Chapter 12 : So a Seeker and a Radio Host Walk Into a Bar...
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The laughter I heard sounded oddly like Hugo’s, but that couldn’t be right…
As I started to lift my head - vision still somewhat obscured by all the smoke - I heard another sound. I suppose it was laughter, though it struck me as the sound a hippogriff might make while mating. I mean, I’ve never actually heard a hippogriff mating, and I think I could probably die happy without hearing such a thing, but if I were the sort of person who spent my free time speculating as to what a mating hippogriff might sound like, that would definitely be it.
The Hugo-like laughter drew closer, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure stumbling from my bedroom. I went for my wand and brandished it at him.
“Expelliarmus!” (Well, criminy. I guess I do use it.)
The spell had no effect, however, and I realized the intruder must be casting a Shield Charm - and maintaining it with no small amount of effort, considering his uncontrollable giggling.
“Hold your - hold your fire - you - pansy!” Hugo could hardly get the words out, he was laughing so hard.
The mating hippogriff, which was also apparently hiding in my bedroom, went on sounding like a mating hippogriff.
“You - !” I pulled myself up onto my feet, still shaking and damn near hyperventilating. “Goddamned son of a mothering piece of - holy hell!” I finally spit out after trying to get just one piece of profanity right.
This only made Hugo laugh harder.
Meanwhile, Albus, the Artist Formerly Known as Mating Hippogriff, hobbled out of my room, laughing and clutching a stitch in his side, and then promptly fell on the floor next to Hugo.
“Can’t breathe - ow - it hurts - so - god - damn - funny - ”
“Are you crying?” I demanded of Hugo.
He confirmed the answer by wiping tears from his eyes. “It’s just - so beautiful - ” He laughed so hard he snorted.
Laughing - really laughing - was the one thing Hugo couldn’t manage to do in a suave way. Oh, he had a fake laugh that sounded like quite a lot like smooth jazz, but his natural laugh was almost identical to Ron’s, snorting and all.
I thought Al was going to pop a lung. His face was positively purple by now.
I dropped onto my sofa. “I hate both of you. Don’t you have something useful you could be doing right now? Don’t you both have girlfriends?”
“Think - she’ll - understand,” managed Albus.
“Broke up,” panted Hugo. I think he might have been quite nonchalant about it if he weren’t still trying to control his laughter.
Hugo’s answer distracted me from the situation for a moment. “Broke up? With Elsa? When? And bleeding why?” If I were dating someone who looked like Hugo’s most recent girlfriend, I reckon it would take her murdering my mother to get me to break up with her. And even then…I mean, maybe my mum would understand…
“God - damned - idiot,” contributed Al, who clearly shared the same sentiments.
Hugo shrugged, now breathing more normally. “She was cramping my style.”
“‘Your style.’” I stared at him. “Your style, which consists, apparently, of sneaking into my flat on a Sunday night and setting off about five thousand Exploding Snap cards - making a royal sodding mess, by the way - I assume you’re going to be cleaning this up.” I kicked at the singed remnants of playing cards scattered all over the floor. “I don’t even want to know how long you’ve been waiting here for me to get home. Oh, yeah, mate, quite the exciting life you lead.” I rubbed my forehead as they burst into laughter again. “I really hope you’re going to do this to James, too. Or Ted or something.”
Hugo scoffed. “If you want to be the one to incur the wrath of Vic, then be my guest. We did think about doing it to James, though. But I reckoned maybe his evening was going to be bad enough without us stepping in.”
This prompted an eye roll from Al. “As you can imagine,” he said to me, “I really don’t care how bad his evening is already. Bloody crybaby. But just as well - we used up all the cards here anyway.”
“To magnificent effect!” declared Hugo.
“Yes.” I exhaled slowly. As it turned out - whatever I may have said in the past notwithstanding - Exploding Snap cards can be effing terrifying. “Well played, gentlemen.”
Then I shook their hands, because I firmly believe in giving credit where credit is due.
The following morning at the station, Tibbs expressly denied any knowledge of the assault on my flat by the forces of bored maleness. She did, however, find it extremely funny.
“You see what juvenile shenanigans you’re dealing with, dating a younger man?” I joked.
“Well, please, Fred,” she quipped, picking up the Prophet, “what do you think I’m dating him for, his mind?”
Raj nearly spit out his coffee.
“I’m going to tell my poor, naïve cousin you only see him as a sex object.”
“Your cousin is a lot of things, my friend, but naïve he ain’t.”
“I don’t think I can continue this conversation without becoming physically ill.”
Raj, having recovered, asked Cristine, “How was your date, by the way? As successful as Tibbs’, one can only hope.”
“Ugh, no. Take every single neurosis you’ve ever encountered in your life, put them all together, and you still won’t be close to understanding what I had to deal with. What the hell kind of people are listening to this show, anyway?” She glared at me like this was all my fault.
“Let’s be fair,” I said. “A lot of cool people listen to this show. They’re just young and broke, like us.”
Just then, James appeared in the fireplace, looking disturbingly cheerful for a Monday morning - and, well, for James in general. “Morning! What have I missed?”
We all fell silent and stared at him. It was, as you might expect, very subtle.
James raised his eyebrows. “What?”
“Uh…” Raj raised his coffee cup in greeting. “How was the magical evening with Andy?”
Whatever I was expecting James’ face to look like at that moment - irritated, embarrassed, suicidal, whatever - I was sorely mistaken. He positively lit up.
“Oh, it was excellent! He’s just a really cool bloke. Fascinating thoughts about Quidditch. And he likes football. Might have to invite him out with us next time.” James poured himself a cup of coffee, either oblivious to the look we were all giving him, or else doing a very good job ignoring it.
“Wow,” I said. “Quidditch and football. You must be in love, eh?”
Dex and Miles snickered.
“It’s not like that, you morons.” James finally blushed appropriately. “He’s just a really cool guy, completely normal, and aside from, you know, that fact that I don’t fancy blokes, we have a lot in common.”
“Yeah?” I asked. “And exactly how much of your conversation with this really cool, completely normal guy involved James Potter worship?”
“About fifty percent,” he responded automatically, trying to suppress a look of satisfaction.
“Well, that explains a hundred percent of what you have in common, then.”
Did it irk me that I’d spent most of my waking time over the past year trying to pull James out of this perpetual state of depression he’d fallen into, and now the attention from some random bloke with a man-crush on him had apparently made him happier than he’d been in a long time? Yeah, a bit. I’d only been his friend for, what, nearly twenty-six years? But on principle, I supported anything that made James happy, so I was determined to get over it. Besides, I wasn’t going to be that guy who gets jealous when his friend gets a new friend - especially since I knew that was at least part of the reason James didn’t like Tibbs, and I thought it was stupid of him.
James was in such a good mood he was actually able to get within five meters of Tibbs without making some kind of backhanded comment about her general existence (that certainly wasn’t going to last, no matter how much Andy fawned over him).
As everyone got situated to begin the show, James hung back and tapped Tibbs on the arm. She stiffened and deliberately avoided looking at him, but when he whispered something and handed something to her, she burst out laughing. For a moment, they almost looked like two completely normal people who, in some alternate universe, might be able to get over themselves and be friends, thereby making my life a lot easier.
But naturally, nothing in my life can be that normal.
“Do any of you people own a watch?” barked Raj, tapping his foot impatiently at the entrance to the sound booth.
“What’d you give Tibbs?” I asked James as I refilled my coffee. The Great Exploding Snap Incident had actually caused me to lose a good amount of sleep.
“I’m aging over here, guys,” complained Raj.
What James had handed to Tibbs turned out to be an audio recording, kindly provided to him by his brother, of my reaction to the events of the previous evening. Tibbs had to bleep out a lot of it, but you still got the general idea, owing to the yelling and the sheer amount of bleeping necessary. I think Tibbs played it about fifty times over the course of the show on Monday alone. It was a valuable new component of her sound arsenal. And if I may be so bold, it was quite a performance by yours truly.
“I ask you,” I said one day on the air after Tibbs had replayed the audio, “who would not want to spend a few hours alone with that charisma? And please keep in mind, friends, that if I don’t bring in as much this week as James or Dex, I’ll be the poor sod flying through Diagon Alley in my boxers. Have a heart, ladies.”
No, I was not above soliciting pity.
“Have you considered, Fred, that this might be creating incentive for people not to bid on you?” offered Raj. “I’m sure a number of people would love to see you in your shorts.”
“We’ll address your sick fascination with me later, Raj. And anyway, nobody wants to see that until I’ve lost a stone or two.”
Dex snickered. “Think you’ve just eliminated the possibility that anyone wants to pay money to go out with you.”
“Well, dammit. I’ve still got a devilishly handsome face. And do remember why we’re doing this in the first place: lots of Snapper victims need your help, and it’s Christmastime. And if nothing else, please donate on behalf of the Waffle or else you’ll be stuck listening to the bombastic babblings of Bollingsworth for a week instead of my sweet baritone voice. I refer you to Exhibit One.”
Right on cue, Tibbs played the sound of me being attacked by Exploding Snap, and we all started cracking up again. It was not going to get old for a long, long time.
Inquiring minds want to know, so I’ll get right to it: No, I did not bring in anything close to what James or Dex did. (Whose bloody show is this again, anyway?) I considered it a success that the person who did win a date with me wasn’t my grandmother. I seriously wouldn’t have put it past her.
Hugo called me on Friday afternoon asking me to bring James and meet him that night at a new bar called Hex. He said he had a surprise. Recent events had taught me not to trust anything involving Hugo and surprises, but good sense often yields to alcoholic beverages.
I’d been to Hex once before, and I wasn’t sure whether I liked it. It couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be a dingy bar or an edgy, grunge-influenced club. Theoretically, it was one by day and the other by night. In practice, however, it was just a weird place with a dodgy feel about it, and probably would have harbored a flourishing drug trade if it hadn’t been owned by a former Hit Wizard. They poured a damn good drink though.
Tibbs decided to tag along while she waited for Al to finish up at work. “I thought we decided we didn’t like this place?” she said as she joined James and me. The club music hadn’t started yet, so at least we could still talk normally.
“I know,” I replied. “Hugo likes it, apparently.” Which was weird, because Hugo usually had pretty good taste.
Just then a very attractive waitress in a punk schoolgirl outfit appeared and took our drink orders. James stared at her as she disappeared again. “I think I get why Hugo likes it.”
Our drinks appeared on our table within about ten seconds. That was the other thing about this place - service was prompt.
“Cheers,” said Tibbs, holding out her glass. I clinked mine against it, and James had the good manners to follow suit, though he then became quite interested in the process of slowly peeling the label off his beer bottle.
Tibbs spotted another waitress walking by wearing a Santa hat. “Is it really almost Christmas?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, it really sneaks up on you,” I said. Unless you’re my grandmother and you start decorating about three months early. “Like two weeks left now.”
“Good lord. Did I tell you my dad wanted me to come home for Christmas?”
“Why don’t you? You didn’t last year, did you?”
She shrugged. “No, but… who likes traveling over the holidays? Maybe I’ll visit next month or something. Besides, he isn’t lonely or anything - he’s got Nancy.”
Maybe it was something in the way Tibbs said Nancy’s name that alerted James to the fact that this was something he could antagonize her about - or maybe he was actually trying to be personable but was just really dense. I’d like to think it was the latter.
“Who’s Nancy again?” he asked. “Your stepmum?”
“My dad’s second wife, yes,” responded Tibbs shortly.
James raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, so doesn’t that make her your - ”
I kicked him in the shin. “Ix-nay on the epmum-stay, brother.”
James went back to sulking until Al came to fetch Tibbs. We convinced Al to stay for a round before he and Tibbs left, and because James was currently on good terms with his brother, his behavior was tolerable. Al did, of course, have to take a few cheap shots at James about his new friend Andy, to which James replied with obligatory comments along the lines of, “Well, I can still kick your arse blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back, and so could Andy, by the way.” All in all, I’d say we were having a good time. I liked it when my friends decided to act like normal human beings.
Tibbs even caught James seriously off-guard when she hugged him goodbye after hugging me. Whatever he thought about her, Tibbs was a nice girl who really wanted people to like her. I mean, she cared a little too much about whether people liked her. And her own attitude problems with James aside, I think she really wished he had warmed to her.
It had become nearly impossible for me to remember which one of them had actually instigated this whole mess, and I don’t think they remembered, either. And frankly, in my opinion, when it reaches that point it’s time to put the entire thing aside, shake hands, and have a celebratory drink. If it involves two blokes, then I think arm-wrestling is usually involved somewhere in this process. We can modify the procedures in this scenario, what with Tibbs being female and all.
James was silent for a moment after Al and Tibbs departed. “Do you think he’s doing this on purpose?” he asked at last.
“Dare I ask what in the everloving hell you’re talking about?”
“Well, my brother. Dating her. Like, just to piss me off.”
“Yes, James. I believe your brother is spending his money and almost nonexistent free time taking out a specific girl you dislike in an elaborate yet farfetched attempt to make you lose sleep at night. You sodding moron.”
He shrugged. “I’m just saying.”
“James, do I look stupid to you?”
“Is this rhetorical, or do you actually want an answer?”
“Stop trying to make this about your brother. A year ago you were trying to rip each other’s heads off whenever you got within a mile of each other, and now you’re finally getting on. So do everyone a favor and quit trying to invent reasons to get into it with him, and let’s look at this for what it is. You don’t like her because she doesn’t feel sorry for you and thinks you need to get over it." I meant Quidditch, and I wasn't being cryptic; James knew exactly what I was talking about. "I mean, I’m sure there are other reasons, and you know my opinion on all of them, but that’s basically it.”
“Well, then, A, she’s a bloody hypocrite, and B, she’s perfect for my brother because that’s exactly what he thinks. So it is about my brother.”
“Flawless logic, mate. You know, for someone who says he doesn’t care what other people think, you spend a hell of a lot of time talking about it.”
“You always take her side,” he said irritably, now trying to catch the waitress’s attention to get another drink.
“Are we five years old? Stop being a jackass. It is Friday night, and as soon as Hugo cares to get his arse and his perfect bloody cheekbones over here, we can hopefully get this party started.”
And get this party started, we did, for moments later I spotted Hugo entering the bar with someone I had not been expecting to see. Surprise, indeed.
“Hey!” I called out. “There’s a pretty girl if I ever saw one!”
James peered around and grinned, bad mood all but forgotten when he saw who I saw. “Urgh! Ginger girls!” He stuck his finger in his mouth and made gagging noises, drawing a dirty look from a cute redhead nearby.
Rose pushed her way through the crowd, Hugo ambling along behind her, and gave us each a vicious hug.
“I didn’t even know you were coming home!” I exclaimed.
“Mum and Dad begged her to.” Hugo tried to look put out about it, but he actually seemed very happy about the whole thing.
“Well, I didn’t think I was going to come home for Christmas - I thought about going to Brazil - but I just thought, I hadn’t been here in awhile - ”
“ - which means Dad bribed her with enough gold to last her sorry, unemployed arse through all of next year.”
Rose was smart and very talented but had never really had a profession, unless you counted traveling around the world and meditating on mountaintops. I believe there was also a fair amount of partying involved. She liked to call herself a free spirit. The rest of us called her a bleeding hippie.
But she’d already seen more places in the world than I was ever going to see in my life, and somewhere in between all the revelry and personal spiritual development she’d managed to help feed a lot of orphans in various third world countries, and for that you had to respect her. Rose had her mother’s sense of social justice, her father’s blunt realism and flair for profanity, and the same charisma as her brother. I was happy to call her family, and only disappointed that we didn’t get to see her more often.
I was about to order a round when Hugo stopped me. “We actually have to move this reunion to the Leaky Cauldron.”
“Well, Molly’s supposed to meet us - she doesn’t know about Rose either - but she just told me she can’t come here, she’s got history with the bartender, apparently.”
Rose stood on tiptoe to catch a look at the bloke behind the bar. “Oh, God, so do I.” She shielded her face with one hand. “Let’s go.”
Hannah Longbottom made a great deal of fuss over Rose when we arrived at the Leaky, and while Rose launched into a story about her recent trip to Cairo, I was forced to step away and make conversation with an old friend of my dad’s whose name I could never remember, until I was saved by Molly’s appearance.
“Oi, Fred!” Molly had just entered the pub from the Diagon Alley entrance. “Seen Hugo around here? He told me I had to meet him, wouldn’t give me a bleeding explanation why, and I’ve got to - Oh my God, what are you doing here?”
Molly had spotted Rose. Her jaw dropped, her eyes filled with stars and tears and puppies, and they bounded towards one another in slow motion, meeting with a gigantic hug and a great deal of squealing that eventually reached a pitch only thestrals can hear. The conversation taking place was something along the lines of, “I love you!” “I love you!” “I love you more!” “I love you so effing much!” “I love you so much I can’t think of anything more original to say because I have been blinded by sheer love!” “Did I tell you how much I sodding love you?!”
Every person in the bar was staring at them, but they didn’t care or even notice, consumed as they were by - you guessed it - love.
Have I mentioned that Rose and Molly have been best friends since they were born? They’re like James and me, only with longer hair, more squealing, and more overt declarations of affection in place of punching each other in the arm.
Molly squeezed her oldest and best friend even tighter. “Tell me everything! Where have you been? God, I want your life. I hate you. I hate you so much I love you!”
I really try to understand women. I mean, I really try. Sometimes it just isn’t bloody possible.
When they broke apart, Rose grabbed Molly’s hand and pulled her towards the bar. “I’ll get to that, I’ll tell you everything! How the hell are you?”
“Ugh.” Molly waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t even get me started, my dad’s being insufferable, as always, of course, do you know what I’ve had to deal with all week…”
Nearly every sentiment out of Molly’s mouth began with “My dad’s being insufferable.” She was somewhat lacking in credibility now that she no longer lived in her parents’ house. And even before that, it was bit overdramatic.
What parent doesn’t heap unreasonable expectations on their children? I’m sure it was a bit of a letdown for Uncle Ron when Rose didn’t turn out a chess prodigy. Raj’s mum reportedly cried when he married Michelle, the complete antithesis of a nice Indian girl. Even my dad - most kids would have loved to have him as a parent, but he never could understand my academic focus (or obsession, as he called it).
Point is, Molly only felt entitled to complain about Uncle Percy so much because he was an easy target. Ministry Department Head, generally stodgy bloke… people automatically felt sympathy for Molly and Lucy. Never mind that Aunt Audrey was as soft and fluffy as a pygmy puff; Molly could always manage to trace the source of any problem back to her dad being a jerk.
“Hey, Molly, why didn’t you join us last night?” “Ugh, my dad’s being insufferable.”
“Hey, Molly, what’s with your hair today?” “My dad’s being insufferable.”
“Hey, Molly, if a train leaves Sussex heading east at 200 miles per hour, and a paper airplane leaves Shanghai heading west at 500 miles per hour - ” “My dad is insufferable.”
I would like to point out, however, that her dad was never “insufferable” when she was on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team and he was buying her top-of-the-line brooms whenever new models came out. Funny how that works.
Time passes far too quickly when you have a lot to talk about - as you invariably do when you haven’t seen someone in a year - and endless free drinks. I think we’d have stayed there until the entire place shut down, except James, bless him, was being James.
He had taken hold of Hannah’s hand and was reminding her of all the reasons he’d come up with in support of her ditching Neville and running off with him.
“…and I know I don’t have a Lanky accent, but I could get one if it would make you love me more…”
The accent he was currently speaking in - Drunken Idiot - is the most widespread accent in the world.
Hannah gave an amused sigh and took what was left of his drink. “You’re done for tonight, James.”
“Yes - no - yes… I’m glad you finally see reason… And Neville can…bugger off…and go plant something…”
I took hold of James’ arm and started to ease him off his chair. “Think it’s time to put you to bed, mate.”
“I want Hannah to put me to bed.”
Holding James steady, I said to the other three, “Top night, guys. Now I’m going to get this walking biohazard home.” I hugged the girls and said to Rose, “Be honest, how much do you miss this insanity when you’re gone?”
She laughed, giving James an affectionate pat on the cheek. “More than I can tell you.” And she was one hundred percent sincere.
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