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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?

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