The knock at the door made her jump right out of her skin.
She let out a deep breath and tried desperately to calm her racing heart. Her eyelids fluttered closed as she began to steady her breathing, her chest rising and falling as she fought for control. Her fingers closed over the small piece of glass in her hand, her thumb lightly trailing the sharp edge.
She had almost done it.
Seconds away, if that. She'd been threatening this to herself for weeks now, and she had almost finally gone through with it. But she'd been stopped. Of course. Because they always had to protect her. They always had to swoop in at the last moment and save her, even if--and more especially if--there was no one to save her from.
Her eyes found the glass in her hand again, and she saw the emptiness in all that light blue. She was slipping. She was slipping, and she almost didn't want to be pulled back. She hated the small part of her that did, and that part hated the rest of her for being so weak. She was locked in a battle with herself; every fight led to a fiercer one, no victory was worth its cost, and no matter how desperate she became, she was always going to lose.
Another knock sounded, and the bitterness was consuming her quickly. She fingered the glass shard for just a moment more before she let it fall from her hand. She wanted to throw it as hard as she could and watch it shatter, but any useful emotions had already been exhausted today. She couldn't feel anything but regret--both for the things she had done, and the things she hadn't.
The bed frame creaked as she stood. She lifted the hem of her nightgown to mind her small, pale feet as they manoeuvred through the room, stepping carefully around the broken pieces that littered the floor. She closed the bedroom door quietly behind her, hesitating for a moment before heading for the hall.
Her flat was small, but it seemed ages had passed before she reached the other end. She glanced in the mirror beside the door for a moment, checking for any stray tears to wipe away before greeting her guest, but she found none. Her eyes were dry.
The door swung wide before Victoire registered that she'd opened it. There was nobody just outside, but she could hear the shuffling of feet. She stood in the doorway for a moment, caught between pretending she hadn't noticed and peering around the frame to see which unlucky family member her mother had sent after her this time. As it turned out, she didn't have to decide.
He came in from the right, his hands shoved deep into his pockets as he stared at the ground. His eyes flicked up to hers briefly. "Figured you were out," he mumbled.
It took Victoire quite some time to formulate a response. "Did my mother send you?"
"Mhmm. She was worried because you weren't at brunch."
"What were you doing there?"
"It was at Harry's today," he said with a shrug.
She stared openly at him. She couldn't fathom why on earth her mother would ever think she'd entertain Teddy when she wasn't even speaking to her family. The only thing that made sense was his reluctance.
He reached back to scratch his neck before asking quite bluntly, "You going to invite me in or not?"
"Are you going to ask?" she returned, genuinely unsure of the answer. She'd never heard him sound so apathetic. So… defeated.
"This wasn't my idea," he said with a sigh.
"It's not mine, either."
"But it's your fault." He looked up again, and she could see his eyes were anything but apathetic. "I wouldn't be here if you didn't isolate yourself like this."
It was suddenly harder to swallow. "You didn't have to come."
"You haven't seen the state your mum's in."
She stood there for a long moment, no words coming to mind, no justifications. She knew she was hurting her mother. The guilt was settling again. There was nothing to do but stand to the side of the doorway and wait for him to come in.
She closed it softly behind him, then gestured wordlessly to the sofa. He hesitated before crossing to it and sitting down on the very edge, as though he might have to bolt from the room at any moment. She settled in the armchair next to him, curling up and hugging a throw pillow tightly to her chest.
They didn't speak for a time which neither of them measured. It was clear Teddy didn't want to come, and Victoire certainly didn't want him in her sitting room; but there they sat, neither looking at the other, both waiting for some undiscovered thing to swoop in and solve all their problems but knowing it wouldn't.
At last, Teddy cleared his throat. "Your mum wants to know how work's going," he said blankly.
"It's alright," she responded in an equally drab voice. "Same as ever. Business is good."
"Three years now, isn't it?"
"Just short of it."
She watched him watching his twisting fingers. "Promotion anytime soon?"
"Not until Jiggers has died and turned himself over," she said with a shake of the head. "He plans to live forever, I think."
They fell into silence again. There was more for him to say, she knew, more questions her mother would demand answers to. For the moment, she was content to simply watch him think. She found it was different than it had been before, watching him. His thoughts weren't written across his face the way they used to be.
Victoire supposed she was different, too. She thought differently, did things she would never have done before. She saw the world from another place now; the entire view had changed. Nothing was familiar. Nothing was certain. She was alone. She wanted to be alone.
"You eating alright?" was his next question.
It came out of nowhere, and it took Victoire a small, startled pause to gather herself.
"Alright," she conceded. "I still get take-away every night, but I expect she knows that."
Teddy nodded absently. "Taking your medicine?"
Victoire glanced down at her hands, playing with the pillow's white fringe. "Can't answer that."
"She wants to know."
"I know she does," said Victoire, glancing up at him again, then back at her hands. "But I can't say."
He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, clearing his throat and saying curtly, "She hates the ambiguity. Tears her up a bit inside whenever she can't get a straight answer. You know how she is."
"I already told you I can't say," she told him shortly, a warning in her tone.
"Can't or won't?"
"It's better this way."
"Better for who?"
"Enough!" She glared hard into his eyes, which had at last fixed on hers. She was breathing heavier, clenching her fists around the corners of the pillow. "Just leave it," she gritted out.
He always did this, found a way to bite her in the back with the truth at her most fragile moments. She hated the truth. She hated it so much she wanted to bury it six feet underground and watch it decay. She hated it almost as much as she hated herself, and not nearly as much as she should've hated Teddy.
She didn't hate him. She hated that he was here. That he had come at exactly the second he did, that he had stopped her. Because she knew--and she hated that she knew it, but she did--that she couldn't go back to where she'd been. She wasn't strong enough to have that moment of weakness.
The silence was different now. It was charged with something tangible, something dangerous, something that could destroy them both. But then, hadn't it already done? What more damage could possibly be inflicted on this relationship? They were not friends. They weren't enemies. They were nothing, and that nothing was the very worst thing of all.
Victoire had never much liked silence.
"You've changed a lot, haven't you?" It didn't come out quite as spiteful as she'd have liked.
"My hair's different," he offered in that dry, mocking way of his, at last something she could recognise. "Got some new clothes. In better shape than I was when my fiancé went and pushed me off a pier."
"That was an accident and you know it," she snapped.
"Don't tell me what I know."
Her hands tugged viciously at the threads on the pillow. "That's the part you always remember, but I never hear a word about what you said to me before you fell."
"I didn't fall, you conniving-" he started, but she cut him off, raising her voice higher.
"Is that what you came here for?" She could feel her heartbeat in every place in her body. "You agreed to check up on me just make sure I'm still just as much of a bitch as I was when I dumped your sorry arse?"
"Dammit, Victoire, we were planning a wedding!" he shouted. His hands clutched desperately at his knees. "Did that mean nothing to you?"
Her voice suddenly dropped. "So that's what it's about," she said slowly, smoothly. "You want to know why I decided not to go and condemn myself to a life with you?"
The conflict was there, as painful as anything, as easy to read as it ever had been. There was no answer because he would lose either way. Victoire had the upper hand, the same way she always had. She never cared quite as deeply and never loved quite as much. Here in her sitting room, Victoire realised that her only strength was not having as deep a stake in the matter as anyone else; and this was perhaps her greatest weakness.
She'd always come out on top, but she could never win.
It took Teddy several moments to calm himself, and Victoire watched as his expression faded. It left behind a poignant nothing surrounded by a shell that hadn't been able to protect it. He transformed back into the someone Victoire did not know, and she wasn't sure who she wanted less.
His sigh expelled the last of his emotion. His words were hollow. "If I could just stop caring as easily as you did, then believe me, I would." His eyes were back on the ground, and there they stayed. "Now, will you just answer the ruddy questions so I can leave?"
"You can leave anytime you like," she reminded him flatly.
This wasn't fair, and it was hardly true, but his presence was only making everything worse. The angrier she became with him, the angrier she was with herself. None of it made any sense, every pesky sentiment hovering somewhere above her head, invisible to her own eyes but weighing down on her all the same. She hated hating things almost as much as she hated loving them.
Teddy never had a chance at winning Victoire from herself. She couldn't be beaten. She'd always be present, complicating things the way she always did. Victoire would never let Victoire alone because it was the only control she had over anything. And then Teddy came along.
In her own twisted way, Victoire did believe she was saving him.
Teddy shook his head softly in the stillness. "Do you always have to do this? Make things difficult?" He looked at her now. "Do you get some sort of sick pleasure out of it?"
"Don't be ridiculous," she muttered into her pillow.
"For Merlin's sake, Vic," he sighed. "Couldn't you try not to avoid every single thing?"
"Tell me if you're taking the medicine."
"What the hell do you think, Lupin?"
He half-smiled wryly. "I think your mum's right about sectioning you," he said matter-of-factly.
Victoire blinked. Then breathed. Then blinked again. "She wouldn't."
"She's been talking about it for weeks." Teddy sat back a little. "Reckons you're a danger to yourself."
"That's a lie."
"She sent me here to pass the final judgment," he continued, revealing his cards one by one, sinking her further and further into the grave she'd been digging for herself.
It was getting hot. Victoire was sure her mother wouldn't do something so drastic; but then, she hadn't spoken to her in quite some time. Perhaps her mother had changed. Perhaps Victoire had changed her. Perhaps Victoire had changed more things than she'd ever meant to.
Perhaps the part of her that had wanted this change could at last be satisfied.
Victoire tapped her long fingers on the pillow, curling into herself tighter as she did. Her fragility was her only protection, and the smaller she felt, the farther she could push everyone and everything. She had pushed Teddy. She had pushed her mother. She had pushed anyone that meant anything, and now the only one left to push was herself. The only question was which way to push.
It was past time for a decision. Victoire had spent too many years in limbo, and now she was being forced to pick a side. There were only two; there had only ever been two. Which Victoire was going to win? Neither of them were sure. Neither knew what they wanted, but they were pulling her in every direction. If she couldn't get a hold on herself, whoever that was, she was simply going to break.
Her voice was hoarse now. "What are you going to tell her?"
When no answer came, Victoire ventured a look at him. She expected his confidence, his smugness, but Teddy continued to prove himself a stranger. He was looking down at his hands, and Victoire couldn't see a single thought in his mind. She wondered for a moment whether she wanted to. Whether she would rewind if she could, go back to the beginning of their relationship knowing all that she knew about him now.
She thought for some time, and when she had thought enough, Victoire decided she didn't much like the idea of being less complicated. Things were certainly easier when Teddy's mind made sense, when both of their minds made at least some sense, but Victoire wasn't sure they were better. She was damaged now, and so was he; and it hurt every time she looked at him, to think she had caused it. But even through the guilt, Victoire knew--as clearly as she had known anything in a very long time--that she did not regret that pain.
Just look at us now, she thought, scattered in pieces all across the floor. Their edges were sharp to protect what had been salvaged, though the promise of pain at the touch would not stop them from cracking. They were turning into dust, slowly, crumbling so that even if all the pieces could be gathered, they would never fit together again.
They were more broken than glass could ever be.
"You need help, Vic," said Teddy then, his eyes still on his hands and Victoire's eyes still on him. He swallowed. Why did it seem as though that caused him pain? "I just… I can't let you keep hurting people. The people you love de-"
"The people I love?" repeated Victoire, cutting him off. "You know me better than that, Ted." She wasn't sure who exactly was making her so bitter at the moment. It might have been herself. It might have been knowing she was speaking the truth and hating it.
He turned his eyes on her, and it surprised and frightened her to see tears in them. "The people that love you, then," he whispered. "They can't take much more of it. You're going to break them."
"Sometimes things are better off broken," said Victoire, and she believed every word.
But Teddy would not, and she didn't blame him for it. "Sometimes they're not." Victoire watched as his hands frantically grasped the knee of his trousers, trying to find something to hold onto. "Sometimes they deserve to be fixed."
"And sometimes they deserve to be left alone."
"Nobody deserves that," said Teddy, his voice growing just a little stronger. "Can't you see that you're not just hurting yourself?"
"It's my life," Victoire bit back.
"It's not just yours anymore." A muscle in his neck twitched. "When you said you'd marry me, your life became a part of mine. Every strike you take against yourself is a strike against me."
"We were never married," she said in a voice that was growing ever closer to a low growl, her hands twisting furiously at the pillow.
"I'm not like you, Victoire!" He stood at last, his fists clenched, unafraid to yell. "I can't just forget the people who have changed my life! Whether you like it or not, we still affect each other!" And then his voice got quieter, and even more frightening as he stood facing her head-on. "You can avoid me all you like, but I am never going to be able to just leave you alone. Five years, and I've tried as hard as I can to keep you out of my life, but it's never worked."
Victoire fingered the fraying ends of her braid, not looking at him as she said quietly, "That isn't my problem."
"Oh, yes it is." He surprised her by placing his hands on the arms of her chair and leaning in. "It is very much your problem, Victoire, because I knew you once." He softly lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes, and continued, "And you can't tell me you've honestly forgotten how much I loved you."
His love was pathetic and simple and nothing that she wanted, she was sure. But Victoire could not part her lips to say so. The longer she looked into his eyes, the less sure she became of anything. Teddy was still Teddy, and he could still melt her with his gaze. He could still make her mind go blank, he could still make it impossible to think properly. And the look in his eyes--his beautiful, foreign eyes--told her that he knew it.
"You can't do this again," she whispered, blinking rapidly. "I'm not a schoolgirl anymore. You can't just stare at me and expect me to tell you it's all going to be alright."
"I know it won't be alright. We're both too broken for that."
Victoire closed her eyes as his thumb lightly trailed across her chin. She felt him gently lean forward and place a soft kiss on her neck. It became a struggle to breathe. He was doing the same thing he had always done, that Teddy, and it was working exactly the way it used to. But Victoire had learned quite a bit since then.
"Don't you dare try to manipulate me, Lupin." Her eyes fluttered open slowly and found his straight on the mark. "I can still see right through you."
The corners of his mouth turned up in something resembling a smile. "You can tell yourself that all you like, but I've learned a few things, too." He reached forward to brush her fringe. "You can't lie to me anymore."
They did nothing but share breath for the longest of moments. Victoire did not know how much more energy she could spare for hate, but she didn't want to let it go. Despite it all, there she sat, her anger slowly ebbing away until she was left exhausted. Teddy was right. They had always affected each other.
Victoire had simply used everything up. There was no hate, no joy, no tears, no relief. There was nothing except Teddy. And Victoire had the vague thought that she didn't like it, but she couldn't remember why. She couldn't remember why she'd ever agreed to marry him, and she couldn't remember why she didn't want to. Victoire was becoming nothing because Teddy was taking everything out of her. Nobody could win this everlasting battle.
"Some days I hate that I can't let you go," said Teddy, his hand gently combing through the clumps of hair that had come loose from her braid. "And some days I don't want to."
She could do little but shake her head, the slightest of movements. "What do want me to say? I never loved you, Ted."
"That's a lie." His look challenged her, but she didn't rise. She knew.
"I didn't want to marry you."
"I…" Victoire tried to think properly, and finally she said, "I don't regret anything."
"At last," breathed Teddy. His right hand brushed her cheek again, and his left cupped her chin gently. There was a sad smile on his face, one of deepest pain and greatest hope. Victoire was staring at it so intently that she almost didn't hear his next words. "There's something I can actually believe."
And she wished she hadn't heard them because they did something to her. Victoire was feeling so empty, so much nothing, that the stirring of her heart made her flinch. Panic seeped through her pores, controlling her heart beat, making her sweat. But there was something else far more frightening than this strange feeling she was feeling, the feeling that she hadn't even known she was capable of. There was something that scared her too much, made her immobile, stopped every thought in her mind.
Her eyes, always the clearest blue summer sky, were wet.
And Victoire Weasley, for the first time she could ever remember in a capacity such as this, had the desire to change. What was more, it had etched itself right on her face. Teddy stared. Victoire stared back through her curtain of silent tears. His lips moved slowly.
"I don't know if I can ever forgive you," he whispered. "I don't know what's going to happen to us. But there's one thing I'm always going to know, no matter where things go from here."
"Don't say it," she pled softly, shaking her head again.
"I have to say it." He stroked her cheek. "And you have to hear it."
He paused for only a second, then leaned in to press his warm lips to her forehead. His voice was a gentle breath on her face as he said, quietly but very firmly, "I love you, Vic. I will always love you."
And she broke. Victoire had thought she was broken before, and she certainly was, but this was a new sort of broken. This was not akin to the shattering of a gilded mirror, a tragedy and a thousand slivers of pain. This was the cracking of the ice after a long winter, when things were finally too warm to remain so perfect, so crystalline. She was breaking and melting and sinking, and it was the most terrible, beautiful thing.
It was destruction. It was pain. It was alien. But make no mistake, reader--it was beautiful.
This ends the story of Teddy and Victoire. There is much more to say, oh yes, but we have reached the end of this tale. I cannot tell you what happened to them; or perhaps I should say, I will not tell you. What I will say is this: they did not ride off into the sunset. They did not magically heal, they did not suddenly understand one another again. My dearest reader, Victoire Weasley did not live happily ever after. She simply remembered what it was to live.
A/N: This is the fourth complete rewrite and twelfth core edit of this story. It has been picked apart and put back together again, and it might not all fit, but it is finished at last. Grammar edits may follow. Please leave your thoughts. I've put a lot of work into this and would really appreciate some feedback (:
Thank you for reading. Each view means something grand.