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In the past three weeks I had:

Been on a whole three dates (which, sadly, was a personal record).

Started, and lost, three new jobs (again – personal record).

Drank more alcohol and smoked more cigarettes than I’d ever done before.

And... been offered my worst nightmare in the form of a job at the Daily Prophet sporting section which basically consisted of writing questions for interviews to ask big headed sport (Quidditch) stars so that pathetic teenage girls could drool over their pictures and dream of getting married to them. (Ignore the fact that I had just short of a decade long subscription to every Quidditch magazine going so I could cut out the pictures and stick them on my ceiling/walls so that I could dream that they were in bed with me, because I don’t think it’s fair to hold one’s teenage crushes against them). 

You would think, considering I have achieved so many personal bests within the past week I would feel slightly fulfilled but... it was not the case. I felt sorry for all those people in the Record books who must have worked so hard to earn a title for doing something so stupid and ridiculous and then to find... they didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment or fulfilment at all. I, for one, actually feel even worse than I did three weeks ago for one very simple reason (ignoring the over-drinking, over-smoking and over-eating)... 

My life sucks. No seriously, my life actually sucks.

Today, apart from being a gloomy pathetic excuse for a ‘summer’s’ day given that there was no sun (even though it’s June for god’s sake), was also my twenty eighth birthday. 

You would think, if my life resembled anything close to fair, fulfilled, or good I would at least have a boyfriend who loved me (and wants to marry me and have children with me) by this very late point within my life. However as it stood nothing really had changed within the last three weeks and I was still; jobless, friendless, penniless, single, lonely and pathetic. Only now I was officially a year closer to thirty with nothing to show for myself at all.

The joyous feelings are so strong that I was tempted to buy twenty eight candles so I could light them and throw them at people until they burn to a crisp, or shove them up some of my fellow Hogwartians arses because – let’s be honest – who wouldn’t want to be in my situation? Single, practically middle aged, unemployed and friendless. And, of course, spending my birthday alone.

Somebody throw a party.

Except nobody did. I had expected, stupidly, that my family would throw some sort of surprise bash for me as nothing had been mentioned prior to this truly joyful occasion, although frankly I should have known better. As it turned out when I had quizzed mum about her lack of concern for my birthday she’d assumed I was ‘doing something with one of my friends’ and that I was ‘too old for birthday presents now.’ I, feeling incredibly stupid and a little bit crappy, had informed her that of course that was the case and I was going out with one of my friends from the dry cleaner’s to celebrate. 

She’s asked if this friend was male.

The said friend didn’t exist so I told her that yes he was male, and now she’s told all of my relatives that I have a date which brightened up their days I’m sure. So at least there is a silver lining – for someone else at any rate.

I screwed up my list hastily and threw it into the bin when I heard the doorbell of my flat go off (my parents were paying for it). I picked up my tub of (double chocolate chip) ice cream before walking the great distance (half a meter) towards the door and throwing it open.

You get to a point in life, for me it turns out it’s my 28th birthday, when you have to throw your dignity and grace (haha, pun on my name – hilarity) out of the window mentally sod the world and answer the door mid ice-cream-binge dressed in somewhat inappropriate clothing. Or maybe I reached that point at the age of eleven.  Who even cared (nobody, Grace, nobody cared)? It was probably just someone trying to sell me windows or something – although obviously I had windows already, well, I had a window and I wouldn’t exactly mind having another but that wasn’t exactly possible – so the extent of this conversation was going to be me telling him that he was wasting his time and shutting the door in his face.

It was Cousin Dave. Oh well, that was an exciting and thrilling turn of events.

“Hi.” I answered gloomily stabbing the ice cream with my spoon and shovelling a scoopful into my mouth.

“Hi.” Cousin Dave said awkwardly taking in my appearance. I still had my pyjamas on but unlike any normal twenty eight (ew) year old my sleeping gear was neither sexy or attractive and instead consisted of a T-shirt I’d had since I was thirteen. I hadn’t done my hair either. Or my makeup. I may have looked a little bedraggled/ rough/ like I’d been living in a bin for the past few years of my life. “Your mum said you were... out.” He said as I shoved the spoon back into the ice cream tub. “On a date?” 

“I lied.” I said opening the door to allow him to enter my apartment. He was carrying a pot plant with the tag ‘Happy Birthday’ written on it and a bottle of cheep looking wine. Still, it was the thought that counted.

“Erm... happy birthday.” He said, glancing around my pitiful excuse of a flat. He was acting moderately polite and made no comment on the fact that I had three days’ worth of washing up to do, had clothes all over the floor and three empty tubs of ice cream on the counter.

He pressed the bottle of wine into my hands and I took it and headed over to grab one of the glasses out the cupboards.

 “Where do you want this?” He asked awkwardly holding up the plant. All work surfaces we’re covered in clutter and/or crap. I pushed of a pile of newspapers from the coffee table and placed the plant down on the surface instead. 

“Take a seat.” I said gesturing towards my sofa. I hoped he wouldn’t accept, and would instead excuse himself to go have fun with his pregnant fiancé or whatever, but he didn’t. He headed towards it carefully, stepping over the various mounds of crap on the floor, and sitting down gingerly.  “Would you like some?” He nodded politely and I poured two glasses (large glasses – it was the best way these days) before heading back over to the sofa and slumping down on it. I passed it to him. He took it. 

There was a long awkward pause whilst none of us said anything. 

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had a real conversation with Cousin Dave since I was around twelve years old which was a bloody long time ago. 

“Thanks for the plant.” I said at exactly the same time he said –

“Having a good birthday day?” 

There was another awkward pause. I took a sip of the wine. It tasted crap, but better than the stuff I had in.

“Does it look like I’ve had a good birthday?” I asked gesturing around my flat. 

“No.” He answered truthfully. He took a sip of his own wine. “How come you aren’t... out?” He asked looking dubiously at what I was wearing. 

“Who would I be out with?” I asked. “I don’t have any friends and my own family couldn’t be arsed. I’m the most pathetic twenty eight year old ever.” I complained feeling altogether rather pathetic (as former mentioned and probably inferred from embarrassingly crap circumstance). 

“No you’re not.” Dave assured me unconvincingly. He looked very scared at the prospect of having a depressed/emotional female on his hands. Wasn’t his fiancé pregnant? He should learn to deal with it fast. If you thought about it, I was doing him/his fiancé a big favour.

“I have no friends. The highlight of my week was when I found a galleon in the pocket of my coat. I’ve been on three disastrous dates in the past two weeks but am otherwise completely single. I’ve started three god awful jobs. Lost three god awful jobs. My parents are paying for my rent. I’m relying on my family to give me a social life. I’ve put on a stone since coming back to England and it’s my birthday and I’ve spent the whole day on my own, in my nightwear, eating fecking ice cream which I only brought because it was on special offer!” I wailed. 

Dave looked at me for a second and placed down his glass of wine. He picked up one of the newspapers (the Daily Prophet) and began looking through the ‘jobseekers’ page where I had circled a few things and crossed a few things out. 

“You’d honestly rather do waitressing work than work at the Daily Prophet, where there’s actually a chance of moving up in your job? Where you get almost twice the amount of pay? And where you probably won’t get fired considering I’m one under the big man?” He asked and I thought about it for a second. 

He had a point. 

Grace Whitehall, welcome to your worst nightmare.

I’d shoved myself into one of the skirts (which I’d had to enlarge slightly for it to fit around my fat arse) that I’d brought when I’d been waitressing in Germany. Then I’d shoved my boobs into one of my shirts and had just about managed to fasten it. Then I’d tried on every shirt in my wardrobe to make sure I had the one which made me look thinnest on before leaving the house and flooing to the headquarters of the Daily Prophet (fifteen minutes late – oops). 

It was depressing how much weight I’d put on since I’d last had a real job which required office type wear and how utterly hideous I looked. You would have thought, given I couldn’t afford my rent let alone my food bill, that I would have lost weight, but seemed my distinct lack of money was still enough to keep me supplied in chocolate and comfort eating.

I’d go on a diet tomorrow – a real diet – a full on healthy eating, exercising diet. Honest.

“So this is your desk.” The vapid girl said pointing at what was, unmistakably, a desk. All the girls in here seemed to be the sporty types with no real figure and muscles which made them look a little butch (no offence intended to them, but that’s what they looked like) which is what I would have expected in the sporting section. This would be where all those not quite good enough to play professionally would end up – writing about those who’d beaten them. Well, no wonder they all look depressed. “If you need anything, ask someone.”  She added in helpfully. 

On the upside most of the males here were hot, although I seriously question how riding around with a broomstick between your legs can be good for a man… but I supposed Harry Potter managed to reproduce (unfortunately) along with the rest of the Weasley clan which definitely meant that it couldn’t have too much of a negative influence. Still.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked before she had a chance to leave. 

“Oh.” She said. “Dave will come and tell you when he’s found something.” She said before walking off with a man-swagger and sitting down at her desk ungracefully. 

At least here I looked womanly and graceful, which didn’t happen in many other places. The downside was that compared to all these tiny and perfectly proportioned, and muscled, sport types and I looked like a half giant or a colossal walking globule of fat in a shirt, skirt and suit jacket which wouldn’t quite stretch over my chest and therefore refused to do up. I was sure that’s a look that most men go for though. In mental homes.

“Hello.” A voice said. I jerked around abruptly to see a woman sitting at the desk next to mine who was definitely nothing like the others. She was pretty pale (not surprising in this weather, bloody England), had black wiry (slightly frizzy) hair which was hanging limply around her shoulders and bright red lipstick on. Interesting. She was also wearing a brilliantly out of fashion pair of glasses and a tourist T-shirt with a picture of a bear on and the words ‘send more tourists, the last ones were delicious’ written in big white font. 

“Hi.” I said awkwardly and sat down slowly (so the chair wouldn’t break which was likely considering how much heavier I was compared to the others. Well, not the males, they all seemed to be 99% muscle and 1% stupid long hair) and looked at my desk. It wasn’t a particularly fascinating desk, as desks go, but seemed to be fully functioning as a future work surface.

“I work here.” The woman next door informed me and I nodded (again slowly because so far she seemed a little... weird). “I’m Jill.” I nodded again. “I got transferred. Two weeks ago.” Her voice made her seem far off and a little spaced out. 

“I’m Grace.” I said holding out my hand for her to shake. She took it and smiled at me warmly. She seemed all right. “What’s it like here?” I asked and Jill shrugged and pulled open the draw on her desk. I looked downwards to see what might be in there (because I’m a nosey cow) and saw that she had a bag full of lollipops and a jar which seemed to contain... muggle party poppers? Right...

“It’s all right.” Jill answered pulling out a ruler and measuring her desk. “Could be worse.” She continued leaning over to measure the length of my desk too. “Same size.” She said seeing the strange look I was giving her. “I got transferred because I held a protest about how some people had larger desks than others because it was sizest, ageist, sexist and prejudiced against the workers. So they transferred me. How come you’re here? You don’t seem the sporty type?” 

Read: you’re fat and have breasts.

“No...” I said slowly. “I’m just desperate for a job.” 

“Ah, okay.” She nodded. “That happens a lot. I’m divorced.” She added and I nodded. “I have two children under the age of five, I’m on anti-depressants and now I live with my therapist who has been divorced twice.”

“I’m single and pathetic.” I said back. 

“Aint life a bitch.” She said before pulling out a folder of pieces of parchment and rearranging them on the desk. “I do the layouts. Well, I design them, get told that they’re too un-boring by each individual writer and then I redo them to make them the same as they were the previous week.” 

“Sounds fun.” 

“Not really.” Jill said. “I hate my job.” 

“Oh, okay.” I said picking up a piece of parchment and starting to doodle on a piece of paper. Obviously I had nothing to do at all and if they were going to pay me for it I wasn’t going to complain. In fact when I got home I was going to be so incredibly impressed by how fantastic my day had gone that I’d probably start on the washing up, if I wasn't too tired from actually being dressed for such a long period of time.

“Do you like this one?” She asked pulling a piece of parchment out and waving it in front of me. I looked over and saw the article title ‘SNOGALICIOUS!’ float across the parchment and make bubble popping noises. A very realistic fish swam across the article and the article itself seemed to be moving like it was underwater. 

“That’s amazing. Although slightly irrelevant and completely mad.” I was never one for subtleties – they usually eluded me and went drastically wrong when I did attempt them, so I decided that honesty was the best policy and if honesty wasn’t an option, keep your mouth firmly shut. The layout was really quite beautiful and I really did feel like I could be underwater.

“Yes...” She said, nodding. “Maybe I should make it themed about... the jungle!” 

“Or why not about... kissing?” I suggested reading the name of the article again. Who writes an article entitled snogalicious anyway? It sounded like a disease, or a teenager lip gloss trying to selling itself to desperate teenagers who were dying to become ‘snogalicious.’ Not that I’d know anything about desperate teens.

“Oh, maybe.” She nodded before beginning working on her layout. She turned back to her pieces of parchment, pulled out her wand and started muttering. I turned my attention back to my doodle and added in a couple of flowers and some hearts onto it with my biro. How productive.

“Jill!” A sing song voice exclaimed and I felt my heart sink dramatically in my chest. Even after nine years I recognised her voice and it still made me mildly suicidal. Cherry Mandise. James Potter’s ex-girlfriend and Grace hater extraordinaire. The second title was earned in between the time when she broke into my dorm and set all my clothes on fire and the time where she spiked my pumpkin juice at breakfast which was supposed to make me think I was her best friend (thus making a fool out of me) but instead resulting in all my hair falling out.

There’s always ones girl at school, who you’d pay a year’s wages – not that that’s very much coming from me – just so you’d never see her again. My own personal experience of schooling meant that I’d pay good money to avoid all of them, but Cherry was definitely in the top five of who I most wanted to avoid (James Sirius Potter claiming spot number one by a couple of hundred miles). I’d hated everything about her: her stupid blonde hair; the way she always managed to get her skirt the right length – whilst mine refused to cooperate and insisted on being either slagish or nunish, and never allowing me to get to that crucial medium – and her stupid flirting ways which were so much more fruitful and successful than mine. 

She was the year above, skinny, clever and absolutely horrible.

As if this job couldn’t get any less appealing. Now I’d rather have a sex change then be forced to spend infinite amount of time in this cruddy office. I was going to quit. I was going to walk out right now and –

I tried to look very busy at my desk and shoved my piece of parchment complete with doodle in one of the drawers and pulled out another. She couldn’t know it was me. I didn’t know what she’d say.

“Have you got my layout?”  She asked and I hoped that she was the author of ‘snogalicious’ because then I could secretly hate her and laugh at how pathetic she was. I crossed my fingers under the desk and hoped and wished that she’d leave before realising who I was (and accidently trip over and die). 

“Yes.” Jill said opening up a fairly normal looking layout with a big picture of a pretty attractive Quidditch player. 

Here comes the bitching and the tearing apart of every single aspect of Jill’s character and, no offence to the woman, but from what I’d seen so far there was plenty she could find to tear. Jill would be reduced to a snivelling and dribbling mess by the time Cherry Mandise was finished. I’d have to peel her off the floor and send the remains to her therapist/children in an envelope. It was a shame. I was sure she’d been a charming person, if only I’d had the chance to get to know her properly.

“That’s really good.” She nodded much to my surprise. My organs combusted. My brain exploded. My feet dropped off in shock. “Could you make this bit a little larger?” She asked. “I need the picture to take up most of the page because that guy is as boring as hell – thanks.” She said as Jill made the desired changes. I glanced at her, using my hair as a shield from any glares/unwanted attention, and noted that she was no longer blonde, and that she was smiling in a subtle manner that utterly shocked me.

Maybe she wasn’t Cherry Mandise? It had nearly been a decade, after all, but... at the same time I was sure. I’d had nightmares about running into this girl... 

“Also, Dave said I was getting a new assistant...” She began and I internally died. This could not be happening. Seriously. “And he was placing her near you...” 

“That would be Grace.” Jill said nodding over to where I was sat. I was screwed. Done for. She was going to laugh in my face and start talking to me as if I was a rather stupid dog that didn’t understand the concept of communication and was actually more interested and chewing up bones and sniffing fellow dog’s arses than listening to her speak. To be honest, I think chewing up bones and sniffing people's arses probably would be more fun than listening to her - so at least she got that right.

“Grace.” She said looking over to me. I looked up warily. “Grace Whitehall!” She exclaimed. “My god!” She said looking me up and down. “Where have you been all these years?” 

Why hadn’t she slapped me? I’d been waiting for it – counting on it even.

 “Abroad.” I answered a little defensively. So far she had done nothing to evoke a negative response from me but still.... I was allowed to be on guard given everything that had happened before (which will not be expanded any further – memories of these times are completely unnecessary).  She’d been bitchiness personified.

“I don’t blame you!” She exclaimed. “I was going to try and find you,” She continued. “I mean, I am so sorry! Hogwarts... I was such a bitch! Sorry! I was just screwed up because of my mum’s alcohol addiction.”  

Oh. Wow.  

“Oh. Did she... get well?” I asked awkwardly. Who would say that?

“No, she died.” Cherry said. “But I got over it and I decided to become a better person. Now I’m an interviewer.” She said with a genuine smile. I wasn’t used to that expression being on her face; it was normally a fabulously fake bitchy smirk and it made me doubt everything I’d ever thought about the wall. “Sorry, this might be a lot to take in...” She trailed off and smiled. “Anyway! As it turns out you’re my assistant – I wonder why Dave didn’t say. He probably wanted it to be a surprise...” she trailed off and turned around which meant, at this different angle I could see something that I had completely missed before... she was pregnant.

Well, I reprimanded myself angrily; you can’t have expected everyone to stay exactly the same for the past ten years. Half of my school friends could be married, mothers, in sensible careers. 

My stomach churned. 

“You’re pregnant!” I said in my most intelligent voice. I was always known for being a bit of an intellectual, if I say so myself.

“Yes.” She agreed. “Didn’t Dave tell you?”

“No, why would he tell me...”  Then I saw the great big shinny engagement ring on her finger and began putting things together... “Are you engaged to...?” 

“Dave, yes.” She said grinning. “We’re going to be cousins-in-law! How have you missed this? Oh I suppose you were abroad for a couple of years and I haven’t been coming to anything with your family recently because I’m absolutely snowed under – which is why you got the job as my assistant I suppose!” 

“It was probably mentioned but I don’t listen much to their ramblings.” I said and she smiled prettily. I had to admit that now she’d stopped bleaching her hair blonde and oranging herself she was very... naturally beautiful. It sickened me to my core. I liked to imagine her in a slightly less respectable position – like in prison. 

“Oh, this is all working out so brilliantly!” She exclaimed happily. “We’ll talk more in my office.” She said standing up and gesturing for me to follow her. “One thing that’s good about being engaged to the boss – I actually get my own office now but don’t tell anyone I said that.” She added. “Jill might start another protest!” 

“Is Jill a bit...?” 

“Odd.” Cherry supplied. “Yeah, well...  She’s lovely though. Brilliant too.” She said pushing open the door to her office and gesturing at a seat opposite her desk. I sat down. “My job is basically to interview Quidditch players. I started off doing the snogalicious -”

“I’m sorry but what is that?” I asked cutting across her. She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically as if was something she very much disapproved of. 

“They hire a pretty young stupid girl straight out of Hogwarts to go out and kiss some of the Quidditch stars and write about their kissing skills. They have a scale and everything, it’s awful. Anyway, I ended up doing the interviews. I’m going to train you up and then you’re going to do some of them for me because at some point I’m going to have to go on maternity leave. Also, they’re more likely to answer the questions from a pretty young thing like yourself than knocked-up-little-old-me.” She said this all in a matter of fact tone without any regret about this whole job thing... “I’m not sure if I’ll be coming back to work after the baby’s born so you might end up with my job!” She exclaimed happily. “This is such a good opportunity for you!” 

“I can’t interview people!” I exclaimed and she raised an eyebrow at me. “I can’t! I’m Grace Whitehall! Everyone from Hogwarts thinks they’ve seen me naked!” 

“That was nine years ago.” Cherry said softly. 

“And people still laugh at me because of it!”

“Well, tough. You need the money right?” She asked and I nodded. “Well then, you’re stuck here.” 

“Brilliant.” I said sarcastically and she smiled. 

“This here is what we’re working towards each week.” She said presenting me with a newspaper insert named ‘Sport’ how very original... I turned the page and found articles about the latest matches, articles predicting what would happen next match, team profiles, player profiles – probably what the whole interview thing for – reviews of games, letters from the readers, a ‘who’s hot’ page (wow, that’s really pathetic) complete with Quidditch fashion disasters for males and females, a ‘wags’ page, shit loads of adverts and finally a page on the back which seemed to have information of other wizarding spots, one of which was named... ‘Wizard Ball’ oh how very inventive.  Still.... all this in a week?

“Impressed?” She asked dryly before taking it out of my hands. “It gets published in Saturday’s edition of the prophet, we give it to the boss to edit on Friday – which will probably be the only time you see him – so Thursday’s the panic where everything has to get done.” 

“Right.” I nodded trying to take in this big over haul of information at once.

“Any questions?” She asked and I shook my head.

“Actually, I have one.” I said when I was halfway towards the door. “What am I supposed to do?” 

“Erm...” Cherry said considering this for a second. “I’m not really used to having an assistant... just... occupy yourself until I find something for you to do.” She said smiling at me warmly. “Don’t worry, you’re not getting paid on commission.” 

I nodded and walked out of the office. 

Was it worth being in the same building as Cherry Mandise – who was, apparently, going to become a member of my family – to keep a job where I seemingly had to nothing for relatively good pay...?

I suppose I was going to have to wait and see.

Edited, 10th January 2013

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