Chapter 3 : The Hallows Café
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Audrey insisted on dashing back to her flat (this was a lie, as she still lived with her parents in their house) to freshen up. Percy wanted to do all sorts of annoying things such as hold the door open for her, Floo her home, ask about her life, etc. It was all she could do to hush him up with an agreement to meet at The Hallows Café in Diagon Alley in twenty minutes.
When she finally did burst through the café doors, ten minutes late, Percy was on the verge of collapse. He’d already ordered his food just because of how nervous he was to eat in front of a woman, and had scarfed it down so quickly that he was lying curled up on the table bench, ill and moaning.
He jumped up when she slid into the bench opposite, a peculiar smile frozen on his face. “You look different,” he said bluntly.
“I like to change things up every now and then,” she said by way of acknowledging a platinum blonde wig (she was late because she’d been trying to brush the snarls out of it, resulting in a huge bald patch that she covered up with a pointy blue witch’s hat) and a hastily-made necklace of garlic cloves strung together.
Percy was still staring at the garlic clove necklace when Audrey cleared her throat, whipping up a menu to block her face from view. “Mmm, the tuna and garlic sauce melt sounds fabulous. Doesn’t that sound fabulous?”
“Actually…I already ate.”
Audrey lowered the menu, her eyes narrowed charily on him. He fidgeted in his seat, offering a small smile. “Did you, now? That is interesting.”
“I was hungry.”
“Right.” She tossed the menu over her shoulder, inadvertently hitting a young child over the head with it (who then threw it right back). “So. Percy.”
Percy swallowed, his queasy stomach even worse now with nerves. “You never told me what your name was.”
He continued to stare expectantly at her, and then snorted in spite of himself. “Audrey what?”
Her eyes were slits now. “Something funny about my name, Percy Ignatius Weasley?” Oh, yes. She went there. Not only had she studied up on his entire family’s middle names just in case they came up in casual conversation, but she could also report his N.E.W.T. results and how many times he’d unsuccessfully tried to start petitions in fourth year to get Helen Carthright (who had spurned his romantic advances) expelled.
He backpedaled, trying to look shocked. “No! No, no, of course not. I just…I think I’ve heard of your parents before. I’m sure I’ve heard of other Bellpeppers.” This was a lie. He had never met any bell peppers that weren’t used to spice his food and he was quite positive this woman was making it up.
“My father’s family are all Muggles,” she replied with a knowing smile. “You’re familiar with Muggles, Weasley?”
He gulped again, fingers tapping against the tabletop. “Some of them. I ran over a policeman on my broom once.”
“Hello, dears!” greeted a waitress, gliding forth with a pad of paper and a red quill that matched the café’s interior decoration. “Are you ready to order?” She winked at Percy, knowing he’d already eaten. “Slice of pie for you, maybe?”
“I’ll have the garlic penne pasta,” Audrey said confidently, stealing a peek at Percy to gauge his reaction. “May I ask, is your cutlery real silver?”
The waitress hesitated. “I – I don’t know. I’d imagine it’s just metal, really. I don’t know?” She pursed her lips. “I could check for you if you’d like.”
“No, that will be all,” Audrey finished, snapping her fingers. “And tea, please. Whatever’s easiest.”
“And you?” the waitress asked, addressing Percy. Percy’s hair was inexplicably stuck up at the left side, indicating that while the ladies were chatting he had been scratching furiously at his scalp. Audrey glanced at the window, its sunlight flooding through to penetrate…the left side of his head.
Here was actual proof! The cursed sunlight was making his skin itch!
“Nothing for me, thank you,” Percy said to the waitress as casually as anything, as if he wasn’t fully aware of Audrey’s discoveries lying right there in the open. What a sly thing, pretending he didn’t know that she knew!
Well, two could very well play Exploding Snap.
When the waitress had excused herself, Percy looked shyly up at Audrey again to see that she was fingering her garlic necklace. “So,” he began cheerfully. “You certainly like garlic a lot.”
“Why would you say that?” she returned so sharply that he jumped. She leaned towards him, eyes large and somewhat…evil. It made Percy suddenly wish he were running laps around an active volcano instead. “Say, mate, what are your opinions on running water?”
“I – I approve of it?” He wasn’t sure what to say. “I like it? It makes the consumption of water more convenient than having to fetch it from a well or something.”
He had barely finished before she’d shot off another question at him. “Do you have any pets? Or a special affiliation for bats?”
Percy blinked. “What?”
Audrey reached into her robes and pulled out a scrap of paper, scribbling something on it underneath the table. Percy desperately wanted to crane his neck to get a good look, but felt it would be too impolite. Audrey had written: Definitely turns into a bat on a regular basis. Owns pets that are also undead.
“Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk more about you!” Audrey chirped.
“Is this going to be a while?” Percy guessed. He raised his hand, looking around for the waitress. “On second thought, I think I’ll have some tea and a few digestive biscuits.” He felt pressure on his other wrist and turned around, slightly alarmed to find Audrey testing his pulse. “What are you doing?”
“I’m a Healer in training, it’s okay,” she told him, letting go. “This is routine.”
“Routine for what?”
“Just checking health levels for the Ministry. Sometimes they like for us to do that.”
Percy frowned, deeply troubled. “So they’re checking my pulse now, too?” His voice was louder than it had been before, surprising Audrey. “It’s not enough that they follow me around when they think I’m not looking, going through my post. They think I’m going to try to become Minister or something, and throw Shacklebolt out of office.”
Audrey’s nose was an inch from his. She shrank back, eyes glinting greedily. “And?”
“And I’m not going to!” he cried defensively. “I like Kingsley. He’s a family friend.” He sniffed, dropping his eyes to inspect the table, and noticed out of the corner of his eye that Audrey appeared to be sharpening her knife with the edge of her fork. Truthfully, he’d been humbled quite a lot since the war. He’d made the conscious decision to stay away from the Ministry’s more powerful positions, even though he was more than qualified to run for them, because he was afraid of the temptation that would bring. He knew that if he lost his head and reverted back to how he used to be, his family would dislike him again.
He rather liked his family approving of him. It was new. He wasn’t always the butt of everyone’s jokes anymore, and whenever he was in danger of making a snippy remark that just came naturally to him, he took a deep breath and counted to fifty until the urge went away.
“The Ministry’s bloody intrusive,” he mumbled.
Audrey studied him. “Bloody intrusive, eh? I’ll bet they are. I’ll bet they’re bloody up in your business, too.”
“They are!” Percy agreed, nodding vigorously. “All I do is push along with my lunch trolley, trying to make a decent living with sandwiches I make all by myself, fresh, every single morning; and they’re constantly monitoring my every move. They’ve got cats following me home after work, taking notes for them.”
“Bloody cats,” Audrey agreed savagely. “Bloody Ministry and their bloody disrespect for your bloody blood sandwiches.” She leaned forward again, halfway lying on top of the table. “A person could just bloody lose it!” She banged her fork on the table so hard that the metal napkin holder shook. “Blood!”
On her pad of paper, she wrote: Is capable of resisting salivation of the mouth when confronted with mention of blood. Exceptional. I will have to study his drool glands on closer inspection after we chop off his head.
In Percy’s own opinion, this Audrey character was a tad close to losing it, what with her alarmingly frequent mentions of ‘blood’. He supposed he didn’t have room to talk, however, since it was only an hour ago that he’d yelled out loud at the imaginary voices in his head for all of Level Three to hear.
The waitress broke the tense atmosphere by sliding a steaming plate of pasta in front of Audrey. Audrey smiled maliciously, lifting the plate to waft it in circles under Percy’s nose. “Mmm. Doesn’t that smell delicious?”
Percy’s stomach made a noise that would have sounded more natural if it had come from a drowning bear. He had eaten so many greasy chips before Audrey’s arrival that he thought he might vomit right onto her meal. It was with superhuman determination that he held himself together, doing his best to ignore the disgustingly greasy garlic sauce’s assaulting odor. “Smells…divine.”
With lightning speed, she stabbed a noodle with her fork and shoved it in front of his mouth. “Try a bite.”
He waved her away with a hand, smiling weakly. “No thanks.”
She jabbed harder. “I insist.”
“I – well –” Before he could finish his refusal, she had stuffed it in his mouth. He smiled grimly again, choking it down with a complimentary glass of water. No more than five seconds later, he was up and running to the loo.
Audrey scratched down a few more lines onto her parchment, exceedingly satisfied with herself. When Percy crawled back to the table, his complexion green and his hands wrapped protectively around his stomach, she wasted no time getting back down to business. Frankly, he was lucky she hadn’t sprayed him with holy water yet.
“Are you religious?”
“I’m a Leo. I was very nearly a Virgo, but Mum had me early.”
Audrey casually slid her knife across the table and laid her fork sideways across it, creating the shape of a cross. “Does that symbol mean anything to you?”
Percy frowned. “I feel like you’re speaking in code. Are you speaking in code?”
Audrey sighed in exasperation, changing tack. She bent over the back of her booth to yank a straw out of a cup left behind by the family who had finished eating and left. She plunked the straw into what was left of her tea and sipped loudly through it, checking out Percy with two very suspicious eyeballs.
Percy had many sinister qualities, this much was apparent from the moment Audrey zoomed in on him with her binoculars.
He was sickly-looking, no doubt because of the garlic on Audrey’s plate and around her neck, not to mention that he was probably hungry for some blood after all of her subliminal mentions of it. Each time she asked him if he wanted a bite of her food, she examined his pupils for dilation. She wasn’t sure exactly what pupils were supposed to do if you were a vampire, but his pupils did funny things when the sunlight hit them and she was certain this was another mark of vampirism.
Percy, incredulously, was rather enjoying himself. His date was not only interesting but also attentive, which made a nice change from the usual variety who reluctantly allowed themselves to be talked into getting a quick drink. He was lucky if he could drag two words out of them. But this Audrey girl was happily babbling away about who-knows-what, blissfully ignorant of the gurgling noises his stomach was making. He thought that if he made it through this date without dying on the café floor from what he strongly suspected was food poisoning, he would be in the clear for a second date!
“…I really like my steak raw,” she was saying, her words flying out a mile a minute. “Drenched in blood. How about you?”
Percy only smiled and nodded. He was mildly bewildered by her fascination with blood, but decided to overlook it. He hadn’t had a girl this interested in him in…well…ever. “Could I have your address?” he blurted without thinking, interrupting her never-ending speech.
As predicted, Audrey dropped her fork as well as her mouth, gawking. “My what?”
“Your address,” he repeated eagerly. “It’s just that I think this date has gone really well, and –”
“It has? Really?” She squinted at him. So he was interested in visiting her house for a midnight snack, was he? Well, she for one was not keen on becoming his personal vat of tomato soup.
“– and I’d like to owl you sometime, if you’d like. Get to know each other better the old-fashioned way.” In truth, Percy considered his charm factor to reach the maximum on paper. He would strongly prefer to spend a few hours writing up his biography and a list of the usual interview-esque questions for her rather than depend on his mouth. In person, he was far less impressive, less organized. Perhaps it had something to do with her evolving, distracting hair color, which was now lavender.
She chewed on her straw, which he found contained a shade of pink lipstick Audrey was not wearing. In fact, where had she even gotten that straw? “All right,” she said slowly, withdrawing her notepad. She shielded the words scrawled on it with one hand and ripped off another sheet of parchment. “There you go.”
Percy pocketed it at once, grinning. This was going swimmingly. They had some sort of connection – he knew it the moment he saw her scuttling on her hands and knees around the Ministry’s dirty carpet.
“Great!” he exclaimed, his pea-green hue brightening to lime. “I’ve got to get back to work, but it was lovely meeting you. I look forward to doing this again sometime.”
Audrey smiled to herself once his back was turned, hurriedly exiting the building. Yes. Yes, we should. Time to go stock up on some wooden stakes, methinks.
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