So, I took a break from writing for all of two days, and then I wanted to write again. Really feeling the urge, and it's a lot of fun.
This is different tonally to 'With Whom To Dance?', but it's a fun idea that I came up with while writing that story and with the inspiration of the people over at the Flowerpot Discord. If you're looking for a fun place to get recommendations for fics, or just hang out with people that like reading and writing fanfiction, I urge you to check it out.
Biggest thanks go to Darkened Void and Michal, or HonorverseFan, for their beta-reading and editing help, as well as their great input in this chapter. They're the best, and I urge you to check their writing out too. Thank you to Char for her prompt too.
Hope you enjoy, and let me know what you thought with a review. They really do help, and they're the biggest inspiration to write.
(Big shout out to foreal26, for the cover art. A thoroughly lovely person, and one that too can be found on the Flowerpot Discord.)
Life working for the goblins of Gringotts was difficult, yet uncomplicated. Of Fleur, they asked for long hours, for which she had been initially woefully unprepared for, and they asked for her to be totally agreeable to their wishes. They demanded a machine that could wield a wand, not a witch.
Yet, beyond that, they were remarkably easy to work for. They never left room for doubt in what they asked, the pay was exemplary, and, after she did leave their employ onto greener pastures, to have worked for them was a finer reference than any other she could've possibly gained as a newly graduated witch.
In working for Gringotts though, Fleur had begun to recognise one universal truth.
Never, ever, get the attention of the senior manager of the bank.
His summons was never going to be good news. Sporadically, it would be to relieve you of your job, but on most occasions, it would be to inform you of the new, awful fate they'd placed upon you. In the past, Fleur had found herself in the middle of barrows filled with impenetrable defensive enchantments and in burial tombs manned by the undead.
In all other circumstances, her assignments came from ones hardly superior to herself. They were difficult, though tedious. The manager's assignments were anything but tedious.
And, the moment she'd received the tell-tale letter upon her desk, she knew she'd soon be back in some godforsaken place that time had deemed it fit to forget. Time, but not her employers.
She didn't drag her feet upon the marble floors of the bank, despite how much she might've wished to. Even as the bank sent her to her doom, it would not abide by unprofessionalism. The grand door to the manager's office was already open for her when she arrived, the open doors allowing for the viewing of her arrival by her highest superior, Grimshield.
"Take a seat," Grimshield told her. His clawed hand pointed to the stone chair that sat across from him. He offered a smile to Fleur that was mostly a grimace. "Ms. Delacour, if you would."
Fleur fell into the chair at once, already tired of the entire affair. Why on Earth they required such pleasantries to be observed even then, she did not know, but to her eyes, it felt more like a taunt than a welcome.
Grimshield, the highest-ranking official of Gringotts, was a figure of perpetual dignity. He wore tasteful yet modern robes that bore no creases, his hair well-groomed and parted exactly and, if one were to talk to him for even a brief length of time, they would find that he held a level of expertise over almost all subjects they were to discuss.
"You have performed remarkably well over the past fiscal term," Grimshield said. He looked down to his notes for a moment, speaking briefly to himself in a dialect of Gobbledegook that any non-native listener wouldn't have a hope of understanding. "Three successful site inspections in as many months; most adequate."
"Thank you, Sir," Fleur replied. She spoke French while in Grimshield's company. Though her English had improved in the three years she'd spent living in London, her superior still bore a wince whenever he heard her speak it.
Grimshield leaned back in his chair, his spine perfectly straight. He would never utter 'um' or 'er' as he spoke, Fleur found. He thought silently, and only after arriving at exactly what he wished to say did he speak once more.
"A site has been identified that the bank has cause to believe holds relics that allow for the growth of our company," Grimshield began. "Given its location, there is further cause to believe that whatever is found will be of outstanding value."
"Where is that location, Sir?" Fleur asked.
Grimshield's face fell into a frown. "Are you volunteering your services, Ms. Delacour?"
Fleur shook her head. "No, Sir."
He nodded. "Its location is such that the existence of any relics will be of worldwide interest and so if there were to be an effort launched into discovering said items, it would have to be performed by a small, highly skilled team," he said. "The bank believes that you, Ms. Delacour, fit this specification exactly." He reached into a drawer obscured to Fleur's vision and pulled out a letter of parchment. "Are you amenable to this?"
Fleur thought the question was a waste of breath. Even if she was not amenable to the idea, she was quite clearly amenable to having a job and one did not exist without the other. "Yes, Sir," she said.
Only then did Grimshield pass over what proved to be her contract. All of it, Fleur knew, was non-negotiable, though she did still read it thoroughly. In order to employ witches and wizards legally, some effort was required to be made so that her safety was, if not totally maintained, then at least well-compensated. Despite the horror stories that hung around the bank, the goblins would not throw their employees into the dens of dragons without cause.
Should she agree to the offer, Fleur found that she would be contracted to work for one month beginning in only a day's time, with Gringotts retaining the option of extending this period should there be adequate cause to do so. In practice, this would mean that, if there were indeed antiquities to find, she would be there until they were found.
Yet, even as she trawled through the extensive terms, there was still no mention of where exactly she would be working. That had certainly never happened before.
The moment Fleur lifted her head to meet the manager's eyes, Grimshield spoke again.
"Your thoughts, Ms. Delacour?"
In the most sensible corner of her mind, Fleur came to realise that this new development could never be a good thing for her. She had no intention of curse breaking being her career, and to accept a job such as this one would lead to that and only that. Her life had loftier aspirations than meeting a dull end in a dark pit.
Curiosity is a funny thing, isn't it?
"I accept your terms," Fleur said. At her reply, Grimshield passed her a black quill, its shaft made from ivory. She signed the parchment at once. "Might I know where I'm going now?"
Grimshield was quick to take the parchment from her hands. He did not rush, not quite, but there was a hurry to his movements that there most often wasn't. "Recently, we have noticed an increase in magical residue in the north of England. The increase is minute, but traceable," he said. He took a significant pause. "In the past week, the bank's analysts have managed to place the cause of this alteration exactly to Hartoft, in the North Yorkshire moorland."
Fleur immediately knew why such news was kept as secret as it was. The British Ministry was enormously protective of any historical items concerning their country and, in times gone past, had gone to great lengths to take whatever was found. Furthermore, due to the prolonged habitation of the relatively small isle, a new site of interest was a very rare thing and in their business, rarity very rarely meant anything other than value.
She leaned forward in her chair. "Do you have an idea as to what I might find?"
"There is no great history of magical residence in that area of the country except in the case of Whitby Abbey, which was the home of several notable vampire covens," Grimshield told her. "The only artefacts of great repute found in North Yorkshire were those found in the battlegrounds of the Viking invasions, belonging to both sides of the conflicts. The War of the Roses featured so few wizards that their individual accoutrements are accounted for, and as such are beyond consideration."
The news of the area lacking a wizarding populous came as a relief. Without magical residences, there were likely no burial sites to have to search through. It was much easier to get muggles to look the other way, too, and in a job as discreet as the one she would soon find herself working, that factor was incalculably important.
Martial magic, and especially enchantments, were undoubtedly a cause for concern, but unless someone was there to wield the sword or the spear, Fleur highly doubted they would provide quite the same challenge as a horde of inferi. Unless the sword was somehow sentient, though even to Fleur's well-travelled and highly sceptical mind that seemed unlikely.
"Do you know of any reason why this site would suddenly appear?" Fleur asked. Usually, they were unearthed by the growth of cities and towns. The foundations of housing projects breaking the soil over the tombs of ancient Emperors. That seemed highly unlikely in this instance, though, with England being as well-covered as it was.
"The bank has not identified any one concrete cause," Grimshield replied. "However, in similar circumstances, appearances such as these occur as a result of obscuring wards and enchantments fading away over time." He paused. "It is the organisation's recommendation that you are to enter this period of work with the expectation that you are to face something that would not otherwise wish to be found."
So, in short, she was going in blind.
Fleur stood from her seat. "Who am I going to be working with?" she asked. Her body was already half-turned to the door, damning the impropriety.
Most of all, she hoped it would be Bill. He was the only person who she worked with that she would even begin to consider herself close with and in the time she'd spent working in Britain, he'd grown to be her best friend. The fact that he was a veritable virtuoso at his vocation did not hurt, either.
Grimshield too stood, walking around his great table and beyond where Fleur stood, to stand at the threshold of the room and in Fleur's full view once more. "You are to work on your own," he said. "Gringotts believes you to be a figure that we are entirely capable of trusting with this job, and given your position within the company, we know it to be unlikely that you would feel compelled to talk about your work with anyone."
That was most certainly a shock. Fleur had never had to go alone before. Most of her assignments occurred within large groups of ten or twenty as that was the safest method to work. On most occasions, Fleur had been watched over directly by the manager of the team she had been working within, too.
"A representative from the bank will visit you once every three days to mark your progress," Grimshield said. He extended his arm outward, directing Fleur to leave his office; a directive she followed immediately. "Failure to report in such a fashion will garner consequences that you would not wish to experience."
With that final word, her manager shut his door on her with a quiet click unbefitting its massive weight.
In between the long hours of her work, Fleur's life had grown to become free in her time in England, empty of any great weights of social responsibility. She lived alone in her apartment, afforded entirely as a result of her job's lucrative nature. She had a small group of friends, though Bill was the only one that she spoke with at any great frequency. Her parents sent the occasional letter and she returned the favour with equal aplomb, though no greater. She did not know her neighbours, nor the name of the cashier that she bought cigarettes from the shop down the road.
Her life was simple. The sporadic nature of her working whereabouts was easy to accommodate for as there was precious little for which to accommodate. Her only dependent was her familiar, a robin named Arielle, though even she was a quiet influence. She was small, even for a robin, and most often preferred to rest upon Fleur's shoulder rather than fly in the air.
It took her no time to pack for her time away, as to pack would first require her to have unpacked, which was not something Fleur had done in nearly a year. Clothes once labelled in her mind as 'home wear' ceased to exist.
Certainly, life travelling had become so normal to Fleur that she did not even think to make mention of her new assignment to anyone. And so, as she allowed herself an evening of relaxing in her apartment and listening to her record player, a knock upon her door came as a surprise. Bill Weasley's face peering through the soon openly swinging door did not, though.
"Miss me?" he asked, already commencing with making a mess of her small kitchen. A true tour-de-force of terrible dietary decisions.
"Not especially," Fleur said. She watched on as Bill nearly burned himself upon her toaster, a smile upon her face. "I don't recall having given you a key to get in."
"I don't recall ever needing one to get in," Bill said, his focus entirely set upon perusing her pantry. He discarded all of her wholemeal bread out of hand until at last finding the one loaf of white bread she possessed for his benefit, and only his benefit. "Finally."
"Does your Mama not have food for you to steal?" Fleur asked.
Bill stilled himself upon the tiles of her floor, before heaving a sigh. "I can't," he said wearily. "Every time I do she just asks when you're gonna make an honest man of me."
"When are you?" Fleur asked sarcastically. She smiled demurely at Bill, only to watch discomfort spread across his face. "I'm sure our wedding would be lovely."
Would it have been three years ago; she might perhaps have agreed. That was why she decided to live and work in England in the first place, fresh from a narrow defeat to Cedric Diggory in the Triwizard Tournament. She had met Bill and briefly thought that they were soulmates. Only briefly, though.
Almost immediately after that first flight of fancy, Bill came to realise that his interests laid entirely elsewhere. Most notably, in his younger brother Percy's best friend, Oliver Wood. Ever the gentleman, Bill had told Fleur far before he ever acted on any of those feelings. She was momentarily heartbroken, though soon found herself glad that her formerly-boy and now-best friend had found someone that made him happy.
However, for reasons that would only truly ever be known to Bill himself, he never did tell his parents of this development. To their eyes, and only their eyes, he and Fleur were still the couple they might well once have been.
"I still do not understand why you persist in not telling Molly," Fleur said, offering him a pointed look, which he took great delight in ignoring in favour of attempting to pick out his half-warmed bread from her toaster with a knife; thankfully it was powered by magic and not electricity. How this man could walk through the most secure defenses that wizarding history had ever devised and remain totally unharmed, Fleur did not know. "Charlie has, and she was ecstatic."
Finally satisfied in his most ardent of efforts to scratch her kitchen appliances beyond repair, Bill jumped up to sit on her countertop, his lukewarm meal held like a trophy. "Charlie's allowed to do that though," Bill said. "He's not the eldest; he's not the one carrying on the family name in their eyes." He took a bite from what was undoubtedly the blandest thing that Fleur's apartment had to offer. "I've got to be the traditional Pureblood son."
Fleur took a moment to truly appreciate the figure that was Bill Weasley. His ridiculous tooth earring, his ponytail, his beard that had grown around a month too long to ever be considered well-groomed. The sleeves that his jacket lacked, the tattoos his arms held. The job he worked at.
"Mon ami," Fleur said softly. "Please choose another excuse. This one grows tiresome."
Bill groaned. "Am I not allowed to have fun anymore?" he asked. He fell back onto the counter, lounging upon it like a chaise lounge. "Can I not just want to lie to my mother with your help?"
Fleur nodded. She stood up and walked over to Bill, her arm sweeping at his legs and dragging them off the surface she occasionally cooked on. "You may," she said. She pulled out her wand and muttered a Repairing Charm toward her toaster, returning it to its prior, pristine state. "But it seems to have grown long in the tooth by now, no?"
Bill sighed. "It's Oliver," he admitted.
"What about him?" Fleur asked at once. "Does he not want Molly to tell his parents?"
Bill shook his head. "No, he bet me twenty galleons that I couldn't go five years without telling her," he said. "Called me a Mummy's boy one night before we went to bed, so I obviously couldn't take that lying down."
Fleur folded her arms. "So, you're lying to your own Mama, the woman that brought you into this world, for twenty galleons?"
"I didn't ask her to do that, you know," Bill defended, his palms raised outwardly, and half a slice of bread with it too. "She'll know eventually. Just not before I win that money."
"You two share a bank account," Fleur told him. "The coins will not move."
"But it's the principle, love. The principle," Bill told her. "Don't you like my family, anyway?"
"They're fine, over short periods," Fleur said. His youngest siblings were the least appealing company, though they had improved in the years since they had first been introduced, growing to be not so bad that she would refuse to help Bill in this. "Though I think they will like Oliver more."
Even then, a dazed look fell upon Bill's face. "He certainly cuts a far more appealing image."
"Ronald may disagree."
"Oli's the only reason Chudley have won a thing in the last three years," Bill said. "Ron'll know where his bread is buttered."
Fleur glanced to Bill's own bread, entirely unbuttered. "I won't be available to aid you for a month," she said. "I'm working."
Bill spun himself around, righting himself so that he could stand. "I know," he told her. Fleur's eyes widened. "I'm your liaison."
Fleur took a step backward, her spine meeting the front of her refrigerator. "Why aren't you working with me?"
"I got promoted," he said. "Less assignments, more pay, more power."
"When did this happen?" Fleur asked. "When were you going to tell me?"
"A day ago." He paused, before nodding to himself. "And now." Bill sighed. "Oli doesn't like that I'm spending so much time out of the country. I don't either, really."
"And when did you decide that?" Fleur asked, incredulous. "What happened to the Bill I first met?"
"That Bill grew up," the man himself said.
"He did not grow up enough to be able to tell his own mother the truth," Fleur muttered.
Bill rolled his eyes. "Look, things with Oli are really starting to matter to me. Not that my family and my Mum doesn't, but I feel like I'm reaching the stage where he needs to be one of the first considerations I have," he explained. His expression shifted then, to a face that he did not often wear. "The future that I can see with him outweighs pretty much everything."
"Even yourself?" Fleur asked. "You'd give up your life's work for a relationship?"
"I'm not giving it up," Bill said, a sigh in his voice. "I'm still doing the job. I'm just looking in both directions before I run into traffic, rather than neither." He looked at Fleur directly, before mirroring her stance and folding his own arms across himself. "Maybe you should start doing that too."
"Me?" Fleur asked, even before her mind had time to digest his words.
"Yes, you," Bill said. "I seem to remember you saying when you started at Gringotts that you'd be out in five years. You'd get your Charms mastery; you'd go back to France and go into research." He walked out of Fleur's kitchen and into her living room, toward her record player, and stilling the music that still played lightly into the air. "Taking on solo assignments doesn't quite seem to fit in there."
Fleur did not immediately reply. He was right, after all.
Bill returned to the kitchen, his eyes kinder. "What happened to that Fleur?" he asked, his voice far softer than before.
Fleur shook her head. "Nothing," she said, her eyes blank of much of anything. "Five years is five years, is it not?" She turned her back to him, going to her coffee table and retrieving her cigarettes. She left the balcony of her apartment to light one, Bill hot on her heels. "The greater number of difficult assignments I complete, the better my references will be."
"How many lifers do you hear saying that, though?" Bill asked. He reached out to take a cigarette for himself, though that effort ended immediately after the look Fleur gave him. "'Just one more job, then I'm out', but that never happens, does it?"
"You think I am like that?"
"Maybe," Bill said. "Maybe that's where you're heading."
"Fuck off, then," Fleur said, her eyes stony. "If I am such a lost cause."
"Now you're just hearing things you want to hear," Bill told her. "I'm not saying that this job is necessarily bad, or that this assignment is a bad idea for you. I wouldn't have put your name forward for it if I thought that." Fleur's hand fell from her mouth for a moment. "I just think it's a good time to start seriously thinking about what you want out of your life."
Fleur took the last drag of her cigarette before throwing the filter into her ashtray as it sat filled with rainwater. Her free hand had already brought another to her lips by the time the ember of the dulling flame had fully dimmed.
"There's nothing wrong with being a lifer in this gig," Bill said. "It's a fun life, and there are definitely worse ways to go than the way you end up going. You'll be rich, you'll see any place you've ever wanted to, you'll never be bored, and you'll sleep with the most interesting people in the world." Bill sighed. "But I think you want more out of your life than that, don't you?"
"You don't get to say that to me," Fleur said. In her free hand, she dug her nails into her palm until she was forced to withhold a wince.
"I'm your friend; your only one at that," Bill said. "I do get to say that, even if you want to stay blind to it."
The tip of Fleur's wand caught flame at her silent command.
"Leave," she muttered around the smoke. "Before I make you."
"Why?" Bill could not resist asking. "Afraid of actually thinking about what you're doing for a change?"
"No," Fleur replied, quietly and yet forcefully. "Because I don't want you to ruin my only free evening before I go."
Bill stood stock still, his eyes upon her. Then, he threw his hands into the air with a sigh and disapparated through her wards, leaving Fleur on her balcony, alone, with a view of the growing metropolis that was London.
Under the darkness of the late-winter evening sky, cars still congested the roads below her apartment, the shouts and discontented groans audible through the air and even reaching Fleur's ears. Even in the evening, people streamed through the streets like noise along the air. Muggle London seemed to be forever growing, forever changing, and yet then Fleur could not name a single change that had occurred in the area that she lived. The city existed in perpetual motion, and yet no one ever seemed to get anywhere.
Above her head in the apartment that stood atop her ceiling, loud music drowned out the blunt notes of a raging argument. Fleur could not garner a single word of what was spoken, nor could she name either of the two people that lived in that apartment and that were no doubt having that argument. If asked, she doubted that she could pick out their faces from a crowd, even a small one.
Fleur turned to look into her apartment. To the stacks of Charms theory books that maintained their pristine form on her shelves, their pages unturned, their binding unmarred by use. Some had been gifted to her by the Charms Professor of Beauxbatons, Professor Toulalan. Those bore kind, well-wishing inscriptions, that Fleur had read once and never again.
Her suitcase stood at her door, closed shut though she knew its contents by heart, its weight diminished by the Feather-light Charms she'd cast upon it some years ago. The bag held everything she could ever hope to want and more.
Yet then, her focus shifted immediately as Arielle, her familiar, flew through the open doors and onto the balcony, resting on her shoulder once more. Fleur threw away her cigarette immediately, her other hand passing over the robin's feathers.
Arielle was not a mundane bird, her genus being magical in origin. The druids that held power in Britain before the Romans bred them with the intent of the birds offering assistance in their rituals, to pass messages between each other over the countryside, and for their songs to soothe their young to sleep.
Yet, the effectiveness of Druidic rituals had been disproved by the theoreticians of modern magic. Her familiar would sooner sleep for a week than fly across a county to pass along a missive. And, most strangely, Arielle had no voice at all. No song, no chirping.
The emporium that Fleur had acquired her familiar from had warned her of it. Their song was apparently delightful, for most the only reason to own such a bird, though Fleur had only needed a passing look at Arielle to know they were perfect for one another.
On her rare free days off from work, Fleur would return to London to spend time with her familiar, foregoing all else. A dig site was no place for one as small and delicate as a robin, of course, though Fleur could not bear to spend any longer apart than she already had.
She thought then, on exactly that. This new assignment was not a grand excavation. There were likely no tombs, nor any undead. It was the English countryside in the brightening winter. If anything, Arielle was more at home among the rolling hills and away from London's satanic mills than Fleur herself was.
Fleur looked out into the city once more. At the buildings that filled the sky. At the crowds of people, aimed everywhere and walking aimlessly.
Arielle would accompany her, then. She did need a companion on this journey, after all.
By the time Fleur returned to Gringotts to take the portkey directly to her new home, Arielle slumbering in the large pocket of her jacket, the sky's darkness had not abated, so early in the morning was it. Even with years of experience, she had never truly grown used to waking early despite how unfailingly common that aspect of her work grew to be.
At the beginning of working for Gringotts, Fleur had not slept at all on the nights before she began her assignments, the surge of adrenaline the only fuel she needed to get through the day, or indeed the only one that she had access to call upon. Yet, as she grew in experience, that resource only shrank until she was forced to drag an hour or so of sleep from her unwilful body to survive, caffeine and nicotine only stretching so far.
Diagon Alley was entirely unpopulated as she walked on its cobbled stones, the only noise in the air the clicking of the heels of her boots on the ground. Frost laid upon the window panes of the closed stores and taverns, though the winter chill was a still one, the air unmoving.
The only source of life on the street, in truth, was the bank itself at its furthest edge. Even in the darkness, a goblin still manned the entrance, sentry to nothing except his own duty, his uniform immaculate and his form unmoved. Even at Fleur's arrival, he did not move, though the bronze doors did, pushing open without a sound.
Tellers still manned their posts in the bank's main hall, the scratching of their quills an ill-conducted symphony. They were likely auditors, Fleur knew, the night-time perfect for their reviews, away from the prying eyes of any customers. Or competitors, most of all.
She did not pay a great deal of notice to them, though she knew that such a sentiment was not shared, their attention still pinpricks upon the edges of her awareness.
Soon though, they faded entirely as she found her own desk in the unseen staffing room of the bank. Its surface was entirely without sentimental affectation, their absence causing it to stick out amongst the others. Unlike her co-workers at Gringotts, in recent times her desk had grown unused, the pictures that might once have lived next to her parchments then lived in the spare room of her apartment.
The only affectation upon the desk was one that she had absolutely no sentimentality for then, Bill Weasley. Without thought, her eyes lifted to look at the grand clock that hung upon one wall of the building. Thankfully, she was due to leave quite soon.
"You again," Fleur said, meeting eyes with Bill Weasley, her voice working through a croak as it uttered its first words of the day.
"Me again," Bill agreed. He had the good grace to give her an apologetic look, though not the grace to remain silent and simply hand over the dossier he held in his hand. "You're early."
"There is no such thing," Fleur said. "Being early means that you have more time to learn more about your job and you can never learn too much about a job."
Bill would know. He'd been the one to first utter those words to her, after all, on their first day working together.
"I suppose I could consider that an apology," Bill replied. Fleur disagreed. There was nothing to apologise for. "Though now that you're here, we can talk through your alibi, should any of the locals ask."
Fleur's eyes widened slightly. Most often, the places of interest were tourist hotspots too and so their teams passed by watching eyes by travelling among them. Occasionally muggle and occasional magical, though nearly always tourists.
"So, there is nothing to see in this place?" Fleur asked.
"Well for you there is. But, for nearly everyone else in the world, no," Bill explained. "It's a quiet place, Hartoft. It's inside the national park, though it's miles away from anything people would want to see and there's only five-hundred people that live there." He reached into his folder, pulling out a single, thin page of parchment. "However, the land that surrounds it is apparently of some value, so you'll be posing as a would-be landowner, should anyone ask." He lifted his eyes to look at her. "Covers the accent anyway."
"Where will I be staying?" Fleur asked. She looked down to her attire, briefly weighing its believability if it were to be worn by the person she was soon supposed to be. She quickly sighed and directed her thoughts elsewhere, though. If one were to be young and rich enough to buy land on a whim, almost anything was believable.
Bill smiled, his face holding joviality that was poorly suited to the situation. "The bank holds a residence there for you," he said, and Fleur briefly smiled too. It was something of an inside joke among them, as it seemed that there did not exist a single place in the world that the bank did not possess some part of. For a place as small as this town was though, that was surprising. "One of the few cottages that doesn't come with a hundred acres of wheat and barley, I'm told."
Fleur glanced to the clock that hung above their heads. "I can learn the rest later," she said, taking the dossier from his hands.
Bill nodded, taking a lump from his pocket that was no doubt her portkey and dropping it onto the table. "I'll see you in three days, then," he said. He tapped his wand onto the portkey, causing a glow that burst from it.
No words of luck-giving or well-wishing were spoken, as they both knew each other well enough to know that they were both unrequired and unappreciated. They shared a nod; that was enough.
Fleur reached out and took hold of the lump, disappearing into the aether through the magic of the portkey. She didn't feel any discomfort as it happened anymore, her body having grown accustomed. The only thought she held in those moments was a brief worry as to how Arielle felt as she was transported, though she quickly remembered that as Fleur's familiar, their joined magic would ease her passage.
Darkness still bloomed in the sky as the world returned to fill her vision, though the dark could not obscure the frost-glazed hills that were to be her new home away from home. Fleur landed in a similarly frosty field, though the night's chill did not grow thick enough for the ground to grow hard beneath her boots.
At once, Arielle slid out from her pocket and into the sky, revelling for a moment in the fresh air of the countryside, though before long Fleur's friend made itself a home upon her shoulder once more. The day was still too young for the calls of other birds to meet the sky, though that time would soon dawn for the first inky blue began to grow into the pitched black sky.
Despite the apparent smallness of the village of Hartoft, Fleur could not immediately gather where she was. All that seemed to spread along the landscape were the farms built along the rolling hills, the stonewall partitions their only reprieve. In the furthest distance, Fleur could just make out the beginnings of a forest at the top of the highest hills, the trees aged long enough to have grown tall.
With little else to do, Fleur left the field upon which she'd first fallen, breaking her brief stint of trespassing, and made her way to the nearest road. Cars did not pass by in the early hours and so, for a moment, the road was hers and hers alone.
However, one could never be too careful, and so she did not draw her wand to take any preliminary recordings of magical signatures. Even if the world seemed empty, one could never know if the next corner they turned held something. Or someone.
And, even in those dark hours in this tiny, quaint village among the hills, Fleur's caution was rewarded by the appearance of another soul, wandering amongst the time where morning and night blurred together.
Fleur heard this figure's footsteps around the bend of the lane and had a brief thought to be frightened, before recalling that she was a witch, her hands spreading along her wand instinctively. Her grip loosened when she heard the whistling of a tune along this person's voice, the noise echoing through the empty air. No doubt an old farmer stretching their legs, she thought.
At once, Arielle returned to her pocket, without the need for Fleur's instruction.
As the lane straightened and proved the reality of this new figure, Fleur found herself surprised. Though the man that appeared was certainly a farmer, a flat cap upon his head and worker's clothes upon his frame, he was most certainly not old. Fleur didn't know what age to place upon him, but he couldn't have been any older than twenty-five.
He was tall, six feet to Fleur's just under, and far broader than most men she often came across even in her physical line of work, his arms and chest holding the strength of labour. Even in the darkness, Fleur noticed the dark thatch of wild black hair upon his head, pitched in every direction, likely forever uncombed. Yet, what was the oddest sight to him was the glasses he wore, thin-framed and fragile in appearance against the clear force the rest of him was.
"Now then," he said. It took Fleur a moment to truly comprehend what he'd said and not for any distraction, either, his accent thick enough to make oddities out of everyday conversation. "Can I help you?"
Fleur nodded. "I am looking for-" She paused, reaching into her folder for the package containing her residence and key. "-two Harrogate Road?"
The man nodded. "So you're the new lodger," he said, to himself most of all. "You're looking for the house next to mine, then." He nodded his head toward the way she'd just walked. "I'll show you there if you'd like."
"Come on," Fleur said, already turning to retrace her own steps.
The stranger broke into a slight jog to catch up. "So, what brings you here?"
"Business," Fleur said, immediately.
He sighed. "One of them."
"One of what?"
"We've had a load of new people here recently," he said. Fleur's eyes widened, though in the darkness he could never have known. "Well, two. Both wanting to buy land for fracking." He sighed. "Drilling into the earth and putting all manner of shit in there."
"Right," Fleur said, for want of anything better to say.
"Can't believe the government lets people ruin our countryside like that," the man said, gesturing to the world around him. "So, you're here for that?"
Fleur shook her head. "No, I'm not."
Fleur grinned for a moment. "Promise."
The man grinned too then, though his stuck with him. "Good," he said. "I'd hate to have a row with my neighbours. Makes for difficult living, I've found." He walked ahead of her, turning so that he could look at Fleur, walking backwards along the road. "So, if you aren't here to ruin my home, why are you here?"
"Business," Fleur repeated. "The land here is purportedly of some value."
"Depends on if you think cows are valuable, I reckon," he said. The lane began to bend, though even walking backwards the man easily accounted for it. "Are you in the cattle business, then?"
"I am not, no," Fleur said. "But I represent people that could be."
"The Widdups will be happy if you're looking at theirs, then," the man said. "They've been trying to sell for donkey's years."
Fleur shook her head, mostly to himself. Of course, this man would know everything there is to know of this place. A small village knew of nothing better than its own gossip.
She focused her attention solely on him, her eyes intense. She allowed a touch of her Veela allure to pass beyond her control, her hair seemingly floating along a breeze, her skin glowing under its own lightness. "Why don't you tell me why you're out here so early?"
What Fleur expected was for the man to speak every truth he knew. That was what should have happened. He would speak until she was satisfied.
What shouldn't have happened was for him to not lose a single step, even backwards, and laugh at her question.
"it's not early," he said, laughing. He held absolutely no reaction to her magic; none at all. "It's six."
"I'm sorry?" Fleur asked, incredulous.
"City girl then?" he asked. Her silence, it seemed, was answer enough for him. "We're getting near calving season, so I'm up early checking on some of them." He laughed, his eyes warming in memory. "Me mum always said I had healer's hands."
Fleur shook her head again, taking a moment of silence for herself, before changing tact. "And this must be done so early?" she asked, softly.
"Better early than late," he said. "Besides, the earlier you wake up, the longer you get the world to yourself."
Fleur smiled. "Not quite to yourself."
He grinned. "Near enough for me."
The stranger stopped suddenly. Fleur followed suit.
"We're here," he said. Fleur looked up to find two cottages side by side, alone on the road without another house for as far as the eye could see. He met her eyes. "I best get inside."
Fleur smiled. "Nice to meet you."
"And you," he said, with a nod, before turning toward his home, pulling out his key as he did. He turned back briefly. "I'm Harry, by the way."
"Fleur," she called out. He smiled once more, before turning back to unlock his door and let himself in.
Fleur herself did the same with a shake of her head. A month of work stretched out in front of her, though her most immediate task was to figure out whatever had just happened.
Side note, for the few people in the North-east of England that might notice. In real-life, Hartoft is a tiny hamlet of 50 or so people, and for the purposes of this fic, I've made it bigger.
There it is!
Let me know what you thought with a review. They're one of my biggest inspirations to write.
Thank you for reading!