The Sugar Quill
Author: Issy (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Coffee  Chapter: Chapter Two: Latte
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Chapter Two - Latte

Chapter Two - Latte

 

Some people never quite recover from the realisation that the world is not a happy place full of fluffy bunnies and Gryffindors and Slytherins frolicking together in the meadows, but it is in fact a cruel place where the Gryffindors and Slytherins grow up into nasty Aurors and nastier Death Eaters and the fluffy bunnies are baked in pies. Interestingly, the greater majority of these people do not grow up to become cruel themselves. Instead, they become cynics.

I remember quite clearly the moment when I was set on the path to cynicism. In fact, it’s my earliest memory - I was only two years old at the time. It was November 2, 1981, and my parents, Sabina and I were having breakfast (read: my parents were sensibly eating marmalade on toast while Sabina and I threw pureed pears at each other). The Daily Prophet owl soared through the window and dropped the paper. My mother picked it up, unfolded it, glanced at the headline, and immediately burst into tears. It was the day the world found out about the death of the Potters and the miraculous survival of their little boy Harry - though I didn’t understand that at the time. All I knew was that my mummy was crying - and I hadn’t thought there was anything in the world that could make my mummy cry.

I found out much later that Lily Potter had been several years beneath my mother at school, and my mother had helped her out with her Arithmancy assignments. She hadn’t been the only one of my mother’s school friends that had died in the war, but my mother’s reaction to her death stuck in my two-year-old mind and stayed there. It was then I realised that the world wasn’t perfect - and I started down the not-so-rose-strewn path to cynicism.

The realisation that my sister - my own twin sister, my genetic identical - could do something as loathsome as be unfaithful to the eternally loyal Archie Stebbins was another moment like that. I’ve never been much of a brooder - it’s not really a very Hufflepuff trait - but I practically gained a degree in it in the few days after the incident in the hallway. These three days of broody moping only taught me one thing - brooding is bloody useless. Have you ever noticed that your real thoughts - what you really believe - is the one thing you can never figure out? You think you know, but you never really do.

By the time I emerged from my black broody mood, it was February 17. Three days had already passed since I gave Sabina my ultimatum, but nothing had really changed. Archie was still Captain Cheerful, so Sabina obviously hadn’t done anything; and I still felt like a cross between a soapie character and Joan of Arc. Obviously, problems don’t go away if you hide your head under the pillow. Or, in my case, under my dictionaries.

“Sylvia, is something wrong?” Edmund asked me that afternoon, catching up to me after my last class of the day. “I haven’t seen you since V-Day.”

I shook my head slightly. “I’m all right. Just… bogged down, you know? OWLs and all that. Professor Vector gave us a pile of Arithmancy homework as tall as Everest.”

Edmund raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

Bollocks. He didn’t believe me.

New Rule #1 Regarding Miss S. Fawcett (Hufflepuff) and Dating: Never, ever date someone who knows you better than you know yourself.

“The thing is,” Edmund went on, “today happens to be Tuesday - and I know you don’t have Arithmancy till Wednesday.”

New Rule #2 Regarding Miss S. Fawcett (Hufflepuff) and Dating: Never, ever date someone who knows your timetable better than you do yourself.

“And the other thing is,” he continued mercilessly, “your sister just happens to be moping round Ravenclaw Turret looking as if she dived into an ocean full of angst.”

New Rule #3 Regarding Miss S. Fawcett (Hufflepuff) and Dating: Never, ever date someone who, apart from understanding the twin thing, spends much time in close proximity to Miss S. Fawcett (Ravenclaw).

“So, Sylvia,” Edmund finished, “is there something you want to tell me?”

Hufflepuff loyalty is more than a double-edged sword. It’s a morningstar with a heavy chain and lots of spikes. You can hold a double-edged sword by the hilt, but no matter where you hold a morningstar, you get spiked. There are only so many people at a time one can be loyal to. How was I supposed to be loyal to a) Sabina, twin sister, b) Archie, fellow Hufflepuff and c) Edmund, boyfriend?

I sighed and settled for the coward’s way out. There is definitely a reason I’m not a Gryffindor.

“Look… Edmund, it’s bloody complicated, all right? Do you mind if I… well, if I wait for a bit before spilling my guts? Like… a week or so? I need to figure this out for myself.”

Edmund gave me this Look. At the risk of sounding even more like Maribelle Susannah from Black Magic, it gave me shivers. “Of course it’s all right, Sylvia,” he said gently. He touched my hair. “Just come to me when you’re ready, okay?”

Bierce may say that kindness is merely a preface to ten volumes of exaction, but it definitely has advantages. Usually, kindness and cynics like me don’t even belong in the same universe - but today it was just what I needed.

New Rule #4 Regarding Miss S. Fawcett (Hufflepuff) and Dating: Scrap all previous rules and keep, at all costs, nice understanding sensitive boyfriend.

 

*

 

I felt a lot better after my conversation with Edmund, though I felt a little guilty about it. Using girlfriendly tactics as an excuse to keep Edmund from learning that his brother’s girlfriend was cheating on him was rather low of me. But it’s not as if there was much I could do about the situation without breaking my promise to Sabina.

The Hufflepuff common room was rather quiet that night. There were only a few people in there - me, a group of fourth years studying in the corner, and Cedric Diggory, who was practicing some sort of charm, probably for the Triwizard Tournament.

Sighing, I picked up my quill. I had a pile of Care of Magical Creatures homework on my lap that wasn’t going to get done on its own. Hagrid’s homework was never particularly hard… but still, it was homework, and that was the principle of the thing. He’d given us a list of ten magical creatures and asked us to describe them - without the aid of any textbook. “An’ don’ think about breakin’ tha’ rule,” he had said solemnly. “I got Perfessor McGonagall to put a jinx on those bits o’ parchment ye’ve got, so I’ll know if ye so much as touch a book.”

The first creature on the list was a hippogriff. A creature that is half horse, half griffin, I wrote dutifully. The griffin itself is a compound creature, being half eagle, half lion. This makes the hippogriff half horse, one quarter lion and one quarter eagle.

We’d learned about eagles in Arithmancy when we did our wizarding economics unit. As well as being a bird, they were an outdated form of currency worth about sixteen Galleons.

I resisted crossing out ’one quarter eagle’ and writing ’about four galleons’ instead. 

Archie liked hippogriffs. He’d been livid for days when he found out that Hagrid had had some and he’d never seen them. Edmund had told me once that Archie had had a stuffed Hippogriff as a child called Mr. Potamus. He still had it, apparently, tucked away in a dark cupboard. Mrs. Stebbins had tried to throw it out numerous times, but Archie wouldn’t let her.

I threw down my quill. I was obviously going to get no work done with Sabina’s dirty secret hanging over my head.

“Something the matter, Sylvia?”

I looked up. Cedric Diggory was standing beside my chair - and he had… two heads?

“Cedric,” I said, “what on earth happened to you?”

He laughed easily and flung himself down into the chair beside me. “I’m trying to teach myself the Bubble-Head Charm,” he answered from the head on the left side. “For the Triwizard Tournament. Unfortunately, it’s not going that well - I screwed up somewhere and managed to put the Double-Head Charm on myself instead.”

I chuckled. “Well, you should be able to figure out the Bubble-Head Charm, now, surely - you’ve got two brains to do the thinking with.”

“Ah, but it means I’ve got two heads to cover with the charm instead of one,” Cedric replied. “I suppose you don’t know how to reverse it?”

“’Fraid not.”

“Pity. I’ll just have to wait for it to wear off. Anyway, back to my original question. Is something the matter? I never picked you as the teen angst type, you know, but every time I come into the common room you seem to be deep in angsty thought.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, well, if it isn’t Mr. Observant.”

He laid a hand over his heart. “I am, as Cho continues to tell me, a sensitive New Age guy, though I don’t pretend to know what that means. So come on, spill your guts. You can tell Uncle Cedric.”

I don’t know what it was. Maybe the stress of keeping the secret had built up in me like a poison. Maybe the strangeness of sitting next to a two-headed man was driving me slightly bonkers. Maybe someone had put Veritaserum in my tea - it’s an unsolved mystery. But the words exploded out of me like badly made potion out of a cauldron in Snape’s dungeon.

“And now I don’t know what to do, because whatever I do I’ll hurt someone. I promised Sabina, but I don’t really have the right to keep it from Archie, and Edmund will murder me when he finds out I knew and I didn’t tell him.”

Cedric was looking at me with absolutely no expression all. I’ve never seen someone with a face (or two faces, in this case) that could be so effortlessly neutral. “Sounds like you’re in a bit of a difficult situation,” he commented.

“That’s putting it mildly,” I grumbled.

He leaned back. “I am suddenly very glad I’m an only child.”

I sat up straighter. “Listen, you can’t tell Archie, all right? I know he’s in your dorm and all, but I promised Sabina, and it’ll absolutely kill him -”

Cedric held up his hands. “Your secret is safe with me, Sylvia,” he said. “My lips are sealed - both sets of them. I shall be as silent as the grave. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Thanks,” I said gratefully. “I’m - it’s just so confusing, you know? I don’t know what the right thing to do is - and no matter what I do, someone is going to think I did the wrong thing.”

“It is said,” Cedric said seriously, taking his reading glasses out of his pocket and perching them on the end of his left-hand nose, “that righteousness is a sturdy virtue that was once found among the Pantidoodles inhabiting the lower part of the peninsula of Oque. Some feeble attempts were made by returned missionaries to introduce it into several European countries, but it appears to have been imperfectly expounded.”

I stared. “You know The Devil‘s Dictionary?”

“But of course.”

“You’ve read it?” I squeaked.

“Indeed.”

“You know who Ambrose Bierce is?”

“I do.”

“I want to shake your hand.”

Cedric held out his hand. I took it in both of mine and shook it firmly. “All these years we’ve lived in the same cellar, Cedric,” I said, “and I never knew.”

He winked. “Well, we all have our little secrets. I don’t own a copy, but I wish I did.”

“I have it,” I answered. “Edmund gave it to me for Christmas. I have The Cynic’s Dictionary as well. Have you read that one?”

“No. I’ll have to borrow it from you one day - after all this Triwizard stuff is over.”

“You know, Cedric, if I wasn’t taken, I would be seriously tempted by your cynical reading ways.”

He laughed easily. “Better not let old Stebbo - your Stebbo, that is - hear you say that. Or Cho, for that matter.”

Cedric Diggory really was wasted on Cho Chang, I reflected after he (and his spare head) had left. He was snarky yet sensitive, she was shallow and superficial. Everything about her was… small. She had a small body, a small personality and a small mind. Giggle, giggle, flip hair, giggle, giggle, giggle with friends, giggle, giggle, moon at Cedric, giggle, giggle, rearrange schedule to allow for more giggling time…

In my earlier years at Hogwarts I’d often wondered how it came about that she, of supreme superficiality and no great mind, came to be in Ravenclaw - and it took me some years to figure out that there was actually nowhere else she could go. She was neither brave nor reckless, which ruled out Gryffindor; she was about as ambitious as I was giggly, which ruled out Slytherin; and her habit of picking a new boyfriend every two weeks definitely ruled out loyal Hufflepuff.

You know, it’s a bloody pity that shallowness (especially when combined with a pretty face) is the root cause of chronic good health, high school popularity, appearance on the Daily Prophet bestseller lists and gainful employment on the WWN. The world is going downhill as fast as Sisyphus’s rock.

 

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