The Way Forward: Chapter Four

George had been walking for hours, immersing himself in Muggle life. The automobiles continued to fascinate him, making him worry he was becoming more like his dad than he would want. He simply could not believe how many of the four-wheeled carriages they fit into one small street. He wandered through a variety of Muggle shops, including a book store, a grocery store and even something called an “electronics” shop.

Something to do with batteries, he surmised, after wandering the rows of shiny boxes that produced either music or moving pictures when certain buttons were pushed. His father had a rather large collection of Muggle batteries and, from what George understood, those little cubes or cylinders somehow made these boxes work.

Now, it was getting to be late in the day and he felt pangs of hunger rising in his stomach. He hadn’t eaten, really, since breakfast in Diagon Alley – which, according to his map, was a good hour hike away from him – so he figured he should start looking for a place to eat.

He walked to the intersection of another road and looked around. Automobiles whizzed past him, or didn’t, according it seemed to the colour of the light showing on the post above him.

The masses of people who pushed, sidled or swarmed past him made him feel a little bit dizzy. Every day in the Muggle world, it seemed, was a crunch of people, much like the Quidditch World Cup final had been four years before.

But at least no-one stared at him. He was just another person, to be ignored, really.

A long, green sign caught his eye. “The Fox and Hound” it read and, from the looks of the establishment under it, George figured it was some kind of Muggle pub: a Leaky Cauldron for the non-magical set. He allowed himself a smile, then waited with the crowd on the corner until the strange light facing them changed to green. Then the automobiles passing in front of them came to a stop, creating a narrow laneway for people to walk to the other side.

George stepped from the brightness of the outside world into the relatively dim interior of the Fox and Hound. He had guessed right: inside, it bore a close enough resemblance to the Leaky Cauldron for him to feel comfortable in his choice. Even here, however, the number of people took him by surprise.

He saw an open seat at the bar and made his way through the crowd to it. It felt good to get off his feet for a moment and he glanced around the place before the barman approached with a menu, a smile and a small, square piece of thick parchment.

“What’ll it be?” the broad, dark-haired barkeep asked in a brusque tone.

George felt suddenly at a loss. Fire whiskey? Butter beer? He really wanted a pumpkin juice to cut into his thirst but would a Muggle bar serve pumpkin juice? Or fire whiskey, for that matter?

The barman stared at him and George offered a smile. “Sorry,” he said, “been walking around so much I’m in a bit of a daze.”

The man nodded. “I’ll come back,” he said, and turned to serve three other young men who had come forward.

George listened to what they asked for – it sounded like “pinetuhginess” to him – then watched as the barman drew three large mugs of a dark, frothy liquid from a tap in front of him and handed them over to the young men. That doesn’t look bad, he thought, and he mouthed the word to himself as he looked over the menu. At least this offered some things he’d heard of. He settled on chicken curry and a “pinetuhginess”.

The barkeep came back, raising one thick eyebrow in his direction.

He smiled again winningly. “I’ll have the chicken curry and pinetuhginess,” he said, putting as much confidence into his voice as he could muster. “Nothing better than pinetuhginess on a hot day!”

The barkeep nodded, his eyes a little wider than before, took the menu from George and wandered back to the same tap. He poured out more of the thick, dark liquid, leaving a perfect layer of foam on the top, and slid it onto the bar in front of George.

George nodded, raised the glass and smiled again, winningly.

The man grunted in response, then headed back to serve other patrons.

George took a sip of the drink and nearly choked. It was thick and strong and tasted to George like he’d shoved a sheaf of barley into his mouth. The small, dark-haired woman on the barstool next to him giggled at him as he coughed loudly, then turned her back and continued to talk to her friend.

George wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and tried again. He allowed just a tiny trickle into his mouth, let it flow across his tongue, then into his throat. Much better. Though strange, he began to find it quite tasty. He took another sip, enjoying it even more, then set the mug down on the bar and looked around again.

It was a small place, maybe half the size of the Leaky Cauldron, but there must have been forty or more Muggles crammed in at the time. Most of them seemed to be near George’s age, perhaps slightly older, and most wore what George figured must be some kind of work uniform, not that different from the Hogwarts uniforms he used to wear: dark slacks, dark jackets and light-coloured shirts. The only difference he could see between the men and the women was in the ties (men wore them, women did not) and the shoes – the women generally seemed to wear shoes with taller, narrower heels .

He listened to the conversations going on around him. He heard a lot of talk of tragedy and unhappiness but, in behind the words, a certain lightness in the tones, a sense of palpable relief even. The Muggles had suffered terribly during the war, with Death Eaters making sport of killing the magic-less humans. Bridges had been brought down, buildings blown up and Muggles had endured it, never really understanding what was happening and why.

Yet there was a certain resilience to these people, a power in them that George could feel, and it surprised him. We have suffered, yes, they seemed to be saying, but the sun is finally back in the sky, the fogs have lifted and we can start to feel alive again.

He sat and watched, listened, and gained strength from their resilience. He sipped his drink and started to feel, at last, a modicum of peace in his soul.

Many of the Muggles sat or stood with their attention focused on a box with images on it (like the ones he’d seen in the “electronics” shop) that was hung from the wall above the bar. On it, what looked to George like some sort of sporting match was playing itself out and the gathered crowd oohed and aahed and sometimes shouted in response to the action in the game.

George watched the match for a moment, then searched his mind for the appropriate term. “Football”, he finally muttered to himself. That’s what it was called. A very simple game involving a single ball and two teams using their feet to propel it around the pitch. He watched the game for a moment, then turned his attention back to his pinetuhginess, which he found a great deal more interesting.

Something or someone banged into his shoulder, causing him to spill some of the liquid onto the bar. He turned, a smile on his face, to see what had hit him. He found two tall, oafish looking young men staring over his head at the box on the wall.

He shrugged and turned back to his drink. The barman brought over a plate with his chicken curry, wiped up the spill without comment, and went back to the other end of the bar. George tucked in.

It tasted pretty good. He hadn’t realized he was so hungry and made quick work of it, the thick liquid washing the food down. He was just finishing the last of the rice when something hit his shoulder again. He turned, his smile tighter this time, and looked at the two young men.

“Wha’ you lookin’ at, ginger?” the taller of the two, a large, blond man with a scratchy moustache, barked at him.

“I’m looking for the git who can’t keep his hands off me,” George said, an edge in his voice.

“Who you callin’ a git?” the other man barked, tearing his eyes away from the game to glare down at George.

“I’m calling whoever goes around pummeling people without so much as a “sorry there mate” a git,” George said.

The young woman on the seat beside him turned, her eyes wide, and gave her head a small shake toward George. “He’s just funning ya, Collin, honest he is.” She sent an imploring look at George. “Aren’t ya, funnin’ him, havin’ a laugh?”

She nodded tightly at him, her eyes still wide.

“He'’s with you then, Katie?” the one named Collin barked, staring from George to the girl and back. “Need a bird to defend ya, do you mate?” He let out a laugh.

“Don’t know her, don’t need her with the likes of you,” George retorted, his heart now pounding in his chest. He felt a fury rising inside him, sending fear and good sense out for a walk.

The shorter of the two men scowled at George. “Watch yer mouth, there mate, or we’ll be shutting it for good,” he said, his eyes flashing.

George thought about Fred, who should be backing him at this point, and felt the fury rise even further. “Back off, laddie,” he said, “and keep your elbows to yerself.”

He turned again to his drink but a large hand on his shoulder stopped him from enjoying the last gulp. He felt himself being turned.

“Not in ‘ere!” shouted the barman. “Not in ‘ere, Collin. Take it outside if ya can’t keep yer fists in yer pockets!”

The other patrons had already backed away to create an open space around George and the two men. George got slowly to his feet. The girl called Kate stood beside him, fear in her eyes.

“Now, lads,” George said into the suddenly quiet pub, “you don’t want to start something here you won’t be able to finish.”

If it was quiet before he spoke, falling pins could have been heard afterward. Kate gasped silently beside him, her wide, dark eyes still imploring him to be quiet. George ignored her and slid his hand into the pocket of his jeans, where his wand waited patiently for him to call it into action.

“He’s got a knife, Col,” the taller man hissed.

Collin was faster than he looked. He grabbed George’s arm and pinned it to his side. “Outside with ya, tough guy,” he said, his meaty hand clenching vice-like around George’s bicep.
George winced. Okay, he thought, this is different. This hurts. For the first time, fear rose in his gut but the fury rose even faster. He found himself propelled through the crowd and out the door, into the dazzling sunlight. Collin kept a tight grip on his arm until he had dragged George into a nearby alleyway and, once there, flung him hard against a brick wall.

Pain shot through George’s arm and shoulder as he hit the wall but he managed to keep his feet. He turned slowly, his hand still in his pocket, holding the wand. The man named Collin stood about five feet away from him, a long, narrow blade glinting in the sliver of sunlight that reached the alley. Behind Collin stood the second, taller man, a metal tube in his beefy hand, and behind him a small crowd of curious people stood in the mouth of the alley, Kate in the front, staring wide-eyed, the crowd blocking them from view of the road.

George’s mind raced as he and Collin stood there, sizing each other up. He wasn’t to do magic in front of Muggles, except in life-or-death situations. Was this one? If he didn’t do magic, he thought, he was as good as dead. Unless he could talk his way out of this.

“Look, mate,” he said, forcing a cheery tone into his voice, “we’ve gotten off to a bad start. Let me buy you a drink and we can laugh this off.”

He fingered his wand, watching Collin carefully. The man spat on the ground.

“Not so tough now, are we Ginger?” he growled. “Come on, pull your knife and let’s get to it.”

“Look, lad,” George tried again, “I don’t want to fight you but you won’t like it if I do.”

Colin’s mate laughed out loud. The crowd tittered nervously.

“Go on, Col,” the mate barked. “Give ‘im what for.”

George watched Colin carefully, saw the eyes widen, the lip stiffen, the shoulders tense. He saw Collin’s lunge even before it started and stepped forward. He twitched his wand, still in his pocket, and whispered “Stupefy”, even as he swung his own fist toward the man.

Collin crumpled to the ground, unconscious. The crowd gasped. Colin’s mate shouted and jumped at George, swinging the metal object at George’s head.

George stepped back this time, twitched his wand and whispered “Stupefy”, once again swinging his free fist toward the attacking man. Colin’s mate, too, crumpled and fell.

He stepped back, even as the gasps of the crowd reached him. He removed his hand carefully from his pocket and then bent down to retrieve the weapons. He tossed both the knife and the pipe into a pile of rubbish nearby, then took a few steps back toward the street.

“Wow, Ginger,” Kate said as he approached, “two punches, two knockouts!”

George offered a tight smile and felt a little bit sick. The crowd backed up to let him through and he went into the pub.

The barman looked up at him in surprise. “Wha?” he said, as other patrons in the pub also turned to stare.

“He knocked both of’em out,” cried a small man who had followed George into the establishment. “With just two punches!”

The barkeep flipped a towel over his shoulder. “You some kind of professional fighter, then lad?” he said.

George smiled, trying to stop his hands from shaking. “Naw. Just lucky.”

The barman nodded, not believing a word of it. “Collin’s no easy mark,” he said, “nor is Charles, his mate. You must have some kind’a luck, then.”

George reached into his jacket pocket. “I came to pay for my curry,” he said, surprised to hear the tremor in his voice. “What do I owe you?”

The barkeep shook his head in wonder, then went back to a strange box behind the bar and began punching buttons. “Seven-pound fifty, all told,” he said, “but ya coulda walked away. None around here would’a tried to stop ya.”

George handed the man a ten-pound note. “I wasn’t raised that way,” he said, his eyes twinkling. He turned on his heel and left the pub, leaving the barman with a hefty tip.

Colin and Charles had not yet stirred as George passed the alleyway and he was happy enough just to disappear into the early evening.

“Hey, Ginger,” a woman’s voice called, “wait up a minute.”

George turned to find Kate following him, her dark brown eyes sparkling. He stopped and waited for her to catch up, taking in her dark slacks, dark jacket and light-coloured blouse. The uniform, he thought.

“Can I help?” he asked, feeling some of the tension that followed his confrontation with the two men starting to drain away. She was pretty in her way, with plump cheeks and a pleasant, round body.

“Just thought you might like a little company is all,” she said, catching up to him. They turned and walked along together. “Fancy a drink somewhere?”

He glanced down at her and saw the deep brown of her eyes and the little smile that played there. “Sure, where to?”

“I know a place,” she laughed, then slid her hand under his elbow and directed him down a nearby side street.

The place was a small, dark restaurant with a curtained window peering out into the street. The strong smell of spices hit them as they walked through the doorway, followed by the sound of strange, light music. Inside, eight small tables, four of which were already occupied by quietly chatting couples, greeted them. His companion guided him to a table in the back corner, then shrugged herself out of her jacket and sat down.

George took up the seat opposite and gazed at her, wondering.

“I’m Kathleen,” she said, her voice soft, like velvet, “though most people call me Kate. Nice to meet you.”

She held out a plump hand for him to shake.

“George,” he said, shaking the hand.

She smiled. “So, George, that was some performance you just gave,” she said as the server came by with glasses of water and menus.

George offered a smile and a “t’was nothing” shrug and waited some more.

“Very impressive. And you did it all with a couple of fake punches, two flashes of green light, never taking your right hand out of your pocket!”

He tried not to gag on the water he was sipping. “What are ya talking about, darling?” he said, injecting as much casualness into his voice as he could muster. “I’m just good with my fists, that’s all!”

She laughed, then reached across and grasped his hand. “Hey, Georgie, don’t worry about it. It’s cool,” she whispered. “I know all about you people. I’ve got a cousin who’s one of you.”

George glanced quickly around the place but no one seemed to be paying them any attention. What could he say now? he wondered. He chose silence – any response, he figured, could get him in deeper.

“Strange girl, she was, growing up,” Kate continued, her eyes never once leaving his, “with strange stuff always seeming to happen to her or around her. One time, the neighbour’s dog somehow ended up on the roof, just when it was lunging at her. Or then there was the tantrum she threw when my auntie made her sixth birthday cake with vanilla icing – “Chocolate!” she screamed, “I wanted chocolate!” And then, what do you know, the cake comes to the table and the icing is now chocolate. My auntie nearly had a heart attack!”

George offered a weak smile. “Yeah, that’s strange,” he said.

“Nuts,” the young woman said. “Nothing strange about it, when you’re a witch! When she was 11, she went off to a “boarding school” – I saw her a couple of summers later and she said it was a place called “Hogtails” or some such thing. A special school for kids who could do magic.”

She sat back in her chair, triumphant. “You’re one of’em, aren’t ya?”

George took another sip of water and simply gazed at her, not saying a word. How do you respond to this? he thought.

She smiled. “It’s no big deal,” she said after a moment, patting his hand. “I’m not gonna out you or anything. I just wanted to know.”

George continued to gaze at her, his mind whizzing. She was a pretty girl, with a nice smile and lovely dark brown eyes. He liked the way her lip curled when she laughed and he liked the sound of her voice. He liked the way her blouse clung to her as she leaned forward and he liked the feeling of her hand on his.

This is really dangerous, he thought. I can’t tell her anything about the wizarding world and yet she seems to know all about it.

He was saved by the door to the restaurant opening at that moment, a tall, red-haired man walking through it.

“Dad?” George said, pulling his hand back from the girl, his eyes wide.

Kate turned to look at the man, tall, slightly plump, his red hair thinning. She smiled.

“Good evening, miss,” Mr. Weasley said, his voice kind.

“Pleased to meet you,” Kate said, her smile broader, deeper. “I'm just getting to know your son here a little bit.”

Mr. Weasley, dressed in jeans and a collared shirt, nodded. “I'm sure he's enjoying getting to know you too,” he said. “Mind if I join?”

George eyed him, suddenly nervous. Kate laughed, nodded, watched as the older man pulled a chair from a nearby table.

Then her mind went fuzzy. She could still see the two red-headed men but coudn't hear what the older man was saying.

And she felt something slipping from her brain, some thought, an important one, she knew, but it was leaking away from her like water in a drain. She tried to hold onto it but, even as she did, it was gone.

“So,” Mr. Weasley said, his voice suddenly clear. “Your mother has sent me to bring you home for supper, George.”

George stared at Kate, making her feel uneasy, making her feel like whatever she'd lost was very important, very interesting, and it was about the handsome young man in front of her.

Then George nodded and she saw, as his long hair swayed with the movement, that his ear was missing entirely. She gaped at the hole that showed itself briefly, then shook her head.

“It was nice meeting you, miss,” the older man, the father, said to her as he rose to his feet again, his hand on George's shoulder.

“My pleasure,” she responded, still not sure.

George offered her a blank smile, drew a twenty pound note from a new looking wallet and dropped it on the table before taking his leave.

Kate watched them go, bemused but feeling like something delicate, something fascinating, had been taken from her.

Out on the street, George glared at his father. “What are you doing here, Dad?”

Mr. Weasley, his hand still on his son's shoulder, guided him further down the narrow street, away from the main road. “I'm the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, remember? Raftery brought word of your little adventure back there directly to me. Thought I might want to sort it out myself.”

George stopped, swallowed. “Oh yeah, I'd forgotten.”

His father turned to face him but, instead of anger George saw concern in the older man's face. “Listen, son,” he said, his voice choked, “I know this is hard.”

George felt the tears come again.

“But you can't go out getting into fights with Muggle thugs,” Mr. Weasley said, his voice tougher now. “There's some wiggle room for now, you know, after all everybody's been through, but...”

George fought his own fury, drifted back into misery. “Okay, I get it. I get it.”

Mr. Weasley eyed him for another moment, then nodded. “Okay. Then you're mother's expecting you at home for dinner,” he said.

Glancing up and down the empty street, Mr. Weasley nodded at his son and, in a single motion, they both turned on the spot and disappeared.

Seconds later, Kate emerged from the restaurant and glanced up and down the street, looking for them. Seeing nothing, she sighed and made her back toward the main road.
© 2013 Mark Walma Contact Me

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