A torrent of students poured through the corridors. Tapestries and hangings swayed on the walls in the wake of their passing. Snoozing portraits cracked open their eyes to frown and scowl at the hubbub below them.
Fleur stuck her fingers out of the shadows of her alcove into the bright beam of light spilling through the window. Her disillusioned fingers weren’t even a ripple in the air. That will suffice.
The thick, wooden door opposite her hiding place creaked open and a knot of Hogwarts pupils sauntered out.
Fleur leant against the wall and watched her youngest competitor slip off the back of the group of students. The fourth champion. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and crept out into the corridor. In the Triwizard Tournament. What nonsense.
He paused on the balls of his feet as the corridors emptied and the noise faded, then turned on his heel and stepped right into her.
The boy’s glasses skittered across the floor.
‘Merde.’ Fleur abandoned her spell, then plucked his glasses off the floor and stepped back from his outstretched hand. ‘You’re Harry Potter, non?’
‘So everyone keeps telling me.’ The boy squinted at her. ‘I’m afraid you’re a sort of silvery-blue blur…’
Oh? You can’t see me? Fleur smiled. Perfect.
‘How did you get your magic round the age line?’ she asked.
Ice crept into the boy’s green eyes. ‘I didn’t.’
Vraiment? Fleur tossed her hair over her shoulder. Your magic cannot cross an age line if you’re not older than the age set. It’s a simple ward, if an archaic one.
‘You did not break Albus Dumbledore’s ward, everyone in the castle would’ve noticed.’ She held his glasses out. ‘So how did your name get in?’
He reached for his glasses, but she pulled them back from his fingers. ‘Really?’ There was ice in his voice, too. ‘Why do you care? You don’t even know me.’
‘I can’t think of a way to get around the ward and still have my name go into the goblet,’ Fleur said. ‘I’m good with wards.’
‘Well if you think of one, let me know. I’d be very interested.’
Fleur cast the disillusionment charm over herself just as he lunged and tugged his glasses out of her fingers. She stepped back against the wall as he twisted round with narrow eyes. His wand slid from his sleeve into his hand.
‘Weird girl.’ The boy strode down the corridor. ‘Why do people care so much about this death trap tournament?’
The only way past an age line is to conceal your magic completely. Impossible for any fourteen year old. Fleur pursed her lips. But that makes no sense, because then Dumbledore must’ve staged the whole thing. And that’s just ridiculous.
Harry Potter’s footsteps faded round the corner.
‘Merde, he’s getting away.’ She hurried after the boy.
Fleur tracked him through the Great Hall to the foot of the moving staircases.
The only thing I like about this school and they’re completely impractical. She darted up the steps as the boy stepped off and the stairs shifted.
Harry Potter paused in the middle of a corridor and glanced up and down.
Maybe Dumbledore wanted an extra bite at the apple. Fleur edged along the line of the wall. But then why choose a fairly unremarkable looking fourth year? Apart from being slightly resistant to my magic and that scar, there’s nothing obviously special about him.
The boy slipped through a door near the corridor’s end.
Fleur tip-toed after him and choked. A girls’ bathroom! What kind of fourteen year old is her?!
A girl’s voice echoed from within. Fleur pressed her ear to the door, but the words remained muffled, even the boy’s deeper voice.
Fleur pulled her head back from against the door, checked her charm, then eased the door open and crept inside.
A row of empty cubicles, a large central sink, and a sizeable puddle of water spread across the white tiles.
‘Merde.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘That’s it. I’m not wasting another second on him. I’ve other competitors to keep an eye on, ones that actually have a chance of winning.’
If there’s anything special about him, it’ll show up during the tournament’s tasks anyway.
She shoved the bathroom door open and strode out. Grey clouds stretched beyond the small, high windows and the carpet stretched away below portraits and tapestries of goblin warbands. ‘And now I’m lost. How annoying.’
Fleur wandered the corridors back in what she hoped was the direction she’d come. But knowing magical architecture, it’s anything but. Just my luck.
‘Honestly, Ron.’ The bushy-haired girl Fleur’d seen near Harry Potter on occasion dragged a gangly redhead into an empty classroom. ‘This spat with Harry is getting well out of hand.’
Or maybe not. Fleur double-checked her disillusionment, then tip-toed to the door.
‘I’m not the one who lied to his friends, Hermione!’ Ron’s balled fists waved about either side of Hermione’s bushy hair. Fire flashed in his eyes.
‘We both know Harry’s promise isn’t what this is about. He’s either telling the truth, or he lied to spare your feelings, neither of which you can really blame him for, especially given how you’ve all reacted!’
Ron’s scowl deepened. ‘Then what’s it about?’
‘It’s about you, and half of Gryffindor House by the appearance of it, taking out your dissatisfaction at being in Harry’s shadow out on Harry. He can’t control his fame, Ron. You know that.’ Hermione huffed and crossed her arms. ‘Harry isn’t taking this well. He’s been acting off since the World Cup. You’ve seen how distant he’s become. You and Angelina are driving him further and further away. I know you’re angry now, but you’ll regret losing your friend the moment you calm down.’
Ron grunted. ‘I won’t lose him. This sort of thing happens between us guys sometimes. He’ll apologise for lying and I’ll apologise for overreacting. The air will clear and things will go back to the way they were. It’s how we work.’
‘That’s how you and the old Harry worked,’ Hermione snapped. ‘The new Harry is as good as me at half the subjects we take, better at a few of them, and seriously considering ending his friendships with all of you for good.’
‘You aren’t serious,’ Ron’s face turned a mottled red beneath his freckles. ‘He’d never say that. We argue, yeah, and this time has been bad, but he’d never walk away from us. He can’t. He’s Harry and even if I can’t stand him at the moment, we’re still friends.’
‘I’m not even sure I want them back. Those were his exact words. For pity’s sake, Ron, swallow your pride, drag Seamus, Dean, and anyone you can with you, apologise, and hope the old Harry resurfaces to forgive you, because I’m afraid if you don’t, we won’t ever see him again!’
Fleur pursed her lips. They’ll apologise, then do it all again. If the boy’s smart, he’ll learn from his mistake instead of repeating it.
‘I’ll think about it.’ Ron shuffled his feet. ‘I didn’t realise he’d taken it so badly. You think something happened to him, over the summer, or at the World Cup? Those bloody muggles?’
‘I don’t know, Ron. I only know what he’s said, which isn’t much. Maybe that Bulgarian Veela did something, or someone else did before she found him.’
Veela? He’s met one of us before?
‘You think he got cursed while he was out of it?’
‘He was very vague about his story, Ron, and he’s been secretive since then. Maybe he wasn’t even unconscious at all.’
‘He was pretty out of it in the hospital wing, Hermione. You can’t exactly fake magical exhaustion and a coma.’
‘He said he doesn’t remember casting any spells.’ Hermione shook her head. ‘Some things don’t really add up about that.’
Ron shot her a half-pitying, half-amused stare.
‘They don’t!’ She huffed. ‘It doesn’t matter. You need to need to fix this, then drag Harry to play quidditch, or cards, or whatever instead of studying. And then you’ll need me to try and make you two actually do some work.’ She smiled and her gaze lost focus. ‘It’ll be like before.’
‘I’ll try.’ Ron grimaced. ‘Angelina Johnson’s still on the warpath. Katie Bell was literally pleading with her to change her mind about kicking Harry from playing seeker next year and she wasn’t having any of it.’
‘She really believes he entered?’
Hermione sighed. ‘Professor Dumbledore seemed to think Harry entered; he looked very disappointed.’
‘You think he actually might’ve secretly entered himself using his cloak?’
Fleur rolled her eyes. No fourteen year old’s charmed cloak is going to get him across an age line cast by Albus Dumbledore.
‘I don’t know. I just don’t know. He’s changed. Professor Dumbledore looks troubled, too. Every time he sees Harry, he gets this worried, haunted look.’
‘I’ll apologise,’ Ron said. ‘I won’t bloody like it, because he’s been a right git about the whole thing, but I’ll encourage Ginny to speak to him again and I’ll try to convince Seamus, Dean, and the others to back off a bit. Won’t be any bloody fun, though. Ginny’s going to hex me again.’
‘Thanks, Ron. He flipped out on me and left Charms. I’ve barely seen him since.’
So I’m not the only one he’s evading. Fleur recast her disillusionment. I used to avoid everyone when I was younger. Everyone except Gabby.
‘We’ll have to find him to apologise,’ Hermione said.
‘He comes back to the dormitory quite late most days.’ Ron waved an arm at the ceiling. ‘I’ll gather everyone in the common room and we can catch him then.’
‘That’s a pretty good plan,’ Hermione muttered.
Ron snorted. ‘Chess player, remember. Plus, if you’ve not figured out where he’s going in over a month, we aren’t going to in the next couple of days.’
Fleur scowled. He’s good at vanishing, not that it will help him much in the tournament.
The two English fourth years swept out of the empty class.
Fleur muddled her way back to the flying carriage.
The other girls were scattered across the grass, swaddled in scarves and jumpers. Caroline, Emilie, and most girls her age were busy ogling the Durmstrang boys relaxing shirtless on the deck of their ship.
Fleur headed back toward her own room, then paused before her headmistress’ office. ‘Madame Maxime?’
‘Yes, come in, Fleur.’
‘Do you know anything about age lines, madame?’
Madame Maxime steepled her huge fingers. ‘Why do you ask? It cannot possibly be for the tournament.’
Fleur kept a straight face. ‘I was curious. Albus Dumbledore used one. I’ve not seen the ward actually cast before.’
Madame Maxime nodded. ‘They’re interesting, but quite useless. I don’t doubt I’m the only one of your teachers who knows much more than the name of the enchantment. They’re designed to allow passage to magical beings provided the age of the being’s magic meets the requirement. They’re so simple they can’t be bypassed in the same way more conventional wards might, but very inflexible in their use. It’s not a ward you’ll ever really need to use, Fleur.’
‘Thank you, madame,’ Fleur replied.
Harry Potter must’ve found a way. Perhaps someone older with the same name who didn’t care about breaking a magical contract let him take their place.
She slipped into her room, closed the door, then locked it. ‘It doesn’t matter. I was chosen because I’m better than all the other girls at Beauxbatons and I’m definitely better than some fourth year.’ She dragged the mirror up and stared at her reflection’s bright, blue eyes. ‘I’m going to win. As always.’