A/N – Hm – massive amounts of chocolate to any faithful readers we may have left. Liz blames the lateness of this chapter on getting all wrapped up in having a life. But it died again. So. Have fun with extra-stupid Ron. Minor HBP spoiler somewhere in the middle here, but if you haven't read the book you won't catch it. Just thought we'd throw it in because, well, it's fun. winces and pokes RonThePrat Vive la R/Hr! And, erm, George ends up rocking our worlds (well… mostly Liz's) in this, so worship him with us. Come on… you know you want to….
Oh! And something I just noticed – why are Hermione and Ron having a Muggle wedding, you may ask? Because it's fun. And because Hermione's family are Muggles. (Why I'm answering my own question I'll never know….)
Ron didn't have the slightest clue what to do, and decided the best way to get back in Hermione's good graces was to speak to her parents, and have them mention something to her about what a handsome, strapping young lad he was and how much he needed forgiveness at such a stressful, vulnerable time in his life, the poor dear.
Yes, he was aware he was desperate.
And so it was with a heavy heart that Ron Weasley trudged back down Wheeler Avenue. It was cloudy, windy, and grey ('Of course,' he thought) and the elderly couple across the street was sitting on the front porch tossing him strange looks; once, when the wind died down, he was able to make out their tortured whispers: "At the first sign of anything unusual, call the cops, okay, Herman?"
Time for Round 2 with the little black box. With a sigh, Ron spoke at the top of his lungs, "Hel-LO, it's RO-nald A-gain…"
There was a pregnant pause. In a frosty voice the otherwise-pleasant voice-in-the-box chirped, "I'm sorry-"
He cut in. "No, no! I'm here to speak to her parents, if you wouldn't mind."
"Well the Grangers have requested that all Weasleys be barred from the premises and-"
Ron tuned himself out: why did everyone suddenly hate him for simply being alive? He started back down the walk towards the road when all of the sudden he heard Mrs. Granger: "Goodness, Margaret, let the poor boy in, oh yes, please do…."
The gate swung open and Ron glanced around to make sure no one was watching. Quickly as he could, he performed his "happy dance" and congratulated himself on his ingenious idea to see the Grangers. The gate swung shut as he strutted through the fence towards the house—
To meet the barrel of a shotgun in the grip of Lovey.
"Yes, you poor Weasleys drive me insane! You're all just off your rockers, totally nuts, completely delusional or the like-!" With a mad cackle she fired twice in the air and made to fix her inhuman glare on Ron.
He was already over the seven-foot-tall fence and halfway down the street.
Harry told him to start with a list.
This, of course, wasn't particularly sound advice. First and foremost, because it came from Harry, of all people; and also because at the time this advice was dispensed, Harry was rushing out the door like a madman, dodging various Weasleys and the usual drunk Sirius or two (as Harry's godfather usually had the keen habit to pop up more than once when the time was most inopportune). Granted, Harry was going to meet Hermione and coerce and/or blackmail her to take her fiancé back – but Ron still couldn't help thinking Harry's time would be better spent brainstorming The Ultimate Way To Grovel, given that Harry's "talk" would, ultimately, fail: Harry had never been much of an orator.
But apparently Harry's mission was so much more important, and the only thoughts he could lend Ron were to "have a backup or five" and "use a list to keep straight." Well, Ron could understand this – he usually had a limited amount of thoughts floating around his brain, too.
Ron pondered. This was stupid. Harry was not helping him, and his "idea" was more like a sporadic hodgepodge of random synapses misfiring. Nevertheless, however idiotic and half-baked (and lukewarm and half-hearted… yes, Ron spent awhile with his Thesaurus, as well), this idea was a start. And Ron needed a start.
Two hours, twelve butterbeers, and three bathroom breaks later Ronald Weasley had brainstormed a list of a hundred different ways to make Hermione re-fall in love with him. It took another twenty minutes to reread it and cross off all the far-fetched schemes (like "buy her the copyright to "Hogwarts: A History"), improbable situations ("after becoming Minister of Magic, promise her New Zealand"), and bizarre fantasies that, quite frankly, gave him daymares when he stopped to really consider them. ("Transfigure self into Draco Malfoy in drag and subsequently proclaim self hottest man alive only to cause 'Mione's eyeballs to be permanently transfixed on my somehow-attractive pale non-pecs," being, by far, the most frightening. Where that came from he didn't know, but he supposed by number 97 he had been getting a tad desperate.)
So he was dismayed when he tacked his final list to Remus's fridge to learn that it consisted of seven do-able ideas – only five of which could be carried out in his lifetime. The list had looked so much bigger before he had taken a Sharpie to it. With a sigh, Ron felt his forehead collide against the white metal with a defeated "thunk," and couldn't bring himself to turn around when he sensed Sirius standing behind him.
There was a long, awkward pause, and Ron knew the older man had raised an eyebrow and was suppressing a chuckle in between pauses while he read from beneath a dashed line.
"'Number 42: Change each droplet of ocean-water into an incandescent pearl, string them on the world's biggest piece of yarn – blue, because it's her favourite colour – loop it around the world, and tell her that each loop stands for another point on how much I love her, on a scale of one to ten.' Well, mate, better get cracking – I hear global warming's going to dry up the oceans in about, oh, a thousand years or so."
Ron re-checked the list in his pocket. 'Number 5: Buy her flowers. Lots of them.'
Yes, he stole the idea from Sirius, but he had to start somewhere. And besides, he wasn't going to get her just any old flowers – he was going to get the most fantastic, extra-colossal, greatest bouquet he could possibly conjure up. He wouldn't settle for one dozen roses, or two dozen carnations, or four dozen tiger lilies. He needed twelve dozen – of each. And irises, and crocuses, and snapdragons, and violets – which were technically weeds but still pretty. And lilacs – only not the bushes. And lady slippers – before he realized it was illegal to pick them.
And about 25 or so more different kinds of flowers, but maths never really was his strong point anyway.
The idea was simple: sneak into the house when he knew she was at the library and place the flowers here and there to catch her eye. Then he'd watch her from the across-the-street house with Remus's pair of what he thought was called binoculars: wait for the rainbow array to work its magic. It was elegant, it was tasteful, and with luck Hermione would never know that this was the idea that took the least bit of thinking.
"You're sure you aren't going a bit overboard, right then?" Sirius remarked as the redhead made his way across the street – back and forth, carting flowers a good twenty times.
"No, don't worry. I'm having most of them delivered straight to our house!" He was met with a dumbfounded silence and was only able to shrug at his best friend's godfather.
At first Ron took to putting the flowers in the normal places: in vases on bureaus and tables, or rearranged prettily around the bathroom sink.
When he exhausted that possibility he started to get creative. Flowers served to outline the boundaries between rooms, and they manifested themselves in surprising places like drawers and keyholes. Romantic, and rose petals were found in a five-inch thick layer on the bedspread. Magic spells helped keep carnations on the walls, and baby's breath formed a fuzzy shade over the windows. Hydrangeas carpeted the floors; tulips sprung from every imaginable surface. He began to have to wade from room to room, and when the rest of his flowers were delivered Ron settled for shoving as many in a room as he could and quickly shutting the door. A mess of leaves and stems twined in front of his eyes, and when he was able to make his escape from the flower-house he met Sirius, whose eyes formed two huge saucers.
"Overboard – surely not?"
Ron shrugged. "N-no. It's just enough. It's not like they're oozing out from under the doors or anything."
"Uh-huh." Sirius poked an escaping vine with his foot.
"They're not!" the redhead insisted. And with that he turned on his heel and made for the Black-Lupin house; Sirius stared up at the boy in the upper window, the boy with binoculars, watching his doomed attempt at winning back his fiancée, and sighed.
He barely had time, however, to register the futility when the bushy-haired woman in question discreetly appeared beside her front door. No one else had noticed, save Ron from the upstairs window: on a Muggle-filled street, it was best to take precautions and Apparate straight inside the wizarding houses, but Sirius supposed the stress of the day had caused Hermione to become the least bit flustered, and Apparating in front was a slight mistake. He raised his hand in greeting, but Hermione was too busy fiddling with the keyhole to acknowledge his presence.
He was jerked out of his preoccupation with a hurried "Damn!"; he managed to swiftly avoid falling drainpipe and hissed up at Ron, "Unless you want Hermione to notice you, I suggest you stop leaning half out the window! And fix that pipe later, eh?" Ron sheepishly smirked and shushed the older man by pointing across the street.
Hermione was turning the doorknob, and for a moment she had a half-grinned as the door started to open.
And then it all went straight to hell.
The first wave was of lilacs, and then violets, and in no time flat Hermione was covered in a tide of purple flowers. She emerged, and blinked, and went to say something – but found she had to spit out a mouthful of petals, and merely squealed, eyes wide.
She said nothing as she peered into the house, and simply paled. Sirius stole a glance at Ron as Hermione started into the house; the boy was smiling, but the smile seemed to falter moment-by-moment as crashes inside the house built up, and were soon followed by screams and loud exclamations of disgust. Foul-sounding words, and Ron was ashen.
"Hermione doesn't curse…" he muttered to himself.
Sirius shook his head and resumed watching the plight of Hermione.
She must have magicked the windows open, because there was a sudden burst of colour from each, and flowers tumbled in tangles down the sides of the house. "Stupid thorns!" came from somewhere near her bedroom. Sirius would have laughed if this wasn't so severe and if Ron hadn't chosen that moment to lean so far out of the window that he landed with a thump in the bush next to Sirius.
The ex-convict turned to see if Ron was okay, but the door across the street opened with a bang and revealed Hermione, petals in her hair, whole flowers stuck in beltloops and buttonholes, her blouse only partly buttoned. It looked like she was going to start on a tirade, but instead let fly a rather impressive string of sneezes. This lasted a good five minutes – Hermione alternately trying to speak and instead sneezing – until she was able to straighten and point a shaking finger at Ron, still half-concealed by the bush.
She held up a daisy, and calmly proceeded to pick petal after petal and let it fall to the ground. Sirius heard Ron's whispers – "She loves me, she loves me not…" – and his short intake of breath when she let the stem fall. Grinding it with her toes, Hermione took a deep breath.
"Ronald Weasley, I abhor you."
And with a small pop the livid brunette Disapparated. Sirius looked down at Ron, who had covered his face with his hands. Slowly, Sirius pried each finger from where they were almost imbedded in his eyeballs, and raised a questioning eyebrow.
"I forgot… she's allergic to tulips." Sadly.
Sirius remained quiet.
"And maybe that was a bit much." Grudgingly.
"Well I may have lost the battle, but I have yet to lose the war?" A little uncertainly.
Sirius patted his head. "Good man."
And with that, he proceeded back into the house amidst Ron's calls of, "D'you know where I can find a tuba player…?" He needed a drink.
"Ahem. Ahem. Ah-"
Ron broke off in mid-ahem when a drumstick almost lodged itself down his throat. He shut his mouth and sank onto the grass beside the curb. This was hopeless.
An amazing array of people ranging from his fellow Gryffindors to the former Minister of Magic were assembled in the street before him. They were all dressed from head to toe in blue (even Draco Malfoy, who had chosen the occasion to don tight blue jeans from the "Females" department at the nearby Muggle shopping outlet, and a light blue wife-beater that showed off his less-than-muscley, pale arms); each held some type of instrument in his or her hand. All were laughing, talking, and generally ignoring the redhead in front of them, who had been trying to catch their attention with a Sonorous charm gone wrong.
After a peek at her brother Ginny Weasley made a face and conjured a picnic table and foghorn from nowhere. Without a second thought, she climbed to the top, blew her foghorn, and yelled, "If you don't shut up I'm going to Bat-Bogey Hex all of you!"
They shut up. No one wanted to cross Ginny Weasley.
"C'm'ere Ron," she said softly, holding out a hand. Ron took it and she noticed the bags under his eyes, the defeated way he moved. Sure, he was a great stupid prat, but he was her brother, and she couldn't help but feel sorry for the way all his plans were falling through.
"Don't mention it." She sat down next to him and started swinging her legs. She wanted to be very near her brother in case he needed help again.
"Ahem. I trust you all know what I've called you here for." There was a general murmur of assent through the crowd, and Ginny almost caught Ron smiling – but didn't say anything, because that would have ruined his "professional" manner. However, a misty-eyed witch with long blonde hair tentatively raised her hand and continued, without recognition, "Ronald, I don't know-"
"That's alright, Luna," he cut her off. "No one else does either, I haven't said anything – the rest of these gits just don't want to listen to me talk." He glared out at the crowd, who all were suddenly, sheepishly studying their shoes. Ginny looked at her own, as well. Hm. She needed new ones for the wedding – if, of course, that ever actually took place.
"Weasel," came a sudden drawl. "I do expect you to not insult me if you want me help with this ridiculous-"
Draco broke off with a shudder when Ginny, grinning rather evilly, held up a videotape.
"Much better. Thanks Ginn," Ron whispered in an undertone. He raised his voice again. "So this is idea number twenty-three on my list of winning my fiancée back. I hope you all know how to use that instrument in your hand, because today we're going to…." And Ron took another ten minutes to explain what he had planned for them to do.
The crowd collectively smiled, and Ron stood up straight. "So let's practice! Right then – and one – and two – and three-"
Ginny almost felt her ears jump off her head when the unholy noise of close to thirty people playing random notes penetrated the rather thick walls of her skull. It would be a miracle if Ron could pull this off.
Harry was standing outside Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, debating whether to go inside or not. On the one hand, he owed his best friend for all but destroying his engagement, driving away the girl he had loved since he was eleven, and getting him kicked out of his house. Harry knew from experience that Sirius and Remus's couch wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world.
But Hermione scared him when she was angry, and besides, if Remus couldn't talk some sense into her, it was almost impossible to think that he, Harry, might be able to. Yes, he had known Hermione for close to a decade, and yes, she and Ron were his best friends in the known universe, but the prospect of talking to an angry woman bent on not forgiving scared him to death.
Harry was ready to turn around and call this a bad job when Madame Malkin herself came tearing out of the shop, shouting at Hermione, "I'm running out for a cuppa, m'dear, I'll be back later and – take care of this handsome young man here while I'm gone!" She pushed Harry through the door and, before dashing away, hissed fairly loudly, "All she does is mope and stab pincushions like they're that fiancé of hers, fix this!"
He could hear her sniffling indignantly before he walked through the door.
"Doesn't know what she's talking about, never been married, has she, and this is ridiculous her saying I've been moping around, it's not like this is worth moping over and all the same she's never been married-"
"Well, you haven't either," Harry greeted her matter-of-factly. "Hullo, Hermione."
For a minute she just glared, and then she stabbed a maroon pincushion with an overlarge needle. Harry winced. "Look, Harry, if you are here to talk about him, well, Remus already tried!" She crossed her arms.
She held up a hand to stop him. "He tried to kill me with tulips."
"Oh, well." There didn't seem to be a sufficient reply, and so he stood atop a wooden stool. "Really I need dress robes. Really," he added again, seeing the skeptical look on her face.
Hermione threw a piece of green cloth over his head and shoulders, and he wondered if she wasn't out to suffocate him. Interesting a death as that would be Harry rather wanted to live, and pulled the cloth so it didn't obstruct his breath anymore. He went to speak, but Hermione beat him to it.
"What do you need new dress robes for?"
"The wedding," he replied automatically. He could see her face turning red in the mirror, and a second later felt something sharp jab him in the upper thigh. "Ow! Hermione!"
"Sorry," she said, not sounding the least bit sorry. "But you know, you're wasting your money."
He didn't say anything for a moment as Hermione gathered excess cloth at his waist. "Oh Harry, you're too skinny… if Ron wasn't such a big idiot I'd say we'd have you over for dinner, but…." She was wistful, and Harry grinned to himself.
He shrugged. "Maybe I'll see Seamus and Ginny when they get married – and Remus and Sirius feed me fine – or I can visit Bill and Fleur… or Katie and Oliver are always willing to dole out extra places…." He was naming every happy couple he could, and at each new name Hermione frowned deeper.
"No matter anyway. I can buy food for myself. Maybe I'll even use the money I have because I'm not wasting any on dress robes."
"You don't want these, then?" She sounded sad, like she would miss the company if he left.
"No, I do want them – because I think there's going to be a wedding. Because I know you and Ron, and he misses you, and it's like you told me way back in fourth year, you miss him… because I know you do, don't try to deny it." She tried to stab him with another pin, but he moved deftly to avoid her. "Listen to me, Hermione – he's miserable without you, and I know it can't be very much fun for you, trying to get to sleep without his snores – they always lull you to sleep, I know, it was the same when we shared a dorm… and please, I know you want to wear your wedding dress. He wants to see you in it. That's all he's wanted for years now, and even when he pulls stupid stunts like this, he's only doing it because he isn't as smart as you and – and it was my fault, I talked him into it, I lead him into the bar and I hired that – that girl, and I gave him the drinks."
He was expecting her to jab him again, but she didn't. Instead, she laid down her measuring tape and put the pincushion aside, leaning back on her heels. "He's still responsible."
"Yea. He is. But he's sorry, too."
Neither of them said anything, and Harry awkwardly hugged her, listing to her sniffles every once in awhile. They didn't break apart until-
"What in the world is that?" Hermione pulled back and ran to the door, flinging it open, Harry at her heels. She gasped and Harry, in his half-finished robes, peeked around her slight form.
There was Ron, wearing stilts and brandishing one of Remus's good cooking spatulas like a conductor's baton. He waved it back and forth, teetering in the same motion, over a crowd of people, all holding various primitive instruments in their hands. Fred and George each had a handful of spoons that they smacked against their knees in a very definite rhythm; their friend Lee Jordan was playing the washboard. Neville was beating tin cans with sticks, Seamus and Ginny each had hold of garbage can tops they were crashing together in lieu of cymbals, and Dean Thomas was playing what looked like the kazoo. Sirius was holding an electric guitar that looked like new, and Remus was using some sort of complicated spell to amplify the sound. The rest in the gathering had an odd assortment of objects thrown together to make noise – save Draco Malfoy, whose delicate hands were running over the keys of a baby grand, and Pansy Parkinson, who sat atop the piano in a dark blue ball gown with a flute to her lips.
Dumbledore himself waved the wand that caused the words from 'Yesterday', an old Muggle song, to float through the air. Ron was singing, albeit off-key.
"Yesterday… all my troubles seemed so far away… Now it looks as though they're he-ere to stay…."
And indeed it did look as though his troubles where there to stay with two burly wizards from law enforcement magicked him down from his stilts and cuffed him for "disturbing the peace." Most everyone else scattered immediately to the doleful sounds of Ron's, "Oh I BE-lieve… in YES-terday…!" still wafting down the street.
As Hermione burst into the tears and turned back to the shop, the only people Harry spotted left were Pansy and Draco, who was trying to play the piano and snog his girlfriend at the same time.
Harry didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
It was quiet. Too quiet.
Hermione had been home for quite some time, "musing over what Harry had tried to drill into her mind." (Or, that's what she told herself, anyway, as she sat at the kitchen table staring alternately at Ron's "Big Book of British Smiles" and the clock in the corner.) He made sense – in a twisted, bizarre, sort of way – and Hermione had been almost willing to forgive her fiancé when he had shown up in his burst of deafening noise. Ron wielding a spatula as a conductor's baton was bad enough to begin with, but when the crowd of interested people poking their heads out of their shops began to stare openly at her, it was just too much. Didn't Ron realize that she had been embarrassed out of her mind? Didn't he know her well enough to guess that an amateur band ambushing her at work would not be amusing?
No. Apparently he didn't. And that, she resolved, was why she wouldn't be forgiving him after the latest scheme.
Well, that and she refused to be in debt to Draco for helping her and Ron get back together. But really, that barely mattered.
Hermione yawned, and peered up at the time on the wall. Eight o'clock. Ron was probably just being released from the Muggle authorities; she felt a pang when she thought of how horrible it must have been for him: he wasn't very good at dealing with non-wizards.
"Well," she said huffily aloud, "That's just more of his own fault." And with a thump she closed Ron's book.
"And this is really the stupidest book ever," was her afterthought.
There was a second thump, but nothing Hermione had done. "What in the world…?"
With a sigh, she crossed the kitchen and made her way across the living room. Another thump, and she pulled open the front door, scowling. "What-"
And she stopped. Quite abruptly. In fear.
Ronald Weasley was standing on the front lawn. Stark naked.
No, not really completely naked, she amended… more like, partly dressed – but still bare enough that several Muggles (and Sirius and Remus, she noted, mortified) were staring out their front windows, craning for a glance. The redhead wore socks he must have borrowed from Dobby (one was purple, the other white with tiny crimson hearts) and pink-checkered swimming shorts (short pink-checkered swimming shorts). There was a sash across his pale chest with "Cupid" printed sloppily, and sparkly, shimmery deely-boppers in his hair.
But what made it worse was the quiver full of arrows strung across his back, and the bow he held, half-cocked, in his hands. Ron couldn't shoot to save his life.
It seemed that he didn't care for the way that he was dancing about, letting arrows fly. With each thump that meant an arrow had hit something solid Hermione would have winced, if at the moment she hadn't been so completely horrified as to be rendered immobile. He was singing, off-key, "He-e-ermy-o-KNEE… I lo-o-ve you…" and Hermione, after catching the bemused looks Remus and Sirius threw her way, threw her hands over her ears.
"Ron, what in hell is this?"
Her outburst seemed to confuse him and he stopped his prancing immediately, causing an arrow to fly. It passed her temple with inches to spare and only succeeded in smashing the window nearest her right. Ron blushed purple to the roots of his hair.
"Erm… Number forty-four… Dress up as Cupid and shoot arrows at the front lawn, repeatedly?" he timidly supplied.
"It was insane, I told him not to do it, but he's unhinged, you can't blame him for losing his marbles, you know…" Harry whispered from the shadows.
Ron grinned. "And don't you feel the slightest bit pity for me, now that you've driven me mad?"
In response Hermione squealed, chucked the "Big Book of British Smiles" at his head, and turned on heel, stalking into the house and slamming the front door with such force that it was amazing it stayed on its hinges.
For a moment Ron didn't say anything; it was only after he heard sirens in the distance that began running down the street, his sash waving like a flag, muttering, "Oh shite, oh shite, what did I do now...?"
Harry could only call after him, "Indecent exposure!" while Sirius filled the night with manic laughter drifting from the window across the street.
"I need help."
"And I need material for my gallery opening. We all want something."
Ron scowled. He hated asking for help after he screwed up, and he hated it even more when he was forced to ask his younger sister's flamboyant, Harry-obsessed friend. Frankly, Colin Creevey scared Ron to no end, but he needed a photographer (namely, one who had been following Ron, Harry, and Hermione for years) badly – very badly… and he wasn't opposed to stooping low to get what he needed.
This was Hermione he was fighting for.
"Look…" Ron began, but the smaller boy popped a flashbulb in front of his face and grinned. Ron blinked at the blotches in front of his eyes for a minute, dazed.
"No, Ron, you look. I have a gallery showing in a week and I need some raw material. I need to get out there. I need to ravage nature, I need to create… I don't have time for favours just right now. Give me a month, maybe…."
Ron sighed. "It won't be a favour. I'll pay you. Whatever, name your price." Crossing his fingers, he continued, "A date with Ginny, lunch with Harry…." He hoped Colin would be coming up with some ideas of his own; he wasn't sure his sister or his best friend would agree to spend excessive amounts of time with Colin – even to get Ron back in Hermione's good graces.
Colin mused for a moment, one eye closed, glancing at Ron through his shutter. "Anything?"
"How about… your photos. Of your plan. Number fifty-three."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "Sure. What for?"
"We-ell… I want to use them. For my gallery. They'll only displayed for a little while. Not many people will see them – maybe a couple hundred?"
Ron pictured his photos hanging up for the world to see and, quite possibly, laugh at. Oh well – there were worse things.
Colin clicked his camera once more. "Excellent."
Ron stood on the step to his own house, rapping repeatedly on the back door. At first he had planned on barging right in and dragging Hermione out to see his surprise but decided he'd have better luck if he feigned being polite for one afternoon. It was worth a try.
Seconds before the door opened, Ron glanced back at his and Colin's handiwork. Clotheslines were strung from tree to tree in a zigzagging path; from these lines hung 365 colour, moving pictures – "One for each day of the year, to show her how I think about her all the time," Ron had said to Colin as they set up the project. The first pictures were the oldest – when they were about thirteen or so, when Colin first came to school and started stalking the trio – and as they progressed they seemed to grow up before their eyes. Colin was going to creep along behind the pictures and planned to capture Hermione's expression every step of the way, and he had promised Ron he would be poised at the end, waiting to film Hermione's final actions, which would (with a little luck) be her snogging Ron.
He grinned just thinking about it. This idea was pure genius.
"Ron?" Hermione's face was contorted in confusion, and she stood with her hands by her sides, helpless. "You're wearing clothes."
He blushed and looked down at his jeans. "Well yea- Come on," he added, taking her hand and pulling her after him, "I've got something to show you."
She didn't put up much of a fight, he noted happily.
At first it seemed like things were working perfectly. Hermione gazed with awe at the first batch of pictures, grinning wistfully every so often. Ron tentatively put at arm around her shoulders and she didn't shrug him off. She was giggling. Colin caught all these happy moments with the push of a button.
And then it all disintegrated in front of Ron's eyes.
"What is this?"
In all his haste to put together the garden of photos, it seemed as if he had – albeit unknowingly – tacked up some photos of the tougher times: the two of them rowing, red in the face, in the common room; a cocky Ron teasing a less-than-pleased Hermione; Harry standing between the two looking helpless while they stood, arms crossed, not facing each other; and the list continued.
He had also slipped a few of himself and Lavender in – a mortal, very unplanned, mistake. The first couple were really harmless, and maybe he would have been able to salvage this if, in the last, Lavender had not been wearing very little and grinning seductively.
He grabbed this and quickly shredded it, but not before Hermione had glimpsed it, and, with a shock of finding an underlying meaning that wasn't there, gasped, "You see us as dirty laundry?"
"I- well, yes- I mean no! …that is to say, if you'd… if we'd – if I could have a…"
His stammering got him nowhere, and as Hermione advanced Colin continued clicking away, oblivious to the world.
Ron's plan didn't work out quite the way he had planned, but Colin's "Photo-documentary of a Black Eye" was a hit with obscure artists from as far as Africa, and received rave reviews from Witch Weekly's "International Wizard of the Month", Viktor Krum.
Ron was running out of ideas, patience, time, money…he was just running out, period. It didn't look as if Hermione would be forgiving him anytime soon, he thought as he held a piece of steak to his throbbing eye; and he knew he couldn't let his American family freeload at Remus and Sirius's house forever.
On the table he piled the lint, chewed gum, paperclips, and various Muggle change he had rescued from in-between the couch cushions, and he sighed. There was only one thing left to be done. Desperate number eighty-seven.
He headed for a Muggle store around the corner and was back in five minutes with two boxes of coloured hopscotch chalk. Waving away all attempts of Sirius, Remus, and Harry to help, Ron wandered up and down the front of his house. Several cars stopped and caused a jam, but he didn't take notice; he just continued carefully printing a lopsided "I'M SORRY" in the middle of the street, big and clear enough to be seen from a jumbo jet thousands of feet above. And when he finally threw down his chalk stub and stood back at the curb, not smiling, red and purple and yellow streaks across his cheeks, hands in his pockets, the neighbours clearly thought him mad and sought a detour.
And it was no more than a quarter of an hour later when the rain came, but still all Ron could do was sit on the curbside, silent and still, and watch the stinging water wash his feelings away.
Harry watched his best friend sitting outside, red hair shining in the raindrop-studded twilight. The lamps from the house cast a faintly glowing pool on the front lawn, but Ron sat, just outside the perimeter, hands between his knees, knees up around his ears. It was cold, it was storming, and if Harry thought it would have done any good he would have gone outside hours ago to bring Ron inside. But he knew he wouldn't have come.
He was defeated, and Harry knew it. The windows in Ron and Hermione's house were dark, and there seemed to be no movement whatsoever behind the net curtains; Harry could see the black patch of Ron's eye, and he knew that was the end of it. Hermione wasn't going to forgive him, and that was that.
He made to turn around when a muffled shape caught his eye. The outline of bushy hair, a slight girl carrying a mackintosh. Two sad eyes in the darkness.
She moved behind the stooped boy on the curb and draped the coat over his shoulders. She was quiet, but Harry could still make out her faint words in the nighttime: "Come on Ron, it's cold. Come home."
"I'm sorry." The bent figure didn't move. It almost broke Harry's heart.
The girl just bent down beside him, spoke next to his ear. "Yeah. I know."
And Harry shut the drapes to block out the unmoving boy and the girl who was kneeling, hugging him from behind, chin on his shoulder, staring off into the heavy darkness. This wasn't something he was meant to witness, he thought with a smile.
With the now back-on-track wedding rapidly approaching, it was time for Ron and his ushers to do what they had been postponing for months - a veritable battalion of tuxedos needed to be purchased and/or rented for the ceremony. It was not a thrilling prospect; Ron could vividly recall the horror stories of Hermione's dress shopping. True, he was not taking Lavender or Parvati with him (he was sure the accompaniment of his ex-girlfriend would cause another enormous row between himself and his fiancée), but Sirius had insisted on coming, and he was just as bad.
So on a bright, sunny morning, Ron found himself trooping down a Muggle street joined by Harry, Sirius, Dean, Seamus, Neville, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, and George. The rear was brought up by Mrs. Weasley and Remus, who had seemed as horrified as Ron at the thought of the others going shopping without any sort of supervision. Though the shopping district was a little far from Ron and Hermione's house, there was not a single vehicle, enchanted or otherwise (save perhaps a Army-regulation HumVee), that would hold such a large group - disregarding the Knight Bus, as none of them wished to shop after becoming violently carsick. After a half-hour walk, the rather large group came to a halt in front of Tuxedos 'R Us, bumping into one another and drawing the attention of every Muggle within fifty yards.
The shop owner looked up at the tinkle of the bells suspended above the door, an expectant smile on his face. The smile faded quickly and his eyes grew huge as he watched a flood of men, and one woman, enter his shop.
Harry approached the counter, flanked by Sirius and dragging Ron. "We can rent tuxedos here, right?" he asked without preamble.
The shopkeep blinked several times before remembering himself and stammering, "Y-yes. O- of course, s-sir."
"Shibby," Sirius sniggered as he and Harry thrust Ron forward. "Meet the groom."
Normally the shopkeep would have offered his congratulations before starting his sales pitch, but the unusually large group that had squeezed into his shop had thrown him off his stride. He merely nodded mutely and led Ron towards a rack of ultra-fancy tuxedos. "Now, what exactly are you looking for?" he inquired. "Would you like a grey suit, or perhaps a white dinner jacket with black trousers? All black? Vest or cummerbund? Will you be wearing a corsage?"
Ron took several hasty steps backward and looked to his mother and Harry for reassurance. "Uh... all black?"
Mrs. Weasley took out an enormous, embroidered hanky and blew her nose loudly, making the twins giggle.
The shopkeep prodded Ron onto a small stool and forced a tuxedo jacket on him. "Very good," he said, pulling out a huge pincushion shaped like a tomato and beginning to pin the sleeves to the right length. As he measured and pinned, some of his professional manner returned. "When is this illustrious occasion?"
"Er... next week. The twentieth."
"Excellent," the shopkeep said briskly, flourishing his tape measure. "And are some of these men in your wedding party?"
"Er... well..." Ron hated to tell the man, but it had to be done. "All of them are, actually. Well, except for Sirius and Remus."
"But I could use a Muggle suit," Remus piped up from the back of the group, where he was patting Mrs. Weasley reassuringly on the shoulder. She seemed to be fighting back tears. "So does Sirius." He shot the ex-convict a warning look, and Sirius dropped the brilliantly violet cummerbund he was trying on.
The shopkeep felt tears encroaching at this announcement, but resolved not to fall apart in front of his customers. If need be, he would call in all his holiday and weekend help. "Very good…."
Tired of watching Ron being measured and fitted, the others were milling around the shop (except for Mrs. Weasley, who had perched herself on a spindly chair and was crying for no good reason, and Remus, who was trying to comfort her). Fred and George were examining a display of multi-coloured bowties and sniggering (mostly at the sight of a bow tie so brightly pink it could probably be seen from space) while Bill studied a display of glittering cufflinks (he was clearly heard to remark, "Pfft. I brought back better stuff than this from Egypt."). Sirius had mysteriously disappeared in the sea of silk and polyester, something that should have worried Remus, had he taken the time to notice.
The whimpering from the corner was getting louder. Mrs. Weasley had her head on Remus's shoulder, soaking his shabby jumper clear through. Remus was murmuring softly to her.
"Now, Molly, hush... I don't know what's gotten into you, you've been crying like this all day, if you keep carrying on like this you'll dry up... what's wrong?"
"My baby's getting m-married!" Mrs. Weasley bawled loudly, making Remus wince, and she broke into a fresh storm of weeping. This incited a round of giggles from the twins, and Ron flushed deepest maroon from where he stood on the stool.
Fred held a maroon bow tie up to Ron's neck and sniggered. "Matches perfectly there, little bro. You should get this one."
Ron smacked Fred's hand away, making the bow tie fall to the floor and the pins to fall out of his sleeve; the shopkeep gave the two redheads a disgusted look and made a "hhhrumph" noise deep in his throat as he scrambled to pick up the pins lest one become lost in the deep-pile carpeting. Mrs. Weasley continued to sob; her hanky was dripping and she had to utilize Remus's for her purpose instead. The former professor had his arm around her shoulders, still valiantly trying to soothe her; Bill hurried over to help.
"Ow! Watch where you're sticking those!" Ron snapped at the impatient shopkeep, who withdrew the pin and inserted it in the sleeve correctly.
Mrs. Weasley had now finished drenching Remus's hanky and had moved on to Bill's; Remus looked positively relieved as Bill took his mother in his arms and assumed the role of comforter. "My baby, my little Ronnikins..." Mrs. Weasley wailed, before burying her face in Bill's shirt. "First he went out on dates, and now he's getting married and soon I'll be a g-grandmother!"
Fred sniggered and poked his brother in the side. "Oh-h, Ronnie – you're gonna have ba-bies…" he continued in a singsong voice.
Ron, looking positively revolted, his face an interesting shade of puce, toppled backwards off his stool as the shopkeep stamped his foot and whacked the groom with his tape measure. "B-b… babies?" Ron stammered. "N-noo… nonono…."
Bill glared at Ron, then patted his mother. "Mum, you're already a grandmother…."
"That isn't the point!"
Remus backed away to stand beside Percy, who was looking supremely annoyed as he watched his brothers poke around the shop.
Remus noticed that Sirius was milling around some of the less formal suits, and called out to him. "Love, did you find anything for us to wear?"
"Did I find anything for us to wear? Did I find anything for us to wear? Remmie, I've just dressed the entire wedding party!" Sirius said proudly. He sauntered over to the others, carrying what looked to Remus like a multicoloured parachute or perhaps a large pile of rejected clown costumes. "Ta-Da!" He whisked the first suit off the pile and held it up for them to admire.
Ron turned from puce to pale green in three seconds; Charlie wrinkled his nose, Harry blinked rapidly, Seamus gagged, and the twins snorted with laughter.
Sirius was holding up what had to be the ugliest leisure suit in existence. Talk about reject-70's disco suits; this looked like a leftover from Saturday Night Fever. It had lapels wide enough to classify as wings, and bellbottoms so huge they would have completely hidden the wearer's feet. Garish gold buttons embossed with crowns decorated the front of the jacket, and purple flames crept up from the cuffs, reaching elbow- and knee- length before petering out.
But worst of all, the suit itself was so blindingly, hideously green that it actually hurt one's eyes to look at it for more than a few seconds at a time. Harry reflected it was something like a solar eclipse; look at it too long and the image would be burned into your retinas until the end of time.
Even Mrs. Weasley was struck into silence by the ugly suit. Finally, Remus gathered the courage to speak. "Sirius... you didn't think any of us would actually... wear... that thing, did you?"
His mate deflated. "What's wrong with it?"
"It's hideous," Bill said.
"Abominable," Percy agreed.
"Disgusting," the twins chorused.
"Monstrous," Dean admitted.
"Despicable," Seamus muttered.
"Putrid," Neville squeaked.
"Hermione would kill us," Ron said from the floor, visibly twitching.
"Malodorous," Mrs. Weasley sniffled.
"Positively foul," Remus said sadly.
"I've seen better suits on Nashville country singers," Charlie said flatly.
"My eyes!" Harry wailed, taking off his glasses and rubbing his face vigorously.
Sirius sighed, and looked over at the shopkeep, who had frozen in the act of pinning up the hem of Ron's trousers (having finally forced the redhead to stand up straight, courtesy of a few good jabs with a stickpin). The man looked completely ashamed that this terrible green monstrosity of polyester and rayon had ever set foot - leg? - in his shop. "Yeah, I guess you're right," he admitted grudgingly, returning the offending suit to the rack. "Do you want to see what else I found?"
A loud chorus of "No!"s echoed throughout the shop. Sirius scowled.
But Sirius was cut off as Mrs. Weasley again resumed her deafening crying, and started to sulk. Bill, in the meantime, stepped back from his mother and, eyeing the room at large, cleared his throat. "Who's next?"
Fred (much to Remus's renewed relief) pulled himself away from the scissors fight he was having with George, while his twin slunk away into the "90 CLEARANCE" section of the store. "Mum, come on, this is nothing much to cry about… I mean, sure Ron's a little stupid and clone-babies of his would be tremendously horrible, but chances are Hermione's genes will intertwine and they'll come out perfectly okay! It's not like Ginny and Seamus are breeding or anything…."
"Hey!" Seamus called out from where he and Dean were being fitted (Harry having finally made the decision on suits similar to Ron's, with dark green cummerbunds) by two very nervous-looking teenagers. "I resemble that remark!"
Dean poked him, hard. "Resent, mate. You resent it," he muttered.
"Damn straight I do!"
The darker boy rolled his eyes and stepped down from his platform, having been unusually cooperative. "Stoll's free!" he called. "You're welcome to it, George… George?"
No answer. Dean peered around the shop and started counting heads: Sirius was off sulking in a very dark corner, Remus on his knee (Dean averted his gaze quickly); Fred was holding his mother, Harry kneeling next to him, while Mrs. Weasley alternately snorted and burst into fresh tears; Seamus was having a loud conversation with Ron, who was across the room (as both boys had taken to agitated fidgeting, their fittings were taking a lot longer than anyone else's). Percy was standing off to one side with a disapproving frown, and Neville and Bill were chatting about something while waiting for their turns.
George, however, was nowhere to be seen.
Dean sauntered up to Charlie, who was staring at Ron's attendant when a bemused half-smile. "Ten galleons that bloke blows within the quarter-hour, mate," Charlie said as he caught Dean out of the corner of his eye.
"Ten galleons. On that one over there." He gesticulated. "Ron's a right bother, and you can't tell me the shopkeep will put up with it much longer." And Dean noticed that, indeed, the little man stooped in front of Ron had been growing steadily redder as the minutes passed. He grinned.
"All right, you're on. But Charlie… Haven't you seen George around here anyplace? I told him he'd be after me for fitting, but it seems…." He trailed off.
Charlie scanned the shop and frowned. "You're right… Better go find him before he does something to get us all chucked." With that remark, the second-eldest Weasley stood, and he and Dean went circling the store.
At first it didn't seem like anything was amiss. Seamus, who had finally settled enough to be fitted, had traded place with Neville and was now trying on various pieces of suits with Bill. "Ohhh, hotpants! These are…" and, with a quick look at what Sirius was wearing, finished weakly, "Groovy?" Dean stifled a grin but Charlie just kept going straight.
Into the depths of the store they went. Past the expensive suits… past the moderate… past the cheap… and past the ugly. Past the plaid and past the satin, past the specialty models that Dean tried not to dwell on (especially the leather one with matching cheetah-print whip). Past the – everything. And then they started back.
"It's quiet… almost too quiet," Charlie remarked, and no sooner had he closed his mouth than the two boys heard a muffled crying from within a rack.
They shared a glance, and, glancing furtively, Charlie pulled out his wand and quickly pushed aside a plethora of hideous wedding wear. He stifled a scream but Dean couldn't help letting out a feminine shriek, and in another moment both were halfway back to the rest of the party.
"He-elp me-e-e!" George tried to yell after them. He hadn't meant to scare them with this suit, he honestly hadn't! It had seemed like a good idea at the time, all red leather and tight blue spandex, but one of the plate-sized buttons had poked him in the eye, and then the fishnet "sleeves" had pinned his arms to his chest, and the whole thing was so tight that he really, really couldn't breath, so he needed help! Desperately! They couldn't leave him!
And with that George started after Charlie and Dean, hopping as fast as he could. Unfortunately for him the bottom of the trench coat-like suit jacket contained an alarming amount of ruffles and lace, and he had never been much of a hopper anyway; the lace caught his shoe, and he felt himself falling.
He almost landed flat on his face and broke his nose – almost, but not quite. Instead, the spandex had ridden up so much that he unintentionally bent over, and turned a perfect somersault – and another, and another, until he was veritably whizzing down the center aisle in a ball.
Charlie and Dean had nowhere to run. They glanced back wildly, dove into the sea of surrounding suits, and held out hands to stop George; he rolled over them, and continued in his path. It wasn't fair! Why did the stupid shop have to be on a tilt? Why did he have to be tempted by the Ugliest Suit Ever? Why-?
But he barely had time to register the fact that yes, he was thinking, before he met Ron's stool with an unpleasant "thud". His brother toppled upon him as the rest of his family and friends congregated in a surprised circle. Molly stopped crying, and for a minute no one said anything.
Then Charlie and Dean came running, tripping over the redheads on the floor, and plowed headfirst into Bill and Neville. Ron rolled off of George and lay, sprawled, by Remus's feet, sobbing, "The pins, they hurt, they hu-u-urt…!"
George rasped an undignified, "Help me!" and Fred dove to save his twin from the throes of death – er – ugliness. Cries of "George! George, are you alive?" were mixed with "God Fred, watch the polyester, it itches right… down… there!" and "I think I just swallowed a sequin!" Charlie glanced at Dean, who was propped on his side, and confirmed, "Ten galleons, mate?"
But it wasn't the shopkeep who exploded. Percy Weasley, standing alone on the sidelines, suddenly burst, "This is unacceptable! Terrible! Detestable! I cannot believe you are all acting this way! Like children! Little, tiny children! Get up, get on those stools – no Bill don't cross me or I will hex you into oblivion – put on your suits – Ron, stop moving or I will jab you with something much sharper than a pin – and for goodness sakes, pull yourselves together!"
The room was stunned into silence – even, momentarily, Mrs. Weasley. The Muggles clearly thought Percy insane, but the rest of the lot sensed his breaking point, and, solemnly, they lined up at the various stools, kept their mouths shut, and let the fittings go as planned, not uttering a complaint no matter where they were poked or prodded. And they remained that way – all except Mrs. Weasley, who was now tittering as though in shock – "And someday Ron will be planning the wedding for his children, and he'll have to common sense to comfort Hermione when she starts bawling her own eyes out at the thought of the future…!"
Forty-five minutes later each and every Weasley, Thomas, Finnegan, Longbottom, Black, and Lupin filed out of the shop wearing a dress suit – or, in the case of Mrs. Weasley, clutching a stack of brand-new hankies.
Dean propelled himself to walk next to Charlie. "So… you owe me ten Galleons, huh?"
"Maybe not." he pointed at the seat of Ron's pants. "Ten and double that there won't be a wedding after Hermione sees that Ron forgot to make sure the middle seam was sewed."
Dean sniggered and shook Charlie's hand. "You're on."
Ch/9: Get Me To The Church On Time – And it's finally time for the bride and groom to tie the knot! But what will the wedding still go on when Hermione gets wedding-day jitters andRon forgets the name of the church…?