I said three chapters. Turns out I'm a liar again. Sweet.
Thank you to NerdDragonVoid and x102reddragon who beta read the chapter.
This is a prologue to Different Roads, of the kiss we didn't get to see.
I hope you enjoy it! Stay safe!
"She was scared of the water, so I helped her learn how to swim. Or to swim better anyways, and then she kissed me again."
The bitter chill of dusk was pervasive despite the months of winter passing them by, their dream of spring dashed by the biting calamity. In the face of such, however, Harry's resolve hadn't wavered. It'd been prepared for, relentlessly and meticulously, and finally, the day had dawned.
His walk to the Beauxbatons carriages had always filled him with a hope unable to be dashed by glares that, even after the Second Task, were scornful and mocking. She was down there and, in months like these, she was the best friend he had.
Powder-blue and elegant, the Champions carriage, while smaller than the main, still rose over the frosty Hogwarts grounds like a skyscraper. The lights within flickered as Harry mounted the steps and rapped on the door with his knuckles.
"Coming!" A familiar voice called from within. Harry could hear the bustling and soft, tinkling laughter of a child.
In the interim, Harry procured his wand, basking in perpetual warmth before he attempted to spread it.
"Caldus," he muttered lightly, dragging the tip of his wand down his cloak-covered sternum.
The effect was instantaneous. The cold that had worked its way through his layers to nip and numb flesh vanished, his limbs regaining their full feeling. Harry clenched his hands to expedite the process and stowed his wand back into his cloak pocket.
Somehow, despite all his magical prowess, the tip of his nose remained cold. No matter how many times he practised the spell or how cold he was, it didn't cooperate.
Harry peered to the tip of his red nose, trying to rub some heat into it. It was this position, squeezing his nose and cross-eyed, that Fleur Delacour opened the door to.
Their staring at one another was short-lived, her lips struggling not to quirk upwards. He broke first and dropped his hands, smiling.
"I thought you were Madame Maxime," Fleur said, her lips finally morphing into a smirk.
Harry snorted, "you know," he said. "I like to think I'm slightly taller."
Fleur cocked her head and squinted at him, appraising his form with a quick up-and-down. "Yeah, give or take a few inches."
"I was j—" Harry began but the words were stolen out from under him.
"Who is it?" A smaller voice called from within.
"-ust wondering." Harry finished, though Fleur turned her attention away from him in search of the other occupant.
There was a pause for a brief moment, a complete and utter silence that saturated the carriage.
One. He counted.
"HARRY!" The pitter-patter of little footsteps was deceptively quiet for the small, silver bullet that wormed her way past her sister in the doorway and jumped to hug him.
"Hey Gabby," Harry offered with a short laugh, patting the girl's back.
She pulled back from the embrace and looked up at him, eyes and smile wide. "You came to see me?" Gabby blurted out happily. "That's like the nicest thing ever!"
"Well, actually—" Harry tried though a cursory glance to Fleur and her own widened eyes murdered the truth in its infancy. "—Yeah." He amended, "all for my favourite Veela."
"I'm your favourite?" She asked, her hands formed half knuckles on either side of her cheeks. "The absolute favouritest?"
Harry rolled his eyes, "The absolute favouritest, yes."
"Well, like, that's really good!" Gabby began her little tirade with the new information. "Because Fleur took me to the library to read about the Merpeople, even though I didn't really get to see them. I just thought they were so cool… and… and doyouwanttocomereadmerpeoplebookswithme?"
"Gabby," Fleur sighed. Harry was too busy trying to decipher what it was exactly she said.
"What?" The little girl pouted and crossed her arms. "There's big words and I can't do big words!"
"Have you tried sounding them out?" Harry suggested.
"Why would I sound them out when you could just read them for me?" There was an innocence encapsulated in her question that made Harry's heart feel warm, made him want to read her that story.
Fleur shook her head, "We can't read everything for you," she said. "If we do that, how are you ever going to read your own books?"
With the smuggest smirk look a child of eight could muster, Gabby retorted. "Well I'd learn by hearing you say the words, silly."
Harry snorted and tried to cover the noise with his hand, Fleur looked affronted, and Gabby peered between the two in the hopes she'd convinced them.
"Harry!" Fleur whispered and nodded at him to do something.
What am I supposed to do? Harry panicked internally.
"Well… We—Fleur and I," Harry stumbled through his words under the scrutinising gaze of an eight-year-old. He turned to Fleur for guidance though she offered him nought but a giggle beneath her hand. "We've got to… do a thing."
Gabby squinted at him. "A thing?"
Fleur still chose not to help him; Harry groaned beneath his breath. "A thing." He reiterated, "the thingiest of… things."
Gabrielle's bottom lip quivered as she looked up at Harry. "So you're not going to read to me?" Her head dropped down to look down at the ground dramatically.
He was quick to try and placate her; Harry dropped down, so they were of a similar height. "It's really important, Gabby." He said softly, "I promise I'll read to you later, okay?"
Swivelling on a single foot, Gabby mumbled, "can't I just come with you guys?"
"It's too cold," Harry shook his head. "And if you get sick, you can't go to the library."
"Nope." Harry said, "I'll show you the sign next time that says 'no sick Veela'. It's right outside the door."
The little girl continued her moping, "Promise you'll read me a story before bed?"
"And...and you've got to read it all!" Gabby demanded. "And you have to talk like the merpeople!"
That made Harry furrow his brow, "What do merpeople talk like?"
Gabby rolled her eyes as if the answer was simple, and, to her, it very much was. She puffed her cheeks out to pretend she was a fish, "Bloop! Bloop! Bloop!"
Fleur erupted into laughter behind her, and Harry did his best to hide his smile. "Well, how are you going to understand what I'm saying if I read it in Mermish?"
"Because you're going to teach me?"
"Gabby," Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing. "I don't know Mermish either."
"Oh," Gabby frowned and looked inquisitive for a moment. "Do you want to make me happy?"
"Of course I do," Harry nodded.
"Well," she smiled sweetly at him. "I guess you're going to have to learn, aren't you?"
Harry didn't think anything could've erased her proud smile.
"Get inside," Fleur said between her little bouts of giggles. "Flopsy is going to look after you for a little bit, promise me you won't get into trouble?"
"Go on," Fleur nodded towards the door, and, after a kiss on her forehead, Gabby bounded off to her room.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief, "Crisis averted."
Fleur cocked her head towards him, "You've got a way with kids, you know that?"
He scoffed, "I almost made her cry."
"You didn't though." She pointed out, "which is a lot better than most."
Choosing not to respond to her compliments for fear of rose-dusted cheeks, Harry set off towards their destination and beckoned for them to follow.
"Did you manage the charm?" Fleur inquired, walking alongside him.
He shrugged, "Kinda?" Harry said, "it was tiring but I got a little portion done for us, hopefully, it makes it a bit more bearable."
"Yeah," she murmured. "Hopefully."
The walk to their destination was short and silent. Harry could understand the reasoning behind it. However, the understanding didn't make him any less fidgety.
Moonlight rose and peered down above them, casting ethereal alabaster glows over the Black Lake. Barren trees swayed softly in the breeze as they followed a different road down to the pebbled shore.
"Harry?" Fleur muttered from beside him as a foot tentatively met the rocky ground.
"Yeah?" He turned to look at her, her features amplified by the moon's unadulterated gaze.
She looked indecisive and peered down at her one foot over the edge already. "I don't think I can do this." She whispered.
"I know I said I would," Fleur cut him off. "I… I just don't think it's a good idea."
"That's okay," Harry took a small step towards her. "We can go back if you like?" He suggested, "I hear there's a Mermish book with our name on it."
'Yes...No—I… I don't know." She sighed, "I'm sorry, it's confusing."
"I understand," Harry offered gently.
Fleur shook her head, "no, I don't think you do. Not in the same way." She squinted her eyes to shield herself from his reaction. "That's not your fault, this is all just so… difficult."
Harry leant down and took a seat against the rocks. Fleur followed right beside him. "Something within me… it just doesn't want to. I try not to give rise to that side, I really do. But, well, sometimes we don't always get to choose the parts of ourselves."
He pushed his shoulder into hers to give her some warmth from his body. "Well, then I'll try to understand the best I can, I suppose," Harry said, peering at the lake. "If we traded places, I'd be scared, more scared than you, that's for certain. You're braver than I am."
"I don't feel brave," Fleur exhaled, coarse and ragged with a billow of frosty air from her lips. "I feel like a scared little girl."
"No one feels brave," Harry shrugged, "that's not how bravery works."
Fleur shifted her head across to look at him, her eyes searching him for something he couldn't see.
"You've got to be scared to be brave, and you always will. It's just about doing what you think needs to be done, even if it'll hurt because, eventually, if you're brave enough, one day you won't have to be brave anymore. You'd have won."
She smiled, "Someone's being awfully wise today."
"It's a talent," Harry gave a gentle, little laugh. "But some stuff? Some stuff doesn't get any less scary, sometimes you've just got to be brave your whole life."
"Oh?" Fleur prompted. "Like what?"
"Like girls." Harry deadpanned, eliciting tinkling laughter from her mouth.
She fixed him with a cross look, "Am I scary, Harry Potter?"
Harry took a brief moment to survey her beautiful features, silhouette by the moon. She was beauty incarnate; her silver tresses glistened and glimmered and caught his eye.
The call was there, Be mine, it sung. Be mine.
"Undoubtedly." Harry muttered, barely able to drag himself from her features.
"Well," she smirked, "I guess you'll just have to be brave, won't you?"
"I think I'll manage."
Her gaze was called back to the dull throb of the waves at the shore. "What if I won't?" She posed the question to empty air. "What if this is one of those things I'll be afraid of my whole life?"
He sat and pondered for a long moment and, to his chagrin, came up empty. "I don't know, I guess you'll just have to cross that bridge when you get to it." He said with a healthy degree of uncertainty that he shed with every word. "But if anyone could conquer it, it'd be you. It probably won't feel like it, but one day you'll be able to call yourself brave. Sometimes you've just got to live for those days you can, and hope they come sooner than expected."
The silence was long and filled with rumination, Harry leant forward onto his knees, and Fleur leant across into him.
"And if I wanted to try?"
Fleur's voice was soft as if she intended it to go unheard, to not give rise to all the thoughts that went with it. Harry lifted his head and turned it to her, the distances between them only inches.
"Then we can try," Harry whispered to her. "Or we go back and read a book to Gabby, I'm happy either way. I just want to know what'll make you happy."
"I…" Fleur's breath hitched on the way out, anxiety settling in her throat. "I think I'd like to try."
Harry turned to her and gave her a small smile, "I'd like to help, if that's alright with you."
"Perfect," she nodded. "That sounds perfect." Her eyes squinted, and she moved forward, "Why is your nose so red?"
"It's nothing," Harry brushed off, "It's silly."
"Those are the best stories," Fleur said eagerly, her eyes becoming wide. "Please?"
"Good try," Harry said, but shook his head. "No."
Then her final gambit came; she leant forward, her ocean eyes big and pleading.
"Pwease?" She said, "I'm sooo soo coldddd."
"You're so not doing this," Harry scoffed.
Fleur pretended to sniffle, "It would weally make me feel better?"
"You're the biggest idiot," Harry mumbled. "Fine, I can't get my warming charm to work on the tip of my nose, okay?"
The laughter that followed was melodic and infectious. Despite his cold nose, Harry couldn't help but join in.
Once the amusement freed itself from her features, she moved in closer. "So it's really cold?"
Her lips were an inch away now and closing ever so slightly with each passing breath.
"Yeah," Harry agreed, his voice rough and hoarse as it grated his throat upon its exit. "Really cold."
"Well, I think I've got a solution." Fleur declared proudly.
She leant forward and placed her warm lips against his nose, and finally, after all the trial and error, his nose was finally warm.
"Did it work?"
"Yeah?" Harry looked at her, shocked, "How did yo—"
"Are your lips also cold?" She interrupted.
"Are your lips also cold?" Fleur echoed, "Well? Are they?"
"They're warm, my charm got them alri—"
Fleur's lips pressed against his own, filled with a passion and warmth that beat back the cold, he nipped back lightly at them. It wasn't sensual or passionate, but thankful. Filled with things he couldn't comprehend yet but, with time, he most certainly would.
For a second, the world came to a halt. The waves stopped pounding the rocky shore, the wind ceased, and winter finally passed.
All birthed at her lips.
She pulled back and smiled at him, "That's for being you."
"I think I could get used to being me."
Then, together, they took steps into the shallow depths of the edge of the Black Lake. Basking in the warm waves they created and, hopefully, conquering fears in time.
It'd be a battle of inches; fears usually were. But it helped to have someone that cared.
Here, in the barren, desolate wasteland she'd lamented from the start, she found heat.
In hindsight, if Fleur Delacour was asked where it all began, where she fell, she wouldn't have to struggle for an answer.
All their tomorrows began there, on the rocky shore of the Black Lake. Not with the kiss, but with the knowledge that someone cared, that her fear was not always final.
And with not teaching her to swim, no.
But teaching her to soar.