Chapter 1 : Diagon Alley
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Victoire started and nearly knocked over her empty glass. She gave her cousin a guilty smile. “Sorry, Fred. I guess I zoned out for a second.”
“That wasn’t just a second,” he told her. “That was long enough for Lexy to come through on her way to Diagon Alley, stop to say hello, and leave.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “It was not.” Then, through the dim light, she saw the hint of a grin on his face. She smacked his arm with the back of her hand. “It was not!”
“No,” he admitted. “It wasn’t. I just wanted to see if you’d believe me.” He rolled his eyes. “And I wanted to get you back for zoning out on me again.”
Victoire groaned and put her head in her hand. “Sorry,” she said again. “I was just thinking.”
Fred leaned back in his seat. “Let me guess,” he said, taking a sip of his butterbeer. “You were thinking about Teddy.” He paused dramatically. “Again.”
She wrinkled her nose. “No.” She looked up, and he raised his eyebrows at her. “All right, yes.”
He shook his head. “Why won’t you just say something to him? You know, you've been putting this off all summer, and now you only have about a week left."
"I know." She sighed. "I know." The door to the Leaky Cauldron creaked, and Victoire spun around. The woman who had opened it gave her a startled look as she herded a boy and a girl who looked like they might be new first-years through to Diagon Alley.
“Were you worried that was Teddy, or are you disappointed that it wasn’t?” Fred asked shrewdly.
Victoire’s shoulders slumped. “Both,” she admitted. “And I won’t say something because he hasn’t.”
Fred gave a snort of laughter. “No,” he said firmly. “No, V, you are not going down that path. And if you insist on it, tell me so I can leave.”
“What path?” she asked, though she knew exactly what he meant.
“The one where you overanalyze,” he told her. “I won’t be part of it.” He slammed his butterbeer down for emphasis. It slopped over the side and onto the table and his hand, and he made a face. “That... didn’t work as well as I wanted it to.”
She reached over to the next table to grab some napkins and tossed them to him. “It’s my job to overanalyze,” she said as he mopped up the spill. “I’m a Ravenclaw.”
“And it’s my job to stop you,” he countered. “I’m a Gryffindor.” He tossed the drenched napkins to the other side of the table and took another sip of butterbeer. This time, he put the mug down carefully. “Anyway, I think Teddy hasn’t said anything because he feels like a creep.”
Victoire stared at him. “Why?” she asked. “I’m of age.”
“As of three months ago,” Fred pointed out. “He’s more than two years older than you." She opened her mouth to argue, but before she could say anything, he added, "And you’re still in school, where he’s actually got a proper job and his own place and everything.”
“Would you call running around trying to find treasure a proper job?” The door opened again, and she swiveled. This time it was only an old man, who went up to the bar and sat down on a stool. She looked back at Fred. “Sorry.”
“Technically, all of these people could be him.” She gave the man at the bar another glance, and dismissed the thought. Indulging in that kind of paranoia was how you made yourself crazy. “Teddy’s always had a complex about you, anyway,” Fred said offhandedly. “I’m not surprised he hasn’t said anything.”
“What?” Victoire was sure she hadn’t heard him correctly. If Teddy had “always” had a complex about her, she’d never noticed it.
Fred gave her a surprised look. “Didn’t I ever tell you about the time he hauled off and punched Adam Kennet for making some comment about how you looked soaking wet?”
She goggled at him. “He didn’t.”
Fred nodded. “He definitely did. In the middle of the common room and everything. I saw it. Remember all those detentions he got?”
Now that she was thinking about it, she definitely remembered Teddy serving detentions in January of his seventh year, because he’d been complaining about coming back from the holidays and immediately being behind on his work. “He told me he’d been caught out-of-bounds,” she said.
“Well, he lied, then.” Fred looked around the nearly-deserted room. “You think they’d serve me firewhiskey? I’m practically seventeen.”
Victoire didn’t answer him. Something had just occurred to her. “How did Adam Kennet know what I looked like soaking wet?”
Fred thought for a moment. “It must have been that time that we thought it would be in the holiday spirit to set off fireworks in the Great Hall,” he said after a moment.
“Oh, of course!” Victoire clapped her hands together. That was definitely one of her favorite memories of their time at Hogwarts. “And then all those wreaths caught fire, and McGonagall soaked both of us trying to put them all out.” In hindsight, perhaps setting off fireworks surrounded by holiday decorations had not been the best decision she and Fred had ever made, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining.
“Good times.” Fred finished off his butterbeer. “Are you going to want another?” he asked, motioning to her empty glass.
She shook her head. “No, probably not.” She pointed her wand at the glass, and it filled with water. “I’ll just drink this and we’ll go.”
The door leading to Diagon Alley opened, but before she could turn, Fred shook his head. “It’s not him, V. Calm down.”
“Sorry.” She studied the dingy pub. She had come through it on her way to Diagon Alley dozens of times, and had even stayed there with her family on several occasions. However, this was the first time she’d actually sat in it and had a drink. Given that she had only turned seventeen in May, this wasn’t surprising, but finishing her first drink in the Leaky Cauldron felt like confirmation that she was actually, legally, an adult.
Granted, she was sitting in the pub with Fred, who wouldn’t turn seventeen until September, but she wouldn’t want to be sitting with anyone else for such a landmark moment.
Fred was clearly thinking along the same lines. “Hey, do you think James would let us borrow the cloak on my birthday? We could go to the shop and use floo powder to get here.”
Victoire smiled. “I think that having access to that cloak has made you soft,” she teased. “It used to be that we found a way into the village without fancy cloaks and maps.”
“Yes, I really miss those bruises from the Whomping Willow,” he said sarcastically. “They took ages to fade, and some of us can’t turn into— Ow!” He bent down and rubbed his shin where she had just kicked him. “Damnit, V, really?”
“Sorry,” she said airily. “Didn’t see your leg there.”
He scowled at her, but just as he was about to open his mouth, she heard the door swung open again. Before she could turn, Fred glanced past her and gave a quick nod.
She tried to stop herself from panicking. What was it that made romance so much more intimidating than any monster Hagrid or Goldstein could manage to get a hold of?
It was a mark of their friendship that Fred put the growing bruise on his leg aside for long enough to lean across the table and say, “Calm down. What’s the worst that can happen? If he rejects you, you can maul him in a dark alley and blame it on a wild animal.” He gave her a reassuring pat on the arm.
Victoire felt a smile spread across her face despite her nervousness. That was so like Fred.
“What a surprise, finding you two here,” Teddy said when he reached their table. He yanked another chair over and straddled it. “And here I was thinking that I could have a quiet drink by myself. Now they let all kinds of riffraff in here.” He looked at the empty glass in front of her. “First drink in the Leaky Cauldron?”
She nodded. “You missed it.”
He made a face. “I wanted to buy you your first drink at the Leaky Cauldron. You couldn’t have waited?”
“You said you might be along, if you could get off early,” she reminded him. “What, were we just supposed to sit around for hours?”
Victoire did not believe in sitting around waiting for people to show up.
Teddy snorted. “Please,” he scoffed. “You haven’t been sitting here for half an hour.”
“Thirty-five minutes, actually.” She glanced at the clock above the bar. “Wait, no, now it’s thirty-six.”
“Who buys you your first drink is important," he said stubbornly. "What does it say if you bought it for yourself?”
“That I’m self-reliant?” she suggested.
He considered that. “I suppose.” He looked skeptical. “But how would you feel if Fred didn’t let you buy his first drink?”
“Deeply hurt,” Victoire said. “But that’s different. Fred’s like my brother.” Not that they looked anything alike, but given that Fred’s mother was black and that her mother was part-veela, that wasn’t particularly surprising.
“I’m not like a brother to you?” Teddy asked playfully, leaning forward on the back of his chair.
She examined him. “No,” she said slowly. “No, I don’t think so.” His expression was perfectly attentive and gave absolutely nothing away. It was absolutely maddening. She looked at Fred. “More of a bastard third cousin by marriage twice removed, wouldn’t you say?”
Fred shook his head. “Nah. To me, he’s like a normal third cousin by marriage once removed.”
Teddy threw back his head and laughed. “Thanks.”
“What, am I like a sister to you?” she threw back.
His composure slipped for a moment. It was only a moment, but she caught it, and from the grin that she could see spreading across Fred’s face out of the corner of her eye, he had, too.
“No,” Teddy said, heaving a great sigh. “Orphan that I am, I don’t even try to find surrogate siblings. It makes me spiral into a deep depression where I muse about abandonment and despise noble causes and write bad poetry.”
Victoire couldn’t help but laugh, though she found Teddy’s frequent deflections on questions that he didn’t want to answer with jokes less funny now that she actually wanted to gauge how he actually felt about certain things.
Teddy sighed. “I don’t even have any cousins,” he said mournfully. That was apparently too much for him to say and keep a straight face, because he gave a bark of laughter.
“Do you really not have any?” Fred asked.
Teddy screwed up his face. “Well, technically, I think I have one second cousin. I don’t think he’s started at Hogwarts yet, but I'm not sure.”
“What’s his name?” Victoire asked, though she thought she knew the answer.
She was not surprised when he gave her a sheepish grin. “I don’t know. I only know I have a cousin at all because my grandmother got an announcement for his birth that she immediately threw in the bin." He shrugged. "She really doesn’t like to talk about her family, and I don’t care very much. I have a family already.”
Fred grinned. “Who bought you your first drink at the Leaky Cauldron, then?” he asked curiously.
Teddy laughed. “My godfather, of course. Who else?”
“Well, it could have been your grandmother,” Fred pointed out.
The door opened again, and Victoire had to consciously stop herself from looking at it. Teddy gave her an odd look and shook his head. “Nah. Who goes out drinking with their grandmother?”
Victoire thought about that for a moment. It was true that she couldn’t really imagine going out drinking with Grandma Molly. Wine at home, yes. Going to the Leaky Cauldron, no.
Grandma Apolline was a bit of a different story. When she had visited earlier in the summer, Victoire’s mother had convinced Victoire to go and sit in a pub with them for a couple drinks. Maybe half-veela grandmothers were just different.
Theoretically, of course, one of Teddy’s friends could have bought him his first drink at the Leaky Cauldron, but there was an unwritten rule that it really ought to be a family member who did it.
Fred pushed his chair back. “We should get going. We still have shopping to do for school.”
"Not leaving it to the last moment, are you?" Teddy remarked as Victoire followed suit. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Teddy’s head turn a little, but by the time she’d finished shaking her head back and forth to work out the slight stiffness in her neck, he was putting his chair back at its original table with such carelessness that she wondered if she’d imagined it.
As she and Fred followed Teddy to the door that led to Diagon Alley, Fred said quietly, “Did you catch the once-over?”
“Was it really?” she whispered back. “I thought I might have imagined it.”
“You didn’t. I wouldn’t even call it a once-over. It was more like a twice-over.”
“Maybe you imagined it because that’s what you were expecting to see,” she suggested as Teddy tapped the wall with his wand.
Fred snorted. “Not likely. I’ve given them to enough girls to recognize them.” She elbowed him. “What?”
They followed Teddy into Diagon Alley.
Victoire felt enormously pleased with herself. She’d known that wearing the skirt had been a good idea.
Granted, if Teddy had been checking her out, he probably would have no matter what she was wearing, especially since if he really had punched someone for commenting on her appearance (albeit in what she’d gathered was a rather explicit way), any interest he was feeling probably far from new.
It didn’t matter. She knew she looked her best. That was important. Recently, in all of her encounters with Teddy, irrelevant details that she knew probably didn’t matter had begun to take on irrational amounts of importance.
Teddy looked back. “What are you two talking about?”
“Fred’s debating getting a new broom,” Victoire said. Technically, that was not a lie. Fred had been debating about getting a new broom since early July. That it was not the answer to the question Teddy had asked was not something that she saw as information it was essential to share with him.
“I think I’ve decided to wait, though,” Fred said as Teddy opened his mouth. “My broom isn’t that old.”
As they walked by Quality Quidditch Supplies, Fred stopped to stare longingly at the broom in the window. Victoire grabbed his arm and kept walking, and after a moment, he was forced to follow her.
“It’s for your own good,” she told him when he started to complain. “You told me not to let you stop and look at brooms, because you’d just end up buying one.”
Fred wrinkled his nose. “Stop listening to me,” he told her. “Hey, where’s Teddy?”
Victoire looked around. Teddy was standing in front of the shop staring longingly into the window. She sighed and retraced her steps. “I thought you were here with us,” she said, stopping next to him and crossing her arms.
He sighed. “I am,” he said. “But look at it.”
Victoire looked. “It’s a broom,” she said flatly. “It looks like a broom.”
She liked Quidditch. Quidditch was a lot of fun to watch. It could even be fun to play. However, she could never understand the obsession some people had with every new broom that came out. There never seemed to be any huge differences between them.
He shook his head emphatically. “No, no, see, this is the Derecho. It just came out a few weeks ago. It’s especially good against bludgers because—”
“Teddy.” He stopped talking and stared at her intently. “We are here today. You can come ogle this broom when we are not here, which is almost every day.”
He sighed. “All right.” As he followed her back to Fred, he said, “You know, V, you can be a real— Careful!”
She had stumbled after catching her heel in a crack. As she was trying to regain her balance, she felt his hand grab her upper arm to steady her.
In that moment, Victoire had two very different but equally inane trains of thought.
First, she cursed her decision to wear heels. The simple act of stumbling had taken on monumental importance. She was dimly aware that this was ridiculous; no relationship was ever made or broken by someone losing their balance. At the same time, she had chosen the heels in the first place because they made her legs look longer, and it wasn’t as though longer legs were likely to spark any interest on Teddy’s part that wasn’t already there, so being hard on herself for being ridiculous now didn’t make much sense.
Second, she was not sure whether to look at him or not look him. She should probably look at him and thank him. Then again, maybe looking at him would give her away. She didn’t want that.
At least, she was fairly sure that she didn’t want that.
Why was romance so complicated?
“Thank you,” she said, making sure her feet were planted very firmly on the ground before looking up at him. Her friend Juliet would almost certainly have recommended stumbling again on purpose, but Juliet had a bit of a damsel-in-distress complex that Victoire was exceedingly glad she did not share.
“You’re welcome.” He let go of her quickly.
“Nice one, Vic!” Fred said from a few feet away. She stuck her tongue out at him, and he snickered.
“What were you saying?” Victoire asked Teddy innocently. He gave an uncomprehending shake of his head. “About me. You said that I could be a real… what?”
“I don’t even remember,” he said. “But I didn’t mean it, anyway.”
“I know you didn’t.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and gave what she hoped was a dazzling smile. “How could you? I’m perfect.”
He seemed appropriately dazzled, despite Fred’s retching. She strode ahead of him, and when she reached Fred, he turned to walk with her. “You? Perfect?” he said loudly in a tone of absolute astonishment. “In what sense of the word?” He lowered his voice slightly. “Seriously. You’re not perfect. You’re too obnoxious.”
“Love you too,” she said dryly.
“Although he totally was just checking you out,” Fred whispered before Teddy caught up to them.
“It’s okay, V. I think you’re perfect.” He gave her an easy grin. She waited for the punchline, but it didn’t come.
Victoire felt herself freeze. How was she supposed to respond to that?
“Oh, let’s get our book-shopping done now,” Fred suggested as they neared Flourish and Blotts, sparing her from having to figure out how to answer it. As she followed him into the bookstore, she thought she saw Teddy throwing Fred a slightly dirty look.
“What do you still need?” she asked her cousin.
He pulled a crumpled list out of his pocket. “Ah… Standard Book of Spells Grade Six, Advanced Potion Making, Confronting the Faceless, and Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland.”
Teddy snorted. “Hagrid’s toned it down a bit. When I started 6th year, I had to buy a book about dragon breeding.” He looked at Victoire. “What do you need?”
“The Standard Book of Spells Grade Seven, The Dark Arts Outsmarted, A Study of Magic’s Darkest Creatures, and Dreadful Denizens of the Deep.” She considered the list for a moment. “I hadn’t realized how obvious that made my priorities look,” she said after a moment.
Fred began to scan the shelves. “Yeah, you like your dark arts and monsters, all right.” He pulled two books out and tossed one to her. When she caught it, he made a face. “You really would have made a good Chaser.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop whining,” she said as they made their way to the aisle containing books about magical creatures. “You do that every time I catch anything. I’d be on a different team, anyway.”
He shrugged in acknowledgement. “But still. And Gryffindor can take the competition.”
“You got made captain, right?” Teddy asked as he knelt down to search the bottom shelf.
Fred nodded. “I’m going to make the team great again.”
“I believe in you,” Teddy said sincerely. He grabbed a book and stood up, and Victoire caught a glimpse of a shipwreck on the cover. She held out her hand, and he shook his head. “It’s fine. I can manage to carry one book.” She rolled her eyes and turned back to the shelf she’d been looking at.
“I don’t think we’ll win this year, though,” Fred admitted. “I still need another Chaser, and I’m not sure how our new Beaters will work out.”
Victoire smothered a smile as Teddy asked, “Oh, you held tryouts at the end of the year?”
“Just for Beaters. Technically Aileen held them. We were pretty sure it was going to be me made captain, but it could have been Amber,” Fred explained, referencing last year’s captain, Aileen Frazer, and the current Seeker, Amber Stimpson.
Teddy waited for a moment, but when Fred didn’t continue, he asked, “So who are your new Beaters?”
“Really?” Fred asked in surprise. Victoire was a little surprised as well. “You don’t know?”
Teddy looked confused. “Fred, how on earth am I supposed to know? I’ve barely seen you this summer, and we never talked about the Gryffindor Quidditch team.”
Victoire pulled Dragon Species off the shelf and handed it to Fred. “I guess they took your order to keep their mouths shut very seriously.”
She could see Teddy putting the pieces together in his head. If Fred had expected the new Beater to tell Teddy about it, that could only mean... “Are you joking?” Fred shook his head. “You’re giving James a Beater’s bat?”
“And Roxanne,” Victoire said as they made their way to the Defense Against the Dark Arts section of the store. “I watched the tryouts. They really were the best.”
Teddy yanked A Study of Magic’s Darkest Creatures off the shelf. “James on a broom with a bat,” he said, shaking his head. “Though I guess it’s not so surprising. They’re both good at flying. Wouldn’t surprise me if they went on to play professionally.” Victoire laughed before she could help herself, and he glanced at her. “You don’t think they’re good enough?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not that. Maybe Roxanne will. But I know James. He’s needs more excitement than that.”
“More excitement than being a Beater?” Fred asked skeptically as he grabbed a copy of Advanced Potion Making off a table.
“Much,” Victoire said decisively. “Just watch. He’ll join the Aurors, or the Dragon Bureau.” She grinned. “Maybe if I’m very, very lucky, he’ll follow me to the D.C.B.”
As she was about the follow Fred down the aisle to get her last book, Teddy stopped her. “I’ve got it,” he said, holding it up.
She frowned. “When did you get that?” she asked.
He jerked his head at a table next to them. A pile of The Dark Arts Outsmarted was sitting on it.
He leaned on the bookshelf and cocked his head to the side. “So you’re still planning on joining that new bureau at the Ministry?”
“It’s not new. It’s fifteen-years old. It’s just small. But yes.” She hoped that he wasn’t going to start mocking it; a lot of people in her year saw the Dangerous Creatures Bureau as unnecessary and pointless, and she was tired of defending it. If Teddy started making fun of it, she was going to have to think the better of him.
Thankfully, he didn’t. “My friend Val just finished her first year there, you know,” he said. “And Sienna—did you know Sienna, she was in the year before mine?” Victoire nodded. She hadn’t known the girl well, but she certainly knew her by sight, at least. “She’s been there for the last two years. They both love it. Val was really excited when I told her I thought you were planning to join next year.”
“So you’re not going to try and talk me out of it?” Sometimes it seemed like that was all anyone ever did. If she heard someone tell her one more time that she was too smart to waste her life on the D.C.B., she was going to hex them.
Teddy shrugged. “From what Val says, they’re understaffed in a big way, and dark animals are becoming a huge problem.” Victoire felt an anticipatory shiver run up her spine, and wondered if it made her a bad Ravenclaw to enjoy the adrenaline rush it was giving her. “You’ll do great.”
She smiled, genuinely touched—and not just because part of her was wishing he would just kiss her. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” He reached out to brush a lock of hair back from her face. “Just don’t get yourself killed. I’d miss you.”
Victoire felt her face get warm. She was starting to think that Fred was right, and she was worrying about Teddy’s feelings unnecessarily. “I’ll do my best.”
“Then I’m sure you won’t die,” he said confidently.
She looked toward the front of the store. Fred was already up there with his books. “I should go pay,” she said.
“Probably.” Teddy followed her as she started to walk to the till. “Hey, V.”
“Hmm?” Victoire stopped and looked back.
His face looked uncharacteristically flushed. “Would you be interested in maybe meeting me back here after work one day?” he asked. “I’m still in the country for the next week. And…” He shifted from one foot to the other. “I still need to buy you a drink at the Leaky Cauldron and all.”
“I’d like that.”
He visibly relaxed. “You would?”
She smiled. “Yes. I definitely would.”