Chapter 9 : Snappers, Creepers, and Other Things That Go Bump In the Night
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“You know, Al,” I said on the phone later that day, “if you needed a date that badly, I’m sure I could have put in a good word for you.”
“But I’m a bit confused. You’ve never met Tabitha in your life - you never asked me a thing about her. Am I the only one who finds this weird?”
“Well, really, I‘ve heard everything I need to know from James, haven't I?”
“Yeah. One, she’s fit. And two, she irritates the hell out of him. Any girl James thinks is fit, is a friend of mine. And anybody who pisses him off so much is definitely a friend of mine.”
“You know what? You act like this totally normal bloke, but you’re actually quite twisted.”
Albus and Tibbs wasted no time setting up a date for the following night, and I spent all of Saturday morning and afternoon dreading the phone call I knew was coming - and it did. The one where Tibbs asked me to come over and help pick out clothes with her.
“Aw, Tibbs, can’t you ask one of your girlfriends?”
“Uh, you mean my next-door neighbor, my one friend besides you? Jenny’s not home right now. Come on, it won’t take long at all, and I’m meeting him in two hours, so I need to figure this out.”
“It takes you two hours - ”
“Fred, get over here!”
Defeated, I hung up the phone and looked at my two cats. Tonic was preening herself compulsively, and Ogden was lying on the windowsill twitching his tail.
“Does this happen to you, too?” I asked him, before stepping into the fireplace and Flooing to La Casa Tabitha.
Tibbs greeted me with two dresses almost the moment I arrived. “Which one?”
I raised my eyebrows at the outfits. “Hello, nice to see you, too, and why don’t you just wear jeans like a normal person?”
“Because we’re going to the Brass Cauldron.”
“What?? Wow. You know, it‘s kind of disgusting how much money that kid makes.”
She ignored me and held up the dresses. “So, which, then?”
I wasn’t a bloody fashion designer, but I didn’t see a way out of it, so I contemplated the two dresses dutifully. One was black, with big red splashes, and was quite short and low-cut. The other was bright blue and, frankly, looked deformed. Girls wore such weird things. However, that one was also decidedly more modest, even if it did look ridiculous.
“Blue,” I replied.
Tabitha rolled her eyes and tossed the blue dress onto the sofa.
Aha. I got it. This was one of those female mind tricks. She gave me the impression she actually wanted my opinion, when in fact there was a predetermined correct answer.
I had clearly failed to give the correct answer.
She dashed into her bedroom, still holding the black and red monstrosity.
“Oi!” I called after her. “You do know, don’t you, that boys expect things from girls when they buy them expensive dinners?”
“Good,” she replied from behind her closed door. “Do you know how long it’s been since I - ”
“La-la-la-la-la!” I covered my ears and squeezed my eyes shut. “Not listening to this! Not listening!”
Tibbs being on for a shag with my cousin is definitely at the top of my “Things That Are Really Not Cool” list. It ranks just below drunken snogging with a girl you later find out is a man. Not that I would know anything about this.
I helped myself to a drink and dropped onto the sofa because, for some reason, the process of a girl changing from one item of clothing to another always takes an inordinately long time. I should have brought along a copy of Great Expectations or some other, similarly light reading to pass the time.
Finally, Tibbs swept out of her bedroom and stopped to fluff up her deranged hair in front of an overlarge mirror hanging on the wall. As for me, I promptly spat beer all over myself and the floor.
“No way you’re wearing that,” I declared, not entirely sure it was decent of me to keep staring in such a manner. “Tibbs…you look like you’re asking for it!”
She spun around to face me.
Too. Much. Skin.
“Yeah, but confident and asking for it, right?” she clarified. “Not, like…pathetic and asking for it?”
Women put way too much thought into these things. I think most blokes would agree with me that “asking for it” is the operative phrase.
I jumped up and began making adjustments, consisting primarily of hiking up the neckline of her dress about five inches, all the while making sure to avoid unnecessary and totally creeper contact with skin.
“Why am I doing this, Fred?”
“Good question. Maybe you didn’t get it out of your system in your early twenties like all other responsible and well-balanced people do?”
Eyes rolled magnificently. “Not what I meant. I mean, why am I going out with a total stranger when I’m the most socially inept person on the planet?”
“You’ll be fine. Al has Zero Personality Disorder - he’ll be about ten times worse than you. All the kid does is work.”
“Hmm.” Tibbs chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment, before asking, “He’s not…like…you know…”
She did that thing where she made weird facial expressions to try to imply the rest of her completely vague question. Why do people do that? Are they sending Morse Code with their eyes or something? Where’s my Secret Weird-Face-Decoder Ring?
“Not what? Awkward?” I guessed. “Creeper? Serial killer? Yes, Tibbs, he’s the Snapper.”
Actually, maybe he was the Snapper. He had that normal bloke next door, would never have suspected him in a million years persona. I’ll bet he secretly collected stamps. Homicidal nutters always have weird hobbies like stamp-collecting.
She sighed. “No, you idiot. I mean, he’s not like…he’s not like his brother, is he?”
I stared at her for a moment before bursting out laughing. She just stood there with her hands on her hips, looking hacked off and indignant. They don’t like it when you laugh at them when they’re trying to be serious.
I pulled out my mobile and dialed James, putting the phone on speaker.
“I’ve got a question for you,” I said when he answered. “Tibbs would like to know if Al is anything like you.”
“Go to hell and die.”
“Excellent. Thank you.”
I hung up and glanced over at Tibbs, who now seemed fairly satisfied.
Then I remembered what she was wearing and what her objectives were for the evening.
I should have told her he was like James.
Every once in awhile, I’m reminded of how really boring my life is. Looking at it objectively - okay, yes, I have a really awesome radio show, completely unrivaled by anything in the history of the modern world - but what do I do otherwise? I come home to two cats. Tell me it isn’t weird for a twenty-seven year-old bloke to live alone with two cats. I should collect an additional one every five years, and eventually I’ll have as many as crazy Mrs. Bing who lived down the street from us when I was growing up.
My best friend is my cousin. And my other best friend…well, at this particular point in time, my other best friend was probably halfway to finding herself in a very compromising position with Best Friend #1’s little brother.
Potentially funny. Definitely disturbing. Feelings of nausea should subside in a few moments…
I take it back. My life is a soap opera. Explains why I spend all my time with Ogden and Tonic. Oh, and the cats, too, I suppose.
Per my usual habit, I called James to ask him to come over and be pathetic with me - but he didn’t answer his phone, and he wasn’t home when I Flooed him, either. Maybe he was watching football. Maybe he was balancing his chi and pondering the meaning of life. Maybe he was the Snapper. Whatever - the point was, he was someone else’s problem. He’d call me if he got bored or arrested.
I wonder what my devoted listeners would say if they knew I always fell back on the same two people every Saturday night. With James and Tibbs both occupied, what was I supposed to do? Hugo had a girlfriend. Ted had a kid. That was all well and good for them, but now it was affecting me. Being single and childless was supposed to be good for my social life, damn it.
Wait a minute. This was all Raj’s fault. That bastard.
I picked up the phone and dialed him.
“Oh, bugger,” I said cheerfully, “wrong person. Hang on.”
Without providing any further explanation, I hung up and dialed his wife.
“Michelle, my belle!” I used my most innocent-sounding voice. “Can Raj come out and play?”
“Well…Fred, it’s already nine o’clock…”
I was never going to let him live this down.
“But Mrs. Banerjeeeee,” I whined, “I promise I’ll have him home in one piece, and without a criminal record. And three o’clock at the latest. Maybe four, in case we have to save a busload of orphans or something.”
There was a very long pause and a terrible sense of foreboding.
I grinned. “Michelle, I owe you a very large bouquet of flowers.”
“So does Raj.”
With that, she handed the phone over to my production manager.
“Fred, you are a huge arsehole.”
“You‘re welcome,” I replied. “Leaky Cauldron in fifteen minutes. You owe your wife flowers, by the way. Make sure you remember to do it, or you may not live long enough to meet your firstborn child.”
A quarter of an hour later, we were situated in a prime location at the bar, Hannah fussing over us and inquiring after the expectant mother’s health and lamenting the absence of her favorite Potter boys.
“So,” said Raj finally, pulling a scrap of parchment out of his pocket, “I’ve got something that might interest you. I may or may not have happened to see the file containing Bollingsworth’s fundraising information lying around. And I may or may not have taken a look at who his top donors are.” He waved the parchment in front of my face demonstratively.
“Brilliant.” I snatched it out of his hand and stared at it. “So what does it tell us?”
“The fucking meaning of life, Fred.” He rolled his eyes and took a drink. “It doesn’t tell us anything, I just found it amusing. Look at who his third highest donor is.”
I looked at the third spot on the list: Draco & Astoria Malfoy.
I wrinkled my nose. “I never pictured him as much of a philanthropist.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll bet you wish now we had taken Scorpius on as a production assistant for the Waffle, don’t you?”
“No, I bleeding don’t. And you don’t, either. Twitchy little git, can you imagine having to work with him?”
Scorpius Malfoy was the most awkward, creepy, sickly-looking kid I’d ever met in my life. He had the IQ of pond scum and half the charisma, and he’d spent the better part of his last four years at Hogwarts trying to get in my cousin Rose’s knickers.
“Maybe he’s the Snapper,” I continued. “Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? And his dad’s feigning concern for the victims to throw the investigation off track.” I snickered.
Pint finished, Raj leaned back, looking pensive. “Actually, if the Snapper were smart, that’s exactly what he’d be doing.”
“I doubt he’s that smart. Although, under that theory, my Uncle Percy could be the Snapper,” I noted, seeing his name further down the list. “Almost makes more sense than Malfo - Oi! He’s donating to Bollingsworth and not to me!”
Raj’s mouth twisted into a smile. “I think Tabitha’s better off with your cousin, wouldn’t you agree?”
That wasn’t the point.
I drained the rest of my drink and waved Hannah over. “Hannah, when’s your break? Have a drink with us, you haven’t done that in ages - we’re starting to feel like you don’t like us anymore.”
“I’m sorry, Fred, I can’t.” She placed two more pints in front of us.
She just shrugged and smiled a bit in apology. I was satisfied and didn’t think anymore of it, but Raj leaned forward and stared at her as though he was trying to work out a puzzle. After another moment, he cracked a smile.
“Hannah, why not?” he repeated.
Hannah blushed. Raj grinned more widely.
What the hell was going on?
“Care to fill me in?” I looked at Raj. “Because you clearly know something I don’t.”
He just gave Hannah an expectant look.
Hannah sighed and leaned towards us, dropping her voice. “Oh, fine, just…don’t make a big deal about it, boys. I’m…well, I’m going to have a baby. Just found out not too long ago. Not many people know yet.” She beamed.
“Wow, Hannah!” Wow, Neville, was more like it. “That’s just…wow!” And it was a big deal because, as far as I knew, Neville and Hannah had given up trying for that a long time ago.
“Congratulations,” said Raj, raising his glass.
Raj had been able to figure that out based on a weird look? The guy had been married so long he was actually starting to become a woman. But there were more important things in order than making fun of Raj for his female intuition.
“Is Neville at school this weekend?” I asked. “We need to congratulate him, too - can we use the fireplace?” Neville still didn’t know one end of a telephone from the other, and anyway, phones weren’t used at Hogwarts. Besides, this was a conversation that needed to be held in person - mainly because the look on Neville’s face would be priceless.
“Well, alright, but don’t embarrass him, Fred, I know you far too well.” This admonishment was punctuated by a would-be stern look.
“Now, why would I do that?” Before Hannah could answer, I grabbed Raj by the sleeve and yanked him off his seat.
Of course I was going to embarrass him. And on Monday, I was going to make a fantastic announcement on the air.
We both dropped to our knees and stuck our heads in the fireplace, jostling each other in the process. Using the Floo network this way was uncomfortable enough without having to share the space.
“Neville!” I called as we looked out at his empty office.
Someone in the Leaky Cauldron wolf-whistled. Whose hand was that on my arse?
“Oi, Raj, how about some personal space? I like you, but not that much.”
“Funny, your mum liked it last night.”
I gave him a shove, and his head disappeared as he toppled over on the floor of the pub. I heard him coughing on ash and swearing for a moment before his head reappeared next to mine.
“Fred! Raj!” Neville appeared in the room and stared at us in shock, straightening his glasses. “What’s going on?”
I grinned. “You are my hero, that’s what’s going on.”
Neville was nonplussed.
“We just heard the news from Hannah,” Raj explained.
“Oh.” The professor’s round face turned pink and he gave us a sheepish smile.
“Well played, sir,” I continued with a knowing look. “Well played, indeed.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Fred.” He was now bright red in the face and looked like he had absolutely no idea what to do. It was too easy.
Raj stepped in and saved him. “Well, anyway, we just wanted to congratulate you.”
“Thank you.” Despite it all, Neville looked quite pleased.
Poor James. And poor Albus. Hannah wasn’t going to be running off to a tropical island with either of them anytime soon.
Tibbs wouldn’t tell me anything about her date with Albus. And Al wouldn’t tell James anything. So naturally, we ribbed her mercilessly on the air about it.
The real spotlight, though, was on James this week. The Quidditch Etcetera segment got twice as much air time, and James was in his element. To think, he had once considered turning this job down.
Girls were calling in all week to let us know how much they luuuurved James Potter. It was a nice boost for his ego, as he’d always had an inexplicable lack of confidence around women, even during his heyday as Puddlemere’s golden boy. And even though he refused to believe it, most of these girls didn’t give a damn that he was no longer capable of playing at a professional level. Now they adored him because he was all broken and wounded and - they hoped - an emotional wreck that one of them would be able to fix. To them, James was a smutty romance novel waiting to happen.
The Seeker and the Slag. It had a nice ring to it.
“Not that James needs any extra help,” I announced on the air that Tuesday, “because the ladies have been queuing up for a date with him since the first time he planted his arse on a broom at the age of three - but you all ought to know that the Stan Bollingsworth Show is technically winning at this point in time, so the Waffle needs your help, not to mention the Snapper victims. Of course, I have my own theories as to why Stan’s been so successful. Most likely, he’s promised everyone that if he wins, he’ll retire. I’d give him half my salary if that were the case.”
Bollocksworth himself was skulking around the station that morning. Who knows what the hell he was doing. Probably trying to assassinate me.
Socially inept - check. Sociopathic tendencies - check. Daddy didn’t hug him enough - check.
Or more aptly named, Terrifying Hairpiece Man. That hairpiece is the legendary thing that lives underneath children’s beds. It’s the thing that goes bump in the night. It’s the thing that steals your socks and underpants from the wash.
And for three weeks running, that hairpiece and the neckless idiot attached to it had been beating me and flaunting it in my face. But not that week.
No, that week, the most eligible former Quidditch pro in the entire United Kingdom brought in more donations than either Dex or Tibbs had (how the mighty are fallen, Dexter the Wonderpuff) - and every other show at the station.
The lucky girl’s name was Andy, which I thought was a rather cute nickname for a girl. I knew a girl in school who went by Andy. Maybe it was the same one. If so, I was duly envious of my cousin.
After I’d read the result, I asked Dex to get her on the line. James was grinning like an idiot - at least until she came on the air.
Because Andy, as it turned out, sounded suspiciously like a bloke.
Andy also happened to be short for Andrew.
And Andy emphatically informed me that he was James Potter’s biggest fan.
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