Chapter 24 : April.
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“Yep,” I said, grinning as I took another sip of my drink, “technically, it was the dietary ready meals that his wife had invested in that was causing me to throw up, but basically, yes. My therapist’s advice resulted in prolonged food poisoning and me thinking I was pregnant.”
“My God,” Jill grinned, beaming, “pregnancy scares are terrifying. George, buy us both a drink.”
“I’m not following the logic.”
“You’ve never had a pregnancy scare!” Jill said emphatically, downing the dregs of her pint and placing her glass down on that bar with a satisfying ‘clink.’ I grinned and finished mine off in turn, wondering whether it always felt this good to be sharing scary near-pregnancy stories over a pint (or several) with people you genuinely considered as friends.
“Pregnancy scare,” George sad, “Jill, you have children.”
“And the pregnancy bit was definitely scary.”
“So what did James do?” George asked, dutifully catching the barman’s attention with a ‘same again’ which would lead to me consuming more than the planned amount of alcohol for the evening – but it was nice, really, and I was greatly enjoying myself.
“It’s never a good sign,” Jill said thoughtfully, “a well.”
“Did he flip out?”
“Well it was a bit more complicated than that,” I conceded, biting my lip slightly, “it had been… quite a bad couple of weeks, see, so I wasn’t entirely sure – ”
“Multiple potential fathers?” George said, raising an eyebrow and grinning. It was nice that there were these people who liked to talk about these things with me and found me amusing. I’d always been a bit of a joke, but it was nice to have a group of people to whom I could play up the joke aspect to things.
“Max?” Jill breathed, her fingers tightening around the glass of her pint as our next lot of drinks arrived. Her expression tightened slightly.
“Yeah,” I said, “and -”
“Oh my god! Three potential fathers!”
“Please,” I said, shaking my head slightly, “it really doesn’t bare thinking about. And I was completely clueless in regards to a time scale.”
“Merlin,” George said, “so, how did James take that?”
“Well, he was quite nice about it really,” I admitted, remembering the feeling of his closing his hand over my hand and the really rather sweet declaration of sticking by me – not that I exactly believed him. But I believed that he had every intention of following through on his promise, which was much more than anyone else in the world would have done, and although I imagined if there’d been a real life baby and a whole case of confused paternity to deal with he would have ended up resenting me and slunk away in the middle of the night. But there was no baby, no drama, no extra complication; and he’d tried to mean it, “Although it’s fairly easy to mean that sort of thing when it’s still a fanciful idea rather than… you know, a screaming yelling crapping thing.”
“Spoken like someone with true maternal instincts.”
“Please,” I said, shaking my head, “I’ve got to be one of the few people so ill-suited to motherhood that… well, I can’t even take care of myself. Hell, the number of plants I’ve managed to kill quite clearly shows how much I should avoid all responsibility over living things.”
“Nah,” Jill said, with a touch of glumness in her voice, “you’d have worked it out. As much as you like to claim otherwise, Grace, you’re quite the touch cookie – you’d have been okay.”
I blinked slightly. I think I’d needed that injection of confidence. Ever since that sudden renewed moment of emptiness after reading the result of that damn pregnancy test and then the tears that had come out of nowhere… well, as much as I’d been assuring everyone that it was for the best and that it was a good thing because I’d be hopeless, it was something different entirely to have someone believe in me.
It was another question of the hypothetical, but Jill didn’t think I’d be a terrible mother. Or at least liked me enough (and trusted me to not be insane enough to purposefully get pregnant) to lie.
“Plus,” George said, raising his glass, “he’d have had the best god father.”
“To Grace,” Jill said, smiling, “who might be unemployed and sort of single and not pregnant, but who is young and free and not drunk enough!”
“- sort of single?” I questioned, clinking my glass against hers with a grin and taking a gulp of drink.
“To Grace,” George agreed, “who is an utter nut case, an awful flirt and a great addition to our regular alcohol-outings.”
“I am wonderful at flirting.”
“To Grace,” Jill finished, “who really needs a new therapist.”
“I’ll drink to that,” I said, clinking my glass for a third time and downing half of my vodka and coke with a distinct grin. “Cheers.”
For some god awful reason I was stuck sitting next to Cherry for the bloody christening, the god awful reason being that Cherry and Dave had named me as godmother. Well, one of many godmothers – I was so far from next in line that it would take a serious bout of plague or a natural disaster for to be even remotely possible for me to end up as a guardian for the child, but the thought was there all the same.
Uncle Eddie tapped my shoulder. I turned around and squinted at him, trying my very best not to look like the sort of person who’d been at the pub until two in the morning (we’d been buying so many drinks it had been financially viable for them to push back last orders by an hour and a half, which was just brilliant) and then tried to drunk phone James Potter, got the number wrong and ordered a Chinese to a random house in derby.
“How’s your love life, Gracie?” Uncle Eddie asked, which was an interesting question but not one I wanted to think about until I’d drank at least another litre of water and slept for over a week.
Sprog One shushed him and told him the service was about to start. I’d forgotten how much I loved children.
“Are you hungover?” Dave asked, looking amused as he slide across the pew to talk to me. Cherry was now trying to calm the baby by walking up and down the aisle. I think I’d probably missed that by closing my eyes and concentrated on not feeling sick.
“I wanted to set a standard for the sort of godmother I intend to be,” I said, glancing up at him, “so yes, very much so, and I intend to be the relative that provides the alcohol for underage drinking,” Dave grinned, “but not until he’s at least fourteen.” I added.
“Uncle Eddie will be so disappointed.”
“Uncle Francis is the one that used to slip me Firewhiskey.”
“Says a lot,” Dave said, “how’s the job search going?”
“I’m having issues with references,” I sighed, “as soon as I’ve finished the refresher courses my teacher will be able to give me a reference, and that’s not going to be for a little while. Damn Max.” Dave gave a sympathetic shrug, but I think he still felt a bit awkward about the fact that I’d been sleeping with his boss. “Noah,” I said, as Cherry walked back up the aisle with Noah held close to her chest, “have you considered the number of two by two jokes, Dave?”
“S’okay,” Dave said, moving away so Cherry could sit back in her case, “we’ve got a therapist in the family.”
Uncle Francis was currently talking to Nana Josaphine about incontinence pants.
I pressed a thumb to my forehead and silently gave up on the lot of them. Bloody crazy, the lot of them.
“Hullo,” I said, smiling as I pressed the phone against my neck and glanced up to the ceiling.
“Gracie!” James said, sounding either half surprised or excited or relieved or confused all at once. Oops. That was definitely my fault. I tried to find an appropriate reaction to this within my repertoire: somewhere in between being cold and uncaring, and internally attacking myself for being idiotic.
“Sorry,” I said, “didn’t mean to leave it so long before calling you. Things have been pretty mad.”
“The wildly busy life of the unemployed?”
“That’s the one,” I said, smiling, “look, want to go out for dinner?”
“Like a date?” James said down the other end of the phone. I resisted laughing at that, although I smiled a little – same old James and same lack of subtlety. Good job, too. Enough things in my life were changing without factoring in James going absolutely crazy too.
“Well, that depends on whether you pay or not.”
“Don’t let Jill catch you talking like that,” James said as I got up to pour myself a drink – stretching the phone line to the maximum point – “she’ll be holding another protest. You’re dismissing the work of hundreds of years of hard core feminists by upholding androcentric ideas.”
“Christ, I introduce you to Jill once and - ”
“- I liked meeting your friends,” James said, “but it doesn’t change my earlier point – ”
“You’re not paying because you’re a man,” I countered, “you’re paying because you’re an international Quidditch star, you dolt, and I’m an unemployed skint person doing elementary magic courses in the hope of one day getting a job which doesn’t involve making coffee.”
“Heard anything back from the coffee restaurant then?”
“Yes,” I said, grumpily, “and they don’t want me either. Nor the muggle cinema.”
“Shame,” James said, “I fancied the free popcorn.”
“Do you know what popcorn is, Potter?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” James admitted, “how was the christening?”
“Oh, you know,” I said, “There was a baby. It wore white. They threw water over it and it cried. Several people nearly died of shock when I was pronounced as God mother. My Uncle Francis started crying when he realised I hadn’t gone out for a fag break throughout the whole of the little gathering afterwards and my Mum told him he was being embarrassing and to stop making a scene. My Dad hadn’t realised I smoked. So, pretty eventful in the end. I read about you friendly against India.”
“Oh dear,” James said, “think I’m losing my touch, Gracie.”
“Well, I thought so too,” I quipped, “you looked better at your last game. But the nitwit who wrote about it was all full of praises. I think it was the girl who got promoted from snogalicious. Well, they had to really… after Jill’s protest which got that section shut down.”
“Max lost his job yet?” James grinned.
“No,” I said, leaning back, “but I think highlighting a couple more areas of sexism in the Quidditch section of the paper and he’ll have to go. She really is quite tenacious.”
“I like her.”
“Should I be jealous?” I grinned.
“Always, Gracie,” James smiled, “I missed you. You should have called.”
“Phone works both ways, Potter,” I said, “and you’ve been in bloody India for a week. Pretty sure I can’t afford international phone bills. Not that I can really afford any bills but, well, not the point really.”
“You free tonight?”
“I have homework,” I admitted, grimacing, “oh dear, never thought I’d say that again. Tomorrow, though? Maybe. I’ll just…” I paused, reaching out for the place I’d been trying to keep storing my wand to prevent the continual cycle of losing my wand, finding it, putting it in a safe place and then losing it all over again. I’d been late to my Magic Classes four times thanks to not being able to find my wand (which was, apparently, essential for this magic stuff). “James, where’s my wand?”
“I can honestly tell you I have no idea.”
“Oh… Oh, shit.”
“I was… oh, crap, James I was getting my chicken out of the freezer for dinner and then two pieces were stuck together so I was using my wand to separate them and then I… well, I dropped my wand in the freezer and I figured I’d get it in a minute but then I forgot why the freezer was open and… James, James I think I’ve frozen my wand.”
The sound of James laughing down the other end of the phone wasn’t exactly surprising and I found my own lips twisting up into a smile as I left the phone on the side and tugged the freezer draw open.
“James,” I called to the phone, “it’s frozen to the bottom of the bloody freezer draw!”
My attempts at wrenching it free only succeeded in sending me falling backwards onto my arse, swearing a lot and hearing James laugh harder down the other end of the bloody phone.
I picked it up again and sighed.
“Be helpful or I’ll hang up,” I said irritably, “I need my damn wand.”
“How do you usually defrost things?”
“With my wand.”
“That’s ironic,” James grinned, “how much is in the freezer draw?”
“Most of the food I own,” I admitted miserably, “and it’s… it’s pretty frozen.”
“I’ll come over,” James declared, sounding all too happy about the idea, “damsel in distress and all.”
“It’s hardly a dragon slaying moment,” I told the dial tone, “it’s just… Fuck James why do you always have to practically apparate on top of me it’s not funny. Stop laughing at me.”
“It’s not like I know where you’re going to be standing, Gracie. I’m just a good guesser.” James said, walking over to the freezer, peering in then bursting into laughter. “That is very frozen.”
“Do wands work after they’ve been defrosted?”
“Interesting question,” James said, catching my eye for a second. Then we were both laughing for a few minutes straight, with James’s hand reaching for my arm to support himself. Or, more likely, just because he could, “We could defrost the whole draw and cook a lot of food?” James suggested, his lips still twitching upwards.
“I bet you made me freeze my wand on purpose so you could come over.” I complained.
“It is a time and tested method. I should have known you’d recognise it. You know how this could have been prevented?” James suggested lightly, drawing out his own wand and taping it experimentally against my frozen wand. Nothing exploded, so that was always a bonus. “You should have just defrosted both pieces of chicken and invited me over for dinner.”
I looked up at him over the draw of the freezer. If anyone were to walk into my apartment now they would likely be quite confused about the whole thing – both of us crouched next to the freezer over a bit of wood that was frozen to the bottom of the freezer, looking at each a little too seriously for the given situation.
“Didn’t mean to ignore you.”
“That’s all right then,” James said, shutting the freezer ceremoniously, half crawling across the floor to minimise the space between us and kiss me against the bottom half of the kitchen cabinets (and thus, there is proof that romance isn’t quite dead yet; James was still able to happily wound the concept at will), “next time, you’re coming to bloody India or wherever it is with me.”
“As your partner?” I questioned, to which James responded by kissing me again. Insert Snogalicious moment here. Tingles etc.
“Course not,” James said, “as my bloody translator.”
“Better hope it’s somewhere in Europe then.”
“Better hope it’s somewhere that speaks English,” James said, curling his hand around my waist and half pinning me to the floor. The door of the kitchen counter – the one that always came open of its own accord – shut again thanks to the extra pressure, “or else we’re screwed.”
“My French is passable,” I returned, my fingers twisting in the material of his robes – and with me leaning forwards slightly to do so the cupboard door opened again behind me – “better than yours.”
James kissed me again. The cupboard door shut. I wrapped my arms around his neck. The cupboard door opened.
“God that’s annoying,” I muttered, “and James, this isn’t very dignified.”
“No,” James admitted, grinning, “but you’re not very dignified, your name is quite clearly a misnomer and we need to work out how to defrost your wand so you can do your homework.”
“- this isn’t helping.” I pointed out, running a hand through his infernally and eternally messy hair feeling slightly better about the whole thing. The whole ‘partner’ comment had slipped out without me really meaning it to, because after everything our relationship seemed to just happen all at once.
We flirted a bit. We’d gone out for dinner, I’d stayed over at his (for three days straight, but we didn’t need to talk about that), we’d had coffee. I took him to the pub to meet Jill and George. Lily turned up at his apartment bright one morning and found me eating breakfast in his old Quidditch kit. I was dragged along to Quidditch matches.
We hadn’t precisely talked about any of it, because part of me still thought that it might be too soon for an actual relationship and the other part of me didn’t care. It had just happened. And I liked it.
“On the contrary,” James said, his nose brushing against mine for a second, “I’m finding it all very helpful.”
Maybe I was bordering on twenty nine and was still unemployed, unmarried and utterly childless. Not quite single, but instead semi-committed to a bloke who used to bully me and still believed it was his fault our fellow classmate had taken her life (not in a position I’d ever envisioned when thinking about the future). Not quite friendless, with a motley crew of individuals who were all quite strange and quite inappropriate for friendship material and drank far too much. And maybe the only thing I had to show for my whole life was a bunch of stories I’d scribbled down when trying to ignore the nicotine cravings, but there were some damn good stories.
Maybe I wasn’t there quite yet.
But, give it a couple of months, I’m sure it’ll all fall into place.
I can't believe I'm saying this... but, yeah, this is the end. Wow. I think I'm going to miss Gracie and you guys, but thanks for reading! For the longest time this was my least reviewed, least read, personal next gen story... but I'm so glad for all the support this has gotten from you guys (especially in the past year)! I've loved writing about Grace and her journey and it's been an hour to share in this with other people. There are a few bits and pieces that I have written more but this seemed like the right place to end, so here we go. Hopefully you like the ending :)
A special thank you to Liz for reading this over for me, to my flatmate Alice who reads this story (!!) and to Hanzi for loving Gracie as much as I do.
Thank you all of you! You're lovely and wonderful :)