I felt that considering I was now twenty-seven years old my life should have sorted itself out. I’d made it through the messy-angsty-embarrassing teenage years fairly safely (although with a few major humiliations that I’d just about lived down now, provided I avoided everyone who’d ever had knowledge of these major transgressions) labouring under the impression that the second I reached twenty-five my life would automatically sort itself out.
I’d miraculously find a guy and would be happily married by now. I’d probably be giving birth to my first child in a couple of months’ time and would have a wonderful group of close friends who I couldn’t live without. I’d probably have my dream job and would be blissfully and annoyingly happy in everything that I did. It was all supposed to be entirely conventional and normal.
So it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to realise that, actually, I was a complete and utter failure in all respects.
After graduating Hogwarts... nine years ago (blood hell that’s depressing) I went jetting around the world for a bit to ‘experience life’ and get away from the shame of some of the more embarrassing things that had happened at Hogwarts (there was a significant list of things I’d rather have forgotten). That turned into a nine year vacation away from England where I experienced a lot but gained absolutely nothing. Except debt and a well deserved dislike of myself.
I’d started off getting a job teaching English at Beauxbatons; interesting, considering I couldn’t speak French at the time. I got sacked after telling some girl that she was an annoying stuck up slutty bitch when she was being particularly irritating and I’d written off a career of teaching after that. Even if it had been true.
Then I’d spent a couple of years in various countries doing this and that: waitressing, cleaning, bar tending...Then I’d moved to Spain (which was a far superior place than France) and lived there for about two and a half years doing this and that.
I’d visited occasionally but gradually I’d had less and less to come back for: my friends (by friend’s I mean ‘friend’ and that was bit of a loose term after the argument and just a damn lie now) all had their own incredibly more sensible lives and I’d never been particularly close with my family – a couple of letters a month was enough. Then I’d found more to stay around for.
He was tall, blonde, tanned and completely not interested but it took me awhile to realise that (it was rather cringe worthy actually). Then they’d been a couple of embarrassing one night stands. Then I lost my job (one I’d actually liked). Then I’d decided I’d had enough of seeing the world – although more importantly, the growing list of reasons to hate myself was getting ridiculous and my empty pockets’ complaints were getting louder by the minute. So then I came home.
I’d woken up this morning with a bitch of a hangover, swollen lips (I remembered snogging some guy who resembled this guy from France, but I had no idea what his name was), a phone number was written on the back of my arm (which was completely unreadable so I assumed that my own sweat had made it smudge, which was just lovely) and I had an impressive amount of eyeliner smudged around my face. It was also impressively late; one PM was not an acceptable time to emerge from a hangover outside the safety of your teenage years (and as much as I hated to admit it I was so far out of my teenage years that I’d probably start referring to them as the ‘good old days’ any day now).
The whole not-waking-up-till-one thing was considerably worsened by the fact that I was supposed to be at a big family meal at two (a strange time for lunch, I know, but I don’t control them). A French restaurant, as my parents thought that I was now ‘cultured’ I would actually be able to stomach French cuisine. Now wasn’t the time to explain that fast food existed in every country, so picking up culture had been unnecessary. All in all, by the time I’d extracted myself from my bed I had about minus ten minutes to make sure I was completely sober – which was actually in doubt – clean myself up and mentally prepare myself for several hours of unprofitable boredom and being set up by various aunts and uncles who found my current lack of love life incredibly amusing.
In the end, I was twenty minutes late which was actually a personal record for me as I usually aimed for thirty minutes late as far as my family was concerned. Then another record was set and it took a mere thirty seconds before the questions started.
“So Gracie how’s the love life?” Uncle Eddie asked and I feel my carefully painted on expression (literally, I had so much make-up on to hide the bags under my eyes that my skin felt stiff like corrugated cardboard) crumble slightly.
The mention of the words ‘love life’ brought back a vivid image of last night (I was really too old to be partying like a just-out-of-Hogwarts-graduate). The guy who’d looked like that French-dude who I’d ended up snogging had chatted me up with the line “I like the older woman” and for some reason I was so drunk that I found this comment so immensely flattering that I’d thrown myself on him. I think... although I hoped to God it wasn’t true... that I’d taken the word of some magazine (which I should definitely stop reading) about the art of ‘lip biting.’
I really wish at this point I could assure you that by ‘lip biting’ I mean the nervous habit someone people do when they’re well... nervous. Unfortunately for me this had been about a sort of... kissing technique... which included biting the other person’s lips.
I had been drunk and I’m a sloppy drunk and I think – although I hope to Merlin that I’m just making this up at the minute – that I had bitten his lip. Then it had started to bleed. Then I had started apologising in embarrassment and realised, to my horror, that this French-dude-look-a-like had been a first year Gryffindor when I’d been in my seventh.
That had been an awkward moment along with the closet I’d got to sleeping with anyone for five and a half months (basically since I got back to England).
“Brilliant!” I answered cheerfully to Uncle Eddie’s question.
“Got a boyfriend then Gracie?” Uncle Eddie’s wife – Annie – asked with more gusto and enthusiasm than anyone should possess.
Eddie used be the brilliant drunken uncle who’d started looking down everyone’s tops (including my friends but thankfully not me) the second he’d had more than a glass of wine. His party trick was showing us all how hairy his arse was (which was surprisingly impressive and a little bit grim) and he often managed to convince himself that he could juggle cigarettes which had always been pretty funny. Unfortunately always-cheerful-and-clean-Annie had straightened him out and they’d started spawning mini Eddie/Annie’s who were ‘affectionately’ named by me as ‘Sprog one’ and ‘Sprog two’. They had real names but I forgot them and they seemed to think that these names were incredibly funny and not due to my inability and lack of motivation to learn their real names. Children’s naivety was far too easy to abuse.
The only other kids present – thank god – were Aunt Sarah’s lot. They weren’t actually her children as none of us knew about them until today when she’d turned up with her new husband (who was called Calvin and was actually very rich) complete with three children that had belonged to several previous marriages. They were strange children and sat down the younger people’s end of the table (which I was also half sat on. I was also on the adult’s side so they could send me torturous questions about my love life).
“No.” I answered Annie, giving her a sugary sweet smile that I hoped she believed was genuine. I probably should have performed a cheering charm on myself before I turned up because these sorts of events, although rare, had a habit of leaving me thoroughly depressed. “Sailing solo at the minute.” I added nodding as if this news absolutely thrilled me. Believe me, it didn’t.
“Well you better get going! Think of your biological clock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock!” Annie said accentuating her point by turning her finger into the clock hand and waving it about cheerfully. In my head everyone in the table says ‘Tick-tock’ together over and over all grinning at me.
“I’m only twenty seven!” I protested wishing that I’d slept even later and had to call Mum and tell her that I had been throwing up and would be unable to attend.
She’d have probably thought I was pregnant or something though. Thing is, she’d be so disappointed when she found out I wasn’t.
“Yes dear, she’s quite right. She doesn’t need to be thinking about children just yet!” Aunt Shannon – the coolest of all my aunts – put in and I swear that I will spend more than a five Sickles on her birthday present next year (or maybe just actually remember). “She needs to find a husband first!” She added to roars of laughter.
“More like a boyfriend!” Mum said and her betrayal stung more than I'd bargained for (along with the utter humiliation). I smiled around at them and laughed along as if I found the whole thing very funny.
I picked up my glass of white wine (how very civilised – what’s wrong with beer?) and took a large sip in the hope that it would have some affect and actually make this painful situation funny. However, as my body had become a lot more used to the presence of alcohol in my body since my first drink at fifteen (which was one of the most incriminatingly embarrassing things I’dever done) so now the sip of wine had no effect (unlike at fifteen where half a bottle of pumpkin juice Bacardi made me start throwing up over the James Potter) so I was stuck feeling utterly sober.
“I have a boyfriend.” Sprog one said and everyone turned to look at her. I think most of the adults found this revelation hilarious given Sprog one is seven years old and all her social activities can be summed up in one word – nursery. I suppose it isn’t actually a nursery given that she’s seven and more a ‘Child care centre’ where she goes when always-active-and-amused-Annie is out doing her part time job.
I, on the other hand, actually find this to be the most depressing thing I have heard all day (and there have been a few) because Sprong one is ginger, has wonky teeth, glasses, freckles, might be beautiful in the future but certainly isn’t now, wears clothes knitted by Annie and is seven years old (or something like that). Yet she still has more of a life than me.
Annie, Eddie, Sharon and my parents all shrieked with laughter at this. Sprog one was predictably offended (and I can see how having all her relatives mock her blossoming love life might cause offence, really I can), set down her knife and fork and appeared to be going on hunger strike. Eddie/Annie didn’t seem bothered by this either given that Sprog one was also alittle on the plump side.
“So Gracie,” My Dad bellowed from the other end of the table where he was wedged between my grandparents and his in-laws (who absolutely love him). The other end of the table was a long way a way which explained why I hadn’t heard his dulcet tones since the beginning of this slow torture, “how’s the job search going?” He yelled and all the adults start chatting excitedly because now there was another part of my life that they could start abusing.
“Still looking.” I returned brightly before turning back to my wine and downing my glass. Of course that didn’t go unnoticed as they were all looking at me. Shannon started spouting facts about binge drinking, alcoholics and the benefits of drinking one glass of wine a day (good for your heart) whilst Uncle Eddie, my mother, cousin Dave and Nana Josephine started to suggest a million places where I could apply to. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that my NEWT grades fell a little too far short for any of the jobs they were suggesting to be the slightest bit possible. Especially given that I’d lost every job I’d ever had and was therefore without any shiny references that could potentially help my case.
“What about the Daily Prophet dear!?” Nana Josephine put forward to a murmur of general consent. “You always used to love writing stories. Do you remember?” She exclaimed. I sighed and started to dread the inevitable story that was coming next – it seemed like there would never be a family occasion where this story wasn’t considered fair game for mocking material. “She always used to write her own stories! Even sent them off to some publishers to see if she could get it published – she was only six.”
“Once upon a time there was a princess called Grace,” Mum began as the others around the table started either listening to Mum reciting this embarrassing story for quite possibly the millionth time or discuss what a cute child I was and how it all went wrong (only they’d stop short at the bit which actually went wrong, because that was never mentioned at dinner), “she invented a machine that flipped pancakes which she named ‘the tosser.’” Insert hysterical laughter here. Ha ha.
“I work at the Prophet.” Cousin Dave – my new favourite relative given that we all knew that my infamous ‘Princess Grace story’ got a lot worse as it went onwards. “I think that there might be vacancies – I can look if you like?” I nodded gratefully.
Getting a job would mean having colleagues which meant potential friends/boyfriends /husbands/ potential babies. I realised it was immensely stupid to get worried about my body clock just yet (twenty seven is young damn it) but my family had a tendency to do this to me (as in make me worry incessantly about things I would normally not have given any thought to).
Cousin Dave had also saved me from hearing about Princess Grace’s invention of the ‘love maker’ which manufactured love which you could drink when you were lonely. If I remember correctly this manufactured love tasted like strawberries.
I was far too innocent as a child.
“I’m just going to the bathroom.” I told everyone, despite the fact that they were no longer listening. They were now all grilling Cousin Dave (the other ‘young adult’ of the family) about his life. He had a job (assistant editor of the sports section of the Daily Prophet which sounds pretty crap considering the only wizarding sport was Quidditch) and a fiancé and a baby (currently within the fiancé but still there all the same). I was immensely jealous of him and generally felt bad about refusing to talk to him at Hogwarts to improve my ‘reputation.’ Turned out the joke was on me anyway.
I decided that given they were now torturing Dave – who deserved it for being so lucky – I could actually get away with going outside for a fag.
Smoking was a nasty habit which I picked up in France and ever quite put down again, although all my family are blissfully unaware of this unfortunate and expensive habit which was relief. One of my Uncles – Francis (yes, yes, Francis) was a therapist, who thankfully wasn’t present today, and had a habit of dealing with all family issues in a free (which I was supposed to be happy about – as if I would pay the stupid prick) session which basically involved him nodding seriously at all my sarcastic answers as if they actually meant something before telling me I had ‘low self esteem’. No, it was much much easier if they didn’t know about the whole... smoking thing. They’d start telling me it was another nervous habit I’d gained from being exposed to childhood trauma and what not.
I leant against the wall outside the posh restaurant and lit the fag. They wouldn’t notice me for a good fifteen minutes, hopefully, so I could enjoy the fresh (sort of) air for a while before dragging myself in to face desert.
“Oh my gosh! You’re Grace Whitehall!” A voice said and I turned around and saw Roxanne Weasley. She hadn’t changed all that much over the years and, anyway, given she was quite distinctive in terms of appearance I probably still would have recognised. I did the maths in my head and worked out that she was about four years younger than me and so was... twenty-four. She had a job too (full waitress uniform) which meant she was two up on me and I hated her already.
“Yes.” I agreed, hoping against all hope that she just remembered me as a girl in Rose’s year not... well... the embarrassment I was during the Hogwarts period.
“You’re the girl who wrote a love letter to Flitwick, got so drunk that you wet yourself and sent a picture round of yourself naked because you were trying to get James to date you.”
Brilliant, she remembered.
I pulled out another cigarette and lit it.
“I heard you were abroad?” Roxanne said in a tone that was asking me confirm it. I nodded and wondered how in hell she knew that. I suppose the Potter/Weasley gang all talked about me whenever they needed a good laugh. I didn’t blame them – if I wasn’t physically and emotionally attached to all my previous acts then I would laugh at them too. As it stood... they really weren’t that funny.
“Did you really send one of the teachers a pair of your dirty underwear?”
“No!” I declared dropping my cigarette and stamping out on the floor.
Roxanne looked incredibly amused by my appearance and it felt good to brighten up someone’s day (or you know, not so much considering this girl was laughing at me for things that happened nine years ago. Nine bloody years ago).
“Well, I better go back in.” I said awkwardly as she kept on staring at me as if I had three heads.
“One second.” Roxanne said, pulling out a camera from her pocket, pressing the button and taking a very close up picture of my face. “Thanks – James will love this.” She said, collapsing into giggles as she went back into the restaurant.
I tried very very hard not to think about what I did at Hogwarts. I went abroad for the best part of nine years to avoid the sheer embarrassment of the moment when James Potter – who joked for three years about getting a restraining order against me and carried out a lot of my supposed actions out himself to boost his reputation (including the picture of me naked which was actually some page three model with my face stuck on it) – found out where I was.
It was stupid to think that nine years after all of... that happened... he would still be determined to ruin my life (well actually I don’t think that was the point. He just didn’t think about my life at all and I’d pretty much ruined it myself anyway). No. That was the least of my worries.
What I should be concentrating on was finding a job, making some friends, getting a boyfriend, somehow getting him to propose, getting pregnant and building a happy life together. All before I was twenty eight (in three weeks time).
Wish me luck.
I gave myself another ten minutes outside in the hope that the smell of fags would dissipate somewhat, but I knew that there was a good chance that Annie would wrinkle up her nose the second I walked back over the table. Still, the desert would probably have arrived now and I really didn't want to miss out on such a wonderful opportunity to flavour French cuisine (eurgh) and banter with my delightfully supportive family.
“We’ve got to stick together, yeah!” Francis’s voice rang out as I walked back over to the table. I winced and wondered when (and why) he had arrived. “Gracie!” He declared as I approached the table warily. He stood up and took three strides towards me. He rested one hand on my back and looked at me intensely. “Life aint getting you down, is it Pet?”
The problem with that was that he wasn’t being sarcastic. The question was genuinely a serious one which defied comprehension. I often found the whole lot of my nutty family easier to deal with if I pretended that they were just being sarcastic all the time.
I sat down and smiled politely at him (whilst trying to move as far away from his hand as possible, I didn’t know where they'd been). “It will get better. This dark hole you’re residing in will soon be filled with light. You will find love! You won’t spend your whole life single, alone, jobless and without a next of kin.”
“Thank you Francis, you’ve made me feel so much better!” I returned sarcastically.
“That’s what I’m here for pet.” Francis nodded before sitting back down next to Sharon (his other half).
“How do you get someone to stay away from you?” Sprog one asked attracting the attention of the adults closest to the kid’s end of the table. “I got told off for telling this girl to shut up.” She continued.
“Neely!” Annie exclaimed. “You never told us that. You must never tell someone to shut up!”
“What if they keep talking?”
“Was she calling you names sweetheart?” Eddie asked looking slightly embarrassed at the scandalous expression on Annie’s face (guess who Sprog One picked up the phrase from?) and seemed to want to sort out the situation as quickly as possible.
“No. She just kept talking to me and she’s boring. If I can’t tell her to shut up then how do I get her to stay away from me?”
“Get a restraining order so she can’t come within twenty feet of you.” One of Sarah’s new kids answered seriously and I suddenly felt very very sorry for that Child and her siblings. Calvin looked away awkwardly and Sarah started coughing. I looked away and back down at my hands.
“Why don’t you just walk away from her?” Eddie suggested and Sprog One nodded and started tucking into her desert.
“Grace?” I turned around and saw Dave sitting across from me. Dave was nice enough; fairly quiet and a little bit boring, but he’d always been a lot nicer than I’d been. Hufflepuff.
“Ya-huh?” I said, turning towards him and smiling (or at last attempting to). He’d saved me from hearing the infamous ‘when Grace was lonely she’d turn on the love maker and drink the juice it made’ line for the billionth time and was therefore my current hero. He looked slightly scared by the fact that I was smiling – something that hadn’t happened much since I’d come back ‘home’.
“What... what NEWT’s did you get?” He asked and I made a face at him.
“Erm... I got an A in Charms and Herbology. An E in Transfiguration and well... I didn’t erm... pass the others.”
Cousin Dave had gotten straight O’s and ended up being a junior editor of the sporting section... I didn’t have a hope of getting anywhere.
In my defence I’d had a crap time at Hogwarts and by that point I’d only had two ‘friends’ one of whom was working with my enemy to make me look like even more of an idiot (for her own amusement) and the other had been so deluded that she followed me round like a lost puppy until I called her ‘a stupid annoying sidekick who I only kept around because I needed someone to do my dirty work’ at the graduation party and thus ending our seven years of friendship. I was constantly pranked and spent most of the time trying to save myself embarrassment by becoming popular (which was the purpose to everything I ever did) and ended up making myself look like an even bigger joke.
I’d had other things to worry about than exams.
Cousin Dave’s eyebrow’s rose and I thanked God that he was two years older than me and had therefore missed the most embarrassing two years. I decided I didn’t like Cousin Dave much after all.
“Well, have you worked anywhere?”
“Yes.” I snapped and pulled my CV out of my handbag (where I had twenty copies of it in case I ran into somewhere with vacancies that interested me – this had yet to happen mainly because England was a very very boring place).
“You taught at Beauxbatons?” He asked in surprise.
“English.” I said nodding and feeling a little proud of myself. I’d proved Dave-the-Douche wrong about how I was a failure at life (sort of).
“How come you stopped?”
“Ermm...” He looked up at me expectantly. “I... er... verbally insulted one of the students.” Cousin Dave coughed and carried on looking down the list.
“You worked in Greece? As a weather girl on the television?”
“Yup.” He was about to ask why that didn’t last. “I didn’t know the word for ‘rain.’ I didn’t bother learning it because it didn’t think it ever rained in Greece so I just told everyone it was going to be supper sunny. Then there was a massive storm.”
“I erm... assaulted the head chef because he said ‘nice breasts’ and I thought he was sexually harassing me. He was talking about the chicken as it turns out.”
“Spanish beautician?” He asked incredulously.
“Don’t ask.” I said with a grimace. Even the thought of that unfortunate waxing experience made me internally cringe and wince at the same time.
“How did you get all these jobs?” He asked looking up at me seriously.
“Womanly charms?” I suggested doubtfully. He glanced down at my CV again before placing it back down on the table.
“How many language’s can you speak?” He asked and I shrugged. “French, Germany, Spanish, Italian, Bulgarian, Greek and Dutch. That’s quite impressive.” I nodded, not particularly wanting to admit that my knowledge of those languages were very limited (especially Italian. All I’d learnt was ‘Hello’ and they agreed to hire me at the call centre until they realised I couldn’t actually answer phone’s considering I hadn’t got a clue what they were talking about) but it seemed like languages were the only things I actually had going with me.
“I’ll see what I can do.” He assured me folding up my CV and putting it in his pocket. I sighed – I’d heard that one before.
“I’m not allowed to go to the toilet on my own.” One of Sarah’s lot – the same one as before – said as her and her sister stood up together.
“Why not?” Sprog Two asked. Her little blue eyes widened in curiosity and for a second she looked rather cute. Oh bloody hell – I better not be getting broody. I would not let my family win on that account.
“Mummy might accost me again. Or try to run me over.”
An awkward silence rippled through the silence again.
“I’ll take you.” Sarah said standing up and taking her hands.
“When was your last boyfriend then Gracie?” I debated banging my head repeatedly desk but instead decided to do something productive and get myself a drink. Because if in doubt, there was always more alcohol. I excused myself with a quick answer of “Oh, in Spain – I think I just saw someone I know at the bar. I just want to check...”
I didn’t know anyone at the bar. At least I thought so until I got there ordered a Bacardi, downed it, and placed it back down when the bartender said “You’re not going to wet yourself are you?”
I looked up at her sharply and tried to recognise who she was but there were so many people that knew of the infamous Grace Whitehall that the cause was more than a little bit hopeless.
She looked to be in her earlier twenties. Say she was twenty two...that would mean she’d seen the last two years of my seven year long embarrassment. I groaned and pressed my fingers to my head. I’d forgotten how many people went to Hogwarts in England. To avoid everyone who knew about my many embarrassments I’d have to avoid all people at least seven years younger than me, and at least four years older. Along with all their siblings.
I was doomed.
I turned back to the bar and saw Roxanne Weasley standing at the doorway in fits of hysterics holding out her camera and snapping pictures of me. I lifted my middle finger in her direction and ordered another Bacardi.
Really, my life had not sorted itself out just yet.
Give it a month or two, and I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Hello and welcome to all new readers to this story! I'm writing this at the point where this story has seventeen (soon to be eighteen) chapters and it really is lovely to have you join in and stuff. I've really enjoyed writing this story, particuarly Grace who never fails to cheer me up and I guess I just wanted to rewrite this authors note to say, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing this! And I'd love to hear feedback about anything you want to say. Thanks for being here :)