"You're acting weird," Molly accused, watching me sip at a cup of tea with a beady eye. "What's the matter?"
"I'm fine," I said, ignoring the fact that my voice went a bit too high pitched.
She looked at me sceptically. "Yeah, whatever you say. Don't think I haven't noticed the fact that you haven't even touched your biscuit and I put it there fifteen minutes ago."
I sighed heavily. "What do you want me to say?"
"Anything at all would be a good start. You've barely said anything to me all week. Is it Matthew? What's he done now?" She peered at me, as though the answer she was looking for was written all over my face. Perhaps it was... I wasn't exactly renowned for my poker face.
"He hasn't done anything, honest," I told her, hoping she'd drop it.
"Then what is it?"
I glared at her over the rim of my mug. "There's nothing wrong, I'm absolutely fine. Please stop nagging."
"Ha!" Molly leaned back against the sofa, looking triumphant. "I knew there was something wrong. Go on, you can tell me. I won't laugh or anything."
I sipped at my tea again. "You are so annoying," I said finally, sighing once more. "Look, it's nothing to worry about. It's just - it's your life, that's all. It's going a bit fast."
"Oh." She looked disappointed. "Is that all? Are you sure you don't have a real problem?"
I huffed. "It is a real problem," I countered. "I'm freaked out that you're engaged and I'm having to think about grown up women things that I didn't think I'd have to deal with for at least ten years."
"Rose," Molly said, interrupting my next tirade. "You'll get used to it. I should have guessed you'd be funny about it."
"That's not very nice," I said, pouting slightly. "It's just, you know, you. Even now you're too busy to spend much time with me."
Molly raised an eyebrow. "Dear God, you're not jealous are you? You silly sausage, as if there's anything for you to be jealous of! It's not as if you don't have your own life too, you know. This was going to happen sooner or later - we weren't going to be living together for ever."
"I know," I sighed. "It's just a bit soon."
Despite all her mocking, I was sure I'd got through to her in some way. She looked at me for a moment, before taking my mug of tea off me, setting it down on the coffee table and pulling me into a hug.
"Better?" she asked, inspecting me once more.
I shrugged. "Not really. That doesn't solve anything."
She scowled in response. "Ungrateful cow," she grumbled. "I don't give hugs away like cockroach clusters, you know."
I laughed at this last remark, remembering how for the last three Christmases she'd tried to fob off her gift of the disgusting sweets off on me after one of her mother's relatives had given them to her. I didn't know anyone who actually liked the revolting things.
"Sorry," I said, picking up my tea again and cradling the mug in my hands in an attempt to warm them up. We really needed to discover how our heating system worked. "I appreciate how difficult that must have been for you. I'll try and be less of a negative ninny in the future."
Molly focused her attention back on the magazine she was reading, "Busty Brides". I wasn't exactly sure it was a very tasteful magazine; in fact, I think she might have picked it up by accident, but I wasn't going to be the one to tell her that. I just tried not to laugh when she made snide comments about their outfit choice, mentioning that she'd probably want to cover up more, especially in the winter.
"So, have you set a date yet?" I asked pointedly as Molly hastily turned two pages at once, a look of disapproval on her brow.
"Not yet," she replied, reaching the end of her magazine and setting it aside. "Lorcan wants a spring wedding, but that would mean getting married in the next few months which really doesn't allow me enough time to arrange anything. Especially if I need to organise as much hair removal as these brides." I laughed. "I was thinking of maybe getting married in the autumn, if I can sort it out. It'd be nice to have the leaves match my hair, don't you think?"
"Something like that," I said, amused at how much detail she had clearly already thought about. "But I can tell you now, if you try and dress me in orange, I will not turn up. Me and orange don't mix."
Molly snorted. "You don't have to tell me that. Remember that Halloween where you dressed up as a pumpkin and you painted your face orange? Everyone just thought you'd been on the fake tan."
"Yes, well, we don't want a repeat of that, do we?" I said sourly, remembering my mortification when I couldn't get the face paint off the next morning. I'd sat through the whole of Charms trying to ignore everyone's staring at my new skin tone.
I sort of missed the old days, when things were as simple as "avoid Scorpius" and "Molly, do my homework please". At the time I absolutely hated the workload and the stress of exams and the fact that every girl in my year managed to get their hair perfect before breakfast when I could barely even manage to get out of bed in time to make my first lesson. In hindsight, everything was a lot more simple. There were clear rules of how to behave and what stage of maturity you should be at and how many alco-pops was trendy to drink in one night. Now I was stuck trying to find my own path and I wasn't succeeding as well as I'd have liked.
My thoughts were interrupted by a brief knock on the door before Matthew let himself in. Checking my watch, I was amazed that the morning had gone so quickly. I ditched my cup of tea and went out into the hall to greet him.
"Happy Saturday," he said, kissing me square on the lips before hanging his coat up on the coat stand (a new "grown up" addition to our furniture that Molly had stolen from the attic in the Burrow).
"Check out what Molly's been accidentally reading when you go past," I whispered to him. He peered around the corner and located the magazine on the table, making him chuckle.
"Nope," I said. "Come in, I'll make some more tea."
Matthew followed me into the kitchen, greeting Molly as he passed her. I saw his mouth twitch at the sight of the magazine, but he chose not to say anything.
"What time are we going to the Burrow?" he asked as I reached for the milk.
"Ugh," I responded, not really relishing the prospect of another family lunch. "I dunno, probably in an hour or so. I promised my Gran I'd help her with the salad."
"The fun really never stops there, does it?" he remarked.
"Well, you just thank your lucky starts that your family is normal," I retorted.
"Normal? Are you forgetting the last time we went to visit my parents?"
I laughed. "Oh come on, those baby photos of you were really cute! Especially the one of you ironing in your mum's dress."
"What can I say, I'm just photogenic," he said, blushing slightly.
I grinned at his embarrassment, wrapping my arm around his waist in what was supposed to be a comforting manner. "Don't worry, I already told you my parents have some really awful ones of me - and they're magical pictures, so they move. Much worse, I promise."
"I'm sure they're terrible," Matthew conceded, wrapping my other arm around his waist. "It's not like there's a lot to work with, is there?" he teased, attempting to kiss me but I duck out of his reach.
"No kisses for you if you're going to be as rude as that," I warned him, finishing off making the tea and handing him his mug. "And I can promise you I'll spit in your drink as well."
"Such a classy lady," Matthew said wryly. I ignored him and trotted towards Molly, rejoining her on the sofa.
Molly eyed us as we sat down. "If you're going to be all love-y dove-y on me then I'll leave," she said, narrowing her eyes.
"Oh shut up, you hypocrite," I said, swatting her arm. "And we weren't, anyway. I was just threatening to spit in his tea."
Molly looked sceptical for moment before deciding to ignore us, picking up the next magazine in her pile (which thankfully had some more tasteful dresses in it) and continuing her bride-ly business.
"Do you think we have time to pop in and see Magda before we head to the Burrow?" I asked Matthew quickly as I looked at my watch.
He rolled his eyes. "Rose, I literally just came straight from the shop. She's been great all week, you said so yourself. I'm sure she'll be fine."
Magda was our new employee. As Matthew had rightly said, she had already impressed me. She had this tiny glasses that perched on the end of her nose like a songbird and I had yet to find something about books that she didn't know. She was fresh out of a journalist job, finding creating her own print too much of a chore and instead deciding she wanted to sell books, not papers. This was the first Saturday in a long time that both Matthew and I had time off, though he had been at the shop all morning to make sure Magda was okay. As competent as she was, I still was slightly uncomfortable leaving her there on her own.
"Fine," I conceded. "And it's only for the one time. That other new guy, what's-his-face, he starts on Monday anyway."
"Alan," Matthew confirmed. "Yeah, he does. Stop worrying. If it'll placate you, I'll go and check up on her before closing time."
"No, no," I said, trying not to come across as a worry wart. "It's fine. I trust her."
Matthew nodded, a knowing look in his eyes. I knew that he'd already decided to go and call in even if I was insisting I was fine with it and he didn't need to.
Molly groaned at this conversation. "Honestly, do you two talk about anything other than work?"
I frowned. "Yes, actually. But this is important. I can't just pretend the shop doesn't exist after work hours."
I didn't know quite why she'd suddenly got a bee in her bonnet. Matthew and I often discussed work in front of her and she'd never complained before. I decided to ignore her complaint and proceeded to quiz Matthew about our plans for Alan, a man who had recently come out of retirement to find a part time job that would allow him flexibility to earn some money and go fishing in his spare time.
Eventually Molly just cleared her throat and announced it was time for us all to go to the Burrow. We fetched our coats and locked the door, all of us turning on the spot in unison and disappearing off to the Burrow.
I had already spotted Albus, who was sat on the bench on the front porch, reading a book.
"You're not going inside?" I asked as Molly and Matthew went on ahead of me.
Albus shook his head. "I'm waiting for Lorcan, actually. He said he had something to ask me, which means he's going to ask me to be his best man."
I raised my eyebrows. "How do you know that?"
Albus shrugged. "What else could he be asking me? He's not exactly the most complex of characters."
I thought this was a rather harsh judgement, but I couldn't really contest it. "Well," I said, turning towards the door. "Congratulations in advance."
Inside, a healthy number of relatives had already started to gather. My mum saw me and whisked me away from the crowd almost instantaneously. "Salad," she instructed, pushing me into the kitchen and handing me a bag of lettuce.
"Hello to you too," I said, opening the bag up and starting to make the salad. "Where's Dad?" I hadn't spotted him amongst the red-heads.
"Where do you think?" she snapped, a wisp of her falling forward. She pushed it back behind her ear rather forcefully. "He's gone to a bloody Quidditch match with your Uncle Harry."
I didn't bother to ask her why this was such a crime, seeing as there would be plenty of other family lunches for him to use to make up time. Presumably she'd expected him to be here and he's backed out or something equally trivial.
"Right," I said, handing her the completed bowl of salad and hastily trying to make an exit. "I'll just go and say hello to everyone, then."
Mum said nothing, so I presumed I'd offered all of my services and she no longer needed me. I looked around the room, noting that neither Dominique or Victoire were present. Louis, however, was and he was busy catching up with Roxanne and James in the far corner. I found Molly chatting to Lucy, who looked rather paler than usual.
"Hi Lucy," I sad as I joined them. "I thought you were still at university?"
"Oh I am, technically," she said, looking stressed. "We've got exams at the moment, so I'm on study leave. My next exam isn't for a week though..."
"Oh, well, good luck," I offered, hoping she wasn't going to drag me into a conversation about the ins and outs of the Muggle university system, because there was no hope for me keeping up.
She thanked me. I looked around to see where Matthew was, and saw he was chatting away animatedly to my Uncle George. No doubt they were swapping shop-keeping tips, seeing as it was all George ever seemed to talk about. I didn't really fancy interrupting that conversation or worse, getting involved in it. At one point George had offered to help me figure out various marketing strategies, but that wasn't really my forte. I left Matthew to that sort of stuff, normally.
Slowly, the rest of the family arrived, with only the usual estranged cousins missing and any of the family who had gone to the Quidditch match. I noticed Victoire sneak in late and I ditched my conversation with Molly and Lucy to go and talk to her.
"Hey," I said, joining her by the fireplace.
She smiled warmly at my greeting. "Hello, you. How are things?"
"Good," I told her, looking over my shoulder to check that Molly wasn't listening. "Mol is going to make an announcement today, but just pretend to look shocked. Her and Lorcan are engaged."
Victoire's eyes widened. "That was quick," she mused, her fingers subconsciously twisting around her ring finger, presumably a habit she had still yet to shake. Perhaps it had been slightly tactless of me to mention it, but I figured at least this way she had time to get over the shock before the big announcement. I always felt there were so many touchy subjects with her, what with her engagement to Teddy that went rather sour. "Well, good for them."
I nodded. "Yeah, it is. How are you?"
She shrugged, tucking a flyaway strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "Yeah, okay. Will is going through a stage of crying all night, and the nursery is right opposite my room so I'm not sleeping very well. Dom's exhausted, too."
"I bet," I said, not so secretly glad I didn't have to live with a baby that really, ideally, should have been mine.
"Yeah, and when he's awake, he's doing extraordinary things with his hair. You know... like Ted does." She trailed off in thought, her brow furrowing slightly at the mention of the elephant in every room in every Weasley's house. "Dom finds it quite alarming, I think."
I smiled. "I'm sure it's normal."
"Yeah, that's what Ted says," she said, unconvinced. "Not that he says an awful lot these days. He's so busy with work, you know."
I frowned. "I thought he was supposed to be around a lot more now that he's moved back to England?" I asked, trying very hard to keep the disapproving tone from my voice. I really didn't have any right to judge him.
"Well, I think he finds it very difficult. Maman still won't talk to him, and I think my Dad always looks like he's going to hex him whenever he visits."
"I'm sure things will get better," I offered when I couldn't find anything else constructive to say. At least he'd moved closer to Dom and the baby, just in case she ever really needed him for something. Running away to France always had seemed like a stupid idea.
"I'm sure they will too."
She smiled briefly, then we were interrupted by the clanging of a spoon on a glass, followed by a large crunch when the spoon hit the glass a little bit too hard. We turned towards the source of the noise and saw Lorcan standing sheepishly on a chair, clutching the remaining pieces of a wine glass in his hand.
"Sorry," he said quickly, setting the glass down on a table before continuing. "Molly and I have an announcement to make."
"I hope she's not having a baby too," I heard Roxanne mutter somewhere in the throng. If I had been closer to her, I would have "accidentally" trod on her foot or something.
"We're getting married," Molly yelled from Lorcan's knees, followed by a huge cheer from anyone who had been paying attention and not clearing up the glass shards (like my mum was doing at that very moment). They were both engulfed by relatives congratulating them, and I gave Victoire a grin from the side-lines.
"See, sometimes there are benefits to being the quiet one in the family." She nodded sagely in response.
"See, Rose," my Mum said as she swept the glass out of the door nearby. "Molly's got herself a nice bloke. Why can't you settle down too?"
I blushed deeply, wishing she'd stop being so embarrassing. Victoire gave me a sympathetic look.
"Well, I consider myself a reasonably nice bloke, Mrs Weasley," Matthew interjected, causing Mum to match the colour of my cheeks and try to find something to busy herself with.
"Right, yes," she muttered, slipping past Matthew to find someone else to nag.
"I'm not sure I agree," I told Matthew as I slipped my hand in his, pretending to look unsure. "Do nice blokes terrorise poor mothers like that?"
"Yes, they do," he said decisively, tugging onto my hand and pulling me towards him. I leant my chin on his chest, looking up at him with a rather waning fake frown. "I've heard it from a reliable source."
"Fair enough," I conceded, giving him a peck on the lips.
"Oh get a room," Molly said disgustedly, walking straight through the middle of us and forcing us apart. She very conspicuously held up her left hand in our direction, showing off her ring.
I rolled my eyes. "We've already seen your fabulous ring, Molly."
"No, actually, only you have. Matthew hasn't." She held her hand out and Matthew duly inspected the ring.
"It's... very sparkly," he said, looking at me as if to check he'd said the right thing. I sniggered.
"Thank you," Molly said, looking extremely smug. She was about to show Victoire the ring and almost held her hand out, then seemed to remember herself and hid the ring out of sight, which quite frankly was more insensitive than just letting Victoire see it in the first place. Victoire even looked slightly hurt.
"I'm not going to cry just at the sight of it, Molly," she said quietly. "You can treat me like a normal human being, you know."
"Right," Molly said, embarrassed. She held out her hand for Victoire to see, though with slightly less flourish than she had with Matthew.
After that, she quickly removed herself from our group and went to find someone else to boast to. I shook my head and sighed. "Sometimes I don't know how I put up with her."
"She's very sweet and you know it," Matthew scolded. "Let her have a moment in the spotlight, you know as well as anybody how hard that is to come by in a family this big."
I was impressed at this insight and decided that he was right and that I'd let Molly off the hook.
Most of the afternoon was taken up by everyone discussing Molly's wedding, asking her if she'd set a date or location yet. Her plans for the wedding were becoming more and more wild every time she divulged her plans. She started off from just having a simple, close family and friends type wedding in the autumn to a full blown Santa's grotto on Christmas Eve with every man and his dog invited. I rolled my eyes. Checking my watch, I realised Matthew and I could probably sneak off under the proviso of going to check on Magda.
"We're off," I called out, pushing Matthew out of the door before we could be bogged down with hugs and goodbyes. He took my hand as soon as we were outside the house and turned us both on our heel.
The Leaky Cauldron was delightfully quiet for this time on a Saturday late afternoon, and I had already decided we were going to see out the remainder of the evening there. I told Matthew to save us a table, my favourite one in the alcove by the fire, and I would go and check on Magda on my own. I battled against the bitterly cold January wind, burrowing my head into my scarf for protection, not caring that it was probably turning my hair into a bird's nest.
The bell above the shop door tinkled as I entered, the light from the corner lamps creating strange shadows onto the street behind me. The shop was empty, except of course for Magda, who had propped herself up on a stool behind the till and was hugging a hot water bottle to her chest with one arm, a copy of a serious looking historical book in the clutched in her other hand.
"Busy afternoon?" I asked, watching as she jumped at my arrival.
"No, not really," she said, setting the book down on the counter.
"It's the post-Christmas slump. Nobody's coming in here much unless it's to return a dodgy Christmas present." Magda grinned, having probably already noticed this in the short time she had been working here.
"If I'm honest," she said, lowering her voice. "I was a bit creeped out by that portrait in the break room. He kept talking to me about the dangers of magical sports while I was making coffee."
"Oh, have you not been introduced to Boris?" I asked. I led her through into the break room, tapping on the frame of Boris's portrait to wake him up. He looked up groggily from where he lay across his in-portrait sofa. He eyed me suspiciously.
"What's wrong with your hair?" he asked, looking quite alarmed. "You should go to a healer about that."
"This is Boris," I said to Magda over the top of him. "Luckily for us, he died last summer, meaning that his rude remarks are kept to a minimum."
Boris stuck up his middle finger at me and turned his back to me, resuming his sleep. Magda frowned, perhaps a bit perturbed by my unfriendly sentiments. When we'd gone back into the main shop, I whispered to her, "we love him really, but it's not good for his ego to let him hear that too often."
The clock hung on the wall next to Gilderoy Lockhart's poster struck five, so I told Magda to go home and that I would lock up. After I'd turn all the lamps off and locked the door, I returned to the Leaky Cauldron, where Matthew was waiting with two mugs of butterbeer.
"Now, where were we?" I asked, snuggling up against Matthew and tucking my legs up under my knees. He kissed the top of my head, causing me to smile. So perhaps I didn't have a shiny ring on my finger, but at least I didn't have to worry about starving myself thin for my wedding dress, which was surely Molly's next plan of action. All I had to do now was ensure she actually picked a nice dress, not one like those ones in the magazine she had been reading. Strapless wedding dresses were so last year.