Chapter 1 : Northern Ireland
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It was a curious chain of events and fate which led to Victoire Weasley being suspended by her ankles in the dirty clutches of an ancient Irish giant.
Perhaps we should retreat to the beginning. Since childhood, the girl was overwhelemed with wanderlust. Circled and dotted maps lined the contours of her mind, wide blue Weasley eyes eager to soak in every blade of grass of the landscape, each crag and secret of a strange land. Her notebooks were filled with lists of places she'd like to go, the lands of dreams and magical creatures which she had only read about in fairy tales and Muggle books. The sum of years of hoarded Sickles and carefully planned dreams had surmounted to this: four whole months paid for from her own pocket for Victoire Weasley to see the world on her own terms.
Victoire was made to travel. As a child, she accompanied her mother to France, carefully imitating Fleur Delacour's French accent until she was close to passable, enthralled by the proud French landscape, the bustling streets of Paris, the charm of the country towns. At Hogwarts, she had arranged school trips to neighbouring cities, dragging her friends on walking tours and through historical museums, wondering at the fascinating history of Muggles, going to sample the local music venues and taking pictures on bridges behind which the river continued to move behind her smiling face.
As the eldest cousin of a large, tight-knit family she was always needed by someone, whether to wipe a tear-stained face, settle a feud over a toy broomstick, help with the dishes or soothe a broken teenage heart. Yet Victoire was content with being alone: on the long trip of the Hogwarts Express she was happy to stare at the passing fields and counties, wondering at the people who lived there, unaware they were being watched and thought of. She would go on foot to the nearest village while at home, and curl up with a notebook and quill for hours, simply writing out her thoughts and completely comfortable in their company as she sipped on Yorkshire Gold. At Hogwarts, she would awaken early to jog, alone, the circumference of the Quidditch Pitch, letting the clear Highland air clear her mind. She made her best plans then, in those moments between sleep and rejoining the rest of the world, and she was just passing Hagrid's hut on the hill down from the castle when the idea to travel sprung into her head fully formed. Why not?
Months of saving, planning and arranging had resulted in Victoire squashed onto a Muggle coach tour bus from Dublin City in Ireland, gazing at green fields and counting sheep on the way to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, her wand carefully concealed in her satchel and her mouth pursed in a tight line of concealed irritation.
The cause of said irritation was due partly to her companion, an American Muggle undergrad she had dubbed "Condescending Alexander" (but more about that later). For the time being, Victoire's energy was focused on the familiar brown owl keeping earnest pace with the coach, a carefully rolled bit of parchment tied to his leg.
Bill Weasley wondered what crime he had committed to curse him with a wandering daughter. Born during a vicious war, he and his wife had still been recovering from the trauma of the war when their first child was welcomed into the world. Bill would find himself lying awake at night, untangling himself from Fleur's arms to peer into Victoire's crib again and again, ensuring that no vicious snake had wormed its way into her hands, that the tiny chest still rose and fell in delicate breath.
In the week since Victoire had left her family's home for Dublin, she had received no less than thirteen owls from her father, warning her on the unpredictable dangers of a young woman traveling alone, the differences between the Muggle and wizarding worlds, of being stranded in a foreign country where her Apparating license wasn't valid, of his contacts at the Irish Ministry for Magic, and even of a Grindylow infestation in the river that flowed through the town. When she had mentioned planning a day trip to Glendalough, he had urged her not to stray from the paths and tempt the wild sprites and even leprecauns which still haunted those ancient woods, eager to prey on susceptible wizards.
I love my Daddy, but he's driving me mad, Victoire thought savagely as she watched the poor owl fluttering in an attempt to round the bend in the road, and nearly crashing into an overhanging tree branch filled with shimmering greenery. Her heart went out to him, though she sent negative feelings in the direction of the land across the Irish Channel. The flurry of owls showing up at her youth hostel by Temple Bar had caused a minor stir among the Muggle guests.
None of her Hogwarts friends had understood why Victoire wanted to travel the Muggle. But Victoire had inherited her paternal grandfather's enthusiasm and ravaging curiosity about Mugglelore had worn off on her. After all, were wizards not the minority to the Muggle majority? Shouldn't a cosmopolitan witch of the world be experienced in dealing with Muggles as well? Besides, Victoire quite liked Muggles.
"-to thirty-five countries, and this will be my fourth time going back to Africa... it's so pathetic how people never venture off the beaten track. Let me guess, you'll be going to Amsterdam? Ugh, let me tell you about a real city... "
Well, Victoire liked most Muggles.
Victoire had known she would silently seethe in dislike for Condescending Alexander from the moment he spoke pompously of his great love for the city of "Budapesh," with an added pause after the final syllable for dramatic effect. Even the Hungarians Victoire had met in her Dublin hostel didn't pronounce it that way. Condescending Alexander, a Muggle from Austin, Texas in the United States, had eyes set slightly too far apart and a mouth too thin and dead to classify him as handsome.
Condescending Alexander had approached Victoire at the charming local whiskey distillery where the coach had stopped for lunch, interrupting her solitary list-writing to introduce himself and his mate with a firm handshake.
He had abandoned his traveling companion, a slim, dark-haired boy Victoire had dubbed as Silent Sam, to sit beside her on the half-full coach bus, effectively taking up the spare seat she planned on using to stretch out her legs. Victoire had politely listened to Condescending Alexander tell her about his experience trying some exotic Western food and his knowledge of every country out there, apparently. She had given up trying to interject anything about herself long ago, and just nodded listlessly. On the seat across the aisle, Silent Sam was sipping black coffee in a paper cup and had plugged in his funny little portable Muggle television thing and stuck two thingies in his ears which reminded Victoire of a prettier version of her Uncle George's product Extendable Ears. She made a mental note to ask Silent Sam about them and pass the information on.
Condescending Alexander was finishing up a story of speaking with grateful locals in a village in South Africa. "So, do you have a boyfriend?" He asked, rousing Victoire from her boredom.
"Er, no, not really," she stuttered, shifting in an attempt to stretch out her long legs without grazing Condescending Alexander's blue-jeans clad knee. She twirled a strand of thick red hair around her finger, the only physical clue of her last name and linking her appearance with her hordes of ginger-topped cousins.
"Good, if you're single then you won't mind if I flirt with you a little bit," Condescending Alexander smirked, though the confident line came off a little shaky. Victoire smiled politely and granted him a feigned giggle to diffuse the awkwardness: from across the aisle, she thought she heard Silent Sam snort into his coffee cup.
And yes, for two weeks, three days and about nine hours Victoire had been officially single, finally free from a two-year relationship which had enthralled, motivated and frustrated her. Teddy Lupin: her uncle's godson, orphan child of fallen war heroes, a serious, noble boy with a head of messy hair and dark, quiet eyes which sparkled when he was happy, tentative hands which fit perfectly on her hips or running casually through her hair. Indeed, being with Teddy Lupin had been as simple as breathing: she would come home during the Christmas holidays or summer break to find him already sat at her kitchen table, helping her Maman shuck peas with his long, careful fingers. They were best friends and teenage lovers: often, Victoire would wake in the night to a owl scratching at her window with something Teddy just had to tell her before morning; they shared everything, even a toothbrush when the need came for it.
Teddy, orphaned before he was a year old and left without siblings, adored Victoire unconditionally and quite passively, though he couldn't quite understand her irritation and occasional dislike of her siblings, especially fourteen-year old Dominique. A few weeks ago, the family had been discussing the origins of their cousin's names, particularly Hugo Ronald Weasley.
"Naming your child after yourself seems terribly narcissistic," Victoire had said smartly in a flare of childish instigation. Fleur's eyes had flashed and she refrained herself from rebuking her eldest child, who was just being obnoxious for the sake of causing trouble. Dominique stuck her tongue out at her sister.
"You're just jealous because nobody cared enough to give you a middle name, Icky Vicky."
Teddy, who himself was named after his own murdered grandfather, had glanced awkwardly between the two redheaded girls, tall, willowy towers of fire and spit, uncertain how to mediate. For Teddy, the Weasley family was a nearly attainable reality, an escape from the big lonely house haunted by the ghosts of the family his grandmother had once loved. As a lonely child he would have sold his soul for siblings, for someone who looked like him and thought like him, for someone to squabble with and parents to gang up against. Noticing her boyfriend's discomfort, Victoire had settled down and dragged him out of the house.
"Nique is just driving me mad these days," she had sighed, leaning her forehead against his. "Please, Ted, let's just Apparate far, far away and don't bring me back until that little brat has been sent to bed."
Uneasily, Teddy, who thought of Dominique as a sort of adopted little sister, chose to say nothing and had taken Victoire to the local pub, where over two pints of Doom Bar ale they had gotten into the sensitive subject of the future.
"You're really serious about this backpacking thing, aren't you?" Teddy had asked, taking a large slurp as they waited for the local band to begin. Victoire had nodded adamantly.
"I'm so excited, I've booked my Portkey to Ireland, and I have an open date travel paid for to Paris then I'll start heading West..."
"You haven't really planned this out much, have you?" Teddy commented, a slight edge to his voice. He ran his fingers over the coaster, a Muggle, two-dimensional representation of the Cliffs of Dover. The frontier, the edge of England. A place of borders and beginnings.
But Victoire had bristled at his words: it was turning out to be one of those nights. She tucked a lock of long hair behind her ear. "I've planned enough. I'm really excited, Ted. This is what I've always wanted to do, to begin traveling and never stop." She refused to plead with him like a petulant child. "Aren't you happy for me?"
Teddy, who had always considered himself a stand-up kind of guy, swallowed his pride and summoned his candor. "Don't go."
"I don't want you out there, meeting other guys, having them flirt with you... just stay here, Vic. You can go to wizarding college, Healer training, whatever you want, we'll get a flat in London together. I don't want to wait while you're off gallivanting, doing who knows what with who knows who, worrying if you're running headlong into dangerous situations. It's not fair to me, Vic. Just stay. I promise we'll be so, so happy."
Victoire had really looked at him, the beautiful, damaged boy she had loved for half her life, the thin slope of his shoulders, his smooth, pale neck, the dark, serious eyes which stared straight into her soul, the simply cut cheekbones she had grazed her lips across so many times in a comforting caress. In the space of a few words he was revealed as a stranger to her, someone who, had he truly known her heart, would never have asked her to remain in England for him. Would he come with her, if she offered? Could they explore Europe together? She had opened her mouth, not sure what to say even as the words abandoned her mouth.
So, yes, Victoire Weasley was technically a single girl. But there was a piece of her trapped back in the long, soft hands of a certain dark-eyed boy, a cable routing her home that whispered in the empty, quiet Dublin nights that perhaps she was not born to travel after all.
As Victoire's attention returned to the present, she was once against captured in listening to Condescending Alexander's account of how she really had to climb up the Prague Castle on a sunny day, to see for miles. No shit, Sherlock, Victoire thought grumpily, though she heard her mother's heavy French accent in her head chiding her to be polite. She glanced outside at the green fields and countryside: the little brown owl was still keeping pace loyally against the northern wind.
"Did you all enjoy stopping at the Whiskey Distillery?" The coach driver's voice slid slowly over the microphone, his rich and relaxing Northern Irish accent slowed down for the foreign passengers, rolling across Victoire's ears like warm treacle. "Did any of you try the whiskey platter then?"
A resounding silence.
"So, it was just me?" A few passengers laughed, a few exchanging slightly worried glances as the coach whizzed around a bend in the winding country road. Victoire herself stifled a smile. She felt a little sorry for the coach driver having such a shy and unreceptive audience, but found his stories about the passing scenery quite informational and the jokes rather amusing.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we will be arriving at the Giant's Causeway in about ten minutes, that's ten minutes." Victoire nodded approvingly. "Now, have you heard about Finn MacCoole?"
Even as she admired the man's smooth accent moving over the sounds of the Irish name like flowing water, Condescending Alexander took the opportunity to keep chatting, albeit in a hushed voice, effectively blocking out the story. Listless, wanting to be polite, Victoire noticed that Silent Sam had turned off his Poddy thing and seemed to be listening attentively to the coach driver's, eyes soaking in the green hills.
"...and I do ghost writing for travel bloggers when I need the cash, though I'm pretty loaded now to be honest..." Condescending Alexander puffed out his rather plain chest, his arm brushing against Victoire's elbow. She resisted the urge to cringe: all she wanted was to wander around this iconic landscape in happy solitude without the quiet being ruined by Condescending Alexander telling her about the even prettier scenes he had seen all round the globe.
She waited patiently for the other passengers to exit the bus-Condescending Alexander had scurried ahead- and waved Silent Sam ahead of her. Once she was off the bus, she lightly jogged in the other direction, crossing her fingers that the boys wouldn't spot her and hurry after her. Most of the other coach passengers were descending through the visitor centre and main road, so Victoire decided to take the less popular cliff walk.
With a gleeful chirp, the small brown owl that had been tailing her caught up, perching on Victoire's hastily outstretched arm. Ensuring that nobody was watching, she unwrapped the note tied to its talon.
Dad has insisted that I send you an owl ensuring you are still alive and haven't fallen into the sea or something. Personally I wouldn't mind, as I could have your room, but you know how Papa Bill gets. Things are good- back to Hogwarts next week. Teddy's been round a lot, he's so upset though I keep telling him it's his loss. Not sure if the best way to get over the silly bint who broke his heart is hanging around with her family and much prettier younger sister, but what do I know? Dominique xxxx
Her sister's name was signed with a dramatic flourish, the 'i's topped with little hearts. Victoire rolled her eyes, scribbled a quick reply and sent the owl on its way, feeling guilty that she didn't have a treat in her purse, ignoring the guilty image of a morose Teddy haunting Shell Cottage. He wouldn't bring her down, not here.
Victoire tugged her camera out of her bag and set to the task of photographing the quiet herd of grazing sheep and cliff ledge. Ireland had blessed her with a rare bright, clear day, and the sparkling, unbelievable blue of the Atlantic Ocean sent rays of light kissing its surface, a splendid contrast against the fertile green. From her perch she could see ant-sized tourists navigating the rocks of the Causeway itself, a medley of geometric shapes tumbling away into the sea and swarming with figures and photography flashes.
Happily, Victoire ambled along the cliff, venturing down a steep step of wooden stairs and continuing about halfway up the hill. Time passed, the sun shining on her cheeks and turning them a soft pink, sparkling along the ends of her hair. Whistling to herself, she plucked a single strand of grass and spun it between her teeth like a farmer, stopping to admire a patch of tiny purple flowers, bright against the greenery.
She was lost in a spree of nature and joyful loneliness when she realized that the path had grown thinner and overgrown, until she was stamping through weeds and brush and the noise of the chattering tourists below all but disappearing. Victoire had just decided to turn back when something seized her and she found her world spinning, coins, both wizard Nuts and Muggle pounds, tumbling from her trousers' pockets, her long hair tickling the grass. She screamed, or as easily as it is to scream when your vocal cords tumbling in on themselves, fumbling for her wand as she clung to her bag.
"Hey! Help! Aaggh!"
She felt her body being hoisted slightly higher in the air, then the world righted itself as she was tipped back around, seeing sea and sky flood together as she landed rather stiffly on her bottom. She shook her hair out of her face reproachfully, feeling the blood rush from her head.
"Do you mind?" She looked up into the cause of the disruption, and gulped.
Her attacker towered above her, blocking out the sun. His build was about three times the width and twice the height of a regular man, his skin a weatherbeaten medley of leathery patchwork, his hair brownish red and clinging to the grime of his face like moss. Two serious blue eyes peered down at her from above a broad nose the length of a carving knife and a slab-like mouth, from which crooked, gray teeth peeked as he bit his lip in confusion.
"Just a wee lass," the giant murmured to himself, his thick Irish brogue coating the air around him like jelly spreading on toast. Just the easy sound of it soothed the incensed Victoire. "I hadnae seen a wee witch in many a year."
"No wonder, if you greet all your guests by flipping them upside-down," Victoire replied angrily, getting to her feet and dusting off the seat of her pants. She glared up, squinting slightly as the bright sun peeked from behind the enormous being's head and ears the size of dinner plates.
The giant chuckled, and sat himself down on a large boulder with a thump which seemed to resonate through the earth. A hundred metres away, a small flock of sea birds fled from the bush where they had been residing.
"This is me home, lassie, and didnae your mumma and poppy teach you it ain't polite to intrude without askin'?"
"I didn't know," Victoire said primly. "I was just wandering: there weren't any signs of warning. Plus, isn't it a little inconvenient to live so close to a Muggle tourist trap?"
The giant shrugged, dust seeming to rise from his shoulders and settle into the air. "Them Ministry set up anti-Muggle spells to protect me area. Perhaps they should 'ave set up anti-bairn charms as well." He eyed Victoire suspiciously.
She sighed. "I'm Victoire Weasley. And you?" She was already beginning to suspect this wasn't the ordinary giant she had heard about from her parents. He was much more eloquent, well-spoken, and less bloodthirsty than simply curious. She felt the air of something ancient about him, as if he had been slumbering here for a long, long time.
He chuckled, a bubbling, rib-shaking sound. "Me, lass, they call me Finn, Finn MacCoole. But I'm surprised ye didnae already know about me. This here area is all in me honour, ye see."
The name rung a bell, but Victoire knew she wanted to hear the story anyway. "Oh really? And why is that?"
Finn MacCoole chuckled. "I've been here a long, long time, lass. Back when I was just a wee giant, barely grown meself, I challenged a Scottish giant - great monster of a bloke! - to a fight. A good wrestle, yeah, just to show off for me wife and the Irish. I built the bridge across, only to see that Scottish bloke wasnae so wee."
Victoire laughed. "Doesn't it always happen that way? So, did you fight?"
Finn MacCoole's eyes seemed to mist over, lost in the past. "Nay, I ran 'ome to me wife and she gave ol'Finn a right scolding. Smart lass. She dressed me up in the clothes of a bairn, told me to stick me thumb in me mouth and lie quiet in me house.
"When 'e came across me fine bridge, rumblin' and roarin' and beatin' 'is chest, 'e saw me in the cradle. My wife 'eard 'im cry: if that's the size of the babe I cannae stand a chance against the papa! and 'e ran back to Scotland, tearin' up the causeway as 'e ran." Finn MacCoole smiled softly, revealing chunks of dirt and food stuck between the crooked edges of his large teeth. "We're famous for it now. People tink them pipes in the rocks are the organ I used to play from me home, that the rock shaped like a boot is me own lost shoe."
Victoire was charmed. She could see it now: the glee of the husband and wife as they realized they had fooled the monstrous giant, Finn tearing off his baby's bonnet in glee. She could hear the hounded cries of the Scottish giant as his meatlike hands sent chunks of rock tumbling back into the sea in his wake.
"Where's your wife now, Mr. MacCoole?"
The giant bowed his head. "Long gone, girlie. She was only a regular giant with an extraordinary life. It's just ol' Finn now, with only meself for company."
"I'm sorry," Victoire whispered, seeing the millenia-aged grief scrawled across the giant's large face. She knew the look well: the look on her mother's face when her father was late returning from work, the look on her grandfather's face at her own grandmother's funeral. When Bill Weasley had set eyes on Fleur Delacour, he had known there would only be one woman for him. Victoire had always assumed she would feel the same about Teddy one day.
"Ye, well, such is me curse, to see people and the ages of the Irish come and go," Finn answered sadly. "And you, lassie, should be 'urrying on yer own way. No need to stop and speak with an auld, sleeping giant."
Victoire checked the golden watch she had received on her seventeenth birthday and paled: she had less than fifteen minutes before she was meant to return to the coach.
"I should be going, but thank you for sharing your story with me. I never expected... to meet a friendly giant. The caretaker at my old school... he's half-giant, and his brother lives in the forest next to our school. We had to clip his toenails for Care of Magical Creatures once and he was quiet enough, but I think I like you a lot better." She was aware she was babbling, but Finn MacCoole seemed amused. A grubby, large hand reached out and patted her gently on the top of the head in practiced easiness.
"Run along now, lass. Don't you be worrying about ol' Finn MacCoole."
"Well, goodbye," Victoire said, and began to walk as quickly as she deemed polite down the overgrown path. A thought struck her, and she turned. "Er, Mr. MacCoole? Whatever happened to the Scottish giant?"
Finn MacCoole smiled again. "Sometimes, I tink I 'ear 'im still, rumblin' and groanin' across the way." And brown eyelids descended once again over the blue views, and the earth itself seemed to settle back into slumber.
A gentle rocking followed Victoire as she half-walked, half-ran, crossing her fingers that she would make it back in time to catch the coach bus. She wouldn't want to worry the kind coach driver by being late, or worse, be stranded in this hauntingly beautiful yet desolate place. She supposed that since Northern Ireland was part of the UK, her Apparition lisense would be valid, but didn't like her chances of Apparating in a foreign location. Besides, the place was swarming with Muggles.
"Hey." Victoire whirled at the sound of the American voice, coming face to face with Silent Sam, perched on the curb near the coach stop. "It's Victoire, right? How'd you like the Causeway?"
"Quite a view," Victoire commented. Silent Sam laughed. "What?"
"So you see something like that and all you can say is quite a view? England must be some place."
Victoire giggled, tying her long hair back into a high ponytail. Her shirt was still sticking to her body from the hasty climb back up the hill. "Trust me, England's got nothing compared to the rest of the world. I couldn't wait to get away." As the words left her mouth, she realized it was true. That sheltered girl who had not yet met Finn MacCoole, who's greatest accomplishment was loving the boy next door, was fast becoming just a memory. She began to see the future before her, a winding, uncertain road of brand new cities and ancient ruins and magical creatures, incredible people she was destined to meet.
"I felt the same way about Canada, to be honest. There's only so many forests and lakes and people saying sorry a guy can take."
"Oh, you're from Canada?" Victoire asked, intrigued. |'ve never met a Canadian before. Don't you all live in igloos or something?"
"I ride my polar bear to school every day," Sam said solemnly, then laughed at Victoire's sceptical expression. "No, but seriously, up in the North of my province is a town that's the polar bear capital of the world. Apparently they just wander through the town."
"That's mad!" Victoire exclaimed. Already her mind was working quickly, imagining all the fun that could be had with a trip to Canada. "I'll have to visit there one day." Did they have trans-Atlantic Portkeys on sale? "So do you get upset when people mistake you as American?" She imagined it was kind of like a Scotsman being mis-labelled as English.
Not-so-silent Sam shrugged. "It's an honest mistake. I find it tricky to disgintuigh, especially if they're from the Northern states. My buddy is from Austin, which is apparently pretty liberal for Texas. Or so he keeps telling me." Sam smirked. Victoire mirrored the expression.
"Have you known him long?"
"Only since he approached me at the hostel last night and tried to recruit me into 'picking up Irish babes at the pubs,'" Sam scoffed. Victoire rolled her eyes.
"Well, looks like he's found a new victim." Sure enough, Condescending Alexander could be spotted across the car park chatting up a blond girl who Victoire recognized as being on their tour. The girl looked enthralled, wide eyes nodding silently as Condescending Alexander appeared to be telling a story. Victoire noticed the gray-bearded bus driver pulling up the coach and stepping out stiffly. "Well, shall we?"
Sam followed Victoire towards the coach as she gave the driver her warmest smile and headed to her seat.
"Er, would you mind if I sit with you?" Sam asked tentatively. "I'd love to hear all about England. I mean, unless you'd rather sit with Alex-" A slow grin spread across his face.
"That would be lovely," Victoire said, and blushed. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied the whirling brown shape of a small owl rapidly approaching.
Meeting the ancient giant Finn MacCoole was only the beginning of Victoire's adventures abroad. She would meet ghostly soldiers, a friendly manticore, and even a baby dragon or two when visiting her Uncle Charlie. She would encounter foreign wizards and Muggles from all over the world, and even make a few lifelong friends. It was only the beginning of the adventures that would change her utterly and completely, and Victoire had never felt more ready.
Author's Note: Sherlock Holmes is the property of Arthur Conan Doyle. Any resemblance to real people or events is mostly accidental.
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