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Chapter 51: The Ceremony
Ashley breathed deeply, pulling in her midsection as tightly as she could. The zipper moaned as it made its way up the back, the clasp giving a satisfying click as it locked in place. With shaking hands, she smoothed out the large gown. She stood still as Fleur came around her, smiling brightly as she stood in front and examined her masterpiece.
“Veery beeuitful.” Fleur faltered, her voice cracking.
“Fleur, please.” Ashley stumbled, her voice clogging with emotion, “I already had to send mama out.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Fleur buzzed, bending down to fluff out the skirt.
“You look beautiful too.” Ashley told her, examining her blush pink dress, tight on the bust and flowing out in a flattering bodice that covered her feet.
Fleur looked up to her, flashing a pearly white smile as she went back to fixing her dress.
Gabrielle pushed back the sheer white curtain of the bridal tent, carrying a crown of fresh flowers she had gathered by the pond across the fields.
She sidestepped Fleur, reaching atop Ashley’s head as she weaved her long locks to secure the crown.
“You look like a fairee.” Gabrielle said, stumbling slightly over her English.
“You’re doing well, you’ll be fluent in no time.” Ashley reassured her gently.
Fleur stood, looking over her makeup once more, grabbing for a brush as she swept it over the blush palette, gently swooping on the apples of her cheeks.
Clicking the case shut, she stepped back with Gabrielle to look over her once more.
They gave her a reassuring nod.
“Zey are reedy when you ar, Ashlee.” Gabrielle stressed, frowning as she repeated the sentence in her head.
Ashley nodded, pressing her hands into her stomach to try and suppress the butterflies.
“Just give me five minutes, I need to take a walk.”
They stepped aside, Fleur rearranging Ashley’s train as she stepped out of the tent.
The sun warmed her bare shoulders upon her exit, as if giving her a reassuring hug. The sky was cloudless and shown just as brilliantly as she could have hoped for. Her wheat fields called to her, the light breeze sending them in a chorus of calling her name.
Gathering her gown into her hands, she padded quickly to the edge of the woods where she hoped she could find a moment’s solace near the little pond.
Careful not to snag her dress on any rouge twigs, she made her way down to her little place of hiding.
However, she was not alone.
She approached carefully, a smile creeping on her face as she saw Draco, his suit jacket hanging on a branch, his shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, bending over as he knelt for rocks on the shore, flicking them onto the surface. They skipped three or four times and fell into the dark water. He stumbled in his polished shoes as he knelt for another rock, much larger this time, as his flick was unsuccessful, the rock landing with a large splash.
She let out a loud giggle as he looked back to her.
He straightened immediately, gazing at her with wide eyes.
“I’m sorry.” She breathed, straightening up in panic, “I didn’t mean to ruin it. I was just trying to calm down.”
“Sorry?” He whispered hoarsely, “I’m not.”
He made a move to help her over to him as he grabbed for her hand to guide her over the unstable surface. He kept her at arm’s distance, looking her over.
“You look just as I imagined.” Draco breathed, his eyebrows furrowing in disbelief.
“Stop.” She protested weakly, “You’re going to make me cry.”
“Ashley.” He sighed, tugging lightly on her curled locks.
“I feel rather silly, to be honest.” She confessed, pulling at the top of the strapless gown. “I shouldn’t have let Fleur pick this out, the gown is really too big, I can hardly walk-“
“-and the bust? Is it too tight?” She worried, breathing awkwardly to try and make it less apparent. She couldn’t tell whether Fleur gave the wrong measurements to the seamstress, or did it on purpose to give her a fuller top.
“You’re asking the wrong guy, love.” Draco smirked at her.
Ashley gave him a worried look. Draco’s smirk disappeared, as he consoled her, “You’re a vision, I promise.”
Ashley nodded, looking him, “How are you doing?”
“Nervous.” He confessed, picking up another rock and flinging it into the pond.
“Show me…please.” Ashley begged, looking for anything as a distraction.
Draco handed her a flat rock, hugging her from behind to help her get down the wrist flick.
“Easy movements,” Draco instructed her, rocking her hand back and forth, “and release it when you’re ready.”
Ashley flung the rock into the water, managing to get two skips out of the little rock. She smiled nervously, but found herself itching for something else to do.
“We need to go,” Ashley whined, tugging on his hand.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this nervous.” Draco snickered as he rushed to push down his sleeves.
Ashley struggled to help him as she moved in her large gown. Hurriedly, she smoothed his sleeves and threw his jacket on him. After smoothing out the shoulders, she did her best to carefully step back and take a look at him.
She could feel heat creep into her neck, although he would never know it by her inability to blush. He had looked better than he had in months, almost back to normal health. The French country had been good to him, the open air and rushing of the fields had mended his broken body and spirit as the warm sun kissed a face that had been shadowed with darkness for months.
Apolline’s cooking had been kind to him as well, filling in the contours of his face and tall frame that had been sunken into distortion. He was still pale, as he’d always been, but it seemed more normal. His grey eyes seemed to have more vivacity and alertness to them, the bags that had framed them disappeared with the help of a safe house where he could sleep soundly. The ache that had seeped into his muscles had nearly vanished with the therapy of a kind Healer, volunteering off the Ministry clock to protect Draco.
“You look very dapper yourself.” Ashley breathed, feeling much calmer than she had minutes ago.
“C’mon.” He told her, motioning back to the cottage.
He knelt to help her carry her train, giving her a wry smile as she looked nervously back to him.
When they had returned to the fields, he dropped the organza material softly, mesmerized as it fanned in the breeze, spreading out behind her as she walked. Her long hair-oh, that crowning glory upon her head that he adored so much- fell in long curls to the bottom of her back, swaying gently with her movements. Her crown of flowers kissed his nose lightly as the breeze carried their sweet scent to him.
Draco wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed her cheek hard.
She put a hand to his, resting it on his forearm.
“I never thought this day would come.” She confessed quietly.
“You know I would’ve made it happen.” Draco murmured.
He looked to her until her blue eyes met his. Even though he could still see the remains of all the worry and pain he caused her, the promise of forever ran deeper than the oceans.
He pulled her head to his lips once more, flinging an arm around her shoulders, squeezing tightly as she laced her fingers into his.
The cottage and surrounding property was coming into place. The white streamers and tall poles that marked the alter were fluttering in the warm breeze. The swish of the crops against their attire and the occasional call of the cricket followed them as they neared closer.
Ashley pulled him at a wide angle, back towards the woods, out of sight.
“Fleur’d be furious if she knew you saw me before.” She told him, leading him back to the safety of the little white tent behind the house.
Once they had reached the checkpoint undetected, she turned to smooth Draco’s jacket once more, saying, “You better go. Once you’re at the altar, we can start.”
Draco gave her a kind smile as he leaned in to kiss her softly. She framed his face with her hands, relishing in the smooth-shaven skin and minty aftershave.
“I love you.” He told her.
“I love you too.” She smiled, “Now, go!”
She pushed him gently away from her, watching as he quickly walked around the corner, talking to an escort who signaled for the music to start. She could hear the quartet of violins sing the prelude of the wedding march and took deep breaths to ready herself. Hippogriffs beat wildly in her stomach and just when she thought she might faint from nervousness, she saw the usher round the corner.
“We’re ready for you.”
She took her bouquet of white lilies from him and grabbed his arm as he lead her around the corner.
Biting her lip in nervousness, her chest constricted when she saw the aisles of people rise before her. The usher handed her off to her father who was waiting at the beginning of the line, giving her a weepy smile as he secured her arm onto his.
“Papa.” She faltered, trying to console him as she struggled to resist bursting into tears.
He waved her off, “I will bee fine.”
She grabbed his arm tightly, but felt no comfort in the fact that his arm was shaking too.
Taking a deep breath, the pair started to make their way down the aisle of white carpet.
She looked to the altar, where her eyes were instantly drawn to Draco, who was brushing off remaining debris from their last minute escapade from his jacket. When he was satisfied with his appearance, he looked up to meet her eyes. He was stunned, but only for a moment, as the biggest smile she had ever seen spread across his face.
A wave of calm washed over her. He was all that mattered, he made everything okay. All she needed to do was concentrate on him and she would be fine.
Draco was struggling to maintain his composure as he neared him. She floated like an angel in the white taffeta and organza gown. Her hair fell around her shoulders, offset by the dainty crown of leaves and colored flowers. Her blue eyes sparkled blindingly, and if he wasn’t so encapsulated by her, he would have had to look away, for they burned so brightly.
Draco rubbed at his eyes, trying to stop the stinging, signaling of what was to come.
When he had retained composure once more and removed his hand from his face, Ashley had ended her march.
She looked to her father, who kissed her on both cheeks and gave him her blessing in French. Turning to Draco, he extended his hand, giving Draco a firm handshake as he motioned for him to take her hand.
Although violently shaking, he gave her a tight squeeze, trying to reassure himself more so than her.
“You’re alright.” She told him quietly, stepping up to the altar.
“I am now.” He answered back, giving her a small smile.
Ashley turned to hand her bouquet to Hermione, her maid of honor, who took the flowers and stepped back to her place.
The couple looked to a Ministry official, who, unfortunately, had to wear the usual black robes of his institution, putting a damper to the spring colors of pink and tan that the wedding party wore.
The old wizard cleared his voice, “Family and friends, we are gathered here today to witness a most time-honored celebration of family. Draco Lucius and Ashley Valora have come to testify before us, telling of their love and dedication for one another. We remember, theirs is a love whose source of affection stems from those who loved them into being.”
Ashley stole a quick glance to her parents, who were both weeping silently. Apolline dabbed at her eyes, offering a handkerchief to her husband, who blew her nose loudly. Narcissa was sitting beside Apolline and although she wasn’t weeping freely, there was a teary sparkle in her eye.
“We remind them that they are performing an act of complete faith, that the heart of their marriage will be the relationship they create. In a world where faith often falls short of expectation, it is a tribute to these two who now join hearts, hands and families.” The wizard continued, flipping a page in his binder.
“Draco,” He addressed him, “will you receive Ashley as your wife? Will you pledge your love, faith and tenderness, cherishing her with a husband’s loyalty and devotion?”
Draco nodded his head, “I will.”
The official turned to Ashley, “Ashley, will you receive Draco as your husband? Will you pledge your love, faith and tenderness, cherishing him with a wife’s loyalty and devotion?”
Ashley beamed at Draco, reciting, “I will.”
The official peered over the couple back to the audience, “Ashley and Draco, receive each other from your mothers and fathers, who give you into each other’s keeping, by saying now, to each other, words which will tell of your love.
“Draco,” he addressed, “if you would recite your vows, please.”
Draco nodded his head nervously, drawing in a shuttering breath. He had struggled to remember them for weeks and hoped against hope he wouldn’t falter here. “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, take you, Ashley Valora Delacour, to be my lawfully wedded wife, my constant f-friend-’’
Draco’s voice cracked as he struggled to fight back tears. Ashley’s young cousins in the first rows cooed at how sweet his vulnerability was.
Ashley gave him a reassuring nod and shook his hands gently.
“Take your time.” She whispered.
Draco gulped, continuing, “My constant friend, my faithful partner and the love of my life from this day onward. In the presence of our family and friends I offer you my solemn vow to be your partner in sickness and health, in good times and bad, and in joy and sorrow. I p-promise to love you u-u-unconditionally-’’
He had to cover his mouth to prevent the onset of sobs. He would never dream of being so emotional. But he looked to her, a tear falling freely from his eye and knew that he would have never though himself in this position. If he could only have told himself, while he was laying their wet and in blinding pain in the alleyway so many months ago, that he was going to be alright, he wouldn’t have had so much doubt. But then again, had he knew that everything was going to be alright, he wouldn’t have fought as hard as he did.
“I’m sorry.” He croaked, wiping his eyes. “I didn’t think it would be this hard.”
His onslaught of tears made Ashley well up and spill over.
“Now you’ve made me cry.” She trembled, letting go of his hand as she wiped away a tear. Their families laughed with them, wiping away their own.
He took a deep breath, “Alright. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you and to cherish you as long as we both shall live.”
Draco looked to Ashley, who was also struggling to begin her vows.
“Ashley, if you would.” The minister nodded.
“Oh, Merlin.” She wiped her eyes once more. Taking a deep breath, she looked deeply into his eyes. “I, Ashley Valora Delacour, take you, Draco Lucius Malfoy to be my beloved husband, to have and to hold you, to honor you, to treasure you, to be at your side in sorrow and joy, in good times and bad and to love and cherish you always. I promise you this from my heart, for all the days of my life.”
“Not fair.” Draco frowned. He should’ve known something he thought to be so hard would be child’s play for her.
The official looked between the two, “Will you now give and receive rings?”
They both nodded, Ashley turned to Hermione, while Draco turned to Harry to receive their rings for each other.
“Draco, if you would put the ring on halfway and recite your ring vows.” The official motioned to her finger.
Ashley watched as Draco put her sapphire ring, which now had a second diamond studded band saudered to the first, on the second knuckle of her finger.
“With this ring, I thee wed.” Draco reciting, looking to her for strength, hoping he wouldn’t lose control again, “and with all my love I endow unto you. You were my yesterday, you are my today and you will be my tomorrow. All I am I give to you.”
With the final words, he pushed the ring gently to the end of her finger.
Ashley gingerly took his left hand in his and held the ring in the middle of his finger.
“Draco, with this ring, I thee wed.” She told him, “and with all my love I endow unto you. I give this to you, whom I love above all others, this ring as a symbol of our love and marriage.”
With her final words, she pushed the silver band onto his finger.
“I, by the power invested in me and the Ministry of Magic, pronounce you Draco and Ashley Malfoy. Draco, you may now kiss your bride.”
Ashley stepped forward as Draco kissed her sweetly, kissing her many times over in victory that he was now her husband. Although the cheering was nearly deafening, along with the whistles and catcalls, it all seemed to fade away when she looked at him.
When he looked into her eyes, he couldn’t stir up the hurt, anger and resentment not only for himself but the situation fate had put him through. Her blue eyes promised love, devotion and promise of a place on a high pedestal, where no one had cared to put him. He saw not only his wife, but the mother of his children, his partner on the porch while reading the paper and drinking afternoon tea. She had become his everything, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
He took her hand and turned as they turned towards their family and friends, where flower petals and bread crumbs were being thrown atop them.
Leading her down the aisle, he looked over to her once more. He peered into her sparkling eyes, her laughter ringing like the merriest of bells and he knew, right then, that everyone, even Slytherins, needed an angel in their lives.
A/N: This is NOT the last chapter. One more :)