James was being stubborn. More stubborn than usual, anyway. For a member of our family, that was saying something.
“Not going to do it,” he repeated for the twentieth time. He crossed his arms and stared at his drink moodily. He was sulking.
Weasley blokes have patented the miserable sulking expression. I theorize that it dates back to well before the seventeenth century. But whether it was a conscious effort or simply a product of evolution meant to ensure our survival, I have not yet worked out.
It’s most often used on mothers and significant others. Outside of that group, it really doesn’t work. That’s the Achilles’ Heel of an otherwise brilliant tactical maneuver - it doesn’t have any real effect on someone who doesn’t simultaneously love you unconditionally and think you’re a pitiable idiot.
We’ve all done it, without exception. I’ve definitely done it to my mum, and so has my dad. Uncle Ron, Hugo, Louis, James…I’ve even caught Uncle Percy doing it, although he’s gone and worked out a brilliant way of doing it without actually appearing to. It’s very subtle. You have to give the man credit. Works on Aunt Audrey every single time, too, as she’s perhaps the one woman in the family who doesn’t have a heart of stone.
I think the only person I haven’t witnessed doing it, is Grandad - and I can only assume this is because his will was broken a long time ago. I know he must have tried, though. Went down fighting, and so forth.
James was fighting a losing battle and had now resorted to putting on a show to demonstrate his lack of amusement at the situation. I, however, was amused enough for the two of us.
He’d used every excuse he could think of to get out of fulfilling his part of the bargain and going out with Andy. Every excuse, by the way, included “It isn’t fair,” “I don’t feel well,” and “But he’s gay!” Once these masterful displays of logic failed to work, he resorted to pouting.
Somewhere in between these arguments, he called anyone who would listen to him complain. Apparently Albus laughed at him for five minutes straight and then hung up the phone, and Hugo told him to just get over it and take one for the team. Ted told him he’d always known James secretly liked blokes, so he may as well stop acting like he didn’t. James decided he wasn’t going to talk to Ted Sodding Fuckwit Lupin anymore - which was too bad for him, since I’d invited Ted S.F. Lupin to go out with us that day.
Kartik and Finchy also met up with us again, and we went back to James’ favorite Muggle pub so he could watch football. I reckoned it wasn’t the time to be denying James the small pleasures in life.
Tibbs declined to join us again. The situation involved both football and James, which meant it was slightly less desirable to her than being stabbed in the eye with a quill.
Ted S.F., Kartik, and Finchy were all more or less absorbed in the televised football match. James had spent the better part of the past hour in a strop worthy of my sister. It seemed off, somehow - like there was something going on aside from the latest Waffle developments.
Finally, James slammed down his third empty glass and said to me, while still looking at the table, “Seen this week’s Quidditch Weekly?”
Ted swore under his breath, and it sounded like it didn’t have anything to do with the football match.
I was about to reply that there was no reason for me to buy Quidditch Weekly when I got all my information free from James - but before I could say anything, James drew the magazine from his pocket and tossed it onto the table irritably.
“Muggles,” cautioned Finchy in a low voice, his eyes still glued to the television.
“Right.” James stuffed the magazine underneath the table and, I assumed, charmed it so that it would appear as some other publication to any Muggles who looked at it. Then he threw it down on the table again.
Plastered across the cover was the face of Jamie Hoskins, the guy who had taken over as Puddlemere Seeker after James destroyed his shoulder. Hoskins was a vacuous, talentless git, and way too arrogant considering that even on his best days he wasn’t as good as James had once been. And for some reason, some plonker at Quidditch Weekly had decided to run a feature on him.
“What’s the article about?” I asked.
“Dunno, do I?” muttered James. “Couldn’t pay me enough to read it.”
I knew this was a total lie. James had probably read it ten times over.
“Forget him, mate,” said Ted. “Besides, nobody’s going to know his name anymore after Lorcan gets a year of practice in.”
The one constructive thing James had done at the end of his Quidditch career was to make sure Puddlemere signed Lorcan Lovegood-Scamander to take his place in the reserves. Lorcan could have beaten Hoskins in his sleep, but they had to put him through a year of practice in the reserves before making him the active Seeker. James was already planning a massive party for when it finally happened.
James’ mobile rang, and he looked at it and handed it over to me. “Answer this, will you? It’s Lily. I’m going to the loo.”
Lily began jabbering away the second I flipped open the phone.
“OhmygodJames - oh, hi, Fred! - guess what, I’ve just seen Albus kissing that friend of yours, that American girl, Tabitha something-or-other - at least, I think it was her, anyway - her hair’s different, it looks fabulous, by the way, really suits the shape of her face - when did this happen, am I the last to find out? I’m always the last to find out - honestly, what sort of journalist does that make me? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things? I’m going to kill James, he usually tells me everything, innit! Oh, bugger, my editor’s calling me - stupid cow - tell James to call me later, yeah? Bye, Fred!”
This conversation (and I use the term loosely) all took place within the span of about three seconds.
And no, in this particular instance, Lily wasn’t the last to find out. I guess I finally knew what Tibbs had meant when I asked her how the date went and she said, “Fine.” (I wasn’t yet smart enough to work out the difference between good “fine” and bad “fine.”)
“What did she want?” asked James when he returned.
“Share some news.”
He stared at me.
“About a certain brother of yours snogging one Tabitha Benson.”
James raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything.
Ted tore his eyes from the football match. “That American bird? I thought he was seeing that girl Jo.”
James cracked a smile. “Vic needs to let you out more, mate. That was ages ago.”
Ted contemplated this fact. “Oh. Right. She was…the Healer?”
“Publicist. Lizzy was the Healer.”
“Oh, yeah. I always get them mixed up.”
“That’s because they’re both…you know…” James gave him a knowing look.
“Carrying a broomload of baggage?” I offered tactfully.
“I was going to say ‘crazy,’ but you were always the diplomatic one, Freddie.”
“Yessss!!” shouted Finchy along with the rest of the pub, which was suddenly in a splendid uproar.
"What?!" James’ eyes flew to the telly. “No! Sodding no!”
I couldn’t tell whether the match was over or not, but it was clearly not going well for James’ favored team.
James placed his face in both hands as Finchy punched him on the arm (the good arm), laughing manically.
James looked up again, grimacing. “Oh, shut the hell up, Finchy. You and your tosser team can kiss my arse, go to hell, and then repeat the process until I’m done with your mother - oh, what a fricking joke!”
I wish Quidditch matches were televised. Then we could act like this all the time. As an added bonus, I’d know what the hell was going on.
My cousin rallied from the devastating football loss quickly, however, and the next thing I knew he had moved onto the subject of just how royally he was going to kick Finchy’s arse at Zombie Slayer IV. Nothing like some Muggle sport and video games to take James’ mind off real life in the magical world.
Ted’s ears perked up. “What? Are we playing Zombie Slayer at Finchy’s?” He glanced, wide-eyed, at his watch. “Well, come on, I want to make sure I have a go, I’ve got about an hour before I have to be home…”
I wasn’t sure which was more pathetic: the fact that Ted had a curfew, or the fact that he was something of a video game prodigy despite having never played one until a few years ago. Victoire wouldn’t let him have his own console, so Ted’s relationship with anyone lucky enough to own such a Muggle novelty, was something like that of a drug addict with his dealer.
Really, though, Vic was missing out on an impressive side of her husband. The man could kill zombies like no one else. In his normal life he was Ted Lupin, husband and father, Ministry employee, average bloke with modest Quidditch talent (brilliant chess player, but that hardly earns points with the ladies and most normal people). But his secret persona was Special Agent Lupin, Zombie Slayer Master Level and Supreme Fucker-Up of the Undead, universally feared by all little pixilated monsters and creatures of the night. If the world were ever actually invaded by zombies, and you could kill them by pressing A-B-A-B-up-down-down-select-A-B-B-B, Ted would be humankind’s one salvation.
I called Tibbs as we left the pub and headed for Finchy’s. She didn’t answer, which was just as well, because I was a bit off my face by that point, and much more prone to saying stupid and inappropriate things. Not that Tibbs hasn’t heard it all before. And because I was off my face and prone to saying inappropriate things, the next thing I did was call Albus, because really, did I give two Dox whether Albus heard some of the rather profane things that came out of my mouth? Obviously, no.
But Al didn’t answer either, which led me to the conclusion that I had just witnessed an occurrence more rare than a total solar eclipse: Lily Potter had reported something accurately.
Lily’s observation was confirmed shortly thereafter by both Al and Tibbs, though true to both their natures as very private people, not much further information was shared. Tibbs seemed happy enough, but I had a rather hard time trying to figure out how that relationship functioned, if you didn’t count the fact that Al was naturally drawn to girls with all kinds of twisty emotional issues, and Tibbs had enough of those to keep him occupied for a long time.
I mean, Tibbs could have quite a dry, reserved demeanor at times, and Al had always been a bloke of very few words, so I could only surmise that any normal conversation between them took about five days to complete. The thought of so much dead air time made me want to impale myself on my own wand.
While that relationship progressed beyond any of our comprehension, James continued to drag his feet as far as Andy was concerned. He’d now come full circle back to feigning illness.
“James is just playing hard to get,” I explained on the air one day. “It’s a new and exciting concept for him, see. Usually he’s quite forward, just walks up to a girl and hands her two Galleons and says, ‘Let’s get on with it’ - ”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he cut in. “I’ve never paid that much in my life!”
Some days I really think Diggle is going to be waiting outside the sound booth for me, just waiting to put my head on a pike for something we’ve said on the air. If accusing James of being a trick wasn’t enough, Raj later pulled a rather entertaining stunt that brought some life back to the Snapper discussion after a two-week lull in Snapper news.
I was about to go into one of my diatribes about how unnecessary it was for the Ministry to employ an entire specialized force of Obliviators - because, surely, if we trust Hit Wizards and Aurors to hunt down and snuff out Dark wizards, one would hope they’d be competent enough to do their own damn Obliviating (I respect Hugo, but his job is a total racket) - when the screen in front of me flashed the message, Caller: Snapper.
“Oh, this’ll be a good one,” I said. “Let’s see what this nutter has to say.”
This nutter, as it turned out, sounded a lot like Raj impersonating his dad - and indeed, when I looked over at Raj’s booth, he was leaning back in his chair, facing away from me, holding his phone to his ear.
I knew I liked that guy for a reason.
“So, Snapper, wha - wait, wait a minute. Why do you sound Indian?”
“What? I’m not Indian. I’m Welsh.”
“That’s a bloody poor Welsh accent you’ve got there, Snapper.”
“Shut up, you East End spiv.”
That was hardly fair. I’d only lived in there for a year. And the East End was starting to become quite reputable.
And anyway, I was from Essex.
With some difficulty, as I now had the hilarious image of Raj’s dad calling me an East End spiv stuck in my mind, I pressed forward in my most professional interview demeanor.
“So, Snapper…first of all, I can’t very well keep calling you ‘Snapper,’ so how about you tell us your real name?”
“That’s…well, that’s not very interesting at all. I’m beginning to see why you had to turn to sociopathy for some excitement in your life.”
“I tried sheep first.”
Oh, good, we were past the obligatory sheep joke.
“And, ah, Reg, tell us a little more about yourself. What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a Ministry official."
"That actually explains a lot. And what d’you do for fun aside from torturing Muggles? And, you know, sheep.”
“In my leisure time I enjoy taxidermy and puppetry.” Only Raj could say such things while keeping total composure.
“Seems like you have some very diverse interests.”
“Actually, I’ve found that they go together quite nicely.”
James groaned and Dex let out an uncontrollable laugh.
“So how does one get into recreational taxidermy?” I asked.
“It started when I was about eleven. I was trying out some new spells on the cat, and, er…well, the cat snuffed it, and my mum said I wasn’t going to get another one so I had better just make use of the one I had.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Reg.”
“Oh, don’t be. It turned out very well. I can make him sing and dance now.”
“I take it you excelled at Care of Magical Creatures when you were at school.”
“I don’t think they really appreciated my innovative methods.”
“Genius like yours and mine often goes unappreciated, Reg. Unfortunately, we’ve got to go to the news now, but I hope you’ll call us back sometime and give us some more fascinating factoids about yourself. Stay out of trouble in the meantime. And now, ladies and gents, as Cristine and Miles have been very well-behaved lately, I’m taking a different tack and letting them out of their advert cage - so here are Cristine Vega and Miles McPherson with your mid-morning news.”
Cristine jumped in without missing a beat. “More than two weeks have passed with no further apparent activity by the elusive criminal now known throughout wizarding Britain as ‘the Snapper.’ There seems to be no pattern to the frequency or location of his attacks. Attacks in the past have occurred as close together as two days, and as far apart as one month, and have been scattered throughout England and Wales.
“The Ministry of Magic has kept a tight lid on information related to its ongoing investigation, but Head Auror Harry Potter was recently asked to comment on this latest period of Snapper inactivity, and the sporadic nature of the attacks. Potter was quoted saying, ‘Obviously he’s varying the timing and locations of his attacks to throw us off his trial. We don’t believe it’s coincidence, but rather an intentional strategy to reduce the risk of his being caught. We are of, course, actively analyzing all of the information available to us and pursuing all possible avenues.’ The Daily Prophet and other media outlets have criticized the Auror Department and the Ministry for what they say is essentially an acknowledgement that the Ministry is no closer to catching the Snapper than it was when the attacks started in July.”
I exchanged a look with James. Uncle Harry is a brilliant Auror, has great instincts and a successful track record. But his public speaking leaves something to be desired - and this recent quote wasn’t nearly the worst, especially because the words alone don’t quite convey the cornered-bunny-rabbit look that passes across his face whenever someone asks him to comment on something. The guy hates it when people pay him the remotest bit of attention. With the obscene amount of money he had, he should have just hired himself a PR assistant. Me, for example.
Cristine segued into the next bit of news: “St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries announced yesterday that it will welcome a team of Healers from Germany, led by Healer Johann Notarzt, to assist with the Snapper victims, many of whom remain in severe to critical condition. Notarzt specializes in severe and unliftable curses and hexes, and has conducted extensive research concerning magical injuries inflicted on Muggles.”
“In non-Snapper news,” continued Miles, taking over, “Magic To My Ears Music Shoppe recently announced that Chico McClane’s new album, Blue Moon, featuring the hit single ‘You Transformed Me,’ is completely sold out and is back-ordered through Christmas. In related news, researchers from the Department of Mysteries are conducting a study to determine exactly what kind of idiots are actually listening to Chico McClane and how we can legally stop them procreating.”
That second part wasn’t in the script, but I was never one to step on a person’s toes when they got the urge to improvise, and besides, if there was one thing worth the Unspeakables’ time and energy to explore, it was how people could actually bring themselves to pay money to listen to Chico McClane.
First of all, I’m pretty sure that name was completely made up. His real name was probably Marv Binkerson or something. He had no talent, but he wore sunglasses indoors and jackets two sizes too small, and he had a tragic personal story about being a werewolf and a voice that could strip unstrippable paint - so naturally, he was openly adored by females between the ages of four and twenty-two, and secretly adored by women of all other ages. Twelve year-old girls were known to run up to him in public and beg him to bite them, though many just contented themselves with rioting in the streets after his performances, smashing windows and running off with Muggle appliances and such.
“Fred, I think you wanted me to leave this last one for you,” added Miles after he’d completed the rest of the news.
“That’s right,” I said, “it’s Thursday, listeners, and that means it’s time for…Ministry Eejit of the Week!” My voice reverberated dramatically, courtesy of Tibbs and her skillful sound work. “Dirk Blavitt, Head of the Office of Floo Regulation, was arrested Tuesday, after a months-long investigation, on suspicion of embezzling upwards of two thousand Galleons. How did this daft eejit get himself caught? Did he hide the misappropriated money in his desk at work? Did he waltz into Gringotts and say, ‘Hullo, please place this stolen property in my vault’?
"No, to be a Ministry Eejit you have to be much stupider than that. He was doing just fine for himself, using his secret mistress to help him stash the ill-gotten gains - until recently, when he chucked her and she decided to turn his sorry arse in to the authorities. Note to Dirk and any aspiring Ministry officials out there: If you’re going to give your girlfriend enough evidence to send you to prison for a very long time, you might remember to send her flowers on her birthday and otherwise refrain from pissing her off. Dirk Blavitt, you are our Ministry Eejit of the Week!”
Someday, when the Ministry finally decides to implement a cohesive set of defamation laws, I may well be out of a job. Until then, their ignorance is my bliss.
A/N: Yes, I made up the slang term "Dox." Cookies for those who can figure out what HP-verse word/thing it's derived from. Reviews are more than I deserve with this pitiful updating schedule, but always appreciated. :-)
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