A/N: Thank you all for reading, reviewing, following, and favoriting! It always makes my day to get alerts on this fic (or on my other fic, Playing with Fire, which also happens to be a Fred/OC story (see how smooth I am at working in these shameless plugs?)). Please let me know what you think! I always enjoy hearing from people.

I have mixed feelings about this chapter, so I'd love to know how you think it turned out.

I'm hoping to get the next Playing With Fire chapter posted in late August 2018, so Chapter 4 of Delicate should be up sometime shortly after that.

Chapter 3: Chicken

As it turned out, dunking one or more of the aforementioned idiots into the ocean was a rather tall order.

"What's your strategy for this?" I asked Alicia as I trotted after her down the beach.

"I don't have one," she said, her eyes narrowed and focused on Lee. "I'm mainly counting on my irritation to propel me to results. It's worked before."

This non-strategy had predictably mediocre results. With my help, Alicia was eventually able to dunk Lee, but not without mostly dunking both herself and me in the process. A truce was called shortly thereafter—partly because things were clearly going to get out of hand and partly because the water was cool and delightful against our sun-warmed skin and swimming suddenly seemed far more appealing than revenge.

I had spent a lot of time thinking about how I would hide my scars without seeming like I was trying to hide my scars; Fred seemed to occupy the opposite end of that spectrum. He peeled off his shirt and tossed it aside with absolutely no sign of hesitation or self-consciousness. This was the first time I'd seen his scar in full—this was the first time I'd ever seen him without a shirt, for that matter. The scar spanned almost the entirety of his back, starting at his left hip and creeping up to his right shoulder, dipping down to his lower right rib and snaking up his sternum to end at the hollow of his throat. It was a cleaner cut than mine, though the part at his shoulder was the widest and most knotted.

I knew what it was like to be the subject of a stare that lasted a half second too long, so I turned away quickly before he could notice me looking. It wasn't the scar itself that made my eyes want to linger: it was the fact that he seemed completely unbothered by it. This was an utterly foreign concept to me.

As I waded into the ocean, I wondered if I would ever feel that comfortable. I imagined myself strolling out onto the beach, wearing that red two-piece that now sat in a box in my parents' attic. I imagined my arms resting at my sides and not even feeling tempted to fold them over my stomach. It was a possibility of freedom that made me feel both exhilarated and slightly nauseated. Rather than dwell any further on that, I took a deep breath and dove under the surface of the water, pulling myself along the ocean floor and letting the muffled sounds of the waves soothe my thrumming heartbeat.

When I surfaced, the feeling was gone and I found that I could look at Fred without feeling like I was balanced on a tightrope.

We stayed out in the water for a long while, searching the ocean floor for interesting bits of seashells and letting the waves knock us around. Around eleven, Alicia and Lee excused themselves to go greet their parents, who were due to arrive any minute; I excused myself as well, claiming I needed a bit of a break. The truth was that I always felt a little like a third wheel without Alicia and Lee around and removing myself from the situation seemed like the most effective solution. I returned to the blanket, dried myself off, and applied another layer of sunscreen before wrapping myself in my towel and settling down with my book.

Twenty minutes later, Fred was trudging back to the blanket. I felt a little ping of nervousness that was partly to do with that third wheel anxiety and partly to do with the memory of the somewhat awkward conversation earlier that morning.

"Had enough, have you?" I asked as he grabbed a towel from his bag and began drying off.

"Hardly." He rubbed his head vigorously with his towel and his hair stuck up at all angles. "I'm on a very strict sunscreen schedule. I burn under the best of circumstances and the scar is even worse." He sighed. "Here I was thinking that it would make me look all tough and dangerous and instead it's turned me into a maniac about sun protection."

"Well, I've got SunShield if you're interested," I said, nudging my bag with my foot. "It's vampire's choice, you know. Highly recommended."

He grinned and removed an identical bottle from his knapsack. "I'm already ahead of you. I thought I'd smelled eucalyptus. I didn't realize you were a fellow maniac."

"Oh, that was mostly my dad's doing," I said as Fred uncapped the bottle and squirted a generous portion onto his palm. "He's very prone to sunburns and I take after him. Naturally, he's convinced that I'm going to take one look at the sun and promptly burst into flames."

"I dunno, Maggie, that sounds like a reasonable hypothesis." He was grinning as he slathered himself in sunscreen, using a charm to direct some to his back.

"For my father, it's a relatively reasonable hypothesis, but the bar is quite low. You should hear him talk about what he thinks happens on Las Ballenas."

Fred grinned. "Lee showed me the note he sent. I thought it was brilliant."

"He has a way with words, certainly."

"He seems like a laugh, though."

"A laugh and a maniac—that's what my mum always says anyway."

"I aspire to that sort of greatness."

"I think you're halfway there already."

He quirked an eyebrow as he capped the sunscreen and stashed it in his bag. "Are you suggesting I'm already a laugh or already a maniac?"

"That would be telling, wouldn't it?"

He smiled. "Cheeky."

That not exactly awkward, but not entirely comfortable silence descended on us. That little ping of nervousness was back. Talking to Fred felt a bit like walking up a flight of stairs and thinking that there was one more step than there actually was—I'd be doing just fine and then I'd stumble, my heart juddering wildly like I'd just had the floor pulled out from under me.

I was so focused on trying to think of something interesting to say that I didn't quite notice that Fred had asked me a question.

"Sorry, my mind wandered for a moment," I said, willing my cheeks not to flush. "What was that?"

He nodded at my book, which was still clutched in my hands. "What are you reading?"

"Oh." I looked at my book and felt rather embarrassed. "Dealing with Dragons."

He gave me a crooked sort of grin. "Thinking about getting a new pet?"

I laughed, though I could feel my cheeks reddening. "No, it's not a practical guide. It's a Muggle book. A fantasy novel."

"Yeah?" He looked genuinely interested, which was far from the judgmental nod that I had expected. Not because Fred was judgmental but because it was the sort of thing that I assumed people would probably find silly. "Interesting choice. What prompted that?"

"I just find it rather fascinating," I said, trying to sound breezy and light. "You know, seeing how they think magic works and such. After the War, I—" I'd done it again. I barely managed not to wince. "—I just…I needed to hear a new perspective, I suppose."

My cheeks were burning. This time I didn't even have the excuse of not having had coffee: I was just naturally awkward on my own. What I'd told him wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the full story, either. The War and the loss of my brother had been a stark reminder that there was a dark side of magic that I knew nothing about. And that scared me a bit. Obviously I knew that Dark Magic existed…but it was different, seeing it actually play out in the War. Seeing people get hurt. Seeing people actually die.

Seeing Evan die.

The reality of Dark Magic was one that I'd never considered until the War. The idea that magic—something that was as much a part of my as my heart and lungs—had the ability to do that, the fact that I theoretically had the ability to do that…it was overwhelming. Five years later, I was still trying to cope with it. Muggle fantasy books had sort of emerged as my own odd way of handling that: I felt like I didn't know actual magic as well as I'd thought, so I immersed myself in imaginary magical worlds where I knew even less. It didn't make much sense, but it seemed to help curb some of my existential dread.

I sighed and looked away from Fred, staring out at the ocean. "I'm sorry. There's clearly something about this beach that compels me to share all of my strange and embarrassing secrets with you."

"Not to minimize it, but that hardly seems strange or embarrassing."

I could hear the smile in his voice and I couldn't quite help but smile myself. "Quirky coping mechanism, then."

"And that's hardly something you need to apologize for."

"It's either that or disintegrate into a cloud of embarrassment. Or hope that my dad's right and wait for the sun's rays to turn me into a Maggie-shaped ball of flames."

"Don't do that, either."

"I suppose I don't want Dad to be right if I can help it," I conceded, chancing a look at Fred. He had a slight smile on his face, but it wasn't a mocking one. "He gets a bit big-headed when he's right and it's insufferable. I can't put Mum through that. A cloud of a embarrassment seems like a good compromise, though…"

He tapped the cover of my book. "Here I'll change the subject. Tell me what this is about."

I could still feel the ghost of a blush on my cheeks, but I took the opportunity he offered me. "It's about a princess who is bored with being a princess so she decides to run away and live with the dragons. They're not quite like real dragons—they can talk and such—but it's actually quite charming."

"That sounds brilliant."

"You can borrow it after I've finished it, if you like."

"I'm a bit of a slow reader."

"You'd be doing me a favor, honestly. I've got more books than I know what to do with. It'd save me some room on my shelves."

He smiled. "Well, I suppose I can't argue with that."

Alicia and Lee returned at that moment, saving me from what was sure to be another awkward pause that culminated in some sort of embarrassing misstep or revelation on my part. I couldn't help but feel a little relieved.

"You're not done already, are you?" asked Alicia, frowning down at the two of us.

"Sunscreen," said Fred, waving his bottle of SunShield at her. "It's my new hobby. Passion, really. You should know this by now."

"You live a fascinating life, I simply can't keep up." She nudged my knee with her foot. "What's your excuse?"

"Just taking a break," I said. "Did everyone get in all right?"

"Yep," said Lee, peeling off his shirt again and chucking it on the blanket. "Everyone sends their regards. They'll pop down to say hello once they're settled."

There was a shriek followed by a splash and a triumphant whoop. The four of us looked up at the ocean. Angelina was perched on George's shoulders, her arms raised in a victory pose; Oliver was laughing and wiping water from his eyes as Katie surfaced, sputtering indignantly.

Alicia's eyes gleamed. "Chicken fights!"

I gave Lee a knowing look. "You know what this means."

"It means we're going to destroy them," said Alicia with a wide grin that was only a little unsettling.

I raised an eyebrow at her. "Are you really going to knock a pregnant woman over? Has your thirst for victory made you immune to all bounds of decency?"

Alicia rolled her eyes as she untied her sarong. "Oh, go on, it's perfectly safe." She dropped her sarong on my head. "Besides, knowing Angelina, she's going to try to exploit that as a strategy to try and win. It's a ruthless game, Mags, you know this."

"You're a monster and a menace," I said, chucking her sarong back at her.

She swatted the sarong away and batted her eyes at me. "Thank you. Come on, Lee, we have a date with destiny."

Lee at least had the sense to wait until she was running down the beach before shaking his head. "Well, I did know about this when I proposed."

"You could probably make a run for it now while she's distracted," I said, "though I believe we've previously established that it is too late to get your money back."

Lee grinned at me. "I'm going to tell her you said that."

I raised an eyebrow. "Then I'll tell her that you considered it."

He made an exaggerated expression of horror, slapping a hand to his heart. "Maggie. You wouldn't. I'd no idea you could be so cruel."

I shrugged and gave him my most beatific smile. "I'm just protecting myself."

Down by the shore, Alicia was facing us and yelling what was pretty clearly a demand for Lee to join her. Lee grinned and waved; she folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot.

"Well, I'd better be off," said Lee. He looked back at me as he started to amble down the beach toward Alicia. "I'm holding you to that promise, Maggie."

I gave him my most innocent smile. "I won't say anything if you don't."

Fred and I were quiet as Lee joined Alicia and they waded into the water, Alicia clambering onto Lee's shoulders as soon as they were in deep enough. Katie was in the process of climbing back onto Oliver, shouting to Alicia about something that was lost over the sound of the waves.

"I've a feeling that's not the first time Oliver's been in a similar position today," said Fred.

I turned to him, raising an eyebrow and giving the sternest look I could muster. "While I appreciate the fact that you did not make that remark while I also had a mouthful of coffee, I must point out that once again, you have provided me with a rather disturbing image that I never ever wanted to think about."

He gave me his cheekiest grin. "I submit that this is evidence that I'm learning. Weren't you just saying you were hopeful about my eventual reformation into a proper gentleman? You can't very well expect me to fully master that in a matter of hours. That's not reasonable."

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. "I'd be more impressed if I didn't think you were only saying that to get out of trouble."

He raised an eyebrow, still grinning. "And whatever gave you that idea?"

"I'm an astute observer," I said, drawing my legs to my chest and resting my chin on my knees.

He chuckled quietly. "Duly noted."

We watched Alicia, Angelina, and Katie battle it out in the ocean. The nice thing about this was that it gave us something to talk about—something that wasn't likely to result in me accidentally blurting out some odd secret or quirk I'd developed since the War. We took bets on winners, wagering pebbles and seashells. Angelina and Katie were fairly evenly matched, but Alicia was in another league entirely.

"Alicia's a bit of a terror, isn't she?" said Fred about twenty minutes later as Katie tumbled into the ocean with a shriek.

"I wasn't lying when I said she was a menace," I said as Katie surfaced and spat a stream of water at Alicia. "She's always been very competitive about this game. Since we were kids, really. She used to get really sour with me when I'd beat her."

"Yeah?" said Fred, giving me a crooked sort of grin. "How often did you win?"

"Always."

Fred whistled. "Really?"

"Not to boast, but I've had an undefeated streak going since we were twelve," I said. "I know that you are likely very impressed with me now and quite possibly a little intimidated as well."

"Frankly, Maggie, I'm rather disturbed that you kept this from me," said Fred, looking mildly affronted. "All these years we've known each other and you haven't said a word about it."

I shrugged. "Well, it never seemed particularly relevant. It's a skill that doesn't really have much practical use."

"I'm afraid you are underestimating my commitment to very petty competitions."

I laughed. "I will make a note of that so I don't make that mistake in the future."

He paused for a moment, his eyebrow quirked. "Want to have a go?"

I laughed again, mostly to hide the fact that my stomach had done a nervous sort of flip. "What? Challenge Alicia to a chicken fight?"

"Yep."

"I don't have a partner."

He scoffed. "Maggie. I have half a mind to be insulted."

"So you're offering to be my partner."

"Naturally."

"I dunno, Fred, do you think you can handle the glory?" This was what I said out loud; in reality, I was more concerned with the intimate position that this would require. He could handle the glory, certainly; I wasn't sure if I could handle having my legs draped over his bare shoulders or his hands gripping my thighs. An arm's length, grain of salt approach was rather difficult to accomplish when the person in question had his head between your legs, even if it was only for a stupid water game.

He didn't seem to be bothered by the intimacy of this, though based on his comment about Oliver and Katie, he seemed to be somewhat aware of it.

Probably I was overthinking it.

"Of course I can handle the glory, what sort of question is that?"

Honestly, he seemed more perturbed by the suggestion that he might not be able to handle the glory.

Get it together, Maggie.

"It's quite serious business," I said, fixing him with a stern and serious look. "You'd be part of a very important dynasty."

He stood up, brushing the sand off his swim trunks. "I think I'm up to the task." He offered me a hand. I hesitated for a split second. He raised an eyebrow and looked at me expectantly.

Against my better judgment, perhaps, I took his hand and stood.

"You'd better not disappoint me," I said, hoping my false bravado was doing a decent enough job of hiding my nerves.

He grinned at me, dropping my hand once I was standing. "Come on, Carlyle, let's see what you're made of."

We walked down the beach to the water, which felt pleasant and cool against my skin after so much time in the sun. I pretended to be preoccupied with my hair as we waded in, shaking it out and winding it into a tight bun on the back of my head. Alicia and Katie were having a rematch and Katie was once again losing.

Fred tapped my shoulder. "Ready?"

I nodded. "Yep."

He got behind me, took a deep breath, and dropped underneath the water. I felt his hands grab the backs of my knees and then the feather light touch of his hair brushing against the inside of my thighs as he brought my legs over his shoulders.

Before I could spend much time contemplating the intimacy of this position—before I could reflect on the fact that his shoulders felt stronger than I expected, or the fact that I'd never really noticed how long and elegant his fingers were until they were gripping my thighs—before I could think about any of that, he was standing and I was trying to balance myself

"You good?" he asked.

I would need to overthink this later.

"Yep," I said. "Let's go."

"Alicia!" he called as he walked toward the others. "The end of your reign of terror is nigh!"


My undefeated streak continued on uninterrupted.

The game quickly shifted from a general competition to a battle between Alicia and me. I unseated her twelve times in a row, though there was a moment on the eighth round when I thought she might beat me (I would never tell her this, of course). George, Angelina, Oliver, and Katie cheered me on, which I felt a little guilty about until I remembered that I was ending a reign of terror and Alicia had long outgrown sulking about losing.

"All right," said Alicia, surfacing after her twelfth defeat. "I'm starving. Let's go in."

"Are you admitting defeat?" asked Fred.

"I'm admitting hunger," said Alicia primly. "I can't very well be expected to perform well on an empty stomach."

"I think that counts as admitting defeat," said Lee.

Alicia shot Lee an annoyed look. He shrugged. "I'm hungry too. This seemed like an effective way to expedite the acquisition of food."

"Victory!" shouted Fred.

"On a technicality!" said Alicia.

"It's not a technicality," Angelina pointed out. "She did beat you."

"It's a technicality in that I'm not officially admitting defeat," said Alicia, splashing some water at Angelina.

"Well, you lot can argue about this," I said, sliding off of Fred's shoulders and into the water. "I'm going in for lunch."

"No, wait, we've got to have a slightly obnoxious victory celebration first," said Fred.

We executed a series of increasingly complicated high fives until Alicia used my momentary distraction as an opportunity to launch herself onto my back and topple me into the water.

It was nearly one o'clock when we arrived back at the blanket for lunch. Alicia and Lee had packed a picnic hamper full of sandwiches, lemonade, fresh fruits, and some pastries that I suspected were pilfered from the hotel's breakfast spread this morning. I mostly listened as the others talked and joked, feeling rather pleasantly waterlogged and sun warmed.

I heard Uncle Pete before I saw him, which is fairly typical: he has the sort of voice that is clearly made for radio. Aunt Lynn always jokes that if he ever used the Amplifying Charm, he would likely level a city block.

"Miss Maggie-Mac!"

Unlike Alicia, Uncle Pete doesn't use this nickname when he's worried about me—in fact, he uses it almost exclusively in lieu of my proper name. I'm more likely to hear him call me just Maggie when he's worried or upset or talking about something serious. When I was younger, the combination of Uncle Pete's booming voice and his plethora of nicknames would have been a source of embarrassment; now, it was a quaintly amusing sort of thing, a quirk that I didn't really appreciate until I was old enough to know what mattered.

I stood, brushing sand and crumbs off of my legs. "Hi Uncle Pete."

He enveloped me in a bear hug, lifting me slightly off the ground, just like he always did. "You're getting to be too old for me to do this." He had been saying this to me since I was seven. "How are you, sweet pea?"

"I'm well, how was the trip in?"

"Well, we're here in one piece, aren't we? Can't complain about that!"

"Pete, as always, you're hogging my niece," said Aunt Lynn, nudging him out of the way with a good-natured smile. "Hello, my love!"

"Hi Aunt Lynn," I said as she pulled me into a hug.

"Let's see," she said, pulling back from me and assessing me with a critical eye. "No sunburns that I can see. Your father will be so relieved."

I sighed. "How many times has he written you?"

"Only twice. Though he did mention it yesterday when we had lunch."

I rolled my eyes. "You know, you'd think he'd give me a little credit. I have made it to twenty-five without dying even once."

It slipped out of my mouth before I could really think about it properly, before I could remind myself that there was a time when my parents were practically living at St. Mungo's, a time when they weren't certain that I'd make it to next week, let alone twenty-five. In assessing the damage from the Battle of Hogwarts, it was easy to forget these little things that were lost. The offhand joke, the turn of phrase that suddenly had much darker meanings and dredged up memories you wished you could forget.

Aunt Lynn squeezed my elbow and gave me a soft smile. She understood. Aunt Lynn always understood, even when you didn't ask her to—that was one of the things I loved about her best of all.

"We'll get him a hobby," she said. "Perhaps coin collecting or bird watching."

"Not bird watching. That's outside. He's quite prone to sunburns, you know."

Her eyes sparkled and she squeezed my elbow once more. "I've heard."

I said hello to Mr. and Mrs. Jordan next. I'd only met them a few times previously, but I liked them both quite a bit. Mrs. Jordan was bubbly and vivacious, the sort of person who always laughed with her head thrown back. Mr. Jordan was a little more reserved and quiet, but he had the same sort of mischievous streak that I often saw in Lee, a particular sort of glint in his eye when he knew something that you didn't.

Aunt Lynn, Uncle Pete, and the Jordans didn't stay terribly long—they still had some unpacking to do and Aunt Lynn and Mrs. Jordan were intent on finding a particular antique shop that Aunt Lynn had heard about from my mother, who'd heard about it from a family friend, but wasn't entirely sure about the name or the location.

"It will be an adventure!" said Mrs. Jordan declared, Aunt Lynn nodding in agreement. Uncle Pete and Mr. Jordan exchanged a look that said they thought "adventure" was more likely a code for "wild goose chase" or "disaster."

We packed up for the day around three—partly because we all wanted to shower and change before dinner and partly because Angelina was starting to look a little queasy. I had my eyes set on a post-shower nap—the coffee from that morning had long since worn off and the sun and water had left me feeling pleasantly sleepy.

When I crawled into bed and closed my eyes, I could still feel the motion of the waves. My skin still smelled like sand and sun and salt.

But as I drifted off to sleep, my mind was occupied by other sensations: the taste of coffee and the feeling of long fingers gripping the bare skin of my legs.