Word Count: 9541
Pansy slides out of bed right as Justin cracks his eyes open, watching blearily as Pansy puts on stray clothes scattered over the bedroom floor. She’s naked, and the small part of his brain that isn’t crippled by his devastating hangover takes the opportunity to appreciate the line of her spine as she stretches, the light streaming over her skin through the blinds. The bed dips, then lifts, and Justin rolls over onto his back, tongue sticking to the desert-dry roof of his mouth while Pansy pads around the room in a pair of electric-green Kestrels socks and nothing else. She takes his old FC jersey from the back of a chair and sniffs it, then tosses it aside in favor of one of his sweaters.
“I’m putting the kettle on,” she tells him, voice slightly muffled as she tugs his shirt over her head, and Justin tries to focus on saying, “That’d be great, thanks,” only instead it comes out sounding more like, “Blarrgh.”
Outside he can hear birds twittering and chirping, a garbage truck shifting gears. His girlfriend clacks away in the kitchen and Justin scrubs a hand over his face, palm rasping against his unshaven cheek as he tries to pull himself together. Slowly, carefully, he tries to sit up and immediately feels like he’s going to die; his heartbeat speeds up to a hummingbird pace, his entire head feels like it’s been cleaved right down the center with an axe.
“What did I do last night?” he says out loud, not really expecting an answer.
“You went around the world with the bartender!” Pansy calls back. “Hannah had to intervene right around your fourth tour of Mexico!”
Justin blinks stupidly at the wall. “I went to Mexico?”
“Tequila, love. You had too much tequila.” Pansy pops her head back into the doorway and something in Justin’s neck creaks as he turns to face her. “Blame it on your friend for having an open bar at his wedding – Ernie should’ve known that someone would take advantage of all that Hufflepuff generosity.”
She gives him a wink and disappears, and Justin realizes that he has exactly enough energy left to either give her an answer or pass out in a pool of his own drool. He chooses the middle ground, flopping backwards against the headboard with his arms out, staring up at the weird yellow mottling on the ceiling. Last night was Ernie and Mandy’s wedding, and somewhere in between Zacharias’s best man speech and Justin’s second gin and tonic the world tilted completely off its axis; there’s dinner and fireworks and the chorus of ‘Come On Eileen’ on a loop in his brain, a reception hall bar counter littered with empty glasses. He remembers Pansy best: spinning into his arms on the dance floor, her knee sliding over his in the backseat of a cab.
Something important happened last night – under the feel of Pansy’s mouth on his, through the fog of impossible recollection, past the haze of too much tequila, Justin knows it did, he can feel it. Justin slumps forward as he tries to remember, fingers threading through his hair, right as the teakettle lets out a loud whistle. Pansy comes back a few minutes later with a plate in one hand and her wand in the other, two mugs of tea levitating a little ways behind her.
“Aren’t you glad I thought to hide a slice in my purse?” she says, climbing onto the bed and straddling Justin’s knees over the blankets. Justin lifts his head and the sight of the wedding cake – vanilla, with thick layers of strawberry and heavy yellow frosting – nearly makes him gag. Pansy smirks at the pained look on his face, and with a flick of her wand Justin’s mug lowers itself to his eye level, bobbing slowly in midair until he’s steady enough to grab it. Pansy rearranges herself so that she’s sitting cross-legged in front of him, plate in her lap and wand set off to the side, sipping her own tea and watching him over the rim of her cup.
“There’s milk and sugar in yours. If it tastes like ginger that’s the Clarity Solution I threw in at the end.” She breaks off a piece of cake and brings it to her lips. “Drink up, drunky.”
The tea is hot but Justin swallows down almost half of it in one go: it’s amazing, the sugar and the potion going straight to his brain and relaxing whatever is cramped and aching up there. Justin snatches a bite of the cake in her lap and Pansy rolls her eyes at him, licking frosting off her fingers before tugging her messy hair back into a ponytail. He’s still a hungover mess and she somehow manages to look good even with yesterday’s makeup smeared over her face, cake crumbs clinging to her borrowed sweater. Pansy teases him about the night before and Justin studies her face as she speaks, takes in the playful glint in her eyes, the smug little upturn at the corner of her mouth, and God, in that moment the missing memory hits him with all the force of a marble sculpture cracking him over the head.
He asked her to marry him last night. There, in full technicolor recollection, the last bit of the evening that didn’t get swallowed up by the fog plays behind his eyes; Pansy is laughing at his two left feet and all Justin can think of is the two of them laid out in this bed, skin to skin, his mouth at her neck and her hands pulling at his hair.
If you aren’t inside me in the next ten seconds, I am going to die, she’d said to him then.
“I can’t believe I let myself be seen with you,” she says to him now, “I mean, you were doing the sprinkler, you loon.”
Pansy laughs as she tips back her tea, frosting stuck to the side of her lip. Justin swallows the remainder of his mug but when she looks back at him her expression has softened, just a little. He’d asked her to marry him while three sheets to the wind, eager and happy and drunk as a first year with their first sip of butterbeer. Will you? he’d asked, his fingers splayed out over her ribcage as he moved inside her, and the Yes she gave him in return rang out louder than any church bell.
“Still dizzy?” Pansy asks, and Justin nods.
“Poor lamb – we’ll have to get you to a Healer, see if they’ve started taking hopeless cases.”
“I’ll wait until the room stops spinning before we see about that. But maybe later, I mean, if you’re up for it, we could go out and look for a ring.”
Justin reaches out to smudge away the frosting at the corner of her mouth with his thumb and Pansy only looks at him with her eyebrows raised, her lips parted in a sudden ‘o’ of surprise. She looks at him like she thought he’d forgotten. He can’t believe he almost did. It only takes a moment for Pansy to collect herself, but when she speaks there’s a little waver in her voice, right under the bite he knows well.
“Let’s get your head screwed on straight first, then we can talk about rings.”
It’s twenty after nine and Justin is only just now leaving the Ministry, shoveling case files and rolls of parchment into his bag as he hastily makes his way through the Atrium toward the exit. He’s been stuck in the Records Room doing research for Madam Montgomery’s latest case, and for as much as he enjoys inhaling decades-old dust and straining his eyes to read the impossibly small handwriting of long-dead Wizengamot members, this is his third straight day of doing so – not to mention the fifth day he’s worked past regular office hours, and almost a full week since he’s seen his fiancée for longer than the few minutes they spend passing each other in the mornings, or the five-minute window they've been sharing before falling asleep at night.
Pansy’s freelance work has picked up the past few months but she still pulls a few shifts here and there at the Leaky Cauldron, waitressing whenever one of Hannah’s new girls calls out or if they’re shorthanded for the night. Justin is too tired to Apparate without Splinching himself and decides instead to walk the few blocks from the Ministry to the Diagon Alley entrance, hoping to catch Pansy for a few minutes before heading home. When he gets there, the Leaky is weirdly busy for a Tuesday night: all the floor tables are full and the bar is packed, the wait staff weaving dangerously around customers and busboys just to reach their tables through the crowd. Tom’s office door is closed and Hannah’s making change at the till; Pansy is back behind the bar, pouring drinks for a pair of businessmen in pinstriped robes when Justin walks through the Muggleside door. She looks up when the door slams shut and it takes a moment for that click of recognition to show in her face, her smile shifting from professional to real as he crosses through the room.
“Break?” she mouths, and Justin nods, maneuvering through the dinner crowd until he finds the side hallway behind the main staircase, slipping past the pantry door. He makes himself as comfortable as he can in the dark closet of a room, shedding his jacket and loosening his tie, muttering a quick “lumos” and balancing his wand on the shelf behind him so that he can read through his latest brief while he waits.
He starts when the door opens a short while later, nearly dropping his paperwork all over the floor, but it’s just Pansy. “Conferences are the worst,” she says with a shake of her head, “It’s been nonstop service practically since I got here, and I don’t think these weirdos are ending the party anytime soon.”
Pansy perches herself on one of the barrels of ale tucked into the corner, swinging her feet a little a she sinks her hands into her hair, pulling it out from her bun and letting it fall loose around her shoulders. She turns her face up to his, smiling as she crooks her finger at him. “I’ve got fifteen minutes before Hannah comes storming after me. Aren’t you at least going to say hello?” she teases, and Justin moves toward her without any further preamble.
He missed her. They kiss for a while, slow and soft and quiet, but neither of them moves to make it more. He brings her nearer to him once they part, his arms around her, her head to his chest and it hits him all at once that this is probably the longest they’ve actually been awake around each other in at least a few weeks – since Ernie’s wedding, maybe even since they picked out her ring. Pansy traces her nails over the back of his neck, making the hair there stand up on end when she tells him, “My mother wrote to me today.”
“Was it another Howler?” he asks, swatting at Pansy’s hand when she scratches him. He ignores her, because it’s a valid question: Genevieve Parkinson sent one to Pansy when she and Justin started dating, and at least two for every major holiday since. The last one arrived at his parents’ house on Christmas Eve, which made for a really uncomfortable conversation with his mother and new sister-in-law.
“No, it was just regular post.”
“Really?” he asks, and Pansy nods against him. “Anything interesting?”
“Kind of? I mean, near the end she said she’s… happy for me, which is an insane reaction, right? After the last fit she pitched?”
Justin pulls back slightly and trails his hands down her sides, stopping at her hips. Pansy wears her engagement ring on a chain around her neck and Justin tugs it out from under the neck of her sweater, where it’s fallen into the dip of her cleavage. His hand closes around the diamond and Pansy covers it with both of hers, looking up at him through her eyelashes. “My mother wants to help with the wedding,” she tells him, a note of vulnerability bleeding through the indifference in her tone, and Justin doesn’t trust himself to answer right away.
It does good to be careful when talking to Pansy about her family; her father is in prison and her mother and brother have been living abroad since May of ‘98, and for all that’s happened between them Pansy’s soft spot has been – and probably always will be – how much she misses her mother. To him, making this kind of contact doesn’t feel like the rebuilding of a burned bridge; it feels like the setup to a long con, like a mistake waiting to happen.
Justin tugs on the chain and Pansy comes forward, her hands on his cheeks as she pulls him down for another kiss. “That’s good, Pans,” he says when they part, “That’s a really good start,” and just as he’s about to lean in and kiss her again the pantry door swings open, yellow light fanning across the floor until someone raises the rest of the lights.
Hannah coughs loudly, tucking her wand back into her pinned-up hair. “Thought I’d find you two here. You really need to find another hiding place, Pansy.”
Pansy makes a fist in Justin’s shirt and whispers, “Shit,” and then adds for Hannah’s benefit, “I wouldn’t need to hide here if you’d gone with my idea and set up a permanent snogging closet. It works for everyone!”
“You and I both know that the Leaky isn’t zoned for that kind of thing.” Hannah rolls her eyes at the both of them, fond and annoyed. “As sorry as I am to break up the lovebirds, there’s a crowd that needs attending to, and I am pretty sure you’re still technically on the clock.”
“On the clock, under the table, as long as I get paid.” Pansy pecks Justin quickly on the cheek and slides down from the barrel. “Sorry to make you wait, I’ll get back on the floor,” she says to Hannah, and then to Justin: “See you at home?”
“Have fun,” he says, and when Pansy saunters past Hannah hits her gently with the dishtowel hanging from her apron.
“Again?” she sighs, “Justin, that’s the third time I’ve caught you back here – I swear, the two of you are nothing but trouble.”
“But I like trouble,” he says with a grin, and Hannah rewards him with a smack on the arm.
“Again?! Oh, mother –”
“Come on! That’s three hands in a row – he’s got to be cheating, or something.”
Ernie grins apologetically as he gathers up the money lying at the center of the table, adding it neatly to his steadily growing pile. Susan crosses her arms and gives the wizards seated around the table a furious glare, which Justin shakes his head at and everyone else ignores completely. There are five former Hufflepuffs gathered around a chipped wooden table in Wayne’s basement, celebrating their annual poker night in the style to which they’ve become accustomed: Zach drinks, Ernie smokes, and Susan nearly flips the table whenever she has to fold.
“Calm down, Sue,” Justin says from around the straw of his drink. “Just because Ernie’s on a winning streak doesn’t mean you can’t be a good sport about it.”
“You’re all conspiring against me, I know it.” Susan leans forward, sliding the cards Zacharias has dealt her to her side of the table. “Sticking together just ‘cause you’re men. It’s sick, is what it is. It’s enough to make a girl stop gambling altogether.”
“And yet, you’re still here.”
Justin smirks and turns his attention to Zacharias, who is leaning over the table to deal out the next hand. A voice calls down from the top of the basement stairs and Wayne rises from the table before Zach reaches him, climbing up to answer and visible only from the shins downward to the friends waiting at the table. Susan takes one look at her new hand of cards and rolls her eyes, unceremoniously tossing them down to the tabletop.
Susan rises unsteadily from her chair and straightens out her clothes. “Fuck it,” she says irritably, looking right at Justin as she pops up the collar on her jacket, the bright orange Enforcer’s patch on the shoulder nearly glowing in the hazy light. “I’m heading home while I’ve still got galleons in the bank.”
“Sure you can make it without Splinching yourself?”
Ernie stubs out what’s left of his cigar and Susan makes a face. “Watch me,” she snaps, and nearly knocks a returning Wayne over with her arm as she turns on the spot, disappearing in a swirl of grey cigar smoke that makes Justin cough until his face hurts.
Zach shakes his head, glancing at his watch. “Three hours. I think that’s the longest she’s stuck around in a while,” he says, sending Wayne’s hand down to his end of the table. “Think she made it home in one piece?”
“No eyeballs rolling around on the ground, mate, think she must’ve.” Wayne flips a few sickles into the pile in the center. “Why do we keep inviting her to these, anyway?”
Ernie snickers and shares a look with Justin. “We don’t – she just keeps showing up.”
“And do you want to be the one who tells her to leave? Because you’re obviously a braver man than I am. Besides,” he adds, “It’s worth it just to see the look on her face when Zach bluffed her with that pair of fives.”
“Damn right it was.” Zacharias leans back in his chair, stretching while the others weigh their options. “So what’s up with you and Parkinson, Justin? Is she a million galleons over budget yet or what?”
“Fuck off,” Justin says, no real malice behind it, and Zach just raises his eyebrows.
“Whatever. Just don’t let her go pulling that ‘innocent little girl’ shtick when they’re bleeding you dry just to pay for the cake.”
Wayne meets Justin’s eyes from across the table and Justin frowns, glancing away. Justin decides to raise, pulling another three sickles from the pile at his elbow, and Wayne follows suit. “He’s got a point, mate.”
Ernie nods in agreement. “Yeah, all pureblood girls want to be princesses on their wedding day – all satin and roses and, fuck, I don’t know, Goblin-made tiaras, or summat. Look at Mandy: she’s as easy as they come and we still spent two months arguing over whether or not we could work an aethenon-drawn carriage into our wedding budget.”
“Are you forgetting that a team of flying horses carried you to your reception?”
Ernie only shrugs at Justin’s question. “Should’ve seen what we had to cut to make it fit.”
“Just you wait.” Zach takes another pull from his beer, pointing across the table at Justin. “Witches like her want more than your sorry arse can ever afford. Two months from now you’ll be flat broke, wishing you listened to us.”
“Come on, you don’t know that.”
Ernie’s eyes flick up from his cards to meet Zach’s, and his voice is careful as he says, “No offense, Justin, but you’re – I mean, Muggle girls can’t be that much hassle, not like –”
“What Ernie means is that you aren’t prepared to deal with a witch like Pansy Parkinson,” Wayne interrupts, “She’s one of those who think magic is the be-all, end-all for everything, and I know running everything on eckletricity is fun and all, but it’s not going to be the same. She’s gonna want more than you can give her, mate, no getting around that.”
Justin stares at his friends, cards slipping slightly in his palm. He’s has three beers and a Firewhiskey chaser but it isn’t until right now that he starts feeling it; he’s known these men for half his life, now, laughed with them, fought with them, and he thought that Hufflepuffs would know better than to say things like this, that they wouldn’t immediately target in on the Muggle part of his life, that they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t –
“Look, Justin, I’m sorry. We’re just talking trash, we don’t mean anything by it.” Zacharias leans over to pat him on the arm. “We’re sorry, all right? You’re a good guy, but you definitely need to work on your poker face.”
Justin takes a quick breath, trying to let himself level back out to normal. “Well, I could do that,” he replies evenly, laying out his row of aces, “Or I could just empty your wallets some more.”
Zacharias swears as the others toss down their cards, grumbling as Ernie gets up to get another round of drinks. Justin gathers up his winnings and the night moves on without another word on the wedding.
“I don’t think you’re understanding just how much you cannot be here right now!”
Astoria Greengrass hisses this at him, throwing back the velvet curtain so hard that it nearly falls off the brass rod over the doorway. Hannah shoves Justin out of the dressing room like he’ll be executed if he doesn’t leave in that exact instant, grabbing him by the hair and forcing his head down like a lawyer protecting their client from paparazzi photographers.
“Are you mental?” she asks as they go, “Really, have you lost your mind?”
Justin tries to wrench himself free but finds that he can’t; Hannah nearly has him in a headlock as they storm out into the entrance of the dress shop, nails digging into his scalp so sharply he’s afraid he’ll start bleeding all over the carpet. Astoria follows them into the front and Hannah finally releases him; he gasps, panting for air, and when his hand flies up to his head to check there’s thankfully no blood.
Astoria crosses her arms over her chest, giving him a look so dark that the shopgirl trying to approach them immediately backs out of the doorway. “Just what do you think you’re doing here?”
“Are you trying to cause an accident, Justin?”
“You do realize this is a Isession, right? Private!”
Justin looks between the two of them and can’t decide which woman is angrier. They would certainly be a more intimidating pair if they weren’t clad in dresses so ruffled they looked like Marie Antoinette's private closet had exploded all over them: Hannah frowns at him in lilac and Astoria stomps one bare foot in teal, the two witches staring at him with such intensity that it honestly surprises him that he hasn’t caught on fire.
“D’you lot think I planned this?” he asks, and the twin glares he gets in return means they think he did. “Oh, come on, what does it matter if I see her in her wedding dress? Not like I haven’t seen everything under it, already –”
“It’s because it’s bad luck, you moron,” Astoria snaps, “If you see her right now, who knows what will go wrong?”
Justin rolls his eyes. “What, will she turn into a ball of wax if I see her? Will the room catch fire? Will –”
“You’ve been a wizard for how long now, Justin, and you still haven’t realized how magic works under pressure?” Hannah grips him by the arm and turns him to face her; one of the bows on the bodice of her dress has unraveled, the ribbon hanging limply at the side like a deflated balloon. “Stress is a problem. Weddings are stressful. When witches are under a lot of stress, bad things can happen. We’re doing this for your own good, alright? No one wants any accidents just because you want to sneak a peek.”
Justin gapes at Hannah and Astoria turns back to the curtain; there’s movement back there, the sounds of Pansy and the dressmaker talking, and before he can even protest Hannah takes the opportunity to push him outside. The bells jangle overhead as he steps back in, hands held up in supplication, and the shopgirl turns on her heel and flees again when Astoria marches toward the door.
“I’m going, I’m going,” he tells them, despite Hannah’s disbelieving arch of her eyebrow. “But could you do one thing for me, before I go?”
“Would you please tell her to go with something a little less – frill and frippery, for the two of you? I know Pansy’s still a pampered princess at heart, but I’d like people to walk into our wedding without thinking that the bridesmaids are due to pop out of a cake after the ceremony ends.”
He doesn’t quite duck the ball of fabric swatches Astoria throws at his head, but it’s not like it hurts.
A few years ago, walking into his apartment to find Pansy Parkinson there would have been cause for either alarm, worry, or the immediate removal of his pants. Now, three years into a relationship and about half a year away from their wedding, unlocking the door to find Pansy on all fours on the living room floor, head jammed firmly into the flames of the fireplace, isn’t an entirely unsurprising sight.
Justin toes off his shoes at the door and shuts it with his foot, carrying his grocery bags into the kitchen and dumping them unceremoniously onto the empty countertop. There’s a high, shrill noise that might be a shout, followed closely by the distant sound of breaking glass, and even though he can’t quite hear Pansy’s half of the conversation, he’s pretty sure that the voice on the other end of the Floo is her mother. There’ve been a lot of conversations like these since Pansy agreed to let her mother help her plan the wedding: Genevieve criticizing the menu, the venue, the flowers, everything, all done via disparaging Floo calls at increasingly uncomfortable hours. Justin tolerates it for Pansy’s sake, but his patience with his soon-to-be mother-in-law is wearing thin.
Justin is almost finished putting groceries away when the Floo call ends with a shuddering rush of wind and smoke, the fire audibly sputtering out. When he looks out into the living room Pansy is still on her hands and knees, soot staining the front of her shirt; she pulls her head out of the empty fireplace and looks like she could cry at any second. She stands without saying anything and brushes herself off, then takes him by the hand and leads him into their bedroom without another word. Justin doesn’t say anything just yet, just closes the door and lays down beside her on the bed.
“Please don’t say ‘I told you so,’” she says to the ceiling, draping her forearm over her eyes. The smoke smell from the fireplace clings to her clothes, her hair. “You can say whatever you want as long as it’s not that.”
Justin rolls onto his elbow and looks down at her, palm resting flat against her stomach. “What happened?” he asks, and Pansy breathes out in a sigh, arm still over her face.
“I know what my family is. I know who they are, and what they’ve done, and I live with that. Every day, I get to live with that. And to hear her – to hear her talk about inviting some of these people, all those aunts and uncles and cousins who scattered when, when You-Know-Who fell, I just – I can’t…”
He knows the story better than most: Pansy has scars from fighting in the last battle but all anyone remembers is one desperate, high-pitched plea in the middle of the Great Hall before the evacuation started; she’s been alone since the smoke cleared and on some level, Justin understands why she keeps reaching out to the people who’ve done nothing but hurt her, hoping and praying that this time will be different – that this time, everything will turn out all right. Pansy drops her arm and closes her hand over his, tugging at him gently until he takes the hint and moves so that he’s on top of her. Justin straddles her hips, trying not to rest his full weight on her, and runs his hands up and down her torso as he asks, “What do you want to do?”
“There is no way in hell I’m agreeing with her, just so – so fucking Sebastian Jugson and, and, I don’t know, Ianka Dolohov can come eat our food and hex your parents.” Pansy huffs out an aggravated breath so that her fringe flies up and flops back against her forehead. “I haven’t even seen half these people since I was eleven, none since I was seventeen, and I am not inviting them.”
Justin leans down and kisses her, soft and quick. “We don’t have to invite anyone you don’t want to. We can even send out anti-invitations, to let them know just how not invited to our wedding they are.”
Almost despite herself, Pansy smiles. “Letting my mother in on all of this was a terrible idea. I’m – I’m tired of talking about it. Can you just, I don’t know, fuck me into distraction, or something?”
“Absolutely,” he says, very seriously, moving so that Pansy can sit up a little and push his shirt off his shoulders. “I’ve been waiting for the kind of wedding-related problem we can solve with sex.”
“Good,” Pansy says with a laugh, “So have I.”