Chapter 6 : Sweetheart Pants
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Chapter image by prospero (formerly arushi) at TDA
(sweetheart pants not shown)
I am a stupid, stupid man.
I mean, sure, I did well academically (got as many NEWTs as Uncle Percy, much to my dad’s shock), and I know how to read people and make the most out of a situation. But every now and then, I go and do something that – as Mum puts it – demonstrates just how much of a Weasley I really am.
This time, in a moment of alcohol-induced clarity, I decided it would be a brilliant idea to suggest that Dexter, James, and I make a friendly wager: whoever raised the least amount of money from prospective dates would have to fly a broom through Diagon Alley…in his underpants…in effing December.
I swear, it sounded amazingly intelligent at the time.
The next morning, along with a throbbing headache there came the realization that the odds were not at all in my favor. By all accounts, it looked like Dexter would bring in the most gold, because of his strange badger-magnetism. And then there was James, who, even though he no longer played Quidditch, still had women across the country staring lovingly at posters of him.
Then there was me – the idiot who was going to be flying around Diagon Alley half starkers in the midst of everyone’s Christmas shopping.
My only consolation in this matter was that, if I had to do it, Raj was coming with me. Whether he liked it or not. And I happened to know that Raj owned a pair of boxers with little pink hearts all over them. I knew this because he told me he’d received them as a gift from Michelle.
What kind of imbecile actually admits to owning pink heart boxers? To someone like me, no less! I remember everything – and I put it to good use.
As predicted, Dex raised an impressive amount of Galleons – eleven hundred, to be exact. The girl who won – who was not Lisa, by the way, since Lisa already got a free date with him – donated sixty-five Galleons alone. Who were these girls who had this kind of money? And where could I find them?
Two weeks in, we had raised a total of fourteen hundred Galleons, placing us just behind Stan Soddingsface, who had managed to bring in sixteen hundred so far. It was good, but not quite good enough for my liking.
I wondered vaguely whether I would be able to increase the amount of money I raised if I claimed to own a pair of pink heart underpants. But where would one even go to find said pants?
I bet Hugo would know.
I still had a few weeks before the pleasure of my company was auctioned off to the highest bidder; Tabitha was next in line after Dex. We’d been giving her a rough time over the previous few days (sporting and friendly, of course, all in good fun, as long as James kept his mouth shut). It really had been ages since she’d been on a date. I could tell she was anxious, but she was definitely being a good sport about it.
On Saturday I invited her over for a chat, and I was a bit perplexed when she stepped out of my fireplace looking irritable and clutching a sheet of parchment.
“Got a letter from my mum today,” she explained, spotting the look on my face.
She was always a little bit edgy on the rare occasions that she received letters from her mother – and rightfully so, in my opinion. Sometimes I didn’t understand why she continued to put up with it.
Tibbs’ mother, an English witch, had married Tibbs’ dad, an American wizard, and lived in the States with him. When Tibbs was about five years old, her mum woke up one day and decided she didn’t want to be married or have a family anymore – and so, just like that, she left. Moved back to England, changed back to her maiden name Ellis, and generally lived as a free spirit. She spent much of her time in England, but she also traveled frequently, though her travels rarely took her back to the States to visit Tibbs.
Mr. Benson raised Tibbs largely by himself (which might have accounted for the fact that she liked sport and couldn’t cook), and the two of them had a very good relationship. But when Tibbs was about twenty-two, she had a life crisis of her own, after a dissatisfying job with a wizarding newspaper and a messy breakup with her boyfriend of four years. She decided she needed a change of scenery, and since she had ties to England, through her mother and a few distant relatives, she decided to wholly uproot herself and start over in every way imaginable – and that’s what brought her here.
The thing about Tibbs was, she wasn’t the sort of person who thrived in new environments and among new people. She was painfully shy and barely spoke to anybody she didn’t know very well. Once you got to know her she was a completely different person, but that was no easy feat. I make a living by talking and getting others to talk – even the most contrary people – and Tibbs had been my most difficult challenge yet.
I think, on some level, Tibbs found enjoyment or comfort in the correspondence with her mother, and that’s why she never broke it off entirely. She was never angry when she received the letters – mainly exasperated, as if she had better things to do with her time (and she did).
“Want to hear it?” she asked, waving the parchment in one hand. “It’s a fun one.”
“Let’s have it,” I said. I leaned against the wall and crossed my arms, preparing to be entertained – whenever Tibbs read a letter from her mum, it was quite a show. I’d never met Ms. Ellis before, but by this point I had a good idea what she sounded like, based on Tibbs’ impersonations.
She grinned at me and then cleared her throat and adopted the demeanor of an actress about to begin a performance.
“Tabitha, darling,” she read in a lofty, girlish voice, flourishing her free hand in a flippant manner, “you haven’t written to me in ages. I feel like I hardly know my own daughter anymore, which is a shame, because I think we could be such wonderful friends, don’t you?” Tibbs paused and gave me a dark look before shaking her head and continuing.
“You must tell me whether there are any men in the picture. Sometimes I think you’re too lonely, love – I wish you would go out more; it’s not good for you to be so reclusive. And besides, it’s about time you found someone to settle down with, isn’t it?” At this point, Tibbs muttered, “Hilarious, her suggesting I settle down. Stupid woman…”
Then she shook her finger in a chiding way and continued reading, “You’re not getting any younger, you know – oh, Fred, stop laughing!”
I couldn’t help it. And besides, it was only funny because I was just as old as Tibbs was. Women had funny reactions to the aging process. I was nearly twenty-seven, and I still felt like a spry five years old.
Tibbs glowered at me while I chuckled.
“Fine,” she said. “Fine. You want funny? You’re in here, too.”
Well, that didn’t bode well.
“What about that young man you’re always talking about – Fred Something-Or-Other?”
So I was a Something-Or-Other now. I’d always known Weasley wasn’t the most aesthetically appealing surname, but in this scenario I actually found it preferable.
“Aw, Tibbs!” I grinned. “You always talk about me!”
“Well, I write to her all of three times a year, and who else am I supposed to talk about? You know perfectly well I have maybe two friends outside of the station. Anyway, funny man, she goes on to say that maybe I shouldn’t get involved with you because if you’re in your late twenties and don’t have a steady relationship by now, there must be something wrong with you.”
“You’re yanking my wand.”
“Read for yourself.” Tibbs offered me the parchment, and I glanced over it.
By Hinkypunk, she did write that. Stupid woman, obviously had no idea what she was talking about.
Tibbs giggled as I returned the parchment to her. “And from there, she basically goes on about how I should quit working in radio because it’s dreadfully boring, and then she talks at great length about her new boyfriend, who, as far as I can tell, doesn’t actually seem to have any real occupation besides traveling all over the world.”
I processed this information for a moment. Tibbs was really much better-adjusted than she had any right to be.
“So why has your mum suddenly become interested in domesticating you?” I asked, now leading the way into my sorry excuse for a kitchen. I opened a box of shortbread biscuits that Gran had sent me the day before and offered it to Tibbs.
She shrugged and nibbled on a biscuit pensively. “I assume she got it into her head that she wants a bunch of grandkids she can visit and play with once every three years.” She snickered. “And from the looks of this letter, she’s got the idea that you might be providing them.”
I already had cats; I didn’t need children.
“Look,” I said, raising a finger, “I am a simple radio host – I’m not cut out for this procreation rubbish.”
Ogden jumped up onto the table next to Tabitha, who scratched him behind the ears; in return, he purred loudly and batted at the long, brightly-colored necklaces dangling from her neck. Bloody attention whore.
“Be honest,” she said, “hasn’t your mum started dropping hints about this kind of thing yet?”
Yet? Mum had been dropping hints with the subtlety of a Bludger for the past four or five years. Once, I’d just asked her why she didn’t go and have more kids herself. As I recall, Dad threw something very sharp and painful at me in response.
“Well, occasionally,” I replied, “but I always reckoned Roxy would be the one to fill that request. A load of little tiny Finnegans running around…it’s quite a heartwarming image, actually…maybe I should call her and have a chat about it.”
I knew perfectly well that Roxy’s reaction would be a string of profanities that would put Uncle Ron to shame – it would, therefore, be amusing to no end.
“Well, sorry your mum’s getting on your nerves,” I said after a short silence. “I think you’re spiffing just the way you are. And who knows – maybe you’ll meet the father of your future children this week, when you go on your mystery date, and then you can tell your mum to bugger off and leave you alone about it.”
“Right, life’s always that easy,” she scoffed, looking a bit more relaxed than she had earlier.
“Heard from your dad lately?”
“Just last night, actually! He called me to tell me the baseball scores.”
Tibbs was a baseball fanatic. That was a sport I couldn’t wrap my head around – bizarre American Muggle sport, but what was even stranger was the fact that wizards over there played it, too! And not just recreationally – they played in the pros. Tibbs tried to explain the logistics to me once, because I couldn’t understand how they made sure wizards didn’t cheat using magic. Apparently, they often covered up those kinds of problems by claiming steroids – a weird kind of Muggle drug – were used. But there was a lot more to it, and frankly, it confused the hell out of me. Couldn’t they just be normal and play Quidditch like the rest of the world?
“Oh, speaking of mental Muggle sports,” I said, remembering, “James somehow talked me into watching football with him today. Fancy coming along?”
“Um…nah. You know I don’t like football.”
I rolled my eyes. “Right. You also don’t like James, funny enough.”
“Hey, you don’t like football either!”
“No, but I do like James, obviously.” I raised my eyebrows. “Think you and he will ever get along, or am I going to have to continue living a double life and feeling like I’m involved in a torrid affair whenever I hang around with one of you?”
“We do get along.” She focused intently on twirling a loose strand of her dark hair around her finger.
“I mean really get along, without either of you getting your knickers in a twist every other week.”
“I dunno…maybe, whenever he stops acting like everything is a raw deal for him and life is something to be escaped from.”
I laughed. “You think he’s bad now? He’s like a happy little fluffy bunny compared to how it was last year.”
She pondered for a moment, chewing her lower lip, and then shrugged as if she really didn’t know what to say – or maybe, knowing her, as if she knew exactly what she wanted to say but was afraid to say it.
“And anyway,” I continued with a long-suffering sigh, “I’d like you to know how much this really does inconvenience me. Having two separate best friends and trying to deal with my deranged family and manage my many covert romances, all at the same time – there’s just not enough of me to go around!”
She grinned. “There’s quite enough of you to go around, nobody wants to date you anyway, and I still think James is an idiot. But I’ll leave you to it – I only wanted to chat for awhile, and I’ve got things to do today. Have fun, alright?”
“Alright – Floo me tomorrow if you’re bored, otherwise I’ll see you Monday.” We headed back to the fireplace, followed closely by Ogden, and I waved as Tibbs Flooed out of sight.
Despite the many problems I had with the Floo system, I couldn’t deny it had its advantages – for example, when one wanted to leave one’s flat and get to a wizard pub without braving the elements, one need only step into the fireplace and arrive at the destination perfectly warm and cozy and dry.
But no – when my dear cousin suffered the worst injury of his Quidditch career, he also developed a side effect that none of us had anticipated: a completely mental obsession with football. He’d started watching it on days when he hated the world and couldn’t even fathom the thought of Quidditch. The problem was, he actually grew to like it – for reasons still unknown to me – and that meant that yours truly got to accompany him to various Muggle establishments to watch it on television.
Now, a pub was a pub, and I had no problem as far as that was concerned – but I couldn't Floo there, and I didn’t fancy splashing through the rain until I had achieved the look of a drowned Kneazle.
Yes, I know it’s very girly of me. Even Fred Weasley gets to have his high maintenance moments.
James was already at a table waiting for me when I arrived in all my waterlogged glory.
“Already finished drinking without me?” I laughed as I pulled up a chair, surprised to see him empty-handed.
“Nah, thought I’d wait for you,” he replied, tearing his eyes away from a televised football match. “Oh, by the way, I hope you don’t mind – I invited Al to join us, since he actually has the day off. And I saw Kartik Shah today, so I invited him as well.”
“The more the merrier. And Kartik! – I haven’t seen that bloke in ages! What’s he up to?”
“Still hanging ‘round with Finchy, for one thing.” James gestured over my shoulder.
I looked around and saw Kartik, a short guy with a perpetually happy-looking face, entering the pub along with Eric Finch – affectionately called Finchy – a twitchy-looking bloke who was surprisingly normal despite his off-putting appearance. They’d both been in my year at Hogwarts, but James and Kartik were good friends because they’d played Quidditch together.
We had just finished shaking hands and exchanging greetings all around when I spotted Albus shuffling into the pub with Hugo in tow. They both looked exhausted – not to mention drenched – but quite happy to be there.
Another round of hellos was exchanged, and I’d barely managed to get the words “So, Al, how’s work?” out of my mouth before he interrupted me.
“If you value your life, don’t mention St. Mungo’s or the effing Snapper in front of me.” He rubbed both hands over his face, as if the mere thought of his workplace made him want to dive off a cliff. “Oh, Circe, I need a drink.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” added Hugo, glancing at his watch and wrinkling his nose. “I’m technically on call, though it’s unlikely they’ll need me.” Hugo was an Obliviator – those guys were being run nearly as ragged as the Healers were at St. Mungo’s due to the Snapper mess.
“Tell me again why we’re here instead of the Leaky?” asked Albus. “Because I could really go for one of Hannah’s drinks – nobody makes a Flaming Chimaera like she does.”
Blimey, he wasn’t kidding around, was he? Thank God I hadn’t gone into Healing as a profession.
I shrugged and, by way of explanation, pointed to James and Finchy, both of whom were now watching the football match with equal amounts of excitement and frustration. Suddenly, James started swearing profusely, and Finchy laughed maniacally, punching James in the arm. I gathered that the team James supported wasn’t doing very well, but aside from that I had no clue what was going on, so I took it upon myself to order drinks for everyone at the bar.
I ordered five pints of bitter, and then I gestured towards Albus and said to the barman, “That kid works too hard and needs something that’ll knock him on his arse. Got any suggestions?”
I don’t know what the hell they put in that drink, but halfway through it, Albus looked more content than I’d seen him in about five years.
Great. It was bad enough, James trying to drag me there every other day to watch football – now I’d have to deal with both Potter boys being obsessed with the place.
I realized I’d have to keep an eye on Albus. Any situation involving drunk wizards in Muggle pubs generally didn’t end well. Statute of Secrecy? What Statute of Secrecy?
And I’d hauled James out of plenty of bars before, but Albus could be surprisingly worse whenever he set out to drink himself into oblivion. For the most part, he was regarded as the more mild-mannered Potter brother, but when that guy decided to cut loose for a night, he was a sight to behold.
Then again, we had a talented Obliviator at our disposal this particular day. So to hell with it – I felt perfectly at liberty to get pissed as well.
A couple of pints later, I posed an important question to the group at large.
“Does anyone know where I could go about finding boxers with little pink hearts all over them?”
Five pairs of eyes stared at me – some in amusement, others in confusion. A brief silence followed, and then –
“Well…can you be more specific?” Hugo asked.
“What? How much more specific do you need?”
“You know,” he said, “like…the kind that change colors?”
“Or the kind that flash and sparkle?” added Kartik.
“It really doesn’t matter,” slurred Albus, who was on what must have been his seventy-fifth drink already. “That new shop in Diagon Alley carries all of them.”
James looked at Albus as if he were trying to figure out how to prune him from the family tree. Finchy was off in his own little world.
“Oh, yeah!” Hugo exclaimed, nodding at Albus. “They do!” Kartik nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, go there,” the three of them said to me in unison.
James gave me a steady look. “If you buy the aforementioned pants, you are dead to me.”
Whatever. If I was going to lose this bet, I might as well do it in style. Raj Sweetheart Pants Banerjee would have nothing on me.
A/N: So, I created and named Finchy's character (including nickname) before I remembered that there's a character called Finchy in the BBC version of The Office. My character is not based on The Office character in any way (though, come to think of it, they probably do share a few personality traits). Anyhow, if you're curious (and you're probably not), Finchy is Justin Finch-Fletchley's kid - but that's just a bit of trivia for you, since he's not really important to the story.
Hope you enjoyed the chapter! I've been struggling through some writer's block, so it was quite an accomplishment for me to finally get this posted. Please tell me your thoughts in a review!
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