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A/N - The queue is still so short! Soon enough I'm going to catch up with all my pre-written chapters and actually have to start writing again. Hope you enjoy! Please Review :)

 

I woke up at three in the morning, after going to sleep around four the previous afternoon, and decided that I might as well do something productive. Now my hangover was fully gone again I decided that enough was enough, and I started to clean.

It took me thirty minutes to locate my wand, as I hadn’t used it for a couple of days, but it turned up under a pile of books that I’d gotten from a library in Portugal but had never touched (other than to throw out of my way). I then spent another fifteen minutes finding a book entitled ‘a hundred house hold spells’ which I’d also never opened, but had received for my birthday several years ago from one of my naively hopeful parents.

I hadn’t cleaned the flat since I’d arrived back in England but the mess didn’t bother me. I’d lived in places in various degrees of squalor and clutter since I moved into the dorm when I was eleven. They’d been a bit of a baby boom after peace was restored and thus there had been nine girls in our dormitory which lead to absolute chaos. Two of them left after OWL’s but if you’ve ever tried living with six other eighteen year old girls who are constantly in competition for guys, popularity, friends and general status you’d understand that anything would seem like a nice place to reside after that.

I usually avoided roommates after my Hogwarts experiences which usually meant I ended up in the crappiest place going because it was all I could afford. I’d had a few roommates though when I didn’t have any other choice, including a girl who kept having ‘friends’ up to her room (which were different every time and mysteriously left her a lot richer with every visit), a guy who’d slept with me before kicking me out and an elderly lady who’d died in our bath a week after I moved in. On that last occasion they’d been talking about taking me in for questioning about the suspicious circumstances of her death, but had eventually just decided that she was a very old lady who should probably have been in a care home long ago.

That last one had reminded me so vividly of that other time I’d seen a dead body – only then it had been a young, familiar, bloodied and broken body – and I’d left immediately and drove a couple of hundred miles to get away from the whole thing, even though I had a decent steady job nearby. I just couldn’t deal with that things that reminded me of that, and after that I’d lived completely alone in crappy flats.

What I really wanted, more than I’d care to admit was my own house. I could imagine getting a sweet little cottage with roses above the door and a little sign outside with one of those standard cottage names that all cottages had. They’d be a little red mail box, a cobbled path way, and a blooming garden.  Inside would be full of period features that didn’t quite work properly and little notes which would read ‘you are my saving grace’ with lots of kisses and maybe a heart or two scribbled in the top corner in a very manly way which would be left by my loving and devoted husband.

Although, it startled me to realise, I was the one that needed saving. What had I achieved in my life so far? Nothing. It had all been a twenty-eight year long story which had never really got started. The events were usually quite amusing stories to tell, but when I looked at the whole picture I hadn’t gone anywhere. I was still that eleven year old girl sat in front of a therapist declaring that she was fine and she didn’t need any of this crap. That scared me.

So I kept cleaning. I did all my washing and stuffed my clothes into the tiny closet. I got rid of most of the mouldy food and began organising the stuff that hadn’t yet turned green into the cupboards. I chucked away all the old newspapers. I threw away the dead flowers that were still sitting in the vase.

Around lunchtime I suddenly realised that I should be at work, but cooked myself some noodles straight from a packet instead.  I could go in tomorrow.

I changed my bed sheets after that trying not to pictures the way my boss, Maxim Cuffe, had pushed me against the headboard and kissed me so deliciously. It had felt so good and right at the time, it was unfathomable that it had led to so much shit (well most of it had been down to Cherry daring to mention my sister). Had it only been the night before last? Hell.

After that I tackled the empty bottles of wine and beer. There were more than I expected, but then I hadn’t cleaned the flat out for Merlin knows how many months. I realised grimly that I probably had rats or mice by now. I lined the bottles up on the counter (and it took up all of the room given how titchy the counter was) and then realised that in another couple of hours I’d be done.

I was right. By about half three I realised that I’d successfully tackled all the build up of excess mess and now my flat was tidy. Then I polished, scrubbed and cleaned until every neutral sodding surface gleamed. 

Then I realised why I’d let my flat get into such a tip – it was horrible. There walls were cream but without the warmth, the carpet was grey and coarse, the kitchen counters were white and the wood of the table was cheap beach wood trying to look expensive. It was ugly.

I gritted my teeth in annoyance and realised that I had no photographs or ornaments to put up. I’d spent all my life since Hogwarts living out of a suitcase that I’d never thought to collect such stuff. Now I was stuck in an empty apartment which was so banal that it made me feel slightly nauseas. Before I could reassure myself by saying that it was only temporary, I realised there was nothing temporary about England. England was permanent and I’d probably be living here for the rest of my life with nothing to show for myself.

I picked up one of the empty wine bottles of the counter and threw it at the blank wall opposite. It shattered and fell. It didn’t make me feel better in the slightest.

It struck me as quite ironic that my name was Grace, when clearly I lacked every form of elegance and refinement in existence. It made me consider that if Hope had lived she’d have been a die-hard pessimist who didn’t believe in happy endings. I couldn’t see it, personally, but it was dangerous territory so I stopped thinking about it and instead concentrated on the glass shattered on the floor.

The cheap doorbell rang and I made my way over to the door glad that, for once, I was fully dressed and looked relatively presentable. I was half expecting it to be Mum, Dad or some other family member because I couldn’t think of anyone who’d visit me so I was relatively surprised when I saw Cherry standing in the doorway looking at me expectantly.

She closed her fingers around the edge of the doorframe so that I couldn’t shut it on her without breaking her fingers (tempting) so I begrudgingly opened it for her a little further before turning my back and attempting to hide some of the empty bottles. I vanished them quickly whilst she was taking in the lovely interior of the flat.

“It’s clean.” She commented sounding a little surprised.

“Yes.” I agreed because it was.

“Dave told me that it was -”

“A shit hole.” I finished eloquently.

“Well, yes.” Cherry said stepping through the door and beginning to look around.

My flat was as small as it could possibly be with all the required furniture for someone to live a life of squalor. When you walked into the flat you found yourself in the main room, with the back of the kitchen units immediately to your right and a tiny useless space to your left.  The useless space on the left was like a very thin corridor which led nowhere, which filled in the gap between the end of my bedroom and the outer wall of the flat. In that space I’d erected a sort of fireplace so I could connect myself to the floo network and actually be able to get around. The ‘kitchen’ was essentially a semi-circle of counters with an oven, a sink, a microwave and a tiny fridge that came to the height of my mid-thigh. There were cupboards and stuff attached to the walls above them all of which were several centuries old. The only other thing that fit in the room was a sofa – in an interesting shade of distressed brown – and a coffee table.

 Then there was my bedroom, which fit in a double bed if you were thin enough to be able to walk round it (or, if you’re me, just jump on it rather than bother), and a bedside table with a lamp on it. There wasn’t a wardrobe so my clothes were all still in several suitcases on the floor and came out creased. I would have taken the time to iron them, but I didn’t own an iron and there was no space quite large enough to erect an ironing board, and so they just stayed creased.

The final room of my ‘home’ was the bathroom. It was probably the most effective room out of the three, given that it actually had everything that I required in it – as in a shower that dribbled hot water or drowned you in ice, a toilet that flushed (most of the time) and a sink which I couldn’t find fault in other than the fact that the red tap was cold, and the blue tap was hot.

“So,” Cherry said. I bet she lived in my dream house with Dave and never once thought about the fact that her mother was an alcoholic who drank herself to death, and instead dreamt about her baby and her lovely shiny happy life that was radiating in front of her. At that moment I completely hated her. “Look, Grace,” She said, “I should have dragged it all up – Dave warned me not too. I just... I just know that if someone had come to me when I was sixteen and said ‘Cherry, tell me about it, and I’ll listen’ then I would have been eternally grateful.”

“Well,” I said. “I’m not sixteen anymore.”

“No,” Cherry said. “You need to come back into work tomorrow. Cuffe was asking about you – wanting to start your little training scheme, the bastard. He came into my office demanding that you came to see him immediately. I hope you don’t mind that I told him I’d sent you to do some research for me.”

“No, I said. “I’d rather the boss didn’t think I’d just walked out, thank you.”

“So you’ll come back?” She asked eagerly.

“How else am I going to pay for my shit hole?” I requested sardonically.

She glanced around my humble abode again, possibly trying to find some redeeming feature to comment on. She came up with nothing and flushed slightly.

“Didn’t Dave buy you a plant?” She asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “It died.”

“Oh,” She said. “Well, Grace, I’ll see you tomorrow!” Cherry said in a bright and cheerful voice that sickened me to the core, before walking out the door to go back to her period cottage or whatever.

I rolled my eyes at her back as she left before my brain caught onto one thing...

Maxim Cuffe had asked about me. My boss had asked about me, no, my boss – who slept with me – had asked about me.

Well...

I looked back at all my great experience with relationships, love and the like in an attempt to draw an accurate and reliable conclusion as to what something like that might mean for my future; where this might relationship might end up going after these new developments and how this potential new relationship might affect my lifestyle as a whole... I ended up with a very articulate sentence that summed up all of my feelings towards this new found piece of information...

What. The. Bloody. Hell.

 

 

 

If there was one thing I prided myself on, it was my ability to bounce back. Admittedly I never quite recovered completely – I still had internal scars from pre-Hogwarts years (too many of them), then the Hogwarts years... and even after then some of the rejections and job-losses had a lasting effect on me, but no one would know that by just looking me in the eye.

I wore all this pain and whatnot... on the inside, and it very rarely had an opportunity to rear its ugly head, primarily because I refused to let it. The down side of that means people don’t think I’ve ever suffered and instead see me as an over-confident blunt bitch who has no compassion or emotions, which I can assure is true, but maybe not as completely true as they think.

However, it did mean the next morning I was able to walk straight back into that office with my pride only a little dented. In fact, I sauntered straight to my desk in my most spectacular pair of work-suitable black stilettos, with fabulous red lipstick, and a new skirt (I may have gone emergency shopping after Cherry left... but it was completely necessary for my dramatic comeback).

 Just so you know, the tarting myself up was purely in the interest of showing I hadn’t lost face, and nothing to do with the fact that Maxim Cuffe has asked after me.

Nothing. Whatsoever.

Jill was busy tapping away on her laptop whilst trying to ignore George who was sat on my desk and attempting to talk to her. I walked over with a small seductive smile on my face which implied that I had not had a mental breakdown in the past twenty four hours, but had instead gone on an impromptu spa break or something of that calibre. I was relaxed. I was confident. I was happy.

I was, perhaps, overdoing it with the smiling... people were looking at me as if I was about to pull out my wand and start murdering people.

“Excuse me,” I said looking pointedly at my desk.

“Well fuck me,” George said as he took in my appearance.

“Oh, maybe later,” I said folding my arms and smiling (but to a lesser slightly less manic extent).

“I told you she hadn’t been fired.” Jill said rolling her eyes. “Cherry’s hardly going to fire her fiancé’s cousin. Especially when Cuffe seemed to have expressed a particular interest in her...”

“What’s up with her?” I asked nodding at the back of Jill’s head. Her shoulders were tense and now I was close enough I could see that she typing furiously.

“You don’t want to know,” George muttered darkly.

“I’ve been up since five in the morning!” She practically yelled, turning around and glaring at me. “Because every time one of the brats stopped crying, the other one started – and you know why? Because Derek walked out and they missed him! We want to go with Daddy, where’s Daddy!? So I told the inconsiderable brats that their father wasn’t Derek, and was a complete jerk who divorced me so he could fuck a glamour model, and that Derek was a complete bastard who cared more about being a therapist than his partner! And do you know what?” She hissed. “They kept crying.”

“Derek’s the therapist she lives with right?” I asked George in a small voice. George nodded nervously.

“Not anymore.” She said with gritted teeth. “He left because I refused to marry him – the bastard.”

“And the brats are?”

“Her children.” George supplied.

“That’s nice – affectionate.”

“Oh shut up – like you’d know squat about being a mother. I had to leave them with their idiotic father today, the gloating look on his face was awful – the son of a bitch. For all the trouble it’s caused I should have just sodding married him!” With that admission she fell silent and turned back to her computer.

I looked at George. He looked at me. We both looked at Jill. I raised an eyebrow at him. He shook his head. I rolled my eyes. He shook his head with more fervour. I turned away from him and back to Jill.

“Can I have a lollipop?” I asked.

“That’s it!” She said in a shriek. “I’m going to call Derek right now and tell him that I’ll marry him! I can’t deal with this stress!” Then she grabbed her dragon hide handbag of the side of his desk and headed for the fire.

“Why didn’t she want to marry him?” I asked slipping into her chair and helping myself to a strawberry lollipop.

“Well, he’s been divorced twice.” George said with a shrug. “You really haven’t been fired then?”

“Not yet,” I said. “Give it another week.”

“Oh no,” George said. “If Cuffe wants to train you up your in this for life.”

“What?”

“The last person he trained up ended up being promoted above him in a year, and now he controls the content of the entire paper – that’s why he never trains people up anymore. He was completely humiliated when he had to ask him to be allowed to start up the sports insert...”

“Well, he let him didn’t he?” I said with a shrug.

“Because it’s good for the paper – Cuffe trained him well enough that he would never jeopardise the success of the paper for a personal reason, but he kept him hanging long enough for him to worry.” 

“Grace Whitehall?” A voice rang out and I melted a tinsy embarrassing bit inside. Maxim Cuffe. “My office.” He said with a straight unreadable face that sent my brain into an extreme overdrive. I stared at him. He stared back for a few seconds and tilted his head to one side for a split second. “Now.” He clarified darkly. I jumped up quickly (slipping over the heel of my stiletto and twisting my ankle badly as I did so). “Good luck,” George said wryly. Cuffe turned and disappeared back into his office as I tried to walk across the office floor with my head held high.

Maybe he was going to fire me.

That would be a bit rude though, wouldn’t it? Share a night of drinks and amazing sex, and then fire me at the next available chance?

It’s not like I was asking for a promotion... I just didn’t want to be fired.

I pushed open the heavy black door and let myself into his office. He turned and looked at me sharply with the same ‘I’m an arsehole’ expression as I’d seen him wear in Cherry’s office before. Cherry was sat on the chair opposite him with a hand on her pregnant belly and a highly irritated expression etched across her face... her expression changed to surprise and fear when she saw my face in the doorway. She made a weird movement with her head which could have been a shake of the head, or could have been a strange head spasm.

“You will knock before you enter my office.” Maxim Cuffe said.

“But you just invited me in,” I pointed out. Cherry made the strange head movement again and widened her eyes significantly.

“You will knock before you enter my office.” Maxim Cuffe repeated in a much slower authoritive voice which was mildly scary. It was twice as hot as scary though... The disciplinarian thing was undeniably sexy.

“Cherry,” He said with distain and shot her a dirty look for good measure before turning back to face me. “Has informed me that you spent yesterday doing some research.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Would you like to inform me what that research was on?”

“I...” Cherry was mouthing something at me. Her eyes were wide and I had absolutely no idea what she was saying. My inability to lip read had got me into trouble before – I’d once mistaken ‘Do you needs some coffee?’ for ‘Do you need to fuck me?’ which had resulted in a very strange and very awkward conversation between someone who, at the time, had been my best friend. It was undeniably strange and very, very awkward. “Quidditch.” I answered sending an innocent smile in his direction.

Cherry shook her head more in a blatant warning.

Well,” Maxim Cuffe said. His voice was dark, foreboding and for a split second I actually thought I was going to die. “At least, this time,” She said to Cherry. “You hired someone with a personality.”

Cherry looked as if she had just died of shock. I swallowed and smiled weakly in his direction. Oh my God – what’s happening?

“Obviously you are not allowed to just take days off to do ‘research,’ and I’m going to hold you completely responsible for this.” Maxim said turning to face Cherry with a steely expression.

“I took a day of for personal reasons.” I blurted out suddenly. “My grandmother died,” I said. It was true. She had died... twenty years ago. “We were very close and Cherry said that, that it would be okay.”

Cherry looked as if she was about to die of shock.

I think I just died of shock too, had I just.... inadvertently helped Cherry?

Still, it was a standard excuse. I’d used the dead grandmother excuse so many times it was unbelievable. There was that really awkward time in Holland where I accidently killed off three grandmothers in a month. I then had to make all this rubbish up about how I had step parents, and step grandparents – which he brought, at least until I ran up a grand total of nine dead grandmothers and he ‘disciplined’ me about it, which is actually as dirty as it sounds I’m embarrassed to admit. He had to ‘let me go’ when I moved on to grandfathers which was a shame because I’d been planning on drawing my third grandfather’s death for a long time with some terminal illness that meant I could have multiple days off to go home and ‘comfort’ my second step-mother (which would have been easy because she doesn’t exist).

 From that point onwards I killed off aunts – you could have unlimited numbers of those, but I supposed the pressure of having to come with an excuse quickly had got to me, and I’d submitted to the will of my deceased grandmother who was no doubt mentally nudging me with her crazy handbag and screaming ‘REMEBER ME! TALK ABOUT ME, GRACIE!’ which is something she’d do, whilst simultaneously stinking of sherry and scaring the shit out of me. I was sure she was positively glowing with the idea that her death was being put to good use...

Or cursing me too a life of singledom and lonely days. Not that I needed cursing for that to happen, but there you go. She was a selfish old hag – if she couldn’t get laid (due to being dead) then neither could I.

“You took a day off for her funeral?” He questioned. “And, Cherry, you decided to lie about this to me....?”

“No, no,” I said quickly. “It wasn’t her funeral.” If I was going to try and get Cherry out of trouble, I might as well do it properly. Max, who if you’d forgotten SLEPT with me yesterday, was being a total jerk and the whole thing was kind of my fault, well... partially. Cherry shouldn’t have mentioned it. Dave shouldn’t have told her about it... actually, I was just going to blame James Potter. He was the reason I was currently in the daily profit, smoking whilst carrying morning sickness potion – and had been the, admittedly non-direct, cause for all the events which had happened. So it was his fault.

Smarmy bastard.

“Do you need a day of for her funeral?”

“No,” I said quickly. Bugger. Should have said yes – could have had a day off too. In my defence, it was hard to concentrate when I knew exactly what the bloke in front of me looked like naked (and he looked good naked). Plus I was kind of very very much attracted to him. Scarily so. Much more attracted to him than I had been to anyone for... well, ages. The bloke was a god with an amazing –

Concentrate, Grace.

“Why?” Max asked. Cherry was staring at me with wide eyes and a partially open mouth – she looked extraordinarily articulate.

“No body,” I said. “No funeral. She, erm...” I began wildly. “She set fire to herself, by accident, and the, ermm... ashes blew away.”

“Well,” Max said looking mildly taken aback by this appallingly fake excuse that was so appallingly fake that he was scared to argue with it. “I’m sorry for you loss, I offer you my condolences. Cherry – out.” Max said, keeping his eyes fixed directly on mine. It made me uncomfortable, but it also made me want to undress him. This was not good. I was going to lose my job for sure. Maybe he’d feel so bad about my fake-grandmother’s death that he wouldn’t fire me...

Shit, I should have gone for a terminal illness.

“Right, Miss Whitehall,” He began standing up and striding round his office and big boss-man style steps. “I am going to train you up to become, a proper writer.” He said before perching himself on my side of the desk, pausing for a moment, and then smiling. “How would you like to get a drink later?”

Yes. Yes. YES!

 

A/N - Pleeasseee Review :)
 

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