One of the famed three hundred will provide.
“I think,” Teddy said, after careful deliberation, “that we should find whoever planned this, and destroy them.”
“Destroy them until they tell us where the next clue is, you mean?”
“If you like,” Teddy said.
Victoire contemplated thwacking him with her empty Butterbeer tankard. Though that wouldn’t help much, she realised as she turned the little chunk of metal that had come with the clue over and over in her hands. It looked like a third of a copper sphere of some sort, with a faint sheen of verdigris on the one smooth side and the rest shiny and jagged-edged like it had just been milled. She didn’t have any idea whatsoever what it was for.
"...So we need to go to Sparta and dig up some bodies?" Teddy guessed.
“It can’t be in Sparta. They’d have mentioned it if we had to leave the country. You know, only apply if you have a valid passport or something.” Victoire sighed and pushed her tankard away.
“Don’t be a pessimist, Vicky,” Teddy said, got up, and offered her his hand. “How many house-elves has Hogwarts got? Maybe it’s to teach us an important lesson about valuing our slave labourers-”
Teddy prattled on like that for a while as they left the Three Broomsticks and walked hand-in-hand down the crowded Hogsmeade high street. It was strangely reassuring - not that Victoire would ever tell him that, though partly because she expected he already knew.
Then Victoire’s cousin Al cannoned into them.
“Oh hey, rocket-propelled Potter!” Teddy caught him. “What are you doing?”
Al squirmed out of Teddy’s grip and hid behind him. “When Rosie shows up tell her I’m not here!”
“Alb-” Victoire started exasperatedly, cut off when her other cousin Rose shrieked “AL!” and stormed up to them.
“Have you seen Al?”
Al lurked shiftily behind Teddy. Victoire wished he hadn’t been sorted into Slytherin; Al was impressionable and they’d obviously been a bad influence.
“Can’t say I have,” Teddy said. “Did you argue?”
“He started it!” Rosie protested and stomped off into the crowds, unfortunately before Victoire could tell her where Al was.
“So what did you argue about?” Teddy asked.
“We didn’t argue,” Al said.
“Did you not argue because you’ve been avoiding her?”
“…possibly,” Al admitted, fiddling with his (Slytherin) scarf. “She’ll calm down, I just have to… not get in her way until she does.” He beamed at Teddy. “What are you doing?”
“We’ve got to find somewhere with three hundred famous things,” Victoire said. “So we’re a bit busy-”
“The Post Office?” Al guessed, tugging at a loose thread on his scarf. “They’ve got three hundred owls.”
“…oh yeah,” Victoire said.
“Bye Teddy, see you later,” Al said, and vanished hurriedly back into the crowd.
“See? I told you Al wasn’t thick,” Teddy smugged, which wasn’t technically a verb but should be.
“Where’s Al?” Rosie demanded, stomping back towards them. Sometimes Victoire wished she had fewer cousins. “I know he’s got to be here somewhere!”
Victoire sighed inwardly. “Rosie, what are you and Al fighting about?”
“We’re not fighting! And he started it!”
“Rosie, love,” Teddy said, deploying the charm, “I’m sure Al never meant to-”
“He did so!” Rosie snapped, reconsidered and rephrased more calmly, “Actually, I think he did.” She folded her arms and shifted from foot to foot, and then her voice shifted lower and more conspiratorial. “He got Sorted in what, half a second? There’s no way that wasn’t on purpose.”
Teddy and Victoire traded glances over Rosie’s head.
“Why would Al want to be in Slytherin? Rosie, you’re being paranoid,” Victoire said.
“I’m not being paranoid! …I don’t know why, he didn’t tell me anything.”
Victoire wasn’t in the mood for one of Rosie’s colossal sulks, so she started off towards the Post Office at a slow saunter and hoped Rosie would get the message. Rosie trailed after them.
“And now he’s complaining I don’t talk to him enough! …I don’t see why he’s allowed to get me into trouble, at least more than he already has, acting like he’s entitled to have everyone supporting him all the time…Madeleine Hudson put rat tails in my bed-”
Luckily, Rosie couldn’t force her way through the crowds like Teddy and Victoire could and they soon left her behind: as much as Victoire knew it was her duty to be responsible for her younger relatives, it was sodding annoying how Rosie sulked and she’d rather get on with the bloody scavenger hunt.
The line waiting to send cards in the Post Office was so long it wound three times around the room and snaked back out into the street, and all the skylights were flung wide open so the owls could fly in and out. Victoire slid through the queue into the centre of the room, jostling past people examining cards of tinsel-wearing Hippogriffs, and stared blankly up at the rows of colour-coded perches.
“And one of those is the clue?” The owls all looked…well, owly. Wings, beak, general featheriness. Victoire wasn’t particularly expert at owls.
“Possibly. I don’t want to completely rule out my dead Spartans idea, though.”
Victoire nodded distractedly. This was more likely to be an illusion than an outright Transfiguration, in case the clue just flew away…
The owls continued to just sit about the place not visibly being clues. Well, Victoire supposed she shouldn’t have expected something that simple to work.
“Is copper magnetic?”
“I don’t think so.”
Teddy and Victoire stared at the owls.
“Is the manager here?” Victoire asked. “She’d know which one it was, and if we surprised her with a Babbling Hex-”
“Kind of relies on Hogwarts staff telling people useful information, though.”
Oh yeah, that would be a dead loss then.
“Fire alarm? Set it off, see if any owls stay behind?”
“That’s illegal and we could be trampled to death.”
Teddy thought for a while.
“Pass the first piece, would you, love?”
Victoire handed it over, and Teddy gave her a sweet violet-eyed smile. That was always a sign of impending doom. “What are you-”
Teddy tapped his wand on the first piece and then cast the Bludger Hex.
And that was how Teddy and Victoire came to be banned forever from the Hogsmeade Post Office.
“Please don’t be mad, Vicky,” Teddy said, turning his eyes deep doleful grey. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s wonderful that you managed to grab the clue just before it cratered an old lady’s skull!” Vicky thumped him in the arm.
The new piece of the copper ball was basically identical to the new one, but it had a new piece of paper stuck to one side. Teddy and Victoire ducked into the side street between Honeydukes and the butcher's to read it.
Rouse not the guardian in its emerald lair: three heads will chew thy bones.
“Hagrid’s hellhound? Unless that’s too obvious. What else is there around Hogwarts that has three heads, lives somewhere green and wants to eat people?”
“You’re right. It’s got to be Fluffy.”
Victoire stared at him.
“That is the dog’s name,” Teddy pointed out, all mock-innocence.
Fluffy. Victoire still couldn’t believe Hagrid had found a Cerberus and named it Fluffy. His bloodhound that couldn’t kill a fly (well, maybe accidentally, by licking it) he named Spike. His three-headed hellhound he named Fluffy.
“So how would you suggest we get past Fluffy?” Teddy asked. “Or possibly to Fluffy, or into the general area of Fluffy - without, and this is the important bit, getting our bones chewed on.”
“How do we find him in the first place?” Victoire wondered.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Teddy said. “He’s always near Hagrid’s hut in the winter. Hagrid feeds him. He’s not supposed to, so please don’t tell anybody.” Off her surprised look he added “Care of Magical Creatures for NEWT, remember?”
“Then I’m glad I’m not taking it,” Victoire told him. “Do you know how to find him?”
“Huh,” Teddy said, turning his eyes a thoughtful brown and tapping his fingers on the table. “When Hagrid showed him to us, he used sausages…”
And that was how Teddy came to be wading through knee-deep snow in the Forbidden Forest wearing a string of sausages around his neck and with his hair flashing green and red like festive bait.
“This is a terrible way to be spending my day off,” he said forlornly. “I don’t get another day off until Christmas, you know.”
“I only suggested we buy some sausages! You were the one who chose to wear them as a feather boa,” Victoire said.
“Sausage boa,” Teddy corrected lightly. They trudged deeper into the Forbidden Forest until the trees closed up overhead, shutting out the light until both of them had to light their wands up to see.
“Unbelievable,” Victoire grumbled, kicking snow out of her way as if it had personally offended her. “‘Hello, Victoire, here’s some Russian demons who’re going to try to eat you. Oh, you aren’t dead? Good job, now go and fight a Cerberus.’ What’ve they given Anthoine? A Nundu?”
Teddy put an arm around her shoulders, pulled her close, and kissed the side of her head. “Cheer up, Vicky. This time’ll be different - everyone knows how to deal with a Cerberus.” He waved the harmonica he’d picked up in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes as a demonstration. “This is just figuring out the clue and finding the dog. We’ll be back in Hogsmeade in time for dinner and you‘ll have a new shiny trinket and hopefully that one will do something.”
Victoire wrapped her arms around herself and leaned against him. “What if the centaurs show up?”
“Then we’ll bribe them with the sausages! They won’t be able to resist,” Teddy said, turning his eyes bright twinkling blue because he claimed that inspired the most confidence.
Victoire smiled, and Teddy pulled her into his arms and marched her along for a while, with his chin resting on the top of her head.
“Ack!” Victoire said suddenly, squirming out of his grip.
“What? Did you trip?”
She pointed hurriedly and dropped to her knees to examine the footprints in the snow, and Teddy squatted down next to her.
“These are dog prints, right?” Four distinct claw marks and a sort of upwards bulge in the centre of the paw pad. Unfortunately, Victoire didn’t know enough about dogs to be able to tell the difference between a three-headed dog track and, say, a werewolf track.
“They’re definitely canine,” Teddy said. “Could be a werewolf, I suppose. Hopefully not, because they’d probably turn out to be an old family friend and want to show me pictures of their children.” He did a brief energetic impression of a baby werewolf, which Victoire didn’t appreciate that much because she was measuring the size of the claw prints. They were about as long as her hand.
She climbed to her feet, brushing snow off her jeans, and followed the tracks with her gaze to where they wove neatly through the largest gaps between the trees. “Fine. Let’s follow them.”
Fortunately, the tracks did turn out to be Fluffy’s. Victoire wished she didn’t have to end up in situations where the best option was stalking a giant hellhound.
The forest seemed to grow silent as they followed the tracks. There had been no birds to start with, not in the Forbidden Forest and certainly not at this time of year, but the air seemed to grow still and sharp around them and the trees bent inwards as if they were watching. Victoire decided that was her imagination.
When they found the dog, he was in a clearing, halfway through a giant slab of meat that practically had Hagrid Wuvs Ooo Fwuffy written all over it, and he raised his right head to growl at them. The little piece of copper on its collar gleamed in the weak sunlight.
“Teddy? Harmonica,” Victoire said softly, breaking away from him to pace around the edge of the trees with her wand drawn. The left head turned to look at her. The central one just kept eating. Still, even if it could watch two people at once, it couldn't attack two people at once, and Teddy wasn't bad at the harmonica...
Teddy blew on the harmonica. It quacked like a duck.
"...That's not music!"
Fluffy growled and took a step away from the meat, and even though it had just eaten it still looked like it was sizing them up for dinner. Victoire took a few steps forward to protect Teddy if it went for him.
"Huh. Yeah, you're right," Teddy said, examining the harmonica and giving it another experimental toot. It oinked. "Funny. It's not supposed to start doing that for a couple of weeks."
"Did you buy it directly from Uncle George?"
"Did you tell him what you needed it for?" Victoire didn't look away from Fluffy.
"That was probably where you went wrong."
"Oh, fine then," Teddy scrunched his face up, added "I spent half a Galleon on that thing," and then lobbed it at Fluffy.
All hell broke loose.
"What was that for?" Victoire shouted as Fluffy charged and Teddy shot up the nearest tree.
"I'll distract him! You get him from behind!" Teddy yelled, climbing onto a large branch just a few feet above Fluffy's jaws.
Victoire hissed between her teeth. Stunners wouldn't work - not only two of them, even if they could synchronize it perfectly. No time for a Lullaby Charm. And it would be very awkward if she killed one of Hagrid's pets-
"Distract him from further away!" she shouted. "Reducto!" The spell cratered the ground next to Fluffy's hindpaws and it half whirled about, one set of eyes on Victoire and another on Teddy.
"Don't worry! Remember the treehouse I helped James build?" Teddy stood up on the branch and reached for another one as Fluffy howled and clawed at the bark. "It's fine, I'm good at trees-"
The branch he was standing on splintered.
"I might not be so good at this one!"
The branch cracked. Teddy grabbed at another and missed.
"Battuo!" Victoire shrieked before Teddy had even hit the ground. The Battering Hex caught Fluffy under one of its chins and knocked it back, but not far enough.
Teddy didn’t move fast enough, and when Fluffy swatted at him with one massive paw it bowled him over like a rag doll. He hit the ground and lay still.
Victoire screamed and took a running jump onto Fluffy’s back. She grabbed the collar on its middle head one-handed and hung on as it bucked and tried to shake her off and shouted "Reducto!" The Reductor Curse couldn't even break the skin, but Fluffy staggered and pitched sideways, eyes rolling.
"Battuo! Battuo!" Victoire clung on and hammered hex after hex down on the hellhound until it gave up and collapsed. She climbed off and dashed to Teddy’s side.
“Teddy! Teddy, are you-”
“Ow,” he said, staring up at her confusedly and wiping blood away from his mouth. “I think I bit my tongue…”
Victoire pulled his mouth open and peered at his tongue. “It looks fine to me.”
“No, I was hoping you’d kiss it better,” Teddy said dejectedly, which in anyone else would have made Victoire start checking for brain damage. She just sighed and let go of his face.
“Accio shiny trinket,” Teddy added, and the copper piece flew across the clearing and into Victoire’s hand. It fitted easily enough with the other two to make a copper sphere that fit neatly into her palm.
“So now what-”
There was a faint click from the sphere and the metal shifted, smoothing over the hairline fractures and unfurling silently like the sped-up rose they'd seen in Herbology class. Two glowing-red words in McGonagall’s crabby handwriting drifted up from the centre before diffusing like breath in the cold air:
“...Suddenly I have a really bad feeling about this," Teddy said.
Every single Weasley, Potter and Granger-Weasley in the entire world was currently packed into the Burrow's tiny living room, crowded around the wireless and waiting for Minister Shacklebolt's Christmas speech. It was a bit cramped.
They always had Christmas at the Burrow, even though Uncle George was like the richest wizard in Britain and the whole of the Weasley clan could have fitted into his bathroom, instead of crowding together like sardines at Nana Molly's house, and then they would all have been able to eat at the same table as well. Rosie thought it was stupid, but Al thought the Burrow was just more of a family place than Uncle George's mansion. Al probably only got it because of his dad, though. His dad loved proper family Christmases.
Proper family Christmases, with traditional family gifts like the Weasley family jumpers. Al's was blue and yellow. It probably didn't mean anything. It was just that James's was red and gold and Lily's was yellow and black and Rosie's was blue and bronze. Not that that meant anything. James and Rosie might have asked for those colours and Lily really liked bees.
He glanced up at his dad, who was asleep with his mouth wide open and wearing the jester's hat he'd got out of his cracker. James was curled up on Dad's other side giggling over his Martin Miggs annual (James would probably prefer 'manly chuckling' but it was definitely a giggle.) Now that they'd managed to get her out of the chimney and clean the soot off her glasses, Lily was curled up on Dad's lap, and she and Hugo were watching a spider she'd caught up there run over their hands. That was why Uncle Ron was on the other side of the room eyeing them both suspiciously.
Al was more interested in Rosie, though. She was hovering next to her mum, who was eagerly explaining the history of house-elf enslavement to Aunt Audrey, who was a Muggle and didn't know much about anything. Rosie looked...turned off, sort of. Like she was just waiting for her mum or dad to talk to her.
“Rosie?” Uncle Ron asked, turning to look at her. Rosie put on a happy smile at once.
“So what’s your favourite subject, Rosie?”
“Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Rosie said promptly, because those were her parents’ favourites.
“That’s my girl!” Rosie’s dad said proudly, and turned back to Uncle Percy. “And Hugo’s doing very well at his ‘science’ lessons-” He pronounced the word carefully, like a foreign language. “-which Hermione reckons means he’s bound to be brilliant at Potions.” Uncle Ron tipped his glass of mulled wine at Aunt Hermione. “Thank God both of them got her brains!”
Rosie’s smile didn't waver for even a second. “That’s great!”
Hugo looked over from where he was gawping at Lily’s spider and grinned at her, which Rosie would probably take as a smirk.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Rosie told her dad, and fled, so Al got up and followed her.
“Rosie?" He went up to the first landing and, pretty predictably, found her sitting there with a textbook. "Kingsley Shacklebolt’s speech’ll be on soon, remember? Nana Molly’s setting the wireless up…what are you doing?”
“I’m studying! What does it look like I’m doing?” Rosie snapped, brandishing the textbook at him.
“…but it’s Christmas,” Al pointed out. "And I know you've already done all your homework. You always do."
Rosie threw her book down. “I have to work, Al! I want to do well at school! What, just because you can’t you think it’s fine to stop other people doing well?”
Al very carefully ignored that. Rosie picked her textbook back up and held it stubbornly in front of her face.
“Just go away, can’t you?”
Al didn’t move. “Your mum said you’d want to listen to the Minister’s speech, though.”
Rosie looked up sharply. “You talked to my mum?”
"Not really, she just said you'd want to listen," Al said. Right, time to change the direction of the conversation. "Are you coming?"
"You said she said I'd want to! That means you talked to her!" Rosie leapt to her feet. "Stop changing the subject!"
All right, so that had backfired. "...it means I'm not deaf?" Al hedged, backing away.
"What did you say to her?" Rosie demanded in a harsh whisper, closing the gap between them.
"I didn't say anything, she just said you'd like to listen so I came to get you," Al said, backing away again and nearly falling down the stairs. "If you don't that's fine."
Rosie almost snarled and ran a hand through her hair. "What did you tell her?"
"Rosie, I seriously didn't say anything," Al said, looking back at the living room door. "There's not much time. The Minister'll-"
Rosie hissed between her teeth. "You told her I...haven't been talking to you! Why would you do that? I've been perfectly nice to you all holiday!"
"It'd be nice if you were perfectly nice to me when you weren't surrounded by people who wanted you to," someone said. Al was surprised to find it was him.
Rosie almost gasped, and swung the book up like she was going to thwack him with it.
"Well, that is basically what you're doing and it's not very nice!"
Rosie almost shrieked and flung the textbook to the ground. “It’s not my fault! They said they were going to shun me! I don’t want to be shunned! …If you tell them anything, I'll...I'll tell your dad you've been trying to make friends with that Malfoy!" She glared at him defiantly.
It took a few seconds for that to sink in. "...you're blackmailing me?"
"It's not blackmail!" Rosie snapped. "Everyone in Herbology already knows! You're all over him all the time!" She folded her arms and added sulkily "It's embarassing. Do you know what his family's done?"
Al just stared at her.
"What?" Rosie demanded.
Al turned away from her and went back down the stairs. "Dad? Dad!"
His dad was awake and there like a shot. "Al? What's going on?"
Al came down the rest of the steps before he answered and stared mournfully up at his dad. "...'m sorry..."
"Why? What happened?" Al's dad glanced up at Rosie over Al's head.
"I lied when I said I wasn't talking to Score Malfoy," Al said. "I've been trying to make friends with him really...you aren't mad, are you?"
His dad gaped at him.
"He's not a bad person," Al said. "I know, because I've had him under surveillance for ages and he hasn't done anything suspicious or illegal. And anyway if we're friends he won't want to be a git, so it'll be fine." He gazed anxiously up at his dad, who still looked a bit poleaxed, and let his lower lip wobble. Plus the huge limpid green eyes, those were key. "You're...you're not mad, are you?"
His dad still looked pretty worried. Al was just about to break out the tears when he swallowed and said, very carefully, "Of course I'm not angry, Al. That's very good of you. Er..."
"And you always told me it was wrong to discriminate against people because of their family," Al added brightly.
"That's true, I did say that," Al's dad agreed with a sigh, and he looked like he was about to say something else when Nana Molly called from the living room "Come quick! Kingsley's nearly on!"
Rosie dashed past them with a suspicious sidelong glance at Al, who shrugged apologetically and followed his dad back into the living room.
In the living room, awkward silence reigned while Nana Molly fiddled energetically with the wireless. Nobody seemed to want to meet Al's eyes.
It was possible that they'd been able to hear him.
"...Al, you stupid nit," James said.
It was completely definite that they'd been able to hear him. Oops. Still, it was better than letting Rosie spill everything to his dad, and Al didn't think he trusted her not to do that.
"Stop it, James," Al's dad said, settling back onto the sofa and pulling Al down to sit between him and his mum. Uncle Ron coughed.
"Er...so what do you reckon old Kingsley'll say about the goblins?"
Aunt Hermione immediately launched into a speech on goblin rights in Morocco or something like that as the wireless announcer started on his introduction, and while everyone was distracted by the aftereffects of the March 2011 riots Al's mum leant over and said, not that quietly "Watch out, Al. Slytherins are deceitful, and just because someone acts like your friend it doesn't mean they really are." Al's mum had never had any Slytherin friends. Al was pretty sure he knew more about the Slytherins than she did.
"But he doesn't act like my friend. He acts like he hates my guts," Al whispered back.
"What?" his dad hissed.
"It's fine, Dad, it's a work in progress," Al said.
"That’s mental," James said very loudly. "Al, listen to Mum, she knows what she's talking-" At least then Kingsley Shacklebolt's deep, reassuring voice echoed through the living room and cut him off.
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