Chapter 1 : Sixteen years later
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It is neither a question nor an exclamation.
She says his name as though she expected him right at this very moment. She breathes it with the satisfaction of someone who has been waiting a long time. She speaks with the warmth of an old friend welcoming him home.
“Rosie.” He returns her inviting smile with a self-conscious one of his own.
She smiles even more widely. “No one’s called me that in years. But then again, I’m not exactly twenty-three anymore.”
“None of us are, are we?”
He is far too young to feel this old. He imagines a life in which he still feels alive at thirty-three, though he questions whether he was ever that vibrant and carefree to begin with. He reckons he did once, way back when, but it’s been so long he can barely remember. Every step since those days has worn on him like a mile.
The years have been kind to Rosmerta – no question about it, he can tell just by looking at her. A bit heavier, perhaps, her curves more pronounced because of it…his eyes certainly can’t complain. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes, but a face as youthful as it ever was. Her manner more keen than the assistant barmaid he remembers, no doubt a product of business sense well honed over the years, but her tone still pleasant, with the same girlish lift.
She is unmistakable.
He doesn’t even realize he’s still standing, though several barstools sit empty beside him. Always one to keep a cautious amount of space, his hands resting on the edge of the bar are the only thing stopping him giving in to her magnetic pull. He smiles foolishly and obeys when she gestures for him to take a seat.
He wonders what she must think of him. What is it that gave him away? His worn appearance? His clothing? His hunched shoulders? Or can she simply see straight through to the part of him that nurtures self-loathing?
“What’ll it be? Here to clean me out of firewhisky? I’m afraid I might not have enough.” She gives him a wink that goes straight to the pit of his stomach.
He laughs appreciatively. “Just one glass, I think. I’m not as wild as you seem to remember.”
“Well, that’s a shame.” Giving his hand a warm squeeze, she bustles off to fetch his drink, stopping halfway down the length of the bar to check on a couple of elderly wizards.
He chuckles to himself in reverie. Her joke is a welcome reminder of those days.
The Marauders quickly realized they had a friend in the young assistant at the Three Broomsticks, who was barely more than a few years out of Hogwarts herself. She always greeted them with a smile, laughed at their jokes, and chatted with them until Madame Elspeth scolded her for neglecting her work.
James and Sirius were skilled in the art of sweet-talking, and Rosie – perhaps because she had no company her own age – was particularly susceptible to it. This kept them reasonably well stocked with all sorts of Three Broomsticks beverages, but James soon insisted that Remus do the talking when it came to dealings with Rosie. James firmly believed that Rosie favored Remus. Remus suspected James was also doing it because he knew Remus fancied the young barmaid.
“Hey, Rosie,” he would say after a few minutes of small talk, his hands in his pockets, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the floor, flashing his shy smile and willing himself not to blush in front of her, “you wouldn’t have any unclaimed firewhisky lying around, would you?”
Unable to suppress a smile, she would chide halfheartedly, “You’re going to cost me my job, you know that? What do you suppose will happen when someone finds out I’ve been providing this stuff to you?”
“Aw, Rosie! You know you can trust me!” And he would flick the silver badge pinned to his chest – the badge that represented the authority he came treacherously close to abusing wherever his friends were involved.
And now he simply laughs, wondering what Rosmerta’s reaction would be today if some sixteen year-old came waltzing into her pub asking for half a dozen bottles of liquor.
“What’s funny?” she asks with her radiant smile, setting his drink in front of him.
He shakes his head. “Just…remembering.”
She chuckles, and he knows she’s remembering, too.
“Funny,” she repeats. “The last time I saw you, you were a student. And now, I hear, you’re the newest teacher!”
He nods. “Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
“No one better.” She says it with a kind of conviction he can’t bring himself to believe.
And he dreads what comes next, because he has nothing to show for himself.
“So what have you been doing for the past sixteen years?”
Now how is he supposed to answer that?
“Well, Rosie, I can’t keep a job because I’m an abomination of mankind. I have no achievements, no home, no legacy. I’m a nomad, a drifter. I have no friends and no family. The only woman in my life was my mother. I lost my only friends twelve years ago, and anyway, they were only able to run 'round with me because they could turn into animals. If I were to die tomorrow, nobody would notice.”
There was once a time when he believed he was going to be someone. They were all going to be someone – him, James, Sirius, Pete. They were going to show the world what talent truly was. And he was going to have a name that finally meant something.
And here he sits, thinking that if life had rolled the dice differently, he would be an acclaimed academic, he would still have three best friends, he would have a path that actually leads somewhere, rather leading him in pointless circles that serve no purpose other to wear him down. He might even be married, and his own son might spend his Hogsmeade weekends sitting at a table here, blushing whenever Rosmerta passes by.
If things were different, he wouldn’t feel ashamed whenever a beautiful woman asked him about his life.
If things were different, he might have more than a snowball’s chance in hell.
He’s a teacher. It makes perfect sense, of course. She always knew he was going to be someone.
It throws her life into painful perspective, and she hesitates, reluctant to ask the next logical question – because if he accounts for the last several years of his life, naturally she will have to account for hers.
“What about you, Rosie?”
And really, what is there for her to say?
“Well, Remus, every day I wipe the surface of this bar from one end to the other. When I reach the far end, I come back and start all over. I’ve no family anymore. My best friends are passers through and teenagers, the same as it was when you went to school. I listen to everyone’s problems but have nobody to listen to mine. I sleep alone. If I died tomorrow, they’d find someone to replace me, and the world wouldn’t bat so much as an eyelash.”
There was a time when she thought she was going to be someone. She was going to make something of herself. A singer, a world class journalist…anything to get out of Hogsmeade. When she was younger, she told anyone who would listen – including the four teenage boys who never failed to make her feel like she was worth listening to.
She’s not sure now, why she felt the need to prove herself to a bunch of sixteen year-olds. Maybe it was more for her own benefit than anyone else’s. She was stuck in the Three Broomsticks while the rest of her classmates were out making their mark on the world. She needed people to understand that life was going to hold more for her than just sweeping the floors and being ogled by drunk men.
They were the closest thing she had to real friends, those boys. At least they were kind.
She was, of course, clever enough to know they were just buttering her up. But a tiny, insignificant, quiet part of her entertained the idea that maybe they actually liked her. Maybe they actually enjoyed her company.
James would grab her hand playfully while Sirius snatched away her broom with a cheeky grin.
“Rosie, you‘re positively blooming today,” James would say. “Isn’t it time for your break? Come and have a pint with us.”
“Are you mad?” she would hiss in return. “Madam Elspeth will have my head if I don’t get the cleaning done - ”
“Aw, you’ll break Remus’ heart, you will!” At that, Remus’ face would turn a delicate shade of pink. “You’d be proud of him, Rosie, he got perfect marks on his Transfiguration essay.”
“So did you, James,” Sirius would chime in.
“I didn’t. I got nineteen-and-a-half out of twenty.”
“Why?” Rosie would ask, knowing James was one of the brightest boys in the school.
Then Remus would come alive, as he did on occasion, his face lighting up as he snickered good-naturedly at his friend and replied, “Because he’s a git.”
Rosie liked all of them, but she’d always had a soft spot for the shy, tawny-haired boy. Why, if she were five years younger, he might have been just her type.
And even though the years have changed him, in essence he’s very much the same. He still keeps his distance, as though afraid she’s going to bite him at any moment. He still has that habit of looking at the floor when he talks to her. His eyes are compassionate, and he looks like he’s always thinking.
Life, it seems, has not been a friend to him lately. He looks tired and worn, and though she doesn’t know the whys or hows, she is absolutely certain he doesn’t deserve it.
Perhaps, she thinks, she can be a friend to him. Maybe he doesn’t need one, but lord knows Rosmerta does.
She may not have much to show for herself, but she can boast this much: She knows loneliness when it walks into her pub. She feels it keenly, as if it’s her own…and it is. It flares up now, sharply, within her chest, recognizing itself in another. She understands, and thinks perhaps this will be the day she is finally understood.
She doesn’t ask what he’s been doing for the past sixteen years. There will be time to ask, if it is meant to be asked. For now, she simply says:
“It’s really good to see you, Remus.”
“Thanks, Rosie. You don’t know how good it is to be here again.”
“You’re always welcome.”
And with a grateful smile from an old friend, the ache begins to dull.