Disclaimer for the whole story 'thé à la grenouille': J K Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter book series. I receive no money from writing this story.
Title: It means 'frog-flavoured tea'. When thinking of a title, I thought of Britain, which drinks tea, and France, which eats frog thigh as a delicacy. Thus the name of the story.
Warning: This is a very slow-going story. It takes a while for Harry to even get to Beauxbâtons, because before that there will be encounters with Dumbledore trying to get him away from the French, Death Eaters trying to attack, and various other things. This story features Harry at eight years old attending his first year at Beauxbâtons (in my story, Beauxbâtons starts when you're eight, not eleven), and then there'll be a timeskip of several years and we'll get straight to the year of the Triwizard tournament, with Harry heading off the Hogwarts.
And yes, there will be romance eventually.
(The story has undergone a massive bout of editing during the weekend of the 5th and 6th of December, 2015. Several typos were corrected, small things were tweaked, but the events and the plot remains the same.)
Summer of 1988
Yawning, Harry padded out of the living room, where his uncle and aunt had begun exchanging furious whispers. He hadn't done anything wrong lately, so he hoped it didn't have anything to do with him. Perhaps they knew about the letter he'd fiddled around with a few days ago? It had seemed like an important letter, but since it had been adressed to him he had not shown it to his family, fearing they would take it away. It had been written in French and he had not understood its contents, so instead he had had fun trying to copy the elegant cursive by writing his name in the same way. Still, it was unlikely that his family knew about it.
He walked down the hall and over to the entrance. His small hand turned the key and, when the resulting click was heard, he reached up to grasp the handle of the door and push it down.
There was a man on the other side.
"Bonjour," said the man.
Harry noted that he was wearing strange clothes, unsuited for the mountain. They looked like what his uncle's work friends wore, those same fancy suits, but with frills added, like on a girl's dress. It looked very old-fashioned.
"Puis-je m'entretenir avec tes parents?" continued the man.
Despite having already spent a few days in France. Harry was still surprised whenever he heard someone speak in another language.
"Désolé," said Harry, one of the rare French words he could remember from Vernon having used it that morning. It meant 'sorry', and Harry was really thankful that he knew at least one word this stranger would understand. "Wait here." He held his palms up, pushing them out in a gesture meant to convey that he would be back and that the man had to wait where he was.
Taking a step back, Harry turned and shuffled back to the living room, leaving the front door half-open so the man knew he'd come back. He did not think it would be taken well if he rudely closed the door to the man's face just to have the time to get his family. He hoped the man was not a burglar, and he was not making an enormous mistake by leaving the front door open. He really did not want his uncle to yell at him.
He could hear the adults talking from where he was, so he followed the source of noise.
"Too early, should've known they'd trick us, with their abnormal ways… And your back, Vernon! Look what they did to you!" his aunt was saying. When she saw him, she closed her mouth and stopped talking.
"There's someone at the door," Harry informed them. "A French man. He's dressed funny."
That last sentence prompted a reaction. The Dursleys shared a worried glance, and his aunt hurried towards the kitchen. His uncle looked at him.
"Go to your room, boy. This is… well, a problem us adults have to discuss."
It was a bit strange. The other times people had knocked at the door, like the caterer or the delivery service, his family had not seemed to have any problems. They had been a bit tense these past few days, yes, but Harry had not expected an ordinary man, strangely dressed or not, to be the cause of such behaviour.
Usually, his uncle gave only orders, and never explanations. The fact that he had broken that unofficial rule prompted Harry to obey, no questions asked. So Harry left, attempting to walk slowly so he could keep his uncle in his sights for as long as possible. He was curious, and really wanted to know what had made his uncle act so... nicely to him. Just before he disappeared into his room, he saw his uncle reach the wooden door, the man's expression a mix of resigned and furious.
The door closed, and Harry was left alone the room.
The bedroom was not really his - it was shared between his cousin and himself, as there were only two rooms in the chalet. It was nice, though. Rustic, with wooden walls and visible support beams. The decoration was a bit old fashioned, but apparently that was normal, according to his aunt. All chalets looked like this, she'd say whenever he commented on the appearance of the place.
Not knowing how long he had to wait, Harry settled down on the bed - his bed - that was covered in red sheets with white designs. The Dursleys had been forced to allow him to have a proper bed to avoid facing scrutiny, which Harry was grateful for. His bed was the one that was near the window, and he sat down on it with a picture book in his hands. He looked at the colours in the book and the figures on it, not understanding much. It had been bought in this country and so it was in French, a language Harry couldn't understand. It was Dudley's book, but as long as he did not know Harry had taken it, everything would be fine.
The wall separating his room from the living room was thick, so nothing was to be heard, though from time to time he could have sworn he heard his uncle's raised voice, shouting obscenities.
There was a faint prickling sensation on Harry's back, up to the nape of his neck. He felt like someone was spying on him. Slowly, he turned around.
There was nobody there.
He saw only a closed window, showing the street outside, devoid of people despite the warm summer day. The lack of human activity was understandable; his aunt had told him that people only came to Morzine in the winter, to ski. The Dursleys had come now, completely out of season and in the summer, to avoid the crowds and have a nice vacation. Harry didn't like it. Everything was closed down and they always had to drive for ages to go down to the nearest town to buy groceries and other necessities.
His gaze went back to the door.
It's not fair, he thought. Dudley had gone to play outside and judging by how long he had been gone, he was most likely up to no good. Harry was always good, but his family never seemed to agree to that. He remembered how two weeks ago, a vase had fallen on its own, and Harry had been blamed for it. Then he had been stuck in the chalet with his uncle and his aunt as they bickered about what they wanted to do during the week.
At least the letter had been interesting, the one he had found a few days ago. Harry had thought it had seemed marginaly more interesting than staring at the walls, with the graceful script it was written in, though it had all been in French.
There had been a really impressive signature at the end, with the fancy letters written really prettily. Next to it, there had been a line with several small dots. Since Harry had found the letter, he had allowed himself to sign it to have something to do, trying to make it as neat as the illegible, pretty name next to it. He had failed and, unhappy, had thrown out the letter.
"Boy!" hissed his aunt, bringing him out of his thoughts. She was standing next to the now-open door and had probably been trying to get his attention for some time.
"Yes?" Harry asked, trying to hide Dudley's picture book from view so she wouldn't yell at him for touching it. Did she need help with something? Or perhaps she did not want him to stay in the room, doing nothing productive? Maybe she'd accuse him of contaminating the room due to spending too much time there?
His aunt seemed in a state of distress, her eyes wide. "Did you receive a letter during our stay?"
Harry was surprised by the emphasis on the words. It seemed the question was important.
He thought of the pretty letter he had received. It had been stuck on the outside of the window, against the glass, during a rainy day. Surprisingly, the water had simply glided off it, as if it were waterproof. That had been what had initially caught his interest.
That was the confirmation his aunt needed. She advanced upon him, and he raised the book to protect himself. But it was too late; she caught him by his sleeve and pulled him out of his room, forcing him to drop the book with a well-aimed slap. He had to hop to keep up, unable to run sideways and unbalanced by her grip.
Finally, she dumped him in front of his uncle and the French man.
"There he is, Vernon! And he told me he signed it! This…" His aunt looked at the stranger. "His sort, the ones that came Tuesday, were telling the truth." Her voice was awfully close to a wail, and she was trembling.
"Preposterous!" shouted his uncle. "You told me yourself that the blasted thing would come when he turns eleven! That's why we turned them away! I refuse to submit to this... this bullshit coercion once more! My back is still-"
"What bullshit coercion?" asked Harry, parroting his uncle.
"Silence!" ordered his uncle, at the same time his aunt said, "Language!"
Sorry, thought Harry resentfully.
Once Harry finished explaining, there was a silence. The adults thought of what to do. His aunt, no longer needed, left the room. His uncle took a step towards him, cleared his throat, opened his mouth, glanced at the French man, paled dramatically, and closed his mouth. That was that.
Harry did not know what he was supposed to do. He fiddled with the zipper of his jacket, pulling it up and down, and then up and down again. It was a nervous tick he couldn't supress.
"This... man. He works for the school that sent you that letter. His name's Mister Beaner."
The French man straightened his back. "I weel bring 'im to our Min'stry to solve this."
The Ministry? Harry raised his head, eyes wide, but knew better that to say anything.
Strangely, his uncle seemed uncomfortable, his face chalk white. Harry had expected his uncle to be angry, like he always was whenever something had to do with Harry. Instead, his uncle seemed dreadfully scared, as though the French man were a dangerous beast.
"They told us…" said his uncle. "The letter was supposed to arrive when he's eleven, not now. We already said no when you came the other day. You didn't tell us anything about the boy signing a letter. He isn't meant to start this early!"
"I can assure you dat it iz normal. All our students start at eight years old." The man adjusted his intricately decorated tie. "I will bring him back zis evening."
Harry half-expected his uncle to become red and throw out the French man, inserting some normality into this bizarre situation. He did neither of those things.
"Very well. Just…" His uncle looked at him, his stare unreadable. "Come back in time for supper." It was the most polite the man had ever been when it came to Harry.
Why did his uncle look so scared?
"I am Christophe Binnert," said the man once they were outside.
The adult sighed.
"Call me Mister Binnert."
Harry did not know what to do next. They were outside, looking at a few chalets by the outskirts of Morzine. The sun was gently warming them up, with more of a breeze than Harry would have liked.
"Before going to ze Min'stry, I must eat lunch. I have not eaten yet." Mister Binnert extended his arm. "Hold on to me, we are going to apparaître to ze town where ze restaurant iz."
Puzzled, Harry tried to make sense of what the man had said (his accent made it hard to understand him), but found he could not. How were they going to the restaurant? Did the man have a car? Harry could only see the one rented by the Dursleys for the duration of the vacation, but none other.
Trusting, he held on to the man's arm. It was nowhere as big as his uncle's. The jacket - vest? blazer? - that the man was wearing was made of something soft and warm.
"Zis might be a bit bizarre, but it is only temporary," the man said, tightening their grip.
And with a sharp crack, they disappeared.
Barely a second later, Harry found himself on his knees, tears down his face, retching. Mister Binnert had the dubious pleasure of seeing what he had eaten earlier today.
"I am sorry, Mister Potter. Normally, we never Apparate children, because zey cannot take it, but I had thought that with you…" Mister Binnert trailed off, pursing his lips.
Never again, thought Harry, was he going to do this. He felt terrible.
The adult placed a hand on his shoulder, looking faintly worried.
"What was that thing you did? It was just like…" Harry hesitated over the word. His uncle never liked when he spoke of it. "It was just like magic."
Mister Binnert frowned. "Yes, it iz magic. Did your family not explain zat to you? They are Moldus, yes, but zey are family, and must know of magic."
Harry was having a difficult time understanding everything this strange man said. He was talking strangely, like he did not know how to pronounce English properly. His English was accented, but not like someone from Wales or Scotland or Ireland. His English had a French accent that Harry had never heard before coming to France, and Harry felt disconcerted by the sound of it. He wasn't used to having to try to decipher such an accent.
"Why can't you speak right?" Harry asked boldly.
One of the man's eyebrows went up, and he appeared insulted.
"You are un sorcier, Harry," said the man, ignoring Harry's question. "It means you can do magic. The letter you signed was an invitation to our French School of Magic, one of ze best! It is a marvellous palace where all wizards like you go to learn magic. It will be like a home, you will sleep there and eat there like ze other children, and you will learn how to do marvellous things, like fly, or turn chairs into animals!"
Harry, despite still having an unpleasant taste of vomit on his tongue, leaned forward to listen as the man told him all about the things he would do. That magic school seemed really interesting, but the Dursleys wouldn't want to pay for such things. Harry knew it was most likely expensive, and despite his excitement, he also knew, in a rare show of maturity for a child his age, that he wouldn't be allowed to go to that wonderful school full of things beyond his childish comprehension. The Dursleys would never want to pay for all that.
"Come," said the man. "We vill wash your face."
Following the man apprehensively, Harry tried to understand where they were. They had been outside the chalet just minutes ago, and then the man had done that strange trick, and Harry had vomited, and the man had talked about that school, and somewhere in the middle of all that, he realized that they had somehow travelled without him noticing. They were somewhere else. Somewhere other. It seemed that the man had done something like teleportation, and Harry felt dizzy at the mere thought. What would the Dursleys say?
It was a small town, and not many people were seen in the street. Harry could see a woman walking by, with a strange, pointed hat, and there was a man with three eyes further away, chatting with a young teenage boy.
Harry greatly wanted to ask Who are they? but he did not have the courage to. He did not know this 'Mister Binnert', and he honestly did not trust the man. They had barely met a few minutes ago, and Harry felt strangely wary around the man, some sixth sense telling him something wasn't quite right with the whole situation and with how Uncle Vernon had let Mister Binnert have his way with barely a few words of protestation.
Also, another reason why Harry did not dare ask too many questions was the he had been taught to avoid doing that with the Dursleys, who had always hated his questions. And finally, he was not sure the French man would give a satisfactory answer even if he did ask, seeing as Harry could not comprehend his words most of the time due to that annoying, thick accent.
So instead, he allowed himself to be led away, turning to an alleyway full of small moving lights that illuminated everything around them brightly. Harry covered his eyes, trying to avoid being blinded by the brightness.
"Estellettes," explained Binnert, pointing at the lights. "They are often used in ze streets, to light up so people can see."
They finally came out on another street, a bigger, more crowded one. There were screeching owls, and wailing infants, and people shouting out about their wares to potential customers, and adults talking, and people haggling, and a cat yowling at a young overeager child, and…
"Harry, do not stand zere, come with me."
... and Harry was dragged off again, staring in awe at a world he had never known existed.