Chapter III: Business Prospects
Many miles away up north from Diagon Alley, Percy and George Weasley stood outside the boarded up Zonko’s Joke shop, and they were both crouched over due to the wind. They were accompanied by a squat man, wearing a fedora hat adorned with a red feather and a shirt, which only barely covered his swollen stomach.
“Well,” said the man, presumably Mr. Zonko himself, in a thick Scottish accent, “it’s great t’see the place gone at last; I’m just too old fer this.”
“I must say sir, you have really left behind a fine establishment!” Percy exclaimed, in his usual ‘sucking-up-to-anyone-of-authority-or-accomplishment’ voice. George raised an eyebrow, surprised. This little squat man, with his garishly orange coloured suit, and a faint air of absurdity, intensified by his slightly over protuberant left eye, would never have seemed the usual sort to have gained Percy’s respect. Perhaps Percy, after seeing George’s success in the business, had grown to actually admire pranksters.
“Mebbe yee’ll think otherwise when y’see the state o’the bogs!” He laughed somewhat maniacally. Percy wrinkled his noise in distaste and took a precarious step back from the man. Apparently some habits die hard. George decided to step in, clearing his throat nervously.
“The keys then, if you wouldn’t mind?” He asked.
“No need t’be so hasty…” he grumbled, but nevertheless complied and fished around for the keys in his pockets.
Five short minutes later, and Percy and George found themselves in the building which bore the unmistakable signs of neglect. Percy clapped him on the back jovially.
“This place only needs a quick clean, and then it’ll be marvellous, don’t you think?” He said, casting a brief anxious look in George’s direction.
George delayed answering, and walked around the place. He trailed his finger along one of the shelves, inspecting the considerable amount of dust on it. Zonko’s was familiar to him, as he had spent many hours in this shop in Hogwarts, yet he managed to suppress these memories for now. He was here for business, not amusement.
“Yeah. It’s great. Thanks for the help, Perce, I appreciate it.” George really managed to smile genuinely this time. Now that he thought about it, he was looking forward to getting out of that dingy flat in Diagon Alley. Perhaps it would do him some good.
And surprisingly, ‘good’ was exactly what it did for George. After some initial complications, involving appointing a branch manager for Weasley’s Wizard’s Wheezes in Diagon Alley (he had chosen a respectable looking elderly man who appeared far too endearing to do any harm whatsoever, after rejecting a great number of weird and wonderful applicants). He had finally gotten around to cleaning up and stocking the place.
George had enjoyed this work, oddly enough. He was completely absorbed in making the place perfect, allowing no room for wallowing in misery. He hadn’t felt so obsessed with Weasley’s Wizard’s Wheezes since the very beginning, when he had committed all of his time into making Canary Creams and Skiving Snackboxes, and had happily neglected his O.W.Ls for the cause. Now, George meticulously organised the stock in specific sections, replaced the windows, and actually painted over the ‘Zonko’s’ logo without the use of any magic, for the sheer fun of it. He was turning into his father already. He paid little attention to the looks of his fellow shopkeepers; Madame Rosmerta stood a full five minutes outside the shop, gazing unabashed at George’s efforts. Despite Percy’s insistence that it would only take a ‘quick clean’ for the place to be up to standard, it had taken a two weeks for George, not including the three day siege upon the toilets he had undergone, in which he had found a few dead squirrels and, even stranger, the remnants of what looked like a Bowtruckle.
The place did steady business, nothing of the like that Diagon Alley had seen. A crowded shop was the norm in Diagon Alley, whereas customers were sparse (and strange) in Hogsmeade. He’d sought out his old school friend, Lee Jordan to ask whether he wanted to help out, who had accepted the invitation all too readily. The time he spent in the Three Broomsticks making small conversation with Lee, and the regular walks he took around the general area of the village made up his free time. However, what tarnished this peaceful way of living was the prospect of the Hogwarts visit. He was excited to see the fruits of his labour be well received, though it was the noise and chaos of the whole lot of them, and the thought of this he found frankly terrifying. What was also terrifying, was the speed that time flew by before the date of the release of the hoards of student upon, as the weeks slipped by with incredible ease.
When George woke up on Halloween morning in his newly decorated flat, he couldn’t help but wonder why he was even more stressed than he had been the week before the Hogwarts students had gone back to school. Perhaps it was because this time, he felt that he had something to prove to them, by opening this new branch. Yes, that would be it. He was anxious over the reception the place would receive. Nevertheless, as he donned a bottle green pinstriped suit, he couldn’t help but think that he had not felt this excited in a long time. He hammered down the winding staircase after stuffing two slices of toast into his mouth to greet Lee, who had just arrived.
“George, mate, you’ve got butter all over your face.” Lee laughed. With dreadlocks which now reached the small of his back and an oddly summery dress sense, Lee could not have looked more out of place in this dreary, grey village. But he brought what George could not bring to the place; the lively and fun atmosphere which Weasley’s Wizard’s Wheezes had been missing. George rolled his eyed and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Feels weird to be at the other end of the Hogwarts visits to Hogsmeade, doesn’t it?” Lee said, hanging up his coat on the coat hanger by the counter. George hummed in response, organising some untidy boxes.
“Isn’t your sister still in Hogwarts? Final year?” Lee pressed on. He had been like this a lot recently, forcing George into conversation; it was almost like he was trying to coerce the old George back into existence. George simply hummed again, his back to Lee.
“Looking forward to seeing her?” He continued. George realised that he’d need words for this response.
“I’ve seen her recently.” He replied shortly. Lee snorted.
“Don’t get too excited, Georgie!” Lee scoffed. George ignored him, his ears turning the telltale Weasley crimson.
Far sooner than George could have hoped, the first uniform-wearing customers arrived, who looked fairly young. They wore Slytherin robes. George bit back an immediate prejudice against them, reminding himself that supposedly none of these stereotypes mattered anymore. George leant on the counter, looking at them from the corner of his eye, while Lee walked towards them like a good employee to assist them. The next customers entered soon afterwards- two girls with high pitched giggles from Ravenclaw, who, as it seemed, only wanted to come in to gawk at Lee. Eventually, at around 10 o’ clock, Ginny came in, accompanied by a girl with short brown hair, who stood at the door hesitantly. She spotted George, hovering by the counter, and her face lit up.
“Wow, George, this place is great!” She crossed the shop in a few short strides and hugged him.
“Thanks.” He said sheepishly. Lee smiled smugly from behind Ginny. She withdrew, beaming. This was a significant alteration from the coolness he had received in their last meeting.
“Mum wrote and told me about this place. I didn’t expect it to be this good!” She exclaimed, gesturing around the shop. George frowned.
“Glad to see you had such high expectations of me, Ginny.” He said coolly, suddenly reverting back to that wintry shell, with its biting cynicism. Ginny’s face fell.
“I didn’t mean it like that. You know I didn’t.” Ginny seemed shocked. The situation had gone from cordial to grim so fast it had whitened Ginny’s face.
“Oh come on!” George snorted derisively. “You’ve been expecting me to fail ever since I’ve been on my own.”
Even Lee looked shocked now, and the girl by the door looked hurt for her friend. Ginny’s eyes filled with tears, though her face took on a fierce expression.
“How could any of us expect anything at all of you? Mum had to force herself upon you for you actually to acknowledge us!” Her voice raised dangerously, and she whipped her fiery hair back out of her face in anger.
“Maybe you all should take a hint and back off then!” George retorted. The instant he had said it, he regretted it.
“Right,” She said coldly, and her expression took on a mask-like quality “Fine then. I’ll go, if I’m such a burden to you.”
And without another word, Ginny turned on the spot, and half ran half walked out of the shop. The girl cast George a reproachful look, before following her friend.
In the silence following the slam of the door, George felt Lee’s judging gaze on him. He turned his back on him, breathing heavily.
“That wasn’t good, mate.” George heard Lee say quietly behind him. George knew he had been out of order, but he had vindictively relished the look of hurt on Ginny’s face. Now, all he felt was a squirming guilt in the pit of his stomach.
“I’m going out,” said George in a hollow voice “I’ll be a while.”
He pulled on a coat, and left the shop. There was no sign of Ginny amongst the many black robed students. Not that he was in much of a mood to say sorry. He needed to be alone. Without knowing exactly where he was walking, George walked mercilessly through the excitable, jabbering teenagers, pushing some of them aside. Some made scathing remarks and shouted out at him, but he hardly heard them. He walked on and on, and the crowds of students thinned out and the buildings became smaller and grubbier.
It was only when some trees began to appear when George realised exactly where he was heading towards- the Shrieking Shack. He clambered over the stile at the end of the street which had gradually become narrower as he approached it. Walking into the clearing which gave the view of the decrepit little shed in the distance, George thought of how strange it was how riled up some people got about whatever haunted it, when it really was just Remus. He had just neared the fence, when he heard a high melodic voice speak up from nearby.
“You don’t seem the sort to come down here.”
George jumped. He looked to his left, to see none other than Luna Lovegood perching on a tree stump, with a well worn copy of The Quibbler
flattened out on her lap and wearing an absurd yellow bobble hat.
“Feels like déjà vu.” George muttered. Luna cocked her hair to one side slightly.
“Is there something wrong?” She asked. George felt the same discomfort under her wide, watchful eyes that he had felt the last time they met.
“No,” he said quickly, his eyes darting away “How come you are sitting here on your own?”
“Not many people come down here anymore. It’s nice.” She said simply. George nodded.
“Makes sense.” He said in acknowledgment, and looked again at the house. Luna swung her legs off the tree stump, rolled up her magazine, and walked over to lean on the fence next to George.
“Weird how people are scared of this place, when it was just Remus Lupin the whole time.” thought George aloud.
“I thought it was the colony of Cornish pixies that live up here.” Luna said matter-of-factly.
“Maybe you’re right.” George murmured, smirking. A silence took over, which was interrupted by the intermittent sounds of the wind rustling the trees.
“People are often afraid of things they don’t understand.” Luna said suddenly. George looked at her from the corner of his eye, mulling her over. Her words struck him as plain and direct, and not many people had the knack of getting away with such a manner. Somehow, though, she did.
“What is wrong, anyway?” She asked, conversationally, and after a second’s thought, added “Aside from the obvious, anyway.”
“The obvious?” George said, incredulous. Luna actually rolled her eyes.
“You know what I’m talking about. What’s wrong?”
George, taken aback by Luna’s second reference to his situation
, was speechless. But he could not run away a second time. Instead, he tried being frank with Luna.
“Well. I just shouted at my sister for no reason whatsoever.” He blurted out.
“I don’t think that’s very fair.” She said, quite loudly.
“Wow, you’re a bright one.” Muttered George under his breath. Luna did seem to have heard.
“She worried about you a lot.”
George groaned. The squirming feeling of guilt in his stomach was now almost painful. Now that he thought about it, Ginny had been right. He had given little chance for his family to believe in him in the first place. Besides, what he’d said was totally out of the blue; a misdirected product of pent up rage.
“You should write her a letter or something. That would be nice.” Luna’s voice reverted back to her usual bright, absent-minded tone.
“Yeah. That’s a good idea,” mused George “Thanks a lot, Luna.” George smiled at her.
“It’s okay,” Luna said, while rummaging in the duffel bag she had brought along with her. George’s eyes widened with realisation. It must be around 12 o’ clock now. He had left Lee on his own, without telling him when he’d be back. Another thing to be guilty about.
“I’ve got to go,” He stammered. Before Luna could get a word out, George bolted up the beaten track, leaving her as she was before; solitary and laughable.
A/N: I was a little bit worried about this chapter, because it seemed a lot to cram in such a short time. I thought it’d get a bit tedious if I described the whole time in between the beginning of school term and the Hogsmeade visit. But anyway, that’s up to you guys. Review pleeeeeeeeeease, I beg of you! (But not that pathetically…Sort of)