The Sugar Quill
Author: Eudora Hawkins  Story: A Novel Kind of Hero  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.

Heath Returns

A Novel Kind of Hero

 

A/N: All the usual disclaimers apply.  Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, and Severus Snape appear courtesy of J.K. Rowling.  No money is being made and no copyright infringement intended.  Miss Smyth and her bookshop are creations all my own. 

 

With special thanks to moonette for her comments, enthusiasm, and encouragement.

 

Hot amber liquid pours from my teapot into two china cups.  I gaze over the tea tray at the sandy-haired gentleman standing across from me and hand him a cup of steaming brew.  He takes the teacup, warming his fingers on its sides.  A polite smile accompanies his thanks. 

My brightest smile lights my face.  I don’t even know his name.  But I’ve been anticipating this moment ever since he first wandered into my shop on Valentine’s Day. I can’t believe he’s really here in my little bookshop this morning, having tea with me. 

 “Cream and sugar?” I gesture toward the china creamer and sugar bowl on my tray.

The bells on the shop door jingle, announcing the arrival of customers. Drat, it all!  Can’t a gal get a break?  I glance from the handsome man at my counter toward the newcomers at my door.  Why can’t they just go away? But then I remember my sorry financial state.  I need the business, after all.

“Please help yourself,” I say to the gentleman with an apologetic grin.

A witch in an ermine-trimmed cape enters my shop with a girl of about eight in tow. Golden curls and baby blue bows top the child’s head. The child’s red cheeks puff out. The most enormous bright blue bubble emerges from her pursed lips.  With a pop that makes me jump, the bubble bursts all over her face.  Gummy strings stretch from her nose to her chin.  She plucks the sticky mess from her face with gooey fingers and pops it back in her gob. I can just picture those wads of sticky gum all over my precious books.  I cringe and bustle over. 

“I’m terribly sorry, Madam,” I say to the woman in my most courteous tones. “But this is a bookshop.  Food and drink are not allowed.” I indicate a sign prohibiting food and drink prominently posted in the front window, just under the “Hawkins and Smyth Booksellers” marquee.

The woman stares down at me over her turned-up nose, then surveys the tea tray on my counter.  A condescending frown works over her features. Oh, Doxie droppings!  The woman ignores my pleas and turns to her child.

“My little Bertha is a perfect angel, aren’t you lambkins?”  She gives the spoiled brat an indulgent pat on the head.

The imp flashes her mum a toothy grin, but sticks her tongue out at me the minute her mother’s back is turned.  The recalcitrant child proceeds to blow the largest bubble I have ever seen.  The resulting pop threatens to cover in sticky blue goo three of the rarest and most expensive volumes in my shop.  My fingers itch for my wand.

Before I can do anything, the shop bells sound again.  I glance up to see a big oaf lumber into my shop.  It’s one of Malfoy’s minions, one of the two goons we chased from my flat last night.  He leers at me and approaches. I roll my eyes. What now?

“What are you doing here?” I say. “Mr. Malfoy gave me a week.” A shiver runs down my spine at the memory of Malfoy’s cold grey eyes.  Malice veiled under a thin veneer of propriety. 

“Sent me to keep an eye on you, luv.” The git leers at me. “In case you decides to skip town like Hawkins did.”

Hawkins? My former business partner.  I still can’t believe that he borrowed all those Galleons from that villain and then left town without mentioning anything to me. I feel like I’ve just been jilted again. My ire rises, along with the pain of yet another betrayal.

“Get out of my shop.” I keep my voice low, but as firm as I can manage without causing a row.

Whatever will my customers think of me?  I can’t let them catch me being rude.  But I can’t abide this cretin in my shop either.  I glance around. The handsome gent has vanished from sight. Drat it all! Where has my Heath gone?

While I’m distracted, the big oaf barges right past me, plods to my private nook behind the counter, and settles his carcass into my overstuffed chair.  He leans back, folds his massive arms across his barrel chest, and props his great muddy clodhoppers up onto my counter next to my tea tray.  The faint scent of dragon dung wafts through the shop, remnants of last night’s escapades.  I wrinkle my nose and grimace.

“Get your feet off my counter and leave now,” I hiss through my teeth.  I ignore his stench and lean over the counter toward him. “Or shall I summon the constable?”

“Go ahead.” The large man guffaws. He doesn’t even have the courtesy to keep his voice low. “And Malfoy’ll throw you in debtor’s prison ‘til you rots or pays back every penny you owes.”

The nerve of the great sodding idiot! Anger rises in my breast and flushes my face.  I push up my sleeves and grip my wand.  Hot tears prick in my eyes. I need time to think.

I flee to a small alcove where the rare old books are shelved.  Through a gap in the leather-bound tomes, I glimpse the smug expression on the face of that goon and the impertinent little girl reaching her sticky fingers to soil my comic books. Any hex will do. But wouldn’t you know it, I can’t think of a single one.

My fingers grip the handle of my wand.  I grit my teeth. I’ve half a mind to just march over there and stuff the wooden rod up the goon’s great backside.

I hear the soft rustle of robes next to me.  Startled, I look up.  The handsome gent stands beside me, an open book in his hand.  His head is lowered, his eyes trained on his book, but his shoulder brushes against mine. Oh, Merlin, I can’t let him see me like this.

Waddiwasi,” he whispers.

“What?”  I whisper back, searching his face. What could he mean?

Waddiwasi,” he says, not removing his eyes from his text. “A useful little spell.”

Ah, sudden understanding hits me like a Stunning hex.  Why didn’t I think of that?  A wicked smile crosses my lips.

I site the big goon through the opening in the books.  With my quarry in the crosshairs, I point my wand tip in his direction. Waddiwasi!” Whispered incantation leaves my lips.

Wads of chewing gum streak from the girl’s surprised gob and fly straight up the great bully’s nostrils. The girl lets out a shriek that would rival a Banshee’s. The lumbering lout howls and jumps up from the chair, his great meat hook of a hand clamped over his nose.  He utters a stream of curse words not fit for polite company. I stuff my fist into my mouth to stifle my giggles. I couldn’t have planned this better if I tried.

“What’s the matter, lambkins?”  The mother rushes to her spoiled brat’s side, full of solicitude and concern.

“My gum. My gum.” The wailing child points a sticky finger at my nemesis. “He stole it.”

Before I can blink, the irate mother storms across my bookshop toward the big bully.  She wags a manicured finger in his face and begins her diatribe, her berating screams drowning out his curses.

“Why, you horrid man.  Stealing candy from a child. You should be ashamed of yourself...”

The great goon’s eyes widen.  The top of the woman’s head barely reaches his chin, but her size belies her fury. Like a Chinese Fireball protecting her nestlings, she chases the scoundrel from my shop. He flees with the Harpy hot on his tail and her little wailing fledgling in pursuit. I double over, laughter spilling from my lips.

When I can contain my giggles, I turn to thank my rescuer.  The thin gentleman replaces the book on the shelf.  His own face brightens with mirth, the sadness in his blue-grey eyes banished like a Boggart.

“I can’t thank you enough,” I say, when I’ve regained my breath.

“My pleasure.” A charming smile spreads over his countenance.

“I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.” I proffer my hand. “I’m Terpsichore Smyth.”  His brow rises. A momentary crinkle appears on his forehead. I prattle on to cover my sudden nervousness.  “Oh, I know it’s an odd name.  You know parents.  The names they chose for their children.  My great aunt was a famous dancer, you know.  Me? I’ve got two left feet...”  My voice fades as my chagrin rises. “Please call me Cory.”

His smile deepens, sending little wrinkles shooting from the corners of those lovely eyes. He takes my hand, warm in his fingers.  My own thumb touches a silvery scar on the back of his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Cory,” he says, as a slight blush colors his cheek. “I’m Remus Lupin.”

Oh, Doxie droppings.  Why did I natter on so?  Some muse of dancing I am. I’ve gone and put my foot in it again.

Yet here we stand, this handsome stranger and I, hidden from view by stacks of old tomes. His hand still clasps mine.  I thrill at his touch. 

The shop door clicks open amid the tinkling of more bells.  The spell breaks.  Mr. Lupin and I spring apart as if hit by a defensive jolt.  My better reason takes hold.  After so many disappointments, you’d think I’d know better.  Instead I blindly follow the lantern of love until squelch…some callous bloke tramples my heart to bloody pulp like a Hinkypunk. 

I force my gaze away from him and peek through the aperture between the books to see who has entered my shop.  An elderly woman walks through the door. Tight grey curls cover her head, a pill box hat perched on top.  A colorful carpet bag dangles from her fingers.  She glances about the shop as if looking for someone. She steps forward with a nimble tread, surprisingly agile for a woman her age.  That is, until she overbalances and careens into my display of comic books. 

The woman falls, sending her orthopedic shoes sailing skyward and the carpet bag flying willy-nilly.  The ill-mannered comics burst into fits of hilarity. Oh dear!

I run to assist her.  Mr. Lupin follows right on my heels.  The periodicals fall silent.  I spot a rotted banana peel under the display.  Those damned comics and their practical jokes.

“I’m terribly sorry.” I bend to help her up. “Are you all right?”

Mr. Lupin takes her other arm and lifts her to her feet.  She shrugs off our help, straightens her pill box hat, and smoothes down her plaid woolen suit.  She replaces her shoes, but one silken stocking sags to her ankles. Her face flushes.

“Just fine,” she says, in a voice quite youthful for her age.  She turns to Mr. Lupin. Wotcher, Remus.”  Then she spies the comic books knocked from their perches. “Oh, your display.” She waves her wand at the periodicals.  The funny pages give a half-hearted flap, but the comic books remain on the floor. “Sorry.” She shrugs an apology. “I never was very good at those householdy sorts of spells.”

“I’ll get it,” the gallant Mr. Lupin says.  He puts the display to rights with just a flick of his wand.

Meanwhile, I bend down to collect the contents of her carpet bag that has spilt open on my floor.  An old typewriter nestles safely inside the bag, undisturbed by the fall, but papers are scattered everywhere. I scramble to gather them up.  I can’t help but scan the contents.  I can’t believe my eyes.  My fingers clutch the pages of a new romance novel.  The words Heath and Catherine jump off the page.  I’d know that writing anywhere.

I stuff the pages back into the carpet bag and stare from the older woman to Mr. Lupin. It all makes sense now.  How Mr. Lupin knew the ending to my novel. The identity of his elderly lady friend. I stand in the presence of the Wanda Witherspoon.

“You must be Wanda Witherspoon.” I seize the woman’s hand. “You have no idea what a privilege this is.  I’m your biggest fan.”

The woman’s jaw drops, rendered speechless. Oh, of course, she’s just being modest.  Being a celebrity must get quite irksome.  All those fans assaulting her on the street.

“I’m afraid there’s been some mistake.” Mr. Lupin says, shaking his head.

But I’m certain there’s no mistake.  A brilliant idea takes shape in my head. I can see it now.  A book signing with Wanda Witherspoon.  Women will be lined up for blocks outside my shop.  My little bookstore will be saved.

“Oh, I quite understand your desire for anonymity,” I say, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.  “It’s just that business has been off of late. And well, if you would consider a book signing at my shop, it would help me a great deal. It would save my bookstore.”  I cast Ms. Witherspoon my most pleading look. “Won’t you please consider it?”

“Well, what have we here?” A waspish voice hisses from behind my back.

I release Ms. Witherspoon’s hand and spin around.  The vicar stands behind me, a look of triumph on his face, much like a cat that has cornered a mouse.  His spidery fingers clasp a romance novel, the paperback copy of Wanda Witherspoon’s Poisoned Passion that he had purchased from me just yesterday.

“You?” I sputter.

“Yes, Miss Smyth.” A condescending sneer twists across his sallow face. “Thanks to your astute powers of observation and deduction, you have unwittingly helped solve a mystery.” 

I bristle at his sarcastic tone, well aware that I have just been insulted.  But my surprise at his appearance has rendered me mute.  How did he sneak in here without my noticing? How long has he been behind me?  Did he witness my flirtation with Mr. Lupin?  Color heightens on my cheeks.  I feel like an errant school girl, caught snogging in the restricted section of the library.

“Miss Tonks, I presume.” The vicar acknowledges Ms. Witherspoon with a curt nod.  “And Lupin.” He shoots a look of unrivaled disdain at Mr. Lupin. “I should have known the two of you were behind this. No doubt Black was also involved in your caper.”  He jabs a long finger at his novel. “This piece of handiwork has Black written all over it.”

“Severus, I’m afraid you’ve lost me.” Mr. Lupin’s face is a picture of innocence. 

While he speaks, the carpet bag inches out of sight behind a display of cookbooks under the direction of his wand.  I catch his eye.  The slight shake of his head does not escape my notice either. What the blazes is going on here?

“While your mental deficiencies come as no surprise, Lupin,” Contempt drips from the vicar’s thin lips, “I sincerely doubt your ignorance of this prank.”  He flips the book open to a passage that he has marked and holds up the paperback. “I will not be made the object of ridicule by having my words reduced to the torrid dialogue of a romance novel.”

“May I, Severus?” Mr. Lupin reaches for the paperback.

The vicar hands over the book.  His arms cross over his chest.  He stands erect, looking down his long hooked nose at his adversary. The black knight has just thrown down the gauntlet, confident of his challenge.

My white knight, Mr. Lupin, eyes the text.  A crease appears on his forehead. I get the distinct impression that he’s doing some fast thinking.  Ms. Witherspoon peers over his arm, reading as well. She snorts, then reddens under the vicar’s glower. Me? I’m dying of curiosity.  I can no longer hold my tongue.

 “Would someone please tell me what is going on?” I turn to Mr. Lupin. “You and this vicar are acquainted?”

“Vicar?” Mr. Lupin’s eyes sparkle with laughter.  The corners of his mouth twitch.

Ms. Witherspoon sputters a guffaw and turns away. I fail to see the joke.

“Madam, I am Severus Snape.” The vicar’s proud nose sniffs.  He fixes me with a withering glare. “Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

“You teach children?” I say, eyeing him with astonishment.

“Yes.” The words escape his lips in a sneering hiss. “Does that surprise you?”

His ill treatment of the young woman and her two angelic tots in my bookshop resurfaces in my memory. After what I had witnessed of his bullying behavior yesterday, I cannot fathom him in front of classroom full of school-aged youngsters. I’m about to answer, when I realize that his question was rhetorical.

How could I have been so misled? I turn to Mr. Lupin.  Have I been mistaken in him as well?

“And you’re not a mystery writer either?” I flash Mr. Lupin a hopeful look.

“I’m afraid not.” Mr. Lupin shakes his head, but his reply is gentle. “Former professor, in fact. Defense against the Dark Arts.”

“Presently unemployed,” Mr. Snape adds with a look of relish. A self-satisfied smirk works over the black knight’s face.  He has just landed his opponent a glancing blow.

Former Defense against the Dark Arts professor? Unemployed?  That would explain his worn robes, his interest in books, and his selection of that Dark Arts text in my shop on the day we met. The luster fades from my white knight’s armor.

I glance over at the elderly woman.  She’s not Wanda Witherspoon, is she?  And without a book signing, I’ve no hope of repaying my debts to Malfoy or saving my little shop.  I’ll be out on the street soon too.

“And you’re not Wanda Witherspoon?” I ask the woman, steeling myself against further disappointment.

“Tonks,” she says, shaking my hand with a firm grip. “Auror. Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

“Oh?” I sigh. My shoulders droop. My last flicker of hope dies.

“So you see, Severus,” Mr. Lupin says, appearing entirely too cheerful. “This looks like your average romance novel to me, not that I’m much of an expert in that genre.  I very much doubt that…erm…Mr. Black has much expertise in that area either.  Not at all his style.”

The elderly Miss Tonks nods her head in agreement, the pill box hat bobbing on her grey curls. The vicar’s brows shoot up, buried momentarily under strands of greasy black hair. His sallow complexion colors. His jaw clenches with his fury. Daggers shoot from his dark eyes.  Finessed by the white knight, a fatal blow.

The white knight returns a congenial grin, deflecting every pointed barb aimed in his direction with a good-natured smile. Perhaps my initial estimation of this man was not so far off.  He may not be a writer, but I cannot deny that he has a certain panache.

Mr. Snape turns on his heels, causing his black traveling cloak to swirl in spirals around his spindly legs. In three strides, he reaches the door. Good riddance, I think.

“Oh, Severus.” Mr. Lupin calls after him and waves the paperback aloft. Unabashed amusement lights up his features. “You’ve forgotten your romance novel.”

“Keep it.” The black knight turns with a scowl, exits my shop, and stalks down the street in the direction of Diagon Alley.

“May I have that?”  I say to Mr. Lupin. A flush of embarrassment warms my face. “I never did get to finish that one.”

Mr. Lupin hands me the novel. I look down at the cover of the paperback, avoiding his stare.  Then I slip the book into the pocket my dress and remember the papers in that carpet bag.  Those were Ms. Witherspoon’s papers.  What was the manuscript of her next novel doing in that carpet bag?

“But the carpet bag?” My finger points to the colorful textile bag peeking out from behind a display of cookbooks.  My eyes search Mr. Lupin’s face. “That was Ms. Witherspoon’s manuscript I saw, was it not?”

“Yes.” Miss Tonks nods her head, her grey curls taking on a lavender hue. “The beginnings of one.”

Mr. Lupin summons the carpet bag with a flick of his wand.  I glance from the open bag to his face with a questioning stare, eager to have this mystery solved.  His nimble fingers remove the parchments from the case.  I peer inside. An old Underwood typewriter rests on the bottom of the otherwise empty carpet bag. The clickety-clack of worn keys comes from the bag, followed by a soft ding and the slide of a carriage return. What is the meaning of this?

“Allow me to introduce Wanda Witherspoon.” Mr. Lupin indicates the mechanical device typing on its own.

“Wanda Witherspoon?” I say, bewildered.  “A typewriter?”

“Not just any typewriter,” the elderly Miss Tonks says as a youthful smile overcomes her face. “An enchanted typewriter. Give it a plot and a few lines of dialogue and it produces a best-selling romance novel.”

“You see, a mutual friend of ours works at the Ministry.” Mr. Lupin lowers his voice to a whisper and gives me a conspiratorial wink.  “Misuse of Muggle Artifacts.  He confiscated this machine. Seemed such a shame to destroy it, so we thought to put it to use.”

“Took the minutes of our…er…meetings,” Miss Tonks says. “You should read the account it produced. Dedalus Diggle, a barbarian sex god?” She doubles over in a fit of helpless giggles.

“Most recently,” Mr. Lupin says. “It’s remained in the custody of a friend of ours who’s been…erm…housebound.”  He averts his gaze from my face for a fleeting moment. “We thought it would give him something to entertain himself.  Miss Tonks here had the idea to publish the volumes.  We had no idea they’d become best-sellers.”

“This is all very fascinating,” I say, staring from Mr. Lupin to Miss Tonks. “But what does this have to do with me?”

“My friend wanted you to have it.” Mr. Lupin rests his hand on my arm, his expression earnest.  “He thought that you could get more use out of it.”  The serious look melts into an amused grin. “And with your imagination, there’s no end to the stories that you could produce. I can recommend a publisher at Whizz Hard Books who’d be very interested in your manuscript.”

Me? A romance novelist?  Giddiness overcomes me at the thought.  My own novels on the best-seller list.  People lining up outside my bookshop for my autograph. Why, with this typewriter, I’ll be able to discharge my debt to Mr. Malfoy.

“Thank you,” I say, both hands on my grinning cheeks. “You have no idea what this means to me.”

My eyes settle on Mr. Lupin’s mended cloak.  Unemployed.  Surely, he could make better use of this typewriter.  A twinge of guilt dampens my delight. 

“I couldn’t accept this.” I shake my head. “And deny you a source of livelihood.”

“Romance is hardly my genre, I’m afraid.” A sudden flush colors Mr. Lupin’s face.  He diverts his gaze to a nearby bookshelf.  “And I would be sorely disappointed if you were to lose this shop.”

My mouth opens, but all words fail me.  How could he have known my predicament?  No one but the great black hound witnessed my meeting with Malfoy last night. No one else knew of my financial troubles or Malfoy’s threats to close down my shop.

Siri—” Miss Tonks breaks off, flustered. Then she fixes me with a determined look. “…er…our friend insisted that you have this.”

“Who?” I say.  My voice trembles.  I am unable to blink back the tears of gratitude that flood my eyes. “Who do I have to thank for this?”

“Our friend wishes to remain anonymous,” the chivalrous Mr. Lupin says.  He is all smiles and charm.

“Thank you, the lot of you.” I say, barely getting the words out before tears stream down my cheeks.  My fingers fumble in my pocket for my handkerchief and brush against the paperback novel.

“Allow me,” says the white knight, offering his hanky.

I take the handkerchief and dab at my wet face. I sniffle. Mr. Lupin shifts his feet and directs his gaze around the shop, giving me a moment to collect myself. 

Miss Tonks looks even less comfortable.  She stares out the shop window, then screws up her face. Her grey hair takes on a greenish tinge.  Must be the tears clouding my vision.  Or perhaps those naughty comic books are up to their pranks again.  They’ve taken a liking to the old gal.

“How can I ever repay your kindness?”  I say in a steadier voice. “Perhaps a free book or two.  Although the whole lot would hardly do the job.”

“No need,” Miss Tonks says. “Just following orders.”  She gestures toward the door. “Got to go. Late for work. Later, Remus.”

The spry old woman waves and turns toward the door.  In her haste, she nearly topples over a stack of textbooks on magical beasts, snoring in a heap by the door.  Miss Tonks catches herself at the last minute. The tomes growl at having their slumber disturbed, then settle back down.

“Sorry.” Miss Tonks exits my shop with an apologetic grin.

“Right then.” A polite smile appears on Mr. Lupin’s face.  He gazes out the shop window down the street. “I really should be going as well.”

I don’t want him to go.  True, he’s not the muscled hero on the cover of my romance novel, but he will always be my Heath—the gallant knight who came to my rescue.

What can I do to make him stay?  What enticement can I offer?  I scan the room, my eyes lighting on the tea tray.  Two china cups of cold tea lay on the salver, untouched.

“Must you?” I cast him my most pleading stare. “We never even had that spot of tea.”

Without thinking, I reach for his arm like some Grindylow grappling for him with my brittle fingers. What a desperate fool I am?  What will he think of me?

“Another time perhaps.” He pats my hand. That overcast look is back in his blue-grey eyes, a tinge of untouchable sorrow. 

I withdraw my hand, defeated.  My teeth bite down on my lower lip to stop its quivering. I know the routine. Mr. Lupin walks towards the door. I turn away, listening for the tinkling of the shop bells.  I can’t bear to watch. 

His footfalls sound across the floor.  I hear the soft swish of the mended cloak against his trousers, but no bells. My breath catches, waiting.

“Cory?”

“Yes?” I spin around, not daring to hope that things might be different this time.

The gentleman stands, his hand stayed on the doorknob of my shop.  He glances back at me. A slight blush colors his face.

“Would you have dinner with me tonight?” he says.

Dear Sweet Merlin!  My ears must be deceiving me. Did he just ask me out? My heart has never flittered so fast.

“I’d be delighted.” A giddy smile spreads over my lips. “I close up shop at seven.”

“I’ll meet you here at eight then.”

My laughter mingles with the sound of the shop bells, gay and ringing.  I smile and wave, watching him go, anticipating his return. I can hardly wait.

The hours will fly by today.  A romance novel beckons to me—one of my own creation.  As much as I adore Catherine, I think Heath needs a new love interest this time.  I dash to the old Underwood and lift the marvelous contraption from the carpet bag.

“What do you think, Wanda, my dear?” I say to the enchanted typewriter. Brunhilde, Viking warrior princess?”

My fingers glide over Wanda’s keys.  The typewriter springs to life, keys clacking away in rhythm.  Wisps of steam rise from the page.  If Whizz Hard Books wants another best-selling bodice-ripper, Wanda Witherspoon will oblige.  Her next romance will be so hot that it will melt the rivets off an Iron Maidenform brassier.

 

//
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