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Chapter 40 : Meet the Folks
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The young man sat in the room, uncomfortably aware of the ticking of the grandfather clock and the silence within the room.
The old wizard who sat in an overstuffed chair studiously ignoring him. The man seemed at ease with the youth's discomfort, as he paged through a section of the newspaper he was reading. A local Muggle edition, as there were not too many magical periodicals in this part of the South Island.
The room was visibly not exactly plumb, the wall slightly warped and the furnishing extremely bare. Probably due to old age of the wood house. Or it had been built by carpenters with very bad vision.
James had kept contained his initial comment of that idea, surprised at how small and rundown-looking Natasha's family's home had looked when they first walked up. The Czyrcyk were not a wealthy couple, obviously. Or maybe the austerity was just the Czyrcyk way.
It explained Natasha's extremely dowdy and 'plain' outfits, when he had first met her.
One of the few decorations, apart from some pictures and frightening looking masks on one wall, was a drab clay pot. Also slightly not quite vertical.
“Uh, very nice masks, sir.” The younger wizard tried for some conversation, to break the ominous silence and to seem to not notice the occasional raised voice from the upstairs room where his fiancee and her aunt had retreated to yell at one another. “Not very familiar …...”
“Maori, eighteenth century.” The white-haired, severe man interrupted, then with displeasure, put the newspaper aside and resumed his reading of a massively thick history book. He was something of a local historian, James remembered Natasha telling him.
“Ah, …....guess so, rather …...fearsome things ….” James guessed they were some protections against bad spirits.
Or just to frighten off visitors to the Czyrcyk homestead.
“Very …..formidable,” James finished.
“Like 'em?” One eye looked hard up over the corner of the book at James.
“Ah, very nice. Not that I know much of such things ...”
“Whakairo. Not ordinary kind.” The tiny man with snow white bristly hair cocked one eyeball up to fix James with a stare. Then put finger in the book, to mark his place, since the young man had the repeated temerity to interrupt so frequently. “Magic, ain't it?”
The old man's eyes didn't quite track the same, James had noticed. And he had trouble deciding which one to look to. “Umm, Certainly. Yes. Guess so” He had a burning desire to shift his head, to one side or the other to meet the man's gaze properly. What he thought to himself was, You sound like an idiot, James! Would this agony end soon?
“Wedding present. Bring good fortune to the home. Her parents gift.” Grigory Czyrcyk informed James, then resumed his more interesting reading from the book.
James could only imagine what the scary old man's in-laws must have been like. The masks were probably their most benevolent wishes! Sort of wood impressions of people under severe torture, is what James thought. But did not say that. Instead …... “Nice. Very homey, Sort of ...gives an authentic, local feel …..”
“Going to be yours, next.” Czyrcyk informed the flustered young man.
“I …..I, well, not ….....ah, wow. That's …...”
There was a sound of something heavy crashing, on the floor boards just over the men's heads, but the elder Czyrcyk seemed not perturbed by it. James almost jumped to his feet, but because the uncle of his bride was not worried himself, thought it best to remain calm and just be accepting of events as they unfolded.
There was a violent opening and shutting of a door upstairs. Followed by a hurried repeat sound of the door and hissed whispering that sounded to James very like a critical failure of a steam plants' feed line about to blow a primary seal.
Mr. Czyrcyk gave an annoyed glance up at the ceiling. Then James caught his quick look at the extremely ugly wood carvings of creatures in extreme agony. And noted the old man's fleeting grin.
Heavy tread pounded down the narrow, wood stairs and James cast a worried look at upwards and back to the Mr. Czyrcyk. “That doesn't sound good …,” James whispered.
“Naw,” Czyrcyk agreed disinterestedly.
Natasha came to the bottom of the stairs, clutching a hastily stuffed backpack of her few possessions from her room. She strode angrily to her coat and handbag. James knew her well enough to see - from the hard set of her beautiful strong jaw and from the glint in her eye - that Natasha was furious.
Now is not the time to say the wrong thing, James! He told himself. He was always saying the wrong thing. Everyone told him that. He would just shut up and listen.
Her aunt, a thin unpleasant-looking woman, pursued her quarry with no hesitation. James wouldn't have done so in a million years. But Mrs. Czyrcyk seemed to have no fear.
And her face, though much older than Natasha's, had a similar set of iron-hard determination. James could see the family resemblance. The woman stood up suddenly at the foot of the stair, as if surprised that Potter was still here. That just seemed to make her similarity to her niece all the more striking, as Natasha was also red in the face and her jaw clenched like a vice.
“I'll not have that ….” Aunt pointed at James' face. But did not finish what exactly 'that' was. Looking for support - and maybe an audience for her indignation - from her husband, Mrs. Czyrcyk was disappointed to see him engrossed in a book.
And not hacking limbs and eyeballs off this 'thing' that had so suddenly ruined her universe. All in one afternoon.
She begun and stopped several times, unable to formulate into words how awful for Czyrcyk this was.
The man did deign to cast another eye at James – who was sitting on the edge of his seat cushion with a deer-like expression of immanent victim-hood – but the old wizard said nothing. Turning another ancient page, with the air of a man who'd like nothing else but for everyone to go away.
“Do you know what this ungrateful tramp had gone and done? Do you?”
Mr. Czyrcyk just readjusted his book higher, so it blocked his face from view. “Hmmm” he grunted. “Not that I noticed.”
'Aunt' stood there in disbelief. And a contemptuous look at James. “I don't want …..this....” she barked at Natasha, but again seemed at a loss for words about exactly how abominable 'this' was.
“Suits me just fine.” Natasha snapped in the tense silence. She crisply put back on her jacket and forcefully gathered up James' outdoor stuff. Shoving them in his hands, she stated, “James, we are leaving.”
That was more like an order.
“Umm, okay.” James wsa more than glad to obey. This was not anything like what his dad had described of his first day 'meeting' his prospective in-laws. Of course, Harry had known the Weasleys since he was eleven and his engagement with their daughter had not been a great surprise. James had not expected a similar happy moment, from what little he knew of the Czyrcyks. But there had always been the chance.
The couple had only been in the tiny country house about ten minutes.
The Potter men had had a long night's conversation about what James could expect. Albus recommended armament. James' father mostly remembered that tiny moment of recognition in Arthur Weasley's face. The thought meme or vision idea of Harry sharing the bed of Arthur's daughter crossed is prospective father-in-laws face.
It had passed, vanishingly quickly. But a tiny second of most deeply uncomfortable shared thought was something Harry had told James he never wanted to repeat again. He had shivered just sitting there in the Potter's kitchen, telling James to be prepared.
Now James was stuck with his father's inadvertent curse. Al had thought it outrageously funny, and wouldn't stop sniggering about it as James had packed for his trip. Now James couldn't stop the thought occurring. It had gotten worse the whole afternoon. He'd thought of Natasha naked just about every other minute since they first knocked on her family's front door.
Oh, my god! It was so wildly ….WRONG at this moment.
Aunt flung out her arm at James' face, so vigorously Potter stepped back, thinking she was casting a curse at him. “Get that …...thing, out of my home,” She snarled.
He flinched. Not at Aunt calling him a 'thing', but momentarily afraid she had just read his mind. In truth, Natasha's aunt looked like she was going to be violently ill.
James did have some facial similarity to his father, Harry. But only sort of looked like his dad and was used to the confusion.
She hadn't looked like that when he came in! James thought. 'Auntie' had been polite but quite confused, prematurely awakened from an afternoon nap. The Czyrcyks had been very bewildered to see them, not expecting visitors and certainly not anticipating 'this guest' of their niece. Given the rapid worsening of the climate in the house over the past ten minutes they'd been there, it explained much to James about why his bride had wanted to 'surprise' her relatives in this way.
“Name's Potter.” Natasha furiously shoved her arms back in her coat. “And is going to be mine. Live with that, for the rest of your sodding life!”
Aunt's face turned bright crimson.
James was used to this reaction to his name, from some people. Especially, from people of the Czyrcyk's background. He had mostly feared an outraged parental hurling of some household object at his face. Or rude names. James could take those
What he couldn't take very well was the uncomfortable silence he'd been stuck with, alone in the room with Natasha's uncle.
And that tiny moment that both James and Uncle Czyrcyk both shared of what that meant that James was marrying Natasha. And what that meant the new couple intended to do.
James couldn't help cringing. He very much wanted to leave here, now.
Natasha's family very much hated James father. Even if her uncle feigned non-interest, her aunt – for one – didn't like the idea of the two of them together. Vehemently!
“The very idea of a …....Potter …...touchin' a girl of the Czyrcyk family …..” Mrs. Czyrcyk began.
“Not of the damn Czyrcyk, am I?” Natasha was flustered. James could see that. Most other people took her grim stiffness and the steely glint in her eye as cocky attitude and belligerence. James now knew it covered up a vulnerability and hurt. His bride threw to James his coat and briefly glared at him before he thought to be putting it on. But Natasha turned her building fury back on her Aunt. “Dolohov! Just like you, Auntie dear. Well, he's touched me, many times ..”
The smacking sound of her Aunt's hand on Natasha's face would have been shocking, to James. Except he'd been expecting exactly that every second since the moment Natasha said his name was 'Potter!'
He very much wanted to vanish from sight. James rubbed his face, in unconscious silent sympathy.
Natasha wasn't one whom James thought would just grin back at somebody slapping her in the face. The red mark on her cheek stood out. But Natasha seemed to almost have welcomed her Aunt's striking her.
She nodded. Natash firmly grasped the handle of the poorly hung front door and thrust it open and held out the door for James to slink through. “That's it then.”
“Betrayer! Get out of my house! Never return.” Aunt shrieked. Natasha's uncle merely raised his eyebrow, but seemed too engrossed with the text book to be turned away by the minor drama at his doorstep.
“Thank you, Greg Czyrcyk. For your home.” Natasha called out to the reading man, who grunted and just went back to his tome The girl ignored the furious aunt, who had known nothing of the boy her niece was bringing home to be introduced.
Vivian Czyrcyk had thought it was going to be a nice boy. A proper pure-blood.
Not this spawn of vipers!
James didn't stay to watch more. He strode out past the slightly collapsing white picket fence in the front yard and waited by a massive kauri tree that was the marker for the local port key back to Wellington's Center for Magic.
THIS WAS A MISTAKE. A GREAT HUGE MISTAKE! Why had 'Tasha insisted? There was no possible, conceivable way showing up at her family's door – short of him being in disguise – was not going to end in very hurt feelings!
He missed anything more said. Or maybe there wasn't anymore worth him hearing. 'Tasha marched grimly out from the oddly askew doorway, and down from the creaking little porch of the narrow and noticeably not plumb built four-story house. Out to the front yard to where Potter waited.
Natasha had thought she'd known exactly how this morning was going to go. The reality of it felt like acid in her stomach. Stopping next to him, she firmly grasped James' hand. Both for reassurance for herself that James was safely out of there and to pointedly impress upon him the need for further silence. But she had said nothing to James. Thinking he was already used to this reaction from some people and should have expected this.
She lead him onward without a word, stopped next to him at the colossal old tree, a wild look in her eye James couldn't decipher.
There was a brief few seconds of pregnant expectation. Whatever stupid thing he was going to say was interrupted by the sound of something weighty and ceramic shattering by the door of the ugly, narrow house.
James guessed it could have been that misshapen pot on the mantlepiece, but that was just a guess.
The couple took that moment to leave. The New Zealand portkey took them back to main city terminus. There seemed little that could be gained by waiting.
James was glad to leave. But he was morose and silent all through the various short stops on the way back. Not trivializing what the Czyrcyk's had just done to 'Tasha. Certainly not saying the words 'I told you so!'
Perhaps wisely, the couple said nothing to each other even after traveling back to Wellington, and walking back to their hotel.
The portkey connection back to Great Britain was not until next day. Just as well, James figured. She looked done in.
“Glad I kept my mouth shut.” James finally said. “I would have just made things worse.”
“Or you would have eaten that pot she hurled at the door.” Natasha said in flat, dead tone. “That was my one primary school creation, that ugly jar that I made in art time when I was six. My present to her I was so proud of.”
She sniffled. That in of itself unusual for the young woman who rarely showed much emotion.
Before going in, Natasha stopped him. “It was always going to end like that, James. I made a choice, a long time ago.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” He sighed, “Just not how I wanted ….. for you …....”
He misjudged how rock solid her emotions were, because when he looked back at her, her cheeks were wet and a very un-'Tasha lip quivering was threatening to overwhelm her steely demeanor.
Which quickly crumbled and for once, Natasha crumbled and sank against him, sobbing.
James hugged her to his chest, looking around for a place they could sit down.
But the city street by the hotel had only planters and little space beyond the curb for pedestrians to move past the couple, giving them a leery eye but not intruding.
She eventually stopped, sniffling and wiping her face repeatedly as if to hide her wet cheeks. “So stupid,” Natasha whispered several times.
“No, never, 'Tasha.” James said in her ear. “I should never have come.”
“Wouldn't have mattered, James. Not at all.” He had nearly caught up to her height, but she was still a little bit taller than Potter. But still managed to tuck her head down to rest on his shoulder. “Afraid to tell her all year. Made excuses about needing work, to avoid coming back down here. Fooled myself into thinking maybe …....just maybe ….....” The hitch in her voice told James she was not yet composed and about to cry again.
That was too traumatic for Natasha to withstand - twice in public - in one day.
James kissed her cheek and murmured in her ear. “Well …..I guess it is just as well I didn't get to tell her some off-color jokes I came up with on the trip down ….”
“You wouldn't have dared!” She straightened up and held him by the shoulders.
“Might have broken the ice, with Uncle. Had I gotten the chance.”
She looked disbelieving and had to ask, “Like what?”
“A satyr, a goat and a witch walk into a bar. And the mermaid behind the bar says ….”
“Okay, that's just stupid.” Natasha said in exasperation.
James pouted a wee bit. “Well, yeah, still working on it. A mermaid tending bar, too much, do you think …..?”
“Enough!” Natasha couldn't help letting out a wet chuckle and kissed him and just embraced him. She was taller than Potter, so could press her face against the top of his head. She didn't care if he was embarrassed by it. “Thank you. Thank you, so much!”
“ 'So 'kay.” James said softly back to her. “I got a funny name.”
Natasha sniffed. “No worries. From this moment on, I am Natasha Potter. Proud of it!”
He looked up at her eyes. And seemed to decide something. “Let's go back to the Center.” He meant the small country's local magical government and port key travel nexus.
A half-abandoned gas station.
She was confused. “We just walked from there?”
“I want to get a marriage license.” James took her hand and anchored it to his other elbow as he began towing her back down the street.
She was lost for an immediate response, completely overwhelmed by her undignified squalling a moment ago. And now this lunatic wanted what? “Um, that involves some paperwork, and …..you are a British national ….,” Natasha weakly objected.
James shrugged his shoulders and kept a steady stride forward, forcing her to match him.“We are wizards. The Muggle bureaucracy stuff doesn't apply, if we don't choose.” James informed her, looking a lot to Natasha of his father. “It's the Twenty-First century. I don't choose.”
It had been a traumatic day. She was a little confused and suddenly flustered, “I …....we.........not ready, James! I have nothing to wear …...” The tall woman patted her denims, feeling suddenly incredibly self conscious and lost. “We have no witness, no friends ….”
James did not break stride. “We have what we need. Legal to wizards all over the world. And we can have the big party back at home. This isn't your home.”
“Never was much of one.” Natasha agreed, numbly.
“Sorry about that, honey. But all that's over with, now, that you'll have to bed down in a hovel and live with me in abject poverty.”
He had long learned Natasha' sense of humor was something he could tease out of her, given gentle prodding.
She looked at him sideways, but finally smiled. Too weakly helpless in resisting his playful tone. “You get the hovel. I'm staying in the house next door.” She wiped her face with the back of her hand, hoping she wasn't making a spectacle of herself for all Wellington to see.
“Um, well, alright then. No hovel. Not sure where I could buy one in St. Ottery, anyway.”
“We also can't do this. You don't have the ring ...”
James shook his head, “Have it. In the box, in my pocket.” He patted his jacket and held her unresisting while waiting for the traffic light to change so they could recross the street.
“How …....... Why …..?”
“Plan B. Actually Lily's idea, so for once I can't take credit. We were always going to be married here, but that was in hope that maybe your Aunt would have had a change of heart, not sink to meet expectations.”
“Son of a bitch!” Natasha never failed to marvel at James ability to plan for contingencies, but she just felt totally overwhelmed.
“Yes, but you should leave my mother out of this, for the moment.”
“Shut up! And I like your mother.” But she said that with a glowing look on her face. They walked another block back towards the heavily disguised New Zealand's 'Center for Wizardry and Bewitchment'.
Disguised as an old, battered petrol station. In a nation that had gone all-electric vehicles years ago.
Maybe the 'head mugwump' – disguised as the auto mechanic – could marry them?
“That's a fine thing. Since I didn't tell her I was bringing you home for good.” James said idly, watching for a break in traffic.
“Good thing also then that I booked the only room available at the hotel. With one bed.” Natasha said evenly, looking at him significantly.
That news coincided with him stumbling on the uneven sidewalk, as he was looking at her and not watching where he was walking. “You did what?”
“Plan C.” Natasha almost whispered, with a ghost of a smile.
He was a complete blank. What had he been thinking of, all through her cathartic breakup with her guardians just a hour before? It was James turn to look confused, then stupidly grin. “Um, well, beats my original plan for having to camp out on a chair.”
“Too cold.” Natasha informed the rather dense Potter. “It's winter. And in an hour, would be completely overtaken by events.” She waited a beat, to see if he had any objections to that!
Young James looked a little startled, and just wisely stuck to nodding jerkily. He swallowed, and squeaked rather unmanfully, “You ….sure you don't want to eat something ….”
“I'm VERY tired.” Natasha answered archly.
“Yeah. Me too, oddly enough.” James agreed.
“Huh!” She grinned dubiously.
But after they crossed the street, he stopped and looked at her, taking her hands in his. “But I'll never hear someone say what your Aunt said again. Not in my presence and not do or say anything about it. Because you are going to be my wife. And when we get back to the hotel room, I am going to touch you all you can stand, Mrs. Potter!”
And the couple resumed walking, still linked by hands. They crossed the busy street, back toward the seemingly down-on-its-luck petrol station that nominally supported the few lingering hold-outs who did not have all electric cars. But really served the magical public in this South Sea island. James lead the way, holding one hand as if gently dragging her.
“You sure?” Natasha asked.
That was a perfunctory question. The soon-to-be former Natasha Czyrcyk knew he had already thought this out. From his tone and the set of this shoulders, and for as long as she had known James, he had that Potter-look – or maybe it was that Weasley-look – of head-strong stubbornness.
“I was sure I loved you, seven years ago. When I made you those ballet slippers.” James didn't look up at her beaming face.
When she increased her stride, he quickened slightly, too.
“Okay, then. What's your hurry?”
He slightly turned toward her, and she could see he was looking slightly flushed, though it was cold.
“Ah, ….... I want to get back to the hotel, 'Tasha.”
“Oh?” She asked with an uncharacteristic giggle.
“Yes. Walk faster.”
And she trotted to catch up to his side, with a smile on her face.
Okay, an End
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