Chapter 1 : uno
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First off, as the summary states this is the sequel to my fic Off the Rails. If you haven't read that yet, I strongly advise you do so before embarking on this one, because otherwise lots of this fic will not make sense.
Just to give you a sense of time scale, our story starts exactly two years after Off the Rails began, and half a year after its epilogue.
I don't normally do chapter dedications, but I'm doing one this time round. This one is for ohmymerlin, who absolutely hit the nail on the head in her last review for Rails. :)
“I can’t believe you’re actually going,” Ginny bristled, setting a plate down on the table a little more forcefully than necessary.
“You can say that as much as you like, but you’re not going to stop me,” James replied firmly, crossing his arms defiantly.
“It’s a ridiculous idea,” she lamented. “Why Lily ever thought it would be okay is beyond me...”
“So why aren’t you at hers giving her this lecture?” he interjected.
“Because Saturdays are your morning. Besides, that’s your Dad’s job for today, not mine.”
“I don’t understand why Dad’s against it,” he said, still ignoring his breakfast. “I thought he fought the Malfoys’ corner, after the war?”
“He kept them out of prison, that doesn’t mean he’s suddenly best friends with them,” she pointed out. “Besides, it’s not just who it is, it’s where it is. A Squib Foundation dinner in Malfoy Manor? It’s utterly ridiculous. Do you know what happened to your Aunt Hermione in their drawing room?”
“Yes, I know, as does Rosie, and it’s not stopped her seeing Scorpius, has it?” James’ voice grew louder, as it did when talking about something he felt passionately about.
“No, but you’ll notice she doesn’t visit his grandparents for afternoon tea every week, and there’s a reason for that,” Ginny said sharply. “I’ll give Scorpius the benefit of the doubt, but his father and grandfather in particular are not nice people. I don’t doubt for a minute that Lucius has ulterior motives for being the Foundation’s patron, and while I’ll not complain about him funding their work, I will complain about him hosting their events. And Lily plans to walk in there, bold as brass? It absolutely beggars belief. More to the point, you think it’s okay to take Carlotta there?”
I hid a wince. I’d known it was only a matter of time before my name came up in conversation.
“I really don’t mind-” I began, not wanting to be used as a point of conflict between them.
James slammed his palms down on the kitchen table, and glared at her.
“Are you suggesting I don’t care for her enough to keep her safe?” he said darkly.
“It’s got nothing to do with keeping anyone safe, James, I hardly think Lucius Malfoy plans to butcher half his guests! I just think it’s completely and utterly tactless to-”
He got to his feet, knocking over the chair he’d been sitting on.
“I’m supporting my sister,” he said thunderously. “If you don’t want to, then so be it, but you’re not going to change my mind. Now if you excuse me, I have a Quidditch match to referee.”
And with that he left, disregarding the plate of untouched food on the table. Moments later we heard him clatter down the stairs on his way out.
Ginny let out a sigh, and fell into the chair behind her.
“I hate arguing with him,” she muttered. “I hate arguing with any of my kids, but James ... he never raises his voice, not when he’s got his head screwed on at any rate.”
I knew exactly what she meant. Lily was incredibly hot-headed, and even Albus – calm, rational Albus – wasn’t averse to a shouting match. But James rarely lost his temper; in fact, I didn’t think he had at all since his breakdown of a year and a half ago.
“You shouldn’t feel as though you have to go with him tonight, you know,” she continued, looking up at me.
“I don’t,” I said firmly.
If she could tell I was lying, she didn’t say anything.
“I just...” she looked down at her hands. “There is so much bad blood between these families, you know? And while we try to look past that for Rose’s sake – after all, Scorpius can hardly help what his family’s done in the past – there comes a point when it just gets too much. Yes, they’ve apologised and repented and we’ve forgiven, but...” She drew in a deep breath. “I’ll never forget how I felt when I learned that Harry, Ron and Hermione had been held captive there. We only found out after they’d escaped and made it to Bill and Fleur’s, but ... the thought that they’d come so close to death, again...”
“They think they understand. James, and Lily, and Rose ... all of them. They think they know what we went through, know how bad it was. But ... they don’t. They don’t know what it felt like, they don’t know we still remember it all clear as day ... it’s just stories to them, but it’s our past. We lived it. To them, that house is just bricks and mortar, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a symbol of what happened, a reminder that we put our lives on the line, and the Malfoys were more than willing to take them...”
She drew in another breath, sitting upright. “And you can’t just hold a Squib rights event there and hope it’s going to make it all better, expect us to be okay with it. And then when we’re not, we’re being unreasonable...”
It was the most Ginny had ever said to me about the war she and her family had witnessed and fought through.
“He doesn’t mean to do it, you know,” I said quietly. “James. He just ... he’s loyal, and he’s forgiving, you know that.”
“He’s too good, you mean.” She smiled wryly at me. “He’s inherited Harry’s pure heart. All three of them have. And they want to believe people can be forgiven for misdeeds, and they’re willing to stand by each other no matter what ... and I can’t fault that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But they need to understand that for those of us who were there, it’s more personal than that. There’s no chance Hermione or Ron would set foot in that place ever again, and Harry won’t go there out of respect for them. And frankly, I don’t want to go there either. There are ghosts in that place, ghosts of past sins, and I’m not about to disturb them. If my children want to go ... well, I can’t stop them; that much is evident. But I can try.”
She looked straight at me, and I knew she knew I’d lied. “And I’d feel much more at ease if you didn’t go.”
I smiled wryly, and got to my feet.
“We both know I don’t have a say in the matter,” I said, collecting up the cleared – and in James’ case untouched – breakfast plates. “If I don’t go, he’ll be angry at me as well as you, and I’m sure you want to avoid that as much as I do.”
It was her turn to smile.
“I only hope, for your sake, that he leaves his foul mood out on the Quidditch pitch,” she said. “Here, I’ll clear away, you should go downstairs and help set up.”
“No, it’s fine; you cooked, you shouldn’t have to clear up as well-”
“Darling, you’re going to have enough plates to clear away today. I’m sure I can manage this lot.” Ginny took the plates from my hands. “Go on, scram.”
One thing I’d learned very early on was that nobody said no to a Weasley mother, especially not when it came to kitchen-related matters. So I headed out of the kitchen, and down the small, precariously rickety wooden staircase. It had taken me a long time to believe James’ assertions that magic would hold it together.
But then, none of this building would be standing if not for magic.
Lauren was already prepping the tables for breakfast, and looked up as I opened the door at the bottom of the staircase.
“Good morning...” she began tentatively.
I couldn’t hide my smile.
“I’m guessing James stomped through just now looking mightily angry?”
She returned the smile, looking relieved to see his fight hadn’t been with me, and I wasn’t as irritated as he was.
“He had a face like thunder,” she said. “It’s a good thing he’s up at the school today, or he’d be spreading his bad mood round the whole pub.”
“If that were the case I’d ground him,” I said lightly. “Or send him up the road to Wheezes, if any place can get rid of a foul mood it’s there. Do you need a hand with anything?”
“I’m nearly done, just Room Three’s table to go. Daryl and Aggie are both here. You should’ve seen the hunk of beef Daryl brought in with him, I was drooling like a baby when I saw it.”
“I’ll have to go check it out, won’t I? Back in a mo.”
The smell of glorious breakfast food hit me the moment I opened the door into the kitchens. Even though I'd already eaten, my stomach let out a little grumble.
My chefs were both busy cooking, and looked up as I appeared.
“Morning, chick!” Aggie said brightly. “Good breakfast with Mrs P?”
“They argued about tonight again. Ended with James storming out in a huff.”
“Is he still going?” Daryl asked.
“Of course he is,” I sighed. “As am I, unfortunately. But less about that. How are we doing?”
“All fine, love, as usual,” Aggie said. “On with you now, the guests will be coming down soon!”
I smiled fondly; Aggie loved bossing people about. But I heeded her words, and headed back out to the main pub.
I’d thought James was joking when he’d first suggested buying the Three Broomsticks. Either that, or he and Freddie had done one too many shots of Firewhisky while getting ready for his and Brigid’s wedding ceremony. But I certainly didn’t take it seriously. How were we supposed to run a pub?
But he’d been deadly serious. I’d always wanted my own pub or restaurant, he reasoned, and this was the perfect opportunity. There were so few wizarding pubs in Britain that the chance to own one was miniscule; if we didn’t buy up now, when Madam Rosmerta was looking to sell, it would be a long wait for the next chance. And, rightly or wrongly, it was much easier to own a food establishment in Wizarding Britain than in Muggle Britain. There it would be a hard fought battle to acquire one, and abide by all the health and safety regulations, food hygiene laws, employment laws and licensing policy. In the wizarding world, none of these obstacles existed; all you needed to run a pub was the money to buy it and the knowledge of how to eke a profit from it.
Not that I exploited my staff, or kept the place any less than spotlessly hygienic. But I had to admit, it was a lot easier to get on with things without feeling the law breathing down my neck.
Moving to Hogsmeade also meant being closer to James at Hogwarts. Of course, distance meant little when wizards could Apparate and Floo, and in his first year teaching he’d spent as much time at the flat as at the school. But all the same it was nice to feel I was only down the road from him, rather than on the other side of the country. And we were also just down from Freddie and Brigid, in their flat over the shop.
But the decision hadn’t been an easy one. After all, the Three Broomsticks was a well established and well loved wizarding pub; how would its patrons feel about a Muggle landlady? James had insisted nobody would care a jot so long as the food and drink was good, but that didn’t stop me worrying. Furthermore, even in August last year I still couldn’t even see Hogsmeade. How was I supposed to run a pub I couldn’t see?
“We have time, Rosmerta isn’t looking to sell straight away,” James had reassured me. “She’ll wait around until we’re ready to buy, you don’t need to worry about that.”
But I did worry. In the end, it had taken a good two months before I could get past the anti-Muggle wards on Hogsmeade. They were far stronger than those on Diagon Alley, and weaker only than those protecting Hogwarts. After all, it was the only entirely wizarding village in Britain.
But we’d bought the pub and taken it over by October and after another two months, Hogwarts had finally come into view. I didn’t think I would ever forget the feeling of seeing that incredible castle for the first time. Now I could see it, I looked up at it every time I was outside, unable to let any chance of gazing at it pass me by.
By far the biggest issue had been how moving to Hogsmeade impacted on me. My parents and brother and sister all lived on the outskirts of London and it had been an almighty struggle, explaining to them that I was moving hundreds of miles away to Scotland, to run a pub. In Muggle terms, it was a long way and it was hard to listen to them vowing to visit, when I knew there was no chance of that. I had to insist on being the one to visit them and even that created problems. Of course, I could get to London in ten seconds flat and was in Diagon Alley three times a week, visiting Gringotts and buying things I couldn't get in Hogsmeade, but they couldn't know that. They had to believe the journey was a long one, one that needed planning in advance.
I also hadn’t realised how removed from Muggle society I would become. I still had the television and radio, thankfully, as the wizarding world had adapted them to work with magic. It still interfered with the internet signal though, as they hadn't got around to that yet, and I doubted they ever would – it didn’t seem like they needed it. The Muggle postal service didn't even know the place existed and as for phones, there was no chance of getting any mobile signal here. We didn’t even have a landline; the only phone in the village was the public one the Ministry had installed a few years back, mostly for the Muggle-born students at Hogwarts, who needed a way to contact their families and friends. They didn't seem to realise they were at least eighty years behind and that Muggles now tended to communicate via the internet, rather than by phone calls.
I knew my parents and friends found it odd I could only speak to them at pre-arranged times, through a public phone box. There were still a few remote places in Britain, but understandably they couldn’t fathom how I could only contact them from a phone box but could still watch all their television programmes.
It was frustrating for me, knowing that I could write to them by owl post, or send a message through the Floo, or even travel to see them by Floo. But they couldn’t know any of that.
Still, I didn’t regret a single thing about moving to Hogsmeade. I’d only been here four months, but already I was in love with the place, the job and the people. This was what I’d always wanted, and I had it in my grasp far quicker than I’d ever envisaged, even in my wildest dreams. As for being surrounded by magic all day every day ... well, it never ceased to amaze me. I felt like a child in a sweet shop most of the time.
The enslavement of House Elves, however, was one aspect of the magical world I disliked, and I was reminded of it when Kreacher popped into view in front of me as I wiped down the bar counter.
“Hello, Kreacher dear,” I said fondly, trying to ignore the fact he’d sunk into a deep bow in my favour.
I did like Kreacher, and he was wonderful to have around. I just didn’t like that he felt the need to bow every time he saw me, refer to me as his mistress, and obey every word I said. But I knew I didn’t have a say in the matter. The brain-washing was far too entrenched for anyone to change him, so all we could do was offer him an environment in which he wouldn’t be mistreated. There was protection for House Elves these days, but some of them didn’t even realise this existed, let alone think they needed it.
We’d bought the pub at an ideal time for Kreacher. He’d worked up at Hogwarts since James had started there as a First Year, but he really was too old to keep up in the kitchens these days. For a while, Harry and Ginny had been at a loss as to what to do about him. Freeing him was out of the question, but Ginny worked from home these days, and housework and cooking was what she did when stuck on writing an article, which apparently happened often. So they’d suggested he move in with us in the pub instead.
He had his own room in the flat upstairs, and we gave him as much as we could without offending or upsetting him. It was a delicate situation at times, and not one which I particularly enjoyed. But he was a superb cook, and had that House Elf ability to get on with his business without being noticed, which was a blessing in the mornings when we needed to clean upstairs without waking the guests. That was where he’d just come from this morning.
“Miss Carla,” he began; I winced. “Kreacher has cleaned the corridors upstairs, would Miss like him to clean Master and Miss’ rooms now?”
“No, don’t worry about that,” I insisted, knowing he’d end up doing it at some point anyway. I’d lost track of the number of times I’d walked in on him cleaning the living room or the bedroom. But I’d rather he not try to clean the kitchen when Ginny was doing just that; I didn’t need them getting in each other’s way. “Just cleaning the guests’ bedrooms when they’re down here having breakfast will be fine.”
He bowed again and disappeared with a crack, just as Ginny headed downstairs.
“I’ll head off now, get out of your hair before you start serving breakfast,” she said with a smile. Then she took my hand, and the smile was gone as quickly as it had appeared. “Look after yourself later, won’t you? I know James thinks everything will be fine, but I can’t help worrying.”
“I’ll be fine.” I squeezed her hand reassuringly. “You know me, I like to keep a low profile.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Just don’t try outwitting any purebloods. They don’t like being made to feel stupid, especially not by lesser beings.” She tucked a loose curl of hair behind my ear, and kissed my cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch.”
“Looking forward to it.” I smiled. “Thanks for breakfast!”
She smiled, then dropped my hand and headed out of the pub.
Sometimes, I missed seeing my Mamá. But whenever I did, Ginny Potter managed to remind me that these days I as good as had two mothers.
It was the best feeling in the world.
A/N: James gets a new pygmy puff in this story (RIP Cordelia). Any guesses on the name? Unless I've already told you said name, in which case keep quiet. ;)
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