Disclaimer: Nothing's mine.
Thank you to Darkened Void, Kit Willow, HonorVerseFan, 102xRedDragon, and Sakkiko, for all their help in the making of this.
White tiles shone so bright his head span, reflecting harsh, sharp, neon light from the ceiling bulb. Chrome edges glinted between gleaming glass shower panels and three neat rows of white bottles lined the shelf beneath the showerhead. A faint, lemon-edged bleach scent drifted off it all, stinging his nose.
Aunt Petunia needs to lay off the bleach. Harry twisted the tap open and splashed his face with cool handfuls of liquid. Water gushed down the sink; the drops on his face slid down his skin in a cool trickle and dripped from his chin. The smell could fell a troll.
A fist hammered against the door, rattling the shining handle. 'Oi!' Dudley's voice echoed through the wood. 'You've got a visitor. Come down and talk to her before Mum has a full-blown panic attack, yeah.'
A visitor? Harry closed the tap and stumbled out of the bathroom. I'm not expecting any visitors.
Dudley's crimson face gaped from the top of the stairs as scratched at the chocolate stains on the front of his grey hoodie. 'Oi!'
He screwed his face up. 'You never said you knew anyone like her. Thought your lot were all weird like that huge man and the guy with the creepy eye.'
Harry raised an eyebrow. 'I don't even know who she is.' He left Dudley at the top of the stairs and descended toward the living room, smoothing the wrinkles from his clothes.
I wonder who it actually is? He pulled open the living room door. McGonagall?
A long, dark blue dress rose up from dark boot toes to a cascade of ash-blonde hair and bright blue eyes shone above full, pale-rose lips.
The breath slipped from Harry's lungs.
'Harry.' Fleur Delacour's English was crisp and perfect. 'It's been some time.'
'Er… Yes. It has.' He could feel every crease in his clothes and the way they hung off him; the cheap cotton seemed to burn against his skin as if it'd just come out from under the iron. 'Were you just nearby?'
A small smile curved her lips. 'You mean I just happened to wander from Bordeaux to here and thought I'd say hello to you and your charming relatives as I passed?'
'Well…' Heat crept onto his cheeks. 'It felt a bit rude to just ask you why on earth you're here.'
Aunt Petunia stammered and proffered a plate of battered biscuits.
Fleur Delacour's eyes slid over them and her lips pursed. 'No. Thank you.'
Harry choked on a laugh as Aunt Petunia wilted like a rose bush in a summer heatwave. Uncle Vernon appeared to be doing his utmost to sink into the wall behind him; his eyes were fixed on a crack in the plaster ceiling as if it were the business section of the Daily Mail.
'Maybe some tea?' Aunt Petunia set the plate of biscuits down on the side table by the sofa. 'I've got a nice collection of fruit teas if you'd prefer.'
'I'm fine, thank you.' Fleur Delacour plucked a wide summer bonnet off the chair beside her and placed it upon her head. The sapphire bow fluttered above her right temple in the breeze from the open window. 'I'm here to let Harry know I'm going to be tutoring him over the summer. He has, by all accounts, not been making the most of his time at school.'
Harry grimaced and his stomach knotted itself into a tight ball of mortification. Ouch. So Dumbledore or someone sent her. She probably thinks I'm a complete idiot to need tutoring.
'Of course.' Aunt Petunia hovered, wringing her hands and darting her eyes all around the room. 'Stop by whenever you please.'
The corner of Fleur's mouth crooked into a smile. 'I'm not going to teach you here, Harry. Learning and teaching shouldn't feel like a chore for either of us. We'll find a nicer setting for our remedial lessons. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.' She tipped the brim of her hat and gave him a wink. 'Au revoir, Harry.'
Raindrops crawled across the clear, bright glass, trickling down to the sill. A grey sky hung beyond; thick, dark clouds swirled over the endless rows of identical rooftops and chimneys.
Urgh. Summer. Harry swept the stack of books off his bed and flopped into his pillow. It's not even got the decency to rain properly and make a nice sound; it just endlessly drizzles.
A soft crack echoed from outside.
'Vernon! Vernon!' Aunt Petunia's shriek tore through the house. 'Fetch the nice biscuits. She's back!'
Harry sat bolt upright. Fleur Delacour. He jumped from the bed, tangled one foot in the sheets and smacked face-first into the scatter of books on the floor. Clothes. I need to find some decent clothes. He scrambled to his feet, heart pounding.
The doorbell chimed and Aunt Petunia's footsteps pattered along the hall beneath Harry's room. He clawed the wardrobe open, ripping off his t-shirt and jeans and tossing them into the corner. Rows of t-shirts and jeans hung from the rail.
Harry grimaced. 'Bollocks.'
Soft laughter echoed from the doorway. 'Your aunt said you were ready, Harry. Would you like a moment?'
Heat rushed to his face. He kept his eyes fixed on the wardrobe and tried very hard to pretend he was still wearing more than just his underwear. 'Yes. Yes, I really would, if you don't mind?'
Fleur Delacour's chuckle drifted back in from the corridor. 'No rush.'
Harry tugged his clothes back on and took a deep breath. 'I'm — er — I'm ready, Miss Delacour.'
She leant on the doorframe and pulled the sapphire-bowed hat off her head. 'Miss Delacour?' Another quiet laugh slipped through her lips. 'I think I quite like that.'
'You may call me Miss Delacour if you really like, but I prefer just Fleur.' She extended a hand. 'Now, let's go. The weather here is dreadful.'
Harry eyed her slim fingers. 'Er. Not to be rude. But why are you doing this?'
Fleur's lips pursed. 'Let's just say my original plans for the summer are no longer what I want to do. Your Professor Dumbledore was speaking about offering you some help, so I volunteered myself.'
'Well, if Professor Dumbledore says it's okay…'
She stepped forward and took his wrist. 'I think we'll start with Crete.'
The world closed around Harry, clenching as tight as Dudley's fist about his ice cream spoon, and everything turned dark. He squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath, tensing every muscle.
I hate magical travel.
Warmth soaked into his skin and the scent of hot sand and the sea washed over him. He opened his eyes. Long grass stretched away beneath scattered, pink-flowered cacti and dark, sweet-scented pines toward a bright summer sky.
Fleur fanned her face with her hat. 'Welcome to Crete.' She hitched her dress up to mid-thigh and unzipped the sides of her boots, kicking them off and wiggling her toes in the sand. 'I like Crete.'
Harry stared out over white sand to a sparkling, blue sea. 'I've never left the UK before.'
Fleur laughed and conjured herself a beige deck chair, reclining across it as if it were a throne. 'I know.'
He drew in a deep breath of sweet pine sap and heat. 'It's fantastic.'
She crossed her ankles and shook her hair out. 'I think we'll go somewhere different each time. There's much more to the world than Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and Privet Drive.'
Harry sat down on the sand and scooped a hot handful of white grains into his palms. 'So what am I meant to be learning?'
Fleur's gaze drifted off along the beach. 'Today?' She leant back and rested her hat over her face, the sapphire bow bobbing in the breeze like a lily upon a rippling pond. 'The water conjuring charm will do to start with. Aguamenti is the incantation. The longer we're out here in the sun, the more motivation you'll have to cast it.'
I'm meant to just cast it and make it work? His gut tangled itself into a ball. What if I can't?
Harry let the sand drain through his fingers and tugged his wand out of his back pocket. 'Are you allowed to leave me in the sun?' He paused. 'Am I even allowed to cast magic?'
Fleur lifted her hat a few centimetres off her face and opened one blue eye. 'Crete is well beyond the jurisdiction of the British Ministry… or anyone who's going to question my tutoring methods.' She dropped the hat back over her face and dangled her legs over the arm, wriggling her bare toes.
'Right.' Harry waved his wand around. 'Aguamenti?'
A warm sea breeze rippled past him, throwing eddies of sand up around his legs. The heat soaked into his jeans and sweat began to trickle down his back.
'Aguamenti.' He waggled his wand around.
'Any luck?' Fleur's muffled question drifted from beneath the trembling blue bow.
'None at all.'
'You'll probably get the hang of it eventually. We have all day.'
'Aguamenti,' Harry muttered.
Nothing. He glowered at his wand and swallowed a little flare of fury. She must think I'm stupid.
'Aguamenti.' Harry slashed his wand through the air. 'Aguamenti. Aguamenti. Aguamenti.'
Stupid, bloody magic. Heat crept onto his cheeks and he snuck a glance at the fluttering sapphire bow. I don't even know how it bloody works.
Harry sighed and swallowed both frustration and pride. 'I don't suppose you'd help me?'
Fleur reached up and pulled her hat down onto her lap. A small smile sat on her lips. 'Excellent. Asking for help is the most important thing to learn. Nobody can do everything all by themselves.'
He sagged. 'So I was meant to fail?'
'No, you were meant to learn to ask for help.'
Harry crossed his legs. 'So?'
Fleur leant forward and uncrossed her ankles. 'Conjuration is easy magic. You're just creating something.'
He waved his wand. 'Aguamenti.'
A soft chuckle slipped from her lips. 'You need to think about what you're creating. What is water? How does it feel? How does it sound?' Fleur leant back in her chair and placed her hat back on her head. 'Don't focus on the incantation or try and force the magic out, just think about water and what you want to see happen.'
Harry ran a dry tongue over his parched lips, his thoughts swirling with the feel and taste of cool liquid. 'Aguamenti.'
A thin trickle of water spattered across the sand.
'Voila!' Fleur clapped her hands together. 'A bit of practice will get you the rest of the way.'
Harry raised his wand. 'So I should keep—'
'No.' She pulled her wand out. 'Next step. You can conjure anything the same way you did that, but it's only temporary. If you tried to drink that water, it would be no better than drinking nothing at all.'
'Aguamenti.' Harry caught a few small drops in his hand. 'I don't get it. Seems like water to me.'
Fleur leant forward and dipped her fingertip into the middle of his palm, lifting a sparkling bead of water into the air. 'But it is not.' She caught the droplet on her tongue. 'It's magic pretending to be water.'
'Huh.' Harry tugged his eyes away from her mouth. 'So what happens if you drink it?'
'It disappears once the magic fades.' Fleur plucked a piece of driftwood off the beach and held it up between two fingers. 'If you want to really make water, you have to transfigure it from something else. That changes it permanently from one thing to another.'
'Is that harder?'
'It's just as easy to do, but takes more magic.' She tapped the wood with her wand and a cone of ice cream appeared in her fingers; two large scoops of dark chocolate balanced upon a thick, sugar-glazed cone. 'Parfait.' Fleur took a small bite out of it with bright, white teeth. 'See? Real ice cream.'
Harry stared, struggling for words. 'You bite ice cream?' he blurted.
She laughed. 'I do not like it melting and giving me sticky fingers.'
Harry scooped a handful of sand up from the beach and imagined a palmful of water. He waved his wand and cool liquid trickled through his fingers, dripping into the warm, white sand.
'Excellent.' Fleur took another bite of her ice cream; a smear of chocolate marked the tip of her nose when she leant back. 'We can cross off basic conjuration and transfiguration, then.'
Harry watched the water disappear off his skin in the sunlight. 'So what now?'
She shrugged her slim shoulders. 'Enjoy Crete. Lesson over.'
He frowned. 'That's it?'
'Would you prefer to do more work?'
'I feel like it was too easy.'
Fleur lowered her ice cream and arched an eyebrow at him. 'It is easy, if taught well.'
'Do you want to be a teacher?' Harry asked.
Her nose wrinkled. 'I was bored without any summer plans. My parents are proud of how good I am at magic, but they're really just waiting for me to marry and start having a family like my mother did. I did not want to go home and deal with them.'
'Oh.' He studied the slight purse of her lips as she took another bite of ice cream. 'So you don't want a family?'
'No.' Fleur reached up with one finger and wiped chocolate off her nose, a faint pink hue colouring her cheeks. 'I want to do the things I enjoy and I want them to matter. I do not want to sit around at home alone and nurse children. One day, I will have a family, but not yet, so I found a boy I thought would share that view, only to discover that wasn't really the case deep down.'
Harry digested that. 'Seems complicated.'
'It's not.' She finished her ice cream in swift, deft bites. 'I saw what would happen if I stayed with him; it wasn't what I wanted to happen.'
'Fair enough. I think I'd quite like a family one day, but not right now. I'm a bit young for that.' Harry caught the twitch of her lips and twisted round to stare out across the sea. 'Where are we?'
'The West of Crete.' Fleur pointed her ice cream cone along the beach. 'There's a muggle village not far that way, but this is a nice quiet spot to come and enjoy the sun and sand.'
'I like it.' Harry let the warmth bathe his face and inhaled the sweet scent of the pines. 'It's beautiful.'
It's open. And it's warm. And it's free. Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, Dudley, Death Eaters and Voldemort felt so far away they might as well be dreams. The Cretan sun soaked into him, banishing anything but bliss as if it were faint morning frost. It's a completely different world.
Fleur rose to her feet and twirled her wand. The deck chair collapsed into nothing and her ice cream cone crumbled into pale sand.
She brushed sand from her toes and slipped her legs back into her boots. 'Let's wander, shall we?'
'Does it matter? Just enjoy the sights, Harry. Next time, I'll take you somewhere different.'
'Next time?' His heart leapt into his mouth and he jumped to his feet. 'How many lessons do I get?'
'There's a lot about magic I can teach you.' Fleur pushed her hat to a jauntier angle with one finger and flicked the end of the blue ribbon off her face; a small smile crooked her lips. 'And there's a lot I can show you.'
A weak, yellow sun threw faint light across frosted grass and Aunt Petunia's roses from a sky streaked with faint, white clouds.
Cold and clear. Harry watched the thin patterns of ice melt and trickle down his window and released a long sigh. Perfect golfing weather for Uncle Vernon.
The doorbell's chime echoed through the house.
Fleur. His heart lurched and he jumped up, running down the stairs and wrenching the door open.
A tall, bald man flinched back, then held out a thick stack of envelopes. 'Never seen anyone so eager to get post, you expecting something good?'
Harry scanned the addresses and let the hope fade to a dull, bittersweet ache. 'Not today, apparently.'
'Maybe tomorrow, huh.' The postman gave him half a smile and a thumbs up, then strode off across the frosted grass to the pavement.
Maybe tomorrow. Harry trudged back upstairs and flopped onto his bed.
A mournful hoot echoed from Hedwig.
'You want out?' He met her amber stare and smiled. 'Of course you do.' He unlatched the cage and shoved open the window.
Hedwig vanished in a swirl of feathers and a flutter of wings.
'Lucky bird.' He slumped back on his bed. 'Wish I could fly off somewhere nice.'
A soft thud echoed from outside, then the door chimed.
Harry leapt to his feet and strode downstairs, tugging the front door open.
'Golfing glove.' Uncle Vernon waved a thick hand toward the kitchen. 'Your aunt's ironed it, so it'll be in the stack somewhere. Be quick, tee off time is in twenty minutes and some damn fool has started roadworks on the A-road.'
Harry stifled a sigh and hurried through the kitchen to the utility room, scanning the small piles of folded clothes. He plucked a single, white glove off the top of the furthest and returned to the door.
'Thanks.' Uncle Vernon slammed the door shut and stomped off to his car.
Next time I'll let Dudley get it or something. He leant against the wall and sighed. Fleur's probably not coming today.
The doorbell chimed above his head, sending a cold shock rippling through his veins.
What's he forgotten now? Harry tugged the door open, muttering curses beneath his breath.
Fleur's blue eyes met his from beneath the charcoal beret perched atop her silver hair.
Harry's breath caught.
'Today, I think we will go to Switzerland.' She reached out and took his forearm; her fingers hot against his skin.
The world went dark, then cold washed through his clothes, biting to the bone. Sharp, white-capped peaks rose around them over smooth, soft fields of snow. A flat, still lake sat between them and a small wood-and-brick building.
He shivered as the chill crept deeper. 'Is there somewhere a bit warmer?'
Fleur's fingers left his arm and her wand appeared. Warmth settled over Harry like he'd been wrapped in a blanket.
'We have magic, Harry,' she said. 'We don't need to endure the cold.'
He huffed out a cloud of steam and watched the first few flakes of snow drift down around them. 'I liked Crete more.'
She laughed and strode through the snow toward the small building, holding her blue dress up above the top of her boots with one hand. Snowflakes caught in her silver-blonde hair and melted atop her charcoal beret, a faint, pink flush colouring her cheeks as her breath misted about her lips.
Doesn't she feel cold? Harry stumbled after her, unable to tear his eyes off her smile. That dress is as thin as my t-shirt.
Fleur paused before the small door and flicked snowflakes from her shoulders. 'This is La Victoire.'
'La Victoire?' Harry echoed.
She wrinkled her nose. 'More on the vowels and less on the consonants, Harry. La Victoire. It means the victory, of course, for climbers who make it to the peak.'
'What's inside?' he asked.
Fleur smiled. 'It's a café.' She opened the door and ushered him through.
Small, dark-wood booths lay beneath walls bedecked in climbing photos and gear. A short girl with mahogany hair and eyes bounced across from the far side. She gave them a wave, chirping something in French, and shaking her hair out. The faint smell of coffee and wood polish reached Harry's nose.
Fleur glanced at Harry, then touched her wand tip to his temple when the girl glanced away. 'So you can understand,' she whispered in his ear.
The girl waved a pair of menus at the empty booths. 'Choose any seat you like.'
Fleur cast her eye across the café. 'Next to the window overlooking the lake, please.'
Harry trailed her there, picking his way over uneven floorboards and slipping into the seat opposite Fleur.
'I'm Katie.' The girl placed a menu down in front of them. 'Let me know what you fancy.'
Fleur glanced at it. 'The Sundae Delight and a crêpe, with lemon juice and an extra spoonful of sugar.' Her eyes flicked up to Harry. 'A crêpe for Harry, chocolat.'
Katie beamed and plucked the menus from the table. 'Coming right up.'
'Er… I don't have any money.' Harry gnawed at his lip. 'I—'
'I am paying.' Fleur took her charcoal beret off and placed it on the seat beside her. 'It's part of the lesson.'
He blinked. 'It is?'
'Not really, but you should try something new if you get the chance.' Her feet brushed his beneath the table as she crossed her ankles. 'Today, I will teach you something very important. Occlumency.'
'I don't like Occlumency,' Harry murmured, smothering a twist of anxiety. 'I'm not very good at it.'
''If you were trying hard and still can't do it, it's because you weren't taught it well.' Fleur pointed at the lake. 'See how still it is? How calm? That is how you must be.'
Harry stared into the glass-like surface at the reflection of the mountains and the sky. 'Clear my mind?'
Her lips pursed. 'I do not know what that's meant to mean.' She leant back as Katie approached, a towering glass of steaming chocolate crowned with whipped cream teetering on her tray. 'You must be like the lake, deep but still. Look at it, Harry, and let its calm fill you.'
He stared into the lake. Fleur spooned whipped cream off the top of her drink and ate it with a small smile, licking the spoon clean each time with the bright pink tip of her tongue.
She really likes sweet things, doesn't she?
She caught his eye. 'Focus, Harry. My love of sweet things is not what you're meant to be thinking about.' The corner of her mouth crooked. 'And as you can see, I can test you to see if you can do it.'
Harry buried memories of Snape's instruction and stared at the water surface until his mind went blank and his breathing steadied.
'Much better.' Fleur's spoon clicked against her glass as she stirred her steaming drink. 'That feeling is what you need to keep your thoughts under control.'
'That's it?' He frowned. 'Just being calm?'
'It's not so easy all the time.' She sipped her hot chocolate and licked her lips. 'But now you understand the principle, you can practice that by yourself.'
'Ok.' Harry dragged his eyes away from Fleur's lips to study the threads in her charcoal beret. 'What's next?'
She waved her glass at the window. 'See the reflection? That's how you deceive someone with Occlumency. A reflection of the truth, but not something real. You let yourself feel, without really feeling.'
'That sounds hard to do.'
'It takes a master to manage it perfectly.' Fleur set her drink down. 'I just want you to practice staying calm. You can try and cast an impression of emotion over the top of it at a later time.'
'Just keep calm?' Harry shrugged. 'Alright.'
Fleur's mouth curved into a smile. 'Let's see if you can.' She sipped her hot chocolate and dabbed her lips with the serviette. 'Why don't your relatives like you?'
'What?' Heat rushed to his face. 'Well — I mean, it's not my fault—'
She put her drink down. 'You're not calm, Harry.'
He ground to a halt. 'Oh.'
'See, not so easy.' Fleur slid her drink to one side and picked up the spoon. 'Try and answer my question while staying calm.'
Harry took a deep breath until the flush faded from his cheeks. 'I guess they didn't exactly ask to have me and all the strange stuff that comes with me dropped on them. It hardly seems fair to blame me, though.'
'The world isn't often fair.' She glanced past him. 'Ah, time for you to try something new, Harry.'
Katie skipped to their table and set a parchment-thin pancake down in front of each of them. 'Here you go!' She popped a small pot of sugar on the table between them..
Harry studied Fleur's. Clear liquid glazed the surface, sugar crystals dissolving into it like the snowflakes had into her hair. She scooped a spoonful of sugar from the pot and scattered it across, then rolled her crêpe up, lifted it off the plate, and took a bite. Lemon juice trickled down her chin and Fleur closed her eyes with a small smile.
'What?' She swiped the lemon juice off her chin with the tip of her little finger and sucked it clean. 'It's good. If a little sticky.'
'Nothing.' He busied himself with his own, chocolate-slathered dessert, rolling it up and slicing it into easily-manageable pieces.
Fleur watched him eat with the softest hint of a smile. 'Good?'
Harry nodded. 'Very.' He swallowed. 'Thank you. Seriously.'
She laughed. 'It's nothing, Harry. Really. I needed something to do that was a bit different, so when I overheard your Professor Dumbledore, I thought to myself, why not?'
Harry choked on his crêpe. 'Overheard?'
Fleur's lips twitched. 'Ah. I hadn't mentioned that, had I?'
'No.' Harry swallowed his mouthful of rich chocolate and sweet pancake. 'So nobody actually knows?'
'It's our little secret.' She winked at him. 'Everyone else thinks I've gone back to France, but, if I did that, my parents would be there to say I told you so.' The humour faded from her eyes. 'I don't want to deal with that just yet.'
A flash of her in a small house, cradling silver-blonde babies, knitting jumpers, cooking, and reading gossip magazines sprang to his mind. The light faded out of her blue eyes and the small smile slipped from her lips.
Harry's heart clenched. 'I don't think that would suit you.' He struggled for words, but only found Hermione's. 'Some birds aren't meant to be caged.'
'Bird jokes?' Fleur arched an eyebrow at him. 'Bold of you, Harry.'
He gulped. 'It is?'
She laughed. 'You have forgotten what I am, haven't you?'
'A bird? Like a girl?' Harry flushed. 'I'm a bit lost.'
She flashed him a full, glittering smile, then shivered, slipping one hand down the back of her dress and pulling out a small, soft, pearl-white feather. 'Veela, Harry. Remember?'
'Oh.' He poked at the chocolate smears on his plate. 'Sorry. Completely forgot.'
'It's fine. I can control my allure now that I'm a bit older, you'd never know unless I wanted you to.'
'So now you're just very pretty.' Harry clamped his mouth shut and heat rushed to his cheeks. 'Sorry.'
Fleur's laughter echoed through the café. 'Don't apologise for being sweet, Harry. After all, I do like sweet things.' She plucked her beret off the table and dropped it upon her head. 'Now, let's go explore the mountain, Harry. There are no proper mountains in the UK.'
He blinked. 'We can go all the way up?'
'Of course.' Fleur trapped a handful of notes beneath her empty glass and tugged her beret so it sat to one side of her head. 'What would be the point otherwise?'
A small thrill raced through him. 'I've never been up a mountain before.'
She took his hand and darkness flashed before his eyes.
The world dropped away from Harry's feet. Trees as tiny as twigs and fields like little square patches no bigger than buttons spread away beneath a vast white dome of a sky.
Everything is so far away. It's like I'm flying free above the world. He held his arms out and let the breeze tug at him. His heart raced beneath his breast, hammering against his ribs. It's fantastic.
'Now you have been up one.' Snowflakes caught in Fleur's hair and upon her lashes, landing atop her beret; they tumbled off her flushed cheeks and swirled round her blue dress. 'It's a good view, non?'
'It's amazing.' The words caught in his throat and a sudden surge of emotion balled on his tongue and stung his eyes. 'Thank you, Fleur. This is — it's perfect.'
A small smile curved Fleur's lips and a soft, bright gleam welled up in her blue eyes. She tossed the little white feather away into the snow. 'This is not the last place we will visit together, Harry. I promise.'
Uncle Vernon's mower sputtered and choked as it struggled through thick, wet, summer grass. Harry grimaced and wrenched it 'round, wincing at the splutter of the motor. He forced it up the last strip of the small lawn, picturing the white Cretan sand beneath Fleur's bare toes and the snow of the Swiss Alps melting in her hair.
The mower stuttered out and ground to a halt. Harry stifled a flare of choler and the urge to kick it.
It gets worse every time, I'm sure.
He switched it off and twisted it over onto its side, staring up at the grey sky as petrol-scented steam rose from the mower. A trio of pigeons flapped across the garden into the cluster of pines a few gardens down, their coos echoing over the painted-fences, washing lines, and small patios.
Might as well get it done. Harry bent and tugged handfuls of damp, hot grass from between the blades, tossing them over the line of blue-flowered hydrangeas into the small compost bin at the garden's back corner. Otherwise Uncle Vernon will lecture me about taking care of tools for another hour.
He wiped his hands off on his thighs and studied his green-stained fingertips. 'That's going to take some scrubbing off.'
And Aunt Petunia will insist on it before I touch anything.
Harry flipped the mower back over and twisted the key; the engine rasped, then sputtered out.
'Harry!' Uncle Vernon's bellow carried from the drive.
Not boy? He strode round the side of the house to the front drive, caught by a faint coil of curiosity.
Uncle Vernon shrank back from Fleur's slim, grey-veiled figure like a kicked dog. Her blue eyes bored through him from beneath a beige summer bonnet sporting an indigo flower.
'I'll —er — I'll just go take over the mowing, Harry.' Uncle Vernon shuffled off round the side of the house.
Fleur turned to Harry and her pale-rose lips curved into a smile. 'Ready, Harry?'
Harry glanced at his grass-stained hands. 'I'm — well — I'm not really dressed for anything, Fleur.'
She tipped the brim of her bonnet up with her forefinger and ran her eyes over him. Harry squirmed.
'You'll do.' Fleur crooked a finger at him. 'Don't dawdle, Harry. We're going somewhere nice.'
He gulped. 'Can I get changed?' Harry waved a hand at where the hem of Fleur's charcoal grey dress fluttered about her knees. 'Because you look like you're about to break Mr Darcy's heart and I look like I need several showers and an entire wardrobe change.'
She laughed. 'Well, we're going to Lucca.' Fleur gave him a wink, tugging her bonnet back down into place. 'Perhaps some Italian fashion will make you feel a little less out of place beside me.'
'A small city on the old Roman road, the Via Francigena.'
'Is it nice?'
Fleur's lips quirked into a small smile. 'I wouldn't take you there if it wasn't.' She held out her hand. 'Now, come on, Harry. Let's not waste our time together here.'
He glanced at her slim, pale fingers, then back at his grass-stained, calloused hands. 'Er…'
She rolled her eyes and seized his hand. 'I do not care, Harry.'
The world flashed to black and Harry found himself standing upon sun-soaked, crooked flagstones, surrounded by swaying green grass and the sweet scent of wild flowers. A steep hill rose over them, capped by orange-tiled houses, yellow walls, and the thrum of life.
'Welcome to Italy.' Fleur released his fingers and twirled in the sun. 'The only country more beautiful than Italy is France.'
'Aren't you a bit biased?' Harry asked.
A soft chuckle escaped her. 'If I weren't French, I might not say so.' She wriggled her toes in her sandals and picked her way from one smooth, worn flagstone to the next. 'Lucca is just up the hill from here, but the Via Francigena is pleasant in the sun; it's nice to walk where so many people have walked for so many hundreds of years.'
Harry followed her along the weathered Roman road as it cut through fields of swaying green buzzing with cicadas. Warm wind whispered past them, tugging at Fleur's summer dress as she ran her fingers through the flowers.
'I think I still like Crete more,' he said.
'That is because you've not tried the food.' Fleur pirouetted 'round and pointed one finger up at the hill above them. 'But I will continue to educate you, Harry. That's my responsibility as your tutor.'
Harry laughed and followed her up as the road turned to uneven steps, sinking down between steep, fern-swathed banks and the shade of slim elms. 'I think you just want an excuse to have some yourself.'
A smile flashed across Fleur's face and the indigo flower atop her hat fluttered in the breeze. 'There may be some truth in that.'
The path burst out of the trees through crumbling, thin-bricked walls and onto smooth cobbles. Square towers rose over lemon-painted walls, scooters whined past, and laughter rose from the café tables upon the pavement.
'One moment, Harry.' She pulled her wand out and tapped him upon either shoulder. 'There, now you don't need to fret.'
Harry's t-shirt shivered into a close-fitted, dark shirt and his worn, faded, stained jeans tightened into sea-green chinos. 'Is that permanent, or…?'
'They will not change back.' Fleur slipped her wand away and led him up the cobbles past the cafés, the scent of coffee and fresh-baked bread. 'Consider them a gift, if you like.'
The street opened out into a wide oval expanse surrounding a pale stone cathedral with a square tower and a towering, arched facade topped with green-bronze angels. Clothes shops and cafés lined the cobbles and an old, worn stone fountain burbled behind a circle of white stone bollards.
'Voila.' Fleur clapped her hands together, plucking her hat from atop her head and pointing it at a small cluster of tables in a sun-drenched corner. 'Lucca has a lovely piazza.'
'A lovely what?' Harry asked.
She laughed. 'Piazza. The square. That's what it's called.'
'Oh.' He glanced around. 'This one's not very square.'
'The buildings were built around the edge of the Roman amphitheatre; then, when it was pulled down and the cathedral built, the piazza kept its shape.' Fleur drifted toward the circular fountain, trailing her fingertips through the still water, leaving little ripples to spread across its surface. 'Time for your lesson, I think.'
Harry hurried after her to a seat next to a small, round metal table. 'What's today?'
She leant her head to one side, sending her silver hair tumbling over her shoulder. 'Have a look at the cathedral, think about the patterns.' Fleur placed her hat down on her seat. 'I'm going to go find something tasty.'
A small smile flickered across her lips. 'But of course.'
Harry watched her grey summer dress flutter around her legs as she weaved through the tables and vanished inside the café. I wish I could have more days like this. He smothered the brief surge of melancholy and let the sunlight soak into him. Maybe one day, I can find someone to go places like this with me again.
He turned his eyes to the cathedral, tracing them over the identical arches in the facade, the symmetrical columns, and the shining water in the fountain in the piazza's centre. Movement flickered in the shop next door; a shadow flitted past a shelf of summer hats.
'Spotted anything?' Fleur's fingers rested on his shoulder and a wash of sweet, sharp lemon reached Harry's nose.
'There're patterns, I guess. I'm not sure what I'm meant to be looking for.'
She set down a small bowl of pale, citrus-scented ice-cream and a pair of little, clear glasses. 'There're always patterns in the things we make.' Fleur swept her hat off her seat onto the table and lowered herself into the chair. 'Everything unnatural is built of patterns. This is true of magic, too.'
Harry frowned. 'I guess. I don't really see why that's important, though?'
Fleur picked up her spoon and scraped a thin sliver of ice-cream off the top, slipping it between her lips with a faint smile. 'You will.'
'I guess I've got everything you've taught me so far.'
She waved her spoon at him. 'You've done very well.'
Harry tracked the spoon back to her rose-pink lips, then dragged his eyes away. 'I wanted to do well, especially when you've been taking me places like this…'
Fleur shot him a warm smile. 'Well, today is Arithmancy.'
'Ah.' He grimaced. 'Hermione loves this subject, which probably means I'm going to be rubbish at it.'
'Your friend? The one who went to that Yule Dance with Krum?' A faint gleam shone in Fleur's eyes and she put the spoon down in her bowl. 'You are close with her?'
Harry shrugged. 'She's my best friend.'
'Does she take you to places as nice as this?'
'No.' He laughed. 'You're the only person that takes me places like this.' A little ball of emotion stuck in his throat. 'Which — I mean — I really appreciate.'
'I know.' Fleur reached out and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. 'No need to worry about speaking your heart with me, Harry. I will not hold it against you.'
'They feel like a dream.' The words tumbled off his tongue. 'And if they are, I hope I get to dream like this for a very long time.'
A small, soft smile curved Fleur's lips; she leant back and picked up her spoon. 'These little trips are that precious to you?'
'They're amazing.' Heat crept onto his face. 'All of it. The places you show me. The things you teach me.'
'I am glad you enjoy it.' She took another small mouthful of ice-cream as the breeze set her silver blonde hair playing across her face. 'Things are only as miserable as you let them be.'
'I think, if I'm lucky enough, I would like to come back to all these places one day with someone.'
Someone fantastic. Fleur's bright blue eyes flashed before the eye of his mind, shining in the Cretan sun. Snowflakes melted in her silver hair before fields of cool white and the taste of rich chocolate melted on his tongue. But I'd have to find someone like that first.
Harry caught her eye, then glanced away at her ice-cream. 'Is the ice-cream good?'
'It's lemon sorbet.' Fleur's lips quirked and she drew the tip of the spoon across her dessert, extending the handle of the spoon toward him. 'Here. Try it.'
'Are you sure?'
She laughed. 'Make the most of it, Harry. I rarely share sweet things with anyone.'
Lemon sorbet dissolved on the tip of his tongue, cool and sweet and sharp. 'It's really good.'
Fleur tapped the two little glasses with her finger. 'Just wait to try this.' She waggled her spoon at the cathedral. 'But, back to Arithmancy. Any magic we cast contains patterns; however, as magic is often less tangible than something like a building, they're harder to spot and study.'
'What do I need to know?' Harry asked.
She finished her sorbet in small spoonfuls, a thoughtful gleam hovering in her eyes. 'Arithmancy is about connecting dots. You might see something in one piece of magic, then something similar in another somewhere very different. The skill is being able to understand why they're similar, if there's a reason. The best way to learn that ability is to connect dots of things you're more familiar with.'
'Which doesn't sound easy.'
'It depends on where you start.' Fleur crossed her ankles beneath the table. 'And it's probably best to start with something you know well. Yourself.'
'Of course.' She toyed with the handle of her spoon, flicking it back and forth aling the edge of the bowl with the tip of her finger. 'What do you think you're worst at?'
'Worst at?' Harry wracked his brain. 'I mean, I'm not particularly smart, or funny, or attractive.'
'Confidence would be more accurate, I think.' Fleur's nose wrinkled. 'Your best friend, Hermione, she is confident?'
'You understand maybe now why you like her?'
Harry turned it over in his head. 'I guess I admire her confidence.'
'Exactement.' She turned the two glasses over and waved at the shadowed interior of the café. 'What do all the places you've been before I took you travelling have in common?'
'That's pretty much just Privet Drive and Hogwarts.' Harry chewed his lip. 'I guess, they're very, I don't know, structured?'
Fleur smiled. 'I would agree. Privet Drive is a prim, neat, muggle nest. Hogwarts is a school; it runs to a timetable and a schedule. There's always something expected coming, whether it's cutting the grass every weekend or your next lesson.'
'I suppose so.' He offered her a wry grin. 'Occasionally there're surprises. Tournaments.'
'From what I heard, being mixed up in something dangerous shouldn't have come as any surprise at all to you.'
He laughed. 'Yes. I guess that's true.'
She paused as a short-stubbled, tanned man strode over with a bright, yellow bottle. 'Grazie mille.'
The waiter smiled and poured lemon-hued, strong-smelling liquid into the two glasses. 'Enjoy your holiday,' he said with a faint Italian accent. 'If you have the chance, I recommend the café across the piazza, my wife works there so I can vouch for the baking.'
'Grazie.' Fleur pushed one of the glasses across the table with the tip of her finger. 'So, if those places are where you've spent all your time, why do you think you enjoy our little trips so much?'
'They're nice surprises.' Harry didn't have to think. 'They're free, relaxing, and fun.'
'And they come with my excellent company,' she added.
'Well, one of us has confidence,' he quipped.
A faint gleam flitted through Fleur's eyes as she raised her glass. 'Limoncello. You're underage, but this doesn't really count. One little glass isn't a big deal.'
Harry picked his drink up and breathed in the smell of it, blinking as tears sprang into his eyes. 'Is it nice?'
'I wouldn't have chosen it if it wasn't.' She tapped the rim of her glass against his. 'In one.'
Fleur tilted her head back and poured hers down her throat. Harry traced the pale curve of her neck down to where her silver hair fell over her slim collarbones and the swell of her breasts.
'You're meant to drink it at the same time, Harry.'
'Oh.' He tore his eyes away and tipped the limoncello into his mouth; it burnt his throat, bringing tears to his eyes as he spluttered. 'Sorry.'
A soft laugh escaped Fleur. 'I did the same thing. Wait for the aftertaste.'
Soft lemon suffused Harry's mouth as the burn faded. 'It's good.' He set the little glass down. 'What's the next step for the lesson?'
'I want you to keep joining dots.' She slid the two glasses together on the tables, then pulled a pair of euro notes out and tucked them underneath. 'As you're doing things, seeing things, just keep an open mind and try to connect up your observations. The way you think is more important than anything else.'
'That's it?' His heart sank as Fleur rose from her chair and picked up her hat. 'Already?'
Her eyes softened. 'It is not our last trip together, Harry.'
'Wait, before we leave. I want to get you something.' Harry grabbed a pile of spare serviettes and tugged his wand from his pocket, transfiguring them into a handful of notes identical to the ones she'd left on the table.
Fleur watched him with a small smirk and a strange glint in her eye. 'Forgery, Harry?'
He flushed. 'Well, I don't have any money.'
'I promise not to report you.' Her smile spread a little wider to reveal white teeth and the pink tip of her tongue. 'But only if my present is a good one.'
He darted into the shop next door and ran his eyes over the hats. His eyes fell upon a wide-brimmed hat ringed with a strip of blue ribbon and woven of slim strands of straw.
'Sixty.' The owner raised his head from his book by the till.
Harry glanced at the numbers on the notes in his hand. More than enough.
'Here.' He plucked the hat from the shelf and dropped the notes on the counter. 'Keep the change.'
Fleur arched an eyebrow as he returned. 'A hat? Why a hat?'
Harry winced and shuffled his feet on the cobbles. 'You're always wearing one, I thought you must like them.'
She flashed him a wide smile, then took her hat off her head and tucked it beneath her arm. 'Well done, you joined the dots well.'
He offered her the straw bonnet. 'No flower or bow, you'll have to find your own, I'm afraid.'
Fleur laughed and took the hat in one hand. 'I can manage that.' She slipped her other hand down the back of her dress, then pulled out a white feather the length of her finger. 'Not big enough.' She held it out. 'Hold this for me, Harry.'
Harry cupped it in his hands to stop the breeze from stealing it away.
She pulled out a feather twice the length, then slipped it through the blue ribbon and balanced the hat upon her silver hair. 'Parfait. Thank you, Harry.' Her blue eyes shone bright as sunlight off the Cretan sea. 'I like it a lot.'
'Your feather?' He extended his cupped hands toward her. 'Would you like it back?'
'Oh, just let it go. It's only a feather.'
Harry stared at the small tuft of pearl-white, then slipped it into his pocket.
Fleur's lips curved into a small smile. 'Let's wander through Lucca, shall we, Harry?'
Sunlight filtered through patches of thick grey clouds in stray beams. A faint rainbow hovered beyond small pine trees, the parallel rows of fences and chimneys, and the blurred veil of distant rain. Rays of bright light slipped through the rain-spotted glass and fell across the row of small, dark dots that marked the last eight days on his calendar.
Harry turned from the window and rummaged through his drawers for an owl treat, his fingers brushing smooth cardboard beneath the paper bag. He slipped the treat through the bars of the cage into Hedwig's eager beak, then swept aside pairs of socks to reveal a small, cardboard box. Flicking the lid away, he stared down at the small, white feather within.
I should throw it away; it's weird to keep it. His heart clenched. She'd probably not mind too much. It's just a feather.
'Boy.' A fist hammered on his door.
Harry scrambled the lid back on, buried it beneath the socks, and closed the drawer. 'Yes, Uncle Vernon?'
The door creaked open and Uncle Vernon's moustache poked through. 'Your aunt and I are going out this evening to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Dudley's staying with friends. I want you to watch the house while we're away, the neighbours said they saw some shifty folk in the area.'
'I'll be here.' A small smile crept on his lips. 'Unless Fleur comes, of course.'
Uncle Vernon twitched. 'Right. Yes. Her. Well, if she comes, then make sure you lock up properly before you disappear anywhere.' He pulled his head back out through the gap and slammed the door shut.
If… Harry flopped back onto his bed, balancing on the very edge and staring up at the swirls in the plaster. He pictured the still of the mountain lake and tried to draw its calm into him, but Fleur's little smile and the gleam in her eyes kept floating through his mind beneath an ever-changing gallery of hats.
A loud crack echoed through the room.
He flinched and thudded to the floor so hard the breath burst from his lungs. 'Ouch.' He groaned and rolled to his knees. 'Dobby, if that's you…'
A soft, familiar laugh rang out from above him. 'I'm rarely confused for a house elf, Harry.'
'Fleur!' Harry scrambled to his feet and brushed his clothes off. He found her leaning against the wall in the bar of sunlight; the white-feathered straw bonnet he'd bought her rested on her silver hair. 'I wasn't expecting you.'
'I'm sure I promised you more lessons.'
Harry nodded. 'I meant I wasn't expecting you to appear right in the middle of my bedroom.'
The corner of her mouth crooked into a smile. 'I thought it was unlikely I'd catch you undressed again.'
Heat crept onto his face. 'Fortunately, I'm actually wearing some clothes this time.'
Fleur swept a stray lock of silver away from her face with her little finger and winked at him. 'It's not that fortunate.'
Harry flushed. 'I — I — er — I have no response to that.'
She laughed and glanced around his room, tapping a finger on the small black crosses marking his calendar. 'Counting down the days, Harry?'
He stared at his feet, tugging on a pair of trainers from the cupboard and praying for the heat to fade from his cheeks. 'Where are we going?'
Fleur flashed him a bright smile. 'Gemenc. It is a very special forest in muggle Hungary.'
'Oh?' Harry dragged his gaze up from the floor. 'More special than Crete or Lucca?'
'That depends a bit on the person, I think.' She held out her hand. 'For me, it's about the same, but perhaps after today Gemenc will be more special.'
He glanced between her hand and the soft gleam in Fleur's blue eyes, his heart thudding against his ribs. Harry held his breath, then reached out and took her fingers in his.
Darkness closed over him.
Endless hues of green enveloped them like the Cretan heat. Moss-veiled oak trunks rose from lush swathes of emerald leaves, their branches spreading overhead like the vaulted ceiling of Lucca's cathedral, bedecked in verdant leaves. Slim, pale elm and ash trees rose between the ancient oaks and a small, deep stream burbled beneath the undergrowth. Birdsong drifted through the green from all around them.
'Beautiful, no?' Fleur stood atop a fallen trunk, a fistful of her blue summer dress in one hand. 'There aren't many forests like this left we can freely visit.'
'Old ones?' Harry's gaze dipped down the curve of Fleur's boots to where her feet rested between patches of mushrooms, then he tugged it back up to where the white feather fluttered above her ear. 'Is it really old?'
'Old and magical.' She crooked a finger at him. 'The path goes this way.'
'Path?' Harry swept his eyes over the endless emerald. 'What path?'
Fleur laughed and let her dress fall, pointing at a small, lichen-patterned, slim stone rising out of the green. 'That is the path.'
Harry trailed her through the green, picking his way 'round fallen trunks, patches of nettles, and tangles of brambles until he reached the stone. Faint spirals marked its surface beneath Fleur's fingers.
'This is a wardstone.' She tapped her finger on it. 'The forest beyond this point is magical.'
'There aren't any giant spiders, are there?' Harry asked, peering through the trees.
She tilted her head back and laughed. 'No, Harry. This is our forest. Wild, but beautiful.'
Fleur's lips quirked. 'I know you haven't forgotten, Harry.' She touched her fingertips to the feather on her hat. 'If this is not enough to give you a clue, then perhaps the other feather of mine you smuggled away will remind you.'
Harry flushed. 'Veela.'
'Yes.' Fleur stared through the trees with a faint smile on her lips. 'Once, my ancestors lived here among these trees; they snared muggles as they pleased, living free and fey. Very few veela live like that these days.'
'Is that why we're here?' he quipped. 'Have you snared me?'
She laughed. 'My ancestors' snare would steal the life and magic from you, Harry. They were wild creatures. You'd please them for a short time, then they'd tire of you and kill you.'
A touch of heat rose on his cheeks. 'Please as in…?'
A wicked gleam welled up in Fleur's eyes. 'Sex, Harry. Veela are whimsical, desire-driven creatures.'
Harry's heart squirmed, then began to race, hammering against his ribs. 'I can kind of see that — no offence.'
Her smile widened. 'No offence taken, Harry. I'm proud of what I am.' She drifted through the undergrowth toward the next stone. 'Fortunately for you, I'm only part-veela, and not inclined to ensnare and murder men.'
'A great relief,' Harry muttered. 'I've more than enough people trying to murder me.'
'I wouldn't be too relieved, Harry.' Fleur glanced back over her shoulder and pushed the brim of her hat up. 'You remember what I'm looking for? A boy who'll want a family one day, but not quite yet, and let me be me?'
'I'm sure you'll find one,' he murmured.
'Maybe when you're older, I'll come find you again, Harry.' A small smile curved Fleur's rose-pink lips. 'I enjoy our times together a lot; it's nice to be appreciated. I'd like to think that the boy I do eventually end up with would appreciate me in the same way.'
Harry's heart leapt into his mouth. That boy won't be you. You're too young.
He swallowed it back down and offered her as much of a smile as he could manage. 'If you come find me again, you have to promise not to murder me until after you've taken me to visit more amazing places like this.'
Fleur cocked her head, a lock of her hair slipping from under her bonnet and dangling over her eyes. 'That seems fair.' A little smile played across her lips and she shot him a wink. 'A deal, then. In ten years, if nothing's changed for either of us, I will come find you.'
Harry's heart lurched. 'Deal,' he whispered.
'Now.' She drew him off the path and through a carpet of sweet-smelling wild garlic toward a gnarled, half-dead oak as broad as Lucca cathedral's square tower. 'Today, I'm going to get you to learn about herbology and potions.'
Harry grimaced. 'Not my favourites.'
'Nor mine.' Fleur wrinkled her nose. 'The potions never taste nice.'
He chuckled. 'You can't modify them?'
'There's no spoonful of sugar big enough to help some of the medicines go down easily.' She shuddered. 'Apparently, the potion to stop witches getting pregnant at an inconvenient time tastes better than all the rest.'
A few snatches of Fleur and faceless, tall, handsome boys crept through his thoughts; his stomach churned and knotted like it was full of snakes. 'I guess there was more motivation to get witches to drink it.' A little distaste crept into his tone and he focused on the white-edged ivy veiling the oak tree until his stomach stilled. 'So where are we starting?'
A small frown wrinkled Fleur's brow and she drifted away from him through the garlic to rest a hand on the tree. 'Herbology's about magical plants. Most often, we're taught about pieces of magical plants like they're ingredients in a cookbook, because we're focused on how we use them.'
I upset her. Harry took a deep breath. Idiot. It's none of your business what she does, anyway.
'In truth, the magic of plants is intertwined with that of the natural world. It ebbs and flows throughout this forest like the tide of the sea, shifting with the phases of the moon, the seasons, and the creatures that pass beneath the leaves here.'
He chewed his lip. 'Is that why this forest is special? Your ancestors have been here for so long the magic of the forest has changed because of them.'
Fleur's smile returned. 'Very well deduced, Harry. My ancestors made this forest their playground. The wizards called it Dreamers' Green once upon a time.'
'Beautiful, but wild,' Harry murmured.
'It's been a long while since veela lived here in numbers, the effects of our magic has mostly faded from all but the oldest places.' Fleur rested a hand on the trunk of the vast oak. 'Sometimes, however, you can still see the echo of it.'
She caught his eye and pursed her lips. 'Would you like to see?'
A little thrill shot through Harry; he nodded. 'Everything you've shown me has been amazing.'
Fleur's lips twitched. 'Don't move from where you are, please, Harry. If you have to put your fingers in your ears, I won't think badly of you.'
Harry's gut knotted. 'Why would—'
Fleur twirled round and slipped her dress off her shoulders. The blue cotton tumbled to the small of her back, revealing smooth, pale skin and the black lace strap of her bra. She plucked her hat off her head and hung it from a branch beside her, then reached back and unclipped her bra, sliding it from her shoulders and hooking it beside her hat.
The breath slipped from Harry's lungs, his heart lurched, and his pulse raced. Is she going to turn 'round?
A soft hum rose from Fleur's lips, drifting through the wood, and the birdsong stilled. A shiver rippled through the green.
'It remembers our magic, this place.' She resumed her tune, raising the tempo until Harry's heart beat in time and his blood sang.
His thoughts swirled with her bright blue eyes, the curve of her full, rose-pink lips, the swell of her breasts, and line of her hips. 'I see what you meant about putting my fingers in my ears.'
She's not going to turn around. Stop thinking about it. Harry clenched his jaw and held his breath, but her song tugged at his thoughts like the mountain wind at La Victoire. The line of her collarbone, the curve of her throat, and the wicked gleam he'd glimpsed in her eyes played through his mind. A fierce urge to run his fingers over her, to press his lips to the back of her neck and wrap his arms around her, seized him.
I'd give her anything she asked for. Anything I thought she might want to ask for. A bittersweet ache crept in amongst thoughts of her. But she's not asked me to touch her. She asked me to stay here.
White feathers uncurled from beneath Fleur's skin, pearl-bright wings spread across the glade above the wild garlic. The forest shuddered and darkened, her tune turned soft and haunting, slipping through his skin and coiling round his heart.
'See.' She twirled 'round, one arm across her breasts; her wing-tips brushing the branches above. Fleur's blue eyes glowed with a wild, wicked gleam. 'See.'
The bottom dropped out of Harry's stomach. 'I'm never going to forget seeing,' he whispered.
She laughed and the corner of her lips curved into a little smirk. 'I know.' She spun back 'round and the wings slid beneath her skin. 'Just in case you were thinking about trying to wriggle out of our ten year deal.'
Harry took a deep breath to try and still his heart as the forest lightened once more and the birds' song resumed. 'We don't have to wait ten years,' he blurted.
Fleur slipped her bra back on, clasped it, and fixed her dress. 'You're very sweet, Harry.' She plucked her hat from the branch and placed it back atop her head. 'And you did very well to resist my song without covering your ears. I was a little worried you'd try to touch me.'
Harry shook his head and flushed. 'It wouldn't have been right.'
She cocked her head. 'Did you want to?'
He stared down into the garlic.
Fleur slipped back to his side and lifted his chin with a single finger. A soft light hovered in her blue eyes. 'You did, didn't you?'
'You're very pretty,' Harry whispered. 'And your song…'
She smiled, then lifted her hat off her head and placed it on his. 'Don't be embarrassed, Harry. Anyone older than about thirteen would've done. Very few would have restrained themselves. Can I ask you why you did?'
'I — er — I wanted to give you what you wanted,' he murmured. 'And you never said you wanted me to touch you. You said stay here...'
Fleur adjusted her hat on his head and the faint echo of that wild light flickered through her eyes as she leant close, her lips brushing his cheek. 'And if I'd said I did?'
Eight little crosses marked the calendar as July turned to August, faint shadows in the gloom behind the curtains. A thin bar of bright light fell across the carpet onto the pearl-white feather adorning Fleur's hat upon the back of his door.
Which I guess she didn't like so much after all, as she didn't keep it. Harry tried to smother images of the vast oak tree, Fleur's spread wings and pale skin, and the echo of his singing blood. I shouldn't have said anything. She's probably not coming back now.
He jumped up from the edge of his bed and tore the calendar off the wall, kicking it beneath his bed. He plucked Fleur's hat from the back of his door and tucked it into a drawer. 'Back to normal. As if it never happened.' Harry took a deep breath. 'There's only a few weeks of the summer left, anyway.'
Hedwig cracked open an amber eye and let out a soft hoot.
'Sorry, girl.' He shot her a small smile. 'I keep waking you up with all my brooding — don't I?'
Hedwig's eye slipped shut again.
I need to get out of this room and this house. He wrestled with a flash of Cretan sun, the echo of sweet lemon sorbet on his tongue, and the scent of wild garlic. I need to be there again, with someone like her, somehow...
The doorbell chimed.
Fleur. Harry's heart lurched. What if she's just come to say goodbye?
His feet dragged him down the stairs to the door and he tugged it open with a raw, hot tangle of thorns thrashing in his gut.
The postman grinned at him. 'Reckon you've finally got what you were waiting for, lad.' He passed Harry a stack of envelopes with one hand, then waved one more in his other. 'This is very girly handwriting.'
Harry dropped the stack of post on the phone table and took the last letter with trembling fingers.
'Hope it's good.' The postman gave him a wave and strode off.
'I don't think it is,' Harry muttered, pushing the door closed with his foot. 'She always just turned up before.' He turned the letter over and found his name in slim, slanted script on the white paper. 'Well, it's not from Hermione…'
It's probably goodbye. His heart sank as he drifted up the stairs back to his room, trying to muster the determination to tear it open.
He peeled the flap off the envelope and tugged the letter out. 'Harry.' He took a deep breath and focused on one word at a time. 'I think I probably owe you an apology, but I didn't want to show up uninvited to give it. Instead, I invite you to our next lesson by way of this portkey letter. Please do come, if only to let me explain.' He turned it over. 'The word is limoncello.'
Harry sprawled into long, dry, warm grass. He sighed and rested his forehead onto a patch of daisies. 'I hate magical travel.'
'Not your smoothest landing?' Fleur's hand appeared before him.
He scrambled to his feet. 'I'm sorry—'
'Non.' She shook her head and her grey beret slipped to one side. 'You have nothing to be sorry for, you reacted to my magic just as I knew you would. In fact, you controlled yourself very well.' She sighed. 'Using my magic like that does give my wilder side a bit more free reign. You're very sweet, Harry, and, at that moment, I rather wanted to get you to say more nice things. I'm sorry, it probably made you very uncomfortable, most men don't like that I'm able to do that to them.'
Harry caught her eye and smiled. 'It's ok. I was just worried I'd upset you. I didn't want to offend you, not when you've shown me so many wonderful places and taught me so much.'
Fleur's lips curved into a smile. 'I was not offended.' She tilted her head back and laughed. 'I would've been more upset if you'd not reacted.'
Relief flooded through Harry. 'So what's the lesson this time?'
'We should probably do herbology and potions properly.' She flashed him a smile. 'But I think it'd be best to wait for that, no?'
He nodded. 'Maybe. I don't really like Potions.'
'Come with me, then.' Fleur reached out and took his hand, tugging him through the grass.
A huge aqueduct ran along the line of the field, crumbling at the boundary. Water cascaded down from the breach to flow past white pebbles and the swaying fronds of a willow tree.
'Where are we?' Harry asked.
'This is Béni. We're in the South of France.' She led him through the grass and ducked beneath the willow branches. 'The aqueduct is Roman, of course.' Fleur released his hand and slipped round the trunk. 'And this, this is much older.'
Harry edged round after her. A small, squat, stone well sat in the shade of the willow.
'It's a wishing well. Béni is named after it.' Fleur flicked a shining, silver sickle at him and Harry swiped it from the air. 'You throw a coin in it, or anything really, and you make a wish.'
He peered down into the dark of the well. 'Any wish?'
A faint smile played across her lips. 'A perfect wish. A wish of the heart. Many people used to come here and wish for romance according to the stories. Some still do.'
Harry weighed the sickle in his hand and eyed the water. 'Do you want your coin back?'
'Keep it. It's only a sickle.' Fleur's smile widened a fraction and her eyes flicked to the well. 'Throw it away, if you like…'
He tucked it into his pocket. 'So if it's not herbology...?'
'Charms.' She jumped up and caught the willow branch above her head, then swung herself up and kicked off her boots, dangling her bare feet before Harry's face. 'Come up. There's room for two.'
Harry grabbed the branch and dragged himself onto it. 'Charms?'
'I saved the best until last,' Fleur murmured.
His heart plummeted. 'Last?'
'Well, not quite.' She sighed and pulled her wand out. 'But it's nearly time for me to go back home and face my parents' I told you so, Fleur.'
Harry grimaced. 'Sorry.'
'Don't be.' Fleur offered him half a smile. 'It's not your fault I can't seem to find a boy that appreciates me and doesn't immediately want to shut me away in a house to have children.'
'Well, I'm sorry that's how it is.'
'It's fine.' She flashed him a smile. 'I have a back up plan, don't I, Harry?'
He chuckled. 'There's a good chance Voldemort will have killed me before ten years have passed.'
Fleur's brow creased and the smile faded from her lips. 'I suppose that's just about worse than having to listen to my parents' nagging.' She raised her wand and tapped him on the knee, turning his jeans pink. 'Charms are temporary, fleeting magic. Like the summer.'
Like this summer. Harry reached for his wand, but his fingers dipped into an empty pocket. Bollocks.
'I don't have my wand.'
She arched an eyebrow at him, then reversed her wand and held it out. 'Use mine.'
Harry stared at the polished rosewood. 'Are you sure?'
Fleur pushed it into his fingers and wrapped her hand around his until he held it tight. 'I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't.' She patted her hand on his pink knee. 'As I was saying, charms are temporary. They're like a thin veil of magic over reality, and, eventually, the veil fades. Try turning your clothes a different colour. No need to bother with an incantation, just imagine it.'
Harry swallowed and raised her wand, picturing dark blue and tapping himself on the thigh. His jeans turned purple and he frowned.
'A nice colour.' Fleur shot him a glance, then laughed. 'Not what you were aiming for, Harry?'
'I was going for blue.'
'You needed a stronger charm.' Fleur tugged her wand out of his hand. 'Your charm should be layered over mine and strong enough to hide it.'
'How do I undo it?' Harry asked.
'Finite incantatem.' She tapped him on the knee and his jeans reverted to normal. 'The spell, if you can call it that, just disperses any magic nearby. The stronger the magic, the harder it is to disperse.'
He nodded. 'Makes sense.' Harry stared through the willow fronds at the swaying grass. 'So charms don't last forever?'
'No,' Fleur murmured. 'They're nice little pieces of magic, but fleeting.'
A soft ache rose from his chest. 'How do you make things last?'
'Enchanting.' She slipped her wand away and held his gaze with a sharp gleam in her blue eyes. 'It's a difficult skill. Things aren't really meant to last forever, Harry. It's hard to get the magic to stay. You have to really want it to.'
'I guess you're not going to have time to teach me that.'
'We have a couple more times together left before the summer ends.' Fleur rested her shoulder against his and closed her eyes. 'Let's just enjoy them.'
Harry dipped his hand into his pocket and eased out the sickle. I don't want it to end. He let the sickle slide through his fingers.
A flash of silver vanished into the dark of the well and a faint splash echoed back up.
Fleur's eyes slid open. 'What did you wish for?'
'For the next ten years to go by quickly.' He offered her a grin. 'If I'm really lucky, a very beautiful girl's going to come looking for me.'
She held his gaze and Harry's heart picked up its beat. 'Perhaps I ought to wish for something, too.' Fleur dipped a hand down the front of her blue dress and pulled out another silver coin. She held it out past him, then let it drop down into the gloom. 'There.'
'Are you going to tell me what you wished for?' Harry asked.
'It's not supposed to come true if you do.'
'Oh.' Something clamped tight round his throat. 'Good thing we weren't serious, then.'
Fleur's brow creased and her lips pursed. 'Well, my wish might still come true.'
A soft laugh escaped her. 'That's not a romantic wish, Harry.'
'Hoping for the right boy?' His stomach churned like a barrel of furious snakes. 'Well, I hope you find him and get everything you want.'
'So do I,' Fleur murmured. 'Make sure you bring your wand next time, Harry. And my hat. I like that hat.'
'You really like it?'
She reached up and patted the top of her beret. 'I like hats. They're cute.' Fleur yawned. 'I should get you a hat, or some nicer glasses.'
'Do I get any say in it?' Harry asked.
Fleur wiggled her toes in the sunlight that filtered through the willow leaves. 'You can choose. Hat or glasses.'
He weighed it up. 'Glasses. I'll always be able to wear them. I won't look as cute as you do in nice hats.'
'Good choice.' She yawned again, then swung herself 'round on the branch and dropped her head into his lap; her beret flopped onto his thigh and her silver hair pooled over his legs, hanging down from the branch. 'If I fall asleep, don't let me fall out of the tree.'
'I wouldn't.' Harry chewed his lip. 'But I'm not sure I can catch you.'
'Here.' Fleur pushed her wand into his hand and closed her eyes. 'Now you can.'
Harry balanced the rosewood on his palm and stared down at her. Fleur's chest rose and fell in a smooth, even rhythm and her breathing steadied.
I hope whichever girl I end up seeing the world with is as amazing as you. He swept a stray lock of hair off her face and behind her ear.
'Merci,' she murmured. 'It was tickling.'
He flushed. 'I thought you were sleeping.'
'I am not.' Fleur wriggled in his lap and released a soft, contented sigh. 'That would be a waste of our time together.'
Aunt Petunia's teaspoon rattled around the inside of her rose-patterned mug as she stared out at where Uncle Vernon wrestled with the gazebo. Dudley clutched the bag in his fists, slouching in the weak morning sun streaming over the fence.
'Is she coming today?'
Harry snorted and wrapped Uncle Vernon's mug up in his damp tea-towel. 'Fleur's not going to want to stay for your barbecue, Aunt Petunia.'
She sniffed and fished the teabag out of her mug. 'You don't know that; it's going to be a very nice affair. I made a new type of salad dressing.'
'Well, unless it's almost entirely made of sugar, or possibly lemons, there's very little chance it will tempt her.' He watched the tea creep across the stainless steel basin and slid Uncle Vernon's mug back onto the shelf. 'And why stay here all day, when we can go see anywhere in the world?'
'Family.' Aunt Petunia folded her arms and set her spoon down in the sink with a sharp click. 'You're just like your mother. One whiff of something you find exciting, and you leave everyone else behind.'
Harry levelled her with a flat stare. 'I seem to remember being left behind here an awful lot when I was younger and the Dursley family had somewhere they wanted to go...'
Aunt Petunia flinched. 'That's—'
The doorbell chimed.
Harry folded his tea-towel in half and hung it through the oven door. 'Enjoy your barbecue, Aunt Petunia.'
She watched him go with thinned lips.
Harry pulled the door open.
Fleur's silver hair cascaded down over the shoulders of her slate-grey dress like the water from Béni's aqueduct. 'Ready?'
She laughed. 'You still have my hat.'
'Oh. Right.' Harry chewed his lip. 'Give me one moment.' He darted up the stairs, plucking Fleur's feathered, straw bonnet off the door and hurrying back down. 'Here.'
'Merci.' Fleur took it from his fingers and placed it atop her head with a small smile. 'What about my other feather?'
He flushed. 'Do you want it back?'
A small smile played across her lips. 'So you do still have it.'
Harry squirmed. 'Yes.' A touch of melancholy crept through the heat on his cheeks. 'I thought it'd be nice to have something to remind me of this summer.'
Fleur's brow furrowed. 'Yes. Not too many lessons left now...'
His heart sank a little in his chest. Don't waste the last bit of time with her being sad. You can be sad afterward.
'Where are we going?' Harry asked.
She reached out and took his hand. 'Vatnajokull.'
'Bless you,' he quipped.
A soft laugh burst from Fleur's lips. 'Let's go, Harry. Vatnajokull is not the only place we're going to go today. I want to make the most of our last few times together.'
Darkness flashed past him.
Snow-dusted peaks rose over a river of crevassed, white ice into a bright blue sky. A cool wind tugged at his clothes, sending ripples across Fleur's grey dress and setting the white feather in her hat fluttering.
'Have you ever seen a glacier before?'
Harry shook his head.
Fleur's hand shifted in his loose grip and her fingers slipped between his. 'Let's explore, then.'
Pitch black closed over Harry, then he stumbled and slipped over smooth, hard ground.
Fleur's grasp tightened and she tugged him back against her. 'Careful, Harry,' she murmured into his ear.
His breath caught and his pulse raced; a thrill rushed through him, drawing a flash of her standing in Gemenc's forest with her dress around her waist and her wings spread before his mind's eye. Don't think about that. He closed his eyes and held his breath. It's not going to help at all. Harry re-opened his eyes.
Gleaming curves and hollows of ocean-blue ice spread in all directions like a vast hall of stained glass; tunnels and passages snaked away down into the dark or up into brightness.
Fleur rested her other arm on his shoulder and her chin atop it, her hair tumbling over the back of his neck. 'Beautiful, non?'
'It's amazing,' he whispered.
'Iceland is one of the most scenic places I've ever been.'
'You saved it for the end.'
Fleur's quiet laughter tickled the side of his neck. 'It was meant to be instead of Gemenc, but that morning I felt like taking you to the forest instead.'
'So whimsical,' Harry quipped.
Her arm slipped 'round his chest. 'And here you are, ensnared and alone. My ancestors would be proud, I think.'
He held his breath and turned his head until his cheek brushed hers. 'If you're going to murder me like they would, can you do it at the end of our last time together?'
'If I murdered you, then who would I come looking for in ten years' time?' Fleur straightened up and stepped away from him. 'Let's go explore.'
She led him through the ice tunnels, striding across the glass-smooth surface in her boots like it was soft carpet, drifting through endless hues of rippling blue ice sculptures.
Harry picked his way after her, his fingers still caught in hers. 'Were you planning on teaching me anything?'
Fleur paused and cocked her head. 'I can? If you like?'
A faint heat crept to his face. 'I like listening to you explain things. It always makes sense, and — and…'
A soft little glimmer appeared in her blue eyes. 'And what would you like to learn?'
'Anything,' he murmured.
Fleur's lips quirked. 'Perhaps a little wandless magic?'
'I don't know if I can do that.'
She pursed her lips and glanced at the ice around them. 'Let's go to our next spot for this.'
Black flashed before Harry's eyes, then the cool breeze picked back up. Faint spray flecked his chest and glistened on Fleur's lashes. A wide expanse of green rose up to a grey stone crag, where white water spilt over its edge in a thunderous curtain.
'Seljalandsfoss.' Fleur pointed their joined hands toward it, wandering forward. 'You can walk 'round behind it, but it's a bit cold and wet in the wind.'
It probably looks better from a distance, anyway.
'Wandless magic is rare.' Fleur led him to a small stone path beside the gleaming ribbon of water curving away from the pool beneath the crag. 'There aren't many who can use it.'
The breeze whisked soft spray past them into the clear sky.
'You can.' Harry smothered the memory of her white wings spread before the oak, but his heart picked up its pace regardless. 'You have.'
Her lips curved. 'My magical heritage allows me to do far more than most. You've felt the call of my song, Harry...'
A little shiver rippled through him and a touch of heat rose onto his cheeks. 'Yes.'
'And you've seen my wings.' A wild glimmer flitted through Fleur's eyes. 'I can also do this.' She raised the fingers of her free hand, her nails darkening and curving into talons three times the size of Hedwig's.
'Useful for murdering enchanted men,' he quipped.
'But mostly used for opening chocolate boxes and taking the labels off dresses.' Fleur winked and the talons slipped back into her skin. 'Though it tingles a lot when I change.'
'Well, I don't have a handy magical creature side.' Harry frowned. 'So I guess I'm out of luck there.'
'You can speak Parseltongue.' She released his fingers and rubbed at the fingertips of her left hand. 'That is wandless magic. Usually, though, wandless magic is not so different from the accidental magic of a child.'
'So I just try and do it?'
Fleur shook her head. 'Magic can't be easily moulded without a wand, I won't pretend I completely understand why, but that's how it is. Accidental magic is usually how it starts, once you've done it once, you can learn to mimic it. Did you manage any accidental magic as a child?'
'I grew my hair back once.' He patted his crown of tufts. 'But I think it's already bad enough without getting any longer.'
She laughed and ran her fingers through his hair. 'It's not so bad. Messy is good. I like messy.'
Harry strained his memory. 'I inflated my Uncle Vernon's sister once.'
Fleur arched an eyebrow. 'I would rather not be inflated, Harry. I'm happy with how I am.'
Of course you are, you're amazing.
'And once I managed to appear on a roof.' He shrugged. 'That's about it.'
She blinked. 'You apparated?'
'Yes.' He shrugged. 'Maybe?'
'Do you remember how you felt?' Fleur asked. 'If you can recapture that feeling, then perhaps throwing enough magic at it might work.'
Harry grimaced. 'I wanted to get away.'
She flashed him a smile. 'Well, perhaps this isn't the best place to learn that, anyway. You could end up anywhere.'
A small smile crept onto his lips. 'I'm quite happy here.'
Fleur's hand slipped to her cleavage, then her brow wrinkled. 'Do you trust me, Harry?'
'There's something I meant to give you, but I left it behind after I changed.' Fleur stepped back and touched a finger to her wand. 'I'll be back in a minute.'
A loud crack echoed off the crag.
I should get her something, too. Harry glanced round, then grabbed a rock from the river and pulled out his wand. Something Fleur will like. He recalled the sweet lemon sorbet melting on his tongue and waved his wand at the rock.
Sorbet dripped through his fingers and splashed into the river. Harry touched his tongue to it, wincing as the sharpness burnt his tongue. He washed his hand clean in the river, transfigured a second rock into a small bowl, and tried again.
Fleur appeared in front of him with another violent crack, one hand behind her back. 'Did you forget a spoon?'
Harry balanced the bowl on his palm and tucked his wand away. 'I hadn't transfigured one yet.'
'Did you transfigure the sorbet?' She stepped forward and studied the pale, yellow dessert. 'It looks good.'
'I can't make any guarantees that it tastes good'.
Fleur dipped the end of her little finger in it and licked the drop of sorbet off it with the tip of her tongue. She shivered, scrunching up her face. 'I can tell you've only ever tried it once. That's a bit too much lemon.'
Harry's gut twisted itself into a hot tangle. 'Sorry.'
She shook her head. 'Don't be sorry, I appreciate the thought.' A mischievous gleam appeared in her eye. 'However, as your first and last piece of homework, you're to practice until you can do it perfectly. That way, in ten years time, I will be a lucky girl.'
A faint smile flitted across Harry's lips, then the humour faded. 'At least ten years is a long time to practice.'
Fleur nodded. 'It is.' She pulled her hand from behind her back and waggled a black leather case at him. 'Some much nicer frames.'
Harry flicked the case open and let the frames slide out onto his palm. Cool, dark square metal rested on his hand. A pair of slim, silver letters marked the corner of them. 'You put your initials on them?'
'I made them.' Fleur leant her head to one side then flicked her wand.
Harry's glasses vanished and everything further away than her face became a blur. Cool metal settled back on the bridge of his nose and the waterfall shifted back into focus.
'Much better.' She waved her wand and both his old frames and the bowl of sorbet turned to water. 'Now, our time together is trickling away. Let's go see another waterfall.'
'It's always been trickling away,' he said. 'We're just almost out of sand, now.'
Fleur's face fell a fraction. 'All good things, Harry,' she murmured. 'All good things.'
Rain drummed on the roof, gurgling through the guttering, and a fading moon gleamed in the pale-blue morning sky.
Harry tugged the calendar back off the wall and stared at the single, blank square of summer left. He weighed the pen in his hand, then set it back down on the shelf, rolled the calendar up, and stuffed it into the bin in the corner.
Today is the last day I'll see Fleur. He poked his glasses up his nose with one finger and let his heart sank down into the dark. Forever.
A loud pop echoed through his room.
'Fleur,' he murmured.
She stood in the centre of his room, smoothing the front of her black dress with both hands and wearing a small frown. 'I'm afraid, Harry, I don't have long today.' Her lips pursed. 'I made the mistake of taking all my things back to France before coming to see you, now Maman expects to see me for lunch.'
'That's ok.' He watched the white feather sticking from the blue ribbon flutter in the breeze from the window and let the dull ache in his chest tear through him. 'We're already out of time.'
Fleur's eyes softened. 'Not quite yet, Harry.' She held out her hand. 'I did save the best place for last.'
Harry sighed and stared at her fingers. 'Where are we going?'
She stepped forward and took his hand. 'Verona. Italy.'
Dark closed around Harry, then he staggered across worn, smooth cobbles in gentle heat. Mismatched marble and brick arches spanned the broad river and pastel-orange buildings spread away beneath a white church tower on the far bank.
Fleur led him down the broad, cobbled steps onto the bridge.
He let the Italian sun and the scent of cypress trees soak into him. 'Why's Verona the best place?'
She drew him along the bridge to a niche in the centre, then leant over the edge and stared down into the water. 'This is the Ponte Pietra, the oldest bridge in Verona. Grand-mére met Grand-pére here, during the flight of many of our people from Eastern Europe as Grindelwald's war spread. Maman was born here, and took Papa here when she first met him.'
A very personal place. A soft thrill rushed through him. Like Gemenc.
Fleur glanced to either side of her, then slipped her wand out and transfigured two small pebbles into cardboard cones topped with pale, yellow ice and green leaves. 'I'm not sure what this is called. I had it when I was a little girl in Sicily and remember the recipe.'
'What's in it?' He accepted the second one.
She smiled and tucked her wand away. 'Crushed ice, lemon, sugar, and mint leaves. It's good.' Fleur took a small bite and crunched the ice with a bright gleam in her eyes. 'I'm going to try adding limoncello instead of lemon juice and sugar next time.'
Harry glanced down into the rushing water, taking a small bite of his own. Soft, sweet lemon melted on his tongue in a cool rush. 'So, are you going to teach me how to build a bridge?'
Fleur shook her head, sending ripples through her silver hair, and crunched her way through her ice-cone. 'No, I'm going to tell you a little about warding.'
'New topic.' He watched the birds hop along the rocks in the shade of the bridge and took another little bite of his ice-cone. The lemon washed over his tongue with a hint of fresh mint. 'I don't know anything about warding.'
She placed the leftover cardboard cone on the wall, tapping it with her wand and watching a small puddle of water evaporate in the sun. 'I like warding. I like how it works.'
Harry finished his ice-cone down and transfigured the cardboard into a lop-sided white feather; the breeze snatched it off the wall and away into the water. 'Care to share, Miss Delacour?'
'Warding is like building an arch.' Fleur patted the middle stone of the bridge. 'When you build an arch, you put all the other stones in, then the keystone. The keystone keeps it all together. It's the same with wards, all the different bits of magic folded together, then the key, to keep them all tied in place.''
'That makes sense.' Harry shot her a grin. 'Give or take the fact I've no idea what the pieces of magic actually are, how they work, or how to make them.'
Fleur's lips quirked. 'Warding is good. Even though there's all the different pieces doing different things, there's one thing that makes sure it won't ever fall apart.' Small wrinkles appeared on her brow. 'If only life was like that.'
Harry studied the twist of her lips from the corner of his eye. 'Maybe you just need to find that one thing. Once you've found it, everything will fall into place.''
'I hoped it would be my family, but Maman and Papa want me to be just like them, and Gabrielle's just too young to talk to.'
'Well.' He leant across and bumped her shoulder with his. 'If you're really nice to me and very patient, then in ten years…'
Fleur's lips twitched. 'I've come to enjoy our little moments together very much and I can be patient if I want to, be careful what you promise, Harry…'
Harry's heart picked up its pace, pounding against his ribs. 'I stand by what I said,' he murmured. 'You do what you want to do. If that's to be patient...'
She turned to face him; a soft gleam hovered in her blue eyes. 'And if I said I don't want to stop doing this?'
'I don't want to stop either.' His heart rose up into his mouth and the rest of the words caught on the tip of his tongue. 'But—'
'But what?' Fleur rested her hand upon his, her fingers curling tight around his palm. 'It only has to end if we let it end. I don't want to let it end. I want to wander these streets with you, to eat ice cream, drink limoncello, and take you to all the places I love, then find new ones together.'
Which would be perfect. Harry wrestled with a tight, bright knot of hope and a hammering heart. Only, I'm not sure you mean what I want you to mean.
'Whimsical veela,' he quipped. 'I think you know my answer, if that was even a question.'
She leant across and rested a hand on the other side of the niche. 'I'm not asking for a friend to travel the world with, Harry.' A bright, wild glimmer returned to her eye and she leant in so close the tip of her nose brushed his; a thrill raced through him at the wash of her breath against his lips. 'I'm not looking for a student.'
Harry swallowed and held his breath. 'What are you looking for?'
'Ten years is too long,' Fleur whispered. 'I like the way you look at me. I like how precious spending time with me is to you. I like how you felt the call of my song, and still only thought of what I wanted. I took you to Gemenc and you stared in wonder when most would've feared how I might influence them or others. I warned you that things are hard to make last and you didn't flinch. I've brought you here, to the same bridge Grand-pére and Papa made their choices on, to give you your own choice. Yes. Or no.'
Yes. His lips refused to move and his stomach clenched. But what if it's not what I think...
'So, five years?' He tried to smile. 'Three years?'
Fleur pressed her lips to his. Her tongue traced his lower lip and her breath tasted of sweet, soft lemon. She drew back, a soft gleam mingling with the fey glimmer in her blue eyes. 'Now. Or never.'
'Now,' Harry whispered. 'And forever.'
AN: Hope you enjoyed it, check out my profile for links to my Discord, website, and other works!