Saturday afternoon and Justin is in a white-walled studio in the middle of London, surrounded by strangers and waiting by one of the tall windows for his partner to peel off her jacket and join him. Thunder rolls ominously over the streets outside as rain spatters against the glass; Susan’s hair is matted down over her ears from it, the color an indifferent shade of red made darker by the water, and her shoes squeak against the hardwood as she steps out to join him.
“You are so lucky I love you,” she tells him, rolling up the sleeves on her button-down shirt, and Justin inclines his head obligingly, promising drinks later, a dinner or two in thanks.
Justin has been taking dance lessons for two weeks now, at a Muggle place a few blocks over from the Ministry satellite office he’s been working in. Before this, his coordination has been strictly relegated to on the pitch and in the air; in normal situations he’s as clumsy as they come, dropping glasses and tripping down stairs, his paperwork is always charmed to self-organize when he predictably scatters it across the floor. Susan Bones was born and bred to be a lady and she still is at heart, her amiable nature buried under the snarly attitude and short fuse that makes her the Ministry’s top Enforcer on the squad. Susan took dance lessons as a child and she is quite possibly the only person in Justin’s life who won’t laugh at him when he inevitably falls over his own feet learning to do a simple box step; he’s always grateful for her friendship, but never more than when the dance instructor tells them after stretching that in this lesson, they’ll be learning to salsa.
“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Susan snickers, letting Justin rest his hand at her waist.
“That, or I’ll somehow cause a chain reaction that sets the whole place on fire.”
The music starts and Justin tries to keep up with the tempo, twisting his body this way and that until the instructor moves into the group and bodily readjusts his positioning. Susan snorts on a laugh as the instructor raises his arm and adjusts his hips, trying to get him to move smoother into the motion on the turn. Justin retaliates when they’re allowed to practice their freestyling by turning her once, twice, a third time; when he dips her without warning Susan tells him, hair brushing the floor, “See, this is how you accidentally kill someone.”
“Who said it’ll be accidental?”
At the end of it the lesson leaves him dizzy, five six seven eight still echoing in his brain as he mentally works through the steps, and it isn’t until Susan tosses his still-damp coat at him that he realizes they’re the only ones left. “I cast a Notice-Me-Not,” Susan says by way of explanation, running her wand over their clothes to dry them faster. “That way we can Disapparate instead of having to swim.”
Justin smiles at her as Susan pockets her wand, then holds out his hand for her to take. “One more for the road?” he asks, jabbing his wand in the direction of the instructor’s boom box so that music begins to play. Susan rolls her eyes and he grasps hold of her anyway, turning them both as he says, “Come on, help me with this one step and you can get out of here. Consider it your good deed for the day.”
“You’re my good deed for the whole month,” Susan scoffs, and after a moment she adds, “I think it’s nice, you know. You learning how to do this. It’s… it’s a nice gesture.”
“Thanks. I’ve been wanting to do something to surprise her for a while, now, especially with everything going tits-up with her mother. Think she’ll like it?”
Susan shrugs, uncharacteristically quiet when she looks up at him. Susan lets him lead her through another turn and her voice is calm and careful as she asks him, “Why are you marrying Parkinson?”
“Because I love her.” It’s his immediate response; any other answer is unthinkable.
“But why do you love her?” Susan presses. “It’s just – it doesn’t make sense, Justin, you’re such a good person, and she’s a total cow, and she was always good at potions –”
Justin stops so quickly Susan’s feet keep moving for another beat and a half. His hand is still at her waist as he trains his eyes on one of his closest friends, trying to discern whether or not she’s asking if he’s been drugged. “Is that what everyone thinks? Sue, what are you even asking me right now?”
Susan’s breath comes as a sharp inhale, her body moving into the defensive stance she uses in interrogations. She slides out from under Justin’s hand, ticking off her fingers as she talks. “You’ve turned into a completely different person since you and Parkinson got together. You’re moody and secretive whenever we ask you about her. She’s catty and rude and she never takes responsibility for her actions, and oh, let’s not forget that she’s the one responsible for the Cruciatus scars on my back –”
“That’s not fair, Susan!”
“What does it matter if it’s fair? Justin, no one likes her –”
“– Hannah likes her –”
“Hannah likes everybody,” Susan counters, and Justin groans.
“I’m beyond done with this,” he snarls, lashing out with his wand to shut off the music and knocking the ballet bar down from the wall instead. “I’m sorry you feel this way, but I’m marrying Pansy in a month, Susan. I am going to marry her, and nothing you say to me right now is going to change that.”
Susan glares at him with an expression that’s hard to read: anger, resentment, sadness flit over her features in equal measure, finally settling on something blank and resigned. “Fine,” she says, serious and slow, “Fine,” and Susan pushes away from him, hands falling her sides as she steps backwards into the center of the studio. She disappears with a crack before Justin can even move to stop her, her parting words echoing in the empty studio: “As my wedding gift to you, I’m not coming.”
Justin spends dessert explaining the wards they’ll be putting around the venue, how he and Pansy want to blend her traditions with his without destroying the Statute of Secrecy in the process, and the only thing his mother has to say about it is, “You do realize this is going to be difficult, correct?”
Justin’s mother folds her hands together on the table, her eyes full of a disappointment Justin was not expecting. She stares at Justin down the length of the table and he feels, suddenly, like he is nine years old again: small and helpless and unable to explain not only how the lock on the china cabinet disappeared, but how all their good flatware ended up on the roof, of all places. He spins his wand absently on the tabletop, ignoring how his father flinches slightly when it stops to point at him.
“I… Justin, dear, please listen to yourself. Floating hors d’oeuvres trays? Flying cake toppers? Birds inside balloons, and, oh, I – the whole thing sounds…”
Justin’s brother doesn’t look at him, reaching for his wife’s hand while their parents stare at Justin. “Mum, it’s not that bad,” Richard starts, but doesn’t seem to have any idea how to finish. His one-year-old babbles to himself in his highchair and Richard’s wife drops his hand to pick him up, carrying him into the next room without a word.
Dinner, it must be said, has not gone as well as Justin expected.
“I’ll, um. I’ll help with the dishes, shall I?” Pansy says, giving his shoulder a light squeeze as she passes his chair. She waves her wand and dishes, glassware, silverware, it all rises up from the table, floating towards the kitchen as Pansy follows behind his sister-in-law. Justin swallows hard, listening to the tableware clatter into the sink.
“I just –” says Justin’s father, already exasperated, “I don’t see why the two of you can’t just go about all this the normal way.”
“Normal for Pansy, you mean. You were brought up proper C of E, Justin, and I can’t believe you expect us to –”
Justin rises from the table, hand instinctively curling around the handle of his wand. His father has never quite gotten used to the sight of Justin’s wand, not the way his mother has, and he watches it carefully while Justin tucks it back into his sleeve.
“Dad. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get married at St. Agnes. And we can pass off the other stuff as, God, I don’t know – an internet prank, or something. All I’m trying to say is that there’s – there’s some precautions we have to take, because of Pansy’s family.”
Justin’s parents share a look and Richard finishes the remainder of his wine, none of them acknowledging the real issue at hand. Sometimes Justin wonders if his parents regret letting him go to Hogwarts; he was down for Eton, remember, a year or two ahead of Prince William, and he could have been someone, could have made the contacts there that would have had him set for life. Instead he spent the majority of his twelfth year frozen and unconscious, then progressively surrounded by soul-sucking monsters, fire-breathing dragons, an impossibly bigoted governmental regime. He knows that his family loves him, that they’re proud of him and the work he does bridging their two worlds together, but he also knows how hard it is for them to not be afraid of his magic, of this ugly, unfamiliar world that sought his blood at seventeen and one day might want it again.
Justin sighs, suddenly tired. “We’re just putting some restrictions on who can and can’t come. That’s all. I think the only thing different from a ‘normal’ wedding is that some of her relatives might send up sparks instead of throwing rice.”
His parents look at him like he’s grown a second head and Justin feels like a liar. He stalks off into the kitchen to find the dishes doing themselves, Pansy and his sister-in-law playing with the baby. Justin stands at the sink and wonders how something as simple as a meal could have gone so wrong, so fast.
Pansy is working overnight at the Prophet office to meet a last-minute deadline and Justin is in bed when he hears the knock at the door. He thinks it’s Pansy, at first, and wonders if she lost her key again, or if she was too tired or tipsy to Apparate right inside. Justin lumbers to the door, wand tucked into the waistband of his pajamas, only to find that it isn’t his fiancée standing behind the door, but her mother.
Genevieve Parkinson stands before him in her fur-lined traveling cloak, pulling leather gloves from well-manicured hands while she waits for her invitation indoors. Justin sputters briefly but steps aside, letting her sweep past him in a cloud of bergamot and vetiver that lingers in her wake. Genevieve is her daughter’s mirror, set thirty years in the future: they have the same jolie-laide face, the same grey-green eyes; she watches him with the same shrewd look Pansy sometimes has, the one she wears whenever she feels cornered.
“A more civilized man would have asked if I wanted something to drink,” she says, and Justin blinks at her, slowly on his guard.
“A more civilized woman wouldn’t have knocked after ten.”
Genevieve’s mouth twitches almost imperceptibly, her eyes dark and narrowed. “I assume your kitchen is able to at least make a proper pot of tea. If there’s one thing I’ve missed while living in Paris, it’s a good cup of English tea.”
Genevieve drapes her cloak over the back of a chair and moves around his kitchen as if she’d been there before; she fills the kettle with an “aguamenti” and prods at the burner on the stove with her wand until it lights. Justin follows her cautiously, choosing two mugs from the cabinet near the sink and setting them on the counter. There are two packets of Orange Pekoe fluttering sadly at the bottom of the box and Justin hands them to her silently, one eye on her wand.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve chosen now to come and speak with you.”
“It crossed my mind.”
Genevieve takes a seat and motions for him to join her. The kettle whistles and with a wave of her wand it lifts itself into the air, pouring water into the waiting mugs, which then hover across the room to land neatly on the tabletop. Justin doesn’t move, hands gripping the back of the chair opposite hers. This is not how he wanted to meet his mother-in-law for the first time.
“I am here,” she says, spooning sugar into her tea, “Because I believe that you are making a mistake marrying my daughter.”
Justin only stares at her, not as surprised as he thought he would be.
“There is one in every generation, you understand, but never, not in a thousand years, did I think my daughter would grow up to be a –”
Genevieve regards him coolly. “We are on the same page, then,” she says, and then: “Have you no idea what it means for a girl of her station to lower herself to yours?”
“You do realize you aren’t the first person to tell me this? For months, now, years, most of my friends, hell, my parents –”
“They warn you because they understand the truth. It has nothing to do with House rivalries, or wartime collusions, or anything of that sort. You are a Muggleborn, yes?” At his nod, she says, “Then you of all people should know how difficult it is to integrate into a world that hates you.”
Genevieve sips her tea and pulls a thick envelope from the pocket of her traveling cloak, laying it flat on the table between them as she continues to drink in silence. The envelope trembles against the hardwood, buzzing lightly from the pressure of remaining unopened; it isn’t a Howler, at least that much is certain, but there’s no telling what kind of curse could be waiting for it under the heavy yellow parchment.
“It is not so much a matter of blood, you understand, as much as it is that your lives are simply not… compatible. A witch like my daughter will not be happy settling for something beneath her talents, and neither will any of your children. Do you think that living in the land of Muggles will ever compare to a life with magic? They will leave you for our world almost as certainly as she will. Spare yourself years of heartache and end it while you can.”
Genevieve locks eyes with him and Justin’s blood runs cold, feels like it has literally stopped flowing in his veins and turned to ice, to snow. He’s read the phrase a thousand times but has never really understood what it meant until right now; he thinks he might actually pass out, he’s so angry. Genevieve moves to open the envelope and Justin’s wand somehow flies to his waiting hand, twitching in his palm in a way that hasn’t happened since he was eleven years old, feeling it connect to the magic inside him for the very first time.
“That’s enough,” he says, voice surprisingly steady for someone who just unintentionally cast a Summoning Charm without a wand. “I think you need to leave.”
Genevieve doesn’t answer, setting her half-finished tea to the side and rising gracefully from the table. She leaves without complaint, her head held high, her cloak draped artfully over her arm. “Think on it,” she says at the doorway. “I won’t speak of this to you again.”
Justin slams the door in her face.
In the kitchen, when he finds the strength to go back, the envelope still hisses on the table, smoke curling out from the edges in thick, green tendrils. Justin opens it with shaking hands, thumb sliding under the seal, and with a pop the contents explode over the table; it’s full of money, Muggle money, at least a thousand 100-pound notes spilling across the table, the chairs, the linoleum floor. The tea spills and the smell of it blends in with the money, orange and steam blending with that thick, greasy smell he knows and hates, so much of it he couldn’t possibly count it in one sitting. Justin scoops it up without thinking, pulls the heaps of crisp paper into his arms, and he throws it all into the wastebin he drags from under the kitchen sink.
Justin lights the fire with a match, not his wand; he tosses it in and watches it burn to ash.
At this hour the gardens look like something out of a Van Gogh painting, all verdant fields and pale blue skies; the light slants over the landscape and it brings out the yellows of the wildflowers, the whites in the clouds. Justin leans on his elbow against the balcony railing while his brother lights a cigarette; he can see Pansy through the glass doors leading back to the party with a glass of wine in one hand, his mother standing beside her as they talk with one of his relatives.
“She’s cute,” Richard says around the filter, clicking the lighter until it catches. “What exactly does she see in you?”
Justin rolls his eyes. “Funny,” he drawls, snatching the cigarette out of his brother’s mouth. “Wait a bit with this, yeah? Mum’ll kill the both of us if she catches you with that.”
He pitches it over the side just as Hannah pushes through the balcony doors. “Stop hiding,” she chides him, “Get in and mingle.”
Justin gives her a tired salute but doesn’t move to follow, feeling more exhausted in this moment than he has in weeks. There are very few words outside of “complete and total clusterfuck” that he could use to describe the rehearsal dinner thus far: the majority of Pansy’s family declined to show and so did most of his friends, and the ones that did have done nothing but snipe at Pansy and her schoolmates from the cocktail hour all the way through the main course; Pansy had to ask her maid of honor to leave, Astoria and Draco Malfoy disappearing down a side staircase after the first course to avoid inciting another argument. Pansy’s mother was late arriving and she has spent most of the evening holding court in a corner with her son, while Justin’s parents and his brother have run themselves ragged trying to keep their extended relatives away from the magical side of the guest list.
Justin takes a deep breath and Richard claps him on the back. “Sure you don’t want a fag?” he asks, and Justin shakes his head.
Inside, his and Pansy’s guests are mingling in little groups across the private room the restaurant provided, both sides mainly keeping to themselves with very little overlap. Justin’s mother is steering Pansy around the small space, introducing her to this cousin and that great-uncle, and it takes very little urging before Justin reinserts him into the fray, sidling up to Pansy and beginning to make the introductions himself. His mother and Richard sidetracked by Ernie and Hannah, who are trying to explain the details of Ernie’s new job to one of his cousins without using the word “Portkey” or “Transfiguration.” One of Justin’s aunts compliments Pansy on her dress and Genevieve whispers something in French to her son, who laughs; Justin’s father narrows his eyes at them from his corner of the table, pensively nursing a glass of whiskey as he does.
They decided from the beginning that speeches might be a bad idea, but that doesn’t stop his father from standing to make a brief toast as the evening winds down, inviting the guests to raise a glass to his son and future daughter-in-law. Justin links his fingers through Pansy’s and squeezes as his father wishes them well: a life of patience and faith, good health and good children, and in that moment the weight that’s been filling Justin’s chest these past eight months seems to lift, however briefly, with the emptying of his champagne glass.
The feeling, though, does not last long: Genevieve accepts her glass but mutters darkly to the witches and wizards gathered around her. “Good children? With him as their father, ils seront bâtards,” Genevieve’s comments to her son, “They’ll be mongrels,” loud enough for the table to hear, and before Justin can even process what she said Pansy is on her feet, her glass of champagne shattered on the floor.
“Enough!” she says, voice dropped down to a sibilant hiss, “I have had enough of you. I don’t care what you think of me, but if you ever talk about Justin in that way again, I will not need a wand to rip every single hair out of your head!”
Genevieve’s eyes flash, her face like stone, and Pansy moves to speak again only to be cut off by the resounding crack of her mother’s hand across her face. Pansy stares at her, green eyes wide and full of hurt, the red mark of a handprint blossoming quickly across her pale cheek. The room drops into dead silence, then bursts just as quickly into a roar as Justin’s father launches himself at Pansy’s mother, whiskey-fueled rage pushing him to defend Pansy even as Genevieve grasps blindly for her wand.
Ernie stops her, thank God, as the party devolves around them and Pansy brushes past him, forcing her way out to the balcony, and Justin starts to follow only to be caught at the sleeve by her brother, who holds him by the elbow and keeps him there. “She didn’t mean it,” Arden starts, and Justin shakes himself loose, blood spiking up hot and angry in his veins. Arden blinks at him, hands held up in supplication as Justin tells him to take his mother and leave, but his irritated tirade is short-lived; a fuse lit and then stamped out by an impatient foot.
He is tired of the pureblood mania, the inbred ideals that nearly destroyed that society from within, but above all he is sick of people trying to tell him how to live his life; how he is somehow worth more than Pansy by right of blood and Hogwarts house, that he must be under a curse, doped up on love potions if it means that he’s in love with her. And that’s the biggest joke of all, isn’t it? Neither side will let him forget their differences, but neither side will accept the changes they’ve made, the sacrifices they’ve made for themselves, for each other. Justin doesn’t think he’s ever really felt what real love was until Pansy: she knows him, the good and the bad, and he knows her, and there aren’t any secrets between them, no matter what others might think. They have their troubles; they fight like any other couple, and they work at it then, but everything else with her is just so natural and easy, and she is the first person he wants to see in the mornings and the last one he wants to see at night, and fuck, Justin still isn’t sure how all of this happened but he loves Pansy, he loves her, and he wants to be with her, not anyone else.
Dinner is over; there is no hope of recovering in time for dessert. Richard and Hannah work on escorting the magical guests to their Apparition points while Justin’s parents get hold of the valet. On the balcony, Pansy stands with her back to the glass, wind whipping at her hair as she looks out over the darkening landscape. Her hip pushes against the railing, palm cupping her elbow as she presses a hand to her face, and there is something dark and distant in her eyes Justin hasn’t seen before. She doesn’t flinch when he sets his hand at her waist; Pansy turns so that her face is in profile, leaving just the outline of her high cheekbones, the prominent point of her nose.
He doesn’t ask if she’s alright – there is no honest answer to that question, not right now. He settles on cupping her face in his hands, thumb brushing carefully over her bruised cheek as she finally lifts her gaze to meet his, and her eyes are wet with unshed tears. Justin pulls her to him, arms a firm weight around her as she presses her head into his chest, her breath warm against his skin through the fabric of his shirt.
“I’m here because I want to be,” he tells her, “I don’t want to be anywhere else. You know that, right?”
It’s the truest thing he thinks he’s ever said to her. Pansy nods at his words, sliding her arms around his torso in return. He holds her there for a long moment, her body warm against his as the sun sets beyond them, and neither one of them speaks for a long while.
“Everyone we know is insane,” he says against her hair. “Let’s call it all off and elope.”
Pansy huffs out a laugh at that, leaning back and brushing her fingertips under her eyes, trying to catch any stray tears that might fall. “Too late,” she says, moving up so she can kiss him. “We’ve already paid the caterers.”
the day of
On the day of the wedding Pansy is the picture of serenity in ivory and lace, skin pale as porcelain, her delicate veil set lightly into the careful architecture of her hair. Justin stands at the altar with his groomsmen, Richard and Ernie and Wayne neat and handsome in their pressed grey suits, the four of them waiting opposite Pansy’s line of violet-clad bridesmaids. The organist plays a Chopin tune Justin does not recognize but his mother does, bringing a gloved hand to her mouth to hold back tears when the church doors open one last time, when Pansy crosses the aisle. She has no one to give her away but herself.
Her mother and brother will leave after the ceremony, choosing an earlier Portkey back to France rather than attend the reception; Susan will come to the reception with a gift box under one arm and a grimace on her lips, she will not stay past dinner. Their families will always be difficult to manage, and their friends will never get along, he knows this plain as truth: there is still too much bad blood on both sides, an unwillingness to forgive – forget – the trespasses of the past. But Justin also knows that it doesn’t matter; time heals all wounds, he’s been told, and after this moment they will have nothing but.
Justin loves Pansy fully, intensely – for whatever it is worth, he loves her. She takes his hand when she reaches the altar and he is careful as he pushes back her veil, the officiant’s voice falling into the background as he clasps her hands in his, rubs his thumbs over her knuckles to calm her nerves, calm his own. He smiles when she meets his eyes and it takes a breathless moment for her to smile back, but then it comes, bright and real, and holds.