Chapter 5 : Lentil Soup
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Astoria nodded, blonde bun bobbing up and down. Daphne had told her briefly about the letter and impending visit that morning, and- to Daphne’s relief- Astoria had seemed relatively unfazed.
“And that’s why I want everybody out of here by half past four, alright?” Daphne finished, “Because when however many warlocks Pansy sees fit to bring along arrive outside the door, it’s going to make some noise.”
Her sister nodded again. “What about Eleanor?” she asked.
Daphne paused- she had forgotten about Eleanor.
“She can stay to help us clear up for half an hour,” she decided after a moment, “They oughtn’t to be here until five o’ clock anyway- I’m just being extra cautious over the customers.”
Daphne surveyed Astoria critically as she walked away, carrying a tray of lentil soups. As she hadn’t had the time yet to start looking for a proper job, Astoria was helping Daphne out with the café for the time being, and loathe as Daphne was to admit it, so far her sister’s work had been exemplary. She could remember long strings of orders without getting mixed up, and transport plates from kitchen to customer twice as fast as Daphne had ever managed to. She was always smiley and friendly to the customers, and best of all, she and Eleanor got on wonderfully.
Daphne took a shaky breath. Cooking, thinking about Astoria- both things were good, because they kept her mind off Pansy. She had lived the last two days in a state of anguish and indecision, panicking about the her arrival. Theo had Floo’d nightly, and together they’d tried to fathom some way to stop her coming but both had drawn blanks.
“You could inform the Ministry,” Theo had finally said, late last night. Daphne had shaken her head.
“What would I say?” she’d asked, “She hasn’t actually done anything wrong- yet. There’s nothing very shady about inviting all your old school-friends to a big meet-up at another friend’s house.”
Theo had taken her point.
“Then you’ll just have to stick it out and see how it goes,” he’d advised, “She can’t make you do anything. Just tell her where you stand, and likely as not, you’ll never hear from her again. I doubt you’ll be alone.”
It was sound advice. Daphne wished she could be so optimistic.
But it was an hour before Pansy was due to arrive and Daphne was finding it difficult to keep calm. She shouted at Eleanor when she mixed up orders again, and then forgot to charge a family for their extra Butterbeer.
“Calm down, Daphne!” said Astoria with frustration when she heard Daphne railing over her mistake.
“Oh, you can shut up,” snapped Daphne, and Astoria moved off, rolling her eyes.
She felt guilty about that later. Astoria had worked hard all day and managed to efficiently clear the café by the allotted time. However, when she apologised, Astoria was blasé.
“It’s fine,” she said soothingly, “Of course you’re going to be a little jittery!”
“I think jittery is a bit of an understatement!” retorted Daphne, but she didn’t press the point.
Theo turned up at half four, as he’d promised, and he joined in so enthusiastically with the clearing up efforts going on in the café that Daphne had to smile.
“You’d make a wonderful housewife,” she teased.
He nodded sagely.
“I would. I’m completely wasted on the Ministry,” he agreed, and everybody laughed. Daphne enjoyed watching Theo helping round the place- she loved it when he came to the Pink Hippogriff. He looked so right there- so comfortable, so much more himself than she’d ever seen him at the Ministry. If only he could be around more often. Struck, suddenly, with a surge of affection for him, Daphne paused to watch him work- to watch the way his dark eyes followed the path of his wand as he wiped down the table, the solemn expression of concentration on his uneven features...
The sudden noise at the door diverted Daphne’s attention. It was the unmistakable sound of an Apparating magician.
“Who’s that?” Eleanor asked dumbly, gesturing to the materialising figure in the porch.
The thoughtful expression had disappeared from Daphne’s face as fast as a slice of carrot cake off Theo’s plate. Her eyes widened in dismay as realisation dawned, quickly and painfully.
“They’re early!” she screeched in horror as the smoky figure solidified into the dim form of a woman.
Theo and Astoria wheeled round in equal alarm.
“You’re joking!” exclaimed Astoria in a high voice.
“Who’s early?” said Eleanor confusedly, but nobody answered her. All eyes were fixed on Pansy, now fully present, as she pushed open the lilac-painted door, and stepped carefully into the café.
Daphne’s eyes followed her skittishly, as she walked into the room, still a little giddy after Apparition. She watched her eyes sweep the café, left to right, taking in the mismatched chairs, the embroidered curtains, the clashing wall hangings. She saw her eyes travel along the line of people- from Eleanor to Astoria to Theo to Daphne.
Their eyes met. Daphne opened her mouth to say something, but found her throat dry, the words she wanted turning to dust in her mouth. She wondered what she could possibly find to say to this woman- her childhood best friend, turned criminal, turned prisoner, set free. She thought about all the years they’d spent together- the good years, the sunlit years... and then the darker ones.
She wondered what on Earth Pansy saw when she looked at her now- the plain, dumpy woman in a fluffy jumper and jeans; thick, dark hair dusted with flour; soapy dishcloth still clutched in hand- she was a far cry from the teenager who’d called Pansy her best friend. Where was that person? Daphne wondered. What had happened to her? Did Pansy still see her, residing beneath her skin, ready to break out again, despite Daphne’s best attempts to forget her?
“Daphne!” Pansy’s high, girlish voice rang out harshly across the narrow confines of the café. Without a flicker of shame or of doubt, she strode confidently up to Daphne and flung her arms around her.
Daphne stood awkwardly, unsure what to do. She patted the other woman’s back unsteadily for a moment or two, until Pansy released her and stood back, smiling thinly at the four of them.
“I haven’t seen you in so long!” she sighed, as if the last time she and Daphne had spoken had been at a local Quidditch match, or out for lunch.
“Err...” Daphne faltered. She felt confused and wrong-footed. Whatever she had expected, it was not this. She vainly tried for words, but Pansy didn’t pause for long enough to let her construct a sentence.
“How have you been? This place is super! I had no idea our little Daphne had it in her to be a real entrepreneur! So this is like a proper business thing? How cute!”
“I’ve spoken to your mother of course- such a sweetie! She told me you were working here, and how wonderful everything’s been for you. And Astoria!” she winked conspiratorially at the younger woman, “She told me all about you too! She thinks you’ve been ever so naughty you know, she’s still horribly cross with you... Adrian always was an old bore, though, I can’t say I blame you!”
Daphne looked baffled. Astoria looked almost angry. Pansy paused for breath, staring at her nonplussed audience.
“You’re all very quiet!” she remarked, “And when I got here early, especially to make sure that everything will be nice for our friends!”
“We’ve had a lot on...” said Theo lamely.
Pansy turned to him, grinning.
“Ooh, don’t I know?” she smirked, “A son of the Nott family sweeping floors in a dear little café- I never thought I’d see the day!”
Theo’s face was perfectly impassive.
“Actually it’s widely acknowledged that the sons of the Nott family make excellent housewives,” he said. Astoria stifled a giggle. Pansy’s lip curled but she didn’t comment.
“Shall we get to business then?” she asked sweetly, drawing her wand, with a practiced flourish. Her tone had changed abruptly- it was now clipped and businesslike- not a voice to be messed with.
Drawing her wand in an elegant sweep, as if she were conducting a symphony orchestra, Pansy set to work on the Pink Hippogriff. First, a number of tables swept together, to create a large surface in the middle of the room. The vases, menus and tablecloths, painstakingly laid out, crumpled to the floor and Daphne heard some ominous smashing noises, which she instinctively moved to repair.
“Oops,” giggled Pansy, not looking particularly bothered. She flicked her wand again and a large, black tablecloth appeared which smothered the assortment of tables in a dark sheath. Turning to the windows, she brought the blinds slamming down, one by one, leaving the room in almost-darkness. Pansy looked about, surveying her handiwork.
“Much better,” she reflected, “We can work here.”
Eleanor had so far remained silent but had sported an increasingly bewildered expression as the conversation had progressed- Daphne had noticed her glancing around uncomfortably as Pansy had inflicted her changes on the room. Nervously, she piped up.
“Will somebody please tell me what is going on?” she asked helplessly, glancing around at her friends, “You’ve all been acting weird all day and... just what the hell is happening?”
Daphne’s voice was short and clipped and apprehensive.
“You can go home if you like, Eleanor,” she said, “Thank you for all your help today.”
“You’re welcome...” she replied uncertainly.
She fetched her bag from the back and made her way towards the door, glancing nervously over her shoulder.
“Eleanor,” said Pansy suddenly, making the waitress stop short and Daphne and Theo look round sharply.
“What?” replied Eleanor, shiftily.
Pansy didn’t look at her; she seemed to be staring into space.
“Eleanor Branstone...” she said thoughtfully.
“What about her?” interrupted Daphne, harshly.
Pansy smiled, her gaze finally coming to rest on Eleanor.
“You’re Muggle-born, aren’t you?” she said softly. Eleanor looked defensive.
“So what if I am?”
Pansy’s smile widened. erShShe was looking at the waitress with predator’s eyes.
“So nothing,” Pansy said lightly.
Eleanor didn’t look convinced. The tension in the room was tangible- Pansy’s eyes were still locked on to the young waitress.
“Well I’ll see you tomorrow,” Eleanor said uneasily, gladly exiting the café and escaping into the early evening. Daphne wished heartily that she could have joined her.
“What was all that about?” she asked angrily, rounding on Pansy the minute Eleanor was out of the room. Pansy smiled coyly and tapped her nose.
“You’ll see, Daphne, sweetie,” she promised. The other three glanced at each other awkwardly and Theo raised his eyebrows in scepticism, but none of them said anything. It didn’t matter. Pansy had already lost interest in them- she was prancing round the room, making finishing touches to her arrangements.
As much as she hated herself for it, Daphne found it hard to tear her eyes away from Pansy- it was as if she were trying to memorise her for some future examination. She caught herself observing the minutest of details, tracking the differences between them. Pansy was still more stylish than Daphne- that was nothing new. The sombre colour of her robes belied their fashionable cut and expensive fabric- it seemed that Pansy had lost none of her old preoccupation with clothes. She wore subtle make-up which highlighted her high cheekbones, her small mouth. In some ways, she could almost have been the seventeen year old girl who left school with everything going for her... and yet...
And yet Azkaban had left its shadows- Daphne could see them lurking in her eyes. Her hair was hacked unevenly short and her hands were never still. Even when Pansy stood motionless, her hands kept moving, fluttering like distress signals at sides, along her wand, drumming on the matte black tablecloth. Yes, thought Daphne, Azkaban has left its scars.
Looking up, she caught Pansy’s eyes resting on her dyed hair, and wondered with a start if Pansy had been examining her too.
The comparisons had been drawn since they were children- in a way, it was natural. They both came from wealthy, traditional families; they were both the heir to their family name, and they were the same age too, almost to the day. After a while, the girls themselves had begun to do it, almost subconsciously at first, until they were barely able to move without glancing first at the each other. Daphne wondered if things had changed so much after all.
“Daphne,” said Theo quietly, “They’re here.”
Daphne looked up at the sky through the glass pane in the door. Sure enough, a dozen dark figures were racing towards them- some on broomsticks, some Apparating out of thin air, all aiming for the Pink Hippogriff.
“My God,” said Astoria, staring aghast at the advancing wizards. Pansy smiled with delight and satisfaction.
“Wonderful!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together like an excited child, “Time to have some fun!”
Hello and thank you to anyone who's sticking with me! What do you think of Pansy? And how Daphne and Astoria's relationship is developing? I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have! This is also to say that updates will hopefully be a bit quicker now, as I've written everything but the last chapter of this :)
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