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Chapter 8: Too Good to Last
Cheryl sighed quietly. It had been a lovely wedding, for all that the best man walked with a cane and had perpetually glazed eyes from the strong painkillers he had to take, and the maid of honor sobbed occasionally. Three hundred of the happy couple’s closest friends and family had braved tight security to gather in a large reception hall in Cambridge to witness the nuptials. Some of them had come as much to see how Muggles would handle men in robes and women in funny hats and bonding ceremonies and thinly disguised magic as they did the actual wedding. It might have been comical, except for the newly elected Minister of Magic’s stern visage over the proceedings and security wizards everywhere.
And then there was the nearly constant deluge of tears within the wedding party itself. That robbed the event of any amusement value completely. If it wasn’t the maid of honor weeping, it was the bride or the groom. The grief of the best man was beyond tears. Witnessing his frozen visage caused many a sob among the guests.
They had wanted to do a tribute to Graínne Cameron, but Harry forbade it. With fiery resolve that seemed unaffected by the powerful potions he had been taking, he told them that if they wanted a memorial service for her, to hold it on their own time. A wedding was not a funeral, and he would not attend if they so much as mentioned her. Cheryl had been pleased. She’d been there at the time, as it had occurred before he’d been released from St. Mungo’s, and she knew Professor Snape was very proud as well. Hermione and Ron had caved, given his passionate reaction, and Ginny had capitulated only under threat from the twins, who were acting on Molly’s direction.
The bitter angst of the missing maid of honor was bothering Molly too. She had truly liked Graínne. She didn’t like seeing her little girl cry unceasingly, nor could she do anything but worry for Harry. Poor motherless boy, she had called him more than once.
Cheryl felt slightly ashamed that she was grateful to them for distracting Bill’s mother.
She had been seated several rows back from Molly during the wedding, behind rows of Prewetts and Weasleys, during the wedding ceremony, and she watched the fall of dark auburn hair and the curve of a flushed cheek thoughtfully, with more than her usual sympathy. Her first chick was leaving the nest, Cheryl had realized, and it had made Hermione the beloved enemy. That took some of the pressure off Cheryl temporarily, which was nice. Hermione’s skin was thicker.
Now at the reception, Bill drew her along with him while he attended to details, or socialized with the many friends and family members. He glared at men who greeted Cheryl with anything more enthusiastic than a mumbled “nicetameechoo” and kept her hand firmly in his, or his arm carefully around her, or his hand on the small of her back. He seemed to think that his possessive behavior would get by her as long as he didn’t take her to task for the attentions of other men. So far, she wasn’t irritated; she thought she could live with it as long as he kept himself under control. In fact, the attention was rather pleasant and flattering, although it waned when she was surrounded by women. Paradoxically, this was when Cheryl was the least self-confident and would have appreciated his assurances the most. Her biggest fear, being with Bill, was losing him to another witch. Standing in a crowd of pretty, young, single witches in their party clothes would surely show her deficiencies most clearly. How very strange, she thought idly, watching him as he helped Harry get seated at the head table, that they both feared the same thing—that the other would lose interest and go with someone else. Bill is just paranoid if he thinks there could be someone else, she thought. Why would I leave him? Even if there was someone better, it isn’t as if he would be interested in me.
They chatted with guests and drank punch made with fruit juices and fizzy drinks. They had supper together at the head table. They attended to the festive traditions of bouquets and garters (neither vying for any honors there). They watched anxiously over Harry and Severus until they departed after the best man’s speech and toast. Cheryl’s insecurities were held at bay, ever threatening but not quite seizing hold. Bill’s jealousy appeared to be under control.
“I have to dance with Ginny first,” he murmured to her while the master of ceremonies was announcing the newlyweds’ first dance. He handed her the glass of wine she’d requested from the bar. They both knew what was coming—they had been instructed rigorously on it by the bride’s mother: the couple would get their parents out on the floor next, and then the whole wedding party would dance, and they would drag guests out, and then everyone would be invited to join. Mrs. Granger had called it a snowball dance; Ron had secretly called it hell. “But I’ll come get you after, so don’t let any of these cocky swains steal you away.”
She snorted in amusement. “There are cocky swains here? I mean, besides you? Where?”
Bill led his little sister out onto the dance floor when their turn came, and Ginny, who had grown rather tall and willowy, buried her face on his shoulder for most of the time. He spent the entire song encouraging her to be strong for Hermione’s sake, to be happy for Ron, and to quit reminding Harry of his loss by her continual mourning.
At last the master of ceremonies asked the dancers to bring other partners to the floor, and Bill handed Ginny to Lynford Ross (her date). He turned to look for Cheryl, a little disoriented. However, before he could see her, a sheaf of silvery blond hair presented itself to him, a shimmering decoration around the bare ivory shoulders and ice blue gown.
“Fleur,” he gasped, surprised. He automatically took half a pace back.
She smiled up at him, exuding her charm. “Ah, Bill,” she purred. “Danses avec moi.”
He resisted, but weakly. He had little restraint against the magnetism, never having had to defend against it before. He had broken off with Fleur, not the other way around, but he had done it from a distance, while she was angry and bored. In a fit of pique over his refusal to skive off work to go to Paris for the day, she had shown a terrible temper and selfishness. Afterward, she had insisted they were still friends, appearing to let him go amicably. But he had avoided seeing her, and now he wasn’t sure he was ready. His research had indicated that tolerance to the hormone could be acquired, built up over time, or else precipitated by a stressful event. “I can’t,” he whispered, feeling vaguely breathless and confused.
“Oh, please?” she pouted, taking his hand and stepping closer. “I have missed you.”
“What about the marquis?” he asked faintly, barely avoiding a reciprocal “missed you.” It wasn’t true—he hadn’t missed her at all—but the magnetism demanded it. He was rather proud he’d managed not to say it. Truth, he reminded himself. Cheryl. I miss Cheryl.
“Oh, he lives his life, I live mine. I do not wish to talk of him.” She smiled again, but the pull was not so strong this time, less focused. Being only part veela, she had to work at the charm.
“Did you ditch him?” That was easier to say. He could feel air in his lungs again, reaching his muzzy brain. Her focus was not so intense. Apparently that was a sore subject.
“I do not wish to talk of him.” The last of her smile was fading, and the veela charm was slipping faster. Fleur hated to repeat herself, and she sensed he was escaping her control.
“I heard you were engaged.” He was starting to feel stronger.
She rolled her eyes, annoyed with him. “If I am, what is that? I am still my own person.”
“That isn’t how it works.”
“It is,” she insisted, stepping forward and sliding her hands up the lapels of his robes. “Marriage is a political endeavor. Love is nothing to marriage.”
“You honestly believe that?” He tried to step back, but she stepped right with him.
“Of course, silly. As I said, I have missed you. My life has been empty without you, Bill. I want you back.” She pulled his head down for a kiss. She was sure if she could just kiss him, she would have him back under control.
Bill pushed her away. Hard. In that moment the thrall was broken by two simultaneous events. One, his pride and sense of rectitude were deeply offended. Two, he heard a strangled sob from close at hand, and knew the sound of Cheryl’s voice (though he had never heard her make that particular noise). It terrified him, and lent force to his anger.
“I will not be your paramour,” he spat, not bothering to keep his voice low. “I won’t amuse you on the side. How dare you put your hands on me when I came here with another! I have not missed you, Fleur. Do not come within my sight again today—or ever, if I cannot repair what you’ve damaged! You have betrayed whatever friendship we had.” And with that he stormed out in Cheryl’s wake.
While Fleur threw herself sobbing upon the nearest male shoulder (which happened to belong to Percy Weasley), Bill hurried out to the lobby. A quick look to the lady in the cloakroom, who gestured at the front doors, and he was running out into the little courtyard outside the doors, where a garden stretched the length of the building. It was bisected by the front path, and there were fountains at either end. She had veered off to the right and was huddled on a bench next to the fountain, whose statuary consisted of mermaids and fish. She was weeping wildly. He ran to her, actually jumping several of the narrow flowerbeds instead of going around.
“Cheryl!” he called.
“Leave me alone!” she snarled. “You’ve had your joke!”
“Joke? What are you talking about? I would never do such a thing to you,” he objected, reaching her side. It was much worse than he feared. She thought he’d planned it! Part of him was horrified that she was hurt, and part was furious that she would think him capable of such cruelty.
“You’ve mortified me in front of three hundred people! I hope you had a good laugh!” she spat, as if he had not spoken. “Is that what Purebloods do for fun? Take half-blood women and make them think—and then ditch them in front of hundreds—”
“Maybe that’s what they do in France, but it’s not fun, and I didn’t do that! What kind of bastard do you take me for? I didn’t know she would be here—I didn’t know they had invited her! I told her to stay away from me! I would never do anything so terrible to anyone, much less you!”
“You let her kiss you!”
“I didn’t let her, I pushed her away! I didn’t want her to come near me! She’s part veela, Cheryl, and she was exuding whatever hormone they use to lure their prey—but she’ll never influence me again, Cheryl, I swear it!”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” she wept, her anger spent but still devastated.
“I won’t,” said Bill so solemnly that she hesitated, tears arrested for a moment. “Cheryl, she means nothing to me.”
“She wants you back. She’s got her hooks in you, and she’ll never let you go because she wants you to herself—”
“No, she wants a boy toy. She thought I would do. Even if I loved her, which I do not, I will be no one’s plaything.”
“I—I can’t—c—I can’t do this!” she gasped, and Disapparated.
“Cheryl!” he shouted, enraged, and cursed himself for it—how could that possibly work to bring her back? How could she run away and refuse to listen to him? She was miles away now, and he had not told her that he’d broken Fleur’s hold, that he’d become immune to her. He had failed Cheryl, let her leave believing that part of him still belonged to Fleur, that he was not whole-hearted in his love for Cheryl Kinder. He had not said anything at all about love.
After pacing back and forth several times and kicking the bench over, Bill righted it and slumped down on the seat. There was no point in going after her. If he could find her, she’d never speak to him. She’d probably hex him. He couldn’t trust himself just now not to hex her back.
What followed was perhaps the most miserable period of his life. In less than five minutes, his life had gone to hell. Having been so happy just before seemed only to accentuate the bleakness of his present circumstance. She had closed her Floo to him, and refused to answer his owls. When he went to her door, she didn’t answer, even when he knew she was there. In desperation, he went to Debbie and Kevin, but they shook their heads sadly.
“She’s made of stone, right now, man,” said Kevin. “Nothing will move her.”
“Is she seeing someone else?” he demanded, wondering if he’d have to go hex the bahoogies off another wizard in order to establish his right. He was in fact rather hoping he could do so—it was bound to relieve some of the stress, but the idea of her with someone else made him ill.
“Oh no, not at all. She’s not the sort, first of all, to rebound like that, but also, she hasn’t been interested in anyone in ages, and all the men around her are either taken, unattractive, or ill,” Debbie reassured him. She did not add that Cheryl was madly in love with Bill, and to her no other man existed. It wasn’t their place to tell Bill that; it was Cheryl’s responsibility and privilege.
“And she’s said ‘no’ so often to all of them, even before she met you, that they stopped asking,” Kevin confided.
“But she will come round, Bill,” Debbie added. “When she realizes the truth, she’ll listen again.”
“But how will she realize the truth if she won’t listen to me, or read my letters?”
“Oh, she reads them,” Kevin contradicted. “I’ve seen her. She reads every one.”
“But she doesn’t answer!”
“Well, one can’t force that,” he pointed out gently.
He wished one could. He couldn’t go to St. Mungo’s again, since Harry and Severus had been discharged, and he wouldn’t jeopardize her job. Better not to see her than to risk the job she loved by showing her such great disrespect. Where else could he see her but at home? The landlady of her building had threatened to call Magical Law Enforcement if he ever spent another hour hanging about on the stairs, banging on Cheryl's door and shouting. There seemed to be no recourse, and Bill found himself considering surrender. He just couldn’t quite let go. He continued to write and apologize, sometimes angry that he was being blamed when he hadn’t done anything wrong, but mostly just prostrate with misery.
August passed in horrible loneliness. The Malfoy vaults brought him more treasure bonuses than he had calculated. After discarding the notion of getting completely pissed at the end of the assignment, he found that he didn’t much care. He couldn’t imagine that getting very drunk would impress her, and he didn’t fancy the resulting hangover. The sun had gone out of the summer for him, the pleasure of living was utterly depleted. He tended to walk with his head down, or if he kept his chin up, the cold and distant expression on his face was enough to discourage others from engaging him in conversation. He stopped buying bagels at the Muggle bakery. There was no taste to them, now.
It astonished him, in an abstract way, how he could have come to love her so deeply and be so dependent upon her in such a short time. Just a month after the end of the war, he had decided he was in love with her. Another month now, and he was beyond “in love” and solidly into “loving her, heart and soul, even if she never looks at me again; I shall die in misery and solitude.” And she didn’t even know. He had hesitated to tell her that he loved her when he’d had the chance. It was not a pleasant place in which to exist.