Written for the reviews Lounge Summer Project "In the Summertime". Check out the other stories in the collaboration: the link is in my favourites.
Summer is the cool of the woods and the sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair as you dance. Summer is you and Maman; Papa is left behind in the big house in the real human world. You and Maman, the aunts, the girl cousins – and Grandmama. The Veela men are there, but they seem insignificant, hardly real. Here, it is the women who rule.
Grandmama is what makes summer special. She is tall and fair, and so beautiful that sometimes you have to look at her sideways, just as you do not look straight at the sun. Beside her, Maman's beauty is ordinary; even the beauty of the aunts and the cousins who are full Veela fades. Grandmama's beauty transcends them all.
She tells stories – in the evening when they sit around the fires – of her youth, the time when she was the fairest of the fair, like a princess in the Muggle fairytale book that you love so much. How all the Veela men aspired to take her for their mate, and how she forsook them all for Jean Fouret, who was tall and dark and wholly human, and who saw the young Veela girl as a real person, not as simply a beautiful face and body. Jean is long dead, killed in the plague that ravaged the village below the mountains when Maman was a tiny child, but Grandmama's eyes still cloud with tears and the guttural Bulgarian she is speaking still cracks when she remembers him.
"Ah, my child," she says, lifting your chin and looking deep into your eyes. "You must find a man who loves you, not your beauty."
And you nod and smile, because arguing with Grandmama is unthought of, but you are only six years old, and you do not really understand.
And at night, in the room you share with her, you hear Maman crying, and you do not know why and dare not ask.
Summer ends abruptly, as it always does, with thunderstorms and fierce wind in the trees, and you try to be helpful as Maman packs her things and yours for the return to the real world. That last night, you wake in the dark to hear her crying harder than ever, and you hear your name and listen unashamedly.
"Ah, my child, my little flower, my Fleur, I have done wrong in bringing you here. You will be torn as I am. I am sorry." She is speaking Bulgarian, as she never does at home, and you think maybe you have not understood, as you do not feel torn at all. You like being part of two different worlds. It makes you feel special. How can it be hard or wrong? You do not understand.
The summer after Gabrielle is born, Maman brings her to the Veela, and you are older, and you see – and almost understand – the guilt in her eyes as she places the baby in her mother's arms to be blessed. Gabrielle too will know the two worlds, and you, a year or two from the beginning of womanhood, are beginning to understand that that might be hard. Next year – at your human father's insistence - you will go away to school as Maman never did. Maman learnt the human part of her magic from Jean's sister, her Tante Marguerite, who still lives in the village, and who you feel searching your face for a trace of her long-dead brother when you visit. You will learn more human magic than Maman ever knew, but it will take you further from Grandmama's world.
You see your baby sister in your grandmother's arms, and you know with a sudden clarity that one day this will come to her too, and for the first time you feel some sympathy for the interloper who has – as you see it – taken your parents' love and time from you. And Grandmama looks up from the crying kicking baby and straight into your eyes, and you know that she sees what you are thinking. You lower your gaze and feel your cheeks redden, and you are ashamed, but Grandmama smiles and holds the baby out to you.
"Ta petite soeur," she says, and you have never heard her speak French before, and you know that this is special, more important than anything she has ever told you before. She puts the baby in your arms, and Gabrielle stops crying and looks up at you with eyes the colour of bluebells.
"Yours to love and look after," Grandmama says, still in French; but she did not need to say it. With that look, Gabrielle has sealed her place in your heart forever.
The next summer, you see the two worlds so clearly. Your cousins – Thekla, Marie, Veronique, Susanna – who have been your playmates every summer of your life, seem apart, different now. They do not exclude you exactly, but there are ideas that you do not understand; Veela magic that you know would not work for you should you try it; and you cannot keep up when they dance. And always there is an unspoken sense that this is your fault, your choice, that it is you who is leaving them, although it seems to you an inevitable thing that is happening, not a conscious choice that you have made.
For the first time, you are glad when the storms herald the end of the summer. You want to return to the real, the human world where you belong.
On the last night, Grandmama draws you aside from the throng around the fires and into the forest a little way. She pushes you to your knees before her, and places her hand on your head for the blessing. When she lets you stand, half-embarrassed, half-awed, she presses a tiny gauze bag into your hand.
"Do not open it now, child," she cautions. "The wand maker will know how to use it, how to make it the core of your wand, the place where your two worlds meet." And she smiles and kisses you. "Do not forget that you are Veela, Fleur."
You do not go back every summer after that. You visit friends or stay at home with Papa (although the big house feels very empty without Maman and Gabrielle). You go sometimes for a few days at the end of the summer, but you no longer feel a part of the Veela world. You are an outsider looking in, and you envy your little sister, who dances with the Veela girls, and does not yet know that she is different.
But Grandmama does not treat you as an outsider. She welcomes you as she always has, blesses you when you leave, and reminds you time and time again: "Find a man who will love who you are, who sees beyond your beauty." You hardly listen any more. Being beautiful is such a part of who you are, you barely understand that the real you is separate. You are still very young.
The last summer is your final one before leaving school. Your mind is full of two things – of Louis and of the Triwizard Tournament – and you resent the time and effort that visiting the Veela demands of you. But you are glad when you see Grandmama, and understand why Maman was so insistent that you come. Grandmama, who has seemed ageless and indestructible up to now, is shrunken, her beauty undimmed, but somehow brittle and fragile. You know without being told that this is her final summer.
Her eyes and her insight are as sharp as ever. On the first evening, she takes your hands and scans your face.
"Ah, child," she says softly. "It hurts now, but will not forever. There will be another who sees the real you, and who will love you for who you are."
You cannot believe it. Louis was the first – the only – boy who you let see your true self, and he found it wanting. It is safer, less painful, to let the men see only the outside, what they want to see. Then you are in control. You do not voice the thought aloud, but Grandmama hears it nevertheless.
"It is safer, my Fleur," she whispers. "But it is not best. I hope one day you will know what it is to risk your very self, and to entrust it to one whom you love, and who will love you in return."
You do not answer. Grandmama is very old. She has forgotten how it is to be young.
There is no mention of the Tournament between you until the very last night. You kneel for your grandmother's blessing, knowing it will be the last time, and as she raises you and kisses you, she murmurs: "Remember, my child, success is not all. It is more important that you find and know yourself."
It is nearly a year later, six months after Grandmama's death in the depths of winter, that you begin to understand. It is even later that you remember what else she said, and dare open yourself up to a man who will love you for who you are.
You do not visit the Veela again. It is no longer your world. You do not exactly forget that you are Veela, but the human world – which after all is more than half of your heritage – is too demanding, too noisy, too persistent, for you to give much thought to the other, which now seems shadowy and unreal, a part of childhood that you have set aside with your dolls and fairytales.
But one summer, when Victoire is a year old, Bill goes to Egypt for a week on Gringotts business, and you know that now is the time to show your daughter the other world. She is too young to understand of course, and the other world is even less hers than it is yours now, but you know that you should take her and take her now.
When you place your daughter in the arms of your great aunt, Grandmama's younger sister, you know that you have done the right thing. Victoire will never know the two worlds as you have done, but this world is still a part of who she is. You will not let her forget that she is Veela. It is her right and her heritage, as it is yours.
You sleep peacefully that night; and the storms heralding the end of summer do not disturb you at all.