Her smile wavers but she holds it, beaming brilliantly at him. He is suddenly reminded of a diamond, hard around the edges but glinting with self-reflected light.
They are at the beach in October, surrounded by an expanse of cold grey sky and endless white sand, studded with rocks as a reminder that life is never smooth, however beautiful it may be.
It is the second time this month they have come, Apparating from their home in London to the waters of Brighton. They must return to the city this afternoon. They have an appointment, what feels like their hundredth in as many days, for yet another fertility treatment at St Mungo’s.
He helps her take off her coat and waits expectantly. With sudden energy, Victoire sprints down to the water, throwing her scarf and sandals to the side as she stands in the wet sand.
He follows her, knowing better than to ask if the water is too cold when she runs into the waves, shrieking as they hit her.
“Never,” she always calls back to him. “It’s perfect.”
He watches her, safe in her belief that nothing can touch her when she has the protection of the water, and smiles.
“Need a towel yet? I’m still dragging you off for that walk.”
“Try and catch me first,” she laughs and he chases her, racing into the wind and water regardless of his jeans.
He thinks he must have run nearly a mile before he levels with her and she pauses and turns to him, inviting him to hold her.
Secure under his chin, she tilts her head and he runs his fingers through her thick, glorious blonde hair, hair with occasional strands turning to a premature grey, slowly but delicately, with great respect for the head it sits atop.
“You alright?” she asks and he nods, offering her sandals so they can make their way back to the lower beach.
The wind begins to pick up, swirling around them in soft howls when he starts.
“About today. Do you still want to go through with this new treatment? I mean-”
She turns on him angrily. “Yes. We’ve already discussed it.”
He holds up his hands. “We haven’t finished discussing it.”
She huffs. “What else do you want to talk about?”
“Whether this is a good idea,” he tells her. “We’ve been trying for years now. You know what the Healers said. We have a one in a hundred chance of having a baby. They think we’re driving ourselves to an edge, trying everything like this. And Healer Corner told me this new suggestion isn’t strictly compatible with your blood type.”
“What am I supposed to do?” she flashes. “Give up? It’s one in a hundred, not one in a million! It can happen!”
“It’s exhausting you – it’s why you’re so tired all the time-”
“Don’t you want this?” she cries and stops immediately at the look on his face.
“You know I do,” he says quietly. “Just as much as you do.”
She doesn’t make eye contact with him. A tear slips out from under her eyelid. He sighs.
Victoire collects baby magazines, everything from Witch Infant? to So You’re Ready to Floo, Are You! and newborn clothing the way her unmarried friends hoard wedding magazines and swatches of white satin fabric. She researches the best elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools if their child is a Squib, charts ten different paths of coursework if their child goes to Hogwarts. She reads every childcare book on ages two to seventeen. He knows they can raise a child. He knows it with the same certainty that he believes in their marriage. He reflects bitterly that they have avoided the statistic of teenage pregnancy to join the statistic of childless marriage.
He can’t remember how many pregnancy tests she has taken, Muggle and Wizarding, or how earth shattering it is, month after month, to see one pink line instead of two on that disappointing white strip or see the air in front of her remain dull instead of glowing when she utters the incantation for revealing pregnancy.
He can’t remember what it is like not to wake up to the sound of her tears at least once a month. She is falling apart in the way that only someone who has tried too hard at something for too long can. They both are.
Until a month ago, he has not asked her whether they should stop trying because he knows she will not listen.
She is always too brave, too strong to think of surrender. There have been times when he has brought her close, but she has always fought it.
Sometimes, he thinks that she is right and he is weak, he who thinks of surrender at least twelve times a day. Sometimes, he recognizes that her refusal is false bravery, that her inability to let go will be the death of her, and that he must teach her this new courage to release herself from her hopes.
It is why he brings her to the beach. He knows Victoire likes endless places the best, spaces where the air and the earth don’t touch anything else but themselves. He has planned all their celebrations that way, asking her to marry him on a deserted hilltop in Switzerland, celebrating their tenth anniversary on a quiet island in Sweden, taking her to an isolated cottage in Yorkshire for her thirty-second birthday.
“Teddy?” she asks. Her hand slips into his. “I’m sorry. I know how much you want this.” She inhales. “I’m tired. And I know you’re tired too. You take too much on yourself. I’m just scared of giving up, of putting a limit on myself. It feels like I’m failing.”
“I don’t think it’s limiting you,” he says. “I think it’s more about acceptance.”
“You mean resignation,” she says wistfully, still hand in hand with him. “How can it not be about limits? The world won’t let me do something.”
He doesn’t know how to answer her and she kisses his cheek, letting go of his hand to walk back to the water. This is all wrong, he thinks. Someone as wonderful as Victoire is limitless, boundless in her ways of bringing love into life. He watches her sit, her blue jeans collecting souvenirs of sand, and sighs with frustration.
He can’t help but feel that they are trapped in this cycle. He knows what will happen when they go to this appointment. The healer will greet them with that kind but pitying look that tells them that they are dreaming of the impossible. There will be more charts in midair, more attempts to explain that fertility potions won’t work for Victoire and that the spells available threaten to increase his risk for certain diseases. They will return home in silence and Victoire will spend the rest of the evening in the bathroom crying before emerging with renewed, hardened, single-minded determination.
He has always admired how she refuses to be beaten. This time, he wishes she could see it as succeeding despite instead of failing because.
The thought strikes him suddenly. It is simply a matter of endlessness. Of lack of limitation. Victoire likes to win. To free her, he must make this just another game, something else she succeeds at rather than a matter of lifetime importance.
He doesn’t wait. He is flying down the beach to her before he has organized his thoughts and he is pulling her up from the sand before he has caught his breath.
“Teddy?” she questions.
He catches her hands. “We don’t have to go.”
She looks at him like he is crazy and he hurries to reassure her.
“It’s our choice, Victoire. Whether we accept it here or there – whether we know that our limits don’t exist in a hospital room or out here on the beach – it’s going to be the same either way. We’re winning because we’re choosing. We’re not waiting for the healers to confirm it for us. You can pick – whichever way you want to go.”
He waits; eyes closed and breathing fast, with her hands in his, and hopes that she will finally choose to surrender.
When he finally opens his eyes he sees her lips curve into a smile. It is faint but it is there.
“I’ll go on a walk if you let me pick seashells,” she says.
He looks at her, hardly able to believe what he is hearing.
“It’s almost four o’clock.”
“We’ll stay until six.”
He waits for a second, just long enough for his world to stop spinning, and envelops her in a hug. Her laughter echoes in his ear and they hold each other for too long, living the moments as they flutter past.
It is well past six when they finally decide to Apparate home, and she is holding a fistful of pink and white shells. He can hardly take his eyes off of her face.
She shines most brightly when she knows she is endless and as he watches her put the seashell up to her ear, glowing as she listens, he hopes she hears her spirit call back to her.
Victoire smiles at him and he wonders if it was always meant to have been this way.