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Chapter 1: what's a film?
[wonderful chapter image by Carousel. at TDA!]
“And you’re sure this guy is the best?” I asked, flicking through a folder as I spoke. Marty and I were having a casual meeting outside a small café in a square in London. The sun shone brightly off the metal tables, but the rain from the previous night still clung to the umbrella above our heads. I moved my own cup aside, and waved to stop Marty interrupting. “I know, and I do appreciate your help, but I have never even heard of him!”
“Look, sweetie,” Marty said, taking a lazy sip of his coffee, “you trust my judgement, right?”
I nodded reluctantly.
“Well then,” he continued, “you should trust this guy. He has tons more experience than anyone I know, and he’s willing to work with you Muggles.”
As far as I could tell, ‘Muggles’ was Marty’s affectionate term for anyone who wasn’t in his slightly shady band of employees. Marty’s services and I went way back, to when I first started working with Violet. She is a very... particular woman, and the studio can’t afford to piss her off. So when she is pissed off, I’m the one they pull in to smooth over the cracks.
Our current expert smoked, a habit which Violet had no patience with, so as soon as I could find a non-smoking replacement, the poor guy would have to go. And it was Marty I came to with Violet’s problems. I know I should be impressed that I called him at nine last night and he’d already found a guy, but to be honest, I expected more from him. This was the man who managed to provide everything I needed, from explosives to a plus-one at a friend’s wedding. Frankly, only turning up with one man was a step down - unless he really wanted me to take this guy on. Marty was a good friend, but I didn’t want to make him mad at me.
I checked the papers in an exaggerated fashion. “I don’t see how much ‘experience’ this Charlie Weasley could have with mythical creatures anyway.”
Marty gave me his trademark sly grin. “Honey, you’d be surprised.” He drained the rest of his coffee, and waved to someone behind me. I didn’t bother even twisting in my chair to see.
“What?” he shrugged nonchalantly. “I know you’re just going to love Charlie, so I saw no harm in setting up a meeting.”
“A meeting implies I knew about this beforehand,” I hissed, before plastering a fake smile on as I greeted the newcomer. “Hello, Mr Weasley.”
“Hey,” he said. “It’s Melanie, isn’t it?”
I smiled benignly. “Yes-”
“Pull up a pew, Charlie!” Marty grabbed a chair from the café table behind, scooting it across the floor towards him. Charlie Weasley sat down, stretching out his legs.
“We were just talking about you,” Marty said. “Mel has seen your file, and agrees with me that you’ll be the best consultant for Violet’s new film, didn’t you, Mel?”
I scowled at Marty. Way to back me into a corner. I attempted to kick him under the table.
“So, when do I start?” he said in an easy-going manner.
“Mellie says that filming starts in a fortnight, but they are running through a few things this Thursday, before flying out on Friday, am I right? So you can start then,” Marty said, giving me that sly grin again. I don’t know where he gets his information from, but it is not me, unless among his many talents he can read minds. “You’ll be paid through the studio, but I’ll sort all that out for you, Charlie.”
Charlie nodded, seemingly happy to let dodgy Marty handle his finances. Marty pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and a lighter, offering one to Charlie, who declined, thank God. My phone vibrated on the table. I checked the caller ID.
“I’m sorry, I have to take this,” I said, getting up from the table. I slid my phone open. “Yes?” I said, walking away from Marty and Charlie Weasley.
“Where are you?” a banshee shrieked down the phone.
“At the square, meeting Marty, like I told you,” I said, wandering over to the fountain in the centre so as not to be overheard.
There was a pause. “The short man who smells of smoke?”
“I thought you met him yesterday!” her petulant voice whined in my ear.
“No, I set up the meeting yesterday,” I said patiently. “It’s about the mythical expert?”
“I know what it is for,” she snapped. “Well, I need you now! I’m looking through the plans for the set, and it is all wrong. I honestly don’t know how anyone can be so incompetent!” She fairly screamed the word, which probably meant the poor bloke was standing right next to her. “And bring the new person, so I can veto him.”
“Of course. Anything else?” When working with Violet, you only needed to know when thing: when to ignore her. She was the star of the show, but that didn’t necessarily mean she was the be all and end all.
“I want a cranberry iced tea,” Violet said. I could practically hear her pouting down the phone. “But with no ice, and two slices of lemon.”
“Yes. I want you, this new expert and my iced tea to be at my hotel within five minutes!”
“We’ll be there in ten,” I promised, and hung up before she screamed at me.
I strode over to the small café where Marty and Charlie were still sat, and picked up my bag.
“Leaving so soon?” Marty said. “I just ordered you another tea!”
I picked up the cup and chugged it down, burning my tongue. “It was delicious, thank you so much.” I spied a waitress and waved her over. “Could I have a cranberry iced tea please, to go?” I asked. “With no ice, and two slices of lemon!” I called after her.
Marty gave me a sympathetic look. “Violet?”
I grimaced. “Yup. I cannot wait until my contract is over.”
Marty kissed my cheek in farewell. “If they want to renew it, I’ll look over it for you. I’m pretty good with the ol’ legal stuff.”
I snorted. Marty’s talents seemed to know no boundaries. The waitress came over with Violet’s drink and I quickly snatched it off the tray, checking it for ice and lemons. “Thank you so much- and I shall be seeing you, Marty!”
“Anytime for you, my dear,” he said, waving a languid hand.
I checked my bag, and picked up my jacket, slinging it over my arm. “Oh, and Mr Weasley?”
“Please, call me Charlie,” he said, slightly awkwardly.
“Charlie, then. You start today. Violet wants to see you, so c’mon!”
I walked off across the square, threading my way through the crowds. I heard a thumping of feet as Charlie caught up with me, his own jacket slung over one shoulder.
“Who are we going to meet?”
“Violet Thornton,” I said.
“Who’s she?” he asked.
I stopped dead. “You’ve never heard of her?”
He shook his head slowly, and I burst out laughing. “She is going to simply adore you.”
We took the lift up to Violet’s top floor suite, and I was still filling Charlie in on Violet.
“Remember, only address her as Miss Thornton, unless she tells you different. Look her in the eye when you speak to her, and speak clearly. She hates people who mumble.”
I glanced over at him. “Are you remembering all this?”
Charlie nodded, and then shook his head. “I’m not sure. This is all a bit much.”
“Yeah, Violet is a bit of a handful. I’ll step on your foot or something if you do something wrong. Mainly, tell her what she wants to hear, even if you don’t mean it.” I paused. “Especially if you don’t mean it.”
The lift stopped, and we got out, turning right down the corridor.
“This seems like an awful lot for one person.”
“One very famous person,” I corrected. “Everything Violet touches has a habit of turning to gold.” I stopped outside her door.
“Really? That’s a neat trick.”
I glanced at him, but he seemed deadly serious. “It’s a metaphor, Charlie. Everyone wants her, so she is very used to getting her own way. Which means she is completely insufferable, and treats everyone like she owns them. Don’t take it personally. Right. Are you ready?”
Charlie rolled his shoulders, bounced on the balls of his feet, and cracked his knuckles. “I think so,” he said, aiming a few mock-punches at the door.
I couldn’t help laughing at him. “Good luck.” I pushed open the door and led Charlie inside.
Violet was sat in the middle of the floor, schematic plans for the sets spread around her and the furniture was piled up against the walls. As always, Violet looked immaculate. She had a cream woollen laced wrap around her shoulders, over a pale blue short sleeved blouse with mother of pearl buttons and she wore white jeans. Her face was flawlessly made up, even though today she wouldn’t put an impeccably manicured toe outside of the hotel suite, and her jet-black hair was piled effortlessly on top of her head. I barely took any notice of Violet’s perfection any more- you’d get used to Leonardo Da Vinci eventually, if you shared a flat with him. Charlie however, was staring at Violet with slack-jawed awe.
I trod on his foot. Violet loved to be admired, only attractively admired. Showered with expensive gifts and taken out on the arm of an good-looking guy, not gawped at gormlessly.
“Violet, this is Charlie Weasley, the mythology expert that the studio is hiring.”
She held out her hand, not looking up from the plans. “Where’s my iced tea?”
I stepped carefully over the papers and passed her the plastic cup. She took a sip, and nodded. That was all the appreciation I would get from her.
Charlie stood awkwardly by the door, unsure of what to do. “Charlie,” I said, trying to catch Violet’s attention, “do you want a drink?”
“I’d love a-” Charlie began, but he was cut off by Violet, who had finally looked up.
“There’s that bottle of white wine in the fridge, Melanie. Why don’t you get that out for our guest?”
“Actually, I don’t lik-”
This time, I interrupted Charlie by standing on his foot again.
“Yes, of course,” I said with false cheer, disappearing into the kitchen. I opened the cupboards to find glasses, pulling two out just as Violet giggled, and said;
“Oh, stop it. Call me Violet; ‘Miss Thornton’ makes me sound like a lonely old spinster!”
Crikey. Violet was on her best behaviour with Charlie. That was unexpected, and more than a little strange. She usually went for older men with money, class and yachts, who were called Charles, not... well, not people like Charlie. I would have assumed the mere fact that Charlie worked for a living would have turned her away.
I poured out the wine and passed the glasses to Violet and Charlie. They had moved to sit on the sofa in the adjacent living room which had escaped the rearranging. She was leaning in close to him, so close he would be able to smell her perfume, which she had designed herself.
For a second, I stopped being professional and I easily could see what Violet liked about Charlie. His laid back attitude was nice, and while I had never really gone for redheads, he was fit and lean, with a few thick pearly scars across his bare forearms which suggested dangerous and exciting. While he didn’t look to take much of an effort with his appearance, his khaki shirt and jeans suited his weathered look. His mouth seemed to be permanently in a genuine smile which crinkled the sun-browned skin around his deep blue eyes. I shook my head to clear it of unsuitable thoughts. If Violet wanted him, then he was most definitely off-limits to me.
“Melanie, darling?” Violet said with a wide smile, but barely glancing in my direction, “Could you be a dear and take the plans back to the office? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I nodded, and started to collect up the papers, listening to her high, tinkling laugh in response to Charlie’s low voice.
She was going to chew him up and spit him out, and when she was done, he would be nothing more than a spittle-flecked nobody. And if he was stupid enough to let her, then I was going to nothing about with him. I sighed, shutting the suite door behind me with my foot. I had thought Marty would send someone who wouldn’t be led astray by batting eyelashes and a lipsticked smile.
I was out when my phone rang, picking up Violet’s breakfast. She woke up at five o’clock every single morning, did thirty minutes on a treadmill and then expected me to be at her door, dropping off her bagels and fruit salad.
I pressed green, not bothering to check who was calling. At quarter past five, only Violet would call me. “Yes?”
“Melanie? It’s Charlie Weasley here...”
“How the hell did you get my number?”
“Marty gave it me. Violet said you got up early, I hope I’m not disturbing you?”
“No, no, you’re fine,” I said distractedly. What did Charlie Weasley want?
“I was wondering if I could talk to you about my job? Last night, Violet said a lot of stuff I didn’t really understand, and I’m really confused, to be honest.”
“Didn’t Marty explain it to you?” I asked.
“Not really- to be honest, I’ve just got no idea what I’ve been hired to do.”
I sighed. “All right. Will you be at Violet’s suite? Because I’ll be there in about ten minutes, and I could pick you up,” I said, wedging my phone in between my shoulder and cheek and trying to balance breakfast as I struggled to unlock my car door.
“Why would I be at the hotel?” Charlie asked, sounding genuinely confused.
I paused. It seemed as if Violet hadn’t had her wicked way with him last night...
“Where are you staying? I’ll pick you up when I’m done, and we can go somewhere and talk- there’s a meeting with the writers and directors as well at twelve, which you should probably be at.”
He hesitated. “Erm... I’m staying on Charing Cross Road, do you know it?”
“I’m sure I’ll find it. I’ll be with you as soon as I can get away from Violet then.”
There was a soft chuckle down the phone. “She can talk for England, can’t she?” he said. I frowned. He had seemed pretty smitten with yesterday. “Well then, I’ll see you soon.”
“Bye,” I said, then disconnected, putting my phone on the dashboard as I drove through London, attempting to ponder the enigma which was Charlie Weasley.
I arrived at the hotel two minutes late. Christ, I hated cities. Noisy and busy and everyone acts like total wankers, especially when they are behind the wheel of a car. My beloved Mini had nearly been squashed twice.
I pulled up outside the front door, and passed the valet my keys. “I’m with Violet Thornton,” I told him. “Take care of that car.”
I supressed a grin as I walked inside the cool, marble foyer. Dropping celebrity names to get the A-list treatment- it was definitely one of the rewards of my job. Hopefully, my car would have been cleaned and waxed by the time I leave.
However, not all things in life are as awesome as valet parking- and Violet was in her usual bad morning mood, although she was decidedly less foul than I thought she would be.
“You’re late,” she said in a clipped tone, as soon as I stepped into one of the many living rooms.
She was reclined on the cream sofa while a hunk of an Italian man massaged her feet, and she didn’t even bother to look at me as she spoke. “Where’s my breakfast?” she asked, but I had already dumped the bag of bagels on the table, with her soy latte and pomegranate seeds.
“I’m so sorry Vi, but I’ve got to go!” I gasped, attempting to sound more rushed off my feet than I actually was.
She twisted around to look at me. “But you just got here!”
“There’s a meeting on the other side of London in ten minutes,” I told her, disappearing into the kitchen to pick up some paperwork. She’d never check to see if there was a real meeting. I shuffled the sheets importantly. “And you are coming to the meeting at midday, right?”
“What meeting at midday?” she asked.
“The main one for the schedule...” I paused as she looked at me blankly. “You really should be there,” I continued, pulling a face. “All the crew and staff will have to go, plus Russell and Nick will be there as well. It’ll look awful if you don’t turn up.”
I made sure I didn’t beg her to come. As soon as you turned pleading, then she dug her heels in and refused. She had the same reaction if you threatened her with docked pay or a smaller trailer- she was as stubborn as a mule, only she smelled slightly better.
She appeared to ponder the matter. “Call Jessica for me then, and can you send a car? Only not with the driver I had last time.”
“I’ll get Jess over here right away, and the car will pick you up at eleven-thirty, alright?” I said, a little thrown back that Violet was actually going to come. This must be a first in the whole history of film-making.
She nodded, seemingly benign, so I chanced a question.
"Did you have a good night last night?”
She glanced up at me underneath her long eyelashes. “Fine, thank you,” she said, and turned back to the Italian.
“I’ll see you at twelve then,” I called as I left. Something was not right with Violet, and I was willing to bet it was Charlie Weasley.
Within twenty minutes of me leaving the hotel, I was on Charing Cross Road in my newly-cleaned Mini. I had called Jess, arranged for Violet’s car and attempted to call Charlie three times, but he was refusing to pick up.
I pushed my chair back, and looked instead at the papers I had picked up from Violet. A couple of loose pages of script, which Violet had made angry changes to in red, a room service menu, a few favourable reviews for another of Violet’s films and a map of the location we were at in Austria. Mountain ranges, valleys, lakes and wide fields- this looked amazing. I was so engrossed that when I heard a tap, I jumped out of my skin. I looked up to see Charlie Weasley peering in through my window.
I leaned over and opened the door. “You just scared the bejesus out of me,” I told him.
He slid into the car, grinning like a Cheshire Cat. “I could tell. So, where are we going?” he asked as I pushed the car into first and we started to move off.
“We’re going to a bistro I know which does amazing grilled tuna and cheese paninis,” I said, “because I haven’t had my breakfast yet and I’ve been up for ages.”
I accelerated into a tiny gap and beeped my horn at an angry Londoner. I think I was getting the hang of driving in cities! Charlie cringed away from the other car’s bonnet.
“I hope you don’t have any qualms about talking with your mouth full?” I asked.
“So, please explain,” Charlie said as soon as my panini had come, and I had sunk my teeth into the oozing goodness of melty cheese and tuna. He looked slightly revolted.
“Well,” I mumbled around a mouthful, “Violet is a very famous and successful actress, and you’re helping with her new film, which is a historical epic about Guinevere –who Violet plays- and the love triangle between her and Lancelot and King Arthur.”
I paused to take a sip of my tea. “I assume you are familiar with the legends of King Arthur and Merlin and all that jazz?”
Charlie nodded, so I continued. “You are needed because it is ridiculously hard to make stuff up on set. You will advise the production team, the CGI team- we’ve got a scene with about four dragons in it, and the special effects are playing havoc, and any deviations from the script, we talk to you.”
Charlie breathed out. “That sounds like I have a lot of responsibility,” he said, sounding worried.
“Not necessarily,” I said, picking out bits of tomato from the tuna. “They probably won’t listen to you half the time, and the rest of the time you won’t be needed. It’s good money though.”
He laughed. “Sounds a lot cushier than my last job,” he said. “So, what do you do exactly?”
“I’m Violet’s stunt double,” I told him, taking another enthusiastic bite.
He looked nonplussed. “What is that?”
“It’s great,” I told him. “Basically, Violet is a wimp, and so anything remotely dangerous, I do it for her. We look pretty similar from a distance, so they film me doing the horse-riding and the death jumps out of cars, while Violet puts her feet up and does the simple scenes like kissing people.” I waved my fork in the air, miming a swooping dragon. “This film, I get to ride horses, fly on the back of a dragon, and do quite a lot of sword-fighting, so I’m really excited.”
Charlie looked quite impressed. “I assumed you and Violet were related,” he said. "You do look pretty similar."
I snorted. “I think I’d stay as far away from her as possible if we were related and I wasn’t paid to tolerate her. Of course, a lot of the stuff I do isn’t in my job description, but I get paid extra, and I’m in a long contract with her- like the rest of her entourage; her hair stylists and make-up artists and wardrobe people.”
He nodded, looking as if everything finally made sense. “Just one more question,” he said, and I looked up from the remnants of the panini I was now chasing around the plate.
“What’s a ‘film’?” he said, deadpan.
I paused. He couldn’t seriously be asking that. “...are you being serious?” I said, incredulous.
Charlie nodded. “Yes. What’s a film?”
I checked my watch- it was nine o’clock. The nearest cinema should be open. I paid for my meal and picked up my bag.
“Come on, Charlie,” I said, slinging my bag over my shoulder. “Back to the car. We’ve got time to go to the pictures before the big meeting.”
A/N: So, this is my August Nano! Had this plunny for a while, and now I get to write it. I'm very excited... so, tell me what you think?
Also, this story is set during Order of the Phoenix.