Trial By Fire
A HariPo oneshot
Note: The Harry Potter characters belong to J.K. Rowling, not me. This pairing was discovered by me, so please gimme a little mention if you write them! Thanks! It is one of many of Mew and Mor's Weird Pairings, most of which you may find in the M&MWP forum. Check out and join the forum FUN! Read, review, and enjoy! This is a SEQUEL: It follows the fifth Jamestin oneshot, "All We Need Is Now."
For Searlupe, Jo, Jess, Lovisa, and Max. There really isn't enough Jamestin in the world. B3
Also, this is a very long story, so hit the bathroom, grab a snack, and free up a few hours for yourself. You won't be able to stop reading. :]
Justin Finch-Fletchley, professor of Muggle Studies, heaved a sorry sigh, clearly expressing disappointment. "I really don't think Albus likes me."
His husband, James Sirius Potter Finch-Fletchley (try saying that five times fast!), snorted. "Well, yeah, Justin. Keep calling him 'Albus' as no one else does, and things will stay that way."
The remark earned James a short glare, but Justin couldn't stay upset with James for long, and good thing for James, anyway—he hated it whenever they got into fights. It didn't happen often, but the few fights they'd had had been bad enough; they really didn't need anymore. On the other hand, it was quite all right in James' opinion if they had to work as a team to face other obstacles…which it kind of felt as though they'd been doing that for a while. Not only did James' family now know about Justin, but James had married him, and James was still working to get the approval of Justin's two closest friends, Hannah Abbott and Ernie Macmillan, as well. Ernie liked him well enough; Hannah… James would've preferred being locked in a room with his two siblings and all of his cousins for an entire weekend. Yes, that wasn't pretty, but it was probably still a better option than trying to get Hannah's acceptance.
James cleared his throat and sat on the edge of Justin's desk, facing his love. "Jus, don't worry too much about Al. He'll have an acromantula up his bum for a while. I mean…not that Mum's or Dad's reaction was an improvement… Not Lils', either…"
The dark-haired wizard cupped his mouth in his palm. "Yeah, but… I mean, Lily Luna signed up for my class, James."
The eldest Potter raised his eyebrows. "That's the first you told me about it."
"James, the first day of classes was yesterday."
"And so here I am on day two to see what my cousins Freddie and Roxanne have blown up. Which reminds me—Lorcan Scamander was dating Roxie last I knew. Has he joined them in the charades?"
Justin paled. "I'm scared because the twins haven't blown up anything—yet. And I don't know about Scamander. He made Head Boy of Ravenclaw, you know, so he should stay in line."
James frowned. He couldn't believe how little he knew since he was no longer living at home. Sure, he had his own apartment, and Victoire was still in touch with him, but he had set himself aside from the rest of the family, just as Victoire had done after going public with her own relationship with Neville a few years back. Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey rather supported James, too, but Uncle Percy was awfully busy, and it wasn't as though either he or Aunt Audrey could write about every little family going-on to James to keep him in the loop.
"Your other cousins don't act as Albus—Al does around me," the professor corrected. "I bumped into Louis and Hugo in the library—they didn't seem to care. Dominique has been around the castle with Lysander Scamander, but they're always friendly. Lucy doesn't really seem to care, either. The twins are curious like Lily, but Rose seems as though she doesn't know what to make of me now. She and Scorpius Malfoy aren't in my class, either, but…they're Al's best mates. Besides, I don't think she has time to deal with much, since she's still a Gryffindor prefect."
There was a long pause. "…did Al get Head Boy?"
"No, sorry. Malfoy got that for Slytherin. I know Zabini got Head Girl for Gryffindor."
James cracked a tiny smile. "Calytrix Zabini is Al's girlfriend."
Justin winced. "Oh, right…"
"Yeah. So if his big brother coming out to the family wasn't bad enough, he also got to watch his best mate and girlfriend get Head Boy and Head Girl." James pinched the bridge of his nose and released a slow, low hissing sigh. "Agh, dammit… He and I used to be close, Justin."
"I'm sure you'll be close again, someday."
James pulled a face. "It can't really be helped." He reached for Justin's hand and got it, and the warmth was a comfort. "Everyone has to deal with sacrifices—"
"But family should never be sacrificed—"
"—and everyone has challenges to overcome." He looked at Justin, and James removed his glasses before leaning down to kiss his husband. "So Al will just have to hate us for a little while."
Justin pouted. "Can you imagine how much worse it would be if he and Malfoy did have to take my class to become Aurors?"
James chuckled gently. "Aren't you glad I took it as an elective and didn't let anyone tell me otherwise when we realized I didn't need it to become Ollivander's apprentice?"
The older wizard exhaled, some of his stress having evaporated. "Yeah…yeah, I am."
"Well, I've gotta head home. Work tomorrow, you know."
"We may be married, luv, but I still have work." James got off Justin's desk and pecked the top of his head. "I'll see about having a sleepover this weekend or the next, once you've settled in." Despite Justin's further coos that James stay, he left and headed back to his London apartment.
Things were nice and quiet now, the troubles with James' family aside. After getting a week off from work months ago to have a honeymoon with Justin, James had been working diligently at Ollivander's side, and he really did love his job. It was still a nice thought to think that James had landed this apprenticeship right out of Hogwarts…but he hadn't let up. Ollivander had to hire him—and not just because, for once, the next line of Ollivanders didn't want to take over the shop.
But the work done here is too important to let the doors shut, James mused to himself as he worked on a new wand. It was ten inches long, ash, with a dragon-heartstring core. However, the string of the core was thicker than usual, and James was carefully cutting the runic alphabet into the wand's hilt. Since he had passed Ollivander's tests—coming up with combinations and designs and making several prototypes—James was now allowed to make his ideas real, one wand at a time. He still had not had the chance to sell one of his creations, but he knew this line of work required patience. It was just that no witch or wizard had connected with any of his creations…yet.
"How is that one coming along?" Ollivander asked, popping around into the back to check on James.
"Nicely," the younger wizard replied, pausing in his work to give his eyes a rest. He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and put them back on before passing the wand to Ollivander. "I'm halfway done with the runes."
Ollivander nodded appreciatively, narrowing his eyes at the craftsmanship. "Just don't rush things, Mr. Potter. Slow and steady—"
"—wins the race, I know," James finished for him. That was one of the things he had liked to learn about the elderly wandwright. The Muggle fables Harry had read to his children had been nice, but James had never shared those stories with friends and classmates; too many of them were stuck in the Wizarding world and not willing to bridge it with the Muggle one. But Ollivander did know about things that weren't wands. And fables were some of those things.
Ollivander passed the wand back. "Silver knife?"
James shook his head. "No, a present from Justin a long time ago—titanium and steel mixture." He passed that to his mentor for observation. "That actually got me thinking—you know how some gems have different magical properties, too?"
"Mr. Potter, we are not in the business of selling wands to match robes."
"Ah, that's not what I meant…" He paused, thinking how he could describe his idea to Ollivander without making Muggle references that he'd also have to explain. "I mean, diamonds are very sharp and can cut things. There are also other hard semi-precious stones… What about marking some wands with those? Instead of metals?"
Ollivander raised one white eyebrow. "I will admit that I have never heard of such an idea, Mr. Potter."
"But it also sounds quite expensive."
His good mood plummeted. "Well, there is that…"
"Also, have you ever seen blades or picks made from a non-metal material?"
James wanted to pipe up that plastic counted, but plastic was not an abundant—or, rather, widely-used—resource in the Wizarding world. He shook his head.
Ollivander gave him a soft smile. "Perhaps you can look into it in the future, Mr. Potter. But it would be better to focus on the work at-hand for now."
"Yes, Mr. Ollivander." James watched Ollivander return to the counter as some patrons entered the shop, and then he got back to work.
At the end of the day, James packed up and headed to his apartment. Sometimes he mindlessly thought of it as home; sometimes it was just his flat. But it had definitely been a place of refuge since the falling out with his parents. Justin had said nothing about moving in with him, and James didn't mind. He wanted to live on his own for a while, no matter how hard. Besides, he really liked the place, and it was in London, so it was easy to get to and from Diagon Alley.
But the thing to consider is, James thought as he scrounged together something for supper, where will I be a year from now? Two? Three?
It was something that had occurred to him when Ollivander had said almost a year ago that he saw potential in James, that he trusted James. And with no other Ollivander willing to take over the shop after the current owner, James…well, he thought that maybe he'd inherit the place. But that was a pretty big leap. He'd only been working for Ollivander for a little over a year. Besides, he and Justin were just starting in their new lives together…they didn't know where they'd be, what they'd be doing in the future. Though James knew for sure that he'd want to be a wandwright and stay one. No other vocation called to him but this one.
Kind of like how no other person had even called to me but Justin, the wizard thought with a gentle smile on his lips when he fell asleep on the couch.
The first month into the new school year passed without much trouble, and much of October had gone by, as well. Now, on the eve of Halloween, James was…er, haunting the castle.
"…see you at the feast, professor," came McGonagall's brogue as James was about to round the corner to head to Justin's office.
James' heart leapt into his throat as he ducked and hid as he waited for the sound of the witch's footsteps to fade away. After a full minute, James peeked around the corner.
"GAH! Justin…!" The Potter covered his heart with his hand. "Don't scare me like that!"
Justin coughed and quirked an eyebrow. "I see you'll always be sneaking around the castle…"
He stuck out his tongue. "Hey, I don't have Troy and Curt with me to pull any pranks. So be relieved."
"I wasn't, actually," the teacher said, and he looked around before tugging James along down the hall and into his office. With the door shut, he looked at James. "I glimpsed you and panicked. Thank Merlin the headmistress wasn't staying long."
"Did she want something?"
Justin fidgeted where he stood before deciding to go upstairs to his room, James following behind. "Not really. She was just ensuring my presence at the banquet. The usual fare, you know."
"She hasn't said anything, but I think she knows," the teacher stated raising his left hand and pointing to the gold band on his ring finger that matched James'.
James frowned. "Of course she knows something. You wear a ring now, and you didn't before."
"No, James, I think she knows," Justin said. "A few have noticed the ring. Neville congratulated us; you should pay him a visit at some point and thank him. I've not seen Hagrid, though Trelawney already predicted 'great doom' ahead for me and my loved one. Dennis—remember, Professor Creevey? Teaches art and Muggle art and Muggle music?—also congratulated me, even though he incorrectly guessed I must've married Hannah or Susan."
"That would be a sight—that'd be like Dad marrying Aunt Hermione." James shivered. "It'd just never happen."
Justin sighed and sat on his bed. "I don't want to open myself up to scrutiny…that'll open you up to it, too."
The hazel-eyed wizard shrugged. "I guess there's only one answer, then: don't wear your ring."
In a flash, Justin was on his feet and towering over James. "Don't you ever suggest such a thing again!" His voice was tame but stern, and James had never seen him so adamant about something.
"I mean it, James." Justin pushed James' shoulder lightly. "I didn't make a big commitment to you only to act as though nothing ever happened."
"Yeah, but—" James' words were lost, though, as Justin moved his hands down James' arms and grasped James' hands before snogging him. Justin came at him full force, and the tiny room started to feel awfully, uncomfortably warm with just the two of them in it. James' jacket and Justin's cloak fell to the floor, and it was hard to tell the older wizard off when his fingers were toying with the band of James' jeans. But James reluctantly stopped his husband before they went too far. "Hey, hey, hey! Weren't you just told to show up to the Halloween feast?"
"Dammit!" Justin breathed against James' neck. He rested his head in the crook there. "…do I have to go?"
James laughed and hugged him to him. "I'll tell you what—promise to bring some food back, and I'll stay the night since it's a Friday."
Justin perked up immediately. "There are fresh pumpkin tarts in the box beside my desk, by the way."
The Potter gave him a red-faced look. "You little minx…you were planning on getting me to stay the night, weren't you?" He gasped as Justin did a little special…something before grabbing his cloak and adjusting his clothes.
He coughed to try and hide his smirk. "Why, of course not, luv…" But he cruelly left James puddled on the floor, stopping only to peck the top of his head before leaving.
"Git!" But Justin's laughing drowned out James' word.
"I…have missed this," Justin whispered against James' back. Bright light streamed in from the sole window in Justin's room and fell over the bed across their thinly-veiled bodies.
James mumbled in agreement. "The summer's so much better," he said as he shivered. He might have Justin beside him and he might have the sunlight pouring in, but the castle was still made of stone, and stone still kept the place chilly since it took a while to warm up. "I like it when we can be under one roof."
Justin nodded and tightened his arm around James' waist, dragging a hand lazily up and down James' forearm. "I think we should take another honeymoon in Hyannis sometime, but stay there longer." He lifted himself up a little so that he could lock eyes with the other male. "Like, give ourselves an extended vacation."
"That sounds nice…but we should save it for summer. We can savor it more that way," James stated, and he nudged Justin back down so that they could snuggle. "I don't want to do that over Christmas break. There's not enough time for it. Same goes for the Easter holiday."
For a few minutes, the two of them lay there, listening to the far-off screeches of birds and thestrals alike. A wind was blowing by, rustling the top of the Forbidden Forest, and it was bringing a chill with it. The first snow would probably happen soon since it'd been quite cold lately.
James glanced up at Justin's face, glad he was near-sighted. That way, he could still see his lover's features up close even without his glasses.
"What are you going to do about Christmas?"
James closed his eyes, burning the image of a musing Justin into the backs of his eyelids. Of course the changing weather and talk of vacation would bring up this topic. "To be honest, I don't really know."
"But your family—"
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't care," the hazel-eyed youth answered. "I do care. More than I probably should, considering I was albeit shunned. But…" He turned his face towards Justin's chest and kissed the skin that was only a bit lighter than his. "You're my family now, too, Justin."
Justin tried to hide his slight, sappy grin but failed miserably. He craned his neck so that his lips were near James' forehead. "I love you, too, James."
It made the wandwright beam. "So…my family aside, you don't think Hannah and Ernie might invite us to spend Christmas with them?"
"Ha! That's a laugh… If it were just me, maybe. Hannah still needs time to get used to you…"
"Mhmm… Maybe you should ask Neville what he and Vic are doing. Knowing Neville, he might accidentally invite us to join them."
"And then your cousin would kill you."
"No, she wouldn't. I think she likes having someone in a position similar to hers…we just can't resist falling for our teachers. You know, I haven't stopped by Malkin's for a while—maybe I should pop in and say something to Victoire instead of you leading Neville."
"Oh, James, Victoire's too smart for her own good. You know she'll catch on."
"I'm hoping she does. Besides, it's not as though Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey can have us; they'll be at the Burrow with the rest of the lot." James thought a moment. "Hmm…Troy and Curt got a place over the summer, but I think they're going home… Well, what if Troy's or Curt's parents extend an invitation?"
"Because that's a brilliant idea." Justin sighed. "I can just picture it now—Seamus looking awfully confused, Lavender trying to determine if she's disgusted or amused, and Troy escaping the room with you. Or, at Curtis' house, Lee trying to be painfully polite and Marietta being…well, Marietta, and Curtis and his sister escaping the room with you." He rolled his eyes. "There's only one way for either scenario to end."
James chuckled. "Well, that's if Troy doesn't have Auror training too often over the break, though Curt should have off from Cannons practice, I'm sure." His chuckles faded and he sat up. "Why don't we grab something to eat from Hogsmeade?"
"That sounds like the first good idea either of us have had this morning."
They showered (with a few delays) and dressed, being careful to remain inconspicuous as they left the castle. Thankfully, most of the students were either still in bed or eating breakfast in the Great Hall. Heading into the courtyard, Justin stopped short and James was two steps ahead before he realized Justin had halted. "What's wrong?"
James looking where Justin was staring—and he suddenly felt a lot colder than the castle had left him feeling thirty minutes ago. Lily Luna had been passing through with her own friends, but she'd stopped when she'd seen them. At first she'd been staring back at the professor; but now she was looking at her brother.
And James had no idea what to do.
He'd had no interaction with his siblings or parents since last Christmas. Until now. But what did he say? What did he do? He couldn't just go up to her and say, "Hiya, sis, how's fifth year been treating you? Still trying to deny that your O.W.L.s are putting you on Uncle Charlie's dragon-taming path? Still have that crush on Teddy? Well, it's been nice visiting!" Hell, he couldn't even say, "Hi, Lily, nice to see you again."
But perhaps he didn't have to say anything. Lily's stunned expression slowly morphed, and the lips that had been held in a straight line slowly crumbled upward. It was a weak, small smile, but it was still a smile. She moved her arm, too, pausing as though hesitating…but she eventually waved, and it seemed more willing and not as forced the longer she moved her open palm back and forth, left and right.
It was a sight to melt the brother's heart, and he returned her smile and wave in kind, even though he said nothing, as well. Seeing that, Lily nodded to them both and jogged to catch up with her friends. James' chest didn't feel as tight anymore.
"Even if your holiday plans don't change…this definitely makes today brighter," Justin said as he pulled James along by the hand.
And James couldn't agree more.
Just because Lily had smiled and waved didn't mean the brother and sister suddenly were going to start exchanging letters. But things really did begin to look up, and Justin told him that Lily seemed more attentive in class and more interested in Justin. It appeared that she wanted, genuinely wanted to better learn about the man her big brother loved.
It was a step in the right direction, James and Justin assumed. If Lily could come around to the idea of them, then Ginny probably would. It was still a toss-up between Harry or Al falling after that, though James had a feeling that Harry, despite his temper, would cave to his wife, and Al would remain the sole opposition to them. How long Al would be opposed and stay on the outs with his brother, James hadn't a clue. They likely could go for years. After all, James had dropped Quidditch after third year, when Al had taken it up, and Al still hadn't forgiven him for that. The point was that a grudge between those two brothers had staying power.
The topic, however, didn't come up when James meandered up Diagon Alley into Madam Malkin's on a lunch break in mid-November. Malkin was out, it appeared, but Victoire was folding some cloth at the counter. "Hey, Vic."
Victoire looked at him as though she was looking over spectacles, but she didn't wear any. "Hello, James."
He groaned. "I know I said we'd catch lunch more often since I'm at Ollivander's, but I've…"
James gave his eldest cousin a sheepish look. "Well, yeah."
Victoire sighed. "Sorry, James, I can't help being snippy. I've been on the outs with Neville recently and I suppose I'm just agitated."
"Oh." He watched her leave the counter and grab a manikin from the window to change. "That's odd. You two don't often fight."
"On the contrary, we bicker a lot. It's just that few see that." Victoire gathered her hair up and pinned it into a bun before disrobing the display figure.
"Does that mean you don't want to grab lunch with me?"
"I'm not very hungry at the moment, thanks," she replied. She paused when she realized that might've sounded mean. "Sorry, sorry—the agitation coming through again. Though I really don't think I'm hungry."
James dismissed it. "Then just take a break."
Victoire nodded and closed the shop for a bit so she and James could sit in the window and watch the passers-by. "How are things with you and Justin?" she asked.
"Pretty great, actually."
"You never did tell me about that honeymoon…I'm so jealous."
"Well, it was lovely, but—Vic?"
James couldn't go on when Vic looked so miserable. "I really am jealous."
"Victoire, what the…?"
"It's the bed sheets!" she blurted out of nowhere. She stood and got away from the window as James gaped at her. "It's the bed sheets and he just won't listen…!"
James, befuddled as hell, closed his open mouth and went to her side, but he didn't dare touch her. He'd seen her when they'd been younger and she and Teddy had finally broken up. He'd seen her when they'd been children and Dominique had shattered Victoire's favorite pair of earrings. He'd seen her when the last treacle tart had been eaten at the Burrow and she hadn't gotten to it first. In short—no one was safe near a pissed Victoire Apolline Weasley.
She snarled at nothing in particular as her eyes became blotchy. "I wanted to change them to beige or auburn for the season, and he just bloody refuses to let me do so, even though he's at the castle almost all the time. He just won't let me put anything other than those damned blue sheets on the bed!"
He wanted to point out that they were just sheets, but he felt pretty sure that he'd be cursed or hexed if he said it. He also had to wonder if it was a mere squabble they were having or what.
Victoire huffed and looked at him. "Oh, who am I kidding…? It's not just sheets. It's that he's adamant about the tiniest things but yielding on the big ones." She sniffled.
"Wait, Vic…you're not just agitated with Neville. Are things really all right with you two?"
She bit her lower lip and pulled a face. "I dunno… I did get jealous, with you marrying Justin… When Neville and I got back home with Frankie from vacation and Frankie was with his mother, I asked Neville what he thought of it all. We talked about marriage and he was all, 'Yeah, it's a big step, but we'll probably do it someday.'"
James found himself gaping at her again. "Wait, so he—"
"And I flipped out on him for mentioning it so casually," she continued as though she hadn't been interrupted. "And then we just…" Victoire deflated. "It's just been the little things adding up."
"And you're not even married yet."
Victoire shot him a look. "Shut it, Mr. Happily-Married."
He shook his head. "It's not like that, Vic. You don't just get married and make everything perfect. Truth be told, Justin and I are the same as before—we just wear rings now. I suppose we've grown a bit closer, too, but we're still us."
"Well, now I'm wondering if this is what it will be like in the future for Neville and me…" Victoire Summoned a glass of water and gulped it down, drying her eyes and fixing her makeup, as well. "I'm so sorry, James. You came here to get me to take a break."
"Are you hungry now?"
The strawberry-blonde smirked. "No. And I shouldn't keep you from your lunch break any longer." She blinked, realizing something. "Did you only come for lunch, James?"
"What is it?"
The Potter panicked. "No, no, you were right. I just wanted to catch lunch with you, Vic. But it's all right—we can do this another time."
"Are you sure?"
"Yup." He headed for the door before the foolhardy Gryffindor in him (or was it just the Potter or Weasley blood in him?) made him bring up Christmas plans. He waved over his shoulder. "Later, Victoire."
No sooner had he closed the door than he dashed up the street, his eyes still fixed on the door to Madam Malkin's. He still couldn't believe Victoire and Neville were having troubles—"Oof!" As he hadn't been paying attention to where he'd been going, James had crashed into a very tall, very large someone.
And it was someone that, despite working in the same area for a while, James had managed to avoid seeing for more than a year.
Teddy had not been away. Teddy hadn't moved. Teddy hadn't changed jobs. Teddy was still Harry's right-hand man in the Auror Office. Teddy was…
Well, he was right before James, at the moment.
"James?" Teddy said with just as much surprise.
"I… I—" James blinked several times in rapid succession. He still couldn't believe his eyes. Things had been so busy at Ollivander's that he rarely left the shop except to grab lunch sometimes at the Leaky Cauldron, much to Hannah's chagrin. But with the move into his own apartment, work, the drama with his family and seeing Justin, James realized he had managed somehow to miss seeing his god brother despite being in such close quarters. So he reacted on instinct and embraced the older man. "My Godric! Teddy!"
The Metamorphmagus laughed and clapped the brunette on the back. "I should be the one saying that! Where the hell have you been, James?"
The smile on James' face faltered, and he stared at Teddy in confusion. "Uh, mate…I know you weren't in the room when it happened, but surely…someone told you?"
Teddy's happy expression diminished, too. "…yeah." He squinted. "But Finch-Fletchley?"
James nodded and rubbed the back of his neck nervously with his left hand. "Please don't start, though. I already heard plenty from my family."
The turquoise-haired man grabbed his wrist. "Wha…? James, that's a ring!"
The Potter sighed. "I guess this still hasn't reached Mum and Dad, then."
Teddy gave him a long look. "I feel as though there's a whole lot more to the story than Lily let on, James."
"What did she tell you?"
"At first, the summary. But she gave up bits and pieces after a few months. She's only recently started to open up about it." He straightened his travel cloak. "She's pretty curious about you and Finch-Fletchley, actually—but you didn't hear that from me."
James grinned. "Of course not."
Teddy whistled, still as stunned as James was. "I can't exactly talk right now—I was just getting back to the office. You want to grab a drink sometime?"
"We do need to catch up… Sunday?"
"Eh…I was going to fly up to Scotland…"
"Surely Finch-Fletchley could understand one day without you."
James nodded. "How about Saturday night? That way I can see both of you that day."
Teddy laughed. "You're the same as ever, James—you've got to have everything your way." He ruffled James' hair, making the shorter man a bit disgruntled.
"Oh, get back you work, you git."
Teddy nodded and continued on his merry way. "Will do. And remember, Saturday night—you, me, and firewhiskey as you tell me why I missed out on a year of your life, you arse!"
"Wanker!" James called after him. He blushed in embarrassment at the disapproving looks he got from some of the other witches and wizards on the busy street, but he headed right back to work and thought about the coming weekend.
When it did arrive, James spent a brief morning with Justin walking around the Forbidden Forest and the Black Lake. "So you're saying you'll be with Teddy later?"
James nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, yeah… Hey, could you do a Heating Charm? … Thanks. But yeah. I haven't seen him in forever, Justin."
Justin didn't pout; he definitely frowned. "…can you at least come up tomorrow?"
"Of course." They stopped at the edge of the lake and James faced his husband and went to kiss him. But Justin turned at the last second, and James caught his cheek instead of his lips. "Jus?"
The professor continued to frown. "Sorry. It's nothing. Just something that's been niggling in the back of my mind."
"What is it?"
"It's nothing at all, so let's head back, okay?"
James cleared his throat as they trekked back up the crunching ground. "Justin, I'd like to remind you that the last time something bothered you and you tried to dismiss it, it turned out your Patronus was changing because you realized how deeply you loved me." He stopped the taller male so they could be eye-to-eye. "Is it that kind of 'nothing,' luv?"
Justin took a deep breath and exhaled. "No, it's not." They continued back to the castle, where they parted by the stone circle. "But now that my day's freed up, it makes me wish my computer would work in the castle. I could probably beat my Minesweeper score while you're out…"
"Still, one of these days, you've got to teach me how to use that thing."
With a quick goodbye, James mounted his Zephyr Flyght and sped south back to London. He met Teddy outside the Ministry of Magic, and instead of going to the Leaky Cauldron, Teddy suggested they venture out into Muggle London for a change of scenery. "It gets a little stuffy sometimes, in the Leaky Cauldron," he confessed.
James smirked. "What would you pay me so that I wouldn't tell Hannah that?" Teddy gave him a look that made him laugh.
After they were seated in a tiny coffee shop a block away from a big bank, Teddy stared at James. "All right," he said. "I want the full story, flat-out. Nothing held back. …okay, perhaps some things withheld, but you know what I mean, James."
The younger man pursed his lips. "You really want it?"
"How can I form an opinion without knowing the whole story?"
The words lightened James' heart. If only his parents—if only Ginny alone had said the same thing to her son, then things could've been so different. But at least Teddy was asking. And so James told him. He told him everything. It felt so odd to give a synopsis of almost three years, but it…it was nice. The only person who listened to James like this was Justin, but it was a pleasant change to talk so freely with someone with whom he was not in love. Yes, Troy and Curt were his best friends, but James felt as though he really was an adult, talking to Teddy. Teddy, the Auror. Teddy, the eldest of their generation. Teddy, the dependable one. Teddy, his god brother. Teddy, his idol.
It occurred to James that it might've been nice to fancy Teddy once upon a time…but he just couldn't picture it. Despite the age gap, James knew Teddy would be a part of Lily's future, no one else's. Just as Justin was James' future, and no one else's.
But James had never had the chance to consider fancying Teddy, or fancying any other blokes. He'd had only a handful of girlfriends before remaining single for a while. Then he'd befriended Justin. There'd been no turning back from that. Justin's friendship, their relationship, their magic, their ups and their downs, their trials… James hadn't felt before just how cathartic it could be to recount the past.
"So let me get this straight," Teddy said once James finished. "You're telling me that you stood up to your dad and mum and didn't even spend Christmas at least at the Burrow last year? And you didn't just marry him, but you two had a handfasting ceremony, which is something like a marital Unbreakable Vow? And only Percy, Audrey, and Victoire in the family know?"
"Well, I think Lily has a hint, and maybe the others haven't exactly been checking Justin's ring finger…," the wandwright interrupted.
Teddy held up a hand and placed his coffee cup, empty, back on the table; James' remained full but cold. "And, you're telling me, this man's Patronus…changed for you?"
"It was a scary thing, but once he figured it out and told me… Yes."
There was something soft and sad and sweet all at once in Teddy's eyes. Had anyone walked up to them then, James would've kicked him, because the color of the Metamorphmagus' eyes kept shifting, though his hair had been straight broomstick brown since they'd left Wizarding London.
He seemed to snap out of his reverie, but he picked up his empty cup as though he was about to take another sip. "Sorry, James… It's just—my parents. My mum's love was so profound for my father that her Patronus changed, too—it became a werewolf." He stared out the window for a second. "Uncle Harry told me that."
Silence settled between them, for James had never been sure how to talk about Remus and Tonks with Teddy. But maybe it was for the best, because Teddy had spoken less and less of them as he'd matured, though his tone had turned more reverent.
"I didn't mean to take the focus off you," the Auror suddenly stated. He covertly tapped his wand to his cup and conjured water, which he drank in one gulp. Putting the cup back down, Teddy cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair. "I'm just…I'm impressed, James. I honestly thought Al would be the first of you three to marry, and then Lily. I didn't exactly see you as the settling type."
James shrugged. "I'm still plenty fidgety about stuff—comes from years of pranks with Troy and Curt—but there's something about Justin that slows me down and calms me." He thought. "It's kind of as though I didn't see the whole world picture before. Now I do." He glanced sheepishly at his god brother. "That sounds terribly mushy, doesn't it?"
Teddy grinned broadly, a grin reminiscent of a younger Uncle George. "Terribly."
"If only my parents had let me talk…"
The older man shook his head. "Even if you had told them everything right away, they still would've been upset. Parents need time to cope with major changes in their kids' lives. Remember when Victoire moved into Neville's place, what, seven years ago now? Bill nearly killed Neville and Fleur and Victoire didn't speak for four whole months; Dominique acted as a liaison between her sister and their parents."
"Four months is not as long as nearly twelve."
"True, but I think you'll get the chance to be heard soon. I can't believe the lot of you haven't spoken for this long…but I don't think it can last." He raised his eyebrows. "Especially not with Lils coming around. And—"
"And?" James prompted, hopeful.
"—not with me behind you guys." Teddy paused and got this twitch in his eye. "Oh—oh Godric, I really have to be careful what I say now…that came out completely wrong…!"
A red-faced Teddy covered his face with his hand as James laughed heartily. Yeah, it was hard, missing moments like these with family. But James had to agree with Teddy, that he probably wouldn't miss too many more.
After binging on pastries and mini sundaes in the coffee shop while tossing around old stories and letting Teddy fill James in on what had been going on with him—"Still have Death Eater wannabes, even almost thirty years later," the Auror groused—the two wizards got some firewhiskey at the Leaky Cauldron anyway to finish off the night. Thankfully, Hannah was there to limit them.
Teddy walked James back to his apartment. At the door, he ruffled James' hair as he'd done earlier in the week, but he laughed when James gave him a look. "What? You can't deny me that. I've always done that."
"Prat. I'm a grown man now, Teddy," James said. He stuck his tongue out for good measure.
"Yeah…yeah, I know, James, I know." He smiled warmly. "I want to meet Finch—er, Justin formally, though. Maybe over Christmas break. Because no way in hell can I ever see him as just the Hufflepuff Head anymore." He sighed and hugged James tightly to him, not letting go. "He better know just how lucky he is, Jim-Jam."
James blushed as hard as Teddy had earlier. Hearing "Jim-Jam" in a way drove home how much things had changed for James, because the nickname had been a childhood memory that he'd forced Teddy to surrender once James had hit his teens. But he didn't begrudge Teddy using it now; it showed how much he cared. James looked up at Teddy and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Teddy. He knows."
Teddy nodded and let him go. "'Night, James."
"'Night, Teddy." James waved at the retreating figure. Inside his flat, though, he thought about how great the night had been. He wished he hadn't lost time with Teddy like that—but Teddy had shown that, essentially, no time had been lost between them. Thinking on how comfortable it was to talk with his god brother, James went to bed that night with one thought: His cheeriness makes me want to see Justin.
Of course, the following morning James did see Justin. He told him how the night had gone with Teddy, but Justin frowned throughout James' story.
"Aren't you happy? We've got another person on our side," James said. He helped Justin straighten out some of his class papers.
"Yes, but…agh, it's nothing."
James poked him in the side. "You know, I never told you before, but you sometimes remind me of Teddy. When you smile, that is."
Justin's expression was one of uncertainty. "You're telling me now that I remind you of Teddy?"
"Yeah, which is big praise, luv. Growing up, I hoped to be him. He always seemed the life of the party. But he also had the love and respect from Mum and Dad that I wished I had." The wandwright snorted. "Of course, he earned it."
The teacher's features softened, and he drew James to him, taking the papers from his hands and putting them aside. "It's one thing to earn respect, but you shouldn't have to earn love, James. And they do love you."
"I know," James said, though he knew he sounded bitter. He looked at his love over the tops of his glasses. "But while family may love you, they don't always have to like you."
"True." Justin pulled James into his lap even though it was a gesture James often found embarrassing, though he didn't seem to mind today. "But, to like you, they have to know things."
"Yeah. Teddy said things might change once Mum and Dad have a chance to see my point of view."
Was it James' imagination, or did Justin frown again at the mention of Teddy? He said nothing about it, however. Instead, he continued, "It's important for parents to know things."
"Well, yeah…but… Justin, are you getting at something?"
Justin didn't look comfortable at all as he tightened his arms around James' waist. "Um…James… When you were out yesterday…"
"I got a letter."
James was taken aback. A while ago, Justin had showed him the mailbox he had in his room at the castle. It was spelled so that any mail Justin received at his Muggle home was magically delivered to Justin's room at Hogwarts when the box on the Muggle end had its door shut. Mostly Justin got junk mail, just like any other Muggle; important things tended to come by owl. "And?"
"From my parents."
The Muggle Studies professor groaned and buried his face in James' sweater. "You know, James, you could be a little apprehensive."
"Why? I mean, you've stayed in contact. You call them on the…er, telephone…?"
"Yes, I call them on the telephone. But they don't want a chat. It's almost holidays." He mumbled something into James' shoulder.
James rubbed his temple in frustration. "Repeat that, please."
"They. Want. To visit."
"Oh, bloody hell. And they want to meet me, don't they?"
The Potter cocked his head to one side. "Justin. They do know about me, don't they?"
"Not even after the honeymoon? You've had loads of time to say something!"
Justin emitted a tiny, pitiful noise from the back of his throat. "But, things were so nice for us…and you and Hannah already don't get along very well and you've still lots of stuff on your plate…"
James' heart sank. "You think they won't like me."
"I didn't say that!"
"Then why didn't it even come up in a conversation with them? 'Hey, Mum, Dad, I have someone for you to meet.' You didn't have to tell them immediately that you wanted them to meet your husband, but you could've said something!"
The older man growled. "That's something, coming from you, James—look at what happened to you."
"But you're not me!"
"But I can still be scared!" James had never seen it before: Justin, utterly shaken, petrified. Weak. Scared. It made James feel scared, too.
But…he couldn't be scared. When he'd been scared, Justin had been there for him. Obviously Justin needed James' Gryffindor courage now.
Justin shook his head, and his grip on his lover loosened. "I'm sorry… I simply don't want your experience."
"You won't have it." James said it half with confidence; the other half was insanity. Love, however, moved his arms around Justin as he added, "You can't be the only person around here holding up the other. A relationship, a marriage is about working together. You've always been there for me. I didn't even have to think to know I'll be there for you, Jus."
"They're my parents, James."
"I know, luv," he said, kissing the top of Justin's head. "But if they're anything like you, they're bound to love me, too."
The rest of November pranced by like a unicorn, and December trotted in like a centaur. It was not helped by the looming fact that James and Justin would have to meet with Justin's parents around Christmas.
There was no telling what to expect. Would it be a brief meet 'n greet? Would they be staying at Justin's place? Would they like him? Would they hate him?
Would they at least get along?
"Sucks to be you," Hannah remarked with a tiny smirk after James had walked in from the cold. He'd mentioned it to her during one of his lunches, as Justin had been busy with pre-break exams.
"If you say 'I told you so,' I will most certainly hex you, and Ernie won't stop me."
Hannah narrowed her eyes at him, appearing ready to spit venom. But she didn't. "Ernie's working. And I can handle you easily."
"Right, right… You D.A. lot had my father's guidance…" James rolled his eyes. "But can't you at least cut me some slack for once, Abbott? I'm likely to meet my doom next week."
"No can do, Potter. If I relent, then you'll go all soft and won't be able to handle meeting Justin's parents." She feigned a sympathetic smile. "I do hope you survive."
James scowled. "You know, I'm glad you didn't invite us to spend the holiday. It'd be wasted trying to figure out why in the hell you're still friends with Justin and how Ernie can still stand you."
His words were a bit too much. Hannah looked affronted, sure, but she was also genuinely hurt, and though she stuck out her chin defiantly, her eyes were lightly glassy. "You could say I'm loyal to a fault," the witch stated jaggedly.
The wizard bit back another retort; he really could do without worsening things between the two of them. "Hannah, I'm sorry…"
"No, you're not."
"No, but I am half sincere." He shook his head. "Look, can we please call a truce? Maybe for the time being that his parents are around?"
Hannah sniffed as if she'd just smelled a troll.
James wanted to roll his eyes at her again, but he resisted the temptation. Hannah was not exactly offering him help, but she was, in the least, offering no hindrances. "So," he said, hoping to get her in a better mood. "You've met his parents, haven't you? What are they like?"
The eerie smile that appeared on the blonde's face gave him the chills. "Have you seen pictures of them?"
"A few… Tiny ones from the late nineties, when those mini cameras were the fad. But you've been to Justin's house; you know he's no interior decorator."
Hannah did chuckle at that, though she hid her amusement with a cough. "His father's tall, very tall—he's why Justin's so tall. And his father uses that presence to control the flow of the conversation. He's intimidating…"
James swallowed the nervous lump in his throat. "Oh?"
"…as intimidating as a stuffed rabbit." Hannah snorted. "Mr. Finch-Fletchley's a kidder. You won't have to worry with him. And Mrs. Finch-Fletchley…well, she does love the double-barreled surname. She uses it all the time."
He nodded. That made some sense. After all, Justin was from an upper class family that had made its living in old family money earned in the financial district. Justin had told him that both his father's side and his mother's side of the family had been traditionally wealthy; when Justin's parents had married, it had been like two money gods coming together. Technically neither one of them had to work, but they both did to stay busy, to have something to do. Justin had always described them as near-workaholics—they loved to work, but they were there at the end of the day and whenever Justin needed them. Nearly. James still had no idea why Justin hadn't used any of the summertime even to have a cuppa with one of them.
"But his parents always treated me, Ernie, Sue, and Zach really well, as though we were just part of the family. They've always been like that." Hannah paused. "Of course…"
"Of course what?"
"Well, I can't say I've seen them in recent years. Following the war, everyone seemed to grow closer to their families and one another's families." Hannah shrugged. "But decades have passed. People see each other less and less. There's not really a need to, you know?"
James furrowed his brow. "That doesn't sound right. If people only come together when tragedy strikes, then too many regrets will pile up, too many unsaid things." He shook his head. "My family has a history with that kind of thing."
Hannah grabbed a glass and cleaned it with a cloth, the Muggle way. "…sorry. Sometimes I forget that Harry's one of us." When James looked at her, she explained. "It always felt as though his troubles were beyond us, happening like a show before us. Not actually real, you know? As if someone couldn't possibly suffer that much as a baby, then as a child, then as a teen forced to become an adult so quickly." She shook her head. "'Course, then I think about losing my mum and reality sinks in." The witch put down the glass and did something James would've never seen coming—she reached over the counter and patted his hand. "Sometimes I envy you, James, knowing that the worst thing that's happened to you so far is the fight with your parents. But at least they're still around to fight with you."
He had no idea what to say. Eventually he settled with a nod, and she retracted her hand and grinned.
"Anyway…speaking of being alive or dead—care to make a wager as to whether you'll survive the Christmas break?"
James groaned. "I'd rather not."
Three days before Christmas, James locked up the store and pocketed the keys. It had been Ollivander's present to him, loaning James the store keys. As James had insisted that the elderly wandwright take an earlier vacation by a few days, Ollivander had agreed as long as James had promised to finish out the couple of following workdays before the break. "But understand, Mr. Potter, that I will want my keys back." Though James knew he meant it, Ollivander had said those words with a playful glint in his eyes, hinting at something at which James could only guess. Besides, he was too focused on wondering when Ollivander might stop calling him "Mr. Potter"—if he ever did.
Out on the street, it was snowing again, and James tightened his scarf—the one he'd gotten last Christmas from Justin, Justin's old Hufflepuff scarf—around his neck. He made his way up Diagon Alley as a shock of blue caught his attention.
"You weren't thinking of not saying hello, were you?" Teddy called out to him.
James grinned and jogged to catch up with him. "You weren't thinking of skipping out on your Auror watch, were you?"
Teddy stuck his tongue out at him as though they were still kids. "Brat. I'll have you know that I'm one of the lucky few who gets to go home early this year."
"Nice. How'd you swing that?"
Teddy pursed his lips. "Uh, well… Lily said something about the dinner table being empty…"
James' face fell. "Oh." He hadn't been expecting a response like that. He dropped his eyes to the white-covered ground. "Yeah, I see."
"I'm not replacing you, James," the Metamorphmagus hurriedly added. "Grandma Meda's tagging along, too."
"It's okay, Teddy. I've got another family to worry about, so don't stress, really."
"Sorry… But—" He raised his eyebrows.
"Justin's parents. I get to meet them!" he said with mock-cheer. He grunted. "They're staying for the holidays."
His god brother winced. "Yowch…do they know they're meeting you?"
"Unless Justin has sent them a letter without my knowledge, no. Speak of the devil—" Up ahead, at the entryway to the Leaky Cauldron, Justin stood waiting to meet James, and James' mood brightened so much that he grinned again.
Teddy snickered. "Aha, so that's his kind of magic."
"What d'you mean?"
"You look like a sappy old fool, you old fool," Teddy teased with a laugh, and as they drew near, Justin took his hands out of his pockets.
"Can't say I was expecting to meet you again and under these circumstances, Lupin," Justin said, shaking Teddy's hand.
"Agreed, professor," Teddy remarked. "You didn't tell me your hubby was picking you up," he said to James.
"You didn't give me the chance," the hazel-eyed youth stated. He blushed as Justin wrapped an arm around his waist, a bit tighter than normal.
"And please don't call me 'Lupin,'" Teddy said. "You make it sound as though I'm about to get a detention."
James laughed, but Justin merely grinned. "Why? Did you misbehave?"
James looked at Justin, wholly understanding what was happening. "Uh, Justin, why don't we head—"
"Well, it is hard to be an angel when you've got James around," the Auror said, completely missing the subtext that had entered the conversation. "But I promise I've been good." He eyed Justin. "Nice ring, professor."
"Oookay!" James interrupted. "You know, I'd love for the two of you to have a drink sometime, but we really can't right now. 'Cause Justin and I have…got this thing…"
Justin looked at him oddly. "A thing? We do?"
"Yes, Jus, the thing," James emphasized with a pointed look. He turned back to Teddy. "Well, happy Christmas, mate! Keep my seat warm for me at the dinner table—I don't plan on letting another James-less Christmas happen next year!" The Gryffindor ushered his husband into the Leaky Cauldron, Teddy waving and wishing them the same as they disappeared into the establishment.
Justin continued to look at him funnily. "What was that about?"
James quirked an eyebrow. Sometimes Justin's gullibility still amazed him. "Obviously we don't have any thing planned, Justin."
"But you and I have got to talk." He led the way to the Muggle street, and they walked for a while, as James hoped Justin would cool his head. Without a word exchanged between them, they walked to James' flat.
"I don't really have anything to say," the teacher fibbed as he stood and watched James grab a few things for staying at Justin's house. At least they'd decided that there'd be no running away from things this year; James and Justin's parents would be under one roof come hell or high water.
"Then what was that about?"
"…what was what about?"
"I swear to Merlin—Justin Samuel Finch-Fletchley, stop being jealous of my god brother!"
"I'm not jealous!" But even as he said it, Justin huffed, and his cheeks puffed out like a hamster's in frustration.
James stared at him. "I know you're affectionate and I know you like being ourselves in public. But that was a marking-your-territory arm around my waist just now."
Justin pouted. "No, it wasn't."
The professor huffed again. "You just seem to see the world through Teddy-colored glasses, is all."
James raised an eyebrow again. "You've got to be kidding."
"No, I'm not! Ever since you bumped into Teddy last month, every other sentence of yours includes his name. Not to mention that you even told me I remind you of him."
"First off, I only said you do sometimes, when you smile. You look younger and happier—a lot like Teddy's age. That's all I meant."
"You're Patronus is a bear, James."
The teacher blushed. "C'mon! Do I have to point it out to you? A teddy bear?"
James blushed, but he didn't back down. "Justin…maybe that's Teddy's influence. But I'm not in love with him—never have been and never will be."
Justin's breathing was uneven as though he was panicking. "But you're so close to him and—"
"He's like a brother but without all the annoyances," James said. "Don't forget that I'm the oldest of three siblings. And I've told you that I've always looked up to Teddy, anyway." He looked at the Hufflepuff. "What's gotten into you, luv?"
The taller man shook his head and bit his lip. "I think I've been in withdrawal."
"And I really couldn't stand another minute without you," Justin said. He shook his head as though he'd narrowly avoided heartbreak, and he grabbed the rucksack from his lover's hand, dropping it on the ground. He really didn't want another minute without him.
For the first time in a while, James woke up sore. And that was only due in part to having slept on the floor of his living room with Justin's arm under him.
He picked his head up and glanced over his shoulder. Justin was snoring softly. It made James smile to see him so peaceful; not only did Justin's snoring not wake but reassure him, but it was something that (though he might not readily admit it) James found endearing.
He tore his eyes from Justin and put on his glasses…and then he realized it was morning. "Oh, shit."
That woke Justin. "Hmm? Mornin'…"
"Yeah, good morning, luv," James said, squirming out of his husband's reach. "Um, Justin, we should probably be at your house by now…"
"'S okay… Mum and Father were coming later today."
"Yeah? How much later today?"
Justin ran a hand over his face, blinked the grogginess from his eyes, and finally looked around him. "Oh, crap. What time is it?"
"Time for us to get our butts in gear and hightail it to your place!"
It was a mad dash to leave James' flat and head to Justin's home. They flew part of the way there to save time, but they had to walk the rest of the way since Justin lived in a mainly Muggle residential area. That didn't bother James, though it was sometimes a pain in the arse when he just wanted to fly right up to Justin's front door.
Luckily, no one was standing outside ready to greet them, so the couple took a minute inside to catch their breath.
"Well." Justin exchanged a look with James. "We really have bad timing sometimes with our nights, don't we?"
James laughed. "Oh, Jus… But are we at least settled with the Teddy issue?"
Justin Frenched him and rested his forehead against James'. "Utterly settled."
Then someone knocked on the door.
James froze, as did Justin. "Um…I think they're early," James whispered.
Justin nodded, appearing equally frightened. "My parents always did have impeccable timing."
"Like sending that letter when I was out."
The teacher nodded and swallowed a lump in his throat. "Well, uh…I have to get it."
James bit his bottom lip. "No, we should. Together. Let's let them in." Though he said that, each step he took beside Justin to the door felt leaden. No, that wasn't quite right. It felt as though he had a hard time pulling his feet from the floor, as though the floor was made of some incredible muck off the floor of the Forbidden Forest. As painful as it was, though, they were quickly at the door. And suddenly James' presumed doom was thrown at him as Justin yanked open the door.
"Mum. Father. Ahaha…well, welcome."
Not that James was expecting anything spectacular from Justin, but that greeting really could've gone better. With the door hanging open, James finally saw two people who looked like a version of the parents Justin had shown him in old photos. On the right was Justin's mother. She was shorter than James, about Ginny's height, with smooth brown hair the color of walnuts. Her hair was lighter in some places, suggesting that it was more gray than brown, though, and her face had many more wrinkles on it than James had imagined. Then he stopped to think that not only were they old enough to be his grandparents, but they were Muggles, as well. Of course they would look a little older than Grandmam and Grandpa Weasley; Muggles aged faster than magical folk.
A cough brought James' attention to the man on the left, Justin's father. He was tall. Very tall. James had to wonder if he was taller even than Uncle Bill or Uncle Oliver. Staring up at him reminded James a bit of Hagrid, even, as Justin's father had a bushy beard. His hair was short and slicked back, and it was gray streaked with black, just like his beard. He wore a suit, just like his wife, and they both looked as though they'd only just left the office to grab a bite to eat.
But that idea quickly vanished when James saw a bag in Mr. Finch-Fletchley's hand and two luggage bags behind Mrs. Finch-Fletchley.
Justin, during the three seconds in which James had soaked in all that he saw, had already stumbled out a better hello. Now he said, "And, Mum, Father, I want you to meet James."
It was what snapped James back. He shot out a hand, ready for either of them to shake it. "I, er, um, hi. Hi, I'm James. Hi."
He was expecting Mr. Finch-Fletchley to smile, based on what Hannah had told him. Instead, Justin's mother did, and she shook his hand. "Hello, James. I'm Elizabeth Livingston." Obviously his expression showed how baffled he was, because she chuckled at his confusion. "My name's completely hyphenated—Livingston-Finch-Fletchley—but that's too much of a mouthful. So I only use my maiden name."
James nodded and blushed. What had Hannah told him! It was a good thing he hadn't made the mistake of calling Justin's mother "Mrs. Finch-Fletchley." "Nice to meet you. My name is James Potter."
Mrs. Livingston smiled again and patted her husband on the chest. "Nice to meet you, James. This is my husband, Sampson Finch-Fletchley."
Mr. Finch-Fletchley made a noise halfway between a grunt and a cough, but he nodded to James. His black eyes weren't as warm as his wife's caramel ones, though, and they set an uneasy feeling in the pit of the young wizard's stomach. As if he hadn't already stressed out enough over meeting them.
"Well, come on in, guys," Justin said, embracing his mother and kissing her on the cheek. He took his dad's bag and patted him on the shoulder. "We'll grab your bags as you two get settled in the living room."
Mr. Finch-Fletchley seemed resistant to let James pass through the doorway, but Mrs. Livingston ushered him through so the wizards could move. James turned to Justin, glancing over his shoulder at his husband's parents. "You never told me that your parents were so…so…"
"So posh," James finished as he took the handle of one of the luggage bags and wheeled it inside. "I mean, your mum's wearing one of those dainty little hats with a bit of lace and a flower on it. None of the witches in my family would ever wear that, certainly not my mum. And the suits, and their presence, and the way your mum introduced herself." James shook his head. "She sounded so grandiose…whereas I'm just…James Potter."
Justin was surprised. "You know, I think meeting them might do you some good."
"You're so used to the unwanted attention because of your family—mainly because of Harry." Justin wrapped an arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug. "But they never knew much about Harry to begin with, so this gives you the chance to be you. To be James."
The wandwright wasn't too sure of that, but he couldn't hang on to his musings for long as he and Justin entered the living room. Mr. Finch-Fletchley sat in front of the telly and had on one of those business stations, where numbers and weird groups of letters always scrolled across the bottom. Mrs. Livingston rolled her eyes when she faced Justin. "I can never get him away from the stocks sometimes."
James gave Justin a confused look, and he mumbled that he'd explain it later. "Stocks" hadn't been covered during Muggle Studies… "So, Mum, I'm glad you and Father could come."
She gave her son an apologetic smile. "We haven't seen you in so long, darling. I was actually starting to get worried." Her eyes slide over to James. "But you have a friend over, which is nice to see. Whatever happened to Hannah and Ernest?"
It was hard not to laugh at hearing Ernie being called "Ernest," but Justin quickly answered. "Oh, I still see them somewhat regularly. Zacharias, too."
Justin blushed and shook his head. "No, no… I don't see much of Susan. She hasn't been around us much following the war."
Mrs. Livingston frowned. "That's a shame. I really liked that girl." She glanced at Mr. Finch-Fletchley. "Remember, Sampson? Susie Bones?"
Mr. Finch-Fletchley nodded.
"That girl really made me wish we'd had a daughter, too," Mrs. Livingston finished, and the remark took the fun out of things for James.
Justin didn't like what his mother had said, either. "Mum…you know I didn't like Sue that way."
"But she liked you—"
"Mother!" His outburst gained him wide eyes from James and Mrs. Livingston, and even Mr. Finch-Fletchley had turned the volume down and twisted to watch his son. "Mum," Justin corrected. "Mum, I was never going to marry Susan. I don't like her that way."
"Sorry, darling." Her brow knit together. "You can't help but dream sometimes for your children."
Justin nodded, and he reached for James' hand. James was standing a bit behind him, so his parents couldn't exactly see their hands together. But Justin made sure they did as Justin tugged James forward. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you. For a while now." He gave James' hand a squeeze before continuing. "I've got dreams, I do. But they involve James now."
Mr. Finch-Fletchley's eyes widened, and Mrs. Livingston stared at them as though she'd only now learned that Justin was a Muggle-born wizard. "Oh," she said. And that was it. Oh.
As his father said nothing, Justin cleared his throat, taking strength from their lack of an argument. "And I don't mean to scare you nor offend, but James and I—we married, a little while back."
Now Mrs. Livingston looked hurt, but she didn't say anything else. Her husband's eyes widened a fraction of an inch more, but his thin lips were as sealed as ever.
James nudged Justin gently in the shoulder, and Justin sat down across from his mother. "Things…didn't go exactly as planned…"
"It's my fault and influence, sorry," James said, coming to the rescue. Having their eyes on him wasn't fun, but he'd already dealt with rejection from his own flesh and blood. He was sure he could handle this. "Things were going on with my family, and one thing led to another… We had been together for two years beforehand, please understand that. We didn't quite rush into things." He stopped talking to let them absorb the information. In the meantime, he gripped Justin's right shoulder and rubbed little circles on it.
"That's quite…something," Mrs. Livingston finally commented.
"Please don't be mad," Justin begged, his eyes closed tightly. James had never seen Justin look so hopeless, like a child.
She shut her gaping mouth and went to her son, sitting beside him. "Oh, Justin… You know I can never stay mad at you. And though I'm sad that I missed a wedding, I'm stunned more than anything else."
"A wedding?" Mr. Finch-Fletchley asked.
"It wasn't a wedding in the normal sense of the term, either," Justin admitted.
Mrs. Livingston sighed. "I think the Finch-Fletchley family has a lot to catch up on."
Justin nodded, and James got off the arm of the chair and nudged Justin. "I think I'll pop into London and get some pastries for us, because you two must be hungry from your journey." He paused, wishing someone would say something. "Well…um… Is anyone allergic to anything?"
Mrs. Livingston shook her head, but Mr. Finch-Fletchley stared right through him. "Coconut," he said at last.
James nodded. "Nothing with coconut, got it. I'll probably be a while, since it's the day before Christmas Eve—oh, Christmas Eve Eve. Haha, funny. Um, yeah…" He fidgeted before leaving for the hallway and grabbing his jacket. Once he was through the door, he took a breath and relished the feeling of the cold against his skin. At least he hadn't been evicted from somewhere else.
The young wizard ventured to the little café he'd visited with Teddy a month ago. Their baked goods were great, and he'd already told himself that he'd bring Justin here sometime in the future. He hadn't known he'd be grabbing items from there now, though, to take back to Justin's home.
He took his time, even though he chose his purchases quickly. He sat at one of the tiny tables by the windows and sipped a warm cocoa, thinking about the thirty or so minutes in which he'd personally known Elizabeth Livingston and Sampson Finch-Fletchley. Age gaps aside, he couldn't help but compare them to his own parents.
Mrs. Livingston was more graceful, more ladylike than James could ever imagine Ginny being. And he couldn't picture Mrs. Livingston ever having played a sport like Quidditch. Looking at a mental picture of the two women standing side-by-side, James was acutely aware of the class difference, even if the Weasleys weren't as poor since his parents' generation had had many successes in the world—the joke shops, the Quidditch involvement, the Ministry of Magic involvement.
However, comparing Mr. Finch-Fletchley with Harry didn't summon the same differences. If anything, James thought that they were similar to one another. Both had work on the brain, and both stayed silent or detached unless there was a point to a conversation. James also had a feeling that Mr. Finch-Fletchley, just like his father, preferred to be an observer, chiming in when he thought his presence was warranted. Though they dressed differently—Harry preferring a good pair of denims over a suit any day—they were still very much the same man.
At the thought, James sighed and finished his drink. If Mr. Finch-Fletchley really was anything like his father, then James and Justin were doomed.
Speaking of being doomed, James said as he left a tip and headed back out into the fresh snowfall, Hannah definitely couldn't help pulling another trick on me. She told me the opposite of what Justin's parents are like. That—that—that witch!
He shook his head before heading up an alley and Disapparating back to Justin's house. It was well after noon now, so James thought of the pastries and chocolate as lunch. He knocked on the door before letting himself in (Justin tended to lock it the Muggle way, but it was only ever the enchantments that James had to unlock), and he heard voices coming from the living room. He paused by the entryway and pointed. "I'm heading for the kitchen. Would anyone like something to drink?"
"Just water, thank you," Mrs. Livingston said.
"Firewhiskey," Mr. Finch-Fletchley huffed.
James raised his eyebrows, but Justin nodded. "I'm good, thanks," he said, so James decided to get him some water anyway.
In the kitchen, the eldest Potter arranged everything on a tray and grabbed drinks. Back in the living room, Mr. Finch-Fletchley turned off the telly and sat in the chair adjacent to his wife. He snatched a crumpet and ate half of it before sipping his firewhiskey. Mrs. Livingston didn't touch her water, but Justin downed his. Then they were back to talking.
"I kind of wish I had more time for the break," Justin said, resting his arm on James' leg as his husband reclaimed his spot on the armrest. "You guys have to go the night after Christmas?"
"Holiday hours changed," Mr. Finch-Fletchley stated. "Technically we should still be at work today. But your mother hassled my boss."
Mrs. Livingston winked. "We practically run the office. It's only right that we get more than just Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after off."
Justin chuckled and James smiled. "Do you get New Year's off?" James asked.
Mrs. Livingston shook her head and answered him as if he had never left the house. "We get a half day, but since it falls in the middle of the week this year, that's generous." She ate a puff pastry. "You, James?"
"Justin said you make wands, yes?"
James ignored the snicker he knew he heard from Mr. Finch-Fletchley, even though the older man's lips didn't twitch. "I do. There aren't many wandmakers in the world. But it's something I've wanted to do for a long time. As the store I work in is owned by one man who has a family, we can be flexible around the holidays. I encouraged him to take an extra, early day, so I closed the store for the two weeks."
"My, that sounds like a lot of responsibility. How long have you worked there?"
"A little over a year now." James pulled his wand from his back pocket—a bad habit he'd inherited from his dad—and showed it to the parents. "My wand was made by Mr. Ollivander's family. Someday, someone will buy a wand I made and make magic with it."
Mrs. Livingston nodded. "That's one way to leave your mark on the world," she said, impressed. She gave him a knowing look. "I hope you don't mind, James, but I pressed Justin when I understood you won't be with your own family for Christmas."
James felt Justin tense, but James shook it off. It's wasn't as though Justin's parents would readily accept him into their family…if ever. "Yes, well. If he told you everything, then you'll understand why I can't be with them."
She nodded again. "And with such a big family, dear… Mmm." She shook her head. "Well, though I am terribly surprised… I don't dislike you. You seem kind and smart. Self-reliant. Strong." Mrs. Livingston gave a long paused, wanting to say something more. Eventually she said, "It will be nice sharing a Christmas with you."
He released a breath he hadn't noticed he'd been withholding, and he thanked her. "My sentiments exactly."
With that, the foursome had an opening to enjoy the spirit of the break as though there was no proverbial elephant sitting in the room with them. That evening came and went with little trouble, though James did wonder exactly how much Justin had told his parents. When Mrs. Livingston and Mr. Finch-Fletchley announced they'd go out for a bit on Christmas Eve, James did ask Justin that.
"I mean, it's not as though we're totally scandal-free." James was making a small roast for the four of them since Justin was better at baking than at anything else. But James didn't mind cooking; he was just grateful again that he'd always helped Grandmam Weasley and his mother cook so often, because this hopefully would be another way to impress Justin's parents.
Justin shrugged and tossed the vegetables together gently as James had shown him. "True. Though I didn't lie, per se, when I told them that we met Hogwarts."
James winced. "Do they know how old I am?"
"They didn't ask, so I didn't say."
"Hey." Justin bumped into him before setting the table for later that night. "You don't look that young. And at least you're done with school."
James laughed darkly. "Because that would just be the icing on the cake."
"Ah, that reminds me—Father doesn't like icing on his cake, so none tonight, luv."
"Oh, dammit… I could really go for a whole bowl of frosting right now, you know."
"Um, no. Not unless you're running with the Aurors or flying with the Quidditch players. You've got to cut back on your sugars, Mr. Sedentary."
James blew a raspberry at him in response.
When Justin's parents returned, they had a brief lunch and then Justin's parents went to their room with their purchases. "What's Christmas without presents, right?" Mrs. Livingston said.
"You didn't have to, Mum," Justin said, though James knew that Justin had, for some reasons, always enjoyed being an only child.
"Nonsense. You're my baby boy, Justin, and you always will be. I already had some things with me, but I had to finish up last minute. Now don't you make me dawdle any longer!" she said playfully.
"Though…whatever happened to having a Christmas tree?" his father asked.
Justin blushed. "I, uh…never had time to get one, with work and everything…yeah."
"We'll take care of it, Mr. Finch-Fletchley," James assured him, since Justin had been too distracted by the Teddy nonsense. Mr. Finch-Fletchley gave him a blank stare, but he carried the rest of his wife's bags upstairs anyway.
"Take care of it?" Justin echoed. "You're not insinuating…"
"That we conjured up a Christmas tree? Of course. That's what magic is for, isn't it?"
Justin looked doubtful. "I've never used much magic around my parents."
James paused. "I opened my mouth and stuck my foot in, didn't I? Hell…where are we going to get a tree at—"—he glanced at his watch—"—ten-thirty on Christmas Eve?"
The sight made Justin chuckle, and he nuzzled James. "Oh, to hell with it, James," he breathed in the younger male's hair. "You got me to be true to myself, magic and all. My parents will just have to deal with actually seeing me do magic."
"I like that you're confident, Jus, but don't push their buttons…"
"I won't. Now come on. We've a tree to conjure."
A lot of the conjuring was done by Justin himself, as he knew much more than James did. But in no time at all, the living room had a fully-decorated tree, as well as festive garlands on the sills and doorway and stockings on the mantle. It wasn't long before Justin's parents reappeared to wish them goodnight.
"Oh, my," Mrs. Livingston said, gasping when she saw the room. "Where were you hiding the tree?"
The wizards exchanged a look, and Mr. Finch-Fletchley snickered, albeit warmly this time. "That's an impressive bit of magic, Justin."
Mrs. Livingston yanked on her husband's arm. "Look at that, look at that! Even the mantle and the stockings…"
James looked between them. "Am I missing something?"
The woman trod towards the fireplace, her eyes wet. "We used to celebrate Christmas like this—exactly like this—when Justin was younger. Everything looks exactly the same…," she whispered, her voice wet yet breathy.
"It's been a few years since we've had a proper Christmas, but I think I remembered most things," Justin said.
Mr. Finch-Fletchley nodded, and he seemed happy that his wife was happy. Then he pointed to something by the side of the fireplace. "What's that?"
James fidgeted. "Er, nothing…"
Mrs. Livingston picked it up, and when Justin saw it he shot James a disapproving look. "It's a fourth stocking," Mrs. Livingston said.
"I didn't want to intrude too much," James hissed lowly to Justin.
"And I've told you," Justin replied in undertones, "that you are as much a part of my family—"
Mrs. Livingston stared at it, but her hands moved on their own as she moved the other three, hanging stockings so that there was room for the fourth, and she hanged it herself. She smiled at her son and son-in-law. "I think the room's perfect now. Goodnight, boys." She hurried out of the room, and Mr. Finch-Fletchley nodded to them before retiring for the night, as well.
"—Helga," James finished. He looked at Justin. "I mean, I wasn't expecting hugs and kisses, but…"
Justin laughed, nervous. "I think, luv, we've won the war before it even started."
James nodded and hugged Justin tightly to him. He didn't want to think that maybe, just maybe, that acceptance had come too easily or too fast. Besides, it was Christmas, and families weren't supposed to fight on Christmas.
The next two days were so pleasant that James felt deceived. He hadn't spent a nice time like this with other people since… He recalled one instance that was similar, and it was the night not long after his family had found out. Uncle Percy, Aunt Audrey, Victoire, and Neville had shown up at his flat to check on him and see how he was since Al and their cousins had made sure that everyone in the family knew about James and "Professor Finch-Fletchley." But when those four had come to see James, the night had ended as though they were all friends merely kicking back. That had been nice. And so was this.
James wasn't expecting many gifts, though he was surprised to see a package from Percy and Audrey. "Audrey gave it to Hannah to give to me to hold for you," Justin explained.
When James opened it, he grinned. Though Grandmam Weasley had stopped knitting sweaters a while ago—her age and the war were catching up with her mind—Aunt Audrey had attempted to take up that tradition. So James had a brand-new sweater with a large "J" on the front, and it was in, of course, his House colors.
"That's lovely," Mrs. Livingston said, admiring Audrey's needlework. She sighed. "I wish I'd taken the time to slow down and enjoy those kinds of things. I can only stitch a tear in my hem."
They all softly laughed at that, and James began to understand something. Though he still had a hard time getting a read on Mr. Finch-Fletchley, it was becoming evident that Justin got his personality mainly from his mother. They spoke similarly, they had many of the same likes and dislikes, and they were polite in the same manner. So far, all James could tell was that Justin simply resembled his father in looks, with the same arches of their brows, the same nose, and the same chin.
There were several other gifts James got, as well. He got some candy from his best mate, Troy, who likely had spent most of his money on candy for himself before remembering that Christmas was around the corner. Curtis, James' other best friend, had sent a signed jersey, even though he was still a reserve for the Chudley Cannons. From Victoire and Neville came a dark tweed jacket that made James grin; though it was meant to be something nice for James to wear when selling wands, he knew that it was a gentle poke at his professor-like image that their cousins had settled him with when he'd first picked up his interest in wandmaking. There wasn't anything from James' immediate family, but he didn't let it bother him. He liked the collection of books on runes and pictographs of ancient peoples from Justin too much to let it bother him (and he already had fourteen new wand designs in mind using those symbols).
The most stunning moment came after all the presents were cleared, though, and Mrs. Livingston passed James a box. He froze and took it, and Justin didn't believe it, either. "You really didn't have to, Mrs. Livingston," the hazel-eyed man said.
She shook her head. "It's not much, but it's nice. And practical. There should always be something practical given at Christmas," she asserted, which explained the Cooking for Dummies book that Justin had received.
James opened it and saw a smooth, steel gray dress shirt. It felt like silk, which even he knew was expensive. "Thank you very much. It's so nice… I don't have anything this nice."
Justin took it off his hands and looked at the tag. "Holy… Mum! Gucci?"
"What?" she asked as though she was being scolded. "Everyone has to have something nice to wear. Didn't you say that you haven't sold a wand yet, James? Well, now you can be ready for a…a commemorative photo when you sell your first one."
"A businessman must look the part" was Mr. Finch-Fletchley's addition.
So maybe no one had come out and said "Welcome to the family," but James got the feeling that they were trying. And that was the best thing they could give him, actually.
In the blink of an eye, though, Christmas Day and the day after flew by. While the festivities had been nice, James hadn't much time to get to know Justin's parents…not that he'd run out of time, now that he and Justin were married.
Before Mrs. Livingston and Mr. Finch-Fletchley caught their cab to the train station, Justin did one last sweep to make sure his parents hadn't forgotten anything.
"Justin, hurry up! The cab is here already!" Mr. Finch-Fletchley hollered at the second-floor window. He was standing by the taxi and sticking their bags in the trunk.
James stood with Mrs. Livingston at the door. "I really can't say how sorry I am that I didn't meet you two sooner."
"Hush, dear—what's been done has been done."
"No, I mean…I'm glad I did meet you. I can understand why Justin's such a great person."
Mrs. Livingston raised her eyebrow, for an instant reminding James of his own mother. Then she drew him into a hug. "I'm starting to see why Justin didn't tell us about you, James."
"I mean, I can see why he's so distracted to think straight sometimes." She tittered good-humoredly and smoothed her jacket. "But I expect to see more of you, the both of you, now that we know you exist and what you are to our son."
James nodded eagerly. "Of course, Mrs. Livingston." He hesitated, but then he withdrew a small box in the shape of a rectangle from his pocket. "I, um, wasn't sure how to go about getting a present for a mother-in-law I'd never met, but… I mean, there's this wedding boutique up the road from where I work, and the jewelry they sell there's really nice and—"
Mrs. Livingston hushed him with a palm on his cheek. "Thank you, James."
"No, thank you. For not killing me."
She laughed as she walked to the cab, her husband giving her a confused look. "Why would we do that?" she called to James.
He breathed a sigh of relief, and Justin joined him. Justin gave his parents a thumb's up, so the cab pulled away, both wizards watching. "They're good people."
"Yup," the teacher said with a nod. "You gave Mum a gift, didn't you?"
"Wha…? How'd you know?"
"I know you, James." Justin shook his head with a chuckle as he closed the door behind them. "I know you very well. In fact, I got you a very special present."
James' cheeks warmed. "Uh…what kind of, uh, special present…?"
"Oh, one you'll love very much," Justin hinted, leading him back into the living room. "Close your eyes."
"Should I be dressed for this?"
Justin laughed. "That's up to you, luv."
James had only unbuttoned his jeans when he sensed Justin's return. Then he had something pushed into his hands. He opened his eyes.
"You said you wanted to learn," the older man said with a smirk in his voice.
"Oh, you git!" But James didn't hit Justin for too long with his brand-new copy of PCs for Dummies.
With the break done, James was back to the grind and away from Justin. Half of January passed by in the blink of an eye—or maybe James had kept his eyes open for too long. Either way, things were quiet.
"I reject half of these proposals," Ollivander told James as the young wizard was caught up in his work. The older man dropped a pile of sketches on James' workstation.
James sighed exasperatedly. "May I ask why, Mr. Ollivander?"
The older man shook a hand dismissively. "You need to study your gem properties more. Half of those designs could get you blown up. Carving willow—a symbol of death—bark with an agate—a protection against evil—knife is a good idea. But apple wood carved by lodestone? 'Malum' is the Latin word for apple, Mr. Potter, and it also means 'evil.' Lodestone attracts a charge, and it's a pointer, a guide. That much dominance between materials will kill a person."
The eldest Potter paused in what he was doing and fought a grumble. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ollivander."
"There is no room for apologies in this tight space full of people's futures, Mr. Potter." There was a sound from the front of the store, so he left James to his work.
"Dammit," James cursed to himself. He picked up the top sketch and eyed it, thinking of ways to revise it. In the background, he heard the murmurs of Ollivander speaking with someone. The next thing he knew, Ollivander was calling for him.
"Mr. Potter, you have a visitor," the man told him. "You may break for ten minutes."
James stood up at his desk and headed into the shop part of the place. "May I help—Mrs. Livingston?"
His eyes went wide as Justin's mother turned and faced him. "Oh, James, dear!" Her smile was large and she looked just as smartly put-together as she had when they'd first met, dressed in a plum-colored pantsuit with a heavy chain necklace. She also looked very Muggle in such a Wizarding venue.
"I, uh, didn't expect to see you…here," he added in the hopes of avoiding offense. He held out his hand to shake, but she grabbed it and pulled him into a quick hug instead. When she pulled away, he laughed nervously. "Not to be rude, but I have to wonder exactly what it was that Justin told you about me. You're so…friendly to me."
Mrs. Livingston laughed herself. "Dear, he told me everything. Well, he told both his father and me everything, but Sampson had one ear turned towards the market, so I doubt half of it sank in. Still." She patted his arm and glanced around him. "Mr. Ollivander…I'd forgotten about him."
James was still stunned that she was here in the store. "Oh, him? Yes, my boss. He—"
"He remembered me," she interrupted. "But only after I said I was Justin's mother, and then he rattled off statistics about Justin's wand." She shook her head. "What a memory."
The wizard nodded. "You'd think it comes with the territory, but I think it runs in his family."
"Well, enough about him. Can you grab a bite?"
"No, sorry. I've got about…nine, eight minutes left."
Mrs. Livingston frowned. "Oh. That's a shame. I was hoping for a nice chat. Could we take a little walk?"
James glanced at the register and the owner and turned back to his mother-in-law. "I think I can risk it."
They left for the Gringotts end of the street. Winter was disappearing early this year, so, though there was snow on the ground, none fell on them. Mrs. Livingston liked looking at the places she had once known, as she put it, a "lifetime ago."
"What brings you here?" James asked.
She tore her eyes away from a new broom in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies (maybe there was more that she and Ginny had in common than James had originally thought). "My office is a medium-sized taxi ride away, and I thought I could come and visit, and start to get to know you. Actually get to know you, because I think we both understand that a surprise meeting at Christmas didn't cut it."
He grinned. "And here I thought the holiday went splendidly."
Mrs. Livingston nodded as they turned at the goblin bank and went the other way. "Tell me anything that comes to mind. For instance, take me—I collect beads, even though I haven't the foggiest how to string them together and make them look pretty." She chuckled at her lack of creativity.
James appreciated the start. "I used to play Quidditch, though I didn't love it."
"That's your flying sport, right?"
"What a wonderful thing, to fly…" She sighed. "We, ah, 'Muggles' have to deal with metal death contraptions and prodding, personal-space-invading security authorities…"
"I remember learning that in Muggle Studies." James blinked as he heard his own words. Hell.
Mrs. Livingston gave him a look as they hit the Leaky Cauldron and turned around once more, heading back to his workplace. "I'm not an idiot, James. I know what subject my son teaches, I know you two met at Hogwarts, and I know you're awfully young." There was a long pause. "How old are you?"
He sighed. "Nineteen. I'll be twenty in March."
Mrs. Livingston grinned. "My, my. I didn't realize Justin could be so adventurous."
James wasn't sure if he could laugh at that, even though she grinned impishly. Luckily, they got back to the store and he was saved from talking anymore about the age gap.
The woman hugged him again. "We should do this again, James. But maybe lunch would be better next time."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Livingston."
"Please. Call me 'Elizabeth.'"
He smiled. "Another time, then…Elizabeth."
She smiled back and waved, heading back up the street. Obviously she could only have gotten into Diagon Alley with a witch or wizard's help, and since Justin was teaching, it meant either Hannah or Ernie had let her pass. James hoped it was the latter; if Hannah said a word about him to Justin's mother, then this good relationship could go up in flames at any moment.
Hannah must've been keeping her mouth shut, because Elizabeth kept returning to visit James. She didn't stop by every day or every other day—even she didn't want to spend that much money on taxi fare, she confessed—but she did manage to get her wish for lunch with James, and several times.
It was nice, having someone interested in him who wasn't in love with him, wasn't already his friend, and didn't know him. It was also something completely different for James; not only was Elizabeth Livingston-Finch-Fletchley a Muggle, but she was a Muggle in her own world, and it was a world Justin hadn't taught in Muggle Studies. James could kind of see why. He'd already asked Elizabeth to explain numerous terms to him—like Mercedes, Rolex, private jet, personal stylist, and something called a "Vera Wang." It sounded…lewd.
She laughed hard enough to catch Hannah's curious eye at the counter in the Leaky Cauldron. "No," Elizabeth corrected, sipping her water. "Vera Wang is a person, James. She's a designer."
"Of what?" he asked, dropping his gaze to his plate to avoid showing his red cheeks.
"Clothes. Mainly dresses, especially for weddings. I love her ingenuity; she came up with several black wedding gowns a few years back, and they were gorgeous. They didn't look depressing at all." She finished her lunch and noticed she'd made James uncomfortable. "I'm sorry. Was it something I said?"
James could've done with an interlude from Justin then. Or even Ernie or Hannah. Hell, Teddy would've been best. No way had Elizabeth seen something like Teddy before.
"The wedding dress comment."
She paused. "Oh. I didn't mean—"
"No, it's fine. I was being sensitive. And it's true that we didn't give you a chance to plan something like that."
Elizabeth cupped her cheek in her palm and observed him. "It doesn't kill me to have missed out on that. Sure, I'm sad about it…and I'm likely not to forget it, to be honest. But, dear, I know how happy you've made my boy."
James sighed. "Susan Bones. You brought her up before, before Justin introduced me as his partner."
Elizabeth appeared hesitant. "It was an old parents' fancy, James."
"But you were pretty curious about her and Justin having seen her back on Christmas."
The woman stared at the table's wood grain as she replied. "You have to understand that Justin didn't have many friends growing up, not until he left for Hogwarts. And then, poof! He came home and was close to four new children, two boys and two girls. As we met them and got to know them, we could see and picture their futures… Hannah someday will end up with Ernest forever, even if she insists they're just close friends."
James wanted to snort at that. Obviously Hannah had not told Justin's mother everything that was new with her life.
"Zacharias always seemed a little misplaced with them, but Susie and Justin were close." Finally, her eyes rose to search for James'. "Neither of us truly had an inkling that Justin…"
"…would be into blokes," he supplied.
"Yes. I knew things grew strained with them during the war. Poor Hannah lost her mother, Susie lost her aunt—the next thing I knew, Justin told us that we should leave the country for a long while."
"He didn't have to involve you."
"But Justin was just a kid at the time. And he wanted us to be together. You can't deny a kid his parents." Knowing she'd said something else painful, she backpedaled. "But when it comes to Susan Bones, it's okay. There are many futures available to us. We end up with one because that's what we choose based on our options and decisions."
"Does my future involve your husband liking me at all?" James threw in.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "He's always gruff and stern, but he likes you. He seems a little iffy, sure, about the son-in-law we gained in an afternoon, but I know he likes you, James."
James smiled weakly. "Thanks. I needed that."
"Of course. Now, wedding talk aside, let me do one thing that will make me happy."
"Let me throw you a birthday party next month!" Her eyes lit up as she announced this. "It's your twentieth, and you're finally leaving the '-teen' years behind, dear. Let's do something exciting, yes?"
"Well, now, I don't know about—"
"Invite whomever you want and just let me know how many there are. I'll take care of everything."
"But my birthday's not on the weekend—"
"So we'll just have the party on the weekend, and we'll get Justin home, too." She was determined to have at least this. "All right?" How could James say no?
He caved, seeing more and more of Ginny in her. "Yeah…all right."
"She's delightful," Victoire taunted James as he stood, red-faced and off to the side of the festivities.
March twenty-seventh had passed, and the closest weekend after his birthday had landed on him must too fast for his liking. Justin hadn't been sure what to expect either, but…this was not what they'd had in mind.
"This" represented the little, bustling gathering of people crowded in Justin's home. Justin's parents, James, and Justin were there, obviously. James had extended invitations to some family and friends: Uncle Percy, Aunt Audrey, Troy, Curt, Lania (Curt's sister), Neville, Victoire, Teddy. James had asked Teddy to ask Lily if she wanted to come; Teddy had arrived without her, though, saying that Harry had insisted the family go out and see a double-feature at the movie theater. James had the sneaking suspicion that his father had planned that on purpose.
There were also two new faces in the room. They were introduced to James as Justin's Uncle Mark and his wife. Mallory and Dermot, Justin's cousins in Hyannis, Massachusetts, were the niece and nephew to Mark and his wife. Mark was quite pleasant and polite, and James was stunned to learn that he was Mr. Finch-Fletchley's brother.
James' present from Justin's parents was the lovely, pre-catered meal the group shared, since Elizabeth was not a cook. Still, James felt he didn't really need anything besides this day off with some of his favorite people, and, as a side effect, he forgot his other gifts as he opened them (except for Justin's, because his husband told him they'd share something special later after the guests were wrong). But faces blurred as the hours passed—one joke with Teddy became a grin from Percy that turned into a tease from Victoire which faded into a smirk from Lania which transformed into Curt's easy smile that morphed into Troy's loud guffaw. Troy was still laughing, and he became the center of attention for a little bit as he explained to the Muggles that an Auror was not the colors that wrapped around a person in a mystical manner.
Victoire poked her cousin in the arm. "Why didn't you bring your mother-in-law to Malkin's sooner? I would've loved to meet her."
"You kinda get used to her flying the broom, you know?" the hazel-eyed wizard retorted. But he was enjoying all she had done for his birthday; he made a mental note to thank her later—Mr. Finch-Fletchley, too, because he knew this was a gift from both of them.
"She's such a fashionable person," Victoire continued. "She'd probably hit it off with Mum."
James nodded. Some of the things Elizabeth wore reminded him of Aunt Fleur's French couture. "I dunno, though. Sometimes I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's been a fairytale, having them on our side—"
Victoire stopped him. "You said they like you. But have they actually said they accept you and Justin?"
"Not in precise words, but she keeps saying that it's old water under the bridge. And she knows—they both know that we're good for each—"
His words were cut short as there was a knock at the door. Elizabeth didn't let the good times stop as she excused herself from Troy's speech and got the door. To James' surprise, Mallory and Dermot entered the house.
Justin was as confused as him. Glad, but confused. He, too, broke from the little group, and he grabbed James' hand. "Uh, luv, did you…?"
"How could I reach them? And why would I? They're lovely people, but I barely know them, and this is my birthday party!"
The couple exchanged a glance, and James wondered if he'd mentioned that other shoe dropping too soon to Victoire. That aside, Mallory and Dermot looked happy to be visiting, even if they were the only Americans in the room.
"Thanks for coming," James said politely when they spied him.
"Well, Auntie Liz sent the plane tickets and we figured it had been a while since we'd taken a break—"
"We never take a break," Dermot commented.
"—but it's fine, because we left the B'n'B in the capable hands of my boyfriend, Carlos." Mallory grinned. "But you two get to visit us again next time, all right?"
James had no idea what to say, so he nodded, and Justin did the same. Justin had no idea why the siblings were there; meal aside, they'd made it in time for dessert, maybe.
That turned out to be the answer as Elizabeth ushered everyone back into the dining room and asked her husband for help in the kitchen. James chewed his bottom lip, and Troy and Curt shot him curious glances. Their Hogwarts days might have been behind them, but the trio could still sense when something was amiss and they were likely to find themselves in McGonagall's office. Or worse, now that James had in-laws.
Mr. and Mrs. Finch-Fletchley returned with a flower- and broomstick-decorated cake, stuck with twenty candles. As Mr. Finch-Fletchley took a lighter to light the candles, James prayed to Merlin that the rest of Justin's family members weren't counting them.
The moment couldn't have gone on any longer, even after a semi-passable chorus of the birthday song (semi-passable because Lania, Victoire, Mallory, and Justin alone could not redeem the voices of the rest). Then everyone told him not all at once to "Make a wish!" and then too many voices ordered him to blow out the candles. But he could barely suck in a breath when his stomach was wound up in such a tight knot.
Finally, Elizabeth took the cake and held the knife in her hand, prepared to cut it. She held it by her chest as she spoke. "We are here to wish a happy birthday to James—someone we love very much, even if some of us have only known him for a few hours." Mark and his wife chuckled. "But we know James is as much a part of Justin as Justin is now a part of James. It was a good thing they married." Still, the knot in James' stomach didn't loosen. "But most of us missed the chance to see them make that life commitment. Which is why I would like for them to have a real wedding."
Yep. There was the other shoe.
Granted, it could've been a lot worse, but James still wished she had not said that. He looked to Justin for help, but Justin was gaping at his parents as people's squeals and chatter erupted. Mr. Finch-Fletchley gave them a nod and a look that said, "She's your mother—as if I was really going to fight her over something like this."
James leaned towards them, whispering, "Ah, Elizabeth, may I say something?"
The whole room went quiet and listened in. There really was no privacy with anyone anywhere, was there?
He plastered on a smile over his fretful expression. "I mean…thank you very much."
"You're welcome, James," she said. And when she cut the cake, James felt as though he was being dissected himself.
Justin stuck by his side for the remainder of the night, which luckily was short-lived. The last people to leave were Neville and Victoire. Victoire told James that she and Neville had worked past their "impasse," as she called it, and she also told Elizabeth that she was available to help with the planning. "Traitor," James cursed as the witch stuck out her tongue and left with Neville.
When all was said and done, the couple faced the parents. "I appreciate the gesture, I do," James said, "but it's…it's too much."
"Nonsense," Elizabeth remarked. "It's the least we can do."
"We should leave," Mr. Finch-Fletchley said. "We should get back to the house before Mark and the others so that we can confirm with the help that Mallory and Dermot have arrived and will need amenities."
"Mum, Father." Justin stood before them, looking ready for a long argument. "Come on. Don't you think you've gone a little far?"
"It was your mother's idea," Mr. Finch-Fletchley replied.
"Traitor," Elizabeth hissed at him.
"But it really is too much," Justin continued. "What are you trying to make up for? You don't have to do anything."
"We aren't making up for anything," Elizabeth replied. She was offended by the idea.
"But—" James cut in.
She lost her cool. "Let me have this one thing, goddammit!" All three men didn't know what to say in response to her outburst, so she added, "I'm being accepting, I'm being nice—and I want to be all of those things. But the least you can do for me is let me have this one thing!" Her eyes were wet even though she glared at them all, and she collapsed into a chair in the living room. The others followed her, but they still said nothing. "I'm the mother, I'm the mother-in-law, and my child's day is just as much mine as it is his!"
Mr. Finch-Fletchley rubbed his wife's back as she tried to compose herself. He gave the boys a sympathetic look and jerked his chin, implying they leave. James was fine with that, and Justin was on his heels as they left the house.
Outside, spring greeted them. They sat down on the stoop, and James put his hands together. Justin rubbed a hand over his mouth, thinking. "Fuck."
James wanted to laugh, because Justin wasn't the one with a potty mouth—that was him. But this was no laughing matter. "She really is like you, Justin."
"Then, please, hex me the next time I'm that stubborn. Merlin…" The teacher shook his head. "I've never seen her so adamant before."
"I've never seen your father be so nice to me before," James added. "But you do realize that this means we have to go through with it? We're getting married again."
The gentle breeze that blew by did nothing to erase James' sentence. He and Justin mulled it over, and Justin stretched out his legs. "It would be kind of a hassle…"
"Plus, a wedding implies guests, and lots of them," the wandwright said.
"Not to mention all the appointments with too many people…"
"And I'll have to do a lot of this by myself, I imagine, since you can't exactly take every weekend off."
Another breeze blew by, and James felt one corner of his mouth pull up in a tiny grin. He turned; Justin smiled just as much. "We're getting married again, James."
"Flower girls and ushers and seating charts—oh my!" Teddy joked with James a few weeks later.
James threw him a dirty look. "Don't even get me started, Teddy." He grabbed his cloak and let Ollivander know that he was taking his lunch break, and he led Teddy outside. "We've got to meet Justin's mum on the other side of the city for the cake tasting, and I'm really busy right now. I could've done this another day."
"But you told me that she couldn't, and Justin isn't available at all right now, preparing for exams," the Metamorphmagus reminded him.
"I know that. I also know that I had asked my best mate, Troy, to join me today to sample cakes. And he mysteriously got assigned training today. And then your day mysteriously freed up, Mr. Big-Shot Auror." James fixed him with a glare.
Teddy laughed. "Oh, come on. Victoire made a new set of robes for Justin and made you a new shirt and she's been helping your mother-in-law with planning the decorations. Percy told me that he'll coordinate with your friends for a bachelor party—"
James stopped him, eyes bugging out. "What? No! There will be no bachelor parties! A, I don't need one and neither does Justin. B, we're not bachelors anymore. And C…it's completely inappropriate, not to mention I'd hate to think of what Uncle Percy would come up with, even with Troy's and Curt's input!"
"Okay, okay, I'll tell him no… I mean, I thought it would be a bad idea anyway."
Teddy rolled his eyes. "Seriously? Three straight men—me, Percy, and Neville—and four gay blokes—you, Justin, Troy, and Curt—trying to have a bachelor party? Conflicting interests, James." He said it while trying to subdue another laugh.
James rolled his eyes. "What, you lot would be too cheap to give Justin and me separate parties? And what about Justin's cousin, Dermot, or Justin's uncle or father?"
"Would you really want your husband's father or uncle in a scenario like that?"
"Good point." They entered Muggle London, and James corrected, "And Troy's bi, not gay." The wide-eyed, speechless expression on Teddy's face made James smirk. "Oh, yeah. That would make it so much more fun."
That managed to keep Teddy quiet until they reached the bakery, where Elizabeth had them try out three cakes she'd already picked out. She had vetoed the red velvet since it was too soft, and Teddy told James that the vanilla was too plain, so the end decision was chocolate, people with allergies be damned.
In the weeks that had followed James' shocking birthday party, Elizabeth had busied herself as well as James and his various friends and family with carrying out several tasks in preparation for the wedding. She had secured the church and reception hall herself, sending Mark and his wife to deliver the deposits. She had already told the boys that she would ransack her personal collection of classical and romantic ballad LPs—whatever those were—for music. Audrey had contacted a friend from her Beauxbatons days and had gotten the flowers ahead of time, charmed by a spell to stay fresh for the wedding date. James wasn't sure about the Muggle minister conducting the ceremony, but it wasn't as though Minister Shacklebolt could perform another handfasting; not only could they not redo such a binding piece of magic, but they couldn't do any magic in front of the Muggles.
The fun part came when Elizabeth mentioned rings in Justin's presence, and he flipped out. He was just as adamant with her as he had been with James at the beginning of the school year that they wouldn't remove the rings they already wore, but Elizabeth was allowed to find something else to address in lieu of the rings. The last James knew, she was considering bracelets or something like that.
One thing James was glad Justin had volunteered to do was the seating chart. Of course, that meant they had to make the guest list up and send out invitations first. Still, Justin was much more organized at least when it came to separating potential hotheads.
"For instance, Hannah and Neville will be on opposite sides of the room at all times," Justin said as he scribbled it down on a parchment. "I'll leave one free seat by either of them that way Frankie doesn't have to choose with which parent he should sit; he can go back and forth this way."
"So who've we got on our list so far?" James asked, looking at the list.
"There's my parents, Uncle Mark and his wife, my grandmother… Mallory and Dermot are flying back in time for it, and Mal said she would be bringing her boyfriend. Then there's my mother's best friend and her husband—they were like another aunt and uncle to me growing up—plus some people from my parents' offices, including dad's boss, last I knew. That will probably be it for family… As for friends—Hannah and Ernie, Zacharias and Parvati, Padma, Minister Shacklebolt if he can make it…" He trailed off, and James glanced up at him.
"Well…would it bother you if I sent an invitation to Susan?"
James thought about it. "…no. She was a close mate, and I bet she understands you two were never going to happen, not after the years of silence between you two."
Justin sighed. "Yeah… I wonder what she's been up to all this time. Her, Wayne, Eloise…" He pursed his lips. "It's a shame Megan and Leanne aren't still alive."
James left that alone, and it was understood that Justin would send invites to Susan, Wayne Hopkins, and Eloise Midgen, even if they didn't show up or reply.
"What about your family?"
"I think it's obvious that Uncle Percy, Aunt Audrey, and Victoire will be there, along with Neville. As for friends, the Finnigans and the Jordans will be there; Seamus, Lavender, and Lee love me no matter what, you know. Ah, I'll invite Mr. Ollivander, though I won't pressure him to come… I don't think he's homophobic, but he does always seem awkward when you show up at the shop." Justin nodded and James thought some more.
"James…what about your family? Maybe not the whole clan, but…"
James sighed. "I know, I know…my parents." He grimaced.
"You can't exactly send some of the family and several of your parents' close friends invitations without sending them one."
The younger wizard shook his head. "I'm being a brat to avoid this topic, luv."
As they were in Justin's quarters at the castle, Justin took James' hand and tugged him to lie down beside him on his bed. "You don't want a rift between you."
"Funny. I thought they did, with that response of theirs…"
Justin tucked James' head under his chin. "No, they were upset for the secrets. I also think they didn't know how to react in that situation. The same goes for Al and Lily. So I think you should send invitations to all of them, let them know that you still love them and care about them and your relationship with them."
James sighed again. "Then if we're inviting my parents and siblings, we might as well send out invites to the whole lot of Weasleys and Potters—and Auntie Luna and Uncle Rolf, too, as well as Lorcan and Lysander."
"Even Zabini, if his girlfriend and his best friend can get Al to come."
"I'll add them to the chart then, luv."
James nodded and left the rest in Justin's capable hands.
"So, Mum, you understand there will be no practice dinners, no practice cocktails? Nothing of the sort?" Justin asked his mother in the week before the week of the wedding.
Elizabeth pouted, but they knew she was too giddy to be truly down. Her plans were coming to fruition, after all. "All right, all right… But we can't do the ceremony without running through it at least once. You know Muggles expect to see a Muggle wedding, darling."
Justin rolled his eyes and James chuckled. "Yes, Mum, I know…"
Mr. Finch-Fletchley sipped his coffee as the four of them spent the afternoon in the Finch-Fletchley home—the one in which Justin had grown up. James liked to think of it as Finch-Fletchley Estate, in all honesty. "Did you decide on best man and those sorts of things?" Justin's father asked.
The couple exchanged a look. "Not really," his son answered.
Elizabeth's eyes alighted on them. "You mean to tell me that there is something you haven't planned?"
James really didn't want to be the one to answer that, so he said instead, "What if we both had, er, a bridesmaid and a best man? I mean, if one of us has a best man, then the other will look like a bride and…" Three pairs of eyes landed on him and he blushed. "Do I look like a bride to you?"
Justin laughed, Elizabeth tittered, and even Mr. Finch-Fletchley could have been said to chuckle. "I'm sure you would've looked lovely in a veil, James," Justin breathed in his ear.
"That's not a bad idea, though," Elizabeth said, "each of you having a best man and a bridesmaid. But on such short notice, getting outfits to coordinate…"
"I'll help Victoire if I must," James said. "And she'll want to, because she would definitely be my bridesmaid, and Troy would definitely be my best man."
Justin breathed a sigh of relief. "That saves me from having to choose between Hannah and Ernie for my best man."
"What? A witch can't be your best man."
"This is Hannah we're talking about, James."
Justin thought more about adding their own twists to the ceremony. "And maybe we should walk up separately, and by ourselves. There's no need for anyone to be given away…"
Elizabeth teared up and pouted again.
"…because we're grooms. There aren't any brides to give away."
His mother huffed, but the alligator tears disappeared. "Fine. But I'd like the mother-son dance."
"Wha…? Oh, fine."
Her mood brightened once more.
It turned out that James was right about Victoire, and she nearly burst with excitement when she learned she would finally be someone's bridesmaid. "Because it'll be a while before Molly finally marries Michael."
James dropped a bolt of cloth and ignored Victoire's angry gasp. "Molly what?"
Victoire cursed in French and flicked her wand to pick up the cloth and clean it. Then she shot James a look. "Molly. As in, our cousin, Molly. And Michael, as in her fellow Ministry worker, Michael Corner. They've been dating for the past year."
He raised his eyebrows. "Damn! And no one told me?"
She rolled her eyes. "As if I'm going to bring that up in front of Uncle Perce and Aunt Aud. C'mon, James, think once in a while. Not to mention that Molly hasn't tried hiding it. I mean, at first she tried denying her attraction to him…" Victoire impishly smiled. "But I encouraged her to go for it. He stuck around even though he knew about some of her crushes on other older men in the Ministry."
"I'm not telling."
"You can't just say that and then leave me hanging!" James whined. But he let it drop, and he smiled as he watched her flit about Madam Malkin's. "You're a lot cheerier than the last time we hung out like this, Vic."
"What do you mean? You've been in here almost every week since your birthday."
"You know what I mean—Christmastime."
Victoire paused cutting a fraying edge of a fabric for a work-order. She placed the scissors on the counter and twiddled her thumbs. "If you must know…there was a reason for my outbursts, both at you and at Neville." She sighed. "I was pregnant."
James could hardly believe his ears. "That's—" He stopped himself before he sounded too positive. She'd spoken in the past tense for a reason.
She nodded, indicating that it was okay to talk about it. "I let it happen to me. You know how I can get myself worked up about every little thing, and I paid for that stress this time."
"Oh, Godric, Victoire…"
"I know." She shook her head, but she wasn't frowning. She was smiling. "It made me realize a few things. First, I need to figure out how to relax. But also…" Victoire crossed her arms and leaned on the cutting table. "It kind of made me sober up to reality. I mean, I know I want to be with Neville for the long haul. And that will probably include marriage and kids and all that stuff. Not that I want to rush and have all that right away. But it did make me think of what I'd be like as a mother."
James had to give her credit for being so strong. "And Neville…?"
"Oh, he knows. I couldn't keep something like that from him, James. Besides, he knows that I couldn't really have controlled it. Sometimes these things happen even when a woman isn't stressed. But he's been there for me, and he's been very supportive. Almost to a fault." They chuckled at that, because that was Neville. "But it also made him take talk of the future a little more seriously. Because what if I hadn't lost it? What if I were still pregnant right now? We're…not there yet, not ready to have a family." She cupped her cheek in her palm. "Besides, we've got enough to worry about with you being estranged from the family."
James mock-scoffed. "Gee, thanks." He paused and waited for her to lock eyes with him. "But really—thanks for telling me. I'm glad you trust me like that."
"It's not as though you're a blabbermouth like certain other, redheaded Potters," Victoire said, referencing Lily. "But you're an adult now, James, and you'll probably have a family of your own before you know it. I feel as though it's good to talk with you about these things."
Still, he thanked her again. "I love you, Vic."
"Of course you do. …me, too, James." It was reasons like this that reminded him why he'd made her his bridesmaid. She was there for him, and he could be there for her, too.
She was not the only one there for him when the weekend came around and, with it, the ceremony run-through. The school year had just ended, so Justin was home now, and things could now flow more smoothly, much to Elizabeth's delight.
"We start with some of us seated in the front pews," she explained. She sat Mr. Finch-Fletchley on the right-hand side, and she motioned for Percy and Audrey to sit on the left. "As people come in, Dermot and Lania will help to seat them." From the back of the church, Dermot waved and Lania…looked kind of giddy getting to usher alongside him. "Once the ceremony starts, latecomers will just have to stand quietly in the back of the sanctuary.
"As things begin, Victoire and Troy should walk up the aisle and stand on the left. Then Hannah and Ernie will walk up the aisle—" Justin and James stifled a laugh and only shut up when both Hannah and Elizabeth shot them looks. Ernie, on the other hand, had some nice color in his cheeks. "They will walk up the aisle and stand to the right. As we have no ring bearer and no flower girl, Victoire will spread flowers petals on the way up and Hannah will hold on to the bracelets. Pastor Dunham will be in his spot from the beginning, so the only thing left will be James and Justin coming up."
"Er, we don't have to walk in time with the music, do we?" Justin asked. Another look from her, and he nodded. "Of course we do."
"Justin first, then James—"
"Seriously!" James groused. "I'm not the bride!"
"Justin first, then James," Elizabeth repeated. "Once you two are at the altar, everyone sits, Pastor Dunham begins talking, eventually James and Justin face each other. When the good pastor gestures you to face each other, there will be the vow exchange and the bracelets…"
"Bracelets," Hannah snickered. But even she was not free from Elizabeth's Evil Eye.
"After the bracelets comes the kiss, and don't you two leave until that music leads you out. Once you're out, your bridal parties follow, and then the guests. There will be a car with that adorably tacky 'Just Married' banner awaiting you outside, and everyone will head to the reception hall, where we'll dine and dance and put all this behind us."
James gave Justin a look. "Uh, do you know how to drive, Jus?"
"Yes, though I'll admit to being a bit rusty… I Apparate most places, and most of what I buy when I'm home can be bought in stores to which I can walk."
That answer didn't quite settle the flip in the wandwright's stomach.
The entire group ran through the ceremony, with Elizabeth nitpicking every last detail. The boys had a hard time walking with the music, Victoire didn't spread the petals evenly, Lania was distracting during the pastor's words when she laughed at one of Dermot's jokes. Then came the vows.
The pastor looked to either one of them to start, and James froze. Justin squeaked, his mouth hanging open.
"You two do have your vows written…don't you?" Elizabeth asked.
"Ahaha…funny story…" Justin looked sheepishly at her.
Pastor Dunham obviously saw a problem coming. "Ah, it's no problem, Mrs. Livingston. We can wing it now and they can be prepared for next week." He smiled, trying to lessen the tension, and it worked.
The rest of the day flew by without anyone killing anyone, which was a success, if one stopped to think about it, especially considering that this wedding had been whipped up rather last-minute. Most weddings took more than four months to plan, not to mention most businesses needed reservations made more than six months ahead of time. James knew none of this, however, because weddings were not something Justin had covered in-depth in his class. In fact, there were several things Justin hadn't covered and, now that James had gotten a rather large taste of Muggle goings-on, James felt the desire to point this out to Justin. Even if Justin told him Lily had gotten the O.W.L. in his class, James doubted she knew enough about the Muggle world.
But there would be other times to point things like those out to Justin, and there would be other times to teach Lily what she hadn't learned in Muggle Studies, if their relationship was repaired. James pushed all of that out of his mind.
They were having a wedding.
The morning of the fantastic day felt…average. Honestly. James woke up beside Justin and it felt like a regular day in Justin's home. The one difference was that James didn't have to go into Diagon Alley for work, because Elizabeth had charmed (really, threatened, James felt) Ollivander into letting James have the day off. Whatever she had said must've been impressive, because Ollivander didn't expect to see James in the day after, either.
Dermot, Mallory, and Carlos (who was a nice Mexican-American bloke and seemed to be Mallory's other half of her being) were staying at Justin's, so the five of them got up and everyone dressed. Mallory and Carlos went on ahead to the church while Dermot stayed behind to wrangle the couple.
It felt weird to ride in a car on the way over, but James knew he'd have to get used to it to an extent. With all the people he'd met so far and the more he would meet from Justin's side of the family, James learned that Justin truly was the only magical one. There had been no other Muggle-borns—at least, so far.
At the church, Victoire had their new robes waiting for them. She insisted on separating them, because of some superstition that one person wasn't supposed to see their spouse until the ceremony began, but James could care less. He just hoped that when Justin walked off with Ernie to get dressed that it wouldn't be long before they could start.
"Neville's been helping to seat everyone in Dermot's absence," Victoire informed James as she helped him slip into his suit jacket. "'Course, it doesn't help that he had to ask all of Justin's family and friends who they were…" She tried to hide a laugh. "It was funny, though."
"How's Elizabeth doing?"
"She's micromanaging," Victoire answered through gritted teeth. "But she's happy. Did you and Justin write out your vows?"
"She's going to kill you, and she won't need the Killing Curse to do it."
"We'll do what we did the first time, and what Pastor Dunham said—we'll wing it."
His cousin turned him to face her. She raised an eyebrow. "Really, James? Really?"
He changed the subject. "Who's here?"
"Well…nearly everyone, last I checked."
James stared at her. "Everyone?"
She nodded and smiled. "Grandmam and Grandpa Weasley. My parents and my siblings. Molly and Michael—yeah, she actually brought him. Lucy. Uncle Charlie. Uncle George and Aunt Ange. Freddie, Roxie. Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron and Hugo. Rose and Scorpius—even that Zabini girl Al fancies; she's sitting with Rose and Scorpius."
When she stopped, James felt a lump form in his throat. "And my parents?"
"Lily's here," Victoire stated. "Teddy brought her since she said she wanted to go."
"Vic. My parents, and Al?"
"…sorry, James. No sign of them yet."
Victoire continued to rattle off others—the Scamanders, the Finnigans, the Jordans…even Ollivander and McGonagall (Justin had added her to their guest list)—but James clenched his jaw. He hadn't expected his parents and his brother to show up, but he had been hoping that they would come anyway. And of the three of them, James had the least hope for his brother; surely his parents would see reason. He thought that even a wedding could've brought them together…but apparently not.
Regardless, James' mind was off thinking about their absence, and his heart was gone with it. The wedding was really something for Justin's parents; it didn't matter as much as the handfasting he and Justin had done about a year ago. But if the wedding could mean something to the Finch-Fletchley, then why couldn't it mean something to the Potters? He scowled at the thought, and Lania hit him and motioned for him to smile. While he had been distracted, Victoire and Troy had already taken their places, and Hannah and Ernie were halfway there.
Justin came up behind him and hugged him from the side. "You ready, Pumpkin Tart?"
He didn't have the heart to correct him and remind him that Justin was the Pumpkin Tart in this coupling. He frowned and took a breath. "Does it matter if I'm ready?"
"No…I suppose not." Justin pecked his cheek and gave him an encouraging grin. "I'll see you up there, though."
James nodded and watched Justin go. Shortly after, he walked down the aisle, and it felt like the longest distance he'd ever crossed. It wasn't made much better by arriving at the altar, because James inadvertently tuned out Pastor Dunham's words, and it took a nudge from Justin to get him to focus.
The minutes dragged on, but the pastor finally asked the two of them to face one another. He read some things out of his bible, and James wondered if that seemed hypocritical of them to be there, hearing those words. Sure, they were human, but they were wizards. James had never heard of a witch or wizard having a religion. Besides, hadn't Muggles once burned people alive for magic? Yeah… Suddenly his History of Magic lessons were sinking in…
Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, however. Pastor Dunham was still speaking, but James heard a tiny creak as the doors to the sanctuary cracked open. Someone slipped inside. He tried glancing as inconspicuously as he could while standing in front of so many people and—
Pastor Dunham coughed, and James turned back to Justin, who gave him a quizzical look. The pastor said a few more things and then James heard the word "vows," and Justin opened his mouth.
"I'm not one to wax poetic," Justin began, and he had to wait for the crowd to stop chuckling before he continued. "I can't always express myself well. You know that best, I think." His cheeks warmed, and James thought of the Teddy fiasco. Apparently Justin had been thinking of it, too, because he shook his head as though to throw those thoughts from his mind. "But I don't have to spell myself out to you, James. There's a kind of…synchronization we have. Everything flows with us, even when times get tough. And I can't imagine myself ever taking off this ring," he said, dropping his gaze to his left hand. He lifted his eyes to James'. "Maybe it's a bit of magic we've got, and it works." Some of James' cousins made noise, and both men blushed; James mentally noted to corner Freddie, Roxie, and Louis later, for sure. But he had a bigger problem at hand—how the hell did he follow up Justin's few words?
"I do," he spluttered, and his face turned Expelliarmus red as everyone laughed and Pastor Dunham whispered, "We're not quite there yet, Mr. Finch-Fletchley."
James shook himself and glanced at the back of the church again. When he saw someone nod, he faced Justin again, the knot in his stomach unraveling.
"It sounds bad, but…I thought little of you at first. Not in a bad way, but you weren't someone in my line of sight." James paused for breath, gathering his thoughts. "You forced your way into my life, though, giving me a friendship I didn't know I needed and eventually creating feelings in me I didn't know I could have for someone. I've been lucky enough not to know your absence, because…I can't think of life without you. You're right: We've got a bit of magic, and I don't plan on it ever fading." Someone in the crowd sniffled and someone else followed suit. The couple turned and saw Elizabeth patting her eyes dry, but the funny part was when Percy pulled out a handkerchief, dried his eyes, and blew his nose. Angelina had to prop George up and clamp a hand over his mouth, he was laughing so hard.
Pastor Dunham motioned for Hannah to pass the bracelets to the couple. "As James and Justin are reaffirming their vows, they have opted for a different exchange."
"No, these rings are just never coming off," Justin stated without thinking, and their friends and family laughed again.
Justin slipped the thin gold bracelet onto James' left hand, and James did the same for his husband. The bracelets were bangles and strongly resembled their wedding bands; it was an acceptable addition.
"Now would be the moment for anyone to raise qualms about this union," Pastor Dunham said.
Justin looked ready to smack the man for not omitting that part of the ceremony. There was a cough from the back of the church. But no one said anything.
"Then, by the power invested in me, I pronounce you husband and husband. You may now kiss—" He paused. "Er, you may now kiss your…groom…?"
James grinned, his heart lifting as Justin bent and pressed their lips together. The moment was made better only by the applause of all their guests. James almost forgot, as he and Justin walked back down the aisle, about his earlier anxieties. But they had faded completely when he saw Ginny and Harry following the other guests out of the church to see the couple get into their car to leave for the reception. Even Al was there, standing far apart from the others with his arms crossed in front of his chest…but he was there. All three of them were.
"You'll understand if I take a moment?" James asked Elizabeth.
She nodded and patted his cheek. "You can do whatever you want, dear. It's your day."
He raised his eyebrows, and she grinned.
The reception had begun an hour ago. Troy had made an embarrassing best man speech, reminding James that he had not been invited to James' first ceremony (they were avoiding the term "handfasting" around the Muggles), but luckily Ernie had opted for a toast after Troy's lovely words.
Justin had already danced with his mother and James had finally broken away from her, too, but he had a good reason. He was beyond happy to see his parents.
Ginny hopped up from the table she and Harry were sharing with Al, Calytrix Zabini, Rose, and Scorpius, though Rose and Scorpius were on the dance floor and Al and Calytrix were nowhere to be found. The mother enveloped her eldest in a tight hug, the tightest one she'd ever given James. "Oh, Godric, James!" she sobbed.
He had no words. It felt so good to have his arms around her and bury his face in her red hair and smell a scent he'd known all his life.
She peppered his face in kisses and then sat down, dragging him with her as she refused to let go of his hands. They locked eyes and she couldn't look away. "Oh, James…"
"It's good to see you again, Mum," he whispered, and he was surprised by how crackly his voice sounded. He chuckled and a few tears escaped his eyes.
Ginny brushed them away, but she couldn't frown. "I've missed you very much, you bloody prat."
He laughed. "Are mothers allowed to call their children 'bloody prat'?"
"Well, this one is." She shook her head. "Over a year, James. Almost a year and a half. And somehow, we never saw you."
His laughter left him. "You can't blame me. That reaction two Christmases ago…" A bitter taste developed in his mouth. "How was I supposed to take it any other way?"
Ginny didn't answer. Harry, who had been quietly watching with his hands clasped on the table, leaned forward. "So…you'd had another wedding, before this?"
James didn't like that his father jumped in like that, and with that question, of all things. But he nodded. "In a way. We didn't have a wedding in the traditional sense." He paused, preparing for a backlash as he said, "We had a handfasting."
Ginny didn't seem to understand as well as Harry did, because his green eyes widened slightly behind his frames. "That's a serious piece of magic, James."
"I know." He stared unswervingly back at his father, and it was as though this was a duel. But…it wasn't, and James had to remind himself of that. So he turned back to Ginny to explain. "The handfasting…is like a permanent marriage of souls."
Her mouth formed a little "o" in shock or awe, James wasn't sure. Harry stared at his own folded hands. "You're sincere, aren't you?"
Harry looked at him again, but his anger seemed…punctured. It was deflating as he spoke. "You're sincere about Justin, aren't you?"
"Yes," James said with all his heart.
"And…Justin's sincere about you?"
"Yes." He turned, sensing someone watching them, and saw Justin was watching the sense unfold from across the room. He looked worried, but James gave him a thumbs-up, and he nodded.
"You really surprised us, James," Ginny remarked. "I never thought that you would go for a wizard."
"Okay, so I thought that maybe you and Troy were awfully close. But Justin?" She sighed. "We thought that maybe your friendship to him had grown too close too quickly. We were worried it would head in this direction."
"What?" James' face fell. "You thought I might be gay, but you couldn't accept it in reality?"
She shook her head. "That's not what I mean, James. But understand a parent's perspective. Here you were, a teen—"
"I was eighteen, Mum."
"Still, a teen. But here you were, growing close to an old friend of ours and talking fondly and often of him. And you seemed to space out when we would ask you how Troy and Curtis had been and I couldn't help thinking that maybe they were not the friend you visited so often and that maybe this was not only a friend you visited so often and—" She slowed herself. "All the secrets, James. The secrets, and the lies, and the surprises."
"There was nothing we could do to prepare us for the concrete reality of the letter and gift Lily found," Harry stated.
James clicked his tongue. "I take it she hasn't been into my old room after that lovely incident."
"None of us have, James. Your personal things are intact." The three of them were quiet for several minutes. Then Harry spoke up again. "So if you had a handfasting, then why the wedding? Publicity stunt?"
James almost laughed, but he caught himself and shook his head instead. "No. This was more for Justin's mum than for anything else. His parents weren't at our handfasting. It was just Uncle Perce, Aunt Aud, Hannah, and Ernie."
"Percy?" Ginny echoed. "Percy, my brother?" She was astonished. "That man still doesn't remind me of the old prat who wore his prefect's badge twenty-four/seven."
"Who else was there?" Harry asked.
James grinned sheepishly. "Padma happened to be there, because Minister Shacklebolt officiated it."
Harry shook his head. "Kingsley's a sly one, all right…"
"Actually, Padma bullied him into doing it after Uncle Percy asked."
His parents exchanged a look and then laughed. "I think I'd buy that."
"Buy into it?" Ginny snorted. "I'd pay to see that."
Obviously something had gone over James' head, but he was too happy to care. His parents were here, they were talking with him, and they were even laughing. A year ago, he would've hexed someone if he'd been told that things would be this way a year later. "But, Mum, Dad…"
"Yeah?" Ginny said, and they faced him.
"I'm sorry for the pain I caused you. Thank you for coming today."
Ginny shook her head and exhaled. "No, we're sorry for the pain we caused you. We could've handled the news a lot better, that's for sure."
James eyed them. Here they were, his parents. His mother was dressed in a pretty lavender dress and his dad had traded in his jeans for a suit—and he didn't even look as though he was attending a Ministry event. They had tried—they were trying. "Well…maybe we could agree that there's blame to be had all around."
"You're still young, James," his father commented softly. His words made James bristle apprehensively. "Hear me out. You're still young. You may be twenty now, but you still have your whole life ahead of you. Did you think of what sacrifices the two of you have made, will make?"
Ginny winced, and James grimaced. Go figure his dad would ruin things. Leave it to Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. Few people knew he was also the Man-Who-Liked-To-Have-The-Last-Word.
He sighed and stood. "I didn't mean—" He cursed and walked off to get a drink, James glaring daggers at his back the whole time.
Ginny patted her son's arm. "James, don't be mad at him."
"Why not? Dad should get an award, you know—'Dick of the Year,' two years in a row."
"James Sirius Potter!" Ginny matched his glare. "Don't you talk about your father like that." She flared her nostrils and tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Your father loves you very much, and you ought to give him credit."
James scoffed. "For what?"
"For telling me that we should come today!"
He blinked. "…what?"
She still had an angry look on her face. "I didn't drag Harry along. He brought me."
Ginny shook her head. "He's had a lot of time to think about how we left things with you, and I…I'm a hotheaded Weasley. I can hold on to grudges forever."
His face crumpled. "Dad wanted to come…?"
She nodded. "As prickly as things can be between you and your father, he's always loved you, James. You're his son. Besides, it seems as though this is an occupational hazard."
She gave him a wet grin. "Mums have got to be the bad guys, because dads have got to be there to see both sides and be the peacemakers. I know, because your grandparents are the same way with our generation."
James didn't know how to reply to that. He dropped his eyes to his tie. His suit and tie were white and his shirt black, the opposite of Justin's. But his clothes were a painful reminder that not everything in life was plainly black and white. "So…?"
"Do you regret that Dad thought you guys should come?"
Ginny shook her head, her eyes wet. "No. Because, deep down, no matter how upset I was with you, I missed you. Terribly, James. I'm not saying that I want you to move out of your apartment and come back home, but I want you to understand that you still have a home with us."
"I have a home with Justin now, too."
She bit her lip. "I know. It was pretty plain to me, seeing and hearing your vows, that you've a place with him, too." She shrugged. "Maybe you have with him what I have with your father."
James held his tongue, because he did not want to correct his mother and tell her that he felt he got along better with Justin than Ginny and Harry ever had with one another. He really didn't need another fight with them. So he nodded. "Care for a dance, Mum?"
Ginny smiled and shook her head. "Maybe later." She pointed to the dessert table. "Your father looks a little lost."
James eyed the figure and sighed. He kissed the top of Ginny's head and hugged her, telling her that he'd be back later for a dance. Then he marched over to Harry. "I'd avoid the chocolates on the left," James told him. "I hear the crystals on the outside are coconut."
Harry frowned. "You hate coconut now?"
"Justin's dad's allergic, so I've gotten used to it. And it's really weird to taste it after you've not had it for a while, so I've avoided it altogether." James watched his dad settle for a good ol' treacle tart before he continued. "Mum told me."
Harry took a bite of the tart and slowly chewed it.
"You forgave me a long time before Mum did, didn't you?"
The older man wiped his fingers on his suit, a bad habit of which Ginny still tried to break him. "I don't know if 'forgave' is the right word for it…but the short answer is yeah."
James smiled the tiniest bit. "I've always thought you were a git, Dad."
"Thanks, James. Though I guess I deserve that."
The Potter child shook his head. "You were at the Auror Office more than you were at home, and it's still like that."
Harry frowned, hurt. "I know I could've been a better father. But—"
"I know. You're best at protecting people."
He nodded. "I stink at personal relationships. The effect of growing up with the Dursleys, I s'pose." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't want you to grow up as I did, though. I don't want any of you to feel as though you can't trust those who are related to you."
James understood. "And you've done a good job of that, Dad. And look at you—you get on okay with Dudley now, and you have tea with Aunt Petunia every few months or so. Even if Uncle Vernon is still a stick in the mud, you've somewhat repaired old relationships. You're a fixer, Dad."
Harry smiled gently at that. "I guess I am…though I'm by no means a problem-solver—that's still Hermione."
James rolled his eyes. "Yeah. And perhaps if you'd said something to her, we would've all been one happy family again a whole lot sooner." They didn't laugh, but their grins were nice and wide. "I love you, Dad."
"I love you, too, James. But I still reserve the right to grill Justin, since he's my son-in-law now."
As odd as it was to hear Harry say that, James was scared more than anything else for Justin. The glint in his father's eye was a rare sight and often preceded James getting caught in trouble. "Hey, have you seen Al?"
Harry shook his head, finishing the treacle tart. "No. We sat with Calytrix for a little bit and then the two of them went off."
"James." Harry gave him a stern look. "If you find him…be careful. I don't think he'll budge for a while yet."
James frowned, but he knew what his father said was true. "Yeah, I know." Still, he spied Al and Calytrix by the exit on the other side of the room, and he wanted at least to say hi to his brother. He left his father to the food and cut across the dance floor. Justin stopped him.
"It turned out that Susan came—with Wayne, no less." Justin pointed a redheaded woman out, one who was standing beside a man about her height with wheat-colored hair. Then Justin eyed James. "Everything all right?"
"They're getting better," James said, and he gripped Justin's arm. "I just need to take care of one last thing."
Justin followed his line of sight and nodded. "Yeah. I'll be right here, luv." He kissed James' temple and James forged ahead.
However, someone else stopped him—well, two someone elses. Lily and Teddy twirled into him as they danced, and they would've crashed to the ground had Teddy not held on to Lily and grabbed James by the arm.
"James!" Lily squealed. And she leapt on him, squeezing the air out of him almost as badly as their mother had.
"Lils!" He hugged her back, laughing as she buried her face in his neck. He set her on the ground and kissed her cheek. "Has my dastardly, devious little brat of a sister decided I'm not the plague?"
"You're still annoying as hell, James," she replied without missing a beat. But her lips curved up softly. "But you're still my big brother."
Teddy grinned triumphantly over her head, as if to say "I told you I was right all along."
"Who would've thought you'd marry?" Lily said, and the three of them glanced at Justin, who was dancing with Hannah. Lily looked back at James. "He's fairly handsome, too."
Teddy scowled. "Excuse you, Lily?"
She laughed. "Oh, Teddy, no one's handsomer than you."
Teddy gave her a look, and James thought it funny that it turned out that Teddy hated being compared to Justin as much as Justin had to him. "Hey, you two," James said. "Enough with the flirting, otherwise Dad will kill Teddy."
Lily blushed. "I am not flirting!"
"Yes, you are, Lily. Just accept it," Teddy said. He winked at James before taking Lily's hand and getting her to resume their dance. Though her cheeks were almost as dark as her crimson hair, James knew she was enjoying Teddy's attention. And as long as he didn't see Teddy kiss her anytime soon, James would let his little sister enjoy that attention. Hey, even she'd said it: He was still her big brother.
The last few steps towards Al felt horrible. Every step made James think he had ten more to go. And his heart sank when Al saw him, didn't make eye contact, and fled through the doors well before James reached him. Calytrix dawdled behind until James stood with her.
"Hey, congrats, James," she said. Her smile didn't exactly reach her dark eyes.
"Thanks," he replied. His arms hanged at his sides as he determined what else to say.
"Thank you for inviting me, even if it was just an incentive to get Al here," Calytrix stated.
He winced. "That obvious?"
She nodded. "From the moment you sent out the invitations." She twisted a lock of her black hair around one of her fingers, just as unsure how she was to speak with her boyfriend's brother. "Um…he's not coming back, James."
James' shoulders drooped.
"He's angry, James. Angrier than I've ever seen."
"Then why did he come?"
"Because your mum and dad asked him to, and Lily said she was going with Teddy, no matter what." She pursed her lips. "One thing he can't do is disappoint your parents."
"Then he'll be upset with himself soon enough. I've reconciled with them. He's alone now."
Calytrix shook her head. "You know Al can handle alienation. Come on—the first Potter in Slytherin? And the only one, at that? He might be best friends with Scor, but Al's always been a private person, one who seems to enjoy the lone wolf attitude."
James' heart sank. It wasn't that many years ago when he had been hanging out with his younger brother at school, joking around and trying to keep him from studying. Then James made friends with Justin and there'd been no turning back. "What does he hate me for…?"
"Honestly? Everything. Nothing." She held her head exasperatedly. "I'm not even sure anymore. But I know he feels as though he doesn't know you anymore. It…it was a lot of change all at once."
"So he just runs away whenever he sees me coming? Great way to handle a problem," the wizard mumbled.
Calytrix fixed him with a glare. "It might not be my place to say it, but I love Albus very much, and he doesn't want to run away from his problems. But you were the first one to run, James, when you told them."
He had nothing to say to that, because it was the truth.
"But he's also trying to wrap his head around all of this," the witch continued, gesturing to James and the decorations and people behind him. "You were his idol, James. And he doesn't know how to look at you now."
James swallowed the lump in his throat, as his heart had jumped into his mouth. "I…" His mouth was dry and no words came out. The two of them were quiet for a while, the only sound between them being the scuffing of Calytrix's heels on the floor as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Will he ever talk to me again?"
"I think we both know that's up to him to decide."
James nodded, but his head hadn't felt so heavy on his shoulders before. Hearing those words hurt, maybe even more than hearing and seeing his parents' reactions to the revelation two Christmases ago.
"Well…I'll see you later, James." Calytrix waved to him and turned on her heel, most assuredly chasing after Al.
The wandwright sat down at his and Justin's table and cupped his cheek in his palm. He watched the guests have fun dancing and laughing and eating and people-watching. It stung to think that everyone else could be having so much fun while James felt…rotten inside.
Justin passed Susan to Wayne on the dance floor and joined his husband at their table. "Hey."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. He left and let his girlfriend speak for him."
Justin leaned back in his chair and nudged James until James tucked himself into Justin's side. "What did she say?"
"That I've a long way to go with my brother."
The teacher rested his chin atop the Gryffindor's head. "We can't control other people's emotions, luv."
"I know." James closed his eyes for a moment and listened to the singer crooning another tune for those still dancing: "Tell me we're in this together… Relax, I won't let them near you…" He sighed. "Al's let his anger consume him, I fear." He was stunned to find he was shaking a bit.
Justin held him tightly. "James, all he needs is time to make up his mind, which I don't think he's done yet—hence his current anger. Besides…a little fire every now and then is a good thing. It clears away baggage and makes room for new bridges to be built."
James knew Justin was, as always, right. But he didn't want to hear it, not right now. "I don't want to keep my toes to the fire, though, Justin. I don't." The arm around him gave a squeeze, and James tried to relax, enjoying the remainder of what was, for all intents and purposes, their day. And it had turned out to be so much more than that.
FUUUUUUCK. *ahem* I needed to get that out of my system. So far, this is the longest oneshot I've written. A little over 26,000 words long. 93 pages and a few lines bubbling onto a 94th. Scene after scene after important scene. To save myself from rambling, I'll just highlight some things in my end note here:
a) Justin & the rings: As pliable as Justin's personality can be, I thought it would be nice to give him one thing about which he'll never budge…and that would be his and James' rings, which will never leave their fingers. Justin's a romantic at heart, he is. -w-
b) Victoire, Neville, & the unspoken word: I tried to write Vic around Christmastime as though hormones were screwing with her, and I did have to decide about her being pregnant. Yes, she suffered a miscarriage, but she is strong and will be fine. I do feel a bit mean doing that to one of my OTPs. However, it's an important subplot point for the next and ninth stories, so you all will see. ;)
c) Teddy, Justin's jealousy, & Easter Egg alert!: Teddy. Had to include him. Couldn't believe I hadn't until now. But James/Teddy was never a part of the plan until I thought to include Teddy here. But, though I love James/Teddy, Jamestin is OTP! So Justin can be jealous all he wants, even of James' grizzly bear Patronus. But James is Justin's forever and ever. And cookies for you if you understood why James and Teddy ate pastries and SUNDAES at that café. B3 *snicker, snicker* P.S.—Lily/Teddy all the way!
d) Justin's parents: They were supposed to be the main part of the story, a contrast to Ginny and Harry. The more the story wrote itself, however, the more I realized how much they were alike. To think that both couples produced such different people in James and Justin, though! :O Also, I had planned on much of what happened, even though Elizabeth fought me and tried to go a little OOC with the wedding. That bloody woman!
e) Hannah: …will lighten up. In the next fic. Promise!
f) Justin's family: …is totally posh. I mean, they're rolling around in money. I've never quite written people like them before, because the Malfoys don't count with all their baggage and angst. So yeah. Money~! :D
g) Susan Bones' cameo~!: Susan/Wayne occurred to me during this fic, so I wrote the 1st oneshot for them, "somebody else's business," which is posted and now makes them an M&MWP like Jamestin. -w-
h) 2 books: I mentioned Cooking for Dummies and PCs for Dummies. Though I'm not 100% sure those are exact titles in the For Dummies book series, I was referencing that series, so all ownership goes to them.
i) Mr. Ollivander: …will stop calling James "Mr. Potter" at some point. I think.
j) Justin's parents' speedy acceptance of James: They're older than James' parents and they've had a long time to imagine what Justin would do with his life. They are the kind of people who try to be understanding, and usually are. Justin gets that from both his parents.
k) Muggle brands: …are the copyright of their makers. And Vera Wang did design some beautiful black wedding gowns in 2010 or 2011, I think. -w-
l) The wedding: Because sometimes a wedding really is more for the parents than for the kids. I know Jamestin had their handfasting, which is kinda one reason why James wasn't paying attention during the ceremony this time. Plus…I've never been to a wedding. ;P Also, little was said about the handfasting in front of Muggles because obviously it means something different to Muggles—there's no binding magic in the Muggle version, after all. One last thing: I did some research and learned that, as of 2012, the U.K. only permits civil unions…I wrote this with the hope that in time James and Justin will be allowed to marry someday in the real world. But for now, they've got my Word processor, where all's well for them to marry. ;]
m) "Pastor" Dunham & religion: I avoid religion in HariPo fics, because there's no place for it (even if there's an Easter holiday break during Hogwarts' school year), and James even pointed that out. But I couldn't help naming the pastor after one of my favorite comedians. Guess who he is? Hint: He's no dummy. ;D
n) OCs: This fic wouldn't have worked as well without OCs. Justin's parents, uncle, cousins & associated partners, as well as James' friends and Al's girlfriend are all of my creation. I totally owe Calytrix one, speaking for Al. And I totally still need to write her and Al a fic. -.-;
o) The song: …mentioned in the last few paragraphs? The lyrics are from "Bandits" by Meg and Dia. I love them. :')
p) Other M&MWPs, for which Morghen & I would like a nod if you use them: Besides Jamestin, there are—VictoireNeville, MariettaLee (Curt & Lania's parents), SusanWayne, ZachariasParvati, MollyMichael, and PadmaKingsley (hinted).
q) Reconciliation: Besides the wedding, the other big part of this fic was to bring the Potters back together. I knew from the start that Lily would be the first to want to mend ties (though she was influenced a bit by Teddy) and I knew Al would stay angry. What I didn't know was that I was going to redeem Harry. I hate him…but that doesn't mean I have to make James hate him, so Ginny took the fall for some hardheadedness and Harry—for once, in one of my fics—was a hero. That was tough to write, because while I don't have Jamestin's exact experience with such revelations, I do know what it's like not to speak with family, and it's tough. It will be interesting to see how I write Al in the next several fics, because parents want to forgive their kids at the end of the day. Siblings, however, will find each other's skeletons in the closet and hide them to use as leverage for a rainy day. Just don't find yourself in James and Al's position, luvs.
r) Unhappy ending? & "This author's note is too damn long!": Jamestin, for once, got an iffy ending. Some things were good and some things were bad. But that's because I have 4 more fics planned, and the next one—"Two Young Eyes to Guide Me"—is going to be their biggest adventure yet. So I apologize for all the notes, but there is a method to my madness.
For anyone who has read this far—thank you. Please don't favorite this without reviewing, but do look forward to "Two Young Eyes to Guide Me." Until next time!