"One Firewhiskey," said Theodore, slapping his change upon the counter and wondering vaguely how life had brought him here: mere months ago, he would have been repulsed with the idea of entering such a crude pub. But what did it matter now? What did it matter what he did or did not do? No one cared anyway. Besides, the alcohol would taste just the same as any other place's, and that was really all that mattered to him at this point.
The barman rummaged underneath the counter for a minute, then reemerged with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a mug in the other. He poured a generous amount of the amber liquid into the tankard, then passed it to Theodore.
"Thanks," the youth mumbled to the barman. He sat himself down at the counter, downed half the glass in one go, then clutched it in his hands, hunching over and observing the pub in an indolent fashion. He had never been inside the Hog's Head before, and it was not hard to see why. Whereas the other bars he usually visited were nice, clean, and inviting, this one was grimy, unpleasant, and nearly falling apart. But Theodore Nott was broke. He could not afford to visit such places anymore. As it was, he could barely afford tonight's Firewhiskey, cheap as it was. But over the past six months, he had learned that alcohol was the one thing in life he could always depend on, it would never change or fluctuate in any manner. Thus, he became attached. Perhaps it was not the best thing to become attached to, he knew, but when he had nothing else to cling to in life, it was the best he could do.
He hadn't always been so broke, scrounging for spare change wherever he could, occasionally picking up an odd job at some shop for a few days. There was once a time where he had been rich, even. Perhaps not as wealthy as, say, the Malfoys, but his family'd had enough money to make things fairly pleasant. He had certainly grown up rather comfortably, living in his slightly-larger house and dressing in his slightly-better robes and being surrounded by his slightly-nicer things. But during the Dark Lord's rise to power for the second time, his father had began to squander the money away. Sometimes he would say it was for his lord, sometimes it would be for the good of all purebloods – always there were reasons, but the fact was the same: they were losing money faster than they could retain it. Theodore had never thought he would need to work, or need to even try and find work; yet these days, he was doing both (the latter in the larger quantity).
Theodore had always preferred solitude, so this pretty much ruled out the idea of 'bragging' or 'showing off' when he had been better off than his present state. He'd never bothered to try and worm into Draco Malfoy's little gang (to which he could have had instant access had he wanted, his father being a Death Eater), finding them all rather stupid, and instead had become a loner. But he hadn't minded. He'd much preferred his own company to those of dim-wits. Being reclusive was more his style. At least, it had been until he learned the true meaning of the word. For last May, seven months ago, his father had been killed in the final battle between Potter and the Dark Lord.
Theodore had never been particularly close to his father. To be frank, he had never been close at all to him. Nott Senior had always been deeply absorbed in his work, his service to Lord Voldemort. He had loved his son in his own way, Theodore knew that, but they had still never connected on any level. So it had surprised Theodore how much it hurt him when his father had been killed in the fight, how much he had cared for his father, how much he had relied on simply knowing that there was always a pillar of stability in his own measly life.
His mother was dead, had been dead since before he could remember, so the passing of his father really should not have bothered him so much, he being used to this kind of thing. But it was more than the passing of his father: it was, in a way, the passing of his life. All of the people he had grown up around – his father's 'friends', as he'd known them as when he was younger; or, as he later learned, his fellow Death Eaters – were either dead as well, or locked up in Azkaban. And he'd never really depended on them either, but somehow he'd always vaguely thought that at least some of them would always be there – to do what, who knew. But really it was their presence that was significant to Theodore, and not much else.
He had never been sure whether he believed in the Death Eater cause. Honestly, he had found the whole idea behind it rather stupid. Why did this purity of blood matter so much, really? It wasn't as though you could see someone's blood on the outside of them, it wasn't as though it really made much of a difference in the person. Not that he had ever really gotten to know a half-blood or Muggleborn, but the ones at Hogwarts – Creevey, Granger, Boot, and the rest – had never seemed so terrible.
He had just never been able to understand why so much store was placed on the blood type of a person. But on the other hand, he had never done any action that outright opposed this. His whole life had been surrounded by pureblood fanatics, why would he have? But never taking a stand on either side meant that nowadays, he was judged solely based on his father's actions, and this made for a very difficult lifestyle: trudging around from place to place, working odd jobs for never more than a week, finding solace in only the burning liquid pouring down his throat and tickling his insides.
"Refill, please," Theodore said, pushing his tankard towards the barman, who docilely picked up the glass. Theodore watched him absently as he replenished the mug with the amber fluid. The man looked rather familiar, though Theodore didn't see how this could be: he had never been inside the Hog's Head before tonight.
"What?" the barman snapped gruffly, when he noticed Theodore staring.
"Nothing," said Theodore, unintimidated. He had been surrounded by rough, unfriendly attitudes too much to be really put off by them anymore. "I was just wondering if I have met you before."
"Have you?" the barman returned, passing the newly refilled glass back to the young man.
"I don't know," came the honest response, as Theodore took a sip of his drink. "What's your name?"
"Why do want to know?"
"I'm curious. Should I not be?"
"And what is your name?"
"Sounds familiar," the barman responded.
"Perhaps you have heard of my father," Theodore asserted dryly. "Nott senior, big-time Death Eater, was locked up in Azkaban several years ago and since then had wanted posters with his face posted in nearly every street corner – recognizing this?"
"Rings a few bells," said the barman, uncommitingly.
"And what of you?" said Theodore. "Are you going to tell me anything about yourself?"
"My name is Aberforth Dumbledore, I am the barman of the Hog's Head, and there is nothing else you could possibly want to know," replied the man.
"Dumbledore?" Theodore echoed. "Are you – erm, were you – "
"Yes, I was – my elder brother was Albus Dumbledore." A distorted smile, both wry and bitter, appeared on the old man's face.
Theodore raised his eyebrows. "Oh, really?"
"Yep. And from the blank but appraising look on your face, I'm guessing you were one of his blind and ignorant followers?"
"No, I never really liked him or disliked him – I didn't know him very well."
"All the better for you," Aberforth muttered, blackly. "You were much better off forging other good connections."
"Trust me, being a Death Eater's child is not exactly the best way to make 'good' connections."
For the first time, Aberforth cracked a grin. "Don't support their ways of thinking, eh?"
Theodore shrugged, his face slackening of emotion, and he took another taste of his Firewhiskey before answering, "To be blunt, I never supported Potter or the D – or You-Know-Who."
Though he had not supported Lord Voldemort in his pursuits, he still had gotten into the habit of calling him the Dark Lord, and had been trying to cut this habit so people would not get the wrong impression of him. But from the shrewd look in Aberforth's blue eyes, it seemed the barman knew what he had been about to say.
"I never openly declared loyalty to either side," Theodore went on. "Unfortunately, not declaring a side seems to make people think I am just as my father is – was – and this has made life very difficult within the past months, always being cast in relation to him."
Aberforth jerked his head. "I get it, kid."
And Theodore knew that Aberforth Dumbledore did get it, in one way or another, but the thought didn't cheer or upset him either way. "And with him – gone," he mumbled, "it seems even worse than ever, oddly."
"Your dad's passed on?" Aberforth inquired, gutturally.
"Yeah, he has," said Theodore, watching the amber liquid in his mug swirl as he swished it around, before lifting it to his lips again and taking a taste.
"I'm sorry," Aberforth offered.
Theodore shrugged. "Never made much of a difference to me when he was around anyway," he said, and he was slightly amazed at how, like always, he was able to sound so indifferent even as his old wounds prickled, though just a tad. "Either way, I have to deal with what he's done, and try to pick up the pieces of my life again. Well, not again – " and here he laughed, darkly " – because I doubt I had much of one to begin with. So build one from scratch, I suppose."
"Here's to you, and may both luck and perseverance be with you," said Aberforth, raising the towel he was wiping a glass with into the air, in a gesture of salute.
"Say," said Theodore, struck with an idea, and he leaned closer across the counter towards the barman. "You wouldn't – happen to need any help around here, would you?"
Aberforth's bushy eyebrows disappeared slightly under his tangle of gray hair. "Help with what?"
"You know, running the bar, cleaning up, keeping the rooms nice, that sort of thing."
"Are you begging me for a job, kid?"
"I was thinking more of asking lightly, not begging: but yes, I would like to work here, if you would take me on."
"I've never had an assistant before," said Aberforth warily, stowing away the dishtowel he had been cleaning with.
"Well, you know how that Muggle saying goes: there has to be first timers in every – no, that's not it, it was: there's a time for a first and then a second helping – no, damn it, that's not right either – "
"There's a first time for everything?" Aberforth supplied, unenthusiastic.
"Yes, that one. So, what do you say? Will you hire me?"
Aberforth frowned down at the drink he was pouring, before passing it to a new customer.
"It wouldn't have to be for long," Theodore persisted. "Just for a few days or so, that's as long as I usually work at any of these places. I just need a few days' cash to keep me going for the next couple of days, and then I move on to get the money for the next upcoming days, and so on and so forth. No one ever wants me for longer than that – I guess they think I'll murder them all in their beds if I get too comfy. I just need a little money, a few days work, if you can help a poor chap?" He lifted his eyebrows in irony, but also in seriousness.
"Shouldn't you be trying to find a more permanent job?" Aberforth asked him. "You look pretty young to be acting a nomad."
"I'm eighteen," said Theodore, "and these days I'm just taking what I can get. I mean, if I were more ambitious, I could probably work to get a job that was steady – but Merlin, the hours I would have to spend convincing people of my clean hands and soul and whatnot, and then continuing to deal with their prejudices – I'm just not up for it."
"Kid, I'm no person to be giving life lectures on anything, but you can't go through life with that kind of attitude," said Aberforth, looking at him seriously. "This is your life, and you only got one."
"Look," said Theodore, staring back with just as much intensity, just as much solemnity, "being perfectly, completely honest, I really don't care what I do each day, what I do with my life. I mean nothing to everyone else, I mean nothing to myself, and that's okay – people will do as they want, regardless of what I have or haven't done. So what's the point?"
Aberforth shook his head, despondently, but kept quiet as he busied himself with counting out some change from his pocket.
Theodore had always hated it when adults shook their head at him like that, as if they were so much smarter, so much wiser: as if he had no idea what he was talking about because he had not seen the world as they had, or whatever other crap they thought.
"What is the point of taking a stand on something, when you're just going to get hurt or murdered because of it?" Theodore challenged the barman, slightly riled. "What is the point of not taking a stand on something, when people are just going to liken you and your beliefs to someone else's? What is the point of doing anything yourself, when everyone else will do it for you no matter what?"
"That's not true, lad," said Aberforth quietly. "There's always a choice to keep fighting. It's something I struggled with myself, both in our most recent war and the one with Grindewald, always having to choose whether or not to be strong – but there is always a choice. You can't just roll over on your back and moan that you're defeated when you haven't even fought."
"You're diverting the subject, and you're missing the point," said Theodore.
"Oh, am I?" said Aberforth, who did not seem to think he was doing either, judging by the look on his face.
"Do you have a job here for me, or not?" Theodore asked, exasperated, diverting the subject himself this time.
Aberforth considered him for a long moment with intense blue eyes, then sighed heavily. "You'll get five Sickles a day, unless you can impress me," he muttered gruffly. "You can start your job by washing the floor, eh? It's been needing a good washing. Here's the key to the room you can stay in," he added, throwing Theodore a rusted old key.
Theodore caught the key, stored it away in his pocket, and got to his feet, grinning. "Thanks, sir."
"Oh, 'sir' now, is it?" Aberforth snorted.
"What would you prefer?"
"Aberforth is fine. And what do you want to be called by?"
"Theodore, Nott, whatever strikes your fancy. So, do you have a broom or anything for the floor?"
"In the closet upstairs, to your immediate right."
"Great." Theodore grinned again. Aberforth did not; he still seemed rather disgruntled as he gazed upon his new employee. "Hey, look, this is going to work out fine," Theodore said. "I can tell we're going to get along fine for our next few days together."