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Chapter 15: January 26th and 27th.
My annoyance at being woken up by the delivery of a letter was quickly outdone by the horror of receiving a letter from my mother saying ‘why didn’t you tell me you were dating James Potter?’ with a copy of Witch Weekly enclosed for that extra dash of joy.
It was a double page spread. Apparently, the nation has so little gossip to thrive upon they’d invented a so called relationship between me and James Potter. And had gone through the effort of acquiring photographic evidence.
The first was the photo that had appeared in the Prophet months ago, a bottle of morning potion sickness potion jauntily in my hand and a horribly unimpressed expression on my face. Better than the second, third and forth, perhaps, all of which depicted me at the wedding – the worst of which had a moving version of James trying to kiss my cheek over and over, as I turned my face away and sent him a glare. Then there were another four photos of James and I talking at his birthday party (as in, when James had me backed into a corner and was talking very much in my face).
“Holy shit,” I muttered, unable to make sense of the actual words printed across the double page due to my hangover but fully able to comprehend the fact that there were enough pictures which depicted moments when James decided to be excessively close to me – an arm around my waist, another attempted kiss and me, always trying to move a little further away.
I was so screwed.
“James,” I muttered down the phone, “I think you should come over here.”
“I thought I was supposed to ring and apologise or something?” James muttered sleepily – it was quite clear that he was still in bed and that the horrible being-awoken-by-something-loud-and-obnoxious-thing had happened to both of this morning, with me being the loud and obnoxious thing this time (a good thing too, I’d be awfully confused if James had been woken up by my mother).
“You’ll need to grovel later,” I said, “but we have a bigger problem right now.”
“If you’re pregnant, it really wasn’t me.”
“Don’t be such a shit, James. Do you get like... publicity stuff being sent to your house?”
“If it’s embarrassing, the fam has a competition to see how quickly they can send it to me. First one to send a copy gets teasing rights.”
“Expect owls,” I muttered darkly, “knowing the Weasley’s – expect a whole zoo load of owls.”
“Owls don’t live in zoos. Mostly they live in the wild or like those bird places where they have falcons and,” James yawned loudly down the receiver, “blue tits.”
“Stop thinking about bloody tits, blue or otherwise.”
“Stop talking sexy down the phone to me then.”
“Merlin, James, when are you going to take this seriously? There is a rather sizeable news article about you in Witch Weekly – do you not care?”
“No,” James said, “can I go back to sleep now? If you really want to see me, you could just come over? No need to make some bullshit up about Witch Weekly and...” James went silent for a moment before the rather muffled similar to the owl post in the morning at Hogwarts could be heard through the line – completed only by James angrily swearing at several birds and throwing the phone against very loud heavy things. Given that I was significantly hungover and he was too, I didn’t think this was helping anyone involved.
“Oh,” James said after the noise had died down and all that was to be heard was his slightly panicked breathing, a few owls dully hooting and the sound of Witch Weekly being opened at page three, “well your boyfriend is going to kill you.”
“Right,” James muttered, collapsing onto my sofa and staring at the ceiling, “so... what do you want me to do?”
“Fix it.” I said, throwing the newspaper in his direction and continuing to face my flat with a frown.
“Grace,” James complained, pressing his fingers against his forehead and looking distinctly pale – I had little sympathy due to the fact that we were both battling with hangovers. Maybe James, who’d drank an obscene amount of alcohol, had it worse than me but I’d never claimed to be nice, “I can’t ring up Witch Weekly and make them retract all the magazines. Everyone’s already read it.”
“Precisely,” I muttered, forcing James to take over less of the sofa and sitting down next time, “Oh, God.”
“Grace, it’s not going to be that bad.”
“It’s okay for you,” I said angrily, “sure, your cousins are going to give you some stick but, God James, and you’re just going to get a slap on the back for screwing someone else. And me, shit, could I get more of joke? Hogwarts, disappearing for nine years, coming back and then these bloody pictures!”
“Grace, I know,” James muttered, shuffling around on the sofa slightly until my head fell on his shoulder, “I’ll talk to my agent later today. No doubt she’s already arrived at my apartment and what not.”
“Right,” I said, grabbing hold of the magazine and flicking it open to the dreaded page all over again. This time, my eyes focused enough for me to be able to read the first part of the article. On the day of James Potter’s thirtieth birthday, it has come to light that our favourite bachelor has set his sights on settling down. The lucky girl, fellow ex-classmate Grace Whitehall, appears to be reluctant to succumb to his charms (at least, in public). “Shit,” I muttered, “James it’s your birthday. I’m sorry, happy thirtieth.”
“Its fine,” James said, “let’s pretend it’s not happening. I don’t want to be thirty.”
“I don’t want to be twenty eight.”
“Quit whining, you’re still young and beautiful.”
“You’re so hungover.”
“Probably still drunk,” James muttered, “Jesus, I’ll do an interview with the Prophet and tell them that the photos are an optical illusion.”
“Well that’s not going to go down well,” I said, smiling slightly, “considering I’d be the one interviewing you. Do you want breakfast?”
“Yeah,” James said, “more than anything, I want bacon.”
“I’m not sure I have bacon,” I admitted, pulling myself off the sofa and shuffling towards my kitchen (trying not to move my head to much for fear of needing to vomit) and kicking the cupboard draw open, “nope...” I continued upon opening the fridge, “no bacon.”
“What are my options?” James muttered, now with a pillow over his face and lying across the entirety of my sofa. It was pretty strange to think that just yesterday I’d enthusiastically made out with James on that same sofa. I suspected that James’s mild concussion was actually the best possible outcome for that string of events – nothing good could possibly ever come out of confirming anything Witch Weekly said, particularly as this was going to be more than a little difficult to explain to Max...
“I’ve got about three cans of dented soup,” I suggested, “two carrots, a piece of ham... and a questionable chicken leg.”
“Oh, you do spoil me.” James muttered.
“Do you want to walk to the shop?” I suggested, “Get some birthday bacon?”
“Yeah, all right,” James said, throwing the sofa and pulling himself to his feet, “anyway, after last night, I think you’re out of milk.”
The crisp January air and the prospect of food made both James and I feel slightly better, meaning by the time we were re-climbing the stairs up to my flat we were both much more cheerful. I felt more comfortable when things were going wrong rather than when things were going right, mostly because I felt more like myself when I was continually screwing things up and generally being rubbish. So, actually, having this article in Witch Weekly actually made me feel slightly less on edge – because I didn’t have to wait for the next thing to go wrong, we were already there.
“How was the rest of the party?” I asked as we reached the third flight of stairs. “Did Amy Carter throw herself on you?”
“Something like that,” James said with a grin, “who was it that passed out? That girl who used to be your friend but was secretly, like, telling everyone your secrets...”
“She was there?”
“Oh yeah,” James grinned. “She was trying to avoid you – scared shitless, I imagine. After Heddy, God, she was a mess.”
“Let’s not talk about that,” I muttered, “let’s talk about bacon!”
“The candles were unnecessary,” James grinned, “although I can’t wait to see what happens when you try and light them.”
“Hey,” I said, “everything that can go wrong has gone wrong today, so...” I fumbled around in my pocket for my keys, detracting them from my pocket and trying to get them in the lock and turn them with a week’s worth of shopping bags weighing my arm down.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” James muttered, “but don’t worry – I’ll get on to Witch Weekly and tell them about how you keep rejecting me as soon as I get home.”
“What are your birthday plans?” I questioned, finally managing to unlock the door and bursting through into my flat.
“Sitting around moping mostly.”
“Well we could do something, right?” I suggested. “We’re both hungover and depressed so really, match made in...”
Max was stood in my pathetic excuse for a kitchen, leaning against one of the counters and idly flicking through one of the several copies of Witch Weekly that seemed to now exist in my flat (James had apparated with a great wad of magazines still in his hand and had thrown them in the direction of the bin to vent frustration at the world).
I stared at him, mouth agape for a few moments as I tried to imagine what things looked like from his perspective: James’s coat was still draped over the sofa – the idiot had forgotten it during the walk to the supermarket– two ignored cups of coffee were sitting by the sink, I was framed in the doorway holding a great deal of shopping and James was stood right behind me, carrying more shopping bags. It very much looked like James had stayed the night. Forget that, it almost seemed like James was two carrier bags short of moving in.
“Max,” was the first word I managed to say, my hands desperately fumbling around trying to free myself from the carrier bags, “it’s not what it...”
Max looked up at me for a minute, then returned to casually flicking through Witch Weekly.
“James, I think you better go,” I said hastily, trying to take all his carrier bags off him and conveying exactly how bad this was through my erratic eye expression. James didn’t need telling twice and quickly deposited the bags on the table and apparated away with a loud CRACK.
“Morning.” Max said lightly.
“I called James and told him to come over when I saw the article,” I began hastily, “so we could sort out what to do... I mean, it’s not true. Nothing, nothing happened.”
Well, sort of.
I mean, more or less.
At work on Monday everyone clapped as I walked into the building, particularly George who seems to find the whole thing immensely hilarious. In my imagination, Scott Hall was immensely disappointed – but in reality since I’ve taken up residence in Cherry’s office he seemed to have forgotten about our beautiful relationship. Damn.
“A love story beginning with Snogalicious.” George said, perching on the desk behind Jill’s as I crossed over to talk to her.
“And ending in murder,” I finished lightly, “you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers, George.”
“Why? Because you’ve written some of it.”
“Something like that,” I smiled, sitting down at my old desk for a few moments, “eurh. What a weekend.”
“How mad is Cuffe?” Jill asked.
“What?” I asked, suddenly feeling self conscious – in my mind everyone at the office was completely and utterly ignorant about the fact that we were sleeping together and in a form of a relationship (I thought Max’s ridiculous paranoia had taken care of that), but apparently Jill knew that he was mad.
“Well, it’s a real annoyance for him. Normally, we’d have jumped on a story like that in an instant, but because you’re involved it screws everything up. Did he start about the whole ‘you should have told me first so I could print it before everyone else, lark?’”
“Not yet,” I muttered, “but after seeing what work I’ve got to do for the week... I’m down for covering Snogalicious on Thursday whilst the Snogalicious girl interviews James. I’m not looking forward to going in there.” I said, glancing towards my office.
“How bad can it be?” George grinned, “Cuffe seems to like you at any rate – he is training you, after all, he never does that.”
“Nah,” I muttered, wrapping my arms around myself slightly, “I reckon I’m going to lose my job, one way or another.”
“Just spill the dirt on James Potter,” George shrugged, “tell the world if he’s good and bed and stuff.”
“Wouldn’t know,” I muttered, “bloody Witch Weekly. They should at least get their facts right before they start printing things.”
“So you’re not sleeping with him?” George asked. “Why not, he secretly married or something?”
“Nope, that would be me,” I quipped in return, “a husband in every continent.”
“It’s illegal to marry penguins,” Jill intercepted, “so good luck with Antarctica.”
“I’ll bare that in mind,” I sighed, standing up and completing the walk of shame towards my office. I wasn’t ready to face Max: after our long conversation yesterday, in which I ended up explaining the whole James story from when I was sixteen years old to present. In hindsight, I didn’t think chronicling how I’d been convinced I was in love with him for six years was particularly helpful towards my cause but I never was very good with sorting out relationship stuff.
In the end, Max had declared that he needed to think about things and left me to sit alone in my apartment with a great deal of grocery shopping. I had considered phoning James and getting him to come back over, meaning at least we could eat the bacon-with-candles-stuck-in-it, but I didn’t think I deserved the luxury of company. Instead, I’d splayed out across my sofa and felt miserable for several hours before crawling back to bed and declaring that I’d do whatever it took to sustain both my relationship with Max and my friendship with James – even if it required resetting some boundaries and juggling.
Still, having two whole people who seemed to care about what I was doing was a nice change. And with the other people who were creeping in my life: Cherry, Dave and maybe even Liz/Beth I was beginning to find that people had a genuine value.
I looked up from my desk as Dave walked in.
“How’s Noah?” I asked, sending him my best attempt at a smile (a poor one, smiling never was my forte).
“He’s not sleeping very well,” Dave said, “better than us, though. You’ve caused a family scandal with this James Potter lark,” Dave said, “I told them it wasn’t true.”
“It’s not,” I said, “but I guess pictures, well, tell otherwise...”
“Yeah, anyway – you all right, Grace?”
“Fine,” I said, “might nip out for a fag break in a minute.”
“I’ll leave this here, then.” Dave said, tossing a pile of paperwork onto my desk and sending me a smile. I didn’t even want to know what it was Max wanted me to do today.
The horrible thing about all of this was that I’d actually really started to love my job. It wasn’t obvious now, when I was trying my best to dwindle time by chatting to George and Jill, taking extensive cigarette breaks leaning outside the building and filling my lungs with the stuff that would probably, eventually kill me... but I’d really started to enjoy the interviews, the organisation, the writing aspect of everything. I liked the stupid, pointless tasks that Max set me – labelling them as ‘training’ – when really they always just seemed like a bit of fun.
Everything was moving much too fast, I decided, and I bet that by next week I’d be single and unemployed and it would almost be as if I hadn’t really achieved anything at all. .
That wasn’t surprising given I had an impeccable talent for ruining things the first time the spark of something that was truly good came up, largely because I was more comfortable with myself when things were running badly. That and I had a tendency to cause awkward and embarrassing things to happen without even giving them thought.
All I knew was that now, with a host of new current problems to content with, I felt further away from feeling than I had done since returning to England.
I hated England. Especially in January.
I sighed, stubbed my cigarette out on the side of the wall and squashed it beneath my foot.
The walk back up to my office wasn’t long enough but I manage to make it stretch out by stopping several times to adjust my shoes, take an extended visit to the toilets (in which I started at my abysmal reflection for a good few minutes before washing my hands unnecessarily) and then stopping at the coffee machine.
It was only when I had sat back down in my secluded office, kicked off my shoes and flicked through the various pieces of paper that Dave had left on my desk that I saw it. A singular piece of parchment, on which Maxim Cuffe had written my instruction for today’s training.
Write about hope.
The chances were that Max was attempting to ease my mind by sending subliminal messages through the stupid note, but ever since I’d read the damn thing I’d spent most of the day blinking stupidly around the office, and then round my flat, with the piece of paper clutched in my left hand.
Write about hope.
Except I hadn’t read it like that. To me the piece of paper read ‘write about Hope’ and that was the crucial difference. Hope. I very much doubted that I had the writing ability to write about Hope, my sister and all the things that followed it. I didn’t have the words in me to knuckle down and write but this was the first time in years that I’d wanted to try.
I blamed James and the assertion that maybe if I talked about it, I could feel. I couldn’t talk about it. I’d always been lousy at speaking: too clumsy, too likely to stumble over my words and too likely to accidently insult someone mid flow. Writing...? Maybe I could do that.
I picked up the biro that sat next my phone and a pad of paper. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t sure that I had the guts. Gryffindor. I could do this.
I sneered at the blank piece of paper, shook the tension out of my shoulders and forced myself to write.
I grew up in Whitby and, as much as I hate England with its dreary weather and endless cups of tea, I have not for a second been able to bring myself to hate Whitby.
Whitby was the backdrop for my childhood: fish and chip shops dominating the streets, each claiming to be the best in Whitby, none of them as good as our regular fish and chip shop; the tourists that came every summer, flocking around the beach and to Whitby Abbey; the boats, the salty smell and the northern accents. Black Whitby jet always seemed the most romantic, Whitby Abbey always framed the sky and every summer the streets burst into life. The best years of my life were spent slowly and gently growing up in Whitby.
I learnt how to sail. My best friend’s uncle had a boat and he used to let us take it out for trips when there weren’t enough tourists to keep the tours going. Later, we smuggled beers on board and had our own stupid parties, with fish and chips wrapped up in white paper and sticks of rock and fudge. When we were younger we used to buy postcards and send them too each other, even though he lived three doors down. It was him and me and her.
My sister and I used to take our pocket money down to the arcades. There were a lot of differences between me and Hope: for a start, her name wasn’t a misnomer – whereas I spent most of my life tripping over my feet and attracting all manner of disasters and catastrophes she was forever the optimist; she’d inherited my mum’s blonde hair and she didn’t have the knack with the penny slots like I did. That’s sort of how we found out, through the slot machines. I’d always surprise the arcade owners be presenting mounds of two penny coins and requesting that they could turn them back into a fiver, please, and although they watched me like a hawk there was no explanation for the way I managed to get the timing right every time. Other than magic, of course.
Hope never could manage it, as much as she willed the coins to do her bidding, although she’d never give up: she took her two pounds of two pennies and would bite her lip with concentration, feeding the machines until she had a single penny left. Then she’d hand it to me reluctantly, I’d double her starting amount and we’d buy ice cream.
Hope was a squib.
That’s what they were arguing about, that day. It was the beginning of August, Hope was eleven and there was no Hogwarts letter – we hadn’t expected one really, but we remained, well, hopeful. Neither of us had gone to primary school, and now where was Hope going to go? She’d be woefully behind on history and maths and science if they put her straight into secondary school, but if they homeschooled her she’d be forced to remain at home and friendless whilst I went to Hogwarts and learnt magic.
The other thing about Whitby is the roads. Everything is on a hill and the roads are those twisting, turnings, got-to-get-your-uphill-starts-right roads.
It was a number of things: my parents arguing, eyes not on the road; that bend (an accident waiting to happen, the newspapers said) and a tourist just touching the drink drive limit.
Hope and I were trying to block out the arguing. She’d undone her belt and shifted herself to the middle so that we could play slaps. Blonde, brown eyed skinny little Hope wedged in the middle of the car. If she had lived she would have been the pretty one, but that would have been okay. I would have had magic and she would have had optimism and beauty.
I couldn’t describe to you the expression of horror on the tourists face as he came round the bend too fast, the screeching of the brakes, the collision. An argument cut short and never needed to be resumed again: never to be even acknowledged. Jerking forwards. The belt snatching me back to my seat. Hope flying. The glass. My mother screaming. Colours, movement, bystander’s horror and then everything stopped and I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think.
I remember that. I remember every second. Always have, always will.
My parents were trapped by the body of the car, but I was free enough to force myself out the car and watch my sister die on the tarmac.
She wasn’t so pretty all bloodied up and broken.
I had enough magic running through my veins to have survived the crash, the impact of the pavement, the glass – but Hope, Hope was a squib. I could have been the one to undo my seatbelt and sit in the middle. It could have been in the collision and I would have lived.
I always found it strange how apt her name was. I’ve never had hope since then. Hope died, and I watched her die, and I crouched beside her body until the ambulance came. I had no hope, I’m not sure I ever have done since. I was nine and now I am nearly twenty nine. When I sit here and I look at my life, nothing’s changed: I’m still nine years old and numbly watching my world crumble. I can still feel the road slipping away from beneath me, the car swerving and the brakes screaming into action too late. I’m still waiting for the impact of the next crash.
The pen fell and I didn’t pick it up. I pushed the piece of parchment away from me and pressed my head against the wood of the counter.
Forty minutes later I sat up and phone my mother.
She almost sounded pleased to hear from me.
Hey guys! I was delighted with the number of lovely reviews on the last chapter and all the mentions of this story over on formspring or people who've mentioned starting to read it over on the forums. Thank you guys so much! Hopefully they'll be another update soon :D
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