The Sugar Quill
Author: Eudora Hawkins  Story: Forbidden Fruit  Chapter: Chapter 2: The Blue Mermaid
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Chapter 2: The Blue Mermaid

Chapter 2: The Blue Mermaid

Wednesday, July 2, 1980

A staircase hacked from rock zigzagged across the sheer face of the cliff, leading upward from the azure waters of the port. The town of Thira lay above, perched high on the cliff top. White-washed houses clung to the edge of the precipice like tiny sugar cubes dazzling in the brightness of the midday sun. Rounded domes of churches painted with cerulean hues contrasted with the blinding whiteness of the other structures, their crosses jutting skyward in salute. The island of Santorini, southernmost of the Cyclades, was more picturesque in real life than any words in the tour book could convey, but any true appreciation of its beauty would have to wait until the end of an arduous climb.

Remus trudged up the stairs. Sweat collected on his forehead and salty droplets stung his eyes. He could hear Sirius’ panting breath just behind him, as he labored up the steep incline. The calls of a mule driver and the jingle of the bells sounded from below. Remus turned to see a line of mules bearing goods and passengers coming up the path behind him. He flattened himself against the stone of the cliffs to allow the procession to pass, grateful for the cool of the rock against his back, a spot of shade, and a minute to catch his breath. He took a swig from a flask of water and turned to face his companion.

“Blasted donkey dung,” Sirius muttered under his breath.

Sirius cleaned the bottom of his boot against the edge of a step. He pulled his black t-shirt off and mopped the sweat from his face with it. Drops of perspiration glistened on the muscled shoulders and bare chest.

“That’s it,” he muttered. “I’ve had it.” His hand reached for his wand. “I’m Apparating to the top.”

“No, Padfoot,” Remus said, staying his friend’s hand. “We’re supposed to be Muggles, remember? Besides, we can’t just go Apparating into the middle of a crowded street. It would attract too much attention.”

“I’m sick and tired of traveling like a bloody Muggle,” Sirius snapped. “We’ve spent the last week traveling on ferries and trains. I don’t know how those Muggles can stand it.”

“Well,” Remus replied, “we could have flown.”

“You won’t get me up in one of those Muggle raptors.” Then a wily grin flashed across Sirius’ face. “Unless I’m the one flying it.”

Remus could well imagine Sirius in the cockpit of a Muggle airplane and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Sirius could be, well, reckless. Remus recalled many a white-knuckled adventure as a passenger on Sirius’ enchanted motorbike. The black hair whipping against his face. The earthward pull of gravity on his stomach, as Sirius revved the machine into high gear and rocketed upward with carefree abandon. His grip tightening, holding on for dear life. Sirius’ barking laugh echoed in his memory.

“Then you wouldn’t get me up in it,” Remus replied with a teasing look. “I’ve seen how you fly.”

“Well, that’s better than being stuck for hours on end in a train compartment with a woman and her screaming brats.”

“There were no other empty compartments. Not much choice.”

“I wonder why?” Sirius countered with a smirk.

“Come on,” Remus said, “they weren’t all that bad, really.”

Remus recalled the compartment they were forced to share with a hapless mother and her two unruly charges, as the TVG sped across the European continent. A simple conjuring trick with a deck of playing cards had been enough to entertain the children for hours. Funny? Sirius hadn’t been present then. Where had he gone?

A nudge from Sirius roused him from the reverie. “Look over there.”

Sirius pointed toward a chain of small carriages suspended on wires, moving up the side of the cliff. Remus’ eyes traced the wire to its origin. People queued up and were boarding the lifts. A cable car.

“Brilliant,” Remus shouted. “Let’s go.”

Sirius turned and sped back down the steps. Remus pelted after him at a pace that belied his fatigue. In no time, Remus reclined in the seat of the lift, lazily transporting him three hundred meters upward to the town above. He gazed out of the glass enclosure, enjoying the view of the dormant volcanic islands jutting from the midst of a tranquil azure sea. Much better, he sighed.

Once in the town of Thira, Remus studied the map in his fist and glanced up the street, trying to gather his bearings. Narrow passages meandered between white-washed houses and colorful shops, a labyrinth fit for the Minotaur of legend. Baffling signs printed in Greek only added to his confusion. How, in Merlin’s name, was he supposed to find The Blue Mermaid in all this?

“Any progress?” Sirius whispered in his ear.

“Can’t make heads or tails of it,” Remus replied with a shrug.

“Here, let me have a go.” Sirius took the map from Remus’ hands. He cast a stealthy glance up the street and pulled his wand from his back pocket. “Cover for me.”

Remus stepped in front of Sirius and gazed up the street. Two dark-haired beauties smiled and giggled from the doorway of a shop across the way. Remus averted his gaze, a blush of chagrin creeping up his cheeks. He could well imagine how it looked. Two English chaps, hopelessly lost tourists, on a foreign street. So much for blending in.

“The Blue Mermaid,” Sirius whispered behind his back. “Point me.”

Remus gave his wrinkled and sweat-soaked shirt a self-conscious tug. His hand ran through his hair, swiping it from his eyes. He glanced back up. But the girls weren’t watching him. They were looking straight past him, ogling Sirius. One of the young women strolled from her post and rearranged the embroidered linens on display on the table outside the shop. But the telltale glances and sly looks that she flashed in Sirius’ direction betrayed her true motives.

“Hurry up, Padfoot,” Remus whispered. He shuffled over to block the woman’s view, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and struck what he hoped was a casual pose.

Sirius hissed with frustration. Deducio nobis! Ah, yes!”

Remus spun around and eyed the map. A small blue point blinked at the edge. You are here, read a Lilliputian sign. Tiny footprints appeared, guiding him in the proper direction.

“This way,” Sirius said.

He pointed up a narrow alleyway that snaked between a sweet shop and a mercantile selling tourist trinkets. Remus moved off after his friend. He chanced a parting glance behind him to see the disappointed looks on the faces of the two girls.

A lengthy, winding trek past houses and shops took Remus and Sirius to the outskirts of the town. There, balanced on the edge of a rocky crag, stood an unassuming tavern. H Ble Gorgona. The Blue Mermaid.

Remus followed Sirius into the tavern. Rustic tables, covered in blue-checked linens, dotted the intimate establishment. Grape leaves and ivy created a living canopy that shaded the tables from the relentless midday sun.  A lone woman sat at a table next to a white-washed wall, the only barrier between them and the sheer cliff face. Beyond the woman and the wall stretched an unhindered view of blue sky and sea and the ever-present peaks of the volcanic islands.

Sirius selected a secluded table in the shade away from the door. Remus pulled up a wooden chair with a woven-rush seat and sat down. The proprietor of the tavern, a middle-aged man of Mediterranean lineage with a hooked nose and a tanned and lined face bustled out of the kitchens. With a smile that glistened silver and gold, he uttered a greeting in Greek: “Kalos orisate. Kalimera sas.” Then he spread a paper tablecloth over the linen one and secured it to the side of the table with clips.

A family of locals entered the tavern, chatting loudly in Greek. The proprietor went over to greet them and exchanged kisses and warm hugs. Remus averted his gaze to stare out at the sea.

The man brushed past their table on the way to the kitchens and returned a few minutes later with a tray balanced on his arm. He approached the lone woman’s table and unloaded his salver.

“Menu, please,” Sirius waved to get the attention of man.  He gestured, holding his hands like an open book.

The proprietor met his request with a questioning look. Then understanding lit the wrinkled face. “No menu.” He shook his head and gestured toward the kitchen. “You come. Look.”

The man smiled again and bustled off to attend to his other patrons. Sirius let out an exasperated sigh. His stomach emitted a rumble of protest. He dropped his head into his hands.

“Now what was that charm?” he whispered.

“What charm?” Remus asked.

Linguomorphus…or some such thing,” Sirius replied. “The one that allows you to converse in and understand foreign languages.”

The heat and the exertion of their journey had left Remus somewhat lightheaded. He shook his head to clear his mind and shot a glance at the woman. Without meaning to, he stared. The food at her table certainly looked good, especially to a man who had had nothing but water since breakfast. And that seemed ages ago.

The woman picked apart the flesh of her fish with a knife and her fingers, dipped the morsel into sauce, and placed it in her mouth. Buttery sauce glistened on her lips. Her tongue licked the oils from her fingers one by one. A rush of heat surged up through Remus’ body. He tried to blink or look away, but his dry eyelids stuck open and wouldn’t comply. There was definitely something immoral about the way she was eating that fish.

The woman leaned over the table and plucked a ripe tomato from the salad. Its succulent juice dribbled down her chin and dripped on the low-cut blouse. She dabbed her mouth and breast with a napkin. Remus jerked his gaze away in an act of consummate will. His ears burned.

“W-were you saying something, Padfoot?” Remus said.

He cast an apologetic glance at Sirius, but his friend’s attentions were elsewhere. Sirius’ frame was draped over his chair in a pose of nonchalant boredom, but the look in his eyes belied the casual stance. The lovely lady had not escaped his notice either. His grey eyes were riveted on the woman, like a hound on the hunt that had just caught sight of game.

Their host approached the table. Remus nudged Sirius. He straightened with a start.

Ti thelete na fate?” the proprietor said. He regarded them with an expectant stare. “Eat?”

“We’ll have what she’s having, please.” Remus gestured toward the woman’s table.

The waiter seemed to understand. At least, Remus hoped so. The man smiled and nodded.

Amesos,” he said and disappeared into the kitchens.

 Remus surveyed the other patrons of the tavern. The small restaurant was rapidly filling with hungry customers.  Sirius glanced at his watch.

“I wonder where our contact is,” Sirius said. “It’s 2:30. He ought to be here by now. But I don’t see anyone that looks like a likely candidate, do you?”

“Unless it’s that woman,” Remus replied, gesturing toward the lone woman with a slight movement of his head. Sirius turned to stare. “Don’t look,” Remus added, averting his own eyes.

“Could be,” Sirius replied. His lip had curled into a rakish grin. “Sort of puts me in mind of Dorcas Meadowes.”

“Every beautiful woman puts you in mind of Dorcas Meadowes,” Remus retorted with a chuckle. “Ever since she turned you down.”

“She didn’t mean it,” Sirius countered. His head whipped around to face Remus. “She’s just playing hard to get.”

“Reading between the lines...” Remus’ mouth twitched into a wry smirk. “I’d say she thinks you’re a bit conceited, mate.”

“Reading between the lines,” Sirius replied, arching a suggestive brow, “I’d wager you’re wrong. And I’m betting that that’s Dorcas.”

“Oh, come now.”

Remus chanced a secretive glance at the woman. Well, she did have brown hair, but hers was long and pulled back into some kind of a knot, like woman do. Her eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses. No clues there. The build was about right, though. But this woman was tanned and dressed in a low-cut blouse and a skirt with a slit up the side that ran from… The woman slid her right leg over her left, a teasing seductive slide. The fabric of the skirt shifted, revealing a pair of long lovely gams. Remus gulped. Miss Meadowes never dressed like that.

Remus’ gaze shot from the woman’s legs to her face. She appeared to be looking directly at him. A smile graced those ruby lips. Was she flirting with him? He spun around to see if perchance someone was standing behind him. No one was there.

Remus turned back to Sirius and pretended to ignore the advances of the woman. Burning heat flushed his face. He planted his elbow on the table and leaned his cheek upon his hand to block her view and disguise his involuntary grin.

“That is definitely not Dorcas,” he said.

The proprietor arrived with their food: a platter of fish, a plate of odd-looking chips, a basket of bread, a bottle of spring water, and a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, onions, olives, and cheese. The fish were served whole with the heads still on, dressed with lemons, olive oil, and a sprig of parsley. Remus surveyed his lunch. The eyes of the fish appeared to follow him. He prodded it with his fork. How could he eat something that was staring back at him?

Sirius doused the chips with vinegar, snagged a couple, and stuffed them in his mouth. His eyes shot open wide. He picked up one of the chips and inspected it carefully. He grimaced.

“What’s wrong?” Remus asked.

“Not chips,” Sirius gasped, taking a large gulp of water from his glass. “Little fish.”

Remus took a closer look at the chip. Merlin’s Beard! They were little fish, battered and fried, heads still on and all.

“Well, there’s bread and salad.” Remus spiked a cucumber with his fork and sighed.

“Anything wrong?” said a female voice with a slight Greek accent.

Remus spun around to find the woman right behind him. An amused smile played on those full red lips.

“Uh…er…no,” Remus stammered. “Nothing at all. Thank you.”

“Won’t you join us?” Sirius said, rising and pulling out a chair for the lady with a gallant gesture.

Remus shot Sirius a cautionary glance and signaled with a slight shake of his head. His warnings, however, went unheeded. Sirius’ eyes were locked on the lady, a wily smile on his face. Just what was he playing at? This was no time for games. What about the mission?

Remus rose. The woman smiled and sidled into the chair next to his. He sat down again. A delightful tingling sensation crept up his spine.

“I am Eleni,” she said, holding out her hand to Remus. “You are English, yes?”

Before Remus could answer, Sirius took hold of her hand. He shot her his most charming smile. “I’m Sirius,” he said. “Pleased to meet you, Eleni. This is Remus.”

The woman returned the smile. Then she surveyed the table.

“You no like fish?” she said, gesturing toward the platter. “This is barbounia. How you say…? Red mullet. You try it. You like?”

Without waiting to be invited, she picked up a knife and fork. With a deft flick of her wrist, she had sliced the fish open, removed the bones and head, and filleted the flesh. She transferred some of the fillet to Remus’ plate and spooned buttery sauce over the top. Remus watched proceedings with his mouth agape. All his words had fled.

“You try?” she gestured toward the plate.

With a mechanical gesture, Remus obeyed. The moist fish slid over his swollen tongue and down his throat. It was tasty, he had to admit, and not so intimidating without the head and fish eyes watching him. But her watching eyes were far more alarming.

“Very nice,” Remus choked out. “Thank you.”

Sirius cleared his throat. Eleni turned her attentions to him. A mischievous glint flashed in Sirius’ eyes. Remus had seen that look before. Every time Sirius hatched one of his harebrained schemes, in fact. What was he up to this time?

“Forgive me for staring,” Sirius said. “But you remind me of a girl I left at home. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Not that you aren’t lovely.” His face assumed the saddest puppy dog look that Remus had ever seen. “But I miss her.”

Eleni’s face melted in response. “This woman. H yineka sou? Your wife?”

“No.” Sirius shook his head. “We aren’t married.” A sheepish grin crossed his face. “I’m not even sure she’ll have me. But she has the most beautiful brown eyes and a smile like yours, so radiant it would light up a room.”

Remus suppressed a snort of amusement. He had all he could do to contain himself. Sirius was really laying it on thick. What a load of dragon dung. What woman would fall for that?

But Eleni did appear to be falling for the bait…hook, line, and sinker. In fact, she appeared quite entranced. Remus glanced from Eleni to Sirius in amazement. He might as well have been invisible.

“You poor thing,” she purred. “And her name, this lady?”

“Dorcas,” Sirius replied, casting her his most heartfelt, earnest look yet. “Dorcas Meadowes.”

“Black, you dog,” she hissed, dropping all traces of the Greek accent. “You knew all along.”

“Meadowes?” Sirius’ eyes flew wide open. “Is it really you, luv?”

Ah, so that was the game! Remus could not stifle his laugh. Sirius had just pranked Dorcas Meadowes and had blown her cover.

“Of course, it’s me.” Eleni, now Dorcas, took off the dark glasses. “Dumbledore set it up. I’m your contact. How did you know?”

“Honestly, I didn’t.” Sirius raised his hands in mock surrender. “I meant every word I said.”

“Humph. We’ll see.” Dorcas cast him a dubious look and crossed her arms over her chest. “Some Auror you are, Black. Giving your real names.” She clucked her tongue. “Honestly.” She turned to Remus. “And I could have poisoned you.”

“But…I...” Remus’ protest died on his lips. He shrugged.

“Constant vigilance,” Dorcas scolded. “Hasn’t Moody taught you anything?”

Remus shot a glance at Sirius. His friend just rolled his eyes.

Sirius surveyed Dorcas with an appraising stare. “New style, Meadowes?”

“Don’t get used to it.” Dorcas stiffened, looking more like her normal self. “Weren’t you paying attention in Concealment and Disguise?  Look at you, Black. Anyone could spot you as a couple of British tourists from a mile away.”

“Must have been sleeping in class that day.” Sirius smirked. “What did you expect me to wear? A flowered frock?”

“Actually, Padfoot,” Remus said, suppressing a snigger. “I really think you could pull that off.”

Dorcas’ mouth twitched. Her stern expression softened a bit. “Ah, well, let’s get you properly fed up. You both look as if you could use a good meal.” She sniffed. “And a shower. I’ve arranged a room for you and had your trunks sent ahead. Then we can get down to business.”  She motioned for the waiter. “Mia patates tiganies kai eva bifteki, parakalo.”

In short order, a plate of proper chips and meatballs appeared on the table. Remus tucked into his lunch under the watchful eye of Miss Meadowes. But he was missing Eleni already.

 

//
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