A/N: First, I suggest you lower your expectations, as this story was a bit of a rush-job to meet a deadline. I rather misjudged how long it would end up being. I wrote this as part of the Harry/Fleur Discord's Flowers of Autumn drabble collection, so why not drop in if you want to discuss it, or any of the other Autumn Drabble works, or Harry/Fleur in general? (discord．gg/j4PgRNApfh)
Fleur Delacour loved autumn at Beauxbatons, more than any other season. Those few short days of the year when the Pyrenees truly lived up to their name. As cooler winds started to blow in from the north, the forests that grew thick upon the lower slopes of the snow-topped mountains turned. Brilliant shades of orange, and red, and yellow set the mountainsides ablaze, as the woods prepared themselves for the cold, dark months to come.
And this year, she would miss it.
She reluctantly turned her gaze from the window, her attention drawn to the conversation taking place around her as it turned to precisely that which was responsible for her loss.
"I heard it is a huge castle made of ice," said Laetitia Cloutier. Of all the girls who had come to follow Fleur around, she was the shortest, and perhaps the least disagreeable. She had dark hair and eyes and an unfortunate chin that marred an otherwise pretty face. Perhaps Fleur might even have considered her to be a friend, if she didn't insist on acting so terribly dim.
"I have no doubt it will be cold," Nathalie Duguay scoffed, which was followed by brainless titters from the other girls. She was reclining on the chaise longue which she had commandeered for herself, and probably imagined that she looked very refined. Always haughty, she was the very picture of what a well-bred young lady should aspire to be in the eyes of the French wizarding world. She could flit between scathing arrogance and wide-eyed charm in a moment and had a killer instinct when it came to the petty games of one-upmanship that seemed to define a socialite's life in France.
Unfortunately for her, Fleur was well aware of the… enhancements that had been required to achieve the appearance of effortless grace and beauty that preoccupied so much of Nathalie's time in the morning.
There was a reason why it was Fleur, and not Nathalie, who was sitting in the most comfortable seat by the grand window which overlooked the grounds below. It was a game of which Fleur had long ago grown tired, but until she could escape the stifling expectations of French magical society, it was not one she could ignore.
Over the years Fleur had come to accept it as a fact of life, if an unwelcome one. There was a seemingly endless cycling of girls in and out of the cadre that dogged her steps in her every waking hour. Nominally they were her friends, and they certainly made a point of forcing out their most contrived giggle in response to any joke Fleur made in their presence. There was not much more to it than that though, from Fleur's point of view.
They were little more than social vampires. Fleur was, without question, the most noteworthy witch in the school. Even from her first year, it had been clear to those who played the game of status that Fleur's was the one to whom they should hitch their gilded carriages. Their attempts to curry favor were as tiresome as they were meaningless, but in all of her five years at Beauxbatons, they had not stopped.
Some of the older girls had seen her as a threat to them, and there had been a few rumours over the years of just what it was that allowed Fleur to achieve her impressive grades. Those rumours had never stuck, however, and those who had started them had either left, or been reduced to irrelevance despite their misguided schemes.
It was hardly a surprise. The girls were, to a one, all small-minded airheads. No doubt perfectly suited to the quiet, comfortable life of a kept woman as they spent their lives birthing and raising the children of some wealthy wizard. They delighted in their little wars over social status, each jockeying for position with snide comments and cruel whispers. Practice for long afternoons spent in the company of their peers, gossiping over the latest scandal.
Fleur was above them in so very many ways. She did not play their stupid games of status. She had no use for it. After all, she fully intended to leave France as soon as her schooling was completed. The stifling climate prevalent in the French wizarding world held no interest for her. It was a holdover from the days of the French Monarchy. Magical France had never participated in the revolution for the simple reason that any competent wizard or witch could live like a king. The result was before her, tittering little birds who were not much good for anything other than some imagined courtly life.
The boys weren't much better. They were all entitled imbeciles, entirely convinced that the feats of their great great grandfather somehow granted them notoriety. Stuck up peacocks who paraded around Beauxbatons with their pathetic little chests puffed up as if they actually mattered.
Witless, limp wristed children, all of them. Not a single one among the hundreds at Beauxbatons had shown her that they were anything more. Even the muggleborns were taken in by the pretensions of the wizardborn. In their first year they would come to the school and look in awe upon the opulence of Beauxbatons and, by extension, the entire wizarding world. Soon they would cast off their identity for the pure romance of it all. Fleur found it rather sickening.
She wanted to do things. She wanted to make a name for herself. She wanted to build a future. She didn't want to sit back and merely inherit one.
Of course, her family had long been the subject of whispers too. Her father, Sebastian Delacour, was not much respected. He was an employee in French magical law enforcement and Fleur was unspeakably proud of him, but he was considered something of a social leper. The Delacour family had an old and proud name and Fleur was actually rather pleased that he'd managed to do so much to sour it in just a single generation.
He had married, actually married, a half Veela. That alone was enough of a scandal among the petty bourgeoisie, but then he had also gone and taken a job. And a common one too. A mere law enforcer, never mind that he loved his job and was extremely skilled at it. Such a plebeian position was no place for the heir of such a distinguished house, they said.
Apparently, he should be a man of leisure, as all the others were. Feckless idiots, in Fleur's opinion. Her mother was something else altogether. Apolline Buday had married Sebastian largely in the hope that his respectability would rub off on her and see her admitted to high society functions. It hadn't.
As a result her mother was surly and often prone to drink to forget her sorrows. The Delacour household when her mother was around was generally tense, as no-one was quite sure what her mood would be.
Fleur was determined to find something better for herself.
"And 'Arry Potter will be there, the English white knight," said Laetitia with a starry-eyed look.
"Come, Laetitia," said another of the girls. Unlike the others in the group, Aurélie Leclerc was sitting on the ground, draped inelegantly over the end of an occupied chair. Not including Fleur, she was the tallest of the group though she had a rather unbecoming shapeless, willowy build. She was something of an outsider due to her looks and attitude, she had an air of hauteur that would perhaps have been interesting, had it been in any way warranted. She tossed her dirty blonde hair over a shoulder. "You are not a child anymore, no matter how much you may wish to act like one. He will be an arrogant little English barbarian like all the others."
Valérie Poulain leaned forward. She had dark hair, light brown eyes and a scathing wit that even Fleur found amusing at times. "No, the English love their feigned modesty. He will merely be a waste of air."
"Whatever happens, I think we can be sure there's little chance of finding a suitable young man while we're at Hogwarts," said Nathalie, as if her words were a divine proclamation. "I for one am grateful I already have Mathieu. It is a pity he will not be able to join us." She glanced at the other girls, even alighting on Fleur for a moment, as she said it. She was clearly trying to drive home the fact that she was already as good as engaged.
As if Fleur cared. The boy hadn't even managed to make the —rather charitable— grade necessary to be announced as one of the Champion candidates. When Laetitia could achieve the necessary grades to be included, that surely meant that Mathieu had magical capability only slightly greater than that of a rock.
The last of the group, and the quietest, finally spoke up then. "You are so very fortunate to have Mathieu. I know I shall miss my Pierre while we are in England." She was Élise Couture and was little more than a follower. She had been riding Nathalie's coattails all through school. She had a pretty face framed in warm auburn hair and had bright blue eyes, she would no doubt make some gutless boy very happy with her simpering words and modest smiles.
Sadly, it was almost certainly not going to be Pierre, whom Fleur knew to be hopelessly enamoured of Nathalie.
Aurélie did not take the jab laying down. She smiled sweetly. "Of course you are so very lucky to have Mathieu. But are you not worried that he might stray while the object of his love is so very far away?"
Before Nathalie had time to form a come-back Fleur decided she had heard quite enough, she knew that an exchange like that between the two rivals could last for a long time indeed. She stood up. "I suggest we all get ready for this evening's celebrations. You would not wish to look anything but your best, of course."
Nathalie looked over to Fleur, annoyance at being kept from rebutting clear in her eyes. "Of course Fleur," she said with a grateful, and completely fake, smile. It was something of a work of art really, its intent was not to conceal the true feelings, but instead to draw attention to them without doing anything so crass as scowling. "Perhaps you should too. After all, today is your 17th, and you are still unattached."
Élise titterred pathetically until Fleur's gaze washed over her and she immediately quieted.
With her gaze returned to Nathalie, Fleur said, "I do not believe it likely, the little boys here have no appreciation for the finer things in life. But I am sure you will simply dazzle them."
With that Fleur swept away leaving the group silent behind her. If they would insist on playing their little games they should expect to get burned every now and then.
Laetitia swiftly fell in behind Fleur as she left and Fleur let her follow. There was little interesting that could be said of her, in truth, but she served to fill up space that might otherwise be occupied by someone more boorish.
"Fleur, would you help me with my hair for this evening? I fear it will be a terrible mess if I do it myself." The expression on her face was one of genuine worry. "I would not want to embarrass myself in front of everyone, no matter what Aurélie and Valérie say."
Fleur was going to tell her not to bother, it was unlikely the boy would notice anyway. In her experience boys at that age rarely noticed anything above the neckline, an area where Laetitia should have no concerns. The hopeless look on the girl's face broke her down though.
"Of course, Laetitia," Fleur said with a very nearly genuine smile. "Come we should get started."
How a flying, magical carriage managed to make such an unholy rattling noise as it travelled, Fleur had no idea. After an early start, the journey from Beauxbatons to Hogwarts had taken hours, and every one of those hours had been filled with a constant clatter and clunk that was, if anything, even louder than it would have been had they been riding a non-magical carriage.
At least it had served one purpose: it had arrested much of the tiresome and repetitive conversations that had been repeated more times than Fleur cared to count over the last few weeks.
Speculation about Hogwarts, about the Tournament, and about Harry Potter had been rampant, and Fleur was teetering on the verge of doing something distinctly unrefined if she had to sit through yet another discussion on the possible merits of English boys.
Perhaps that was soon to come to an end, however. The clatter of the carriage had, at long last, been drowned out by the sound of feverish final preparations.
"What on earth are you wearing Miss Delacour!" cried Madame Maxime as barely controlled chaos raged about her.
Fleur was startled to be called out though she was able to avoid showing it. "It is a cloak, Madame Maxime." She met the headmistress' eyes unflinchingly. She ignored the not so well masked titters from her coterie.
"Well remove it, child," Madame Maxime flicked her wand and sent the item of clothing winging its way back to Fleur's room as she looked on with a stoic expression. "We must present a united front before the English."
Any attempt to argue would be fruitless, Fleur knew. Instead she applied a warming charm to the thin, sky-blue Beauxbatons robes. Unlike most of the crowd who were whispering excitedly between themselves she was well aware of what the weather was likely to have in store for them at this time of year in Scotland.
So they'd certainly be united. They'd be united in freezing their collective buttocks off. In a moment of charity, Fleur surreptitiously cast another warming charm, this one on Laetitia. If the girl noticed, she didn't say anything. In the warmth of the carriage it was likely to be unnoticeable anyway.
"Mr. Escoffier? Mr. Escoffier!" called Maxime as she tried to sift through the assembled students. "Where is that boy? Mr. Escoffier!"
"Here, Madame!" returned a voice from one of the side corridors. "I am sorry, I w—"
"Enough of that, we are about to land, you must be ready to get the door."
"Yes, Madame Maxime." He moved immediately to the head of the queue that Madame Maxime had managed to herd the students into.
"Now, I need not remind you again of the importance of this event," Maxime began, before immediately doing just that. Fleur tuned her out. By this point they'd had the talk no fewer than four times already and Fleur could probably recite it by heart.
Meet some of the Hogwarts and Durmstrang students; but don't get too friendly of course. Learn about the ways of other magical nations; but never forget where your home is. Have fun; but always conduct yourself in a manner befitting France.
The same kind of tired old paradoxes espoused at every level of French magical society.
"—and, of course, remember that only one of you will be chosen as Champion. It will be your duty to accept the decision of the Goblet with grace, and to lend your support to the one that is chosen."
"Now, Miss Delacour, you shall walk with me into the hall and lead our delegation to the Ravenclaw table, it is—"
"The second table, yes, Madame Maxime," said Fleur as politely as she could.
"Good, good!" the Headmistress rubbed her large hands together as the carriage shuddered just slightly. "We have just landed. Mr. Escoffier, you will open the door as soon as we have come to a halt. The rest of you should remember everything you have learned at Beauxbatons and nothing shall go wrong."
Fleur stepped carefully past the two girls who stood between her and Madame Maxime. Neither of them made any attempt to move, but Fleur handled that easily enough with a hand on the shoulder of the shorter of the two, followed by a nearly apologetic smile as she slid between them. It wasn't hard to recognise their resentment at the clear favouritism being shown, but ultimately, Fleur cared little.
The sooner she was able to escape the carriage, the better.
There was no mistaking the touchdown when they finally arrived. It was no carpet landing, that was for sure, and a few of the children toppled over as the carriage lurched beneath them.
"Stand up, Mr. Escoffier!" snapped Madame Maxime as the boy lost his footing. One of her huge hands grasped him by the shoulder and she righted him with ease. A moment later, the carriage rolled to a blessed halt, and she nodded to him. "It is time."
The moment the door opened, a cold wind blew in and it was easy to see which of the students had had the forethought to cast warming charms. Most did not fall in that group. Despite that, it was not quite so cold as Fleur had feared. Her charms took the edge off, certainly, but even without them she would not have been freezing. If the muted conversation behind her was to be believed, then the same was not true of her classmates.
As she stepped lightly off the lower step, right behind her deceptively agile headmistress, she took in the edifice that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Dreary was the very first word that came to mind. Grey stone walls and towers stretched high into the sky towards a featureless leaden sky. Windows, lit by distant, flickering candlelight, studded the foreboding silhouette. On its promontory, it loomed over the large lake filled with dark, murky water.
On the grounds before the castle, the Hogwarts students had assembled to meet them, their somber black robes fitting in almost perfectly with the bleak, colourless world they inhabited. The only splash of colour in the scene was on the vibrant robes of the ancient wizard standing at the rear of the waiting students. The robes were a violent mixture of bright green and blue which were battling for supremacy. If it was a war, then any sense of taste or style had surely been the first casualty.
Fleur didn't even need to see the man's long beard and floppy pointed hat to recognise him as Albus Dumbledore. Just as she identified him, he started clapping. Soon, he was joined by his students who all applauded the Beauxbatons students as they alighted from their carriage. It prompted no small amount of preening from her fellow students.
As Madame Maxime crossed the small distance to greet Dumbledore, helpfully drawing the attention of all the students, Fleur took the opportunity to take a closer look at them. The darkness made that task a little tricky, however, especially with them backlit by the open castle doors which.
She heard Laetitia whisper to her: "Can you see him?"
Before she could respond, however, Madame Maxime turned back to her students. "Come," she said imperiously in English.
For a moment, Fleur wondered why, but then the Hogwarts students parted to open up a broad corridor for them, and Maxime led them quickly towards the relative warmth of the castle.
As she passed by the students, Fleur could feel more than one set of eyes upon her, but she studiously ignored them. She had long ago grown used to the kind of regard that she often attracted, and so no need to fan those particular flames.
English or French, it made little difference. They would all be just as childish and idiotic as her own peers. Idiot was, after all, the same in both languages.
"Umm, excuse me?"
Fleur turned to see the person addressing her and was slightly surprised to discover a dark haired boy who was probably a couple of years her junior. Unusually, the expression he wore was not one of hopeless longing or puffed-up bravado. Instead, he looked very much like he didn't want to be there. She reigned in her original dismissive reply in favour of polite patience.
"Oui, 'ow can I 'elp you?" she asked with a single artfully raised eyebrow. The accent was perhaps not strictly necessary, but she had long ago learned the value in allowing others to underestimate her. The boy was unlikely to be a competitor, but just down the table a Ravenclaw girl had just moments ago been explaining why some boy called Cedric would become the Hogwarts Champion.
The boy shuffled nervously, a familiar response, even if this time it seemed to be for different reasons. "Could you, umm, stop doing the, uhh, Veela thing?"
She hoisted her eyebrow higher. "Ze 'Veela zing'?" She asked, injecting a note of warning.
By now he was starting to look a little like a deer caught in in the headlights. "You know. Umm. The thing that makes boys act stupid around you? Like Veela?"
Fleur let the boy stew for a moment in frosty silence before she burst out laughing. It was not the most graceful thing she'd ever done but it still drew a few sighs and jealous looks around the room.
The boy was now looking very confused and Fleur tried to compose herself.
"You theenk zey need my 'elp to act like buffoons?" She asked in incredulity. "Zey are children. Little boys. Zey are quite capable of embarrassing themselves!"
"Oh, um. Only Ron said you were, um, Veela," he stammered as he gestured over in the direction of one of the other tables. By now it was clearly his fervent wish to be safe and sound back at that table. "And it's, um, causing a bit of, uh, argument between my friends?"
She looked over to where the aforementioned friends were sitting. A redheaded boy, Ron, she assumed, immediately began going purple again under her attention and another of the younger children, a bushy haired girl with unfortunate teeth, started berating him ineffectually.
"I see, and you theenk your Ron," she rolled the name over her tongue disapprovingly, "knows more about my 'eritage than I?"
"Well— that is to say, not in so many words," Harry said uncomfortably as he ran his hands through his hair. "It's just, um—"
By this point the other Beauxbatons students were watching with bated breath, probably expecting some kind of harsh put down that they could gossip about for weeks to come. She gave it some thought but decided that perhaps she should not be too cruel on her first evening amongst the English. She raised her hand to stop the boy from going further.
"Enough. 'E is wrong. Much as I'm sure 'e would like to blame 'is problems on someone else, ze blame lies with 'im and 'im alone," she explained. "Zere is no magic at work. Merely weak minds and strong 'ormones."
She noticed that the boy really didn't seem to like the attention that was now being levelled at him from everyone nearby. The whispers quickly spreading out around them were a little different than those with which Fleur was commonly familiar. She caught the name 'Harry Potter' among the mutterings, and she had to restrain her surprise.
This unassuming boy was Harry Potter? For, knowing his name, it was clear that that was indeed who the boy was. She expected someone altogether more cocky. She didn't get much time to inspect him more closely, however, because he grasped his chance to retreat with both hands.
"Um, okay. I'll tell him that," he said, before he darted off.
Fleur sighed tiredly, he wasn't the first person to assume such and she was sure he wouldn't be the last. In the end it was irrelevant. She looked around the still quiet table.
"What?" she snapped. "Do you 'ave nozzing better to do zan stare at me?"
She returned to her meal and her numerous bootlickers followed suit immediately. She did her best to ignore the frantic head-shaking from some of her male admirers.
Before she had taken more than a couple of bites, she felt someone jostle their way into the seat beside her. She studiously ignored them until they cleared their throat for the third time. It was the asian girl from earlier.
"You didn't have to be so rude, you know?" she asked without any introductions. There was a bit of an unfamiliar accent there which Fleur could not recognise.
"I am sorry, who are you?" Fleur asked pointedly.
"I'm Cho Chang," said the girl. "Are you always this rude to people trying to talk to you?"
Fleur heard Nathalie muttering not-so-quietly to Élise in French. "Little does she know…"
"Always? Non," she said, pointedly ignoring Nathalie. "Merely when children insist on interrupting me wizzout good reason."
Chang bristled, clearly noticing the poorly concealed barb. "I was just going to offer you some friendly advice," she said tightly.
As if Fleur either wanted or needed advice from a girl at least a year her junior. Despite that, she said: "Very well, zen. What would you advise?"
"That was Harry Potter you were just speaking to," said Chang meaningfully, her eyes flicking in the direction the boy was sitting.
Fleur's eyes drifted over to where the boy had fled, holed up safely between his two friends. He was keeping his head studiously down until he risked a glance over in the direction of the Ravenclaw table. Curiously, his eyes sought out Chang first, but he quickly realised that Fleur was looking in his direction. The moment of panic, followed by a desperate search for something else to look at was amusing enough to draw a small smile from Fleur.
"Oui," said Fleur, looking back over at Chang. "What of it?"
There was no mistaking Chang's narrowed eyes for anything other than jealousy. Hadn't she just been daydreaming about some other boy? Fleur couldn't remember the name. "Oh nothing, really," said Chang, her voice light. She was a poor actor, though, and her seeming indifference was belied by the intensity of her gaze. "It's just that he's a bit young for you, don't you think?"
It was only through a supreme effort of will that Fleur did not simply laugh in the girl's face. It was not hard to see what was going on; Fleur had seen it all too many times before at Beauxbatons.
Many girls, she had learned long ago, had a keen appreciation for boys both older and younger than them. The nature of that appreciation, however, was rather different. The older boys were targets to be snagged if they could. They were objects of desire, and clear status symbols in the eternal game of one upmanship that seemed to dominate their lives.
Yet younger boys had their value too. While it was rare indeed that they would actually be regarded with real desire by the girls, they still served a purpose. If a girl could net herself a few hopeless tagalongs to stare longingly at her from across a crowded room, well that was a sure sign of status too.
As she regarded Chang's poorly veiled jealousy, she reflected that perhaps she was being unkind. Perhaps Chang didn't really think of it like that, but there was no denying that most found it to be highly gratifying to be pursued. A poorly veiled glance here, a demure smile there; it was really very easy to keep them on the hook. It was entirely possible that Chang, who was by no means an ugly girl, could perform that little dance entirely by accident.
It was all so very short-sighted in Fleur's opinion. What would a few years matter once they were all adults? If she ever found a young man who was able to promise her more than a life of empty platitudes and stifling expectations, it wouldn't matter if he was fourteen or fourty. She would pursue them just as soon as she was able.
"Zank you for ze warning," she said as she turned back to her bouillabaisse. It was actually really rather pleasant, even if it was now colder than she might prefer. "Zough eet was entirely unnecessary. I do 'ope I weel not 'ave to suffer more such warnings every time a boy attempts to speak wiz me."
Blessedly, Chang took the hint and rose to return to her original place, seemingly happy that Fleur would not be pursuing the Potter boy.
"He is very cute, though," Laetitia whispered to her in French once Chang was safely away.
Fleur glanced back over at him one last time, and this time he didn't risk looking up. Laetitia wasn't wrong, but Fleur demanded more than merely looking cute from potential interests. He was a boy, after all, not a puppy.
The first morning at Hogwarts was one which Fleur was sure she would remember for many years to come.
She had not been especially charitable to the old castle when they had first arrived, she knew. It certainly hadn't endeared itself to her, with its unimaginative use of every shade of grey she'd ever known, and maybe even a few more besides, but that had been burned away like the first autumn frost.
The heavy skies of the previous night were gone. The only memory of them was the delicate morning frost, which was quickly melting. The resulting mixed dew and frost made the well-maintained grass which surrounded Hogwarts castle sparkle like it had been strewn with fairy dust. More important to Fleur, however, was the forest which bordered the grounds.
In the late October sun, still barely high enough to peek over the top of the high hills which surrounded the school, shone over a sea of orange, red, yellow, and gleaming gold. Beauxbatons was still likely weeks away from seeing the autumn colours come into their full brilliance, but Hogwarts, nestled away in the Scottish Highlands was far enough north that autumn came much earlier.
The thick forest, which might have been foreboding in any other weather, spread over the landscape, rendering the hills in pastel hues which looked like something out of the mind of Monet himself. Her only regret was that she could not see it from above. Perhaps that would be her mission for the day, once she had completed her more immediate task.
After nearly a month of waiting, it was finally time to submit her name to the Goblet of Fire. The little slip of parchment, bearing her name in the most carefully penned letters was nestled safely in the pocket of her robes.
There had been a palpable tension in the Beauxbatons carriage the previous evening. Despite the copious food, and the long journey, most of the students had stayed up long past Maxime's announcement of lights-out. No matter how much everyone tried to play it cool, they were all both apprehensive and excited for the choosing to come. Even Fleur, who was as sure of her own selection as any reasonable person could be, could not quite banish the persistent butterflies in her stomach which accompanied her thoughts on the subject.
What if she wasn't chosen?
The day was sure to be a tortuous one as they waited for the evening feast and eventual reveal of the Champions.
Fleur, at the head of a small group of Beauxbatons students, girls and boys both, made her way over the mostly pristine grass towards Hogwarts, where the Goblet awaited her. They were all uncharacteristically quiet, each of them focused on their own thoughts in a way which Fleur wished was more common.
The entrance hall was packed with students, though they quickly parted to make way for her. Hundreds of eyes followed her with obvious interest as she swept confidently across the floor and, in a single deft motion, deposited her name into the Goblet before moving on towards the Great Hall to have some breakfast.
As usual, muttering and whispers followed her from the hall, but she ignored them. The only opinion that mattered was that of the Goblet. Everyone else could mutter or moan as much as they liked.
It was not until some time after lunch that she found herself free to wander the halls of Hogwarts at last. She had managed to leave her usual shadows behind when they had all decided to go and 'scope out the competition', as if that would do them any favours. Fleur well knew that that would only serve to deepen their nervousness at the prospect of the whole thing. Even she would not have been immune to the creeping doubt that would no doubt have wormed its way into her mind upon seeing the likes of Krum submit his name to the Goblet.
Say what they might about the harsh and unmannerly Dumstrang students, none of the chattering Beauxbatons butterflies could deny that their brusque attitude was intimidating.
So it was that Fleur was familiarising herself with the maze of corridors that criss-crossed the castle. Familiarising was perhaps a little optimistic. She'd been looking for a route to the highest tower, clearly identifiable from outside, but entirely impossible to locate from within. The staircases moved seemingly at random. She had on at least one occasion very nearly fallen afoul of a disappearing step, and some of the corridors did not seem to abide by the common laws of geometry. How was it reasonable to go up a staircase and end up on a floor below the one on which she had started?
That was to say nothing of the wholly unhelpful paintings that filled every inch of wall with leering, scowling, smiling or, in one case, libidinous visages.
At long last she managed to find her way to the top of one of the towers. Not the one she'd been aiming for, but it was tall enough, and at long last she was able to drink in the view.
There was no denying that it was a beautiful one. The sun, already dipping down towards the hilltops, kindled the forest's once green leaves. The pastel flames of the autumn foliage trembled in the gentle wind, and Fleur could not help but let out a sigh of contentment. She sat herself down upon the tower's parapet, feet dangling precariously over the drop below, and stayed to watch as the sun slowly dipped behind the hills, and the fires of autumn were extinguished by the rapidly gathering night.
As the last rays of light played across the sparse clouds in shades of red, orange and purple, a gentle rain began to fall, and Fleur almost absent-mindedly cast a parasol charm, and listened to the quiet patter of raindrops on stone. When at last the light faded, and the rain slowly became heavier, she sighed sadly at the loss.
She watched a group of three children run across the grounds for the warmth and shelter of the castle and decided that they probably had the right idea. With much regret, she swung her legs back over the parapet and hopped off onto the open roof of the tower.
She'd have to remember the route she'd taken to find her little vantage point but, for now at least, she headed back inside, and steeled herself for that evening's feast, and the champion selection that would follow.
Whatever was to come, she would meet it with her head held high.
"But 'e cannot compete!" she cried. "'E is much too young!"
The ineptitude of the English was truly a breathtaking thing. They would let this child compete in a dangerous international tournament, even when it was clear the prospect terrified him? She could quite easily believe that Harry had entered himself. It seemed exactly the kind of childish thing she'd expect from one so young. That he had the maturity to realise just how bad the situation was when he was actually picked was, to her, quite unexpected.
"Well, it is amazing, you must admit," said the corpulent Ludo Bagman as he scratched at one of his chins while smiling at Harry as if he was a favoured nephew. "But you see the age restrictions were only imposed this year. I don't think he can duck out now that his name has come out of the cup. He'll just have to do the best he can."
At that moment the Heads of each school burst in and Fleur immediately swept towards Madame Maxime to make her case.
"Madame Maxime!" she said a little impolitely, but it was a serious situation. She was due some leeway. "Zey are saying zat zis little boy is to compete also!"
She saw Harry flash her an annoyed look. No doubt he disliked being called a little boy, but what did she care? If he didn't wish to be called a little boy then he shouldn't have acted like one when he put his name in for a competition he had no chance of winning, and only a small chance of even surviving. He couldn't be much older than 15.
Madame Maxime understood her concern immediately. "What is ze meaning of zis, Dumbly-dorr?" she rumbled menacingly. Unlike Fleur's, her accent was not put on.
The Durmstrang Headmaster, Karkaroff, spoke up with the towering woman though he kept his emotions much more contained. The only clue to his ire was the way his pale blue eyes flashed with hidden fire. "I'd rather like to know that myself, Dumbledore," he said. "Two Hogwarts champions? I don't remember reading about the host school getting two champions…" He trailed off and left the accusation unsaid before laughing at the absurdity of it all.
"I didn't enter!" cried Harry over the din, prompting silence to fall.
"Of course zat ees what you would say—" Fleur began.
"I didn't even want to enter," he snapped, cutting her off. "I don't even know how to enter even if I had wanted to."
An oleaginous man whom Fleur had noticed sitting at the teachers' table in the Great Hall scoffed at Harry's rather poor claim to innocence and said to the room, "Potter has been breaking rules ever since he came to this school. I don't think this is a surprise for anyone here."
Another of the Hogwarts teachers, this one a severe looking woman, bristled and came to Harry's defence. "Unless you have proof, Professor Snape," she said in clipped tones colder than the Scottish morning frost, "then I suggest we assume he is innocent until proven guilty."
"Thank you, Severus, Minerva," said Dumbledore mildly, though Fleur nonetheless recognised it as the chastisement it was. Professor Snape obviously understood that too as his black eyes glinted malevolently in protest. The woman nodded tightly at Dumbledore, accepting the apparent rebuke.
Dumbledore looked Harry in the eye and asked in the same calm voice, "Did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire, Harry?"
The way Harry bristled probably did as much to answer the question as any words could, but he spoke anyway: "No."
There was a poorly concealed snort of disbelief from Snape. The older woman, Minerva, shot him a fiery look, but otherwise stayed silent.
Dumbledore regarded Harry for a long moment before asking another question. "Did you ask an older student to put it into the Goblet of Fire for you?"
Harry looked at him in open surprise, and Fleur could hardly blame him. He asked the first question that had come to Fleur's mind. "You mean the age line was that easy to get around?" he asked incredulously.
"Answer the question, Harry," said Dumbledore, just a slight edge joining his calm tones.
"No! Of course I didn't!" Harry said with the kind of affronted vehemence that had Fleur actually believing him for a moment.
After all, if it was really so easy to get an underage name added to the Goblet then surely anyone could have done it as a joke. There was something which was nagging at her, however.
How had he been selected?
Surely this boy couldn't stand a chance against the likes of her or Krum. Just what logic did Goblet use to decide the champions? Had it been random after all?
"Ah, but of course 'e is lying!" Maxime cried, losing much of her aloof bearing as she did so.
"Mr. Crouch, Mr. Bagman," said Karkaroff smoothly. "You are the objective judges here. Surely something such as this cannot be allowed to stand? After all, there cannot be four champions in the Triwizard Tournament."
Crouch, who until that moment Fleur had not noticed skulking just beyond the firelight, his face half hidden by shadows, spoke curtly. "The rules state that those people whose names are selected by the Goblet are magically bound to compete. There are no provisions for champions who may wish to withdraw. I have been quite clear about this."
"Well that seems—" began Bagman before being cut off.
"Then I insist that we be allowed to resubmit the names of our students," Karkaroff snapped, his smile long gone. "That way we can ensure parity by having two students from each school. Surely that is only fair?"
Bagman looked a little uneasy. If he'd been younger, perhaps he would have been staring at his feet. "It doesn't work that way though, you see," he said unhappily. "The Goblet has been extinguished, and will only reignite when it's time for the next tournament."
Both Karkaroff and Maxime looked about ready to explode with that particular piece of news. Fleur, however, got there first.
"What does eet matter?" she asked, and every set of eyes in the room immediately settled upon her. "'E will not be able to compete with us. Ze magic he knows ees surely too limited, non?"
"I am still here, you know," said Potter, his tone surly.
"I am half of a mind to take my students and leave now," said Karkaroff, as he set his hand on Krum's shoulder. "After all our negotiations, and how much we have compromised to allow this tournament to happen, this is nothing less than an outrage!"
"Empty threats," said a new voice from the door of the room. It was so deep that it was really more of a growl, and it was coming from a man who looked a little like a well-worn scare-crow come to life. His wooden leg hit the ground with a solid 'thunk' with every step, and an electric blue eye whirled this way and that in one of his eye-sockets. Every few moments it would settle on someone in the room, but most often it settled on the Potter boy. "Not listening, eh? I'll repeat it for you: binding magical contract. They all have to compete. Convenient, eh?"
"I fail to see how this is convenient, Moody," said Karkaroff. It was clear he was trying to be dismissive, but Fleur had seen many more believable attempts.
"It's pretty simple," said Moody. "Someone put Potter's name into the Goblet knowing he wouldn't be able to get out of it once he was chosen. Someone who wanted to see him hurt, if I'm any judge."
"Is eet not more likely that eet was someone who wished to grant 'Ogwarts a second bite at the apple?" asked Maxime, though Fleur could tell she was a little troubled by the insinuation.
"If that's the case then it's like your girly said," said Moody with a jerk of his head in Fleur's direction. "Why not choose someone who's actually been taught the magic necessary to compete?"
Girly? Fleur couldn't help but bristle, and the little sardonic smile she caught the Potter boy make before he quickly schooled his features did not help.
Karkaroff snorted derisively. "Please. Who would want to go out of their way to hurt him? Your paranoia is telling. Quite why Dumbledore decided to drag you out of whatever dark hole you've been living in, I will never know."
"Funny, Karkaroff," Moody growled, seemingly ignoring Maxime in favour of treating Karkaroff to a particularly scary smile. "It's hardly paranoia when there are dark wizards—"
"That will be enough, Alastor," said Dumbledore. Despite how gently spoken the command had been, Moody shut up instantly. "Quite how this situation arose, we do not know, but I promise you we will find out. Until then, however, I see no recourse but for Harry to compete in the tournament to the best of his abilities."
"Now that is convenient," Karkaroff muttered.
Bagman clapped his hands together enthusiastically, as if that was everything cleared up. "Well, I guess we should crack on and give the champions their instructions, then," he said happily, seemingly back in his element. "Barty, want to do the honours?"
Crouch, apparently lost in thought, was shaken from his reverie. "Ah, instructions? Yes, of course," he said as he returned to the here and now. "The first task is intended to test your daring and so you will have to face it blind. However, we can tell you that it will take place on the twenty-fourth of November, in front of your fellow students and the judges.
"You are not permitted to seek out or accept aid from your teachers, and will face the first challenge armed only with your wands. Due to the trying nature of the Tournament, your school representatives have agreed that champions will be exempt from end-of-year tests."
"Pardon me," said Fleur politely. "'Ow, exactly, will our accreditation be 'andled eef we do not participate een ze testing?"
It was obvious that Crouch had not been expecting any questions, so there was a lengthy pause while he stared at her seemingly uncomprehending.
It apparently fell to Dumbledore to answer, "You needn't worry, my dear," he said gently. "You will receive grades roughly equivalent to your performance in your studies up until now, as agreed by your teachers."
Maxime added: "I am sure most" —the glance she shot at the Potter boy was as transparent as glass— "of ze champions will be receiving top grades in all of zeir studies."
That was a relief. Fleur's grades were already among the very best, and really only lacked in some of the classes she had no interest in pursuing. Really, how many modern-day wizards would ever have to know how to fend off Nikwus? They'd been almost completely wiped out in mainland Europe!
It seemed that there was still some discussion to be had between the teachers, but whatever it was, Maxime wanted nothing to do with it. She laid her arm over Fleur's shoulders and quickly led her from the room. Thanks to how annoyed she clearly was, Fleur had to resort to an unladylike trot to keep pace.
The last thing she saw before they closed the door behind them was the Potter boy glaring at the ground. He glanced up and perhaps tried to catch her eye, but Fleur simply looked away.
Whether he had entered himself or not was, ultimately, irrelevant. Fleur would win it, and her name would be remembered forever for something that she had done.
Perhaps the weather had been influenced by her mood the previous evening, or perhaps it was some kind of perverse serendipity. What was important was that the gentle rain of the previous afternoon had become a howling gale overnight. Silencing charms had dealt with the constant rattling of the infernal carriage as it had been subjected to the gale, but nothing could stop the rocking.
Fleur was sure she was not alone in having gotten very little sleep last night. In fact, if she was any judge, the only one of her group of hangers-on who had managed to get any sleep was Aurélie. It was something she and her smug smile could not help but boast of.
"Well, I do so enjoy yachting trips with my father," she said airily as she made some final adjustments to her outfit.
It did not help all that much in Fleur's opinion. It was hard to accentuate what was not there, after all.
"I do not think I ever wish to go boating," said Laetitia. She looked an absolute state. She was pale, even for her, and her eyes were drooping. Even her cosmetic charms had been improperly cast, which made her look a little like she had picked up two black eyes overnight.
"When I was preparing for this trip I did not think I would need seasickness potions," said Valérie, shaking her head. She looked a little better than Laetitia, as she had at least managed to cast her cosmetic charms correctly, but they didn't stop her looking a little green around the gills.
"Is there no chance we could stay in the castle?" asked Élise, perhaps unwisely.
Predictably, it got exactly the response Fleur would expect.
"Please," said Nathalie dismissively, "I do not think that old ruin would be much of an improvement. Did you not feel how cold it was even during their feast?"
Fleur elected to ignore the discussion when it descended into a competition on just who could think up the most amusing insult. It was clear that, with the exception of Aurélie, who had all the wits of a troll, their hearts were not in it.
Soon, they stepped out of the carriage, each and every one of them wrapped up and charmed against the Scottish elements.
Immediately, Fleur felt as if she had been punched. The overnight storm had done far worse than merely keep her from sleeping.
The grounds were covered in red, yellow, and orange leaves, all of them rapidly turning to brown sludge. The trees which hemmed in the grounds were little more than gaunt skeletons, stripped completely bare by the gale force winds.
The feeling of loss was almost palpable, but there was little that could be done about it, and so Fleur turned away from the once-beautiful view, and started talking in the direction of the school gates. She had heard much from the Hogwarts students of the wonders of Hogsmeade — such a lovely name— and the shops there. With little else to do on a cold, wet Sunday, Fleur had decided to take a look around. If nothing else, it was possible that the village might contain shops that could prove useful to her in the tournament.
Of course, that fact clearly did not occur to Nathalie.
"So, Fleur," she said as they walked. "I am surprised that you decided to join us. If it were my name which came out of the goblet, I am sure I would spend all my time researching magic for the tasks."
Fleur simply laughed. "Perhaps you would need to," she said simply. "I, on the other hand, saw just what competition awaits, and I was not impressed."
"When will you tell us how he did it, Fleur?" asked Laetitia eagerly. After a long sleepless night of concocting increasingly more wild theories in the hope that it would induce Fleur to comment, it was obvious she was becoming impatient.
That impatience was shared by all of the other girls, even though they tried to mask it. That was why Fleur had said nothing at all on the subject. Their mounting frustration had been like music to her ears.
"I heard Patrice say that the rumour in Hogwarts is that he broke Dumbledore's age line," said Élise, in the voice of one imparting some incredible piece of knowledge upon the great unwashed. "Apparently the ugly old defense teacher has been muttering about him using a confounding charm on the Goblet to get himself chosen."
"I heard he used dark magic," said Aurélie, sounding a little too excited by that prospect. She glanced over towards Fleur. "Perhaps you should be worrying if that is the case."
"He did no such thing," said Fleur,her exasperation finally winning out. "The boy didn't even know what he was in for."
"He did look very surprised when his name was announced," said Laetitia thoughtfully. "He just froze up completely!"
"You were watching him very closely," said Valérie. Uncharacteristically, rather than use that fact to take a shot at Lautitia, she instead opted to change the topic. "Personally, I think the more immediate threat would be Durmstrang."
"Krum might be good at Quidditch but I do not think that that means much," said Aurélie.
"Unless one of the tasks is wrestling!" Nathalie interjected, earning a few giggles.
Laetitia looked concerned. "Do you think that is a possibility?"
"It is a competition in magic, Laetitia," said Nathalie, sounding exasperated. "Of course it will not include wrestling."
"With Krum and the other Hogwarts boy in the competition, maybe it should," said Valérie with a suggestive grin.
The tittering that followed had Fleur questioning her decision to explore Hogsmeade with an entourage.
"So what is your plan for the tournament, Fleur?" asked Nathelie.
There was a hidden barb waiting to be revealed in that statement, and Fleur waited for it to be unveiled.
Nathalie did not disappoint. "After all, you are surely the least favoured contestant now."
Fleur merely scoffed at the very idea. Krum might well pose a threat, but he looked like a dumb brute. Unless they had to outfly a dragon or something equally ludicrous, he'd be at no greater advantage than any of them. "Less favoured than the child?" she asked with a single raised eyebrow.
"Oh, I am sure you will be able to see that challenge off," said Nathalie smoothly, "but surely you see that all eyes will be on him, and perhaps Krum. You and that other Hogwarts boy could well be forgotten in the shadow of those two."
This time Fleur just laughed in Nathalie's face, which helpfully concealed the pang of worry she felt. Though Fleur might not like it, she was almost certainly right.
Where was the glory in defeating a little boy? By all rights, she should trounce him, but that would surely result in her being seen as a bully. If, on the other hand, she did not win convincingly enough then she would still be regarded as a failure. She was in trouble either way.
She didn't say any of that, however. Instead, she looked down her nose at Nathalie. "He will embarrass himself in the first task, and there is no way that Krum can hope to live up to the expectations placed upon him. When I outperform every other champion, they will have no choice but to sit up and take notice of me."
Despite the certainty of her tone, though, Fleur knew it would be a tall order indeed. She barely even paid attention to the run-down streets and shops of Hogsmeade after that. She had much more important things on her mind.
"Come along, Miss Delacour!" said Madame Maxime as she walked quickly in the direction of Hogwarts. A woman who is nearly ten feet tall can walk very quickly indeed, and Fleur had little chance of keeping up without having to resort to a trot.
Maxime could complain all she liked, it wasn't like they were going to be late or anything.
"The Wand Weighing Ceremony might seem unimportant to you," said Maxime as she realised Fleur was once more falling behind, "but it is your first chance to impress not only the other judges, but the public too. You do not wish to be late!"
"No, Madame Maxime," said Fleur dutifully. She still wasn't about to trot through Hogwarts castle like a dog on a lead.
Despite Maxime's more and more forceful attempts to chide Fleur for her unwillingness to make a scene of herself, Fleur arrived at the room which had been set aside for the ceremony with her dignity intact. It was almost certain she would have to endure a lecture on the importance of punctuality when she returned to Beauxbatons' infernal carriage, but that was a problem for another time. Maxime would not risk losing face by reprimanding Fleur in front of others.
Fleur had quickly come to realise that while Maxime was, in theory at least, an impartial judge in the coming tournament, she had no intention of paying anything more than lip service to that supposed impartiality. Fleur had already had a number of books on magical beasts recommended to her by the Headmistress. She was hardly being subtle.
Still, no matter how impartial she might wish to appear, there was no way she was going to tell Fleur off in front of the five or six reporters who were already present when Fleur entered the room.
She immediately realised that only the other Hogwarts boy, Cedric, was already present. He was standing in one corner quietly talking with a rotund woman in a muddy green pointy hat, completely ignored by the reporters.
Fleur's entry caused a bit more of a stir. Three of the reporters immediately closed in, but were brought up short when the impressive figure of Madame Maxime stepped in front of them.
"Zer will be time for questions once ze ceremony is complete," said Maxime in her heavily accented English.
"Now, later, what does it matter, really?" asked one of the men as he leaned around to look at Fleur. It was obvious that he wasn't English, but his accent was tough to place. He shot Fleur what he probably considered to be a winning smile. "I'm sure the young lady doesn't mind."
Fleur smiled demurely. "Not at all, Monsieur…?"
"Csintalan," said the reporter. "Koppány Csintalan, but please, call me Cheen. I work for Prorocheski vesti. I only have a few questions for you. It would take only a minute."
Thanks to her grandmother's insistence, Fleur had learned a very small amount of Bulgarian. Enough to recognise the paper he worked for, anyway. It didn't take a genius to see just where his questions were likely to lead. She didn't let her pleasant demeanor falter, though. "Please, ask away," she said.
"Thank you," said Cheen, looking very pleased. "Now, I do not agree, but many have been saying that the tournament is a foregone conclusion with the selection of Viktor Krum as Durmstrang Champion. How would you respond to them?"
It took more than a little self-control to restrain herself from giving exactly the response that that kind of question deserved, but Fleur was equal to the challenge. She smiled again, though this time it was not nearly so sweet. "I theenk I will defer my response to the first task," she said simply. "Let zem underestimate me. Eet will do them no favours."
"Ooh hoo!" Cheen hooted. "Fighting words indeed. I am certain you shall wow them!"
"I'm sure she will," said another voice. It managed to tread a fine line between oily and simpering, and Fleur instantly found herself disliking the speaker. It was a middle-aged woman who was seemingly engaged in a war against good taste.
Blonde, improbably rigid curls; brash magenta robes; and a simply awful crocodile skin clutch has Fleur wondering if perhaps the woman was simply blind. That notion was quickly dispelled, however, when she found the woman's eyes tracing over her with a very obvious air of disdain.
"Rita Skeeter, Daily Prophet," she said by way of introduction as she shoved Cheen out of the way unceremoniously. "So, Miss Daylackord," —Fleur winced at the butchering of her name— "What are your thoughts on the surprise addition of a fourth champion?"
Fleur shrugged. "Eet ees not my place to comment." Much though she might like to. "I theenk zat ees a question for ze organisers."
"Yes, yes, I'm sure. But surely you have some concerns?" asked Skeeter, brushing off Fleur's attempts to demure. "Harry Potter, no less. Surely you are worried that his inclusion will overshadow you and your… efforts."
There was absolutely nothing subtle about the way Skeeter had asked that particular question while sweeping her eyes over Fleur's body. It was almost surprising that her cruelly brutalised hair didn't fall out then and there from envy.
"Quite ze contrary," said Fleur, taking care to keep her tone light. "Eet seems zat Monsieur Potter's inclusion, 'owever eet came about, ees sure to raise ze profile of the entire event. Ze rising tide, as zey say, raises all ships."
"Oh bravo," said Cheen, as he roughly shoved Skeeter back a couple of steps. "That is a most mature way of seeing it."
Skeeter seemed a little less pleased by the answer, but Fleur was saved from whatever was to come by the arrival of the very subject of their conversation. Harry sidled in through the doorway, but was immediately set upon by the ever-enthusiastic Ludo Bagman.
"Ah, here he is!" said Bagman, bouncing with the kind of energy usually only found in small children. "In you come, Harry. In you come! No need to be shy."
As Bagman started dragging the poor boy around the room, introducing him to each and every one of the judges and reporters in turn, Fleur retreated to a corner of the room. She was soon joined by the other Hogwarts Champion, and Krum who looked every bit as surly as usual.
"Almost feel bad for him," said Cedric after they watched Harry get dragged off somewhere by the Skeeter woman. The effort he'd put into sounding nonchalant rather ruined the effect he was going for. "Even if he did enter his own name, I don't think he knew what he was letting himself in for."
Fleur glanced across at the other two champions and quickly realised that it would be down to her to make polite conversation. Krum was apparently unable to produce anything more than scowls and grunts.
Cedric looked conflicted. "Well, whatever's happening at Hogwarts, Harry always seems to find his way into the middle of it," he said. "Either he's the unluckiest sod alive, or there's something more to it."
Surprisingly it was Krum who spoke up then, though it was, less surprisingly, just one word. "Like?" It was more than Fleur could remember hearing from him since Halloween.
"Well, there was the dementors last year," said Cedric quickly. "Then there was that rumour that he was the heir of Slytherin the year before. Him and his friend got awards for services to the school, but Dumbledore never explained why. And he got a lot of points for something the year before that, but Dumbledore was really cryptic about that too."
"I hate dementors," Krum grumbled.
"'E ees a celebrity," said Fleur, waving her hand dismissively. "Eet ees only natural zat where 'e goes, rumours follow."
"Well, I'll just say that I'm not going to be underestimating him," said Cedric as he crossed his arms. "Anyone that can summon a corporeal patronus like that at thirteen is worth being wary of is all I'm saying."
Fleur could not restrain her rising eyebrow. "Zat ees advanced magic," she said.
"Yeah. Even I can only manage mist," said Cedric, clearly a bit put-out by that fact, "but everyone saw it."
"Impressive," said Fleur, though it was more to herself than to anyone else.
As she said it, Dumbledore arrived, with Harry and a sorely disappointed Skeeter in tow.
"I believe we are all now present," said Dumbledore, and with a grand sweep of his hand, the chairs arranged around the edge of the room organised themselves into an orderly semicircle. "If everyone could please take a seat."
Fleur did so, taking a seat almost at random. Perhaps predictably, Cedric took the seat to her right, while Krum deposited himself in the seat to her left.
Once everyone was seated, Harry taking the empty seat next to Cedric, Dumbledore introduced an elderly man with pale, almost luminous eyes.
"This is Mr. Ollivander," he said as his gaze shifted between the four champions. "He will be checking your wands to ensure that they are in good condition before the Tournament begins."
"Mademoiselle Delacour, if you could come forward first, please?" said Ollivander fluidly, and with the slightest hint of a bow in her direction.
Fleur rose quickly from her seat and handed her wand over to the man.
His unsettling eyes ran over her wand and he hummed in thought. "Nine and a half inches, rosewood and rather inflexible, if I may say. And a core of… dear me…"
"An 'air from ze 'ead of a Veela," said Fleur proudly. "My grandmuzzer's."
"Yes, yes, I can see how that might curb the temperamentality of the Veela hair," said Ollivander as he inspected the wand even more closely now. "There is no doubt that it suits you well, my dear."
Temperamental was a kind way of putting it. The wand crafter that had created it had lost her eyebrows when attempting a simple spell. However, Fleur would not have traded it for the world.
Finally, Ollivander flicked the wand and a beautiful bouquet of flowers sprung from the tip. He then handed the wand back to her, flowers and all.
"It is in fine working order, I do say," he said, sounding pleased with himself. "Well done. Now, Mr. Diggory, if you please?"
Fleur quickly retook her seat as Ollivander went through the same motions with Cedric's wand, though with rather more familiarity than he had with Fleur's. It was hardly unexpected, the man had made Cedric's wand, after all.
Suddenly, a small cloud of golden sparks erupted from her right, and she looked over to find the source. The Potter boy was frozen, but it was obvious he'd been trying to get some impromptu wand-polishing in using a fist full of robes. Under her gaze, he quickly looked away and tried to pretend that nothing had happened.
Fleur held back her smile. This was the boy who could conjure a corporeal patronus?
Next up was Krum, and as expected he contributed very little to Ollivander's comments on his wand, and was soon retaking his seat.
Finally, Harry was called up.
"Aaaah, yes, yes, yes," said Ollivander as he ran his hands over the wand, his gaze distant. "How well I remember this particular wand."
It was with some mild interest which Fleur noted the fact that Harry looked rather uncomfortable at Ollivander's words. Whatever it was he was worried about clearly didn't come to pass, however, as Ollivander soon produced a fountain of wine from the wand, and handed it back without further comment.
As Harry scuttled back to his seat, clutching his wand like it was his most treasured possession, Dumbledore rose.
"Thank you all," he said. "You may return to your lessons now… Or perhaps it would be better if we all headed down to dinner instead—"
"Photos, Dumbledore, photos!" said Bagman cheerfully, after Skeeter had hissed something in his ear. "All the judges and champions. What do you think, Rita?"
From the way her hungry gaze didn't deviate from Harry for more than a couple of seconds, it was clear exactly what she wanted. Still, she nodded a little reluctantly. "And then some of each champion individually."
What followed was nothing less than a farce.
The two photographers spent most of their time pulling Fleur to the front, while Skeeter attempted to manhandle Harry into the same position. It was obvious that Harry found the entire experience supremely uncomfortable, not least when they finally settled on the compromise of having Harry and Fleur front-and-centre.
"I'm really sorry about this," he muttered to her as the photographers told them all to bunch up together more.
Ordinarily, Fleur might have said something cutting, but the poor boy was already clearly miserable enough that she didn't need to lump anything more onto him. Instead, she smiled, winked at him, and said, "I do not theenk I would like to trade my admirers for yours."
His surprised laugh was followed immediately by another blinding flash from the cameras, and Skeeter rubbed her hands together in glee.
"Well, now that that's done, I think we should do individual shots of each of the champions," she said, immediately shooing everyone but Harry away to the edges of the room.
Once more, Fleur found herself standing with Cedric and Krum while the judges conversed between themselves. They watched in silence as Skeeter treated Harry as if he was a life-size poseable mannequin. It was really a mercy for the boy that he wasn't also being dressed up.
As he was being maneuvered into a warlike stance, which was rather ruined by the pained look on his face, Cedric said, "So, Fleur. I was wondering if you'd maybe like to meet up in Hogsmeade this weekend. I could show you around or something."
She glanced across at him, and could see just how hard he was trying to keep up the facade of indifference. "Non," she said simply.
The boy deflated, but took it rather better than most. "Well, can't blame a guy for trying, right?"
Fleur didn't answer him. Instead, she decided to do her good deed for the day.
As the photographers and Skeeter started forcing Harry into a completely ridiculous arms akimbo pose, she called out to them: "'Ow long ees zis going to take? I do not 'ave forever."
Krum, surprisingly, backed her up. "Training to do," he grunted.
The realisation that they might lose their opportunity to photograph Fleur meant that Harry was free in moments, despite many protestations from Skeeter that they just needed one more photograph. As soon as he was released, Harry fled from the room with as much speed as he could manage while retaining what was left of his dignity.
As he left, he mouthed two words to her: 'Thank you.'
"It seems they have almost forgotten you exist, Fleur," said Nathalie, looking very much like the cat who got the cream.
She threw down a copy of the Daily Prophet, which had as its front page a large image of Harry scowling from behind his brandished wand. At least, it was probably meant to be a scowl. It looked more like he'd just received a kick somewhere rather sensitive.
The rest of the front page was a lengthy article on the Potter boy, and as Fleur flipped over to the next page she found that the next two were more of the same. Finally, at the very bottom of the third page there was a small picture of everyone together, with a caption identifying her and Krum as 'Fluer Delacord' and 'Victor Krom' respectively. Cedric was not even mentioned.
"Fascinating," said Fleur drily as she folded the paper back up and passed it back across the table only for Valérie to pluck it up and start skimming over it.
"Are you not insulted?" asked Nathalie, probing for some weakness.
"Not especially," said Fleur with a shrug. "What did you expect of the English press, truly?"
"Better than this, certainly," said Valérie, frowning. "I could do better than this."
"Laetitia could do better than that dross," said Aurélie, before she giggled at her own wit.
"That poor boy," said Laetitia, her eyes not leaving the page as she took her turn reading over the article. She looked up at Fleur. "Did he truly weep when his parents were mentioned?"
"Is there a betting pool running on whether he will burst into tears during the first task?" asked Nathalie.
"Perhaps he will call for his mother," Valérie supplied, to much giggling from the others.
Fleur glanced over at where the boy in question was also reading the article, as his brown-haired friend hovered over his shoulder looking nervous.
His explosion, which was immediately followed by a hushed discussion between Harry and his friend caused the whole Hall to go quiet and look over towards them.
"You going to start crying about your mother again, Potter?" a mocking voice called from one of the other tables.
Harry didn't respond, but instead shot a fiery look in the direction of a blond boy before stomping out of the room.
"Maybe Myrtle needs some company, Potter!"
The table on which the blond boy was sitting all laughed, and were joined by a few chuckles from some of the other tables.
"'Oo ees Myrtle?" Élise asked a short blonde Ravenclaw who was sitting nearby and wearing what appeared to be… radish? earrings.
"Oh, she's the ghost that lives in the girls' bathroom," said the girl airily. "I've tried to cheer her up a few times, but she never seems to appreciate it."
It was obvious that Élise really didn't know how to respond to that particular statement. The blonde girl didn't seem to care however.
"If he does go to visit her, I'm sure it'll really cheer her up. She seems to really like him."
Despite her better judgement, Fleur couldn't help but ask: "What?"
"Oh, he killed the basilisk that killed her as a child, you see," said the girl as if she was commenting on the weather, and not dangerous magical beasts. She frowned in thought. "Though, I think she was a bit disappointed that he didn't die too, to be honest. I think she's lonely."
"A basilisk?" asked Aurélie, surprise robbing her of her usual condescension.
"Mmm," said the blonde girl before she rose from the table. "Actually, maybe I'll go and visit her for a while before classes start. I don't think Harry will be. He looks far too happy in that picture for the story to be true."
With that, she skipped off in the direction of the castle's entry hall, humming something tuneless under her breath as she did so.
Her departure was followed by a puzzled silence. "Well, she's… interesting," said Aurélie eventually.
Fleur, however, was looking at the page of the Prophet which the girl had left open. It was the picture of all the champions and the judges together, and in it, Harry was smiling and laughing merrily, as the image of Fleur winked slyly at him.
But what was all that about a basilisk?
If there was one sound which Fleur hoped would never again serve as her wakeup call, it was the roaring of angry dragons.
In theory, the dragons were probably meant to be a secret right up until the first moments of the first task, but the Beauxbatons Carriage sat near the groundskeeper's hut at the edge of the forest, and it was apparently not all that far away from where the arena had been set up for the first task.
It also hadn't been hard to read between the lines of Madame Maxime's constant hints about dragons. What had been difficult was working out a workable plan to deal with one.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fleur was the first to arrive in the Champions' tent that morning. She was already regretting her punctuality. Being so close to them, even if she still had not actually seen them, was simply torture. She had not slept at all well the previous night, as she had been pursued through her dreams by a particularly massive Ukranian Ironbelly, which had simply shrugged off every one of her planned spells.
The next person to show up was Cedric, who looked incredibly pale as he stepped into the tent. His eyes quickly found Fleur as she paced back and forth across the floor, he wandered over to stand nearby.
"You ready for this?" he asked. He was obviously just trying to fill the void so that he didn't need to think about dragons.
If she was being honest, Fleur had no idea if she really was ready. However, there was no way she was going to give him the satisfaction of knowing the depth of her self-doubt.
"Well that makes one of us then, I guess," said Cedric with a somewhat forced chuckle. "I dread to think what would have happened if Harry hadn't told me."
Fleur's only response was a simple, "Mmm."
Realising that he was unlikely to get much in the way of conversation from her, Cedric gave up, and retreated into the same silence that Fleur had wrapped around herself.
Next to show up was Krum, who had miraculously managed to find new levels of scowling surliness. Blessedly, he made no attempt to communicate beyond the briefest of nods in Fleur's direction.
Finally, it was Harry, and he looked like he'd just rolled out of bed. His hair was even wilder than usual, and his eyes looked tired. It was obvious that he was worried too, but what was more interesting was the determination on his face. It looked like Nathalie might be about to lose that bet of hers.
Harry was followed closely by Bagman, who bounced into the tent like an over-sized ball.
"Good, good!" he said enthusiastically, as he swung a small sack around excitedly. "Well, not that we're all here, it's time to fill you in! Just as soon as everything is ready, I'll offer each of you this bag" — He swung the bag around again for good measure — "and you will each select a small model of whatever it is you're about to face. There's different varieties, you see."
For a moment it seemed like that was it, but then he continued. "Oh, yes, and your task will be to retrieve the golden egg."
So that was the task. Steal an egg from a nesting dragon. Simple really. Fleur glanced around at the other champions, and caught Harry's eye as he did the same. He looked unwell at the prospect, but still managed to spare her a small smile. Cedric had managed to actually go a faint shade of green, but Krum hadn't reacted at all.
They didn't have long to wait before everything was prepared to Bagman's satisfaction.
"Well, no point in keeping you waiting any more," he said with the kind of cheerfulness only possible when you were certain you weren't going to have to face down a dragon in a few minutes. He held the bag out to Fleur. "Ladies first."
She reached in, and pulled out a perfect scale model of a dragon. It was long and slender, with vibrant green scales. The perverse feeling of relief that it was not the giant black Ukranian Ironbelly of her nightmares was probably a strange reaction, but she took strength from it. Welsh Greens could be dangerous, like all dragons, but they had lived in such close proximity to humans for such a long time that they tended to be fairly relaxed compared to their more wild relatives.
"The Welsh Green!" said Bagman happily. "And it looks like you'll be going second. Now, Mr. Krum."
Krum pulled a Chinese Fireball from the sack, bearing the number three around its neck. That would be a challenging dragon to fight, they were aggressive and agile.
Next was Cedric, who withdrew his hand from the sack to reveal that he would be going first, and facing a Swedish Short-Snout. Usually smaller than Welsh Greens, but with a reputation for being very liberal in their use of their fiery breath, it was probably of a similar difficulty to her own.
When it was Harry's go, he pulled out a tiny model of a Hungarian Horntail. Fleur had heard the reputation of that particular species, and once again felt a surge of relief at the fact that her dragon was only a Welsh Green.
Hah, as if that really made it all that much better. A dragon was a dragon.
From his expression when he pulled it out, Fleur could tell that Harry had been expecting it. She wondered who it was that had told him, but quickly put that thought to the back of her mind. It ultimately didn't matter. She'd known, Cedric had known, and if his reactions were anything to go by, Krum had known too.
Things were fair. Or as fair as they could be given the circumstances.
With their dragons chosen, Bagman steered Harry away for a quiet conversation, his eyes darting this way and that clearly communicating that he was doing something he should not be.
Well, that probably answered the question of who it was that had told Harry about the dragons. Given how little that knowledge was likely to help him, Fleur barely even begrudged him that. If the boy made it out of the task with his life intact, he'd be doing pretty well.
Hell, if she made it out with her life intact, she'd be doing pretty well.
Soon, Cedric was called out to face his dragon, and Fleur tried to centre herself for what was to come. She tried to block out the sounds coming from beyond the tent. The roaring of the dragon, the screams and cheers of the crowd, the crackle of fire and the pounding of huge wings against the air. It seemed to last both an age, and no time at all.
Finally, it was over. It sounded as if Cedric had been successful, if Bagman's commentary was to be believed. Then the time came.
A whistle blew, and Bagman announced: "Fleur Delacour, if you please!"
She squared her shoulders, and without so much as a backwards glance, strode from the tent to meet her dragon. It could be her glory, or her doom, but no matter what, she'd meet it head on, and with her head held high.
The dragon was even larger than she'd feared, or perhaps it was merely the fact that this dragon was not merely a set of measurements and diagrams in a dusty old book. It watched her enter the arena through flat, crocodilian eyes, and huffed a huge stream of smoke from its nostrils.
She needed to be careful, she knew. Welsh Greens were relatively placid, at least for dragons, but this one was already agitated as a result of being forced into the arena, surrounded by a baying crowd.
Slowly, so as not to spook the creature, Fleur raised her wand until it was pointing at the creature. Another cloud of thick smoke issued from its nose, and it shifted just slightly to look at her more closely. As soon as Fleur began casting the spell she'd been practicing for the last few weeks, it reacted. A thin stream of fire lanced across the arena towards her, and she had to dive out of the way.
While it was theoretically possible to stop dragonfire with a shield charm, there was no way she was going to place her faith in it when she could just jump out of the way. She needed to distract it long enough to cast her spell. Safely hidden behind a large boulder, she stooped down to pick up a handful of stones. A whispered spell turned them into two dozen huge butterflies, which flapped gracefully into the air.
Another lance of flame reduced a couple to ashes in a moment, but the others spread out, and started fluttering around the dragon's head, drawing its attention away from her.
She cast a couple of spells over herself; one to conceal her smell, and another to hide her from the creature's sight. As prepared as she would ever be, she stepped out again, and was relieved to see that the dragon didn't seem to notice her, as its head snapped at the butterflies dancing all around it.
The spell she'd spent so long learning was a strange one. It was a sleeping charm, but it was an unusual one. Most sleeping charms relied heavily on the target being able to hear the enchanted music produced by the spell, but dragons had a very poor sense of hearing. They relied instead on sight and smell to find their prey, and any attempt to send one to sleep with an ordinary sleeping charm was doomed to fail.
Instead, her charm produced a shimmering cloud of shifting colours which hung in the air, and slowly started to drift across the open arena towards the dragon. Even as she cast it, she could feel the magic starting to work. She felt sluggish, and her eyes drooped, but she kept at it. She stared right past the clouds of magic towards the Dragon, and directed it to rest over the creature's head. Thanks to the butterflies, it got within feet before the dragon realised what was happening, and a torrent of fire erupted from its mouth in an attempt to destroy the encroaching cloud.
It had no effect, though. The dragon would need to target Fleur to break the spell, and it was far too focused on the billowing, flashing cloud that drifted closer and closer until it surrounded the creature's head completely.
It continued to fight, but with its entire field of vision filled with the enchanted smoke, and its lungs taking in huge amounts of it with each breath, it couldn't resist long. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, its eyes started to droop, until finally, it could fight no more, and it fell into a deep, enchanted sleep.
As carefully as she could manage, Fleur picked her way across the arena until she reached the slumbering giant. She could feel heat radiating from the animal, even from a few feet away. Taking great care not to disturb the creature, she stepped over one of its huge claws, and picked up the golden egg. She then slowly, delicately, retraced her steps until she was a safe distance away from the dragon.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
Then the crowd erupted into applause, and the dragon shifted. It was almost like a burp, but it was followed by a ball of fire which rolled across the arena and, with an uncanny accuracy, caught the edge of her robes.
They were charmed against ordinary fire, of course, but dragonfire was something else entirely. It was only thanks to a hasty water conjuration that Fleur was not burned. As soon as the fire was out, Fleur decided to throw caution to the wind and ran the rest of the way back to the exit, dignity be damned.
As soon as she was out, she was set upon by some of the tournament organisers, who quickly checked to make sure she hadn't been injured by the flames.
"I am fine," she said, pushing one young man away after he got a little too 'detailed' in his checks. "Leave me be."
With Maxime on the judges' stand, there was no-one else to tell her what was going on, so she found a spot in the stands and waited for her scores to be announced.
The first to show her score was Madame Maxime, who shot Fleur a beaming smile as she raised her wand and thin silvery ribbon formed the number ten over her head. That was only fair, really. The only misstep she'd made in the whole thing was when the blasted dragon had snored, and even that had been quickly dealt with.
Next was Dumbledore, who shot up a nine. Then Bagman and Crouch both gave her seven points.
"What?" she said in disgust. "Seven? I wasn't even hurt!"
But those scores paled into insignificance when Karkaroff shot up a measly five.
It was probably for the best that none of the other Beauxbatons teachers had followed them to Hogwarts. If they had, then Fleur would certainly have been on the receiving end of a lecture on the proper use of language, and just what kind of language was appropriate for a young witch of her standing.
Five points? That absolute bastard.
She didn't have long to rage on that particular piece of unfairness, however, as Krum's name was announced and a few seconds later he stepped out into the arena.
True to what she'd expected, he acted like a thug. He shot dozens of curses at the dragon, most of them missing the beast's eyes, but a few found their mark. The dragon roared in pain and rage and stamped around as it filled the air with fire. Krum did show his athleticism, though, as he dodged through the fire to retrieve the egg from beneath the blinded, enraged dragon.
His score only served to infuriate her further. Forty points? Karkaroff's brazen bias was utterly ridiculous. The dragon had destroyed dozens of eggs, and he rated Krum a ten?
Not that the crowd seemed to care. Apparently the way to their hearts was through blind thuggery. They cheered wildly for the tournament's new leader as the still enraged dragon was forced back into its cage by a team of dragon-wranglers. The next dragon was soon brought out, and it took Fleur's breath away.
It was maybe half as large again as her own dragon, which was already larger than either the Short-snout, or the Fireball, and it was already enraged. The redheaded wizard in charge of releasing it had to dodge out of the way of a brutally spiked tail. For a moment, the dragon looked like it wanted to chase after the quickly retreating handler, but eventually it huffed out a long cloud of acrid black smoke, and turned away.
It took up station over the small pile of eggs near the middle of the arena, and glared out at the watching crowd. Every now and then, a short gout of fire would splash against the protective shields.
Then Harry Potter's name was called, and he stepped out.
"Mr. Potter!" Fleur called. "Could I speak wiz you?"
He turned around, clearly confused as to why she would want to speak to him. His redheaded friend took a brief moment to realise that he was being approached by Fleur Delacour then was forced to wave goodbye to the few still-functioning brain cells he possessed as they were immediately dedicated to whatever childish daydreams boys had when they got that glazed expression.
On reflection, the redheaded boy hadn't been around Harry much after the announcement of the champions. Whatever disagreement they'd had was seemingly forgotten now, though, as they were chatting away about something to do with Quidditch. Of course. They were boys, after all.
"Miss, um, Delacour," said Harry uneasily, clearly lost on how he should address her. Given the purpose of the talk Fleur felt she should take pity on him.
"Please, call me Fleur," she said before gifting him a small smile. "I wished to apologise to you."
There was a flicker of understanding there, but there was still a flicker of suspicion in his eyes. "Apologise? Why?"
Because, despite her clearly superior efforts in the first task, Harry Potter and his frankly ridiculously daring showing was all anyone was talking about. She'd had to endure days of needling from Nathelie and the others, and she needed to put them in their place.
Because she was Fleur Delacour, and was currently last in the tournament, alongside a boy who'd managed to get most of his left side burned off. Because Harry of all people. The little boy, whom she had regarded as an irrelevance, was the only person anyone would be looking at on the evening of the Ball.
Because this tournament was her path to a better life, a life not governed by constant petty wards for status, and he was in her way.
"Because eet ees ze right zing, no?" she asked as if it was obvious. She pushed down the slightly slimy sensation she felt as she said it. That might be true, but she knew that was not really the reason why she was apologising. "I should not have called you a little boy. I did not mean to insult you; I was merely worried for your safety. I theenk now eet ees clear zat eet should have been you zat was worried for mine."
She was laying it on rather thick, but he was both a boy and English. Neither of those qualities gave her much hope of him being quick on the uptake.
"Duh…" said the redheaded boy.
Harry glanced at his friend, perhaps trying to understand what he'd been trying to say. He shrugged and gave up, he turned back to Fleur. "Well, you didn't need to, but thank you," he said with sincerity.
Fleur shook her head, "Non, I needed to. Een fact, I wish to make eet up to you."
"Duhdo…?" supplied the other boy.
Both Fleur and Harry looked at him and waited a moment to see if anything else was forthcoming. When it became clear there was not, they turned back to each other.
"You don't need to."
"But I wish to," she said and she adopted a sad expression that was definitely not a pout. Only children pouted; Fleur adopted a look of heartfelt sorrow.
Harry ran a hand through his hair and looked at Ron, clearly hoping for some kind of guidance. As the boy had started dribbling very slightly it was clear there would be none.
"Well, um, okay?" he said unsurely.
"You are aware zat zere ees a Yule Ball, to mark ze Winter Solstice, yes?" Fleur asked him. Almost immediately he adopted a hunted expression.
"Yeah…?" He was either even slower than she'd imagined, or simply had extremely low self-esteem. Given his performance in the first task it was probably the latter, which played into Fleur's plans nicely.
"Would you like to join me?" she asked, spelling it out for him.
"You mean, like, together?" There was none of the enthusiasm that Fleur had expected. She was worried for a moment that he might actually decline, a possibility Fleur had thought so improbable that it could be completely discounted. Fortunately the three brain cells in the head of the redhead chose that moment to join in on the conversation.
"YES," he half shouted. "HE'LL GO."
"Wh— Ron!" Harry turned to his friend and was clearly about to tell him off but Fleur cut him off.
"Magnifique!" she cried with much false enthusiasm. "I will meet you by ze door of ze entrance hall."
With that she gave him a quick peck on the cheek for good measure and moved swiftly away before he could regain his senses.
Boys were just too easy. She ignored the lingering feeling that she was acting in exactly the manner she so despised.
"Can't even get a date, Potter?"
Fleur heard the smug voice as she entered through the great doors of Hogwarts and she looked around to locate it. A blond-haired boy with a pinched face and superior bearing was talking to an annoyed and nervous-looking Harry.
"Sod off, Malfoy!" Harry bit out with textbook eloquence and wit.
"It's a bit sad really—" began the Malfoy boy and Fleur decided to intercede as it was clear that Harry was much too nervous to come up with any kind of real rebuke.
"Ah, 'arry, zere you are," she said, her voice dripping happiness as she swept across the Hall to his side. She linked her arm through his and flashed him a dazzling smile. Turning to the other boy and his date, she gave them a much more obviously affected smile. "Who are your friends? You simply must introduce me."
She heard Harry mutter for a moment about definitely not being friends, as if that wasn't obvious from a mile away. She thought for a moment that the silly boy wouldn't do as she'd asked. "Um, Malfoy, Fleur Delacour, my, um, date. Fleur, this is Draco Malfoy."
"Malfoi?" she asked, deliberately stressing the French, correct, pronunciation of his name. "I am so glad your family has been able to cast off the ignominious past now zat zey've moved to Britain."
It was ancient history, of course, but there was little the French Wizarding World loved more than living in the past. The Malfoy family choosing to follow a Muggle on his conquest was a scandal of historic proportions. Quite literally; it had been the subject of one of their history essays just last year.
The boy's eyes flickered over her. This was not the slow, torturous trailing of the sadly delusional would-be player, nor was it the faster, hopeless scrabble to see everything usually deployed by those destined for perpetual virginity. No, this was the pathetic indecisive ramble of one who had never even been aware that such things were even possible. The effect was akin to the reaction she'd expect from a young child who discovered sweets on the same day as being locked into a sweet shop.
She had made a real effort on her appearance, though it was of course very important that it didn't look like she'd made much of an effort. From the looks she was getting, not only from the Malfoy boy, but Harry and very nearly every other person in the hall, she had judged it exactly right. She had, however, made one small concession for Harry's benefit: no heels. She was already a little taller than him, and it would do neither of them any good if it looked like she was attending with a child. Her eyes came to rest on the girl who was dangling from Malfoy's arm. Her attempts to cover for her obvious shortcomings were certainly not subtle.
"But you did not introduce me to 'is… lovely companion." The pause had been carefully crafted for maximum insult but it sadly went over the girl's head. Some people had no appreciation for subtext.
Harry shot her a look of incredulity; whether in response to her description of the pug-faced girl in front of them or for some other reason, Fleur was unsure. She gave his arm a slight squeeze to prompt him to respond.
"Well, um, this is Pansy Parkinson?" he half-asked, clearly not understanding the game Fleur was playing on his behalf.
"Eet ees a pleasure, Mademoiselle Parkinson. Eet ees very, hmm, 'ow do you say, kind of you?" Fleur mused, once again playing up her accent. "Most een France would not wish to be seen with a Malfoi, you must be very fond of 'im."
Neither seemed to have any idea how to respond. The Malfoy boy because his already limited intellect was challenged enough by the mere task of looking at Fleur, and the girl because she had gone red and was trying to pull the boy away before further damage could be done.
Harry turned to her, confusion and amazement warring across his features. "How— What just happened?"
Fleur laughed and steered Harry over to where the Hogwarts Deputy-Headmistress was organising the other champions and their partners. "Perhaps I should teach you," she said with a crafted smile. "Perhaps zen you would not be mauled so in ze press."
The boy groaned and looked down. "You saw those then?"
"I theenk everyone saw zem, Harry. Even my baby sister."
He groaned again and ran a hand through his hair, clearly at a loss for what to say. He was saved by the Deputy-Headmistress.
"There you are, Mr. Potter," she said, glancing at Fleur and then to where their arms were still linked. She frowned. "And Miss Delacour, it would seem. Are you two attending together?"
"Yes, Madame," said Fleur smoothly. Then, to curry a bit of favour, she added, "Een ze spirit of international cooperation. I hope zat ees acceptable?"
The woman could wield a formidable frown, and she pursed her lips. "We had not expected it, but it was not expressly forbidden." she admitted.
"Magnificent," said Fleur, magnanimous in victory. "Eet would be such a pity to be split apart now, eet would be embarrassing, really."
It was clear that the old woman wasn't believing it for a second, but that was unimportant. What mattered was that Fleur now had an entire evening to get under the skin of the Boy-Who-Lived, the leader of the Triwizard Tournament, and the only person anyone would be talking about. The jealous look she was getting from the Chang girl warmed her heart.
Fleur held her head high, a polite smile gracing her lips as they were led into the thronging Hall. She could feel every eye on them as they walked, and a ripple of whispers followed their passing. She could not stop her smile growing a little broader.
Much effort and skill had been employed to decorate the Hall, with a great ice chandelier floating high in the air in the middle of the hall. The walls sparkled with bewitched ice crystals, and the enchanted ceiling displayed thousands of stars in a crystal-clear sky.
They had clearly gone all out in their preparations for the winter solstice, and the results were not bad.
It might not be Beauxbatons, but it was not bad.
They made their way up to the top table, which already had a few of the judges seated around it, and a young ginger man who seemed to be almost vibrating with self-importance. In perhaps the most prescient move she had seen from him so far, Harry shrewdly steered them away from him, and they found a couple of seats near Dumbledore. They were soon joined by Krum and his date. A little belatedly, she realised that the pretty brunette on his arm was the bushy-haired girl who often followed after Harry wherever he went.
She wondered just what had happened there, but there was no chance that she was going to raise the topic.
"Good evening, Harry," said Dumbledore kindly as he leaned over to pick up one of the thin menus. "And Miss Delacour too. It does my old heart good to see you two taking my advice. The Triwizard Tournament was always far more about forging relationships than it was about grand tussles with mighty beasts."
"Hi, Headmaster," said Harry, and once more he was looking a little lost.
It was a little surprising. Given the rumours Fleur had heard, she might have expected Harry and Dumbledore to share a rather more familiar relationship.
"Bonjour, 'Eadmaster Dumbledore," said Fleur much more gracefully. "Eet ees impressive what you 'ave managed 'ere wiz ze decorations. Zey are magnificent."
"Thank you, my dear," he said. As he spoke, his bright blue eyes seemed to drill into her. "It just goes to show that, with a little effort" — he chucked to himself — "and a lot of magic, even the impossible can be made possible."
"Ze chandelier ees most impressive."
"Ah, yes, the handiwork of our resident Charms Master," said Dumbledore, and Fleur breathed a sigh of relief when those piercing blue eyes at last broke away to gaze at the chandelier. "I am certain Filius would love to discuss the topic, as long as you are willing to talk about your most impressive performance in the first task. I do not believe I have ever seen him so excited."
It took a concerted effort of will to not send a venomous look over in the direction of Karkaroff, but somehow, Dumbledore still noticed.
"It is most unfortunate that your particular approach did not appeal to some of the other judges," he said with every indication of genuine regret. "If there were more people in the world who sought solutions like your own to the problems they faced, I daresay it would be a more pleasant place."
Then, without saying anything else, he turned to his plate, and announced, "Pork chops!"
Fleur glanced at Harry, and he seemingly understood the wordless question.
He whispered, "That's just what Dumbledore does. Don't mind him."
With that non-explanation out of the way, it was clear that the time for food had come. All around the table, others were following Dumbledore's lead, so Fleur picked up a nearby menu.
There was actually quite a broad selection of dishes available, which was a pleasant surprise. Beside her, Harry unexpectedly elected for goulash, which smelled very tempting indeed when it materialised in front of him.
However, tempting as it may be, it also looked quite rich. While Harry might be hoping to get through the evening without having to step out onto the dance floor, Fleur had no intention of allowing him to escape. No, best she choose something a little lighter. The bouillabaisse from their first evening at Hogwarts had been lovely. Yes, she decided. The bouillabaisse. Definitely.
Conversation was rather stilted while they ate, but in between mouthfuls, Harry introduced Fleur to his bushy-haired friend: Hermione. Evidently her parents appreciated the classics. The girl was polite, if a little distant. It was a reaction with which Fleur had long been familiar. She probably thought she was trying to take advantage of her friend.
The pang of guilt when she realised that the girl was probably right simply refused to go away. It rather ruined her appetite.
"So, um, how are you liking Hogwarts?" Harry asked when they'd both finished their main course.
"Eet ees very different from Beauxbatons," she said diplomatically. "Ze castle is most impressive, but I theenk eet ees ze landscape 'ere which I like most."
"You mean the forest and the trees and stuff?" Harry asked, and Fleur couldn't suppress her laughter at just how very male he sounded.
"Indeed," she said drily. "Ze forest, ze trees, and, as you say, ze stuff."
Once again, it seemed she had managed to catch him off-guard, and he laughed quietly. "You should see it from the air," he said, a note of enthusiasm creeping into his tone. "Especially in autumn. Well, when it's not blowing a gale or tipping it down."
"Yes, I must say zat ze weather ees not quite so pleasant," said Fleur. "I theenk a number of my classmates got a bit of a rude awakening when we arrived."
"You must have been freezing! Those blue robes don't look like they'd be much help."
"Indeed zey are not," said Fleur. She smiled a little impishly. "I am not sure zey are much better zan simply wearing nothing at all."
She timed her last sentence to coincide with Harry taking a sip of his drink, and was rewarded when his eyes went wide and he started coughing desperately.
He eyed her suspiciously. "You did that on purpose."
"Moi?" said Fleur, oozing innocence. "It ees not my fault that you cannot keep thoughts of my Headmistress from your mind."
This time, Harry laughed loudly enough that a few heads turned in their direction momentarily.
"Yeah, let's just say that that's what I was thinking about," said Harry, and she found herself matching his grin.
"Your secret is safe with me," said Fleur, winking at him.
"Oh," he said as something apparently occurred to him. "I meant to thank you for what you did at the Weighing of the Wands. If you hadn't said anything, I might still have been in there playing dress-up."
"It was nothing," said Fleur with a shrug. "All of us wanted out of there before midnight."
"Reporters are the vorst," said Krum, marking his first real contribution to the conversation outside of his repeated failed attempts to properly pronounce Hermione's name. "You haff to be strong vith them or they vill valk all over you."
"Yeah, I think I kinda learned that," said Harry ruefully. "No way I'm ever talking to that Skeeter woman again."
"No," said Krum, shaking his head. "You must talk, or they vill make up vords anyway. You must find someone who you trust to speak to."
"He is not wrong, Harry," said Fleur. Krum giving cogent and intelligent advice? Would wonders never cease? "We have not been at Hogwarts long, but I've already heard a lot of very strange rumours about you. Imagine if they were believed by more than school children. Your image is one of your most valuable possessions. You cannot let others dictate it for you. Take it from one who has had to deal with the petty rumours and machinations of school children for many years, it is better to stop them as early as you can."
"It's not like I encourage the rumours!"
"Well, no," said Hermione, looking a little nervous, "but you do tend to get wrapped up in everything."
"Some of them are plainly ridiculous," said Fleur. "Like the one that has you killing a basilisk with your bare hands, but if people hear enough lies about you, they might just start believing some of them."
Harry looked down at his plate and pushed some last scraps of food around with his fork, and mumbled, "It wasn't bare handed."
"Pardon?" asked Fleur. Had she really just heard him say that?
"I had a sword. And Fawkes helped."
There was a long silence, in which the only sound between the four of them was Hermione's long-suffering sigh.
Finally, Fleur found her voice. "When you killed a basilisk?"
"Yeah, and it was really more luck than anything," he continued. "Can we talk about something else?"
He was saved from further interrogation by dessert. Fleur elected for a positively divine chocolate cake, though it was with great regret that she left some on her plate. She was still mindful of the coming dance.
Her partner, however, clearly didn't have the same concerns. He was working his way methodically through a large slice of pumpkin pie. Fleur took the opportunity to look around the room.
Madame Maxime was talking to Hogwarts' huge groundskeeper, who was wearing a massive furry suit that made him look even more like a bear than ordinarily. Nathalie and Élise had both managed to goad a couple of Hogwarts students into accompanying them to the Ball, but it did not seem to be going terribly well for either of them, as the boys in question were spending more time talking with their fellow Hogwarts students than the Beauxbatons girls.
Valérie was talking to a Durmstrang boy who could scowl almost as fiercely as Krum, and was very nearly hanging off his arm already.
Laetitia and Aurélie had, perhaps wisely, opted to accompany two of the Beauxbatons boys. They were bores, but then neither Laetitia nor Aurélie were especially sharp themselves. They'd probably have a good enough night.
As her eyes swept over the floor, she noticed that Harry's red-headed friend, the one who had proved so helpful in getting her this particular date, was taking turns glaring at Hermione, and giving Fleur starry-eyed looks. He was sitting alone in a set of robes that should have qualified as a crime against good taste. Perhaps the fact that he was alone should not be a surprise. If Fleur had taken leave of her senses and agreed to be his date, she would have dropped him the second she saw the monstrosity he was wearing.
"I'm gonna have to thank Ron after this evening," said Harry.
"Oh?" Fleur asked as her gaze drifted back to Harry and she found him looking in the same direction she had been.
"I was dreading the whole thing," he said with disarming honesty.
Fleur smiled. "Surely, I am not more fearsome than a dragon?"
"That's not what I meant." Harry shook his head and chuckled. "Trying to find someone to ask was probably worse than the dragon."
"But you are famous," said Fleur, frowning. "Surely anyone would agree to attend with you? Had you asked, perhaps even that dreadful Pansy girl would have agreed."
"That's what the Twins said," said Harry, "but they'd only be interested in coming because — you know — everything else. They'd just want the bragging rights of going with Harry Potter." He scowled. "Might even get their name in the paper."
That inconvenient pang of guilt returned. Perhaps that was to blame for what she said. "Well, even if they did, I'm sure they would soon discover that there is more to you than meets the eye."
As dense as she'd thought he was, his eyes narrowed when he heard her say that. He felt them assess her, before he eventually sighed. "Maybe."
"No, none of that," Fleur told him. "None of them knows what it's like to face down a full grown dragon. They watched you fly, but they don't know the terror of being in that arena. What you did was remarkable. Anyone with wits would see that if they just had a chance to speak with you awhile."
"I'm sorry I didn't get to see you tackle your dragon," said Harry, clearly uncomfortable with the praise. It was actually refreshing to talk to someone who didn't attempt to laud every one of their achievements.
"I am told I put half the audience to sleep," said Fleur with a modest shrug.
"But you actually charmed a dragon to sleep," said Harry in amazement. "Everything I read said that was impossible."
For some reason, hearing him praise her magic meant far more to her than it should. Perhaps it was the fact that she knew he meant it.
"It was difficult, yes, but not impossible. If you like, perhaps I can talk you through the theory another time?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Fleur could see Hermione very nearly vibrating in excitement.
"You're welcome to try," said Harry with a wry smile. "Charms aren't really my strongest subject, though."
"I heard you can summon a corporeal patronus," Fleur pointed out. "If Charms isn't your strong suit, then I truly hope I do not have to contend with you in something you are good at."
Once again, it looked like Harry was about to try and brush off her praise, but it proved unnecessary. With all the food cleared away, the lights dimmed creating a much more intimate feel for the whole event. At some point during their meal, thick snow clouds had rolled in, and flakes of sparkling snow now filled the sky overhead.
"It is time for the first dance," said Fleur, pushing her chair back to stand up.
For a moment, Harry looked like he wanted to flee, but it lasted no time at all. Instead, the same look of determination she'd seen when he stepped out to meet his dragon rose on his face, and he rose from his seat.
They took their place for the first dance, and Fleur gently steered Harry's hands into the correct locations. It was quite possible that he might spontaneously combust when he realised exactly where his right hand had to go, but eventually the music started, and Fleur began to lead him through the simplest waltz she could manage.
"Sorry," said Harry as he stepped on Fleur's feet for the third time in as many minutes.
Fleur smiled at him and laughed as good naturedly as she could manage in the circumstances. It became harder to pull off each time. At least he wasn't heavy.
The bigger problem was that he was, by sheer dint of effort, managing to make them, and by extension her, look equal parts awkward and ridiculous. That just wouldn't do at all.
"You are a good flyer, yes?" she asked as they continued to stumble across the dance floor.
"Well, yeah, I suppose," he said, not looking her in the eyes.
"Then imagine I am the quaffle," she said as if it made perfect sense. Of course, it didn't.
"I play seeker," he said immediately as they continued on their winding path.
"Ah, so not quaffle," she said with feigned amusement. "Then imagine I am the Snitch, much more fitting, no? I am, after all, very shy and retiring."
He met her eyes at last, seemingly a little shocked that she'd made a joke. If she was being honest with herself, she was a bit surprised too. Despite his utterly terrible footwork, and his obvious nerves, she was actually enjoying herself.
In fact, she'd been enjoying the entire evening far more than she'd ever expected she would. When had that happened?
As more couples started to join them on the dance floor, Harry's footwork did get better. Whether that was thanks to her direction, or a reduction in his nervousness now that he wasn't the undeniable centre of attention, Fleur could not be sure.
"See?" Fleur asked him as she steered them nimbly by another pair of dancers who were doing a very convincing impression of two planks of wood. "It is not so bad."
Harry's smile was infectious, and Fleur couldn't help but mirror it. In a moment of daring, he decided to mimic one of the moves a few of the other dancers had done, and raised his arm to spin her underneath it.
"No," he said as she spun gracefully. "It's not so bad."
After a while the music changed, and by mutual agreement, they both opted to leave the dance floor in search of something to drink.
"I didn't realise dancing was so tiring," said Harry as he dropped into a seat near to the edge of the dance floor.
"I thought you were an athlete," said Fleur with a teasing nudge of her shoulder. "Don't tell me your stamina is already waning."
He gave her an affronted look, and spluttered something unintelligible.
"I guess it is true when they say that Quidditch really isn't all that hard," she said, not letting up. "You do spend all your time sitting down, after all."
This time he'd clearly seen the dig coming, and let out some loud laughter. "Oh, you just about had me going there," he said eventually. "I'm going to get a drink. Do you want some?"
She smiled broadly at him. "That would be lovely, thank you."
He soon disappeared into the crowd in the direction of the table that was serving as the bar, though 'bar' might be a little grandiose for what was simply a table covered in glasses of cheap fruit juice and some of the weakest wines imaginable.
Soon, his place was occupied by Hermione, who was looking flushed from the dancing.
"Are you having a good time?" Hermione asked her as he deposited herself into a seat, and immediately kicked off the high heels she was wearing.
Fleur eyed the girl, who was watching her with far more interest than such a simple question would ordinarily warrant.
"I am. 'Arry ees ze perfect gentleman."
The humming noise that served as the girl's response neatly communicated some doubt. "Is that why you asked him, then?"
"Pardon?" asked Fleur, looking the girl in the eye. Somewhat surprisingly, she didn't look away, and instead met her with a hard stare.
"Is that the only reason you asked Harry to the Ball?"
Ah. It seemed the girl was not quite so unversed in the web of one-upmanship as Fleur had initially supposed. "Well, 'e is also razzer cute, ees 'e not?"
"We both know there's a big difference between cute and you," said Hermione.
Fleur was surprised by just how brazen the girl was being. Perhaps there was a little more alcohol in those drinks than she had thought.
"What are you implying?"
"I'm not sure I'm implying anything," said Hermione. "I'm just asking if you're taking advantage of Harry for your own benefit. Is he just another prize for you to win? I imagine you're used to having everything you ever wanted."
Well that was rather forward. Fleur reared back as if she'd been slapped, but before she could offer a rejoinder, someone else got there first.
"That's pretty funny, coming from you," said Ron, managing his first full sentence in Fleur's presence since she'd met the boy. "You came here with Krum!"
"Ron, this is not the time!" Hermione snapped.
"Why, are you too busy selling out Harry's secrets?"
"Viktor hasn't asked about Harry once!" said Hermione, standing up to poke Ron in the chest. "This— this— woman has been needling him all evening!"
Ron, however, was on a roll. "Oh, it's Viktor is it?"
"Yes, it's Viktor! That's his name!"
"He's the enemy!" cried Ron as he threw up his hands. "He's probably just trying to get close to Harry so he can sabotage him."
"He's not some pantomime villain, Ron!"
"Probably thought he'd have an easy in with you. Why else would he ask you? It was pretty obvious no-one else was going to ask you! Who'd want to go with you?"
Hermione gasped, and slapped Ron across the face hard enough to put him off balance before she stomped away, leaving her shoes behind. Ron looked dumbfounded for a moment, before, with almost perfect timing, Harry returned holding two drinks.
"What the hell?" he asked, as he looked from the retreating figure of Hermione, to Ron, to Hermione's forgotten shoes, then finally to Fleur.
"She slapped me," said Ron, looking completely shocked.
"I theenk, een ze circumstances, 'er actions might be excusable," said Fleur pointedly.
Harry shot her a funny look, but turned to his friend. "Ron, what did you say?"
"What? I didn't say anything bad," said Ron, now looking completely baffled. "I just said that Krum had probably only asked her out to get to you."
Once again, the glance Harry threw her had an odd edge to it, but he didn't say anything, to her, at least.
"You actually said that to her?" he asked Ron. "You don't think that was a bit…"
"Callous, insensitive?" Fleur supplied.
"Yeah. Don't you think that was a bit insensitive?"
"I'm just looking out for her," said Ron, holding up his hands, still clearly not seeing why it was such a big problem.
"By telling 'er she ees so undesirable zat no-one would ever wish to date her unless zey 'ad some kind of 'idden agenda?" Fleur asked.
Harry nodded. "It was pretty harsh, mate."
"I didn't mean it like that!" said Ron.
"Well, maybe you should try and tell her that," Harry suggested as he pointedly looked off in the direction Hermione had left.
Ron's shoulders slumped. Thanks to those ridiculous dress robes, it made him look like a set of partially collapsed curtains. "You think so?"
After the flat look Harry gave him, Ron quickly made his exit in the same direction Hermione had run. That left Harry and Fleur to themselves once more
"What do you think are the chances that he won't make it worse?" he asked as he passed her the much awaited drink, and took a seat next to her.
"Pretty small, I think," said Fleur as she leaned down to pick up Hermione's forgotten shoes. She pulled her wand from its concealed pocket in the lining of her dress, and shrunk them before handing them back over to Harry. "You should keep hold of these. I do not think your friend would wish to lose them."
"Thanks," said Harry. He stuffed them in a pocket and took a sip from the fruit punch.
Fleur did the same. It was distinctly lacking on the punch side. The silence between them stretched out awkwardly.
"I think it is I who should be thanking you," said Fleur eventually.
The only reply she got was a quizzical look.
"I did not think I would enjoy this evening either," she admitted. "I am so used to the petty intrigues of school children, that I think I forgot it was possible to simply have fun, without the weight of expectations."
"Is that why you did it, then?" Harry asked her cryptically.
"Why I did... what?"
"Why you asked me to the Ball," said Harry.
It seemed that Hermione had already voiced her misgivings to him before confronting Fleur about it. Or else he was rather more perceptive than she'd given him credit for. Perhaps she should resolve to stop being surprised by him. Measuring him against the standards set by all the other men of her acquaintance seemed forever doomed to result in her underestimating him.
She sighed. "You are not wrong," she admitted. "I would not blame you if you hated me." It actually hurt a little bit to say that out loud.
"I guess I just don't get it," said Harry, shaking his head. The most important thing was that he hadn't simply left yet. "If you hate that attitude — why act the same way yourself?"
That was a question to which Fleur was not sure she knew the answer. As she tried to think of a worthy response, a new silence fell between them.
It was Harry that broke it. He stood up and held a hand out to her. "Come on, I want to show you something."
For a moment, Fleur hesitated. Had it been anyone but Harry, she would have declined, but the earnest look on Harry's face had her agreeing anyway. She nodded silently, and accepted his hand.
He led her through the maze-like corridors of Hogwarts, up staircase after staircase. Unlike Fleur weeks ago, he didn't take a single wrong turn, and they soon emerged onto the flat roof of one of the higher towers. The snow that had started falling earlier in the evening had largely stopped, with only a few lingering flakes sparkling in the light which leaked from the open door.
The view beyond the rooftop took Fleur's breath away. It was dark, of course, but the moon chose that moment to peak out between a gap in the clouds. As its light washed over the landscape, the snow seemed to glow. It had covered everything, and the result was a portrait of winter perfection painted in shades of black and pale.
It had been very cold over the last few days, and long icicles clung to the eaves of the castle, some of them more than a metre long. Every roof of the castle was covered in unbroken snow, as smooth and untouched as any she could have imagined. The ice crystals sparkling in the air lent the whole thing an almost ethereal beauty.
"Harry," she breathed, as she stepped further out onto the rooftop. A few ice crystals landed in her hair, and on her exposed back, but she paid them no heed. "This is beautiful."
"Yeah," he said as he stopped up next to her. "It's pretty good."
"Why did you wish to show me this?"
He scratched the back of his neck and shrugged. "You said you liked the landscape here, and I always thought this was the best way to see it."
Fleur shook her head. "No, why did you wish to show me this? I tried to use you in exactly the way both of us most detest."
"Did you actually, though?" he asked. A little jet of wind from his wand cleared a nearby bench of snow. He took a seat, and beckoned for her to join him. "I enjoyed this evening, is all I'm saying. So what if you had some other reason for coming with me?"
"For what it's worth, I enjoyed it too," Fleur admitted as she took her seat. It was not especially warm, so she could surely be forgiven for sitting a little closer to Harry than she might otherwise have done.
Harry grinned. "What was with the accent, by the way?"
That made Fleur realise that she'd almost completely cast it off as the evening wore on. It hadn't been her intention, but it had just been so easy to get caught up in everything that it had slipped, and she hadn't even noticed.
But Harry had.
"Eet was meant to make ze ozzer champions underestimate me," she said with a slightly embarrassed smile. "It seems it was I who underestimated my opponent, however."
Harry nudged her with his shoulder, and she welcomed the momentary warmth. "Hey, I wouldn't worry about it. I'm pretty sure I did the same."
"Hermione pretty much had me convinced that you were one of those girls," he explained. "It wasn't until I actually started talking to you that I realised that that wasn't right at all."
"Then it seems I also overestimated my own ability as an actress," said Fleur. For some reason, the knowledge that Harry, of all people, thought that there was more to her than that was somehow comforting.
The snow started falling heavier once more, and a shiver ran through her. She pulled out her wand to cast a warming charm over the two of them, and shuffled a little closer to Harry to make sure they both got the full benefit.
They sat like that for a few minutes. Fleur found herself enjoying the simple silence, and Harry's reliable, non-judgemental presence. She pulled her feet up onto the chair, away from the cold ground.
"So, what does this mean, then?" he asked her eventually.
"Mean?" she asked, drawn from her quiet musings.
He turned to look at her. "I know I'm just a little boy, but maybe we could be friends? I know we're competing against each other, but there's no reason we can't still be friends, right?"
Friends. It was a strange notion. Fleur only really had two true friends. Her father, and her sister. Could she handle a third?
The answer was there even before she could complete the question. Of course she could handle three. She was Fleur Delacour. Her evening with Harry marked the first time she could remember smiling, or laughing, without first considering the worth of those actions. He was worthy of her friendship, of that there was no doubt. He was sharp, bold, and question was, was that all that she wanted from him?
He was young, yes, and they were both competing against each other in the damnable tournament, but what would either of those things matter in a few years? Would she let something as small as a couple of years, a pile of Galleons, and a few thousand kilometres get in the way of the possibility of something more than mere friendship with the only man she'd ever found to be worth more than a passing forced smile? Would she balk, and let the possibility of something greater slip away out of a fear of failure?
She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the lips. It wasn't much more than a peck, really, but with it, she was giving Harry something she'd never given anyone else. Maybe they wouldn't be able to make it work out, but with that briefest of kisses she told him that she was willing to try. When she pulled back, the look of surprise on his face was something she was sure she'd remember for many years.
"I thought, perhaps, we could try to do a little better than that," she said.
Below, they heard a cheer as midnight arrived. Autumn was leaving at last, and a long winter lay before them all. As a slow smile spread across Harry's features, Fleur thought that this might be the first time she would be happy to bid Autumn adieu. Winter had never looked better.
A/N: A note on translation conventions. Ordinarily, I am very careful to keep my translation convention as consistent as possible, but in this case I have used 'Madame' to refer to Madame Maxime even when the dialogue is in French which has been translated into English and so one might reasonably expect 'Mrs.' instead. I have done this purely to retain the familiarity of 'Madame Maxime', while all other honorifics (specifically Mademoiselle and Monsieur) have been translated into their English equivalents.
On a related note, I can only apologise for Fleur's accent. The only thing I can say is that it's probably even more annoying to write than it is to read. Boy am I glad she dropped it at the end.
The weather of the 30th of October in the books is described as a cold, clear night, but I have taken a little license with it.
I cut the bouillabaisse-request out completely because, really, we've all seen it done a million times by now.
I am fully aware that 'Koppály Csintalan' is a Hungarian name, while 'Prorocheski vesti' is Bulgarian (Prophetical News, the name used for the Daily Prophet in Bulgarian translations). He is a muggleborn Hungarian wizard, but works for a Bulgarian paper. I imagine with Durmstrang serving such a broad variety of nationalities and languages, this might not be improbable.
In canon, the Yule Ball happens on Christmas Day, but I have moved it just slightly so that in this story it occurs on the Winter Solstice, to match the autumn theme more closely.