Safe to say that when Fleur Delacour-Weasley suggested to Harry Potter that he take a break on the French island where her family had a holiday home, nobody, least of all Fleur or Harry, expected the idea to end the way it did.
It was more than four years since the final battle. For the first two, it had been as if the war went on. Harry had worked with the Auror Department, tracking the remaining Death Eaters, taking on all the most dangerous missions. He’d completed the purpose he’d been born for, but the job wasn’t done, couldn’t be done, until Voldemort’s cause was utterly destroyed, until every last person who’d worn the Dark Mark or willingly done the Dark Lord’s bidding was rounded up and accounted for.
Anyway, it was the only thing he knew how to do. The only thing he was good at.
Then there had been the war trials, dragging on for months. He’d preferred the field missions, hated sitting for hours in courtrooms to give ten minutes of evidence, hated the whole, slow, laborious mechanics of the law, which seemed increasingly to function more like a business arrangement than like any true justice. When the last of them was finally done, Harry had stepped out from the Ministry into the sunshine and hadn’t looked back.
Uttar Pradesh had been supposed to give him answers or connections or roots or something, something he was searching for, something that would make peace into a concept that made sense. Somewhere way back, Uttar Pradesh was where his father’s family had come from, but all the people who could have told him more were gone, so that was all he had. Maybe if he’d remembered anything of life with his father, if he’d ever known his grandparents, there might have been something familiar there—some smell or taste, half-remembered words in an old tongue, a gesture, a tune. But Harry’s memories started with a flash of green light, and after that there had only been Privet Drive and the Dursleys.
He’d felt a foreigner in a Britain at peace, and he’d felt a foreigner in Uttar Pradesh too, so he’d drifted on. In South East Asia, he’d fallen in with a group of local witches and wizards, vigilantes battling people-smugglers. That world—fighting evil, working outside the law, living in the shadows and making plans that could get them killed—felt at least a little like home, and he could help, so he did. It was what he was good at, after all.
‘You’re not like us,’ a young witch called Cam had told him one night, after a day in which he’d taken down a gang of six, more or less single-handedly.
Harry, expecting some comment on his wand skills to follow, had started to shake his head. All he’d had—all he’d ever had—had been luck and a whole lot of experience he’d rather have done without.
‘We’re not soldiers. You are.’
They’d been in bed together at the time, and Harry had lain on his back, staring at the corrugated iron ceiling.
‘I’m not a soldier. I never was. I was just a kid.’
She’d propped herself up and looked at him.
‘Kids shouldn’t be soldiers. But it doesn’t mean they can’t be.’
One day in town, though, a group of British wizarding tourists had recognised him, and publicity could have blown the entire operation, so Harry had taken a hasty leave and moved on. Through China and Mongolia, always moving, never staying long in one place, because if he stopped, things might fall apart.
In Ulaanbaatar he’d sat outside a railway station, contemplating where to go next, and thinking about another railway station on the other side of the world, and a little boy alone in a strange city, on the brink of a new world but with no idea how to get there. The owl found him there, and something in the universe still had plans for him, because the letter—the first he’d received for a long time—was from Molly Weasley. Molly Weasley, who’d gathered him up without a second thought that day at King’s Cross, who’d shown him what a mother ought to be, who’d barely smiled since the Battle of Hogwarts, and who’d been so upset when he and Ginny’s relationship had fizzled out a few months later that she clearly hadn’t quite known how to talk to him ever since.
Sitting on a dusty curb outside the train station in Ulaanbaatar, Harry had read the letter from Molly Weasley—short but kind, not asking where he was, not demanding that he return, just hoping that he was alright and sending love ‘from all your family at home’—and cried for the first time in a long time.
Then he had gathered up the exhausted owl, gone inside, and started to make arrangement for the long journey back to England.
Back home, he’d tried half-heartedly to pick up threads from a life he wasn’t sure had ever really been his. It was good to see friends, to stay at the Burrow again, to make himself part of his four-year-old godson’s life again with trips for ice cream and to the zoo. But when the Auror department offered him his job back, he turned it down, and he said no, too, when Minerva McGonagall wrote to him to suggest that he apply for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position opening up at Hogwarts, although he wasn’t quite sure why.
On Hermione’s suggestion—which was a little more insistent than a suggestion—he saw a therapist, and, like most of Hermione’s suggestions, it helped. The guilt started to fade, the nightmares improved, and the world started to seem real again.
The truth remained, though, that fighting the Dark Arts was all he knew how to do. And he hated fighting; he was sick of it, sick and tired.
He was so very tired.
He should take a holiday, they urged him. Not a headlong rush across the world in search of something, or a mission to join yet another battle. A break away from it all, somewhere peaceful. And Fleur knew a place. Her family went there every summer, but it was September and they’d just left. They’d be delighted if he wanted to use the house—it just sat empty the rest of the year. It was a bit remote, an island off the south coast of France, but nobody would bother him there. She doubted most of the residents had even heard of Voldemort, let alone would recognise Harry Potter.
Île de Mélusine was as peaceful as Fleur had promised. It was an isolated, magical community, visible to Muggles only as a rock in the middle of the Bay of Marseille. Harry’s Primary School French didn’t get him very far, but a few of the inhabitants spoke a little English, and anyway, he found he didn’t mind not having to talk very much to anyone.
The Delacours’ house was perched by itself at the top of a cliff, looking out over the Mediterranean towards Corsica, with a small private beach below it, an idyll in the September sunshine that still felt like summer. He went for walks along the shore and shopped at the market, and he thought that even Hermione might be quite proud of how his cooking skills improved with practice.
One of the people who spoke a little English was the elderly owner of the single hotel in the little town. A ramshackle old place, it appeared to have no guests and only served the locals—and Harry—in the bar on the ground floor.
‘Does it get busy in the summer?’ Harry asked the old man, Monsieur Gasquet, one day, but Gasquet shook his head.
‘Fifty years in past, yes. Now, no. We are too small. Too old. Nobody come here.’
Looking at the state of the hotel, half falling down, Harry thought he could see why. But he only offered to help the old man move some barrels of wine, and somehow, that became a habit: Harry helping out with odd jobs at the hotel, and being rewarded with lunch and a glass of local white.
The year wore on, and storms blew in off the Mediterranean. The house on the cliff was no longer quite so comfortable with gales howling around it, and the Gasquets offered him a room in the hotel instead, in return for his continued help around the place.
He knew that staying on the island was only putting off the decisions that had to be made in the future, but somehow spring came and he was still there. With the improving weather came visits from Ron and Hermione, who both asked him how long he was planning on staying.
‘I mean, it’s a great place for a holiday and everything,’ Ron said, ‘but you wouldn’t want to live here forever, would you?’
‘S’pose not,’ Harry replied with a shrug.
The Delacours arrived for the summer and greeted him like an old friend. He hadn’t seen them since Bill and Fleur’s wedding, when Gabrielle had been eleven. Now she was in her late teens, and still had Fleur’s blonde hair and blue eyes and fine-boned features, but he was slightly surprised by how unlike Fleur she was in a lot of other ways.
She came into the hotel bar when he was serving one night and ordered firewhisky.
‘You are seventeen, right?’ he asked her, hesitating with his hand on the bottle.
‘Yes. Do you want to see my identification?’ she countered.
His French was improving, but they spoke in English, and, apart from an accent that was less strong than her sister's, hers was perfect. And he should have wanted to see her ID, he knew that perfectly well, but he served her anyway, because he was about 97% sure she was seventeen, and how bad could the consequences be from one firewhisky anyway?
‘Do you remember when you pulled me out from the lake in the Triwizard Tournament?’ she asked, two drinks later. ‘Even though you didn’t need to do it?’
‘Funnily enough, yes.’
She grinned. ‘That was very stupid of you, wasn’t it?’
He stared at her for a moment, then laughed, really laughed, in a way he hadn’t done for a while.
‘Yeah, well, not the only stupid thing I ever did.’
She was only seventeen—he made sure of that by casually checking with her mother the next day—but surprisingly good company, and it was nice to have young company again.
‘Why do you stay here?’ she asked him one day, a subtly different question from the ‘when are you coming home?’ he got from his friends in the UK.
‘I like it here,’ he said. ‘Don’t you?’
‘Yes, but I wouldn’t expect you to.’
He looked at her across the bar, feeling slightly and irrationally stung.
She shrugged, a big, French gesture.
‘I don’t know. You are Harry Potter. You’re the big hero. You could be living a great life.’
‘Well, right now I prefer this life,’ he said shortly.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, after a pause. ‘I know that terrible things happened in the war. I didn’t mean…’
‘It’s okay,’ he told her, because he wasn’t really annoyed. If his best friends, who had been with him through everything, couldn’t really understand, how could a seventeen-year-old he barely knew? ‘I don’t know what my plan is, to be honest.’
‘So don’t try to make a plan,’ she told him. ‘Not everyone has one, you know.’
He looked curiously at her. ‘Do you?’
‘No. Fleur was always the one with the plan. Me, I like to see what happens.’
‘Yeah well, you’re seventeen. You’ve got a long time to figure things out.’
She laughed at him. ‘Because you are such an old man, with no time at all, right?’
His lips twitched, but he couldn’t quite join in with her laughter.
‘Okay, fair point. We’ve both got time.’
And they did, all the time in the world, as it turned out.
At the end of the summer, Harry talked to the Gasquets, and a plan was made; not a plan forever, but a plan for the moment. All that year he stayed at the hotel and worked, stripping down walls, pulling up floorboards, rebuilding, fixing, painting. And when Gabrielle and her parents came back the following June, she picked up a paintbrush and helped.
She was eighteen and had just finished school. He was twenty four that summer. Nothing quite happened, not then, but something shifted. He no longer looked at her and saw a little girl, a miniature Fleur. Instead she became a partner, a workmate, someone he laughed with and shared drinks with after a day’s work, and went for long walks along the clifftops with. Someone he could talk to.
He heard about what it was like to grow up as the slightly less clever, slightly less bold, slightly less talented, slightly less sure of herself younger sister of Fleur Delacour. In return, he started to tell her about learning as a teenager that your life had one purpose and one purpose only, a purpose that would probably kill you, and she listened. She listened, too, as he tried to explain how it felt when that purpose was fulfilled, and you were still alive, with a lifetime ahead of you and no point to it all.
‘And I could keep on fighting,’ he told her. ‘They want me in the Auror Department. I know what I’m doing with it.’
‘But you don’t want to,’ she said, with the directness and insight he’d come to expect from her. ‘I understand that. Why would you, after everything?’
‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at,’ he tried to explain. ‘I mean, not that I was anything special, I just learnt by doing it. But what else am I meant to do?’
‘Well, that isn’t true,’ she said. ‘Weren’t you some Quidditch genius too? You were good at that.’
‘People don’t start Quidditch careers when they’re twenty-four,’ he pointed out.
‘Who said anything about a career? You’re allowed to do things for fun, you know. Anyway, you’re good at this. Look—you’ve built a whole hotel! There are guests here for the first time since I can remember. Maybe it’s not what you want to do with your life, or maybe it is. It doesn’t matter. The point is that nobody’s born with one purpose. Just be glad you don’t have to fight anymore. Find new things to be good at. Things you actually like. And if you decide that it’s running a hotel on a French island,’ she added, ‘I might stay and help you. I haven’t got any other plans, after all.’
He stayed, and she did too.
In the spring the media found him, and he almost abandoned the project, but Gabrielle asked him if he was crazy, running away from free publicity. So he let them do their worst, and it did the trick—tourists flocked to stay in Harry Potter’s hotel.
Over the next year, the attention made it harder to hide what had become far more than a work partnership, far more than only friendship. It was only a matter of time before the first speculative headline appeared, accompanying a photo of them sitting at a table, heads suspiciously close together.
‘We were just looking at blueprints for the extension,’ Harry told inquisitive friends (and it was true, as far as that went). ‘You know what the papers are like.’
It was only putting off the inevitable, though, and after some further headlines calling Gabrielle a ‘half-veela siren’ who was ‘attempting to ensnare Harry Potter’, they decided that enough was enough. In September 2005, almost exactly three years since he’d arrived on the island, Harry and Gabrielle hosted a party at the hotel for their friends and family—the first of what would become an annual event—during which they didn’t try to hide what they were to each other.
‘So, you and Gabrielle. Definitely didn’t see that one coming. What’s the plan now?’ Ron asked Harry over a beer late one night.
Harry laughed. ‘There isn’t one. We’re seeing what happens.’