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Chapter 3: Improve Your English
‘Improve your English?’ Fleur thought furiously to herself as she pounded the corridors of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, a huge stack of yellowing parchment piled precariously in her arms. She had been working here for two months now, after having a brief holiday back home, she’d decided to take up a job in England. Not that she’d ever really admit it, but she had grown rather fond of the country and had been keen to come, even if only to improve her English. Maman and Papa weren’t best pleased when she had informed them of this, and Gabrielle had cried and begged her to stay, but she felt this was something she had to do. It had taken days to win her parents round, after the end of the Triwizard Tournament, they were loathe to let her out of their sight after what happened to poor Cedric Diggory, but in the end, they had recognized her ambition to stand on her own two feet and let her go.
Diagon Alley; she’d often heard the Hogwarts students discussing the place when she caught snatches of conversation round the castle. She’d imagined the place to be a bustling, busy town full of opportunities for a young woman like herself. She was only slightly disappointed with the cobbled street lined with interesting little shops. Her mind buzzing with excitement at the prospect of her new life, she’d completely walked past the shops selling robes, and confectionary and broomsticks, and headed straight for the impressive white building at the end of the street. It had seemed to draw her towards it; those ornate white marble pillars, even though she had no clue what the building was.
Had she have known it was a bank, she might have spent a bit more time looking instead of marching straight into Gringotts and asking, as politely as she could, for a job. She certainly hadn’t expected that there would be goblins. Or that they would laugh at her. Still, she’d stuck her ground, looked the nearest goblin right in the beady black eye, and asked, again, for a job, any sort of job.
And now here she was, two months later. She’d soon learned that it wasn’t just goblins who worked in Gringotts, but the witches and wizards who occupied the desk jobs were tucked out of sight, in much less impressive settings than the chandeliered, marble entrance hall. Fleur found that her main duties were to fetch and carry for these employees, making enquiries on behalf of the goblins, or simply standing in the entrance hall, and greeting customers as they entered. It wasn’t exactly what she had had in mind when she left France, but it was a start, after all, and was learning a few new English phrases a week. She had also picked up a phrase or two in the harsh tongue of Gobbledegook, though she wasn’t sure she should repeat them. She stored them away in her mind anyway, just in case she should ever feel the need to use them.
She tried to bear all this in mind as she climbed up another flight of stairs, full of resentment for the employee that had forced this huge stack of parchment upon her. They were a sullen bunch, for the most part, bitter about working underground, or so it seemed to Fleur, and so they hardly had a kind word to spare. Sometimes she wondered whether she should just pack up the few belongings she had brought with her, leave the little Diagon Alley flat and go back home, back to Maman and Papa and Gabrielle, where people were actually glad to have her around.
Witches, wizards and goblins alike pushed past her as they hurried down the bustling corridor she’d just turned into and she struggled to keep hold of her parchment.
“Excusez-moi!” she called over the din, then she remembered where she was and she hastily corrected herself, “Please, excuse me!”
She squinted again at the note attached to her parchment, stating which room it was to be delivered to; Office 25. She groaned aloud, she was going completely the wrong way. Lost in her thoughts, she had obviously taken a wrong turn somewhere. She turned round to head back down the stairs and collided with a rather tall wizard who seemed to take no notice of her whatsoever. Their collision sent her parchment flying everywhere and she scrabbled, red faced, on the ground to retrieve it all, as the various other employees stalked past, muttering and shaking their heads. Oh how she wished the students of Hogwarts, who had gaped so when she and other Beauxbatons students had entered their school, could see her now; struggling to find pieces of meaningless parchment with her hair falling into her eyes, a furious blush blazing her cheeks, ruining her good robes on the grimy floor.
And people were standing on the parchment as they marched past, hardly sparing a glance for Fleur who had now burst into tears as she realised that most of the precious sheets had been ripped or crumpled up. She sat back on her heels, abandoning all attempts to try and retrieve the stupid papers, and sobbed unashamedly. It wasn’t as if anybody really knew her anyway, or even cared about her, and after today, they would never hear about her again.
She stood up suddenly, knowing what she had to do. Taking care to stand forcefully on the haphazard stack of parchment she left lying on the floor, she took off at a run, hardly caring that she was going against the very definition of graceful, and headed straight for the staff cloakroom. Once inside the dingy little room, she closed the door shut behind her, and leaned against it, breathing heavily. She couldn’t stand it here another minute, she had to go home. She’d send an owl to her parents as soon as she could, ask them to organise a portkey that would take her back to their loving embrace.
Taking deep, shuddering breathes to calm herself, she surveyed her reflection in the cracked little mirror on the wall opposite. She decided she would leave with her head held high, would exit with her dignity intact, as much as possible. Smoothing her silvery hair back into place, she dabbed at her red eyes with an old handkerchief and reached for her coat on the rusty old hook. The rest of the employees all had their own personalised hooks, with their names written above in elegant script but she hadn’t been considered important enough to waste one on. That had annoyed her at first, but now, well, she’d never see this place again. Shrugging her coat round her, and wrapping a silk scarf round her pale neck, she felt strangely comforted already. She gave the horrid cloakroom one last glance, and then exited, slamming the door hard behind her.
She emerged into the marble entrance hall, looking straight ahead, not even deigning to glance at her former employees. Her shoes clicked against the polished floor as she approached the huge front doors, and she felt a thrill of relief, mingled with a slight twinge of remorse filling her stomach. Yes, working here had been awful, but hadn’t it given her the independence she had wanted? Hadn’t her English been improving steadily? Hadn’t she been earning her own money? She had to admit to herself that feeling the weight of hard-earned Galleons in her pocket at the end of each week had been immensely satisfying.
Still, there were plenty of opportunities back in France which she would avail of as soon as she returned home. It wasn’t like she had made any friends here that she would miss her, and back home, she’d always had hordes of girls begging for her friendship. She’d struck up some, well they couldn’t exactly be classified as friendships, but she had rather liked a few of the Hogwarts students she’d gotten to know, and they’d promised to keep in touch. After the first few owls had been exchanged, carrying huge scrolls of parchment with long, detailed paragraphs, the correspondence had become less and less frequent until it had frazzled out altogether. Well, not entirely. That pompous idiot, Roger Davies, still sent an owl or two every week, bearing long letters declaring his love for her, or even, Fleur shuddered at the memory, photographs of himself in his Quidditch gear, winking suggestively up at her.
No, nobody at the bank would miss her, and she certainly wouldn’t miss them. But still, there was one person she kept thinking of, someone she would miss very much indeed, even though she’d never spoken to him once in her life. She had in her dreams though. Every night, his face swam before her closed eyelids, and they talked for hours, long, meaningful conversations, they laughed and joked, and even kissed. Every morning, she was forced out of her blissful dreams to face the reality that she didn’t really know Bill Weasley at all, and she probably never would. It was a foolish notion, but she’d always thought, right at the back of her mind, that being in the same country as him, she was bound to run into him sometime. He was sure to have to get money out of Gringotts at some point. But, she’d been here for two months now, and hadn’t caught so much as a glance of his fiery red hair. It obviously wasn’t meant to be; a silly schoolgirl fantasy that was supposed to dissolve after a few weeks of innocent dreaming.
Except the feelings had not gone away. In fact, during the long, lonely evenings she spent along in her dingy little flat, Fleur’s feelings had intensified dramatically. With little else to occupy her time, she thought endlessly about that moment when she had seen him at Hogwarts. She relived that second over and over in her mind, wishing she had said something, or introduced herself, or even just smiled at him, instead of staring like an idiot. She had fully intended to speak to him after the Third task, but in the ensuing chaos, and the tragedy of Cedric’s death, she had not been able to. Now she just resigned to thinking of him, wistfully, endlessly. She whispered his name in her sleep, she thought about him every waking moment, she dreamed of him every night.
Not that any of that mattered any more. She was going back to France, where Bill Weasley and Gringotts and Hogwarts and England itself would all be forgotten about. She’d settle back into life with her mother, father and little sister, look for a job that would actually appreciate her talents, get married to a well-mannered man. It was the life she had always envisaged for herself, but why did it make her feel so unhappy now?
As she stretched out one pale hand to push open the door for the final time, a voice from behind her caught her attention.
“Excuse me!” it called, “Miss! Wait a second, please, hang on a moment!”
She sighed, rolling her eyes to the heavens, cursing whatever stupid employee was trying to stop her from leaving. Her fingers twitching towards the wand in her pocket, she whipped round, an angry retort rising in her throat when she saw him. Her words died on her lips.
It was him.