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Light spilt in through her window, bright and offensive. Fleur scrunched her eyes shut and found herself staring at a wall of bright red. Her heartbeat pounded against the back of her skull, the taste of last night’s wine curdling on her sandpaper dry tongue.
Too much wine. Fleur groaned and buried her face in her pillow, but the thudding at the base of her skull continued. Urgh. Stupide. You got carried away.
She conjured a glass of water and took several small sips, directing a strong charm at her mouth and the pounding faded from her head. And just like that all the problems of my morning are gone. Something niggled at her brain, tugging at her thoughts like she would pick at a loose thread. Oh, merde. I kissed a fourteen year old.
Fleur moaned and buried her face back into her pillow. ‘And it was my first kiss.’ She rolled onto her back and clutched the pillow to her breast, staring up at the plain ceiling. ‘At least it was nice. Harry would’ve enjoyed it.’
‘Merde.’ Fleur squeezed her eyes shut and kicked her feet against her bed. ‘I didn’t tell him it wasn’t my allure. He’s going to think I enthralled him. Merde!’
It doesn’t matter. He probably would’ve turned out like all the other boys anyway. She took a deep breath. Don’t think about it. Fleur studied the cracks in the white-painted ceiling. You’re the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Harry’s murmur rose up from among her thoughts and a smile slipped onto her lips.
‘This is so stupid. I sound like Emilie or Caroline.’
What do I do? He must hate me, thinking I forced him to kiss me for a joke. She clenched her fists and tried to smother the wrench of her heart. People like us don’t trust easily, now he must not trust me at all.
‘Fleur?’ Madame Maxime hammered on the doorframe. ‘Fleur?’
And now it’s time for my scolding. Merde. Merde. Merde.
‘One moment.’ Fleur sighed and kicked her crumpled dress into the bathroom, shoving her shoes back into the small cupboard beside the door and flicking her wand at the door’s lock. ‘Come in, Madame.’
Madame Maxime swept into the room and took a seat in the corner. ‘I did not see you return from the castle after the Yule Ball.’
Fleur perched on the edge of her bed and pulled her duvet around the shoulder of her pyjamas. ‘The Disillusionment Charm. I left early.’
‘You did not return here early, neither Emilie nor Caroline saw you.’
I see Emilie and Caroline didn’t even wait until this morning to start spreading gossip. If they’d actually managed to get dates, they wouldn’t have had time to make things worse for me.
‘I spent some time with a friend,’ Fleur said.
Madame Maxime’s shoulders stiffened like she’d been petrified. ‘Your friend was also your choice of company and fellow champion Harry Potter, I assume.’
‘You assume correctly.’
‘He’s fourteen, Fleur. I can understand your desire to have a platonic date, one that is not affected by your natural magic, but sneaking off with him for the evening… I cannot and will not condone such behaviour. He is a child.’
A faint heat oozed through Fleur’s bones and feathers prickled beneath her skin. ‘I think you should’ve put far less trust in what you’ve heard about my evening than it seems you have, madame.’
Madame Maxime’s eyes flicked to faint white tufts sliding through the skin of Fleur’s forearms and back up to her eyes. ‘Oh? So you weren’t seen by your fellow students disappearing off to the abandoned upper floors of the castle?’
‘I’m sure we were,’ Fleur snapped. ‘I wanted to spend the evening away from gossiping, shallow individuals who had nothing better to do than cast aspersions at their betters. Harry was kind enough not to leave me on my own. My only regret of the evening is failing to avoid them half as well as I’d hoped.’
And kissing Harry. Fleur’s heart plummeted down somewhere into the pit of her stomach. Or kissing him and leaving before he understood why I did.
Madame Maxime’s jaw dropped and the tips of her ears turned red. ‘You mean to say you spent the whole night talking?’
‘Until I left at a little before midnight.’ Fleur buried every image of mistletoe and candles beneath several years of patience.
What is the point of asking me these ridiculous questions if she is not going to believe my answers?
Her headmistress steepled her fingers. ‘I believe you. However, you showed poor judgement in directing your allure at him so blatantly, then again in attending the Yule Ball with him. You’ve compounded it by vanishing with him for the evening. Rumours are already flying.’
‘Let them.’ Fleur let her disdain pour off her tongue. ‘I’ve never cared before. I won’t start now.’
I hope Harry doesn’t believe them.
‘It might be best for the two of you to let things calm down before spending too much more time in each other’s company.’ Her dark eyes softened. ‘I approve of your friendship, Fleur, Harry Potter stands a better chance than most at understanding the trials you suffer because of your heritage, but neither of you have made things easy for yourselves.’
She might be right. I need to sort out my head before I make things even worse.
‘You should probably read this.’ Madame Maxime deposited a copy of the Daily Prophet in Fleur’s hand. ‘Throw it away once you’re done. I don’t want to read anything else in it.’
Part-veela rival charms Boy-Who-Lived. Fleur snorted. There’s no such thing as a part veela.
‘I don’t think I need to bother reading it,’ she said.
Rita Skeeter’s sordid work, no doubt. Fleur tossed it into the bin. Anyone who believes that trash isn’t worth listening to.
‘I’ve already written a letter to your father in France to reassure him there is no truth behind this. I’m glad to discover this was also the truth.’
Fleur favoured Madame Maxime with a smile. ‘Thank you.’
‘I suggest you focus on preparing for the second task. It will help take your mind off this and allow time for the air to clear for both you and Mr Potter. He has his own solution to worry about, too.’ Madame Maxime tapped her huge fingers on the top of her knee. ‘Is there anything you would like assistance with?’
‘How much are you allowed to give?’ Fleur asked.
Madame Maxime coughed and glanced away. ‘As long as I’m not directly helping you with the task it’s not cheating.’
Fleur weighed up her options. Better to win. If they’re smart, they’ll all take advantage, too.
‘I need to adapt the bubble-head charm for long and repeated underwater use,’ she said.
‘Not the best choice for a long underwater venture in which you might encounter dangerous creatures.’ Madame Maxime frowned. ‘The more power put into the charm, the more air compressed into the bubble, and the more dangerous the reaction when the bubble bursts.’
‘Is there an alternative?’
‘Transfiguration, or enchanting an item of clothing to convert water to breathable oxygen would be your best solutions. The latter especially, given your skill at enchanting and charming. There’re plenty of pieces of spell-weaving capable of creating such an effect, but I suggest simplicity. You don’t need it to last the rest of your life.’
I’ll probably be very busy if I’ve got to create something almost from scratch. That’s good. I need some space before I talk to Harry again and being busy will keep my mind off things.
‘I shall leave you to it.’ Madame Maxime withdrew.
Fleur plucked a thin piece of gauze out of her wardrobe. ‘You’ll do. I never wear you, anyway.’
A light tapping echoed from the window. Fleur flicked her wand at the curtains and the window. A snowy owl perched on the thin ledge.
First, though, I’ll reply to Gabby. Fleur tugged a wad of parchment out of the envelope. This looks like an essay. Gabby must be lonely.
Fleur’s welter of feelings swirled and she picked up her wand. ‘Well, if you want a long reply, you’re about to get more than you bargained for, Gabby.’
She tapped her wand’s tip against the silver-nibbed quill lying on her desk. A small ring of runes round the quill’s shaft glowed a faint white and it swooped off the desk to hover over the stack of blank parchment, beginning to write.
Fleur twirled her rose-wood wand over herself and slipped out of her room.
Emelie and Caroline sat in the communal part of the carriage, sniggering over a copy of the Daily Prophet.
She squashed the heat that flared through her body and the feathers that slipped from under skin. ‘Credidero,’ she whispered, looping her wand in a circle at each of the girls.
Cassandra’s Curse. Now nobody will believe a word either of you say.
A small smile crept onto her lips and Fleur swept out of the carriage, heading for the distant library tower.
At least Harry’s never in there. Fleur’s stomach knotted and her heart flopped about inside her chest. He won’t see me. Her Disillusionment Charm wavered and frayed. Even if I half want him to.
Viktor Krum slumped over a stack of transfiguration books and what looked like a detailed anatomical study of some kind of fish.
So he’s aware of the second task, too.
He glanced up as she passed, blinking away a faint glazed look and covering his notes. Fleur dipped her head in greeting.
‘Someone took out the best book about aquatic magical creatures.’ Hermione Granger’s distinctive voice drifted from among the shelves. ‘Madam Pince told me it was Beauxbatons’ champion that took it out. She shouldn’t be allowed to take books out of our library, isn’t one school’s knowledge enough for her?’
‘We do not have access to our own libraries, Hermione.’ A grin hovered at the corners of Viktor Krum’s mouth. ‘It is a good sign, da. Fleur Delacour is winning. If she has the book we want, it means we’re on the right track.’
Yes it does.
‘It’s still a bad idea.’ Hermione sniffed. ‘She’s already bewitched Harry and he was joint second with you. You’re probably her next target, Viktor.’
‘You think because she is veela, she will manage to charm me into letting her win?’ Amusement danced in Viktor Krum’s eyes. ‘I am from Bulgaria, we have a proud tradition of veela witches there. They rarely stoop to such a thing. Besides, I am very competitive, I do not let anyone beat me.’
‘And Harry? She used her allure on him, everyone knows that.’
Not like that, I didn’t. Fleur ground her teeth. And it didn’t affect him at all, anyway.
‘He didn’t seem enthralled by her at the Yule Ball,’ Viktor said. ‘You can tell when someone is under the charm of a veela, it shows in their eyes, like any compulsion. I’ve never seen it in his. Harry Potter seems even more resistant than I am, so even if she tried, she must’ve failed. It hardly matters given the location of the next task. A veela’s at a disadvantage in such conditions.’
‘Only if you manage to transfigure yourself,’ Hermione said.
‘Exactly why I should be concentrating on learning the details of this diagram and not getting distracted talking with pretty girls.’
Hermione huffed and turned pink.
Viktor Krum laughed. ‘It’s only a partial transfiguration, I’ll be fine, but we should keep our voices down. Fleur Delacour is in the library and might come back this way.’
Hermione perked up. ‘Maybe she brought the book back.’
A low chuckle drifted through the bookshelves from Viktor Krum’s seat. ‘It won’t be returned until after the task.’
Of course it won’t be. Fleur skimmed the titles of a surprising number of books on enchanted items that turned water breathable. A study of the Greek wizarding city of Atlantis. The one that collapsed into the sea when the volcano on Santorini erupted over a millennia ago. They produce a lot of aquatic water plants for potions’ ingredients, so they ought to know something about it.
She plucked the book off the shelf and flicked through the pages. ‘The Divers’ Charm… it takes oxygen from the water and keeps a thin, constant layer of it on the reverse-side of some cloth.’ Fleur read through the detail beneath. ‘That’ll do.’
Back to the carriage.
Fleur hurried from the library and slipped along the corridors.
Heads began to turn as she passed the Great Hall.
Merde. She reached for her wand. My Disillusionment Charm’s still gone.
Fleur fixed a polite smile on her lips and strode through the hall. A head of unruly, black hair waited at the far end of the Gryffindor table.
What will I tell him if he sees me? Her smile fell from her face. He’ll be angry. He thinks I tricked him into kissing me. And there are so many people here. Her stomach churned and whirled. I don’t know what to say...
Fleur took a deep breath and turned and walked back the way she’d come.
It’s for the best. If I talk to him before I’ve straightened things out with myself, I’ll only make a mess of it.
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