The Sugar Quill
Author: Eudora Hawkins  Story: Poisoned Passion  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.

Poisoned Passion

Poisoned Passion

A/N:  This story is based on characters and locations owned by J.K.Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended. This tale contains a direct quote, taken from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Scholastic paperback edition, 1997, p. 137. Miss Smyth and her bookshop are creations all my own.

Special thanks and a delivery of Honeyduke’s Extra Dark chocolate are owed Moonette for her comments and encouragement.

 

Business is slow today in my little bookshop at 1313 Bythe Way, an obscure side street off of Diagon Alley.  A steady drizzle pelts against the “Hawkins and Smyth Booksellers” marquee on this March afternoon. Clouds cast a grey pall over everything. Raindrops patter against the front display window, playing a melancholy tune.

The few regulars have come and gone.  Ernie delivered a new shipment of books this morning.  I’m busy shelving them.  I’ve already catalogued them all, scanning each new title for some juicy volume to add to my burgeoning reading list.  

My hand brushes past that lovely old volume, Hairy Snout, Human Heart.  I think of the handsome gent, the writer who stumbled into my shop on Valentine’s Day.  I sniffle.  Alas, it’s been a fortnight and I’ve yet to see hide nor hair of my Heath.  I’ve given up hope of ever seeing him again. 

I glance about the premises today at the few remaining stragglers—a young mother with two youngsters in tow and a middle-aged vicar.  At least, I think he must be a vicar. Who else would be clad in black from head to toe?  He’s browsing in the rare books section.  No one but stuffy old professors and erudite clergy ever look at those tomes.

I return to restocking the shelves.  I rearrange a couple of cookbooks to make room for the new arrivals: Sixty Second Cauldron Recipes by Betty Crocked and Bitsy Bitter’s Book of Better Batters. You try saying that three times fast.

I slide the new arrivals onto the shelves, but the books won’t budge. Oh, blast it all! There must be something jammed in back. My fingers fly to remove the cookbooks and locate the obstruction. I peer between two large volumes. What’s this?  A paperback? 

I fish the paperback out and stare at the title. How did this get here?   A copy of Wanda Witherspoon’s Poisoned Passion. What a find!

This was such a popular paperback.  I couldn’t keep it in stock.  It practically flew from the shelves. Not literally, of course. Not like those avian books.

Poisoned Passion was Wanda’s debut romance novel, her first and most successful.  I never did get to finish reading it.  My last copy was sold right out of my hands.  I gaze at the cover of my prize and giggle with secret delight.  My hands slide the paperback into my apron pocket.  This one is all mine. 

I leave off the restocking and steal glances at my customers.  The two little dears have seated themselves in the children’s section.  A pop-up version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales lies open on the floor in front of them.  I peer over at their rosy-cheeked faces, hearing their sweet ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ over the fairy dust and dragons soaring above the pages.  Nearby their mother browses the titles.  The vicar seems to have found something of interest as well.  His large hooked nose is buried in one of those dusty old tomes. Time to slip off for a little indulgent reading. 

I steal away to my private reading nook behind the counter. My comfy overstuffed chair awaits me. I settle into the cushions and crack open my novel.  Where was I?  Oh, yes, now I remember. Heath, our intrepid hero, is trapped in the dungeon lair of Trixie Snipe.  The evil dominatrix has tied him to a chair and is using all her feminine wiles to seduce him.

“I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron,” Trixie purred in her most seductive drawl. She settled herself in Heath’s lap, pressing her ample bosom against his muscled chest. “…with its shimmering fumes.  The delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins.” She walked her fingers up his rippling bicep. “Bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.  I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death.”

A cough sounds from somewhere above my head. What the deuce now? I glance up, irate at being interrupted at the most inopportune moment.  The vicar leans over the counter and fixes me with a glare that could petrify a Basilisk.

I jump three feet in my chair.  My fingers fumble my paperback and drop it to the floor in a flutter of paper.  My book lands with a soft thunk.

“Pardon the intrusion,” the vicar says. His coal black eyes stare at me with an icy look that chills like a Dementor’s presence. “I won’t take but a moment of your precious time.  I wouldn’t want to keep you from so engrossing and worthy a pursuit…” His lip curls into a sneer. “…as your novel.”

I bristle at his tone, but then remember my place.  The customer is always right. I force the shopkeeper’s smile back on my face.

“How may I help you?” I say, adding a deferential nod for good measure.

“Might you have the Potions Master’s Desk Reference?” He gestures toward the stacks. “I could not locate that particular volume among your stock.”

What would a vicar want with a Potions reference?  I stare closer at his face, noticing the sallow complexion, the thin angular line of his cheeks, and the hawk-like nose. He does look a bit peaky. Must be rather drafty in the parsonage.  And it is cheaper to brew your own remedies, especially on a clergyman’s modest stipend.

He scowls. My gaze flits away from his face. It would not do to be caught staring.

“I think I may be able to help you,” I say. “Let me check my records.”

I duck below the counter.  My left hand retrieves my novel from the floor and gives it a careless toss to the cushion of my chair. Then I rummage through a pile of parchments, a record of our current inventory, to locate the page containing the Potions titles. Tiny, neat handwriting covers the yellowed parchment.  My finger traces down the page, as I scan the titles.

“Ah, here it is.” I flash a self-congratulatory smile. My index finger taps the entry. “The Potions Master’s Desk Reference. Eds. Stu Kettleburn and Mira Brewster. First published 1702. Revised in 1753, 1757, and so forth.”

“Delightful!” he replies in a tone dripping with sarcasm.

He leans over the counter to read the entry himself, as if he doesn’t believe me.  His long nose almost touches the parchment.  Stringy strands of greasy black hair dangle inches from the page. I recoil a tad.

He could use that desk reference, I think. Perhaps to brew up a good shampoo and maybe a conditioner too. Ah, but then, who am I to criticize.  My fingers sweep an errant curl of frizzy brown hair from the path of my eyes and tuck it back into my chignon. A useless effort.

A repulsive thought surfaces in my brain, before I can suppress it. My EX! I can’t even bring myself to utter his name.  But he’d always had perfectly-coiffed golden locks of hair. Wanted to start his own line of hair-care products, he did. And where did that get me, I ask you?  Left for that skinny floozy, that’s what. Discarded like yesterday’s rubbish.  Humph! Meticulous grooming is over-rated in a man.

A momentary beam of afternoon sunlight breaks through the clouds outside, bathing my counter in a rosy glow.  I regard my customer in a kinder light now.  Perhaps he had been jilted in the past too.  Perhaps all he needs is the care of a good woman.

He glances up from the parchment. I flash him my most engaging smile. My grin, along with my hope, withers under his frosty glare.

 “Well?” He shoots me a commanding stare. “What are you dithering for? Do you have the book or not?”

“Oh, yes,” I nod, “of course.”

I bustle over to the reference section, careening into a display of comic books in my haste. The periodicals titter in mocking laughter at my mishap, as if it were some planned comic pratfall. My hands fly to right the display and then smooth my skirts back into place. I hear the swish of the vicar’s black robes behind me, but he makes no attempt to help me. Some man of the cloth he is.

I survey the shelves of Potions books, reading off the titles. “Abyssian Shrivelfigs to Zygote Hairs: A Complete Compendium of Potion IngredientsMoste Potente PotionsOne Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi… Ah, here we are.” 

I flick my wand. An enormous leather-bound tome levitates from the shelves and into my arms. This reference must be five inches thick.  I blow the dust from the cover, sending clouds skittering from the book.  I stifle a little cough and clear my throat. Sickly chartreuse-colored letters that look more like blobs of some spilt potion spell out the title. No wonder he couldn’t locate this volume.

The Potions Master’s Desk Reference,” I say, handing the monstrous volume to the vicar.

Long, spidery fingers take the book from my hands.  He opens the book to page 394. His fingers creep over the page, reminiscent of a large insect. The motion sends uncontrollable shivers down my spine. I fight the urge to wave my wand and slam the book shut on those fingers.

“If you’ve nothing further…” I give a timid wave toward my comfy chair. “I’ll return to my reading.”

He doesn’t lift his eyes from the tome, but merely grunts his assent.  I dash off, not wishing to linger. My book beckons to me from my chair.

I sink into the soft cushions and clutch my romance novel. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle. Why do I feel as if I’ve just met Trixie Snipe? As if her spidery fingers have just crawled up my arm, instead of Heath’s?

I bury the feeling and my nose in the pages of my novel.  My eyes light on the page, finding my place. Where was I?

“I don’t expect you will really understand…”

“You have Poisoned Passion?” A female voice interrupts my private moment this time.

My eyes jolt up to see the young mother leaning over the counter.  She stares at my novel with a look that I recognize as covetous desire.  Oh, Doxie droppings.  I wish I could slip the novel back into my apron pocket, out of sight.  Why hadn’t I waited to read it?

“My favorite,” she gushes. “I’ve been looking all over for that.  It’s sold out everywhere.”

“What luck?” I manage a half-hearted smile. “I just happen to have one.” With a slight tug on my heart strings and a pang of regret, I hand over my last copy.

She takes the book, eying the page I was reading. “Oh, this is my favorite part,” she says. Striking a theatrical pose, she reads Trixie’s lines aloud. “I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids…

Her two children leave off their book and run to their mother’s side, perhaps thinking that the tale is for them.  But most remarkable is the reaction of the vicar.  His head shoots up, casting the woman a questioning look. His own book snaps shut. Then he swoops across my bookstore like some overgrown vulture descending on a carcass.

He slams the heavy Potions reference on the counter. The two little tots shriek with high-pitched fright and bury their faces in their mother’s cloak.  My own mouth hangs open. Gobsmacked. How could a romance novel induce such an unpleasant reaction?

“May I?” he asks.

His long fingers snatch the romance novel from the shocked woman’s hands before she can utter a protest.  His dark eyes scan the page, growing wider and blacker with each word.  His jaw tightens. His mouth twists into a scowl.

“So,” he says, apparently to himself. His voice has become quiet and waspish. “We’ll see about this…”

“May I have my novel back?” The woman reaches for the book.

“I’m afraid not.” The vicar yanks the book out of her reach with a swift jerk of his hand. “I shall keep this.”

The young woman’s eyes narrow with the challenge.  She turns to address me. “I’ll give you twice the price for it.”

“Thrice,” the vicar counters, casting the woman a glower that would cow a Nundu.

I turn to face the young woman. I’m rooting for her.  But a defeated look haunts her eyes.  My lips mouth the word “four” and almost say it aloud, until I realize that I own the book and can’t join in the bidding. Drat it all!

A self-satisfied smirk twitches across the vicar’s face.  He slides the novel into his pocket, then extracts his money purse. He was won.

“Come, Lauren. Ian.” The woman takes her daughter by the hand and leads both children out of the shop. 

The elder child, a tow-headed boy, dawdles behind. He turns and sticks a pink tongue out at the vicar. The clergyman whips his head around to cast one last withering glare at the child. The tot squeals with fright and darts off after his mother. Shocking! This man should never be allowed around children.

My attention returns to my remaining customer. It takes all my effort to keep my mouth from drooping into a scolding frown. Thankfully, he’s not looking my way.

“That will be—”

He slaps the gold coins on the counter before I can finish, and turns to stare out at the rain-soaked street.  His fathomless eyes cast a restless vigil up the narrow alleyway, then freeze on something.  What is he looking at?  I’m not sure I want to know.

My fingers sweep the Galleons from the counter into my palm. I toss them into the till and count out his change.  Five Sickles and eight… 

A hiss escapes his lips.  The noise startles me. I jerk my head up, nearly dropping his change.  He whisks the large Potions volume from the counter and bolts for the door, his black traveling cloak billowing behind him.

“Your change, sir,” I call, but he does not appear to hear me.

The shop door slams amid the tinkling of bells.  I rush after the vicar, but pull up short at the door.  The man has stopped.  A large bearish shape lurks in the shadows.  My breath catches in my throat.

“You!” the vicar hisses. I’ve never seen a face contort with more hatred. The vicar points his wand at the creature.  A mocking smile overcomes his countenance. “So you’ve ventured out of your hidey-hole at last, Black. Aren’t you afraid you’ll be spotted?”

A low growl rumbles in the creature’s chest. Sharp yellow fangs show against a background of black.  Then the beast skulks out of the shadows with a menacing snarl.

Why, it’s no beast at all. Just a large black dog, wet and shivering. Fur all matted, the poor dear.

I’ve had about all that I can take of this vicar today. First, bullying small children and now helpless animals.  Righteous indignation has drowned my better reason. My hands push up the sleeves of my dress. I grip my wand and march through my shop door, prepared to set things right.

The vicar whips around. His sallow face registers a momentary look of surprise, then quickly regains its composure. But his wand is still pointed at the dog.

“Your change, sir.” I hold out the coins in my left hand, still gripping my wand in the right. “You’ve forgotten your change.”

My request has left him in a quandary. He can’t keep hold of both his wand and the book and take my change.  But he refuses to lower his wand. A calculating look flashes in his eyes. His lip curls.

“Perhaps you are unaware, Miss—”

“Miss Smyth,” I say with a curt nod. “Terpsichore Smyth.”

“Miss Smyth,” he continues in a silky tone, “you are standing in the presence of a dangerous wanted criminal.” He gestures toward the dog with his wand.  “Allow me to introduce Sirius Black.”

My jaw drops open. Is this man daft?  The Ministry’s most notorious criminal? A dog? The canine cocks his head in a comical pose and stares at me with sad puppy eyes, his tongue lolling from the panting mouth.

“Do you really expect me to believe that rubbish?” I say to the vicar.

“Don’t take my word for it,” the vicar replies smoothly. “A simple spell will prove my point.”

“If you think I’m going to stand here and allow you to hex a poor dog, you are sadly mistaken.”  I drop the change on the cover of his Potions reference.  “Now off you go, before I summon the constable.”  I turn to the dog and slap my thigh. “Here, boy.”

The dog trots to my side and licks my hand. Cheeky thing. I smile and give him a little scratch behind the ears.

The vicar’s dark eyes gleam. His jaw has gone rigid with fury. The dog barks. What an odd bark. I could swear it sounds remarkably like laughter.

When I glance back up, the vicar has turned on his heel and swept down the street with a gangly stride. I watch him go without an ounce of regret this time. Men! Perhaps I’m better off without one.

I glance down at the lovable pooch at my heels. Now, a good watchdog?  That I could use.

“Well, come on,” I say, patting the dog on the head. “How does a nice steak and kidney pie sound?”

 

Endnote:  I hope to continue the adventures of Miss Smyth as a series of self-contained one-shots.  If you’ve enjoyed this, keeping looking…

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