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This I Can't Believe

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Hamburg all looks the same in the odd, quiet hours between one day and the next, he told himself for the third time that morning. Right, everything looks the same and a combination of tired, frustrated, and a bit drunk never helps anything. Things weren’t ideal, but George wasn’t really lost… He just wasn’t exactly sure where he was either, and if anyone spoke enough English to be helpful, they appeared to be avoiding him.

...Things were far from ideal.

Grumbling to himself as he approached the same corner for what had to be the third or fourth time, George paused briefly before turning down the nearest alley. Because if going the obvious way wasn’t working, why not try looking somewhere else.

“Looking for someone, love?”

George’s head snapped toward the source of the voice, relieved for a moment, before quickly took a defensive step back. Lost as he was, anyone could be dangerous; particularly the types that lurk in unnamed alleyways.

However, what he found did seem less than threatening, but that was worrying enough on its own.

The air was hazy with smoke, but smelled more of ginger and a fresh, after-rain sort of smell that no German back alley had any business smelling like. Somehow, it was still inviting even in dreary Hamburg, and the man who’d spoken to him seemed to fit right in, given how bizarre his surroundings were. He was dressed too nice to be just lounging about, even if his jacket was dusted with bits of leaves and a shimmery, green powder that he’d clearly tried to brush off. The gray streak in his hair fit with the heavy tome he read about as well as the all too cozy space fit in what George could’ve sworn was just another grimy alley. Wherever the broken armchair the stranger reclined in didn’t seem to be actively trying to swallow him whole, it was dotted with precariously lit candles, and coffee table was scattered with more in between stacks of old books and plants George had never seen before. All together, they gave the whole dead end a mysterious glow, yet the stranger just kept reclining in his worn, uneven armchair with his legs hanging over the lower arm, paging through his book and casually blowing out a lungful of smoke like it was the most normal thing in the world.

“... Sorry?”

“You’re looking for the witch, yeah?”

“Well-”

“‘Course you are. No one ever finds me unless they come looking.” He never looked up from his book, just took another drag off his cigarette and cocked his head to the side. “Come on, lad, what’ll it be? You got this far, so you must want something…”

George blinked, the pieces slowly coming together in his mind until he found himself staring wide-eyed at the rather underwhelming talk of the town.

“You’re the famous corner witch?”

“...I’m famous now?”

That finally seemed to get a rise out of him, as the witch looked up for a moment, brows drawn together in doubtful confusion.

Given how much he’d heard, George would have figured that much was obvious.

Wherever he could catch some snatches of English from the locals, someone always seemed to be whispering about how they’d gone looking for the corner witch, some small miracle they’d asked for, or how it’d mysteriously come to pass. Word on the street said you could only find her if you were looking for something only she knew she could give.

So, if the witch didn’t want to deal with you, you’d just wander around for days, circling around but unable to reach her, so people would spend weeks mulling over a problem to see if it was even worth her time.

Well, the same people had decided the witch was female, and assumed she was some old hag, so who really knew what was true and what wasn’t. Certainly hadn’t been hard for him to find this witch, at least.

“Y’know…you think too much. I’d stop that, if I were you. Might miss things.”

George tried not to jump when the witch spoke again, bringing him back to reality. It took another moment to realize the other was suddenly already standing in front of the
coffee table, smirking at him with a mischievous shine in his bright eyes.

Setting his jaw, George tried his hardest not to glare back.

The witch made a show of rolling his eyes, but smiled to himself while fishing a handful of stones out of his pocket. He took a moment to wrap them in his hands and close his eyes, nose crinkling as he focused, muttering vaguely before rolling the stones like too many dice. The candlelight glinted ominously off his rings as he suddenly opened his hands, scattering the stones around George’s feet.

An odd silence followed. The witch leaned forward to study the mysterious gold symbols on each of the stones, and George shifted awkwardly, not daring to drastically alter fate or something by moving any of them while also trying to get a better look himself.

“... Yes, yes, success and fortune. Lovely-”

George stopped listening for a moment, just to savor that. Success and fortune seemed pretty good, despite the witch breezing right over it to get a closer look at the cluster of stones nearest to him. He certainly wasn’t going to complain about a future of success and fortune, was he.

“...and the leading runes are kenaz, raidho, and thurisaz, so opportunity and-”

As soon as the witch cut himself off, he bolted back to his chair to start flipping wildly through the book he’d been reading, pausing to skim the occasional handwritten note in the margin before stopping just as suddenly.

“You’re him then! You’re George!” The witch was grinning ear to ear when he looked up again, and reached out over the coffee table. George shook his hand, smiling a little despite himself because, sudden as it was, the energy was infectious.

A second later, that grin was suddenly a bit more wicked, and the handshake turned into the witch grabbing him hard by the wrist, and turning his palm up to trace the lines.

“Warned me about you weeks ago, the cards did. Said your struggle was time, and me stones say the same today, except you’re not the problem...” He frowned slightly, muttering to himself about lines and planets for a moment, then stopped abruptly. George could practically see the moment of realization before he was dropping George’s hand with a sigh, trying not to look a bit disappointed as he looked up again.

“See… I could read your palm properly, but you’ve got too many callouses to be anything but a guitarist. Who’s got issues with someone who keeps time.”

The witch looked back at him like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“... What’s wrong with your drummer, then? If you need me he must be terrible.”

“What? He’s-”

“Don’t defend him now, son. He’s what? Fine? Alright?” The witch raised his eyebrows incredulously, letting George stammer for a bit before waving him off and walking back to the armchair. He flipped through a couple pages again, landing on one by the time he started back towards George.

Craning his neck, George tried his best to see what was written there, only for the witch to pull it back against his chest defensively. But it got him to smile again, and God, his smile was too bright and sunshine-y for just past four, but nice and warm.

“You’ll do better, I promise. You’ve got fame and fortune written all over you, Mr. Harrison, but you don’t know your options-”

George blinked a few times, suddenly sure he’d never mentioned his name.

“Sorry, but-”

“It’s this nose of mine, son… always finding its way into other people’s business.” The witch shrugged easily as he flopped back down in the broken armchair, and George could practically hear him rolling his eyes as he continued. “Now, come on then, keep up.”

The witch gestured for him to come closer, and it briefly crossed George’s mind that all the rune stones had up and disappeared. Strange, sure, but he’d probably just missed something. It was definitely too early, and far too late to be awake, and if he really thought about it, there was probably a logical answer.

“So… Right, that about does it. What do you say, George?”

The witch was looking up at him expectantly, almost like he knew George hadn’t been listening.

“Come again?” George bit his lip nervously. Of course, he’d much rather have dealt with this when he was more awake, but also, if he could just get out of there and get to bed, that’d be wonderful.

“Just some record keeping. I read the oracle stones and your palm, you keep your eyes open for opportunity, changes, and a new drummer, and I’ll try and set you up with that fame and fortune fate seems so fixed on.” Another indifferent shrug, and the witch dug a pen out of his jacket pocket to hand over with the book he’d been so protective of before. “Just sign there, and you’re free to go.”

George had done well enough in school to realize it was written in scarily fluent Latin, but too tired to pick out more than certain words. Strange, again, but there had to be a reason.

Right? Right.

 

When George woke up around lunchtime the next day, he honestly couldn’t remember much after that. Couldn’t be bothered, really.