A foul, grey sky loomed through small lead-edged window panes. Droplets of rain spotted the glass. The wind plastered a red leaf against the window, then snatched it away again.
Miserable weather. Fleur slipped through the weathered, wooden door and cast a quick glance around the room. As always.
Krum leant against the wall on the far side of the small room, his thick, dark brows stretched so far down over his eyes, she could barely see them. His robes were ruffled and spattered with mud along the hem. Karkaroff stood next to his champion, close-mouthed and rigid. One hand curled into his small, silver goatee, the other on his wand. His eyes darted to anyone that strayed too close to him or his charge.
Cedric Diggory, stood in the centre of the floor, rocking back and forth on his heels. His schoolmate weathered the wiles of the reporter, Rita Skeeter. She’d drawn him into the only unoccupied corner, winding her peroxide blond curls round her finger.
Better him than me. Though she really should be speaking to the champions with a chance of winning.
The boy’s face had set into the sort of effortless, charming smile Fleur normally found herself the target off. He nodded along to whatever the woman was saying, but never offered anything but that bright smile and a few vague words. Rita Skeeter’s bright, green quill hovered behind her shoulder, swaying, twirling, and twisting, often dipping toward her notes, but never getting so far as writing anything.
A Quick-Quotes Quill. Fleur turned her nose up. A sure sign of the kind of reporter who likes to give their articles the sort of characteristic flourish that leaves the article’s subject wondering just how their words have been so completely misrepresented.
Rita Skeeter’s eyes shone with glee, but her quill writhed in mortal agony.
Fleur spotted the tip of Harry Potter’s wand protruding from his sleeve, tucked alongside the inside of his palm. A faint glow emanated from its tip. An equally faint glint of amusement flickered through the boy’s eyes.
Well played, Harry Potter. Fleur allowed him a fraction of a smile. Girls who like to write lies about their betters deserve everything they get.
‘I think it is time the ceremony began.’ Albus Dumbledore pottered into the centre of the room. ‘If you’d be so kind as to release our youngest champion, Rita.’
‘Of course, headmaster.’ She slid to the back wall and inspected her notepad. Her face flushed puce and an ugly glimmer boiled in her eyes.
Harry Potter shot Rita Skeeter the same bright, brilliant smile when she glanced at him and her face wrinkled. Foundation smudged into thick lines along her forehead and stained the top of her collar.
‘Let me introduce you all to Mr Garrick Ollivander, Britain’s finest wand-maker.’ Dumbledore stepped aside.
A tall, thin man with odd, silver eyes floated into the room. ‘Ladies first, perhaps,’ he suggested in a quiet, dry voice.
I intend to be first. As always. Fleur stepped forward and handed him her wand. Let’s see what this English wandmaker thinks of my wand’s core.
Mr Ollivander turned it over in his long, delicate fingers. ‘Nine and a half inches of inflexible rosewood, but with an uncommon core.’ He cast an eye over Fleur.
She tensed. Here it comes.
‘Veela hair, I would imagine.’ He twirled it in his fingers, glancing between her and her wand with a curious gleam in his silver eyes. ‘A beautiful wand, both within and without. You have a strong bond with your partner, Miss Delacour.’
‘Thank you,’ Fleur murmured.
‘Orchideous.’ Ollivander conjured a bunch of bright yellow roses, then returned Fleur’s wand.
The thirteen roses fell to the floor as Fleur retreated to a spot on the wall beside Madame Maxime.
Cedric stepped up past her and passed over his wand.
‘Pay attention, Fleur,’ Madame Maxime muttered. ‘You can learn lots from a wizard or witch’s wand.’
I know. Fleur brushed her hair back over her ear and cocked her head.
‘Ah.’ Ollivander smiled a faint smile. ‘I remember this wand. Twelve and a quarter inches long, ash, and still as springy as when it left my shop. You’ve kept your wand very well, Mr Diggory.’
‘I polish it often.’
‘As we all should.’ Ollivander ran a finger along the length of the wand. ‘A single hair from a very impressive male unicorn for a core.’ He flicked the wand and a stream of burgundy wine fountained over the floor.
Fleur studied the yellow roses in the puddle of wine and wrinkled her nose. This wand-maker is beginning to make quite a mess.
‘Mr Krum?’ Ollivander beckoned the scowling Bulgarian forward with a long finger.
Krum thrust his wand at Ollivander, then stepped back, splashing through the puddle of wine. Crumpled, yellow rose petals stuck to the heels of his boots.
‘Hornbeam, ten and one quarter inches, thicker than one usually sees, and quite rigid.’ Ollivander tested its spring with pursed lips and a hint of a frown. ‘An interesting style of alchemy. Familiar to me, though.’
Krum nodded. ‘Da.’
‘This is a creation of Gregorovitch. Judging by your age, it must have been one of his last.’
‘Da,’ Krum said. ‘His apprentice sold it to me. One of last few left.’
‘A very fine crafter of wands, Mykew Gregorovitch, with a knowledge of wand lore second to none.’ Ollivander swept the hornbeam wand into the air. ‘Avis.’
A small flock of white birds adorned with green and red bands across their wings flitted into the rafters of the room, chirping and chattering.
‘Excellent.’ Ollivander’s eyes came to rest on Harry Potter. ‘And Mr Potter.’ A broad set of crooked white teeth gleamed. ‘Last but not least.’
The boy slid his wand from his sleeve and passed it into Ollivander’s long fingers.
Fleur caught a brief frown flitting over Albus Dumbledore’s as the fourteen year old presented his wand.
‘A wand reborn,’ Ollivander whispered, spinning it in his fingers. ‘Ebony, eleven inches and a third, in such condition it appears it was only made yesterday.’
A ghost of a smile passed across the faces of both the boy and Ollivander.
‘Perhaps my finest work,’ Ollivander murmured. ‘Certainly the most complex. The shards of the phoenix feather core of your first partner, consumed by basilisk venom. A liquid heart.’
The boy’s had two wands?! Only aurors and wizards with very dangerous occupations end up having more than one wand these days. Fleur narrowed her eyes at the boy’s smile. And a liquid core of basilisk venom…. The toxin should’ve melted the wood.
Ollivander’s smile spread wide. ‘A bond that has survived destruction and risen again, stronger than almost any I have seen over the last fifty years.’ He stroked a fingertip down its length as if he were caressing the cheek of his child. ‘What has this wand seen?’ Ollivander closed his eyes. ‘Oh my…’
Ollivander slashed the wand through the air at Harry Potter’s chest.
A twisting, writhing, silver serpent the length of Fleur’s arm coalesced and coiled about the boy’s shoulders, then faded away.
‘Perfect,’ Ollivander breathed.
Fleur tossed her hair. Snakes are one of the easiest creatures to conjure, but at least it didn’t make any further mess.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. His blue eyes remained on the boy, small lines creased his brow, but a hint of a smile curved his lips.
Fleur returned to the Great Hall on Harry Potter’s heels. Should I try to speak with him? The boy slipped away from the group halfway there. He probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.
Madame Maxime snapped her fingers. ‘Come with me, Fleur.’ She strode toward the carriage, glancing around into the nearby rooms and corridors. ‘I trust you were paying attention to the ceremony, there was much to be learned about your rivals from it.’
‘What did you deduce?’
‘Cedric Diggory’s steadfast, hard-working, and honest, but while he is gifted, he does not seem an exceptionally powerful wizard. Viktor Krum’s powerful, stubborn, and unyielding. He will be my fiercest competition.’
‘And Harry Potter?’
Fleur studied her fingernails. ‘He is unusual. Ollivander seemed to favour him.’
‘Perceptive as always.’ Madam Maxime stuffed her huge hands into her pockets. ‘I believe you are right about Hogwarts’ original champion. Krum, though, has hidden depths, and judging by the spell Ollivander performed, excels in the air.’
‘He is a quidditch seeker for his country.’
Madame Maxime nodded. ‘Be wary of the Potter boy, Fleur. I have never seen a liquid core wand, nor do I know what it implies about his magic. However, ebony denotes power and having a basilisk venom core speaks for itself.’
‘I will be careful of him.’
‘He is unlikely to prove a rival being fourteen,’ Madam Maxime said. ‘However, he may provide one or two surprises that could harm your standing against the others.’ She drew Fleur to one side of the path. ‘The other champions will soon, if they haven’t already, be told about the first task. This is to be expected.’
‘Will I?’ Fleur asked.
‘Of course,’ Madame Maxime exclaimed. ‘I am… stretching the boundaries a little, but we are going to go get a glimpse of it now. Follow me, Fleur.’
Cheating, you mean. Fleur pursed her lips. I suppose if everyone else is doing it, I’ve no choice. I didn’t come here to lose.
Madame Maxime bypassed the carriage and strode into the edge of the woods that bordered the school.
Fleur pulled a face and picked her way through the mud. The heels of her shoes stuck and squelched. She shook her head, then pulled her wand out and transfigured it into firm ground.
Madame Maxime led her on. The trees grew thick around them. Dark, cracked pines thrust up into a thicket of dead brown branches needles. Brief flashes of green came through holes in the dead layer of the canopy.
I heard there are all sorts of creatures in here. Fleur kept her wand in her hand and peered into the shadows. Acromantula, werewolves, centaurs, giants and worse. Perhaps the task is taking place out here?
A wavering, reddish-orange glow flickered through the pines.
Madame Maxime drew her to one. ‘As it is a little unusual for me to take you here, you should cast a disillusionment charm. I know you are adept at the spell.’
I wonder how you know? Fleur cast the spell. I only told Gabby.
‘Good.’ Madame Maxime closed one eye and gave Fleur a once-over. ‘You’ve improved. Follow me.’
Waves of hot air billowed past Fleur with the flickering light. They caught her hair and turned the dew on her shoes and calves to steam.
Madame Maxime crunched through dead bracken toward a light gap in the trees and the source of the glow.
The hot wind turned sweltering as Fleur stepped through the tree line.
Four, massive cages dominated a wide patch of scorched brown earth dotted with charred tree stumps. White-hot flames billowed from the cages, leaving the bars glowing orange. Dark silhouettes curled behind them.
Merde. Fleur tightened her fingers into fists to stop them from shaking. Dragons. I would’ve preferred the giant spiders.
Madame Maxime’s shadow vanished round the far side of the clearing.
Even my natural resistance to fire will not shield me from dragon fire. Fleur edged a little closer to the flames. Rivulets of sweat poured off her forehead and down her back. Her uniform stuck to her like a second skin. I have a sleeping enchantment that ought to work on them, but I’ll need to make it a lot stronger to work on something their size.
A red-scaled, snub-snouted dragon thrashed and spewed fire from the nearest cage, pressing its protuberant eye up between the bars of the cage. A gleaming, viridian green tracked Fleur round the side of the cage as its nostrils flared.
It seems the tournament is picking back up from where it left things with that murderous cockatrice.
A shadow coiled in the furthest cage. Black, jagged scales gleamed beneath tattered, ebony wings furled around a serpentine body and a back and tail covered in cruel, curved spines.
That’s a dragon to avoid.
Its head snapped round and Fleur found herself staring straight into a set of bright, yellow eyes. A wild, furious intelligence glowed in those golden orbs. Molten malevolence glowered out from beneath four, bronze horns. It hissed and lashed its tail through the bars, scoring a deep scar into the ground. Fleur glimpsed a set of barbed spikes as the dragon yanked its tail back through the bars.
Definitely a dragon to avoid. She crept back from the glade, keeping well away from the circle of scorched earth and charred leaves.
Madame Maxime stepped out from behind a tree. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think whoever gets the black one is going to regret putting their name in the goblet.’ She cocked her head. ‘If they survive it, that is.’
‘The Hungarian Horntail. I’m not sure it’s even tame, from what I was told by Hagrid and his dragon-keeper friend, they had to send a fourth on very short notice.’
So it’s the boy’s fault that thing is here. Fleur muttered a few words her mother would’ve never expected to hear from her. If I have to face that beast, I’ll hex him halfway to death afterward.
‘Do you have a plan?’ Madame Maxime asked.
‘My enchantment, the sleeping one.’
‘The one that makes use of your veela nature. A good plan, but I would have a back up in case they’re more resistant to magic than usual. Some higher classes of dragons have been known to be.’
‘I know to go for the eyes,’ Fleur said. ‘And I know enough curses and hexes that once I hit it, it will stay blinded.’
‘Practice.’ Madame Maxime strode toward the carriage. ‘Do not mention the dragons, Fleur. I was not really meant to show you, even if the others will all know by the end of the day.’
Fleur returned to her room and dug out an old school book on magical creatures. ‘Dragons have few weaknesses, if faced with one it is best to distract it and flee. If fighting is the only recourse then its weak spots are the eyes and, on some weaker breeds, the softer scaled belly and armpits.’
That ebony monster is probably not one of the weaker species. Fleur shuddered. It looked like it sprouted straight from one of Gabby’s old nightmares.
Fleur snapped the book shut and stacked back in the pile on the shelf. ‘My enchantments will work. As always.’
The boy will not be likely to survive a tangle with one of those creatures. A soft pang twisted in Fleur’s stomach. He will probably abandon once his first attempts fail, it’s clear he’s not really interested in the tournament.
‘I have my own dragon to worry about.’ She tugged a sachet of hot chocolate powder out from under a book, twisted the top open, and poured it straight into her mouth. ‘Perfect.’ She let the warm, rich taste wash over her tongue. ‘I wonder if the boy will be able to resist the pull of the magic of my enchantment, too.’
Probably not. Only very powerful or strong-willed wizards could and my enchantment will be able to put any dragon to sleep. Malevolent yellow eyes and a bone-barbed tail flashed through her mind. Well, any dragon but that awful horntail.