Chapter 20 : Home Is Where The Floo Is
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"You are not a gypsy. A boat eez not a 'ome."
"Kitchen, parlor, bedrooms. All you need," Victoire croaked in a voice barely recognizable as human. She'd been given a tonic to soothe the damage inflicted on her throat by smoke fumes. A potion she'd been instructed to take every six hours. She'd been taking it every four. The current time was exactly three hours and forty-three minutes after her last dose.
Her mother stopped taking pity on her when she was forced to confess she'd been staying on the boat. "A 'ome should not require a motor! Boats cannot 'ave a floo. Real 'omes 'ave floos."
Victoire had learned, from about age five, to measure her mum's agitation by her accent. She was pushing Fleur to the point of rapid French, but she couldn't seem to stop.
"It's my boat, if I want to be a gypsy here, I can.” The speech killed her throat, but she ignored the throbbing. “Barefoot, if I fancy." She added the last bit for good measure, kicking off her shoes with an irritable two-step. One of them skidded under a bed the women had just finished hitting with string of different cleaning charms.
"What 'as gotten into you?" Fleur punctuated her question with an impatient stamp of her own foot, clad in the black leather riding boots she insisted were every bit as practical as English wellies.
"I don't like shoes!" Victoire snapped. She couldn’t stand the feel of hers any more.
Everything in the boat had been coated with soot, held firmly in place with a glaze of salty film left after the seawater was drained. With every room they cleaned, more grit clung to them, irritating her skin and her to the point she stood stubbornly in the middle of the last sleeping room to be scoured - bare feet planted, arms crossed, belligerent expression aimed at her equally irritated mother.
The women shared the same build with the exception of Victoire's slight height advantage. Truth was, even if she'd been a full head taller than her mother, she still wouldn't come close to the sheer dominance of Fleur's presence. Especially, when Fleur decided to rise to a challenge.
"I am your maman. You theenk I do not know zat?"
A shadow, in the form of the lowest ranking Magical Law Enforcement officer assisting with the fire investigation, crossed the door. The interruption brought both women up short.
"I was looking for the galley-" He hesitated, caught in the twin glares of mother and daughter.
Victoire nodded her head and motioned with her hand down the hallway the same direction he'd come. With three levels of rooms magically tucked within its hull, along with two decks above water, the boat was spacious enough to accommodate a group. The nautical hallways and stairs, rounded and tunnel-like, were not. The addition of what seemed like an excessive number of Aurors and investigators pushed the capacity to near claustrophobic.
Victoire couldn’t decide what she wanted more: to leave herself or to kick everybody else out.
People she didn’t know had been surrounding her since she and Owen appeared at St. Mungo’s the night before. Micah had been smart, choosing to avoid the whole scene. Victoire and Owen had been kept overnight. Rather than let them rest and recuperate, the Senior MLE officer, an unpleasant man with the ability to turn a casual conversation about the weather into a back-room interrogation, treated them as captive audiences for his questions, allegations, and theories as to why they were nearly reduced to cinders.
Why some rouge Death Eater or other dark lunatic had targeted her boat, quite frankly, wasn’t a topic Victoire wanted to think about. She just wanted them put away where they wouldn’t hurt anyone else.
Once the potions took effect, she’d offered the boat to sail the criminals to Azkaban when they were caught. She didn’t have a plank, but she promised to get one and make them swim the last kilometer.
Officer Unpleasant hadn’t appreciated the suggestion. No one had. Grant would have, had he been there, but he was not. No one stood at the foot of her bed giving her feet a reassuring squeeze through the blankets while the rest of the medical staff talked above her head.
Just as well, Victoire dropped the Azkaban escort plan not long after the heavy potions wore off. The more time she spent cleaning the destruction left behind, the more she thought a better plan was to have the ramora take the perpetrator for a tow in the surf. Not to seem ungrateful, but the memory of that sucker attaching to her back still creeped Victoire out. She cringed at the thought and the image of the resulting minor -but hideous- bruise below her shoulder blades.
Yes, she was liking the ramora plan best.
Victoire stepped on a shard of wood, bringing her out of her mutinous thoughts. She winced, mouthed an inaudible curse, but continued with the hint of a limp to the door the officer she was escorting had likely already tried.
"Keep trying," she advised in a hoarse whisper before the man could inform her that he'd already been there. "Fairy magic," she rasped. "Eventually you'll arrive at the correct room."
He crossed the threshold with a suspicious glance back, but seemed to consider the fairy option better than returning to the scene of the cat-fight he'd interrupted. Alone in the passageway, Victoire hopped on one foot in an attempt to dislodge a large splinter before the nuisance buried itself deeper in her skin. She cast a Tergeo charm down the hallway, hoping the debris she removed would be the last tracked in by Ministry boots, and exhaled an annoyed breath.
She had just taken part in the most ridiculous argument in the history of communication. Plus, she had no firm way of knowing the officer wouldn’t end up being blasted to the fairy’s favorite stump if he touched the wrong doorknob. Materra’s troop did not appreciate the invasion of the wizards who had been swarming the boat since the fire was reported. Forcibly expelling an officer of the law from the premises must carry some sort of penalty. She hoped the fairies could hold off the urge for punitive tactics a bit longer.
At the sight of a grim Bill Weasley ducking into the hallway, Victoire contemplated diving after the officer. No time for escape contingencies, though, her father got right to the point. "Victoire, I will not have you take your frustrations out on your mother."
He likely had his own theory of what went on at the tournament, despite his daughter’s obstinate lack of sharing. Victoire also suspected Ginny put some things together, but what she might have shared with her brother, Victoire hadn’t determined. Expecting a confrontation on the nature of her frustrations, her father's next statement surprised her.
"She stressed for months over what you wanted for this boat. When she asked, you’re owl said: not French, not fussy, not like home." His tone was impartial. He let the words she'd written speak for themselves.
Those words hit Victoire hard. What a spoiled little brat she’d been. Her mother had done the interior remodel without a floral print to be found. The boat, almost finished, would never be the same, even with the soot and water cleaned off. The smoke had seeped so far into those painstakingly chosen crisp, nautical fabrics that the smell was guaranteed to linger until they were replaced.
"I'm sorry," she replied, hanging her head with a frown.
"I'm not the one who needs to hear that." Her father kissed her forehead and left her to make her own decision on how to make things right.
Victoire leaned against the teak handrail running the length of the hallway. She needed to apologize. She wished she could be sure what they'd even argued about.
She’d never experienced the boat in open water, her stomach churned as if riding rough seas. Ironic, as the activity of the boat and those onboard had finally started to calm down. But wasn't seasickness simply the result of the body struggling to maintain center of gravity with everything shifting around some perception of the horizon.
She needed to find her horizon again.
And she needed to pick herself off the wall to do it.
Pushing upright, she turned to the end of the hall where a narrow ladder staircase led to the port deck. Someone was coming below. Their head cleared the floor above only as their foot hit the last rung.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Teddy took a stride to close the distance between them. "I worried you got hurt."
Victoire’s entire body stiffened against the challenge of simple proximity to him. “Oh yeah, where were you after the tournament?”
“You avoided me.” He spoke slowly, feeling his way around the words. He actually sounded distressed. “I’ve been worried about you.”
"The hell you care about me." The croak of her swollen throat added a measure of additional bitterness to the accusation.
"You know I do." He followed his statement with a survey of the hall and a glance back up the hatch. Frowning and lowering his voice, he bent closer to her, eyes pleading, and said, "And you know I have a girlfriend.”
"What'd you think you were doing with me?" Victoire returned, not particularly concerned with confidentiality.
She should have been. Every thought, every memory, filled her with loathing and shame. Maybe she should have been stronger. Pretended she wasn't crushed at being lightly used and cast aside. Played the whole thing off as if she took their … whatever as carelessly as he did.
Teddy closed his eyes as if he hadn't considered the possibility this particular conversation would have to happen.
Seriously? Who was this bloke?
"Say mistake, I blast you off this boat." Her harsh words stopped him, left him staring as if assessing a trapped or rabid animal. This man in front of her was a stranger. "What happened to you?"
He bristled at the disgust in her tone and went straight for the defensive "Life happened. Things change."
"You sure did."
"If you need me to take the blame, I -"
Blame? Bastard! Everything came so easy for him. He decides. End of discussion. Life goes on. Never look back.
Any shred of thought to protect her wounded pride left her. She wasn't going to make this conversation easy for him.
"Why ever tell me you saw more?"
He didn't comprehend the full weight of the question, at first. "I - I always have." His face registered concern and shock in quick succession. "You think I'm some arse who’d-"
"No.” She sliced her hand in front of her. “I don't want to hear how you're different. You made me love you and then you -you-"
She flailed over the rush of emotions, over the accusation fighting to make way past the lump in her raw throat. Tears she expected her eyes to be too burned and gritty to muster gathered within them. A relief she might have appreciated had she been remotely concerned with any aspect of her current physical health.
Her words, when they emerged, rang flat with defeat. "You proved I'm not enough."
"You can't say that." She choked out the short syllables. "Or it'd be me instead of her."
The words hung between them. She stood as long as she could bear the mixture of confusion and regret reflected in Teddy's expression. And then she left, Apparating three kilometers inland to the the stump where the fairies preferred to vanish anyone who annoyed them.
Someone had thought to put a Cushioning charm on it.
She’d told Teddy how much he’d hurt her, and she’d hurt him -more than she’d expected- doing so. After years, she had let go. The ideal she’d kept safe for herself all that time was a dream, not a destiny. In holding on to that hope, she’d allowed her life to drift. She’d merely kept busy, managing to fill her time with everything but definition.
Sarah had been right. Victoire attended Bimas because she had no idea what else to do with her life after Hogwarts. If she were completely honest, she chose Bimas because Teddy would be there. And for once, they’d be on the same level.
But they weren’t on the same level. Not at all. He and Iska were.
She’d invited Teddy into her afternoon secret because she missed the secrets they used to keep between the two of them. Because she wanted a them again, the way they used to be. She kissed Teddy at the tournament because she wanted to. Because she wanted a them that was even more than they used to be.
Now what? Bimas, boat, fairies, her condition, her mother, her Christmas shopping… Blimey, where to start?
She expected her father to be the one to track her down, but the Apparition she heard was more of a crisp snap than a crack. Her mother stepped to her, holding out the potion for her throat. “Victoire no more ‘iding. You are stronger zan zat.”
Victoire gingerly sipped the tonic, her mother frowning at the wince accompanying the swallow. She shook her head when she’d drained the vial. “You sure?”
Victoire wasn’t. The minute she began allowing her subconscious to surface, the niggling guilt of her own inadequacies had bubbled up. “Ever think Bimas should have left me out? Maybe I wasn’t there for the right reasons.”
Her mother blinked in mild surprise at her daughter’s train of thought before she said, “You do not know what you want, ma chérie, because you let everyone else influence your choices. Quiet everything and simply imagine where you are most ‘appy.” Fleur knelt in front of her daughter to meet her downcast eyes. “Not what your Papa or I expect. Not who you will be wiz. Imagine you.”
Victoire frowned. Her parents were not the sort of people who were easy to ignore, even in theory and especially for one of their offspring. “Is that what you did after school?”
“Oiu. I remained after ze Tri-Wizard Tournament.” Fleur removed the bottle from Victoire’s grip, placing it on the ground and taking her daughter’s hands in hers. “Eengland was not safe zen. Eet was lonely. I wanted to go home so many times, but eet was the choice I made.”
Tears began to sting Victoire’s eyes. Her mother squeezed her hands and said, “Sometimes you ‘ave to let go.”
“You had Papa,” Victoire replied. “The Order.” Her mother was never alone for long.
Fleur waved the comment away with a single hand. “Events ‘ave been rewritten in light of ze war’s outcome. Support was not as bold or as popular when zat outcome was uncertain.” Her tone softened with distant experience when she placed that hand on Victoire’s cheek and said, “I made my life ‘ere. I was not ze wife ze Weasley’s expected for your father but I am ze wife ‘e needed.”
The tears began to flow freely. “I'm sorry -" Sniffles, and the sobs she suppressed to slightly less painful hick-ups, sabotaged Victoire’s attempt to say more. Her mother held her while her shoulders shook.
"Sorry about the fight -I know- I shouldn't hide here.” Victoire managed to whisper after a while. “And I know, I should wear shoes."
Her mother stroked her hair. "As long as your feet are clean and warm, I theenk eet does not matter. Your feet are beautiful."
"No one has beautiful feet, Mum."
I had to re-write this chapter after losing some files on my computer. I'm not sure if I recaptured all that I had written before, but hopefully I captured the inkling of change -and possibly growth- for Victoire.
Thanks for everyone still reading :)
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