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Chapter 2 : Days With Silences
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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.
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