Chapter 1 : March 1999
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When I was a young girl, all pigtails and knee-high socks, my nanny used to read me stories. Fairy tales, you might say, but no matter how much I searched for them as I grew up I couldn’t find any evidence of them in print. This led me to the conclusion that she had made them up.
Or so I had thought.
For as long as I could remember I’d had a nanny – live in babysitter – to take care of me whilst my parents were at work for most of the day. They were lawyers so the hours were long and the stress levels high. When they were at home, I barely saw them. Instead I had Lucy to watch me, play with me and take me to school.
She was always a little odd, Lucy. Not in a bad way – just an unusual way.
For instance, sometimes she’d say words that didn’t quite make sense to me. Things like ‘Diagon Alley’ and ‘Hufflepuff’. Once I’d asked her what they meant but she brushed them off, relating them back to her fairy tale stories of a magical castle in the highlands of Scotland. Even when I turned sixteen and she stepped down from her role of nanny, Lucy maintained that the stories were true.
I’ve never forgotten her.
“Audrey,” the muffled voice of my roommate echoed through the cramped flat we shared. It was so tiny we had to share a bedroom too but it was the most we could afford, and even then sometimes it was hard to keep up with the rent in between studying and working part-time.
The door shut with a soft thump followed by the quiet padding of feet before she appeared in the kitchen, clutching the morning post. “Here,” said Nicole, throwing a pristine looking letter onto the table beside my half soggy bowl of cornflakes with a flick of her tiny wrists.
I thanked her, setting down my spoon to open it. Instantly the cursive swoop of my mother’s handwriting jumped out at me. She never had quite grasped the concept of mobile phones. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to have contact from her at all. Since I’d been at university in London we had barely spoke – if you could call it that - aside from the times I’d travelled back to the Manor house in Wiltshire to visit her and my father.
Audrey, it said.
How is college darling? Your father and I miss you a lot. I know you are very busy with your studies but I’m afraid what I have to say cannot wait any longer as I have already prolonged it enough.
Your father is very ill. I’m sorry you have to hear it through a letter but I simply cannot make the journey to London at a time like this to tell you in person. You shouldn’t come home, as much as you may want to. It is best if you stay away.
I’m sorry Audrey.
And then it was signed with her indistinguishable signature. As if I were just another client.
I threw the letter to the floor, angrily raking a hand through my dark full fringe.
Once upon a time my mother had forbidden me from such a drastic haircut as I had now; she preferred the long, looseness that used to span my back. The first thing I did when I reached London was cut it all off, leaving my locks just past my shoulders in a tattered mess. She screamed for five hours when she saw me again at Christmas.
Nicole gingerly picked up the letter from the floor, glancing at me for permission to read it. I nodded wearily.
Her eyes scanned the page quickly, racing from side to side as she read the short letter. As I watched, slowly her shoulders began to drop; her features began to soften into a sympathetic expression.
“I’m going out,” I said abruptly.
“You’re – what?” Nicole’s head snapped up to look at me with wide eyes. “No, you should stay here. Watch some films or some –”
“I’m going out,” I repeated firmly. “I’ll talk to you later.”
And so I stood up and walked to our bedroom, grabbing my purse and keys and the novel I had to read for my Literature course, The Great Gatsby. As I came back through the kitchen/living area, Nicole made some more noises of protest but I ultimately ignored her, slamming the door shut behind me.
Nicole and I lived in apartment building rather than a house because it was so much cheaper and it meant we wouldn’t have to room with other students we might not like. Unfortunately, we were on the sixth floor and the lift was down for maintenance all week.
Although my parents could probably afford for me to have a penthouse suite all by myself in some swanky area of central London, I didn’t want to do it that way. I had an emergency fund for if I desperately needed some money that they had set up but unless there seriously was an emergency I wasn’t going to touch it. I wanted to support myself, not rely on my family’s extortionate income.
In a way, it was just another little act of rebellion; a part of me my parents couldn’t control.
* * * * *
Three hours later I found myself in a coffee shop I had never visited before. Nicole was a big fan, I recalled as I first entered the shop but I’d never found the time to try out the drinks myself.
Now I did.
The store hadn’t been there long – a year tops – so it was very modernly decorated. I ordered a mocha frappuccino from the barista, watching as his calloused hands worked deftly to add the ingredients.
“Go and take a seat,” he smiled. “I’ll bring it over when I’m done.”
“Oh,” surprised registered on my face. “Alright then.”
I chose a comfy looking chair near the window so I could watch the passerbys as I drank. It was peaceful and surprisingly calming as I let the steaming scent of coffee wash over me.
In the way that some people find respite in the proximity of a loved one, I found my peace in that little corner café off Duncannon Street.
* * * * *
Over time I would go back day after day, sometimes twice a day, to sit by the window and read.
Eventually I discovered I was not alone in my repetitive journeys. It took me a while to notice the lanky, red-haired man that sat across the shop a lot. But I did notice him. Eventually. I would smile to myself when I saw him walk past through the window and my eyes would flicker up to meet his each and every time the tinkle of the door opening sounded.
Wondering where he went, where he was from, what he liked to do, become a daily sort of game for me. Every time I saw him – and even on the disheartening days where I missed him – I would create a new scenario for his life inside my head. The words of my novels would drift away on the scent of coffee, replaced with ideas and guesses and questions for the man with the horn-rimmed glasses.
Nicole was curious to say the least.
I was sat up late one night, reading by lamplight in my bed when she came into the bedroom to find a clean pair of pyjamas.
“Didn’t you finish that at the coffee shop earlier?” Nicole frowned at me, eyeing the tattered library-copy of Persuasion.
“Urm,” I hesitated on the final page, a few short sentences away from finally finishing. “I was a little preoccupied.”
Preoccupied with thoughts of the red-haired man, of course.
Nicole nodded slowly though I could tell she did not believe the lie I was feeding her. “Fair enough. Have you heard any more about your dad yet?”
Breathing out a sigh of relief at the topic change, I grinned, throwing a well-worn letter at her from my desk. “He’s doing great. Read this, it came this morning.”
It was a letter from my father this time, not my mother. He’d always held a lot more affection for me than the latter. It was also nice to see how he was still capable of letter writing. In it he detailed his recovery and how he was definitely on the mend. The rain had cleared for a passing moment; letting rays of sun reach down through the heavens to caress my cheek with fondness.
For the first time in weeks, I was truly, one hundred percent, irrevocably happy.
* * * * *
“Hello, I hope you don’t mind, but would it be alright for me to sit here?”
Startled, my head snapped away from my daydreams with the full force of a hurricane. There before me, complete with briefcase and coffee cup, was my fellow recurring character.
The stars were aligning, the clouds were clearing in celebration… and my drink was going cold as I gawped at the man.
“I – yes, sure.”
“Thanks,” he smiled fleetingly as he took the spare seat at my cluttered table.
Being by myself had allowed me to become messy, thus resulting in the vast array of papers and folders and the odd hardback book that littered the table top. I just found it so much easier to think there than I did at home.
I apologised as I drew them all into my canvas bag - out of sight, out of mind.
“Audrey Peterson,” he read aloud from the top of one of my folders.
“Huh?” I asked, for a moment completely confused.
“Your name,” he smiled, indicating the scrawl of ink. “It’s quite pretty. I’m Percy, Percy Weasley.”
“Oh,” I allowed myself my own small grin. “Hello then.”
I don’t think he minded just sitting there, silently watching each other. For a few long minutes neither of us said anything more. My hand went round and round, stirring my drink with long, tedious strokes that occupied my mind as I examined his face and his great blue eyes that looked like they had seen a thousand tragedies. They were the eyes of an old man who had lived his life. They should not have been Percy's.
Eventually I broke the eye contact and focused on the scuffed wooden table top.
“You don’t know me, do you.” To my surprise Percy's tone was laced with relief. When I looked up, I saw his eyes soften at the corners.
If I was honest, the statement threw me a bit. Wrinkling my forehead, I turned to look out of the window. Outside was a whirlwind blur of movement; middle aged men rushing around with briefcases tucked underarm; tourists pointing with awe at building after building; teenagers chasing after one another without a care in the world.
Did I know Percy? The man whose name I didn’t know until a few, short seconds ago, the man who has consciously plagued my thoughts whenever I entered the quaint London coffee shop.
I knew what he looked like. I knew he always ordered a flat white. Were those things important? Or were they fanciful facts about a crush I had let get out of hand.
Eventually, I replied. “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
And the wide grin that split open his face confirmed I had answered correctly.
When I think back to that first, proper encounter perhaps I should have been scared. But I wasn’t. In the months to come I would learn just how important it was to him that I didn’t know him.
And yet I would come to know him.
The story of Audrey Elizabeth Peterson and Percy Ignatius Weasley was not one I would let go of easily.
It was one I would one day hope to tell my children.
* * * * *
A/N: Hello! This is chapter one of a tiny short story I’m writing for DracosGirl012’s Non-Magical Character challenge. It’s probably going to be only 2-3 chapters so don’t worry about me getting snowed under. I decided on Percy/Audrey because I think the pairing has potential for extreme fluff and is quite underdone within the fandom – so I thought I’d give it a shot :D Just to clarify, Audrey is a Muggle here. In the coming chapters, she will discover the Wizarding world.
Disclaimer: Persuasion was written by Jane Austen, The Great Gasby by F Scott Fitzgerald .
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