The Sugar Quill
Author: Violet Azure (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: High Spirits: A Hogsmeade Tale  Chapter: Chapter 3: "99 Bottles of Beer"
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Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I making any money of the wonderful creations of J

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I making any money of the wonderful creations of J.K. Rowling.  It’s her universe, I’m just visiting.  All original characters are of my own creation. 

 

A/N: Thank-you and chocolate to my awesome beta Doctor Aicha and to everyone who’s R&R

 

 

 

Ch. 3: 99 Bottles of Beer

 

All through October the atmosphere in the village became more and more charged.  Rosmerta added several new dished to the menu in honor of the tournament, including goulash and quiche.  The pumpkin crepes were a particularly big hit. 

 

And so were the drinks from Cerberus brewing company.  As she went over the books each night, she saw that the beers had continued to be popular.  She only had a month’s sales to go on, but she congratulated herself on her business sense.  If things continued at this pace then the new items would help offset the losses of the previous year.

 

It wasn’t that Rosmerta lacked for money—quite the opposite, in fact.  When she turned eighteen she came into her inheritance, just under two million Galleons at the time.  The past few years, after her father’s death, she began receiving annual payments as an Ogden stockholder, but Philip handled all of that.  She could walk out of the Broomsticks that afternoon and spend the rest of her life in her garden if she so chose to do so, but she wouldn’t leave the tavern any time soon.  The Three Broomsticks had become more than just a job for her. 

 

When she had first arrived in Hogsmeade, she had spent the time setting up her house, visiting the shops, and planting her garden.  She was content for the first two months, pruning her rose bushes and learning where the post office was.  She went for long, fast flies around the pitch near her house.  Those flights left her exhausted, but strangely exhilarated.  It was a different sort of exhausted that crying left her, she didn’t feel fragile and wrung out after a good flight nor did she feel like throwing glass objects against the wall.  When she sunk into a bath at the end of the night, she let the water wash over her and clean away the sweat of a hard day spent doing…something.  When Elizabeth Ogden Hardgrove spent her days attending luncheons, meeting with robe makers, and writing up elaborate menus for the house elf to prepare for dinner parties, she had hardly felt that she needed a bath at the end of the day.  She went riding and flying as much as possible, but there was always something nagging her at the back of her mind, an uncomfortable itchy feeling, like the way her woolen stockings felt against her legs when she was a child.  Gardening had helped for a bit, she took enormous satisfaction in watching something that had been shaped by her own hands grow, but her career had been short lived.  Upon finding her only daughter covered in dirt one day, her mother had delivered a stern lecture about how gardening was best left to the house dwarves and Rosmerta had let the subject drop.

 

Ares Hardgrove had been forty years her senior when she married him.  She had just turned twenty-one.  It had been a beautiful day in July; just over two years after her graduation and three years after the war with Grindelwald had ended.  Lucinda had been her maid of honor and Daphne had portkeyed in from America.  Ares was the owner of Ballycastle Bats and the match was a good business venture.  The day after they became engaged, Ares signed a contract for Ogden to be his exclusive beverage supplier at his Quidditch stadium. 

 

She supposed she was happy, at least for the first two years.  He had walked up to her at her father’s Halloween party and asked her to dance.  She had been struck by the older wizard’s confidence and charm.  He really listened to her when she spoke and she had felt like such a grown up as they waltzed around the floor.  The next day, he invited her to a Bats game and before the winter was over, they were engaged.  Their courtship had been brief, but a blur of fun.  He sent her Venus blossoms and took her riding and to Bats games.  He called her Elizabeth instead of Lizzie and they went on long walks and flights together.  His schedule was busy, but he made time to send her short notes every day.  He bought her a beautiful square cut emerald with two diamonds on the side as an engagement ring. 

 

Ares was usually occupied with work all week; in addition to owning the Bats he owned several textile factories and was a major producer of wizarding fabrics.  Rosmerta had a fabulous wardrobe while she was married to him.  Even though Ares spent long hours at work and traveled a lot, they met every Sunday without fail in the owner’s box.  Rosmerta got to know the league’s Quidditch players quite well.  Her most thrilling moment was when she met Gwendolyn Morgan after she became the Harpies captain in 1950.  She still remembered every score from when the Harpies played the Bats, but she had a hard time remembering exactly what shade of brown Ares’ eyes had been or how he liked his eggs.  What stood out the most in her memory were the Quidditch matches.  The owner’s box had a perfect view of the field and Rosmerta delighted in inviting her old school friends to come see the games.  She even persuaded Ares to let Lucinda sing the anthem at one of the games against the Harpies.  That was her fondest memory of him, when he had looked up from his papers with the sweetest smile and said, “If it means so much to you, love, your friend can sing.”  She had kissed him and raced to the fireplace in her room to contact Lucinda.

 

She still cheered for the Harpies, only now she did it from the comfort of the tavern when the games were broadcast over the WWN.  She hadn’t been to a match in ages, but every time the Harpies played she decorated the tavern in green and yellow and gave a free dinner to anyone who predicted the final score (she had had to ban Cleo Bellmar from this because she was just too good at Divination).  Wednesday night Quidditch had grown out of her following of Harpies games.

 

Wednesday night Quidditch was one of the additions she made to the tavern shortly after she became acclimated to the business of running a tavern, which had taken that entire fall and winter.  In her first week alone she had set the kitchen on fire twice, spilled more Butterbeer than she sold, and went home every night crying.  Her feet hurt, she had food all over her robes, and no matter what she did, the books hadn’t balanced once.  The second week she had been open, Maddie came over to find Rosmerta in the kitchen in tears.  Rosmerta’s cooking skills were limited to tea and she was staring helplessly at a raw chicken, not wanting to touch it and wishing she had thought to bring a house elf along with her. 

 

Maddie got out her wand, showed Rosmerta how to season the chicken and make gravy.  Maddie came by every Monday when the tavern was closed to show her how to make pudding, homemade fish and chips, and beef stew.  She escorted Rosmerta to Gringotts and helped her set up a bank account.   Their tea ritual had grown out of those trips.  Maddie would mention she had a craving for a cup, Rosmerta would offer to take her for one, and Maddie would spend the next hour or so explaining the ins and outs of owning a business and regale her with gossip about the townspeople. 

 

Rosmerta quickly overcame her suspicions and was beside herself with gratefulness for Maddie, thanking her profusely.  Maddie would just pat her arm and said,  “That’s all right, dear—all this is a bit overwhelming for you, isn’t it?”  Maddie would look intently at Rosmerta, as if trying to figure out what sort of young witch didn’t know how to boil potatoes, but she had refrained from asking Rosmerta too much about her past.  From Maddie’s experience she knew there were two types of people: those that liked to talk about themselves and those that asked the questions to keep the others talking.  She stopped asking the questions when she saw Rosmerta wasn’t talking and figured the young witch would eventually open up.  Maddie had been waiting patiently for the past forty years or so.

 

Over time, Rosmerta burnt the pork chops less often and she finally found the right combination of aging and sugar so that the strawberry wine was palatable.  Customers were, for the most part, charmed by the pretty young blonde who was adorably frazzled at how to manage everyone’s drink orders on a Hogsmeade weekend.  Now, Rosmerta performed elaborate spinning and levitating routines with the bottles and glasses.  Her tricks were a bit hit with the Friday and Saturday night crowd.

 

After that first shaky year, Rosmerta found that she could manage the Three Broomsticks with less and less help from Maddie, but their tea ritual remained.  She learned the names of the regulars and got to know the Hogwarts faculty when they made their little sojourns from the castle.  Even the years when the Dark Lord was in power, it felt good to know her tavern was a place where the villagers could come together in solidarity against what was happening in the Wizarding world.  For the first time in her life, she truly felt that she was contributing to something larger than herself.  She had grown to love the sense of community she found in Hogsmeade.  People liked her based on her charm and wit and made an effort to get to know her first name instead of her surname.

 

Max had learned both, but he kept calling her Miss Demebach in the business letters he sent, and Rosmerta hadn’t bothered telling him otherwise.  She still referred to him as Mr. Hopper, even though he signed his letters Max.  The letters were mostly little updates from the brewery, inquiries as to how she was doing with orders, and promotional information.  One letter contained an invitation to a Harpies game for all of the company’s “valued customers.”  Rosmerta regretfully declined that offer, along with the offer of a “personal” tour of the brewery.  But true to his earlier word, Max stopped by one weekend in mid-October to check and see how she was doing.

 

He came by on a Wednesday, near the end of lunch.  Hester was chatting with Ginger, who had brought Henry by.  Some of the older patrons were gathered around her; they shot smoke in animal shapes out of their wands and were making faces at Henry, who just drooled and grinned toothlessly. 

 

“He’s been a bit fussy lately, I think he might be teething,” Ginger said to the group of women who were cooing around Henry. 

 

“Want me to get some ice?” Hester asked

 

“No,” Ginger said watching the smoky shape of a hippogriff float over Henry’s pram.  “We’re heading back home soon, we just needed to get out and about for a bit.  It’s nice not having to do dishes for a change.” Ginger sighed.  “Maggie and Billy will be home from school soon, we do need to get going, come on pumpkin,” she cooed to Henry.

 

How did we ever manage to survive this long as a species before babies had all this stuff?  Rosmerta thought as she watched Ginger flick her wand and gather up the plethora of items (the stuffed dragon, bottles, hat, snuggly suit, diaper bag and other odd items whose purpose was only known to mothers).  Rosmerta caught herself staring longingly at Ginger as she bundled Henry up.  She snapped back to attention and busied herself gathering up plates and napkins. 

 

She was in the back of the tavern when the door opened.  A glance into the mirror over the bar told her that Max had come in and was peering around the pub.  Hester went over to him and pretty soon the two began talking animatedly.  Banishing the dishes to the kitchen, and smoothing her hair, Rosmerta strode over.

 

“Ah, Mr. Hopper, I see you’ve met Hester.  Is she giving you a Slytherin house update?”

 

“Yes,” Max’s face brightened.  “Hester here was just telling me about the new head of a house, the young Potions master is it?  Professor Slape?  Snipe?”

 

“Snape.  He’s a bit frightening; I was scared to death of him first year.  I think he eventually liked me, he said I could use him as a reference for cooking school.  Mary has him now and she can’t stand him, although he does tend to be meaner to the Hufflepuffs.  Mary’s my younger sister and she’s in Ravenclaw,” she explained.  Rosmerta couldn’t remember the last time Hester had talked so much in front of a stranger.

 

“My brothers were Ravenclaws too!  Is Professor Flitwick still head of house?”

 

“Yes,” Hester giggled.  “He and Professor Dumbledore look so cute walking together; it’s as if Professor Dumbledore has a life size doll of himself following him around!”

 

“Who teaches Transfiguration now that Professor Dumbledore is the Headmaster?  Is it still that pretty young woman with the long dark hair and glasses?”

 

“Professor McGonagall?” Hester asked.

 

“Yes, that’s the one.  I had Dumbledore when I first started and then a different wizard for a few years before one of the sixth years accidentally transfigured him into a fish.  He almost suffocated before anyone thought to put him in a bowl and he never came back after that.  Rumor had it that the job was cursed, but I guess Professor McGonagall has been there for a while.  She began teaching when my younger brothers were at Hogwarts.”

 

Rosmerta was glad when Cecil Parker signaled for the check and Hester excused herself.  Conversations that revolved around Hogwarts always reminded her that she was an outsider.  She could follow the general idea and sometimes contribute a thing or two, thanks to the stories and tidbits Hagrid told her, but she never really had a sense of understanding about the school.

 

“So Mr. Hopper, what brings you back to my humble establishment?”

 

“I promised I’d check in and see how you were getting along with our beer.  Any problems with deliveries?  Oh, and I brought some promotional merchandise, if you’d like to give it away to customers.  This American company I worked for was very keen on that.”

 

“Well, I would have owled you if anything was going wrong.  That ale of yours is replacing my homemade mead as the favorite drink around here,” she gave him a mockingly stern look. 

 

He couldn’t conceal his pleasure but pretended to look chagrinned at her comment.  “Well, Miss Demebach, our stout may be in your customers’ glasses, but it will never replace your mead in their hearts.”  He placed his own hat over his heart as he said this.  

 

She put her hands on her hips, cocked her head to the side and looked him up and down, a pert expression on her face.  She noted he had on yet another smashing ensemble; camel colored with green trim.  Rosmerta couldn’t help but notice how well the robes complimented his hazel eyes.  

 

“Tell me, Mr. Hopper, have you, at any point in your career, worked for the Ministry of Magic?  You blend your words with just the perfect amount of diplomacy and codswallop.  I am impressed.”

 

“Ah, but are you dazzled?”

 

She burst out laughing, but in the back of her mind she thought, Let’s just leave it at impressed, I have neither the time nor the inclination to be blindsided right now. 

 

“Believe me, when I’m dazzled, you’ll know it,” was what she said instead.

 

At that moment Hester came back over.  “Should I start shutting down the kitchen?  I don’t think anyone else is going to be coming in for lunch,” she said to Rosmerta.  She looked over at Max and gave him a shy smile

 

“Sounds good, dear.  Thank you.”

 

“Say, Hester, how’s Slytherin doing in Quidditch lately?  I played Chaser sixth and seventh year.”

 

“Well, Gryffindor won the Quidditch cup just this past year and the matches were cancelled the year before that.  We did win the Quidditch cup my first, third and fifth year and we won the House Cup four years in a row when I was there!” she exclaimed to Max, who beamed with pride for his house. 

 

“Who’s the captain now?”

 

“It was Marcus Flint, but then he graduated.  Claude Warrington was supposed to be captain this year, but matches have been canceled because of the Tournament.  He’ll probably be captain next year.”

 

“Who’s playing Seeker?”

 

“Draco Malfoy.  He started two years ago.  If he’s not playing against Gryffindor, he’s rather good.”

 

“Malfoy?  I went to school with Marcellus Malfoy.  I was a few years ahead of him.  He played Seeker too.”  Max shook his head.  “Ah, Gryffindor, they didn’t win the Quidditch cup once when I was at school, although I’ve heard some of their luck has changed with that Potter lad,” he said with a grin that got Hester giggling again.

 

“My brother was a Gryffindor, I’ll make sure to let him know they weren’t always so good at Quidditch.  He went to school with Charlie Weasley and forgets that we used to beat his house all the time!” 

 

“So, Mr. Hopper, what sort of items did you bring by to tempt my customers with?” Rosmerta interrupted.

 

Max opened up his briefcase and brought out an assortment of small, Fluffy-like Cerberus figures that barked and moved, a few coasters, and some mugs and white Muggle shirts with the company logo on it.

 

“Hester, how about a shirt,” he offered.

 

“Oh, um, no thank you, sir.  I only have robes.  I don’t think Madam Rosmerta would like me to show up to work wearing just a shirt,” she gave Max an apologetic look.

 

Max laughed.  “No, I’m sure she wouldn’t like that.  Here, have a few figures.” He offered a handful to her. 

 

Hester looked at Rosmerta, who indicated she was welcome to take them.  Hester cupped her hand and Max transferred the figures to her.  She tucked them into her apron pocket.

 

“Thank you!  The twins will love these!  It was really nice meeting you,” Hester said to Max.  “I enjoyed hearing about Hogwarts when you were there,” Hester said shyly and Max beamed.  “Oh!  Excuse me!” she dashed off to another table that had been signaling for her.

 

Rosmerta held up a shirt.  “This is highly unusual, Mr. Hopper.  Are you so kind to all your customers?”

 

“Well, I do what I can to cultivate good relationships between myself and my clients.  Some more than others,” his voice took on a warm note and he looked sidelong at her.  There was a pause between them as Rosmerta stared intently at the shirt. 

 

“It doesn’t move,” she said, instantly feeling like a dolt.

 

“Yes, erm,” Max cleared his throat.  “We sell to a few Muggle pubs, I think I mentioned that last time.  We usually give the shirts and mugs to them, so the writing isn’t charmed.  I thought some of your regulars might get a kick out of Muggle clothing.  I bet they’re not used to it at all.”  

 

“They might,” she smiled thinking about Ruby.  She made a mental note to bring a shirt by Bangles and Bobbins; Ruby would probably enjoy wearing it while she worked.  “I’ve been looking for new prizes for Wednesday night Quidditch.  That’s one of the most popular nights for your drinks.  I think the two would go very well together.”

 

“Is it?” Max said trying to sound innocent.  “Perhaps I could come by and do a promotional gig.  Dennis is working on a new beer, Triple Chinese Firebach.”

 

“I think we’ve got enough excitement going on as it is.  One more new thing and I think someone will keel over from shock.”  She took in his disappointed expression and hastily added, “Really, you’ve been very kind and attentive, and I do appreciate it.  Maybe sometime after Halloween.”  She was surprised to find she was actually looking forward to seeing him again. 

 

Max looked as if he wanted to say something, but changed his mind.  “All you need to do is owl me, I’d be more than happy to Apparate here.  The Three Broomsticks is very well known in the wizarding world and it’s an honor to do business with such a respected establishment.” He piled the shirts and cups in a box he had procured from his briefcase and snapped his briefcase shut.  “And your waitress is such a charming young woman.  It was nice to reminisce about Slytherin with her.”

 

Rosmerta felt a surge of protectiveness and she bit the inside of her lower cheek before she could snap something back at him along the lines of she’s young enough to be your daughter, so back off! 

 

“Yes, Hester has been a fantastic help, I don’t know how I managed without her.  She’s quite a gem isn’t she?”  Rosmerta said evenly.

 

“Yes, she is,” Max said, heading in the direction of the exit.  Rosmerta walked with him and opened the door for him.  “But she doesn’t sparkle nearly as much as you.”  He tipped his hat and disappeared with a small ‘pop!’ before Rosmerta could reply. 

 

That’s twice he did that!  Stupid Disapparating!  That settles it, she thought, I am definitely going to have the last word the next time we meet.  She set off to collect the dishes and glasses, barely able to suppress the girlish grin that threatened to spread over her face. 

 

*          *          *

 

Rosmerta held off owling Max to have him come by for Wednesday night Quidditch.  Even though she would be expecting him this time, it was rather unsettling having Max popping up at odd times.  It was already quite unnerving that whenever someone ordered a Romanian Longneck or a Short Snout Stout, a great big image of Max smiling and tipping his hat to her sprung into her head. 

 

Maddie noticed her distraction the Monday before Halloween, when they were at their usual table at Thyme and Honey.

 

“So how’s that handsome young saleswizard, love?  Giving him any business?” Maddie sipped her tea and noted how the heat rose in Rosmerta’s cheeks.

 

Honestly, Rosmerta thought, mentally rolling her eyes, Maddie could ask ‘How’s the weather?’ and it would still come out sounding like she was asking about one’s …personal business.

 

“Yes,” Rosmerta said, switching to her Wurtzanhall voice, which only served to amuse Maddie further.  “I entered into a business arrangement with his brewing company and have found it quite satisfactory.  And you?”

 

“Well my dear, I’ve found you can’t go wrong with a firm body and a good head,” Maddie paused, enjoying Rosmerta’s scandalized expression.  “So I went with the black and tan and the stout.”  Maddie poured a bit more tea from the pot into her cup, and looked slyly at Rosmerta who had just helped herself to a raisin biscuit.  “Although I do find that a thick head is perfectly fine as long as there’s a firm body to go with it.” 

 

Rosmerta choked on her biscuit in a fit of giggles while Maddie added cream and sugar to her cup as if nothing had happened, before she too burst out laughing.

 

“Just business?” Maddie inquired.

 

“Just business,” Rosmerta returned firmly, not noticing the regretful note that had crept into her voice. 

 

Maddie caught the undertones in Rosmerta’s voice, but ignored it as she changed the subject to the problem she was having with customers doing hits of Billywigs in the bathroom.  “Merlin’s eyeballs, one of them was bumping his head against the ceiling for nearly twenty minutes Saturday night!  No matter how many times I try to ban those blasted things, I inevitably have some warlock levitating around the room once a month!  I’m going to have to get a giant net to catch them or something,” she groused at Rosmerta who let loose with a fresh wave of giggles.  The image of Maddie running around Lorelei’s Lair in her sparkly robes waving a butterfly net was too much.  The subject of Max Hopper had been dropped, for now.  

 

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