If time flies when one is having fun, then it positively races when one is in abject fear, or so it appeared to Ron. For while he recovered from the embarrassment of the shopping trip, his trepidation about the wedding grew by the hour. Hermione promised him that his fears were all unfounded, but he still doubted his ability to pull off the entire caper. His father had been peppering him with helpful information for days, but this only made Ron more nervous. Was he honestly expected to know how to rewire a gear box or repair an automobile engine at a moment’s notice?
Before he knew it, it was Saturday morning. Hermione insisted that they would travel to and from the wedding on the same day, thus dramatically shortening the time Ron would be spending with her relatives. Ron dragged himself out of bed at half-seven, having barely slept, and headed to the bathroom. He showered and shaved, and went back to his room to dress. The clothes from Harrods hung neatly in the wardrobe, and he pulled them out, careful not to snag the cuffs on the hinges. The shirt was soft, and he liked the way he looked in it, and the trousers were quite comfortable, considering. He surveyed his reflection for a moment, and decided that he didn’t look half bad in Muggle clothes.
Even though he’d be home later that evening, he packed a bag with proper clothes - his navy trousers, a hand-knitted jumper from his mother and a cloak. He figured that the return trip would be much easier in clothes he was used to wearing. He slipped his wand into a pocket of his cloak and shut his rucksack. He felt distinctly uncomfortable not having his wand on him, but acknowledged that by leaving it in the bag he reduced his chances of accidentally using it out of habit.
Hermione arrived promptly at nine, and Ron met her in the kitchen. She looked positively stunning in a creamy ivory satin skirt and lavender cardigan set.
“Wow,” said Ron. “You look amazing.”
“Thank you,” she replied, flushing. “You don’t look half bad yourself. Shall we go, then?”
“Sure,” said Ron, grabbing his bag. “How are we getting there, anyway?”
“By car,” said Hermione. “My parents drove down with Auntie Rania, so they left me their car. We’ll just take the motorway.”
Ron looked at her. “You know how to drive?” he asked.
“Of course,” she said. “One of the few things my parents insisted on teaching me how to do.” She smiled. “Besides, it’ll be a good time for me to go over things you need to know.”
Ron’s eyes grew wide. “How long will this drive take?
“About an hour,” said Hermione.
Ron’s face went pale.
“But it won’t be all bad,” she said. “Just trust me.”
“If you say so,” he said. “Let’s be off, then. Where is the car?”
“Actually, it’s parked outside the Leaky Cauldron,” said Hermione. “I didn’t think there’d be much parking around here, so I just Apparated over from there. We can just pop back over to the Leaky Cauldron, and head out from there.”
“Sounds good,” said Ron, although his voice did not.
She smiled at him. “Relax, Ron. You’ll be fine, I promise. And I really appreciate you doing this for me.” She reached over and hugged him briefly, and he was met with a whisper of lilac and jasmine from her perfume. He felt something odd stir inside his belly, but put it down to nerves.
“It’s nothing,” he muttered, reddening. She smiled at him and Disapparated with a pop.
They arrived at the Leaky Cauldron, and headed out of the London door. Hermione led the way to a dark-coloured, late-model sedan. She pushed a button and the lights blinked, and Ron heard a chirruping noise.
“I thought you said no magic,” he said to her.
“It’s not magic, Ron. This little button,” she showed him a small, hard plastic square with tiny buttons on it, “unlocks the doors to the car. This one,” she pushed another one, and the boot flew up, “opens up the boot. Go ahead; put your bag in there.”
Ron looked at her quizzically, and walked to the rear of the car. A metal door was dangling in midair in front of him. He gingerly pushed it upwards, and gaped as he saw a huge empty space in front of him.
“That’s the boot. It’s for storing things,” said Hermione. “Put your bag in, we’ve got to get a move on.”
Ron set his rucksack next to a small suitcase of Hermione’s and got into the car. He watched enraptured as she adjusted the automatic mirrors and switched on the engine. She noticed his attention, and laughed.
“Come on, Ron, I know you’ve seen a car before,” she said. “Your father had one, remember?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t like this one at all,” replied Ron. “It didn’t have buttons that opened secret doors or things like that. And you didn’t have to stick anything in it to make it go.”
Hermione laughed again, and turned her attention back to the road. She pulled her wand from her handbag and muttered a complicated-sounding incantation. A map appeared in the air between them, with the route they were to take marked with tiny arrows. She studied it for a moment, and then eased the car into the traffic flow. They weren’t five minutes into the trip before Hermione started launching information at Ron.
“Now, the wedding’s in Newick, at the Newick Park Hotel. It’s apparently very private and exclusive. Most of my family lives in East Sussex now, so it’s not a long journey for them. They wanted to be close to the coast.”
“The coast?” said Ron, interested. “Can we go there, then?”
“I don’t think we’ll have time,” said Hermione. “Anyway, my entire family is staying at the hotel, but we’ll come back to London tonight, so we needn’t worry about that.”
Ron watched the other cars, fascinated. He turned back to Hermione. “This really is brilliant, you know that? I mean, look at them. It’s fantastic.”
She laughed. “I suppose it is pretty interesting.”
“Pretty interesting?” Ron said, amazed. “Hermione, it’s bloody brilliant! It’s moving with the flip of a switch, and without magic. How on earth did they come up with it?”
Hermione launched into a detailed explanation of the invention of the internal combustion engine, and Ron felt his good mood evaporate. How in the name of Merlin was he supposed to remember all this?”
“But I don’t think anyone in the family will expect you to know everything about automobiles, anyway. It’s not something that everyone is intimately familiar with, is it?”
“Is it?” asked Ron, terrified.
“No, it’s not,” Hermione said patiently. “Generally, most Muggles know how to start their cars, and how to drive them, and that’s about the extent of it. For problems, they take their cars to a mechanic.”
Ron sighed in relief. One less thing he had to know about.
“Anyway,” Hermione continued, “I think it’ll be easier to tell everyone that you live in America as well, seeing as they all think I live there. It might even be easier to pretend that you’ve lived there for quite some time, to avoid nasty questions about your schooling.”
Ron looked at her. “Are questions like that bound to come up?”
“Oh, yes,” said Hermione. “My family will want to know all about you, and that includes your schooling.”
Ron paled visibly.
“Oh, don’t worry so much. We’ll just say you went to primary school in Devon, and secondary school in Boston, Massachusetts. That’s where they think I live. I’ve actually been there on assignment a few times, it’s a lovely city.” Hermione paused to consult her map again. She turned onto a motorway under a signpost that read A23 in large letters. “You can easily have lived there for years. I know I could.”
Ron took a deep breath. “Okay, born in Devon, went to primary school there, moved to Boston. I think I can handle that much.”
Hermione smiled. “I told you it wouldn’t be that hard. Open the glove box, there should be some notes in there for you.”
Ron stared blankly at her, and she sighed. “Pull up that little handle in front of you there,” she said, pointing.
He opened it, and found yet another secret compartment. This one was filled with papers. He pulled them out, and couldn’t help but laugh. Hermione had written notes for him; about Boston and life in America, as well as a few sheets on things her family enjoyed doing. He flipped through pages about sights in and around Boston, and was surprised to find himself wanting to actually go there and see them in person.
“I have in there some information about one of the local universities, called Harvard. It’s a very prestigious Muggle school, so we can say that you attended there. Your work now is rather close to what Muggles call a solicitor; only over there they call them lawyers exclusively. Harvard has a school for lawyers, so we can say you went there.” Hermione took a deep breath. “I also included some nice items about dates we’ve been on, things like that. You can look over them if you like; it’ll only earn you points with my family.”
Ron raised his eyebrows. “You mean, because I’m your boyfriend?”
“Well, yes,” replied Hermione, colouring slightly. “Anyway, as long as they think you’ve been living abroad for some time, they won’t question anything odd you might do. They’ll just chalk it up to being something they do in America. So don’t worry so much.”
Ron continued to flip through the papers, pausing every now and again as something caught his fancy. He glanced up occasionally as Hermione steered the car, turning off the A23 after a while and heading in a different direction. He read the list of dates they’d supposedly been on, and looked over the brochures from Harvard. It sounded like a swotty place, but this was Hermione’s show.
Hermione, for her part, sang softly along with the radio as she drove. True, the drive was an excellent opportunity for Ron to study, but in reality, she elected to drive because it helped her calm down. Since the day her father took her to an empty car park to practice she’d been in love with driving. It was one of the few Muggle activities that she really enjoyed. She’d never been good at flying, and Apparating only worked over short distances. Driving was her preferred means of long-distance transportation.
She stole a few glances at Ron as he studied her notes. He had a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth, and would occasionally mumble something incoherent about the notes. She couldn’t help but smile as she watched him, even though her nerves were jangling about inside her like spilt marbles. She kept telling Ron that things would be alright, even though she knew she was only saying it to try and convince herself. With her luck, something would cause him to slip and talk about Quidditch, or Charms or Azkaban. She just prayed that they could last the one afternoon without everything falling apart.