Many thanks to my beta, Ara Kane, for helping me make this better. Also thanks to everyone who reviewed Chapter 1. Your kind words made my day!
Chapter 2: Meet the Parents
I stood staring at the spot where Mack had been just moments before. I reached out my hand, but there was nothing there. Seconds later, the phone started to ring, and I lurched over to answer it. “Sorry I didn’t warn you, Liz. It was raining so hard that I just Apparated directly back to my flat.” Mack’s voice was interrupted by a loud yawn. “I’m so tired that it’s a wonder I didn’t Splinch myself in the process. I love you. Good night.”
Exhausted and still reeling, I decided I’d wait until morning to think any more. I stumbled off to bed, nearly tripping over the cushion-cat I’d totally forgotten about. Well, I’d deal with that later, too. Good night.
I awoke in the morning feeling disoriented, still wearing the clothes from the night before. What had happened? Then a cat jumped onto the bed, and I remembered everything. Between the physical evidence of the ring on my finger and the mewing kitty (whose fur had reverted to the blue plaid pattern of my sofa), I knew that I had NOT dreamed everything, but it still seemed so unreal.
Oh no! What time was it? I breathed a sigh of relief. It was only 9:30. I still had plenty of time to get ready to meet my future, gulp, in-laws. After taking a long, soothing bath and drying my short, no-nonsense hair, I stood staring into my closet. What does one wear to visit wizards? Mack, why in the world didn’t you tell me where we were going for lunch? Guys never think of these things. After checking the weather forecast, I finally decided on conservative navy blue trousers and a jumper.
I sat nervously flipping channels on the television until Mack knocked on the door at 11:30, precisely. I’d half-expected for him to re-appear directly in the living room. I let him in, and he immediately gave me a kiss and handed me a book.
“It’s my old History of Magic textbook. I thought it might interest you. By the way, how did you sleep?”
“Like a log. But about that disappearing act you pulled last night…”
“Sorry about that. I should have warned you.” He gave me an apologetic grin. “We’d better get going, or we’ll be late.”
“Where ARE we going?”
Twenty minutes later, we were walking in front of the bookshop where we had met. Suddenly, he stopped and reached his hand out towards what seemed to be a blank wall. My eyes widened when I realized he was opening a hidden door. Looking back over my shoulder, I suddenly understood how our initial collision must have occurred. “Welcome to the Leaky Cauldron,” Mack said, gesturing for me to go inside.
As my eyes grew used to the dim light, I had to fight my urge to stare at the other patrons of the pub. Most of them were wearing floor-length robes which seemed to have come straight out of the illustrations in my childhood storybooks. There were even some folks in the darkest corner that didn’t look entirely human. As he steered me through the crowd, I asked, “Is this where your parents are meeting us?”
“No, we’re not quite there yet. The restaurant’s in Diagon Alley.”
We exited through the pub’s back door into what seemed to be a dead end. Mack drew his out his wand and tapped some of the bricks in the wall, which proceeded to re-arrange themselves into an archway. With my jaw hanging open the entire way, I must have looked quite the idiot as he led me down the street to the restaurant. How in the world did this whole row of fantastic shops stay hidden in the heart of London? Magic made many things possible, I supposed.
As we entered the restaurant, I saw a middle-aged couple dressed in robes rise to greet us. His father, whom Mack greatly resembled, greeted me with a friendly handshake. However, his mother, whose wand was indeed clearly visible in her pocket, surprised me by enveloping me in a great hug. “We’re so glad to finally meet you, dear. I hope that Diagon Alley hasn’t shocked you too much. I know I always feel quite out of place in Muggle London. People always seem to give me odd looks.” I saw Mack and his father exchange amused glances at this statement. “Come on, sit down and have something to eat. The food here is excellent.”
After I got over the surprise of ordering food directly from my plate, rather than from a waiter, I had to admit that this was one of the best dinners I’d ever had. Even my nervousness at meeting Mack’s parents disappeared as the four of us conversed easily about a variety of subjects. I described my accounting job, but I wasn‘t quite sure whether to believe their claim that double-entry bookkeeping had been invented by 14th century Venetian wizards. David and Belinda (as they’d asked me to call them) then regaled me with embarrassing stories of Mack’s childhood, including his early, accidental magic. “At least they didn’t bring along the photo album,” muttered a red-faced Mack.
After the meal, they took me to the apothecary shop that they owned. “Mum and her assistant brew up the potions, and Dad runs the business end of things,” Mack explained. As he showed me all the exotic items for sale, I asked if I could bring my medical student sister to visit the next time she came to London. My lips twitched as I imagined her reaction to medicines made from dragon scales. I then laughed outright when I realized that only twenty-four hours before, I myself had not known dragons to exist.
After bidding his parents goodbye, Mack and I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the rest of Diagon Alley. With Christmas only three weeks away, every shop was packed. Mack had often teased me about always having my nose buried in a book, so he wasn’t surprised when it took me nearly an hour to browse every single aisle in Flourish and Blotts. Once I realized that the money in my purse would be useless, he promised to buy me a present if I would abide by a five-book limit. With great difficulty, I complied.
As we left with our purchases, I accidentally ran into a tall, blonde-haired woman. This is turning into a bad habit, I thought as I made my apologies. However, instead of a polite acknowledgement, she looked at me as if I were something too vile to touch. “Muggles,” she sneered, before turning the other way.
Stung, I turned to Mack who squeezed my arm reassuringly. “Some of us,” he glared at the woman’s retreating back, “seem to have the silly belief that Muggles are somehow inferior. They get caught up in tracing how pure their ancestry is. Some of them even think that magical children born into Muggle families don’t deserve to go to Hogwarts. It’s stupid, really. Muggle-borns can be just as powerful as everyone else. In fact, untrained wizards can be dangerous when they’re angry. Rob said his parents were relieved when they finally found out why he was able to shatter glass twenty feet away. At school, you learn to control it…” Mack trailed off as he realized he’d been ranting. “Come on, let’s go home.” He put his arm around me, and we walked away in companionable silence.
Upon reflection, I came to the conclusion that while magic could do wonderful things, it didn’t change basic human nature. I resolved to put the unpleasant incident out of my mind.
Tuesday evening after work, I knocked on the door of Mack’s flat. I heard the lock click as he shouted, “Come on in!” I walked in and stopped short. Even though I had met his parents and seen everyone else in Diagon Alley, somehow I hadn’t pictured Mack…
He turned around from the briefcase he’d been digging through and caught me staring. He looked puzzled for a second, then smiled sheepishly. “I haven’t changed out of my work robes yet, have I?” I couldn’t help smiling back as I shook my head.
Looking around, I suddenly realized there were many things in his flat I’d never seen in my previous visits. The whole shelf beneath his airplane models (which I now suspected were actually capable of flight) was full of photographs in which the subjects were waving energetically at me. I moved closer to examine them and was drawn to one of a teen-aged Mack and six others dressed in identical yellow robes, one of whom I recognized as his friend Cassandra. Looking over my shoulder, he explained, “That was our House Quidditch team. I obviously wasn’t good enough to become a professional, but I loved playing.”
I walked around the room, noting the quills and parchment on the desk and a cauldron shoved into a corner. That was when I noticed that none of the brightly glowing lamps were plugged into the wall. “I guess you really DON’T need electricity.”
“It actually tends to fail in the presence of too much magic. Somehow they interfere with each other. Not using it saves me money, too. I only got the telephone after I met you and needed a way to communicate.”
I jumped when I heard a tapping at the window. I jumped even higher when Mack opened it to admit a large brown owl. “Don’t worry, Liz. This is Sammy.” He removed some paper from the owl’s leg. “It’s just a note from Rob. He and Cassandra are running late, but they’ll see us at the restaurant.”
Well, now I knew to whom the birdcage in the corner belonged. Owls as a means of communication? How long was it going to take me to learn about everything Mack took for granted? I sighed.
He must have read my mind because he swept me into a hug and kiss. “I know it’ll take some time for you to get used to everything. In fact, I’m surprised you’re holding up as well as you are. Have a seat. I’ll change clothes, and then we’ll go eat, OK?”
No longer needing to keep a secret, Rob and Cassandra were much more open at dinner than at our previous meeting, even though we had to keep our voices low in the Muggle establishment. All in all, my time with Mack’s friends went much easier than the meeting with my own a few nights later.
Ever since we graduated from university, Sue, Amy, and I had always made a point of getting together on the second Friday of every month. Passing around the dishes of Thai food, Sue shared the latest gossip as we celebrated Amy’s birthday and my engagement. They had both met Mack a few times and approved.
While satisfying their demands for a description of his proposal, I suddenly realized just how hard it was going to be to keep everything a secret. How had Mack managed to keep me in the dark for nearly a year?
“Well, what happened after you said ‘yes’?” pressed Sue. She was always on the hunt for good stories to spread around.
I hesitated for a moment, pondering how to keep my answer as ambiguous as possible. “You know, some things are none of your business,” I finally said in a mock-lecturing tone. “We talked for awhile, but most of what happened is much too private to share.”
I got the reaction I had intended when the girls squealed and made some innuendo-laced replies. I blushed in response and simply failed to correct their impressions.
However, as the evening wore on, I came alarmingly close to blurting everything out. I desperately wanted a confidante, but kept my mouth shut. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was get Mack into trouble. Later, when we all went our separate ways, I couldn’t help breathing a sigh of relief.
“Stop pacing, Mack. You’re driving me crazy. You’ve met my parents before.”
“Back in May, I was just your boyfriend. Now, I’m a prospective son-in-law with a big bombshell to drop. It’s different.” He stared out the train window at the landscape racing past, nervously wringing his hands.
I had to choke back a laugh. “Dad may give you a hard time, but it’s all in fun. Trust me.”
All talking at once, Mum, Dad, and my sister Becky gave us both an enthusiastic welcome at the station. “Let’s see that new ring of yours!” “We’re so glad both of you were able to come.” “Good to see you again!”
We spent the afternoon showing Mack around town and helping Mum bake biscuits for Christmas treats. That evening after supper, while we all sat in the living room chatting, Mack gave my hand a squeeze. It was time to tell them. “Um, what we’re about to say can’t leave this room. No Mum,” I hastened to add, “it’s nothing bad. It’s about Mack, his family, and his job…”
Becky jumped in. “Let me guess. His name’s really Corleone, and he’s gonna make us an offer we can’t refuse, right?”
I shot her a dirty look, lamenting my poor word choice. “Sorry, but you’re way off the mark. Mack, care to demonstrate?”
The rest of my family stared at him as he drew his wand from his sleeve. The whole exhibition was eerily similar to the scene in my flat three weeks before, except I wasn’t the one with a shocked expression. Dad, ever skeptical, was soon trying to find the “wires” holding several levitating objects up, nearly burning his hand on some conjured candles in the process. “How about a little Transfiguration?” I suggested. “Mum’s allergic to cats, though.” The sofa cushion back in my flat had finally stopped purring the week before.
“May I?” he asked as he pointed the wand at me. I nodded nervously; he’d never done anything to me directly before. He had a mischievous look in his eye as he muttered an incantation, but I didn’t feel anything at all until Becky reached over my head and grabbed something. “Ow!” A quick glance at the mirror on the wall showed that I had sprouted rabbit ears in place of my own. I tried to be angry as Mack reversed the spell, but burst out laughing instead.
Then, Becky addressed Mack with an awed but amused voice, “I take back that bit about the Mafia. You’ve really sold your soul to the devil in exchange for unnatural powers and my sister’s love.” We looked at her questioningly. “She must really be crazy about you if she lets you give her bunny ears.” I caught Mack’s eye, and we both dissolved into a fit of helpless giggles with Becky and Dad soon joining in.
Once he got his breath back, Mack launched into the same explanations he had given me. “My soul’s not for sale; I was born this way.” I added my description of the wonders of Diagon Alley, leaving out the insult I desperately wanted to forget. Dad and Becky were soon peppering us with questions, but Mum remained uncharacteristically silent.
After a while, Mum caught my attention and asked, “Liz, could you please come help me in the kitchen?”
Once we were alone, she turned and waved her hand in the general direction of the living room. “What do you make of all this?”
“Well, I must admit that I’ve spent the last three weeks reminding myself that my name isn’t Alice and I haven’t fallen down a rabbit hole. It still seems very unreal, in spite of all the evidence.”
“But are you sure this will work? He’s quite literally from a different world.”
“Mack’s not asking me to give anything up, and he told me mixed marriages certainly aren’t uncommon, from his perspective at least. Didn’t you hear him mention his grandparents? Last week, he even made some joke about expanding the gene pool. After all, wizards make up less than one percent of the population, so they need us to keep going.”
“Doesn’t the idea of - of magical children… I mean, how will you cope?” Mum was obviously distressed.
“I’ll not deny that I’m a little uneasy, but at least I’ll be prepared and have help when the time comes.”
Mum still wasn’t pacified. “When the time comes? Can he even support a family? He didn’t mention a job just now.” Her eyes narrowed, “He lied about the law firm, I suppose.”
I was shocked at her vehemence. Somehow, I’d expected my family to accept Mack’s world the same way I had. I tried to reassure her. “Yes, he did. But he couldn’t very well tell me he’s worked in the Department for Magical Law Enforcement for the last six years, could he? He may get paid in Galleons instead of Pounds, but I think he makes more than I do. We showed each other our bank statements last week, but I’m not exactly sure of the conversion rate…”
“OK, so he’s financially solvent, but can you trust him? Don’t look at me like that. I saw you flinch when he turned the wand on you. Do you know what he’s capable of?”
“MUM!” I could feel myself becoming quite red in the face. “He’d never hurt me if that’s what you’re implying!”
She raised her hands in a calming gesture. “I’m sorry. It’s just that the whole thing rather frightens me.”
I backed down a bit. “I’m a little scared too, Mum, but I know Mack and I can make it work. I’m not saying everything’s going to be easy, either. It’s been awful not being able to tell my friends. I’m not used to keeping huge secrets like this. That’s why I was hoping for support from you, Dad and Becky.”
“You’ve always been stubborn once you’ve made up your mind, so I know it’s useless to argue.” She smiled wistfully. “You’re still my little girl, even if you are nearly twenty-five. I still want to protect you, but I know you have to make your own decisions. Just give me time.”
We stood there silently for a moment as Becky’s voice drifted in from the other room. “So, why don’t you just conjure up some money?”
“You mean besides the fact that counterfeiting is illegal?” Mack’s cheeky reply was muffled by the closed kitchen door. I looked up from the floor and grew hopeful when I saw a glimmer of amusement in Mum’s eyes.
“I certainly hope he doesn’t try to demonstrate that. I don’t want to postpone the wedding because he’s been thrown into prison,” I quipped. We smiled broadly at each other, our harsh words forgiven in that instant.
“When are you planning to get married, anyway?” Mum asked after a short pause. It was amazing how quickly she shifted into practical, mother-of-the-bride mode.
“My lease expires at the end of June, so we thought mid-month would be best. That way we can still have time to empty my flat after a honeymoon.”
“Given the circumstances, will you be wanting a big ceremony?”
“Oh no, there would be too much risk of exposure. We just want immediate family.” I grinned as a new thought came into my mind. “Do you remember about five years ago when Dad offered Becky and me ten thousand pounds each to elope? Do you think the offer still stands?”
“Oh, I think he can be persuaded.” We were both chuckling as we headed towards the living room to rejoin the others.
Up next… Quidditch and other social obligations.
A/N: Sammy the Owl is named in tribute to the mascot of my alma mater, Rice U. I couldn’t resist.