A warm finger prodded her in the cheek. Fleur turned onto her side and pulled the covers over her head.
‘Wake up, Fleur!’
Fleur rolled over and cracked open an eye. ‘You know I hate it when you do this. How did you even get in here?’
Gabby bounced on the balls of her feet and giggled. ‘The carriage lets in all Beauxbatons students.’
‘My room doesn’t.’ Fleur pulled her wand out, but found her wards intact. ‘And you didn’t take them apart. You’ve not been able to do that for a while.’
‘You warded it?’ Gabby eyed the doorframe. ‘Oh. I can feel it now. I thought you’d forgotten, or let me in.’
‘It’s like my room at Beauxbatons,’ Fleur said.
‘Well, I’m almost like you now, Fleur.’ Gabby poked her in the side. ‘I just walked in and nothing happened.’
Fleur considered that. I suppose, given we’re sisters, pretty similar, and both veela, we might be able to pass for one another now Gabby’s growing up. It means my ward isn’t as good as I thought, though, if it can be fooled like that.
‘I shall have to lock you out again.’ Fleur threw back the covers and moved in search of her uniform.
Gabby’s face fell.
Fleur traced her sister’s gaze to her breasts. ‘It takes time. They don’t grow overnight, Gabby.’
‘But it’s already been so long.’ Gabby pouted and clapped her hands to her chest. ‘I want to be like you, Fleur. You’re so much prettier than me. It’s not fair.’
‘You’ll be just as beautiful as me, Gabby.’ Fleur rummaged through her drawers for a clean bra. ‘And then you’ll come to realise it’s not as good as it seems.’ She cupped her breasts. ‘Boys see these and forget about everything else. Girls see that and get all riled up.’
‘Only people who are already pretty don’t care about being pretty.’ Gabby sulked, then her eyes lit up with mischief. ‘I bet Harry wouldn’t be so fond of you if you weren’t pretty.’
‘Harry doesn’t seem very fond of me anyway,’ Fleur said. ‘He’s not important.’
Gabby giggled. ‘Nuh uh, Fleur.’ She wagged her finger. ‘I know you better than that. And even if I didn’t, I still have a letter you sent me that says otherwise.’
‘No, you don’t.’
Gabby frowned and patted down her pockets.
‘I stole it back.’ Fleur smirked and tucked her wand into her waistband.
‘Oh.’ Gabby pouted. ‘I was going to have so much fun showing that to maman and papa, and then…’ Her eyes gleamed with silent laughter. ‘I was going to show it to Harry .’
‘And that, Gabby, is why I took it back.’ Fleur sighed. ‘I love you, little chick, but sometimes you’re just too much trouble.’
‘Spoilsport.’ Gabby’s eyes roved round Fleur’s room.
‘You won’t find it. It’s gone.’
‘You destroyed it?’ Gabby gasped. ‘But if the letter is gone, how is Harry going to know you love him and come to find you?’
Fleur laughed. ‘Yes, I burnt it. I think you’ve been reading too many books from maman’s romance collection again, Gabby. That isn’t how things work.’
‘They’re good books. You changed your mind about him, then?’
‘I am not chasing after someone who hates me,’ Fleur declared. ‘Even in maman’s books, it’s the wizard who runs after the witch.’
‘So you don’t want him?’ Gabby beamed. ‘Can I have him instead? He’s my age, that’s too young for you anyway.’
‘No,’ Fleur snapped. ‘You haven’t even met him, Gabby.’
‘He saved me from the lake.’ She sighed, pressed a hand to her heart, and collapsed on Fleur’s bed. ‘Like a true hero.’
Fleur snorted. ‘You know you weren’t in any danger.’
‘He didn’t. And he still saved me, so either he’s a hero, or…’ She looked up at Fleur from under her lashes. ‘Or he had some other reason for saving your darling, baby sister.’
He saved you because that was the right thing to do. Fleur’s heart twisted and tore. But he didn’t do it for me. He can’t have, not when he hates me.
‘Enough, Gabby.’ Fleur levelled a stern stare at her sister. ‘Enough.’
Gabby pouted. ‘Do you think you’re going to win?’
‘I’m going to win.’ Fleur smiled. ‘As always, remember? Where’s maman? There’s no way she would have let her little chick wander off on her own and you aren’t sneaky enough to get away yet.’
‘You don’t win when we play cards, I’m luckier than you.’ Gabby grinned. ‘Maman is speaking with Madame Maxime again. She has to go back to Carcassonne soon, but I’m almost as far ahead of everyone in my year as you were and I want to stay to watch.’
‘All the way to the end?’ A gentle warmth flooded through Fleur’s heart. ‘Really?’
‘All the way until the third task. It’s not so much fun at the chateaux without you and I know you must miss me.’ Gabby fluttered her eyelashes and kicked her feet against Fleur’s pillow. ‘Non?’
Lonely, huh, Gabby. Fleur mussed her sister’s hair. Me too, little sis.
‘I hope Madame Maxime lets you stay,’ she said.
‘She will. I got the highest marks in my classes since you took them.’
‘Still trying to beat me.’ Fleur stuck her nose in the air. ‘Nobody beats me, baby sister. Not even you.’
‘I’ll beat you next year in the real exams,’ Gabrielle declared.
In some of them, I expect you will. Fleur mussed her sister’s hair again. You’ve got softer magic than I do. If you pick the right sort of enchantment, it ought to be better than mine.
‘Let’s go somewhere?’ Gabby pleaded. ‘Your room is boring without all the little things you made.’
‘I can make you something if you want?’ Fleur offered. ‘It’s probably best to stay around here so maman knows where you are and doesn’t have to worry about you getting into trouble.’
‘I never get into trouble. And maman won’t worry about me when I’m with you.’ She looked up at Fleur, all big blue eyes, white teeth, and silver hair.
If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse her of using her allure on me. She could draw tears from a stone with that look.
‘Fine…’ Fleur caved. ‘Where would you like to go?’
‘Somewhere exciting,’ Gabby cried.
‘I can show you where they kept the dragons from the first task?’
Even Gabby can’t cause trouble there. It’s not far into the forest, either, so nothing dangerous should be around.
‘Let’s go.’ Gabby jumped off the bed and smirked. ‘We can sneak out.’
‘We can just ask…’
‘Sneaking is more fun. Look what I can do?’ Gabby pulled her wand out of her cleavage. ‘See?’
Fleur spluttered. ‘You keep your wand there!?‘
Gabby beamed. ‘I couldn’t before, but I can now, and it’s much less likely to be lost or stolen when it’s safely tucked away here.’
‘You can’t draw it very quickly,’ Fleur chided. ‘The best place to keep it is at your waist or up your sleeve.’
‘Fine,’ Gabby grumbled, ‘but we’re still sneaking.’
‘We can sneak, but you always get caught.’
‘Not anymore. Watch.’
Gabby twirled her wand in a familiar fashion and faded from view.
As good as mine, or very close. Fleur studied the slight shimmer. Never quite perfect, though. Our natural magic fights the intent of the charm.
‘Tell me you’ve seen anyone my age with a better disillusionment charm,’ Gabby crowed.
‘It’s very impressive,’ Fleur said.
But Harry’s is perfect.
‘Let’s sneak.’ Gabby giggled, opened Fleur’s door, and tip-toed out.
Fleur cast her own charm and followed her sister’s footsteps across the carpeted hall, then out of the carriage into the grass.
‘Which way?’ Gabby chirped, dispelling her disillusionment charm.
Fleur did the same, pointing her wand in the direction of Hogwarts’ quidditch pitch. Gabby took off, scampering across the wet grass without a care for her clothes.
‘Slow down, Gabby,’ Fleur called after her. ‘If you get lost in the woods we won’t ever find you again. You don’t want to be stuck here, the weather is terrible.‘
Gabby bounded ahead to the pitch edge and then into the trees, pausing every now and again to make sure Fleur hadn’t been left behind. Fleur had to hurry to keep track of her bright hair through the trees in front of her.
‘Gabby,’ Fleur called, when her sister managed to lose her among the trees. ‘Come back.’
Silence hung beneath the pines. Fleur’s heart began to beat a little faster. Apprehension curled in her stomach.
A shrill scream tore through the trees.
Fleur snatched her wand out and sprinted through the branches towards the sound. Sharp-needled boughs whipped across her face as she ran, despite her shielding arm, but Fleur ignored the stinging. She rounded a tree and hit something soft, bouncing off and rolling across the floor.
‘Fleur,’ Gabby groaned. ‘Why did you hit me?’
‘Why did you scream?’ Fleur demanded, pulling herself up on a nearby tree, keeping her wand levelled.
‘Look!’ A note of horrified fascination crept into Gabby’s voice.
Fleur twisted away from the tree, and brushed her hair out of her eyes. She followed Gabby’s line of sight. Blackened bones, charred and twisted by fire, covered by strips of melted, scorched flesh lay crumpled beneath the trunk of a pine.
A skeleton. Fleur’s blood chilled. And you don’t set fire to a body unless you’ve a very good reason not to want people to find it.
‘Stay away from it, Gabby,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Actually, go get Madame Maxime, she’ll know what to do.’
Gabby hurried off, running back in the direction they had come.
Fleur edged a bit closer and studied the skeleton. Shattered and cracked bones slumped beneath the branches of the tree, loose teeth gleamed amongst the scattered, dead needles, and only a few strips of charred flesh dangled from the dented skull.
Burnt. And I found the body. Chill fingers groped their way down Fleur’s spine. Rita Skeeter will have a field day with this. Part veela witch seduces and murders British wizard. At least it’s been here too long to be Mr Crouch.
‘Fleur!’ Maman’s voice cut through the trees. ‘What’s going on? Gabrielle was rambling about skeletons.’
Madame Maxime stomped into the small clearing and gasped. ‘Expecto Patronum,’ she whispered. A huge, silver swan bust from the tip of her wand. ‘Go to Dumbledore, tell him we have discovered a body on the school grounds, but we don’t know who it is.’
The swan of silver mist shimmered, then soared off towards the castle.
‘How did you find this?’ Madame Maxime asked.
‘Gabby wanted to go somewhere, so I offered to take her to where the dragons were,’ Fleur said.
‘You shouldn’t have given in, Fleur.’ Maman folded her arms. ‘You always do whatever Gabrielle asks without considering the consequences.’
‘It is a good thing she did,’ Madame Maxime said. ‘This is not Barty Crouch the Triwizard Judge, the skeleton is the wrong height. Yet they haven’t been dead for more than a few months.’
A bright, flame-edge red flash burst through the branches and Albus Dumbledore stepped into the clearing. His phoenix perched upon his shoulder. Its quiet soft song lifted Fleur’s heart and banished thoughts of Rita Skeeter.
‘That is not Barty Crouch,’ Dumbledore said. ‘I have a few questions, Miss Delacour, then it would be best you returned to the carriage and remained somewhere the aurors can find you in case they require answers of their own.’
‘You cannot be suggesting they will suspect her?!’ Maman drew herself up. ‘If anyone accuses my daughters–‘
‘I am implying nothing of the sort, Madam Delacour, but they will have questions about the body that your daughters can answer.’ Albus Dumbledore drew his wand; a knotted, engraved length of pale wood and cast some powerful wards in a tight circle around the body. ‘Did you only just find this skeleton, Miss Delacour?’
‘Yes. Gabby screamed and I came running after her and found it.’
‘Have either of you touched the body?’
‘No.’ Gabby’s whisper came from right behind Fleur.
Fleur flinched. ‘Who is it?’
‘I don’t know,’ Dumbledore said. ‘But we will find out. I can assure you that it is not a student, the wards of the school would have notified me the moment one of them left the grounds without permission and I know for fact they are still working as of just before the wand-weighing ceremony.’
‘That was some time ago, Albus,’ Madame Maxime said.
‘It tells me that they’ve not decayed over time enough to fail and nobody has tampered with them in over a decade, which I would’ve certainly noticed. Whoever this poor unfortunate is, he is neither staff nor student.’ The old wizard tucked his strange wand away to run his fingers through his beard. ‘That does rather lead to the question of what he was doing here. Alastor has been growing increasingly concerned of late, but I had no evidence to lend credence to his theories but the shadows in his foe glass.’
‘I will have to warn my students, Dumbledore,’ Madame Maxime said.
‘Of course, Olympe. I would expect and advise nothing less.’
The phoenix let out a low cry. ‘I must notify our ministry and the aurors,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Please do not try to touch anything, the area is quite strongly warded.’
A second flash of fire washed over the clearing and the old wizard was gone.
‘Can we go back to the carriage?’ Gabby asked. ‘I don’t like this place, it feels angry… and cold.’
Fleur glanced at her younger sister. She can still feel the magic after a month? She shivered. That means it had some real feeling in it.
‘What do you feel, Gabby?’ Maman asked.
‘I don’t want to.’ Gabby shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. ‘Please don’t ask.’
‘It’s important, Gabby.’ Fleur took her sister’s hand. ‘Just listen to what you can feel for a minute.’
Gabby shuddered, but closed her eyes. ‘It’s distant,’ she muttered. ‘Far away and fading, but it must’ve been so strong.’ She shivered and hunched into herself. ‘It’s like an echo. I don’t think they died here, but the magic’s still clinging to them. It’s like thick, black smoke.’
Fleur stared. You always describe magic like clothes, in colours and feelings. What on earth is this?
‘And it’s cold,’ Gabby whispered. ‘It’s so cold, like ice when your skin sticks to it. I – I can’t touch it. I don’t want to stick to it. I don’t want to touch it anymore. S’il vous plaît, Fleur.’
‘It’s ok,’ maman said. ‘Stop listening.’ She turned to Fleur. ‘Take her back to the carriage and keep her mind off it. I need to talk to Madame Maxime about aurors. Nobody talks to you two without asking my permission, especially in this country.’
Fleur led Gabby back toward the pitch, heading straight for the light, rather than the circuitous route toward the carriage.
Gabby whimpered and dug her heels in. ‘Not that way,’ she muttered. ‘It’s stronger that way.’
‘Can you lead me to where it’s strongest?’ Fleur asked.
Gabby grabbed Fleur’s hand with both of hers and clutched it tight. She tip-toed through the pine needles until they came to stop only a few metres from the edge of the quidditch pitch. Gabby’s shoulders trembled.
‘Let’s go,’ she pleaded. ‘Please, Fleur, let’s go. It’s angry. It’s so angry. There’s so much hate. I can feel it inside, like a blade of ice twisting in my chest. And it’s empty underneath, like – like sitting outside in winter until the cold and the dark seeped so far into you that you never felt anything else again.’ She shuddered and buried her face in Fleur’s shoulder. ‘I’ve never known anything like this.’
‘Let’s go, Gabby.’ Fleur clasped her sister’s hand between hers and drew her away. ‘Let me show you something magical. You can listen to the magic on it and see what you think. It’s very nice magic.’
Gabby clung to Fleur’s hand. An awful, dazed emptiness hovered in her eyes.
Merde. She’s not been overwhelmed like this since she was little. Fleur bit her lip and hurried her sister up the stairs, pausing when they swung away, and being careful to step over the points that all of the other students avoided.
They passed a pudgy, shy boy Fleur’d seen in the vicinity of Harry’s former friends. Beneath the glaze of her allure, Fleur glimpsed the strangest, strongest mixture of anger and sadness in his eyes.
The door wouldn’t form when Fleur tried to create it. Merde. Come on. Come on. Come on!
Gabby waited, staring up at the ceiling with unfocused eyes. Fleur squeezed her hand, but her sister felt a thousand kilometres away.
Open, you stupid room! Heat bubbled up from her bones. Feathers slid from beneath her skin in short, pearl-white tufts. Fleur pulled her wand out, but the door formed before the first spell slipped from her lips.
She tugged Gabby inside.
‘Fleur.’ Harry dragged his eyes down from the walls. Silver photo frames faded from them. A strange distance seemed to yawn open between the two of them. ‘I’ll leave the room to you and your sister.’
He dipped his head, glancing at Gabby, then pausing to study Fleur’s face. Concern flickered across his expression. ‘Are you ok, Fleur? Your eyes… they’re… darker.’
‘We’re fine.’ Fleur smothered the heat of her change and felt the feathers slip back beneath her skin. ‘Gabby just needs something to keep her mind off things.’
Silver frames began to form on the walls.
Harry’s eyes flicked up. ‘I should go, then.’ He darted from the room.
Gabby tugged on Fleur’s arm. ‘You should have made him stay, Fleur.’
‘Hush, little chick.’ Fleur let go of her sister’s hands and shifted the room into her sister’s bedroom. ‘Listen to the magic here.’
‘It’s ok. This is the Room of Requirement. Harry Potter showed it to me after the Yule Ball, I told you a little bit about it in my letter, but not much, I didn’t want to give away his secret.’
Gabby closed her eyes, then gasped. ‘It’s amazing. I can’t pick anything out, there’s so much!’ She bounded forward to the jar beside her bed, then pouted. ‘My secret sweets stash isn’t here.’
Fleur laughed. ‘We’re not really home, Gabby. This is a recreation based on what I want. The room can only mimic objects, it can’t create anything like food.’
‘Well then let’s go back.’ Gabby pulled a face. ‘I need something warm to drink. Something warm, and sweet, and tasty.’ Fleur groaned. ‘Which means you intend to drink what little’s left of my hot chocolate stash, you greedy little bird. That would’ve lasted me a week and you’ve gone through it in a day.’