Table of Contents and Summary So Far
"You were going to go to Ruth's this afternoon?" Victoire asked.
"You were planning to"--she fumed--"and then go off for the afternoon with Ruth?"
"I wasn't planning to do anything," Teddy said, mostly honestly. The whim to kiss Victoire had descended on him during supper and had certainly not become a plan. "I mean, Ruthless invited me weeks ago. I told you that."
She started to say something, changed her mind, started to say something else, then threw the blue scarf at him and stalked upstairs.
"Go to Scotland, Teddy!" she shouted from the landing. "You'll be safer there!"
A door slammed, ending the conversation. Teddy debated going up after her, to try and explain that... well, that...
He ground his teeth. He hadn't the faintest idea what he meant to explain, though clearly, he owed someone somewhere an explanation of something.
Teddy turned to find Aunt Ginny looking at him with an archly raised eyebrow. "Did Victoire say something?" she asked.
"I, er..." Teddy looked up at the closed door, then back down. "Ruthless asked if I could go to Scotland a bit earlier than we'd planned. Maybe I'd best."
"I think that's a good idea. Come back later--we'll have drinks in the parlor until all hours."
Teddy pointed in the direction Victoire had disappeared in. "That was just, erm..."
"Right, then." Teddy Summoned his cloak and stood up to leave. "Tell everyone I'll be back."
"Right. Don't forget your scarf." Aunt Ginny pointed to the stairs.
Teddy picked up the silk scarf and shoved it in his cloak pocket without explanation. He went out into the square, nipped into a handy alley, and Disapparated.
He landed a bit further from Ruthless's home than he'd meant to--in all of their years as friends, he'd only been here a handful of times, and then only for short visits--but not far enough to bother with a second round of Apparition. He looked up the rocky hillside at the old roof among the scrubby pine trees, drew his cloak tighter, and started up the dirt road. Above him, wild auroras danced across the early darkness.
It occurred to him momentarily that he could just disappear into the hills, not answer Victoire's accusations or Ruthless's summons. He could become a hermit, living in a cave somewhere, dispensing wise advise to those who'd discovered the secret of his continued existence. He could set up his crystal ball, tell fortunes, maybe discern who was rightwise king of England in his spare time, should William ever have an urge to become a greengrocer and all of the others decide that a magical choice was better than the line of succession. Really, as long as no one asked him how to avoid nearly kissing a girl who might as well be his cousin whilst being interrupted by an ex-girlfriend who needed a defender--and really, what were the odds?--it would be a perfectly good life.
He sighed, and set on the path up the hill.
Ruthless's family home was an unassuming farmhouse in the Argyll highlands. No one lived anywhere nearby, and, like the Weasleys, the Scrimgeours didn't make much effort at hiding the magical nature of the place. As Teddy approached the door, he passed a few discarded cauldrons, a set of broomsticks leaning against a woodpile, and a hinkypunk that looked a little lost this far from a swamp. It turned and flashed its weak light at him.
"Don't worry," he told it. "I'm going in anyway. No need for lures. If I don't come back, come in after me."
The hinkypunk stood still for a moment, head cocked, then hopped off into the trees.
Teddy knocked on the door.
There was a great deal of thudding on the other side, and he finally saw the top of a head in the high window. The door opened, and Kirk Scrimgeour gestured him in. "Lupin! I'm glad to see you, mate."
"You see me at school all the time, and mostly ignore me."
Ruthless slipped in around Kirk and said, "Teddy's on my side."
"Everyone's on your side except that idiot you're dating. And you."
Ruthless raised her wand at him, and he left.
She let out a breath through clenched teeth. "Happy Christmas, Teddy. I'm really glad to see you." She threw her arms around him, and he hugged her back, and the idea of running away and becoming a hermit fell back into the darkness. She patted his arm as she drew away. "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything."
"Maybe nothing that oughtn't have been interrupted."
"Oh, really?" She glanced at his pocket and noticed the scarf. "Sorry. Er... that scarf looks like it might have been a good color for Weasley."
"It's all right. What's going on?"
She rolled her eyes in the direction Kirk had gone. "My brothers don't approve. Neither does my father. They kept sniping at Sam until he left for work, and after he was gone, I sort of... lost my temper. Can you rescue Christmas?"
"I can try." Teddy sighed, then sniffed the air. There was a familiar sort of scent, but he couldn't quite place it. "What's that?" he asked.
"The twins 'accidentally' broke the vase on some flowers Sam gave me. I incinerated them. The flowers, not the twins. Though I was tempted."
She laughed wearily and stepped into the light of a torch, where Teddy could see deep, dark circles under her eyes. "Are you on my side, Teddy?"
"Always. Why does Kirk think you're not on your side?"
"A couple of months ago, Sam was out at the Cauldron, and he had little too much to drink, and he talked a little too much about things that weren't meant to be talked about. He's sorry. They're not accepting his apology. I am."
"It's me, Teddy. God, why doesn't anyone know it's me anymore? If I didn't accept his apology, I'd have hexed him halfway around the world."
"Er... why didn't you? Are you... well, you said you might fall in love with him..."
She shook her head. "I treat him pretty badly, when you think about it. I'm not... I don't feel... so I guess I owe him an apology acceptance. He puts up with things from me, too. Come on, can we have Christmas, and not a referendum on the same thing my brothers have been bothering me about?"
Teddy didn't like what he was hearing, and he liked even less the dark circles under her eyes.
Which are probably caused by you and everyone else judging her. Stop it.
An image rose in Teddy's mind, of Sam Cresswell as the troll in James's story, towering over the beautiful princess, slavering and threatening.
He pushed it away. He loved her; he was jealous of her new boyfriend. It wasn't a very attractive emotion. She needed him to let it be. He smiled. "Well, as long as I'm here, and it does happen to be Christmas..."
She gave him a more real smile. "Good. They'll be on better behavior with you here." With this, she led him into the living room, where her four brothers, her parents, and her grandfather were toasting marshmallows in the fireplace. Kirk gave Ruthless a glare, but didn't pursue their argument.
Her grandfather, Carponius, smiled in his vacant way (he had been Rufus Scrimgeour's twin, and had not been right since the Minister had been tortured to death during the war). "Have you come for the battle?" he asked Teddy conversationally. "There's a giant in the hills."
"No, sir," Teddy said. "Perhaps another day."
"Are you sure, lad? It'll be a fine battle."
"I think we should give the giants Christmas Day off, don't you?" Ruthless asked, curling up beside him companionably.
Carponius considered this, then said, "Yes, well said. It would be more sporting."
Teddy got Keith talking about the Quidditch team's chances (much improved since Celia Dean had been taken on as Keeper this year), and gradually, the room got more cheerful, until everyone was laughing. Ruthless's father played a fine violin, and he played them into the evening with traditional carols, which they all sang along with, quite off-key.
Twice, the subject started to veer toward Sam Cresswell, and Teddy saw the shadow fall across Ruthless's face in anticipation of a fight, so he steered it away both times, turning it into a conversation about her apprenticeship. Her brothers appeared to idolize Ron Weasley, and were happy to have the conversation turned to his exploits. Carponius related tales of Rufus, which everyone seemed to like, then went off into his fantasy world, where dragons and giants and dark creatures stalked the highlands, and he was the brave Auror who would fight them off. "Glad to have Ruthie's help, though," he said. "Ruthie's my darling girl."
At one point, when Ruthless left the room for a moment, Kirk leaned over and said, "I'll talk to you at school," but nothing else was brought up.
At around eight o'clock, Ruthless walked Teddy down the mountain. "You deserve some sort of award for saintliness," she said. "I was on the edge of my last nerve."
"I've got your back," Teddy said. "Do you want to come back to London with me? Aunt Ginny said they'd be having drinks in the parlor."
"Sure. Do you mind if we stop by my flat first? I want to change. I still smell like burned mallowsweet."
"That's why I knew that smell! I've been working with that all year. Not burnt."
She gave him an odd look, and the Disapparated together to Diagon Alley.