"I'm still having doubts about this wedding, you know," Severus Snape said to his wife when there were two weeks to go, "Fiona is only nineteen."
It was late at night, and they were sitting at the kitchen table. Celena was poring over a long to-do list, crossing things off it at lightning speed, yet it still seemed there are countless things to do: invitations to send out, final decisions to make regarding the floral arrangements, last-minute alterations to the bride and bridesmaids' dresses. The levels of tension were so high that Celena seemed to float above it all, because otherwise, she would go insane.
Her husband, it appeared, chose to worry himself about the big picture.
"Nonsense, Severus," Celena said brightly, "Fiona is a very mature, level-headed girl, Jeremy is a nice young man, they are madly in love, and their age difference is, in fact, smaller than ours. And unlike us," she added, with a twinkle in her eye, "they have known each other for years before getting engaged."
Here Severus Snape could offer no counter-argument. Their romance and marriage, indeed, had been a rushed whirlwind highly atypical of the rational individuals they both considered themselves to be.
"I just can't believe she is old enough to get married," Snape said quietly, in a completely different voice.
Celena's quill hovered over the parchment, and she put it aside. She looked her husband in the eye and reached out for his hand. She smiled.
"I know," she said, and her eyes filled with sudden tears.
The Hawthorns arrived a week before the wedding, to be there for the rehearsal and assist the preparations in any way they can. There was still so much to do and Celena was so frazzled that, despite the approaching NEWTs, Anna received an authorization from her father to spend her evenings with her mother and sleep at home during the last days before the wedding.
It was then that she, finally, met her fellow bridesmaid Marielle Hawthorn. Marielle was a good-looking girl about Anna's age, red-haired and buxom, and although she put on an appearance of the liveliest pleasantness, there was something about her that stirred a grain of annoyance within Anna. This was exacerbated by the fact that, since there were only two spare bedrooms in the house and they were occupied by Jeremy and his parents, Marielle was going to share with Anna.
"You don't mind, do you, dear?" her mother asked her anxiously, in a low voice, "I know you need your quiet time in the evenings to study, but Fiona is so nervous these days, which is understandable, and her room is packed now that she and Jeremy moved in all the stuff that they brought from their expedition…"
"No problem, Mum," Anna smiled sweetly, although she felt her voice came out a bit strained. After all, she told herself reasonably, Marielle is a nice girl, and treats her with every distinctive mark of sisterly affection. There was no reason for her to dislike Marielle Hawthorn, really. Not until…
… The weekend following the Hawthorns' arrival, Harry and Ginny came over for Saturday night dinner, and James came along with them.
"James couldn't bear to stay away from all the excitement," said Ginny, smiling fondly.
Marielle Hawthorn eyed James with great interest, and promptly engaged all his attention to herself. This shrill laugh of hers was always overdone, Anna thought to herself as she gritted her teeth and cut her chicken with unnecessary vehemence. James was merely relating a childish prank which was summarized in him smearing toothpaste all over Ronan Caldwell's face in their third year, yet Marielle erupted in gales of mirth as though she had never heard anything funnier, and batted her eyelashes in a manner that made Anna conclude she had never seen a sillier girl.
James, however, appeared to think differently. He was more unreserved than ever before, and kept talking throughout dinner, encouraged by Marielle's undivided attention.
Marielle didn't spare Anna even a sideways glance all through dinner, but when the Potters were gone and the girls went upstairs to bed, Anna fuming silently, Marielle propped herself on her elbow, apparently ready for some cozy girl talk.
"Do you know James well?" she asked.
"I've known him all my life," Anna replied curtly.
"He's really cute," Marielle remarked dreamily.
"I haven't noticed that," Anna's voice was dry.
"Well, that's strange," said Marielle.
Anna regretted that it would appear strange and rude if she asked to return to Gryffindor tower for the couple of days that were left before the wedding.
And finally, the big day arrived. Fiona, dressed in a simple, straight-lined white dress, with a wreath of miniature roses in her short dark hair, walked down the aisle to the spot where Jeremy Hawthorn was waiting for her, smiling radiantly.
Severus Snape's quiet satisfaction as he led his daughter towards her husband-to-be appeared very reserved. He merely pressed Fiona's hand, but she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, beaming.
"Thank you, Dad," she said simply, and all words were caught in his throat as he returned to his place in the front row, next to Celena, who looked resplendent in robes of midnight blue embroidered with silver. Her eyes shone with joyful tears, her face showed rapturous delight, and her beauty, thought Severus, taking her hand in his, surpassed even that of her daughters' youthful radiance.
Next to her, Mrs. Hawthorn was sobbing into a silk handkerchief; Anna and Marielle were standing behind the bride, holding small bouquets of forget-me-nots.
"Isn't it wonderful we decided on wearing silver eventually?" Marielle whispered audibly, "I think it's the only color that would look equally good on both you and me, Anna!"
Anna nodded and smiled a smile that remained pasted to her face for the next hour.
"…Do you, Fiona Evangeline, take Jeremy Alan..?"
"…I, Jeremy Alan, vow to love and to cherish, to honor and to protect…"
Finally, Jeremy and Fiona were pronounced husband and wife, and after a long and heartfelt kiss, a swarm of well-wishers hurried towards them. Everyone were there; Victoire, who rushed towards Fiona and embraced her with an exclamation of girlish delight; Molly Weasley, looking smarter than ever before in robes of dark silk Anna helped her choose; friends of Jeremy who have traveled from all around the world; Hogwarts teachers, the Potters, the Weasleys, Draco and Hermione, and of course, Fleur, who looked stunning as usual and expressed her warmest wishes for Victoire's marriage next summer.
Only Anna stood aside, leaning against a vast-crowned tree, unnoticed in the large number of guests. She looked on to the dance floor, which began to fill; she saw James dance one song after another with Marielle Hawthorn, and revelation after revelation, painful and embarrassing to herself, dawned upon her heart. Tears of frustration welled up in her eyes, but she wouldn't just stand there and mop. Seized by a sudden rush of decisiveness, she spotted James standing alone and rushed forward.
"James," she asked, slightly breathless, "would you like to dance?"
James instantly forgot that he, in fact, was waiting for Marielle to return from the ladies' room, where she retreated to fix her makeup; lost for words, he took Anna's hand and led her to the dance floor. Neither of them was aware of the knowing looks and satisfied smiles that passed between Celena, Ginny and Fleur that moment.
Some way or another, they found their way into a distant, secluded corner of the garden, far from the bubbling noise and raucous jubilation of the wedding party. Anna looked at him, overcome by a sudden desire to confess her vanity, her folly, all the mistakes that made her blind to the true desire of her heart for so long – but then she realized it doesn't matter anymore. James stood in front of her, smiling as though in a dream, and like ever and always, he had eyes for no one but her.
"I had almost given up, you know," he said very quietly and tenderly, running a gentle finger down her cheek.
"Oh, James," Anna sighed happily, smoothing his hair back and wrapping her arms around his neck, "we have both been so silly."
… Severus Snape wasn't as quick as his wife to notice romantic developments, yet even he couldn't fail to notice that his daughter and James Potter remained inseparable for the rest of the day, looking at and talking to no one but each other. Anna's eyes and cheeks were glowing, and James looked a foot taller than usual, and his step was so springy it seemed he was light as a feather as he walked.
"Anna," Severus said in a low voice, drawing her aside, "are you – are you going out with James now? I thought there had been certain," he cleared his throat, "certain preference of Lennox McKinnon on your side…"
Anna looked straight into his eyes and replied quite solemnly:
"Oh, no, Daddy – there could never be anyone but James."
"Well, then," Severus cleared his throat again, "he is a nice boy."
Which, on his side, was candid praise, as well as a statement that the past was now finally, completely and irrevocably buried and could never bother him in any way again.
"I have something to tell you," he said after a pause, "the board of governors has decided that this year's experimental regime had been, shall we say, less than a smashing success, and starting from next year the house of Slytherin is going to be re-grouped again."
He had expected warmer reaction on part of Anna, but to his surprise, she merely nodded.
"Are you sorry that it will only happen by the time you have left school?" he asked.
"No, Daddy," Anna said firmly, "I think everything that has happened was for the best, and now everything is just as it should be, as far as it concerns me."
And Severus now realized that he hadn't seen either Lavinia Malfoy or Gertrude Nott among the wedding guests.
"It is unbelievable," he said quietly, "how quickly you are growing up."
In reply, Anna only smiled enigmatically and looped her arm through his, and together, they made their way back to the guests.