Harry closed his eyes, inhaling deeply the rich scent of sweet smoke and cooking. Already his head felt clouded, his cares diminished in the hospitality of this place. An amber glow from the fire filled the room casting it in a warm relief. Harry nodded his head in greeting to Tom the barkeeper as he and the twins entered the wizard establishment. Tom had a good deal of patrons tonight, but not so much that people were tripping over one another. The buzz of conversations from the other occupants mingled with the music that seemed to come from nowhere. There were a few faces he knew scattered in comfortable groups each holding their own private conversations with concerns temporarily put aside. Harry followed George to a table while Fred went to get the drinks. They sat near the fire not far from the bar. Harry spotted Lee Jordan sitting at another table with a few other former students that Harry recognized but didn’t really know. He waved to them as he removed his cloak and took a seat.
“Cheers Harry,” said Fred when he returned with three pints of Honey Mead.
“Thanks Fred. So how is the shop doing?” Harry asked after his first sip of the cool liquid. He glanced around the room with a steady eye, just to be sure he could let himself relax. It was an odd habit, and he already felt more at ease than he had been earlier tonight, but with his life he could never be too cautious. The Leaky Cauldron had become a bit of a second refuge for his friends over the summer, which is probably the only reason he agreed to come in the first place. But whenever they needed time away from their task, or Harry was in a foul mood, they could escape to the relative safety here. Ron and Hermione came in occasionally. They had been going out for some time now, and had been helping him with his search which had started the day after the wedding. When they needed to get out they would come down to the pub, or go visit the shops at Diagon Alley. Harry rarely went with them, and when he did, he would usually leave early to go on one of his walks.
“S’all right, we’ve got a few new products we’re introducing, and school will be starting soon, so business is picking up,” George supplied in response.
“Anyway,” Fred started, picking up where his brother left off, “with the mail orders and all the defense products we generally have a steady flow.”
“And it’s all thanks to you, mate,” finished George with a wink.
They stared around for a few minutes each taking large mouthfuls of their drinks, continuing with small talk about the joke shop. Soon enough, Lee made his way over to their table to join them wearing a broad grin. Since graduating he had been doing fairly well for himself, working as commentator and Public Relations Assistant for the Wimbourne Wasps. In his spare time he helped out at the joke shop.
“Evening gents. How are we doing tonight? Ready for another round yet?” At this, Lee waved to Tom for more drinks before downing the rest of his own. Harry followed his example.
“I’ve got one for you. A guy walks into a bar,” Lee started.
“And the second guy ducks,” Fred finished for him lamely.
“We know Lee, it’s the third time this week you’ve told that one,” George said as he rolled his eyes.
Tom arrived with a fresh pitcher and proceeded to refill their glasses.
“Say Tom, would it be a trouble to get a few shot’s of Ogden’s when you get a chance? How ‘bout you Harry, you want one?” Harry shrugged his shoulders in response. “Right then four shots if you could.”
“Right you are Fred, or is it George? Honestly you boys could fool the devil if you had a mind to,” Tom said in a thick London accent, as he limped away to the bar. Tom returned a moment later with five glasses and passed them around, keeping one for himself. “This round’s on me, for my favorite customers. Say, did I hear you had a joke? I wouldn’t mind a good chuckle.”
Lee chortled as he shook his head. “All right, let’s hear one then,” he said challengingly.
George and Fred looked at each other and shared sinful smiles.
“Right, ok,” Fred began, “This Muggle bloke wakes up on a Sunday morning,”
“He made his way down to the kitchen and looked out his window into the back yard,” George filled in. They continued in a confusing back and forth manner that only they could manage.
“It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining ,”
“Birds were singing ,”
“Not a cloud in the sky.”
“Then he looks at the tree in his yard, only to see ….”
“A gorilla sitting on one of the branches. This great, massive gorilla ,”
“Right there in his tree, and he panics ,”
“He thinks ‘how the bloody hell am I going to get rid of that thing?’ and he’s going barmy now.”
“So he decides to call in an exterminator.”
“He gets a hold of this other bloke who says he’ll be right over.”
“So half an hour later the guy shows up in a van and gets out ,”
“He’s got a ladder, a bat, a bull dog, and a shotgun,” Fred said as he tried to stifle a laugh.
George picked it up from there, “So the house owner says ‘thanks mate, so what’s your plan?’ looking slightly confused at the equipment.”
“And the exterminator goes ‘Well I’m gonna climb up the tree with this ladder’,”
“'And knock that gorilla out of the tree with the bat' ,”
“'And this dog is trained to bite that gorilla’s balls so hard he’ll be paralyzed with pain' ,” Now both twins were chuckling heartily.
“So the other guy goes ‘well that’s great, but what’s the gun for?’ ,”
“And the exterminator says ‘well if anything should happen‘ ,” the twins were now shaking with glee.
“'And I get knocked out of the tree' ,”
“'You shoot that dog!'” They finished together.
Lee started howling with laughter, while Tom was doubled over and shaking with glee. Fred and George were slapping the table trying to contain themselves, earning a few stares from the other patrons. Harry’s eyes filled with tears he was laughing so hard. He took another gulp of his drink as he steadied himself.
Lee managed to calm a bit and shook his head, “All right that was a lot better than mine. Here’s to you.” He lifted his shot to them and downed the dark, red liquid. Harry, Tom, and the twins followed suit. A deep blush crept over their faces, which were already crimson from their laughter. Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey was a notoriously strong liquor, known to burn the insides of anyone who swallowed it. It really was like liquid fire. Harry grinned at the warm feeling that permeated from his stomach to his head. He took a sip of mead to help cool the burning inside of him. All around the candles on the walls shined brightly, and people carried on with their own conversations. His mood from earlier had all but disappeared in the company of friends.
“That was a good one boys. Honestly,” Tom said, wiping his brow with a handkerchief, as he righted himself. “Well, back to work for me. We’ll talk more later, maybe I can tell you the one about the Vampire and the Kneazle.” He chuckled some more as he turned to go back to the bar.
They four young men settled a bit and turned the conversation back to all the goings on of the wizarding world. Talk of Voldemort and Death Eaters was left out, as they had all been touched by the dark times outside the doors of The Leaky Cauldron. Soon enough they would have to face more of it, as attacks were an almost daily event. For now they would pretend to forget and allow themselves a bit of leisure.
A short time later, Harry stood to go the bar for another round of shots, as Lee started to tell the twins about his friends at the other table. He paid Tom for the drinks and, turning around with the full glasses, he nearly dropped them as a smiling Hermione launched into him with a hug. Ron was shaking his head with a grin of his own.
“Hey guys. What are you doing here?” Harry asked as he balanced the glasses. “Tom can I get another mug, two more shots, and a butterbeer as well?” he said to the barkeeper, who quickly supplied the requested items. Harry paid for the armload of drinks and attempted to carry them all back to the table.
“Us mate? What about you? We figured you were out for another walk. Thanks for the drinks by the way. Here, let me help you with those,” Ron said as he lifted a few of the drinks from Harry’s arms.
“A little thirsty Harry?” Hermione giggled.
“What? Oh yeah, but Fred, George and Lee are here as well. Come on we’re sitting over near the fire. Actually Ron, I was out for a walk until your brothers tracked me down,” Harry replied. “They sort of dragged me along with them. By the way, did you two know about my watch?” He asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance before she answered, “Well, yes we did. But we figured you would get angry if you knew about it, and it really is a good idea, to help keep you safe. Sorry Harry, please don’t be mad,” Hermione finished pleadingly as they sat down at the table.
“Hey there lovebirds! Mad about what?” asked George while Fred helped pass out the drinks.
“Well nothing really. Just asked them about my watch is all. And it is a really good idea, I just wish it hadn’t been kept a secret from me is all. Honestly, I’m not angry about it just, well you know. I mean if Voldemort ever learned about it….” Harry finished with a sigh.