Music drifted up to the foot of the wide, stone staircase. Portraits nodded and swayed to its tempo. Professor Mcgonagall tapped her fingers against her hip. Countless pupils drifted past.
This is about a good a choice of location to wait as Professor Mcgonagall’s choice of that tartan horror for a dress. Harry leant against the balustrade, stared at the ceiling, and held his breath as the time dragged by. Maybe Fleur was just setting me up to throw me off for the tournament. He smothered the twist of anxiety in his gut and studied his fingernails. No. Don’t think about stuff like that. Trust her. She said she’s different. She’s not given you a reason to distrust her. Don’t ruin something for no reason.
Professor Mcgonagall cast a swift tempus charm. ‘You do have a partner, don’t you, Mr Potter?’
I hope I do. He stamped the knot of worry back down. She promised.
‘I’m sure she’s just fashionably late, professor,’ he said.
‘Well, you can transfigure your robes into something more suitable while you wait. As long as she arrives before Miss Delacour and her date, it will not matter.’
Are you going to transfigure your tartan terror into something suitable, too, professor? Harry bit his tongue before the question slipped out.
Cedrid sniggered. ‘I don’t think Fleur Delacour’s arrival will come before that of Harry’s date.’
The Asian Ravenclaw on his arm giggled into Cedric’s shoulder.
Viktor Krum snorted. ‘Da.’
Hermione hung on his arm, her fingers curled round Krum’s bicep. She worried at her lip so hard the sleek coil of hair atop her head wobbled.
Harry waved his wand over his school robes, transfiguring them in one smooth motion from plain black to a dark share of green with silver edging. I finally look like the Heir of Slytherin.
Professor Mcgonagall’s expression tightened, but her eyes remained soft.
Should’ve listened to the raggedy hat. Harry stifled a sigh. Wouldn’t have got wound up trying to be the perfect hero if I’d not been in Gryffindor. Might’ve murdered Malfoy, though. Of course, most decent people would probably consider that another argument for joining Slytherin.
Movement flashed in the corner of Harry’s eye. Fleur descended the stairs in a gown of shimmering silver. The individual threads shone like they were coated in molten metal and the material shivered around her hips like heat haze. Relief flooded Harry when her eyes flicked to him and softened.
She looks beautiful. A small smile crept onto his lips. Her allure… Harry tore his eyes away and held his breath. Too beautiful. As if everyone didn’t have enough reason to envy or hate me, I’ve got the girl they’re all dreaming about, too. Fantastic.
‘Miss Delacour.’ Professor Mcgonagall pursed her lips. ‘You are late and without a date.’
Fleur gave the transfiguration professor the sort of look that had reminded Harry of the Hungarian Horntail. ‘My date’s already waiting for me.’ She swayed into the middle of the group and slipped her arm through Harry’s.
Her heat burnt against his skin like the summer sun on his back. Deep breaths, Harry. It’s only for a few hours. He forced himself to stand tall and pulled a smile onto his face.
A flicker of warmth passed through Fleur’s eyes, then she turned a broad smirk on Professor Mcgonagall. ‘International co-operation.’
‘Well, it’s too late to change now. It’s time for the opening dance.’ Professor Mcgonagall spared a long look for Harry and Fleur, then bustled off.
Harry’s heart began to pound. A host of staring eyes prickled on his skin before he’d even taken a step toward the Great Hall.
‘I do not enjoy dancing,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Not with people I don’t know or trust there, so I hope you don’t mind if we only dance together. For as short a time as possible if it makes you uncomfortable still.’
Harry took a deep breath and nodded. He pictured the circle of dark ink on its white page and tried to shut out the whispers, the searing heat of Fleur’s skin against his, and all those bright, gimlet eyes in the crowd.
His feet followed Fleur’s light pull, everything else was drowned beneath the cheerful waltz of music and the sound of his heart in his ears; everything but the occasional flash of bright, sky blue eyes a few inches from his own. Her lips curved into a small, soft smile as the song faded.
‘Not so bad, Harry?’ Fleur’s hot fingers slipped through his. ‘I think there are a lot of envious wizards out there.’
‘And some envious witches,’ Harry said. ‘Sadly, I think they’re all envious of me.’
Fleur cocked her head at him and swept her silver hair over her shoulder. ‘You didn’t answer my question.’
‘It wasn’t so bad.’ He followed her to a side table covered in drinks. ‘I won’t pretend that I want to do it again, though.’
Fleur laughed and perused the bottles. ‘I won’t force you. I’d rather we danced upstairs alone than before the peanut gallery.’
Harry picked up a bottle of red wine and frowned. They’re serving alcohol at a ball underage wizards and witches can attend?
‘The ball was only supposed to be for students who were seventeen and over.’ Fleur tapped a finger on the top of his bottle. ‘When your name came out, they decided to let younger years attend so you’d not be all alone.’
‘I guess nobody remembered to remove all this from the drinks list, then.’
‘Would you like to drink some wine?’ Fleur tugged the bottle from Harry’s grip and put it down on the table well out of reach. ‘Good wine, not that bottle of paint stripper you’re holding.’
Harry read the label of the proffered bottle of elf-made wine and shot Fleur a helpless smile. ‘I’ll trust your taste. You are French.’
‘I know wine. French or not.’ Fleur tapped two crystal glasses with her wand. They floated after her as she led to a table at the side of the room. ‘I’m a little impressed, actually. My allure didn’t seem to affect you much and I threw a sizeable amount your way.’
‘You shouldn’t have done, the others–’
‘They would’ve stared regardless.’ Fleur tilted her chin into the air. ‘I don’t need magic to catch boys’ eyes. I never have, not since I was a little girl.’ She proffered him the bottle and a glass.
If it’s anything like the firewhiskey, this might help. Harry poured himself a glass of white wine. A horrible sinking sensation seized him and he glanced into the crowd. I hope Katie’s not drinking.
‘Searching for someone?’ Fleur followed his line of sight. ‘That Katie girl?’
‘Ah.’ Fleur’s blue eyes bored into his. ‘Well, she isn’t worth wasting thought on, especially not when I’m here.’
Harry chuckled. ‘So modest.’
‘C’est vrais.’ She shrugged. ‘Hogwarts is very different to Beauxbatons.’ Fleur sipped her wine. ‘The suits of armour, despite the yule garlands, don’t quite match the occasion.’
‘I imagine it is.’
‘We have ice statues at Christmas in France instead of this.’ Fleur smiled and took another sip of wine. ‘I learnt the enchantments in my first year so I could make one for Gabby.’
Harry recalled the photo of the two smiling girls in Fleur’s room. ‘You miss your sister.’
‘She’s coming with my mother to see the second task.’ Fleur finished her glass and reached for the bottle. ‘That’s not so far away.’
Harry drank some of his own when she glanced away. Half the glass went down like it was water. He let the taste breath on his tongue as Peeves burst into the room showering nearby couples with white berries and cackling.
Mistletoe, probably… Hopefully.
Dean and Ron scowled at the mischievous spirit as he pelted them with berries.
Harry grinned. They look like they’ve been ditched.
‘Beauxbatons doesn’t have a poltergeist, either.’ Fleur offered the bottle to Harry. A bright spark of humour glimmered in her eyes. ‘A shame, really. He seems most amusing.’
Harry topped his glass up with the burgundy liquid.
‘I believe there’s a debate every year over whether he should expelled from the halls or not,’ Harry said. ‘He doesn’t cause too much chaos, just enough to be a nuisance every now and again. The caretaker, Argus Filch, hates him.’
‘From what I’ve heard, your caretaker hates everything except his pet.’
‘There’s probably some truth in that.’ Harry eyed the pristine Christmas cake. ‘Do you think we’re allowed to cut it? I’ve never tried Christmas cake before.’
‘Do you want some?’ Fleur conjured a knife and cut a thin slice. ‘Nobody will tell us no.’
‘Thank you.’ Harry accepted the slice.
Fleur cut herself one three times the size and picked the marzipan off, eating large forkfuls with a small smile. She caught Harry’s raised eyebrow and laughed. ‘I have a sweet tooth.’
‘Is that your weakness?’ Harry quipped.
A soft, smooth chuckle slipped from Fleur’s red lips. ‘No. It would take more than the offer of something sweet to persuade me to help you win, though I am very fond of marzipan.’
‘Is it a veela thing?’ Harry watched Fleur’s slice of cake vanish in a series of swift, neat forkfuls. Sugar glazed her red lips.
‘Most wizards know very little about veela.’ Fleur’s lips thinned, then she licked the sugar from them with the tip of her tongue. ‘Witches know even less.’ She emptied the rest of the bottle into her glass.
‘The only thing I know about veela is the effect of your allure. I felt it at the World Cup.’
‘So you do feel it,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I wonder, then, why you’re so resistant to mine. Mine’s stronger than most.’
‘I heard that you’re part-veela, perhaps your aura is different?’ Harry suggested.
‘You were correct that the only thing you know about veela is the feel of our magic. You should have really gone to the library once you knew I was veela.’
‘I’ve had a lot on my mind.’
‘Well, so that you do not embarrass yourself, or me, in the future I will tell you something about veela.’ She flipped her silver hair back over one shoulder and shifted her chair around to face him.
‘You’d throw away your advantage?’ Harry grinned. ‘That doesn’t seem like you. What about winning?’
Fleur laughed. ‘Don’t be naive, Harry. It would take less than hour for you to find out what I intend to tell you and this way I control what you know.’
‘I don’t think you’d tell me that if you had any intention of actually using the opportunity.’
Fleur’s eyes flicked toward the bottle. ‘Perhaps not. Truthfully, I dislike the idea of you having misconceptions about me and if I don’t tell you myself, you’ll only hear more silly rumours from someone else.’ She toyed with the last piece of marzipan. ‘The first thing you need to know is there’s no such thing as a part veela. A female child of a veela is a veela. It’s a common misconception that we’re part-human creatures, one encouraged by wizards who’d like to use certain laws against us, when in fact we’re simply witches with an extra set of inherited abilities.’
‘A little more wide-ranging and less reviled, but yes.’
‘So where do veela really come from, then?’ he asked.
‘Eastern Europe has legends that fit our description going back millennia. They can be traced East and down through the Caucus Mountains to the earliest such stories in Mesopotamia. There were myths of harpies, magical creatures, and fire worship all across the region. The rituals and miracles in ancient scripture there are often familiar to us.
‘You can conjure fire.’ Harry sighed. ‘I bet that’s useful.’
‘I am also resistant to the heat,’ Fleur said. ‘Do you want any?’ She leant across the table to procure a bottle of sweet, desert wine. ‘It’s never been my forte, but I can be persuaded to share from time to time.’
‘No, but thank you.’ Harry offered her a half-smile. ‘I don’t think I have your tolerance and I’d rather not get myself or you laughed at.’
‘It’s very nice, but I do very much dislike being laughed at, so I’ll save it for myself.’ Fleur began to pour herself a glass, but, midway to tipping the bottle, glanced up and caught sight of the a group of wizards making eyes at her and muttering. ‘I hope you won’t be insulted if I leave as early as possible. I fear the invitations are about to start.’
The corner of Fleur’s lips twitched. ‘We can return to the Room of Requirement, if you like?’
Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Really?’
‘I can’t go back to the carriage early, it would be humiliating, and I’ve no other company I might prefer.’ A mischievous gleam shone in Fleur’s blue eyes. ‘Most boys would trade a great deal to be alone with me in a room after a few bottles of wine, Harry.’
Katie won’t be able to find me there, and nor will Ron, or Dean, or Ginny. Harry found the idea brought a faint, warm rush of relief.
‘Well? Are you going to say yes?’ Fleur sipped her wine. ‘Or has the thought of the two of us alone late at night rendered you speechless?’
‘I’m game.’ Harry picked the crust off a mince pie. ‘I don’t really have any other plans.’
Fleur watched him pull the pastry apart and finished the last gulp of her wine. ‘Ok. I’ll meet you at the stairs in a couple of minutes.’ She tapped the neck of the wine bottle. ‘I need to make a detour to the bathroom first.’
How much has she drunk? I’ve only had a couple of glasses. Harry ran his eyes over both bottles. How can she even stand? Aunt Petunia’s about her size, though she’s wider and shorter, and she’d be comatose after half that much.
Fleur strode through the hall, glimmering like the Mirror of Erised. Conversations parted for her like clouds before a summer sun.
No point lingering alone where everyone can see me. Harry pushed himself to his feet and headed for the stairs.
‘You’re leaving.’ Katie’s voice caught him at the exit to the hall.
So close. Harry twisted round on his heel.
Katie’s tight, burgundy-red dress matched the wine in her glass; its neckline plunged far enough to bring heat to Harry’s face. He dragged his gaze up and found a deep well of emotion shining in Katie’s brown eyes.
Harry’s gut coiled into a tight knot. I really don’t want to do this now.
‘Not really my scene, this,’ he said.
Katie edged a step closer to him, tugging at the little finger of her left hand. ‘If you’re bored, or in want of a partner you can always come dance with me.’
Fleur appeared at the base of the stairs. Her blue eyes roved across the hall to land on Harry, then narrowed.
Fantastic. Harry sighed. I should go.
‘Has Roger Davies abandoned you?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’ Katie pointed to where the Ravenclaw was dancing with a member of his own year and house. ‘I guess I deserved it, though. I never should’ve said yes.’ She extended the same hand in his direction. ‘Would you like to? Not even as a date, just as friends.’
For a moment the warmth and hopeful glint in her eyes tugged at the strings of Harry’s heart.
No. She did it once. She’ll do it again. Harry smothered the tangle of feeling. If I forget, I’ll just repeat my mistake.
He eyed Fleur’s tightening grip on the banister. ‘I’m afraid I can’t.’
Katie followed Harry’s gaze. ‘Oh. You’re still with her. I guess I’d’ve had to worry after all, huh. It’s ok. I understand.’ She gave him a weak smile. ‘I’ll find Alicia and Angelina. Have a good night, Harry.’
Bye Katie. He watched her disappear into the crowd, then turned and strode toward the stairs. A brief, bitter pang tore through his chest. He crushed it down. You were no better than the rest of them in the end.
‘What did she want?’ Fleur demanded.
‘To dance,’ Harry replied.
‘You said no?’
‘I had a prior commitment,’ Harry quipped. ‘I couldn’t abandon her to dance with another girl. It seemed a bit rude.’
‘How noble of you.’ Fleur smiled and her eyes turned soft as the summer sky.
‘I think it would have been a bad idea.’
I think you would’ve probably used your allure to ruin it. I doubt you’d’ve liked losing out to Katie.
‘I think you were right.’ The slightest edge lingered in Fleur’s tone. A faint sharpness that made all the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
Harry winced as he followed her up the stairs. Definitely a good thing I said no.
Fleur paused before the empty wall. ‘I will choose, I think. You have three more years to play with this enchanted room.’
Harry stepped into a winter palace. Ice statues sparkled like so much diamond in each corner, reflecting a thousand scattered lights of the candles hovering above them.
‘I like the candles in the Great Hall.’ Fleur gestured at her hovering candles. ‘Beauxbatons has crystal chandeliers, but I think this is more scenic.’ She took the furthest seat from the door. A bottle of elven wine and an elegant crystal glass appeared on the arm of the chair.
Who left those in here? Harry took the other seat across from her. Probably some seventh year’s date that went wrong.
‘Do you like it?’ Fleur pointed a finger at the room. ‘I tried to make it something that was of both our schools.’
She poured herself a glass of wine and took long sip. ‘Alone with a veela in a room that can provide almost anything you want. This, I imagine, is the beginning of many adolescent wizards’ dreams.’
‘Not mine.’ Harry grinned. ‘You told me too much about veela. I don’t want to get set on fire.’
‘I would have an advantage here. It’s warm and dry, my magic would flow faster than normal here.’
Presumably, if warm and dry has a positive effect, then wet and cold would create the reverse. Harry filed that away for a later date. I wonder how her faster flowing magic would compare with mine since doing that ritual?
‘My wand’s easier to reach.’ He let it slip from his sleeve into his palm. ‘Advantage me.’
A ball of blue flames burst into sparks at his feet before he had managed to catch it. ‘I do not need my wand if to set you on fire, remember.’
‘Can you transform?’ Harry asked.
‘I can, but I won’t, not for your curiosity.’
‘I suppose that’s fair.’
Fleur finished her glass of wine. ‘Where would you be if I’d not asked you to be my shield?’
‘Probably here, just alone.’ Harry managed a wry smile. ‘Or I might be downstairs, kissing Katie.’
‘I’ve never kissed anyone.’ A hint of pink blossomed on Fleur’s cheeks. ‘Despite what the other girls like to say about me.’
‘Neither have I, but I sort of suspect that if I’d agreed to dance with Katie, I would’ve ended up kissing her.’ He smothered the tug on his heart. ‘It would’ve been hard to say no if I was alone.’
‘A good thing I made you come with me, then.’
‘Possibly. I can’t imagine kissing Katie would end well.’
‘If she turned on you so quickly before, she would again.’ Fleur shrugged her shoulders. ‘I’ve made that mistake, more than once. Best not to repeat it, Harry, I promise you. It’ll hurt more each time until suddenly it doesn’t. And that feeling’s worse than when it hurt.’
I know. Harry grimaced. The memory of the emptiness clawed at him with sharp, cold talons.
Fleur sighed, then leant forward. ‘I asked you yesterday if you would let me test to see how resistant you are to my allure…’
‘I stand by what I said.’ Curiosity stirred in Harry. ‘I didn’t feel too much before. Maybe a little bit earlier today, I think.’
‘Focus on me,’ Fleur commanded.
Fleur’s summer sky blue eyes shone bright beneath a veil of lustrous, silver-blond hair. Her pale, rose-pink lips curved into a soft, warm smile.
Something lurched Harry’s chest. She’s so beautiful. He tried to drag his eyes away from her lips, but failed. The warmth of her skin burnt like a flame, only a hand’s length away. Well, I’m clearly not as resistant as either of us thought.
‘What do you feel?’ she asked.
‘I’ve no idea how I didn’t notice you from the very beginning.’ The words slipped off his tongue as smooth as silver. ‘You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.’
Fleur stared; a small, bemused smile hovered at the corner of her lips.
Green strands of leaves twisted their way down from around the candles. The sweet smell of hot leaves joined the perpetual scent of burnt holly that clung to Fleur. Their emerald-hued, droplet shapes surrounded a scatter of white berries.
Mistletoe. Harry’s heart dashed itself against his ribs and his mouth turned dry as a desert. Fleur’s in control of the room.
His eyes flicked down from the candles and mistletoe to the girl whose thoughts they mirrored. Her eyes were a finger’s length from his. Her flushed face so close the tip of her nose brushed his. Fleur pressed her lips against his. Her lashes fluttered against his cheek. Her lips tasted of wine and sugar, then the tip of her tongue traced the line of his lower lip and he lost track of everything else.
Fleur pulled back, then stood. Her lips curved into a small, soft smile. ‘Goodbye, Harry,’ she murmured.
The door swung shut with a faint thud. Harry stared up as the candles faded and the mistletoe curled back up into the shadows of the ceiling. His heart hammered as loud as thunder and a small smile crept onto his lips. The ice statues melted away into the floor.
‘Bye, Fleur,’ he whispered.