TITLE: Mon Mari, Mon Épouse
Disclaimer: All belongs to JK Rowling, et al.
SUMMARY: You are invited to THE wedding of the Potterverse: Fleur Delacour and Bill Weasley!
CHARACTERS: Bill/Fleur primarily, with a healthy dose of assorted Weasleys, veela and friends of the family
SPOILERS: Through Half-Blood Prince.
WARNINGS: I don't speak French!
This began as a simple little wedding story and spiraled into a wedding EPIC. It took me two full days to write, and ended up coming to a little over 32 pages long. I haven't written a fic this long in AGES. Note to self: spend less time at the keyboard. LOL! I wanted to bring in as many characters as I could conceivably do in a one-shot, and I particularly wanted to see how those various characters would interact with one another. It was a fun experiment, and one I hope you like! It was a special pleasure getting to bring in some characters who don't get much chance to talk in canon.
When I look in your eyes, there I see
All that a love should really be.
And I need you more and more each day;
Nothing can take your love away.
More than I dare to dream,
I need you...
"Here and Now"
"Bill! What are you doing 'ere, you silly boy? You are not supposed to see me before ze wedding!"
Bill grinned and leaned forward to drop a quick kiss on Fleur's surprised lips. "Technically that doesn't come into effect until tomorrow," he reminded her, sidling past her into the bedroom. Ginny had grudgingly forfeited her room for Fleur to use for the night. "I've still got a few hours."
Twisting her lips into a wry smile, Fleur turned to face him as he sat on the edge of her bed. "And jus' what are you 'ere for, mon amour, hmm?" she asked, closing the door and leaning back against it, head cocked at a coquettish angle.
Bill smiled lasciviously. "That depends," he mused, leaning rakishly back on his hands. "What are you offering?"
Fleur laughed and pushed away from the door. "Not until tomorrow night, mon cher," she purred, crossing the floor between them and kissing him tenderly on the cheek before pulling away and moving towards her vanity -- something she had insisted on bringing into the room while she stayed there. "But you knew zat, so I theenk you are 'ere for anuzzer reason?"
"Correct," he said, watching as she sat at the dressing table and began to pull a silver hairbrush through her long, sleek hair. "Has your family gotten through yet?"
"Oui, zey arrived today. It wuz very 'ard wiz all ze new restrictions on international travel by Portkey, but Papa 'as connections."
"That's good. I'm glad they made it."
Something in his tone must have caught her attention because she put down her hairbrush and regarded his reflection in the mirror. "What is wrong, Bill?" she asked, tilting her head. "You look un'appy."
Bill sighed, sitting forward and running his hands over his face. The now-familiar ridges and valleys of his scars stood out in sharp relief against his palms and he quickly dropped them again. "Do they know about... this?" he asked, gesturing to his ruined face.
"Do they know?"
"Oui, Bill, zey know. I sent Mama pictures."
"And they don't mind you marrying me?"
Fleur clucked her tongue, and out of the corner of his eye he saw her turn away from the mirror to face him fully. "Is zat what zis visit is about, mon coeur?" she asked quietly. "You are concerned about your face?"
Looking up and finding her eyes, he nodded. "You don't have to marry me, Fleur," he said firmly. "I needed to tell you that. I don't want you to think you've got some kind of... obligation. I understand-"
Fleur rolled her eyes and raised a hand to silence him. "Non, non, stop," she said. "Mon Dieu, you are as bad as your muzzer." Chuckling, she stood up and walked to the bed, sitting beside him and resting her chin on his shoulder so she could gaze at his profile.
"Mon Bill, I love you," she murmured, rubbing one hand soothingly up and down his back while the other made comforting circles on his stomach. "I do not know 'ow many times I will 'ave to say zis before you believe me, but if I mus' say it every hour of every day for ze next 'undred years, I will do it. Do you theenk I care about your face? Pfft! I am a veela! We know zat beauty is only skin deep, oui? Besides." Here she sat back a little and smoothed her hand up his back to comb through his hair. "'as no one ever told you zat scars are tres sexy?"
Bill turned his head to look at her, eyebrows raised with interest. "Is that right?" he asked, twisting his body so he could wrap his arms around her waist.
"Oui," she giggled, winding her arms around his neck and kissing the tip of his nose. "Zey make you tres mysterious and rugged. All ze women in my family, zey will fall in love wiz you at first sight. I am lucky zat I 'ave you already."
"I don't know, it might be useful having all the women in your family enamored of me. Lots of handy babysitters at my beck and call, for one."
Fleur raised an eyebrow. "Oui? And why would we need babysitters, hmm?"
"So we can make more babies for them to sit, of course. Honestly, Fleur, I'm giving this stuff to you."
Fleur laughed, a musical sound, and hugged him tightly, pressing their cheeks together. "I cannot wait to marry you, mon amour," she whispered near his ear.
"Just a few more hours," Bill sighed, pressing his face into her silky hair and inhaling deeply.
There was a split second pause. Then:
"Mon Dieu, no!" Fleur pushed him back and scrabbled back across the bedclothes, holding up her hands to hide her face. "Go! You mus' go!"
Bill watched her in confusion. "What? What's wrong?"
"You imbècile! It is less zan twenty-four hours to ze wedding! You should not be seeing me! Shoo! Out wiz you!" She flung out a hand, whacking him sharply across the arm, then the shoulder, the back of the head...
Bill laughed, jumping up from the bed and raising his arms as a shield. "Okay, okay!" he exclaimed, beaming. "I'm going!"
"Faster! Now! Shoo!" She landed a good, solid kick to his knee.
"Ow! I said I'm going!" He hopped towards the door. Then, grinning, he tiptoed back. Fleur still had one hand over her face and her eyes were scrunched shut, so she didn't notice as he swooped down and kissed her on the neck.
"ACK! NO!" she squealed, but Bill danced away before she could hit him again. "Bad Bill!"
"See you in the morning, Fleur," he said wickedly, cackling as he slipped out the door, leaving her sputtering and squawking in his wake.
The next morning dawned bright and clear and absolutely perfect for a wedding. Fleur rose early and indulged in a long bath in the temporary private bathroom Mr. Weasley had been kind enough to conjure for her on this most special of days. She could hear the rest of the family beginning to stir as she stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a thick, fluffy robe, toweling her wet hair. Gazing out the window, she thought how perfectly the early morning light matched her bridesmaid dresses. We should have had a sunrise wedding, she thought absently.
Movement on the front walk caught her eye. Looking more closely, she squealed with delight. Dropping the towel, she spun around and bolted from the room.
"Fleur!" Mrs. Weasley called out in alarm as the veela zoomed past her down the stairs; the Weasley matron had an armful of fresh table linens.
"Pardon, mere Weasley!" Fleur called back over her shoulder but didn't lessen her speed. She leapt nimbly from the bottom step, flying past a surprised Ginny Weasley, before flinging open the front door and crying, "GABRIELLE!"
"FLEUR!" the young girl squealed in response.
The sisters ran towards each other and met halfway down the walk. Fleur gathered the younger girl up into her arms, hugging her tightly. "Oh, 'ow I 'ave missed you!" she enthused. "You 'ave grown so big!"
Gabrielle babbled excitedly in French. Fleur stood back a little, fixing her sister with a stern look. "Speak in anglais, little one," she scolded gently. "Bill's family does not speak French and it would be very rude, especially since I know zat Mama 'as been buying you very expensive lessons. Now, say it again."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes petulantly. "Where 'ave you been?" she repeated, this time in English. "I 'ave not seen you in années! Does Bill keep you locked in a closet?"
Fleur laughed, hugging her sister again. "No, 'e does not keep me locked in a closet, mon bonbon. But it is very 'ard to go between France and 'ere when I am working, especially wiz all ze new rules about travel." She stood back once more, smoothing her sister's sleek hair. The little girl had turned eleven several months ago, and already she was radiant. "But I 'ave missed you so much. I am glad we could be togezzer again for such an 'appy occasion! Now." Straightening up, she looked down into her sister's eyes. "Where are Mama and Papa?"
Gabrielle sighed huffily. "Zey are so slow," she complained, taking Fleur's hand and letting herself be led towards the house. "Mama sent me on ahead t'rough ze Portkey so zat I would stop annoying 'er and Papa."
"She sent you alone?" Fleur frowned. "Zat was very foolish of 'er."
Gabrielle giggled. "She did not send me alone!" Pointing behind her, she continued. "She sent Franco wiz me!"
Fleur looked over her shoulder and groaned. "Mon Dieu," she muttered, covering her face with one hand. "'ow will I explain zis to Bill?"
"Rise and shine, big brother!"
The first thing Bill noticed as he woke with a start was that he wasn't alone on his bed. Not his bed, really, but the bed he was using for the night. The women had taken over the Burrow, forcing the men outside into the comfortable, if somewhat dusty, confines of Mr. Perkins magical tent, on loan for the wedding. The interior still smelled like cats and burned s'mores from the Quidditch Cup.
The second thing he noticed was that Fleur wasn't with him, and that whoever was with him smelled like dragon. Since there was someone on either side of him, he assumed that meant it was the twins, dressed in their finest dragon hide coats.
The third thing he noticed, and it was really more the first thing but he put off thinking about it until his mind cleared a bit, was pain. Werewolf claw marks might heal scarless, unlike werewolf bites, but the lingering soreness could remain for months afterward. Right now the bedclothes were stretched tight across his chest, reminding his body that almost two months earlier he'd been in a very close fight with a werewolf. You might want to do something about this, it suggested.
"WerewolfattackwerewolfattackWEREWOLFATTACK!" he howled, and felt the pressure on his torso loosen as two satisfying thumps! signified that the Twins had fallen off the bed.
"Oi, sorry about that, Bill," said the one to the left.
"Yeah, sorry, mate," said the one on the right.
"I told you it was a bad idea," a third voice chimed in from the window, and judging by the tone, the person was smiling.
Bill forced his eyes open and squinted at the figure leaning against the window frame. "You're an idiot, Charlie," he muttered hoarsely, rolling onto his side and holding his protesting ribs. The Twins weren't the only reason the room smelled like a dragon pen.
"Why are you calling me the idiot?" Charlie asked with a chuckle. "I'm not the one who jumped on you."
"No, but you bloody well stood there and let them do it."
"I'm a firm believer in learning through practice rather than lecture."
"Next time, give lecturing a shot, all right? Which of you is Fred."
"That'd be me," said the one on the right.
Bill turned to the one on the left. "Fred, I thought you at least knew better than that. I mean, George I'd expect this sort of thing from, but you?"
Fred grinned at him. "Don't you ever listen to Mum?" he asked, helping Bill to sit up.
"She says we're incorrigible," chimed in George, helping him from the other side.
"And mother knows best."
Bill groaned, waving them away before leaning back on one hand, the other arm still wrapped around his abdomen. "Why don't you go make trouble somewhere else?" he snapped.
The Twins shared a look across the bed. "Uh oh, someone's grumpy," said George.
"I think his amorous advances towards his lady love last night were rebuffed."
"I think you're right, Fred."
"I didn't make amorous- Were you spying on me?"
"We spy on everyone, Bill," George said cheerfully.
"Yeah, don't start thinking you're special," Fred added.
"You heard the man, shoo," Charlie laughed.
The Twins stood up and dusted themselves off. "I think we'd better pay a visit to Fleur, Fred, what do you think?" George asked his brother.
"Warn her not to jump on our beloved eldest brother you mean?"
"My thoughts exactly."
"Sounds like a good plan. Especially in light of what the two of them will be getting up to tonight, eh?"
"OUT," Bill said firmly, glaring at each Twin in turn.
The brothers grinned at each other, winked at him, and Apparated away.
Bill groaned and flopped back on the bed. "Fleur's going to run away and never come back if they make good on that threat," he muttered, rubbing his face.
Charlie chuckled, and Bill heard the sound of his brother's footsteps crossing the floor from the window. "I doubt she will," he assured him. "And you'll be thankful they did it when the time comes. You wouldn't want to be kept from consummating your wedded bliss because your wife pounces on you and you end up whimpering in a fetal position for the rest of the night, would you? That tends to kill the mood."
Bill laughed slightly, then moaned as it stretched his sore ribs again. "Ow."
"You all right?" Charlie asked, and this time his voice held real concern.
Bill dropped his hand away from his face and gave the next eldest Weasley son a weak smile. "Fine," he said with a nod. "Just help me up, will you?"
Charlie nodded and took his arm. Bill winced as he let himself be pulled upright, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and leaning forward, hands braced on his knees as he tried to get his breath back.
"You sure you're all right?" Charlie asked. "Do you need me to give the Twins a thump round the ear?"
Bill laughed, groaned, laughed, and sighed. "No, but you can thump yourself if you'd like. Or better yet," he stretched up one hand, whacking Charlie lightly across the back of the head. "There."
"Feel better now?"
"Good. Because you're getting married in less than four hours and you look like hell."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"That's what the Best Man is supposed to do."
"Except I think you usually do it by saying comforting things like You're going to do great or You're marrying the best girl in the world. Not insulting me to my face."
"Actually I think I was more insulting you to the top of your head that time around. When I insult you to your face you'll know it. Come on." Charlie grabbed his arm and hoisted him to his feet, sending another bolt of pain across Bill's chest; he ignored it. "Let's see what kind of provisions this old tent has stored away."
"From what I remember from the Quidditch World Cup, mostly things that can be cooked over an open flame."
"Excellent. My favorite kind."
"What is THAT?"
Fleur sighed as Mrs. Weasley stared in horror over her shoulder. "'is name is Franco. 'e is a family pet."
"He's a dragon!"
"'e is very friendly!" Gabrielle piped up helpfully. Scurrying away from Fleur's hand and back down the path, she wrapped her arms around the miniature dragon's scaly brown neck and hugged him tightly. Franco paused in his cavorting long enough to croon happily and rub his speckled head against her shoulder. He was about the size of a Shetland pony.
"But... but..." Mrs. Weasley stammered.
"'e is very tame," Fleur assured her. "Gabrielle will make sure 'e stays quiet at ze back of ze wedding. Isn't zat right, Gabrielle?" Fleur asked sternly, looking over her shoulder at her sister.
Gabrielle pouted. "But 'e was going to sit at ze front wiz Mama and Papa!" she whined.
"Zat was before I found out about 'im!" Getting her temper back under control, Fleur smiled at her future mother-in-law, who hadn't stopped staring in wide-eyed disbelief at Franco. "I promise, mere Weasley, zat 'e will be no trouble. 'e is a very 'appy dragon, and very good protection. Zat is why muzzer brought 'im along. I azure you, you will not even know zat 'e is 'ere."
Molly finally pulled her gaze away from the tableau of Gabrielle and her pet dragon and fixed Fleur with a dazed stare. "Does he like chicken?" she asked.
Fleur smiled sweetly. "He likes chicken very much," she affirmed.
"Oh good. Because we only made enough steak dinners for the guests who requested it."
"Merci." Fleur wrapped her arm comfortingly around the Weasley matron's shoulders and turned her back toward the house. "We will make you some tea now, oui?"
Molly nodded dazedly as they walked back into the house, passing Ginny, who was leaning in the doorway watching Gabrielle and Franco. "Why's he so small?"
"Runt of ze litter," Fleur said over her shoulder.
"How did you GET him?"
"We bought 'im, of course. 'ow else would you get a pet dragon?"
"Oh man," Ginny giggled. "Just wait till Charlie gets a load of this."
"The flower's too much."
"It's traditional, Bill. A flower on the left lapel."
"Charlie, would you look at me? I look like an idiot with this face and a little sprig of frilly white on my lapel."
Charlie rolled his eyes at his brother. "Bill, would you quit worrying about your face? Hasn't Fleur convinced you yet that looks don't matter? Besides, I've seen worse than that after a bar fight in Bucharest." Standing back, he smoothed his older brother's robes. "There. You look great. Was that supportive enough?"
Bill chuckled and nodded. "Perfect." He held out his arms and surveyed himself in the mirror. "Not bad."
"Yeah, the blue suits you."
"Yeah, it brings out your eyes."
"Why does it take women so long to do this?"
"They've got more bits and pieces to deal with."
"Of clothing or body?"
"Both. That's why it takes twice as long. Besides." Charlie grinned at his brother in the mirror. "It makes it more fun unwrapping the bride when you've got layers of tissue paper to go through before you reach the toy surprise."
Bill laughed. "Don't ever let Fleur hear you call her a toy," he warned, eyes twinkling. "Unless you want to spend the rest of your life as a eunuch."
"I think you'd be better served by that advice than me, Brother." Charlie grinned wider as he stood back, straightening his own coordinating robes. It was good to see his brother smiling again. For a while there, shortly after the attack, when the severity of his wounding had finally begun to sink in, Bill had gone through some very, very dark days. Everyone had worried that he wouldn't come out of it; everyone, that is, except Fleur. She sat with him and talked with him and, more importantly, made him talk back to her. For a week the pair of them had all but disappeared, only to emerge out the other side looking a little wearier, a little sadder, and even more devoted to each other than when it had all begun. Charlie knew that his mother and sister weren't overly fond of the veela, though they'd warmed up to her considerably in the time since Greyback's attack, but after that week with Bill, she'd cemented herself in Charlie's good graces.
"So what do we do now?" he asked, adjusting his own boutonnière. "Hit on the bridesmaids?"
"Considering one's our sister and one's her sister, that might not go too well."
"That's true. Say, how many of Fleur's family are coming today?"
"A fair few. Why?"
"Well, you've snagged yourself a veela. Don't see why I shouldn't try my hand at it, too."
Bill laughed. "Sorry, Charlie, one per family. I'm pretty sure it's written somewhere."
"Why's that then?"
"Because no single family should ever be that lucky. It insults cosmic karma and makes some other family go through merry hell."
"Do we get to pick the family? Because I wouldn't mind a little merry hell for the Malfoys. Or unmerry for that matter."
"You've got a point. You also smell like breakfast. How much bacon did you eat?"
"Just a few slices."
"It smells like you ate a whole rasher."
"I work with dragons, Bill. You learn to appreciate your meat when you work with dragons."
A sudden jet of flame outside the window drew their attention. "You didn't bring one home with you, did you?" Bill asked.
Charlie furrowed his brow. "No."
"Then what in the name of Merlin's beard was that?"
Charlie went to the window and peered out.
He looked to Bill, then back to the window.
"Wow," he said.
"What?" Bill asked.
Charlie looked at him over his shoulder again. "You told me Fleur's family was rich, Bill," he said. "You didn't tell me they were bloody loaded."
When Hermione arrived at the Burrow, wedding gift tucked resolutely under her arm, she was met by the most absurd visual imaginable. A miniature dragon was cavorting in a mud puddle, though closer inspection showed it was in fact pestering a garden gnome. A pretty young girl dressed in a shimmering gold gown was watching and cheering from the sidelines, while the gnome made rude gestures in the dragon's direction and tried to carry on with its rampant tunneling. Hermione recognized the girl as Fleur's younger sister, Gabrielle, who she'd last seen at the Triwizard Tournament. The dragon was unfamiliar.
"Um, hello?" she called out uncertainly, not sure if she should try walking past the duo without warning them first. The dragon seemed to have the temperament of a large, friendly dog; the kind that liked to knock you off your feet and roll you around in the dirt to show how happy it was to see you.
Gabrielle looked up and waved. "Bonjour!" she greeted. "Zis is Franco! 'e is pleased to meet you!"
Franco, Hermione was pleased to see, didn't feel the need to say his own hellos in response to her hail.
"I'll just take this inside, shall I?" she called again, feeling like a fool shouting out her plans across the Burrow's familiar front yard.
"Oh, oui!" Gabrielle said with a helpful nod. "Zere is a big pile on ze table by ze door!"
"Thank you!" Straightening her dress robes – she hadn't been sure if this was an occasion for robes or a gown and hadn't had time to research the subject, so she'd gone with robes over a dress – Hermione made her way to the front door and swung open the top half. "Hello? Anybody home?"
Ginny Weasley's cheerful face peered back at her from the kitchen sink, where she was methodically scrubbing a series of crystal goblets. "Hello, Hermione," she greeted, then called out, "Mum! Hermione's here!"
"Who brought the dragon?" Hermione asked, stepping into the entryway and setting her gift – a set of Muggle CDs Bill had requested that he wanted to share with Fleur – on the table by the door. Gabrielle hadn't been lying; there was already a huge stack of presents on the sideboard, presumably from friends and relatives who would be unable to attend the ceremony.
"Gabrielle," Ginny said matter-of-factly, turning back to her scrubbing. "Mum's going spare. She's convinced he's going to eat the guests."
"He seems quite friendly to me. Just a little excitable."
"Yes, it's the excitable that's got Mum worried."
"A DISASTER!" Hermione turned around quickly at the sound of Mrs. Weasley's frantic voice. The older woman had appeared at the bottom of the stairs, looking a little the worse for wear. "How could they bring that thing here? A disaster! Disaster! It will positively ruin the rosebushes! And Aunt Cecily's heart! Oh, she'll never recover!"
"He's been behaving himself, Mum," Ginny said. "I don't think you have to worry. Gabrielle seems able to handle him, and if he did make any trouble, Charlie would be able to stop him I'm sure."
"Why don't you have a seat and let me get you a drink, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said kindly.
"What? Oh no, dear, thank you. Thank you, but no." Mrs. Weasley straightened up and adjusted her hair. She looked quite nice in a forest green gown that came to mid-calf, though the effect was muted by a set of rubber wash gloves and a paisley housecoat. Hermione made a mental note to shed her dress robes later in favor of the light, summery cotton dress beneath. "Too much to do. We have to get the chairs set up for the ceremony, and then the tables for the reception afterward. Be a dear and run over to the tent to check on the men, will you? I told Arthur to have them out of bed first thing in the morning but I haven't heard a peep from them all day and it's almost nine-thirty. The wedding's at noon, heavens to Betsy! If they expect me to get everything done myself, they're sorely mistaken! Oh, Merlin, the guests will start arriving any minute. Cousin Frederica will be first, of course, and she'll give everything the hairy eyeball so she can sneer behind her hand at me to Cousin Amaryntha. Give me strength!"
Hermione shared a surreptitious grin with Ginny. "Don't worry, Mrs. Weasley," she said. "I'll go check and make sure the boys are up."
"Oh, thank you, dear. I think, on second thought, I might have a quick sit-down before that horrible Frederica arrives. Why ever did we invite her?"
"You seemed to think it was necessary, Mum," Ginny responded.
"Well of course it's necessary!" Mrs. Weasley snapped as Hermione stepped back out into the fresh morning air. "Do you think I'd give her the satisfaction of thinking I couldn't get this house tidy enough for her?"
Chuckling, Hermione scampered around the house, careful to keep some distance between herself and the spot where Gabrielle and Franco were still playing with the garden gnomes. The backyard had been bewitched to resemble a large English tea garden, with a lattice-work archway hung with climbing roses which would become the focal point of the ceremony. At the far end of the garden, hidden by a patch of shrubbery, she could make out the familiar canvas of Mr. Weasley's tent.
"Hello!" she called out as she approached the tent. "Are you awake in there?" Leaning forward, she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted through the flaps, "Good morning!"
"I'm here, I'm here, cor!" Hermione stepped backward in surprise as one tent flap was thrown back and Ron's tall figure emerged, unfolding like a pocket knife. He was dressed to the nines in the dress robes the Twins had bought for him using Harry's winnings from the Triwizard Tournament. His hair seemed to be fighting against some kind of Slicking charm, so that it was wonderfully smooth on top but fluffy at the bottom. "No need to shout! Oh, hi, Hermione." He blushed, and Hermione found that she was blushing, too. "Did Mum send you?"
"Oh, yes," she said, silently cursing her tongue for feeling ten times too big. "She said she was expecting you all at the crack of dawn but she hasn't seen head nor tail from you all day."
"We've got six men sharing one three-room flat with two measly bathrooms," he said irritably. "It's not like six women, but it still takes a bloody long time to get ready. Especially with all this." He held out his arms to encompass his robes. "Besides, it'll only take a bit to get everything set up."
"I still think it would be nice to be helpful for your mother today," Hermione scolded. "She's having a hard morning."
"Oh no. What's Fleur done now?"
"What makes you think it's Fleur?"
"It usually is, isn't it? Chalk and cheese, those two. Chalk and cheese."
"Well it's not. It's Gabrielle, actually. She brought their pet dragon."
"Hey, yeah?" Ron's eyes lit up. "Brilliant! What kind is it?"
"Judging by the looks of it, I'd say a Welsh Green." Ron and Hermione both looked back to the tent to see Charlie emerging through the front flap. He smiled at them. "Morning, Hermione."
"Hello, Charlie. How is Bill doing?"
"Remarkably well. Hasn't thrown up on his shoes yet, which I take as a good sign."
"I'm glad to hear that."
He grinned at her, then turned his attention to Ron. "Why don't you go find out what Mum needs then run back here and tell us?" he said.
"I'm not a puppy, Charlie," Ron sulked, and glowered at his older brother when Charlie reached out and ruffled his hair, completely ruining the effect of the Slicking charm.
"No, but you're the youngest son here so Mum's less likely to kill you. Now go."
Ron rolled his eyes and gave Hermione a little wave. "See you in a bit."
"Bye," she said, waving coyly as he jogged away. Immediately she lowered her hand, feeling overly self-conscious with Ron's brother standing so close. "How do you know it's a Welsh Green?" she asked, hoping to cover the awkward moment with conversation.
"Mostly the coloring," Charlie said, setting off across the lawn; Hermione fell in step beside him. "And the size. Miniature dragons are pretty rare – they're genetic mutations that don't grow past their first or second month of development – but most species still reach the size of a carthorse. Welsh Greens are naturally smaller than the other breeds, so their miniature versions are proportionately smaller as well."
"I've never heard of wizards keeping dragons as pets."
"You don't get it here in Britain because they're so hard to hide, and the Ministry has strict rules about what can and can't be kept as a pet. But you find them abroad, especially in the more rural areas of Eastern Europe. They're quite rare, actually. Usually they die in the nest, crushed by their parents or older siblings or else starved for food."
Hermione furrowed her brow. "That's awful!"
"That's life, I'm afraid. I'm not for captivity of dragons as a general rule, but where the minis are concerned I can condone it, so long as they're given good homes. They'd die otherwise." They drew to a stop about ten feet from Gabrielle and Franco. The dragon had abandoned his toying with the gnome and was stretched out on his back in a patch of sunlight, sunning his pale belly. Gabrielle was sitting next to his head, scratching under his chin.
"France isn't Eastern Europe," Hermione mused, watching the scene quietly. "How did the Delacours get him?"
"Probably paid top dollar to a reserve. Dragons don't come cheap. My brother is marrying into a very wealthy family."
Gabrielle must have heard them because she looked up and beamed at them. "Bonjour!" She waved. "'ave you met Franco?"
Charlie grinned. "No I haven't. May I pet him?"
"You are not afraid?"
"Nope. I work with dragons. The big kind, in Romania."
Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Oui?" Charlie nodded and she squealed excitedly. "Come, come! Sit! You will tell me everyzing, oui?"
Charlie laughed and turned to Hermione. "Call me if the others need anything."
Hermione smiled and nodded. "I will. I'd better go check on how your mother's doing. She seemed close to a nervous breakdown when I arrived."
"Oh, don't worry about her. She'll get all the worrying out of her system early then turn to rock on a dime. She just needs someone to yell at. It's a knack."
Hermione could believe it. "I'll see you later, Charlie."
"You too, Hermione."
She left him there, chatting away with Gabrielle about the different species of dragons and their characteristics, and made her way back to the main house. Judging by the sound of raised voices, Mrs. Weasley had indeed foregone killing Ron and had settled for telling him in a very loud voice just how much he, and all Weasley men, had disappointed her, this morning and in general. I guess Charlie was right, she thought. She just needed someone to yell at.
Jumping a little at the unexpected voice, Hermione turned to find a blond girl about her age hovering near her elbow. "Luna!" she exclaimed. "You scared me to death!"
"Did I?" The girl regarded her dreamily with her protuberant eyes. "You seem alive to me. Perhaps we're both dead?"
Hermione decided to ignore this. "What are you doing here?"
"Mrs. Weasley invited me."
Luna nodded. "She said I would be a breath of fresh air."
Well, that's a new way of putting it. "What do you have there?" Hermione asked, gesturing to a plant Luna was holding tucked up against her stomach.
"It's a Scandinavian Wedding Tree," the other girl said, holding it out for her closer inspection. "Father and I found it while we were searching for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. If you crush the needles and brew them into tea on the first night of the new moon, you will be blessed with fertility and good luck."
Hermione resisted the urge to say it looked like a very young balsam fir and instead nodded politely. "Well, that's nice. If you come in you can leave it with the other gifts by the door."
Hermione frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I can't do that," Luna said, in that same dreamy, half-awake voice. "The gift must only be handed to the bride herself by the person doing the giving, or else the charm is lost."
Hermione sighed. Well, she was going to end up seeing Fleur at some point today anyway, and if she didn't do it now Luna was likely to try and shove the thing into the veela's hands during the ceremony itself, probably crushing the traditional bouquet of flowers in the process. "All right then," she said, straightening up. "Come on, perhaps she needs some help getting ready."
Harry touched down his broom in the Burrow's backyard behind a sheltering hedge and shed his Invisibility Cloak, then took a moment to catch his breath.
His seventeenth birthday had come and gone with little fanfare, just as he'd requested. After the end-of-term events at Hogwarts, capped by Dumbledore's death and Snape's betrayal, he hadn't felt much like celebrating his coming-of-age. The Weasleys and the rest of the Order had acquiesced to his request, and the day had passed unheralded. Glad as he was that he hadn't been forced to celebrate on his birthday, he found he was looking forward to today. He'd moved away from the Dursleys and had taken up residence at the Leaky Cauldron almost immediately after finishing the school year. While there, he'd discovered that life in Diagon Alley was just as grim as he'd feared. It would be nice to finally put the darkness aside for a day and allow himself to enjoy someone else's joy. Bill and Fleur seemed made for each other and he wished the pair of them nothing but happiness.
Thinking about Bill and Fleur invariably turned his thoughts to Ginny, however, and that was why he was cowering behind this hedge. He wasn't entirely sure he could face her; not on a day like this, when love was so thick in the air he could almost see the cherubs. He wanted to support Bill and Fleur, but at the same time he didn't know if he could endure the awkwardness of being so close to Ginny while having to keep a safe distance from her.
Harry sighed. It was going to be a very long day.
Steeling himself, he stepped out from behind the hedge and was promptly knocked unconscious by a table.
Hermione tapped politely on the bedroom door as Luna hovered behind her. "Fleur?" she inquired. "Are you in there? It's Hermione. I've come to see if you need any help."
There was silence for a moment, then the door flew open to reveal a panicking quarter-veela on the other side. "Thank ze gods!" Fleur exclaimed, wide-eyed with anxiety. Reaching out, she grabbed the front of Hermione's robes and dragged her into the room. "You mus' 'elp me!"
Hermione managed to disentangle herself from Fleur's grip and saw Luna float into the room behind them, closing the door politely. "What's wrong?" Hermione asked, taking the shaking veela by the shoulders. "Did something happen?"
"I am getting married!"
Hermione ran that exclamation through her head a few times to make sure she'd heard it right. "You did already know that, right?" she asked carefully. In the world of the Second War, it was never a given that anyone was aware of their own actions one hundred percent of the time. It was always best to double check.
Fleur grabbed her arms in a painfully tight grip. "Oui, I knew, but I did not THEENK about it! Mon Dieu, I will be marrying 'im! I will be 'is wife!" She let go of Hermione and staggered backward, sitting heavily on the edge of the bed.
Hermione tried to share a glance with Luna, but the other girl was looking around the room with curious interest and didn't seem to be paying attention to Fleur's breakdown. Hermione decided to leave it alone and turned back to the bride-to-be. She hated to say it, but a small, petulant part of her brain was happy to see the usually composed woman having such a visible panic attack. It was quickly smothered by the better side of her nature, which was distressed to see the veela so anxious on what should be the happiest day of her life.
Kneeling down in front of the bed, she gathered Fleur's hands up between her own. "What brought this on?" she asked softly.
Fleur raised terror-struck blue eyes, tears perched on her lashes. "I... I was brushing my 'air and wondering which perfume to wear, and I 'ad decided on ze one Bill gave me for Chreestmas. Zen I thought, Bill, 'e will know all my perfumes before long, because 'e will be so close to me all of ze time. And zen I thought about 'ow we will be togezzer everyday. Everyday! Mon Dieu, I do not know..." She latched onto Hermione's hands, squeezing tightly. "What if 'e gets bored wiz me? What if 'e does not love me when 'e 'as lived wiz me for much time? I do not... I cannot..." She trailed off into indecipherable French, rocking slightly back and forth.
Hermione had heard of cold feet enough to know them when she saw them. Unfortunately, she wasn't sure how to fix this particular case. True, she could use the old chestnut and remind Fleur that Bill was madly in love with her, but she had the sneaking suspicion Fleur would just rejoinder with something like, Oh, yes, 'e loves me NOW. But what about later? Hermione didn't really have an answer for that second question, which left her feeling flustered; it was rare she encountered a question she couldn't answer.
The silence was getting awkward, but thankfully Hermione was saved from having to talk by Luna. "Hello, Miss Delacour," the other young woman said with a dreamy smile. Holding out the Wedding Tree, she continued, "Many blessings and the best of luck to you on this happy occasion."
Fleur blinked at her in confusion, tears forgotten for the moment. "I... 'oo are you?"
Hermione cleared her throat. "Fleur, this is Luna Lovegood. Luna, this is Fleur Delacour."
Luna held out one hand, still clutching the Wedding Tree in the other. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Delacour."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Fleur said absently, but it had the sound of something rehearsed, as if she were saying it rote from memory. She was staring at the shrub in Luna's hands. "What is zat?"
Luna smiled. "It's a Scandinavian Wedding Tree," she explained. "If you crush the needles and brew them into tea on the first night of the new moon, you will be blessed with fertility and good luck."
Hermione blushed with embarrassment, but Fleur didn't seem to care about how absurd that sounded. "Does it work?" she asked.
"Only if it's given straight to the bride by the gift-giver." Luna proffered the plant to the veela once more.
Fleur let go of Hermione's hands and took the shrub. Sniffling a little, she inclined her head in thanks to Luna. "Merci," she murmured. Luna curtsied deeply, as though Fleur were a visiting dignitary.
And just like that, the hysterics passed. Fleur seemed to take great strength from holding the small potted tree; her knuckles were white, she held it so tightly. Hermione remembered reading somewhere that veela were nature spirits in their earliest, most primal incarnation. Perhaps it had not been a bad idea to bring Luna with her after all. "Are you feeling better now?" she asked, just to be safe.
"Hmm?" Fleur raised her eyes from the fir and gave Hermione a faint smile. "Oui, merci," she said sheepishly. "I apologize, 'ermione. I... 'ow you say? Los' my head?"
Hermione smiled and patted Fleur's knee. "It's understandable. I'm sure Bill's doing much the same thing."
Fleur tensed up again. "Oui?"
Oh, yes, Hermione. Tell her the man she's going to marry is currently fretting over marrying her. Genius. "No," she said, smiling tightly. "If anything, he's probably champing at the bit to get through the ceremony so he can introduce you as his wife."
Bill didn't remember eating shrimp anytime in the past week, but somehow they were finding their way up from his stomach, so he must have just forgotten.
For the third time in the past half hour, he flushed the toilet and slumped back against the tub, panting. His ribs were aching from the force of his heaves and the scars on his face were throbbing. Excellent; this was the last thing he needed on the day of his wedding.
"Son? You all right in there?" A soft knock on the door accompanied Arthur Weasley's concerned voice.
Bill gestured weakly to the door, though he knew his father couldn't see him. "Fine, Dad," he panted. "You can come in."
The door opened a crack and Mr. Weasley poked his head into the bathroom. "You sure you're all right, son?" he asked. "You've been in here quite a while."
Bill nodded faintly, too exhausted to move much more than that. "Fine, Dad, really," he reiterated. He sighed, then winced as the action stretched the sore muscles across his torso. "I feel like an old man though."
Mr. Weasley chuckled and stepped fully into the bathroom. "Easy now, or I may take offense," he said cheerfully, reaching down to help his son to his feet. "If you're an old man then I'm positively ancient."
Bill laughed softly, then moaned from a new wave of pain. "What in the name of Merlin's beard is Fleur doing marrying an old man like me?" he asked through gritted teeth as his father helped him out of the bathroom and into the master suite. "I'm seven years older than her, Dad. Seven years! I was four years away from Hogwarts when she was just born!"
"What's seven years between friends, Bill?" Mr. Weasley asked, helping him sit on the bed. Conjuring a glass of water out of thin air, he handed it to his son to drink. "The years make less and less difference the older you get."
"Maybe, but not after all this." Bill took a sip of his water, wincing as it rolled down his raw throat. "I feel sixty."
"But you're only twenty-seven. There's quite a difference there." Sitting beside him, Mr. Weasley placed a comforting hand on his son's back. "Is that the reason for..." He trailed off, nodding towards the bathroom.
"What? Oh. No." Bill shook his head, chuckling, and took another sip of water. "No, I think the ham I had with breakfast this morning might have been off."
Mr. Weasley nodded sagely. "I see. Not nerves, but food poisoning."
"Dad, have you met the woman I'm marrying? Why on earth would I be nervous about that?"
Arthur laughed. "I suppose you're right," he agreed. "You two certainly seem to be a matched pair."
Bill smiled, looking down at the cup of water in his hands. "I really love her, Dad," he murmured, watching his reflection ripple. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself just to remind myself she really is mine."
Mr. Weasley ruffled his son's hair; twenty-seven years, and his parents still ruffled his hair. "I know how you feel, son," he said kindly. "I have to do the same thing about your mother. Everyday."
They grinned at each other.
Then the bedroom door banged open, revealing a wild-eyed Ron. "I swear, I didn't mean to do it!" he exclaimed.
Bill and his father shared a confused look. "Didn't mean to do what, Ron?" Bill asked.
Another look, this time of weary acceptance. "I'll be right out," Arthur said. Ron nodded brusquely and bolted back into the living room. They could hear excited voices on the other side of the door.
Arthur turned back to his son. "Do you need anything?" he asked. "Potion? Charcoal pills? Glass of warm milk?"
Bill shook his head. "No, Dad, thank you. I think I'll be fine now. There's nothing left in my stomach to come up."
"Call if you change your mind. I'd better go see what Ron didn't mean to do to Harry."
Bill nodded and watched him go. It was comforting to know his father still thanked his lucky stars to have found his mother. While he could never imagine Fleur growing into Molly Weasley, he liked to think that one day he'd be half so good a man as Arthur Weasley; and if that man still had to pinch himself to believe that he was married to Fleur Delacour, then all the better.
As Harry swam back to consciousness, he became aware of an excited buzz of voices around him, though he couldn't make out specific people. Occasional words would pop out of the hum at him: table, whack. He heard the word "brain" quite a lot, though he couldn't figure out why; had whatever hit him somehow damaged his brain? Was that why he couldn't figure out anything anyone was actually saying?
Dammit, he thought, annoyed. The day was going to be hard enough, and now I have to go become the Boy Who Ruined the Wedding.
Someone forced a cold potion between his lips. It tasted unpleasantly like hairspray mixed with lemon furniture polish, and he shot awake. "Stop, stop!" he sputtered, waving the goblet aside. "I'm awake! Stop!"
"There we go," Mr. Weasley's cheerful voice greeted him as he flopped back onto a heap of cushions. "Always works, Uncle Milton's Shake and Wake Potion. Doesn't have much effect if swallowed, but the taste alone is usually enough to get most people out of their stupor." A warm hand on his shoulder made Harry open his eyes, and he squinted up into Mr. Weasley's friendly face. "All right, Harry?" he asked.
Harry nodded and immediately regretted it as the room spun around him. He felt himself sinking back into blackness, and was quickly treated to a second dose of Uncle Milton's potion, which woke him right up again. "What happened?" he groaned, holding his head and laying as still as possible. "I feel like I've been attacked by angry bricks."
"Close," said a familiar voice – one of the Twins, though he couldn't figure out which one. "Ron hit you with a table."
"I did not!" came Ron's angry reply. "I didn't see him there! Harry, I didn't see you there. You just... appeared, out of thin air! I swear, I never would have hit you with that table if I'd known you were going to be there."
"Oh, I'm sure he's pleased as punch to know that, Ron," said the other twin, this one a little closer to Harry's head. "It's always nice when your best mate promises that he'd never deliberately knock you senseless with a table. Warms the cockles of the heart, doesn't it, Fred?"
"It does at that, George."
"Boys, that's enough," Mr. Weasley said firmly, before turning his attention back to Harry. "We sent Charlie up to the house to get some of Molly's Painkiller Potion. It'll help your head and make you feel better. He'll have to steal it, unfortunately, or else she'll start asking questions, and I don't think she'd much like to hear the answers. It really would be better if we could have sent Bill – he's better at that kind of clandestine activity – but the women would have my head if I let him anywhere near that house before the wedding."
Harry managed a smile, though it made bursts of uncomfortable color appear in front of his eyes. "That's fine," he said hoarsely. "What was Ron doing flinging tables at people?"
"Harry, I swear, I never-!"
"Setting up the reception area," Mr. Weasley broke in, before Ron could go on another apology-laden monologue. "Speaking of which, Fred, George, go finish it up, will you?"
"Why us?" George asked petulantly.
"Yeah, shouldn't Ronniekins have to finish it?"
"Seeing as he's the one who hit Harry in the first place."
"Seems only fitting that his punishment should be finishing the job."
"I'll do you for that, Fred, just you wait and see."
"Boys, don't argue. Ron, you stay here and give Harry more of Uncle Milton's potion if he starts to drift off before Charlie gets back. I'm going to go start setting up the chairs. I'm sure the guests will have begun arriving by now." He turned back to Harry with another comforting smile. "You just let one of us know if you need anything, all right?" Harry smiled as way of answer. With a nod, Mr. Weasley stood up and herded the Twins out into the yard.
Ron sat down next to Harry, looking white as a sheet and anxious as a mouse in a rocking chair factory. "I'm sorry, mate, really," he said. "Where'd you come from? I swear, I never saw you, not once."
"I was behind the hedge," Harry said hoarsely, shifting into a slightly more comfortable position. "I'd just arrived on my broom."
"I didn't see you fly in."
"Invisibility Cloak. Hide from Muggles."
"Oh. Right. Of course."
"Ron, I don't blame you. You could have hit... anyone with that... table." He'd just realized how asinine that sounded. "Ron, say something very serious to me."
"Why?" Ron asked, sounding suddenly terrified.
"Because I'm about to laugh, and if I laugh I'm going to knock myself out again, and then even Uncle Milton's potion isn't going to wake me up."
"Um... Okay. Don't move."
"Because you have a dragon in your lap."
Harry blinked at him. "What?"
Ron shrugged helplessly. "You asked for serious, and I'd say having a fire-breathing lizard that close to your privates would count as serious, don't you? Just pray he doesn't get the hiccups."
"Ron, what are you talking about?"
"Aren't you feeling a bit warm?"
Come to think of it, he was. "Yeah, now you say it. What..." He managed to glance down, and found himself almost nose to nose with a curious, snuffling dragon. "Ron?"
"Why is there a dragon sniffing me?" Sniffle, snuffle.
"'e is curious by nature," said a youthful, pleasantly accented voice from just behind Ron. Harry squinted and saw a pretty young girl lean into view, resting her chin on top of the dragon's head. "Sharlie sez it is part of 'is genetiques. 'is name is Franco, and 'e likes you very much. Say bonjour, Franco." She scratched the dragon behind the ears and it crooned happily in response, sending twin plumes of smoke spiraling up from its nostrils.
"Oh." Harry swallowed. "Um... Hello, Franco. Hello, Gabrielle."
"Bonjour, 'arry Potter."
"Could you please get your dragon off me? He's sitting on my bladder, and that can only end badly."
The guests began arriving right on the stroke of ten, and just as Molly had predicted, Cousin Frederica was the first to appear. She immediately sniffed at the quality of the Weasley's china before setting off for the backyard and the buffet Molly had instructed Ginny to set up earlier that morning. Ginny stuck her tongue out at the woman's retreating back. "Snobbish prig," she muttered, going back to polishing silverware. "I hope she eats something hard and chips a tooth."
"Anyone we know?" Ginny looked up to see Charlie hovering over her, grinning. "I assume so, just because I've never known you to curse someone we don't know."
"Cousin Frederica," Ginny said waspishly. "I hope her nose rots off while she's giving a speech at an important international function."
Charlie laughed. "I'll have to remember that one," he said. "Keep it up there with May you meet the hard side of my fist someday, for use in emergencies." He nodded to the silverware. "Need help with that?"
"No, I'm almost done. Then I have to go get dressed. What are you here for? Shouldn't you be with Bill?"
"Emergency mission. I had to get some of Mum's Painkiller Potion. Ron managed to knock Harry unconscious with a table."
Ginny felt her skin tingle at the mention of Harry's name. "Yeah?" she asked, trying not to sound overly curious. "How'd he manage that?"
"I have no idea. This kind of thing just happens to Ron. Or maybe this kind of thing just happens to Harry? It's not a good match-up however you slice it. Good thing they're best mates or they probably would have killed each other by now."
"Yeah," Ginny agreed, furious with herself for sounding so wistful.
"You all right, Gin?" Charlie asked. "You seem faraway."
Ginny smiled up at her brother. She didn't see Charlie often, him being in Romania so much of the time and rarely getting to come home, even for holidays. Yet somehow he was able to pick up on her moods as easily now as he'd been able to when she was a little girl and he was still at Hogwarts. "I'm fine," she said, and meant it. It did no good to pine over Harry – he had his reasons for breaking up with her, and they were good reasons. Not perhaps solid, but good; understandable. She'd abide by them until all of this was over, then she'd pounce and never let him go again.
"He's not going anywhere, you know."
Ginny blinked. "What?"
Charlie smiled. "Harry," he said. "Ron told me what happened between you two. Trust me, he's not going anywhere. When all this is said and done, he'll still be standing. I have faith."
Ginny smiled, and found she really did feel better. "I know," she said. "I do, too."
Charlie winked and mussed her hair, but she'd applied a Tidying charm to it that morning and the action didn't disturb its casual fall. "I'd better get this back to the others before Ron starts attacking Harry with dining room chairs next," he said. "See you at the wedding, Gin."
"See you, Charlie."
The guests began arriving in earnest over the next half hour, and Molly spent most of her time greeting them. Between trying to remember her German for Aunt and Uncle Weasleygar and trying not to butcher her French with Fleur's myriad relatives, by the time eleven o'clock rolled around, she was ready for a snifter of brandy. She never drank brandy; not even at Christmas!
Toddling into the living room, she allowed herself the indignity of flopping down on the couch and absorbing the quiet of the house. It was her little, off-limits sanctum; anyone needing to use the bathroom had their choice of luxury facility tents outside, rented from a shop in Diagon Alley and outfitted with fine marble accents. They'd cost a pretty penny, but if it kept people from stampeding through her house at all hours, Molly was willing to pay.
Fleur was upstairs still with Hermione and Luna, getting ready. Molly knew she should go up and help, but she also knew she'd be an emotional wreck when the actual ceremony rolled around, and she didn't feel like bursting into tears this early in the day. Fleur's own parents had yet to appear; likely they'd choose to be fashionably late, and cruise in shortly before the ceremony was set to begin. Mrs. Weasley had only met Fleur's parents once, shortly after the veela and Bill had announced their engagement, and while the Weasley matron could find nothing wrong with the pair, she also couldn't find anything particularly right. They weren't her kind of people; no doubt delightful to the caviar and champagne sect, but not really meant for mingling with the meat and potatoes crowd.
"Pardon, mere Weasley?" Molly opened her eyes to find Gabrielle Delacour looking at her from across the coffee table.
"Hello, dear," she said with a smile, sitting up and trying to get herself in order. "How may I help you?"
The young girl cocked her head. "May I ask you a question, Madam?"
Molly nodded. "Yes, of course."
"Do you 'ate ma soeur?"
Molly frowned. "What?"
"Fleur. Do you 'ate 'er?"
Do you hate my sister. Oh. "Fleur? No, dear, of course I don't!" Mrs. Weasley shook her head quickly; too quickly, she realized. It made her answer seem fake. "We have our disagreements, but I certainly don't hate her."
"She theenks that you do," Gabrielle said sagely.
"She does? Has she told you?"
"She sez so, in ze letters she writes. I told her I did not theenk anyone could 'ate 'er, as she is ze best soeur in ze world, but she told me zat it was true. So I say to myself, Gabrielle, you will ask mere Weasley when you get to L'Angleterre. You are not lying, are you?"
Molly found she felt oddly uncomfortable under this little girl's gaze; it was far more piercing than she was used to. She wondered if Gabrielle had inherited more of her mother's veela charms than Fleur. If so, she'll be a holy terror on the boys' hearts at school. "No, Gabrielle, I'm not lying," she said truthfully. "If our relationship is... strained at times, it's because she's marrying my little boy. No mother likes to see their child grow up and move on with their lives. No, that's not right. All mothers want that for their children; it's just hard when it finally happens." She smiled at the little girl. "One day you'll have children of your own, then you'll understand."
Gabrielle made a face. "Non, I will never 'ave enfants," she said petulantly.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I do not like boys! Zey are loud and smelly and make stupid noises."
Mrs. Weasley tried to suppress a knowing smile. "Well, your opinion might change in a few years."
"Never! Ze only boy I like is Franco; 'e is only loud because 'e is big, and 'e is not smelly."
"Yes, where is Franco, dear?" Mrs. Weasley had only just become aware that the little girl was missing her rather large pet.
"I left 'im wiz 'arry Potter."
"'e is in ze boys' tent, recovering."
Molly felt her heart nearly stop. "Recovering from what?" she asked, nearly too terrified to ask.
"From where Ronald, 'e 'it 'im wiz une table."
Fleur had encountered tremendous difficulty when it came to picking her wedding dress. She'd waffled back and forth between elegant yet muted or simply stunning; a choice which most people would never have debated, but Fleur knew she was a special case. Most of the men at today's event would be men who had never met her, and that meant they'd be most susceptible to her veela charms. The last thing she wanted was a train of enamored men following her down the aisle, picking up the rose petals she walked on and treasuring them like little keepsakes. If she went with the elegant, she stood a better chance of getting through the day without having to mop drool off her cleavage.
In the end, though, she went for stunning. After all, Bill deserved only the best. Besides, it would be fun watching him try to figure out how to get it off her. "What do you theenk?" she asked, surveying herself in the mirror and minutely adjusting the goblin-made tiara Mrs. Weasley had loaned her for the occasion. When no answer was forthcoming, she looked over her shoulder to find Hermione and Luna both staring at her with wide eyes. "What?" she asked, suddenly worried. "What is wrong?"
"What? Oh! Nothing." Hermione quickly shook her head. "No, you just... You look very lovely, Fleur," the younger woman said, with usual British simplicity.
"You look like a princess," Luna breathed dreamily.
Fleur looked at herself in the mirror again. The dress was form-fitting white silk embroidered with white flowers. The veil – held in place by the tiara – was a long, airy curtain that fluttered in the slightest breeze, whispering around her shoulders like gossamer wings. White satin pumps just peeked out from beneath the hem of the gown, adding a good two inches to her height.
As a general rule, veela didn't blush. But this was a special occasion. "Do you theenk Bill will like it?" she asked, blushing a faint pink.
"I think he'll love it," Hermione assured her.
"He may require restraints to keep from tearing it off you halfway through the service," Luna concurred, with her typical blunt phrasing.
Fleur laughed, spinning merrily in place and feeling the veil wrap around her like a warm breeze. "I cannot wait to see 'is reaction!" she enthused, before leaning over and hugging both girls in turn. "Merci, mes amis," she cooed.
"You're welcome," Hermione said, hugging her back.
The sound of raised voices outside drew their attention, and all three young women went to peer out the window. As they did, they saw Mrs. Weasley chasing after Ron as the youngest Weasley son darted through the guests, trying desperately to get away. "Oh dear," Hermione sighed. "I wonder what he's done now?"
"Probably nothing," Luna mused. "Though he might have broken something special and Mrs. Weasley is unhappy about it. Or perhaps he loosed a flock of Grimpsmogs into the wedding bouquet."
Fleur had deduced over the past hour or so that Luna was given to flights of rather odd fancy. "What is a... Grimpsmog?" she asked, curious.
"It's a type of pixie," the younger woman said. "It eats flowers and leaves weeds."
"Ah." Fleur turned back to the window. "Oh dear, she appears to 'ave caught 'im. Poor Ronald."
"I can't imagine what he's done that's so bad Mrs. Weasley would go after him in public like this," Hermione fretted.
Fleur resisted the urge to smile. A few months ago, she would have been more than willing to call attention to the other young woman's obvious interest in the youngest Weasley son. But that was before the battle at Hogwarts, when she'd decided that love really was the most important thing two people could share. She wasn't about to tease Hermione about it now. "Per'aps you should go find out?" she asked simply, leaning on the windowsill and not meeting the girl's eyes.
"Maybe I'd better," Hermione agreed anxiously, completely missing Fleur's marked disinterest. "Do you need anything else?"
Fleur smiled into her worried face. "Non, I am fine. I mus' wait 'ere for my muzzer, but you do not. Shoo, go." She glanced at Luna. "You do not need to stay eizer, Lune."
Luna smiled dreamily. "Oh, I have nowhere better to go."
This could be awkward. Fleur didn't want to be rude – normally she wouldn't mind, but this was her wedding day and she wanted to be charitable – but she also wanted some time alone. Contrary to what she'd told Hermione, she was still suffering with lingering pangs of anxiety, and the best way to handle that was to sit down very quietly and concentrate on the warm feeling she got in her stomach whenever she thought about Bill. But to do that she needed quiet, and that meant alone time. Which meant Luna had to go.
Thankfully, a knock at the door came to her rescue. "Fleur?"
Okay, perhaps rescue was too strong a term.
Fleur blinked. "Oh dear," she murmured.
Hermione looked from her to the door and back again. "Who is it?"
Fleur sighed. "My muzzer."
Ginny wasn't quite sure what was going on, but she was quickly able to deduce two things. First, that Ron was in serious trouble. Second, that Franco had somehow adopted Harry as a surrogate owner. How these two things went together she wasn't sure, but she was more than interested to find out.
"Mum, I told you, it was an accident!" Ron whined as Mrs. Weasley dragged her son into the Burrow's kitchen by his ear. "Harry, tell her!"
"It was an accident, Mrs. Weasley," Harry concurred, hurrying into the kitchen, Franco scampering after him.
"See? He's not even hurt!"
"I'm not hurt, Mrs. Weasley."
"That's not the point!" Molly let go of her youngest son so she could more easily wag a reproachful finger in his face. "I told you to be careful with those tables, young man, and the first thing you do is nearly kill Harry Potter!"
"Really, it was just a bump on the head, Mrs.-"
"Harry, do keep quiet, there's a dear. This doesn't concern you."
"What?" Ron sputtered. "But... Mum, Harry's the one I-"
"Yes, and don't I know it!" Molly crossed her arms over her stomach. "Sometimes, Ronald Weasley, I don't know what I'm going to do with you. As vexing as the Twins, and only one person! It's more than I can bear sometimes, honestly!"
"Mrs. Weasley?" Ginny was standing near the sink, so she was the first to see Hermione and Luna appear at the foot of the stairs. Hermione looked concerned; Luna looked vaguely curious. "Is something wrong?"
Molly looked torn between expressing her frustration in full and trying to maintain some propriety in front of her guests. "No, dear, nothing," she said tightly, pursing her lips. "Except that my dear son here nearly killed Harry."
"Ron!" Hermione gasped. "You didn't!"
"No I bloody well didn't!" Ron exclaimed.
"LANGUAGE, Ronald Weasley!"
"He really didn't," Harry chimed in again, looking uncomfortable, though whether that was from the proximity of Mrs. Weasley's rage or the fact that Franco was determinedly digging through his pockets for goodies, Ginny couldn't tell. "He just gave me a knock on the head with a table. It wasn't anything serious. Mr. Weasley even healed the bruise."
Molly turned blazing eyes in his direction. "ARTHUR is involved in this?" she demanded.
Ginny winced. Oh dear.
Harry blanched. "I... uh, well... He... Well, sort of..."
"Pardon?" All eyes turned towards the living room, where a tall, slender figure of a man with salt-and-pepper hair and finely-chiseled features was standing in the doorway, amusement painted across his face.
Mrs. Weasley looked like she'd swallowed a golf ball. "Mr. Delacour," she choked out. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there."
He smiled at her, and Ginny could understand how this man could have snared a half-veela; he was old enough to be her father, and she could feel herself falling for him. "Armand, please," he corrected her kindly. "I apologize for ze surprise. I was... 'ow you say? Staying out of ze line of ze fire?" He chuckled, minutely adjusting the cuffs of his elegant gray tux. "Is everyzing well, hmm? Anyzing I might 'elp you wiz?"
Molly looked thoroughly flustered. She obviously hadn't intended on being caught in mid-row. "Oh, no," she said, idly dusting off Ron's dress robes as if that had been her intention all along. "No, just a little family squabble. You know how it is, high spirits from all the excitement. Where is Genevive?"
"She is wiz Gabrielle, visiting Fleur."
"Ah, yes. Of course. Have you had anything to eat?"
"Non, we came straight 'ere. Where might I find ze food? I am... 'ow you say? Famished?"
Mrs. Weasley looked relieved to have something else to do. "Certainly, certainly," she said, straightening her dress though it didn't need straightening. "If you follow me, I'll show you to the buffet. We'll have a proper supper after the wedding, of course, but this is just to tide everyone over."
She bustled to the door and Armand Delacour fell in step behind her. Ginny couldn't be sure, but she thought she saw the older man give Ron a wink, which Ron answered with a grateful smile before the man disappeared out the front door. As he did, Ron let his shoulders slump and breathed a sigh of relief. "Blimey, that was miserable," he muttered. "And for what? Nothing!"
"You did hit Harry with a table, Ron," Ginny reminded him. Everyone looked quickly in her direction – they obviously hadn't noticed her yet.
"Yeah, well, I already explained that to Mum," Ron said petulantly. "It was an accident. Harry doesn't mind. Do you, Harry."
"Not a bit," Harry answered, though he sounded a little distant. Ginny glanced in his direction and saw that he was staring at her. Not just staring; staring.
"Oh, Ron," Hermione sighed, coming off the stairs and tidying his hair. "You're just not having a good day, are you?"
"It could be better, yeah."
"I'm having a positively marvelous time," Luna interjected happily.
"Well I'm glad one of us is," Ron muttered.
"Are all the guests here yet?" Hermione asked, trying to change the subject.
Ginny nodded. "I think the last of them have finally filed in."
"Well that's good. At least that means everything should settle down now."
"You hope," Ron observed.
"Would you like to help me search for Grimpsmogs, Ronald?" Luna inquired dreamily. "I want to make sure they don't infect the bouquets."
Ron looked ready to ask what a Grimpsmog was, but Hermione cut him off. "That would be lovely, Luna, let's do that," she said, taking Ron's arm and leading the young man towards the door. "Lead the way."
Humming an off-key tune, Luna bounced down off the bottom step and danced across the floor and out the door. Hermione gave Ginny a knowing look before dragging a protesting Ron outside, leaving Ginny and Harry alone.
The silence was excruciating. One of the best things about her relationship with Harry had been that there weren't any long, embarrassing silences; they'd always been able to talk very frankly with each other. Even if their actual romantic relationship had been brief, their friendship was battle-tested and unscratchable. They could throw anything at each other and it wouldn't stick.
But this? This was unbearable.
"You... you look very nice," Harry said, and Ginny could have kicked herself for letting him get the first word.
She looked down at the golden bridesmaid gown she'd finally changed in to. "Yes, well... Fleur didn't think pink went well with my hair." She blushed, looking up at him and quickly away. "She's right, of course, which is all the more annoying."
Harry laughed softly and Ginny couldn't resist a smile.
There was another silence, this one less awkward and more thoughtful, as each tried to master what they would say to the other.
This time, Ginny was the one to speak first. "I don't want this to be weird," she said.
Harry frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
She sighed, crossing her arms over her stomach. "This," she said, looking pointedly at him. "This... thing between us. You were my friend before you were anything else, Harry. Well... okay, you were my crush first, then my friend, but the friend bit is the most important. I don't want to suddenly feel like we can't be friends because we went a step further. Do you know what I mean?"
The smile he gave her was equal parts relief and agreement. "Absolutely," he said, nodding firmly. "I was going to say the same thing."
"This is supposed to be a happy day, right? All right, so my brother is marrying Ph... Fleur, but it's still happy. She's not so bad really. I just don't want to keep feeling like I have to avoid you or make you think you have to keep away from me. It's too much work. I want us to be friends."
"I want us to dance together."
"You heard me. I want us to dance together. You'll dance with Hermione, I'm sure, and I know Fleur's going to make you dance with her. So's mum. So there's nothing strange about you dancing with me, too. No little bells are going to sound saying Harry Potter's got a girlfriend. We'll just be friends, dancing. Having a good time. Agreed?"
Harry looked a little dazed by her logic, but he nodded. "Uh... yeah. Agreed."
"Good." She glanced down. "Harry?"
"Franco's eating your shoe."
"Oh, dammit. Bad dragon!"
Fleur sat on the bed, Gabrielle beside her playing with her veil, and watched her mother survey the small room. "Zis is what they give you for a boudoir?" the older woman said, running a finger along the windowsill.
"Oui, Mama," Fleur said, wrapping an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders to keep the little girl from squirming too much. "Bill's sister, Ginevra, she was kind enuff to let me use 'er room."
"You could not have found somewhere... bigger?"
"Non, Mama. I wanted to be 'ere, wiz Bill and 'is family."
"Hmm." Genevive Delacour was an imposing woman, and only a fraction of that was due to her half-veela heritage. She was easily the most beautiful woman Fleur had ever known, and she'd known many. Where Fleur's hair was silvery-blond, Mrs. Delacour's was pure white and soft as spider silk. Her cheekbones were high and fine, highlighting her sharp, raptor-like blue eyes. Everything about her bespoke elegance and finery. If she'd been born in a cave high in the Pyrenees instead of a wealthy household, still she would have carried herself like a queen. It was in her blood.
"Gabrielle, why don't you go find Franco and make sure 'e is not getting into trouble, oui?" Fleur said, smiling at her sister.
Gabrielle pouted. Even at eleven she hadn't outgrown the pout. "I want to stay 'ere, wiz you and Mama," she protested.
"You will see me and Mama again soon enuff. But I do not want to theenk zat Franco is making trouble for ze guests, mon bonbon."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and hopped up off the bed. "Sharlie knows 'ow to 'andle 'im," she sighed. "But if you want to make me go, I will go. Zen you and Mama, you can shout at each uzzer, oui?"
"Gabrielle," Fleur said, a warning in her voice.
"Oui, oui, I go." Plodding dejectedly to the door, she waved half-heartedly over her shoulder and slipped into the hallway.
Fleur waited a moment, then called out, "I know you are at ze door, Gabrielle!" A frustrated little grunt signified that her sister had been found out. "And do not try ze trick of thumping your feet like you are walking away, when really you are still zere! I am putting a Silencio charm on ze door!"
Fleur waited until she heard her sister putter away before following through with the threat and putting the Silencing charm on the door; she added the window as well, just to be safe, then turned to her mother. "You 'ave said 'ardly a word, muzzer," she sighed. "Zat means you are going to say quite a bit when you finally do, so per'aps you want to do it now razzer zan later, hmm?"
Her mother turned away from her study of Ginny's family photographs and fixed her daughter with an icy stare. "Why are we speaking in anglais?" she asked sharply.
Fleur sat up straighter. "Because it is ze language of my fiance, and I will not let you be rude in front of 'im and 'is family."
"Zey are not 'ere."
"Non, but I am. We speak in anglais. So. Speak."
Mrs. Delacour looked ready to argue, then let it pass. Striding across the room, pale blue gown fluttering around her like a diaphanous blue cloud, she stared out the window at the milling crowd below. "You 'ave decided to marry zis boy?" she asked after a minute.
Fleur resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Oui, Mama, you know zat I 'ave."
"'e 'as barely two sticks to rub togezzer, Fleur."
"Zere are more important t'ings zan money, Muzzer."
"Like love? Pff." The older woman turned away from her study of the crowd to fix her daughter with a piercing veela gaze. "We are creatures of amour, Fleur. We know it is an illusion more often zan it is not."
Fleur narrowed her eyes. "Not wiz me and Bill," she snapped.
"You are so sure?"
"Because 'e is sweet, and 'e is brave, and 'e loves me for 'oo I am, not what I am."
Mrs. Delacour laughed, and it was not a friendly laugh. "Pah," she sneered. "Easy trickeries. Ze baby en ze cradle, 'e could pretend zese t'ings."
"Bill is not pretending!"
"'ow can you be so sure, hmm? Now zat you cannot read 'is face, 'ow can you be so sure 'e is not lying to you?"
Fleur stood up, balling her hands into fists by her sides. "Do not speak of 'im like 'e is some scarred beast," she snarled, glaring at her mother. "Ze scars 'e bears, zey show 'ow proud 'e is, 'ow brave. 'e is a lion, mon Bill, not a rat like ze men you would 'ave me marry. I will marry my lion and we will 'ave beautiful shildren wiz manes of 'air zat is flaming red. If you would 'ave it anuzzer way, Muzzer, zen you may go!"
Her mother surveyed her with cool, dispassionate calm. For everything Fleur admired in the woman, there were an equal number of things she despised, and that was one of them. Even in the most heated situation, Mrs. Delacour could stand solid as a block of ice.
"Do you love zis boy, Fleur?" she asked eventually.
Fleur nodded brusquely. "Oui. Wiz all my 'eart. And 'e is not a boy, Muzzer. 'e is a man."
She couldn't be sure, but Fleur thought she saw a flicker of a smile on her mother's lips at that. "Always you wanted to marry a man, Fleur," the older woman said. "Even as a petit fille, you 'ad no time for ze boys. So quick to grow to a woman, my daughter."
Mrs. Delacour sighed, and it was as if an ice floe had cracked open to reveal the fissure of a hot spring when she smiled. "You mus' forgive me, mon cher," she said. "You are my baby. I do not want to let you go, even to zis brave lion 'oo will keep you safe and 'appy. Gabrielle will want to be like 'er soeur, and soon she, too, will be looking for a lion. Or, per'aps, a dragon?" Laughing softly, the older woman crossed the floor in a few graceful steps and took her elder daughter's hands, squeezing firmly. "Zen what will I do, mon cher? I will 'ave nuzzing to do but talk to ze ladies of société, and zey are such 'orrible bores."
Fleur smiled, and found to her surprise that there were tears in her eyes. A pair spilled down her cheeks as she said, "Zen I will give you gran'shildren to coddle, oui?"
Mrs. Delacour reached into her slim blue handbag and extracted a lacy white handkerchief, which she used to dab away her daughter's tears. "No crying, mon Fleur," she murmured, smiling affectionately. "Your makeup, it will run, oui?" Pressing the handkerchief into Fleur's hand, she kissed her daughter once on each cheek, and sighed. "Oui, gran'shildren. Zen I will feel tres young. And if it 'appens as you say, zey will 'ave red 'air! Impossible!"
Fleur laughed and hugged her mother tightly. "You will always be young, Muzzer," she beamed. "And you will love your gran'shildren, even if zey do 'ave red 'air."
They embraced quietly for a moment more, then Mrs. Delacour pulled back and looked into her daughter's eyes. "What do you want, mon Fleur?" she asked firmly. "Right 'ere, right now, in zis moment?"
Fleur smiled and took her mother's hands again. "To marry Bill, Mama."
Mrs. Delacour smiled widely, revealing her perfect white teeth. "Zen you will."
Bill stared at himself in the mirror, running through his vows a few more times before the ceremony. It was difficult to say the least; he kept thinking of Fleur, and how she would look in the gown she'd been teasing him with for months. He had no idea what it looked like, but from the way she anticipated him reacting, it either revealed more skin than should be legal or concealed just enough to make him want to see the rest. He'd take either. Hell, he'd take her in a potato sack and a pair of wooden clogs, so long as it meant he got her.
A sharp knock on his door drew his attention, and he looked over his shoulder as Charlie poked his head into the room. "You ready to get married?" his brother asked.
Bill frowned and glanced at the clock on the desk in front of him. It wasn't even eleven-thirty yet. "There's still over half an hour," he said, looking back to Charlie.
His brother grinned. "Change of plans. Seems Fleur's extra-anxious to tie the knot with you, big brother. Everyone's here, so we've bumped the ceremony up. Complaints?"
Bill stared at his brother for a second.
"Not a one," he said. "Lead the way."
Fleur had expected she'd feel nervous. What she hadn't expected was this utter calm, which filled her from head to toe and made her feel warm throughout. She found herself giggling as images of Bill skirted through her mind: the way he liked to sneak up and tickle her unawares; how he laughed; what he looked like when he slept. It made her feel like skimming down the aisle to wrap her arms around him and tell him she loved him over and over.
"Nervous?" She looked up to find her father smiling down at her. They were waiting behind a sheltering hedge in anticipation of the first notes of the wedding march, her hand resting in the crook of his arm.
Fleur shook her head, beaming. "Non," she whispered, before standing on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.
Sudden silence on the other side of the hedge signaled that the ceremony was about to begin. Now Fleur felt the tingles of excitement begin to build. The music began to play; some Muggle orchestration which Bill had played for her called Canon by Pachelbel; she'd fallen in love with it immediately. She watched as Ginny and Gabrielle began their walk, and ruminated how pretty both looked in their shimmering golden gowns; no doubt Harry Potter was biting his fist that he'd let Ginevra go so quickly.
"Fleur?" her father whispered, and she looked up into his face, unable to control her exuberant smile.
"Oui, Papa," she whispered back, nodding eagerly. "Oui."
With a nod and a gentle pat of her hand, he led her around the hedge, and she saw Bill for the first time since last night.
He was staring at her. Not the glassy-eyed stare of a man who wanted to paw her to death, but a twinkling gaze that said So this is what you were talking about. Fleur couldn't resist adding a little extra sway to her hips as she sauntered down the aisle at her father's side, her lips twisted into a wicked bow. She knew other men in the audience were staring at her open-mouthed, some were probably drooling, but she had eyes only for Bill. Bill in his navy blue robes, which brought out his eyes so divinely.
She heard her father exchange words with the little wizard who had been tapped to perform the ceremony, but whatever they said she didn't absorb. Bill was smiling at her; he had such a wonderful smile. If Greyback had hoped to destroy Bill's beauty, he'd failed miserably by leaving his smile intact. When he held out his hands, she took them without question, stepping up onto the small dais beneath the rose-laden archway and gazing into his eyes. The two-inch heel on her pumps brought her almost nose to nose with him, and he grinned. "Show-off," he whispered, squeezing her hands.
Fleur grinned in return. "Are you impressed?" she whispered in return.
"Ask me again tonight." He winked. She giggled.
The ceremony was a blur. They'd rehearsed before, and thank goodness, because Fleur spoke the words from memory rather than repetition. She kept thinking back to what life had been like six months ago, when she was still on the outs with Mrs. Weasley and Bill had been unmarked. She'd thought at the time that she could endure the former and loved the latter, but now she knew it was untrue. Listening with one ear, she could hear her mother-in-law crying quietly. How could she fight with the woman? They both loved Bill more than life.
And Bill. She found she didn't differentiate in her mind between Bill before the attack and Bill after. There was no difference in her mind's eye. If she could have spared Bill the pain he'd gone through, she would have done it in a heartbeat, regardless of the cost. But as he'd suffered, she'd suffered with him, and it brought her to this conclusion: that she really, truly, with all her heart, loved him. If they hadn't gone through the trials of the last two months, could she have answered honestly when her mother asked if she loved Bill? Or would there have been a kernel of doubt? A small, hissing voice that said she only thought she loved him, because of his handsome face and daring work. If she hadn't had to see Bill at his worst, would she have been able to say truthfully that she'd love him no matter what?
She didn't know. She honestly didn't know. And it scared her to think she might have believed the answer was no.
She became aware of a lull in the service and noticed that Bill was looking at her expectantly. Glancing at the matrimonial wizard, she saw that he, too, was waiting. They must have reached the vows and she hadn't been paying attention.
Veela didn't blush. She had to remember that.
Standing up straight, she looked into Bill's eyes again (they were sparkling with suppressed laughter; she'd make him pay for that later), and began:
"Mon Bill, I love you, but you already know zis. Mus' I say it again? It loses somezing, no, when you say it over and over? It begins to sound... trite. I do not wish to be trite. But I do not know what else I should be saying, because nuzzing is more true. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. Non, repetition, it does not help. Je t'aime. Non, it does not 'elp to say it in Francais. I would say it in Egyptian, but you 'ave not yet taught me 'ow to do zat, for which you 'ave no one to blame but yourself." Bill laughed softly at that, as did the rest of the congregation, and Fleur squeezed his hands, smiling as she plunged on.
"But zis is ze truth, mon Bill, and I want you to leesten close, because it is very important. We 'ave walked t'rough dark valleys, you and I. Many dark valleys. I 'ave seen you when you are at your worst, and you 'ave seen me at my mos' pathétique. Times neizer of us enjoyed, oui? But Bill -- mon amour -- I would take zose dark valleys over all ze mountaintops I 'ave ever known, because I walked t'rough zem wiz you. Nuzzing could mean more to me zen zat you would let me be wiz you when you needed me, and zat you were wiz me when I needed you. Because I love you, mon Bill. It is trite, oui, but it is true. I love you, I love you, I love you, and I will always be zere when you need me. Je t'aime, mon amour. Je t'aime beaucoup."
Bill was squeezing her hands so tightly she was loosing feeling in her fingers, but she didn't care. It was taking all her concentration not to dissolve into tears, and when he raised her hands to his lips to tenderly kiss her knuckles, she almost lost the battle. He lowered them slowly, taking several long, deep breaths, before raising his eyes to meet hers and beginning his own vows.
"I knew I was going to marry you, Fleur, the first time I met you," he said, voice a soft rumble in the back of his throat. "Not when you came to Gringotts; the first time I saw you at Hogwarts. I looked at you and just knew. It wasn't something set in stone, but more like a calendar page had been marked in my head, and every day after that was just one more day between when I met you and when we would be standing here, under these roses, saying our I Do's. I wasn't even aware of it until I saw you at Gringotts, so temperamental and utterly French; then I remembered." She laughed, remembering their first real meeting and how overly dramatic she'd been about the quality of English weather.
Bill grinned and continued. "I don't think anyone would have marked us down for this, Fleur, and I think you'd agree. I've had more people ask me how we got together than how I got these scars. I never really know how to answer them, so I just tell them the truth – I tell them I fell in love with you. It sounds so easy, and they probably think it was, but you're a hard woman to fall in love with, Fleur. You don't like it, do you? I think you were convinced I was going to do it wrong. But I didn't, Fleur. I got it right the first time. I fell hopelessly, utterly in love with you. Once that was done, making you fall in love with me was easy."
She snorted. "Pfft!"
Bill laughed; so did the audience. "Okay, maybe easy's the wrong word. More like difficult. Very, very difficult. Because you really were convinced I'd do it wrong, weren't you? You really thought I couldn't possibly love you for who you were. When you said you'd marry me I knew I'd almost won, but not quite. I still had to convince you."
He let go of her hands and held his arms out to the side. "I'm here, Fleur," he said. "I didn't go anywhere, and I'm not going to go anywhere. That calendar page I told you about? It changed. When I proposed, it stopped being the day I'd marry you and turned into the day I sit beside you on our front porch, watching the world go by, and finally believe you're with me. We'll be old and gray when that day comes, Fleur, and I look forward to every single day between now and then, and every day after. I want to live every day trying to prove to myself I deserve you. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but if you'll have me, I'll do everything I can to try."
She couldn't see him for the tears.
The rest of the ceremony moved in slow motion. It seemed to take Charlie forever to bind their right hands with the strip of embroidered silk which symbolized their union. The little wizard's high-pitched, slightly squeaky voice led them through the final formalities, consummating in the Promise.
"I, Bill Weasley, promise myself to you, Fleur Delacour."
"I, Fleur Delacour, promise myzelf to you, Bill Weasley."
The silk that bound their hands seemed to tighten then relax.
"So it is spoken, so shall it be," the wizard pronounced, the Sonorous charm causing his voice to reverberate through the garden. "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may-"
He never got to finish. Fleur wasn't sure if she moved first or Bill, but a split second later she was kissing him as if she hadn't kissed him in a century. His left arm wound around her waist, pulling her tight against his chest, and she wrapped her own arm around his neck, digging her fingers into the flesh of his shoulder and pulling him closer. Their right hands were crushed between their bodies but Fleur paid them no mind.
A minute later she became aware of various wolf whistles and catcalls coming from the audience, and knew Bill must have noticed them, too, because he finally broke away from her lips. "Fred and George," he panted against her mouth, chuckling. "They'll never shut up."
Fleur grinned, nuzzling his nose. "So?" she purred. "Let zem talk."
And she kissed him again.
Bill watched the party with a sense of easy detachment. The speeches had been many and varied, ranging from the serious, as given by both fathers, to the playful, like Charlie's "Ways Bill and Fleur Were Made For Each Other" list, to the downright absurd, given by Fred and George in tag team fashion, each slapping the other's hand when it was time for the next one to speak. Fleur laughed so hard she had tears spilling down her cheeks, and when she kissed the Twins in thanks, they both wandered away from the table looking a little dazed.
She was dancing with Harry now, having stolen the Boy Who Lived away from Ginny for a song or two. Ginny didn't seem to mind, for which Bill was glad. He wanted his sister and Fleur to get along, and they seemed to be making great strides in that direction, though it probably helped that Fleur was officially married now and couldn't lay her hands on Harry in anything more than a platonic fashion.
Not far from Fleur and Harry, Bill saw his mother and father swaying in time with the music. It was a fast song but neither seemed to notice. They were talking happily, no doubt discussing the days events and what it all meant for the future. His mother's eyes were sparkling; all the drama from earlier in the day was forgotten now. Bill had lost count of the number of times she'd hugged Fleur as the reception progressed. She seemed to have officially adopted the veela as a member of the family, now that they shared a last name; another coup for which he was eternally grateful. Now if he could just get Hermione to warm up to her a little more. True, the young witch wasn't a Weasley, but judging by the way she and Ron were canoodling on a nearby bench, that wasn't a prediction of where things were headed in the long-term.
A flute of champagne appeared in front of his eyes and he looked up to see Charlie watching their parents as well. "Drink up, married man," his brother said, glancing down. "You'll need your strength tonight."
Bill chuckled, taking the champagne but not sipping it yet. "What do you think? Was it a success?"
"The wedding? Oh yeah, absolutely. The bride was beautiful, the mother-in-laws like each other, and last I checked there wasn't a Malfoy in sight. You could do a lot worse."
"Have you seen Remus?" Bill asked. "I had a question to ask."
"Last I saw he was trying to pretend he wasn't being dragged behind the rose bushes by Tonks. I think she's a bit drunk; her hair kept turning the color of Guinness. Why? What's your question?"
Bill took a sip of his champagne. "I was just wondering what would happen if I... well..." He chuckled, taking another sip before setting the flute down on the ground between his feet and leaning back against the wall so he could watch his wife dance with Harry. "I was wondering what would happen if I bit Fleur. In the heat of the moment."
Charlie snickered into his wine glass. "Poor old Lupin," he said. "I bet he never thought he'd end up having to teach sex education."
"It could be worse. I could be thirteen."
"Or one of the Twins, which is tantamount to the same thing."
"Are you happy, Bill?"
Bill toyed with the embroidered band of silk which had been used to bind his hand with Fleur's during the ceremony. He had it tucked up into his sleeve, but he kept taking it out again to run his fingers over the fabric. "Like you wouldn't believe, Charlie," he murmured, before smiling up at his brother. "You'll be next on Mum's wife-tracking radar, you know. She probably already has her feelers out, searching for the perfect mate for you."
Charlie chuckled. "Good thing I'm going back to Romania in a week then, isn't it?"
"Did you have any luck with any of Fleur's relatives?"
"Not in any kind of romantic way, no."
"How so then?"
As if on cue, Gabrielle came running over to them, panting for breath. She was carrying her petite gold shoes in one hand, obviously so they wouldn't slow her down. "Sharlie!" she gasped, her sleek hair only slightly askew. "You mus' come 'elp me!"
Charlie shared a grin with Bill before turning back to the young girl. "What's up, Gabrielle?" he asked.
"It is Franco! I do not know what is wrong wiz 'im, but 'e will not leave alone one of ze guests! Please, I 'ave tried everyzing! 'e will not leave 'er be! Fleur will be zo angry wiz me! I promised I would keep 'im quiet!"
She looked so distraught, Bill had to offer comfort. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. I'll put in a good word for you."
She nodded her head to him in thanks. "Merci," she said quickly, before looking back to Charlie. "Sharlie? Please!"
Charlie nodded and held out his hand for her. "Lead on, Gabby."
She grabbed his hand and started to drag him away. Charlie looked over his shoulder and gave Bill a half-wave and a grin, which Bill returned in kind before the duo disappeared around the corner of the building and out of sight.
Before they'd been gone a minute, Bill found his arms suddenly filled with the warm, soft body of his wife as she flung herself into his lap, giggling. "What did Gabrielle need, mon mari?" she asked, nuzzling his neck. Judging by the champagne on her breath, she was a little tipsy.
Chuckling, he kissed her collarbone, nudging her chin with his nose. "Just a little help with Franco," he told her. "He's acting up."
Fleur groaned, dropping her head onto his shoulder. "Mon Dieu, and your muzzer was being so nice to me," she sighed. "She will 'ate me if Franco eats one of ze guests, oui?"
Bill laughed, rubbing her back. "Charlie will get him in line, don't worry. Did you have fun dancing with Harry?"
She smiled, snuggling into his lap and cooing. "Oui, it was very fun," she said, nodding happily against his shoulder. "But I like to dance wiz you better. You know ze steps and step on my toes less." As if to prove her point, she raised her foot to show him the toe of her shoe. Bill kissed her while he worked her shoe off with one hand, massaging her toes once it was set aside. Fleur sighed blissfully into his mouth. "You are ze best 'usband in ze world, mon Bill," she purred.
"I hope so."
"And am I ze best wife?"
She thumped him on the shoulder and he laughed. "You're the best wife I've ever had. Does that work?"
She seemed to think about this for a moment before nodding sleepily. "Oui. It will suffice."
"That's good." He lifted her other foot, removing the shoe and massaging her toes, eliciting another happy sigh from her. Grinning, he asked, "So, when do I get to take you away from all this and bathe you in splendor?"
Fleur giggled, opening dreamy blue eyes to gaze at him. "We mus' wait till it gets dark, mon mari, or zere will be questions." Snuggling closer still, she walked her fingers up his chest. "Ze Twins tell me I mus' be gentle wiz you. Zey say you are tender."
Bill raised an eyebrow. "Do they?"
"Mm-hmm. Zey say I am not to leap on you, because it will 'urt your poor, sore ribs."
"They didn't have to tell you that, Fleur. It would have been fine either way."
"I am glad zey did."
She grinned wickedly. "Because I was going to be rough wiz you," she purred. "Now I will be soft. We will save ze rough for anuzzer time, oui?"
Bill nibbled her lips, grazing his fingers underneath her chin. "Perfect," he murmured.
Fleur giggled. "Is it a new moon?" she asked.
"Soon," he answered. "We wanted to make sure Lupin would be able to come for the whole day, so we waited till the waning gibbous, remember? Why?"
"Zere is a tea I mus' brew."
Bill didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded and stroked her hair. "Whatever you say, love."
A sudden scream from across the garden drew all eyes towards the corner of the house. A woman in a bright red dress was pelting towards a decorative fountain in the middle of the garden, the train of her gown on fire. A second later, Franco came hurtling around the corner, chasing after her, Gabrielle and Charlie in hot pursuit.
"She should not 'ave worn red," Fleur commented dreamily, watching the woman tumble into the fountain. Franco jumped in after her. Gabrielle and Charlie knelt on the lintel and tried to drag him away, but they didn't seem to be having any luck.
"Franco, 'e is like a bull. Ze bright red attracts 'im."
"I'll have to remember that in the future."
"Oh no," Fleur groaned.
Bill frowned. "What?"
She gestured towards the dance floor. "Your muzzer. She is crying again."
Bill followed her finger and saw that his mother was indeed sobbing. She'd been doing that off and on all day; Fleur's wedding gown had been soaked through more than once as a result. "I don't think you have to worry about it," he said after a moment's observation.
"But she will 'ate me! Franco 'as assaulted one of the guests!"
"Those aren't angry tears, Fleur. Those are happy tears."
"Why would she be crying 'appy tears now?" The sound of Gabrielle and Charlie's struggle to get Franco away from the red-dressed guest were still ringing through the garden. They seemed to be suggesting the woman take off her dress.
"Because," he said, hiding his grin in her hair and kissing behind her ear. "That's Cousin Frederica."