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Stagger by Solo

Format: Novel
Chapters: 8
Word Count: 16,250
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Romance, Angst, Young Adult
Characters: Albus, Hugo, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, Teddy, Victoire, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, OC/OC

First Published: 09/24/2011
Last Chapter: 09/20/2015
Last Updated: 09/20/2015

Summary:



(wonderful banner by afterglow at tda)

 
Hogwarts and magic holds little attraction for a muggleborn from a South London estate.

Piper just wants to go home. Instead she's trapped dancing to their tune.


Chapter 1: Heap of Broken Images
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“Do you have to go?” Emily stands at the doorway, gripping the wood with one small hand. The varnish on her nails is chipped and flaking, her blonde hair a little greasy. Worriedly, she bites her lip, Amy gripping her other hand.

“Oh, Em,” I barely stop, continuing to throw all my freshly-washed clothes into the trunk in the middle of the room. My school books had been sent by owl, a load of battered copies, most missing their covers, the spines peeling. But hey, it wasn't like I could complain. I hadn't paid anything for them.

“Piper...”

“Emily...” I mimic her petulant whine, the deodorant cans clanking as I lob them all in. Just as I turn back to the battered desk that serves as a shared dressing table for me and the girls, Amy latches herself around my leg. Rising two, everyone shares the opinion that she's my daughter, despite looking nothing like me. Her hair's a cherubic blonde, her cheeks holding a rosy tint. I, however, was dark haired with pale, china-looking skin. Reaching down, I scoop Amy up, perching her on my hip and burying my nose into the crook of her neck. She smells nice, my little sister, innocent and homely, and faintly of talcon powder.

“Oh, baby...” Emily's crying, silently, standing dejectedly in the doorway. I sit on the bed, Amy on one knee, and open my free arm to her. In a shot she clambers onto the sagging mattress, curling into my side, her crying slowly fading as I rub her back and murmur nonsensical soothing nonsense, my other knee jigging to keep Amy quiet.

“Stay,” Amy gurgles into my ear, and I just know that Em's told her to say it. Yet it still makes my heart stutter, skitter in my chest.

“Em, Amy, I've got to go, you know that. It's just one more year,” I gently push Emily off my knee, stand her up straight and scrub the tears from her face with my thumb. Standing up, I place Amy onto her feet. She wavered just slightly, face upturned towards me in confusion.

“We miss you. Even Liam and Alfie,” Emily insists boldly. I smile placatingly.

“Darling, you've got mum. She'll look after you. You'll all be fine,” I'm lying through my teeth. Mum, who stays in her bed for half the day. Who never leaves the flat for weeks on end. I've only just got everything straightened out since my last school year, smoothed absent days over with the schools, any misbehaviours. Truth was, we'd never been the same since Callum had left. He'd been the glue of our family, holding everyone together. The kids had been fine in his care, fed and watered and to school on time. Then, two years ago, he'd upped and left.

It was hard, for all of us. Callum had been more of a dad than a brother to the kids, the right balance between discipline and fun. Playing football with the boys, and attempting baking with Emily. He'd known how to talk to mum, to chat and laugh, coax her out of her little world. Without him, we were lost. Everyone turned to me, the second eldest, but I lacked Callum's experience. His patience. I was just turned fifteen, still lost in childhood myself. Back then, there was no Amy. It was a surprise to come back from school and find my mother several months pregnant, and the house empty, Callum gone.

“Go and run a bath,” I tell Emily, shifting a few more items into my trunk. “Then I'll paint your nails, okay? And yours too, tiddles,” I smile at Amy, who giggles up at me, sitting on the floor having found a teddy to clutch. Emily sidles reluctantly from the room, shooting me a look over her shoulder as she disappears down the short hallway.


*



Mum walks in as I'm painting Amy's toenails, both girls still pink from their wash, dressed in pajamas and with their hair twisted in a towel on their heads. Realistically, Amy didn't have enough hair to benefit from such a get-up, but she insisted and I didn't want to leave with any bad blood between us. Emily's pretending she's at a salon, sitting on the faded sofa and blowing on her freshly painted nails with an aloof air. To her credit, she only pauses a beat when mum shuffles in.

“Oh, this is sweet!” mum coos, flicking the switch on the kettle and leaning back against the counter. I finish Amy's last toe with a flourish, screwing the lid back onto the varnish with vigour.

“I'm going to school tomorrow, mum,” I remind her, and her gaze glazes over me, and she nods listlessly.

“So soon?” she murmurs sorrowfully. Carefully I struggle up from the sofa (it's about a foot off the ground and I'm five feet ten, not the most elegant of moves) and pad towards her, extracting two mugs from the cupboard and placing the teabags in them.

“You'll be fine,” I reassure her – all I seem to be doing these days. “Liam knows about the shopping, and the school run. All you need to do is get the kids up and fed, then out the door on time. Alfie does football with his friend Jake, lifts are all sorted. He also needs to be here Wednesday night for his English tutor. Liam's school are going to ring everyday about his attendance,” I slide a glance at her, begging, pleading, please pick up. Handle this. “I'll be back for as many weekends as I can. You can text or phone me, or owl.”

“Darling,” she engulfs me, smelling of perfume and cigarettes, reaching up to curve her arms round my shoulders (I'd long since outgrown her), “we'll be fine. I'm feeling much better. They're good kids,” we both glance at Emily and Amy, both curled up on the sofa, Amy with her legs on the arm so she didn't smudge her varnish. I look back at mum, her face so lined beyond the years, so brittle and fragile looking. Mousey hair scraped back, clothes hanging loosely off her.

“Yeah.”

I wasn't reassured. I knew much better than that.


*



Nobody came to see me off. Liam, second eldest, was indignant that he could handle it. I was sure he could handle trains and times, find his way home. Just doubted he could with Amy, Emily and hyperactive Alfie in tow. Besides, it gave me some time on my own, something I'd have to get used to. Slowly I push my trolley through Kings Cross, taking one last look at the human word. I've piled normal chocolate into my trunk, cigarettes too. All bought with the wrinkled twenty note mum pressed into my palm, eyes boring into mine.
“Come back,” she'd said, and I saw it. The flash of fear. That I'd be like Callum, run away. Leave her. I was angry then. Did she think I could leave the kids? Leave them with her? It killed me to leave even now. I just shot her a hard stare and slammed out the door.

I'm standing on the platform, having walked straight through the magical barrier. I'm early, the train not yet even there. There's a few of us, families, mainly first years, fussing that they're going to miss the train. Then it arrives, in a flurry of steam and scarlet, and everyone's closing around me, pressing, shoulders digging in to mine. Naturally, I'm taller than most, everyone feeling like ants, swirling round my ankles. Shrieking so loud it threatens my ear drums.

It's too much, there's too much steam, I can't breath. My fingers are closing round the handle of my trunk (trolley long since abandoned) and my eyes are squeezed shut and fuck, I'm swaying, I'm going to faint-

“Are you okay?” There's a hand on my elbow, a concerned voice. My eyes snap open to meet sea-green eyes, a mess of black hair. A Potter. Albert or whatever his name is.

“Yeah, yeah,” subtly I'm trying to shake him off, shifting my elbow away, straightening up. My head's still spinning, and he's a persistant bugger.

“You look faint. James!” His older brother turns around, looking extremely irritated. I'm surprised I can see him, my eyesight blotching.

“What?” he snaps, looking briefly at me, Albert's hand on my elbow, then his brother.

“She,” here Albert nods at me. “Is gonna faint.”

“I'm fine,” I insist, and yank my elbow away. Kinda harshly, but he deserves it. Doesn't a kid know when to back down?

“Leave it, Al,” I hear James behind me as I turn, tugging my trunk with me. “Bitch.”

“I was trying to help,” Albert complains back.

It's gone beyond help now, darling.

*



 It's Sixth Year. There's much squealing, reunions amongst friends. I sit against the window, staring at the scenery flashing past. Everyone ignores me, chattering amongst themselves. My phone vibrates in my pocket. Pulling it out, I glance at the screen. Miss you Piper xx Emily, hijacking Liam's phone. She wants one so badly, but I refuse. Don't care about what her friends have. I'm worried for her little brain.

Prefects make their rounds, and the food cart. My stomach aches, but Muggle money is heavy in my pocket. It doesn't belong in this world. I don't belong in this world.

Soon the people in the compartment begin to drift off, returning changed into their robes. Excited, anticipating another year. I don't understand how they can. I loathe it, detest every single minute. I trace my fingers along the windowsill, ignore the curious looks I'm getting. Still sitting in Muggle clothes, my favourite pair of jeans, scarf wrapped tight round my neck.

I'm a shout of colour amongst the black as we all stumble off the train, everyone gathering their cloaks around them. Obediently we file into the horseless carriages. I sit with my back to where we're going, staring out the window. I barely notice the fact that James and Albert are there, the former glaring, the latter staring. The castle, the prison, creeps slowly into view through a slog of rain. Everyone darts from the carriages, girls shrieking about their hair, boys shoving.

I'm last to get out, and I stand and look up at the grey stone wall, which looms into the sky above. By the time I actually get in to the hallway I'm soaked to the skin, glaring at first years which sends them scattering. Sometimes being tall has it's advantages.

“Piper Harrington,” McGonagall barely looks up at me. “Professor Flitwick would like to see you in his office.”

Impressive. I haven't even had any lessons, barely walked through the door, haven't even opened my mouth, and I'm already in shit.


***



Helloo! This is a new story and idea which has been brewing in my head for months and months so... welcome to Stagger! I hope you liked the first chapter, maybe enough to even review...? ;)


Chapter 2: Muttering Retreats
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The gargoyles to Flitwick's office are open. Slowly I walk up, watching my feet as they methodically find the next step, all by themselves. The door is ajar, but I stop anyway, then rap my knuckles on the wood.

“Come in!” The portraits all stare, low murmurs starting round the room. Some shift from portrait to portrait. Their life, their essence, it sends shivers down my spine. I can't watch them. These people are dead, gone. But yet they're still here. It's not possible.

It's magic.

See how twisted this world is? The dead are gone. But they're still here. They can converse with you.

“Miss Harrington,” at Alfie's school, they call the students by their first names. But everyone here, they're stuck in the past. I look from the ceiling to the desk, behind which Flitwick is perched upon a small pile of cushions. “May I have your telephone?” There's a pause, then I pull my mobile from my pocket and hand it over. Flitwick raises his wand and murmurs a few charms under his breath, then hands it back with a flourish. “I've been reading up,” he informs me triumphantly. “It should be better than last years – signal - is it signal? I think it's signal - should be stronger.”

“Thank you,” although I know I should hate him – I hate this world enough – you can't help but like him. Just a little. Damn man's endearing.

“I trust your family's well?” a passing comment, but I'm on edge immediately, eyes sharpening to flints. Gaze strong, unwavering. Challenging. I don't know how much Flitwick knows, how much he's guessed. Once, when he delivered my acceptance letter, he visited. Understood that letters by owl wasn't the best means of contact.

“They're fine.”

“And you're still wanting to visit...”

“Every weekend,” my voice is harder than I mean it to be, and his eyes flash a little, lips pressing into a thin line. “If it's possible, sir.”

“Very well,” Flitwick mellows easily. “Though I should remind you that any detentions you may acquire will take priority. As do extra curricular activity. You should report here for your portkey at seven o'clock sharp Friday nights, a portkey which will become active once more six o'clock Sunday evening. If you're not back by seven, your visiting rights will be revoked for a month,” here he shoots me a severe look, so at odds to his usual cheery gaze. I fidget a little awkwardly, just knowing he's referring to the time I went a little crazy last year and tried to bunk off for a week.

“Yes, sir.”

“I'm trusting you, Piper. Start as you mean to go on. A few members of staff have expressed concern over your conduct in past years. New year, new start. I know it's hard for you...” One glance at my flat expression and he starts shuffling parchment, checking notes. “You're to attend counselling once a week until Christmas, which will then be reviewed. Tuesdays, lesson two.”

I nod absently. Once a week is much better than the three times I was made to go in Fourth Year. Even the thought of those painful sessions made me shudder.

“That's all, Miss Harrington. I'm relying on you this year. Now, please go change and join us in the Great Hall.”

I smile and nod and then leave, feeling his eyes on my back. I think we all know I won't be there tonight. Celebrating coming back to this hell is not my idea of fun.

*




When the owl came with the letter, I thought it was a joke. Laughed along, tried to ignore the almost knowing look upon Callum's face. How he turned to me, eyes glinting, gushing about how it all made sense. How I could always make broken things work again, how I could bake a cake in ten minutes when I wanted to. I thought of how winds blew when I was angry, how the room span. And mum, she dragged on her cigarette, fidgeted and fretted. Her gaze sliding right past me, landing on Callum, even when she spoke to Flitwick. It all just washed over my head, empty noise, pressing on me.

I ran to my room and slammed the door and didn't come out until the little man had gone. I was leaving this threadbare flat, the worn floorboards, the familiarity. Bruises sprung up all over my arms where I pinched myself; insisting this was all a bad dream, I'd wake up soon enough.

It was when I sat on the scarlet train, Callum waving, laughing, clutching onto Alfie's hood that I realised it was real, that I was it's prisoner, that normality was fading as quickly as my family on the platform did.

*




It's impossible to simply slip into the back of the Sorting. The wooden doors are shut after the last First Year. They creak and groan when opened, and the last thing I want is the whole hall watching me as I try to sneak in, all because I wanted to miss the Sorting. The happiness, the anticipation of each small sucker as they get Sorted isn't something I enjoy. Plus, you can always tell the Muggleborns; staring at the ceiling, the floating candles. Eyes an endless pit of fear, of excitement, dumbstruck.

So instead I drift around the castle, chocolate bar in one hand. A measly meal, by anyone's standards. Why the freaking castle didn't simply have a magical lift (maybe even a glass one like Willie Wonka) was anyone's guess. But no, all we have is drafty stone, mismatched buildings where it got rebuilt after the Wizarding War and passages that disappear and reappear in a totally different position. Which is why, despite having lived here for five years, it takes me over an hour to remember my way back to the Ravenclaw tower. You'd think it's simple, being the tallest tower, but there's miles of corridors, all looking the same. Everything looks the same in flickering torchlight.

Finishing the chocolate, I drop the wrapper to the ground and finally spy the stupid spiral stairs. Calves aching (there's a ridiculous amount of stairs, absolutely everywhere), I press on, stumbling the last few stairs to finally see the stupid bronze eagle knocker.

“I hate you,” I inform the eagle, leaning against the stone wall beside the door.

“What comes once in a minute, twice in a moment, but never in a thousand years?”

It’s as if it had heard me. It mustered up the hardest riddle for the girl who was notorious for being unable to do them, and threw it straight at me. How many times had I been trapped outside this stupid common room, unable to think as I should, as we were expected to.

I think hard about the riddle. I think of the concepts, minutes and moments and years, not just years but thousands – perhaps millions, who am I to say – and then I realise. An inner flash of brilliance, or whatever.

“The letter M!” It’s triumphant, my eyes flashing at my own brilliance. I’d gotten something right – actually right!

The knocker remains silent, but the door swings open. As per usual, the common room has that claustrophobic feel to it. A fire crackles in the fire place, its heat touching every part of the room. It’s September, yet it seemed all the sweltering heat of summer had been left far behind at home. The bronze and blue hangings look less dishevelled than last year. Sighing, I trudge past the sofa’s and the chairs, the tables and the notice board to our room. Sixth Year is the third door on the spiralling girls staircase, the bronze plaque small and unassuming.

Pushing the door open, the sheer size of the room was the first thing that struck me. It was bigger than the years before, the nine beds fitting comfortably. Blue throws covered each bed, the Hogwarts logo above the bathroom door. Other than that, the stone walls remained unadorned. It felt empty. I was so used to laughter and chatter of the eight other girls that it was a strange sensation to be unburdened by their presence.

Our trunks lay in a heap on the floor. Struggling just slightly, I manage to dislodge mine and seeing as I’m the first one here, pick my bed. I choose one in the corner; it’s dressing table and wardrobe on either side of the bed, a window to the left of the dressing table. Windows with a hefty window ledge, one that you can sit on. The bathroom is in the middle of the opposite wall, meaning I probably had the longest walk, but it was a small price to pay for the privacy I’d found.

Unlatching my trunk, a packet of cigarettes and my lighter is the first thing that jumps out at me. Plucking up the packet and palming the lighter, I glance around the room. Then realise it’s a stupid thing to do; as if Hogwarts had any fire alarms. Any life saving equipment at all, actually.

If I curl up (quite a lot, considering I’m all limbs, like a spider) I just about squish onto the windowsill. Cranking open the ancient window, I light a cigarette and inhale deeply. The nicotine rush is a very welcome release, flooding to my lungs, to the tips of my fingers. Inhaling slowly, I direct the smoke vaguely towards the window.

“I thought you’d done a bunk on us.”

I start at the voice, head snapping up, only to collide with the curved arch of the top of the window frame. The stone, unsurprisingly, is unforgiving.

“Fuck,” I say before I can think of anything else, free hand going to rub the sore point on my head, simultaneously glaring at the girl who’d shocked me.

Roxanne Weasley looks back at me, one eyebrow raised. “Fuck,” I say again, and tip my head back to lean against the stones, dragging on the cigarette. “Off,” I clarify, tapping some ash away. “Fuck off.”


To her credit, Roxanne didn’t miss a beat. “How was your summer?” unflinching, unwavering. I peered out my hidey hole and looked around the room; saw everyone else there, as usual. Pulling their trunks out from the bed, squabbling over beds. So why is she over here, talking to me?

“Shit,” blunt, to the point. One manicured eyebrow of hers rises. There’s a long pause in which she just looks at me and I look at her and smoke, not even bothering to blow the smoke out the window because I know it must annoy them to have the stink of tobacco in the room they have to sleep and live in.

“Mine was good,” she says finally. As I look at her I realise why she holds all the power in the dorm. Perfectly smattered freckles, full bodied hair and doe eyes, as well as a figure that was the envy of the school. But there’s a flint in her eyes, the way she holds herself, straight and tall, chin tilted upwards ever so slightly. “Spent a few weeks with Uncle Charlie in Hungary, but you probably saw all about it in the Quibbler about the new dragon species that we found. Aunt Hermione and Ginny are –“

“Roxanne,” her name was easy to bite out, stop her stupid rambling. “I. Don’t. Care.” Dragons and travelling and wizards; who cared?

The girl considered me for a second, head tilting to the side. Then she smiled a secret smile and walked away, as if she’d gotten from me exactly what she wanted. I watch her go, her hips swinging, rejoining the rest of the girls who glance over at something she says, burst into laughter.

Crushing the cigarette onto the window ledge, I flick the butt out the window before slamming it shut. The noise reverberates around the room, but no one turns. Once more, I’m invisible. Just how it should be.

***




AN: Hello! Finally got the willpower to try and get this story done as it's floating around in my head constantly. How're you liking it so far? Like Piper?


Chapter 3: Promised a New Start
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The first evening back is the worst. The door bangs continuously against the door as the girls fling it open, the sound ricocheting around the room like a gun shot, only to be lost and absorbed by the whirl of laughter and talk. Summer holidays are recounted; romances that flared like the sun which tanned their skin. Exotic locations thrown about like confetti; Jamaica, the Maldives. The most we'd managed was a trip to the seaside, hands sticky with ice lollies, sun that barely broke through the English clouds.

There was nothing to do but brush my teeth and then curl into a ball under my duvet, pulling the cover tight over my head. It barely did anything to block out the chattering. A silencing charm wasn't an option, a summer of ignoring the fact that magic existed had left me rusty, the risk of fire was too humiliating.

Eventually I drifted to sleep. The castles creaks and groans was the backing track to an uneasy sleep, as if it were mocking me.

*



An aching stomach wakes me before everyone else has a chance to stir. I change quickly, pulling on jeans and a hoodie over my pyjama top. It's a small rebellion, to ignore my robes. Though it's conventional to get changed now, it's not compulsory. Just irksome to teachers.

Breakfast is over lavish, an arrogant display of the successes of magic and enslavement. Chocolate drips from inside a crepe; bacon glistens with grease. Pulling a butter dish towards me, I quickly devour three slices of toast before Professor Layton heads my way, her heels clicking on the stone floor.

“Miss Harrington,” she greets me with a tight smile, a note of wariness in her eyes. “Welcome back. Here's your timetable.” Last year, there'd been no arguments over what subjects I'd be taking, any suggestion on my part had been met with a tight smile and a shake of the head. My OWL grades meant few teachers would deign themselves to having me in their class.

I take the pro-offered parchment and scan it quickly, noting with surprise that I'm permitted back to Transfiguration; annoyed that I am.

“Lesson two every Tuesday, Ms. Jenkins will be expecting you. Same room as last year.” A new counsellor. Interesting. The last one had been old and set in her ways, the hours spent cooped up in her office enough to bring on a claustrophobic attack. I nod, she nods, and then she hovers awkwardly for a moment. Her hand touches my shoulder for a minute, the briefest minute, and I start and she smiles at me almost sadly. “Be good.” Then she's click clacking away and I'm left frowning at my toast.

*



It was just my luck that today was Tuesday. I had a free period first, so made use of the vacant shower. My timetable was similar to last years. Potions, Ancient Runes, Transfiguration, Muggle Studies and Astronomy. The most normal of all subjects, by any account. The appearance of Transfiguration was a slight shock. Determined not to let it get to me so badly, I tried to let the worries wash off with the pounding water of the shower. The towel was fluffy and blue, soft on the skin, emblazoned with the Ravenclaw emblem.

I try to ease tiredness from my limbs, yawning widely as I pad through the dormitory. Only Roxanne remains, pulling her thick hair into an elaborate braid that fell down her back. Our eyes meet in her mirror, her lips turning at the corners, mine pressing into a scowl.

The robes feel heavy as I pull them on, the Asda shirt thin and flimsy against my skin. A far cry from the woven, expensive material other peoples were made from. My bra had to be a light colour so it wasn't so obvious. The knitted charcoal jumper was scratchy and shapeless, purchased from the second hand store with coupons the school gave me. My skirt was too small, had to be unzipped to fit around my waist. I'd grown and the skirt hadn't; it ended above my knee and was the subject of many pursed lips and disapproving frowns.

Tightening the tie around my neck, I look into my mirror. Make up was of no use to me; I have no one to impress. No desire to do so. My damp hair fell out the bun, but not in the carefully designed dishevelled way. I pulled a face, grabbed my wand (stupid damn stick) and leave the room, figuring it would take me a while to remember where the damn office was.

*



I turn up five minutes into lesson two, pressing the creaking door open. It requires a shoulder and a forceful shove; are the mentally fragile really up to such a task? The room I find myself in has been transformed. Instead of being the drab waiting room with a couple of chairs and dingy, torn posters, it's now a sensory attack. Bright pictures and wallpaper decorate every wall, even the ceiling. The orange carpet clashes with the purple wall. A plotted plant has been knocked over; a muddy set of footprints leads through a second, closed door.

The hard backed wooden chairs have been replaced with squishy, low armchairs that swallow me up as I perch precariously upon them. I feel like I'm being swallowed into the depths of sofa-ness and am struggling, hauling my arse from the chair's clutches when the door opens and out comes an elegant ginger girl. Her hair is halfway down her back, yet is full bodied with slight waves. Her green eyes meet mine and she rolls them, a half smile on her face. Her nose is a smudge, her whole face speckled with freckles. She moves gracefully towards me, stops in front of me.

“Hi,” she drawls, and it sounds mocking and oh so fake, sickly cloying. “Apparently, I need to make more friends.” She pauses for a beat, “I'm Rose Weasley. Anorexic.”

“Piper Harrington.” I say, and her grin widens. “Anger management.” Rose Weasley laughs and looks at me, emerald eyes ablaze.

“Good luck,” she's at the door, through it. “You're going to need it.”

*



I'm called through to Ms Jenkins' room ten minutes later. It's been decorated in a similar vein to that of the waiting room, as if someone had set off a grenade of rainbow paint in the middle and failed to clean up the chaos it had created.

Ms. Jenkins is sitting in a chair opposite a settee. Oh, the clichés! She waves a well manicured hand towards and it and, obediently, I sit down. My hands run over the cracks in the green leather.

“Piper,” she stops scrawling on the parchment on her knee, looks up. Readjusts her glasses. I look at her for a long moment, considering. She doesn't fit in my usual expectations for a counsellor. She's young, mid twenties or so. Blonde hair that looks expensively cut, falling around a fresh face. She smiles widely. I'm slightly disconcerted, thrown at the lack of a desk between us, at being surrounded by so much bloody colour.

“Tell me,” she glances down at her notes and up at me again. “Why are you here?”

I'm silent, blinking, as I try to think of an acceptable answer. “Surely Miss Roberts left some notes. She took a lot, anyway.”

Ms Jenkins smiles and I wonder about the Ms. Feminist? Widow? Married, unmarried? “I'd prefer to hear it from you. Why do you think you're here?”

I hate counsellors, I hate their smugness. I've decided I don't like Ms Jenkins and her progressive ways. But I sigh, because once upon a time I thought sitting in silence was the better option and the 'lack of cooperation' was far more damaging than satisfying. “I have anger management issues, I hate the magical world, I hate small spaces and restriction, I have issues with authority, this world is a dictatorship and any who vary from it's preordained, rightful place is squashed and forced into a counsellors office to be brainwashed and I suppose a small part of me hopes that this is all just a terrible nightmare and that I'll wake up soon enough. All of which, apparently, are grounds for long waffling chats about my feelings which go absolutely nowhere.”

Jenkins watches me carefully. Her long quill writes slowly, loopily, upon the parchment. She nods slowly. “And how does that make you feel?”

I blink and stare, my eyes widening as I just look at her. Really? Then she smirks and giggles – my freaking counsellor giggles, and waves one hand. I stare and blink a bit more.

The rest of the session doesn't go much better. It feels stilted and stiflingly awkward, yet she's oblivious to it all. We cover the basics in my notes, not really doing anything. No mention of thoughts or feelings or actions. Just chat about the journey here, my summer. I feel myself becoming more withdrawn; my answers becoming shorter. It's all just so pointless. It goes on for twenty five minutes, then she smiles at me and tilts her head towards the door and says, “until next time, Piper,” and I can escape, feeling thoroughly bemused at the whole meeting.

*



After my first lesson of the year (Ancient Runes, joy of all joys) I manage to escape, my mobile safely in the pocket of my robes. Due to the screwed up nature of the castle, signal can only be reached in three places. The most private is the Quidditch stands. It also means a huge climb, flight after flight of rickety, narrow stairs that any normal school would label a safety hazard. But not Hogwarts.

Calves burning, breath rasping my throat, I realise at the last moment that the stands aren't empty as they usually are. Instead they contain a couple of people. Glancing out to the pitch, I realise that there's a few people flying around, and someone on the floor, bellowing at them.


They don't turn to look at me, so I duly ignore them and traipse to the furthest point of the stands, pulling out my phone as I sit down. I turn it on and wait for it to spark into life, the screen lighting up, the device vibrating as new texts bombard it. Twelve in total. Emily seems to have commandeered Liam's phone again. I press her number and hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder, retrieving the packet of cigarettes from my pocket and lighting one up.

It takes two rings before the phone's snatched from its cradle. “Yeah?”

“Alfie,” I smile into the phone as I exhale a plume of smoke. “It's Piper. How're you?”

“Fine,” he grunts into the phone, then without covering the receiver bellows, “LIAM. IT'S PIPER.”

“Alf,” I grumble. “I hope you're doing your homework and everything, have you been to school?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbles dismissively, and I don't take it to heart. Thinking of me at his age, a bundle of fury and confusion and hatred. “See ya soon.”

“Bye,” I say, then there's clunking as the phone changes hands.

“Hey, Piper,” Liam sounds quite relaxed, which is a good sign.

“How're you? How's mum?”

“I'm good, she's good.” A pause. “I went shopping today.” I could read between the lines. Mum hadn't got out of bed today. I'd barely been gone twenty four hours and already I wished I was at home, being someone of use.

“Make sure she eats something.” I hate how useless I am, how I'm having to instruct my fifteen year old brother to take care of our mother. How he's the head of a crumbling household, in charge of Emily and Amy and rebellious little Alfie. I take another drag on the cigarette, extinguish it, light another. Chat with Alfie for a while, instructions thinly veiled in pleasantries. Then he has to relinquish his hold on the phone and hand it to Emily, who blurts everything about her day at school, about her new teacher and the pasta collage she's going to make.

The line goes silent. “Miss you, Pipes.”

“I miss you too, baby. But I'm seeing you on Saturday.” Once ventured into sadness, it's hard to retrieve the conversation without tears being spilled. “Gotta go now, honey. Love you.”

“Love you more.”

I smile as I hang up, knowing it's not possible, dragging on the dregs of the cigarette and wishing, not for the first time, that life was less complicated.


***



AN: Well hello again! Another chapter, more Piper angst! How're you liking her? Any predictions as to what's in the future? I'd love to hear any opinions :)


Chapter 4: Do I Dare
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“Anger management, huh?” My head jerks up at the new voice, a frown on my face. The ginger – Rose – from earlier stood before me, head tilted, small smile upon her rosebud lips. “You’re much too pretty to be angry, surely.”

“You’re much too thin to starve yourself.” I see the raven haired boy standing behind her, forearms resting on the rail of the stands, his shoulders tensing, the muscles twisting at my words. He doesn’t turn; continues peering out onto the pitch. I hear him mutter quietly. Meanwhile the ginger’s eyes pin me to my seat, green shifting from emerald to forest to pastel, changing as she grins.

“You’re funny.”

“No,” I remind her, “angry.”

Rose glances over her shoulder, then pulls the lit cigarette from between my fingers and takes a drag. Her lips leave a smudge of red upon its tip. The smoke curling from between her ruby lips is far more elegant than I ever look, wreathing above her head in the devils halo. “Isn’t everyone.”

I don’t do magical folk. Frowning, I snatch the cigarette back. Her eyes don’t open, a smirk graces her face. A long silence. “My cousin hates you.”

I grunt uninterestedly, dragging on the cigarette. Exhaling with force. “A lot of people do.”

Rose’s eyes slide open, her pupils dilating quickly. “I don’t,” her smile is warm. The boy watching the quidditch practice turns, a dark look on his face.

“Rose.” It sounds like a warning, his eyes flashing as he looks at my cigarette, the girl. She smiles sweetly at him.

“Ally, darling,” it sounds like a purr. She looks at me; an ivory hand reaches out and touches my chin. Without meaning to I tilt my head back, watch as her face grows clearer. Don’t understand as her lips touch mine, cool, soft, the briefest contact before she giggles. “See you around, Angry Piper,” she whispers, then lets the boy take her arm and lead her away.

*


The rest of the day passes with the painstaking slowness that only Hogwarts manages to create. The only thing of note is when Roxanne Weasley places her bag next to mine in Potions and graces a nearby stool with her arse. I barely glance at her; won’t give her the satisfaction. I feel the joint gaze of Rose and Roxanne’s eyes throughout the whole class, hear Rose’s quiet laugh and Roxanne’s curiosity.

*


I’m sitting on the cold, stone floor of the Astronomy tower (surely they could invest in some rugs, at the very least?) frowning into a telescope when James Potter stalks in, followed by the rest of the Gryffindor gang. The constellations are all blurry, so I twist the viewfinders, huffing an impatient sigh as the picture spins from vaguely recognisable to a pixelated mess. Then there’s no picture at all, just darkness, and I jerk back from the hunk of metal, frowning in confusion. Only to look up and realise James Potter has his hand over the end of the telescope and that’s what I can see.

I raise an eyebrow, aware of the fact that the class has gone silent (even Professor Astron, but then she’d always struck me as a staff room gossiper) and all eyes are upon us.

“You,” his voice is a low growl, rumbling. Threatening, I suppose. His eyes are like tunnels.

“Me?” I feign surprise, staring back. Someone laughs loudly. I think it’s Roxanne.

“Stay away from my cousin.” It takes me a moment, to think of all his cousins that I knew of (two out of a potential God knows how many) before I settle on the most recent addition to the list. I think of Albert’s hand on the crook of Rose’s elbow and I fit all the pieces together.

I look up at James Potter, at his squared shoulders and eyes cold as flint and smile as sweetly as Rose did, knowing it had an edge of menace and promise to it. “Sure thing,” a tilt of the head, words oozing with sugar, “sweetheart.”

My mother told me not to smoke, but I did. I had a feeling James had just done exactly the same thing.

*


“How’s your week been?”

Pressing my lips together, I shift in my seat as though I’m actually really considering my answer. “Fine.”

“Did you enjoy seeing your family?” I’m on guard almost immediately, but roll my shoulders, rub at a mark on the sleeve of my shirt. Feign nonchalance so she doesn’t know she’s hit home.

“Yeah, it was nice.” The weekend home from the mad house (mad mansion?) had been just as hectic. Fretting over everything was my style, and I swear Emily was already behind on her reading. Had sat with her for hours to get it perfect. Bribed Alfie into doing his homework, cooked them proper meals and made sure the fridge was stocked until next time.

Said goodbye with a warning flashing in my eyes; mum, keep your shit together.

Ms Jenkins has arched one perfectly plucked eyebrow at me and smiles. “Rose has told me about you.” I’m not sure what to say, what she’s told. Did she say she randomly kissed me? “You two should be friends. I feel like you block people out.”

I snort. “Of course. I hate them all.”

“Wizards are people too.” I flick some lint off my cuff, heave a sigh. She doesn’t move, just sits there in all her blonde glory and smiles faintly.

“Imagine,” I say, looking up. “That you move to America. Or France. Or Germany. And you don’t really like the culture. People are weird, they do things differently. You’d just move back home. But no, I’m trapped, and I can’t move home, and I’ve left my whole family behind. And I’d rather be there than here, but I can’t be, and damnit, I hate Germany!” The room is darker, it’s colder. A breeze makes the door shake in it’s frame. My fists clench as Ms Jenkins smiles.

“How very eloquent.” Her voice is dry and I don’t know what to make of it. Heave in a deep breath to try and avoid deciphering too much from the cryptic woman. Let it out slowly, as though it were cigarette smoke, imagining it leaking towards the ceiling. Forcing all my anger out. The air in the room stills. The door stops rattling. “It doesn’t sound like the Germans like you much, anyway.”

I cut a look to her. “Aren’t you supposed to be all supportive and shit?”

“No,” her quill flickers as she taps it, once, on her clipboard. “I’m supposed to be realistic. What’s the point in feeding you lies?”

I sit back and study her, considering. “Do you tell Rose she’ll feel better if she eats properly?” A pause. Ms Jenkins studies me for a while. I can practically see the cogs turning in her mind.

“No. I tell her she’ll be healthier. That she’ll live.”

I hum noncommittally. Ms Jenkins continues studying me. Scribbles something upon the parchment before her. “Okay, Piper. I think we’re done here.”

*


Rose is sitting with her legs crossed at the ankle as I emerge from Ms Jenkins’ office. I’m not ever surprised to see her. She beams up at me and rises elegantly from the chair, matching me stride for stride as I make my way purposefully through Hogwarts halls to the main door and out into the grounds. We’re silent as I pull out the packet of cigarettes and a lighter, flicking it a few times before a spark jumps up.

“My cousins don’t like you.” I sigh as I exhale the smoke, shrug a shoulder. Rose smiles. “I don’t think they like me much, either.”

I look sideways at her, inhale smoke right deep into my lungs. Squint into the sun as we draw to a standstill and then drop onto the bank of the lake. “That’s nice,” I grumble mildly, wondering why she’s still here. “You have a therapist, you know.”

Rose laughs, and her teeth flash, pearly white. “I do,” she agrees. Then, “I miss Roberts. She was simple.”

“Hmm,” I inhale once more, tipping back onto my forearms and blowing smoke towards the sun. I pull up the sleeves of my flimsy shirt; let the sun rays touch my skin. It’s a novel concept, sun in Scotland. Guaranteed not to last long. Rose draws her legs up to her chest and rests her chin on her bony knees.

We stay for what feels like an age. Then the grounds begin to empty, Rose watching them, a little reproach creeping into her gaze.

“Dinner,” she says eventually. I look at her. A frown pinches her brow, her freckled nose wrinkled.

I get up from the ground and walk away, knowing that she can’t bring herself to follow me, wondering if I should be doing something about that.

*


The hours crawl by. It takes a lot of willpower, but I manage to find myself in the library, pulling dusty books off shelves and attempting assignments. Underlining titles twice with my biro and ruler, chewing on the end of the plastic pens. I always pick the same table; one that can’t be seen by the librarian (making snacks possible if you were quiet enough) and most importantly, from the door. It was set aside from the rest of the cluster of tables, close enough to see out the window during the drier moments of the day, but far enough that it wasn’t first choice and thus was usually empty.

Gnawing on the biro and wishing it was a cigarette, I sigh heavily, tapping my finger on the parchment before me. Explain the principles of Re-Materialism. The chair across from my scrapes along the wooden floor loudly as someone pulls it up. Looking up, I see a blonde boy with high cheekbones that scream aristocracy. He nods at me, and I frown at him, but lose interest as he simply pulls out some parchment and a quill.

His quill is annoying as it scratches across the page, but it’s something I quickly tune out, the silence not awkward, not companionly, simply there.

I do a double take when I see him the next day, then dump my bag on the table and join him. His eyes flicker up for a moment in acknowledgement, then he keeps on working. Sometimes his foot taps against the floor, when his brow pinches and he chews on his lower lip in deep concentration. Sometimes he simply sits and stares at books, as if the information was going to diffuse into his brain.

The fourth time he speaks. “Does definitely have an ‘a’?” he asks me, head tilting as he considers me. His voice is lower than I expected, a melody to the words. He pushes a lock of silver blonde hair from his eyes as he waits.

“No. ‘E’,” I turn the page of my book, he nods, and we settle into the silence once more.

***


A/N: Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? Chocolate Easter bunnies who say anything, anything at all!

Chapter 5: Restless Nights
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Rose finds me as I sit down for Transfiguration. At the back; a tremor in my hand from the absence of nicotine in my blood. Breathing slowly, deliberately, to try and calm the rasp that plagues my throat. All I see is a flash of red hair; a flourish and a thud as she flings her bag on top of the desk.

I close my eyes and count to three, slowly. Then Rose taps my exposed forearm (it’s a miracle I’ve made it to the third lesson without being berated for having pushed them up, unbuckling the precious cuffs. I’m so sorry headmistress, I never knew wrists were so goddamn distracting) with one cool finger.

I turn my head to look at her, the frown feeling empty on my face as she considers me carefully, deliberately. Her lips are lipstick free today; pale pink, vulnerable looking.

“Piper,” she says, my name rolling over her tongue like waves lapping at a shore. “Hello.”

I heave a sigh and face the front, pulling my textbook over as a silence ripples over the class as McGonagall strides down the centre. She was perhaps the only teacher who commanded my respect; debate about her age was often brought up (being in Ravenclaw and all, the topic of conversation never wavered too far from studies) and never seemed to be below the hundred mark. Although I knew it was down to magic and not natural aging prowess, she simply seemed too wise and world weary to be worth despising.

Rose taps my forearm once more, ignoring the rest of the class as we all simultaneously flick to the page number McGonagall requested with a simple flick of her hand towards the black board. The chalk dropped elegantly into its stand after the flourish on the one.

“Good morning class,” her voice carries across the students, eyes sweeping across those assembled. I look down at the book. A Bird-Conjuring Charm.

“Pi-iper,” Rose sang, now flicking her quill at my arm. When I didn’t respond she wafted it under my nose until I wrinkled my nose to try and stop the tickling. “Piper, Piper!”

“Rosie,” a new voice chimed in at a low hiss. Rose and I simultaneously swivelled around in surprise, to see Albert Potter frowning at Rose in a concerned way.

I turned back, rolling my eyes, in time to see McGonagall’s gaze flaring upon us in a silent warning.

The lesson consisted of a demonstration from McGonagall (which caused many admiring gasps as a trio of birds fluttered around the room, which turned into outcry as one of the birds shat on some blonde girl’s bag) and then making notes and practicing the wand movement. Rose continuously tapped on my forearm, making it into some sort of game, fingers dancing over my skin to a rhythm only she knew. I saw her jolt twice, each time when Albert kicked her stool from behind. I could feel his eyes boring into the back of my head as if they were two cocked and loaded pistols ready to strike me down.

McGonagall swiped a board wipe over the board, methodically clearing the chalk scribbling from it. “For homework, practice putting the incantation and the wandwork together,” she instructs, then almost lazily murmurs “avis,” her wrinkled lips pulling into a satisfied smirk as a few shrieks accompanied the loud bang that was the birds exploding into life. They twittered and sang (the blonde whose bag had been shat on grabbed her bag and legged it quickly) as the rest of the class filed out the room, chattering amongst themselves.

I shouldered my bag and made my way quickly from the room, palm bumping against my leg in a quick, snatched rhythm.

“Piper!” Rose followed, right on my heels. My cloak hooked over my elbow in an annoying way, making me fumble and drop the packet of cigarettes I’m holding in my hand.

“Fuck,” I say simply, then drop to my knees to gather them all up, shoving each stick into the packet. The flow of people doesn’t stop, just parts, a few feet threatening to trample each precious cigarette before I manage to snatch them up. It gives Rose a chance to catch up with me, and she looked down at me with amusement.

“You’re avoiding me,” she stated as I straightened up and continue barrelling through the crowd. They disperse around her with an acknowledging glance, meaning they then bounce off me, the nobody. I grunt, took the stairs two at a time. Rose danced along beside me, gliding down the stairs.

We (well, I, Rose merely follows) burst through the main doors; they snapped back on their hinges as if taking personal offence from my outburst. Immediately I stopped, clamped a cigarette between my lips and light, inhaling deeply. The relief is pure bliss, flooding through every cell in my body, no doubt followed by the disease these things cause.

I opened my eyes to see Rose watching me intently. She smiled as she noticed me watching, shaking her head. “You’ll be the death of me,” she informed me, casually, smilingly. I hum at the irony, at the fact that barely a morsel of food passed her lips but she still considered me the main suspect of her death.

I smoke the cigarette quickly, grind the butt under my foot and begin a second. This one is what Callum called the thinking mans cigarette; deep inhalations, holding it for five seconds, then slow exhale.

“You look happy.” We’ve walked to the lake once more, and stand staring across the expanse, the cigarette drawing closer to my fingers with every breath.

“Callum taught me,” the words trip from my mouth before I can stop them, before my jaw can recoil and stop them spilling like all the unshed tears. “I started when he left.”

There’s a beat of silence as though she’s soaking in my little confession. “Who’s Callum?”

I exhale once more, ropey smoke heading towards the sky. Then extinguish the end between two fingers and flick it into the lake. I shrug one shoulder. “Some guy.”

She nods and seems content to sit with me in silence, which is good because she’s not getting any more from me even if she tried.

Trying to explain why my brother left hurts my head, and trying to explain that he never came back hurts my heart.

*




“Please don’t smoke in the dormitory.”

My eloquent response is to blow smoke rings in the direction of the girl, a small blonde whose hand curled into a fistful of robes. The set of her shoulders told me she’d had to build up the courage to confront me, her teeth grazing her lips giving away that it wouldn’t take much to stamp all over her.

Maybe I was feeling compassionate, but I flicked the cigarette onto the stone windowsill and nodded at her. She smiled hesitantly at me, then scuttles back to her bed the other side of the dormitory. I lie, sprawled across the bed, marvelling at the way that my limbs can almost reach every corner. This is how I imagine a cloud to feel; soft, comforting.

Then you have to remember a cloud is just water vapour and you’d fall straight through it, which is probably some sort of fitting metaphor for my life.

Roxanne watched the entire exchange with a strange look on her face.

*




It was lucky three of us in my dormitory did Astronomy. Three alarms, set at different intervals, was enough to drag us all out of bed. I never spoke to the girls normally; but Astronomy nights were different. A strange fellowship settled over us all, we waited for each other, shook awake whoever was last to rouse from the depths of sleep, took it in turns to light the dimmer corridors with our wands. We’d fallen into some silent agreement, a rota of us three to bring snacks.

Tonight was my turn. Me, Roxanne and Mai McKee (“try growing up with a Chinese mum and a Scottish dad; talk about a culture head-fuck”) trudged towards the Astronomy tower yawning loudly and sharing out pieces of Cadbury’s chocolate. Popping candy had had mixed reviews, Roxanne being unimpressed and claiming Honeydukes was far superior in taste and experience. Plain old Cadbury’s trumped Honeydukes on the taste front and wasn’t expected to be some great fanfare. During warmer times there were some complaints about it melting though; apparently chocolate was only supposed to melt in your mouth and not any place else.

We rarely spoke, the three of us. If we did it was mainly Mai and Roxanne, idle chatter that I wanted no part of. This was merely a beneficial relationship that meant I got up on time and managed to find my way through the labyrinth to the tower, a path which seemed to change every single time. It also meant that if we were spotted by Prefects without a hall pass it was easy to get out of trouble, seeing as mostly everyone knew Roxanne and took her word as gospel truth. God bless the Weasley fame.

We arrive as the rest of the class do, and drift off to separate sides of the room. I settle at my usual telescope near the corner and squint into the sky, almost pleasantly surprised to see the clear night sky. With a jolt I realised that probably meant that I was enjoying Astronomy, something I’d never given much though too previously. I suppose it was one of the best lessons; mapping stars was pleasant and near soothing.

There was no surprise appearance from an angry James Potter today, though Albert and Roxanne kept looking over more frequently than could ever be deemed normal.

*




The third week of term, and I’ve not received a single detention. I catch a few suspicious looks as I hand in essays, as they wait for me to slip up so they can slam down on me and set precedence for the rest of the year. But I don’t give them a single thing to go on; am silent in lessons, spend the majority of my time in the library with ink smudged finger tips pouring over musty smelling books.

So I find myself finishing my dinner quickly on Friday evening, bolting down a pasta dish before rushing back to the dormitory to collect the few things I need for my trip home. Wand, phone, cigarettes, favourite hoodie; all slung into a bag.

“Where do you go?” Roxanne flicks through a magazine as she sits a top her bed; the very picture of serenity. Shouldering the bag I debate about answering the truth but decide it’s not worth lying, and besides; I’m too jubilant about getting out this hell hole to be all cryptic.

“Home,” I inform her simply, and then power walk to Flitwick’s office. The old man is sitting behind his desk with a quill before him.

“Miss Harrington,” his voice squeaks slightly as he beams at me. “Two minutes to go!” He holds the feather aloft and out to me. I take it from him. “Professors are very pleased with your progress, Piper,” he smiles again, looking genuine. “Keep it up. The return key is six o’clock on Sunday. Have a nice weekend.”

Then I’m yanked from behind by a giant hook and sent spinning into the abyss, me desperately clutching the quill and my bag. Returning home with a smile to rival dear Flitwick’s.

***




AN: Oh another chapter! Eee progress. Massive shout out to all the lovely reviews I recieved on the last chapter, especially potterheadinthetardis and Wistful who made my day with their lovely absolutely amazing reviews -loves-


Chapter 6: Let Us Go
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“Piper!” Emily is into the hallway as soon as I open the front door. Laughing, I extract my key from the door, then squat down and hug her back. Amy toddles in after her, clinging to the doorway of the sitting room almost nervously. Then she giggles and trots over, collapsing into my arms and letting me heave her up onto my hip and bury my nose into the crook of her neck, breathing her in.

“Hey guys,” closing the door with my hip, I take Emily’s hand and allowed her to lead me through to the living room. Liam looks up from the rickety table, sheets spread out in front of him and a biro in one hand, a frown of concentration upon his face. It melts away as he sees me, and he grins.

“Hey, Pipes,” he greets, tapping his pen on the side of the table. Dropping Amy’s hand, I go to ruffle his hair and laugh as he ducks out the way. Instead I end up flicking his ear, at which he scowls.

“Where’s Alf?” I glance around the room as if my brother’s about to materialise out of thin air. Liam shrugs one shoulder, placing pen to page once more.

“At Jake’s, I think,” I nod at the explanation and glance at the clock above the grimy cooker. I make a mental note to give the kitchen a scrub before I leave, and then place Amy on the floor.

“I’ll go get him,” it was a chance to have a cigarette and soak in darling London’s landscape. Picking up my jacket from the sofa, I shove my arms into the arms, checking my pocket for my cigarettes and lighter. Just as I’m about to leave, I pause, and look back over at Liam. “Mum?” a single world.

Wordlessly Liam looks up, then slowly shakes his head. Shit.

*


Some may call Aylesbury a shit hole. But it’s our shit hole. The hulking blocks of flats, the dingy stairways and the once white railings all holding the memories of an unorthodox childhood. Pulling my hood up over my face (in part so I looked like a guy; my height, for once, came in useful) I pulled out the cigarettes and lit one, inhaling deeply.

Somewhere a dog barked, but the night seemed unnaturally still. Several floors below a skateboard clattered along the iron walkways outside each house. Some doors lay open; from one a pair of dishevelled kids peered hesitantly out, sucking their grimy thumbs.

Jake’s family had earnt my respect. His mum was straight talking but had a heart of gold, often taking in waifs and strays of the foster system, of the estate. She had a brood of five sons, and each doted upon her. The oldest, Ben, was a little older than me and always kept an eye and ear out for me.

The stairs smelt of piss, the yellow paint an attempt at cheery but instead emphasising the scuff marks and holes in the plaster. Taking the steps two at a time, I finished the cigarette and threw it to the ground, extinguishing it beneath my feet. Two more flights (it wasn’t like the lift ever worked) and I was before Jake’s door, the bright green a contrast to the grey of the flat.

I knocked loudly, already hearing the commotion of them inside, and pulled my hood down. There was a long wait before the door was cracked open by a shy, nervous looking boy, his blue eyes wide as he peered up at me.

“Wes, who is it?” Fiona bustled out from the small kitchen of the flat, looking at the door. Then her rotund face split into a cheery grin and she waved me in. “Piper, love! In you come, in you come. Ben! Put the kettle on!” the voice that came from the petite woman defied her size, as she patted Wes on the head and gave him a loving smile. We watch him disappear off into the flat, Fiona and I sharing a glance. “Poor pet,” she murmurs quietly, wiping her hands on her apron.

The swell of noise from the flat grows louder as we step from the cramped entrance hall into the living room. The dining table took up most of the room, a sofa and chairs shoved into another corner in front of the TV. Alfie was in residence upon one of the sofas, jabbing at the buttons of the playstation controller desperately in an attempt to beat Jake at whatever game they were playing.

“Long time, no see,” Ben enters the room with a mug full of tea, pressing it into my palm. With a jerk of his head he beckons me into the kitchen and I follow obediently, sipping from the delicate china. Fiona continues the mound of ironing in the living room, patiently separating squabbles. In the tiny kitchen Ben seems to have cooking under control, the oven, grill and hob all in operation.

I pull myself up onto a kitchen cabinet and watch him in a companionable silence for a while as he stirs a thick sauce, peers into the oven.

“How’s school?” he asks mildly, turning over some chicken under the grill. I shrug one shoulder, then realise he’s not looking.

“Uh, good,” I answer stallingly, sipping at my tea. Ben shoots me an amused glance, his blonde hair curling in the steam from the cooking

“Yeah?” his tone was light. A pause, then he looks over with a smile that could devastate, that turned his brown eyes to melted chocolate. “I got a uni offer the other day,” he bursts out excitedly, and my jaw drops.

“Holy shit! No way!” I gape. An offer from a university from someone from around here, it was some achievement. Getting GCSE’s and A-levels was something worth a medal. But Ben was one of the sensible ones; kept his head down and plugged away. “Well done,” I enthuse, ignoring the tiny flash of jealousy that flared up at the fact that he got to lead a normal life. “What for?”

He looks like he’s bursting with excitement. “Ta. Um, Chemistry.”

I sit back to consider the news. “Woah, Ben. That’s so cool. So just got to do well this year then?” I immediately regret what I’ve just said, his face portraying an element of worry.

“Yeah… Hey, we should go out tonight. Celebrate. Seeing as you’re never here and now you are.” His eyes shine in a way that’s damn near irresistible. “I’ll pay.”

I shoot a glance to the next room, where Alfie’s still playing his game. Think quickly to the kids. Amy and Emily in bed. Liam at home. It was doable. Besides, when did I ever get the offer to get out for free? I needed a bit of normality.

Running my fingers along the counter, I was lost in indecision. Then I shakemy head, place the tea on the counter and push myself off.

“The kids…” I explain feebly, and he nods knowingly.

“I’ll see you around, Pip,” he says, and he looks up. “Look after yourself,” it’s said in the sombre tone that those of the estate have managed to master, accompanied with a wry twist of his lips and heavy gaze.

“C’mon, Alf,” I raise my darling brother by swatting him around the head. He grunts, once, eyes not moving from the system. Jake, the second eldest, places his controller on the floor and grins at me.

I roll my eyes at the lack of a reaction, tugging on the hood of Alfie’s jumper and then prodding him in the shoulder blade. “Scram.”

“Piper, are you sure you don’t want to stay for tea?”

I smile at Fiona as Alfie drags himself off the sofa, slouching to his shoes and shoving in his socked feet. “Thanks, but I’ve got ours to sort out.” Fiona follows us down the hall, opening the door to wave us out. She smiles at me in a knowing way, coming forwards the hug my forcibly. It’s only when she pulls away that I realise she’s pressed a twenty pound note into my palm, and is out of reach before I can hand it back.

“No, Fee-.”

“Piper, treat yourself,” her gaze is near to fierce, a little adoration tinging the sides. I feel all protests crumble under the weight of her steely gaze, stuffing the money into my pocket and nodding my thanks.

The door shuts with a quiet click behind her, the deadlock sliding into place. Alfie walks beside me in silence, hands in his pockets. It’s companionable, easy. I once worried about the boy, tried to coax conversation from him. But I reckon he’s just not a big talker and if he wanted to change it he could.

I pause at the stairs and Alfie stops too, glancing quizzically at me. Then I hand him the money from Fiona, grin crookedly. “Chippy tea,” I say simply, and he grins, then jogs off down the stairs to Rod’s Fish’n’Chips.

*


I catch the vinegar as Emily turns it upside down, ensuring only a smattering over her chips. Liam steals it from me, upending it over his own portion, positively drenching the chips. Thinking of eating them almost makes my lips pucker with the sourness, and I intercept before Emily can think of copying him and adding more.

Amy merrily dips chips into the ketchup, red sauce on the corners of her mouth, lips glistening with grease. She grins, showing a mouthful of half chewed potato.

Laughter fills the room along with the smell of the chippy. Greasy goodness obviously wafts to mum’s room, as the door clicks shut, shutting us out once more. Liam shouts as Alfie aims the bottle of ketchup at his plate, covering it at the last minute with his hands in desperation; shouting with laughter and disbelief as Alfie squeezes the plastic bottle anyway, sauce dripping between his fingers.

Amy and Emily shriek with laughter, Emily wriggling as far away as possible as Liam threatens to wipe the sauce all over her. Amy, feeling left out, launches a golden chip in Alfie’s direction, yelling when he lifts the sauce bottle above her head.

“Boys!” my chiding is laughing, as I throw the dishcloth at Liam and he begins mopping up the damage done by the ketchup. I place my plate on the counter (there’s no room at the tiny, lopsided table for me) and frown at them, but Amy giggles and it sets them all off. Even Alfie cracks a grin.

This is where I should be. I lean back against the counter and eat the chips slowly, discarding cutlery as everyone else has. Vinegar and fish and chips mingle in the air, laughter and shouts breaking the silence. This is home.

*


I manage to coerce Emily and Amy into having a bath, chivvy Alfie into a shower. Amy and Emily are easily placated in front of the TV, watching Finding Nemo, a seemingly ancient yet timeless classic. I wash the plates used for tea, then scrub the counters in the kitchen. Then dust a little, careful not to get in the way of the girls, spray and wipe down the table.

I make a mental note to hoover the carpet, but don’t want to disturb the girls. Towards the end of the film their eyelids begin to droop and by the time the credits roll around it’s easy to gather Amy into my arm and place a hand on Emily’s shoulder, propelling her to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

Amy snuggles into the duvet in our shared room, fistfuls of the scratchy, cheap sheets curled into her fist. Emily is a little livelier, but settles with a kiss on the forehead.

“Night, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” I smooth her hair and grin at the pair. Emily smiles sleepily back, whereas Amy is already snoring softly.

I creep out softly, leaving the door half open.

Down the corridor the noise from the Xbox reaches me, Alfie and Liam lounging on the sofa and attempting wildly to kill each other on screen. I continue the silent cleaning, retreating to the bathroom, wiping toothpaste off the sink and the tiles, scrubbing the bath.

Sitting back, I glanced at the bathroom clock. Ten o’clock.

My phone sits, almost innocently on the kitchen counter where I left it. Sipping tea from a cracked and stained mug, I stare at it. Liam’s quite capable of putting himself and Alfie to bed, I know he is. He holds fort all week. Mum’s in the house should anything go dramatically wrong (albeit she’s normally as much use as a chocolate teapot).

I frown, teeth grazing my lower lip. I should go to bed. But I’m too awake, shouts and goings on from outside on the estate drifting through the draughty windows of the flat. Eventually I snatch my phone up, moving to the corridor as I call Ben.

“Piper,” there’s a smile in his voice as he answers the phone.

“What time?” I ask simply, and if I listen closely enough I can almost imagine him purring with happiness.

“I’ll be there in twenty,” the line goes dead and I stare at the phone, frowning, wondering if it was the right decision.

“Liam, Alf, I’m off out,” Alfie grunts, eyes remaining on the screen. Liam looks up briefly. “I’ll be back late,” I say and he nods, before beginning a loud protest as Alfie launches an attack on his vulnerable character.

Twenty minutes. Now fifteen. Thankful I’d showered this morning, I creak the door to the girls room open and take care not to wake them as I rifle through the drawers. I finally settle on a pair of stonewashed skin-tight jeans and a black top with a lace back.

Combing my fingers through my hair, I tried to put on liquid eyeliner with one hand. It smudged, so I smudged the other eye to match, hoping I pulled off the carelessly tousled look. Probably just looked a mess. I debated reaching for a make up wipe and scrubbing the make up off, but there was a knock at the door.

Grabbing my phone and some money, I blew the boys a kiss. “Be good!” I called, then yanked open the door to Ben’s grin and stepped out beside him, feeling oddly proud as his eyes flicked once over my outfit, before landing on my face.

“M’lady,” it sounded strange to hear such posh words to come from the mouth of a South London chav, “let us go forth and get smashed.”

***


AN: Ah, I am so sorry for the late update! I've finished all my exams and was ready for an updating spree but life got a bit hectic. But here it is! So, Piper's home life. Is it worth the pining?

Chapter 7: Your Shadow
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“I did it,” the stand in Ancient Runes Professor is keen to prove her mettle; determined not to be walked over. I long for Professor Edwards and her apathy, her reluctance to create more work for herself and thus penchant for never setting extra work. If only she’d had the decency to cross her legs for a year longer, just until I escaped, then she could have popped as many kids out as she wanted.

“You say you’ve done it,” the severe bun does nothing for her appearance, instead pulling at her forehead and widening her eyes in a Chelsea facelift to the point of it looking unnaturally uncomfortable. “So where is it?”

Sitting on my desk at home, Emily’s chocolate covered fingers leaving little prints all over the thick parchment. I’d even loaned a book from the library, cross referenced, come to a reasoned conclusion that had taken me three hours. More time than I’d put into the whole of Runes last year. “I forgot it – I can get it to you by the end of the day, I promise-”

“Miss Harrington. We are fives weeks into term and you are in sixth year. I don’t believe it’s too much to ask for you to turn up to lessons, on time, with the correct work.”

My teeth ache as I clench my jaw even tighter. “Miss-”

“Five points from Ravenclaw.” The blue and silver clad students groan loudly, a few people muttering under their breath. As if I needed another reason for people to hate me. She looked smug at the reaction she’d managed to muster, eyes flicking over my too small, shabby skirt and thin blouse. “And I still want it by the end of the day.”

“Miss-”

“This discussion is over, Miss Harrington, or do you want more points deducted?”

Miss-”

“Shut up, Piper, let it go!” a student hisses from the front row, and I whirl around, eyes flashing.

“Fuck off, swot. It’s not as if house points actually count for shit anyway.” Her mouth snaps into a thin line and her eyes narrow at me, and I can feel the heat of her glare as I turn back. I notice the professor’s almost smug look, as though I’d acted exactly how she’d wanted me to. She’d been waiting for this for weeks, for the rebellious student she was warned about to finally act out. Had been watching with diligence for any and every misdemeanour, keen to establish the upper ground. Every completed essay and answer in class did nothing to remove the black mark, instead ran red rings around my name with a side note of ‘likely to fuck up at some point.’

“Detention,” she says silkily, “Friday night.”

Friday night, the portkey. The kids and family. Em’s downcast, cherubic little face. The strain in Liam’s voice. “I can’t do Friday night-” my hands are clenched into fists and I breath rapidly, which never fucking works, but at least I can say that I tried in the counselling session that is bound to follow this monumental fuck up. Wind batters the windows, shutters clanging against the brick wall outside.

“How about Friday and Saturday?” All professors know about my so called ‘extenuating circumstances’ and how I am granted home leave every weekend. There’s no doubt that I have been brought up in staff briefings, everyone instructed to watch carefully and report back. Everything noted, about the lack of friends and integration or acceptance, the hatred and the need to escape from this place before I drive myself mad in the stone prison so many lovingly call home.

I know she knows all this. Would have been paying extra special attention, noted I was on her register, wanted to prove herself. I can see the glint in her eyes, steel and also sinister joy. Joy that I’ve finally shown my true colours.

I step back, not even realising I’d been towering above her, hands balled into fists and eyes dark. The whole class breaths out, slouching down in their seats once more.

I laugh darkly. The professor’s hand curls around her wand and rain lashes the windows, rattling them in their frames. “Fuck you,” I spit at her, then turn on my heel and march down the central aisle, kicking a stool as I grab my bag. Albert catches my eye and smirks, slowly, infuriatingly, and I snarl at him, “and you can go fuck yourself too.”

The door slams very satisfyingly, shaking the door frame and echoing around the empty corridor so loud the portraits all dive for safety.

*


The Astronomy tower is only used for practical work, the theory side completed in classrooms. And though the door is locked to prevent anyone from coming in, it is one of the best places for phone signal on the whole campus and a piece of wood is not going to come between me and talking to my family. A simple Alohomora usually does the trick; if not then good old fashioned lock picking came into its own. Thankfully this time the unlocking charm suffices, almost as though the door could sense the ball of rage that still hadn’t burnt itself out, and wanted to avoid any repercussions blocking my path might have.

I light cigarette after cigarette, smoking them down to butts and flicking them over the edge just as they threaten to singe my fingers. Not even the hum of nicotine or smoke filled lungs can quell the rage. I press one hand into my abdomen, curled up on a chair. The weather rages outside; rain rattling the tiles on the roof, wind whistling through the tower. Then I shift, holding my head with one hand, the other fiddling with another cigarette. Finally the packet runs empty and I just sit, head in my hands, no sounds but the irregular ticking of my cheap faux gold Argos watch.

Eventually the anger dissipates, my jaw unclenching, breaths shifting so they’re deep and regular, soothing. The weather outside is calm, the sun tentatively peering through rain laden clouds. Only then do I leave the chair, running my fingers through my hair and trying to tug it into some sort of order.

The door locks smoothly as I pull it shut, my calves protesting at the stone flagged spiralling staircase. The hallways are quiet, bar the few students that drifted past. Obviously dinner time. I was at the open doors to the Great Hall before I’d even made a decision about whether to go in or not, a twinge of hunger affirming the decision. It felt like the whole world was watching as I stepped in, my palms clamming up, blood ringing in my ears.

There was not an instant silence as I walked in. I wasn’t well known enough for that. At most, there were a few nudges and glances from sixth years. Those who had been in the class had obviously spread the word of my little melt down. Clutching the strap of my bag, I dropped down on an empty length of bench at the Ravenclaw table and start digging into the spread, cutting a slice of chicken pie. Across the hall I see Albert and various members of his family huddled together at the Gryffindor table, occasionally glancing over. Roxanne shook out her dark hair and stood up, gracefully disentangling herself from the bench and beginning the walk over. I shovelled some food in my mouth, chewing quickly.

The hand on my shoulder made me flinch and jerk away, dropping my fork with a clatter on the table. Those around my quietened and looked my way; Roxanne stopped walking and instead stood looking at Professor Layton behind me.

“Come on, Piper,” her voice is quiet, holds a soft, near gentle edge to it. I place my knife and fork together on the still full plate and nod jerkily, swinging off the bench and snagging my bag. To her credit she doesn’t hold my arm or my shoulder, merely walks next to me as we go forth to my first meeting of the year where everyone can once more express what a disappointment I am.

*


“You behaved unacceptably.” Layton’s hair is a sleek brunette bob, her nose a little too long for her face, her lips a little too thin but her eyes wide and sincere, laughter lines creasing the corners. The disapproving frown looked ill at ease on her face.

Her elbows are resting on the desk, hands clasped together. I fidget on the hard backed wooden chair, staring at my knees and entwining my fingers together.

“Professor Davies wished to escalate the issue further but the headmaster declined to think so, as this is your first instance.” She pauses, thinks for a moment. “This year, anyway.”

Silence falls, bar the clink of glass against glass as she pours herself a glass of water from a jug. “We do not appreciate such disregard for authority, such flouting of rules, missing lessons or going missing in a rage. Your reaction was completely disproportionate for the situation. It’s such a shame, Piper, as all I’ve heard are glowing reports about your progress. Your completion of work set and even some participation in class.

“It is completely unacceptable to use such language to your superiors for a wrong of your own doing. I stand by Professor Davies’ detentions on Friday and Saturday this week. I also prescribe detentions beginning tomorrow, to last two weeks. This means the suspension of two home visits.”

My head shot up and I was scowling – mouth open, ready to argue back and fight my corner. The kids. Liam and Alfie and Em and Amy – they need me, need caring for so Liam’s not forced to be an adult before his time, isn’t world weary and old by the time he turns seventeen.

“It is not in your best interests to challenge this.” Her tone is stern and serious; eyes flinty as she stares at me. My mouth snaps shut. “You will also be on report. Your report card is to be handed to each Professor in each lesson and they will monitor you and report back. At the end of each day you will have a meeting with me to discuss your report card. I will also take twenty points from Ravenclaw.”

My hands twist and twist in my lap. Layton stands and rummages in a filing cabinet, pulling out a piece of scarlet parchment. She writes my name on the report card with an elegant quill, pushing it across the oak desk. “So. Report card, two weeks detention and fifty points. Report for detention tomorrow in classroom twenty three with Professor Blair.” She paused and seemed to be considering something. “Also, I’ve scheduled an appointment with Ms Jenkins tomorrow morning in your free period. Now is the time to keep your head down and get on with things. I would appreciate it if there were no more incidents. Your work is looking promising, so keep that up.” Her eyes flickered up, cold and decisive. “Dismissed.”

I took the scarlet report card and folded it, slipping it into my bag between the Astronomy book and a Transfiguration essay, no doubt on top of the leaky old biro that was lurking in the depths. “Thank you, Miss.” She did not look up from what she was writing, instead waving a hand vaguely.

I looked back just before I shut the door; only to see a glimpse of her slumping down into the chair with her head in her hands.


Chapter 8: Roots That Clutch
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“Piper.”

I was uninterested in the world. I stretched every limb out and could feel the corner of the bed. The plush duck feather pillows, the brushed cotton sheets, the mattress that cradled my body so I felt like I was floating.

“Piper.”

If I screwed my eyes up tight enough perhaps the world would disappear. I tried it. Screwed up my eyelids so tight I gave myself a headache, until the dull red passed into a deep black and for a moment there was oblivion; sweet, sweet oblivion.

The ceramic hairbrush lobbed in my direction struck the back of my head with a clang. The pain was sudden enough, my breath rushing in all at once and I sat bolt upright so quickly that the thong flicked at my head brushed past my ear, hitting the bed post.

“What the fuck! That better be fucking clean you bitch!”

Whoever said I was bad in the mornings was a liar.

Roxanne’s hands found their second home on her hips, her brown furrowed into a frown. “You need a swear jar.”

“Do I fuck,” extra emphasis on the fuck gave me a small feeling of satisfaction as I swiped my hair from my face and rubbed crusted sleep from my eyes. “What the bloody hell are you doing?”

The smattering of freckles on her nose wrinkled. “Waking you up. Duh.”

Her red bra had been specifically chosen so that it could be seen through her shirt, the ridge from where she’d rolled her skirt up clearly visible. Her hair was pulled back into an elaborate knot and her cheekbones shimmered with non regulation make up, yet she still managed to pull off being a sanctimonious holier than thou figure.

“Rose said your meeting’s at 10.”

How nice to know I was up for discussion on the Weasley’s agenda.

I grunted and stretched out my arms, wincing as my shoulder muscle twinged. Roxanne didn’t move from the middle of the room. Her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed and I could feel her gaze on me as I stretched out each limb one by one, rolled my shoulders and my neck until I felt vaguely human.

“What?” it came out as a bark, my eyes boring into hers as she’d been doing to me for five minutes. Either she was stepping up the creepiness game or had something on her mind.

“Mmmm.”

I rolled my eyes and heaved myself out of bed, rooting on my bedside table for a cigarette packet. Pulling one out, I clamped it between my lips as I searched for the lighter. I ended up on my knees with my arse in the air, realising there’d been a dull thud the night before as I’d aimed the lighter at the table and it had skidded across the wood to land on the floor. And my reluctance to move, instead promising myself I’d find it later, it would be so obvious. Which led me to sifting through all the crap that had already accumulated, muttering curse words around an unlit cigarette and feeling the weight of Roxanne’s gaze.

“Get dressed.”

I almost bit through the cigarette. Instead my fingers grazed cool metal and I scrabbled for a moment, fingernails scraping wood floorboards, before managing to palm the lighter. Pulling it out with a flourish, I didn’t bother moving from kneeling on the floor as I sparked up. Could feel Roxanne’s disapproval across the room, so blew smoke towards her with a humourless smile.

“Sweetheart,” I cracked open the window and tried to contort myself into the alcove as I did every single morning. “Don’t pretend you care for whatever fucked up reason you’re pretending for. It doesn’t suit you,” ash fell from the cigarette and smoke flowed from my lungs and life was so much better when your blood was buzzing with nicotine, when your brain sighed in respite from the cravings. “Run along and be queen bee.”

Her chin tilted up and her lips quirked in the corners as though she was suppressing a smile and that single movement triggered a burst of rage that began in my stomach and threatened to explode upwards very quickly. Instead I sucked hard on the cigarette until it burned down, then stubbed it out with excessive force, grinding the end into the stone of the ledge outside whilst imagining it was her face. Slammed the window shut so hard the glass rattled.

Roxanne clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, once, and finally turned around and walked away. But then stopped with one hand on the door and looked back over her shoulder. “Don’t be late.”

She managed to duck out just as the ceramic hairbrush clattered against the door precisely where moments ago her stupid face had been smirking at me.

*




Acting hostile at a session following an ‘outburst’ wasn’t the best course of action. Instead I purposefully rolled my shoulders back, kept my arms uncrossed and tried to look as relaxed and open as possible. Kept my eyes slightly downcast to avoid looking smug and revelling, clasped hands showing just a little anxiety.

When you’re in the system for so long there comes a point where you can start to play it.

Ms Jenkins does not set out to attack. She sits back and surveys.

“Why did yesterday occur?”

Usually it starts with a what. Try to determine my version of events. Show the bias. Break down every movement and show how it was a disproportionate reaction. Discuss ways to deal with it. Prescribe more sessions with a low cluck of the tongue.

I stared at her. “I was annoyed.”

Avoiding the word angry is always advisable.

“You have a lot of pent up emotion.”

Clearly Ms Jenkins had a degree in the fucking obvious.

I bare gritted teeth at her in an attempt at a smile. She used a finger to push her glasses further up her nose. Observed me in my silence, scribbled something on the parchment before her with her quill.

The silence stretched out for a long time. I could hear the tick of the clock on the desk in the corner, the sound of my own breathing as my hands clenched and unclenched, the incessant scratching of her quill.

Finally she placed her quill down. Took her glasses off. “Let’s start with your allegiance to your family. Tell me about your parents.”

And so I did. The heavily edited version. Not how mum never left the flat, or even her room, or how she smoked packets of cigarettes and smiled vaguely and never looked at you straight. How sometimes – so rarely now – she would get all dressed up and saunter out and the men would be there for a few weeks at most, hanging around the flat with their feet on the table, dictating the telly schedule, and we’d all scarper to our rooms or Alfie would disappear off to Jake’s and it would be endless park trips for the little ones to keep them entertained and out of the toxicity that threatened to rob them of their childhoods.

Not how I couldn’t sleep at night, how the family budget couldn’t stretch to replacement school uniform for Liam, how he had to go to lost property and lie and steal to avoid the sneers of his classmates. How Callum had brought us all up, how he’d upped and left one day and never looked back, not even once. How at the end of the month I’d eat Tesco value beans straight out the can and try to ignore the red stamped envelopes dropping through the letterbox.

Instead I spoke of my siblings. I spoke of my mum like some superwoman; my eagerness to help her out with the younger children, how she did everything; worked three jobs to pay for childcare, to put food on the table since our dad walked out. How she was so proud of all of us. Made up things about feelings of abandonment, of jealousy about my home friends and how they were moving upwards into university life and I would struggle to fit back into muggle life.

I couldn’t read her eyes, if she was buying it or not. I added enough flaws to give her reasons as to why I had all the so called ‘problems’.

“Good luck in detention.” She shook my hand at the end of the session but hung on for a beat, her eyes softening. “I’m sorry your home visits have been suspended.” She let go and pulled the door open. “I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

I stepped into the waiting room, half registering a red blur as Rose shot to her feet.

“Piper-” she placed one hand on my elbow, let it drop to her side as I shook her off and brushed past her. “Piper!”

Just before the door shut I heard Ms Jenkins soft voice, “come on, Rose.” And her expletive.

“Cold hearted bitch!”

I couldn’t help the grin that formed as I walked away.

*




The day dragged slowly. A lunchtime conversation at the top of the Quidditch stands across a crackly line with Liam did little to appease my fretting. He was calm and matter of fact but couldn’t quite hide the worry and disappointment. The disappointment hurt the worst, gnawing at my heart; a reminder of the many ways they’d been let down. How life continued to do so. No matter how many times I said sorry and he said it was okay it still didn’t feel right. The universe was knocked off kilter.

I chain smoked my way through a packet of cigarettes and skipped lunch in favour of sitting in the empty Quidditch stands, head in hands and cigarette clamped between my lips, a sharp breeze chilling my skin.

*




The owl with the detention details found me in the dorm. My report card was near flawless – apart from Potions which had the scrawled comment of could participate more - the memo attached to the owl’s foot another reminder of the mess I’d created. The bird nipped my finger with its razor sharp beak, drawing blood and hooting in triumph as I snatched the parchment from its leg and dumped it unceremoniously back out the window. Watching it flail and dive bomb for a few seconds was almost enough pay back for the blood that dripped down my finger. Almost.

Six o’clock detention until nine, classroom 29 with Professor Blair. There was enough to grab a few mouthfuls of food before jogging towards the classroom, hand pressing deep into my side as a stitch started up, breath rasping at my throat as I wheezed in a pathetic attempt at breathing. Half falling through the door, I tugged my skirt down to an acceptable length and swatted hair out my face whilst half glaring around the room.

“We meet again.”

It was either his face or his voice that made me want to punch him in the face. Or his family. Or the fact that I could not escape any of them for just a few hours.

“Fucking hell.”

“Five points from Ravenclaw,” my gaze shot to the front and I groaned and threw my bag to the floor with a little more force than necessary. Still, Professor Blair was one of the half decent teachers. A little over enthused for someone who regularly engaged with teenagers, but decent enough. And she taught Muggle Studies, one of the classes I (surprisingly) had a decent grasp of.

I heard James snigger and flipped him the finger behind my back.

Prick.


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