Disclaimer: None of the characters are mine, save for the ones you don't recognize.
Author's Notes: Well it's done. I do hope you all are satisfied by the ending. This was definitely a pleasure to write and I thank you all for your reveiws, your kind words and your pushing for me to update sooner. I hope that this story has managed to serve its purpose. I hope it's managed to provide some sort of escape, to give us a little something to think of, and to maybe give us the idea that yes, the simple pleasures of sitting in a cafe drinking a coffee and talking to another does matter. We're all moving so quickly, and I think that we just need to sit down, lean back in our seats, shut our eyes and take a sip.
The art of illusion is the art of love,
and the art of love
is the blood-red heart of the world.
At times I think there's nothing else.
-excerpt taken from Pierre Corneille's The Illusion, (Adapted by: Tony Kushner)
Wow it was crowded. Through the window, Harry could see a gaggle of people crowding the café and as he crossed the street, he could see the busy silhouette of Rosie moving from table to table taking orders and placing cups in front of thirsty customers. Harry reached for the door then hesitated. Should he really go in there on what looked like to be one of the busiest days Nice Dream ever had? He did want a coffee.
The wind was picking up and the rain started to fall. Harry raised the collar of his jacket and stepped aside as the door swung open. Light and the loud chattering of people and clattering of cups on saucers and spoons on plates burst from the now open doorway. A man ran a hand along the length of his tie as another opened an umbrella. A third held the door open for Harry while he continued talking to his companions. Harry nodded his thanks and stepped into the café.
The door shut behind him with a tinkle and a waitress brushed by him. A tray loaded with cups and saucers missed him by a hair as Harry was forced to immediately jump back from its sudden swinging attack.
"Sorry, love!" the waitress called over her shoulder as she squeezed through the people lined up for a cup.
A young girl pushed past him on her way to the door and Harry tilted his shoulders to let her through. He sighed. So much for getting some relaxation. His table was surely taken and it looked like there was no other place to sit. Did he really want a coffee that bad? Yeah. He really did.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Harry squeezed his way through to the line.
"You chose quite an interesting hour to show up, dear," Rosie said to his back and Harry shuffled to the side, allowing her to pass.
"I didn't think it would be crowded at this time," he said as he followed her path around the tables to the bar.
"Here you are, dears," she said with a smile at the customers and she set the steaming cups on the table. The tray now empty, Rosie turned to look up at him over her shoulder. "Well, so did everyone else. We've got a bunch of tourists in from Canada and Sweden. A school they say. They'll be a while."
Rosie took another order and Harry paused to let an old woman through.
"Where you off to?" Rosie asked once she resumed her trek to the bar.
"Alaska. I hear it's out back past the espresso machine."
Rosie swatted his arm then nodded a passing greeting to a regular seated by the window. She tsked. "Cheeky now, aren't you? If you think you're getting one to go, you're crazy. You look knackered. Go on and have a seat over there then, they look just about done. Quick before someone else takes it. I'll bring you your cup. Go on! " Rosie nodded in the direction of the table to their right.
Rosie looked to the bar. "Coming!"
Harry slipped in between the customers and then tossed his bag onto the seat. He sniffed and shrugged off his jacket then glanced out the window before sliding onto the seat with a thankful sigh. The loud gibberish of the combined voices filled his senses and drowned out the otherwise soothing music. Harry leaned back into his chair, folded his hands over his chest and shut his eyes.
"You be needing the paper, son?" A voice broke through from behind him and Harry cracked open one eye lazily then blinked and swiveled in his seat. Ian looked at him with his usual frown. Harry sat up slightly.
"You don't need it?"
The old man shook his head and coughed into his hand. "Nah. I've read it all already. Nothing interesting anyway."
Harry shrugged in thanks and with a gnarled hand, Ian passed him the paper. Harry turned back around, placed the paper onto the table and looked at the front page. Same old. He looked behind him to the bar and saw Rosie placing cups on her tray. She deftly lifted it as if it weighed a feather and Harry's eyes wistfully locked onto the cups. His head followed her and her tray as she passed by his table. Damn. Okay, so he had to wait a bit more for his coffee. Harry shrugged his shoulders. He could wait.
He rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses and once again leaned back into his seat, folded his arms, and shut his eyes. His muscles relaxed as he breathed deeply. And you know, if one really got into it, the voices could actually become reassuring and quite possibly soothing even.
"Excuse me?" a soft voice drifted through his senses and his eyes snapped open.
"Is it alright if I could sit here?"
It took seconds for Harry to remember where exactly 'here' was, and good lord was she talking to him? The Woman looked expectantly down at him, a satchel slung over her shoulder and she clutched a dripping umbrella in her hand.
She looked rather wet.
Well it was raining outside, and water does naturally tend to cause some dampness even if one had an umbrella handy, but wow did she look amazing with hair frizzled and slightly wet strands still clinging to her forehead, and her cheeks were rosy from the cold, and she did look awfully tired so of course she could sit here, why would he even refuse? I mean all he had to do was say yes, say something, say anything for that matter because the long silence was becoming a bit awkward- No, hell it was fantastically awkward. So awkward that he was becoming red with embarrassment and she was smiling. Why was she smiling? Did he say something funny? Something witty? Charming? Profound? No, he hadn't said anything and maybe that was why she was smiling down at him because he looked a right fool for staying silent and not answering her question.
What was her question?
Suddenly from the table behind him, Ian began to have a coughing fit, although the hacking cough did sound something like a "Yes."
Yes? Oh! Er, "Yes!" Harry nearly shouted, placing his hands on the chair and pushing himself upright into what he hoped looked like a cool-laid-back position. "Erm," he cleared his throat. "Yeah, of course you can." he rasped offhandedly, his traitorous voice slightly squeaking He cleared his throat again and looked around for any sight of Rosie and the cup of salvation.
"It's very busy tonight, isn't it?"
His head snapped back to her and he was surprised to see that she was now sitting in front of him, her resting hand on her chin-Wait. I mean her chin resting on her hand.
Dear god, get it together now, you're starting to sound like Quirrell.
"Busy. I said it's busy, I mean, for a Friday morning that is."
Wasn't she supposed to be out? Gone somewhere and not get back until sometime next week? Damn Rosie and her bad information.
Maybe she changed her mind.
"Yeah," he said. It seemed that he was now only capable of dull monosyllabic answers. Hurrah.
"So has Rosie come by for your order yet?"
Oh come on, you bloody idiot. You can do better than that.
"Oh, yes well, it is crowded and I think they're understaffed today," she said glancing around.
"Yeah," Harry answered.
Yeah? That's it? Pathetic. You disgust me, Potter. You might as well just get up and leave. Forget the sodding coffee. Harry heaved an inward sigh and the Woman looked down at her hand as her fingers gently tapped against the table.
Harry opened his mouth to say something and-- "So," the Woman said. Harry shut his mouth. "Where have you just snuck out from?"
"Erm, work," Harry managed.
"Oh, so you're just here for lunch then. I'm the same thing, though it's school instead."
I know. He thought, though he figured that saying that aloud wouldn't come off so well, so he opted for an "Oh."
Things were looking grim. If there was ever a moment for coffee, now was definitely the time.
The Woman tilted her head slightly as she gazed at him and said, "I don't mean to be rude, but you're very closed mouthed, aren't you?"
Only when it comes to you.
Harry's lips twitched into a semblance of a smile as he said, "Not… all the time." He could feel the heat in his cheeks. Wonderful. That'll definitely reel her in.
And like an angel sent from a merciful god, Rosie appeared at their table. She apologized for making them wait so long and took the Woman's order.
"I'll just have a small mocha today, Rosie, thank you."
Rosie nodded and turned to Harry. "Your usual?"
Before Harry could say yes or nod, the Woman spoke up saying, "Yes, he'll have his usual." Then she looked him in the eye as she said, "Black. Regular. Is that right?"
Harry's eyes never left hers. "Yeah," he said. "That's right."
"Well then, I'll be right back with your drinks," Rosie said with a twinkle in her eye as she looked from one to the other. Then they were alone once more though this time, Harry was far more alert and very much himself.
"You knew. This whole time, you knew."
"Of course I knew. You weren't very subtle about it were you?"
Harry smiled. "No, I guess I wasn't." He leaned forward, no longer feeling awkward and he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a finger. "What gave me away?"
She leaned back in her chair and studied him for a moment, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips. "I think I started to suspect when you had several coughing fits as you passed my table."
"Oh hell, did I really do that?" he said, running a hand through his hair in embarrassment.
She laughed. "You did. I didn't know if I should express concern or continue ignoring you until you approached me properly."
"Well, clearly you went for the ignoring bit."
She folded her hands and rested her chin on them, eyes alight with amusement. "Yes I did, didn't I?"
Rosie came back, set their drinks on the table and left.
"Did you really have to follow me on the bus though?" she said adding two spoonfuls of sugar into her cup.
"Isn't that sweet enough?" he asked, watching her scoop up another spoonful from the bowl.
She held his gaze as she silently sent the spoonful tumbling into her drink. She stirred the contents, placed the spoon gently on her saucer and brought the cup to her lips. Harry winced as he watched her swallow an ample amount and she put the cup down. The Woman bit her lip and raised her eyes to the ceiling for a moment as if allowing her taste buds to settle. "No." she said and picked up the spoon in the bowl once again. Harry laughed.
"So did you enjoy my class?" she asked.
Harry raised his hands up in defence. "Alright, I'm sorry, what else do you want me to say?"
She took a sip of her coffee.
"God, how can you drink that?"
"With much practice." She pushed her cup across the table and over to him. "Would you like a taste? It's not my usual but it's close enough," she teased.
Harry smiled. So she had remembered that, well why wouldn't she? "No thanks. Knowing your taste in coffee, one sip and my tongue will disintegrate."
She sniffed and took her cup back. "It's not that sweet."
Harry raised his eyebrows at this.
"Oh come off it, you've had it before and your tongue is perfectly alright."
Harry raised his eyebrows again and it earned him a laugh, which pleased him very much. He kept his eyes on her as he drank from his mug and was interested to note that her eyes immediately faltered for a moment going to rest on her hands, which seemed to fidget. She looks up at him again then looked away and shifted in her seat. She's nervous. This realization made him insanely happy and his eyes darkened.
"Please don't look at me like that," she murmured and looked up at him through her lashes.
Harry blinked and immediately shifted his gaze. "Sorry," he said. The conversation seemed to dwindle now until all that was left for them to do was to sip their drinks and steal glances at each other. Once their gazes met however, their eyes would quickly flit to another part of the room.
"So," he said as he toyed with his deep green mug. "What do we do now?"
She met his stare with her own and her lips parted as if unsure of what to say. The Woman looked down at the table then back up at him, and she held out her hand. "I'm Hermione," she said.
Harry took her outstretched hand with his own.
"Harry," he said.
They shook hands. He grinned at her, and she smiled back.
"So what are you studying?" he asked her.
It was her smile that caught his eye. Her smile had drawn him in, pulled him closer, and held him it its pearly grip. So naturally she was the one that approached him. Sitting there listening to her talk about her program with much enthusiasm, eyes bright with excitement and hands gesturing as she spoke, Harry gazed at her intently. He took a sip of his coffee and let the hot liquid slide down his throat.
She had dark circles under her eyes, her hair was a frizzled bushy mess, and her taste in coffee made his tongue want to shrivel to the size of a pea.
And still, he found her to be captivatingly, achingly, lovely.
And Harry watched her. And he listened. And he laughed, and he smiled, and out of the blue he was struck with a sudden revelation that burrowed into him and never surfaced: Fuck. He thought. That's the one for me.
And it was as if at that moment she could read his mind, for she paused in her speech, took a sip from her cup, and gave him a smile.