Her name is Rosmerta.
Not Roz, or Rosie, or Oi, bar wench! It's a beautiful name, a respectable name, a name passed down from her grandmother. If there was one person in this world who never took shit from anyone and deserved a name that implied just that, it was her grandmother.
"Let me tell you something, dear," Grandmother would say to her when she was little. "You'll be tempted to do all the things they tell you to do. Easier that way, see, because then you're never responsible for nothing. But you just remember this." She would lower her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Fuck the lot of 'em, sweetheart. Every single one, do you know what I'm saying? Fuck them all."
Her grandmother was always floating in and out of her life. Rumour had it in the family that she continued to provide a variety of services to the village men until well into her fifties, though these claims were never substantiated. This meant that her mother would never substantiate them, but then again, she herself was working two jobs since Rosmerta's father died, so she really didn't have time for things like rumours about Grandmother.
Rosmerta loves her name. It has taken her many years to love something concrete about herself, but now here it is. She doesn't bother with surnames anymore. What's in a surname, anyway, but a man telling her what to do and what she'll be called? It's not as though her father's name ever meant very much; she hardly saw him even before he got his head hexed in half in a gambling duel. Her ex-husband's name isn't any better. She hasn't seen him in fifteen years and hopes she never does again.
No, her name is her own. Sometimes she makes her customers call her Madam, especially the young and impressionable men that stroll in. Puts them in their place, and fast. One thing you learn working behind a bar for twenty-five years is that you need to do everything you can to ward the blokes off early, because once they think they've got a lock on you, it's all over.
The men are forgettable, though. It's the women that always haunt her. There are never as many of them, so when they do come in, it's because they want something. They need something.
More times than not, Rosmerta has no idea what it is. If she does, she just doesn't know how to fix it.
This is their story.
"I don't know much, but I sure know you shouldn't be in here." Rosmerta rests her chin in her hand and lets the smoke from her cigarette trail up past her ear. The girl in front of her is young, red-haired, and sulky.
"Nowhere better to go."
"You should be at that funeral, is where you should be," snaps Rosmerta.
"You're not there."
Rosmerta sighs. "I'm here, aren't I? Got a business to run, and all that. Can't be flying off for just anything."
"It's not really just anything, is it?"
Cheeky, this one. Rosmerta takes another drag. "Dumbledore was a good man, and a strong wizard," she says quietly. "I don't need a Ministry of Magic eulogist and a volley of arrows to tell me that."
"What about the Merpeople and the Weird Sisters drummer?"
Rosmerta laughs in surprise, a short, staccato sound. "Nor them." She peers at the girl. "You're a Weasley, aren't you?"
She nods. "Look, I just wanted to get some air, and it looked like you were open." She scrubs at her face and glances around the Three Broomsticks. "Got anything to drink?"
Rosmerta holds her gaze for a second, then rolls her eyes. "Yeah. I've got things to drink. You're limited to pumpkin juice and butterbeer, though." She gets up and heads to the bar.
"If I were a boy, you'd give me whisky."
"No, I wouldn't," Rosmerta calls over her shoulder, but now this girl has intrigued her. "Why would you say that?"
"Because boys get to do everything, don't they?" she replies, shaking her head. "They get to decide when the wars will be, and who'll fight in them, and… all the things like that."
"Ah, so you've just now figured out the way the world works, have you?" Rosmerta pops open a jar of pumpkin juice and fills a glass. "Congratulations."
The girl is silent.
Rosmerta sighs, feeling only slightly guilty about her bitchy mood and cold tone. "What's your name?" she asks softly, to make amends.
"Ginny," she repeats, nodding. "Genevieve?"
"Mm." She smiles. "That's pretty. You should go by that."
Ginny shrugs. "Too long."
Rosmerta laughs, bringing Ginny her juice and sitting back down at the table with her. "I know your mother," she says. "Or, I used to. Haven't seen her in a while, of course. Not since… well, not since before you were born." She glances out the window, lost in thought for a moment. "How's your family?" she asks suddenly.
The girl's face falls like a blank mask. She presses her lips together and stares at the table.
"Oh! Oh… bollocks," Rosmerta mutters, picking up her cigarette again and patting Ginny's hand. "What? Are they dead?"
"No!" Ginny says with alarm. "No. Just… one of my brothers…" She makes a vague gesture in front of her face, then clamps her mouth shut.
Rosmerta breathes the smoke in deeply, feeling the bar close in around her. "This your first war, then?" she asks quietly.
Ginny looks at her strangely for a moment before nodding.
"It's my second," she continues, tapping her fag on the ashtray. "The first time, I mostly just got to watch, yeah? Saw a lot of friends go down, and saw a lot of enemies form out of thin air."
"And this time?"
"This time…" A slow curl of smoke wafts up over her head, clouding their table in gloom. "This time it grabbed me by the ankles and hauled me upside down, didn't it?"
Ginny is too young to understand what that means, and how it feels to have your control pulled out from under you just when you least expect it. She is too young to understand how it feels to spend your entire life trying to escape the control of men, only to come full circle and end up at the mercy of Imperius.
She is too young to understand that war has many faces, and that those waged behind closed doors, where the personal meets the private, can have the most lasting effects.
Rosmerta used to work at the Hog's Head. It's a little-known fact, and one she prefers to keep to herself when there isn't anyone around from the old life to spill her secrets, but it's a fact nonetheless.
The thing about the Hog's Head was that the people in it never scared her as badly as the place itself. The walls would grin and listen. The air breathed down her neck. Hell, the bar itself seemed to close in on her every night, inching forward until its brass rails pushed against her cleavage, and there was never much she could do about it but keep on pouring the ale and pray to Godric sodding Gryffindor himself that it would all be over soon.
It didn't pay too well, but it was a hot meal and a place to sleep, and it wasn't as though she had a lot of options back then. She could put up with an awful lot, but she drew the line at a husband who thought he could train for the Auror academy by practicing his Cruciatus skills on her. She should have known something was wrong when his Patronus changed from a fox to a hawk, but she was young and impressionable and anyway, whoever paid attention to things like that?
"What'll it be, love?" she asked the cloaked woman who skulked in the door one night, trembling from head to toe and ready to hex anyone who noticed.
"Wand down, love," said Rosmerta softly, reaching for a bottle of red currant rum from under the bar. Warm and heavy, that drink. It'd soothe your nerves and knock you flat on your arse, and this woman looked like she could use quite a bit of both.
"Oh. Right." The woman's eyes flickered back towards the door. "Have you seen my fiancé?" she asked Rosmerta suddenly. "Tall, blond, very attractive…"
"Ah, it's like that, is it?" Rosmerta muttered to herself, glancing at the battered set of swinging doors at the back that creaked and shivered on their hinges. She didn't recall anyone young and blond heading back there tonight, but then again, Lydia tended to usher them in and out so quietly that Rosmerta might not have noticed. Her only demand upon taking the job was that she would never work behind those swinging doors, and the greasy owner of the place had agreed. Mostly. The rest of the time, she tried to pretend those doors didn't exist. "Perhaps he's in the loo, eh? Let's give it a minute."
The woman stared at her. "Oh. All right." She cast another nervous glance around the bar. "I was to meet him, here, you see," she added. "After the… meeting."
Rosmerta frowned a bit as she unstoppered the rum bottle and filled a short glass. Of course. A pretty blonde like this, skin so pale you'd wonder if she was even alive if she didn't have such red lips. A perfect little doll, tiptoeing into this bar and right out of her comfort zone, facing the big, bad world outside Daddy's mansion without her precious fiancé to protect her.
"Here, love." Rosmerta slid the glass in front of the woman with a wry smile. "Have a glass of courage while you're waiting." Rosmerta watched her take a nervous sip. Barely eighteen, by the looks of it. "You've met this fiancé before, or just seen a picture?" she asked, tilting her head to the side.
"Oh, well." The woman took another sip, then one more, and Rosmerta watched the pale face relax a little. "Yes, I've met him." She gave a sudden laugh. "I've done rather more with him than shake his hand, in fact." She brought the glass up to her lips again. "This is quite good, thank you."
Rosmerta only nodded, suppressing a smile as she watched the liquor kick in.
"No, it's not one of those marriages. I wouldn't have it, you know," she continued, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and confiding in Rosmerta as if to her new best friend. Red currant rum – worked every time. "I've one sister married that way, and another in love with a Mudblood! Well, you could say I've compromised between them. I told Mother I would marry a Pure-blooded wizard, so long as I got to pick." She gave a firm nod at her decision and downed the rest of her glass.
"Good on you, love," Rosmerta said with a smile, uncorking the bottle again. "What's your name?" she added.
The woman lowered her eyes. "Cissy," she murmured, then grinned impishly and smoothed her hair back under her hood. "My fiancé wants me to start using my full name now, but it still sounds a bit strange to me." She paused, careful eyes on Rosmerta. "What's yours?"
"Rosie," she replied softly, leaning her elbows on the bar and sharing a knowing smile with her young customer. "So, what was this meeting you were at?" she asked, obeying her natural inclination towards conversations with strangers.
But the young woman's face shuttered, the blood that rouged her cheeks after the drink now almost visibly draining away. "He took me to meet his colleagues," she said quietly, her knuckles white where she clutched the glass, "and his… boss."
"Yeah?" Rosmerta refilled the glass. "What's he do, then?"
Cissy simply stared at her for too many seconds, her eyes fragile and lost. "He's a very important man," she whispered at last. "I can't… I mustn't say more." Her hand trembled as she lifted the glass to her lips again, and then Rosmerta knew.
There was a war brewing. A host of useless twats at the Ministry was doing everything it could to deny that, but Rosmerta wasn't born yesterday. The Hog's Head didn't always house the deranged and the damned, but it attracted enough of their minions that a girl only had to keep her ears open and the whisky flowing. The things she heard would skin the hide off a hippogriff, make no mistake.
She looked at the young woman before her with pity and fear. "That the life you're after, then?" she asked softly.
Cissy clutched her glass. "I've no choice," she replied sadly.
"Oh? I thought you just told me you did," Rosmerta pointed out. "I thought you got to pick."
The woman's face hardened. "Why are you angry with me?" she demanded. "You don't know anything about it. We're a good match, and he will take care of me." She gave a single, firm nod, as if to convince herself.
"I see." She leaned forward. "I married a man like that once, and you want to know where it landed me?"
Cissy looked at her with wide eyes.
"In St. Mungo's for three months, and then?" She glanced around. "Here."
The eyes grew even wider. "Well, that's ridiculous," Cissy announced. "Nobody needs to live like this, working in a bar." She lifted her chin, surveying the dank surroundings. "Why not just ask your father for money?"
Rosmerta opened her mouth to bite out a retort, but then thought better of it. If only she had a Knut for every person like this she'd ever met, she wouldn't have to ask anyone for money. She gave a thin smile instead. "Sounds like you got it all figured out then, love. No need for advice from a bar maid, I see."
"Thank you," Cissy sniffed, "but no. I'm quite fine." She glanced around again. "He really should be here by now, though. Said we had to leave separately, and we couldn't go straight back to my father's house, so…" Her eyes flicked towards the swinging doors to Lydia's place, then back to Rosmerta. "You don't think he… forgot?" She twisted her fingers in her lap.
Rosmerta refilled the glass. "What would you do if he did?"
The pale face grew alarmed. "I… don't know." Panicked eyes flew around the room. "I'm not even supposed to be out alone. The rumours! What if someone saw me in here without him! What if–"
Rosmerta shoved the new drink into her hands to shut her up. "Let me tell you something," she began in a harsher voice than she'd intended.
Cissy pressed her lips together.
"So you love him, and want to marry him, and he makes you happy, eh? That's fine, then, but you'd be better off if you knew exactly what to do the second he lets you down." She spread her arms out across the bar and leaned on her palms. "Tell me, love: if he did forget you here tonight, what are you going to do?"
Cissy stared at her for a moment, then said with determination, "I'd ask to use your Floo, I suppose, and call my sister."
Rosmerta nodded. "All right, that's a good start. Now what if he's with your sister?"
Rosmerta held up her hands. "It's all hypothetical," she said. "What would you do?"
The wide eyes narrowed and glared at her. "I'd call my other sister, all right? Honestly!"
Rosmerta sighed and picked up a nearby glass to polish. "If he's like any other man I've ever met, then someday he won't be there for you. I don't care who he is or how much he says he loves you now, there will be a day when he won't be there. You want to be ready for that, yeah?"
It was easy, really, doling out advice like that as if she had any idea about it all, as if she had known what the hell to do the day nobody had been there for her.
A flash of blond at the door caught her eye, and Cissy followed her gaze instead of responding.
She hopped off the stool, tossing a few coins on the bar. "So lovely chatting with you," she sneered, all her earlier youthful innocence pushed down as she strode forward to embrace her fiancé. Rosmerta saw him take a quick, longing look at the swinging door at the back before ushering Cissy out into the cold.
Rosmerta sighed and scooped the coins into her apron. It was a pity, really. She had so much advice to give, and no one to listen to her.
It was dark and misty the night that Lily Potter came through the door to the Three Broomsticks for the last time. She removed her cloak and shook her hair out, then smiled at Rosmerta and gestured for a glass of Pimms and cranberry, her usual.
"So," Rosmerta said with a raised eyebrow as she poured the drink, "what's new with you this week? Still on You-Know-Who's hit list?"
They had taken to joking about it, to make it more bearable.
Lily laughed. "Oh yes. In fact…" She squinted at a red-cheeked old man at the end of the bar who had just slopped whisky down his shirt. "Perhaps that's him? We get so little information about what he actually looks like, you know. I really must be ready for anything." She raised her glass to Rosmerta and took a healthy swallow. Her hand shook.
Rosmerta ignored it, following Lily's gaze instead. "Old Man Lockinburough? Well, it certainly would explain a few things."
"Oh?" Lily grinned.
"Mm. Like why he insists on using my potted ferns for a loo most nights. I hear Dark Lords are able to do that with impunity these days."
"Indeed," said Lily solemnly. "In fact, I believe the latest intelligence has found that abolishing fascist loo regulations is foremost on his list of goals once he gains power over the Wizarding world."
"Oh, my." Rosmerta clutched her chest. "What is the Order doing about this?"
"I'm glad you asked that," replied Lily, setting her drink down and leaning forward in earnest. "I've just come from a meeting at which it was decided that all the most senior and fully-trained Aurors will be placed at the entrance to every loo in Britain – well, beginning with Hogsmeade, obviously, then possibly branching out to London later in the winter. The Order is adamant that Voldemort shall not occupy our loos!" She raised her index finger in triumph.
"Shh!" Rosmerta's eyes widened at the name. "Lily!" she whispered fiercely.
But Lily just waved her hand and picked up her drink again. "It's just a name," she said quietly. "There are much more important things to be afraid of than his stupid fucking name."
Rosmerta was silent.
"You, of all people, should understand that," Lily added.
"Me, of all people?" Rosmerta raised an eyebrow.
"What's in a name, Madam Rosmerta?" asked Lily coyly.
Rosmerta smirked. "Gets me the respect I deserve," she pointed out. "So, the single-named shall inherit the earth, is that it?"
"Maybe. But in the meantime, one shouldn't fear the single-named, eh?"
"Not allowing a man to name me isn't quite the same as naming myself, love."
"Do you think less of me, then?"
Rosmerta looked at her.
"Because I took my husband's name," Lily pressed. "Do you think I've allowed a man to name me?" She pushed her drink forward for a refill as Rosmerta pondered the question.
"There's power in a name," she replied softly after a moment, splashing liquid into Lily's glass. "You know that."
"Ah, yes," Lily said with a sad smile. "The power to give, and the power to take away." She took a sip of her fresh drink, and a long minute passed before she spoke again. "We're going into hiding tomorrow," she said quietly, her hands folded around her glass and her eyes downcast.
Rosmerta paused from wiping her hands on a towel under the bar and looked up. "Hiding?"
Lily took another swallow of her drink. "It's real this time," she murmured. "He's coming for us."
A trickle like ice ran down Rosmerta's spine. In all the years she had known Lily, she had never heard her voice sound like that. "Ah, well," she said, trying to joke again, "they've told you that before, eh? Nothing to worry about, I'm sure."
Lily raised her eyes. "It's different now," she said simply.
"No." Rosmerta shook her head. "No, it's not. It can't be."
"Dumbledore has information." She swallowed hard. "Voldemort is coming for Harry." Her voice finally broke on the last word, and she closed her eyes, breathing deeply, but no tears came.
Rosmerta wasn't so lucky. She felt the punch right to her stomach, and her eyes blurred. "Lily," she whispered.
"Oh, no no no." Lily reached out and squeezed her hand. "Don't do that. I'm just telling you as a matter of information. You know, so you don't stock too much Pimms this week." She forced a smile. "It's possible we'll be back. We just have to… stay out of sight for awhile. Keep Harry safe."
Rosmerta nodded, wiping her eyes. "Harry, yes. He'll be fine. What would a sorcerer want with a child, anyway?" she asked, tilting her head to the side. "We already know he has enough problems finding his own way to the loo, eh? What'll he do if he's got to change nappies?"
Lily looked stunned for a moment, but then she began to laugh. "Yes! That's it. And he wouldn't have the first clue how to heat up a bottle, would he?"
"Or, God help him, what to do with colic!" Lily's face darkened as her smile faded. "He's not getting Harry," she murmured through a clenched jaw. "He's not."
"How are you going to hide?"
"Fidelius. Can't say much about it, of course."
"Of course." Rosmerta took a deep breath and measured her next words. "Lily," she began. "You might not think I know too much about all of this, but I've been around the block, yeah?" She glanced around. "I've seen some things, do you know what I mean?"
Lily stared at her.
"Just…" She sighed. "Who do you have in mind for the Secret-Keeper?"
Lily shook her head. "I can't tell you that. You know I can't."
Rosmerta's eyes darted around the bar again, and she beckoned Lily closer. "Sirius Black is up to something," she whispered, forcing Lily's gaze. "And that other friend of James's – Pettigrew – I wouldn't trust that lad as far as I could throw him. Seen him looking up my skirt more than once."
Lily laughed. "That's hardly grounds for not trusting him!"
"Oh no?" Rosmerta didn't smile. "I beg your pardon, love, but yes it is. A man with a wandering eye like that has wandering loyalties, and in more ways than one. I don't know much, but I know that."
Lily rolled her eyes. "All right, I'll keep that in mind."
Rosmerta paused for a moment to think. "Where's Remus?" she asked, surprised when Lily stopped smirking and glared at her.
She shrugged. "Don't know, I just…" She furrowed her brow, trying to put it into words. "I like that man. He's polite when he orders, you know? Doesn't try to look up my skirt," she added with a grin.
Lily stared down at her drink again. "We haven't seen him in months," she said quietly. "He went off to…" She bit her lip. "…to try to speak to some of the Dark Creatures. He was due back ages ago, but… no one's seen him."
"Oh no," Lily said quickly. "We don't think so. But it looks like he might have…" She gave a pointed look.
Rosmerta was stunned. "You assume he's defected?" She eyed Lily in disbelief before throwing up her hands. "Honestly! How you people have managed to accomplish anything in this war is beyond me. Trusting a man like Pettigrew when even the rats in this place won't go near him, and then throwing out a good man like Remus Lupin!"
"Look, you don't know what–"
"All I know is what I see," Rosmerta insisted. Her face softened at the lost look in Lily's eyes. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I just wish I could help you."
Lily reached out and squeezed her hand again. "I know. Listen, why don't you help by stocking that Pimms for me after all? I'll be back as soon as I can for it, yeah?" She drained her glass and hopped off the bar stool, swallowing hard and visibly fighting back tears.
She was almost at the door before Rosmerta found her voice again. "Lily," she called, and the woman turned around. "I could never think less of you," she said softly. "The Potters are a hearty lot, aren't they? It's a good name."
Lily smiled, wiping her hand across her face.
"He's not getting that child," she murmured. "I know you won't let him."
Lily stared down at her shoes, taking deep, shuddering breaths and clenching her fists at her side. When she looked up, it was with new resolve. She gave Rosmerta a wave. "Bye," she said quietly, before turning to leave.
Rosmerta hasn't stocked or served Pimms since that night. No one has ever asked for it.
Two women sat together for a long time one night, perched on the roof of the Three Broomsticks watching the stars. They had already traded their weekly wares: Rosmerta giving up sugar, pumpkin juice, some whisky for Arthur and new fabric for the children's clothes, in return for fresh vegetables from Molly's garden and baked bread for the week. There weren't many left in the Wizarding world who still used the barter system, but it had always suited them just fine. Better than trying to come up with money for those things, because neither of them had any of that.
They had done their trading, and they had done their talking. Now, all Molly could do was sit and cry.
"We just… we haven't the money," she whispered, wiping the tears from her face. "I told Arthur, and he agreed, but we just… oh!" Her eyes filled again. "I don't know what happened!"
"Shh." Rosmerta wrapped a protective arm around her friend and gazed up at the stars, begging them for an answer.
"I thought we were done after Percy," she continued, her voice scratchy. "Then twins! Oh, they were never supposed to be twins. I almost went mad. I just can't do it again, not with Ron still so little…" She buried her face in Rosmerta's shoulder and wept.
"Molly," whispered Rosmerta when the sobbing subsided a bit. She stroked her friend's hair and weighed her words carefully. "What… exactly… are you doing here?"
The wet face burrowed even deeper into Rosmerta's shoulder. "I just needed a friend, you know… didn't mean to bother you… it's just that…"
"Molly." She raised her friend's face with her hand, holding Molly's chin between her thumb and forefinger and forcing her gaze. "Let's not pretend, yeah? You know what I can get for you, and I know you know. Look at me." She tightened her grip on Molly's chin when she tried to look away. "Is that why you're here?"
Molly drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I don't know," she replied, her voice steady. "I really don't know." She swallowed. "It's not permitted, not for Pure-blooded families. We're supposed to just breed and breed…" Her voice trailed off. "What if someone found out?"
"There are a lot more Pure-blooded families breaking the law than you might think," said Rosmerta wryly.
Molly looked at her.
"Saves them a lot of trouble with heirs, and what not." Rosmerta sighed. "Why do you think most of their families are so small?"
Molly made a wailing noise and let her head fall against Rosmerta's shoulder again.
"I can get you the dragon's blood," continued Rosmerta quietly, "if you've got the other ingredients at home. There's one thing I learned from Lydia, at least," she added to herself, staring out at the cloudless sky. "Just… yeah. Let me know."
They sat in silence for a long time, tiny wisps of cloud passing across the star-studded sky and through Rosmerta's foggy mind. Life seemed so simple up here. There were new plants in the neighbour's garden, and a stray goat wandering through the main square, and over at Hogwarts, a lone light shone through the darkness from Dumbledore's office. The world whirred around them, calm and groggy in some places, active and enchanting in others.
In their rooftop cocoon, they could only watch it all happen – trapped, in a way, outside of life. The Wizarding world really was wonderful at discarding those it didn't want to deal with, and right now, she and Molly fit that bill just a little too closely.
"Does it hurt?" Molly said at last, lifting her head.
"Would Arthur… be able to tell?"
Rosmerta shook her head. "Not unless you told him."
The light in Dumbledore's office finally went out, and with it, Rosmerta lost her view of the goat. Damned thing better not be getting into her garden. She stroked Molly's hair.
"Might be a girl, you know," Molly ventured quietly, and Rosmerta smiled.
Molly shrugged. "About time, isn't it?"
"Suppose so." Rosmerta paused. "A girl," she mused, then she laughed bitterly. "Lucky her – grows up and has to deal with shite like this, yeah?"
Molly rubbed at her eyes, a quiet laugh escaping her. "Merlin, is that all she'd have to look forward to?"
Rosmerta shrugged. "World might be different for her, who knows?"
Molly dabbed at her face, the blotchiness finally subsiding a bit. "Might be different for us, too, if we looked around," she pointed out, and Rosmerta glanced at her sideways.
"Suppose it might," she agreed. "But then, what on earth would we talk about when you come 'round, if not our sad lot in life?"
Molly gave a short laugh, still sniffling, as she leaned back on her hands and gazed at the sky. "Got any other ideas, by the way?"
Molly nodded, her bright eyes filling with tears again.
"Just the one," Rosmerta replied, and Molly wiped at her face. "Come by on Wednesday if you can get away. My bloke's in from Romania then, should have a fresh batch."
In the sky, the stars continued to twinkle unconcernedly, basking in their own warmth. Below, a goat bleated and could be heard stamping through a garden. For want of a life to change, the world went on.
"Ros-MER-ta!" The giddy, sing-song voice echoed around the bar. "Where are you? ROSMERTA!"
"Merlin's bollocks, would you shut it, Tonks!" Rosmerta strode out from the kitchen, wiping her hands. "What are you doing, screaming at the top of your– oof!"
She couldn't finish her question before the young woman set off towards her at a full-on run, tackling her in a bear hug and nearly lifting her off the ground. "I got in I got in I GOT IN!" she squealed. "Fucking hell, can you believe it? I got in! I'm going to be an Auror!"
"Congratulations, love," Rosmerta said with a laugh, untangling herself from Tonks's grip and ruffling her hair. "Never thought I'd live to see the day."
"Oi!" Tonks took a mock swipe at her arm, which she dodged playfully. "Mum talked to Emmeline, and she said they only let three girls in this year, out of a class of thirty! Can you believe that?"
Rosmerta rolled her eyes. "Oh, I can believe it," she muttered, then she gave Tonks a reproachful look. "And the word is 'women,' yeah? If you keep calling yourself a girl at your age, that's exactly how they're going to treat you."
"Yeah, yeah." Tonks waved her off. "They've got to treat me like a queen, is how they've got to treat me, because I GOT IN!" She started jumping up and down again, twirling around the bar stools until they began to fall over around her. "Oops," she said with a sheepish grin, bending to right them. She rushed over to give Rosmerta another hug. "Oh! I just can't believe this! You're happy for me, aren't you? Mum said not to tell you about it because you might get angry, but I just had to rush right over. I'll be good at it, won't I? Do you think I will?"
"Agh, get off me," Rosmerta protested, untangling them again and sinking down wearily onto a stool. "Of course I'm happy for you. You'll do great."
"Then what's Mum on about?"
"Ah. Well, your mum knows something about me that you don't, is all," Rosmerta replied with a sad smile.
Tonks raised her eyebrows.
"Nothing dramatic, don't worry. Just that I once wanted to be an Auror too. That was a long time ago, though."
"You did? What happened?" Her hair teetered between pink and purple in her excitement.
"Didn't quite finish Hogwarts, is what happened," she said simply. "Wasn't really a good student, see, and they only take the best to be Aurors."
"Didn't finish?" Tonks eyed her in naïve wonder. "But everyone finishes!"
"No," snapped Rosmerta, getting up and pouring them each a shot of whisky. "Not everyone. The students you don't notice not finishing are the students you don't notice there in the first place, for the most part."
Tonks accepted her drink with a pitying smile. "Aw fuck, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be an arse about it."
"Yeah, well." Rosmerta grinned at her. "Just being yourself, eh? Can't fault a woman for that. Ow!" She laughed and just barely missed dodging the second punch Tonks threw at her shoulder.
"And I don't believe for a second that you weren't noticed back in school," added Tonks.
"Ah." Rosmerta gave her a wistful grin. "Maybe. Not for my brains, though."
"Must have been your personality, then," Tonks said with a wink, and Rosmerta laughed.
The reasons didn't really matter anymore, did they? There had been things happening in her life back then, things involving money and fame and men and choices and even a few things that weren't precisely legal, and school just didn't fit with any of it. Besides, it was a long time ago. She eyed Tonks with a twinge of envy. It would have been nice to have had the chance to be an Auror. "Well, anyway," she said briskly, "what's that mother of yours doing gossiping about me?"
Tonks rolled her eyes. "Says it's no fun gossiping about her sisters anymore, so she's looking for new targets. Besides," she added, taking a swig of her drink, "you're everyone's favourite gossip subject, aren't you?"
"What?" Rosmerta glanced at her in surprise. "My thrilling life behind the bar? Hardly, love."
"Oh, you'd be surprised," said Tonks with a sly grin. "Look at the facts," she pointed out, ticking them off on her fingers. "No husband, no children, no Ministry or Hogwarts job…" She squinted. "Breasts bigger than anyone else your age, and still in the right place, if you know what I mean."
"You're positively ripe for gossip!" Tonks concluded. "I've heard nonsense about you that would make the Quibbler reporters roll their eyes! Nearly beaten to death by some mysterious husband, selling dragon's blood in the back room of the Hog's Head, a grandmother in a brothel!" She threw her pink head back and laughed. "It's utter insanity, the things they say about you! Nothing my mum says is ever anywhere near that level, so you needn't worry about her." She gulped her drink down and pushed the glass forward, wiping her mouth.
Rosmerta plastered a thin smile on her face, reaching forward to ruffle Tonks's hair again. The brilliant thing about gossip was that people were happier when it went unsubstantiated. Inventing terrible stories was always so much more amusing than dealing with the blow of discovering they were true.
"When do your classes start, then?" she asked softly, refilling Tonks's glass.
"September," replied Tonks, her face turning serious. "Got a lot of things to practice before then, though. My Patronus is a mess, for instance, and I hear that's the first thing they quiz you on."
"What's the matter with it?"
Tonks sighed, waving her hand. "Oh, fucked if I know. Mum says it's because I'm still gutted over losing Nathan."
Rosmerta gave her a quizzical look.
"You know, the family toad?" Tonks shook her head. "I know he was old and everything, but it was still a bit of a shock, you know? He'd flown broomsticks thousands of times before with no problems, so how was I to know that this time… Well, anyway. I think mum's gone 'round the bend with that theory. I just need to practice it more."
Rosmerta nodded, deep in thought.
"What I really need is a Patronus for every day of the week. Wouldn't that be ace?" Tonks gave her a big smile, bouncing up and down on her stool and dislodging one of the old pieces of wood from the leg. Rosmerta winced watching it. "I could just change it at will, you know? Depending on my mood."
"Oh no, love," Rosmerta said at last. "Bad idea."
Tonks looked up.
"A Patronus isn't supposed to change – you know that, yeah? A changed Patronus always means something bad is coming."
"Bollocks!" said Tonks with a laugh, but Rosmerta shook her head.
"Think about it," Rosmerta insisted. "A changed Patronus means a complete change in your magic, and all the… you know, the currents running through you and all." She gestured in front of her body. "A changed Patronus is like a change to your entire physical make-up, like a disease in a way. Nothing good can come of it, I'm telling you."
Tonks was silent for once, watching Rosmerta carefully. "All right," she said at last, her voice quiet. "I'll look into it." A grin slid up her face. "But I still think you're a bit mad. Go see my mum – you two should get on famously."
Rosmerta took a playful swipe at her as she jumped off the stool, the wood finally cracking from all her bouncing and collapsing into a pile around her.
"Sorry!" she squeaked.
Rosmerta shook her head and waved Tonks off, already thinking about Andromeda, and her sisters, and the old days, and the way wars and careers and entire lives could pass you by if you weren't paying attention. She had seen a lot of lives pass through her bar, inviting her into them for a single moment before careening off in a different direction. Maybe it was time to stop trying to have a say in any of them.
Ginny Weasley is still staring at her, and now she doesn't know how long it's been since she spoke.
"Look, I… should go," Ginny murmurs, and when Rosmerta looks up she almost sees Lily for a moment, with all that red hair spilling out. Lily, with Molly's freckles.
"What's your problem?" she asks.
Rosmerta rises from the table slowly, her bones creaking more now than they used to. "Everyone who comes in here has a problem, and I'm the one who's supposed to fix it," she says pointedly. "So what's yours?"
Ginny sighs, chewing on her lower lip and visibly pondering her answer. "Harry Potter," she finally says.
She knows it's inappropriate, but Rosmerta can't stop herself from laughing. "Harry Potter? Oh, Merlin save us all." She massages her temples with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. "Let me guess," she says. "He won't go out with you, or marry you, or have babies with you, or whatever else girls are always worried about these days."
Ginny stares at her as if she's crazy. Maybe she is. "I never said anything about babies," she protests.
"Ah." Rosmerta nods. "So he won't go out with you."
"No." Ginny's bottom lip sneaks out in a proud pout. "Thinks he's got better things to do, like going off to save the world. I can help him, though! I'm good with hexes, and–"
Rosmerta pats her on the shoulder. "He's got better things to do, has he?" she says softly. "Then so do you, love. Remember that."
Ginny sighs again, and Rosmerta suddenly feels old. Her advice never gets her anywhere; one would think she'd have given up on it long ago.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" she asks.
Ginny smiles. "An Auror," she says brightly. "Like Tonks! My dad works at the Ministry too, but he doesn't do anything nearly so interesting."
"Stay in school," she says wearily, ushering Ginny towards the door. "You don't just mail off for that Auror badge, you know. It's a lot of work."
"And whatever you do, don't let a man get in your way."
Ginny scoffs, rolling her eyes. "All right," she repeats, in that tone of voice the young reserve for their batty old grandmothers.
"Save your money. One thing you can always count on needing in this world is money."
"All right." Ginny grins at her, one hand on the doorknob. "Anything else?"
"Yeah." She takes the girl's face between her hands and leans in to kiss her forehead. "Fuck Harry Potter," she says to her when she pulls back, holding those clear, innocent eyes in her own tired gaze. "If you want to save the world, Ginevra, then you go out and save it."
Ginny gives her a dazed laugh and stumbles out the door. It's nearly nightfall now. She locks up the bar, checks the windows twice, and heads upstairs.
Her name is Rosmerta. It's a beautiful, respectable name, passed down from her grandmother. She likes to talk, and she likes to listen. She is an excellent judge of character, and has myriad experiences to impart to those who will take her advice. One day, perhaps, someone will actually do so. She is surrounded by women with husbands, and children, and high-paying jobs. She doesn't have any of these things, and she doesn't want them. She's got her hands full, really, looking out for Lily's son, and trying to keep Cissy's stupid son from killing her, and convincing Molly's daughter to stop worrying about boys, and Tonks – oh, Tonks – who is always off in a world of her own.
But this wasn't their story.
She wanted to be an Auror once, and help in the wars, and maybe even save women like Lily. She had dreams, and she has regrets. But not too many. The only life she's ever known is still the best one she can imagine.
She has her name, and she doesn't take shit from anyone anymore. Her grandmother would be proud.