Serena Yaxley was vexed. Well in all honestly she was seething with anger but she preferred to think of herself as simply being vexed. There was just something so undignified about being angry. The flushed face, the vein that inevitability started pulsing in the temple. With Serena’s pale skin was easy to see the blue of her veins coursing right underneath and that vein had an annoying habit of becoming a bit enlarged when she was truly angry. Her mother had commented on it earlier which was why it was in the forefront of Serena’s mind now. Today had not been a very pleasant day to be perfectly frank. Although her interview had gone well at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and she had been offered the job, even that triumph could not soothe away the irritation that had immediately followed. She had anticipated her little stop into Justin’s office to be a pleasant moment. Seeing him in his office served as a reminder of all the ‘meetings’ that they had conducted within those walls late at night after the rest of the employees on level one had gone to their homes. Serena had intended her little visit to be a sort of foreplay for when she saw him in his bedroom later that night. And her plan would have gone off without a hitch if it had not been for one Evelyn Rookwood.
Just the thought of that woman made Serena reach for her wine glass and take a generous gulp of the red wine that she had poured herself. Was this her second glass? Perhaps her third. She wasn’t keeping count. All she knew was that after this day she was entitled to a few drinks. Rookwood had been an absolute nightmare of a woman. She dressed like a woman desperate for attention and spoke like she believe she was the crowned Queen of bloody Britain. Serena had been appalled when Rookwood had come to her and stood toe to toe and had lectured her on obedience. Lectured her on obedience and scolded her for walking into her husband’s office. It had taken all the willpower that Serena had not to raise her voice. Or to just slap the woman across the face. Oh, that would have been very satisfying indeed. Serena lifted her glass again and studied the ruby colored liquid for a moment before bringing the glass to her lips and letting the sweet and slightly tart liquid run down her throat.
Coming home had only served to annoy Serena even further. The moment she had stepped through the door she had been assaulted by her mother who was asking insistently what colors Serena preferred for the wedding. And did she want a traditional white or maybe a more eggshell or cream color for her dress? To Serena’s eyes all three colors looked exactly the same. She had told her mother that white was fine and then the infuriating woman had responded with pursed lips. ”Well you know, Serena darling. White is for virgin brides.” The two women had stared each other down for a moment because Serena had been at a total loss for words. What was she supposed to say? Protest the status of her virginity? She’d slept with Justin just that morning. Aggravated beyond belief Serena pushed her fingers through her hair. ”Then pick whatever you want, mother!” And she had left the woman behind and walked away into her study where even her mother dare not tread. It was still instilled in her that she was not allowed in that room because that had always been the case when Nicholas was alive.
Serena had agreed to be at Justin’s home that evening but she did not go. She was still aggravated at the situation and by extension aggravated with him. Once she had been assured by her house elf that her mother had gone to bed Serena left the study with the bottle of wine and a glass in hand and walked down the stairs to the sitting room. It was not in the least bit surprising when she heard footsteps behind her, too heavy to be those of her tiny mother, and she knew it was him. Turning around she held up the bottle of wine. ”Would you like a drink?” There was a sarcastic little twist to her mouth, more of a grimace than an actual smile.
The Pritchard-Yaxley wedding announcement had the anticipated effect on the press and polls. Justin posed for photographs with Serena and gave a brief interview to the Daily Prophet but excused himself from several subsequent altercations with the press. They hovered in the Ministry atrium like a pack of dogs, and sometimes a fair few were bold enough to descend on Level One. Evelyn Rookwood promised him that over-zealous reporters would not fluster her and here was her opportunity to prove that. He expected her to give polite but firm statements to the press requesting privacy during his work hours, and it was because of her that he hadn't been bombarded by flashing bulbs and questions touching on every aspect of his wedding (and his relationship to the bride).
Justin was satisfied with the way Evelyn handled the reporters, considering how much he detested them. His upcoming nuptials had the desired effect on heads of department and ambassadors alike. Easing into a discussion of policy was quite simple with a brief congratulatory exchange over his marriage. And Justin played his part very well, with tempered enthusiasm and an appreciation for the advice given to him (by those whose domestic bliss lasted well into twenty years). He wasn't concerned about longevity and although he'd claimed to have given Serena the reins on wedding preparation, in truth it was Antonin Dolohov.
Considering how successful - by a certain interpretation, at least - his dinner party had been in securing him the post of Minister of Magic, there was no reason not to doubt Dolohov would prove as essential to this publicity stunt of a ceremony. Justin gave him ample access to the necessary finances required to hire the very best coordinators, decorators, florists, and caterers with the expectation that Dolohov would manage the perfect event in the short time allotted until the wedding. Neither he nor Serena wanted to draw out an imaginary engagement so there was little room for mistakes.
Not even the diligent work of his staff could alleviate Justin's distaste for this entire elaborate affair. It was very distracting - and not in the beneficial way of having his beautiful fiancée unexpectedly interrupt his meeting. It was true that Justin had given Evelyn express orders not to allow anyone into his office - but unsurprisingly, Serena walked in despite all this. As it turned out, her decision to drop by just to see him endeared her to the ambassador who informed him that he was a very lucky man (admittedly, Justin suspected that had more to do with the way the ambassador stared at his wife's legs as she left the room). He didn't hold Evelyn responsible for what Serena had done and he hadn't inquired after the exchange between his assistant and his wife. He had a late luncheon to attend.
So by the end of the day, Justin was unaware of what had occurred between the two women. He and Serena had made plans to meet for drinks in his manor. He expected her to stay over. Two hours later, she was nowhere to be found and while he wasn't concerned, he did want to see her. Having her in the office made this desire even more pronounced. Justin stepped into his fireplace and reappeared in hers, stepping into Yaxley Manor and, with the house elf's direction, finding her in the sitting room. Serena wasn't surprised to see him and he knew the moment she turned around that she hadn't forgotten about their evening.
"Would you like a drink?" Justin ignored the offer as he crossed the room because he could see from her face and tone that she was irritated. "What is the matter, Serena?" he asked, carefully pulling the wine bottle out of her grasp to set it down on the table. There was no need to remind her they had plans because she was cognisant of that. He took a moment to glance at the label, turn it over and then put it down. "Why are you angry with me?" It was the natural assumption to draw, although he wasn't sure what he'd managed to do since this morning. Perhaps the wedding was getting to her.
Jealousy was not the issue. Serena liked to think that she was a confident enough woman that such a petty emotion would not impact her so fiercely. There was nothing to be jealous of. In an objective sense Evelyn Rookwood was a very beautiful woman with all the attributes that men usually found attractive. Long legs, curvy figure, full lips, sultry eyes. To Serena it was all smoke and mirrors. Evelyn was all sex and nothing else. Yes, men enjoyed those kind of women because they offered an easy distraction from their regular day to day stress. She was the woman that they dallied with behind the scenes. Serena was not jealous of that. Never had she aspired to be that kind of woman. Nor was she worried about Justin being unfaithful with his curvaceous assistant. His image was far too important to him to risk being caught cheating on his new wife with an employee. And it wasn't just worry over his image that would stop him. Serena had seen the look in his eyes when she had stepped into his office that afternoon. His desire for her was palpable even when they weren't touching. A man who desired his wife that much could not be distracted by high heels and an inappropriately short dress. No, this was not jealousy.
Most of Serena's anger was based in her pride and in the fact that she was very keen on receiving the respect that she believed she deserved. Ever since her father had died there had been whispers that he was crazy for leaving Serena the family fortune, that a woman did not have the strength nor the presence of mind to be in control of so much money. On the day that the will had been read Serena had been told by her mother that she needed to hand over everything to Domenic. Only he could keep the family fortune together and take care of everything. Domenic had only been sixteen at the time and Serena had refused. There was no way that she was going to submit herself to the rule of her sixteen year old spoiled brat of a brother. Having the family fortune meant having her freedom and that was what she wanted more than anything. Serena had lived under the thumb of her domineering father for twenty-one long years and now she was free of that. But there was still the pressure of proving that she was not weak, that she was worthy of respect, that she was as strong and as smart as any man. So being spoken to so rudely by Justin's assistant had been more than just irritating. Evelyn had admonished her for her lack of obedience and that had caused Serena's temper to flare. She would not tolerate such rudeness from her husband's employee.
Serena released the wine bottle the moment that he grabbed it, not fighting him for it. The offer of a drink had been more of a taunt than a real offer. It was clear in her expression and in her stance that she was not pleased. Not with him nor with the situation in general. Serena stepped away from as she pondered how to answer his question. The last thing she wanted was to sound like a petty jealous bitch. But at the same time she wanted to be direct about her disapproval for his hiring practices. She was his wife and not his adviser and Serena knew enough to respect that difference. "I had the pleasure of meeting your new assistant today." The emphasis that she put in the word 'pleasure' made it clear that the encounter had been anything but pleasant. "Interesting choice. I am starting to wonder what qualifications you look for in an employee." It was clear what she was implying. Evelyn was young and pretty. Wasn't he the least bit worried about what people would say? He went through young and pretty assistants faster than a house elf went through cleaning rags.
"Did you tell her to lecture me?" Her blue eyes moved to focus on Justin, her eyebrows raised slightly in question. "Because I thought we had an understanding about my....obedience. Or lack thereof. Has that changed now?" Her voice was cold and steady and she didn't not raise the volume at all. It was clear that she was furious but she was not going to shout. Serena had learned enough to know that shouting never got you anywhere. "I don't do subservience very well." That came out a little more snappish but she was beyond irritated at the moment. Never had she considered herself to be inferior but apparently Miss. Rookwood had gotten that impression. It made her wonder what Justin had done to convey that message to his employee.
Justin didn't need to be intuitive to draw his conclusions; Serena made no effort to mask her displeasure, although he was surprised to hear it was Evelyn who'd upset her. He hadn't expected this. After his meeting concluded and he escorted the Italian ambassador out of his office, he paused by Miss Rookwood's desk. She apologised for his fiancée's interruption and explained to him that Serena ignored her (and by extension, the orders he'd given to her) by stepping into his office uninvited. She insisted that she'd been polite and only acted out of concern for his safety. Justin had no reason not to believe Miss Rookwood, and so he assured her that she'd done nothing wrong. He told her not to worry about it.
Clearly that had been a mistake. "Interesting choice." He knew that she wasn't surprised he'd hired an assistant because she'd seen it herself that night as he steered her through to his office. Justin resented the implication that he'd selected Miss Rookwood for reasons other than professional competence. "As always, I hire the most suitable candidate." Surely Serena did not think so little of herself as to believe he'd only given her a job - at twenty-one, three years younger than Miss Rookwood - because of her pretty face. "Why are you questioning my judgment in this?" He was irritated because he hadn't anticipated jealousy from her - and it was what he suspected motivated her doubts as the legitimacy of his business practises. Did she expect him to discriminate against Evelyn Rookwood simply because she was attractive? If that were part of Ministry policy, he would never have hired Serena.
And considering the rumours and suspicion she'd contended with as his personal assistant - that she was too young, too pretty to be taken seriously - Justin would've thought she'd be the last person to judge another woman based on a superficial impression. Once or twice Miss Rookwood attempted to overstep her boundaries but he'd corrected her in this. He'd had no problems with her since - and furthermore, she'd proven herself indispensable to him during the Paterson debacle. She handled the press nearly as well as Serena did. She did her job and Justin was satisfied with her work. "Did you tell her to lecture me?" Of course not. He was not even aware there was a lecture. From the impression Evelyn had given him, it was a brief conversation - at best, a misunderstanding and certainly not a "lecture". Justin didn't have the slightest idea what Serena was talking about because the word 'obedience' had not even been brought up to him.
This was already an argument and Justin still wasn't sure what they were arguing over. "I don't do subservience very well.""Serena, I will not answer questions you already know the answer to." He would never expect her to tolerate a lecture from his personal assistant - he would never suggest such a thing - and obedience had never been an issue for them. "When have I ever demanded subservience from you?" She knew him better than that.
"It was my oversight," Justin willingly admitted his fault because he didn't want to argue over this, "In neglecting to inform Miss Rookwood of your status." There were only a handful of diplomatic situations so delicate that Serena would be expressly forbidden from interrupting - but if and when such occasions arose, he would inform his wife of it himself. "I spoke to Evelyn today and she assures me that she meant you no disrespect, she was simply...overzealous," in her inflexible interpretation of his orders. He did appreciate that, considering the tenacity of the reporters - but not at the expense of offending his wife. "I'll discuss it with her tomorrow."
"As always, I hire the most suitable candidate." A short and derisive laugh escaped Serena's lips. The most suitable candidate? She highly doubted that. Miss. Rookwood had proven herself to be incredibly incompetent to perform the job for which she had been hired. What lies had that forked tongued tramp whispered into Justin's ear to make him believe that she was a viable candidate for employment in his office? "Because clearly your judgement has been clouded." Usually she would have never been so disrespectful or blunt but Serena felt like this matter had to be dealt with in the most expeditious manner. "She sits in the desk in front of your office and she gives off the first impression of how you run your Ministry. Is that really the impression you want to give?" A strand of hair fell into her face and Serena pushed it back irritability wishing she had thought to pull her hair back. She always felt more serious when her hair was pulled back. Otherwise it got into her face and was incredibly distracting. "Perhaps it would be wise to at least tell her to wear her skirts a few inches longer." Her voice dropped in octave, it was like ice. But she was getting off topic. This was not really about what Miss. Rookwood chose to wear in the office.
Serena took a step towards him and then changed her mind and instead walked towards where he had set the wine bottle. She really wanted to do just drink straight from the bottle rather than bothering with a glass but she also did not want to look like a complete barbarian. Taking the bottle she poured the dark red liquid into a glass and then brought the glass to her lips. Even the sharp taste of the wine could not soothe her. "Then how has your assistant gotten the impression that I am to follow certain codes of obedience? She scolded me for not obeying her and by extension not obeying you." It was clear that Serena was completely stunned by this fact. Being lectured by some hussy outside of her husband's office had been one of the most confusing and infuriating experiences of her life. "It is hard for me to fathom that she came up with these ideas on her own." Mostly because Serena could not imagine Evelyn coming up with anything on her own. "Certainly you can see how I can only see one logical source for her to pick up that kind of behavior." Evelyn's slavish dedication to Justin had been painfully obvious.
Justin's defense of the woman was almost more than Serena could handle. He was defending her? That woman's behavior had been so far out of line that Serena hadn't even known how to respond. It had been so far away from the social norms that it almost felt like she was talking to someone in the Spell Damage Ward at St. Mungos. And Evelyn, that two faced bitch, had told him that she meant no disrespect. Oh, Serena could just picture it now. Evelyn with that infuriating smile on her face, faux innocent voice, batting her eyelashes at Justin and telling him oh so sweetly that she had meant any harm. She was only doing her duty. And Justin, like so many foolish men before him, had readily believed it. "What is wrong with you?" The words shot out of her mouth before she could stop them. Serena set her glass aside and lifted up her hands, her fingers pressing into her temples to ward off the headache that was already threatening to invade. "Overzealous is not the word for it, Justin." She strained to keep her tone polite. "That woman seems to think that she has taken some sort of vow to protect you. She is obsessed. Obsessed enough that she thought it appropriate to scold me for speaking with you." Serena lowered her hands and kept her eyes on him. "Or does personal assistant rank above wife?" It was a clearly sarcastic question and one that she did not expect the answer to. "I do not even know how to describe the conversation that I had with her after leaving your office. I have never...the level of disrespect shown..." Serena couldn't even come up with a coherent sentence to describe Miss. Rookwood's behavior. It had been beyond inappropriate. Not even Mike could offend Serena so thoroughly.
"You have to fire her." Serena could not really see any other option. That woman was clearly a liability and she wanted Justin to see that. Her behavior and the liberties she took in his office could not be corrected by a few words from Justin or a stern warning. She had to go. "Don't mistake this for jealousy." Because she was clearly superior in every conceivable way to Miss. Rookwood. "I would just prefer not to be verbally assaulted every time I stop by your office."
"Because clearly your judgement has been clouded." Justin prided himself on his acumen and his jaw visibly clenched when she accused him of clouded judgment. The only person who'd ever "clouded" his judgment was Serena - and, she would argue, Ian for how he reacted to his friend's death - but if she thought this gave her the right to declare him impaired or incompetent every time he made a decision that she disagreed with, she was sorely misinformed. "I am well aware of where she sits, Serena. I put her there." He refused to debate the first impressions of Evelyn with his wife. And her choice in wardrobe, while hardly conservative, did not warrant a formal reprimand. Justin frowned at Serena with an expression that said more than his words could've: as Minister of Magic, he didn't spend his days measuring the length of Miss Rookwood's skirts.
It was not his primary concern. As frustrated as he was with Serena, Justin knew that she wouldn't fabricate these details and her surprise was genuine, he could hear it in her voice. Evidently Evelyn had not seen fit to inform him of the finer points of her conversation with his wife - a clumsy effort to misrepresent herself (given that Serena could easily contest it) that she would face consequences for come eight o'clock tomorrow morning. "Certainly you can see how I can only see one logical source for her to pick up that kind of behavior.""Of course," he replied calmly, tempering his defensiveness, "I must be the responsible party because a young pureblood woman from a traditional family would never have been exposed to patriarchal notions of obedience to men." Justin's voice carried no sarcastic inflection whatsoever but he said these words because he wanted Serena to recognise how foolish she sounded.
Evelyn's "ideas" could just as well have stemmed from her family or pureblood society at large. "It is hard for me to fathom," he reproached, "That after all this time, you still believe I want a docile, obedient wife." Had he not expressly told her the moment he proposed that this changed nothing between them? Had he ever given any indication that he was displeased with the way she treated him, or the nature of their relationship? Of course not. But Serena opted to take the word of a witch she'd just met over him. "I understand that it is difficult for you to trust me," and Justin didn't necessarily hold this against her, given his personality and their history - but over something so personal, he thought- he was unpleasantly surprised, and let us leave it at that. "But Evelyn's impressions are her own and will be dealt with accordingly. I have never so much as said the word 'obedience' to her." It was one of those terms that he didn't feel the need to use in order to receive it.
"What is wrong with you?" It was on the tip of his tongue to ask her the same thing, but Justin restrained himself from such a juvenile retort. "I am trying to understand what it is that has you so angry." And considering he hadn't even known there was a confrontation outside his office until two minutes ago, Justin thought that he was doing an admirable job sifting through her allegations. If "overzealous" was not the word, then he invited Serena to elucidate - and so she did. Justin wasn't one to discount his wife's intuition about Evelyn, no matter how brief their interaction, because he'd always respected her insights. He could not recall a circumstance in which she'd wrongly predicted the character of someone he'd dealt with throughout the course of their time together. But what she viewed as 'obsession', he interpreted more along the lines of that unwavering dedication that the Dark Lord expected from his servants.
Justin was not as threatened as Serena seemed to think he should be - but he rarely saw her at a loss for words and he knew she'd been deeply offended. Evelyn had lied to him. Serena was not an irrational woman and however "polite" Miss Rookwood claimed to be, clearly she had conducted herself in such a way that his wife struggled to verbalise the extent of her indignation. "You have to fire her." Justin accepted that it was not jealousy - but it was a personal request nonetheless. "Serena," his voice was much gentler, but when he tried to touch her shoulders, run his palms down her arms to her hands, she pulled away.
She wouldn't let him touch her. Justin sighed and continued with marginally less warmth, "I am sorry that you had such an unpleasant confrontation today, and I can assure that it will never happen again," although she didn't seem inclined to believe his methods of discipline were substantial enough to dissuade Evelyn from behaving in the same way - he disagreed, of course. "But I cannot fire her over one incident." And it was not out of personal preference, although he believed Serena would misinterpret it as favoritism. "After you defected to the Order," he continued judiciously - he preferred to never talk personal politics with her, which was for the best given their divisive stances. He chose his words with care because there was far more at stake than how Serena expected to be greeted by his personal assistant.
"I needed to choose a replacement whose loyalties would not come into question. Miss Rookwood has not only my approval, but that of others whom I cannot afford to displease." Justin had never promised Serena absolute disclosure in every aspect of his life - given the sort of man he was, it was impossible for him to be completely honest. But she knew enough about him to know that he would never lie to her. There were certain things he was forbidden from discussing with her for as long as he served the Dark Lord - and one did not simply walk away from an obligation like that. Serena, to his knowledge, accepted that although he knew she wasn't pleased. He would not willingly out Evelyn Rookwood to his wife as a Death Eater, but he imagined Serena could draw her own conclusions. To dismiss a loyal supporter of the Dark Lord from the offices of the Minister of Magic at the behest of his blood traitor wife would not impress anyone. He couldn't do this for her.
Justin did not deign to allow the notable tones of sarcasm to creep into his voice, he had for too much control to allow for that. His words were said in a way that any person who did not know him would have assumed that he was being completely serious and agreeing completely with Serena's point. However, the point did not go unnoticed by Serena and her a muscle ticked slightly in her jaw as she clenched her teeth together to resist the urge to snap the first insult that came to mind. It was hard for her to admit even to herself that he was right, her assumptions and words had been hasty. It was a little unrealistic for her to blame him for Evelyn's crazed notions about Serena's expected obedience. Miss. Rookwood would not be the last person that would make assumptions regarding Serena's behavior towards her husband. Anyone who was a member and followed the unspoken rules of a traditional pureblood society would look at Serena and expect docile behavior from her. A wife was expected to be obedient and honor her husband with her every action. And Serena was more than happy to give this image to the public. She felt no desire to give the traditionalists any reason to gossip behind his back. Serena could stomach the role of dutiful wife in public because in private it was a different matter altogether. She viewed it to be much the same as when she had worked for him. In the public sphere she could humor him knowing that there was a mutual respect built into their relationship.
It irritated her even further that she had no retort to answer him with. Oh, she could think of plenty of things that she wanted to say about Evelyn's impressions and Justin's role in implementing them but everything that came to mind sounded petty. Just the thought of sounding like a desperately jealous wife made Serena feel sick to her stomach. Even the mere thought that she, Serena, could be jealous of that was offensive. However, she did have a problem with the authority that Evelyn seemed to believe that she had over Justin. It irked Serena beyond belief that another woman believed that she could grant or deny her access to her husband. The way that Evelyn had spoken, stating that she had taken a vow to Justin, the word just struck a nerve. It made everything to intimate and Serena did not like it. "I am angry because I do not tolerate that type of disrespectful behavior from anyone! It doesn't matter what my status is." Serena wanted to emphasis that she believed that she did not deserve respect just because she was his wife. She deserved respect because she was Serena Yaxley! Or had been until recently. "And I am angry with you for defending her behavior. Overzealous? You could have at least thought of something better." Evelyn's whole demeanor was just offensive. From the way she dressed to that horrid little smirk she wore on her face.
She recoiled when he said her name, resenting the gentle ton that he used. No. She as not going to let him say her name like that as if she were a child that needed to be soothed. This was not a petty annoyance! This was the very serious matter of him allowing a member of his staff to behave in such an uncouth manner. It was more than just how Serena felt, it was the image that he wished to portray to the public. Evelyn's behavior made him look badly because he had been the one to hire her. His apology only served as a further irritation. Serena hated his tone almost as much as she hated the words that he spoke. Even if he didn't meant it to be so the apology sounded insincere and condescending. Unpleasant confrontation? It had not been a confrontation. It had been Serena being inappropriately accosted by his assistant.
His refusal to acquiesce to her request to immediately relieve his assistant of her employment sent the color draining from Serena's face. Her face always went pale when she was angry and right now she had surpassed anger into furry. The pale face and clenched jaw was enough to convey to anyone who knew her the level of her irritation. "I have no contact with the Order." Off topic but Serena felt it necessary to say. She was not going to have this continue to cloud their relationship. And she was speaking the truth. Not even Mike had contacted her since the party. Her brief foray into the rebel group had ended the moment that Justin had kissed her the night of the party. And Serena understood Justin's reasoning, his explanation of why he had hired Evelyn and why he could not fire her. However, just because she understood did not mean that she accepted his reasons. There were plenty of Death Eaters to choose from and some that were for more subtle and safer choices than Evelyn Rookwood. "I am displeased." But he could afford to displease her. Serena knew that in Justin's list of priorities she did not rank first. Maybe not even in the top five. She did not seek to change who he was. But neither would she deny when she was angry with a decision that he had made. Serena did wish to hide who she was from him. And he could deal with that knowledge however he saw fit.
"I think I'll stay here tonight." The coldness in her voice indicated that he was most certainly not welcome to stay with her. Let him sleep in a cold bed tonight to better understand the extent of her displeasure. At least he could be satisfied in the knowledge that he had a good and loyal servant of the Dark Lord to serve him.
The intricacies of pureblood families and the hierarchy of power within them was not something Justin was unaccustomed to. If he cared about such things, he would acknowledge that as a Pritchard, he was "marrying up" by taking a Yaxley as his bride. "It doesn't matter what my status is.""I am not excusing Miss Rookwood's behaviour, but your status matters." Evelyn was not to make exceptions, and since Paterson's attempts to sabotage his dinner party Justin took more precautions. He was exceedingly paranoid and rightfully so. What one man did, several men often contemplated and he didn't delude himself into thinking that spiked punch had been the first and last attempt to remove him from power.
"Two of my predecessors have been murdered in office, Serena, despite the very best protection the Ministry has to offer." Admittedly, Justin had done his part to expose Minister Freeland to the Death Eaters, but an orchestrated assassination was still an orchestrated assassination - who was to say someone could not do the same thing to him? "My political rival attempted to induce indisputable confessions," unlawfully gained through the illegal dispensation of veritaserum at a public event, "The likes of which would've condemned half my party guests to Azkaban prison." Including himself, if he'd been unwise enough to sip from that same punch bowl. Instead of a wedding, he'd be "celebrating" (with the same level of enthusiasm) a life sentence in that Merlin-forsaken fortress.
"What other word is there but overzealous?" Justin had recently heard that this wedding caused quite the stir because the public had previously been reluctant to invest any personal attachment in him as a leader. Why? Because there was the expectation that this time next month, he would be dead.
"You are no threat to my safety," his sanity, on the other hand, "And my office is always open to you. You needn't ever make an appointment. We both know this. Evelyn did not." And he did not pay her to innately know these things. He should've briefed her on what to do in regard to his wife but he hadn't because, frankly, he still hadn't adjusted to every aspect of their now-public relationship. It hadn't immediately occurred to him, and he wouldn't have anticipated such a problem. "She should have informed me you had stopped by and she should've treated you with the respect that you warrant, Miss Yaxley, I'm not contesting this." He did not see it as 'defending' his personal assistant against his slighted wife. But he could not argue that she had not followed his orders.
Evelyn had made a serious lapse in judgment, but this could be resolved. Unfortunately, the only resolution Serena sought was the termination of Miss Rookwood's employment with his office. "I have no contact with the Order." It had been a mistake to mention that. Justin suspected- had hoped for as much but the pleasure he could've taken in hearing those words was subdued by...this. The moment he'd phrased his words, he knew he'd misspoken - again. Marriage. This was what marriage did to him, robbed of his capacity to argue in such a way as to, well, win. This situation was wholly unfamiliar to him because prior to announcing his engagement, his relationship with Serena had been private. She'd never been expected to justify herself and had never been questioned - because she was not just a wife, she was his personal assistant.
And then there was that brief period in which she hated him too much to even step foot inside the Ministry. "I am displeased." Perhaps it wasn't marriage so much as his insurmountable weakness for her. He was as aggravated at the prospect of her going to bed angry with him as he was with the prospect of her going to bed without him. "I apologise." He absolutely detested apologies, particularly when he was uncertain as to whether or not they would even have the intended effect. There was a certain loss inherent in admitting a mistake or providing someone else with the power to withhold forgiveness or sex. "That you were subjected to the indignity of a lecture in my office. If I had known, I would have come sooner." As it was his responsibility to know these things, there was no one to blame but himself. He did not need this in addition to his endless obligations as Minister and groom-to-be. It was Evelyn's job to make his life easier.
Instead, she was alienating his wife. "If I fire my female assistant mere weeks before our wedding, the press will be as unbearable as ever." He decided on a different tactic - one as relevant, particularly when taking into account the fact that Evelyn dealt with the reporters far more often than he did. Justin avoided it as much as he feasibly could without giving the impression of antisocial hermitage. "I am not dismissing the insult that you received today, but I am asking you to give me the opportunity to rectify the issue of Miss Rookwood's behaviour," as opposed to simply dismissing her. Justin was confident that this would not happen again.
There would be no habitual "verbal assault" of his wife. He couldn't believe he even had to have a discussion regarding such a thing. Justin did not attempt to coax her to sit down next to him, but he did pick up the wine bottle she'd put down after pouring her latest glass of wine. He glanced around the room briefly and didn't see a spare glass. This, he supposed, was proof that her offer to pour him a drink was not an offer at all. "I don't have the means or the time to scramble for another assistant, Serena," he'd adjusted to the office of Minister of Magic because it was necessary - and now it was his, at least for now.
"If I had no other choice, no other option, then I would do it," but Serena's displeasure, as frustrating as it was for him, was not persuasive enough for him to risk a very delicate issue of foreign policy - in addition to every other concern and contigency - while the Italian dignitaries were in the country. He was elbow-deep in red tape out of Italy because of alleged English interference in the Italian Ministry's efforts to staunch the illegal trade of Chimaera eggs out of Sicily. And this was considered a "minor" issue in the grand scheme of the many conversations he'd had with the head of international magical cooperation. "I don't suppose you would consider giving me a drink before I leave?" If that "offer" was still on the table.
She did not need for it to be explained to her why it was important for Justin to be cautious about who was allowed into his office. Serena had already been working by his side when Freeland had been killed at the carnival at Hogsmeade. And no one needed to remind of her what had happened to Ian Winston. Even the mere mention of his name could incite a certain reaction in Justin. As for what had happened at the party, well Serena had suffered personally from Paterson’s ill-advised attempt to discredit Justin and thereby secure the post of Minister. It took all of her self-control not to remind him that he had been more than happy to use her vulnerability and the fact that she had been exposed to Veritaserum for his own gain. That would have not been relevant to their discussion now. Serena remained impassive in expression as he further emphasized his need for security based on the people that he surrounded himself with. In her opinion those people deserved their life sentences in Azkaban but to condemn them was to condemn him. Even in the midst of her anger Serena couldn’t help but feel sick at the thought of Justin in Azkaban, fodder for the dementors. She could loathe the Death Eaters and still love the man in front of her. He’d always been her blind spot.
Overzealous was one thing but the behavior that she had witnessed earlier that day had been on the border of insanity. Once again Serena impatiently pushed her dark hair out of her face. ”It was about more than your safety for her, Justin.” She did not think that she was being irrational in her suspicions of Evelyn’s true motivations. That afternoon Miss. Rookwood had acted like a woman scorned and honestly Serena could fathom no other logical explanation. Miss. Rookwood had more than just a professional interest in him and the protectiveness was about more than just doing her duty. Serena would have let a simple misunderstanding slide. It would have been easy to forgive the woman for simply believing that she was following the orders that had been handed down to her by her employer. She might have even been able to empathize, having been in that position before. However, Miss. Rookwood had been very intentionally rude. She had even alluded to the fact that Serena had had a relationship with Justin during her time as his personal assistant. Certainly it was all speculation but it was incredibly inappropriate. She could not even understand how someone could be that utterly rude in a public setting. Having been raised with strict rules and expectations of etiquette, Serena found it hard to understand that Evelyn could be so uncouth.
”Miss Yaxley” That was enough to stop Serena’s fury in its tracks. There was a certain scorn that came along with that name and for a moment she wondered if perhaps she had pushed too far. Letting her anger get away with her had clearly been a mistake. Serena was surprised at how much hurt to hear her be called by her maiden name. It did not make sense. That had been her name for twenty-two years and to the public it was still her name. But to have him call her that in this moment was a blow as painful as if he had physically struck her. Her anger drained out of her for a moment as she tried to find her bearings and to navigate her way through this strange pain. ”Pritchard.” She said the name lowly, her voice softer than it had been for this entire conversation. Serena had no desired to be referred to by her maiden name and especially not by him.
It was difficult for her to argue now because she felt like she was treading new territory. Usually there would be no issue for her to distance herself from the argument and to maintain a cool logic. Even when she was at her most angry she could at least keep her mind balanced and focus. This was new, she was scattered, still focused on him calling her Miss. Yaxley and perhaps reading too far into it. Serena made no response to the apology and did not even acknowledge with her expression that he had deigned to apologize to her. At least this time he was not nearly so condescending. At least he seemed legitimately concerned with the insult that Serena had suffered at the hands of his personal assistant. A personal assistant that he could not reasonably fire at this point. It irked her beyond belief to acknowledge that he had a very good point about the message that it would convey if he were to lose another female personal assistant right on the eve of his wedding. Serena did not want him to ‘rectify’ her behavior. She wanted Evelyn to be gone. However, even in her anger she could see that such a thing was impossible at this moment in time. There was no way for her to logically fight this point and so she remained silent.
Until he asked for a drink before he left for the night. Serena felt an urge to protest him leaving at all, the temptation to just invite him into her bed to resolve this little spat without words was very real to her. However, she had the presence of mind not to submit to those urges so shamelessly. Without a word she walked over to him, coming very close to him. As close as she could get without actually touching him. Her eyes focused on his for a moment then wandered down to rest on his mouth. Serena drew her own bottom lip between her teeth, biting into it gently. Reaching out she allowed her hand to brush his as she wrapped her fingers around the neck of the bottle and pulled him from his grasp. ”If it pleases you, Mr. Pritchard.” Turning on her heel she walked away from him without warning and found another glass in a cabinet. The sitting room was always well stocked in case of guests. Pouring him a generous amount of wine, she returned to him and held out the glass, keeping her eyes on his as she waited for him to take it from her.
"It was about more than your safety for her, Justin." He knew that Serena was the last person he ought to be revisiting these events with. She knew the truth of each unfortunate turn of event as intimately as he did; as such, she knew enough to recognise the hypocrisy of his words. He acknowledged her concern with the barest of nods and he didn't contest her assessment. Where was the need? There were so many other things for them to argue over.
"Pritchard." Her silence did not feel like a victory, but then again he wouldn't define their disagreements in those simplistic terms. He'd never felt an inclination to "best" her in some bid to prove his masculinity, and he didn't enjoy these fights. But worse than her clever barbs and insults was this seemingly distracted silence. She didn't even react to him when he apologised, or made an overtures at all. She did not even reject them. Justin asked her for a drink because he wasn't in the position to ask her for what he wanted and at first, it seemed the silence would persist. But she didn't banish him from her sitting room or refuse him the wine, she just...moved. Serena was very purposeful in her approach and then, she was so close that he could've smelled her perfume, reached out and touched her if he didn't think she'd pull away again. Justin watched her eyes, her mouth, the way white teeth sank into the flesh of her bottom lip and when her hand brushed his, he resisted releasing the bottle just to feel her skin against his. It was a split second's resistance before he allowed her to pull it from his hand.
"If it pleases you, Mr. Pritchard." It always pleased him when she addressed him this way and he even enjoyed the way she walked away from him to retrieve and pour him a glass. Justin did not want to return to his manor without her. He didn't want to go to bed without her. He'd had...expectations of how tonight should've gone and he was very...disappointed. Serena returned to him with the wine and held it out to him as if it were the easiest thing in the world for him to take. Justin didn't give a damn about the drink, he couldn't have cared less what it was and he took his time dragging his gaze from her fingers on the stem of his glass to her arm, her elbow, her shoulder, neck, mouth, eyes - which he didn't look away from as he took the wine. There were several other things he would've liked to say in place of the murmured, "Thank you, Mrs. Pritchard."
Justin didn't trust himself to touch her - even something so innocent as a brush of fingers - so he was careful in relieving her of the glass. His justification, his preoccupation with work, with the Dark Lord, with Evelyn Rookwood faded from the forefront of his thoughts in his lust for her. He wanted her. He tasted it without having to look away from her and might've savoured the richness of the wine if he didn't crave something more. "It's very good," he said, voice unexpectedly deepened with the strength it took to control himself. He kept his tone low and quiet so that it wouldn't dip in reflection of the strain that he felt. "I would've regretted leaving without tasting it." And he'd always preferred red wine to white, the latter of which he found too sweet.
And if he did not think about the wine then he would think about her and how he would've liked this night to end differently. Drawing a somewhat unsteady breath that allowed him some measure of clarity, Justin asked, "Could I see the bottle again?" And assuming that her cordial talents as a hostess were still in effect, he stepped past her and then, hesitated, turned, touched her lower back gently, reassuring, "I'll get it myself." And as much as he would've liked to linger, putting some space between himself and his wife was better. He didn't care about the label, the year, or the vineyard but he examined it nonetheless near the cabinet before he turned back to her. "Would you care for another glass?"
The direct approach had been tried and tested and apparently it was a resounding failure. Addressing him head on about her desire for him to start the search for a new assistant had proven to be disastrous at best. Her arguments about the appropriateness of Miss. Rookwood in his office had been shot down easily by the fact her desires and his own penchant for keeping up a good image were both trumped by the overarching power of the Dark Lord. Serena could not fight against this reason for keeping Evelyn in his employ. To fight against it would make her look petty and as if she were putting her own desires above his safety. Outright asking him to take a risk in displeasing in the Dark Lord was selfish. Serena very much wanted to protest that she did not think that the Dark Lord cared which Death Eaters Justin was employing in his office. As long as the Death Eaters had a sufficient presence. In fact, Serena even wanted to point out that the Dark Lord might deign to agree with her in saying that there were some much more qualified servants to fulfill this role. If Evelyn Rookwood was the best that could be offered then Serena had to think that the Dark Lord’s army was in very poor shape.
Perhaps a less abrasive tactic would be more effective. Serena knew in an instant that her silence, the subtle shift in her demeanor, the way in which she moved had all had their affect. The slight resistance that she met when she tugged the bottle from Justin’s grasp was the only sign she needed. His expression might not have changed but Serena could feel his eyes on her as she walked away to retrieve the glass and when she returned with his drink she watched as his eyes drug their way along the length of her arm to finally settle on her face. Serena was well aware of what her formalities did to him. What she didn’t realize was the way that his response would make her feel. When he thanked, equally formal, Serena felt the muscles in her stomach clench in the most exquisite way. For one brief and dizzy moment she was ready to throw the charade completely out the window. Forget Evelyn, forget all the reasons that she was angry. All she wanted for him to call her Mrs. Pritchard again between gasps and frantic kisses.
She used the cover of his words to let out a long, slightly shaky breath. Serena focused herself on what he was saying with an almost ridiculous concentration on his words. ”My father kept a very well stocked wine cellar. Have I ever shown it to you?” Her tone was polite, conversational as if they were just having a pleasant evening chat. Although Serena was curious as to whether she had ever mentioned the wine cellar to Justin. It was actual right beneath the floorboard that they were now standing on. A vast room that had been designed by Serena’s great-great-great something grandfather and had been restored and updated by her father. The value of the wine in that room alone was more than many people made in several years’ worth of income. Her father had always had a special love for very robust red wines. It was what was always served with dinner and consequentially Serena had also developed a taste for such wines. There was something intoxicating about the subtle sweetness that mixed with the head aroma when you brought the glass to your mouth. Drinking wine could be elevated to an art form.
When he asked to see the bottle again Serena was prepared to fetch it for him but before she could move he was already brushing past her towards the cabinet where she had left the bottle. But he paused in his pursuit to press his hand to her lower back and to assure her that he could get it for himself. She kept her back turned to him as he continued on his way to retrieve the bottle. Serena felt breathless and wondered for a moment at her own weakness. A simple touch and a few very neutral words were all it took for her to feel completely breathless. She waited until he asked her if she wanted another glass and then she turned to face him, shaking her head. ”No. Just a taste.” The words were promising and she walked towards him and when she was standing in front of him she reached for the bottle as if she would take a drink straight from it. But instead she leaned towards him, her hand wrapped around the bottle for leverage and to assure that he couldn’t set it down to touch her. Leaning up she pressed her lips to his, the taste of him and the wine mingling together so that Serena almost lost herself for a moment in that long and lingering kiss. It was only the need for air that reminded her to pull away. As she did she ran her tongue lightly over her bottom lip. ”It really is delicious.” Then she took a step back, away from him. ”You are welcome to take the bottle with you, if you like.” Reminding him subtly that he was still not welcome to stay. They had not yet figured out this Evelyn issue.
Justin supposed he shouldn't have been surprised by the revelation of the Yaxley wine cellar. Serena had a sumptuous selection of vintages to choose from, he couldn't recall having had the same thing twice in the several times he'd visited her home. He shook his head when she asked if she'd shown it to him, the gesture very slight and accompanied with interest, "Perhaps you could give me a tour," he suggested, "Sometime." Not tonight, clearly, but he had all the time in the world to see what his wife's manor had to offer in full (he was quite pleased with the bedrooms). He would've topped off her glass if she hadn't refused in favour of a taste. Justin said nothing but he admired her legs, her hips as she closed the space between them. She reached for the bottle and he didn't resist her when she leaned forward; it surprised him momentarily when all she did was ease her hand over his, holding the bottle.
Justin tasted the wine on her lips and tongue as she kissed him and he realised what she was doing when he nearly forgot he had the bottle in his hand. If it hadn't been for Serena, he would've dropped it, or better yet, set it down because he missed the press of her body against his. If he'd been inclined to yank the bottle out of her grasp, he supposed he could've but he...enjoyed it. It made him want her even more, deepening the kiss to touch what he could for as long as he could before she pulled away. And when she did, he couldn't take his eyes off of her lips, the most minute of gestures and he was drowning in lust for her. He could still feel her mouth against his and he savoured it so much that he scarcely heard what she said. He didn't even acknowledge the wine, delicious or otherwise.
"You are welcome to take the bottle with you, if you like." She spoke and it was the only thing that stopped him from stepping forward. There was a momentary lapse of control in his face - frustration - before he drew a very deep breath, glanced down to the wine glass in his hand, and raised it to his lips with a very wry smile. It was not a pleased smile, or even an amused one. Either she had gotten better at this, or he had gotten worse at resisting it because he was almost embarrassed. Not quite. The wine was exceptional, better than what he would've offered her at his home. "That is a very generous offer," he replied over the rim of the glass, although he waited to speak until he knew he could do so calmly.
Justin turned his back on her and, after a brief debate, set his half-finished wine glass down inside the cabinet, nudging it open carefully. "But I'm afraid I would overindulge." With the bottle still in hand, he returned to Serena and brushed a strand of hair away from her face without touching her skin. He followed that strand of hair with his fingers, behind the cusp of her ear, over her shoulder, and in doing so he moved behind her until he reached the end. It was beautiful from the back. He wished she wore it down more often. "And I have a meeting first thing tomorrow morning." One he ought to be well-rested for considering how much he'd prepared for it.
As he explained his reluctant decision to abstain from too much wine, Justin gathered her hair in his hand, twisting it up against the back of her head, away from her back and shoulders. He kissed the nape of her neck, lips following her hairline to the lobe of her right ear and the column of her throat. "I'd prefer you keep it for me," he said into her skin, sliding his arm around her waist with the wine in hand. Justin released her hair and used his other hand to follow her left shoulder down to her wrist which he guided to the neck of the bottle. He left it in her capable fingers once more. "Something to come back for." If he couldn't have her, he would at least have the wine to enjoy with her, assuming she didn't decide he was unwelcome in her home as well as her bed.
And speaking of, he'd taken up enough of her time for this evening. Justin loved the scent of her neck, the catch of her pulse, and the warmth of her body against his, his mouth. He could feel her through his work clothes and still taste her kiss. "It's late," Justin mused, releasing the wine bottle and his wife with a kiss to her temple, "I will show myself out." He was far too proud to beg, and he knew what she wanted. He wouldn't revisit that discussion, because it was out of the question; there was no debate to be had and his intractable position was not motivated by spite. To him, it wasn't a matter of ego, of refusing to give in on principle.
This had nothing to do with principle and everything to do with issues that took precedence over their personal relationship. Justin didn't enjoy knowing that she was dissatisfied but he could not afford to react precipitately in matters of business to please her. He regretted his decision to leave, of course, but he knew himself well enough to know she wouldn't make it any easier for him. He didn't even think he could keep up the pretense necessary to finish his glass of wine, given how tenuous his self-control was. Rather than embarrass himself, he preferred to leave on his own terms. "Good night, Serena." Justin was surprised at how much it took out of him to say three words steadily.
Perhaps that was another reason he needed to leave. He didn't always trust himself with her. Justin left the wine glass on the table and left the sitting room with measured strides, a modicum of dignity. That disappeared the moment he reached the staircase that would take him to the study, and the fireplace that was often (but not always) connected to the Floo. He could feel the genuine scowl robbing his expression of its pleasant neutrality. He was irritated: waiting for her, coming to her, arguing with her and leaving her over the course of one evening. And he was irritated that he wanted her too much to leave well enough alone. He didn't need to come by tonight and doing so had only made things worse for him. Each time he left her, it was difficult and this was no exception.
A slight incline of her head was all that she gave in answer to his suggestion that sometime she would have to show him the wine cellar. It occurred to Serena exactly how little her husband and seen of her manor. Their marriage would not mean the consolidation of their things into one home, although her mother had already suggested that now that she had a husband Serena could finally hand over the manor and the Yaxley vault at Gringotts with all its gold and treasurers over to Domenic. Her mother had underestimated Serena’s desire to continue to be the heir and administrator of the Yaxley estate. Giving up those things meant total reliance on Justin to continue on with a certain style of living which Serena could not abide by. These things gave her equal standing with him and gave her freedom despite the bonds of matrimony that she had willingly submitted herself to. Serena would not be reduced to running like a child to her husband whenever she needed gold. And honestly, she doubted Justin’s ability to actually fund the lifestyle that Serena had always been accustomed to. The Yaxley’s, unlike many families of similar pure blooded status, had amassed an enormous fortune over the centuries. Each successive heir added something more. And the fortune was not all in gold in silver but in goods, in books, in heirlooms. Wealth more vast than anyone really knew. Serena was certain that not even Justin was fully aware of the extent of her fortune.
The frustration in his face was a brief victory as Serena saw she had succeeded in causing a disruption in his nearly flawless self-control. Perhaps it spoke to her slightly sadistic tendencies that she did so enjoy seeing that carefully practiced control broken. Or maybe it just was the fact that Serena was certain only she was capable of garnering this sort of reaction from him. That clenching of her stomach sent a wave of anticipation over her as she watched him turn away from her, no doubt to collect himself. Perhaps now would be the perfect time to revisit the topic of Miss. Rookwood. Emphasize that his evening could turn out much differently if only he would consent to Serena’s desire to see the woman out of a job. Serena knew that he wanted her, that he wanted her badly and she was not above manipulating that to get to her point. What did Evelyn Rookwood matter? She was just a small and insignificant thing to sacrifice in exchange for a more harmonious marriage. There would be no need for him to spend this night or the next few nights between cold sheets if only he’d come around to her way of seeing things.
Serena wanted to bring up while she had him here now pushed to the brink of his self-control. However, she had not anticipated his action, the catching of a strand hair between his fingers and the slow way in which he trailed along until he was behind her. There was always so much more anticipation when you could not see what the other person was doing and Serena felt her whole body tense up in a very pleasurable way as he disappeared from her line of sight. She had already forgotten what she had wanted to say about Miss. Rookwood, the words stuck somewhere between her brain and her mouth and no longer coherent as he pulled her hair up away from her neck. Serena, not nearly so well practiced as he was, could not stop the sharp intake of breath that accompanied his lips on her skin. Losing herself for a moment she melted back against him, her body against his as he moved his hand down to hers and transferred the bottle into her grasp. She would have dropped it if not for the fact that he brought up the fact that the hour was late. His tone, the resignation in his voice and the determination to leave was enough to make her fingers clench around the neck of the bottle.
The words were caught in her throat and she did not even bid him a good night as he turned to leave the sitting room and depart her manor all together. Serena felt suddenly as if she had lost her way completely. He was the one walking away while she was the one standing alone in the sitting room trying to catch her breath. It made her furious to have the table turned on her so seamlessly. Then again his cleverness excited her. Setting the bottle aside, she walked towards the door and shoved through it, perhaps using more force than actually needed to push open the sitting room’s double doors. ”The house elves lock the study after eleven.” She saw him on the stares and immediately spoke completely aware of how petty and childish her words were. Serena was more than capable of unlocking the room for him. ”You can’t go out that way.” It was such a pathetic triumph and she knew it. Apparating in and out of the Yaxley manor was also impossible, as it was in most wizarding homes. The only way for him to leave was to walk the nearly half mile to where the anti-apparition spell no longer took effect. Serena had extended the borders after Michael’s first visit to her manor.
Serena moved until she was at the foot of the stairs and looking up at him. ”Is she so vital that you won’t even consider it?” She knew that he would know the ‘she’ that she was referring too. Miss. Rookwood and her employment in his office. ”After the wedding. You could replace her with Dolohov.” Dolohov was an annoying twat but at least he knew his place. At least he knew enough not to accost her or lecture her. ”People will talk if you keep her as your assistant. If she looks at you for too long during a meeting, the clothes she wears, the way she speaks about you. There will be rumors about you.” And her. Serena did not want to add that because it grated on her to even think it. ”She wants you.” Subtly had been thrown out the window now and there was a slight edge of desperation in her voice. Serena was suddenly furious with herself but she stepped up the stairs until she they were standing on the same step. ”There is really nothing you can do?” Her tone was softer now, more persuasive as she stepped closer to him, a promising note to her words. And then her body was against his, her hips pressed to his, her lips trailing along the line of his jaw but carefully avoiding his mouth. Her left hand, the hand with her ring, found its way to the back of his neck and her fingers brushed slightly through his hair. ”I could show you the wine cellar now, if you like.” Innocent words made into much more by the implication of her tone.
He paused the moment he heard the echo of the sitting room door slam open and her familiar footsteps behind him. "The house elves lock the study after eleven." Justin turned around to look at her, and the disbelief was evident in his face when she told him he couldn't leave. She sounded foolish, but he didn't argue with her because she wouldn't have followed him if she did not have something to say. And perhaps because he did not really want to leave at all.
"Is she so vital that you won't even consider it?" 'Vital' would not have been his word of choice but he said nothing. He allowed her to finish and stepped down the stairs to meet her halfway because he did not enjoy looking down at her. Justin supposed 'assistant' was a more appropriate title to bestow on a nineteen year old like Antonin, but Mr. Dolohov had proven himself a much more competent adviser than some wizards ten years his senior who shared that same position.
"People will talk if you keep her as your assistant." This was one of many unpleasant realities he faced as Minister of Magic, and it was something he despised. He hated having to take into account the approval and recognition of the common people. It was enough to make a lesser man second-guess his every decision. "And people will talk if I fire her," he replied, unconvinced that her suggestion was the best course of action. "People always talk, Serena, it is how they contribute to their country's politics." Through lurid gossip because their tiny minds could not form opinions on current events and philosophical debate. "She wants you." But this was about Evelyn, not "people".
Justin wasn't obtuse and he recognised that Miss Rookwood carried herself in a sensual way. She was undoubtedly aware of this, as pretty as she was, but he didn't consider that basis for firing her. She was never inappropriate in the office with him; if she had been, Justin would've taken care of it. He didn't want to hear that edge in his wife's voice, or the silken softness to follow that tested his resolve. He exhaled in wordless answer to her inquiry with her hips pressed to his, so close that he could follow every curve of her body in the way it fit against his - and with her lips and her hands, he allowed himself to give in, just for a moment, long enough to close his eyes and feel her. He would've recognised Serena even if he'd lost every sense but touch. No one felt the way that she did, her fingertips, her mouth, and he knew exactly what she was doing to him.
Still, the invitation to her wine cellar was too much. Justin turned his head just enough to catch her lips with his and he kissed her as if he'd already gotten her into bed. He slid his hands down her sides to her hips, fingers straying too low against her thighs to be considered a chaste caress. "I love you," he said against her mouth and he released her hips to take her face in his hands, steady it to look her in the eyes. "I want you. This much is clear to everyone who sees me, the way I look at you, the way I speak about you," his forehead rested against hers and he sifted his hands through her hair. "I don't see what you see, I don't even see her. She's just a woman." A beautiful woman, but there were hundreds of beautiful women in the world. He didn't care and it was obvious to anyone who ever saw him that he didn't care. He never stared too long, or smiled too much, or leaned in too far. There was no difference to him between men and women. The only difference was Serena and then...everyone else.
"There will be no rumours," not about him. There would have to be some foundation for it on his part - late nights, long lunches, private meetings. The morality police could launch the most arduous of investigations and would still come up with nothing. It was almost humorous, the thought that adultery - of all things - could be the crime to tarnish his image. Disregarding Evelyn's personal feelings towards him, she was a good assistant. At the dinner party, she was vital to him - he couldn't rely on Dolohov, not after he'd taken the truth serum. But Evelyn, she insured that Antonin gave nothing away while completing the difficult task of compiling and clearing the list of suspects for the sabotage. She'd proven herself very effective and he simply did not have just cause to fire her when a reprimand would suffice. And there were policies and protocols for the termination of employment with the Ministry; rumours and his wife's impressions were not enough to warrant such a response without risk of incurring allegations of discrimination. As unlikely as it was Evelyn would do such a thing, it was a possibility. She would be well within her rights to do it, and it would drag his name through the mud if she did.
And there other factors, of course, which he'd mentioned. These were no less important. But Serena had compromised in her demands and Justin recognised that. When she asked him if there was nothing he could do, he didn't want to lie to her. "I will revisit this with you after the wedding," he said, but not as a dismissive statement, rather a promise, "Come back to the office then. If you are still uncomfortable, if you still feel that she is a liability to us, to that office, then I will have her removed from Level One." If what Serena found was not enough of a reason to warrant firing his assistant, he would have her transferred. While he doubted Serena's personal opinion would not change, he trusted her to give him an objective opinion. He trusted her not to lie to him just to spite a woman like Evelyn Rookwood.
"Will you consider this?" It was a request that he had for her, one that he sealed by taking her hands in his and kissing her ring finger. "You don't have to give me an answer tonight," he said, although he wished she would. "If you unlock the study, I will go." He knew very well that she, as mistress of this house, could not be kept out of rooms by her servants.
People liked to talk because they really did not know any better. They talked because it made them feel intelligent and important to speak on matters that they really had no idea about. Serena realized what a poor defense it was to tell him that people would talk behind his back about Miss. Rookwood and the fact that she was a beautiful woman working so closely with him. Just as they had talked about Serena when she had been the pretty young woman who had worked closely with him. At least when they had gossiped about her they hadn’t been so far off the mark. Then the talk hadn’t mattered so much. Just bored Ministry workers finding something to occupy their time. Justin had only been an Unspeakable then elevated to an adviser on level one when Ian had assumed the position of Minister. Gossip then had been harmless, annoying, but otherwise perfectly benign. Everything was different now. He might have been the fully elected Minister of Magic but recent history had proven that it was not a stable position. Justin was new and yet untested by the public and with so many enemies eager to find fault in him. Enemies who were not above using even the most unfounded rumors in order to discredit him. Evelyn had accused Serena of not taking his safety seriously and yet it was Evelyn who gambling everything with her behavior.
He caught her by surprise so that there was no chance for her to resist when his lips met hers. Serena was shocked and for a moment dissolved into the kiss, her lips exploring the familiarity of his. The taste, the shape, the way it moved against hers, everything about his lips had become very familiar to her. And yet each time he kissed her it felt new and Serena knew that she could never be in danger of tiring of him. Serena had heard many times about the pitfalls of marriage, the routine and rut that people fell into when things became too steady and there was no longer anything exciting. It was what spurred people to infidelity. Serena could never imagine reaching that point in her marriage. Everything about Justin excited her and intrigued her.
”I love you,” When he muttered the words against her lips Serena realized that she had been wrong earlier when she had told him that this was not a matter of jealousy. His words unlocked that truth that she had shut away and hidden even from herself. She was jealous of this woman who so clearly wanted her husband. Serena trusted him completely and believed him when he told her that Evelyn had no importance other than the fact that she made his life a little bit easier in the office. She believed him when he said that he didn’t even see her. But jealousy in its very essence was the antithesis of logic and reason. In her mind Serena knew that it was ridiculous because even now she could see and feel how much Justin wanted her. He had come here to tonight when she had failed to follow through with their plans she knew that he would have not done this for anyone else. And still the jealousy bit at her as she remembered Evelyn’s words from earlier. ”I have taken a vow.” It was the sheer intimacy of that single statement that chased the logic from Serena’s mind.
His hands in her hair soothed her, such a pleasant feeling that the softest, breathy moan passed her lips before she could stop it. This was why she should have put her hair up when she had had the chance. Her irritation with him began to slip away as steadily as his fingers slipped through her hair and over her scalp. Serena forced herself to open her eyes to look up at him. ”I trust you.” She wanted to emphasize that this wasn’t about some lingering mistrust that she had for him after the whole debacle with finding out the truth about her father. ”It’s her.” Serena bit down on her bottom lip, a nervous habit that she thought she had rid herself of ages ago. ”If another man were that utterly protective of me, would you be comfortable with that?” She knew that he did not often indulge in speculation but she asked this of him. Serena was very keen for him to understand that this was not an idle and spiteful jealous but a true concern. He was a married man now and while things did not have to change between them Serena did have certain expectations.
Serena would never be comfortable with Evelyn Rookwood working as Justin’s personal assistant. The initial impression had been made and she saw no way that it could be undone. Furthermore, she highly doubted that Miss. Rookwood would be the least bit repentant about her behavior. Oh, she would reform in order to please Justin but the lingering animosity between the two women would remain. Serena had something that Evelyn wanted; it was as simple as that. But he would be looking for her opinion separated from her own personal dislike of the woman. A more professional opinion about whether or not Evelyn really needed to move to another job. Serena could provide that but she would also be certain to make her personal opinion very known. No need for Justin to have any misconceptions about her feelings towards his assistant. ”You must reprimand her for her conduct today.” Serena stipulated this. If Evelyn was going to be expected to change at all then she would need a formal warning from her boss. She did not answer him directly but it was clear from her demeanor that she had acquiesced to this compromise. Miss. Rookwood would be spared for now but Serena was not about to let the issue just slip by.
Slowly she extracted herself from his arms until she was free of his grasp and standing a few inches away from her. ”If you wish to go then I will unlock the study for you. Come.” She bid him to follow her as she made her way up the stairs to the second story of the manor where the study was located. Serena did not look back to see if he was following her and she knew that he would notice the change in her word. If he wished to go she would make it easy for him. But she had not said that he must go.