One Flew Over the Owlery

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Condensation blurred the grey sky through the window, it trickled down the glass, over the white painted window sill, then dripped down onto the blue carpet. The cold seeped in from outside creeping through the panes like dusk shadows from the dark pines at the castle’s edge.

Fleur swirled her mug and cast another warming charm. Steam rose from the damp patch beneath the window. The more it hurts to have, the more satisfying it’ll be to get it. She dropped another sugar cube into her hot chocolate and watched it melt away. And I will win.

A heavy hand pounded at her door.

Fleur grimaced, tossed her blanket onto the bed, and picked her wand up. ‘Who is it?’

‘I would like to discuss the first task with you, Fleur.’ Madame Maxime’s low voice echoed through the door.

Fleur pulled the door open. ‘You were not happy with my performance?’

‘You performed perfectly. As always.’ Madame Maxime’s broad face shifted into a smile, then slipped back to a mild frown. ‘I would like to discuss the other champions and their methods, as you didn’t get to observe them first hand, I thought you might find it useful.’

Fleur nodded and leant on the edge of the door. ‘It sounds like a good idea, madame.’

I would very much like to know how the boy evaded that feral monster of a dragon.

Madame Maxime eased the door open with one finger. Fleur stumbled back, then settled back into her seat, sipping the warm, rich, sweetness of her hot chocolate as Madame Maxime squeezed herself into the other small chair.

‘The Hogwarts’ Champion, Cedric Diggory, was the first to compete,’ said Madame Maxime. ‘His plan was commendable, but not carried out effectively. However, he displayed some advanced transfiguration and it would be wise to assume he is equally proficient in other subjects.’

An exceptional student, but no more than that. Fleur took another sip of her hot chocolate. One of those boys born into a good family with good looks and good brains, but no friction to give him the drive to win.

‘I do not think that the Hogwarts’ Champion will be your main source of competition,’ Madame Maxime said.

Fleur nodded and sipped her drink. ‘I agree.’

‘Viktor Krum, too, displayed some proficiency.’

Fleur suppressed the urge to roll her eyes and took another drink of hot chocolate. Of course the boy will be last, even when he is not here, he finds some way to be annoying.

‘Krum used the Conjunctivitis Curse to blind his dragon, his casting was very swift and accurate, but his plan did not account for the damage the injured dragon would do. Durmstrang’s Champion is clearly a powerful and accurate spell caster, but lacks foresight. He is a dueller and a flyer, not a planner, but he will prove a strong rival in any task Karkaroff can help with the planning.’

Fleur put her mug down and leant forward. ‘And Harry Potter?’

Madame Maxime smiled. ‘He cheated. He took the model dragon and used a very powerful enlarging charm. The Horntail fought the model and while it was distracted Mr Potter used the Rupturing Curse to blind the eye on his side. The model, for all its enchantments, was only plastic and didn’t last long, but the boy stole the egg in the gap.’

‘An enlarging charm…’ Fleur frowned.

Madame Maxime tapped her fingers on the table. ‘Disappointed by his simple solution?’

Fleur swirled the hot chocolate in the mug. ‘No. If it works, it works.’

‘Jealous, then?’ Madame Maxime asked.

‘It was a good solution, but only for this exact situation. I doubt he is capable of creating the enchantments that were already on the model like I can. And even if he were, almost any magic would be able to defeat such a creation. It is impossible to create something capable of using magic as a witch or wizard does.’

‘You must look deeper than his solution.’ Madame Maxime tutted and pushed Fleur’s mug to the side of the table. ‘The scale of the enlarging charm indicated surprising magical power for a fourteen year old, equal or better than any other champion, including yourself. His knowledge and use of a curse considered dark is also very interesting. Albus Dumbledore would not consent to it being taught here, so he must have another source of counsel. And at the end, when the dragon had him cornered, he stepped out to face it head on with no fear I could see.’

So he really wasn’t afraid. Fleur studied the polished rosewood of her wand. Interesting.

‘You’re impressed with him,’ she said.

‘Indeed I am.’ Madame Maxime placed her palms flat on the table. The chair groaned beneath her as she leant forward. ‘There is something different about him. I’m sure you noticed it in your observation of your rivals.’

So she knows about that, too. Fleur met Madame Maxime’s dark brown eyes and glanced at her hot chocolate. Perhaps she’s just guessed from my absences and my knowledge of the disillusionment charm.

‘I might have,’ she said.

‘He does not react to the allure in your magic, does he?’

Fleur scowled. ‘No, he didn’t even notice me until the first task.’

Madame Maxime smiled. ‘I thought so. He is most curious. Openly using a curse such as the Rupturing Curse, brazenly cheating, and most of all, at the end for an instant, I thought I sensed a spell.’

Fleur’s lips twitched. If only I could’ve watched. I would’ve been able to sense much more than you, despite your heritage.

‘What kind of spell?’ she asked. ‘What did it feel like?’

‘It was just a feeling,’ Madame Maxime said. ‘Like a fingertip sliding down my spine. And I only felt it for a moment.’

‘But if you felt it.’

Madame Maxime’s eyes narrowed a fraction. ‘I may not be gifted with the deftness of your family, Fleur, but I didn’t need it to sense that magic. If the horntail had not been stunned by its handlers, I think we might’ve seen something spectacular.’

Fleur dragged her hot chocolate back over and took another sip. Cold. She tapped the mug with her wand until spirals of steam rose from the dark liquid. Much better.

‘He is not to be underestimated,’ Madame Maxime said. ‘You cannot beguile him with the allure of your magic without capturing every eye in the room, he appears to be much more powerful than we suspected, and he knows and has used at least one morally questionable curse.’

‘I will not. I have met many boys who can resist my magic to begin with. They crumble when I actually exert some focus or intent upon them, all I’d need is a moment in the tournament when nobody can see.’

It’s not cheating. Fleur’s stomach knotted itself tight. But it’s not how I want to win, either.

‘Perhaps,’ Madame Maxime said. ‘I must insist you be wary of him all the same, though. He has cheated already, he might do so again and in a less benign fashion. It was his breaking of the rules alone that cost him the points that would have placed him first. If he’d had the presence of mind to summon the toy from the tent, you’d be second.’

What?! Fleur stared into Madame Maxime’s eyes, but found no hint of a lie. She’s not trying to motivate me. She genuinely thinks that. Fleur swallowed down a bitter taste and a flare of heat, feathers prickling beneath her skin. I got beaten by a fourteen year old. Unacceptable.

‘I do not know the mind of the boy at all well.’ Madame Maxime squeezed out of her chair and stepped to the door in a single stride. ‘But he has unsettled even Albus Dumbledore.’

He looked as proud as he did concerned. Fleur closed the door behind Madame Maxime. Still, in essence he won. It would be silly to assume he’ll make another small mistake again.

She gulped down the last of her hot chocolate. ‘He will be as much a rival as Krum, only he has the advantage of no expectation.’

Dumbledore must’ve put him in the tournament. Fleur tapped her mug with her wand and set the clean china piece down on the bedside table next to a slim envelope. A good way to help him grow. It will hurt him, but like me, he’ll get stronger because of it.

She snatched the letter to Gabby off her bedside table and tucked it down the front of her blue robes.

Casting the disillusionment charm she snuck out of the carriage, slipping between Caroline and Emilie when they opened the door.

Fleur trudged to the top of a grey, dreary tower that rang with the hoots and screeches of owls. A room of thick, wooden beams and worn perches waited beyond a small, battered old door. Sour bird droppings and dry must hung like smoke.

Beauxbatons’ Birdcage is far more elegant than this dirty old attic. She sniffed and tip-toed into the centre of the room. But at least there’s nobody to ask me to be their Yule Ball date up here.

‘That is a very good disillusionment charm.’ A half-familiar voice echoed from the door, carrying with it a hint of admiration and amusement.

Merde. Of course, he notices me when I am invisible. What a vexing boy.

Fleur dispelled the charm. ‘Merci. How did you notice?’

‘Miss Delacour.’ His eyes flicked past her to the owls. ‘I’m aware of the weaknesses of the charm and thus capable of recognising it.’

Fleur’s gaze dipped to his empty hands. ‘What are you doing up here?’

Harry Potter raised his eyebrows and glanced around the room. ‘Sending a letter… As I assume you are, since this isn’t the most scenic part of the castle.’

‘No I’m not.’ Fleur sighed. ‘I have no owl.’

His brow creased. ‘Perhaps I could offer you the use of my owl?’

Fleur wrestled with her pride. ‘Didn’t you just send a letter?’

‘I was sending a letter to my godfather. For one reason or another I’ve not been able to contact him until now, but he sent his own owl and I returned my letter with it.’

‘I didn’t realise you had a godfather.’

‘Not many do.’

He edged past her, leaving an arm’s length between them. Dust covered the back of his robes as they brushed against the beams.

That was nice of him. Most men take any chance to brush against me. Fleur pulled her wand out of her sleeve and vanished the dust. There, now we’re even.

‘Thanks,’ Harry Potter said.

A beautiful, black-speckled, snowy owl perched by the window on the far side of the tower top. It shot Harry a full glare, then swivelled its head around to look in the other direction.

He laughed. ‘Don’t be like that, Hedwig. I was going to give you a letter to deliver on behalf of an acquaintance of mine.

An acquaintance? Fleur found the taste of the word bitter. I suppose I am, but most boys would call me a friend to my face. Does he not care what I think at all?

Hedwig’s head twisted back round, then she hooted and hopped closer to Harry, nibbling at his fingers.

Harry Potter laughed. ‘I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.’ He turned to Fleur and held out his hand. ‘Do you have the letter? She’s a bit particular about who gives her the things she takes, nearly took one of my friend’s fingers a year ago.’

One of the friends who turned their back on you? Fleur slipped her hand inside her uniform and pulled the warm envelope from under the strap of her bra. Let’s hope he doesn’t realise where I stashed it, though if his past lack of attention is any indication, he might not even care.

Harry pinched the uppermost corner between his thumb and forefinger and passed it to Hedwig.

Fleur stared. He’s that disgusted by my body heat? She stifled a laugh. Forget about my magic’s allure, if I want to beat him, perhaps I can just hug him.

‘Gabrielle Delacour,’ Harry Potter read off the envelope. ‘It’s a long way to Beauxbatons from here, Hedwig. Can you find her?’

The bird fluffed its feathers up and took off through the window.

Harry Potter chuckled. ‘I shall take that as a yes.’ He watched Hedwig soar away into the drizzle, then turned to Fleur with a wrinkled brow. ‘Your younger sister?’

‘Yes. I often write to Gabby. She misses me when I’m away.’

And I miss her. Only a veela understands what it means to be a veela.

‘It must be nice for her to hear from you,’ Harry Potter said.

‘I’m sure your family finds it equally nice to hear from you.’

Harry Potter laughed.

Fleur winced. Merde. He’s an orphan.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t worry.’ Half a smile crooked his lips. ‘It’s actually almost refreshing to have somebody forget.’

‘They stare,’ Fleur murmured.

‘Yes, they do.’ His green eyes froze hard and cold, then melted into a bright, brilliant smile.

The same one he gave Rita Skeeter. Smiles are simple lies. Fleur’s stomach twisted and writhed. Girls like Rita Skeeter deserve to be smiled at like that, but not me. I’m not like them.

‘Madame Maxime told me about your task,’ she said.

Harry Potter eyed the door behind her. ‘More questions? Well, at least you’ve not stolen my glasses this time.’

Fleur twitched. ‘I’m afraid I don’t understand.’

The corner of Harry’s lips curved into the same half-smile. ‘No? That doesn’t sound familiar? It must’ve been another French witch with an exceptional grasp of the disillusionment spell, then. What did Madame Maxime say?’

Fleur stepped across in front of the door. ‘She said you cheated by bringing the model dragon in and that if you had summoned it, you might’ve got full marks.’

A spark of anger flickered in his eyes and faded. ‘I forgot about the wands only rule. How stupid of me.’

‘You still came second.’

Amusement danced in his green eyes. ‘Second is not first, is it?’

‘Non. You intend to try and win now.’

‘Winning will prove to myself that I’m stronger than I used to be.’

You’ve years to get stronger. Fleur tried to see the child that ought to be standing in front of her. Yet what else is there but winning, when everyone turns against you.

‘You’re fourteen—’

‘When I win, I’ll let you read my name off the Triwizard Cup.’ His green eyes turned cold and sharp as the winter icicles that hung from her window. ‘I guarantee it won’t say my age.’ Harry Potter swept past her and down the steps.

There’ll be other chances. Fleur listened to his footsteps echo down the tower. Even if he doesn’t feel the allure in my magic, I’m still the prettiest girl he’s seen. He’ll talk to me.

She recast her disillusionment spell and wandered round the quidditch pitch’s edge.

Ludo Bagman sat in the bottom row of the stands beside a witch dressed in official ministry robes. A sharp glint lurked in the witch’s eyes as they muttered together.

Fleur gave the two of them a wide berth.

A third person appeared from nowhere in front of her.

She twisted round the rat-faced wizard and froze.

He cocked his head, sniffing the air, his small, watery eyes darting all around and his long fingernails curling from his tattered sleeves like claws.

Fleur wrinkled her nose as the reek of stale food and dirt reached her. Perhaps this is Argus Filch, the infamous squib caretaker.

The wizard scuttled into the shadows of the red and gold painted section.

Silence loomed in his absence. Every shadow held a hundred dark creatures, the posts jutted into the sky like the spires of Nurmengard, and eyes settled on her from the darkness beneath the pines at the pitch’s edge where the wards ended.

Fleur shivered and her heart picked up, hammering against her ribs. Time to leave this place.  She didn’t look back until she’d closed the door of Beauxbatons’ carriage behind her.

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