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HP after Hogwarts >> 98 Days: A Dress by Northumbrian

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Ninety Eight Days: A Dress

Jocasta Robertson prided herself in being able to accurately assess her customers.

‘The instant they walk through the door, I can tell,’ she said confidently, lifting her head and looking down her nose at her new assistant, Sandra Simpson. ‘I can tell their likely price range, the style they will like, and which brochures they will want to look at. It takes a great deal of practice, of course.’

Sandra nodded in agreement, but there was something in the girl’s eyes which made it obvious to Jocasta that she did not entirely believe her. Jocasta was still uncertain about her new member of staff. Sandra’s references were good and she dressed well enough, especially given her size. She was a large and rather plain-featured girl, but she managed to look smart and efficient. But looking efficient was not the same as being efficient, and there, Sandra was an unknown quantity.

Sandra! What a dreadful name, so common! The girl didn’t really fit in with the image Jocasta wanted to project. She wondered whether she’d be able to persuade Sandra to use a different name in the shop. Juliette, or possibly Tamsin, would be so much better. Unfortunately Sandra did not look like a Juliette or a Tamsin, she looked like a Sandra.

Jocasta was contemplating broaching the subject when the familiar tinkling of the bell, which always accompanied the door being opened, brought her mind back to more important matters. She was immediately alert, they had customers!

Sandra looked expectantly at Jocasta, and the middle-aged proprietor of “Jocasta’s Bridal Wear, Exeter” realised that her new assistant was now expecting her to prove her expertise.

Jocasta smiled at the three young women who had entered her shop. Her hopes soared when she saw the first girl, and then plummeted when she saw the other two.

This would be difficult. Usually, there was some clue, but Jocasta could see nothing which could possibly tie these three young women together. They were attractive in their own very distinctive ways, even the blonde, but they did not appear to be related. They didn’t appear to have anything else in common either.

First through the door had been a young woman of average height. Jocasta had smiled smugly at Sandra, assuming that her job would be easy.

The first girl was slim and attractive, although her brown hair was untamed and possibly untameable. She wore a smart skirt and jacket combination; they were clothes of good quality and Jocasta was immediately certain that she was dealing with a young, professional woman in a well-paid job. However, when she checked the woman’s left hand and saw that she already wore a wedding ring, she realised to her dismay that this was not the bride.

Behind the brown-haired woman came the blonde. The blonde was gawping in astonishment at the expensive satin mermaid dress which took pride of place in front of the shop door. In fact, Jocasta realised, she wasn’t actually staring at the dress, but at the floodlights surrounding it. It was almost as though the blonde had never seen a floodlit display.

The blonde was in hobnail boots, a long flower print dress of an extremely unfashionable style, a man’s dinner jacket with the sleeves rolled up, and a purple and yellow patterned woolly hat with ear-flaps. She was a mess! At best she was charity-shop-chic! The girl wore no engagement ring, but given her attire, that meant nothing. Could this be the bride? Realising that the blonde had turned her attention from the display and was now staring at her with wild and wide grey eyes, Jocasta suppressed a shudder of despair. She masked her despondency with her most professional smile and looked past the blonde to the third girl.

The third girl was a redhead. Redheads were always difficult. They were difficult to advise, because they usually knew exactly what they wanted and often refused to acknowledge that they may, just possibly, be wrong. They were doubly difficult, because making certain that the bridesmaids dresses did not clash with the hair could be something of a problem, and this particular redhead’s hair was almost fiery in colour.

The redhead was petite and curvy; she wore tight jeans, black boots and a leather motorcycle jacket over a short green t-shirt which showed a taut midriff. She strolled into the shop with a confident grace. Her clothing, however, gave nothing away, it was impossible to guess either her occupation, or how much she earned. Was she rich and eccentric, or simply a biker-girl? There were no visible tattoos, and her belly-button wasn’t pierced, so Jocasta fervently hoped for the former.

A biker-girl, a crazy hippie and a business-woman! It didn’t make sense. As she moved alongside her friends, the red-headed woman finally pulled her left hand from the pocket of her leather jacket. There it was! The engagement ring was interwoven wires of white gold and it contained two emeralds and an impressively large diamond. There was no doubt that it was very expensive. Jocasta’s worries began to evaporate away. Whether this woman had money or not was suddenly immaterial. Even if she did not, then her future husband was obviously wealthy. Jocasta strode forward with a smile and greeted her customers.

‘Welcome to Jocasta’s,’ she said to the redhead, ‘I do hope that we will be able to find something for you, Miss?’

‘Weasley. Ginny Weasley,’ Ginny said.

‘Virginia is such a beautiful name,’ said Jocasta, smiling politely.

‘It might be, but my name’s not Virginia, it’s Ginny,’ said Ginny forcefully.

Jocasta determinedly kept the polite and professional smile on her face, a task made more difficult by the fact that, behind her, Sandra had failed to disguise her snort of laughter as a cough.

‘Are these your bridesmaids, Ginny?’ she asked, determinedly ignoring her assistant. She would deal with Sandra later.

‘Yes. Hermione,’ said Ginny, nodding at the brown-haired young woman. ‘And Luna,’ she indicated the blonde.

Luna! Jocasta thought. Oh dear, hippie parents too! She’s probably never been dressed any other way, poor thing.

‘Do you really only sell wedding dresses in this shop?’ Luna asked. ‘And there seem to be so many of them, too. Are there really so many Mu-people wanting to get married?’

‘Luna,’ said Ginny warningly.

‘I want to know, Ginny, that’s why I’m asking. Knowledge is important, isn’t it Hermione?’ said Luna.

‘Yes, Luna,’ Hermione sighed. ‘But you can ask us later. This is the first shop we’ve tried; we might be spending days, or even weeks, doing this. You’ll soon learn what these places are like. They are all the same!’

Luna appeared to be prepared to argue. Jocasta looked worriedly between Hermione and Luna. If they began to argue, Jocasta realised, she could lose any chance of a sale. Why did brides choose bridesmaids who were so different? Finding a bridesmaids dress which would suit both girls, and which both would like, would not be easy.

‘I do hope, ladies, that you’ll find Jocasta’s Bridal Wear a little different. We pride ourselves on the care and attention we give our customers. I am certain that we’ll be able to find something for you here. When is the wedding; may I ask? How long do we have to find your perfect dress?’ Jocasta spoke rapidly and managed to divert Luna from continuing her disagreement.

‘In three months. The twenty-fourth of May,’ Ginny announced. She smiled radiantly as she spoke. It was obvious that she was looking forward to it.

‘How wonderful, and do you have any ideas what you would like, Ginny?’ she asked.

‘Something Harry will want to tear off the moment he sees me,’ said Ginny. She spoke with absolute certainty and with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes.

Jocasta heard Sandra stifle another giggle and turned to admonish her new assistant.

‘But also, something which Dad will think is perfectly suitable for his only daughter,’ she added.

‘How difficult can that be?’ asked Hermione sarcastically.

‘Not very,’ said Luna. ‘Harry thinks that Ginny is beautiful whatever she’s wearing, and he doesn’t like her to be too … obvious.’

‘Oh, I don’t know about that, Luna. He really liked the little black dress I wore at last year’s Harpies’ Christmas Party, and it certainly didn’t cover much,’ said Ginny. She winked at her friends. ‘But he liked the bridesmaid’s dress I wore at your wedding too, Hermione.’ Ginny lost herself in thought for a moment.

Jocasta looked enquiringly at the two young women. Ginny deferred to Hermione.

‘It was a strapless ball gown,’ Hermione supplied.

This way, ladies,’ said Jocasta, she turned to lead the three young women to a display of ball gowns, but Ginny remained rooted to the spot, refusing to follow.

‘I did like the bridesmaid’s dress,’ said Ginny firmly, crossing her arms and sounding rather irritated. ‘But I’m not going to have anyone say I copied from you, Hermione. I want something similar, but which looks completely different.’

‘What about that?’ Luna asked, pointing to the display dress. ‘I think that you would suit something like that, Ginny.’

Jocasta’s heart skipped a beat. The embroidered satin mermaid dress was one of the most expensive dresses in the shop. Ginny strolled over and examined the dress. It was figure-hugging from cleavage to knees before finally flaring out into a long train.

‘No,’ said Ginny with certainty. She stood on tiptoe and teetered forwards, keeping her knees clamped tightly together. ‘How could anyone possibly walk while wearing something like that? I don’t want to fall arse over tit when I’m walking up the aisle.’

‘Ginny! Language,’ scolded Hermione.

‘Interesting turn of phrase,’ said Luna thoughtfully.

‘It’s what my Uncle Bilius used to say,’ said Ginny. ‘When people complained he simply said: we’ve all got ar…’

‘It’s actually quite easy to walk in, Ginny,’ Sandra stepped forwards and interrupted the redhead. Jocasta failed to stare her new assistant into silence. ‘You just need to swing your hips a bit. You don’t stride, you sashay.’ Sandra demonstrated as she moved, making a surprisingly good job of it. ‘In my opinion, you need a decent figure to be able to look good in this dress. I think that you would look absolutely wonderful in it, Ginny.’

‘You are very good at swinging your hips, Ginny,’ observed Luna. ‘And Harry likes to see you do it, too. I’ve watched him watching you. But you’re usually in too much of a hurry to bother.’

Ginny looked at the dress closely and turned to face Sandra. ‘I don’t like the sleeves,’ she announced. ‘And I don’t care what you say. I still don’t think that I could walk in it.’

‘We have dozens of dresses on display,’ said Jocasta. ‘If you don’t like that one, we can certainly look at something else. After all, no one buys the first dress they see.’

‘True,’ Hermione spoke with feeling.

‘Why not?’ Luna asked.

Jocasta smiled sweetly at the blonde. Luna was obviously going to question everything. This was going to be very difficult.

‘That’s a very good question, Luna,’ said Sandra, ignoring Jocasta’s glare. ‘If the first thing you see is right, why not buy it?’

‘Because it isn’t the right dress!’ said Ginny.

‘Your friend Luna thinks that it would suit you, and I agree,’ said Sandra. ‘You have the curves to carry it off, that’s obvious from the clothes you’re wearing. The display dress flares from the knees, but if you really want to march down the aisle, there’s a version which flares from mid-thigh. The dress comes in a strapless version too, with a sweetheart neckline.’

Jocasta looked at Sandra in surprise.

‘It’s in the catalogue,’ Sandra spoke to Ginny but it was obvious that her words were for Jocasta’s benefit. ‘I’m new, so I’ve been familiarising myself with our stock. Let me show you.’

‘I don’t know…’ Ginny began hesitantly.

‘The only one we have in stock is the display dress. It’s a very expensive dress, and we can’t keep every size. I think that it will fit you, although we’ll need to pin up the hem,’ said Sandra. ‘It can’t hurt to try, can it?’

Jocasta found herself in a quandary. It had taken her two days to set up that display, but if they could sell it, and two matching bridesmaids dresses, then it would be worth it.

‘You’ve got to start somewhere,’ Sandra suggested. She opened the display cabinet.

‘One coffee, Hermione, and one Camomile tea, Luna,’ said Jocasta. As she handed the drinks to the two bridesmaids, Jocasta brooded over the pig-headedness of redheads. This was her shop, she was in charge, but when she’d tried to escort Ginny into the changing rooms the bride-to-be had said “It was her idea, she can help me into this damn thing, and if it’s no good, I’m not even coming out. You’re not going to see me in something I don’t like.”

Ginny had firmly indicated that Sandra, and only Sandra, would be the one to help. Jocasta had found herself relegated to waiting on the bridesmaids while Sandra fitted the dress, pinned up the hem, and scuttled back and forth collecting a pair of high heels, and, for some reason, a length of bright green silk.

‘They’re taking their time,’ observed Hermione.

‘Perhaps I should go and see…’ began Jocasta.

‘Ginny said no one should go in,’ sang Luna happily. ‘It’s really best not to upset her. We’ll just wait.’

Jocasta smiled sweetly and contented herself with trying to overhear what was going on in the changing room.

Eventually, Sandra emerged. ‘Please stand for the bride,’ she said, putting on a mock falsetto.

Ginny floated elegantly through the curtains.

‘You look wonderful, Ginny,’ said Luna.

‘You do,’ agreed Hermione, rather reluctantly.

Jocasta was speechless. The transformation from leather-jacketed, jeans-wearing biker girl to beautiful bride was remarkable. Ginny was wearing a solid silver neck ring containing four emeralds. Her long hair had been tied up into an ornate pile using the green ribbon.

‘I’ve had to pin the waist, and take four inches off the hem, but we can take measurements, and make the alterations. We can order ribbon in a different shade of green, too, to match your engagement ring, and that torc you’re wearing. Provided that this is the dress you want, Ginny.’

It is,’ said Ginny firmly. ‘And identical bridesmaids dresses in emerald green.’

Jocasta’s initial instinct, to suggest that Ginny try more than one dress, was rabidly silenced as she totted up the profit from one very quick sale.

‘You do look wonderful, Ginny,’ said Jocasta, smiling happily.

Ginny ignored Jocasta and turned to talk to Sandra. ‘It’s surprisingly comfortable, and easy to walk in, too,’ Ginny admitted. ‘You’re right, Sandra, walking is easy; all I need to do is swing my hips.’ She demonstrated, talking four sultry steps before twirling around.

Jocasta caught sight of a large bruise behind Ginny’s shoulder and gasped.

‘The hockey season finishes soon,’ explained Sandra. ‘And anyway, you should see the other girl. First fitting in two weeks, Ginny?’ She turned to Hermione and Luna. ‘Now, if I can just take some measurements.’

‘No one buys the first dress they try on, Ginny,’ Hermione protested.

‘Why not?’ chorused Ginny and Luna.

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