"Family is very important to me," Mother continues as we stop in the sitting room and nods to the large painting of Fleur, mere and myself together. "I knew Gabrielle missed her sister, and with the professional opportunities in England, it simply made sense to move here. So we could be a family once more." I hear her tone turn brisk and for a moment I wonder if she is going to round on Fred and rail at him about stealing her daughter away, but she maintains a smile as she motions for me and Fred to follow. "Dinner awaits. Perhaps we can finish the rest of the tour after we eat."
"It'll take most of the night to show him all of the castle, mere," I point out, hurrying alongside my mother. She reaches out and places a comforting hand on my shoulder.
"Well, if that is so, I am sure I will have you both back soon enough."
The statement is promising and I feel a wide smile break out on my face. If she was already thinking of having us back, she must be warming to Fred quicker than I thought she would. We enter the dining hall and Fred quickly hurries to pull out my chair for me. I smile at him and I can tell he is debating in his mind whether or not to help my mere, but she is already seated, waving her hand to charm the wine bottle to pour into our glasses.
The House Elves no doubt made a wonderful meal, and our salads appear on our plate as the baskets of rolls and butter appear. The candlelight relaxes the mood and Fred sits across from me. I can feel his foot against my calve almost immediately and I quickly reach for the wine to take a small sip.
"So, Fred," Mother begins after she takes her own drink. "Gabrielle tells me you now own three shops."
"More, actually. We've been working with Whiz..er, Randall Worthington, of Cleansweep, to expand the chain. It's a bit overwhelming." Fred laughs nervously as my mother studies him as he speaks. "But George and I...George is my brother...we're excited. This may be our most profitable year."
"With some thanks to Fleur," I say proudly. Mere pauses in her sip of her wine and she sets the glass down and picks up her fork to spear her tomato.
"Yes, I have seen your sister's photographs." She takes a bite and I fall silent, remembering her less than enthusiastic response to Fleur's career decision. Mother smiles tightly and looks ot Fred. "I do hope that I will not be seeing my daughter nude in the upcoming months."
"I'm sorry, darling, it just seems with every new photograph, she is wearing one less garment than the others."
"Ah, well, a lot of it rides on Fleur's decisions. She only does what is comfortable doing and she has a lot of fans. I've never known anyone to be able to sell products like ours as well as she does. They literally fly off the shelves after one of her new ads is published."
Mother hums in her throat, but does not seem overly impressed. I push my salad around with my fork, though I have absolutely no appetite.
"You have to admit, mere, Fleur looks gorgeous," I say, breaking the tense silence. "And she would never do anything that isn't tasteful."
"I would hope not. She is still my daughter." Mere smiles at me and I glance at Fred to see him reaching up to rub the nape of his neck.
"What do you think of Gabrielle's aspirations, Fred?"
"Asp..." Fred seems taken back and he straightens in his chair as mere turns her focus back to him. "Her aspirations."
"For the future, for a career. I hear she received eleven NEWTs. That's quite an accomplishment."
"She worked really hard," Fred replies with a smile as he looks at me. "She studied everyday. She even got me to study, surprisingly enough. I already knew she was brilliant, the NEWTs simply confirmed it."
"And yet she's working as a clerk in your shop?"
"I'm not a clerk," I tell her quickly before Fred can respond. "I help when I'm needed. I already told you that I haven't quite narrowed down my choices for what I want to pursue."
"If she decides to take a job out of the country," Mother continues, as if she didn't hear me. "What will you do?"
"Er, well...we haven't really talked about that yet. But I would support anything she wanted to do with her life." Fred looks at my mother, not backing down from her intimidating gaze. "Gabrielle is skilled enough, and wicked smart. Parts of the Ministry are already fighting over her."
"I could always become the next Wonder Witch," I joke, but Mere merely frowns at me. I look down quickly and notice my salad has been replaced by soup. I pick up the spoon and dip it as my mother takes another long drink of her wine.
"Well, Fred, it sounds as if you and your brother have become quite successful. It's impressive."
"Thank you. We've worked hard since we left school. I really didn't have much of a social life before I met Gabrielle."
"And do you now?" she asks. "Have a busy social life?"
"No, not really. We like to go out every now and then, but just being with her is enough for me. I don't need fancy parties, or dozens of friends. She's more than enough for me."
My cheeks flush and I look down at my soup as I smile.
My mother's voice echoes my own personal sentiments. "That's very sweet. I can tell you care a great deal for her."
"I do. I love her."
My gaze snaps up to his face and I nervously glance at my mother who is holding her wine glass and smiling. "It seems she loves you as well."
"I do." They both look at me and I wonder if they even realized I was still here. "And I'm happy you let us come over tonight, mere. I know you had your reservations."
She waves her hand and sets her glass down. "I see now I was wrong, ma ange. You must forgive me, Fred. Your older brother and I simply did not get along. I was not happy with the way he treated my daughter and I unfairly judged you by my feelings for William. It's very hard to let go of your children and let them make their own decisions. I do hope you will not disappoint me the way your brother has."