Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling. I don't own anything and I'm not making money from this.
A/N: I told myself I wasn't going to post this until I had more chapters written but I kind of got super excited about it and now I've decided to ignore my own advice, so we'll see how that goes.
Las Ballenas is not a real place, but it's loosely based on the island of Ibiza.
Please let me know what you think! I love hearing from people.
Delicate by Blue Kat
Chapter 1: Las Ballenas
Alicia and Lee could have gotten married in London. That would have been the sensible thing for them to do. London was a perfectly good place to have a wedding. The Spinnets lived in London, along with most of Lee and Alicia's friends. Lee's parents were just over in Surrey. No passports would have been required, very few hotel rooms would have been needed. They would have had their pick of any number of beautiful venues.
Instead they chose a beach. In Las Ballenas.
My feelings about Las Ballenas were as follows: no thank you. Las Ballenas is the sort of place that you visit when you are very glamorous and enjoy trendy clubs where the lights are slightly too dim and the music is all bass and a little too loud. If doing a shot of two hundred year old Ogden's from the horn of a unicorn ice sculpture sounds like fun, then Las Ballenas is the place for you.
I am not that sort of person—I was in Hufflepuff, for Merlin's sake. I prefer the simpler things in life: well-worn jeans, overcast afternoons, Ogden's mixed into a strong cup of coffee sipped leisurely in front of a crackling fire with a good book or a few good friends, ice sculptures as decoration and not barware.
Alicia knows all these things about me—she knows me better than anyone else after all—which is why the statement "We're having the wedding in Las Ballenas" was immediately followed by what can only be described as a campaign of strategic, targeted guilt.
"You'll be going, course," she said, before I could even say a word. We were sitting in the kitchen in her flat, a set of glossy travel brochures spread out on the table in front of us. "You have to, Mags. You're my maid of honor."
This was the first time I'd heard anything about being her maid of honor. This was also likely part of her strategy: overwhelm me with so much information that I had no choice but to blinkingly accept whatever mad scheme she'd come up with.
"I'm your maid of honor?"
"Of course you are." She said this with the authority of an indisputable fact: the sky is blue, the grass is green, my cousin Maggie is going to be my maid of honor at my mad island wedding. "Who else would I choose?"
"I dunno, Angelina or Katie, maybe," I said, shrugging. "You're awfully close with them.
"Maggie, you were literally the only person to witness my engagement."
"Only because Lee knew that you would want a photo and he didn't want to chance it with a spell."
Alicia sighed. "You are missing the point. You were always going to be my maid of honor. There was never any doubt about that." She smiled with the sly sort of look of a woman with an agenda. "Besides, I knew you'd say yes."
She was right, of course. I wouldn't miss her wedding if it was underwater and on the moon. Alicia was the closest thing I had to a sister. The closest thing I had to a sibling, really, especially since…
Well. I didn't want to think about that. Not now. I took a long drink from my mug of tea.
Alicia seemed to take this as an expression of my hesitance about Las Ballenas and not for the darker, sadder thought that it was.
"I mean, look at this." She slid a brochure across the table. "This is the hotel we've chosen. Look at me and tell me that doesn't look bloody gorgeous."
She was right: it was a beautiful hotel. It was the sort of place that looked so pretty in pictures that you automatically thought it couldn't possibly be real. The front of the brochure featured a room with a private terrace that looked out at an ocean that was an almost impossible shade of aquamarine. Purple bougainvillea grew along the terrace railing, rustling gently in the breeze.
"I know you're not keen on Las Ballenas," said Alicia as I turned the page to a picture of a pristine beach, "but I really want you to be there. It's going to be a really small ceremony. Just our parents and our wedding party, probably. We really wanted the people who are most important to us. I couldn't imagine getting married without you there with me."
I think she knew that there was never any chance that I was going to say no. This was just to make "no" an impossibility several times over. I sighed and chucked the brochure at her.
"Of course I'm going to your wedding, you dingus."
Alicia's smile was brighter than sunshine as she flung her arms around me, nearly knocking over my cup of tea.
"I knew you would!" She planted a big kiss on my cheek before releasing me. "It's going to be brilliant, you'll see. It's not just nightclubs—the beaches are gorgeous and there's snorkeling and swimming and Lee found a place that does a waterfall hike with horseback riding. You're going to love it, I promise."
"She's getting married where?" said Mum when I told her and Dad the news at Sunday dinner that week.
"Las Ballenas," I said through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "It's that island near Ibiza. The one where that Keeper for the Holyhead Harpies got into trouble for smashing up his hotel room while he was on doxy dust."
"Right, Ramses Llewellyn, wasn't it?" said Dad, helping himself to a dinner roll. "Well, that sounds dreadful."
"I think you mean it sounds like it's not for us," said Mum, casting a scolding look at Dad.
"No, I mean it sounds dreadful," said Dad cheerfully.
"Well, you're not going to be invited," I informed him.
"That's a relief."
Mum set down her fork and gave Dad a stern look. "Oscar."
"What? It's no reflection on Alicia and Lee, I love them both dearly and wish them the best," said Dad, spreading a generous helping of butter onto his roll. "I just have no interest in licking doxy dust off of a stranger's neck or whatever it is they do there."
"I've heard the beaches are quite lovely," said Mum. "Bonnie Harper and her husband holiday there sometimes and she says they've got the whitest sand she's ever seen."
"Bah," said Dad, waving his hand dismissively. "Sounds like a sunburn waiting to happen."
Mum gave Dad an exasperated look and seemed to give up on the idea of him contributing usefully to this conversation. She turned to me. "So are they eloping then?"
"No, it's just going to be very small. Aunt Lynn, Uncle Pete, Lee's parents, and the wedding party."
"How big is the wedding party?"
"Well, I'm the maid of honor. Alicia's asked Angelina Weasley and Katie Bell to be bridesmaids. And then Lee's got Fred Weasley as his best man and George Weasley and Oliver Wood as his groomsmen."
"Oliver Wood?" said Dad, perking up a bit. "The Keeper for Puddlemere United?"
"Yeah, he and Lee shared a flat for a few years after Hogwarts and they got to be good friends. And he just got married to Katie Bell as well." I narrowed my eyes at him. "And I'm not going to ask him to sign anything for you."
"Oh, go on Maggie," wheedled Dad. "Can't you do a favor for your poor old Dad? Your brother would—"
Dad stopped suddenly, blinking rapidly and that familiar, choking silence descended on the table. I looked out the window, staring hard at the magnolia tree in the front yard, anywhere but the empty seat at the table.
"I imagine that's going to be quite expensive," said Mum after a moment. This is one way we handled this loss when it popped up unexpectedly, stunning us with a sharp and searing pain that poked at old wounds that we knew would never fully heal: by changing the subject and talking about something else until the lumps in our throats eased and the pain receded to that quietly dull ache that we'd become accustomed to in the last five years.
"Yes." I took a sip of water, hoping it might ease the lump in my throat. "And she's insisting on paying for my room."
Mum's eyes went wide. "She isn't."
"She is. She did, actually." I sighed. "She already booked it and sent them the money."
It seemed that Alicia's management of her finances was enough of a shock to distract both Mum and Dad from the topic that Dad had inadvertently raised.
"That's too expensive, you can't possibly—"
"Oh, believe me, I have tried to talk both her and Lee out of it." I took another drink of water. The lump in my throat was shrinking, slowly but surely. "They wouldn't hear it. Alicia said she knows it's expensive, she knows it's not exactly my first choice of destination, and she reckons that this way I definitely won't be able to come up with some excuse and bow out at the last minute."
Dad laughed, the lines on his face softening and I felt myself breathe an inner sigh of relief. "Sometimes I wonder if that girl ought to have been in Slytherin."
"She's not subtle enough to be cunning." I took another drink of water and reckoned I could manage some more food. "She did ask me to tell you that she hopes you're not offended that I'm invited and you're not."
"Of course we aren't," said Mum.
"In fact, I think we ought to send her a very nice wedding gift and a thank you note for not inviting us," said Dad, chuckling.
"What?" said Dad, shrugging his shoulders and taking a large bite out of his dinner roll. "I'm quite prone to sunburns."
The wedding was the last week in May. Alicia and I took an early afternoon Portkey down to Madrid, then Ibiza, then Las Ballenas. Lee met us at the hotel, having gone down a few hours earlier to take care of some of the errands that still needed doing. He greeted Alicia with a kiss and presented me with a bouquet of mango calla lilies.
"These are gorgeous, but shouldn't you be saving these sort of gestures for your soon-to-be-wife?" I asked.
"My soon-to-be-wife has given me very specific instructions that we're to treat you like a queen this week because you've only come here because you love her very much," said Lee, snaking an arm around Alicia's waist and pulling her close to him. "Do you think it's working?" he said to her in a stage whisper.
Alicia rolled her eyes. "I also told him to not be an idiot about it, but I suppose I can't have everything."
"Well, it's too late to get our money back, so I reckon you're stuck with me," said Lee, planting a kiss on top of Alicia's head.
"You're already paying for my hotel room," I reminded them. "Don't you think that's enough as it is?"
"For you, Maggie? Hardly." Lee grinned. "Come on, let's get you checked in."
Alicia and I would be sharing my room until the wedding night, at which point she and Lee would move into a honeymoon suite. There was part of me that thought perhaps the room wouldn't be as lovely as it looked in the pictures, but I found that this was not the case as soon as we opened the door. A cool breeze was blowing in through the open windows and the view from the private terrace was even more breathtaking when you could smell the salt of the ocean and hear the gentle lapping of the waves. I flopped down on one of the two double beds; it was softer than a cloud.
The mattress sank a bit as Alicia sat down next to me. "When are the others supposed to arrive?"
"Katie and Wood should be along within an hour or so," said Lee. "Fred, George, and Angelina are due in by four. Our parents arrive late tomorrow morning."
"What do you think?" said Alicia, poking me in the shoulder. "Do you want to do a bit of unpacking and laze around until Katie and Oliver arrive and then we can start sorting out what we want to do?"
"I may not actually leave this bed for the duration of the trip, it's quite comfortable."
"I'm trying to be nice to you, so I'm not going to hit you in the face with a pillow, but know that I am thinking about it," said Alicia, tapping me on the nose.
"Thank you for your consideration. But to answer your question, yes, that sounds like a lovely plan."
Alicia patted my shoulder. "Let's go with that then. Lee, how far have you gotten with the checklist?"
"Only a few things left." He gave her a slow and lazy smile that almost certainly heralded the arrival of some inappropriate sentiment. "Though I reckon I could make some time if you'd like to have a bit of a lie in in my room."
Alicia rolled her eyes and stood up to peck him chastely on the cheek. "You're a pervy wanker and I love you desperately."
"Is that a yes?"
"No." Alicia stepped away from him and hauled one of her bags up onto the bed. "You know perfectly well that you've got things to do. And I would remind you that you are sharing that room with Fred until the wedding night and I'd really rather not start this trip off with an awkward encounter."
Lee shrugged. "Had to try didn't I?"
"Did you, though?" I asked, making a face at him. "With me right in the room? Me, her flesh and blood?"
Lee grinned at me, looping his arms around Alicia's waist as she opened her bag. "Oh go on, Mags, it's nothing you've not seen before."
I crossed my arms over my chest and looked at him sternly. "You're supposed to be coddling me."
"I'm afraid the force of my love for my beloved is too strong to contain." He nuzzled Alicia's neck in an overly exaggerated way that made her pull a face and immediately try to wiggle free of him.
"All right, that's it." She turned around and prodded him in the chest with her forefinger. "Go be useful."
"One kiss." Lee presented his cheek to Alicia.
She promptly swatted him in the face with a t-shirt. "Out."
Lee grinned and slapped her on the bum before running out of the room.
"This is the man I've chosen to spend the rest of my life with," sighed Alicia, refolding the t-shirt.
"Well, as he pointed out earlier, it's too late to get your money back."
"Pity." But she was smiling as she shook her head.
Between the glorious ocean view and the world's most comfortable bed, it was a bit of a struggle to convince myself to spend time on something as mundane as unpacking. Eventually I managed to drag myself to my feet and spent a few minutes half-heartedly piling my clothes into the dresser drawers and arranging my toiletries in the bathroom. I pronounced the results messy but acceptable and immediately relocated myself to one of the lounge chairs on the terrace, book in hand.
"You know, for someone who wasn't particularly keen on coming here, you seem to be enjoying yourself," said Alicia when she came out to join me a few minutes later, accompanied by the ever present purple notebook with "Wedding" scrawled on the front in her looping script.
"It's a gorgeous view," I said primly. "I never said I was opposed to that part of the trip."
"You are your father's daughter." Alicia laughed. "Did I show you the note he sent?"
"No, was it ridiculous?"
She grinned and withdrew a folded card from her notebook and handed it to me. I recognized my parents' stationery and Dad's blocky handwriting:
Alicia and Lee,
Rita and I are delighted for you both and send our warmest wishes as you start your new life together.
I would also like to thank you for not inviting us to your wedding, as I am quite prone to sunburns and Rita and I are both too old to enjoy the trendy underwater nightclubs or whatever it is they do there.
I do regret to inform you that while Rita and I are very fond of you both, I'm afraid we will not be able to post your bond should either one of you follow in the footsteps of Ramses Llewelleyn and smash up a hotel room or kidnap a prize kneazle while under the influence of any sort of mind-altering substance, so please plan your celebration accordingly.
Uncle Oscar and Aunt Rita
Underneath this was a postscript in my mother's neat cursive.
Sorry, love. Your uncle was like this when I met him. Be grateful you're not related to him by blood and won't risk inheriting this nonsense. xoxo, Aunt Rita.
I chuckled and passed the note back to her. "That's Dad all right."
"I'd forgotten about Ramses Llewellyn and the doxy dust," said Alicia, sticking the note back in her notebook. "Though I'm not entirely clear on what Uncle Oscar thinks happens on this island."
"He has a rich imagination, my father." I eyed the purple notebook. "D'you need help with anything? I feel like I've neglected a lot of my maid of honor responsibilities."
"Psh, you're fine," said Alicia. She grinned and stretched out on her lounge chair. "The nice thing about planning a mad destination wedding with ten guests total is that it does cut down on a lot of the nonsense. Assuming Lee finishes up with the things he's supposed to do, most of the things left are preparations on the day of. I'm a free woman."
"Well, through Saturday evening, anyway."
She smiled and turned her face toward the ocean, squinting at the horizon. She was happy. There was a looseness and easiness to her features, a simple sort of peace that I'd grown to appreciate more after the War.
Almost without thought, my hand went to my right hip, right where my scar began. Alicia, with her strange sixth sense, looked away from the horizon, her smile fading slightly as her eyes went to my hand at my hip. She took a deep breath, the beginnings of a question poised on her lips when the screen door on the adjacent terrace slid open and Katie Bell bounded out.
Alicia shot me a brief look that said we'd talk later before her eyes lit up and her face settled into a wide smile. "Katie!"
Katie nimbly scaled the half wall separating our terraces, her long brown hair whipping behind her in the wind. With her slim, athletic build, hair the color of black coffee, and one of the prettiest smiles I'd ever seen, Katie was the sort of person who people automatically assumed must be a model. She was a sports journalist—and quite a good one, too—and heaven help the poor sod who made the mistake of condescending to her about Quidditch. Her most well-known article—one that catapulted her career to the national stage and would eventually go on to win a Golden Quill—was a hard hitting examination of sexism in the field of sports journalism.
"There's a gate, you maniac!" laughed Alicia as Katie clambered over the wall, knocking a few blooms off the bougainvillea.
"I'm just so excited to see you!" squealed Katie, wrapping Alicia in a tight hug. "You're getting married in a week and I just can't believe it."
"Isn't it mad?"
"It goes by so quickly, doesn't it?" Katie pulled back from Alicia to look at her and finally seemed to register my presence. "Maggie! Oh my goodness, I didn't even see you!"
Katie greeted me with the sort of enthusiasm that exceeded the scope of our actual relationship. That's who Katie was: she was effusive, smiley, the sort of person whose excitement is contagious. This is not to say we weren't friends or anything like that—we were, but we only ever saw each other in the context of Alicia. In school, it was when Alicia brought me to a party in Gryffindor Tower or took me along to their girls only Hogsmeade outings; after school, it was at Alicia's Christmas parties or some other Alicia-related event.
I was halfway out of my chair when Katie enveloped me in a hug. "Hi Katie, it's good to see you."
"You're going to knock her over, Kates," said Alicia, laughing.
"Can you blame me?" said Katie, releasing me so I could stand up. "It's been ages since I've seen Maggie. When was the last time we saw each other? It wasn't the St. Mungo's benefit, was it?"
"I think it must have been because you were still engaged and you were telling me about the problems you were having with that florist."
"You're right." Katie made a face and groaned. "That florist. Do you know it actually got worse after the benefit? We ended up having to break the contract. I'll tell you about it some time this week, it was utterly insane."
"Well, Alicia showed me the photos in Cloak and Robe and it looked like it was gorgeous."
"Thank you!" Katie laughed. "I'm still surprised they ran that. A Keeper for Puddlemere United and a sports journalist aren't exactly in the upper echelons of fame and fortune."
"A Golden Quill-winning sports journalist and advocate for women," corrected Alicia, nudging Katie. "And Quidditch's most promising young Keeper. You're a power couple now! Wood and Bell, Quidditch Royalty, isn't that what Witch Weekly is calling you?"
Katie rolled her eyes. "Don't you start on that. My dad has been utterly insufferable. Every single owl that comes to our house: Katie Bell and Oliver Wood, Quidditch Royalty."
"Speaking of, where is your new husband?"
"Nattering with Lee about last week's match, obviously."
Alicia sighed, massaging her temples. "I have told Lee to let that poor man leave work at work, but does he listen? No."
"Oh, Oliver loves it, he's hardly suffering." Katie eyed the door of her room's terrace. "It does make me wonder how they managed to get anything done when they shared that flat. I'm fairly certain they'd go on forever if they didn't need to eat or sleep." She leaned over the half wall of the terrace. "Oliver!"
"Yeah?" called a voice from inside the room.
"Come out here and interact like a normal human being."
Oliver and Lee emerged from the room a few seconds later, Oliver just as handsome as he'd ever been with his slightly mussed hair and a faint smattering of stubble on his chiseled jaw. Of everyone in the wedding party, I knew Oliver the least well, owing to the fact that he was in a different house and two years ahead of me. Most of my interaction with him came a few years after graduation when he started dating Katie, and even then, it was fairly limited to an occasional chat at Alicia's Christmas party or some such event. He was perfectly pleasant, though he hadn't exactly abandoned his teenage obsession with Quidditch, so we didn't always have a whole lot to discuss.
Oliver smiled as he caught sight of Alicia and like Katie, he swung himself nimbly over the half wall in lieu of using the gate, scattering more bougainvillea blooms.
"Use the gate!" exclaimed Alicia as Oliver embraced her. "Honestly, between you and Katie, you're going to kill that poor plant."
"It's good to see you, too," said Oliver with an amused smirk.
"I'm going to write to the gossip rags and tell them that you two are flower murderers," said Alicia, though she was smiling. Her gaze turned stern as she looked at Lee, who was still standing on the other terrace. "Lee, don't you dare hop that wall, I can't have the death of this poor plant on my conscience."
"I wouldn't dream of it, my love," he said, giving her the sort of smile that always made her eyes soften just a little, no matter what. "I've actually got a few things to finish up, but I'll pop back over when Fred arrives."
"Thanks, love," she said, smiling. Lee blew Alicia a kiss as he went back inside.
Oliver seemed to notice me for the first time. "Maggie. Good to see you again."
"Hi Oliver." We exchanged the awkward hug of two people who only sort of knew each other through third parties. "Congratulations on the wedding, it looked like it was beautiful."
"Thanks, it went off quite well."
"And don't forget their recent ascension to Quidditch Royalty," said Alicia, failing to hide a smile.
"She hates that," said Oliver in a stage whisper as Katie let out a dramatic groan.
"That's what makes it fun," Alicia whispered back.
Katie and Oliver soon left us to go settle in and unpack, promising to meet back on our terrace (and use the gate) to discuss dinner plans once they'd settled in. Alicia and I made ourselves at home on the lounge chairs on the terrace, me with my book and Alicia stretched out with her arm draped over her eyes. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool and though I was loath to admit it, our time in Las Ballenas so far had been pretty well near perfect.
A little more than a half hour later, I heard a door open. Two terraces down, I could see Lee emerge from his room followed shortly by Fred Weasley.
I'd seen Fred and his twin George intermittently since the War ended and every time was a bit jarring. Before the War, they were utterly identical, to the point that most teachers had given up on trying to tell them apart. Like most Gryffindors, they regularly toed the line between brave and foolhardy; unlike most Gryffindors, they did this with all the subtlety of a firecracker in a library or a tornado in a china shop. They were funny, handsome, and popular; fancying one of the Weasley twins was common enough that it was practically a rite of passage.
Things changed after the War.
Their Gryffindor courage had claimed from each of them a pound of flesh. George had lost most of his left ear in the Battle of the Seven Potters; Fred had very nearly died in an explosion during the Battle of Hogwarts, and the start of an angry red scar now peeked over the collar of his shirt, ending at the hollow of his throat. They were—in the most heartbreaking way—no longer identical. They were still funny, handsome, and well-liked; they still had their joke shop in Diagon Alley. But it was always a little sad to see them, George with his missing ear and Fred looking a little more sad and haunted, even when he was smiling.
It was, in a way, a sharp reminder of my own scars.
Goosebumps prickled along my forearms despite the balmy heat of the day and I barely resisted the urge to place my hand to my hip. Instead, I turned my eyes back to my book.
Alicia stirred on the chair beside me. "What's the time?"
She stretched, looking around. "Well, it must be after four. Fred's here." She waved in the general direction of Lee's terrace. "I think they're coming over."
I set my book on the table and stretched as I stood, the stone of the terrace cool against my toes.
"Maggie Carlyle, as I live and breathe," said Fred, stepping onto the terrace. We exchanged a brief hug. "It's been a while."
"Good to see you, Fred."
Fred looked pointedly at Alicia, who was still lounging on her chair. "You're not even going to stand up to say hello to me, are you, Spinnet?"
Alicia beamed at him. "I wouldn't want you to get used to it."
"Cheeky." He leaned down to hug her. "I'll hug you anyway because it's your wedding week."
"Are George and Angie here?"
"Yeah," said Fred as he sat down in one of the unoccupied chairs.
"How's she doing?"
"Vomiting spectacularly last I checked."
Alicia winced. "Poor girl. I was hoping the Portkey wouldn't make her sick."
"I don't think it was the Portkey so much as the fact that she's three months pregnant and having her morning sickness in the afternoons."
Alicia frowned. "Why didn't George book an earlier Portkey?"
Fred chuckled. "That has been pointed out to him several times. Loudly."
"Good to know that pregnancy hasn't changed her," said Alicia smiling.
"Katie and Wood arrive?"
"About half an hour before you," said Lee. "Mate, you're not going to believe what he was saying about the match—"
"I'm declaring a moratorium on Quidditch talk," interrupted Alicia. "There are other things in this world."
"You're no fun," said Lee.
"You knew that when you proposed."
"Is the maid of honor the one that's meant to be the referee or is it the best man?" Fred asked me.
"I think we're meant to share the responsibility," I said. "You take Lee and I'll handle Alicia."
Alicia arched an eyebrow, folding her arms across her chest. "Lee, I think we've made a mistake, they've already ganged up on us."
"Should've gone with George," sighed Lee.
Fred grinned. "That's what happens when you flip a coin."
I wasn't entirely sure that he was joking.
"So I think we're going to wait for everyone to get settled and then decide what to do about dinner," said Alicia. "I thought that we might want to have a bit of an early night tonight and then be well rested for tomorrow." Alicia looked at me, her eyes glimmering. "There are eight nightclubs I'd like to visit."
"You're not funny," I said, sending her the sternest look I could muster.
"Not much for nightclubs, are you, Carlyle?" said Fred, grinning.
"She's a Hufflepuff through and through, our Maggie," said Alicia, winking at me. I made a face at her and she smiled. "I was actually thinking tomorrow might be a good day for the beach. Our parents arrive in the morning, so we can pop out to say hello to them."
"I'd be amenable to that," said Fred. He looked at me. "So what's keeping you out of trouble these days, Maggie? I thought I saw you at the Enchanted Onion a few weeks back."
This was a question that I dreaded because I didn't have a particularly satisfactory answer. The truth was that I was trudging through the same rut that I'd been in since the War had ended. Before the Battle of Hogwarts, I'd been looking at pursuing the additional certifications that I'd need to be an independent Potioneer.
After the Battle of Hogwarts, that particular ambition seemed distant and strange. It was the ambition of a girl who didn't have hidden scars, a girl who still had a brother, a girl who could leave her house and not have it feel like a herculean effort. The girl that I'd become was a bit more damaged and scared. My plans changed accordingly.
"Still waiting tables at the Enchanted Onion," I said brightly, hoping that my smile reached my eyes. "It's not glamorous, but it pays the bills."
It might have just been my imagination, but I thought for a moment that Fred's eyes turned a little serious, like he had a notion that there was more to it than my breezy answer. But a split second later, that little glimmer was gone.
"'S honest work," he said, grinning. "No shame in that."
"Seems like the shop is doing well," I said, hoping this would change the subject. "It always looks busy when I walk by on my tea break."
Lee sighed. "You never stop by to visit though, do you, Mags? Not even to see your favorite soon-to-be cousin-in-law, toiling away at his ledger."
"You don't have a ledger and you barely use your desk," said Alicia, rolling her eyes.
"I can't very well negotiate new contracts locked up in my office, now can I?"
The sound of an opening screen door on the terrace next to us punctuated Lee's question. Angelina Johnson—now Angelina Weasley—stepped out onto the terrace, followed shortly by George Weasley.
"Ange!" Alicia leapt to her feet. Angelina's face lit up and she darted from her terrace to ours, meeting Alicia in an enthusiastic embrace.
"Do you see how it is?" said Fred to me, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "She gets up to say hello to them."
"You should file a grievance," I said very seriously.
"Maggie, it's so good to see you!" Angelina was approaching me now. I hadn't seen her since she'd gotten pregnant, but she looked good—there was a slight hint of a bump at her waist and her skin was glowing.
"Hi, congratulations!" I said as she drew me into a hug. "You look wonderful."
"You're sweet," said Angelina. "I feel rather grotesque at the moment, but overall it's been good." Her expression became stern as she fixed her gaze on her husband. "Today's travel excluded."
George was either very foolish or had a very finely tuned sense of Angelina's mood because he merely grinned at her and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. "I like to think of my occasional lapses in common sense as a charming quirk that made you fall in love with me."
Angelina sighed. "I was drunk when he first asked me on a date," she said to me.
"But not when I proposed," said George cheerily. He looked at me and grinned. "Hi Maggie, lovely to see you. Were you expecting to hear so much about our marriage in these first five minutes?"
I laughed and we exchanged a brief hug. "Not exactly, but it's good to see you. And congratulations on the baby."
"Thank you," said George. "First of twelve, you know how we Weasleys are."
Angelina gave him a look that could have melted steel, but you wouldn't have known it from the way that he slung an arm around her and planted a kiss on her temple.
Katie and Oliver soon joined us on the terrace and there were more exclamations and hugs to be exchanged, more small talk to be had.
And herein lay the challenging part of being in this bridal party, and one of the more difficult parts of spending time with Alicia's friends: they were Alicia's friends. They weren't intentionally exclusive or unwelcoming or anything like that, but they had their own inside jokes, their own particular rhythm to their banter and teasing. I knew enough context to be able to follow along just enough so that I mostly knew what was going on, but not enough to feel like I truly was a part of the group.
Fred, George, and Oliver were going back and forth with some convoluted story about a Quidditch match during our fifth year when Alicia caught my eye and gave me a knowing smile, bumping her shoulder against mine. That was the thing about Alicia: for all her Gryffindor bravery, there was just as large a part of her that was thoughtful and sweet. In school, she had been one of the more popular girls in our year and being on the Quidditch team and running in the same circles as Harry Potter had given her a kind of social cachet that I couldn't quite match with such bona fides as Potions Club President and Quidditch spectator.
But popular as she was, Alicia never used that as an excuse to lose sight of me. She brought me to parties in Gryffindor Tower, she invited me to Hogsmeade with Angelina and Katie, she insisted that we have dinner together at least once a week. At her post-Hogwarts parties, she showed up the moment it looked like I might be alone, pulling me by the wrist and saying that there was someone she wanted me to meet.
So when she bumped her shoulder against mine, there was a part of me that relaxed just a little bit, a part of me that knew that even though I was out of my element, Alicia would be there to guide me.
Perhaps this won't be so bad after all, I thought. I hope.