DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Grey, cold and wet weather doesn't really give people such a strong craving for ice cream. For that reason, every winter the sign on Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour would change to read: Florean Fortescue's Tea Room, Cake Shop and Ice Cream Parlour. The sign was crammed and a little bit messy, because the new wooden letters had had to push the regular ones out of their places, and the old ones didn't like it that much.
That particular day in February was, however, remarkably sunny and warm. The witches and wizards passing through Diagon Alley wore their heavy cloaks unfastened, and a couple of cats were stretching lazily in the sun. It was a good day for ice cream, so the words Ice Cream on Florean Fortescue's sign swelled a little to remind everyone of his most famous product.
As Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour were walking out of Gringotts bank in the afternoon, they noticed the sign and Bill suggested that they go inside and have an ice cream. He still had a few hours before that day's task for the Order, and he wanted to spend them with Fleur.
Fleur agreed with enthusiasm, saying that she couldn't remember when she had last had an ice cream.
Bill entered the ice cream parlour and held the door for Fleur. He couldn't help feeling just a little bit smug while she was walking through the door - as always when he went somewhere with Fleur, he was in company of the most beautiful girl around. Not that the competition was big in Fortescue's at the moment - only two tables were occupied, one by a goblin, the other by two elderly witches having tea and cake.
The goblin smiled at Fleur as she was taking her cloak off, and she smiled back and said: "Hello, Egric."
"Do you know Egric?" she asked Bill. "He works in the Advanced Arithmancy Department."
Bill greeted the goblin politely. He didn't recognise him. Bill didn't really deal that much with goblins at work - only humans worked as curse breakers.
"Good afternoon," said Florean Fortescue's voice from behind the counter. "What will you have?"
Fleur took a seat and examined a piece of parchment placed on the table.
"I'll have the Forest Fruit Fantasy. But without the whipped cream, please."
She handed the menu to Bill, who glanced at it and ordered the Chocolate and Mandrake Surprise.
"Excellent choice - refreshing and healing at the same time," said Mr. Fortescue. "Your orders will be ready in three minutes precisely. Your Magnesium and Moss Sonata, sir," he said to the goblin and pointed his wand at a glass bowl of green and grey ice cream, which floated up into the air and steadily made its way to Egric's table.
Bill frowned. Quietly, so that the goblin wouldn't hear him, he repeated: "Magnesium and Moss?"
Fleur glanced at the goblin and shrugged. "It is strange, but different people like different things." As if to show she was not interested in further conversation on the subject, she tossed her head impatiently moving her silvery hair away from her face.
Suddenly smiling, she reached into her handbag and pulled out a roll of parchment covered in a child's large handwriting.
"My sister wrote to me again," she said. "Our mother took her to a farm to see baby unicorns, and she was so delighted." Bill noticed that her expression became dreamy. He knew how fond she was of her younger sister - she often spoke very tenderly about her.
"What about your father?" she asked him suddenly. "Has he completely recovered?"
"Oh, yes, he's perfectly all right now," Bill said, feeling slightly uneasy. He had told her his father had had an accident and mentioned visiting him at St. Mungo's, but he wasn't able to tell her anything more than that. It would be nice to be able to talk about his family to his girlfriend, but it would mean betraying the Order's secrets.
"The Forest Fruit Fantasy and the Chocolate and Mandrake surprise are ready!" Florean Fortescue announced. Two bowls of ice cream floating through the air, made a curve around Bill's head and landed safely in front of them.
The portions of ice cream looked delicious.
"I really shouldn't be doing this," said Fleur, but nevertheless started eating her Forest Fruit Fantasy with great enthusiasm. "Mmm. This is so tasty. What is yours like? Does it really have Mandrake in it?"
"I guess so," Bill answered between mouthfuls of ice cream, "but it's candied, so it tastes just like ... I don't know ... candied pineapple?"
"Let me try," said Fleur and leaned across the table to scoop some of the Mandrake ice cream with her spoon. Their heads touched, bent over the bowl of ice cream, and Bill heard one of the two old witches at the next table whisper to the other:
"Oh, aren't they adorable! Such a handsome couple."
"Yes, they are both so good looking. He would be much more handsome if he'd cut his hair shorter, though."
Bill glanced at the two witches angrily, but Fleur grinned and whispered to him:
"No, you are much more handsome as you are now."
Just then the door opened and a new costumer entered Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. She looked like a frail, bent old woman, dressed in a shabby black robe. She walked inside slowly, her bloodshot little eyes glittering as she looked around. Her mouth was trying to form a sweet, demure smile, but the effect of the smile was somewhat lessened by the sharp teeth it revealed.
It was a hag.
One of the old witches shook her head in a worried way and whispered something to the other. The newcomer made her way to Florean Fortescue and said in a voice that was trying too hard to be sweet:
"So nice to see you, Mr. Fortescue. Doesn't everything here smell delicious?"
"Hello, Rodwig. What would you like?" Fortescue said in a polite, but apprehensive voice.
"Oh, so difficult to decide ..." The hag examined the cakes and sweets on display for a moment - a very brief moment.
"I'll have some of those lovely gingerbread biscuits," she said.
"How many?" asked Fortescue.
Rodwig grinned, showing more sharp teeth.
"All of them," she said.
Bill and Fleur turned to look at her, surprised, and they noticed that the two witches and the goblin did the same. The pile of gingerbread biscuits on Fortescue's shelf was enormous and even four or five people would have trouble carrying them all.
"Rodwig," said Mr. Fortescue reproachfully. "Why do you want to buy them all? You know very well you don't like these biscuits."
"Oh, I've developed a taste for them," said the hag, her raspy voice still trying to sound sweet. "I'd just like to ask you to perform an Engorgement Charm on them for me before you wrap them up, if you'd be so kind."
One of the two old witches said, in a worried voice:
"But, er ... madam, Engorgement Charms should never be performed on food. All nutritionists always warn about it, you know. Once you eat it, it just shrinks back and ..."
"She doesn't mind because she was never going to eat them anyway," said Florean Fortescue. "You are trying to build a gingerbread cottage in the forest again, aren't you, Rodwig? Planning to try and lure children into it? You know I can't let you do that."
All the costumers were looking at Rodwig now; her eyes were wide open, trying to convey the expression of wounded innocence, but she couldn't stop herself from licking her lips when Fortescue mentioned children.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "Isn't my money as good as anyone else's?"
"Of course it is," said Fortescue. "But you must understand that, knowing what you are planning to use the biscuits for, I'd have to inform the Ministry immediately."
He paused for a moment, then continued in a gentler voice:
"You know you would never be able to do that anyway. There are no deep and unexplored forests in these days. Just give it up, Rodwig. Have a Gretel pastry instead."
The hag looked as if she was having an internal struggle. Then she said in an irritated voice: "Oh, all right! I'll take four of them." She fumbled to find her money in her leather pouch and threw it on the counter in a nervous gesture. Fortescue handed her four pastries wrapped up in shiny blue paper with a colourful picture on it. Bill and Fleur couldn't see what was in the picture from where they were sitting, especially since they were pretending not to be watching the whole incident.
Rodwig the hag grabbed the four pastries and walked out of the ice cream parlour in a hurry, unwrapping one of the packages on the way, a hungry look in her eyes. Bill and Fleur, as well as the two old witches and the goblin, averted their eyes when she passed them, pretending they didn't just now hear about her wanting to eat children.
"So sad," Florean Fortescue muttered when she left. "It's the seventh time she's tried something like this, poor thing. She always thinks I would forget all about her and sell her the biscuits. As if she'd be able to actually build the cottage and ... well, use it for her purposes."
"How dreadful," said one of the old witches, shaking her head.
Bill asked him: "Those pastries she bought from you - what were they, exactly?"
"Gretel pastries? Well, is quite a distasteful subject, sir. They are made especially for hags, to stop their craving for children's flesh." Noticing the expressions on his costumers' faces, Fortescue hurried to explain:
"Oh, no, you mustn't think that these pastries ... It's only an artificial flavouring, nothing more. I usually hide these behind the counter because they upset people, but I think it's a good thing hags can buy these things. Because if they couldn't - I'm afraid that some shops in Knockturn Alley would be happy to offer them something even more suited to their tastes."
There was a moment of silence, then Florean Fortescue said as cheerfully as he could manage:
"Well, it's best to forget about this, isn't it? So sorry you had to hear this."
But Bill was still curious.
"Why are they called Gretel pastries?" he asked.
Forgetting that he had intended to change the subject, Florean Fortescue came out from behind the counter and stood in the middle of the room as if he was about to give a speech. It was well known how much he enjoyed talking about history.
"Gretel pastries are named after the little girl famous for killing a hag four centuries ago. Pushed her into the oven and burned her. Nasty way to die, but that's exactly what the hag had in mind for Gretel and her brother. Hags are very vindictive, you know. They never forgot the humiliation. That's why they like to imagine it's her in the pastries."
Fortescue handed a wrapped up pastry to Bill. There was a picture of a little girl with blonde pigtails on the wrapping paper. She seemed to be screaming. Bill frowned and handed the pastry to Fleur, realising too late that it might not be a good idea to let her see it.
Fleur took the package, took one glance at the picture and threw it onto the table with disgust. She was silent for a few moments, but Bill noticed that her face was paler than usual.
"Just like my little Gabrielle," she finally said. "That's horrible. Horrible."
"Sorry you had to see that," Bill said and tossed the package back to Fortescue, who put it away behind the ???? immediately. He continued eating his Chocolate and Mandrake Surprise, but after a minute he noticed that Fleur wasn't eating her ice cream - she had pushed it away to the corner of the table and was now staring at the table, clearly very upset. For a very short moment Bill wanted to ask her if he could finish her ice cream, but he refrained from doing that and tried to think of something helpful to say.
"Look, Fleur, I know that creature that just walked out of here was disgusting, and that the little girl on the wrapping looked like your sister, but you know she isn't really in any danger ..."
Fleur lifted her head and looked at him. It seemed from her expression that Bill's words were making her even more upset, though he couldn't understand why.
"Disgusting! That's what she was, n'est-ce pas? So easy to judge her! Oh, you humans!"
Bill stared at her, completely baffled.
"Er ... What are you talking about, Fleur? Did you, perhaps, mean to say you men?"
"No, thank you very much, I didn't mean to say that! I've learned that much English! You humans is precisely what I meant to say!" Fleur's voice was getting louder and more agitated with each word, and tears were appearing in her eyes. Something else seemed to be happening to her eyes too - the pupils were becoming larger and larger, making her eyes look black.
Everyone in the room had noticed something was wrong - the goblin was finishing his ice cream hurriedly, obviously wanting to get out of there as soon as possible, and the two old witches were pointedly looking in the opposite direction. Florean Fortescue had discreetly positioned himself behind a large pile of cakes.
"That creature, as you called her, she was born that way! And yes, it is horrible, horrible, that she wants to eat children. But she can do nothing to change it! Do you understand how lucky you are, Bill, being allowed to use a wand? Because I know very well that I am lucky."
Bill stared at her, trying desperately to think of something to say that would calm her down. Nothing come to mind. He couldn't understand what being allowed to use a wand had to do with anything.
Fleur banged her fist on the table. "No, you don't understand, do you?"
Unexpectedly, she turned to the goblin and said in a desperate voice: "Egric, you understand what I'm talking about. I know you do!"
The goblin quickly stood up, muttering something about having urgent business to attend to, tossed some coins on his table and left the ice cream parlour in a hurry.
"Oh, yes, pretend that I'm mad and you don't know what I'm talking about!" Fleur cried after him. She turned to Bill again and said, her voice shaking with anger:
"You know, Egric is a genius. Me, I'm very good at Arithmancy. I was the best in my generation at school. But Egric - he can calculate in his mind things no human would ever be able to do without a quill and parchment. And he never makes a mistake."
She took a deep breath and went on: "Today Egric was talking to this client, a wizard, and the wizard's wand fell out of his pocket. He almost left without it. So Egric, he picked up the wand and went after him, and do you know what he said?"
Fleur was looking at Bill angrily. Her eyes were completely black now, and they seemed to be getting rounder in shape. Something strange seemed to be happening to her face as well.
"He apologised for touching the wand and explained to the wizard that he just pick it up to bring it to him, and that he had no other motives. He humiliated himself like that, in front of a human who didn't have one third of his brains, so that the human wouldn't think Egric intended to use the wand. Because that would be against the law! Oh, God, how unjust!"
Fleur raised a hand to her face to wipe a tear, but she froze holding her hand in the air. Her hands were not human anymore. They were grey and scaly, and the thin fingers ended in large, sharp talons.
She remained silent for a while, staring at her hands and taking deep breaths. After a few moments her eyes turned blue once more, and the hand she was holding in the air was her small and well manicured hand again.
Fleur looked around desperately - at Bill, who was watching her helplessly, at the two witches who were pretending not to have noticed anything. Very red in the face, she jumped up from her seat and ran out of the ice cream parlour.
After a second of confusion, Bill stood up, tossed a Galleon onto the table, grabbed their cloaks and rushed outside. As he was going through the door he thought he could hear one of the old witches saying happily to the other:
"Oh, I'm so glad he's going after her!"
Fleur was leaning against the wall of the building next to Fortescue's ice cream parlour, staring at the pavement, folding her arms tightly around herself to keep warm. When she heard Bill approaching her, she turned towards him and looked at him miserably.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes," Fleur said in a quiet voice.
Bill took Fleur's cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. He kept his hands on her shoulders and for a moment she moved towards him and leaned against his chest. But then she moved away again, still looking upset.
"So? What now?" She asked in a resigned voice.
"What do you mean?" Bill asked.
"You know what I mean. You saw ... that side of me now. I get angry much too easily. And then I become ... like that. And I can lose control completely, and then I become dangerous."
"I'm not easily scared," Bill said. "Look, Fleur, it isn't as if I didn't know that side of you existed. It's just that this is the first time I've seen it with my own eyes. I guess I'll just have to make you angry a little less often than I'd like to."
Fleur smiled. "What a horrible thing to say," she said, but her voice didn't sound angry at all. She put her arms around Bill's neck and hugged him.
They were silent for a moment, then Fleur pulled away from Bill and said: "I want to explain it to you - why it was that I got so angry."
She looked around. Diagon Alley wasn't exactly crowded, but people were still passing them by from time to time, and across the street Rodwig was sitting on the steps in front of the Magic Menagerie and finishing her Gretel pastries.
Fleur lowered her voice. "That thing that happened at the bank today with Egric and the wand - I imagined something like that happening to me. I imagined myself living among witches and wizards, but without the right to use a wand. And that is precisely what will happen if that Umbridge woman convinces the Minister and has it her way. Half-breeds - that's what she calls people like me!"
She stamped her foot angrily.
"And I can't change what I was born as!" She lowered her voice again and glanced at the hag across the street. "I don't have cravings for the flesh of children like she does. I have these urges to run through forests barefoot and dance in the moonlight instead. But I'm still not completely human. And I have these ... transformations when I'm angry. And if I'm really very angry, I somehow conjure up fire and throw it at people."
Bill laughed. "Why, that's really cool. I wish I could do that. And running through the forest barefoot and dancing in the moonlight sounds wonderful."
He continued in a more serious tone: "Listen - don't worry about Umbridge. I don't believe she'll stay powerful for too long. All those who are trying to cover up the truth about You-Know-Who will be exposed as liars. No one can keep something like that secret for too long."
Fleur nodded. Having great respect for Harry Potter, and having witnessed some of the events at the Triwizard Tournament that showed the influence of Dark magic, she didn't for a moment doubt that Voldemort had returned.
"So I'll just have to wait for You-Know-Who to show himself, and it will actually be good for me," she said resentfully.
"Always cheerful and optimistic, aren't you?" Bill said with a grin and embraced her again. "You'll see. It will be all right."
He wasn't sure anymore whether he was talking about Dolores Umbridge and her laws or about Lord Voldemort when he said that everything was going to be alright, but it didn't matter. They stood there hugging each other in silence until the noise of a cart being pushed along the cobbled alley interrupted them. A boy was pushing a cart carrying a large cage of ravens into the Magical Menagerie, and Rodwig was reluctantly moving aside to let him pass.
Looking at the ravens, Fleur asked:
"Bill? In there, when I transformed ... did I have a beak?"
"A beak? No, I'm pretty sure your nose looked normal."
"Good. Then I stopped it in time. I hate it when I grow a beak," Fleur said with a smile.
"Can't see why. Very useful things, beaks."
Fleur laughed. "Oh, stop it, you are being silly!" she cried and kissed him. He returned the kiss, and only after a couple of minutes whispered in her ear:
"Fleur, you're not going to grow a beak now, are you? Because, from this angle, it could poke my eye out."
Coming out of Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlour, the two old witches saw Bill and Fleur kissing and started whispering excitedly.
"Oh, I'm so glad that everything is all right between them after all."
"Yes, such a lovely couple. Just like an illustration for those novels in Witches Weekly. Imagine if they have children how pretty they would be."
"Children," Rodwig repeated in a dreamy voice and finished the last crumbs of her pastry.