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Chapter 2 : Panache
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I’d hate for anyone to get the wrong idea, so I should make one thing clear: I am devastatingly handsome. I mean, really. I put my Aunt Fleur to shame. Veela, indeed.
I say this because, when people hear that you work in radio – and, to a lesser extent, newspaper – they want to delude themselves into thinking you’re a troll. As if someone assigned you to work behind a microphone in order to save everyone else the agony of having to deal with you in person. This is an unfortunate misconception. With the exception of Stan Bollingsworth – who looks like someone hit him with the Furnunculus Curse and then punched him in the face for good measure – there are many beautiful people who work in radio.
It’s not like we have the option to work in television, since most people in the wizarding world have yet to wrap their heads around that concept. It’s sad, really. Muggles have explored space and are probably just a matter of years from populating Jupiter, but wizards are confuzzled by the idea of watching moving pictures for entertainment. The magical world is woefully behind the times.
Don’t even get me started on the sorry state of wizarding music. Celestina Warbeck is long dead, but people still listen to her music, for some inscrutable reason. I really feel for my grandad. People always thought he was a bit off, but if I had to listen to Celestina Warbeck over six decades of marriage, I’d be a nutter, too.
There’s none of that wonky stuff on my show. Four hours of straight talk, hot news, insightful commentary, and pure bollocks.
I’ve always loved communication. And knowledge. The only thing more exciting than gaining information is sharing it with everyone else – especially when you get to add your own flair to it. That’s the great thing about radio, and why I ultimately chose it over the printed media: you can be versatile, you can adapt, you can be interactive. When breaking news comes in, you talk about it right away. And it’s all off the cuff – no revisions, no edits, just whatever comes to mind first. Like I said, pure bollocks. Or as I prefer to think of it: panache.
The Morning Waffle has panache in abundance, although I definitely can’t claim all the credit for it. I’d be nothing without my crew. We’ve all got panache coming out of our every orifice. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all a bunch of idiots. But I think that’s what has made the show so popular.
And so it was with panache that I woke up that morning in my spectacularly crappy flat and Flooed over to the station, and it was with panache that I was greeted by my production manager, Raj Banerjee.
“Morning, Fred. You look like crap.”
I said I was handsome; I didn’t say I bothered to brush my hair or put on anything decent before going to work. Not being seen by your listeners has its advantages.
“Cheers, Raj. So do you.”
“I’ve got an excuse.” He grinned and levitated the Daily Prophet over to me as he poured what was probably his third cup of coffee that morning.
Raj was the only one of us who was married – probably the only one of us capable of being married – and for that we took the mickey out of him daily. Then his wife became pregnant (hence the third cup of coffee before five in the morning) and from that point it was open season on Raj and his nerves. Poor bloke.
At thirty-one years old, Raj was like our collective older brother – the kind of older brother who babysits you because your parents tell him to, but who then helps you break into the liquor cabinet and shoots firewhiskey with you. Responsible in his own twisted way.
I helped myself to some coffee and sipped it over the counter in the break room as I started scanning the newspaper. Tea just doesn’t do it at that time of day, so we’re all caffeinated out of our minds.
“Morning, you two!” That was the voice of someone who didn’t need coffee to perk her up in the morning: Tabitha Benson, sound technician extraordinaire.
She wasn’t always that perky. I met her four years earlier, when she moved here from America and started working for the station. I can’t say it was a bad decision on her part, since I wouldn’t have met her if she hadn’t done it, and I can’t imagine not being friends with Tibbs. But, as a person who’s horribly closed-off in new places and around new people, she did make things difficult for herself by moving to a country where she didn’t know a soul in the world apart from a few distant family members and her mother, who wasn’t much of a mother at all.
Breaking through Tibbs’ shell reminded me a lot of trying to break open a Snargaluff pod in Herbology, although there wasn’t as much swearing involved, and the end result was a lot nicer (I’d nearly killed Professor Longbottom when I realized I’d put so much effort into getting some disgusting green things out of that stupid plant).
But really, Tibbs was alright once she got comfortable enough. She could roll with anything. I’d always considered James my best mate, but Tibbs was right up there with him. We met as lowly assistants at the station, and now she was one of the charms that kept my show running like clockwork.
“What’s the news?” she asked, taking the cup from my hand and sipping from it.
I pushed the paper towards her so she could read it and went to pour myself another cup of coffee. “Not much, surprisingly. I thought maybe there’d be another attack by the Snapper, but I guess he’s gone on holiday.”
Raj let out a dry laugh. “Yeah, torturing Muggles must really take it out of you. Can’t believe they haven’t caught him yet.”
The Snapper was a nutter who had been going around inflicting spell damage on Muggles at random, for no reason other than they were Muggles. We’re not talking about the kinds of hexes that are popular at Hogwarts. I mean complicated, potentially long-lasting spell damage that had landed nearly twenty Muggles in St. Mungo’s so far. It was a nightmare for the Ministry, not only because they hadn’t been able to catch him yet, but also because they’d been running around for months cleaning up the mess. The Obliviators were working like mad, dealing with witnesses and the families of victims who had to be hauled away to St. Mungo’s for weeks.
Nobody knew his identity, but the Ministry and the Prophet called him the Snapper because he left a bunch of Exploding Snap cards around every crime scene – ostensibly to mess with whomever found the victim and tried to help him. It was a stupid MO and an equally stupid nickname. Muggles had Jack the Ripper; we had the Snapper. His name probably wasn’t Jack, either – it was bound to be something douchey, like Octavius. And Octavius probably had a brain the size of a doxy dropping, because really, who leaves Exploding Snap cards at a crime scene? It could have been something cool, like a giant wizarding chess piece.
He hadn’t actually killed anyone yet, and according to Uncle Harry, he didn’t seem like a criminal who had the fortitude for killing. Uncle Harry said you could usually tell someone’s limits after you’d been chasing them for awhile, and this guy was probably too afraid to join the big leagues. It seemed like the Snapper fancied himself a modern-day Voldemort, only he was too stupid and inept to come anywhere close to that kind of power.
Voldemort Light. Less filling, shittier taste, and not nearly as consequential.
We abused the Snapper a bit as the rest of the crew trickled in. Cristine Vega and Miles McPherson, who were in charge of reading the advertisements, were a couple of bright-eyed kids who had that certain something I was looking for in my show. Miles was just plain talented – I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his own show someday. And Cristine was tenacious, sometimes to the point to of being impatient. I think she wished she were doing something other than reading the advertisements for someone else’s show, but she didn’t realize how good she had it. It was rare to be allowed anywhere near a microphone when you were twenty-two years old and had only been working for a few years. But I chose Cristine and Miles because they had a lot of promise, and since I was the youngest host on the network and the listeners seemed to like that angle, I was more willing than other hosts to take on younger crew members.
Then there was Dexter Fortescue, screener of calls and apparently my gran’s new best friend. He was alright, though…maybe not as jaded as the rest of us, but that’s Hufflepuffs for you. You always knew where you stood with Dex, and it was usually good standing, because Dex liked everyone. I used to think he was naïve, but after awhile I realized that he was just nice. It’s not often you meet someone like that, so it freaks me out a bit whenever I do. I mean, if he were to meet Voldemort himself, Dex would probably compliment him on his shoes. Did Voldemort even wear shoes? I don’t know, but even then Dex would probably tell him he had a wonderful arch and well-proportioned toes.
At five minutes to air time, as we were getting set up, there was one member of our group still missing. So the second Raj stepped into my booth to talk to me, I knew exactly what he was going to say.
“Are you going to talk to him, or should I?” he asked, glancing at the clock.
I sighed. “I’ll do it. Give him a break, though, he’s technically not late. Yet. And he doesn’t really need to do any set-up.”
“He could brush up on the news.”
“Well, nobody cares about his knowledge of the issues, anyway. All they want to hear coming out of his mouth is Quidditch. Besides, how do you know he hasn’t already read the news at home?”
“Yeah, right. You’re funny, Fred.”
“That’s what they tell me. But I’ll talk to him.”
Raj nodded. “Alright. And before I forget, I wanted to tell you, Diggle wants a word with us after the show.” Damascus Diggle was the station manager.
“What in the bloody hell does he want? If this is about that joke I told about the Minister of Magic and the hippogriff – ”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Sounds like something routine.”
“Alright. Just you and me?”
Raj’s “Yeah” was cut off by a shout from the break room.
“I’m here! I’m here, and I’m not sodding late! Technically!”
I stood and applauded with the rest of the crew as my cousin James Potter dashed into his booth and made a show of picking up his headphones, waving them in the air, and lowering himself into his seat.
“See?” he said. “I don’t disappoint. My public awaits.” He indicated his microphone.
I laughed. “Your kick in the ass awaits. Keeping pushing it, James, and I’m going to break into your flat and bewitch your pillow to start shrieking Celestina Warbeck at four in the morning.” I grinned at Raj. As far as I was concerned, I had just fulfilled my obligation of talking to James about his near-tardiness.
James was really alright, despite his seeming inability to show up for work at a reasonable time. Even Raj didn’t care about it that much, as long as James did a good job. I knew that Raj was only worried about it for the same reason that I was – if Diggle ever found out about James’ close calls, he’d get involved and start questioning whether it was a wise choice for me to bring a family member onto the show. I didn’t have any problems with Diggle, but in general I liked the management to keep its nose out of my show’s business.
Family or not, James was one of the best decisions I ever made. There was nobody better to handle the Quidditch Etcetera segment, because nobody else knew Quidditch like James did. Not only did he know Quidditch, he also kept up to speed with other wizarding sports around the world, like American Quodpot.
Bringing James on board had been a bit of a struggle on both ends. At the station, I really had to convince them that I wasn’t just practicing nepotism. As if anyone who knew me at all could accuse me of that. I don’t think I kept it a secret that I hated the idea of receiving special treatment based on my family, which was just famous enough that it bordered on embarrassing.
And as for James, it had taken awhile to persuade him to join the show in the first place. He’d been a phenomenal Seeker for Puddlemere United, and an injury had recently sent his career spiraling down the toilet. He’d been in a dark place when it happened, and it still bothered him, probably more than he liked to let on. I’m sure that had something to do with his chronic lack of punctuality; part of him still felt that, if it wasn’t flying with the pros, it wasn’t worth getting up for.
He had a blast on the show, though, and despite the fact that he was our newest addition, having only been with us for a few months, he fit into our team like he’d been there since Day One.
“Alright, then,” I said, picking up my headset. “Let’s pay my rent, shall we?”
I glanced around at the crew, all of whom were ready to go. Our booths were set up in a circular fashion, with mine in the middle and the others situated around it, partitioned off by large windows. With that set-up, each of us could see everyone else. The partitions were thin enough that we could communicate through them while off the air, and while we were on air we used two-way Imperturbable Charms.
After casting the charm, I put on the headphones and tapped my mic with my wand, watching as Raj raised his right hand and counted down from five on his fingers. When he reached one, he pointed at Tibbs, who shouted into her mic, “Wake up and smell the magic, Britain! You’re listening to The Morning Waffle, with Raj Banerjee, Tabitha Benson, Dexter Fortescue screening your calls, James Potter with Quidditch Etcetera, and your favorite host on the Wizarding Wireless Network: Fred Weasley!”
Three hours and fifty-five minutes later, I was wrapping up my entire four-hour workday, which always seemed more like playtime than anything else.
“And lastly,” I said as I made my final announcements to my listeners, “next week is the release of the Second Revised Edition of Hogwarts: A History. Make plans to go out and buy it, because it’s a life-changing book, and the edits are bound to be fantastic.”
“Oh, God, Fred,” contributed Dex. “I can’t believe you still like that thing. I can’t believe you ever liked it to begin with.”
“Dex, you’re an ignorant sod.”
“Does this have anything to do with the fact that your Aunt Hermione wrote the revised edition?”
“My Aunt Hermione is a brilliant witch who has excellent taste.”
“I think you’re in love with your Aunt Hermione, Fred,” said Raj.
“Now that’s just disturbing. You know, my family does listen to this show occasionally.”
“Oh,” continued Raj, “so I guess we shouldn’t talk about Dex’s obsession with your Aunt Ginny then.”
James looked like he was about to puke all over his microphone.
“No!” protested Dex. “She was just a brilliant Quidditch player, that’s all!”
“So brilliant that Dex has posters of her all over his room, I’ll bet, even though he wasn’t alive when she actually played Quidditch.”
James made a sound that I normally associated with a dying troll. “I’ll kill you, Dex. I swear I will.”
“And on that note,” I said brightly, “tune in on Monday, when the first topic of conversation will be how obscenely fit Dexter’s sister is. Thanks for listening to The Morning Waffle, and have a great weekend, Britain!”
Brilliant Quidditch player, my ass. Dex had met Aunt Ginny once in his life, and from that point on he’d talked about her a little more than what would be considered healthy.
“Alright, mates,” I said as we cleared out of the sound booth so the next show could begin, “I’ve got to go take a meeting with Diggle, apparently. Have a great weekend. James, I’ll see you tomorrow. Tibbs, Floo me this weekend, alright?”
I looked at Raj after the rest of the crew had left the station. “Get this over with?”
So the three of us headed down the corridor to the manager’s office: Raj, me, and our huge broomload of panache.
A/N: Special thanks to elisalinguinex for helping to inspire the Snapper's MO and nickname.
This story is consistent with another short story of mine, "The Stars Were Dim," which chronicles the end of James' Quidditch career, before he joined The Morning Waffle.
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