Ever After

France

It was Ronald Weasley’s wedding day.

It was his wedding day, yet he didn’t feel happy. He didn’t feel excited, eager, anxious, even sick or any of the usual feelings he was supposed to feel on his wedding day.

The happiest day of his life.

Yeah. Right.

As he stared woodenly into the mirror all Ron felt were dread and a miserable gloom that had been hovering over him for the past day like his own personal storm cloud. A whole day had passed since the disastrous ball yet if asked he wouldn’t be able to say a single thing that had happened. He remembered a blur of fussing, measuring, decorating and talking but anything more specific than that was beyond him.

What he could remember, however, was Hermione’s tear stained face as she stared at him, pleading. He saw her face everywhere he went, haunting him, even when he closed his eyes. After Ginny’s argument with him his humiliation, anger and indignation gradually faded away and he was left with, of all things, guilt. He was still hurt, but his thoughts had been centring less on his own dishonour and more on what Ginny had said.

But no matter his changing feelings, what’s done was done. His bride had arrived from France the previous evening in a lot of pomp and circumstance although he hadn’t actually met her. Something about it being unlucky to see the bride the evening before the wedding or some such nonsense. He’d watched the procession of important nobles and dignitaries from an upstairs window but, again, it had been as though he was viewing everything through distorted glass.

“You alright, son?”

Ron looked over his shoulder at his father. Even after more than a decade the King still looked uncomfortable in the full formal dress required of him on special occasions. Before his wife inherited the throne Arthur Weasley had been a simple man, his biggest concern making sure his estates produced enough sustenance for his unusually large family and the local townsfolk. The extra responsibilities and pressures of caring for an entire Kingdom had caused his red hair to be peppered prematurely with grey and extra lines surrounded his eyes.

Now those eyes looked at him with a hint of sadness. Ron looked away and studied his own reflection once more. His own outfit was no less formal or rich than his fathers; a rich red tunic riddled with elaborate embroidery covered black breeches, both bespelled to repel any dirt and to be tear-resistant. His shoulders felt ten times heavier as the myriad of gold chains weighed him down, adorned with small sunbursts embedded with rubies. Heavier than it ever had been before, his crown sat gleaming on his neatly styled red hair.

A perfect groom.

“Fine,” he said gruffly.

His father’s reflection shifted awkwardly. “Listen, Ron,” he said haltingly. “It was… unfair of us to put so much pressure on you about this marriage. You seemed to be… well, floundering a bit. You and Ginevra both.”

Ron just grunted. Inwardly his thoughts were already racing back to who he had been but a week ago. His father was right; he had been floundering around, no direction in his life. Every day he just went through the motions without taking any action or making any real decisions for himself. All his thoughts had centred purely on himself without sparing any thought for anyone else and any responsibilities and tasks he had been given he viewed with resentment.

“This school idea you and Ginevra came up with,” Arthur was saying, “was a brilliant idea, you know.”

Ron was the one to shift awkwardly at that. “Well, it wasn’t just us,” he started to say but his father cut him off.

“Sitting down and dealing with a terrorist on your own to work out a workable solution to a problem that has been simmering under the surface of our kingdom for years has shown your mother and I that we were wrong about you both.” The King gave a rueful smile. “You, ah, might not have realised with all the screaming but we’re very proud of you both.”

Ron stared at one of the suns on his gold chain and kept silent. That was one of the only clear things he could remember about the previous day. In fact, with all the hulabaloo of the ball and the revelations he had almost completely forgotten about his promise to Riddle to talk to his parents. But, having spent the day almost entirely brooding about Hermione, it had only been a matter of time before he remembered. After all hadn’t she been the one to agree to the meeting with Riddle in the first place? So yes, Ginny had been the one talking with the Death Eater but she had ultimately looked at Hermione for guidance and Hermione had said yes. The sheer cheek of it sometimes made Ron laugh; there she was, a mere servant, telling the Royal family how they should rule their country! Absurd.

By the slightly hysterical laughter always faded away as quickly as it had come. Servant she might be, but the true absurdity of the situation was that this particular ‘mere servant’ really did know how to run the country better than Ron or Ginny. No matter how much she’d hurt him he couldn’t deny the truth of what he had realised in the past few days; Hermione had made him a better person. He would be a captive right now if not for her and Gryffindor, waiting to be ransomed. More like he would be back in the castle, bitter and scornful of the terrorists who had fallen afoul of the crown and paid for it with their lives. Yet for all their actions the Death Eaters weren’t all bad people, just desperate. And without Hermione the very real problem that had been brewing under their royal feet for years would still be simmering away, reading to boil over and burn them all very seriously in the future.

Ron gritted his teeth and wrenched his way from the memories of that night. If he thought too long then the bonfire would appear in his mind and he would see her face leaning towards his and then the touch of her lips…

“You should tell Ginny this, not me,” Ron said gruffly, concentrating as hard as he could on his reflection in the mirror. ‘If I wasn’t so gloomy I’d make a pretty decent groom,’ he thought and then cursed himself as his thoughts drifted once more to Hermione and what she would look like, walking towards him from the end of the aisle, radiant in white and gold.

“I should be telling both of you,” the King corrected quietly. “I will tell Ginevra, have no fear.” He paused then. “It is still not too late, Ron.”

Ron shifted his gaze over his should to his father. “I have made my choice,” he said, though his stomach roiled at the words. He had made his choice; made it when he spurned Hermione in front of everyone, for all the world to see and laugh at her. When he wasn’t sulking on the lies she had told him he was thinking desperately of finding her and running away with her, just like he’d said in the Burrow not two mornings ago. But something was always holding him back; was it fear? More likely it was shame. How could he talk to her now, after what he had done to her?

Over his shoulder the King opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by a servant at the door.

“Your Highness? It is time.”


The church had never been more beautiful.

Every surface had been scrubbed, scoured and polished until it gleamed and then scrubbed, scoured and polished once more. The marble floor was so smooth it resembled glass and several altar servers had already slipped on the ice-like surface. White silks spiralled down from the ancient beams of the arched ceiling, elaborate bouquets of roses, orchids, lilies and a hundred other types of flowers no one could name masking the joins. The aisles had suffered a similar treatment lending a lighter perfume to contrast with the muskier cloying scent on incense.

No less beautiful or elaborate were the church goers themselves, settled excitedly into their pews. If the sunlight was not illuminating a spray of frosted freesia then it was glinting off a thousand precious jewels. Diamonds sparkled from necklaces; emeralds twinkled from hairnets; sapphires gleamed from earrings; pearls shone from bodices; rubies glowed from rings; and the flash of silver, gold and platinum was everywhere.

When you managed to drag your eyes from the precious metals you were met with a riot of colours in the forms of the guests clothes; red, orange, yellow, purple, pink, fawn, lavender, scarlet, cream, turquoise, rose, viridian… Together the guests made a sparkling rainbow, rich with every possible hue under the sun.

And the whole, sparkling, gleaming, colourful space was filled with laughter and happiness.

Ginny absolutely hated it.

Despised, detested, loathed every small, tiny part of it; from the wide sweeping banners to the stupid garnet on her niece’s ring that kept shining in her eyes.

Oh, it wasn’t her wedding, she knew. That made it worse. Now her nightmares of her own impending doom would be all the more detailed and realistic, especially as she had caught a glimpse of her own dubious fiancée earlier on.

Unable to stop herself, Ginny found her gaze shifting across the circular space where the royalty were sat to the pews where Potter was sitting with his aunt. The worst part of it was the fact that for the first time Potter looked half-way decent. The feather was once more nowhere to be seen and, whilst the sword had made a reappearance, the rest of Potter’s clothes were downright tasteful.

Maybe that should have made her feel better but, yet again, all it did was make her own nightmarish visions of her wedding more realistic.

Merlin, it’s really going to happen,’ Ginny thought suddenly, panic beginning to bubble up alarmingly. She knew it was going to happen and soon, but suddenly to be faced with a church full of happy wedding guests… ‘I’m not getting out of this! I’m going to be Mrs Harry Potter for the rest of my life!’ Why oh why hadn’t she just said a random name from the crowd? Why did she have to get all het up on what Dumbledore had said about love?

Why couldn’t she get James’ stupid face out of her head?

“You alright, Gin-Gin?”

Trying to force her face into some kind of semblance of calm Ginny turned and managed to shot Fred a strained smile. “Fine, thanks.”

Fred’s eyes flickered over to Potter and Ginny’s smile became even tenser as her stomach twisted in dread. But, for once, Fred’s grin dropped from his face. “Oh, yeah. Right,” he said and gave her arm a squeeze before turning to face the front stoically.

Ginny stared at him in astonishment before feeling tears prick at her eyes. ‘Damn you, Fred,’ she thought angrily, swiping at her eyes before the tears could smudge her makeup. She’d been dreading it but it was what she expected; she swore that Fred and George didn’t know how to carry on a normal conversation like everyone else. Everything that came out of their mouths was a riddle, tease or laugh. As a result, what she’d been expecting was some stupid comment about making kissy faces at her husband-to-be.

Sympathy was far worse.

Not that the twins first meeting with Potter and his aunt hadn’t been amusing; on the contrary it was the only highlight of the past 24 hours…

Ginny highly resented having to give up even a smidgeon of her last day as a single Princess to spend even a second with stupid Potter. After all, in a few days’ time she’d be vowing to spend the rest of her life with him and that was already far too long a time without adding any more to it.

Resentment was exhausting though and she’d been doing enough raging the past week to warrant sleeping uninterrupted for a month. Coupled with several late – and sleepless – nights it didn’t come as a surprise when her anger fizzled out almost as soon as it had surfaced to be replaced by what Ginny had started to call her Zombie Face.

She had originally called it her Doll Face – blank of expression, no emotions, hollow – as that was how she’d looked at the ball yesterday evening. However the more she thought about it the more accurate she realised the imagery was. A doll was nothing but a painted toy, passed around and used; a thing that could be lost or sold. That was a little too close to reality for Ginny to be comfortable with that mental description anymore.

She had settled on Zombie Face for several reasons;

a) Emotionless and dead inside, which is exactly how she felt, but morbid enough to be decidedly un-Princessey

b) It would piss her mother off if she knew

c) Zombies had a tendency to horribly murder those closest to them (Ginny was quite happily ignoring the fact that zombies usually achieved this heinous act by eating their victim’s brains. For a start she wasn’t sure Potter had one)

Zombie Face or Doll Face, it had quite firmly settled on her features as she entered the receiving room. “Lady Dursley,” she greeted neutrally after first saying a stiff hello to her mother. The King was absent for some unknown reason. Probably off in last minute talks with France about Ronald’s own enslavement. “Earl Potter.”

“Your Highness,” Dursley simpered, a self-satisfied smirk already in place. “You must be getting excited.” She looked across at Potter and beamed at him. “I know my dear D-Harrykins is beside himself.”

Potter did look happy but as it was the usual excited but gormless expression he normally wore she ignored him. Instead Ginny studied Dursley, feeling distinctly odd.

In the shock of revealing Hermione’s identity it was a lot harder for Ginny to resolve the reality of both her and James being under the thumb of this petty, calculating cow. They were both so intelligent, caring, funny and sensible; she didn’t understand how anybody had achieved that under Petunia’s reign.

Face-to-face with her now all James’ horror stories of different employers came back to her and she realised that most of them were probably about the woman right in front of her. Realising that Dursley had just sat back and let James be sold in the first place was enough to briefly break through her Zombie Face.

Dursley’s face twitched slightly. “Your Highness?”

Ginny gave herself a little shake. Anger would do her no good. “My apologies, Lady Dursley,” she said shortly. “My mind was… elsewhere.”

Dursley’s eyes narrowed but she was too much a courtier to press further. Instead she gave a sickly sweet smile and inclined her head graciously. “Of course, Princess.”

As the Queen took over the conversation Ginny idly found herself wondering what shade Dursley’s face would go if she enquired about last night and Hermione. Part of her was desperate to know what had happened to the older girl. Clever as she was, Ginny was sure that Hermione would have no trouble finding another position if Dursley had let her go. Although she would probably have to go quite far to escape from the debacle of the ball scene and there was the fact that she was a witch…

Assurances about Hermione’s resourcefulness aside if by some miracle – or extreme bout of madness – Dursley hadn’t let Hermione go there and then Ginny didn’t want to remind her of the trouble and embarrassment the girl had caused.

Another more secretive, guilty part didn’t want to know about Hermione at all; it wanted to know about James. Though Hermione’s revelation had been a shock Ginny’s thoughts had been more occupied with how James fit into all this. She assumed that they both were servants in Petunia’s household but did Dursley know about James’ involvement in Hermione’s deception? He hadn’t been at the Palace. If he had been then, propriety or no, Ginny was sure that James would have stood up for his friend; he was just that kind of person.

But was he even working for the Dursleys at the moment? After all, he had been sold into exile, even if it had been through no fault of his own. Would they take him back? What kind of lie must he have told them to explain what happened? Maybe he had told them the truth?

Ginny snorted. She doubted Petunia would give anyone the time of day unless they were a courtier much less listen to a servant’s tale of innocence when the ‘law’ had found him a criminal.

Something niggled at the back of her mind then, but Ginny dismissed it. She had enough disconnected puzzles and worries running amok in her mind; she didn’t have room to accommodate niggles as well.

Ginny rather hoped Hermione had been smart enough to grab James and leave the Dursleys straight away. They both deserved better than life as a servant, especially to such a cold bitch. She didn’t want James to be hurt any more than he already had been; once again his expression of outrage flickered in front of her eyes. It was a face that she was becoming oddly familiar with over the past 48 hours. She didn’t know why that particular image of James was haunting her but it made her stomach churn. She wanted to talk to him, apologise, although she wasn’t exactly sure what she was apologising for. After all, he had been the one to deceive her.

He was protecting someone though,’ Ginny thought miserably. ‘I… well…’ She broke the thought off before it could form. It was a sad day indeed when she couldn’t even face her own thoughts.

“I really admire your Majesty,” Dursley was saying as Ginny dragged her mind back to the conversation. “I wouldn’t know what to do with so many children. Looking after dear Harry took all my time; it’s a compliment to your Majesty how perfectly all seven of your children turned out.”

The Queen looked rather uncomfortable at that. “Yes, well, thank you, Lady Dursley,” she said, awkwardly.

Now the casual observer would assume that the Queen was just embarrassed at the overly lavish praise and they would be partly right. But the Queen was royalty; overly lavish praise was unfortunately part of the job description. After many years on the throne Molly Weasley was more or less accustomed to ridiculous over the top statements and it barely fazed her anymore.

The real reason the Queen looked especially uncomfortable right now, Ginny knew, was because the royal Princes (and Princess) were far from perfect.

Just look at her and Ron; he was sulky, bad tempered and had embarrassed the royal family horrendously just the night before by (almost) publicly declaring his love for a common servant at the largest party of the year so far. And then there was Ginny herself; she had after all run away from the palace too many times to count, managing to get into fights with bandits along the way!

And then there were…

CRACK!

Dursley screamed and dropped her teacup. Potter actually managed to crash off his chair onto the floor as he squealed in terror.

“Apologies, my Lady, didn’t see you there!”

Dursley just looked as though she were about to faint.

“She doesn’t look too good, does she, Fred?”

“Not good at all, George.”

“In fact she looks as though she’s going to scream –”

“ – pass out – ”

“ – throw up,” they agreed in unison.

“Fred! George!” the Queen hissed, enraged. By the rapidly brightening shade of crimson on her face Ginny could tell it was taking all her will power not to yell at the twins right there and then.

Fred and George, Ginny’s incorrigible twin brothers, just grinned cheerily at the seething Queen. “Hello mother,” they said chirpily, Fred sending a wink Ginny’s way.

Well, the Queen may not have been delighted with their entrance but it was the best thing that had happened to Ginny since that evening by the bonfire with James. Thinking about him immediately brought up a resurgence of uncomfortable conflicting emotions but she pushed them aside to focus on her brothers.

Both twins were identical, down to the last freckle on their long noses. Orange hair was stuck out all over the place, as though they’d been through a whirlwind, and their blue eyes twinkled with mirth as they surveyed the havoc they’d created.

Creating havoc was Fred and George’s default state. More specifically it was the reason Ginny hadn’t seen either of them in about 5 months. After nearly causing an international incident – apparently the Prussians did not take too kindly to having their crown prince turned into a canary, however briefly – the twins had been sent to the furthest points of Scotland as a punishment. Ginny didn’t know whether the King or Queen had hoped the freezing cold, wet weather would dampen their spirits somewhat but if their dramatic entrance was anything to go by, it hadn’t worked.

“Hello, Gin-Gin,” Fred said sunnily, carefully selecting a small cake from the tray.

“Hello, Fred, George,” she replied grinning. Ordinarily if someone called her ‘Gin-Gin’ she’d treat them to her bat bogey special but she liked the nickname when it came from one of the twins. George shot her an especially wide grin now, also perusing the cakes for a snack. Both twins were in matching bright green tunics with offensively yellow breeches and sleeves. On anyone else that colour would be extremely distasteful but Ginny liked it. Combined with their Weasley red hair that certainly brightened up any room they were in!

“Fred! George!” Queen Molly repeated, beginning to lose the argument to not shout a little bit. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“But, mother,” George protested, wide eyed, “you wanted to see us!”

“Said it was important, too,” Fred added, swallowing his pastry.

“Even sent Dad to make sure we were here.”

“So we thought – ”

“ – if it was that important – ”

“ – then it must be quite urgent – ”

“ – and if it was urgent – ”

“ – we should be here as soon as possible – ”

“ – and here we are,” the finished in chorus.

How the twins managed to pull off entire conversations and speeches completing each other’s sentences perfectly had long been a subject of hot debate among the Weasley siblings. When they were younger Bill had told Ron and Ginny very matter of factly that Fred and George were actually triplets but the third brother was invisible (courtesy of a poorly executed chameleon charm from a passing wizard). He was actually the one that told both Fred and George what to say by whispering in their ears.

Ron and Ginny had believed in this so strongly that whenever the twins started talking in tandem they used to run madly between them, flapping their arms and trying to catch Humphrey, much to the confusion of their parents and amusement of their siblings.

As they grew older – and their siblings’ sniggers grew louder – Ron and Ginny realised that Fred and George having an invisible triplet Humphrey was totally absurd. Charlie’s explanation of there actually only being one twin and the other was just a magical illusion brought about through a combination accidental magic and the ‘existence’ of an invisible friend – was equally crazy.

So what else could Ron and Ginny do but come up with their own ridiculous theories?

Ron, being not particularly imaginative, merely held onto the belief that the twins could freeze time to discuss what they were going to say before they actually said it. Ginny’s own theory was in a similar vein but was a touch more intelligent. Or at least she’d like to think so. She hypothesized that Fred and George, early in their childhood, had gotten hold of a time turner and now regularly used it to travel back in time to tell their earlier selves what to say.

She liked the paradoxical side of her theory – if the twins just said what the twins told them to say but the only reason the twins had said that in the first place is because the twins had told them to then who thought up the original script? She was still working on a plausible way to account for the quite drastic aging that Fred and George would appear to be going through if they were reliving hundreds of hours but it was still a working theory.

Everyone ignored Percy when he started lecturing them all on twin soul bonds.

Whatever the actual reason for the twins’ flawless synchronicity it was highly unnerving to the new and extremely exasperating to their mother.

“You know perfectly well your father did not mean for you to apparate,” the Queen snapped, hands on hips in a very un-queen-like pose. “How many times do I – do we! – have to tell you? Honestly, I don’t know what to do with the two of you sometimes.”

Before the twins could say anything in reply the doors came crashing open and the King came skidding into the hall, panting and red. “Boys! You know perfectly well I did not mean for you to apparate,” he reprimanded in an eerily familiar echo of his wife. “You need to learn to control yourselves,” he added sternly, although the effect was somewhat diminished by his red panting face.

“Sorry, Dad,” Fred said cheerily, not sounding at all remorseful.

“Yeah; we’ll work on controlling ourselves,” George added before apparating out and in on the spot. CRACK! “Whoops, pardon me!”

Ginny was trying very hard not to laugh outright at this point and even the King found it difficult to conceal his mirth. The Queen, however, still looked apoplectic. “Out!” she snapped at them. “Out of this room immediately!”

Fred and George looked immensely affronted by this. “But you just told us to come down!” George protested.

“Yes, we were really looking forward to meeting our future brother-in-law and his lovely aunt,” Fred agreed, bowing fussily at Dursley and waggling his eyebrows at her. Dursley looked absolutely mortified, clutching weakly at her chest and closing her eyes as though hoping if she couldn’t see Fred or George they would disappear as quickly as they had appeared. Potter was still on the floor, blinking at the twins bewildered.

“Hello, hello, Earl Potter,” Fred said joyfully, bounding across the room to the dazed noble, shaking his hand enthusiastically. “Or should I call you brother?”

“Um…”

“Brother it is!” Fred agreed, trying to pull the stunned noble up from the ground. He made a face and George bounded over to help him haul Potter up.

“Think we could fit all our brothers into just this one,” George commented off-handedly as they heaved Potter to his feet.

“Much more economical this way,” Fred concurred. He sent another flamboyant bow Dursley’s way. “I congratulate you on your economical thinking, my Lady.”

“OUT!” the Queen yelled, completely forgetting her non-yelling rule.

“Now, now, mother, there’s no need to be rude,” Fred said, shocked.

“If you wanted us to leave all you needed to do was ask,” George added, backing out the room.

Ginny could’ve sworn her mother growled.

As the twins whisked themselves merrily out of the room, Ginny turned with a sigh back to Dursley and Potter. Dursley was still frozen in an expression of horror, although the paleness of shock was beginning to be replaced by a redness borne solely of anger.

“Lady Petunia, Earl Potter, I cannot begin to apologise enough for my sons,” the Queen apologised, rushing over to the statuesque courtier, vanishing the broken teacup and tea with a silence flick of her wand. Pushing another cup into Dursley’s numb hands she attempted a very shaky smile. “As you see, my Lady, my children are far from perfect,” she joked weakly.

The look Petunia sent her could have cut ice.

The King meanwhile was checking Potter was alright. “You alright, my boy?” he asked kindly.

Potter blinked at him, looking quite confused. “Er, yeah… your Majesty?” he said. It sounded more like a question than a statement.

As for Ginny herself she was still trying to contain her laughter. She was glad, however much everyone else seemed to be treating Potter with such reverence, Fred and George were being their usual ridiculous selves. Her only regret was that the Queen had thrown her brothers out so quickly; a few more minutes and maybe Fred and George would mortify Dursley so much that she would call the wedding off.

Yeah. Like that was going to happen.

Still, there was still a small slither of hope to be had. Maybe the twins had managed to slip a little something into the pile of biscuits her mother was now handing Dursley.

Dursley would make a splendid canary after all.

Alas, no canaries had materialised that afternoon. Brought back to the here and now Ginny sighed. Her mum and dad had been awfully apologetic and obliging for the rest of the afternoon, close to fawning over Dursley and Potter until the sour expression had diminished somewhat.

Of course all the rest of Ginny’s family had been perfect courtiers. Charlie, back from commanding the Royal Navy just for the wedding, had been horribly polite, treating both Dursley and Potter with various (extremely watered down) tales of his exploits in battles. Listening to Charlie was the most engaged Ginny had ever seen Potter although she doubted he would ever consider such a career. For a start he would have to lose a hell of a lot of weight.

Bill, Crown Prince and heartthrob of many a noble lady, had also been present, his equally gorgeous wife, Princess Fleur Delacour of Belgium, in tow. There were whispers on the continent that there was some veela blood in the family tree although no one dared say anything where the Royals could hear them. Ginny had believed it from the moment she clapped eyes on the Princess. There was just an ethereal air of other-wordly beauty and perfection for it to be natural. No matter the occasion, Fleur always looked so flawless that Ginny instantly felt dirty and unkempt in her presence. Most men couldn’t help but stare at her. The Weasley men had been no different although they quickly learnt control. As the youngest, Ron had been the worst, but even he had never been as bad as Potter. When Potter had been introduced to Fleur he went twice as gormless as usual and occasionally even stared openly at her chest. Ginny shuddered just thinking about it.

Percy, of course, had been his usual perfectly proper and courteous self. Ginny rather thought Dursley liked him most of all.

After the two torturous hours Dursley and Potter bid them farewell; the former simpering whilst the latter shot both her and Fleur a farewell leer that made Ginny feel physically sick. ‘Two more days,’ she thought, wanting to cry.

As the drawing room doors came to a close the Weasley family had been left to an awkward silence. Ginny was upset and embarrassed, as usual, and wouldn’t look at any one else. Bill, looking as uncomfortable as Ginny had ever seen him, was the one to break the silence.

“Well, he was… erm, interesting.”

Ginny felt like burying her face in her hands.

“Interesting?” Fleur repeated, crinkling her nose. “’E was disgusting. I am uzed to men staring at moi but even so, ‘e was trés grotesque.”

Bill made shushing motions at his wife. “You have to admit, dear, you are the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said, trying to placate her. Usually appealing to her vanity always mollified the Belgian but today she just made a face.

“He was probably nervous,” Charlie offered, although he didn’t look any happier than Bill. “We are a big riot of royals after all. Plus Fred and George – ”

“Don’t even mention those incorrigible brothers of yours,” the Queen snapped, face immediately darkening. “And yes; I’m sure that played a part of it,” she added unconvincingly.

“He probably improves once you get to know him,” Charlie ventured, equally feebly.

Ginevra loved her family, her big brothers most of all. They were always there for her, sticking up for and protecting her just as big brothers were wont to do. And that’s just what they were doing now; protecting her, trying to make her feel better about marrying that awful lackwit. Well, Ginny was sick of being ‘protected’. She’d much rather someone came out and said it out loud rather than dancing around the truth.

But when she opened her own mouth to tell them exactly what Potter was she found she couldn’t do it either. She was too afraid; saying it out loud wouldn’t change what he was any more than it would stop her marriage. Her parents had made that abundantly clear. So, in the end, all she said was;

“No. He doesn’t.”

And she had walked out.

“You know Bill and Charlie argued with Mum and Dad after you left,” Fred said, almost as though he could hear her thoughts.

Back in the church Ginny turned to him in shock. “What?” she said. “How do you know?”

Fred waved a grey slug in her face. Ginny recoiled, disgusted, before she realised that it was not a slug. “What is that?” she asked, curious.

“Extendable Ear,” Fred said proudly, shoving it back in his belt. “Those Scottish castles are very big, full of secrets – and you know us; we couldn’t let such good secrets go by undiscovered. But Aunt Muriel caught us eaves dropping once and threated to send us to different ends of the highlands so we developed these little beauties instead.”

“They let you listen to conversations on the other side of the castle?” Ginny asked, fascinated.

Fred snorted and shook his head woefully. “Would that it could little sister,” he said. “It stretches but from maybe one story to another and across several rooms. Not far, but far enough for a little spy work.”

“Why were you listening in on Potter?” Ginny ignored all the mischief and havoc that the twins could unleash on the castle armed with all the secrets the Extendable Ears could give them. She made a note in future to place Imperturbable Charms on every door and window in her chambers. She didn’t want Fred and George blackmailing her with any of her secrets.

Not, of course, that she had any.

“Since we were so rudely ejected from his presence by dear old Mum we had to make sure someone stood up for you,” Fred said, causing Ginny to stare at him, astonished all over again. “We were about ready to storm on in and tell their Majesties exactly what we thought of dear old Potter when Bill and Charlie beat us to it.” He sighed. “Probably for the best,” he admitted. “For some bizarre reason Mum’s a wee bit miffed with poor George and I at the moment.” As Ginny snorted Fred’s face darkened. “Not that it made any difference.”

Ginny’s stomach tightened but she tried to keep a brave face on. She certainly didn’t want her brothers to see her crying.

“A Princess does her duty,” she said duly. Fred’s eyes narrowed at her but before he could say aught else Ron and her father strode past them in a whirl of gold and red. “Plus,” she added, watching her pale brother, face stone-like, taking his place at the end of the aisle, “I’m not the only one doing my duty today.”

Fred made a face. “But Ron’s bride is at least pretty,” he pointed out. “And she seemed nice last night, if a little… upset.”

‘Distraught’ was a better way to put it but Ginny held her tongue. She wasn’t sure she would be much better tomorrow after all. And, besides, ‘looks’ would make no difference to Ron. His bride could be the most beautiful woman in the world and he would still be miserable. He was, after all, in love with someone else.

Ginny sighed, suddenly feeling sorrier for her brother than she did for herself. At least she didn’t have that particular heartache to add to her own misery tomorrow.

Did she?


The trumpets burst into life.

As the rest of the congregation stood to face the back Ron felt his stomach clench so violently that he almost bent over with pain.

Oh, bloody Merlin, this is it! Shit.

The sun was shining on the back of the church, almost as though to add to the heralding of his new bride being played out by the fanfare of trumpets and church bells. The sun was too bright however; all he could make out of her was a figure, clothed in red and gold to match him, golden lace veil obscuring what little of her face the sun hadn’t bleached out.

He couldn’t help it, he really couldn’t; for those few steps when he couldn’t see the lady Ron’s mind filled it in with her face.

Hermione smiled happily at him as she walked down the aisle, eyes shining in joy. The red and gold of her veil flickered and suddenly it wasn’t a veil but fire and she leaned towards him –

– and wailed.

Ron blinked his eyes in astonishment. As he blinked the vision away, Hermione’s face melted into that of his bride.

Her Royal Highness, Cho Chang, daughter of the Duke of Brittany and his wife, the Princess Royal of France, was everything Ron could have hoped for in a bride. Her features were delicate and hinted at her father’s Asian lineage, lending her an exotic air. Her eyes were big, dark and beautiful, silky black hair coiled around her head in an array of jewels and curls. She was petite and looked to be about the same age as him, another bonus.

Her beauty, however, was somewhat spoilt by the fact that she was sobbing her head off.

Ron stared at her, utterly bewildered. She was bloody well crying! Not little, sniffling sobs or a silent tear or two mind; no, Chang was belting out full on wailing cries that could be heard even above the cacophony of trumpets, bells and organs of her procession.

Ron shot a perplexed look at Neville, his best man, who shot him an equally baffled look in reply. Looking across at his family Ron met the same puzzled expressions although the twins were trying very hard not to laugh. In their alcove the King and Queen looked just as uncertain although the royal representatives of France looked either uncomfortable or murderous by turns.

“What the bloody hell am I supposed to do?” Ron asked Neville, turning back to his best friend desperately for advice.

Neville shrugged, just as lots. Neither of them was good with crying females at the best of times. “Get on with it?” was all Neville had to offer.

Ron glared at him. “Great. Thanks!” he snapped before schooling his face into something that resembled calm. His bride was almost at the end of the aisle now and he had to go and meet her. He tried to smile at her, to make her feel better, but he wasn’t sure it worked; as he took her hand it trembled violently. Walking her to the altar and feeling extremely awkward Ron heartily wished the ground would just open up and swallow him whole.

I cannot believe that this is happening to me!

Well, he knew his wedding wouldn’t be a happy one, but this was bloody insane! Rather than leading a beautiful, happy bride to the altar he felt more as though he were transporting a particularly volatile potion; one that would go off at any minute if not handled with the utmost care. It made Ron annoyed; he didn’t want to be there either but was he going around making a total fool of himself and his partner? No, he bloody well wasn’t!

Hermione wouldn’t be crying,’ he thought suddenly and immediately wished he hadn’t. They were at the altar by then and he had to help her down onto her knees. He was pretty sure if he didn’t then the French noble would just collapse on the floor.

“In the name of the Father,” the priest intoned although he had to raise his voice as Chang broke out into a fresh wail, “and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

“Amen.”

Even as Ron responded by rote inside he was still filled with incredulity that was slowly turning into indignation. So she didn’t want to marry him? Well, he didn’t want to marry her either and probably for much better reason. What was her problem? ‘I know I’m not the heartthrob that Bill is but I’m not a total troll,’ he thought, hurt.

He shot another mystified look at his bride as the priest continued. Her shoulders were shaking now, cries alternating between hiccoughing sobs and wails to total anguish. Her should-be-beautiful eyes were red and swollen and her gaze flicked between the priest, her parents and the congregation constantly.

Never at him though.

Following her gaze Ron’s eyes caught on something unexpected and he stared, hardly believing what he saw. Indignation reverted back to incredulity, surprise and then, finally, bizarrely, amusement.

He started laughing.

Whereas Cho’s wails were insufficient to halt the priest’s routine, Ron’s mirth certainly did the trick. He stopped astonished and stared down at what must surely be the most bizarre royal couple he had ever seen – one in tears and the other laughing like a mad man. He didn’t even lower his arms; they were frozen partway to do the blessing Ron’s amusement had halted. The rest of the church had fallen into a shocked silence till the only sound was his laughter and Cho’s sniffles and sobs.

As Ron turned towards his bride those sobs diminished slightly as she looked at him uncertainly, but also with a hint of anger in her eyes, as though he was mocking her anguish.

Anything but,’ Ron thought as he pulled the confused noble to her feet.

“Non merci, non merci,” she babbled as he lifted her veil. “Tu ne comprendes pas – ”

Ron cut her off. “My lady,” he said, grinning. “I know exactly how you feel.”

She paused for a second and he had a moment’s worry that she didn’t understand English. But then, miraculously, her face split into the largest, most joyful smile he had ever seen. Tear stains and all, it made her truly beautiful. “Vraiment?” she asked, as though she couldn’t believe it.

Ron smiled again. “Oui, Madmesoille.”

At once Chang let out another cry but whereas before her wails had been full of sorrow this one could only be described as a shriek of pure joy. Gathering up her voluminous skirts she dashed back to the congregation, calling out in jubilant French the whole way. As she reached the confused looking congregation she flung herself into the arms of an equally joyous courtier who leapt out of the pews to embrace her.

Feeling lighter than he had since before the ball Ron turned away from the reunited lovers to glance at how the various royals were taking it. His parents looked a little shocked although the King was trying to cover a smile. The French royals however…

And I thought we had it bad,’ Ron thought suppressing the desire to break into more laughter. Chang’s parents were screaming at each other in rage, looking more murderous and annoyed than his parents ever had. ‘Chang’s got a tough path to convince those two to accept her beloved,’ he thought, turning away from them. Startled, shocked faces were only passing blurs as he strode as purposefully out of the church that he had begrudgingly shuffled into but 10 minutes ago.

Behind him he could hear the exuberant proclamations of love mingling with the continued shrieks of the French and couldn’t help another grin. Following Chang’s miserable glances it hadn’t been too hard to locate the source of her misery. In a sea of happy, excited faces his was cloaked in such an expression of wretchedness and despair that he stood out like a sore thumb. Ron knew the expression well; it had been the same one that had stared back at him in the mirror for the past few days.

He loves her,’ he had realised, ‘and she loves him.’ Then the full absurdity of the situation had hit him and he couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Here we are, two miserable people, preparing to join in an equally miserable marriage and make two other people utterly miserable for the senseless, ridiculous reason of duty.

‘How stupid.’

Now, striding away from his ‘fate’ he spared a quick thought for the couple behind him. Just a thought though, as he had more pressing concerns than another man’s battle to win his love.

He, after all, had his own love to win back.


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