Chapter 5 : Romania
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Romania had been one of those places which Victoire had automatically associated with being Uncle Charlie’s home, and not given it much thought beyond that. She knew far less about the eastern European country’s history and culture than the other countries that she had visited thus far, though she also sensed that Uncle Charlie’s own knowledge of the nation which had been his home for over twenty years didn’t go much farther than its air traffic laws and its preservations of rare species. His interest in politics and bureaucracy extended only as far as his knowledge of what would get him arrested or his dragons confiscated.
Victoire, Teddy and Dominique had taken a Portkey from the Prague Ministry, and Victoire could not help but wince at the price for the return journey, despite the fact that Uncle Charlie was paying for it and the fact that with the exception of possibly buying Tante Gabrielle expensive jewelry, he didn’t have much need for his Galleons and Sickles. Portkey travel between countries and over large distances was uncomfortable at the best of times, and Victoire noticed that Teddy seemed to sidle quite close to her at the last moment so that their fingers glued to the old rubber toilet plunger were grazing one another, and his arm kept brushing against hers as they traveled through the indistinguishable air. The journey – which seemed to last for hours, but was probably more like three minutes – ended with Victoire falling rather ungracefully on her bottom and with Dominique’s hair in her mouth.
She shoved her younger sister off of her, feeling the world spin and willing herself not to be sick on the marble floor of the Romanian Ministry. It was quite a bit smaller than the English or Dutch Ministry Headquarters were, and Victoire decided that the Romanian magical population must be quite small. After all, young witches and wizards from the surrounding countries all attended one school – Durmstrang, which was smaller than Hogwarts, and Victoire’s own school took students from both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and had a similar sized population.
After having their bags probed with Secrecy sensors, they were released into the small atrium of the Ministry. Victoire couldn’t help but grin as she saw Uncle Charlie striding towards them. He was an inch shorter than she was and had bristly red hair thinning out on top. His face was reddish brown from the sun and he always seemed to have a burn or a scratch which was halfway healed somewhere on his body. Today it was his left arm, which sported a large bandage wrapped around his forearm. He was quite brawny and muscular, despite the growing beer-belly, and his eyes had that curious sensitivity which reminded Victoire of her brother Louis.
“Alright, girs!” Uncle Charlie called merrily, sweeping Victoire and then a giggling Dominique up in a gentle hug. He pumped Teddy’s hand enthusiastically. “So pleased you lot could make it! Welcome to Romania!”
Victoire was relieved to discover that the dragon reserve was in driving distance. After the uncomfortable Portkey ride she was quite disinclined to take another one, and if they had been forced to Apparate then Charlie would have had to Apparate with all three of them at once. Victoire’s Uncle George liked to kid behind Charlie’s back at how the second-eldest brother had failed his Apparition test the first time around, which gave Victoire little faith about his Apparating abilities, and besides she was suspicious about Apparating in a foreign country. The air pressures were all wrong and confusing, and being Splinched or otherwise injured would take a hit on her travel insurance.
Victoire admired the scenery out the automobile as they drew farther and farther out into the countryside. Dominique had snagged the front seat and so Victoire was curled into the back with Teddy. Things had been strangely neutral for the past couple of days in Prague – for the most part, she and Teddy had gotten along in amiable friendship. He had attempted to bring up their relationship status and how things had ended, but Victoire was feeling quite cowardly and was quick to change the subject. She was not quite ready to explain about Sam, and how she fancied him, but how more importantly he was her travel buddy, her partner in crime, and how close they were. Her ex-boyfriend wasn’t quite ready to hear how fundamentally simple it had been for her to move on.
Besides, the fact that Teddy had found an excuse to follow her on her travels – the travels he had disapproved of and even scorned – annoyed Victoire greatly in the quiet moments when she had a moment to herself to think. Yes, it was lovely to be surrounded by people who knew and loved her, from whom she didn’t have to hide her magic – but what if Teddy and Dominique had picked a location to visit when she was still with Sam? She had been looking forward to exploring and really getting to know Prague, but instead was saddled with two well-meaning but rather helpless tag-alongs who tended to whine when their feet started to hurt and steal from her water bottle.
Then, Teddy kept putting his wallet in his back pocket, to Victoire’s irritation, and had tried to remedy the situation by spelling his trousers with an Impenetrable charm. Victoire thought privately that Teddy’s charmswork had slacked since assisting at the Ministry since the spell ended up sealing his trousers from being removed – Victoire had needed to emergency Floo her father for advice on how to break the spell. Being a Curse Breaker, he was handy with these sorts of things, and was quite amused by the incident until Victoire mentioned how much the Floo conversation was costing them – she had Floo’d Collect.
She glanced across the seat of Charlie’s automobile to glance at Teddy. Catching her eye, he grinned back at her in a too-eager, too-desperate way. For the most part, despite the trousers incident, he had been too lovely, too gentle around her, and Victoire was beginning to feel like a glass ornament which might shatter at any moment.
“-and be sure to have James work on the Wronskei feint, it always goes off well during tryouts,” Charlie was saying to Dominique. Both Dominique and their cousin James was trying out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team this year. James had unsuccessfully tried out for Chaser in his second and third years at Hogwarts, but had plans to go for Seeker since the old Seeker, a girl in Victoire’s year, had graduated in June. Dominique herself was going out for Beater, though more for her own entertainment than any real passion for playing Quidditch.
“He’s been practicing Seeking by scooping up the garden gnomes at the Burrow,” Dominique giggled. Charlie laughed along heartily with her, though Victoire rolled her eyes, feeling sorry for the poor, unsuspecting gnomes. “But who knows, perhaps he’ll get it, or Albus will come in now he’s going into his second year and scoop the position right out from under him – he’s a decent flier himself, you know.”
“Let’s hope for Albus’ sake that he doesn’t challenge his brother too much this year,” Teddy said darkly. “Those two are always bickering and playing pranks on one another – Harry likes to kid that they’re going to blow up Godric’s Hollow one day – only I don’t know if he’s kidding…”
Dominique stuck her head over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow at Victoire, which the elder sister understood to mean she was asking if now was a good time to begin teasing Uncle Charlie about his little fling with Tante Gabrielle. Victoire frowned, then shook her head slightly. He was driving on the wrong side of the road from in England, after all, and she didn’t want him shocked into making a driving mishap.
“Have you heard any news about the Quidditch World Cup?” Dominique asked instead. “We tried to tune into the wireless in Prague but all the wizarding stations were in Czech.”
“Four teams left, and they’re from all over the globe,” Charlie said seriously. “Of course, until the final teams have been decided it would be impractical to announce a formal location for the final to be held. I’m hoping for India, personally, if they win.”
“You know, with all the time I’ve spent with Muggles this summer I completely forgot about the Quidditch World Cup,” Victoire said, bemused. It really had entirely escaped her mind, despite being one of her favorite childhood memories. The last Cup, which had been held in Spain, was when she was fourteen and was the first time Teddy had held her hand – and then he had dropped a hot tamale on her favorite skirt. She glanced at Teddy and saw he was smirking, most likely remembering the awkward incident.
“I hope we can go this year!” Dominique said excitedly. “Shame about all the ties and the Confunded referee which led to the games being re-played. How many times now, Uncle Charlie – four games which had to be rescheduled?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Charlie said. “Reckon the Final will be held around October… you kids will have to get off Hogwarts for the weekend, I expect…” He expertly shifted the stick and turned the car into a seemingly deserted dirt road which branched off into the pleasant green forest. Victoire noticed a sign with a large red X slashed through it, as if warning passer-bys not to go down the road. To her surprise, as soon as they passed the sign, the landscape changed completely.
The trees in front of them faded away to reveal the beginnings of a complex of large buildings. In the distance, huge stone walls rose up above the trees, some with smoke emerging from over the tops of the walls. Victoire shivered delightfully – the dragons were close. Charlie parked the vehicle next to two identical machines and opened Victoire’s door for her as he moved to the boot to fetch their bags, and Teddy moved to help him.
“We’re finally here, Vic!” Dominique squealed, running round the car and linking arms with her sister. “I can’t wait to see the dragons, and the fittie dragon tamers, of course…”
Charlie and Teddy both made a disgusted sound from where they were laboring with the suitcases. Victoire untangled herself from Dominique’s grip and moved to help them, taking in the landscape around them.
The air smelt like warmth and dew, and the hot sun streamed down upon her bare hair and shoulders, bringing pinkness to her cheeks. A fly buzzed passed her ear, and she swatted it away with a twitch of her long red ponytail, the hair acting like a horse’s tail on a hot day. And there was a distinct sense of smoke in the air, as if something was roasting beyond the trees and the walls. For a moment, she thought she saw a figure moving in the woods behind them – perhaps two, three figures, shadows peering through the trees – but when she looked a little closer there was nobody there.
Charlie explained that while some of the staff at the dragon reserve lived locally, he and a handful of others preferred to stay at the base, where there was a Healer’s office, three animal Healers who walked around the clock, and even a small pub which was self-served by the dragon handlers and catered by a pair of free and merry house elves. Charlie led them through the main entrance into the compound, and showed them to a small guest cottage which housed two bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a thatched roof spelled with inflammable charms.
“This is really lovely, Charlie,” Victoire said, grinning up at him. She was struck by how his careful grin and casual gait reminded her of her father, and felt a sudden pang of love for Bill Weasley.
Particularly after their grandmother had finished a glass or two of wine, she liked to pull out old photo albums and tearfully show the girls how handsome their father had been as a young man, before he had been scarred by an encounter with a werewolf. Gran liked to tell them that their good looks came from their father’s side of the family, which made more than one of Victoire’s uncles snort knowingly behind their mother’s back. But there was so much more to her father than a scarred face – he was kind, and calm, even when her Uncle George was being immature or her Uncle Ron being moody or her Uncle Percy looking down his nose at somebody. Everybody trusted her dad’s opinion, and he had a strange gift for commanding the room. A colleague of her mother’s had once commented to Victoire that Bill was the sort of person who would find the quietest, most uncomfortable person in the room, strike up a conversation, and make them feel at ease. Victoire felt that Charlie was the same way, even if she didn’t see him as often as she did her other, more dramatic uncles.
“So who wants to see some dragons?” Charlie grinned. “Go and change, girls – put on long pants and close-toed shoes, yeah… and I’ll introduce you to a couple little friends of mine.”
Ten minutes later, Victoire found herself sitting on the grassy floor of a pen with walls which extended just slightly over her head. The interior of the pen was fitted with trees and a small shelter, along with a pond housing several large fish which Charlie explained the dragon hatchlings could catch for themselves once they grew bold enough. The pen was spelled to feel much larger than it actually was: Charlie explained that this was done through a small transportation loop which essentially spun the baby dragon’s perspective on the pen so that it felt it was traveling into unexplored territory. The grown dragons had much larger pens, though he explained the nesting females preferred to stay closer to home and fly less, ferociously defending their spawn from any intruders.
There were four dragon hatchlings – three Romanian longhorns whose mother had been killed by poachers and one Chinese short-snout, which Charlie explained was very rare. The baby dragons were suspicious of the newcomers, especially Dominique, who squealed excitedly when she saw them. They were the size of a small dog, with gently protruding scales covering the vulnerable flesh beneath, and mean, beady little eyes which shone out suspiciously from beneath their long snouts. Every few moments one would huff a little bit of smoke in the air – Charlie explained that these particular breeds were unable to breathe fire until they were six months old. Charlie explained how if they were going to see the adult dragons, they would have cast Flame-Repellant Charms – though those tended to become less effective with frequent use. He added this last bit ruefully, glancing at his own scarred arms.
“Will they… hurt us, Charlie?” Teddy asked a little nervously, shoving his hands in his pockets. The two men looked quite funny beside one another – Charlie, stocky and thick, and Teddy, thin and lanky. “Harry told me about Norbert – Hagrid’s baby dragon…”
“Norberta,” Victoire corrected, then laughed. “What?”
“Whatever,” Teddy said, turning back to Charlie. “Norberta and how she was practically murderous from birth.”
“The Ridgeback – we can go and meet her, if you lot fancy it,” Charlie said. He grabbed a slice of meat from his bucket which the baby dragons had been eyeing. “Nah, they’re naturally inclined to hate humans, so we don’t coddle them too much. The Chinese short-snout, Ning, is perhaps a little more curious than most – they’re not particularly cuddly creatures, dragons.”
“Hagrid would disagree,” Victoire smirked. She loved the bushy-bearded, enormous groundskeeper with all her heart, but his sympathetic liking for ferocious animals could not be denied. The Skrewts, which she had been forced to face in her fourth year, were proof enough of that. She accepted a slab of the food from Charlie and, crouching down, offered it on her flat palm to the little dragon, Ning, and smiled as he crept forward and snatched the meat away.
“What does Ning mean?” Teddy asked. Victoire rolled her eyes at the nervousness in her ex-boyfriend’s voice. He was stalling from having to feed the creatures.
“Peaceful, apparently,” Charlie said. “The handler who named him, Zhen, is Chinese – she should be round soon, in fact, she wants to meet you lot.”
Victoire turned back to Ning, the little dragon, admiring how his scales seemed to shine orange and red in the sunlight. She noted the differences between Ning and the three Romanian longhorns – Ning looked far more like a miniature, living and breathing image of the Chinese dragons of symbol and folklore. Victoire was quite sure that the ancient Chinese had worshipped dragons, and she could see how Ning could be an admirable animal – indeed, dragons had been the symbol of the emperors.
“…do you reckon it could really be in India, then?” Dominique was asking Charlie as she prowled around the pen, examining it. “And do you really reckon Dad would let us all go?”
“No promises,” Charlie said warily. “I suspect that some of you kids could take a few days off school for the match – with good deals on international Portkeys these days and all. And Ron would be damned if he missed a Quidditch World Cup even once in his life, and I reckon little Rosie would be well miffed if Hugo got to go and she didn’t due to being in school.” Victoire grinned at the truth in this, and on impulse, extended her hand for the little dragon Ning to sniff, as she might approach a dog or a cat.
“It’s alright, little one,” she murmured. “I’m a friend, see? I gave you the food…”
“Louis has never been, he had the tummy bug last time,” Dominique was calculating. “And Mummy loves a good party – oh, Ted, you would come, yeah?”
“Erm, I suppose, yeah,” Teddy said. Victoire could practically feel him glaring holes in the back of her head. “If you wanted me to, that is.”
“Wicked,” Dominique said. “Oh, hello!”
The door to the pen creaked open, and Victoire glanced over her shoulder to see the newcomer. She was a petite woman with pin-straight black hair folded back in a pointy-ended ponytail, wearing a sensible pair of jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and very thick work boots. The woman beamed at them, showing very white teeth.
“Hiya, wondered where you had gotten to, Weasley,” she said. “The dragon rights activists are camped outside the back gates again – Pete and Youseff are dealing with it.”
Charlie winced and introduced the woman as Zhen, the Chinese dragon handler. The woman’s English was slightly accented, and Victoire noticed that she had very good posture and very clear skin. And then –
“…Zhen, my nieces Victoire and Dominique, and Victoire’s boyfriend Teddy,” Charlie finished, stumbling a little over his efforts to pronounce the French names properly.
Victoire froze, her eyes fixed on the baby dragon, who was sniffing her fingers. She took a deep breath, cursing herself for not filling her uncle in on her whole situation.
“Actually, we’re exes,” she told Zhen. “Teddy’s my ex-boyfriend, in fact.”
The dragon handler smiled politely, glancing up at Teddy, though she looked a little confused. Charlie’s mouth was open in a round little O of surprise.
“Wait, you two broke up?” he said.
“Yeah, before I left for Ireland,” Victoire replied icily.
Charlie turned to Teddy. “Then why the hell did you follow her here, mate? I mean… no offense…”
Whatever Charlie was going to say was interrupted for Victoire by a large jab of pain, and she gasped and swore loudly. The baby dragon, Ning, had taken advantage of her moment of distraction and allowed himself a sharp nip of her index finger.
Victoire recoiled, staring at her hand, which was throbbing in a way that made her very aware of her fingers. In the background, Ning trotted away, a bit of blood on his sharp snout. The girl’s hand was a bloody mess as the red matter flowed quickly from the cut: she caught a glimpse of a scarlet abyss on her finger joint where two lips of flesh dangled helplessly apart. She stumbled back, and felt Teddy’s warm arm enclose over her shoulders.
“Oh, damn, Vic, are you alright?” he gasped. Charlie and Zhen darted forward, Zhen pulling a length of cloth from her pocket and, grabbing Victoire’s bloody hand, wrapped the bandage tightly and expertly around the injured joint. Victoire bit her lip.
“No, I’m obviously not alright,” she said sharply. “Uncle Charlie, you can stop laughing now, thanks.”
“Oh, relax, you’re not going to lose the finger,” Charlie laughed. “Zhen, can you take care of these two – maybe keep an eye on the baby dragons if they insist on playing with them-”
“There’ll be no need for that,” Teddy said hastily, and Dominique hastily seconded the opinion. Victoire rolled her eyes again as Charlie hastened her away towards the medical office.
Victoire’s injury was quickly mended with a healing spell by Pete, the resident Healer, who was amused to hear about her plight. He was a middle-aged bloke wearing floral shorts, which made Victoire like him immediately, and he simply shrugged and said “too bad” when Victoire complained that her finger was still feeling a little numb. He informed her she might have a tiny scar the width of a hair on her finger, which she decided to cheerfully bear as a souvenir.
After his outburst at how Teddy had followed Victoire to Prague, Charlie steered clear of the subject. Victoire suspected her uncle must feel a little embarrassed for reacting that way to Teddy, whom he had always liked, and preferred to remain on neutral ground between them. Victoire was intrigued to note, however, a slight teasing tone in Pete’s voice when he mentioned Zhen, and how Charlie’s ears turned slightly pink the way her dad’s did before his wife pinned him down and cut off his hair again, since he said having short hair made him look like a gremlin. Guilty – that was it. Uncle Charlie looked a little guilty, and Victoire couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Tante Gabbie wasn’t the only woman Charlie was… enjoying time with. Victoire privately thought Charlie and Zhen would make a cute couple – the petite lady was even shorter than her uncle, and seemed like fun. They certainly had a lot in common.
More interestingly, however, was listening to Pete and Charlie complain about the dragon rights activists who came from all over Europe to camp outside the dragon sanctuary and protest the dragons being held in captivity. The conversation spilled into dinner that night at the reserve’s bar, where Victoire and Teddy ignored one another and listened instead to the dragon handler’s complaints.
It seemed that the sanctuary’s locations could be spelled to be un-plottable, but the information was constantly being leaked to the activist groups who would come and protest and try to break in to free the dragons and just generally be a menace. Victoire suspected, from the careful avoidance of the subject, that the group’s methods might have had something to do with their arrival in Romania and transport in Charlie’s truck. The other enemies of the sanctuary were the dragon poachers – dragons were either hunted vigorously by some ministries and greatly coveted by others for their blood, scales and traditional role as guard animals and even fashionable pets. Victoire knew that her Aunt Hermione and Uncles Ron and Hermione had in fact broken into Gringotts as teenagers and broken out by riding one of the captive dragons which guarded the deepest and finest vaults – her parents, despite spending quite a lot of time in Gringotts, had never seen hide nor hair of any other illegally captured beast, and going up against the might of the goblins was hardly worth it.
“Honestly I worry more for the activists’ sake than for the dragons,” Pete commented, shoving a chip into his mouth and narrowly missing spilling ketchup down his shirt. “There was an incident a few years back where this poor bleeder got into Norberta’s cage and she scalded him flat… reckon he was planning to fly away on her.”
“The tops of the pens are spelled so the dragons can’t fly out,” Zhen explained. “Even if the poor boy’s plan had worked, he wouldn’t have made it past the wards.”
“That’s terrible!” Dominique exclaimed. “And they still camp outside, even knowing what happened?”
Zhen nodded grimly. “Working with dragons is very safe, if you take precautions and know what to do in a moment of crisis. With amateurs, well… look what happened to your poor sister today.” She turned to Victoire. “How are you feeling, love?”
“Fine really,” Victoire replied, not wanting to come across as whiny to the hardened dragon handlers.
The conversation moved on to other topics – Teddy entertained the group for a little while by changing his nose to funny shapes, like Pete’s large, gnarled nose which had apparently been broken twice, and the petulant snout of Ning the dragon, complete with fangs. While Teddy’s mother had apparently been a very skilled Metamorphmagus, her son had inherited some abilities and was less able to manipulate and hold an entire disguise for long periods of time. He did much better with changing one body part at a time, such as his nose, or the color of his hair.
Victoire was quite thrilled to find out that Pete had been one of the dragon handlers who had flown to the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower one night many years ago to pick up Norbert – or Norberta – from her Uncle Harry and Aunt Hermione in their first year. Pete and Charlie reminisced about the days when one could simply fly from country to country in Europe without having to deal with the Ministries, who were far stricter nowadays. They all had another round of beers, even Dominique, whose cheeks were flushed pink with excitement from the night. The conversation returned several times to the Quidditch World Cup and where the final would be held.
An awkward moment occurred when Victoire mentioned how she had met up with Tante Gabrielle in Paris. She glanced at Uncle Charlie to see his ears turning red again, and that Zhen had gone very quiet and was sending sidelong glances in Charlie’s direction, with her lips pursed. Victoire shifted, feeling a little guilty, and hoped that Dominique would see through the situation enough not to mention the gossip.
Naturally, this was not to be.
“And so we heard you had a petite rendez-vous with Gabrielle,” Dominique giggled. “Well, Uncle Charlie, might as well keep it in the family.”
Charlie was as red as Uncle Ron was when his wife found out he Confunded a Muggle policeman to get out of a ticket he had earned for parking in the middle of an intersection and refusing to move – something to do with a pigeon.
“Good on you, mate,” Teddy laughed, clapping Charlie on the back. Victoire shot him a panicked look, wishing she knew Legilimency. Zhen was frowning down at her beer.
“But I mean, gross, she’s so much younger than you!” Dominique giggled. “That’s like Uncle George’s new girlfriend, Tamara – she’s a Muggle, and she’s, like, twenty-nine…and a Muggle magician, of all things…”
“I thought him and Angelina were talking about getting back together?” Charlie cut in. Zhen excused herself to go to the toilet.
“Nope, they just still do everything together, though,” Dominique said, rolling her eyes. “They’re the happiest divorced couple ever, I swear. Anyway, so Vicky said that Gabrielle was so happy… if you two get married can I be the bridesmaid?”
“Can I be one too?” Pete cut in. Teddy and Dominique laughed, but Victoire saw a chance to cut in.
“I introduced Gabbie to my Canadian friend, Sam, and he was so in awe of her,” she said. “If the rapid French wasn’t intimidating enough, throw in some wine and some Veela blood…”
“Sam, eh?” Dominique said, leaning back in her seat and crossing her arms across her chest. “How is old Sammy boy doing, over in Berlin all by himself?”
“He’s doing well, we’re going to meet up in Italy,” Victoire said, glancing at Teddy. He moved over slightly as Zhen returned from the toilet, squeezing into the seat next to Charlie. “You see, Sam is my travel buddy – he’s Canadian, did I mention that? And he’s so cool. At first I thought he was really quiet, but we met on this tour to the Giant’s Causeway and he taught me all about the intery-net thingy that Muggles use, it’s simply wonderful!”
Teddy had been very quiet the whole night, for him, and so Victoire wasn’t surprised when he asked if they could go outside and have a word. Excusing themselves to the rest of the table and avoiding her sister’s pointed look, Victoire led Teddy out to sit on a bench in the courtyard between the baby dragon’s paddock and the main entrance to the sanctuary. The night was very dark, but with unfamiliar constellations gleaming in the skies which reminded Victoire of the clarity of long nights at the Astronomy tower in class at Hogwarts. It had been so long since she had been outside of a city at night, and even the buzzing of mosquitoes and the humid thickness in the air could not deter her.
“So, what did you want to talk about, Ted?” she asked, glancing at her ex-boyfriend. His nose was back to its regular shape and his brown hair was sweating a little at the scalp. Frown lines ran across his forehead.
Teddy took a deep breath. “You know, I guess I thought things would be… different, when I came here.” His voice cracked on the word ‘different,’ and he cleared his throat. “I thought… you know, when we broke up, it was just… stupid. I felt sorry right away but I was still angry that you were leaving me. I didn’t know how to apologize, or if I should be the one apologizing.”
That’s a bad start to a real apology, Ted, Victoire said silently. She crossed her legs and slapped a mosquito on her leg, though she suspected she was too late to prevent the bite from rising. She scraped the mosquito’s crushed remains and the bit of blood it had left behind off her skin, noting that she should consider shaving her legs before she went to Italy.
She took a deep breath. “Teddy, can I ask you something? Why does it bother you so much that I’m traveling? I mean… we were long distance for my seventh year at school… sure, I saw you on Hogsmeade weekends and holidays and often times in between, but still, we weren’t together all the time. What made you so upset about it all?”
Teddy paused, staring at his fignernails. “I suppose… erm, well at Hogwarts, I knew where you were, I could go and visit you and sneak through the passage or what not, I could send you an owl and know it would be safely received and returned. But… at school you were studying, you were busy. Traveling is just so different – I couldn’t know exactly where you were, who you were talking to... damn, that sounds bloody creepy. But… I suppose it scared me, that you’d be out meeting boys and seeing things that I couldn’t share with you.”
Victoire bit her lip, not knowing whether to laugh at Teddy or storm off in outrage. She settled for rolling her eyes, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see her clearly in the dark. “That is very… possessive,” she said darkly. “Teddy, you were my boyfriend for years, my best friend for longer. I just… how can you say things like that out loud? That you wanted to know who I was talking to at all times? I’m my own bloody person, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Teddy said. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have phrased it that way. I just… I really care about you, and I knew I was going to miss you.” He looked over at her through his long eyelashes “I’m sorry, Vic, I’ve gone and mucked everything up. I thought that if I came here and tried to compromise and have fun with you, that you’d realize how sorry and lost I’ve felt and how much I want to be with you.” He hesitated. “If you’ll have me back, that is.” He kicked his feet a little into the travel, dirtying the nice shoes he’d put on for the pub.
“Is this about your parents, and all that?” Victoire asked softly, realizing something. She glanced at Teddy’s hand and considered putting her own over it, like she had so many other times when they had serious conversations about these sorts of issues and Teddy’s tragic family past, but drew away. “Look, Teddy, this is different – we’re different. There’s no war, and nobody is going to die. I’ve just… look, I really care about you as a friend, and I want to be straight up with you. I just don’t feel the same way anymore. We can talk about the past, we can finish on a good note, but I can’t change that fact. I can’t change the way I feel. I’ve moved on, and I just see you as a friend now. I’m sorry.”
Victoire privately felt that she didn’t need to apologize. Part of her thought that perhaps even if Teddy and her hadn’t officially split up, that traveling would have shown her how there was a whole world beyond being Teddy Lupin’s girlfriend. Because there was – there were places to see and people to meet and she never wanted to go back to the person she was before she left.
“I always knew I wasn’t good enough for you, and you’d eventually figure it out,” Teddy said in a low voice. He was turned towards the ground, but his eyes darted hopefully over at Victoire. She took another deep breath, letting the air cycle out through her nostrils, and shook her head.
“Alright, mister, stop trying to make me feel sorry for you, because it is not going to work. And, as a friend, here is a tip for the future – being pathetic and self-deprecating is not going to make a girl like you. Be confident, Ted – you’re funny, kind, handsome, intelligent, you make excellent pancakes and have good taste in beer – you’re going to find some other girl who is going to love those things about you, and you’re going to adore her as well. That’s what I want for you – and once you realize that I can’t be that girl, not anymore, then you’re going to be so much happier.” She smiled at him, shyly. “I promise. Because I’m never going to stop moving, and being who I am, and we’re going to have an amazing friendship.” She wondered how many more times she could edge the word ‘friend’ into the discussion without sounding like a parrot.
Teddy was very quiet for a moment, and Victoire listened to the sounds of the sanctuary – the baby dragons creeping about in the pen behind them, and the warm summer wind whistling through the leaves of the forest. From where she suspected the animal activists were camping out came distant sounds of hushed voices and occasional laughter. Light spilled out from the doors of the pub as Dominique stuck her fair head out, waved at them, and then slunk back inside, taking the rush of cool air and the sound of Charlie’s loud laughter with her. Victoire noticed through the open door that her uncle seemed to have draped his arm around Zhen.
Then, finally –
“Well, I’ll always like you as more than a friend,” Teddy said. Victoire clenched her fists, nails digging into her palms. “But I understand. I just wish that person who makes me happy could only be you, always you.”
“That will change,” Victoire said confidently. She considered bringing up Sam and the fact that they had kissed – twice! – wondering if the news would help Teddy get over her more quickly. “But it was lovely to see you, and thank you for keeping an eye on Nique. I know my parents wouldn’t have let her come alone. And it was nice to see both of you.”
Teddy nodded. He leaned back on the bench, staring up at the stars, his thin hand tracing circles on the wooden seat between them. Victoire felt a sense of relief settle over her – she had said her piece. She had been honest, and though Teddy might be angry with her for a little while, it felt like the kindest thing to do.
The night, for a moment was very still and quiet. The warm air running across Victoire’s cheek and making strands of hair blow up in her face. The buzzing of mosquitoes. The smell of smoke and trees. The distant sounds of murmuring – the activists camped outside the camp, doubtlessly plotting their next move. The stars shining in strange constellations.
Then in the distance, a dragon roared.
Author’s Note: I hope you enjoyed this chapter. This was quite difficult as Romania is the only location in this story where I haven’t actually visited – I especially have never visited a dragon sanctuary! Do you think Victoire was too harsh on Teddy? Predictions about where the Quidditch World Cup might be held? I was inspired by JKR’s Pottermore post, hence why Victoire (and I) never mentioned it before – according to my calculations, this is the year it would be held. Thank you for reading! Next stop – Italy!
Also: “Tante” means aunt in French. “Petite rendez-vous” means, well a “little meeting,” but Dominique means it in a suggestive way.
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