It was a mere four days until the wedding, and Ginny still didn't have a dress yet. Heidi hadn't been available until today, for she'd been drafted into dealing with the influx of dignitaries from many governments.
Ginny hadn't been pleased when Harry had told her how about a hundred people had invited themselves to the wedding. Fortunately, Heidi had managed to convince them that, while they'd be welcome at the reception, the ceremony was only open to family and close friends. At least she wouldn't have to deal with strangers gawking at her while she and Harry were being wed.
The only government icon she had wanted to see at her wedding wouldn't be available. Mayumi wasn't ready to leave her baby. According to the latest gossip provided by Hermione, who was currently with Mayumi in Japan, Mayumi's insistence on having a hands-on role in the raising of her baby had caused great uproar among the upper echelons of the Japanese wizarding society. Ginny didn't understand what all the fuss was about. A normal family had raised Mayumi, so the snobs should have expected her to do something like this.
Ginny arrived at the townhouse. Since she didn't live there anymore, the door didn't open at the sight of her, so she rang the bell like everyone else. Heidi opened the door immediately and ushered her in.
"You're just in time," Heidi said, as they went into the parlour. Some of the furniture had been moved out, while other pieces had been transfigured into mirrors, and a changing screen. "The dressmakers will be here shortly."
"I don't like this at all, Heidi," Ginny grumbled. "I don't care who these people think they are."
"I know, But they did come highly recommended, and they compromised by coming over here. It saves us time. Besides, you do need a dress, don't you?"
Ginny sighed. Unfortunately, she did need a dress. But two hours later, despair had begun to set in. Every one of the dresses that had been presented to her was a fashion nightmare.
The first dressmaker had been a short wizard, not much taller than Ginny. She'd disliked the beady-eyed man with shaking hands the moment she'd laid eyes on him. However, desperation for a dress had forced her to disregard her first impression of the man, despite his wild mass of white hair and a nervous habit of constantly wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. The cloth of his dress had been fine, though the maroon colour was not what she'd had in mind. The main problem with the dress, however, was that above the skirt it could have been described as a pair of very wide shoulder straps, nothing more. It had barely covered her breasts, and had to be adhered to her body with sticky patches to prevent said breasts from sliding into view every time she shifted her posture.
The outrageous dress design and the wizard's demeanour went a long way to confirming Ginny's impression of him, and she suspected that the bulge in his trousers hadn't been part of their design.
Next had been a goblin tailor, who had her wear a larger version of a goblin wedding dress. It was a drab grey garment that looked like a nun's habit, and after explaining to him that it just wasn't going to be a goblin-style wedding, Heidi sent him on his way.
A pair of dwarves had followed the goblin, and their dress, while too extravagant due to the silver and gold colour, had been sort of nice. However, it had been made of finely spun metals instead of cloth, and it had weighed a lot.
The fourth candidate had been a woman that had strongly reminded Ginny of Narcissa Malfoy. Her dress had been more of a robe. However, Ginny had no intention of wearing black velvet robes to her wedding. Even worse, the veil—which had to be hooked to the inside of her hood— had been a white cloth mask with red trimming around the eyeholes. When Heidi explained to her that Ginny had no intention of looking like the groom's childhood archenemy, the insolent wench had had the nerve to ask why that would be a problem.
Finally there had been the incredibly cheerful woman, whose pink creation had made Ginny look like a flower. It had a bell-shaped skirt that had been charmed to hold its shape, normally there would have been a cage crinoline underneath to give the skirt its proper shape. The top had been low-cut, though it hadn't been too revealing, and the sleeves had been puffy. A pink ruff around her neck with three balloons on stalks protruding from it completed the outfit, and Ginny had half expected a cloud of insects to swarm her and try to extract nectar from her face. At that point, Ginny had seriously considered breaking into Lilia's stash of liquor.
The witch had beamed at Ginny's appearance, claiming that the effervescent nature of the dress revealed the bride's happiness. It had taken Heidi five minutes to pierce her coos and squeals with the voice of reason, and she diplomatically told the witch that Ginny just wasn't that bubbly.
"I'm so sorry, Ginny. This is all my fault. I should have realised that dressmakers would see this as an opportunity to promote their most extreme designs," Heidi said, after it was mercifully over.
"Let's hope the caterers don't try the same thing," Ginny replied gloomily.
"Relax, I made sure the cuisine is fit for humans."
Ginny smiled. Despite the disaster with the dresses, Heidi had been a huge help with all the wedding preparations. How she had made all those arrangements while performing her other duties, Ginny had no idea. But she was grateful, and she realised she hadn't thanked Heidi. "Heidi, how would you like to be my Maiden?"
Heidi's eyes widened and her mouth fell open. She looked as surprised as Ginny felt asking her. But Ginny knew it was a good idea. "Me?"
"No, I was talking to an invisible person who also happens to be named Heidi," Ginny said exasperatedly. "Yes, you!"
"B-but, what about Hermione?"
In light of Heidi's efforts, Ginny didn't think Hermione would mind. She was about to tell Heidi this, when the doorbell rang.
"Are we expecting any more dressmakers?"
"I'm not expecting anyone," Heidi said, rising from the couch. "Wait here, I'll go see who it is, and get rid of him. Then we'll go out to find you a dress."
Heidi strode out of the parlour, and moments later Ginny heard the creaking of the little hatch that would allow Heidi to see who was out there.
"Good afternoon, how may I help you?" Heidi's voice sounded dimly.
Ginny only heard vague murmurs as a reply.
Heidi's voice came back, suddenly much louder. "Mein Gott, little Nicolai? Look at you! Come in, come in." Heidi's voice got a strange undertone. Oh dear…look at you! Ginny, it's Nicolai!"
Nicolai was practically dragged into the room, his arm linked through Heidi's, who seemed captivated by the sight as she stared up at him in awe. Heidi was staring up at Nicolai? Matt had often jokingly described Heidi as Ginny in the medium size, since she was three and a half inches taller than Ginny. Yet Nicolai, who had to be at least five-foot-nine, still stood about two inches taller than Heidi. Little Nicolai, who was turning twelve in a little over a month.
Ginny's stomach did wild flip-flops as the boy…young man…nervously ran his hand through his wavy, shiny, black hair. Every strand of hair that cleared his hand seemed to bounce back into place in slow motion, like in one of those shampoo commercials Ginny had seen on television while visiting Hermione's parents the previous summer, when Ron and Hermione had tied the knot. Her mind had to be playing tricks on her.
She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head, yet when she reopened her eyes he was still there and still looking extremely handsome. His jaw was square-ish and strong, like Commander Ironheart and Wolfe's. His lips were perfect, with a few droplets of sweat forming above the upper one, and his Slavic nose, while angling down sharply at the bridge, stopped short of becoming hooked. His black eyes seemed to have all the stars of the universe reflected in them. He was very slim, gangly even, but Ginny knew he'd fill out nicely over time.
And Heidi was all over him like a hussy! Ginny set her jaw. She wasn't going to give that luscious specimen of the male gender up without a—God, what was she thinking? An image of Harry flashed through her mind's eye, and Ginny immediately snapped out of her trance. She drew her wand and send a jet of cold water at Heidi, splashing the Austrian witch in the face and washing away the drool that had been leaking out of the corner of her mouth.
"I'm sorry, I can't help it," Nicolai said miserably. "Grandpa's teaching me to control the pheromones, but I've still got some way to go." He extricated himself from Heidi's embrace and stepped a few yards away from her. "I'd best stay away from you. You're affected worse right now because you're ovulating."
That statement really surprised Ginny. "How can you tell?"
"Grandpa reckons we can smell it. I can't consciously identify the smell, as I do with some strong smelling and recognisable odours. The knowledge sneaks up on me on an unconscious level. Heidi looks more attractive to me right now because of it."
Heidi eyed Nicolai lustily. "Hmm, really? Tell me, liebschen, have you ever seen the inside of my bedroom?"
Nicolai turned beet red and began to stammer, unable to produce a coherent word.
"Heidi!" Ginny warned.
Heidi's expression quickly turned to normal, and she winked. "I was kidding. I have it under control, though it probably is best to keep a bit of a distance between us." She turned to Nicolai. "So how did you get this tall?"
"Well, he did start his puberty very early," Ginny reminded Heidi. After his ninth birthday, he'd begun to grow very rapidly indeed. But when he'd left for school last September, he'd been a little over five feet tall. But nine inches in eleven months?
"I do have a theory about that," Nicolai said. "You see, when I started growing really fast after I turned nine, I discovered that it was just that, fast. Though I seemed to have skipped from the thirtieth to the ninetieth percentile for my age group on the growth curve, I calculated that this was because I had a two-year head start. By adding two years to the age variable, I saw that was I still in the thirtieth percentile for thirteen-year-olds, when I was eleven. So while my growth curve had grown steeper, it was relative.
"That changed when I moved out of grandfather's house, or more specifically, away from his regular presence. From September till February, I grew three inches. From February until now, I grew six."
Ginny gasped. "That's an inch a month!"
Nicolai nodded. "I'm now in the ninetieth percentile for fourteen-year-olds, and beyond the height at which the curve for the thirtieth percentile ends. And I think it's because I moved out of the house. As you know, I've always been on the short side for my age. But what you may not know is that I was also on the short side for my heritage. The Buccafuscas are pretty tall for Italians, and you know how tall the Ironhearts are. The Savins are just as tall as the Ironhearts, and one my paternal grandmother's brothers used to be a bear-wrestler. Now it looks like I'm catching up with my heritage."
"And you believe this is because you got separated from your grandfather?" Heidi asked, mopping the remnants of Ginny's water attack away with a conjured towel.
"Yes. It's a similar situation as with a subspecies of forest baboons, for example. Only the most dominant male develops completely, physically, growing to full stature and gaining colours on its snout and fur, while the others seem to get stuck in their juvenile states. Lab tests have shown that separating a few males from the group, along with some females, causes one of the males from that subgroup to discover his dominance and complete his development. I think it had to do something with my being exposed to Grandpa's pheromone traces. When I got out of that environment, I began to grow. Though I'm not a Mind Reader, I can sense that Grandpa is annoyed by my presence. So we just stay out of each other's way whenever we're not doing the pheromone control exercises."
"That's not very nice of him. You can't help it," Ginny said.
Nicolai shrugged. "It's a primal thing. It'll end when I'm older and he's just plain old. But I've digressed from the purpose of my visit. My cousin Regina finished school last year, and she's a seamstress. Word has it that you haven't got a dress yet, so I told her she ought to come here. But she's really very shy, and her self confidence has taken a hard blow yesterday, so I couldn't convince her to come over."
"Your charms didn't work on her?" Heidi teased.
Nicolai blushed. "Hey, she's my first cousin. Besides, she's immune because she's one-quarter incubus too."
"So you did try!" Heidi continued teasing.
Nicolai blushed even more deeply and opened his mouth to protest, but Ginny decided to save him. "Heidi, stop it." She turned to Nicolai again. "Why did your cousin lose her self confidence?"
"Grandma told me that Regina applied for an apprenticeship with a wizard who is supposed to be a great designer. But he turned her down."
"From what I overheard, I think it was because her designs were too conservative," Nicolai replied. "He actually gave my cousin a chance to design a new dress, but she thought her dress was fine, so she refused."
Ginny and Heidi exchanged glances.
"You wouldn't happen to know his name, would you?" Heidi asked.
"Samuel Strauss," Nicolai scowled. "Actually, I'm glad it didn't work out with my cousin. My mother went shopping for a gown last year, and we stopped by his workshop. He had pervert written all over him."
"That's our man all right," Heidi chuckled. "Ginny, let's go. If he didn't like her designs, odds are that they're pretty good."
"There is one more thing, though," Nicolai added quickly. "My cousin doesn't have the gold to buy the different fabrics and materials she needs."
"That's okay. If we like the design, we'll provide the materials," Ginny said, feeling hopeful once more. Still, could this girl finish her dress in just three days? "Is she at your grandmother's?"
Nicolai nodded. "You might have to coax her out of the broom closet, though."
"Aren't you coming with us?"
"Nah, Grandpa's home right now. Besides, I promised Mary I'd drop by as soon as I arrived in Concordia. She doesn't know I'm here yet, and I thought I'd surprise her."
"Oh, she'll be surprised all right!" Heidi said, giving Nicolai one last once-over as she escorted him to the door.
Once outside, Nicolai turned to Ginny. "Well, I hope it works out with Regina. If I don't run into you again, I suppose I'll see you at the wedding reception."
"Don't be ridiculous. If it works out with your cousin, you may get to give me away." Ginny laughed. "You have no idea how desperate I am right now."
Nicolai gave her a bashful little smile that almost made Ginny swoon. "Just trying to help. Well, bye then!"
"Hey, don't a get a goodbye kiss?" Heidi asked coyly.