Part the Second
James and Maia, 3 July, 1979
James Potter had a slash through his hand. Whatever way he looked at it, it wasn’t going away any time soon, either. Magic was like that.
Just the summer before, he had stood before witnesses dressed in a homespun robe, taken an athame and cut a pomegranate to pieces and fed his bride the fruit. When she had likewise fed it to him, it had been a bit bitter, but he thought it was just the fruit. Nothing to worry about. It wasn’t magic warning him–
Already they had slashed their hands diagonally, the lifelines marred on their palms, and mingled their blood together. The cut would remain fresh and unhealed until their marriage was consummated and, well, their marriage had never been consummated.
Now, he was the laughingstock of wizarding England. He had married a Muggleborn, and then—well, no one was sure what. The truth was too horrible. Sirius had convinced him on that June day to come out to The Wicked Stepmother, a pureblood club that measured dark magic. James had never gone up for membership. The Potters didn’t stand for that kind of thing, especially with the rise in Death Eater activity, but he needed any excuse to forget about the past.
Tea was as good as anything.
Of course, he felt like a right ponce as he put on his shirt sleeves (who heard of a shirt without buttons that just kind of draped and then got stuffed into trousers?) and then a waistcoat he had to borrow from Sirius and was far too big for him. A bit of tucking with magic and it looked better, but he still looked like he didn’t belong even before he hid the ensemble with robes.
Sirius laughed when he saw him.
Well, that just made him feel better.
Diagon Alley was pretty much deserted and they walked down, two friends drenched in black, as they made their way to the exclusive club. Shop windows were empty, the glass shattered through. Mothers hurried their children along, berating them not to go far. There was no joy left.
Wherever James looked, the world seemed to mirror his soul.
All he could remember was the Muggle hotel he had taken Lily to, suitcases in hand, smiling and giggling like newlyweds as they checked in, drinking champagne and strawberries only to have it go so wrong.
“Does it hurt?”
James looked up. He’d followed Sirius into the club, which was made of dark wooden floorboards and chipped pieces of china. A beautiful witch in pale lilac was sitting next to him, her blonde hair up in a complicated style of curls, her blue eyes shining out of her face. Somehow, she seemed familiar.
She looked at him worriedly and then over at Sirius, who seemed to be arguing with his cousin. James must have phased out as he was drinking his tea. He did that sometimes now.
“Your hand,” she murmured, touching the side of it gently. “It looks like it hurts, and I imagine magic only makes it worse.”
He smiled self-deprecatingly to himself and just looked down at the ugly slash. “Yes, magic makes it worse. I saw a healer and she assured me that when I was finally married to a ‘worthy witch’”—whatever that meant—“then it would heal as it was supposed to. To be honest, I don’t think I could ever bear to go through any of that again.”
Sadness crossed her face but she forced a smile onto her lips. “Don’t say that, Monsieur James. Love, surely, will find you again.” Her big blue eyes looked at him so imploringly.
Looking at her, James was certain he’d met her before here. “Are you at Hogwarts?” he asked carefully.
“Yes,” she agreed, grabbing onto the topic. “Final year. Head Girl. I was a prefect under you—” She looked at him carefully. “Lady Maia—”
“Gaunt,” he agreed, remembering. “Slytherin House. Don’t you live with your uncle or something?”
She laughed a little. “Not quite. My father’s cousin. Father was rather angry he had a daughter so Uncle Marvolo took me in. Father’s pretty grim. Grandfather’s in Azkaban for killing some Muggles, apparently. Morfin.” She shivered. “Even his name is horrible.”
Looking at her for a moment and wondering why she wasn’t wearing her grandfather’s crime as a badge of honor here in The Wicked Stepmother, he asked instead, “Marvolo, Morfin, Maia—”
“Yes,” she agreed. “There is a theme. Is there one in your family?”
“No,” he disagreed. “My parents both have pretty colorful names.” It didn’t get much worse than ‘Fleamont’ and ‘Euphemia’. “I think they thought they’d get as boring and as English as possible with mine.”
She was looking at him with some strange expression that he couldn’t read, but then she smiled at him. “How lovely. Uncle Marvolo named me. Father apparently hadn’t named me and Mother had died in childbirth, so I was just a squalling baby with no name when Uncle Marvolo took me in.”
“I suppose you’ll give your own children names beginning with the letter ‘M’,” he suggested, now finding the conversation relaxing.
“I suppose I will,” she decided. “Mabel,” Maia suggested, “for a girl. Marcellin for a boy.” Biting her lip, she was clearly thinking to herself, but then she turned to him again with her large blue eyes. She was almost pretty, he decided, with that excited expression on her face. “What do you think?”
“Mabel doesn’t quite fit,” he murmured, thinking that, yes, perhaps she was almost pretty. Lily had been ravishing, but this was quieter, softer, more soothing. It didn’t startle the eye. James could look at Maia all teatime and feel content, perhaps. Once upon a time. Almost. If only.
“Well, it’s not a Latin name,” she murmured to herself. “The French ‘Mabelle’ … ‘ma belle’…One can always hope that she will be beautiful… that she will be belle.” Again, a smile lit her face, and James’s breath almost caught.
Then he realized that he couldn’t hear the quiet arguing of his friend with his cousin anymore. Looking over, he saw Sirius looking at the two of them speculatively and Bellatrix Lestrange smirking as she sipped her tea.
“Dear, dear,” Madam Lestrange murmured at the two of them. “What am I going to tell your uncle, Lady Maia? You strongarm me into coming over?” (“I didn’t–!”) “And now you’re speaking about the names of your future children.”
Maia sat there and sighed. “What do you want?”
James looked over at her and saw that there was some clear female manipulation and blackmail going on here, and he only partially knew the story.
“You won’t come on a single one of our raids—” Madam Lestrange sing-songed, a wicked smile on her face.
Maia glared at her. “Uncle Marvolo says that I don’t have to.—No.” She glanced over at Madam Lestrange and her hands that were curled around her teacup. “How did you take off your vined ring?” she asked in surprise.
James glanced over at Sirius’s cousin and saw that on her right middle finger was the definite imprint of where a ring that stretched from the base of her finger to the tip of her nail used to lay. “That’s impossible! You can’t take those off!”
Madam Lestrange picked up her bare hand and examined it with a gleeful smile. “You can if you have enough galleons and you feel the need” (James didn’t believe that for a second) “to make a change in the kind of fashion statement you’re making.”
Sirius scoffed. “So you’re free to cheat on Rodolphus for however long you’re not wearing a ring. Typical. Who are you after?”
At this, a grim look crossed Maia’s face. “My uncle,” she stated carefully. “He wears a vined ring, Bella. We Gaunts tend to marry one another—” (“He’d never marry you—” Madam Lestrange cooed) “Of course, I’m like a daughter to him, and neither of us would ever consider it, but if there were another female Gaunt or if I had been raised away, well, then.”
Purebloods and their traditions were often disturbing to James, and these Gaunts were incestuous it would appear. It reminded him of Sirius’s parents. They were second cousins. And didn’t his Uncle Cygnus have his first child at the age of thirteen—when he was still at Hogwarts?
“When was the last incestuous marriage—” Madam Lestrange was now asking, a morbid curiosity in her eye.
“Uncle Marvolo’s father is my grandfather. Word has it,” now she was inspecting her nails, “that his mother and father were brother and sister. His mother went on to marry someone else, but he kept the name ‘Gaunt’ and then grandfather married some Nott who was my grandmother. Then, of course, their parents were uncle and niece.—Why do you think Uncle has a black card? His magic is that strong because it is that pure, Bella, darling. However, I’ll let you into his bedchamber—once!—if it means you won’t tell him about today—or any other day,” she quickly added.
Madam looked at her once and then, after a long pause, nodded.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” James asked Maia carefully.
“Uncle Marvolo eats witches like Bella for breakfast,” she explained. “Besides, he believes in true love. Used to tell me stories about princes and princesses, and how I could marry anyone I’d like as long as he was a pureblood.”
“How democratic of him,” James slurred into his tea.
“Don’t be like that,” she begged. “You know that’s how many Sacred Twenty-Eight feel. If Uncle Marvolo were like any other Gaunt, I’d be planning my wedding instead of drinking tea with you.” Maia shrugged. “Besides, you’re here, aren’t you, and not with your little wife?”
James watched as she calmly took another sip of her tea.
“At least she’s not inbred,” he shot back angrily.
“At least I can wear a vined ring,” she argued, lifting up her left hand, “so you know before you take me to your wedding bed that no other wizard has ever touched me.”
As if slapped, James looked at the pretty witch sitting beside him. “Is that what people are saying?”
She, however, was ignoring him. Politely sitting beside him, she was nonetheless paying attention to Sirius and Madam Lestrange who were sniping at each other over someone named Andromeda.
“Gaunt,” he murmured quietly from beside her, and her blue eyes flicked toward him. However, there was no other sign that she heard. “Maia,” he tried.
Clearly shocked, she turned to him, a blush across her cheeks, making her seem even prettier. “Yes, Monsieur James?”
“I, Mademoiselle Maia,” he began again, using her correct title—
“Lady Maia,” she told him plainly. “I’m Lady Maia Gaunt.” She brushed a loose curl away from her forehead.
She smirked as if to herself, but didn’t look away from him. “Aren’t you full of questions? I tell you about the Gaunts and our peculiar form of blood purity, and you’re disgusted. Now you want to know more.”
“Your uncle’s parents are brother and sister.”
“And who are your parents?” she demanded suddenly. “Famous potioneers, yes, but it’s rumored that they had to conceive you with a potion and without magic.” Yes, that was a hateful rumor that had followed him since his childhood. His parents were well into their 120s and 140s when he was conceived that everyone assumed it must be a potion. “And you know what they say,” she continued pleasantly as if she were just another airbrain Hufflepuff speaking about the weather. “If you weren’t conceived without magic, you weren’t born with magic—which means you must have gotten it from somewhere else.”
“Don’t spread such vile rumors,” he begged tiredly. He knew what would come next. It would be like a Muggleborn who stole magic from a wizard child. “I was conceived with magic just like you were—no matter how closely related your relatives are.”
“I’m just saying,” she spat, “conjure a mirror.—I came over to be pleasant and ask about your hand—”
“For which you had to bribe your keeper—”
“Because you are socially unacceptable,” she whispered desperately. “I can’t have friends outside of Slytherin who aren’t purebloods. Uncle Marvolo prefers it if I associate with dark wizards and Death Eaters. Forgive me for taking a chance after so many years of watching you—” She fell quiet at her admission, and looked down at her teacup.
James looked at her and the slump of her thin shoulders. “I never knew, Lady Maia.”
“You never noticed anyone outside of Evans,” she agreed quietly. “No, Monsieur James, the mistake is mine. We are too different.” Setting down her teacup, she caught Madam Lestrange’s eye, and the two ladies began to stand, but James hurriedly did as well.
Looking at her beautiful, sad face, he decided to take a chance on his dead heart. Although he didn’t like to make generalities, he’d already married a grasping Muggleborn. Perhaps a blood purist, while the opposite extreme, would give him whiplash, but didn’t he owe himself to try?
“Come for tea,” he suggested quickly, looking at Sirius imploringly. “We can have a picnic.”
She looked at him strangely. “I can’t be alone with you, Monsieur James.”
He glanced at his friend, begging for help with his eyes. “We’ll have a party,” Sirius suggested. “We’ll invite some of our friends from Gryffindor, and you can invite some of your friends from Slytherin. All nice people who won’t fight,” he qualified. “Jamesie bought this cottage about a year ago and no one has really seen the inside of it, so we can make it a housewarming party.” He made a signal over his cousin’s head and James nodded his thanks.
Madam Lestrange put her hands on Maia’s shoulder and stated, quite simply, “Lord Marvolo would never allow—”
“Purebloods only,” James added in. That would exclude Moony and Wormtail, unfortunately, but that couldn’t be helped. “We could invite your brother you don’t really like from Slytherin,” he suggested to Sirius. “He’s still at Hogwarts.”
“Yes, Seventh-year Prefect,” he agreed.
“Three people each side,” James suggested. “Me and Sirius and,” he thought a moment. “Er—Bones the year below us. She was a good sort. Then maybe your godsister, Lux Kingsley.” He didn’t mention that she was Sirius’s secret wife, because really that was entirely private. “She’s a year older, but she’s a pureblood, the niece of Heir Lucius Malfoy, so you can’t object, Lady Maia.”
“Fine,” Maia agreed with a smile. “Heir Regulus for me, and Monsieur Barty Crouch, Jr. from Ravenclaw.”
James looked at Sirius. Wasn’t his father some bigwig at the Ministry that was capturing Death Eaters? Well, that could only be good, then.
“And Selwyn. Mademoiselle Apricot Selwyn.”
James bowed to the ladies. “I’ll make out the invitations for this Sunday afternoon. Licorne Lemonade with a little extra something, but not enough for our parents to notice for those of us still at Hogwarts.”
Maia walked up to him and looked into his hazel eyes, through his glasses. A moment later, and she plucked them off his face and put them up to her eyes. “These are fake,” she realized. Looking up at him, she asked, “Whyever do you wear them?”
“They annoyed my wife when I needed them—and after I corrected my vision, I just—kept on annoying her.”
She inspected them again and then gazed up at his face. Handing them back, she suggested, “Perhaps the pureblood wizard who occasionally frequents The Wicked Stepmother and hosts picnics so he can be alone with the granddaughter of incestuous wizards might think of not wearing them. He looks dashing, after all.” Nodding again to Madam Lestrange, the duo made to leave, Sirius and James remaining behind.
“Jamesie,” Sirius murmured quietly. “You do realize who her uncle is—whose parents were brother and sister.” He shivered.
“Lord Marvolo Gaunt.”
Sirius sat and shook his head, his long hair falling around his face. “No, it’s—that’s the assumed name of—” He leaned forward so that his forehead was nearly touching James’s. “He’s a Gaunt, but no one is certain what his actual name is.”
“Well, what is his name then?” he wondered, not really caring as he’d never met the wizard, and wasn’t going to anytime soon as far as he could tell.
“The Dark Lord,” Sirius whispered so quietly that at first James couldn’t hear him. Sighing, Sirius repeated himself.
James started. “I don’t believe you.”
“Believe me. I always knew Gaunt was somehow related—I just didn’t realize he was her uncle—by the old gods—That girl must be watched like a hawk. It’s amazing she got Bella to agree to keep you a secret. She must really fancy you.”
“I never really noticed her at Hogwarts,” he admitted.
“Of course not. She wasn’t Evans,” Sirius agreed. “But are you sure you want to do this?”
His lips setting in a line, he thought for a long moment, of that nearly pretty girl who was so contrarian and insistent upon the right way things were done and so unapologetic. She knew what she wanted and she went out and got it. Maia wasn’t afraid of her own shadow like Lily had been. No, she had somehow seen James and engineered a meeting with him—and had gotten a picnic out of it, if nothing else—
“No,” he decided, determined. “I don’t care who her uncle is. He told her stories of true love growing up apparently. I can respect that she has a peculiar home life I can’t begin to understand—but until I have to, I’m going to throw a picnic for a pretty girl who isn’t going to scream the wrong name on her wedding night, as far as I can tell.”
Sirius started and looked up at James. “Is that what happened?”
“She just lay there, wouldn’t do anything, touch me, let me kiss her, and when I finally was able to make her sing—she was pretending I was Snape of all people.” He glanced down at his hand and the ugly slash there. “At least I know she’s got one of these.”
“I’m not sure magic will let her remarry,” Sirius breathed, inspecting his hand. “Not after that.”
“Well, Snivellus is welcome to her,” he sneered. “I’d rather take a pureblood maiden who’s decided on me absolutely than a Mudblood who is imagining someone as disgusting as him.” Shivering at the thought of it, he turned to his friend and smiled. “Lady Maia Gaunt. Wait, is she a ‘lady’ because he’s the ‘Dark Lord’?”
He was given a nervous look. That answered that then.
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