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That night, my dreams were filled with fireworks.

 

Everything was more vibrant and vivid than it had been in real life—the colors of the fireworks, the smell of a distant beach bonfire, even the taste of the salty ocean air on my lips. Up in the sky, a fleet of green whales cavorted in figure eights around trios of horses performing elaborate top hat and cane routines.

 

I knew that Fred was there. I could feel his presence next to me, warm like sunlight. Steady. Dependable. Maybe a little dangerous if I looked for too long.

 

“Maggie.” His voice was low and soft, but I could hear him so clearly.

 

I kept my eyes fixed on the night sky, a nameless, nervous fear coiling like a snake in my throat.

 

“Maggie. Look at me.”

 

His words had a compelling, magnetic pull that made me drag my eyes away from the night sky to meet his gaze. His eyes were lighter than normal, more amber than whiskey colored.

 

“What are you afraid of?” he asked.

 

I hesitated for just a second. I didn’t really know the answer. “It’s complicated.”

 

“Is it, though?” I noticed that his scar was glowing gold underneath his shirt, like someone had trapped sunlight underneath his skin.

 

“You’re glowing,” I said.

 

He raised his eyebrows. “So are you.”
 

And indeed, when I looked down, I saw that the same golden light now crisscrossed my stomach in an all too familiar pattern beneath my shirt.

 

I looked back at him. “What does it mean?”

 

His lips twitched slightly. “I think you know.”

 

I shook my head. “I don’t.”

 

He took my hand and brought it to his chest, pressing it flat against his scar. Even through the fabric, I could feel that his scar was warm to the touch, pulsing like a heartbeat under my palm. This produced no particular epiphany, but I didn’t want to say that, didn’t want to admit to what I didn’t understand, especially not in a moment that felt as intimate as this.

 

And I knew it was a dream and I knew that it wasn’t real, but my body felt electric and I could feel the heat of his fingertips and palm as his hand slid round the back of my neck as he pulled me toward him. When he kissed me, I could taste the beer he’d been drinking; when I kissed him back, I could feel him sigh just a little, like this was something he’d been waiting for. I could hear the fireworks show continuing as we tumbled down together, sand in my hair, his lips on mine. I knew without looking that the beach was empty, save for the two of us twined together on the sand.

 

I knew it was a dream. I reminded myself of this constantly—I was, it seemed, unable to allow myself to be happy even at a very deep and subconscious level. And even though I knew it was a dream, a wild panic seized my heart when our hands turned to the business of undressing. I wanted him in the most desperate way, but I didn’t want him to see me like this, with my scars glowing gold and bright and utterly unmissable. If he saw my scars, surely he would think of me differently. He would understand all the mistakes I’d made at the Battle of Hogwarts and the shame I carried with me. He wouldn’t want me once he knew.

 

The moment that thought occurred to me, everything changed. Fred was gone, the heat of his body replaced with a chill that seemed to seep into my very bones. All I could hear was the roar of the ocean while fireworks exploded behind my eyes and—

 

I woke with a gasp, my heart pounding against my ribs like a living thing trying to claw its way out of my chest. The rest of me felt heavy and loose, still under the effects of the Calming Draught.

 

I took one deep breath after another and gradually, my heartrate began to slow again. It hadn’t been a nightmare, or at least not like the nightmares that I’d had after the War. Those were less subtle in their meeting and they never involved anything as pleasant as almost-sex on the beach.

 

But this not-quite-nightmare had unsettled something in me, poked at demons that I had thought I’d vanquished—or at least conveniently ignored into near non-existence.

 

I closed my eyes. Sleep would be good, I reasoned. I’d had one dream: surely that was enough for my subconscious for the evening. It had to be.

 

I fell asleep quickly and dreamed of nothing.

 


 

The next time I woke, it was because of a blinding pain in my stomach.

 

“I’m getting maaaarried!”

 

The morning light was pouring in through the gauzy curtains and my stomach was hurting because Alicia had flung herself elbow-first into my bed, seemingly unaware of the misery that this would cause to my internal organs.

 

“Oww, ow, geroff, you’re hurting me—”

 

“Oops. Sorry,” she said, rolling away. “Might’ve overdone it on the enthusiasm.”

 

“Might’ve? I think you’ve ruptured my spleen.”

 

Her look of concern made a seamless transition into an amused roll of the eyes. “You don’t even know where your spleen is.”

 

This was technically true, though she was ignoring the spirit of my larger point.

 

“I have a fair idea of where it was before you turned it into a pancake,” I said, rubbing my stomach as I sat up in bed.

 

She settled herself on the pillows next to me. “This is a very sacred tradition,” she said solemnly. “The bride always elbows her maid of honor in the stomach for good luck on her wedding day.”

 

I barely stifled a yawn. “Oh, is that today?”

 

“Cheeky.” She nudged me with her elbow. “How’d you sleep?”

 

I shrugged. “Eh.”
 

She frowned. “You took a Calming Draught, didn’t you?”

 

I could feel heat prickling at my cheeks as the memory of my dream returned. “Yeah,” I said, trying to sound like I had nothing to hide. “Just had some odd dreams, that’s all.”

 

“I thought the entire point of a Calming Draught was a dreamless sleep.”

 

I shrugged. “It is. I think my Potioneer got a bit heavy-handed with the moonstone—it’s not an uncommon effect.”

 

Alicia made a bit of a face. “Tell me it wasn’t a nightmare at least.”

 

My cheeks prickled again. “No, nothing like that,” I said, which felt mostly true. Time to change the subject. “You might’ve woken me up a bit more gently, though.”

 

She swatted me on the arm. “Oh, stop it. You’re fine.”

 

“Right. Tomorrow I’ll wake you up the same way. See how cheerful you are about it.”

 

“Do you really want to walk in on the marathon marital sex that I’ll be having?” asked Alicia, raising her eyebrows. “Because the marriage must be consummated and we are very thorough.”

 

I groaned and pulled a pillow over my face. “Please stop talking.”

 

“Such dramatics from you this morning,” she tutted, nudging me with her elbow. “You do need to get up, though.”

 

“What’s the time?”

 

“Nearly ten.”

 

I exhaled and reluctantly removed the pillow from my face. “Really?”

 

“Yup. Katie and Angelina will be over at eleven for hair and makeup.” She stretched and sat up.

“I was going to put in an order for room service—nothing heavy, just a fruit plate and maybe some sort of cereal or something. Did you want anything in particular?”

 

It was a very ordinary sort of moment—she was asking me what I wanted for breakfast, after all—but I was suddenly overcome with the realization that her wedding day was today. It was no longer an idea that existed only in the future. It was her wedding day and here she was sitting next to me on my bed, her face clean and scrubbed bare of makeup, dark lashes framing hazel eyes that were familiar to me as my own heartbeat. Something that was equal parts happy and sad was ballooning in my chest because today was both an ending and a beginning and my heart didn’t quite know what to make of that.

 

Impulsively, I leaned over and hugged her tightly, the scent of her jasmine shampoo filling my nostrils.

 

“What’s all this about?” she said with a bit of a laugh.

 

“I’m just really happy for you,” I said, my voice thick and uncertain with unshed tears.

 

“Shit, you’re not going to get all sappy and weepy on me, are you?” She sighed as she said this, though her voice was a little rough, like she might be holding back tears herself. “I was very clear: crying can start at the ceremony and not a moment sooner.”

 

“You ought to have known that wasn’t a realistic goal,” I said into her shoulder. “In fact, I told you it wasn’t.”

 

“You’re a dunce,” she said, laughing a little as she hugged me back, though her voice was wobbly, a sure sign that she was losing the battle against tears. “But I’m so glad you’re here.”

 

“I’m glad to be here, dingus.”

 

“That’s Mrs. Dingus to you.” She gave me one final squeeze before releasing me, wiping her eyes on the collar of her nightshirt. “Now go get in the shower before I start crying properly.”

 


 

The morning passed in a flurry of laughter and happy tears. Alicia transformed into a vision of loveliness—her gown was spectacular, a carefully crafted masterpiece of hand-beaded lace and a silk chiffon skirt that seemed designed to flow artfully in the sea breeze. She wore pearl earrings that belonged to my grandmother—the same ones that Aunt Lynn had worn at her wedding.

 

Aunt Lynn was—predictably—a bit of a weeping mess and Uncle Pete’s eyes were overly bright. Alicia scolded them both—“no crying before the ceremony!”—though I suspect that was mostly to keep her own emotions in check.

 

I had expected to feel a little insecure and inadequate in comparison to Alicia, but oddly enough, I didn’t. I’d never really thought about it before, but I’d never had my hair and makeup done professionally for an event and I suppose that was why I was so surprised when I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror after I’d gotten dressed and fully made up. I’d tried on my dress in the boutique and liked it well enough, but I hadn’t really given much thought to what I looked like in it, not until I saw myself with my hair pinned up and my makeup done. It was an elegant dress—light chiffon the color of a storm cloud draped over a matte satin bodice, flaring into a slightly shirred skirt that somehow made me look a little taller and more regal than I was. The hairdresser had somehow coaxed the natural waves in my hair into proper curls and pinned them up into an elegant chignon. The makeup artist’s mastery of makeup was such that had I not been paying attention, I would have sworn that she had cast a very clever glamor. My eyes weren’t always this blue and striking, surely; these were not my cheekbones. I didn’t even mind my freckles, which I had mixed feelings about at the best of times.

 

If you squinted, you could maybe believe that I was the lady of some noble house in ancient Greece.

 

I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I felt pretty.

 

It was a realization that was a bit sobering, surprising, and a little funny all at once. It wasn’t that I’d been actively disparaging my looks for the last few years or anything like that; when I wasn’t looking at my scars, I usually felt decent enough.

 

But decent enough isn’t the same as feeling confident or pretty and it wasn’t until that moment when I was feeling a little bit of both that I even realized that either one of these feelings had been largely absent from my life for the last five years.

 

My chest had tightened a bit, the way it did whenever I happened to catch a glimpse of whatever hard truth I’d been hiding from myself. Probably, this was the sort of thing that I needed to examine more, along with some of the thoughts I’d had after my strange dream that evening; probably, there were some hard questions that I needed to answer.

 

But this wasn’t the time for serious self-reflection. I was feeling pretty and a little confident and that was the feeling I needed to hold onto for now. I would sort out the rest later, when I had the time to do it.

 

It was nice to turn away from the mirror without feeling like I was doing it to hide from myself.

 


 

It was an hour before the ceremony was due to start. The flowers had not yet arrived, the sky had clouded over, Uncle Pete had lost his wallet, and Alicia had just realized that she had left the rings back in our hotel room.

 

We were standing in the little garden gazebo where the wedding was supposed to take place. According to Alicia’s itinerary, we were supposed to be taking pictures; but with the flowers missing, the sky overcast, and Aunt Lynn and Uncle Pete in a full panic about the flowers and the missing wallet, Lorena the photographer had gently suggested that perhaps it would be better if we took photos after the ceremony.

 

“The light will be beautiful at that time of day,” Lorena had said soothingly. I didn’t know enough about photography to know whether or not this was true or merely a white lie meant to reassure, but I’d nodded along regardless and told Alicia that this sounded like a brilliant idea.

 

Alicia had agreed, but it left the four of us with nothing to do for an hour before the ceremony. Katie, Angelina, and I tried to fill the silence with small talk, but Alicia mostly paced around the gazebo in silence until the moment that she realized that in all the panic about the flowers, she’d forgot to make sure that the rings got to Fred.

 

“Fuck. This is a disaster,” she said.

 

“It’s not,” I said firmly, as though conviction would make it so. “It’ll be fine.”

 

Alicia sighed bracing her arms against the railing of the gazebo. Even stressed out and slouched, she looked magnificent, the beads on her dress catching what little sunlight managed to make its way through the clouds.

 

Katie was frowning at Alicia. “Have you eaten anything since breakfast?”

 

“You saw me eat a banana,” said Alicia.

 

Katie scoffed. “That was at noon. Hours ago. That’s not nearly enough to tide you over, you ninny. No wonder you’re upset.”

 

“I’m upset because my wedding is turning into a disaster,” said Alicia with a bit of an edge in her voice, her gaze hardening ever so slightly. “I think—”

 

“That’s enough,” said Angelina firmly, placing her hands on her hips. “The two of you are not going to pick a stupid fight over this.”

 

“We weren’t fighting,” grumbled Katie.

 

“You were,” said Angelina pointedly. “This is how it always starts: Katie needles, Alicia snaps back, and five minutes later, you’re both shouting about something stupid. We’re not doing that today.”

 

Alicia scowled in a manner that suggested that she knew Angelina was right; a small smile twitched at the corner of Katie’s mouth and she caught Alicia’s eye.

 

“You can’t really take the captain’s badge away from the woman, can you? Not even after graduation,” said Katie.

 

I caught just the hint of a smile from Alicia. “Never.”

 

Angelina sighed. “I stop a fight and they start having a go at me,” she said to me with a rather put-upon look. “You’d think they’d be more grateful.”

 

“Awww, Angie, you know we love it when you boss us around,” said Katie, wrapping her arms around Angelina and leaning her head on her shoulder.

 

“It makes us all nostalgic,” said Alicia with an exaggerated and sentimental sort of sigh.

 

“I bet she has a plan and everything,” said Katie to Alicia with a conspiratorial sort of grin. They both giggled, their momentary dustup seemingly forgotten.

 

Angelina rolled her eyes heavenward and poked Katie in the arm. “You. You’re in charge of food. Maggie, I’m putting you on ring delivery. I am going to go find a bathroom because although this baby is only the size of a pomegranate, he or she is somehow always flattening my bladder.” She turned to Alicia. “Your job is to stay calm and take very deep breaths until we get back.”

 

Alicia sighed, a slight frown pulling at the corners of her mouth. “That’s a bit of a tall order.”

 

“Buck up, Spinnet,” said Angelina, clapping Alicia on the shoulder. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you’re tougher than this.”
 

Alicia frowned, her expression turning sullen. “I’d forgotten how much I dislike your pep talks.”

 

“Well, we’ve got another former Quidditch captain available,” said Katie. “I’m certain Oliver’s got an interminable lecture on flying formation that he’s just dying to give. Might be a bit more motivating than Angie.”

 

“Now that’s just cruel,” said Alicia, though she looked like she was hiding a smile.

 

“If I have to listen to my husband drone on about the Hawkshead Attacking Formation for upwards of two hours in order to save this wedding, then so be it,” said Katie solemnly. “That’s what makes me such a great friend.”

 

“Yeah, but did he bring his chalkboard?” asked Angelina. “It’s not a lecture without a chalkboard.”

 

Katie snorted. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.”

 

“Don’t lie, Kates, we know he sleeps with a chalkboard under his pillow,” said Angelina.

 

Alicia finally smiled and covered a laugh with her hand.

 

“You laugh now, but wait’ll he gets started on the Dionysus dive,” said Angelina.

 

“That’s the one that makes me yearn for the sweet release of death,” added Katie.

 

“All right,” laughed Alicia, “you’ve made your point. I will take deep breaths and be utterly serene.”

 

“Good,” said Angelina.

 

“Shall I have Oliver bring the chalkboard to the ceremony just in case?” asked Katie sotto voce.

 

Alicia stuck her tongue out at her. “Get out of here.”

 

“Come on, ladies,” said Angelina, grabbing hold of Katie’s wrist and mine. “We’re on a mission and this tiny pomegranate is getting heavier by the minute.”

 

Katie, Angelina, and I hurried back to the hotel together, going our separate ways once we reached the lobby. Back in our room, I found the rings tucked into the inside pocket of Alicia’s suitcase, still in their individual jeweler’s boxes. I looped both of them onto my little finger before heading two doors down to Fred and Lee’s room. I raised my hand and knocked on the door.

 

A moment later, Fred opened the door.

 

The fact that sending me to drop off the rings was a bad idea did not occur to me until I saw him standing there in his simple suit—grey trousers and vest, no jacket, shirtsleeves rolled up, navy blue tie, very handsome. Decidedly too handsome. My brain helpfully reminded me that the last time I’d seen him, I’d been spilling more of my odd secrets and shaking like a leaf at a fireworks show that had summoned demons I ought to have expected. And that wasn’t even getting into the fact that I’d gone on to have a sex dream about him that very evening. I could feel my neck, cheeks, and throat prickling with heat, as though he might be able to discern all of this just from looking at me.

 

“It’s bad luck for the best man to see the maid of honor before the ceremony, you know,” he said, raising an eyebrow and leaning against the doorframe. Somehow, this simple act made him even more handsome.

 

“I dunno, things seem to have gone sideways without the help of superstitions,” I said, trying to ignore the fact that my face felt as though it was on fire and I was reasonably certain there was a bit of a quaver in my voice that hadn’t always been there.

 

“Fair point. Any word on the flowers?”

 

I shook my head and held up the hand with the rings. “No, but I’ve got these for you.”

 

“Oh, good, that’s a relief,” he said, holding out his hand to take the rings. I was careful not to let my hand brush his for even a second—that, I was reasonably certain, would cause me to either burst into flames or melt into a puddle on the floor. Possibly both. I would be like a phoenix of total embarrassment, minus the majesty.

 

“Hey, Lee, Maggie’s brought the rings,” he called back into the room, seemingly oblivious to the drama that was currently playing out in my head, which was certainly for the best.

 

“Mags! You’re a saint!” Lee called back. “Anything on the flowers?”

 

“Nothing yet,” said Fred. He turned back to me and lowered his voice. “He’s been having kittens.”

 

“Understandable,” I said, watching him pocket the rings. “By the way, you’re not planning any sort of practical joke with those, are you?”

 

He raised his eyebrows. “Maggie, do you really think I’m capable of something like that?”

 

“You own a joke shop, so I should hope so.”

 

“I suppose that’s fair.” He leaned against the doorframe again and gave me an easy grin, which sent my pulse racing once more. “But to answer your question, no, of course not. I can be well mannered for special occasions.” He paused. “Besides, I think Alicia would actually kill me if I tried that, so it doesn’t seem worth the laugh.”

 

“I’d say that’s a safe assumption.”

 

“How is she?”

 

I gave a rueful laugh. “Oh, you know. Just a little stressed.”

 

His eyes danced. “Can’t imagine why.”

 

I allowed myself a short laugh. I was edging very dangerously close to flirting—again—which seemed like a particularly bad idea in light of the dream I’d had the night before. Not that Fred had any way of knowing the content of my dreams, but knowing me, I’d accidentally let that slip during the toast I was supposed to give at dinner that evening. A speedy exit was probably in my best interest.

 

“Well.” I cleared my throat. “Speaking of, I should probably get back.”

 

“Probably,” said Fred. He gave me a very serious look. “You’ve got responsibilities, you know.”

 

“As do you,” I said with an equally serious look, before I could remember that I was supposed to be making a graceful exit, not continuing to flirt with the best man, who I had no chance with anyway.

 

“First that nonsense with the rings, now you’re casting aspersions on my commitment to this wedding.” He clapped a hand to his heart dramatically. “You wound me.”

 

“I’ve a feeling you’re made of sterner stuff than your theatrics imply,” I said, not quite able to stop myself from grinning.

 

“If I was, I certainly wouldn’t admit it.”

 

I rolled my eyes and stuck out my tongue at him. “I’m supposed to be leaving.”

 

He grinned and pushed off the doorframe waving a hand down the hallway. “Go on then. I won’t keep you from your very important work.”

 

“I appreciate your cooperation. I’ll see you in a bit.”

 

“See you.”

 

I was about halfway down the hallway when I heard him call my name. I turned around, expecting some cheeky parting shot, a joke maybe.

 

“Yeah?” I said, eyebrow raised.

 

He gave me a slight smile. “You look nice, by the way.”

 

I was reasonably certain that my skeleton was in the process of dissolving and entirely certain I was blushing—hopefully, I was far enough away that it wouldn’t be obvious.

 

“Oh. Erm. I clean up all right, sometimes,” was what I managed to say. “But thanks.”

 

I caught a glimpse of his slightly crooked grin before stammering a goodbye and striding quickly away, my heart pounding in my chest.

 


 

In the end, the sky cleared, the flowers were delivered, Uncle Pete found his wallet wedged between the headboard and mattress, and Alicia and Lee were finally married in the gazebo overlooking the beach.

 

The ceremony itself was almost anticlimactic in its simplicity. The ceremony official said his piece, rings were exchanged, Alicia wept prettily through most of it while simultaneously looking the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

 

I resolutely kept my eyes off Fred, but he caught my eye when he was giving Lee the rings, a slight, almost imperceptible smile twitching at his lips, like he was still teetering on the edge of some practical joke. I bit back a smile and eventually had to look away when I felt a laugh bubbling in my throat.

 

There were many more pictures to take after the ceremony ended. Alicia and Lee with Aunt Lynn and Uncle Pete. Alicia and Lee with Mr. and Mrs. Jordan. Alicia and Lee with both sets of parents. It went on.

 

“Long day, isn’t it?” I said to Angelina sometime later while we were watching Lorena take more portraits of Lee and Alicia.

 

Angelina laughed. “This is nothing. Photos at our wedding took twice as long, I think. The scale of George’s family is not to be underestimated.”

 

“I heard it was lovely, though,” I said.

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” said Angelina. “I think the two of us slept for fourteen hours straight afterward, though.”

 

A shadow fell over me. “I’m going to get a coffee, do you want one?” said a familiar voice in my ear.

 

I looked up at Fred. “That depends, are you going to let me pay?”

 

He gave me a slow smile. “Same as usual?”

 

“You’re letting me pay,” I said, more forcefully.

 

He grinned and began walking away. “I’ll be back in a mo.’”

 

“Fred!” I shouted after him as he strolled away. “Let me pay for the damn coffee!”

 

He ignored me.

 

I sighed and looked at Angelina. “Is he always like this? He’s bought me coffee three times now and he hasn’t let me pay him back.”

 

Angelina watched Fred’s departing back, pursing her lips slightly. “A bit,” she said. She looked at me, her expression turning slightly serious. “D’you want an expert opinion?”

 

“On what?”

 

“Fred.”

 

I raised an eyebrow. “Sure…?”

 

“He’s interested in you.”

 

I heaved a sigh. “I see you’ve been talking to Alicia.”
 

“A little.” She gave me a dry sort of smile. “But I’ve also got eyes, Maggie.” She glanced over at Alicia. “I might have also promised her that I wouldn’t say anything to you about it, so this conversation never happened.”

 

“I’ll take it to my grave.”

 

“Anyway,” she said, “she didn’t really go into much detail, but I’ve gathered that there’s some skepticism on your part.”

 

I sighed. “I prefer to think of it as rational doubt. Alicia has an overactive imagination.”

 

“Yes, but I don’t,” said Angelina. “And I’m married to his identical twin. I have extensive data on the two of them.”

 

“I just…I think he’s a bit out of my league.”

 

Angelina gave me a level look. “She said you would say that.” She took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to tell you two things. One: Fred is not exactly the type to have a lot of quiet midnight chats. Especially since the War.” There was a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I mean, it’s not like he used to be particularly prone to emotional revelation or anything like that but…there was just a part of him that closed up.”

 

Vague as her description was, it was familiar to me, another entry on my ever-growing list of things that weren’t always like this.

 

But I wasn’t about to admit that, so instead I shrugged and pretended like that hadn’t struck me as a familiar and somewhat uncomfortable thing. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s interested in me.”

 

She gave me a wry smile. “That brings me to my second point: I’ve noticed him looking at you quite a bit this week. Especially today.”

 

Even though I suspected Angelina was less prone to flights of fancy than Alicia, I still couldn’t quite bring myself to take her words at face value.

 

“Like I said, I think he’s a bit out of my league,” I said.

 

Angelina sighed and gave me a stern look. “Well, Alicia certainly wasn’t exaggerating when she said you were being difficult about this.”

 

“Sorry, it’s not intentional.”

 

“I know.” She took a deep breath. “All right. Here is my unsolicited opinion on this. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, you continue to operate under the delusion that Fred is both uninterested and out of your league. This suggests to me that you are afraid of something. What is it?”

 

I was a bit surprised to find that when I opened my mouth to answer that question, the words didn’t immediately come. It wasn’t that I didn’t know—it was that there was so much I didn’t really know where to begin.

 

“That’s a bit of a complicated question,” I said finally.

 

“Well,” said Angelina, “Fred is now heading this way with your coffee, so we can table that discussion for now.” She looked at me. “But I think it’s a question worth answering. You can’t really do anything about it until you have an answer, you know?”

 

“Yeah.” I swallowed and took a deep breath as Fred approached, looking faintly amused by the fact that he’d added to my coffee debt. I pulled my expression into a frown, like Angelina and I hadn’t just spent the last several minutes discussing the hidden meaning behind this coffee and our midnight chats.

 

“You cannot keep doing this,” I said sternly to him as he handed me the coffee.

 

“Sure, I can,” he said cheerfully.

 

“You are creating an unsustainable coffee debt,” I said. “I am going to be paying you back for centuries.”

 

“I’m counting on it,” he said with a grin, taking a sip of his coffee. “I like coffee.”

 

Angelina caught my eye. She didn’t say anything, but the corner of her mouth twitched slightly, like Fred had just proved her point, like it wasn’t just that he liked coffee.

 

Something like hope fluttered in my chest; something like fear curled in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t that I was afraid of Fred or the possibility that he might be interested in me. The reality was that there were about a million ways that I could cock this up spectacularly. And I suppose, in some strange way, it felt easier to try and distance myself from the possibility entirely rather than potentially have something wonderful, destroy it, and add yet another entry in my list of losses from that day in May.

 

It was a sad and grim thought, but not enough to fully quash the feeling of hope that fluttered relentlessly in my chest. It was an odd feeling, these warring feelings of hope and fear.

 

I took a sip of my coffee and stole a glance at Fred. He was looking at Alicia and Lee, idly wondering when we’d be through with this, he was promised cocktails and a nice dinner, after all.

 

This suggests to me that you are afraid of something. What is it?

 

Just because you’re hurting doesn’t mean you don’t have value.

 

Why is it so difficult for you to believe that anyone could look at you and see wonderful things?

 

I looked away, my heart beating hard in my chest.


A/N: Well. This is another update that is much, much later than I hoped. I am very sorry about that. The short story is that April through August is the busiest time of year for me at work and this year has been more overwhelming than most. Put that on top of some illness (colds, nothing serious), minor house construction, and travel and my life has just been more disrupted than it normally is. But thank you all so much for reading and leaving comments and sticking with me! I cannot tell you how much that means to me.

 

FYI: This chapter and the next will cover parts of Alicia’s wedding. While Alicia’s wedding is an important part of this story, it is not the end of the story. We have a bit more to go beyond Las Ballenas.

 

I am honestly not super sure when the next chapter will be posted. Right now, my goal is to get through the next chapter of my other Fred/OC fic and then kind of ease my way back into a regular updating schedule. Stay tuned—I generally will post an update on my Tumblr about projected publication dates, so keep an eye on that.

 

I hope this chapter was worth the wait, and again, sorry about the delay! Let me know what you think: I love hearing from you!

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