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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...? ;)

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