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Chapter 4 : Spicy Potatoes
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“Hello you!” he said affectionately as he arrived and she blushed, and smiled, and then tried to hide it and felt like a silly teenager. Theo always did this to her. It wasn’t his fault, she knew that, but it still frustrated her- why did he have to be so... kind?
Thankfully, he didn’t seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. He was heading for the kitchen where Astoria was setting the table, and dipping her little finger in the lamb and apricot stew when she thought Daphne wasn’t looking.
They greeted each other with curious formality; Theo shook her hand politely and asked after health, and she returned his pleasantries with a ghost of a grin, biting her lip. She did manage to catch Daphne’s eye over his shoulder, but Daphne determinedly ignored her. Astoria could share her opinion of him later.
The three of them sat down, all feeling somewhat self-conscious. Astoria exclaimed in delight over the bottle of wine Theo had brought and poured glasses for each of them with a rather heavy hand. They made slightly uncomfortable small talk for ten minutes until Daphne took the stew off the heat and served up.
“Mmmm...” said Theo, inhaling deeply, “You tried that new recipe then?”
Daphne nodded. “Yup,” she said, “the Witch Weekly one always underdid the spices, so I thought I’d try and come up with something better.”
“I know what you mean,” agreed Theo, taking his first spoonful, “But that’s gorgeous, Daphne,” he exclaimed, “Really good!”
She smiled with pleasure, glowing under the praise. “I think I added too much cumin though,” she added quickly with a blush.
Theo took another spoonful and chewed thoughtfully, “I don’t think so,” he said, “The cumin helps balance out the flavour of the lamb... what’s that other spice?”
“Yeah that’s it. Did I tell you I found a great recipe for spicy potatoes? That used tumeric.”
“Yeah- I cooked them the other week and they were really nice. I’ll owl it to you.”
Daphne thanked him. “One for the café, maybe?” she asked hopefully. Theo grinned.
“That menu will be longer than me if you keep adding every new recipe you come across and like the look of,” he joked. A thoughtful expression came across his face.
“But if you put together some sort of sauce and served them as an extra that people could have with the sandwiches then that might work...”
“How long do they take to cook?”
Theo frowned, “Twenty minutes? Probably fifteen considering we’re talking about you, and your incredible culinary genius...ness?”
Daphne laughed. “I think they might be in...” she said hopefully.
Astoria grinned across the table at them.
“I’m glad Daphne’s found a partner in crime,” she said mischievously, “Goodness, I didn’t know there was so much to know about cooking before today!”
“Oh, don’t count me as an authority!” Daphne said hurriedly, “I don’t know anything really... I just make it up...”
“She means she’s a natural,” said Theo, with raised eyebrows.
“I can believe that!” Astoria said. “God knows how you do it, because it certainly isn’t genetic.”
Both sisters giggled at the idea of their mother condescending to cook. Daphne smiled.
“I have my methods,” she said mock-seriously.
In truth, Daphne had no idea where her fascination with food had come from. The obvious cause had come more than eight years ago, when she’d briefly worked in the Ministry of Magic canteen. That was certainly when she’d first thought that a life spent cooking might be good one, and had begun to entertain vague, impractical dreams about starting up her own restaurant. It hadn’t been much of a job, consisting mainly of washing-up and carrying ingredients to stressed out, male chefs, but Daphne had cherished it all the same, following the busy cooks with her eyes, as she tried to learn the tricks of their trade.
However, sometimes she was sure that the genesis of her love lay farther back than that. When she cast her mind back, she thought she could recall hazy memories from her childhood of sitting on the kitchen step watching their cook prepare the family’s evening meal- of observing the precision he put into the rolling of dough, the stirring of a soup, the slicing of an aubergine, and perhaps that was where her curiosity had first been aroused...
“So how long’s the Pink Hippogriff been around now?” asked Astoria through a mouthful of rice. “Must be a while you’ve had it going these days...”
“Three years,” replied Daphne. A sudden thought caught at her: “Almost exactly three years actually- I got the start-up loan in February, and I believe we opened for business at the beginning of April...”
She glanced at Theo for confirmation who nodded.
“That sounds right.”
“Are you doing anything for the anniversary?”
Astoria’s question caught Daphne off guard: “I’m sorry?”
Astoria waved her spoon impatiently. “For the Pink Hippogriff’s anniversary!” she explained. “You should do something. Like a party!”
Daphne saw a worrying gleam in her little sister’s eye, and regarded her cautiously, unsure if she was going to like where Astoria was going.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said firmly, “We’re doing fine. I don’t want to make a big fuss.”
She hoped this might end the matter, but Astoria looked anything but placated.
“But it would be so fun!” she objected, “You could hold it in the café. There’d be food- obviously- maybe music... something for kids to do... You could invite all your regulars. I’d help- Eleanor would too, I bet. We could blow up balloons- and make banners!”
“I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Astoria!” said Daphne, more severely than she’d intended. If truth be told, her sister’s words frightened her. The idea was alluring... outrageous. It suggested a kind of achievement, a kind of pride...
But it could never happen. No way. The logistics alone would be too much to handle, never mind the expense, the guests, the timings, the indignity of it all.
It would be nice to do something, and if Astoria was so keen, why not a party? She was sure that Ella and Louisa- the buskers- could be prevailed upon to do the music. Why, they’d love it- and the only payment they’d demand would be hot chocolate. And if Astoria would make posters and deal with the publicity, then the rest would only be cooking, which was what Daphne loved best...
She looked to Theo who shrugged.
“I think it sounds like fun,” he said, “But it’s your café, chef-girl. It’s your decision.”
This was not technically true. When Daphne had decided to set up the café, Theo had loaned her at least a third of the money to do it with, but she sensed that now was not the time to argue over finances.
“Come on, Daphne...” wheedled Astoria, “It’d be a bit of fun. You deserve some fun! And the Pink Hippogriff’s certainly something worth celebrating!”
Daphne pushed the stew around her bowl in indecision. Astoria’s insistences had caught her out and she felt suddenly crotchety and bad-tempered.
“I don’t know,” she said firmly, “But I’ll think about it.”
Astoria grinned triumphantly but said nothing more. Seventeen years growing up with Daphne had taught her not to push her luck.
The rest of the evening passed companionably enough to satisfy all everybody. Daphne was pleased to see Theo and Astoria getting on so well, and pleased to see her food so unanimously enjoyed. After supper, everyone helped with the washing up before moving into the living room, hot drinks in hand. There, they sat about and chatted for a few hours more, until the hand of Daphne’s cheap, Muggle clock had ticked round almost to midnight.
Glancing up at it, Theo looked unhappy.
“I’d better go, guys,” he said. “I’ve got to be at work by eight o’ clock tomorrow.” He sounded miserable at the thought.
“Ahh that’s okay, Theo,” said Daphne kindly. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon!”
Theo laughed, standing up to retrieve his coat from where it had been discarded on the sofa on his arrival.
“Definitely,” he agreed. He pulled a face.
“Why do I do it, Daphne?” he asked plaintively. “Why do I spend all hours of the day putting everything into a job I hate?”
“Search me. Why don’t you do something else?”
“Too scared,” he replied flatly.
“Anyway-“ Daphne hesitated, “If you’d never had that job, you never would have met me. Well- re-met.”
Theo raised his eyebrows ironically.
“I suppose that’s true...”
But Daphne had clapped a hand over her mouth.
“Christ! I nearly forgot!”
Theo looked puzzled.
“You leant me your mum’s cookbook ages ago and I still haven’t given it back to you,” she explained.
Comprehension dawned across his face.
“Oh, that’s all!” he exclaimed. “Okay, I’ll come and grab it on my way out... Goodbye Astoria- it was great to see you again!”
Astoria smiled, her eyes sparkling.
Daphne and Theo exited the room, but instead of heading along to the kitchen, Daphne pulled him sideways into her room.
“Err... I swear you’ve redecorated your kitchen?” Theo said, looking around.
Daphne felt furiously embarrassed.
“I need to talk to you,” she explained, in a voice barely above a whisper, “And I don’t want Astoria to hear.”
“Okay,” said Theo, still examining her room, “What about?”
Daphne took a deep breath. She didn’t want to hide the truth, but she was afraid of sounding melodramatic. After all, there might be nothing to fear. Theo looked at her expectantly and she was suddenly, overwhelmingly struck with an onrush of affection for him. She realised that she could tell him how she felt, now, just say it out loud and be done with it, but the moment passed and she knew that she would never be brave enough. She would never risk their friendship like that. Theo was the best thing ever to happen to her, and if she managed to mess things up between them because of some stupid... No- she could never tell him.
So she gritted her teeth, put all thoughts of romance from her mind and told him the truth.
“I got a letter from Pansy,” she said.
Her voice was low in the enclosed space. Out loud, the words sounded different- more real, she supposed. Before, she’d been able to pretend that it didn’t mean anything. Now it would have to be different.
She watched Theo’s face carefully, trying to gauge his reaction. Before her eyes, his thick eyebrows drew together, and his forehead creased into a frown. He looked grim, but not surprised.
“I’m sorry,” said Daphne quickly, “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you. But I had to tell someone. And I thought you might be able to... understand.”
Theo shook his head.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised because... well... I got one too.”
“You did?” Daphne was so shocked she forgot to keep her voice down.
He nodded bitterly.
“You know I wasn’t always a good little Ministry boy,” Theo said, a difficult expression in his eyes.
“You were a hell of a lot better than me!” interjected Daphne.
“That’s beside the point,” said Theo firmly, “Come on, Daphne- can’t see why she thinks I might still have... sympathies...” he uttered the words with extreme distaste, “You know... about my dad. And at Hogwarts... well I wasn’t in his gang exactly, but I had a lot of respect for Malfoy.”
“We all did,” she said softly. There was a pause.
“When did your letter come?” she asked him. “Mine arrived this morning.”
“Mine too,” said Theo, “She probably sent them all out then. Because I bet we’re not the only ones who found bits of paper with the Parkinson crest stamped on on our pillows this morning.”
“Jesus,” she murmured. The reality of the situation was hitting, “Jesus.”
Theo patted her arm awkwardly.
“Can I see your letter?” he asked, “I don’t mean to be rude but...”
“No- of course!”
Daphne fetched the piece of parchment from her bedside cabinet. Wordlessly, Theo took it from her shaking hands. Theo polished his glasses on the front of his robes, before beginning to read. Daphne peered anxiously over his shoulder.
Daphne, the letter read.
We’re out! Took us eight years, and very tiresome ones at that, but we’re back, and ready to carry on where we left off, so you’d better be too. I must say you’ve been very negligent these last few years- I expected better from you! I do hope you haven’t gone all Potter on us and changed your ways, but I suppose I’ll be able to find out for myself soon.
I’m proposing a little meeting. I’ve posted messages to all the old gang- you, Flint, Malfoy- people like that, and I thought we could all have nice little cosy catch-up/planning session. I haven’t been idle in here, Daphne, you know, I’ve been thinking and I’ve got so many plans! But you will have to wait to hear them all.
Your mother tells me that you’re running a café in Norwich these days which I thought at first was a horrible, Mudblood-ish thing to do, but have since thought it quite a neat front. So I thought we would meet there. We should arrive on Wednesday- it would be sooner, but I have some small business to attend to- at about 5 o’ clock, and then we can work out where we want to go from there!
So excited to see you again,
Theo put down the letter. He seemed to be searching for something to say.
“Some people don’t change,” he managed finally.
Daphne gave an odd chuckle. “You got that right,” she agreed.
“So they’re arriving here?”
“The day after tomorrow?”
“Yup,” Daphne said again, rubbing her temples, “Because everybody wants a creepy bunch of wannabe Death Eaters who have just been released from prison arriving at their café, don’t they?”
She was making light of it, but inside, she felt wretched.
“They won’t all be like that,” Theo pointed out.
“No,” Daphne agreed, “But some of them will be.”
“Is there any way you can stop them coming?” asked Theo, distractedly, running a hand through his tufty brown hair.
“If you come up with one, please let me know! I’ve been racking my brains all day, and nothing.”
Theo slipped his arm around Daphne’s shoulders and she stiffened, her heart racing at his touch, before relaxing. This was Theo. The boy who’d tested her on Ancient Runes in front of the fire in the Slytherin Common Room. The boy who’d always saved a seat for her in the Great Hall, no matter how busy it was. The man who’d given her the strength she’d needed to become the person she wanted to be. And in that moment, it was enough.
“I’m sorry, Daphne,” he said softly, “But you have to remember. You are a good person. Don’t let that stupid old jailbird tell you any different.”
Daphne looked at him; her eyes were uncertain.
“But I did a bad thing,” she replied quietly. Theo chuckled.
“Then you’re a good person who did a bad thing,” he said, “Welcome to the world! There are lots of them.”
Daphne smiled, wishing she could think like Theo did, wishing she could just shrug off the past like an outgrown cloak in the way other people seemed to do.
“I don’t want her to come,” she said abruptly, “She frightens me. She makes me different.”
Theo shook his head, “You’re stronger than you think, Daph,” he said gently but firmly, “You may not believe it, but I do...”
Daphne thought she could have stayed there forever, with Theo’s solid presence beside her, and the comforting weight of his arm around her shoulders, but after a heartbeat they both got to their feet, and Theo left.
The flat felt very empty after he’d gone.
A/N: Hello, lovely readers! I hope you enjoyed this latest chapter! As always, I love to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas, anything else you might wish to express :P The next chapter should be up soon-ish :)
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