Blaise spoke in rapid, sycophantic French whilst engaging in a series of cheek kisses with Madame Claudine, a rail-thin, scarily chic woman Hermione judged to be between the age of 40 and 90, made almost entirely of right angles.
"So handsome Monsieur Zabini! Is the bride you have brought to me finally your own?"
"Alas, Madame, I remain single. I'm afraid I'm cursed with the inevitable reality that no woman will ever measure up to you."
The older woman giggled as she declared Blaise to be "très coquin" whilst Hermione rolled her eyes and marveled that anyone would ever actually speak like that.
Blaise smiled and motioned towards her. "This is Hermione Granger, my best friend, Draco Malfoy's bride-to-be."
Madame Claudine turned her attention to Hermione, looking her up and down with a frozen smile on her face. "I thought Monsieur Malfoy had already married. His bride was that charming girl with the lovely, long neck."
"Sadly, she passed many years ago, madame."
Madame Claudine clucked her tongue sympathetically. "Oh, mon dieu! Please relay my sympathies to Monsieur Malfoy."
"Of course," Blaise said, though Hermione doubted he had any intention of doing so.
Madame Claudine continued her visual inspection of Hermione. "Have you recently given birth?"
"I…yes. How did you know?"
"You have child-bearing hips. It was a good guess." She pursed her lips at Albus. "And what is this?"
"Je suis enchanté de vous rencontrer Madame Claudine. My name is Albus Potter," he said, bending to bestow a kiss on Madame Claudine's bony hand. "I'll be assisting the lovely Mademoiselle Granger today in finding a dress. My best friend is her future stepson, so you can understand how this is a big day for me."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Technically it has nothing whatsoever to do with you—"
"But of course, Monsieur Potter," Madame Claudine said. "Please be assured that I will do everything in my power to transform Monsieur Malfoy's new fiancée into the woman he deserves." She narrowed her eyes, scanning Hermione's person to detect flaws. "You are a very muscular woman, aren't you, Mademoiselle Granger?"
"Well…you know, I work out."
"Muscular women are difficult to fit. Your shoulders are broad, but you have a very narrow waist. This will make many of my gowns quite impossible for you to wear."
Okay, seriously, fuck this. She busted her arse at the gym after Mirum was born, and she was quite happy with her body, fuck you very much. And Draco certainly never seemed to complain. How dare this old cow criticize her? What sort of world was this where women picked apart other women and made them feel—
"But, you have the most lovely hair, my dear. We must find you a style that suits you with your hair down."
Madame Claudine was obviously an abundantly charming woman who was merely trying to ensure that each and every bride-to-be who walked through her doors, selected a style that accentuated their finest assets. What a wonderful, wonderful person. "Thank you so much, Madame Claudine."
The older woman clapped her hands and a tray of champagne appeared in mid-air.
Perhaps this wouldn't be as bad as she feared.
"Well? What do you think?"
Blaise, Albus, and Madame Claudine allowed her to pick the first dress herself. Her eyes were drawn to a long-sleeved number on a nearby rack.
Three sets of dead eyes stared back at her. They all spoke at once.
Albus shook his head. "No—"
"—Never," said Blaise.
"—You are beyond my help." Madame Claudine stood up and addressed Blaise and Albus. "Gentleman. You have my sympathies." She turned to look at Hermione one last time, and with a disappointed shake of her head, she left the room.
"What's wrong with it?" Hermione asked.
Albus opened his mouth to speak, but Blaise turned to him and gestured that he would speak for the both of them. "Hermione, love, first let me say that I appreciate that you selected long sleeves, taking into consideration that it's a fall wedding."
"You're welcome. That said, you will wear this dress over my stone cold dead body."
Albus nodded. "It's one of the most flamboyantly dreadful things I've ever seen."
Hermione looked down at the dress. "It's…I suppose the fabric is a bit thick—"
"And how is it simultaneously mumsy, yet kind of see-through around the middle?" Blaise asked.
"Alright. I get it. The dress is hideous. Perhaps either of you would care to do better?"
Albus grabbed Blaise's champagne flute from his hand and emptied it in one gulp, ignoring Blaise's indignant glare. "In fact," he said, setting the empty flute on the table in front of them, "I've got some ideas." He clapped his hands and several house elves, each bearing a gown in their arms, emerged from the front room.
Hermione gaped. "When did you-?"
Blaise poured her a glass of champagne. "Just relax, Hermione. Let us take care of you. This is supposed to be fun, remember? Here, have a glass of this." He handed her the flute. "You'll enjoy it. It's a special vintage originally marketed as a bedtime drink for French children. But be careful, it is quite potent."
"Actually, now that I think of it, we're going to pass on the cream," Albus said, stopping a nearby house elf bearing the recently rejected, off-white gown. "No need to draw attention to the fact that she's definitely not a virgin."
"Does your father know where you are?" Hermione asked.
"My father knows absolutely, literally fuck all."
Unable to correct him, Hermione sighed and drained a glass of champagne.
"Hermione," Blaise said. "I have helped many women find their perfect wedding dress. And do you know what the common denominator is?"
"A flat arse and a general sense of interest in this sort of thing?" she guessed.
"Confidence, my fantabulous new best friend. You must see yourself through your groom's eyes. Why do you think my boy Draco fell in love with you?"
"Well…" Hermione said, taking another sip of champagne, "He is inordinately fond of my breasts."
"They are very nice, but I have a different theory," Albus said. "Draco is the sort of man who seems to get excited at the prospect of his bollocks never quite being safe, am I right about that?"
"Okay, Albus," Hermione said, rubbing her eyes. "Let me just say this, and then…it'll be said. You make me uncomfortable."
He shrugged. "That's fair."
Hermione took another sip of champagne. "Also, I'm going to be saying the word 'fuck' quite a lot around you before this day is finished. Just a head's up."
"So will I, Professor Aunt Hermione Granger. So will I," he said.
"Okay, don't take this the wrong way," Blaise said after his third glass of champagne and Hermione's fifth dress. "But are we absolutely sure that you're a 'wedding dress' kind of girl?"
"Thank you," Hermione said. "Draco said I wasn't allowed to wear a pant suit."
Albus took a secret swig from a nearby bottle of champagne. "There's no reason a beautiful woman like Professor Gra…" He paused when he noticed the freaked out look on Hermione's face at being called 'professor' away from Hogwarts grounds. "Aunt Herm…no. That's worse. There's no reason she can't find a wedding dress. She's easily the one of the top five most bangable white female professors at Hogwarts."
She rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Albus."
His face took on an expression of utmost solemnity. "And I mean that, Professor Aunt Hermione. I really do."
Hermione's hair was that special type of frizzy that only happens after a woman has tried on multiple clothing items under fluorescent lighting and hated all of them, as well as discovered new things about her own body to hate. "It doesn't bloody help that everything I try highlights another one of my flaws. You're not tall enough for that. Those sleeves make you look like a she-Hulk. Not enough cleavage. You never even ask me my opinion."
Albus took another swig of champagne. "If my mother were here, would she ask you your opinion?"
The answer was a definitive, neon-colored, block-lettered, Hell No. Ginny would be wasted off her arse by now, Madame Claudine would be in tears, and Hermione would probably, oddly, feel like a million Galleons. She could almost hear her. "Now you listen to me, you hot-ass bitch! You will wear this form-fitting, low-cut, overpriced piece of shit on your wedding day because Hermione Granger ain't no simple ho and she doesn't bloody hide. You got a problem with that? Fight me!" Maybe she should text her.
"I'll humour you.." Albus sat back in his seat, his head spinning slightly from having stolen many glasses-worth of champagne. "What do you like about the one you're wearing now?"
She looked down at the sleeveless, mermaid number she was wearing. Well, the…bodice is interesting, I guess. And, um…" She bit her lip.
"You have absolutely no idea, do you?" Albus asked.
"Look, I know fuck all about this kind of thing. Normally, I just buy the simplest thing that fits nicely."
"You know," Blaise said, slurring his words a bit. "That's not a bad strategy, style-wise. So many women get it wrong because they try to do something exciting or trendy, but they don't understand their body. And they don't have the courage to be understated like our lovely, elegant Hermione."
She blinked at him. "Thank you, Blaise."
"Can I tell you what I think about the dress, Hermione?" Blaise asked. "That gown makes your body look divine. It's perfect for an athletic hourglass shape like yours."
Blaise Zabini, her new best friend, everyone. "Thank you."
"However, it doesn't suit you. That dress is made for a Pinterest addict with a 'y' in the middle of her name and a French-tip pedicure who happens to have exactly your dimensions."
"I'm in complete agreement, Blaise," Albus said, standing. "Give us a twirl, will you, Hermione?"
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not doing that."
"I have to insist."
"I changed your diapers. I win."
He smirked. "No you didn't."
No, she didn't, because she was terrified of children at the time. "I could have changed your diapers because I'm your godmother and I bloody well think that means you don't get to boss me around."
"I think," Blaise interjected, "that we should go with this new insight and find something simple."
Two glasses of champagne later…
"I like this one."
"I think you're full of shit," Albus said. "I think you just want this day to be over, so you'll say anything to make that happen."
Hermione scoffed. "Well, I think that you're a champagne-stealing little creep with an unnatural interest in women's clothes."
"All of those statements are correct," he said. "NEXT!"
"You know what?" Hermione said. "I hope your Star Wars fanfiction gets like…no favorites."
Albus gasped and clutched his chest. "That is so mean," he said with an air of grave sincerity.
A glass of champagne later…
They were all three dancing. Wild, unskilled, dancing to Kanye's new album. How did this happen? The details were hazy.
"Hey look!" Albus said. "I can see myself in all the mirrors!"
And they all laughed.
Two glasses of champagne later…
"You know what," Hermione said, sitting in front of the mirrors in a puffy, sparkly princess-style dress with bright sequins on the bust, "maybe this is just the champagne talkin', but I think this is the one."
"Maybe this is just the champagne talkin'," Blaise said, "but I kind of feel like we're all becoming best friends."
"I feel that too!" Albus said.
Hermione giggled. "You…should not be drinking. You're fifteen. Ten points from Slytherin." She hiccuped.
"I love you guys," Albus said. "And I think we should get fish and chips."
Hermione took another sip of champagne. "You guys have no idea how much I missed this," she motioned with her champagne glass, "when I was pregnant." She hiccuped. It's possible her tolerance was-
She giggled. "There are bubbles in my nose."
Albus burped. "Fish. And chips."
"You know, Mirum really is adorable." Blaise hiccuped. "Let me give you the number of my former agent from my baby model days."
"I don't think so," Hermione said, burping through a hiccup. "I will not capitalize on my baby's precious sweet angel face. That's how you make strippers."
Albus poked Blaise. "No, but really, if fish and chips aren't to your fancy, we could do a pizza."
Blaise laughed, ignoring Albus. "Draco said the same thing when I suggested it."
"Seriously, even a kebab would be great right now. I really didn't have a big lunch," Albus said.
Blaise grinned. "I've got a better idea."