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Chapter 1 : Dragons, Disguises, and Not-So-Dumb Blondes
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On an overheated, overcrowded bus.
I know most people wouldn’t feel sorry for me. While most of my roommates were languishing in unrelieved summertime boredom, I was in an exotic foreign locale--the kind of place people dream of vacationing.
But this was no vacation. Rather, I was here as part of my internship with the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures--another reason no one would pity me, since I got the job through my family’s connections.
I knew what everyone back at Ravenclaw would say if I complained. Oh, poor Victoire Weasley: famous, well-connected, has an incredible internship she didn’t even have to work for, “And then,” they’d motion at me, “obviously, there’s all that.”
That was...me. Long, silvery-blonde hair, blue eyes, svelte figure. It all pointed to one thing: Veela blood. But, just like all my other ‘advantages’, I hadn’t asked for my appearance. Most of the time, it only made things worse.
Like now, for instance. The recycled bus air was muggy and stifling, and the backs of my thighs were sticking uncomfortably to the grey leather seats, which had peeled away in places to reveal patches of yellowy foam stuffing. My hair was escaping its messy bun, my reading glasses were perched on my nose, and the copy of Transfiguration Today I had hidden inside a Muggle magazine cover was leaving purple smudges of ink on my fingers. In short, I looked a a fair mess.
But none of that was stopping the bloke next to me from trying to chat me up.
“Wvat is a beautiful human such as you seated on bus at high tide?”
Right. So obviously his English was not the best. Normally, this wouldn’t faze me--half my family hardly speaks English at all--but at the moment, I was exhausted, and stressed, and today I did not feel up to dealing with a chatty man in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt.
Especially when he reached over my shoulder to point at something out the window, and then left his arm draped casually across me. I shrugged it off. He tried this again, with the same result. But then, then, he attempted to put his hand on my leg, well above my knee. I whipped around, ready to smack his hand right off prohibited territory, when I heard a familiar voice, and my stomach dropped.
“‘Scuse me, mate. D’you mind switching seats with me? Thanks.”
Handsy Bloke, his face sporting the slack expression of the recently Confunded, got unsteadily to his feet and stumbled into the aisle in search of another girl to feel up.
His replacement dropped carelessly into the vacated seat, and I suppressed a groan.
The eye-colour du jour was a sort of caramel brown, the hair his signature blue, and then there was his cocky smile--no matter what form Teddy Lupin was in, I could always tell him by that damned smirk.
“Teddy,” I greeted through gritted teeth.
A note about my relationship with Teddy Lupin: Teddy’s my Uncle Harry’s godson. He’s at every birthday, family dinner, and in my year at Hogwarts.
And I couldn’t stand him.
Now, now, I know what you’re thinking: surely he’s not so bad? But you’d be wrong. As the oldest, if unofficial, member of the Potter-Weasley progeny, Teddy feels that he has a maturity unavailable to the rest of us. He always has to be the hero.
“You might say thank you, you know.”
Like now, for instance.
Plenty of girls wouldn’t have minded having Teddy swoop in and save them. Even with his current punk-rocker-travel-bum look, he had a certain...je ne se quois. Charm, I suppose. And he wasn’t at all unattractive. But that didn’t mean I was okay with it.
“I was handling it,” I informed him, reaching into my bag for the case to my reading glasses--I wanted to put them away before they melted from the force of my glare.
I sighed. “What are you even doing here?”
This was, in my opinion, a good question. Even with his White Knight complex, it seemed fairly ridiculous for Teddy to pop over to the distant lands of the Hellenic Republic to check up on me.
He leaned back, propping his feet up on the back of the empty seat in front of him andshooting me a lazy grin. “What, Vics? Not happy to see me? I’m wounded.”
I continued to stare him down. My father says that the infamous Delacour glare is a look that can only be perfected by the partially French. Although it didn’t have quite the desired effect on Teddy--I was hoping for at least a bit of cowering--his expression sobered.
“I didn’t follow you, if that’s what you’re asking.”
I lifted a dubious eyebrow.
“Oh? You just happen to be in the same foreign country, on the same island, on the very same broken-down bus?”
Teddy remained relaxed, his eyelids fluttering shut, head tilted back as if he were merely sunning, rather than suffocating, in the stifling heat.
“It’s quite the coincidence--I’ll give you that. But believe it or not, the world doesn’t revolve around you, luv.”
I growled audibly, my hair literally raising up on end and sparks dancing at my fingertips--it’s a Veela thing. I brushed my hands off quickly to squelch the embers before they could set the cushions on fire--the last thing this hellish climate needed was more heat.
Teddy chuckled, clucking his tongue. “Gotta watch that temper, Vics. You could hurt somebody.”
He eased into a proper sitting position, opening both eyes to look at me.
“Look. You’re going to think what you’ll think, and nothing I say’ll change your mind. But really, odd as it is, I didn’t know you would be here. I’ve been traveling with some of my mates,” he pointed towards the back of the bus, where I noticed some familiar Gryffindor faces, “and we just wound up here.”
Now that I thought of it, I had known that Teddy was traveling this summer. Not that I kept tabs on him, but I had some idea what most of the family was up to. Besides, he looked it. His skin was several shades darker than usual, and he had that scruffy, back-packer look, with pale tan-lines standing out underneath a tangle of braided cord wristbands, new muscles, and hiking sandals of a kind that would be utterly out of place back home.
He scrubbed a hand through his hair in a gesture so reminiscent of Uncle Harry, it made my throat ache with the pressure of unshed tears. Uncle Harry always knew what to do. Though I reined in any sniffle, some shift in my expression gave me away, and Teddy sat stock straight, all levity abruptly vanished.
“Victoire. Vics, what’s the matter? That idiot didn’t actually do anything to scare you, did he? I swear, I’ll--”
“Teddy,” I broke in, nose stuffy but voice firm, “I can handle myself with that kind of thing--believe me, I’ve had plenty of practice.”
It was true. I couldn’t count how many times I’d had my arse pinched or my chest blatantly ogled. Everyone wanted to be pretty, but I preferred to avoid that kind of notice. Looking the way I did had consequences.
Teddy frowned, a lone muscle pulsing at his jaw.
“Then what is it?”
I groaned. I didn’t want to have Teddy, of all people, come sweeping in to save me. I wanted to fix things on my own. But what choice did I have? Sighing, I ticked my problems off on un-manicured fingers
“I have no idea what to do. I need to get to the Greek Ministry--it’s in someplace called Oia--to deliver a dragon’s egg, which is about to hatch in my bag. And my boss is supposed to be with me, but he got caught in Muggle security on the way here for asking about nuclear weapons, and I can’t imagine they’ll let me into the Ministry building without him. And I am stuck on the side of the road on a broken down bus in a foreign country. Does that answer your question?”
Teddy ran a hand back through his hair, his brow furrowed with thought lines, as if someone had ploughed the proper trenches and now all that was left was for the seeds of a plan to grow.
Abruptly he stood, extending a hand and pulling me to my feet. He turned back towards his friends and called out to them across the bus. “Oi! Wood! Belby! I’ll meet up with you later. I’ve gotta do something.” Mike Belby merely waved, his face untroubled as ever. Aspen Wood, however, took one look at me and glanced back at Teddy, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“Don’t be an idiot, Wood,” Teddy called over his shoulder, turning quickly away and walking towards the exit. He still had hold of my wrist, and I had to dig my heels in to gain time to grab my satchel. I wrapped my free arm around it protectively as Teddy dragged me off the bus.
“Teddy,” I groused, tired of being tugged along behind him like a small trailer as he led me around a corner and started to pick his way over a rocky slope. “Where are we going?”
“We have to get out of sight, first. Can’t do magic in front of Muggles.”
Oh. I had forgot that Teddy had already had his birthday. Unlike me, he could use magic.
He pulled to a halt. We stood at the edge of chalky white cliffs, which looked ancient and crumbly, as if they might, at any moment, tumble into the sea.
“What was it, exactly, you had in mind?” I asked warily.
Teddy shrugged off his backpack, dropping it to the ground. He reached an arm in, then his whole head, half-disappearing inside it before reemerging with...a floor rug.
“Magic carpet,” he answered smugly, laying it flat at our feet. It did not look like a magic carpet. It looked like a fuzzy pink bathroom mat.
“Teddy. Who told you that this thing could fly?”
He shrugged. “Bloke who sold it to me.”
This was a reassurance I found particularly uninspiring. I crossed my arms, looking uncertainly from Teddy, to the bathmat, to the sheer drop a few feet away from us.
“I don’t suppose I have much of a choice do I?”
“Oh, come on, VIcs. Live a little. It’ll be fun!”
Flying on a carpet was very different from flying on a broomstick.
I screamed as we hurtled through the air, down towards the glittering blue of the sea. About a foot above the surface, we evened out as Teddy got control of the steering. I had a brief moment to rejoice in the fact that I had not met my demise before Teddy sped up once again, and we swooped up and down over the lapping waves, rounding the island.
Terrified, I wrapped myself around Teddy, holding on for dear life--unlike with my vintage Firebolt, there was nothing else to hold on to. The wind whipped at my hair, smelling of fresh air and brine, and urging me to pry my eyelids open and take in the striking blue and white scenery laid out before me.
Finally, we drifted in towards the shore, close to a town that had to be Oia.
“Easy there, Vics,” Teddy breathed, slightly winded from the exhilaration, or from the fact that I was still crushing the life out of his lungs. “People’ll start to think you don’t hate me.”
“You. Are. Mental!”
He shrugged. “It was that or riding those little donkeys they have. It’s the only other way to get around here.”
I wrinkled my nose. I’d had a bad experience with a pegasus, and didn’t care for any of its cousins, either.
He chuckled. “I don’t see what your problem is. They’re fine.”
I smiled sweetly. “Well, Teddy, we can’t all be one with the asses.”
Instead of tossing back another zinger, the way our exchanges usually went, he threw back his head, his laughter loud and deep.
“I’ve missed you, Vics.”
I stood next to Teddy in front of a doorway. A door that led to nowhere. It was ornately carved, perched right on the edge of the cliff face, but there was no building behind it. Just empty air and a steep drop to the sea far below.
Such doors were all over the island, Teddy explained. Since loads of the shops and houses were built into the cliff-face, they usually signified a hidden staircase. But not here. This was, supposedly, the entrance to the Greek Ministry. It was Platform 9 and 3/4 for lunatics.
Walking into a brick wall was looking comparatively sensible.
“How do you even know this?” I asked. Teddy laughed. I had never noticed what a nice laugh he had. I could feel it echo through my own chest.
“They house the British Magical Embassy here, too. When you’re traveling with Aspen Wood, you make it a point to know where to go if you end up in trouble.”
That I could believe.
“Right,” I nodded. “So, do you have a plan?”
Teddy looked at me curiously, once again reaching up to engage in the Uncle-Harry-Hair-Ruffle. “I’d assumed you’d want to be in charge of that.”
At my slightly panicked look, that accursed smirk twitched at his lips.
“Just, you know, you’re always telling me how you ‘don’t need help’--
“And how it’s annoying that I’m always, and I quote, ‘swooping in’--”
“And how if you actually needed my help, you’d ask for it. Unless you’re asking.” Those caramel-coloured eyes narrowed, and though they still contained that familiar, teasing glint, there was also a measure of sincerity, as if he were genuinely unsure. “Are you asking?”
I frowned, pursing my lips as I tried to weasel my way out asking directly, as a matter of principle. But the truth was, I didn’t have a plan.
He laughed. “You always do that when you’re thinking.”
“This.” He sucked in his cheeks, accentuating his cheekbones, lips puckered into a pout. “It makes you look like one of those ridiculous runway models.”
I felt some of the furrows in my forehead smooth out as an irrepressible smile peeked out around the corners of my mouth. “You don’t think I look like a model all the time?” I teased.
To my surprise, he shook his head fervently. “Like in Dom’s magazines? ‘Course not. They look miserable and half-starved. You’re beautiful.”
He said it matter-of-factly, and I suppose it was a fact. But when most people called me ‘beautiful’ they either sounded derisive, like that was all there was too me, or jealous, or entirely too smooth.
Teddy didn’t sound like any of those things. He just sounded honest, the way he always was.
I felt tears well in my eyes and blinked them away before he could see, but my giggle still sounded a bit watery. “I think that might be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“That you’re beautiful?” He looked confused, his messy blue hair sticking up endearingly, head cocked to the side in question.
“No. I don’t know. The girls at school say that sort of thing all the time, ‘Vicky, you should model for Witch Weekly after graduation. I’m sure they’d hire you.' It gets old, you know, being compared to a model, as if that’s the only thing I could ever do. I get tired of people acting like I’m just some dumb blonde.”
Now Teddy actually looked angry.
“You’re not a dumb blonde at all. You’re a Ravenclaw.”
I shrugged. “Sure. But everyone acts as though, because of the way I look, and because of who I’m related to, I never work for things. Most of my Housemates never take me seriously. It doesn’t matter that I don’t try to look nice--I don’t wear cute clothes, or makeup, even though I’d like to, to avoid that kind of attention. It doesn’t matter that I study as hard as anyone else.”
I glared at him. Well, not really at him, but at the words I was saying. They flew out of my mouth, the painful truth searing my tongue. “I know what people think of me. I know what the boys in my House say. Your friends probably say the same thing, Teddy.”
Now he was glaring, arms crossed across his chest. “My friends don’t talk about you that way. I guarantee it.” There was a keen edge to his tone, an unspoken or else that lingered on the end of his proclamation.
I just stared at him blankly, my rant having left me entirely out of steam. A long, heavy pause followed.
“Vics,” he said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “I don’t think you’re stupid. You’re one of the smartest people I know.”
He nodded, spreading his arms as if it were the most obvious thing. “Who else our age has their own subscription to Transfiguration Today? You take more NEWT classes than just about anyone. And that article you wrote for the Hogwarts Herald last year on Gnome Rights? That was brilliant.”
I felt like I’d just swallowed a Pepper Up Potion, heat rising in my cheeks. This time I couldn’t hold back the tears.
“I changed my mind,” I whispered breathlessly. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“I never meant to make you feel like I thought you couldn’t do things on your own,” he said softly, earnestly. If he hadn’t been standing so close, I wouldn’t have heard him. “That’s not why I like to ‘come sweeping in’,” he quoted wryly, “to help you. I like to help you because...”
We were awfully close. I didn’t realise how near we were until the breath of my question stirred an unruly blue lock of hair that had fallen down over Teddy’s eyes. He seemed to realise this at the same time I did, because he abruptly stepped back, clearing his throat.
“Because I...want to,” he finished lamely. He shook his head rapidly, as if he could shake away the strange tone that the conversation had taken. As if to banish it further, he clapped his hands together. “Right. Now, we’ve got a foreign government to infiltrate.”
I groaned. But the world will not stop just because you slay a few personal demons. And Teddy was right--about a lot of things, it turned out, but also this: I had a dragon to deliver.
“This is the worst plan ever,” I hissed under my breath as we slipped into the grand atrium of the Greek Ministry.
“It’s half your plan,” the elderly man at my side shot back, picking up the pace as we neared the front desk. I grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop.
“Just...walk older.” Teddy grunted and began to walk, now at a slower pace, closer to that of my doddering old boss, whose face he was currently wearing.
That had been my half of the plan--Teddy using his Metamorphomagus powers to impersonate Mr. Denbright.
His half of the plan, I was less sure about. I tottered up to the front desk, swaying in my absurdly high heels. It had been Teddy’s idea to Transfigure my clothes. Now I wore a tight black pencil skirt with a stylish, slightly low-cut blouse. “I’m not sure about this,” I whispered as we drew nearer.
“You’ll be fine, so long as you’re talking to a man.” He smirked at me. “Come on, Vics, you were just saying that you’d like to dress up. Now’s the chance to use your powers for good.”
I rolled my eyes but strode forward, coming to stop in front of a reedy-looking man behind the desk. Swallowing nervously, I leaned over the counter, clearing my throat.
The attendant, whose name tag read NIKOLAS, glanced up at me, then jerked his head upward so quickly that his glasses drooped to one side of his nose.
“Kalispera,” I greeted cheerfully, making use of what little Greek I knew (Being fluent in French and Gobbledegook looked good on a resume, but helped less at times like this). “I was wondering if you could help me.”
“Er...y-yes,” NIKOLAS responded in lightly accented English. I smiled at him.
“I’m from the British Ministry, and my boss here,” I motioned to Teddy, who was pretending to examine a pamphlet laying on the counter, “is supposed to be at a meeting this evening.”
“Certainly,” he answered, looking a bit dazed. “May I see your papers?”
“Well, that’s the problem,” I began, twisting a loose strand of hair around my finger. “I’m afraid our papers got left behind. But we have a very important delivery to make, so we really can’t reschedule.”
NIKOLAS looked mournful at this news. “I see, Miss. I’d love to help you, but I really can’t--”
“Nikolas,” I cut him off. “That is such an...attractive name. It sounds so...strong.” He gulped. “I really need help. This is a matter of international security and,” I paused as if overwhelmed, biting my lip uncertainly, “if we can’t get in, I just don’t know what I’ll do.”
“International security?” Nikolas repeated weakly. I nodded, batting my eyelashes at him in a way that felt completely ridiculous. He reached up, fiddling with his tie as he considered. Finally, he nodded decisively. “Please come with me.” And he led us out of the atrium, passed enormous, ancient-looking columns and tile mosaics, until we stood outside a plain, official-looking door.
Teddy snickered as he walked behind me. “I can see that you don’t do this much.”
“Manipulate people with my looks? You’re right--I should be ashamed for not practicing more.”
Unbothered by my acerbic response, he chuckled again.
“Your eyelashes were moving faster than a Nimbus 2037.”
I shushed him as Nikolas knocked on the door and it creaked open to admit us.
A large, tan man with thinning hair sat at the head of the table, along with other men in suits. I walked in and introduced us. “Hello. I’m Victoire Weasley, and this is Miles Denbright from the British Ministry. We have--
Before I could finish, a small item which looked like a silvery Snitch darted up to Teddy, a red light blinking as it trumpeted something in Greek.
I gasped. A door opened and a group of wizards in dark clothes--Aurors, I realised--poured into their room, wands pointed in our direction.
The large man harrumphed, eyeing me suspiciously. “It senses disguise. One of you is not who you pretend to be.”
I nodded to Teddy, who reluctantly shifted back into his usual form. The Aurors’ wands twitched.
“Hold on!” I demanded, stepping in front of him. “Look, this is all a big misunderstanding.”
“Did they have papers?” the man snapped at Nikolas, who wrung his hands in distress.
“And who is he, really?” he demanded, pointing at Teddy. Admittedly, sneaking into a government building impersonating a diplomat looked pretty bad.
Teddy frowned. “We’re not actually related in any way--“
I raised my eyebrows at him and continued. “But that’s not important right now. This is urgent. It’s a matter of international--”
The man flapped a disinterested hand at me. “Is always ‘urgent’, little girl.”
“Look, I really need you to listen to me.”
“I am busy man. I do not have time to deal with,” he smiled condescendingly, “foreign schoolgirls.” He eyed Teddy. “And hooligans. Security?” With a lazy wave, he motioned the Aurors to step forward.
“LISTEN TO ME!” Sparks once again flew from my fingertips in a display of Veela rage. I composed myself quickly, but one of the file-folders on the table had burst into flames and, aside from the man trying to douse them, all eyes were suddenly fixed on me.
“I don’t care about protocol. You are going to take me seriously,” I declared, voice eerily calm, “because of this.” I reached into my bag to pull out the enormous green dragon’s egg, its surface now covered with hairline fractures.
“You ordered a dragon from the British Ministry, and I’m here to deliver it. Now, someone is going to step forward and accept this thing before it hatches and decides I’m its mum. And if you don’t,” I glared at the gaping table of suited men threateningly, “I swear I will sic it on this entire ridiculous building and burn it to the ground.”
Everyone was quiet for a moment, as if held under a potent silencing spell. Then, all of a sudden, the man at the head of the table broke out into a grin.
“I like your style, young lady. Petrokoulos,” he nodded to the man on his left, “take care of that.”
“But sir,” the man protested. “Sh-she broke into the Ministry.” He pointed to the dragon’s egg. “She threatened the government!”
The large man waved this off. “We are Greek. What do we care about protocol?”
“But...” Petrokoulos gave a defeated sigh. “Yes, Minister.”
I blanched. I had just threatened the Greek Minister of Magic. Oh, Merlin, what had I done?
The Minister pushed back from the table, still smiling broadly, and clapped Teddy and I both on the back. “Now. Can I set either of you up with a Portkey to the Athens airport? I’m afraid I cannot get direct transport to London set up so quickly, but Muggle transport should have you there soon enough.”
Teddy stood with me outside the glass doors of the airport, hands in his pockets. Evening had fallen, and I needed to go through security. There was no more putting it off.
“So, that was...interesting.”
Teddy cracked a grin. “That it was. Thanks for sweeping in and rescuing me from those Aurors. I was quite the damsel in distress, there, for a minute.”
“Well, you know me,” I joked. “I can’t help myself. They say chivalry is dead, but...”
We laughed, even though it wasn’t a good joke. I felt like there was something I needed to say, but I didn’t know what.
“Thank you,” I said quietly. “I never could have done that without you.”
Teddy shook his head. “That’s the thing--you could’ve. You always could.”
And you know what? I realised he was right. Maybe not that I could have done this without him--he was wrong there--but in the future, after this, I thought that maybe I could. You know, if there were ever to come another time when I had to transport dragons across borders for the sake of government interests.
“Well, I guess this is it, then,” Teddy said.
I nodded. “I guess it is. I owe you.” Then, prompted by some mad instinct, I stood up on my tiptoes and lightly pressed my lips to his cheek. “Goodbye, Teddy,” I whispered, turning around and walking into the security line, without looking back to see his response.
After spending an hour going through the most ridiculous machines and security checks--Muggles really did the oddest things--and eating a dry, overpriced sandwich from an airport cafe, I finally boarded the plane. I was in the section with larger chairs--something the Minister had arranged. I slid into my seat, and had just slid open the little window, when I felt a presence next to me, and saw the garish colours of a very tacky Hawaiian shirt.
“Ah! So good to see a pretty human like yourself once more!” Handsy Bloke exclaimed.
Really, what were the odds?
Except...something didn’t seem right. Something about his face. No, his mouth. It was twisted into a familiar kind of...smirk.
“Teddy?” I gasped and, glancing around to make sure no one could see (all the other first class passengers had put on their complimentary eye-masks) he Metamorphosized back into himself.
I punched him, laughing. “I actually thought I was going to have to sit next to him for the entire trip, you jerk!” Then, giggles subsiding, I cocked my head. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going back to Wood and Belby?”
“They’ll be fine,” he declared, his expression shifting to seriousness. “I wanted to clear something up.”
“I’m not your cousin.” He reached up to ruffle his hair, azure locks peaking out between splayed fingers.
“Back at the Ministry. You said I was your cousin. And I’m not.”
“Err-I know that, Teddy.”
“No, I mean...is that how you think of me?”
“I...no, it was just easier to explain...” I trailed off.
Teddy paused, dropping his hand to his side.
“Remember how you said you owed me?” I nodded. “D’you think I could call in that favour?”
“Sure. What is it?”
He smiled grimly. “Don’t punch me for this.” Then, he was leaning forward, and I was staring wide-eyed, and then I wasn’t, because my eyes were closed and my knees were weak and it was a good thing I was sitting down because Teddy Lupin was kissing me.
He pulled back, peering at me nervously. “So.”
I smiled at him. “Well, it’s about damn time.” And I pulled his lips back to mine, feeling them curve upward in a smile.
I love travel.
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