A/N: Don't ask how Harry and Hermione know Latin. I suppose Hermione looked it up somewhere. Carpe diem means, as you probably know: Seize the day. Morituri te salutant: Those who are about to die salute you.
At six o'clock in the morning, people didn't usually come to The Leaky Cauldron to drink firewhisky. It wasn't even open at that time of the day.
But on this morning, Tom the barman heard someone knocking at his door when he first had come downstairs to make himself a cup of chamomile tea. Lately, he didn’t sleep very well - his rheumatic knee was giving him problems. Muttering darkly about early risers, he limped over to the door and peered through the glass. Two green eyes peered back at him out of a dark hood. Fang jumped up at the door, barking and wagging his tail. The figure lifted the hood to show his face.
Tom started and gripped the doorknob for support. Suspiciously, he opened a small flap. "Who are you?"
"Not a Death Eater. I stayed here on my own for a few weeks five years ago. Cornelius Fudge brought me here," the man outside said to prove his identity.
Tom opened the door with a wide, toothless smile. "Please come in, Mr Potter!"
This was news, indeed. For the last eight months, ever since it had become known that the Chosen One had not returned to Hogwarts for his seventh year, the public had been on the look-out for their 'saviour.' However, when months passed without any sightings, the public opinion had swayed. Harry was no longer the Boy Who Lived, but the Boy Who Hid or the Lost One. People were disappointed and grew desperate.
Not even the Order of the Phoenix knew where he was.
Harry entered quickly, begging Tom to be quiet. Eyes wide, the old man limped after Harry as he strode through the room and flopped down in a chair. Fang lay down at his feet.
"Since when is he here?" Harry asked as he reached down to stroke the dog.
"Since Hagrid's death."
Harry looked up sharply while Fang licked his hand sloppily.
"Two weeks ago. Killed on Hogwarts grounds. Didn't you hear it?"
Harry shook his head.
"He was my oldest friend," Tom went on gruffly.
Harry nodded. "Mine, too." He patted Fang's back.
"So," Tom said and clapped his hands together in an attempt to push away unwelcome memories. "What can I do for you?"
"Do you have some firewhisky?"
"Of course." Tom hurried to fetch a glass and his best bottle of Ogden's Old Firewhisky. He poured the camomile tea down the drain. Today, he’d need something stronger.
"To Hagrid," Harry murmured as he raised the glass that Tom had poured. Heaving a long sigh, Tom nodded, raised the bottle, and took a swig. He surreptitiously wiped his eyes before straightening up and moving on to tidying the room. While he opened the curtains, lit the candles on the walls and took down the chairs from the tables, he shot side-long glances at Harry. What was he doing here?
Harry stared dully at his glass. It was already half-empty.
You're such a pessimist, Ginny's voice echoed through his head. She had sometimes berated him for his morose thoughts. And she had always succeeded in cheering him up. The glass is half-full, Ginny always said firmly.
Half-full. Now that all the Horcruxes were destroyed, he had only to kill Voldemort and … die in the process? Or be killed before he could do so? Like Hagrid?
Right. Half-full. If the outlook hadn't been so dreary, Harry would have smirked at the thought. Instead, he stared down in his glass. The remaining whisky didn't look so appealing any longer.
He pushed the glass away and stood up. He’d need a clear head today, so he performed an anti-alcohol charm on himself (once again thinking gratefully of Hermione and her wonderful research skills), and slapped a handful of coins on the table.
"Keep quiet about this, okay?" he said to Tom.
"But Minerva McGonagall …"
Harry sized him up for a moment. "Should have known. You're in the Order. No, not even her."
Harry lingered for a moment. "I’m coming back tonight."
Tom nodded again. "Have a good day, then."
Harry’s face was impassive. "Hope so. And I'd like to book a room. For tonight. Something quiet."
Harry looked at his watch. 6:20. Today was going to be the day. Carpe diem and all that. Time to get started, then. A phrase Hermione had used when they had started out looking for the first Horcrux popped into his mind. Voldie, morituri te salutant.
Tom watched him leave. Harry Potter! He shook his head. This was a good sign, he knew it. Squinting, he critically surveyed the inn. It was dark and dingy.
Business wasn't going well. Most wizards stayed at home in the evening and only came for a short chat during daytime, only to rush on to work or to the safety of their homes. Madam Rosmerta had been forced to close her inn in Hogsmeade, and Tom knew that if the war kept on like this for a long time yet, he too would have to give up his beloved inn.
It had been in the family for six generations. Tom looked around at the cracks in the walls, the flickering candles that made smoke stains on the dark ceiling, the threadbare curtains, the worn and scratched furniture; and he knew that nothing could ever replace this place for him.
No, the inn had been his home for decades and it would remain so unless the war killed him. What else would he do, if he didn't have the Leaky Cauldron? Try and work in the Hog’s Head? He shuddered at the thought.
But if Harry Potter appeared again, the tide was turning in this war. He rubbed his gnarled hands. Time for a spring cleaning.
Tom heaved himself up with a small groan as the door swung open and a customer entered the nearly-empty inn. Maybe he had been too enthusiastic about cleaning. His back was telling him that he wasn’t up to these gymnastics any longer. Who could see the filth underneath the counter, anyway? With a last careless swish of his wand, he looked up. A portly woman wearing a cooking robe with a smudge of flour on her nose stood before him, bosom heaving.
"Molly?" he said with a smile.
"Hello, Tom," Molly sighed and sat down heavily at the nearest table.
He followed her. "What can I get you? Tea? Coffee?"
Experienced barman that Tom was, he did not express his surprise and promptly brought her a full glass. But surprised he was. While no one could call the Weasley matriarch mean, it was a well-known fact that she held on tightly to her purse. In short, Molly dropping in for a drink was unheard of. Normally, she only came to pass on news from McGonagall.
Tom sat down at her table. "It's not often that you pay a visit to my humble little pub."
"Sometimes my nerves just need some rest. I get cabin fever at home because I keep staring at my clock, the one that shows where everyone is. I'm always hoping one of the hands will move. And I'm afraid of it." She swallowed a large gulp. "Those children!"
Tom chuckled. "Your twin boys come here regularly. Nice chaps."
Molly gave a lopsided smile. "Terrible, aren't they? But they're not the ones causing trouble this time." She paused. "Those children. Running away like that! My little Ronnie …"
She took another sip while Tom sighed gravely. Shortly after his entering, the Order had been in an uproar about Harry Potter leaving with his friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, on a secret mission. Several members had doubted McGonagall's abilities of managing the Order because she failed to find out about Harry's quest.
"And Harry," she wailed. "What were they all thinking?"
So she didn't know about him. He decided to keep quiet about the visit earlier in the morning. Hearing rumours was fine, but spreading false hope was never good.
"Terrible," he said instead. "Terrible. Have you had any news from them?"
She lowered her voice. "No one else knows, but they came home two weeks ago. They were in a dreadful state. But they left again after just a few days. You might think that now that the war has started, they be good children and do what is right. But no." Mrs Weasley sighed deeply. "I'm lucky to have Ginny. She's a good girl. Not running away from school like the others."
She drained her glass and looked disappointed when it was empty. "But I must get going. I've still got a pumpkin pie in the oven. How much do I owe you?"
"It's on the house."
"Thank you, Tom." She gave him a weak smile and left.
"Molly Weasley turning into a heavy drinker, eh?" A tiny old man sitting at the nearest table shook his head. "I'd never have expected that from her. Such a disciplined woman, normally."
"Those are always the worst," another said with a wise nod.
Tom glanced at their extra large glasses of liquor which were empty now. “Anything else I can get you, Angus, Lumingo?”
“Ah … I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to another brandy,” Lumingo said.
“Make it two,” Angus added.
“Cheers,” Tom muttered as he limped back to the counter.
A girl entered the Leaky Cauldron, paused and headed for the counter. She leaned over it and spoke quietly to the barkeeper. "I need a drink. Something like Ogden's Firewhisky."
("Young people today," the Angus muttered while his companion nodded furiously. "Always getting worse.")
Tom frowned at the small person. Another redhead. "And how old would you be, young lady?"
She looked like she only just refrained from rolling her eyes at his avuncular tone. "Does it matter? I'm seventeen. Come on, a drink."
Tom scratched his bald head. "Sorry, but I think you're under age. I can't hand out alcohol to you. The Ministry, you know …"
She sat down at a table. "Fine. Something else, then."
"No. Too sweet."
"Bitter lemon whiz?"
You're under age, Ginny thought. She snorted. Of course she was. But did anyone ever say that to Betty, Colin, or anyone else from her year? But Ginny had always appeared younger than she really was.
And yet, she had managed to get away from Hogwarts for a day. She didn't really know why she had done it. But when she had come down to empty common room early that day, she had simply taken some Floo powder in her hand, thrown it in the fireplace and let herself be carried to Diagon Alley.
But London wasn't any better than Hogwarts. People wore the same anxious and suspicious expressions; the streets were as empty as Hogwarts' halls. And of course, the people she was really missing weren't here either. Harry. Ron. Her family.
You're under age. Those words sounded familiar. You're too young, Ron had brushed her off when she had asked what he, Harry and Hermione were going to do last summer. We can't tell you.
Please understand, Ginny, Hermione had pleaded. You'd be in danger.
She snorted again. More than them?
I'm sorry, Harry had said. I'll come back.
"You'd better," Ginny said aloud to the half-empty pub. Tom nodded and went on drying off glasses.
She played with her empty glass and let it roll back and forth between her hands. She had drunk her lemon whiz too quickly. There was no money left for another one. Her mother would scold her for spending too much money.
Mum. She was going to kill her for running away.
After she was expelled.
She didn't catch the glass and covered her eyes with her fists as it broke on the floor with a loud crash.
"Tch," a witch at a near-by table said as she summoned a pair of needles and wool that she had let drop at the loud noise. "Careful, girl. Or do you want to be thrown out of here?"
"There, there." Tom gave the sobbing girl a rough pat on the back. He had picked up the glass and repaired it in a matter of seconds, filled it again and led her to a quiet corner of the pub. With one last worried look, he left her and returned to the counter.
People breaking out in tears. That had grown more common lately. It was time this war ended. Sometimes he doubted it ever would. People were dying left and right and it didn't seem to get any better. Now that he was in the Order, he heard of more deaths than ever.
"Fang," he called quietly. "Here, boy."
He ushered the dog towards the girl, where he plopped down on the ground with his head on her feet.
Ginny felt the warmth of the dog and breathed in deeply through her nose, willing herself to stop sobbing. She was being silly. She would find a way out of this. Who worried about one missing student when every day, dozens of people were killed? She would simply meet the twins and they'd help her sort it out.
Gently, she tried to pull her feet from under the Fang's head, but he wouldn't budge. She nearly kicked him in exasperation when suddenly she paused, listening.
"He can't do that!" came a shout from the street. The knitting witch shook her head at the loud noise and muttered that in her time, this wouldn't have happened. Tom murmured his agreement. Shouting, fighting and vandalism; another thing that had grown common these last months.
The optimism he had felt in the morning had long since worn off. So what if Mr Potter had just come and disappeared again? What if the thing that had seemed to occupy the boy's mind didn't work out? From the Order, Tom knew that Harry was involved in a dangerous mission, but no one knew exactly what it was. Nobody could expect the lad to save the world any day. No, the times were bad, and it wasn't going to change soon. The old times had been happier times, he thought nostalgically. Were had all the happy people gone who would come for a drink and a laugh with their friends?
Nowadays, they were wallowing in misery and only came for a good cry. And it hardly ever stopped raining.
He was torn away from his musings by another shout from outside. "He can't do that!" a man shouted again. The door was flung open to reveal an angry redhead. How many of them were about today? "I'm going to tell him so – if he survives," he added in a hushed voice, but the words echoed through the inn as every head turned to look at him.
"Ron!" A bushy-haired girl followed him inside. "Calm down. This is no-"
"I've had enough of this."
"Ron!" the girl shouted as her companion shrugged her off and strode over to the bar.
"A firewhisky, please."
When Tom handed it to him, he took a gulp, repressed a shudder and handed it to the girl, who had followed him in. She shook her head at him, but took the glass nonetheless.
The other patrons inspected them, partly amused, partly shocked, and then took up their quiet conversations again. The red-haired girl, Tom noticed, edged farther back in her corner.
“And then I said, 'You know what, my dear Mr Death Eater',” a lanky young man with a bad case of acne was saying to his rapt audience of three other men in their early twenties. "'You know what,' I said, 'Take this!'"
He flung out his hand dramatically and sent his bottle of beer flying. Tom Summoned it and conjured a mop to clean up the beer that had spilled on the floor.
"So I punched him – like that, see – drew my wand at the same time, kicked the other guy, stunned them both and brought them both to the Ministry." He nodded, looking around at his friends for their praise. As an afterthought, he added, "All in a matter of seconds, of course."
"Wow, Stan," his friend said while another whistled. "You deserve the Order of Merlin, you do!"
“First class, at least!”
The talker waved it off. "Of course they offered me that. But I said, 'Listen here, mates, no problem. Any time.'" he finished smugly.
The red-haired young man sitting in front of Tom snorted. He met Tom's eyes, which were twinkling with mirth. Ron raised his glass in mock-salute.
"To our war heroes."
Tom chuckled. Discreetly, he eyed the young couple that sat at the counter. The girl had shared several glasses with the redhead and was now leaning heavily on his shoulder. From the corner of his eye he noted how she nuzzled her head in his cloak and sighed contentedly.
My little Ronnie … There couldn't be many wizards with Weasley-red hair and that name, Tom realised.
"Hermione!" Ron stroked her shoulder awkwardly. "D'you want to sit down?"
She blinked up at him. "What? Oh …" She yawned. "No, s’all right," she mumbled. She rested her head on her hands and fixed Ron with a severe stare. "That wasn't nice of you, you know."
"You didn't have to storm in here like that. Why were you shouting?"
"You know Harry …"
Tom put down the glass and picked up the next, all the while listening to the two. There couldn't be a doubt now as to who they were. Should he tell Molly?
"And you really shouldn't have started drinking like that," she interrupted him.
Ron laughed. "You drank just as much as I did!"
"I know, damn it," Hermione groaned while Ron grinned, "But it got too much. You shouting. Harry gone. Everything. You wouldn't talk about it, so I thought … I don't know what I thought. My head hurts."
He took her hand and stroked it. "I'm sorry. I'm just so angry at Harry. Why can't he stay with us? Why doesn't he even tell us where he is? If he … does it …"
"Be quiet, Ron," Hermione mumbled. "My head."
They sat in silence for a while, until Hermione waved at Tom. "I'd like a large glass of water, please."
When he brought it, she drank from it in small sips, then dipped her fingers in it and held them to her front.
She looked up at Ron. "Where is he?"
"Don't know," Ron replied dully. "He wasn't there this morning. Must have left very early. He could be anywhere."
"Damn. Damn. Damn." Hermione shook her head in frustration. "Honestly. We join him for the search of … you know … we follow him everywhere, we help a lot - how far would he have come without us? He'd have never found all six without us. And what does he do? He runs away. Damn."
"You're swearing, Hermione," Ron chided gently.
"So what?" She retorted. She put her head in her hands and groaned. "Oh, I'm such a mess …"
"Shall I cheer you up?" He leaned over towards her.
"Ron!" she hissed. "Not here!"
"Why? Roger Davies does that all the time."
She huffed, and pulled her hand away. "We'd better go." She slowly descended from the bar stool. "Come on."
Taking his hand, she walked unsteadily towards the door. Ron, who could apparently deal with the alcohol more easily, snatched his glass to take a quick gulp and hurried after her. When he glanced through a window, he brusquely changed his course and steered Hermione back in a dark corner.
"No … No snogging session," Hermione protested.
He covered her mouth with his hand. "Shush. It's my brother."
Hermione's eyes widened. She sat down and let her gaze wander around the dark corner. Near them, a redhead sat completely still with her back turned to them.
"I'll have a firewhisky, please," Charlie Weasley said as he slumped down at the bar of the Leaky Cauldron.
"One for me, too," said Kingsley Shacklebolt as he slumped down next to Charlie. "No, a double."
"That bad, eh?" Tom said.
Charlie shook his head. "You have no idea. The Ministry's in an uproar. There was a major attack in a Muggle town, lots of Aurors were called in, and then suddenly, the Death Eaters disappear. Not that they were losing the fight. They were flattening us. But they just disappeared all of a sudden."
In a surprisingly quick movement for an old man, Tom took two glasses, filled them and handed them over the counter. "On the house."
"Thanks, Tom." Charlie took his glass and nearly drained it in one go. As smoke came out of his ears, he sat it down. "That's better."
Kingsley, meanwhile, was sipping from his. He was staring down at the counter and didn't raise his eyes when Charlie started drumming his fingers on the table.
"He's planning something."
"Charlie's an Auror?" Ron whispered. "When and how did that happen?"
Hermione didn't answer. Silently, she pointed at the nearest table.
"Ginny?" Ron hissed. He stared at his sister. "What are you doing here?"
She turned around. "Same question. What are you doing?"
When Ron and Hermione sat down, Ginny eyed Ron's glass.
"Can I have some?"
Ron pushed it towards her.
"Ron!" Hermione mouthed furiously. "She's your little sister and she's under age!"
"Oh shut it, Hermione," Ginny said and swallowed a gulp of whisky. "Just half a year and then I'm legally allowed to drink."
"C'mon, Hermione. Don't you see she needs it?"
Hermione shook her head. "Really, I don't see how they could ever make you a prefect."
"So, since when are you a couple?" Ginny interrupted casually.
Hermione recovered from the shock first. "You saw …?"
"I heard," said Ginny. "Congratulations, by the way."
Ron had turned a bright red. "Er." He coughed and looked around for a distraction. "What's Fang doing here, anyway?"
"Hagrid's dead," Ginny said, the small grin slipping from her face.
"Hagrid?" Hermione whispered. "But nothing could hurt him. He's a half-giant."
"Something hurt him, all right," Ginny said. "There was a Death Eater attack. They nearly closed the school after that. They're really strict now. We're not even allowed to leave the common room alone."
"Why are you here, then?" Ron interrupted.
"Never mind," said Ginny. "Where's Harry?"
Ron took a deep breath. "Just a rough outline, okay?"
"The Order's on alert," Charlie told Tom quietly over the rim of his glass while Kingsley Shacklebolt noisily drained his. "If you see anyone else, tell them to go to Headquarters. McGonagall is nervous. We don't know what'll happen, and when."
"Right," Tom murmured.
Charlie nodded at him and left, with Shacklebolt in his wake.
Tom picked up the money and looked around. Nobody could have overheard them. The people in the pub today were noisy, as if they wanted to make up for those who weren't there.
The tiny old man was still there, telling his companion a joke, the old witch had fallen asleep and snoring over her needles which were now knitting a wild pattern around her hands, the small group of young men was laughing together. Only the three young people back in the corner were quiet. Although they hadn't entered together, they now shared a table. He took a closer look. Two redheads…
He was distracted by a long worm creeping towards him along the floor. Worms in his pub? Long, flesh-coloured worms?
"Accio," he said, caught the long string and immobilised it. Lucky he knew the Weasley twins' tricks by now. He shot a frown at the group at the back and noticed that the boy was rubbing his ear with a guilty expression.
"How did he know what that was?" Ron asked grumpily.
"You should have placed a Disillusionment spell on it," Ginny said in an exasperated tone. "I don't know how you managed not to get killed by Death Eaters for eight months considering your expertise. There's nothing to listen to any more, anyway. Charlie's gone."
Ron was about to give a snappy retort when he turned again to look at the barman. It was true, he was alone again.
"What were they doing here?" he said in a low voice and frowned. "I didn't even know Charlie was back in Britain."
"Order business, I suppose," Hermione said. "Could Tom be in the Order, too?"
"Never mind," said Ginny. "Go on with your story; what happened then? After you found the thing? What was it anyway?"
Hermione sighed. "I'm sorry. I can't tell you."
"Harry will tell me," Ginny said confidently, but watched the others closely for a reaction.
"If …" Ron began heavily and then stopped. "Yes, I suppose he will."
"Hello, 'ello, 'ello!" Mundungus Fletcher stumbled inside, leaning heavily on the door, and blearily looked around the pub. When he caught sight of the barman, he tried unsuccessfully to focus on him and staggered towards him. "Tom, old friend," he began, but was cut off abruptly.
"Mundungus, 'old friend', I'm not going to lend you any money. You still owe me three galleons from the last time you came here." He lowered his voice and muttered so that only Mundungus could hear, "Go to Headquarters. McGonagall's waiting."
"Eh?" Mundungus blinked. "Nah … Too tired. Now come on, Tom. Just one whisky? Just the one? Aren't we old pals?" He tried to lean over the counter to clap the barkeeper on the shoulder, but misjudges the distance. His arm hit the hard wood.
"Strong bones you've got there," he muttered, rubbing his elbow. "Now, where was I? Drinking. I mean, money … Tom, come on. Just enough for one tiny little Ogden's. Eh?"
"You have had enough to drink, Dung. What you need is a good hangover cure. And a good night's sleep."
While Mundungus scratched his head and tried to gather his thoughts, the door opened once again.
"A firewhisky. Now." Rita Skeeter threw money on the counter and ticked her fingers impatiently on the wood as Tom emptied an open bottle in her glass (he needed to order more from Ogden's. It seemed to be the only drink that people wanted these days).
When he handed it to her, however, she did not drink from it immediately. She fixed him with an outraged glare. "Can you believe it? Fired." She took a gulp from the whisky, spluttered, and went on in a croaking voice. "Fired. I'm fired."
Soon, the glass was empty. "Another one."
Mundungus watched Rita drink and edged over to take a seat next to her, still grumbling to himself. After two glasses, Rita's voice was slurred. She pointed at the glass.
"Fired. Ha. Like firewhisky. Fire. Get it?"
Tom nodded absently, and Rita laughed bitterly.
"I got it. Oh yes. Fired. And you know why?"
Tom shook his head.
"Because I failed to make up an 'appropriate cover story' for the Chosen One's disappearance. Bloody Harry Potter. I did write a story, though. They just didn't like it. Don't ask me why."
Tom refrained from commenting any further. It wouldn't do to start an argument with a customer.
“Harry Potter!" Mundungus snorted. " Bub-Bloody Hairy Trotter. Nasty little bugger, that one. Bad for business."
"Too right," Rita agreed.
"Next time I meet him, I'll …" He didn't know what he would do, and wisely stopped. "Tottering rotter!" he finished triumphantly.
"Tottering rotter!" Rita laughed out loud and slapped Mundungus' knee. "That's too funny."
He grinned at her toothily, and threw another look at the empty glass before her. Rita went on laughing hysterically and rocked to and fro on her stool. Mundungus held on to her and they very nearly both tumbled down on the floor.
"Steady there," Tom said as he surveyed them carefully. He reached for his wand. After decades of barkeeping, he was an expert at Calming Charms.
Once Rita had grown quiet, she ordered another drink. Tom gave it to her and she continued telling her story to her two listeners.
"Such a nice story it was. Not like that dreadful Quibbler interview. Just a Prophet's article with a lot of Potter-bashing."
Mundungus hit the counter in agreement.
"But they didn't like it," Rita went on. "'Times are changing,' they told me. They want Harry the Hero again."
"Don't need a hero," Mundungus grumbled.
"The worst thing is that I could have done that! I could have written a bloody ode to Harry Potter. I told them so. But they turned me down on that, too. Said it wouldn't be believable. Bollocks!" she spat out.
Mundungus snorted in agreement.
"Readers believe anything you show them. I should know that. But there's another thing," she said in a loud voice. "I know for a fact that someone bribed them to change their course. Weasley, Diggle, Shacklebolt, you know which crowd."
Tom emitted a non-committal reply.
Rita drank the next glass in silence. Impatiently, she swatted away Mundungus’ hand which was edging over to her glass.
There was a lull in all the conversations in the pub.
“Just a firewhisky?” Mundungus pleaded again.
“I’ll pay for it next time. I’ll … do anything.”
“Aw, c'mon, Tom. 'When times are bad and your temper's worse, Take Old Ogden's Firewhisky to end the curse.'”
“To end, to end, to end the curse!”
Rita moved her lips to the words, all the while staring dully before her.
A witch shook her head and tutted, but the group of young men whooped and joined in singing, slurring the words.
With an effort, Tom resisted the urge to clap his hands over his ears.
Whoever had come up with the silly little jingle must have made a fortune by now. For as long as Tom could remember (which was far too long), it had been the brand's marketing slogan, sung by a croaky old goblin. The simple melody had become all too famous.
"Oh, shut up," someone cried. Tom looked around and saw it was the bushy-haired girl, Hermione. She was still burying her head in her hands. Tom sent her a sympathetic look and went over to her to pour her some more water.
The younger girl was shaking with silent giggles while boy shrugged apologetically at some customers who had turned around to look at them.
"I didn't know you had it that bad," said Ron. He raised his wand. "Bingium Finitum."
She sat up, her face going from deathly pale to tomato red in a few seconds. "I can't believe I didn't remember that."
"You must have been very drunk then, Hermione," Ginny laughed.
Rita spun around. “No! Little Miss Prefect?" she called through the pub with a simpering voice and a grimace. "Anything I can do for you? A story about you and …"
“Look here, Miss Skeeter,” Tom interrupted when he saw the alarmed look in the girl’s eyes. “My customers-”
“Oh, shut up, you gummy old walnut, will you?” Rita turned around to snap at him.
Before Tom could think of an appropriate reply, Rita froze. In a hectic movement, she set her handbag on the counter and started rummaging in it. Several quills fell on the floor.
"S'up?" Mundungus said.
"Nothing …" Rita muttered. "Now where's that alarm … Ah."
She extracted a quill from her bag that was buzzing and glowing red. The quill jumped out of her hand and scribbled a few words on the counter. Rita eyes widened as she read, then she grabbed the quill and jumped up.
"I'm off," she shrieked. A second later, she had stormed out of the pub. Hermione looked surprised, but relieved.
Tom watched as Mundungus took a minute to push himself up from the counter to decipher the words written on it.
"Potter defeats V-mort", he mumbled. "Whazze fuss?" With a snort, his head fell back onto the counter.
Tom made his way over to the three teenagers in the corner.
"Anything else I can bring you?"
"A firewhisky," the younger girl said.
"Ginny!" the other girl hissed.
"For him," Ginny added, pointing at Ron.
"Yeah, that's right." Ron said, although he frowned back at her.
"One firewhisky", Tom said, writing it down on a sheet of paper. He kept writing, making sure they saw. Potter defeats V-mort.
There was a stunned pause.
"A bottle of champagne," the bushy-haired girl said.
As Tom moved away, he heard the young girl speak. "And now? Shouldn't we go and look for Harry?"
He turned and, holding his hand before his mouth, whispered secretively, "He’s coming here tonight."
As he made his way back to counter, the door opened again and a wizard in his late forties came shuffling in. "Rupert! I already thought you weren’t coming today," Tom greeted him and led him to the bar.
"You know I come every day, Tom," the wizard replied. "Where else would I go?" He sat down heavily on a barstool.
"The usual, I suppose?" Tom asked. He didn't wait for an answer as he filled a glass of firewhisky and set it in front of his friend.
Rupert White. Another victim of the war. As a tourist guide of magical London, Rupert had once had a busy and happy life. And a happy family. His wife and two children had been killed in a random attack on Diagon Alley. They had been among the first deaths in this war, a few months back. His job had slowly come to an end when, over the months, people had grown too afraid to visit London any longer.
Nowadays, Rupert spent most of his time in Tom's pub. What a sad fate. And what a hateful war. But what could Tom do to stop it?
"Pollicita, Cathy, Benjamin," Rupert mumbled as he raised his glass, as he did every day.
"Rupert," Tom said. "Do you want to work here?"
Rupert set down his glass, surprised. "What?"
"Will you work here, with me?" Tom repeated. "I could do with some help."
Rupert laughed bitterly. "Don't give me that, Tom. I know you couldn't afford it. I don't want charity."
Tom was about to answer when the door burst open and a young witch - the accountant from the bookshop opposite the pub - strode in dramatically.
"You-Know-Who is dead," she said, sounding shocked. "He's gone!"
There was a hushed silence.
Rupert was the first to speak. "Gone," he repeated in a daze. "Serve the bloody bastard right."
The news spread quickly. Crowds of people streamed in through the door until the pub was so full that many had to stand.
Unnoticed, a hooded figure slipped in and elbowed his way to the bar. For the second time that day, Tom looked at pair of fierce green eyes and a finger pressed to the lips.
Tom reached out to take his hand. “Welcome back, Mr Potter,” he said hoarsely. “Welcome back once again.” Before the man could respond, he pointed at a corner of the pub. "You might want to meet your friends back there."
Tom watched Harry's tattered cloak as he pushed his way through the noisy crowd to the dark corner.
He couldn’t avert his gaze as Hermione flung herself at Harry and embraced him in a hug so fierce that his knees appeared to buckle. Ron picked up the chair his girlfriend had let fall to the floor. He gently pulled her away from Harry, hugged him in turn and told him something to which Harry nodded.
When Ginny put her arms around Harry in a tight hug, she broke out in sobs again. They were drowned by the celebrating at the other tables.
Feeling guilty because he couldn't look away, Tom watched as Harry pulled the crying girl down into a chair. When tears threatened to fill his eyes, he finally pulled away his gaze and turned back to the raucous crowd of customers.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. "For leaving. You, last year." He looked at Hermione and Ron. "You, today. I had to do it on my own."
"We wanted to be there with you," Hermione said. "We promised."
"I know. But I couldn't take you there."
Ginny squeezed his hand, which was still holding hers. "It's okay. It's over now."
"And that’s what counts," Ron said. He conjured a fourth glass, filled it, and handed it to Harry. They all raised their glasses.
"To Voldemort's defeat," Hermione said.
Harry shuddered; not at the name, but at the memory.
"No. To his victims. To Hagrid. To the past."
"I'm paying for a round," the old man called out to Tom. "A firewhisky for everyone to celebrate the day."
People cheered and moved closer to his table. The four friends stayed where they were.
"Oy, you there with the black cloak!" someone called at Harry. "Death Eaters are out of fashion now."
Some others turned to look at him, laughing.
"It's Harry Potter!" a woman from the next table suddenly called. "I swear it's him!"
Chaos ensued as everyone present in the pub scrambled over chairs and tables to meet him.
Tom made his way to the corner. In the hubbub, he managed to tap the red-haired girl's shoulder and showed her a private door in the back.
When he announced a free round of firewhisky for everyone, the small group managed to slip away.
Officially, there was still a curfew of ten pm. After several attacks during the night, the Ministry had ordered the curfew and dispatched Aurors to patrol the streets at night. But who cared about that now?
"Aw, c'mon, Tom. Just one more. Historic day, you know."
"One more," Tom agreed. "For free, even."
Whooping and laughter followed this. "That's our man," someone shouted and with a grin, Tom filled all the glasses with a swish of his wand.
"To the Chosen One!"
"To the man-who-lived!"
"Did I tell you I'm good friends with him?" the pimpled young man called over the din for the tenth time.
The clock showed six o’clock. No wonder his bones were aching – he had been up for twenty-four hours. And what a lot had happened.
After the longest night Tom could remember in a many years, the very last drunk but happy guests had left and Tom had pulled down the shutters. Outside on the street singing and laughing could still be heard.
He had checked on the four teenagers in their private parlour, had offered them access to the fireplace, and - although he suspected Molly would kill him - had given them two rooms for the night; with sleeping arrangements up to them. He chuckled at his own audacity.
Who cared if Molly killed him now? The Order didn't need him any longer, the war was over, and the pub was saved. If Molly wanted to kill him, she was welcome; he could rest in peace.
Slowly, Tom limped back towards the counter and poured himself a large glass of Ogden's Old Firewhisky and looked around the empty room.
On second thoughts, he would prefer to stay alive. There were other things to do. He would replace those terrible curtains whose pattern he could no longer discern. He could help poor Rosmerta set up her inn again in Hogsmeade. He might even finally realise his old dream of inviting Celestina Warbeck to sing in his inn … Though maybe he should try out the Weasley twins' hair re-growing charm before that.
Smiling, he raised his glass at Fang who lay sleeping in a corner.