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Chapter 3 : Banana Nut Muffins
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Daphne let her eyes fall shut again. They felt better that way. She had to get up early enough in the mornings already without stupid news-owls arriving to drop off bad news and demand payment for it at ungodly hours. Snuggling into her quilt, she tried to block out the pervasive tapping sound, but a few minutes were enough for her to realise that it was no good. The owl was going nowhere.
“What sort of time do you call this?” she moaned, rolling out of bed to deal with it, “As if Monday mornings weren’t bad enough already!”
Mondays. Something clicked in Daphne’s sleepy brain. It was a Monday. Why would her Sunday newspaper be arriving on a Monday?
More curious now, and wider awake, she moved towards the window and slipped the latch open so that the screech owl could flutter onto her bed and present its leg to her, around which its message was tied. She could see now that it wasn’t a newspaper at all- in fact it was barely more than a scrap of dirty parchment, folded up small.
It took her a good five minutes to untangle the twine that bound the parchment to the owl’s leg, by which time her curiosity was well and truly aroused. Finally, she managed to yank the message free, only to be pulled up short by the blotchy crest stamped onto the front of the folded paper.
Feeling sick, Daphne traced the inky lines. It was smudged, and the ink had bled into little veins across the paper, but there was no mistaking the Parkinson family crest, bold across the page. She had seen it too many times before to mistake it.
Daphne fought an overwhelming desire to fling the piece of parchment from the room, to throw it out of the window, rip it up, burn it. Anything, anything to stop her from having to read whatever words that Parkinson crest wanted her to hear. Distractedly, she turned the paper over in her shaking hands- why now? Why couldn’t they leave her alone? Her life was different now- good. Couldn’t they see she didn’t want any truck with their sort anymore?
But you’re a Greengrass. Daphne heard the words in her head in her mother’s voice, actress-y and persuasive. And you’re a Slytherin. And the reason you won’t throw that message away is because really, you’re just like them. The reason you won’t throw that message away is that you can’t bear the thought of them knowing what you don’t...
Daphne’s heart beat fast as she unfolded the letter. Now any doubts she might have held onto were swept away. Daphne didn’t even have to look at the signature sketched across the bottom of the letter- she had recognised the thick, loopy handwriting immediately.
With a sick, cold feeling in her bones, she began to read.
When Daphne emerged fully dressed from her room some minutes later, she was somewhat surprised to hear her little sister’s voice speaking agitatedly in the other room. She hastened through to find Astoria kneeling on the hearth in the sitting room, face to face with their mother. It was only slightly less surprising to find that the flames in the fireplace were green and that it was only their mother’s head that had made an appearance in Daphne’s flat.
Despite the early hour, Henrietta Greengrass appeared unflustered and full of her usual superiority. It was typical, thought Daphne, of her mother to manage to appear so haughty even as a disembodied head in a fireplace in Norwich. Her grey streaked blonde hair was set perfectly in place and her navy blue robes carried all the dignity a pureblood witch might wish for.
However, it was Astoria who pulled Daphne up short. Despite her messy her and the pair of Daphne’s pyjamas she was wearing which were several sizes too large for her, the resemblance between mother and daughter was striking. It wasn’t just that their hair was precisely the same shade of blonde or the thin, angular build that they shared- it was their faces that made them alike. They both had that look of careless authority, that aristocratic stubbornness characterising their features.
“I don’t care what Adrian’s been telling you, Mother. I promise you it’s for the best!” Astoria was saying heatedly.
“Well I don’t,” replied her mother bluntly, “You’re being quite ridiculous, darling and you know it. I don’t know what’s got into your head, sweetheart, but I think you’re being very foolish.”
“But I want things to change, Mum!” exclaimed Astoria. “I want things to be different! We weren’t happy. We needed to move on. How is that such a terrible thing?”
“I just think that you’re wasting your opportunities, darling,” complained Henrietta Greengrass’ head. Her voice was loud and whiny, setting Daphne’s nerves on edge. “Mr Pucey’s a real hit at the Ministry at the moment. Everyone’s talking about him! And I don’t want you to go throwing that away...”
The head turned and noticed Daphne.
“Oh, hello dear!” it said. “Daphne, surely you don’t agree with our Astoria upping and walking out on poor Adrian, do you?”
Daphne selected a hairbrush from underneath a box of Every Flavour Beans she’d left out. She felt overtired and irritable, and unwilling to humour her changeable mother.
“I agree with whatever Astoria wants to do,” she said quietly, “It’s her life, Mum. It’s her decision. And there’s a home for her with me for as long as she needs one.”
Astoria turned too. “Thanks, Daphne,” she said softly. Daphne nodded curtly.
“Well I think it’s ridiculous,” said Henrietta. “You’re a good girl, Astoria, I know that; you’ve always done your best for this family. Why does that have to change now? You were well-off with him, weren’t you? Influential? Respected? Isn’t that enough?”
Astoria shook her head miserably, “No, Mum,” she whispered. “It isn’t. I want it to be different. I want to be...” she broke off, searching for words, “...happy.”
Henrietta Greengrass frowned. “Happiness is all well and good, my girl, but there are other things at stake here! Think about what you’re giving up! A stable home, that enormous house, a husband who’ll provide for you... Aren’t those things worth something?”
Astoria burst out laughing. “You sound so old-fashioned Mum!” she said. “I’m not wholly incapable, you know! I can cook, I can get a job, I can rent a flat! Just because you never did those things, it doesn’t mean they’re impossible!”
“But the scandal!” breathed Mrs Greengrass, “What Eustacia Selwyn is going to say, I don’t even like to think about! Two daughters- neither of you married- and running around Norfolk together. Getting jobs! Consorting with Muggles for all I know! It simply beggars belief!”
Astoria shrugged, unsympathetic. “Times change, Mum. Eustacia Selwyn needs to learn that and so do you. Besides-“ She hesitated, “-you and Dad weren’t the perfect advertisement for marital bliss, you know.”
She had touched a nerve. Before, their mother’s face had been merely perplexed and a little frustrated- now her voice was more irate.
“What went on between your father and I is none of your business, young lady,” she said sharply.
“But it is, Mother,” insisted Astoria, “The Wizarding world’s moving forward and so am I. When I was nineteen, Adrian and what he had to offer was everything I needed in life. Not anymore.”
“And what about Adrian?” her mother rounded on her. “Don’t you feel any sense of obligation to him? He needs you Astoria, I know he does!”
Astoria smiled sadly. “He needed me,” she corrected in a quiet voice.
Instinctively, drawn perhaps by the sadness in her sister’s voice, Daphne drew closer and placed a light hand on her shoulder. Astoria looked up at her with melancholy eyes.
“It’s true,” she told her, a quiet protest.
“Look at the pair of you,” their mother said bitterly. “What am I supposed to do? I’ve got one daughter who’s happy to walk out on perfectly good marriage and a perfectly good man in pursuit of some quixotic idea about freedom, and the other one-“ she eyed Daphne with undisguised displeasure, “-well where do I start?”
Astoria cut in before she could start, for which Daphne was grateful.
“I’m sorry, Mother,” she said plainly, meeting her mother’s dark eyes with her light ones. “But we’ve made our choices- both of us. And some of them have been, and will be good choices, and some of them won’t. But they’re our choices. And you are not going to change them.”
They stayed like that for a heartbeat: brown eyes locked into grey ones. Then, without another word, a sharp pop sounded across the living room and their mother’s head vanished. For a moment the flames remained emerald green but within seconds they were back to their usual orange, crackling across the hearth like no-one had ever been there at all.
Daphne slid down onto the floor next to her sister who was still staring into the flames. She slipped a comforting arm around her and let Astoria’s head rest of her shoulder. It was a rare moment, for both of them.
“I’m sorry, Tori,” said Daphne softly, using the childhood nickname she’d almost forgotten.
“Don’t be,” said Astoria. She turned to smile at her big sister and suddenly the serious, assured woman of a minute ago had been replaced by the familiar, sparkling runaway Daphne knew so well.
“If you start being sorry, you’ll never stop,” Astoria said, “You just have to run with it.”
Despite Astoria’s lengthy complaints, they decided to Apparate to the Pink Hippogriff as they were short on time. Even so, they arrived late, and Daphne was anxious to get going as she unlocked the kitchen.
Running with it. With practised speed, she slipped on an apron and began to get out her ingredients.
“This is where I earn my living!” she grinned to Astoria, and by the time the hour was up, Astoria could see why.
It would have been impossible to run an establishment such as the Pink Hippogriff without magic. As it was, Daphne still sometimes wondered how they did it.
Over the next hour, her kitchen became a blur of activity- an organised mess of baking and beating, stirring and slicing and measuring and mixing. As Daphne worked, the room became full of a hundred different scents and the work surfaces were a feast for the eyes under their impressive burdens of sugar, spice, nuts, dried fruits, flour and milk and the golden elixir of melted butter.
On every counter, a different job was busily being performed- forks beat eggs, kettles boiled water, a scrubbing brush slowly made its way through the growing pile of washing up. Daphne set each charm going and then oversaw everything with eagle eyes, adjusting the temperature of the heating spells, levitating ingredients into their bowls and performing the fiddly tasks which were too delicate for magic, and had to be done by hand.
Eleanor arrived soon after the sisters, providing a much needed hand with the preparations. Whilst Daphne worked to prepare the food that would be needed to last the whole day, Eleanor heated and decorated enough to help them through the breakfast rush. She was responsible for the sugar-brushed piles of croissants and pain-aux-apricots that adorned the counter between seven thirty and nine. Hers was the task of piping the thin white icing onto the Danish Pastries and ensuring that the coffee machine was full to bursting with freshly ground beans.
It was during the morning that Annie’s absence was felt most keenly. Daphne thought, as she worked, how much more efficiently the kitchen would have run with three workers rather than two. It reminded her of the necessity of finding someone to replace her.
Another job for the list, she thought gloomily.
By the time Daphne and Eleanor had finished, only fifteen minutes remained until opening time, but Eleanor assured Astoria that it was no less than they usually got. The three of them sat down in the kitchen to a brief breakfast of coffee and cakes. All felt it well-earned.
“You two are amazing you know,” commented Astoria, who was munching happily on a banana nut muffin- a recent addition to the café’s menu. “I have no idea how you manage to pull this off.”
“Me neither!” said Eleanor, raising her eyebrows at Daphne. Daphne didn’t crack a smile.
“Luck,” she said firmly.
“Well you deserve it,” replied Astoria.
It didn’t feel that way to Daphne. Since the arrival of the letter that morning, she had felt uncomfortable- tainted. The cheery smiles of the customers, the casual flirtation of the commuters seemed different today: secretive- aggressive. The many eyes that populated the café seemed to bear down upon her one, each pair with its own accusation. What if they knew? What if they knew? Would they still look upon her with such indulgent glances? Would they still think her generous for the extra large slice of Victoria Sponge, the amoretti biscuit sneaked onto the side of a cappuccino?
Daphne knew exactly what she needed, but unfortunately it didn’t finish work until five. Because Theo, of all people, would understand how she felt. The crazy mess of tainted longing, the fear, the guilt, the uncertainty- nobody understood like Theo did. The letter was tucked into the breast pocket of her shirt- she wasn’t entirely sure why she had put it there except that this way she knew nobody else had seen it. A scrap of parchment had never felt so heavy.
She found herself absurdly grateful to Astoria and Eleanor today- their stupid, wonderful chatter a protective layer for her exposed nerves. There was a time when Daphne had believed herself a strong person, but she had learned the hard way that that was not the case. Today served only to prove the fact- a whisper of harder times, and she was rendered as useless as the little girl she was.
Mind racked by dread, Daphne almost wished her mother would contact them again, just so she could have somebody to stand up to, somebody to make herself feel brave. But standing up to her mother had always been easy.
The problem was standing up to herself.
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