Who: Louisa Macnair, Wayne Hopkins, Benjamin Macnair, Katharina Jugson
Where: Katharina’s place, London
When: 24 November 2001, evening
They apparated to her doorstep, and when they landed, Wayne’s stomach lurched. He closed his eyes and fought a wave of nausea brought on by nerves as much as the trip. He just hoped he wouldn’t be too nauseous to eat. That would be rude.
For the millionth time he reached up nervously to try to flatten his hair. He’d tried to gel it down neatly but then Louisa had made him wash it out and then they were running late so she’d dried it quickly and now it felt even poofier than usual. He felt like Louisa’s mother was going to take one look at him and realize he didn’t fit the bill at all, that he was some kid with a shaggy haircut and last year’s robes and a truly unremarkable bloodline and an unimpressive job…
Merlin, he’d thought he’d been nervous to have Louisa meet his parents, but this was a whole new level. “Well, here goes nothing,” he said, half to himself and half to Louisa, trying to sound more upbeat than he felt.
“Your hair looks fine,” Louisa told him, shaking her head as she reached out to ring the doorbell. She had been pretty nervous about meeting Wayne’s parents too, but that was mainly because she was petrified they were going to ask her too many questions about her father. Louisa didn’t know how she could reassure Wayne that her mother would have no such questions. She wished she could promise her mother would be nice, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t very well tell him he was worrying about entirely the wrong things though, not without making him even more nervous, so she kept quiet.
“I told you you should have kept it long,” Benjamin added from behind them. He had insisted on coming along, ostensibly to help take the focus off Wayne, but at least as much because he was nosey and wanted to see what would happen. “She is not even going to fancy you now.”
As if on cue, Katharina chose that moment to come to the door. She was a striking woman in her mid-40s, with very dark hair and relatively pale skin. She had the look of a Slytherin about her, but her face softened when she looked at her children.
“Hello sweetheart,” she said warmly to Louisa and kissed her on the forehead.
Then she turned to Wayne.
“Salazar, how old are you?” she asked. “You look like you should still be in school.”
“Mum,” Louisa said warningly, and Katharina smiled.
“And I’m pleased to meet you, of course,” she said sweetly. “Do come in.”
What? How was he supposed to respond to that? Wayne felt rooted to the spot, and he probably would have stayed on the doorstep forever if Ben wasn’t coming in behind him, and intentionally or not, giving him a bit of a nudge forward.
“I’m twenty-one,” Wayne said sounding a bit dazed, as he stepped inside. Still thrown off by her greeting, it took him a moment to remember the social niceties. “Oh — I’m — very pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said stiffly, and discreetly wiped his clammy palms on his robes before extending his hand to shake hers.
“Really?” Katharina said, visibly surprised. “I suppose it’s the angelic little Hufflepuff face. Benjamin used to look so sweet, you know, before puberty brought out his Slytherin streak.”
She took the hand offered to her and shook it. She noticed the lingering remnants of nerves on Wayne’s palm, smirked to herself, but didn’t say anything.
“I do not have a Slytherin streak,” Benjamin retorted as he ushered everybody in and shut the door behind them.
“Of course, darling, you keep telling yourself that,” his mother replied, leading the way in. “I hope you’re hungry,” she addressed Wayne. “And not vegetarian or something awful like that.”
“Not vegetarian,” Wayne agreed quickly, relieved to have passed that test. He wasn’t quite sure what else to say — not wanting to comment on Ben’s puberty or the implication that his own hadn’t had much of an effect — so after a beat of silence he added, “It smells good, what is it?” He started to reach automatically to smooth his hair again, but dropped his hand before Louisa could stop him — shooting her a quick look as thought to say “I know, I know!”
Louisa smiled slightly, but it was affectionate. If only he knew how little anybody cared about his hair. Even her mother’s remarks were habit more than anything else — she barely knew how not to be a bitch by this point.
“Lasagne,” Katharina replied. “Although it might be the garlic bread you’re smelling. Garlic always does stink the place out.”
“There’s nothing wrong with vegetarians,” Louisa interjected, not quite ready to let that one go. “Not everyone hates animals with a fiery passion, you know.”
“Did you do bruschetta as well?” Ben asked, completely ignoring Louisa and heading into the kitchen to see what he could pinch. He came across a bowl of salad and started picking out cherry tomatoes.
“Yes, yes,” Katharina said, although it wasn’t entirely clear which child she was replying to. “Benjamin, get out of that kitchen and stop eating whatever you’re eating. We have company.” She turned to Wayne. “Sit down,” she suggested, following her own advice. “It’ll be ready soon, if Ben doesn’t eat everything first. In the meantime, let’s find out more about you. Louisa said you work for the Ministry?”
Wayne sat, and as he felt a couch spring jab at him, he realized for the first time that this wasn’t exactly the grand home he’d been mentally preparing for. In fact, it was rather small, and certainly not extravagantly furnished — which he thought was nice. Cozy, really. And he was reassured by the homemade Italian feast. He’d had such an idea that this might be the kind of dinner party where he’d embarrass himself by using the wrong fork out of like, twelve at his place setting — because that was the stereotype he had when words like “Pureblood” and “wife of a Death Eater” came up, nevermind Louisa’s attempts to give him a more accurate impression.
But he was still going to be on his best behavior.
“Ah, yeah — yes. In the Department of Mysteries. I’ve been working there a few years now, I started straight out of school.” It didn’t hurt to remind her again that he was older than he looked.
“Department of Mysteries oooooohhhh,” Katharina said, actually impressed but sounding a tad sarcastic because that was just how things came out of her mouth. “You can’t tell me what you do or you’ll have to kill me, right?”
“Yeah, don’t mess with him, he already killed Orpington,” Benjamin replied.
Katharina grinned. “Just one man? Please. I used to bully people at school who killed more than that.”
Louisa rolled her eyes and looked over at Wayne. “I told you she was lovely, didn’t I?” she said. “Just ignore her. It’s easier that way.”
Wayne looked alarmed at Louisa’s comment; he couldn’t exactly join her in bashing her mother in Katharina’s own living room. But all of his mental notes on etiquette had left him totally unprepared for sarcastic comments and joking accusations of murder. He tried his best to play along.
“Erm, no, got officially cleared of that one,” he said, managing a joking smile. “Thought you knew that, Ben. So I reckon it’s one of the other ten million suspects.” He considered clarifying for Katharina that he really just did Arithmancy all day, but the kind of sarcastic comments that would prompt… Yeah, the less he said about himself the better. “Sorry to disappoint you,” he added, trying his best to keep up with Katharina’s dark humour.
“No-one’s been cleared of anything,” Ben said. “Everyone in that village is still a suspect, at least according to The Daily Prophet.”
“Can we not talk about this?” Louisa said irritably. “Not my favourite topic of conversation, you know.” She could still remember finding the body, and while she wasn’t dreaming about it anymore, she still didn’t like being reminded of the event more than was really necessary.
“Sorry, love,” Katharina said. “Dinner should be ready by now, anyway. Why don’t you all sit at the table and I’ll bring it through?” She stood up and walked into the kitchen, leaving Ben and Louisa to lead the way to the table at the other end of the living room. Louisa took Wayne’s hand as she picked her seat and pulled him into the seat next to her with a little smile. She mouthed sorry at him with an embarrassed shrug. Ben pretended to be busy getting drinks from the drinks cabinet.
“It’s okay,” Wayne mouthed back, squeezing her hand under the table. He didn’t want her to feel bad; it wasn’t her fault her mother was… unsettling. He wasn’t ready to give up trying to make a good impression though, so he raised his voice and called toward the kitchen, “Is there anything I can help you with, Mrs Macnair?” Shit, that was wrong. He flinched. “Mrs Jugson, I mean?” Mrs? Was that still wrong? He looked at Louisa uncertainly, trying to gauge how badly he’d just messed up.
Louisa winced. That was a pretty bad mistake to make, but it was understandable. She knew well enough, though she was aware Wayne wouldn’t, that it wasn’t going to ruin the whole night or anything like that, so she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze beneath the table.
Ben grinned and shook his head ruefully, but kept quiet.
When Katharina emerged back into the room she was pulling a face of mild disgust. “Let’s just go with Katharina, shall we?” she asked, placing the lasagne dish on the table. “Honestly, if I could do without a surname entirely, I would. And no, I’m quite alright carrying a couple of dishes to the table.” She went back to the kitchen and brought out the salad and garlic bread.
“There we go, tuck in,” she said, taking a seat. Benjamin was already ahead of her, serving himself a generous helping of everything.
Wayne sighed, but at least he hadn’t brought the evening to a grinding halt. He was starting to get the feeling that no matter what he did or said it wouldn’t change Katharina’s treatment of him. Which was partly disappointing — it would have been nice to get some positive reinforcement — and partly took some of the pressure off, since it seemed he might as well give up trying to ingratiate himself.
He reluctantly let go of Louisa’s hand so they could eat, but rested his knee against hers as a small consolation. Then he followed Ben’s lead in heaping his plate with food.
“It looks delicious,” he remarked honestly, digging in. “It’s too bad your cooking didn’t rub off on your daughter.” He gave Louisa a teasing smile, his first real smile of the evening.
Katharina laughed. “Not an awful lot did, did it, love? Louisa’s so smart and sweet and pretty… we do both draw, but that’s about it.”
Louisa smiled back at Wayne but then looked embarrassed when her mother replied.
“Mum,” she remonstrated awkwardly, but Katharina only laughed again.
“I thought you were supposed to be making Wayne uncomfortable, not Louisa,” Ben interjected.
“Just wait till I get the baby pictures out,” Katharina warned with a wicked smile. “Then we’ll see how uncomfortable she gets.”
“Wayne’s a really good cook,” Louisa said, hoping to change the subject.
Wayne liked this thread of conversation, and wasn’t about to let Louisa change it. “Yeah, I try to make sure Louisa eats well,” he replied modestly. “But I want to hear more about these baby photos…” He smiled, pleased to finally be on Katharina’s side about something. Even if he had to embarrass his girlfriend to do it. “I’m sure you were an adorable baby.”
Louisa covered her face in her hands.
“Why did I ever think this was a good idea?” she asked nobody in particular.
“Oh, come out,” Katharina told her. “You’re safe till after dinner.” She turned to Wayne. “It’s a parent’s prerogative to embarrass their children. Did your parents enjoy embarrassing you when they met Louisa?”
“I don’t think they enjoy it so much as… they just can’t help it,” he replied. “It’s like breathing to them. It’s my sister who goes out of her way to embarrass me. She’s a Slytherin, actually.” The food really was delicious and Wayne had polished off the lasagne, and started work on his salad. This night was really looking up. He couldn’t take Louisa’s despair too seriously; whatever her baby photos revealed he was sure it would be cute.
“You’d like her,” Benjamin added, his mouth full of garlic bread.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Katharina said immediately, reaching out to smack him on the back of the head. “Honestly, Wayne’ll think we’ve no manners at all.” Although a slob, there were some manners that had been permanently ingrained in Katharina, and she tried to do the same to her own children but apparently hadn’t quite managed it with Ben, at least where food was concerned. “Do I know any of your family?” Katharina asked Wayne as though nothing had happened. “What’s your surname?
“Ah, Hopkins,” Wayne said, as nonchalantly as possible — resisting the urge to shoot a nervous look at Louisa, and hoping Katharina wasn’t much of a reader. “I don’t think you’d know them, they…” It was hard to explain why he doubted they ran in the same circles. “…Live in Kent and sort of, their main social outlet is each other. This was delicious, do you mind if I—?” Wayne reached for a second helping and wished he could have thought of a more definitive way to change the subject.
Katharina frowned. “I know the name,” she said. “Although I don’t think I was at school with them or anything. Are they a pureblood family? I had all the names hammered into my head when I was a kid.”
Benjamin sniggered. It was fairly obvious where Katharina knew the Hopkins name from, and he didn’t know whether it would be more amusing to tell her or let her figure it out for herself. He decided on the latter.
“Erm, no, just regular old half-blood,” Wayne said, pushing his new serving of lasagne around on the plate with his fork. This line of conversation was making him lose his appetite. He cleared his throat. “Is this oregano? Some people leave it out and just do a bit of parsley and basil but I find oregano really adds a nice subtle flavour.” He didn’t dare look up from his plate because he was sure that any angry or pleading look would only spur Ben to say something he’d rather he didn’t. He was like Jennie that way.
Wayne had found one of the few things that would stop Katharina in her line of questioning.
“Why the hell would you leave out oregano?” she asked, looking appalled at the thought of it. “You may as well leave out the salt and pepper.”
If Wayne could get used to Katharina’s tendency to criticise anything and everything, they could probably make wonderful dishes together. Louisa preferred this conversation to the one about Wayne’s parents. She was sure her mum would work it out at some point, but she was hoping to keep her occupied long enough that the revelation would come after they had all gone home.
“Wayne isn’t leaving out the oregano, Mum,” she said. “But some people do. You know, people who can’t cook. Wayne won the competition for the best pie in the village.”
“That was kind of a fluke; I cook more often than I bake,” Wayne protested mildly, partly out of modesty, and partly because — well — it didn’t sound very manly to win the pie baking contest. “And Louisa won the competition for best pumpkin carving,” he added, reaching to give her hand a squeeze and giving her a rather soppy smile, too. “Maybe Ben will win something next?” he finished — a bit cheekily, for him, but he was riding a wave of relief at the change of subject.
That was not a good thing to tease someone as competitive as Ben about.
“I win things all the time,” he said crossly. Admittedly, the last big competition he had got himself into was an eating competition, and he had lost. Suddenly he felt the urge to compete, very hard, in everything. Watch out Wayne, he’d be getting board games out after dinner.
Katharina watched the look Wayne gave her daughter with an expression of distaste. At least soppy was better than lustful, she reminded herself, forcing her face back into neutral.
“Louisa’s always been artistic,” she agreed. “We used to carve pumpkins together at Halloween every year, before they started school. I still do it with my kids now, but none of them are as good as Louisa.”
“I’m not surprised,” Wayne agreed readily. “Maybe we’ll find some photos of your pumpkin carving when we get the old albums out.” He smiled and found that his appetite had returned, and set to quickly finishing off his dinner. Things seemed to be going well — and the sooner it was over the less likely he was to put his foot in his mouth again.
Katharina readily agreed to this, and the four of them sat and ate for a few minutes with only a little idle chitchat. Suddenly, Katharina sat bolt upright in her chair, and said, “Porn!” She started laughing heartily and shook her head. “That’s where I know the name Hopkins from. The Curl and the Flame series. Any relation?”
Louisa bowed her head, dreading the inevitable — not so much her mother passing comment on it as how embarrassed it would make Wayne. Benjamin, on the other hand, was grinning and watching Wayne with the air of somebody settling in to see a show.
Well, at least she was laughing, and not like… seeming horrified and chasing him out of the house. Still, Wayne looked pained. He would have liked to be able to lie and blame the series on a distant cousin or something, but… he hoped to be in Louisa’s life for a long time, which meant the truth was bound to come out eventually. Well, that, and Ben would never let him get away with it for more than than ten seconds. So, “Yeah, we’re related,” he replied, sighing. “It’s my parents, actually. We don’t have much in common.” Maybe that was a weird fact to volunteer, but he didn’t want Katharina assuming he was some kind of pervert from a sex-crazed family.
Even if it was kind of true.
His face started turning pink and he hoped Louisa would help rescue him.
“Parents are the worst,” Katharina sympathised, but she was still grinning. “I bet you had a good sex talk when you came into puberty. Very colourful, I’m sure.”
“Wayne’s parents are very nice,” Louisa said in a remonstrative tone. “They were very kind to me, and didn’t say anything about my less than wholesome parentage.” That was almost certainly because they didn’t know about it, but Louisa left out that part.
Katharina seemed to accept this, and shrugged. She was still grinning, however, and would spend the rest of the evening occasionally smirking at Wayne.
By the time the evening wrapped up — several adorable photos and competitive board games later — Wayne was very relieved to finally hear the door shut behind them. He took Louisa’s hand and squeezed it as they prepared to Apparate back home — for the moment seeming to forget that Ben was even there. “Well, I guess that could’ve gone worse,” he observed, and he really meant it. “At least there’s only one ‘first time meeting the parents.’”