The Burrow rose early. The smell of an oversized Weasley-style breakfast would fill the house along with the rising of the sun. Mrs. Weasley would be waiting in the kitchen for the rest of the family to rouse themselves. Mr. Weasley would ready himself for work during the week and for a relaxing breakfast on the weekend. The smell of food would inevitably awaken Ron, whose clomping footsteps would wake Ginny, who lived below him. She would scream at him, and that would wake anyone in the house who hadn't yet managed to get up.
It was rustic and artless; a routine that unselfconsciously repeated itself day after day. Harry loved it.
Dumbledore had deposited him on the Weasley's doorstep the night before and put him in Ron's room. He hadn't wanted to wake Ron so he just went to sleep on the bed that Mrs. Weasley had made up for him. Ron snored but it was still better than being at the Dursleys, Harry thought. He woke up as soon as Ron's feet banged onto the floor, the heady aroma of rashers in the air.
"Morning, Harry," Ron said, blurrily wiping the sleep from his eyes. He didn't seem surprised to see Harry at all.
"You're like a wrecking ball in the morning, Ron," Harry said. He had only slept for a few hours but wasn't feeling tired. The Burrow always gave him a sense of contentedness; it was a perpetually happy home for a large, loving family.
"I think mum is making bacon." Ron pulled on a pair of tattered slippers and ambled downstairs, yawning.
"Nice to see you too," Harry called out after him. He pulled on a pair of trainers and a robe and followed Ron downstairs. Food had always been a siren's call to Ron. Harry would never expect him to resist it.
Harry ran into Hermione on the stairwell. She looked very out of place in the bustling Burrow. If Ron's stamping around the house hadn't woken her then Ginny's scream would have. She had an irritated expression on her face which vanished as soon as she saw Harry. She brightened and gave him a hug.
"Enjoy the wake up call, Hermione?"
"It was wonderful," she said, rolling her eyes. "When did you get in?"
"Last night. Professor Dumbledore picked me up from the Dursleys and brought me back here after some errands. I'll tell you about it once we've eaten. Ron will want to hear this too but we won't be able to get him to listen to anything until he's eaten."
"He's like a bear getting ready to hibernate," Hermione agreed.
"All year long," Harry said.
There were footsteps all around. Someone light, probably Ginny, was coming down the stairs after them. There was a crack and a scream downstairs followed by Mrs. Weasley screeching at Fred and George for apparating in the house.
"Ah, it's good to be back," Harry said.
Ron was already at the table, absently munching on a pair of sausages that were half sticking out of his mouth, like over elongated canines. The twins, unfazed by their mother's yelling fit, were eating at a much more sedate pace. Mr. Weasley had already finished eating and was reading through the day's Daily Prophet. His expression was bleak as he read the day's news.
Harry knew that the Daily Prophet's tone had switched from accusing to histrionic since Voldemort's return had been admitted by the Ministry. Not a day went by without some sensationalized piece of news in the paper, half of which was certainly untrue.
"They're going to start a bloody panic," Mr. Weasley muttered to himself, turning the page.
Harry and Hermione took their place at the table, on either side of Ron, and hadn't been sitting for but a moment before Mrs. Weasley dropped heaping plates of food in front of them. Harry had gone full days with less food at the Dursley's than Mrs. Weasley put in front of them. They thanked her and began eating.
Ginny plopped down across from Harry a minute later, giving him a casual glance, then turning to take a plate of her own from her mother.
"Have a good trip then?" she asked.
"Not bad," Harry said through a mouthful of potato.
"Dumbledore brought him," Ron said, almost indecipherably. Hermione elbowed him for trying to talk with so much food in his mouth.
"Nice to have you here. Maybe you can keep Ron from driving the rest of the house mad with his ogling," Ginny said. Ron protested but received no support, just a blank stare from Hermione that said she didn't disagree.
Harry took a moment to study Ginny. Unlike the rest of the house she appeared well-put together; her face was clean, her hair brushed and shining, even her pajamas were neat, looking almost not slept in. It was a stark contrast to her parents and brothers who looked as if they had just rolled out of bed. She had become awfully pretty, Harry thought. Not at all the shy girl she had been when Harry had first visited the Burrow. She seemed poised, confident, and definitely had no trouble making her opinion known.
There was some misfortune in her newfound confidence. Harry doubted that the crush she had on him that she had been harboring for years survived her personality shift. He wasn't sure that he wanted to go out with Ginny on an actual date, especially seeing as she was Ron's sister, and in light of his disastrous date with Cho the year before, but she was strangely compelling, even so early in the morning. Perhaps it was her self-assurance in the midst of so much disorder, he mused.
"I have not been ogling her," Ron said, having swallowed the last of his enormous bite of food.
"You were almost drooling yesterday," Ginny said. "Hermione?"
"There was some drool," Hermione confirmed.
Ron grumbled and comforted himself by getting another plate of food. Harry's curiosity was piqued. He hadn't thought anyone else was at the Burrow.
"Who has Ron been ogling?" Harry asked. He hoped it wasn't Ginny. That would be odd, even for Ron.
His question was answered without Hermione or Ginny's input. Fleur glided into the room, wearing a deep blue robe that did nothing to hide the shape of her body, her hair as neatly arranged as Ginny's but without looking like it had taken her the slightest effort. If she had heard Harry's question she made no sign of it. Natural was the word Harry would have to use to describe Fleur. She made things seem effortless.
Though Harry hadn't expected her to be there she was evidently unsurprised to see him. "Hello, Harry," she said. Mrs. Weasley set a plate down in front of her. Harry didn't miss the much smaller portions.
"Hello, Fleur," he said.
"I don't know if we told you, Harry. Fleur and Bill were both working for Gringotts, Bill as a curse-breaker and Fleur as a liaison, and they started seeing each other. They got engaged just a few weeks ago," Mrs. Weasley said.
The slight enthusiasm in her voice was clearly forced. Harry failed to see the problem but he supposed there was one from the looks that Ginny, Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley were shooting Fleur when she wasn't looking. Even Mr. Weasley didn't offer his usually chipper greeting. The twins bucked the family trend by saying hello but they made no effort engage Fleur in conversation.
"Congratulations, that must be exciting," Harry said, somewhat awkwardly. He felt as if everything he could say would be scrutinized by both parties to see if it aligned with their positions, but he wasn't going to be cold to Fleur unless he had a good reason to be. He figured that as a fellow Triwizard Champion he owed her at least that much.
"Very exciting," Fleur said, without any enthusiasm. It was if the combined negativity of Hermione and the Weasleys was stealing the joy from the room. She was as beautiful as Harry remembered but it was a melancholy beauty; she had no illusions about how unwanted she was at the Burrow, Harry could see.
"Where's Bill then?" Harry asked.
Mr. Weasley spoke up. "He got asked away to participate in an enormous excavation in Egypt. We're not sure how long he'll be away but we're very proud of him. Only the best curse-breakers at Gringotts were asked to go."
Harry made the appropriate congratulations and wondered why Fleur wasn't getting ready to go to work. Mr. Weasley was dressed in his usual Ministry robes but Fleur didn't appear rushed. She was lackadaisically eating her breakfast, still in her morning robe.
Ginny supplied the answer to Harry's unasked question. "Gringotts has a no spouse policy. The goblins have dozens of ridiculous rules like that. Greedy little buggers. Fleur had to quit so that Bill could keep doing his job."
"I did not have to quit. I chose to quit," Fleur corrected. It said in the way that an objection that's been made a hundred times is repeated.
There was awkward pause. "Your English has improved," Harry said, trying to ease the tension. He wasn't sure what was going on with the Weasleys, who were normally so welcoming, but he was determined to figure it out after breakfast. Even Ron wasn't making any attempt to make Fleur comfortable, though Harry suspected that had to do with his own discomfort around her. None of them had forgotten his disastrous attempt at asking her to the Yule Ball their fourth year.
"Thank you, Harry," Fleur said. Her accent was still noticeable, she wouldn't be passing for English any time soon, but she didn't drop syllables anymore; it was a much subtler accent. Harry liked it. It made the banal sound interesting.
They ate in silence for another minute before Fleur said, "I do have a new job." She was looking at Harry. "Professor Dumbledore asked me to restart Hogwarts' Dueling Club and host it a few nights every week. It's supposed to help teach Hogwarts' students how to defend themselves. He said that he was inspired by your example last year, when you were resisting the woman from the Ministry." Fleur smiled at him. It was wide, white, and made Harry's stomach swerve. Her veela charm didn't affect him like it did others but she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. "Since you are my unofficial predecessor and a fellow Triwizard champion I was hoping that I could pick your brain later."
"Sure, that'd be great. Good idea from Dumbledore. People learned loads last year in the DA," Harry said.
"Well, we had a great teacher," Ginny said. Harry gave her a small smile, pleased at her flattery. He wasn't blind to the tug of war being played out in front of him—the Weasleys on one side and Fleur on the other—but he wouldn't turn down praise. The DA was, in his mind, his greatest achievement. It would help his friends stay alive during the war.
Mr. Weasley took one last look at the clock, folded up his newspaper, and left for work. The rest of the table took that as their sign to clean up, depositing their plates in the sink for Mrs. Weasley to clean. Or at least charm a brush to clean.
The twins, unusually subdued, retreated back to their room. Fleur sauntered out of the room after them. Ron's eyes were fastened on her retreating figure. Fleur had the kind of svelte swagger that sold beauty products on TV; an unattainable, natural born beauty. Hermione gave Ron another elbow.
"Bloody hell, Hermione," Ron said.
"Eyes above her waist, Ronald," she said. Ron went to sit back down at the table, as far away from Hermione as he could. None of them looked eager to go upstairs.
"Stuck up French bint," Ginny said. Mrs. Weasley didn't bother to reprimand her daughter.
"I thought I detected some tension," Harry said dryly.
"She's vain and cruel," Hermione said.
Hermione's remark set Ginny off. "I don't understand what Bill sees in her. She complains about the food. She complains about the Burrow. She complains about the weather. She complains about her time at Hogwarts. If everything was better in France she should've just stayed there. She can't even be bothered to be polite to the rest of us. The twins pranked her, just a little one, not even that bad, more like a welcome to the family sort of prank, and she hexed them viciously. Mom made her a Weasley sweater and she hasn't worn it once. She looked at it like it was a rag. Every time I come in the room she starts picking apart my clothes and my hair. Fleur thinks she's better than everyone. The only people who can stand her are Bill and Ron, and that's because they're both picturing her naked every time they look at her."
"She didn't seem that bad to me," Harry said.
"Of course she didn't, she loves you," Hermione said. "You're the famous Triwizard champion who saved her little sister. In Fleur's eyes you're probably some kind of a storybook hero."
Mrs. Weasley decided to chime in. "I'm sure staying with us this summer isn't what Fleur is used to but it wouldn't kill her to be a little nicer. We're all trying our best. I swear, Bill didn't know her six months before he announced they were engaged. The first time we met her was when he brought her home to announce the engagement."
None of what they were saying seemed at odds with what Harry remembered of Fleur. At Hogwarts she had struck him as rather prideful. He had never forgotten their first few interactions, before he had proved himself as a champion. Little boy, indeed.
It didn't beggar the imagination to suppose that Fleur wouldn't enjoy being deposited at the Burrow with her fiancé's family for the summer while he went off to Egypt. She had even given up her job for him. Boredom could only exacerbate the tension at the Burrow.
From what Harry remembered of Bill he seemed very grounded. It didn't seem likely that he would have moved on Fleur so quickly just for her beauty. It also didn't seem likely that Fleur would accept someone that was chasing her for her beauty. Harry was sure that there was another layer, one that would help to ease the conflict at the Burrow, and he was determined to bring it out. He didn't want the last week of summer to be torn apart by Weasley infighting.
"Fred and George seemed quiet," Harry said, deciding to change the subject.
"They're planning to move out," Ron said. "They've got an apartment in Diagon Alley. Between that and the joke shop they're pretty busy recently. Not a lot of time for pranks and jokes at home."
The twins realizing their dream of opening a joke shop heartened Harry. He liked to know that the money he had given them didn't go to waste. They had certainly done more with it than he was ever going to. Despite, or perhaps because of their slap-dash pranking, the twins were clever, and Harry had never doubted that they would adjust to the business world well, if only in their own way.
"I still think that we should check out the Dueling Club," Ron said, returning to the subject that Harry had been trying to guide them away from. Talking about Fleur was only going to further agitate Ginny and Hermione. Ron was many things but adept at picking out conversational pitfalls was not one of them.
"Check out the Dueling Club or check out Fleur?" Ginny said.
Ron flushed and Harry felt obligated to go to his defense. "Ron's right. Even if Fleur is stuck up and mean that doesn't mean we shouldn't go to the Dueling Club. It sets a bad tone if the founders of the DA don't go to the new Dueling Club. We want as many people to be prepared for Voldemort as possible."
Mrs. Weasley had taken to cleaning the dishes by hand, so as to have an excuse to listen in on their conversation. She was doing a poor job. It was clear to Harry that she had never had to wash dishes by hand in her life.
Hermione, disappointed as she was by the prospect of spending any more time than she had to with Fleur, agreed with Harry. He had suspected she would. Deep down Hermione was just too practical not to see the value in getting people to protect themselves. Ginny was a Weasley, and with that came a certain temperament, meaning she was still unconvinced, but Harry thought that time would bring her around. The prospect of demonstrating her talent in front of Fleur could always be dangled in front of her if all else failed, Harry thought.
"I think it's wonderful that Professor Dumbledore is helping students defend themselves. What you four did last year was good but it will be nice to be able to get together and learn without anyone at the school trying to get you in trouble. I do think that they might have been able to get someone a bit more…qualified," Mrs. Weasley said.
"Fleur was Beaxbautons' Triwizard Champion. I'm sure she's got plenty of talent," Harry said. He didn't like disagreeing with Mrs. Weasley but calling Fleur unqualified to help a bunch of students learn the Shield Charm and Stunning Spell bordered on the ridiculous.
"It's not as if she did well in the tournament," Ginny said.
"No. And it was lucky for her that she didn't," Harry said. Ginny, rightly, looked ashamed at herself. Harry still thought about Cedric and what Voldemort had done to him. It wouldn't do for anyone else to forget it either. Resistance needed the fire of indignation to power it. Cedric was fuel for that fire.
Before anyone said anything else there was a knock on the window. A pair of Hogwarts owls were perched outside the kitchen window. Mrs. Weasley let them in and they flew onto the kitchen table, a number of letters tied to their legs.
Ron and Harry scrambled to untie them; they had been waiting for their O.W.L. grades for months. As soon as the owls were freed of their burdens they went screeching back out the window.
Without saying a word Harry and Ron distributed the letters. One for Ginny. One for Hermione. One for themselves. In a solemn silence they opened their letters.
Harry scanned his letter. There was the usual unimportant preface, then exactly what he was dreading. Seven O.W.L.s. The key grade he needed wasn't there. Next to Potions there was an Exceeds Expectations.
Snape only allowed students who received Outstandings to continue Potions at the N.E.W.T. level. Harry's dream of being an auror, one he had been building up over the summer, something that he had genuinely thought he would be good at, flatlined.
Sounding somewhat nervy, Ginny asked, "How did everyone do?"
With typical Weasley boldness Ron responded first. "Seven O.W.L.s." Mrs. Weasley let out an appreciative screech and grappled Ron, hugging him tight enough that he looked to be having trouble breathing.
"Same," Harry said.
"Good job," Ginny said, giving him a kind smile, as if in apology for her earlier behavior. Mrs. Weasley didn't let Harry slide either, giving him the same hug she had given Ron. It was suffocating, but gratifying.
"Hermione?" Ron asked.
"I got ten O.W.L.s," Hermione said.
Harry and Ron laughed. Ginny and Mrs. Weasley looked astounded.
"I've never heard of someone who got ten O.W.L.s before," Mrs. Weasley said.
"Good job, Hermione," Ron said. She blushed. Harry could tell that she was proud of herself. For someone like Hermione that would be enough validation to keep her moving for years.
"We have to celebrate. I'll whip up something special for dinner tonight," Mrs. Weasley said. She scurried out of the room. With a pat on the back for Hermione, Ginny followed.
"Ten O.W.L.s. I wonder how many Dumbledore got," Harry said.
"Probably not ten," Ron said. He was all smiles and cheer. Though the Weasley boys would never admit to it, Harry had noticed that they were at their best when they had received praise from their mother. Percy was the only possible exception; even the twins valued their mother's input.
"How did you do in Potions, Harry?" Hermione asked. They had been writing letters back and forth over the summer, much more regularly than Ron had been (Hermione being a prolific letter writer and Harry having nothing better to do while at the Dursley's), and Harry had mentioned a few time his desire to give auror training a try. Hermione had been supportive. She was always encouraged when Harry mentioned any desire that had to do with school. He thought she was always hoping that he or Ron would spontaneously develop the kind of love for studying that she had.
"Exceeds Expectations," Harry said. He tried not to show how much that hurt to admit. In only one respect did Harry think that the muggles had things right; they didn't start crushing your dreams until you were eighteen.
"I'm so sorry, Harry," Hermione said. She really was, he knew. Harry could always count on Hermione for genuine feeling. Pity only made him feel worse, though. It was an acknowledgement of a failure that rested solely on his shoulders.
"It's alright. I wasn't getting my hopes up. Potions has never been my best subject. It was just a thought for something to do. Seemed to match up with my interests is all."
"There'll be something else," Hermione promised. Harry nodded.
Ron had been watching the back-and-forth and seemed a little confused, but was too elated by his seven O.W.L.s to be put out by that. He had been told about Harry's desire to become an auror but had evidently forgotten at some point.
"I think that mum wanted us to get rid of the garden gnomes," Ron said.
The three of them went outside and went trolling through the garden, looking for the pesky gnomes and sending them flying when they found them. Ron was more enthusiastic than usual. Harry was putting in the absolute minimum required level of work and trusting that Ron would make up for him. Hermione kept an eye on him, seeming to be worried about him.
Harry felt that it was cruel to have a possibility for the rest of his life closed off so early. Surely a one letter difference in one class couldn't determine whether or not he would be a competent auror. It was ridiculous to suppose that the job could be simplified to such a degree. Snape was, yet again, holding him back arbitrarily. Harry thought, and he resented himself a little for thinking so, that if he was careful he would be able to leverage his fame to get a job in the Auror's Office. It would be a case of his fame finally doing something for him, as opposed to doing something to him, as was usually the case. Harry tore a particularly annoying garden gnome from its hiding spot and sent it sailing over the fence.
There weren't a lot of jobs in the wizarding world that appealed to Harry. Many of them were governmental, since many service and industrial jobs in the muggle world could be replaced by magic, and becoming a pencil pusher in some forgotten office in the Ministry didn't appeal to him. He supposed that he could always aim to become a teacher, but with the Defense Against the Dark Arts position jinxed that meant he would have a job for a year or be forced to teach something else. Assuming that a position was even open.
He scrolled through the possible list of jobs in his head while the three of them canvassed the garden for any gnomes. None appealed to him as much as being an auror did. When Ron was satisfied that they had gotten most of them they went inside, where Hermione announced that she was going to take a shower and Ron decided to see if he could finagle a new broom out of his mother while she was in a good mood.
With nothing better to do, Harry decided to go see Fleur. She had expressed an interest in his opinion of the Dueling Club and he felt that that was something he was qualified to talk about. Harry also felt somewhat guilty that Fleur was so isolated from everyone else in the house.
Having lived with people that hated his guts, Harry was familiar with how exhausted and downtrodden you could become after a while. Even if Fleur was being prissy to people that wasn't a reason to treat her like dirt. If she was marrying Bill that meant she would be in the family, whether they liked it or not.
He went upstairs to the guest room, where Fleur was staying, and knocked on the door. With a muffled shout she told him to enter.
Despite how long Fleur had been staying with the Weasley's the room was barren. There were no pictures or posters and her clothes remained in two huge trunks by the wall. It had the look Harry associated with a hotel rather than the Burrow. Fleur was sitting on her bed, a book in hand. She put it down when Harry came in, marking her spot with a spare quill.
"I'm sorry I don't have much to offer you in the way of hospitality," Fleur said.
Knowing that her lack of hospitality reflected more on Mrs. Weasley than it did on her, Harry said, "That's more what I'm used to anyway."
Fleur had changed out of her bathrobe (Harry was mildly disappointed) into a pair of stylish robes, cut cleanly in a way that was neither suggestive nor prudish. It was very French, Harry decided.
"I was hoping that you would be able to tell me about what the DA was like. I don't have much experience with Hogwarts' curriculum, beyond what you did at the Triwizard Tournament, and I'd like to know if what I'm planning on teaching is superfluous." She held out a piece of parchment with some spells written on it to Harry. He glanced through it and saw the standard array of spells; Stunning Spell, Disarming Spell, Shield Charm, and so on.
"What years are you planning on working with?" Harry asked.
"Fourth through seventh. I was planning on fifth through seventh but then I remembered your performance in the Triwizard Tournament and decided to lower it." She smiled prettily. Harry had the feeling that the Fleur he was seeing was not the Fleur that the Weasleys had been seeing.
"What about the younger students?" Harry asked, trying not to be too distracted by her smile.
"They won't be able to learn any spells that will be worth the time spent teaching them. It's better if they just stay out of trouble."
Harry frowned. "Britain will be at war. I'm not sure that they'll all have the choice of just staying out of things. Isn't it better to take anyone who wants to join? They don't all have to be learning the same spells or at the same speed, but even one spell could give them a better shot at getting through a bind."
"I won't have the time to teach seven years," Fleur said, frowning. "That's too many, even if I break up the meetings."
"It just doesn't seem right to me to limit who can join," Harry said.
Fleur looked contemplative before a sly smile stretched over her face. "If you're so interested in making sure they get a shot then I may have a solution we'll both like."
Harry raised an eyebrow warily, almost put off by Fleur's self-satisfied look. "And what would that be?" he asked.
"You help me. As my assistant. Just like you were last year. If you handle most of the teaching for the younger students then there's no reason we can't include them. I'll help, of course. That would make it easier on everyone," Fleur said.
"I don't know. I'm already expecting to be the quidditch captain, along with all of my other work."
"Doesn't this seem a little more important than quidditch," Fleur wheedled. "You don't have to decide right now. Just think about it and let me know."
"I will," Harry promised.
"Excellent." Fleur seemed satisfied, as if he had already agreed. Or maybe she was just happier in general. A civil conversation with Harry was probably the best she could hope for while she stayed at the Burrow.
"I'm sorry that Bill couldn't be here. It must be hard on you," Harry said.
"Yes. It was…unexpected," Fleur said, her mood darkening.
"The Weasleys are usually very welcoming. They practically took me in when I became friends with Ron." He wasn't sure why but Harry wanted to make sure that Fleur knew the Weasleys were good people. If he could get her to tone down her snobbyness just a little he was sure that he could get everyone to patch up their relationship with her. That would make both their stays at the Burrow much more relaxing.
Fleur, however, didn't seem interested in reconciliation. "They hate me. They hated me the moment Bill brought me home. Every one of them thinks I'm spoiled, condescending, and mean. I tried to be nice, help Ginevra with her hair and clothes, gave Mrs. Weasley some French recipes, and make conversation with Ronald, but they all took it the wrong way. The girl and her mother snapped at me and he just drooled," she said disgustedly.
Harry winced, knowing that Ron didn't handle himself well around Fleur. Or pretty girls in general. "The twins even tried to put smoke bombs in my room," Fleur continued. "When I hexed them their family acted as if I was the one at fault. I don't know what they want from me. And then Bill left. He left me here with strangers who hate me."
Her outburst was surprising, given how self-contained Fleur had always seemed, and Harry wasn't quite sure how to respond. Sudden bursts of emotion from girls had always given him trouble. He supposed that he should have taken the hint with Cho and started practicing.
"I shouldn't be burdening you with my troubles," she said.
"If I can help you then I want to," Harry said. He paused, trying to think of how best to phrase his advice. "The Weasleys don't want help. They're proud of their family, each other, and they like the way they live. When you offered to help it offended their pride and made them think you were looking down on them. And the twins prank people. It's just what they do."
"That seems rather closed minded."
"Maybe. But I don't think trying to change them the first time you meet them is the best way of going about things. If you give them an olive branch, any excuse to like you, they will. They're forgiving people, especially Mrs. Weasley. I can't promise she'll love you but it will definitely be better than hiding in the guest room while everyone else enjoys the last few days of break."
Fleur looked around the room, then back at Harry. "I suppose you're right. I've already read all of the books I brought with me and I was starting to get bored."
Harry walked over to her dresser and picked up the book she had been reading. Hogwarts: A History. "If you want to patch things up with Hermione all you have to do is mention this book. She loves it. Must've read it a dozen times."
"I don't think I've done anything to upset Hermione," Fleur said.
Shrugging, Harry said, "Well she'll love you for mentioning it then." He wondered what had made Hermione dislike Fleur so much.
"I worry sometimes that Bill is expecting someone like his mother. That's something I could never be. A housewife, cooking and cleaning and waiting for my husband to come home. I would rather die. I hate burdening you by telling you this I've been completely alone the last month with nobody to talk to. And we went through something together, even if we were competitors."
"The Triwizard Tournament isn't something I like to think about, and I'm sure that isn't what Bill expects from you. He wouldn't have offered to marry you if he didn't love you the way you are." Having never felt the desire to marry anyone before, Harry wasn't sure that what he was saying was true, but it sounded vaguely romantic to him.
"No? I already had to give up my job for him. He didn't even consider that he might be the one to sacrifice for me. If Professor Dumbledore hadn't found out that I was available when he came one night there's no telling how long I would have remained unemployed and alone."
"From what Ron tells me Bill just sounds focused; a little single-minded at times," Harry said.
"He is that," Fleur said. She paused, collected herself, then said, "But I've talked too much about myself. It's rude and we don't even know each other that well. I feel as if I'm embarrassed myself." She didn't look embarrassed in the slightest.
"You haven't," Harry assured her.
"I have. That means you have to tell me something personal, so that we're on an even playing field; both embarrassed. Otherwise I won't be able to bring myself to ever talk to you again and that could present some difficulties seeing as you are my helper for the Dueling Club." She was teasing him but her demand was real. Since she didn't actually seem embarrassed Harry took it for the attempt to learn about him that it no doubt was.
"There's no need for that," Harry said.
Fleur's eyes, sharp and blue, undimmed by any compromising color, bore into his own. They were haughty eyes and he felt as if they were compelling him, commanding him. "I insist" she said. Her tone didn't change but her eyes said everything he needed to know. Harry almost shivered.
"I wanted to be an auror. Not since I was a kid or anything, but it was something I thought I would be good at. And I just got my grades back from last year and I didn't do well enough in one class to continue it at the highest level, which is a requirement for being an auror. So I'll have to find something else to do," Harry said.
"We've both lost our jobs then," Fleur said.
"It's silly. I don't even know that I would have liked it. It was just a thought."
"It's not silly but what is foolish is that someone as talented as you isn't able to have their pick of the jobs in the Ministry. You've accomplished more by sixteen than any of them."
"Thanks," Harry said. Color was seeping into his cheeks. Fleur was speaking forcefully, as if to indelibly write her words in his mind. He had her full attention.
"I have an uncle, over in France, who desperately wanted to be a politician. He thought he would be able to do a lot of good for the country. The problem is that my uncle can't speak in public. He ran for office many times but lost every time. Eventually, he gave up. He said that he realized he just wasn't cut out for it. Rather than go into politics, he became a magical researcher. Wards, to be precise. He became very famous in his field, renowned throughout the world for his research. There isn't a major conference where isn't he isn't one of the headliners. The point being, you may have had a dream, and found yourself unable to pursue it, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to accomplish wonders. Maybe there's something even greater out there, just waiting for you."
"It's a nice thought."
"It doesn't have to just be a thought."
"Why come to England?" Harry asked. It was a rapid subject change but the question had been eating at him all night. Fleur was talented and intelligent and beautiful. She didn't like England. There wasn't really any reason for her to be there. And yet she was at the Burrow, waiting to be married to an Englishman.
Fleur deliberated for a moment, seeming to choose her words with great care. "I heard about what was going on here in England, with you claiming that Voldemort was back. Because of what happened to me during the tournament I felt as if I still had a part to play, like I was involved in things. I know it's not rational but it seemed obvious to me that I needed to come back and see how things developed for myself. I got a job at Gringotts, heard about Voldemort coming back into the open, met Bill, fell in love, and here I am."
"Here you are," Harry said.
Fleur straightened her robes and said, "Isn't that better than tiptoeing around each other for the next month? Revealing embarrassing, potentially dangerous knowledge to someone you know only superficially is the best way to make a friend."
"Makes me wonder why people don't do it this way every time," Harry said.
"Yes. Now all we have to do is change the opinion that the entire Weasley family has of me," Fleur said. She looked more amused than daunted at the task ahead of them.
"No small task," Harry said, laughing.
"That's why I'll need your help every step along the way," she said.
"I would be honored."
"I feel as if I owe you something for your help," Fleur said, more seriously. "I've been in a mood for the past month. Part of this is all my fault. Most of it even. You've helped me see that."
"You don't owe me anything," Harry said.
"Maybe not, but I'd love to have someone to talk to about this." Fleur walked over to one of her trunks, pulled out a book, and handed it to Harry. Advanced Inanimate Charms, he read.
"You always need something to be thinking about," Fleur said.
"Hermione might be who you want for something like this," he said.
"Your friend is brilliant, but sometimes magic requires a more practical touch. From what I've seen you have no trouble with that side of things." Fleur pushed the book at him even more insistently.
"I'll give it a look," Harry promised. It was heavier than he had expected, sinking into his hands. Harry had a feeling he had just pledged away a lot of his last week.
"Learning things is nice but having someone to talk to about what you've learned is even better. I shouldn't keep you any longer. I'm sure that your friends are wondering where you are. I've…enjoyed our conversation, Harry."
"Me too," Harry said. She bid him farewell with another smile and he left, book in hand. Before returning to Ron and Hermione he stashed the book in his trunk, planning to read it later. No doubt Hermione and Ginny would give him hell if they found out that he was reading a book that Fleur had given to him. He would get lumped into the same category as Ron, albeit with less drool.
Fleur was partially successful in patching up her relationship with the Weasleys. She apologized to the twins for hexing them and helped them with a problem they were having with one of the charms on their gags and lent Mrs. Weasley a hand with making her special dinner while refraining from critiquing English cuisine (though Harry had noticed her nose crinkle a few times when Mrs. Weasley wasn't looking).
Despite her best efforts, however, she wasn't able to do much to improve Ginny's opinion of her. Every time Fleur tried to do something helpful or nice for someone Ginny dismissed it as a transparent ploy that only hid who Fleur really was.
The rest of the Weasleys seemed to finally accept Fleur as a future member of the family. Mr. Weasley accepted the change of mind that his family had and began talking more animatedly to Fleur at meals, telling stories about Bill when he was younger that left Fleur in stitches. Ron tried to overcome his shyness around Fleur by contributing to the stories. He was successful more often than not.
Harry spent most of his time with Ron and Hermione. When he told them that Fleur wanted him to help her with the new Dueling Club they had been supportive.
"You are the most qualified," Hermione said.
"Yeah, you practically ran Dumbledore's Army by yourself. She'd be barmy if she didn't ask you for help. There'll be kids showing up just because they hear that you're going to be there," Ron said.
"I don't want to distract people. The whole point of this is to help them learn to defend themselves," Harry said.
"They will," Hermione assured him. "Once they get there and see how important it is to learn to protect themselves they'll forget all about you."
"Besides, I reckon they'll be too busy staring at her to stare at you, mate," Ron said. Hermione, becoming used to Ron's comments about Fleur, didn't even bother to give him a smack.
Because Fleur had promised the Harry was going to be in charge of the younger students Hermione helped Harry to draw up a list of spells that it would be imperative to teach them. It was difficult to find spells that even first years would be able to learn, and that would still be useful for third years, but after scouring their old schoolbooks the two of them were able to come up with a sizable list that Harry would whittle down.
Hermione had expressed her concern that Harry wouldn't be able to manage all of his commitments well. He was the quidditch captain, Fleur's assistant for the Dueling Club, taking private lessons with Dumbledore, and had all of his usual, post O.W.L. work along with that. She reminded him of how stressed she had been during their third year, when she was taking every possible class, and said that he didn't even have a time turner to help him out.
Harry managed to placate her but he was concerned about his schedule as well. He suspected that it would come to down whatever he was least reluctant to drop. Ron would say he should give up on homework, Ginny the Dueling Club, and Hermione quidditch. Harry wished that he could be so definitive. Before he committed to dropping any of them Harry decided to see if he could balance it all in his schedule.
When he wasn't working with Hermione or entertaining himself with Ron, Harry read through the charms book that Fleur had given him. It was more interesting than he had expected. Harry doubted he would ever become Hermione, reading textbooks in his spare time, but the book gave him some ideas for how to improve his own use of charms. Harry didn't miss that a lot of the more advanced charms work had dueling applications. Fleur hadn't given him the book on a whim.
Once Harry had read a significant portion of the book he began talking to Fleur about it. She was startlingly clever. There were entire chunks of the book that Harry had misunderstood or not fully grasped that Fleur was able to set him straight about. She admitted that she had read the book a few times before, but Harry wasn't sure that he believed her.
Fleur was too savvy to ever make someone she didn't dislike feel bad about themselves because of her. She wasn't nice so much as she just wanted people to like her, Harry noticed. Fleur was odd in that respect. She could go from entirely self-contained, sure of herself, and needing no validation from anyone else, to going out of her way to do nice things so that she would be appreciated.
Talking about the book wasn't quite a tutoring session. Harry was able to make astute comments of his own; he saw things in the book in a different light than Fleur did. Often in a more offensive light. Where she saw charms as an end in of themselves, Harry saw the multiplicity of ways that they could be used. The great strength of charms, Harry had always thought, came from their versatility, and that versatility only increased with the more advanced charms.
So that Harry got some practical experience Fleur demonstrated some of the spells to him. It wasn't as good as performing the spells himself but there was something to be gained from watching how it was done.
Ginny noticed how much time Harry was spending with Fleur and pulled him aside after a few days.
"I thought my brother was bad enough. Now you too?"
"Everyone else has gotten over their rocky start with Fleur. Don't you think that you should give her a chance? She's been trying to be more approachable."
"Because you told her to be, no doubt. You're the only one here she'll deign to spend any time with. Sure, she's nice to everybody else, but that's only because she's marrying Bill. She doesn't actually like us. You though, she really likes you. She's ensnared you the same way she did Bill, with her perfect smile and hair."
Harry was frustrated with Ginny. She had been rather vile the entire time Harry had been at the Burrow. Her distaste for Fleur had put her in a permanently bad mood and even Ron couldn't say why Ginny disliked Fleur so much. Harry doubted it was all due to Fleur's less than tactful comments at the beginning of the month.
"You're being cruel, Ginny. She's not an airhead and she's not some master manipulator out to get anyone. She gave me a charms book and we've been talking about it. Your brother saw something in her; enough that he wants to marry her. Why can't you look for what he saw?"
"I'm not sure he actually saw anything in her beyond her looks. It's not as if he's here now. He went back to his job as soon as she agreed to marry him. Some relationship they have."
Deciding to end the conversation, Harry said, "You can be upset with Fleur if you want but I don't think she's done anything to deserve it and neither do Ron and Hermione. They've made their peace with her. You should too." And he left.
Ginny's behavior was a mystery to Harry. It only got worse the longer he stayed with the Burrow. She went from ignoring Fleur, to making passive aggressive comments, to being downright vindictive. Mrs. Weasley had to take her aside at one point and talk to her about her behavior.
A few days before Hogwarts was going to start the twins moved out of the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley got teary eyed, Mr. Weasley seemed proud of them, and Ron and Harry got roped into helping them move their things, for which Ron got pranked. The twins assured Harry that as their silent partner he was excluded from such treatment.
They had taken a nice flat in muggle London, a short walk from Diagon Alley. Apparently it was safer than living on the alley itself and close enough that they wouldn't have far to go to work every morning. They made Harry promise to come visit their store when he came to Diagon Alley to pick up his school supplies.
With the twins gone Harry moved into their room, escaping Ron's snoring. The days at the Burrow blended together until, one morning, Mrs. Weasley announced that they would be going to Diagon Alley. Hermione had already picked up her school supplies with her parents but she would be coming along with Harry and the Weasleys while they picked out their supplies. Mrs. Weasley, rather kindly, in Harry's opinion, asked Fleur if she wanted to come. Fleur, having little else to do at the Burrow and seeming to relish a chance to get away, acquiesced. Ginny made a face.
Mrs. Weasley seemed nervous about going to Diagon Alley and ended up breaking their party into groups. She and Ginny went to go get books and she sent Hermione, Ron, and Harry to get any other various clothes or supplies that they needed. Fleur was free to go wherever she wanted so she quietly followed Harry, drawing more than a few stares from people as they passed by.
Harry was fond of Diagon Alley. It was a colorful, vibrant place; there was life in every corner and alleyway. The wizarding population, being so much smaller than the muggle population, didn't have a need for large population centers, so Diagon Alley was the closest wizards came to having a city. Mrs. Weasley had warned Harry that he would have an order member tailing him while he was at Diagon Alley, making sure he was safe. It was too dangerous to go without an escort but they figured too many would just draw attention to Harry. Fleur was a competent duelist as well, Harry had thought.
They had just exited the Leaky Cauldron, splitting from Mrs. Weasley and Ginny, when Hermione said, "I think we should go to the Apothecary and then swing by Madam Malkin's. If we have time we could visit Obscurus Books."
Harry and Ron exchanged a look.
"We could do that," Harry said.
"Or we could go to Quality Quidditch Supplies," Ron finished.
"I don't really need robes," Harry said.
"And we can order potions supplies through the mail," Ron said.
"And Hogwarts already has more books than we could ever read," Harry said.
"I should have guessed," Hermione said, huffing.
Harry could hear Fleur laughing behind them, a pleasing, delicate sound. She kept quiet when Harry was with his friends, observing them as if they were a different species. Not for the first time Harry wondered what her Beauxbatons experience had been like.
"Fred and George are expecting us to visit too," Harry said.
Harry and Ron speculated what the features of the newest Nimbus Broom would be and whether or not it could compete with the Firebolt while they walked to Quality Quidditch Supplies. Bored with their conversation Hermione dropped back to talk to Fleur. She had been interested when Harry had told her that Fleur was a master when it came to charms and Harry supposed that she was going to test just how much Fleur knew.
There were definite similarities between Fleur and Hermione; they were both intelligent, talented, and had an abiding love of learning. But Fleur saw learning as a means to an end. She wanted to become better than everyone around her, her talent and knowledge were just tools. In some ways, she was very Slytherin.
Harry didn't hold that against her. It would be hypocritical of him to dislike Slytherin qualities in others; he wasn't free of them himself, according to the Sorting Hat. And Fleur was a good person, or at least she tried to be. Haughtiness and a disregard for others came naturally to her (though why they did Harry didn't know) but she was able to keep them to a minimum when she tried.
They started debating the merits of partial transfiguration and Harry relaxed. He was always a bit on edge when Fleur began talking to someone who had had a low opinion of her, afraid that one misstep would send them all right back to the beginning. He needn't have worried. Fleur was more than capable of being charming.
She was probably the most socially adroit person that Harry had ever known when was trying to be; he sometimes thought that her supposed vulnerability when they had been talking his first day at the Burrow was just a ploy but he dismissed that thought. A month of loneliness would make anyone confide in the first welcoming person they met.
"I'm just saying that every time Nimbus makes a big leap forward, like they did with the Firebolt, the next broom they put out is a cheaper, slightly less advanced model, so that people who didn't want to shell out for the first broom have a more cost efficient model available," Ron said.
Harry jumped into the conversation where he had left off. "And I'm telling you that they didn't push the Firebolt as far as they could. I know there's more acceleration they can get out of it. I read that in Quidditch Weekly. The next model is going to be even better than the Firebolt. Cleansweep has become the cost efficient broom line; Nimbus is trying to become the deluxe racing broom gold standard."
"We'll see about that," Ron said.
The four of them spent about an hour at Quality Quidditch Supplies. Harry and Ron mingled with other enthusiasts, loudly debating the merits of different lines of brooms, while the unindoctrinated bought what they needed in a less boisterous manner. Fleur and Hermione continued their conversation in a corner of the store, Hermione's hands becoming progressively more animated as they talked.
Fleur seemed a little put off by Hermione's exuberance but Hermione didn't notice. Eventually Harry decided that he had to rescue Fleur from Hermione before she got talked into the ground. He and Ron were just going over the same points with the people in the shop anyway. Each time a point was settled someone new joined the fray and started opening up closed topics. Debating broom lines was a Sisyphean labor.
"If you want we can go to Madam Malkin's now," Harry offered to Fleur and Hermione.
"I could pick something up," Hermione said.
"Why don't you take Ronald and go," Fleur suggested. "Harry and I need to go get some books for the Dueling Club."
A little taken aback by people going to the bookstore without her, Hermione nonetheless followed Fleur's suggestion, grabbing Ron mid-sentence and dragging him out of the store, ignoring his protests. Harry and Fleur left more sedately.
"I think she likes you," Harry teased.
"She's certainly very…energetic," Fleur said.
"Ron and I still tell her that she should have been a Ravenclaw. Nobody enjoys knowing things for the sake of knowing them like Hermione."
"I've always been of the opinion that you should have a reason for learning things. Knowledge only has value in its applicability. Would you be debating the merits of different broomsticks if you couldn't fly any of them?"
"No. But can't you appreciate knowing something just for itself? Knowledge can be beautiful."
"Does beauty not serve a purpose?" Fleur asked. She batted her eyelashes at Harry flirtatiously.
Refusing to take the bait, Harry said, "Never."
"How unfortunate," Fleur said. She liked to tease Harry but he knew she wasn't being serious. He took it as a compliment that she was comfortable enough around him to act like that and know that he wouldn't take it the wrong way. Harry couldn't see her teasing Ron like that. He would have a heart attack.
Fleur went on. "Hermione is a nice girl. I'm not sure that we would have been friends if she had gone to Beauxbatons. Girls like that usually don't like competition in their studies. They'll help until they begin to fear that you will surpass them. Knowledge isn't a tool or a good in of itself; it's a means of validation for them."
"That's a cynical thought," Harry said.
"I'm not insulting her. It's just something I noticed when I was at school."
"You're analyzing my friends then. If that's what Hermione is then what's Ron?"
"He's a boy. A typical boy," Fleur said.
Harry paused. "Is that an insult?"
She just smiled enigmatically. "Here we are. I've been corresponding with Professor Flitwick and he recommended this bookshop over Flourish and Blotts. I was hoping that we would be able to find some short instructional texts on dueling and self-defense. Nothing too long. Students tend to skim if you hand them a big book."
"Students tend to skim if you hand them a book," Harry corrected.
Obscurus Books was an academic's wet dream. There were none of the popular books that plagued the shelves of Flourish and Blotts; there were only in depth treatises and theses by some of the greatest minds of the wizarding world, stretching deep into the half-lit interior of the store. Harry had avoided ever coming with Hermione, sure that once he entered the store with her he would never be able to drag her out. The entire place smelled like mildew and old books, though all of the books looked brand new. It was probably just a clever marketing ploy, Harry thought.
They wandered into the isles, pulling down a book when it looked like it could be a good fit. Fleur was intent on finding the perfect book, rejecting all of the ones Harry passed her way. She claimed that since the budget Dumbledore had given her only had room for one text for every student it had to be the perfect book.
"You've been getting on much better with the Weasleys," Harry said, after Fleur rejected his seventh suggestion.
"They're simple enough people. They just want some validation," Fleur said.
Harry thought that was a bit rude but didn't comment. Fleur's sense of superiority was intrinsic to her personality. She had once remarked to him that false modesty was hypocritical.
Fleur said, "Bill is very little like his family. He doesn't leer like Ronald, have Ginevra's temper, his mother's rusticity, or the twins' immaturity. It's only in looks that you could even tell they're related."
"Ginny still seems to be holding a grudge against you though."
"She's jealous of me and she's frustrated that I'm stealing her brother away. Bill is fond of her and they were close when she was younger."
"Frustration makes sense but jealous? You're beautiful Fleur, but that doesn't mean that every girl wants to be you."
She laughed, as if Harry had completely missed the point. "She isn't jealous of my looks. She's jealous that you've been giving me so much attention. Do you think she wakes up smelling like flowers and with her hair done every morning? Ginevra only began doing that when it became obvious that you were about to come to the Burrow. She was hoping you would notice her. Instead you 'took my side.' That's why she dislikes me so much."
"Ginny doesn't like me like that anymore and I'm not taking sides," Harry said.
"You may not see it but it's there. Bill could see her infatuation after five minutes spent with the two of you," Fleur said.
"From the way you talk about him Bill is the next Merlin. I don't know him all that well."
"He'll like you. Bill admires people who have talent. He told me once that after seeing you compete in the Triwizard Tournament he was surprised that you were Ronald's friend."
"Ronald is lazy and has decidedly average abilities," Fleur said. Again she was insulting and again she didn't seem to realize that it would be insulting. She stated it as if it was an everyday fact.
"We got the same number of O.W.L.s," Harry reminded her.
"Grades mean almost nothing. Accomplishments are everything."
"Ron has been with me every step along the way. He's confronted some of his greatest fears by my side and I wouldn't have chosen anyone else. There are people that are smarter, or more talented, or even more loyal, but Ron is my best friend. People aren't the sum of their talent, Fleur."
They looked in silence for a minute, Fleur sensing that she had been too callous, revealed too much of her thoughts. Harry was offended on Ron's behalf, but all the more so because he couldn't deny what Fleur was saying. Ron was his best friend, yes, but his faults were many. He had lapses in loyalty and the gap between his talent and that of others was often immense.
The only thing that hurts more than our own limitations is that of our friends, Harry thought.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Fleur said, not elaborating.
"Friendship and love count for more than talent in my book. Maybe one day you'll feel the same way," Harry said.
"Perhaps I will," Fleur replied. Harry handed her another book. She took it, glanced at the title, table of contents, and a few random pages, and then nodded. Fleur went over to the manager to speak with him, ostensibly to order another few dozen copies of the book, and then returned to him without the book, having handed it over.
"Shall we hunt down your friends?" she asked.
"Probably a good idea. If I now Ron and Hermione they're probably at each other's throats right now."
They started making their way to Madam Malkin's.
"Such tangled webs this Weasley family weaves," Fleur said. Again she looked smug, the same look Hermione would get when she knew the answer and nobody else did. It had always irritated Harry.
"Going to share more of your incredible insights with me?" he asked.
"They like each. She doesn't think he likes her and he doesn't know how to tell her that he likes her but the mutual attraction is there. The stolen glances, the passionate arguments about nothing just for attention, all of the clichés are there. You just have to open your eyes."
"I don't buy it. They've been acting like that since we were eleven," Harry said. His mind couldn't even entertain the notion that Ron and Hermione would get together. It was nonsense, but if it were true, it would change everything. They would go from a trio, to a duo and Harry, with every interaction becoming one in which Harry would be interfering, third wheeling. Better not to consider it at all.
"Just watch them," Fleur said. She was enjoying herself, with a devious smile and knowing eyes. "I have an outsider's perspective. You've been blinded by your friendship with them."
"I don't want to talk about this," Harry grumbled.
"Fine, I'll tell you about my plans for the Dueling Club then," Fleur said. Both of them knew that she had won that round. Harry wouldn't be able to help looking for signs that Ron and Hermione were interested in one another. His entire perception of their relationship had been changed.
Fleur was cruel and intelligent, proud and clever, condescending and talented. Harry could see why Bill would have fallen for her. Few women could pull off the combination of such displeasing and laudable traits with aplomb. Fleur was a mess of beautiful contradictions.
Harry listened to Fleur loosely explain her plans for the Dueling Club while they ambled back to Madam Malkin's. Their pace was sedate, both of them doing as much looking around as they did walking, and the conversation meandered, stopping and starting with every sight they took in. Fleur explained that she wanted to give the two groups, her own and Harry's, the basics of a core group of spells and then move on to dueling techniques; they would start with one on ones and then move to doubles and group dueling in an attempt to simulate real world situations.
The purpose was to teach them self-defense, not just a list of spells that they could rattle off. Fleur was of the opinion that if they couldn't hold up under spellfire then the entire Dueling Club would have been a waste of time.
While Fleur was going over her thoughts on teaching some rudimentary survival skills Harry saw something curious. Outside Flourish and Blotts Malfoy was crossing the street with scurrying steps, keeping tabs on who was watching him and who was around, a package under his arm. Seeing Malfoy at any point was enough to make Harry nervous but when he had such an anxious demeanor Harry was extra cautious. His fears were further amplified when Malfoy moved into Knockturn Alley. Nobody good ever intentionally went into Knockturn Alley, and nothing good ever came out.
His first instinct was to dive in after Malfoy; to follow him and make sure that he wasn't planning something dangerous. Malfoy had been a pest during Harry's time at Hogwarts but Voldemort's return changed everything. There was no telling what plan Malfoy might have come up with.
Harry barely noticed that Fleur had stopped talking. She was watching Malfoy as well, her eyes following Harry's.
"I remember him," she said.
"We need to find out what he's up to." Hermione would say that he was being a fool and Ron might accuse him of being paranoid but Harry knew that Malfoy was plotting something.
"No," Fleur said. Surprised, Harry turned to her. Her arms were folded over her chest and she was expressionless, bracing for a fight. One that Harry was willing to give her.
"No? He could be doing something for Voldemort." Harry hissed the Dark Lord's name, not wanting to attract the attention of anyone passing by.
"You're being followed by a member of the Order and you have me with you. If you go down there then I have to follow you. Two people, especially one who's part veela, can't remain unnoticed down there. Add in to that the fact that if the Order member watching you sees you going in there they'll mount a huge rescue operation to get you out, just in case. That means you'll be wasting everyone's time chasing after a teenage boy who's trying to pawn off some inconsequential dark artifact. Trust me Harry, this isn't worth our time. You have to put schoolyard rivalries behind you if you want to make something of yourself."
"This isn't some schoolyard rivalry," Harry said. He was angry that Fleur didn't seem to understand and was trivializing his concern. "Malfoy's entire family is in deep with Voldemort. He could be plotting to bring something back to Hogwarts. Something dangerous."
"And Professor Dumbledore has put measures in place to prevent things like that from entering the grounds," Fleur countered. "You're being obtuse. Take a breath, calm down, and enjoy our little walk. You won't get a break like this once we're back at Hogwarts."
His resistance was slipping away in the face of Fleur's seamless logic. She made him doubt himself and his observations. He thought the Weasleys were lovable and she thought them provincial. He thought Ron and Hermione often couldn't stand each other and Fleur said they were practically flirting. Now Harry thought that Malfoy was plotting something and Fleur said that he was overreacting. Their worldviews were different, drastically so, but he couldn't say that she was wrong. Perhaps, Harry thought, he was overreacting. Malfoy wasn't some trained killer. He was a schoolyard bully, and not a very effective one at that.
"Fine," Harry said, holding on to some of his frustration. He needed to save some face in front of Fleur after all.
"Excellent, I would have hated to need to hex handsy vampires," Fleur said.
She bumped her shoulder against his amicably they walked back to Madam Malkin's. Harry was aware of her next to him the entire time, lovely and chattering. Her beauty was overwhelming sometimes to him. It made him uncomfortable and he knew that he acted differently around Fleur than around other girls, Hermione and Ginny being excellent examples.
He had to make a conscious effort not to change too much around her, not to pretend to be something he wasn't, and Harry thought that she was aware of the effect she had on him. He supposed that he wasn't unique in that respect. Perhaps that was what had attracted her to Bill, he mused. He didn't change. From what Harry had seen of Bill he seemed almost as confident as Fleur seemed herself. Like attracted like, Harry had heard once.
It was wrong to be attracted to Fleur, she had a fiancé, but he couldn't help himself. Physical closeness didn't seem to bother her. Fleur used her beauty as a carrot and a stick, offering bits and pieces when someone was good and withdrawing them when they were bad. Harry resolved not to become conditioned like other people were.
They were in front of Madam Malkin's and Harry stopped trying to figure Fleur out. He could save the psychoanalysis for when they got back to the Burrow. Fleur became quieter once they were around Ron and Hermione.
"Get any robes?" Harry asked Ron.
"Don't be a git," Ron said. Hermione had a few packages of her own but neither she nor Ron appeared in a good mood. Out of all of them, Fleur was the only one who appeared to be enjoying herself. Harry caught himself looking between Ron and Hermione, as if he would be able to see physical evidence of any budding relationship. Fleur was watching him and trying not to laugh. He valiantly resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at her.
"Come on, let's find my mum," Ron said. The three of them followed in his aggravated wake.