From the corner of his eye he continued to observe the three expensively robed businessmen at the next table. They were still watching his girlfriend. He had pointed them out to her during their main course.
‘They’re being about as discreet as a shark in a paddling pool,’ he’d told her. She had simply laughed, turned, and given the three middle-aged wizards one of her sultriest smiles.
Her curly brown hair was fastened up in an ornate pile and her face was, as usual, immaculately made up. He found himself staring at her lips. They sparkled in the light, there seemed to be glitter in her vibrant pink lipstick. She was talking animatedly, the way she always did. He watched and smiled and nodded. It was pointless trying to interrupt her, he knew that. She’d been waving her arms whilst making an important point about current Muggle fashions—a point completely lost on him—and the bateau neckline sweater dress she was wearing had slipped sideways down her arm revealing a bare shoulder. The wolf bite on it was barely visible.
When she paused for breath, he again looked around. The Wand and Thistle was a traditional and rather old-fashioned Wizarding establishment and, in deference to their sedate surroundings, the majority of diners were wearing robes. As usual, he and his girlfriend were different. Although some of the other, younger, diners were also in Muggle clothes, they were a tiny minority; and absolutely no one was dressed like she was.
They were both casual-smart, or so she told him. He was wearing black chinos and a pale green polo shirt, clothes which she’d bought him for his birthday. She wore tight black leggings which were lace trimmed below the knee, stilettos, and the bright pink sweater dress. Despite it being loose at the neck, below her bust the dress was glued tightly to her curves and it barely covered her bottom. Because of their clothing, they had created something of a stir when they arrived. He was used to it, as his girlfriend always liked to be the centre of attention.
She stopped talking long enough to daintily eat the last morsel of her dessert. Once finished, she neatly placed her spoon and fork into her empty bowl, and placed her hands on the table. The false fingernails she wore were the same shade of glittery pink as her lips, and her shoes. He was about to comment on the fact when she spoke.
‘That was very nice,’ she said. ‘How was your apple tart, Mark?’
‘Good,’ Mark told her. ‘But there really wasn’t enough of it, which is a pity. You know how much I enjoy eating a tasty tart, Lavender.’ He kept his face straight as he gazed into her violet eyes. Lavender giggled.
‘Are you finished, sir, madam?’ the young waiter enquired as he arrived to clear the plates. Mark gave a rueful nod. Even after all these years, it still astonished him how much better the service was when he was dining with Lavender.
‘Yes, thank you,’ she said. She gave the waiter a vibrant smile and then turned back to Mark, stared into his face and sighed dramatically. ‘At this time of the year, I wish I was in Australia, or even Antarctica,’ she told him. ‘Sixteen hours of night! Seventeen if I stay at your place! That will be the longest ever for me. I hate winter with its long nights and short days. I hate Christmas.’
He reached across the table and squeezed her hand consolingly. ‘At least it isn’t the night of Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, Lavender,’ he said. ‘It’s the night of the twenty-third tae twenty-fourth. I’ll be with you all night, you know that. Nice nails, by the way, they match your shoes.’
Lavender flashed a brief smile and her eyes gleamed momentarily, but she was determined to remain a martyr to her condition. He was used to that, too.
‘It’s all right for you, Mark,’ she grumbled petulantly. ‘You’re not the one who turns into a wolf every full moon night.’
The young waiter dropped the dessert bowls and took two hasty and horrified steps backwards. The bowls landed on the floor with a silence-inducing clatter. One of them broke. The background murmur of conversations halted, an expectant hush fell across the restaurant, and everyone turned to see what was going on.
‘Clumsy fool,’ said one of the three businessmen.
The corners of Lavender’s mouth drooped and she looked down sadly. That was stage one, Mark knew. By the time she had raised her head, glared at the man and bared her teeth in a snarl of rage, Mark was already at her side. He gently placed a finger on her lips. To his surprise, it worked.
‘I’ll have the bill, now please,’ Mark told the waiter firmly. ‘My girlfriend and I will wait for it in the foyer, and I’d like the maître d’ tae bring it tae me!’
‘Mark…’ Lavender growled.
‘I’m no’ letting ye malky the wee scunner, Lavender,’ said Mark, dropping into the broad Scots he used only when he was annoyed. He spoke quietly, but loudly enough for the man to hear. ‘This place is full of families enjoying a nice meal. It’s only a few days to Christmas. We’re not going tae make a scene and spoil everyone else’s evening, okay?’ He stared anxiously down into his girlfriend’s face and watched as her eyes flickered around the busy restaurant taking in the hustle and bustle.
‘Make a scene and you’ll lose the high ground, Lavender,’ he told her. ‘And you know how much you like tae be on top.’ Lavender giggled again.
She took the hand he proffered and allowed him to pull back her chair and help her to her feet.
‘Thank you, Mark,’ she said. ‘It’s nice to know that there are still some gentlemen in the world.’ She took his arm, stared at the waiter through disdainfully narrowed eyes, and flounced indignantly from the room.
The foyer of the inn was almost deserted; the only person in the room was the reception witch. She looked up from her desk when they entered, and continued to surreptitiously stare. It was the clothes, Mark realised.
‘Malky?’ she asked.
‘It means thump, beat up, assault, that sort of thing,’ he told her. She chuckled.
He was heading toward a sofa, but Lavender forcefully guided him toward a large leather armchair. She almost pushed him into it, kicked off her stilettos, climbed into his lap and hugged her shins, her chin resting on her knees, her lips in a petulant pout.
Mark simply enveloped her in his arms, one hand caressed her hip, the other her bare foot. She leaned sideways into his chest.
‘Bigot,’ she grumbled into his sternum. ‘I was having a lovely time, and he ruined it! He’s an idiot.’
Mark hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head. ‘Everyone in the world is an idiot except you and me,’ he said.
‘And sometimes I’m not certain about you,’ added Lavender immediately.
Mark smiled; it was an old and pathetic joke which they’d shared for a few years now. He said the next line automatically.
‘No, you must be the idiot; you’re going out with me, aren’t you?’ he asked. As he completed the exchange she lifted her chin from her knees and smiled. Sliding her arms around his neck, she kissed him. They continued to kiss until they were interrupted.
The head waiter cleared his throat loudly and said, ‘Excuse me sir and madam, your bill.’ He handed them a receipt on a silver tray.
‘No, he’s Mark and I’m Lavender,’ said Lavender flippantly. The maître d’ wasn’t amused.
‘Your waiter needs tae learn some tact,’ Mark said, taking the bill from the tray and looking at it carefully. ‘He shouldn’t be dropping plates and running away like that. It upsets my girlfriend.’
Lavender was looking tearfully up at the man. It was an impressive display of emotion, but the maître d’ remained impassive.
‘I think that she deserves an apology,’ said Mark. ‘And this bill is wrong.’
‘Wrong, sir?’ the maître d’ affected surprise.
‘You’ve added the optional service charge tae this bill. I dinnae see why I should leave a tip for the person who insulted my girlfriend,’ said Mark forcefully.
‘Are you guests at the hotel, sir?’ the maître d’ asked.
‘Does it make a difference?’ Mark asked sharply. He was becoming annoyed. If the man asked them to leave, he would identify himself. ‘The hotel restaurant is open tae the public. We are entitled tae be here.’
‘Indeed, sir. But this is a private building and The Wand and Thistle Inn can choose to refuse service to anyone,’ said the maître d’ smoothly. ‘You are indeed, our guests, but we are entitled by law to remove disruptive persons from the premises.’
‘Disruptive!’ said Lavender scornfully.
Mark felt the temperature rising. Lavender was already simmering and, unless the head waiter turned down the heat, she’d soon reach boiling point. He released her from his hug. She sprang from his lap and stood staring at the man. The maître d’ was a big man, both tall and wide, he towered over Lavender, especially now she was barefoot, but