The Sugar Quill
Author: Rhetor (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Returning Were As Tedious  Chapter: 1. Prologue: Sound So Fair
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Chapter One:

Prologue: Sound So Fair

Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?
Macbeth, I.iii.52-53

Full of smoke, badly lit and a bit noisy, this pub was not a place where you expected to see things clearly. Objects near the walls of the room were indistinct, and even people closer to her had a bluish cast, as if a pane of tinted glass separated her from them. Eileen felt as if she had wandered into a misty evening bog like the ones near the village where she grew up; while her mind knew she was safely indoors, her instincts were telling her to watch her step, lest she fall into an unsuspected hole.

She played with her pint, not having tasted it, not really accustomed to it and not wanting to drink until her friends arrived. The publican had given her an unwelcome look when she asked for the pint to start with, as if it were somehow indecent for her to propose such a thing. Now, looking around the room through the smelly haze, she realized that she was the only woman drinking ale; all the rest seemed to have fizzy drinks. A few of the men were looking at her strangely too, and she didn’t think it was her looks or her clothing. How was she supposed to know? Probably it would have been better to go to the Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron for a butterbeer.

The mist around her brightened in one direction as the door of the pub opened, and vaguely, like shadows of themselves, David and Mary could be seen arriving together. She waved enthusiastically at them and they came quickly to her table. Eileen stood up as they arrived, only barely making it to her full height before Mary threw her arms around her and kissed her.

“Darling, how are you?” Mary sang.

“Wonderful now,” said Eileen with a grin. She released Mary and hugged David so hard around the chest that he nearly fell down, and he laughed at her. She stepped back and looked at them; they’d both done a very respectable job of imitating Muggle clothing, and she doubted that anyone here thought they were anything but three University friends meeting to have a chat. They were so good to look at, the two of them; it felt as if her eyes had been dry and tired but suddenly were soothed.

“Did you have any trouble finding the place?” she asked while they seated themselves.

“Well, I would have,” said David with a lopsided grin. “I was looking up and down the street with no idea where I was; then Mary Apparated and took immediate charge of her poor old friend, leading me here step-by-step. I think she’d’ve put a dog collar and leash on me if she could have.”

Mary snorted. “He never did have any sense of direction; he used to get lost in Hogsmeade.”

Eileen giggled. “I remember.” She couldn’t stop grinning. They were here!

“First things first,” said David happily. “Let’s get the drinks. Think they have a stout?”

“Mary’d better not have the ale,” warned Eileen.

“Why ever not?” demanded Mary.

“I don’t think they like women drinking beer, here,” replied Eileen.

Mary made a face. “You’re having an ale, and you haven’t been thrown out,” she observed. “I’ll risk it.”

They chattered about friends from school, who was doing what, who was dating whom. Both Mary and David seemed much more up-to-date on their old acquaintances than Eileen was; although it had only been two years, she realized that she was really out-of-touch with practically everyone from Hogwarts except these two.

“And I just heard,” Mary was saying, “that Bonnie Bones is engaged to Eddy Goldsmith!”

“Yeah, bet she cornered him into it,” said David cynically.

“David! Haven’t you a romantic bone in your body?” Mary was nonplussed.

“Several, but none of them are in my head,” he grinned.

David left to get the drinks, figuring that the publican would have less objection to Mary’s ale that way. When he’d returned, he lifted his pint and said, “To Hufflepuff House!” The other two followed suit, and they all drank. The words were somehow absorbed into the smoke and the other bodies in the room, sounding strangely hollow. Eileen wasn’t expecting the bitterness of her ale; she made a face.

“Maybe you’d better stick to butterbeer,” David said. She stuck her tongue out at him.

“You know, I was wondering about that,” said Mary, swallowing her own ale. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a Muggle pub before. Why did you decide to come here, instead of, say, the Leaky Cauldron?”

The fog in the room seemed to thicken a little.

“Why can’t it just be an experiment or a whim?” asked Eileen in what she hoped was a carefree voice.

Mary lifted an eyebrow and her glass stopped on the way to her mouth. “But it isn’t, is it?” she persisted.

Eileen hesitated. Finally she answered, a bit too lightly, “Tobias doesn’t like the Leaky Cauldron.”

“Oh, is he coming?” asked David brightly – or at least Eileen thought that “brightly” was how he was trying to sound.

“No.”

“Well, then what does it matter what he likes this afternoon?” asked David firmly.

Mary rolled her eyes and looked sidelong at Eileen, taking another sip “Honestly, David.”

“What? I don’t notice him asking for my opinion when he decides where to take Eileen for dinner.”

“Well,” drawled Mary, gazing at Eileen with a slight smile on her face. “I think our Eileen is trying to take Tobias’s feelings into account more than the average witch would do.”

Although Eileen felt the suggestion of tightness near her cheekbones that told her she was blushing, under her friend’s amused and affectionate eyes she was inspired to bring the conversation where she’d originally planned on taking it. She took another small sip of the ale and began, “Actually that’s rather why I wanted to meet you in the first place.”

Mary put her elbows on the table, made a bridge of her fingers, and laid her chin on the bridge, looking with mischief into Eileen’s eyes. “Do tell,” she said, with a hint of a meow in her voice.

“Well,” said Eileen, smiling and beginning to blush. “We’re going to get married.”

“How wonderful!” squealed Mary, getting up to come to her friend’s chair and hug her around the shoulders enthusiastically. “Only the best wishes, and may the sun shine on you!” She kissed her cheek, then released her and returned to her seat, still smiling.

There was the slightest of pauses. Mary’s eyes, just for an instant, flicked towards David as a little swirl of smoke drifted in front of her face. David’s eyes, just half a moment later, darted towards Mary as the swirl reached him. Eileen then noticed that David, who had not said anything yet, was apparently trying to smile but not succeeding very well. A second look told her that Mary’s wide, toothy smile had become just a bit fixed. Her eyes didn’t look as happy as her mouth did.

“What’s the matter?” Eileen asked.

David started as if he’d been caught doing something naughty. “What? Nothing! Congratulations, My Prince!” he said heartily. Too heartily.

“Oh David,” teased Mary with a grin that was only a tiny bit forced, “You don’t congratulate a bride-to-be. It’s the groom who’s to be congratulated.”

“Lucky sod, he sure is!” David said, more loudly than was necessary.

“What’s the matter?” Eileen repeated.

There was another brief silence, during which their smiles faded. David spoke up, although he didn’t look like he wanted to. “Well, this is a bit sudden; we had no idea the two of you were even thinking about getting married. I was sort of wondering – You’re not – well, you’re not – ”

Eileen’s eyes narrowed. “No, I’m not, David.” She counted to five and then started again. “Is that all?”

“Well, no, not really.” He looked distinctly uncomfortable, but at this instant Eileen didn’t feel a desire to let him off the hook. She waited while the smell of old tobacco filled her nostrils.

He continued, much more quietly, “Eileen, why doesn’t Tobias like the Leaky Cauldron?”

Eileen wasn’t sure how to answer. The walls seemed very far away and invisible.

David continued, “It’s because he doesn’t like wizards, isn’t it? Doesn’t like magic?”

Eileen looked at the floor. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Mary and David exchange another look. The sounds of conversation from the other tables seemed to get louder.

“How can you marry someone who hates what you are?” he asked.

“He doesn’t hate me,” Eileen answered; in her own ears her voice was whiny.

David’s face was impassive. “But would he hate me, or Mary, or Professor Dippett, or your parents?”

There was another pause.

“I love him,” said Eileen in a small voice, looking at Mary with a pleading expression on her face.

“Does he love you?” asked Mary gently, her eyes fixed on Eileen’s as if looking for something she’d lost.

“Oh, yes, I’m sure he does,” said Eileen quickly.

“Has he said so?” Mary pursued, still in that same gentle tone.

Eileen pressed her palms against the top of the table.

“What you have to understand,” she said, “is that Tobias is not a very verbal person; he doesn’t talk a lot.”

Mary continued to look at her, but her expression was now sad. “Oh Eileen, dearest…”

“Mary.” Eileen’s voice was higher than it had been before, and its tone begged her friend to understand. “It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t said it, does it? I can tell. I know how he feels. I can tell by how he holds me – ” Her voice caught.

Her face darkened and she started again, more quietly. “And where else am I going to find someone to marry me?”

David’s face turned bright red and he spluttered for a moment before finding his voice. “That – that’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard you ask!” he said angrily.

“Oh?” she said miserably. “Popular with the blokes at school, was I? Always being asked out on Hogsmeade weekends? Have a face to charm the socks off of any red-blooded young wizard, and a body to match?”

“Stop it! Anyone who knows you – anyone – knows how beautiful you are!” His voice was fierce; Eileen wanted to kiss him for his loyalty.

Mary cut in, her voice steady, her face serious, her eyes locked on Eileen’s. “Listen to me, darling. Someone who loves you for what you really are is worth waiting for. Someone who will tell you he loves you is worth waiting for. Someone who won’t ask you to run away from your life is worth waiting for. And you are worth having those things; you deserve them.”

For a moment Eileen wanted to slap her best friend’s concerned face.

“I’m marrying him.” Her jaw set.

“So what will you do, give up magic for the rest of your life?” demanded David.

“David, Mary, please.” Eileen balled her hands into fists and leaned forward over the table. “I need you to support me. I need my friends behind me. I need you to be happy for me. Please.”

There was a space of about five seconds during which Eileen thought Mary would start to cry and David would break something. Then David’s face softened and Mary’s calmed. They got up, almost at the same moment, and walked around the table – Mary clockwise, David counterclockwise – until they were standing on either side of Eileen’s chair. Mary knelt down, put her right arm around Eileen’s middle and rested her head on Eileen’s right shoulder. David gently stroked Eileen’s left shoulder with his right hand.

Mary spoke, her voice vibrating on Eileen’s neck. “Always, sweetheart. We’re always with you. We’ll always support you. If you’re happy with this, then so are we. What would you like us to do?”

Eileen thanked her stars for such friends.

She began shyly, “Well, for starters, Mary, I was hoping you’d be maid of honor.”

***

Author’s Note:

As always, I am indebted to my beta, Ilovecats. The members of my Friends List on Live Journal were also very helpful with this chapter; in particular, Moonette and St Margarets helped me work out an issue of characterization, and Moonette also helped with the atmospherics. Sovran and Girlspell helped me think about the dynamics of the three friends who appear in this chapter.

This story was begun, and the first few chapters mapped out, before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Much of DH follows what I was planning for this story anyway, but there are some details that don’t harmonize fully. So I’ve decided to go ahead with it, noting places where there have been changes from what we learned in the Pensieve sequence in DH. Consequently this is really a "Post-HBP," not a "Post-DH" story -- except that the Author's Notes are going to contain DH spoilers. To wit: In this chapter, we learn that Eileen was in Hufflepuff; I think it’s nearly certain from DH that she was in Slytherin; but I've decided to go with my original vision rather than changing it to suit DH.

//
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