Chapter 22 : Realisations
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It was raining as I stood outside the French Ministry of Magic. I’d been waiting there for a good ten minutes and I was starting to get cold from the damp and the wind. Whenever anyone mentioned France, or anywhere other than England, I immediately imagined sunny weather and warmer temperatures, not rain. I got plenty of that at home, thank you very much.
I hoped Teddy wasn’t going to be much longer; he promised he’d meet me at the French Ministry after my international portkey was scheduled to arrive so he could take me back to where he lived. I didn’t really want to be grumpy when he got here, but I was slowly inching towards scowling.
There was a tap on my shoulder, and I looked behind me to see if it was him. It was; he was holding a large umbrella over our heads and was grinning, his soppy fringe plastered to his face.
“It’s a bit wet, isn’t it?” he said happily, kissing me on the cheek by way of greeting. My face tingled where he’d touched it. “Did you have a safe journey?”
“Yeah,” I said, grabbing my suitcase and following him away from the main doors of the Ministry.
“It’s good to see you,” Teddy said, looking me up and down with a satisfied smile. I nodded, my tongue tied. “Here, grab my arm.” He offered me his arm, which I took and we turned on the spot and vanished into the air.
When we were on solid ground again, I was loathe to let go of him; I felt so safe, clutching him for support. In all honesty, I’d never have let him go if I’d had any choice. Victoire probably wouldn’t appreciate me clinging to her boyfriend all week, unfortunately. I was going to struggle to keep my hands to myself for such a long time with very few other people around.
Ahead of us through the curtain of rain I could see up a small side-street; I presumed this was Bordeaux. His house wasn’t far away and he let us in quickly after we dashed through the rain.
“You brought the weather with you, I see,” he said as he stuck his umbrella in the stand by the door. “Here, let me carry your bags.”
I handed him my suitcase and followed him through the house. It was small, only one floor, with minimal clutter. Victoire was probably a bit of a neat freak, as I should have expected. Teddy took my bags into the spare room, where someone had laid out some towels and some soap. I decided not to take that as a slur on my soap-loving tendencies but instead as a kind gesture.
“Thanks,” I said, looking around. “It’s a lovely place.”
Teddy nodded. Pointing to his left, he gave me directions to the bathroom. “Victoire’s still at work,” he explained. “I thought I’d show you some of the sights, seeing as we have the whole afternoon to ourselves.”
My heart leapt at the thought; was I going to get him all to myself for a whole afternoon? It seemed too good to be true. We rarely had time alone, and if we did it was usually a few metres away from the rest of my family. In fact, I couldn’t remember when we’d ever had uninterrupted time together. Heart rattling inside my chest, I tried to calm myself. He would soon tire of me if I was too jittery to say anything coherent.
The rain still hadn’t lightened up, so we huddled together under his large red umbrella. I tried to ignore the fact that we were so close, his shoulder touching against mine gently as we walked through the alleys towards the town centre. In the alternate universe inside of my head, he had his arm draped around my waist to hold me close beneath the umbrella, his body warming mine in the foul weather. If I closed my eyes slightly, I could almost smell his after-shave on his neck. Forcing myself to focus, I snapped out of my reverie. My cheeks were glowing despite the cold; he was going to notice something was up if I didn’t control myself.
We ducked into a café, settling at a table in the corner of the room. I sat opposite him, leaving me with little choice but to gaze into his eyes dreamily. Again, I had to remember myself, brushing my fingers through my damp hair as a distraction.
“I come here a couple of times a week,” Teddy explained, watching me fiddle with my hair. “They speak pretty good English, though they’re trying to teach me some French. I’m not really much of a linguist, unfortunately.”
I blushed at the thought of him speaking French; I bet he wasn’t as bad as he was claiming to be. He had always been bright, picking up most things with apparent ease. His exam results at Hogwarts had been better than mine, and if I did say so myself I did pretty well.
“I took Ancient Runes,” I said pensively. “But I don’t suppose it’s anything like learning a modern language.”
A waiter approached our table; I was disappointed that none of the stereotypes my Dad had told me about were true. This man was not wearing a beret, nor was he carrying an accordion. I made a mental note to inform Dad of his mistakes when I got home.
Teddy saw my panicked look when I tried to read the menu, and ordered for me. He probably ordered me something disgusting like snails, but I wasn’t going to make a fuss. I wanted to seem like a cool traveller, not a pathetic girl who was scared of her own shadow. I needed to be worldly-wise, mature and wise. At the moment I was just acting like someone completely out of my depth, which I supposed I was.
Maybe this whole experience would be good for me; I’d prove myself to be an independent woman, capable of handling herself in new and different situations and suddenly everyone I knew would see me in a completely new light, adoring me and worshipping me. Okay, so it was unlikely to happen but it wasn’t necessarily impossible. I could make it work.
I tossed my hair back in what I presumed was a seductive and confident manner, but in reality definitely wasn’t.
“I hear you’re going out with Scorpius Malfoy,” Teddy said conversationally after I was done with hair flicking. “How’s that going?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Who told you that?”
He smiled wickedly. “Just because we’re in another country doesn’t mean we don’t hear things, you know.”
I blushed. “We weren’t really going out, not properly. We’re no longer on speaking times, suffice to say.”
“Oh dear,” Teddy sympathised. He raised his eyebrows curiously. “What happened?”
I sighed, resisting the urge to bury my face in my hands out of embarrassment. “He was just a bit too intense.” There was no way I was going to tell him all the details; they revealed far too much about my personal feelings. “I was needing a bit of a break, actually. It’s nice to have a change of scenery.” I gestured around me.
He nodded. “I felt like that when we first moved out here. It’s a completely different way of life – not too sure if I’m used to it just yet, but it definitely has its perks.”
“I’m quite jealous of all this,” I admitted, pushing my napkin around the table with my finger. “Sometimes I wish I could get away from everything, cut ties with all the family. They’re suffocating.”
“Don’t take them for granted,” he admonished. “You’re so lucky to have a large family. All I have is my grandmother – I’d be lonely if it weren’t for Victoire.”
There was almost a sad glint in his eye, which I caught because I was staring so deeply at him. He probably didn’t have any idea how beautiful he was, and would always be, to me. Perhaps I’d over-romanticised the idea of him to the point where he was more real in my imagination than he was when directly in front of me, but that made me happy. And hey, the Teddy sitting in front of me seemed perfect enough for me right now.
“Well,” I said boldly. “You’ve got me to entertain you for a week. It’ll be fun.”
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “It will.”
The waiter sauntered over with a basket of bread and a couple of plates of salad. I wolfed both down in the hope that this was just a starter, and not a comment on whether I should be on a diet or not.
“Victoire’s said I have to watch my weight,” Teddy said by explanation as I eyed the empty bread basket hungrily. “So if I have to suffer, so must you.” He gave me what he probably thought was an evil grin, but all I saw was handsome.
“There’s nothing wrong with your weight,” I cried indignantly, eyeing him up and down. He was the same as he had always been to me; just right. “Please don’t change.”
Teddy smiled ruefully. “I’m not going to change,” he consoled me. “I’m just securing myself an easy life. It’s better just to go with what Victoire says than fight her.”
I rolled my eyes impatiently. “Do you always do what she tells you to do?”
“Pretty much,” he said with a boyish grin.
“I see,” I muttered. W-H-I-P-P-E-D.
“It’s a compromise,” he explained as I looked confused. “I’ll happily compromise to make her happy because that makes me happy.”
He was disgustingly in love, I realised. No sane person would agree to half of the stuff he seemed to have agreed to without a wand to their head. He’d left his life and sole family member behind to move to a foreign country and Victoire still expected him to go on a diet; if anyone asked me (and they rarely did), it was Victoire that needed to compromise a bit.
“How’s work?” he asked in order to change the subject. I smiled genuinely this time.
“It’s really good,” I enthused. “That promotion’s given me a much needed boost, I think. I feel like I’m useful, for once. We’ve got this new shop assistant and he’s fun to work with.”
Teddy eyed me knowingly. “What’s he like?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Don’t get the wrong idea. He’s just a friend; he’s too young for me.”
He shrugged, his eyes sparkling mischievously. “I don’t see that age is all that important, Rose. There’s eight years between us, and we seem to get on just fine.”
“That’s different,” I argued. “I’ve known you all my life. Matthew’s only a couple of years out of Hogwarts. It’s… it’s not the same.”
I knew I was a hypocrite; what was a few years difference between Matthew and I compared to the near decade between Teddy and I? I meant what I said, though – knowing Teddy all my life made the age gap seem insignificant. Besides, I definitely didn’t think of Matthew as anything other than my employee and sort of friend. We couldn’t be anything more; he didn’t like biscuits.
“I suppose,” Teddy said, sounding as if he didn’t really agree. “But I wouldn’t let age stop me if I liked someone. Victoire’s two years younger than I am but that doesn’t bother me.”
I wasn’t going to drag my point out so I dropped it, realising I wasn’t going to win this one. “Fine,” I said humorously. “You win. But either way, Matthew isn’t my type. I’ve sworn off men for the moment, anyway. Scorpius has scarred me somewhat.”
“I’d say he’s an anomaly,” Teddy mused. “Don’t tar all men with that same brush.”
“Whatever,” I said with a shrug. “It’s all too stressful. I want to focus on work.”
Teddy nodded. “It sounds like you’re happy, though,” he said positively. “Which I don’t think you have been for quite a while.”
I considered this observation pensively. When was the last time I could say I was actually happy? Yes, I’d had moments of joy or fun or amusement, but happiness ran a bit deeper than that. I was more content than I had been in months, and I put this down to finally giving Scorpius the boot. I felt empowered. “I am happy,” I agreed easily. “Are you happy?”
What did I actually want him to say in response to this question? Did I want him to start sobbing over his salad and beg me to save him from some dire situation? Deep down, as much as I wanted Victoire to not be right for him, I didn’t want him to be miserable. I would have to accept that if Victoire did make him happy, that was all I could hope for.
“I’ll get there,” Teddy said after a pause. “I’ll feel more secure when I get a job and I’m not relying on Victoire to feed me. I hate being dependent on her; it’s unfair.”
I hesitated in replying; I couldn’t be harsh about Victoire when he was so bloody fond of her. “Why did you agree to move out here?” I asked cautiously. “Surely you anticipated that work would be sparse.”
He nodded, his dark hair flopping in front of his eyes. “I love her, Rose. She had her heart set on moving to France – it was her dream. I couldn’t stop her from following her dream.”
“What about your dreams?”
He bit his lip. “I suppose what’s most important to me is having a family. Victoire is my family now, and I’ll support her, whatever she decides to do.”
For a moment, I no longer saw a thirty-year old man in front of me; he looked so small and young as he admitted this small truth to me. I saw the young boy who had once cried at Christmas, missing his dead parents and longing for a family he had never had.
I felt so sad for him as he looked straight at me. I placed my hand over his and squeezed it. “You’ll always have a family in us,” I informed him earnestly.
He looked touched but removed his hand from under mine. “Thanks, Rosie. I know.”
We split the bill, Teddy helping me count out euros properly, and left. It had stopped raining whilst we’d been having lunch, so we wandered into the town centre to do some window shopping. Teddy seemed unusually quiet and I wished I had the guts to pick his brains a bit more. Perhaps he was considering dumping Victoire and coming home with me? A girl could dream, I supposed.
When we started to head back, the sun was just beginning to set. I couldn’t wait for the summer, when the sun didn’t set until much later and we could just enjoy more daylight hours. As it was, we were at the tail end of winter and it still got dark reasonably early. I don’t think either of us realised how late it was getting by the time we made it through the door.
“Rose, welcome,” Victoire greeted me as we joined her in the kitchen. “I trust you had a good journey?”
“I did, thank you,” I responded, politely kissing her cheek. “You have a lovely home here. Teddy has been showing me around town.”
“Well, we like it,” she said warmly. “I’ve just boiled the kettle if you’d like some tea – I’m afraid the tea here isn’t the same as at home, but it does the job.”
“That’d be good, thanks,” I said awkwardly as she busied herself with making the tea. I could smell something fragrant cooking in the oven and I felt my stomach rumble. I wondered if Victoire was a good cook; she’d never cooked for me before. It struck me as nice that she was being so welcoming to me. It wasn’t like we’d ever been close, but I supposed she appreciated that I’d travelled so far to see her.
She chivvied us into the sitting room, where she handed both Teddy and me a cup of tea each. She returned to the kitchen to finish cooking dinner.
“She seems really happy,” I commented once she was out of earshot.
“She is,” Teddy beamed, looking proud.
I sighed inwardly, struggling to determine how I felt about the whole situation. Victoire had always been the “baddie” in my mind, but perhaps she’d just never been very happy back home. This Victoire I was seeing now was not the cousin I was familiar with. She seemed almost light-hearted, a startling contrast to the serious and prim woman she’d been at home. I was beginning to understand why she’d moved out here and why Teddy had so willingly gone with her.
Sipping at my tea, I wondered if I’d made a mistake in coming here. I was so sure that seeing Teddy again would reinforce my decision to dump Scorpius and chase after someone else. I didn’t know if I could even contemplate trying to destroy the happiness Victoire had found out here. I’d promised myself I had to close this particular part of my life, the part where I longed for Teddy, but I felt like telling him how I felt would betray Victoire in a way I hadn’t considered before. It wasn’t fair on either of them to intrude.
It was with a heavy heart and mixed feelings that I bade them goodnight after dinner, retiring to the small room they’d given me. Slipping my pyjamas on, I caught sight of myself in the mirror; admittedly, I wasn’t anywhere near as beautiful as Victoire was and that didn’t bother me so much anymore. What I couldn’t deal with was the fact that Victoire was the woman who could make Teddy happy. Searching my face, I wondered if I could make him as happy as she did.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I went home before my official holiday came to its end. I felt so out of sorts that I didn’t even know how I was going to survive another day, let alone a whole week. I was imposing on a happiness I hadn’t expected to find and could never hope of matching. Plans and strategies of winning Teddy over slipped from my mind as I tossed and turned that night. What was I doing here? Molly was right – I had been trying to avoid my problems, but I’d ended up running right into them here.
AN: Thank you for the reviews, my lovely readers! ♥ I cringe a bit when I think about what happens in the next few chapters, but I hope you'll enjoy them all the same :)
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