Harry Potter leaned back in his chair and looked nervously around the large function room. The young waiters and waitresses, most in their late teens, were busily clearing the last of the dessert plates from the top table. The wedding breakfast was over.
Late summer sunlight streamed through the windows to his left. The hubbub from the many animated conversations taking place at a dozen large round tables in front of him was increasing in volume. Many of the guests were on their feet talking to old friends. At the back of the room he noticed Katie Bell. She was standing between Dennis Creevey and Alicia Spinnett, from the way her hands were moving it looked like a Quidditch conversation. There were over a hundred people in the room, and Harry knew most of them.
He turned away from the chattering masses at the back of the room and looked at the four tables directly in front of him. They were the tables full of strangers.
He'd been introduced to them as they'd entered the room but he could only remember two names. The tall thin bald man was Hermione's Uncle George, her mum's brother. It was only because he was so unlike George Weasley that Harry remembered the name at all. The cocky young man two seats away from Uncle George was his eldest son, Steve. He had dark hair with blond tips, waxed into spikes. Steve was a "city trader", whatever that was. He was in his mid-twenties and claimed to be extremely rich. He'd asked Ginny if she'd like a ride in his Porsche.
'Is that a motor car?' Ginny had asked before ignoring him. Steve had thought her question was a joke.
Despite this initial failure, Steve had continued to follow Ginny. He'd been showing off and trying to chat her up. She had waved her engagement ring at him, and suggested that he find another girl, but he hadn't been put off.
Ginny had then started to lead him on. Harry knew what meant: trouble! She had given Steve the opportunity to back off and he hadn't taken it. She would publicly humiliate him at her first opportunity. Normally, Harry would simply watch in amusement, but on this special day he did not want his famously fiery fiancée to make a scene. Ginny could be cruel to people who pestered her, almost as cruel as she was to people who pestered him.
Harry looked across to his right, to the four tables full of Weasleys and Prewetts. Ron and Ginny's immediate family filled the front table.
Scar faced and pony tailed Bill relaxed back in his chair, he was watching Ron and smiling. The chair on Bill's right was vacant; on his left sat his wife, Fleur who was noticeably and glowingly pregnant. Next to Fleur, making a lot of silly high pitched squeaks, was Charlie. His two-year-old niece Victoire, the occupant of the empty chair, sat on her Uncle Charlie's knee and poked him. The little girl giggled shrilly at every silly noise Charlie made. Next to Charlie, blinking behind her thick spectacles and looking as prim and uncomfortable as she had at her own wedding last year, was Percy's wife, Audrey. Her husband was ignoring her; he was staring across at the tables full of Muggles and looking even more serious than usual.
Angelina Johnson, looking glamorous, sat between Percy and George. The fact that Angelina was still going out with George after more than a year had surprised everyone; at least it had surprised everyone except Ginny who had won ten Galleons in a Weasley family sweepstake on the length of the George/Angelina relationship, which had now broken all records. George was relaxed, his fingers entwined with Angelina's and a broad grin on his face. George was wearing the tie ("explosion in a paint factory", Ginny had called it) that his mother had told him that he should not, under any circumstances, wear to his youngest brother's wedding. He caught Harry's eye and winked. Harry smiled in reply then looked past him at the tables full of Ginny's more distant relatives. He tried to remember some of their names; he'd need to, as he would be paraded in front of them all later.
Further back in the room, behind the eight family tables were five more tables full of friends and colleagues. As he looked towards the back of the room Harry caught sight of Neville Longbottom. He was sitting between Hannah Abbott and Luna Lovegood. Neville caught Harry's eye, inclined his head to the centre of the table and smiled. The tables were all cleared, the wedding breakfast was over and it was finally time for the speeches.
Harry took a sip of champagne from his glass and stood up, looking along the top table as he did so.
Mrs Weasley, sitting next to him, glanced up and gave him a small smile of encouragement. Mr Granger, next to Molly, nervously ran his fingers through his tangled hair while re-reading his speech notes. Sitting in pride of place Hermione looked radiant in her white strapless wedding dress; she had turned her back on Ron and was busily whispering advice to her father. Hermione's new husband, who had been very self-conscious in his top hat and tailcoat, was much happier now that they'd been checked in at the hotel cloakroom. That had made Ron laugh! If the hotel had a cloakroom, why couldn't he wear a cloak?
Ron was simply staring in rapt admiration at Hermione's shoulders and back, looking as though he couldn't believe his luck. Mrs Granger, on Ron's right, had her back to Harry. She was listening to an earnest and excited Mr Weasley. Ginny sat at the far end of the table, trying to interrupt her father. Harry suspected that Arthur's conversation was about the cars that had brought them from the church; cars not powered by magic, but as Arthur said, by "Muggle technologically".
Although Ginny was on the top table, she was as far from Harry as possible. Harry had tried to persuade Hermione to sit them together, but he'd seen the steel in his friend's eyes when she'd reminded him that her wedding was to be a traditional English wedding, with a traditional top table layout. He recognised the look, he'd known Hermione for eleven years, after all, so he hadn't asked again.
Ginny's bright red hair was tied up in an ornate knot held and in place with white flowers. Harry usually preferred her hair unbound. Today though, as they had followed Ron and Hermione from the church, he'd become fascinated by the freckles on the back of her neck. He intended to kiss them later.
Ginny caught his eye and put on her "innocent" face. She leaned round behind her father, put her arm on the back of his chair and bent towards Harry; offering him (deliberately, there was no doubt) a good look at her cleavage. She sat back; disturbing his daydreams, then grinned and winked at him. Harry remembered what he was supposed to be doing and turned to face the quietening room.
'Ladies and Gentlemen,' he said loudly. He waited for the final murmurs of conversation to cease and watched Michael Corner, Katie Bell and Parvati Rathod hurry back to their seats.
'Ladies and Gentlemen,' he said again, 'the father of the bride.'
He sat down quickly as Mr Granger got nervously to his feet to a scattering of applause.
'I'd like to thank you all for coming,' Hermione's father began, 'we have guests from all across Britain and Ireland, and some from much farther afield: Romania (Charlie Weasley and Justin Finch-Fletchley grinned), and South America (Luna looked up in surprise). Thank you for joining us to celebrate my daughter's wedding…'
Harry reached into the inside breast pocket of his tail coat. He had hung it over the back of his chair rather than checking it in because it held his own speech notes. His fingers brushed his wand before he found his notes. Unfolding two scraps of parchment he reread the speech notes nervously, only half listening to what Mr Granger was saying.
The words '… beautiful daughter …' brought wolf whistles from Charlie and George Weasley and from a drunken sounding Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas at the back of the room; and brought Harry back to the father of the bride's speech.
'I was not sure what to expect,' Mr Granger was saying, 'when Hermione won her scholarship to Hogwarts School.'
The Muggle relatives, Harry noticed, were all paying close attention. He wondered what stories the Grangers had told curious relatives over the years.
'We lost our little girl for nine months of the year to a boarding school. But she seemed to thrive. Every year we received glowing reports. Every year she was top of her year in most subjects. As she grew older she was made Prefect, then Head Girl. We missed her, but the school seems to have done her a lot of good. Your mother and I are proud of you, Hermione.'
Mr Granger stopped, smiled at his pink-cheeked daughter, and took a gulp of champagne.
'When she left for school, Hermione was a bossy little girl.'
'Never!' Ron announced in mock astonishment, to much laughter.
'Bossy, and very clever,' Mr Granger continued, smiling at the interruption.
'The school was good for her, she made a lot of friends there, and many of them are here today.'
There were loud cheers from the back of the room as Gryffindor House and Dumbledore's Army made their presence known.
'One, of course, is sitting next to Hermione now.
'I'd like to welcome Ron into our family. He and Hermione have been together for four years, though they've been friends for much longer. They have now made a commitment to each other for life. I'm sure that, after all this time, they both know what they're letting themselves in for. Both have good jobs, good friends, and the support of their families. My wife and I both wish them good health and every happiness in their future life together. Ladies and gentlemen, please, raise your glasses.'
Hermione's father paused. Harry joined everyone in standing; he turned towards his friends and raised his glass in salute to Ron and Hermione.
Ron, too, began to get to his feet. Hermione grabbed the back of his waistcoat and roughly pulled him back down into his seat as her father gave the traditional toast.
'Hermione and Ron, the bride and groom.'
Calls of 'the bride and groom,' or, 'Ron and Hermione,' rang out across the room.
Mr Granger sat down to the applause, a look of relief on his face and Hermione kissed her father on the cheek.
As everyone else sat, Harry remained standing. He looked at his two best friends, sitting together at the centre of the table. Hermione was glowing; her hair was piled up ornately, her brown eyes sparkled and she had never looked prettier.
'Now is the time for you to stand up, Ron,' said Harry with a grin. He turned to address the room once again. Perhaps it was the champagne, but he was beginning to enjoy himself.
'Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Ronald Weasley, the groom, will now say a few words—without being interrupted by Hermione. Make the most of it, Ron.'
Ron stood and looked around the room. He seemed startled to be facing so many people.
'Crikey,' he began nervously.
'Hermione and I … my wife and I,' he said loudly, his voice suddenly confident and full of pride. There were cheers and whistles from the guests.
'My wife and I,' Ron repeated, savouring the words, 'would like to thank you all for your gifts. We'd like to thank my parents and my new in-law's for all their hard work. I think you'll agree that they've done a magnificent job in organising this very special day for us. I'd like to thank Dad Granger,' Ron grinned, 'my new father-in-law for his kind, and accurate words, and for his good wishes. I'd especially like to thank him for allowing me to take his clever, beautiful … and bossy … daughter away from him … and I've completely forgotten what else I'm supposed to be saying.'
Ron stopped and waited until the laughter and catcalls died down.
'Mums, Harry and Ginny,' Hermione hissed. She was shaking her head in mock despair while laughing.
'Right,' Ron continued, 'I'd also like to present…'
Ron glanced at the two pretty young waitresses standing in readiness at the back of the room.
'… to present my mother, and my mother-in-law with these bouquets as a small token of appreciation for all of their hard work.'
Ron paused while the bouquets were brought forwards and presented. While he waited for the polite applause to die down he looked along the table at Harry and winked.
'Hermione,' Harry mouthed urgently. Ron looked puzzled for a moment and then remembered. He grinned at Harry and gave him the thumbs up. As the waitresses departed he continued.
'I'd like to thank Hermione, my wonderful bride, for agreeing to marry me. She's beautiful and talented and clever. But for some reason she still said yes when I asked her.'
Ron paused until the laughter and jeering stopped.
'I have no idea why! But she did. Thanks Hermione, I'm a lucky man. Oh, and she's ordered me to tell everyone that she's not bossy.'
Ron reached down and clasped Hermione's hand, she laughed, glowing with happiness.
'I'd like to thank Harry for being my best man,' Ron continued. 'I had hoped to persuade someone famous to do the job.'
Another wave of laughter broke out. The Muggles were all looking puzzled.
'But in the end I decided to ask my best friend.' Ron said with a smile. 'Thanks for all your help and hard work, Harry.
'Finally, I'd like to thank my little sister for being our bridesmaid. I've been told that she managed to deal with Hermione's wedding morning nerves which, I understand, were worse than her pre-exam nerves.' Ron sounded astonished.
'I didn't think that was possible! So, very well done, Ginny.
'Ladies and Gentlemen, please raise your glasses in appreciation.
'To our bridesmaid: Miss Ginny Weasley.'
Everyone stood. There were enthusiastic shouts of 'the bridesmaid,' or 'Ginny.'
And more wolf whistles. Harry noticed that Steve, and another of Hermione's cousins, were whistling enthusiastically. Harry caught Ginny's eye and smiled as he raised his glass to her; she was looking gorgeous in her dark green satin bridesmaid's dress.
As everyone else sat Harry remained standing for the final time. Now, finally, it was his turn to speak. He took a quick swig of champagne and looked at the mess of notes in front of him. His carefully planned speech was in disorder. He realised that he didn't care; he could remember the important bits. He looked around at the room as silence fell.
'This is the bit where I tell you all about Ron,' he began conversationally. There were cheers.
'But first I have to thank him for his kind words, especially what he said about my fiancée,' Harry directly addressed the Granger cousins in front of him, looking directly into a surprised Steve's eyes 'the bridesmaid, the beautiful Ginny Weasley.'
'Thanks, Ron, and well done Ginny.' Harry turned and raised his glass to his laughing girlfriend, who blew him a kiss.
'And thanks, Ron, for not trying to get one of your famous friends to do this job.'
There was more laughter, though the Muggles remained puzzled about the joke.
'Before I tell you about Ron, I'd like to thank the staff here. I'm sure you'll agree that they've done an excellent job.'
There was a scattering of polite applause.
'They've asked me to remind you that when I've finished, which won't be long, I promise, they would like everyone to move through to the bar. The hotel staff will then be able to clear away these tables and set up the dance floor.'
There was a lone cheer from the back of the room, which stopped in embarrassment.
'Yes, Seamus, there will be dancing later!' Harry announced in mock seriousness.
'Now—back to business! Ron,' Harry continued, 'what can I tell you about Ron?'
'Everything he doesn't want us to know!' George heckled. Harry grinned, but ignored him.
'Ron's going to be my best man in less than a year, so I have a problem—if I'm really horrible to him, he can get his revenge next year—but, even if I'm nice, he can still say what he likes at my wedding, and there'll be nothing I can do about it.'
'Yeah, just remember that,' Ron called.
Harry looked at his friend the groom, and addressed him directly. 'Fortunately Ron is much more scared of Ginny…'
'Aren't we all?' George catcalled.
'… than I am of Hermione. So, here goes.' Ron grinned and Harry turned back to address the guests.
'I've known Ron and his family for half my life. We met at Kings Cross station just over eleven years ago. My aunt and uncle had left me at the station and I was having difficulty finding the right platform. Ron and his family helped me to find the train to Hogwarts School and helped me with my luggage.
'Ron and I shared a compartment for the long journey north. Ron had five brothers, all of whom had been to the same school. Like Ron, I was eleven; unlike Ron, I didn't know much about our school. I didn't even know where I was going. Ron was a great help. He told me, for example, that we'd all be sorted into houses and that I'd be sharing a house dormitory with a few other boys of my age. They turned out to be Ron; and Nev, Seamus and Dean, give everyone a wave, guys.'
Harry paused for breath as, smiling, Neville, Seamus and Dean waved from the back of the room.
'I'd been given a lot of money to spend, and when the sweet trolley came round I spent rather more of it than I should have. So Ron and I had a great time. Who needs your mum's corned beef sandwiches when you've got more sweets than you can eat?
'We became good friends within hours of that first meeting. Ron was my first real friend, and apart from a couple of spectacular fallings out, we've been best mates; together through thick and thin, ever since.
'I was there when he and Hermione first met and I was even there when they first kissed, nearly seven years later.'
Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione. He smiled at them while everyone cheered.
'I think that they'd have preferred to have a private moment for that kiss, but circumstances were against them.'
'But let's go back to eleven years ago. There we were; two first year boys, bloated with sweets, sitting in a compartment by ourselves, getting on well together and having a great time. Then, not long before we reached our final destination, the compartment door opened and two people walked in. One was Nev, the other, was a girl!' Harry hissed the last two words and paused again.
'My recollection is a little hazy, but I think what happened is this. A strange—but not bossy—girl, who had more than her fair share of brown hair, burst in to our compartment and started to lecture us. She told Ron that he had soot on his nose, which he did. Then she told us that she'd read all of the school's set books and that she'd learnt them by heart!' Harry shook his head in disbelief and waited for the laughter to die down. Hermione put her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking. Harry hoped that it was with laughter.
'I admit: I was worried—at least I was until I saw the look on Ron's face, he was terrified! I'd glanced through our schoolbooks. I'd even started reading one or two. Looking at Ron I realised that he hadn't even opened his. Phew!' Harry pantomimed wiping sweat from his brow.
'This girl was scary believe me! She left as suddenly as she'd arrived. Ron and I looked at each other; I think we were in shock. Ron said something like "What a nightmare! I don't care which house I'm in, I just hope that it isn't the same one as her." So—that's how Ron first met his future wife.'
Almost everyone, including Ron and Hermione, Harry noticed thankfully; were laughing.
'Well, we got to school; we were sorted into our houses,' Harry paused, tried to sound astonished, and continued, 'and guess what?'
Harry paused again, waiting for the anticipatory laughter to drop in volume.
'That was the first time Hermione dashed Ron's hopes.'
The laughter returned.
'It would be fair to say that in those very early days Ron and I tried to avoid Hermione as much as possible.
'She worked hard, got her homework in on time and obeyed all of the school rules. Ron and I—didn't.
'That first couple of months at school Ron and I were pretty rotten to Hermione.'
Hermione nodded in agreement, her eyes twinkling. Ron put his arm around her and kissed her cheek.
'One day we accidentally got Hermione into a position where she was left out of bounds. We were being taken back to our dormitories by the prefects. Hermione should have been with us, but she wasn't, because we'd upset her and she'd run off to hide. Ron and I had already been in a lot of trouble, but we weren't totally horrible kids. At least, I hope we weren't. We decided to go back, find Hermione and tell her that we'd all been sent back to our dormitories.'
Harry looked straight at Percy Weasley.
'Giving our prefect the slip was easy.' George and Charlie both howled with laughter as Percy blushed crimson.
'We soon found Hermione. She was locked in a girls' bathroom. Ron rescued her, but we didn't manage to sneak back to our dormitory as we'd planned. Instead, the three of us were caught out of bounds by our house mistress.
'Ron and I had already been in a lot of trouble. We expected, and deserved, a real roasting. But then something amazing happened; little Miss Perfect lied to the house mistress, she took all the blame.' Harry looked at Professor McGonagall, who was sitting between Kingsley Shacklebolt and Hagrid at the back of the room; she raised an eyebrow.
'Sorry Professor,' Harry continued, 'much too late for any detentions now.'
'From then on, the three of us were inseparable. Hermione tried to make us see sense, and we tried to make her relax and break a few rules. I think we did each other a lot of good.' Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement, arms around each other.
'For our first three years we were best mates, I can't remember us ever falling out, but in our fourth year, things started to change.
'The hormones started to kick in. We were still friends, but there were some subtle changes in our relationship. Hermione has always been like a big sister to me. She is a whole ten months older than I am. So when Hermione got herself a boyfriend, I didn't care.
'Ron, however, made a sudden discovery—Hermione was a girl!'
Harry paused again until the room again fell quiet.
'This important fact had, it seems, escaped his attention. At least it did until other boys started taking an interest in Hermione. Ron will still deny it, but he was jealous!
'Later, Ron got himself a girlfriend and, guess what? Hermione will still deny it, but she was jealous!'
Harry checked the back of the room, where Lavender Brown was sitting between Dean and her fellow Auror, Terry Boot. She had an arm around each of them and was laughing. Dean's wife, Frankie, did not look happy about Lavender's behaviour.
'Somehow, we all managed to stay friends. At least while Ron and Hermione weren't seeing anyone else we all managed to stay friends. At other times? Well, I passed messages back and forth and tried to keep the peace. That was a strain, because, as most people here know, keeping the peace was not something I was very good at when I was at school.
'There were a few times when I thought that they would never speak to each other again. There were other times when I thought that finally, one of them was going to kiss the other. But it just didn't happen! Not at fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen. More than once I wondered whether I could lock them in a cupboard together, to help them sort things out.' Harry paused again and let the laughter subside.
'Finally, just over four years ago, not long after Ron's eighteenth birthday, they got together.
'They got together without my help, which is probably just as well. And my friends Ron and Hermione have been bickering happily with each other ever since.'
Harry let the cheers subside.
'The three of us have been through a lot together. They have been my best friends for years. Both Ron and Hermione have always been there for me. Hermione to give me good advice and Ron to persuade me to ignore it.'
Harry again waited for the laughter to end.
'I'd like to be serious for a minute.
'Ron has a lot of older brothers. Sometimes, I think he finds it hard to be in their shadow. Bill and Percy were both Head Boys, Charlie was a sporting legend. George, and his sorely missed twin Fred, took a different route. They gained fame, or possibly infamy, by moving from being the schools best known practical jokers to becoming successful businessmen.
'Ron was simply the last in a long line of Weasley boys at school. His main claim to fame, unfortunately for him, was that he was "the Potter boy's best friend." Ron has spent his life in the shadow of others and no-one seems to have noticed his achievements…actually, that's not true, someone has; clever Hermione.'
The Weasleys, Harry realised, were hanging on his every word. Ron was blushing and Hermione held her new husband's hand tightly. Molly, meanwhile, was noisily blowing her nose on a tiny, decorative lace handkerchief that was wholly inadequate for the task. Harry continued.
'Ron is my best friend; he's brave, generous, clever and funny. He's right more often than he thinks he is. He's certainly right more often than Hermione thinks he is.'
Harry paused again.
'He's not top of the class clever, like Hermione, but he's no fool. He keeps his word and he's a good man to have at your back. Most importantly, when you need him, he's there for you. I've had a lot of reasons to appreciate that over the years. Thanks, Ron. I know that Hermione appreciates it too.
'I hope that they have a happy and prosperous life together, they deserve it, and they deserve each other.
'Ladies and gentlemen, please stand and raise your glasses to Hermione and Ron, the bride and groom.'
To cheers and applause, Harry made the toast and then sank gratefully back into his chair to be embraced by a tearful Molly Weasley.