Molly will want to trim your hair within ten minutes of us arriving

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“Molly will want to trim your hair within ten minutes of us arriving,” Hermione insisted, pausing in her tracks a few moments to get her bearings after Apparating to the hill in Ottery St. Catchpole, just a short walk from the Burrow.
“Not if she has Bill to harass, instead,” Viktor said, taking a couple of steps in the crunching crust of the snow, then pulling the edges of the light cloak he was wearing a little closer together, against the wind. It made Hermione colder just looking at it, thin as it was. He was probably quite comfortable in it, even with it blowing loose in this bitterly cold and windy weather. “Besides, she would rather tell us all what to do than eat when she’s hungry, so who am I to deny her the pleasure of at least telling me I should get a haircut?”
“How come Ekaterina doesn’t give you grief over that ponytail? I thought it was a mother’s privilege to pester her son about his hair,” Hermione teased, reaching up to give Viktor’s ponytail a light tug.
“I think my mother decided a long time ago that the state of my hair was the least of her worries, considering,” Viktor said, tucking his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. “The walk to the Burrow isn’t getting any shorter.”
“Next thing you know, you’ll come home from an away game against Romania with an earring, too,” Hermione said. “A big dragon fang, or something.”
“No way. Too big a coward. A ponytail is one thing. You tie that back. But an earring during a match would just be asking for trouble,” Viktor said. “Too tempting. Too convenient to grab hold of and claim it was a complete and total accident that they ripped a hunk of your earlobe off,” he added, setting off down the hill, carefully picking his way through the drifts. They had come to the Burrow this way enough times to be quite familiar with the best trail down the rise in all sorts of weather. Except for an unfortunately muddy tumble down half the slope one dim night during a cloudburst, their luck and their footholds had held pretty well.
“Your parents were very understanding about us spending our first Christmas somewhere other than Bulgaria,” Hermione observed.
“Well, we are spending all of next week there,” Viktor allowed. “Mama would just as soon celebrate on the Orthodox dates. Probably wouldn’t turn around for the difference. She’s not pushy.”
“Are you saying Molly is?” Hermione asked, putting a hand against his arm to steady herself down one of the steepest parts of the hill.
“All I’m saying is that it’s not my mother who called us up and insisted we come for dinner on Christmas Eve and spend the night so we would be there for Christmas morning, or else we would be... What was the phrase she used? Positively and absolutely ruining Christmas for her, and how could we live with ourselves or sleep at night if we did that?” Viktor said with a bare hint of a smile.
“I admit we were ordered more than we were invited. The only one that bucked her on staying all night was Moody. And I wouldn’t count her out on getting him to stay, yet. But it’s rare Molly gets a chance to have all of us at the Burrow all at once, any more. We scared her by getting married this past August, you know. She’s got visions of all of us marrying off and scattering to the four winds, never to return, now,” Hermione replied.
“Hardly likely when Harry isn’t even seeing anyone of the female persuasion. Or any persuasion. And Ron... well, just mention the word ’marriage’ around him and you would think he had been hit with a full body bind. I doubt he and Susan are going to elope on six months of sporadic dating history. Ginny doesn’t have time to get married. She just about lives at St. Mungo’s. Neville practically has to stage a Potions accident to get an evening with her. And he’s busy doing advanced study, anyway. Aren’t you glad we don’t have any homework these days? Well, you do, but it‘s all self-imposed,” Viktor amended.
“Hard to do research for other people’s writing without doing some homework,” Hermione protested. “Besides, what are those gut-busting practices if not homework?”
“After the last few years, a bloody welcome break, that’s what,” Viktor said grimly, thoroughly serious.
Hermione couldn’t help but let her eyes stray down to the wand he carried, mostly hidden from casual view by the edge of his cloak. She carried her own beneath her heavier cloak, as well. Once, it would have seemed like a ridiculous amount of overkill to refuse to put your wand away for a quick walk through part of Ottery St. Catchpole. These days, it seemed sheer madness to leave home without at least a pocket Sneakoscope and wand at the ready. As soon as they stepped away from the base of the hill and into the open, they both automatically lapsed into silence without consulting the other. Alastor Moody, at least, would have been proud of just how much being on the alert had been ingrained in everything they did, still, despite the war proper being over.
It was sheer force of habit, and a good idea, Hermione knew, but she longed for the day when such constant vigilance might be a thing of the past. The safeguards and wards on the new house alone would just about put Gringott’s to shame. No Apparating within range of the house, except for a select few people. No Apparating within the walls of the house at all. Various warnings and alarms on the garden, the doors and the windows. An extra bowl of Floo powder within easy reach in the guest bedroom, in case of an emergency. They had purposely chosen the one bedroom on the ground floor that lacked a Floo for themselves. It meant less possibility of being surprised by an unexpected visitor via the Floo. If anyone Flooed into the house, they had adequate warning, this way. They still only used the Floo for communication and travel when it was absolutely necessary. Apparating was so much harder to trace, and therefore, safer. Even Moody had been impressed when Viktor had reeled off the list of precautions in place at the new house before the first piece of furniture had been moved in.
But there was no sound, now, save the cracking of the packed snow beneath their boot soles, and the walk to the front door of the Burrow was without incident. Hermione relaxed slightly at the sight of the lopsided and haphazard house where she had spent so much of her time away from Hogwarts and home. Molly might not be subtle, or for that matter, all that inviting, in her invitations, but there were few places Hermione felt so at home as in the Burrow, crowded with that whole mess of Weasleys.
Not that she wouldn’t have been just as pleased to spend Christmas with her new in-laws, but there was still so much about that relationship that was uncomfortably new and awkward. She still felt as though she needed to be on her best behavior around Ekaterina and Petar, so as not to ruin their acceptance of her. It was sometimes hard for her to feel close to them when, on occasion, the only tenuous verbal link between them all was Viktor. She had once suspected he did a bit of editing along with the translating, when the situation called for it, though he had denied doing so. The frequent language barrier wasn’t quite all of it, she felt. Even when the language barrier wasn’t an issue, she still sometimes felt that the only real link was Viktor. The cultural barriers, her “foreignness” on both counts, surely had made it harder for Petar and Ekaterina, but Hermione had been pleasantly surprised at the lack of opposition to their son‘s choice. Viktor had made no secret of the fact that he had expected more fuss, as well. Hermione had been downright mystified with the apparent ease of their welcome, given how frank Viktor had been about the likelihood of at least some initial resistance to his bringing home a British Muggle-born who hadn‘t so much as set foot in Eastern Europe before the end of the war.
Hermione raised her hand and rapped on the door. She nearly let out a yelp in spite of herself when the door abruptly swung open and instead of the expected redheaded Weasley, she was confronted with a wildly rolling electric blue eye in a craggy, scarred face, lips peeled back in a vicious snarl. “You two get in here before that madwoman sends out a bloody search party,” Moody muttered under his breath, turning around and stumping back into the house without further ado, tipping the flask he always carried to his lips as he walked. He discreetly tucked it back into his pocket before entering the crowded living room ahead of them. “Krums are here, so you can quit wondering where they are every two minutes, woman!” Moody announced sourly, slumping into one of the overstuffed armchairs. Mad-Eye looked about as thrilled to be in the midst of the cozy domestic scene as a mountain troll invited to a knitting circle.
“Oh! There you are! I was starting to get worried you weren’t coming after all!” Molly exclaimed, pouncing on them in the kitchen doorway before they were fully out of their cloaks.
“Actually, we’re five minutes ear-” Viktor began, but Molly went on as though she hadn’t heard him.
“I was going to send Arthur over to the house. I had just told him to go get his cloak when you knocked.” Arthur, who had joined them in the doorway, nodded and smiled weakly, hanging up his own cloak before holding out his hands for theirs, as well as the small overnight bag that Viktor had slung over his shoulder. “Dear, you look lovely in that red jumper. The color suits you. You should wear red more often, Hermione. And I feel like I haven’t seen you two in months, you’ve been so busy between getting settled in the house and traveling hither and yon. I do wish you would let me give your hair a proper trim. I expect you’ve been so busy you’ve neglected to get it done,” Molly added firmly, shuffling some of the pots and pans on the counter and the stove.
“I take it Bill hasn’t made it, yet?” Viktor said, ignoring the remark and raising an eyebrow at Hermione instead. One corner of his mouth twitched subtly, and she pressed her lips together to keep from laughing out loud in response. It had taken her a while to catch on to the subtlety of his expressions, but Viktor could convey exactly what he was thinking with a hardly noticeable change in his face. You simply had to be paying proper attention to catch it.
“Always late. Thinks you can make it here from France in the blink of an eye whenever you want. Probably put off leaving until the last minute. I don’t know why they want to make it so hard on themselves. They could at least try living in the same country, couldn’t they? Or spending all of a holiday in the same country,” Molly complained. “I still don’t see why she couldn’t come here for Christmas.”
“Maybe Bill and Fleur like having a long distance relationship. You don’t fight nearly as much. No chance,” Hermione said with a laugh.
“Extremely hard to have a shouting match in a letter. Without resorting to Howlers,” Viktor agreed. “In fact, maybe all relationships would be better if conducted solely by owl and Floo. They would be quieter, at the very least.”
“Big talk from a couple that’s darned near been joined at the hip since they got married and before,” Harry called out from his perch on the sofa arm.
“It’s not as though we don’t spend some time apart, too. She’s not sitting around the stadium and watching the practices. She’s always off somewhere else, sightseeing, finding a bookshop or a museum. Occasionally, she takes me along, but nothing like every time. We’re not sick of one another, yet. Talk to us when that happens,” Viktor shot back, draping an arm around Hermione’s shoulders.
“And when should that be?” Harry asked. “Funny, but you two always seem to be in the same bed when night comes, despite all those separate trips.”
“About a hundred years from now. On a Tuesday,” Hermione said, reaching up to give Viktor’s hand a pat. “Unless you lock us up together and don’t let us get away when we need to. If you do that, about a week. Touched as I am by all this togetherness, can I help with anything, Molly?”
“No, dear, have a seat wherever you can find one outside the kitchen. It’s all under control in here,” Molly protested. To Hermione, it looked anything but, considering the plethora of dishes scattered all about the kitchen. But she held her peace and took it on faith that Molly would have everything ready by the appointed dinner hour.
“So, do the two of you have to use a Marauder’s Map when you get separated in that house?” Fred teased as Viktor settled on the floor, leaning against the wall next to the door to the kitchen.
“It’s not that big,” Hermione insisted, tucking herself in beside Viktor.
“Likely story. You could fit at least two of the Burrow in it,” George said with a grin. “If I didn’t have my own flat with Fred, there, I would be begging the two of you to adopt me. You’d never miss just one bedroom in all those dozens.”
“Only five. Six if you count the large closet that the agent insisted was a bedroom,” Viktor said.
“Still, I bet it must be nice, having all that room,” Ginny said. “If you feel like breaking in a spare bedroom, I might like to volunteer myself.”
“We would be thoroughly glad to have each and every one of you stay in a guest bedroom. Just not all at once. And preferably when we‘re away somewhere, so you don‘t disturb us,” Hermione teased.
“So you two don’t disturb the guests, more like,” Fred snickered. “Newlyweds can get awfully noisy.”
“And how would you know, seeing as I don’t even see an engagement ring on Angelina’s finger? She deserves a ring simply for not murdering you, at this point, never mind getting married,” Viktor said with a smirk.
“I keep trying to tell him that, but do I get an engagement ring? No. Nothing but a Magical Moods ring that keeps announcing I’m ‘peeved’. Wonder why?” Angelina teased, giving Fred a playful poke in the shoulder.
“It would be a great seller if it wasn’t always stuck on ‘peeved‘, I tell you. The colors change but we still haven’t worked out all the kinks,” Fred admitted.
“The colors change, alright. It turned my finger green,” Angelina replied.
“I’m telling you, once the shop gets reestablished-” Fred began, but Angelina interrupted.
“I know, I know... we can afford to get married. In the meantime, I’ll settle for a green finger and always being peeved,” Angelina said.
The chiming doorbell interrupted the conversation, and Arthur clambered from his seat and headed to the door. “Bill’s arrived, Molly!” Arthur shouted back from the door. “And he’s brought someone with him!” he added, following Bill and Fleur into the living room.
“Hello, Mum,” Bill said pleasantly, leaning over to embrace her.
“Hello, Fleur, dear. You’re late, Bill,” she scolded. “And I need to get another place setting,” Molly added with a start, dashing back into the kitchen.
“Hmph, not a word about my hair,” Bill said quietly, with a shrug. “Is she not quite well?”
Viktor raised a hand. “Took care of that, already. I was hoping you would beat me here,” he volunteered.
“Ah. I see. Filled the ponytail complaint quota, already,” Bill muttered.
“I see you’re still wearing that awful earring! I don’t see why Gringott’s lets you go to work looking like that!” Molly shouted from the back of the kitchen.
“Couldn’t you be persuaded to get an earring, too?” Bill asked Viktor pleasantly.
“Not me. Occupational hazard,” Viktor protested, giving his earlobe a tug.
“Well, the management doesn’t exactly win any beauty contests, either, Mum!” Bill called back. “One of them has a big ring in his nose! Size of a door knocker! And that‘s the least of his worries, looks-wise!”
“So, is this all of us, or not? I lost count about fifteen minutes ago, and I’m starved, personally,” Charlie said. “I’ll volunteer to eat in here, if I can just eat soon.”
“Yeah, I passed peckish about an hour ago,” Ron said.
“You sure you don’t want some help in there, Molly?” Neville volunteered, not sounding very hopeful.
“I’ve got it all under control! You can just be patient!” Molly insisted.
“I thought you weren’t coming, Fleur,” Hermione said. “What changed your mind?”
“A very persuasive owl,” Fleur murmured, jerking her head in the direction of the kitchen. “I figured eet would make ‘er ‘appy.”
“It would, if she weren’t mad enough to be fixing dinner for... seventeen people all by herself,” Hermione said, doing a quick tally of the people crowded into the tiny space. “I still haven’t figured out where she’s planning on putting us all tonight. That’s... fifteen beds, if all of us stay. She wouldn‘t even let me bring a dessert, or something, to lighten the load.”
“Because this is Christmas, and I want to take care of my family on Christmas,” Molly protested, standing in the doorway and planting her hands on her hips. “Besides, the two of you were in Denmark until late last night. You didn’t even have time to come by and pick up Crookshanks, so when would you have had time to fix a dessert? Now, are you all ready to eat, or not?” she added, wiping her hands on her apron. “I’m afraid the seating arrangements will be a bit slapdash. A few folding tables and chairs for in here, leaning there in the hall. Charlie, you’re so keen to eat in here, why don’t you set them up?”
“Speak of the devil, where is he? I haven’t spotted so much as a ginger hair,” Viktor asked.
“Probably sprawled out on my desk. He seems to have taken a liking to sleeping on my papers from work,” Percy sniffed indignantly.
“Be thankful he hasn’t taken a liking to clawing your things from work,” Viktor replied, standing up.
“It was just a Nimbus,” Hermione chided, “and it’s not as though you don’t have more than a dozen other brooms everywhere in the house.”
“Nimbus?” Ron asked curiously.
“Crookshanks decided it made a good scratching post. Chunk out of the handle that big,” Viktor said ruefully, holding his fingers apart a couple of inches.
“Ooh,” Harry said, wincing.
“Honestly. The way you three act... It was just an old broom,” Hermione said, going into the kitchen to help Molly arrange things.
“Just a broom,” Viktor agreed. “Just a limited edition classic model,” he added more quietly, so only Harry and Ron could hear.
“Ouch. My heartfelt sympathies,” Harry said, laying a hand over his chest.
“And that cat’s still alive?” Ron asked, disbelieving.
“Wouldn’t do any good to kill him now. Taught me to put doors on the racks. I’ll reserve ’honestly, it was just a book’ in the eventuality that he gets at her library, someday. Besides, for reasons I still can’t fathom, the whiskered menace likes me. Better than you two, at any rate. Doesn’t try to bite my ankles every time my back is turned,” Viktor said.
“He only did that to me the once. It’s Ron’s ankles he finds particularly tasty,” Harry said with a laugh.
“Then again, maybe it’s because I tend to wear boots... No matter. Stuck with him, at any rate,” Viktor said. “It’s not likely my wife’s going to get rid of a cat she had even before she met me. I can‘t expect that. She puts up with brooms everywhere that I won‘t get rid of, I put up with the cat deciding my lap makes a good bed every time I sit down to read and making scratching posts out of broom handles.”
“What’s wrong with him getting in your lap?” Harry asked.
“Besides the hair? Ever have a cat knead your leg?” Viktor asked.
“Oh,” Harry replied.
“And he somehow always manages to flop on the bottom half of the paper... By the way, where’s Penelope?” Viktor asked Percy.
“With the Clearwaters in Torquay. It’s likely Grandfather Clearwater’s last Christmas, so she opted to go along with the entire family and spend Christmas there,” Percy explained.
“Oh, so they’re jockeying for a place in the will, then,” Fred said, earning an elbow in the ribs from Angelina.
“What a relief. I thought she had finally come to her senses and left you. The two of you have been ‘planning a wedding’ since before Viktor and Hermione even got engaged. They’ll be married a decade before you two decide what shade of beige the napkins should be,” George said.
“We want it,” Percy said slowly, “to be perfect. Perfect. Tasteful. Flawless.”
“Well, you can just get over that notion right now. Because that’s never going to happen. Trust me. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it,” Viktor said blithely.
“Scars from what?” Hermione said, wending her way back into the group in the living room while several others moved to the kitchen to fill their plates.
“Wedding planning,” Viktor replied.
“Oh! Dirty phrase! Don’t bring that up again. No offense, but if I never have to marry you again, it will be too soon. No wonder some people elope. Have the two of you set a date, yet?” Hermione asked.
“Penelope’s still deciding on the linens. We want all the finer details taken care of first,” Percy said. “Our wedding will be perfection.”
“Ah. Well, you’ll never get married at that rate, then. You just have to roll your sleeves up, jump in, and hope everything goes fine. And somehow, it usually does. Even if everyone’s pulling a swan. Smooth and calm on the outside, but paddling like heck underneath. Trust me, there is no such thing as a perfect wedding,” Hermione insisted.
“Ours will be. We intend to plan every detail,” Percy said firmly, sweeping off toward the kitchen.
“Poor deluded man. Hasn’t got a clue, does he? It’s much better if you just accept right from the beginning that it’s going to be a battle royale getting it together in the first place, something big will go wrong, and no one will notice, anyway, because they’re all too busy wondering why you spent a small fortune on something that lasts all of fifteen minutes,” Viktor said.
“Poor Grandpa Clearwater. Can you imagine? The whole mess of Clearwaters under your feet when you’re trying to croak in peace?” Ron said.
“Ron! Honestly!” Hermione hissed under her breath.
“Seriously! If they’re all like Percy and Penelope, they’ll probably tell him he can’t croak like that, his head’s at the wrong angle! It needs to be at precisely thirty-five degrees for proper croaking,” Ron complained.
“She’s not that bad,” Hermione protested, though it was a bit weak.
“Percy’s rubbing off on her, I tell you,” Ron insisted.
After they had filled their plates, Hermione and Viktor found themselves crowded in at one of the small folding tables in the living room with, of all people, Percy and Moody.
“Rank foolishness, all of it,” Moody griped.
“What? Christmas or dinner? Or Christmas Eve dinner in particular?” Hermione asked lightly.
“Weddings! Bunch of frippery for nothing! Waste of perfectly good money and time!” Moody said, giving his serving of goose a vicious stab with the fork. Percy looked as though he would have preferred to argue the point with anyone besides Moody.
“Oh, now I imagine a lot of the trappings could be done without, quite well, but I wouldn’t say that it was a total waste of time,” Hermione said in a conciliatory tone.
“The two of you spent Heaven knows how much, and you’re not a bit more married than Arthur and Molly, and they got married at the registry office,” Moody pointed out, raising a shaggy white eyebrow.
“Never said we were. But you know what? It was worth every Knut to see you badger Minerva into dancing and to actually see you drink out of a real, live glass of champagne instead of that flask of yours. Besides, I seem to recall someone who sounded an awful lot like you telling me I would seriously regret it if we eloped, instead,” Viktor said mildly. “Something about not ever getting a second chance at getting married a first time and how cheated everyone else would feel if we deprived them of the chance to wish us well publicly. Or did I imagine that?”
“Never said it had to be a big wedding and hullabaloo,” Moody protested.
“And I got my money’s worth by getting five dances out of you, myself,” Hermione said. “Twice over if I count getting to see you dance the horo and try rakia. I call dibs on first dance with you at Percy and Penelope‘s wedding, whether it be horo or waltz.”

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