The wind tugged at Fleur’s dress. Its shimmering silver thread rippled like sunlight off the sea. The world dropped away from her bare feet into darkness. The gloom drifted past like thick winter fog. Countless tiny things swept past her in its haze.
‘Strange.’ Fleur reached a hand out into the dark.
A glass flower snagged on her fingers. Its petals glimmered yellow, white, blue, purple, red, then back to yellow again.
‘Gabby broke this years ago.’ Fleur studied the flower’s smooth stem. ‘Years.’ She released it and it drifted away into the dark.
Other little trinkets floated past. A bird of ice. A handful of wooden fish. Two trees of webbed stone, one dark, one light, each no taller than her hand.
‘Long lost or broken things.’
The tear-stained pages of a burnt journal eddied past her feet. A scatter of photos full of smiling girls swirled round her toes.
Emilie, Caroline, and me. A bitter heat curled around Fleur’s heart. Long since burnt to ashes. She swatted them away.
The gloom parted like a curtain. Countless figures wandered beneath her, strolling through an endless scatter of Fleur’s creations, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, embracing, smiling, kissing, and never looking up. She knew them without seeing any of their faces; a parade of girls in blue robes and faceless boys.
A silver cup clattered to her feet. Blurred words were etched upon its stem and she knew, without quite being able to read them, that they spelt her name.
Fleur plucked it from the floor with a smile. ‘I won.’ She glanced down at the crowd below. ‘I beat you all. Everything you wanted to be. I am.’
None of the figures looked up. The silver cup felt cold as ice beneath her fingers.
‘I won,’ she whispered. ‘I won.’
The crowd drifted away, leaving her upon the spire. And for a moment, as the last pair of them faded, she thought she glimpsed green eyes and a lopsided smile beside scruffy brown hair and chestnut eyes.
‘Perfect.’ Raw, ugly heat twisted the word into something sour. ‘As always.’
She hurled the cup into the dark.
Quiet laughter echoed back. It rose like a wave, pouring over her like spilt ink, and her spire crumbled out from beneath her feet.
Fleur jolted awake beneath her silver blanket.
Caroline’s shrill laugh echoed from down the hall of the carriage. A little heat seeped through Fleur’s bones and feather’s prickled just beneath the surface of her skin.
‘A stupid dream.’ She kicked her blanket away and wriggled out. ‘If I wanted a boy, I’d have one.’ Fleur locked the door with a flick of her wand and ripped her nightdress off.
Pale skin stretched from her reflection’s toes to her silver hair. Her eyes slid along each curve. She ran the fingers of her left hand down over the slight curve of her stomach between her thighs and brushed the fingertips of her right hand over her nipples.
Veela are always beautiful. She let a little of the heat in her bones creep out and watched the blue of her eyes darken to black. On the outside, at least.
‘I look perfect. As always.’ Fleur took a deep breath and let her hands fall to her sides. Her reflection’s eyes faded back to sky blue. ‘And I care more about real things than those shallow little girls. There will be someone who thinks the same.’
Green eyes flashed through her thoughts. Someone who doesn’t hate me for enthralling them and violating their precious personal space just to show I could.
Fleur glanced at herself in the mirror again. ‘Maybe if he saw me like this, he’d forget about that kiss and try to talk to me,’ she murmured. A sigh slipped out through her lips. ‘But then that would mean he’s just as shallow as all the rest.’
Don’t think about it, Fleur. She waved her wand at her wardrobe and let her underwear and school robes drape themselves over her. A thin strip of gauze tumbled from the pocket of her robes. Fleur caught it before they buttoned themselves closed and trapped it beneath her clothes.
‘Tempus.’ She grimaced at the numbers that appeared. ‘Still a little while until Gabby and Maman arrive.’
Fleur spread the gauze veil out on her bed and spun her rosewood wand round in her hand. ‘As simple a solution as possible, like Harry and the toy dragon.’ A small smile crept onto her lips. ‘Let’s see which of us has the best solution this time.’
Most of the enchantments will weave together. Just not the one trapping the bubble, I’ll have to put that on the other side so it doesn’t mess with the rest. She touched the rip of her wand to the gauze and murmured the words for the ten enchantments she wished to imbue it with, folding her them into one another until they formed a single blanket of magic.
Not as good as anything goblin made, but their possessive, stubborn magic lends itself better to strong, lasting enchantments than any human magic does.
She flipped the gauze over. ‘And now for the ward.’ Fleur drew a thin layer of her magic over the veil and let it seep into the threads upon the surface. ‘There. That ought to do it.’
Fleur pursed her lips, then strode into the bathroom, shoved the plug into the sink and twisted open the tap. Water swirled into the basin, creeping up the porcelain. A single silver hair floated on its surface. She wrinkled her nose and plucked it out, letting a little magic through to turn the water on her fingers to steam, then huffed the hair away.
‘Test time.’ Fleur dropped the veil into the sink and poked it beneath the surface with the tip of her wand.
A long, thin bubble formed along one side of the gauze and a faint shimmer of magic danced upon the other.
‘Perfect.’ She smiled, tugged the plug out, then draped her gauze over the edge of the sink to dry. ‘A little fragile, but more elegant than transfiguration or the bubble-head charm. And definitely better than choking down gillyweed.’
Fleur cast another tempus charm and frowned. Still a little time left, but if I walk slowly, then I might not be waiting long. Even Gabby can’t make maman too late.
She disillusioned herself and stepped out into the corridor.
The other girls huddled around the tables of the communal room. Caroline and Emilie clutched a copy of the Daily Prophet, giggling at the picture of herself and Harry.
A little heat trickled through her bones and Fleur’s fingers twitched toward her wand. Not worth it. Who cares about plain, shallow, little girls living empty lives?
A sharp, clear chill waited outside and a cloudless sky stretched overhead.
Cold. Urgh. Fleur cast three warming charms and waited for the heat to wrap itself round her like a blanket. Much better.
She wandered down from the castle into quaint, thatched buildings with frosted windows and bright-painted doors.
Shops lined the main street between the two inns. Pink-framed windows and heart-scattered white door loomed near the centre. Pink cushions, napkins, walls, and chairs clustered within. Near thirty couples crammed themselves inside.
A bit much pink. Fleur glanced at the sign. Madam Puddifoot has terrible taste.
A familiar scatter of brown hair appeared from the doorway of a shop half a dozen windows down the hill.
Katie Bell. Fleur tracked the English girl across the street. Another shallow little girl. She watched Katie dart across the street to link arms with another dark-haired Gryffindor. Fleur’s heart plunged down into her stomach. Harry went back to her after she hurt him. A faint, ugly heat coiled beneath her ribs. He didn’t even try to talk to me.
The dark-haired Gyffindor twisted to peer into a window and Fleur caught a glimpse of brown eyes and a full chest. A swooping, flood of relief carried Fleur’s heart back up where it was supposed to be.
Merde. She poked herself over the heart until its beat calmed. So much for taking a bit of time to let things calm down.
Fleur caught sight of Hogsmeade’s Post Office’s sign. ‘Tempus,’ she muttered, drifting toward the portkey point through the crowd of students. ‘Only a few minutes.
Gabby bounced on the balls of her feet beneath the sign.
Fleur released her disillusionment charm. How on earth did maman manage to get Gabby here early?
‘Fleur!’ Gabby bounded forward. One of the buttons on the chest of Gabby’s old blue coat popped free as she seized Fleur in a tight hug.
Fleur laughed. ‘Hello, Gabby.’ She stepped back and cupped her baby sister’s cheeks. ‘Look at you!’
She beamed and twirled. ‘I look like you now.’ Gabby forced the button back through its loop with a broad smile. ‘I need a new coat. Finally.’
‘You’ll still be my baby sister,’ Fleur cooed.
Gabby pouted. Her eyes flicked down to Fleur’s chest. ‘Younger sister. I’m not a little girl anymore.’ She giggled and smirked, then pushed down the collar of her coat far enough to reveal the pale corner of an envelope. ‘And you should be extra nice to me, now…’
Merde. Fleur gulped and glanced toward the post office door. Their mother waited just inside, beneath a shawl and a wide-brimmed hat. My letter…
‘Perhaps I should look after it?’ She stuck her hand out. ‘There’s not much room inside that coat now.’
Gabby shot her a look of pure innocence. ‘It’s ok, big sister, I’m going to take great care of it.’ A bright spark of mischief welled up in her blue eyes. ‘After all, you wrote about so many interesting things.’
‘Nuh uh, Fleur.’ Gabby stuck her tongue out and pulled the collar of her coat back up. ‘You’d just do something silly if I didn’t stop you, like hide away or avoid talking to him.’
‘No I wouldn’t,’ Fleur lied.
‘Yes, you definitely would.’ Gabby screwed her face up. ‘You’d go and hide, then, when you’ve beaten him in the tournament, you’d come back to France and never write to him. You’re silly like that.’
Fleur huffed. ‘You worry about your own boy problems, little chick.’
Gabby scowled. ‘I don’t have any boy problems. All my friends have boy problems. They think staring at cute boys, giggling, and chasing them around is such great fun. It’s rubbish.’
Fleur sighed. ‘I know, Gabby.’
‘But not now!’ Gabby beamed. ‘Now, I look like you and maman, I’ll have all the cute boys staring at me and then all my friends will want to talk to me again.’
For a little bit. Fleur mussed her baby’s sister’s hair and ushered her back toward maman. Then they’ll hate you. But I’ll be here, Gabby. And I always will be.