I stared at the ridiculous assignment and was distinctly reminded about something my therapist had tried to make me do when I was eleven. Write 500 words persuading me that you’re the best person on the planet.
I started at it for a few long moments. He wanted me to finish it for tomorrow. I’d meant to do it last night but I’d got caught up in a ridiculous phone conversation with James about eyebrows and tequila which had completely distracted me. Then Max himself had just arrived at my house. In a very bad mood, mind you, had drunk the rest of my gin and complained irritably about how frustrating people could be. By the end of the four hour rant I pretty much agreed with everything he’d said and had yawned so many times I was surprised I hadn’t gotten jaw lock.
Best person on the planet? Not likely.
I was undoubtedly in the bottom twenty percent as far as greatness went, and that included all the dark wizards and creepy weirdoes in the world. I could lie with the best of them, but that lie seemed a little too extravagant, farfetched and ridiculous to pull off successfully.
I clicked my pen irritably and decided that writing such garbage would be much easier if I wasn’t stuck in some shitty flat. I was so bored I was even tempted to phone my mother, that’s how bad it had gotten. Maybe I could ask her why I was the best person on the planet? She’d probably laugh me off the phone and tell me to be realistic.
The phone rang. Sadly it probably was mother. Or James. Possibly Max. Cherry had phoned me once or twice, if I was honest.... The phone had been ringing off the hook for about a week. I had no idea how I’d suddenly become so freaking popular. It was irritating.
“Hello?” I said in a bored voice.
“No need to sound so down in the dumps Gracie!” Oh dear Merlin. Uncle Francis.
“Oh, hullo Francis!” I said, trying my best to sound cheerful so he wouldn’t try to council me into happiness. I almost definitely sounded drunk. “What can I do for you?” Maybe I was overdoing the cheerfulness slightly. Next thing he’d have diagnosed me with bipolar.
“Well Pet,” Future reference: anyone who calls me Pet deserves to die. Painfully. “Your mother called and she’s been worried about you – said you seemed a bit down in the dumps!”
For Merlin’s sake.
“Relationship problems? Remember if it’s not making you both happy it’s not a healthy relationship!” Sad thing was, he’d generously donated these pockets of wisdom so many times that I knew them off by heart. “Trouble at work? Remember Gracie -”
“- it only pays the rent.” I finished. I wasn’t sure how that was supposed to make me feel better if I did have work problems, but... “Really, Francis – I’m fine, great actually!”
“Well, your mother said you called her twice last week,” Well next time I won’t bother. Bloody hell. Either I’m calling too much or I’m being snapped at for not answering my phone for a month. Jesh. I am grown woman, “and we all know you only talk to her when you’re feeling a bit low,”
“I am not feeling ‘a bit low.’”
“It’s okay Grace!” Francis assured me. “You’ve been through so much Pet, relapses are inevitable.”
Inevitable? Wonderful. I’ll look forward to it.
“We’re all so proud of you! If there’s any way I could help?”
“Yes, actually,” I said. “I’ve been pulling again; from a rather sensitive spot, if you get what I’m saying, and my boyfriend seems to think it’s weird. Any suggestions?”
There’s nothing like a well fabricated lie to make your therapist-uncle uncomfortable enough that he never attempts to call back. It served him right. He should never assume that his input would be remotely helpful in any way shape or form.
“Wax?” He said very quietly.
Dear lord. This hadn’t exactly worked to plan... and now I was discussing hair removable with my Uncle. That was much too weird. I hung up and shuddered.
Bugger. I hadn’t even gotten anything useful for the bloody assignment and Francis was the type of the person who’d have stores of positives about people’s characters waiting to be spewed out in another display of mindless dribble. I pressed the redial button.
“Hello there, Francis here!” Fuck he sounded mental. If he was my therapist I’d definitely top myself.
“Oh,” His voice seemed to drop. “Hi, Grace!”
“Sorry about that, my er... rice was bubbling over.” Yeah, right, as if I actually cooked for myself (although, honestly – I had been doing recently just to give myself something to do), “thanks for the suggestion; I’ll probably go... wax my armpits tomorrow,” Good recovery Grace. Nice. Awkwardness vanquished – and people say I’m not good at magic? Pfft, “you’re right actually, I feel like absolute shit. I just really hate myself, you know?”
Those seemed to be the magic words. I grabbed my pad of paper – I’d invested – and my pen as the usually ridiculous dribble dripped from the phone in a wave of monotony.
“Don’t say that Gracie! You’re brave, courageous, righteous, loyal...”
It was great that he was just listing the Gryffindor traits. That was probably all he could come up with. I suddenly felt so much better about myself.
Was that I good thing? It always made me think of Donkeys.
Has he seen my NEWT’s?
“... an excellent writer, hard working, determined...”
Now he was definitely talking about someone else.
“...spirited, audacious, up-for-anything...”
(Read: a slag).
“Good with people, non-judgemental, non-discriminatory,”
Slag. Slag. Slag.
Ah, he was getting desperate.
“Curvy, determined, and motivated. “
“Wait, what was the last one?” I asked scribbling down ‘determined’ despite being sure he’d already mentioned it once. I ignored ‘curvy.’ I didn’t need to remind myself that even my relatives (probably especially my relatives) thought I was fat.
“Motivated?” He suggested unsurely.
“Motivated,” I repeated, copying it out in my bold print.
“Another thing Grace, pet.” Francis said down the other end of the line. “You’ve got a great sense of humour!” He honestly had no idea. I hung up at that point and sighed, glancing at the piece of paper feeling decidedly dejected. Maybe I was feeling a little low. I put down my piece of parchment and stared at the phone for a few long moments feeling lonesome. Would it be considered desperate? Had we reached a point in our relationship when I was acceptable...?
Oh sod the etiquette to hell. I punched in the number and snatched the phone off the hook with a grimace. “Hey,” James’s voice said down the end of the receiver. I reposition myself to ensure maximum comfort on my crap sofa, hugging my spare arm around myself.
“Hey James,” I said quietly, “I feel a bit shitty,” Then the line went dead and I cursed myself for ever believing that James could make me feel better, and put the phone down on the coffee table with a sigh.
As well as cooking for myself, which in itself was pretty radical, I’d started the second cleanup operation of the year. On one of these infamous phone calls to mother she’d gone on about the importance of cleanliness and then had the nerve to turn up at my apartment with cleaning potions. It seemed like a waste to ignore them and as James was an idiot (and as Max hadn’t called) I figured now would be as good a time as any to clean my sorrows away.
I pulled my dressing gown tighter around my shoulders and headed to the cupboard under the sink. I removed a purple bottle from its depths and glanced at the front ‘oven cleaner’ - I briefly read the back and got the general idea that you were just supposed to put some of the potion in the oven and leave it to air for a bit, clean it out thoroughly and hey presto you no longer had to pick out of bits of charcoaled pasta bake from your casserole when you’d finished cooking.
James was an idiot. He’d hung up on me. That was just humiliating.
CRACK. I knocked the bottle of oven clean over in surprise, flooding the bottom of the oven in glittering purple liquid. It stank of dentists.
“Bullocks, James?” I muttered turning round to see him standing awkwardly in my pathetic excuse of a kitchen, “what are you -?” and then I realised that his response to my declaration of ‘feeling a bit shitty’ was to just turn up in my flat.
Cute, but slightly unnecessary.
“Are you cooking?”
“Cleaning,” I grimaced, straightening up the bottle of oven cleaner and realising that there was only about an inch left at the bottom. Never mind, I hadn’t cleaned my oven since I’d gotten here. It probably could do with a decent wash.
“Well shit,” James said and it was then that I realised he was armed with a bottle of peach Schnapps and a board game entitled ‘Guess Who.’
I stared at him for a long moment. “Hi James,” I said. He grinned, pushing the coffee table out the way and beginning to set up ‘Guess Who?’ on the floor. I internally smiled and stood up, grabbing two almost clean glasses from the sink and lying down on my crappy carpet.
“Good day?” James grinned, pouring me half a normal sized glass of peach schnapps.
“My therapist Uncle phoned because he thought might be a bit down,” I grimaced. James raised an eyebrow and poured himself a glass of schnapps, “I’ve been chaining it all day, shit it’s been a long week,”
At the mere mention of a fag I suddenly found myself wanting one. Sod it. I fumbled in my dressing gown pocket (dear Merlin, it’s gotten this bad) and retrieved my cigarettes and my lighter fondly.
“Any more thoughts about the wedding?” James asked as he flicked up all the people on his board.
“Well, Max said he’ll come with me, but I have my doubts.”
“Oh right, the boyfriend,” I rolled my eyes and lit up, “how do you play this game again?”
“Pick a card and that’s who I have to guess. Ask questions, try to identify who it is and put the people who it can’t be face down, got it?”
“Erm, so like is it a girl?”
“Yes and yes,” I put all the Toms, Dicks and Harrys down and found myself face to face with a startling variety of cartoon women, “okay,” James said looking up at me with a grin, “would I shag it?”
It was going to be a long game then.
“Well, let me have a smoke,” James said, propped up on his elbows on my living room floor like he was enjoying himself far too much, “you’re hogging all the anti-oxygen,”
“Carbon monoxide,” I corrected.
“Tar,” James added.
“You’re not allowed to smoke,” I returned taking a deep breath inwards, “you’re an international Quidditch player – start acting like one,”
“Now come on Grace, this flat is so full of smoke that I’m going to get cancer anyway. I’d rather at least enjoy my death properly,”
“Well that’s just morbid,” I said, passing him my cigarette so he could take a breath, “did you ever used to smoke then?”
“No,” James said breathing in once before passing it back to me with a smirk, “I’m beyond vices,”
“Well I’m obviously not,” I snorted, swirling round the remains of my glass of schnapps and stubbing out the rest of the cigarette on the face of the Guess Who card ‘Grace’ who wasn’t as beautiful or sexy as me, and was therefore an insult to my name, “I’m beyond Quidditch though,”
“Remind me where you work?” James grinned, flicking ash of Guess-Who-Grace’s face and regarding her with a slight smile, “she’s blonde,”
“Codswallop, Graces’ aren’t blonde,”
“Did you just say Codswallop?” James grinned, topping up both glasses of schnapps with the remains of the bottle and an eyebrow raise.
“Shove off, Potter, everyone can make mistakes.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?”
“Hmmm,” James said considering this with a rather profound expression across his face, “not snatching you up when you were a teenager?”
“Well here’s to colossal mistakes,” I laughed, clinking my glass against his with an unexpected elegance which really did suit me, “but you shouldn’t flirt Potter, I have a boyfriend,”
“I’m not entirely sure he exists,” James returned, narrowing his eyes at me, “it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve made a boyfriend up,”
“I want him to not exist,”
“and why is that?” I asked finishing off my glass and staring at him, “what’s with this sudden Grace interest anyway – you hated me and now you’re all flirting and here and stuff. What’s with that, Potter?”
“Are you sure you have a boyfriend?” James asked and then suddenly he was a lot closer than I thought he had been and all the Schnapps hit me at once and James was blinking at me and, Merlin, what the hell did he think he was playing at?
“Grace,” A voice called out and then I shot upwards, staggering and blinking rapidly because,
“Sodding Max,” I muttered,
“Grace? What the -?”
Remind me to find away to prevent people from flooing into my apartment without warning.
“Erm, Max this is James, James, Max...” I said pointing between them vaguely.
“Are you drunk?” Max asked looking livid. There was a certain question as to whether his anger was reasonable or not. I suspected that it very well might be.
“No!” I spluttered unconvincingly. I was so drunk, “well, not really,” James behind me seemed to be finding this slightly amusing. By all rights he should now be mourning the fact that this boyfriend of mine did actually exist, right? Tosser.
“So you’re drunk with some stranger in your apartment,”
“Look, James isn’t a stranger,” I said before realising that probably wasn’t the best thing to say, “James Potter – you got me to write an article about him!”
“A snogalicious article?” Sodding hell, “I thought I could trust you Grace,” Max said, folding his arms and glancing over my shoulder to glance at James. I’d purposefully tried to block their view of each other for no reason other than to prevent more awkwardness, but I suddenly had a thrilling thought – what if Max felt emasculated by James? I mean, James was now an international Quidditch player where as Max was older, less fit and less successful. A bit of jealousy could really spice things up a bit.
Then I realised that I was a terrible person for wanting my boyfriend to be insecure.
“Maybe I should leave,” James said quietly, picking up the empty bottle of Schnapps and the board game – which made everything look more suspicious than anything.
“I’ll call you,” I muttered faintly, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been drunk.
“What the fuck Grace?” Max demanded the second the ‘crack’ signalled James’s departure.
“James is my friend from school!” I said slightly hysterically, “am I not allowed to have friends now?”
“Well that’s the thing Grace, I thought you didn’t,”
“So that was a good thing was it?” I asked wildly, “you want me to just socialise with you and no one else or something?”
“I just don’t know how I’m supposed to trust you,” Max said stiffly, now he stepped further into my apartment and took a look around the carnage that had been left due the drinking and guess who. He stood on Grace card/ash tray and folded his arms.
“I didn’t do anything,” I said weekly, “I didn’t even do anything. I was feeling down so James came over – what’s wrong with that?”
“Well why didn’t you call me?”
“You hate it when I call you! You always sound so pissed off if I ring! Oh no, Max, you always have to be the one in control and drawing all the lines and I haven’t done your stupid assignment!” I finished, picking up the piece of parchment with my supposed ‘good qualities’ scribbled all over and threw it at him.
“This is ridiculous,” Max muttered sharply, letting the parchment fall to the floor, “I’m not talking to you when you’re this drunk,”
“I’m not that drunk!” I yelled back at him, “you just can’t take the power shift!” but he’d already used my floo powder to vanish in the flames leaving me standing drunk alone and angry in the middle of my flat.
I hated relationships. I picked up the piece of parchment and ripped it right down the centre of the word ‘experienced’ which was ironic considering I’d had plenty experiences of arguments but not even a sixth as many experiences of resolving them.
I glanced at the clock on the oven that still didn’t say the right time and decided that comfort food was the only answer (given I was too drunk for comfort drinking to be an option). A glance through the tiny fridge summed up my life: two bottles of beer, half a green pepper (and we all know the green ones are the worst), a packet of cream cheese, two ready meals and a pizza. No bacon, which was another real blow. The second real blow was that the microwave wasn’t working which left me with no other option but the pizza.
I wacked the heat up and stuck the pizza in the bottom of the oven. I set the timer without bothering to read the back of the packet – I’d be able to smell it when it started to burn anyway. I picked up the four Guess Who cards that had been left in my flat – placing ‘Grace’ with her ash covered face near the phone for safe keeping. I considered phoning James then decided that I was too mad at him. For no real good reason, of course, but I was still mad at him.
After what felt like an eternity of sitting at my sofa trying to decide where else I could work if Max fired me (and coming up with very few options), the oven timer began its incessant bleeping.
Three bites in I remembered the whole oven cleaner thing, mostly because the pizza had a rather strange aftertaste to it. And it was blue. I was hungry though so I decided I could probably ignore both the intriguing bring blue colour and the fact that it tasted a little like mouth wash – only with a slightly coconut after taste.
Half way through the pizza I began to feel slightly sick. I took the next slice with me as I knelt on my knees and opened the oven to look inside it curiously – the fumes that the oven gave off were so overpowering that I started chocking. I was a little unsure how I’d managed to miss them when I’d gotten the pizza out of the oven (with my hands, which was idiotic even for me) but now they made me slightly dizzy.
When dizzy, eat more food. The forth slice of pizza made me feel even more dizzy.
I opened the alcohol cupboard and pulled out the now very nearly empty bottle of oven cleaner and turned it over in my hand.
I really wanted to talk to somebody – I was drunk, angry and now feeling a bit sick. I hated feeling ill. I dropped the pizza back onto the plate and decided I couldn’t eat anything that blue. I deposited the one a half slices left in the oven and wondered over to the phone with the bottle of oven cleaner still clutched in my hand.
I ended up punching in mum’s number, third time recently, and feeling more morose than I could have expected as I waited for it to ring. I turned the bottle over in my hand to distract myself, reading the list of ingredients – bat wings, dragon dung, Billy wig stings... none of which I really wanted to consume.
“Hi mum,” I said when she’d answered the door, now feeling so sick that I had to put my head in my hands. My eye sight was going wobbly but not so wobbly that I didn’t catch that innocent looking warning on the back of the bottle ‘do not inhale fumes or consume this product. If consumed or inhaled in any quantity please seek medical assistance immediately.’
“Think I consumed too much oven cleaner,” was all I managed to say before I dropped the phone and threw up all over the carpet. Then I passed out, knocking the telephone to the floor with a crash and finding myself face to face with the Grace Guess Who card.
“Hello Ms Whitehall, I’m Healer Peters, how are you feeling?” I remembered filling in my medical forms with ‘Ms’ because I thought it made me different and unique. That was nearly a decade ago and now I was acutely aware that ‘Ms’ made me sound like someone very... precious.
“All right, thanks,” I muttered sitting up and blinking around at the ward in St Mungo’s.
“Excellent, here are your potions,” Healer Peters said. I decided just to drink whatever she gave me rather than kicking up a fuss – I was the first class idiot who’d managed to swallow a little too much oven cleaner to be helpful, “your mother brought you in,” Healer Peter’s said whilst I drank the potions, “she was here to visit you just awhile ago, she has been extraordinarily worried,”
“Well, I’m fine – aren’t I? No worrying necessary.”
“Considering what you have done, Ms Whitehall, she has every right to be worried,” Healer Peter’s lips were thin.
“What?” I asked stupidly, staring at her with my mouth slightly open, “I’ll admit it was idiotic but it’s hardly something to get upset about,”
“Idiotic?” Healer Peters questioned primly, “You have very little regard for your life, Ms Whitehall,”
“Er, fine?” I said in agreement, feeling bewildered with all this talk. Peters sniffed, folded her arms over her chest and walked off looking a little too haughty. A bloke on the bed next to me was staring, “what’s with her?” I asked.
He looked away very quickly and pulled the covers up around him. In doing so he exposed his wrists towards me for a fraction of a second – scabbed and covered in dried blood. I blanched. He’d slit his wrists, even I could see that, and for a second I turned to the front and blinked furiously.
In the bed opposite me was a girl who looked so papery thin that I was scared she’d break if she stood up. Horrifically thin, skeletal and frightening. I closed my eyes.
Oh my god. Where was I? Why was I surrounded by these people? It seemed insensitive to put someone like me, who’d accidently consumed some dodgy potion, amongst these sorts of people. I opened my eyes again and looked around – most of the other people looked fairly normal, but had a strange dead look to their eyes which made me want to run away and rip my hair out. I couldn’t be faced with the depressed. It was too real, too emotional and much too big for me to be able to deal with.
Healer Peters came back with a glass of water.
“Look, I think I’m on the wrong ward,” I said quietly, refusing to look at the people in the bed’s next to me.
“Potions abuse,” Healer Peters said emotionlessly. She handed my file to me and raised an eyebrow. I blinked at the implication of the heading ‘overdoes on toxic potion.’
“Oh no no no,” I said quickly, “you’ve got it all wrong – I didn’t take the oven cleaner on purpose, I didn’t... I mean, it was an accident!”
“You inhaled fumes and consumed the potion. We found it mixed in your blood stream with alcohol and -”
“No! I’m just stupid, not depressed,” I said as quietly as possible, “it was an innocent mistake, look – I just don’t clean very much... putting me in here is insensitive, please, move me,”
“There was a picture labelled ‘Grace’ with a cigarette burn in the middle of the face by where you were found,”
“This is all a misunderstanding,” I said helplessly, “you can’t put me here, these people deserve more than to have me around. I’m insulting them, I just... I just got confused. All I did was eat blue pizza! Please, nurse Healers, please move me,”
Thus, I am hiding in a corner of St Mungo’s using one of the magi-phones to call James. I’ll admit I could be being a great deal more discreet and that the smoking really isn’t helping me look conspicuous, but I’m not allowed to leave the hospital and I’m not allowed to smoke.
“... So they think you tried to do yourself in?”
“It’s not funny,” I returned, trying my best not to flick ash all over the floor, “and I don’t know what the bloody Hell Max thinks,” I admitted staring at my feet glumly. Sure, it didn’t look good – me ending up in hospital less an hour after our first proper argument due to, all be it accidental, potions abuse.
“Oh dear,” James said, grinning.
“Anyway, Potter, I was serious about what I was asking before – why do you even care about me? I’ve been thinking about it and it doesn’t make any sense. Why did you even have the inclination to be nice to me? You know I’m a nut case.”
“I... can’t you just accept that it was your good looks and charm?”
“No, I can’t,” I returned, breathing in more of the sweet cigarette smoke, “so will you just fess up – especially as this whole thing is your fault anyway,”
“Hardly, and... well, I think it’s best if I tell you face to face. Dinner next week?”
“Can’t,” I muttered, dropping my finished cigarette to the floor before cleaning up the whole mess with my wand, “Max is taking me on holiday. I’ve been given time off work because, you know, they think I’m delicate at the moment. So Max is taking me on his business trip to Spain next week – he came to visit and told me... that’ll be a fun trip, considering he currently thinks it’s his fault I’m in hospital. Bloody hell, what a fuck up,”
“He’s brave, taking you on holiday,” James commented, “considering the potions abuse thing...”
“You know that I didn’t mean to do it, don’t you James? You don’t think...”
“No,” James said, but there was a small part of me that seemed slightly unconvinced by his answer.
“Do you honestly think that I’d ever care enough about a relationship to get that upset about it?”
“No,” James said, “I don’t really think you have any emotions at all, Grace. You just exist,” and then James Potter hung up and I was left sat on the hospital floor, listening to the dial tone and feeling oddly hollow.
A/N - I don't own Guess who or oven cleaner. Or Harry Potter. Just Grace, really...