Disclaimer: All characters except Morag are JKR's, no money is made with this fic.
Author's Notes: While Morag is an OC in that JKR didn't create her, I owe a big debt of gratitude to Dame Judi Dench, whose brilliant interpretation of Armande in Chocolat made writing so much easier.
And, as always, my thanks to Kellychambliss, beta extraordinaire.
"A coffee, black, half a lump of sugar. And don't look at the clock just because I'm a bit later than usual. I've more to do than idle my time away here."
Morag Jones settled her cane against the bar and, with some difficulty, hoisted herself onto a stool. Rosmerta smiled. She knew that, occasionally, Morag would show up a tad late, just to check that she, Rosmerta, noticed it. Morag would never admit it, but it gave her a feeling of security to know that Rosmerta would come and check on her if she didn't show up. Fiercely independent she was, with a mind like a razor and a tongue like a whiplash. It was the body that was giving up; no surprise in a witch her age.
"And hurry a bit, will you, I don't have all day."
That was another fixture: the insistence on prompt service, since she paid for each cup of coffee. ("I don't do charity!") And Rosmerta had better wait till Morag placed her order, too. ("Don't try to second-guess me. I'll make my own decisions, thank you very much.")
"So, what's the gossip today?" Morag asked as she stirred her coffee.
"Sybill Trelawney's getting worse. She was here yesterday afternoon, and already the worse for wear when she came in. Thank Merlin Hagrid showed up. He could take her back to the castle – I was at my wit's end. Couldn't leave the pub, didn't know whom to contact. But Hagrid offered to help out at once."
"Not a bad choice. When that man gives her an arm, no-one will notice she's not steady on her feet. And he keeps a civil tongue in his head. A bit of 'Professor' here and 'Professor' there will do her a world of good. Still upset about the Centaur, I take it?"
"She is, yes. Well, it is hard on her."
"Still, no need to call him a nag. The language you young people use these days …"
"Well, there's no risk of Hagrid … that's it! That's just it. You did it."
"Dare say I did. But what, exactly?"
"Solve the riddle. Now I know what she meant. She kept saying "the flowers languish". Rosmerta pointed at the bunch of daffodils in a little earthenware jug on the counter.
"Languish? That isn't the worse for wear, that's pissed as a newt. Those flowers are as fresh as can be."
"Yes, that's what I thought. And then, when she left, she sort of pointed vaguely at them – I thought she pointed at the stools, but I see it now – and she said, 'They talk, you know. Even Muggles know. The flowers – languish.' Or I thought that's what she said. But what she meant was: the flower language."
"That's clever of you. Yes. Yes, I see what you mean."
"And of course Muggles know it. I've seen a film about it once. A Muggle film. Eight women in a house, and there was a murder, and they couldn't get in touch with anyone. It's so easy for Muggle writers, isn't is? A car that breaks down, one of their communication thingummies stops working, and hey, presto, your characters are cut off from the world. And then there was a great snogging scene between the blonde and the brunette!"
Morag gave an exasperated sigh. "Sounds right up your street. But what, by Merlin's balls, does it have to do with flowers? Don't babble, girl. Stick to your point."
"Well, in the introduction, they gave all the names of the actresses, but with a flower that represented them. You know how … well, a woman … part of her …"
"You mean a woman's genitals can be compared to flowers. Speak plainly. And yes, I know. But this time you're wrong, Rosmerta. A dirty mind is a joy forever, but what Sybill meant was much more innocent. When I was young, people would give a special meaning to each flower, and they'd send each other those flowers to say things. We had a governess who was quite into that sort of thing. A silly, sentimental creature, but I've remembered about the flowers."
"Well, what do daffodils have to say for themselves, other than 'spring has come'?"
"Who sent them?"
"Pomona Sprout did. She gave me a bunch, since they have so many of them at Hogwarts."
"So many, my foot. Pomona knows her flower-lore. Respect, that's what daffodils mean. And they can mean something else, too. Unrequited love. You want to think about it, girl."
"A coffee, black, half a lump of sugar. And how's love's sweet tale unfolding?" As soon as Morag had settled down comfortably, she pointed at the earthenware jug, this time filled with bellflowers.
"Don't be ridiculous. Pomona brought them because I've been helpful with Sybill once or twice – getting her back, or tanking her up with black coffee. On some people, black coffee has a sobering effect."
"Don't get smart with me, Missy. You're being stubborn, that's all. Bellflowers mean thinking of you. And you've forgotten the sugar. You're certainly not thinking of your customers – so where were those thoughts, exactly?"
"Wouldn't hurt you to lose a few pounds. Perhaps that's what I was thinking of."
"No point in dieting at my age. Doesn't make much difference what size I am. And you know how I feel about coffee. Must be like a man: hot, strong, and with a hint of sweetness. Get me that sugar."
"A coffee, black, half a lump of sugar. You're adorable; you're a flame in my heart."
"I'm what?" Rosmerta stared at Morag, for once utterly speechless. The old crone cackled while she calmly stirred her coffee.
"Not my heart, you silly girl. I'm a man's woman, as well you know. No need to get your hopes up. No, those." Morag pointed at the red and white camellias on the counter. "That's what they mean, and you're going to do something about it. What more do you want before you take action? You want to wait till it's winter? Let me tell you, winter isn't all joy."
Rosmerta looked at her friend. That last statement was about more than the cold season. And Morag was right, probably. About the winter of life not being all joy.
"But I've had a glorious spring and summer, and a damned fine autumn, too. And so should you. Go over to the castle, and do something about it. Talk to the woman, for Merlin's sake."
"You know," Rosmerta said slowly, "I think you're right."
"I think that in one, very minor detail, you're right. And given your usual manners, or lack thereof, it may well be accidental. You're right in that I should go over and thank Pomona for those beautiful flowers. I haven't thanked her properly yet, and these camellias are from the hothouse. They're a real gift; it was lovely of her to send them."
"Well, that's as good a start as any, I dare say. And you'll see what happens next. You know what? You'll go over tonight, and if I'm wrong, I'll allow you to offer me a cup of coffee for once. How's that for generosity?"
"Well?" Morag scuttled in as fast as she could manage with her cane and leaned against the counter.
"I'll thank you for placing an order, Madam. I don't hold with customers who take up space without ordering."
Slowly, a smile spread over Morag's face. She beamed up at Rosmerta, as she joyfully rapped out the usual order. "A coffee, Rosmerta, black, half a lump of sugar."
"And that, Madam," said Rosmerta, who was grinning back by now, "will be six sickles, two knuts. And just for once, you might leave a decent tip."