Katie was half-naked and dripping wet when George apparated into her shower. As nonchalantly as if he had walked in through the front door, he stepped onto the slick tile before her and flashed a charming grin. Katie shrieked. In one fluid, almost practiced movement, he took another step towards her and clamped a hand over her mouth, pushing her bare back against the towel rack. Muffled though it was, she managed another scream before he cut her off.
"You're going to wake the Mahotras," he scolded, still grinning. "And then they'll send Neal over and Alicia will start fancying him again and then what are we going to do?"
The Mahotras were a lovely couple of Healers who worked the night shift and lived in the flat next door with their adult son, Neal. Neal was tall, skinny, and perpetually frowning. The only reason Alicia had fancied him in the first place was because she mistook their rent control for a large amount of family money. This was all irrelevant to the fact that George Weasley was in her flat's toilet at half seven with one hand keeping her silent and the other on her waist. This was not the first time they'd been in this situation, but it was certainly the least lurid.
"Mmpfh," she protested.
"You have to promise not to scream again," he said. His hand was starting to get clammy. She wanted to rip it off, but she was a bit busy keeping the slip of a towel on her body. "Do you promise?"
"Mmmpfh," she agreed.
He removed his hand from her mouth. The one on her waist, keeping her from toppling over due to her not exactly steady footing, stayed.
"What in Merlin's sodding name are you doing here?" she asked, halfway between a whisper and a shout.
With an awkward shrug, he said, "Angelina sent me. She's a bit put off that you still haven't RSVP'd, considering that it's tomorrow."
"I agreed to be a bridesmaid, didn't I?" she snapped. The current number one rule in Katie and Alicia's flat was 'don't talk about the wedding'. She was doing her absolute best to put it from her mind. Punishment for bringing it up included having to apologize profusely and do all the dishes in the sink. There was no way for George to know this, but, nonetheless, she did not appreciate the violation.
"Angelina says," he went on, slowly, as if he was trying to remember her exact phrasing, "that there's no way for her to do seating arrangements if she doesn't know who you're bringing. Something about not wanting to have any rows at the wedding."
Katie flinched at the word. George let go of her, took a step backwards and bumped up against the sink. The foggy reflection of the red of his hair was easier to look at than the earnest expression on his stupid, dopey, handsome face.
"So," he said, twiddling his thumbs. "If you'd just tell me I can let you go about your very important day working in the complaints department."
She clutched at the opportunity to change the subject. "Human and being resources. And don't make fun of my job."
"It's not really a job though, is it?" he said. "It's more sitting around and listening to people whinge all day."
"And getting paid for it."
He made a conceding noise. "And getting paid for it."
For a long second, the two of them stared at anything but each other. George broke first. "I really do need to know who you're bringing. Angelina's going mental getting ready for tomorrow. She'll murder me if I come back and don't know."
Katie's mind raced. The reason she hadn't told Angelina who she was bringing – beside the fact that they hadn't really spoken since the bridal shower, including at her hen party – was that she hadn't asked anyone. She wasn't sure who there was to ask. Oliver was right out. Alicia had snatched him up not two hours after receiving her invitation, despite the fact that he was rumoured to be seeing Penelope Clearwater. Lee was bringing some blonde bartender he'd met on a bender a few months before. Towler had gotten even odder since graduation, to the point of insufferability. Roger Davies was, for reasons Katie was not entirely sure of, bringing Lavender Brown. Katie's own romantic prospects were currently limited to the cute waiter at Rosa Lee's that flirted with Alicia more than he did her.
So it was a surprise even to her when she blurted out a name she generally tried her best not to say out loud. "Cormac McLaggen."
George let out a crow of laughter before his face dropped entirely. "You're being serious?"
Katie pulled her towel up to cover more of her chest and inadvertently revealed a good part of her upper thigh. George's eyes remained trained on hers. After a small, dry cough, she said, "More or less."
"You're bringing Cormac McLaggen to my wedding?"
Apparently, she thought. What she said out loud was, "I'm bringing Cormac McLaggen to your wedding. Who else was I supposed to take?"
A tic was starting up on the left side of his face. "Anyone else, Katherine Anne. Anyone fucking else."
Not entirely in control of what she was saying now, Katie answered, "Well excuse me, George Fabian, but my only boyfriend is a bit taken."
A noise that was not anything approaching an intelligible word escaped from his mouth. A muscle in his jaw twitched. He backed further into the sink, almost to the point of bending backwards.
"Would you rather I came by myself?"
It was clear on George's face that he wanted to say yes. Instead, he forced out, "No."
And with that, he disapparated.
A small knock on the door stopped her from punching any of the innocent objects in the bathroom. Without waiting for her to answer, Alicia pulled it open and stepped into the bathroom. "What's going on?"
Katie tugged at the edge of her towel. "I just told George that I'm bringing Cormac tomorrow."
Alicia's eyebrows flew so far up that they almost joined up with her hair. "Are you?"
"Well now I've said it," she answered, "I feel like I have to."
Brow still furrowed in deepest concern, Alicia said gravely, "Ang is going to go absolutely mad. You know she literally celebrated when she found out he couldn't try out her year as Captain. Not to mention Ge—"
"Don't say his name right now."
"But you—" Alicia swallowed her protest, as well as a large bite of the toast she had clutched in one hand. "Never mind. You haven't asked Cormac, have you? Or have you and just not told me, because, in that case, I do not appreciate the deceit, Katie."
"I haven't asked him."
"Oh," she said, and launched into elaborate plan-making that lasted throughout Katie getting dressed and most of the way through her walk to work. Despite the fact that the Witch Weekly offices were on the other side of Wizarding London, Alicia insisted on accompanying her to the Ministry. It took until just before the entrance loo for her to come to a breakthrough. "You know, I think players were meant to come to the B.I.Q.L. headquarters this week to re-up their personal information. Weight, height, marital status. Et cetera."
"Unless I get a time turner," Katie huffed, "that does me absolutely no good."
"Yeah," said Alicia. "But what if he hasn't registered yet? It's still this week. Would you say he had a tendency to procrastinate in school?"
Unlike Alicia, Katie didn't pay much attention to the private lives of the boys populating the halls at Hogwarts. Except for one. And also Roger Davies, when he wasn't being a self-absorbed tosser. While she was thoroughly familiar with his antics on the pitch, Cormac could have turned in the most brilliant essays in the history of Transfiguration and Katie wouldn't have noticed.
"I don't know," she admitted.
"That's fine!" Alicia said with a sly grin. She was beginning to get a bit manic, as she usually did when Katie let her talk for too long without providing direction. "We'll go up to the headquarters ourselves to pay Lee a visit. He'll love it. He does absolutely nothing when there's not a match going on. That's half the reason why he's willing to be my 'anonymous source' on articles."
"Alicia," Katie said, and placed a hand on her roommate's thin shoulder. "Go to work."
The smaller girl let out a noise of derision. "But how are you going to—"
"I'll figure it out." This was likely a lie, but Alicia needn't know that. Her bosses may have loved her for all the inside information she had on the players of the British and Irish Quidditch League, but that didn't mean they wouldn't mind her coming into work three hours late with no explanation other than 'Katie needed a date'. "Go to work."
Gladys Prescott had never looked so beautiful as she did when Katie finally made her way into the Ministry's human resources division. She may have been a pain to work with, but she had no qualms lying to supervision and that was exactly what Katie needed.
"Gladys," she said, and sidled up to her blue-haired coworker's desk. Broad-shouldered, red-faced and often clad in faux leather, Gladys had all the rage of a sixties feminist boiling within her eighteen-year-old body. Her desk was cluttered with pamphlets and pins. "Could you do me a favour?"
"What is it, Bell?"
"If anyone asks, could you tell them that I've gone off to the toilets?"
Without taking even a glance up from the form she was filling out in her flowery handwriting, she said, "Yeah, alright."
Katie was off without another word.
Lee Jordan's office couldn't really fairly be called an office. The commentators were all crammed into a u-shaped cluster of desks just after the entrance to the B.I.Q.L. headquarters on the seventh floor. The only privacy he had was if he hid behind the large, fake plant adorning his desk. Katie parked herself just in front of it, on top of some official-looking papers.
"Well, good morning to you, too." Lee leaned back in his rolling desk chair and placed both hands behind his neck, below the waterfall of dreads tied neatly up with an electric blue hair band. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
With anyone else, Katie would have at least spared a moment for a greeting. Lee, however, required no such courtesy to keep his spirits up. "I need to know if the Magpies have come in yet this week."
Lee's tawny eyes narrowed. "Are you being serious?"
"Yes," said Katie. She took a deep breath and went on, "I told George this morning that I'm bring Cormac tomorrow. I haven't seen Cormac in months. But Alicia told me that he might come by here sometime today, so I'm hedging my bets on that enormous coincidence so I don't have to go stag."
For a moment, Lee was speechless. He settled forward in his chair. "Ignoring all of that," he said, and she could almost see a smile start to form on his lips, "I asked if you were serious because I can literally see the captain from where I'm sitting. They're queued up outside the director's office."
Katie jumped up from his desk. The heels she'd borrowed from Alicia led to a bit of wobble on the landing, but she recovered. "Bless you, Lee Jordan."
"Yeah, okay," he said, and there was no denying the smile now. "Just remember you said that when you're holding my hair back tomorrow night."
Even from afar, there was no mistaking the big blonde head currently stationed at the rear of the line. Though he no longer had his curls – Alicia's Witch Weekly profile claimed he had shorn them to make himself look more mature after graduation – the unbridled air of arrogance was enough to set him apart. As she approached, she could hear him wrapping up a story about his father and the late Minister Scrimgeour. It was almost enough to make her turn around.
"Cormac!" she called out. The name still felt funny in her mouth. She'd spent so long attempting not to speak to him that she wasn't sure just how to do it. "Er, McLaggen."
His three closest teammates turned around before he did. O'Flaherty, Page, and Rickett, if she had retained anything from both playing at Hogwarts and the dozens of glossy Quidditch magazines sitting around her flat.
"Alright, Bell?" said O'Flaherty. They'd played against each other for three seasons, and each year the box red of her hair had gotten brighter. Now it was like a halo of flame around her pale features.
At the sound of her name, Cormac finally turned, a shit-eating grin that was probably supposed to be charming plastered across his features. "Katie!" he cried, and pulled her into a tight hug.
Katie was stiff against the hard lines of his body. Never in their nine-and-a-half years of knowing each other had they ever been this close to each other, excepting the several times they collided during practice. She wasn't sure what to do with her hands, so she kept them pressed against her thighs.
"Don't embarrass yourself in front of my teammates," he hissed into her ear, then released her.
"Erm," was all she could manage.
O'Flaherty, bless her heart, cut into the awkward silence. "I heard you were living with Alicia Spinnet. How's that going?"
By 'heard', Katie could only assume she meant 'was told while Alicia was supposed to be interviewing her'. The statement did, however, provide her with the opening she needed. Voice unnaturally cheery, she said, "Great! We're actually going to a wedding tomorrow. For George Weasley and," she took a deep, sharp breath, "Angelina Johnson. If you remember them at all."
"The one with the braids, yeah?" said Rickett. The West Country accent colouring his words was thicker than she remembered. "She was right fit, weren't she?"
"Shut up," said O'Flaherty.
Confusion flitted across Cormac's face for the briefest of moments. "They're getting married?"
"Tomorrow," Katie repeated.
"Why was I not invited?" Cormac asked. He seemed to genuinely not know why George and Angelina wouldn't want him at either the ceremony or the reception. He was a wonderful time, the cast of his eyes seemed to say. Once again, Katie reconsidered the whole thing.
"Funnily enough," she said, and managed a false laugh, "that's why I'm here. Would you like to go? With me?"
Cormac considered it for a moment while O'Flaherty and Rickett bickered between themselves in heated whispers. "I have three questions, love," he eventually said. "One, will I have to dress up?"
Katie pursed her lips. It was taking all her willpower not to retract the invitation. "Most likely, since it is a wedding."
"Fair enough. Two, will there be an open bar?"
"The extended Weasley family does like to drink," she answered. "So I'm going to say yes."
"Three," he said, and took a step closer to her. "Will I be coming home with you after?"
"Only if I'm piss drunk."
That seemed to be enough for Cormac. He turned to face Page and said, "Let the coaches know I'll be missing practice tomorrow. I'm going to a wedding."
"Do it yourself, you berk."