It was a good thing that Harry didn't have to worry about a tunic for the wedding. It left him free to concentrate on the final checklist with Ron, while the girls had a bridal shower. The main problem was that with everyone volunteering to contribute things at the last minute, they had lost sight of some matters entirely. "Photographers?"
"The Americans are bringing their own photographer, as are the Indians and the Persians," Ron began. "Pretty much every photographer in Concordia jumped at the chance to take pictures at the reception when they caught wind of the wedding. Matt picked out the best two. He'll be covering their pay. He also offered to pay for Ginny's dress, since the commander's granddaughter can't afford to put in all those hours for free."
"Matt's done more than enough by filling in for Wolfe. I can't let him pay for everything, no matter how easily he can afford it."
Ron frowned and cleared his throat.
Harry grinned. "And thank you for sharing his burden."
"You're welcome. I just hope Wolfe will be back in time for the wedding. Those vampires sounded nasty."
"It was only a matter of time before they discovered firearms," Harry said. "With their senses and eye-hand co-ordination, they make good shots."
Those had been Wolfe's thoughts, originally. He'd anticipated that step in the development of vampire society years ago. That's why Ironheart had sent him after that vampires' nest to begin with. Harry wished he could have gone along. He didn't fear for Wolfe's safety. He just wanted to pay those vampires back for gunning down seven hit wizards. Five of them had been married, two had been parents of small children, and one had been a grandfather.
"Don't worry about Wolfe. He'll be back in time for the bachelor party. All right, next point on the list. Are the centaurs still giving us permission to use their sacred clearing in the forest as our ceremonial site?"
"Under certain conditions."
"They insist on being guides. They don't want the visiting humans to walk through the forest unsupervised. I discussed the finer details with them this morning, and we came up with a plan to keep any uninvited guests away by escorting the invited guests to the clearing at the same time. That way we can check if everyone who should be there has arrived—"
"And uninvited guests are asked to leave."
"Sounds good to me," Harry nodded, and moved to the next point on his list. "Music?"
"For the ceremony we've got violins. Doc's brother Balclik is in the band. Heidi listened to them, and she says they're very good. For the reception we have Perse Angelou and Celestina Warbeck."
Harry let out a low whistle. He could tell that Ron wasn't joking. An agent who had often worked with Celestina Warbeck and many other famous musical entertainers of the wizarding world had discovered Perse about a year ago. Due to her looks and talent, Perse's star had risen quickly, and Harry reckoned it was only a matter of time before she transcended duets with Celestina and struck out on her own. "Let me guess, they agreed to perform free of charge."
"They were supposed to give a concert in Concordia on the 2nd of August, so they decided to hurry their tour along to make it in time to your reception."
"Ah, so they didn't do it just for me?"
"Commander Ironheart convinced Celestina," Ron said, flashing Harry a knowing grin. "He had an assignment as her bodyguard forty years ago. Aside from Professor McGonagall, I wonder how many of our other guests he's—"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Let's not talk about that. And you'd better keep him away from your mum at the reception. Aria's visiting her relatives on their ancestral island, so she won't be there to keep him in line."
"I know him well enough to advise you to keep an eye on your mum whenever possible. Believe me, I know some things that give me a unique perspective on this. But that's between Wolfe, the commander, and me. What about flowers?"
"There are going to be loads of them. Every florist in the city is contributing something. Let's hope nobody's allergic."
"The final number of guests is in, and they're all set. Oh, and the cake's going to be huge. They haven't baked it yet, but I've seen the drawing."
Harry glanced at his list. Things like seating arrangements for the guests would be taken care of by Heidi. "Rings?"
"Should be done this afternoon. I'm Portkeying to Canada to pick them up later."
Harry frowned. That was awfully far away from home. "Why Canada?"
"Because the jeweller who made your rings happens to be among the best in the world. I heard about him from Seamus. His name's Trevor Keogh. He's Seamus' second cousin once removed, or something like that. He married a witch from Montreal and set up shop there."
Harry scratched the back of his head. He'd heard the name before, though for the life of him he couldn't remember exactly where or when. "Sounds familiar."
"Binns told us about it in History of Magic, at least, that's what Hermione told me. A direct ancestor of his—or so his family claims—was an eagle Animagus who dropped the first Claddagh ring into a Muggle woman's lap."
Though he wasn't an expert on the subject, Harry knew one wasn't supposed to buy Claddagh rings for oneself, rather one ought to receive such a ring as a gift. "I can't buy Claddagh Rings."
"You're not buying them. Everyone in the Order chipped in to buy them for you. They're gifts."
"Bloody hell, this wedding won't cost me a Knut!"
"Are you complaining?"
"Not at all. But I feel like I ought to contribute something too."
Ron shrugged. "Don't be late for the wedding."
Harry chuckled. "Seriously, Ron."
"Listen mate, you've been through a lot of troubles in your life on our behalf. Consider this a way of being paid back. Why can't you enjoy it?"
"You're right. But I can't help feeling that I'm taking advantage of my fame."
"It's brought you misery plenty of times. I say you milk it for all it's worth while you've got the chance."
"As weird as it'll feel, I'll give it a try." Harry sighed. "Three more days, Ron. Three more days before you and I are in-laws."
Ron smiled. "A little over three, actually, since the wedding's in the afternoon, and it's almost noon right now."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine, three days until the big day."
"Two and a half, actual—"
When Ginny escorted Gudrun home that day, supposedly because her friend had been feeling a bit under the weather, it had never crossed her mind that Heidi might have set up a bridal shower. In fact, Heidi had convinced the officers to change the time tables enough to give all the female Rangers Ginny was close to a chance to attend.
The women, except for Gudrun who couldn't prepare a decent dish even to save her life, had all brought snack-sized dishes typical to their country of origin. Among the favourites had been Lilia's shrimp dish, which was surprising, since she'd never struck Ginny as being the cooking type. However, Heidi, whose pastries had been a tad on the sweet side, confirmed that Lilia had made the dish herself.
Clara da Silva's pieces of spicy beef had also hit the spot remarkably well, even though Gudrun now seemed to be getting indigestion because of it. And the kosher dishes the Esklove sisters had conjured up had been very tasty as well.
After eating, the games started. First they played 'Wedding Bingo,' during which Jasmine excused herself to check on Robert and Rachel, who were playing in the recently built courtyard under the watchful eye of Gudrun's house-elf. Rosie and Peter Faust were sharing a playpen in the kitchen, while little Henry slept peacefully in a special crib that came with a one way Silencing Charm that would allow the mother to hear the baby normally, but would filter out the sort of noise that could keep an infant awake.
'Wedding Bingo,' in which the guests had to guess which gift the other guests had given the bride-to-be, and write it on a piece of paper—the reason that Jasmine, a Mind Reader, had abstained from playing—had been absolutely hilarious. No one seemed to have guessed any presents correctly, leaving Ginny in the dark about the gifts that would be unwrapped later. The women had suspected Gudrun of having given Ginny things like highly illegal love potions that would keep Harry 'interested' for days, or some artefacts that sounded painful but were meant for foreplay.
"Really, my gift was supposed to be used in the bedroom, not a dungeon," Gudrun had said.
Next they played bridal trivia, in which the women had to test their knowledge of Ginny. To motivate the right answers, Gudrun had created two life-sized posters of Matt, each one facing one of the teams of women. Every time a team answered a question correctly, Gudrun would touch a part of the poster with her wand, upon which part of Matt's clothing would vanish, until only a skimpy thong remained. They women groaned in disappointment as a smug Gudrun told them that was all they would see. Ginny wondered if Matt had ever told his wife how he'd flashed her and Heidi a couple of years ago.
'Draw it' had also been a crack-up. The ladies had to draw what they thought Ginny would look like in her wedding dress. The catch was that they had to do so by putting a piece of paper on a book and then to put the book on their heads, thus drawing blindly in a very awkward position. The craziest masterpieces were created, and Tarana Oliseh, whose creation still looked vaguely humanoid, won a jar full of sweets.
Another game, also having a jar filled with sweets as the prize, followed 'Draw it,' and the women simply had to guess how many sweets were in there. The one closest to the target would win the jar, which turned out to be Eilis Duff. She was an Irish witch whose time at Hogwarts would have overlapped with Ginny's, if she hadn't attended Ogygia instead of Hogwarts on account of being an Emerald Seer. Being in the same division and often doing very similar work, she'd befriended Ron first. Ginny had got to know her better when Clara brought her to the townhouse a few times to play that weird strategy game. Eilis had liked the townhouse so much that she'd moved into Ginny's old room when Ginny and Harry had moved in together.
'Wedding Gown' was a game in which a wedding gown had to be fashioned out of loo paper, no magic allowed. The models from the respective teams had ended up looking more like mummies than brides, to which Gudrun had commented, "That's all right. I was a mummy before I was a bride too."
Finally there were the word games, in which words associated with wedding were jumbled, and another game in which the guests had to make words from the letters of Ginny's name. Since mildly alcoholic beverages had been flowing for a few hours already, the giggly women didn't get many words beyond gin and weasel in the three-minute time frame. Gudrun and Janice Cliff, who had been quite sober due to their abstinence from alcohol, had been too busy laughing at their giggly friends to come up with any decent words themselves.
And now, all the girls were waiting in anticipation as Ginny prepared to unwrap their presents.
The Esklove sisters quickly thrust their present into Ginny's arms. They had been assigned to find items that could be used in the kitchen. They'd put an Engorgement Charm on a jar, making it look like a small barrel, and stuffed it with an assortment of presents. The first few items, like protective gloves, an apron, chocolate fudge, and whipped cream, seemed innocent enough. However, when Ginny pulled out underwear and a flask with the label 'Banana Sundae-Flavoured Body Butter,' she gave them an odd look. The women erupted in laughter.
"Edible underwear, Ginny," Gudrun explained.
Rachel Esklove giggled. "The apron and the gloves are edible too."
"Our assignment said we had to get things that could be used in the kitchen, but it didn't say that you couldn't use them anywhere else," Sarah added.
"My present is still being made, but I suppose I can tell you what it is," Gudrun said. "I saw that grandfather clock at your mother's house, and I thought it would be a good idea for you to have one of your own. It'll be delivered on your wedding day."
Ginny was touched. She'd always thought about getting such a clock when she started her own family. She got up from her seat, crossed the circle of women and hugged Gudrun fiercely. "That's very thoughtful, thank you!"
"You're welcome," Gudrun grunted. "Now let get go before you kill my baby!"
"I'd better give you my cliché gift now, before it's completely overshadowed by the creative ones," Janice Cliff-Faust said, and handed over a small box. Ginny opened it and discovered a small wooden model of Harry. He was wearing a miniature Ranger's uniform, and Ginny put him on the coffee table, where he began pacing along the edge of the table.
"Oh, a Harry Potter action figure!" Jasmine exclaimed. "Charlie's been bothering me for one of these for months. I keep telling him that he gets to see the real one every day, but since all his friends at school have one, he wants one too."
"I've made a few modifications to it," Janice said, flashing Ginny a wicked grin. "If you tie a strand of Harry's hair around its head—"
Serafina Esposito gasped. "Janice, that's dark magic!"
"Oh, don't worry about it. You don't see any pins, do you? Besides, Harry's aura is much too powerful to be affected by these kinds of curses."
Ginny frowned. "So what is it for?"
"Well, I modified it so that it only works when you're in the bedroom together. If you rub it the right way, the real Harry can feel it too." The women in the circle erupted into a fit of giggles as they understood what the doll was capable of.
"Oh, why didn't I think of that?" Gudrun laughed.
"It wasn't my idea, originally," Janice admitted. "I overheard Patience Gedeon talking about voodoo, and it gave me the idea. So, who's next?"
"Me!" Lilia said eagerly. "I had to get something for the study, so I got you two books." She held out two individually wrapped presents that were clearly identifiable as books.
When Ginny tore away the wrapping, it screamed bloody murder, startling all the women.
"I got it from the joke shop," Lilia said, looking at Ginny uncertainly.
Ginny felt awkward. She felt a slight pang of regret as she considered that Fred and George wouldn't be there to see her get married. On the other hand, she could see it as a sign that Fred and George were participating from beyond the grave. She smiled and continued to unwrap the book. It was a book about massages, with moving pictures that illustrated the techniques in detail.
"Let me guess, it was Geo's idea," Danielle Esklove said, referring to George Ramos' by his nickname, like most Rangers of the Martial Division often did.
Lilia grinned. "We've got a copy too, and he knows it by heart."
Ginny had immediately begun to unwrap the second book, and she was now looking at the cover, along with the others. It depicted a drawing of a man and a woman in a strange contortion, and they seemed to be—
"Good God, Lilia, the Kama Sutra?" Eilis gasped.
"We've got a copy too, and he knows it by heart," Gudrun quipped, repeating Lilia's earlier statement and causing another bout of hilarity. "I bet we even invented a few manoeuvres of our own."
The next few presents were a bit tamer. Heidi had given Ginny a large and varied supply of fragrant bath salts and foams that would last her quite a while. Tarana Oliseh gave Ginny a deluxe dictation quill for the study. Serafina gave her a gorgeous china tea set. Cleverly anticipating frequent visits from Ron, Clara gave Ginny an elaborate strategy game to entertain him with. Eilis gave Ginny a set of silk bedding and sheets for special occasions, which had felt so slippery in her fingers that Ginny wondered whether she and Harry would slide off the bed if they were to make a sudden movement.
Jasmine stepped forward and handed Ginny a cubical box that measured about a foot in every dimension. "It would be more appropriate for a baby shower, but I thought it pays to think about the future."
Ginny unwrapped it and saw that it was a baby mobile she could hang over a crib. It could be suspended from either the ceiling or a special armature that clamped to the side of the crib. The large ball dangling on the string was hollow. When Ginny tapped the ball in the designated spot, ten tiny dragons flew out and began to circle the ball at various speeds and distances.
"It's so pretty. Thank you! Now all I have to do is buy a crib."
"Actually, I took care of that," Galatea said, gesturing to the remaining box next to the coffee table. "It's the same as Henry's."
"It's a great design. Where did you buy it?" Gudrun asked.
"In Red Four, two shops down from the joke shop."
Gudrun frowned. "Wasn't that an astronomy supplies store?"
Janice giggled. "You ought to get out more, Gudrun. Galaxy Goods moved to another location months ago."
"What can I say? I don't particularly like shopping. Matt and Mary can shop for hours and hours, so if there's something worthwhile out there, they usually let me know."
Half an hour later, the women set about tidying up Gudrun's living room, before saying their goodbyes and heading to their respective homes, leaving Ginny, Heidi and Gudrun behind.
"Damn, where is that no-good husband of mine? He was supposed to be here by now."
"Probably having a drink with the mates," Ginny said, while she poured Gudrun a glass of apple juice, which the Icelandic witch downed in a few gulps.
"Thirsty?" Heidi smirked.
"The way this kid has me eating, I suspect he'll take after Matt's father."
Moments later, a deliriously happy-looking Mary strolled into the living room, and plopped down in an armchair. Her eyes were glassy, and she seemed oblivious to the presence of the three women.
"So, would you like to tell us about your day?" Gudrun asked.
The dreamy grin on Mary's face blossomed to even greater proportions. "He kissed me. Maria Savin…it sounds good, doesn't it?"
Gudrun rolled her eyes. "Oh dear, I was hoping I'd have a few more years to prepare my lecture. I told Matt that Mary would be an early bloomer," she muttered. "Mary, do you know where your dad is?"
Mary failed to come out of her trance. "Who?"
"Your father. Do you know where he is?"
"Oh, he's in jail," Mary said happily, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.