Chapter 17 : All Or Nothing
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“… a pint of mulled mead, and the chopped liver?”
“That would be mine.” A raspy voice answered. I didn’t have to look twice to recognise the sour-faced old hag, she was in every week.
I placed the plate in front of her and held my breath. Would she, wouldn’t she…?
She scowled. “Why are you hanging around like an unpleasant smell? Don’t you have work to do?”
I let out a sigh of relief, “Sure do! Enjoy your meal!” I used the term meal in the loosest sense.
I skipped back to the bar smugly and held out my hand. Rosmerta pulled a face and slapped a galleon into my palm.
“Told you it would be fine!” I sang, pocketing the galleon.
“It wouldn’t have been if I’d have served her,” Rosmerta wasn’t going to be contradicted, “She hates me.”
“Whatever, it’s fine by me. I’ll just gain a galleon every time you bribe me to serve your customer for you.” I shrugged as I slid around the side of the bar to join her.
“Debbie!” Madam Yates announced from the tiny kitchen, alerting me that one of my orders was ready.
I beamed expectantly at Rosmerta. She maintained her mock-angry glare.
“You made the deal!” I protested, “One galleon and a straight swap, don’t go backing out now…”
“I’m doing it, I’m doing it,” She rolled her eyes and ducked into the kitchen.
I smiled to myself and leant forward against the beer taps. It was fairly busy but we were on top of things, so I was left to enjoy a minute or two of rest.
“I’m beginning to suspect that I made a mistake in telling Madam Yates to hire you.” Rosmerta carried on as she backed out of the narrow door from the kitchen, four plates balanced precariously on her arms. She wouldn’t drop them, though. Knowing Rosmerta, she had a charm in place just in case. She had a charm for everything. “Bloody cheeky minx…”
“Uh-huh, then who would have taken hag lady every time you’re too scared to go over?” I pointed out.
She pulled another face, “Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
I watched her approach the family of four and place each of their plates in front of them, making a fuss of the two little girls and chatting animatedly with the parents. I knew she wasn’t really mad at me – anyone would rather serve this lovely little family than hag and co., but she’d never admit it.
“Debbie!” Madam Yates called again, though this time I had no order I was waiting for, “Can you manage the kitchen for a second? I have an important floo message to take…”
I ducked into the kitchen as she bustled upstairs. If I thought back to the first time I was in this kitchen, it was a whole lot neater at present. Madam Yates had a certain ability to complete a hundred spells at once and still keep it ultra-organised, something that Rosmerta, talented though she was, was yet to accomplish.
I was even worse – I’d been absolutely dreadful when I first started, too scared to even try any combination of charms in case something awful happened – but I was getting better. Good enough to be comfortable in the kitchen alone, at any rate.
My mind was still picturing the kitchen as I’d seen it for the first time, but the smile at the memory of the bread knife so close to amputating Rosmerta’s arm was wiped from my face as more memories of that day flooded into my mind.
My breathing shook and my forehead furrowed as I tried to wipe the images from my mind. I didn’t need this.
I didn’t need him. Not now.
I was still gripping my stupid half-apron thing that was a part of the uniform in a vice-like hold, just to keep my hands still, when Rosmerta swept into the kitchen in a flurry of movement and noise; her usual manner.
“Those little girls are the cutest thing I’ve seen in my whole life, it makes me want to throw up… in a good way,” She added in an afterthought. “It’s the little one’s birthday, isn’t that adorable? What are we doing for your birthday, have you decided? I... woah, Deb.” She took her wand from her apron and flourished it in one fluid motion.
I looked up in slow motion and followed her gaze to the sink just in time to see a mountain of soap bubbles vanish.
“What were you trying to do, drown yourself?” She asked.
“Oops.” Was all that sprung to mind. “I wasn’t looking…”
Her gaze softened for a moment. “Are you ok?”
I knew that look. It was a well-meaning look, but it meant that any moment now I’d hear a name that I really couldn’t hear.
“I’m fine.” I told her, “I was just -”
“I’m not thick, Debbie.”
“Honestly I -”
“I know you were thinking about Sirius.” Her straight-forward way of saying it made me flinch. “Something reminded you of him and now you’ve gone all weird and distant again.”
“No I haven’t.” Denial was what worked for me right now.
“Yes you have.”
“No I haven’t.”
“Yes you… Oh Merlin I am not getting into this again.”
“Rosmerta!” Madam Yates appeared from nowhere, as was her custom, her face a deep pink with a smudge of soot on her chin from her flooing. “I did not ask you to be in here! Have you left the bar unattended?”
“Just delivering a message to Debbie from one of her tables,” Rosmerta lied smoothly in her comforting tone. “Don’t worry; I’m heading back out now.”
Her ability to wrap Madam Yates around her little finger awed me, but I was glad to see her disappear into the bar with a flick of her hair and a swing of her hips.
She’d only managed to say his name once. And it was barely a conversation. It was ok.
I could relax.
“Are you ok in here for another few minutes, Debbie?” Madam Yates asked. Well, she wasn’t really asking, more just saying it over her shoulder as she left the kitchen.
There was no choice in it for me. Then she paused. “I just have one more message to take… oh, which reminds me; your brother has written to me again. Are you not replying to him? Why is he addressing them to me?” She flung a roll of parchment onto the only, minute area of free space in the tiny kitchen.
“Oh… I, er, haven’t had the chance to reply…” I turned quickly, as if looking at the letter for too long would turn it into a howler, and flicked my wand in the general direction of the potatoes which were currently peeling themselves just fine without my help.
“Well just make sure you do – don’t want him getting worried do you? And it’s clogging up my inbox.” She turned swiftly on her heel and dashed off upstairs again.
I turned slowly back around to face the letter. I didn’t have to look at it. Not really. I could just get on with my work and ignore it; put it in the bin; burn it…
But I couldn’t.
Freddie had written to me a total of thirteen times in the month that I’d been at the Three Broomsticks. I hadn’t replied at all. I hadn’t even read a single letter. Not from him, not from anyone. From the way they’d been treating me like a little china doll all year at school it was a miracle none of my ‘bodyguards’ had turned up to check on me.
But that had been one of my conditions.
I should explain.
So here I was, mid-August, spending my summer holidays working at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.
How did I get here?
Well that night that I left Marlene in the owlery, I was a mess. Everything was a mess. I wanted nothing more than to just sleep and leave everything behind me, but when I got back to my dorm I couldn’t. This was when the idea came to me. The idea not to just leave everything behind for the short hours that I was sleeping, but to leave it all behind for the whole summer.
I didn’t know if I could. I didn’t know if it was allowed, if it was legal. But I knew that I couldn’t just lay there tossing and turning, so at half past four in the morning I wrote three letters.
The first was to Rosmerta, enquiring whether her, admittedly jokey, offer of a job was still going.
The second was to Ro – I’d need his help for this. I’d need his cool demeanour, his excellent persuasion skills and his best friend status to Freddie.
The third was to Dumbledore, requesting a meeting as soon as possible.
Needless to say, the first response came from Dumbledore, barely ten minutes after I’d sent the initial letter.
Dear Miss McKinnon,
In response to your polite request, I would like to arrange a meeting in my office tomorrow evening at half past six. I hope to see you there.
P.S. I like liquorice allsorts.
P.P.S. With lessons tomorrow, one really ought to be sleeping at this hour.
I got the next ‘reply’ from Ro the next morning when I got to the common room. It wasn’t so much a ‘reply’ as a bone-crunching hug and him dragging me off to breakfast to hear all about my plan.
I got the final reply, the one I really needed, from Rosmerta at breakfast with the morning mail. She must have replied as soon as she received the letter, for which I was hugely grateful.
Then I was all set to tell Freddie.
Of course he didn’t like it. I knew he wouldn’t. But fortunately for me, I had Ro on my side. And, quite honestly, I’d never been so grateful for the help of my brother’s best friend. Not even when he flattened Avery in my very first Quidditch match.
The reason I needed Ro? Well for one thing, he was like a second brother to me. For another, I knew of no one else that cared that much about Freddie and me. I knew he’d want to help and I knew he’d understand my, admittedly outlandish-sounding, plan.
“You agree with her?” Freddie had demanded of Ro.
“Yep.” He kept it simple, in a typical Rowan-type way.
“You agree that I should bugger off around the world and leave my sixteen-year-old sister to work in a pub all summer on her own?”
“I’m nearly seventeen,” I’d interjected at that point, “And I won’t be alone. I’ll be living with Rosmerta under Madam Yates’ supervision.”
“You really think I’d do that?” Freddie ignored my input and spoke to Ro.
“I think you should.” Ro answered. “It might sound stupid to you now but it makes sense. You need to get away. I don’t know who you are right now but you’re not the Freddie you used to be. The one who’s been my best mate for seven years. To be honest, mate, you haven’t been him for a while. And now with all this Marlene shit happened, you’ve got the chance to think about who you were and who you’ve become, and you can’t do that here.”
Freddie opened his mouth. And closed it. He did it a few times and it reminded me of myself. He looked exactly as gormless as I imagined I did when I couldn’t summon up an appropriate response, and it made me want to hug him but at the same time shake him and slap him over the head to make him see.
“You know I’m right.” Ro carried on, “You can’t get over Marlene when you’re cooped up in a miserable little house in the sticks – I know, I’ve been there – looking at your sister every day and being reminded what the bitch did to you both.”
Freddie kept his mouth shut this time. His expression was a mixture of stubbornness and the misery that was so everpresent these days, but he was considering it, I knew he was. So I kept quiet and let Ro do what he did best.
“You go back to the Home and you’re going to be a depressing git, you’re going to drive Debbie up the wall with your moping around and I’m going to lose two of the most important people in the world to me. You’re the only thing keeping her there, Freddie. You’re legally old enough to leave, and Deb’s got Dumbledore on her side. You can’t make her go back there if she doesn’t want to.”
“I can’t just leave her though.” Freddie said, as if I wasn’t even there. “I can’t just pretend everything’s alright and go off on a holiday, can I? It’s not fair... I... wait,” He turned to me. “Come with us, Deb.”
“I... what? No, Freddie, you don’t get it.” I said, “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the world, and I’d love to go away with you. But right now we just need to do our own thing, don’t you get it?”
“But we’ve always... I can’t just leave...”
“You don’t... have to look after me all the time now.” I said. “I’ll be ok.”
“But I do. I know you can look after yourself but I still... I still worry. It still seems like everytime I’m not there something happens, and it’s my fault.”
“It’s not your fault!” I grabbed his hand. “What are you even blaming yourself for? The Avery thing? There was nothing you could have done about it – he rammed me, that was it -”
“I’m not talking about that, though thanks for the reminder...”
“It’s just... all the time. Ever since...”
When he trailed off I knew what he meant.
“That’s what this is all about?” I said, quietly. “I don’t understand... Freddie you saved my life -”
“He hurt you.” Freddie said, his voice carefully emotionless. “I knew he was capable of hurting Mum and I knew he was capable of hurting me. I knew he was capable of scaring you, but I never ever thought he’d hurt you. If I would have thought about it I might have been more careful. I might have worried sooner so I might have been able to stop him before he -”
“Stop it! Stop it.” I couldn’t hear that. It was worse than replaying the memories in my head, hearing the way Freddie remembered it. “That wasn’t your fault at all. It wasn’t you at all, you can’t blame yourself... you just... you just can’t. It makes it worse for you and it makes it worse for me. Please don’t ever say that.”
“Yeah, but if I would have just -”
“Stop it! Listen, that was one time. One time that you weren’t there, and it was so, so long ago. That’s not going to happen again. You don’t have to look after me every second of the day just because of that one time.”
Freddie was quiet for a long time after that. He didn’t speak to me. He didn’t speak to Ro. I took it for a good thing – it meant he was thinking about it.
It wasn’t until the evening that he spoke again.
“If anything... happens...” It was as if it was hard for him to get the words out.
I looked up with a flicker of hope.
“We’ll come straight back.” Ro promised.
“And if you do need me...”
“I’ll write.” I said, “I promise. If something happens you’ll hear from me.”
So I lied. I had a pile of letters on my bedside table, all unopened. I recognised Freddie’s handwriting on the majority, Lily’s neat script on many and a scibbled print that I didn’t even want to think about.
I’d come here to get away.
They didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t get away from anything if they didn’t let me.
Lily had understood. She invited me to stay with her, and I had to admit that spending the summer in her hectic, cosy house was tempting – it was always an experience watching her trying to organise her parents, explaining animatedly about magic to them, and dealing with the hideous Petunia. But I knew that Lily, a.k.a Miss Popular, would be constantly bombarded with letters from Hogwarts and inparticular from James and Sirius. I couldn’t deal with that.
But she still wrote to me. She’d told me that she would when I’d gone to the station to say goodbye.
“I can’t just not write to my best friend, Deb.” She’d said, looking incredulous that I’d even suggested it.
“Listen, I can understand if you don’t want to reply. I know you’re not quite yourself right now and the thought of replying to my rambling letters is probably exhausting,” How did she know everything I was thinking?! “But I’d be ashamed of myself if I didn’t. It just wouldn’t feel right. So I’ll write them, send them, and if you don’t want to reply you don’t have to. You don’t even have to read them until after the summer if you don’t want to. But I can’t just have no contact with you all summer, can I?”
“But then if I don’t write back...”
“I won’t be offended, silly,” The whistle blew and the crowds of students milling around us swarmed towards the gleaming scarlet train. “What are best friends for?”
“Some best friend I’ve been.” I felt awful. Ashamed was an understatement.
“Stop it.” She scolded, “It’s been a shitty year for you and I, as official best friend, am obligated to be understanding and stick by you whatever happens.”
What in the name of Merlin’s pants had I done to deserve this girl?
“Thank you. So, so, so much.”
“Don’t mention it,” She glanced over her shoulder at where various prefects were ushering students haphazardly on to the train. “Bugger. I’m meant to be helping. Look at Johnson – hasn’t got a sodding clue what he’s doing. Get them into lines, Johnson!” She suddenly shrieked, making me jump and clutch my ears.
“Sorry,” She beamed at me. “What a tosser, I better go and sort them out... I’ll miss you Deb,” She pulled me into a tight hug, “I hope you feel better, and get what you need out of the summer.”
“Thank you.” It seemed so pathetic to say just those two words, they didn’t seem to match how enormous my gratitude really was. Lily Evans was a one of a kind. “I’ll miss you. And I’m sorry I’ve been so weird. Have a good summer. Good luck with Petunia... tell her I miss her.”
Lily cackled, “I’ve got so many plans for Tuney, I’m just sorry you won’t be there. Bye Deb, love you lots. I really have to go before someone’s crushed in the crowds...” She gave me one last hug before striding across the platform screeching, “Queue up in an orderly fashion... an orderly fashion please!”
There were still crowds of students paying absolutely no attention to her but she was in her element, bossing around Johnson and the other prefects, leaping from the train to the platform and back as she organised everyone. I saw Blakely imitating her behind her back and rolled my eyes. Londy and Oz allowed themselves to be put into a queue good-naturedly. They were still getting the hang of this ‘couple’ thing. They were holding hands but Oz looked irritated as Londy backhanded him in the head whilst waving energetically to me.
I glanced around the rest of the platform. I wasn’t looking for anyone in particular. I wasn’t.
I didn’t want to see him. Not even a little bit. It wasn’t my fault that his profile was instantly recognisable. Just like it wasn’t my fault that it made my stomach lurch a bit to look at him.
Then I took in the surroundings. He had his back against the high railings. Standing around him were half a dozen Slytherins. Amongst them were various Quidditch faces I was familiar with – Avery, Mulciber, Harper.
Immediately I felt nervous. It wasn’t just because it was him. I’d have been worried if it were anyone else. He was cornered, outnumbered, and most definitely hated by these people. Of course it should make me nervous.
It was like I couldn’t look away. I probably should have. I’d been doing my best this last week to pretend he didn’t exist, just so that I didn’t have to endure that uncomfortable, almost painful, feeling I got every time I looked at him. But I couldn’t.
He and Avery were facing one another. Even though Avery was the tallest and broadest of the Slytherins, Sirius stood a few inches taller than him, his shoulders straight and square compared to Avery’s sloping back. It gave me a weird sense of pride for a moment. But then I shook it off. I had no reason to feel anything for him anymore.
Avery’s face was twisted into a mean sneer, his usual expression, as he spoke to Sirius. In a stark contrast, Sirius’ face was smooth and indifferent, almost statue-like in its lack of emotion.
I didn’t realise how intently I was watching their exchange until in one swift motion, Avery jerked his head in my direction, and in the same instant a flash of a harsh expression crossed Sirius’ face.
As it registered that they were looking at me I instinctively stepped back behind a group of Hufflepuffs, my heart suddenly thumping erratically against my ribs. Fortunately I backed up against a bench – I wasn’t sure if my suddenly jelly-like legs could hold me up anymore.
I longed to look back over to see what had happened, but even if I had raised my head, the gang of Hufflepuffs would have been in the way.
What had happened? What were they talking about? Why had they looked at me?
And why the hell did it make me feel like this?
The Hufflepuff girls made a move towards the train, but still I kept my gaze firmly on my feet. I couldn’t look up now. What if they were still looking? What if they were hurting him? I couldn’t watch that. What if...
“So you’re done pretending I don’t exist?”
I jumped and jolted my head up. Even though I didn’t need to.
I accidentally met his eyes for a moment too long – long enough for that uncomfortable feeling to hit me, where before I would have melted.
Even though I should have hated him – even though I didn’t care – the most prominent feeling was one of relief that he was ok.
I looked past him to where he’d been standing before. Avery and his minions had boarded the train.
“What was going on there?” I avoided his question and bluntly voiced one of my own.
For a moment Sirius just looked at me, almost contemplative. Then he took a seat next to me. “So you are talking to me now.”
It irritated me how he said it. Like it was long overdue. I thought I was actually pretty much ok to ignore him for the rest of eternity if I fancied it.
“Looks like it, doesn’t it?” I said, impatiently, “What just happened?”
Another pause. “Nothing.”
“Nah, nothing. Honest. Sentimental goodbye, that’s all. Avery’s leaving this year, remember?”
His face was carefully blank. No amount of glaring changed that. Well I suppose it was to be expected, I was first-hand evidence of his dogged perseverance.
I sighed in resignation. “You’re an idiot.”
He smiled. A proper smile where his eyes crinkled up. I noticed for the first time that there were deep shadows beneath his eyes, bruised as if he was tired. That made me glance automatically to the healing cut on his lip.
“It’s good to hear you insult me again.” His comment was seemingly casual but loaded with meaning. I swallowed painfully.
I was aware that he was sitting fairly close to me on the bench. Not so close that I could feel the heat from his arm next to mine, but not as far away as he could have sat. Then I noticed how tensely we were both sat – me with my arms and legs crossed and he leant forward over his locked arms, hands gripping the rough wood.
Not at all awkward...
I was swinging my legs back and forth, scuffing the toes of my shoes in a repetitive motion. Listening to that made it easier to ignore the fact that we were sitting in an uncomfortable silence. One that was going on for far too long to be casual. I was alright blocking certain thoughts from my head for a moment or two but any minute now I was going to have a very vivid flashback and my eyes were pricking even in anticipation of it.
I was on the verge of telling him that he could leave now when he piped up again.
“Can I say I’m sorry?”
My feet stopped abruptly, dragging to a halt in the dust, and I drew my breath in sharply. “You already have. A lot.”
“Because I really, really am.”
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from my scuffed toes. “Ok.”
“Ok?” He repeated, sort of questionningly.
It looked like he was waiting for an elaboration. I probably had a pretty blank look on my face.
“Ok as in what?”
I kept up the gormless look. I had no idea what I was meant to be answering.
“Is that an ok as in ‘I accept your apology’? As in ‘we’re ok’?”
“We’re ok?” I repeated, dubiously.
“Yeah. Us. I don’t know... you haven’t spoken to me since that night. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know where we stand... where I stand...?” He was looked at me. The side of my face. I was glad my hair was especially dishevelled today so it was swinging in the way.
I realised I hadn’t actually considered it. Not really. I’d been pretty preoccupied with not wanting to see him to avoid that horrible feeling I got in his presence. But I hadn’t given thought to the future. Would the feeling go away? What if it didn’t? What if it did? Would it go back to before...could it? How long would that take?
If I thought about it now, things had gotten a little better. Here I was in his company, not feeling entirely normal but the uncomfortable feeling was more awkward than painful. But that was because I wasn’t thinking about it. When I thought about it... yep, there it was. Back again.
Balls. He was waiting for an answer.
“I don’t... know.”
He exhaled loudly enough for to recognise that that wasn’t an answer he particularly liked. “What does that mean?”
I rubbed my hand across my eyes. “It means I don’t know.” I know nothing about anything anymore. Of that I was sure.
You couldn't miss the cold sarcasm.
"Perfect. It's all I've been able to think about and what, you haven’t even thought about it at all? What am I supposed to do, wait? Wait until you do know, is that it?” His voice was raised. I noted this as though from a distance, as though he was just a character from a book. Why did he raise his voice? Was shouting supposed to make me know sooner?
“I get it, you needed time. I've given you time. But now... we... we're leaving. Another chance for you to run away and leave me to... to what, hang around l summer until you decide otherwise? It’s not fair. Listen, Dee, we need to sort this out. Either we sort this out now or...”
The implications dragged me out of my fictional overview and into the present. Reality. This was real, we were real people with real feelings, and any decisions we made had real consequences. I finally turned to him and his steel eyes drilled into mine. I didn’t know if it was his eyes or his words that were making my heart thump sickeningly in my gut.
“If we... split up,” He said, not releasing me from his stare, “Then we split up for good. I mean it, it’s properly over. I can’t... there can’t be any possibility of us getting back together, no false hope for anything. So no owls over summer, no meeting up, we can’t even be friends. I don’t think I can just be friends with you. It’s got to be nothing. All or nothing.”
How could he even say this? Even looking at him was making me want to retch and he was managing to say these awful words. This time I knew it was the words causing that stabbing pain. I had to make a decision, he said so. All or nothing. I couldn’t imagine a world with no Sirius, and that was what he was saying.
All or nothing.
“So? What’s it going to be?” He demanded.
All or nothing.
I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. But right now I hated him being near me. And I couldn’t imagine that nauseating feeling going away any time soon.
I dropped my eyes back down to my shoes. “I don’t know.” I hated to hear my voice crack. I blinked furiously, my eyes starting to ache.
Another short, sharp exhalation. This time more angry than before. It should have alerted me, I should have seen it coming but his response still made me jump out of my skin.
“Fine! Fucking fine.” His feet stamped hard on the floor as he stood up. The acid behind his every word stung, and I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to see the vehemence in his face. “I don’t know why I expected anything else from you. You’re selfish, you know that? I don’t know why I expected a selfish, childish bitch like you to change. I gave you everything, Dee. Everything I’ve done has been based around what you want, everything on your terms. I changed for you and you couldn’t change for me. You obviously don’t care at all." He laughed bitterly, a horrible, sneering laugh. As far from his booming, bark of a laugh as it was possible to be. This wasn't Sirius. It wasn't. "I don’t know why I even bothered.”
As if signalling the close of the conversation, the final whistle blew on the platform. I looked up to see a few stragglers run for the scarlet doors, it gave me an excuse not to take in his words, not to let them hurt me, not to react.
I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry or throw up or both.
Not after that.
“You should go. The train’s leaving.” My voice sounded unnaturally composed.
The calmness confused him. The intense anger was still clear in his face and his stance but at my words he visibly slumped a little.
“Fine.” He closed his eyes for a second. “Fine. Come on then.”
He half turned towards the train and was quite probably going to stride off without me. After all, it was all or nothing. Funny how he’d made it sound like my choice, when I hadn’t actually decided anything at all.
“I’m not coming.”
He stopped. “What? Now you’re making jokes? Like I said, obviously don’t care at all.”
The whistle blew again. We were now the only people left on the platform.
“You’re going to miss the train.” I said, emotionlessly.
“Dee what are you -” He glanced over his shoulder. James was frantically calling him from a compartment.
Without a goodbye, he went. Without even so much as looking at me he was walking out of my life, just like he’d promised.
I waited until I heard the door slam shut, the engine roaring into life and the reluctant chugging as the train heaved itself from the platform before I raised my head. I waited until I knew that I was totally alone so that I could cry in peace.
But in the end the tears wouldn’t come.
I took it as a good thing. The fact that I hadn’t cried since the Official Break Up. It meant I was over him, surely? The fact that I still got all the symptoms whenever I so much as thought about him... well that was anger, right? He’d said some pretty horrible things to me. And coming from him, someone I’d never ever expect it from, made them all the more hurtful.
I didn’t care what Rosmerta said about me being miserable. She was wrong. I was getting by just fine. It helped that the long hours in the busy pub gave me very little time to sit and reflect. I barely had time to form any sort of coherent thought, let along sit and remember and it suited me just fine.
Rosmerta always seemed to find time to relax during the day, time to rest and have a drink behind the bar and enjoy the few minutes of peace.
I was the opposite.
It wasn’t a conscious thing but if I found myself with a spare moment, I’d find some sort of job to occupy myself. Rosmerta thought I was crazy, but had given up encouraging me to join her on her little breaks. I didn’t dare. If we chatted for too long it would get personal, and when it got personal she’d get that weird look on her face and try and get me to ‘share’ with her. She wanted to tell me what happened, but I sure as hell knew that it was best left in the past. With him.
After all, he was nothing to me now.
My spare time was harder to fill. No matter how many extra hours or shifts I volunteered for, the pub had to close at some point. I had to sleep at some point. It was at these times when I was trying to get to sleep that it was hardest to keep my mind from straying where it shouldn’t.
During meal times I was fine. Madam Yates and Rosmerta made sure I was never left to fend for myself; almost every night I was invited to eat with Madam Yates and her husband or with Rosmerta and her family, who lived on the edge of the small village. Rosmerta liked to think of herself as independent, living above the Three Broomsticks in a room next to mine rather than in the cottage a few roads down with her parents and sister, but she spent most of her time with them. She wasn’t the sort of person who could keep their own company for long, which made her the perfect, sociable bar maid but probably meant that spending time with me was driving her mental.
I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around these days.
I was fine. I wasn’t depressed, or anything else that Rosmerta accused me of. I could chat, I could tease, I could laugh. I was just tired, being so busy all the time. I was so tired yet I could never sleep. Which provided me with all too much time tossing and turning and trying desperately hard not to think at all.
But still, no matter how tired I was, I was bloody good at my job. I wasn’t as good as Miss Bar Maid of the Year Rosmerta, but no one who calls themselves sane is that happy. Still, I could plaster a smile on my face, I could make small-talk, and I could make people believe that their visit to the pub was one that stood out, which was really all that was needed.
I’d been there long enough to recognise the locals, the regulars. Hogsmeade was a big enough village for it to be a popular residence, but small enough for pretty much everyone to know everyone. And now I was included in that. Most customers knew me by name and I knew them, their name and their usual drink.
It was easy to tell who the regular customers were and who were the tourists, visiting for the day or the weekend. They didn’t usually stand out, mostly groups of gossiping witches, besotted couples or energetic families. Occasionally I’d see a face I recognised from school or something, but no one I was really on first-name terms with.
No one to spark an interest.
Until the beginning of August.
It was a slow shift for once, and Rosmerta was fussing about my birthday, which was two weeks away. I didn’t want to think about it, because it just so happened that the day before my birthday was the birthday of someone who I wasn’t currently happy thinking about. Someone who meant nothing to me.
I was contemplating ways to make Rosmerta shut up about plans and parties and Merlin only knows what else she was babbling about. I glanced up at the clock. An hour until closing time and I didn’t feel sufficiently tired. Tonight was bound to be another night of tossing and turning. Excellent.
There were only three groups of people in the entire pub, far too few to keep us busy. I considered going to check up on them to get away from Rosmerta, but we’d already checked up on them about fourteen times in the last ten minutes, just for something to do. I sensed that one more “Is everything ok?” from either of us would send them round the bend.
“Do you think your brother will come and visit on your birthday?” Rosmerta was wondering.
“No,” I glanced boredly back at the clock. Funnily enough time hadn’t decided to skip forward; it was still half past ten. “I told him he wasn’t allowed. That was the rules. He wasn’t going to keep coming and checking up on me, even on my birthday. He needs to be off having fun, not having to come and see me.”
“And he agreed to that?” She shook her head. “From what you’ve told me about him, and the number of letters he’s sent you, that seems weird. What about your friends? The pretty redhead?”
“Nope. Told her not to either.”
“Really? What about S -”
The door to the pub flew open, blessing me with a rescue. I turned towards the company with much more enthusiasm that I usually would have, determined to make myself too busy to have to hear the end of Rosmerta’s question.
“Hi! Can I get you anyth...?” My words died on my lips. The cropped, bristly fair hair. The secretive I’ve-got-a-joke-that-you-don’t-know smile. A rush of blood to my cheeks in an automatic reaction of embarrassment...
Sticky drinks dribbling down my front...
"Oh! I'm sorry... here let me..."
"Get out of my face!"
"I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you..."
"No, you don't have to do that..."
"Nope, I insist..."
"He's nice! He's a prefect... and he's got gorgeous eyes..."
Well that certainly showed how wrong first impressions could be.
I’d never met anyone who could be so annoying using just a smile.
"The boyfriend giving me death stares again?”
“No, he’s actually not... not that he’s my boyfriend. He’s not, you know. Or… well not… I don’t…”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Stop judging me,”
“Ok. If I’m so annoying why are you still here?”
“Because it beats going over there,”
“To the not-boyfriend?”
“Talking to me is a waste of time?”
“I wouldn’t call it ‘talking to’ you. Maybe ‘being terrorised by’ -”
“Then you’re maybe too easily terrorised.”
“Or maybe you’re just that annoying.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“I don’t have the strength to be nice,”
"So I still owe you one. Next time.”
“Or you could just make sure there isn’t a next time. That would more than make it up to me.”
“Flattered as I am, I’m sure I can come up with better..."
After a month of no one I recognised coming in... Just no way.
“Hi, Ray.” I managed to choke out in a calm voice.
AN. Well this is the third time I've formatted and tried to post this chapter... damn me and my lack of technical ability. And each time I've written a hideously long authors note but now I'v kind of forgotten what I even said. Perfect!
Ok, so I hope you enjoyed it! I'm sorry if it seems hugely depressing and angsty, I hope you're not fed up with me for this miserable turn of events but hey, it can only get better from here right??
So, what do you think...
Deb's desperate plan to get away from everything?
Sirius - offically over? Please don't hate me...
Do we blame him? Do we blame Dee?
Is she really 'fine'?
And now the arrival of Ray...
Ok, I'm sorry for the lack of update (again) but in the mean time whilst waiting you could check out my other stories if you like this (shameless!)
Thanks for reading!
OH, also just wanted to let you know that this is NOT the final chapter... BUT there will be mostly likely just ONE or possibly two at most more... BUT fear not, you won't get rid of me that easy, sequel ideas are coming to me so much more than anything else!
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