The pool which had looked like such a small target from the balcony loomed suddenly massive as they rapidly rushed towards it. "Bad idea," Victoire yelped as they plummeted past the dark floors of the manor house. Teddy's grip was as tight as his face as he fought the wind to try and pull her closer, but the night air turned traitorous by their speed, made quick work of separating them. Robbing him of both her hand and his words, his shout of alarm snatched away the moment he voiced it. Like Alice down the rabbit hole Victoire fell tumbling head over feet alone in the darkness, till the water rushed up to meet her with welcoming arms.
The sharp smack her impact made with the surface was jarring but not half as much as the icy shock of the water. It froze what little breath was still in her lungs as her boots scraped the cracked and uneven bottom scrambling for enough purchase to push herself back upwards to moonlight and air. Trying to ignore the cold sinking into her bones and the sharp pains of her frantic breaths Victoire struggled to the surface her heavy winter clothes threatening to drag her down. She broke the surface with a gasp, skeleton leaves clinging to her hair. She blinked the stinging salt water from her eyes letting her surroundings slowly resolve around her only to found herself facing a worryingly familiar stone door.
"Teddy!" Victoire yelled a note of panic rising in her voice. Treading water she spun around relaxing marginally, one fear assuaged, as Teddy surfaced on the other side of the pool, "Teddy!"
"Here," he said waving his hand in reassurance as he started lazily swimming towards her. Victoire's eyes widened when she realized what he was doing.
"Are you crazy forget about me get out of the pool now!"
"Don't worry I think the Society is a little preoccupied right now," he responded, a smugness to his tone that would have interested her if her attention hadn't already been caught elsewhere.
Victoire risked the briefest glimpse upwards where indeed it did look like the Hellebore Society had their own problems. The balcony they'd fallen from was bright in the early morning darkness as it lit up first red and then blue, each flash accompanied by a loud pop and a shriek or two. Despite the plethora of curses the Society could have cast down on them the only spell to come their way was a shower of gold sparks that drifted down from the mansion and dissolved harmlessly against the dark water.
However, Victoire decided she had bigger problems than wondering what difficultly had befallen the Hellebore Society. Literally. "That is absolutely not the reason I am worried," Victoire informed him, not bothering to conceal her alarm this time. There was a current, unusual for a pool, beginning to swirl around her legs; moving the dead leaves caught in the doorway in a sluggish and distinctly unsettling way.
"Get out of the water now!" she ordered again striking a determined path to the pool's rust gilded edge hoping Teddy would for once follow her lead. The water was freezing but having lived beside a beach her whole life Victoire was adept at swimming in all conditions and made quick work of the distance between herself and the pool's side.
"Vicky wait it's not safe!" Teddy yelled. Victoire turned treading water again, barely a couple of feet away from dry land, her fingers able to brush the rusted rail at the pool's edge if she stretched, but Teddy wasn't anywhere near as close to safety.
She spotted Corper, a tiny figure at the edge, gesturing urgently to him but Teddy was easily as stubborn as she was and he was as equally determined to reach her as she was to reach the edge. And just as perfectly content to ignore whatever either of them were yelling about. The disturbance in the water was unmistakeable now; a long, wide ripple moving against the wind-born waves marking a clear path as whatever hid below the surface wound towards its prey. Its movement the sinuous undulation of a serpent uncoiling itself. And Victoire, so close to the edge, was not its target.
There was a big difference between a hero and a martyr and Victoire hadn't fought so hard against Teddy becoming the latter with Hartwood only to have him sacrifice himself now. So she executed her usual plan, which was not to plan at all. Plunging her stolen wand, which she was beginning to grow fond of for its willingness to stay in her hand, below the waves she bit out a half spluttered spell. The water swirling around her legs warmed as a jet of scalding water issued forth from the tip of her wand arrowing in on the creature with targeted precision. She'd never attempted that spell in water before and was surprised when the force of her own attack knocked her backwards her head striking the pool side with a thud. Dazed and winded Victoire slipped beneath the surface, the hand rail she caught at the last minute the only thing that kept her from completely sinking.
Teddy's shout of alarm was nothing more than a garbled cry beneath the waves, the distorted sound quickly swallowed by the creature's shriek of anger as the boiling jet hit. It screeched and writhed it's thrashing sending Victoire back against the rail again in a sudden swell. She could tell the moment it changed directions, and targets, by the surge that sent her bobbing back towards the surface. Her grip tightened as the wave threatened to pull her away from the side snatching a short quick breath before being dragged under again.
Beneath the water Victoire's eyes widened, stinging in the briny fluid, as the creature started to appear in the water around her. It was some kind of serpent, she could tell that much from the way it wove back and forth towards her, the thick spines along its back ending the argument she'd been having with herself earlier. She hoped it was merely a trick of the moonlight and the murkiness that made it seem to fill the entire pool.
Something cold and slimy brushed her leg and Victoire decided to add a second hand to the one already clutching desperately at the rail, trying to pull herself up. The serpent did not like that at all the tail that brushed her leg wrapping more firmly around her ankle and pulling hard. Victoire couldn't help it, she screamed as one hand slid off the railing, bubbles issuing forth instead of noise. Even if she had of studied enough to pick a few non-verbal spells it wouldn't have helped, for her wand was caught up in her desperate grip and was absolutely no help unless she wanted to let go. Another yank on her ankle and the hand rail groaned alarmingly, giving just enough to scare her. Victoire twisted around staring in horror as glowing eyes appeared through the gloom, a cavernous mouth full of teeth as long as its spines opening in anticipation.
A spell skittered across the surface of the water bursting across the creature's back. Snarling it spun, its grip momentarily loosening as it turned to face this newest threat. Lungs screaming from lack of air Victoire desperately tried to drag herself out of the water whilst it was distracted. The hand rail gave one last drawn out wail and snapped the force of it sending her spinning towards the yawning cavern of the creature's mouth. She floundered, opening her mouth again to scream but cold water rushed in instead. Unable to breath or to fight Victoire closed her eyes and prayed to Merlin for a way out of her predicament. Salvation came in the form a tiny hand that reached down and tangled in her jumper.
Once again she marvelled at the strength Corper had in his tiny limbs as with one pull the tiny house elf had her half out of the water. The creature snarled again redoubling its grip as it realised it was losing its prey, but with another tug and the pop of her shoe coming off in its grasp Corper managed to heave her out of the water. They stumbled across the tiles putting as much distance between them and the water's edge as possible. The pool itself churned as the still unknown serpent raged.
Gasping for air and from fright Victoire collapsed to her knees in sodden puddle. "Thank you," she spluttered at Corper as her frozen lungs remembered how to breath, "thank you."
Teddy was on them in a second. Victoire had just enough time to reach up and wipe her streaming eyes before Teddy slide in beside her, grabbed her wrists and replaced her hands with his own. "Are you okay?" he asked warm fingers brushing up her shoulders and over her hair pushing locks turned deep red by the water out of her face, forcing her to look at him. Unable to do anything else Victoire met his gaze with her still streaming eyes.
Teddy's own were far from calm, sparking red with glints of fury and more than a little fright. His panic manifesting in a sort of manic energy, his fingers unable to still even as they held her face, thumbs stroking her face. She caught at one his hands to reassure him but released it quickly unsure whether she'd be able to resist pulling him closer, especially with the hypnotic thing he was now doing with his thumbs.
"Teddy I'm f_" she started to assure him before her words were lost in an explosion of coughing. This was not as reassuring as she'd wanted it to be. His hands slid from her face down her arms tugging her closer, a bracing arm around her back as she coughed up what had to be half a pool's worth of water. One hand traced soothing circles across her back as the other frantically chafed her wrist and rubbed her arms trying to get some warmth back into her frozen limbs.
Her throat and nose burned but she found enough breath for a single strangled laugh. "Teddy," she wheezed fumbling for his frantic hand. This time when she caught it she didn't let go. "I'm fine," she insisted though her voice was raw. His eyes focused on hers again with an uncomfortable intensity and Victoire realised she'd trapped him with his arms around her. She eased her grip but Teddy didn't let her go. Trying to lighten the suddenly charged mood she gave him a wobbly smile and added, "Just a tad waterlogged is all."
"That was an insanely stupid thing to do," he muttered clearly unamused by her brevity his eyes checking for what his hands now weren't. She was still in his arms, half in his lap, the two of them a wet tangled mess of limbs, but if he didn't want to move away Victoire was uninclined to either. Dirk's heavy coat still wrapped around Teddy was sodden through, holding far more water than her own paltry sweater, but somehow Teddy seemed infinitely warmer than her, exuding heat in waves that made her want to cuddle closer.
"You've rescued me enough, I thought it about time I return the favour," she said keeping her tone light and joking.
His answering tone was dry, "I hardly call that a rescue."
"Says the guy whose idea of a rescue was to dump me over the side into the monster infested pool," Victoire reminded him.
There was a flicker of amusement in his expression, "Touché. But I actually meant threatening Hartwood."
"Oh that," Victoire frowned, "Well it was high time someone stood up to him," she refused to be apologetic about it. "How do you think he's gotten away with so much?" She turned the ferocious scowl the subject brought to her face on Teddy, and caught in him an unguarded moment. Her argument seemed to divert him his face warming with fond amusement as he stared down at her. She froze. He didn't seem at all perturbed by their faces sudden closeness but Victoire was suddenly keenly aware of the fact. How would he react if she closed the gap and kissed him?
"Are we interrupting something?" In the time it took Victoire to flinch Teddy was on his feet, wand directed at their interrupter. "Whoa," Thomas said freezing with his hands up in mock surrender. His posture was anything but joking however. He knew as well as Victoire did that startling an already on edge Teddy was a tantamount to poking a sleeping dragon.
"Like our dashing rescue," said another voice proceeding its owner to the ground, "poor form indeed gorgeous." Roger abandoned the broom he was dismounting from in one startled movement as Victoire made a lunge upwards in his direction, skidding slightly in her slippery tights and lone shoe.
"Roger!" she exclaimed as she flung her arms around his neck relief infusing her tone, glad that the Hellebore Society hadn't lied about his safety at least, "You're okay."
"Of course I'm okay sweetheart," Roger replied as he caught her. He sounded more than slightly bewildered at the fierceness of her tone and her hug, "Are you sure you are?"
"You tell us," Teddy said, "you're the student healer all I can tell is that she's cracked in the brain." Victoire shot him a wounded look and got a wry eyebrow in return.
"Honey you're shaking," Roger disagreed. Adrenaline was still spiking through her system making her heart pound and her blood race but she found this wasn't the reason she was shaking. Against her will slightly hysterical giggles were bubbling in her still raw throat. She didn't think admitting that would be a very safe idea though, with Teddy still so on edge. "And no wonder you're soaking wet and freezing." He muttered an incoherent incantation and Victoire suddenly felt sinfully warm. Even more so when Roger, frowning at Teddy, folded her into a proper hug, "Was the pool really the best option?"
Teddy's response was belligerent, "Oh I'm sorry where were you five minutes ago when we were cornered and out of options?"
"Exactly where you told us civilians to be boss," Thomas quipped a hint of irritation in his tone. Clearly Teddy had vented a fair amount of his frustration on his friends before he'd found her, "Following the plan. How were we to know you were taking an alternative route?"
"You really did spoil a rather dashing rescue darling," Roger informed her as she pressed her face into his chest hiding the laughter leaking onto her face.
"What are you even doing here?" she muttered into his shoulder, Roger was no fighter. She guessed the cursory medical assessment she was pretending not to notice him giving her was at least part of it.
"Would we leave our best girl hanging?" Thomas joked ruffling her still damp hair, but there was a thread of iron in his voice much like Teddy's.
Teddy was the one who answered her seriously, his tone disgruntled, "Roger and Thomas were with me when I got the message from your Uncle," he said forcing her to imagine how that owl had gone, "He's got the entire department out looking for you I hope you realize. Which reminds me…" A spectral golden retriever burst from the wand still in his hand, making her jump again. It wound playfully around her ankles in apology making her smile tiredly.
"What's with the Patronus?" Victoire asked suspiciously, as the spectral dog woofed silently up at her before dancing around a startled Corper and bounding away into the shadows of the house.
"Just letting the others know we've got you," Teddy responded, "You didn't think we'd be stupid enough to come alone did you." She frowned at the pointed reminder that she had been. He moved before Victoire even realized she had, taking two steps and casually catching her elbow as she moved to follow his Patronus. He did it almost without conscious thought as if he'd been expecting something of the sort. "Don't," he advised her exhaustedly and let her go again.
"Teddy," Victoire said with exaggerated patience, "They are in there because of me. They are in danger because of me. I want to help."
"They Aurors Vic," Teddy responded, "They know what they're doing. And they're much better prepared for this than you are."
"I have a wand," Victoire argued, "I can fight."
"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should," Thomas said folding his arms in a solidarity pose behind Teddy.
"I'm with Theodore here honey," Roger agreed, "I don't think that's a good idea." She glared at all of them in turn. Roger and Thomas stared resolutely back. Only Teddy matched her glare with one of his own.
She didn't know what in her expression gave it away but Teddy easily caught her again as she made to dart away, reeling her into his side, his grip tight. The voice in her ear was a low growl. "Please don't test me right now," he advised in a strained voice, warning that his temper and terror were not very tightly leashed. His worry, now assuaged, was quickly being replaced by growing annoyance that would easily build to anger if she didn't stop pushing him.
But still, "Let me go," Vicky demanded tugging ineffectively at his hold. Teddy was implacable, "They don't know how dangerous it is. They don't know that Hartwood is out of Azkahban," Vicky said a panicked hitch to her voice. If anybody else got hurt because of her she'd never forgive herself. Corper responded to her mounting alarm with a whimper causing Roger to move to the house elf's side. "Teddy they don't know that Hartwood is…"
"…currently being detained in a fourth floor games room with an impressive set of antlers growing out of his head? I've been informed," a voice finished for her.
"Uncle Harry!" Victoire exclaimed as he stepped forward shaking brick dust from his fringe, giving them brief glimpses of his famous scar as he did. It was a mark of how distressed she was that Victoire hadn't noticed the dull pop of his apparating beside them. Even had his scar not been visible it would have been obvious that her Uncle wasn't someone to mess with right now simply from the dangerous glint in his eye, "Uncle Harry tell them to pull back. It's too dangerous."
"Don't you worry about the Hellebore Society young lady," her Uncle said in a tone that made for certain she had something much more terrifying to worry about, Uncle Harry's wrath, "The Department has that under control. You worry about how you're going to explain this mess to the dear devoted family that you've had worried sick the last 24 hours. Not to mention the Ministry of Magic. Do you understand how much trouble you've caused? How much trouble you're in?" Oh Victoire had an inkling, the fact that she was dealing with Auror Harry and not Uncle Harry was the first hint. The fact that she was beginning to see how genial Uncle Harry had stopped a war was the second. She swallowed nervously glancing at the boys for help.
"Well," he continued propping fists on his hips and glaring at her, "Do you have any sort of explanation? Any at all?"
"I was…aahhh…following family tradition?" Victoire offered weakly, her smile sheepish. Thomas snorted and Teddy growled. She knew she was in major trouble but she honestly couldn't bring herself to care. She'd take the trouble she was in now over the trouble she'd just gotten out of any day, even if it was causing Teddy to cut off the circulation in her arm.
Uncle Harry took a deep breath through his nose like he wasn't sure whether to laugh or scream but a bit of the tension eased from his shoulders, "Don't ever scare us like that again," he said and jerked her into an awkward one armed hug, awkward because Teddy refused to relinquish his strangling grip on her arm even to his Godfather, "I can't fault you for taking after your Aunt," he grumbled. Victoire was tempted to ask which one, "And I'm proud of how you acquitted yourself. However," he held her at arm's length and pinned her with his green stare, "next time you are tell your favourite Uncle what group is chasing your sponsorship so that we can have that conversation about responsible patronage."
"They didn't exactly give me much of a choice," Victoire pointed out noticing that Teddy's grip tightened infinitesimally when she did. She shot him another glare, "And Corper helped me get out," she said inclining her head towards Corper, looking small and pitiful in his rags. With Victoire pre-occupied Roger had moved on to giving the small house elf a medical once over. He was smoothing some sort of ointment over Corper's unwrapped fingers with a tenderness that only endeared him ever further to Victoire and dazzled her small friend.
Her Uncle's smiled broadened, "You take after your Uncle too it seems. Releasing house elves from their bonds willy nilly. I'll make sure your Aunt Hermione knows there's a house elf in need of placement," he said acknowledging her obvious concern, "he'll be fine. Roger will fix him up and the department will protect him till he's ready to move on." Victoire smiled at her small friend who appeared more than a tad overwhelmed by the attention. "The same cannot be said of you. And you!" Harry said rounding on Teddy, "I know I'm your Godfather but I'm also your boss. I thought I said Metamorphagi infiltration was too risky. What do you have to say for yourself?" Teddy it turned out had nothing to say for himself, he didn't look at all apologetic for his mutiny either, staring back at Harry defiantly. Harry groaned, "This is what comes from big families. You learn to gang up on us." He seemed to realise that this was not an argument he was likely to win. "Fine. Ted, Ron and I have got this. The team will do another sweep through the manor for stragglers before we head to the Department. You get Vicky safely home and come meet us there when you're done," he paused portentously, "We'll discuss your appropriate punishment then."
Teddy's answering nod was tight, a look passing between the two Aurors that almost made Victoire feel sorry for the Hellebore Society. Almost. Right now she was slightly more concerned for herself. She watched Uncle Harry march away that all too familiar sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Next to her Teddy was wound so tight that she was worried if he snapped he'd take out the nearest three blocks, and Victoire thought she knew who the most likely target was.
Out of respect for his job Victoire waited till Uncle Harry vanished before telling him, "That actually rather hurts you know." He started guiltily and eased his grip but not enough to set her loose.
"Hush you," he said, transferring his grip to her wrist and dragging her forwards to where the discarded brooms lay.
"Mate maybe I should take Vic home and you can go with Harry," Thomas said carefully shooting a pointed look at Teddy that totally missed Victoire.
Roger looked up from wrapping his scarf around Corper's small body the gentleness in his expression flickering with exasperation as he took in Teddy's body language, "Theodore, do you really think now is the opportune time?"
"You said she was fine," Teddy reminded him.
"Point of fact I didn't say anything about how she was other than cold and wet," Roger countered, "And manhandling her hardly seems like it's going to help the prognosis."
"Is she okay to travel or not?" Teddy growled with thinning patience. The fact that they were discussing her as if she wasn't even there wasn't doing anything to help Victoire's own tolerance levels.
Roger unfolded himself slowly from his crouch, his spine ramrod straight, seeming to adopt more of the authority of his position against Teddy's anger. "Don't you take that tone with me or my patient Theodore. Victoire's remarkably fine for someone who just jumped off a roof, but," Roger said firmly, "she's also been apparated more than once by a plainly terrified creature, which would be enough to discombobulate anyone's anatomy. She's also likely in shock so you need to be gentle." Teddy did not look inclined to follow the would-be healer's orders. In fact now that she'd gotten the clean bill of health he looked like he wanted to make his own attempt at murdering her.
"I'd listen to the good doctor Ted," Thomas said, "Now is not the time."
Victoire most certainly agreed with Thomas there. "Teddy, I've had a perfectly wretched day," she said, "I've been kidnapped, manhandled, holed up in an attic space, chased around a mansion by curse wielding maniacs and lastly thrown off a balcony. I'd rather not end it with one of your lectures."
"That's not what we're talking about," Roger said making her shoot him a look of confusion that was quickly distracted.
"You better believe I'm going to yell at you," Teddy threatened. He thrust out a hand and one of the discarded brooms snapped into it. Victoire looked around for a broom of her own but it quickly became apparent that was not Teddy's plan.
"Oh no," she said as Teddy jerked her down into a side-saddle position before him on the broom, "Teddy this is not a two-person broom," she objected. He finally let go of her arm only to reach around her back to take a hold of the handle. She looked to Roger or Thomas for help but if they had anything to add she didn't hear it the rest of her protest lost in a rush of air as Teddy shot off from the ground faster than cannon fire. Victoire unprepared threw her arms around his shoulders with a startled shriek. If he noticed, or cared, Teddy didn't show it his expression a sombre cloud that weighed heavily on his handsome face.
"I have no plans to let you go until I'm certain you're not going to suffer another bout of suicidal stupidity," he said in clipped tones. It wasn't quite the, I can't bear to be parted from you that Victoire had hoped for. Embarrassed she eased her stranglehold on his neck but couldn't bring herself to let go of him completely, and it wasn't entirely due to safety reasons. Her hopes for a happy ending to this ordeal seemed to be dwindling before her eyes. If she tread very, very carefully perhaps she might be able to salvage this even but under no circumstances could she allow herself to be drawn into a fight. Teddy she suspected wasn't going to make that last bit easy for her.
"That was all rather impressive. Do you rescue girls like that all the time or am I special?" she joked unable to help looking hopefully up at his fringe as she said it but Teddy's hair was firmly set in a disheartening shade of burnt umber, not a thread of pink to be seen. She looked down again.
"Oh you're a special kind of something alright," he muttered and Victoire winced as he turned the full force of his glare on her, "Honestly, sometimes Victoire I don't know how you've managed to survive this long."
"Probably because I have you to rescue me," she quipped hoping to appease him. The gratitude shining in her eyes might have done much to help with that but after that brief scowl he'd seemed to think it best to keep his gaze firmly planted on the clouds the sweet touches from earlier his silence was oppressive.
Victoire looked down ruefully, "Thank you by the way," she said quietly, "I know you said you wouldn't be doing that anymore."
"That was when I thought even you wouldn't do something so dangerously stupid," he said flatly. The reminder of her idiocy seemed to set him off on a tirade for he continued, "Honestly do you know how worried we all were Victoire? Your parents went out of their minds when the school told them no-one could find you." Vic deflated marginally she wasn't really in the mood for a scolding. He'd called her Victoire twice now; he only did that when he really angry with her and preparing for a lecture.
She looked around for Thomas or Roger to plead transference to the safer ride of their brooms and found that she and Teddy were alone. For whatever reason his friends hadn't followed, perhaps they were as eager to avoid this battle as she was. Roger she thought at least would have followed, if for no other reason than to make sure Teddy didn't throw his patient overboard in a fit of pique. Hoping to remind him that the important thing was that she was safe in his arms she asked hopefully, "You were worried about me?"
"Worried," he exclaimed heatedly, "I was petrified. What If I hadn't found where the Hellebore Society was in time to save you?"
"How did you know it was the Hellebore Society that kidnapped me?"
"Victoire, infuriating as you are I don't think even you can drive more than one society crazy enough to incite them to abduction. Though after this evening I might be inclined to re-evaluate that conviction," he said eyes flashing still very much incensed, "Even suspecting who had abducted you we had no idea where they'd taken you. We didn't know if we would find you in time then. What if we hadn't been? What if I'd been too late?"
"Hey, it's okay," she said soothingly, squeezing his shoulders gently because she could tell he was working himself into another lather, "You did find me. Like you always do just when I need you," she frowned, "though, I have no idea how you found me so quickly."
"Oh that," Teddy said and the disdain was clear in his voice, "Trumble gave us quite a bit of information about the Hellebore Society and their dealings when he finally managed to get past his fear of your Uncle to actually talk." Victoire's heart swelled with a little bit more affection for the Scarecrow, he'd found his courage after all, despite her all-consuming fury, and rallied the troops.
"Brian? He made it to you guys. Oh thank Merlin," she said whispering her thanks to the sky, she'd half expected the poor guy to end up swimming in some forgotten murky pool himself, "That must have taken so much of his nerve. Is he okay?"
"Is he okay?" Teddy squawked, "Victoire need I remind you that Brian was an integral part of the plot to kidnap you. That boy will be lucky if I don't use his head for beater practice."
"Oh Teddy don't. It's not his fault," Victoire said secretly hoping Brian had taken the distraction of her rescue to skulk away, "Heroics don't come as easily to him as they do to you." If he noticed the compliment he didn't take it, "Besides he did the right thing in the end."
"Only because you put the fear of Merlin in him," Teddy accused. Victoire felt guilty for that now. Teddy glanced at her briefly but couldn't appear to comprehend the sad sympathy there, "You've already forgiven him haven't you?" he said with some exasperation.
"Look I can't deny that I was as mad at him as anyone when I found out what he'd done, but, the society used him as much as they used me. How can I not be sympathetic to that?"
"And that's justification for almost getting you killed?"
"They weren't going to kill me Teddy," Victoire said losing her own argument a bit as she added, "just control me."
"And did you know that before you decided take an excursion to seem them?" Teddy asked pointedly.
"They tricked me Teddy!" Victoire said feeling nettled. It seemed Teddy was not going to make sticking to the last part of her plan easy, but when had anything ever been easy between them.
"Oh yes Brian told us how they tricked you," Teddy said further muttering under his breath, "and a stupider ploy I've never heard. Tell me in your short acquaintance, and let me stress short, has Roger ever struck you as the type of guy to organize clandestine meetings with silly young girls?"
"I know that Teddy but the…"
"I know you're not stupid Vic, even if you spend an awful lot of time acting like it," Teddy said. She removed her hands off him entirely placing them on the safer planes of the broom handle, where she wouldn't be tempted to smack him.
"Gee thanks," she said sarcastically finding despite her best intentions her temper shortening. He was too intent on his own anger to notice hers rising to meet it.
"Even if for a second I believed that that blasted note was from Roger, which I don't," he added helpfully, only riling her up further, "you wouldn't have snuck out to see him."
"Of course I wouldn_" Victoire tried to butt in before he cut her off again.
"No," he said darkly. Victoire who could see the muscle in his jaw leap had a suspicion she knew where this was going, "There's only one person you'd sneak out in the dead of night, alone, to see. And luckily for the Hellebore Society they have full control over him," the blistering way he said the word him left no doubt as to just who he thought they'd swayed her with. She didn't know how he could be so wrong and so right at the same time. She'd be insulted if she wasn't so mad, "And I bet Saunders was all to happy to sell y_"
"For the love of Merlin Lupin!" Victoire shouted over the top of him, "I wasn't meeting either of them I was meeting YOU!" He blinked at her momentarily baffled.
"What?" he said intelligently. The admission seemed to have taken some of the bluster out of his sails and Victoire took full advantage, rushing in to explain her side of the story before he recovered his ire.
"I thought I was meeting you okay Teddy, "she said sullenly, "Even if I was as stupid as you've so beautifully articulated that you think I am I'm not suicidally so. You honestly think I'd go back to Saunders after all he's done?" that was possibly the bit that stung the most, "I've broken the guy's nose and knocked him clean out so I don't know how much clearer I can make this for you. There is only one person I'd sneak out to meet in the dead of night; that I have snuck out alone to see before, but it's not Saunders. Even the Hellebore Society knew that. The letter they sent me was from Roger but it said he'd finally convinced you to listen to reason and hear what I've been trying to tell you for weeks. I don't skip out of school for just anyone." This piece of knowledge did not mollify him like she'd hoped, if anything it only seemed to make his expression darker.
"And that makes it better?" Teddy exclaimed truly mad now, she could see it in the flashing of his eyes, "You may not know Roger very well Victoire but you definitely know me. There is no excuse for thinking that I'd ever_"
"Forgive me," she interjected. The flat calm of his voice was far scarier than any of the yelling he'd been doing moments before. It was sort of the deathly calm that came before a truly blinding storm. Victoire who knew the signs immediately went on the offensive, "If you had of just answered even one of my letters as you promised you would, rather than sulking like some giant prat I wouldn't have had to sneak out to talk to you," she said, sounding exactly like the petulant child he thought her but the truth of his words stung. She knew now and honestly she'd known then too, that he would never have met her after curfew and out of bounds. She was the one who made the stupid decisions after all he only ever followed her. However her dwindling hopes were making her combatant. A tiny part of her brain desperately tried to remind her that fighting was not the way to win his affections but it was quickly squashed back down by rising aggravation, "Was it really so foolish of me to think my best friend wouldn't run a little risk to let me tell him I l_" she swallowed that particular confession, "tell him something important."
"Oh don't be daft Vicky!" Teddy snapped, looking down at her disdainfully, "You knew that I'd forgive you eventually so don't even think of trying to blame this debacle on me." That was funny Victoire thought because it sure sounded like he still hadn't, "And I would hardly call this a small risk. Do you even realize how much trouble is going to come of this Victoire? Hartwood will be going back to Azkabahan just as soon as they can charge him and the Saunders are probably going to be joining him." He looked angrily at her for an answer but Victoire was suddenly tight lipped.
"Well go on then," he challenged reproachful gaze steady, "Tell me what was so bloody important that you had to run off in the middle of the night to tell me." She looked back at him furiously but his shifting stare was too intense, especially when she could already feel tears building behind her own eyes.
She looked away. They'd been flying along the coastline as they argued following the path of light the fading moon cast across the dappled waves. A cool breeze tossed salt spray and sand across the horizon all but blotting out the pale houses that dotted the dunes. It was beautiful, romantic even, just the sort of place you'd want to be with your sweetheart. And here Victoire was with hers, and what were they doing. hey were screaming at each other. The fight drained out of her. She was battered, bruised, near exhaustion and overwhelmingly sad. Roger and Dominique were wrong there seemed little chance that he returned her feelings now.
"No," Victoire said, "It's not important anymore."
"No?" Teddy said incredulously, "After all the trouble you've caused for it?"
"No," Victoire reiterated firmly. She couldn't believe she'd ever decided to tell him her foolish hopes, "Put me down Teddy I don't want to have this conversation with you anymore."
He wasn't ready to let go of his lecture yet, and truthfully Victoire didn't blame him she really had to be the stupidest girl out there, not only did she practically hand herself over to the bad guys she'd gone and fallen for her best friend. "Oh no. We are going to fly around in circles until you tell me what caused this insanity so I can put a stop to it ever happening again."
"It won't," Victoire assured him, of something she'd never been more certain.
"And after today I'm meant to take you at your word?"
"You're a git," Victoire snapped, "And clearly I misjudged the situation. I'm sorry that I'm not the omniscient Teddy Lupin. I make mistakes. You don't have to be so mean about it."
"I'm not omniscient and I definitely make mistakes," Teddy said, "just not quite of your caliber Vixen."
"Fine," Victoire said tightly feeling tears gather in earnest behind her eyes, "You win I'm the silly little girl you think I am. I took the easy way out and got a boyfriend I could pretend to love rather than one I actually cared about. You were right, just like you're right about everything, but you're still an ass and I want to go home."
He stopped them sharply, pulling on the handle of his broom and sending her sliding into him with another shriek, her fingers digging into his shoulders.
"Say that again," he said looking down at her seriously.
"You're an ass," Victoire obliged, "and I don't like dangling forty feet above sea level. Put me down." She didn't care any longer about not starting a fight. All she wanted was to go home. This moment wasn't turning out at all the way she had hoped it would.
"No," Teddy said, and abruptly he was the one clutching her, the arm that came off the broom and around her waist more desperate than supportive, "the other part. About Saunders," he prompted.
"Screw you Lupin," she snapped one wrong word off properly crying, "You don't need me to help you rub in m_"
"Vicky," he said cutting off her tirade, "you're saying you don't love Saunders." His face was carefully blank but his eyes were a swirling mass of changing colours, flicking through a range of emotions as if he was unsure himself what he should be feeling just yet. Her heart skipped a beat.
"No," she said and when he just continued to look at her she continued, "I'm saying I never did."
"But that night, at Carnie Wilson's party you said he broke your heart," Teddy persisted.
"Because it was the only witty comeback I could think of at the time," Victoire told him, "as if I would ever give that jerk my heart to break, my pride maybe but never my heart," she swallowed nervously, "Even if I still had it to give."
"And who did? Have it?" he asked voice low. His eyes still weren't settling but his hair was giving him away, vague tints of pink blossoming in his fringe. For the first time Victoire allowed herself to hope, she hid a sly smile in the folds of her now ratty sweater. Maybe this night wouldn't end so badly after all.
"Gee I would have thought someone who blasted so fast through the Auror program would have had better deductive reasonin_okay Teddy I can't breathe," Victoire gasped as she was pressed into yet another one of his rib cracking hugs his face buried against the crook of her neck.
"I swear to God Vicky if you're teasing me I'm going to toss you into the ocean," came his muffled threat. This time when she melted into him he didn't thrust her away.
"Perhaps I need to put it more simply. I'm in love with an infuriating git who can't see his own hair colour let alone the fact that the girl in front of him is in love with him," she said fingers playing in the edges of his pink dappled hair.
"Well I'm in love with this maddening, gorgeous," he paused for effect, "little brunette Hufflepuff. Like seriously she's really cute."
Victoire laughing punched his shoulder, "You are such a pr_" the last of her insult was lost as his went to the back of her neck bringing her mouth up to his.
He pulled back after too brief a time. Mouth still parted slightly and eyes unfocused Victoire looked up and was locked in his gaze, intense and serious and startling pink, "I'm in love with my best friend," he said seriously. It may have been corny but it was exactly what Victoire wanted to hear. She hid her own stupid grin against his own by kissing him some more.
It wasn't like the other times she'd kissed him, under the mistletoe, on a whim, for a dare, because this time he wasn't holding back. He kissed her with the fervent fever of hundreds of smaller kisses, unforgotten, that had wanted to blossom like this one but had been forced down into restraint. He kissed her like he was making up for lost time.
Victoire still couldn't breathe but she no longer cared, in fact she didn't care if she ever took another breath again so long as Teddy kept kissing her the way he was now. They dipped violently Teddy momentarily losing control of the broom, "Whoa there buddy," Victoire said reminded that they were hovering over an unforgivable sea, "hands on the broom." Teddy mumbled a complaint against her mouth but obeyed reaching around her to take control of the broom once more, tucking her firmly into his lap as he did so. Luckily they weren't far off land.
His landing was shaky but Teddy didn't seem to care abandoning the broom in favour of wrapping his arms around her as they both tumbled to the beach. Victoire laughed as Teddy kissed her again, smiling against his mouth as they rolled across the beach sand flying everywhere. His mouth tasted of salt and apples, a strangely appealing combination that Victoire couldn't quite seem to get enough of. She must have had a similar fascination for Teddy for even after they came to a stop at the bottom of the dune he didn't let her up. His hand was on her waist holding her against him but Victoire didn't mind leaning into him hungrily.
That was his cue for he pulled back guiltily "Sorry," he apologized reaching up and brushing a hand across her cheek. It disturbed the of hair that tangled around them, red-gold and glittering with both salt and sand, showering him in fine particles. "It's just I've been waiting to do that for simply ages."
Victoire who couldn't pass up the chance to tease him raised a wicked eyebrow, "What kiss me or tumble me in the sand?"
"Now is not the time for that," he groaned letting his head fall back, silver sand mingling with pink locks.
Victoire pouted, "Why?" tonight was rapidly turning the worst of her life to the best. Hand curled around the back of her neck he pressed another sweet kiss to her mouth and eased himself into a sitting position, Victoire straddling his knees.
He was still close enough that his words were practically against her lips as he said, "Because if you don't move now I'm not going to want to walk you into your parents who deserve to see the wayward daughter that scared them half to death tonight," he smiled hand still tangled in her hair, "And I'm not quite ready to say goodnight yet."
Victoire sat back on her heels, "My parents…?" she blinked. It hadn't even occurred to her to question where he was taking her, she trusted him anyway, but now that she looked up she could see Shell Cottage before them its lights barely dinting the ever lightening dusk. "You aren't taking me back to school?"
"You've been given one day's reprieve due to your trauma," Teddy eased her off him and stood shaking incriminating sand from his hair before offering her a hand, "Don't get too comfortable though, the Ministry is going to have questions for you. Tomorrow the Auror department is dispatching two Auror's to escort you back to school."
Victoire let him pull her to her feet and cast a spell to remove the layer of sand she'd accumulated, though Victoire didn't think it would help with her overall dishevelment. She suddenly realized what a fright she must have looked and self-consciously began trying to comb her hair into some semblance of calm. There was nothing to be done about her shredded tights or unravelling sweater.
"How bad do I look?" Victoire asked Teddy unsure whether her appearance would engender sympathy or alarm from her parents. Teddy looked her up and down with a sly smile.
"Frankly, frightening," he said pink eyes glittering in amusement.
"Hey," Victoire exclaimed, "I'm pretty sure that's not how you're meant to describe the girl you just rolled in the sand."
"Can we maybe not phrase it that way in front of your parents," Teddy winced but he was grinning all the same, "I'm still mad at you, you understand."
"That's fine," Victoire said, "I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy making you forget it." She was standing close enough that she had to tip her head all the way back to grin at him smugly.
"Just for that," Teddy said tapping her nose, "I'm going to let you explain to your parents what happened tonight," his grin was even more wicked than her own as they started down the trail towards her home, "and I'm not going to help."
A/N: We're on the home stretch now. One more fluffy chapter to make up for all the cliff hangers and angst I inflicted on the characters and on you dear readers.