Admin notice: Well, I goofed. When I was uploading this story for our Summer Drama contest, I accidentally didn't do something quite right, and -- obviously -- St. Margaret's identity was revealed. We (the entire Admin Team) feel that the only fair thing to do is to disqualify this fic from the contest voting, but we wanted everyone to know it was truly just an accident, and in no way a reflection on the writer. Sorry, y'all! ~Sherylyn
I am in Shangri-La when I receive news of Harry and Ginny's wedding. There really is a Shangri-La – it's an Unplottable country tucked high in the Himalayas. It is my last stop in the gap year my parents insisted upon. I have been using this year wisely, studying the various magical civil services around the world so I will be prepared for the Ministry job promised to me by Rufus Scrimgeour after Voldemort was defeated. Ron thinks –
I'm digressing, although not really since Ron is the first person I think of when I read Harry's letter containing the news. What does Ron think? Is he as shocked as I? Or is this trembling and shallow breathing part of the altitude sickness that I have never really shaken since I arrived in Shangri-La?
I sink into a chair and look out my window at the stark light and shadow of the sun setting over the snow-capped mountains. In the Himalayas, the land is either dazzling with light or covered with darkness. There is no in-between.
I try to comfort myself with the thought that under the changing light the mountains are the same, but it doesn't help.
It sounds so grown up.
I'm not ready for this.
Two weeks later I am in England with my parents. The next day I Apparate to the Burrow.
It's a beautiful summer morning in mid-August. The tall hedgerows are thickly green and the sky is the soft blue that portends a hot, clear day. As I walk slowly toward the house, I notice the busy, twittering birds and the slight breeze rustling the trees. Once I arrive at the Burrow those slight sounds will be drowned out. Ron's home is a place of light and warmth and noise and color. I love it, of course, but it's not the best place in the world if you're feeling introspective.
I forget all about confusion and ambivalence the minute I walk in the door.
"Hermione!" Molly exclaims, wrapping me in a tight hug. "Have you eaten breakfast? We have scones or I can fry you an egg and some sausages."
Fleur is sitting at the table with a pile of pink yarn tangled in front of her. It's not the fact that Fleur is knitting that captures my attention, it's the fact that Fleur is pregnant – very pregnant by the size of her – that silences me. How could Ron forget to mention that in his letters?
"I still think you're being overly optimistic with the color," Molly says, bending over the knitting Fleur has laid flat on the table. "The Weasleys simply do not have girls."
"I am part Veela." Fleur shrugs. "Girls run strong in my family."
Molly's nostrils are flaring and her lips are compressed, while Fleur tosses her hair, seemingly unconcerned. It's just like old times.
There's a squeal and I catch a flash of red out of the corner of my eye before I feel Ginny hugging me fiercely. "I'm so glad you're finally here!"
I hug her back. It's been almost a year since I've seen her. She's as pretty and vivacious as ever. Until that moment I hadn't realized that part of my ambivalence about this marriage came from my worry that Ginny would change into an apron-wearing, careworn house-witch overnight. My spirits lift just seeing her sparkling brown eyes.
"Come upstairs, Hermione," Ginny says, looking sideways at Fleur.
"After her breakfast," Molly interrupts.
I find my voice. "No, thank you, Molly. I did eat this morning."
"'ow did you travel from Shangri-La?" Fleur asks as she picks out a few stitches.
Fleur shakes her head. "The flying 'orses are expensive," she says. "You'll have to watch your Galleons when you are married to Ron. Aurors don't make that much money."
I gape at her because I don't know what to say first. My first thought is that Ron would certainly earn enough money as Auror. My second is that I would work after marriage – and then I bring myself up short realizing that Ron and I have never discussed getting married and that I don't want to get married right now.
"You understand that I respect the work of the Auror," Fleur continues, "But Ron will never be – what's the word?"
"Whipped?" Ginny says under her breath.
"Ze millionaire," Fleur answers her own question triumphantly. "You must be practical from now on, Hermione."
Ginny breaks this up before Molly has a chance to add her two Knuts. "I have to be practical. Hermione, come up to my room and see my wedding things."
"Try to talk her into wearing the tiara Great-Aunt Muriel sent," Molly says wearily. "It's her dying wish that the first Weasley girl in generations would wear it on her wedding day."
I have a feeling the 'first Weasley girl in generations' is for Fleur's benefit.
"It's not her dying wish, Mum," Ginny says in an equally weary voice. "She sent that rusty old thing months ago."
"It's not rusty, it's tarnished and it's – "
"I know, goblin-made." Ginny leads the way out of the kitchen and I follow.
Once the door is closed, Ginny falls on to her unmade bed with a dramatic sigh. "God, it's been like this since Fleur showed up two days ago."
"Why isn't she home with Bill?" I move to admire the white wedding robes hanging on the back of the door.
"Bill's away on a business trip," Ginny replies. "Making more money than an Auror, I might add."
I bristle. "I can't believe she said that! I mean, that's a pretty big assumption thinking Ron and are the next to be married."
Ginny is unconcerned. "Get used to it. Ron's been putting up with the speculation for a year now."
"He has?" Another thing he hasn't written about.
"I just know she's going to have that baby during the wedding, and then Bill won't be there," Ginny moans.
She's really upset, I can see that by the way she's staring at the ceiling and biting the inside of her lip. Ron does that, too.
I wonder if her nervousness is because she's having second thoughts. Ginny did just leave school in June and it's now August. She hasn't had time to find herself or to see the world or to do anything.
"I can't wait until Harry gets here," Ginny says fervently. "He didn't have to go on that training mission in the Azores since he's quitting the program, but he wanted to keep Ron company. I know he's just trying to avoid the fussing over this wedding."
"Harry's quitting Auror training?" I ask sharply.
"Didn't Ron tell you?"
"No." Ron and I are going to have a long talk about his correspondence skills when I see him next.
"Harry thought he was upset about it, but Ron wouldn't admit to it."
"What could Ron say?" I snap. "It's not that easy to change Harry's mind once he's made a decision."
"I didn't know Harry was going to quit either," Ginny admits, sitting up to talk to me in earnest. "He sprung it on me when we got engaged. But I understand completely why he's quitting. He's sick of the Dark Magic, Hermione. He wants to be a medi-wizard and do search and rescue."
Search and rescue sounds just right for Harry. "Oh, that's . . ."
"The thing is, we're leaving the country –"
"Ginny! Harry's here!"
Without another word, Ginny flies out of the room. I try to nudge my brain to function again. Harry and Ginny are not only getting married, they're leaving the country just when I am returning.
I linger to look at Ginny's robes. They are white silk jacquard with a pattern of flowers and butterflies woven into the fabric. The effect is subtle, but stunning.
All this news is starting to have the same effect on me.
I am unpacking with my back to the door when Harry seeks me out. "Hermione," he says in a glad voice. I whirl around. He looks older and tougher and very capable, but his eyes are the same – that tender green that always make me want to protect him.
I rush to hug him tightly. He's taller, but he's still too thin and still a little awkward when he hugs me back and I don't think I could love him any more than I do now. So I start to babble:
"I couldn't believe it when I heard you were getting married. And now Ginny says you quit the Aurors and you're going abroad . . ." I take a deep breath and feel my voice breaking. "And everything is changing and Ron didn't even tell me Fleur is pregnant and Great-Aunt Muriel is dying and I've been away for a whole year and now you're leaving . . ." I snap my mouth shut since I don't want to start crying because Harry hates scenes and none of these things are bad in and of themselves… unless you're Aunt Muriel.
"We'll be back," Harry says, looking at me worriedly. "It's just a year – and I really wasn't happy doing the Auror stuff."
I pull myself together. Harry is a grown wizard and can make his own decisions.
"I know," I reassure him. "Ginny said that, too. And I understand." I bite my lip, wondering if I should ask him why he felt he should get married now as opposed to a year from now when he's done with his training.
I don't have to ask because he answers for me, "We're getting married because we're tired of being apart," he says simply. "Aren't you tired of being apart from Ron?"
For an entire year I had thrust all thoughts of missing Ron out of my mind. I had to. But now, seeing Harry again, I feel the full force of those feelings. "Yes," I choke out. "Yes, I'm tired of being apart from Ron."
It seems I am to be apart from Ron for another day. Harry was able to wriggle out of the training mission early, but Ron won't be released from duty until later that night. I will see him at the wedding. He is to be Harry's best man and I am to be Ginny's maid of honor.
Now I'm impatiently waiting for the wedding I was dreading. After the rehearsal dinner, Harry, Ginny, Fred, George, and I linger around the table outdoors while the others help Molly clean up inside.
"Don't throw the garter at Ron," George advises Harry. "He was at his peak during his Keeper days, but I don't know if he can catch anything now."
"I hope you've been practicing for the bouquet toss, Hermione," Fred continues "It's the only way to rope Ron if you want a wedding by next spring."
"I don't see you lot rushing out to get married," I snap, cursing myself for not having a witty comeback.
"What?" George's eyes are wide. "Take the two most handsome Weasleys off the market? I don't think so."
"Do you even have a date for tomorrow?" I scoff.
"A family wedding is no place for a date," Fred protests.
"Highly unromantic." George nods.
"Between Bridezilla and the Fertility Goddess and the Mother-In-Law –"
"I am not Bridezilla!" Ginny stands up.
"You'd better not be the Fertility Goddess," Fred retorts, seemingly unperturbed that Ginny has her wand out.
"Be nice Ginny –" George warns.
"Or you'll be marrying the prince of your dreams tomorrow."
"You know the blonde one with horns?" George pulls Harry into a headlock and ruffles his hair.
Since Harry is spending the night at Fred and George's flat, the threat is legitimate.
"You wouldn't dare." Ginny is almost in tears.
George relents first. He releases Harry from the headlock. "No, Gin-Gin –"
"We'll do it to Ronniekins," Fred finishes with a wink at me.
I am seized with a horrible feeling of panic. There is so much that could go wrong at a wedding – especially a wedding with Fred and George in attendance.
"Please!" says Harry sharply, and they both turn and look at him. "Your mum's stressed enough. She's got Fleur to worry about and Aunt Muriel and this wedding."
For about a second, they both look repentant, and then Fred grins. "We need to take Mum's mind off of her problems."
"And Harry's a bit tense, too," George muses.
Harry's eyes narrow, but Ginny jumps in. "Now what are you two up to?"
"In honor of Bridezilla and her brave Gryffindor groom."
"George, get Mum and Dad and whomever else is still hanging around."
All the Weasleys troop out to the garden and conjure chairs – Charlie, Molly and Arthur, Percy and his wife Penelope, and Fleur who is anxiously waiting for Bill to arrive. As we watch the beautiful display, our faces are bathed in brief, intricate patterns of light and color. When the last spark falls to the ground, Arthur sighs and I see him squeeze Molly's hand.
If I can't believe Harry and Ginny are getting married and going away, how must they feel?
That night both Ginny and I have a hard time going to sleep. She doesn't speak, but I hear her tossing and turning in the next bed. At one point I hear Arthur whispering to Molly in the corridor. Something about St. Mungo's and Aunt Muriel. I start to worry until I remind myself quite firmly that there is nothing I can do and that no Beauty Charm in the world will mask smudges under the eyes from lack of sleep. My last thought is of Ron, which may explain why I dream I am marrying a tall man with horns whilst wearing Great-Aunt Muriel's tiara and a pink knitted scarf.
It is another beautiful morning. Perfect for a wedding . . . or a birth . . . or in my case, seeing Ron for the first time in months. I take a moment to remember the Easter weekend when he had surprised me in Geneva. Our time together had been wonderful, but then I had missed him so much afterward that I wondered if such a short span of happiness was worth the subsequent misery.
Aren't you tired of being apart? Harry had asked.
I am, I realize – more than ever. But today I'm going to see Ron again. I think I'm almost as happy as Ginny at breakfast – although never in a million years could I look as lovely. Her eyes are bright, her complexion glowing. She could give Fleur in full Veela mode a run for her money, except that today Fleur is a wan copy of herself and only toys with her food.
Molly is worried. I can tell by the way she keeps stealing glances at Fleur's bent head. I tell myself Fleur is acting this way because Bill is late returning from his Gringott's assignment, even though he Floo'd first thing this morning to tell her he would arrive in time for the wedding even if meant swimming across the channel.
Arthur is also quiet. His favorite aunt is dying, but I wonder if he's more somber because his only daughter is getting married. However, all three of them rally to match Ginny's happy mood. Fleur smiles when Ginny tells me about the Delacour necklace she has borrowed. Molly pats Ginny's shoulder every time she jumps up to bring more food to the table. And Arthur squeezes Ginny's hand and indulgently reminds her that she's not to see her groom before the wedding, even via the Floo.
We spend the morning picking flowers in the garden. Fleur picks two roses and then starts to aimlessly pace. "Why isn't she helping?" Ginny grumbles. "I picked loads of flowers for her wedding."
I glance at Molly who gives me a slight nod. If anyone knows when a baby is eminent, it would be Molly Weasley. In that glance is the tacit agreement not to say anything to Ginny.
At ten o'clock we go upstairs to get ready for the eleven o'clock ceremony. I use the bathroom first, since Ginny doesn't want to be dressed up for any longer than she has to be. "I'll get too nervous," she tells me. "That's why I wanted to get married in the morning."
My robes are fashioned from the same silk jacquard as Ginny's, except mine are pale green. Penelope wove the cloth. "Do you know Penelope well?" I ask, as I slip the robes over my head.
"I'm getting to know her," Ginny replies, looking me over with a critical eye. "I didn't have much of an opportunity to spend time with her until this summer when she offered to weave this material."
"It's beautiful," I murmur, fingering the tissue-light fabric.
"You look gorgeous," Ginny declares. "You're about the only thing that's going to distract Ron from the fact I'm taking away his best mate."
I look at Ginny sharply. Her tone had been matter-of-fact, but what she said is probably the truth. It is going to be a strange day for Ron.
"Well, you're making them brothers," I say lightly.
"Ron has five brothers already." Ginny looks genuinely worried.
"It's the best thing for both of you," I say firmly. And it's true. Now that the shock is over, I realize that Harry is wise to go away for his first year of marriage. He will have no conflicting loyalties and that is how it should be.
"I'm just so glad you're back," Ginny says, hugging me.
"So am I," says a familiar voice.
I look over Ginny's shoulder and see Ron in the doorway. "I'll take my bath now," Ginny giggles as she slips past her brother.
Even though I had been expecting him, I'm shocked that Ron is suddenly here, filling the doorway, as tall and blue-eyed and red-haired as ever.
He is smiling broadly and I all but sink into his arms.
There are a lot of things I love about Ron, but one of the best things is how he hugs me. He doesn't grab, he envelops. It's the most wonderful feeling in the world to be tucked up against him and held so lovingly. I almost forget that he has neglected to tell me all the important news. Almost.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
He pulls back just a bit. "Tell you what?"
His eyes are such a gorgeous light blue. "Oh, Ron," I sigh. It's too much to get into right now – how we need to work on our communication skills. Besides, I'm too happy to talk. I kiss him instead.
We're halfway out and halfway in the bedroom, which just about sums up that kiss. I am aware that my robes are light and sensual against my skin, that his hands are hot and possessive and that his mouth is both tender and demanding. I have the fleeting thought that we have to stop because Ginny will be returning soon, and we have a family wedding to attend, and that if we don't stop, then we will be all the way in the bedroom and I'm not ready for that.
When we break apart, I stare at him dazedly.
"Hi," he says.
"I've missed you so much." My voice breaks.
"Me, too." He holds me again, until Ginny elbows past us.
"Break it up," she demands. "I have to get dressed."
"Now I know why Fred and George are calling you Bridezilla," Ron complains.
"How's Harry this morning?" Ginny decides to ignore the insult.
"He's fine. Didn't have a drop to drink after mid-night, although I think Fred and George and Charlie are worse for wear."
"Why should they be in bad shape?" I ask.
"Charlie took Fred and George out to the pub. His gift to Harry."
"I wish I could see him," Ginny says longingly.
"Ten more minutes." Ron looks at his watch.
"Ten minutes!" Ginny shrieks.
"Who cares if you're late? Harry will wait for you." Ron shrugs.
"We're not waiting one minute more," Ginny declares. And for the first time, I start to understand what she means.
The wedding begins on time with all of us gathered in the orchard under bright blue summer skies. Bill is there. Fleur is composed, although I notice she is counting to herself during the ceremony. Fred and George and Charlie all look a little peaky, but are in good spirits nonetheless.
The green trees, ripe with early apples, make the perfect background for Harry and Ginny to exchange their vows. Ginny, who is too impatient to primp even on her wedding day, wears a garland of small white flowers in her loose hair. When Harry bends his dark head to kiss her, she puts her hand lovingly on his cheek. They are so beautiful together, it makes my heart ache.
The time for sentimental tears is short as the emotional ceremony gives way to yet another raucous Weasley family meal. We feast under a white tent and drink toast after toast to the bride and groom. There are so many toasts and the champagne is so cold and fizzy, that I start smile and enjoy the blur of noisy conversations and laughter and people moving about. Ron takes the glass out of my hand once the cake is cut.
"Enough for you," he says, amused.
He helps me to my feet and I am surprised at how unsteady I am on my new shoes.
"Do you want to catch the bouquet or not?"
This seems like an important question. "Hmm. Maybe next year," I say vaguely.
He laughs. "I'll hide you then."
It's no use, Ginny the Chaser can aim a bunch of flowers as well as a Quaffle. The white roses sail over Ron and thump me in the head. I notice that they smell nice.
"I knew you'd catch it!" Ginny giggles as she hugs me.
"We're going now, Hermione." Harry's voice cuts through my fog.
He says he loves me or I say it to him, but I'm crying too hard to keep track. The sunlight glints on the black magical car that is taking them away.
I am still clutching the bouquet when Ron reaches for me.
In late afternoon, while we are cleaning up, an owl falls out of the sky. We all watch its descent, knowing that it is bringing news of Aunt Muriel.
"She's dying and I'm requested," Arthur says after adjusting his glasses and swallowing several times.
"We'll finish here," I say, glad that I can do something to stop thinking about Harry and Ginny.
Molly is grateful. Ron looks troubled. Even Fred and George are somber.
When the Burrow is tidied, we Floo to St. Mungo's and take up residence in the waiting room. It seems like the right thing to do, even though Fred and George and Charlie can't resist telling funny stories about Aunt Muriel.
"Muriel won that tiara in a Quidditch bet," Charlie says.
"I thought it was a family heirloom!" I say.
"Her husband, Bilius, lost it in a wager on the Cannons match the week before," Percy informs me with a disapproving sniff.
I turn to Ron. "I thought your Uncle Bilius was on the Prewitt side."
"We have two Biliuses," George informs me.
"The bile runs strong in our family," Fred says, doing almost as good of an impression of Fleur as Ginny.
"I wonder if Fleur's having the baby!" I gasp as I remember her behavior at the wedding.
"She's upstairs in the delivery room," Percy says calmly.
We stare at him. "I ran into Bill in the corridor. They think it's going to be a while yet – maybe several more hours."
"Hours?" Ron looks amazed.
"I know." Charlie shakes his head. "Dragons just hatch out of their eggs."
"Yes, much more efficient, Charlie." Fred rolls his eyes.
"Dragons have it all over humans, don't they?" George continues.
"The things we can learn from dragons –"
"Interpersonal skills –"
"Child care –"
"Grooming with fire . . ."
We're laughing when Arthur and Molly come in to announce that Aunt Muriel died peacefully in her sleep.
"I can't believe she's really gone," Molly says, a tear rolling down her face. "One minute she was breathing and the next . . ."
Arthur puts his arm around her shoulders. "She was waiting. You know how much she missed Bilius this past year."
Ron takes my hand and I am glad that I am with him even though this is a family matter. He needs me.
I squeeze his hand. I've needed him a lot today, too.
I fall asleep on Ron's chest sometime between midnight and dawn. I know this because Charlie wakes both of us in the dim morning light and announces that Fleur has had her baby.
"Boy or girl?" George asks sleepily.
"Thank God," Ron mutters. "That kid is saved from being named Muriel."
We laugh, even though it isn't at all appropriate.
I am conscious of my wrinkled silk robes and my mussed hair, but no one seems to notice. As we walk silently up the stairs, I wonder how this baby will change life for Fleur. She has never struck me as the maternal type and I wonder how she will cope.
My first thought upon seeing Fleur holding her baby and Bill hovering protectively in the background, is that Ginny and Harry's happiness on their wedding day is a mere shadow of this moment. Even I am dazzled at how beautiful Fleur looks smiling tenderly at her son.
"We name him Philippe after my father," Fleur explains. "And William for his second name."
"Phil's a brilliant name," Fred says.
"His name is Philippe," Fleur says severely.
Bill raises his eyebrows.
"Right." George ducks his head. Bill has his ways of keeping Fred and George in line.
"May I hold him, Fleur?" Molly is biting her lip and her eyes are glowing with excitement.
"But of course, you are ze grand-m`ere."
Molly catches her breath when Philippe is laid in her arms. She holds him quietly for a moment – just looking. Then she starts to talk in a slow, soothing voice. "You look just like your daddy did when he was born. So handsome . . ." Arthur is smiling proudly over her shoulder.
I look at all the Weasley brothers crowded in that room. They are rapt, listening to Molly talk to the newest Weasley in this generation, and I wonder if they remember their mother talking to them like that so long ago.
A tremendous sense of calm steals over me. I have been so anxious and now I'm not. Why? I puzzle it out.
The landscape has totally shifted, the changes have been dramatic, but everything is exactly as it should be. Aunt Muriel has been released from her suffering and loneliness. Harry and Ginny are together at last. Little Philippe has been added to the family. I'm finally with Ron again.
All this change… yet something has stayed constant through it all.
Molly hands Philippe back to his mother. Fleur clucks over him and says to all of us, "'e is lucky– my son – since love runs strong in dis family."
There it is – that which is constant, the unchanging mountain in front of my face. I knew it before – with a knowledge like Baby Philippe – but now I'm starting to understand… like a grown up.
I lean against Ron. I think I'm ready at last.
A/N: These are the lines I used for the challenge:
"Please!" says Harry sharply, and they both turn and look at him.
Even Fred and George are somber.
"I can't believe she's really gone," Molly says, a tear rolling down her face.