July 26, 2009

The fluid was thick, rich, dark; everything that chocolate was meant to be. It flowed over the cool slab of white and grey marble, quickly rising its viscosity as it was worked beneath expert hands and tools. It was pulled, shapes, rolled, until it began to pebble and stick to itself. The hands deftly formed pieces of the now cooler chocolate into near perfectly shaped balls before setting them on a fine wire mesh set inside a tub of ice.

"Why the ice, Harrison?"

The green eyed man smiled warmly at the younger man that was watching him closely. "You'll see."

When the last of the still warm balls were set on the mesh, Harrison retrieved two unopened bottles of Pernod-Ricard Perrier-Jouet Champagne. He offered one to his sous chef with a mischievous glint in his gem-like eyes.

The assistant Chocolatier looked at the bottle with wide eyes. "Are you insane, Harrison? These are four thousand dollar bottles of champagne! Each!"

"Just open it, Rhys," The man ordered with a light chuckle.

"I'll do it if you won't," a lilting voice from the back of the kitchen called. A young brunette stepped out around a shelf of drying dishes while wiping soap suds onto her apron. "I'll never get another chance to open such an expense bottle of Champagne."

"Not on your life, Keandra," Rhys stuck his tongue out at the teen and started removing the gold foil from the yellow bottle. A moment later, after untwisting the wire holding the cork in place, he looked to his chef with unfettered doubt in his expression. "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," Harrison thumbed the cork out of his bottle and a second later a shower of foam shot from the bottle and into the tub of ice.

The second bottle followed and the trio watched as the sparkling liquor reacted with the ice and the foam expanded until it completely covered the still warm balls of chocolate.

"What the hell is that?"

The soft alto of Helen, the college freshman who managed the front register, drew the attention of the three kitchen staff for only a brief moment before they all turned back to the fizzing and frothing tub on the middle of the prep table.

"Oh, I'd say about a year's tuition?" Keandra told the other girl with a snicker.

"Now," Harrison put the empty bottle onto the table and pulled gently on the two hooks on one side of the still bubbling tub, "help me take them out, Rhys, and into the bed of cacao powder on the tray over there."

Following the older man's instructions, the wire mesh was lifted from the tub. Leaving a dripped trail of champagne, the two gingerly carried the near three dozen balls of liquor covered chocolate to a second table. They set it into the deep baking pan that was halfway filled with a dark powder with flecks of red. Taking a handful of the powder, Harrison started picking up the balls and dusting them until dry.

"You've never made these before," Helen commented as she lifted herself up to sit on the edge of the prep table. She dipped her finger in the champagne bathed ice and sucked it into her mouth.

"Hey," Harrison snapped, pointing a chocolate covered finger at her with a frown. "You're still two years from having that legally! Hands off or I'll find someone else to manage the counters out front."

Keandra smirked, while Helen held her hands up in surrender, and moved to pull herself up onto the large prep area beside the older girl. "So what made you play, Bossman?"

"It has been a while, Harrison," Rhys commented as he started cleaning up the marble slab while the Chocolatier worked on his newest creation. "Especially a truffle."

"I was inspired," green eyes sparkled as the man pushed back his fringe from his forehead with the back of his wrists, exposing the scar over his right eye briefly. "And it's not your typical truffle."

"Dare we ask by what you changed?" Keandra shuddered dramatically. "For all we know you're adding arsenic and rat poison and it would still be the best thing this side of god!"

"No poison, I promise," Harrison laughed. "Instead of heavy cream I used sour cut with butter milk."

"And the champagne?" Rhys whined, eying the empty bottles.

"Trust me," was all Harrison said as he started setting the finished confection on a wax paper covered tray.

"Will you tell me what you've added to the cacao mixture?" Helen stretched her neck to get a better view of the finished product. "I'd almost say chili pepper, but there seems to be an oilier sheen to it."

"Close," the last of the balls was set out and Harrison moved to a nearby sink to wash up. "Care to try one?"

"He's kidding, right?" Keandra and Helen were off the counter and next to the tray of chocolates in an instant, each one eying for the largest. After a moment, they selected one.

"Don't bite it, let it melt," Harrison instructed.

Rhys calmly walked over to the cacao and spice mixture and dipped a small amount onto his pinky finger. Touching it to his tongue he paused a moment and then gasped as he started turning a bright pink. "Habanera?! You are insane!"

Harrison grinned wickedly as the girls had just popped the treat into their mouths. Immediately their eyes widened and their faces started going red. But only a second later both girls moaned low and closed their eyes.

Helen grabbed hold of Keandra's arm. "Sweet merciful heavens," she gasped. "It's like the world's hottest stripper, naked and covered in chocolate all for me!"

Rhys arched an eyebrow at that and Harrison only laughed when Keandra nodded her agreement with the sentiment. "Rhys, sugar, you've got to try one!"

The sous chef glanced between the two girls and his chef before walking over to the cooling tray and took one of the perfectly formed balls. He scowled at the dare he saw in the other man's eyes and popped it into his mouth.

Seconds later he was leaning back against the prep table as his senses were overloaded. "Holy shit," he muttered around a mouth of melting chocolate.

"How do you do it?" Helen asked breathlessly.

"Magic," Harrison answered with a teasing smile as he started cleaning up. "Also, six years of studying under the best Chocolatiers in the world."

"It was the champagne," Rhys said after a moment of contemplation. "The still warm chocolate and the iced champagne; when it fizzed over the truffles it created bubbles of liquor that were absorbed by the cacao and habanera powder, leaving behind the tiny pockets of flavor."

"Brilliant," Keandra sighed and reached for another.

"Ah, ah, ah," Harrison intercepted her with a slap to her hand. "You know the rules."

"That's just wrong," Helen folded her arms over her chest. "You make dozens of them but you'll only ever let us have one."

"They're not for you," Harrison told her lightly. "They're for a customer in Phoenix. His order goes out in the morning and this will be his bonus. That is, of course, if you've remembered to pack his order."

Helen ran back to the front with a quiet squeak while Keandra went back to her dishes with a giggle. Rhys was smiling as he helped his boss clean up the kitchen for the night. "You still didn't answer what inspired you to play," he said casually though the implied question was anything but.

"I don't know," Harrison replied honestly. "I called Phoenix this morning to confirm the order and I spoke with the guy for a few minutes. After that, it was like I couldn't shake the feeling. There was something inside this brain of mine that the guy sparked for one reason or another."

"Magic," Rhys smirked.

Harrison scoffed. "It would definitely make cleaning this mess up easier."

"If only it were true," the sous sighed and the two men chuckled as they got back to work.

Ten minutes later, the kitchen was spotless and, armed with bottles of food grade sanitizers, both Rhys and Harrison were getting it clean at the microscopic level. Keandra was putting away the last of the now dried dishes and setting out equipment needed for the morning pastry and coffee rush. Helen drifted in from the front, six specially designed boxes carried carefully in hand.

"Here we are, Bossman," the soon-to-be college sophomore set them on the table. She laid them out, side by side, and flipped the lids open. Three rows of four chocolates filled each box, a single empty square waiting for the final piece above them.

Harrison put down his bottle of cleaner and grabbed a latex glove from the closest box. He snapped it on and approached the tray of still cooling truffles. He paused when he realized his three employees were watching with rapt attention. He smirked at them. "You know what, why don't you three head out? I can finish up in here."

Helen and Keandra exchanged looks and the younger teen offered her boss a sly smile. "Sure, Bossman, if we can have one more of those Savory Lava Bombs."

He arched an eyebrow at her. "Savory Lava Bomb?"

Rhys snorted in amusement. "It's a good name for them, Harrison."

"I suppose it is," Harrison agreed. "Fine. You can each have one more then I want you out of here for the night. I'll finish up."

The girls squealed and were gone out the front door with their pilfered confection before either man could blink.

Laughing at their antics, Rhys watched his friend and employer place a single Lava Bomb into the empty square. "Are you sure, Harrison? I don't mind sticking around and helping you clean up."

"It's just about done," the older man said distractedly as he finished the last box and started closing them. "I was thinking I might play for a while before I head home. You don't need to be stuck here watching and cleaning up after me."

"But who would be at your beck and call and eat your mistakes?" Rhys teased as he walked over to the supply shelves and retrieved six long strips of red and gold ribbon.

As he tied the ribbons around the boxes, Harrison smiled his appreciation. "I think I can manage, but thanks for the offer."

A few minutes later the two were heading out through the store's front and to the entrance. Harrison held it open for his sous chef as the younger man stepped out into the night. "Come with me," Rhys said suddenly, an air of worry evident in his voice. "We can head down to the Tavern and get a drink or ten."

"I don't drink that much, you know that."

"More for me then!" Rhys grabbed his boss' arm gently. "With what they found at the club… I don't like the idea of you here, alone, at night."

Harrison laughed derisively. "I'm a big boy, Rhys; I should be able to look after myself by now. I'll be twenty-nine in a few days and nothing's managed to kill me yet."

"It only takes once." Rhys tightened his grip. "Please?"

"All right," the Chocolatier nodded his consent with an affectionate smile. "I'll put the new batch in the chiller over night and lock up. I'll be right there. Order me a Fuller's 1845 Ale, okay?"

Rhys was grinning with satisfaction and started his way down the street. "Nah, I'll order you a Bud."

"Oy! None of your wimpy American Swill!" Harrison teased, letting his nearly faded British accent come out. "Fuller's or you'll never work in this town again!"

"You'd fall apart without me!" the sous chef shouted without turning around. "You know you love me, you great British fag you!"

Harrison was laughing as he closed the door and locked it. He was still chortling as he activated the storefront gate and it lowered automatically from the ceiling to lock into place over the display windows and front door.

Finding himself now alone in his sanctuary, Harrison Evans looked once around the kitchen before going into the office. He keyed in the code for his safe and opened it a moment later. Inside were the store's documents and ledgers, but it was what was hidden in the back he was reaching for. In a lip at the very back, just below the standard bottom of the safe, he retrieved the long slender piece of wood.

Eleven inches long, holly with a phoenix feather core, it was another extension of himself that he was incomplete without. He may have stopped being Harry Potter years ago, but he had never stopped being a wizard, and the wand – which he retrieved every night after being locked away first thing in the morning – was like a lifelong friend. It was warm and familiar and the only part that remained of his former life.

Pushing past the memories that would over take him if he allowed them, Harrison closed and sealed the safe again. Back in the kitchen he glanced around before stepping up to the boxes for delivery in the morning and the truffles waiting to be sold in the morning. Drawing his wand slowly over them, he incanted a single "Servare" and a near invisible layer of light fell across the confections. They would be preserved now, as fresh as the moment he finished making them, even if they were eaten ten years from now.

Another swish and flick of his wand had the heavy and awkward tray of chocolates floating into the large walk-in refrigerator. Knowing Rhys would be waiting for him, Harrison slipped his wand into the special pocket that was sewn into the sleeve of his denim jacket as he donned the garment.

Making sure everything was turned off, Harrison keyed in the alarm code and the warning chimes sounded. He opened the back door and stepped into the alley, his doorway illuminated by the spotlight he had installed only two months ago. He pulled the door closed and slipped his key into lock.

Before he could turn it, a black gloved hand grabbed his wrist and pulled it away from the key ring hanging from the door. Harrison cried out it surprise and pain as his arm was wrenched and twisted behind his back. A damp rag was clamped tightly over his mouth and nose, an acrid chemical smell burning his airways.

He struggled to free his wand arm but the grip was merciless as it pulled his arm further up his back, twisting his shoulder until he thought it would pop from its socket. The fingers of his other hand were clawing at the wrist near his head, digging into pressure points and what weak spots he knew, but the man holding him only hissed at the pain but would not release.

Harrison's vision began to blur and his struggles were weakening. He fought harder to free his arm from behind his back, twisting and turning his body as much as he could, but he was suddenly aware of a sharp pain in his shoulder. It was enough to momentarily clear away the clouds that were overtaking his thoughts. He knew he didn't have long before he lost consciousness.

With what strength he had left he kicked out. His heal connected solidly with the still unlocked door and it was forcibly slammed open. At once the alarm was blaring, but the sound was lost on Harrison.

His body gave in to the chemical dragging him toward the dark and the monster lurking therein.