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Just Across the Bar -- Sirius/Rosmerta (R)


The Three Broomsticks was always quieter in the summer. Oh, Rosmerta had her regulars, and no doubt she was still doing remarkably well since she had bought the pub at just twenty-one, but in a strange way, she was glad August was finally drawing to an end and the new term at Hogwarts would then start. Dust hung in the air, clinging to every surface, much to Rosmerta’s chagrin, and even though she hadn’t had to move around as much as she usually did, she could still feel beads of sweat trickling down her back. She fanned herself ineffectually with her hand, letting out a long breath, but she still could feel the heat permeate its way into her pores.

It was nearly sunset. The last of her customers finished their drinks. She wasn’t sure when she had poured herself a shot of Firewhisky, but, turning around so no one could see, she downed it in one go, revelling in the way the liquid burned in her throat. Pouring another shot, Rosmerta watched idly as the couple she’d just served took their time leaving, stumbling and giggling, clutching each other in a way that, for some reason, frustrated Rosmerta. Finally, the door swung shut with a puff of dust, clouding the window and temporarily obscuring her view of the now dusky pink sky and the arch of thin orange cloud only faintly visible near the horizon.

Rosmerta knew she envied them. Not that she hadn’t been propositioned and flirted with and kissed and even groped on occasions -- she had, but whatever altercations that had taken place were always between the barmaid and whoever had decided she would be a good fuck. And for years, that had always been all it was, just sex, and nothing more.

However, Rosmerta’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted as, with a loud creak, the door opened (she really needed to get round to oiling that). She put her hand over her eyes, shielding the unexpectedly bright beam of sunlight that assaulted her vision. Only when the door shut did she look up.

“Rosmerta, darling,” Sirius Black called with that ridiculous grin of his. “Long time no see.”

“It hasn’t been that long, Sirius, darling,” she replied, trying to sound stern but failing, and after a moment, she allowed a smile to break out on her lips. Truth be told, she had missed him. Either he had been banned from Hogsmeade or he had taken to going to The Hog’s Head instead, because the last time she’d seen him was in March. And that had been when he had --

No, she thought firmly. She wasn’t going to think about that. She could be professional about this. Of course she could.

“What can I get you?” she said finally.

“I’ll have what you’re having, thanks,” he said just as she met his eyes fully for the first time. She flushed, realising he had noticed she was drinking on the job, and he held her gaze for a moment, as if challenging her to say something. She felt like refusing just for the hell of it, but then she remembered he was, of course, of age now and could drink what he liked.

So, reaching behind her, she grabbed another shot glass and filled it to the brim. After a moment’s consideration, she poured herself another, too, and she glanced at him to see if he’d say anything. He didn’t, to her surprise. “Good summer?”

He shrugged. “It was all right. It’s, er, quiet here.”

“Yes, well, Hogsmeade is losing far too much business ever since the Death Eater attack in Scrivenshaft’s. I'm surprised you’re by yourself, to be honest -- you’re safer with your friends--”

“Isn’t my handsome presence enough for you?” he said wryly, downing his drink.

Rosmerta was suddenly fascinated by her shoes; she could feel the flush already working its way up her neck. “Sirius, stop it,” she finally muttered. “You can’t say things like that--”

“You’re the one who brought up my friends,” he countered.

He had a point, Rosmerta conceded. But that didn’t stop her palms from sweating even more, and she wished she could say he had no effect on her whatsoever, but she would be lying, really. Somehow, Sirius bloody Black, a student no less, was making Rosmerta nervous. And it wasn’t even a proper chat-up line or anything.

That didn’t excuse him, though. After a moment, she grabbed the bottle and filled her glass once more, and once she had taken a draught, her nerves steadied a little. “Do you have a habit of kissing barmaids? In front of your teachers, no less?”

“Only pretty ones,” he offered with a grin.

“Sirius!”

“It was just a dare,” Sirius said smoothly.

“Would you kiss Aberforth if your friends dared you?”

“’Course not. But there’s a difference, Rosmerta. You’re gorgeous and aren’t obsessed with goats, so--”

“Stop treating everything like it’s a joke, Sirius,” Rosmerta said, still trying to fight the heat now on her cheeks that had nothing to do with the weather. It wasn’t, after all, the first time anyone had called her gorgeous, and she knew she usually did look good, but today, she wasn’t so sure. She was stupidly conscious of the strands of her hair sticking damply on her neck and shoulders and the fact that she was standing in a rather unflattering angle, leaning forwards with her elbows on the bar and her face resting in her hands.

Sirius held up his hands as if admitting defeat. “I'm not. I got a right bollocking from McGonagall, for starters, and I was banned from Hogsmeade, too.”

“So you should be!” she told him, frowning, and she realised she was poking Sirius in the chest as she spoke. But this only seemed to amuse Sirius, not deter him, and Rosmerta was already regretting the alcohol now working its way into her bloodstream. “You could’ve got me in trouble, you know.”

“But you’re not! So what’s the problem?”

His eyebrows were arched in a way that was unfairly seductive, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking.

Not that she was thinking of anything untoward. And of course she wasn’t thinking about how sharp his cheekbones looked and the tiny muscle working in his jaw as he smiled. She certainly wasn’t thinking about the stubble that was scattered on his cheeks or how she wanted to run her hands through his hair or how his hand, bigger than hers and currently wrapped around his glass, would feel twined with hers --

“There’s no problem,” she managed at last, trying to cut across her own thoughts by speaking, and to her relief, whatever it was she was feeling quelled just a tiny bit, enough for her to be able to think straight, at least. “Just don’t pull a stunt like that again, okay?” To her surprise, he nodded, shrugging, and she asked, “So, are you still saying at the Potters’?”

“How do you know about that?” he asked curiously.

She drew herself up a little as she topped up both their glasses. “Please. I'm a barmaid. I know everyone’s business.”

“Oh yeah?”

All of a sudden, she felt the need to prove her so-called knowledge of such gossip. “For example, I know that you ran away from home at fifteen and that you went to live with James Potter because your cousin Bellatrix didn’t like your Muggle girlfriend.”

The warmth that had been in Sirius’s grey eyes solidified, and his irises darkened, reducing to barely-there grey rings around his pupils. He didn’t look angry, as such, but his cocksureness had disappeared completely. “How do you--”

“And I'm guessing,” Rosmerta continued relentlessly (when had her hand started trailing his arm?), “that your mother was an overbearing bitch who preferred your brother to you, and you left because the pureblood mania they shoved down your throat wasn’t quite to your taste.” She downed the next shot a little too quickly and, wiping her mouth rather unceremoniously, looked up. “How am I doing?”

“What are you, a Legilimens?” Sirius said quietly, and in spite of the growth of stubble on his cheeks and the haughtiness he held in his angular cheekbones, a young boy stared back at her, wide-eyed and scared and looking every bit the vulnerable outsider. Never did Rosmerta think she would be privy to such a sight. She felt, in a way, like she was intruding, and she realised she had probably stepped so far over the line that she had no idea where it was anymore to toe it.

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I -- you don’t have to talk to me about any of it. Not if you don’t want to.” And yet part of her hoped he did, because she liked his company, as much as she wanted to deny it, and she wanted to do something, anything, to help him.

“I moved out of James’s two weeks ago,” Sirius said after a long pause. “They wanted me to stay, but I felt I was in their hair too long, and my uncle left me a load of money in his will once I turned seventeen, so I bought a place. But it’s… not the same. I mean, James came over and made sure I had food and stuff and that everything was furnished, but then he… left. It’s not like I asked him to stay or that there was space for him, anyway, but one minute, I felt like I was imposing at the Potters’, and the next, I was by myself in this flat and--”

“You felt lonely?” Rosmerta finished softly.

“Yeah.” He looked up, and Rosmerta wondered briefly how far she had leant over the bar, because his lips were suddenly a hair’s breadth away from hers. “Do you?”

Her response came so readily that even she was surprised. “All the time. But it’s okay, most of the time, because I have this place to care for, and it’ll always be my heart and soul because of how much I’ve done for it.”

“And its customers?” Sirius added wryly.

“I care for them, too.” She really should have moved away, but part of her -- the dangerous, reckless part of her -- wanted to see how far he would go this time.

“Including me?”

“I’m not a Legilimens,” she said instead, ignoring him, “but I do understand certain people. At least, I think I do. My mother would think otherwise, but we won’t talk about her.”

“And what do you understand about me?” Sirius asked, shifting ever so slightly to fill their glasses again.

For some reason, despite the alcohol she had been tossing down for the last fifteen minutes at least, her throat felt constricted and dry, but as she took another hasty gulp of her drink, she started coughing violently. He appeared behind the bar so quickly that she could’ve sworn he had Apparated, and Rosmerta couldn’t help but laugh at him thumping her on the back. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” she finally managed, trying her best to suppress a giggle that was not helping matters in the slightest.

“Are you sure?” he asked. She nodded, slowly regaining her composure and carefully finishing her drink, and when she was done, he said, “So go on.”

“What?” Rosmerta was acutely aware of the hand still on her back, its coolness soothing on her hot skin.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I wasn’t under the impression that you valued my opinion very much.” His hand was still there, moving in circles, and she wanted to tell him to stop, but all of a sudden, he removed it, and Rosmerta tried to pretend she was not disappointed.

“Well, I do,” Sirius said far too quickly, and he realised his mistake too late. Once again, his mask of suaveness and confidence slipped, albeit temporarily, but Rosmerta nevertheless saw a sliver of his true self that he tried so hard to hide. Sure enough, he turned away from her, reaching for the bottle and drinking directly from it.

“You try and make out that you’re quick-witted and funny and that you don’t take anything seriously,” she began, “but really, that’s just a front. A front that most people don’t realise exist, but still, it’s not who you really are, Sirius. You’ve got issues, which is partly why you throw yourself at every girl who comes your way.”

“That’s not fair--”

“You’ve been coming to Hogsmeade -- to my pub -- for years now. Practically every time you’re here, you’ve got a new girl on your arm, and when you dump her, you stay friends with her because you can make her like you so much, which you of course use to your advantage because that’s just who you are. Really, though, you just want to say no to someone, upset someone in the same way so many people have upset and hurt you.”

Rosmerta didn’t quite understand how she was able to speak so lucidly, but liquor or not liquor, what she had said had been simmering in her mind for a long time now. She didn’t understand at all how they were even having this conversation, with her at least tipsy (she had to be, to be leaning against the bar in the manner she was now) and Sirius Black behind the bar with her, the distance between them rapidly shrinking. His reply, however, shocked her even more.

“So what if I do?” he whispered. “It works. And… and at least it means I’m not lonely.”

She laughed lightly. “Like me, you mean?”

Sirius shook his head. “Far from it. You’re… Rosmerta, you’re far better than that, and you know it.” Then he grinned, the boldness back in his eyes. “In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I would have said that you’re fishing for compliments.”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, and then, to her complete and utter shock, she was the one who finally kissed him, because, damn it, it felt like the right thing to do. The heat was oppressing her brain and her judgement must have been floating in the clouds somewhere, because all she could think about was what he was doing with his tongue.

It was when his mouth started to move up and kiss the sensitive skin of her ear, however, that she moved away, reality crashing down in her ears and making her head hurt. “Merlin, Sirius, I--”

“Don’t apologise,” Sirius interrupted.

“But you’re a student,” she reasoned, trying to tug herself away, even though her body seemed to be fighting with her -- her lip trembled as his hand touched her jaw. “Come on, I can’t do something like that -- you’re underage and not even in seventh year yet.”

“You know perfectly well that I’m of age,” he murmured into her throat, and she tilted her head back despite herself, allowing him to mouth another kiss just underneath her chin.

“But you’re a student,” Rosmerta repeated, succeeding in pushing him away, towards the bar. This only amused him, however, especially as a moment later, something within her made her take a step towards him. Part of Rosmerta wanted -- needed -- to kiss him, but another part of her wanted him to tell her it was a mistake and let her down gently. At least, that way, she would be more likely to put a stop to it, whatever that was.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she tried, and he raised his eyebrows, his eyes, alight with lust, burned into hers.

“I can leave, if you want.”

Damn you, Rosmerta thought, but she secretly envied his self-assuredness. There was certainly something to be jealous about if he could be that confident that he would offer to leave -- then again, considering the dishevelled state of her, thanks to him, it wasn’t much of a surprise. He knew as well as she did that she didn’t want him to go.

“I don’t want that,” she replied after a long moment; she had made up her mind, conflicted as it was, and the righteous whispers of this is wrong and he’s too young and fucking cradle snatcher faded away, thank Merlin, to be replaced by his moan as he lowered his mouth to hers. The tension mounting between them temporarily satiated, Sirius plucked at the opening of her robes while, with her wand, she made the door slam shut.

His teeth nipped at her skin of her shoulder, but it didn’t hurt her; all it did was heighten the slow burning in her belly that was slowly travelling down her navel, as did the feeling of his fingers deftly finding their way inside her robes and to her stockings. She helped him, raising her skirts up a little, and she revelled in the feeling of his hands on her hips as he lifted her onto the bar easily, her robes tangled around her waist.

“Are you sure you -- we can’t -- not here,” Rosmerta protested, her words only coming out in short bursts as he tugged down her stockings.

“You don’t have to do anything,” he said with a smile, reaching up and trying to silence her with a kiss while he played with the lace of her panties in such a goddamn tantalising way that Rosmerta couldn’t stop the sounds escaping her lips. And then, when she could feel the slight roughness of his fingers grazing the inside of her thigh, her hold on his shoulder tightened and her teeth dug into his bottom lip. Still, his fingers danced over her until she cried out, her hands in his hair while his tongue trailed down her neck, and she finally came with a throaty cry and a loud epithet that made him smile (she could feel his lips upturn against hers).

Only when she got her breath back did she find it in her to say, “So… I suppose you’ve done this before?”

He answered her with a kiss, and she could taste sweat and liquid fire and the thrum of laughter on his tongue. And though she knew there were issues -- she’d just got off, with a student no less, in her own bar -- she couldn’t help but push her objections aside for the moment as she slipped down from the bar. He was of age, after all, and nearly in his last year at Hogwarts; it wasn’t like she was really shagging a student. At least, that was what she told herself as he pressed her against the bar.

“D’you want to go upstairs?” he asked, succeeding in unhooking her bra. She shook her head; she had to have him right there and then. Besides, she didn’t think she would be able to walk all the way upstairs, not with how weak her knees felt -- and he had done that, damn him.

They bumped a couple of times, trying to remove clothing, and she was sure the backs of her legs were growing numb from how closely she was pushed against the bar, but each moment of awkwardness was accompanied by a laugh and she could not deny the thrill she felt at it all. Rosmerta couldn’t remember the last time anyone had ever made her feel like this, hot and flushed at every touch, every caress, but she also took pleasure in Sirius’s groan of satisfaction as her hand found its way to her groin.

“Fucking hell,” he managed to get out, landing a clumsy kiss on her cheek, and she couldn’t help but smile at his inelegance, the first sign he had truly lost his composure. It pleased her, knowing that she, of all people, had done this to him, and when the necessary clothing had been rid of and he had, at last, removed her knickers from where they’d got stuck around her knees, the softest, gentlest kiss on her nose was the last thing she expected.

“What was that for?” she asked with a faint smile, her hand cradling his cheek, but then she closed her eyes and threw her head back as a jolt of pleasure went through them both. She felt him bury his face into her neck at that, murmuring her name into her skin, and Rosmerta knew in that moment that she wanted to be nowhere except where she was, sweat trickling down her back with her legs wrapped around Sirius Black’s waist.
***

She expected him to be gone by the morning. Everyone else did. Besides, Rosmerta didn’t like people seeing her first thing in the morning, so when she stretched her arms over her head and turned on her side, the remnants of a smile still lingering on her lips, she nearly yelped at the solid sleeping presence she collided with.

Thankfully, her squeal seemed to have gone completely unnoticed by Sirius, who was fast asleep, his lips curving a little and his hand reaching out to touch her bare waist. Slowly, she managed to get out of her bed, putting on her dressing gown. She watched him inhale and exhale softly, his youth evident on his features which were, for once, not disguised by their usual cockiness but instead relaxed and at ease. His smile widened, but he was still asleep, and the very childishness before Rosmerta lanced through her like a knife.

She had shagged a student.

As suddenly as the morning sun appeared in her line of vision, the realisation of what Rosmerta had just done hit her. She was twenty-eight. He was only seventeen. And not only had she been drinking on the job and had sex with him, but she had done so on her own fucking bar. How stupid was she, to lead him on like that? Because as much as she could blame the alcohol, she knew it was more than that. It had to be more than that -- she liked him far more than she cared to admit.

With that in mind, she got in the shower, bracing herself for what she knew she would have to say soon after.
***

The next time she saw Sirius was in November. She’d known the date of the Hogwarts students’ Hogsmeade visit for a while now, and she would be lying if she wasn’t nervous about it. After all, she had told him to leave without even offering him breakfast. That wasn’t nice. But it had to be done -- that was what she kept telling herself, anyway. And he had left, without much argument, just slumped shoulders and lowered eyes, and that surprised her too. Part of her had wanted him to lose his temper, or shout, or do something to tell her she was being ridiculous… but that same part of her wanted, secretly, to continue whatever she had been doing with Sirius, regardless of the fact that he was a student and she was nearly thirty, for Merlin’s sake.

For that reason, Rosmerta felt jumpy every time the bell above the door tinkled and someone came in, and finally, just when there was a lag in the queue of students, Sirius entered, along with James Potter, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. She resisted the urge to call out a greeting, but she stopped herself just in time. Nevertheless, she felt more than a little disappointed when Remus Lupin approached the bar to order drinks.

“Hello, Remus,” she said tonelessly, attempting a smile but succeeding only in a grimace.

“Madam Rosmerta,” he replied courteously. “Could we have four Butterbeers, please?”

She nodded, flicking her wand at four glasses and filling them to the brim. Remus had the coins ready in his hand to pay, but Rosmerta waved him away. “On the house,” she murmured.

“I couldn’t possibly…”

Rosmerta laughed. “You know, you’re too polite for your own good, Remus. If I offered your friends free drinks, they’d accept it on the spot. It’s fine, really.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’ll bring it over,” she offered, even though she wasn’t entirely sure why. With the tray at wandpoint, she walked over to where they were sitting and carefully aimed so it landed softly on the table. Taking a deep breath (she wasn’t really nervous, was she?) and not quite able to meet Sirius’s eyes, she said, “This one’s on the house, boys.”

“Cheers,” James said appreciatively, and Peter muttered a thank you, too. Only Sirius remained silent, merely nodding noncommittally, and after a moment, she managed a smile at the other three and returned to the bar. There were students waiting, so she was busy serving for a few minutes, and then, when the queue died down again, she looked up at Sirius’s voice and caught a snatch of his conversation.

“…didn’t even look at her, let alone say hello. And she gave us free drinks. What’s up with you today, Padfoot?”

“For once, Wormtail, just for once, can you please just get off my back?”

“No, he has a point,” she heard James say. “You’ve been very quiet.”

“You didn’t even want to come here today,” Remus added, “and you always go on about how Rosmerta’s Butterbeer is far better than--”

“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” Sirius replied shortly. “And I’d appreciate it if you lot stopped with all the questions.”

And after draining the last few drops of his drink and slamming the glass down, he got to his feet. Rosmerta inadvertently caught his eye, but all she could see was hurt, and it was so much for her that she looked away, the immensity of what she had done by sleeping with him stabbing her in the gut. She watched as the door swung shut behind Sirius, and she wondered when -- or if -- she would see him again.
***

The Three Broomsticks was nearly as empty as it had been during that summer’s day over two years ago when Rosmerta heard a scuffle just outside her pub. Wand drawn, she rushed outside, prepared to aim curses at whoever was there if that meant protecting her pub and her punters.

“Stand back!” she shouted, but when the source of the commotion became evident, Rosmerta’s eyes widened. Standing before her were James Potter and Sirius Black, and despite their being, supposedly, the best of friends, they were instead brawling. That was what it looked like to her, anyway -- Sirius’s nose was bloody and James looked thoroughly dishevelled, as if they’d just fought. “What’s going on?” Rosmerta demanded.

James let go of Sirius first. “Nothing.”

He Apparated away. Sirius made to do the same, but before he could, Rosmerta called, “Let me fix that for you.”

Sirius looked like he was going to refuse, but after a second, he nodded resignedly, pinching his nose and following her inside. Whether or not her hand plucking at his sleeve was a conscious thing, Rosmerta didn’t quite know, but Sirius did not object, allowing her to steer him into her pub. He didn’t look like he had it in him to say anything, not with blood dripping down his nose and his face screwed up in pain. Rosmerta used her leg to push a chair back and helped Sirius sit down, and then she pointed her wand at his nose.

Episkey.

“Fuck!” he yelped, and she winced, hating that spell, even if it did heal things, because of the pain it caused.

“Sorry,” she said softly, ignoring the stares they were already attracting. “Look, give me a minute to clear everyone out and then I’ll get you a drink, okay?”

“Rosmerta, I--”

“Don’t say anything,” Rosmerta interrupted. “Sit down.” Then, she announced loudly, “We’re closing early tonight, everyone, so please be out in the next five minutes.”

There was some grumbling, but it didn’t take long for everyone to leave, and Rosmerta turned over the sign so it said “Closed”.

“What can I get you?” she asked. For the first time, she took a good look at him, and she was shocked at how forlorn he looked. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and his eyelids were drooping as if he hadn’t slept for days. Perhaps he hadn’t. And though it seemed he had siphoned away most of the blood, several red flecks remained on his cheek, and he didn’t stop her when she wiped it away almost unconsciously. She wondered if she was imagining the pain flickering in his eyes as her thumb pressed down on his jaw. Before, he merely looked dejected, but now, she could tell there was something far more seriously wrong.

“I’d like my brother and my best friend back, if you can do that.”

“Not quite,” she said gently. “Some tea, maybe?”

“You don’t have to--”

“You’re right, I don’t, but I want to. Merlin, Sirius. Keep up those manners and you might just turn into Remus.” She couldn’t help adding this last and hoped it didn’t sound untoward or rude. Thankfully, he smiled weakly.

“Thanks.”

She Summoned her kettle, teabags, sugar and milk from her room upstairs, and it was easier making the tea and not having to look him in the eye. Maybe it was easier for him, too.

“James and me had a fight,” he said, just as she handed him his mug.

“I could tell that much. What about?” Rosmerta asked, though she was quick to add, “But only if you want to tell me.”

He hesitated for only a moment. “Just -- people are dead. Lots of people. Because of me.”

“Sirius, don’t be stupid,” Rosmerta reprimanded sharply. “Unless you killed them yourself--”

“I as good as did,” Sirius interrupted. “That’s what we were fighting about, me and James. I -- I was meant to protect people. I couldn’t. Voldemort won.”

Rosmerta winced at the name, but she couldn’t deny her admiration for him using it. “Why were you protecting them?”

“Can’t say,” he muttered, sipping his tea. “I'm sorry.”

Something clicked into place in her head, and she reached out, placing her finger under his chin so he met her eyes. “You’re in the Order,” she said.

He didn’t reply, and she took that as a yes. “Merlin’s beard,” she breathed. “Sirius, I… you’ve got every right to tell me I’m patronising you, but please, please be careful.”

Sirius raised his eyebrows, and she matched his gesture, watching him questioningly. “I expected you to tell me to leave, that it was too dangerous,” he admitted.

“Well, there wouldn’t be much point in telling you that, would there? I mean, it’s not like you’re going to actually listen to me, anyway, especially after…” She trailed off, but the damage was done already. In fact, the damage had been done over two years ago, and Rosmerta had dodged the consequences for so long. Too long.

Sure enough, he shrank back a little and then stared into the depths of his tea. “No, I doubt I would have listened even to you. Especially,” he added bitterly, “if you told me I was too young.”

“That isn’t fair,” Rosmerta started, but he straightened, sitting up and staring at a spot over her shoulder.

“I still think you--”

“It doesn’t matter what you think,” she interrupted. “We couldn’t be together. Surely you know that. Everyone would have said that I was taking advantage -- and rightly so, considering I’m thirty, in case you haven’t noticed, and up until a year ago, you were still a student!” She paused, took a long draught of tea and then continued. “I didn’t want to hurt you, Sirius -- the last thing I want is for you to be upset, but I was--”

“What? You were drunk? You weren’t in the right state of mind? Oh, or maybe ‘it was a long day and I was tired and you just happened to be there’!”

He was throwing her words back to her face, and she knew it. She should’ve known better than to think he would just forgive her -- and that was assuming she wanted that. Hell, she didn’t know what she wanted right now or how they’d even got onto the subject of him and her. Really, though, she should have known it would eventually come to this.

“I wasn’t telling you the truth, no.”

Pushing his now empty mug away, Sirius folded his arms, his eyes fixed on the bar. “Go on, then.”

“I was being realistic,” she said desperately, aware of how inadequate his words sounded. “It would never work between us. Not with… you being you and me being me.”

His shoulders slumped a little. “And here was me thinking we actually understood each other, Rosmerta.”

“I do understand you.”

“Really? Try me,” he replied, his voice full of scorn.

“You -- you said people have died. Muggles. Under your watch. But it was your first mission, I suppose?”

“The others have been reconnaissance, yeah.”

“You can’t protect everyone, Sirius. There will always be someone -- no one’s perfect, and you need to realise that if lives are at risk here.”

“No one should die because of me,” Sirius said fiercely. “No one. But people always have. That Muggle you mentioned -- the reason I left home in the first place -- she’s just one of many. It’s not fair. It’s better I die than--”

“You’re being ridiculous!”

“No, Rosmerta,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m being realistic. Like you.”

“Tell me you’re not going to do anything stupid,” Rosmerta pleaded.

Sirius’s eyes glinted dangerously. “This is war. People die. And I’m not a kid anymore.”

“I never said you were.”

“You didn’t have to.” His words sliced coldly through the air and she shivered involuntarily, hating him but not hating him at the same time. “You’re telling me not to get hurt, to look after myself and not do anything stupid--”

“Because I care about you!” she said loudly, and her voice reverberated through the pub. “A lot,” she added lamely.

His tone was completely different as he said, “Really?”

Rosmerta nodded, the need to get her point across overwhelming her. “You’re right. We understand each other. I was stupid to make you leave, but I had to, for you and for me. And yes, I could have written it off as a drunken one-night stand and left it at that, but we both know that that night had nothing -- nothing -- to do with alcohol.”

After a moment of hesitation, she leaned over the bar, wishing she were taller, and he met her halfway for a long kiss, one she wasn’t sure who started, exactly. She had leaned in first, but from the swiftness with which he had kissed her, Rosmerta had a feeling he was thinking the same as her. It was only when their lips met that she remembered his rich and earthy smell; she breathed in slowly through her nose, her tongue already in his mouth, and took in the heady, sweet taste of tea.

And this time, she pulled away and made her way over to him on the other side of the bar. In the time it took her to do so, she already missed the feeling of his lips on hers, but before she could kiss him, he caught hold of her arm and stopped her. Pressing a kiss to a spot just below her ear, his breath caressed her skin as he asked, “Are you… are you sure?”

She inhaled sharply, aware of the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end at his touch. “Of course I'm sure. You’re not a student anymore--”

“--and you’re not drinking shots when you’re meant to be working,” he quipped, the shadow of a proper smile on his lips. “In fact, dare I say it, Rosmerta -- you’re completely sober, it seems.”

“And you didn’t just kiss me for a dare?” she shot back, but she was grinning, too.

Rosmerta could feel him smile against her neck as his hand moved down to the opening of her robes, aware of his knees pressing into her thighs.

“We’ll go upstairs this time, yeah?” he murmured, and she nodded, leading the way to the stairs and letting out a sudden moan as he kissed the sensitive skin on the nape of her neck.

Hours later, both of them were still awake, but only barely so. His face was resting on her belly as they watched the first white threads of dawn break through the royal blue of the sky in silence. But it was a comfortable silence, and everything was so right, with Sirius sprawled on top of her, on her bed; she was rubbing circles absent-mindedly on his back, occasionally tracing random patterns on his shoulder blades.

“James is probably wondering where you are.”

“I doubt it. If anyone is wondering, it’ll be Remus, but it doesn’t matter.”

“So are you staying?” she asked, her eyes closed as he shifted his position a little.

“I’m not sure.”

Suddenly, he sat up, letting the duvet fall from his shoulders. “What’s wrong?” she said, disconcerted, especially given how she had slowly been lured into a half-slumber with the lights now off.

His expression was so serious that she was sure his eyebrows were starting to knit together.

“I… I don’t know if we should do this again,” he said slowly, and Rosmerta’s heart sank.

“Wh-why?” she finally managed weakly. “We make love for hours and you want--”

But she broke off, because at that moment, Sirius’s shoulders began to shake uncontrollably, and she realised, too late, that she had been played. She grabbed the nearest pillow and hit him over the head with it, but he only laughed harder.

“You cheeky little--”

As the sky slowly lightened outside, Sirius and Rosmerta (after finishing their pillow fight which Rosmerta declared she won) fell asleep together. Her dreams -- and his, for that matter -- were untroubled, unencumbered by the war going on around them, and for the precious hours that they made love and slept, they left the world behind. And those hours, however brief they were, were all Rosmerta needed to continue.