3 - Normandy
Hermione Granger-Weasley was smart. All her life she had been told by everyone just how clever she was. If it was in a book, she knew about it. If it was lost, she could find it.
Even after she had left school, she continued to be smart. She managed to teach Harry Potter to speak French perfectly, like a true Parisian, and to finish off the job, she’d even taught him how to speak like a lowly dockworker.
Feeling stupid was not something she was used to. Feeling stupid was, in fact, something she had so little experience with, that the thought she had been stupid was almost paralysing.
“Hermione?” Ron asked. “Are you all right?”
“Bugger,” Hermione said, shaking her head in denial.
“Bugger?” Ron asked, looking concerned. “What’s the matter? Everything went according to plan, didn’t it?”
Hermione looked up at her husband and sighed. “How many of Harry’s girlfriends have we ever approved of?”
“Ginny?” Ron offered.
“Exactly,” Hermione said and she felt a headache start to form. “I need to talk to Jean.”
“Think, Ron. Harry Floo’d us, talking about a girl he’s interested in, and what do we do?”
Ron blinked and looked thoughtful. “We tell him to go for it?”
“With all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop; what is Harry going to think?”
“Bugger,” Ron swore as he reached the same conclusion she had and went very pale.
“Exactly,” Hermione moaned. She stood and took a few steps forward, throwing some powder into the fire. “Jean-Sebastian Delacour,” she called.
A bald head in the fireplace appeared. “Delacour residence,” it said in French.
“Is it possible to speak to Jean?” Hermione asked, switching languages easily.
“I’m afraid that he has left orders not to be disturbed, as he has an important guest this evening.”
Hermione nodded. “Can you please ask him to Floo me as soon as he is available?”
“I will,” the butler nodded.
Hermione closed the connection and sat down, wrapping her arms around her legs.
“What happened?” Ron asked.
“Jean has told everyone not to interrupt him while he is with Harry. I can’t get through to him. Even if we Owled him, it would be too late,” she sighed softly. “Harry’s going to hate us, isn’t he?”
“Isn’t that something we should have been worrying about when we started this?” Ron asked dryly.
“But it was the perfect answer to everything,” Hermione sighed. “It was going to get Harry out of his moods, out of his house, and even find him a beautiful girl who loves him for himself, not as Harry Potter. And it was going to save Gabrielle!”
“And instead of telling him all that, we manipulated him into it,” Ron said calmly.
“How can you be so calm?” Hermione demanded, frowning at him.
“Because I figured this would happen,” Ron said, wandering over to the kitchen. He started to make a couple of cups of tea.
“Then why didn’t you say anything?” Hermione shouted from the living room.
“I did,” he said as he walked back in and passed her a cup of tea. “But there’s no point in talking about it now; we have to deal with it as it comes up.”
“Harry is going to hate us!”
“For a bit, sure; but we’re friends, so he’ll forgive us eventually.”
“But I don’t want to lose him, even for a bit.”
“Look, if you want, I’ll say it was my idea, and you didn’t know anything about it.”
“You’d do that?” Hermione asked.
“For you, yeah.”
Hermione smiled and got to her feet. She walked over to her husband and kissed him softly. “Now there’s the man I married,” she smiled. “And no, you’re not taking the blame for this. I’ll just tell Harry the truth and hope he listens.”
Ron tightened his arms around her.
“Why didn’t you try harder to stop me, Ron?”
Ron leaned back, all traces of levity gone from his expression. “A lot of the time, the only way you’ll learn a lesson to go through and experience it yourself. You get ideas in your head, darling, and you won’t let anyone sway you, regardless of their experience or expertise. Until you have seen first hand the other side, you think that you are always right. You thought you knew best about this, and nothing I could have said would have dissuaded you. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gabrielle, and I like a lot of what has happened; I just think it would have been better to lay the cards on the table and not hide it from Harry.”
Hermione looked at him, her eyes wide with shock. “You’ve done that many times,” she whispered.
“Let you find out for yourself that something was a bad idea?”
“I have,” he agreed.
“All this time,” she mumbled, “I thought I was handling you, but you’ve been handling me.”
She slowly smiled, “When did you get so smart?”
“It probably rubbed off from you,” he said with an easy smile. “Don’t worry about Harry; we’ll deal with it together and you will be able to promise to never do it again.”
Hermione nodded fervently.
“So let’s go out for dinner and have a nice time.”
“I love you,” Hermione whispered.
“I know. I love you too.”
Harry looked at his bed and frowned thoughtfully. Underwear, socks, suit, jeans, t-shirt, jacket, tuxedo, several shirts, and a pair of swim shorts were neatly folded on his bed alongside three pairs of shoes. He couldn’t think of anything else he might need.
He pulled out a bag and packed everything away neatly, Hermione’s packing tips echoing through his mind.
He walked over to the mirror and gave himself a quick glance-over. He was wearing very dark trousers with a cashmere boat neck sweater. He touched his glasses absently, changing them to be more transparent, and walked over to the Floo.
A second later, he was on his way. He still hated travelling by anything other than his own steam, but had at least learnt how to keep clean. He kept a dirt-resistant spell around him and a balance spell for when he landed.
Normal people, of course, didn’t need those spells, but Hermione had taken the time to work out exactly why he was always forcefully ejected from the Floo, and she’d discovered that as the Floo was powered by a wizard’s own magic, the fact that he had a surplus meant that he always travelled faster than everyone else.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Jean greeted him as he stepped out of the fireplace.
“Humble?” Harry asked dryly, looking around at the magnificent interior.
Jean’s lips twitched, and he nodded. “Indeed,” he said with a self-depreciating shrug. “The ladies are preparing themselves for dinner, so I thought we could take a stroll outside.”
“Sounds like a fine idea,” Harry said. “I could do with the exercise.”
Jean took his bag and placed it on the floor and then led him down a long wooden panelled corridor, and out a large set of double doors onto a huge stone terrace.
They walked in silence down into the garden and over a small moat bridge, before Jean stopped and turned.
Harry looked back at where they had walked and he whistled under his breath. “It’s as big as Hogwarts,” he muttered.
“Not quite,” Jean said with a slight smile. “This is actually the fourth castle to have been built on this site. We’re in the heart of Ouche country, in the lower part of Normandy. The first two castles were built by the barons of Ferté-Fresnel in the tenth century. The third one was a baronial manor house called “Le Colombier” and was an imitation of the earlier castles, which was built in 1766 by Baron D’Hericy. This castle was built in 1853 by a Parisian architect by the name of Stores, who was also the State Buildings Inspector.
“We’ve turned a lot of it into a hotel for Muggles, as it helps us pay for the upkeep.”
“Good plan,” Harry said dryly. “It would seem a waste for all those rooms to be permanently empty.”
“I agree,” Jean said with a nod. “And with the judicious placement of charms, we never actually see or hear them. We are totally isolated from them, and it gives us complete privacy.”
They walked around the building, with Jean pointing out more of the castle’s features, before he looked at his watch. “Ready to eat?”
They walked back into the castle and up a sweeping staircase into a formal dining room.
“I see our other guests have arrived,” Jean remarked, indicating a tall red-haired man.
“Bill,” Harry greeted him with a smile. “It’s good to see you again; how are you? And how’s the job?”
“Whoa,” Bill said in English. “Slow down a minute, Harry; my French isn’t that good.”
“Oh, sorry,” Harry apologised, switching effortlessly to English. “You know, you should really get Hermione to teach you.”
Bill shrugged and stuck out his hand. “Some of us simply do not have a natural aptitude for foreign languages,” he sighed. “I can understand most of what is being said, but when people launch at me with that rapid fire stuff; it takes me a while to work through it.”
“William is at least trying,” Jean said dryly, also in English.
“You’ve met Fred and George,” Harry grinned. “They are really trying. Bill’s an amateur compared to them.”
“Thank you,” Bill said, matching Jean’s tone to perfection. “Fleur’s been looking forward to this dinner since Jean invited us.”
“Excellent,” Jean said with a clap of his hands. “We always enjoy your visits, William.”
Bill smiled and nodded. “As do we.”
The door to the left opened and an older French woman entered regally.
“Aimée,” Jean said formally in French. “I would like to introduce Harry Potter. Harry, this is my wife, Aimée.”
Harry moved over to her and took her proffered hand, gently kissing the back of it. “It is an honour, Madame, to greet the lady who is so obviously the source of both her daughters’ good looks.”
Aimèe raised her eyebrows at her husband for a second and then moved forward and lightly took Harry’s arm. “Come,” she said gently, “and we shall talk.”
Harry nodded and accompanied her to the table, holding out her seat for her to sit. He sat next to her.
“It’s so rare to find someone of your generation with true manners.”
Harry blushed uncomfortably.
“Relax,” Aimée said with a slight smile. “Contrary to whatever William might have told you, I do not bite.”
“I’m afraid that William hasn’t told me anything about you at all. Your husband, on the other hand, spent many an hour over a glass of wine talking about you during the war.”
Aimée looked up and smiled at her husband for a brief second. “I do thank you, Harry, for allowing my husband to return to me, fully intact.”
Harry laughed softly. “I didn’t do much, Madame; Jean is more than capable of handling himself.”
“Harry,” Aimée said firmly. “First, please call me Aimée. And second, if you hadn’t stopped that monster, he would not have returned as I like him.”
“Those were dark days,” Harry half-whispered. “But they’re in the past, where they belong. I don’t think anyone really likes remembering them.”
Aimée nodded. “Very true, Harry. So we shall talk about lighter matters. Are you looking forward to teaching our students to fly properly?”
“I was very surprised at the formal way of flying they had already been taught.”
“So I heard. Gabrielle told me how wonderful it was to fly with you. It was quite a treat to see her so animated about something that isn’t in a book.”
Harry looked around conspiratorially and then leaned in a little closer. “To be honest, I’ve got plans for her,” he said with a soft wink. “She has very good balance on a broom and has very good eyesight. I’m going to make her into a Seeker.”
Aimée smiled slowly. “Do you think she has the potential to do well?”
“I do,” Harry said with a smile. “I’m sure she’ll do well. Being a Seeker is as much about mental strength as it is about flying and ability. It was something that my opponents at Hogwarts never quite grasped. You have to be able to watch the play, watch for the Snitch, and help your team-mates, while having the fate of the game resting on your shoulders.
“It is the position that is the hardest, but it’s also the most prominent. I’m sure that Gabrielle already has the mental strength and I can teach her everything else that she will need.”
“What do you think of the interschool matches?”
“May I be blunt?” Harry asked, a smile hovering across his lips.
Aimée leaned closer, her blue eyes twinkling. “But, of course.”
“If you ignore the subtext, I am positive that secretly, Hogwarts and Durmstrang are looking forward to beating Beauxbatons.”
Harry nodded and then smiled ruthlessly. “But we shall show them that underestimating these students is a very bad idea. I’ve got a school team mentally picked out, based on their abilities in other sports and their general physiques. As long as we can convince them to participate and teach them to fly properly, we should surprise a few people.”
Aimée smiled delightedly. “I am very pleased to hear that. Our national team is a disgrace, and this country truly needs something to cheer about at the moment.”
“Indeed it does,” Jean said in English, sitting opposite his wife at the head of the table. Bill sat down diagonally across from Harry, leaving two spaces for Gabrielle and Fleur.
“It was a bad idea to let Fleur go and see Gabrielle beforehand,” Bill said dryly as he glanced at his watch.
“The day my daughters are on time for a family dinner has yet to arrive,” Aimée said as she shook her head. Like her husband, her English was perfect, with just a trace of a French accent. “They have always had the amazing ability to lose sight of the time when they are together.”
A butler seemed to materialise next to Jean. With a few deft twists of his wrist, he opened a bottle of wine and poured a small amount into Jean’s glass.
Harry watched, fascinated, as Jean first seemed to examine the wine against the white of the table cloth, before he swirled it gently. He started to move his hand, and paused, looking at Harry. “You’ve never tasted wine before serving it?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t drink much of it. Alcohol and atheltics do not go well together.”
Jean motioned to the butler, who smoothly walked around the table and poured a small amount into Harry’s glass.
“Tasting wine is an art,” Jean said reverently. “But it is not just about the taste; it is about the colour and the aroma as well. First, we look at the wine itself. This should be done against a white backdrop, so that you can examine the colour clearly. The colour of wine can vary tremendously; white wines can range from green to yellow to brown. As a general rule, the more colour you can see, the older the wine is; although, brown may indicate that the wine is not fit for dogs. Time can dramatically improve a good red wine, but it ruins most whites. Red wines can range in colour from a pale red to a rich burgundy, and usually become lighter as they age.
“Now, tilt your glass slightly and look at the edge. What colour do you see?”
“It seems to be a kind of brown orange,” Harry replied.
“Exactly,” Jean said with a smile. “A sign of a mature wine. If it had a purple tint, it would be a very young wine. Now we swirl the wine.” Harry swirled his carefully. “This has several purposes – it releases the molecules, allowing us to smell the bouquet of the wine, and it allows us to visually inspect the body of the wine; to see how it reacts. This wine,” he said, looking at it, “has, how do you English put it? Oh yes, it has ‘good legs,’ which means that it has a thicker body and a slightly higher alcohol content. Now, take a quick sniff of the wine, make an initial impression, and then take a deeper sniff.”
Harry did as he was told and frowned slightly as he concentrated. “It smells slightly spicy.”
Jean nodded. “Now take a small sip.”
Harry raised the glass to his mouth and let the wine wash over his taste buds, before he swallowed. “It’s very similar to the wine we had at Beauxbatons,” he said. “It has the same pleasant aftertaste, but it is slightly better… It seems to be more… grown up.”
“Bravo,” Jean applauded. “It is from the same vineyard, only ten years earlier.” He nodded to the butler, who quickly poured out six glasses. “This is an excellent wine, Harry; one of the very best. Later, we shall be unspeakably brave together, and we will taste some bad wine, so that you can compare them.”
Harry chuckled and nodded. “It sounds like fun,” he said with a grin.
Jean shuddered. “Wait until you’ve tried some of the vinegar that Muggles are passing off as wine these days.”
“Oh, Papa,” Gabrielle sighed theatrically from the door. “Surely you are not corrupting Harry with your obsession over wine already?”
“Gabrielle,” Jean said sternly. “Every young man should learn the difference between a good and a bad wine. I am merely giving Harry his first lesson.”
Harry and Jean both stood, Bill following their example a second later, as Harry sat Fleur next to him, and Bill sat Gabrielle.
“It is good to see you, Fleur,” Aimée said.
“It eez good to be back.”
“And you still have that silly accent,” Aimée sighed.
Fleur shrugged and grinned. “It eez cute,” she said with a flounce of her hair.
“And irritating,” Gabrielle muttered under her breath.
“Brat,” Fleur sniffed.
Gabrielle grinned, and then turned to her father. “What is on the menu tonight, Papa?”
“Anton has prepared one of his finest meals,” Jean replied. “We are starting with Bouillon de poule, with grated black truffles, followed by roasted trance of foie gras with caramelised endives. Then it will be lobster tortellini with a herb velouté and crustacé vinaigrette. Pan fried fillet of St. Pierre with a light coriander nage will proceed the main course – Roast saddle of lamb with sautéed salsify baby spinach and a glorious thyme sauce. We shall finish with caramelised Granny Smith apple compote with natural yogurt and granité, and dark Valhrona chocolate parfait with milk ice cream.”
“Blimey,” Harry whistled.
Jean and Aimée both laughed together, before Aimée lightly placed her hand on Harry’s arm. “That meal is a little over the top, but I’m afraid our chef was so delighted to be cooking for you, that we didn’t have the heart to hold him back.”
Harry smiled faintly and nodded.
“I know you do not like using your fame,” Aimée continued, “but you did something you were very good at to help others, so you must not mind when others do the same for you. For it is only fair and natural that way. Our chef wanted to repay you for your efforts by doing what he does best – cooking the very finest meal he is capable of. He is honoured to be able to find a small way of saying thank you.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Harry said, a little surprised.
Aimée smiled. “Now, as much as I did not approve of Madame Prévoyez’s actions, I am pleased that the outcome has meant that your first truly French meal will be with us.”
“And believe me,” Bill said with a grin. “Anton is a truly masterful chef.”
Four hours, seven courses, and three bottles of wine later, Harry agreed completely with Bill’s statement. He couldn’t remember having had a finer meal – and that included the restaurants where he’d dined in London or while on the Quidditch tours abroad.
“Would it be possible for me to thank Anton personally?”
Jean smiled. “Gabrielle, will you show Harry to the kitchen and then meet us in the lounge?”
“Of course, Papa,” Gabrielle said. “If you will accompany me, Harry, I will escort you to the kitchens, and then give you a quick tour of our chateau.”
As Harry and Gabrielle walked out, Aimée turned to her oldest daughter. “Will you and William excuse us for a few minutes?”
“Of course, Mama,” Fleur said, standing. “Bill,” she continued, holding out her hand to him.
Aimée fixed her husband with a look and waited until the two had left the room.
Jean looked back at her and then slowly shifted in his chair.
“That,” Aimée said, indicating the door Harry had just walked out through, “is a charming, honourable young man.”
“I agree,” Jean said, warily.
“So exactly why are we agreeing with this ridiculous scheme of Gabrielle’s to manipulate him into a position where they might, or might not, fall in love – with the guarantor that if they don’t, you will tell him anyway?”
Jean raised his hands defensively. “I know you want to tell him, but I happen to agree with Gabrielle that a caged tiger is one that has lost something.”
“I think you are underestimating that young man.” She sighed softly. “Do you truly believe that this is the correct course of action?”
“No,” Jean sighed. “But I can not think of a better one for Gabrielle.”
“This is not just about her.”
“I know, I know. I had forgotten just how likeable Harry is.”
“Or just how stupid Gabrielle was,” Aimée said sadly. “Despite everything we told her, despite the warnings that I, and Mama, both gave her, she still mated herself to him at that unconscionable age.”
“Aimée,” Jean said softly. “That is in the past. We can not change it.”
“Nor do you want to, Jean-Sebastian Delacour. You want him as a son-in-law, do you not? I know you far too well for you to hide something from me. Why?”
“It’s not for my politics,” Jean said instantly, proving that he had at least learnt a few things in their marriage. “What does any man want for his daughter, but the best possible partner for her? There are not many chevaliers left in the world anymore, and I want the best one for my daughter.”
“She has you wrapped around her little finger,” she said with a slight smile.
“She is the most like her mother,” Jean replied, “intelligent, beautiful, and with a degree of stubbornness a kilometre wide.”
Aimée laughed softly. “Too much like me,” she admitted ruefully. “We have always had a tumultuous relationship.”
“A fact that has pleased our vase maker to no end,” Jean grinned.
“Rogue,” she retorted. “I shall not ruin your scheme, Jean, but I truly hope you are not wrong. There is a volcano inside that young man, and its eruption would be very dangerous.”
“I saw him in the battle, going one on one against Voldemort, my dear,” he whispered softly, his eyes going distant as they always did whenever he talked about the war. She had heard this story many times, in many late nights, but she let him talk anyway.
Jean looked around and threw a couple of spells at some of the Death Eaters. He was leading the French Aurors, while Kingsley Shacklebolt was leading the English. They were both approaching in a classic pincer movement, each coming from a different side.
With the Horcruxes destroyed, and the Death Eaters’ location discovered, they had launched one final attack to try and end it.
To one side, the D.A., forever now known as the Defence Association, had just joined the battle – their job was slightly different then the Aurors. They had to get Harry close enough to Voldemort.
They seemed unstoppable, running in perfect unison up the field, bursting through Voldemort’s defensive perimeter and allowing Harry to dash into the middle.
As planned, the D.A., led by Ron and Hermione, backed away and separated into two groups, each helping and joining with one of the groups of Aurors.
It had been a plan a lot of the D.A. had disagreed with, but Harry had insisted on it. The argument between them had grown extremely vocal, before Harry ended it with a suddenness that surprised everyone.
Harry had attacked his friends, using every non-lethal spell known to man. In less than sixty seconds, every member of the D.A., every Auror, every politician, and everyone else in the room was rendered completely immobile.
Jean had been hit by a spell that left him unable to speak, and his arms tied behind his back.
Harry walked over to the table and took a long drink of water. “This is not up for discussion,” he said simply. “You will get me near Voldemort, and then you will help take out the Death Eaters and leave the rest to me. I need to be able to concentrate on what I am doing and not be looking out for anybody else. None of you have the skills to survive against Voldemort.”
Hermione was the first to break free from the silencing spell. “But Harry,” she begged. “It will be you against ten of his finest!”
Harry shrugged. “I know, Hermione. I know. But this is the only way we can do it. Jean-Sebastian’s plan for attack is the best one I’ve heard yet. We have the chance, we have the opportunity, and we have the people. It’s time to end this.”
Harry waved his hand absently, releasing everyone, and walked out.
“Merde,” Jean had whispered. “I have no doubts left. Let us do what we are told.”
Ron had sighed and nodded, and they had all agreed, with great reluctance, that Harry was right. None of them would be able to keep up with him, and in the end, would hinder him as he tried to look after them as well as himself. It was bravery, almost suicidal, but no one had ever accused Harry of lacking in the courage department.
Curses of all shapes and colours were flying around now. He could see the red hair that signified the Weasleys, and he sent up a quick prayer that they would survive, as he launched more curses into the massed ranks of the Death Eaters.
He could see Harry, on top of the hill, fighting like a demon. But he could see him being hit as well – one of his arms was dangling uselessly; or it was, until Harry cast one spell at a Death Eater, spun, cast a spell on his own shoulder, and continued.
Jean shook his head – emergency field medicine, in the middle of a fight? That took guts, because it was almost as painful to fix it that way as the original damage that caused it.
“For the Glory of France,” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Charge!”
From across the field, he heard an echoing shout. “For England and for Harry! Charge!”
He ran with the others, all thoughts of safety long forgotten as he was caught up in the fight. A Death Eater stood in his way, casting a curse at him; he twisted violently, letting it fly past him, and sent back a vicious cutting curse that decapitated the Death Eater.
He looked around and winced as he saw Harry on his knees, two Death Eaters holding him, while a third was torturing him.
When he looked again, Harry was back on his feet, with more dead Death Eaters around him.
They were winning; the number of moving Death Eaters was significantly less than the Aurors and D.A. members now.
He stood to one side and headed toward Harry trying to see if he could help, but more Death Eaters got in his way, and he was forced to fight them.
When he, with the help of some of his Aurors, had defeated them, only Harry and Voldemort remained.
The boy was in a bad state. The same arm as earlier was hanging at his side, and he could see that Harry was bleeding from cuts and gashes all over his body.
But he was fighting Voldemort directly and was taking a lot more punishment.
It seemed horrific. Even in the midst of the dead and dying around here, the punishment that Harry was taking was too much; it was wrong. No one should have to take that many curses.
Voldemort was laughing, taunting Harry as he held the Cruciatus curse on him for what seemed like an eternity.
He screamed, as did Harry; he wanted to tell Harry to stop, that it wasn’t worth it, nothing was worth that.
But Harry suddenly surged to his feet, casting the same spell again to fix his shoulder. Even under the Cruciatus, Harry ran at Voldemort and grabbed the Dark Lord’s wrist with one hand while moving his other hand against Voldemort’s hand.
There was a snap that seemed to echo around the field, as everyone turned to watch.
Harry pushed forward. Voldemort’s wrist now pointing the wrong way into the Dark Lord’s body, with Harry’s wand next to Voldemort’s.
“Avada Kedavra,” Harry yelled, and two distinct flashes of green illuminated the landscape.
There was a silence, an absolute silence, before Voldemort fell to the ground, dead.
There was a huge cheer, as Ron, Hermione, and the other D.A. members ran to Harry.
“We need to get those cuts looked at, sir,” a voice to his left said.
He looked at the owner of the voice and then down at his robes. They seemed inconsequential next to the wounds Harry had suffered. “That man is a chevalier,” he whispered.
“That he is, sir,” the French Auror agreed. “Now let’s get you to a surgeon.”
Aimée waited a few seconds and then gently said, “It’s time to join the others.”
Jean jumped slightly and nodded. “Right,” he said with a grin, shaking his head to clear it.
“We shall spend tomorrow morning by the pool,” she said. “Gabrielle will look lovely in a new outfit I have for her.”
“So you’re not completely averse to this,” Jean teased lightly.
“Regardless of any scheme, Harry is a suitable match for Gabrielle, and he is a male. All heterosexual males should be able to admire a female in her bathing costume, and if he does not, your scheme will never work.”
“True,” Jean remarked dryly.
“Sir,” the butler said, appearing at one side.
Jean tilted his head.
“A Mrs Weasley has requested that you call her as soon as is convenient.”
“Thank you,” Jean said. “If she calls again, please tell her that we already know about Dumbledore’s Quidditch tournament, and we are dealing with it.”
“As you wish, sir,” the butler said.
Harry looked around his room and whistled under his breath. He had stayed in some amazing places so far, and this room was no exception. A Louis XVI room; it had a lot more browns than the blues of Louis XV.
He walked over to the mahogany wardrobe and smiled slightly; his entire luggage had been unpacked, ironed, and expertly put away.
The evening had been a lot of fun. It had been a little strange to talk in English so much, but it had a familiar-ness that reminded him of home. The conversations had been very wide ranging, proving without doubt that all the Delacour’s were highly intelligent but without being overly so.
Aimée Delacour had been a lot of fun. While appearing frigid and reserved, she was very warm and caring underneath, with a wicked sense of humour that she used mercilessly on family and friends alike. As importantly, she was quite happy to receive the humour as well.
He kicked off his shoes and pulled off his pullover, before walking to the door as he heard a faint knock.
“You’re a git, Harry,” Bill said with a grin as he wandered in and took a seat.
“I am?” Harry asked dryly, sitting on the bed casually.
“Yep,” Bill said firmly. “Guests to the Delacour residence are not supposed to charm Aimée within thirty seconds of getting to know her,” he grinned.
Bill laughed. “Fleur’s saying goodnight to Gabrielle, so I figured I’d check to see if you were okay.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry smile. “It’s not been that difficult to get used to this luxury.”
“It’s not, is it?” Bill smiled. “I had a few troubles when I first realised just how stinking rich they are, but actually, they are a lot like you.”
“Stand-offish, but once you get through that, really nice people.”
“Ahh,” Harry smiled. “Yeah, I can see that a little. You know what was a little strange?”
“When I met Anton. I’m used to people fawning over me and making me uncomfortable. He shook my hand, thanked me seriously for killing Voldemort, and then we talked about cooking for ten minutes. It was,” he paused for a second, “Nice.”
Bill nodded slowly. “The problem you’ve had Harry, is that you’ve only met fans of yours, and they tend to be so awed by you that they spend the first fifteen minutes of any conversation squeeing, and you’ve already moved on by the time they have finished. There are people like Anton all over the world, who are grateful for what you have done and would love to just talk to you as a normal human being.”
“Squeeing?” Harry asked, “do I even want to know what that means?”
Bill laughed. “You spend too much time in exalted circles,” the curse-breaker smirked. “It’s the noise your fans make as you are walking toward them.”
Harry thought for a second and then winced. “It is a strange kind of squeeing sound, isn’t it? I break out in a cold sweat whenever I hear it.”
“Leave Harry to get some sleep, darling,” Fleur said from the doorway in French, speaking slowly.
“Night, Harry,” Bill replied in English, winked at him, and left.
Harry shook his head slowly, smiling. He would have been hard pressed not to wink, if a gorgeous blonde wearing the same negligee that Fleur had been wearing had told him to go to bed.
He quickly stripped off the rest of his clothes and climbed into bed.
He stared at the ceiling willing sleep to take him, but it wouldn’t.
And it probably wouldn’t for hours yet.
These past few weeks had been a lot of fun and it had given him a sense of optimism. And if one thing had been proved in his life, it was that as soon as something went well, something would go wrong with it.
It was about time for the other shoe to drop.
Harry walked out of the bedroom, dressed in his swimming shorts, with a towel over his shoulder. He had found some flip-flops next to his bed, along with the towel, and had smiled slightly – amazed at how discreet the staff were, and that they didn’t use house-elves.
He walked out of the castle and into the grounds, adjusting his glasses with a touch to protect his eyes from the bright sunlight.
“Come on, Harry,” Bill shouted from the other end of the pool. “The water’s great.”
Harry nodded and walked over to a sun-lounger; he placed his towel down and kicked off his flip-flops. He pulled off his glasses and cast a seeing-spell in front of his eyes. The spell didn’t last for long, but it at least allowed him to see when he was swimming.
He turned and took three quick steps to the edge of the pool and dived in cleanly. He’d been taught how to swim properly after the first time he had destroyed his shoulder, and he had soon overcome his fear of it. Swimming was excellent exercise, and he’d swum miles to help his shoulder, and fallen in love with it. It was a solitary pursuit, like flying, where he could just relax and completely let go, while tiring himself out. He powered up to Bill with confident over-hand strokes.
“So,” Bill grinned, “you think you’re hot stuff? Let’s race.”
“Are you sure you can keep up, old man?” Harry asked.
“Eight lengths,” Bill growled playfully. “I’ll show you ‘old man’.”
“Three,” Bill said instantly and started swimming.
“Cheat,” Harry yelled, as he watched to see how fast Bill was. He took a deep breath and launched himself after his friend.
The phrase “I’ve got nothing to wear,” that Gabrielle complained about was patently untrue. She had a wardrobe bigger than most people’s bedrooms, chock-full of designer clothes.
“Gabrielle,” Aimée sighed. “You have fourteen swimsuits; surely it would not be difficult to pick just one?”
“But they all cover too much skin!”
“If I remember correctly,” Aimée said slowly, “you chose all of these.”
“Of course I did,” Gabrielle sighed. “But I wasn’t trying to help a man fall in love with me at the time. The last thing I want is to wear one of these childish things,” she paused and held up one example. “This one has a starfish on the bum!”
“Then you’ll have to wear this one,” Aimée said with a slight smile, holding out a bag.
Gabrielle dived for it and pulled out the swimsuit. While it was had more material than she would have liked, she was forced to admit that it was both gorgeous and practical, and that she wouldn’t have any problems wearing it in front of him.
“Thank you, Mama,” she said, embracing her mother enthusiastically, before diving into the bathroom to change.
“How do I look?”
“Beautiful,” Aimée said softly.
“You look great too, Mama,” Gabrielle said, smiling fondly at her mother.
They might have fought a lot while Gabrielle had been growing up, and her mother had been extremely disappointed with her decision to Mate with Harry, but she had never doubted her mother’s love. Even approaching seventy, Madame Delacour had a figure that most twenty year olds would have killed for and a face that treated the prospect of aging with the disdain it deserved.
Aimée stood and offered her hand to her daughter, which she took. She had been awed by her mother’s beauty growing up, and for a second, the feeling came back to her. Even dressed in a swimsuit with a matching shirt over it, her mother radiated grace and elegance in a way that Gabrielle hoped one day to be able to imitate.
They walked together toward the doors leading outside when Aimée paused. “Wait here, Gabrielle. When I sit at the edge of the pond, make your entrance. Walk slowly, do not trip, and when you get to the edge of the pool, turn to the left and lightly dip the toes on your right foot in the water, and then sit down next to me.”
“Just do as you’re told, Gabrielle.”
“It’s not fair,” Bill complained with a large grin. “You’re part fish!”
Harry made a show of checking himself, “I don’t see any gills or webbed feet.”
Bill stuck his tongue out at him and then started to swim to the other side to meet Aimée.
Harry swam after him, passing him easily. “Morning,” he smiled, as he started to tread water a few meters in front of her.
“Good morning, Harry, William,” she smiled at them both. “Did you both sleep well?”
“Well, I almost did,” Harry grinned, winking at the matriarch. “But I kept hearing these strange noises from Bill’s room.”
“Will you excuse me for one moment?” Bill said to Aimée, before he turned, reached out, and dunked Harry firmly.
Harry managed to take a deep breath before he was forced underwater, and it only took a second for him to grab the hand that was holding him down, twist slightly, and return the favour, forcing Bill down.
“He’s feeling boisterous this morning,” Harry said as he let Bill up.
“So I can see,” Aimée smiled. “Can I ask why you didn’t use silencing charms?” she asked Bill.
Bill opened his mouth and then shut it again, going bright red.
Aimée laughed delightedly and sat down carefully on the edge of the pool, letting her legs dangle in the pool.
Behind her, Harry could see Gabrielle walk out of the house; she was carrying a towel over one arm and was dressed in a solid silver swimsuit. Her hair was loose and flowing over her shoulders, and she walked with a calmness and grace he had never seen in someone so young.
She smiled directly at him as she walked up next to her mother and then turned, bending slightly to test the water with her toe. He found his eyes locked on her legs, and while he tried to convince himself it was because he was seeing what sort of muscles she had, and how they would be for Quidditch, candour forced him to admit that Gabrielle was beautiful, with some of the most awe-inspiring legs he had ever seen.
He turned and met Aimée’s eyes, and for the first time, he was reassured. Finally, someone was acting normally. The look he received from her was coldly calculating, as if she was examining his suitability to be looking at her daughter like that, and that her judgement was reserved.
It had been the first natural reaction that he had seen from anyone over Gabrielle, and he smiled directly at Aimée, acknowledging that he understood her message.
They talked for a few minutes, before Jean and Fleur joined the men in the pool, and it didn’t take much cajoling for them to get Aimée and Gabrielle in as well.
A few hours later, after a gorgeous lunch under a covered table, Harry asked to speak to Jean privately for a few minutes.
They chatted amiably as they entered his private office, Harry sitting on the other side of the huge elegant desk that put Dumbledore’s to shame.
“What can I do for you, Harry?” Jean asked.
Harry took a deep breath and avoided Jean’s eyes for a second. He was playing a role now, and wanted to do it properly. “This is a little difficult,” he said softly, looking back at Jean slowly.
“Please,” Jean spread his arms. “I’m not going to bite.”
“You might,” Harry muttered deliberately. “I’ve had a lot of fun since I came to France.”
“Good,” Jean interrupted.
“And a lot of that,” Harry continued, faking nervousness, “has been because of Gabrielle.”
Jean nodded encouragingly.
“And while I know that I am a few years older than her,” he said in a rush. “I would like your permission to ask her on a date.”
Jean smiled slowly and tried to look stern, but it was obvious that he was pleased by the question. “The age difference is nothing,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “And I believe the person you should be asking is Gabrielle herself.”
“Bollocks,” Harry sighed, dropping the act.
“Excuse me?” Jean said, looking surprised.
“I said ‘Bollocks,’ Jean. Want to cut the crap and tell me what is going on?”
“I don’t understand…”
“Yes you do,” Harry said, glaring at the man across the table. “Everybody, bar Aimée, has been, in one way or another, encouraging me into a relationship with Gabrielle. At first, I thought – and believed me I hoped I was wrong – that she was some sort of reward for me.” He paused and nodded as Jean looked horrified at the idea. “I didn’t think that was the case,” he admitted. “And I’m glad I was wrong.
“I may not get out much, but I recognise when a woman is coming on to me, even if it is as low key as what Gabrielle has been doing. So I asked my friends, Ron and Hermione, about it, and they were very encouraging. In fact, they were about as subtle as a Death Eater making a point about Muggles. They have never, ever, approved of anyone I have wanted to date, especially not after I have only known her for a few days, and definitely not when there was an age gap. So I decided that I would ask you for your permission and see how you reacted, as I know you to be an honourable man. And like everyone else, you were immediately encouraging. Too much so; there is something going on here; I’m being manipulated, and that’s not something I like.”
Jean moved deliberately, reaching into his bottom drawer, and pulled out a small flask. He took a sip and closed the lid, before looking at Harry directly.
“I am stuck in a position I do not enjoy,” Jean said openly. “And I do not know how to respond.”
“The truth, Jean,” Harry growled. “It is only the respect that I have for you that is stopping me from leaving right now.”
Jean paled a little and raised his hands. “Please, Harry,” he said. “There is a lot that you don’t know, and a lot that I can not explain. I am bound by promises I made that are too important for me to break.”
Harry climbed to his feet and shot Jean a disgusted look.
“All I can say is that you will have to talk to Gabrielle.”
Harry raised one eyebrow and nodded, before turning and marching out the door.
Jean watched him go for a moment, and then placed a call into his Floo. “I need some Aurors,” he said abruptly. “I don’t know how he is going to respond to what is going to happen, and I want to be safe.”
“He figured it out already?” The floating head asked.
“Yes,” Jean said with a grudging respect. “He tricked me into revealing it.”
“Impressive,” the man noted. “The Aurors are in your dining room.”
“Thanks,” Jean said. He groaned as he realised that Hermione had probably tried to warn him, only he hadn’t been thinking clearly enough about it.
He sighed and disappeared through a side door, taking a shortcut to the pool.
Gabrielle could feel the magical energy radiating from Harry long before he came into sight and she sighed, her stomach clenching into an unpleasant knot.
“Harry knows,” she said simply.
“What,” Fleur said. “How?”
“I do not know,” Gabrielle sighed. “He is coming to talk to me. He is upset.”
“Walk over to the orchard,” Aimée said quietly. “Do not go out of sight. Be very honest, Gabrielle, because if you are not utterly truthful, you will lose him.”
“Yes, Mama,” Gabrielle said nervously.
“You are a Delacour,” Aimée continued. “You are strong enough to do this. This is what you want; he is what you want and who you have chosen. Remember that, and do not let yourself down.”
Gabrielle squared her shoulders and nodded firmly. “Thank you, Mama.” She turned and walked away, heading toward the orchard, her mother’s pep-talk locked in her mind.
She reached the entrance and paused. It wouldn’t do for Harry to see her nervous, so she leaned against one of the apple trees and waited, absently smoothing down the robe she was wearing over her suit.
She didn’t have to wait for long. He seemed to explode from the house, the magical energy making the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. He was magnificent, still dressed in only his swimming shorts, as he marched toward her. His body was deeply tanned, with a just few of the scars from his fight with Voldemort showing. He wasn’t overly muscled, in the way of a man who spent too much time in the gym, but he was more muscled in the way of professional athlete who had to react with speed and grace to every situation.
He was beautiful, and despite everything, she knew that she had been incredibly lucky that he had turned out this way. She wouldn’t have cared if he had been ugly – his inner beauty would still have shone through, but his outer beauty was incredible.
His eyes were blazing with barely repressed fury as he approached her. She could see it as his lips moved, as he tried to calm himself, and she was grateful for that. Her own heart was beating fast, partly from fear, partly from the affect her of her chosen Mate feeling passionate. She knew that if she screwed this up, not only would she end up insane, but worse, she would lose him before she even had him.
He walked up to her and stopped. “Talk,” he ordered.
“It’s a long story,” she said softly. As gracefully as she could, she sat in front of him. “Please,” she begged.
He looked at her for a second and then sat in a motion that was almost violent in its simplicity.
“Dumbledore never told Fleur or Madame Maxine that I was going to be the bait during the second task,” she started and hid a smile as he instantly looked curious. It hadn’t been what he had expected, and she allowed herself a feeling of hope.
“For as long as anyone can remember, there has been enmity between the Merpeople and the Veela. The source of this enmity has been lost in time, but it is as alive today as it has been since it started. So when I was placed in their care, they were ecstatic, they were hoping to arrange for an accident so that I would die.”
Harry’s face turned into a scowl, and he nodded.
“Fleur was terrified of even going down into the water, but she was not going to let me down, and she didn’t feel like she could say anything. The enmity has been kept a secret for centuries. She was stopped easily enough, and the Merpeople knew that nothing could happen to her, so they let her go. They were ecstatic as they knew they would be able to arrange for my accident. And then you came and rescued me. You didn’t even know me, except as the sister of the arrogant Veela. You were so much younger than the other competitors, and yet you saved my life. Not because of the task, but because it was the right thing to do. You could have lost the task, you could have failed to save your friend, but you didn’t care. You knew what was right, and you did it. And I can remember standing there, shivering, watching you as you did what all heroes do – shrugged off the praise as if what you had done was natural – that anyone would have done the same, given the opportunity.
“And suddenly it came to me. Out of the blue, the idea entered my mind, and it made so much sense. Despite all of the warnings I had received, I made the decision. I Mated myself to you.”
Harry blinked, his face going blank. “What?” he asked, as if he had misheard her.
In another situation, she would have smiled at his dumbfounded expression but not in this one.
“A Veela can choose her Mate,” she explained. “It is different from marriage, or falling in love, or even making love. For a Veela, mating is the most profound thing in existence. It means putting your life in someone else’s hands, swearing loyalty and fidelity to them for eternity; it means joining your life and your magic to theirs.
“But I was only eight years old?” she said softly, raising her hand to stop his question. “I know, and I had only had the ability for a couple of months. On my eighth birthday, Mama and Nana sat me down and explained very clearly exactly what Mating was, how to do it, and above everything else, why I should not do it unless I was very sure – and that doing it before I was eighteen was very stupid as it could cause problems. I have always been headstrong, and as I watched you, you seemed to be perfect. Sure, you were a little short for a prince, but you were still young. You were noble, good looking, and brave. I was convinced, so I released the ability that bound me to you, and then I pretty much passed out.
“Fleur recognised what happened and immediately called for Mama to come and take me home.” She smiled faintly. “She was not happy with me.”
She could see that he was still waiting for her to continue, that he was not going to ask questions yet.
“It is very rare for a Veela to mate herself that young, because of the problems, and I knew that I was too young to do anything about it, anyway, and you had more important things to contend with at the time than the actions of a silly girl.”
“What do you mean by problems?” he asked, his voice cold and distant.
She winced and took a deep breath. “If a Veela Mates before she is seventeen and is not accepted by her Mate before her seventeenth birthday, her powers will go out of control, and she will end up insane,” she said calmly. “It is a prospect I have lived with since that fateful moment.”
“And you didn’t bring this problem straight to me because?”
“Because my father tried to find another solution first; the finest magical minds in the world were consulted, rare potions were tried, but nothing would work. It took several years of my parents’ best efforts before they concluded that I was going to have to live with the consequences of my decision; mating is as much a part of me as my magic is. And when we knew that my only chance was with you, I did not want to just arrive in your life and destroy your freedom,” she said honestly. “And I didn’t want to have you like that. I have been in love with you since I was eight. Loving you has been a central facet of my growing up. Fleur had a lot of problems with growing up as a Veela, but I did not, as I had a focus for the changes. You were my focus. I learned everything I could about you, Harry, while I waited. Although I know that you would give up your life for someone else, I didn’t want you to do that for me. I don’t want you by default.” She took another deep breath. “I wanted you to fall in love with me on your own accord; I didn’t want you to be forced to be with me. I wanted to have a chance to show that I can make you happy, so that we could be together for both of us, and not just because of my Mating.”
He nodded slowly, his eyes now hooded and hidden. “And so you asked Ron and Hermione for help? And your father, and Madame Maxine, which is why I was offered the post at Beauxbatons?”
“Not entirely,” Gabrielle said, wincing. “The idea of you teaching was such a good one that everyone involved wanted to help out without knowing about me.”
She could feel his anger grow again.
“What would have happened if I had found someone else? If I had fallen in love?” he demanded.
She closed her eyes, trying hard not to cry. This was the one question, above all others that she had prayed he wouldn’t ask. Her mother’s advice to be honest came into her mind again, and she took another deep breath.
“It wouldn’t have happened,” she said simply, opening her eyes and looking at him directly, “you couldn’t.”
“What do you mean?” he asked suspiciously.
“The Mating caused a connection between us. My magic was tied to yours; it meant that you never really felt truly comfortable around another woman.”
“What?” he whispered, before his magic flared dramatically.
She could feel him searching himself, and a few seconds later, she felt a small tug on the magical bond between them.
“Is this why when I kissed Ginny, hell, when I kissed anyone, there was nothing there?” he whispered.
“All this time,” he continued, his voice growing in intensity as he climbed to his feet, “I’ve been alone for the last eight years of my life because of a spell so small I missed it?”
She nodded again. “No!” she cried, as she felt his magic surge again. She moved, suddenly, on to her knees, looking up at him. “Please,” she begged. “Please don’t break it, please, anything but that.”
“Why - not?” he asked in a cold and emotionless voice
“Because it is irreplaceable, and it will condemn me to insanity.” She looked up at him, her hands together in prayer, keeping her Veela powers under a tight reign, not wanting him to see anything but her, Gabrielle, begging him for her future, the future she wanted with him. “Please, Harry; do not do this now, not like this, not in anger and frustration. Please do not act in haste. Think about it first, please, with a level-head, before you sever the connection. If, once you have thought about it, you decide to go through with it, I will not stop you, and I will accept my fate as just punishment for my foolish actions when I was young. But please, not like this, not in a fit of rage. If nothing else, I beg of you, grant me this one request.”
She watched his eyes, oblivious to the swirling winds around her, to the men who came running out of the house and appeared to hit a barrier, oblivious to everything but him. For the first time she saw the devastation her Mating had caused him, it crashed down on her through his eyes, and it hurt much more than any physical blow would have. She had hurt the only man that mattered to her, the only man whose heart could destroy her.
He began to speak and then shook himself, his face changing, as he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there, anywhere but near her, as if her very presence caused emotions in him that she was too scared to identify. Fire swirled around them as he closed his eyes and disappeared, the sound of the supposedly impenetrable wards groaning before they shattered, matching the roar of the fire that extended out for a thirty-metre radius, destroying everything and anything in its path; everything apart from her.
She dropped to her knees, crying, in the middle of the desolation.
Her mother was by her side before anyone else, pulling her into a comforting embrace. “I ruined his life,” Gabrielle sobbed, burying her face into the crook of her mother’s neck.
“No, my little angel,” Aimée whispered softly. “You made a foolish mistake as a child, but you did not ruin his life. Do not worry, we will find a way to let you live, now that he has rejected you.”
“Oh, no, Mama, no,” Gabrielle said, as she leant back and looked at her mother. “He is furious. He is furious with me, with his friends, with everyone. But despite everything, he did not choose his freedom, Mama; Harry did not break the bond.”
Huge thanks to my beta's Cami, Susan, John, Rachael, Leslie, Ellie, and John for their help with this.
And a special thank you to Grégoire Jean for his willingness to be consulted.