Chapter 1 : Days Like These
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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 :)
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