Disclaimer: If you recognize it it belongs to JKR
Written for the Favourite Couple challenge on HPFC
Prompts: family dinner, pass
"Could you-er-pass the peas please."
Justin could see she was barely restraining herself from rolling her eyes as three people leapt to her 'rescue'. His grandfather managed to catch the tureen before it tipped as his cousin Elton and uncle Geoffrey both dived to relieve her of the burden, Elton managing to place his elbow firmly in the gravy boat.
Susan just looked at her hands, eyes tracing the pattern of burn scars that ran from her missing ring and little finger up her arm and shoulder. The right side of her face was drawn into a permanent and gruesome smile of tightened scar tissue that made eating difficult at the best of times. Which made a dinner with Justin's extended family sheer torture.
Apart from his parents, only his grandfather knew of his magic and the war they had fought. His extended family had simply been told that Susan had been in a car crash, that a maniac driving a petrol tanker had run her family off the road. Both of her parents had perished in the war after the Ministry found them harbouring muggle-borns in their basement, though she couldn't talk about that here. Here her parents died in a hospital she didn't even know the name of along with the truck driver, while she had miraculously survived. This of course had set off Justin's deeply religious Aunt Mary, who had spent an hour talking at Susan about God's miracles and how she must pray every day to give thanks for her life.
"So, dear, what is it you plan on doing with yourself?" Aunt Charlotte asked Susan, drawing the attention away from her gravy-smeared son.
"I'm studying to become a-a doctor," she replied, a glance at Justin to make sure she used the right word. He smiled at her encouragingly, mentally adding up the enormous bunch of flowers and chocolates that he owed her for suffering through this family ritual.
"But you can do that? I mean with your injuries?" Uncle Andrew never mastered the art of subtlety like Justin's father and sisters had.
"Well they don't stop me holding a w- er my tools and things," Susan replied, just managing to tame the waspish tone to her voice.
Justin reached over and covered her clasped hands with one of his. "She wants to pay back the good that they did for her, isn't that right dear?"
Susan caught his look and nodded, smiling awkwardly around her scars. "Yes, and my Uncle was a doctor too, and my Grandmother made healing..well she made.."
Justin felt her fingers tighten around his, a sign of their Legilimancy, and her voice echoed in his head.
Help, what's the word?
Vaccines, he thought back.
"Vaccines," she finished softly.
Justin shot a desperate look at his mother, who quickly announced that pudding was ready if everyone had finished with their mains.
Justin kept hold of her hand as the plates were cleared, and as other conversations rose up around the table he could feel her trembling calm a little. Squeezing to let her know to open her mind, he thought
I'm sorry about all this. Only another hour or so, and they'll all disappear until Christmas.
They'd better she replied, then closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder until they smelled the berry cheesecake.
"So how did you two meet," Uncle Andrew asked through a mouthful of strawberries.
"Through school actually," Justin replied quickly, able to save her this interrogation.
"I thought you attended a public school? Surely they do not have mixed classes?" Aunt Mary jumped in, as though the thought of allowing teenage boys and girls to learn side by side was criminal.
"Of course not," Justin demurred, catching Susan's worried glance and winking to assure her she wasn't going to have to conjure up stories about a mythical ladies school.
"Susan attended the sister school, and they ensured there were a number of events that brought us together. Dances and the arts and so forth. And of course Church"
"Oh," Aunt Mary replied, de-ruffling slightly. "That is quite….proper then."
"Did you meet at a dance?" enquired Justin's youngest cousin Suzette loudly as she licked her spoon.
"Yes actually," he replied, glad that he even had a truthful story to work with now. "In our fourth form the school hosted a wonderful Christmas ball, where we had guests from a school in France too. All the girls wore magnificent dresses and we danced all night."
Judging by the look on Suzette's face, she was busy imagining the scene, earning a chuckle from around the table.
His father took the opportunity to suggest that they retire to the sitting room for coffee and began discussing polo with Elton and Uncle Andrew as they all rose, giving Justin and Susan some peace.
As they waited for the last of his relatives to negotiate the door, Justin wrapped his arm around her shoulders again and murmured, "come on, we can escape the small talk for a while."
"Yes please," she replied as they slipped past the cheerfully lit sitting room and upstairs to the room Susan had been sleeping in whenever she came to visit.
Justin was working on getting her to move in, or to let him move in with her somewhere else, as the thought of her in the tiny flat she lived alone in while she studied for her Healer entrance exams made him miserable. She had said she would consider it once she started her apprenticeship, following the exams in September. He didn't want to wait another two months, but he also didn't want to distract her, or worse lose her.
Now he just curled up with her on the soft bed as they took turns reading from his Sherlock Holmes collection. She was laughing at his character voices when his Mother came to fetch them to farewell the family. It was a start.