Author's notes:

1. In my portrayal of romance, I have tried to find a middle ground between showing the thoughts and emotions of the characters and giving them some measure of privacy. We want to experience the intimate moments, the private thoughts, the secret hopes and fears. But sometimes when we are told everything, it feels a little contrived - If we were in the story, we would not be able to see every thought and detail, and there would be times when, just as a bystander looks away when lovers kiss, we would look away from our main characters. Leaving a little bit of space also allows the reader to fill it with his or her own imagination, making the characters in some ways more personal and accessible. I may have very clear ideas about why Fleur does or says something, or what Bill was thinking, but I might not include it. If you want to know more, if you have questions, or requests for something you might like to see between them, feel free to let me know by review or personal message, and I'll do my best to respond.

2. Fleur's accent is softened somewhat in my text, 1) because it's rather annoying and time consuming to write (and some might add read), and 2) because she spoke passable English in Book 4, moved to England just before book 5 begins, and has done 'private lessons' in English with Bill for a year by the time we see her again in book 6. Over that time, I would imagine her English pronunciation would have improved noticeably.

3. This first chapter is really more of a prologue, and is a little shorter and more episodic than those to come.

Fleur walked up the grassy slope from the carriage, her mind wandering back onto the third task. She ran over spells and enchantments in her head, mentally listing all the magical tools she might need to get through the maze. She was so preoccupied, she almost ran into a tall Hogwarts boy, who stared at her as she stopped just short of him. She mumbled a hasty "excuse-moi" and turned to step around him, bringing her attention back to her surroundings.

The morning clouds were thinning, and the grey castle looked less gloomy and forbidding in the sunlight reflected off the still water of the lake. As she looked towards the water, a cluster of official-looking men caught her eye. She recognized Ludo Bagman, but he was standing with several others she didn't know. There was an older-looking wizard with spectacles and a rather crumpled looking hat, and a couple of younger men. One was short and blonde and laughing immoderately, but the other was taller and frowning slightly in her direction. As his eyes caught hers, she realized he was looking at her, and it gave her a strange feeling. Not bad, but...there was something different about the way he looked at her.

It wasn't the vacant, besotted stare she was so accustomed to receiving from boys because of her Veela heritage, the jealous looks of other girls, the lustful leers of unsavory wizards or the wistful dismissal of older married men. It was critical, as if he was analyzing her, looking somehow through the Veela charm, the perfect features, the haughty expression that came from trying to cope with being simultaneously fawned over and outcast and always seen as an object before a person.

Fleur shivered a little, suddenly feeling very small and young. For a moment, the feeling reminded her of a time long ago, before it mattered whether she was beautiful, before boys stared and girls gossiped. She remembered playing by a lake as a child, bluer and warmer than the cold water at Hogwarts, and walking up a grassy slope with her dress grass-stained, her fingers grubby with dirt under the nails, and her hair messy. She shook herself, and realized the man by the lake was still looking at her unashamedly. Usually boys blushed and stuttered or turned away after a few moments, though some men tried to catch her eye or leered suggestively. But he just looked at her, his gaze scrutinizing yet inscrutable. She felt the color rise in her cheeks and started to turn away, and she saw the strange man turn back to his companions, running a hand through his long red hair.

Bill wasn't sure how much he liked being back in England. He liked the deep greens and the cool rains, and being close to his family. But he missed the austere beauty of the desert, the surprising lushness of small Oases, the blazing red and gold of the Egyptian sunset over the sand and craggy rocks of the desert.

He also didn't know when he would be able to return, if at all. Officially, he had not yet transferred back to London, but he probably would, citing a desire to return home and find a less dangerous position than curse-breaker. In fact, his real reasons for returning were much more sinister. Dumbledore had written to him, asking him to come back at least temporarily, and while his old headmaster gave no specific reason for his request in his letter, Bill suspected it had to do with the growing rumors of Death Eater activity.

He had applied for leave to return to England, not sure whether it would be permanent or not. Dumbledore had soon written again, asking him to come to Hogwarts during the third task of the Triwizard Tournament. He therefore came with his mother, ostensibly to support Harry in the task, still unsure of the real reason for Dumbledore's request.

Bill had come up to Hogwarts with Ludo Bagman, an older man from the department of International Magical Cooperation whose name he didn't know, and his assistant Richard. Richard, or Richie, as he preferred to be called, was friendly enough, and they chatted companionably while Ludo Bagman and the older man talked logistics. Bill was looking absently out at the lake when Richie tapped him on the shoulder.

"Cor, would you look at that!" Bill looked over his shoulder towards the castle, expecting to see something unusual or surprising, but all he saw was the same grey castle and grassy lawn dotted with students.

"Look at what?" he asked.

"That," said Richie, pointing to a girl walking up from the Bouxbatons carriage. Bill was slightly annoyed - he had seen plenty of pretty girls, and it bothered him when other men so blatantly viewed women as objects. He thought it rather distasteful and immature that a 25 year old man would think it appropriate to ogle a girl 7 or 8 years younger than him, who was still in school, and whom he had never met.

Years as a curse breaker had taught Bill that things were rarely as they first appeared, people not least of all. Pretty faces and shapely physiques were common enough, yet they were all that many men seemed to notice. Whether the years in his unusual job had given Bill a keener analytic sense, or whether that natural sense had led him to his job, Bill had learned to recognize deeper and subtleties than most, in both magic and other people. What attracted him to people was less how they looked than how they moved, how they spoke, the way they carried themselves, the expressions in their faces that revealed more of who they were inside.

This had some unexpected side effects - at the quiddich world cup, for example. When the Bulgarian veela started dancing, Bill felt the same instinctive attraction that all the other men did, but it exerted little pull on him. He found the veela no more alluring than an attractive face noticed on a stranger in passing; interesting for a moment, but quickly forgotten.

Richie nudged Bill again.

"Come on man, you're not even looking! Tell me that isn't the hottest - "

"Okay, okay." Grudgingly, and mostly to get Richie to shut up, Bill turned to look at the blonde girl. She was slender, with long, silvery hair. She carried herself proudly erect, but Bill thought she seemed to be walking with less purpose, a sense vindicated when she nearly ran into another student. She quickly recovered, and looked around so he could see her face.

She was very pretty, with delicate features, and there was a strange magic about her; Bill realized she must be at least part Veela. She had a slightly haughty look, that must come from being constantly fawned over, but as she paused and looked out at the lake, Bill thought he saw more in her face than he expected. There was pride and disdain, she had the look of a woman who knew she was beautiful and expected to be treated accordingly. But as he looked at her, he thought he saw the face of a much younger girl shining through; there was a childlike innocence there, mostly forgotten perhaps, but not gone completely. And he thought there was determination, to prove something to herself or someone else.

That shouldn't be so surprising really. If she was here as a competitor for the Triwizard tournament, she must be both intelligent and determined. But there was something in her gaze he couldn't quite place - something he found fascinating. Suddenly, she turned away, and he watched her walk back up to the castle.

"What's up with you?" Bill turned back to Richie's voice.

"What? you told me to look at her, so I looked?"

"I told you to check out some chick, but you stood there looking like your in an art museum analyzing a painting. You had this concentrated look on your face, like you were reading or something, and you didn't even comment on her bum!"

Bill, who hadn't actually noticed the girl's bum, just shrugged.

"Yeah, well...What time is it? I've got a meeting at two."

Fleur was nervous on the morning of the third task. When she met her parents after breakfast, she found herself gibbering away about all the spells she knew, and would it be enough, and what kind of obstacles would there be. Her mother and father encouraged and reassured her, but she was still nervous. She took a deep breath and looked around, noticing for the first time little Harry Potter in the far corner. With him was a kind faced motherly woman with red hair, and - it was him: the man from the lake. He looked a little preoccupied and didn't seem to notice her, but she found his presence inexplicably soothing. He was quite handsome, and the ear ring and leather gave him a roguish charm, but what she really noticed was the way he seemed to hold himself. His movements were calm and graceful, his posture upright but relaxed. He had the look of a man who has seen hard work and danger, but was not broken by them.

Fleur felt immediately foolish for thinking such things - reading so much into his character by a casual glance. 'I have read to many romance novels,' she said to herself, and shook her head, bringing her attention back to her parents. To her surprise, she found her mother was simply gazing at her with a knowing look in her eyes.

"Maman, c'est quoi?" Fleur started to ask, but her mother just shook her head.


"Professor Dumbledore. You asked to see me?" Dumbledore sighed, and walked back behind his desk, sinking heavily into his chair.

"Please, sit down." Bill sat, noticing that Dumbledore looked older than the last time he had seen him. Dumbledore said nothing for a moment, then looked at him, a trifle wistfully, he thought. "I remember the last time you sat there. Just graduated head boy, nervous, but so determined."

Bill recalled the day, six years earlier, when he had come to ask Dumbledore for a recommendation. Gringotts Bank rarely hired curse breakers so soon after finishing school; it was a demanding job, which required skill, power, discernment, and a cool head. Bill had all of those; he was young, yes, but he knew what he wanted to do, and was gifted enough to do it.

"I am sorry that, this time, I cannot simply write you a glowing, well deserved recommendation and wish you well. I am afraid that I will have to ask you something that I once hoped never to have to ask anyone again."

"What's that, sir?" Bill asked, but he already guessed the answer. Ever since the Death Eater attack at the World Cup, he had half expected this.

"I am asking you to join the Order of the Phoenix."

Bill nodded slowly. "He's back then." Dumbledore shook his head.

"Not yet. I never really thought he was gone for good...and three years ago I gained proof that Voldemort still lived, if you could call it that. He is still weak, still remaining hidden, but I suspect he is planning his return. I don't know when he will return - a month, a year, hopefully longer - but I have a feeling it will be soon."

"What do you want me to do?" Dumbledore fixed him with his piercing gaze, and Bill shifted slightly in his chair. He felt as if he was being sized up, having his power tested - just as he himself might assess a sealed tomb or secret chamber.

At last, Dumbledore spoke again. "Nothing, yet. Come back to England, to be close by. I haven't reformed the order yet, but I want to be ready, and your skills would be a valuable asset." Bill nodded again.

"I can apply for a desk job in London..." Dumbledore looked at him again, and Bill thought he appeared even older.

"Thank you, William. And I'm sorry."

Fleur paced back and forth, the letter held tight behind her back. She had been sketching the wisteria tree by the pond when it had come, the large owl carrying it looking important and rather impressed with itself. The envelope was heavy and formal looking, with bold, gothic lettering across the front.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank

London, England

She thought about just going back to her sketching, worrying about it later. But that was silly - she should just open it, it wasn't going to go away. But did it matter? Even if she had been accepted, would she really go? Leave home for another country, take a job she wasn't even sure she wanted? It was a decent career move. Everyone ought to be fluent in English, and it was the biggest bank in the wizarding world. She had always been good with numbers and arithmacy. And maybe, while she was there, she would see...No, don't be absurd. Just because he was English didn't mean he would be in London. He might not even - why was she still thinking about - anyway, the letter.

Slowly, she unfolded it, hardly breathing.

Dear Ms Delacour

On behalf of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted to a position as assistant to international liaison...

She'd been accepted. She could go. This was good, wasn't it? Of course it was, she wanted this, she wouldn't have applied unless she really wanted it. But what if she went, and never saw...that would be even worse than not going, not knowing...No. This was ridiculous. She didn't even know his name. She had never spoken to him, and probably wouldn't like him if she had, and here she was acting like a silly schoolgirl with a crush. Of course she would take the job, move to England. She would go to London, improve her English, be professional and competent and gain valuable skills while building her resume. And she wouldn't even think twice about the red-headed Englishman.