The Sugar Quill
Author: Ciircee (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Where it Dwells  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.

Disclaimer: Most of the characters herein are borrowed from the works (as of 2003) of one J

Disclaimer: Most of the characters herein are borrowed from the works (as of 2004) of one J.K. Rowling.  No profits were made from the writing of this story.


Dedication:  To all those who know the value of family, and the perspective of distance and time passed.


Where it Dwells


Bethan supposed that she only noticed the two middle-aged men at table one because they were so different.  From each other, that was, as they were not so very much different from the rest of the patrons who found their way into Café Orion.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about the dark-haired man, certainly.  Lanky, with green eyes that smiled behind black-rimmed glasses, he could have been anybody’s father or uncle or brother; a post man or a grocer but probably a teacher.  He’d taken the table by the window and when she’d asked for his order it had been a black coffee and an iced cherry tart, nothing at all strange or unusual about that.


“Table four, Bethan, Simon’s on his break, the lazy clot.” 


Hm?  Oh! Sure thing, Marie.”  Bethan wended her way to the family seated at number four and smiled at the way the man and woman were beaming at their child.  “Good morning; what can I get for you, then?”


The husband, a banker Bethan decided, looked mildly startled at being approached.  “Tea, for my wife and me, thanks.  Drop of honey to it, if you can.  The poppet wants a chocolate milk and the sprog,” he patted his wife’s slightly rounded stomach, “wants a jam donut.”  


“Two teas with honey, milk with a dash of Hershey, and a jam donut,” she repeated the order.  “Won’t be a mo.” 


She tossed her hair over her shoulder as she headed back to the kitchen more by habit than by actual design.  Her thoughts were at the window table.  The other man, the large, blonde man, had ordered a jam donut.  That was perfectly normal, as was his coffee with two milks and a sugar.  He’d studied the place with a scowl, sat down across from his companion with a glare and had glowered up at her during his order and told her to be quick about it.  Perfectly normal, if a tad unpleasant, thank you very much.  Not much above blue collar, probably middle-management at one of the factories if Bethan were any judge at all. 


Dropping off the drinks and donut at table four, she accepted their thanks with a nod and a smile, replaying the conversation she’d heard as she’d first approached table one.


“Harry.”  That had been the blonde man.  Not quite neutral, but not quite resigned either.  A mixed up muddle of emotions, Bethan reckoned.


“Hello, Dudley.”  The dark-haired man, Harry, had said.  Not fondly, but not displeased.  Just hint of a laugh in his voice as he spoke, but it hadn’t been unkind.  “You didn’t have to come all the way to London to meet me, you know.”


“Humph.”  Embarrassed?  Possibly.  His voice, Dudley’s, had certainly been gruff.  “I have shopping to do for Margaret.”


Strange.  Normal.  Bethan liked people watching and liked it all the better when they were hard to read.


“Quit woolgathering,” Marie’s elbow was pointed and a little sharp when jabbed between the ribs, “and quit polishing the counter.  Load the front display window while I find Simon and shove whatever smoke-able substance he’s sponged off his friends directly up his—“


“Marie!”  Bethan took the tray with a hiss.  Then she giggled.  “Just bring him back in and make him do table seven.”


“You’re a tricky one, Bethan,” Marie murmured quietly after a look at the mess of table seven.  Marie slipped away to the back door and Bethan was left alone in the shop with the family, the last of the lot at number seven, and the two men who’d caught her interest.


She skipped directly over the display to the left of the door and went to the right.  It was much closer to table one and the silently sitting, coffee drinking men.  She snuck occasional glances at them as she carefully, and very slowly, arranged the tarts on paper doilies.    The one, Harry, was crumbling bits of leftover icing between his fingers while the other, Dudley, stirred his coffee.  Bethan thought it a funny thing that neither of them were looking out the window or avoiding the other’s eyes.  Most people, in her experience, would have become uncomfortable with such a considerable amount of silence.  If pressed, she could have said it was more of a casual watching in a not-entirely-comfortable quiet but she wouldn’t have been entirely right and she knew it.


“How’s your lot, then?  Well, are they?”  She was honestly surprised that it was Dudley, and not the more out-going Harry, who broke the silence.


But Harry smiled and it was a soothing thing, like relaxing into a chair after a long day, Bethan thought fancifully.  “Quite well, thanks.  Angelina sends her regards, as a matter of fact.”


“Probably doesn’t want me to keep you,” Dudley sniffed, taking a sip of coffee that Bethan knew would have been little more than cold.


Harry puffed out a small sound, like a laugh but not quite, and silence returned.  As she began to fill the upper shelf with decorated biscuits, Bethan watched Harry pluck at a packet of artificial sweetener.  Not idly, she noted, but nervously.  Dudley took another, longer drink of coffee.  Harry bent the top of the packet down and then dog-eared all four corners. 


“Are Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon well?”  The right corner ripped and spilled.  The coffee cup set gently into the saucer.


“Not doing badly.”  Dudley’s voice was so quiet that Bethan went back to the far edge of the shelf, ostensibly rearranging chocolates, to hear him better.  “Mum’s confused more often these days.  She’ll ask for your mum, sometimes.  But Dad’s happy enough to tend her.  And the lawn.  I bought a new mower for him last week, as a matter of fact.” 


Cousins?  She wouldn’t have thought it, but it fit once she knew it.  Not a happy family, no…but yes, family nonetheless.  Too different to be anything else, she thought with a small smile.


The tone of Harry’s voice took the smile away.  Sad.  Angry.  She chanced another look at table one.  He looked calm and yet his fingers were pressed into the grains of spilled sweetener and were pressure-white at the tips.  “Dudley, if…if you’ve ever got a need, I’ll help.  If they need nursing care or anything of the sort, or even if things are just tight…there’s money, your sort, in the bank.  It’s in your name.”


“I’m not in any sort of bind, Harry.  I don’t need it.  Dad would only have a fit if he knew.”


“But if you did, Dudley, that’s what I’m saying.  If you did, you wouldn’t have to ask.  I wouldn’t even know.”


“I owe them.  I do owe them something.”


Dudley’s eyes--and Bethan knew she was watching closely enough to be noticed--were as sad and as angry as Harry’s voice.  He looked away.  Pressed one of his large fingers to the white grains and idly touched it to his tongue, making a face.  “We go round this every year.  I’m not saying no.”   Dudley sat forward in his seat and dusted off the table absently.  Harry’s hands lifted and fell in the same absentminded way.  “I’m saying not yet, Harry.”


Harry pushed at the handle of his cup, slowly spinning it around on the saucer.  “I just want you to know that it’s there.”


“Do you remember the summer we were fifteen?  Not long before we left for school?”  Bethan began to polish the doors of the display.  Dudley’s tone was compelling; he sounded as though he was struggling to confess a long held secret that he wasn’t sure he wanted to share.  In the gleam of chrome at the edge of the case, Harry nodded.  “I wasn’t going to tell them that you did it.  I was trying to tell them that you’d helped me.”


There was another long age of silence, and if she hadn’t known they were family she’d have found the eye contact and the wordlessness very odd indeed.  “I never thought of it that way.” Harry finally said, just as Bethan tucked her cloth away.  “Thanks for that.”


“You’re welcome,” his cousin returned quietly.  “Now,” Dudley’s voice was normal once more and his smile, as she peaked through her lashes, was a bit conspiratorial, “tell me about your politics.  You were on about some registration something or other last time; have they waved a few magic wands and fixed things?”  Bethan rubbed hard at a spot on the glass.  Harry and Dudley did not strike her as men heavily invested in politics.  But then again… ‘your politics’ he’d said…she was suddenly reminded of her father and her mother’s father;  they weren’t close, but despite the fact that neither was much interested in footie they still went toe-to-toe regarding ‘their’ teams.  In a friendly sort of way.  Differences were as good as common ground, she supposed.


Harry snorted and leaned forward, pushing his cup and plate away, folding his arms on the table top.  “Hardly.  I didn’t think it was possible for them to cock it up any more, but they certainly have taken a stab at it.  I’m sure the fallout will be loads of fun.”


“Would it even touch you, up at that school?”


“Not normally, no; the Ministry likes to stay away from the school.  But this involves my work, peripherally.”  Harry removed his glasses, polishing them on a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket.  “And I’ve got mates who are affected.  I think,” he said musingly as he replaced the cloth and his glasses, “that the Ministry is deaf.” 


“Doubtless.  Typical politicians.  No matter how much the people scream, the nutters in power will have their way.  You’ll be happy to know that Parliament is in a grand mess, financially; Aunt Marge had a complete attack.  Literally.  Just got out of hospital a fortnight ago.”


“Since she’s obviously doing better, I think I will be glad,” Harry raised his cup.  Bethan turned back to the display and hefted the empty tray to avoid laughing as she heard him sputter.  “My coffee’s gone stone cold and disgusting.  Yours?”


Dishes rattled and Dudley grunted, “It was swill to start.”  There was something of finishing up and leaving in the way the words were said and Bethan hurried to bring her tray, and herself, back to the cash register. 


“Good morning, sir,” she smiled at Dudley as he towered over her.  “Your total today…”


He cut her off.  “It had better not be a pence over four quid.”


“Four and fifty, sir.”  Bethan hoped he wouldn’t argue.  Neither Simon nor Marie had returned and she had the nasty suspicion that their on-again-off-again relationship was, once more, on. 


“Wasn’t worth three,” Dudley grumbled.  But he counted out the money without quibbling.  When he threw her one last dirty look Bethan smiled a little more brightly.  Amused at his bluster and glad to be rid of him she watched him walk to the door.  She’d had the measure of him when she’d guessed that he wouldn’t bother to bid his cousin goodbye, she thought.  But he surprised her.  He took two steps away from the shop door and reached out, cuffing Harry’s shoulder in the way that was more common to teenage boys then men passing toward the end of middle-age.  “Happy birthday, Harry.”


“Cheers, Dudders.”  Dudley rolled his eyes, harrumphed and stepped out into the flow of people while Harry grinned broadly.  Bethan sorted the change into the correct places, inwardly giggling at Harry’s cheek.  He was a nice man, taking his fat-headed cousin down a peg or three.  A very nice man, Bethan revised, as she watched him carry both sets of cups, saucers, and plates to the plastic tub used for clearing tables.   


“You didn’t have to do that, sir,” she beamed at him warmly as he stepped in front of her register.  “But thanks all the same.”


Harry shrugged lightly and smiled at her.  “Dudley doesn’t mean to be unpleasant,” he said, as though he’d been listening in on her thoughts   “It sort of a genetic condition. Don’t let him get to you.”


“He wasn’t quite that unpleasant,” Bethan answered flippantly before realizing that she had in essence insulted the man’s family.  She backpedaled quickly.  “I mean, it was very good of him to have you out for your birthday.”


She expected him to smile or to wave it off.  He, like Dudley, surprised her.  His eyes suddenly seemed old and still.  “Very good of him, yes.  I always have a place to call home, if I ever need it.”  He sounded like he was quoting something from far in the past. 


“Did you want your bill now, sir?”  She wanted to ask if it had been Dudley who had said that to him. She suspected it had been and that, whatever had prompted it, it had never been talked about and if it were going to be discussed, it certainly wouldn’t be with one prying waitress.  “Or perhaps you want something to take home?” 


“No.  That’s fine,” Harry said.  His eyes were smiling again and he pressed money into her hand.  “Keep the change.”


A crowd of college boys burst noisily into Café Orion, loudly claiming table three for king and country.  “Best step to the side, sir,” Bethan told him with a smile, “that lot out there are probably coming to claim table two.”  She nodded at the other cluster of college students heading for the door before glancing down at the notes in her hand.  “Sir!  This is twenty pounds!”  She looked up only to discovered that Harry had disappeared somewhere in the crowd. 


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