Hell is a hangover.

I glare at myself in the mirror, bitterly regretting every part of last night as I tug a comb halfheartedly through a clump of my tangled, blonde hair. I only managed to get a couple hours of sleep last night, and my exhaustion shows in the dark rings underneath my eyes and the pallor of my skin. Sighing, I open a jar of concealer and dab some of the ivory-colored makeup underneath my eyes. Then I brush some blush over my cheekbones to give my face a bit of color. Leaning back to see the full effect in the mirror, I sigh. Before, I looked like a corpse. Now, I look like a corpse with makeup.

I pull on a set of plain black robes and drag myself through the flat, which is in a state of utter chaos. To be clear: on an ordinary day, on scale of neatness from prim and proper to all hell has broken loose, my flat usually lies somewhere in the neighborhood of aftermath of a mild earthquake. But this morning, it’s particularly bad. Empty bottles are scattered all over, there’s a dark purple stain on the white carpet in the sitting room, and a young woman with short, light brown hair is asleep on the sofa.

“Marlene?” I say, leaning over the back of the sofa to poke my best friend’s shoulder. She groans and shifts her position, giving me a glimpse of the thick strand of drool that's running from her open lips onto the cushions of the sofa.

Not having the energy to shake Marlene awake, I stumble into the kitchen, searching for my wand. It looks like somebody tried and failed to brew a complicated potion in here last night - either that, or they set a small dragon loose. What looks like an entire bag of flour has been upturned over the counter, and there’s a giant blob of greenish dough sitting in the sink. I approach it cautiously. The blob appears to be about the consistency of clay. It’s the color of illness. And, sticking out of it at a precarious angle, is the tip of my wand.

“Eugh,” I mutter, removing it gingerly. The inside of the blob is apparently not as solid as the outer shell, because when my wand emerges, it’s covered in a thick coating of green slime. No, that’s wonderful. That’s perfect. In fact, I hate it when I wake up in the morning and my wand isn’t covered in disgusting goo.

I rinse my wand off under the tap, and then open up the double cabinets above the sink, inspecting the damage to my liquor store. Not a single bottle of Firewhisky left – a tragedy if ever there was one. These shelves were fully stocked yesterday afternoon, and now all that’s left is a strangely misplaced jar of pickles. The bastards have drunk every last, precious drop of alcohol. To add insult to injury, some git’s left a small piece of parchment behind on one of the shelves. In blue letters, it says: I.O.U. : Don’t remember what. Hahaha.

“Aislin?” a wavering voice emanates from the sitting room. I walk back out to find Marlene sitting up on the sofa, wiping the drool off her face with a sleeve.

“Yeah, that was really brilliant of you,” I say dryly, sitting down on the arm of the sofa. “I was just thinking the sofa could use a nice spot of drool.”

Marlene takes a deep, rattling breath, swaying slightly from side to side. “I think I’m going to vomit.”

“If you vomit on my furniture, I’ll cut your head off,” I tell her solemnly. “See if I don’t.”

“Where…” Marlene closes her large, round eyes, and then blinks them open again. She looks pained. I try, and fail abominably, to pity her. Hard to have much sympathy for someone who's just gone and drooled all over one's new bloody sofa.

“Where’s Johnny?”

I shrug. “Dunno.”

Marlene looks up at me, her eyes hesitant. “You had sex with him last night.”

“Merlin, did I, again?” I say vaguely. “I’ve got to stop doing that.”

Marlene sweeps her hands through her hair as if to neaten it – a purposeless gesture seeing as her hair is shiny and gorgeous, even when she’s just spent the better part of several hours drooling on her friend’s new sofa. Thirty-Galleon sofa, mind. “I don’t see why you’ve got to stop. He's such a sweet bloke.”

“I know he is,” I tell her. “That’s exactly what I can’t stand about him.”

For a change, I’m not being sarcastic. Johnny’s a nice bloke, from a nice family, with a nice Ministry job and a nice flat. He’s even fairly decent in bed – although I’m usually quite drunk when we get together, so that could be the Firewhisky talking. My problem with Johnny isn’t exactly the fact that he’s the sort of person who adores young children and helps elderly women cross the street, although that would be quite annoying enough. The thing about him that kills me is that he can’t take confrontation. At the first sign of an argument, he backs down.

“Oh, get a grip,” says Marlene, rolling her eyes. Then her eyelids snap open as wide as they can go – she covers her mouth with one hand and sprints to the bathroom like a Hogwarts first-year being chased by Peeves. Good to see she takes my death threats seriously.

“Oi!” I call to her. “I’m off to the Leaky Cauldron for a pick-me-up. Clean up after yourself, yeah?”



My flat is conveniently located in Diagon Alley, so it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the Leaky Cauldron. My brain rattles around in my head with every step, and I curse myself for getting so carried away during last night’s celebrations. I would try to Apparate, but in the state I’m in I’d probably end up losing an arm or something. Last time I got splinched, I ended up in St. Mungo's for a week - and it turns out, the Healers aren't too keen on you trying to get drunk while you're in there.

As I approach the door to the Leaky Cauldron, something bright flashes in my eyes. A young woman with a head of riotous blonde curls steps into my path, fixing me with a somewhat predatory smile. Her robes are a lurid shade of pink that puts my eyes in physical pain. She’s accompanied by cameraman, who snaps several more pictures of me, the flash burning up my eyes with every click of the camera.

“Have a minute for Witch Weekly?” asks the woman far too loudly. “My readers are dying to know more about you, Miss O’Keefe.”

I’m hungover, my face is a mess, and I probably smell terrible, but I've never been able to resist the charm of publicity.

“I’ll answer a few questions,” I say with my most dazzling grin (which is probably not all that dazzling, considering my breath smells like some hellish combination of rubbing alcohol and dog biscuits). “I only have a minute, though. I’m on my way to, er, a meeting.”

I conveniently forget to mention that this meeting is between me and a bottle of rye.

“Well, first off, the entire magical community thinks it was just brilliant, how you handled the Pendleton case,” says the reporter, clearly quite pleased that I didn't ignore, insult, or physically attack her, as I have a reputation for doing on occasion. “It’s inspiring to see that justice is still being carried out, even in these dark times. Any comments on the case?”

“The details of the case are top-secret until Pendleton’s trial is over,” I tell the reporter. “All Ministry employees have been forbidden from commenting on it to the press.”

“Yes, but you’re not exactly a Ministry employee, are you?” says the reporter slyly. “You’re a consultant with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. What exactly does that entail?”

“I help them out with cases from time to time,” I reply. “On this case I worked closely with the Auror office and the Hit-Wizard squad.”

“And what do you do when you’re not helping out at the Ministry?” asks the reporter. Her Quick-Quotes-Quill scratches across her notebook at an astonishing pace.

“I’m a private detective,” I tell her. “Usually I help people with more mundane things. Unfaithful spouses, and whatnot.”

“Fascinating,” says the reporter, a bit vapidly, glancing down at her notebook. “Well, now that you’re becoming a bit of a celebrity around London, there’s some talk of a romance between you and Sirius Black, runaway ex-heir to the Black family fortune. Rumor has it you even dated in your Hogwarts days. Any comments on–”

“As a matter of fact, that’s all the time I’ve got,” I say sharply, the smile slipping off of my face. “Places to be, and all that. If you have more questions, feel free to schedule an interview.”

“But–”

I slip past the reporter and her photographer, and into the Leaky Cauldron. The familiar, musty atmosphere immediately soothes my nerves. I quickly get my hands on a glass of elf-made rye, and sink into a chair in the corner of the pub, rubbing my temples.

Sirius Black.

Of all the stupid questions she could have asked, why did she have to ask that one?

...

A/N: Hey guys, and welcome to the story! Please be aware that it's undergoing some edits at the moment, which will include major changes to the plot. Thanks for reading, and please review! (8/23/2015)

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