The wind blew all my wedding-day,
And my wedding-night was the night of the high wind... .- Philip Larkin
The Burrow was all bustle and noise when Hermione climbed out of the fireplace, brushing herself off and immediately smiling despite her previous air of melancholy. It was difficult to be sad in that place. The house was always full of noise and laughter and constant motion. The shafts of sunlight that streamed through the windows illuminated the dust in the house—always swirling, never settling.
Several people, most of them blonde, were already in the room. They gazed at Hermione with a look of casual disinterest before going back to their previous activities, most of which seemed to involve lace and parchment.
"Hermione!" Ginny rounded a corner and appeared in the hall, grinning, her red hair pulled into a messy bun at the nape of her neck. She practically flung herself forward and wrapped her in a hug that was almost as smothering as her mother's.
"Hullo, Ginny," Hermione wheezed. Ginny released her as Harry and Ron tumbled into the room.
"It smells weird in here," said Ron, titling his head back and wrinkling his nose slightly.
"Hydrangeas," said Ginny, matter-of-factly. "And irises. And orchids. Also lilies, poppies, and five different varieties of roses." They stared at her. "Mum's got them growing everywhere. Vases, sinks—actually there's a lovely bed of white tea roses growing all over your bed, Ron— maybe we ought to move those…" she said thoughtfully.
Ron looked very cross at this.
"Oh, don't be such a baby," scoffed Ginny. "It smelled terrible in there you know. I've been cleaning all day. I've even been using magic, and Mum hasn't said a word to me about it. Things are absolutely mad around here. The wedding is only a day away." There was a smudge of dirt on her freckled cheek. "Why don't you go clean it up yourself? But don't muss the roses, Mum'll have kittens."
Grumbling to himself, Ron slouched towards the door.
"Am I staying in your room again?" asked Hermione.
"Yes. So is Fleur's little sister," Ginny looked annoyed. "She's not all that bad, really, but seeing the two of them together all the time, and all the rest of that family—it's like a blonde nightmare, around here, honestly."
Hermione giggled. Ginny's eyes traveled to the figure hiding behind Hermione, Harry, who was toeing the ground with a somewhat nervous expression on his face. She stared at him for a moment, in silence, while a smile tugged at the corners of her lips.
"Hi, Harry," she said pointedly, staring at him.
"Hi, Gin," said Harry, turning faintly pink. He looked completely uncertain of what to do, and barring any definite course of action, remained stiffly in place.
"Oh, come here, you great silly git," said Ginny exasperatedly, wrapping him in a big hug. Harry, who looked tremendously relieved, returned the favor. "Come on," she said releasing Harry but keeping a grip on his hand. "Let's go help Ron turn his room back into a pig sty." She tugged him towards the stairs, and Hermione, grinning, followed.
Draco stared at the clock. He was quite certain, if the clock had eyes, it would be staring back at him with equal intensity.
He hoped for the opportunity to unwind, perhaps gather his thoughts, but as he wandered the twisting corridors of his mind he quickly discovered there were very few thoughts that he was willing to engage more directly. Darkness prowled the edges of his mind, and now that everything around him was dust and silence there was very little to keep it at bay.
Tick. Tick. Tock…
Five seconds until 6 o'clock…
He sighed, and slumped over, tapping his fingertips on the arm of his chair.
Four seconds until 6 o'clock…
He glanced over at the books that Hermione had given him. He had read most of them already. Now that she was gone there was no one to replenish the supply. He thought that would be a relief, but instead he felt oddly…disappointed.
Three seconds until 6 o'clock…
He could leave. He could walk out of the house and burn it to the ground. No one would stop him. He would never look back. He could find the Horcrux Granger had stashed in the house and present it before the Dark Lord's throne—he would be hailed as a hero, no more groveling and running, constantly terrified for his life. He could have everything he ever wanted.
Two seconds until 6 o'clock…
What did he want really? He had gone so far in both directions it was very hard to find his way back to his own desires. Lately everything had been "Do or die," which he did not appreciate at all. When it came to orders, he much preferred instructions such as—"you can do whatever you want!" or "would you like a large sack of galleons?"
One second until 6 o'clock…
It was so easy to lose everything, wasn't it? Everything he had wanted, everything he had dreamed of having since he was born into his gilded life, was gone. He could never get it back.
And he wasn't even sure if it was worth anything to possess.
The clock began chiming cheerfully, a loud and insufferable ringing that toned out the notes to "A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love," which was in Draco's opinion, one of the most obnoxious bits of noise that had ever been released into the atmosphere.
He cringed. It was going to be a long day.
The Weasleys' house wasn't large by any means, but the necessity of weaving to and fro through dense crowds of busy blonde and red-headed people made the journey from the fire place to the stairs a very time consuming process. After much pushing, squeezing, and mumbled apologies to harried looking people, Ginny, Ron, Harry, and Hermione stumbled into the short, mercifully empty hallway which contained the twisted staircase leading the upstairs bedrooms.
There was a sudden tittering sound from somewhere behind Hermione. It sounded like a crowd of tiny songbirds, in the distance. She paused curiously, quirking her head. Ginny, who had previous looked relieved, froze, a spasm of terror flitting across her face. Harry stopped short, nearly crashing into her. Hermione was quite sure this would have caused another furious bout of blushing. He seemed strangely uncomfortable around her for the first time since the beginning of sixth year. They were in an odd place now, she supposed…wanting to be together but unable to because of Harry—being Harry. That had sort of been their problem in the time leading up to their relationship.
"Oh, no," whispered Ginny in terror. "They're back…"
"Who—" began Hermione, but she was cut off as a large group of blond girls swooped into the hallway, swaths of clothing and white-blonde hair flowing around them in golden trails.
"Oh, who 'eez this?" crooned one of them. They swarmed around Harry, draping hair, clothes, and arms around him at all angles. Harry, who was now having various parts of his face and chest stroked suggestively by perfectly manicured nails, looked completely paralyzed. He made a little "eek" sound and stared beseechingly at Ginny.
" 'E 'eez so 'andsome!"
"Are you a membeer of ze Weasleys?"
"Of course not! Tu es idiote, ses cheveuex, sont noirs."
"Ah, oui…Noirs comme la nuit…magnifique!"
"Je m'appelle Danielle, et toi? What 'eez your name?"
"Harry, meet Fleur's cousins. Angelique, Annabelle, Jacquelle, Evelien, Minjonet, Danielle, Camille, and Sylvie," Ginny offered dryly. She gestured vaguely at the girls, who all looked rather identical, in Hermione's opinion, except for a slight difference in height. "Fleur's cousins, meet Harry Potter." She gestured at Harry, looking rather annoyed, as a chorus of excited squeals resounded on the hall.
"Oui. Le garçon dont Fleur a parlé!"
"Oui! C'est lui! It 'eez him!"
"Oh come off it already," said Ginny crossly. She gave a tug at Harry's hand but was unable to budge him from he pile of girls. She huffed impatiently, walked to the other end of the huddled, squeaking mass, reached out, and yanked a single golden hair out of one of the girl's heads.
The girl cried out shrilly and whirled around, glaring at Ginny and snarling in a way that Hermione was quite sure was anatomically impossible for most humans.
"I'm so sorry," said Ginny, her voice dripping with false sweetness. "It was grey."
"I do not 'AVE ze GREY 'AIRS!" responded the girl violently.
"Don't worry," said Hermione, joining in helpfully. "I'm sure it's just the stress of the wedding setting in." She and Ginny both smiled charmingly at them. For a moment, the girls' stared at each other, then at Hermione and Ginny, then at the shell-shocked Harry, then began tittering loudly.
"J'ai besoin d'un miroir! MAINTENANT! Where 'eez the mirror?"
"Où est-il? OU!"
"Et moi? ET MOI?"
"Look at my 'ead! REGARDEZ MA TETE!"
As quickly as the crowd had appeared, it disappeared in a flurry of squabbling and a desperate search for reflective surfaces.
"Merlin's ghost," moaned Ginny. "I can't believe the rest of my life is going to contain THEM."
"They seemed nice to me," offered Ron sincerely.
"They're terrifying," said Harry, with equal earnestness.
"Honestly Harry," said Hermione. "You're going to face down the most evil, powerful wizard in the world and you can't handle a bunch of teenage girls?"
"I don't think Voldemort's ever tried to unzip his trousers," said Ginny, staring at Harry's belt buckle with a quirked eyebrow. "Or succeeded, for that matter."
"GAAHH!" yelled Harry, looking down. Ron jumped forward to clap his hand over Ginny's eyes, as Harry hastily corrected the damage that had been wreaked upon his propriety.
"Oh, please, Ron" said Ginny. "It's not like it's anything I haven't—"
"If you finish that sentence," said Ron firmly. "I will drown my self in the duck pond."
There was a thump as Harry banged his head against the wall in frustration.
"Oh, yeah," said Ron, rolling his eyes, "you're life's a real downer…" Ginny slapped Ron's hand away and whirled around, walking towards the stairs.
"Let's just get going, already," she sighed. She threw Harry a brief backwards glance, giggling as he smiled sheepishly. They headed towards the stairs. Ron ambled after them, grumbling under his breath. Hermione smiled, following behind Ron.
"I didn't know you had a duck pond," she said.
Draco, meanwhile, was busily rooting through Weasley's stuff. He had opted to use a large, ornate iron fire-poker rather than touch Weasley's stuff directly, or risk contaminating his wand. He did, of course, pause intermittently to ponder why he would lower himself into looking at Weasley's stuff at all, but he was extremely bored and had already made tall, geometric piles out of books, pillows, and almost everything else he could get his hands on. Stacking random things got boring very quickly. Draco felt himself becoming rather nostalgic for the television in the Grangers' living room.
The Trio had left some of their possessions in the upstairs bedrooms, apparently considering Grimmauld Place to be their new home, at least for now.
So far, he hadn't found anything interesting. Weasley had a few old school books, some ratty sweaters, and (buried at the very, very bottom) the rattiest stuffed bear that Draco had ever seen. Respectable wizarding children played with stuffed unicorns when they were infants. Or maybe Weasley bought it at a junk sale last week and smothered it creepy affection to fill the void in his useless life—who knew?
And he called Draco a little girl.
Weasley's stuff was boring too. So far he had learned that Weasley led a dull life, and that he was weird. Draco already knew that, and that was why he disliked him. That, and the fact that he was a gangly, speckled, blood-traitor.
Draco pulled the stuffed bear out of the trunk (using magic of course—who would touch that thing?) and hid it in the back of the closet, snickering at his own maniacal genius. He hoped he would be around to laugh when Weasley discovered it was missing and squealed like a little girl. Ha!
Merlin, his life was sad right now.
He went off to explore some more.
"Look at this," said Ginny, opening her closet and ruffling through it.
"What is it?" asked Hermione. She tucked her bag into the corner of the room, next to the dresser, and sat down on the corner of Ginny's bed.
"My doom," said Ginny gloomily. She pulled a dress out of the closet and held it against her body, twirling around to show it to Hermione.
"Your bridesmaid dress," said Hermione, smiling. She walked over and began examining the dress, lifting up the skirt and watching it flutter back to the ground when she let it go. "It's not so bad, really." It was a simple, straight gown with thin straps at the top and a sheer, laced robe covering.
"Look at the color," said Ginny, wrinkling her nose. It was a deep coral hue, a soft blend of pink and orange. "It looks great if you are PALE and BLOND. I, on the other hand, look hideous. I think she picked the color that clashed with my hair the most on purpose."
Hermione muted a smile.
Ginny twirled dramatically, still clutching the dress to her chest. "Oh no," she said, with an overdramatic French accent. "Thees 'eez no good! It might not look 'orrible with my future sister-een-law's 'air! I need a color that weel make all red 'eads weesh they were dead!"
Hermione giggled. "I suppose it does seem a bit conspiratory. I'm sure that color looks lovely if you are blonde…"
"Exactly," said Ginny fiercely. "Stupid hideous thing…" She stuffed it savagely back into the closet. "Bill is going to throw himself out of a window after a year with her, mark my words."
"How is Bill?" asked Hermione. "I haven't seen much of him since we all…erm…left school."
"He's fine." Ginny sat down on the floor in front of the closet, propping her back up against the closet door, an almost distant look in her eyes. "He's happy. He's really happy. And she—she really stuck by him, didn't she?" She shook her head. "That night in the hospital—Mum honestly thought she was going to leave him, and she stuck right by him." Ginny flicked her fingers, staring at the floor. "Would I be a really terrible person if said I kind of…just a little bit…hoped she would leave?"
"No," said Hermione. "Just an honest one."
"I guess you never really know what's in someone's heart…"
"And sometimes you don't want too," muttered Hermione.
"Hmm?" said Ginny, raising an eyebrow. "Is Hermione Granger having heart problems?"
"My cardiovascular health is impeccable, thank you very much," said Hermione, pinking slightly and looking pointedly at the wall opposite Ginny.
"Ha!" yelled Ginny, springing up and pouncing, cat-like, onto the bed next to her. "Your big words won't save you this time. You have boy troubles. Now spill." She tapped her fingers together and smiled in a gesture that made her look suspiciously like one of the villains in the James Bond movies Hermione's cousins had forced her to watch.
"I…" began Hermione, rolling her eyes away.
"Ok, ok…" She bit her lip. "What do you think it means—exactly—when a guy kisses you—" Ginny's eyes widened, a maniacal grin on her face. "—urrr hand. Your hand. It's very polite." She stood up. "So, what's for dinner?"
Ginny grabbed her shirt and pulled back down into a sitting position. "You're not getting off that easily." Hermione sighed. Ginny folded her hands angelically and spoke without looking at her.
"I was just wondering…you know... Because when a guy kisses you, it can be complicated. Especially if he was previously in a relationship with one of your closest friends, and you know that certain bounds you might cross over…especially if that relationship could be resumed at some point in the future—"
"It's not Harry," said Hermione flatly, cutting her off.
"Oh…" Ginny straightened up, looking quite pleased. "Well, it can also be really complicated when someone who you've considered to be a platonic friend for so many years unexpectedly wants to—"
"It's not Ron."
Ginny looked perplexed, and was silent for a moment.
"They aren't the only men in my life!" she said defensively.
"Oh, no!" said Ginny, smiling wanly. "Of course not." Hermione looked at her crossly. There was a lull in the conversation. "So…who is it?"
Ginny paused to think. Hermione stood up and threw her hands into the air in exasperation. "I'm going downstairs to find the only two men in my life," she said sourly, and stalked towards the door.
"NO! There is no man! It was a brief but tragically vivid hallucination. Forget it. I'm becoming a nun!"
"Aww, come on, Hermione!" Ginny tagged after her. "What's a 'nun' ? Come on, pleeeeeease?"
"A cauldron full of hot, strong love,
Tell me darling, did I brew enough?
We'll drink it together, under the stars tonight,
Kiss me sweetly in the soft moonlight…"
Kill me…though Draco, shaking his head. Just kill me.
Enough was enough, he decided. That clock needed to bugger off, right now. One more hour of dinging and idiotic lyrics and something was going to get destroyed. He was opting for it not to be his sanity.
"Quietum," he commanded, pointing his wand at the clock.
"I love you sweetheart, yes I do,
I love you so much woo woo woo,
"Quietum!" he said again, growing more irritated with each passing second.
I brewed a cauldron full of love, it's true,
A cauldron full of hot, strong love, for you…"
"QUIETUM!" he yelled furiously, leaping to his feet and waving his wand hysterically. "QUIETUM! QUIETUM! Shut up you bloody thing! QUIETUM!"
"Bloody—hell—" Draco moved backwards to sit down, throwing himself furiously back into his chair. He then found himself yelping in surprise as the chair toppled backwards in a rather impressive somersault, taking him with it in an impressive aerial back flip.
"ARG!" He let out a stream of obscenities and, from his position upside down and on his head, he blasted the chair across the room. He leapt to his feet, panting and still swearing hysterically. He stalked over to the splintered, smoldering remains of the armchair, gave them a savage kick, and blasted them again with his wand, just for having the gall to dump him, Draco Malfoy, on the floor in such an undignified manner.
He then realized he had destroyed the surface he was sitting on, and still reeling on the principle of the thing, sat down forcefully on the floor where his chair used to be. He crossed his arms and glared despairingly at the clock, which still had not shut up.
"Oh come and stir my cauldron,
And if you do it right,
I'll boil you up some hot, strong love,
To keep you warm tonight…"
Hermione awoke suddenly the next morning to a silent house and the pale light of the predawn. She stared at the ceiling, motionless, for several minutes before slipping gently out of the bed. It was a little more difficult than she had anticipated, as Fleur's little sister had rolled down to the foot of the bed and curled herself tightly around Hermione's ankle like a large blond cat.
It seemed that there were people in the house at all hours of the day and night, and Hermione was pleased to have found a time where she seemed to be relatively isolated. She moved unencumbered through the hallway and found herself in the kitchen, and finally, no longer alone.
There was a woman with long blond hair sitting at the table, tapping a quill onto a piece of paper. She had apparently been there for awhile, as the tiny dots she was making had leaked together into a large black blot the size of a silver sickle.
"Fleur?" asked Hermione in surprise, walking around the table and sitting down across from her. "What are you doing up so early?"
"Up?" She laughed, tossing her hair tiredly over her shoulder. "Goodnees—I 'ave not gone to bed at all." She laid her quill down across the paper and sighed.
"Why not?" Hermione looked quizzically at her tired face. "What have you been up to?" She tilted her head towards the paper on the table.
Fleur looked bewildered for a moment, then looked down. "Oh, yes. Theese. I am workeeng on my vows."
"It must be difficult," said Hermione sympathetically. "Are you…writing them in English or French? I can try to help you if you'd like, but my French is a little rusty."
Fleur waved a perfectly manicured hand morosely in the air. "Francais, Eenglish, there is no difference. I cannot find the words, no matter 'ow many languageez I learn."
"Well…" said Hermione. "Statistically speaking, there are more words in the English language than the French language, so you could try writing in English," she offered.
"Quoi?" said Fleur in confusion.
"The number of words in English has grown from 50,000 to 60,000 words in Old English to about a million today," she elaborated. "Whereas the French language has topped out at approximately 100,000—"
"Ah—ah, oui," Fleur cut her off abruptly. "That eez very…nice, 'Ermione. merci..."
"You just don't know what to say, is that it?"
"I 'ave….much that I want to say. So much…I still do not know…I do not 'ave the words…"
Ah… "I think I understand." In that case, there wasn't a lot she could do. Of course she could probably write something beautiful and poignant for her—but it would be unethical, and insincere. Bill wasn't her fiancé—she wasn't marrying him…today, actually.
"Ooo…why deed I offeer to write my own vows?" she said despairingly. "I am going to sound leeke such a fool! Ehveryone will theenk I am just a bubble-headed blonde idiot!" She pushed the paper away.
"No…" Hermione argued, trying her best to sound sincere. "Why would anyone think that…?" She looked at the ceiling. "Errm…can I see what you've written so far?"
Fleur sniffed delicately and pushed the paper the rest of the way towards Hermione. Hermione leaned over and began to read.
"Bill, when I met you, you were so handsome, and I knew that I wanted to kiss you. You are like my handsome prince, thank you for teaching me English. And even though your face has been chewed up by a vicious mad dog man, I love you."
Hermione stared at the parchment. She was trying to smile, but the expression on her face must have been very different from the expression she intended, because Fleur let out a wail. "Eet is 'orrible, eesn't eet?" She threw up her hands. "That eez eet! I cannot get married tomorrow!"
"Today," Hermione offered gently.
"Today? Mon Deiu!" Fleur buried her face in her hands and bent over the table. She suddenly sat straight up, her eyes wide. "MY 'AIR! 'OW EEZ MY 'AIR?" She cried, as her hair flew in several directions.
"Your hair looks fine to me," said Hermione, "though I don't know if I'm the right person to ask. I think most people think my hair is in a permanent state of 'bad day' …"
Fleur gave her the same type of obviously skeptical look Hermione was sure she had given to Fleur earlier. "No…" said Fleur slowly, looking absently at the ceiling. "No one would theenk that…" Hermione sighed.
" 'Ermione…" she said. "You—are good weeth the—weeth the words. Will you 'elp me?"
"Oh, Fleur…" she said slowly. "I can try…but they're your vows. I think they have to come from—from your heart. Not from my mouth. Besides, that would be really weird."
Fleur looked extremely unhappy, her lower lip trembling dangerously. I am such a sap…thought Hermione. She picked up the abandoned quill and poised it over the parchment. "Forget the wedding, forget everyone, all the family and the flowers and…" Hermione looked around. "Those weird shiny things that are clinging to the rafters everywhere…"
"Those are banners made weeth fairy dust," explained Fleur. "For luck. Eet eez an old tradeetion of my family."
"Right," Hermione continued. "Forget all that. This is just about you—and Bill. If you could tell him anything at all, what would you say?"
Fleur thought for a moment. "Sometimes—when we are making love—"
"OK!" Hermione interrupted loudly. "Remember the people that will be there—a little bit—"
"I…would tell heem that I love heem…no matter what 'ee looks like. 'Ee 'as always been kind to me— 'ee never treated me like I was an eediot…" She sighed again. "That sounds so silly…"
"No it doesn't," she said, very honestly. "Here…I think we can work with that…"
War is thus divine in itself, since it is a law of the world. War is divine through its consequences of a supernatural nature which are as much general as particular...Draco thought, recalling something from the books Hermione had given him.
War is divine in the mysterious glory that surrounds it and in the no less inexplicable attraction that draws us to it...War is divine by the manner in which it breaks out.
Robert Graves had said, 'War was return of earth to ugly earth, War was foundering of sublimities, Extinction of each happy art and faith, By which the world had still kept head in air.'
Draco rounded on his enemy, his fists clenched, white and furious, and his eyes narrowed into cold silver slits. He held himself proudly and unyieldingly upright, going into battle straight backed and tall, the way his family had gone to face their destinies for centuries.
"This is it clock. This is the end. This will be…our final battle."
He raised his wand.
"I love you sweetheart, yes I do…"
"I love you so much woo woo woo…"
"QUIETUM! Quietum, you sick bastard! Why are you doing this too me?"
"I brewed a cauldron full of love, it's true…"
"DID THE DARK LORD SEND YOU? HE DIDDIDN'T HE? HE'S TRYING TO BREAK ME DOWN, ISN'T HE? WELL IT WON'T WORK!"
"A cauldron full of hot, strong love, for you…"
When he looked back on the carnage several hours later, Draco still wasn't exactly sure what had happened. Something had just snapped inside his head.
A fireball the size of a Quaffle rocketed into the clock. Through the clock, actually. And through the wall. Where…the wall used to be, and there was now a huge gaping hole.
Parts of the shattered clock were scattered all around the room. Also, in the room next to the room the clock used to be in, probably attributed to the window size hole between the two rooms.
Draco surveyed the massacre.
"Oh…" he said. "Bugger..."
"I, Bill, take you, Fleur, to be my friend, my lover, the mother of my children and my wife…"
They were five minutes into the ceremony, and Mrs. Weasley was already dabbing her eyes with a worn, lacy handkerchief.
"I will be yours in times of plenty and in times of want, in times of sickness and in times of health, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in times of failure…and in times of triumph…"
Hermione looked around from her vantage point in the front row. The sight of hundreds of faces sitting in rows in the afternoon sun had an eerie familiarity to it, but also possessed the comforting difference of happiness and hope in the air, instead of a heavy pall of grief.
"…in times of big angry werewolves who chew on peoples' faces…"
Bill grinned. This got a few chuckles from the crowd, and a sudden tittering of French voices who seemed to take renewed interest in having the vows translated into their native tongue.
"I will trust you and respect you, laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together..."
Ginny fidgeted slightly in the otherwise unbroken line of blonde, her red hair flashing startlingly in the sunlight. Not that she needed any help standing out in the row. Harry certainly seemed to have noticed her. Then again, Hermione was fairly sure he would have noticed Ginny had she been in the very last row of the assembly, wearing a burlap sack and hiding under a blanket.
"I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, from this day forward, and forever."
Bill paused as he finished his vows, squeezing Fleur's hand in the gentle lull of silence that followed in a way that, Hermione imagined, only those in the very front row could see. Fleur took a deep and fluttering breath, casting only the smallest sidelong glance out of the corner of her eye at Hermione, who smiled reassuringly as possible in the direction of the bride. Honestly, of all the people to ask for help writing wedding vows, Fleur asked her—Hermione didn't consider herself as much of a romantic…
"I Fleur, do take you, Bill Weasley, to be my 'usband…"
She paused, long enough to make people wonder what she was waiting for, but not quite long enough for them to actually ask her.
"There are…many boys 'oo weell smile for a pretty girl, 'oo weell 'old the door open for 'er. But there are not many boys who care 'oo she eez, and 'oo weell love 'er because of 'oo she eez. Eet takes a very special man to love someone that way, to not care what they look like."
Hermione smiled. Ginny was looking at Fleur with something akin to pleasant surprise.
"I promeese to encourage and to comfort you een times of sorrow and struggle. I promeese to love you een good times and een bad, when life seems easy…and when it seems 'ard. I promeese to love you for the person you are, and for the wonderfeel person you weell become. These things I give to you today, and all the days of our life."
Ron leaned over. "Do you need a handkerchief?" He inquired in a low whisper.
"No," said Hermione evenly. "Do you?"
"No," replied Ron very quickly. Hermione looked away politely as he turned away and blew his nose spectacularly into his handkerchief. He sounded like a foghorn.
Fleur and Bill were reciting in unison.
"I will never leave you, or return from following after you, for where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your family will be my family, and your battles will be my battles. And where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. I will love you with all of my heart, for all of my life, and nothing but death shall part us."
The wizard presiding over the ceremony closed his book and spread his arms wide.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife." The couple smiled. "You may of course—kiss the bride."
And he did, with a relish that made some members of the audience clear their throats rather loudly.
"Whoops…" thought Draco, and, for some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on, he was utterly at a loss as to what to do next.
He was still gripping his wand tightly in his hand. He brushed off his clothes, turned around, and walked out the door of Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
"You're not seriously going to eat that are you?" said Hermione in disbelief.
"This is my third piece," said Ron, sounding extremely proud of himself. "You have to eat wedding cake, this is a wedding, isn't it?"
"I think you're excused if you survived off of birthday cake for two days straight," said Hermione, wrinkling her nose, her stomach churning slightly at the thought of more cake.
"Birthday cake and wedding cake are two unicorns of an entirely different color, Hermione," said Ron knowledgably. "Completely different. Like chocolate and vanilla."
They were in the field behind the Weasley's house. They actually hadn't budged an inch since the marriage ceremony itself, as the chairs had been magically rearranged into circles and large round tables had popped out of the ground within them, like big cloth covered mushrooms.
Everyone was still in their seats. Fleur's bridesmaids had decided to each give a speech, but by this time it had descended into a lot of high pitched gibbering in a language that couldn't possibly be English, and a great deal more heart felt and hysterical weeping. Most of the audiences' eyes had glazed over, though from emotion or boredom, she couldn't tell.
Hermione had lost interest in trying to make out what was being said. Her knowledge of French was spotty at best, and her concentration had been limited, for the most part, to learning how to say, "Where is the bathroom?" and "May I have some food?" and "Please don't arrest us, we are merely ignorant of your customs."
The bridesmaids finished. Charlie stood up and began to speak, ending less than a minute later by giving Bill a hearty clap on the back and raising his glass.
"But before we toast…" said Charlie, exhaling slowly. "And hopefully not to add too depressing of a note to a happy marriage…I would like to take a moment to remember a great man who we lost recently—"
"Whom we lost recently—" said Hermione's brain immediately.
Charlie looked around almost apologetically. "…if there's…anyone here who would like to speak for him…"
All eyes immediately fell to Harry. He stood up, reluctant though firmly resigned, and picked up his glass. Hermione knew that everyone was expecting him to say something eloquent, meaningful—but Harry really wasn't that kind of person. His grace and his feeling went into his actions. And he was most certainly a man of action.
He raised his glass. "To the greatest wizard who ever lived," he said simply. "To Albus Dumbledore."
Everyone raised their glasses and murmured in response. Harry sat down, bringing his glass towards Ron and Hermione. "May we finish what he started," he concluded quietly.
Nodding wordlessly, Ron and Hermione both clinked their glasses softly against Harry's.
He apparated more than occasionally, constantly checking to make sure he wasn't being followed, but for the most part—he walked. The countryside wasn't terribly thrilling, but at least he wasn't quite so bored any more. And at least he didn't have to listen to that bloody clock anymore. (Actually—no one had to listen to the clock anymore. It was a forlorn pile of bolts and splinters scattered about the living room at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.)
He passed the Weasley's house. It really was worse than he imagined. A filthy ramshackle hovel, held together by what must have been dozens of Balancing and Permanent Sticking Charms, and standing purely on what must have been fear of the ground. He kept walking, finding he really wasn't in the mood to verbally abuse Weasely. For one—there was no one around to appreciate his scintillating wit.
He kept walking, past the house, further down the broad scar in the earth that passed for a dirt road. He moved off the path and started into the sparse woods behind the house. He was close now. Not close enough to hear the wedding, but close enough perhaps to see it as a flicker in the distance, and quite close enough to be lit on fire by an unfriendly protective ward. He stopped and listened.
A thin wall, like flimsy glass, absorbed the energy from Draco's wand. It crackled with blue waves for a moment, spreading like a stone dropped into a pond and wobbling like a giant bubble, before fading away once more.
It was a start. Certainly not the last trap, but not the most terrible thing he could have imagined.
"Well," said Draco, clapping his hands together. "I think I can work with this."
There was definitely something romantic about summer nights that made dancing seem like a perfectly natural thing to do. Maybe it was the fireflies (or were they pixies?) or the fact that it was warm enough that the darkness seemed to take on a soft and inviting quality, rather than a cold and mysterious one.
That was why everyone was dancing, and Hermione wasn't. She was sitting alone at an entirely empty table. And Ron had just wandered away, the daft bastard.
"Hermione," said a voice. She looked up. "Fred," she acknowledged as they sat down on either side of her. "George. Having fun?"
"Loads," said George cheerily. "We're very drunk right now."
"Quite," agreed Fred. "Lovely bar. Dad went all out."
"You both sound very much the same," she admitted.
"Maybe we're drunk all the time then," said George in a low voice, as if he were imparting some very exciting information.
"Or maybe we just had years of practice," offered Fred, who did indeed seem to be gesturing more emphatically than usual, now that Hermione observed him with more scrutiny.
"Detention," said Hermione, with a mockingly stern voice. "And 50 points from Gryffindor. I'm sorry boys, but you've twisted my arm."
"And, are you having fun, dear Hermione?"
"I suppose," said Hermione. "It's a lovely reception."
"Would you like me to get you a Fizzy Firecracker?" offered Fred.
"And what's in a Fizzy Firecracker?" she inquired, with a small smile.
"You almost certainly don't want to know," admitted George. "But it will probably brighten up your night considerably."
"Ah…" Her eyes drifted out to the dance floor.
"Would you like to dance?"
"I suppose…but don't you two have dates? …Other than each other?" she added, grinning.
"Ha ha," said George dryly. "It just so happens that our dates have elected to spend a few dances at the bar to familiarize themselves more thoroughly with the Fizzy Firecracker, since you so inquired."
"Milady?" Fred offered his hand, and after rolling her eyes, Hermione accepted it. They stepped out into what served as the dance floor, but was more accurately the center of the yard. Slow, pleasant music was emanating from an orb similar to the one Hermione had seen in the Malfoy's ballroom.
They danced in casual loops around the floor, Hermione giggling as Fred occasionally purposefully trod on someone's foot and quickly spun around, pointing innocently to Hermione.
"He's not out here," said Fred, apparently picking up on the frequency with which Hermione was scanning the room.
"Oh, I know," said Hermione absently. "He's run off somewhere. I bet he's hiding—" Fred grinned. "Who's not out there?" she said lightly. "It looks like everybody to me."
"My idiot younger brother," said Fred. "Don't worry. He'll come round."
"Hopefully not before I die of old age," Hermione grumbled under her breath.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." She smiled innocently.
"Oh, now that promises to be an interesting development…." said Fred, looking at something over Hermione's shoulder. Hermione spun around to see Ginny sitting at the corner of the head table, chatting with the blonde girl next to her. She also saw Harry a few feet away, approaching a speed that snails would probably consider to be painfully hesitant. Ginny turned and looked up at him.
After what appeared to be several moments of complete silence, they both went over to the dance floor and began to dance. Well—they weren't so much dancing as holding each other closely and swaying, but the intent was clearly there.
Hermione was not by nature, a nosy person. She was merely a curious person. And she was curiously drifting closer and closer to Harry and Ginny, straining her ears to hear their conversation. Fred looked at her, and a moment later, pulled a long piece of flesh colored string out of the pocket of his dress robes.
"Need some assistance?" he inquired, grinning wickedly.
"Ginny…I—I just…" began Harry. Hermione could hear him perfectly, and she was trying not to stare nervously at the two peach lines snaked across the dance floor. Fred tugged on his, obviously anticipating something interesting—or at the very least, entertaining.
Ginny put a finger to his lips and smiled, a little wistfully. "Don't," she said, shaking her head. "I understand. I told you already."
Poor Harry. So desperate for some way to justify himself. Whatever he said before just wasn't enough. But, she knew, it would never be enough. Nothing would. Harry had made his decision, and he was stubborn enough to stick to it—despite the intense regret he seemed to feel. He didn't regret his choice, he simply regretted the way things were.
"I want you to be happy. I don't want you to wait around for me forever," he said.
Liar…though Hermione. Still trying to be the hero.
Ginny didn't seem to be falling for it. "Do you love me?" she asked.
Harry looked surprised, but his answer was immediate and unabashed. "Yes."
She smiled. "I love you too. So—I am happy, Harry." He looked uncertain. "Go and find him and do what you have to. Avenge your family."
He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. "You are my family."
"But…" she murmured, frowning slightly.
"My parents will always be a part of me, and I'll fight for them—but it's for you too. All of you. You and Ron and Hermione and your Mum and Dad and all of your brothers—I don't know where I would be without you. You're my family. I'll always be with you."
Hermione was rather stunned. And then she felt guilty for being stunned. Of course Harry was more mature. She had seen it all along. Hermione and Fred covertly moved a little closer.
Ginny smiled again, mischievously. "Why, Harry…that sounded almost like a proposal…"
He immediately turned crimson. "Well—I mean—I—er—"
"Would you marry me?" she asked, quirking her head.
"Yes." He grinned. "In a heartbeat."
"Harry…" She laid her head gently on his shoulder, squeezing her arms around him tightly. "It's going to be hard watching you leave again."
Harry looked at the ground. "I'm sorry…I shouldn't have come here—it's unfair of me to—"
"I'm glad you came, Harry," she said softly. She closed her eyes. "And besides—I'm not worried at all."
He quirked an eyebrow. "Really?" he said incredulously.
When she opened her eyes they were bright. "I know that if you have a single breath left in your body, you'll come find me." She smiled again, a sad, strong smile that Hermione had grown accustomed to seeing on her face when she was hurting deeply, and thought that no one had noticed. No one, perhaps, but him. "And if I have a single breath left in mine—I'll be here waiting for you. I'll wait here forever." Her fingers intertwined with his. "It's not long at all."
And she would. Wait. She would be there forever. Even if he didn't come back—she would wait for him. Forever. She was that kind of person. She loved him—fiercely, deeply—he was more than a friend. More than anything else in the world.
Hermione and Fred, at Hermione's casual insistence, moved away to give Harry and Ginny their privacy. (Or at least what was left of it.)
Ginny loved like she lived—courageously, openly, unabashedly. Hermione sometimes wondered (though she felt very foolish in doing so) if she would ever love anyone like that. She wondered if she could.
The spell had worked—Draco could see a rectangular break in the energy of the force field. But it was shrinking rapidly, and his actually getting to the opening was somewhat hindered by the hexes, fire balls, and various sharp metallic objects hurtling through the air towards him with less than friendly intent.
He dove forward, purposely triggering a defensive hex in a tree opposite him. And then, without looking to see whether or not the fireballs had indeed melted the barrage of flying axes, he flung himself through the force field.
He paused in the relative stillness. The woods were dark, but he could see a few stray floating candles some ways ahead of him, and hear the strains of a far off song floating on the summer air.
He was panting. Not wildly, but he was breathing hard enough to know that he ought to be very pleased with himself for what he had just accomplished. He was, despite himself, somewhat impressed with the security. Three force wards of varying thicknesses, dozens of hexes, Burning Charms, Freezing Charms, axes and knives hurling through the air, flesh melting curses, and the brief appearance of a moat of something that Draco suspected was Dragon Spit—a highly corrosive substance that was banned in most apothecaries because of it's strong likeness to lava. (And it's consequent ability to melt the flesh off of one's bones.)
But this was it, he assured himself. Now, he hit the payload. Invitations, though he infinitely preferred them, were for ponces. He took a step forward.
"You missed one."
Draco was not easily surprised. At least—he had an inclination that he was easily surprised—he just preferred to be the kind of person who wasn't. So, naturally, he jumped a foot in the air and spun around sideways, pointing his wand at the figure before him in what he hoped was a very threatening manner.
A very indignant, "I did not," was the first thing out of his mouth.
"I'm afraid you did," replied the stranger in an infuriatingly even voice. It was a voice that was infinitely assured of its own correctness, but one that corrected you in a maddeningly patient and non-judgmental way. Draco recognized the feelings of disgust, annoyance and desire to do something—anything—that would land him in detention that the voice stirred up in him almost immediately.
"Werewolf," Draco said disdainfully, staring coolly at Lupin.
"You know I've actually been going by a human name for some time now," said the werewolf in a light tone, one that he seemed to use often to mask the fact that he wasn't joking. "I find it to be much less confusing."
"How nice for you…" said Draco stubbornly. "…werewolf."
The werewolf made a motion that probably would have included eye rolling, had he been twenty years younger. But he merely shrugged, his eyes not straying from Draco's gaze.
"Three more steps," he said, pointing to the branch of a tree just above Draco's head, "and you will trigger the step on that branch—"
"So?" blurted out Draco defiantly, hysterically determined to prove his knowledge to his one time teacher for reasons he couldn't quite comprehend. "I can disarm it. I disarmed all the rest of them! What is it? Searing Charm? Molten Steel Hex?"
"Not precisely—" The werewolf pursed his lips. "You see, it triggers an unbroken ring of steel spikes that will push you backwards into this area, which contains an unbroken line of netting."
"Ooh, a net," sneered Draco. "Terrifying."
"The net is a Portkey," the werewolf added.
"It takes you back to the beginning of the traps," said the werewolf pleasantly, as if the beginning of the traps was an excellent vacation spot.
Draco said nothing, but he must have looked quite sullen.
"This one is my favorite," he elaborated. "Simple but effective. Very frustrating, in my opinion."
"This is your trap, isn't it?" asked Draco, not really wanting to know the answer.
"Yes, it is," admitted the werewolf. "We all pitched in. Especially the Aurors. And Charlie. Did you like the Dragon Spit? That was Charlie's idea."
"Loved it," said Draco flatly. "He's a genius." There was a brief silence. "I would have figured that out," he snapped.
"I'm sure you would have." The werewolf's smile seemed to reveal the unsaid—he most certainly would have figured it out…on the second time around.
"Why are you telling me this?" demanded Draco, quite torn between being grateful and extremely pissed.
"I thought you might like to know," he replied simply. There was another silence.
"What are you doing here, Draco?" he asked finally. Another unsaid question. Draco was startled to hear it plucked so suddenly from its previous position, hanging heavily on the warm air.
"I want to talk to Potter," said Draco boldly.
"If it is necessary, you certainly may," said the werewolf. "I won't stop you. However…I hope you haven't failed to reflect upon the considerable commotion your presence will wreak upon this wedding." Draco mulled over this for a moment, as the werewolf continued. "If you'd like, I would be perfectly willing to relay any message to him with perfect confidentiality."
Draco twirled his wand in his hands. In school, he had performed this action as an aspect of a masterful intimidation scheme, but he had the unpleasant feeling that the werewolf wouldn't be any less intimidated if he were slowly twirling a bunch of lollypops.
"Tell him—I broke the clock," said Draco finally.
"Is that some sort of code?" he asked, looking perplexed.
"Not really," said Draco, shrugging. "I broke it. Well—reduced it so cinders is more like it. Bloody annoying thing. How can any sane person stand to listen "A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love" that many times a day?" He found himself railing against the recently departed clock, despite the obvious bemusement of his audience.
"An actual clock?" inquired the werewolf, a tiny smile playing upon his lips.
"Yes," affirmed Draco.
"No hidden messages or secret codes or dire warnings—just a clock?"
"Yes," said Draco more sharply, now growing rather annoyed—though with himself or with the werewolf, he couldn't tell.
"And what were you planning to do, after you shared this sobering news with Harry?" inquired the werewolf, very politely.
"Well," Draco shifted uncomfortably. "I really hadn't thought that far into it." He hadn't, really. Going to Potter just seemed like the natural thing to do.
"Why is that?" The werewolf looked more like a Professor than ever, looking perfectly calm and just a bit to pleased with himself.
Draco paused, and considered. "I suppose it was…the first thing that I thought of…" He didn't have anyone to order around, he didn't have any tasks to complete, he was bored and confused and uncomfortable and the first solution that popped into his head was to go to Potter, and ask him what to do.
Wait a minute.
WHAT? HE WAS TAKING ORDERS FROM POTTER? INSTINCTUALLY? HAD HE GONE COMPLETELY MAD? WHAT BROUGHT THAT ON?
"If you want to," said the werewolf, "go ahead inside. Perhaps what you're looking for is in there after all."
What was inside? ...More cake? Crappy music? The Weasleys? EWW. Disgusting. But there was more than that, and Draco could see it on that stupid, knowing, half a grin on the werewolf's stupid scarred face.
Was he looking for acceptance from them? And even if he did want it, it's not like he's going to go in there begging for it. How repulsive. He certainly didn't need…those people.
He turned around to leave.
"Where are you going?"
"Did you slip me some Vertiserum at any point in the last few hours?" asked Draco.
"No," replied the werewolf.
"Then I'm not answering any more of your stupid questions, it's none of your goddamn business," said Draco sourly. The werewolf raised an eyebrow. "I have no idea," admitted Draco grudgingly.
"It's hard," said the werewolf slowly, as if afraid that this information would not be accepted as well as the rest had. "People don't realize the repercussions of losing the people who are most important to us…where do you go when you feel like you have nothing left?"
"A pub?" offered Draco, sneering.
"There was a time in my life when I thought I had nothing left. No friends, no cause to die for, nothing. Certainly there were no people left who saw me as anything but a monster. So I left. I wandered around for a long time, traveling, across the world. For the longest time I didn't know if I was trying to prove my denouncers wrong or right…"
"I would have gone to the pub." Draco winced as this statement came out a little more deliberately defensive than he intended.
The werewolf ignored him. "If you want to prove something, then prove it to yourself, Mr. Malfoy. No one can tell you how to do that, especially not Harry. Stop taking orders, and do what you think is right."
"I don't need Potter's help for anything," hissed Draco. "And I certainly don't take his orders."
"Oh no?" asked the werewolf, sounding a little more than skeptical, with that infuriatingly knowing smile still perched upon his lips. "Prove it." He disappeared into the woods before Draco could formulate a retort.
Draco stood alone in the silent dark for a few moments, then turned and walked away for the wedding.
And he kept walking, for a very long time.
AN: OMG, I'm not dead? Can you believe it? I'd give some excuses for the lateness…but you know how it is…Hope you enjoyed the chapter…
(PS: Thanks to the people who corrected the French. I will be the first to admit that I just used an online translator—but now the language is wonderfully authentic. Awesome!)