, cause more damage.” That advice he directed through the door before turning around to the group in the foyer. “Does anyone have their telephone with them? We should apprise Andy of the situation and use an alternative entry in the interim.”
Paulette huffed, but pulled out her phone and handed it to Phineas. Victoire was grateful to note that Paulette then caught sight of her cousin and promptly divested Pauline of her still raised book.
“You don’t know for sure its ok, and how is Andy going to fix this?” Pauline asked. “I mean, I can appreciate the raw and rugged type as much as the next girl, but he can’t even cast a spell. How can we be sure we can trust his judgment on safety here?”
“Because the university trusts him. That‘s why he earned the job,” Phineas answered in a tone that left no room for argument. He then set about working the phone with concentration and precision.
Victoire had faded to the back of the group and lingered in the entry to the adjacent sitting room. She rocked from her heels to the balls of her feet. One arm crossed below her chest and the other propped on top as she grazed her knuckles across her lips.
A light tapping from the window interrupted her fidgeting. She turned and found Micah on the other side of the glass, motioning for her to open it. It stuck slightly, but Victoire had gotten quite good at prying the windows of the house open. She loosened it but it opened only a quarter of the way. Victoire was fighting with it when Teddy’s hands appeared under the frame and gave it the push it needed to release all the way. They proceeded to crawl in the house.
“Well,” Micah said as she straightened up, “that works until we get the door fixed.” She watched Teddy maneuver his tall frame through the opening. “Or, people can go around the back. Easy enough.”
She looked at Victoire. “Sugar, don’t let it get you down. It’s fixable and the rug might still be useable. Here, take a look. You‘ll see the humor. I know it.”
Victoire reluctantly leaned out the window. She did not see the humor.
She heard a large crack on the street which made her jump until she realized that it was Andy arriving side along with a stocky man who was so short he didn't even come up to Andy's shoulders. The height different was just the beginning of the disparity Victoire detected between the two. Andy was in jeans and a tool belt with an air of calm about him while the other man carried nothing but a wand, donned official brown robes with the Bimas crest on them, and appeared restless to the point of twitchy. Three other men in similar brown robes soon followed them. The group quickly went to work surveying the damage.
Victoire wanted nothing more than to retreat to her room, but the nagging feeling of responsibility had her rooted to the scene. Micah and Teddy had made quick work of the mess outside, but the inside of the house was coated with grit. Micah left for work, Phineas for his meeting, and those who had not destroyed university property chose to go out for dinner. Victoire did the only thing she could think of doing.
She looked for cleaning supplies.
Victoire started to sweep the foyer as the crew completed their assessment. She gathered from their discussion that the rug would be removed the next day, and it would take three to five additional days to work out the spells to repair the door and return the wards to full functionality. Aside from not being able to use the front door, they determined there were no other concerns for the inhabitants so the crew left with plans to begin fresh in the morning.
Andy stayed to help Victoire clean. She found herself apologizing to him again and couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything that could actually ruffle the man. Here he was, after hours, assuring her that it was all going to be fine and offering some tips for making the job of cleaning easier.
It was not long, though, before he was called away to another house where someone had overrun a bathtub. Victoire took some comfort in the fact that she wasn’t the only idiot around, but she was still sure she took the prize.
"How are you going to get there?" she asked as Andy retrieved the tool belt he had dropped over the banister when he started cleaning.
"Every house has a car. I'll take the one from here and bring it back when I meet the crew in the morning."
"There's a car?"
"In the garage. That's how you lot are going to learn to drive."
She really needed to look at the immersion program outline more closely.
Andy left, and, after another half hour, she was fetching what felt like her hundredth pail of clean water for wiping down the stairwells. She returned to find Teddy entering through the window. He balanced a container of food in his hands and seemed to have discovered the correct angle of approach to bring his tall frame though with relative ease.
“It’s got to be time to take a break,” he said in a careful tone as he held up the container.
“That was nice of you, but I ate with my parents earlier. That‘s why I didn‘t go with everyone else.” She suspected he did not believe her excuse for ditching the group for dinner.
“It’s mostly dessert,” he offered again and deftly grabbed the rag from her grasp, replacing it with the outstretched container.
She took it hesitantly and couldn‘t help peering inside. The container was divided, one side held chips and no fish while the other held something gooey and chocolate.
When she looked up, she noticed Teddy running his finger under the band of his watch.
She'd never made him nervous before. He caught himself and pulled out a bottle of chocolate milk from his pocket to extend to her as well. He had definitely hit the comfort food.
“Thank you.” She didn’t trust herself to say more than that. She placed the food and milk down on the second floor landing and used that restroom to wash her hands. When she returned, Teddy was halfway down the stairway wiping the side she had not yet completed.
“You don’t have to do that,” she insisted.
“I know. Eat, please. The heating charms will wear off soon.”
Victoire sat on a step and started picking at the food. A silence hung between them, and Victoire wished she had brought down a wireless or something to fill the space. When she was alone and cleaning up her mess, the quiet seemed suitably punitive. It was a completely different matter when someone else was there. She could not remember actually hearing herself chew before, and, although she was sure it was only audible in her own head, it was disconcerting.
Teddy was the one to break the silence. He spoke as he worked while his eyes remained on the surface he was cleaning. “You got a rug.”
“Owen gave it to me. It’s an old one from the hotel, but it’s in great shape.” She hesitated as her glance swept to the front door. “It was.”
“They say if it’s going to be ok?”
“Depends on how it fused. We should know tomorrow when they extract it for the repairs.”
"If you need to get another..." His statement trailed off in uncertainty, and she wondered if he detected her tensing up at the thought of where he might be going with it. He gave a half shrug and left it.
They were quiet for a while. The soft sound of Teddy‘s cloth making rhythmic strokes across the wood punctuated by the splash of the water when he rinsed it out provided the only background noise in the still house.
“How did you know about the wand in the back yard?” he asked, breaking the trance that had fallen over her as she watched his hands move.
She blinked and looked back at her food, wiping her own hands as she did. “I’m a curse breaker’s daughter. I’m surprised you didn’t run into my dad testing wards move in day.”
“We weren’t here long.” She heard him turn from his work, and she looked down the few stairs that separated them to witness him struggle with his words. “I saw Louis, I meant to - well, this summer-”
Victoire gave a weary sigh. “Don’t. Not tonight.”
He held her gaze for a moment, but, to her relief, he did not push the subject. That added to her gratitude, which led her to speak unprompted for the first time. “Thank you for the food and for staying to clean with me.”
“You're welcome." He dropped the rag in the bucket and sat down two steps below her. Reaching for the milk she had placed on the step beside her, he opened it and handed it to her. "Ease up on yourself a bit, ok. No one blames you, except maybe the Pauls and -”
“The Pauls?” Victoire coughed a bit on the milk she had just swallowed as she held back a giggle.
Teddy smiled himself. “Yeah, the Pauls, and they don’t count.”
It shouldn’t have made a difference - hearing it from him when others had said nearly the same thing - but it did.