"Oh, just look at them!"
The measuring tape snapped around Gabrielle's ribcage and she jumped, twisting her lips into a frown.
"Like little bee bites, eh?" Laughter echoed around the shop as Madame Girard stretched the tape out again, and Gabrielle shot a glare at her mother.
"Not like Fleur at her age, is she, Apolline? Such a beauty that girl was!" She waved her hand in front of Gabrielle's chest and laughed again. "They were big as coconuts before her fifth year at Beauxbatons, weren't they? Oh, Gabrielle, don't look like that," she added, smiling at her and calling the measurements back to her assistant. "Come tell your daughter how beautiful she is, Apolline. I've made her angry."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at Madame Girard. "I'm not angry," she muttered. Getting angry with someone who commented on Fleur's beauty would be like getting angry the hundredth time the sun came out and you'd forgotten your sunglasses. The first time would make you angry, maybe even the tenth. But after a hundred, all you could do was let the light wash over you and try not to squint too hard.
"Darling, are you sure you don't want to go with the taffeta?" Apolline approached Gabrielle with a pinched sigh, reaching out to finger the stiff satin of the dress. "It looked so much nicer."
"It was bunchy," said Gabrielle, scratching at her nose as Madame Girard shook her head.
"No, no, Apolline, you want this satin. The bride is wearing chiffon, isn't she?"
"Organza. Bit of tulle at the waist."
"Hm. Well, then taffeta on Gabrielle will overshadow her sister," said Madame Girard with a pointed look.
Gabrielle bit her lip, turning in front of the mirror to see how the dress swished at the bottom. She wrinkled her nose. It looked like fishing net.
"Yes, you're right," sighed Apolline, her fingertips light on Gabrielle's shoulders as she turned her back to face them. "You're beautiful, darling, but it's just not your day, is it?" Her mother smiled at her, patting her cheek.
Gabrielle pressed her lips together. Fleur was the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen. She had the charm, the talent, the coconuts, and Gabrielle had only the privilege of learning from her. At least, that's what their mother always said. See the way she's walking? her mother would ask, pointing at Fleur ahead of them. Always keep your spine straight like that. No, darling, don't slouch! No man wants to marry a woman who slouches. Most days she didn't mind, but some days she did.
She sighed, straightening her shoulders as she looked intently at her reflection in the mirror. What would it take, she wondered, to look as good in this dress as Fleur would? She arched her back and lifted her chin, appraising her body. It would take bigger breasts, that was for certain. Longer legs, maybe; as it was, the skirt dropped nearly to Gabrielle's ankles instead of swaying gently below her knees. Brighter hair would be a plus, too. Maybe she could convince her mother to wave her wand over it for the wedding; her hair was the colour of dirty dishwater compared to Fleur's.
She turned around and peered over her shoulder at her flat bottom, pursing her lips together. Fleur's bottom was rounded and firm, somehow managing to look brilliant in everything from skirts to robes to jeans or even pyjamas. Just enough to give you something to hold on to, eh? she'd heard one of Bill's brothers telling him with a wink and a rude hand gesture one day when they were visiting. She wondered if boys would ever say that about her bottom. She wondered if she wanted them to.
She glanced over at her mother and put her hands on her hips. "Why can't I just wear regular robes?" she asked, and her mother rolled her eyes at Madame Girard.
"Someday you'll understand how important it is to look like a lady," Apolline told her, smoothing the fabric down her arms and stomach again before stepping back to have another look. "Let's take it, Lucie," she said to Madame Girard. "She's not going to fill out overnight, anyway, so this will have to do."
Fleur was beautiful in the way statues were beautiful: cold stone moulded into smooth perfection. She never had a hair out of place or a blemish on her skin. She never let her lipstick fade or her stomach sag. She walked tall, with long legs that could play any sport or accomplish any task with barely a bead of sweat breaking on her brow. She danced like a princess and never stumbled in high heels. She was everything Gabrielle wanted to be, and everything she never would be.
Gabrielle hated women like that.
Shell Cottage glittered around the edges, as though Veela magic lined its very walls.
Luna opened her eyes to the glow and blinked twice, then lifted her hand to her face to rub the sticky blots of sleep from her eyelashes. She struggled to sit up and instinctively reached for her necklace, her fingers clawing at bare skin.
"It is on the table beside the bed," a quiet voice said, and Luna glanced over to see Fleur sitting by the door. Luna looked back at the table and smiled to see her favourite butterbeer-cork necklace lying undisturbed beside the lamp. "How are you feeling?"
Luna thought it over. "A bit purple," she decided, licking her dry lips. "Thank you for rescuing me," she added after a moment. "That was very nice of you."
Fleur laughed. "I did not do the rescuing," she said, tapping a bottle of Skele-Gro in the pocket of her apron. "I can only do the fixing, a little bit."
"Oh. Yes, well, thank you for fixing me. Was I terribly broken?" she asked with a frown.
"You are very strange," said Fleur, "but not terribly broken, no." She paused. "You remind me of my sister, a little bit. Her hair is nice like yours, and she is very brave."
Luna thought about that. "I don't feel very much like your sister," she decided after a moment, "but then, I've not properly met her."
"She was at the wedding," said Fleur, smiling, "in the satin gown. So beautiful."
"Oh." Yes, Luna remembered. "She doesn't like you, you know," she said sadly, reaching for the necklace and fastening it around her neck. "It's too bad. If I had a sister, I think I would like her. But maybe if her dress was prettier than mine, I'd not like it. Difficult to say, really, since Daddy always said that Crumple-Horned Snorkacks made better siblings than humans." She thought for a moment. "I think a Snorkack would certainly look prettier in my necklace than I do."
Fleur stared at her.
"It must be difficult to have a human sister," Luna continued. "I think I'm supposed to be sisters with the other girls in my House, but they don't like me very much either." She shrugged. "I don't know why. Maybe it's because of my necklace." She looked pointedly at Fleur. "Maybe it's because of your dress."
"I…" Fleur opened her mouth to speak but then seemed to think better of it, dropping her eyes to the floor. "Yes. Maybe it is."
Trestle benches. In the name of Merlin and all the ancestors of Pureblooded families across the wizarding world, they were expected to sit on trestle benches.
Narcissa moistened her lips carefully so as not to disturb the cranberry red on them, smoothed a hand above her right ear to ensure not a strand of hair had slipped out of place during her moment of shock at her surroundings, and glanced down the row of spectators.
"Sit, darling," drawled Lucius in her ear, his hand firm at the small of her back. "You're blocking the view."
She turned icy eyes on him and took in a deep, slow breath through her nostrils, lifting her chin as she exhaled. Making a show of sweeping her robes underneath her, she gingerly lowered herself to the brittle, makeshift stands from which spectators from three wizarding academies – including many very noble families – were expected to watch the First Task. She shook her hair off her shoulders and glanced around. The Riasanovskiis were here… yes, yes, that was to be expected. There were the Collendales, and – oh, it looked like the Bertrands didn't have nearly the choice seating that Lucius had procured for his family. She ran her tongue over the inside of her bottom lip and suppressed a smile. Her eyes continued to rove over the crowd, picking out the families she was supposed to notice, until at last she saw them.
There, just beside the announcer: the Delacours.
Narcissa lifted her chin higher and gazed down her nose at them. She and Lucius had visited his distant relatives and their social circle in France many years ago, before they were married, and she had never forgotten the way Apolline Delacour – well, Fournier, back then; a peasant name that she'd shrugged off as easily as a ratty shawl when she'd married – had spoken to her at a party.
"A Malfoy diamond," cooed Apolline, stealing a glance at Narcissa's glittering finger and taking a sip of champagne. "Hope his bollocks are as hard as that rock, darling. Malfoys want boys from that womb of yours, and you'd best believe they'll throw you out if you can't provide them. Or," she'd laughed, "even if he can't provide them, it's you who'll be thrown out just the same."
Narcissa had only stared at the woman, mouth open and fingers tight around her own crystal flute.
"Not me, though," she'd continued with a smile. "Veela families only want girls, you know. We'll have to meet again, Miss Black, and introduce my daughters to your sons." Narcissa had noted the three small rubies on Apolline's own ring finger as she sauntered off, and had never forgotten to shield her son from any daughter that woman might have had.
Narcissa pursed her lips at the memory, watching sideways from her place in the stadium as Apolline hooked her arm through her husband's and rested a head on his shoulder. She turned to the arena in time to see a blonde girl with her head down walking from the Champions' tent to the waiting room under the stands. So. This must be the great Fleur Delacour: part peasant, part Veela, and if Draco's letters were anything to go by, just as arrogant as her mother. Stay away from that girl, she'd ordered Draco earlier that year, when the Champions were announced. She's part Veela, Mother, Draco had replied in a letter, and even the ink seemed to smirk at her. I might not be able to help myself. That boy was becoming more like Lucius every day, and there was nothing Narcissa could do about it.
The First Task began, and Narcissa watched with detached amusement as the girl chased her dragon all over the stadium, making an utter fool of herself. Who did she think she was, taking on an international Quidditch star? Well, the Diggory boy certainly wasn't anything special, and Potter – she refused to even think about that issue. But honestly, the girl had spent her formative years learning to sing, dance, and mend robes at Beauxbatons, not to fight boys and dragons. She glanced over at Apolline again, wondering if the woman was nearly as embarrassed for her daughter as she should be.
The crowd roared in support when Fleur finally captured the egg, sweat pouring off her face and matting in her hair. She was flushed but triumphant, ignoring the dirt on her robes in order to hoist the golden egg over her head and smile brilliantly at the crowd. Narcissa sniffed, reluctantly tapping three fingers of her right hand into the palm of her left just as Apolline glanced over her shoulder at her, giving her a wide smile and a wink.
So, the Veela child had won the crowd, as usual, Narcissa thought as she glared at the girl. She had barely succeeded against the dragon, and had certainly not shown any great magical prowess out there. It took more than the correct last name to earn the right to prance around like that, but the girl certainly didn't know that, and from the looks of things, this plebeian mob didn't know it either.
Narcissa narrowed her eyes as Fleur blew a kiss to the crowd before sauntering back into the tent. That girl had creature blood in her; she wasn't human. She was already playing tricks on Draco and hoodwinking the Goblet of Fire into thinking she had any talent whatsoever, and now she was earning applause from some of the best wizarding families in Europe with that display.
A crowd like this should appreciate real pedigree: a Fournier ruby touched up with Veela magic would never be as solid as a Malfoy diamond. These people should know better. That girl should know better. That blonde hair of hers probably wasn't even natural, not like Narcissa's, and all that girl would have to do is bat her eyelashes at the right man and she would snag him and his bloodline. Just like her mother, Fleur Delacour was a calculating, arrogant fraud.
Narcissa hated women like that.
"Here, strange girl." Fleur set a cup of tea on the table next to Luna's bed and immediately set off back towards the door. She paused with her hand on the knob, as though reluctant to ask the question. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you," said Luna cheerfully. "Not as purple as yesterday. A bit more orange now." She lifted the teacup and peered at it, one finger tracing the pattern with great interest.
Fleur paused. "What… colour do you wish to be?"
Luna stopped tracing and looked up. "Why, green, of course!" She narrowed her eyes. "Don't you know about green?"
Fleur shook her head, a bewildered smile on her face.
"Green is the colour you are when you are at your happiest," she explained. "It's impossible to be green all the time, of course. I wasn't feeling very green in the Malfoys' cellar. But I think everyone should always work towards being green when they can. Gives your life a purpose."
Fleur laughed. "My life already has a purpose, little girl."
"Oh?" Luna squinted at her. "Well, you don't look very green to me, but I suppose you could be, on the inside."
"I assure you: if green is happy, then I am green."
Luna smiled. "Well then, that's great news. I love meeting green people." She sipped her tea, and Fleur made to leave again. "I think you're greener with me," she added, and again Fleur paused at the door. She turned, raising an eyebrow. "Your English is better in here, you know."
Fleur's mouth fell open. "I… yes. Well. I studied it when I was very young, but then I stopped. And so now, it is not so good."
"No, it's good," said Luna, "but sometimes you don't want people to know it's good. I don't mind," she added. "Sometimes I don't want people to know when I'm purple." She took another sip of tea. "I speak Mermish fluently, you know," she whispered confidentially. "Well, not real Mermish, but a very rare dialect. Only the chieftainess of Loch Ness can understand it. Maybe I'll teach it to you tomorrow, if I don't sleep too late."
"Okay," said Fleur, shaking her head. "I will… look forward to that. I think."
Molly loved all her children equally, of course, but it was difficult not to keep a bit of a soft spot for Bill. He'd been with the other children as long as she had, after all; sometimes she felt as though it had been her, Arthur and Bill who had raised them together. He'd always taken Charlie and Percy outside with a broomstick and a tiny Quaffle when she'd needed time with the younger children, or changed Ron's nappies if she was busy with Ginny, or kept Fred and George from setting the house on fire while she was breaking up the latest row between Percy and Ron.
That awful hair and earring aside, Bill was reliable. Bill was sensible. Bill deserved a reliable, sensible wife.
Bill did not deserve a wife who threw flirty looks at other men – in his own family! – and sauntered down the street with red lipstick and loose hair, just teasing the hell out of any man who passed her. She couldn't cook and showed no interest in learning; she went on and on about wishing to improve her Eeenglish and yet Molly could still barely understand a thing she said; and the only thing she seemed to be good at was prancing around the Burrow, sticking her nose in everything and then pontificating about how much better that thing would be in France.
"Zis soup, eet eez too 'eavy," the girl whinged all the time, pushing her bowl away and pouting at Molly. "Een France, we eat light food. Eet eez why we are so thin! So beautiful!" Then she would cast an appraising glance over Molly's solid figure and toss her hair over her shoulder.
France this, France that. Honestly! It was getting harder and harder to keep telling Ginny to mind her tongue, when Molly herself wanted nothing better than to give that stuck-up girl a piece of her mind.
When she was younger, Molly had dreamed of travelling abroad. She took Muggle Studies and learned about the great castles of Bavaria and the ruins of Rome and Athens. She was never very good with languages, but occasionally she would doodle words like Mollé or Mölly in her notebooks and practice moving her lips around the strange sounds. But dreams were dreams, and reality was reality, and no wizard or witch ever made a living with their head in the clouds, anyway. Fred and George would be well advised to remember that, she often thought.
No, Molly was best suited for Ottery St. Catchpole, and she knew it. Her family had seen enough trouble during the First War; no need to court more. Life was busy enough! She had Arthur and the children, and really, Fleur had no idea what it was like to run a household of nine people – ten if she counted Harry, eleven with Hermione, twelve during the holidays when Charlie sometimes brought a friend home, thirteen with Fleur herself, and – Well. If the girl wanted soup that wasn't heavy, she could make it her damn self, and then listen to the complaints from a crowd of hungry people wondering where on earth the potatoes had got to.
A woman with her head on straight didn't have time to go out for tournaments, after all, or to wander around Europe bickering about the food and flaunting herself in front of all the men. If Fleur was serious about Bill, and serious about starting a family with him, well, that would be one thing. But all these trivial pursuits – working a little bit at the bank, studying English a little bit when she felt like it, lying out in the sun for hours and writing letters to her mother and sister – well, it must be nice to have time for all of that. Molly hadn't had time to sit down for ten minutes at a stretch for over fifteen years! Girls these days thought they could just ask life for an easy go of it, and life would deliver.
"Oh, give her a chance," Moira Higgins would tell Molly with a wave of her hand over cribbage and tea on Thursday afternoons. "She's not the worst you could do for a daughter-in-law now, is she?" Moira's daughter-in-law raised Hinkypunks for a living, though, so what would she know about it?
"What if she finds some competition in Argentina she wants to flounce off to after the wedding?" Molly would bark back, shuffling the cards hard enough to shred them. "What'll Bill do then? Who's to say she won't get tired of the rain in England, or the food, or all the things she complains about, and run off to the next Portkey back to France?"
Fleur Delacour was irresponsible, a woman who got by on her looks alone and took all kinds of risks just because she was so certain that blonde hair of hers would get her out of any trouble she might manage to land in. Every time she got an idea in her head, she ran off to a new country to test it out, probably not even caring about the people she left behind. She had no sense of responsibility, no sense of loyalty to her family, and no idea what it was like not to get what she wanted.
Molly hated women like that.
"Have you been to Loch Ness, then?" asked Fleur, a smile on her lips as she tried to shape them around the strange Mermish sounds Luna was making her repeat.
"Just in books. Daddy says we can go there when I finish school, though. Well, if I don't die in the war, that is." Luna was out of bed now, pushing her hair behind her ears at the kitchen table as Fleur set the knives chopping vegetables for dinner.
"Don't say such things! We will all survive this war. I am sure of it."
"Oh, dying in a war is nothing to be afraid of. You must have thought you would die in the Tri-Wizard tournament." Luna blinked up at Fleur.
"I did not!" she said with a laugh. "I thought it would be so easy. You know, I was the best qualified for that tournament in all the schools, but does anyone remember that? No." She sniffed, grabbing at a head of broccoli. "They only remember that I failed."
"Yes," said Luna sadly. "English people don't like it when French people succeed at things."
"It is not that!" exclaimed Fleur. "It is that people do not like a woman to succeed over a man!"
Luna eyed her sceptically. "No, I really think it's because you're French. And maybe a little bit because Voldemort set it up for Harry to win."
"Well, maybe that. But I still think the tournament is sexist. Dragons, honestly!"
They watched each other, Fleur working herself into a temper while Luna smiled serenely. After a long moment, Fleur turned back to the vegetables.
"How do you know so much, strange girl?"
Luna shrugged. "I listen to things people say," she said, "when they don't think anyone is listening."
"Ah. And what do people say, then?"
Luna gave the broccoli a mournful look. "They say you keep your brains in your chest," she said flatly. "They say you know you're beautiful."
"Well, then," said Fleur, waving her wand furiously at the chopping knife, "the second is true. So what? And the first… well. They have not seen my brains or my chest, then, have they?" She passed a hand in front of her blouse and forced a laugh. "You should learn something about women, strange girl: they want you to chase men but not admit it; they want you to lose to men but say you tried your best; and they never want you to be more beautiful than they are."
"Hm," said Luna. "Those women sound very purple to me."
Fleur snorted and pulled the zucchini out of the fridge.
"You're fucking kidding me, Mad-Eye. You are fucking kidding me!"
"Look, lady. You don't like it, you don't work this job."
"No." Tonks shook her head, her eyes narrowing in on her target. "No. Don't talk to me like I'm a fucking child, or a fucking bird who doesn't know the job. That's her you can talk to like that, not me. I've got more experience with this sort of thing than any of them, you old bat. And you're going to let Weasley's piece of twat do this job over me? Fuck you."
"Told you already, Tonks, I need you undisguised. You're wearing Potter's face and who've I got left to pair you with, eh? Each Potter's going to need an Auror, and I can't spare you as a Potter if I need you as a goddamned Auror, can I? That's it, then," he said gruffly, throwing his cloak on and moving to the door. "I've already decided."
"Don't turn away from me," said Tonks. "She's a liability, and you know it. She puts Bill at risk because he's got to worry she's not cocking it all up, she puts Harry at risk… God, she puts Remus at risk, Mad-Eye! You think I'm going to stand here and let that stupid woman risk my husband's life because she doesn't know her arse from a–"
"Bill, Harry, but mostly Remus, eh? That your priority list, then? You listen to me, sweetheart. That woman faced a full-grown dragon at age seventeen and lived to tell the tale. I wouldn't put her in there if I didn't think she could defend herself." He paused. "And everyone else, including Harry, and including your bloody husband."
Tonks stormed across the room and stood under Moody's chin, glaring up at him with her hair flashing purple. "I didn't win this Auror badge in a Christmas cracker," she barked. "You don't just sleep with the right Order member to get on the Squad. I don't care what she did back at school; you know Emmeline never would have let an untrained officer out in the field."
Moody sighed, running his hand over his haggard face.
"She can't do anything without Bill setting it up for her," insisted Tonks. "She got past that dragon because Charlie told her about it beforehand. What did she do as soon as she ran into trouble in the Lake?" Tonks threw her hands up. "Gave up and surfaced without even trying to save her own fucking sister!"
"That whole year was a bit of a cock-up, Tonks," grumbled Moody, giving her a pointed look.
Tonks ignored him. "All she did was swing that hair over her shoulder and show up at Dover with her tits hanging out of her top, and she had Bill signing his life over to the fucking goblins to get her a job at Gringott's. Now she thinks she's an Auror because you and Bill got shit for brains? No. Just… no."
"It's not up for debate, Tonks," said Moody, glaring down at her.
Tonks paused a second before her mouth dropped open. "Oh, I get it," she said, shaking her head slowly. "I get it. Did she promise to suck that saggy prick of yours for this? Oh, I do not fucking believe this!"
"Listen, you little–"
"You know how many dickheads like you I had making me offers back in the academy? If I did them a favour, they'd do me a favour, right? I fucking lost count, that's how many." She stomped her boot on the floor and pushed an index finger into Moody's chest. "Don't tell me we need birds on the Squad so badly we're letting in unqualified sluts like that one."
Moody was silent for a moment, his eyes carefully looking Tonks over. "What is it, girl? What's got your knickers in such a twist with Delacour? You had a thing for Weasley at school, or what?"
"No," said Tonks, glaring at him and drawing the word out as though it had four syllables. "I just… I don't know. I don't trust her."
"Listen." Moody exhaled and shook his head. "I know you're still missing Vance. Hell, I miss that ruddy bitch too."
"It's not that, it's just–"
"–but you will not pull this I'm the only woman who can do this job shit on me, Tonks. We're short on bodies, and Delacour can do this as good as anyone."
"I don't see you whinging about Fred and George coming along, eh? They're not fucking qualified either. Or the bloody Granger girl! You've got no problem with her, but Delacour's going to be the one to cock it up? Get the hell out of here, girl. Whatever your problem is with her, you'd better figure it out before nightfall tomorrow."
Tonks fell silent as Moody stormed off, her nostrils flaring with each breath in and out of her nose. Bloody hell. It wasn't that she didn't want other women on the team; Hermione was a smart girl with her head right where it should be. But that stupid blonde hussy, with her brain somewhere down her blouse or up her skirt? Fuck that. Tonks had worked her arse off to get where she was on the Squad. She never sucked anyone's cock for her results, she never unbuttoned her top to get an advantage, and she would never put a whole fucking team at risk just because she couldn't stand to be away from Bill fucking Weasley, or any other man, for half a fucking hour.
Fleur had balls of steel, Tonks had to give her that. The idea had been barely out of George's mouth before she'd grabbed Bill's arm and nodded vigorously. "No way," Bill had said, glaring at Moody, but Fleur had insisted on taking part. Tonks threw her cloak on now and headed home, her hair dull and her mind locked on Bill and Fleur. Remus hadn't cared that Tonks might be in danger on this job. She'd watched the look of pure terror on Bill's face as George, Moody and Fleur had talked it all over, and then turned to find her own fucking husband chatting with Arthur about the Chudley Cannons.
So that was the way it was going to be then, was it?
Tonks had seen enough of that kind of girl back at school: top too tight, hair too blonde and a date for every occasion. There weren't very many things that a woman like Tonks had over women like that, but the Auror badge was one of them. Now it wasn't enough that Fleur Delacour had tits the size of coconuts and a man who loved her more than anything else in the world – she had to be a fucking Auror, too. Tonks would kill to have either of those first things; why couldn't that bitch just sod off and let her have the last to herself?
Tonks fucking hated women like that.
"You must miss your mother," said Fleur one night, folding herself into a chair across from Luna in the living room. "I do not know what I would do without mine."
"But she's all the way in France!" said Luna. "It's not very much further than where my mother is."
Fleur raised her eyebrows. "And where is your mother?" she asked softly.
Luna dropped her eyes, a gentle smile forming on her lips. She waited a moment before answering, and when she spoke, her voice was soft. "You all think I'm mad, I know that. I hear the things that people say. They're not as bad as what they say about you," she added, glancing up, "but still, it's a bit unsettling to be called mad all the time."
"I did not mean–"
"I know. It's not that I don't understand where my mother is. That would make me mad. It's just that I'd rather think of the world as a circle, with no beginning or end, than a flat line that you can just drop off at any given moment."
Fleur took a sip of her tea. "And so this is why you are not afraid to die in the war?" she asked.
Luna crossed her legs underneath her and let her head fall back against her chair. "Hm. Maybe you're not as dumb as they say you are," she said, smiling.
"Bite your tongue!" said Fleur. "You and your daily reports about what people say about me. Enough! I am stupid for leaving my family and my country, for living with people who hate France and hate beauty and–" she threw up her hands – "whatever else it is they hate! You know, you are a pretty girl, Luna," she added, "and you are intelligent, even though you are strange. Whatever they say about me, maybe they will be saying it about you too, soon. Maybe if they think you marry above you, or if you do not do everything your mother-in-law wants you to do all the time. Maybe if they think you should work at a different job, if they think your job is too easy. If they think you are stupid because you are blonde." She tossed her hair over her shoulders and set her teacup down. "My mother told me not to apologise for anything," she said, leaning forward in her chair. "She said I am part Veela, and I will have much power from that. Men will want me. Women will not want me near them. All of things like that. She was right, you know."
"I think I'd like your mother," said Luna, her voice as calm as it had always been, as though Fleur had not just shouted at her. "She sounds quite clever."
"Yes, well." Fleur threw her hair over her shoulder again and raised her chin. "I am sure your mother would say such things to you too, if she could, the same as my mother."
"Oh no, I don't think so," said Luna.
She shrugged. "Well, I don't think my mother spoke much French."
Fleur stared at her for a moment before shaking her head and falling back against the chair again, laughing and laughing until Bill came down to see what was the matter.
"So tell me, Olympe," said Minerva, steepling her fingers and leaning forward in her chair. "Who are you putting forward?"
Madame Maxime smiled, her large teeth flashing across the desk as she lifted an oversized teacup to her lips. "Aha! You would like to know, I see! No, no. I cannot tell."
"Oh, please," Minerva sniffed with a wave of her hand. "We all know Igor is going with Krum, Blagoev and Zhivko. We're opening it up a bit for all qualified students, but you know who our favourites are: Diggory, Smith, Johnson, Clearwater..." She settled back against her chair and narrowed her eyes. "Now tell me yours."
Madame Maxime's smile erupted into a full-bodied laugh. "Okay, okay. You never change, do you? Okay." She paused, her eyes mischievous. "We shall submit Bijou, Picard, and Delacour."
Minerva blinked, slowly lowering her teacup. "Delacour?" she asked lightly. "Are you really?"
"But of course! And why not? She is the best of her year."
That much was probably true, Minerva had to allow. Her mind began to work, quickly making comparisons: the girl would have Diggory beat soundly in Charms, since that was Beauxbatons' strength, but Smith would be stronger in the physical tasks, if the Goblet picked him. Fleur Delacour was just a wisp of a thing; a strong breeze could blow her over. No, Minerva decided a second later, Hogwarts's champion could beat her. That wasn't the issue. Just having that girl in the school made Minerva's head pound, though, recalling the last time she'd been there.
That blasted girl was like Marianne herself, the very epitome of France; might as well wrap her in the Tricolour and roll her off the roof of the Bastille and into a bowl of bouillabaisse. She'd come with her parents some years ago – what were their names? Ah, no matter. They'd meant to survey Hogwarts, thinking that their younger girl might be better off studying in English. Better off out of Fleur's shadow at Beauxbatons, more like, Minerva secretly imagined was closer to the truth. Fleur couldn't have been more than fifteen at the time, but her opinions were set in stone.
"You want her to learn English like this?" she'd whispered furiously to her parents in French, gesturing at Minerva as she'd shown them around. "Listen to her! It is like a sheep speaking English!" With that, she had shifted her accent in French to put an emphasis on a peasant drawl. Her father snorted back a laugh while her mother glared at the pair of them.
"You might be surprised to learn that Scotland and France used to be very good friends," Minerva had said to the girl, playing up the lilt in her voice even further. "Your sister should be privileged to learn Queen Mary's English."
"My sister should be privileged to stay in her own country," the girl had replied in French. "She needs to read Flaubert, not Dickens; learn of the Metamorphmagi hidden among the sans-culottes in 1791, not the giants who built Stonehenge!"
She was odd, that girl. Her English was just fine, judging by that brief conversation alone, and her education and opinions were more advanced than any Hogwarts student Minerva had yet taught. She watched the girl prance through the Great Hall when her name flew out of the Goblet of Fire, smiling coldly at her competition, and Minerva knew that she'd planned to win not for herself, her family, or her school, but for no less than France itself.
Years later, what Minerva still couldn't figure out was when and why the girl had changed.
"The house is lovely," she said politely one night just after Dumbledore's death, when she had occasion to pay a visit to Shell Cottage on Order business.
Fleur rolled her eyes as she set a tray of tea things on the table. "It is very English, isn't it?" she said, glancing around the stone walls of the kitchen. "Damp."
"I remember you as a girl," said Minerva with a smile. "You never liked England much then, either. Or Scotland, for that matter," she added with a pointed look, and Fleur gave a tinkly laugh.
"I do not remember saying that!" she said, tilting her head to the side as she sat down across from Minerva. "But I think Scotland might be a place to like. My mother is from a… well, a Scotland part of France." She gestured with her hands, looking for the right word. "You know. With sheep."
It was the first time Minerva had laughed in weeks. As they waited for Bill to arrive home, she shared a cup of tea with this strange woman and tried to remember what had ever been so offensive about her. The brashness and courage she had displayed at fifteen during the tour of Hogwarts, and at seventeen during the tournament, seemed to have crumbled around her at twenty. Her body shifted and her hair darkened from the playful white-blonde of youth to the mature gold of adulthood. She began dating Bill Weasley and Minerva guessed she never mentioned Flaubert, Robespierre or the Paris Commune again. Minerva figured Fleur let Bill set her up by his side at Gringott's, stumbling through English verbs she would have mastered ten years earlier and giggling at the men who pointed out her mistakes.
"Do you miss France?" asked Minerva, tracing the rim of her teacup with a long finger.
Fleur looked surprised. "Of course! I think that we will go back there someday. Bill wants to return to Egypt after the war, and I told him that I will go there only if he promises we will go to France after that. I am teaching French to him, you know," she added with a conspiratorial grin. "He is terrible, but I think that if I left him alone in the centre of Paris for one hour, he would learn much better."
Minerva watched her clear the tea things. Fleur Delacour was smart and independent-minded, a beautiful woman who had brains to match but didn't seem too eager to use them once she left school. A woman needed to make her own choices in life, that was for certain, but why so many of them made the choice to please a man over themselves remained a mystery. She could have taught at Beauxbatons or Hogwarts; she could have done translation work at any Ministry for Magic in Europe; she could have worked to change sexual harassment laws for Veela women that put the burden of proof on the victim. Instead, she set herself up at Shell Cottage and washed Bill Weasley's shirts for the rest of her life.
She imagined Fleur had followed the same path as so many girls before her: Molly Prewett, the best in her year at Muggle Studies who married Arthur and then let him fiddle around with television sets and windshield wipers; Narcissa Black, who spoke flawless French and German and lived secluded away in that manor like an aristocratic woman of ancient Athens; Nymphadora Tonks, the cleverest witch of her age who had endless talent, a brilliant job, and completely lost the ability to get out of bed in the mornings anytime a man she fancied refused to ask her out.
Minerva hated women like that.
"Minerva," began Fleur, approaching the table again with a frown on her face. She sat carefully, as though debating what she wanted to say. "May I ask a question?"
"You see very much more of Bill's sister than I do, and I think she must like you more than she likes me. Well, she likes everyone more than me." She paused to flip her hair off her shoulders. "But what do you think – she is okay, with boys?"
Minerva blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Well." Fleur pursed her lips and leaned forward. "There are so many of them," she whispered. "It is all she will speak about! Dean Thomas and Harry Potter and– all the others!"
"Ginny Weasley is a clever girl," said Minerva briskly, her jaw clenching. "I'm quite sure she doesn't need your opinions on whether she's dating enough."
"Enough?" said Fleur, her eyes wide. "Too much!"
Minerva raised her eyebrows.
"She should not be so worried about these things, I think! She is a smart girl, isn't she? I just… I hate girls like that, always worried about what boys will think." She frowned and shook her head, her eyes fixed somewhere over Minerva's shoulder. "My little sister is too young for boys, I think, but I worry about her too. Do you see what they wear now, to get boys to look at them? It is shocking!"
Minerva's mouth fell open and she found herself covering her face to keep from laughing. Women like that. Well. Perhaps there was more to Fleur Delacour than met the eye.
Shell Cottage glittered around the edges, as though Veela magic lined its very walls.
That was a silly way to think of it though, Luna decided as she walked down the lane, her convalescence complete. She turned to wave at Fleur and smiled at the light in the doorway. No, that house had no more magic than any other, and no less. It was inhabited by an extraordinary woman with ordinary problems. She missed her mother and sister. She wished her English was better than it was, but feared letting it become even better than the native speakers around her. She loved her husband and tried to please her in-laws.
She was also brash and a bit rude when asked the wrong questions, though, and really, Luna had never met a woman so interested in her own hair. Still, Luna had heard the things that other women said about Fleur, and it made her sad.
Purple people could throw paint on green people as much as they liked, Luna decided, and it still wouldn't leave a stain. All it would do was drain the hue away until there was no colour left in the world at all, and that would be a pity.