Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Craving5 Reviews
When faced with an angry, pregnant woman, it's best to do as your told. Even if it means running around London at all hours searching for a grocery store. Sirius is not happy, but the store owner i...
This is a short vignette-type thing. I didn't write it as an AU, and maintain the idea that it could have happened. It's not likely, but it could have. Oh, well. It was fun, and that's my only excuse.
A while back, almost two decades ago now, I met a man named Sirius Black. If you've met him, then you know that it's enough to say to that thinking about him brings back some very strange memories.
Now, I might not be the tallest or the strongest or the best-looking man around, but I do have a few things that make me worth my oxygen. First off, I have a wonderful memory. Ask me what I had for breakfast the day I met my wife, Dahlia, and I will tell you bacon, eggs, and toast with strawberry jam and no crusts. I can't stand toasted bread with the crusts still on it, it's like eating caked mud. The clarity of my memory came in handy when I had to remember where shelved everything, because back in those days all I had was a small downtown grocery store with one stock boy and no fancy computer system to keep track of things for me.
So everything I'm saying is the truth, and as near as perfect as possible. Maybe a word or two is missed, but other than that it's the same as when it happened.
The second admirable thing about me is my tenacity. If I say I'm going to do something, then that is what I do. So when I decided that owning my own chain of grocery stores was what I wanted most in the world, that's what I set out to do. So I dropped everything and got into the retail business.
And that's how I ended up as the cashier in Gian's Market Fresh Produce and Other Goods All Night Grocery Store at three thirty-two in the morning, June twenty-eighth, 1980, and that's when I first met Sirius Black.
At three in the morning, the only custom I normally got was hungry teenagers who usually weren't - let's say, aware - of what they were doing. They were no trouble, I just had to watch their quick fingers and be ready to throw
them out if they got rowdy. Once, I got a nasty-looking man with a rolled-up ski mask in his pocket. All I did then was put my bat out on the counter and kept the phone poised to dial the minute there was trouble. The crook got the message and scarpered.
So I didn't know what to think when he showed up. Tall men wearing black dresses that somehow made them look tough and masculine aren't my usual clientele.
Actually, he wasn't really a man. No, not a boy, but barely old enough to be out of school. Just out of his teenage years, at the most. Young enough to still have some boyish charm, but coupled with fully-adult good looks. It was a lucky combination, and if my wife had been there I would have been worried about the purity of her thoughts.
Well, anyway, his hair was rumpled but clean and his clothes were wrinkled but of a good cut, so he wasn't homeless. He just looked like a zombie who had woken up to find himself in a grocery store there were lines of exhaustion around his eyes. He looked very much like the only thing in the world he desired was to be back in bed, but he dragged himself around the store pulling things off the shelves and sticking them on his person, into his pockets, up his sleeves and in a pile in his arms. He ignored the tidy pile of baskets by the door.
I counted everything he picked up, just in case he tried to slip something by me. When he hit six, he came back around to the cash register and plopped everything out of his pockets and sleeves onto the counter.
He leaned his elbows on the price checker and closed his eyes. I started to run everything over the scanner when he spoke.
"What time is it?" His voice was a croak, like he hadn't said anything since waking up.
I checked my watch, "Three thirty-two, sir." I was very polite to customers in those days.
He groaned around a yawn. "/Never/ get a girl eight months pregnant." I looked at everything he was buying. A jar of sweet pickles, pistachio ice cream, a six-pack of cola, salt-and-vinegar chips, mayonnaise and a bottle of ketchup.
Oh. So that was it. I couldn't resist, even if it was definitely not my place to say anything. "Wife? Girlfriend?" He looked awfully young to have children.
He opened his eyes, startled. "What? No, no, not mine. My friend's wife seems to think she needs all this stuff /now/."
I'll admit, I was curious. "And you're doing the shopping?" I ran the pickles through. Any previous worries about his lawfulness were gone. This was just the average fearing-for-your-life shopper.
He sighed. "I know, this is a husband's job if anything is, but there you have it. Have you ever tried saying no to a woman who would have no qualms about ripping everything vital off your body?"
I had three children. I said as much, and he looked sympathetic.
"They live out in the country. I swear, they did that on purpose just so James wouldn't have to do any shopping at ungodly hours."
I ran the mayonnaise through the resister, but it wasn't working properly. The barcode was partly rubbed off, but the man didn't notice the time it was taking to check out his items.
"I mean, it's not like he couldn't come into the city himself. But nohe says 'I can't leave her at home alone. Something might happen.' This the girl who could make Jack the Ripper run for cover!"
I nodded along with him, trying to get the blasted mayonnaise to check out. "'Sirius,' he says, 'you live in London. It'll be easier for you get the stuff and come out here.' Well, easy my arse! It took me an hour of walking to find a bloody open store, and then they didn't have the right stuff, so I walked for another hour until I found you. It's the damned ice cream that caused it all, she wanted the real kind with the red label, aspartame-free, not too yellowed like the vanilla but not too pale. And it has to be at least three weeks before its due date! It's ridiculous!"
He was rambling. His head had sunk down into his arms over the counter. "And I'd just fallen asleep after a bloody twelve-hour shift, too."
The mayonnaise rang through with a beep. I bagged it all, and he pulled out a massive wad of cash. He fumbled through the notes, carefully reading each one, then gave up and just slapped half of it into my palm.
"Here. Keep the change. It's for being the only all-night grocery in all of London with the red pistachio ice cream."
As he walked out the door, I swear I heard him mutter, "If I splinch myself, it's his fault." But that made no sense, so I ignored it and the loud crack from outside a moment later.
He didn't come back the next night.
It was the thirtieth when I saw him again. He looked less tired than dead, and for some odd reason he had ashes in his hair and scorch marks on his clothing. He stumbled over to the produce section and stared blearily at the fruit, as if he didn't recognize them.
Finally, he picked up a pineapple and came over to me. I tentatively gestured at the ashes falling out of hair.
He looked in confusion at the grey powder spiralling down onto my counter, then up at me. He made no move to explain, so I prompted him. "How did you get ashes in your hair?"
He blinked. "Erm...my friend with the pregnant wife threw them at me to wake me up after I -uh..."
He looked lost. Or, now that I think about it, like he knew exactly where he was but would rather be anywhere else. "After you...?" I rang his pineapple through.
"You hung up on him?" I was confused.
"Yes! After I hung up on him!" He grasped the idea and clung to it, relieved, and didn't
Another awkward pause. "How did he throw ashes at you over the phone?"
He paled. "Erm...it's an expensive type of fel-/tele/phone! Costs...thousands. Hooks up to the fireplace." He threw some cash down on the counter and grabbed his un-bagged pineapple. "I have to go."
He practically ran from the store, leaving me puzzled. Why would someone ever pay that much for a phone that people can throw coals at you through? He must go through a lot of shirt money.
I set out a stool for him. After all, at three in the morning everyone deserves to sit for a bit.
He was back the next night, at about two this time. Before coming in he paused outside and stared up at the neon sign.
When he entered, he didn't go for the food. He just sat down on the stool provided and dropped his head into his arms without a word. He didn't move for half an hour, during which time I re-shelved some returned merchandise, opened a new box of cheeses and thoroughly examined my nails while listening to him breathe on my counter. That had to be the most awkward thirty minutes of my life, and to this day I have never had an odder experience with a customer. I don't expect I ever will. Come to think of it, I don't really want to.
Finally he lifted is head, looking somewhat refreshed. "Are you Gian?"
I was still thinking about how I had had a complete stranger sleeping on my counter. "What?"
"Are you Gian? From the sign?"
"Oh. Yes. This is my store."
He stood up and stuck out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Gian. M'name's Sirius Black, and I was wondering if you know what goes into nachos and salsa dip?"
I had a feeling this man never stayed on a subject while it had the chance of boring him. He must have been a real treat at parties, but it made for a confusing conversation. My mind was still stuck on him sleeping on my counter. "Salsa dip?"
"You know, to dip your nachos into? Has
something spicy and some sour cream in it? That's all I really know, so I could use
some help." He grinned at me, and if I were twenty years old and a woman, I would have ran out, bought a cookbook, ran back, and made him nachos and salsa dip right there on the counter for that grin. It was completely unfair for that much charm to fit into one body, and I was excessively glad not to be twenty years old and a woman.
I nodded. "Come on." I led him around the store, picking out everything I could remember ever going into nachos and salsa dip.
While we walked, he explained his situation to me. I wish I knew his power-napping secret, because I don't think I have ever met anyone who could walk in looking well past his due date, sleep on a stool on a metal counter for half an hour, and then be able be as alive as if they have just slept for a full day. It must be his thing.
"So, I'm unconscious on the couch. James can plainly see that I am unconscious, knows that I must be exhausted because I didn't even make it to the bed, and he still insists on screaming in my ear for 'me to wake up before Lily blasts his knob off'."
Ihadlearned not to bother asking about how 'James' could see him, and how he could be screaming in his ear if Black hadn't answered the phone. The first few times I questioned him, he answered vaguely and changed the subject. Save pointless question for pointless people I always say, and Mr. Sirius Black did not seem pointless.
"So I tell him to fob off, and that he's woken me almost every night this week with something. I need to sleep, I say, some of us actually work for a living, and the Aur-the police give out insanely long shifts, what with all the recent events, so I'm working twelve to eighteen hours a /day/.
"He looks at me. 'Please, Padfoot. I swear I will leave you alone for a full twenty-four hours if you do this one last thing - '
"'Ask Moony,' I croaked out. Moony - that's Remus, he's another one of our friends who lives close to London, and who is perfectly capable of doing some shopping. Then the git says that Remus can't do it, because he's got a cold, which is tripe because I talked to him yesterday and the man didn't even have a cough. "So I don't want to repeat last time's fiasco - you remember, the ashes? I had to go out and buy new clothing and everything."
At this point, I was only half listening and trying to remember if there was any cream cheese in nacho dip. I nodded.
"I drag myself up of the couch, and I must have looked really pitiful because James actually apologised for having to wake me. I don't think James has apologised to me since our second year at school, when he broke my collarbone and nose at the same time. Even then he forgot about it once I healed up. Anyway, I am about to head out the door and he shouts after me 'She wants nachos and a salsa dip!' I turn around to ask what the hell I'm supposed to get for a salsa dip, but he's gone. So whatever you think will be fine, I'll just drop it all off and scram as quickly as possible."
I decided that cream cheese would be fine and that everyone needed cream cheese at some point. I wondered if Black expected me to respond, but I couldn't think of anything other than more questions about his ridiculous telephone so I said nothing. He didn't appear to mind.
He grabbed a jumbo bag of tortilla chips off the rack and headed back to the register. I followed in his wake, and only then realized that I was somehow carrying everything and that I didn't really mind. It must have been another one of his things.
I didn't see him for three whole days. I hoped that he was sleeping.
The last time I ever saw him was July the fourth. To this day, I have never been more grateful to a pregnant woman for sending
someone out in the rain to buy coleslaw.
He came in, wet and wide awake. "Wotcher, Gian."
I smiled politely at him. It had been a slow night and he was my only customer for the last few hours. Not there was a constant stream of people at three in the morning, anyway. But the deluge of rain outside didn't help anything.
Black shook himself off like a dog, shaggy hair flying across his face. He wiped it back out of his eyes and tried to wring out his dress. It didn't help, but I now had a growing puddle on my nice, clean linoleum.
I raised my eyes from the spreading water. "What's on the menu for tonight?"
Black grinned, that same devilish grin that had probably caused untold amounts of havoc for his professors. "She wants horseradish."
"Horseradish," I repeated numbly. It was not a request I often heard.
"Horse-bloody-radish." Black was still grinning. "And we are going to find the largest, most vile jar of the stuff on the market. We could probably throw in some garlic and blue cheese, too, no one will notice. Oh, and she wants a tub of coleslaw."
I did not want to be 'James' at that moment. Nor his wife, for that matter, with Sirius Black as a friend. I'd never feel safe asking for a favour.
I sighed. "I'll see what we have." Horseradish was not among my most commonly purchased items and was stored in the very back, behind the meats, past the dairy, and part way into the store rooms. It was quite the hike, to say the least.
I left Black standing there at the entrance. I was tempted to hand him a mop and bucket to clean himself and the surrounding floor with, but decided that was not good customer-relations policy.
I was digging through some boxes in the store room - no radish-of-the-horse on the shelves, and only one clove of garlic - when I heard the bell announcing a customer ring.
Unusual. But then, July was a very popular month for women to be pregnant in. Maybe the October air had something in it. I wrapped my arms around a massive jar of horseradish and moved to stand up. Before I could so much as straighten,
something cold and metal was digging into my back and there was a voice in my ear.
"Don't move, old man, or you're going to be looking at your insides smeared across the wall."
I admit, I was terrified. I was scared to death. I did not want to be subjected to physical harm of any kind, and was in fear for my bodily safety. But somehow I was still struck at how poor that line was. Honestly.
I dropped the jar and it shattered at my feet. Not the most heroic gesture, but I maintain the idea was that the smell of the horseradish would throw him off and I could somehow wrestle the gun away from him. I raised my arms slowly.
"Don't turn around," he hissed into my ear. I saw the black cloth covering his face, and a glimpse of the shiny metal grip of the gun as he ran his hands through my pockets. He found what he was looking for and pulled out a key on a ring. He gave a little chuckle of triumph.
"Look, mister, this is just a small store. There's not much in the register..." It was three in the morning! How much money did this man think I had?
He slapped the back of my head. "Shut up." I shut up. He grabbed the back of my shirt and was about to turn my around when a soft click stopped him. The room had gotten darker, and I assumed it was because the door to the supply room had been shut.
"Old man, who else is working tonight?" The thug's grip tightened on the back of my uniform.
"No one! The bus boy only works day shifts, he goes to school..."
He shook me slightly. "I said shut it." Lord, was he strong! He could have picked me up and tossed me across the room. But he also spoke slowly and thickly, and I had to assume from several comments thus far that he had the IQ of a wine glass. "Is there someone else in. The. Store?"
He hadn't seen Black, then. Was he the one who shut the door, or had he run off like any sane person would have done? I was debating whether or not to answer - the criminal had told me several times to shut up, after all - when there was an exaggerated cough behind us.
Oh. I had never figured that Sirius Black was particularly sane, but it was a pleasant surprise all the same.
"Excuse me." The voice was Black's, and it came from the darkness of the shelves.
The thief cocked his weapon, moving it from my back to point around the room. "Who's there?" He loosened his grip on my shirt and I was able to edge slowly away. "Get out in the light."
The was a pause. "I'm going to go with 'no',"came Black's voice. There was a loud crack and suddenly Black was behind me, out of thin air. The thief whirled around.
Black cocked an eyebrow and raised a thin stick. "So, are you going to shoot me or not?"
Yes, this man was definitely not sane. I would have given his some warning about bullets and their effects, but the next few actions happened too quickly for me to jump in.
The thug turned and squeezed his trigger, but the bullets never reached their mark. The shot echoed loudly, and in a blink Black had disappeared with another crack and reappeared once again behind the thief. I caught his expression in the little ray of light entering the room, determined, darkly handsome, and more than a little bit amused. If the thug could have seen it, he would have turned tail and ran.
I was frightened it myself, and I wasn't even on the receiving end. Something in his eyes just spoke of how easy this seemed to him, as if confronting an armed robber was nothing out of the ordinary. Black had mentioned something about the police earlier, maybe this was his job. He was well-suited to it, practically oozing confidence and skill as he stood in the shadows behind the big man.
I'm not quite clear on what happened - sometimes I remember a bang, sometimes a blinding flash of white light, and sometimes I just think that the burly thief got decked and I got hit along the way - but I can always picture Black's dark
expression as he made his move. Then the memory goes fuzzy.
I woke up several minutes later, lying on the cold floor of my store rooms.
I sat up with a groan. There, silhouetted against the light of the door, was Black slipping something long and thin back into a
There was no sign of the thief.
Black offered me his hand and help me stand up. "What happened?" I said blurrily. I was slightly stunned from the - whatever.
He smirked. "Nothing much. Bugger's gone, though. Won't be back here any time soon, if he remembers being here at all."
I assumed that Black had done something that scared the life out of burglar, but the way he said it made me think it was something more. I didn't ask, fearing more 'telephone in the fireplace' answers.
"He left right after that. I haven't seen him since."
The boy in front of me - who was maybe sixteen. Maybe - nodded. "Thanks."
"Do you know him?"
The boy shifted his brown bag of goods. "He was my godfather." The boy seemed rather numb about it all.
Oh. Uh-oh. "Was?"
He looked down, under the black rims of his glasses. "He died in June."
I stood very still. "I see."
The tired-looking man with grey hair and young eyes standing beside of the boy spoke for the first time since they had come into my store. "Come on, Harry."
They moved to the door, now automated, and were about to step through when I called after them. "Wait."
The tired-looking old man who wasn't really old looked back at me.
"Is that - is your last name Potter?" I asked the boy, who hadn't looked back at me. He clutched his parcel - a jar of salsa and some pistachio ice cream - like it was a lifeline. I think I had upset him.
He raised his eyes. They were a startling green. "Yeah," he said softly. "The James he mentioned was my dad."
'Was' again. Poor kid.
I cleared my throat awkwardly. I was never one for the tender bits of life. "If you ever need anything at three in the morning, I'm still the only all-night grocer this side of London."
He smiled. "Thanks." And walked out the door, leaving a tinkling in the air as bells swung back and forth.
The boy and the man turned the corner, out of sight. For no reason at all, a strange urge came over me and I seized the moment. I hurried out the door after them into the bright light of the street.
The pair was just down the block and I hurried to catch up. But before they reached the next turning, though, they veered off into an alley. I paused at the alley's edge, just out of sight and listening carefully.
"All right, Harry?"
"Yeah," came the boy's voice. "Are you sure this is safe?"
"Of course. Now, hold on."
There was a loud crack. I jumped into the head of the alley, but they were gone.
Vanished into thin air.
I walked back to the shop, whistling as I went and admiring the sheer magic of the day.