Chapter 2 : It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Summoned
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The Head Master’s Tower loomed unnecessarily tall over the grounds. The rooms at the top shone brighter than those in any other turrets and towers in the castle, likely due to its close proximity to the sun. Victoire leaned her head against the window and squinted down the lawn, whose uneven turf stretched to the lake with a relaxed, undulating slope. Clusters of students dotted the olive-green earth, enjoying the release that came with the lull of finishing something and knowing you weren’t expected to start anything else just yet.
She couldn’t believe this was her last day at Hogwarts. Couldn’t believe how many people had already asked her what she was going to do next. And she really couldn’t believe that Hufflepuff thought he could get away with not wearing anything under his robe at the Leaving Feast.
While the Headmistress finished her spiel with the would-be-streaker, Victoire scanned the grounds for people she knew. One person she knew. Teddy might already be there to meet her at the lakeshore. That was their plan. They had not laid eyes on each other in almost two years. She had given him his space, and he had given her a break.
Now, they were going to see where they were.
The Head of Hufflepuff took charge of the reprimanded student, who exited the office with a full set of clothing under his robe, complete with sticking charm.
“Think they left him some means of relieving himself?” the Head Boy said quietly, stepping next to Victoire.
The cheeky would-be-streaker turned and winked before descending the spiral stairs, oblivious to his professor’s continued lecturing. A subtle throat clearing encouraged the Student Heads back into the Headmistress’ office to finalize the details of the feast they were hosting that evening.
Victoire had hoped to find Teddy before the Leaving Feast, but the Hogwarts staff seemed determined to get more Head Girl duties out of her in that hour than they had all year. Despite actually playing a part in the festivities, she remained detached, anxious. She should have written to him. She was a bit stubborn about not returning the owl.
Expecting him to make the first move was ridiculous, she knew. How would he even begin after his last letter? He’d stopped owling everybody after that one. He probably thought writing her would invade the freedom he had so thoughtfully granted her.
An acceptance to Bimas would have been an excuse to write him. But a deferral? That wasn’t something she wanted to see in print. Not again, anyway. She had the embossed version tucked deep in her trunk.
Teddy’s last days at Hogwarts had been a whirlwind of plans in motion. While preparing for NEWTS, he secured his spot at Bimas, planning to start after a year-long Grand Tour to retrace the travels of his father. Teddy even landed Victoire a summer job in Diagon Alley so they could steal time together while he earned the money he’d need for the trip.
Everything fit together for him.
Teddy had so much going on when he left. Victoire was nervous to admit her current state of limbo. She knew Teddy confirmed his position at Bimas for the fall. Uncle Harry and her father had verified –possibly encouraged- the commitment after finally contacting him last month, but no one offered any more details about Teddy or the extra year he’d taken.
She was dying to ask, but never did.
The Feast ended, and with the official dismissal, so did Victoire’s duties to Hogwarts. One thing remained for her to accomplish before she left the grounds: diving to see the Merpeople's colony. She’d wanted to go since first year, since the boats full of future classmates sailed over the area of the Lake where she knew them to be. She asked Teddy to go with her before she was even Sorted. He’d put her off at first, and for the next four years, but finally promised, if she agreed to wait until her last day.
She’d known he’d give in. Teddy had an adventurous streak as big as hers; he simply wasn’t reckless about it. He outlined everything they’d need, including a detailed map which now rested, warm, against the waistband of her skirt. She’d tucked the map inside her uniform that morning, though carrying it wasn’t strictly necessary. She’d committed every line and contour to memory.
Today was the day. She was more excited about that than the completion of her seven years at the school. Excitement made the impatience more pronounced. Where was he?
The kicker was that he could have been seated in the Great Hall without her knowing. Teddy was a great mimic. Gifted with natural talent to shift his appearance, he developed skills in impersonation to match. Analytical and perceptive, he’d adopt mannerisms to go along with his changed appearance. The only flaw in his skill was his habit of overlooking seemingly insignificant details, like his watch or shoes.
He’d be wearing the watch, that was a given.
The timepiece belonged to his father. He’d also likely be wearing the same shoes, even after two years. Teddy liked things broken in. He wasn’t big on possessions. The man comfortably fit everything he wanted for a yearlong expedition in one backpack –without magic. He found what he liked, and he stuck to it.
It was about time he found her.
Victoire located Sara near the path to the underground harbor. The courtyard teemed with students and Hogwarts staff drawing out their goodbyes. A line of no-longer-seventh-years funneled down the rocky path to the boats waiting below. Boats they had all last ridden as arriving first years. Sara and Victoire hovered near the trailhead, their feet on grass, not path.
“Go,” Sara said beside Victoire, swinging her nearest foot in a half arc behind her from the knee to swat Victoire’s rear.
Victoire’s eyes remained riveted on the lake and not her friend. “My last trip on the Hogwarts Express was mid-term,” she reminded Sara. “Yours too.”
They’d held a compartment party to celebrate, even. Stepping foot on that train again would be cheating.
The first of the boats emerged from the harbor, the arms of its passengers moving like paddles to push away the ivy tendrils draping the opening of the cliff. Sara sighed. “Stubborn wench. I’d make you, but you’d simply jump in over the Mervilliage.”
“That would save a lot of swimming.” Victoire let out a chuckle. The flutter of it felt good moving through her. Linking her arms with Sara, she said, “Come on, let’s get you to the Floo.”
“Come with me.”
Victoire had two very involved parents; she didn’t need her best friend filling a role already cast. “You’re leaving for Brazil in the morning. Go see your family.”
Sara stalled. “It’s been a long day. Your parents will bring you back later, you know they will. They’d be thrilled you asked.”
This wasn’t about her parents. Sara knew that.
The boats sailed out, one by one, forming a parade. The ripples of their wakes fanned out behind them like party streamers on top of the inky water. Shouts and squeals promised a mutiny if the second boat could catch up to the first. One or more riders ending up in the lake mid-way was a distinct possibility.
Victoire poised on the edge of the water with the ripples tickling up to her ankles. Digging her toes in the sand she stood there fighting off … she didn’t even know out what. She couldn’t determine which emotion was strongest.
The grounds and the castle were eerily quiet after all the activity that afternoon. She was alone at Hogwarts. She didn’t know why she thought for sure he would be there, but she did. She’d been wrong.
She wanted to cry. She thought she should cry. That might have been the fastest way to get it out -to ease the weight in her chest- and release the pressure on which she was all but choking.
She wanted to cry, but she couldn’t. Deep inside anger built up, siphoning her energy away from the disappointment and into a growing ball of outrage. She planned for this. She counted on this. There was no contingency – no plan B.
It wasn’t like she was asked if she felt tied down or if she needed a break. No, someone else had made that choice for her. She wasn’t asked, but she was definitely assured that she still had the promise –this date.
It was theirs. Unmovable. More than a date with a girlfriend –this was a promise to a lifelong best friend.
How could this not have happened?
She was so sure. She never even considered anyone else going with her. So, here she stood. Alone.
She was missing the one thing she’d wanted to do the most since coming to Hogwarts. Even before that, since first hearing the tales of the Tri Wizard Tournament. She kicked the water feeling her hope slip away like the drops sent flying.
No. Just, no. The words screamed around inside her head. I’m done missing out. I’m tired of someone else making the choice for me.
She chose to go!
Victoire pulled off her cloak and waded out, wand ready. She uncorked a bottle of gillyweed from her pocket -enough for two- and choked it down.
Ugghhh. Disgusting, but she was determined not to chuck the slimy mass back up.
She dove, slicing through the water before she could second-guess. Before anyone’s sensible voice could interrupt the insistence of her own mind and invade her actions with reason and calm. Picturing the map in her head, she kicked off in the direction of the colony, keeping a close eye out for grindylows.
Her mum had trouble with those during the Tri-Wizard Tournament so she’d taught Victoire and her siblings to defend themselves very young. They’d grown up on the shore, and Fleur was strict about the children learning every safety precaution –right down to preventing sand in their pants.
Victoire would be fine with grindylows, if she could see them coming. Another person keeping an eye out would have been better, but she would simply have to be good enough.
She reached the center of the lake where the slick silt of the basin gave way to a furrow, revealing the underlying rock and creating a wavy chute down to a canyon below. The current, over eons, had smoothed the inside of the fissure. Tempted to try it as a slide, Victoire hesitated only when she saw a spotty carpet of spiny snails along the way, threatening to maim her backside. She swam the path instead.
Good choice. The chute led out in the middle of a rugged rock wall. Had she careened out of its opening, she would have dropped with a high probability of impaling herself on one of the sharp ridges protruding from the sides of the canyon that protected the north side of the colony.
Maintaining a respectable distance as not to offend or antagonize, Victoire hovered, kicking and fanning her arms against the resistance of the liquid environment, amazed by the underwater village laid out around an intimidating rock statue in the center square. The merperson frozen in what once was a massive boulder, loomed big enough to see without getting anywhere close.
Stony homes and buildings rose from the substrate, their rough cylindrical bases burgeoning out at the rooftop. A thick crustacean growth, more snails she assumed, encased the tops of some algae ridden dwellings in chalky-white armor. Those structures resembled clusters of militant toadstools.
The scene was surreal but oddly serene. She felt the anger that had propelled her to these depths ease from her. She stopped thinking about herself and simply enjoyed peering over the lives of others.
She circled beyond a grouping of houses where several children were playing a game in a kelp garden, their nimble bodies darting through the leafy stalks were already taller than her. She watched, suspended almost weightless in the density of the current, but her time underwater was ending.
Already forty minutes gone.
The grindylows she’d anticipated hadn’t materialized so none of her time had been wasted by them. Not yet. She needed sufficient time to swim back to the surface before the gillyweed wore off.
Retracing her path to the chute, Victoire caught sight of a glimmer in the murky water, well beyond the boundary of the colony. She swam in that direction where something was tucked under a rock ledge. Nearing, she could make out movement in what appeared to be a large, oval-shaped ball. The toy likely floated away from the village children and drifted with the current. Retrieving the ball and sending it back to them would be easy.
Victoire approached, careful not to scrape against the sharp rocks, and reached out. Something moved within the interior of the ball. This time she was close enough to make out a head and a tail.
She wasn’t grabbing a ball at all. She was touching an egg.
An egg meant that a mum was somewhere. Wherever Mum was, Victoire’s current position was between her and her egg. That proximity was both offensive and antagonistic. Victoire turned quickly to put some distance between Junior and herself, but didn’t get far enough fast enough.
A thick tail, ribbed with bony protrusions, caught and slammed her against the rocks. Reeling for a moment before recovering, Victoire met stares with an elongated horse-like head bearing square, pitted teeth. Gills flared on the snout while two hooves reared back to make a strike at her.
Victoire rolled and dodged the hooves but the tail was right behind, ratcheting in sinuous dexterity. A near miss, the strike carried an undertow in its wake. She pushed up and off the rock as hard as possible, shooting a large flare of light from the tip of her wand. The spell was innocuous, but distracting, earning her an optimistic head start.
She put all her strength into an upward climb, hoping to get just far enough away that mummy hippocampus would back down and return to the tadfoal.
No such luck.
Mum was right ticked that Victoire found her treasure, and she wasn’t through punishing the land-dweller for that transgression. Mum set chase, making up the distance in an embarrassingly short amount of time.
Must be bloody nice having a tail.
She contemplated hitting Mum with an impediment spell. There were several choices that would slow the animal down, but she couldn’t focus on any one spell to cast. She didn’t want to hurt Mum. Victoire understood her panic. Times like these made one long for the ability to speak to animals.
Why wasn’t there a spell for that?
They were in open water now, clear of the canyon but still a long way down. Victoire had lost track of which way was north, back to the castle grounds. Her main concern at this point was reaching the surface. Mum circled in front and whipped that massive tail in an arc, so quick the only choice was to face the hooves or take the blow.
Victoire changed trajectory with the force of impact, but it wasn’t as bad as slamming into a rock wall.
She’d already learned what life was like as a Snitch. Now Victoire understood how a Bludger felt. She was getting sluggish, her pace falling off. The drain was more than the effort of swimming or the effect of being batted around under the water.
The gillyweed was wearing off.
Victoire performed a Bubblehead Charm to continue breathing underwater, but that method wasn’t as efficient for swimming. Losing the benefit of webbed appendages to propel her also slowed her progression. The first ragged breath she took resulted in a coughing spell with spurts of water leaving her body as the gills disappeared.
Uggh… She tasted gillyweed. Yuck!
The water’s density lessened above her. She hoped the mirage was due to the first rays of light penetrating the depth. Victoire continued to head up with tremendous effort. Anticipating the surface now, adrenalin began to release through her.
She knew the feeling. She feared the feeling.
For Victoire, a rush of adrenalin had come to personify lack of control. The gateway to what some scholars termed hysterical transformation. What one relative described as a peculiar marriage of heedless action and fluid reaction. That one stung, but given some rather spectacular lapses in the past eighteen months, she couldn’t exactly deny the assessment.
She’d been expected to avoid situations that would undermine the uneasy alliance between her emotions and her physical presence. Diving angry and unaccompanied in the Black Lake wouldn’t qualify by anyone’s standards. And now, her innate defense mechanism was gearing to shift her underwater.
The problem: that defense was all flight and no fight. She wouldn’t be anything near the harpie of her mother’s ancestors. She’d be far more vulnerable.
No, no, no!
She had to maintain control. She had to reach air.
Mum hit her with another tail swipe. The blow came from below, the impact serving to propel Victoire further up. She was closer than she’d hoped, nearly breaking the surface with the latest vault. She had to make that last bit before Mum got the idea to pull her back down for another round.
Her efforts to reverse the pull of a transformation left little energy to fight, to swim. She’d have to choose.
Fight or flight.
Was she close enough to make a transformation work in her favor? She couldn’t think of a better idea, so she summoned all her remaining strength, channeled everything into her core and concentrated. Not on preventing the change anymore, but on making it happen.
Just like she’d been working to master for the last year.
Only this time, she needed it quickly.
Shifting made Victoire so much smaller she disappeared from Mum’s view in the murky water. A Snidget lost in the undertow. The larger animal floundered below, confused. Victoire beat her wings to propel herself toward the waves above.
Snidgets weren’t aquatic. Evolution had taken the species down an opposite path. Fully rotational wings and a tiny, round body proved complete rubbish for swimming. The effort to break through was dizzying but, as she did, all resistance stopped. Her body shot from between the choppy waves like a little golden bullet.
Victoire flailed, completely disoriented. The fight for breath and bearings consumed her first. Then, half scared that the hippocampus could jump from the water; she soared straight up, distancing herself from the boundary of air and liquid.
The wetness was uncomfortable. She wasn’t as light or dexterous as she was used to being in this form. Her feathers were matted and uncooperative. She’d flown in the rain before, but in rain, the water hit from above and wicked off her body easily. Shifting while still submerged had soaked her through.
Figuring she had moved high enough beyond range of her pursuer, she soared in a wide arc. The sprint to the surface landed her above the middle of a large bay. The flight to the Hogsmead dock would be quick but, without the insulation of dry feathers, cold.
A twinge shot up her left side as she touched down on the dock. The unexpected jolt had her rocking back on her tail with a soggy thwack . She stood on her right leg and experimentally moved the left one around. Bruised but hopefully not broken; traces of blood most likely from scratches incurred on the rock. The injuries shouldn’t stop her from shifting if she had her mental capacity together. Of course, there were those who’d challenge her mental capacity for even considering what she had just done, but she was alone.
No one would have to know.
She had shifted under duress, but she had willed the change. If she could will herself back, no one would ever know that she had slipped again. Victoire summoned her strength one more time -this would be the last until she had devoured a fair amount of food.
And slept, oh, for days.
A wave of relief swept through her as she did shift back to herself. The bleeding grew more pronounced in human flesh. The worst scrape ran from below her left knee to her calf where a stream of pinkish-red trickled down over the colorful dragonfly adorning her ankle.
She decided to rest before cleaning herself up.
She had done it. Alone. She was mentally congratulating herself on accomplishing her goal when she heard several pops on the dock. More precisely, two pops on the dock and one large pop/splash a few feet off the end of the dock. Her father, Grant Hayes, and -sputtering from the water- Uncle Harry and Albus suddenly appeared.
Bugger! Now, she really wanted to be alone.
“Wh– what are you all doing here?” Victoire asked as Harry and Al scampered onto the dock, dripping water all around them.
“We were summoned. Where are you hurt?” Her father dropped down on one side of her while Grant –Healer Hayes now– moved to the other and started examining abrasions.
Damn, she thought, I should have healed them straight away. They were likely to look worse than they felt.
“But, no, I didn’t summon anyone…” Victoire began feebly in her own defense.
“Your father was thorough casting the protective spells.” Grant spoke as he assessed the damage from the scrape on her leg. “The blood on the mark…” He pointed his wand at her ankle before cleaning away the flaky remains dried on the skin, fully revealing the colorful dragonfly 'tattoo' beneath. “It activated the Summoning Charm automatically. In case you weren’t able to yourself.”
“Oh.” A little late, but good information to have. She must remember to ask what else might rip so many people away from their day for the pleasure of hovering around her.
She’d agreed to the mark. She wanted the security of the charm it held; the comfort of knowing she’d never be lost again. The idea of a parental-approved tattoo also had a certain appeal. As did the pretty dragonfly, the likeness from a pendent she’d had since she was eight, that was the mark itself. Everything about the idea sounded good at the time she’d been released from St. Mungo’s, but the crowd now gathered on the small Hogsmeade dock had the air of excess to it.
“I didn’t mean to call anyone here. I’m fine,” Victoire said confidently. The last thing she needed was to make this situation worse. Her father, although prone to some degree of irritability around the full moon, did not get mad often. When he did lose his usually easygoing manner, he was unbelievably intimidating.
“You’re beat to hell," her father countered. "Who did this to you? Why are you out here on the lake?"
The gleam in Bill Weasley’s blue eyes was not unlike the flash she’d seen in the eyes of the mother hippocampus. If it weren’t for overprotective and irate parents, her day would be going so much better right now.
Al leaned over Victoire’s feet, trying to get a better look. “The mark worked!”
His unbridled enthusiasm was a sharp contrast to the tension in the air around them. At least one person believed her when she said she was fine. She had to look a fair amount better than the last time he found her. Saved her. She was nearly dead then. That was what had brought on all the summoning business in the first place. That was why she couldn’t scrape a knee without a crowd arriving.
“I knew it’d work.” Al beamed triumphantly. “But really, what happened?”
“You need to stay out of this.” Harry pulled his son back and cast a drying spell on the still dripping boy. “I told you to stay home. What were you thinking grabbing on to me? Never do that again!”
Al wisely shut up. The boy was smart. He obviously achieved what he wanted -he was there to see what was going on first hand– but he was clever enough not to push further for fear of being taken home and missing out. Al considered punishment after the fact a fair price to pay, but missing out would bother him.
Grant finished Victoire's leg and moved up her torso. He conjured a blanket to cover her as he went, inspecting the damage from toes to head. She winced slightly when he reached her ribcage. In the cold of the water, she hadn’t noticed the pain in her side.
“You’ve bruised some ribs, but nothing’s broken.” Grant continued to examine her, his warm brown eyes attentive and reassuring. He’d seen her far worse off as well, yet his demeanor never failed to comfort her. She hoped his calm bedside -dockside in this case- manner would rub off on her dad.
“Maybe you should answer your father,” Grant coaxed. “We’d all like to hear this story.”
Victoire recalled her tale, leaving out the more exciting bits and downplaying everything she could, while carefully gauging everyone’s reaction. She saw Al’s eyes grow huge, delighted in her adventure. Harry also seemed appeased, nodding in agreement with her description of the merpeople. Her father calmed down after Grant assured him that no real damage had been done. Everything was superficial and, although she was likely to be sore, bruised, and scabbed, she was going to be back to normal in a few weeks.
Bill cast a Patronus to Charlie, Victoire's godfather, another member of her ‘summoning circle’. He then sent one to Papa Arthur. Victoire's grandparents weren’t part of the circle, but Bill explained they might be concerned if he or Nana Molly had caught sight of their special clock directing its ‘Victoire' hand to 'Mortal Peril' at any time during her dive.
Victoire cringed. She was not in mortal peril. Any competent witch or wizard should be able to handle a hippocampus! The encounter was unexpected and the animal certainly cranky, but really, where was the confidence in her ability?
Bloody hell, now the whole family had another incident to discuss.
Bill calmed down after having taken some action, but he was not through with his daughter. “Why would you attempt this alone? You’re smarter than that.”
“I never intended to be alone.” She stared at her feet, not wanting to see their reaction to her excuse. She finished Hogwarts today. She was of age. How was it that she felt younger than Al at that moment? She took a deep breath and exhaled before continuing. “Someone else was supposed to be here.”
“You and Teddy.” Grant’s voice brought her head up. He grinned at the speed of her reaction before explaining. “He mentioned it.”
Victoire forgot that Teddy used to ask Grant for advice on everything. She’d always seen Sara as Grant’s biggest fan, but Teddy had been the original, looking up to Grant who’d been rather more helpful than the House Prefect in Teddy’s first year. As Grant became a Prefect himself and then Head Boy, he continued to make time for Teddy. Their relationship was a testament to the kind of trust Grant inspired. Teddy had never been one to reach out to others, not having parents of his own and reluctant to burden his adopted family.
“You’ve been planning this a long time,” Grant surmised.
Victoire nodded. Wanting to change the subject before it got more personal, she continued with her explanation. “I didn’t want to regret letting the chance pass me by so I took it.”
Her father would surely understand that. He’d always been a risk taker.
Bill stood and extended his hand to help Victoire to her feet. He turned to Grant, on the other side of Victoire, and reached out his hand. “Thank you, again, for being there for us. You’re a good man, Healer Hayes.”
“Grant, please,” he insisted as he shook Bill’s hand. To Victoire, he said a quick, conspiratorial, “Congratulations!”
She wasn’t sure if he was referring to school or her dive. Probably both. With a wave of goodbye, Grant returned to St. Mungo’s.
Bill turned to Harry next, and Victoire hoped he wasn’t going to ask the others to leave just yet. As much as she regretted a crowd having to gather for her sake, she dreaded being left alone with a disappointed father more. Every minute of conversation not involving her escapade would increase the distance from the percieved danger. And hopefully offset the resulting lecture.
“I hope we didn’t take you away from anything important.”
“No,” Harry assured with a shake of his head. “Nothing more than avoiding the unpacking of ripe student trunks.” He hesitated, his gaze holding Bill’s for a moment before he continued. “Later tonight is the first Ginny and I could coordinate something for Iska.”
A flash of interest replaced the concern on Bill's face.
“What’s Iska?” Victoire asked, glad to have the conversation move on to something else.
“Teddy’s girlfriend," Al said, sounding less than thrilled at the prospect. "Our first night home we get a babysitter because they're more important.”
“You know that's not true." Harry reminded his son, although there was a faint trace of guilt in his expression as he explained to everyone, "She’s taken a flat in London while Teddy attends Bimas.”
Victoire suddenly felt very cold, despite the fact that she was finally dry. Al had turned his back, scoffing his father’s excuse, but the two adults on the dock glanced her way in an uncomfortable assessment. Determined not to give them a show, she clutched the blanket closer, realizing now that a lecture wasn’t the worst of all evils.
“Please, don’t let us keep you. This-” She made a gesture which would have been more expressive had her hands not been under the blanket. “-this is nothing, really. I’m so sorry you were summoned for nothing.”
She over-emphasized ‘nothing’, but their eyes didn’t buy it or leave her, and the small silence that greeted her apology was long enough to pull Al’s attention from his sulk.
She retreated, striding away under the pretense of summoning her clothes from the shore and putting them on over her swimsuit. The parchment with the map she had carried all day still rested between her garments. An overwhelming desire to incinerate what was now a meaningless relic struck her. Never having been very good at fighting her impulses, she waved her wand without hesitation and watched the ashes glide over the water before dropping into the darkness below.
Bill wouldn’t let Victoire Apparate alone, a sure indication that she was still on shaky ground with him. If she knew her father, though, he would downplay the events with her mum. No one wanted to upset Fleur Delacour Weasley.
Victoire's day ended as she left the grounds near Hogwarts via side-along, just like Al with his dad.
I did it. I murdered my flashback. Gone, after a year or more of knowing I needed to do it.
Maybe I’ll resurrect it as a one-shot. It was a rather sweet moment for Teddy/Vic and things are about to get rocky for them.
Thanks for everyone who gave me feedback on that and everything else. No comment is ever wasted on me, promise.
I’m continuously on the hunt for a beta, but hopefully nothing too terrible got by me.
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