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The golden egg sat on a grime-speckled, white tile. Patches of black mould speckled the grout surrounding it. The pale tiles spread to dirt-smudged, watermark-spattered walls. A short poem about Cedric Diggory’s jawline had been scribbled near the sink inside a lopsided heart.
He’s not that handsome. Fleur poked the egg with her wand’s tip. But the poetry is that bad. Who tries to rhyme jawline with defined?
It wobbled, spun, then fell and split open.
A piercing shriek filled the room.
Fleur slammed it shut. ‘Irritating. As always.’ She scowled at her reflection in the egg. ‘Perhaps I ought to let Madame Maxime give me a few hints after all. Maybe the shrieking’s even somehow the clue itself, rather than a protection for it.’
But I doubt Harry Potter is being given any hints. And winning will taste sweetest if I beat him properly.
‘Back to the carriage, I think.’ Fleur cast her disillusionment spell, grabbed the golden egg, and slipped out of the bathroom and headed for Madame Maxime.
Madame Maxime’s huge frame loomed by the window in the common area of the carriage. Empty tables and chairs surrounded her.
Fleur knocked on the door. ‘Madame Maxime?’
‘Yes, Fleur?’ Madame Maxime set down her mug of coffee. ‘You have a question about the second task?’
‘I was wondering if you knew of any creatures that emit such screams as the egg?’ Fleur patted the golden object.
Madame Maxime smiled. ‘I’m afraid I cannot say, but I would like to recommend you a book. I do not have it here, but Hogwarts’ Library certainly will. It is called Magical Creatures of the Water and their Secrets.‘
‘Thank you,’ Fleur said.
But if the other champions know, they’ll take the book out. Merde. She cast her disillusionment charm and ran for the library.
Fleur stalked the shelves, running her invisible finger along the spines of the books.
Magical creatures. Magical creatures. Vampires. More vampires. Fleur’s finger fell into a large gap. Veela… Someone’s doing their research. On me, no doubt. She frowned but moved on. Aha, water creatures.
‘Grindylows. No.’ She flicked through the pages. ‘Merpeople…’
The singing of the Merpeople cannot be understood above water. Any attempts to hear their singing above the waves will only be met by a loud shrieking.
Voila! Fleur snapped the book shut. Merci, Madame Maxime.
She abandoned her charm, then strode to the witch’s desk near the exit. ‘I’d like to take this out, please.’
‘You’re Miss Delacour.’ The witch drummed her fingers on the book. ‘Very well. Champions of other schools have permission to withdraw books. You’ve a month, but you can extend that time if need be. There’s no waiting list.’
The task’s further away than that.
‘I’m afraid I’ll probably need it for a while.’ She hid her smile. ‘Can I keep it for a few months? Three?’
The witch nodded and tapped her wand on the book’s cover. ‘There’s no waiting list. All yours, Miss Delacour.’
A door banged.
Fleur glimpsed familiar red hair through the small window. Harry Potter’s former friend. She snatched her book off the desk and hurried behind the shelves.
‘Hermione, c’mon,’ Ron Weasley groaned. ‘Show a little mercy, yeah.’
‘Hush,’ the witch behind the desk hissed.
‘Stop whining, Ronald.’ Hermione swept her bushy hair out of her eyes. ‘Let’s grab a table over there. I’ve stuff to tell you.’
Stuff about Harry Potter again? A stab of curiosity pierced Fleur and she crept along the shelf parallel.
‘I took out all the books on veela, but they’re rubbish.’ Hermione huffed. ‘Clearly they were all written by wizards. Six chapters of drawings of nude veela and less than half a chapter on what they can actually do!’
Fleur stifled a sigh. Idiots. We have been around for thousands of years and wizards still only see pretty faces and curvy figures.
Ron snorted. ‘Can I see those chapters?’
Hermione shoved her bag under her chair. ‘No!’
‘Fine.’ Ron eyed the bag and leant his elbows on the table. ‘Was that it?’
‘No, Ron. That’s not it.’ Hermione crossed her arms. ‘There’s something wrong with Harry. He spends all his time by himself. He avoids touching people wherever he can, he grimaces every time anyone raises their voice. Something must have happened at the World Cup.’
So it’s not about me. Fleur edged a little closer. Still, they’re not very smart if they think Harry Potter developed behaviour like this over one summer. She pressed her lips into a thin line and sighed. It takes years to hurt someone that much. Years, betrayed trust, failed hope, and fickle friends.
‘Maybe it’s a love potion.’ Ron screwed his face up. ‘Or some kind of loyalty potion?’
Hermione covered her face with her hands. ‘There’s no such thing as a loyalty potion and love potions require a close relationship to work. They inspire strong feelings when the dosed person thinks about whoever gave them the potion, but something has to be there already.’
‘So that’s a no to both?’
‘It could be a love potion,’ Hermione said. ‘But that Bulgarian veela has no close relationship, his family has no magic, and we were there all the rest of the time.’
Ron shrugged. ‘I dunno, then. I reckon he used his cloak to enter, if he did, but I’m not sure about anything else.’
Hermione moaned and thudded her forehead on the desk. ‘I should’ve never cast that spell at his wand, Ron. I can’t believe I was so stupid. He loved that wand and I broke it. He’ll never forgive me.’ She made a strange half-hiccup, half sob. ‘You heard him. He doesn’t want me and now he really doesn’t need me.’
Ron grimaced, reaching out and pattinh her on the shoulder. ‘I’m sure he’ll come around, yeah. I mean, you broke his wand, Hermione. I’d be bloody pissed with you and Harry was way more fond of his wand than I’m fond of my new one. It’s gonna take a while, isn’t it?’
‘I suppose,’ Hermione whispered. ‘I just — I wanted — I forgot — I think sometimes I’m a bit too used to being right, Ron. I don’t even consider being wrong until it’s too late.’
You have better friends than I did, Harry Potter. A strange, soft hollow feel seized Fleur’s heart. But it seems they don’t understand you any better than mine did me in the end. She squashed the feeling and straightened up. He’s like me. He’ll be fine. People like us always win. Always.
Hermione sat up. ‘I’m just worried. He’s going on a date with Katie Bell. She doesn’t like me very much, so that’s not going to help. He’ll find someone else, someone better at being his friend than me, and I’ll never get another chance!’
‘Quietly!’ the witch at the desk hissed.
Fleur picked her way back through the shelves. If he’s smart, he’ll try, but there aren’t many people like us. She paused, caught by a faint flare of temptation. Maybe I could talk to him? He has nobody and Gabby’s far away.
She hastened to the nearest bathroom, slammed it shut and locked it, shoving the plug in the sink and wrenching the taps open. The water swirled and splashed, creeping up the white ceramic.
Fleur opened the egg and plunged it into the sink. The shriek shifted into gentle singing. She swept her silver hair over her right shoulder, dipping her left ear into the water.
‘Come seek us where our voices sound. We cannot sing above the ground. And while you’re searching ponder this; we’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss. An hour long you’ll have to look, and to recover what we took, but past an hour, the prospect’s black. Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.’
Merde. Fleur patted her ear and cheek dry with a handful of white towel. That means the task will be underwater. My magic’s hampered by the cold and wet. And they’ll take something precious…
She pulled the plug, drying her hands and tossing the towel back onto the rail. ‘First things first, to find a way to survive underwater for an hour. Self-transfiguration is out, since I don’t want to end up as some mangled harpy when I try to revert back to my natural form and get stuck between the two of them.’
She watched the water drain out of the sink and swept out of the bathroom. Oh well. I’m better at enchanting anyway. There must be some way to turn water to air, or to create a more resilient version of the bubblehead charm.
‘Miss Delacour.’ A smooth baritone rang out as she passed through the entrance to the Great Hall.
Merde. The Yule Ball. I forgot to rein in my magic or disillusion myself. Fleur swivelled, taking in the glazed eyes and hopeful faces of over fifty students. Why must they all be so weak-willed?
‘Would you do me the honour of accompanying me to the Yule Ball?’ A lean young man with patchy beard and stubble offered her a smile.
‘Sorry.’ She forced a smile. ‘But no.’
Hope blossomed on the faces of all the boys around her. Feathers prickled beneath Fleur’s skin, the bones of her face shifted a fraction, and heat crept into the palms of her hands.
A dark-haired, blue-eyed boy with a neat, earnest appearance stepped out of the crowd and shot her a grin. ‘Miss Delacour, my name is Roger Davies. I was hoping you would let me accompany you to the Ball?’
He would’ve made a better target for poetry than Cedric Diggory. Fleur’s eyes roved over his high cheekbones and strong, confident jawline. Definitely a pureblood. There’s a lot of generations of pretty witches and wealthy wizards in that face.
The boys’ faces fell. Girls muttered through the crowd, throwing sharp, bitter looks at her. Every eye burnt on her skin as if she stood before them naked.
I hate this. Fleur felt the tips of feathers start to slide through her skin beneath her robes. I wish they’d just go away. None of them are like me. None of them.
Harry Potter entered the hall from the far side, hand in hand with the same girl who’d passed Fleur the bouillabaisse. He glanced up at her and returned his attention to the girl at his side.
‘Non.’ Fleur tracked Harry Potter’s progress across the hall. ‘I’m afraid you may not.’
Roger Davies gaped. ‘Oh.’
Harry Potter’s laughter echoed across the hall.
He’s laughing at me. Fire boiled in Fleur’s blood and it took every ounce of pride to suppress the shift of her body. He — he should know better than to laugh at me like all those stupid girls used to!
‘Let’s see how you like it when everyone’s laughing at you.’ She drew herself up and forced a torrent of her allure into her magic, thrusting it out across the hall.
A ripple of glazed eyes, vacant, dreamy stares spread over the hall.
Fleur smiled. Now we’re even, Harry Potter.
Harry glanced round the room as the ripple reached him, shrugged, and turned back to the girl he was arm in arm with.
Fleur gasped, her anger vanishing like a candle flame pinched between her fingers. He can’t possibly have not felt that.
The girl beside Harry Potter glared at Fleur with white-hot fury. The fingers of the hand not in Harry’s clenched into a fist so tight her knuckles turned white.
Oh, merde. A cold sick feeling settled in Fleur’s stomach. I tried to enthral a boy in front of everyone. Just like they keep accusing me of doing. Merde. Merde. Merde.
The girl started toward Fleur, ripping her wand out from under her coat, but Harry Potter caught her arm and whispered something in her ear. He gestured around them with one hand and a deep frown, and they became locked in an argument of furious whispers. She raised her wand again, yanking herself free, but Harry pulled her back. She stuffed her wand away and hauled him away into the corridor, two bright, furious patches of colour on her cheeks.
He doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s defending me. Fleur turned on her heel and strode out, her stomach churning so much she feared she be sick in the corridor. I’ve just done to that girl everything Emilie and Caroline accused me of doing to them.