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No Wands At The Wedding by momotwins
Chapter 1: Take Your Places
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Mr. and Mrs. William Arthur Weasley
request the pleasure of your company
on the occasion of the marriage of their daughter
Baron Reinolt Greville Hendrik Van Laren
at Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam
on Saturday, June 10th at 2 p.m.
Please RSVP via owl at your earliest convenience
And please, no wands at the wedding
“Contract your deltoids- these muscles-” Hugo Weasley poked at his patient’s back to demonstrate “-while you raise the dumbbell. Like so.” He guided the path up to maximum height and then sat on the floor to watch while the patient completed the exercise. Hugo ran a hand through his close-cropped red curls as he settled on the purple carpet. It had been a long day, and his acid green Healer's robes felt rather as if they were melting onto his body, he'd been wearing them that long.
“Did you get your invitation from Dominique yet?” His cousin Molly, sitting beside him on the floor, rolled her eyes theatrically. Molly had recently shaved her dreadlocks off, and the bare growth of red stubble emphasized her blue eyes, especially when she rolled them like that. “She slipped in a note telling me to make my hair normal again. And there was actual gilt on that bloody invitation. Real gold. Honestly, I’m only surprised it took her this long to use it. Probably it'll be on all her Christmas cards now.”
“Well, she’s marrying a title. I'm sure appearances have to be kept and all that rot. And Dominique turning bridezilla shouldn't come as a surprise. She's been a bridezilla since she was twelve.” Hugo kept his eyes on his patient. “If you can take it a bit higher-”
A low groan sounded. “Kiss my arse, Hugo.”
“He’s very rich, according to Roxanne,” Molly said to Hugo, then added encouragingly, “You’re doing very well, you know.”
This was greeted by a profane mumbling that made her grin. Hugo didn’t comment about Dominique’s impending leap to extreme wealth, instead watching his patient closely. This particular patient had been one of his more difficult cases, with each gain hard-won through gritted teeth and determination and a strong resolve not to punch anyone in the jaw, and that was just on Hugo's part.
“Two more. Good. And on this final raise, let’s hold the contraction and try to raise up just another inch-”
The patient grunted, and the dumbbell went up half an inch higher. Molly and Hugo cheered in unison. The dumbbell hit the floor, and Riordan Fitzroy rolled onto his back and gave them the finger.
“You’re both goddamn sadists,” he told them, and began to rub his shoulder. “Are we done? This is worse than spell treatment.”
Molly sat up onto her knees and leaned forward to kiss him. “Well done.”
“You should be very proud of your progress,” Hugo added.
“Bugger off. Which one is Dominique?” Fitz asked.
“Long reddish-blonde hair, big blue eyes, smiles like she wants to eat your soul,” Molly told him.
“Oh, that one.” Fitz didn’t offer an opinion about their cousin, but since most people either completely fawned over or didn’t much care for Dominique, Hugo took this to mean he didn’t like her. With Dominique, it was always one or the other: few people were neutral about her. They loved her or hated her. Except her cousins, who managed both simultaneously.
Of course because she was his cousin, Hugo dutifully loved her. And avoided her whenever possible. “Any chance of ditching her wedding?” he asked wistfully.
Molly gave him a look. “Hugo, you know what Aunt Hermione would say.”
Hugo contemplated his mother’s likely reaction if he didn’t turn up at Dominique’s second wedding and pulled a face. She would kill him, then revive him so she could kill him again. “It’s not fair. I went to the first one. I was well-behaved. Why am I being punished?”
“Is she likely to have hot friends as her bridesmaids?” Fitz asked.
“Instead of her cousins? Of course.” Molly grinned at him. “Want to be my date? I’ll let you ogle the bridesmaids if you let me ogle the groomsmen.”
“Deal,” Fitz said, and leaned over to kiss her. “Where is this wedding?”
“Amsterdam. She’s marrying a baron in some bloody gigantic church.”
“A Dutch baron. That sounds about par for the course for her. I’ve never been to Amsterdam,” Fitz said thoughtfully. “I heard you can buy powdered dragon claw in the supermarkets there.”
“You can buy all sorts of stuff there,” said Hugo, who had been to Amsterdam several years back. “All kinds of illegal substances. And as your primary care Healer, I cannot recommend that you ingest, inhale, or otherwise use substances not approved by the Ministry of Magic. But as your girlfriend’s cousin, I’ll give you a list of recreational stuff the League doesn’t test for.”
“The League doesn’t test coaches,” Fitz pointed out.
“Oh, so you think you’ll be going around smoking things without me?” Molly winked at him. “Hugo, you have to come to the wedding. It’ll be miserable if we’re not all there. Roxanne says Fred is going, and where Fred goes, James goes, and if James is going, Albus will go.”
“It’s like a domino effect for Weasleys,” Fitz quipped.
Molly rolled her eyes at him. “My point is, you’ll miss out on the craziness if you’re not there. Besides, Louis will be there too. Dominique can’t avoid inviting him, he’s her baby brother. Someone has to be able to revive him when he inevitably overdoses on powdered whatever because some witch talked him into it.”
Hugo groaned. This was entirely true. His cousin Louis had infamously bad taste in women and an incredible ability to attract them in droves. He’d been arrested any number of times, hexed, stuffed in a car boot, thrown into a river, and on one memorable occasion, shot in the arse by a Muggle husband while climbing out a bedroom window. Louis, of course, claimed he hadn’t known the woman was married, and that he’d been in love. Louis was always in love. Louis was perfectly capable of falling in love within five minutes of meeting a woman.
“He would overdose, wouldn’t he,” Hugo said glumly. “That’d be right up his alley.”
“It’s only a matter of time. You should be on hand just in case. You’re the only one with real medical training.”
“Your cousin Louis makes for a good cautionary tale,” Fitz remarked. “We ought to do a training film about him for the Beaters. I’d call it 'The Benefits of Sobriety'.”
“Good luck getting that lot to stop drinking,” said Molly. “They're professionals.”
“Professional athletes or professional drunks?”
“Isn't that the same thing?”
“What about that note at the end?” Hugo put in, attempting to return to the original topic. “No wands at the wedding.”
“That’s likely,” Molly retorted. “Imagine telling Uncle Harry he can’t bring his wand anywhere he likes.”
The thing was, Dominique had the balls to do exactly that. Hugo was fairly sure what his father would do - sneak his wand in anyway - and wasn’t even so sure his mother would abide by that rule. Uncle Harry, of course, would bring his anyway and not give a damn what anyone said.
“Will you leave your wand at home?” Fitz asked, aiming this question at his girlfriend.
Molly made a tchah! sound. “Absolutely not. I'm bringing it along. I'll leave it in the hotel room or something for the actual ceremony so Dommie can be happy. And you leave yours as well.”
“What about the powdered dragon claw? Do we have to leave that in the hotel room?”
Hugo left them to it after that. Molly was one of his favourite cousins, but Hugo didn't want to know if she was planning to violate any Quidditch League rules while she was in Amsterdam. As one of the League's Healers, he had a duty to report such things. Fortunately, Molly was unlikely to actually misbehave. She had, after all, been Head Girl in her day. She was more likely to play designated Apparator while Fitz smoked mysterious plants and drank dodgy potions, and steer him away from the addictive items.
Molly was a rule-abider. Hugo did his best to be one as well. He'd had his moments in Hogwarts, but he was an adult now, despite his best efforts to the contrary, and an authority figure as a Healer.
Besides, he was the good child.
His flat was quiet when he unlocked the door, sweeping his wand across the locks and listening to them click and clatter open. No one waited for him behind the locked door, only an empty flat with an assemblage of comfortable but unfashionable furniture. Several paintings by his sister's boyfriend were the only décor on the walls. A book on the coffee table contained an assortment of family photos, because while he was a bachelor, he was still a Weasley.
And family was important.
Groaning, Hugo flopped down onto the red plaid sofa. He was going to have to be a responsible grown-up as usual, a dutiful family member, and go to the damn wedding, whether he wanted to or not.
Lily Potter hurried up the garden path to her grandmother's house, picking her way through the puddles from the afternoon rain. Her bright pink dragonskin boots almost glowed in their reflections on the wet flagstones as she dodged the puddles. Lily pushed her cat's eye glasses back into place. They didn't fit her properly so they always slid down her nose, but she didn't care because they looked adorable.
Travails of being the fashionista in the family.
There was no need to knock. Lily went in through the kitchen door and brushed some raindrops off her purple houndstooth coat. Her parents were sitting at the table, drinking tea and laughing with her uncle Ron. Aunt Hermione sat beside them at the head of the table, a mug of tea forgotten in front of her while she pored over a large stack of parchment.
They greeted her with smiles and invitations for tea, except Aunt Hermione, who did not appear to have noticed her arrival.
Ginny Potter slid a mug in front of her daughter and reached for the teapot. “I didn't know you were coming by, dear.”
Lily had been bored at home, with no one to talk to, but she didn't want to admit that to her mother. It would only result in more parental check-ins than she already received. “Thought I'd check in on you, but you weren't at home.”
Her father smiled at her, eyes twinkling. “Good of you to keep tabs on your aging parents.”
Lily rolled her eyes and sat down. “What's that Aunt Hermione's looking at?” she asked as she wrapped her hands around the deliciously warm mug of tea.
“Dominique's pre-nup,” Uncle Ron told her, giving the pile of parchment in front of his wife a sidelong glance. “Can't believe she's actually going to sign that bloody thing.”
“Not until Hermione's been through it with a fine-tooth comb,” Harry said smugly.
“Your uncle Bill asked if she'd mind,” Ginny added, directing her comment at Lily.
Aunt Hermione blinked and looked up suddenly. “Hand me that notepad, Ron.”
He grabbed a small notepad from beside the teapot and handed it over.
“I just thought of a few more clauses for Dominique's protection to add. They've got the usual stuff about how much for sons and daughters and all that, infidelity, sterility, et cetera, but I don't see anything about indictments or criminal activity. Better make sure something is included for that.”
Lily tried unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. “Considering how her first husband turned out...”
“Lily,” her mother said severely.
“Well, she's not wrong,” chuckled Uncle Ron.
Dominique's first husband had been arrested in a corruption scandal with a woman later arrested for international crimes ranging from illegal weapons trade to murder. Lily winked at Uncle Ron and took her mug off to the parlor to see if her grandparents were around.
Dominique herself was in the parlor, in an expensive-looking tea gown, a confection of silk chiffon in a pale aqua that flattered Dominique's red-gold hair and pale complexion. Lily recognized the design from Paris Fashion Week and tried not to hate her cousin a bit because she owned that dress and Lily didn't. Dominique was pacing around in her gold leather heels, tossing off wedding reception instructions to a Quick-Quotes Quill floating in the air near her. The quill matched her dress. Lily sighed.
Dominique's much less intimidating older sister was sitting on a sofa nearby, wearing a battered set of burgundy robes that set off her flaming-red curls in an interesting, if probably unintended, way. Victoire Lupin hoisted herself from the couch and came over to give Lily a hug. “Didn't know you'd be here. Don't mind the bride-to-be, she's in planning mode.”
Lily patted Victoire's shoulder a bit awkwardly until her cousin let go. Victoire was pregnant, again, and when she hugged you, the hard mound of baby bump pressed rather uncomfortably. “Just popping by. Is Gran about?”
“Upstairs having a nap.” Victoire winked conspiratorially, then added in a whisper, “Dommie was giving her a headache.”
“Good morning, Lily,” Dominique said, drawing their attention. Dominique's articulation was picture-perfect, like a Muggle newscaster. Her vowels were rounded perfectly, her consonants flawlessly enunciated.
Dominique was exhausting.
“Oi,” Lily returned, giving her cousin a determined smile. “Where's the little one?”
“At Victoire's, playing with Dora.”
Victoire pursed her lips. Lily assumed this meant Dora Lupin was terrorizing Thornton Campbell in some way, and resolved once again not to visit Victoire unless she was sure all of Victoire's children were asleep. All the Lupin children were proper terrors, and Dora in particular was a tiny tyrant dressed perpetually in pink tutus, a sparkly pink toy wand clutched determinedly in one fist, rather like a truncheon.
“I haven't received RSVPs from everyone yet,” Dominique remarked, obviously eager to get the focus back on her wedding. She'd been the same way the first time she'd got married, Lily reflected.
“I'm sure everyone is coming,” Victoire said soothingly. Her sister did not look soothed, and fired off a few more instructions for the wedding dinner to the Quick-Quotes Quill while Victoire returned to her seat on the sofa. Lily sat down beside her, glad for Victoire's presence. As the eldest of the Weasley grandchildren, she had been their leader by both default and inclination for as long as Lily could remember. Victoire was a mother hen.
“Albus wasn't going to come,” Lily told her under her breath. “Mum told him he had to.”
“Teddy doesn't want to go either,” Victoire whispered. “He was hoping to use the pregnancy and the children as an excuse. Unfortunately, Dominique arranged a sitter for the children during the ceremony.”
“Lily, who are you bringing?” Dominique asked then, interrupting their muffled conversation. “I can set you up with someone appropriate so you don't have to be alone.”
Lily bristled. “I don't need a fix-up, Dommie.”
“I'm just looking out for you. I know what a hard time you have finding a boyfriend. Especially one who's appropriate to bring to a family wedding. Oh,” Dominique added in a different tone, turning to her sister, “and did we get an RSVP from Hilarion yet?”
“Lucy and her husband are coming, yes.” Victoire was starting to look rather annoyed.
Lily glared at Dominique as she paced in those gold heels and that silk dress, and fingered her wand. One little hex, no one but Victoire would know...
Instead she picked up the book of wedding plans lying on the table and paged through it. Dominique was a snob, but she was a snob with excellent taste and an extensive budget, thanks to her affianced husband. Everything in the book was tasteful and elegant. Lily sighed inwardly. There were four pages of options for bridesmaid dresses, each more beautiful than the last.
“Aren't those lovely?” Victoire asked, seeing Lily stop on one of the pages featuring a cobalt blue gown shot with gold threads ending in starbursts on the skirts.
“Gorgeous,” Lily said enviously.
“They're going to look beautiful on my bridesmaids,” Dominique said with satisfaction, peering down at the image of the dress. “All six of them have blonde hair almost the exact shade of gold on that embroidery, it's going to be gorgeous in the photos.”
Though she'd guessed she wasn't serving as bridesmaid since Dominique had failed to mention it until now, it still stung a bit not to be asked. Lily pursed her lips and tried not to think about how well she wore cobalt blue. “I'm sure they'll be wonderful.”
“I selected the bridesmaids very specifically. I wanted a matched set – oh, look here, see the shoes I've chosen for them-” Dominique flipped a page, and behind her Lily saw Victoire pulling a face.
She tried not to laugh. “The shoes are gorgeous too, Dommie.”
“Everything will be so coordinated. Obviously I couldn't have you lot, I mean Victoire will be nearly to term so she can't stand up for me, and Molly, well, have you seen her hair lately?” Dominique rolled her eyes theatrically. “I mean, really.”
“You know Molly would happily regrow her hair and style it however you liked if you only asked her to,” Victoire said steadily. She did not look pleased with her sister.
“I just want everything to be perfect so we can have the best start possible.” Dominique flipped another page and showed Lily a photo of an elegant and antique-styled sapphire and gold parure. “I'll be wearing this. It belongs to Reinolt's mother, the dowager baroness. I planned the bridesmaid colours around it.”
There was even a tiara in the parure. Lily had to make an effort not to hate her cousin a little bit.
“I don't see why you couldn't have your cousins as your bridesmaids, even if you don't want my fat pregnant belly up there beside you.” Victoire was eyeing her sister again. “If you wanted matching hair, you'd have it. And gingers look lovely in that shade of blue.”
“It's one of my best colours,” Lily murmured, grateful that Victoire was willing to stand up to her sister.
Dominique sniffed. “I just can't be sure of everyone's good behavior. Obviously Lucy would act like a lady, but, well, she wouldn't fit the dress. Lily, I'm sure you could learn-”
Lily gave her a look, and Dominique went on as if she had no idea what she was saying was rude.
“-and Molly could probably manage it if she would only put her hair right and take out some piercings, but she's got that tattoo all over her back and the dresses are strapless. Then Rose, well, obviously I couldn't ask her. I couldn't even invite her without making sure there was a sitter for all the children.”
“Rose knows better than to bring her son to a wedding,” Victoire said evenly.
“You brought Johnny to Lucy's wedding, and look what happened,” her sister reminded her.
Lily pictured the tidal wave of spilled punch soaking half the guests at Lucy's wedding thanks to Johnny Lupin, and wondered if she could bribe Teddy into setting his son loose at Dominique's wedding as well.
Victoire's ginger eyebrows drew together. “Lucy said I could bring the children. And most of those stains came out-”
“Well, you're actually a good mother, though, and look what happened anyway. If that's what can be expected-”
Victoire scowled. “What are you saying, Dommie?”
“I'm only saying, if you couldn't manage to adequately watch your children at a wedding, of course Rose isn't going to be able to.” Dominique rolled her perfectly mascaraed eyes theatrically. “I mean, honestly. She's not a very good mother, is she?”
Lily's eyes were wide with horror that she was actually related Dominique, and then a noise behind them made all three women turn toward the front door.
Rose Weasley was standing in the doorway. From her expression, it was clear she'd overheard everything. Standing behind her was her boyfriend, Scorpius Malfoy, holding their son in his arms and wearing an expression of deep loathing as he regarded Dominique.
“Rose-” Victoire exclaimed, struggling to get up from her chair.
Rose turned on her heel, snatched her son out of Scorpius's arms, and stalked off through the parlor. Scorpius looked at Dominique as if he'd like to hex her, but he turned and followed Rose without a word. Lily could hear Rose stomping up the stairs and the faint murmur of Scorpius's voice.
“Dominique,” Victoire said sharply. “You should go and apologize at once.”
Dominique affected an expression of hurt. “I'm only being honest. It's a real concern for me as the bride.”
Lily mimed throwing up, then slid out of her chair and left. Maybe not being invited to the bridal party was best; at least this way, her involvement with Dominique was limited to attending the wedding and maybe wishing her well at the reception.
Or wishing her something at the reception, anyway. Well might be too strong a word.
In the kitchen, Lily's mother looked up when she came in and took in Lily's expression. “Oh dear,” she said. “What happened?”
“Dominique, eh?” asked her father rhetorically.
Rose came storming through then, her son still clutched in her arms and Scorpius trailing behind her. Uncle Ron moved to stand up, but Rose was out the door before he could get to his feet. Scorpius flashed an apologetic smile over his shoulder as he jogged after his girlfriend.
“What happened?” Ginny repeated warily.
Lily relayed what Dominique had said about Rose, and Ginny and Aunt Hermione exchanged a glance. Harry didn't look surprised. None of them did, really. Dominique being a bit of a bitch was not really news in the Weasley family.
Uncle Ron rubbed a hand over his face. “Reckon we ought to talk to Bill?” he asked his wife.
“They're not children. We don't need to go tattle to her father, even if he is your brother. Rose will deal with Dominique in her own way,” Aunt Hermione said wisely.
Lily and her mother snorted in unison.
“Oh, I'll just bet,” Lily chuckled. “Dommie's lucky she didn't get hexed.”
Victoire stuck her head in the room. “Did Rose leave?”
“Yes.” Uncle Ron eyed her. “Your sister-”
“I know, Uncle Ron.” Victoire disappeared back into the parlor.
Uncle Ron huffed over this and stuffed a biscuit in his mouth, mumbling about Dominique under his breath. Aunt Hermione rolled her eyes at him and went back to scribbling notes on Dominique's pre-nup.
“Staying for dinner?” Ginny asked.
Dominique didn't seem to be going anywhere, so Lily decided she was. “No, I'll pass. I just wanted to check in on you lot, make sure no one's gone senile yet.”
“I'm going to start wearing my underpants on my head just to see what you do,” her father informed her gravely.
“I'll put you in a very nice facility, Dad,” Lily assured him.
Her dad grinned widely at her. “I knew I could count on my only daughter to take care of me in my dotage.”
Chapter 2: Likely to Offend
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Hugo was sitting at his kitchen table after work one evening, wolfing down leftover curry, when someone banged on his door. Before he could do more than stand, the door opened and in sailed his sister, Rose.
“Oi,” she said, taking in the bowl in his hand. “Oh good, you're not busy. I need your help.”
Hugo managed to swallow the piping-hot curry in his mouth. “With what? Have you got something planned for Dommie as revenge?”
His sister scowled deeply, her red brows drawn together in a sharp line. “Heard about what she said about me, did you?”
Lily had Flooed him yesterday to tell him everything, and right behind her had been his cousin Roxanne, who'd been annoyed that Lily had beaten her to the gossip punch when she'd discovered that Hugo already knew the whole story. Roxanne hated to be scooped, especially by a cousin.
“Well, Dommie can go suck a knarl quill, I don't care what she says about me,” Rose went on, though from the look on her face, she cared more than she would like to admit.
Hugo smiled a bit at this. “Well, as your brother, I'd be happy to help you defend your honor. So if you need any help seeking vengeance, let me know.”
Rose's lips curved in a smile that was equal parts satisfaction and pure malice. “Oh, I've got that covered, don't you worry.”
He gave his sister a look, remembering many a scuffle with his sister during their childhood. “Don't hurt her, Rose.”
Rose puffed up in mock outrage. “I would never hurt her. I mean, she certainly deserves a good sock to the eye, it would do her a load of good really, bit of a public service to be honest, but I wouldn't do it. I'm her cousin. I love her. Besides, Dad said she'd probably file charges.”
Hugo didn't need to think this over to know their dad had a point. That sounded right up Dominique's obnoxious alley. “Well, as long as you don't actually sock her in the eye-”
“I thought of something much, much better than that,” she assured him. “But that's not why I'm here.”
“Why are you here?” he asked, feeling a bit bewildered. This was not an unusual feeling when Rose was around. He wondered if he could bolt down a few more bites of curry before she got to the point.
“I was picking up a skip this afternoon and he got me pretty good, and-”
Hugo shot to his feet, the half-eaten curry forgotten now. “Why didn't you say so? Where are you hurt? What spell did you get hit with?”
She turned, pulling up her shirt to display a large gash stretching from her shoulder halfway down her back. The skin around it was dirty, already beginning to bruise. “Well, he was trying to hide up a tree, you see, and one thing led to another, and when we fell out of the tree we landed on some ornamental brickwork-”
Shaking his head, Hugo examined the wound. The healing spells he could try were already spinning through his mind's eye. “Only you, Rose. Hang on a tick, let me get my wand.”
An hour later his sister was healed, the blood cleaned from her favourite pink unicorn t-shirt, and on her way back home. Hugo sat back down to his curry, now gone stone-cold, and stared around his empty flat. It seemed even quieter and more empty than usual now that Rose had gone. Rose swept along through life in a cloud of chaos, getting into and out of scrapes that would have knocked out even one of their dad's highly-trained underlings in the Auror Department.
It was not his first time healing his sister after a work-related injury. Rose liked to come see him rather than going to St. Mungo's, since any injuries healed there were likely to be relayed to one or both of their parents in short order – both their parents having networks of spies everywhere, which they both liked to think of as “contacts” or friends – whereas injuries healed by Hugo were not likely to see the light of day, since Hugo didn't generally tattle on his sister.
Partly this was because he felt they were too old for that type of thing, and partly this was because it would lead to their mother asking him constantly what his sister was up to.
He preferred to avoid those sorts of questions. Plausible deniability was key with Rose.
He thought back to what she'd said about vengeance against Dominique. Probably the whole family knew by now, thanks to Lily and Roxanne, what Dominique had said about Rose's mothering skills. It had been a low blow even for Dominique. Sure, Rose let her boyfriend do most of the child-rearing, because he had more of the caregiver type of personality than she did, but she was a fine mother. She certainly loved little Ramses to distraction.
Dominique really was deeply unpleasant, Hugo reflected. He didn't know what his sister had up her sleeve for revenge, but there was no reason he couldn't help out a bit. She might have it covered, but he could get one in for their side as well. She was his sister, after all.
He didn't have a girlfriend at the moment. He'd had a half-formed notion of going stag and trying to pick up a bridesmaid, but he was beginning to think that sort of thing was beneath his dignity as a Healer. Besides, with his cousin Louis present and on the prowl, none of the bridesmaids would give him a second glance.
And an additional and newly discovered besides: he found that he didn't much care for the thought of another girl who would last a fortnight and be gone, the way his relationships normally did. It had been years since he'd dated a girl longer than a month at a go.
Lately he'd been spending a lot of time around his cousin Molly, since he'd begun working for the Quidditch League as a Healer, and since she'd started seeing her coach. The chronic pain Riordan Fitzroy lived with after his injury meant he needed regular visits with a Healer. He and Hugo had fallen into a rapport when Hugo had started researching Muggle remedies to help him get on with life without full use of his arm, and since then Hugo had been privy to the full force of Molly and Fitz as a couple.
They really were a team together. Hugo had known it was a goal he ought to have, having seen up close and personal the happy marriages of his parents and aunts and uncles, even seeing it in his mad sister and her equally mad boyfriend, but somehow watching it on a near-daily basis with his extremely sane and put-together cousin had brought it home, crystallizing the realization. Molly and Fitz were his peers, not his parents' generation, and not his crazy sister. They were a team. And Hugo wanted what they had together.
He wanted someone to cheer him on when he overcame challenges, someone he could relax around and have a laugh with, someone to hold in the long nights. Someone to love, and to love him back.
Hugo looked round his empty flat. He didn't want to be alone.
Finding love in time for Dominique's wedding seemed unlikely, though. He'd have to settle for selecting a date that would offend her in some way, to get a dig in on behalf of his sister, and after the wedding he'd start looking for his soul mate.
And if offending Dominique was the only criteria needed, he knew just the person.
“What do you mean, you already have a date?” Lily scowled at her brother and gave him a shove. “No you don't. You never have a date.”
“I do this time.” Albus adjusted his glasses and gave her a frown. “Don't shove me. What are you, twelve?”
“Who's your date?” Lily demanded, ignoring this. “Anyone I know? Is this a girl date or a boy date?”
“It's no one you know, and you'll find out at the wedding.” Albus knocked back his shot. “Now drink up, you're falling behind, you nosy niffler.”
Lily pursed her lips at him for a moment and then picked up her own shot, downing the firewhisky in one swallow.
She'd counted on her perpetually single brother to help her out. They would keep each other company and mock Dominique behind her back. Albus was great fun that way, and unlike her single cousins, he wouldn't run off with a bridesmaid and leave her hanging at the reception.
“I can't be the only one without a date. What about Hugo?”
Albus shook his head. “He told me he's taking a coworker.”
“James has a girlfriend. Molly and Rose have boyfriends. Lucy and Roxanne and Victoire are all married. Everyone has a date.”
“Louis will be stag,” her brother pointed out.
Lily waved a hand, still holding the empty shot glass, in dismissal. “Louis is a whore. He'll have three horrible women by the time the night is over, and then we'll be picking him up from the nearest law enforcement officers.”
Her brother didn't dispute the truth of this. Instead he said optimistically, “Well, there's always Fred.”
Lily put her head on the bartop. This was an error, as it felt sticky and was probably contagious. She sat back up, wiping her forehead with a napkin. “I've reached the pinnacle of patheticness, haven't I. I'm on the same level as Fred.”
Albus's lips quirked in a small smile at this. “Fred's not so bad.”
Lily rolled her eyes dramatically. “Albus, go with me. You don't really have a date, do you?”
He patted her on the shoulder. “I'm sorry, Lily, but I really do have a date.”
Her brother trotted off to the restroom, and Lily slumped onto the bartop. She had truly counted on Albus as her companion in spinsterhood, so to speak. Albus never dated. As far as she could recall, Albus had had little to no interest in either gender. He simply didn't seem set up that way. Normally he would attend events like this proudly solo, and she had thought to do the same. Well, with him anyway.
But Albus had a date. Everyone had dates. Except Louis, but he hardly counted. And as she'd said, he'd have three dates before the night was up. Louis could always be counted on for that.
She could find a date, sure, but one she could bring on a family wedding out of town? Not on a moment's notice. She didn't even have any single male friends she could bring.
Lord, everyone was half of a pair except her.
The bartender swept past, refilling the two shot glasses in front of her without needing to be asked. No doubt she looked like she needed another drink. Albus was back a moment later, and picked up his glass.
“This is intolerable,” Lily remarked.
“Keep drinking, you'll feel better.” Her brother handed her the other shot.
The next day was even more intolerable, when she had to contemplate being alone at the wedding when even Albus had a bloody date, and she had a roaring hangover to complicate her contemplation. Lily laid on the floor of her living room, which was as far as she'd managed to get since getting out of bed, and stared at the ceiling.
Everyone had a date. Most of them were permanent dates, too, long-term relationships and marriages. Built-in dates. One didn't even have to ask.
Oh, it was so unfair. Lily hadn't had a permanent date in over two years, not since she'd broken things off with the drummer fellow she'd met through Roxanne's husband. All of her dates since then had been decidedly temporary.
And now she was going to go stag to Dominique's wedding and have to listen to Dommie clucking over how sad it was that Lily couldn't find a man, how Lily hadn't managed to get a proper date. It would be humiliating, especially coming from Dominique. And the worst thing was, because it would be Dominique's wedding, she wouldn't be allowed to make any jabs back at her cousin. Reminding Dommie of her first husband usually knocked her down a peg.
Normally Lily didn't use that sort of low blow against Dominique. But damn it, her cousin would try the patience of a saint.
Lily had never claimed to be a saint.
She dragged herself to her feet, moaning a bit. She managed to get dressed and slap on some makeup, hoping it looked like that Japanese trend of hangover makeup rather than an actual hangover, and then was out the door, hiding behind oversized Jackie O sunglasses.
When she arrived at her uncle's joke shop, her cousin Fred was sitting on the counter, cross-legged in his magenta shop robes. He waved and tossed aside the book he'd been reading when he saw her.
“All right there, Lily? You look terrible, were you drinking last night?”
She rolled her eyes, but because she was still wearing the dark sunglasses, he probably couldn't see this. “Is it obvious?”
“Well, I know you very well,” Fred said diplomatically. “But yes. Did you hear what Dominique said about Rose?”
“Yeah, I was there.” Lily slid onto the counter beside him and took off her sunglasses. “How'd you hear about it?”
His sister was a reporter, and while she never wrote anything bad about her family, she was certainly quick to spread the gossip to all their relatives, Lily thought with a sniff, ignoring the fact she'd been spreading it around herself.
Fred squinted at her. “Your eyes are the same red as your lipstick. Did you do that on purpose?”
“Do you have a date for the wedding?” Lily asked him, bald-faced.
“Yeah, I'm taking this girl I know- what?” he interrupted his own train of thought when Lily flung herself dramatically against him.
“Everyone has a date except me, Freddie. When did I become such a loser? I should have started finding a boyfriend months ago so I wouldn't have to go alone.”
“Just take any old person,” Fred suggested. “It's only Dominique's. She's bound to have another one, and you can bring someone special then.”
“I can't take just anyone, it's an out-of-town wedding. Any bloke I ask will get the wrong idea. Besides, have you any idea how my parents will act? How my brothers will act?”
Fred nodded then, understanding dawning. “Oh, yeah, I didn't think of that.”
“This is awful.” Lily rubbed her hands over her eyes, remembered she'd put on eyeliner, and groaned. “I'm a mess, Fred. Kill me now. Put me out of my misery.”
“I don't know why you're so bothered,” he said obliviously. “Just go alone.”
“Dominique will get snippy and make a remark about how I couldn't get a date.”
As much as Lily hated to admit it, she cared. She didn't want to go alone to the wedding. She didn't want to be the only one there without a date. Maybe she should just take any old person. Maybe Fred was right. That seemed to be working for the boys.
“Want me to set you up, then?” Fred asked. “I've got a friend who might do for you.”
It was a mark of Lily's increasing desperation to not look like a loser that she didn't laugh at this. Fred's friends were James's friends, and she knew exactly the type of blokes her brother was friends with.
Still… Anyone was better than no one at this point, and at least if she had a set-up, she'd know the man wasn't secretly an axe murderer. Fred and James's friends would at least be a laugh. And in all likelihood, the sort of blokes Fred and James were friends with were also likely to offend Dominique.
If she couldn't suddenly produce a soul mate to parade around in front of Dominique and wave their great love under her perfect nose, then Lily could at least find someone obnoxious to let loose on the proceedings.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
Chapter 3: Rude Boys
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Hugo steeled himself, drawing a deep breath, as he stood in front of the yellow-painted door. It was a dreadful shade of yellow, almost green and almost brown but neither one. The paint was chipped right underneath the doorknocker. He did not really want to be outside this particular door, since he knew who was behind it and that she was likely to be home at this hour, but that was why he'd come, after all. That didn't mean he was looking forward to this.
“Oh, just get it over with,” he muttered to himself, and reached up to bang on the door.
A few moments later, it popped open an inch and a familiar-looking beady brown eye appeared in the crack.
“What d'you want, then?”
Hugo smiled gamely and waved. “Hi Gwen.”
The door didn't budge. “I hate being called that. What d'you want, Weasley?”
“I wanted to ask if you'd like to come to my cousin's wedding with me, Gwyneira.”
The door closed sharply, and the sound of several locks sliding open could be heard. Hugo wished there was time to bang his head against a wall, but of course there wasn't. A moment later, the door opened fully and his least-favorite coworker, Gwyneira Griffiths, appeared, dressed in ratty purple robes with yellow trim nearly the same shade as the horrible paint on her front door. She looked utterly gobsmacked. It was not really a good look on her, but it made a nice change from her usual scowl of general disapproval of the world and everything in it.
“What the bloody hell for?” she demanded. “I don't even like you. Why would I want to go to a wedding with you? Why would you want to go to a wedding with me, for that matter? You don't like me either.”
Hugo had already considered these questions and had his answer ready. “You should go with me cause you'll get a free weekend in Amsterdam. And I want to bring you because you're sure to piss off my cousin who's getting married.”
Gwyneira blinked. “You want to piss her off?”
“Yes,” Hugo said decisively.
“Oh. Well, in that case, I'll come along. Do I have to be on my best behavior?” She didn't look as if she had any desire to be on her best behavior. He wasn't sure she actually had any best behavior, for that matter. He'd certainly never seen any evidence of it.
Gwyneira had been in front of their supervisor any number of times for being nasty to patients. Even when she wasn't intentionally being mean, nobody liked her and she clearly didn't like them. Being offensive in general seemed to come naturally to her. Hugo honestly had no idea why she wanted to work in Healing to begin with, since she always seemed to be wishing death on everyone she met. She seemed entirely aware that she was unpleasant and unlikable and lacked any desire to stop being that way.
“Definitely not. The worse, the better.”
She considered him. “Can I wear what I like? Do I have to be nice to you?”
“Yes, and no. So do you want to come?”
“Okay,” she said slowly, still looking suspicious. “I suppose I wouldn't mind going to Amsterdam.”
“It's in a fortnight. I'll owl you the details,” Hugo told her. “See you at the game this weeken-”
The door was already closing in his face.
Hugo rocked back on his heels. That had been rather less painful than he'd expected. Gwen Griffiths was sure to annoy Dominique within minutes, and he could pat himself on the back for being a good brother and getting one in for Rose.
Whistling cheerfully, Hugo trotted off to the pub to meet his cousins.
James and Fred had taken over a table that was conspicuously located in the middle of the room and were loudly discussing women and Fred's need for a pretty one, because neither one of them would spot subtlety if it bit them on the arse. Fred was scanning the room eagerly, surveying the available prey for the evening. James, now an engaged man, was looking round as well but with rather less interest than Fred.
“What about her?” he asked, pointing at a blonde witch at the bar.
Fred craned his neck for a better look. “She seems all right.”
“I thought you already had a date for Dominique's wedding?” Hugo asked as he sat down at their table.
James took a sip of his beer and gestured with the mug at the room in general. “He does. What he doesn't have is a date for tonight.”
“Ah.” Hugo noted the extra seat at the table. “Is Albus joining us, or is that in case Fred finds a date?”
“Albus is here. Somewhere. Getting a drink or having a piss, who knows.” Fred's attention drew back to his cousin. “You have a date for the wedding, Hugo?”
“Yep,” he said, satisfied. “Remember my co-worker that said she'd cut off your hand if you touched her?”
They both goggled at him.
“Why the hell are you bringing her?” James demanded.
“Because of what Dommie said about Rose.”
“Oh, that.” Fred dismissed this with a wave. “If we all got upset about every horrible thing Dominique said, nobody would get anything done.”
“Yeah, but you know Rose. She won't just let it go. I'm only being a good brother. Defending her honor and all that.” He absolutely did not want to tell them about his earlier epiphany about being sick of simply finding the next Ms. Right Now. Despite being in love himself, James was still encouraging his single cousins to play the field, just as he always had.
“You're wasting a perfectly good opportunity to get laid,” James said sternly, true to form. “You want to bring someone hot, or go stag and pick up a bridesmaid. Women love weddings, makes them all soft and gooey. It's a sure bet.”
“Who are you bringing, then?” Hugo asked Fred, ignoring James.
“Rosina Ogden,” Fred said promptly. “She works down the street from Dad's shop, at that posh dress shop.”
Hugo nodded. “Right. And is she a sure bet?”
Fred and James both nodded. Hugo didn't ask further.
Albus turned up, pint of beer in hand, and slid into his seat. “Oi,” he said, nodding at Hugo. “Where've you been? We're two pints up on you.”
That explained rather a lot, Hugo reflected.
“He was getting his date for the wedding,” Fred advised him. “Remember his co-worker that said she'd cut off my hand?”
“Nice one, Hugo,” Albus said approvingly. “Dominique will hate her.”
“Are you bringing a date, Albus?” asked Hugo, more out of habit than actually expecting his cousin to have a date.
“Yes,” Albus said firmly.
The other three stared at him in shock. Albus looked smug and sipped his beer demurely.
“What, you?” his elder brother said incredulously.
“You're joking,” said Fred.
Albus nodded. “I have a date for the wedding.”
They stared at him again, and Albus, ignoring them with aplomb, signaled a passing waiter to order a pint of beer for Hugo. When the waiter had left again, Hugo pounced on his cousin.
“Who's your date?”
“It's a surprise,” Albus said, attempting to look mysterious.
“Do you really have a date or are you pulling our wands?” James demanded.
“I'm not pulling your wand.”
“I don't believe it,” Fred announced. “You don't really have a date. Who is it, though?”
“No one you've met,” Albus shot back.
Hugo narrowed his eyes at his cousin while Fred and James continued to rib him. To his knowledge, Albus had gone on approximately three dates in his entire life, and all of those at school. Albus simply wasn't interested. He was perfectly willing to play wingman to any cousin who needed him, whether they were picking up women or men, but he never cared to pick up anyone for himself.
“Do you really have a date?” he asked eventually, when Fred and James had shut up long enough to squeeze a word in around them.
“I really do. And I'm really not going to tell you who it is.”
“Loser,” said James.
“Twat,” said Albus.
“I'm telling Mum.”
“I'm telling Navya.”
“Shite,” said James. “You win. Firewhisky, anyone?” He slid out of his seat and dashed over to the bar.
“I'm surprise Navya's not here, actually,” Hugo said, glancing around. “I don't think I've seen James without her attached to his side in a solid month.”
“No women allowed tonight,” Fred informed him. “Blokes only. I did ask Hob if he'd come out, cause I'm going to set him up with Lily for the wedding and I wanted to make sure he wasn't going to back out.”
Albus's black eyebrows drew together. “Wait, you're setting my sister up for the wedding?”
“Fred's doing what?” said James behind him, dropping several glasses of firewhisky on the table. He scowled at Fred, strongly resembling his younger brother. “Who?”
“Hob?” James echoed, looking horrified. “He's a filthy bastard! He can't go near Lily! I'll gut him, the tosspot, who does he think he is-”
“Isn't Hob one of your best friends?” Hugo asked mildly.
Fred nodded. “Since we were all in second year.”
James shook a finger threateningly at him. “That's how I know he oughtn't date my sister.”
Albus was still frowning as well. “He's not wrong, Hob's got no business touching a hair on Lily's head. He's a dirty sod.”
Fred heaved a long-suffering sigh and flung himself back in his chair. “Spare me! I've got a sister too, you know, and so has Hugo, but you don't see us getting our wands in a knot just because they want to have a date-”
“Yeah well, your sister wouldn't touch one of your friends with a ten-foot pole,” Albus pointed out. “She's got more sense than Lily.”
“That's not true at all and you know it,” Fred retorted. “Well, it's true about Roxy not going anywhere near my friends, but not about her having more sense than Lily.”
“Of course she does,” Albus said. “If we ranked the girls from least to most mental, you know, on a scale from Lucy to Rose-”
“Oi,” interjected Hugo, “that's my sister you're talking about now-”
“-it would go Lucy, Victoire, Molly, Roxanne, Lily, Dominique, Rose.”
“He has a list?” Hugo asked James.
James affected surprise that Hugo didn't know this already. “He made a chart.”
Fred eyed his cousin owlishly. “I strongly disagree with the order on that list. Shouldn't Victoire be the least crazy?”
“Johnny Lupin,” chorused the Potter brothers.
“Oh.” Fred looked chagrined. “Right. I'll give you that one, then, but I think it should then go Molly, Lily, Roxanne, Dominique, then Rose.”
“Frankly, I don't think you can quantify that. Though I'd probably agree that Rose is leading the pack,” Hugo admitted, thinking of the framed picture of his sister covered in treacle that stood in a prized spot in his father's office.
“Where d'you think they'd rank us?” asked Albus.
There was silence as they contemplated this with varying degrees of horror, then Fred waved to someone in the doorway to the pub.
“Hob!” he called out loudly. “Come and join us!”
Hugo turned in his seat. He'd met Hob Nithercott before, and found him to be perfectly pleasant. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and possessing a dark sense of humour, Hob was indeed one of Fred and James's oldest school chums. He and James normally got on like a house on fire, which rather told you all you needed to know about Hob.
Today, however, James and Albus scooted their chairs closer together to make room for Hob, then leaned back and regarded him with sharp disapproval. James folded his arms across his chest.
“What's this I hear about you going out with our sister?”
Hob looked nonplussed. “Yeah, I am. What do you care?”
Albus scowled deeply, crossing his own arms now. The two of them looked extremely menacing, even to Hugo's practiced eye. Having grown up with his cousins regularly visiting, he'd been in any number of scrapes with them and knew when James and Albus teamed up, someone was bound to wind up in the hospital. The double-team against a potential suitor was a routine Hugo had seen before, especially at school. Poor Lily hadn't had any dates at all until James had left school. Every boy who'd expressed interest in her had been cornered by her brothers and threatened within an inch of his life.
Lily had, in turn, scared off quite a few girls from her brothers' paths in revenge, and there were several witches who would still cross the street to avoid bumping into one of the Potters because of Lily's stories. Hugo wondered how many of their friends had likewise been scared off of showing interest in their sister by this particular act.
“That's our baby sister,” Albus said, his voice pitched deeper with annoyance. “If you even think about injuring her feelings, you're dead.”
“Yeah, don't forget our dad is Harry Potter,” James added. “You don't lay a hand on her, got it?”
“Pretty sure that's her decision if she wants me to lay a hand on her, you Neanderthals.” Hob frowned back at them. “We've been friends for how many years now and this is the thanks I get?”
“Thanks?” Albus repeated.
“Why should we thank you?” James put in. “We ought to stuff you down the privy.”
“No wonder Lily never has a boyfriend,” Fred said sotto voce to Hugo.
Hob shrugged. “Fred said Lily didn't have a date for the wedding. I agreed to go with her. Why are you acting like a couple of prats about it?”
The Potters considered him in mutual silence, then came to some sort of unspoken agreement, led as usual by James.
“Right, then,” he said, setting both hands on the tabletop. “You can take her to Dominique's wedding. But you keep your hands off her or they'll never find your body.”
“Don't think we can't do it, either,” Albus agreed.
Hob scratched the back of his neck. “Right, okay. It's just a set-up, it's not like I'm trying to elope with her.”
The scowls were immediately back across the table from him.
“Who said anything about eloping?” intoned James dangerously.
The evening did not improve from there. Eventually Fred and Hob buggered off to another pub, escaping the Potters, and Hugo went home alone, feeling grateful that his own sibling had never taken much interest in his romantic partners.
“Well then,” Lily said gamely, trying to hold a pleasant smile on her face. She cast about for a topic of conversation, and came up dry. The weather, that was it. There was always the weather. “Lots of rain this week, innit?”
Things were not going well.
Hob was good-looking enough, though not really her type, but he'd do. Unfortunately, it seemed she wouldn't do for him. She didn't know why, but he was a little skittish. Fred and James's friends weren't usually shy, so it was strange that Hob Nithercott was so quiet. She'd met him before, briefly, since he'd been friends with her brother for so long, and didn't remember him being this quiet. Of course, she hadn't been considering him as a potential romantic partner at the time, so maybe she hadn't noticed.
From the way this coffee date was going, it was clear he didn't consider her a potential romantic partner. They'd met in the Leaky Cauldron, as it seemed to be a decent sort of neutral ground when one wasn't sure whether one might need to drop one's date like a hot cake.
“Supposed to rain more this weekend,” Hob said. He seemed to be trying, she'd give him that.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, contemplating their coffees. Eventually Lily heaved a loud sigh and said, “Look, d'you really want to go to this wedding?”
Hob looked startled. “Dunno. Do you?”
“Of course not, but she's my cousin so I don't have a choice.”
He smiled at that, looking a little more relaxed. “You need a date, then. Just make sure your brothers don't kill me for it.”
“My brothers?” Lily frowned. “Why, what did they say to you?”
Hob shrugged. “They didn't scare me off. I'm here, aren't I?”
“Hmm.” Lily looked him over for a moment. He was here, true, but he didn't look entirely comfortable. James and Albus had probably threatened to have him drawn and quartered or something equally dramatic. Honestly, they were a complete embarrassment.
She probably should have expected it, though. They'd done that sort of thing all through school. It seemed they were never happy unless they were ruining her social life.
Hob's shaggy dark hair was hanging down over his eyes as he looked down at his coffee cup, slowly turning the cup around in his large hands. One wrist was tattooed, and Lily's eyes traced the angular design that wrapped around his tanned skin. He had nice hands, nice arms, but she wasn't really feeling a spark when she looked at him. She decided the urge to do anything naughty with him was completely lacking, which meant he wasn't going to last more than one date whether he was afraid of her brothers or not.
Well, they could go to the wedding, anyway. At least she wouldn't be alone.
“Have you actually met my cousin Dominique?” Lily asked then.
“No. I don't think so anyway. I sort of lose track of all of Fred and James's cousins, to be honest,” Hob admitted.
“Fair enough. Thanks for coming along with me. Are you the sort who hates weddings or the sort who loves weddings?”
“Hates,” he said easily. “Yourself?”
“Hates as well. They're so boring. Well, at least we can hate it together.” Lily smiled at him, and he smiled back, his eyes under the shaggy fringe sparkling.
“Yeah, we can do that. When do we leave?”
They made arrangements for the trip, and Lily made her way home. Her flat was a rather small two bedroom, but since she'd leased it purely to have the second bedroom as a wardrobe, she didn't particularly care that the second bedroom was tiny. As walk-in closets went, it was quite spacious. She kicked her shoes off in the wardrobe bedroom and sat down on the round cushioned bench in the center of the room.
She spent a few minutes looking around the room full of clothes, trying to picture what she could wear to Dominique's wedding. As usual, she was torn between the conflicting thoughts that she had nothing to wear and ought to go shopping at once, and that she had too many clothes to even know what she owned. No doubt somewhere in the depths of her closet was the perfect outfit for the occasion, if only she could find it.
Lily pursed her lips and went over to the section she mentally classified as 'Opera,' a selection of about a dozen semi-formal dresses and robes.
“Right,” she said to herself, pulling out a long purple gown and holding it up in front of herself in the mirror. “Which one best says 'Kiss my arse, I can get my own dates'?”
Chapter 4: The Bride
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Lily stood in front of the steps to Dominique's rowhouse, digging in her purse for her favorite lipstick. She finally found it and turned to the small mirror she'd set hovering in the air in front of her, swiftly applying the cherry-red color. The anti-feathering charm had already worn off this particular tube, but it was such a beautiful color, she kept wearing it anyway. It was going to leave beautifully bloody marks all over Dominique's wine glasses, which also recommended it for the occasion.
She plucked the mirror out of the air and stowed it safely in her purse with the lipstick, then dashed up the brick stairs to Dominique's tastefully painted front door.
Dominique answered at once, stepping in with a welcoming smile that showed far too many teeth. If Lily hadn't grown up with her, she probably wouldn't have known that wasn't a real smile. Dominique's ability to paste on a sincere smile at the drop of a hat was legendary. Dominique had on a jaw-droppingly gorgeous floral sheath dress that fitted her like a glove. Lily would have cheerfully mugged her in a back alley for that dress.
“Good evening, Lily,” Dommie was saying, and Lily nodded.
“Where'd you find that dress, Dommie?” she asked, ignoring the pleasantries in favor of getting to the point. Not only did she want that dress for herself, it would sell beautifully if she could manage it for Madame Malkin's.
“Chanel,” said Dominique, dashing all of Lily's hopes.
Of course it was Chanel.
Her cousin Lucy was arriving right behind her with her husband, and Dominique promptly abandoned Lily to fawn over Lucy's husband. Dominique collected people that she felt made her look better, and she adored Hilarion Winston-Fisher because he was a famous Quidditch player and absolutely gorgeous. From the way he was hiding a bit behind his wife, the feeling was not mutual. He and Lucy were both rather quiet, so it was hard to tell if it was shyness or dislike.
Lily decided the idea that Lucy's husband didn't like Dominique was the more fun option for her private musings and made her way cheerfully into the rowhouse. It was filled to the brim with Weasleys and their significant others, because of course virtually everyone except Lily had one of those. She took a slow spin, checking out the room to see who was talking to whom and which group she wanted to join. She wanted to have a word with Rose, since she hadn't got to talk to her since the incident at the Burrow, but Rose was nowhere to be seen. Neither was her boyfriend, Scorpius. Lily's eyes narrowed.
Now that was an interesting development.
No doubt Dominique wasn't sad at Rose's absence, but Lily was dying to know what Rose was up to. Of course she must have some sort of revenge planned, and Lily wanted to know what it was.
She made a beeline for Victoire instead. Victoire and Rose were always hanging round each other, so she was bound to know if Rose was going to show up tonight. Victoire was on the sofa beside her husband, who was deep in conversation with Molly's boyfriend Fitz, talking Quidditch. Victoire looked to be listening half-heartedly to Roxanne, who was standing in front of the sofa gesticulating wildly while she talked. Various cousins and significant others were dodging her as they walked past, though Roxy didn't seem to notice.
“Oi, Lily,” said Victoire when Lily reached her. “Did you just get here?”
“Just a minute ago.” Lily gave her a significant look. “No Rose, I see.”
Victoire shrugged. “Rose said Dominique could go suck a knarl quill. She's not coming tonight.”
Lily laughed. “Did she say that to her face?”
“No, she's not actually speaking to Dommie right now.” Victoire looked down at her drink and wrinkled her nose. “I wish there was actual tequila in this.”
Teddy heard that and turned to give his wife's rounded belly a pat. “Not long now, and then you can get your booze on.”
She swatted his hand away. “No I can't. I'll be nursing the baby. I'm out of luck for the next couple of months. And it's all your fault.”
Teddy did not look abashed. “I seem to recall you participating too.”
“Go and get me something else.” Victoire shoved the glass into his hand. “And see if you can sneak some food out of the kitchen. I'm starving.”
Teddy took off to raid the kitchen, and Lily settled in his place on the sofa. Victoire's belly seemed to be radiating heat beside her, and Lily shied away a bit, finding herself pressed up against Molly's boyfriend instead.
He looked down at her with a smile. “Hi Lily.”
“Hi Fitz. What are you drinking?” She peered into his glass.
“Oh.” Lily lost interest. Molly drank those, and apparently she had Fitz drinking them now as well. Lily didn't care for sour drinks. “Does Dommie have a bar set up? Can we serve ourselves?”
Roxanne had overheard her, and interrupted her own monologue to answer. “Louis is here, so no open bar. I think Dommie is trying to keep him sober enough not to embarrass her.”
“It won't work,” Victoire said with ruthless practicality. “Nothing stops Louis from embarrassing us. Might as well let Reinolt see it now, so if he's going to be scared off, Dommie will know ahead of time.”
“Didn't anyone warn him about Louis?” Roxanne's husband Perry craned his neck, looking around the room, either for Louis or for Dominique's fiance, Lily wasn't sure.
“Did anyone warn you?” Lily asked.
“Oh yes.” Perry turned to her with a wide grin. “I think it was one of the first Weasley stories I heard, the tales of Louis.”
“My favorite is the one where Louis is stuffed in a car boot,” Fitz said, sipping his drink.
“I prefer Louis getting shot in the arse, myself.”
“Shot in the arse is my favorite as well,” Molly agreed. “Fine choice, Perry.”
Lily sighed. Louis was an endless source of embarrassing stories for the family to tell. She sometimes thought she could judge whether a friend or significant other would stick around based on their reaction to Louis and his antics. Fitz and Perry both found him hilariously entertaining. Dominique's first husband hadn't liked him and had tried not to invite him round.
Teddy arrived with a small plate of food for his wife, and Dominique noticed them, her eyes going wide with disapproval.
“I don't think you were supposed to steal food before dinner, Teddy,” Lily remarked.
“Pregnant wife owns my soul, I can't afford manners.”
“Damn right,” agreed the pregnant wife in question, her mouth already full.
Dominique called them to the table a moment later. Lily was seated down the end, since as always Dominique had arranged the table to place those she considered most important (in other words, famous) nearest to her and her fiance. Molly, Fitz, Lucy, and Hilarion appeared to have that honor tonight, thanks to their professional Quidditch connections. Lily had been relegated to the position of least importance, along with her cousin Hugo and her brother Albus.
“Oi, you,” she said to her brother as she sat down across from him. “What'd you say to Hob?”
Albus affected great innocence. “Hob?”
“He was acting very odd when we had coffee the other day.” Lily shook a finger at him. “Leave him alone, you tosser.”
“I'm telling Mum you called me names.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “I'll do worse if you don't butt out.”
“Why, do you fancy him? Hob?” Albus asked disparagingly.
When he took that tone, she'd be damned if she'd answer that question. “Butt out, Albus. I mean it.”
Hugo heaved a sigh from beside her. “Albus, please butt out.”
“Oh, you always take her side.” Albus turned away to talk to Perry, who was seated beside him. Perry was a composer, and not famous at all, so he and Roxanne were down the end of the table too. Roxanne had a tendency to make Dominique nervous or uncomfortable, so of course she hadn't put Roxy nearby.
“Thanks, Hugo.” Lily turned her attention to her cousin. Hugo was almost exactly her age, and they'd grown up being rather constantly thrown together because of it, especially at school. She was extremely fond of him, particularly since he didn't baby her the way her older brothers did.
“Do you actually fancy Hob?” he asked in a low voice, making sure Albus didn't overhear.
“No. What I fancy is not going alone to the wedding.”
“Cheers,” Hugo said, starting on his soup. Dominique's dinner parties were always several courses, and her cooking was excellent. Nearly everything Dominique did, she did well (generally quite ostentatiously well), which was one of the many reasons Lily didn't like her much.
“What about you? Who are you taking to the wedding?”
“A co-worker. You haven't met her.”
Lily was intrigued. “Do you fancy her? Is this a serious date?”
Hugo glanced over her shoulder at Dominique, his red brows drawing together in a small frown. “No. I chose her because Dommie will hate her. Everyone hates her, all the teams.”
Lily nodded sagely at that. No doubt because of what Dominique had said about his sister. Now that was how she wished her brothers would be protective of her, instead of running off all her potential dates. “Good for you. That's proper brotherly behavior, right there. So she's another Healer for the League, is she?”
“Yeah. Vastly unpleasant person. I don't know how she keeps her job. She's been banned from two teams because she made the coaches angry.”
“Which teams?” Lily adored gossip. Hugo usually wasn't one to pass any on, so she assumed this was something that was considered general knowledge in the Quidditch world. He would never share confidential information.
“Wigtown and Portree.”
She let out a burst of laughter at that. The coach for the Pride of Portree was her cousin Molly's boyfriend Fitz. She indicated him with her spoon and asked, “Does he know you're bringing this woman?”
Hugo cracked a smile. “No. I probably ought to warn him. I mean, I don't care if she starts anything at the wedding – that's sort of the point, actually – but Molly would probably be a little miffed if I get Fitz dragged into a duel.”
Lily was briefly impressed. Hugo was really pulling out all the stops if duels were even a consideration where his date was concerned. Though since she knew for a fact Fitz had been arrested for getting in a Muggle-style brawl once, it probably wasn't totally out of bounds to expect.
“I suppose that'll get one in for your side,” she said then. “For your sister, I mean.”
Hugo grunted and pushed his soup bowl aside, eyeing Dominique's red-gold head down the table. “And may it teach her a lesson.”
After all the dinner courses were finally wrapped up, Dominique served coffee in the living room. Hugo took his cup and wandered round the room, wishing his sister was there to keep him entertained. Lily was fun, of course, nearly a second sister, but he found himself missing Rose and Scorpius. He sidled up to James and Navya, who were sitting with Albus and Fred.
Fred pulled a flask out of his pocket. “Make it Irish, anyone?”
James held out his cup, and Fred added a bit of whiskey to the coffee. Navya waved this off, probably serving as Designated Apparator for the two of them, and Hugo accepted a splash of whiskey in his own drink.
He had just taken a sip of the doctored coffee when Dominique appeared beside him. Fred quickly stowed the flask, and either Dominique hadn't seen it or she pretended she hadn't.
“Hugo, can I have a quick word?” she whispered, nodding her head toward the now-empty dining room.
Warily, Hugo followed her into the other room, wondering if she was about to tell him off about his sister or make some new insulting remark about her instead.
Dominique wrapped both arms around herself and leaned closer to him. “I wanted to ask you something.”
He gave her a look that said to spit it out, and she looked over her shoulder, making sure they were alone.
“I wanted to know what you think of Reinolt,” she said in a low voice.
This was very nearly the last thing Hugo had expected her to say. He had spoken briefly with her fiance when he'd arrived and found the Dutch baron pleasant enough, but the idea that Dominique might ask his opinion of the man had never crossed his mind.
Dominique had never asked him for his opinion on anything before that he could recall.
She took in his surprise and went on, “Look, I know you had some training in psychological Healing before you started with the League, and after everything that happened with Andrew, I just wanted your professional opinion that I wasn't making the same mistake again.”
Hugo was floored. “You want to know if I think Reinolt will turn out to be a criminal like Andrew?”
“Or a cheat like Andrew. Yes.” Her expression had turned mulish, reminding him sharply of her sister. “And I trust you to keep it quiet, too, that I asked you.”
“Of course,” he said, softening a bit toward her. “He seemed all right to me, Dommie. I liked him. I don't think you need worry he'll wind up like Andrew did.”
“Did you think Andrew would be that way, when you first met him?”
“Well...” Hugo tried to recall his first impression of Dominique's ex-husband. It had been a few years since he'd originally met Andrew Campbell, but he remembered thinking the man was a prat from day one. “I never liked Andrew, to be honest. I wouldn't have pegged him for a criminal, but I can't say I was surprised that he cheated.”
“But not Reinolt.” Her face was still tight with stress.
“I don't think so, no. There's no way to guarantee.” That probably hadn't sounded very reassuring, though it was true. He wasn't going to lie to her about it just to be comforting, if only because that would violate the ethics of his profession. He wondered what else he could say. “Did you have a background check done on Reinolt?”
She bristled. “Of course I did, I'm not stupid. And I've an iron-clad prenup, too.”
That was mostly thanks to his mother, not that Dominique had acknowledged it. The prenup would protect her financially and even in a lot of legal ways, but it wouldn't keep her from being hurt. He sighed. “Look, Dommie, you can't know for sure. All you can do is trust your instincts.”
Her face took on a hunted look. All right, so she didn't think she could trust her instincts. That was probably understandable given that she'd already married one bloke that ran around on her and went to prison. Hugo cast about for something diplomatic to say, but Dominique shook her head at him before he could think of anything.
“Well, I suppose you're right, there's no guarantee. I'll just have to hope for the best. Thanks anyway, Hugo.” She patted her hair, though it was still just as perfectly coiffed as it had been all night. “I hope you didn't say anything to Reinolt about this sort of thing, though.”
“I thought you trusted me to be discreet,” he said, mildly annoyed.
“I'm sure you did your best. Make sure you don't say anything to your sister, of course. Lord knows she hasn't the sense God gave green apples. I'd better get back to my guests.” She bustled off back to the living room, leaving Hugo standing alone, surveying the table full of dirty plates and half-drunk goblets of wine, still feeling annoyed that Dominique could never just leave things kindly.
She always had to show she was better than the rest of them.
Well, he'd show her. For half a moment, while she'd seemed vulnerable, asking him what he thought of her future husband and worrying that her second marriage would fail the way her first had, he'd felt a pang of guilt that he'd chosen a date merely to irritate her. The thought had even crossed his mind to cancel on Gwyneira.
But that thought had passed. Dommie needed to be taken down a peg or two.
Chapter 5: Cavemen
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Lily awoke three days before the wedding to the sound of an owl tapping at her window. Pushing her hair out of her face, she stumbled out of bed to open the window. The owl did not look familiar, and she frowned a bit as she unrolled it.
The frown deepened to a scowl once she'd started reading.
Bloody Dominique could ruin anything, even clothes. Lily loved clothes. What Lily did not love was dress codes. The parchment Dominique had sent over included a long list of bullet points of appropriate clothing to wear to the wedding. Avoiding drawing attention from the Muggles present was one thing; Dominique, however, wanted to control how all of her relatives presented themselves. Given that the letter included examples and instructions for both male and female dress, Lily could only assume everyone had gotten this. It seemed par for the course for Dominique.
Fully awake now, Lily headed for her living room and the Floo grate. Her brother Albus was first on the list.
“Did you get a list from Dommie?” she demanded as soon as he spun into view, sitting at his breakfast table.
Albus waved a sheet of parchment at her. “She doesn't trust us at all. First no wands, and now we've got dress instructions?”
“Bloody ridiculous. I know how to dress appropriately for a wedding.”
“I hope she didn't send this to Rose,” Albus remarked. “She'll see it as a challenge. Between her and Scorpius, they ought to be able to tick off every item on that list.”
Lily shook her head. “He'd never let her do it.”
Albus tapped the parchment and it burst into pink flames, smoldering quickly into ash on his plate. Lily watched this with satisfaction. She didn't want to burn hers yet, though.
“Who's your date, Albus?”
He assumed a serene expression that she found rather annoying. “No one you've met.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “Loser.”
Lily pulled her head out of the fireplace and watched as the green flames died out, pursing her lips as she looked down at the letter from Dominique again.
All women must have natural hair color, with hair put up. No one may have unusual haircuts.
Makeup should be conservative, and lip color only in neutral shades of pink. Do not wear dark lipstick.
No smokey eyes or false lashes.
“Don't look prettier than the bride,” Lily muttered. “Don't have better makeup.”
As if Dominique wasn't hiring a professional to do her hair and makeup. Why did she have to make so many rules? If she'd just asked them all not to draw attention to themselves, to blend in with the Muggles, no one would mind. They were all already making the effort to do that, with approval by Aunt Hermione and Aunt Audrey, who were both Muggle-born and knew all about how Muggles dressed. Hell, Lily's father had been raised Muggle. He knew how to look like a Muggle when he wanted to.
Lily scanned the list of acceptable perfumes, dress lengths and fabrics, and color schemes. Mentally she compared these to her chosen dress. It fit all the criteria except length, since the skirt was above the knee. She wasn't about to change it now, though. The dress was perfect.
If Dominique tried to make her change it, she'd tell her mother. In fact, telling her mother now sounded like a bloody brilliant idea.
She rushed back to her room to get dressed.
When she arrived at her parents' house, Dominique's letter in hand, her mother was in the kitchen with Granny Weasley, both of them holding teacups as if they were shields and looking a little huffy.
Ginny poured a cup of tea and handed it to Lily. “Morning, dear.”
“Mum, look what Dominique sent.” Lily took the teacup and handed over the letter.
“Oh dear,” said Granny. “What's she done now?”
Ginny was scanning the letter with brows raised. “I can't say I'm surprised. You know she sent something to us last week asking your dad if he could hide his scar for the wedding?”
Granny Weasley looked horrified. “She didn't!”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Unbelievable. Dad isn't going to do it, is he?”
“He said he'd talk to Bill about it first. Why hide his scar when Bill can't possibly hide his?”
Explaining Uncle Bill's ruined face would be much harder than explaining Dad's scar, Lily reflected.
“The best he could do is some sort of Muggle-repelling variant,” Lily said thoughtfully. “So they forget his scars after they see them. Dad wouldn't have to go that far. His is much smaller.”
Ginny shrugged. “If Dominique insists, Bill will do it, but he won't be happy. And your auntie Fleur will have a few words for your cousin about it.”
“Your poor brother,” Granny sighed, sipping her tea. “Bless him, he does spoil that girl.”
“He spoiled Victoire just as much and look how well she turned out,” Ginny pointed out.
“True. And then there's Louis.”
All three of them heaved a sigh in unison for Louis.
“Well, don't worry about this,” Ginny told her daughter, tapping the letter. “You have excellent taste in clothing, and I'm sure whatever you're wearing will be lovely. Now, drink up. We're going shopping for your granny.”
Lily's eyes widened. “Dominique didn't make a rule for Gran, did she? She wouldn't dare.”
“Oh, I'll bet she would,” Ginny said briskly. “But she didn't. Gran needs new dress robes, that's all.”
Her grandmother huffed into her teacup. “We don't need to shop. It's a dreadful waste of money.”
“Mum, you're not going to wear those same robes to Dominique's wedding. You wore them to her first wedding, and to Lucy's as well.”
Lily eyed her grandmother worriedly. It was true, Granny had worn the same set of dress robes to both Dommie's and Lucy's weddings, and Victoire's as well, and every other fancy occasion that Lily could remember in the past ten years. Lily had never been sure if her grandmother simply loved those robes or if she didn't want to buy new ones. Granny Weasley was sometimes overly frugal with money, having spent a large portion of her adult life living in poverty, and now living on Granddad's pension, they didn't have much extra each month. It wasn't exactly something anyone discussed much, but Lily was aware that her parents (and her uncles) had been assisting her grandparents with money for years.
“It's just silly,” Granny muttered. “There's no need for it. I'm eighty-six years old, what do I need brand new robes for?”
“You've got a bit thinner lately, Mum. And this wedding is very fancy. We all need something new to wear.”
“Oh, pish.” Granny set her teacup down on the counter beside the kettle. Lily took her in, examining the familiar, sturdy little figure of her grandmother. She had got a bit thinner through the shoulders lately, and her limbs were starting to get that spindly look of very old age. It gave Lily a pang to notice it, and she reached over to give her grandmother a pat on the hand. Granny Weasley clasped Lily's hand for a moment, and her hand was reassuringly strong under the papery skin.
Ginny heaved a long-suffering sigh. Clearly Lily had interrupted an ongoing argument about the shopping. “Mother. I'm buying myself a dress. Let me buy you a dress as well.”
“I don't want you to spend your money on me. I can wear my old robes, they're perfectly good still-”
“Don't worry, Mum,” Ginny said cheerfully. “I'm spending Harry's money. You wouldn't want to disappoint him when he thinks we're buying you some lovely new robes for the wedding, would you?”
Granny frowned a bit and patted her white curls. She had a well-known soft spot for Lily's father. Lily could see it overriding Granny's determination not to spend money on fripperies. “Well...”
“We'll use my discount at Madame Malkin's,” Lily put in, throwing in her support. “And Dad can buy me a new dress as well.”
Her mother looked triumphant but hid it quickly. Having a discount was sure to sway Granny in their favor. As a purchaser for the robe shop, Lily had a significant employee discount. She was well accustomed to various cousins and aunts asking her to shop with them in order to take advantage of it, but she didn't mind. They almost always bought her lunch afterward.
“Come on, Mum.” Ginny put an arm around her mother's shoulders. “Let's go shopping.”
“Oh, I suppose so...”
Granny Weasley put up another fuss about the shopping once they were pawing through the racks at Madame Malkin's, but it seemed only a token effort now. Her eyes began to gleam as they looked through dozens of robes in watercolor pastels with embroidered floral designs. Lily selected a few with chiffon capelets in shades of blue, while her mother picked out greens and pinks.
“Oh, I've never cared for pink-” Granny began, but Ginny only shook her head.
“Mum, you haven't been a redhead in years. Try the pink.”
Once Granny was safely ensconced in a dressing room with a selection of gowns, Ginny and Lily collapsed onto one of the velvet-upholstered sofas nearby to wait for her.
“You'd think she hadn't been shopping since the nineties,” Ginny grumbled. “The way she carries on about the prices, honestly.”
Lily pulled her feet up underneath her, curling up on the sofa and making herself at home. She'd worked at Madame Malkin's for five years now, so it felt like home. The sales girls didn't even bother to try to make a sale, just let Lily have the run of the shop.
“Who are you bringing to the wedding, dear?” her mother asked while they waited.
“James's friend Hob.”
Ginny looked at her askance. “Really? Didn't he once jump off the roof and break his leg?”
Lily had forgotten about that particular story. “That was Hob?”
Ginny sighed. “Well, he's not the sharpest quill on the knarl, but he should be a laugh, anyway.”
“Fred set us up,” Lily admitted. “I didn't have a date on my own.”
“You could have just come with me and your father. Or I could've set you up with someone.”
Lily didn't want to know who her mother would've chosen for her. She didn't think a parental setup was good anyway. If she liked the bloke, she'd always have it in the back of her mind that her mother had picked him out. Like when she was a child and her mother picked out her clothes.
Ginny appeared to sense her reluctance. “Well, never mind. I'm sure you'll have fun with Hob. Did your brothers try to scare him off yet?”
“Of course. Idiots.”
“Hob knows those two, he won't be bothered.”
Lily didn't really care if he was bothered or not, so long as he showed up. James and Albus, on the other hand... “I wish they would stop doing that. It was one thing at school but we're too old for it now.”
“Think of it this way. Anyone you'd want to keep around will have to be able to stand up to your brothers. Those two behaving like cavemen ahead of time screens out the ones who wouldn't make it.”
“They are cavemen,” Lily muttered.
Ginny was warming to her topic. “And it's nice that they look out for you. My brothers did the same. Though your uncle Ron got pretty judgey about my boyfriends at school. He was jealous since he hardly had any girlfriends, just pined after Hermione most of the time. Anyway, James and Albus would always protect you if you needed it. Anything from a stern talking-to up to trussing a bloke up like a suckling pig, they'd do it.”
“It's when I don't need it and they do it anyway that annoys me,” said Lily.
“Ah, well,” Ginny said philosophically. “Brothers. They mean well, mostly. I'll talk to them and remind them you're not thirteen anymore.”
It seemed unlikely to do any good, but it was a nice thought. “Thanks, Mum.”
“Think of it this way,” Ginny added. “You've only got two brothers. I had six.”
Lily shook her head sympathetically. “It's a wonder you ever got together with Dad at all.”
Granny poked her head out of the dressing room. “I don't know about the color on these, Ginny dear.”
Ginny bustled off to assist her mother, and Lily heaved a sigh as she watched them fussing over the robes. Maybe her mother was right. Hob would be fun, once he settled down from being nervous that James and Albus would hex him, but she wasn't attracted to him in any case. After the wedding, she'd drop Hob and look for someone she was attracted to. She did want someone who could stand up to her brothers, that was true. Someone tough enough to not care what those two idiots said, but not so macho that Lily wouldn't like him.
Too macho was not her type.
She started making a mental list of what she wanted. Funny, sure. Smart. Able to fend off her brothers. Not overwhelmed by her dad. Not put off by Louis, or Rose, or Johnny Lupin, or any of her other mental relatives.
Maybe she ought to put out an ad in the Daily Prophet for some sort of cowboy. That sounded about right.
“Oh, forget it,” Lily muttered to herself, and went to talk Granny Weasley into something in a flattering blue.
The British and Irish Quidditch League normally only kept two Healers on call during a game. When the Falmouth Falcons were playing, they staffed five Healers. Hugo had his acid green leather bag slung across his chest, filled with the most commonly used potions and a few other sundries that might come in handy, as he relaxed in the coaches' box, waiting for the game to start.
Two of his fellow Healers were already in the box beside him. Dabney and Nutting were leaning against the wall at the back of the box, chatting quietly. Ottwell was always late, but Gwyneira ought to have been here by now. Among her few good qualities was punctuality.
But when Harvey Ottwell finally strolled in, it wasn't Gwyneira Griffiths beside him. It was Matty Chesebrough.
“Where's Gwen?” Hugo asked as Ottwell and Chesebrough joined him.
“She's got dragon pox,” Chesebrough told him. “I'm covering for her.”
“You're joking. Dragon pox?”
Chesebrough shook her head, her blonde curls bouncing around her shoulders. “She said she didn't get vaccinated as a child. Parents were a little nutty, I take it. Explains a lot, I thought. How're the teams looking?”
Hugo let the others answer that, more concerned with Gwen's illness. Dragon pox could take anywhere from three weeks to two months to run its course. Even if Gwyneira recovered on the faster end of that scale, it would be too late.
He was out a date for the wedding.
Groaning inwardly, Hugo turned back to the group to join in the plans of attack for the game. He was assigned to be the watchdog, sitting in the stand with the coaches for Falmouth and Puddlemere, to keep an eye on the game and play early triage. Having a trained witness was often vital when the Falcons were around, for identification of the injury source. Their team motto was even painted across the door of their infirmary.
Let us win, but if we cannot win, let us break a few heads.
Once the game was over and Falmouth had defeated Puddlemere (and broken a few of their arms, if not their heads), Hugo headed for Gwyneira's flat.
She took her time answering his knock, and once again didn't open the door.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded, barely visible through the crack in the door. The bit of skin he could see was green and bumpy. “I've got-”
“Dragon pox. I heard. Can't believe you weren't inoculated when you were little.”
“Blame my parents. I do.”
Hugo tried to look sympathetic, since she was probably rather miserable (though how one could tell, he wasn't sure, given her usual state of being). “Hope it's a mild bout of it.”
She sneezed, shooting a few purple sparks out of her nose. “Yeah right.”
“Anything I can do?”
“You can leave me the hell alone.”
Hugo had a great deal of practice holding his temper. He considered it one of his finest achievements, in fact, considering what his sister and cousins were like. He breathed slowly through his nose to a count of three, then said calmly, “I was just trying to be polite.”
She snorted and rubbed her nose. A single spark rolled down the back of her hand, and she shook it off. “Don't bother. Look, if you're worried about losing your date for that wedding, don't bother with that, either. I've covered it.”
Hugo's stomach flipped. “You did? Who?”
“My cousin. She's nicer than me,” Gwyneira said disparagingly. “I told her the objective is pissing off your cousin, but I doubt she can manage it. I already passed on your owl with all the details, so she'll meet you at the international portkeys. I'm going back to bed now.”
The door closed, and he heard her sneeze again behind it, then her footsteps shuffled off.
Hugo gently banged his head against the putrid yellow paint of her front door. Gwyneira's cousin. God help him.
Chapter 6: Portkeys
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The Portkey Exchange was bustling, but the Potters had found a quiet corner where they could gather. Lily had been waiting there with her parents for the last twenty minutes. Despite the quiet corner, she was still feeling the stress of their location. Somewhere nearby, a dog started barking, echoing in the high ceilings of the Exchange. The sound made her want to run for the nearest exit.
She glanced around impatiently. “We're going to miss our Portkey.”
“Relax,” said her mother.
Her father checked his watch. “We can always leave without them.”
“I told James the Portkey leaves fifteen minutes before it actually does,” Ginny said serenely. “He's my son. I know he's always late.”
“Three weeks past his due date,” agreed Harry.
“Hasn't been on time since.”
Lily rolled her eyes and sat down beside Hob. She had heard her parents' schtick about James and his chronic lateness her entire life.
Hob, who had not, was grinning. “Tell me more about James's bad qualities, Mrs. Potter.”
Harry snorted, but before either of her parents could let Hob in on his friend's secrets, James turned up with Navya by his side. James looked harried, his shirt untucked and hair sticking up at the back. Navya was as put-together as always in a tailored set of navy blue robes, her dark hair twisted into a tidy chignon.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully, waving to the Potters and Hob. Harry and Ginny smiled at her in welcome; they quite liked their son's girlfriend. Lily had tried not to like Navya because of that – since her parents hardly ever liked her own significant others – but it was hard to dislike anyone who got James to obey orders. Usually James was the ringleader of every group he was in, with people like Hob doing whatever he said (ribbing him about it all the while, but still doing it). Seeing him taken down a peg or two by a tiny little tyrant in spike heels was lovely, actually.
“Oi,” mumbled James, throwing himself into the seat beside Hob.
Lily examined her brother carefully. “James, are you hung over?”
“No, just had to rush to get out the door. I told her we've plenty of time, the Portkey doesn't leave for another half hour-”
“Forty-five minutes,” Lily broke in.
James slumped even further in his chair. “Bloody hell. Mum lied about the time again?”
“I don't know how this can surprise you after all these years.”
“Where's Albus? Isn't he supposed to be here?”
“In the loo, isn't he?” Hob looked round. “Maybe he fell in.”
“Right behind you, mate.” Albus poked his brother in the back of the head. “I see Navya forced you to be on time.”
“Where's your date, Albus?” James needled him. “Imaginary?”
“Imaginary,” James said to Hob.
“If we're all here, can we go early?” Ginny asked. She turned to her husband and stage-whispered, “Let's ditch the children at the hotel, dear.”
Harry threw an arm around her shoulders. “Next time Dominique gets married, let's just go by ourselves and let them take their own Portkey.”
The hotel the Potters were staying in was a few blocks from the enormous old church where Dominique was getting married. It was painted bright red on the exterior, a narrow building squeezed between a couple of shops. From the décor, Lily was guessing it had been there since Dumbledore was a boy. While they were in the lobby checking into their rooms, Uncle Ron sauntered out of the carpeted stairwell and over to stand beside Harry, rocking back on his heels.
“Oi. Portkey went all right?”
“Yeah. James was on time.”
Uncle Ron affected an astonished look. “What, your son James?”
Harry was grinning widely now. “All thanks to Navya, of course. Under his own steam he'd never have made it.”
“She's a keeper, that one. You ought to marry her before she realizes what a toad you are,” Uncle Ron added to James.
James rolled his eyes at the two of them. Navya smiled and managed not to look smug.
“Subtle, Ron,” said Ginny, sliding her brother a sidelong look. “Where's your wife?”
“More importantly, where's your daughter?” Lily asked. No one had seen Rose for the last fortnight, nor heard from her either. Not even Hugo knew what she was up to. Rose didn't go underground like this for long, so something was up. Lily was dying to know what she was planning as revenge against Dominique.
“Wife's upstairs. Daughter not here til later this evening. Son arriving in an hour or so.” Ron elbowed Harry in the ribs. “Grab a pint with me?”
“Sure. Got a place in mind?”
“I hope you weren't grabbing a pint without me.” Aunt Hermione appeared behind them, her hair floating around her in a wild cloud. Travel never seemed to agree with her hair; changes in humidity made her hair frizzy. Aunt Hermione didn't seem bothered, though.
“Okay, we're all checked in.” Ginny handed room keys around: one each for her children and one for Hob. Navya was, of course, staying in James's room. Lily noted her mother had not put Hob in the room beside hers.
Hob didn't seem to notice. He was looking round the hotel lobby. “Where's Fred, isn't he supposed to be here?”
James waved this off. “Later on. Mum, Dad, where are you going for that pint?”
“Grown-ups only,” Ginny said firmly. “You lot aren't invited.”
“Rude,” gasped James.
Lily put a hand to her forehead and made a practiced faint into Albus's arms. Albus caught her neatly under her arms, her back against his chest. This had been one of their favorite routines since their teenage years, and Albus could still catch her fake faints at the drop of a hat.
“Her poor heart.” Albus assumed a look of melodramatic concern. “It just couldn't take the parental neglect.”
Uncle Ron snorted. “Come on, Harry, let's go. I promise I won't call the authorities on you for leaving your children to go boozing.”
Albus boosted Lily back to her feet and waved them off. “Go on, then. Child abusers. I'm telling Gran.”
Lily waved to her mother, whose eyes were twinkling as she slipped out the door behind the other three. Then she turned to her brothers, Navya, and Hob. “Well, what should we do? Go exploring?”
“I'm going to go unpack and take a nap,” Navya declared. “We'll be up late with the pub crawl tonight.”
“I'm napping with her,” James put in.
Hob grinned at them and put up his hands for air quotes. “Napping?”
Navya took James by the hand and led him upstairs.
Albus waved his key at them. “I'm going to drop my things in my room, then let's get out of here. Hob, ever been to the Heineken Experience?”
“Twice. Let's go.”
“I reckon I'll unpack, then,” Lily said, feeling a little out of sorts. A beer exhibit wasn't her cup of tea, not that either of them had asked her. They didn't seem concerned about ditching her.
“See you later, Lily.” Albus dashed upstairs with Hob on his heels.
Lily folded her arms over her chest and heaved a sigh.
Hugo had told Gwyneira that he had arranged a Portkey at two the afternoon before the wedding. Since she hadn't bothered to give him any of her cousin's contact information, only said she'd passed on what he'd given her, all he could do was show up at the appointed time and hope his unknown date would do the same. Once he was through all the security checkpoints at the International Portkey Exchange, he sat down outside the number fifteen departure point and waited, wondering if he was in fact going to wind up stag for the wedding after all.
At ten minutes til, someone tapped him on the shoulder and then sat down next to him.
“Hi,” said a brunette witch with a cheerful grin and ruby-red lipstick. “You must be Hugo Weasley.”
“How could you tell?” he asked, straightening in his chair.
She pointed at his hair, the distinctive Weasley red.
He laughed at that. “Most of my family is traveling to Amsterdam today. I might have been any Weasley.”
“You looked like you were waiting for someone.” She gave him a cheeky smile.
Hugo found himself smiling back. She was pretty, with bright brown eyes and a handful of freckles across her narrow little nose. She didn't look much like her cousin, that was for sure, and so far she didn't act at all like her. She was still smiling at him, a faint dimple in each cheek, and he didn't even know her name, but something deep inside him clicked into place.
“Apparently I was waiting for you,” he said, and held out his hand. “I'm Hugo Weasley.”
“I'm Glenna Griffiths. Nice to meet you.” She shook his hand.
“Do you mind if I ask why you agreed to come?”
She took the question in stride. “Quite the opener. I suppose you must be wondering. Well, I've never been to Amsterdam and it sounded like a lark. And Gwen told me you only wanted someone to annoy your cousin, so I didn't reckon you'd be picky who your date was.”
“Fair enough. I suppose I wouldn't turn down a free trip either, even if it does mean a wedding.”
“Oh, I don't mind weddings,” remarked Glenna. “Weddings are lovely. So much free food.”
“My cousin is marrying a baron. The food is bound to be excellent. And there's an open bar.”
“Even better. Mind if I ask exactly how you were expecting Gwen to behave to your cousin at her wedding?”
He supposed that was a fair enough question as well. “I don't want to make a scene or anything, just a few digs at her to puncture her ego would do it.”
Glenna nodded. “Gwen would've been an excellent choice, then. Sorry she got sick. I'm not sure I can be as rude as her, but I'll try.”
“You can just come along,” Hugo found himself saying. “I don't think that plan is going to work now.”
“You don't think I can be annoying?” she asked, eyes twinkling.
He found the very idea unimaginable. She was adorable, and he'd only known her for a few minutes. “I highly doubt it, but maybe we can double-team the bride somehow.”
She laughed and glanced at her watch. “Almost time. Shall we?”
He tried not to stare at her as they stood waiting for the Portkey to activate, holding a neon yellow sock between them, but found he couldn't help himself. Glenna was looking brightly around the room as if everything there interested her, and didn't seem to notice his gaze. She was nearly the same height as him, only an inch or two shorter, and her straight brown hair tumbled halfway down her back, swishing in a shining dark sheet as she moved her head. Her eyes were rimmed with navy blue eyeliner in a cat's eye shape, the same shade as the t-shirt she was wearing with a pair of faded jeans. She had an athletic build, rather like his cousin Molly, though not as slender as Molly was.
She looked much, much better in those jeans than his cousin would, of course.
The sock began to glow in his hands, drawing his attention.
“Here we go,” he said, and she looked round and smiled at him just as the Portkey hooked behind his belly button and pulled.
Once they had landed, dusted themselves off, and found a handy trash can to dispose of the used Portkey sock, Hugo looked round to try to orient himself. They had landed in a narrow alley off an almost as narrow street lined with tall buildings, all in shades of beige and brown brick. One of the canals was visible at one end of the street. He didn't recognize any landmarks, and Glenna had distracted him to the point that he couldn't remember the walking route he'd planned out when booking the Portkey.
“I have no idea where we are, so I hope you know how to get to the hotel,” Glenna said cheerfully. She put a hand to her eyes to shade them. “It's so beautiful here! Look at the bridges. I love them.”
“Hang on, I'll find the way.” He pulled out his wand, holding it flat on the palm of his hand, and told it, “Point me.”
The wand spun around, homing in on the direction of their hotel, and they set off. Glenna fell into step easily beside him, their similar heights making it quite comfortable to walk together.
“What spell was that? I don't think I've seen that one before.”
“Oh, it's just one my mother taught me. Think she might've invented it, to be honest. Never saw it in any schoolbooks.”
“Your mother invented a spell?” Glenna looked impressed. “Wow, that's wild. Does she do that a lot?”
Hugo shrugged. “I think she did more when she was younger than she does now. She's more concerned with law these days.”
“Your mum is a lawyer?”
They passed the time discussing their parents as they made their way to the hotel. She had, of course, read about his parents in History of Magic at school, though the class had focused mostly on his uncle Harry when discussing the fall of Voldemort. To Hugo's relief, while she seemed interested, she didn't get that star-struck look that people sometimes got at the mention of Harry Potter. His cousins had it worse, with him being their dad, but anyone who'd read about the war knew who Hugo's parents were too. Somehow he didn't want Glenna to turn out to be one of the celebrity-chasers.
Glenna's parents, it turned out, came from a long line of Herbologists. He'd never known much about the Griffiths family, since Gwyneira was so standoffish, and the revelation that her relatives were so very normal came as something of a shock. Most of them, Glenna assured him, were not like Gwyneira at all.
“And did you continue the tradition?” Hugo asked, pointing to their hotel, now visible up the street. “With Herbology, I mean.”
“I tried, but it wasn't for me. I'm a linguistic historian.”
Hugo raised an eyebrow. That sounded rather bookish for someone as cheerful and athletic as her. “What do you do with that, then?”
“Oh, I study the history of spell language. It's really interesting to see the evolution of spell words from the Latin, ancient Greek, and early medieval languages into modern spells. And of course, the sort of thoroughly modern spells that your mother invented. In English and everything.” She chuckled then, the musical sound running straight down Hugo's spine. “Point me.”
It occurred to Hugo that his mother was going to love Glenna.
After they'd checked into their rooms (Hugo naturally having booked Gwyneira her own room to minimize their potential contact apart from the wedding itself - this arrangement being significantly less appealing with his new and improved date), Hugo took a moment to pull his tux out of the magically expanded rucksack he'd packed it in, to make sure it aired before the wedding. He wasn't much good with anti-wrinkling spells, so he hoped those hung out overnight, or his grandmother might have to do one for him at the wedding.
A knock at his door drew his attention, and Glenna poked her head in.
“Is that your tux? Very nice, I can't wait to see it on. Want to go exploring with me? We've all afternoon still.”
All afternoon exploring Amsterdam with her. He looked at the dimples and the sparkling brown eyes, once again feeling that click deep inside.
“Yes,” Hugo said decisively. “Let's go.”
They wandered around the city rather aimlessly, since neither had brought a map, pointing out interesting buildings to each other, and eventually wound up at a small cafe near the Rijksmuseum for coffee.
“So what's the story with the bride?” Glenna asked, stirring sugar into her cup.
“What makes you think there's a story?” Hugo asked with a grin.
She gave him a look. “Well, for one thing, you deliberately set out to bring a date that would make her angry on her wedding day. You picked Gwen. That really says something about a person.”
It occurred to Hugo how that must have sounded to Glenna before she met him. With Gwyneira, it hadn't mattered, but now... “That doesn't make me sound good, does it?”
She gave him a slow, considering look, then said, “No, I suppose not. But you seem very kind-hearted, so what type of a bride makes someone like you want to do something to annoy her on her wedding day? She must be a horrible bitch, eh?”
That gave Hugo a warm flush. “You think I'm kind-hearted?”
“Focus,” she told him with a smile. “What's her story?”
Hugo let out a sigh and tried to think how to explain Dommie. “Well, there's a long story with Dominique. I don't suppose you've read her book?”
She shook her head. “'Bewitched and Betrayed' or something like that. I've seen it but I haven't read it.”
“She's a bit of a social climber. Snobbish. Sometimes pretends to have a French accent even though she was brought up in Cornwall.”
“Ah,” Glenna said wisely. “One of those.”
“Yeah. She acts like she's better than the rest of us, has ever since she married her first husband. Well, in fairness, she was a bit like that as a teenager, too. I thought that divorce might have knocked her down a peg, but she came back swinging, that's for sure. This new bloke is a baron.”
“Leveling up in the snobbery, there. A title.”
“I don't think that's why she's marrying him, though it might be why she picked him in the first place,” Hugo admitted. “But I do think she loves him.”
“Yet you wanted to annoy her at the wedding.”
“She said my sister is a bad mother,” he told her baldly.
Glenna's eyebrows rose. “That's fighting words, there.”
Understatement of the year, that was. “Yeah.”
“And what is your sister doing about it?”
Hugo stirred his coffee, feeling a bit nettled that Rose still hadn't told him what she was up to. “I don't know, she wouldn't tell me. Dad told her not to punch Dommie in the jaw, though.”
“That seems best. Especially at the wedding.”
“She's got something up her sleeve, but she wouldn't tell me. I hadn't got a chance to corner her boyfriend and try to make him tell me what she's up to.”
“So you were going to set Gwyneira on the wedding to get one in for your sister, is that it?”
Hugo nodded. Glenna let out a chuckle.
“She would've been great. Just being her natural self, she was bound to offend someone. Sorry she couldn't make it.”
“I'm not. I'm having much more fun with you than I would have with her.”
Glenna smiled but gave him a look. “This isn't really a real date, you know.”
“It could be.” It felt like a real date to him. His stomach dropped suddenly with a horrible realization. “Unless you're not single?”
“Oh no, I'm very single,” Glenna said with a slight edge to her voice. “Extremely so.”
Before he could ask about that, her eyes widened suddenly and she blurted out, “You're single too, aren't you?”
“I wouldn't have taken Gwyneira if I wasn't,” Hugo said.
Glenna relaxed visibly. “Oh. Right. I thought you must be, only... Well. Good, then.”
They looked at each other across the table for a few beats of silence. Hugo decided not to push her about why she was 'extremely single' when he was only just getting to know her. He didn't want to scare her off. She didn't seem on the verge of that, but there had been something brittle in her voice when she'd made that comment.
“What time are we supposed to meet up with your relatives?” Glenna asked then.
Hugo was rather surprised to find she really had read everything he'd written to her cousin about the details of the weekend. He'd marked the pre-wedding Weasley pub crawl as 'optional' for Gwyneira, worried that she'd offend Dominique too early on in the weekend and get both of them banned from the wedding by someone's mother. “Seven. Do you want to come, then?”
She gave him an incredulous look. “A pub crawl? Yeah.”
A pub crawl with all his cousins. It was time for the family disclaimer. “Right. I've got to warn you about my cousin Louis, then.”
Chapter 7: The Crawl Begins
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“I feel like I'm going to an audition,” Glenna remarked as they approached the starting point of the pub crawl. She was walking beside Hugo in the same pair of jeans she'd worn earlier, but now with a dressier top, this one emerald green with long, flowing sleeves and a deep neckline. Hugo had decided instantly that he preferred this over the t-shirt from this afternoon.
In deference to the occasion, he'd put on a button-down shirt in a royal blue, which Glenna had told him brought out his eyes. There had been approval in her voice, and he thought he'd caught her looking him up and down when she thought he wasn't watching her.
This was quite the happy development in his evening, so Hugo was in a cheerful mood as they walked into the pub.
Standing at the bar were the three Potters, along with Navya and Hob, and Fred with his date Rosina. Rosina was, as promised, very pretty, with long blonde hair that curled at the ends and wide brown eyes.
“Where's your date, Albus?” Hugo couldn't resist asking as he and Glenna joined them.
“Imaginary,” said James.
“Bugger off,” said Albus.
“You lot, this is Glenna Griffiths.” Hugo indicated Glenna, who waved at the group, then he pointed out each of them in turn.
Once everyone had said hello, Fred gave him a nudge in the ribs with one elbow.
“I thought you were bringing that Healer who hates everyone,” he stage-whispered.
“That's my cousin,” Glenna told him with that wide, friendly smile Hugo found so enchanting. “She's sick with dragon pox so I'm filling in.”
Albus was leaning against the bar with a pint of beer in one hand, examining Glenna. He turned to Hugo. “No offense, old man, but you've utterly failed in your mission with this one.”
Hugo rolled his eyes, but before he could explain Albus's quip so Glenna wouldn't be offended, she was already responding.
“I can be rude too! Don't count me out yet. I just won't be as obvious as Gwen would have.”
“She's quick,” said Lily. “What are you drinking, Glenna?”
Within half an hour, the pub was virtually filled with Weasleys. Everywhere Hugo looked, someone with red hair was in eyesight. He hadn't seen his sister yet, and was starting to think she was deliberately hiding from everyone else. Scorpius was likewise nowhere to be seen. He hoped they'd make an appearance at some point, because he wanted his sister to meet Glenna.
Glenna had by now met nearly all his cousins, with the notable exception of Louis. So far, Hugo hadn't caught sight of his most infamous cousin. Louis almost always caused an uproar in some way everywhere he went, so Hugo felt certain that when Louis did turn up, it would be obvious. He was debating the merits of spiriting Glenna away before then, just in case she did want to run off with Louis. Women often did.
“So where's Louis?” she asked then, as if she'd overheard his thoughts. “I've heard so much about him, I want to see if he lives up to the hype.”
“He'll turn up eventually,” Hugo told her. “Unless he got an early start on the evening and is already in jail somewhere.”
“Time to move!” roared James Potter from the bar, and there was a sudden mass exodus of redheads toward the exit.
“Ooh, the crawl begins,” Glenna said with a laugh, putting her hand on Hugo's shoulder to keep close behind him as they made their way through the crowd. He liked the feeling of her hand on him very much, and reached up to keep it there even as they walked down the street.
The next pub was larger than the first, and the Weasleys were able to spread out more. Victoire took over an upholstered chair near the fireplace and dispatched Teddy to bring her a snack. Hugo and Glenna were headed her way with drinks in hand when they ran into the bride herself.
“Oh, good evening,” Dominique said in that determinedly cordial voice she did when she was trying to turn up extra posh. Since Hugo was a relative and she didn't generally go to that much effort for her cousins, Hugo reckoned the voice was for Glenna's benefit. Dominique was holding a glass of red wine that was nearly empty. He hadn't seen her drunk since her divorce, and wondered if she was feeling some pre-wedding jitters.
He didn't mention any of that, of course, since she would only deny it. Instead he introduced her to Glenna, who hadn't officially met the bride just yet. “Hi Dommie. This is Glenna Griffiths. Glenna, my cousin Dominique Weasley.”
Glenna didn't miss a beat, and held out a hand. “Congratulations on your wedding tomorrow. I hope you and your husband will enjoy all the happiness you deserve.”
Hugo pressed his lips together to hold back the urge to laugh. That had sounded a bit passive-aggressive given what he'd told her about Dominique.
Dominique, of course, didn't notice a thing. “Thank you. How lovely. How long have you two been dating?” she added delicately, gesturing with her wine glass.
“Not long,” Glenna answered before Hugo could. “It's still very new. How long have you and the groom been together?”
“Oh, about a year.”
“Oi, you lot,” came Teddy Lupin's voice behind them. He sidled up in between them with a plate of chips smothered in onions and curry ketchup in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, then offered Dominique the glass of wine. “Heave to, it's so crowded I can hardly even bring the wife her food. Bloody Weasleys everywhere. Dommie, keep drinking, you'll feel better.” He took her nearly-empty glass out of her other hand, set it on a nearby table, and then pushed through to his wife, handing her the plate. Victoire balanced it on the round bump of her belly, holding it steady with one hand while she started on the chips.
“Seen Louis yet?” Hugo asked Dominique.
She let out a small sigh, looking down at her fresh wine glass. It was full nearly to the brim. “Not yet. He said he'd catch us up tonight though. James gave him the list of pubs so he could find us.”
He wondered if she'd hoped to avoid her brother. “And Reinolt, I assume he's here somewhere?”
Dominique pointed at the bar, where Hugo now saw her baron was talking to Lucy and Hilarion. Those two were probably approved companions in Dommie's view, he thought ruefully. Lucy could, of all Weasleys, be trusted to be kind and civil even in a pub crawl. And Hilarion was nicely famous enough to show off Dominique's connections.
“And does he know?” Hugo tried to think how to put it delicately. “About your brother's, erm, history?”
She shot him a look, then glanced meaningfully at Glenna, obviously wanting him to shut up in front of a new person.
“I told her a few stories,” he admitted. “She liked the one about the car boot.”
“Well, Teddy Lupin was bound to tell her at least that one,” Hugo said in his own defense. “He tells everyone that story. And the bullet to the arse story too.”
“Oh, that one sounds fun,” Glenna said brightly. “I can't believe you skipped it. Do tell.”
“Oh God,” moaned Dominique, taking a gulp of her wine. “I'd better go.” And she darted off toward the bar and her fiance, leaving Hugo and Glenna grinning in her wake.
“I'm having a lovely time,” Glenna told Hugo. “When does the rest of the entertainment arrive?”
He chuckled. “At least you can see the humor in it and not run away screaming.”
His cousin Roxanne appeared beside them before Glenna could respond.
“Is Lily seriously dating that idiot friend of James and Fred's?” Roxanne asked without preamble, her face incredulous as she waved toward Lily, who was at the bar with Hob beside her, neither of them paying each other the slightest attention. “Isn't he the one that jumped off the roof at Uncle Harry's and broke his leg?”
“Yeah, that was him.” Hugo then added, glancing at his date, “Drunk as a lord at the time.”
Glenna nodded, eyes twinkling. “Of course.”
Hugo turned his attention back to his cousin. “She only brought him so she wouldn't be alone at the wedding, cause Dommie said something rude about her going stag. Fred set them up.”
Roxanne looked highly insulted. “She asked Fred for a setup? Why didn't she ask me? Freddie. Honestly. I mean, he's my brother and I love him, but was she on drugs at the time?”
“Single people like to ask other single people to set them up, not married folks,” Glenna put in.
“Hmm.” Roxanne regarded Glenna for a moment, then turned to Hugo. “I like her.”
“Me too,” he agreed.
“I'm going to go get some chips,” Roxanne announced. “Glenna, you want anything to drink?”
She shook her head and pointed at her nearly-full glass. Roxanne trotted off to the bar and Hugo chuckled.
“You've got the Roxy stamp of approval.”
“Oh good,” Glenna chuckled. “I like her too. I've noticed that when your relatives like someone, they ply them with alcohol.”
“We ply each other with alcohol too. And ourselves.” Hugo saluted her with his pint.
“Next pub!” shouted Albus, waving both arms over his head to get everyone's attention. “Weasleys, march!”
Lily lost track of Hob somewhere on the way to the fourth pub that evening. He was probably around somewhere, possibly with James or Fred, but she found she lacked enough interest to track him down and spend any time with him.
There was just no attraction between them. He might as well have been one of her brothers. For all the attention her was giving her, he practically was one of her brothers.
Lily glanced around the room for someone else to hang with. Her brothers and Fred were playing darts, each with a pint in hand. Navya was by James's side, probably to keep him from his usual alcohol-induced mayhem. James's sense of humor leaned toward the puerile. Fred's date seemed to have buggered off somewhere, and Albus of course was flying solo as always. She was starting to wonder if James was right and his date was imaginary.
She spotted her two pregnant cousins, Victoire and Roxanne, over near the fireplace, and their husbands standing nearby and chatting over glasses of whiskey. Victoire and Roxanne were splitting a plate of chips. Victoire was dipping them in vinegar, Roxanne in soy sauce. Lily wrinkled her nose at them. Disgusting. Victoire had doused most of her food in vinegar when she'd been pregnant with Dora as well. But the four of them looked so cozy together, the two pregnant mums with their husbands close at hand to fetch them more disgusting food whenever they liked.
Lily looked round at the rest of the room, not liking the feeling that was settling in her stomach. Everyone was paired off, she realized. Molly and Fitz, Lucy and Hilarion, Roxanne and Perry, James and Navya, Victoire and Teddy, Dominique and her baron. Rose wasn't there, but she was half a pair as well. Hugo had clearly paired off with Glenna; they were standing by the bar and chatting animatedly. Hugo seemed unable to take his eyes off her, which seemed vastly unfair to Lily, since her own date was so very boring.
It was only Albus and Louis still solo, she realized. She would be lumped in with them. And Fred, too, since he never stayed in a relationship long enough to introduce any of them to his mother. He might have a date this weekend, but it wasn't really being paired up. Albus never dated. And Louis was, of course, Louis.
“Oh my God,” she muttered aloud, taking a long drink. She couldn't have gotten as bad as Fred and Louis, could she? Was she doomed to be the eccentric auntie who owned seven cats? Or worse, thought her dog was her child and trotted it round the neighborhood in a baby stroller?
“What's wrong, Lily?” asked a voice beside her, and she turned in her seat to find Lucy hovering at her elbow.
“I'm having an existential crisis,” she told her cousin.
Lucy blinked. “In a pub?”
“I'm going to die alone,” Lily said dourly.
“Don't you have a date?” Lucy glanced round. “Oh there he is, over in the corner with Fred's date. Do they know each other?”
“I have no idea.” Lily didn't bother to look for him. Hob wasn't the one to save her from a sad future of excessive cats, or dogs in clothes, so who cared where he was?
“Hilarion asked me to bring him another rosé,” Lucy remarked, indicating an empty wine glass on the bartop. “The poor dear, he does get a little worried when Fitz corners him to talk shop.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Lily spotted Lucy's husband off down the end of the bar with Molly, Fitz, and Reinolt. Fitz appeared to be doing most of the talking, and Hilarion was only nodding occasionally. Lily was privately of the opinion that Lucy's husband had been so gifted with good looks and Quidditch skill that nothing had been left for him in the brains department. But Lucy loved him, and he was devoted to her, so she kept that thought to herself.
At least Lucy had someone to love her, Lily thought, disgruntled. It was more than she had.
“Reinolt's been hanging round you two a lot,” Lily noted.
“Oh yes,” said Lucy vaguely. “We like him. And Dominique said he really enjoyed our company at the dinner party.”
Dominique had undoubtedly said that to make sure Lucy stuck by her baron, so he wasn't overwhelmed by Weasleys. Lily thought this was probably wise considering Lucy was the least frightening of all their cousins. She also was unlikely to tell stories about Louis. She and Hilarion were quiet souls who would make the sort of impression on Reinolt that Dominique would want.
Molly and Fitz, on the other hand, were probably not making such a good impression. Molly was smart and classy, it was true, and had even regrown her hair into shoulder-length waves in her natural color in deference to Dommie's sensibilities, but she was dressed in a black leather miniskirt and sky-high stilettos, with an open-back black top that showed off the large geometric tattoo sprawling across her back. None of that met with Dominique's approval. Fitz, on the other hand, was smart but not classy. Molly often remarked that the word “goddamn” was ninety percent of his vocabulary. He was also even more obsessed with Quidditch than Molly was and had likely been talking Reinolt's ear off about the upcoming season for his team.
Reinolt didn't look frightened off yet, though. If anything, the dark-haired baron seemed to be enjoying himself, dressed in navy slacks and a cream-colored sweater. Late-night beard stubble showed along his chiseled jaw. He was handsome, Lily thought dispassionately. No wonder Dominique liked him. He'd met all her embarrassing relatives without batting an eye, not even at James and Fred, and hopefully someone had told him at least a few Louis stories so he could be prepared.
She'd seen Teddy Lupin hanging round his future brother-in-law earlier. Surely he must have at least told the car boot story; it was one of Teddy's favorites.
Well, whatever Reinolt had heard or not, it was too late now, because Louis finally turned up.
Louis in bars and pubs was always dangerous. It was where so many of the worst Louis stories started out, in fact. A pub, a woman, and next thing you knew someone was going to jail and Louis was moping about being in love.
Dominique collected her brother as soon as he walked in the door and stuck by him like glue while Louis looked annoyed at her for holding his arm. Unfortunately for Dominique's sense of public decorum, the stress of the evening had finally got to her. It wasn't long after Louis's arrival that Dominique went over that fine line between tipsy and drunk, and began to cry in the middle of the pub.
“I love you,” she was telling Roxanne when Lily arrived beside them, eager to see what completely sodden Dominique would do. She didn't recall seeing Dominique drunk since her divorce, when she'd stayed at Victoire's house for several weeks drinking boxed red wine by the gallon.
“I know.” Roxanne patted her shoulder awkwardly.
“I'm so glad you're all here for the wedding.” She blew her nose in a cocktail napkin.
Louis, uncharacteristically quiet, took a glance around, realized his sister had stopped paying him any attention, and slid away. Dominique didn't notice a thing.
“I love you, Lily,” she sobbed, hugging Lily.
Lily grimaced at Roxanne over Dominique's shoulder. Roxanne rolled her eyes.
“I love you too, Dommie.”
“If you love us all, why have you been such a roaring bitch?” asked Victoire from the other side of Roxanne.
Lily snickered as Dominique released her and staggered over to hug her sister.
“I love you, Victoire. You smell like vinegar, did you know?”
“You ought to apologize to Rose, you know,” Victoire grumbled, hugging her sister back.
Dominique looked around as if only just realizing that Rose hadn't shown up. “She's not here.”
“She'll forget this entirely when she's sober,” murmured Roxanne.
“Shame,” said Lily. This seemed like something Dominique ought to remember later.
Dommie had already forgotten Rose and moved on to profess her love to Molly, who looked extremely startled by this and glanced around as if someone might save her if she could just catch their eye.
Victoire, however, was no longer paying attention to her drunken sister. “Oh bugger, we've lost Louis.” She put her hands on her hips as she scanned the pub. Victoire was quite short, so Lily wasn't sure she could really see much. Frowning, Victoire darted away to find her brother.
Dominique caught sight of her fiance approaching and promptly burst into a fresh wave of tears.
“Oh lord,” Molly said, drawing back in alarm. Molly had never been one for open displays of emotions.
Fitz chose that moment to walk up behind her, took in Dominique sobbing and, without missing a beat, hooked a sharp turn and walked off.
Molly managed to extricate herself from Dominique's arms and hurried after him, mumbling, “Wait for me, dammit...”
“I'm so sorry,” Dominique was sobbing, her face buried in Reinolt's sweater. He was bound to have mascara all over the light colored knit, Lily thought, no matter how waterproof that makeup was. “It's all going to go sideways now. I shouldn't have had that third glass of wine-”
“Oh, she's had at least twice that,” Roxanne said in an undertone, making Lily grin.
Dominique wasn't done, though, still mumbling incoherently against her fiance while he stroked her perfect red-gold hair. “And now we've lost him – I don't know what he'll do – you won't want to be with me when you see-”
“Darling, nothing could make me want to leave you,” Reinolt said soothingly. “Don't worry about Louis, I promise he can't do anything to scare me away. You know I've relatives that can get troublesome as well. You remember what I told you about my cousin Rupert and the gerbil?”
“Ooh, what happened with cousin Rupert and the gerbil?” Roxanne asked eagerly, her fingers twitching as if she were eager to write everything down.
“I think we can guess,” said Lily.
Reinolt gave them a rueful smile over the top of Dominique's head. “You don't have to, it was all over the newspapers.”
“Has anyone told you the one about Louis and the car boot?” Lily asked, just to make sure he really understood.
“Ah yes. I prefer the story of Louis getting thrown in the river, though.” Reinolt patted Dominique's head as she burst into fresh sobs at this, but he was still smiling.
“Unusual. Typically Louis getting shot in the arse is the favorite,” Roxanne mused. “Followed closely by the one about the car boot.”
“Those are fine tales,” agreed Reinolt. “But the river is funniest. With a fish in his pocket when the authorities pulled him out.”
Roxanne broke into giggles and gave the baron a pat on the shoulder. “Oh, you'll do.”
Dominique let out a wail and wrapped her arms around Reinolt's neck, getting his full attention again.
“I'll go see if I can find Louis, then, shall I?” Lily jabbed a thumb over one shoulder and made good her escape.
Maybe the baron would last after all, she mused as she walked round the pub, hoping to catch sight of either Victoire or Louis. She hadn't thought about it much, but she supposed she had assumed that anyone would mostly be interested in Dominique because she was thin, pretty, and a good hostess. She had all the major qualifications of a baroness except the aristocratic background, by her own design. Looking at the baron with her now, though, Lily realized he really did love her – and he was more than the blank slate Lily had been imagining him. Cousin Rupert and the gerbil, hah.
“And who was that?”
Recognizing that scolding voice at once, Lily veered off and found Victoire standing near the door with a firm grip on her brother's ear. Louis was leaning toward her, looking more pained than embarrassed, since he had no shame whatsoever.
“I don't know, Victoire, she came up to me-”
“You have one job tonight, and that's to behave yourself. I don't want to see a repeat of what happened at Lucy's wedding when Mum caught you naked in the coat closet with that witch-”
“There's no coat closet here-”
She gave him a little shake, and Louis cried out, “Ow, dammit!”
“Sit quietly and have a drink and don't do anything tonight. Don't talk to anyone, don't buy a drink for anyone, and for God's sake keep your clothes on. Got it?” She let him go abruptly.
Louis straightened up, rubbing his ear. “That really hurt, Victoire-”
“Good. Remember that when you start thinking you're in love.”
Lily watched Louis sidle away, still rubbing at his ear. It was bright red under the pale strawberry-blonde of his hair. Victoire put her hands on her hips and turned to see Lily watching.
“It probably won't do any good, I know,” she said with a sigh.
“You had to try it,” Lily offered.
“Come on, let's go get a drink. If I can't have one, you can drink some whiskey for me and let me smell it.”
They managed to make it another half an hour in that pub before it all went to hell. Lily was sitting at the bar helping Victoire pour coffee into Dominique so she was sober enough to go onwards with the pub crawl, when a cat-like screech came from down the other end of the bar.
“Oh no,” moaned Dominique. She waved at the bartender. “Put some whiskey in this coffee, I don't want to be sober after all. Oh God, I'm going to throw up.”
“That'll be Louis, then,” Victoire said unnecessarily. She gestured to Lily. “Go see what you can do, I'll be there shortly. Time to woman up, Dommie. Drink that coffee and get your wand.”
It was, of course, Louis, though he wasn't the one making the screeches. That, to Lily's complete lack of surprise, was a woman. She was blonde and tall and thin, and she looked very angry with Louis. Fitz was at the bar, sitting by himself with a glass of whiskey in one hand and the look of a man who'd finally got a front-row seat to a sold-out show.
“What's going on?” she asked him.
Fitz indicated the woman with his whiskey. “Well, Louis was buying a round and asked if she'd like a drink. She said yes, but then he introduced himself and asked what her name was, and then this started. I don't know what's going on, but my guess is he slept with her roommate or sister.”
“I didn't know Louis had been to Amsterdam before,” Lily said in surprise.
“Oh, he's probably slept with half of magical Europe by now, but she didn't sound Dutch. West Country of some sort. Oh, here we go.”
Lily pulled a face as the woman took a swing at Louis, and he ducked away.
“Ah, fist fights. Now I feel right at home,” Fitz announced, sipping his whiskey.
“Oi!” called Louis, still ducking as she kept swinging at him. The rest of the family was turning up now to see what was going on, most of them shaking their heads. No one looked surprised, of course. James appeared beside Lily, consternation on his face.
“Does he know her?” he asked, directing this at Lily, then to Louis himself, “Do you know her?”
“I've never seen her before!” Louis exclaimed.
This was evidently the wrong answer, because the woman's eyes went wide with rage and she screeched, “You have GOT to be joking!”
“What's going on?” Reinolt strode over swiftly. “Good lord, Louis, do you know this woman?”
Louis was holding his arms over his head to protect himself from concussion. “How many times do I have to say it?!”
“One more, you bastard!” screamed the woman, swinging her purse at him again.
“Have you got bricks in there, you daft bint?” Louis made as if to run away, but she blocked him and swung wildly for his head.
“Oh, hang on there-” Reinolt put a hand out and snatched the purse strap from her.
“Help! Thief!” she shrieked, gone completely red in the face now, but she was still going after Louis. Slapping at him with one hand, she hopped on one foot and struggled to take off her shoe with the other.
“Has anyone got a camera?” James asked in amusement. “I can't believe Rose is missing this.”
“James,” Navya murmured from the other side of Fitz, censure in her voice, but she was watching avidly herself.
Lily shook her head, but before she could decide whether to risk being hit by a steel-tipped heel to intervene, Louis's sisters arrived.
Dominique was still bleary-eyed but looked better for the two cups of coffee she'd had. She and Victoire pushed past the other Weasleys and stood in front of Louis, forming a protective wall in front of their little brother.
“It's not my fault,” Louis began, cowering behind them, but Victoire shushed him.
“That's Rose's line,” Lily heard someone say, and turned to find Hugo grinning at Louis with Glenna beside him. She too looked to be enjoying herself immensely. Hob, on the other hand, had buggered off who knew where to avoid the scene. Lily couldn't spot him anywhere.
One of James's friends ought to be able to handle a small Louis scene, she thought disparagingly.
“Go away,” Victoire was telling the woman in a commanding voice. “You're not wanted here. Leave him alone.”
The blonde made as if to slap Victoire, and everyone seemed to freeze. Molly was closest and grabbed the woman's wrist before she made contact.
“You don't hit a pregnant woman,” Molly said, her voice practically dripping with ice.
The woman gave Molly a shove, knocking her back into Fitz. He caught Molly's shoulders and pushed her back upright immediately, launching her at the woman. The other Weasleys seemed to surge forward and Lily only caught glimpses of whatever happened next. Both Molly and Dominique got in a blow, and Teddy jumped forward with both arms spread protectively around his wife, guarding her belly while Victoire tried to reach around him to get at her opponent. The next thing Lily knew, the woman – whoever she'd been – had snatched her purse back from Reinolt and run out the front door. The crowd seemed to instantly deflate as the door closed behind her.
The bar owner, red-faced, came up beside Lily, gesturing wildly and speaking in rapid Dutch to Reinolt. The baron had his wallet in hand, ready to buy their way out of the latest Louis incident.
Realizing the battle was won, the Weasleys collectively quieted down, catching their breaths.
After a moment, Albus called out, “Next pub!” and with a roar, they all moved toward the door.