Chapter 1 : The Black Dress
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Note: Written in response to the Double Hit challenge by littlemissmb. I was given the pairing Cedric/Cho and the letters ‘B’ and ‘D’ which had to form the beginning letters of the words in the title for this story.
“We cannot change our memories, but we can change their meaning and the power they have over us” – David Seamands
Collapsing on the floor, bending one knee and splaying her other leg in front of her, Cho took a sip of the glass in her hand and laid her head back against the wardrobe door behind her, unwilling to move from her spot on the floor. After what had been a long, weary few hours, she had decided that taking a small break would do no harm. Resting her chin on the arm curled around her bent knee, she absentmindedly swirled the glass round and watched for a moment as the amber liquid fizzed and hissed as she slowed her movement. Setting the glass on the wooden floor beneath her, she tightened the scarf she had tied around her head and impatiently tucked a few stray tendrils of long, black, wavy hair that had escaped and were plastered to her forehead. She let out a tired sigh and closed her eyes.
She had not anticipated that packing to move into her new apartment would be this exhausting. When she was younger, she had once heard that a person never truly knows how many things they own until they are forced to pack it all into boxes. After being surrounded by half empty boxes and odds and ends strewn across the smooth, wooden floors of her small flat for the last ten days, she reflected that the statement could not been truer.
Opening her eyes and surveying the organised mess and clutter of her belongings, she swept her eyes across the room and mentally catalogued what was left to be sorted, boxed and marked. Hopefully she would be finished with the bedroom within the next few hours, just in time for dinner and a much needed rest. Ignoring the temptation to stay huddled in a corner of her bedroom, she forced herself to sit up and arched her back and stretched, grimacing at the pain that shot through her back. Crouching over boxes as she methodically decided what to keep and what to throw for days on end had done horrors to her back and Cho had long since decided to book herself in for a massage once she had settled into her new apartment.
Sighing once more and reminding herself that the sooner she started, the sooner she would finish, she reached out and pulled a pile of clothing towards her. Clothing had been perhaps the easiest of all her belongings to sort. Most of her clothing had been carefully folded and placed in the ‘keep’ boxes. Very few items had found their way in the ‘throw’ boxes. While not a particularly vain person, Cho knew that her weakness was clothing and loathed to part with most of what she had accumulated in her life. Placing a few skirts into a box, she grinned at the thought of what her fiancé would say when he discovered just how much clothing she owned.
Pausing for a moment in her sorting, she allowed her face to soften as the thought of her fiancé’s kind eyes and loving smile. He had offered to come over and help her pack but Cho knew that his idea of helping would more likely involve tangling up with her in the bed sheets and had declined. While always a welcome distraction, Cho knew that packing her belongings was something she had to do without his help. One of the struggles she had found while boxing all the things in her small flat was that every object had a memory attached to it, as was always the case when sorting through objects a person has not seen in a long while. More often than not, she would spend more time immersed in stolen moments from the past than she would in progressing further in the long and laborious process that was packing up everything she owned. Some of the memories had made her laugh, like she had earlier that morning when she had discovered a shirt that her best friend had given her at her last birthday that had a rather crude phrase written across the front in spidery writing, while others, like finding a scarf that her grandmother had knitted her before passing, had brought Cho sadness. Finding long forgotten items brought forth emotions and memories that Cho knew she had to deal with herself and, though she loved her fiancé dearly, spending time by herself among the trinkets of her life in the past ten days had brought her more closure than she had anticipated.
Rummaging through the slowly diminishing pile on the floor next to her, her hand brushed against a soft fabric and Cho frowned. The silkiness of the black fabric felt impossibly soft and unlike anything she could remember owning. She slowly drew the piece of cloth out from underneath the heap of clothing and her eyes grew wide as she took in the black dress in her hand. Her charcoal eyes swept over the simple lines, the flare of the skirt, the slight ruffle of the sleeves. Without warning, an onslaught of memories struck her, memories of another time, another place, another world, another lifetime, and Cho suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Thoughts, colours, memories, whispered promises, looks of love, things she had not allowed herself to think about in eight years washed over her and she had to close her eyes at the intensity of them.
“...you-you will? Th-that’s great! Oh, well, um, meet me in the Entrance Hall tomorrow morning?...”
“...of course I introduced you as my girlfriend, what else would I have said?...”
“...I hope you like it, the lady at the shop said that girls like gold, but I don’t know...”
“...I’ll miss you but I promise to write to you every day...”
“...you’re beautiful, you know that?...”
“...I love you, too...”
“...don’t worry, I’ll be careful in the maze, I have you to come back to, don’t I?...”
It was only when Cho opened her eyes that she realised how tightly she had clenched her left fist in the fabric. Gently uncurling her fist, she laid the dress onto her lap with shaking hands and smoothed it out, her thin fingers stroking the material and taking in the familiar softness of the fabric. Unbidden tears filled her eyes as she gently traced the neckline of the dress and felt the roughness of the stitching under the pads of her fingers.
The dress was probably the most simple item of clothing she had ever bought, save for her school robes. With bold, classical lines, it was not a dress that Cho would have bought out of her own volition. It certainly was not a dress that had caught her eye when she had been delightedly browsing the racks of a small clothing shop, hidden in the many alleys of Hogsmeade. Yet, with a gentle touch on her arm, a pleading look from his clear, blue eyes and a soft smile, she had taken the dress and tried it on. Not for her, but for him.
She would have done anything for him. And when she had come out of the small changing room and spun around, she had seen the way his eyes lit up. Spinning around and flinging her body into dramatic poses, laughing with him at how ridiculous she had felt, she had suddenly begun to love the dress. He had loved the dress so she had loved the dress. It had been that simple. It should not have been that simple, but it was. It had always been simple between them.
The last time she had seen him, she had been wearing the dress. With her school robes bundled under her arm, she had entered the tent with the skirt of the dress rubbing against her legs. Though his nervousness clearly shone through his eyes, they had still lit up as they had every time he saw her in the dress. She had left the tent with his smell lingering on the dress and a smile on her face. Later, as the screams had echoed through her ears and the world around her had fallen to pieces, all she had done was bury herself in the folds of the dress and searched for the warmth and smell that always came with feeling its silkiness on her skin.
His smell on the dress had long gone. Cho knew this, yet she could not resist bringing the dress to her face and inhaling the material. A sadness filled her when all she smelled was the familiar, clean smell of clothes that had been in storage too long and she closed her eyes for a moment and waited for the moment to pass. Over the years, she had become accustomed to sudden moments of grief and despair and, though they had faded over time, they were still no less easy to deal with now than they had been in the few weeks immediately surrounding what had been the worst day of her life.
Still lost in the haziness of her memories for a moment, Cho slowly surveyed the two boxes in front of her. One, filled almost to the brim with clothing she still wore on a regular basis and the other, with ripped shirts and out-of-date jeans. One to keep, the other to let go. Her eyes swung from the boxes to the dress and back to the boxes.
Feeling sixteen years old again, Cho laid the now folded dress on the floor next to her and brought her knees to her chest, allowing her hair to tickle her hands as she hugged her knees tightly and laid her head on her clasped hands. Out of the corner of her eye, her gaze lingered on the first box, yet she could not bring herself to place the dress into it. Her arms felt frozen and she gripped her thighs tightly as a panic rose in her. It seemed silly that such a small decision was affecting her so much. She knew what she had to do, but it was as though she would be placing a small part of herself into the box with the dress. And it terrified her.
The creak of the door and light that suddenly bathed the room startled her and she jumped. Her head snapped to the door that had just opened and he eyes fell on the tall frame of her fiancé.
“Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine, I’m just...” She trailed off helplessly. Everything was not fine. She felt more lost and confused than she had in eight years and did not know what to do. She laid her head back down on her knees and did not move when she felt the warmth of his body as he sat down next to her. His hand found hers and squeezed gently. She raised her head at the unspoken request and smiled as her eyes found his concerned ones. Suddenly glad that he had ignored her claim that she was fine by herself, she sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. His arm came around to slip around her shoulders and she slowly straightened her legs and melted into his warmth and comfort. The two sat for a comfortable moment or two before his soft voice broke the silence.
“Are you all right?” She let out another sigh.
“Yes, I think so, I just...” She looked to the floor next to her and picked up the dress and once more smoothed it over her lap, the skirt of the dress brushing his thigh as she continued.
“I found something that I didn’t expect to find,” she finished softly. Her head bowed, she traced her right hand once more through the folds of the dress but stopped when his own hand covered hers.
“Is that...?” His voice was as quiet as hers. He did not need to finish his question for her to know what he was asking. She had only spoken of that fateful afternoon once and it had never been brought up again between them. He had always been understanding and had always provided silent comfort whenever she had needed it.
“Yes,” she answered, nestling closer to him and his arm tightened around her. Seconds later, she felt the feathery pressure of his lips against the top of her head and she blinked back tears at the loving gesture. He was so sweet, so understanding and so very real. And she was a mess over something that should stay in the past, over a person that she had long since said goodbye to.
“It’s okay to be sad.” His voice was laced with concern and she let out a dry chuckle. He knew her too well.
“No. It’s not. It’s so stupid, it’s just a dress and I’m sitting here and I can’t even put it in a bloody box and...” Frustrated tears came to her eyes and, this time, she could not stop a few of them spilling onto her cheeks. She really thought she had put this part of her life where it belonged, in the past. He remained silent for a few minutes as he waited for her to collect herself. It was something that she had always loved about him, he never smothered her and only gave her what she needed.
“You know, when my grandfather died, all my dad had left of him was this watch.” As he spoke, he slipped off the old, slightly tattered silver watch from his wrist and held it in his left hand.
“Every night, he would take it out and just look at it. One of my earliest memories is watching him take it out of his desk and just... stare at it. He never wore it. He never spoke about it. He just looked at it. Every single night. And it made him sad, you know? He used to take it out and then tell me stories all about the war and Granddad’s part in it. ” His voice was quiet as he spoke and he did not once turn to look at Cho, instead, his gaze remained on the watch while he ran his fingers along the band and the buckle. She did not know where he was heading with this, but did not interrupt him, instead, she laid her head back on his shoulder and listened to him speak.
“I never understood it. I never understood why he would take it out every single night when it was so obviously making him sad. I wanted to ask him but Mum always told me to let it go and that it was something that he had to work out for himself. And I did just that. I never asked him about it, I just listened to whatever he had to say, nothing more.
“And then my sister was born. And he just... stopped. It was almost like he had forgotten the watch even existed. His whole world was centred around her constant care and he never took the watch out again. But I couldn’t let it go. I wasn’t always this patient.” He grinned as he said this and Cho had to smile at the thought of him as a small boy, eager and curious.
“And so, one night, after dinner, I asked him why he had stopped taking Granddad’s watch out every night. And, you know what he said?” He now turned to Cho as he continued and slid his hand into hers.
“He said that some things belong in the past and that he had spent too much time thinking about the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. He said that he knew his children needed him, especially with Ellie being so sick, and that he had to stop living in the past and live for the present and the future. He knew he’d always miss his dad, but there wasn’t any point in being so cut up over it. I never saw the watch again until he gave it to me for my eighteenth birthday.” He paused for a moment and reached across Cho to take hold of the dress and placed it on her lap.
“No one is going to blame you for not wanting to let go.” He gently placed their clasped hands on top of the dress and his voice was so soft that Cho had to strain to hear it.
“It’s not stupid to still be sad. We have no control over what we do and don’t remember. Yes, it happened years ago and you probably feel like you’re over it, but it’s okay for a small part of you to still hurt over it.” He gently squeezed her hand and let go, leaving her hand nestled in the soft fabric.
“And when it comes to what you want to keep from the past and what you want to let go of, it’s up to you. No one else can tell you what to do.” Cho looked from him and then rested her eyes on the dress one more time. She knew what he was trying to tell her. It was okay to want to keep the dress if she wanted to and he would understand if she did.
Exhaling slowly, she picked the dress up and made to place the dress in the ‘keep’ box before she paused and thought about what she had just heard. Did she really need the dress? Yes, the dress was filled with memories, memories that she would always treasure, but did she need the dress to keep hold of those memories? Losing the dress would not mean she would lose her memories.
She took in the lines of the dress once more and smiled softly. It was time to let go. She held the dress in the air for a moment, as if saying goodbye to it, before placing it gently on top of a few broken buckles in the ‘throw’ box. She ran her fingers over the black fabric once, twice, before closing the lid and turning back to her fiancé. He smiled at her, his eyes soft and understanding. He held a hand out to her.
“Ready to go?” Cho smiled back at him.
“Yeah. Yeah, I am.” A silent understanding passed between the two of them and both knew that she meant every word. Taking his hand, she hauled herself up and waited for him to do the same. The two walked hand in hand only pausing when Cho sneaked a glance back at the box sitting on the far side of the room that she had just closed. A soft smile spread across her face and, without another thought, she reached out to the light switch and bathed the room in darkness before following her fiancé into the hallway.