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Chapter 24 : Weekend At Potter Manor
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Saturday after Christmas
James had woken bright and early for a change, he was eager to get up today because today was when he was going to introduce Petunia to his family and have her be a guest at the manor for the weekend. During the day, that is. At night she would return to 15 Spinner’s End. But by day, he could walk her about the manor the grounds, where he could show her some magic. Since he lived in a wizarding household, his parents were expected to monitor his magic, and not perform any forbidden magic or use it where Muggles not associated with a wizarding family could see.
He couldn’t wait to see her again, she made him quiver all over and he longed to hold her and run his fingers through her hair. It was strange, but though Petunia was not the most attractive girl he had ever dated, somehow she made him feel things no other girl ever had. Perhaps it was because she was not a schoolgirl witch, but a grown woman. He was flattered that an older woman found him interesting and he sure found her fascinating. As mysterious as a siren singing upon the shore. Only this siren had already lured him in and now she held him fast and he never wanted to let her go.
Merlin, but he would have never thought that when he left school at the end of the term, he would fall in love with a Muggle girl. And especially not Lily Evans’ sister. Now if that wasn’t ironic, he didn’t know what was. He had left the Hogwarts Express swearing he would win back Lily from Snape and instead he found his own heart won by Petunia.
He whistled on his way to the bathroom, and took his time taking a shower. When he emerged, his hair finally tamed into obedience for once, Sirius was just waking up in his bed. James grinned at his friend and gestured to his new Magpies shirt and neatly tailored gray slacks and matching Magpie-logo sneakers. “Hey, Padfoot, old boy! How do I look? All spruced up for my girl, eh?”
Sirius yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He was not a very good morning person and the last thing he felt like doing was to critique James’ fashion sense. He examined his friend, who looked happy and very neat, his hair slicked down with some Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion. “You look all right, James. What girl are you talking about? I hope, for your sake, that you’re not still dating that Muggle girl. Evans’s sister Pansy . . .Patsy . . .whatever her name is?”
James gritted his teeth. “Her name is Petunia, Sirius. Not that Muggle girl. What do you have against Muggles, Sirius?”
“I don’t have anything against them, Prongs. It’s just . . .they live in one world and we live in ours and they shouldn’t mix.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
“Because Muggles don’t belong in our world.”
“That’s ridiculous. There are Muggleborns in our world and they have families who know about magic and are fine with it. You act like this is the medieval era where they hunted and burned wizards.”
“You don’t get it. You and her, James, it’ll never work.”
“Give me one good reason why not.”
“One, you’re the Potter heir. That means you’re expected to marry to continue the family name. Marry a pureblood witch, not her Muggle sister. A few weeks ago, you were swearing up and down that Lily was the only one for you, and now you’re dating her sister. It’s insane!”
“No, it isn’t. You were the one who said I was obsessed with Lily, Sirius. You were right, I was. I wanted her because I was jealous of Snape and not because I really loved her. I know that now. As for my requirements as my father’s heir, the only stipulation is that I marry and get an heir, it never said anything about my prospective bride being a pureblood.”
“But you know it’s assumed you’ll marry well, and that means pureblood.” Sirius insisted. “I’m from an old family too and I know how to read between the lines. An “acceptable wife” means a pureblood witch from a good family.”
“Tough. If and when I decide to marry, I will marry a girl of my choosing and not just because she’s pureblood. I’m not all hung up on that crap like the Slytherins are.” He gave Sirius and accusing look. “Since when do you care about a person’s bloodlines, Padfoot? Thought you weren’t like your mum.”
Sirius colored. “I’m not. Damn you! I just think you’re making a mistake, bringing her here. She’s not one of us. She’ll never fit in.”
“She will. My parents aren’t pureblood fanatics like yours. They’ll accept her because she’s my girlfriend and she makes me happy.”
“That’s a nice dream, James. But it won’t last. Your great-aunt Muriel won’t take to having a Muggle in the family and well you know it.”
“I don’t give a bloody damn what she wants. She’s not my mother, she can’t tell me what to do.” James said stubbornly.
“Thought you were going to inherit a sizable number of Galleons from her.”
“So? You think she’ll cut me out of her will for that? Let her. I don’t need her money.”
“I don’t understand you, James. Why risk a quarrel over a Muggle girl, and not a very attractive one at that?”
“Don’t you say Tuney isn’t attractive!” James jumped to her defense. “She might not have tits like Moira Morrison, but she’s got a nice body and her face might not make men drool, but it’s not ugly and I like her just the way she is. Aunt Muriel can go soak her head in a vat of hippogriff urine.”
“Prongs, why can’t you ever do things the easy way?”
“Ha! Look who’s talking! Like you’re any better.”
“That’s different.” Sirius said stubbornly. “Stop changing the subject. She’s not even our age. She’s three years older.”
“And that’s one of the things I like about her. She’s experienced more than we have and she’s not afraid to show it. I like that in a girl. She’s got pluck.”
“Too bad she didn’t inherit the magic as well.”
James banged his hand down on his dresser. “Will you stop acting like a prejudiced, snot nosed git, Sirius? You sound just like your mother.”
“Shut up, James!” Sirius shouted. His fist clenched. “Say that again and I’ll clock you one.”
“Say anything about Petunia being an inferior Muggle again and I’ll return the favor!” James snapped, his own hand balling up.
Before things could get any more out of hand, Bilbo appeared. “Is there something wrong? I heard shouting, Master James.”
James forced himself to relax. It was foolish to get into a quarrel with his best mate. “No, Bilbo. We were just having a little discussion, that’s all. We got a little excited.”
“I see,” the elf frowned at the young wizard, not looking convinced, but he would not pry. “Well, there is breakfast waiting for you two in the dining room, Master James and Master Sirius.”
“Very good, Bilbo.” James said, and the house elf bowed and said, “Always a pleasure to serve, Master James.” Then he popped away.
“Time to get up, Padfoot.”
“Yeah, sure!” grumbled Sirius. But he forced himself out of his comfy bed and into the bathroom.
Ten minutes later they were making their way to the dining room, where Liana and Charles were discussing the latest news in the Daily Prophet—another Muggleborn family had been raided by Death Eaters—as Voldemort now urged his Death Eaters to spread fear among the populace.
On his way down to the dining room, James noticed that every surface in the manor sparkled with cleanliness. Not that it wasn’t clean normally, but clearly the house elves had scrubbed and shined everything to a mirror bright finish. Who’s coming over, the Minister? He wondered, and that was the first thing he said when he sat down.
Liana looked up at him, she had hazel eyes and light brown hair done up in a twist. She was wearing her good set of pale blur robes with the gold trim. “No, but your Aunt Muriel and Nate are.”
James groaned. “Merlin! Why couldn’t they come some other time? I’m having my girlfriend over, remember?”
“That’s all right, James. Then Aunt Muriel can meet her too. We’re all very curious about her, you know,” Liana said, smiling brightly. “All I know about her is her name, Petunia Evans.”
Sirius opened his mouth and James kicked him under the table.
“Uh . . .Mum and Dad, there’s something I haven’t told you yet about Petunia . . .” he trailed off uncertain how to proceed.
“Well, don’t keep us in suspense, Jamie,” Charles encouraged. “What is it? Is she a werewolf? Does she have a mermaid’s tail? Whatever it is, it can’t be too bad.”
James drew in a deep breath. “It’s none of those things, Dad. Petunia is . . .a Muggle.”
Liana and Charles did not say anything for a moment. Then Liana said, “That’s your big secret, son? Heavens! You had me worried she was part Gorgon or the carrier of a magical disease or something.”
“I was wondering if she had two heads,” Charles joked.
Sirius looked as if he had swallowed the Snitch, he was shocked at the Potters’ reaction . . .or lack of one.
James heaved an invisible sigh of relief. He hadn’t thought his parents would mind, but . . .”Then it doesn’t bother you, that I’m dating a Muggle?”
Charles shrugged. “It’s not the first time a boy of your age had a fling with a girl like that.”
James bit his lip. “Dad, she’s not just any girl. I mean . . .I’m serious about her. I like her a lot and I think you will too.”
“Of course we will, dear,” Liana soothed. “I’m sure she’s a wonderful young lady.”
“She is. She’s smart and funny and she’s got real spunk.”
“What does she do for a living? Or is she still underage?” asked Charles.
“Oh, she’s older than me, Dad. She’s eighteen. She still lives at home, but she works for her dad in his pharmacy.” James told them. “She was engaged, or supposed to be, to that bounder I beat up.”
“Ah. So that’s where you got the war wounds. You never said,” Charles laughed.
Liana looked less than pleased. “James Emerson! You beat up a Muggle boy?”
“More like a walrus, Mum, and yes, I did,” James admitted calmly. “He deserved it. He hit Tuney ‘cause she didn’t want to kiss him. I think he might have . . .done worse if I hadn’t been there.”
Liana paled. “Oh, dear sweet Merlin! That poor girl! Then I’m glad you gave him what-for, James.”
“Yeah, and he won’t come around her anymore. I thrashed him good,” James declared proudly. “Then we got to talking and her mum fixed me up and I had dinner and that was the beginning of Tuney and I together.”
Liana laid her hand on her son’s shoulder. “It’s a wonderful beginning, Jamie. I’m proud of you, son.”
“Yes. It looks like you took my lesson to heart,” Charles stated, also looking pleased. “A woman’s honor is above reproach and there’s no excuse for hurting a lady.”
“I know, Dad.” James said, then he began to eat his breakfast.
Sirius had his nose in a bowl of fruit and a platter of bacon and toast, seemingly oblivious to their conversation. But Prongs wasn’t fooled. He knew that Sirius was listening to every word.
“But we’ll just keep that little fact to ourselves when Muriel’s here,” Liana said then. “You know how she gets when she thinks you’re below her standards.”
“I know, Mum. I wasn’t going to tell her that I’m dating a Muggle. I know she’s a bigoted old hag.”
“James!” Charles rebuked. “Don’t get smart, mister. She is your elder and you will treat her respectfully, even if she holds opinions you do not. Clear?”
James nodded and mumbled, “Yes, sir. Sorry.” Muriel was his father’s aunt, his grandfather’s sister, and a more opinionated, stuffy, prim and proper matron you could not find anywhere. James had always dreaded when she visited, because she used to inspect him like an Auror with a suspect and she never was satisfied and always had something nasty to say about how he was dressed, or his hair, or any number of things. James thought it was a miracle that she had found a husband to meet her standards and wasn’t surprised when he died some thirty years later. The stress of living with Muriel had probably caused his heart to give out. She had one child, a girl named Belinda Rose, and had made sure she married a pureblood with lots of money in his vault and they had one child, Nathan, who was as spoiled and arrogant as a seven-year-old could be.
“How long is she staying?” asked James warily, praying it wasn’t the entire weekend.
“Probably till Sunday afternoon,” Liana answered. “Now, you will behave, won’t you, James?”
“Yes, Mother. I promise I won’t put a mouse in her teacup or make her shoes stick to the ground or a bird fly up her dress.”
Next to him, Sirius was snickering into his napkin.
“I would hope that you are grown well beyond such pranks, son,” Charles said sternly. “Because if not, you will be grounded for the rest of the holiday and I shall send Sirius and Petunia home, understood?”
“Yes, Dad.” James said, though for a moment he wished he were still nine or ten and could get away with pranking the old harpy.
Well, he hadn’t precisely gotten away with it, since he almost always got caught and punished eventually, but it had been fun to watch her scream and jump about, losing her oh-so-precious dignity. Except the time he’d stuck her seventy-five Galleon high heels to the floor. Then she had fallen flat on her ample bosom and her dress had flown up, exposing her pink panties. James had never laughed so hard in all of his life. At least until his father found him behind the maple tree, scolded him and given him a few swats, and then made him apologize to the outraged matron. Muriel had been furious, called him a wicked nasty brat and said he should be whipped. Charles had then sent him to his room until she was gone, and James had hoped that would be the last he would see of her, but a few months later she came back and he had to try and make her leave all over again.
He looked at his watch then said, “I’d better go and fetch Petunia. I’m supposed to meet her around ten thirty and it’s quarter past ten.” He walked over to the fireplace, Floo powder in hand, and then said softly, “Snape residence, Spinner’s End.”
An instant later he stepped into the green flames and was gone.
* * * * *
Petunia stepped out of the green flames awkwardly, since James was holding her so close. She wished she had a rag to wipe off her dress, she was sure she looked like a coal miner’s daughter, all covered in soot. She wanted so much to make a good impression and was all aflutter at meeting the Potters.
“James, my dress . . .” she hissed in an undertone, gesturing at her green dress which was now covered in black soot. It was the same dress she had worn to the Quidditch match.
James quickly muttered a cleaning charm and passed his hand down her and the soot flew off and back into the fireplace. “There, good as new!” He repeated the charm for himself and then led her into the lounge area to meet his parents and Sirius, who was reading a Quidditch magazine on the settle while Charles perused the front page of Wizarding Finance and Liana did some needlepoint.
“Mum, Dad, this is Petunia Evans,” James announced.
Petunia walked forward as Charles rose and gave her an old-fashioned bow, took her hand, and kissed it gently. “Charmed to meet you, Miss Evans.”
“Thank you, sir. Pleased to meet you too,” she said, blushing faintly. What a quaint custom! But she found that she liked it. It made her feel like a lady in a tale.
Liana set her embroidery aside and rose also to greet her newest guest. “Welcome to Potter Manor, Petunia dear. Please, make yourself at home.” She smiled at her and shook Petunia’s hand. “Bilbo! Please bring Miss Petunia a cold drink.”
There was a pop! and then Petunia saw the strangest creature appear out of thin air. “Oh! It looks like a little gnome!”
“House elf,” James corrected. “His name is Bilbo and he’s served us—my family that is—for centuries.”
The creature, with its large eyes and floppy ears, nearly made Petunia giggle, he looked so funny. Bilbo bowed to her and asked, “What will Mistress like to drink?”
“Uh . . .what do you have?”
“We have pumpkin juice, and lemon spritzer, and butterbeer on ice and—”
“I’ll have a pumpkin juice, please.”
“Very good, miss.” Then he popped away.
“Does he always pop in and out like that?” she asked James.
“Yes, unless he’s in a room right next to you. You’ll get used to it. Bilbo’s very discreet.”
A second or two later, Bilbo was back, handing her a glass of iced pumpkin juice on a silver salver. “Here you go, miss. Will you be wanting anything else?”
“No, thank you.” Petunia said diffidently, she was not used to servants.
Bilbo bowed and blinked away again.
Petunia sipped her drink thirstily, for some reason Floo travel always made her throat dry and she was nervous besides. They seem nice. I wonder if they know I have no magic? I hope they like me. I think they do.
“There’s no need to thank a house elf for doing its job,” drawled Sirius, setting down his magazine and looking up at Petunia with a lazy smile upon his handsome face. “They live to serve.”
Petunia lifted her chin a notch. “Where I come from, we thank a person for doing a favor. It’s polite.”
“And good manners,” Liana added.
Sirius recognized a mild reproof when he heard one and rose to his feet and held out a hand dutifully. “I’m Sirius Black, James’s best friend. Pleased to meet you, Petunia Evans.”
Petunia shook his hand and then let it go. “Likewise,” she said, thinking that here was a handsome spoiled kid who needed an attitude adjustment. Much as Vernon had.
“This is very good,” she said. “Not overly sweet or tart. I like it. How do you make it?”
“Who knows?” Sirius shrugged. “The elves probably do it. We wizards always drink it.”
“Do all of you have . . .house elves?”
“If you’re pureblood of an ancient family, you do.” Sirius replied. “Didn’t your sister tell you that?”
“You know Lily?”
“Sure I do. She’s a Gryffindor, like me and James.”
“Lily doesn’t usually talk much to me about her school.” Petunia answered. She took another swallow of her juice.
“Come on, Tuney, let me show you around,” James said, then he took her arm and led her from the room and down the hall. Sirius followed, not having anything better to do.
James pointed out the portraits of his ancestors as they walked down the hallway, and Tuney gasped in surprise when they moved. “Are they alive?”
“No, but a magic portrait is enchanted to move and even to speak,” James explained. “Hello, Great-Grandfather Jimmy,” he greeted a portrait on his left of a brown-haired old wizard in an old-fashioned robe of mulberry.
“Eh? What’s that you say, boy? Speak up, my hearing’s not what it used to be.”
“I said, hello!” James yelled, smirking.
“Hello to you too, rascal. Who’s the gem?”
“My girlfriend Petunia.”
The portrait gave her a smile. “Nice looking gel. A real keeper.” Then he winked and went back to dozing.
James loved seeing Petunia’s expression as he introduced her to different parts of the manor. She was so intrigued by all the magical things. And he discovered he loved teaching her about his world.
Sirius, growing bored, decided to liven things up. “So, Petunia, is your sister Lily still dating Snivellus?”
“Snape. You know, tall skinny kid with greasy hair and a beak like a falcon.”
“Yes, Lily is going out with Severus,” Petunia said. “But he is not greasy and his nose is hardly long enough to arouse comments. Are you friends with Severus?” she asked before she could think better of it.
Sirius nearly fainted. “Merlin’s bones! Me, friends with Snape? Not unless I was touched in the head.”
James elbowed him in the ribs, but not quick enough.
Petunia halted and glared at Sirius. “I take it you were one of those who picked upon him and my sister in school?”
“Why, he come whining to you like a baby? Typical Snivellus!”
“No, but James has told me some of the horrid things you did to him and others at school and frankly, I don’t find them funny at all.”
“You’re just like your sister, got no sense of humor.”
“Oh? I appreciate a good joke as much as the next person. But what you did to Severus wasn’t funny, it was harassment.”
Sirius held up his hands. “Okay, okay, don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
“Sirius, enough!” James cut in, embarrassed and angry at how his friend was acting. He grabbed Sirius by the arm and drew him down the hall, whispering furiously, “What the hell’s gotten into you, Padfoot? Why are you starting with her?”
Sirius sulked, saying, “She’s defending Snivellus and you know I can’t stand him.”
“So? She grew up with him, he’s like her family. Just leave it be, Sirius.”
“Quit acting so high-and-mighty, Potter. You’re not my father.”
“Good thing,” James growled. “Stop being an arse, Siri, or else you can just go home.”
Sirius looked alarmed. “Aww, come on, Prongs . . .you don’t mean that.”
But James did not relent. “I mean it, Black. Behave with Petunia and quit starting trouble or else.”
“I’m bored, for Merlin’s sake! What am I supposed to do while you play tour guide?”
“Read, swim in the pond, I don’t know. You can amuse yourself if you don’t want to listen to me. Just don’t antagonize my girlfriend, okay?”
“Fine,” Sirius agreed. “You know, Prongs, ever since you met her you’ve changed. You’re no fun anymore.”
James shook his head. “That’s because I’ve done something you haven’t yet.”
“I’ve grown up a bit,” his friend replied, then he turned away and headed back to Petunia, lecture complete. “Sorry about that, Tuney. Sometimes Sirius can be . . .an idiot.”
“Do tell,” Petunia raised an eyebrow.
James sighed. “But I can’t really talk, since I was like him till I learned differently. Come on, let’s go see the conservatory.”
He led Petunia into the conservatory, where Liana grew hothouse flowers and plants of every description, both magical and Muggle. Petunia was fascinated by the magical species, even the Venomous Tantagula. Watching her wide-eyed gaze examine everything made James recall the first time he had ever seen the conservatory, at age four, and how he had been fascinated too. Sometimes Liana used to let him help her garden and he had enjoyed those times with his mother, learning the names of the various plants and how to care for them, until he had discovered flying and then nothing would do to keep him off his broom and out of the sky.
He saw some of that same innocent wonder in Tuney’s face now and asked, “Do you like the garden, Tuney? My mum’s a very good herbologist, she knows more about plants than anyone I know, except maybe Professor Sprout.”
His girlfriend rolled her eyes at him. “With a name like Petunia, you ask me that, James Potter? Of course I do. And I would love to learn more about your magical plants. But your mum is having guests and she must be busy getting ready. There’s always a million things to do when company’s coming. And your aunt sounds like she’s very . . .particular.”
“She’s a real pain-in-the-arse is what she is,” James grumbled. “Her and her grandson, my cousin, Nate, who’s seven.”
“You don’t get along then?”
“No, not really. Aunt Muriel wants me to be this uptight stiff pureblood lord and I’m not and never will be. And Nate is just annoying. You’ll see when you meet them. My advice is to just say hello and then make like a house elf and vanish.”
Petunia began to feel a little uneasy, but she didn’t show it. She had dealt with more than a few prickly old ladies in the pharmacy and could probably handle Muriel better than James.
James showed Petunia the game room next, which had a large chessboard and pieces set up and also a mock Quidditch pitch in miniature, complete with moving players and balls. It was designed for two players to play against each other and it was fun to play, especially when the weather was bad and you couldn’t go flying.
“Hey, Siri, want to play a round?” he invited, so his friend wouldn’t feel left out. A bored Sirius was asking for trouble.
“Why not?” Sirius moved over and took the opposing team players.
So Sirius and James played a few rounds, calling out the moves to the players with vigor, while Petunia watched and rooted for James when he scored.
“It’s better when we play for real,” James said. “But this is fun too.”
He brought her upstairs to his room, naming the portraits along the way, all of them greeted Petunia courteously. Kismet was asleep on the bed, but she woke when they came in, and jumped into Petunia’s arms to be held and petted. She loved cats and Kismet was beautiful and very friendly.
“You never told me you had a cat,” Tuney murmured as Kismet purred and rubbed her face against her cheek.
“She’s not mine, she’s Mum’s familiar. But lately the old girl’s taken to sleeping in my bed,” James said, chuckling. He rubbed Kismet beneath the chin fondly.
Petunia arched an eyebrow. “So long as that’s the only girl sleeping in your bed.”
“It is,” James assured her, ignoring Sirius, who was choking with laughter behind him.
Before Sirius could make some kind of remark, the sound of feet came pounding up the stairs and then the door to James’ room was thrown open. Kismet hissed and ran and hid under the bed as a small boy with sandy hair and blue eyes wearing an orange Cannons shirt and blue denims burst into the room.
“Guess what, James? Gran bought me a new broom, a Nimbus Starseeker, it’s the prototype for a new line, and I’ll bet you 10 Sickles it’ll dust your old broom in five seconds.”
“Hello, Nate,” James said between gritted teeth, using a tone reserved for people who really annoyed him. “Haven’t you learned to knock yet before you come barging into my room?”
“What for?” the seven-year-old asked insolently. “You haven’t got anything that I haven’t seen before.”
“Because it’s polite,” Petunia stated, shocked at the other’s rudeness. She used the same tone she did on rowdy children who came into the pharmacy and trashed things and got on her nerves. “Not to mention good manners.”
“Who cares,” Nate shrugged. “I’m Nate the Great and I can do whatever I want, mate. Get it? Bet you can’t rhyme like that.” He spun about, showing off his little orange and blue cloak. “Who are you, anyhow? Another of Jamie’s girlfriends?”
“As a matter of fact, I am. My name is Petunia Evans,” she held out a hand to the little boy.
He took her hand and shook it once, a bored expression on his face. Then his eyes narrowed and he said with a smirk, “That why you didn’t want me coming in here? ‘Cause you were making out with her? How far did you get?”
“Nate, for Merlin’s sake!” James snapped, reaching out and smacking the kid lightly on the back of the head. “What kind of question is that? Mind your mouth, kid.”
Nate glared at him. “You were kissing her, weren’t you?”
“Listen, brat, why don’t you go and fly that broom of yours around the pond instead of bothering me?”
“I want you to race me. Unless you’re too busy with her,” Nate whined.
“Later,” James waved a hand.
“But I wanna race now.”
“He said, later, shrimp. Now beat it,” Sirius drawled from where he was sprawled upon the divan.
Nate whirled upon the other boy. “Why are you here, Black? Your parents kick you out?”
“You wish, Jabber Jaws. Go practice flying circles or something and leave us in peace.”
“You’re not the boss of me, Sirius. I’ll stay if I want to.”
“Nate, quit being a pest and leave me be for a few minutes.” James ordered.
“You just want me to leave so you can kiss her.”
“Nate! OUT!” James pointed with a finger at the door.
“I’m telling! I’m telling Gram you were mean to me!” the little brat wailed, changing tactics. Then he tore off down the stairs, yelling, “Gr-a-a-m, James kicked me out of his room so he could make out with his girlfriend and Sirius said he was gonna throw me in the pond!”
“I what?” Sirius cried. “What a lying little snot! Just for that I ought to throw him in. Somebody needs to put a Silencing charm on the brat.”
James groaned. “You see what we have to put up with? Nate the Great Pain-in-the Arse whose grandma thinks he can do no wrong. Wait ten seconds and you’ll hear Aunt Muriel.”
Sure enough, about a minute later they heard a woman’s voice calling stridently, “James Emerson Potter, come down here this instant! What do you mean, letting your friends torment my grandson?”
“Come on, Tuney. Time to meet the old harpy,” James sighed, then called out, “Coming, Aunt Muriel!”
Muriel Atwater was a tall skinny woman in her late fifties with an elegant auburn hairdo in a chignon. She was wearing a lavender robe and an ivory pantsuit under it. She was a handsome woman, but her face was marred by the frown upon it.
“Well, boy? What do you have to say for yourself?” she demanded.
“Hello, Aunt Muriel. How are you?” James said, neatly dodging the real reason she had called him. “You’re looking well.” He gestured to Petunia. “This is my girlfriend, Petunia Evans.”
“Humph. Whom you were kissing in front of my grandson.”
“No, Aunt Muriel,” James said through gritted teeth. “Nate was . . .mistaken,” he knew better than to accuse the apple of her eye of lying. “I only told him not to come in because we might be kissing, not that we were.”
“Don’t be pert with me, young man.” She sniffed then looked over at Petunia. “Well, don’t just stand there gawking, girl. Bit of a wallflower, are you?”
“No, Ma’am,” Petunia came forward and held out her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Atwater,” she said when James whispered her last name in her ear before she came forward.
Muriel took it and shook it firmly, eying Petunia up and down. “You look like you’ve got prospects. Where are you from?”
“Yorkshire, ma’am. Born and raised.”
Muriel nodded. “Evans . . .can’t say as I’ve heard that name before. Are you a Muggleborn then?”
Petunia hesitated and then Liana jumped in. “Aunt Muriel, do try my lemon pound cake. I followed your recipe and wish to see if it turned out all right. And here is a glass of sherry.”
She quickly sliced the older witch a piece of the pound cake and handed her a glass of sherry as well.
“Petunia, James, take some cake and then go have a walk about the grounds. Your cousin is out there already, I think.”
She waved them away, and James quickly levitated three slices of cake and some bottles of pumpkin juice in front of him, enough for himself, Tuney, and Sirius, who had just come down into the dining room. Then they beat a hasty retreat outdoors.
“That was close,” James breathed a sigh of relief. “Usually Aunt Muriel’s like a bloodhound once she starts on a topic. Can’t get her off it. Good thing Mum made her pound cake. Or one of the house elves did, I should say.”
“Do these . . .elves do everything for you?” Petunia asked.
“Well, no, but they’re in charge of keeping the house clean and meals and that kind of thing,” James said, biting into his pound cake with relish. “Mmm . . .this cake is great.”
The other two both agreed and were soon eating and drinking companionably.
Until Nate flew by on his broom and spotted them. “Hey! How come you’ve got cake and not me?” he cried. “No fair!”
“Quit whining, you lying imp and go get your own,” James growled.
Nate landed and scowled at his cousin.
“Yeah, before I really throw you in the pond,” Sirius growled.
“You do and I’m telling!” Nate stuck out his tongue at Sirius. “I don’t feel like going inside. I’ll just ask your elf, what’s his name—Billy . . .Bilbo? to bring me some.”
He clapped his hands and yelled, “Bilbo!”
The elf popped into view. “You called, Master Nate?”
“Yes. Bring me some of that cake they’re eating and something to drink too.”
Bilbo bowed and said, “At once.”
Bilbo returned with the cake and a bottle of pumpkin juice and Nate began eating, shoveling the cake into his mouth so fast he nearly choked.
The older wizards and Tuney had already finished theirs and James wanted to show Petunia the grounds, so they left the boy there and began to walk in a southwestern direction across the manicured lawn.
The Potters’ estate, while not as big as some, covered a good amount of land and James proudly showed Petunia the small ornamental fishpond, the larger pond where you could swim if it were hot enough, a maze garden and topiary bushes. There was also a Quidditch pitch and an old stable which had once been filled with horses in his grandfather’s time, but the horses had since been sold since no one rode anymore and they were expensive to keep.
James was attentive and gallant and Petunia would have enjoyed her walk immensely if not for Nate, their constant shadow, who kept butting into their conversation and then playing all kinds of annoying pranks upon them when they told him to go away.
One prank made Petunia belch for two minutes, to her horror. James chuckled, but then he saw how scarlet she was and became angry at his cousin. “Leave off, Nate!”
“Make me!” the boy taunted, then tossed down a handful of Sneezing Powder, making both of them sneeze for four minutes. Nate laughed like a fiend and flew away on his broom.
Just when they thought they had managed to escape from the annoying little midget, he would reappear and make some comment and in general make a nuisance out of himself.
Sirius declared he was worse than Regulus at that age and tried to run some interference, but Nate preferred annoying his older cousin and his girlfriend rather than doing anything else, even playing Quidditch with Sirius. Nate had a whole case of tricks up his sleeve, as he wasa frequent visitor to Zonko’s Joke Shop in Hogsmeade.
Most of the jokes were harmless, though the dungbomb made both James and Petunia gag and nearly throw up.
“Little brat! Just wait till I get ahold of him,” James growled wrathfully. “I’ll prank his arse, all right.”
Just then, Nate appeared overhead on his broom, holding his nose. “Eeeww! Somebody needs a shower!” He held something that looked like a large balloon in his hand.
“Nate, don’t you dare!” James cried, and made the balloon levitate out of the child’s hands.
Only to have it explode a second later and shower them with water.
“Haha! I fooled you! Look at you two—all wet!” Nate cackled. “Whoo-hoo! And I can see your undies, Petunia!”
Petunia went beet red and tried to cover herself.
“Nate!” James cried, not appreciating his cousin’s humor at all. Suddenly he wondered if Severus had ever felt this kind of frustrated irritation all the times he had pranked the Slytherin. It had seemed funny at the time, but now, when his brat of a cousin was doing it to him . . .
He twitched his fingers and suddenly Nate found himself flying straight into the pond. “Ahhh! No fair!”
James grinned. “Never prank the master, kid.” Then he dried off Petunia and himself with a quick drying charm.
“James, let’s go inside. I need to change before dinner.” Petunia said, and they backtracked into the house.
They found Liana alone in the sitting room, and she promptly offered them some cold lemonade. They accepted gratefully, then James asked, “Where’s Aunt Muriel?”
“Freshening up a bit.”
“Good, because I’m about to throttle Nate, Mum.”
“What’s he done now, dear?”
“He won’t leave us alone,” James groused. “He keeps pranking us with Zonkos products and he’s just the most annoying little brat.”
To his astonishment, Liana started laughing. “Oh, James! He reminds me an awful lot of you when you were that age.”
“Me? Oh, no way, Mum!” James cried. “I was never that annoying. No way!”
“Your relatives wouldn’t agree,” Liana said, still chuckling.
James remained with his mouth open. Surely not! His mother must be exaggerating. Because no one could be as annoying as Nate. No one. But then he recalled all those times he had pranked his relatives at that age and wondered to his chagrin if this was how they had felt all those years ago. Bloody hell, if Mum is right, then I was a real brat, just like Nate. Except . . .I was cuter so they forgave me quicker.
“I’m going to get changed,” Petunia said, and hurried away to do so, hiding a smile at her boyfriend’s horrified expression following his mother’s statement. It’s not so funny now when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it, James dear? I can only imagine what you were like as a child. Mischief incarnate!
A few minutes later, Sirius came into the house, looking like a walking mud monster.
“Merlin’s toenails, Siri!” James cried. “What happened to you? Tried taking a mud bath?”
Sirius gritted out one word. “Nate.”
“Oh.” James sighed. “You see what he’s doing, Mum?”
Sirius called Bilbo to help him upstairs without tracking mud on Liana’s floors.
“I see a bored little boy pranking his cousins for attention, James. Like another boy I could name.” Liana said.
“I’ll give him some attention all right!” James growled. “A good smack on the arse.”
“James, I think you’re overreacting, dear.”
“I’m not. Look, I wouldn’t care if Petunia wasn’t here. Then I’d just prank him back, okay? But it’s different when she’s here. She’s a Muggle, Mum, and she’s not used to this kind of thing. I don’t want to make her so upset that she leaves and never comes back. Know what I mean?”
“She’s a Muggle?” came a shrill little voice from the entryway. “Your girlfriend’s a Muggle?”
James spun around. “You just hush your mouth, Nate Allomar. Understand?” he went to grab the kid by the shoulder, but Nate ducked.
Then he gave his cousin a wicked little smile and began to scream at the top of his lungs, “Jamie’s dating a Muggle! Jamie’s dating a Muggle!”
“Shut up, you little arse!” James cried, and snatched the boy up and clamped a hand over his mouth.
Nate struggled, but James held him fast. “Quiet! Y’hear me? Nobody’s supposed to know that. Now keep your trap shut or I’ll glue your lips together.”
Nate started sniffling and whimpering.
“Nod if you understand me,” James hissed in his ear.
Nate began nodding.
James set him down.
Nate opened his mouth to start howling, but closed it at his cousin’s warning look.
Too late, for Muriel had been returning downstairs when she heard her grandson screeching that vulgar phrase over and over. She could not believe her ears. At first she thought it was just another prank of Nate’s, but when she entered the sitting room, she soon saw that it was not from the anxious expression upon Liana’s face and the angry one on James’s. She looked from one to the other, then said in a voice that fairly dripped with censure, “So. It’s finally happened. A relative of mine has stooped so low as to actually bring a Muggle into this family. I’m not surprised it’s you, James. You always were a rebel, never did give a whit about the reputation we’ve all worked so hard to keep above reproach.”
“Aunt Muriel,” Liana began, but James was furious and jumped in before she could say anything more.
“How is my dating Petunia ruing the family reputation, Aunt Muriel? Last time I looked, we weren’t prejudiced against Muggles. Or did I miss something?”
Muriel stalked up to him, and tapped her paisley walking stick against his chest. “Don’t you take that tone with me, boy! You know very well what stipulations I have in my trust funds. And it says right there in black and white that you are to marry a girl of good family, and she is not a pureblood, not even a witch! How can you demean yourself by marrying so beneath you? I thought your father taught you more pride than that!”
“Petunia is not beneath me!” James said, trying to maintain control over his temper. “She comes from a wonderful family and her sister happens to be a witch and there is nothing wrong with her. Just because she doesn’t have magic is no reason to think badly of her.”
“Muggles and wizards don’t mix. Look at all the trouble your second cousin Andromeda Black is causing her family by hanging out with Muggles. Like should stick to like.”
“That’s old-fashioned and just plain . . .wrong, Aunt Muriel! Petunia is a wonderful girl and she’s just as good as any pureblood witch alive.” James declared passionately.
Muriel turned and glared at Liana. “Is this what you’ve been teaching him, Liana? How to disgrace his lineage, which goes back to Merlin and the chieftains of this island, and marry a girl without any spark of the gift in her veins? He’d do better to marry her sister!”
“She’s taken and I don’t love her,” put in James.
“Pah! Love! You don’t marry for love, silly boy! You marry for advantage, specifically, your family’s. Your marriage should benefit your family first and foremost. What alliances does she bring, what new ties can you form? That is why you marry. Love is a fool’s notion! This girl brings no advantage whatsoever to your House, James Emerson. All she’ll bring you is sorrow.”
“How can you say that? You barely even know her!”
“I know her sort, boy! Opportunistic young woman on the make, looking for just such a fool as yourself. She’ll lull you with sweet words but what she really wants is your gold, James. Muggles always want gold.”
“Petunia’s not like that. She doesn’t give a damn that I’m rich.”
Muriel laughed disdainfully. “So sure of that, are you? You may be handsome as sin, but handsome only lasts for so long. And you ought to think of your children. What sort of future will they have with their mother a Muggle? She could throw you a Squib. Then where would you be? Have your fling if you wish, James, but don’t put a ring on her finger. Or else you know what will happen.”
Out in the hallway, Petunia and Sirius listened in stricken silence as Muriel berated and threatened her nephew for the crime of dating a Muggle.
“What? You’ll cut me out of your will?” James sneered.
“I will!” the old lady cried, stabbing him lightly in the chest with her stick. “Don’t think for a minute I won’t!”
Petunia gasped, a hand over her mouth, tears welling in her eyes. “James, I’m so sorry!” she whispered.
Sirius gave her an icy look. “Now look what you’ve done! You’ve ruined his life!”
Petunia said nothing, sickened at the old woman’s prejudice but helpless to do anything about it.
“Fine! Do it then! I don’t need your stinking money!” James cried. “You care more for money than you do anyone in this family.”
“How dare you?”
Liana rose to her feet. “James, you’ve said enough. Please leave.”
“Mother, you’re not—not siding with her are you?” James protested.
“Aunt Muriel, let’s not be hasty. James has only just met her and it might not be serious yet.”
James opened his mouth to refute that statement, then shut it when Liana flashed him a silent warning. He watched his mother soothe the outraged old battleaxe and turned on his heel and left, cuffing Nate, who was smirking in malicious delight, before he went out the door.
Only to bang headlong into Petunia and Sirius.
“Tuney, how much did you—?”
“All of it,” she said miserably.
“Merlin!” James groaned. “Tuney, don’t listen to her, she’s a bigoted old bitch and I can’t stand her. Nobody else cares that you’re not a witch.”
“James, I don’t want to cause trouble between you and your family.”
“You’re not. She is.”
But Petunia shook her head. “I . . .I don’t think I should stay for dinner. I think I’ve overstayed my welcome. I want to go home.”
“No, Tuney, please!” James cried. “Don’t go!”
“James, I won’t stay where I’m not wanted.”
“I want you! Who gives a damn about bloody Aunt Muriel.” He pleaded, upset that she was hurt. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. He had wanted her to fall in love with his world and instead she had become a victim of bigotry. “Tuney, just stay for supper. Don’t leave because of her. Then she’ll win.”
Petunia sighed. She felt extremely uncomfortable after overhearing that argument, but she was not a coward, to run away when things got tough. “All right. I’ll stay. But after I want you to bring me home.”
“Will you come back tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” She blinked hard, determined not to shed any tears. But the other witch’s hurtful comments stung her like a hive of bees and she had thought herself immune to such things after enduring Vernon. She knew she should have expected such from Muriel, given what James and Liana had said of her, but expectations were not the same as actually hearing someone degrade you so viciously. Pompous old bat! Like I care about her precious bloodlines. And suddenly she was angry. I’ll show her! I’m as good as anyone, Muggle or wizard! She stiffened her back and her chin came up. “When is dinner?”
James shrugged. “In about a half-an-hour, I think. Mum is in there trying to calm the old dragon down. Wish she’d tell her to go shove it, but that’s not Mum’s way. Let’s go back up to my room. I’ll teach you how to play Exploding Snap, okay?”
Recognizing a peace offering when she heard one, Petunia agreed. She marched back upstairs with her head high and her back straight. She was an Evans and proud of it.
* * * * * *
Dinner was tense but quiet, no one spoke much, they all concentrated upon eating, all save Nate, who made mocking faces at Petunia across the table, until James made a covert gesture, and the kid’s chair was yanked out from under him, dumping him right on the floor. He landed hard on his bottom and started to cry.
Muriel turned to coo over him, but Charles, who had been informed of what had gone on and was ashamed of his two relations, said sternly, “Leave him be, Muriel. He’s fine, maybe next time he won’t lean back in his chair.”
Nate sputtered and whined, “But I wasn’t, cousin Charles. The chair just flew out from under me.”
“Now that’ll be enough of your tall tales, mister,” Charles said sternly. “Eat your dinner.”
Nate obeyed, sulkily, and James nudged Petunia and gave her a secret grin. Good old Dad! He knows who the real villains are around here.
Dinner was a superb fillet mignon accompanied by a broiled lobster tail with drawn butter and green beans almondine. The adults drank red wine and the kids had sparkling apple cider in place of the wine.
Despite the delicious food, Petunia found it hard to enjoy it, with Muriel looking condescendingly down her nose at her. She managed to finish her plate and nibble politely at the Queen’s cakes and pudding for dessert along with the tea before pushing away her plate and standing up.
“I think it’s time for me to go home.” She announced calmly. “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Potter, for a lovely afternoon and your dinner was delicious.”
“You are very welcome, Petunia,” Liana said, smiling.
“Come back anytime,” Charles added, ignoring Muriel’s horrified gasp. “Tomorrow, if you’d like.”
“Merlin forfend!” muttered Muriel.
Petunia turned slowly, and there was a fire in her eyes that would have done a soldier proud. “I beg your pardon, ma’am?” she said icily. “But am I to think that you do not think I am suitable company for your family?”
Muriel sneered haughtily. “You would assume right, girl. You are a lying Muggle.”
“How dare you call me a liar. I have lied about nothing,” Petunia snapped.
“You allowed me to assume you were a witch when you are clearly not.”
“Did I? I never said I was and therefore am not responsible if you jump to conclusions. I am not ashamed of who I am, I am proud to be an Evans.” She lifted her chin and met the other’s eyes. “It’s a pity you are too narrow-minded to see that you need both Muggle and wizard in this world and one is not any better than the other. There are things in my world that you could never conceive of and vice versa. And for your information, I am not after the Potter fortune, I don’t need to marry for money, I can marry whom I choose.”
“Then choose someone other than my nephew.” Muriel said coldly. “I wish to keep our bloodlines pure.”
“Doing that too much results in genetic defects,” Petunia said coolly. “Have you never learned about inbreeding in school? Such a shame they don’t teach genetics in wizard schools today. Would save you a lot of heartache and keep you from spawning little monsters.” She tossed her head at Nate. “But far be it from a poor ignorant Muggle to lecture you on anything, m’lady. Good night.” She gave an exaggerated curtsey and then James stepped up and took her arm.
They walked to the Floo, James smiling proudly. “Good for you, Tuney! You took the wind out of her sails.” Then he tossed down the Floo powder.
Petunia’s brave façade lasted just long enough for her to step into Eileen Snape’s living room.
The Potions Mistress was reading on the couch in front of the fire and her son was sitting curled up on the recliner, writing a letter to Reg, when Petunia and James stepped out of the green flames. “Tuney, how was your day?” Eileen asked kindly, reaching out to catch the young woman as she stumbled.
The soft tone and gentle grasp undid Petunia’s precarious self-control and she clung to Eileen as if she were five again and sobbed, “Eileen, it was awful! She . . she said horrid things about me because I’m a Muggle . . .she threatened to disinherit James because of me. . .”
Eileen hugged her and patted her back. “Who did, child?”
“My great-aunt Muriel,” James began.
Severus set down his letter and stood up, fire in his eyes. “And you just stood there and let her be made a laughingstock, Potter? You damn coward!”
“Hey, watch who you’re calling coward, Snape! I told my aunt to take her money and shove it where the sun don’t shine,” James snapped.
“You sure about that, Potter?” Severus demanded. “I warned you what would happen if you hurt her.” His fists clenched.
Eileen looked up from comforting Petunia, some sixth sense alerting her that a fight was in the wind. “Severus! Control yourself!”
Severus halted. His mother rarely used that tome, but when she did, she meant business. “I told him if he hurt Petunia, I would kick his arse, Mum.”
“But he wasn’t the cause of it, Severus. Now sit down.” Eileen ordered, still hugging Petunia. “You too, Mr. Potter.”
James sat gingerly on the edge of the couch, feeling like a toddler caught playing with a wand.
Eileen soothed Petunia with a cup of tea laced with a Calming Draft and handed her a handkerchief. “Here, Tuney. Dry your eyes, child, and tell me what happened.”
Petunia carefully related what had gone on and when she was done, Eileen looked at James and said, “Is that what happened, Mr. Potter?”
“Pretty much, Mrs. Snape. Except Tuney missed the bit where I told off Aunt Muriel the first time.” James said sincerely. “Tuney, I’m really sorry my aunt is such a bitch—sorry, Mrs. Snape—” he amended quickly upon seeing Eileen’s stern glare. “But she’s always been like that and the rest of us just learn to ignore her. Don’t judge us all by one rotten apple, please. My parents really like you, otherwise Dad would have never told you to come back with me tomorrow.”
“They do?” Petunia dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief.
“Yes. What’s not to like, Petunia Evans?” he smiled at her and in his smile was sincerity and regret, but most of all love.
“But what about the inheritance she promised you?”
“Merlin, Tuney, it’s like I said before, I don’t need it and even if I did, I would be damned if I would give in to her terms and let her tell me who to see and not to see. I’m not a puppet and this isn’t the Dark Ages. It’s the twentieth century and it’s time to move with the times. And that means I’ll go out with whomever I want—Muggle, wizard, or half-human.” He reached across the couch and took her hand. “Trust me, my lady. I will defend your honor to the death, like a true knight,” he murmured.
She smiled up at him. “I believe you, James.”
“Don’t break that promise, Potter,” warned Severus.
“I won’t, Snape.” James said. “Will you come back tomorrow then? And go flying with me?”
Petunia hesitated. “Will she be there?”
“No. I’ll make sure she’s gone before I come to get you,” James promised.
“How will you do that, Potter?” asked Severus.
“By doing what I do best. Playing a prank on her,” James answered. “She’s going to get a letter from her estate manager down in Devon. Mr. Carlisle is going to inform her that a dragon from Cornwall recently rampaged through her prize grove of milkweed saplings and ate them and what would he like her to do about it? That’ll make her hurry home if anything would, and she’ll take my irritating little cousin with her.”
Severus gave him a grudging nod of approval. “A trick worthy of a Slytherin.” He smirked at James’s horrified look. “Let’s hope it works.”
“It will, Snape. She wouldn’t recognize Carlisle’s handwriting, since she considers him inferior too.” He turned back to Petunia. “So, how about it, Tuney? Come fly with me?”
This time Petunia agreed. No nasty old witch was going to get the better of her.
James grinned, glad that Muriel hadn’t put a damper on their relationship after all. “I’ll send Orpheus to you tomorrow. Send him back when you arrive here, okay?”
She kissed him good night, a brief kiss, but no less sweet for the swiftness of it.
James rose. “Thank you, Mrs. Snape, for letting me use your fireplace.”
“You’re welcome, James. Best get on home, lad, before your mum worries.”
“Aye, ma’am.” He waved cheerily at them before departing.
“Thanks, Eileen, for lending me your shoulder,” Petunia said sincerely.
“Ah, well, that’s what I’m here for, child. Will you be all right going home? It’s dark. Sev can walk with you.” She motioned for her son to get up.
“Oh, I’ll be fine, Eileen,” Petunia began.
“C’mon, Tuney. I’ll walk you home,” Severus said. “And while I’m there I’ll see if Lily’s free tomorrow to go to the fair.”
“The one over in Pennington,” he answered, naming the small town next to them.
“Oh. Well, have a good time then, Sev.” Petunia said, half wishing she could accompany them.
Severus nodded, they walked slowly up the front walk of the Evans home, and then paused upon the porch. “Tuney, I meant what I said before. If Potter gets out of line with you, tell me and I’ll teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.”
“You’re too kind, Sev.”
He looked at the ground. “It’s what a brother does for a sister.”
“You’re a good brother then,” she smiled, and then she let herself in with her key. She was already looking forward to flying with James.
How did you like the Potters? And Petunia? How about Eileen and Sev?
Thanks to everyone who has reviewed this! I really appreciate it!
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