As Fran walked into Black Books one day, she almost bumped into a woman with long, red hair and a hung-over squint.
"Good morning, Marsha," Fran said as cheerily and loudly as she could.
Marsha, clutching a handful of books with one hand and a bag full of what sounded like empty wine bottles with the other, winced at the sound of Fran's voice. "Piss off," she muttered around the cigarette dangling from her lip, and headed off down the street.
Fran frowned. "Bernard, what on earth are you thinking?"
Bernard, head down on his desk, jumped to his feet at her accusatory tone. "Nothing! It was Manny." He paused. "What are you talking about?"
"I can't believe you did it again. Poor Marsha."
"Marsha. The woman who just left the shop." Fran sat down.
"Friend of yours?"
"No, Bernard, she's a friend of yours."
"Yes. About once a year--"
"More like twice, actually," Manny called out from the kitchen.
"Twice a year or so, on her way home from the wineshop down the street, she decides to buy a book for her daughter for her birthday or Christmas or to apologize for their latest row. You sell her whatever book happens to be on the desk at the moment, and it's always something completely inappropriate for a teenage girl."
Manny brought out a plate of toast and set it down in front of Bernard. "Fran's right, you know. Last time you sold her a complete set of Dostoyevsky."
Bernard snatched a piece of toast. "It's her fault for coming in so early. I'm not awake at this hour."
"She came in last night, actually," Manny said.
"She did," Fran said. "That's the other thing you do every time. You drink up all the wine she's just bought, and the two of you get so blotto you pass out and don't even remember meeting each other the next time she comes in."
"So you say. So what did I sell this Martha--"
"Marsha, then, that was so terrible?"
"Let's see," Manny said, checking the ledger, "Moby Dick..."
Bernard shrugged. "Melville's good for a young person. Builds character."
"And another Dostoyevsky set. In the original Russian."
"Children should learn foreign languages. I'm sure Martha--Marsha, whatever, doesn't want her son--"
"Daughter," Manny said.
"Daughter, then, to grow up ignorant. I did the woman a favor."
"Fran has a point, Bernard. You could have sold her something the girl might actually want to read. Like Harry Potter."
"Harry Potter. It's only the biggest-selling children's book series of the decade."
Bernard scoffed. "Children's books. We don't have children's books. Do you know what you get if you have children's books? Children. I hate children. They're so immature."
"Of course we have children's books. There's a whole shelf of them right here."
"I have never seen that shelf before in my life. You put it there just now."
"Then what's this?" Manny held up a book.
"Nibbly Pig is not a children's book. It's a morality tale about the horrors of rural living that just happens to have pictures. We don't have children's books!"
Manny put the book down. "What about the children's book week we do every year? You make me wear the bookworm costume."
"Doesn't ring a bell, sorry."
Fran rolled her eyes. "Fine, Bernard, fine. You don't have children's books, and you definitely don't…" she walked to the shelf, studied it for a moment, and pulled out a book, "have the entire Harry Potter series right here on the shelf. If you did, you might actually sell them to someone, and that would be terrible, now wouldn't it?" She dropped the book onto the desk. "Now, Manny, let's go to the pub and leave him here in his completely children's-book-less shop, okay?"
"All right," Manny said, "let's."
"Bring me back something!" Bernard shouted as they walked out of the shop. He prodded the book Fran had dropped on his desk. "Philosopher's Stone, eh? Hmph."
When Manny returned, Bernard, his nose in a book, announced, "Manny, you don't need an entire room all to yourself, it's a waste of space. I'll build you a cupboard under the stairs."
"Ha! You're reading it!"
"Of course I'm not. This is proper literature, see?" Bernard held up the book, which did indeed say The Aeneid on the dust jacket.
"What's that, then?" Manny pointed to the floor, where a dust jacket that read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was being carried off by some kind of small creature.
"Don't know, don't care. Get me a drink."
The next morning, Fran came in to find Bernard red-eyed, awake, and sitting at the desk with his nose in a book. "Good morning, Bernard, you're up early."
"Late, actually," Bernard said without looking up from his book. "I don't know what he sees in that boring Cho Chang when Hermione's right there in front of him."
Fran raised her eyebrows and nodded. "I'll go talk to Manny, then. Is he in the kitchen?"
Bernard didn't respond.
"I'll just go check," she said, and edged past him into the kitchen, where Manny was indeed standing over the toaster.
"Good morning, Manny. He's reading Harry Potter, isn't he?"
Manny nodded. "And he's only on the first stage. I've identified three distinct stages of Harry Potter. It will only get worse."
Fran shook her head. "It's so easy sometimes. So should we rake him over the coals now or later?" She paused, then raised her arms in triumph. "Ooh! I say we wait. We can get him theme gifts for his next birthday!"
They heard a cry from the next room and dashed in to see what was going on. Bernard had his head down on the desk and was sobbing.
Fran stifled a grin and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right, Bernard?"
He lifted his head and wailed, "They killed Cedric!"
Fran covered her mouth. "Who's that?"
"I don't even know! But he's dead and it's sad!"
"Entering stage two," Manny said, in an exaggerated whisper.
"There, there. We'll just go out and get you something to eat." Fran jerked her head towards the front door of the shop. She managed not to laugh until she and Manny were safely outside.
When he returned several hours later, Manny ducked just in time as a book flew past his head. "Killed by bloody drapery! Ridiculous!" Bernard raged. Manny tiptoed backward towards the door and slipped out. Best to come back once Bernard had either fallen asleep or started the sixth book.
The next day, things got worse.
"Dobby! Dobby, bring me another bottle of wine. Curse you, what's taking so long?" Bernard shouted.
Manny stuck his head out from behind a bookshelf. "Are you talking to me, Bernard?"
"Of course I am, I've been calling your name, haven't I?"
"And don't forget the corkscrew. Am I supposed to wave a magic wand and take the cork out myself?" Bernard paused and appeared to consider the idea for a moment. "No. That would be silly. Now bring me another bottle and the corkscrew or I'll knock you out of your socks!"
"Right. Okay." Manny did as he was asked, then headed for the pub. On the way, he rang Fran. "He's in the third stage. It's not pretty. I don't think we should see him until it's over. I'll be at the pub."
They waited until nightfall to go to the shop. Fran entered first, Manny cowering behind her. "Bernard? Are you finished yet?"
From the couch, Bernard muttered sleepily, "Only sensible person in the entire thing and they killed him, too. And all that camping made me itch. Bah."
"Yes, Bernard," Fran said with an exaggerated nod. "There's lots of camping in The Aeneid, I remember that from school."
Bernard's only response was a snore. Fran shook her head. Manny pulled a blanket over Bernard and left him to sleep. "We should be safe now," he said.
When Bernard woke up sometime the next day, a girl of perhaps twelve or thirteen was standing near the shelves with a book in her hands. Bernard jerked his head at her. "Hey there, little girl. What's that you've got there? Is it good? Give it here." He held out his hand. "Come on, hand it over." The girl looked at his unkempt state and hesitantly handed him the book. "Now get out of my shop!" he roared. She fled, and he sat down at the desk. "Twilight, eh?" he said. He slipped the dust jacket off and dropped it under the desk, then opened the book.