The Sugar Quill
Author: Canis M. (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: First Quarter  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Warning: Mild slash herein!

This story is dedicated to Keieru, who wondered what the care and feeding of werewolves would actually entail.

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First Quarter

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As she made her way down the dreary Soho sidestreet, Mrs. Chan raised her flowery umbrella against spatters of evening rain. Lifting her head, she squinted with interest at the pair of young men walking just ahead of her. They seemed uncertain of where they were going, and as their footsteps slowed, she couldn't help overhearing their conversation.

"I could've sworn it was this way. But we really should have come to it by now." When the shorter and slighter of the pair turned to one side, scanning the row of restaurants and shops, she saw that he was pale, and there were heavy shadows under his eyes. His mouse-brown hair was slicked to his forehead, his worn gray coat very damp. He didn't look as if he ought to be out of bed, let alone abroad on the streets in this kind of weather. In his hand was a small, sodden leaf of paper.

The taller one was black-haired, handsome and frowning. He aimed a glare at the leaden sky, clearly indignant that that it had the gall to dribble on them when he was without an umbrella. Then he peered over his shoulder, his glance narrowly missing Mrs. Chan. "I'm telling you, it's back that way."

"But we just came from there."

"No, I mean the other street. We should've turned at the corner by that coffee shop. I'm starting to think the moon's addled your brain this time round."

"It has nothing to do with the moon," the slender one said mildly. "I'm just hungry."

"Nothing to do with it?" The black-haired one sounded incredulous. "Do you mean to tell me you've never noticed?"

"Noticed what?"

"That you only crave Chinese at first quarter!"

"Nonsense. You're imagining things."

"And sushi at the new moon, and curry just after full--"

The shorter one nearly came to a halt. "Maybe it IS the other way, after all."

"Oh, give me the menu, will you? There's got to be an address on it. And I still don't see why you wouldn't let me pick something up from the place across from the pub--"

"Because their chow mein is markedly inferior."

"Couldn't you settle for egg rolls?" muttered the taller one.

"Chow mein," said the other distinctly. His words glinted like bared teeth. "Beef."

"Right, right, beef."

"A BIG dish."

"Right. Lots of beef. Heaps of it. Perhaps I should just bring you a whole cow?"

"I really am quite hungry, Sirius."

"All right, I hear you!"

There was a trace of escalating panic in that voice now. It put Mrs. Chan in mind of a husband she'd once seen charging into a supermarket at midnight, in search of strawberry trifle and liver for his pregnant wife. She eyed the smaller one again. He looked neither female nor pregnant, but one could never be sure these days, what with sex change operations and test tube babies and heaven only knew what else.

"Look, the ink's all smudged on this menu, I can't read a thing. Why don't you wait under the awning here, and I'll run and see if it was back on the other street." Swiftly the young man turned--and charged directly into Mrs. Chan's umbrella. She lurched back, buffeted more by the force of his startlement than anything else.

"Good Lord." He held out a hand to her, watching her from under a fringe of dashingly shaggy hair. "Sorry, mum."

"Sirius, you really should watch where you're--"

"Are you all right? Haven't ruined your umbrella, have I?"

Mrs. Chan smiled toothily into his concern. "You're looking for a Chinese restaurant? Close by?"

They both blinked at her. The slender one took a step forward. "Actually, yes, we are," he said. "It's a place called--"

"This way." She grinned with omniscient delight. "Just a little further. I can show you. Come on, come on." Swinging her handbag, she shooed them in front of her, and like tractable animals they allowed themselves to be herded. She had no doubt about which restaurant they were looking for; it was just around the next corner. Mrs. Chan did not often go out of her way to help others, preferring to watch their hapless antics from a position of amused superiority. But these two had struck her fancy, especially the tall one. With those clothes and that face, he might have been a television personality. She stole a glance at the black leather jacket and wondered if he rode a motorbike. It also seemed to Mrs. Chan that the pair of them leaned just a little too close to one another as they walked; she prided herself on being a keen observer of such things.

When they rounded the corner she crooked a finger upward. "Here it is," she crowed. The young men halted. Above their heads hung the glowing sign with its yellow dragon, luminous against the rain-slick brick face of the building.

"There, see? I told you it was down this street."

"We could have got to it from the other road just as well. Hey, thanks, mum." The tall one held the door for her as they went into the restaurant. "Look, can I get you anything? Since you were kind enough to show us the way." He had his wallet out now; she caught a glimpse of the thick wad of bills within it.

"No, no," Mrs. Chan said, "no need for that. You'd better worry about feeding your friend."

Without delay the smaller one stepped up to the counter, gestured to attract the attention of the nearest waiter, and ordered a list of dishes that started with beef chow mein and continued for several minutes. The black-haired man--boy, really--smiled ruefully at Mrs. Chan. He must be barely out of school, if that, she thought. The other one looked older, with his weary, circled eyes, but perhaps they were the same age, after all. In that case, they were still growing. No wonder the skinny one was so hungry.

"He has a good appetite, eh?" she said, with a little hack of mirth.

"It's that time of the month," the tall boy told her, speaking in a confidential undertone. "Last night he had to have pot stickers and moo goo gai pan. The day before that it was nine bowls of egg drop soup. I never know what's going to be next."

"Sirius," called the other one.

"Yes?"

"I don't want to eat here--we're both soaked. I asked for takeaway."

"So we'll eat at home, then?" The bright face took on a particularly avid expression. "Shall we take the, ah, shortcut?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Right. I'll just pop into the little boys' room, then." The one named Sirius turned once more to Mrs. Chan. "Thanks again, mum," he said. With a wave he sauntered off toward the back of the restaurant. So polite, she thought approvingly. And handsome. Probably virile, too. She supposed she could ask the skinny one, who was probably in a position to know--but since some people found that sort of inquiry nosy, she kept quiet.

After a time the waiter returned and handed two enormous paper sacks to the remaining young man. He hefted one in each arm, nodded pleasantly at Mrs. Chan, thanked her again, and shuffled in the direction his friend had taken. She watched him go all the way to the opposite end of the restaurant, open the same door the other boy had, and vanish behind it.

Eyes widening, Mrs. Chan turned to the waiter. "You have two toilets back there?" she hissed.

The waiter shook his head, looking bored. "Only one toilet."

Which meant, thought Mrs. Chan, that the two had gone into the SAME toilet. She almost broke into prurient cackles. Clutching her handbag and umbrella tightly, she hustled past the rows of tables until she reached the single red door at the back of the room.

Pink chrysanthemums sprawled across the wood. Mrs. Chan blinked down at the tarnished knob, then leaned in and pressed her ear against the painted blossoms. She wasn't sure what she expected to hear--thumping noises, maybe, or muffled groans, sounds like the ones that penetrated through the thin walls separating her flat from that of her much younger neighbors. Rumor had it that unthinkable things went on in certain public restrooms, but Mrs. Chan had scarcely credited until now that the toilets of good Chinese restaurants could be equally scandalous. Holding her breath, she listened hard.

Behind the door was silence.

She waited. The taller boy had seemed so considerate--perhaps these two were merely being quiet. Her hearing wasn't quite what it used to be, either. But as minutes passed with not so much as a scuffle from within, Mrs. Chan pursed her lips. She glanced around briefly, then lifted bony knuckles and rapped at the door.

No answer.

Her disbelief rising, Mrs. Chan grasped the doorknob and slowly, slowly turned it. The door creaked on its hinges, swinging open. She stared.

There was no one in the bathroom at all.

~ ~ ~

"Did you see this in the Muggle news?" Remus asked, pausing between shovelfuls of chow mein long enough to point his fork at the newspaper. It lay spread across the tabletop, grease-stained and half-buried under a mountain of empty take-out containers, at least half of which had recently been packed with beef chow mein.

Sirius had long since finished his single order of sweet-and-sour chicken, and was leaning back in his chair, one hand on his belly, content to watch Remus eat. He had indeed seen the paper--his cousin Warren had left it against the door at the top of the stairs. Living as they presently did in the Muggle milieu, he and Remus liked to keep current on non-magical events as well as wizarding ones. Warren had attached to today's edition a scribbled note that read: /Forgot to lock him up, did you?/ Sirius had thought it judicious to remove the note before handing the paper over to Remus. He'd have to exact suitable revenge on Warren later, too.

"See what?" he asked.

"Some poor old woman was mauled last night in Kensington. 'Authorities suspect an animal attack,' it says. Dear God. Was there anything about it in the Daily Prophet?"

"Oh, that's right," said Sirius. "Seems a Jabberwocky got loose from a magical creatures supplier. Nasty business. Big uproar."

"A Jabberwocky's not a naturally occurring animal."

"No, the Prophet said it was a construct of some sort. Made to order, I expect."

"They really shouldn't let dangerous creatures like that be kept secretly in Muggle London. Things like this are bound to happen."

"They let you live here."

Remus chewed imperturbably. "I'm not likely to mutilate any little old ladies," he said, "when I'm shut up in a flat with you."

"That's true. If you were going to maul someone, I suppose I'd be the most available candidate."

Fork tines scraped the bottom of the final chow mein container. Remus swallowed his last bite, then eyed Sirius appraisingly. "Is that a suggestion?"

Sirius pretended to examine his fingernails. "More of a request, I think," he said.

Remus set down his fork. He pushed out of his chair and stood, never taking his eyes from Sirius. Anticipatory glee had just begun to buzz like a Fizzing Whizzbee in Sirius' stomach when Remus froze, face going still and white as if with sudden, awful realization.

"What?" Sirius demanded, alarmed.

"I forgot," whispered Remus.

"Forgot what?"

"To get dessert."

The front two legs of Sirius' chair hit the linoleum with a smack as he fell forward. Suppressing a whimper, he snatched at the paper sacks that had held their dinner and peered inside them.

"We've got fortune cookies," he said, pulling one out with a desperate flourish.

Remus, however, was slowly shaking his head. The gleam of craving in his eyes was inviolable.

"I need chocolate," he said.

Sirius slumped. "Any particular kind?" he asked.

"Ice cream. Mocha fudge ripple."

Sirius drew a fortifying breath. He reached for his coat.

"And some caramels."

"Caramels."

"And could you pick up some pickled ham hocks while you're at it?"

"Fudge ripple, caramels, ham hocks," recited Sirius.

"Pickled, mind you."

Nodding, Sirius stood. A rattle of thunder from outside made him wince. It was probably pouring by now. Would the Muggles notice if he Apparated into the frozen foods aisle of the supermarket? Or the pet section, maybe? Sighing, he pulled on his coat and made for the door.

He was thwarted when Remus sidled in front of him, stepping close.

"You realize I'm only teasing."

Sirius blinked. "Oh."

"You couldn't pay me to eat ham hocks, first quarter moon or no."

"Oh," said Sirius again. Looking into the dear, wry face that turned up to him, he began to smile.

"But I am...still a bit hungry." Remus ran one fingertip down Sirius' front from collarbone to navel, exactly in the manner of a child about to taste the icing of a pristine cake.

The tides of the moon, Sirius thought, could be decidedly advantageous.

//
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