The Sugar Quill
Author: Violet Azure (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Black Cloud in a Blue Sky  Chapter: Chapter 2: Partially Cloudy
Next Chapter
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: I do not own the creations of J

Disclaimer: I do not own the creations of J.K. Rowling, nor am I making any money off of her wonderful creations.  It’s her universe; I’m just visiting.  All original characters are of my own creation and may not be used without permission of the author.

 

A/N: Thank you very much to the women of the SQ workshop for all of their help, suggestions, and support.

 

Chapter 2: Partially Cloudy

 

Another week went by and Rosmerta still hadn’t made any progress on her Patronus.  True, she had only practiced one other time before daily demands took over her time.  Russell had volunteered to give her private lessons but Rosmerta immediately and politely declined.  She decided that everyone was making too much of a fuss over the Dementors and the ability to produce a Patronus.  It wasn’t as if the Dementors were going to be spending a great deal of time in the village; they were going to be confined to the castle grounds.  Really now, there were so many other defensive spells that they could be practicing, like Disarming, a spell she happened to be good at.  A Patronus was only useful against a Dementor or a lethifold and Black was neither. 

 

As if to prove her point, when the term started, the Dementors arrived at Hogwarts and nothing changed in the village except a proliferation of “Wanted” posters featuring the pale, sunken face of Sirius Black.  There was even a poster tacked on the front of the Three Broomsticks.  Every time she saw it, she had a hard time believing that the face looking back at her was once the same face that used to curl into a smile and tease her about ordering firewhiskey.  That was the toll Azkaban took on a person.  Even Hagrid, who had only been in there about three months, came out nearly three stone lighter, pale and ragged.  Hagrid was finally smiling again, but the light still hadn’t come back to his eyes.

 

Saturday morning, that cold, intense glare greeted her from the “Wanted” poster as she unlocked the door to the tavern.  Beneath Black’s portrait was information about a reward for information leading to his capture; Black’s face was curled into a sneer as if he were mocking those words.  Come on, catch me if you can, he taunted silently.  Rosmerta shivered in the early September air and resolved to start entering the building through the back door.  She crossed the tavern, her heels echoing on the wooden floor.  A wave of her wand lit the candles and the blackness of the rooms was chased away, fading in the wake of her footsteps. 

 

What drove him to kill all those Muggles? she mused while tying on her apron.  She doubted if she could work the Killing Curse, even if it was for self-defense.  But Black had used that curse in cold blood.  Everyone said it was a desperate act after the fall of his Master, but that didn’t make sense to her.  If Sirius Black had been a Death Eater, why hadn’t he scrambled to get out of the country or gone into hiding?  Why stage such a reckless act out in the open like that?  Well, she thought to herself, didn’t you go out with a bang before relocating?  She started chuckling but stopped herself, a wave of shame slapping her in the face.  Thirteen people had died in that explosion; nearly a dozen more had been wounded.  What kind of person was she to even consider joking about such a thing? 

 

She picked up a knife and began chopping carrots; the crisp snap followed by the thunk of metal against wood provided comforting background noise.  She remembered both Black brothers and, to a lesser extent, the Black sisters.  The eldest girl had been nice and polite, but unremarkable.  What had her name been?  Andrea?  Audrina?  The youngest sister gave her the chills.  Bellatrix.  She remembered the name because it had been all over the papers a few short years after the girl had left Hogwarts.  There was a middle sister, too, but Rosmerta hadn’t met her.  Rosmerta heard that the middle one had gone to Wurtzanhal, which Rosmerta knew was a euphemism for beautiful, rich, and not talented enough for Hogwarts.

 

Bellatrix was at school with both Black brothers, but from what Rosmerta had briefly seen during Hogsmeade weekends, it appeared that Bellatrix only associated with the younger one, Regulus, another name that had soon been splashed about the papers.  From what she could remember, there was no love lost between Sirius and his brother and cousin.  Recalling a conversation she once had with Sirius, it appeared he had very little affection for most of his family, save his eldest girl cousin and a great uncle.  Rosmerta couldn’t blame him; she remembered meeting Sirius’s mother before she was Mrs. Black.  It was at a tea held after her engagement to Ares.  Vega Barrette was some relation of Artemis Hardgrove, Rosmerta’s former mother-in-law, a grandniece, a cousin’s daughter, or something like that on the Dearbourne side of the family.  Rosmerta hadn’t bothered to pay too close attention.  All pureblood families were had threads linking them one to the other the way the strands in a spider web were all connected.  Rosmerta hadn’t liked the woman very much; Vega had made one snide comment after another regarding the Ogden’s business relationships with Muggles.  “I hear Muggles are so stupid that they use paper for currency; does your family pay them in rolls of parchment?”  Rosmerta was surprised the woman had even done something so human as to give birth; she would have thought Vega’s offspring would have to hatch from eggs.  

 

Rosmerta sighed as she tipped the carrots into the stew pot and began dicing onions.  The apple apparently didn’t fall far from the tree; nearly all those children had met with a tragic end.  Sirius and Bellatrix Lestrange had ended up in Azkaban and Regulus Black was dead.  The middle Black sister had gotten off lightly; her husband had been accused of Death Eater activities, but was eventually pardoned.  Rosmerta felt a grim sort of satisfaction in knowing that hers wasn’t the only pureblood family with more than a few skeletons in its closet and lumps of gold where their hearts should have been.  Although she hadn’t expected that end for Sirius…Rosmerta shook her head and turned on the wireless for company as she continued cooking, preparing herself for another busy Saturday.

 

***

 

“There you are, Mr. Tindle,” Rosmerta set down a huge bowl of beef stew and a small basket of homemade rolls. 

 

“Thank you,” he wheezed, picking up his spoon.

 

It was later that day and she had just reopened for dinner.  Mr. Tindle and some of the elderly patrons tended to eat early.  She expected a few of the shopkeepers to drift in shortly after five and the bulk of her dinner patrons to arrive at six.  When the door opened at half past four, Rosmerta looked up expecting to see Iris and Herman Strunk or old Mrs. Brisbane.

 

“Hagrid!”  Rosmerta waved across the bar to get his attention.  She flashed him a broad smile that quickly reversed itself into a concerned frown as she watched him slump onto a stool with all the grace of a three-legged elephant.  “How was your first week of classes?” she asked tentatively, filling up his tankard.  Hagrid’s face crumbled and she was afraid he was going to burst into tears.

 

“‘orrible.  Dumbledore never shoulda ‘ired me.  I muffed it up the first day.  The first day!  It’s a miracle I ‘aven’t bin chucked out on me ear.  An’ I don’ know what’s goin’ to happen’ to poor Beaky.”  Hagrid’s face contorted with worry and he barely acknowledged the drink Rosmerta put in front of him. 

 

“Beaky?”

 

“One o’ the hippogriffs from me class.”

 

“What happened?”

 

Hagrid sighed heavily and began gulping down his mead.  “’Twas the first class an’ I was doin’ hippogriffs with sum o’ the third years.  I jus’ wanted it ter be an interestin’ lesson, yeh know?  Well, Harry handled Beaky jus’ fine.  Patted him an’ even rode ‘im ‘round the padlock.  Everythin’ seemed ter be goin’ good; the res’ o’ the students star’ed workin’ with ‘em…an’ then I guess Draco Malfoy said somethin’ ter Beaky…an’ yeh know hippogriffs…they don’ like bein’ insulted.”

 

Rosmerta nodded.  A group of warlocks was trying to get her attention and she was doing her best to ignore them.  “What did Beaky do?”

 

Hagrid took a gulp of mead and then grimaced.  “He sorta lashed out, scratched him.  I’m sure he didn’ mean ter hurt ‘im!  But hippogriffs ‘ave them real sharp claws and he cut the lad real bad.”

 

“Oh no!  Is he going to be all right?”

 

Hagrid put down his drink, took out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead, which was dotted with moisture.  Instead of putting the handkerchief away, he twisted it over and over in his hands.  “Madam Pomfrey did wha’ she could, but I guess he’s real cut up…”    

 

Something whizzed past her ear and exploded in a shower of red sparks.  The sparks formed an arrow, which pointed in the direction of the warlocks.  They waved and gestured with a great deal of impatience.  With a roll of her eyes, Rosmerta sighed gave the men a signal to let them know she got their message.  “Sorry, Hagrid.  I’ll be right back.”  She stalked down the length of the bar, her heels clicking sharply.  She got their drink orders, returned to the taps, and then sent the mugs flying down the bar without a second look.

 

She took Hagrid’s empty mug and filled it up again.  “So what’s going to happen now?”  

 

Hagrid squirmed uncomfortably, still wringing his handkerchief.  “Well, the Board o’ Gov’nors ‘as been informed an’ it’s up to them ter decide what ter do next.  Fer now, Beaky is back in the Forest, but Lucius Malfoy filed an official complaint with the Committee for the Disposal of Magical Creatures.  They’re an awful bunch and Beaky…”  Hagrid threw up his hands helplessly and resumed twisting his handkerchief.

 

“What about you though?  You won’t be…you’ll still be at Hogwarts, right?” 

 

“Dumbledore stood up fer me, don’ know why.  Great man, great man.”  Hagrid shook his head and dropped his gaze to the bar top.  Rosmerta wondered if there was anyone in the world who loved Albus Dumbledore more than Hagrid.

 

“Hey Professor!”  Russell and Archie walked up to the bar and settled themselves on either side of him.  Hagrid cringed at their words.  “The usual,” they told Rosmerta.

 

“So how was your first week, Hagrid?  You weren’t too hard on the students, were you?”  Russell smiled jovially.

 

“Ah…not too bad.”  Hagrid picked up his mug and drained it in record time.  “Have ter get back.  Homework ter grade an’ all.”  Hagrid scrambled off the stool, nearly knocking it over in the process.  He righted it before it toppled to the ground.  “Nice seein’ yeh, Rosie.”  He waved and hurried out the door. 

 

“What?  He’s too good to have a drink with us now?” Archie grumbled, taking the tankard from Rosmerta and raising it to his lips.

 

“Oh stop it, Archie.  Hagrid’s had a rough week and he just didn’t want to be subjected to an inquisition from you two.” 

 

“What happened?” Russell asked. 

 

But another explosion of red sparks from the warlocks interrupted their conversation, saving her from a reply.  By the time she served them and took care of the dinner orders filtering in, the subject of Professor Hagrid’s first week had been dropped.

 

***

 

The autumn days passed, each one blending into the next the way the leaves on the trees blurred from green to orange, yellow, and red.  The Azkaban guards hadn’t strayed from their posts around the castle and the villagers had adopted the motto of out of sight, out of mind.  Once a topic of daily conversation, nearly a week would go by before Rosmerta would hear anyone saying the name Sirius Black.  The parchment posters wrinkled, the writing fading after nearly two months of sun and rain.  With no new news about Black, many felt the subject had been exhausted. 

 

Rosmerta remained concerned about Hagrid, though.  Once a fixture at the bar Friday and Saturday nights, as well as at Wednesday night Quidditch, Rosmerta barely saw Hagrid once a week now.  On the rare occasion that he did come in, he seemed to be there to drink, not to socialize.  When she pressed him for answers, Hagrid merely replied that he was busy with his classes and passing by the Dementors on the way to Hogsmeade rattled him.  Hagrid wasn’t the only member of the Hogwarts faculty who had been conspicuously absent from the tavern.  Minerva and Poppy usually stopped by once in a while and Morgan Drew, the Ancient Runes professor, would come to Wednesday night Quidditch if the Montrose Magpies were playing, but he was no where to be found when the Magpies pulled off a spectacular defeat of the Tutshill Tornadoes.  It might be that the combined effects of passing the Dementors’ guard posts and the threat of Sirius Black was enough to prevent the Hogwarts faculty and staff from visiting Hogsmeade.  Rosmerta was therefore surprised when Albus Dumbledore informed the villagers that Halloween Day would be a Hogsmeade weekend.

 

Halloween was the busiest day she’d had in months.  Students packed into the tavern, pink-faced and gabbing cheerfully as they pulled out their purchases, mostly from Honeydukes and Zonko’s.  They seemed oblivious to the threat of Sirius Black and were thoroughly enjoying themselves as only the young can.  The Muggle-borns were easy to spot because their heads whipped back and forth as if trying to follow a Hydra debate.  Even students who had grown up in the wizarding world didn’t appear to be taking Hogsmeade’s charms for granted.  The third years looked painfully excited as they clutched their tankards full of Butterbeer.  Whispering and giggling, they ogled the adults in the tavern as if they belonged to a mysterious, exotic species.  If they had doubts that the village was anything but one hundred percent magical, the ogre doing shots of firewhiskey at the bar definitely convinced them.

 

Rosmerta kept the queue moving as best she could, pausing to chat with some of the students she had gotten to know.  After a fourth year Ravenclaw headed off with drinks for her friends, a tall boy with bright red hair stepped up to the bar.  He hunched his shoulders slightly and seemed unsure of what to do with his hands.  Many washings had turned his black cloak a deep shade of charcoal and a small orange badge supporting the Chudley Cannons was sewn onto the upper left-hand corner. 

 

“Two Butterbeers, please,” the boy said.  He looked up and his eyes became as big and bright as Galleons.

 

“Well, hello there.  You must be the youngest Weasley boy, yes?  You look just like your brother, Bill.”  Rosmerta leaned over the bar to make herself heard, unaware that the modest amount of cleavage she flashed was enough to send a thirteen-year old boy into a state of shock. 

 

The freckle-faced youth turned crimson to the tips of his ears.  “Y-yes, ma’am,” he stammered.

 

“No need to call me ma’am, dear.  I’m Madam Rosmerta to all my customers.  Your brothers were just here.  No doubt they’ve left for Zonko’s by now.”  She let out a gay little laugh and straightened up, depriving him of a direct view of heaven.  The boy didn’t say anything as she filled the second tankard with Butterbeer and Rosmerta noted with amusement that he was alternately fascinated with her chest and the top of the bar. 

 

“What’s your name, dear?”

 

“Uh…Ron.”  He jerked his head up so that his eyes met hers.  She smiled knowingly; her eyes were kind as if to let him know that no harm was done.  He flushed even harder so that his freckles were now indistinguishable from the rest of his face.  Rosmerta had an overwhelming urge to reach over and ruffle the poor lad’s hair, although if she did, she had a feeling that he would probably pass out cold. 

 

“I saw your family in the paper a few months ago.  Congratulations on winning the annual Daily Prophet Galleon Draw.  Did you have a nice time in Egypt?”

 

“Um…yeah.”  He cleared his throat.  “It was…fun.”

 

“Good, good.  Sounds like you had a lovely time.  It was nice to meet you, Ron.  I expect I’ll be seeing you these next few years.  Say hello to your older brothers for me.  Hagrid tells me Charlie’s in Romania studying dragons.”

 

“Yeah.  He’s a bit of a nutter.  Charlie, I mean, not Hagrid,” he added hastily.

 

Rosmerta smiled and handed him the second tankard.  “Well, send them my regards and enjoy your day.”

 

Ron stammered his thanks and disappeared into the crowd, forgetting to pay.  Rosmerta smiled to herself.  That’s five for five with those Weasley boys. 

 

As if someone could read her mind, a voice spoke.  “You’re a cruel beauty, Rosmerta Demebach.  Those schoolboys don’t stand a chance.”

 

“Hera!”  Rosmerta turned and leaned across the bar and gave her friend a kiss on the cheek.  “You’re back from Greece already?” 

 

“Yes.  Turns out that the text they found is in need of some serious repair before anyone can attempt to translate it, so my services weren’t needed for very long.  Too bad they didn’t make that mistake during the summer; I could have used a nice holiday in the sun.” 

 

“And by ‘holiday in the sun’, do you mean that young olive grower?”

 

“Nickoli?  No, his family makes cheese.  Anthony’s family is the olive one, but he’s in Italy.  I might see him this summer if I get clearance to review those de Vinci papers.”  Hera said this without any trace of embarrassment, almost as if she was bored by the topic.

 

“Not Anthony Cournicopietti?”  Rosmerta raised her eyebrows.  The Cournicopietti family was one of the largest olive oil producers in Europe.  Rosmerta had spent one summer at the family’s vineyard visiting her friend Maria and snogging Maria’s older brother, Anthony.  Considering Hera’s preference for younger men, Rosmerta wondered if it was Anthony Jr. she was talking about.

 

“No, this one’s a Muggle.  I take it that it’s a Hogsmeade weekend?”  Hera looked around the tavern. 

 

“Obviously, if I’m using my feminine wiles to seduce innocent young lads,” Rosmerta replied in a tart sort of voice.  

 

“Oh, you know I’m just teasing.  By the way, who is that?” she nodded in the direction of a tall boy with light brown hair.  There was the look about him of a young colt that had just reached its first year of maturity. 

“Him?  That’s Cedric Diggory.  He’s certainly grown up quite a bit since I’ve seen him last.  Nice boy too, very friendly and such good manners.”

 

“Yes, very nice,” Hera murmured.  “Shame he isn’t a few years older,” she said with a sigh, turning back to Rosmerta.  “Oh, you know I’m joking,” she added when she saw the faint look of disapproval on Rosmerta’s face.

 

“I know you are,” Rosmerta said, slightly defensively.  Although she only saw the children three or four times a year, she felt very protective of them, more so than the other villagers, she imagined.  The students shopped at many stores throughout the village, but it was here in her tavern that they really spent their time.  Rosmerta got to interact with the students and observe their behavior more closely than most shopkeepers. 

 

Hera leaned on the bar, black hair tumbling down her shoulder and flopping over her eye in a way that made her look mysteriously seductive.  “Listen, I’ve been invited to a Halloween party tonight and you know how hopeless I am at cooking spells.  Is there any way I could get some of your famous stuffed mushrooms to go?  I understand if you can’t make them in time.”

 

“I made some for tonight, but you know me.  I always make too much.  I could spare about two dozen.  Would that be enough?”

 

“Perfect!”

 

“Send an owl over at about five o’clock to pick them up.  Where’s this party you’re going to?”

 

“London.  One of my museum contacts is having it.  Rumor has it that some of the players from the Falcons and Magpies are going to be there.  How about you close up early and join me?”

 

The hairs on the back of Rosmerta’s neck pricked up.  She had attended many a party in her day with Quidditch players.  Even though the players at this party would be too young to remember her, she had no desire to be in an environment where she was reminded of her past exploits.  That’s all I need in my life right now, waking up next to some young Chaser tomorrow morning.  Although…

 

“Thank you for the invitation, but I think I’ll pass.  You know the regulars; this Halloween party is the highlight of the month!”

 

Hera rolled her eyes.  “Too true.  Anyway, thanks for the mushrooms.  I’m in the village until Christmas; we really should get together for a cup of tea.  I’ll owl you.”

 

“Sounds lovely.  Be sure to tell me all about your party the next time I see you.”

 

“I will—if I can remember it!”  Hera laughed and straightened up.  “I’ll let you get back to work.”  She fluttered her fingers and strolled out, earning a look or two from some of the older boys, who were undoubtedly wishing that they were, indeed, a few years older. 

 

Rosmerta watched the response to Hera’s exit with a smile.  Oh to be young and in love with a stranger!  Well, not love actually.  A crush.  A wonderful, dizzying, mind-spinning crush that made your stomach hop like a frog on a hot iron stove.  Rosmerta sighed; it had been a long time since her heart had caught in her throat.  She missed that sensation, but she knew she was too old to be mooning about with her head in the clouds.  And besides, between the castle and the village, there was a limited pool from which to select an object of affection.  Maybe she should take a leaf out of Hera’s book and start carrying on with one of the local lads.  Todd Wicks wasn’t bad looking.  A tawdry image popped into her mind of the two of them in the back of his family’s store, entwined on top of a stack of fertilizer bags.  Ug.  I sound like I’m a character in one of those Helen de Venus novels.  Next thing you know I’ll be using Color Charms on my hair and pouring myself into mokeskin robes.  

 

“Eat dragon dung, Malfoy!”

 

Rosmerta snapped out of her reverie to see Ron Weasley, fists balled and ready for punching, staring down at a pale, blond boy with his arm in a sling and two huge boys on either side of him.  Ron’s face was bright red, only this time it was flushed with anger.  There was a girl with an unkempt halo of hair behind him, bristling with so much energy that she was practically spitting sparks.

 

Rosmerta glided over to the boys.  “Is there a problem, gentlemen?”  She placed one hand on Ron’s shoulder. 

 

“No problem,” the blond boy drawled, clearly pleased that he had achieved whatever goal he had set out to accomplish.  He turned to his two huge companions.  “Crabbe, Goyle, let’s go.”  They turned and left without another word.

 

Ron was still fuming but he restrained himself from launching himself at the blonde boy’s retreating back.  Rosmerta kept her hand on his shoulder and gently steered him back to his seat.  It might have been her imagination, but she thought she saw the frizzy-haired girl glower at her.  Three other boys she had served earlier were also at the table.

 

“What happened?” Rosmerta asked.

 

“Oh, he was just being a git,” the girl muttered.

 

“He said that Hogsmeade is an all-wizarding settlement and that Muggle-borns shouldn’t be allowed to visit it,” Ron snarled.

 

“But he didn’t say Muggle-borns; he used the ‘M’ word,” the chubby boy with a kind face added, looking slightly horrified at the thought of the offending word.  At this, the girl’s brown eyes flared with anger and one of the other boys also looked agitated.

 

“The ‘M’ word?  Oh!”  Rosmerta raised her hand to her mouth.  “Well, I’m glad he left.  That sort of language is uncalled for,” Rosmerta said in her Ice Queen voice. 

 

“I don’t know why you don’t curse him, Hermione.  You’re the smartest person in the class, you must know some good hexes and curses,” the sandy-haired boy said.

 

“Yeah, Hermione.  Why don’t you turn him into a slug or something?  No one would miss him.”

 

“Ron!  I’d get in trouble.  And besides,” she added, looking slightly disappointed, “we don’t start human Transfiguration until sixth year.”

 

Rosmerta sensed they had cooled down and she shifted topics seamlessly.  “I can assure you, Hogsmeade is happy to have you all here.  Are you having a nice visit to our village?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” came the uniform reply. 

 

“Have you been to Honeydukes yet?”

 

“Oh yes,” Ron grinned, holding up a bulging bag.

 

“And to the post office and Zonko’s!” the sandy haired boy added.

 

“And to the book store!”  Hermione chimed in.  Ron quickly rolled his eyes at this.

 

“Excuse me, Madam Rosmerta, is there a pet store in the village?” the chubby boy asked.  “I think Trevor’s still a bit shaken up from Potions.  Maybe some treats might make him feel better.”  He pulled out a rather scrawny looking toad and set him on the table.

 

“Yeah, and I’m out of rat tonic for Scabbers.  I got him some of those fudge flies from Honeydukes though, maybe those will make him feel better.”

 

“Ron, rats don’t eat flies.  You should have gotten him some of those sunflower seeds or mixed nuts.”

 

“They do too eat flies, Hermione!  At least Scabbers does.  He also likes those orange chocoballs and Taffy Toads.  He has very discerning taste.”  Now it was Hermione’s turn to roll her eyes.

 

“You can find basic pet supplies at Dervish and Banges.  There’s also Zoë’s Zoobilee on Summit Street, six blocks up and then take a right.  Zoë Ferguson owns it and she’s quite gifted with animals. ”

 

“Thanks, Madam Rosmerta.  Maybe she can figure out what’s wrong with Scabbers.  He still doesn’t look too keen.”  Ron took out a rather mangy looking, grayish-white rodent, set it on the table and petted it.

 

Rosmerta tried not to cringe.  She wasn’t frightened or anything silly like that, it was just that she viewed all rats, mice, and insects as nothing more than common vermin and the occasional potion ingredient.  Why anyone would want to keep one as a pet was beyond her.  But Ron looked so stricken at his pet’s rather pathetic condition that she was able to muster up some sympathy.

 

“Poor thing,” she said, reaching out to give the rat a half-hearted pat on the head.  Scabbers scrambled onto her hand and scurried up her arm to her shoulder before she could react.  An overwhelming urge to fling the rat across the tavern was kept in check by the adoring look on Ron’s face.  Scabbers poked his cold, wet, tiny nose into her ear and Rosmerta tried to pretend it was a very, very small dog.

 

“He likes you!”  A rapturous smile spread over Ron’s face.

 

Rosmerta made a noise that sounded like agreement.  She turned her head slightly to see two beady black eyes staring at her.  Rosmerta frowned; didn’t most light colored rats have red eyes?  Before she could really think about the answer to that question, Scabbers shifted so that his nose was pointing downward.  He took a tentative step or two on her chest and, before Rosmerta could grab him, he lost his balance and tumbled into the bodice of her robes.

 

Rosmerta yelped and clutched her chest.  Revulsion swept over her skin as she felt tiny claws scratching her breasts.  She bent over the table and managed to shake out the rat, striking all four boys speechless in the process.  The rat plopped onto the table with a thud.  It scuttled back to Ron, looking not the least bit traumatized.  Ron snatched up his pet and stuffed him into his pocket. 

 

“Bad Scabbers!” he said to his lap.  Ron’s cheeks were bright pink and he kept his eyes on the tabletop to avoid staring at the few thin red lines on her chest.  “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he kept saying over and over again.

 

“That’s all right, dear.”  Rosmerta took a deep breath to calm herself and gave Ron a reassuring smile. 

 

Deciding that he didn’t want to miss out on the fun, Trevor gave a loud croak and leaped off the table and onto her.  With no claws for grasping, he slid off her chest and landed on the ground with a smack before making a series of hops in the direction of the kitchen.

 

“Trevor!”

 

“I’ll get him, dear.”  Rosmerta hurried after the escaping amphibian.  Accio toad,” she muttered, catching it as it zoomed through the air toward her.  She tucked the toad into her apron pocket and went into the kitchen to wash her hands.  Spying the Halloween biscuits in the shape of pumpkins that she had made for that night’s party, she grabbed several and placed them on a plate before heading back out into the tavern.

 

“Here you are, dears,” she said, setting the biscuits down and returning the toad.  “It was nice chatting with you all and meeting your pets.  You might want to keep them safely tucked away while you’re in the tavern so they don’t get hurt.  Enjoy the rest of your day.”  

 

“Wow!  Thank you, Madam Rosmerta!” they said in unison, digging into the biscuits.  Still blushing, Ron snuck a sidelong look at her and she gave him a little smile and wink. 

 

So I’m irresistible to both man and beast, she thought as she sashayed back to the bar.  And after all these years, I guess I’m still only attracting rats and toads.

 

***

 

Rosmerta didn’t have much time to get the tavern ready for the Halloween party after the students had finally left.  She was able to make a few trips to the basement where she had stored the decorations.  It was a hasty job, but she managed to make the tavern look festive with dozens of jack-o-lanterns, swooping bats, orange and black candles, and a tarantula or two spinning webs. 

 

She loved parties.  Special foods and drinks, pretty decorations, everyone happy and in a good mood.  And the clothes people wore!  When she was a child and allowed to make a brief appearance at her parents’ parties, she tried her best to follow her mother’s instructions not to stare, but it was so hard not to when she felt like she had been dropped into the middle of a garden.  Heavy velvets trimmed with creamy lace, silks as fine as demiguise hair, and thick satins that seemed to subtly glow instead of shining brassily.  Expert embroidery and detailed beadwork that made robes look more like artwork than clothing; there was so much beauty it seemed almost unbearable.  Rosmerta wanted to touch those robes to see if they were real.  Pick them and press them between the pages of a book, preserve them and save them from fading and wilting away in dark closets. 

 

When she was a girl it seemed that her parents were always going to or hosting parties.  Rosmerta would spend Saturday afternoons out playing in the meadow or flying with Philip.  Once she had been given a bath and made presentable, she would then be allowed to watch her mother get ready for that evening’s festivities.

 

Rosmerta would sit quietly on a small stool next to her mother’s vanity.  Marie would be fresh from her bath as well, clad in a silk dressing gown.  Her golden hair, the same hair Rosmerta had inherited, would be loose and flowing down her back instead of bound in its usual up-do.  Her mother looked so young, like an older sister, and Rosmerta would tell her so.  This always earned her one of her mother’s rare, sincere smiles, so Rosmerta would say it every week.  Her mother never seemed to tire of those words. 

 

As soon as her hair was brushed and pulled back from her face, her mother would begin going through hundreds of little beauty rituals, the routine barely changing from one week to the next.  Rosmerta felt the vague sense that she was witnessing sort of a secret ceremony known only to females.  Each week was like a preparation for some undefined test in the far-off future.  Remember to moisturize, her mother would say.  No matter what the apothecary promises, no potion can reverse time, so take care of your skin…Less is better when applying blush.  You don’t want to look like a tart…You have your father’s eyes.  They are such a pretty shade of blue, so you needn’t use too much color on them.  Put the focus on your lips instead, they’re rather thin and need some enhancement.  Use pinks until you come of age, after that you can wear red.  If Marie wasn’t pressed for time, sometimes she’d dab a little bit of color on Rosmerta’s lips, or swipe the blush brush over her cheeks, pausing to admire her work.  That was the only time Rosmerta could remember her mother being unconditionally kind to her. 

 

Once Rosmerta was a little older, about school age, Marie would let her try on a bracelet or a necklace if she promised to be careful.  Someday you’ll inherit all these things.  Marie would turn from the mirror to look at her daughter with something almost like sadness in her eyes.  And maybe one day when you’re older, you’ll pass them on to a little girl of your own.  Then Marie would sigh knowingly and stroke Rosmerta’s cheek with her perfectly manicured nails before turning her attention back to her vanity once again. 

 

When Marie finished and rose to finish dressing, Rosmerta would be sent off to her room.  Before being dismissed, Marie would uncork the top of her perfume bottle and lightly touch the glass tip to Rosmerta’s wrists.  Rosmerta could still remember the smell; cool and fresh like flowers that had just been cut.  Well after the house elf had tucked her into bed, she would lie still against the crisp sheets and stare at the ceiling, breathing in the scent of an English garden and knowing that some day she would be the one all dressed up at the party.

 

And pretty soon, she was attending parties, both the dull, formal ones her parents hosted and the fun, wilder ones Philip and his friends threw.  It had been at one of her parents’ parties—a Halloween party, actually—that she had met her future husband.  She had seen him around the manor a few times that previous summer; apparently he was working on some deal with her father.  He strode up to her and asked her to dance, taking her hand and turning to the dance floor before she had barely finished saying ‘yes.’ 

 

She remembered that she had been wearing black robes, nipped in at the waist and with a full skirt that swirled when she danced.  That was the style back then.  Mr. Hardgrove had commented that he liked the pin she was wearing, a small one made of rubies in the shape of a bat.  He lightly ran his finger over the stones, his eyes never leaving hers, and then casually mentioned that he owned the Ballycastle Bats.  Awed, she had asked him a hundred questions while they waltzed to song after song.  He was only a few inches taller than her in her heels, but he had seemed to tower over her.  Maybe it was because he held her with such confidence, one arm firmly around her waist, the other clasping hers without the slightest hint of perspiration, their chests lightly pressed together.  She had the sensation that he wasn’t going to let her go until he was good and ready.  There was no awkward fumbling or grasping like there was with the boys her age.  None of those bashful, apologetic looks because they didn’t quite know what to do yet.  Ares Hardgrove seemed like the type of man who would always know exactly what to do.

 

That had been so many Halloweens ago.  As Rosmerta prepared for the village’s Halloween, party, she could hardly believe that she had lived her past life.  It was more like she had born witness to some historic event.  No dancing for her on this Halloween, but there would be a fun party.  Gordon and Carmella Honeyduke brought an assortment of sweets; marshmallow skeletons, chocolate bats, mummies made of white string licorice that you could unravel when you ate them, and cobwebs made of finely spun sugar.  Archie brought some indoor fireworks and Cleo Belmar spent the night telling fortunes in her crystal ball and reading tarot cards.  Of course, Halloween wasn’t all fun and games for everyone.  It was a busy night for apothecaries and herbologists.  Certain plants could only be picked on Halloween and many potions could only be made on this day for them to work effectively.  Poor Clarence and his assistant, as well as the Podd family, never got to celebrate Halloween.

 

“Hello, Rosmerta!  Happy Halloween!”  Ruby Perlman came up to the bar.  “Could I get one Butterbeer, one mead, and a glass of pumpkin juice?”  She nodded at her five-year old daughter, Miranda. 

 

“Coming right up.”  Rosmerta got out the mugs and began pouring. 

 

“Mummy, can I have a Knut for the spider webs?”

 

“In a minute, pumpkin.  Mummy has to get your juice first.”

 

“I can bring it to your table if you like.  Are you having dinner here?”

 

“Yes.  We decided to let Miranda stay up a little late tonight so she could celebrate her first Halloween.”  Ruby placed her hand on top of her daughter’s head and smiled down at her before returning her attention to Rosmerta.  “The tavern looks lovely.” 

 

“Thank you.  I only had a few minutes to decorate.  Did you have a busy day with the Hogwarts students?”

 

“Oh, not really.  The students usually stick to Honeydukes and Zonko’s.  Some of the older girls always come by to browse.  The Christmas visit is when I usually get swamped.”

 

“Carmella was telling me that they nearly emptied the shelves.  I’m surprised she had any sweets left over to bring by.” 

 

“Mummy, can we go see the spiders?”  Miranda asked again, this time with a tug on her mother’s sleeve. 

 

“Go on.  I see Thomas.  I’ll bring the drinks to your table,” Rosmerta said.  Ruby gave her a grateful smile and led Miranda over to the corner of the tavern.

 

Rosmerta brought the goblets over to the Perlman’s table.  She made the rounds, taking orders and letting people know about the specials.  As she went back to the bar, something made her pause and smile.  There was a bouquet of jill-o’-blooms on the bar top near where Russell Banges was sitting.

 

“Hey, Rosie!  These mushrooms are great!”  Russell gestured to a nearly empty plate of appetizers Rosmerta had put out for the occasion.  He picked up one and shoved it into his mouth.

 

“Glad you like them, Russ.”  She began filling a tankard with ale for him.

 

“Oh…er,” Russell swallowed and gestured to the flowers.  “I brought you these.  Thought they might brighten up the place for the holiday and all.”  He gave a little shrug but his eyes were eagerly focused on her expression.

 

“Thank you, Russ.  They’re lovely.”  She rewarded him a dazzling smile while adding water to a tankard.  She arranged the flowers and set them up in a place of honor behind the bar, trying to ignore the feeling that there was something more expected of her.  Some crucial gesture or action she was forgetting and this act of forgetting was unspeakably rude.   

 

The feeling disappeared as a steady trickle of people filtered into the tavern over the next hour or so.  Rosmerta spent as much time serving drinks as she did socializing.  At one point, Cecil Parker got his camera out and took several pictures for the town paper.  The next morning over tea, Rosmerta smiled at the black and white versions of her and her friends in the Sunday edition of the Hogsmeade Herald.  Neither Rosmerta not anyone else in Hogsmeade had any idea that it would be the last night of the year that any of them would feel safe being out after hours in their own village.     

 

***

 

“Hello, Hagrid.  I’m surprised to see you here on a school night.”  It was Wednesday night and the Appleby Arrows were playing the Wigtown Warriors.  “Can I get you a Butcher’s Brew or will it be the usual?”

 

“The us’al is fine.”  Rosmerta pulled down on the mead tap and filled Hagrid’s tankard.

 

“How’s your class going?”

 

Hagrid merely grunted in reply. 

 

“How’s that hippogriff of yours?”

 

“Beaky’s all righ’.  Doesn’ know what’s goin’ on really.  I’m still waitin’ ter hear from the Disposal Committee.”  Hagrid’s face wrinkled with worry and he pulled the tankard to him.  Rosmerta excused herself to attend to a few people and to stop a group of warlocks from shooting arrows into the air to celebrate a goal by Appleby Chaser, Lyle Spencer. 

 

“Did you have a nice Halloween?” Rosmerta asked Hagrid once she returned to the bar.

 

“Blimey!  Yeh didn’ hear what ‘appened?”  Hagrid put down his tankard and stared at her in amazement. 

 

“No.”  Rosmerta cocked her head.  Hagrid wasn’t one for idle gossip, so something big must have taken place at the castle.  A flutter of worry unsettled her stomach, though.  It didn’t sound as if Hagrid’s news was necessarily good, just sensational.     

 

Hagrid leaned across the bar.  “Sirius Black broke into Hogwarts an’ attacked the Gryffindor guardian!  Slashed ‘er ter bits!”

 

“No!” She yelped.  “Sirius Black attacked—” Several heads turned to look at her and she quickly shut her mouth. 

 

“What’s going on Hagrid?”

 

“What was that about Sirius Black?”

 

“What attack?  Who attacked?”

 

Everyone was drawn to the bar like a redcap to blood.  The Appleby Arrows scored another goal, but no one was paying attention to the Quidditch match anymore.  Russell Banges and Archie Zonko settled onto stools to the left and right of Hagrid. 

 

“Come on, Hagrid.  Have another drink and tell us what’s going on.”  Archie nodded at Rosmerta.  She hesitated for a minute, and then filled Hagrid’s tankard with mead again.

 

“I don’ know if I’m sup’osed ter say…” Hagrid shifted uncomfortably and looked at Rosmerta for support. 

 

“Give the poor man some room to breathe,” she chided.  “He just got here.  Let him have a drink in peace.”

 

Archie waved away her scolding.  “If it’s something about Sirius Black, you have to tell us, Hagrid.  Remember what he did to all those Muggles?  You don’t want him doing that to any of the villagers, now do you?”

 

“No,” Hagrid muttered, looking down at the bar top.  Rosmerta passed him his tankard and he took a long swallow. 

 

“Then tell us what happened at the castle!”  Archie thumped his tankard on the bar top and everyone around him made cheers of encouragement. 

 

“I’m surprised Dumbledore didn’ tell yeh what ‘appened,” Hagrid said, stalling for time.  “If Dumbledore didn’ say anythin’, I don’ know if he’d like me tellin’ yeh anythin’ in case it compromises the investigation.”

 

“All right, Hagrid, don’t tell us.  We’ll go back to watching the game and when we get murdered in our sleep, we’ll be glad that we haven’t compromised any investigation.”  Cecil’s voice was coated in sarcasm.

 

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Cecil,” Rosmerta started saying, but everyone was too busy murmuring their agreement to pay any attention to her.

 

“All righ’, I’ll fill yeh in.  Yeh all know Halloween was a Hogsmeade weekend.  All the students spent the day in the village and ‘bout half past five they were all back at the castle for the feast.  Yeh all know ‘bout the Halloween feast.  It was a good meal—roast chicken, yams, candied apples…them house elves always do a great job.  After we ate, the ghosts did a bit of entertainin’, formation gliding an’ such.  Nick reenacted his beheadin’.  Awful way ter go, real gruesome like.”  Hagrid rubbed the back of his neck and focused his attention on his tankard.  Rosmerta had a feeling he was thinking about that hippogriff of his. 

 

“Go on,” Dave Dervish said. 

 

“Well, after the feast was over, the students were all headin’ back to their dorms an’ then…” Hagrid picked up his second drink and took an impressive gulp.  “An’ then there was a commotion ‘round the Gryffindor portrait, the Fat Lady, yeh know.  One o’ the students went to Dumbledore and then Dumbledore went ter the tower.  Peeves was hangin’ about, bein’ his usual nasty self.  An’ Professor Dumbledore asks what’s goin’ on an’ Peeves tells ‘im that Sirius Black tried ter get into the Gryffindor common room.  When Lucille—the Fat Lady, yeh know—wouldn’ let ‘im in, he took out a knife and slashed ‘er to bits!”  Hagrid made a few slicing movements at this last statement.  Rosmerta gasped and took a step backwards as if Hagrid actually had a knife.  There was an outbreak of murmurs like a roll of distant thunder.

 

“Was anyone hurt?”

 

“How did he get away?”

 

“How’d he get into Hogwarts is what I’d like to know,” Archie muttered.  “That place is supposed to be one of the safest places in the world.”

 

“Where do you think Black is hiding?  Do you think he’s still in the area?”  Eugenia Tuttles asked.

 

It took a second before Hagrid realized she was talking to him.  “No idea.  We searched the entire castle an’ grounds all nigh’ an’ didn’ see hide nor hair of ‘im.  Dumbledore hasn’ said much ‘bout what ‘e thinks, but secur’ty is much tighter.”

 

“Did you know anything about this?”  Patrick Wicks asked, turning to Robert Scorpios, the chief of the M.L.E.

 

“No,” Robert frowned.  “Not exactly.  Professor Dumbledore just sent me a notice asking if there were any updates about Black.”

 

“They weren’t going to tell us?  Hrmph!  I guess we’re not worth worrying about,” Herman Strunk sniffed.  There was an angry murmur of agreement among the crowd.

 

“Well, I think Dumbledore doesn’ wan’ ter alarm anyone.  ‘Before yeh take action, take the time ter think firs’’ is what ‘e always says.”

 

But no one seemed reassured by those words.  People pressed Hagrid for more details and began forming their own theories about Black.  No one cared that the Appleby Arrows beat the Wigtown Wanderers 580-350, not even Hailey Sparks who had won a free dinner for correctly guessing the score.

 

The name Sirius Black was once again on everyone’s lips.  Those who hadn’t been at Wednesday night Quidditch quickly heard the news and the mood in the village took on a feeling of low-grade anxiety.  It was like waiting for an owl after a mediwizard appointment.  That Saturday night though, things went from uneasy to upsetting. 

 

It was early in the evening, after most of the dinner crowd had left and before the rowdier members of the drinking crowd arrived.  A group, including Clarence Goodkettle, was engaged in a game of darts and Todd and his friends were playing Exploding Snap.  Rosmerta was trying to get the dinner dishes done while checking on her patrons every so often.  She had just filled up a few pans with hot soapy water and had stepped out of the kitchen when she saw a pair of grim-faced officers in uniform. 

 

“Robert, Harold, is something the matter?”

 

Robert cleared his throat.  “We’re sorry to do this to you, Rosmerta, but there are a few Azkaban guards outside.  There was an incident at the Quidditch match today up at the school; the Dementors claim that they sensed Black’s presence and after what happened on Halloween, they want to search the surrounding area for Black.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well,” Robert gave her an apologetic look, “with your permission, they’d like to conduct a search of the tavern.”

 

“My tavern?  Why?  Do you see Sirius Black anywhere?”  She made a sweeping gesture with her hand, indicating that her tavern was free of escaped convicts.

 

“It’s just a precaution.  They plan on searching every dwelling in the village this weekend.  Even though it doesn’t look like Black is here, they still want to check.”

 

Rosmerta crossed her arms over her chest.  “I don’t mind if you and Harold have a look around the tavern, I have nothing to hide, but I don’t want those…things in here.”

 

“We’ll be supervising, but the Dementors insist on being a part of the search.  They supposedly have better methods of seeing through disguises.  Please, don’t make this difficult.  We promise we’ll be quick.”

 

Anger briefly flared and she narrowed her eyes.  Although she wouldn’t say it in so many words, it was her belief that those who enforced the law always put arbitrary rules ahead of common sense.  Rules were not meant to be broken per se, but there were certain people, like herself, who displayed a certain amount of common sense and that should entitle them to some…interpretation of the law.  She usually tried to argue this point whenever she was pulled over for speeding; if the sky was deserted where was the harm? 

 

Robert raised his eyebrows, waiting for her reply.  Rosmerta let out an impatient sigh.  “All right.  But let me say for the record that I don’t like those creatures and I am not happy about letting them into my tavern.”

 

“Believe me, I’m not exactly fond of them myself, Rosmerta, but they’re a necessary evil.  Thanks for you co-operation.”  He nodded at her.  “All right everyone,” he said raising his voice, “the Azkaban guards are going to be entering the premises.”  Angry buzzing accompanied this announcement.  Robert allowed everyone a brief exclamation of outrage before continuing.  “Settle down!  Everyone, please move to the back of the tavern.  Those of you who know how to cast a Patronus, do so now, but keep them contained at the back of the tavern and out of the guards’ way.” 

 

The sound of scraping chairs and scuffling feet greeted the end of Robert’s announcement.  From the cluster of people around the kitchen door came the chorus of “Expecto Patronum,” followed by a silver shield of animal guardians.  Rosmerta stationed herself next to Russell and watched his lion Patronus pace in front of them.

 

Robert looked over at the people to make sure they were secure and then turned around, wand raised.  “You ready, Harold?”   

 

Harold nodded and drew his wand as well.  They walked to the tavern door and opened it.  Four towering, dark hooded beings glided in.  Their silence was unnerving.  Even more unnerving was the odor about them.  Rosmerta remembered visiting her father when he was dying.  It was that same smell, the slow decay of body and soul.  The stench of unwashed, diseased flesh was so overpowering that she clasped hand over her nose and mouth.

 

The Dementors moved over the tavern, checking behind the bar and underneath the tables.  They appeared unhurried as they combed over every inch of the building.  One of them passed the huddle of villagers on its way into the kitchen and a collective shudder went through the group.  A few of the Patronuses lost their forms and faded away.  Robert cast his, a giant scorpion, which scuttled over to the group.

 

A few minutes later the Dementor came out of the kitchen.  It turned its blank gaze toward the group, and slowly passed in front of them as if trying to memorize their faces.  It kept a wide berth around the Patronuses but drew closer where there were gaps in the defenses.  Rosmerta shuddered and moved closer to Russell, which seemed to please him to no end. 

 

Satisfied that Black was not among the villagers, it continued on to join the other three in the center of the tavern.  They bowed their heads together and seemed to be deep in discussion, although they barely made a sound, like a rustle of the wind.  A scabby, grayish arm appeared out of the group, pointing to her cellar door.  There was a gasp among the villagers and the arm was quickly lowered and buried within the folds of its robe.

 

“Rosmerta?  They want you to know where that door leads to.”

 

“To my cellar.”

 

“Would you open it please?”

 

Rosmerta thought about arguing that Sirius Black was not camping out in her basement, but instead she just took a deep breath and steeled herself as she walked across the floor.  She reached the door and tapped on it with her wand.  The air turned cold around her and she glanced over her shoulder.  The Dementors were closing in on her and the light in the tavern seemed to be fading.  She gasped and stumbled away from the door.  The floor of the tavern rolled underneath her like she was on a boat.  Staggering like she was drunk, she managed to grasp the mantle over the fireplace before she fell. 

 

Doubled over, panting, she felt a cold wind blowing across her face.  She was eleven again, flying on the roof of the family car, the trees sailing by in a blur of green and the road flowing like a brown river.  A sharp bump and swerve and then she was tumbling over metal, smashing into the ground.  The pain was unbelievable.  From far away, she thought she heard the echo of Philip’s voice…Philip was yelling and now she was thirteen and watching Philip fall off his broom and hit the ground with a muffled thump.  She wanted to yell, but her lungs were filling with water and she was drowning…the ice cracked and her skates were dragging her down, down away from the light.  It wasn’t even cold, it was just dark, so dark and…thick.  She wasn’t struggling anymore, wasn’t trying to swim but she was moving…rising up …and then there was light in the world again.  She looked up to see a cloud of silver bats hovering over her head and the cloak of the last Dementor disappearing down the cellar steps. 

 

“You all right, Rosmerta?”  Harold asked.  

 

“Just fine,” she managed to get out.  Straightening herself, she quickly retreated back to where Russell was standing.  He gave her a one-armed hug around her shoulders, letting his hand drop and linger on her back.

 

A few minutes later, the Dementors came up from the cellar, gliding through the door in single file, a funeral procession that didn’t seem to be mourning the dead.  They inclined their heads ever so slightly to the officers and drifted out through the front door. 

 

“I guess that’s all.  Thank you, everyone, for your patience.”  Robert looked grim as he tipped his hat to the villagers and walked out with Harold.

 

Uneasy glances were exchanged among the patrons.  Several of the men hurried back to their unfinished drinks and drained them in a few gulps.  Arms shot up into the air, signaling for their bills.  Rosmerta hurried around the tavern, collecting coins while a queue jostled to get to the threshold to Disapparate.  

 

“Are you going to close up?” Russell asked as she frantically made change behind the bar.

 

“Looks like it.  No one wants to stay,” she replied without looking up from a pile of gold and silver.

 

“Do you want some company while you close up?”

 

“That’s all right.  I don’t think I’m going to be here long.”

 

Russell hovered around the bar, waiting to see if she would change her mind.  She gave him a quick smile as she rushed to Clarence’s table with a handful of Sickles.  Russell watched her go and gave a half-hearted smile and shrug before shuffling out with the remainder of the stragglers.

 

The last person out shut the tavern door with an authoritative boom, causing her to jump slightly.  She walked behind the bar, took down the bottle of Vampire Vodka, poured herself a shot, and gulped it down.  She pulled a face at the taste and waited for that familiar warm feeling to spread through her.  It didn’t make her feel any better.  After tossing back a second shot, it hit her that chocolate was the only thing that would settle her nerves.  Rosmerta went into the kitchen where the smell of sickness and death lingered.  Screwing up her face, she cast an Odor Charm and grabbed a carton of chocolate ice cream and a spoon before making a hasty retreat back into the main room of the tavern.

 

Sitting down at one of the less cluttered tables, she wolfed down the first few mouthfuls with unladylike gusto.  Heat welled up from the very center of her being just as a fierce headache blindsided her.  Squeezing her eyes shut, she waited for the pain to recede.  A minute later, the sharp stabbing had almost faded away.  She spooned more ice cream into her mouth, slower this time. 

 

Bloody Dementors!  The nerve of them, searching my tavern and scaring all my customers away!  I’d like to curse that boy!  Rosmerta thought of the many times she’d have to extricate herself from behind the bar to see what Black and company were up to.  But this wasn’t some elaborate prank Sirius and his friends were playing.  An image appeared in her mind, staring down at a table full of boys, some twenty years ago or so.

 

“This is the last time I’m going to tell you four to put those squirting wands away or I’ll have you mopping up the tavern—without magic.”  She put her hands on her hips and gave each boy a look in turn. 

 

Just then, flames shot up from the mouth of the mug in front of James Potter.  James swore and used his wand to put out the flames and the other three boys had looks on their faces as if they knew they had just been caught for something larger.

 

“What,” she said, “in the name of Merlin, was that?”

 

James and Sirius looked at each other.  “Uhhhhh, I think Sirius should speak, since it was his idea,” James volunteered.

 

From underneath the table, there was the sound of a muffled kick.  “James helped develop it and he’s a much better speaker than I am,” Sirius shot back.

 

“Well, one of you had better start explaining why you were trying to burn my tavern down.”  She crossed her arms over her chest and waited. 

 

Sirius and James looked at each other for a minute before James started talking.  “See, we were just thinking about how much we like the hot Butterbeer that you serve here.  It’s really great stuff,” he flashed her a smile, which she didn’t return.

 

“And then we got to thinking that if you don’t drink it right away, it sort of loses its heat,” Sirius chimed in.  “So, we were just messing around with a few different types of warming charms is all.”

 

Rosmerta pursed her lips and continued to say nothing for another minute before speaking.  “Well, gentleman, that’s quite an achievement considering that no fire charm or warming charm that I know of is capable of maintaining a flame on top of liquid.”  She thought she heard Sirius mutter a swear word under his breath.

 

“Ahhhh, we didn’t say the warming charms were working,” James added hastily.  “So then we got to thinking about firewhiskey and that stuff is hot and well…we combined the two.”  Another jet of fire issued from a mug.  They all turned to look at the flames.

 

“We call it Firebeer,” Sirius said in a helpful manner.  “What do you say?  Want to be partners with us?  We think we’d make a killing in the novelty drinks market.” 

 

Before she could stop herself, a small snort of laughter escaped from the back of her throat.  It was followed by a strong urge to rub the heels of her palms over her eyes.  She then delivered a combined lecture on underage drinking and fire safety before confiscating their mugs and replacing them with fresh drinks.  Every time Sirius Black and James Potter came into her tavern, they left her with the notion that she wanted to hex them or hug them, possibly both at the same time.

 

Another cold chocolate lump slithered down her throat.  Hard to believe that that same Sirius Black was the reason her tavern was now empty.  An image of the “Wanted” poster flashed into her mind and for the hundredth time she asked herself what had gone wrong to turn such a sweet boy into a criminal.

 

She looked down as her spoon cut through the chocolate; now she’d have to bring the carton home.  Licking one last spoonful and feeling calmer but still a bit melancholy, she rose from the table and Banished the dirty dishes to the kitchen.  Murmuring a washing spell, she set the cleaning process in motion as she gathered the ledger and till.  She opened the door to the cellar and braced herself for the smell of rotting flesh.  Another Odor Charm was cast and she sent the ledger and till down there; she’d balance her books in the morning.  Slamming the door shut, a chill went through her as she imagined one of those Dementors lurking down there, hiding behind one of the casks.  She almost wished Russell were there to protect her; she’d feel a lot better if that lion Patronus was prowling around the tavern right now.

 

So much for self-reliance.  What’s next—owling him in the middle of the night to kill spiders and investigate strange noises?

 

She marched herself back into the kitchen to finish cleaning up, vowing to herself that she would find a happy memory if it killed her and master that bloody charm once and for all. 

 

//
Write a review! PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of reviewing a story or piece of art at the Sugar Quill is to provide comments that will be useful to the author/artist. We encourage you to put a bit of thought into your review before posting. Please be thoughtful and considerate, even if you have legitimate criticism of a story or artwork. (You may click here to read other reviews of this work).
* = Required fields
*Sugar Quill Forums username:
*Sugar Quill Forums password:
If you do not have a Sugar Quill Forums username, please register. Bear in mind that it may take up to 72 hours for your account to be approved. Thank you for your patience!
*Comment:
The Sugar Quill was created by Zsenya and Arabella. For questions, please send us an Owl!

-- Powered by SQ3 : Coded by David : Design by James --