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Author’s introduction: Hello, and welcome to Not just a Barmaid! I’d just like to say that the substance use/abuse and language warnings are very applicable to this story, purely to create a more believable atmosphere (it’s a pub xD). Please enjoy! And IT WILL GET BETTER. Trust me. (I also do not own Harry Potter-all credit to the wonderful JKRowling.)
He moved through Britain, bright and dark, like ale in glass.
I saw him run across the fields, towards the Gamekeeper, the Poacher and the Blacksmith’s Arms.
He knew the Ram, the Lamb, the Lion and the Swan,
White Hart, Blue Bull, Red Dragon, Fox and Hounds.
I saw him in the Three Goats’ Heads, the Black Bull and Dun Cow, Shoulder of Mutton, Griffin, Unicorn.
Green Man, beer-born, good health, long life, John Barleycorn.
'John Barleycorn' by Carol Ann Duffy. Best ever poem in praise of British pubs. Shame The Three Broomsticks wasn't mentioned, huh?
Days Like These are what I live for.
I’m never happier than when the pub is like it was today. The jokes were flowing faster than the Butterbeer, the atmosphere a buzzing swirl of humour and friendship; warmth and wishing.
It had snowed fiercely outside and hordes of shoppers had invaded the cramped, but cosy Three Broomsticks. Even without the persuasion of a snowstorm, it was just the thing you did when you came to Hogsmeade. You didn’t even question the well-trodden path your feet were taking you down; the brightly painted sign up ahead was usually as familiar on your eyes as your own front door. It was a place to ignore the real world with its wars and worries, a place to put your feet up for a while and relax with friends, and a pint of firewhiskey. Because in the end, what more could you want from life?
“Let’s grab a quick Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks!”
“Yeah, go on then. We can get the quills later.”
“It’ll be nice to have a chat with Rosmerta.”
I welcomed anyone into my pub. In here, there were no rivalries or hierarchies. No-one was turned from the doorstep. While inside these four, strong walls, friend greeted foe, young met old and sisters talked to brothers without argument or slight.
It was everything that I had ever worked for; to create this place of absolute refuge for the people suffering from the trials of everyday life. And the tests were getting harder, the dangers more imminent. People were dying and disappearing; screams often filled the night air.
But as long as The Three Broomsticks remained standing, the people here would always have hope. And the most important thing needed to live on. Laughter.
Groups of Hogwarts children crowded the tables near the windows; kissing, chatting and drinking the exams away. I recognised a few faces; Marlene McKinnon was on Sirius Black’s lap, while James Potter messed around and teased them. The rest of the ‘Marauders’ were lolling about with various girls, and I also saw Frank Longbottom, a sweet boy who sometimes stayed behind to chat-going a bit pink in the face.
Nearer the back of the room sat the serious drinkers and frequent pub goers, downing whole tankards in one. Their eyes were bloodshot and they were the suppliers of a large portion of the raucous laughter that merrily filled the air. Arms were waved about wildly, drinks were slurped, compliments were exchanged.
I smiled contentedly from my position behind the counter. I could tell it was going to be a deliciously rowdy night. As well as delighting my customers, the tempestuous atmosphere inside the pub also made me to feel so alive. And living was a very good idea at the moment, when we all had so little time left to be sure about. It was unusually busy tonight, even for a Saturday, and I wished that I could freeze myself into this moment forever. Because when everyone went, there wasn't much to look forward to. I live for moments like these, and they were becoming more and more rare.
I was distracted as the huge, oak door flung open with a rumbling roar of greeting from the giant man who filled up the entire space; making the wood groan in protest. I beamed as Rubeus Hagrid, my most devoted customer, squeezed his enormous frame into the building. “Rosmerta, m’dear!” he bellowed in a fond voice, “You wouldn’ mind getting meh a couple’a pints o’ firewhiskey on a col’ day like this, would you?”
“Never do, never shall, Rubeus.”
“Ah, yer a star.” I pulled out a glass from under the tabletop as he ambled over and started chatting to me about his new dog, Fang. “You shoulda seen ‘is little face, the fers time he climbed outta the basket!” Hagrid’s eyes started to water, “His li’l paws…no bigger ‘an meh fingernail!” I handed him his steaming drink, worried that he’d start sobbing over the counter.
“He sounds gorgeous,” I console, “Bring him round some time so I can see him?” Hagrid nodded enthusiastically and wiped his eyes with a saucepan-sized hand, before heading off with his drink to the tables at the very back. I turned to my bright, young employee, Melma.
“How’re things going?”
“All fine. Haven’t even had any spillages today.” Melma grinned in response as she picked up a tray of drinks.
“Ah.” I looked over as the door swung open again, blasting us with a shower of snowflakes. “We’ve got a large family coming in; kids and all. I’m betting there’ll be quite a few before this night’s over.” I winked.
“How much d’you wanna bet?” asked Melma impishly. I raised my eyebrows.
“A tumbler of Firewhiskey?”
“You’re on.” I watched as she hitched up her skirt a little more before strutting off towards the Hogwarts lot, and shook my head with a smile.
The family that had come in had plonked themselves down on the central table by now, so I deftly manoeuvred my way over. The small boy was tugging on his granddad’s sleeve. “Grampa, if it’s your birthday, why aren’t you putting candles on a cake?” he pouted confusedly, “I like cake.”
“Well, Jonny, I don’t think the candles would quite fit, to be honest.” The old man chuckled heartily.
“So how old are you?”
“Older than you.”
“No, how old are you actually? In numbers!”
“62 today!” the man gave in. Jonny’s mouth made a little ‘o’.
“Wow, that’s old. Why aren’t you dead?”
I decided that it was probably time to cut in. “A birthday, hmm?” I smiled warmly and addressed the grandfather, “Many happy returns.”
“Thank you.” He nodded graciously. There were 7 people gathered round the table in all, and I could tell that quite a few drinks were going to be ordered.
“What would you all like to drink?” Probably the most frequent words that ever come out of my mouth. I memorised the confusing orders, and made my way back over to the counter. Melma was still chatting to James Potter, so I began pulling out the right liquids myself. By the time I’d finished, the whole bar was covered with drinks. I piled them onto trays and balanced them carefully along one arm, chatting to Betty Higgins as I went. But when you’ve been doing it for as long as I have, multitasking just becomes second nature.
Soon enough, the music started playing. Tipsy songs joined the cacophony of noise that had risen up in Hogsmeade that night. Checking that the back tables weren't about to explode with mischief, I left Melma in charge for a while and perched myself on the end of a table to talk to Caradoc Dearborn and Emmeline Vance, who had just got engaged the other day.
“Bella!” Emmeline smiled when she saw me, and moved up to make room.
“Emmeline. Caradoc! How are you both?”
“Very, very well, if you get what I mean,” Emmeline winked at me then glanced at Caradoc through her eyelashes. I muffled a silent scream of laughter as Caradoc blushed profusely.
“What the fuck, Emms?”
“You know I love you, Raddy.” Emmeline slapped his arm playfully, “So, how’s business, Bella?”
“Open as usual!”
“Hell, yeah," Caradoc nodded. "You’re doing a bloody brilliant job keeping the Broomie open, in times like these, Rosmerta. With the horrible possibility of never making it back again, people are becoming too scared to leave the safety of their homes. I'm surprised it's still so busy round here."
"That's why we've decided to get married early," Emmeline chipped in, her blonde hair brushing the table as she leant in towards us. "Nothing's certain anymore. It's like the whole country's holding their breath, waiting for something to happen. But we just don't know what." She glanced up at Caradoc and I saw the love and devotion for each other mirrored in both pairs of eyes. I smiled, a little sadly, and left the couple alone.
By about 1 in the morning, the last few stragglers had tottered towards the door. This was a fairly early night by comparison, but I was still yawning as I locked the till and started to clean up. Melma waved her goodbyes about half an hour later. “See you tomorrow, Bella. Oh, and I guess I owe you a Firewhiskey!”
I laughed my last laugh of the day. “Bye, Melms.” Then the door slammed behind her and the lights dimmed.
When everything was tidied away, counted, sorted and picked up, I patted the counter fondly one last time before climbing the old stairs round the back up to my little flat. I sat on the bed, clutching a mug of hot chocolate, and listened to the sound of my heartbeat thrumming through the building.
After talking and laughing and chatting with friends all day, it was even clearer to me that underneath it all, I was terribly, horribly alone. I watched in disbelief as a hot, salty tear traced its way down my rouged cheek and landed with a plop into my drink. And then I chuckled softly to myself at the pathetic position I had allowed myself to sink into for that one moment. You can have tears of laughter. Tears of joy are allowed too. But not real tears. Real tears and I didn’t mix. I never cried. Because I never had the justification to cry. I had all my heart’s desires in my pub, and my friends, and this warm drink in my hands. I had nothing whatsoever to cry about, and too many tears had already been shed in the short time this war had been raging. My tears hadn’t earned the right to join the ocean of proper, griever’s tears.
And so I stopped drinking that mug of hot chocolate, and switched to Firewhiskey instead.
Edit 17/4 (where has the year gone?)- Thank you to Aiedail for pointing out that it's a tumbler of whiskey, not a pint! (I wouldn't know, I don't drink :P)
Huge thank you to Helen, my awesome beta :)
A/N: Hello! Ok, wow. Chapter 2. I’m gonna take a deep breath because now this has to live up to expectations. I don’t think it does! *hides* But please read, review and tell me what you think! I don’t like the beginning but the end is ok :)
God knows what is hiding in this world of little consequence
Behind the tears, inside the lies
A thousand slowly dying sunsets
God knows what is hiding in those weak and drunken hearts
I guess the loneliness came knocking
No one needs to be alone.
People help the People by Birdy.
Days With Silences
Many people liked silences; being surrounded my solitary thoughts floating like gossamer threads in the complicated webs of their minds. But to me a silence was just a curse of loneliness, another way to feel as if it was just you against the world. But that was okay, because as long as tomorrow always came, as long as there was a world to be against, there would always be something more to hold onto.
There were a lot of different silences that seemed to fill up people’s lives. Awkward ones, peaceful ones, terrifying ones. Lonely ones. They were the complete opposite to everything I loved most about life; a walking contra version to my existence. Because a silent pub wasn’t really a pub at all.
And then the worst silence of all was the impenetrable silence of death. No noise would ever again perturb the ears of a corpse, or be laughed from their motionless lips. In death it was not lack of noise, but lack of anything. And even when you’ were screaming your father’s name, trying to get him to fucking wake up, you still could not break through the eerie calm filling your ears. And then the first tongues of fire began licking through the floor by your feet, rising up in a dark cloud of smoke, smothering you. You choked and tried to crawl away, but the door was blocked and the silences were waiting, glaring, menacing.
I woke from the nightmare abruptly, heart racing. It was the same one that I got whenever I had been drinking in the evening before. I lay under the tangled covers for a moment, shaking and exhausted before I forced myself out of bed. It was already later than I usually allowed myself. But the images from the dream were still burnt into my mind; I could feel the heat from the flames swirling around my bare ankles. My palms were sweating as I stood, frozen, in the middle of the room. Then I snapped out of it and life came into focus again.
I tied my tangled hair into a rough bun and took a shaky peek out the window. The snowstorm from yesterday had finally settled, transforming the normally average-looking Hogsmeade into a village of fairytales and gingerbread cottages, covered with a generous sprinkling of sugar. No-one moved outside; the snow was untouched on the ground. A white blanket of blandness that stretched on and on into the horizon.
After pulling on a shawl, I padded softly downstairs into the main bar area and turned the radio on quickly to bring a little life into this mute world. The sound squealed through the room in a tinny, plastic voice and I winced, fumbling for the volume control. My hand slipped and the machine fell to the floor with a reverberating crash.
And so I experienced one of those moments of such frantic frustration that I thought I might implode with the shittiness of it all. Why did the stupid thing have to fall off? Why couldn’t it have stayed on the side like every other goddamn item. Why was it so quiet round here? I flexed my hands into claws and stifled a scream of annoyance. Bloody muggle radio. It didn’t do its job, and then it broke. Story of most objects in this world.
Ignoring the shattered innards of the radio, I ate and showered and dressed mechanically, desperate to get out and speak to another human being again, to rid myself of this horribly angsty morning. As soon as I was ready, I flung the front door open and breathed in the crisp, cold air with a sigh of satisfaction. Cold weather meant lots of customers again tonight; war or no war, people still needed warmth.
The snow was ridiculously deep; the ground had disappeared beneath layers of marshmallows swallowing up my feet. And with every new step, I punctured the fluffy surface in exactly the same way; clomping my large footprints across the flawless vision of white. It was a shame really, that snow had to get stood on.
But then I turned around to look at my pub, and all other thoughts were abolished. The storm must have been stronger than I realised.
The beautiful sign, hand painted by my father, had crashed to the ground and now lay in shattered pieces sunk into the snow. The right window was cracked, and a section of the back wall had crumbled away, chiselled away as if it was butter, not brick. My shoulders drooped slightly as I inched forwards to check how bad it really was.
It was bad.
The sign was the Broomie’s personality. Her identification; the heart of everything she meant to me. It had always just been up there; part of the landscape of my childhood. Pulling out my wand, I tramped forwards. “Let’s see if we can get you back up again,” I muttered, fingering one shard. I waved my wand over the pieces, desperately hoping for them to become whole again, but nothing happened. It must’ve been the charm my parents had put on the place when they inherited her; it prevented any kind of magic from being used directly on the building, to protect against vandalism.
Curse them. How was I going to fix this? I sat down in the snow heavily, sinking through the cold, fluffy stuff until I was buried up to my waist. It was quite comfortable to be honest.
“You ok, Bella?” I jumped at the sound of my name and shuffled round to see Aberforth Dumbledore looking at me concernedly through piercing, blue eyes. His hair was a shaggy mess as usual, and the familiar crooked smile was determinedly fixed upon his face despite the anxiety.
“Abe!” I beamed. “I’m fine. Just…you know…” I gestured towards the shattered sign. “Thinking.”
“Yeah, I saw.” His bushy eyebrows creased as he glanced at the wreckage. “It don’t look pretty.” I chewed my lip,
“There’s a charm to prevent use of any-“
“Magic directly upon the building. You told me.”
“Oh. Right.” I laughed slightly to break the momentary silence.
“Nothing. I just don’t like silences.”
“Yeah. Quiet. Lack of talking? Loneliness?” Did I actually just say that?
“Drink? No!” I turned my back on him and brushed a few snow-covered bangs out of my face.
“Actually I was gonna ask if you needed help clearing up.”
“Oh.” I blushed a wine-red. Fuck! Now he thought I was some sort of alcoholic too. What a wreck. And to be honest, I hadn’t drunk like that in a long time.
“Some help would be great,” I finally said, standing up. Abe was looking pretty confused at this point, and I didn’t blame him. “You got a stepladder anywhere? We’re going to have to do this the good old muggle way.”
“Yeah, somewhere back at the Hoggie.” I smiled. We’d had this private joke for a few months, the way we both called our separate pubs the Broomie and the Hoggie.
“How’s the Hoggie doing? Oh, and someone’s about to chuck a snowball at you.” Abe span round, glaring, before he realised that I’d tricked him. I quickly scooped up some snow and flung it in the older man’s face, cackling. Anything to alleviate the awkward atmosphere that had thickened the air between us.
“You little-” he shivered and wiped it out of his hair. “That’s bloody freezing. Do you want me to help you or not?”
“How’s the Hoggie doing?” I insisted.
“Same old dubious customers.”
“You get on well with your dubious customers. Possibly too well.”
He lowered his voice, “Yeah, but I’ve been getting a fair few Death Eaters lately. No-one serious of course, but still, it isn’t good…Not that I give a rat’s arse about this fucking war. Bloody inconvenience though.”
“I haven’t had any Death Eater’s. Shit, they’d scare away every customer.” I groaned. Abe just shrugged and prepared to apparate away,
“I’ll go get that stepladder.”
After a lot of hammered thumbs, swearing and laughter (all from Aberforth), we managed to get the pub looking almost back to normal. It was shoddy work of course, but until I found the resources to call in a professional, it would have to do. At least the snow meant more customers, even if it was the cause of all this is in the first place.
I leant back on the stepladder to catch my breath, and admired how lovely the Broomie really looked in the snow. Icicles adorned the rooftop as a crown of diamonds, glistening in the light reflected off miles of snow. The white flakes had settled over the windows too, hiding the cracks and damage better than I could ever do with my silly muggle tools. I smiled at Abe, “You were a brilliant help. Couldn’t have done it without you.” He blushed slightly.
“Yeah…well. Can’t have you miserable all day. You’re the only person keeping Hogsmeade upbeat and hopeful, Bella.” I shook my head with a heavy heart. I became an irresponsible wreck each night when everyone else returned home. I couldn’t even keep myself upbeat, never mind a whole village.
“You’re sweet, Abe, but that’s not true. Come inside- we’ll have a drink.” I silenced his protests with a warm hand upon his arm.
It was still as cold as ever inside, and Abe immediately lifted his wand to light a fire in the ancient, old hearth. I flinched backwards as the roaring flames flickered to life.
“What’s up?” Abe sat down stiffly on a couch.
“Don’t usually light fires unless it’s necessary.”
“I kind of think this weather justifies necessary.”
“I suppose…” I took the seat furthest away from the fire though, anxiously watching to check that a spark didn’t fly out and set the Broomie ablaze. The only thing worse than silence was fire. Fire was untameable, unpredictable. It devoured everything in its path, including pubs.
It was the faithful dog unpredictably turning on its master, the sunken ship that was meant to be unsinkable. But there wasn’t much anyone could do about it by then; you were gone. Lost beneath the rolling waves of flame. No resurrection awaited you from the ashes, as it would for the death-cheating phoenix. Melting you like wax, running your face into one big blurry mess of a picture. Burning and swirling and tearing; and you were screaming for it to stop, but underneath it all, fire is cold. Not hot. Cold and heartless. Like this room.
Abe glanced at my panic stricken expression, and put the fire out with a simple flick of his wand. “You confuse me,” he admitted. I smiled apprehensively, not sure how to reply to such a blunt statement.
“Want to know what’s not confusing?”
“If you’re going to tell me, then yes.”
“Butterbeer.” I got out two bottles and handed one to him, watching the corner of his mouth twitched with amusement.
“That’d be true.”
We chatted amiably for a while, both taking sips of the warming drink and laughing as my cat ventured inside, yowling and covered in snow.
“Come on, Primrose!” I crooned, patting the sofa. “Come and have some Butterbeer!” Abe snorted as the cat spat at me before haughtily stalking off. “Haven’t a clue why I bought that cat,” I airily announced, even though that wasn’t strictly true.
We spent a happy hour in each other’s company before I realised that I had to set some tables out for Sunday Lunch. I didn’t expect many people to turn up until later in the evening, but you always had to be prepared.
“I’ve got to start getting some tables ready. You’re welcome to stay a while longer if you’d like?” I asked hopefully.
“I’d probably better be off too. But if you ever need someone to talk to…” he dissected me with those freakishly bright eyes, “I’ll be over at the Hoggie.”
“Thanks for everything Abe,” I gave him a brief hug, breathing in his fresh cologne. He hugged me back, his arms going round my waist before I pulled away.
I was right, only one person came for lunch today. I glanced up from my favourite job of polishing the glasses to see a tall, well-groomed man step neatly inside. His dark brown hair was fashionably arranged over a prominent nose and eyes so dark they were almost black. He carried an important looking briefcase, and I was certain that I had never seen him before in my life.
“Good morning sir. What can I get you?” I offered him a friendly smile which he frowned off my face.
“I’m here to see a Miss Rosmerta, owner of this business,” he pulled out a piece of paper, “The Three Broomsticks-restaurant and public house.” I nodded,
“I’m Miss Rosmerta. But please, call me Bella. What are you here for?”
“Now look here, I really don’t have time for your stupid games.” He smirked, his gaze travelling up and down my body in far too a familiar manner for my liking. “You can only be about 20-something. I wish to speak to the real Rosmerta, not some child.”
“Excuse me,” I put down the dirty cloth and folded my arms. “But who exactly are you?”
“Garrett Brandon, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Data Collection Sector. I must speak with Miss Rosmerta upon official business.” He placed his briefcase down on the bar.
“I am Miss Rosmerta.”
“And what evidence do you have?” He raised one eyebrow as I frowned, taken aback. No-one had ever asked me for proof that I was me before.
“What’s going on here?”
He sighed, “You really are annoying, aren’t you. Just notify Miss Rosmerta of my presence. Hurry along there.” What a snobby brute. But I swiftly climbed the stairs, worried about leaving this man on his own in my precious bar, and rummaged around for some kind of identification. I laid eyes on my Gringotts vault key. I shouldn’t have to be doing this.
“Here,” I was thrusting it under his nose a few minutes later. “This proof enough?” He knocked it aside and sat down as if he owned the place, lazily picking up one of the flowers I had carefully set out and plucking the petals off one by one. I watched them float down to rest forlornly on the floor.
“Right, so. I need to ask you a few questions, Bella.” The sudden use of my christian name was now the equivalent to a slap in the face. He started twisting the stalk of the flower into a tight spiral, watching contentedly as it snapped off altogether.
“Why?” I asked, frowning.
“The Ministry wishes to keep tabs upon everyone who runs social businesses, so that they can determine no dubious or illegal activities are taking place.” I thought of Abe, and bit my lip worriedly.
“What sector did you say you’re from? Data Collection? Does that even exist?” Garrett smirked,
“The new Head of Department introduced many new things.” Seeing how You-Know-Who practically controlled the Ministry now, I was more than a little concerned. But I sighed,
“Ok. Ask me your questions.” Garrett unrolled some parchment.
“How long have you been in charge of your ah, business?” He glanced pointedly at the peeling wallpaper and faded furniture. I struggled to contain my fury, and answered through a tight-lipped smile.
“Nearly ten years, but it was my parent’s before mine. I helped out here my whole life.” Garrett noted something down before steaming ahead with the next question.
“What house where you in at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?”
“I…didn’t go to Hogwarts. My family couldn’t spare me, the pub took up our undivided attention.” He rubbed his nose superiorly, and I glared. How dare he judge me.
“You have employees also working here?”
“One. Melma Harris.”
“Describe your family and their current whereabouts.”
“None of my family live in England anymore; my mother and sister moved back to Italy, our home country. My sister didn’t want the pub, she resented it. I couldn’t live without it, so I stayed. Everyone in Hogsmeade new them well and misses them.” I smiled, lost in past memories. Garrett’s bored voice grabbed my attention back again.
“And your father?”
“Oh…” I swallowed, “My father was killed.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” I stood up abruptly, feeling the familiar feeling of nausea rising.
“Miss Rosmerta, I highly advise that you answer every question truthfully and properl-“
“Please leave, Mr Brandon. Send me these questions if you must, but just…stop.” I closed my eyes and breathed deeply.
“You may regret this, Miss Rosmerta.” His eyes glinted strangely and I shivered under the gaze, but took my place behind the bar.
“I have customers to serve, Mr Brandon. If you please-“I pointed towards the door. Garrett stuck one hand in his pocket and swaggered out. His face was unnervingly gleeful; as if he’d just won a million galleons.
I returned to polishing the glasses. Rinse, dry, wipe, buff. It was a therapeutic and familiar pattern that I thoroughly enjoyed, seeing it more as a hobby than a chore. You can tell a lot about a person by what they drink. One sugar or two? How about you, madam? Firewhiskey, Butterbeer. One pint or four?
Garrett Brandon drank nothing at all.
Pleaseee review? :)
It had been a fairly ordinary week, if you could call my jumble of organised chaos ordinary. Quiet days, sometimes my solitude interrupted by Emmeline or Abe. Busy, alive nights that kept a steady pulse beating from the heart of The Three Broomsticks.
The snow had turned to a horrid, grey slush that everyone wished would just melt away. People were subdued and miserable, trying to get lost in separate worlds instead of coming out and facing the real, dangerous one. But apart from the odd Death Eater, things had settled down a little in Hogsmeade; most of the action was concentrated elsewhere.
The highlight of the week was that Molly Weasley had invited me down to her village for lunch today. Molly was like a second mother to me, only one that was far more accessible and easier to talk to than my real mum in Italy. She was also far younger than my real mum. A big sister, I suppose. When my parents still ran the Broomie together, they had provided her and Arthur Weasley with a night of shelter so they could make their plans to elope together. I remembered carrying over a large jug of water to them, and insisting they eat a whole plate of biscuits. I also remember Molly’s perfume, the way she smiled so kindly, and the sweetest laugh that came out of her mouth just before they stepped out into the forbidding night.
My father was killed a week later. As soon as she heard, Molly risked everything by coming back to us. She hugged me for a long, long time. It seemed like a long time anyway, as no-one had ever, ever hugged me like that before. So confidently. It was just a hug; no words were spoken. I think she knew that condolences wouldn’t bring him back, wouldn’t appease the mind-numbing pain. The horrible, hollowing sensation. But the hug was perfect.
Newly motivated, I quickly undressed and stepped into the shower. I suddenly couldn’t wait to see Molly, talk about everything and nothing. I needed to unburden myself about the scenario with Garrett Brandon-maybe she knew him. Arthur did work at the Ministry after all. I drew a heart carelessly onto the steamed up glass of the door, contemplating what was sure to be a lovely day ahead.
There was suddenly the worrying sound of a window opening from outside, and it had me scrambling frantically for my towel, certain that someone was attempting to break in. I never got as far as the door, however, before two larger-than-life owls flew into my face with respective screeches. I tripped over and ended up with my face next to the drain watching the puddle of soapy water gushing away, making little spirals as it neared the ominous drain.
I generally thought of myself as a rather calm person, but two large owls flying into my shower early on a Monday morning really wasn’t the nicest thing for my tired nerves to have to deal with. Especially after last night, when a rather terrifying old woman had fainted, then whacked me with her walking stick when she woke up. And I really thought that dealing with a fainting old crone was enough for anyone to have to cope with in an entire lifetime.
Then I remembered the hundreds of people who were dead because of the war, the thousands of broken hearts, the millions of tears that were probably mixed up right this moment with my dirty shower water down a drain.
My dad had always told me that dealing with things is what makes a lifetime.
And so I turned the shower off with a resilient sigh, and shooed the owls into my bedroom. The letters attached to their legs were slightly damp, but still readable at least. I scanned through the familiar writing. The first was from my mother, asking if I was ok, how the pub was, to stay safe and remember to give myself a rest every now and then. She sounded worried about the state of the war, and gave me an update on my sister’s new job as a model. Apparently she’d had a bad break up with a boyfriend. Sounded like Valerie.
The second was from Valerie herself. She talked about herself a lot, mentioned the boyfriend’s name and a load of other names that I assumed were those of her gossipy, annoying friends who I’d only met once, and never wished to do so again.
And then I had a slight heart attack. She wanted to come and stay with me for a while.
...I’m sooo sad about the break up, and I know you’ll understand Bella! I can’t stand being in the same town as Antonio, and now he’s dating Anna… I can’t help feeling like she’s beaten me because she’s skinnier and prettier. I just want to get a change of scene for a bit! And I miss The Two Broomsticks, haven’t seen it in a while! We’ll have some cosy, girly chats by the fire!
God, she was unbelievable. The Two Broomsticks? If she thought I was going to let her waltz in and make herself at home, then she was hopefully going mad, or was drunk when she wrote this letter. Didn’t she realise there was a war going on in this country? And I was far too busy for ‘cosy, girly chats by the fire.’ Especially by a fire of any shape or form.
No, she’d have to stay put in Italy with mum.
I sighed and stored the letters safely in a draw, before opening my wardrobe and looking for something to wear.
The green silk of the dress swished past my legs, delightfully soft against my skin. I had had little opportunity to wear something this pretty, and relished the feeling of elegance that came with a nice dress.
The pub that Molly had asked me to meet her at was in a part of Ottery St Catchpole that I didn’t know particularly well. I waited anxiously by the door for Molly, aware that I was attracting quite a few inappropriate stares, and feeling a tad overdressed. The people around me seemed grubby and weary, even hostile. I looked very out of place, swathed in folds of emerald green fabric. I fidgeted with my fingernails.
“Anyone ever told you not to bite your nails?” laughed a familiar voice from behind me.
“My mother, many times over.” Then I span round and smiled happily at Molly, who was standing in the doorway looking cheerfully out of place amongst the dull colours of her surroundings. Her flaming red hair had been cut short, and she wore bright orange dungarees and a blue cardigan that looked strangely attractive together.
“Oh, you look gorgeous!” she exclaimed, taking in my dress briefly before I threw my arms around her neck.
“I’ve missed you so much! I hate this war.”
“Me too.” Molly sighed, but hugged me back. “Let’s go and get a drink, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Of course, you’re quite the expert with pubs and drinks by now. God save the landlord if he doesn’t meet your standards!” she winked.
It was strange to be walking into a pub that I wasn’t the landlady of, and I couldn’t help but compare The Captain’s Wife to The Three Broomsticks as we took a couple of seats by the steamed-up window. It was much darker in here, and very mysterious with the hazy cloud of cigarette smoke filling the air. The chairs were a little grander, with plump cushions and carved feet. But there just wasn’t that friendly, carefree atmosphere like in the Broomie. I felt a surge of love for my pub.
A waiter approached. “What can I get you both?”
“Two vodkas,” Molly ordered. I felt a little uneasy; I hadn’t touched anything strong since last week. But Molly had taken my hand fondly, “So, how are you Bella?”
“I’m…ok.” I proceeded to pour out everything to her. About the drinking, the loneliness, the dreams. Even Garrett Brandon’s visit.
“Garrett Brandon?” hissed Molly across the table, her eyes wide. “He makes Arthur’s life hell. Right in the pocket of the Death Eaters too…be careful, Bells.”
“Yeah,” I shifted uncomfortably. “How’s Arthur’s job going?”
“Awfully,” Molly attempted a light-hearted smile. “He is a pureblood, so I think his actual job’s safe. But they all treat him as a bit of a joke…and every night I wait up until he gets home, just in case the joke goes too far. I’m terrified he’ll be put under the Imperius curse and do something awful. Get landed in Azkaban…” Molly was gripping the edge of the table so hard that her knuckles had turned blue. Her hair seemed to have lost its shine and fell limply round her hunched up shoulders.
“Hey...” alarmed at her uncharacteristic behaviour, I moved the clustered beer bottles to one side so I could take her hand. “It’ll be ok in the end. You just have to…have faith.”
“In what?” asked Molly wearily, before she turned a delicate shade of green and was sick all over the table. I jumped back, clearing up the mess immediately with my wand and hurriedly leading Molly to the bathroom. She was shaking like a leaf as I sat her down on a stool by the sink and felt her forehead.
“You’re sick, Molly!” She shook her head, bursting into tears.
“I’m not sick, Bella. I’m…I’m pregnant.” I gaped at her for about a full minute. Then I beamed.
“But that’s wonderful! Congratulations! Oh, wow. How long have you known?”
“It’s not wonderful!” Molly shout-sobbed onto my dress as I crushed her in a hug. “How can I bring my baby up in such a war-torn, cruel world? How could I have done this? We’ll all die in the end! I'm so scared. And Arthur’s spying for the-the..” Molly cut off her words abruptly, starting to get scarily hysterical. I decided to get her safely home before attempting any shape or form of consolation.
When we were back in The Burrow, which was in various stages of collapse and disintegration, I handed Molly I glass of cold water, insisting that she drink it all. She was shivering terribly, so I even dared to light a fire. Holding each piece of wood like a ticking bomb, I arranged them in the fireplace and took several large steps backwards before lighting it with my wand. I flinched as the yellow flames flickered to life.
“I’m sorry!” Molly blubbed, “I’m being silly…”
“No, you’re not!” I reassured her, taking a seat on the sofa she had collapsed into. “But I think you’re looking at the whole situation through black tinted glass.”
“Black tinted glass?” Molly chuckled slightly, but it was a very feeble sound.
“In a bad light.” I explained to the best of my ability. I wasn’t wise, or clever, but I had a brain full of my dad’s queer sayings and principals to go on. There was usually at least one I could pull out and use to solve a situation.
“But it is bad.”
“Haven’t you always wanted to be a mother? Start a family?”
“Then this is a small miracle come true for you! In the midst of all this darkness, your baby will be a shining ray of hope for so many people.”
“The baby is also one more person to worry about every damned second of my life.” And I didn’t have an answer to that, because it was so unavoidably true.
So we sat by the fire and talked of happier days. I recounted the stories told to me in the dead of night by drunken wizards and giggling witches. Molly laughed again, thinking of the scandal her elopement had caused, telling me about her and Arthur’s embarrassing first date. We ate some chocolate (Molly had a craving for peanuts, too). And everything seemed okay, just for a little while.
When it got to eight o’clock in the evening, I knew that I had to get going. Melma had been in charge of opening the pub at six, and I’d already left her with it for two hours too long.
“I’ve got to go, Molly, sorry. Can’t afford to lose any business tonight!”
“Ok. Thanks for everything, Bella. Take care of yourself!”
“I’ll come and visit again soon.” I kissed Molly’s forehead, and made sure I was out of the range of protective enchantments before apparating home to Hogsmeade.
Abe called me from the window as I walked past The Hogs Head.
“Bella…” he sounded shocked. “Where…where’ve you been?” His face disappeared from the window for a second as he opened the front door, grabbed my wrist and dragged me inside the pub. Apart from a few hags discussing something heatedly in one corner, the place was empty.
“What do you mean? I just went out for lunch.”
“Well, don’t you look charming. Been on a date, have you?” Abe snarled a little nastily, taking in my dress. He began to furiously sweep the floor. I didn’t see why he bothered; it would take about a month to clear all the grime and mud from the Hoggie. I glared at the back of his pale neck.
“Oh fuck off, Abe! I was with Molly.”
His face cleared slightly, but he still looked furious with me. “Why didn’t you tell anyone you were going? We all thought you’d been fucking killed! After seeing what they wrote on the pub-“ I cut him off, feeling panic cloud my thoughts.
“What.” My voice shook with anger and fear, “What have they done to my pub, Aberforth Dumbledore?” I didn’t wait for a response, apparating directly into the bar of The Three Broomsticks.
Melma was inside, kissing her stupid boyfriend on the sofa.
“What is going on, Melma?” I confronted her angrily. The couple jumped apart, Melma’s face burning.
“Oh, sorry Bella.”
“Why did Abe just yank me into his pub, thinking I had been dead?”
“Maybe he was planning to take advantage of you?” the boyfriend-of-the-week crudely suggested. I glared at him angrily.
“Um, I have no idea.” Melma raised her eyebrows.
“Well, what are you doing in here with him? Where are all the customers?” My voice was a whole octave higher than normal.
“No-one came! Honest. The doors were wide open and everything, but not a single person entered this place while I was in the room.”
“While you were in the room…Melma, did you ever leave the room? Go to the toilet?” I was staring at her, horror-struck.
“Yeah…at about quarter past six I needed a tissue from the bathroom.”
“Shit.” I ran outside, checking the surrounding area for any intruders, or Death Eaters, or strange men.
And then I saw it. Scrawled over the door in a red substance that looked sickeningly like blood, were the words:
A/N: Hi everyone! Gah, I really enjoyed writing the scene with Molly :) Um...not much to say really! I hope you guys enjoyed it. Thanks to my more-than-amazing beta, Helen. (Ac_rules). She's really great!
I'd love some reviews! ;) -LWG.