The Sugar Quill
Author: Eudora Hawkins  Story: That Olde Black Magic  Chapter: Chapter 1: Courting Disaster
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That Olde Black Magic 1

That Olde Black Magic

A/N:  This tale is told over five installments – a departure from my usual format for the “Just Looking” series. So I hope you will bear with me to the end. 

All the usual disclaimers apply. I only dabble in J.K. Rowling’s world. No money is being made and no copyright infringement intended. 

With special thanks to Gabriella DuSult for the loan of her name and her signature Little Black Robes.  Those LBRs and the ensuing discussion provided the inspiration for this tale. Much appreciation to andy33 for advice on phrasing and all things British, and especially for taking on an established main character with “idiosyncratic turns of speech.” You were marvelous.  And a huge heaping of thanks to moonette for her critiques, enthusiasm, and most of all her friendship.

Dedicated to St. Margarets and all the Fluffers at the Quill. 

 

Prologue

I rub my hands together with anticipation and eye the battered Underwood typewriter resting on the kitchen table before me.  My first go at being a romance novelist. I can hardly contain my excitement.

“What shall it be, Wanda?” I say to my mechanical accomplice. “I think we need a new love interest for this novel. What do you say, eh?”

The enchanted keyboard springs to life. Her keys clatter, as inky words appear on the roll of parchment. I hear the seductive slide of the carriage return and the soft ding of the bell.  I peer over to see what she has written.

A sinewy arm reached down, clasped Wanda’s waist, and pulled her free from the bin. She collapsed into the muscled embrace of her rescuer, buoyed by the strength of his rippling biceps.  A bespectacled man returned Wanda’s astonished gaze.  But his bookish exterior could not hide the mischievous twinkle behind the spectacles or the way his eyes stole over her.

“Simply marvelous,” he whispered. “The name’s Arthur Weasley. Misuse of Muggle Artifacts.”

“My hero,” Wanda breathed.

“Oh, please, Wanda.” I roll my eyes. “Isn’t that a little obvious? I’m sure this Mr. Weasley is a lovely man, but you can’t be the heroine of your own novel.” I huff a sigh. “And what about Heath?”

Heath. The hunky hero of Wanda’s last two romance novels. I think of him and my mind wanders to the handsome Mr. Lupin. Hair the color of a sandy beach, lightly salted with a distinguished grey.  And those lovely, lonely blue-gray eyes like the skies over London, cloudy with a chance of showers.  I can’t suppress my giddy giggle at the thought of dinner with him later this evening.

“I want a gallant hero,” I say. “Not some incorrigible rogue.”

Tappety tap. The charmed typewriter goes to work again.  I steal another glance.

Cory bounded across the moors, her hair a windswept froth of tangles. She wiped an errant lock from the path of her china blue eyes and threw herself into Heath’s sinewy arms.

“Oh, Heath,” she gasped, bosoms heaving. “Don’t leave me.”

“Very funny, Wanda,” I chide, with my hands on my hips.  “I don’t want to be the heroine either.” My fingers drum a staccato rhythm on the table. “Now, let’s see…”

I glance over at the latest edition of The Quibbler lying beside my cup of afternoon tea.  A young boy with unkempt black hair and a lightning-shaped scar stares back at me from the front cover.  The headline flashes in bold scarlet letters: “Harry Potter Speaks Out at Last: The Truth about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Night I Saw Him Return.”   A shudder like a Dementor’s chill travels down my spine.  The return of You-Know-Who is the very last thing I want to consider when writing a romance novel. 

I flip the paper open. A half-page ad for Lady DuSult’s Little Black Robes catches my eyes. “Because sometimes black magic is what’s called for,” I read. The buxom brunette in the advertisement models a stunning beaded gown. Now, that’s more like it.  In a blink, the gown changes to a daring red-hot number with a plunging neckline.  Underneath, a byline blinks. “Now also in red.”

“That’s the one,” I say, jabbing a finger at the photograph. “Our new heroine, a curvaceous brunette.  I can see it all now.  A life and death struggle, the daring rescue, the heroine clasped in the embrace of our gallant hero.” I sigh. “We’ll call it On the Wings of Love.”

* * *

Chapter 1: Courting Disaster

A little “black magic” is precisely what I need tonight. In just under an hour, I’ll be out with the dishy Mr. Lupin. So here I stand in the fitting room of Lady DuSult’s trying on the latest in little black robes. Black satin slips over my hips as I wiggle into the dress.  Stomach in. Chest out.  Inhale. Zip! 

“How does it fit?” the proprietress calls through the fitting room door.

“I…I don’t know.” I glimpse my reflection in the mirror and cast an uncertain glance at the door. “What do you think?”

Ms. DuSult, a statuesque brunette, sweeps in and eyes my dress with an appraising stare. She cocks a finely shaped brow.

“Not bad,” she says. She pulls a clip from her chignon, sending luxurious locks cascading over her shoulders. “Just needs a little adjustment.”

Her fingers tug on the fabric of the dress, taking a nip here and a tuck there. She waves her wand. I inhale as the dress cinches in at the waistline.

“And you’ll want a little something to draw attention to the décolletage.” She waves her wand again, as magic crackles over the gown. “Just a touch of magic to bring out your inner beauty.”  As she eyes her creation, a slow smile spreads over her ruby lips. “There.”

I gaze into the mirror. The simple black sheath clings to my body.  Little sequin crescent moons sparkle on the sweetheart neckline. Who is this woman staring back at me, all softness and ample curves? My fingers sweep over the silky satin, just to make sure it’s really me.  I cannot contain the seductive smile that slides over my face and the blush that heightens my cheekbones. Just wait until Mr. Lupin gets an eyeful of me in this.   

“I’ll take it.” I say, exiting the dressing room. My voice has deepened to a purr.  “No need to wrap it up. I’ll wear it.”

In a flash, she’s rung up my purchase and I’m wending my way down Diagon Alley.  My old frock swings in a shopping bag dangling from my fingertips.  With each step, my new little black robe caresses my legs with a delightful satiny swish.  

Outside Magical Menagerie, I stop to check my reflection in the display window.  The stylist that Lady DuSult recommended has performed miracles on my hair. I tug on a wispy tendril. My frizzy curls have been transformed into a simple upsweep, my face now framed in soft spirals.

Then I see him…them…reflected in the glass. I turn around to face Fortescue’s across the street.  The ice cream parlor is brightly lit, the interior clearly visible from the street.  Inside, Mr. Lupin sits in the company of…another woman! 

Wind gushes from my lungs as if I’ve been broadsided by a Bludger. Dazed, I stare.  There must be some mistake. 

Mr. Lupin reclines in his chair. Only the young woman is eating. She is young and beautiful with a heart-shaped face and brilliant pink hair.  I can’t look away.

Images of another pretty face loom from my past. That irksome blonde tart with her arms around my ex. Voices echo in my head accompanied by the crackle of an old wireless…

This is Hilda. You’re listening to Household Hints with Hildegard on WWN.  How may I help you?

Oh, she was helpful, all right. Helped herself to my boyfriend. The tramp ran off with him.

This can’t be happening again. Perhaps Mr. Lupin and this young woman are just friends, acquaintances. I’m over-reacting. After all, he was supposed to have dinner with me.  I know I should keep walking and pretend that I saw nothing.  But then again...

Oh, Merlin, they’re sharing the treat. The young woman holds out a spoonful of ice cream from her sundae and spills. She springs from her chair to his side, frantically dabbing up chocolate sauce from his shirt, his chest, his face.  Her hand rests on his cheek. Warm color flushes his face at her touch.  And I can no longer deny it. He loves her.

What man would not prefer a young beauty like that? How can I hope to compete? I sniffle back my tears.  I had such high hopes for this evening, but I also have my pride. And I would rather walk away with it intact than grovel for the affections of a man that I cannot hope to win.

I must call off my dinner with Mr. Lupin.  Think of a way out.  My feet speed down Diagon Alley to the Owl Post.  I hope that I am not too late.

* * *

Gaslight illuminates the streets of Diagon Alley in a flickering coppery glow. I dash down a narrow, winding side street.  My heels patter a melancholy rhythm against the cobbles.  The lamplights turn into flaring pinwheels through the blurred lens of my tears. Mr. Lupin will have read my letter by now, a paper thin excuse about a forgotten previous engagement.  I do not want him to see me like this; do not want to have to explain the truth.  It’s better this way.

I speed my steps, anxious for the familiar comforts of my flat – a cozy chair by the fire, a cup of cocoa, and a tawdry romance novel.  I recall the clickety-clack of Wanda’s enchanted keys, typing away as I left. Perhaps she has even completed the first chapter of our novel.   What solace that would be.

The Hawkins and Smyth Booksellers sign welcomes me toward my shop.  My books are all safe and secure behind closed shutters, where I long to be. Locks on the front door click open. I reach for the knob.

Rapid footsteps approach. I hear the soft swish of fabric, leathery like the wings of a bat. Darkened shadows reach for me with inky fingers. Hairs on the back of my neck quiver to attention. My heart pounds with fright like a snidget caught in a net. Damn, why won’t this door open?

“All right, love?” a hoarse baritone voice whispers. The scent of liquor on his breath is unmistakable, about ninety proof.

My fingers whisk my wand from my pocket.  Soft light ignites at the tip. I twist around to get a good look at my assailant.  A man of about thirty-five stares back at me, a crumpled bit of parchment in his hand. Dark hair falls with rakish abandon over a pair of haunted eyes. His face is still handsome, although there is a rugged, even haggard look about him as though he’s seen more of life than warranted by his age. 

Wait a minute. I know this face.  More filled out than in the wanted posters, but unmistakable.

“You?”  I stagger backward.  My wand tip is shaking, pointed at the man’s chest. “I know who you are. I’ve read the papers.  I’ve seen the posters. Merlin, there’s one posted in my shop window.  You’re…St-stubby Boardman.”

He’s not really Boardman, I know. But I cannot bring myself to say so without fainting on the spot. Denial is the better part of valor.

“Can’t put one over on you, love.”  He chuckles, a barking laugh that I know I’ve heard before.

“What do you want?” My fingers tighten on the handle of my wand. I’m not lowering it. “Did Malfoy send you?  Are you one of his thugs?”

“Whoa, easy now.”  He raises his arms in mock surrender. A roguish grin lights his features. “I like a woman with spunk. But there’s no need to hit me with a load of dragon dung.”

Oh, for Agrippa’s sake.  He’s barking mad and drunk to boot.

“Why, I’ve half a mind to—” I sputter, waving my wand tip at his nose.

Hang on. Load of dragon dung? I stare into his bedroom eyes. Only two people and a great black dog witnessed my showdown with Malfoy.  And this man wasn’t one of them. 

“How do you know about that?” I say.

“Well, I…” His eyes take on a hang-dog look.

Mr. Snape’s words repeat in my head: Perhaps you are unaware, Miss Smyth, you are standing in the presence of a dangerous wanted criminal.  The realization hits me like a Stunning Hex.

Images of the great black hound flash through my memory.  A sodden mutt with pink soap bubbles on his paws and a clownish grin. The hungry canine licking the last dregs of a steak and kidney pie from a tin. The massive dog stretched out across my bed.  I relive it all in the mischievous glint in this man’s grey eyes. 

“You’re the dog, aren’t you?” I’m so shocked that my wand hand drops limp to my side. “You’re an Animagus.”

An unrepentant lopsided grin works over his face as if this is all some big joke. What a cheeky rascal!  My hand lashes out to strike his face. A stinging slap. 

“What was that for?” His hand massages his jaw.  I can hear the abrasion of his fingers against the five-o’clock-shadow.

“For tricking your way into my flat and spending the night under false pretenses, that’s what!” I shake out my hand, my fingers still smarting from the blow.

Merlin’s beard! Did I just slap a wanted criminal? What was I thinking?  I flatten myself against the door.  The handle digs into the small of my back. What have I done?

“Off with you now,” I say, my wand tip trained back on his chest. “Before I send for Magical Law Enforcement.”

An idle threat, I know. My eyes peer over Black’s shoulder and sweep the deserted street. Please, let there be someone there. Someone to rescue me.  But only the fog creeps along the cobbles.

“Easy, love,” Black’s voice soothes. “I’m not going to harm you. I just came to check on you.” He runs a hand through his dark mop of hair and stares down at the crinkled parchment in his hand.  His expression grows grim.  “When you called off your evening with Moon…I mean, Remus, I thought maybe you ran into Malfoy or something.”

“What?” My head reels. “You know Mr. Lupin?”

What connection could Mr. Lupin possibly have with the Ministry’s most wanted criminal? My white knight’s armor has certainly taken a tarnishing tonight. My knees wobble and weaken beneath me. How could I have been so stupid?

More footsteps sound on the cobbles. Thank heavens, someone’s coming. I hear a light warbling whistle. Or is that buzzing in my ears? Lamplight illuminates a thin man in a worn cloak heading toward my door. Oh, Doxy droppings! It’s him.

“Cory?” Mr. Lupin says. His eyes widen, then travel to the man leaning against the shutters covering my shop window.  “Sirius?  What are you doing here?”

The buzz in my ears increases to a roar. My vision blurs, then fades to black.

 

* * *

 

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