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Chapter 1 : Carrot Cake
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I’m going to spend all evening mopping up, she reflected, passing a steaming cup of coffee to a soaking witch, whose sodden cloak was leaving a wet trail on her nicely polished wooden floorboards.
“And slice of carrot cake, please,” the young witch said with a smile.
Daphne grinned in spite of herself. Nobody could resist the Pink Hippogriff Café’s carrot cake. It was one of their best sellers and it was Daphne’s favourite thing to cook too. She loved everything about it- the fragrant, citrusy smell of the lemon rind, the fat squelchy sultanas that populated every slice and (best of all) the loud, defiant orange of the grated carrot that moistened the final sponge. Everyone loved her carrot cake.
It was Theo’s favourite too.
Daphne slid a knife through layers of icing and sponge to cut the witch a generous slice.
“Enjoy,” she smiled, adding the cake to the tray.
The witch murmured her thanks and headed off to a table, leaving Daphne to deal with the next a queue that trailed all the way back to the door. It was going to be a while until she got a break.
Daphne didn’t mind. She loved the Pink Hippogriff with a fierceness that Theo joked was bordering on maternal. She loved its cosy atmosphere of warmth and comfort. She loved the soft chairs and squashy sofas. She loved the smell of it- tea, and cake, and scented candles on every spare surface and the carefree buzz of chatter that always seemed to warm the room. The Pink Hippogriff was Daphne’s space- Daphne’s sanctuary. Everything from the walls that Theo had helped her to paint lilac, to the menus chalked up over the counter was there because she had put it there; she had wanted it to be there.
She liked that thought.
There was something vaguely cosy about Daphne as well, something about her soft brown eyes, and her comfortable face- the kind of face that could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty. She had never been skinny, but since starting up the café she had put on enough weight for her to be described as plump, a realisation which had annoyed her at first, but bothered her less and less and time went on. She wore cosy jumpers in warm colours, jeans and boots- she had never been one for fancy clothes, and now she needed practical ones she could wear in the kitchen.
Her mother would have been horrified of course, but Daphne was fairly sure she had long since overstepped the boundaries of what Henrietta Greengrass considered appropriate for her eldest daughter. It was just as well Daphne had stopped caring. The fussy, arrogant world that her mother inhabited had no place in the Pink Hippogriff. And good riddance...
Daphne jumped, startled suddenly by a resounding crash on the other side of the room and the sound of a shrill voice rising piteously: “Oh no, oh no, oh no!”
Daphne hurried over to find her young waitress on the verge of tears over another dropped tray. On the floor a chocolate brownie and a flapjack lay amongst shards of broken pink china whilst the best part of a glass of orange juice bled into a customer’s red robes.
“I’m sorry, Daphne, I’m sorry!” wailed Eleanor. “It just slipped out my hands! I don’t know how it happens!”
“It’s alright,” said Daphne kindly. She apologised politely to the wizard onto whose lap the orange juice had fallen and knelt to deal with the mess.
“Reparo.” The shards of glass and china zoomed back together to form two plates and two cups. She pointed her wand at the customer’s robes: “Scourgify. There we go.”
“I’m sorry Daphne,” whispered the waitress.
“No harm done.”
She picked up the tea tray and the crockery and passed it back to Eleanor: “Go replace that order.”
Eleanor scurried off leaving Daphne torn between amusement and exasperation. With the success of the café she had been forced to take two extra members of staff: Annie and Eleanor. At first, the idea of letting strangers into her beloved kitchen had worried her, but she soon found both new waitresses to be cheerful, helpful, and almost as fond of the Pink Hippogriff as she was.
Unfortunately it was not to last- after nearly a year of work, Annie had moved north with her husband, leaving Daphne with only two members of staff to operate the café. This was proving to be something of a difficulty... especially when one of the members of staff was Eleanor.
In her time working at the Pink Hippogriff Eleanor had managed to break more crockery than Daphne cared to think about, mix up orders on a daily basis and deeply offend Theo’s mother when she’d come to visit. Daphne sighed as she watched the freckly waitress hurry off with the replacement order. Though nobody could dispute how hard Eleanor worked for her, or her devotion to the café, sometimes she thought that that one was more trouble than she was worth.
Surreptitiously, Daphne checked her watch- there were still another two hours ‘til closing time. It wasn’t that she was anxious for her day at the café to end- in fact she was looking forward to the coming hours over serving hot drinks to chatty wizards, but today, she was rather more cheery than usual about the idea of flipping the lilac sign in the window over to closed, because tonight, Theo was taking her to dinner.
Well, sort of.
It was nothing very special. It was supposed to be to celebrate Theo’s promotion- just a nice evening out with a good friend. Because there was nothing to suggest that he saw her as anything more.
At least, that was what Daphne had told herself. She’d reminded herself over and over again but it made little difference. It seemed that every time she thought about the evening, her imagination would go into overdrive and suddenly a thousand dangerous, beguiling images would begin to flash through her head.
She imagined them dressed up and glamorous, stopping in at some posh place to eat- talking and laughing over aperitifs and wine. She could just see it all- the restaurant and the waiters, and Theo’s dress robes and his serious brown eyes- sometimes so dark they seemed almost black- and him leaning towards her and telling her how much she meant to him and...
That was where she stopped. Somehow, she never seemed to be able to imagine any further. Daphne knew it was silly for a grown woman to be inventing such stupid little fantasies, but that didn’t mean she could get rid of the hope that tonight might be the night where everything changed.
And Theo had been so good to her.
They’d been friends since Hogwarts, and throughout their time there, he’d been the friend she knew she could rely on. He’d been the one who helped her with her homework, the one who stuck around when Pansy wouldn’t talk to her for days on end, the one who didn’t care how much their classmates laughed at him for spending so much time with a girl.
After Hogwarts they had gone their separate ways for a few years as Theo had been plunged into a competitive Ministry job, but when their paths had crossed again it had been exactly as it had always been. Despite everything, she was still Daphne and he was still Theodore. So he’d put up half the money for the Pink Hippogriff- helped her decorate the empty shop until it was sparklingly new. He’d sat about- even offered his opinion- while she trailed round fabric shops to find material for curtains, and taste tested all her recipes.
But it was more than that. She’d been so lost, and he had reinvented her. He’d helped her find a new way to be.
Daphne sighed. She didn’t understand how Theo could spend so much time with her and yet be so oblivious. She didn’t understand how it could be so hard to explain to your best friend how you felt about them. She toyed with the idea of inviting her sister down for the weekend and asking her opinion, but eventually discarded it. Daphne was sure that Astoria would be brimming with advice, but sometimes having her to stay was a little... full on.
“One decaf cappuccino and a ham and tomato baguette please.”
“Of course. That’ll be-“ Daphne squinted at the numbers. She’d lost more Galleons than she cared to think about with her shoddy maths and had often wished that someone would find the time to invent a calculating spell, “-one Galleon, three Sickles and a Knut.”
The witch pressed a handful of coins into Daphne’s palm and Daphne passed her a table number in return.
“Should be ready in about ten minutes,” she promised with an easy smile.
The clientele of the Pink Hippogriff was varied, seeming to attract everyone from teenage girls to Ministry workers with a generous sprinkling of middle aged mothers and elderly scholars in between. The friendly atmosphere and rather whimsical decor seemed to please everyone, something that had initially surprised Daphne. She had her regulars of course, and grew increasingly attached to them at time passed. There was Suzanne Wheeler who brought her little children in every other Saturday for tea and cake; Liam and Steve who never failed to stop in at the café before their daily commute to the Ministry, each purchasing an espresso and a Danish Pastry and flirting cheerfully with Daphne and Eleanor. Then there was Ella and Louisa- the frizzy haired African girl and her mousy friend who busked outside and seemed to live off Daphne’s creamiest hot chocolate- and Mr Edgware who was writing his memoirs, who never ordered anything but Earl Grey tea and sat by the window with a pen in his hand...
And at the centre of it all was Daphne.
Again, that flicker of unease. That uncomfortable little whisper in the back of her mind, that reminder- that warning... The small voice of doubt that crept into her mind while she slept, that resurfaced in the quiet moments of her daytimes.
You don’t deserve this...
Daphne knew this was true. But most of the time it was easy not to remember it. There were so many other things filling her mind these days- orders of tea, and coffee, and sugar, incomes and expenditures, recipes to try out... Theo...
Until the Pink Hippogriff, Daphne hadn’t known that such a place could exist- had had no idea of the pleasure one could take in a perfect apple pie or tall glass of milky hot chocolate. Before the Pink Hippogriff, Daphne had never really noticed people either- the glowing smile of a tired mother bending over a pushchair, or the giddy delirium in the eyes of a teenager in love. She had been part of the war generation- the kids that grew up in Tom Riddle’s long shadow, for whom every day of peace and prosperity seemed like a joke. Sometimes she would watch the children who came into the café, and wonder at their easy innocence. They could take their comfort and safety for granted, but for Daphne, it came at a price...
Daphne shook her head and turned to next customer in the queue. Those were dark thoughts, unfit for a Sunday afternoon in March when business was plentiful and the smell of baking chocolate cake permeated the air. What reason was there to dwell on such miserable events when she had so much to be grateful for?
It was a life she’d never dreamed of. The men and women who populated her daily life now were people she had never even known existed. Her love of cooking, which had remained an idle secret throughout her former life was now her greatest skill- Eleanor often wished she could cook like Daphne, and Suzanne Wheeler was forever borrowing her recipes. Sometimes, Daphne felt like she was living in some sort of dream, a fairytale world which might disappear at any moment. A fantasy that could so easily be fractured, to bring real life- her old life- picking her up right where she left off...
Half the customers in the café jumped. Daphne looked up to see a thin young woman in a black cloak materialising unsteadily in the doorway, knocking customers sideways with her abrupt appearance. She was soaked through from the rain; her straggly blonde hair was plastered to her forehead and she dragged a large trunk behind her. Her clothes were thick and well-made, yet she gave the impression of insubstantiality- looked as if a single gust of wind might easily blow her away. Her face was gaunt and hollow, but even here there was something regal in her bearing- something that drew the eye to her stricken face.
“I’ve done it, Daphne, I’ve done it,” she said. Her voice was high and tremulous, but unyielding. Daphne finally looked up from behind the counter, and for a less than a second, she felt afraid of what the woman was going to say, felt afraid of the look in her eyes, the stubborn set to her lips...
“I’ve left him.”
The café had fallen all but silent. The usual chink of glasses and rumbling of chatter had dissipated- all eyes were fixed on the woman in the doorway. She surveyed them with a half smile on her face before turning back to Daphne. Her eyes were wide and defenceless.
Daphne sighed. With a flick of her wand she levitated the woman’s trunk out from where it was blocking the doorway.
“Hello, Astoria,” she said, with only a trace of exasperation. “Long time no see...”
A/N: Hello there and thank you for reading! A review would mean so much, even if it's only a line! :)
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