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Agdol’s shadow paced the length of the blind in his office and muttered Gobbledegook drifted from the half-open door.
Someone probably broke his precious rules. Fleur crossed her ankles. But not me. Not this time, at least.
‘He’s pissed.’ Bill leant back in the chair at the edge of her desk. ‘All the goblins have been antsy recently. Something’s going on down below, I reckon. Voldemort’s stirred them up.’
Fleur glanced at her enchanted quill and quirked an eyebrow. ‘Down below?’
He threw a glance at Agdol’s shadow. ‘How much do you know about goblins?’
‘French history with them.’ Fleur watched him drag his chair around beside hers and raised her eyebrows when he got within arm’s length. ‘Why?’
‘So not much.’ Bill threw another glance at Agdol. ‘Not much less than me, though.’ He fiddled with the dragon fang, bouncing it on the ball of his thumb. ‘So, from what I’ve gathered. Gringotts is just, like, a trading outpost. All the branches are.’
‘Well.’ He shrugged and scratched his cheek. ‘They’re like the tips of the iceberg. Whole bunch of different clans and kingdoms down there. Takes a few years to start to recognise them from the Gobbledegook or the symbols. Some of them have cut off from the surface altogether, I think. Some are happy as things are. But most…’
‘Yeah.’ Bill shifted a little closer and lowered his voice. ‘Long memories, goblins. Some of it’s in their language, though, if you pay attention. They call the Alps Ukz Dar Danag which literally means peaks of our bones. And they’re opportunistic bastards, goblins, every time some wizarding conflict pops up they get all shifty. Reckon they’ll be thinking about another rebellion more and more the longer this war goes on.’
‘But they still live under the Alps.’ Fleur threw a glance at the clock as Agdol stomped from his office and out toward the apparition point, his briefcase in hand. ‘Half the wars against goblins were fought under the Alps.’
Agdol’s not coming back if he’s taken his case. She pursed her lips. If I can get rid of Bill, I can go check on the Notts.
‘Yeah, under them. They want their land above the surface back.’ Bill’s gaze dropped to her fingers and a faint frown passed across his face. ‘Lost the ring?’
‘No.’ Fleur slipped out of her seat on the far side and ushered her quills away. ‘It’s in the drawer.’
‘Not wearing it?’ Bill leant back in his chair. ‘I thought you liked it?’
‘My boyfriend didn’t like it.’ Fleur cleared her desk. ‘It’s an interesting puzzle, but not all that pretty.’
‘Right. Your boyfriend. Of course.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘If you’re done early, we can grab a drink or something. I’ve had enough of the idiots downstairs for one day. Bunch of dicks thought it’d be funny to trick me into a cursed wardrobe at lunch. It grabbed me everywhere. Never felt so violated in my life.’ He chuckled, then the laughter faded from his face. ‘Speaking of the war, though. You thought about my offer? I — well, look, I consider you a friend, even if you are French, and those Death Eaters are nasty pieces of work…’
‘Non.’ Fleur slipped her wand back through her belt. ‘To both.’
Bill sighed. ‘Will you at least promise to think about it if things get worse or let me come by with a friend or two and put up some wards for you?’
She laughed. ‘I would be surprised if your friends can ward things better than I can.’
‘They’ve had ten years experience warding.’ Bill grimaced. ‘You’re a really stubborn girl, you know. It annoys me almost as much as I like it.’
‘Ten years of experience stopping portkeys from working.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘When I left Beauxbatons, I could’ve joined the French version of your Unspeakables.’
‘Shit.’ Bill’s jaw dropped. ‘Guess I should warn my boys you’d do worse than slap them.’
Fleur let her magic darken her eyes a few hues. ‘Much worse. And I’m not the one they’ll need to worry about.’
Harry would kill them. His cold, hard green eyes glowed amongst her thoughts. He’d kill them all. And so he should. Anything between us and our sunset doesn’t deserve mercy.
‘I’m leaving.’ She locked her drawer with a tap of her wand. ‘I will see you tomorrow, if you feel the need to come and check I’ve not broken anything or lost any fingers.’
‘Right.’ Bill slid his chair back to its normal spot. ‘See you tomorrow, love.’ He strode away.
Fleur shot a dark look after him. Decent guy you might be, but you’re pushing your luck. The last thing I need is Katie Bell seeing you try something and start whispering in Harry’s ear. He panicked seeing us just having a conversation.
She took a deep breath and smothered a little flare of heat. ‘It wouldn’t help her, anyway. Harry will never choose her over me.’
Even if he seems to treat her almost the same. Their embrace spun ’round and ’round before her mind’s eye. He has no trouble getting all close with her. I bet he tells her his secrets too. He talks to her about me, after all.
Fleur closed her eyes and pictured a wild, unkempt field beneath lime trees and a dying pine, apparating into wet grass and scattered poppies. A tangle of dark-leafed, white-flowered rhododendrons screened everything but the chimneys and roof of the house from view.
She disillusioned herself and crept through the sweet-scented bushes to where a low wall ran between the wild grass and neat-trimmed flat lawn. The damp and cold soaked through her shoes and socks into her feet. That’s where I would put a ward, if I was going to put one up. She stretched her sense of magic out and found the endless abyss of the Unyielding Shield Charm beneath the thin layers of anti-apparition and portkey wards. Impressive, but with both Harry and I, not a problem. And there’s nothing to let anyone inside know someone’s broken through the wards, either.
Three loud cracks rang out across the grass. A trio of figures appeared before the wall a dozen steps along and the Fianto Duri wavered and vanished. Two silver masks shone either side of a blank white one.
‘I really don’t want to go back there.’ The middle figure’s silver mask gleamed in the sunlight. ‘They’ve not put any of the wards back up, sure, but the place is still a death trap.’
‘There’s nobody down there but caretakers, Rookwood.’ Nott’s dark robes faded away to reveal smart blue ones and he tucked his silver mask away beneath them. ‘Grindelwald killed all the real Unspeakables. First thing he did when we got involved in the war. Fudge and all the idiots that’ve run the place since then have refused to spend any money on restarting it.’
‘That we know of,’ Rookwood said. ‘Could be a couple down there waiting for me tomorrow. I can’t even wait until the evening, because I’m supposed to cause trouble during the lunchtime shift change as a decoy before I leave.’
Tomorrow lunchtime. Silver mask means inner circle, too. She scowled. I’ll have to be working then. Merde.
The third figure vanished with another loud crack.
‘Jugson’s pissed.’ Nott laughed a rough laugh. ‘Don’t think he’s pleased with the Dark Lord’s comeback.’
‘He’s pissed because the Dark Lord has stuck us out here and said we can’t talk to anyone.’ Rookwood balled his fists and kicked at the grass. ‘He wanted to go have some fun with muggles.’
Fleur pursed her lips, apparating back home onto the landing. ‘Mon Cœur?’ She knocked upon the door to the spare room. ‘I know you’re brooding in here.’
Harry pulled the door open and smiled at her. Runes of purple flame hovered in the air behind him. ‘You’re back early.’
Fleur watched the runes flicker and narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Did I interrupt you doing something dangerous that you decided not to tell me about?’
Harry twitched. ‘You interrupted me planning to do something dangerous I hadn’t quite gotten around to telling you everything about.’
Fleur pushed him back into the room with one finger and tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘What is it?’ She closed her eyes. A swirling ball of intent surrounded her like the eyewall of a storm; its winds throbbed like a racing heartbeat. ‘What does it do?’
‘Decreases my recovery time.’ Harry swept the runes away with his wand. ‘One of the ones in Salazar’s book. I’ve tweaked it a bit today to make sure it works for me.’
Fleur stole his chair and rested her heels on the desk, pulling her shoes off one at a time and setting them on the floor. ‘I visited the Nott house just now.’
‘Oh?’ Harry stepped behind her and massaged her back with his thumbs. ‘Anything interesting?’
‘Two things.’ Fleur closed her eyes and let out a little sigh as his fingers worked into her muscles. ‘One, the wards are strong, but not very smart, so we’ll have no trouble getting in. Two, Rookwood, who’s not on your list, seems to be in the inner circle and is slipping into the Department of Mysteries tomorrow.’
‘I’m not really doing much tomorrow,’ Harry murmured. ‘I could hang about and wait for Rookwood if the aurors don’t catch him first. I don’t know anything about him, do you?’
‘I know he’s going during the shift change for the aurors at lunch and he’s one of the ones that got broken out of Azkaban.’ Fleur leant her head back and gave him a warm smile. ‘That feels really good. Keep doing that.’
‘I guess I can ambush him.’ Harry yawned and pressed a kiss to her forehead, running his hands down her back until all the stiffness melted away from her body. ‘At the very least, it’s one less inner circle member to worry about.’
‘And no doubt you’re happy I can’t come,’ she accused.
‘A little bit.’ Harry shot her a rueful grin. ‘I like knowing you’re safe.’
A small pout crept onto her lips. ‘Well, I’m going to go take a shower and then play with my new toy.’
‘Ah.’ A gleam of curiosity sprang up in Harry’s eyes. ‘Your box.’
‘My box.’ Fleur bounced out of her chair and plucked her shoes off the desk. ‘But now, I could really use a warm shower, my feet are cold and wet.’
‘You want to cook something, or wait for Gabby?’ Harry called.
‘Wait for Gabby.’ Fleur poked her head back in through the door. ‘We might decide to go somewhere nice in France.
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