The Flame and the Flower

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Her fingers curled in cotton sheets. Harry’s tangled in her hair. His palm slid across the hot skin of her hip. His lips whispered down her neck. Heat pooled between Fleur’s thighs; need coiled within her.

A loud thud tore through Harry’s murmurs. Fleur’s eyes snapped open. A soft, warm dampness lingered between her legs. The cotton covers brushed across her stiff nipples and a faint wanton whisper curled within.

‘Fleur!’ Gabby banged her fist on the door. ‘Get up!’

One day, I will kill her. Fleur untangled herself from the covers, tugged off her top and her shorts, then tossed them into the wash. Cold air washed the mood from her. That was a good dream.

‘Fleur! Come—’

‘Bang on my door once more Gabrielle and I will tell Maman who cut the photos of Harry out of the English paper and uses them to bookmark certain pages in her steamiest romance novels!’

A quiet squeak echoed through door.

Fleur pulled on a nice matching pair of underwear and shook her hair out, then grabbed her wand and waved it at the door. ‘Now, you can come in.’       

Gabby edged in, pink-faced. ‘Er, hi Fleur.’

‘In.’ Fleur beckoned with her wand, then tugged her wardrobe open and rummaged for a modest blouse.

Too thin. Too thin. Too low-cut. Too thin. Fleur sighed and dug out an older one. Not the nicest, but at least I’ll be warm and nobody can stare down my top.

‘Are you mad?’ Gabby sidled in and shut the door behind her. The red rose on her cheeks. ‘Sorry, Fleur. It’s – er – it’s not just him. I mean—’

‘I’m not mad. I can’t exactly fault your taste.’ Fleur pulled on the blouse and a pair of dark trousers. ‘Although I will be very mad if you do anything more than hoard a few photos from the paper and clutch them while reading.’

A nervous giggle slipped through Gabby’s lips. ‘Speaking of Harry, when do I have to come with you to Britain?’

Fleur thrust her wand into her pocket and glanced at her clock. ‘A few days at most. Unlike you, I’m going to spend the summer with the real thing and not a stack of erotica loosely dressed as romance.’

And I’m going to enjoy it. Her heart squirmed. All that time and it’s going to be just the two of us.

‘The romance is good!’ Gabby crossed her arms. ‘You gave them to me.’

‘I did not. I let you take them, because I didn’t want Maman’s book collection in my room.’ Fleur smirked and wiggled two fingers at Gabby. ‘And we both know why you took them, my sweet, pure, baby sister.’

She flushed pink. ‘As if you were any better, Fleur. I’m not the one who bookmarked the pages to begin with.’ Gabby grinned. ‘Veela are sexual creatures, like sirens. It’s in our nature.’

Fleur laughed. ‘No we aren’t and you know it, little chick.’ She checked the clock again. ‘Now, shoo, Gabby, I must apparate to work.’

She pictured the plain, stone walls and floor of the employees entrance, then stepped onto the smooth marble floor.

A be-suited goblin strode from the far side of the room. ‘Right on time, Miss Delacour.’ He checked a gleaming, silver pocket watch. ‘With thirty seconds to spare, in fact.’ The goblin snapped it shut and tucked it away. ‘I am Agdol. You’re joining my team.’

Fleur nodded. ‘That’s what I was told in the letter.’

Agdol squinted at her. ‘I will say this only once. Here. Where there’s nobody else to hear. Gringotts doesn’t tolerate anything that harms its reputation. That list includes but isn’t limited to, theft, sexual liasons, fraud, incompetence, violence, or discourteous behaviour. If you find yourself on the receiving end or come across any such behaviour, bring it straight to me.’ He fiddled with his pocket watch. ‘In your case in particular, Miss Delacour, I would like to assure you any unwanted – er – advances, will not be tolerated. A fractious, distracted team is an inefficient one.’

She smiled. ‘I can take care of myself, but thank you.’

‘Excellent. Stick to the rules, meet expectations, and we’ll be just fine.’ Agdol ran his fingers through iron-grey hair. ‘Follow me, Miss Delacour.’

Fleur followed Agdol past bare, grey walls and numerous offices overflowing with paper to a steep staircase.

‘You won’t find yourself in here.’ Agdol waved a hand back at the offices. ‘These lower offices are for goblins just starting out at the bank. ‘Down the stairs, we’ve a spot for our curse-breakers to work without interruption and out the way. Up there is where we are.’

Agdol laboured up the small steps. Sweat trickled from beneath his grey hair and down to his jaw.

Fleur drifted up after him. I better be left alone to do my work, I just want to do what I have to do here, then be with Harry.

Agdol staggered down a corridor into another small office. ‘This is us. The Department for the Assessment and Appraisal of Mid-level Magical Objects from Southern Europe and Northern Africa.’

‘A mouthful,’ Fleur murmured.

‘But precisely accurate.’ Agdol plucked a roll of paper out of a small slot in the wall and pointed across at an empty desk. ‘That is you, Miss Delacour. We assign a number of magical objects to each member of the team depending on their specialty, but there’s no strict procedure. This is a team, if you’re unsure and you wish for a second opinion, ask another member of the team.’

Fleur peered around over the mounds of paper, stacks of crates, and polished wooden desks. ‘Who else is in the team.’

Adgol’s roll of paper slipped back to his side. ‘Unfortunately, Miss Delacour. It is just the two of us for now. There was an unfortunate incident with a cursed spoon several months back. The experience was traumatic and the fault was with Gringotts assignment procedure, so they’ve been offered a long, paid holiday as fair compensation.’

Fleur hid a smile. Good. Just me, then.

Agdol hurried toward her desk. ‘It’s pretty simple stuff, especially for someone with a reputation such as yours…’ He tapped his roll of papers on his palm. ‘I do wonder why you applied here, Miss Delacour. This position is comfortable enough, but you could’ve easily become a curse-breaker if you’d applied there.’

‘There’s a good chance I won’t be staying in the country long enough to complete the course.’ Fleur poked about in the drawers of her desk, turning up a blunt pencil and a chewed pen lid.

‘Ah.’ Agdol shuffled his feet. ‘That does make sense. Uncertain times at the moment. Still, you’re quite safe at Gringotts.’ A small grin spread across his lips. ‘I’m sure you wouldn’t want to lose another war.’

‘I think we have enough wars right now.’ Fleur dropped into her chair.

‘Quite so.’ Agdol plucked the white cloth off the top of a stack of crates. ‘For now, Miss Delacour, just check over the contents of one of these crates a day. Break down what sort of enchantments you can detect, fill in a form for each object, then, if there’s anything complex or possibly dangerous, send them to the curse-breakers.’ Agdol pointed his role of paper at a stack of forms. ‘Fill in one of those, then take it and the object downstairs. From there, it’s their problem, not ours.’

Fleur glanced in the crate. A odd assortment of objects languished on the cheap, pale wood. She pulled her wand out and levitated a bronze candlestick onto her desk.

Agdol nodded. ‘Excellent start. The last new employee we had used his bare hand.’ A small grin spread across the goblin’s lips. ‘He is enjoying a lovely all expenses holiday courtesy of Gringotts because there shouldn’t’ve been a top-tier magical object in the crate, but that’s not going to regrow him his hand.’ He glanced into the crate. ‘I shall leave you to it, then, Miss Delacour.’

Fleur pursed her lips, then traced her wand over the candle. A faint sheen of magic sat upon the metal like gloss. She sighed, then tossed it back into the crate. ‘An anti-dust charm.’ Fleur tugged a form over and summoned a quill and ink from somewhere behind the stack of crates.

Four pages of boxes and questions waited in stark black and white. Fleur etched a series of crosses and short answers in, flicking through the pages. She turned to the last and found a single, large box.

‘List and describe the enchantments upon the object.’ Fleur put her quill down. ‘Non.’ She wove her magic into the quill; it rose into the air, dipped itself into the bottle of ink, then began to write. ‘Much better.’

She glanced at the crate label. Crate XVII. Hadrumentum.

‘This is going to be boring.’ Fleur levitated a wooden comb out of the crate. A faint, ancient magic saturated the teeth, like the weight of the quiet in a muggle church. ‘The things I endure for you, mon Cœur.’ She dropped the comb back into the crate.

She poked around with her wand tip until a faint, quiet sensation of sharpness slid down her spine. Fleur raised out a small, bronze armlet emblazoned with faded thunderclouds. Interesting. She teased her magic into the enchantment.

Tiny teeth formed from the smooth metal and gnashed the air.

‘Lovely.’ Fleur tugged one of the curse-breaker forms off the top of the stack. A clump of paper as thick as her finger joined with a thick, iron clasp thudded onto her desk. ‘Non. That is absolutely not happening.’ She stripped the sharp threads of magic out from the rest and tossed the armlet back into the box. ‘Much better.’

Agdol growled and hustled out of his office. ‘What did you just do, Miss Delacour?’

Fleur swivelled round. ‘Am I not allowed to disenchant things?’

Agdol sputtered. ‘You’re not an official curse-breaker. If it’s done by you, then we can’t sell it as safe because one of our proper curse-breakers hasn’t looked at it.’

She pursed her lips. ‘So give me the official title.’

‘It’s a four year course.’ Agdol’s small dark eyes fixed on the armlet. ‘There’s an exam at the end.’ He touched a long, thin finger to it, and made a low rumbling sound. ‘Still, I can’t tell you’ve even stripped anything out of this. There’s no damage to the other enchantments.’

Fleur tilted her chin upward. ‘Of course there’s no damage.’

Agdol glanced from her, to the crate, then back again. ‘I very much dislike breaking with proper procedures, Miss Delacour. However, I saw your credentials when you applied and now I’ve seen you do something better than half the curse-breakers downstairs can.’ He crooked his finger. ‘I am not in a position to judge, though, so come with me.’

Fleur trailed him down the corridor, then down the stairs into dark, stone hall lit by a hundred bright, glowing, glass lamps.

Agdol cleared his throat and muttered to the goblin in the office beside the door. Fleur watched their heated, hissed conversation in gobbledegook out of the corner of her eye. The curse-breakers put down their wands and work one by one to stare at her save for a handful around a small, stone jar.

Agdol stepped out of the office. ‘This is Grakgin. He oversees the curse-breakers here. He has grudgingly allowed you to be tested.’

Grakgin shot Fleur a glower. ‘Weasley!’

A red-headed curse-breaker glanced up from the stone jar. ‘What is it, boss?’

‘Come up here into my office.’ Grakgin ushered them all in. ‘Bring that jar!’

The red-head wrapped the jar up in a thick white sheet and stomped across, cradling it to his chest. He glanced at Fleur, then set the jar on the desk. ‘Pleased to meet you. I’m Bill Weasley. Vice-head curse-breaker.’ He grinned and offered her a calloused hand. ‘Miss or Mrs?’

‘Fleur Delacour.’ She eyed the hand. ‘I don’t go in for that.’

‘Miss Delacour,’ Grakgin snapped. ‘Agdol says you have the credentials to be a curse-breaker, stripped the enchantments off one or our pieces like an expert, but decided you wanted to sit behind a desk with a feather instead?’

‘I might not be in the country for long enough to complete the course.’ Fleur shot Bill Weasley a look. ‘I’m only working in this branch of Gringotts because my boyfriend is British.’

Grakgin whipped the white cover off the stone jar. A worn, stone face stared up at Fleur. ‘This is a canopic jar, Miss Delacour. Empty. Collectors would pay very well for it, but only if it doesn’t do this.’ He poked it with his finger.

The jar’s stone face stretched open and screamed. A thin, piercing shriek filled the office for a few seconds.

Fleur winced. ‘Not a good alarm clock.’

Bill snorted. ‘No.’ He glanced at Grakgin. ‘Unfortunately, the enchantment is woven into the ones that keep it sealed and from degrading. I can’t tell them apart.’

‘Do your best.’ Grakgin crossed his arms. ‘If you do well, I’ll allow you to work as a curse-breaker on the objects you department is cleared to handle.’

Well, I suppose that will save me having to come down here. She glanced through the window. All the curse-breakers started and began staring hard at their desks. Which is definitely a good thing.

Fleur pulled out her wand and closed her eyes. Old, still, stubbornness saturated the cold stone like gnarled fingers clutching at life. Beneath it little threads wriggled like worms out of soaked dirt. She picked through them, tugging at each one until she found a coil of childish fear; a baby’s cry, petrified in stone. Fleur wove her magic through the enchantments, then plucked it out like a hair from her head.

‘Done,’ she said.

Bill choked. ‘What?!’

Grakgin poked the jar. He blinked, then poked it again. ‘Excellent work. I can’t even tell there was something there.’ He rummaged through the papers on his desk. ‘Fleur Isabelle Delacour. I will finish this form, then send it through the proper channels. Sign it when you get it. Keep it somewhere safe. You’re an associate curse-break on a six month probation. Weasley will check on you to make sure you’re getting on ok.’

Bill’s face brightened. Fleur felt his gaze sweep over her, then he grimaced and tugged his eyes back up to hers. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘You’re veela, aren’t you?’

She crossed her arms. ‘Yes.’

He nodded. ‘Wondered why it was so hard to keep my eyes off you. Not felt a tug like that since we were in that tomb in Sardinia. Big old gold statue of Astarte in there. Half the team got caught in its compulsion, if I hadn’t been able to drag myself free and destroyed it, they’d’ve killed each other over it.’

Well, at least he can think for himself. Fleur slipped her wand away and stepped toward the door. A good thing he’s the one keeping an eye on me and not one of those other idiots.

‘I’ll bring something interesting up from down for you when I have to swing by and make sure you’re not up to anything suspect,’ Bill called after her. ‘Make it more fun than just paperwork!’

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