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The bent nib of her quill scratched its way down the last page of a twelve page form, then rose up as the stack of paper thudded down to the pile on the floor. Fleur ignored it and levitated an obsidian dagger from her crate.
‘That looks boring.’ Bill Weasley’s voice came from just behind her.
Cold shock tore through her. She swivelled ‘round and smothered the heat of her change. ‘Do not do that.’
Bill raised his hands. ‘Sorry. Sorry.’ He dipped into his pocket and produced a small wooden cube. ‘Have a look at this.’ He waved a hand at the forms. ‘This all seems to be going fine, so I won’t waste your time going over it.’
Fleur plucked the cube from his fingers. ‘What is it?’
Bill grinned. ‘Take a look and see. It’s no fun if I tell you.’
She placed it on the desk and traced her wand over it. A strange sense of calm seeped from the cube and little lights danced across its surface. ‘It’s nice.’
‘Any idea what it does?’
Another test? Or just a puzzle he’s solved and wants to show off?
‘It calms.’ Fleur put her wand away. ‘Some kind of toy?’
Bill nodded. ‘A child’s toy. Pulled it out of a tomb near Larissa about three years ago with my team. There was a bunch of Macedonian gold in there and the goblins let me keep this as part of my bonus. I keep it at work for when things get frustrating.’
Fleur pushed it back toward him on the desk with one finger. ‘Am I still a curse-breaker?’
‘Well, you still have both your arms…’ Bill’s grin widened. ‘So you’re doing better than the last one.’
‘Yes.’ The clock chimed from Agdol’s office. ‘And now I have lunch, so… au revoir.’
‘Cold shoulder. Ouch!’ Bill laughed. ‘Fair enough. I’ll drop by in a few days so I can say you’re not running around unsupervised, but otherwise, I’ll stay out of your hair.’
‘Thank you.’ Fleur slid out of her chair and strode toward the apparition point.
‘Wait.’ Bill strode after her. ‘I—’
‘Don’t offer to buy me lunch,’ Fleur said. ‘I’m not interested.’
‘Okay.’ Bill tugged at the dragon fang dangling from his ear. ‘I mean, I wasn’t going to anyway, fairly sure you mentioned a boyfriend, but okay. No, I was going to offer you a challenge.’ He bounced the cube on his hand. ‘I’ve loads of little trinkets like this. Whole storeroom of them. Anything we don’t fully understand, we can’t sell, so we keep them all. You took apart that canopic jar like a pro, so I’m curious to see if you can help with the rest.’
Fleur glanced at the cube, then back at the stack of forms. ‘I suppose it will be more interesting than those.’
‘Loads more. I have absolutely no idea what most of them do!’ Bill watched the quill continue filling in boxes and snorted. ‘Not that you’re actually doing any of that.’
‘It is boring.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘Why would I choose to do it if I don’t have to?’
‘I don’t suppose you’d make one of those for me?’ Bill asked.
Bill fingered his earring. ‘Not really. I’m good at taking things apart, not so good at putting them together.’
‘I will make you one if you go away and let me have my lunch in peace,’ Fleur suggested.
He laughed and gave her a thumbs up. ‘Sounds like a deal. Enjoy!’ He hurried off toward the stairs.
He’s not so bad. Better than the others, at least. Fleur wrinkled her nose and hastened to the apparition point. And Harry is busy with exams, so at least I’ll have someone to talk to.
She apparated out into Diagon Alley, then strode toward the café with the blue umbrellas and settled into a seat in the corner. Fleur checked the hedge, concealed her hair, then propped the menu up to hide her face. ‘Carrot cake, crumble, chocolate cake, and that English abomination.’
‘Any drinks?’ The waitress bounced across. ‘Some tea?’
Fleur lowered the menu. A bunch of curse-breakers caught her eye from the street and drifted toward her.
‘I’m not a tea drinker.’ She swept an eye down the drinks list. ‘Just water, please. And two slices of chocolate cake.’
‘Back in just a minute.’ The waitress bustled off.
‘Miss Delacour, right? I’m Jim.’ One of the curse-breakers leant over the hedge and ran a hand through his thinning dark hair. His belly curved over the top of the neat, green leaves. ‘Saw you with Bill in the office the other day. He said you’d solved that annoying screaming jar?’
Fleur sighed. ‘I did.’
‘Fancy some company?’ Jim jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. ‘Me and the lads would be happy to show you ‘round. Or just me, if you’re not a fan of crowds.’
The waitress slipped a pair of plates and a glass of water onto the table. ‘There you go, Miss.’
Fleur picked up her fork and sliced the tip off both pieces of cake. ‘I’m quite happy by myself, thank you.’
‘Don’t be like that, love.’ Jim’s belly pressed a little further through the hedge. ‘We’re not all bad. We don’t bite or anything. Don’t sit all by your lonesome, come and have a natter with us. We’re still waiting for Bill, so there’s no rush with that cake.’
Bill shouldered his way through the group. ‘Jim. Stop bothering Fleur and get over here.’
Jim’s jaw clenched and he rolled his eyes. ‘Slave driver, our boss. Catch you some other time, huh, babe?’
Fleur took a mouthful of cake and slid the menu stand ‘round in between the two of them. The gaggle of curse-breakers guffawed as Jim slunk back into their midst. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched them stare at her as Bill tried to chivvy them down the street toward the pub.
‘Top effort, Jim!’ One gave him a double thumbs up. ‘You sure charmed the pants off her!’
The things I endure for you, mon Cœur. Fleur took another mouthful of chocolate. At least this cake is half good.
Footsteps shuffled along the hedge and someone cleared their throat. ‘Fleur?’ Bill peered over the top of her menu. ‘Thought I’d come apologise for that. They’re decent lads, but, well, a girl who looks like you makes them forget stuff, so, sorry on their behalf, I guess.’
‘That’s okay.’ Fleur slid the menu aside. ‘I’m used to it.’
Bill grimaced. ‘Yeah. I bet.’ He bounced the fang earring on the ball of his thumb. ‘Look. If they bother you, just give me a holler, yeah? They mean well, but sometimes their hormones bubble up.’ He grinned. ‘You should see them on digs. Six months in tents with not a girl in sight, the first poor lass they stumble over on the route back usually has to break a nose to get rid of them.’
Fleur let a little heat bubble up until her eyes darkened. ‘I will do a lot more than that, Bill. And my boyfriend, well, I don’t think he’d be pleased to see them trying anything like that.’
Harry would hate it. Like he hates anything that might steal his perfect wish away. A cold finger traced down her spine. Who knows what he’d do to them if they managed to make him feel threatened.
Bill shrugged. ‘I’d recommend he doesn’t start anything. My lads are pretty hardy.’ He held up his hands. ‘I’ll keep them in line, though. As best as those bastards can be kept in line. Fair warning, however, no ring on your hand means they see you as fair game.’ He grinned. ‘I believe you. No way a girl as warm and friendly and you is single, so I’ve got your back. That bunch may take a bit more convincing, though.’
‘Fantastic.’ Fleur mimicked Harry’s dry tone and slid the menu back across in front of Bill’s face.
He lingered, shuffled his feet, and laughed. ‘Alright then, Fleur. I’ll get gone. See you in a few days. I’ll bring something interesting for us to play with!’ His footsteps receded into the crowd.
She tugged her necklace out. ‘Azure.’
It bloomed into a tree, then spread into a mirror.
Harry’s face appeared. ‘Fleur!’ The left side of his mouth curved up into a grin. ‘How’s work?’
‘Boring.’ Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘But you can make it up to me.’
‘Oh I can, can I?’ A teasing glint welled up in his green eyes. ‘I’m fairly sure you chose to work there, so it’s your own fault.’
She shook her cake fork at him. ‘I had to come and keep an eye on you. Who knows what you’d get up to if I left you to your own devices.’
‘Well, you didn’t have to work at Gringotts.’ Harry frowned. ‘Why are you working? You don’t have to, do you?’
Fleur shrugged. ‘It was a lot easier to explain to my parents and I don’t have to justify a gap in my resume to anyone.’ She put the fork down and took a sip of water to wash the chocolate off her tongue. ‘Now. I have half an hour here to eat cake and think, then I’m going to go look at furniture. What should I be thinking about?’
Harry grinned. ‘Me?’
‘You and who?’ Fleur arched an eyebrow at him. ‘Katie Bell?’
He sighed. ‘Not a threat, mon Rêve.’ A faint shadow loomed in his eyes and he swallowed hard. ‘I would never, Fleur. Never.’
‘I was only joking, mon Cœur. I know.’
Not that I like how close she still is to you. Fleur watched the gleam fade from his eyes. But no, you’d never risk your sunset. Only a very stupid girl would throw away that kind of devotion because you still talk to someone you once dated.
‘Well, I don’t know what you mean?’ Harry’s forehead wrinkled. ‘Think about what?’
Fleur sighed and narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Don’t be frustrating, Harry. I am in this country for one reason. You. And we need to find those… horcruxes. So what should I be thinking about besides buying our house some furniture?’
Harry glanced to either side, then drew back into the shadows against a pale, stone wall. ‘Where the last one is, I suppose.’
‘You’re sure it’s the last?’ Fleur demanded. She plucked her cake fork off the plate and sliced off a thick swathe of chocolate icing, then let it melt on her tongue.
‘He would’ve made a certain number of them.’ Harry’s expression turned distant. ‘Three, I think. They need to be made with objects that are… precious to the creator. Three would be more than enough. I destroyed his diary, the diadem, and I don’t think I count. I wasn’t made deliberately; he wouldn’t keep trying to kill me if I was.’
So we need to find one more. Fleur tapped the end of her fork on the table. And I suppose it’s not going to just turn up somewhere convenient.
‘Where were the other two?’ she asked.
‘Lucius Malfoy had the diary. The diadem was hidden in the Room of Requirement.’
A jolt of ice shot through Fleur. ‘We were in there! I took Gabby there.’
Harry’s smile twisted into something thin and wry. ‘And I put it on my head and listened to it. It’s gone now. That’s all that matters.’
‘Right.’ Fleur took another mouthful of cake and shot him an icing-glazed smirk. ‘So, one of his followers had one and he hid the other.’
‘I’m not sure.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I suppose we can start with his other followers. Nobody will miss most of them.’
We. Fleur’s lips curved. That’s better. You’re my sunset, too, mon Cœur.
‘I will start to research. Gringotts knows all sorts.’ She waved her fork and blew him a kiss. ‘Au revoir.’
Why can’t I keep reading the next chapters? Have you seriously hidden one-third of a fanfiction story behind a pay-wall? I was enjoying this up to now.
A permanent pay-wall? No, I haven’t.
However, I’m sure you’ll survive waiting a few days until I release the next chapter for free. You may even use that time to contemplate how fortunate you are that there are writers producing enjoyable content for you to freely read, and even think about how supporting them might actually ensure they’re still able to create that content for you.
Food for thought, Joe.